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Posts tagged “change of pace

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

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

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

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

Card Challenge: Day 6

Card Day 6: A small boy, dressed in a star-covered cape and wizard hat, holds a candle within an incandescent light bulb.

Wonder has always been a child’s greatest asset. Some individuals are particularly suited to kindling that wonder, turning it from a mere child’s fancy into a way of viewing the world as a magical place resting beneath a mundane veil. Charlie’s grandfather had always been that kind of man.

Age had exacted a toll, but had not withered Charlie’s Pappy. The man still stood proud, if slightly shorter and more stooped than before, with the same light sparkling in his blue eyes. Even the newly added bifocals did nothing to hide that glimmer. Charlie followed the man through the narrow hallway stuffed with mementos and memories.

“Your dad keeps telling me to clean this place out,” grumbled the elder as he shuffled along the hallway, “but I keep telling him that I’ve only got a few good years left. And damned if I’m going to spend them doing spring cleaning. When they plant me at the church, they can take a match to the whole place. Until then—” he reached for something half-submerged in a box of tissue paper—”I prefer to enjoy my collections.” In his hand was a cheap magic wand, black rubber with yellowed white tips. “Abracadabra!” he shouted joyfully as a bunch of cramped, smashed, and faded fabric flowers sprung from the end. He laughed, and Charlie smiled.

“I’m not sure that’s one of your best tricks,” Charlie chided jovially. His grandfather shrugged his shoulders and moved along.

“There’s always bound to be some duds. Can’t please everyone all the time. Can’t even please some people any of the time. You just have to worry about yourself, Charlie, and finding what makes you happy.”

Having reached the dusty kitchen, Charlie pulled the metal tin from the top of the refrigerator and pulled out two tea bags. His grandfather had the water already on the stove by the time he found two mugs in the cabinet.  “I’m going to rinse these out. They’ve gotten some dust in them,” he titled the mugs toward his grandfather, as if the man was to inspect and verify his claim. Instead, he waved him towards the sink.

Dusk had fallen quickly, Charlie noted as he stood over the sink. It was in those last blue-grey moments of the day, just before night fully descended. He reached to the wall and flicked the switch to turn on the over-sink light. There was a brief burst of light, then a soft pop and darkness.

At the table behind him, his grandfather snorted. “Darn fairies. Learnin’ too fast these days.” Charlie smiled; he had forgotten the old fairy story. Or, more accurately, he had not remembered it recently.

It started on a rainy day in mid-July. Charlie was over for a week with his grandparents in the summer. He and his grandfather were working on tilling the back garden for the second bean planting, and it had been Charlie’s job to run back to the shed for fertilizer. The shed was a tiny building, crammed full of various tools, as well as other odds and ends Grandmother had banished from the house. It was narrow and long, with no windows and a single creaky door. Charlie did not mind the shed too much, but the knowledge of spiders and possibly snakes lurking in the back often made him pause for the light before entering. Only, this time, it hadn’t come on.

“Light’s out, Pappy,” he called, trying to keep his nerves in check. The fertilizer was all the way in the back, past all the tools and cobwebs. It had seemed smart to store it back there in April, out of the way until time to plant again, and safe from any water that might blow in through the cracks around the door. Now it seemed frightening; a minefield lay between Charlie and his prize.

His grandfather stood from the dirt, brushing his hands onto the chest of his coveralls. He walked over and gave the pull string another tug or two. “Well, so it is. Darn fairies. You just can’t depend on them when you need them.”

Charlie smiled, noticing the glimmer of a smile in his grandfather’s eyes. “Fairies, Pappy?”

“Well, of course! How do you think that there light bulb works?”

“Well, dad says that the ‘lectrici—”

“Oh, your dad would say that. He never believed in fairies, you see. No, no, the truth is much simpler than all that ‘particles’ and ‘resistance’ talk. Ya’ see Chuck, fairies like to use light bulbs to train up their kiddos. All fairies are, of course, magical, but it takes a lot of hard work to learn how to use those powers right.”

Charlie nodded along dutifully. He was at that awkward age where he was old enough to notice the sly smile on his grandfather’s face and recognize the fantasy of the story, but young enough still to hope that is might somehow be true. He hung on every word, building a world where such beautiful fantasies could really exist. “So, how do they use the light bulbs?”

“Good question. You see, fairies used to have to practice out in the middle of everything. For fairy kids, that was especially dangerous. There are all sorts of things out there dangerous to fairies: hawks, snakes, spiders, just to name a few. Then, some folks got to talking with them, and came up with a plan. People would build some little glass homes, and the fairies could pop in and learn their magic anytime they wanted. The fairies thought this was a marvelous idea. Now, of course, people couldn’t have lights flashing on and off all hours of the night, so they agreed to put a switch. When they flipped the switch, it turned on a fairy vacancy sign, and ‘poof’ there came a fairy to get in some good training.”

“Then what happens when the light goes out?” asked Charlie, a tenor of concern in his young voice. His grandfather smiled broadly.

“Well, your fairy has graduated. Learned all he or she can, and is now out to see the big wide world. It’s a bit sad, of course, but you just get a new bulb and a new fairy will find its way to you. Ready to start some training?” His grandfather reached up to one of the talk shelves, pullign down a faded and dusty box. He tugged at the cardboard, revealing a new light for the ceiling. Charlie smiled and nodded, then paused.

“Pappy, if there’s a fairy in there, why can’t I see it?”

His grandfather looked confused for a moment. “What do you mean, kiddo? You see the light, right?” Charlie nodded. “Well, then you see the fairy. What did you think they looked like?” His grandfather gave a strong, barking laugh, and deftly replaced the failed bulb.

“Study hard, but not too hard,” Charlie advised the new light bulb above the sink, tapping it softly with his index finger. “I think I got you a dumber one this time.” He settled back into the present with the whistling kettle and his grandfather’s laugh. Wonder was always a child’s best asset, and some people never outgrew it.

This one is a bit weird, but it was at least fun to write. I’m going to be travelling over the next few days, and so, while I hope to keep up, it may mean I have to use one of my skip days. I’m just not sure I will have time when I’m not driving/interviewing/working over the next couple of days. But, the show will go on, it may just hit a minor snag. Thanks for reading, and I 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 2

Card Day 2: A castle floating through the sky from a hot air balloon.

Mark carefully navigated the narrow passage between the spires, pushing the throttle to pull himself from what, in the hands of a less experienced pilot, would have been a certain fiery explosion. The controls were smooth beneath his hand, reacting not as mechanical components, but as some biological extension of his own will. For Mark, such things had always come easily. The plane was not an object hurtling through the air, but his own consciousness speeding towards his desired ends.

He brought he plane to rest, his heroics having, once again, saved the day. He pulled the needed coordinates from the copilot’s chair, handing them off to the waiting private, who hurried off with a look of admiration and awe. Mark smiled, a swagger to his steps, scanning the hustling faces until her found the one that met his eyes with a sultry stare. She moved towards him, her hips swaying side to side hypnotically as green eyes pouted at him from above full red lips. Her hair fell in perfect golden curls, brushing up against her pressing breasts. Her eyes were hungry and amazed, taking in his tall physique, his cavalier grin, his heroism and success.

She reached him from across the tarmac, her eyes never leaving his body. Her lips found his, pulling him closer so he could feel the rise and fall of her chest, the fullness of her breasts, the heat of her desire. Mark thrust himself into the moment, the passion, the—

–sound of laughter jolted him from his momentary revelry. He looked about, quickly, taking in the pool of sticky drool on his desk and the disapproving stare of his third period history teacher. Ms. Spinham fixed him with decidedly less interested stare, but one that cut to his core with all the ice of the dream woman’s warmth.

