Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Waking Nightmare

Seven black hills sit side by side
And I alone must face them all
For you are not with me
You do not answer my cry
Though the gap between us is not great
My demons, my weaknesses, my fears
Await me at the peaks of those hills
It is not a heavy feat
But I am not strong enough alone

ALways in shadow will I hide
Until the one heeds my call
The someone who I know can be
The one to give me strength to fly
Who can take my life and take my fate
Fill my needs and remove my tears
Without my one, each moment kills
I wait so long you to meet
And to be part of what you own

When you come, here I'll wait
By these black hills, as near as I dare
I cannot climb them alone
But I must, without you
Without you
Life is my waking nightmare

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sleeping Boy excerpt

I decided to go a little different this week. I wrote this a few years ago as the beginning of a novel and never finished. It's still an idea I'd like to develop in the future. This was the whole first chapter. Please let me know what you think.

The monks and nuns had carefully positioned his body so that it looked like he was sleeping, which in a way, was exactly what he was doing. His hands were on his chest, but not clasped as if in death, not laying one on the other, but simply placed as though he had fallen asleep with them resting loosely on his torso. They had even positioned his head so it tilted to one side-- to his left, so that those who came to the sanctuary to look upon his body wouldn't be able to look directly on his face. To look straight on at his face, even with him in sleep, would undo the church. The monks and the nuns had covered their eyes with strips of cloth when they had first bathed and dressed him two years ago.

Two years, and still people were lined up to see the young man-- no, the boy-- who lay motionless on the simple duck-down mattress in one of the back chambers of the sanctuary. They came in a few at a time, under the supervision of one of the monks-- lest someone disturb the body. Some wept at seeing the boy's stillness; he didn't even have the steady rise and fall of breath. It was a symptom of the drug the highest priests gave the boy every third day, when he began breathing again. The drug was a powder, placed under his nose so he inhaled the fumes and promptly slept again.

There were visitors who held up children to look on him; some even held up infants and mewling newborns, no doubt to tell them they too had looked on the Sleeping Boy so carefully kept in the sanctuary. There were those who brought candles and lit them in his room. Most were left to burn away on the floor or given to the watching monks as a gift to the sanctuary. Few were taken away. Some fell to their knees or prostrated themselves on the cold stone floor, praying what were probably the most feverish, desperate, pleading prayers of their lives.

It was Harion, a young monk of only sixteen years-- not too much older than the Sleeping Boy-- who first spoke words of fear and doubt to the highest priests. What if those who fell and prayed were not praying to the god, but to the boy? If those who came had plans to bring out the boy's body and set him out against the church? Surely there were those out there with evil in their hearts that would dare enter a place of the god only to see his enemy; to plot and plan the unleashing of the one who could bring about the end of the church's society, or even the church itself.

Peace, the highest priests told him. No fear. The unrighteous cannot enter any place dedicated to the god and therefore cannot take away the boy's body. Peace, and have no judgment, have no doubt that the ones who come by on your watch are the pure, the good, the devout. They come in the unspoken name of the god to conquer their own fear and confirm in their minds that all is right in the world.

Harion slept uneasily, his dreams full of people trying to take the Sleeping Boy from his place. They days when he drew the watch over the cell where the boy lay seemed unending, the people all sinister. He became edgy, twitching whenever anyone knelt or rose, or leaned over the body to get the tiny glimpse of a cheek or the side of his nose that was permitted anyone who dared. His edginess carried over to his time away from the cell, and he began to snap at the nuns and other monks, and even some of the priests. It was as if his senses of calm and peace, friendliness, and humor had gone and been forgotten. All the virtues that the god taught and valued had been sucked out of him.

In less than three months from the time he first spoke of his fear, Harion was sent away from the sanctuary with all the church could provide him: a knife, a hammer, a stout walking staff, a waterskin, and a sack with bread, cheese, and the last of the orchard's apples. He didn't look back at the sanctuary when he left; the open doors mocked him. They were closed to him now. He would never come back.

The day after Harion was sent away, the Sleeping Boy showed his first sign of breathing again. The highest priests had expected it and ushered away the visitors and the watching monks. They closed the doors to the cell so they could administer the drug. Their own noses and mouths were covered with thick wool so they wouldn't breathe in the fumes themselves. The boy breathed them, and his body settled, the steady rise and fall of his chest prevented for another seventy or so hours. At a glance, it was as if he had never moved at all.

The priests left the room, and the monk who was supervising waited the standard ten minutes, counting each second himself, before opening the door again to take up his watch and allow others in.

He stopped abruptly in the doorway, his rather bulky frame blocking the way so he was the only one who saw. The Sleeping Boy was not in his usual position. He was on his side, his back to the door, mercifully. No one would accidentally look on his face. His left arm was flung out on the bed, his right arm pulled tight to his body.

The monk screamed. As it echoed through the sanctuary, it sounded to all who heard it like the voice of the god himself.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Can't sleep
Mind won't turn off
Can't concentrate
Mind won't focus
Can't think
Mind won't turn on

Can't feel
Emotions have left
Can't cry
Emotions don't work
Can't smile
Emotions won't come back

Can't dance
No desire to move
Can't sing
No desire to speak
Can't play
No desire to

Can't breathe
Can't move
Can't heal

Can live

Can die

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Hey, everyone! I will be making an appearance at the Books Alive Festival at the Maury County Public Library in Columbia, TN on Saturday, October 22 from 1-4pm. There will be a few other authors making appearances as well as activities, contests and booths. Mr. History, a good friend of mine, will be there as well. it's going to be a great event! It's geared toward teens, but all are welcome.

For my part, there will be readings, and I will have copies of Empeddigo and the newly-released The Trials of Hallac for sale, as well as order forms in the event that I run out of copies. Autographs, talks, and more! Come and enjoy yourselves at the Books Alive Festival!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Play Around Me

Others play around me
But I sit alone
It's not that I don't want to
Or I can't, or I won't
But I have nothing to play

Near to the fence
Thought my companion
If there's more to be had, I want it
Or I need it, or I wish it

There is someone there
On the horizon
Unclear to my eyes, a shadow?
Or a phantom, or a ghost?

The vision approaches
Can I play?
Someone to save me, a friend
Who can save me? Unneeded.
Because now I have something to play

The Krakenobo

Come here, everybody. It’s time you should know
‘Bout a creature that I call the Krakenobo.
With the bod of a bird and the head of a snake
She destroyed almost everything that man could make.
She terrorized lands: East, West, North, and South
Chewing everything up with her huge, gaping mouth.
She set fire to towns: New York, London, Berlin.
Watching them burn, she then sat with a grin.
“This thing must be stopped!” said the mighty King Lee.
He chose someone to kill it; that someone was me.
I set out that day with my sword in my hand
To get rid of the monster and rescue the land.
I traveled by day and so searched for her nest
Stopping every once in a while to rest.
As I rested one day, I happened upon
A sort of a cave; it was just before dawn.
I looked inside and to my surprise
Looking right back were eight pairs of eyes.
“Baby Krakenoboes!” I shouted in fright
And I sank to the ground to consider my plight.
As I sat there, a brave one flew right at me.
I swung with my sword and so chopped off its knee.
When the others saw what happened to their sibling, they fled.
I caught up to each one and then chopped off its head.
I then ran away; I was too scared to stay.
But I knew I would meet the mother someday.
For seventeen years, the monster took leave
No doubt, over her children to grieve.
Then she came back, stronger than before
To wreak havoc on our planet once more.
By that time I was withered and old,
But my young son Dalton was ready and bold.
He left our house to finish my quest.
The townspeople yelled, “Surely you jest!”
“This is no joke!” my son Dalton cried.
“I’ll return with Krakenobo’s hide!”
He left that day, his sword to deploy,
And I hoped once again to see my boy.
For three years more I still had not learned
Whether or not he should have returned.
I had to see my son; I wanted to go,
But my wife stopped me and firmly said, “No!
He’ll come back when he’s ready and good.
Now go out and chop me some fresh firewood!”
I went to the forest and readied my axe
And chopped down a tree in twelve solid whacks.
I almost said, “Timber!” But someone else did.
And I turned to see a figure with his face hid.
It was then that I saw my sword at his side
And over his arm was Krakenobo’s hide.
Dalton pushed back his hood, took out a comb,
And said, “I just want you to know that I’m home.”

Monday, September 12, 2011

Practical Physicality

Among everything, as it exists
Was, is, and will be
A stiff breeze erodes mountains
Where cannot the sea

The moisture in trees sets aflame
Soil gives birth to a stone
A blazing leaf wafts
The storm goes where unknown

Truth in physical form
Purity of existence untainted
Wildfire two thousand ways unbridled
A droplet in clouds unlimited colors painted

Unnumbered variety, beautiful and fierce
Quartz wind blows, striking bare clay
Steam falls from a liquid flame
The gentle hurricane keeps the earthquake at bay

As it should remain
Untouched, without flaw
What is natural
Holds all else in awe

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pretty Blue Water

Pretty blue water
I stare at the pretty blue water
My gaze shifts to the cream-colored floor
It is cold and wet
There are puddles of pretty blue water
I sit there, staring at the pretty blue water
In the back of my mind, there is a little voice
Drink it!
Drink the pretty blue water
I drink
It tastes nice
The brown-haired boy walks past
“Get out of the bathroom, you stupid dog!”
I run and slip on the pretty blue water

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Have You Do You Can You

Have you ever thought of something you didn’t know
And discovered that it was you?
Have you ever heard something you could not see
And found it there before you?
Have you ever seen the unseen
And known it was there all along?

Do you ever know what you shouldn’t
And feel proud of the knowledge?
Do you ever feel like someone else inside
And look at yourself in disgust?
Do you ever speak the truest truth
And refuse to admit the lie?

Can you ever forgive yourself the gravest err
And still make the same mistake?
Can you ever go forward on your own
And go back for what you left behind?
Can you read something you have written
And see yourself in the words?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

And Then

I stared at the end of the road,
Where it changed to a path in the trees.
I started walking, as I entered the woods,
I swear I heard somebody sneeze.
And Then...

I followed the sound and approached a small man,
Who was sitting on a stump n a glen.
We looked at each other. “Gesundheit,” I said.
He replied, “Thank you, my nice, polite friend.”
And Then...

The little old man told me he was an elf
And that he would grant me one wish.
I thought for awhile and then I replied,
“I want you to make me a fish!”
And Then...

The little man danced and clapped his hands
And he said, “Doogle donady, dimm!
Turn this young person into a fish,
And in the river allow him to swim!”
And Then...

I turned into a fish, and the little man laughed,
And he disappeared with a flash.
I flew through the air and over a river
Which I landed in with a flash.
And Then...

I swam for awhile, but then I got tired,
So I leapt out onto the land.
I sat on a rock, and looking around,
I saw a small lemonade stand.
And Then...

I flopped off the rock and bounced to the stand
And asked for something to drink.
The man mixed the liquid and poured me a cup,
And gave me a little wink.
And Then...

I took a big gulp and put down the cup,
And I knew that something was wrong.
The lemonade goy said, “Now you’ll be a person.
The change shouldn’t take very long.”
And Then...

I sprouted some arms, a couple of legs,
And my scales turned back into skin.
The lemonade guy said, “Ah, there you go.”
And he grinned his goofy grin.
And Then...

I ran through the woods and fell down a hole
And landed at the edge of the sea.
I saw a pirate ship, and every pirate
Was looking all evil at me.
And Then...

I got pulled on the ship, they tied up my hands.
The captain said, “Come her, Pirate Frank!
You’re going to find out how good it feels
To make something else walk the plank!”
And Then...

I stepped on he plank and I took a deep breath
And I gazed down into the blue.
About twenty sharks were looking as if to say,
“Hey, man, we’re gonna eat you!”
And Then...

Needless to say, I was pretty darn scared.
I knew I was going to die.
All of the pirates were shouting and yelling
And eating pieces of chocolate cream pie.
And Then...

I lost my balance and fell off the plank.
I screamed and I started to sweat.
After about five minutes of falling, I thought,
“Why am I not dead yet?”
And then...

