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Archive for January, 2015

Card Challenge: Day 29

Okay, I confess, this one is 125 words over. It was originally almost 300 words over, but I found some places to cut. I just finally could not find anymore, not without risking the integrity of the story as a whole. So, as the 1200 was an arbitrary limit, and this plot is relatively complex, I’m going to leave it as is. I’ve actually been considering changing the value to 1000-1500 words, just because almost all of my drafts are around 1400 words initially. Instead, I think I may leave the 1000-1200 word goal, but make it a goal and not a requirement. Some stories need room to breath, and sometimes the editing process (to reach an arbitrary word count) is problematic. The word count was just a way to keep myself motivated and not crazy from the amount of time required by this, as well as be succinct enough to tell a story. I do not want it to become something that prevents me from telling certain stories, and I have begun to feel I cannot use certain ideas because I would need more space, which was never my intent. So, I’m going to loosen up the word count restriction and focus on telling short stories (still aiming for 1200 words, but with wiggle room) that I really enjoy.

Also, I added an RSS feed button to the side. It was really just a chance for me to learn how to do that (it’s crazy simple, too), but if anyone wants to follow and get it in a reader, you can! Happy reading!

Card Day 29: A woman in a cluttered chemistry lab pours one vial into a bottle with yellow liquid. In her chest is a heart shaped hole.

Audrey had always poured herself into her work, but this morning was a level of insanity they had not expected. She had been assigned to a government project—along with her specially chosen support staff—months prior, but that morning had changed things. Audrey appeared in the lab like a banshee, her face pale, eyes red, and hair flung to the winds. She screamed, tossed aside equipment, and demanded they all leave immediately. Concerned but unwilling to risk bodily injury, they complied and listened as she locked the door behind them.

In the chaotic, now empty, lab, Audrey sank into her chair and began to cry again, the tears stinging at her raw eyes. It had seemed like a nightmare, walking into her home to find her husband and the bottle of pills, their love consummated so finally. Surrounded by the dull drone of her equipment, she wept quietly, unheard by the confused ears listening outside.

Grief-stricken but determined and brilliant as ever, Audrey used the next night to transport the body to the cold storage unit in the lab. It was not uncommon for her to receive large boxes shipped from confidential suppliers, and so no one paid any mind as she wheeled the dolly down the halls with the large box. Rumors of her outbreak had spread, and those who did see avoided her. Safely back in the lab, she breathed a sigh of relief. Her project would be her savior, she realized.

Audrey—and her now forsaken team—had been assigned a grant to research tissue recovery for serve injuries. It was a nationwide project, and it seemed to be the perfect opportunity for her to make a name for herself once and for all. To the befuddlement of her team, they had also just made a major breakthrough, less than a week before the fated morning. Audrey smiled. She did need to alert the project committee of their new direction, though she guessed that the finer details could go unnoticed. Really, she was simply planning to skip rat trials and jump to the big leagues, providing assistance to thousands of hurting people in months, should her plan work.


She waited outside the bar that night, sitting in her tiny sedan with the heater blasting to keep the cold at bay. It was very late, and her coffee was doing little to keep her sense sharp. Still, it was a necessary cost if her project was to proceed. As the neon signs began to go out up and down the street, she looked for the right straggler wandering from the now quiet establishments. She knew that bone growth would be tricky, and so she preferred to avoid that problem if she could. That meant she needed a subject of approximately 72 inches; other matters could be easily dealt with. She scanned the patrons stumbling out into deserted parking lots until she found one that seemed appropriate. He was within an inch of her height requirement, muscular, blond, and falling over drunk. It was easy to slip him a quick jab of anesthesia. In the few moments of bewilderment he had to realize what had happened, who was behind him, and how to respond. His eyes were already dropping low. Audrey had planned ahead, however, and maneuvered his stumbling form towards the trunk, guiding him carefully over the lip of it as his legs finally gave way beneath him. With a slam of the trunk, she pulled out of the lot and back towards the lab. Another box, another dolly, and the second set was complete.

She had never fully rigged someone up for life support solo before, and it was a long process. Her subject, of course, was breathing and resting quite nicely, but she needed to make sure he was properly hydrated, fed, and sedated for the duration of the process. The next few months would be rigorous, but ultimately he would give his body to save millions. She considered waking him to tell him that, but ultimately decided against it, He was a large man and could likely easily overpower her. After it was all done, and and her husband could discuss the events that had transpired. He was brilliant, like her, and would certainly see the reason, she reassured herself.

Months passed, and her fervor never faded. So intent was her work that people were beginning to suspect that she lived in the lab, tough the rumors never developed into anything more. Her response had left a cloud of avoidance around her that most were too afraid to cross, and she refused to open the door to any knock or offered assistance.

It had taken far more trials than she had expected, with many setbacks along the way. Tissue regenerated so slowly, and the cells took time to accept the retrovirus instructions and DNA. She had lost months waiting for a skin cell to correctly replicate. It had also required far more tissue and DNA samples than she expected. Audrey hated walking into the cold storage unit to see the mangled body, missing chunks of skin, hair, and tissue. It had taken so many more samples, so many more trials and errors than she had ever thought possible. But, it seemed to be working.

The skin was the right shade of pale white, and the hair looked to be coming in just fine, though it was still very short from the close trim she had given her original patient.  When she checked his pupils last, the right chocolate brown eyes stared up at him, finally having overcome the last remnants of slate grey. And today marked the 90th day since the cortical injections into the cerebrum. Sure, some argued that those would not regenerate, but she had seen the cells change and grow over the past days, and she was certain that her plan was flawless. Some of the cells were even on their second regeneration since she began, still holding to the new blueprint she had provided. Sixty days had been the shortest she could have waited, but she needed to be certain with a breakthrough this important.

Her hands shook as she turned the IV off, disconnecting the body from the sedative that had tirelessly worked for months. His muscle tone had significantly deteriorated—a fact she felt bad about—but he otherwise appeared healthy. She had been the perfect nurse throughout it all, rotating him as needed, providing all the appropriate care to his injection sites, washing and shaving his face weekly. She simply had not been able to exercise him effectively, not without jeopardizing the entire project. Now, she waited for those eyes to open.

They did slowly, the pupils growing and shrinking in the light. She waited for recognition to blossom in them, for the refreshing hug she had longed for these past months. But, that never came. Instead, rage burst into bloom, contorting his face into a snarling mask. Her husband dove from the table, leaping towards her. There was nothing human left inside him to control the animal instincts he felt, and so he enjoyed the ability to rip her apart, taste her flesh and blood. She screamed, pleaded with him, but there was never any glimmer of recognition in his animal eyes.


“This is a message from the emergency broadcast system. The public is asked to please remain under quarantine. Those who do not comply will be shot on sight. Researchers continue to seek a cure for the Replicator virus, and vaccines will be made available as soon as possible. Individuals are asked to observe family and friends for any signs of infection, including decreased appetite, change in skin tone, change in eye color, sensitivity to light, and unusual aggression. If you see any of these symptoms, please contact your local response unit immediately for containment. This has been an alert from the emergency broadcast system.”

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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Card Challenge: Day 28

Card Day 28: Two snails in an empty stadium are jousting towards one another, their antennae covered by javelins.

The clicking of the keys stampeded through the empty office like a herd of raging bison fleeing certain destruction, tripping over themselves and mounting in haste as they echoed off the empty cubicle walls. Marco sighed, the rapid clicking halting abruptly as he rubbed his tired eyes. He looked at the screen, seeing row after row of accusatory red squiggles identifying every flaw. The report had to be on McGilligan’s desk by open tomorrow, and he still had pages to go. It wasn’t helping that every fifth keystroke was the wrong one.

He pushed back from the desk, leaving the pool of light afforded by the fluorescent light under his cabinet. The floor was surprisingly dark, letting in limited lights from the streets far below, and he felt blinded in the thick darkness.

Coffee was the answer, he was sure of it.

During the hustle and bustle of the day, he never noticed the soft crushing sound of his loaders on the short-trimmed carpet, but now it flowed him along his walk. The tiny break room hummed as he flipped on the overhead lights, bathing the room in a sterile glare that stung at his tired eyes. Shuffling across the linoleum, Marco filled the stained pot with water from the tap, dumped an arbitrary amount of grounds into the basket, and flipped the switch. The smell of coffee quickly filled the air, giving him a reflexive jolt of energy. He waited until the pot dribbled to silence, and then filled the largest mug he could find with the liquid.

Back at his desk, he felt little optimism, even with the caffeine. The cursor still stared and blinked at him, and he let out an unconscious groan which broke through the heavy silence. The silence did not help him think, but only made his isolation all the more present. He sat, feeling the weight of his aloneness and impending failure.

Clicking dispiritedly, he rid his work of the annoying corrections, trying to make it resemble something more than the failed procrastination of a seventh grade history assignment, but ultimately feeling like it was a wasted effort. Then again, it was unlikely anyone would ever even read the report, he cynically admitted. The company had already decided to move forward with the land acquisition, despite protests, and his report was a technical requirement that would get shoved in some folder for the next seven years, then routinely shredded.

It had, at least, been an interesting report to research. He looked into the pros and cons of the acquisition case from a business perspective, talked to residents, protesters, supporters, wildlife experts, geologists, and more specialists than he could imagine. Yes, it was true that the land used to hold some spiritual significance for the area natives. And yes, it was the dwelling place of an endangered slug species. And yes, no one wanted a big corporation setting up shop in their backyard. But, he had not been able to meet with one practitioner of any religious rites in the area, the slugs were not going to be severely disturbed by the building of a complex, and the introduction of the corporation would lead to hundreds of jobs in the community. Ultimately, the report wrote itself, supporting the already decided position.

Still, Marco felt he had to do his due diligence, digging for anything that might later come back as a pitfall of the project. He listed every concern expressed and succinctly dispatched them. Or at least, that had been the intention. Instead, he sat floundering, staring at his screen and trying to remember how he took all of this data and made it say “Great idea, boss!”

Marco jolted in his chair as he thought he heard the distant chime from the elevator. The janitors had already done their sweep of his floor, back before all the lights had gone off and he had been plunged into his solitude. He strained his ears for the sound of someone moving about, walking along the soft carpet, breathing, coughing or clearing their throat. Nothing but silence. Must have imagined it, he answered, wondering if the lack of sleep, isolation, and caffeine were about to trigger some sort of hallucination.

He typed a few lines, summarizing the results of the geological survey that someone had requested. There was nothing found to be all that special, besides some underground caves located relatively far from the build site. His desk was scattered with pages and pages of reports from specialists that some bigwig somewhere had ordered, and he scrambled through them to quote the final evaluation.

There was a thump from somewhere on the floor, the sound of something falling against the walls of a cubicle. Marco froze in his paper shuffling, again straining for any noises. Did offices creak and groan like houses at night? Did cubicles? But he heard nothing else.

“Hello?” he called into the empty space. Nothing responded. Slightly shaken and feeling on edge, Marco realized his coffee cup was already empty. Which meant it was time for a fill up. His walk across the floor was nerve-wracking, especially as he imagined he heard something bumping against the cubicle walls opposite him. But no shadow moved along the alleys, and no one returned his call into the vast space. He focused on making it to the break room.

The light made everything better, and he laughed at his jumpiness. The sounds were probably just the air vents coming on, rattling around the cheap barriers. Only in his sleep-addled state could he get so worked up over so little. He poured another cup of sludge, drinking it as he realized how poor a job he had done making the coffee, and promptly shattered the mug on the floor as he turned around.

Existing—he wanted to say standing, but the thing had no body to speak of—in the doorway was a massive slug, its body stretching back into the shadows. It spotted him and opened its maw of a mouth, displaying hundreds of glistening teeth, dripping with saliva. Slowly, it inched towards him.

Marco realized he was trapped in the tiny break room with no way to leap over the creature and nowhere to run. He grabbed the coffee pot, flinging it and the remaining lukewarm liquid at it, but it barely paused at the collision. Slowly, it crept forward, its jaw opening and closing as if already snacking on his bones

He stumbled back over the chairs, hoping he could at least outrun the thing, when suddenly one of the teeth came flying at him. It sailed through the air like a harpoon, embedding itself deep into his calf. Marco let out of pained yell, stumbling against the wall. His head began to swim, and dizziness took hold. Still pushing himself away, albeit weakly, the slug seemed to be gaining on him. The room was spinning, and the lights were going dim, ultimately fading into shadow.

Marco lay limp and barely conscious as the creature inched closer for the feast. His last thought was that there was no way he was going to get that report finished in time.

Okay, so I’m putting this at the end of everything, but I’m going to be honest, this is the first thing I wrote. This card has me pretty stumped, and I’m trying to take some time to focus on it, come up with some ideas. I figured, while I did this, I could at least go through a bit of my creative process with this. So, I have a card. Some days, the idea just jumps off the page at me, like with Day 26 and the books. Sometimes a word or phrase comes to mind, like “token of affection,” from Day 1. Other days, I look at the card and it just stares back at me. Today is one of those days. My husband is now use to the occasional, “Crap,” from me when I draw my card, meaning whatever is on there has me stumped. As tempting as it is, I do not toss the card back in and try again, but I do have a process.

I start with the background. What is going on? Are there any interesting details that help make it all make sense? (There is stadium seating behind them, but it’s empty). What emotion does it evoke? (Silliness, futility) Any thematic ideas? (Isolation, maybe impending tragedy either perceived or real, effort despite no observers, tedium) Are they actors in the image, and if so, do they inspire anything? (Snails. I am not writing about anthropomorphized snails.) Then I just spend some time rolling these thoughts around, trying to find anything that sticks or seems to coalesce into some idea. Sometimes, I just let go of the details of the image, hold onto the feeling, and try to imagine an opening line (like “Wonder has always been a child’s greatest asset” from Day 6), and then integrate story components from there. And then sometimes I just start writing something, anything, and hope it ultimately makes sense. When I’m feeling a little stuck, I turn to some good instrumental music tracks to help me out, Disparition (the music of Welcome to Night Vale!) is a personal favorite.

Today, I ultimately started with the ideas of tedium, isolation, effort, and perceived doom (and a little Disparition). And then decided I have not done a good horror piece in a while, and I want to. So, there you have it. My creative process, at least for today. I stumbled across this article today, which was fairly interesting. It’s kind of the approach I’ve been taking with these, only I publish them with the caveat that they are first drafts. It’s how I do a lot of my stuff actually, because it does keep me moving and working. Worth a read (and its short)!

Also, and this is kind of important, I learned today that slugs can be predatory, have up to 3000 teeth, and can, in fact, shoot their teeth like a harpoon to deliver neurotoxins to their prey. Slugs just moved up a few notches on my scary creatures list!

Thanks for paying attention to my rambling! Hope you enjoyed it. 🙂

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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Card Challenge: Day 27

Card Day 27: A caterpillar is entering a maze. Along the way waits a bird perched on the walls of the maze, but pairs of wings wait at the two exits.

Growing up is tough. Especially when you are spending most of your time trying to cover up a secret as well, which was a reality Angie knew all too well. SAs if being a teenager was not hard enough, she also had the added benefit of nearing her Full Moon Turn for the first time, which meant hair in new and unusual places, irritability, muscle aches, cramps, and occasional voice cracking or growling. So, Angie generally just kept her head down and trudged through high school as if she were invisible, hoping that enough wishing would make it true.

As usual, Angie shuffled into PE and hung by the sidelines until the teacher appeared to take her “doctor’s note” so she could sit out. It would not do for her to get riled up now, especially as her strength fluctuated so wildly. It would raise eyebrows if she slammed another student into the retaining wall during dodge ball. That, and her eyes had the bad habit of dilating into solid black disks when she started to get competitive. No, it was best for her to sit with her feet dangling from the concrete wall, reading her book and working on her math homework. This was her fifth school in as many years, so friends were not very common. It made those long classes feel even longer, but it was an isolation she was used to.

“What’s your excuse?” sneered a voice from behind her. She turned to see a man in a yellow shirt and black shorts, a metal whistle hanging around his neck to complete the uniform.

“Where’s Ms. Jensen?”

“She’s got a cold. So, what’s your excuse? That time of the month?”

Angie dropped her eyes to the ground and began to mumble her embarrassment, holding out the note. He snatched it from her hand.

“Adrenal issues, huh? Don’t want to mess around with that. Have a seat.” He gestured dismissively to the retaining wall that ran around the edge of the field. The shrill edge of his whistle cut through the air, drawing her peers to attention. Throughout the class, she noticed his eyes drilling into her as if she had personally insulted him. Angie tried to keep her focus on the book, but felt his eyes drawing her away as each moment passed. Finally, when she thought she was going to fly out of her skin, the dismissal tone sounded from the loudspeakers, and she was freed. The substitute walked towards her as she packed her things.

“What’s wrong with your eyes?” he snapped.

Angie froze. She had not realized how nervous he had actually made her. “It’s just my condition,” she whispered quickly, darting back towards the dull brick building.

