Minaan and the Fae King
The fall was unusual. Strange in many ways.
Of course, fall is hardly the word to use for it, as it is to do with the language of magic and time, which I assume are unfamiliar to the listener. To describe the true nature of what this particular fall is like, I will have to use far more words than you or I would like, which I do hope you forgive me for.
Falling for creatures such as I will tell you of is not like falling from a high place or the feeling at the pit of your stomach when worst comes to worst. It is like the slow progression of winter and age, the feeling taking hold in your bones before it shows on your skin. It is the feeling of giving in and letting the wind push you from your path. It is akin to forgetting, looking at familiar hands and wondering if they are truly alone.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I haven’t even told you who has fallen. Forgive me, dear listener, it has been long since I told this tale. In truth, I suppose I have been putting off telling myself.
This all aside, our story concerns Minaan, god and keeper of chaos, the trickster, and why they remain Below, rather than watching from Above as they did in the days of old.
The world was young yet, though the oldest stones and trees would tell you of an age if you had lent an ear.
Minaan had made their fun amongst the gods, delightful laughter becoming thunder as they skipped from Above down to Earth, leaving lightning in their wake as their victims raged that they had been tricked yet again.
But gods are proud creatures, as I am sure you know, and will only suffer so much before they turn wrathful. And Juval and Yahnalan, keepers of life and craftsmanship, common victims of Minaan’s trickery, had reached a breaking point. They began plotting, and it was not long before they set about their plan.
Juval and Yahnalan toiled many days and many nights, crafting a gift for the goddess of nature, Odona. Even when this gift was done, they waited yet until Minaan’s gaze again gleamed with mischief from the shadows of Yahnalan’s forge.
So it was with Minaan at their heels that they presented Odona the gift on the bank of a great river. Minaan watched from behind the clouds above, waiting for the perfect moment to step in as Juval and Yahnalan revealed the first willow tree, branches brushing the water’s surface and leaves whispering gently in the wind.
Odona loved it so deeply that she wept, and as her tears fell upon the bark, the leaves of the tree rustled and from the highest branches, a figure peered. He smiled down upon the gods below with glittering eyes, Juval’s addition to the gift revealed. He was Nianthiul, the first and king of the Fae. And Minaan was so struck by his beauty that they fell out of the cloud they were hidden in.
Nianthiul, startled, dove into the river below as Minaan fell. This is not the falling of which I spoke before, of course, but I am getting distracted.
Nianthiul swam far down the river as Minaan became tangled in the branches of the willow. Much to the delight of Juval and Yahnalan, Minaan quickly freed themself and dove after Nianthiul. At long last, Minaan was chasing rather than being chased.
The river was so great that Minaan chased Nianthiul through the end of spring, and all through summer and fall. Nianthiul as each season changed paused, and along the river and in the trees and forests beside it built the foundations of the great fae courts to mark his passage, breathing life into the clay of the riverbanks and bringing forth the growing number of the fae. And at each pause, Minaan got slowly closer. But as winter began to seep into the great river and the waters began to freeze, Nianthiul slowed, and Minaan again gained ground, catching up at long last.
Nianthiul was struck by Minaan’s determination, and, curious, paused, climbing back onto the bank of the great river. Minaan soon climbed out after them, only for Nianthiul to laugh.
“You have chased me all this time and have not said a word to me— why do you follow so closely?” said Nianthiul the bright-eyed. “I am yet new to this world, all I have known is this river thanks to you.”
Minaan, with the practised ease of a god, bowed and replied, “I only follow so that I may see such beauty as yours up close; I am Minaan, Lord of Chaos, and it is not often that one keeps my attention for so long.”
“Well then, Lord of Chaos,” Nianthiul proclaimed, “if I hold your attention so closely, when you cause such a stir that myself and my people yet again are so surprised as I was, perhaps I will leave my throne to another and take a place by your side. But not until then, dear Minaan.” And with that, Nianthiul dove yet again beneath the surface of the great river, disappearing before Minaan’s eyes as the river froze.
But Minaan grinned, challenge a thrill racing through the god’s bones as they dashed to Below, searching for the roots of the courts of the fae and for Nianthiul. They yet race through the sky and Above, thunder and lightning in their wake as they enrage the gods, much to Juval and Yahnalan’s disappointment. But to anyone with bright, keen eyes, Minaan is always distracted, ever plotting a surprise for the Fae King.
As for Nianthiul, it is his fall I discuss. For he has reigned long over the immortal Fae, travelling between the courts of the seasons so as to keep Minaan chasing at his heels. And after many long centuries, he has felt the cold of winter strong in his bones, not a comforting hiding place, but a reminder of his word. For truly, he realized that while he loved his people and his throne, he longed for the mirth and delight of Minaan to be at his side. But Fae are bound to their word— and it is not until Minaan again catches Nianthiul off-guard that the pair will be allowed to remain together.
