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Card Challenge: Day 39

Card Day 39: A ladybug’s spots open to reveal a staircase, a periscope, an ant, and a tentacled creature. Other spots have locks visible, but remain closed.

Gloria imagined the recycled air pumping through her helmet smelled fresher as she gazed on the untouched landscape of Zultara. Pale orange sand dunes stretched as far as she could see beneath the deep blue of the sky. The sun, she imagined, was now warming her back, even if the climate control of the suit did not allow her to experience it. Then again, it was quite a few ticks below zero on the planet’s surface, so she took time to be grateful that the suit did not pass along that information either.

“Got the Beetle ready, Andre?” she asked, hearing the echo of her voice dimly over the comm unit.

“Locked, loaded, and juiced. Should get us to the dig site and back. Don’t you just love traveling in style with me?” came his chipper response. She heard the slight off-worlder accent in his words, a clip on the end of his syllables that she supposed came from a long time spent speaking through spotty comm channels.

“Dre, I spent seven months trapped in the cap with you, and I have one question.”

“Yeh?”

“Do you ever stop?”

He laughed, the sound crackling in and out in her ears, echoing around the helmet as if it bouncing around a cave. Gloria smiled, even if no one could see it through the reflective surface of her helmet. She had been lucky to get a great crew, and she was eager for the ride over to the dig with Andre. As cramped at the little two-seater could be, she at least had a traveling companions who she felt comfortable enough to sit knee to knee with.

Gloria turned from her vantage point and looked at the humped, oblong vehicle they depended on to traverse the sandy surface. It had a relatively boring, functional name—the All-Terrain Personnel Transportation Skimmer—but its awkward design with various tacked together plates earned it the name Beetle while it still rested in the cargo hold. She carefully stomped aboard and pulled the door down closed, hearing the hiss of the seal popping into place. Andre slid in beside her, keying on the driving dash. He keyed in the destination and the vehicle hummed to life, beginning to navigate the alien terrain. A green lit blinked and the panel emitted a little whistle. On cue, Gloria and Andre lifted off their helmets and breathed the stale air of the Beetle.

“Does your helmet stink? Mine is rank,” chattered Andre, wiping a bead of sweat from his light brown forehead.

Gloria laughed, shaking out the mane of unruly, frizzy brown hair that floated about the cabin in the reduced gravity. “That really sounds like something you need to get worked out, Andre. Mine smells like year old air, but that’s because it is.”

He shrugged his shoulders, rolling his head back with a series of snaps and pops. “The price we pay for discovering the universe.”

The two sat in companionable silence, broken by an occasional discussion of the bizarre world passing along outside their vehicle. The Beetle hummed and whirred over the terrain, traveling with bumps and jostles along the uncertain paths. Gloria sat in the formed plastic chair, trying to relax as much as the uncomfortable suit would allow, and eventually felt her eyes grow heavy.

She woke to Andre’s laugh, a ringing sound that sounded much friendlier and warmer when it had the open air to bounce about it. Groggily she pushed herself up in the seat, blinking quickly to shake away the sleep. “What’s going on?” she mumbled, the words dribbling from her still sleeping mouth.

“You snore like a mineral crusher going full force, Glor. I’ve never heard a woman go like that! I guess it’s a good thing our cabins are sound proof, or else we’d all be crazy from sleep deprivation.”

She sat up and glared at him, wiping away the drool from her mouth with the back of her hand. “Nicely done, Dre. Now you’re never going to get to spend the night in my cabin,” she said with an exaggerated waggle of her eyebrows. The smirk in her eyes told the rest of the story, and he redoubled his laughter.

“Then I’ll regret this moment till the day I die. We’re here, though,” he said, gesturing to the panel in front of him that showed their dot on top of the tiny flag marker. “Time to stop seducing me and get to work!”

They clambered out of the Beetle, both a bit stiff from the two hour ride across the dunes. Gloria stretched, trying to get rid of the tension sitting squarely behind her shoulder blades. “Got the digger?” she yelled over her shoulder. Andre was half buried in the back hatch, pulling out various drills and imaging devices.

“Yeah, in here somewhere. Found the camera for under surface recon,” he said, tossing a thin, snake-like cord her way. “You run that once we get into the undercrust ocean.”

“This isn’t my first rodeo. I think I can figure it out.” She wished he could see the smile behind her words, because his silence made her worry he had misunderstood her. Fortunately, he came into view, holding the corer over his head like a championship trophy.

“Success!” His shout of triumph was loud enough to cause a squeal of feedback in her helmet, and his laughter trailed after it. She could not have asked for a more optimistic, upbeat person to keep her motivated on such a long trip.

Andre moved over to the spot, checking the readings with the radar unit on his wrist. Once he found a spot they could break through, he set to work stretching and bracing the misleadingly delicate device. After a few moments, it spun into life, throwing sand up around it as it diligently pushed downward.