She tried to remain calm the rest of the day, but the events of the morning had left her shaken. Lunch rolled around, and she ate her turkey sandwich numbly, the bustle of the cafeteria spinning around her. The sound of a tray slamming into the wooden table snapped her back to the present. There was the PE teacher, staring at her again. She did her best to ignore him, pulling out the jello cup at the bottom of her brown paper bag.

“Need a spoon?” he asked quickly.

She stuttered, the words getting caught at the threshold of her lips. He slid one down the table towards her, which she picked up with a hurried, “Thanks.” No sooner did the metal touch her fingertips than she felt a white hot pain radiate up her arm. She pulled away quickly, the spoon rattling loudly against the table.

“What’s the matter? Don’t like silver?” He smiled her way, picking up his tray and disappearing through the crowd. Angie’s heart was in her throat as she rushed out of the cafeteria. Her parents needed to know.

Two texts later, Angie cleaned out what little was in her locker and made a beeline for the exit. She had snuck out of so many schools at this point, it was second nature. She waited until the lunch bell rang again, flooding the halls with students, and then joined a group walking their ways to the fields for afternoon PE. It was then just a quick jaunt to the back of the school, where nothing but a struggling chain-link fence separated her from freedom.

Angie was halfway over the fence when someone grabbed her shoulder, pulling her back to the ground. There was the PE teacher.

“You’re really lucky, you know? I’m here in time to save you, give you a normal life. It’s not going to be fun, but…it’s better than the alternative.”

His hand clamped over her mouth as she gathered the strength to scream. She felt a sharp pinch against her neck, the sting of a needle breaking the skin, and was suddenly asleep.


As she woke, she was distinctly aware of the scent of stale, damp air, as well as the stench of the “teacher” from school. That and rough ropes around her wrists. Angie stirred, testing the ropes but lacking the strength at the moment. She wondered what he had given her, because her mouth had an unpleasant metallic tang, while her head pounded like a drum.

“Good morning, sunshine,” he purred. There was the sound of metal tools being moved about, clanging against the wooden table and one another, then the loud screech of a chair on the concrete floor. The man stepped around in front of her, and Angie felt her hackles rise more literally than she had expected. “Keep it calm, little pup. We’ve got the wolfsbane, nightshade, silver, iron, everything we need. You’ll be right as rain in no time.” He smiled an insincere smile and walked back towards the heard-but-never-seen workbench, his heavy hand resting on the back of the chair.

Angie felt her muscles tensing and coiling beneath her skin. It might not have been the full moon that night, but she also understood the utter unpredictability of her first Change. She had hoped for another week, but nevertheless she felt an unfamiliar stretching in her bones.

“I know this is probably terrifying,” for the first time, she heard sympathy in his voice, “but I promise you’ll thank me later. You’re going to get a normal life.”

“What about my parents?” she asked, the words springing unbidden from her lips, trailing into a low growl at the end.

She heard a harsh hiss from behind her. “Yeah, that is a wrinkle, now isn’t it? I mean, I know they are your parents, but…” The words trailed off, their implication hanging heavy in the air. “I do have a job to do.”

H shuffled around, and Angie felt the ropes snap beneath her arms. She felt her skin rippling with the Change. The sound of snapping bones rang throughout her ears as her eyes shifted, her nose elongated, and her teeth stretched to deadly points.

He yelled, and it was painfully loud to her newly sensitive ears. And the sound of snapping bones continued to echo throughout the basement, filling it with the scent of iron.

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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Card Challenge: Day 26

Card Day 26: A girl stands atop a stack of books, bent to dive off of them and into an open one below. Standing on the open book is a woman—or fairy—in a ball gown, waiting for the girl to dive.

Lose yourself in a good book, he said. Reading will transport you, he said. Myra would have rolled her eyes if she had not been more focused on evading the screeching, fire-breathing dragon charging relentlessly after her. Every flap of its wings was another wall of air slamming against her back, pushing her forward just enough to evade its jagged claws.

Her sides ached and her lungs burned with the constant pursuit, and she gasped for air with shaky breaths as her feet drove inexhaustibly towards some imagined relief. She had not known there was a sleeping dragon in the middle of the forest; in fact, she did not think a forest was a particularly suitable home for a dragon. However, none of that mattered when the behemoth stretched its wings and took flight, eyeing its next meal with murderous glee.

The gale forces against her back began to abate, and she dared hope that she might be outrunning the predator. She risked a glance behind her to see the great lizard rising slowly into the air, its wings blocking out the sun as if it were a massive thundercloud. Then, its head reared back, thin streams of smoke snaking from the upturned nostrils. Her eyes widened in panic, and she flung herself towards the small outcropping of rocks to her side.

The fire rushed past her, its heat stinging her skin, but fortunately leaving it uncharred. It seemed like innumerable waves of fire crashed around her, lashing against the rocks but ultimately unable to overwhelm them. Myra felt sweat pour from her body in response to the heat, only to have it immediately evaporate. Eventually, it abated, leaving the world feeling icy with its absence. She peeked from her hiding spot in time to see the great creature toddle off into the sunset with its leathery wings and bloated body.

She sank against the rocks, feeling them cold against her irritated skin. It might not have burnt her to a crisp, but the exposure left her nerves feeling raw and weathered. Her lungs filled with gulping breathes of the acrid air, enjoying the sweet relief of oxygen despite the lingering haze that filled each mouthful. She tried not to think about it, or about the ridiculous circumstances that had brought her here.

Once her breathing returned to mostly normal, she stood gingerly on aching legs. She must have run for miles trying to escape, or at least it certainly felt that way to her unaccustomed body. Her feet pounded, and she could see blood tinging her socks from the raw blister that had formed and burst in her haste. Myra groaned and considered dropping back to the ground, letting this world spin on without her in the hopes that it somehow left her behind. But as she saw the sun glistening on the horizon, she found the courage to seek some sort of shelter. If dragons roamed the woods during the day, there was no telling what the night might hold.

A dirt path wound through the countryside towards some rolling hills. She could not see any people or structures nearby, and so set off in a direction, hoping something would appear. “Stupid book,” she muttered as she walked, still no refuge in sight.

She had sat down, begrudgingly, to read the book her teacher had offered her. She did not want to read it, but he had been so good intentioned recommending it that she felt she had to. That, and he had a dreamy smile. Myra could not help but feel a flutter in her heart at the memory of that smile. But, one moment she had been reading, and the next she was asleep. It was the moment after that which baffled her. She had awoken outside, wandered around the woods, stumbled upon a dragon, and fled for her life. If her body did not ache so profoundly, she would have sworn it was a nightmare.

The heat burn on her skin left her chilled as night descended. The stars poked out from the sky, pinpricks of icy light in a navy curtain. She did not recognize a single one, though she also knew she would not have recognized one if it had been outside her bedroom window at home. Stars were just not that interesting to her, though she suddenly wished they had been. Instead, her tired feet dragged her protesting body along the path and through the hills.

Eventually, she spotted a small cave. It was, she was certain, unsafe, but it was the only thing resembling shelter she had found. And she was about to collapse after the long, impossible day. The inside of the cave was dark, unlit by the moon or stars. She felt along the walls, leading herself just into the mouth of it, but strictly attuned to the slightest sounds. There were, after all, probably werewolves in there. Or some other equally unbelievable creature. Finally, her legs gave out, and she fell against the sandy floor. There was silence in the cave, silence in the world.

And then, there was light.

The man holding the light was your traditional wizard; long grey hair, messy grey beard, blue cloak, and gnarled staff. The tip of the staff glowed with a silver light, pouring into the cave from his position at the entrance. Myra shielded her eyes from it and tried to edge back into the dark of the cave, but he gave a shout of recognition.

“Ah! There’s where you wandered off to!” He shuffled over to her, and Myra found a wall against her back.

“Who are you?” she queried warily. Hopefully, not a dragon.

“I have a book for you!” he crowed, holding out a faded leather book. Myra eyed it with disgust.

“I’ve had enough of books,” she grumbled.

“Come now, I think you’ll like this one.” He shoved the book under her nose, so close she could smell the old leather.

“I don’t-“

“Here!” He quickly flipped the book open so that she had to see the first page.

“Myra sat in her room,” it began. She looked up at him, only to see her teacher’s warm eyes smiling back.

“What is this? Some kind of joke?” she asked, anger rising in her voice.


Seeing no give in his argument, she complied.

Myra sat in her room, the book forgotten on her lap as she slumbered.” As she read, she noticed the cave walls began to grow thin around her, giving way to the pale turquoise of her bedroom. She continued reading, watching her surroundings shift slowly back into her world until she found herself seated on her bed, reading diligently about a land of wizards and dragons.

Myra leapt from the bed, slamming the book shut. She could see herself in the mirror, her skin reddened, her hair a mess of dirt, soot, and leaves. She gingerly touched her arms and legs, feeling their realness, but aghast at their condition. Without a word, she scooped the book off her bed, and promptly threw it out her window, slamming the glass shut hard enough to shake it in the frame. No smile was worth that.

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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Card Challenge: Day 25

So, i enjoyed writing this, but it does not really go anywhere. It definitely does not have as much of a plot as I would generally want, but I think it would be fun to revisit this world at another date, so it was fun in taht respect. Still, kind of a weird one!

Card Day 25: Lines in a person’s palm seen through a magnifying glass as rivers of water.

The world was a cracked, dry, broken place. It was half-shattered by the heat, held together by sheer stubbornness and human determination.  Sometimes Daion thought it would spin itself apart, scattering tiny pieces of dust to all corners of the galaxy. Sometimes, he even hoped that would happen.

Today, his throat was parched, his skin was reddened, and his eyes ached with the force of the bright sun. He stood atop a craggy hill, looking around at a brown dessert stretched beneath a rotted orange sky. It was the same in all directions, differentiated by a hill or ruined city on one side that was a different hill or desolate town on the other. He lifted the dusty goggles from his eyes, squinting against the glare as he tried to notice anything in the distance that broke the monotony. Successful, he let out a sharp whistle.

“Trista, gotta camelback, straight ahead.” He had seen the familiar silhouette bopping along behind the rough terrain, its stooped back promising reward. Trista scaled the summit beside him, her hair sticking up haphazardly around her goggles and dust mask, styled in place by the stiff winds and an unhealthy dose of sweat.

“Sweet. I could go for some guilt free refreshment.” He could see the smile stretching across her face, even beneath her protective gear. She adjusted the pack on her back and started clambering down the other side of the hill. Daion followed at a slower pace, watching her haphazard descent as a trail of anemic dust in the air, caught and spun away by a sudden breeze. He took care to avoid the places she slipped into freefall, letting his feet expertly test the shifting terrain for stability. It was just like Trista to rush into everything, unaware of the potential pitfalls waiting along each step. But, in many ways, it was that unbridled adventurous spirit that he so appreciated.

“Don’t strand me up here,” he chuckled, selecting his careful path to more level ground. They followed the shadows, galloping over dunes and hills towards the previously marked salvation. Daion tried not to notice the impossible dryness in his skin and mouth, ignoring the fact that the sweat had dried on his brow. He was certain Trista was fading as quickly as he was, though she continued with the same dogged perseverance. Finally, they crested the hill and saw the familiar grey lump seated on the sand.

“Oy, Brother! Got some respite for some weary bones?” called Trista merrily, sliding to a stop next to the monk. He was covered in pale gray clothing, enough to cover his body, but thin enough to prevent him from cooking under the sun. Nevertheless, his face was red and pinched, sweat dribbling down his brow.

“Yes, of course. Have a rest, have a drink,” chimed the man, pointing to the thick water bag that was now seated beside him. Normally, the bag would sit precariously on his back as he trundled through the wastelands, granting miracles to dying travelers.

Daion filled up Trista’s canteen, and then his own. “Drink, brother?” he offered the weary monk.

The man smiled pleasantly, his eyes saying yes as he spoke. “No, I have my ration right here.” He tapped the canteen on his waist gingerly, and Daion took note of the hollow tone. “This is for the travelers. It is our duty to provide a cup of water to those who wander.”

“Well, you are a life saver, Brother,” thanked Daion as he tipped his canteen back. The water raced over his tongue and throat. It seemed as if the tissue was too dry to absorb a single drop of the water, and it filled his belly quickly. The cool was so refreshing, providing a glimmer of light to his shadowed eyes. Trista’s eyes were closed, and he could see her swishing the water around her mouth in ecstasy. There was the sound of silence, of water trickling from the plastic canteens, and of the two travelers gulping thirstily. Then, just silence. Daion felt the dehydrated headache beginning to fade and he could once again focus.

“Anywhere to sleep around here?” chimed Trista, having emerged from her water-logged fantasy to notice the darkening horizon.

Daion’s eyes shot to the west, seeing the sun as a swollen blister on the horizon, threatening to burst and poor flames across the world. Nature would kill you in the day, but it was humanity you had to fear at night. He could see the same unease flashing across the monk’s face. Daion felt the uncomfortable distrust suddenly chill the air. Yes, the monk had no idea who these two travelers were, and no good reason to reveal his one spot of safety. Providing a cup of water? Sure. Lead strangers to those people he cared about? Never. The monks caring nature left him fumbling over words, unwilling to lie, and unwilling to answer.

“No problem, padre. But we better get going.” He tipped his head toward Trista, and she was on her feet in a blink. “Take a bag for the road?” he asked as he gestured at the hefty reservoir. “Make your trip home a bit lighter?”

“The day is nearly done. Take what you need.”

The nights were cool and lonely. It would have been best to travel then, but the dangers of the road were too great for the two of them alone. Instead, it was time to hunker in their burrows while predators roamed. Daion scattered the sand that displayed their steps off the main path; the wind would have likely taken care of it, but you could not leave something so important in the hands of chance. They slid behind a tangle of rocks, slipping into the deep shadows that whispered security. It was a dinner of stringy jerky and stale dried fruit, with a few precious sips of water to wash it down. Neither of them spoke. It was too dangerous.

In the silence of the night came growls and hisses rom whatever creature still managed to live out there. More concerning were the whoops and hollers of the human creatures that somehow managed to thrive on cruelty and anarchy. Trista squeezed her eyes shut at the sounds, and Daion moved in closer, aware of the memories that were etched on her eyelids.

“I’ll take first watch,” he said, squeezing her hand briefly. She nodded and rolled to the side. Somehow, you got used to sleeping through terror around here. Daion leaned back against the rocks, listening and watching the stars. It was hard to imagine this feeble existence was, in fact, reality.  But, he looked at Trista, already breathing evenly in sleep, and he realized it could be worse. Daion remembered his first months alone, the violence and desperation. Now, he was filled with a strange peace and acceptance of life as I was. And he smiled at Trista as she slept, feeling the familiar ease of friendliness and protection. It was nice to create, rather than destroy. The night raged on, and Daion kept watch, waiting for the punishing eye of the sun to relieve them of the dark side of the human condition.

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Card Challenge: Day 24

Card Day 24: A man sits below a tree, up to his waist in yellow sand. Above him is a tree branch, covered in birds that he conducts in song. From the branch, a spider descends.

Death sat at the edge of the bed, looking at the frail man beneath the sheets. His breaths were shallow and rattling, and his pulse was visible through the paper thin skin of his wrists. Gently, Death lifted his hand and placed it atop the man’s.

Edmund opened his eyes slowly, as if they were held shut by an incredible weight. He did not respond with fear or sorrow to the specter, but smiled the same way he did when his grandchildren roared into the sterile hospital room. It was a look of weary joy, speaking of all the ambivalences long life encompasses. His voice creaked when he spoke, an organ that had deteriorated from the booming orator’s voice of his youth. Now it was a scratchy whisper, wavering like a twig in a summer’s storm.

“I figured you’d come around soon.”

Death smiled, his eyes softening. “It is about that time.”

“You don’t look like I thought you would. Too much….skin.” The rest of Edmund’s words and thoughts faded off as he stared up at death. There was no skeletal face, no heavy black hood. The ephemeral spirit did not even carry a scythe. Instead, Death was a man in a black suit and tie, his hair trimmed and lying neatly in dark brown waves. His shoes were sharp and polished, one balanced precisely atop his knee while the other tethered him to the tile floor. Beside him sat a leather briefcase with complicated looking cylinders on top. In an unsettlingly human motion, Death repositioned his wire-rimmed glasses on his nose and smiled.

“The shock and awe thing really isn’t necessary most of the time,” responded Death calmly.

Edmund grunted his answer, his breathing coming in irregular hiccups. Death gave him a sympathetic look as he carefully weighed his words.

“It is almost time, and it can be time now.”

Edmund closed his eyes, swallowed hard and nodded. He relaxed against the stiff hospital pillows, feeling the last bit of struggle fade out of his body. It was quiet, peace, and freedom. He opened his eyes, feeling suddenly light now freed of his medical burdens, and smiled back at Death.

“That was not nearly as bad as people say,” he chuckled.

Death echoed the laugh, the sound feeling somewhat hollow coming from the man at the end of the bed. “Those who complain have rarely met me. It’s libelous, really.”