It is not uncommon, now, that the bright-eyed king will again travel through that great river, waiting for Minaan to see him, be they Above or Below. It has been many years since they parted there, and Nianthiul knows that they cannot be caught there. He simply enjoys the thrill of the chase, watching as the lightning of Minaan barrels down from Above, or the ground drops and a waterfall is created as they reach up from Below, even as the long solitude lingers in his bones.
And so Nianthiul is the reason Minaan resides Below when they are not making victims of the gods of Above, why lightning strikes the water and tall trees, why waterfalls form. But Minaan is not the one who fell, dear listener. I am afraid that you have already grasped my meaning, one which I have long tried to avoid.
Nianthiul is the one who has fallen, and the reason one is said to fall in love— but that is a tale for another time. I can hear thunder in the distance, and I hear there is a river particularly nice for travel this time of year.
The Enchanted Ornament
“What do you mean the ornament is enchanted? That's ridiculous!” Sophie exclaimed. It was Christmas Eve, and her grandfather was telling stories again. He was wildly gesturing at a gilded black ornament. It looked old. “Magic isn't real, everyone knows that,” she clarified, not sure who she was trying to convince.
“Of course magic is real! I know that firsthand. Have I ever told you the story of the girl who didn't believe in magic?” When Sophie doesn't answer, he began his tale, a small gleam in his eye.
There once was a girl, who didn't believe in magic. She was no ordinary girl, as everyone in the day believed in magic. One day she was putting up her Christmas tree, and something most peculiar happened. In her box of ornaments, there was a black and gold ornament. This ornament was not there last year, so Marie was confused. When she told her friends, they all laughed and said that it was magic, of course! Marie thought this was absurd. She simply threw it out the next day.
The day after that, she woke up to find hundreds of these ornaments all over the house. Then she realized that someone was playing her. She suddenly heard a small sound. It was the sound of a child crying, coming from the basement.
Knowing it was fake, Marie went to confront the culprit. As soon as she opened the door, the crying stopped. She walked further down the stairs, and the door slammed shut behind her. Marie instantly knew something was wrong. Doors didn't suddenly close like that. Unless it was magic…her thoughts were interrupted by the lights flickering when a sudden scream split through the air, then went silent. If Marie wasn't already afraid, now she was.
She tried to open the door, but it was locked. Marie didn't remember a lock on this door. She had no choice but to continue down the steps, with a growing horror in her gut. When she reached the bottom, sitting in the middle of the room was a small child. The child was staring in her Marie’s direction, but did not see. Suddenly, she started to giggle, and said “I got you now” over and over. Marie was terri-
“Grandpa!” Sophie exclaimed. “You know I don't like scary stories.”
“Well, it didn’t actually go like that anyway. What really happened was that the ornament gave Marie special powers,” Grandpa finished.
“Yeah right…” but Sophie looked at the ornament with a renewed interest, forgetting all about the ominous story. “Special powers, hmm?”
The Monster and the Moon
I heard a tale once of a monster that spoke to the moon.
The monster was impossibly tall, with sharp claws and sharper teeth. It lumbered through forests and valleys, striking awe into the animals it passed. Its voice made towns tremble, villagers scrambling inside for cover. Few dared to get close to it, and fewer survived when they did.
The moon was faceless. It was so far away the monster couldn’t tell how big it was. It never spoke, nor did it growl, roar, or scream.
It was snowing the night the monster decided to ask it a question. Uneasiness settled in. No one was up there, it thought. No one will hear you. It left a trail of its massive footprints up the side of the hill. Why keep trying if there was no way to speak to it?
Still, it walked. As the night got colder and colder, as the wind blew harder and harder, the monster kept walking. It reached the top of the hill with icicles forming in its fur and shivers running over its arms. It breathed a sharp breath of air that almost hurt to take. The cold sank deeper into its skin. It sat on the stump of a tree, looking to the ground.
It was an eternity before anything happened. Empires had risen and fell, oceans had swallowed civilizations. The last true city that had stood crumbled under itself. The snow stopped falling.
The monster looked to the sky, watching parting clouds reveal the most beautiful thing in the universe. Its eyes shone brightly in the new light. If the millennia of tears in its eyes could break free, it would let them. The clouds were drifting further apart now. It could see stars—so many stars. Surely this many had never existed until now. Surely, the universe was about to end if the stars were coming so close that it could see each and every one, each and every planet that spun around them.
The moon regarded the monster coldly. The only way it could.
There was no proper greeting before the monster began speaking with its harsh, unforgiving voice.
“Will I be remembered as a creature of misery?” it asked.
“No,” said the moon. “Not with no one to remember you.” Its voice was smooth as the finest silk, as soft as the nicest breeze.
The monster sighed. It examined the stars. They seemed bigger than they’d been. No—closer.
“How much longer do I have?”
“Oh, a few days, maybe.” Without any limbs, the moon gestured to the world around them. “But look where you are now. You do not have to waste time. You can live.”