Gloria sank to the ground beside the Beetle, running the sand through her gloved hands. The tactile sensors transferred the slightly slimy, viscous quality of the sand to her palm as it dribbled slowly to the ground. She wondered what the sand was made of, and mentally noted that as a question for Danica later. Andre flopped onto the ground next to her after a moment, glancing over his shoulder to look at the energy gauge on the side of the Beetle.

“Uh-oh, Glor.”

“What?” she asked, quickly sitting up and turning in panic to look at the panel.

“We’re down to seven weeks battery power. Think we can make it back?” He made a comical picture, his giant gloved hands pressed exaggeratedly against the round surface of his helmet. Gloria gave him a good natured slap.

The sun trekked over head as they watched the machine making its steady progress. Occasionally, Andre rose and unkinked the line or navigated around a particularly nasty rock in the way. They chatted, discussing their lives growing up, the family they left behind, their plans for the nice hunk of change sitting in their respective ban accounts. Finally, it was Gloria’s turn.

“You know, I need to train you how to use the camera and then I can just kick back and relax on these outings. Not even sure why they need two of us anyway,” she said with a short bark of a laugh.

“Starscape Policy 89×4: No unit shall travers alien surface or atmosphere without accompaniment by a fellow unit. In event of catastrophic emergency, such a policy can be lifted to facilitate retrieval and rescue.” He saluted stiffly at the end, and she rolled her eyes, an invisible gesture he somehow managed to understand.

Shaking her head, she turned back to the data readout, tracking the progress of the camera through the tunnel he created until it finally burst through into murky, blue water. “Got hydro. Now, let’s see what we’ve got going on.” The camera swam through the water, trading one view of blue for another filled with its own bubbles. Shadowy stone formations peaked through from the bottom, and she carefully guided it deeper.

“We’re lucky we got a good reading on a place we could break through. I’d hate to have wasted all this time and not find anything to harvest.”

“Mhm,” she said, distracted. Her eyes tried to pierce through the gloom and displaced dust from the tunnel. Suddenly, she froze. “Andre,” she said, waving him over. He hustled towards her, huddling close to see the tiny screen. There before both of them was a creature beyond imagining. It was iridescent, wings radiating off of a cylindrical body and pushing it through the water. It moved gracefully, the tiniest of current following behind it.

“Is it-?” Andre’s voice caught in his mouth,

“It’s alive. We finally did it. No water harvest here, we’ve got a sanctuary.”

“And we’ve got the biggest breakthrough in human history!” He gave a short leap, thrusting his fist into the air with a yelp of joy.

Gloria smiled, laughing at his display and at the miracle spinning across the screen in front of hr. She thumbed on the recorder, cataloguing history. “I love this job.”


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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 38

Card Day 38: A man walks up a staircase in the sky towards a door. Behind him is crisp blue sky, and below him place water, dutifully reflecting the sky so the image is seamless.

The sun was an angry, white eye burning in the endless expanse of blue sky and sea. It glared down with an unbearable intensity, scouring everything beneath its fiery gaze. Renee looked up, and saw nothing but the blue sky stretching from horizon to horizon where it joined with the choppy blue ocean. There was not a hint of cloud in the sky, meaning there would be no respite from the heat, nor would there be any evening rain to collect on the tiny tarp stretched over the raft.

Her tongue sat swollen and dry in her mouth, rolling around in her aching parched mouth. No rain meant no drinkable water again today. It was day four, and the thirst was beginning to grow unbearable. She carefully, measuredly scooped a palmful of sea water into her hand, sipping at it just enough to relieve the crusty feeling in her mouth. She knew the salt water was actively shortening her own hydration reserves, but it was nice to have a moment of relief.

Renee leaned back against the edge of the rubber raft, its side comfortably warm in the early morning sun. Her legs and joints ached, as did her head. It felt as if her entire body had been wrung dry, leaving nothing but a weak husk to bake in the constant sun. Perhaps, she thought, she would luck into a chance rain storm. Her stomach ached with a familiar emptiness, reminding her that water was not the only concern. The limited food rations had dwindled, and she had not felt like eating much since her water ran out.

Carefully, Renee stretched her light rain jacket across the width of the raft, creating a tiny refuge hidden from the sun. Her skin was raw with the constant water, sun, and salt. This is what jerky must feel like, she thought sardonically, turning to slide beneath the flimsy shelter. It would eventually get hot pinned beneath the jacket and raft, but for now it was a relief to feel the shade. The constant struggle for survival left her feeling weary, exhausted, and hopeless, and so she had little energy left to fight the weight of her eyelids over dry, aching eyes. The sound of the water against the boat, calm and rhythmic, rocked her into an uneasy sleep.

_

Renee woke suddenly from her dream to a sudden sound. She was thankful for the alarm, because she had been yet again reliving her frenzied flight from the sinking ship, hearing the sounds of her crew calling for help as the storm ripped them apart. The first thing she was aware of was the rapid pace of her heart, the ache in her bones, and the sound of something tapping softly against the boat. Moving tenderly from her lean-to, she investigated the source of the sound.