I woke up.
"And Then" is one of the oldest pieces of my work I still have. I wrote it in 2001, when I was in 11th grade... amazing to see how far I've come.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Every Melted Melody

Every melted melody
Gets tangled in midair
As a thornbush of sound
That touches everywhere
And I will learn them all, said he

But that cannot be done, you see
For every melody that's there
A hundred, maybe more, unfound
Exist, so one person cannot dare
To try and learn them all, said she

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Change of Plans

Hey, fans!

With my new job, between the commute and significant cut of time to myself, I've decided to change the weekday the blog gets updated. I know I missed my post this past Wednesday, and I think you can tell I've struggled for the past two weeks... although I do think "Out of Stock" was a really cute little story-snippet-let.

Here's what I intend:

1. Weekly posts will be changed to Sunday, starting tomorrow. This will give me Saturday to shore up the writing if necessary.

2. For awhile, I'll probably be posting some poetry. My work schedule will be changing here in a couple weeks, to one that SHOULD make my commute less... time-consuming.

3. I am working on what could either wind up being a short story or a novella, with the intent of getting it on here in the near future. Bear with me while I get it written. It involves superheroes.

Thanks, fans!

Also, I'd like to apologize for the time it's taken to get The Trials of Hallac out for sale. We've run into some editing/formatting issues. I'll let you know when it's on for sale.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Old Timer's

He wanted to reminisce about their wedding, but he couldn't remember the details. Things as simple as where it had been, the colors, even the guests eluded him. They had hundreds of pictures, he was sure, but they were nowhere to be found. No albums, no full SD cards, not a single upload on the internet. Every unfruitful search only frustrated him more.

Then suddenly, she was there: beautiful, breathtaking, and brunette. And asking what he was doing. Blushing, he admitted it.

"Honey, the wedding's next month."

This is another 100-word or less story. I think I may try working with these for awhile. It's a good exercise in setting up a problem and resolution quickly, getting your point across in few words. This one counted up at 87 words.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Out of Stock

“Is there any left?”


“There’s none left?”


“Not even a little bit hiding in the back?”


“Are you kidding?!”


“You’re honestly telling me that we’re all out of humor? There isn’t a lick of humor left in the entire world now that our supply is gone?”


“That sucks.”


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mourning Run

The empty playground sent a shiver up and down my spine. Fog was blanketed over everything, giving the swings and jungle gym hazy outlines reminiscent of my childhood nightmares. Only the topmost stairs of the slide were above the blanket of mist that turned that joyful place of daytime into an early morning haunt. As I jogged past on the route I'd chosen, I tried to keep my eyes from the place. Something about the absence of laughter made turned the playground sinister. It didn't help that the playground belonged to a private school and the whole grounds were surrounded by a wrought-iron fence and twisted old trees that look grandfatherly in the afternoon. The trees and fence had stood together so long that many of the trees had grown around parts of the fence, the bars of the fence wrapped with the very bark of the tree. The roots of some of those ancient trunks stretched almost to the road on the opoosite side from the bulk of the tree. But the amiable daytime apearance of the trees was absent in the morning fog. Now they leaned over the fence, protective of the grounds behind them at the same time they leered ominously at me. I couldn't run fast enough to escape the invisible eyes of those trees.

The unfamiliar road I was on proved to be my enemy as surely as the trees were. I'd like to say I only stumbled, but it felt more like the pavement slithered up and held my foot fast, drawing me down face-first to the road. Time slowed as I fell, the grass of the nearby residential front yards passing by blade by blade, the road coming up to meet me at the same frightful leisurely pace that tarantulas walk-- the assured pace that states that no matter how hard you try to struggle or run away, you will be caught. Until that moment, I never knew what it was like to feel hunted.

My muscles refused to obey me as I tried to scramble to my feet. There was no pain save the wrenching of a slightly twisted ankle and the burning of numerous scrapes and cuts of my skin from the impact. No bones felt broken, no muscles burned or ached. My body simply would not respond as I wished it to. Against my will, I remained flat on the road, unable even to flip over onto my back. I could feel eyes on me, sense it approaching, growing closer with each hurried breath that escaped me.

The same moment I felt a cold finger brush the back of my arm, I heard the first giggle, high and soft, like a little boy hiding and watching his prank-trap sprung. The laugh itself lasted only a second, but the echo of it lingered, bouncing between my ears like a disturbed nest of mosquitoes in my head. The cold finger that brushed my arm became a freezing hand that gripped me above the elbow, making the blood from wrist to shoulder run frigid. A miniscule shriek escaped me. I felt my body giving in as the hand tried to flip me over. All I could do was think of resisting and hope my muscles would remember that it was me they were supposed to listen to.

My fingers dug into the road, looking for purchase, something to hold on to so I couldn't be flipped over. I could feel the skin on my fingertips tearing on the pavement, my fingernails chipping and breaking and tearing. Somehow, I got enough of a hold that I could resist being flipped by my attacker, though this sudden control of my hands was a strain to maintain. What energy reserves I had left were draining rapidly; my breathing was coming out laboriously-- like I'd just finished a mile at a dead run.

Only when my hands decided again to betray me and I felt myself flipping over did I realize my eyes had been clamped shut for the duration of this attack... since I'd first heard the giggle. It took all my will to reopen them and face whatever it was that was looming over me. The second I pried my eyelids apart and saw the first splinter of light, the giggling began again. It started with one, that same high but quiet giggle, the unmistakable sound of a mischievous boy anticipating his fun. That giggle was joined by a girl's overjoyed squeal, and another deeper young man's, the uncertain forced chuckle of a shy boy, the uncontrolled laughter of a girl who's heard a funny joke. It became a chorus of laughter, the deepest boys' voices cracking on occasion, suggesting to me that none of these voices I was hearing were any older than perhaps thirteen. They were all children.

My eyes took far too long to adjust to the early morning light. I could still feel the cold grip on my arm, but there was nothing above me, no person to explain what had just happened. Were I not still hearing the giggles and feeling the band of ice around my arm where I was still held, I would think I was imagining things.

Though there was no wind, the fog was drifing up out of the playground, coming up across the street and curling around my toes. Even through my shoes I could feel the slight chill damp of the mist clashing with the warm sweaty wetness from my running. Beneath that layer of wet, I cold feel my skin was clammy and breaking into patches of goosebumps. My arm was suddenly freed from the cold clutches of whatever was holding me. Just as if I had been held by something solid and visible, the abruptly-released skin took an even deeper chill in the new exposure to air. Not even half a breath later, both my ankles were seized in frosty hands. I call them hands... tendrils would be more accurate.

This attacker I could see. The curling fog itself wrapped around my feet and ankles and tightened like a pair of translucent nooses. Like a bungee cord, the tendrils seemed to stretch before the pull on them turned into a drag on me. My muscles still ignoring me, I was slowly pulled toward the fence that enclosed the playground. I had no more choice in the matter than a stuffed bear has being dragged around by the toddler who takes it everywhere. Over the pavement, across a grassy ditch and the semi-dried mud at the bottom, more grass. Even though I couldn't control my muscles, I could feel the friction, the texture of each different surface I was unwillingly pulled deeper into the giggles. The sound washed over me, scalding me one moment and freezing me the next.

As I came closer to the bars of the iron fence, I braced myself for the impact, fully expecting to wind up with at least one fractured-- if not broken-- bone. It's not that it was pulling me fast, but it was insistent, using a strength far more than I would have expected from a weather occurance.

But the impact didn't come. My legs first went through the bars, then my hips, chest, and head. And when I say through the bars, I mean through them. Not through the narrow space between a few bars, but between the bars themselves. Once I was through the fence, I felt my ankles were released.

In a warm rush that made me feel nauseous, I became aware again of my muscles. My fingers wiggled. My shoulders rolled. I swallowed. I screamed. Frantically, I got to my feet, using tendons and muscles that were stiff and resistant. The laughter came to me, flowing on a newly-risen wind that traveled over the empty playground. In the haze, the indistinct outlines of the seesaws and slides were joined by darkening shapes of small people. The jungle gym was teeming with them-- ants crawling all over a drop of melted ice cream. Shapes dangled from the monkey bars and sat on the balance beam, hung upside-down from a suspended bar and went back and forth on the swings.

Like flicking a switch, all heads were turned towards me where I stood, and out of each head-shape, two pinpricks of light appeared, shining yellow through the haze. Silence fell, broken only by the thudding of my heart. Then came yet another giggle, a soft chuckle that stabbed me like an icicle. I turned and fled.

The eyes and the laughter followed and surrounded me, pressing down on me from all sides like a pile of blankets too heavy to shift off myself. I forced my way back toward the fence, straining to make my way through air thick as cream. My legs were stiff; I wasn't even sure I was bending my knees anymore.

When my first finger touched the icy iron of the fence, the giggle became screams, shrill and agonizing. My ears felt like they were bleeding. I forced one heavy, resisting leg over the top of the fence. And stopped moving altogether. My legs had both fused together and gone soft around the fence, molding to the iron bars and then again coming solid around them. My bones went rigid, my knuckles white with the strain of my grip on the top of the fence. I couldn't release them. My mouth was frozen open in a scream, but even my vocal cords had gone too solid to move. I couldn't budge.

I felt rather than saw the changes happening in my skin. It was growing rough and hard, textured to be the perfect climbing surface for squirrels and a desirable perching place for birds. The hairs on my head meshed together into wide, flat bits and strained toward the rising sun. The light faded from my eyes. I took my last breath as the screaming turned back into laughter and then faded with the rest of the outdoor sounds of morning. I couldn't hear anything, or see, or breathe. I felt the wind pick up and rustle my leaves. The other trees did not speak, but I understood them. The children needed shade and protection. The day children needed shade, and the night children needed our protection. They could never have enough. In a few hours, the school buses would arrive.

I got the idea for this short story during, of all things, a morning run. There's a private school not far from the apartment with these very trees. At 5:48 am, it's pretty creepy there. Glad this didn't actually happen.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lucid Dreaming

Right away I could tell it was a dream, one of those dreams where you know you’re dreaming. Even as I slumbered I knew I was asleep, and part of my consciousness surmised that this might even be a lucid dream– one of those dreams in which you have such a profound awareness of self and surroundings that you can control the dream.

I’d never had a lucid dream before, but I’d heard and read stories of what they’re like, and I’ve always wanted to have one. I even bought a book about learning how to become a lucid dreamer. Somehow, I had the presence of mind to do what the book said to do: look at my hands.

I looked down at my hands. I wiggled my fingers. I stamped my feet, grinned, and spun in a circle. This was a lucid dream! I had complete control of it! I could fly if I wanted to!

Once I got over the thrill that I was actually having a lucid dream, I was at a loss for what to do. Here I was, with unlimited possibilities before me, the ability and freedom to do anything, and all I could think to do was stand in place, my arms dangling by my sides, and idly look around.

My surroundings were familiar, so familiar it was boring. This was quite possibly one of the most unimaginative places my subconscious mind could have chosen to have a dream-adventure in. It was the corner of the street I grew up on, where it intersected with another subdivision road. I had moved out of the house after college, and my parents had sold the house and left the town a matter of months later. It had been years since I’d seen that corner or even the town. But in this dream, everything was as I remembered it, right down to the hopelessly neglected hydrangeas in the Wilkinsons’ front yard.

Rather abruptly I realized that I was alone on the corner. What few dreams I remember after waking usually include other people: friends, coworkers, family... But here, in this dream, on this intersection of my old hometown, I was completely and utterly alone. There wasn’t even a dog trotting through front yards or a bird singing on a limb of one of the many trees that dotted the property of my childhood neighbors. Never in my youth had I recalled ever seeing the neighborhood so void of life. I suddenly wished for my lucid dream to be over.

Only then did I realize what I could do with my dream. I could control this dream– or should be able to control it, anyway. I could make anyone, anything fill this empty canvas of my old home. If I so chose, I could make Frankie and Lucy Martin appear in their driveway, drawing dozens of chalk pictures of ponies and unicorns and butterflies; I could have the Warren twins run down in the cul-de-sac, playing freeze tag or hide-and-seek with Bobby Lobowski and Junior Craft.