Edmund continued to laugh, though there was no clear impetus for it. He laughed until his entire form shook, tears sliding down his ghostly face. He laughed so loudly that, had he still been a corporeal being, the whole hospital would have awoken. After a time, the laughter faded to an occasional chuckle. “What now?” he finally asked between snickers, his voice regaining its youthful tenor.

“Now, it’s time for the Great Beyond. But, as a courtesy, any final requests? Barring harming someone or restoring your life, I’m fair game for last wishes.”

Edmund grew serious for a moment, pondering this unexpected opportunity. “I suppose…” his voice trailed off as he considered the question. “Well, after being locked up in here, I’d like one thing. I’d like to see one last bit of beauty in this life. I miss things besides grey walls, fluorescent bulbs, and tile floors.”

Death nodded, pursing his lips in thought. “That’s a tall order, Mr. Graves.”

Edmund shrugged. “I figure you’re the man who can make it happen.”

In a fluid, graceful movement, Death bent and retrieved the briefcase from the floor. His fingers danced over the tumblers in some well-practiced numbers, the case opening with a satisfying click. “I think I have just what you need.” He pulled a smooth stone from the case, and then closed it with a click. At that sound, the hospital walls faded away, making way for a broad, darkening sky. Edmund joined Death atop some pristine mountain peak, watching the sun set over a valley of impossible peaks and valleys. The colors spread across the sky like a spilled oil painting, creating shades that only existed for that moment. Death turned to Edmund, smiling with pride. “Beautiful, eh?”

Edmund shrugged, looking unimpressed. “I suppose, but I saw more beautiful sunsets when Agnes and I were dating. We used to sneak off to Lover’s Point and watch it set. This is nice and all, though,” he finished, suddenly sheepish and concerned her appeared ungrateful.

“No worries, Edmund. I aim to please, but even I miss the mark occasionally. Let’s try something else.” He delved back into the briefcase, returning with a paintbrush.

“Listen, Death, if the real thing ain’t gonna do it for me, a painting won’t either. I think we can skip that one. I’ve never been one for galleries and all that. My grandson had some art up in those things, and they were beautiful, but most of its just trying to capture what we can see with our own eyes. Or some modern mumbo jumbo.”

Death chuckled and returned the brush. “You’re a man who knows what he likes. I like that. Maybe we change tack.” He snapped the briefcase shut, holding a single sheet of music. The mountain gave way to the concert hall, filled with a celestial blend of instruments and human voices. They rose and fell in harmony, creating a slight echo that left feelings of nostalgia for each passed moment, while spurring the listener into the next marvelous note. The words were unimportant, but the sound seemed to wrap the entire hall in a shell of impenetrable peace. Death looked at Edmund, expecting to see his mouth agape and eyes wide. The man instead had a look of polite appreciation, and smile good naturedly at Death.

“Oh, now this is very nice. Reminds me of when Nina, my daughter, was in choir. She had the voice of an angel. I swear, nothing more beautiful than that.” Realizing what he had said, Edmund fumbled for an apology. “Not that this isn’t nice. It’s quite nice. Beautiful, even. Thank you, Death.”

Death shook his head and sigh. “Edmund, I promised you a last request, and I do take pride in keeping my word. Let me try one last thing. I think I’ve got you figured out.”

Another expedition into the briefcase, another item retrieved. This time, it was a scuffed metal fork. Death smiled as the concert hall walls faded, as the sound dimmed to a memory, and the ruckus of family dinner took over.

Edmund found himself in the midst of a family Thanksgiving some years hence. Nina and her husband John were smiling and laughing, Tracie played the piano while the smell of a slightly overdone bird wafted through the house. Jason and Michael were lying in the floor, putting together a puzzle. He saw piles of coats in the hallway, heard the hubbub of activity in the kitchen were Marsha was putting the finishing touches on the big spread, enlisting a joyful David to cart it all to the long table. Edmund smiled, and Death saw tears stinging at the man’s eyes.

“Well, now, I guess you finally got my number, Death. Nothing more beautiful than that. Nothing at all.”

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Card Challenge: Day 23

Card Day 23: A man sits on a park bench at night, reading the newspaper. The sky above him is filled with, not stars, but letters.

Davis never went anywhere without his book. It was practically an additional appendage, always within arm’s reach. It was a relatively nondescript book, bound in worn brown leather and without distinguishing marks. It resembled someone’s beloved journal with its weathered spine and soft-edged pages.

Davis gazed out the bus window as it drifted along the city streets. His mind, however, was a million miles away. Elise had left the apartment mad this morning, and for the moment his thoughts were occupied with figuring out what he had done wrong.

His morning had been by the book. He woke up and hit the snooze twice before stumbling to the shower. Then he had toweled off and started breakfast. Two slices of toast, and a scrambled egg—though he had to admit he was not really feeling the scrambled egg, but he had to stick to the plan. Elise had been rushing around the apartment because her alarm had gone off late.

She had glared at him sitting and eating his breakfast in peace while she rushed from room to room in search of her shoes, then her phone, then her earrings, then her coat. In a huff, she was out the door with a sharp, “bye,” without even taking time for—

Oh. Davis suddenly understood the importance of the scrambled egg and extra piece of toast which he had scarfed down. She had missed out on breakfast, while he sat there feasting l and watching her frenzy. Of course, he knew it was not his fault, and she would say the same thing later, but it was just one more annoyance on an already off-kilter day. The problem identified, he reached and pulled out the battered notebook.

The vanilla sheet already had some of his scratch marks on it. The top of the page read, Tuesday, May 6, followed by his morning itinerary. He read over the list once more, noting the item squished in between “Breakfast: 2 toast, scrambled eggs,” and “Walking shoes; umbrella.” He was unsure how he had missed “Share,” tucked in there before, but he reminded himself to read more carefully.

Shaking his head, he pulled out a pen and wrote in the book. ‘Elise is mad at me,’ and then closed it without a word.

He rode along on the bus, still turning the problem over in his mind A sudden shudder and groan from the bus made him pause. There was an elongated sigh from the engine up front, followed by some sharp yells and curses from the driver.

The overhead speaker crackled to life. “Folks, I’m sorry. Looks like we have some mechanical issues this morning. I’m going to radio into the station, and I’ll update you once I know something.”

The passengers around him sighed and mumbled, casting frustrated glances out the rainy windows and then back to their watches. Davis did the same, and then realized the importance of his walking shoes and umbrella. Decided, he made his way down the aisle and into the damp streets.

It was only a few blocks, he told himself as he cut down a side alley, and the exercise would be good for him. Cheerily walking along, he paused to pull out the journal. ‘Call her,’ had appeared below his messy handwriting. Without another thought, he secured the journal back in his bag, and pulled out his phone.

Her voice was terse on the phone, suggesting her day had not gotten better. “Hello?”

“Hey, Elli.”

It softened just a bit, but kept an edge. “Oh, hey.”

“Listen, I realize I was pretty insensitive this morning. I knew you were running late, and I didn’t do anything to even help out.”

She sighed and the anger drained from her voice. “No, you were fine. I was just annoyed and started out on the wrong side of the bed. You didn’t do anything.”

Davis chuckled good-naturedly. “Yeah, but I should be there to make your day better, not worse.”

Her response was lost to him as someone suddenly rushed from behind him, ripping at his messenger bag. Davis jolted alert, panic coursing through him, as the canvas bag slipped from his shoulder and into the stranger’s hands. Then the man was off, racing through the alley and towards the busy street. Davis took chase, yelling after him as his phone danced forgotten in his hand. He could just see the man disappearing down another side alley, and so he pursued. But upon arriving, there were no additional signs. Lost, confused, and alone, Davis suddenly became aware of the tiny voice echoing from his phone.

“Davey, are you okay? What’s happening?”

He was breathless. “He stole my bag, El, he took it.”

“Oh my God! Are you alright?”

“He took my journal. What am I going to do?”

He was distantly aware that she was still talking to him, but it sounded like it came from an impossible distance. Davis felt his world crumbling, robbed of the one thing that had kept him on track all these years. Why hadn’t it warned him? Shouldn’t it have given him some signs? Or some way to prevent this tragedy? Numbly, he disconnected the call.

His day faded into a blur of police reports and office chitchat, but Davis felt adrift. He floated through the hours of the day, arriving home about 45 minutes later than he generally did. Elise was waiting.

“Thank God you’re okay! I’m so sorry, babe.” He smiled pleasantly at the remarks, but the numbness persisted.

“I’m fine,” he mumbled, falling onto the couch. What should he watched on television? He had no idea.

“Listen, I know you were really upset about losing your journal, so—“ she pulled a hastily wrapped package from behind her back. “I got you this.”

Davis opened the gift, seeing unfamiliar brown leather and crisply white pages staring up at him. He did his best to smile and appear gracious, but her eyes said she saw the grief.

“I know that journal was important to you and all, especially having it to many years. I can’t replace it, but I thought—“

He cut her off with a genuine smile, carefully concealing the loss he still felt. “It’s great. Thank you. That was really thoughtful.”

She brightened at his words and sincerity, springing from the couch. “Well, I also made you a pretty huge dinner to make up for all the rottenness of today. You can break in the new journal while I finish it up,” she said, disappearing into the small kitchen.

Davis, weary, decided to oblige.

My journal was stolen.’ He stared down at the words, crisp ink on white pages and sighed, before turning his attention to the kitchen where all manner of sounds and smells were emanating. He supposed he would find a way to live without his journal, though it seemed a daunting task. It was like starting life at square one, and that seemed to be a tall order this late in life. Hopeless, he looked back at the new journal, missing the familiar warmth and companionship of the old. But the white page caught his eye, marred by a handwriting not his own.


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Card Challenge: Day 22

Card Day 22: A woman with the body of a cello plays a song. The music staff and played notes stretch from the body of the instrument as children run and play along the music.

The sound of music stirred Sylvia from her sleep, and she gave it her usual smile and turned back over. There was something incredibly soothing about falling asleep to the wind-buffeted strains of music that intermittently floated through town. Someone somewhere was injecting a little beauty into the world.

Her window curtains fluttered in the breeze, the volume of the music growing with the wind. The notes did not conform to any song she recognized, but they were beautiful nonetheless. There was a haunting quality to it, a joy and somberness that made it perfect for the moonlit night. It was soothing, lulling her gently back to sleep.

The next morning, Sylvia woke to bird song, the haunting melody certainly having faded around early dawn. She stretched, unseating the stiffness of the night. She always felt so rested after a night of music.

Sylvia also found her curiosity impossibly piqued. The music had been a reality as long as she could remember, and it seemed like no one had ever sought it out. Sylvia tried to think back to her childhood, to a time when stories were so rampant and free, but she could not recall anything about the music. In fact, she felt a fuzziness close in around her childhood, presenting all the facts as shadows and echoes. There were rumors, of course, but she could think of no newspaper article or breaking news about the town’s claim to fame. It simply was, just as the sun rose and set predictably each day, the music would blossom under the peak of the moon and fade as day returned. But Sylvia felt drawn to discover the truth and thank whatever person or organization was responsible for the bit of beauty.

As dusk settled in the next night, she settled in with her thermos of coffee. She was not very good at staying awake late into the night, but she felt a sense of adventure and excitement at the prospect. She sat and read a dog-eared copy of her favorite book as the minutes ticked off the clock and the night grew darker. Just around midnight, she heard the music begin.

It was soft, but steadily growing in volume. Sylvia had images of sunrise in her mind, how the light ever so gently pierced the edge of night, suffusing it with levity and brilliance a moment at a time. The music grew cautiously, swelling with a solemn joy. Her lids began to feel heavy as she sat and listened, but she made the difficult decision to push back from the table and walk into the night.

On the winding sidewalk, she paused. Her ears strained in all directions, aching for the imperceptible beckon from some location. The right, she finally decided, and began walking determinedly in that direction. What was in that direction? Sylvia tried to remember, but found it was a bit hazy. She knew the school, the church, and the grocery were all to the left from her bungalow. To the right…there was a feeling as if she once knew, but it was hard to catch. She could not remember the last time she had deviated out of her comfortable little neighborhood, and especially not at night.

The breeze was cool and brought the music a little closer. It was definitely getting louder as she walked along the rows of dark houses. The stars were out and brilliant, as was the moon. The cheery lilt of the music made her want to skip, and so she let her feet shuffle her along the path, following the constant direction of the musical notes.

She tried to place the instrument responsible, but was stymied. It, ultimately, sounded unlike anything she could rightfully place, and the notes moved in such unison that it was impossible to believe two players could be in such synchronicity.

The sidewalk abruptly ended, and the music was still distant. Sylvia looked off into the distance, wondering what laid beyond. The bright moon overhead showed a grassy field that faded into the tree line. She had no memory of this borderland, but the trees waved her on. The music swelled a bit louder with a gust of wind, increasing with each step she took into the darkness.

The night was deepening, and the music seemed to permeate the air all around her. It was not a stream of music coming from any source, but a cloud that wrapped her and carried her onward. From the shadows ahead, a lit-window materialized. Sylvia quickened her pace and soon found herself in front of the simple wooden door.

The door swung open before she could knock, and Sylvia found herself face to face with the master musician. He was indeterminably old and youthful, bent over a stringed instrument that she could not recognize. He face was lit with a calm smile, and his eyes spoke of years beyond the relative youth of his supple skin. He smiled as she entered.

“Sylvia, so nice of you to visit.”

She paused on the threshold, wondering how he could know her name, but he exuded a kindness that put her at ease. “Are you the one who plays the music?” she asked, though the answer was obvious. All around her, the air hummed in time with his swiftly moving fingers.

He smiled, and motioned towards the seat beside him, his only answer to her question.

“How does everyone hear you, then?”

“I play for those who want to hear,” he began, his fingers never pausing, “and this world carrier my music to them. That is one nice thing here.”

She listened to his answer, listening to the swelling music. To sound across the whole town, it should have been deafening here, but it was perfect. “So it’s some kind of magic?” she asked, fully under his spell.

“I suppose, but only magical in the way that this entire place is.”

“It is quite magical, indeed,” she murmured, feeling drowsiness set back in. Then his words finally sunk in. “What do you mean this entire place is magical?”

He smiled and looked at her, perplexed. “Well, it certainly is not a place grounded in reality, now is it?”

She had never thought of that, but it seemed true. There was a surreal, perfected quality to things here that were in sharp contrast to the reality she expected. He could see her mind spinning with the idea, and smiled even more broadly towards her.

“This is my way of giving back, of adding a little something mystical to the daily.”

“Where are we, then?” she finally asked.

The music turned a bit more somber, though still with an edge of hope. “My dear you live in the Beyond, now. And I do my best to make you all feel welcome here.”

Sylvia felt his words crash into her, their honesty disarming her to the reality of the situation. She felt herself slipping and falling, but tethered back to the world by the music. The soothing music that coaxed her to calm, her lids heavy, her eyes closed, and sleep finally achieved.

Sylvia woke to the sound of birdsong and the memory of the universe’s lullaby.

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Card Challenge: Day 21

Guys, today marks the 1/4 Mark of the Challenge! Twenty-one of 84 days down! It’s pretty exciting, for me at least. I’m proud of what I have accomplished so far, and look forward to spinning some more interesting tales. For my own enjoyment, I am planning to print and bind the completed challenge, so I am keeping a running Comprehensive document on my computer Thus far, there are 65 pages and over 25,000 words! That’s so much writing since January 1! That means the final product will be around 260 pages and over 100,000 words. Wow.

Well, thank you for allowing me to marvel for a bit. Today’s piece is finished and probably one of my favorites so far. The card was really hard to describe, but I did my best. Please enjoy!

Card Day 21: A man with an ax approaches a tree. The branches of the tree have some tiny leaves on them, but then are covered with clouds and planets. The roots of the tree transition into tentacles and streams of water, a fish swimming along them.

What does it take to destroy a universe?

A cataclysm? Apocalypse? Do those things destroy a universe? No. We assume that the collapse of all we know is sue to the effects of some fated, predicted catastrophe that strips daily life of all its rules, laws, and foundations. But that is our mistake. You see, these things are the effects of a universe in freefall. We mistake effects for cause, and spend all of our life searching for an effect so we can prevent was has already happened.

We can conceive of what a destroyed universe might look like, but the cause is far beyond us. It is terrifying in its utter alienness. Because for the universe to be destroyed, there must be a fatal flaw in the processes we so certainly depend on, or there is something far larger than any of us.

So, what does it take to destroy a universe?


I worked for DelSanto Labs for fifteen years. I had high hopes of reaching some heretofore unknown peak of human intellect and advancement with my tiny projects, plying my hands at the great unknowns. It was all a pipe dream until Dr. Swanson asked me to be her lab assistant for her latest project. In conspiratorial whispers she told me about their goals to model the macro level processes of cosmic organization, tracing the development of the laws that held our planet spinning in place. She showed me the lab, rows of gleaming and pricey equipment meant to provide a safe haven for a universe all their own.