“I’m not sure that level of enjoyment is appropriate for World War II, Mr. Cavanaugh.”

A giggle rippled through the classroom again as Mark fumbled to pick his fallen glasses off the desk, muttering an embarrassed apology as he tried to make himself small in his chair. Gary gave him a woeful half smile from across the room, shrugging his shoulders in solidarity. At least, Mark reasoned, he had an ally in the battle that was high school.

“That was brutal,” groaned Gary as they melded into the mass of students. Mark shook his head.

“You don’t have to tell me. It’ll be the end of the semester before I live that down.”

“Hey, it could’ve been worse.”

Gary’s attempt at reassurance was flimsy at best, and Mark was in no mood to graciously accept the trite sentiment. “Really, Gary? How could that have been any worse?” Mark snapped, throwing his hands up in the air in defeat.

Gary knit his brows together, a flash of irritation in his eyes. “At least all that moaning wasn’t talking, compadre. You could have been all ‘Oh, Janice, Janice, kiss me harder.'” His words had the magical ability to cut through the din of the hallway during passing period, and Mark felt the color further drain from his face. From around him, people turned to glance his way, not bothering to hide their smirking faces. It did not take long for the whispers to start. To his credit, Gary looked similarly pale, and threw him a half-apologetic glance before distancing himself from the heartily labeled social pariah. Mark sighed. This too shall pass.

Fourth period, Science. Fifth, lunch. By that time, Gary had developed a sufficient apology, and cautiously shared the table with him. Sixth was English, and nearly the end of the day. Mark slouched into the classroom, trying not to make eye contact with all the grinning faces waiting to make some remark. Not making eye contact did not stop them from making the comments, but Mark reasoned it gave him plausible deniability that he ever heard them. Mr. Stonebrook began the lesson on the early works of American literature, scrawling dates and authors across the board with reckless abandon. Mark tried to keep up, but soon found himself doodling fantastic castles, as well as a dubious self-portrait topped with a marvelous crown. Of course, to an outsider looking in, the scribbles more closely resembled the fallen walls of a ramshackle shack, and his crown appeared to be misshapen antlers protruding from a potato, but Mark amused himself nonetheless. Until his felt the heavy silence of the classroom.

Mark looked up from his doodles to find Mr. Stonebrook smiling at him. “Can you read the next paragraph?”

Mark floundered. “Uh—I think I can—” his fingers danced across the book as his eyes tried to sneak a glance at the page number. “What’s the first word?”

“She walked.”

Flustered, uncomfortable, and uncertain he was on the right page, Mark began reading, his words coming in starts and stops as he eyed the class for any sign of mistake. Fortunately, the paragraph ended without event, and Mr. Stonebrook turned his smiling gaze to the next student.

After an eternity of forced attention, the bell rang and freed Mark from the building. He hurriedly packed his bag, but was stopped by Mr. Stonebrook’s friendly voice.

“Stay a minute, Mark?” Mark nodded, mute, and waited by the door of the room until it was finally empty. “I got you request to write you a letter of recommendation for college,” began his teacher, “and I’m more than happy to. I was just wondering if, maybe, you know—” Mr. Stonebrook was stumped, and Mark could see it clearly. The man stumbled for a few more moments over the words before they finally spilled out. “Have you, just a thought, but maybe considered community college or a trade school? I mean, they can both be great options.”

Mark was stumped. He stared at his teacher for a moment, before mumbling some sort of assent with a forced smile. Mr. Stonebrook smiled.

“Good, I just, ah, just wanted to see what your plans were. Have a great afternoon.”

Freed, Mark walked home in solitude, finding his way back to his room for another round of peace and quiet. He lay back on his bed, visions of fighter pilots and beautiful damsels dancing through his head. He smiled. When you could imagine as well as he could, did it really matter what the reality was? He closed his eyes, opening them on a dense jungle. Behind him, gunfire tore through the surroundings, overwhelming the frenzied yells of his pursuers. Mark lifted himself into the branches of the tree, scaling them swiftly as his eyes picked his targets from the underbrush. It was good to be the best.

Full confession, this is one paragraph over two pages, but…it’s close, and the dialogue took up a lot of room. By word count, it is equal to day one, so I may adjust to 1000-1200 words max rather than the page count, just to keep dialogue from messing me up! Also, this is inspired from the card as seen through the lens of the “building castles in the air” idiom, in case it wasn’t clear. I thought about a fantasy piece about a flying city, but I kind of like this one better. 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.

Working Title: The Price of Success

This is a goofy little piece. It is a parody of ritual style stories, which if you haven’t heard of…well…it won’t make much sense. The idea is these ritual stories outline a series of steps and requirements to achieve some desired end. The path through is often fraught with peril, with failure resulting in terrible consequences. This is a parody on those ideas, playing with some of the cliches that plague the style. If you found this blog from creepypasta, then you’re probably familiar.

I am working on some other projects as well right now, including a “kind of” prequel to Purified. They are moving along, but I’m stuck with a bit of writer’s block. Those stories aren’t flowing, and I know that forcing it will end up making it completely terrible. Plus I’m having some trouble tying the plot together in a coherent way. Just need some space to tie it all together. Oddly, the idea for this ritual piece kind of smacked into me, and I wanted to just throw it together and see what happens. I’m not suggesting it is good, but it was at least fun.

In other news, I successfully proposed my dissertation! So, I’m still celebrating that. Well, I hope you enjoy this weird little piece, and I hope to have a new more typical something up by next week. Enjoy!

This ritual should only be undertaken by those brave of heart. If you succeed, the path will not be easy, but you will find your wildest dreams within reach. If you fail, you will doom yourself to a life of misery and torment, haunted by the specter of the chance you had and lost.

This cannot be started haphazardly. If you wish for any chance to succeed, I suggest beginning your preparations months in advance. There are sacred tomes which can be purchased (assuming you know where to look) which will instruct you in the completion of this ritual. If you do not know how to find such tomes, I heartily suggest you do not continue on, for only failure and despair await you.

Read and study the tomes diligently. They will provide tips for how to pass the numerous tests of this ritual, and may even provide sample scenarios so that you might better prepare yourself. If you cannot understand or complete the samples, I recommend you do not continue the ritual. Failure at the preparation almost certainly assures failure of the ritual. Failure no one wants.

Once you are confident in your ability to proceed through the ritual, you must then find the website. The book you have studied should show you the way. Go to the website it directs you to, and provide the information they request of you. Some of the questions may be deeply personal, but you must persevere if you are to accomplish this task. Remember, though, it is not too late to turn back.

Once you have answered the questions, the website will show you many dates and locations where the ritual can be completed, based on cosmic forces that are far beyond our ken. You must not question the timing or location for doing so risks your own ability to move forward in the process. Only those times and locations presented will allow you to successful complete the ritual before you so that you might gain your rewards. Select one, and then make the offering demanded of you. Once your offering is accepted, the computer will provide you with a paper covered in all kinds of warnings, information, and arcane symbols. Hold fast to it, because this page is crucial in completing the final ritual.

For now, you must wait. During this time, I recommend reviewing the tomes and website again for any additional information. You never know the capricious will of those controlling the ritual; perhaps the answer to your success will appear before you in that time.