The stars were shining brightly. Almost brighter than the moon itself, stoically silent, still cold and distant as ever. It must have been curious about the world. It must have wanted to reach out to each person and hold them in its arms, to tell them they were its dearest friend. The moon knew everything that it could about the beast before it, and it was comfortable in the silence. Its light shone on that part of the world, glinting off of dew and glass, bathing a corner of the planet in a smile it would never have. If it could have reached its hand out to the monster, only for a moment, the monster would have taken it. The two of them would have glowed so much brighter than the sun would ever accept.
“Will you come down from the sky?” asked the monster, cutting through the silence. Its voice echoed slightly.
The moon thought for a moment. “I will consider it.” It paused, observing the world it had known since it was created. “If I do, it will not be soon.”
“You could be seen in the day. You could be known for more than the stars and the night.” The monster’s eyes burned. It saw the world now—endless forest and field, mountain and valley, ocean and desert. It saw ships sailing and fires burning. It saw the tallest trees being felled and the fastest animals being outrun. “You could be free.”
“I am free here.” The moon’s voice was quieter now.
The monster was quiet. It had so little to want—it was a monster. “May I join you?” it asked.
“But you are with me now,” said the moon. “You have little use for living in the sky.”
“May I join you?” it said again, louder, stepping forwards, getting no closer than it had been before.
“May I join you, and become the stars?” It reached its arm to the sky. “May I become the tides, or an asteroid, to be connected with you more than now?” It was not conscious of its feet lifting from the grass, of its hair standing on end, of its limbs moving with the wind at first, then up, farther than it had ever been. “May I join you?” The monster was now shouting against the wind.
The moon watched it come forward. It did not speak.
“Please,” said the monster. Its voice was not the same anymore. It was soft as the breeze surrounding it, propelling it upwards. “Please, may I join you?” As it rose, the moon seemed no closer than before, yet sooner than it could expect, they were together, face to face for the first time.
The moon held out a hand it didn’t have, and the monster accepted the gesture it couldn’t return. They took a step together and moved through the sky. They danced, then, for what could have been a second, or what could have been a century, or what could have never happened at all.
They looked at each other as no one else could. Above the earth, above the endless land, above the smallest footprints and the largest mountain. Above falling snow and rising creatures.
“I am sorry,” said the monster.
“I do not know what for,” said the moon.
“Your time must not be infinite. I’ve wasted it.”
At that, the moon was silent. It looked to the stars, closer around it than they had ever been before.
“If you let me go, would I fall?”
“Oh, dear,” said the moon. “I would never let you go.”
And there they danced. Aeons passed. The world rose and fell before them. The wind, the sky, the sea—all beheld their beauty. They danced closer together, holding each other in arms neither ever really had. Soon, they waltzed through the stars as one.
Winter's Chilling Grip
I hated Christmas, mostly because I had to work that day, every year. I had to work, which was nothing new… I worked year-round, on many holidays, but I always hated working on Christmas.
I slipped past children smudging frostbitten noses on the glass of stores, eyes alight with awe and wonder. I slipped quietly around a couple doing some last-minute shopping. I didn’t want to be late. When I arrived, I waited, it turned out I was early.
The whiteout blurred most of the surrounding area as small flecks of white drifted around me, swirling my ebony clothes around me. Then, suddenly in a screech of tires and the twisting of metal, a car cascaded off the road and into a tree. Hastily I moved towards what was left of the car.
I peered into the window at two small children, a boy, and a girl, grasping each other tightly, their unseeing eyes open, staring at the backs of their parent’s car seats. I reached in and pulled them from the wreckage, then moved to the parents: the woman was wailing, holding onto her husband who was unconscious but alive.
I frowned, it was a shame such a young couple had to lose children.
I turned around and saw the little girl holding her brother’s hand, both pale as the moon shining down upon us.
“Your mother will not be joining us yet,” I said, “You must be cold, come, I will take you somewhere warm,” I extended my hand and she hesitated before taking it. I lead the children into the night.
“Mister?” The boy asked, “What is your name?”
I looked down at him, “I have no name,” I said, “I am death.” I hated Christmas.
Novel Excerpt - Twisted Inksoul
"The car is ready, Mr. Inkwell."
"Thank you, Bertram."
As the butler left the study, Fauntleroy T. Inkwell turned his chair back to face the window. The city of Xenophoss never looked so tranquil. The innumerable buildings and cars speeding down the highways brought the city to life with an illuminating glow, which complimented the full moon that shone across the sea. Although the beauty left him at peace, Fauntleroy still felt a jab of anxiety in his chest. He was to reveal an earth-shattering artifact he discovered on an expedition within the Great Southwestern Rainforest a month prior. This must go swimmingly, he thought to himself. The Historical Foundation desperately needs a new exhibit in order to stay operable.
Although the stress was beginning to consume him, Fauntleroy stood up from his chair and left his desk. He glanced to his left at the fireplace, which was the sole source of light in the room. The flames danced and crackled, which reflected off of Fauntleroy's monocle. His fixation on the fireplace was gracefully interrupted by the sound of excited footsteps. Fauntleroy smiled, as he knew who was just outside his door. The study door slammed open with an audible BANG! as a young boy charged into the room. The boy wore a black paperboy cap and a messy white shirt, which was caked in dirt. He was blissfully unaware of his messiness. He was welcomed into his father's arms.
