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Smack dab in the middle of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales sat the Isle of Man, the birthplace and home of the world’s most dangerous race and the scene of retribution for Aron. He’d spent the last forty months recovering from his last attempt at the track, when he and his bike had been forced to leave early due to a severe right knee misplacement and tibia fracture on the fourth lap; the bike hadn’t been so lucky. He and Marcus, his team’s official navigator and his bestfriend of twenty-two years, stood silenty soaking up the scenic excitement of the grandstand; it was an eruption of personalities: skirted race girls bounced about, repping various teams and organizations with their glimmering outfits, team and race officials speed walked to and from, conducting last minute checks and inspections, competitive intrigue and thrilling possibiliy grew uncontrollably and threatened to burst from each of the rider’s insides.
Aron rubbed the fuel tank that sat just below his chest. The 650cc, twin-cylinder, light-weight classed feat of race engineering that he sat atop was prepared for the mountainous adventure that lay ahead; he prayed one last time, hoping that he was ready as well. The third-signal sounded, instructed everyone that the race was fifteen minutes from starting.
“Six laps man…”, Marcus began his pep talk, “…you got this. You’ve done a hundred, this is just six. Watch your RPM’s going into Ramsay…Don’t forget the Black Dub…”
“How could I forget…”, Aron suggested, alluding to his near-career-ending crash. The Black Dub was a stretch of the course accented by low overhanging branches that created a strobe affect on the course, greatly limiting visibility.
“Look don’t think about. Block it all out…”, Marcus was losing the edge he needed to give an inspirational speech. “You know what, I’m gonna give you some time…get outta your hair…”, He tapped the radio crowning his head. “I’ll still be in your ear though!”
Their hands slapped together in the original handshake they’d perfected over the years. Aron remained silent, watching his friend walk off and step over the low fence that separated the track from the teams and bystanders. The number nine plastered Kawasaki shook rythmically with his body as he twisted left and right, stretching his lower back. He leaned down, practicing his race posture and envisioning the course in his mind.
Time and space seemed to dissapear as he got lost in daydreaming, it felt as if no time had passed at all before he noticed the grandstand beginning to empty and clear out. The fourth signal was sounding. Leaving the only the race officials, riders and their machines of fury on the track alone; every competitor prepared to move to the start line.
“Ready?!”, Marcus came across the comms device, “You’ll be fourth out the hole…”. The navigator instructed in compliment to movement happening on the track.
The riders were beginning to be ushered to the starting point, they’d all start the time-trial race sequentially — meaning Aron would have a forty-second, nerve wracking, focus blistering, heart pounding wait after the first rider began the race.
As he sat in the fourth position of the exit gate queue, Aron rocked his bike and shook out his limbs. He wasn’t aware but Marcus always noted how he repeated the same pre-race motions, it was the same routine Aron had been doing since they were a motocross race team back in Arizona during their teen years. Marcus had told Aron about the sretching and moving routine of his one time before, but Aron had brushed him off not convinced he really did the exact same motions before each race. He did.
While rotating his he head and neck the first rider erupted from the exit gate. The race had begun. Loud cheering roared from the collection of onlookers and supporters. Aron clapped with excitement and energy, he heard the loud shout, “Whooooo” from a few racers behind him and still others feathered their throttles.
The second rider shot out of the gate.
He was after-next up, nothing could break into his zone now. All sounds and distractions outside of the track vanished from his perception. Six Laps.
“This would be much easier if you weren’t determined to keep your encoding chip program running…”, Morzing stated as he helped Kisa up for the nine-hundred and eighty seventh time. He was keeping count.
“If I’m going to do this I’m not going to look like a…like a….”, The words froze on her tongue.
Morzing, Kisa’s mentor since she’d been brought back to Mars, grimaced, waiting for the next nasty insult. Kisa had begun developing a reputation as race traitor — she was the only one of ‘the returned’ to refuse to turn her encoding program off, instead choosing her human appearance over her true Martian self. And lackadaisically completing her re-integration classes and training sessions. “Well…go on…don’t stop now on account of me.” Morzing capitolized on Kisa’s hesitation, stroking the snout of the Chiparu she was failing to mount. “I heard about your unseemly outburst during training today. Not the actio–“
“Look I didn’t ask to be your princess!” Kisa snapped, cutting him off. She then yanked the Chiparu’s mane towards her feet a bit too aggresively for it or Morzing’s liking. “Again.” She demanded, although she detested all of Martian culture up to this point, there was something about learning to ride Chiparu’s that spoke to her determination.
Chiparus were tremendously beautiful creatures, a myriad of colors and almost appearing trasnparent under certain lights. Kisa would describe them as “looking like bubbles” when she first laid eyes on one of the creatures. The Chiparu was a three-legged steed, two in front and one massive hind leg, designed for digging into the harsh, hard, sandy terrain of the planet. According to Martian history and culture the Chiparu was one of the most ancient, native inhabitants of the planet; It was considered a rite of passage to ride one throughout the canyon range, Valles Marineris. The manes of the Chiparus were extendable and allowed riders a sidecar seated position to steer the huge creature.
Kisa stepped up onto the thick fold of hair and grabbed hold of the saddle, pulling down roughly, signaling for the Chiparu to begin stride. Tugging both saddle ropes commanded of the Chiparu more speed, they rounded the first pylon with a right turn as she pushed the corresponding strap down, yanking the Chiparu’s snout in the inteded direction. The Chiparu leapt over the barrier that followed the first turn, it was exhilirating, the sun burnt air grazed her face before they came thudding down in a dust producing slam back onto the Mar’s surface. The next training pylon was the difficult 180-degree left turn, Kisa braced and prepared. She yanked the Chiparu’s snout with the left strap, it started smoothly but as soon as it felt like she would make it, she lost her grip once again and went tumbling away from the galloping steed.
Morzing raced over to help the betrodden princess to her feet.
“I got it! I got it!”, Kisa barked out, upset at herself for falling once again.
“The texture of your human hands is not adequate for a proper grip…” Morzing began his lecture.
“Don’t.”, Kisa leered.
“Getting better!” Came a shout from the far end of the training grounds. It was her father, Emperor Kr’Khofa, issuing his words of encouragement as he strode towards her and Morzing.
“Your highest one.” Morzing bowed, so deep his tentacles brushed the ground. He elbowed Kisa’s thigh to show the same respect for her father.
In tow with the Emperor were his ever present advisors and Prince Kr’Jati — who strutted with an air of superiority; Kisa could feel his disdain for her refusing to readily accept their culture.
“I bring great news…” Kr’Khofa relieved them of their bows with a hand placed upon each of their shoulders, “…your husband has been recovered.”
“My husband?!” Kisa coughed, “I’m not married….”
“Oh but you are…”, the Emperor corrected. “Come. You will be one of the first to greet him…”
Kisa and Morzing followed as commanded, joining the pack of followers that trailed the Emperor. Kisa made sure to distance herself from the pompous prince.
The ever-instructing mentor, Morzing took the stroll as an oppurtunity to inform the distraught Kisa of her engagement. “At birth, royal members are ajoined to their mates of matrimony. As law once each of pair reach their twenty-fifth birthday the consumation is completed. Congratulations…”
“Wow…thanks.”, Kisa mumbled.
Groggily regaining consciousness, Aron yelled out in terror at the figure that leaned over him with a metallic instrument held over his face. Aron smacked the medical tool from the creatures hand and scrambled away. He toppled off of the gurney and fell with a hard smack into the gleaming silver floor. Traction betrayed his fingers and nails as he clambered for an escape against the slippery surface, soon he found that he was able to anchor his posture on the balls of his feet and he bolted, heading any where but where he had been. Aron slammed into a gurney, spilling a tray of sharp tools and prodders.
“Please…please! Stop, sir!”.
The creature being able to speak just drove more fear into Aron’s sporadic actions. His back pressed against a glass cabinet, Aron felt cornered and reacted accordingly. He reached down and grasped the first thing his hands could grab hold of and launched it at the oncoming tentacled being. A direct-hit. The creature crumbled to the floor under the impact of hollow metal container and its liquid contents drenched the aliens body in a foul stench. Aron wasted not a moment in seizing his opportunity to flee. He burst out of the open door on the opposite side of the operation room and slipped yet again on the tractionless floor, bumping into several more of the odd tentacled creatures in doing so. He scrambled away, crawling up to his feet using the wall as a brace.
The hall was long and wide enough for his wild flailing arms and gait to pick up speed until he was sprinting down the hall. Shouts and yells ordering him to stop knicked at his heels as more of the creatures gave chase. Aron shoved aside any that stepped out to try and stop him; most of them were caught unawares as he made his escape. He leapt over a shorter one and pushed open a round door. Gasping sharply as the dry, sand-filled air forced its way into his lungs.
As much of shock as he saw in her face, he was sure he wore the same expression. He tried to grab her arm as he fled away from the group of tentacled beings that she was with, but his grip failed and he crashed into the ground. With no time to waste he broke out into a scrambling sprint yet again. The girl was on her own…
“Who was that?!” Kisa asked as her and the rest of the entorauge watched the fleeing man.
“Your husband….”, responded the jaded Kr’Jati with a smirk.
The poem spread, shook and bounced around Kam’s imagination as he absent-mindedly bounded the long hallway towards the library, also known as HQ. He had been in what Marvin insisted was training for the past nine weeks; Kam didn’t quite agree with Marvin’s ‘training’ methods to say the least. Over the past month and a quarter, he’d somehow managed to survive several encounters with giants, both kind and aggressive; been a diplomatic advisor to a countless number of talking animals and other fairy tale creatures; and above all, the most extraordinary event was being a part in a dinosaur wrangling mission. Marvin had refused to help do anything physical during the latter expedition on grounds of training purposes. Apparently, these had all been previously completed missions that the Order maintained solely for training. In addition to the practical training, Kam had been required to pile the additional duties of learning the history, purpose and structure of The Order onto his already overwhelming class load. Fortunately, over the past week he’d been able to pass the written exams and limit how much of a fool he made Marvin appear to be to his peers. After exiting the blue beard story when they first met, Marvin had gone on raving and boasting to the other senior members of the secret faction how he’d lucked into a prodigy — How Kam would shoot up the ranks, allow them all to retire with peace of mind and lead the Order into a new era. Days later Kam would fail the pre-requisite entry-exam. It took him another attempt to solve an average amount of the brain teasers and riddles used to screen candidates and four tries to finally pass the physical fitness portion of the test. His trials and tribulations while I.S. (In Story) was a whole other nightmare for Marvin to be ashamed of. But through it all Kam had remained persistent in effort and so the head librarian had not given up on him either, they were both better than they were nine weeks ago. Now Kam walked towards the final test, neither of them knew the story that would be chosen; but Marvin knew all too well that it would be real and that it would be dangerous.
With the poetic words of McFarlane floating his mind into the clouds of motivation and inspiration Kam didn’t notice the trip wire set specifically for him. As graceful as a whale tap dancing on a pinhead, the Order recruit crashed into the freshly pine-sol-polished wood floor. His surroundings went from a myriad of conversations and faces that could careless of his presence to a fully Kam directed out roar of laughter and walls of pointed fingers.
The scornful eyes of Amelia “Jazz” Traceon found him as he picked himself up. The embarrassment was not something he was built to register as important, but the hurt in her eyes wasn’t ignorable.
Unbeknownst to either of them until Marvin revealed the news, Kam had taken her spot as the chosen candidate for the Order. Their cute, butterfly-inducing, growing crushes of one another came to a screeching halt in that moment.
Now the only student in the entire school, other than his sister, who had recognized his presence, hated his guts. Perfect.
Amelia collected the thin tripping rope around her fist, never breaking eye contact. She made a point to step on each of Kam’s books and loose papers that had been strewn across the floor as she walked away. No one moved to assist, from the outside looking in, Kam was sure the entire scene looked like the episode of an ex-couple. If only the viewers knew how untrue that really was.
He’d have to reprint his essay about the climate crisis’ effect on the audio sensory abilities of polar bears before he left the library. It now featured a prominent size-nine shoe print on the thesis page.
With his flappy, single-shoulder strapped bag back fully loaded he continued on his journey. Within the span of twenty feet, a left turn, followed by thirteen and a half paces, he leaned his forearm into the large library double doors and made his way to the head librarians office. If anyone asked, he had been instructed to tell them he was a librarian apprentice; which by all accounts was a great line: Not only as it wouldn’t be far from the truth, but also because no one ever noticed him enough to force him to use it. The ultimate pre-rehearsed line for an anti-social introvert of Kam’s level. He loved it. A librarian’s apprentice. Although sometimes Marvin actually made him do work for the library, it was a great cover up for his apprenticeship into the Order.
Kam stepped into the office without knocking and found it empty for the first time in nine weeks. He plopped down into the first available seat facing the large oak desk and unlatched his satchel, allowing it and its contents to spill without a single care given. Kam sat slouched, relaxed, unaware he was being observed; he glanced around the large office, tilting his head at the canted Townes’ piece that hung above the bookcase. Usually the frame was completely straight, ninety degrees perpendicular to the bookshelf; he remembered seeing Marvin ogling at the silhouetted woman in the painting before. An odd coincidence, he figured, after studying the tilt for some time.
A few moments of twiddling thumbs turned into flopping his feet lazily around the rug, abstracting Marvin’s office in tandem with the unbalanced pattern. With boredom grabbing hold of his attention fast, Kam unsheathed his phone and started to send a checking-in text to Amira. It was odd for him not to have heard from her before her 1030 AM class started. She knew he had a very serious task scheduled for the day and must’ve not wanted to distract. As Kam’s thumbs began to peg away at the glass mobile screen it was snatched out of his grasp.
“Hey!”, he called out in protest.
“Are you kidding me Kam?!” Marvin chastised striking a rigged hand out towards the tilted oil painting. “You can’t have been so unaware you missed the biggest clue in the room!”
“No I saw it…” Kam declared.
Exasperating in response, Marvin tried to console his rising frustration, “You…s–saw…you saw it?!?!?!” He rubbed his face with the palm of his hand and looked away and up at nothing but the ceiling. “You saw it….and then what?”
“What do you mean?”
At that, Marvin rubbed his face with both hands.
“So…this is your protege, Marv’?”, a calm female voice questioned from behind Kam. “Pas ce que j’attendais.”
“Hey I know you…”, Kam interjected. “Madame Alice Laurent, ‘Le livreur’…I’m Ka–”
“Mr. Okoro.”, She accepted the handshake from Kam, “I’ve heard much about you. And I must say you have not instilled in me the confidence my colleague has for you…”. She left his jaw and hand hanging as she snatched away to face Marvin. “A pity.”