I recommend preparing the requirements for this ritual the night before it is to begin, for the road forward will be long and trying. The requirements are simple; do not mistake their simplicity for ease.  Bring the page you received from the website, a pencil , a calculator, and a photo ID, just in case something were to go wrong. You may also wish to bring food and water, because the ritual will take hours, and you may not leave the designated location once it has begun. Whatever you do, do not bring in any sort of cell phone or external forms of communication. You cannot share anything about what happens once the ritual is begun. I risk much myself by giving you even this information.

On the day of the ritual, arrive at your location at the designated time. Go forward, alone, and present your materials to the One who Waits. The One who Waits is never the same person. They may be young or old, male or female, black, white, or anything in between. The one thing that will always be the same is that their eyes will be empty and lifeless, a cog in some massive cosmic machine. They may look at you wordlessly or they may ask you, but either way provide them with the sacred page you received from the website, along with your identification so that they may ascertain your trustworthiness before you continue on. Answer any questions they ask truthfully, and they will allow you to move forward. Attempt to deceive them, and you may never see the ritual to fruition. Once they have assured you are one strong of heart, they will direct you where to go so that you might partake in this hallowed rituals. Follow their directions, and you will arrive in a room.

This room will look like a normal classroom. Do not be fooled. What you face here is far more than any teacher ever brought down upon you. There may be others like you waiting in the room, characterized by the look of fear and resolution on their faces. Do not be deterred by them, do not be dissuaded. Seat yourself, and wait for the ritual to begin.

Another human will enter the room, perhaps the same as the One who Waits, perhaps someone entirely different. The universe has a strange way of playing out sometimes. The One who Watches will present you with paper, and instruct you on how to continue. Listen carefully to the words, for they hold the answers to completing the ritual with any hope of success. Failure to heed the warnings they give you will lead to almost certain failure.

The final step is upon you. Once the warnings have been given, the One who Watches will present you with a small book. Look carefully as you are instructed, and read the mysteries hidden within. From here, you must simply heed the One who Watches and do your best to provide honest and accurate answers to all the book asks of you. Do not try to jump ahead in the book, or return to those things which have been sealed. You must progress forward as instructed. In each moment, you may only do that which is before you; pay no mind to the past of future, but move forward. After carefully following the commands of the One who Watches, you will complete the ritual.

You will not know whether your participation was a success of failure immediately. Either way, those who have passed through report that the sky looks bluer and the sun feels warmer after you leave that forsaken location. It may take days, weeks, or months, but eventually a letter will arrive in your mail box. Open it carefully, perhaps by the light of a single lamp when you are alone in your bedroom. Inside will be the results of your ritual. If you have failed the ritual, you will see that which makes you sad. You must take heart and persevere. While your life may not go as you had hoped in your wildest dreams, there is still hope. Some have been able to overcome the curse placed on their shoulders after such failure. There is happiness to be found even in the darkest parts of life. And the ritual is always waiting, should you wish to try your luck again. And again.

Should you see that which brings you joy and satisfaction, congratulations. You passed the SAT.

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

Working Title: What the Stars Said WIP

So, it has been a while for me. I blame it on wrapping up the first stage of my dissertation process. Admittedly, that last stage was predominantly me waiting anxiously for any sort of email response from my Dissertation Chair so I could proceed, but that is not the best atmosphere under which to be creative. I’ve been in a bit of a writing rut recently because of this, so I opted to challenge myself to get something moving. Here is the result of that challenge.  It started with the phrase “…was a man of deadly boring nature…” and developed from there. I also challenged myself to use a line from my thought notebook about unfamiliar stars. It has its flaws. I think the back half is a little weak, and the dialogue, while intentionally somewhat over the top and cliche, may not quite be well enough developed to make that evident. I think I’ll give it a few days to percolate and return to edit it once the initial shine has worn off. It’s a little off-beat for me, but it was fun to write nonetheless. And, if nothing else, it got the gears moving a little more smoothly. Let me know what you think in the comments (or don’t. I just appreciated that you read this far!)

Walter was a man of fatally boring nature—the kind that assured he would die in his mid-50s while asleep, the unfortunate victim of a sedentary lifestyle, fast food, and fat-strangled heart. He was a lonely bachelor living in an apartment which was clean not because of meticulous organization, but because he did not have the furnishings to fill it. The emptiness of his home was traded for the emptiness of his office at precisely 8:35 every morning, which gave him just enough time to get snarled in traffic and arrive ten minutes late like clockwork. He worked as a nameless drone in a tiny cubicle, the walls adorned only with the company calendar that was chronically two months behind. If he did not show up to work, it would probably be a week before anyone noticed he was missing. Walter assumed, at times, that the smell would alert his neighbors long before his workplace noticed.  If he was honest, the Chinese delivery boy would probably be the first to notice when his order did not come in at 6:15 Monday night. He wouldn’t care that it didn’t, but Walter felt comforted that at least someone would realize he was gone. It was a sad, empty existence. He could not recall a time that his routine had changed, which is why his late night waking was nearly the stroke that did him in.

Walter woke to the uncanny sensation of unfamiliar stars stretching away in the sky before him. The shock that it was not his water-stained ceiling staring back at him was the second to settle in, superseded by the realization that the constellations that danced across that inky canvas were not, in fact, those beloved childhood sigils. He felt suddenly off balance, as if his entire being had fled and left his body an empty shell. Those stars had guided him through so many places of darkness, including the miserably cold and dreary nights spent by the fire with his father on some misguided attempt to man Walter up through the time honored tradition of shooting helpless animals with firearms.

He reeled with the wave of memory and emotion that flooded his sense with the cold realization. He was utterly alone. Even his familiar stars were not there to comfort him.

His loss slowed his realization that different stars meant he was somewhere he had never been. That he had somehow sleepwalked into a place so distant he could not find a guiding star? Walter did not know how it was possible. He pushed himself off the ground, his hand sinking to the wrist in the spongy feeling earth. He must be on some sort of moss bed, he reasoned, but there was no moon above him to illuminate the ground. Which was odd because it had been a full moon only a few nights previous. He had to shut the blinds just to get some sleep.

Walter tried to put the impossibility of his situation out of his mind. He instead patted the threadbare pockets of his pajama pants, but was disappointed to find he had not fallen asleep with his cell phone tucked in close. Instead, he found splinters of a forgotten pretzel and a crumbled TV guide page stuffed into the corners. Nothing helpful, her surmised quickly, and stood staring into the dark shadows without a thought in his mind. There were plenty of thoughts threatening, those he could feel, but to admit even one in meant unleashing those floodgates to overwhelm his fraying mind. Where he was was impossible, but as long as he refused to acknowledge it, it remained a silly conjecture.

Light grew behind him. Walter spun around as the soft light crept over his shoulder, relieved that someone had found him out in the wherever he was. They were about thirty yards away, holding some sort of ball that glowed with a diffuse light. The shadows crowded around the figure as it drew closer, appearing to bob softly as its feet sunk into the loamy soil. Whoever it was, they looked no taller than a child, though they moved with the ease of an adult who has well acclimated to their limbs. There was no hesitation as they drew closer.

“Hey!” Walter called out. “I’m lost!” The figure continued moving at a steady pace, never pausing nor returning the call. It was coming towards him, Walter thought, so certainly it would stop and help him. Unless—

Thoughts of the evening news spiraled through his mind. Perhaps he had been drugged and brought out here for sport. Maybe this was his captor, come to finish the deed. Walter calmed himself with thought of the figures apparent small stature; any killer that size he could easily overpower. He could sit on them, for all it mattered.