I could bring Amy back, I realized.

Amy, my best friend and the crush of my early years. She’d gone missing when we were in sixth grade; one day she didn’t get on the school bus, and she became one of those tragic cases where hundreds of searchers yielded not even a single clue to her fate. Even as I got through high school and into college, I held out hope that I might see some new report, hear some rumor that she had been found, somehow safe and sound. I’m really not sure when I gave up that hope, but in thinking that I could bring her back, I realized I now fully assumed her dead.

But how was I supposed to bring someone into my lucid dream? I closed my eyes, forming the image of Amy in my mind, both as I remembered her in sixth grade and how I imagined she would look at my age now, nearly twenty years later.

When I opened my eyes, she was there. Far down the road, almost so far I couldn’t tell it was her, there she was. Finding something to do in this dream was all too easy now. I dashed toward her, my friend, gone so long.

She was somewhere between eleven and thirty, but putting an exact age to her was near impossible. Her face was more like I remembered, but her body was sized and formed more like a teen’s. A charcoal grey business suit accented her shape all too well, the knee-length skirt of it showing pale legs that were far too thin. Chocolate-brown hair tumbled down over her face, obstructing my view of my friend. But I knew it was her, even with her looking down.

She was within arm’s reach when her head came up. I practically stumbled to a halt as a half-human face looked back at me. Lizard’s eyes, bright red-orange with strangely-slitted pupils stared me down above a human nose and a mouth too wide for a human face. That mouth grinned at me, smiling wide and showing rows of razor teeth like a shark’s, taking up far too much of the cheeks and chin. It couldn’t close, that mouth. Her tongue flicked out, thick and dark red, before disappearing back in that too-large gaping hole of a mouth.

The smile grew wider as her hand shot out and grabbed me by the throat. Strength of a dozen men went into that grip, crushing my windpipe as I was lifted off the ground, those unsettling, unblinking lizard eyes following me as I was lifted up, up, up. The sounds that came out of her mouth weren’t like any speech I’ve ever heard, more like a rasping clicking hiss. I knew she was saying my name.

Dangling more than a foot off the ground, my air cut off by the human hand of this half-human monster, I stared down into Amy’s contorted face. This isn’t my Amy, I told myself over and over, willing her away. The arm bent, drawing me closer to that ever-widening shark-like mouth, ready to devour me. I clawed at the hand that held me, I kicked and struggled, I tried to scream.

This is a dream, I suddenly remembered. This is my dream, and I control it.

Amy disappeared, and I fell to the ground, gasping for air. She was gone.

I hadn’t even had time to get my bearings before she dived at me from nowhere, appearing out of thin air off to one side, open jaws aimed for my throat. Fingers grabbed at me, tugged at my clothes for purchase, for a grip. Hair brushed my shoulder as I rolled out of the way at the last second, but not quickly enough to get completely free. Sharp nails dug into my calf, followed by the sickening feeling of teeth in the muscle of my leg. My bones wanted to snap as I cried out, trying to wrench my leg from her. I begged myself to wake up as I twisted around, only to see those eyes staring at me as her teeth tore at my leg. I pounded at her head with my fists, kicked at her with my other leg until she caught it in that too-strong grip.

The feeling of a mouthful of calf muscle tearing away from the rest of my leg was like fire, unbearable and nauseating. Even in a dream, I could feel every fiber of flesh pulling taut and shredding or snapping,

Wake up! WAKE UP!

Desperately, I wanted to run away now that I was free of her grip. Half or more of my calf was now in her mouth, separated from the rest of me. The closes I could manage to running was a rather pitiful scramble on a mangled leg.

So I scrambled.

When her hand grabbed my leg, I swear she grabbed it by the exposed bone. I howled; the noise that reached my ears was one I never thought I could make and never want to make again. Freezing fire seized every last nerve in my body as I was pulled back to the monstrous distorted creature that pretended to be Amy. I gave up the struggle for escape, instead clawing at my own throat in hopes that I might kill myself rather than endure being torn apart by this... thing.

The teeth sank in again, this time into my side just above my hips, sending wave after wave of blazing agony through me. Somehow, even with a mouthful of my flesh, Amy let out that hissing language, again saying my name.

I woke up to see the sun streaming in through the window and dancing on my bed sheets. My heart pounded, I was sweating, and I didn’t want to think about whether or not I had actually wet myself. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had.

A hand came out of the blind spot beyond my peripheral vision and seized my throat. So swiftly did the contorted face of Amy appear before me that I couldn’t even manage a gasp. Those unlidded bright red-orange eyes bored into me as the too-side shark’s mouth whispered my name.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


"For a long time they said we didn't need one, but then something changed and they said that we did."

"What are you talking about?" Adraen asked, shaking his head. Sometimes Vaery, his younger-by-seventeen-and-a-half-minutes twin brother, could come out of the middle of nowhere with what he said. All too often, Vaery had conversations going on in his head, and when he suddenly broke a silence, he was in the middle of one of those conversations and expected everyone to know exactly what he was talking about.

Sometimes, Adraen couldn't help but wonder if Vaery was a little bit mental.

"A guardpost at the gate," Vaery explained, looking a little irritated-- as he always did-- at the lack of immediate understanding from those around him. He shook his head, taking in all the others around him; every one of them looked as confused as Adraen felt. "For as long as I can remember-- as long as many of the Elders remember, they say-- we've been told that we don't need a guardpost at the gates to the city. But now, something's happened. I know it. Why else would we suddenly need a gate?"

"You don't think it might be... one of those... things, do you?" Rual was two years younger than the rest of those that were gathered, and he was still fervent in his beliefs that all the stories his mother told him were true. But the older boys: Adraen and Vaery, Tory and Gat and Faybrick, knew the stories to be nothing more than tales to frighten the young into behaving. But Rual seemed to cling to those stories, all about how the Otirah were hideous monsters and stole bad little boys from their beds and ate them. Even as much as the younger boy held onto his belief that Otirah were real, he refused to say the name aloud. Maybe he really did believe in them.

Adraen glanced to where the guard tower was being built. Already, the construction was higher than the city wall. Once it was finished, it would be easily visible from anywhere in the city. "It's probably for something else," he said. "Everyone knows the Otirah are just stories." The others chimed in, Tory and Gat even tossing in a few teasing words to embarrass Rual.

"I was just saying," the younger boy blushed. "I saw one once..."

That was enough for Faybrick. "If I have to listen to him insist on that story of his again, I swear..." He strode off, Tory and Gat close on his heels. Adraen looked after them, part of him wanting to join them in whatever time-wasting endeavor they would find, the other part of him not wanting to just leave Rual looking as abashed as their departure had made him look. Vaery gave him a shrug. "I'll stay with him. You go on."
Without another glance, he dashed off after the other three, grateful for the reprieve. Vaery would stay with Rual and listen to the story again. Fine.

The rest of the day found the four of them causing the general trouble expected of boys their age. It was enough to make younger sisters tattle and then spy and giggle when they were scolded by their mothers, and there was plenty of cause for older sisters to pick up right where mothers left off, adding scoldings of their own. Adraen really didn't see the draw of deliberately causing trouble-- not the way Gat in particular did-- or even the draw of filching pastries-- the way Tory did-- when he would get them just as easily after dinner from his mother and without the scolding or the fear of getting caught. More than once, they skirted wide when they saw Vaery and Rual wandering the streets nearby; neither Faybrick nor the others wanted to deal with Rual any more than necessary, and even though none of them said it-- not with Adraen around-- they didn't want to deal with Vaery either.

Evening came, and dinner, and the dessert pastries he really didn't deserve but ate anyway. Vaery didn't say a word about being left behind with Rual, and he even seemed less distracted than usual. He didn't make any of his out-of-the-blue comments at dinner or afterward. He hardly spoke at all, as a matter of fact. Adraen was content not to say anything.

After the lights had all gone out and Adraen was halfway to being asleep, a low growl broke the silence. Adraen's eyes shot open. In the moonlight filtering in through the unshuttered window, he could just make out his brother, sitting up in bed and staring out into the night. Vaery's face looked pale and strange in the shadowy night light, his eyes glowing strangely with the reflected moon.

"Something moved out there," he said simply, not even looking to see if Adraen was awake. "Shaped like a man, I thought, but it didn't move like one."

Adraen strained to look out the window.

"It didn't sound like one, either."

He dared to climb out of bed and creep to the window. Vaery's eyes followed him, shooting warning looks at him while at the same time daring him to keep going. He peered out into the street. There was nothing. No sign of any man or dog or anything that could have explained the growl. it had certainly been too big, too rumbling for it to have been even a large dog. Wind tossed a few stray leaves and a clump of dead grass down the cobbled road. There was nothing else outside.

Adraen suddenly realized how foolish he was being. It had to have been a dog. There was nothing else it could be. Wolves didn't come into the city, nor did any other wild animal, and if it wasn't a dog, well... Otirah were just stories. "Let's go back to sleep, Vaery. It was nothing." Even with his bravado, it took effort not to creep back to his bed, to just walk normally. He crawled under the covers and slept.

When he woke, the sun was still not up, and Vaery was gone. Rumors were flying around the town, about intruders that had gotten in and skulked about, growling like animals, or maybe they were animals, and maybe... the word Otirah was floating around like a leaf on the breeze; Adraen couldn't turn a corner without hearing someone whisper it. Once, as he walked past an lot between a shoe repair shop and an herbalist's-- there had once been an inn there, but it had burned down and no one had rebuilt there-- he almost swore he saw a big black shape moving in the rubble. He attributed it to his nervousness over last night and his uncertainty about where his brother was.

It was Tory who confirmed in his mind that Otirah had come. He went looking for his friends to talk to them, and Tory and Gat were huddled in Tory's house, both looking terrified. They had snuck out of their houses last night-- as they often did-- and had actually seen the Otirah with their own eyes, a hulking figure more animal than man, wearing a tattered cloak and nothing else but fur, growling low and deep and sometimes walking on all fours instead of two feet. They refused to leave the house. "Tell Rual we're sorry," Gat called after Adraen as he left, trying to hide his shaking. With them in that state, he hadn't had the heart to scare them further by telling them Vaery was missing.

After nearly an hour of looking, he realized Rual was missing, too. Fear ate at him, making him nauseous.

Night fell onto the town quickly, and neither Adraen nor anyone else had seen any sign of Vaery or Rual. The two of them seemed to be the only ones missing. Part of him was relieved that there was no sign of them. The more time that passed without seeing either of them, the more he began believing that he wouldn't find his brother alive. If there was no sign of him at all, it meant he might still be living... somewhere.
It was long after dark that he was finally forced to give up his search, when his father came and found him. His father's eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, as if he had been crying. When he got home, his mother looked even worse. Adraen gladly accepted their hugs, assuring them he was fine. He went to bed without supper; none of them were in any state to cook, and he wasn't hungry anyway. He slept in Vaery's bed, next to the window, fighting sleep in hope that his brother would return. But sleep took him against his will.

A low growl woke him, and he jumped to look out the window, his eyes straining to see in the darkness. Nothing was outside, just as it had been the night before. But he knew he had heard it.

There! He squinted. Clambering on the side of the street, heading in his direction, was a hunched-over figure that looked to be wearing a cloak. His blood ran cold. He wanted to pull his head back in the window, to hide, but he was frozen, staring as the figure awkwardly approached.

It was another movement and a short shout that made Adraen topple backwards onto Vaery's bed. He kept tumbling in a backwards somersault, finally winding up on his back on the cold floor. His heart pounding, he scrambled back to look at the window. Vaery's head was peering over the windowsill, a big grin on his face.


His brother chuckled, but then the smile disappeared.

"Vaery, there's something out there! I saw it! Get in here!"

His twin shook his head. "It's okay. Look, I can't stay."

"What's going on?"

"I'm going with them. Rual, too. Tell Mom and Dad I love them. And tell Rual's parents I'll take care of him."

"What are you talking about? Going with them? Who? Where?"

"The Otirah. I'm going to..." he licked his lips. "I'm going to be one of them."