Marvin shot Kam a reprimanding look; daggering eyes accompanied by a half snarl and insistent gesturing towards the painting, as the woman of France brushed past his shoulder and paced around the office. Marvin snapped back to attention when she turned back around to face him.
“Tu es sur de lui?”, she asked Marvin.
“I assure you Alice…” Marvin spoke in English, pulling Kam into the conversation and trying to ignite a fire of confidence in his young pupil. “…place him in a story and you’ll see what I see. He’s got it. Trust me. Fais-moi confiance.”
Alice drew closer to Marvin, almost eye to eye if she’d been a few inches taller. She exhaled and blinked slowly before pulling away, “Ne me fais pas ridicule…..again.”. She reached into her purse and paused, again finding Marvin’s eyes. “You will not like what they have chosen. Perhaps you would like to leave the room…”
“I will not be leaving my own office Alice, go on…he can handle it…”, Marvin smirked.
“It’s not him I’m worried about…” she said pulling the worn leather bound book from her bag.
Marvin turned away, hiding his face as she placed the novela onto the desk before them.
Kam stepped forward, trying to get a better look at it as she unlatched the buckle that held its pages together. Behind the front cover Alice revealed a quill, she placed it beside the old, open book and stepped back. Kam couldn’t help but notice the slight grimace on her face when she looked up towards his teacher.
Alice cleared her throat, “When you are ready, you will sign the book…”
“Okay…”, Kam leaned towards the desk.
“NO!!!”, her hand was much stronger than he’d anticipated as Alice slammed a back hand into his chest, stalling his movement with lightning reflexes.
“What are ya doin’?”, Marvin spoke up, still creasing at the bridge of his nose. “How many times did I tell you….can’t do it in front of me…”
“Yeah…yeah…that’s right…”, Kam confessed, looking down with a lack of confidence. Nervousness habitually made him rash and impulsive, a product of trying to overcome them.
The head librarian placed a hand on his pupil’s shoulder. “S’alright kid…”, Marvin’s somber, consoling tone took Kam by surprise. “Can you give us a sec, Alice?”
“Indeed. My time is done here anyways…I’ll see myself out…”
“No, no, no. Nonsense….I’ll walk you out…”, Marvin shuffled to catch up to the fast moving Alice, “Sit tight Kam, I’ll be right back…”
Kam slammed his back into the armchair, intensely focused on the blank book and quill that remained on the desk. Anxiety began to run rampant throughout his imagination. He sat unmoving and had to remind himself to blink. It was like watching water boil. The book taunted him with its stillness. Called to him with it’s mystery. Through it’s being it began to convince him that the waiting was part of the test, that to prove his mettle he had to sign it. Now or never. Alice didn’t have confidence in his operative skills, he could show her, right there and now that he meant business. That he was the real deal. He stepped out of the seat in haste and reached for the quill. It shook in his hands. Kam couldn’t quite hold it’s tip steady over the blank page as a bead of sweat plopped down and rolled into the middle crevice of the open book.
“What the hell are ya doin’?!” Called Marvin as he re-entered the office.
Kam dropped the quill and stepped away from the leather tome. “I…I-uh…I don’t know….”
“Sit down.”, Marvin commanded while pushing Kam’s shoulder down until the young man plopped back down into the armchair.
“Did I fail the test…”, Kam thought out loud to Marvin.
“You haven’t taken the test…what are you talking about?”, Marvin avoided contact with the book as he cornered his desk and took up his own seat. He pressed his hands against the side of his face, running each finger up to his temples and back down together and across his mouth, before continuing with them in a prayer like position, inches away. “Listen…just sit down. Shut up and listen. Okay…?”
Kam sat back, “Okay.”
“Okay…”, Marvin exhaled loudly, “This book…..it…uh….my….agh…my uh…”. A tear began to trail from his left eye, but the speedy librarian was able to swipe it away quickly.
Kam refused the urge to ask if Marvin was okay, he knew when the pain a man felt was much better left undisturbed.
Marvin pushed up from his desk, paced the room and just remained standing, staring out at the parking lot from the long, narrow, floor to ceiling window that dominated one corner of his office.
Kam waited patiently. There were no kind enough words to say in this situation to allow a lane for Marvin’s pain to flow freely. The serious mood began marinating in his mind; sombering the anxiety and fear he felt and morphing them into the motivation he would need to make Marvin proud.
Finally it came pouring out of him, “This book Kam…this book…it has broken everything I ever was. They sent this on purpose….to test me…”, he slammed a palm into the thick glass. “To test me…”, he gritted the words. “My daughter…..she’s in there….”, he pointed at the book without looking at it.
The pause was too long for Kam to remain silent, “I…I–I’m so–”
“Don’t say that….”, Marvin cut him off. “…just…uh….just come back….go…..GO!!!!!”
Kam snatched the book and quill off the oak desk and darted out of the office.
She had been hiding in the closet for him to return from the library for over an hour; but when Amira saw the determination and fear in his demeanor she thought better of revealing herself so soon. She watched as he slammed and shoved his desk clean, making room for the strange book. Amira knew what was coming next and she patiently waited, watching his every move. Studying even.
Not even a scribble or scratch from the quill appeared as he tried to sign his name onto the page. Amira realized he was missing something as well…ink. It appeared to have donned on him the very instant she thought of it herself: Kam poked his palm with the quill and signed. Amira was in shock as the bright light emitted from the pages of the book and engulfed her older brother. He vanished milliseconds later and only the book remained.
Amira stepped out of the closet slowly, she didn’t quite know why she paced so sneakily towards the book in an empty dorm room, but it felt appropriate. She looked all over the floor, under the chair and across the desk top for the quill but it was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t until she lifted the book that another fell from it’s inner flap. “That’s odd….” she said to herself before pricking her finger with it’s tip.
Excerpt adapted from the Original Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tale: Hansel and Gretel
…Kam lay awake in bed, hearing the hideous conversation between the step-mother and father:
The woman spewed, ”Everything is eaten again, we have one half loaf left, and that is the end. The children must go, we will take them farther into the wood, so that they will not find their way out again. There is no other means of saving ourselves.”
The man’s heart was heavy, and he thought, “It would be better for you to share the last mouthful with your children.”
The woman, however, would listen to nothing that he had to say, but scolded and reproached him. He who says ‘A’ must say ‘B’, likewise, and as he had yielded the first time, he had to do so a second time also…
When the parents were finally asleep, Kam snuck out of bed and tried the front door. Unfortunately it was locked, and his now tiny child-like hands were no match for the heavy door jam keeping it blocked. He had no way of escaping.
“You can’t get the pebbles again, it’s locked…”
“What pebbles?”, Kam questioned the young girl.
“Wait….you’re real?”, she asked.
“I am. I’ve been trapped her–”
“It is you!!”, Kam exclaimed then quickly covered his mouth, reverting back to whispering. “You’re Marvin’s daughter.”
They both heard the stirring coming from the parent’s room. “You know my Father?”, the young girl grabbed his elbow and shuffled them back to the cramped room where they were supposed to be sleeping.
“He’s my…uh…I’m a librarian’s apprentice..”
“Is that what they’re calling it now?”, she laughed. “Look I can help you get out of here, but you’ve gotta follow my lead…”
“We are getting out of here….”, Kam reiterated.
“That’s cute…”, Marvin’s daughter replied nonchalantly, “…it really is, but no, kid. I’m forever going to be this.”, she held her arms out to her side. “Gretel…nice to meet you…”
“That was before I showed up. I’ll get you out of here, I killed bluebeard…in my first I.S.!”
“Oooouuuuu…..”, she replied with sarcasm, “the mighty bluebeard slayer himself?! Here to save me! Oh!! How lucky arth I?!”
“Listen,”she started in, “and you better listen good, if you want to get out of here and not end up as my brother, forever reliving this nightmare together then you need to listen to everything I say! The quill….do you still have it?”
“Yes.”, Kam went along with her leadership, not revealing his resolved intent to be her hero, even if she didn’t think he could.
“Good. That’s the key. When the witch is dead, you can write your way out in her book…”
“The witch?” Kam questioned. “I thought we would follow breadcrumbs home?”
Marvin’s daughter laughed once more at his innocence, “You must’ve heard the nice version of this tale. Get some rest, you’ll be in for a real treat tomorrow hon’!”
Early in the morning came the woman, and took the children out of their beds. Their piece of bread was given to them, but it was still smaller than the time before. On the way into the forest Kam crumbled his in his pocket, and often stood still and threw a morsel on the ground.
“Hansel, why do you stop and look round?” Said the father. “Go on.”
Kam hesitated and stammered.
“He is just looking back at my little pigeon, Papa. There sitting on the roof…can we say good-bye? Look, he waves to us…”
“Fool.” Said the woman, “That is not your little pigeon, that is the morning sun that is shining on the chimney.”
They were forced to keep walking behind the woman with a shove.
The head librarian’s daughter elbowed Kam as he walked past her, “You need to learn your lines, Bluebeard…”. She smirked.
Kam ignored the jab and continued to pepper the forest floor with bread crumbs as the woman led them still deeper into the forest. The denseness of the woods seemingly grew to infinite levels, Kam had never seen anything like it. There was no way of knowing where they were as they continued to travel.
A great fire was finally made as the woman chose their stopping point. “Just sit there, you children, and when you are tired you may sleep a little. We are going into the forest to cut wood, and in the evening when we are done, we will come and fetch you away.”
While keeping a watchful eye on the sundial she’d crafted, Marvin’s daughter tossed the remaining portion of her bread to the tirelessly working Kam. During his I.S. training he’d been fortunate enough to learn some bow making techniques from none other than the Robin Hood of Nottingham. This fact was not enough to swoo Marvin’s daughter in the slightest. Her sarcastic air of confidence remained through the day and into the night.
When the moon came they set out. “Dammit!!”, Kam exclaimed.
“The crumbs are gone….”, he blared.
She laughed, “Of course they are!!! We’re in a forest dimwit! All you did was feed the birds…”
“So how do you know where the house is?”
“I don’t…”, she admitted, “I’m taking us to the stream to get water…”
“I guess…uh…that’s a good idea…”
“Say what’s your name anyways…”
“No, your real name…”, Kam protested.
“Does it matter?”, she rolled her eyes and pressed on through the forest.
They marched the rest of the way to the stream in silence.
“The house will appear in two more days…”, she instructed, taking up a strong napping position on the bank of the stream.
“Yea….don’t worry! It’s the same time back on Earth…”
“That’s not my concern…”, Kam assured.
“Sure it isn’t…”, Marvin’s daughter stretched her small stubby limbs. Kam thought how much her adult actions and mannerisms contradicted her present age and child body. She sat with her legs crossed, out in front and tried to catch a nap. “Listen….”
Kam waited, “What?”. He snapped breaking the silence.
“Shhhh…..”, she shushed, “Just listen…isn’t it beautiful.”
The song-bird’s note was cut short soon after she spoke of its melodic tweet. Her eyes snapped open and fury ensued when she spotted Kam with his bow still raised. “What the fu—“
Amira yawned awake, vastly unaware of her surroundings, but trying to piece together any elements she could to determine what story she could be a part of. She swung her legs off the bed, staring ahead trying to look out the window but either the window was obscenely dirty, her eyes were weaker than frail or both. Nothing but a blur presented itself. At least from what she could tell it was daylight.
The room she found herself smelled of peppermint, honey and old wood. It was scented like an antique candy store would be. Hunger called through the wafting smells of sugar and Amira’s stomach began to growl.
Wherever she was, they had to have food…even Bluebeard had fed her. She pushed off the bed and onto an unstable pair of frail, non supportive legs. Amira buckled and collapsed under the weight of her own body.
She smelled and heard the cat before she saw it cowering away underneath the rugged bed she’d just fallen from.
“Hey kitty kitty…”, Amira reached to give its head a scratch — the feline screeched and swiped down at her hand, drawing blood, “Aaaaahhhh”. As fast as it had struck the cat was sprinting away.
Amira tried her best to stand, using the bedpost as a counter weight; something about her newfound legs was unnerving. Then she spotted them. Two crookedly tall, pole-like crutches were leaned against the backside of the bed. Rigidly, Amira crawled across the floor towards the walking tools.
She pulled herself up using the bent crutches to position her betraying legs beneath her. It took some accustoming time, but after a moment she was mobile. Placing one crutch ahead of the other, she made her way through the log cabin like a four-legged creature.
Still with no clue who, when, what or why she might be, Amira concluded from investigating the house that she must be inhabiting the life of some otherworldly being. Throughout the cabin were candles of various widths, scents and time spent burning. Some were lit others were just waxy carcasses of past flames. Crystals, herbs and beads hung from the ceiling in, of all places, the kitchen. Amira thought that a bit off, but decided against disturbing anything unnecessarily. She ran a finger across the top of the large cauldron that dominated the central room of the house. It was cool to the touch—it’s rough, scratchy, metal surface reminded Amira of the bed liner in her Dad’s pickup truck. She peered inside and luckily found it to be empty.
She heard the voices, only milliseconds after the new scent carried through her open windows. Amira turned too quick for the crutches and slipped once again. Scrambling up using the one crutch she was able to hold onto she hopped to the door.
The light tapping sounded from the other side of the door right before Amira swung it open. “Hello…”
“Uh….hello…where’s your other crutch?”, Gretel asked rubbing her chin, “Nevermind. Hey look we’re like eating your house or whatever y’know…”
“Eating…my hou—“, Amira peaked her head further out the cabin to a decent look at what the young girl was alluding to.
“Shi—“, Gretel reacted quickly.
Had it not been for the small child’s quick reaction in shoving her back into the sweet smelling log cabin then Amira’s face would’ve been skewered into the door frame. The arrow thudded and penetrated deeply into her new home. “What was that?!”
“I hate saying this…but…long story…”, Gretel replied. The girl tossed the wobbly legged witch her crutch and leaned out of the cabin, waving towards the woods. She motioned in the reverse direction of the Arrows vector for someone to join them.
“You’re not apart of the story are you?”, Amira asked. “Where’s my brother?!”
Gretel sucked her teeth instead of answering.
Amira was just getting to her feet when the boy ran up into the doorway.
“I missed…”, he started to say before he saw the witch regaining herself. “AH!” Kam began to draw back once more.
“No!!”, Amira pleaded.
Again she was saved from an arrow by the young girl who pushed Hansel’s arm aside, causing the arrow to shoot off into the cabin towards the kitchen. It bounced off the cauldron with a loud, metallic ping.