I was a lowly cog in the machine, not privy to the secret underpinnings of how you create a self-sustaining universe. The goal was staggering; we sought to create an environment that would evolve, exist, and balance itself out much like our own universe. Of course, it was trying. How can you create a blank slate and build a working universe of physics and nature?  That was the first hurdle. They worked for months to create just the minutest hole in our laws of nature. My job was to keep rigorous notes and monitor the displays for any important changes.

Somehow, they did it. The created a void, suspended through the well calibrated workings of a dozen different machines. It was ultimately artificial, yet ultimately the most real thing that had ever existed. There was nothing to misperceive or misunderstand. It existed as pure nothingness.

This breakthrough alone should have been enough, but Dr. Swanson kept a tight lid on any information leaving the lab. She would not breathe a word of the breakthrough until she finally had what she wanted—a living model of the universe to be picked and pulled and ultimately deconstructed into omniscience. Once the void was maintained, she provided matter.

You’d be amaze at quickly existence begins. The few atoms we spewed into the void hung there, initially lost and confused. There was no set of unbreakable principles that arranged their structure. Yet existence has a way of fighting, and over the course of a week, the matter began to assemble. It began to set itself apart according to rules that were unknown to science up unto that point. It coalesced, drawn together by a strange magnetism that at once resembled our gravity, but then broke it.

On day 16, it exploded. The tiny bits of matter we introduced had reduced down, crushing in n top of itself, fighting to develop a hierarchy of rules and existence. Finally, it ruptured into a brilliant glare on our monitoring equipment. I saw it happen, shielding my eyes from the brilliance. The Little Bang, as we called it, marked a new beginning. Suddenly, the universe we had created had a shape and a purpose.

I typed pages and pages of notes, observing ever minute alteration or fluctuation. We had every sensor you can imagine pointed at it, taking temperature, electrical, ion, weight, size, gravity, radiation, and a dozen other metrics. I studied the recordings, but it was not my job to make interpretation, merely to dutifully record what I saw. I also had the boring task of calibrating the equipment nightly, an endeavor that took up the scant hours of time I had left. Others were engaged with manipulating that data, breaking it open and reading its secrets. I was merely a scribe and technician. Yet I still carry its burden.

Day 43 was another day of relatively little activity. It had been about a three weeks since everything settled into an orbit. We had hoped for galaxies upon galaxies, but the matter we provided generated only a few spinning hunks of dust and pinpoints of impossible light. The energy output was startling, but manageable. I left the camera trained on the tiny plantelets was I went about my night calibrations. There was something soothing about watching a small collection of planet orbit their sun—something omnipotent and existential about it.

Pausing in my task, an odd change caught my eye. One of the quarter-sized blips had changed. It sat there, spinning slowly. Clouds swirled over the surface, obscuring the surface from time to time. And then, there was a sudden sparkle of light beneath the clouds. As I watched, a softly glowing trail rippled across the planet, lighting up the tiny sector of space.

I rushed to the console, zooming in as far as I could see. And then I immediately called Dr. Swanson on the phone.

She did not believe me, of course. But, to her credit, she rushed into the lab and looked down at the screen. There it was before us, a network of lights hovering the dark side of the planet. The closer we got, the clearer the organization became. The more distinct became the arches and solid forms of buildings. The more terrifying became our ultimate creation.

Her face was pale, bloodless, and drawn. She stare at the screen with quivering eyes, and her voice was just above a whisper. “Shut it down.”

“What? We can’t do that—“

“We can’t have done this,” she whispered. Her words were haunted, spoken more to herself than anyone else. I saw true terror as she considered the implications of creating a whole group of people built in a lab. Organisms had never been the goal; they had been a risk, potentially creating something that could destroy everything we knew. And our trial run as God had resulted in impossible outcomes. “Shut it down,” she commanded again, her eyes finally leaving the screen. They were grim and determined.

“I won’t do that,” I said, taking my stand. Ultimately, she did not need me to. She pulled the plug herself, and I watched the laws of the universe fall apart beneath our watching camera. The fields that had carefully cradled our test tube universe disappeared, and its own laws tore it to shreds.

I left DelSanto that day and began the years-long process of ridding myself of the unbearable guilt. So far, I have not been successful. Some nights, I imagine I hear their screams.

So, what does it take to destroy a universe?

Fear, cowardice, and inaction usually do the trick.

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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Card Challenge: Day 20

So, when I saw this card, a song immediately started playing in my head. I don;t normally do the “Suggested Listening” thing, but I;d suggest Milk and Money by the Fratellis for this one. It just seems to fit. Also, this is not my favorite piece, but I think it was definitely a bit of a different track for me. Always good to stretch yourself!

Card Day 20: A reserved, white and black dressed clown stands alone in a spotlight, a single tear on his cheek.

She stood on stage, clutching the microphone stand in her hands with a mixture of excitement and panic. The final notes of her song still hung in the air, bouncing off the wooden rafters before being swallowed up by the heavy, velvet curtains pulled to the side. Her eyes were trained, however, on the lone forms seated halfway back in the front section with their empty expressions and matching clipboards.

“That was great,” said one of them—it was hard to tell who it was with the spotlight drilling into her eyes. The voice sounded like the musical director, but she had only briefly met and shook his hand before beginning. There was no was to be certain. Nevertheless, her heart fluttered into her throat.

“Thank you, I can’t wait to start!” Her excitement got the best of her, nad the words were cast out into the arena before she could properly process them.

A fated cough brought reality squarely back down. “Well, I mean, you have a great voice and all, but…” His voice trailed off into an awkward paused. She could see him shift around in his seat, a brief gesture of a hand wave. Then another voice jumped in to feel the lingering silence.

“You’re not what we’re looking for. Good luck next time.” That voice was clearly the smoke-clogged, nasally squeak of the director.

In that moment, the lone singer felt the walls cave in on her. She did her best to keep it together and exit the stage with grace. She half-mumbled a “thanks,” into the microphone before leaping for the security of the dimly lit wings. Tears stung in her eyes as she felt one more failure pile on top of her, threatening to crush her. Along with the unbearable feelings of defeat, anger swelled as well.

This was her dream! This was her life, what she had poured her whole heart into, and yet her fate was determined by a set of inky silhouettes seated in moth-eaten, theater seats. She felt her sense of failure melt into raw rage. She had practiced for hours, and had nearly driven her family broke getting singing lessons or going to various talent shows in the hopes of making it. And she had succeeded, won scholarships, starred in university plays. Only, now no one cared, and no one gave her the roles. No matter how much she practiced or how much heart she poured into each and every performance. It was just strangers dictating her life, judging her, evaluating and finding her repeatedly wanting.

The anger spilled from inside her, tracing down her face in mascara-laden trails. She stomped out of the building, her shiny heels snapping against the concrete floor as the sultry red dress swayed with each step. Not it lit her like a blazing avenging figure, tearing her way out of the building and into the dingy alleyway.

A failure. That was what she was, through and through. She had one goal in life, and had nevertheless repeatedly run into barrier after slammed door that just spelled out the futility of her continued perseverance.

She slipped into her car sagging into the run down seats. The engine started with a groan, a series of foreign sounding clunks and growls sounding the car’s tired protesting. Nonetheless, it shifted into gear, the wheels skimming through puddles running deep in long-forgotten potholes.

This theater wasn’t even in a good part of town, she bemoaned, looking at the cheap neon signs and barred windows that slipped past her. It was a last ditch effort, a fall back gig that she had nevertheless failed to acquire. As she drove past midnight tavern after dive bar, she considered stopping and letting her good old friend wash away the sorrow of the night. Yellow street lamps pooled rhythmically over her window as she somehow managed to keep her path steady and straight.

Failure. The theme replayed again and again in her mind as she drove along silent highways and silent city streets. It was 9:30, at least according to the obnoxiously green numbers on her dash, but it felt like she existed in a time of impossibly late night or eternally early morning. Despite the passing cars, she felt as if she drove in a constant bubble of isolation.

Was this what it was like to throw a life away? She could not help but reflect on all the missed opportunities she had pushed aside to pursue a dream that never materialized. What did she have to show for all of this? A few clippings from college newspapers, a collection of worn VHS cassettes where her childhood sang like a prodigy. An unemployment record spanning years, and a bank account that hovered tentatively around empty, constantly threatening to give up and plunge into nothingness each moment.

Her car wound its way home to the apartment, but she sat, the engine idling. She could not go home and face her failure once again. The thought of speaking the bad news, of seeing the pitying glance. She tried to put a smile on as she came through the door, but she knew the sooty trails of her face showed the true story.

“How did it go?” asked the voice from the living room. Her husband rounded the corner, and then his congratulatory smile fell. “Oh, honey.”

His compassion broke down whatever had been keeping her going, and she began to sob again. “I didn’t get it,” she needlessly added, sinking into his waiting arms.

He soother her softly, stroking her hair. “It’s okay. They don’t know what they’re missing. It’ll be okay. I’m sure you did great,” his platitudes fell like rain around her, doing nothing to stop the constant flow of tears.

“Why am I wasting my time? Our time? What’s the point” she moaned in broken phrases in between sobs. Her husband gently held her, whispering all the right words, but never managing to actual comfort the terrible ache inside of her.

After a few minutes, she calmed, her tears spent. “Are you going to try again?” he asked once she had time to calm down, now seated side by side on the loveseat.

“What’s the point? I’m not,” she paused, facing the sudden reality that had impressed itself so clearly, “I’m not a singer. I’m just a–“ she froze, unsure how to finish.

“Mom?” the tired voice echoed down the hall. She sat up with a sigh, gathering herself so that no distress leaked into her voice.

“Yes, Ellen?”

“I can’t sleep.” She and her husband traded knowing glances. “Can you sing to me?”

The simple question lit a smile on her face, banishing a bit of the darkness that had so quickly taken hold. “On my way,” she replied, rising gracefully and brushing away the lingering tears and makeup from her face.

“Hey, if nothing else, you’ll always have two super fans,” whispered her husband with a smile. While the feelings and fears still swirled, she felt a slight peace settle within her. She was appreciated by those who mattered. Even if it wasn’t fame and glory, it was important and it was what mattered.

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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Card Challenge: Day 19

Card Day 19: A cat stands before an easel, painting a scene of fish swimming. As the cat looks away, one of the fish swims off the canvas.

Carter’s eyes were beginning to blur with the mix of colors swimming between his palette and canvas. He was uncertain how long he had spent standing in front of the easel, his brush flying with inspired fervor across the once white space, filling it with his vision. Only, now, the vision had dried up, leaving him with a half-finished piece and no idea how to continue.

His weary eyes searched for the clock on the far wall. It was nearing two a.m., and his body suddenly groaned with the ache of standing for the past five hours with little to now movement outside of his wrist and elbow. It was like a trance of a sort, so enraptured had he been with this idea. It flowed out of his hands and onto the canvas as if creating itself. Carter felt weary and empty, but unfortunately the final product did not fill him with the same manic elation that the idea had. It sat in a half-finished state. All of the gross outlines were there, and he had splashed the color into the appropriate spots, but it lacked a life and vitality that he had hoped to infuse.

Now his eyes stung and watered, his lids dropping low. He mentally scanned the room, seeing the multitude of brushes and open tubes of paint. He needed to clean up unless he wanted all of this to go to waste. After subsisting on ramen for longer than he cared to imagine, he was not about to throw away his investment. He sighed, glancing at the canvas. When he entered the room that night, he had felt certain this was to be his masterpiece. He had felt that through every magical stroke, even as his arm grew weary. It was not until the spell mysteriously broke that he could see the abject mediocrity staring back at him. His first year art school projects had been more convincing.

Just a slump, he thought, consoling himself. And I made something at least tonight. The thought was less than reassuring. Turning from the canvas, Carter felt his shoulders slump. This one had felt real. It had felt necessary and important. Only, now…

He gathered the brushes up, trying to tidy up his space. He was so tired, though, and his feet ached after all that standing. In a concession to his exhausted body, he slumped into the wooden, straight-backed chair for a brief respite. Combatting the allure of sleep, he studied the failed canvas staring back at him. No, not failed, he softened, unfinished. He felt a new confidence that something would come along and show him how to complete this picture. The winds of inspiration would whip up again. For now, he simply studied it.

The background was foggy, a mist of trees and clouds that melded into a surreal landscape. He was very fond and proud of the way the limbs of the trees jutted out of the fog, mixing their solidity with the ephemeral fog. It was a beautiful juxtaposition, he granted. The foreground, however, was where he lost that delicate touch and realistic edge.

He had wanted to show the werewolf in mid-transformation, blending human and animal in fluid brushstrokes. It had come to him in a moment looking at the face of his dog, seeing his own human face reflected in the canine eyes. He would make the eyes the central piece, turn the body into a mirage of human and animal so that no one part was clearly either one. But the eyes would be wonderfully human and ferociously lupine. Unfortunately, it was the eyes that now gazed at him with drying paint, dull and lifeless under the yellow lights.

Carter walked to the painting, intending to set aside the reminder of his wasted evening, but a sudden sharp, barking noise gave him pause. In the newly minted silence, a new sound filled his workshop, echoing off the bare walls and concrete floor. It was a growl, deep and rumbling. Carter looked around, expecting to see Jonesy with his hackles raised at some imagined villain, but the loyal dog was nowhere to be seen. He followed the sound, and it led his eyes back to the canvas, where the creature’s mouth-snout was rippling with sudden energy. Now, the eyes were alive.

From the impossible blend on the canvas, the creature began to take shape. It merged out of the paint just as the animal features had flowed seamlessly from their human. One moment it was flat shapes on a canvas, and the next it was jutting into the world as if it had been molded. His mind reeled with what was happening as the growl grew louder. There was now a glistening line of saliva on the lip-jowls. The arm and paw now existed in three dimensions, reaching out from the canvas. Carter stumbled back away from the frame, his eyes affixed to it in horror.

He watched all the imperfections of his artistry fade away into the perfection of reality as the creature emerged, struggling against the fabric of reality and sanity. The paint seemed to stretch and grown as it took on flesh, and Carter was captivated with equal parts amazement and terror. It was not until the head broke through and the jaws began to snap that he found his feet and ripped out of the workroom.

Carter slammed the door behind him, hearing snarls and howls echo off the enclosed space. He gazed distrustfully at the cheap wooden door. Jonesy was barking, a sound which barely registered in his mind over the suspiciously human and utterly inconceivable growl.

He grabbed Jonesy’s collar and rushed towards the door. All thoughts but escape had fled, and Carter was left scrambling across the linoleum floor towards the exit. Jonesy leapt and growled, barked and whimpered, twining about his feet. In an instant, Carter felt his feet fly from the floor, his body hurtling towards the metal door separating him from freedom. And then, there was darkness.

The dull glow of morning brought him back to consciousness, along with a throbbing ache in his forehead. There was a sticky splotch of blood on the floor, corresponding to the odd stiffness of his face. He stretched, looking around and trying to remember what had led him to such flight. Jonesy sat beside him, carefully licking his hand as he saw his master awake.

The impossible events filtered back, and Carter felt foolish. Fumes, he reasoned, I shouldn’t have spent hours enclosed in that room. He gingerly lifted himself off the floor and walked towards the firmly closed door to his workshop. There was a slight hint of trepidation as he reached for the doorknob, but the light of day and the power of reason chased away his doubts. With sudden courage, he yanked the door open.

Inside was his canvas depicting a scene of fog and trees, a strange void existing prominently in the foreground. Outside, glass lay scattered about his window, leading off into the city streets with paint-stained footsteps, not quite animal and not quite human.

I went a bit  more literal with today’s, but I think it worked out. Hope you enjoyed it!

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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Card Challenge: Day 18

So, I wrote today’s piece, and it was 200 words too long. As it was my goal to keep everything 1000-1200 words long, I have edited it down to that length. However, I really like the slightly longer version. I think I can honestly say I met the challenge by going through and doing the editing (and still having a coherent, enjoyable story), but I think the craftsmanship of the longer version is better. So, ultimately, I have decided to post the longer version here. I will post the shorter version behind a cut (if I can make that work) in case anyone is really interested how I cut it down. And, if you want to read both, feel free to give me suggestions on what you thoughts of the editing choices. Would you remove something else? Do you think it is stronger with 200 more words? Hate em both? Feel free to share. Happy reading!

Long Version

Card Day 18: A statue slowly morphing into a living man (or perhaps, vice versa).

Tommy loved the park. He had spent more afternoons there than his young mind could fully comprehend, and yet his love for the place only grew. When he was still little, he had spent the time on the gleaming playground beneath the watchful eyes of his mother. His favorite had been the sandbox for years, graduating to the money bars and jungle gym as he grew in strength and steadiness. His mother, for her part, abandoned the constant vigilance in favor of a book, or coffee with one of the other mothers. She was still close by, alert to the slightest sound of a problem, but Tommy felt invincible and independent, taking the woodchip domain as his kingdom.