Vaery shook his head and then looked to his left. The hood of the cloak appeared next to him. He cocked his head to the side, as if listening. "She said I can tell you a little, but that's all."


Vaery shook his head dismissively, as if to say there was no time. "They're not monsters. They... they're people. Sort of. they used to be. Anyway, Rual and I both have the gift. There's worse out there, Adraen. Real monsters. Not Otirah." The cloaked figure gave a little start and what almost sounded like an abrupt purr. Vaery nodded at it-- at her. "It's a power. Magic, I guess you could call it. But not. When I learn, I'll protect you, like she does."


"I can't stay, Adraen. Please, trust me. Tell Mom and Dad I love them." He paused, a sad look creeping into his eyes. "I'll be different, then, but... I will protect you. I promise."

Adraen stood shocked for a moment after his twin and the hooded-- woman?-- disappeared from his window. Finally, he leaped onto the bed and stuck his head back out into the night.

Seven years passed, but Adraen never forgot his twin brother even when most of the townspeople had. As a hardy man, he took his turns at the guardhouse that stood at the wall. He always took night watches, and alone. Should something happen, he would raise a cry. Others rang the alarm bell for any of the normal night shadows that were out there, but not Adraen. There were more false alarms than anything else, but even when he did see a definite man-shape moving out in the wilderness that lay outside the city walls, he did nothing. Most often, he thought he knew who it was.


"Sometimes the price is too high for most people, but there's always someone willing to pay."

"What are you talking about?" Michelle asked, shaking her head. Sometimes Paul, her older brother, could come out of the middle of nowhere with what he said. All too often, Paul had conversations and ideas going on in his head, and when he suddenly broke a silence, he was in the middle of one of those conversations and expected everyone to know exactly what he was talking about.

Sometimes Michelle couldn't help but wonder if Paul was a little bit mental.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Her Story

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," she told me the first time we met. Of course, I knew better. I opened the book and began to read.

Now I’m sure you’re going to think this is some story about me getting sucked into a book, going through some difficult adventure, and having a life-changing experience or epiphany, but you’re wrong. This isn’t The Neverending Story. That’s not to say I’m not a fan of that movie, ‘‘cause it was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid. But this isn’t like that.

Nor is this a story about me being skeptical about something in the realm of magic, and the book is supposed to be some old mystical tome, and then I jokingly read a “spell” out of the book and then have to deal with dire consequences because of my skepticism.

By this point you’’re probably wondering what the story is about. Well, we have three elements: her, me, and a book. I’ll tell you right now that it’s not about the book. It’s not even really about me, either. It’s about her.

I don’t know what her name is. She was probably about the same age as me, but it was hard to tell. I’m at that annoying age where hormones are going crazy, and some of the girls are already looking much older than the boys, but not all of them, and even some of the boys’ voices are changing, so it can be kind of hard to tell exactly how old someone is compared to you. There’s one girl in my class who, no foolin’, looks like she’s about seventeen. Yes, I’m smack-dab in the middle of puberty.

She wasn’t in my class, but I’d seen her around school, usually in the cafeteria. That didn’t give me much hint on her age, ‘cause my class shares a lunchtime with a few fifth-, sixth-, and eighth-grade classes. Okay, so now you know I’m in seventh grade. I’m thirteen, okay? Fine.

Anyway, well here’’s the thing. I watched her. I watched her a lot. But can you really blame me? She’s gorgeous! But not in that annoying, blonde, spoiled, cheerleader kind of way. God, I hate those girls, the kind that have huge sweet-sixteen parties, like on TV, and they’re obviously planning to get by the rest of their lives on their looks and whatever allowance Daddy gives them. No, she wasn’t like that. She’s a redhead and peppered with freckles. I think she plays either soccer or softball-- I’m not sure which-- because I overheard her talking about practice once, but nothing more other than that. She looked like a soccer player though, so I think that’s what she plays.

I keep getting off the subject. So I watched her. Whenever I could, which was usually around lunchtime. Well one day, she saw me. Saw me watching. And she smiled. Smiled! At me! And then she giggled. The other girls around her giggled with her. I blushed and went back to my sandwich.

The watching kept going on. And I noticed her watching me, too. Sometimes. When she thought no one else was watching, when she thought I wasn’t looking.

Then there was the day it finally happened. I was doing some English homework during lunch-- trying to get ahead, you know?-- and she, get this, walked over to my table! Now I’’m not popular, so I usually have a whole end of a table to myself. And she came over and sat down across from me. I pretended not to notice her, just kept my head down, because I could feel my ears burning and knew I was red as the inside of a watermelon.

But I couldn’t keep it up. I looked up at her. And she smiled at me. I smiled back.
So what happened next may seem childish to you, but keep in mind that, well, we were both still, in many ways, children. She passed me a note. We were sitting face-to-face, not five feet apart, and she pushed a note across the lunch table toward me.

Do you like me? Yes/No

I circled Yes and pushed it back to her.

She got up. "I wouldn't do that if I were you." Of course, I knew better. I opened the book and began to read.

Turns out she wasn’t attracted to girls.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Illegitimate Heir

In Zuro, custom and tradition make it illegal for the king to marry, so his progeny consists solely of children born out of wedlock. I am a son of the king, and I am a bastard. I am neither one of the oldest of my father’s children, nor am I among the youngest. Age has no bearing on who will be the next king. His heir is whomever he chooses.

My mother was the daughter of a miller whose smile and hips pleased my father, and though she was betrothed to another craftsman, law decreed my father could take her if he so chose. And he did, only the once. I was born of that union, and there is no doubting my paternity. A prominent stamp of my father’s feature is evident my face... as well as the faces of at least a dozen of my brothers.

I am not the heir. As my fifteenth birthday came and went and my sixteenth approached, no heir had been named yet. In a single chamber of the keep, I slept in a small cot surrounded by cots holding a handful of my half-brothers. No one was given special treatment, lest he get cocky, believing himself the favorite son and eventual heir. It’s simply not the way things are done.

Zuro is the name of both the kingdom and the capital city. The kingdom boundaries extend but a dozen miles or so outside the city walls, so the lands are fairly pathetic, and the kingdom– in my opinion– doesn’t truly deserve to be called such. Yet, like so many others, I was desperate for the throne and the power to command those lands. I wanted to be the heir, to be the next king, to be the favorite chosen son and become ruler over the kingdom.

What else had I to live for?

On the eve of my sixteenth birthday– a day that would mean no gifts or honors or even acknowledgment form my father– I lay on my cot, poring over an old sheaf of paper bound by leather lace ties. It was a recounting of the founding of Zuro and the first king. He had conquered the city with an invading force, and as a virile and lust-driven man, chosen to take the entire female population of those he conquered as his concubines. Dozens of children were born to him in that first few years, and he chose the son who most pleased him to take over the ruling of the kingdom he’d carved for himself. His son followed his example, except he was more choosy about the women he took to his bed. So began the tradition that I had been born into. There were few people in the little kingdom that I was not, at least distantly, related to, through my father’s father’s father’s exploits or the like. It’s possible that I could even be related to my own mother... if the loose breeches of another king had fathered her mother or grandfather or something on some unknown woman.

We do not think over such things.

I was alone in the room, for it was but mid-afternoon, and the brothers I shared the room with were out and about. It was a fine late summer day. The whole summer had been mild and pleasant, the summer planting fruitful. The air practically stank with the sweet aroma of the wildflowers that grow in every patch of grass. We do not plant decorative gardens, but cherish every flower that grows naturally in a place of its own choosing– except in functional farmlands.

The black smoke ribbon that rose in the northeast was an unwanted surprise. It curled up, staining the picturesque sky with its foreboding taint. Had I not been reading of the first king’s conquest, I may not have known what the smoke meant: attack. At the keep, we were simply not taught such things. But I knew what it meant.

There must have been some sort of oral passing-down of the knowledge by those who lived outside the keep, for once the sighting of the smoke signal was passed from mouth to mouth and became common knowledge, panic struck.

Eight of my brothers were in the tower by the time I got there, and as they were crowded around the only viewing scope, I was unable to get a peek through the lenses. Father came soon after, and wordless, all nine of us backed away so he could use the scope. Ages passed as we watched our father and king stare through the glass and toward where invaders must be approaching. I itched to know what he was seeing. In those silent ages that passed, we were joined by more of my half-brothers, who immediately picked up on the mood and stood aside, adding to the silence.

“Take up arms, my sons,” my father the king said, pulling away from the eyepiece. “Whosoever best serves Zuro in defense against these invaders will be my favorite. Do me proud.”

The scramble out of the tower room resulted in at least one of my opponents falling down the stairs and breaking his leg. As I puffed my way to the armory, I was startled at myself. How quickly had my brothers become my enemies, my rivals. I had grown up with these men, so many of them older than me. So many of them had helped me learn reading and taught me to first use a sword. And now I would be rushing into battle with them, hoping to outdo them and become the man they would all one day bow to. As I armed myself, I looked sidelong at these other men, my rivals, wondering if they were thinking the same thought I was, if I was suddenly an enemy to them. An even more frightening thought gripped me:

What if one or more of them sought not to best the rest of use, but to eliminate us. To eliminate me?

Zuro has no active military. It is simply expected that in times of crisis, able-bodied men will take up arms and defend home and keep. Men were rushing out of the keep and into the city, out of the city to the farms, and out of the farms to the plains where the invaders were apparently approaching.

I retreated. Never before had I considered myself a coward, but the thought of being impaled on the sword of an invading stranger or worse, of a half-brother, sent my toes back to the inner keep and eventually back up to the tower.

My father was still there. He turned upon hearing my approach and looked me up and down, taking in my heavy leather clothing and the weapon I held. Never before had I felt so weighed and measured, and strain for height as I might, I fell short even to my own self-appraisal.

“I must be elsewhere, to give orders,” he said, his mouth twisting slightly as bit back what was surely a comment on my cowardice. I withered in my shoes. “If you are staying out of the fighting, use the scope. Keep watch on your brothers. I expect full reports on their deeds during this defense.”

A murmured acquiescence tumbled past my lips as he brushed by me and began descending. I shed my leather padding quickly and laid the sword atop them.

Before that day, I had no experience of battles, except the accounts I have read in scrolls, so I had no real practical comparison to what I watched. It might have been one of the most spectacular battles ever fought, or the dullest and tamest, but I had no way of truly knowing. I do know this: Their numbers were larger. My brothers– how surprised was I to suddenly realize I did not think of them as rivals!– fell alongside craftsman and farmer. They felled others, paired up with allies to fight off a single man and were ganged up on themselves. Through the lenses of the scope, I was able to see blood spurting from slashed throats in all too much detail. More than once I felt the urge to lean away from the scope and empty my stomach. I saw a brother decapitated by a man he had already run through, and both fell together. Hands and arms I saw severed, legs made useless by heavy mauls and spiked maces, faces ruined by flails and axes. The ground was being churned into bloody mud before my very eyes, and still the fighting went on.

As well as I could, I kept watch on my brothers, cataloguing their advances, their kills, and then their deaths. How I wished for a paper to write down what I could, fearing I would forget something, someone. But I had none.

As suddenly as it had begun, it was over. I had watched as our smaller, less-disciplined men fell, rose wounded, and set upon the invaders again. The opposing army’s numbers dwindled gradually, each of their men falling one by one to the stubborn blades of the people of Zuro. Deep in the fray, I watched as one of my elder brothers, alone and bleeding heavily from several wounds, launched a frenzied attack on what I assumed was the leader of the enemy force.

And defeated him. That one death marked the end of the battle, so abrupt it was shocking. At seeing their leader defeated, the enemy soldiers dropped their weapons almost as one. Knelt they then, surrendering to whomever happened to be closest.

I made my way down from the tower then, to where my father was waiting to accept the surrender and the prisoners. Our survivors returned with their prisoners in tow, some with one man, others with three or more. Several of my brothers actually returned with lines of a half dozen or a dozen or a score trailing them as the tail follows the dog. I kept a tally in my head of prisoners each of my half-brothers brought in, so that when the time came and my father asked for my report, I would leave nothing out.

