Wednesday, April 27, 2011

They Were Chanting Again

They were chanting again.

Every night, to another star.

“Shine down on us.”

“Give us your light.”

“Brighten our lives.”

“Brighten the sky.”

“Come and take us”.

“Give us your light.”

The dim embers of the fire-that-was-never-put-out sat at the top of the hill, surrounded by a circle of twelve stones– one for each Zodiac sign. Whoever fell first would be the one to tend the fire during the light hours as a penance for falling. So they danced, and they were chanting again.

The boy who called himself Kiran danced and chanted to Tegmine, a star of Cancer’s constellation, determined not to be the first to fall again. The girl who called herself Bertina danced past him and smiled. Like the dozens of other people dancing, and like Kiran himself, she was completely naked with the constellation Cancer painted on her chest. Mid-chant, Kiran smiled back, forgetting where he was for just a moment. Bertina swayed in rhythm with their chanting and with the music. Roughly-made drums and pipes played by the Twelve– six men and six women named for the Zodiac– set the pace for the dancing and chanting. It was hypnotic, but he was brought out of his reverie when he nearly stepped on Pisces’s foot. He apologized profusely and rejoined the dance.

Cristophe sat unhappily on the grass, poking at the fire with a long stick. A pile of firewood he had gathered sat next to him. The grass underneath him was stomped flat, and there were patches where the trampled earth showed through. The grass and the trodden dirt was still damp, not from dew, but from the torrents of sweat that had fallen there the night before. Cristophe found himself wondering if the hilltop was ever really dry.

Like the ground beneath him, Cristophe was heavily damp with sweat. His hair was weighted down with it, and the collar of his shirt was dark with it. He hadn’t bothered to put on socks, hoping the sunlight and the tiny bit of heat from the fire would help dry his feet.

He poked at the fire again and tossed another bit of wood onto the fire. If it was allowed to go out– he didn’t know what the penance would be, but he was certain it would be harsh. He yawned; it was barely past midday, but he longed for sleep. He dared not; should someone show up and find him sleeping, especially one of his older friends...

“Oh, hello!”

He hadn’t heard anyone approach, but Cristophe was glad that is someone had to visit him, it was her: Carmen.


She sat down on the grass next to him. She smelled like flowers. “You’ve been here a lot lately.”

He shrugged. “I kind of like poking at the fire. It’s peaceful and quiet. I can think here.”

Carmen leaned back on her hands and looked at the clouds. “It’s such a pretty day out. Just a little breeze, and not too hot for summer.”

“It does feel good out here.”

Carmen leaned over and rested her head against his shoulder. “You’re dripping wet!”

“It’s sweat.”

“It’s not like it’s that hot out here.”

“I know. You can get off if you want. I probably don’t smell very good, either.”

“No, it’s okay. I kind of like sweaty guys.”

Cristophe grinned as he blushed, poking at the fire with a stick.

They were chanting again.

Every night, to another star.

“Shine down on us.”

“Give us your light.”

“Brighten our lives.”

“Brighten the sky.”

“Come and take us”.

“Give us your light.”

The boy who called himself Kiran danced and chanted to Ras Alhague, a star of Ophiuchus’s constellation, determined not to be the first to fall again. The fire-that-was-never-put-out glowed in the circle of twelve stones, surrounded by the Twelve, who played their roughly-made drums and pipes while Kiran and the others danced naked, each with Ophiuchus painted on his or her chest. Bertina smiled at Kiran as she danced by him, swaying in time with music. He smiled at her and moved so he was beside her, dancing together but not quite touching.

Hours passed, and Kiran and Bertina danced side by side among the dozens of other dancers. The moon was well past its peak, and Kiran felt his body starting to slow. Bertina seemed to be slowing, as well, as did many of the others except the Twelve. Dozens of bare forms glistened with sweat, and the painted figures of Ophiuchus were unrecognizable where they were not already washed away.

In the corner of his eye, Kiran saw the girl who called herself Lucerne collapse where she was: the first to fall. Kiran did not drop; though he was not the first to fall tonight, he did not want to be the second, either.

One, two, three more people fell almost as soon as Lucerne’s body hit the ground. The Twelve played on, not stopping, and Kiran and Bertina kept up the dance, though the chanting was lost in the huffs of the exhausted dancers.

“You are not meant to tend the fire today,” Bertina whispered to Kiran as she danced by him.

He smiled and dropped to the ground at almost the same time as she did.

They were chanting again.

Every night, to another star.