Of course, time continued to precede on, and eventually his mom would wait in the car. Tommy had strict order to remain in the open area of the playground, and he only wandered on occasion into the dense trees surrounding him. Now, however, Tommy was eleven years old. And, at eleven, he was allowed to stop by the park on his walk home from school, as long as he promised to be home before the sun set.

So, he wandered through the park, ducking along the wooded concrete paths as his stomach growled. The one downside to his new freedom was the lack of a waiting afternoon snack. It was, he supposed, the price of independence in this harsh world. Nevertheless, he was determined to enjoy his time playing in the expansive grounds.

Tommy loved the park, but he felt his skin begin to crawl as he neared the edge of the woods. Ahead waited another clearing, devoid of any brightly painted slides, bars, or equipment. It housed a few park benches, their paint chipping and wood sagging, and a single statue. On the surface, there was nothing wrong with the statue. It was a man standing proudly atop the base, his eyes cast towards the sky. Logically, it was a fine statue, even inspiring in some ways. Keep your chin up, it seemed to say. But there was something Tommy simply did not like about it.

Part of it was the way the man’s hands were gripped so tight against his sides, the skin puckering where he fingers met the soft palm. Or maybe it was the slight strain of his neck, as if trying to stretch himself up into the clouds. Most likely, Tommy thought, it was the eyes. While they were pointed towards the sky, he could see just enough to feel as if there were some terror frozen in them, some unspoken warning or fear that he simply could not interpret. Tommy hated the statue, but the path wound by it on the way to the corner he and his friends had erected a lean-to fort in the unkempt woods.

He walked out from under the trees, guarding his eyes against the sudden bright sunlight, and froze. The pedestal that had so long held the man was empty, leaving an awkward expanse of open air. The benches still sat, faded and tired, watching the pedestal, but the object of their attention had disappeared. Tommy hoped that others had felt the same discomfort from it and had petitioned it to be removed.

Ever curious, he approached the stone block, looking at it as if it were some alien archeology first discovered. He felt it was weird to leave the stand and remove the statue, but perhaps there were plans for it. He supposed the city would probably want to replace it, probably with the strange, twisted structures that had been popping up in the other town centers. Tommy knew enough from his parents to scoff at the “art” pieces, but in some ways he found their bright colors and unusual shapes fun. It was art he felt he could understand, not the drab paintings in the galleries his mother drug him to on rainy weekends.

The missing statue was a relief, lightening a burden that had weighed on him with every trek down the path. He smiled, enjoying the small clearing with its bright sunshine and overhanging trees. The wind whispered through the limbs, casting dappled shadows along his face. He looked up at the bright blue sky, and something caught his eye. As the tree limbs bobbed in the wind, he recognized the shape as an apple, hanging full and delicious on one of the limbs.

The skin was a bright, vibrant red, staring boldly from the thick, leafy green boughs. It looked perfect and plump sitting up there, swaying temptingly by its slender stem. Tommy’s stomach growled appreciatively, and he eyed the apple carefully. Now, he knew it could be dangerous to eat things found in the woods, but this was clearly an apple growing from a tree. Apples, of course, usually grew from trees. He did not remember seeing this particular apple tree before, but he supposed it was possible not the time of year apples were normally around. This was maybe just an early apple. It certainly looked fresh and ripe.

Besides, he resolved, if he were truly to be independent, he could not rely on his mom for an afternoon snack. He could fend for himself, and decided that this apple tree would become his personal snack bar after school. Tommy looked at the old benches, but felt certain they would fall through even under his slight weight. They were also too far back, tucked beneath the swaying branch. He would have to reach out a long way to get to it, if the bench would even get him high enough.

Tommy glanced around, trying to solve his conundrum. The tree might have once been a good climbing tree, but the city park department had taken care to remove all the low hanging branches. Fortunately, Tommy smiled, the statue was gone and had left a perfect ladder.

He clambered atop the structure, feeling the chill of the stone snake through his hand. It was unnaturally cold, he felt, unwarmed by the otherwise brilliant rays of the sun. This, however, was an unnoticed awareness, focused as he was on his gleaming red prize. He felt tall and imposing atop the pedestal, and stood up quickly. The apple was just a few inches above his head, hanging in the expanse between tree and stone base. He glanced down to judge the distance between his feet and the edge of the stone, and his smile wavered. He had, unknowingly it seemed, stepped into the fresh concrete. It had not felt damp to his hands, but now he could see the pale gray splotches along the edges and tops of his shoes. His mother would not be happy, and surely the parks would not like to see their statue ruined. If the apple had not been so near his grasp, he would have leapt down and fled the scene of his crime. Instead, he reached out as far as he could.

The apple dangled just beyond his reach, far enough that his fingers could barely brush the skin. It swayed and bobbed at his touch, twisting on its weakening stem. Tommy continued to reach, straining diligently, his tongue notched firmly across his upper lip. It was almost there.

He batted at it again with his hand, hoping to finally attain his prize. The apple swayed once more before the stem gave a soft snap. He watched the brilliant red orb plummet to the ground and land softly in the springy grass.

It was then that Tommy realized something was terribly wrong. He tried to leap down, but felt his legs were locked in place. He glanced down to see that the concrete splatters had moved up from his shoes, now encasing his legs up to the thigh. As he watched, his jeans continued to fade to stony gray, locking him atop the stone platform.

Tommy flailed his arms toward the trees, desperately reaching for one of the branches in order to pull himself free. The limbs danced just outside his grasp, waving and taunting at him as his panic grew. Before he knew it, the stone was up to his chest, his skin taking on the cold, pale texture of polished marble. He reached and strained, his arms reaching heavenward even as the stone inched up around his neck and arms.

Tommy had always loved the park, even if the statue had given him a distant feeling of unease. As his eyes roved slightly, trying to find some escape before the stone finally locked them in place, he could not help but regret the new statue that had taken its place.

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Card Challenge: Day 17

Card Day 17: A single white poppy amidst a field of red ones.

For years I had known that I was special. It was this innate, trustworthy feeling that somehow I was set apart, even if I could not yet realize what that meant. I remember walking through the crowded halls of high school, surrounded by pettiness and shortsighted passions, feeling distinctly different from the other adolescents plodding their dreary days. I was special, because somehow I could see through this all. It was not, necessarily, presentience, but more of an awareness of a realm that existed beyond the reality of the everyday.

It would be years later before the true importance of this separation became clear, but I nevertheless lived in accordance with my calling. It is with great peace and contentment that I say goodbye to my simple life of unfulfilled selection, giving up the toil and worries of human life for the transcendence I so prepared myself for.

I do not view my fellow humans with contempt or disdain. I understand the vibrancy with which they lived their lives, constantly pursuing some meaning or happiness. It is, ultimately, the same thing I sought. Only I could see beyond the mere rewards of a short span of life on this earth. I could see into the stars and to the true purpose awaiting me.

The stars. Have you considered them, dear reader? Do you share my admiration and awe, or are you like the rest of my species? Do you see in the stars only endless expanse of danger, fear, and destruction? Do you rail against the destiny our race was born to, or do you willingly accept your role in the far larger drama playing across the universe? I have never been so self-consumed to consider our race more than a mere speck in the expanse of space and time, a footnote in the great annals of universal history. We have served such a vital purpose, but it is our duty to but serve so that greater things may come. We shall be transformed. You, dear reader, shall be transformed just I have.

I remember when the stars reached out to us, bringing news of swift arrival. So many ignored the messages of the stars, but I could hear them singing, ringing with the news. It was a riotous din, completely unavoidable to anyone who would open their ears and eyes. If we had listened, then perhaps the great coming could have been a process of ease. We could have transitioned without strain into our new roles. Yes, it was necessarily a disorienting transition, leaving behind so much of what we foolishly used to define ourselves. We are a magnificent race, capable of so much others are not, but we refused our central role in all things.

When they came, there was such commotion. I was out at the store buying groceries for the week when it all began. The arrival came as a shock to me—I am not, as I said, presentient—but a welcome surprise nonetheless. The first sign of their arrival was the air. It suddenly took on an electric tingle, racing across my skin, up and down my spine, and across my tongue. It was a thrilling, terrifying experience. Yet, for the first time I can remember, I felt as if I were truly alive and aware of my senses. It was as if the sudden atmospheric electricity gave an edge to my senses, making colors brighter, sounds crisper, tastes more succulent, smells more vibrant, and touch more real.

It was in that moment that the full extent of my otherness became clear. This was the world of experience so many had felt before me, and now so many recoiled from it. I saw men and women begin to teeter on the edge, feeling the energy in the air as it set their nerves and fears alight. I do not believe they understood what it meant then, but soon they would.

From among the clouds, the beings appeared. So often, we imagined their arrival in massive ships that blotted out the sun. Instead, the floated on ephemeral wings, descending like snowflakes in the atmosphere. And like snow, they quickly and softly blanketed the world, requesting that we commit to our ordained positions in this expansive universe.

Yet so many rebelled. I watched with sorrow as humanity showed its worst side, reacting with violence and aggression towards these interstellar beings of light and goodwill. We attacked them, rebelling against the natural order to try and dispel the “invaders,” as so many called them. I remember the sound of rocket fire, the smell of burning structures and ozone in the air. Our weapons did nothing to them but anger them. I remember such sorrow in my heart, so different from the levity and freedom I now feel. If only we had acquiesced to their requests, all my brothers and sisters in humanity could experience this great relief.

What you must understand is that they came in peace, and we drove them to destruction. We acted as we always have, and responded to this unknown future with abject terror. We fought and we fled, but we should have known we were no match. I cannot see the future, but I could see we were bound for destruction when the first mortar flew.

I was in the epicenter when it happened. There was light, so brilliant and searing. I felt it with the same electricity as I had in the store, as if my skin was alive and singing. I saw others crumple to their ground, their screams fading into silence. All around me there was carnage and bloodshed. I lay docile and content amid the mingling blood of thousands of my species who had refused the coming blessing. My heart still pounded a steady, low, reliable beat. I would serve my purpose diligently, without struggle or rebellion.

They came to me in the bloodshed, their bodies perfect and glowing with an unperceivable light. They trudged through the offal, corpses, and destruction utterly unmarred by the horrors. I could see them searching, seeking the beacon of my awareness and submission.

Joining them was pure elation. For a moment, my body was in their grasp, white hot feelings piercing through very nerve and cell. I felt their consciousness probe mine, searching. I heard their whispered promises and assurances. I could join them if only I would renounce the silly things which tied me to humanity, I realized then why I was set apart, that I had always been destined to become something greater than my race had ever imagined. My race’s limited imagination, abject fear, and ultimate futility held us back, caged us in weak flesh, and left us captive to meaningless emotions. There was brilliant light, the burning away of human weakness. And I merged, a being purely set apart. My acceptance assured I would fulfill my ultimate purpose to drift through the outer bounds of space, converting those who were worthy while ridding the universe of the plague of mediocrity and small-mindedness. I was always set apart; I was always different.

Now, I am life. I am death.

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Card Challenge: Day 16

Card Day 16: A rat sitting on a rug in front of a snake charmer’s basket, “playing” a cobra like a flute. Through the doorway, a castle is visible.

Prince Ajid rode over the sandy dunes, the thunder of his horse’s hooves whipping up a flurry of sand behind him. He knew the armies were marching north, and he knew that once they reached the stronghold, his men would be instantly overrun. It was desperation that drove him out into the wild dunes, seeking a miracle that would save the men he had failed in leading.

His eyes searched the dunes, looking for any sign of the promised signs. Some part of him knew it was a fool’s errand, a coward’s desire to flee the battle. No one trusted the old tales spun in the market squares. They were fables created by folks tired of the emptiness of the night, mere myths concocted to provide a brief respite of entertainment and hope. And now, it was his only hope.

H remembered his grandmother’s words when he was very young, spinning tales of a man who lived in the oasis found in the deepest parts of the desert. So remote was this place that most who sought him died in the process, their bones bleached signposts declaring their failure. However, should anyone prove himself worthy and pure, the man would use his great powers to provide whatever the seeker most desired.

Ahead he saw the first sign his grandmother had promised, not believing his eyes as the stones grew from the sand. The perilously stacked stones were clearly assembled in the form of a man, the topmost rock bearing a grim resemblance to a haggard face. It could, of course, be but happenstance, but Ajid pressed on, daring to hope. The sun was growing low in the sky, marking the end of the fifth day of his travels. Surely, this would be his last night before smoke billowed on the horizon, signaling the failure of his ill-conceived quest. He spurred the beast beneath him to greater speeds, passing by the stone giant and following its extended arm.

The sands reclaimed the horizon. It seemed as if no other sign would emerge. Ajid felt his sprits waning; was it nothing but a strange mirage, an accidental similarity that momentarily raised his spirits only to dash them? The sun beat down on his back, burning through the layers of thin robes on his body. The sweat dampened his body, beading along his forehead to descend into his eyes. His mouth was dry and parched as the desert stretching around him. The canteens hung full behind him, but he could not stop. So he pressed on, riding the heaving sides of his horse as it worked itself into a fine lather. There would be time to rest later.

In the distance, Ajid imagined he saw a flickering pool of blue. He knew it was a mirage, just as the stone giant was a regrettable coincidence. Nevertheless, he pressed on. He had dedicated so many days to this quest now, so there was no reason to turn back now when he might possibly achieve something.

The mirage solidified into a small pool, just a tiny breach in the dominion of the sand. In the bottom, Ajid saw brilliantly colored fish swim in the pool that, by all logic, should have dried up in a blink of the desert sun. Here, the wind stilled. Could it be?

As promised, the small pool dwindled down to a small stream reaching into the distance. It was so close. His body ached for a break, and the pool promised cool relief. Yet Ajid remained focused, driven by his need. There would be a better oasis awaiting if they only pressed on. And then, the quest would be at an end, their prayers answered.

In the distance, Ajid heard a call for help. He spun, looking for the source of the cry. Far on the horizon, he could see a man standing, waving his arms as he moved towards Ajid. The figure before him was mostly indistinguishable and minute, but he could make out the shade of brilliant green robes against the golden sand, as well as a splotch of brilliantly white hair atop the tiny head. The man was so far away, but certainly in great need. Ajid paused, drawing his mount to a slower pace. Her sides ballooned swiftly, welcoming the momentary relief. His nature drew him towards the silhouette on the horizon, but his mission spurred him on. Perhaps, after he was done, he could seek out the man and provide for him. Ajid marked the spot in his mind, trying to remember the precise directions from the stream to the figure. He would return, he promised himself.

Turning, he gave the horse a sharp, short kick and sped off along the tiny rivulet of water. Ahead, there was an oasis appearing, brilliant and blue in the distance, even as the sun began to grow swollen and red on the horizon. He rode in, sand flying around him as he brought his horse to a sudden stop. There was a man, just as he had hoped, sitting beneath the palms of the water. Ajid dismounted and walked towards him with great reverence.

“Are you the Man of the Desert?”

The white-haired figure turned towards him slowly, and an uneasy feeling of recognition settled over Ajid. The man’s bright green robes were dusty and worn, but the color was unmistakable. “I am he who you seek,” he croaked, his voice dry and cracked as the soil beneath the sand.

“Only those who prove themselves worthy and pure by his tests may receive their reward. All others will find their desires shattered,” echoed the voice of his long past grandmother. Ajid’s folly sank onto his shoulders. He had come so far, and he had lost.

“I have come to seek your help, though I fear none will be given.” The proud prince’s words faltered, uncertain in the rapidly darkening dusk.

“Ask me what you wish. I will grant as has been deserved.”

Ajid knew his folly, and knew that to ask for the fortresses safety would certainly damn those he loved to a painful death; he knew the legends well enough to know his punishment.

However, besides his dedication, his reckless faith, and his hope, Ajid was also brilliantly cunning. He smiled in the growing gloom. “Great one, I have come far and overcome the trial of the desert you set before me. I ask that you may now grant me victory over the fortress of Prince Ajid. May my armies march to victory!”

The man smiled a sly, wicked smile. He laughed, the sound brittle and echoing over the empty dunes. “Seeker, your request has been granted to the degree of your worth. Go and seek your reward.”

With that, the man disappeared. Ajid sank to his knees in the desert, hoping against hope that his ploy had worked. If not, he had done nothing more to doom them than had already been slated.

After a night of rest, Ajid set off under the kindly eye of the morning sun. He, unknowingly, rode to victory on the shoulder of his wits and perseverance, the wise Prince who was ultimately worthy of his reward.

So, this one nearly stymied me. Ultimately, I wanted to pull in some of the desert/royalty setting, as well as give it a bit of a 1001 Arabian Nights vibe. A little magic and creativity, maybe a bit of a moral. But I also wanted a happy ending. So, I decided that, based on the contents of the card, there could be an interesting spin on someone using the power meant to destroy them as something constructive (you know, like a rat using a snake). Not sure how successful it was, but I tried. And it was 150 words longer than allowed, so I had to cut some stuff. It was definitely a challenge day, but a good one. Hope you enjoyed it!