While he was developing an appropriate defense strategy to take down the unsuspecting figure, it had drawn with fifteen feet of him. Now, he could see it. And now, he felt the world begin to slip away beneath him. There was a body that stretched too long towards the ground, legs that seemed to radiate out and skitter across the pale grass with spider-like agility. Atop that cylindrical body sat a blocky head, with wide set, narrow eyes and a puckered mouth. The light Walter had assumed it was carrying was, instead, the softly glowing end of one of its “arms.”

For the second time that night, Walter awoke to unfamiliar stars, though these now had a certain ring of recognition to them. His view, however, was obstructed by the oddly thick and square head of his captor or savior, he did not know. Its eyes were wide set and small, tiny little splashes of milky white peeking through folds of greyish-pink skin. At least, Walter assumed they were eyes. The creature seemed to be investigating him curiously, sniffing at him with the small angular protrusion which Walter wanted to call its nose. If it had a nose. He quickly corralled his thoughts. This was not impossible as long as he refused to think about it.

When the thing spoke, Walter’s world spun again, and he felt reality draining back into the welcoming darkness again. But that voice was like a life preserver cast upon the waters of unconsciousness, bringing him once again to the surface.

“Stand, Walter Cromwell of Earth.” It’s voice was raspy and stumbled over the foreign syllables as if each sound was receiving its first utterance in the foreign atmosphere. Walter was willing to admit that this certainly was not his home planet, at least not anymore. It was, he reasoned, some strange dream he would soon wake from. He went along with the creatures demand, filling the earth seep through his fingers as he shoved himself to his feet. His legs wobbled, mostly thrown off by the world that seemed to still be spiraling rapidly away from the human, but he did his best to remain strong and stable.

“We have brought you here to warn your fellow humans. Doom is approaching,” stated the creature, its eyes fixing on Walter’s face far above it. Dispute being only half his height, the being did not seem the least intimidated by Walter’s imposing form. There was something empowering in that, something that awakened a primal need for dominance in Walter.

“What are you?” his lips mumbled without his consent, and that quest for dominance disintegrated.

The creature seemed taken aback, obviously expecting some different response following its proclamation. “I—I am Skeel of the Onwihu. This is our planet. We have brought you here to save your race!” Skeel regained his stride, voice rising in urgency by the end of his sentence.

“Yes, because what now is approaching?”

“Doom!” Cried Skeel, his arms lifting until the ball of light hovered just below Walter’s chin. “The end of the humans!”

“Right,” Walter mused, studying this figure and his exigency. “I really think you have the wrong guy. I’d be no good at that sort of thing.”

“Walter Cromwell, we chose you.”

“Yes, and I’m flattered and all, but perhaps you meant some other—”

“You were the one who gazed at us in the stars! You were the one who spoke to us, reached for us, sought our intervention.”

Well, he thought. He had done that. Years ago, trapped in a tree stand in the middle of the night, praying for anyone to intervene. He wondered if it would be appropriate to tell them they were a few decades too late. “I really think you may have made a mistake. I don’t even know the first thing about saving the world. Really, it’s not my line of work.”

Skeel sighed, an oddly human mannerism that made Walter feel a little more at home. That was a response he was used to getting, not this “save-the-whales” mumbo-jumbo. “Walter Cromwell, you have been selected. You will save your people.”

“And how do you suppose I will go about that? Have you noticed how we treat people who see little green men?”

The reference appeared to sail over Skeel’s head, something which was not hard to do. He continued with unwavering perseverance. “You must show the humans the errors of their ways. Show them to restore their own nature. Tell them to turn from paths of destruction and violence against their society.”

“Right. And why would they listen to me?”

Without another word, Skeel reached out the light on his arm and touched Walter’s hand. Immediately, his mind was flooded by words that had no meaning, but told him all he would need ot know. Those voices outlined the coming destruction. First, they promised, there would be fire. Walter saw a volcano exploding, spewing magma and ash into the atmosphere and blanketing the surrounding countryside. He saw faces streaked with ashes and tears, rescue crews fighting through smoke and debris. Then, they proceeded, water. New York City was flooded, he saw, its streets hidden beneath churning black waters, laden with the refuse of a populace who no longer cared. There were bodies in the water, Walter saw, and diseases swimming through the newly created rivers. In quick succession, he saw meteor showers—unexpected, but due to hit March 29th—an earthquake which neatly rent a shopping mall in half, the death of three different world leaders, and the frenzied press conference for the cure for cancer.

The images did not stop, but moved on to scenes of plague. He saw people wasting away in hospital beds, then in their homes, and then in the streets. Everywhere were gaunt faces and open sores, pouring pus and disease into the populace. Those who did manage to survive such pestilence he watched slowly waste away, lining up for days for a loaf of bread that was already filled with mold and maggots by the time it reached their mouths. From there he saw war. Men and women armed, grim faces marching through foreign streets, tearing one another apart for assured food and medical care. He saw world leaders frothing at the mouth as they condemned one another. He saw bombs falling, cities disintegrating, and parents weeping for children lost within the rubble. Finally, he saw a cloud rise from the earth, spreading its destructive power from one end to the other, silencing the sordid final moments of Earth’s biography.

Skeel pulled away, leaving Walter feeling suddenly cold and alone. “Tell them what you have seen; tell them what you could not know otherwise. Then they will believe. Then they will change.”

It was reassuring to wake to his familiar ceiling with the abstract stain spreading from the wall, and to be immediately assaulted with the blaring tempo of his alarm. What a dream, Walter mused. He rose from the bed, stretching stiff joints and ignoring the grey-green dust that marked his footsteps through the dingy apartment. His morning shower was more than enough to wash away any possible evidence of his evening’s adventure, and Walter was just as happy to let it filter down the drain in a murky swirl of water. He left, sliding a piece of toast into the toaster as he turned on the television.

Which tie today, he thought, examining the numerous options hanging limply over his dining room chair. It felt like a blue kind of day, he decided as he moved back to his bedroom.

The toaster popped as Walter cinched his belt, and it was time for breakfast. The morning news was a chipper as usual, presenting the daily diversions with clinical imbalanced optimism. Walter watched them discuss a clip of a puppy tripping up and down stairs as he buttered his toast.

“Well, you may need a video like that to pick you up after our next story,” chirped the woman, trying and failing to reassemble her face into a mask of gravity. “We are getting reports of a massive volcanic eruption from Italy in just the past hour. Rescue teams have been unable to approach the affected areas as of yet, and remain concerned about those individuals trapped in the surrounding areas. We go to John Michaelson in Rome for the latest news.”

Weird, thought Walter. It was certainly a strange coincidence that he had dreamed this very thing the night before. What was even weirder was he felt it was time to admit to himself and anyone else concerned that it most certainly had not been a dream. The fate of the world was in his hands. Next would be the flood, he thought, munching pensively on the corner of his toast. He sighed the sigh of someone with an immeasurable weight pressing down on them, forcing the air from their very lungs. It seemed he had his work cut out for him if he was going to save this miserable excuse for a planet.

But perhaps, he mused, the end of the world would not be so bad after all.

The clock on the microwave caught his attention. 8:35—time for work. He clicked off the television as he drifted out the door, dragging himself into another day of drudgery and toil. Walter was a man of fatally boring nature.