"Father, Father! I sold so many papers today!" he said with a gap in his smile.
"That's fantastic, Phileas! I'm so proud of you!" Fauntleroy replied, patting the head of his son tenderly.
"He also got into a bit of a scuffle today," another voice added. It was Fauntleroy's wife, Dorothy. She stood in the door frame with her hand in her purse, looking for a cloth. Fauntleroy got up from Phileas's level and extended his arms to greet his lovely spouse. She sashayed across the room, wiping her lips with the cloth.
"He got into a fight? And why are you wiping your face?" Fauntleroy questioned.
"You should ask him about it," Dorothy responded, looking down at her soon. He stared back with big, curious eyes. "And I'm removing my lipstick so you don't have to wash your face again;" she added, giving Fauntleroy a kiss on the cheek. He smiled and pulled his wife closer by her waist. Phileas was sick of the attention not being on him and tugged on his father's pant leg.
"Yes, what is it, my boy?"
"Look what mother got me!," Phileas exclaimed. "After I got beat up by some big kids, mother felt bad for me and took me to the antique store we like. I got this!"
Phileas held up his present for his father to see. It was a marionette, complete with a bow tie and red cheeks. Its permanently - smiling, contorted expression looked dead into Fantleroy's soul, which took him aback. He gave his son a smile anyway.
"It's very nice," Fauntleroy said. "Dorothy, we have to get going."
"Shouldn't we get Phileas cleaned up before we go?", his wife replied.
"There's no time. Phileas, try to brush some of that filth off before we get in the car," Fauntleroy instructed.
Phileas tucked his marionette into his armpit in an attempt to use both hands to clean himself off. He followed his parents out of the room and down the winding staircase, leaving a hint of a dirt trail behind him. The family made their way through the foyer and out to the driveway. The car had already started as the butler stood beside it. He gave a polite smile to the family, opening the passenger door for Dorothy. As she stepped in, Phileas took the time to show his new present to the butler as well. The butler complimented the frightening doll, not wanting to get in trouble with the boss. Fauntleroy revved the car's engine and pulled out of the driveway, leaving the oceanside estate. They were off.
Phileas took a particular liking to the city, especially during the night. As his parents discussed adult things he did not care about, he gazed out the window at all the magic Xenophoss had to offer. With his hands pressed up against the window, he was enamored at all the buildings and other bustling cars. He saw people dancing, street vendors, a mother attempting to pull her child to wherever the destination they were heading. On long car trips like these, Phileas liked to look at passers-by and make up stories about who they were based entirely on their mannerisms and outward appearance. As the family car crossed a bridge, Phileas got incredibly excited.
"Father! Mother! There's the funny sign again!" he exclaimed. He pointed at a billboard nearby, which prominently featured a large and humorous pair of wire-frame spectacles. Fauntleroy validated his son's excitement by laughing along with him.
Although Fauntleroy was with his loving family on the way to an incredibly important event held in his name, his anxiety consumed him more and more after every mile driven. He really needed tonight to run swimmingly. Before the fear could eat him up any more, they reached the Mimmingsborough Historical Foundation.
When Fauntleroy and his family entered the museum, the sheer energy of the place obliterated his previous concern almost entirely. The main exhibit hall had been temporarily converted into a sort of ballroom, complete with both the nightly festivities and artifacts lined up against nearly every surface. The family's entrance caught the attention of the other attendees, some of whom gathered to congratulate the man of the night. Fauntleroy was humbled by the investors, artists, politicians, other foundation members and their spouses that congratulated him and his work with smiles and applause. As his father soaked in the glory and appreciation, Phileas held his marionette close and hid behind his mother. The combination of the crowded place and loud music was a little overwhelming.
"Step aside, step aside I say!" a booming voice stated. The crowd shifted as the rotund man who owned the voice made his way to Fauntleroy. The hulking, balding man greeted Fauntleroy with open arms.
" Jeremiah! It's so nice to see you again, you ol' vagabond!" Fauntleroy exclaimed before succumbing to his colleague's bear hug.
" Are you ready for tonight, you Egg?!," Jeremiah responded. Fauntleroy attempted to answer the question, but his lungs were rendered useless by Jeremiah's embrace. "No answer, eh? Don't be a bluenose, tonight is our night!" Jeremiah finally let Fauntleroy breathe again and slapped him on the back of his head, knocking his monocle off. As Fauntleroy adjusted himself, his colleague turned his attention to Dorothy and Phileas.
"I am humbled to be in your presence, m'lady," Jeremiah cooed as he kissed Dorothy's gloved hand. She returned the gesture with a fake smile. Phileas hoped the large man wouldn't notice him; his voice was louder than the jazz ensemble playing as the spoke.
"Jeremiah, please tell me everything is ready. We can't afford to lose any more investors," Fauntleroy stated bluntly. Jeremiah put on a smirk as he lit a cigar.