“What are you doing?!”, Kam roared.
“Does she look like an evil witch to you?!”, Marvin’s daughter glared at the trigger happy archer.
“Yes! She’s hideous.”, Kam retorted before pulling another arrow from his makeshift quiver.
The witch gasped with an open mouth. “I know you’re not talkin with that crusty curl!! You need to give your sister back those shorts too!!”, Amira snatched the limp arrow off of the boy’s bow and tossed it aside. “What kinda moccasins are those anyways? Talking bout I’m hideous with those breadcrumb fours on!!”
“Amira?!?!” Kam interjected.
“Good y’all know each other.”, Marvin’s daughter clapped between their stargazing faces. “Now…where’s your quills?”
They both pulled out the feathers.
“Witch….uh…sorry. What was your name again?”
“Amira…”, she answered, positioning on the one crutch to extend a hand.
“Sophia…” Marvin’s daughter accepted the gesture, “But you can just call me Gretel. Nice to meet you, Amira.”
“Wait…how come she gets to know your name?”
The two women just blankly stared at Kam for a pause.
“Whatever…”, he conceded.
“Now, Amira where is the book?”
“Agh…”, Sophia rubbed her face frustratingly in similar fashion to how her father does. “Well, I guess we’ll have to go down there after all. Remember, we can’t help them there’s only two quills….”
“The Lost…”, Sophia breathed, “…like me…”
Sobering chills filled their bodies with goosebumps as they entered the basement. Lined on either side was a row of children, all previous versions of Hansel and Gretel. All trapped.
“I was here for ages…”, Sophia said matching them past the cages, “right there…”. She pointed at an empty cage to her left. “We’re allowed one-hundred cycles of freedom before our turn is up and we return to the row…”
“How can we save them?” Amira pleaded.
“We can’t…”, Sophi turned on her heels, eyeing them both fiercely. “You can’t. This is our fate for failing, I lost my quill. I pushed you…I mean I pushed the witch into the oven and my quill right along with her. When the story ended I stayed. I couldn’t leave. I woke up in that cage…I’ve been helping anyone stupid enough to sign their name ever since.”
“That’s horrible….”, Kam muttered under his breath.
Amira was too shaken to speak.
“C’mon,” Sophia tugged for them to follow, “we’re close.”
They trotted ahead to the podium enamored in a green light at the end of the attic. Sitting atop, like a forbidden artifact was a book identical to the leather bound book they had signed in the real world.
“Okay this is it guys…Farewell, and tell my Fath—“
“No. Wait here!”, Kam snatched the book and sprinted away.
“HEY!!!!!”, Sophia ran after him, cursing obscenities and throwing any loose gravel or stones she could pick up.
Amira remained still. Ever since he had saved her from Bluebeard, she trusted her brother’s instinctive action.
The song bird was still there just as Kam had hoped. He slid on next to the carcass and hugged it tightly; although she screamed and beat at him with a closed fist, Kam thanked Sophia for not allowing him to eat the bird.
They sprinted back to the basement, trying their damndest to beat the sunset, story end.
Marvin had happily paid the fire code fine for Kam; they had to lie about the unimaginable number of personnel that he had piling out of his dorm room that day. But the rumor around campus began circulating that he threw the most legendary parties of all time.
It helped that he was also now associated with one of the cutest T.A.’s in the school, Mrs. Sophia.
It turns out she had been trapped in the fairy tale for over twelve years. Marvin had a lot catching up to do with his now thirty-two year old daughter. With his hands now free of training Kam, the fifty-seven year old librarian now had all the time in the world to enjoy with her.
Rose hopped off the springy mattress and switched off the hotel television that she wasn’t watching anyways, at the sound of Kora’s distinct door-knocking pattern. It was the Melody of their favorite song together. Kora was only a four taps in when Rose swung the door open and spilling pink-haired bestie all over the room floor.
Kora rolled onto her back and laughed like a big kid she was. Open-mouthed, loud and frolicking.
“Shh!!” Rose tried shushing her which only had the affect of bringing on another fit of laughter out of Kora. “Really…?”
“What…” Kora took Rose’s assistance to stand. “We don’t have to be quiet yet Miss Paranoia.” She chuckled lightly now, the outburst fading to her usual over-joyedness.
“No. But it wouldn’t hurt to practice before we get there.”, Rose chastised. “Did you get the stuff?”
“Yeah…”, Kora responded lackadaisically, as she hunted for Rose’s remote. She spotted it on the counter and subsequently got distracted by the desk mounted refreshment device.
“Aaaand where is it?”, Rose questioned as Kora tapped in custom smoothie order.
“Oh!” Kora’s head snapped up from the machine, “…it’s outside.”
“What?!?!” Rose flung open the door and grabbed the felt craft store bag. She rummaged through it checking the contents, making sure her bright-eyed pal had gotten everything she asked for.
“So cool…”, Kora was now investigating the drink machine closely as the fresh fruit was transported to it via plastic air tubes. Her banana, strawberry, kale, walnut and peppermint smoothie was only seconds away. “You know what you’re planning to do is called vandalism right?”
“Is it though…”, Rose quirked, shaking the bottles of soap and plaster in either hand. “We’re restoring the Dark Angel statue, so if anything its beautification not vandalism. In all honesty we’re doing these guys a favor…Hey! What’s this?”. Rose tossed the statue restoration products back into the bag and held up the plastic card, that was about the length of her palm and about three fingers wide.
“I figured we could do something fun before we went to jail for the rest of our adult lives…”, Kora said taking the first slurp from her smoothie. “It’s a horror movie…”
“You wanna watch a scary movie before we go to jail?” Rose shot back rhetorically. “I mean…we’re not going to jail! Sure why not?”
“That’s my girl!”, Kora leaped with joy and snatched the card from Rose’s fingertips. “It’s called Dark Days…”, she informed as she slid the card into the back of the television remote; the film began to stream moments after she slid her thumb across the remote screen face.
“DANG IT!!!” Rose snapped awake irritated at herself for falling asleep. “Kora come on!! We dont have long before sunrise!”
Kora was only able to ignore the pushing and shaking for so long before she gave in, “Okay, okay…I’m up!!”
The sun was right on the heels of the two young women as they entered the temple. It had taken them walking into four wrong ancient buildings before they found the correct one, Rose knew it by the large skylight that hovered above it’s center. “Wait…”, Rose questioned her confidence.
“This has to be it. I remember the weird stone trail leading up to it…”
It was all wrong, the statue should’ve been just beneath the skylight, but it was gone. Only rubble remained where it had stood not even twenty-four hours ago. “This doesn’t feel right Ko–“
“AAAAAAAHHHHH” Kora’s scream broke into the early morning silence of the desert.
The large gust of wind were strong enough to knock Rose right off her feet, she couldn’t make out a thing in the hazy aftermath of swirling, mouth and nose filling dust that soon filled the room. She tried to call out for Kora, but the drying effects of rushing sand made that impossiple and so she merely hoarsed out her friends name in vein — coughing took over as her lungs earned for fresh air; Rose was helpless, bent over in a fit of coughing and wheezing, trying to see through the veil of sand was impossible.
“Who are you?!”, A strong voice echoed throughout the chamber.
“We’re sorry! We’re sorry!!!”, Kora protested. “Please don’t hurt us!!”
“KORA!!!”, Rose managed to muffle out a yell between coughing spasms, using her shirt as a mask. The sudden impact less than a foot away from where she stood caused her to lose footing once again. She sat in awe of the figure before her; it was almost to surreal to believe who she was seeing clutching Kora’s mouth with one hand and an the inside of the other elbow against Kora’s throat.
“Explain or your friend dies…”, the figure warned as two room and periphreal vision dominating wings erupted from it’s sides.
“Who do you work for?” Another question from the winged figure.
“I–it’s….It’s…you…”. The only words Rose was able to manage in her bewildered state.
A faint squeak escaped Kora’s mouth as the figure squeezed the headlock in tighter, signifying her seriousness.
Rose pulled the few chords of bravery she had for the situation at hand and got to her feet, “Please…please…we are not the enemy…”. She neared the Dark Angel with her hand outstretched towards Kora in show of concern…a mistake.
With the dexterity of an experienced hand-to-hand warrior, D’Amber shifted with lightning quick reflexes; pushing the weakened Kora to the ground then pinning her down with one of her seven-foot wings, while at the same time snatching Rose off her feet by the collar of her shirt. “Your eye…”
For the first time in her life Rose’s one Amber eye gave her a feeling of relief as the Dark Angel gently placed her back down.
“Your just kids…”, D’Amber began to relax a bit, “Why are you here?”
“Uh…” Rose could not remember how to make coherent words come out of her mouth. “Uh–uh…so…duah-gha..huh..uh…”.
“What is happening…” Kora coughed, clutching at her chest and neck.
D’Amber stepped away from the starstruck child, took up a seat on one of the overturned pillars and began stretching her arms and wings.
Rose lost conciousness and would’ve landed face first into the stone floor had D’Amber not caught her in the nick of time.
Kora remained frozen in fear, afraid to look to hard at the winged herione of the past but unable to take her eyes away. She was enthralled at the speed in which the Dark Angel reacted in catching Rose and after what felt like a millenia, she finally crawled over to the pair.
D’Amber had Rose’s head cradled in her arms and was very fondly stroking her hair behind her ear. She shuddered and pushed Rose into Kora’s arms as the latter came too close into her concentrated presence. In one quick flap of her wings D’Amber floated back to the pillar. She rubbed her temples and face in obvious distress and frustration, the sand at her hands immediately began clogging the open, sweating pores of her forehead.
Kora, still captivated by the presence of legend, uncapped her canteen and began to trickle water onto her friends face; hoping that somehow it had some restorative ability. She wasn’t a nurse by any means, but hope was one of her best fortes.
Rose came to with a huge gasp of air, her eyes bulging and staring deep into Kora’s as she continued to inhale and exhale deeply. Her chest rose and fell sharply a several times before she finally spoke up, “Where is she?”
Kora pointed a shaky finger in the direction of Rose’s hero…
“Hi…”, D’Amber spoke with the ease of someone who hadn’t just attacked the two girls. She could tear her own hair from her skulls at the tremendous amount of anger and frustration she felt in the present moment, but as the hero she was, she knew when to appear strong. Right now these two young girls needed to see her in all the valor they must envision her having. She couldn’t believe the girl had fainted, but it made her wonder how old they were and what they were doing at a Clear Sky research facility. “Please. Lets skip the greetings or whatever…and how about you two start telling me what’s going on…”
“We don’t know…”, Kora finished for the stammering Rose.
“Huh…”, D’Amber stood and slowly walked past them and towards the temple entrance. “Well at the very least I assume you know how to get past this barrier since you walked in here.” She stated as she pressed her hands against an invisible surface in the doorway.
New day light was beginning to fill the surrounding area as dawn approached.
“What barrier?” Kora asked confused as ever, tilting her head at the miming motions of the Dark Angel.
“Wow….so you really dont know a thing….”, D’Amber sighed.
“None of this can be real, right?” Rose tugged at Kora’s sleeve. “I’m dreaming…this has to be a dream. You made me watch that crazy movie and we missed our chance to go to the ruins. I’m sleeping thats all, its just a dream.” She closed her eyes and began slapping at her face, trying to wake up.
“Can you two fight?”, D’Amber asked calmly.
Kora, struggling to grab hold of Rose’s hands to stop the slapping, looked up at D’Amber. “What….why would you ask th–“. Before she could finish the question the loud, angry, excited voices of local dialect began to echo lightly into the temple hall.
“Because they seem angry.”, D’Amber stepped away from the entrance and grabbed the girls in one motion; with each of them in tow she dropped in behind a delapidated wall right as the bullets began to ricochet around the empty ruins.
“AAAAAAHHHHHH” Both girls let out ear-bursting screams.
“So no….you cannot fight….”, D’Amber said to herself. She tried to peak over the broken wall and immediately ducked as the gunfire directed it’s attention in her direction, “Shit!”
“I don’t wanna die!!!” Kora yelled out in full-blown panic.
Rose had begun to hyperventilate.
“Listen to me! I need that barrier down or we all will die!”, D’Amber looked sternly at them both. “That looks some fancy, tech stuff…” she said pointing towards thier chrono’s, “I take it you know how to use them? See if you can get this barrier down and I’ll hold them off as long as I can.” That was all she said before launching into the air with a bloodcurling battle cry. Stone peircing gunfire and ricochets trailed her flight path and the screams of injured men followed it as well.
“Rose, Rose!!! Rose, c’mon!!!! Breath!!!” Kora tried to calm Rose’s panic attack. “C’mon girl! This is real, I need you!! We gotta get outta this!!!”. She needed to hear those words as much as she needed to say them. After a brief moment of panic, she began to hum softly into Rose’s ear.
Rose tried to block out the sounds of fury and focus entirely on the sound of Kora’s tune. It was working her breath was slowing to a more manageable panic state, until a body crashed into the ceiling just above their heads. It fell to the stone floor with a thud. They both screamed in terror once again.
Kora snatched up the weapon that was still attached to the mangled, oddly bent hand and arm. “Yes.”
“What?!” Rose, looked at her freind frightfully curious.
“Oh…”, Kora snatched the charging handle back on the rifle, “I thought you asked if I knew how to use this.”
“I did not…”, Rose didn’t know who she was talking to anymore, but whoever this pink-haired imposter of her best friend was gave her a sense of bravery. “Look there!”, she pointed over Kora’s shoulder towards the corner of the sanctuary. “I’ve seen that before…In AHS-101, (pronounced ‘ASS’-101 by the students), its a Amber detention power supply!!”
“Okay…..and why do we care?”, Kora asked clutching the rifle tightly to her chest.
“That’s how were going to get out…”, Rose informed, “We gotta get close enough for me to scan it…”
“Are you crazy?!?!” Kora looked at Rose with bewildered eyes.
“You said you know how to use that…”, Rose declared defiantly.
Kora sighed louldy, “Doesnt mean I want to!!!”, she yelled back her counter argument.
“No choice…” Rose said before breaking out into a sprint towards the overhanging device.
Instinct determined Kora’s response as she took up a run right behind Rose, firing away in the direction of any oncoming security personell.
Startled midsprint Rose dropped to her knees and slid as a man appeared from behind a collapsed pillar. With a large dagger in his right hand, he grabbed Rose’s neck tightly with his left.
Kora hesitated, fear and lack of confidence making it impossible for her to fire towards Rose.