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

All in a Day’s Work: Chapter 2

Zeru is back! I’ve been really busy and without a lot of creative/inspiration time, so I returned to this story to help me continue working on something even in the face of mild writer’s block. As I said in the first one, this is not a formal project with a clear trajectory and plan, but something fun to return to and play around with. I think of it like a sitcom in one sense, just little glimpses of Zeru’s (self-inflicted) drama-filled life. This one is more of a connector section, but I thought it was fun nonetheless.  I’m a little irritated that more does not happen here, but it was getting really long, and this felt like the logical breaking point. It also felt rushed to move to any other portion too quickly, and a wasted opportunity to skip exploring some of the fine skills required of humans. Again, this story follows Zeru, the bumbling demon who is trying to grow used to his new human host, and to navigate the complexities that can be easily overlooked by a native human.

Here’s Chapter 1 for anyone curious/intrigued/enraged!

Zeru woke, stretching his newly stiff arms. His neck was killing him after collapsing in a notably uncomfortable position. But oh, what a wonder sleep was! Never had he experienced the exhilaration of just shutting down and letting his thoughts wander and explore. Michael had all sorts of wonderful thoughts clashing around inside, and Zeru felt like he could drown in all the possibilities. Speaking of, Zeru checked on Michael. He was still there, still hesitant, terrified of what might happen next. And scheming. Zeru sighed. Humans.

Standing from bed sent darts of pain shooting through his legs, but it was a blessed feeling. To actually feel his body rise, to step away from a beautiful sleep, it was the greatest thing he had ever experienced. Of course, Michael couldn’t appreciate the joy of morning aches and pains; he was so focused on chasing every happiness that he was unaware of the miracle of his own senses and body. Never having had a body to call his own, Zeru reveled in the rhythmic pops of his joints as he stretched and began to walk. He tested the feeling of his slightly stiff joints and tendons, feeling them strain as they warmed up to the slightly chill morning air of the apartment. As his jaw stretched itself wide, releasing a completely instinctual yawn, Zeru vowed to never let go of his appreciation for this marvelous moving human machine.

His exploration o f the complexities of human movement had only just begun for the day, after all. First things first, he reasoned. He needed to be able to talk, because he could explain away any other oddities if only he could speak.  Zeru posted himself by the bathroom mirror and began to try to force his face to contort into all kinds of strange shapes, but he caught his own dark eyes in the mirror. In one fell swoop, he understood the allure and danger of narcissism.  His face was ruggedly handsome, even with slightly bloodshot eyes. Michael’s stress would be the death of him, Zeru chided. But still, there was the chiseled jaw, the day’s worth of stubble, and a single row of dull but shining teeth. What a face. Zeru liked this body, he liked it very much.

How much time had passed in wanton admiration of his suitably handsome human face, Zeru was not sure. Somewhere in this large and labyrinthine building, another human slammed a door and stomped down the hall, snapping him from his idle reverie. He had a job to accomplish, he chided himself, and began to focus once again on his exercises. He tried to recall the notes from human studies, practicing basic phonics and lingual movements. Tongue behind the teeth, breath softly. Lips puckered, plus a low hum. Grit the teeth, breath through them,  now a quick tap of his tongue against his teeth. Slowly, with rehearsed patience, Zeru felt the brain and muscles begin to cooperate, producing a gentle baritone recitation of various letters and nonsense sounds. Humans were awfully complicated with their whole “speech” thing.

The light behind the faded blue curtains drifted across the apartment floor, now disappearing as the sun made its way to its apex. “Hello,” stated Zeru, savoring the feeling of words flowing off his tongue, “my name is Michael, and I make bad decisions.” He laughed; Michael raged. It was not nice to taunt him, Zeru knew, but Michael had been entirely unhelpful throughout the entire process, so he had to admit his frustration was showing. Now that he had conquered language, Zeru wondered what new challenge would face him in this human form. The tiny muscles were beginning to get easier to control, and he was even able to brush his teeth with only limited jabbing. The tooth brushing was again a bit of a challenge, what with that handsome face staring back at him.

Without warning, a sudden pain roiled across his abdomen. He felt as if his intestines were coiling and rolling over one another, tangling into knots and releasing in rhythmic waves. Zeru grasped the bathroom vanity (how apt a name!), his nails digging into the soft ply wood underside. Had he done something wrong? Was he dying? Was the body dying? Was Michael pregnant? Was he a woman? The world reeled for Zeru in this few moments before the pain subsided, a dull growl still echoing through his stomach. He turned to Michael, panic rising as he queried the frantic man, terrified that he was killing the relatively likable host.

No, came the response. No, you hell spawn. I’m hungry.

The reality clicked for Zeru, and he thanked Michael for his willing cooperation in this endeavor. He had known humans had to eat, and had planned on it eventually, but he did not realize what pain was associated with avoiding food. What a terribly parasitic relationship.

Zeru glided to the kitchen, admiring his grace and ease with these cumbersome limbs. Food was kept in the refrigerator, he recalled from his lessons. Refrigerators were large, cold, metal boxes. He reached out, grasping the slender handle, and pulled open the surprisingly heavy door. Inside, flies buzzed as a wave of putridity wafted from the open door. It did not take Michael to explain to Zeru that such food was not worth eating, as the green, fuzzy appearance and smell of death was warning enough. He sighed heavily. Of course he knew that food spoiling could happen around demons, but he had hoped to avoid that particularly nasty side effect. Hopeful, but doubting, Zeru reached up to open the nearby cabinets, but saw boxes filled with desiccated foodstuffs. Opening one can revealed ample mold and a distinctly gelatinous quality that made Zeru’s hunger shrink in fear.

There was no food.

The reality settled in with a firm and heavy hand. There was no food in the house, and he probably needed to torch the refrigerator before something sentient waltzed out. There was no food in the house, and he was likely going to starve to death, because acquiring food meant leaving the house, overcoming the stairs, findings a store, and managing to pass as suitably human to buy something to sate the gnawing ache building once again in his gut. There was no food.

This is silly, Zeru chided himself. You are a demon of the Sixth Legion, born and raised to take the world by force. You might not be good at your job, but by Satan you will not be defeated by a flight of stairs.

Zeru seized the brief moment of courage and confidence provided by his pep talk, grabbed the apartment keys from the table near the door, and ushered himself into the hallway. It was somewhat quiet, with the soft hum of human activity bustling behind the many doors. He paused for a moment in front of the beautiful woman’s door, his eyes wishing to peel back the heavy door and see her bright face once again. Oh, she was a beauty!

Distracted again, he reminded himself. It was time to descend the stairs. One at a time, and use the railings. It would not do to tumble down them and crack his skull wide open. He was, true to his word, trying to keep Michael’s body in pristine condition during his trial period. It was surprisingly easier to descend the stairs that it had been to climb them, and his slightly improved motor control made it even better. Down one, shift weight a bit, judge the distance down, move down another step. Before long, he had it down to a relatively smooth rhythm, though still somewhat unstable on the transfer.

Zeru remembered seeing a Dale’s Grocer on his walk home the previous night. Surely they would have food. He set off down the sidewalk, noting a surprising number of pedestrians milling about on the sidewalk. Glancing at a brightly glowing sign, even in the noon day sun, he noticed that it was officially Saturday. Ah, so this is what a Sabbath was like! This realization added a slight levity to his steps, sending him swinging happily down the street towards the tiny shop he had seen the night before. His progress was slowed as he walked past an open door, smelling something tantalizing drifting out and enticing him towards the opening as his mouth watered ravenously. Take out, he purred, the word rolling around ecstatically in his thoughts. He felt the subtle draw, felt his body begin to ache for the cheap but greasy food. Zeru steeled his resolve against the temptation; food like that would make your body sluggish, and a sluggish body was no good for the cause. He felt himself strain against his body’s inertia as it drifted fatefully towards the doorway, finally tearing himself at the last moment to proceed down the road.