The sight was enough to convince her that she had finally snapped and was now hallucinating after her time in isolation and exposure. From in the midst of the sky was a set of blue—or possibly clear—steps leading to a door cut out of the sky. She was not sure how her eyes picked out the stairs and door from the seamless blue sky, but she somehow knew it was there. And her little boat had stopped against it. Renee stared at it in amazement, reaching out to feel the cool material of the steps beneath her fingers. There was no logic to explain this bizarre encounter.

Barely had she managed to wrap her head around the presence of steps in the middle of the sky hen the door opened. The sky simply arched back, revealing a square of white within the otherwise azure fabric. A hand pushed open the door, and her eyes travelled along it to the man standing before her. He was short and portly, wearing a well-fitted black suit. The most ridiculous piece, however, was the crisp black top hat balanced precariously on top of his head. He smiled at her as he stepped through the doorway and along the steps.

“Hail, traveler! Well met?” he said, his voice rising in the questions as he stood on the last step. Rene stared up at him from her spot sitting on the floor of the small boat.

“Who are you?” she asked, her voice cracking with dehydration. It hurt to speak, straining her vocal cords that seemed to have stiffened with disuse.

“Oh, that’s no matter. I’m here for you, and that’s what is important. Permission to come aboard?”

Renee paused, trying to wrap her mind around what was happening. She had been traveling alone for so long, and there was no protocol for how to respond to mystery men descending from the sky. Her confusion was evident.

“I suppose this is all a bit shocking, but if I may have a seat, I would be happy to explain.” He gestured to the open end of the raft. “May I?”

She nodded, unsure of what else to do. He delicately stepped into the raft and, despite her fears, it did not tip or buck too wildly at the added weight. Renee sat on her end, having disassembled her raincoat shelter, watching him warily.

“So, you seem to have found yourself a bit…lost,” he said with a friendly smile.

Renee’s head bobbed in ascent, a reflexive response to the human contact. Trying to regain her ability to focus, she gave her head a quick shake to clear it. “Who are you, again?” Her voice surprised her with its whispering quality, like sheets of paper shuffled together. It was also hard to speak, her words coming in rough gasps.

“I am just the man responsible for keeping an eye on things, trying to help wanderers like you find their way.”

It was a half-answer and she noticed her defenses raising, even though her head felt heavy and thoughts were lethargic. “And what is—“ she paused, gesturing at the strange structure rising out of the sky to save her voice.

“Oh. Hm. Well, that is just a doorway,” he said with an unconvincing smile. “But, enough chitchat. I have something for you.” She watched as he drew a small cylinder from his coat, shaking it so that she could hear the water lapping inside. “I’m sure you’re quite thirsty.” His manicured hands unscrewed the cap, pouring soe of the liquid into a silver cup. He passed it to her, and she eagerly accepted, her thirst clawing at the back of her throat.

However, as she looked at it, she froze. The liquid was not the clear, cool water she had expected. Instead, it was a murky, grey substance that sloshed about with the motion of the boat. Noticing her uncertain gaze, he spoke up, “I know it looks a bit odd, but trust me, it’s for your own good. You’ve been out here quite a while, and this will help you feel better.”

“Is it medicine?” she asked. There was some thought buzzing about, some reason she should worry, some innate fear, but it would not come to the forefront of her mind.

“Yes, in a sense. Quite like medicine.”

Though she knew she had no reason to trust him, there was something about the man from the sky that left her feeling comfortable. Even as the thought arose that he might be seeking to harm her, it seemed so impossible that she dismissed it. The heat, hunger, and thirst scrambled her thoughts, and she was drinking deeply of the liquid before she realized it. It flowed smoothly down her throat, soothing the raw tissues and leaving her feeling cool and comfortable. Renee was amazed. She could feel it flooding through her body, relieving her aching joints and soothing her burned skin as it traveled. It was truly miraculous. As the last drops of the grey liquid trickled down her throat, she sank into the feeling of relief.

“Better now, yes?”

“Much better,” she said with a contented smile, her voice taking on its soft and feminine tone again.

“Good. That’s my job, after all. If you’re ready?” He stood, motioning towards the stairs leading to the open door.

“Go with you?” she asked, standing quickly. Her heart leapt into her throat, and she felt the ecstasy of salvation flooding through her.

He laughed, a ringing and easy going sound that soothed her soul. “Would not do much good to just leave you here, now would it? Come along.”

The man walked regally up the stairs, gliding along them with practiced ease. Renee followed, testing the first step anxiously before quickly clambering behind him. The two stepped into the doorway, swinging the slice of sky shut behind them.

On the ocean, the little raft continued to bob along, carrying its lifeless cargo in a gentle embrace across the restless waves.


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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 35

So, I took a day off yesterday. This week has been ridiculously busy, and then I had an 8 hour class today. Saturday. Yuck. So, I just was burned out on all fronts. Fortunately, a day spent in class with my incredible, wonderful, supportive classmates, plus pizza out after, has given me back a bit of energy. So, here is today’s, and sorry for the skip yesterday! Happy reading!