All fear was null and void as the Dark Angel came crashing into the man with a both fist pressing his body against the temple wall. He was limp and wedged into the depression D’Amber had made as the dagger clattered to the ground. “Go!!!”, D’Amber yelled at the girls who were just standing motionless.
They immedieately did as commanded.
Fifteen feet was all Rose needed for her chronos to gain access to the power supply. She slid under an archway and lifted her wrist up in one motion. The beam of light coating the electronic device in a wide sweep. Unfortunately, the red light indicating power remained steady, her and Kora were frozen staring up at it helpless and out of answers. They locked eyes, impending doom apparent in both of their visions. The loud beep brought them out of fear and they yelled out in triumph as the light flashed momentarily and finally extinguished.
D’Amber made her way to the celebrating girls, grabbed them under arm and with a series of barrel rolls and dodges escaped the temple unharmed. Her wings delighted at the open air and warm sun rays. D’Amber breathed in a deep lungful of fresh air and savored the heated sand aroma of the desert. She flew as high as she felt comfortable with the girls in tow and put as much time and distance as she could between them and the incoming bullets, as fast as she could.
D’Amber stared coldly into Jaxson’s eyes. They were at unrelentingly stubborn odds about the issue at hand. “What world are we fighting for if we don’t do this?” She questioned.
Jaxson glanced down, taking note of the eggs and bacon D’Amber still hadn’t started on, before he answered. “The risk involved…it’s too much right now…”. Jackson lifted his fork and slid the last bite of cheese-stuffed omelette into his mouth. He clasped his hands over his fork, quickly chewing while calmly contemplating his wife’s beautiful amber eyes. “…we don’t have anything setup to pu—“
The waitress cut him off, “Would y’all like any more coffe this morning?”
“Uh…just one more. Thanks.” Jaxson answered politely; D’Amber on the contrary did not give the woman a single eye of attention. She kept focus on the conversation, finally stabbing away a piece of scrambled egg from her plate.
They both sprang into action the split second they felt the high chair begin to lift and hover. Each with a foot latched onto it, they stomped it back down — shocking the waitress who just managed not to spill the coffee she was pouring. The two year old, Jaxson Jr. aka J.J., laughed out loudly at his parents’ quick reactions. J.J. had discovered just last week, that he could levitate. An ability that provided both fear and pride in his superhuman parents.
They’d all three been seated and pushing a ball back and forth to one another; when Jax decided to toss the ball up to D’Amber. The excitement overjoyed J.J. so much that not even gravity could hold him back from going after the plastic bouncing orb.
“I’m taking him…” D’Amber stated as soon as the waitress left the table.
“How??”, Jax demanded. “You don’t even wear your contacts now! How do you expect to get yourself and a toddler halfway round the world without being noticed by the wrong people?!”
“I can go anywhere.”
It was an inarguable from Jax’s position — when one’s wife had wings, she could in fact go anywhere she chose. “At least let’s set some things up with the others. A network of safe houses along the way, y’know…”
“You mean like the Underground Railroad?” D’Amber commented jokingly, feeling the tensions between them beginning to lift, as Jax was now seeing things her way.
“Yeah exactly, but this is more of an above ground one…”, Jaxson smiled at J.J. as they continued their breakfast. “How will you get to it?”
“Just help me get close and I’ll do the rest…”
“The others…they’ll want to touch it too…”
“And they should. We all should.”
“But then how would we know who to trust with that much power?” Jaxson felt the error in his question the moment he asked it.
“…we wouldn’t…”, D’Amber responded.
In a matter of three weeks Jax had used his social networking & interwebbing dexterity to construct a safe flight path for D’Amber and J.J. Most of his contacts were also former survivors of the Clear Sky detention camps, but many more were just Amber-sympathizers and fans of the Dark Angel. A good thing because one such fan, one of her former band mates had supplied them with a private jet; that way he could join her in the trip to the Egyptian ruins and she wouldn’t have to risk flying herself. Not that she was deterred either way. Stubborn as she always was, he knew she would attempt the mission with or without him; but taking their only son to touch stone was not something he was not prepared to let her go at alone.
From what D’Amber had told him about the stone, Jaxson had gathered it was somewhat magical and had the affect on Ambers of unleashing their full potential. She had said she had almost no control over her wings before touching it and since she has proven time and time again to be one of the most powerful Ambers on the planet. Maybe the most powerful until Clear Sky began their operations on and around the stones’ powers.
D’Amber had done all she could to keep the secret only among Ambers; but of course as such things go they were betrayed. One would think in a world peppered with super humans that money would become a second-thought at best. However Amber or not, greed was still a powerful flavor of persuasion.
Clear Sky moved in on the artifact and setup a base of operations before any Amber with knowledge of its power could join D’Amber in strength. Not even Jaxson was quick enough, and he could break the sound barrier in a quarter-mile track sprint.
“How long before we’re allowed to leave now?” D’Amber pulled Jaxson from his pondering over the computer screen.
“Uh—uh…ju—“ Jaxson stammered taking in her beauty. He could never get over it, the way she leaned on the doorframe, her wings placidly draped to the side, slightly lifting from time to time by an unknown source of air. She wore orange shorts with a black tank top today, a combination that complemented her frame in such a way it threw all rational thought from his brain.
“Jax is down for the night, what’re you up to?”, she floated towards him and gracefully set a warm cup of tea in his hands. She leaned over his chair and began scrolling the message board herself.
He allowed her some time to scroll and took a sip from the mug before responding, “…about a week. Give or take a day…we’ve gotta be at that fancy private airport where your buddy keeps his jet within eighteen hours of getting the go ahead…”.
“Awww…”, D’Amber played with his cheeks coyfully, “Are you still upset that I have a rockstar for a friend?”
“No…”, Jaxson playfully pushed her arm aside, she protested with the full mouthed pouting thing she did, that he absolutely loved. “I’m upset that he’s giving us his private smrivate jet…as a favor…who does that?”
“Okay and you have friends literally lying to foreign governments for us right now….”, she sat on his lap with her wing brushing lightly against the nape of his neck.
“That’s different.”, Jaxson leaned back staring into her eyes trying not to break into a big smile.
“Oh is it?”, D’Amber stared back not breaking her gaze as his hands wrapped around her waist. The pseudo-argument dropped into oblivion as they embraced. Kissing Jaxson made the world pause for D’Amber.
9 days later: They’re phones rang at the exact same time and they knew what it meant. After locking serious eyes for a moment of confirmation they sprang into action. D’Amber flew up the stairs to the nursery and began collecting J.J. and the bag they had pre-packed specifically for this day. Jaxson bolted to the office and began the sequence on his workstation to wipe all their data; he then grabbed his load out bag, fully equipped with weapons, communications equipment and other necessities. They were out of the door and Jaxson was sending coded messages from a temporary phone in less than four minutes.
“Ha ha!!!” He yelled out excitedly, as they dove into the donor Jeep.
“What?!”, D’Amber asked frantically afraid something was wrong. She just knew the plan would fall apart and she’d have to make the trip by wing.
“…beat our practice time by forty-five seconds!” Jaxson shook his watch near her face as he threw the Wrangler into Reverse.
“I’m not doing this with you right now…”, D’Amber exhaled as she sank fully into her seat after buckling J.J. in.
“Fast…”, J.J. commented on his Father’s driving in complete admiration.
“That’s right lil man.”
They didn’t have to fear a speeding ticket until they left the stateline; perks of Jaxson’s Amber-network.
It was a fourteen hour drive from their home to the hangar, straight shot — only the pilot would be there to greet them.
Jaxson floored the accelerator for most of the trip despite the threat of being pulled over — to which D’Amber had reminded him of constantly. Having only had to make three pit stops they made it to the hangar in just under fifteen hours. With three hours to spare, they were ahead of schedule and full of confidence as the planes wheels left the tarmac.
D’Amber watched solemnly as the dark clouds and stars treadmilled past the slit-window. J.J. had already been asleep for twenty minutes but she continued to run her hand through his hair, tucking it behind his ear repeatedly. It was calming to them both.
“Are you serious right now?!” She scolded Jaxson for opening a bottle of champagne.
“What…might as well enjoy the amendments.” He smiled pouring two glasses, “When in Rome, right…”
“We’re going to Egypt…”
“To Egypt then.” They clinked glasses at that.
Jaxson stood after a long pause and massaged D’Amber’s wings. He knew by her expressions how they longed to stretch out in the wind. As a result of the relaxing drink and mood she soon fell asleep. Jaxson was not fond enough of the silent pilot to risk such an act; he followed their route with his pocket GPS unit instead of sleeping.
They landed at a small, empty airstrip somewhere in the desert of Mali. Trading salutes with the pilot was the only communication they had shared with the man since they’d boarded the aircraft. He pointed them towards a small watch tower and dismissed their presence with the shear professionalism of a man who’d seen more than his fair share of “no questions asked”-clients.
Inside the tower Jaxson struck up cheerful banter with his old pal, while D’Amber took her time fitting Jaxson Jr into the custom made heat and wind resistant body suit. She had been present when Jaxson field tested it and the hundreds of other prototypes with baby dolls, so she felt assured in its ability to shield her heart.
“…..twenty pounds of protein bars, just like you asked. All cookies and cream flavored!!” The bolstering man slapped Jaxson’s shoulder as he pointed out the rucksack.
“You’ve outdone yourself my friend.” Jaxson thanked.
“And you have Rhea’s coordinates right? In Sudan…”
Jaxson mouthed off the proper coordinates and went over the route with D’Amber one last time before they said they’re goodbyes.
“The minute you give me the word I’ll be there in exactly one hour and twelve minutes. Exactly babe…”
“I know. I know.”, D’Amber shrugged, “We’ve been over this so many times…”
“Yeah. Okay. Okay….but listen do—“
D’Amber interrupted his be-safe rant with a kiss, he bit her lip to know it was well received. “Don’t run too fast with my baby!”, she earned as she kissed J.J.’s forehead and pulled his goggles securely over his eyes. She double and triple checked the pneumatic strapping mechanism to ensure they were on seated snugly.
“You don’t worry about that. Just take care of yourself up there, I got the ground loved one…”
With a single flap of her powerful wings she rose twelve feet above their heads. Out of fatherly reaction Jaxson shielded his and J.J.’s face from the swirling sand she produced; although their face masks and goggles were rated against sand and debris traveling over one-thousand miles per hour he couldn’t resist his protective instincts. D’Amber blew them a kiss and swirled off into the clouds, rising rapidly out of eyesight, on her way to the safe house on the outskirts of Cairo.
“Your mom’s an angel kid…”, Jaxson stated, he reached down to pat his son’s head and found nothing but air. How could he lose the kid before they even set off?! He spun on his heels quickly and spotted his Air Traffic Controller friend struggling to keep his feet on the ground as he held onto the levitating ankles of the toddler reaching out for his mother. In a flash he was by his side and strapping the ankle weights to J.J.’s ankles. “That was a close one bud…”. He tried to laugh it off, but his friend just shook his head and walked back into the tower.
Jaxson’s radio crackled, “I saw that…”.
A moment later D’Amber rushed by, coming from behind them and flying so low she was able to give Jaxson a slap to the back of his head for almost letting her son out into the atmosphere.
Jaxson strapped his boy to the front of the specially made suit of his and in a sound breaking cloud of dust sprinted away closing the distance between himself and D’Amber in a matter of milliseconds. Before he could get close enough to touch her she erupted into the air with a loud laugh.
D’Amber slowed to a hover to check the GPS unit once again. She felt as if she’d been flying well long enough, but the past eight times she had descended there hadn’t been a single roof painted with a Dark Angel symbol, the signal of the safe house. She figured why not try again as she started to descend; she’d be sure to let Jaxson know how faulty his coordinates were when he keyed her back on the radio.
There it was, the symbol, finally she could get some rest. She landed directly in the center of the roof, and pinged the radio channel labeled on Jaxson’s instructions as “Cairo SH”. She tapped the Morse coded signal and waited several unresponded minutes before trying it again. This went on for about twenty minutes before the radio finally cracked statically.
“Jet to Dark Angel, over….”
“Jet….really?” D’Amber jokes over the comm system.
“What you don’t like my call sign?” Jaxson questioned back.
“No it’s lame…”, D’Amber replied in jest. “Put my son on. I wanna hear his voice.”
*Static* “Hi mommy…”
“Hey baby boy. Did you like running wit Daddy?”
“Yeah we—“ his response was inaudible.
*Static* “So hows Cairo?” Jaxson came on once again.
“Well the roof is nice, but no ones responding…”
“Hold on…” *Static* “Did you use the right signal?”
“I did exactly what’s on your notecard.” D’Amber said with annoyance in her tone.
A few minutes passed by and D’Amber passed the time by swinging her legs off the side of the building admiring the lightless night sky. It was so peaceful not hearing the bustling noises of life at home or having city lights flood out the stars. It was just night and nature. The sounds, the smells, the vibe was just blissful.
“Okay, babe come in…”
“I’m here….”, D’Amber responded and immediately set the radio back down with a sharp exhale.
“Try 136.4 not 8…I just got them no problem.”
“So it’s your fault…”, D’Amber changed the station of her radio before waiting on his response and sent the Morse code signal. Moments later the rooftop hatch door opened.
“Is Dark Angel?”, a hoarse voice asked from the dark doorway.
D’Amber squinted, but couldn’t make out the shape of the persons body; so she spread her wings and held her arms out in a “sure is” gesture.
“Yyyaaaayyyy!!!!” Four young children pushed past the dark figure in a sprint towards her.
“Stop. Stop. Give her space!!”, the hoarse old lady called out to the children as she emerged from the shadows.
“They’re fine. They’re fine!! I’m just so glad y’all are normal!” D’Amber consoled the woman between hugs and high fives with the kids.
“Come, come. I have big dinner planned for you!” The older lady welcomed D’Amber into their home. Of the entire household D’Amber noticed only the woman was a non-Amber. She assumed given the array of complexions and similar ages that the children were not of familial relations to the woman.
The feast they had prepared was not a let down at all. D’Amber filled her tired body quickly with flat bread and an abundance of vegetarian delicacies. They played a ton of games; from Seega to Mancala and she even learned a new from of checkers called Zamma. Somewhere between her love of children and her wings the youngsters were entertained into a frenzy. They all crashed hard soon after, including the Dark Angel herself. Tomorrow would be a trying day….
To be continued.
To the reader::::::Part V is broken into two parts due to its length and complexity. Be on the lookout for part two in the next day or two!!