"Relax Faunty," he responded, placing the cigar between his teeth. "My little project combined with your find will surely keep the money flowing. Any investor with a functioning brain will surely be impressed. I'll bet Head Curator Zhang will be too."
Fauntleroy's blood faded from his face. "H-H-Head Cur-C- Curator Zhang is going to be here?!," he exclaimed. "Now I'm really in the gutter! His approval is almost as important as the inves-"
"Ah, don't worry about it," Jeremiah interjected as he placed a meaty hand on Fauntleroy's shoulder. "Why don't we just get it over with now?"
"Y-Ye-Yes, we should," he responded. "But put that cigar out! Darling, please find a seat at one of the tables.," Fauntleroy asked Dorothy. She nodded and took Phileas by the hand as she led him to a nearby table. As they settled in, Jeremiah took a glass of wine and tapped it repeatedly with a spoon. The jazz ensemble's melody died abruptly, along with the conversations of the guests.
"Good evening, dear friends and figures of importance," Jeremiah boomed. "I, Jeremiah William Lebbington IV, am humbled by your presence here at the Mimmingsborough Historical Foundation. I would like to thank Head Curator Zhang for the opportunity to host tonight's event." Applause ensued as Head Curator Zhang stood up and gave a quick bow. Fauntleroy tugged at his collar.
"Tonight, we are here to showcase two new additions to the Historical Foundation. One of which is an experiment created by yours truly and the other is yet another incredible artifact found by Fauntleroy Inkwell!"
Another eruption of applause and even some cheering for Fauntleroy occurred. He gave a nervous smile in return, and he met eye contact with his wife. Her calm, warm countenance gave Fauntleroy a spark of hope. He was also put at ease when he observed Phileas, who was more interested in playing with his marionette.
Jeremiah interrupted the applause. "Judging by the overwhelming support, we are all familiar with the groundbreaking work of our man of the night. He recovered an entire tribes worth of ancient masks, the amphibious skeleton of the aptly-named 'Fauntlosaurus', and the sheer mystery of the ancient sword he found half a year ago."
Jeremiah directed everyone's attention towards a display case to his left. Within it was a large blade. A sea-green cast of metal coated over it, while the hilt was protected by what appeared to be a wheel of a ship. The absurdity of the sword confused even the most educated of the Historical Foundation members.
"What Fauntleroy has brought back from the Great Southwestern Jungle will surely amaze you," Jeremiah added. He stepped to the left, away from Fauntleroy, to reveal a table with an object covered in a large cloth. "Fauntleroy, please tell us about your find."
Fauntleroy approached the covered table and cleared his throat. "The artifact I recovered was found in a hidden room of a temple in the Great Southwestern Jungle," he announced. He removed the cloth to reveal a small jar. It was made of glass, but it was incredibly opaque due to age. The animal-skin covering on the container did nothing to mask the musty smell emanating from inside. The source of the smell was the murky, dark liquid contained within. "Unfortunately, we are not exactly sure yet what this substance was used for," Fauntleroy added. "However, this is a groundbreaking find, even though it may seem minuscule compared to my other discoveries. This glass container is a very substantial leap forward in the understanding of our ancestors!" he exclaimed. This concluding statement prompted a wave of applause and a nod of approval from Head Curator Zhang. Fauntleroy had never felt prouder.
The pride in his heart faded as Jeremiah put his hand on Fauntleroy's shoulder, pushing him aside. "That was very nice indeed, Fauntleroy. Moving on, the next big reveal originates from nowhere but yours truly."
"You told me you had a team of seven helping you," Fauntleroy interjected. Those who heard him chuckled, including Dorothy and Phileas. Jeremiah shot daggers back at him for a moment and put on a cheesy smile when he faced the audience. "Pardon my colleague, ladies and gentlemen. This next surprise does not exactly originate from any decaying temple or sunken ship, mind you. Rather, it is a product from our heavily underfunded Science and Inventions Division." As Jeremiah said this, three staff members pushed a large, obstructed object from what seemed like thin air next to Jeremiah. It nearly knocked over the pedestal Fauntleroy's jar was placed on. As soon as the object was perfectly in place, Jeremiah ripped off the tarp with some dramatic flair. The reveal made the entire museum hall gasp.
Jeremiah's project was a cylindrical, 9-foot tall metal obstruction that could have been mistaken for some sort of refrigerator. A tangled mass of cables, clocks, and wires protruded from the grooves circling the top of the object. Dials and buttons seemed to be plastered over the sides as some mischievous child glued them on miscellaneously. The front of the object was made of curved glass, but a cloudy vapor blocked what was inside.
"This machine has taken over a year to be even presentable. Numerous automobiles, donated scrap metal, and even some military-grade parts from warplanes and tanks were used. It may appear to be some kind of deranged piece of artwork, but, ladies and gentlemen, this is no more than a time-bending device," Jeremiah dramatically stated.