The boy who called himself Kiran chanted softly while he was being painted with the constellation Draco. Tonight they chanted and danced to Dziban. Scorpio painted him with the stars across his chest. Nearby, Bertina was being painted by Virgo. He looked at her and gave her a small smile, hoping Scorpio would not see it. But he did.

“You fancy Bertina, son?”

Kiran stopped chanting and bowed his head. “I do, Father Scorpio.”

Without turning his head, Scorpio looked at Bertina. She was smiling back at Kiran, oblivious to Virgo’s rather pleased look. Virgo looked at Scorpio and nodded. Scorpio nodded back.

“You will be given to each other.”

Kiran almost allowed his jaw to drop. Saving himself at the last moment, he bowed his head instead.

“It would be good to have another child born to us, son. It has been some time since Meira had her child.”

“I understand, Father Scorpio.”

They danced and chanted to Dziban. Kiran was determined not to be the first to fall again. He danced again with Bertina, whose wide smile never wavered for the entire night.

“We are to be given to each other,” she whispered to him.

“I know,” he replied.

“Does that make you happy?”


“Come and take us.”

“Give us your light.”

Hours passed, and Kiran and Bertina danced side by side among the dozens of other dancers. The moon was well past its peak, and Kiran felt his body starting to slow. Bertina seemed to be slowing, as well, as did many of the others except the Twelve. Kiran felt his legs begin to give out beneath him, and as he was about to fall, Bertina’s hands came and helped hold him up. But it was too late, and Kiran’s body was slick with sweat. He fell– the first to fall.

Dimly, in the back of his exhausted mind, Kiran heard the drums and pipes stop. The rhythmic pounding of feet stopped, and the chanting faded to silence.

“The first has fallen,” Aries said. “Tonight, we stop.”

Cristophe sat unhappily on the grass, poking at the fire with a long stick. A pile of firewood he had gathered sat next to him. He was worn out and drenched with sweat. His arms and legs ached, and his throat was hoarse. He tossed another piece of wood into the fire.


He hadn’t heard anyone approach. But suddenly Carmen was next to him, leaning back on her hands in the damp grass, looking at the sky.

“You weren’t here yesterday.”

“I know.”

“It’s kind of a good thing. You weren’t so sweaty yesterday, I bet. You probably got to take a shower instead of sitting here all day.”

He let out an airy laugh and nodded. “Yeah.” He poked at the fire with his stick. “Wait, I thought you said you kind of liked sweaty guys.”

Carmen shrugged. “I do, but I like dry guys, too.”

“Well, which do you like better?”

“You, whichever you are at the moment.” Carmen tossed a piece of wood on the fire. “That fire should be okay on its own for a while.”

Cristophe smiled and took off his shirt.

“We do not chant to a star tonight,” Capricorn announced to the dozens of nude people gathered around the fire. The fire-that-was-never-put-out was far more than dim embers; it was a great blaze that gave off an intense heat, making everyone sweat despite their stillness.

“Tonight, the Sun rides the Moon. We celebrate Kiran and Bertina, who have agreed to be given to each other.”

They were chanting again, dancing in circles as Kiran and Bertina made love in the grass. Kiran had been painted in bright yellow-gold, Bertina in the palest pearly blue.

“Let us pray to the Sun, our Father!”

“Let us pray to the Moon, our Mother!”

“Give us another star!”

They were chanting again.

Summer had given way to autumn and then winter. They danced and chanted to Ankaa, a star of Phoenix’s constellation. Kiran danced and chanted, determined not to be the first to fall again. Since he and Bertina had been given to each other, he had not been the first to fall on any night.

Bertina danced next to Kiran, her growing stomach bearing the constellation Hydra, which would be in the sky when the little star was to be born. Phoenix dotted her chest, as it did Kiran’s and all the others’. Bertina smiled at Kiran and rested a hand on her stomach. She was often the first to stop these nights, but since she carried a little star, she was never considered the first to fall. If Kiran stopped early, he would not be granted that luxury.


The music faltered and stopped. The chanting faded, and the dancing ceased as a stranger approached the circle around fire-that-was-never-put-out.

The Twelve quickly stood from their seated positions around the fire and approached the stranger. “You do not belong with us.”


“What’s going on here?”

The Twelve closed in around the stranger. They formed a line– the barrier between the stranger and the fire.

“Don’t touch her!”

The voice came from the crowd of chanters. Kiran pushed his way to the forefront.

The heads of the Twelve snapped to look in his direction, severe looks on all twelve faces. “You speak for this outsider, son?” asked Leo.