Card Day 35: A small child stands, sword raised high, in front of a giant blue dragon.

Jeanie woke up again from a nightmare, the sweat clinging to her body and the sheets. Her heart pounded, and she felt the flutter in her chest of rapid, gasping breaths. She lay there, her eyes scurrying over the ceiling, trying to calm herself down from the terrifying images and ideas that circled about. In the bright light of morning, she knew these feelings would disappear instantly, but the heavy darkness of 3am fed them. Her heart slammed against her ribs, echoing the sound of footsteps in her brain. It was just her heartbeat, she knew, but the sound rubbed against her raw nerves, keeping her whole body alert and terrified.

You’re too old to be scared of the dark, she thought to herself, rolling over and trying to ignore the paranoia creeping along her now exposed back. Lying this way, while more comfortable, meant she could not see the closet door. It was absurd, truly, to imagine something creeping out of her closet, but with her current state of arousal and the tricky way the mind sneaks toward impossibilities in the wee hours of the morning, she could not shake the image.

The teenager turned over, hoping that would ease the discomfort. Now she stared at the strips of black closet from between the slates of the door. However, she felt the same chill and anxiety creep along her spine again. This way, she could not see the hall door. Who knew who could be sulking along the hallways, slowly inching through the doorway? Defeated and capitulating to her own irrational paranoia, Jeanie turned back onto her back, staring at the bumpy plaster.

She tried to put the nightmare out of her mind, erasing the images of blood and pain. Watching that movie was a stupid idea, she chided herself, but acknowledging the source did nothing to weaken the images. They still spun through her mind, images frozen on the back of her eyelids. Every time she closed her eyes, they grew in vividness until she felt she was once again trapped within the dream. Her eyes flew open, back to the ceiling and the irregular pattern of the streetlight through her blinds.

It was beginning to feel as if sleep was unlikely to return for the night. She watched the clock tick from 3:17 to 4:10 with its steady rhythm. Her eyes were heavy and leaden, sinking closed only to snap open at every creak or grown from the house. Though her heart had slowed and her skin now prickled with cold from the air conditioner, she still could not fully embrace the ease and calm needed to finally fall back asleep.

There was a shuffling in her closet, and her eyes flew open, pupils wide in the dim room. Just the house settling, she reminded herself, letting her heart slow from the sudden jolt. Had she not felt the terror of the moment, she would have laughed at herself for imagining someone sitting and sliding her clothes along the hangers in the floor of her cluttered closet. It was a ridiculous image, but one full of impending devastation in her tired, anxious state. She resettled in the sheets, tugging her pillow to a slightly better angle, and once again squeezed her eyes closed to invite sleep, however fruitless that was.

This time, she swore she heard the familiar creak of her closet door inching open, swinging on the dusty hinges. It was a sound that was so familiar, but so wrong in the moment. Her mind quickly filled in the scenario, filling the closet with a grinning maniac, meat cleaver in hand, licking blood from his lips and eyeing her eagerly through the white wooden slats. In her mind, he mistook every brief moment her eyes closed as an opportunity to inch closer, sneak towards her, and ultimately plant the knife between her eyes. She opened her eyes to dissuade him, sure that he would not risk an attack if she made it clear she was awake.

Staring more intently at her closet than she ever had in her life, she was suddenly aware that the door actually was cracked just a bit. Not much, but a sliver of black showed between the white of the door and the frame. Probably wasn’t just latched, she told herself, easily excusing the creak of the door. Yeah, it had simply caught a gust of air when the vents kicked on, inching open a breath. It had squeaked, she had freaked out. Simple. Besides, the likelihood of a crazed murderer actually hiding in her closet was almost impossible. It was silly to even imagine it. As sleep faded from her mind, she found her ability to reason through and dismiss her fantasies become easier and easier. Perhaps she would actually get some sleep eventually.

Then again, it wouldn’t hurt to test a theory. Jeanie calculatedly closed her eyes, ears straining for the sound of the closet. She imagined she heard a shuffle, her shoes tumbling over one another, but surely that was fantasy. There was no sound of a door easing open, and nothing to alert her. Just a few more minutes of listening, and she could rest assured the coast was clear.

Her heavy eyes grew weightier, making it harder to execute the last step in her master plan. Instead, she found herself slowly extending the time needed to be certain, sleep the only thing creeping towards her.

Until the door creaked again. She was awake with a start, staring at the gaping opening of her closet. The door had creaked only on the last little stretch, now standing wide.  Just the air, she told herself, not believing it for a moment. Her first instinct was to jump out of bed, rush down the hall, and wake her parents. But, she reminded herself, she was far too old to run to her mommy because she got scared of a draft. If her brother heard, he would never let her live it down. Gathering what little resolve she had, Jeanie carefully stepped out of bed, determined to protect the dignity she had.