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Card Challenge: Day 15

Hopefully back on track without additional bumps in the road. Fingers crossed! this one was fun, and alludes to a bit of a classic horror story, which is probably pretty obvious by the end. (Again, difficult new keyboard, forgive any weird typos. I tried to catch them all.) Enjoy!

Card Day 15: A white cradle along a path in a dark, overgrown forest. (Missed days: 2)

The cry came again, just as it had every night for the past seven months. Jameson heard it every time. It pierced his dreams like a saber, drawing him to sudden, painful reality. Now, he no longer slept until the cries faded on the wind and he could steal a few moments of suffering peace before the sun rose.

This night, however, he felt his body begin to shake with the resurgence of the cry.  Every night, no respite, no mercy. He had revisited that grief-stricken night so often that the figments of it were more real that the emptiness of his current life. The ashes in his fireplace suddenly roared again with life, casting wild shadows to highlight the night’s frenzy. The still trees outside once again whipped ferociously with the memory of the storm that had barreled down on them in their time of need. Jameson stood abruptly, shattering the memory before it could ensnare him yet again. He closed his eyes and covered his ears as if that would block out the thin wail that sounded from the trees. It was a hopeless endeavor, he knew. That sound found him in his deepest sleep and drunkest moments. There was no power or substance that could keep it from echoing through his thoughts when the moon rose high in the sky each night.

He reached to the counter and lifted a bottle of whiskey with his shaking hand. The liquid inside whirled in dark eddies in the shadows of his home, but the familiar chill of the glass bottle in his hand helped to tie him to the reality before him. The cry grew in volume, proclaiming pain in a heart wrenching wail. Jameson let loose a feral scream in response, flinging the bottle—his last savior—at the wall. The glistening liquid rippled in the moonlight, shining among shards of glass and the brittle remains of Jameson’s shattered will.

Seven months he had endured this torture, and his sanity had drawn thin. Each night was a razor pulled across the strands of what had once been a thickly coiled rope. Now, his complete existence hung by a few frayed strands, likely to break with the slightest touch.

The cries rose in response to his scream, bringing with them a renewed vision of that night. Jameson stood  in the kitchen, much like he had. The cries from the woods faded, replaced by the primal screams coming from his bedroom. He paced, uncertain of what to do, waiting anxiously on the doctor as the wind whipped and roiled. Rain fell in sheets, and lightning streaked across the sky, giving the night an unholy, tortured feeling that complemented the pure chaos swirling around him. For once in his life, Jameson felt helpless.

He heard Daisy, the neighbor woman who he had, in his initial fear, roused from sleep. She called to him, asking on the doctor. Her words rippled through the air as if swimming through tar, reaching him slowly. He looked through the door again to rain and wind, but no horse or carriage breaking through the tempest.

Suddenly she was there, pulling at him and dragging him towards the room where his wife lay. She was a mess of sheets, sweat, and pain. Jameson felt immeasurably small in that moment, completely helpless but to watch her call out in pain. Daisy was speaking again, moving quickly, propping pillows and lifting the sheets. The words were indecipherable to him, just strings of letters that spilled into the room, staining the floor with uncomprehended commands. She paused in her flurry to stare at him briefly, and then seemed to realize how impossibly far away he was. She shuffled him from the room to watch for the doctor, though the thin line of her lips meant it was the only excuse she could think of.

Jameson kept his watch as the din rose in the room. He remained at his post as tiny, infant screams broke through the night. He did not move as the sounds from the next room grew fainter and fainter, even as Daisy’s own voice grew more frantic. She called for him again and again, asking where the doctor was every few moments. He numbly responded that he was not there, his eyes drilling through the rain as if he could speed the good doctor’s progress.

It was that same numbness that enveloped him when Daisy came to him, tearful and pale. She stuttered, pointing towards the room. There was so much blood in there, so much carnage. The doctor swooped in just in time to check her pulse and declare his lovely wife as dead. The baby, swaddled with care by Daisy, lay in the cradle Jameson had carved, still screaming and wailing from the torture of birth.

The doctor left to contact the town coroner, and Jameson sent Daisy home. The whole night was a blur of a nightmare, and still it was perpetuated by the constant scream and cries. The small child was fragile in his mitts of hands, and nothing he did seemed to soothe it. He paced, he rocked, he hummed. Ultimately, he simply cried, and felt the strands of his reason waste away under the constant onslaught of tragedy. Jameson tried to shush the child, placing his thick hands across its lips to muffle the piercing cries. Feeling his ire rise, his ungainly hands moved across the small thing’s face, slowly quieting the cries until silence snuck into the death-filled cabin.

His tears falling to his hands snapped Jameson from the memory, but the cries remained constant. That damned cry! He railed, stomping across the floor and flinging the door open. Where his eyes had expected the whipping trees and storm of seven months past, he saw only the still, quiet night, desecrated by immortal cries. He set off at a march, tearing his way through the looming trees. It was dangerous to be out this late at night in the woods, what with the wolves and other predators, but Jameson had a mission, and he had to end his suffering.

In the clearing by the stream lay the blanket, still wrapped tightly around its bundle. Jameson recoiled briefly at the sight of the muddy thing, somehow untouched by the scavengers of the forest. He lifted the bundle, feeling it collapse with new vacancy as bones rustled inside. Jameson tore back the layers of cloth, now worn, threadbare, and bleached to pallor by the sun. Inside was some mix of liquid and bone, the rotted remains of flesh hanging onto brittle bones. Jameson looked, staring down into the vacant eye sockets of his son, the lips unmoving even as the scream continued. He slammed the feeble package against the ground, as if through its destruction he would ultimately find piece. The body, mostly decomposed at this point, came even more apart in his hands, littering the ground with shards of bone and tatters of wasted flesh. For a moment, there was peace in the woods, a brief respite of silence as the terrible evidence of his deed was finally destroyed. Yet, as the wind rose through the trees, so again did the brittle sounds of a child’s cry.

Jameson wept, knowing that his guilt would never be absolved.

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Card Challenge: Day 14

*Sigh* So, this is late and, because I somehow forget to ever consider how I would actually go about writing Fridays sans computer, I had to skip another day. The bad news is my computer is deader than a doornail. The good news is I was able to save all my files. The ambivalent news is that about ¾ of day 14 was lost. Save early and often, folks! So, here is the re-write of day 14, and day 15 should be up by end of day today.  Fun fact: Ashley’s first bit of dialogue was actually said to me by a lady in the restroom at the airport, which helped me decide the direction I wanted to take this semi-romantic inspired story. Also, I am using my husband’s work laptop, and the keyboard is miserable. So, please forgive the typos that are certain to sneak in. Happy reading!

Card Day 14: A daisy in cracked ground, plucking its own petals.

Another woman entered the bathroom, her heels clicking against the reflective tiles.

“I’m not waiting,” stammered Ashley with an apologetic smile. “Just hiding out.” She laughed softly, and the other woman returned the half-hearted smile before stepping around her.  Ashley walked over towards the sink, fixing her own reflection with a sad, piercing gaze. Yes, here she was, once again hiding out in the bathroom.

She checked her watch, noting that the hand had only trekked ten minutes away. Still, that should certainly be long enough for him to have left, right? And the awkwardness of loitering in the women’s restroom was beginning to wear even on Ashley’s generally calloused sense of social appropriateness. Washing her hands, she turned to leave the bathroom. Another bad date, but at least it was another nicely furnished, pleasant bathroom. She smiled to herself. Maybe she should write a guidebook.

Ashley rounded the corner to re-enter the dining room. She hoped he had left to spare her the awkward pleasantries of letting him down easy. She had learned that, generally, if the ten minute absence did not scare them off, it required a much more direct approach. And Ashley hated seeing the looks of defeat, anger, surprise, and embarrassment in their eyes. She hated even more how snooty and arrogant she sounded. But, it was her heart, after all. And her evening to spend in more productive pursuits.

Unfortunately, there he sat, building a tiny fort of the unused silverware. Daniel looked respectable enough—tall, dark-haired, scholarly spectacles, and lively brown eyes. It was just that, after only the appetizers, she was certain she was going to lose it if she had to hear one more story about his favorite bike trails. Ashley enjoyed biking, she truly did, but there was only so much detail that could be squeezed from a discussion of the local city-maintained trails. She winced as she sat back at the table, gingerly setting her napkin on the table cloth.

“Is everything ok? You aren’t sick, are you?” he asked, his eyes searching.

“No, I’m fine. I just—“ she paused. This was the worst part. She looked at him, his eyes expectant, his mouth slightly agape as he hung on her hesitation. “Listen, this has been really nice, but I don’t think it’s fair for either of us to waste the other’s time.” His mouth snapped closed and he nodded.

“I’m sure you—“

He cut her off. “I’ve bored you to death, haven’t I?”

In some universe, Ashley conceded with a yes and left. In the one she was currently inhabiting, she instead fell back on common courtesy. “No, not at all. I just think—“

“You don’t have to spare my feelings. I know I’m terrible on dates.”

She fumbled, uncertain of how to continue. The truth was, he was terrible on dates. Ashely wanted to agree, and feared continue placations might rope her into entrees that would not be worth the painful conversation. Seeing her discomfort, her laughed self-deprecatingly.

“See? Terrible.” She expected him to be upset in some way, but his smile was good natured and friendly, as if he had discovered they were long-lost best friends. “I know all the rules about what you are and aren’t supposed to talk about, how to act, what topics I should sell myself on—bike riding seemed like a good enough one tonight. I just really can’t get the whole ‘dating’ thing to work.”

“The bike riding stuff was a little over the top.”

Rather than responding, Daniel lifted his hand and gestured towards her, his eyebrow raised. ‘You see my point,’ the gesture said. “I know. It was utterly intolerable. Me just droning on and on. I just get so nervous, and then all I can think to talk about are politics, religion, or world news. And those, so I’ve been told repeatedly, are strictly off limits for a first date. So I treat someone to the most boring lecture on bike paths anyone has ever heard.”

Ashley couldn’t help but smile. It was nice to hear someone else rail about the artificiality of dating, rather than just griping to her mother on the phone and receiving additional platitudes about “best foot forward” and other garbage. “When you get rid of all the good, important topics, I guess it’s easy to get stuck.”

“Exactly! But when I do bring up something really interesting, some recent news article, I get shut down. When I don’t, I get shut down.”

“It’s a lose-lose,” she conceded. The paused, smiling at each other in the restaurant. His rant had gotten a bit louder than the hushed whispers of other diners, but they just smiled, finding a common enemy on the war against superficial dating.

“Hey, listen, this has been nice, and I think you are probably pretty great,” he said, leaning in conspiratorially.

“All I really know is that you love to bike,” she ribbed gently. He shrugged and nodded amiably.

“Yeah, I kind of screwed up. What I would like to do is ask you to not date me. Let’s you and I not-date.”

Ashley felt a little taken aback by the strange comment. Yes, she wanted ot leave, but it felt a bit abrupt right then. Still, it was what she wanted. She gathered her purse and stood to leave. He laughed.

“Geez, I guess that was clear as mud. I mean, would you like to go on a completely not-date date?”

The idea was strange enough to give her pause, and she turned back to the table. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, let’s take a first date and actually get to know each other. Like me, I don’t mind these high-end restaurants, but I can’t say I appreciate the food much more than I would a good slice of pizza.”

“I’d kill for some pizza right now,” she said, laughing.

“That’s what I’m talking about! You and I, we like pizza, but we have to get all fancied up for a first date. So, would you be up for an un-date?”

“What would the un-date entail?”

“I order pizza, you pick up your favorite soda, six pack, or what have you. We go back to my place—“

Ashely’s face fell. It was a shameless ploy, just a desperate attempt at sincerity. Her irritation showed plainly on her face.

Daniel threw his hands up with a smile. “Or your place. I’m not looking for anything. And I promise my aunt would not set you up with me if I were a serial killer. Either way, we pop in a movie, mock it or become enthralled, and just relax. I’m a big fan of really terrible seventies sci-fi, but I’m up for anything. No pressure, no rules.”

“Do you have Psy-Clops?”

Daniel smiled a broad smile. “Of course. No collection of mockery complete without it.”

“Your place it is, I guess.”

Daniel called for the check while Ashely left for her car. Perhaps it would be another wasted evening, she mused. But, perhaps it was the beginning of the first truly authentic thing in her life.

It was, at the very least, the beginning of something beautiful.

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Hey everyone! So, I’m on the road again. This time, just as I was wrapping up today’s story,  my laptop crashed! So, this means that I will be a bit behind getting today’s and tomorrow’s pieces posted due to the technical difficulties. And because I’m not going to type thousand word stories on my tiny phone keyboard. This post has been annoying enough!  I was not planning on shopping for a new laptop, but life is funny that way, I guess. Thanks for understanding,  and stayed tuned for 2 or 3 posts on Saturday!

Card Challenge: Day 13

Card Day 13: Dancing ballet slippers, cobwebs in the corner of the card.

The old recliner smelled of baby powder and stale perfume, and it released a gasp of the aroma as Georgette adjusted in the chair. She wrinkled her nose at the old, nursing home stench, smelling the scents of days and weeks and months of sedentary life in that chair, in that common room. It seemed like the winter dragged on longer and longer each year, meaning the outdoor patio was closed. The days grew short, the dark grew deeper, and Georgette resigned herself to the chair in front of the high definition TV she did not really appreciate.

It was another game show, another fake smile on the screen promising wealth and fantasy but delivering, mostly, paid advertisements. Georgette glanced around the room. She was the only one still awake in the common room, and the nurses at the station were more focused on chitchatting and an occasional glance than what was going on. She stood, careful to balance on her cracking legs before shuffling over to the remote. She nabbed the device from the side table, shuffled back, and quickly flipped the channel.

The national ballet was on, and she was not going to miss it just to watch someone not win millions.

Georgette settled into her chair, watching the graceful figures dance across the screen. The video quality on public television was poor, but it was good enough for her still sharp eyes to pick out the tiny flourishes that made these dancers in a class above. Of course, she could also still pick up the minute flaws, the hesitations in a leap, the wobble in a spin. She smiled, her mind turning back to her own time in the spotlight.

She had been very talented. Even at a young age, she had a sense of her talent, though it was generally buried under mounds of self-doubt and perfectionism. Her practices were rigorous, organized, and intentional. Day in and day out she ran her drills, completing various programs and techniques. It was a labor of love, however, because as soon as the house lights came down and the music began, she was free.

Georgette remembered the feeling of standing on the stage, the wooden floor springy yet firm beneath her feet. After her practice, the routine was second nature to her. The movements flowed like water from the crown of her head to the tips of her perfectly pointed toes. She sometimes found herself picturing herself as the embodiment of the music, floating across the stage. She was smooth and lean, wrapped in a silky leotard that shimmered beneath the brilliant lights. Her feet, bound tight in laced slippers, whispered across the stage, landing with soft thumps after each leap or spin. Her steps were a gentle, human counterpoint to the music, lifting it and supporting it with her body.

Of course, as they always did, her thoughts turned ot him. Her wonderful partner standing on the other side of the stage, smiling his broad smile as he watched her spin. As the tones rose and rhythm hit the right time, he would burst onto the stage. He was so tall, strong, and handsome. She would have swooned for him had she not been holding the perfect arch from head to toe. His appearance was always a breathless moment where her heart fluttered into her stomach.

Clyde’s hands were strong, secure, and warm against her waist, gently holding her aloft or leading her through the next step. Georgette remembered how, with some partners, it was impossible to maintain the organic, fluid movement of the music. She had always felt as if she were wind, spinning over the earth, trying to lift a pile of litter into some fantastic spiral. But with Clyde it was different. He had the same practiced grace, the same in-tuneness that Georgette prided in herself.

It was a match made in heaven, and a love written for the ages. She smiled as she remembered their career on stage together. The lights, the cameras, the music. It was a romance written in a poem, and a life she had loved for so long. Her stage career had, of course, been cut short by the birth of their youngest daughter. Clyde’s career had, unfortunately, been cut just as short by a fatal congenital heart defect, undetected until it stole him away in the midst of the night.

It was there the memories grew painful. She had tried to return to the life she knew, but that meant trying to shuffle her life and the life of three children below the age of five. The stage managers, once so smiling and congenial, refused to bend to accommodate her small family. The women back stage, some of whom she had taught and danced alongside for years, snickered at her slightly out-of-practice steps, at the stumbles she made as she re-learned the unfamiliar shape of her post-motherhood body. They loved to dote on the children, pinching little James’ cheeks and letting him dance on their toes. They dressed Becky and Jana in feathers, painting their faces brightly. Georgette only hoped that those few memories were bright ones, not as laden with embarrassment or helplessness for her children as they were for her.

She could not support a family on the meager paycheck of a second tier ballerina. Instead, her children grew up with a mother who worked long hours in the local diner, selling greasy spoon food with a brilliant smile.

Now, Georgette looked at herself. Her feet were tucked into a different kind of slippers now. While once strong, they were now wrinkled and feeble, conveying her with shuffling, unsteady step around the nursing home halls. Her legs that had once been so taut and lithe were now saggy and unsteady. They snapped and popped with every movement she made. Georgette thought of how she had carefully arranged her hair into a tight, golden bun. Now it hung around her shoulders, grey and thinning.