Kam Okoro, an average junior by all accounts considered relevant for measuring; he was of course best known as the person on campus that no one knew existed. He had an innate ability to — despite being completely present — not be seen. His own sister, Amira, an incoming freshman had even looked straight through him when she arrived…in an attempt to find him. He’d been standing in the middle of the plaza, directly beside the fountain of which her eyes widened at the site of; she stepped briskly towards his outstretched, hug-expectant arms and without a single glance up from her phone.
“Hey kid!!” He said excitedly, before their shoulders collided in a crushing brush of dismissal.
“Oh so sorry…”, she piped, still nothing caring to look up as her and her rolled suitcase away hurriedly. He watched her slide the phone he’d given her for Christmas into her pocket, feeling betrayed was an understatement. Before he started after her, Kam’s phone buzzed, a text from Amira that read: “Where are you? This place is huge!!”
He didn’t text back. Kam simply followed her into community lounge of her dorm building. “Hey you…”, he said with confidence grabbing her in for a single arm hug by the shoulders.
“Oh my go—“ Amira shrieked, “…where’d you come from?!” She returned his shallow hug with a deep, waist-engulfing embrace.
With her face sunk into his chest Kam felt the warmth of home, the feeling he had been too isolated at the university to know he missed so much. He felt his Dad, Mother and younger brother,Cyrus — who were not physically there, but had a defining presence her hug. He almost began to cry.
“You okay?” Amira asked, cheerfully.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m good!” He forced a laugh, “Let’s see what you got…where’s your room?”
Amira pointed up towards an invisible lightbulb above their heads, by her expression Kam couldn’t tell if that meant the light was on or off. She ruffled through her purse and revealed an school-color-honoring-orange envelope, “Got this in the mail with the welcome packet from the school—.”
“Let’s see…”, Kam examined the envelope, holding it up to the light and scrutinizing it’s weight.
Amira frowned in thought over her curious brothers’ actions. “Uh…yeah…so it was just that and a letter from the president about on-campus living rules and guidelines…” she cleared, “Other…than…that, Uh, all the rest of the packet was um…was…ah…about other school stuff, nothing else about the….dorms…”
“Oh…”, Kam hesitated feeling her inquisitive eyes and broken speech. He was bending and shaking the envelope. Trying to shake its contents in various ways to ascertain what it may be. “Yeah…of course not. Well…I think you’re gonna have to open it.”, he said pointing at the message on the front of the envelope.
It read: “Open on arrival to campus.”
“Oh really Sherlock?!?”, Amira snatched the envelope with a slight laugh in her tone, “give me that…”. Without hesitation she began ripping the parchment.
“No…Wai—“. Kam reaches out trying to stop her, but it was too late. The cloud of green powder coated both their faces and speckled their upper-bodies in a puff of complete embarrassment.
“Ah….”. Amira stood mouth dropping to the floor and unsure what she should be doing with her hands. She could feel the weighted eyes of failing first impressions falling onto her shoulders, all the while mocking laughter whipped her at her exposed self. Every second was filled with four-years of unforgotten mockery and disrespect.
Non-abated — as a creature uninvolved with popularity would be — Kam broke in, “It’s…its…a scavenger hunt…you got green.” He said pointing towards the green pop-up tent on the opposite side of the busy lounge corridor.
Amira’s gaping mouth closed into a tight lipped frown, as her eyes moved from the brand new — now ruined — ruffled blouse she’d just gotten, to the dumb, blissful look on her older brother’s face. “Really….”. She stormed off towards the green pop-up.
Kam gathered her suitcase and followed after, waving awkwardly at passerby as if his face and body wasn’t speckled with green.
As Amira neared the green team, she noticed first the inviting sign labeled “Welcome Home Lynx!”. Secondly, she comfortingly noticed the green-tinged hands of all the students who approached the pop-up ahead of her.
“We’re the Wildcats so all the dorm-halls are named aft—“ Kam started.
“I get it!”, Amira snapped.
In silence they took the few remaining steps to join the queue of waiting students, “I was a Liger first year, been a Saber since—“
Amira’s cold stare froze Kam’s sentence mid-air and the void between his mouth and her ears became a massacre; as his words fell and crashed into a million, frozen, uncared about pieces.
“Okay, I’ll shut up.” He relayed understanding.
“Hi!!”, when it was her turn she flowed with energy and enthusiasm. A complete shift of polarity from a moment before.
“Nice blouse…” The micro-braided pop-up attendant jabbed as an introduction. “Just need to see your I.D. darling…”. She twirled the fuzzball topped pen around her fingers.
“Okay…”Amira smiled again pillaging through her heavy purse.
“Uh….student ID…” Ms. micro-braid informed through a big pop of bubbled gum.
Amira shifted uneasily, “Yeah…uh, right…” she began to pat herself down nervously. Looking around and with a pout of confusion she found Kam’s eyes, “I know I just had it…can you look in my bag?” She turned to present her backpack.
He smiled and simply pulled the laniart around Amira’s neck towards the dorm hall attendant.
“Thanks…uh…Ah-mira. I say it right? Okay. Your clue is…let me see…”, micro-braid pulled out a tablet and took a photo of Amira’s badge with it. “Is this your cell?”
Amira verified the number that showed on the screen. Then continued to rock back and forth on her heels anxiously.
“It’s sent…” micro-braid smiled playfully, tilting her head with a wink. “Next.”
Amira and Kam shuffled away, her phone buzzed momentarily. Kam rolling the suitcase in one hand, guided the phone-screen drawn younger sister of his through the evermore crowding lounge as more students piled in and burst open their envelopes. The room made him feel like he was trapped in a microwaveable rainbow-popcorn bag. Colorful clouds erupted into the air all around them; Coating everything in their presence. By the time the siblings made it outside they were completely covered from head to toe in a chalky, spotted mural of freshmanship.
Now that her attention had been shifted from caring only of what others think of her to now trying to solve a problem, Amira has become the oblivious one. Kam knew when his sister found something to twist her knot her around she was relentless until she got an answer. It was a trait he admired about her and hoped it’d serve her well throughout her tenure at the school.
“Can you make any sense of this?” She turned for Kam but he was standing in front of her. “Kam?!?”
“Here let me see it…”, he grabbed the phone from her clutch.
The text message was only a string of words and emojis, “🔍 your clue where 1️⃣ 🔍 a 📚 or ✌. Ask Dewey 4️⃣ a Lynxes crew.”
“I don’t know…”, Kam started, he did have an idea about it but he wanted to contemplate it longer before he voiced his opinion. “How bout we put this in my room first?” He said as he failed to hoist the heavy suitcase in indication.
“Well there’s like four bookstores on campus and more than a couple libraries. Each department has its own, so….”
“That’s a lot…how do they expect me to find—“
There deciphering conversation was cut short as a girl ran shrieking beside them. “There it is!!!”
Amira caught a whiff of pumpkin spice scented body spray as the girl sprinted past their faces and towards the Oak tree off the path they walked. She was trying to reach the bird feeder that hung on its lowest branch; unfortunately that branch was still about a foot and a half out of her reach.
To Amira’s annoyance Kam trotted off to the girl’s rescue. She scoffed loudly when he asked her to help give him a boost.
“Aye…Amira can you give me a hand?”
“Are you kidding…” she rolled her eyes at Kam as she walked towards him and the other wide eyed and smiling freshman that her brother took upon himself to save. “I’ll get it.” Amira waited for Kam to position his knee for her to stand on. A tag team maneuver they’d done countless times as kids to get forbidden snacks from the top of the fridge or rescue kites from trees.
“Thank you so, so much!!” The girl exclaimed, shaking with excitement as she took the bird feed from Amira.
Though standing as a proud savior, Kam went ignored as the girl only thanked Amira. He rubbed a hand back over his starter locs in desperate need to escape the awkwardness before Amira let him know how foolish he’d been.
Before the sibling banter could ensue they were interrupted by the shattering glass. They turned to see the girl had smashed the bird feeder to pieces upon reaching the sidewalk. She reached down into the mess and recovered a shimmering key.
Amira just stared, trying not to feel furious and jealous.
“Well that’s hopeful…”, Kam watched as the girl ran away towards the girl’s dormitories.
Amira elbowed him in the side. “Let’s go to the library. I think Dewey means we gotta look up something.”
“Fine by me.” Kam agreed, “I do have a 10:30 so you need to hurry up.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatevs…”
They walked into the library and witnessed semi-silent pandemonium — incoming Freshman were zooming in and out of aisles, asking anyone who would listen for directions and driving the librarians up the wall with their franticism.
Amira, feeling the heat of the frenzy joined in with her classmates and made a beeline for antiquated filing system.
Kam feeling unnecessary to the operation at this point decided to let his sister be independent for the time being — he took the time to look for a book himself. With his air of invisibility he went up and down the aisles without so much as a second glance. He spooked one of the librarians by saying “excuse me”. The middle aged woman quickly collected pushed her rack of books away after a stern look, clouded by the embarrassment she felt for being startled. Kam knew she thought he’d done it on purpose, but it wasn’t his fault she hadn’t noticed him trying to get by.
Kam grabbed a book off the shelf: “The Untold: ‘The Map’” by Alexandra A… He targeted a table and chair a few paces away and began reading en route to it. Sure footed and never breaking an eye from the pages in his approach he easily avoided a frenzied freshman with an in-step spin move and plopped down into the chair. The chosen spot was easily the quietest place in the whole library.
The arguing grabbed his attention from the second chapter, he looked up and saw what he assumed to be the head librarian arguing with someone outside. The window was up so he was able to hear their aggressive words, although he didn’t know a lick of the French tongues knew an argument when he heard one.
The librarian pointed an angry finger in the argumentees face, “J’ai dit que nous ne pouvions pas le supporter! C’est trop dangereux…”
“En tant que membre de l’ordre, c’est votre responsabilité. Chacun a son temps avec lui. C’est maintenant à votre tour Marvin! Ne me battez pas pour ça..” The French woman said her peice to the librarian, shoved an open box into his arms and strutted strongly away.
Marvin the librarian oblivious to being watched placed the box on the windowsill just under Kam’s nose. Kam chuckled as he watched the librarian shuffle away in haste trying to catch the Madam. “Say, what’ve you got yourself into Marvin…”. Curious he pulled down a cardboard flap and peered into the box.
Inside only a book and a pair of golden spectacles. The glasses were thick, laden with gold across the bridge and end pieces; the temples of the glasses were wooden and ancient looking. Kam examined both items without touching for a time. Then taking one last look towards the arguing couple he grabbed the box and pulled it into the library.
The lights flickered, there was a momentary shout of excitement from one of the freshman girls, followed by group laughter. Everything went back to normal — crazy, but normal for the day — it was just a flicker.
Kam pulled the book slowly out of it’s box, careful to preserve every centimeter of its existence in his memory. He set it down on the table and studied it at length before moving on to the glasses.
“What’s that?” Amira startled him from behind. “These are cool…”, she said grabbing the glasses, with the opposite care that Kam had been handling them with, and put them on her face.
“Hey! Give those back…”, Kam protested with little energy, she had crashed his investigative event.
“Hold on…”, Amira swatted at his lazy hand. “How do I look?”
Kam took the same lazy hand and squeezed the bridge of his nose with it.
“Check it ooooouuuuttt!!”, Amira dragged the excitement with her words. She held out her palm, displaying the room key triumphantly.
“What’s that on it?”
“It was in a freaking jar of red paint!”, Amira slapped her hands to her hips, the confidence of victory fueling her eccentricity. “Why’re you reading “Grimm Brother’s Fairy Tales?”
“I’m not I just —“, Kam looked up at his sister excitedly, “Wait you know what that says?”
“Yeah it’s French…”, Amira said matter of factly.
The obviousness directed by her tone went unacknowledged by Kam, “…okay…you speak French?!”
“How do you not know that?!”, Amira asked flustered, “Mom and I took classes together…”
“Mom speaks French?”
“You’re such a clown dude…”, Amira placed the webbing between her thumb and forefinger on her forehead. Creating a visor between her and Kam’s stupidity.
“Man you don’t know French…”, Kam laughed, “Prolly just knew the cover.”
Amira popped her hip out not far from the distance that her lips popped also; this popping served as the prerequisite to the ‘really’ face then delivered. “Try me.”
“Okay what’s this say?” Kam opened the book and turned to a random page. He knew literary structure well enough to spot the beginning of a story and held it out for her to read.
“il était une fois—“ Amira started…her skin felt colder the coldest day she could remember; and the inside of her throat burned like she’d just drank a cup of freshly made coffee too quickly. She felt all of this and completely numb at the same time. Weightlessness, then nothing. She lost consciousness.
To Kam’s horror as the French words began to escape his sister’s mouth, the most terrifying moment of his life happened. A bright light burst and emitted from the pages of the book he held and pulled his sister into it faster than he could react. It was like she was being summoned into a poke-ball. The only thing left where she had just stood were the glasses. He stood in fear, falling over the chair he’d been in. Rubbing the ground where his sister was just standing. Too in shock to yell for help like he wanted to, he picked up the glasses shakily putting them on his face and grabbed the book. Tears falling as he searched for the page he’d just been on.
When he found the page it he heard the librarian behind him, “Son….listen to me…just put it down…”
“No…I can’t….I ha—I have to…she’s my sister. It’s just her first day….”
“It’s okay…it’s okay…just listen to me….”
He saw Marvin beginning to climb into the window and knew where this ended if he didn’t do it. He looked down at the page and read it as best he could, “Barbe bleue, il était une fois”
When Kam came to he found himself staring down at a saddle and swaying at the rhythm of pace. With balance interrupted he slid and crashed onto the dirt laden path.
“Whoa, whoa…”, someone ahead of him yelled.
Kam struggles to stand and collect himself under the unfamiliar weight of bladed weapon and complementary leather armor.
“Oh good it’s you…”. Marvin the Librarian was donned in similar fashion to Kam. “Listen son. I know you don’t get what’s happening, but if you want to get your sister out of here alive, we gotta go.”
Hysteria aside, Kam nodded. “Say less…”
They took up horseback once again and headed in the direction of the towering castle that dominated the ambient backdrop.
This Excerpt is adapted from the original Grimm Brother’s Fairy Tale, “Blue Beard”:
Terror stricken, Amira ran out of the room, dropping the bundle of keys in her haste. She stumbled, picking them up as quick as she could and sprinted to her bedroom. She sat in the bed cross legged, try to calm her sporadic breath and thumping heart. She was trapped in a castle of the dead! So this is what had happened to Blue Beard’s other wives…
Amira noticed the small key was stained with blood. “I’ve gotta get this dang thing clean before the psycho gets back…”, she thought to herself.