Nearing the closet, she did not see the shape of a person hiding in the shadows, or notice the sudden movements of a deadly killer springing on his prey. All there was were some shirts, pairs of jeans, a few skirts, and a pile of shoes, most of which no longer fit her after that last growth spurt. Jeanie shook her head, feeling bravery and self-ridicule take the place of her fear. Just a draft and overactive imagination. She grabbed the door and made sure it closed with a click this time before turning back to bed.

However, as she moved toward here bed, something snaked out from under her bed. It had a thin body, ending in small, clawed feet. The end not attached to the floor was covered in multiple, blinking eyes, and a slim smile of a mouth. It reached one of the snake-like appendages from its side towards Jeanie, and she felt a scream clawing its way towards her mouth. The thing placed its hand over her mouth, effectively muffling the scream, its mouth emitting a soft hiss.

“Now, now, Jeanie,” it whispered, “you need your rest.” Its other arms moved towards her, sliding around her waist and arms. Despite the urge to fight back welling in her, her limbs felt heavy and unresponsive, hanging limp at her side as it led her to bed. “Let me take care of that nightmare for you, and you just sleep tight.” As three of the arms pulled the covers over her body, it leaned down to grace her forehead with a motherly kiss. Jeanie’s eyelids fluttered, then calmed, until finally drooping closed. She breathed evenly and calm as sleep settled in.

The monster from under her bed watched for a moment, a look of pride and satisfactions shifting through its multiple eyes. With a sigh, it glided back to the closet, disappearing inside.

This time, it made sure it latched.


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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 34

This story is one of the cards the originally inspired me, and an idea I’ve looked forward to trying out. It’s definitely something a bit different for me. Hope you enjoy it!


Card Day 34: A cat looking at a fish in a crystal ball.

Hunger was his consuming thought upon waking. It gnawed in his stomach, radiating throughout all of him. The easiest to identify was the raw, animal hunger for food growing in his gut, the rippling of his empty organ grinding against air. There was also a hunger that, while perhaps not quite so life threatening, roared for human companionship and friendship.

But for now, his quest for food would have to take the primary place, the most pressing need he had at the moment. Oliver looked up at the clock, the numbers a spinning gibberish that certainly foretold some important event, but it was no help in his quest.

How long had it been since he had eaten? His memory was a fuzzy, hazy mess of impressions since waking. The cling of sleep still sat heavily on his thoughts, making it hard to make sense of what was happening. He knew he had awoken in his favorite chair out of a deep, restful sleep. Before that?

The world was a bit of a mystery before that. Oliver carefully inspected his surroundings, piecing together a plan to satisfy the craving he felt. There was the chair, plush and dark, where he had fallen asleep without a care in the world. The sunlight poured in through the window, making the spot a luxury in the otherwise dim apartment. His morning had been a very busy one. He had spent some time rearranging the house, then had spent some time bathing to best prepare for the day. Oliver recalled watching a few children throwing a ball outside, birds chirping and skipping along branches. After his morning chores were complete, he had gotten comfortable in the chair and, before he knew it, fallen asleep.

After a long night awake, alert, and patrolling the apartment, he had fallen asleep more quickly than expected. The apartment had been his home for years now, but the constant creaks and groans of neighbors moving about, as well as a thousand other unusual smells and sounds, always left him a bit on edge. Besides, he had always been a bit more of a night owl, and so it suited him to be active during the day.

Jessa always woke up to her alarm just as sun was streaming in through the living room windows. Oliver made sure to help her through her morning routine, greeting her with a kiss and keeping her company through the minutiae of getting ready for the day. It was the least he could do for the love of his life.

The thought gave him a sense of peace, settling his aching loneliness. It was getting pretty late, and he was sure she should be home soon. Then, he would get to see her and have dinner, which seemed like a paradise.

Oliver stretched, pulling his body long and shaking out the last remaining vestiges of his impromptu nap. His neck ached slightly, suggesting he had probably fallen asleep twisted in some strange knot that was less than conducive to restful sleep. Awake and trying to think of anything but his hunger, Oliver continued his survey of the apartment. He wandered over towards the ball lying on the floor, tossing it back and forth thoughtfully as he considered how to spend the time.

Outside, there were noises and people milling about. He glanced out to see people shuffling in from their cars, the doors swinging shut with heavy crashes. It always caught him a bit off guard, but he watched them marching in, faces tired and drawn after a long day of work. Soon, that would be Jessa. Hopefully it would be soon. It seemed as if she was getting home later and later each day, which sent a stroke of worry through his mind. What if one day she just did not come home? What if she decided she did not love him, and just left him alone in the cavernous apartment? Anxiety taking the reins he glanced nervously at the door, sitting in his chair so that he could stare intently at it. He tried calling for her, but she did not respond, and the door knob did not turn. As the sun began to set, darkness and winter’s chill began to fill the apartment.