One thing, however, had not changed in all those years. On her hand sat the tiny diamond wedding band, its gold arms still holding tight to her ring finger. And, despite the consequences of age on her body, she still had the quick wits and bright smile that had carried her through. She still had a loving family, three smiling children who made their way through to visit her each week, coming by with hugs, kisses, and chubby grandchildren that asked wide-eyed questions about life before.  She still had the national ballet on public television every Thursday afternoon.

Georgette smiled. Yes, time had waged a cruel war, but she remained stalwart and graceful, occupying her own center spotlight. It had taken her years, but Georgette smiled at her life of fame, talent, heartache, and success. She closed her eyes and, in her dreams, she danced.

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Card Challenge: Day 12

Confession: I left home without drawing a card today, and will not return home until after 8:00pm tonight! Fortunately, I had written descriptions of many of the cards already generated (to save me an extra step of procrastination), so I used a random number generator to select one of those. And I have a good memory of the card that was randomly selected! So, here goes!

Card Day 12: In an open dollhouse, a blonde doll sits on the edge of the second story bedroom looking out.

Brenda sat and stared out the window, a hint of trepidation in her otherwise steady gaze. She watched as her parent’s car, its brake lights glowing a red into the ruddy sunset, pulled down the long driveway. It had taken weeks of begging, pleading, and good behavior to achieve this monumental milestone, and now her hard work was paying off. Only, there was a part of her that felt suddenly unprepared.

“You are twelve,” she snapped at herself. “Margie has been staying home all year!” She imagined Margie hearing the story of how Brenda chickened out and called her mom and dad before they even got on the road, how her ugly face would pucker up and laugh at her. She could see those crooked teeth smiling with a wide grin, the smell of lunch wafting over her as Margie bellowed. Resolved, Brenda stood from the window and marched down to the family room.

The house was very dark, but Brenda assured herself she was brave. Only babies were afraid of the dark. Her courage stoke, she then turned on the television, her thumb flipping the channels up and down reflexively. She had, of course, promised not to watch anything on the channels her parents banned from the house, but she found her thumb eagerly scrolling towards those upper numbers, specifically the scary movie channel that had been forbidden since that time she saw the clip of a demon possession and had nightmares for three months. She was surprised to find her eyes playing over the familiar, if slightly feared, logo.

As if expecting her parents to burst through the door at any moment to catch her, Brenda scanned the room, craning her neck towards the front door. It remained still as the channel’s promo blared, and did not budge an inch as the opening riffs of a movie title began drumming in the background. Margie would never be able to top this, especially if Brenda could say she watched an especially gory movie. It was all fake, right? So what could possibly go wrong?

Evening shuffled in as she settled in for the movie, the dinner her mother had carefully left—with instructions—warm in her hands. The shadows intruded into the house, draping themselves along the walls and floor as Brenda munched her way through the chicken breast and plate of macaroni. On the screen before her, she watched as zombies shambled from their graves. The full moon rose over the cinema city, much like the one smiling trough the big picture window at her now. As it did, the graveyard awoke, spilling its denizens into the street. Brenda watched flashes of red fly across the screen as zombie and civilian alike fell into the chaos. Somewhere, an arm became suddenly and irreparably detached from its body, flying across the screen with a spurt of bright red. There were people screaming, and people disappearing between the gnashing teeth of shambling zombie police officers.

Brenda sunk deep into the cushions of the couch, her eyes wide. It was all a movie, she reminded herself, even as her eyes stole out the window. The survivors trudged forward on the screen, cutting their way through hordes of zombies towards their goal. Suddenly, Maria, the tough female lead, let out a scream. A zombie’s face filled the screen, it’s hand a warped claw wrapped around her foot. Maria screamed again, kicking and fighting, as the creature dug its rotten teeth into her calf. Blood gushed from the wound as the zombie pulled back, revealing a patchwork of blood, tissue, and bone.

Brenda hit the power button as quickly as possible, ridding the room of the primary light source. It was suddenly silent in the heavy darkness of the room. Brenda noticed she was breathing heavily, her arms wrapped tightly around the pillow. In the silence, the clock on the mantle roared at a deafening pitch, counting each second off on at a time. It was 9:15. Her parents said they would be home around 10. Only forty-five minutes, she counted, relaxing her grip on the pillow.

She set the remote aside and stood from the couch, stretching out the tension and fear. It was all a movie, she reminded herself again, trying not to think about the gory images of dismemberment and cannibalism. All special effects.

Something thumped against the bay window, a heavy and dull sound that echoed towards her. Reflexively, Brenda leapt into the air, spinning to face the window. She could see nothing but the dark night, their empty driveway, and the trees tossing off in the distance. Nevertheless, she had the distinct feeling something sinister was moving out there. Her ears strained to hear any additional sound as her eyes scoured the glass, praying for some answer. Outside, the wind picked up, flinging a leafy twig towards the window with a familiar thump. It was the wind, she reasoned, calming just in time for the stairs behind her to creak.

Caught off guard, a tiny scream escaped her as she whirled about towards the stairs. There was nothing there. Nothing, she laughed, other than the pair of shoes her mother had asked her to put away. Brenda breathed a heavy sigh, turning the lamp on beside her. The room was suddenly aglow with the pale yellow light, casting new shadows and banishing others. The large window turned into a mirror, tossing her reflection in the living room back at her. While the light was welcome, it was unsettling being blinded to anything going on outside. She was suddenly aware of how vulnerable she was to anyone looking in.

Unable to shake the feeling of someone leering in at her beyond the lamp’s light, she stomped her way to the stairs and climbed up, feeling her skin prickle as the stairs groaned under each step. It was just the sounds of the house, she reminded herself, sounds she had heard for seven years. There was nothing to be scared of, and zombies weren’t even real!

Suddenly, from outside, came a heavy, hollow crash. Her mind flashed to cinematic memories of zombies flinging their bodies against wooden siding, their arms snaking through windows to the victims waiting inside. Light on her feet, she took the stairs two at a time, darting in her room to close the door. She waited silently, listening for the follow-up attack sure to assail her country home.

Instead, she heard the creak of the door. Her eyes flew to her nightstand, noting that it was only 9:30. Who was breaking in? Zombies did not open doors, but someone was creeping in, tearing through the safety of her childhood home. Brenda felt her heart rate increase, blood pounding in her ears as she imagined some masked figure sneaking past the heavy oak door.

From downstairs came a voice. “Brenda? We’re home!”

She collapsed against the door, sighing and laughing at her wild imagination. Her fear melted at her mother’s voice, her mind turning to more important matters.

She couldn’t wait to tell her friends at school about her bravery while home all alone with a scary movie. Margie wouldn’t be able to top this.

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Card Challenge: Day 11

Here is today’s. Not sure how I feel about it, but part of this exercise is writing things I’m not 100% on, and just going for it anyway. Sometimes it’s all about putting words on the page. The tone of this one is weird, and I’m not sure how I feel about the narrative structure. It;s mostly a character piece, with a little bit of reflection and surprise mixed in (and, ultimately, the surprise may be utterly unnecessary). I think it is interesting, but I’m just not sure if I love it or hate it. Right now, it could go both ways. If you have an opinion, please let me know. May not sort it out for me, but it at least lets me know if I’m way off base! Happy reading!

Card Day 11: A woman standing and pulling aside her apron to reveal a puppet stage in her abdomen. On the stage, she raises an object threateningly towards another, smaller puppet. (Think the old Punch and Judy sketches.)

From all outward appearances, Dave and Cindy were the perfect couple, living the dream of blissful married life for nine loving years. They were the traditional, enviable power couple. She was brilliant, fit, and a terror of a corporate lawyer. She had worked hard for her prestige, though the memory of such long all-nighters through college and law school was distant now, and she continued to build herself into a dynamic machine of ruthlessness and productivity. Up at five am to hit the gym for a vigorous morning workout, it was then into the office by seven. Cindy was the kind of woman who would smile beautifully as she plainly told you precisely how this deal was going to go down, her lashes fluttering in innocence the whole while. I suspect some people fell for her routine and thought they were pulling one over on her, but most folks were smart enough to hear the steel in her voice, waiting to tear them apart.

Dave was a slight man, but most who knew him quickly forgot his underwhelming physical presence in light of his impossibly quick mind. He was an oncologist by trade, able to at once slip into the role of a comforting stranger belaying bad news while also carefully deconstructing every molecule of an interaction. His sympathy was short-lived by necessity, but he often found himself in shock at the maudlin displays put on in his office by a family who, quite obviously, previously cared very little at all for the fate of the poor sod getting the death sentence. He was a card shark, one of those who seemed to see right through the card backs based on a drop of sweat alone. He was popular, well-liked, and avoided for most major arguments. Dave had more wits than he knew what to do with, and sometimes unsheathed his biting comments in the face of another’s misguided ignorance. His was a friendliness put on for the obligation of human interaction, carefully masking an underlying disdain. Of course, his friends were eternally in the dark about that, so well-crafted was the disguise.

Then again, his wife was much the same way. The same in a way that allowed her to see through him, to the despicable being underneath. In turn, he saw past her beauty and charm to the bitter, jaded creature she truly was. They were, as I said, the perfect couple, as long as one did not dig too deep.

They went to the right parties, hosted the right shindigs, and belonged to the right charities. Their benefit dinners were well-known and well-attended, while they both sat on the prestigious boards of all the right organizations. In person, they loved and doted on one another, smiling from across the room. They danced in perfect harmony, and laughed at each other’s jokes. High school sweethearts, they had parted ways in college and only rekindled their love after a chance encounter in line at the local coffee shop. He bought her extravagant gifts, she praised his every accomplishment, and everyone smiled in awe of their wonderful relationship, if inwardly seething for the saccharine nature of it all.

Of course, that was only on the outside. Sure, there were clues if one knew where to look. There was a harsh edge to Cindy’s laughter when Dave told a joke, a mocking bite that he was certain to hear. Dave’s brows knit a little too close together when he smiled at his lovely bride, broadcasting his irritation to her from across the room, even as his eyes danced with a smile. If one were ever close enough to the smile-clad, dancing duo, one might hear the under-the-breath instructions barked by Cindy as Dave giddily disregarded each one. If you hung around late enough after one of their parties, long enough for the guests to go home, the staff to clean up, and the house to return to silence, then you would hear true feelings spill out, harsh words shot across empty hallways from rooms on opposite ends of the house. Bitterness, regret, rage, duplicity, and hopelessness.

To give up, file the papers, and go their separate ways would reveal a terminal weakness for both of them, something to be exploited or, even more distressingly, pitied. Staying together at least provided a ready target to drown with rage and frustration, as well as the occasional bought of angry sex born from isolation and animal need. It also, most importantly, shored up the image of a happy couple, successful in all they set their minds to. And, ultimately, wasn’t that what mattered.

What one might not know was that Cindy had a very dangerous peanut allergy, and that Dave had been routinely making himself a generous plate of fried chicken in sizzling peanut oil about once a week, most of which ended up uneaten in the garbage. Cindy, of course, could not explain the itching, swelling, and redness that occasionally sprung up. Dave, for his part, grumbled that she could use whatever she wanted if she ever took up the initiative to cook.

One likely wouldn’t know that Cindy had a concealed carry permit, ostensibly for the early morning walk from the office parking garage to her well-secured office building. And it was certainly not well known that she kept it under her pillow at night, sometimes lying awake and wondering which head most needed a bullet to end all of this. Dave, snoring peacefully like a freight train, slept on, unaware where his life hung in the ultimate balance.

Some people certainly knew about Dave’s secretive afternoon appointments with Janice Weathers, the lead surgeon at his hospital. She was, of course, there for surgical consults on patients, but the office hour was protected as sacred, with all phone calls on hold, the blinds drawn, and the door locked. For patient confidentiality, of course. They had only just booked their tickets to the latest AMA conference, though the meeting was in Denver while their tickets said Mexico. Someone knew, but likely turned a blind eye to something that was not their business.

And now, of course, everyone knows of the bloody aftermath. The knife wounds and gun shots that opened Cindy and Dave’s hidden inner life to public view. Everyone knows about the corpse in the swimming pool and the other in the garage, bags packed in the trunk already. Everyone knows about the screaming and yelling that woke up their sleepy neighbors, and about the pile of mementos burning on the front lawn.

If only someone could have seen through those two, interceded, and stopped Fate’s cruel hand. If someone could have seen the herald of the stars and somehow intercepted one of them, preventing this grand tragedy. Yes, if someone had intervened, those two would probably still be around, making someone else miserable. But, you see, Fate’s job is sometimes to remove the blemishes, cut the cancer out where it festers. It is a bloody, messy procedure so often, but I must say, I enjoy my job.

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Card Challenge: Day 10

Card Day 10: An abacus with various planets as the beads on the rails.

“Cheryl! That’s great news. I didn’t even know you were psychic!” exclaimed Marian, her face alight with excitement.

“I’m not psychic. Like I told you, it’s all one big racket.”

“Oh, I understand,” Marian responded with an exaggerated wink. “So since you’re ‘not psychic,’ how will you go about writing all those horoscopes?”

Cheryl sighed, taking a long sip from her wine glass before continuing. Marian was a great friend, she reminded herself, even if she was not always the pinnacle of intellect. “They said to use some vague, feel good statements, sprinkled through with a couple of dire warnings. The things practically write themselves once you know the script.”

“I’m sure they do, the words just come to you, huh?” She chuckled at her own joke. “Well, I’m glad you finally found a job. We can toast to that!” She raised her glass, and Cheryl smiled at the gesture. “To new opportunities and the development of all our hidden talents.”

Cheryl took another drink, noticing how low her glass suddenly was. It had been a long day, and she still was uncertain she could stomach the reality of shilling such snake oil for a living, even if it was necessary to keep the lights on in her ratty apartment. The wine did not necessarily help with that decision, but it did serve to push it just a bit farther away.

“I just can’t believe you never told me about your gift. But I’m sure that can be scary. Most people probably think you’re crazy!”

“Mar, seriously, I’m not psychic. I just slap some words onto paper. You read them and plan your life around it. Then I get paid. No psychic abilities required.”

Marian looked slightly off put, her face twisting briefly into a irritated smirk. “Well, fine, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want. I’m just trying to be a good friend and support you in this. I’m sure it’s not the way most psychics want to make a living, but you are providing an important service to lots of people. Not everyone can afford a fancy private psychic, so some of us have to get by on the weekly paper. That’s your job now, and I think you should be proud of yourself.”

Cheryl realized it was a losing battle, one Marian could not afford to lose to reason. “You’re right, Marian. It’s just hard getting used to this job.” Marian reached out and touched her hand.

“I’m sure it is. Just know, I’m here for you, and I support you.” Her face beamed with pride in her friend and her own magnanimity.


“Your kindness to those you meet will reap great rewards. Be patient, and watch for your return.”

“This week holds many opportunities for fun. Enjoy yourself, but don’t forget to take time to recharge!”

“Remember that problem that just won’t leave you alone? Expect news to clarify your path.”

“An unexpected inconvenience may bring unexpected rewards. Look for—”

Cheryl tapped a pencil on the edge of her laptop slowly, her eyes distant as she tried to find a new and creative way to end Capricorn’s latest memo. After only a couple months, she felt she was doing nothing but rehashing the same, empty promises week after week. Nonetheless, it was keeping food and lights on in her fridge, so it was hard to complain. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and all that.

Her phone buzzed on the coffee shop table. Marian had been giddy at seeing the weekly horoscopes since learning about her friends new job, and she never failed to try to get a sneak peek into the future.

“Coffee, Cheryl?” she asked, skipping routine greetings.

“I’m already at the coffee shop, so why not?” sighed Cheryl, glancing around the sparsely populated bistro.

“And you say you aren’t psychic! I’ll be there around three? Maybe you can see if the stars have anything to say about me in the meantime!”

Cheryl glanced at the clock. Forty-five minutes would, likely, give her enough time to finish writing and fleshing out the next edition’s worth of swill. “Will do, Mar. See you then. Half caf mocha, as usual?”

Marian gasped. “Well, look at you, Ms. Cleo! I’ll be there on the dot.”

Cheryl knew that meant Marian would be about fifteen minutes late, and so mentally gave herself the chance to relax. What would Marian’s upcoming horoscope say? Cheryl smiled to herself, thinking of all the ridiculous lies she could put into print if she so desired, knowing no one would notice or care.

“Marian: You will come into an unexpected sum of money,” she typed lazily, smirking at the cliché. “But be wary of unknown strangers. While he may appear to be Prince Charming, you may be courting the Beast instead! A great tragedy awaits you at the end of your week. I hope you chose good life insurance!” Cheryl chuckled to herself in the coffee shop, laughing at the morbid horoscope. She would love to see Marian’s face if she actually read that in the final edition. She would certainly get fired, but it was almost worth it just to shake her friend’s conviction in the poppycock.