She washed, she scrubbed and she rinsed, all in vain.
Amira’s heart sank to the floor that evening as Blue Beard returned home. Luckily, she made it through the rest of the evening and into to the next without him asking about the keys. Although he had remarked:
“You look a little upset darling as anything happened?”
“Oh, no! No…it’s nothing.”
“Are you sorry I came back so soon?”
Amira cleared her throat harshly against a sip of her wine glass. “Not at all!! Just overjoyed I suppose…”.
She tried in every spare moment she could get away with to scrub the blood stains from the key, but there was no luck. She wasn’t able to sleep at all that night. Her eyes were glued open and her mind racing, trying to establish a plan of escape.
The next day Blue Beard said:
“Darling give me back the keys…”
Amira didn’t hesitate, shoving them into his hands and turning immediately to walk away.
Blue Beard snatched her wrist as she did so, pulling her back closer. “There’s one missing the key to the little room…”
“Is it….”, Amira questioned, “Are you sure? Well we need to find it then, right?! I’ll go check my room…”
Amira took her time, pacing back and forth, alone in the Queen’s chambers — trying to devise a plan of escape….
“Why is the key stained with blood?!” The large brute King turned white in the face as he hoarded out the accusation.
“Blood?!?”, Amira gave him a look of confusion from her seat at the large table. “I don’t know…”
There was was no doubt in Amira’s mind that the King was over seven-foot. And he had shoulders as wide as a car was from headlight to headlight. The ogre-like man approached her with an unwavering stare of violence in his eyes, “You know very well!”, he retorted. “You went into the little room didn’t you?! Well you’ll be going back again, this time for good, along with the other la—AAAAHHHHH!!!!!!”
Amira cut the diabolical speech in half by stabbing her steak knife into the grunt’s ridiculously large hand. Straight through the center of it, she felt the tip of the blade touch the table beneath.
Kicking and scrambling away immediately, Amira felt the long dress tearing from Blue Beard’s clutches. “Anna!!!! Anna!!!” She yelled for the woman who had claimed to be her sister when she woke up in the castle. She didn’t have time to look or wait for the woman; instead Anna went straight for the hiding spot she’d scouted out.
It took a while but she finally heard him coming down the ball, laughing maniacally. “Where are you wife?!?!”, he barked. “You must die!!!”
“OH!!! Oh no!!! I pray you!”, Anna begged…
“Let her go!!” Amira revealed herself, she couldn’t let the woman be killed because of her own cowardice.
Blue Beard dropped the scared woman. Anna immediately scrambled and crawled towards Amira.
No one moved for a long pause, they just stared one another down. Without breaking eye contact with Blue Beard, Amira whispered to Anna, “Go get help, see if our brothers are on their way…”
With that, Anna released her clutch on what remained of Amira’s dress and bolted away.
“Wife your time is up!!! Come here.”, Blue Beard commanded.
“Very well…”, Amira obliged, taking her time. Keeping her nerves and fear from showing took all of the will power she could bring about. “You know you don’t have to kill me…” she started as she neared the royal giant. “I won’t tell anyone what I saw…I’ll never say a word!!”
“Yes, you’ll never say a word for eternity!!!” He raised his sword over his head ready to bring it down atop Amira’s head.
Amira winced; cowering and bracing for the oncoming death blow that never came. Instead all she heard and felt was the clattering vibrations of sword, crown and three hundred pounds of royalty crashing to the ground. As she opened her eyes she saw a single arrow piercing Blue Beard’s eye socket.
Turning to see who her hero was, she saw Kam running towards her. He was wearing the most mideival getup she could ever imagine and running like a child with his arms outstretched.
Kam grabbed his sister and gave her the biggest hug he’d ever given her in his life. “Don’t ever do that again. Mom and Dad would’ve killed me…”
“I didn’t know you could shoot a bow…”
“Pfftt…”, Kam stood triumphantly, “Dad and I been bow-fishing so many times I couldn’t count it!!”
The girl, Anna and the librarian, Marvin approached them with great concern over whether the King would stand up again. Marvin kicked his foot a few times for good measure.
“Would everyone be so kind as to repeat after me…”, Marvin said donning a pair of glasses that were the silver-sister of the ones from the box. “…toujours après..”, Marvin instructed.
Moments later, they were all sitting at a table in the quiet area of the library once again. Looks of astonishment, excitement and wonder across all of their faces.
“Anna?!?!”, Amira’s excited probe broke the silence.
“It’s actually Jaz.”, replied the girl who had just been stuck in the story with them. “Thanks for helping me with the bird feeder earlier.” She kissed Kam on the cheek and skipped away from the table; leaving both Okoro siblings in absolute, open-mouthed shock.
“Welcome to the order son.” Marvin held a hand out for Kam to shake. “You proved yourself far better than any recruit ever could…obviously none of this happened, understood? Report back here tomorrow at 9, I’ll explain everything.” Marvin released Kam’s hand only after receiving a nod of understanding. He stood, collecting the book and glasses back into the cardboard box. “And you…” he looked at Amira. “Stay outta trouble while you’re here…”.
The writer’s hand slammed down onto the bedside nightstand, triggering a shocking wave of pain throughout his ulnar nerve. It was too early. And there was too much to do. Of course, he didn’t have work, but still there was an entire list “do’s” prepared by his wife that took priority. While massaging the outside of his hand he found and followed the hand responsible for relocating his alarm clock, up to the face of his new friend-emy, R’em.
R’em smiled cockily, “Rise and shine mate!”. He tossed the alarm clock over his shoulder and presented a cup of coffee to the writer.
The writer accepted the gift without hesitation. He was now entering the third week of living with R’em, the Shadow. He had the habitual ability of appearing from seemingly nowhere and ruining any attempts of relaxing that the Writer made. R’em’s demands were simple: the Writer had to write the story. Point. Blank. Period. There was no room for excuses or lolligagging in R’em’s presence.
The first day had been the worse:
The writer had been focusing on other, smaller projects and had returned to his brainchild, only to grace it with two paragraphs, before he decided to retire for the night. A mistake. As the writer neared the door he was snatched into a deep headlock. The glint of a dagger flirted with his eyes as the assailant pulled him back towards the center of the room. The Writer tried kicking and fighting the attacker off, but his old limbs were no match for the youth.
With no other option of restraint coming to mind, R’em was forced to deliver a right cross to the Writer’s cheek. With the old timer unconscious he pulled him into the wheeled chair and laid his limp arms across the desk and typewriter. R’em took the twine from the man’s own shoes and used them to tie the Writer’s legs to the base of the chair. And then…he waited….
After four hours of agony, R’em agreed to release the Writer from the chair. He’d given one chapter to the world R’em called home so he took it as a small victory.
The writer cried out in disgust as the Shadow Warrior cut through his shoestrings with the dagger. “You couldn’t untie your own knot….”
R’em chuckled and looked down at the pile of strings as if he didn’t know of his own handiwork, “S’pose I coulda…yeah…”.
The Writer through his hands out in defeat. He was long overdue for a trip to the bathroom — with his capturer finally showing pity, he did not want to waste any time bickering about the shoestrings.
When the writer returned R’em was gone. He soon found out that the friend of shadows had not gone far…
“Shall we get started then…”, R’em stretched his arms out and grunted loudly.
“I can’t…not yet…”, the writer massaged the back of his own neck and swung his legs off the bed. “I’ve got so mu—“
“Cut the yard, water the flowers, water the garden, trim the hedges, wash the pup, wash the car…”, R’em cleated his throat and pulled a scroll from his waist belt. He unraveled it revealing its obscene length, it easily shielded his entire midsection from neck to belt line. “Change the oil in the car, do the—look mate I gotta be honest wit ya —“ he rubbed his chin, the parchment unraveling even further as his hand went for his face. It unrolled and bounced across the floor, over the Writer’s boots and out of the bedroom door. “Oops…”.
They both looked up with amusement in their eyes when heard the hardwood scratches of the ever-annoying cat down stairs. Presumably, it was scrambling away from the still unraveling scroll. “Just how long is that thing?!”, the Writer laughed a bit.
“That’s the giant pro’lem now i’nt it Mate….it just goes on and on and on and on…” R’em started to thump the long list with each ‘on’ he retorted. “It’s never ending; this honey-do list or whatever you’ve named it…”
The Writer pondered R’em’s words for a time. “You’re a terrible influence you know that…”. He got off the bed, stepped over the scroll and began dressing for his day of yard duties.
R’em shook the long page furiously; his tantrum culminated in his proceeding to tear the scroll into small pieces. He left the room mumbling under his breath and ripping the document to shreds.
It felt as if the sun had a personal vendetta against him. His yard did not have the luxury of tree given shade; cutting the yard in the summer months for the Writer was a 10,000-square foot chore of being baked alive. It didn’t help matters to periodically spot the hovering R’em. He waved at and mimicked the Writer in jest, laughing so loud the chuckles could be heard over the mowers engine. With sweat matting his shirt to his back and pouring down his face he reached down for the bottle of water he had placed in his cargo pocket. It was missing. He let the mower’s lever go, quieting the machine and looked back on the strip of grass he’d just cut.
“Thirsty?” R’em slid out of nowhere to beside the Writer.
“MOTH—“, the Writer cursed from being startled. He snatched the bottle from R’em’s grasp.
“Whooooo…”, R’em flapped his own collar, giving himself air, false concern bent at his brow and wrinkled his nose as he stared up. He used a hand as a sun visor. “Hot one today…well, well…I’ll leave you to it.”
Water splashed all over the writer as he stumbled forward from R’em smacking his back. The warriors hand made a wet, sticking sound against his sweat soaked t-shirt as well.
When the Writer had finished he took a much needed seat in the garage. He didn’t want to move, the ninety-degree-day had sucked every ounce of energy from his body. He melted back in the lawn chair and tried to metaphysically conjure an ice cold beer into his hands. Needless to say either he was no sorcerer or telepathic conjuration wasn’t a thing. He drifted off to sleep.
Before the sleep could fully take hold he felt the tapping at his leg. It was as annoying as it was consistent. He opened one eye and immediately shut it forcefully when he saw R’em standing over him.
That was all R’em needed. “Up we go!!”, he hoisted the writer up and out of the chair. Carrying him all the through the house, up the stairs and into the Writer’s office with the ease of a professional warrior. “Okay…make me proud…”, he sneered.
Being thrown into the leather bound chair wasn’t anything new at this point. Two weeks with R’em would be enough to desensitize the toughest men of pain. The Writer took the flinging like the rag doll he was being tossed around as. His hands found his chin immediately as he stared at the blank page…
The Writer let out a long sigh….then the page began to come to life….
Saving his hand the pain, he didn’t even try to turn off the alarm clock as it blared. It was stopped momentarily after by his new warrior roommate anyways.
R’em chuckled. “Ah mate…”He chuckled progressively louder until he had the Writer’s attention. “Me mate, me mate….”. He stopped laughing just long enough to hold out the pages before his eyes, as if he was taken aback by what he’d read. Then he started to chuckle again. “Ah mate….”
“What is R’em….”, the Writer groaned, still pulling the sleep from his mind. “You’re clearly bothered…”
“Bothered….”, R’em leaned his head back with a braggart smile and struck the pages a few times with the backside of his fingers.
“Okay…well if you don’t wanna talk about, I’m gonna go brush my tee—“
“A bloody torture dungeon, mate?!?!”, R’em crumbled the papers and leaned in so that he was only a few centimeters from touching noses with the writer. Eye to eye, trying to pour the fury from his own eyes into the soul of the Writer’s.
“Here we go…”, the Writer brushed him off and started to get out of bed. “Did you read it all…you do get rescued y’know…”
“Who are you talking to?”, the Writer’s wife asked as she too began to wake up.
When the Writer turned back around R’em was gone. “Ah…no one honey. Just thinking out loud…”
Even for a town known most notably for its past of harboring one of the nation’s largest religious cults, Grant couldn’t shake the feeling of this case being one of the weirdest he’d ever taken. As a private investigator, Grant was praised heavily for his expert use of aerial surveillance systems. However, ten years in the business and nothing could’ve prepare him for a mystery like this. Just thirty minutes after arriving to the town, Grant had gotten more the news on the serial murderer; the psychopath had struck again. It had happened just that morning, bringing the victim total, on the year, to three. The chief briefed him on all the details, quickly. Another person whose organs were completely burnt and a look of fear frozen on their face. For the past five years this town had been subject to the psychopathic game of a monster. He killed at least five victims each summer; his record high had been seven back in the second year.
Grant sat in his hotel room, scratching his beard in concentration, trying to connect the dots between the files that were spread across his desk. He tossed the empty coffee cup aside, after unsuccessfully tilting it up to his face for a final sip, only to find the dry, styrofoam bottom.
The victims were all alumni of the local high school, Montgomery Banks High; but so was ninety-two percent of the rest of the town. For this year, two of the victims had been male, this last one female. The first female victim. With five years of victim data in front of him, that was the one file that stood out for obvious reasons. On the surface, he should be able to paint a clear cut picture of the suspect. Based on the previous victims, it was a person who had a personal vendetta against the Montgomery Banks baseball team; the victims were an array of former players and even the mascot. But the latest victim, Hannah Larks, didn’t fit into the puzzle whatsoever.
She’d been an honor roll student, left town after graduation for a full ride academic scholarship only to return home early as a new mother. She was known around town for being kind and generous to everyone and even owned the local bakery. A large majority of the townees claimed her small shop had the best banana bread muffins in the state. There were some advertisements in the hotel lobby that also attested to the claim. Whatever motive there was for her murder, was completely invisible without more information.
Grant glanced over his shoulder at the cheap, digital, hotel clock. “4:41”. The sun would be up soon, maybe…hopefully…but most likely not, the local PD would be up with it. He needed access to the bakery. He would need to do some digging. He decided, given the timing, she would’ve had to’ve been there before being transported to the crime scene.
The police department had a heavy dose of small town vibe; upon entering the wooden double doors Grant found himself standing in front a large podium like desk, manned by two burly officers. Along with a shared body type the two guardsmen also had simplistic facial expressions that seemed to say “Who is this foreigner?”
“Mornin’ guys…”, Grant said as he approached the desk flashing his private investigator credentials. “Any chance your chief might be in?”
They both laughed out a little too hard, creating some discomfort for Grant. The one wearing a name plate with Yates eventually spoke up, “Bud, Chief ain’t left the building in a month an’a ha’f…”, he pointed at a closed office door labeled “Chief Reyes”.