This ignited a few moments of loud murmurs and objections. A random guest stood up from his chair and announced, " Heresy! Nothing of that sort could ever be created!" Jeremiah stopped him before anyone else could interject. "Sir, please let me finish my presentation," he stated bluntly. "Now, I suppose I over-exaggerated a bit when I said my little device could alter time and space itself. This is nothing like the absurd fantasies you may see in the picture shows. Rather, this machine has the ability to halt all bodily functions by freezing whoever may step inside. Doing so will halt aging and time will pass. The subject will wake up and function again at whatever time in the future or past that he will desire!"
The story continues...
To continue enjoying Twisted Inksoul, find the novel-in-progress on Wattpad under Noah's username Reindersaster, or simply by clicking here.
Leaving the Forest
When Louise woke up, earlier than she’d wanted, she noticed that the ukulele wasn’t tucked under her arm but rather loosely against her leg. She dismissed the thought as she stretched her arms over her head. She noticed as she brought her arms back to her sides, that indents matching the strings of the instrument were pressed into her arm. Some could be explained by pressing that could happen during sleep, but others couldn’t. The leaves in her brown hair could be explained by sleep. The bruises on her arm could only be formed by someone trying to pull the instrument out of her grasp and thus scraping it against her arm.
She pressed the instrument against her chest and she scrambled to her feet. Her heart started racing like last night, when she had first found the instrument, but for a completely different reason. Her eyes darted across the forest, searching for other signs of life. As the moon faded and daylight danced upon the grass and illuminated the leaves of the trees, she noticed butterflies flying from an array of different flowers. She noticed worms squirming in the wet earth. She noticed ducks swimming further off in the larger body of water the brook emptied into. She noticed the faint glow of the instrument laying against her leg. Yet, she noticed nothing that would’ve tried to steal the instrument from her.
She checked her arm again. The indents were still there. Something had happened last night. She held the instrument out in front of her as her fingers tucked around its handle.
As the crashing of water against the rocks grew quieter, her shoes set off towards the bare dirt instead of the grass currently brushing against the marked up tired leather of her boots. Her surroundings grew darker as she entered the dark part of the forest. The trail steepened as she hiked upwards, her gaze fixed on the tall trees ahead of her rather than the makeshift campsite a few meters to the side of the path.
Instead, the voice in her head kept repeating I have to get out of here. Must leave now. Can’t be here if they come back. Can’t be here any longer. Leave.
Louise brushed the outer side of her palm against the trees she passed and made sure her hands were never too far from a branch in case a muddy spot was coming up. As the forest gave way to the edge of the village, she noticed a figure walking towards her swaying side to side with each step. And with an axe clutched in the middle of their chest.
Her eyes widened, and a part of her wished to scream.
But as always, no sound came out.
The end of the forest drew near as tension in her shoulders grew. Leave, her mind continued to urge. As she came closer and closer to the edge of the forest, Louise could pick out the features of the figure. First of all, despite the axe, the figure was feminine. Dark skin illuminated by the warm glow of the forest clearing. Eyes even darker. Her lips were pulled into a smile that lacked threat but rather seemed to be a midpoint position for a tune she was humming. Curls grown out yet tightly woven to cover the girl’s scalp were garnished by the petals of flowers staying in place despite the light wind.
The girl wore a reddish woven tunic that covered her flat chest and pulled snugly against her sculpted biceps and shoulders. The dark pants were looser and went all the way down and covered the top part of her brown boots. Louise looked away before she could feel herself staring at the parts of the girl that weren't holding an axe. Eventually, after reminding herself of the axe, her gaze fell back on the girl’s eyes as they both approached the forest boundary.
While the girl entered the forest with ease, Louise found herself hesitating over her decision to leave.
Her legs found it easy to leave. The boots were happy to find gravel and then, later, cobblestone. However, a pressure exerted itself against her chest, keeping her top half back. Her elbows grew tired and the tension in her shoulders grew. She stopped her steps in favor of preventing whiplash from the half body movements. Tears started to form in her eyes forcing her to clamp down her eyelids.
As the girl entered the forest, she stopped in her tracks at the sight of Louise unable to move forward. Before she knew it, the axe had dropped to rest at her side with ease and she was walking towards her, smiling, still genuine and somehow softer. She had stopped humming.
“Are you all right, miss?”
The girl gripped her axe harder so as not to accidentally drop it or scrape it against her leg, which although covered, would not be immune to injury.
Glaring forward at the invisible boundary that her torso struggled to cross, Louise jerked her head to the right. A silent no, everything is not all right.
“Can I help you?”
Louise opened her eyes and looked at the girl once more.
She then looked down at her ukulele pressed against her chest and the indent at the top nearest to her shoulders. An idea came to her mind.
She drew her hands back, pressing her fingers tightly along the shape of the ukulele. She whipped her arms forward and let go of the ukulele with her fingers, letting it soar forward. The girl watched the ukulele in the air. As it sailed past the forest boundary, it crashed into the gravel. While in the air, the pressure increased on the instrument and dents formed on every side and surface of the ukulele. A few strings broke under the pressure, evoking an off-key chang! sound. Louise’s eyes teared up again before tears rolled out and down her cheeks. She raced towards the forest boundary, no weight on her body no more.