Oliver did not mind the dark, but it was the dark and loneliness, as well as his growing hunger, that left him despondent. Again, he looked up at the clock, but it offered no answers. It was resolute, its hands swinging steadily about the face, portents that he could not decipher. His unfocused wandering led him to the bedroom, the mess of clothes and sheets that seemed to define the room. Unfortunately, there were no answers waiting in there either, and the sight of her empty bed only made him miss her even more.

Oliver felt his mind drift back to a time before Jessa, a time when he had truly been alone in the world. It had been a dark, scary world. He had lacked confidence, and was best described as skittish. Every event left him shaken, as if the whole world was waiting to turn against him. The crowd he hung around with was equally rough, and he was often the last man on the hierarchical totem pole. His life had been in shambles, stumbling from meal to meal, sleep to sleep without purpose or light. At first, Jessa had even been terrifying. Someone so warm, loving, and kind must certainly have ulterior motives.

Moving in with her was the best day of his life. It was the difference between night and day, salvation and damnation. She took care of him, helped him learn to live and love in helathy ways. Oliver knew he owed her his life, and thus he spent every day trying to shower her with the same love she showed him.

His spirits soared at the sound of a key in the door, and he rushed to meet her.

“Oliver! Did you miss me?”

Yes, he wanted to scream. He stared at her, in awe of her loving eyes and bright smile. She took off her coat, hung it on the hook, and tossed her keys into the basket.

“Have you been up to no good today?”

Oliver quickly recounted the events of his day, oblivious to her distracted smile. She never quite responded how he expected, but she always seemed eager to hear him talk. Finally, she took him in her arms, drawing him close.

“I’m glad to see you, too. Now let’s get some dinner.”

Oliver raced her to the kitchen, finally feeling his loneliness sated; his hunger promised to follow. She reached into the cabinet, pulling out his dinner, and carefully put it on the floor. Oliver dove into it, devouring the meal with fervor as he purred loudly. Jessa carefully petted him, paying special attention to that spot just behind his ears.

Oliver the cat eagerly ate and basked in the wonder of his beloved life.


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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 32

Card Day 32: A boy walks along rolling green hills at night, blowing bubbles into the sly. The bubbles take on the shape of planets, rings and all, as they float upwards.

Peter dreamed big, probably too big many times. His dreams had the nasty habit of shoving into the real world, pushing the daily necessities out of the way. Nevertheless, Peter was also resolved to never sacrifice his dreamer’s spirit, no matter what the costs. Right now, the costs were approximately $1976.15 in back rent and interest.

He had no idea where the money would come from, nor what he would do when his meager possessions—a ratty couch from the thrift store, a low-power microwave, and a collection of ratty t-shirts that he had collected in college—were kicked to the curb. His latest big plan had failed miserably, which would have been a devastating blow to many. But Peter’s terminal case of optimism painted everything with possibilities and new horizons. Who knows, he mused, perhaps the bout of homelessness would finally sate that hunger for adventure gnawing at him.

Hands in his pockets, Peter walked along the street, whistling with his hands in his pockets. Yes, there were massive problems looming, but he was utterly unable to do anything productive towards those at the moment, so it was best to focus on what he could do. Right now, he could whistle and trace the patterns in the clouds.

_____

The next night found Peter under the stars. He had opted to leave the couch for some other passing vagabond to use, mainly because it would not fit into his hatchback. The t-shirts, microwave, and an old lamp he had nearly forgotten about rattled in the trunk as he puttered along the highway. The eviction had gone through, so he was now free to see the world. Wanderlust tugged at his heart, pulling him out of the city. He was not sure where he was travelling to—the signs on the highway pointed to Wichita—but he was eager for the next great adventure. Peter dreamed of the stories he would hear and live out. Perhaps this would be his chance to write a book. Or, he pondered, maybe he should pick up odd jobs and pay his way around the country. He could do restaurant work in Wichita, clean some windows in Austin, sell newspaper in New York, and catch lobster in Maine. The world was open to him, and he was beholden to no person or thing.

The limitless freedom was exhilarating, if not also terrifying.

However, Peter had been on the road since 8am and the sun had long since disappeared from the horizon. The gas station coffee did little to keep him awake, and so he turned left off the highway, turning into a lonely exit promising a truck stop and a campground. Peter opted for the campground which, he thought, would be quieter than the hustle and bustle of an active travel center.

He pulled into the dirt lot and, seeing no one around, drove along towards one of the many abandoned camping spots. It seemed like the highway signs had not been updated since the place had closed down. Nevertheless, it would do for a place to snag a few hours of sleep. The car was stuffy with the scent of fast food French fries and summer heat, so Peter rolled the window down. The wind sung through the car, carrying a hint of highway exhaust and diesel fumes. The muter roar of the highway droned in the distance as Peter pushed his seat back and flipped his baseball cap down over his eyes. A smile on his face and not a worry in his mind, Peter fell asleep almost instantly.