Once the surrender was finalized and the prisoners escorted away form the king’s presence, the surviving men left to return to their loved ones for healing and care. I was left alone with my expectant brothers and quietly contemplating father.

There are those who, I am sure, are wondering at this point if I have sisters. I do, of course. The king has sired many daughters. But tradition passes the throne from father to son, and my sisters are given to their mothers for care and raising. I have sisters, but very few do I actually know.

“I promised you,” father began of a sudden, his voice booming through the chamber. “My sons, I promised that whoever best serves my kingdom in defense will be my favorite son and my chosen heir. The time is to hear what service each of you made to Zuro.”

My eldest brother stepped forward and opened his mouth to speak. As eldest, it was his right, but before he could even begin to detail his endeavors on the battlefield, our father’s hand forestalled him.

“Rather than hear blathering and boasting and attempts to outdo one another, fabrications of what happened while weapons flashed and men died, I will hear all your actions told by one who watched.”

At this, he motioned to me and bid me make my report. Throat dry and voice cracking, I began my telling of the battle. I could not help but look into the faces of my brothers as I stood before them, making no omission nor embellishing the deeds of one over the other. What little was left of the evening faded into night as I talked, until I was even hoarser than I had begun and my throat felt scratched raw.

The king considered my words for a long time as I remained before them all, bearing the varying looks of my audience. Some brothers glared furiously at me, no doubt feeling themselves slighted by my report, others looking surprised at things I had credited to them, few with pleased looks, as if what I had said was the same as they would have. I fear I suffered more glares than any other.

My father did not consider my words long. “And who, in your opinion, best served Zuro?” he asked, never taking his eyes from me. Again I felt weighed to the ounce and measured to the inch under my father’s gaze. It was without hesitation that I named the brother I had seen slay the enemy commander, who had ended the battle with a fierce stroke.

“You have it by your own words. Son, come here.” My brother looked shocked as he staggered to the king’s feet. His wounds were bad and had been no more than hastily and crudely bandaged after the battle. Still, he stood straight under the weight of his injuries to accept the blessing given only to the heir to the throne. In that act, I saw the hopes I’d had dashed to pieces. Only there was a voice in me telling me that wasn’t the act that had sealed it. It was turning away from the battle. No act but my own had damned me to mediocrity.

I am the son of a king, and a bastard. I cannot be more.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son. Their resemblance was strong, and even their mannerisms hinted at a parent-child relationship. They both cocked their heads the same way when listening, got the same faraway look in their eyes when they were thinking very hard. But Bant had the bearing and self-assurance that could only come from years of experience, while the boy was just that: a boy. His face was smooth and always ready with a smile, his eyes were brighter than Bant's, and he walked with that boyish swagger that hinted at energy barely held in reserve.

But Bant and the boy weren't father and son. Their DNA was identical down to the last chromosome. Or close enough that it didn't make much difference. The boy was Bant's twin brother, who bore the unfortunate name of Clone.

It wasn't that their parents were out of naming creativity when Clone was born; the decision had simply been out of their jurisdiction. It hadn't even been their decision to allow Clone to live. He simply... was. One day, he was just one of the multiple embryos frozen in a tube, and the next... he was a squalling baby in a lab. Of course, once his parents had discovered about the boy's existence, they had been outraged. But by the time that secret had come out, Clone was already eight, and the moniker had stuck. Oh, his parents had tried to give him a more appropriate name-- had tried several, in fact-- but it always came down to whether or not he would respond, and he simply wouldn't. Appropriate or not, his name was Clone.

Clone didn't hate his parents, but he didn't seem to really love them-- not the way Bant did. Then again, at ten years old, he hadn't had nearly as much time with them as Bant had at 25 years. The tension of Clone's relationship with their parents had finally been lifted when Bant graduated from college with a degree in architectural design, moved permanently out of his parents' house, and taken Clone to live with him instead.

They didn't really talk much; they didn't need to. Maybe it was their almost-identical genetic structure; twins often did have connections and understandings of that type, after all. Maybe they just didn't want to talk. Either way, they were both happy with the arrangement. They coexisted; it was enough for both.

The bus accident took them both by surprise.

It was nobody's fault, really. An unseasonable snowstorm had left a blanket of snow three inches deep on the ground, and the sky had spat down ice afterward, turning the normally-temperate Tennessee ground into a crust of white crispiness. In a city where snow only came once a year (or even once every three years) this was a big deal. And despite the city employees' valiant efforts to plow and salt the roads well, black ice still dotted the pavement, and it was a patch of that Bant and Clone's bus hit. It spun out of the driver's control, practically flew across a shallow ditch in the median, and tried to merge its front with the concrete sign of the hospital.

Everyone on the bus wound up either in the ICU or the morgue. The bus itself was totaled. The concrete sign came away unharmed.

Clone was in better shape than Bant was. He was awake when their parents showed up, fawning and gasping and nearly crying at the thought of the accident. Bant was still in the emergency room being poked and prodded and whatever else had to be done with him, so Clone was alone with his parents. One of the doctors asked to speak with the two adults outside the room, but that didn't stop Clone from getting out of the bed and limping in agony to the door to hear, dragging the machine attached to him behind him. Lucky for him it was on a cart with wheels. It took longer than he would have liked to get to the door, but at least he could hear out there.

"...severe damage to both his kidneys. I'm afraid the damage is irreparable. Unless we can get at least one transplanted, he'll have to be on dialysis indefinitely, and that is, in my personal opinion, no way to live. He's still so young..."

Mother stifled a sniff. "What do you suggest?"

"Well, the waiting list for organ donations is long, as I'm sure you've heard through the media. We do have a perfect match in his brother, but I would need permission to proceed down that path. And you're the ones with the power to make that decision."

Give his brother a kidney. Clone supposed he could do it, if it would save Bant's life. He wasn't really even supposed to be alive anyway. Why not take advantage of his existence and help Bant live? Whatever decision his parents wanted to make, Clone would make sure his own decision was the one that was followed. He limped his way back to the bed.

So when they came back in, seeing him lying just as they left him, awake and quiet but alert, he waited for them to bring up the subject. They had to, sooner or later.
Father wasn't one to beat around the bush. "We have to talk to you about the accident, and about treatment."

"I'll give it to him," Clone blurted, immediately turning red. So much for playing it cool and reasonable. Now they knew he had been listening. "How soon can we do it?"

His parents exchanged a significant look, but neither of their expressions showed even a bit of anger at his eavesdropping. Did Mother tear up more, though?

"It's not as simple as that, Clone," Father said finally. "You... can't give him a kidney. I'm not sure exactly how much you heard, but... well... you're the one who needs a kidney. And Bant is... well..."

Mother took a shaky breath. "Bant isn't coming home, Clone." Her smile was forced, intended to comfort a ten-year-old even though she needed the comfort more.

And Clone understood. He would be getting two kidneys, both perfect matches.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hester's Child

She barely made it to the toilet in time. Hester complained about her grumbling stomach and about the girl who’d held up the restroom for so long. Another minute, and there would have been a mess on the floor outside the restroom door, not to mention inside Hester’s drawers That would have been undignified. Even as she relieved herself of whatever she’d eaten that had upset her bowels, she was going over the faults of the generation that young girl belonged to. Holding up bathrooms when other people were having digestive problems was fault number one on the list.

As she reached for the toilet paper, her gaze happened to settle on the trash can. Right on top was the empty box and instructions for a pregnancy test. Was that why the girl had taken so long? Hester harrumphed and looked in the can a little more closely. There was no sign of the test itself. She thought back to her quick view of the girl once she’d finally gotten out of the restroom. Young. A teenage slut, no doubt. Well the little whore’s behavior had caught up with her. No one would take the test with them if it was negative, Hester knew. The girl must have been pregnant. Served her right for sleeping around. Hester silently hoped this would ruin the girl’s life.

Finished with her wiping, Hester flushed the mess away and washed her hands. Undignified such a restroom episode may be, but at least it had gotten rid of that sickening greenish-brown rumble in her stomach. Amazing what a good shit could do. She washed her hands again– that was another thing the younger generation didn’t do was keep clean– and her thoughts went again to the pregnancy test box. It wasn’t fair. All these clueless teenagers were getting knocked up left and right without trying, while she– a well-to-do, educated, perfect candidate for motherhood– had failed for years and wound up needing a hysterectomy because of an issue with her uterus. No hope. It was so unfair.

She’d dreamed of her children, more than once. Perfect, well-behaved little ladies and gentlemen, they were smart, polite, respectful, quiet, breathtakingly beautiful... All the magazines and books she’d read on parenting told her she would be the perfect mother. No chance her daughter would end up a teenage whore. It was unthinkable. Not only would her genes not have allowed such a thing to come to pass, but more importantly, Hester’s natural mothering ability would ensure her children were flawless in their actions and thoughts. If she could only have had that child herself... even some other child with bad genes she was sure she could set straight.

The store was busy and crowded when she left the restroom. More than one child whined or threw a temper tantrum over something wanted or despised. Hmph. Hester’s children would know better than that, too. She strode purposefully toward the exit, passing people and shopping carts ,thinking about her children and how perfect they would be and how people would comment on their behavior and be jealous. They’d ask her advice and all she would tell them is it was natural for her children to be so perfect since they had such a perfect mother.

On her way out, she reached a hand out and picked up an item, tucking it quickly under her arm. Nestled in the folds of her girth, no one would be able to see it as she left. Everything was so overpriced these days, it was robbery– like Hell she’d pay for what she took. She was the victim here. If the price were fair, she would pay it. But for this, she’d already paid more than a fair price. This was owed her. No one would miss it anyway.

She made it outside before it began to make noise. Hester jostled it a bit to shut it up. Later, if it wasn’t ruined already, it would know better than to cry like that. As she began strolling down the street, ultimately heading for her apartment building, she pulled the baby out from under her arm and looked at it. Not bad-looking, but its face was deep red from crying. She shook it again and told it to stop it. If it always acted like this, it definitely wouldn’t bee missed by whatever unworthy woman she’d taken it from.

Well, Hester knew she could set the little beast straight. Not its fault the stupid cow that had birthed it didn’t know how to make it behave. She’d have her perfect baby within a week. She could fix it. In fact, come the weekend, it would already be the perfect little lady or gentleman– whatever the baby was– it was supposed to be.

There was a huge commotion being made behind her, back at the store. Something about a robber, or something being stolen. Hester shook her head at the still-wailing baby in her arms. Shaking it again to quiet it, she mumbled about the faults of everyone these days. Robbers, inconsiderate teenage sluts, overpriced stores... her baby would know better than to be involved in anything like that. Much better.

Hester's Child was written as a response story to a friend of mine's story, Leaves and Ashes, which you can find here.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fairy's Tail

If you were to travel outside of the great civilized cities of Candlin, heading east past the wide rushing river Melhasawump where it cuts through the plains of Nuhla, traverse the dense Felaria Forest and enter the great desert our maps label as Quilistoriavni, and if you were to get lost in the desert, you might find yourself coming upon an oasis that stands in the middle of nowhere. Only three people I know have ever claimed to have found the oasis: one was an old drunkard, another was a traveling fool, a the third was a merchant woman from a foreign land she never told me the name of. I listened to each of their stories, one story each night for three nights. Here are the stories they told me:

The Drunkard’s Story

He used to be a treasure hunter, but there was no luck in his trade anymore. After thirty years, it seemed that there was no more treasure in the world to find. He followed rumors of caches, or of hidden gold or gems or artifacts, but they had turned out to be dead ends, every one of them. So finally, desperate for any sort of money, he turned to different rumors: rumors of rare beasts that had been sighted, beasts whose hair or hide or horn, hoof or head, shell or skin or skull, claw or carapace, paws or poison could fetch a high price. So a poacher he became, hunting the venomous Lord-stinger, the swift Avalant, the aqueous Pike Ripper and the great horned Malthan Retriever, among others. The stories of those hunts are good for an evening’s entertainment, but they are not what I wanted to hear. He told me about the oasis.