Fortunately, he soon saw the tiny grocery rise into view, and he directed his feet towards its dingy glass door. Inside, there was a hodgepodge of strange foods with bright to muddy colors, all demanding his attention. Zeru suddenly felt very overwhelmed, and Michael had little interest in helping him. Having heard Zeru’s panic regarding hunger, the man had decided that he could probably starve the demon out. But Zeru was not going to be so easily derailed.

Uncertain of the offerings, annoyed by the tinny sounding music playing over hidden speakers, and struggling to see in the dim and flickering fluorescent lights, Zeru made his way through the meager aisles, gathering a few “fresh” offerings (though they looked barely more edible than the food in his unfortunate freezer—the smell was however an improvement), a few things from the frozen section, and a smattering of cans and jars. The cashier did not raise a single disinterested eyebrow, and Zeru considered this a success. He was not sure what these things were or what to do with them, but many of the items had plentiful writing on the front and back; surely that would explain its use.

Feeling triumphant, Zeru plodded back towards his apartment. The giddy Saturday was suddenly humid and hot. At least hell was a dry heat, Zeru mused. Sweat trickled down his back, an uncomfortable sensations that reminded him of his initial formation way back in the days of old. An involuntary shiver ran through his body, rustling the paper bag noisily and drawing a few startled looks from passersby. He continued walking, his eyes forward as his stomach grumbled again.

Back at his building, Zeru felt his confidence begin to wane as he considered the sharp incline of stairs greeting him. They smiled like crooked teeth in a sideways giant, and Zeru hated how they mocked him. Deep breath, he coached. You can do this. Nevertheless, he felt himself pause, almost froze on the landing s he remembered his awkward shambling ascent the night before. He could just see his hard earned food skittering down the stairs and along the hallways. Repositioning the bag so that it was even more firmly in his grip, Zeru took a step, placing his foot gently on the first step. He slowly shifted his weight, feeling a discomforting sense of unbalance as his second foot swung forward toward the next step up. It was a success, he cheered as he straddled the two steps. One down, and only a mountain left to go.

Up was slower than down, but far more successful than the previous night. He steadied himself, breathing deeply with each step, and made slow progress. Slow and steady wins the race, yes? The door to his hallway appeared on the horizon, steadily building to fill his view until Zeru had succeeded. He valiantly swung the door open and marched triumphantly to his own abode.

As he fumbled with his key, trying to determine which key it was and how to properly manipulate such a tiny device, he heard another door open before hearing a comforting laugh.

“I thought I heard you out here. Seems like last night got a bit out of h—are those groceries?”

Her shock froze him in place. Did humans not buy groceries? Was there something deviant about his bag? Had he somehow offended this beautiful sculpture of a woman? She walked over, peering into the bags.

“I’ve never seen you cook more than a can of soup,” she chided, pulling out a round green item he had purchased under the guise of its freshness. “So you’ve got lettuce, canned corn, pasta sauce, bacon, and apples? Please tell me what you’ve got planned for these.”

“I was hungry?” Zeru felt off balance and uncertain. What if she realized something was wrong with him? Would she know the man she called Michael was being possessed by a rather incompetent demon?

“Oh, Mikey, I can see that. Have you ever cooked a meal in your life, though? I mean, one not in a box?” Zeru shook his head, feeling a sense of resonance with his internal Michael. She sighed.”Here,” she handed him the item she had called an apple, and then pulled the rest of the bag from his hands. “You munch on that, and then knock on my door about six. I’ll teach you how to make something delicious.” She smiled, her eyes flashing at him. Zeru might not know much about human behavior, but he knew what desire looked like. And right now, she was clearly a human gazing upon her desire. Zeru felt his confidence swell again.

“I’m sure everything with you is delicious,” he stated, leaning in what he suspected was an alluring way against the door frame. “Guess I’ll see you at six, then.” With that, he crunched into the apple, the dastardly fruit shooting a spray of juice across his face and causing him to briefly recoil. She laughed, turning back toward her apartment.

“You’re hopeless, Mikey, but at least you’ve got me to look out for you.” Following her final parting quip, she disappeared into the warm glow of her apartment, leaving Zeru standing in the hallway, watching her enchanting departure with ample appreciation. Distracted again, he reminded himself, and then went back to unraveling the complex secrets of these minuscule keys.

Thanks for reading!

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

Working Title: Neighborhood Watch WIP

So, here is something new. I did just narrowly miss my “every two week” window, but it’s been a bit hectic. Getting old things wrapped up and new things started has kept me hopping in the real world, plus a sick day here and there to inhibit the writing process. This is a new piece I rather like, though it is very different in tone for me. Definitely taking a risk with the format of it as well.  However, I find the characters intriguing, and the format fun. I used a few textisms sprinkled in here, but I think it works alright given the email style and the character. I’m not sure on the title, but that’s why it’s a working title. Also, I tried to make the formatting as clean as possible, but if there are any critiques or suggestions regarding that, I’m all ears! Enjoy!

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Hi Neighbor!                                                            June 4 2014                2:47am

Hello Sophia!

It’s nice to finally talk to you. And no, you did not write this email to yourself. I just needed some way to talk to you that would be inconspicuous. As a note, your tech security could probably use an upgrade; you never know who could be sniffing around for unsecure Wi-fi links. Lucky for you, I was the one to find it! I’ve tightened up the security a bit, and I can send you the deets later, in case you ever need work done on the connection. Consider it a perk of our new friendship. For ease, you can just call me Crypto. Obviously, that’s not my real name—that would be a stupid real name—but if I told you that, well, they’d have to kill me! And is Sophia ok? I’ve always loved the name Sophia. Introductions aside, I hope you don’t mind my little email intrusion. You see, I’ve found that people tend not to have the desired response when they get emails from john.doe@creepyshadoworganization.gov. It tends to get snagged by spam filters or trashed, plus it has the nasty side effect of alerting my bosses.

So, I’m REALLY not supposed to do this, but, Sophia, I just couldn’t let you get ripped limb from limb like the last one. I mean, really, you’re smart, kind, attractive, funny, and caring. You help Ms. Saunders look for her lost dog, send a hefty donation to cancer research centers, and even tip a generous 20% to delivery drivers. We need people like you in this world. So, I’m putting my neck out for you, but it’s for the greater good.

‘So, Crypto,’ I can imagine you saying, ‘is there any point to your ramblings or are you just hitting on me?’ The answer is yes. You’re a clever girl, so I’m sure you catch my drift. There’s a great coffee place you seem to really enjoy, just off Singer and Main. After this is all over, I’ll meet you there. 😉 But, for now, the point is the more important piece. You see, in my job for, well, Creepy Shadow Organization, I am tasked with observing the general living patterns of certain entities. Most of these entities are pretty nasty critters with beady eyes, long claws, sharp teeth, and gobs of fur. Trust me, my poor assistant is tasked with cleaning the enclosures, and those things shed worse than any long-haired house cats that I’ve ever known. And the smell! I’m sure you’ve got that slight whiff of rot, sweat, and feces, so you know what I’m talking about. Some of them are rather smart, however, and in that case I have to make detailed notes about stalking and hunting behaviors. Like a wildlife researcher. One who carries ample ammo, salt, holy water, and diverse religious symbols. It’s really quite a fantastic job. Which brings me here, tapping away on my/your computer behind Dr. Dan’s bushes.