Kiran pushed his way between Libra and Capricorn and looked over the stranger. “I speak for her.”

The stranger whispered to Kiran. “Cristophe, I’m scared. Who are these people?”

Taurus’s voice boomed. “Why do you speak for one such as this?”

“She carries my child!”

The chanters gasped collectively. The Twelve only managed to look angrier. “You have gone outside the Sky?”

Almost as one, the Twelve and the chanters began forward, hands raised, ready to seize Cristophe and Carmen. He knew the penance for this: burning alive slowly over the fire. The boy who called himself Tab had tried to leave a year ago. He had been found and burned alive; the image was still strong in his memory.

“Wait!” Cristophe threw his arms out to either side, trying to put as much distance between Carmen and the Twelve as he could. His normally timid voice echoed unnaturally, stopping everyone for a moment. There was a pause, and he lowered his arms. He looked past the Twelve, to where Bertina stood. “You have a little star to replace me. I was a pitiful star to begin with.”

He took a small step backwards, towards Carmen. He took another. Another, and he was able to take her hand. They turned and began to walk down the hill. There was a moment when Cristophe thought they would be able to leave uncontested, then he heard taurus’s booming voice.

“After them!”

They were chanting again.

“After them!”

“To the fire!”

It was one of the most frightening things Cristophe had ever heard.

They were chanting again.

The fire-that-was-never-put-out was a blaze. The traitor Kiran’s screams had faded an hour ago, after two nights over the dim flames. The blaze had been built to wear away what was left.

Aquarius looked over the slowly charring remains. Sagittarius approached the fire and stopped beside her.

“We never found the outsider.”

“She is nothing to us. He was the one we needed to make an example of. The penance for treachery has been paid.”

They were chanting again.

The boy who called himself Kiran would never join them again.

Carmen never went back to the hilltop. In April, she bore a little girl. She named her Star.

They Were Chanting Again was written a few years ago. Astronomy and astrology have always interested me, and the concept of a cult based on them resulted in this story. At least, it touches on the subjects.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Feeling White

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I could actually feel the stuff coursing through my system. It wasn't something I had been unprepared for, but the actual sensation caught me by surprise. Looking back, I can only really describe the feeling as white. I suppose the closest analogy I can come up with is that it felt like liquid light flowing through my veins alongside my blood. They told me the stuff would mix well enough with my bloodstream, but it felt separate, kind of disconcerting. Liquid light flowed through me, but there was no heat to it, just the shining white feeling.

Judging from Theo's and Avery's faces, they were feeling the same effects I was. At least there was no pain.

By the time we found Barstow, drove across town, left the jeep in a hotel parking lot on the far side of town, and started out into the desert on foot, I knew the drugs were only a handful of moments away from taking full hold on me. We turned separate ways once we were out of town, each just picking a direction and going.

I stumbled in whatever direction it was chance had given me, willing the ticking seconds to stop feeling like they were an hour long each. The men had told us the name of the drug, but it was one of those ridiculous forty-seven-letter-long names that were impossible to pronounce unless you had a Ph.D., and I hadn't cared to listen anyway. They had also told us to hold off succumbing for as long as we could to get the full effect, so I focused as hard as I could on the sand in front of my Reeboks.

The soft thud that came from behind me and to my right told me one of the others had gone down. Forcing the muscles of my neck to obey, I turned to look, only then realizing my eyes were clouded. But I knew it was Avery that had given way.

A second sound of impact told me Theo had collapsed, but then I realized I was lying on my side in the sand. I had let it take me. Sweet dry heat flowed over me; gritty, odorless sand made my bed. I had a dim awareness of my surroundings as the drug penetrated every last bit of what was me.

I opened my eyes and I was flying. I knew I was a hawk; that's what the people called me. Hawk. But the word wasn't what my heart said I was. In my heart, such things didn't matter. Food, hunting, flying, mating-- it was the instincts that took over. This wasn't some acid trip or hallucinogen effect; the men had explained...

Explained what? What men?

White. White air. Bright sunlight surrounded me, clean clear air supported me and gave me lift. It took no thought to find thermals to give me lift, to adjust the tilt of my wings and tail to dive or bank. This was pure joy, to live.

The noise sent me into a panic. I didn't know what it was, by my every instinct said to fear the sound. It was a crack, loud and short. It came again, and a third time. That third crack came along with great pain in my little body. I was wounded. All my efforts to control my accelerating descent failed, and I cascaded to the ground.

I opened my eyes and I was surrounded by white. My talons clenched weakly. I hurt, but I would heal. To the depths of me, I knew that.