“Instrument too heavy, huh?”
Louise looked back at the girl, the broken instrument at her feet, and found herself rid of the urge to glare at her. The tears were still coming and the playful expression on the girl’s face vanished. Louise sat herself on the ground to the side of the instrument, not caring about the gravel painfully indenting against the soft side of her leg. It really was a poor decision to wear shorts. However, Louise found herself laughing nevertheless a moment later. The instrument hadn’t been heavy at all, except when crossing the threshold. Perhaps, that was what made it funny.
And now, it was destroyed.
“I’ll take that as a no. Well, I’m so sorry about your instrument-” the girl walked towards Louise and the broken instrument.
She set the axe on the ground and held out her palms in front of her chest--a gesture meant as “I won’t harm you, don’t worry”. Stepping to the side to avoid stepping on the sharp side of the blade, the girl dropped one of her palms and extended the other to Louise, an offer to help her off the ground. Louise squinted and took the hand, letting the girl raise her to her feet. There were calluses on the girl’s fingers, probably from long hours of gripping the axe’s handle. A million questions popped into Louise’s head.
Instead of asking them, Louise let go of the girl’s hand.
“What’s your name? Maybe I could see about getting you a new instrument.”
Louise shook her head.
“You don’t want another one?”
Louise’s eyes widened. She shook her heard at a greater rate and gestured to her throat. Her mind struggled to think of a clearer signal to express that she couldn’t speak. The girl in front of her tilted her head and widened her eyes. Her gaze grew in intensity-clearly confusion.
Louise bit her lip as it came to her. She gestured to her mouth, mimicked talking with her hands, and once again shook her head. For good measure, she did a crossing motion with her hands to get the gesture across.
“Oh! You don’t talk. I get it now, and feel kinda stupid it took me that many gestures. Gosh, I really am dense.”
Louise found herself letting out another laugh. The sound of her voice surprised her and it had been so long that she had forgotten the disconnect between how she sounded out loud and how she sounded in her head.
“I’m Margaret. Normally I’d say call me Margie, but I don’t think it’d make a difference. Since you can’t-”
Margie’s sentence dissolved into her own nervous laughter as Louise raised her eyebrows at her. Margie started to speak again but gave into hesitation and let her body attempt to shrink into herself. Her head turned allowing her gaze to fall down to the axe behind her and then to the ukulele a few feet away from her, completely destroyed.
“But you do want a new instrument, right? Because not to brag but I’m pretty good with wood.”
Louise laughed again as she and Margie started walking back in the direction of town.
No Way Home
Edgar Allan Crow (anonymous submission)
I stare out into the vastness of space and reminisce on when I had last been home. It’s been six damn years. The mission wasn’t even supposed to last three, but we ran into complications. Around a year and a half, communication ties were broken from our base. Don’t ask me how, because I don’t know; We were never able to fix it. Call me an optimist but I still hold on to hope that one day I can return home, hug my little girl. She’d be ten now, I hope she remembers me. And my wife, I long to see her again.
The glass reflects my features back to me, the same sandy blonde hair my baby has, but not the same chocolate eyes that she has, mine are green.
I’m broken from my trance when the lights in the hallway start flickering. That’s the fourth time this week, don’t even get me started on how many times it’s happened in the last month, but it has gotten even more frequent. I give one last look out the window, hoping to see our home planet. When I realize that won’t happen, I turn away and head to the electrical turmoil.
When I get there, I’m a little spooked. I see a figure standing, facing away from the entrance, staring at the open control panel. I switch on the flashlight on my hip and the beams reflect off the uniforms we all wear but based on the height and doodles on the helmet I know who this is. Anna.
Anna hasn’t been her usual self, but none of us could blame her after what happened to her. I should’ve done the stupid mission instead of her, but she insisted with a smile and a wink that it was only fair that she pulled her own weight around here. We tethered her to the chute and sent her out of the ship with a camera. We hadn’t quite landed on this mystery planet, but we had gotten close enough to get visuals to make sure it would be safe.
Anna was laughing, joking, talking to us. Then we heard a scream. Then the comm went dead. We panicked. We tried to reach her but there was no response. I ran to the chute and I wheeled her back in, praying to God that she was still on the other end. Finally, I feel tension telling me her body is still there, still connected, at the very least. I pull the last bit of tether into the chute, grabbing Anna’s limp body, and closing the door to the outside.
I rush Anna to our medical bay and lay her on one of the beds, ripping off her helmet and checking for signs of life. I feel for her pulse in her neck. I wait. It’s there, I can feel it, and I listen to her chest to hear breathing signs. It’s shallow, but also there. I scream her name and try to shake her awake. She doesn’t respond.
It had been two days before she came around, but she seemed different. She didn’t speak. She didn’t eat. For the most part, she kept her helmet on at all times, but we all thought this would pass, or that she was scared of whatever was out there with her would return. We didn’t push it.
Staring at her now, I can’t help but wonder if that was the right decision. The lights shut completely off reminding me of my goal at hand, and I grab the flashlight from my tool belt and flick in on in her direction, which still has no reaction. I walk up to her and nudge her slightly, and move in front of the wires to fix them, holding the flashlight with my mouth.