As the scratching and wailing sounds may have alerted you (if the smell didn’t already!), you seem to be the chosen prey of my most recent subject. I call her Stretch McTerror. She’s pretty impressive without any modification, but her exoskeleton is uniquely designed, allowing her to grow incredibly tall at will. Admittedly, this ability also extends to her arms and their dangerous terminus of incredibly sharp claws. Her teeth aren’t so bad, but her breath will totally do you in. I mean, seriously, it’s toxic. We lost about three interns before we figured that out! Totally was missing from our research, but that’s what I love about my job. I’m always learning something new.

Right, so she’s chosen you. And, unfortunately for you, Stretch is also one of our more intelligent subjects. She very much likes to play with her food. I hope this helps clear up the screeching, claw marks on your trees and doors, and mysterious shadow figures in second floor windows. Congratulations, you’re not crazy! You’re just being stalked by a bloodthirsty monster. Who really enjoys skinning and eating prey. She’s a sadistic little critter, but you have to admire her tenacity. No, seriously, she followed her last victim across country when he finally decided his house was haunted. It took me days to clean up his place and make that look like an accident. I had to generate a lot of recent interest in woodworking through his internet history to get someone to buy an accidental table saw/sander death. Plus I had to put the tool purchases on my personal credit card, and the folks in Accounting still haven’t reimbursed me. Maybe I should convince Stretch to visit one of them! LOL!

Anyways, I wouldn’t suggest running. I also wouldn’t call the cops, because we have agreements with them. They’ll just tell you it’s some sort of prank, or maybe raccoons. They may send an officer to check the place out, but they’ll tell you they found nothing. It’s a dead end, I promise. Fortunately, you have someone even better on your side. Me. J

‘Now, Crypto,’ I hear you sigh, ‘what do you expect me to do with this terrifying information, then?’ Well, knowing is half the battle. You should totally know that one, Sophia. As for the other half…I’m working on it. I’ll be in touch once I figure something out, but please remember I’m taking a big risk even alerting you. Noninterference is like Rule 1 of my job. Just, stay safe, okay? And don’t let Stretch’s mind games get to you. Really, the weird things you’re seeing—I’m guessing from my experience blood dripping down the walls, corpses walking around with their skin flayed off, and disembodied eyes in the dark?—are not real. They’re just the first effects of slow exposure to her neurotoxins. Remember the breath thing? The current level is not meant to kill you, just mentally torture you a bit. I’d suggest opening a window, but she’d probably just crawl inside. Instead, just remember they’re not real.

Well, I’ll be in touch. Don’t worry, I know where to find you. Just write back if you have any questions!

Interferingly Yours,

PS: Oh, and by the way, you can stop looking for Ms. Saunders’s dog. Seriously, you don’t want to find what’s left of it.


To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 4 2014                10:19am

Is this some kind of joke? Is this Mike? If it is, we’re not getting back together. Are you the one who’s been stalking me and harassing me at home? Are you drugging me?!? Well, listen, “Crypto,” it’s not okay. And you know what? I’m calling the police now. I’ll show them your email, and then they’ll track you down. Creep.


To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 4 2014                1:56pm

Ok, how did you do that? This email wasn’t here when the police got here, and now it’s back. I’ve even tried forwarding it to them, but it won’t send. Did you download some kind of virus onto my computer? You’re sick, dude. Get some help. By the way, I have a gun, so if you or “Stretch” tries anything, you can leave my place in a body bag.


To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 5 2014                4:22am


I told you the cops would not be helpful. I admire your courage and assertiveness, but it seems a bit misplaced. I’m not Mike, and personally, I think you’re better off without that oaf.. I’m just a friend here to help, but I can definitely understand the confusion. I was livid when I met my first entity. Ripped my girlfriend clean in half in the middle of a lovely camping weekend, but after meeting Dragon following my initiation (I didn’t name this one; I’m much more creative), I realized he was just looking for dinner. He’s no more evil than, say, an alligator or bear. Oh, and regarding the gun, if you could please avoid shooting at Stretch, I’d appreciate it. She’s not ready for live fire drills yet (though with her remarkable exoskeleton—shiny, isn’t it?—I think she’s going to pass with flying colors!). That’s why we generally start these in suburbs—fewer carry permits.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much to provide in the way of solution. I’m doing my best research, but no one has ever really figured out how to slow Stretch down. I mean, without killing her, of course, and she’s too valuable to waste. We just need to find some way to throw her off your trail and onto someone else’s. Personally, I’d love to figure out how to send her off to follow Mr. Connelly down the street from you. I mean, there are weird tastes, and then there are criminal ones, if you catch my drift. For now, though, keep doing what you’re doing. Stay alert, keep your doors and windows locked, and try to avoid any demonic or supernatural paraphernalia the best you can. We do know that sage acts as an appetite stimulant for darling Stretch, so you probably should avoid that one specifically. I’ll keep you updated!

Just observin’,


To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 5 2014                9:05am

Were you in my house last night? I heard someone, and this morning I woke up to find some sort of…knives?…in all my pictures. And the smells gotten worse. And last night, I got up, and there was someone staring at me through my bedroom window. On the second floor! The screeching sound has gotten worse, and I keep seeing a man who walks around my house, covered in blood, while he rips off his own skin. Are you doing this? If so, please stop. I don’t know you, but please stop.

If not, can you help me?


To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 5 2014                11:38pm


I’m glad you’re coming around. This will be much easier if we’re on the same page. Of course I haven’t been wandering around your house in the middle of the night. Nor am I in the habit of ripping off my skin. That’s gross. If I were in your home at any point, I would face sharp censure from my superiors for interfering in our little test. Hence my need for secrecy.

Regarding the “knives,” I do have to say, that took even me by surprise. I guess we were not as comprehensive in our pre-observations of Stretch as I had hoped. And again, it really does not appear in the literature. Then again, with a record like Stretch’s—well, her ancestor’s—there aren’t often many people left to detail her secrets. Her ability to shoot spines like there, and her precision! Truly remarkable.

I am happy to say that my research into the spines has provided some insight into a possible mechanism to dissuade Stretch. You see, Stretch and her kind were common in a rural part of Northern Italy long, long ago. It seems that locals would plant rosemary bushes around the property to protect the occupants from the eyes of the “Climbing Witches.” Being such an old text, I’m not sure if we’re talking about the same creature or if it was even effective, but it’s an interesting thought. I mean, rosemary has been associated with repelling witches in the past, so perhaps it will be helpful. It’s also historically associated with love. How long ago did you and Mike break up, if you don’t mind my asking? For research purposes, of course. It may help us identify how Stretch selects her victims.

However, I’m still not certain on the rosemary angle. It can’t hurt to pick some up from the grocery on your next trip out. And make sure to buy it fresh, not dried. It’s better for our entity purposes, as well as cooking, which is a wonderful positive of this experiment. Even if it doesn’t work, the rosemary is great with pork and chicken. I can send you some recipes later. Better yet, how about I’ll cook you up something savory after this is all said and done? To be clear, though, I wouldn’t get too hopeful, as the mortality rate in that town is still suspiciously high. I mean, not high enough to suggest wall-to-wall Stretches, but still higher than I’m comfortable with. The upside of this is that I can likely convince Corporate to send me on an investigative trip to Italy. You are, of course, invited. Assuming we can figure out how to keep Stretch from killing you.

So, start with the rosemary and I’ll keep researching.