Cheryl stretched, went up for a refill of the house roast, and settled in to finish explaining fate for a few thousand loyal readers. Her next line came to her in a burst of inspiration.

“Look for chances to stretch and grow in the next week. Don’t let your cynicism get the best of you!”


“Cheryl, you won’t believe my week!”

Cheryl was groggy on the phone, having slept well past her normal wake time this Saturday morning. She had needed to be up early to start her work, begin looking for more freelance opportunities, but that plan had fallen prey to a late night bottle of wine and sappy rom-com marathon.

“What won’t I believe. I’m psychic, remember?” She was snarky this morning, she noted, massaging her temples as she tried to force alertness into her consciousness.

“That’s true! So you knew about the money, huh?”


“Yeah. My bank realized I had been incorrectly charged some upkeep fees for years! I got a few hundred dollars back.”

“Oh, that’s great!” Something about that coincidence made a chill creep up Marian’s spine, but she could not identify it.

“And that’s not all! On Thursday, I met this great guy at lunch. Total Prince Charming. I mean, swept me right off my feet!”

“Uh, Marian, I don’t know if—”

“You know, I thought, maybe we’re moving too fast, but I think I’m old enough to know what I want. Besides, he’s a total beast in bed,” she whispered, her voice dropping into a conspiratorial whisper.

“Do you even know who—”

“I know, I know. I shouldn’t rush things but—Oh, I think he’s up. I’m going to have to let you go. He says we’re going hiking today. See you tomorrow for coffee?”

“I really don’t think you should—”

“Great! See you then!” The line went dead in Cheryl’s hand as the feeling of impending dread and tragedy welled up around her.

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Card Challenge: Day 9

Card Day 9: A heart on fire beneath a glass dome.

I love you, you know. I trace the meaning of my life from the time I first saw you; you are the reason that my heart beats, that the air tastes fresh and brilliant. You are my reason.

I love you, and there is nothing that could ever quench the passion that burns within me for you. You make it so easy to love you though. You always tell the best jokes that keep me smiling for hours. I think that is what first drew me to you, and from there I was trapped by the light of your joyful eyes and the magnetism of your smile. Do you remember how we met? It is likely a forgotten moment for you, but for me it marked a new birth into the world of love. I know you didn’t notice me then, but I forgave you. When you are as handsome and successful as you are, one more admirer may not stand out at first. It was our Intro Biology class spring of our Freshman year. The class was about 150 students large, but you stood out like a lighthouse to me. I sat two rows behind you, a bit to the left, and I’ll never forget hearing you tell about the weekend adventures you went on. Do you remember when you got lost driving to the Deltas party and ended up stuck in some muddy cow pasture? I do. Hearing you tell the story, regaling all of us with your misadventures, revealed to me the depth of your character. You were funny, smart, and creative as well. Your eyes lit up as we laughed at your tale, grimacing at your misfortunes, and cheering with your ultimate victory. How could I not fall in love?

I love your eyes, your nose, your lips, you voice, your laugh, your smile. I even love your stinky socks at the end of the bed! I love the way you snort a little when something is really funny, and the way you pick apart the bread on your ham sandwiches during lunch in the cafeteria. I love your little snore at night, as your breath whispers softly in and out, calming my worried thoughts and fears. I love the quirks you have, like how you insist on triple checking the locks each night, or how you leave the kitchen light on, perfect for my midnight snacks! (That reminds me, you’re out of peanut butter!) I wish all men were as thoughtful as you, but I suppose I should simply be happy at what I have been lucky enough to find. To think I could have spent my entire life searching for love as true as ours, so uncomplicated and pure, but I stumbled upon you so early.

I love you, of course, but sometimes I get scared. To love so deeply means risking being completely shattered if that love fails. Sometimes I see the world stacked again us, all the obstacles that could stand in our way and tear us apart. This world is such a dark place, and love like ours threatens everything it proclaims. The world does not understand how I love you; the world does not understand love, I suppose. I love truly, not the selfish love that everyone else seems to seek. My love is only to experience the world with you, seeing the adventures set before you, and cheering you on through them. My love will reside with you day in and day out, not matter what the ups or downs are. I am not some fair-weather lover, but one who will remain by your side in sickness and health, riches and poverty, good and bad.

I love you better than most people can love, because my love does not depend on you making me happy, saying the perfect things, buying the best gifts, or doting on me day in and day out. My love for you is pure, based solely on the fact that you are the one person in the world worthy of such love. You are kind, gentle, strong, smart, driven, and compassionate. Remember the night you found that puppy alone, cold, and sitting on your doorstep in the rain. You did not even know she was mine, but you took her in and dried her off just the same. You’ve taken such good care of her too, opening your home to care for her. I knew you were truly a kind soul after that, and it fueled the flames of my love for you. When the world feels dark and cold, I remember that I love a man who would reach into that mess to care for a discarded creature. If that is true, then the cold and dark have no power over me; there are willed away by the burning flames.

I love you because of you, not because of what you do for me. Yes, you give me purpose, but that is because you are the kind of man who inspires meaning in all those he touches. It only took a momentary passing, a chance encounter, to change the course of my life forever. I moved apartments, changed my major, and took up new hobbies, fueled by my desire to live a life worthy of you.

I know I love you, though I suppose there are some things I don’t love about you; you are human, after all. I hate the way you flirt—harmlessly, I’m sure—with the cashiers in the store. I hate when you stay up late into the night playing receptive video games, unmoving from your sofa for hours on end. I hate that you insist on double bagging the garbage to keep the “raccoons” out, as you blame them for the trash strewn along the driveway those months ago. And I hate how you insist on closing every blind and window when you go to sleep. You do know it is best to wake up to natural light, right?

Ah, so it is bed time I see. You have checked the locks twice now, made a quick walk through the rooms one last time to look for your cell phone. You always leave it on the armrest of the couch, but you always seem to miss it the first time! Now it is time for the windows, and I watch as they fall, cutting me off from your safe world inside. Fortunately, they also allow me to do what has to be done without concerning you. I can sit near the door, hear the final jiggle of the handle as you check it just once more for safety.

I should probably tell you that your cellar door is loose, the hinge on one side rusted through so that the deadbolt no longer works. But I fear for our love, my darling, and I need to love you, even if you never know I exist.

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Card Challenge: Day 8

NOTE: This was actually written yesterday, but due to travel, I did not have an internet connection until I got home super late. So I went to bed instead. I’ll be posting Day 9 later today!

Card Day 8: A boy sits inside a house-shaped music box, gazing through a barred window. Outside, music notes litter the ground. (Missed Days: 1)

Fifteen years was a long time to live with a curse. It was a hard punishment for a life that was, as far as he was concerned, had been without serious flaw. Yes, there had been the occasional youthful foible or mischief, but Marik felt certain that he had done nothing to warrant such a penalty. Nevertheless, this was the hand foisted upon him after he killed a pheasant in the Ageless Queen’s forest. He had not know, had once been his protest. Those words died on his lips long ago, along with everything else.

It had started imperceptibly. He had been a youthful young man, spending a day watching after the sheep in the fields along the forest. It had gotten later than he wanted—he had been forced to track down a wandered sheep—and his meager lunch had long since faded from his gut. It growled and rumbled, and Marik longed to settle in for the night, strike up a fire, and cook something for dinner. But he had missed his chance to find something. As he led his sheep towards a sheltered spot for evening, his thoughts turned over and over, mourning his pitiful dinner of dried berries and a hunk of nearly-molded bread.

As if a missive from the gods, the crow of a pheasant pierced through the dimming evening. Marik’s eyes scanned the surroundings swiftly, catching sight of the lovely bird just beyond the perimeter of the forest. He glanced at his sheep, mildly munching on the grass, but weary for the evening. The docile beasts would likely stay clustered for long enough to attain his goal. He pulled his sling from his pocket and crept forward, loading a hefty stone into the pouch.

The shot was true, and the bird was delicious, roasted over the open fire. Marik slept with a full belly.

The next day, he woke to a silent forest. It was odd to him, and he glanced around, expecting to see storm clouds barreling in on the horizon, but only the cheery blue sky and bright sun met his gaze. Perhaps it was just his presence.

He continued on, wondering what made his sheep so silent as well. They were normally a grumbling bunch, but today they marched in silence. Marik felt his senses sharpen as he strained his ears and eyes for any sign of a predator. Nothing. The day passed in silence, and Marik began to feel the weight of the unnatural silence settle on him.

The next morning was the same. He began to whistle, hoping to banish the sound, but he could not even here his breath through his lips. At that, his heart began to pound. What devilry was this. He opened his mouth, trying to speak, and watched as his world went from the boring life of a shepherd to some twisted nightmare.

From his lips poured his words, airy script written on the air. The words hung there for a moment, fluttering in the breeze, then crashed to the ground as if they were made of lead. Marik blinked, hoping to banish the mites that danced across his vision. He spoke his name, and watched the string of letters dance from his breath. Chills crept up and down his body as the impossibility of the thing settled on him. The silence of yesterday sunk in, pulling him deeper into despair.

He was quick to round up the herd and begin marching towards town. He was not due back for another couple of days, but this warranted an early return. The sheep protested—he could see their mouths opening and closing in angry silence—but he pressed them on back towards town. Once they were securely placed in their pen, he marched his way to the village pharmacy.

It was near midnight when he banged—silently—on the door to the pharmacist’s home. The old man eventually opened the door, and Marik suddenly missed the wretched thing’s squeal. He raised his lantern, his lips moving in silence. The words that poured from his lips were not words, but some jumbled script that looped back in, above and over itself, in incomprehensible patterns.

Marik began to explain, his words tumbling over one another in his haste. The pharmacist simply stared at him, not a hint of comprehension flashing over his face. Marik began to panic, to speak more. His words piled at his feet, a weight pinning him to the spot. Eventually the old man held up a hand and walked inside, only to return with a quill and piece of parchment. Relief swelled within Marik as he took the quill, ink shimmering on the tip, and pressed it lightly against the paper. He wrote, and watched as the page remained empty, the ink only briefly touching the paper before dissipating into the air.

Marik tried again, panic palpable in his face. The same result followed, and the pharmacist gave him a perplexed look. The weight of his curse sinking in, Marik dropped the quill and parchment, fleeing back to the safety of his home.

It was, at least, easy to sleep in the silence. He slept, and heard her voice. The Ageless Queen laughed and mocked him, singing her accusations against him. Marik woke the next morning, the taste of pheasant rotting on his breath, and wished that he could have silence again, but only her voice. It laughed and sang, lopping its indictment again and again as it replayed the words of the curse. He screamed, trying to break free, but only watched as his vowels piled below him on the floor. Outside his window, he could see a bird singing in the tree, its chest rising and falling with the action, but instead leaden notes collapsed to the ground. Only her voice cut through the silence, endlessly reminding him of his crime.

After that, Marik lost the color green. Then, blues became black. Brown was the next to meld into the solid shade, his vision swiftly narrowing to a world of bright colors not yet taken and solid, endless black. When he slept, her face mocked him, and he woke to the haunting green of her eyes following him, her words endlessly mocking his wretched state.  The loss of smell was a welcome relief, as he no longer had to smell the tiny village, but the loss of taste robbed him of his last pleasure. Finally, he woke one day to realize he could not feel his toes against the rough cotton blanket. As numbness crept up his body day by day, Marik resolved.

Fifteen years was too long to live with a curse.

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Card Challenge: Day 7

Card Day 7: A fetus (my husband says it’s just a face…) holding a set of gold keys with the shape of a heart, a sword, and a skull cut into them. On its head is a lock, now open, emitting soft, yellow, glowing lights. (This one was a hard one to describe)

It is a strange thing to come into being. To be wrapped up, a synthesis filled already with early senses and environments. A jumble of my mother and father, elements and nutrients, and a blindly experienced reality, all knit into one lump of human skin. Yet I always understood, somehow, innately, that such a lottery of occurrences was in no way up to the fates. No, my destiny had been knit in the womb by intentional, knowing hands. As I grew, too young to put it into words, it was a throbbing sense in the core of my being, pushing me towards a goal only half glimpsed at times. Age and experience brought it into focus, but it was ultimately that unconscious known which propelled me along the path of life.

And it was here I had stood, upon the very literal and figurative threshold, a man about to embrace destiny with reckless abandon, about to leap into the very life I had been groomed for, the taste of my victory on my lips. I was a man about to be a king.

Kingship had not come easy, that I was aware. My destined path was not an easy one, but one that had been fraught with danger and disappointment. It was a path that had meandered far too long, but had finally led me to the promised land. I had fought for it, and now another’s gold was my honey, their linens my milk. In the ruined throne room, I sat on the tattered throne, already imagining the world I would build from these ashes.

From birth, the world had seen yet another fisherman in a long line of fishermen. A man who would live, grow, toil, and die with nothing but a hovel and homely wife to mark my trek upon this sod. But I knew better. I saw the great things I would become; I felt them in my soul. I had arrived.

But, as I said, my path to glory was not easy. It was filled with the trudge through mingled blood, mud, and ash. The path behind me was ugly, torn, and ragged. Not one befitting a king, but one befitting a warrior. Yet I was proud of the struggles I had endured. I had once slain fifteen men alone, crushing the militia of the small village that I so desperately needed to secure the attack path for the castle. I had spent seven nights alone, roaming the hills and gathering reconnaissance on a traitor in my midst. I had seen him hanged for his offense, in full view of those who followed me.

I had left my betrothed cold, hungry, and alone in a fisherman’s shack, waiting on word from the battle lines that I had survived another skirmish. She would soon receive word that I was victorious, installed to my rightful place on the throne. So many years removed from that pitiful village, I find her youthful image grows dim. She had been plain, a common beauty from amid a despicable town, and age had not treated her well since. She had the face of a fisherman’s wife, dull eyed and doughy around the edges. Her hair had lain in limp ringlets, a wild halo around her head. She came to me in my seat of victory, smiles and heart bursting. I, of course, did the right thing and allowed her a home among my castle, a place among the beautiful women I received as tribute. I cared for her, like any respectable man should, and made sure she was fed and clothed. If she longed for love, I left her to find it in the arms of another, though I never knew of such a union. She was a fisherman’s wife, but not the king’s.

She was an inescapable shadow within my court, always hovering just beyond the public eye, mooning over me as if her destiny was entwined with my own. She wished to be queen, I suppose, but she was never destined for royalty. I married instead the daughter of the Pirik ruler to the North. She was a woman worthy of the crown. Slender, tall, with mysterious eyes that always smoldered. She never spoke out of turn, and graced my arms for years. I was sad when the time came to set her aside, to accept a new bride more befitting the crown. But I did the respectable thing and cared for her until she passed last winter. What a funeral it had been.

What a funeral it will be. The thought flashes through my mind as it grows hazy. Yes, what a funeral it will be. I, decked in my finery, once again in front of my people. There would be days of mourning and feasting, dignitaries from the world over walking through the great halls of my castle, wondering at the magnificent works of art on my walls.

The blood is cooling—or perhaps I am. It is too hard to tell at this point. The pain has faded, just a dim knot on the edge of my awareness. My hands are growing limp now, tiring of their job to staunch the blood flow. Her knife lies beside me, wrenched from my own side. There the fisherman’s bride lays, her head dashed against the stone steps where I pushed her. But the door is barred, and there is no one to arrive until morning. My calls for help are hoarse, indistinguishable from the ragged wind raging beyond the windows. I had dragged myself a few feet nearer the doors, but darkness swelled at my vision with my exertion. I feared hastening death, already slipping near on its silent feet.

The moment replays in my mind. Dahlia, my rapidly ageing newest bride, smiled coyly at a promised surprise. She slipped from the throne room, leaving the door opened by a crack as her eyes willed me to wait. I, eager for my fill, waited in anticipation as she spoke with the voice of a queen, willing away the smirking guards. I stood by my throne, watching and waiting, as the curtains behind me rustled open. In the time it took me to turn, Dahlia had slammed and barred the doors, leaving me with the betrothed of my youth, her face worn, haggard, and scarred by a bitter life left unlived. The knife pierced as deep and true as the hatred in her eyes.

Coldness, darkness. I look once again at the still face lying bloodied at the base of the steps, seeing the limp silver waves of hair around newly dulled eyes. A fisherman’s wife who dared to dream of a destiny not her own, fought to take her unrightful place in the annals of history. A woman destined for a life in a seaside shack crowded with scrawny urchins, but ultimately the woman who undid my destiny in one stroke. As the darkness deepens within and without, I feel certain of one thing. I have lived the destiny I was promised; I have died the death I wrought.

I’m writing on a plane! I know none of you (mostly fictional) readers really care about that, but it is an interesting experience. I mean, not that interesting, but still. I’m writing from thousands of feet in the air! That has to count for something, right? And, soon I will be on the ground and off to interviewing early in the morning. It’s going to be a whirlwind. I am always open to any good thoughts, prayers, or positive vibes, even if I wrote a sad, dark story. I hope you…um…enjoyed (?) it!

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