“You know, Anna,” I speak while reconnecting the wires that have been mismatched, “I really like grilled cheese. Space food? Not really my thing. But maybe, one day, when we get back to Earth, I can take you to lunch to get food? Talk through everything?” No response. I almost have the wires done, and talking with a flashlight in my mouth is pretty uncomfortable, so I decided to just finish it before continuing on.
My ears pick up on a noise coming from behind me, the sound of a sort of whistle of something going quickly through the air. I turn in time to see Anna lunging towards me with a knife. Thank god for my fight or flight instincts, because I dodge out of the way as she thrusts her knife into the control panel, making the lights shut off completely, except for that of the red emergency lights which are accompanied with a blaring alarm that pieces my ear drums.
“Anna, what-” I never finish my sentence. Her visor opens to reveal that what may have once been Anna is no longer. Her veins are prominent, but have turned a sickening green color, with her eyes rolled into the back of her head so that only the whites of her eyes can be seen. I swallow my scream and dart for the door trying to formulate a plan. Maybe I could find the others, tell them, and figure out some way to get our Anna back. Maybe, but for right now I had to survive, keep the others alive, and find a way to isolate her.
The only hope we have is that the Captain’s Chambers will still have some emergency functionality since the power has been cut, and we’ll be able to shut and lock the doors. I sprint through the halls, the reverberation sound of hollow metal following me as I go, hoping to see anyone, praying that maybe this is all some twisted dream.
Searing pain goes through my leg as I go tumbling to the ground, knocking the breath clear out of my lungs. I take a glance down to see the knife that had once been wedged in our control panel now sticking out of my calf with red blood clinging to it and the floor. I don’t notice Anna standing there until her hand comes down ripping the blade from out of my skin again, causing me to gasp in agony. She’s standing over me with a blank expression, but I can guess what is about to happen.
“Anna, please. I know you’re in there. Come back to us. We still have to make it home and we can do that without you. Think of my little girl, Anna. My wife. I can’t leave them never knowing what happened to me. Anna-” That’s the last thing I say before she buries the knife into my chest. Tears pull in my eyes from the blinding pain, as my life flashes before my eyes.
I try one last time.
“Anna, please.” The knife comes quickly out of my chest, leaving me gasping on the floor, as I see the visor of her helmet close, and she walks away as my world goes dark.
The New Mission
Edgar Allan Crow (anonymous submission)
A man walks slowly towards the tiny airport on the peninsula of Florida. The greeter can hear and feel the loud thuds of steel toe boots coming towards him. The greeter opens the door for a tall, muscular man, wearing an Army shirt, black jeans, and big and worn boots. The man meets up with the other three men of his squadron, and they are quickly on their way onto the tarmac. They all set their large backpacks full of equipment and guns into the storage section of the bushplane. As they hop in the small side doors, the plane leans and squeaks. They can hear their bags and guns clanking around in the small space behind their seats when they move around. The pilot for the trip hops in, and starts the plane up immediately. The rotor starts spinning up, and the entire plane starts shaking. As the pilot starts going down the runway, the men are getting tossed around as if in a bottle being shaken. The rivets sound like they are falling out underneath them.
Once they get up to flying altitude, the pilot hands each of them an envelope with the words “CONFIDENTIAL” written across with an old style stamp. They all open them fairly quickly to find out where this mission will be, and what the objective is. As they all unfold the paper, it crinkles in their hands. Along the top of the letter, it reads “Operation Kingslayer”, and underneath it, “Area of Operations: Bolivia”. They each look around at each other, none of them knowing each other's names or call signs.
The muscular man is a weapons specialist and has served two tours in Iraq, and one in Afghanistan. He has experienced many styles of fighting, and is highly skilled in the field. He has been entrusted with the most important, confidential mission the US has ever part taken in- clearing a cocaine cartel from an entire nation. He goes by the call sign “Spade.” even his own teammates don't know his real name. The second fighter is a drone specialist, who was top of his class in MIT, knowing all there is to know about digital electronics, and the ins and outs to his own drones. He was recruited by the Army specifically for this mission, and he's been training for months. He goes by the call sign “Wire”, and he will be Spade's best man in reconnaissance. Thirdly is a pilot who has over 20 years in the Air Force, and can fly anything he is put into. He has been in over 5,000 training operations, and is given the keys to whatever aircraft he wants. His call sign he's been assigned is “Eagle”. Lastly is a sniper who is the best America has to offer. He's said to have never missed a shot, and has over 300 confirmed kills, and over a 1000 unconfirmed. He's so dangerous that the US has had to put him on a watchlist, just in case he were to go AWOL. On the mission he will be known as “Tracer”.
These four men are all America has put into this operation, and they will not take credit for the job once it is done. It's done by stealth, and nobody shall know the cartel is falling, until it is completely done. All four of them are highly trained, and even with the skills they have, they aren’t ready for what lies ahead of them.