The restful sleep, however, was not to be. While he was able to gain a few hours of relaxing snooze despite the best attempt from horns on the highway, it was a peculiar silence and electricity that woke him just past midnight. The crickets were silent, as was the highway, and the air hung heavy and still. As he struggled towards wakefulness, Peter was reminded of the huge storm that had blasted through town a couple years ago, predicted by a similar stillness. The air felt alive and electric, as if it were humming all around him. Peter peered out the windows into the inky blackness, lit by the silver disc of the moon. No clouds obscured it, meaning it probably wasn’t a storm on the horizon. The stars sat twinkling as brightly as ever, immune to the aura of unease permeating his setting.

Suddenly, there was light in the air. It was bright, as if all the electricity in the air suddenly became visible in that moment. The hum of energy returned, redoubled, and seemed to pulse with the strange light. In the light, Peter saw…things.

At first, his mind could not make sense of what he was seeing. Where the world had been black just inches from his window, now it was lit in cold white light. Shadows danced along it, his eyes unable to see through the brilliant light to make out more than the shape. They were squat htings, with appendages flailing about. They seemed to walk upright, with four other things—arms, perhaps?—moving in an almost swimming motion through the air. Finally, one drew closer, and he was able to see a being with tiny, dark eyes and a long antenna-like nose. It walked up to the door of the car, placing its hands on the edge of the window. Its fingers were webbed, splaying across the door in an impossibly wide span. Peter felt lightheaded, the world spinning in a haze of light, shadow, and that enduring hum.

As if aware of his overwhelmed sense, the creature turned towards the others, emitting a sharp series of squeaks and rumbles. The light overhead disappeared, the sound ceased, and the creatures vanished. And then, Peter vanished. His car sat, lonely and mostly empty in the abandoned campground, a monument to isolation and adventure.

For his part, Peter was finally objectively terrified. He found himself in a corridor with steely walls. Light seemed to glow from the walls themselves, flooding the corridor with stark white light. It was too bright, pulsing behind his eyes. One of the creatures was at his side, taking his hand in its webbed fingers. It tugged at Peter, pulling him down the corridor to a large room where many others sat. He was directed to a chair, its dimensions clearly not made for his lanky human body, and dutifully sat. From behind him, someone fitted a small contraption to his ear, swatting at him harshly when he tried to remove it.

There was a flurry of voices in his mind, speaking languages he had heard and some he had never imagined. He was certain that he even tasted one of the languages, a gush of fresh strawberries filling his mouth. Then, the noise died down, giving way to stilted English.

“Inhabitant of Sphere 279. Welcome. We invite you hear to know you, to learn of you. We mean you no harm. You may return to your terrestrial location at any time you wish.”

All the eyes turned to him expectantly. Peter smiled, laughed with discomfort. He scratched at his head, his mouth flopping open and closed as he sought the words to speak. As soon as he took a breath to say something, one of the creatures thrust a pale blue sphere towards his face. Peter heard his voice in the sphere for a moment, then listened as it became the squeaks and growls of his hosts.

“Uh, think I can hitch a ride?” They laughed—at least, he heard them laugh in his head. In the room, it sounded like gears grinding to a sudden halt.

After a moment, the leader spoke. “Of course. Such is our quest. We will learn, you will learn.”

Peter smiled, finding his wanderlust growling hungrily in his mind. He could travel the galaxy, picking up odd jobs to pay his way. A bus boy on Neptune, interpreter on Pluto, landscaper in Alpha Centauri, a barista on……


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Card Challenge: Day 30

Card Day 30: A compass resting on top of a piece of a map.

“We said no cell phones,” snapped Teresa from the driver’s seat, shooting a sharp, disapproving look his direction.

Brian dropped the phone into his lap, exasperation in his movements and voice. “Babe, I was just going to use the GPS to figure out where we are.”

“That’s why I brought the map,” she replied, nodding her head toward the backseat where the paper map sat ungainly and unfolded.

“I don’t know how to read one of those.”

“How do you not know how to read a map? You just look at it, find the road we’re on, and find the one we want to be on. Then tell me where to go.” He was unconvinced at her description of the “simple” process, but it was not worth the inevitable fight to continue angling for his phone.

“If it means that much to you, fine, I’ll use the map. But we’re going to get way more lost before we find our way.”

“Do you want to drive and I’ll navigate?” she offered, glancing his way as wave after wave of corn fields flashed past the window. She raised one eyebrow, suggesting she already knew what his answer would be.

“You know I hate driving, and I already drove three hours this morning.”

“And I did not get you lost once. Everyone has to pull their weight in this car,” she chided with a smile, turning her attention back to the road.

“Well, if you had not insisted on packing your entire apartment into the trunk, there wouldn’t be so much weight to disperse, now would there?” His mischievous grin vanished as she swatted at him, laughing.

“Shut up.”