Faces. There were faces. My eyes darted around, taking in my surroundings. This was not my forest home, or a desert-- where that fact came from, I didn't know at the time, but looking back, I can remember the thought and identify it. This was the kind of place I avoided, where the ones who looked at me and said, "Hawk" made their nests.

Nearby, on a medical table-- again I can only put words to it from looking back-- was me, my body. My human one. The one I came back to once the drug had run its course.


The purpose of the drug was never fully revealed to me. Once I'd come to-- come back to my human body again-- I saw the hawk I'd been. He's perfectly fine, a fully-functioning, normal bird. His wing healed without a problem; they hadn't aimed at me to kill, just to wound. I can only guess at the reasons behind it all. "To study animal life more intimately" is the phrase I decided on about a year afterward. I was questioned again and again about my experiences as the hawk-- the ten hours and fourteen minutes I'd spent being him. My reports had been added to their findings, filed, copied, distributed, discussed, refuted, defended, shredded, recopied, refiled, and all those things that happen with research findings. I actually got contacted by a wildlife researcher in the Netherlands to discuss my experiences.

There are a few things I was told outright afterward. One was that there were certain reasons we'd had to go to Barstow and wander into the desert as part of the experience. The "why" was, to my growing frustration, not told to me.

Second, Theo came through the process as easily as I did. He returned in the body of a black bear cub. The cub is fine.

Avery never came back.

I received my pay and eventually stopped hearing anything involving the drug. About four years later, they stopped testing it, for classified reasons.

I think I know the reason: sometimes, when I wake up, I'm still a hawk.

"Feeling White" was, like many of my most recent short stories, writted for a First Line Fiction contest. It won third place in the month it was entered.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


“She’s a local. The number’s in our area code.”

“What makes you think she’s a ‘she’?”

“Who else would text you this late on a Tuesday to tell you you’re cute? Unless you came out while we were at the club this weekend and didn’t tell me.”

Cal opened his phone and pulled up the text again. You’re a hottie. “Beats me,” he said, snapping the phone shut again. “How drunk did I get?”

Monty shrugged. ““You think I remember how drunk you got? I was the one who passed out, remember? After throwing up in your lap on the bus home.”

Cal did remember. Nasty. He hadn’t even tried to clean those pants-- just threw them away. “So I probably gave my number to someone. Maybe a few someones… and now one of them is actually texting me.”

“I thought girls usually called.”

“This is the texting age.”

“Maybe she’’s a hottie. You tend to have pretty good taste, even when you’re drunk.” Monty grinned. “Text her back. Ask if she has a sister.””

“I don’’t even know who she is!”

“Why should that stop you?”

He shook his head, stuffing his phone into his pocket. “I’m not going to do anything. If she-- whoever she is-- isn’t just messing with me, she’ll text again. Maybe then I might reply.”


Cal’s phone vibrated, rattling against the glass of water on his nightstand. The clinking woke him up.

New Text Message

He flipped it open and opted not too look at it right away. Instead he checked the time. 2:57 stared at him. Cursing, he opened the text, looking first at the number. It was the same one.

On my mind on my mind!

Grumbling, he closed the phone and went back to sleep.


Monty stared at the screen on Cal’s phone, looking at the texts Cal had saved in the memory, all from that same local number. “They were all sent late, like after midnight.”

“Except for that first one. That one was at quarter till. Big difference, I know.”

“She’s texted you almost every night for three weeks. And you’ve done what?”

Cal shrugged. “Been jerked out of sleep for every damned one of them.”

Monty thrust the phone at him, pushing it into his chest. “I’m telling you, this girl’s got a thing for you. Text her back!”

“No way, man! This is kinda creeping me out at this point. I mean, look at some of those last ones. Check the one from Monday.”

Sighing, Monty opened the phone and pulled up the text. “Baby you there? I like tomatoes and bagels,” he read aloud, trying hard not to laugh and making a strangled snorting sound instead. “She does sound hot.”

“This isn’t funny, Monty. I’m starting to get weirded out by this. I mean, I haven’t answered a one of her texts, but she keeps texting me almost every night.”

In Monty’s hands, Cal’s phone began to vibrate. “I’ll check it,” he said, flipping it open. Cal peered over his shoulder.

My pockets are greasy.

“What’s that supposed to mean? Some new weird stalker pickup line?”

The phone vibrated again. Sorry baby I forgot something.

Again. There’s a taco in there.

Ow! Stop it!

I’m stealing your pillow.