It was a flock of Dustchoke hawks he was after, out in Quilistoriavni desert- which his people called Tavni desert– when a great storm of sand rose. Whether it was a natural dust storm or the work of his quarry he didn’t know, but he was blinded and turned about in circles. The dust settled, and everything was changed. His waterskin growing emptier, he pushed on, until a green speck showed in the heat-hazy distance. The green speck turned into a tree, then another tree, then the oasis.

His tongue dry and his forehead burning, he fell into the pool of water from which sprang this patch of life. The water was cool and clear and cold; the trees bore fruit that was ripe and red and ready to be eaten. The flowers were fragrant and fanciful, like something out of a story. Some had petals the size of his hand or bigger, all of them in the most vibrant colors you could imagine, some of them spotted or striped or both.

At first he thought the flowers were just swaying in the breeze, but then he realized there was no breeze. He splashed water from the pool onto his face, wiping his eyes and trying to clear his vision. But still they were there, looking like smaller buds of the flowers, brilliant red and bright yellow, shining blue and deep purple in color. It was their wings that were such loud colors. The tiny beings flitted about, unfolding their wings until they were almost the size of the flowers, flapping and flying and fluttering.

But what was most beautiful about them was not the graceful, minuscule human shape of their bodies, nor was it the moving display of their rainbow wings. No.

It was their tails.

For as small as they were, he described their tails as far too large for them. The fairies– for that was the only name he could think to call the creatures– were no longer in body than his first finger, yet their tails trailed after them for nearly a foot in length. Feathery but not made of feathers they were, sparkling wetly but floating like sand in a draft. The trailing tails changed colors in the light that filtered through the oasis canopy in distinct beams.

As a poacher does when he sees a beast worth taking, the man decided he would capture the fairies and take their tales to market. They would fetch a handsome price, he thought.

But the fairies were not easily caught. They were not tempted to fly towards things that shone bright, like some insects, nor were they easily outwitted by a poacher’s usual traps. They could not be snatched out of the air by hand– they were too fast– nor could they be coaxed or teased into a cage or sack. Even their long flowing tails, if he grabbed at them, seemed to always be just out of reach, or slipped from his hand at the last second, even as his fingers were closing on them.

He didn’t realize how he had exhausted himself until he stumbled and couldn’t catch himself. He wasn’t quick enough, and fell face-first into the pool. The fairies made no noise, but he could have sworn he heard their laughter in his ears, their giggling next to his head, their chuckles taunting him. Dragging himself from the pool, he wrung the water from his clothes and hair, made one last feeble attempt to grab a fairy prize, and left the oasis, defeated.

The Fool’s Story

A fool is best off when he has a person take him on and keep him as almost a servant. But only the greatest, most foolish of fools earn places in castles by the sides of kings. The fool who told me of the fairy oasis was not one of the greatest of fools; he was an ordinary fool. Oh, once he had been the fool to a tyrant-king, a king who was kind to few people, and the fool was one of them. He capered and tumbled and danced, he told jokes and spun tales and made insulting comments about the king in private. His clothes had been checkered or spotted or motley, his face had been painted white. Or half-black and half-green, or checked blue and yellow, or any other strange combination. But that king had been rebelled against and had been killed, and the fool had fled.

He moved from town to village, from village to city, and from city to hamlet. Inn stages he performed in, manor houses, and on street corners. And once no more coins fell in the cup nearby, he gathered himself up and moved on. So he found himself in Quilistoriavni by accident, hopelessly lost and with nothing but his face paints and his coin-cup and the clothes on his back. Now and again as he forced his feet to keep moving, he told himself all his old jokes, over and over again, to keep his eyes open and his ears listening and his mind awake.

His foot was practically in the oasis pool by the time he realized there was an oasis. He, too, nearly fell into the pool when he saw it, dunking his head into the cool, fresh, life0giving water. Nectar of the gods.

When he lifted his face, dripping the clear water from his ears and chin and nose, he too saw the fairies. At first like the flowers were shedding petals, they unfurled themselves and put their wings and tails on display for the fool. Then they began to dance in the air, twirling around each other mid-air, passing above and below one another, doing flips that made their tails arc after them in perfect curves.

Such beautiful tails! No tale or joke he knew spoke of creatures like these! What a story these creatures would make for me to tell a king, thought the fool. And what king could resist keeping the only fool that could be found with such a pet in a cage by him? The thought of having a sure seat with a king was heartening and so tempting that the fool could not resist. He thought to take one fairy with him as proof of his story, and he reached out a hand to a flower where the nearest of the little creatures sat basking in the light. But when his hand closed, he felt nothing but his own skin. Again he stretched out his hand to grasp at a lazily drifting one, and again he came away with nothing.

Only when the light faded to the black of night did he realize he had been hours trying to catch one and had no more to show for it than when he first began. He could not catch a fairy. Quickly, he realized that his legs felt made of rubber and that he was too tired to walk. He curled up in the shade underneath one of the oasis trees and fell asleep.

Upon waking, the oasis was gone.

The Woman’s Story

The woman’s accent was foreign, but she would not tell me from what country she was. She carried with her a wooden chest, and inside the little chest were a few smaller wooden boxed. These held fine paper and thick, one held pencils of color, one had pencils of different hardness, and one was full of stoppered bottles of colored paints and brushes to go with them. She was a scribe and an artist, though she spoke differently and was obviously not from Candlin.

The strange creatures that dwell in the sands of the desert were what drew her. No book held pictures of Dustchoke hawks or Timberback rattlers, or Yellow-bellied scorpions or the always-hiding Sandtrap spider. She wanted to be the first to draw these creatures that were in no book.

Well-laden with water and food, she entered the desert in search of the animals she wished to draw. For three days she saw nothing but sand and mostly-dead shrubs. It was on the third day that she lay down under the tent she had brought to shield her from cold night wind. She woke not to the heat of the sun baking her little tent, but to the clean scent of fresh water and lush greenery. For the duration of the morning, she looked at her surroundings, studying the flowers and trees, gazing into the water. She opened her case and sat, sketching the flowers first with uncolored pencils, then with colored, even though the hues and shades of her pencils did the real flowers no justice.

Only when she was about to put everything away did the fairies appear, wafting on the wind, bouncing on the breeze, their luxurious tails trailing after them. Hurriedly she pulled her papers back out, working feverishly to draw the beautiful creatures that were before her. Never did she try to touch one for fear of frightening them away, and when she was finished with her drawings, she carefully closed them up in her case and quietly crept from the oasis.

These are the three stories I was told about the fairy oasis. The old man had no more proof than his words, so I found it simple to pass his words off as the fanciful musings of a drunkard. The fool too had no proof of his tale and was dismissed just as easily.

But the woman, when I rolled my eyes at her story, opened her case and took out not one, not two, but five pieces of paper, sketched with the flowers of the oasis and three with the fairies. These could be the work of imagination, I told her, but that is not to say I do not find them beautiful.

She was not listening to me, but was staring into the case she always carried with her. Shaking, she reached a hand into the case and lifted out a long trailing item that glittered and shone in the firelight of the tavern room. It seemed made of feathers and yet not.

I have seen the tail of one, and I now believe in fairies.

"Fairy's Tail" is one of my favorite short fiction stories I have written to date. It was written for a project I and a few fellow writers undertook, called "Letters to a Pen". Sadly, the project was not completed. Still, this was one of the products, and I could not be happier with it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Tramp

A boy with a parrot on his shoulder was walking along the railway tracks. He stumbled sometimes, when the white cane he held and swept back and forth in front of him along the ground missed something that could trip him. A grimace came over his lips when he stumbled, angry at himself, at the cane, at the rock or whatever it was that made him stumble. The parrot on his shoulder never said a word; the little plastic voice box inside it had broken a long time ago. Only a couple safety pins kept the stuffed bird in place on his shoulder, stuck through its feet to attach it to the shoulder of his shirt.

There was a rhythmic thunk-tink thunk-tink as the white cane hit the metal of the railroad. He walked just outside of the tracks, making the same trip he'd made every day for the last two months. Along the railroad tracks, across the little wooden bridge that spanned a creek just big enough to require a bridge, and then into town. Town, and freedom. Maybe they wouldn't catch him this time. The thought made him move faster-- and stumble more often.

He strained his ears, trying to listen over the scrape of his shoues on the gravel and the thunk-tink of his stick for the sound of pursuers. A hand reached up and squeezed the stuffed parrot on his shoulder for luck. Maybe they wouldn't come. Maybe they didn't realize he was gone yet. Maybe this time would see him into town, and find someone to hide him until they gave up, and he wouldn't have to worry about them anymore. He squeezed the parrot again. Maybe.

That was when he heard the first sound of footsteps other than his own. Waving his cane wildly in front of him, he ran, tripping with every other step but never quite falling. Forward-- always forward. They had found out earlier than usual that he was gone; usually, he was at least heading away from the rails and towards the bridge by the time he first heard them. This time... he might not even get to the bridge.

His cane whacked against the changing switch for the rails, sending a jarring feeling up his arm, but signaling him to turn aside, veer to his right, and make way for the bridge. The footfalls of his pursuers were catching up, going faster than he was. He wasn't going to make it.

The ground underfoot changed from gravel to earth, the rustle of fallen leaves replacing the crunch of shoe on gravel. His pursuers were still on the gravel. if he could keep from falling... maybe... He squeezed the parrot.

His cane thumped against one wooden post of the bridge that crossed the creek, and he dashed onto in. Only he had come up on the wrong side of it, and rather than his foot landing on the bridge, it landed on nothing, and he tumbled into the cold thigh-deep water. He almost lost hold of his cane as he sputtered, trying to right himself. Rather than climbing back out and crossing the bridge, he started swimming across.

The water got much deeper toward the middle, until he couldn't feel th bottom no matter how hard he stretched his toes downward. The thump of boots on wood sounded next to him, and he knew he was caught. He struggled to fight the current, to just go away from the bridge and the hands that were no doubt waiting to haul him in. But it was too strong for his six-year-old legs to fight for long, and it swept him away. He quit fighting and let it carry him. Fingers brushed his hair, his coat-- and didn't get hold. Shouts reached his ears, dimmed for a moment as he went under the bridge, and loudened again as he came out on the other side. And they faded away as the water carried him out of reach faster than he could ever run.

Shivering and soaked, he came up on the bank in a place he didn't know. He reached a trembling hand up to feel that the parrot was still there. Yes. The stuffed animal was as soaked through as he was; there was no way the voice of it would ever work again, he was sure. If the stuffing didn't dry out right, the thing would probably rot from the inside out, and it wouldn't be any good at all anymore.

Tugging himself up the bank and to the trunk of a tree, the boy sat and unfastened the two safety pins that held the toy to his shirt. A third safety pin held closed the ripped seam at the bottom of the bird, between its feet. He unfastened that one too, and dug a pair of fingers up into the wet stuffing, feeling around. There was the plastic voice box, and... for a moment, he thought it was gone. Then he felt the small, hard lump tucked into the bird's beak. Squishing and twisting the parrot and his fingers, he fished it out.

Turning it over in his hands, he wondered what the smooth, round object really looked like. It wasn't much bigger than the first knuckle of his pinkie fingers, and it wasn't quite perfectly round-- it felt more like there were dozens of little flat surfaces cut into it, so small and so carefully done that it just seemed round. It felt kind of like a marble, but if it were just a marble, they wouldn't be after him. Closing his fist tightly around it, he let go of the parrot. It was ruined; he wouldn't need it anymore. He hadn't heard any sound of pursuit in some time. He had gotten away. Gotten away for real and for good this time. Exhausted, he slept with his back against the trunk of the tree. Even the sound of a passing train didn't wake him.

The man who jumped off the train had the look of a hobo, but he preferred to be called a tramp. He saw the sleeping boy and doubted he had any food on him, but maybe he had money. Very carefully, the tramp searched the boy's pockets, but there was nothing that could be of any use. Then he saw something glittery in the boy's hand. Grinning a snaggletoothed grin, he took it.

And was arrested for stealing one of the largest extraterrestrial peridot gems when he was found.

When the boy woke up, he was at first upset that his prize was gone, then glad to be rid of it. Wearily, he got to his feet, took up his white cane, and walked.