Your Bookworm,


To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 6 2014                12:15pm

I bought the rosemary. Now what? I can see her, Crypto. I saw her last night at like 4am when I finally stopped trying to sleep. She was tall, but all crumpled down behind a tree in my backyard. And you’re right, she shines in the moonlight. You did not warn me about her eyes, though. Those eyes are worse than any I’ve seen in her hallucinations. All dark and knowing. I could see my soul in them, see it ripped apart. Why didn’t you warn me about her eyes?!

I don’t see her now, though. Am I safe during the day? Please let me know what to do!



To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 7 2014                12:34am

Lovely Sophia,

Regarding your questions, first I think Stretch is mostly nocturnal, but as you’re seen, these sort of things can be…surprising. Second, I did not know about the eyes. Professional wisdom suggests you NEVER make eye contact with one of the entities. A lot of them can be hypnotic—so lucky you! I appreciate your honesty about what you saw. It seems to me as if Stretch uses her eyes as an extension of her psychological torture routine. Quite interesting, really. I may enlist some interns to determine if there is any variability in this behavior (in a controlled environment, of course).

As for the rosemary, I think I have some answers. Now, I’m not sure how avid a chef you are, but you will need some authentic sea salt, a mortar and pestle, and Italian olive oil. Again, don’t settle for any cheap knock off stuff. This needs to be the real deal. I would pick things up for you and drop them off, but, you know, the whole secrecy deal. Sorry I can’t be more helpful. I really don’t want to lose my job, as termination tends to be rather traumatic in my line of work.

Once you have all of these things, toss the rosemary, oil, and salt into the mortar and pestle, grinding it until it’s all a consistent…goopiness? I don’t really think there’s a good term for it, but make it all mixed together real well. Then, smear it along all your window sills and door frames. Even the ones in your attic. Trust me, the real spooky stuff doesn’t live in attics, but rather your backyard. Next, put a little on yourself. Just a bit behind you ears, elbows, wrists, and knees should be enough. The smell should be enough to convince Stretch to move on. Hopefully. I’m pretty sure it’s not a sage scenario. Let me know when you’re done, and I’ll let you know where she is!

With hope and curiosity,


To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 7 2014                8:27am

I did it, Crypto. I got everything, just like you asked, mixed it, and smeared it everywhere. I smell like a cheap pizza parlor, but I did it. If this is some kind of sick joke, I hope you are enjoying yourself. Is she gone? I know it’s day, but can you see her?



To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 7 2014                9:31pm

I haven’t heard her again. Normally she’s begun scraping my windows and siding by now, if not growling. But it’s been quiet. And I haven’t seen any weird things all day, well, one or two floating eyes, but those have even gotten better. It still smells, though. I can just smell it over the rosemary and olive oil. Please let me know.



To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 9 2014                2:08am

My Partner in Crime,

Sorry for the radio silence, but I wanted to be sure before giving you any false hope. It seems Stretch is not a fan of the new air fresheners you’ve deployed. She’s moved on down the road and, with a little help from some strategically placed sage, has found a new favorite house on the block. My only advice would be to avoid Mr. Connelly for the next couple of days, and don’t read the subsequent newspaper story. Trust me, you’re better off not knowing.

So, how about that coffee now?

Your knight in shining armor,

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

All in a Day’s Work: Chapter (?!) 1

So, this is a little different. I just had this idea, a little lighthearted story about a moderately incompetent and softhearted demon trying to make his way in this world full of individuals seeking to do him harm. So, I wrote up a bit of it, sharing a little intro into his first evening in our world. It’s definitely different than other offerings here. I don’t have a clear plot or direction, and will probably use this as a piece to return to for fun. But, I find the character interesting and have quite a few adventures in mind for him. Just thought I’d share. With you, my mostly nonexistent audience…


Chapter 1

Zerushabael was a demon, born and raised in the pits of hell and only lately released on the unsuspecting mortal world. Only Zerushabael was not very good at the whole dark and demonic thing. If asked, he would describe his childhood and early life as pure torture. The sunshine, fresh air, and marked absence of sulfurous emissions made the surface earth paradise—or as close to paradise as Zerushabael would ever get. You’d be surprised the places that still upheld separate but equal.

This new body was stiff. But, Zerushabael was quite satisfied with it. He was tall, muscular, dark eyed with closely cropped dark hair and deliciously chocolate skin. Oh yes, he liked this body. He did also feel bad, as he could feel Michael fighting against him. No matter how he tried to reassure the recently evicted man, it fell on deaf ears. Zerushabael did not like the whole “host” arrangement, but unlike most of his brothers and cousins, he did not try to torture or harm the poor mind living with him. He imagined them eventually becoming congenial roommates, though Michael seemed utterly resistant to the idea. Zeru was sure he’d come around.

Zeru struggled to stand from the alley where he and Michael first met, but found that legs were far more difficult contraptions to work than he thought. Sure, the motor strip was responding effectively, but balancing that with the cerebellum, sensory strip, and subcortical structures had him lumbering about like a drunken sailor. Oh well, he surmised, at least no one would question as he stumbled out of the alley and onto the nighttime streets. Maybe Michael could give him lessons later.

Now, where was home? The whole fleeing hell and possessing a host had really worn him out. Fortunately, Zeru had paid careful attention in his human studies courses and felt his pockets for a wallet. As promised, the license picture was a hideous caricature of his current host, but it did include an address to an apartment somewhere in the city. The presence of a license and car keys in his pocket assured Zeru that he did have a car available, but given the incomprehensible complexity of merely walking, something most humans learned while still infants, he decided it might be a bit premature to get behind the wheel. Sure, he could give Michael control, but right now he was too busy muttering about churches and priests to be trusted. Zeru was just getting comfortable and was sure that, given time, Michael would calm down and warm up to the arrangement. Surely.

The walk was a long one, but it gave him time to get used to his legs. By the time they reached the building, he had acquired what he was told humans referred to as “c-legs.” It was a baffling term, but humans were baffling things. Now, Zeru realized he had a new challenge. Stairs.

It was not pretty, nor graceful, and most of the time Michael’s body flopped up and down the stairs like a beached fish. However, Zeru made it to the sixth floor successfully with only minor scrapes and bruises. The neighbors were likely unhappy with the clanging and banging up the rails, but there was nothing to be done. Of course, the challenges of the night were not done, as Zeru now had to struggle with his multi-jointed fingers and a tiny key. He began to wonder if this whole possession thing was even worth it. Maybe, Zeru mused, he was better off in the pits of tar and flame (metaphorical ones, of course).

“A little too much fun, Mikey?” he heard a lilting voice behind him. He turned to see a beautiful human female, sculpted into delicate curves and smiles, a laundry basket balanced precariously on her hip. Oh, Lust would have a field day, he chuckled to himself. Michael was enraged, terrified, and screaming. Zeru tried to calm him, assure the host that no harm would come to this woman, but again Michael simply refused to listen to reason. Humans could be so irrational.

Zeru smiled, his face feeling foreign and rubbery. The woman laughed, and nodded before sweeping in and unlocking the door for him. Zeru wanted to speak, to ask her to come in for a nightcap and a little fun, but he realized that his tongue, mouth, lips, palate, throat, and lungs were not quite ready to work in sync just yet. He smiled his lopsided grin again, looking every part the drunk she suspected of him, and watched her duck into her apartment just down the hall. Oh yes, he was in paradise for sure. Zeru closed the door, fell into bed, and dreamed of beautiful women and coordinated limbs.

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