The phone was receiving texts faster than they could read them.

C’mon let’s go upstairs.

I’ll tell u when i’m finished.

u don’t like me


“I think she just lost it,” Monty said. “I’m calling her.””

“Monty, don’t!”

Cal heard the phone ring three times before a voice picked up. “Hello?” She didn’’t sound to alert.

“Yeah, hi. Um… I keep getting texts from this number. Really weird ones. Mind explaining?”

There was a pause, and Cal heard a yawn on the other end of the line. “Who is this?”

“Cal.”” Monty made a face at Cal as he said his name.

“I don’’t know a Cal.”

“I think we might have met at The Cave, on Third Avenue, maybe three weeks ago? I can’’t think of anywhere else I might have given out my number.”

“Oh! Oh my god, I’m sorry! I think… have I been texting you?”

Monty rolled his eyes. “That’s kind of what I said.”

“Oh, I'm sorry. I… I’ve been known to sleep-text. I’ll delete your number.”

Before Monty could respond, she hung up the line. Monty slammed the phone into Cal’s hands. “Guess you’ll have to find a new secret admirer, bro.”

This was written for the First Line Fiction contest that I also wrote "Pickup at the Joint" for. This was my actual entry. It didn't win.

The idea came from my friend Tara, who told me once about a friend of hers who actually does sleep-text. I couldn't resist. Also, one of the texts in this story is one of the ones her friend sleep-texted to her. Guess which one!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pickup in the Joint

“She’s a local.”

That one sentence in itself would have been enough to make any man in The Joint think twice about crossing the floor and talking to the woman. Actually, it would make any sensible man think more like a dozen times before taking that first step. There was something about women from the downtown area of Low Bluff that kept men away.

Gary ignored the advice of his friend and kept staring at her. There was something more to her, something… far-from-local. Buried deep underneath that all-too-purposefully plain appearance. A depth behind those unremarkable brown eyes, something alluring in the brain beneath that limp brunette hair, some meaning behind the unpainted fingernail she flicked at him, beckoning. So she’d noticed him looking.

Without hesitation, Gary stood.

“Did you not hear me,” Anthony said. “I said she’s local, Gary. Local!”

“Yeah, yeah, in a minute,” Gary replied, waving a dismissive hand at his friend. It took him less time to cross the floor to her table than it had to shut Anthony up.

She looked up at him, those nondescript brown eyes almost blank. “I’m Failadre.”” She almost purred her name. He was right! There was something besides those boring looks! Her voice! He wanted to drool.

“I’m interested,” he replied before he could think, sitting clumsily in the chair that wasn’t right next to her but wasn’t across from her either.

And he stared.

Failadre smiled at him occasionally, but otherwise ignored him. All the time in the world could have passed, and Gary wouldn’t have noticed a moment of it. He was lost in those ordinary features. Lost and with no hope of return, and he didn’t have a clue.

But Anthony saw. Saw the woman’s hand moving surreptitiously beneath the tabletop, saw her slowly inch her chair closer to his so she would be within arm’s reach of him, saw her bite her lip eagerly thinking about what she was about to do. Something glinted in her hand; her mouth turned from shy-looking lip-biting to a smile of surprising beauty in that unexciting face. The shiny object ever-so-slowly came closer to Gary.

There was a flick. The razor-sharp blade disappeared from sight as soon as it had done its work. A moment later, the woman was gone, out the door with her prize in tow, and Gary was on his back on the floor, bleeding and screaming, but with a faraway, entranced look still in his eyes. That look would fade, as would the bleeding eventually. The screaming… some men went years before they stopped feeling the loss.

But his tail would never come back. Anthony felt sorry for Gary, but it would have been stupid to try and interfere. She would have gotten his, too. The poachers on Low Bluff were good at what they did.

This story was written as an entry in the First Line Fiction contests some time ago. It was the first story that I did for this line, but it wasn't the story that was entered in the contest. It's a bit confusing and abrupt, I know, but I really doubt it's an idea I would pursue further, so this is it in its entirety.

Change of Plans

Well, readers, I know I promised you the epic poem The Trials of Hallac, but I have to cut off what I'm posting on here now that we've reached the end of Part II. Why?

Because it's being formatted for publishing. Can't give away the ending now, can I?

Hopefully, it will be out in paperback form like my first published work, Empeddigo, by the end of June, 2011.

For the time being, I will be returning to my previous type weekly posts, short stories. Hope you enjoy!

Also, don't forget to check out my page on facebook: A. F. Grappin's Writing. Look for updates, chatter, all that.