I wrote "The Tramp" for a First Line Fiction contest, and to be perfectly honest, I had no idea what I was really doing. Like so many of my ideas, I had loftier goals than could be told in less than 1000 words...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

One Noah, His Noah

He brought in his shirt pocket the last photograph he'd taken of his son. It wasn't even the original print; that had been destroyed in the flood. Somehow the negative had found him, or he had found it, stuffed in with assorted junk trinkets in a shoebox that had miraculously survived the water that had ruined everything else, that had taken everything else from him.

The water that had taken Noah away.

He wanted to curse God at the same time he wanted to laugh. One Noah, who had built an ark to survive a great forty-day flood. His Noah, who had drowned in a two-day downpour that swelled the banks of the nearby Standish River and flooded the city as never before in history. One Noah, a man approaching grizzled age, with three sons to help him follow God's will. His Noah, a man barely twenty-two, with his whole life ahead of him.

His Noah was a strong swimmer, always had been. How he'd chuckled at that when His Noah was a boy of five, when he began swimming lessons; at eight, when he'd finally thrown away his snorkel and noseplugs; at ten, when he'd asked for a real swimming coach; at twelve, when he first made the swim team and began competing. The joking comments he'd made to other parents that he wouldn't need an ark to survive a forty-day flood, that he could just swim the whole time. How awful it seemed now, that he'd made those jokes, how cruel it seemed now to have named his only son Noah and cursed him by linking him to floods.

He wanted to curse at God's unfairness to spare One Noah and steal away His Noah. But he wanted to laugh at the irony of it. It was such injustice. He should not want to laugh. His Noah was dead! If he'd named his son Paul or Samuel or David, Mark or Andrew, he could mourn in peace.

He buried his face in his hands, laughing at his tears and crying over his amusement. It made no difference.

A name cannot protect a man.

One Noah, His Noah was written for a First Line Fiction contest.

I believe fully in the power of names, that a name molds the life of the person bearing it. This story is, perhaps, the first stretching in the direction in that line of thought.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bound By the Knife

The thin, fine blade bit into the back of Saul’s shoulder, making him narrow his eyes and furrow his eyebrows in pain.

“Are you okay?” came a sweet voice.

Saul didn’t even need to look up to see the speaker. He knew every detail of his new wife’s face intimately, and he was even fairly sure he knew what her expression would be, just by the tone of her voice when she asked the question.

His eyes opened fully, and he looked up. Sure enough, Ardith’s face held a look of intense concern. Saul smiled at her. “It’s just annoying, really. It’s a sensitive area. I’m fine, really.”

The blade dug into his shoulder again, but Saul didn’t wince this time. He wanted to make sure Ardith knew the pain wasn’t bad. And it really wasn’t all that terrible. Still, the concerned and rather frightened look didn’t leave Ardith’s face. Saul mouthed the words, “I love you,” and smiled at her. He wanted to reach out and hold her hand, but the inker wouldn’t let anyone get too close– for safety and cleanliness reasons, he said.

Saul was allowed a moment of almost-painless reprieve as the pigment was rubbed into the wound. He had been subjected to the inker’s knife for over an hour now, and there was still probably another hour of pain to come. Then it would be Ardith’s turn. Neither of them had gotten tattoos before, but once they got married, they had decided to mark the occasion by getting matching ones.

Ardith bounced slightly as she watched the inker take the knife to her husband again. This had been her idea, and she had actually been a little surprised when Saul had agreed. She was nervous; she didn’t know what it would be like to be inked, so she had asked Saul to go first. She wasn’t sure if she could take the pain of it like he could– as a guardsman, he was subject to injuries all the time. It was rare for him to come home at night without a new bruise or a shallow gash. But Ardith earned her part of their money performing songs and dancing at the inns and taverns– tastefully– and except for aching feet and the occasional sore throat, she didn’t experience much pain from day to day like Saul did.

Finally, the inker told Saul to get up off the table. The tattoo was finished. Saul picked up his discarded shirt and turned so Ardith could see his new mark. “How does it look?”

Ardith hugged him gently, careful not to press too hard, especially in the rather raw-looking right shoulder area. “It looks just like we wanted. Did it hurt terribly?”

Saul shook his head and walked back to the inker to have the tattoo bandaged. “It wasn’t bad, just... lengthy. And annoying. You know, you don’t have to get on if you’re worried.”

Ardith shook her head firmly. “I want to. It’s for us, remember?” There was no way she was going to back out now.

The inker finished bandaging Saul’s shoulder and prepared to work on Ardith.

Saul didn’t move from his spot while the inker worked on his wife. At the first touch of the knife, a little bit of a surprised look came over Ardith’s face, but she didn’t squirm, make a cry, or do anything that normally resulted from pain. There were moments in the two hours she was being inked when she clamped her eyes shut, but every time she opened them, Saul was ready with an encouraging smile and a loving gaze. Before either of them knew it, the inker was finished with her tattoo, which she had chosen to have placed on her left hip.

Ardith was bandaged, and the inker smiled as Saul and Ardith took their leave. They went straight to the tiny two-room house they had in the city. Saul half-flopped onto a chair before the movement made his shoulder throb, and he very nearly jumped back out of the chair as a result.

“Careful, honey,” Ardith said, her sweet voice filling the room without effort as she carefully lowered herself into another chair. Her voice filled the room easily, but without being loud or overpowering. A moment in the chair set her tattooed hip burning, and she stood up again. Saul stood, too, although probably not for the same reason. He gingerly took his wife in his arms and kissed her.

“You did wonderfully under the inker’s blade. I told you it wasn’t so bad.”

“I believed you, Saul.”

The door opened, revealing a scruffy-looking man in a guardsman’s uniform. “Saul, I need to talk to you. It’s urgent.”

Saul gestured the man to come inside and sit. Saul and Ardith remained standing.

The man sat only for a moment before standing up and walking behind the chair, but he was there only for a moment before he walked to the wall and leaned one arm on it. “We’re at war. The Dolerins launched a night attack on one of the port cities, I don’t remember which one, and the King is calling together as many new recruits for the army as he can get. The Captain says we’re all to enlist. We’re supposed to gather at the town gate to head for the capital in the morning.”

Ardith rushed to Saul and threw her arms around him. Saul hardly winced as her hand rested right on top of his bandaged shoulder.

“He can’t go to the King’s army! We’ve only been married a month!”

The guardsman shrugged nervously and headed for the door. “Sorry, ma’am, but those are our orders. Tomorrow morning, first light, Saul.” He ducked out the door. Saul stared after him.

Ardith wouldn’t let go. “You can’t go, Saul! You’ll be killed! You can’t go into the army!”

Saul closed his eyes solemnly. “I have to, Ardith. Orders.”

She looked up at him, her eyes welling with tears. “No, you don’t have to ! We can just stay here! Someone has to stay to protect the city! I’m sure some guards will stay. You can be one of them! You have to stay here!” She buried her face into his chest, her tears falling onto his still-bare skin.

Saul hugged her tightly, holding her to him. “I have to follow orders, even if I don’t want to. That’s what I do.”

She shook her head, still not lifting it from his chest. Her voice came back muffled. “No, no no no no! If they try to make you, I won’t let them! We could... we could run away! Tonight! And go away from here!”

Saul worked a hand under her chin and lifted her face so she looked at him. “What are you talking about? We can’t leave here.”

“Yes, we can! We can just leave, and they can’t make you fight in the army! We’ll be safe, and we’ll be together. I can’t lose you, Saul, I just can’t!” She gently freed her face from his grip and rested her head against him again.

“I don’t want to lose you, either.” He closed his eyes and held his wife in silence for a few moments. “So where will we go? We’ve got to get some things together if we’re going as soon as we can.”

Ardith looked up, her face still wet with tears. “You’ll come? We’ll go away together?”

Saul nodded. ““I’m not going anywhere without you. Let’s get what we can carry, and we’ll leave tonight.”

Ardith kissed his chest. “Do you mean it? You’ll disobey orders?”

“You know I’ll do anything for you.”

Two hours later, under cover of darkness, Saul and Ardith crept out of their little house, each carrying a pack with food, blankets, a few extra sets of clothing, and whatever else they could carry. The night guards were few tonight, probably because of the traveling they would have to do in the morning. Even with as few guards as there were tonight, leaving the city unnoticed wouldn’t be easy.

The weight of the pack on Saul’s shoulder caused a pain that was constantly on his mind. The few extra layers of clothes he had put on did little in the way of padding. But he knew Ardith was feeling the same pain on her hip, from walking and her skirts rubbing against it. He had tried to talk her into wearing a pair of his pants to make traveling easier, but she had adamantly refused. They were going to be doing a lot of walking.

Saul led the way towards the gate, along the sides of buildings, trying to keep to shadows. Most, if not all, of the other guards men knew him on sight, probably because he was one of the biggest of them, and the only one who went completely clean-shaven. Patrols were random, so there was no telling when a night guard would appear.

Ardith heard footsteps and quickly grabbed the back of Saul’s cloak sleeve. He very nearly fell, but he didn’t move forward into the light. There was a guard coming. Ardith held her breath as she and Saul pressed themselves against the shadows on the side of the building they were by. She could feel Saul holding his breath beside her.

The breastplated guard came into view– a young man, probably no more than seventeen or eighteen years old, with only a shadow of a beard on his chin. His hand rested on the short sword at his hip comfortably, though. He was young, but he knew what he was doing. His eyes darted around, taking in all the movement around him. He paused a few steps past them, a few paces in front of the building, and his head turned to look around. His hand eased his sword in its sheath, and he kicked the toe of one booted foot on the ground.

Ardith’s chest began to pound for air. This young guard was only perhaps five paces from the shadows she and Saul had concealed themselves in. Any sound they made would surely be heard. But the young guard didn’t move on.

There was a loud banging sound, and Saul and Ardith felt the building shake a little. The sounds of raucous and probably drunken laughter came loudly from nearby, and after a moment, a large group of staggering men wandered into the street. Not a moment had passed before two of the men began to brawl in the middle of the mostly-deserted road. The young guard quite visibly rolled his eyes, shook his head, and headed towards the group.

Saul let his chestful of held air out slowly and quietly, and began to breath again. Beside him, Ardith followed his example. But even a few moments of trying to calm down did nothing to slow either of their pounding hearts. Still, they moved on, behind the tavern and further towards the city gate. There were two guards posted at the gate itself, so sneaking out through the gate was practically impossible. Neither Saul nor Ardith had thought of that.

“We’ll have to scale the wall,” Saul whispered.

Ardith looked up. Made of plastered stone, the wall was high and thick, meant to protect the city from invasion. The stones made natural foot- and hand-holds, perfect for climbing, but the wall was amazingly high. She’d never thought what was meant to keep someone out could prove to be such a barrier for keeping people in.

“We can’t climb this, Saul. Perhaps you could, if you weren’t carrying a pack, and if it weren’t dark, but I know I can’t. We must find another way.”

“There is no other way. The sentries at the gates won’t leave their posts unless there’s an attack, so we can’t go through the gate. We have to climb.”

“I can’t climb the wall!”

“I’ll help you.”

“Do you want to get through the wall?”

The voice was whispered and sounded youthful and came from a wiry, shadowed form that neither of them had heard approach. Ardith jumped at the voice, and Saul very nearly attacked the person before he understood what he had said.

“Yes, we have to leave tonight,” Ardith replied despite Saul’s gestures not to.

“Follow me.” A dark cloak flourished as the shadow turned and headed back the way they had come. Ardith and Saul hesitated for a moment and followed. The cloaked figure stopped behind a building and waited for them. “You can leave through here.” He placed a hand on the wall, and a dim light seemed to extend from his fingers onto the stone. A nearly door-size section of stone melted away, revealing the grassy plains that gave way to forest on the horizon. “Go.”

Saul darted through the passage as though he were being chased by some fierce animal. Ardith paused before going through. “Who are you?”

“That’s not important.”

“Why are you helping us then? Tell me that.”

“Look, just go. I’ll explain later.” He practically shoved Ardith through the opening and into Saul’s arms. The wall seemed to melt back into place. They were outside.