“Thanks.” Grant tipped his hat and took the five necessary steps towards the Chief’s office. He rapped on the door, waiting awkwardly for an answer as he rocked back and forth on his heels, trying not to make any more eye contact with tweedle dee or tweedle dum. “He always this quiet?”
“What?!” Came the clueless response that Grant was expecting.
“You got keys?”
“Look if Chief ain’t answering he prolly ain’t of the mood to being bothered buddy…”
“That’s fair…”, Grant strode back towards the desk, nodding in greeting at a passing officer who was exiting the station. “…but in case you’re not aware there’s a serial killer in your town picking people off left and right. Your Chief hired me. Not just because he has little faith in his overweight and comically deficient force — but also because he’s a prime target. I’m guessing that’s why he hasn’t left the building since this all started.”
Yates and Hughes continued to stare blankly at the Chiefs office door.
Hughes snapped to it, juggling at the keys strapped to his waistband as he tumbled down from the platform desk. The large officer with a single chevron indicating his rank began to sweat as he searched for the correct key. He called out for the leader of their Command chain as he thumbed through the key collection, “Hey Chief!”.
The silence they received from the other side of the door was telling. The situation had just grown excruciatingly more complex. In response, Grant reached into his inner coat pocket for one of the four metallic orbs he carried at all times. Feeling for the one with a single raised dot. After catching grip of it he immediately paced towards the door and launched the ball skyward with its’ press of the ‘deploy’ button.
Hughes, after finally finding the correct key flung the Chief’s office door open. Yates has found his way down from the podium at some point during Hughes’ struggle.
To Grant’s unfortunately, correct intuition sat the Chief. His neck oddly bent back with an expression of pure terror frozen on his face. Just like the others a filmy, yellow substance covered his entire body, clothes and all. The killer hadn’t even given the poor guy time to make a move. Grant exchanged looks of disgust with both of the officers before stepping forward into the office, “Give me a moment.” He said as he snapped on the pair of rubber gloves he kept in his back pocket.
Yates nodded, dumbfounded.
Hughes snapped at the latter to go grab the crime scene tape. Before he himself rushed back over to their desk to make the proper phone calls.
Grant reached back into the pocket where he kept the orbs and pulled out the specially made eye-wear. The custom spectacles were fitted precisely to his head and had loops that secured them around each of his ears; in addition they had only a single lens. The very moment the loops made contact with his ears the infrared feed came to life in the lens. His drone had already reached altitude and was orbiting its launch point with a 200-meter radius; so the entire police station and surrounding area was in view. Grants watch worked in tandem with the glasses, he looked down at the aerial system controls and accompanying 3-D map that illuminated holigraphically from his wrist and sent the UAS commands to fly towards the center of town. He locked the camera on coordinates for the Lilac Cove Bakery. The holographic display dimmed as his wrist lowered although the video feed continued to display in his one lens.
Grant ran his finger across the Chiefs desk…yellow grime clung to his glove. He stared at the Chief for a time then back at the door. Grant stepped over the fallen chair in the center of the room and ran finger along the window sill. Nothing but dust.
Grant studied the office for about fifteen minutes before it caught his eye. There inside the Chiefs trophy case sat and assuming baseball and glove. What made it peculiar was the spot of grimy yellow that marked the only spot of the ball that time hadn’t aged. He opened the case and took the ball along with his leave.
His aerial vehicle had just about finished its second orbit around the coordinates he’d sent it to when he spotted the ball. By rotating one of the disc around the watch face, Grant was able to widen the orbit’s radius by another 150 meters. He needed a flatter point of view to see the side alley and front side view of the small shop as it was in a close cluster of other small businesses. By sliding his left index finger along the temples of his glasses the camera zoomed in. He focused the gain and flir of the feed with his right hand.
Grant did not say goodby as he slipped under the caution tape and left the station.
Grant had assumed news of the Chief’s death would be the talk of town soon; though he hadn’t expected the news to beat him to the bakery. Words in small town, USA really do travel faster than light. The gossip and rumors, filled with a mixed variety of fear, confusion and anger flooded Grant’s eavesdropping ears as he exited his vehicle.
With no time to waste and a full knowledge on the layout of the area, Grant quickly crossed the street and into the alley way that sat adjacent to the bakery. He removed the eye peice and tapped his watch face in a rhythmic pass code pattern; seconds later his flying reconnaissance device landed in his outstretched palm. The wings folded and it collapsed into itself, forming the orb it once was. He dropped it into his pocket before continuing on, down the alley.
He found the fire escape ladder and made his way to the roof, crouching behind the ventilation system out of the line of sight of any pedestrians on the street below. It took a long bout of fiddling and prying before he was able to bend the roof top panel far enough to drop down into the bakery.
Grant was snatched immediately into a rear choke hold. The gun barrel pressed against his kidney was cold. The liquor on his assailants breath amplified the untethered fear that floods ones’ emotions when confronted with a loaded weapon. Grants’ hands raised, unconsciously submitting to defeat and signaling that he was of no threat to the gunman.
“Who are you?”
“Grant Cole, private eye…” Grant spoke in as reassuring a voice he could muster, “…badge is my shirt pocket.”
The attacker reached into Grant’s shirt and pulled out the badge. Grant was able to see the attacker’s reflection in the badge as the man flipped it open for an examination. “Pfft…private eyes have a problem using the front door?”
“Didn’t think the place would be open—”
“It isn’t…”, the red-headed man cut Grant off.
Grant took a chance. The one thing he hated more than anything was guessing, he was a man of facts and never acted on anything other than that. However, he needed to defuse the situation, “Listen…I’m not your enemy…”, Grant steadied his own shaky voice, “I just want to find the person. The piece of trash — who killed your…your….Mother?”
The attacker moved the gun to Grant’s temple, “What’d you say? How do you know she’s my mother?”
“I assume you were the only red-head around growing up here in a town of four-hundred?” Grant cleared his throat, “Perhaps we could talk without the gun…”
Success. The man pushed Grant away and holstered the weapon. “You’re gonna pay for that.” He said pointing up at the ceiling and bent ventilation shaft that Grant had slid through.
“Sure thing.” Grant held out his hand, “Nice to meet you Mr. Larks…”
“Just call me Ron…”, Ron said accepting the handshake. “You’re doing more than the cops if you’re here…they’re as afraid as the rest of us…”
“Just doing my job.”
“You should see this…”, Ron said motioning then towards the laptop he had sitting on the dining room counter. There was a half empty bottle of whiskey beside it.
The surveillance video that Ron shared, provided the footage needed to cement Grant’s concern on the extreme mystery of the case: At six-fourteen, a.m., precisely forty-six minutes before the bakery was normally scheduled to open, Hannah is seen entering the bakery. She closes and locks the door behind her, the video flickers, instantly as if it had appeared from thin air a horror-inducing four-armed figure is seen behind her. It’s twelve fingers were all cringe-worthy in their unnatural length. Though it faced away from the camera, Grant only had to see Mrs Larks face to know what terrors lay behind its eyes. The older woman dropped her purse in fear after finding the creature behind her. The video flashes once again and the bakery is completely empty. Hannah and the grotesque creature are gone…..
The small, hand strewn, canvas tent did little in regards to shielding T’Rik from the elements; at six-foot, three inches it could barely contain his head and toes simultaneously. He had intentionally chosen the campsite for its coverage, but not even the sky-touching limbs of the gray-wood plants could deter the storm from its mission of saturating the entire forest floor. Born on the ark, he was considered a first-generation settler of the planet, Andro7-mX3; which was just shorthand for saying the seventh planet (which has three moons, hence the mX3) from the star in the andromeda galaxy. They hadn’t had time to properly name it, as shortly after touching down the ‘fallout’ happened, so Andro7 had stuck; fifteen years later and it is still Andro-7. Harsh conditions were common; there were frequent dust storms, unpredictable monsoons, earthquakes, several (known) patches of landmass with extreme levels of radiation and an acid lake. Home sweet home.
T’Rik squeezed his knees tighter into his chest; he was a shivering ball, using the one-size-fits-“everyone under six-three” sleeping bag as a blanket and trying with all his might to squeeze in any remaining warmth the tent had. The only bright side of the night-time freezing temperatures was the fact that come daybreak the planets surface would once again rise to well over forty-three degrees Celsius. Similar to desert climates back on Earth, Andro7’s forests were very temperate-volatile. Shivering and clutching his legs, T’Rik turned his wrist over so that the holographic photo of his Mother displayed from his watch. Her image filled the tent with light, if only that light emitted as much warmth as was in her smile. He watched her for the umteenth time lifting the same vial up towards an indeterminate light source and again it back down; the motion was on a loop. The last thing she had said before he left their camp was, “Damn em all. If it wasn’t for their egos the fallout would’ve never happened and you wouldn’t have to complete such a barbaric ritual.”. Not everyone in his tribe had as much sense as the resident bio-chemist though. Nonetheless, her credentials and essential position may’ve been the only thing that saved both of their lives during the fallout fifteen years ago. However, as important as she may be, that did not exclude him from the pilgrimage — tribe law dictates that upon a members seventeenth birthday, they must set off and cannot return to the tribe until they have successfully become a hunter, discoverer or warrior….he hoped with all his heart to avoid becoming the latter.
Though he belonged to the largest of the tribes, there were nine others who had settled in various places across the planet. All nine, composed of previous shipmates aboard the ark that had brought them from Earth — it was a lack of resources, unfamiliar surroundings, poor preparation and egotistical differences had driven them from the plans of scientific discovery and diplomatic settlement into tribal warfare and disharmony. The societal history of Andro7 would go down as one of warfare and disagreement, the very combo that had destroyed their previous home, Earth.
Lightning flashed and T’Rik counted the seconds between it and the rumbling thunder; the storm was getting farther away, but not nearly fast enough. Still it was enough of a task to quell his anxiety, along with the thunder he began to trail off into a very uncomfortable sleep.
T’Rik was startled awake, “WHO’S THERE?!?!”, he yelled fumbling to grab hold of the rifle he slept beside. Luckily it was only the daylit cries of some unknown forest creature — thirteen years on this rock was not enough time to become accustomed to all the various wildlife. He needed to end this pilgrimage soon and be back in his pod, learning the craft of his Mother. She had raised him to be a scientist not a hunter; survival was in his genes though, his Mother had always been sure to tell him about his Father. The man who had forgone his seat aboard the ark to stay on Earth and fight, a brave soldier who was only a memory now. What T’Rik would do to have had the opportunity to learn from him now. He had not even been given proper training with the rifle or puny electromagnet saber they’d given him to complete the pilgrimage with; his Mother had not known he’d be chosen to complete it until two months ago. T’Rik shook the fear and began to tear down the tent, collecting all his gear, making ready to set off on this third day of trying to become a discoverer. He didn’t know what he’d find, all he hoped for was that it be rare enough to grant him permission to remain in the tribe; the last thing his Mother needed was the heartbreak of having her only son exiled.
Having completed four of the five trials already, Omerik only needed to capture one of the beast his tribe had named, Kredojas in order to take Tria’s hand in marriage. Only men who had completed the ‘Five task of Men’ were allowed to marry, and he was determined to complete the ritual before any of the other boys his age could steal her away. He was short and frail, standing only five-foot, seven, but he had done exceptionally well in the first four trials. He was the only one on the fifth currently; the grappling trial had been a breeze, Omerik had tossed the elder tribesman around for the entire three rounds. Without even taking pause to be congratulated by the rest of the tribe he had sprinted towards the tribes navigation expert and requested he be tested immediately, again passing the trial exceedingly; he showed a remarkable aptitude for map marking and pathfinding. He was told by the elder upon completion of the entire ritual he would have a job waiting for him; a man with wife would need a job after all. The third trial — an endurance test — had given him the most trouble, as he was not the best runner; but he powered through it, luckily he had such a headstart on the others his finish time mattered not, all that mattered was that he finished. The weapons mastery test was considered essential to the tribe, everyone watched the participants display their handidness with weapons disassembly, reassembly and accuracy in shooting targets; Omerik was given an above-average assessment and gifted a blaster to complete the final trial in which he now found himself. ‘The first into the forest’, was the moniker the elders had given him as he set off to complete the last trial. It would be a test of not only his tracking ability, but also tactics and bravery. Kredojas were incredibly dangerous creatures, defending their territory with the most vicous of physical attributes: they stood about six-feet high from talons to shoulder, had six limbs with eight toes each, double-row of sawed teeth and a temper to match. As a child, Omerik had watched one scale up a gray-wood, leap and snatch its flying prey mid-air; so he knew despite their ridiculous size, the Kredojas were incredibly agile. Although a man could outrun one in a straight forward footrace, the chances of that in the densely foliated gray-wood forest was slim.
During last nights storm Omerik had smartly covered his skin and clothes with a layer of mud, to not only mask his scent but act as a form of camouflage when approaching the nearly blind predator. Its sense of smell was literally other-worldly, but as the elders had instructed them it could not see past it’s own snout and it’s sense of hearing was no better. As long as one concealed his smell it would be possible to trap a Kredoja. Omerik had seen it done before; well, at least he had seen them brought back to the tribe, rope-bound and howling to be released. The meat of a Kredoja was only good if cooked immediately after silencing the beast. Omerik envisioned the feast that would be had in his honor. He licked his lips in anticipation, daydreaming about how impressed Tria will be at his success.
The howl was loud and to eastward of his location, Omerik noted as he pulled up his binoculars scanning the direction. He couldn’t believe his eyes…a tent…he was no longer alone on the fifth trial. This would make things interesting, he couldn’t let someone beat him in the hunt. He had done to well up to this point.
He continued to his northbound heading, determined he would be able to make a new discovery near the base of the mountain range. Following his Mother’s words of wisdom that the area was one that had been very poorly surveyed when they had first arrived planet side all those years ago.
After about a half hour of hiking towards the mountain, T’Rik knelt down to take another soil sample, it was his intention to head back to camp once he got down to his last ration pack; hoping that his mother would be able to find something “new” within the samples he periodically collected. Maybe a cheap way out of the “coming of age” challenge, but he didn’t care in the slightest. He just wanted it to be over.
That’s when he saw it. Slightly obscured by a wide, low hanging leaf was just the geological discovery he was hoping to find. As he neared his hopes grew even further. If not a rare, precious stone at the very least it has to be a meteor. Maybe a chunk from one of Andro7’s three moons. The rock was such a deep hue of black it seemed to translucent, shimmering in the light. After such a rough night T’Rik was deeply thankful to make his discovery before Andro7’s sun intensified.