The rest of the trip was passed in companionable banter and inside jokes, with a reasonable break for scanning the radio waves. Teresa had the magic touch for finding just the right driving music, which was today a mix of late 80s and early 90s hits that both could sing along with. Eventually, under Brain’s careful guidance, they pulled into the turn off for the state park. Her eyes lit up with excitement as they descended beneath the heavy canopy, winding along the narrow pavement towards the camp grounds. Teresa rolled down her window, cranking it diligently, and let the wind whip through her long, wavy hair. It filled the car with the scent of soil, leaves, and fresh air. Brain smiled, watching the sunlight play across her face from the branches overhead, and rolled down his window in turn. The early spring breeze rippled through the car, the only sound the crunch of the tires over the pavement and the whistling of distant birds.

“I reserved number four,” he said after the brief drive, pointing to a small turn off. The campground was empty, probably because it was the middle of the week and early yet in the season.

Brian gave an exaggerated stretch as he exited the car, breathing deep and then yawning animatedly. “Glad we made here in one piece. You gave me some scares.”

“Ha-ha,” she deadpanned, tossing one of the duffle bags towards him. “Quit whining and help me set up so we can get some exploring in before dinner.”

“Yes ma’am,” he responded with a salute, pushing past her to grab the tent out. “I found a geocache not too far from here, thought we could look it up?” he offered as he began unpacking the tent.

“Uh, sure, but we don’t have a GPS, so that might be hard.”

“Seriously?” he asked, freezing in the task and giving her an incredulous stare.

“What? I’m serious, no phone—“

“No, you, the geo-expert, and you don’t even know how to do it without your fancy GPS. Psh.” He reached into his back pocket. “I printed off the map, and brushed up on how to do this sort of thing old school. It’s just reading a map, right? Can’t be too hard.”

She laughed, her eyes beaming with appreciation. “Ok, Mr. Wilderness, sounds like a plan. After we have a place to sleep tonight,” she finished, pointing at the assorted pieces of the tent.

“I’ll have it done in a flash,” Brain replied with a smile and a wink. Teresa busied herself with sorting through the remainder of their baggage, dragging the heavy cooler near the front of the trunk and sliding the clothes towards the back. She tugged the battered red sleeping bag from the bag, where it had been crushed in their haste.

“When you get that thing ready, I’ve got the bed.”

“Almost there,” called Brian from behind the now open tent. “Did you find the fire starter?” he asked, brushing his hands against his pants and leaving dirty brown streaks.

Without a word, she tossed him the bundle of wood and lighter fluid from the trunk.

“Sweet! Hotdogs tonight!” He dropped the log into the ashen fire pit, and turned towards her excitedly. “Now, on to the main event.” He again produced the folded map from his back pocket, thrusting it out towards Teresa. “Lead the way, captain.”

“I thought you were the one who knew how to do all this? She responded, shoving it back towards him, but he was persistent.

“Come on, it’s just a map. Any idiot can use a map. Just find where we are, find where we want to be, and lead the way,” he echoed, a sly glimmer in his eye. Rising to the bait, Teresa snatched the paper from his hand.

“You’re terrible, you know that?”

“But you love me,” he replied, giving her a quick peck on the cheek as she studied the map.

“Okay, towards the lake.”

The two set off with the late afternoon sun falling behind them, casting long shadows under the limbs of the trees. Teresa pointed out directions, examining the map carefully, always moving closer to Brain’s hastily marked ‘X.’

“Did the poster say anything? Any clues about if it’s underground, in a tree, anything?”

“Nope, nothing special. I’m guessing we’ll know it when we see it.”

“I hope we aren’t on a wild goose chase,” she said, laughing and smiling over the map at him.

He smiled back. “I’ve got a good feeling about it. And I’m guessing we’re pretty close?”

She turned the map towards him, pointing to a spot just southeast of the penciled ‘X.’ “Should be closing in.”

“Good, cause I’m getting hungry, and those hotdogs won’t cook themselves.”

It was only one or two more landmarks and consultations of the map before Teresa led them into a clearing, a grey metal box patiently waiting beneath the roots of a gnarled oak. The two rushed over, the air heavy with the anticipation of discovery.

“Do you want to do the honors?” suggested Teresa, nudging the box towards him. “You did choose it, after all.”

“Hey, you were the fearless leader. You take first look.”

Teresa’s smile widened, grinning like a kid unwrapping the last—and biggest—birthday present. Carefully she lifted the lid to reveal another small, black box.

“Geo-ception,” she chuckled, lifting out the box.

She eagerly opened this, awaiting her final prize. Inside, sat a ring, glistening with diamond and gold, accompanied by a crumpled piece of paper and familiar handwriting.

“I found the one. Say yes?” it asked. She looked at Brian, his face smug and pleased with the plan. Her head bobbed a quick and decisive yes, one of the few times he had successfully left her speechless.

“Told you I had a good feeling about this one.”


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


Card Challenge: Day 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then, there was light.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t-“

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

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

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

“Read.”

Seeing no give in his argument, she complied.

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

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


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


Card Challenge: Day 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.

‘Write.’


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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.


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