Without a word, Saul grabbed Ardith’s hand and dashed for the treeline. It was only a mile or so from the city wall. It wasn’t long before they were safely concealed in trees. Only then did they allow themselves to rest for a while.

“We made it out of the city, Ardie! We made it!”

She nodded, setting down her pack and sitting on a fallen tree. “I’ll feel better once we’ve put the city far behind us.”

“She’s right. You should keep moving.” The cloaked figure was leaning against a tree at the edge of the clearing, arms crossed over his chest. The hood of the cloak shadowed his face. “This path will take you straight through the forest and on to Banditan. You should be safe there.”

Saul took a few steps, putting himself between Ardith and the stranger. “Thanks for your help, but who are you?”

“Your wife already asked me that.”

“But you didn’t answer me. And you didn’t when I asked why you were helping us, either.”

He sighed and uncrossed his arms. “My name is Elias. And I’m helping you because it serves my purpose. That should be enough for you. Just don’t get yourselves separated or killed, okay?” He pulled back his hood, revealing the smooth face of a boy only nineteen at the oldest. Moderately long, messy brown hair topped a rather round face with only a hint of facial hair. His blue eyes were sunken in a bit, but they were filled with light.

Ardith stood. ““Thank you for your help, Elias.”

Elias’s eyes darted up and down Saul for a moment, and he stepped forward and placed his hand on his shoulder. “You’re hurt.”

“It’s a tattoo, not an injury,” the man replied, shrinking away from the boy’s touch.

“It still pains you. Let me help.” Keeping his hand on Saul’s shoulder, he beckoned Ardith forward. “You have one, too. I can take away the pain.”

Ardith stepped up to him, and Elias placed his other hand on her hip. His hands glowed dimly again, and both Saul and Ardith felt the aches from their inkings drift away. The feeling was so soothing that Ardith closed her eyes. When she opened them again, Elias was gone.

“What an odd young man,” Ardith commented, looking around. “He must be one of those Mages.” She tenderly touched her hip. As Elias had said, it didn’t hurt anymore.

“Yeah, but we’re in debt to him now. I don’t know if I like that,” Saul replied, working his shoulder.

“He seemed nice enough. But we should keep moving, shouldn’t we? If we want to get far enough away so they can’t find you and force you to join the army.”

Saul nodded and reshouldered his pack. “Let’s move, Ardie.”

They traveled on through somewhat dense trees well through the dark hours and continued even after the sun was above the horizon. It wasn’t long into the day when they heard the sounds of people. Lots of people. Ahead of them, not behind.

“I don’t like this, Ardith. Stay hidden. I’m going to see who’s out there.”

“Please, Saul, be careful.”

Giving his wife a reassuring kiss, Saul picked his way through the dense forest towards the sound. He was out of Ardith’s sight in moments. But he was not out of her hearing. She heard a cry of, “Ambush!” from an unfamiliar, very harsh voice, and she heard Saul pleading innocence. She could not explain how, but she felt the heavy blow that was landed on her husband’s head. He had been knocked unconscious. The sounds of people moving picked up again, and Ardith stood frozen in her hiding place. Would these people leave Saul alone and unconscious in the forest? Or would they take him with them? Carefully, she crept towards the sounds and where Saul had disappeared.

She saw the moving people before too long, and she understood almost immediately how Saul had stumbled upon them. They were Dolerins– part of the Dolerin army, probably, if not all of it– and they had dressed in greens and browns and fastened leaves and branches and the like to themselves. They looked like moving parts of the forest. And in their midst, draped over the back of a leaf-covered mule, was Saul. He was out cold. The blow had seen to that. Ardith’s head ached dimly in the back of her thoughts. Her foremost concern was rescuing him.

The Dolerins continued on through the forest, towards the very city she and Saul had escaped from the night before. That thought didn’t matter to Ardith now, though. Saul was all that mattered. She kept the Dolerin army in her sights, creeping along in their wake and trying not to be heard or spotted. It wasn’t long before a few camouflaged scouts joined the ranks, and the army stopped their march for the day.

Ardith knew this place. They were near the edge of the forest, and the city was less than five miles from her very position. The army was planning an ambush. But Ardith had set in her mind her own ambush.

As the army quietly mad a small temporary camp, she watched as a pair of soldiers removed Saul from the mule and poured a small amount of water on his face. Saul sputtered, and his eyes opened lazily. Ardith couldn’t hear what was said, but the two soldiers bound Saul’s hands and dragged him and his pack to a man Ardith could only assume was in charge. Saul was thrown to his knees before the man, and he coughed tiredly. Ignoring Saul, the man took the pack and emptied its contents onto the ground. At the sight of Saul’s sets of clothes, some of the cooking things, and the food, the man laughed. Sorting through the clothes, one of the soldiers came upon Saul’s cloth-wrapped sword. The commander’s laughter ceased, and Saul was hauled to his feet. The commander began to speak, but she could not hear his words.

Ardith quietly moved through the trees, trying to get closer so she could hear what the commander was saying.

“...part of the army, no doubt. Possibly... probably a deserter. Find out what he knows. Use whatever means are necessary, but I want him left alive until I’m satisfied.”

Saul’s mouth moved, but whatever he said was too quiet for Ardith to hear. However, it resulted in a solid back-handed slap across the cheek that made Ardith’s face sting as though she had been the victim instead of Saul. The soldiers dragged Saul into a newly-erected tent and out of Ardith’s sight.

For a long while, nothing happened. No one left or entered the tent where Saul had been taken, and the only things going on in the camp were the normal camping things: low cookfires were made, horses and pack mules were cared for, and soldiers were fed. Ardith decided to wait until dark to attempt a rescue. She crept a short way away from the camp and settled down to plan as she wait for nightfall.

She was still at a loss for what exactly to do when the sun began to set. Suddenly, she doubled forward, feeling an intense pain on her back, like she had been beaten with a heavy stick. But there was no one there. The delusory blow came again, and again. The blows fell continuously, and Ardith found her self curled into a ball on the ground, tears streaming down her face. What was happening?

“Seems there was a small side effect from my healing,” came an all-too-familiar voice.

Turning her tear-stained face towards the voice, she saw Elias’s brown-haired head, which appeared to be floating, as his dark cloak seemed to melt into the dark that surrounded them.

“What’s happening?”

Elias ran a hand through his unkempt mass of hair. It did nothing to tame it. “Apparently, you’re feeling your husband being beaten for information. Somehow, healing you a the same time bonded you together. At least, you feel what he feels physically. I wonder if he would feel what comes to you.” He reached down to help her back into a sitting position. The blows were still falling, sending waves of pain all through Ardith’s body, but she was becoming almost numb to them. She hoped Saul wasn’t suffering as bad as she. “Elias, is there anything you can do to help him?”

The boy shook his head. I’ve already endangered myself from helping you so far. I hate to say it, but you’re on your own.”

Ardith felt a horrible sensation in her neck that made her shudder uncontrollably. Almost immediately afterward, she heard the Dolerin commander’s voice curse. “I told you I wanted him alive!”

Ardith knew Saul’s neck had been broken. The pain had ended as abruptly as it began. She began to cry. He was gone. Saul, her husband, the love of her life, was dead. Murdered. They had barely been married for a month, and he was gone.

When she came to her senses, she was alone. The absence of human sounds led her to believe the army had moved on. But had they taken Saul’s body with them? A few moments of walking took her to the remains of their camp. Saul’s body was at the edge of the clearing, and by the position, he had been carelessly discarded before they moved. Ardith gingerly touched a shoulder; of course, there was no response. She turned his body over, from his side to his back. She fought the tears, but it was no use. She burst into sobs, cradling the body of her dead husband to her as if afraid what was left of him would disappear if she let go. She was only dimly aware of the rustling of foliage nearby.

“He’s gone, Ardith. He hasn’t breathed in a number of hours.” Elias’s voice still held that unsettling calm of his that made him seem older, but the sympathy in his tone could still be heard.

Ardith looked up at the young man, her face pale and red a the same time; wet trails left by her tears covered her cheeks. Though she knew he told the truth, that Saul was no longer alive, her eyes displayed her refusal to believe him.

“You will need to move on, Ardith. There is nothing you can do for him.”

“But you can, can’t you? You opened the wall, and you quickened the healing of our tattoos! You can bring him back!”

Elias shook his head slowly, his dark hair falling to make a sort of drape over his eyes.

Ardith clutched desperately at his cloak. “You can bring him back, Elias! You’re a Mage! I know you can! Please, don’t let him be dead! Don’t let him stay dead!”

Elias gently knelt and helped Ardith to her feet, leaving Saul’s body against a tree at the edge of the clearing where he had been murdered. Sobbing the entire time, Ardith let Elias take her to a nearby village untouched by the invading army. He left her in the care of a woman at the village’s lone inn, and he disappeared again.

It was last in the evening on the third day after Saul had been killed when Ardith finally seemed to recover her control and stopped crying constantly. She contented herself (as well as she could) with helping earn her keep around the tiny inn, sweeping, cleaning, cooking, and other such jobs. It was hardly a week after he had died when Ardith began to feel ill in the mornings, and a woman came to see her and told her that she was with child. Ardith’s heart leapt and sank in the same moment; this was Saul’s child, and she prayed every night that it would be a boy, but she wept that Saul would not be there to know the child, and the child would never know its father.

Days more passed, and the news came that the Dolerin army had been defeated and was being removed from the kingdom.

Ardith stayed in the little village, earning her keep in the inn and counting the months and weeks and days before her child would be born, for a long time. After four months of pregnancy, she was showing, and the summer months came nearer. As summer came into full heat, the Dolerin army came to invade again, and the people of the village grew nervous. The inn door was soon locked every night, at earlier and earlier hours.

One night, during a storm nearly six weeks after word spread that the Dolerin army had returned, someone pounded on the door to the inn. The pounding was forceful and seemed urgent, but the fierce wind and rain made hearing the shouting (if any) unintelligible. The innkeeper, a very pudgy red-faced man, hesitated for some minutes before finally opening the door to allow a drenched figure in a cloak to enter.

Ardith was tidying the common room of the inn as she watched the cloaked man– she assumed it was a man, since no woman would be foolish enough to travel in that storm– found a place by the fire and asked in a hushed voice for some food and ale. The hood was pulled back, revealing dripping black hair that fell limply around tanned skin. From her vantage point sweeping, Ardith couldn’t see the man’s face, though why that bothered her, she couldn’t say. The innkeeper approached her. “Ardith, go fetch some of the chicken and some ale for our guest.

“Ardith?” came the man’s hushed voice. He turned round, his brown eyes reflecting the firelight. “Ardith? My Ardith?!”

“Saul?” Ardith’s eyes and ears were surely deceiving her. This man could not be her Saul, but... his eyes didn’t lie. The man had his face, his eyes, his hair– if it was too long, dripping wet, and looked as though it hadn’t ben washed in days. He looked gaunt, like he had bene underfed lately.

“Ardith?” Saul suddenly had her in his arms, and he was sobbing into her shoulder in disbelief.

“How... how?” Ardith could only get the one word out between her sobs. She had her arms around him, holding him to her as well as she could with her pregnant belly between them.

“Ardith... what’s this?” Saul took a step backward and put a hand on her stomach.

“It’s our child, Saul! Our child!”

“Your son.”

The door was open again, revealing another cloaked form against the backdrop of the storm. He pulled back his hood. It was Elias.

“Elias! You...”

“You could say I’m responsible... I know you’re going to ask to repay me, but don’t.”


“I said don’t. Just do me one favor.”

“Anything, Elias. We owe you everything.”

Elias shook his head, spraying water droplets everywhere. “Don’t name him Elias. He’ll hate it.”

In a flash, he was gone.

"Bound By the Knife" I will admit, I am not too fond of. It was a good idea, but I didn't pull it off very well. It would be more suited to a novella than the short story I tried to cram it into.

The idea was supposed to be that Elias was actually their son, grown into a young man, coming back to make things better before he was born, because he was a Mage and had that kind of power. That kind of thing. Clicheed, I know, but hey, I was like 17 or 18 when I wrote this.