T’Rik admired the stone for a long while before finally popping open the face of his wristwatch and tapping in the coordinates of his location. Storing the map marker into the tribes shared data network. Minutes later he began chipping away at the stones surface, attempting to collect a sizable sample. Easier said than done the rock was harder than diamond; there wasn’t a tool in his disposal that could easily chip it. He had to find a way.
”The fool”, Omerik muttered to himself as he watched the other tributary commit a heinous violation when hunting Kredoja; one never, ever, ever, ever, ever fiddles with a Kredoja egg. On the bright side, it would offer Omerik an opportunity to not only prove his aptitude in capturing one of the beast but also his valor in rescuing the fool from certain death.
The loud roar shook the foliage as the imminent Kredoja warning cry of territorial dominance rang throughout the forest as the mother approached.
Omerik broke out into a strategically paced jog towards the baffoon who’d disturbed the natural order of the forest.
With her innate, ultra sensitive sense of electromagnetism, she could detect any disturbances within the territory in which she held dominion. As she knelt her face into the the lake taking a drink she felt the anomaly nearing her nest; however, she remained unfettered, knowing that no life form on the planet dare bother her nest. The only reward for such an act was a quick death.
The downright disrespect she felt crawled up from the soil, through her twenty-four talons and shook the scaly fan that surrounded her head alive. She roared her displeasure, shaking the forest awake. An example was to be made. She broke away from the sizzling lake, reaching full stride within the first few steps of her sprint.
The earth shaking stomps she supplied shook the fool from his folly; she salivated as he stumbled away from her egg. The steam from her spittle rising as it burned against the still moist ground of the forest floor. With her teeth bared she stomped again nearing the bi-pedal invader of her lands. He fell over himself, searching for ground to flee. She hated those who ran from their deaths. With one quick hop to the left, she cut off his intended escape route. She roared again, striking fear into his legs, they betrayed him and he fell to the ground once again.
The fool raised a trembling weapon. The projectile whizzed past her head and sent gray-wood bark exploding into the air. She lunged with incredible speed and accuracy smashing the foul smelling weapon from his grasp. Right before her jaws clamped down into the bipedal a blast rammed onto her side and knocked her skyward. She crashed into the forest floor and her limbs were immediately bound, shocks erupting from the rope and cursing pain throughout her body.
Rory stared a long while. Just watching the old man’s chest rise and fall. The heart monitor providing a metronome for deep thought; The hospital TV adding background noise. Rory touchedhis grandfather’s hand the hand.
“Flora?!?!” The elder sprang awake calling for his long gone love.
“Nah Gramps…” Rory answered. “It’s me. I just got in from up state.”
Tracy sucked his teeth, “Wha…wha, your Dad ain’t have you drive down for this did he?”
Rory caught the pity in his throat and didn’t allow it to show in his tone, “Yeah, you know how he is. Be over exaggerating…right?”
“Yeah…that boy’ll call the whole army in here, f’ya don’t watch it.”
They laughed out loud together.
Rory pulled a chair closer to the bedside and took a seat.
“Hand me that glass there will ya.”
“Boy if you don’t put that nasty juice down ‘n reach me the water….”
Rory couldn’t help but notice his Grandfather’s shaking hands and deteriorating condition. It took him using both hands to tilt the cup of water into his mouth. He cleared his throat once more before answering, “Uh…well…practice is good—“
“Practice?!?!” Tracy cut him off, “You on the pine?”
“The pine?! What??” Rory laughed, “Nah, we just ain’t playing…can’t with the, y’know…stuff going on…”
“Man, lemme tell ya something…”, Tracy wet his lips loudly.
“Floor is yours…”
Tracy shot his grandson a side eye, “Don’t ya cut me off now…”
Rory made a zipper motion across his lips and bowed in respect, a smirk across his face. He was relieved and happy to see the old man in such high spirits.
“…same thing happened to us ‘fore…”
“Aight…Aight…before you even go down this road. Ain’t nun like this ever happened Gramps…” Rory protested with the permanent smile still stuck to his lower face.
“You gon let me tell my story or what?!”, Tracy countered.
“You got it, you got it.”
“Now….this cat…’Fly-T’ we called him. Used to could jump out the gym with cement shoes on, f’he wanted. Lemme tell ya. Thi—“
“You already tellin me…”, Deep down Rory loved to get a playful rise from his Grandfather.
Tracy shot another look, “You gon let me talk man?!”
“My bad, my bad, go head Gramps.” Rory apologized for interrupting.
“So this is round sixty-t’ree Fly done messed roun—“ Tracy’s story was halted abruptly by a fit of violent coughing.
Before he could challenge the idea of his grandfather playing ball in sixty-three when the old man hadn’t even been born until seventy-six, the coughing bout had started. Rory sprang out of the chair as if he had any idea how to help.
Tracy drank lightly from the shaking glass, waving for Rory to sit back down. “Yeah…yeah…oh Yams…”. Tracy waited. Thinking. “That cat man…”
“Aye you good?” Rory beckoned, “Need a nurse or sum’n in here?”
“Boy! I look like I need a nurse?!”
They laughed together once more, before another round of coughs broke in. This one less abrasive. Tracy gulped down the rest of the glass.
“Fill dat up fah me…”
Tracy smacked his teeth, “The sink boy!”
Rory sprang up and towards the small bathroom, “You drinking sink water my guy??” Rory pressed. “Ima bring you some bottles up later on. Aight?”
“Yeah, yeah….just give me the glass.” Tracy spoke horsely. He liked his throat with another gulp before continuing, “…so this man Fly mess around got the whole team throwing up an squirting down at the same time! ‘N we gotta game to play, mind ya!”
Rory laughed hard, holding his side so that it didn’t split from over joyousness. “Throwing up and squirting down!!!!” He mimicked.
“Like that one, huh?” Tracy chuckled.
“So what y’all do?”
“Shoot. We played. Boys was running of the court to the bathroom, guys was throwing up in trash cans….Coach ran outta time outs in the first quarter!”
Rory was bursting.
“It was 62 – 4, by time coach finally forfeit.” Tracy mockingly waved his arms over his shaking head, then threw his hands open in a ‘that’s enough, we quit’-motion.
Rory couldn’t contain himself, he practically rolled out of the chair, in tears.
“Aye that team was sum’n else. Boy’I’tel’ya.” Tracy laughed at himself. “You got time hear bout a game?”
“Yeah. Yeah! I love hearing bout your games man!”
“Okay. Look, this first time I ever played with these cats, right…We’re joking, carrying round in the locker room and Coach burst in on us ready to slam us around. He’s yelling about execution this and execution that. ” Tracy paused to cough and laugh at the nostalgia. “…Rory listen. When I say I don’t know a single play…”
Rory roared with laughter at his grandpa.
“Boy that ball tip off…I just go with it…I let loose. Free as a uncaged bird. None of those guys could stop me. It was like I had all the answers. Pass. Woosh!” Tracy motioned like he was darting a no-look pass to his right. “Cross up, beating presses easy. Nothing they could do…I put up fifty-nine points that game.” he coughed, “Nothing they could do to stop me..,”
“Man. That’s wild, and you were just playing, huh?” Rory smiled.
“Yep…just let the game come to ya…” Tracy said, “Say look, there’s something I want you do fah me…”
Rory sat up, “Anything, you know that. What’s up?”
“Flora put all my hoop stuff up in the attic…I gotta pair of shoes I want you to have. My Dad gave em to me right after my freshman year at Tech.” Tracy took another sip of water.
“Aight, bet!” Rory responded, “What kinda shoes are they?”
“Well they’re real special…”
They were quiet for a long second.
“When ya gotta go back to school?”
“Well, really I don’t…” Rory began to explain, “We still on lockdown, every class online.”
“Online…huh…” Tracy nodded.
“Well you got time then…”
“Time for what?”
“This a long story so hold ya tongue…”
Rory chuckled, “Aight.”
Tracy began, “So they’re up 89 – 82, we were on the ropes, under dogs hoping for some hope. Coach throws Moe in, he could shoot like nobody’s—“
“Gramps, Gramps. I heard this, you tell me this story every time I see you,” Rory smiles, “this the game you got hurt, making that drive some dude took your legs out and it ruined the comeback.”
“Yeah…Yeah…you heard that part of it.” Tracy coughed, “I ain’t neva told nobody what happened next…Aye get up n go shut that door. Don’t cut me off ag’n.”
“Yessir.” Rory obeyed. He knew the difference between a serious tone and a playful one. Even though they sounded at the same octave coming from Tracy.
“Now listen…”, Tracy began:
“As I come to, this Docs talking bout concussion ‘n that. I’m like yeah. Okay. Never minding all that, y’know. I’m just wanting to know when I can get back on the court. So I end up having fractured my eye bone right here. My nose….yeah….I make that face when I think about it too. You shoulda saw me then. Ugly as ever.” They laughed. “So…so….my Ma comes by. Pop had been long gone by time I was in school, y’know that. Well she hands me these shoes. Say they used to be my Pops. I don’t want em.”
They shared another laugh.
“She said to me then, no matter what a man I become, don’t ever forget the man that brought you into this world. His mistakes don’t need to change nothing bout having respect and love for em, even at a distance. My ma…she was always a smart woman. Strong. Long story, short, I took the shoes. Took em on back to campus wit me when they finally let me leave the hospital. They’d told me to take it easy, not to—“
“You hooped in em, didn’ya?”
“Oh! You know it!”
Tracy continued, “Man I woke up that next morning had to be bout 4, 5…i was beating the sun up. Threw those sneakers in my bag and struck out for the gym…..
Tracy juggled his keys until the one for the gym lock popped out from the bundle. The warm, stale, A/C-less hardwood gym air swam into his nostrils as he entered. He loved the sound of his ball bouncing in an empty gym as he strolled towards the bench, taking a seat. He sat and dribbled underneath, between and in front of his legs; a routine pattern practiced and perfected since middle school. He threw the ball towards the opposite bleachers in frustration at costing his team the tournament game. Well he hadn’t caused himself to lose consciousness, but his unavailability was frustrating nonetheless.
The bag fell to the floor with a thump, weighed down by books and the old shoes his mother had gifted him on behalf of Gale. He refused to acknowledge Gale as Dad at this point. The wound was still too fresh.
“Let’s see if I can break these in for you Gale…” he said to himself as he pulled the canvas shoes out of the backpack.
He slid his right foot into the sneaker; laced it tightly. Pulling the strings with all his frustration.
He left foot was next; as soon as his foot touched the sole of the shoe he heard someone call out, “Aye!!”. He jumped up knocking the wooden bench-chair down with a clammer.
“Who’s there?!?!” The gym should be empty this early. Not even Moe came in this early to put shots up. “Coach?! You in there?” He yelled towards the coaches office. He waited a time for an answer. “Whatever…”.
Then it happened. He slid his foot fully into the shoe and the entire world around him shifted. He looked up and found himself in the middle of a locker room. There were a few lanky men playing snapping towels right in front of his chair.
“Aye man!!” The one with the bigger afro yelped out, pointing sternly at the other, after taking a strong smack to his thigh.
There was a groovy, dream-like song playing to the amusement of a group of four other men farther away. The three were exchanging dance tips to the timid fourth, who stood between them not dancing, just combing back his blonde hair with a shaky hand. He was unsuccessfully trying to mimick their played out two-step routine.
“Aye Gale c’mere man!” One of the dancers called out towards Tracy’s direction.
Tracy looked to his left and realized he was sitting beside a giant of a man. He had to be at least seven foot, and as wide as a castle. The mountainous brute was snoring with his head awkwardly leaned into the locker at his back.
“Man, c’mon. You know Squatch ain’t wakin up!” The gentleman called again.
Tracy placed a hand to his chest as if to say “me?”. Clearly this was a dream.
“Yeah man…” the lanky dancer started towards Tracy, drawing out the ‘a’ and ‘n’ of ‘man’ when he said it. “This cat ain’t got no rhythm.” He grabbed Tracy’s arm. “Show em sum’n smooth like…” he started to swing his feet out erratically before bouncing back up straight, right on beat.
“Wha…..”, Tracy finally spoke, confused as the strange individual pulled him out of his seat. “What is this?”
“Aye Jug what’s this man?!” The stranger called over his shoulder towards the group he’d left.
“Orlon’s man!! It’s the Orlon’s!” Responded one of the other dancers. “Watsu sum’n. I’on know wat they sayin. It jam tho.”
“Yeah Gale, c’mon man!” Said the man tugging at Tracy’s arm.
“Look I don’t know what none of thi—“ Tracy started.
“Cut that dang nonsense off!!!” Came a loud bark from behind them.
The record scratched and stopped immediate to the hoarse voice’s command. Everyone froze. Everyone except Tracy who turned towards the door to see a short and stubby, suit coat wearing, Afro-pick in hair having, musk smelling, middle-aged, obvious-short-tempered man enter the locker room.
“Hey….uh…what’s going on he—“, Tracy tried to ask.
“Listen up ladies!!” The short man cut him off, pressing a strong finger into Tracy’s chest.
Tracy assumed the disrespectful finger was suppose to demand respect but instead he was triggered to react. He’d had enough of this nonsensical dream. This short stuff was about to receive all the frustration of his injury.
Having noticed the refusal to be pushed back the suited man replied in a low threat, “Gale…you sit your ass down or you’re off this team.”
Tracy smacked his hand away. “What team?!?!”
Before the stubby man got a full grip on his neck the other members of the locker room pulled Tracy away from the altercation.
“Not like that!”
“He’s just tired of losing!!!”
They all protested. Chanting on his behalf for lenience.
After several strong words between the two of them, Tracy finally allows the short man to speak to the rest of the team. Somehow the man’s face looks relieved as he expresses concern about some playbook and their need for execution against a better team.
“Wait…Gramps…”, Rory broke in, “That makes no sense…”
“I’m tellin ya how it happened…”, Tracy laughed. “I went back. With the shoes…I ha—“. Tracy began to cough. And cough. It wasn’t stopping like before. He bent over, coiling his hand up to his face, as if a hand up would make a difference when lung cancer has him doubled over.
Rory in a panic presses the emergency assistance button on the hospital TV remote.
As they rush in, doing everything humanly possible to save Tracy’s life, he says to Rory, “…Drop sixty…”
It took three months after his grandfather’s death before Rory was prepared, but he finally went to his Grandmother Flora’s house and pulled the shoes out of the attic. They were dusty. Smelled of dust even. He slapped them together a few times before before plunging his right foot inside and knotting the strings. Not a hesitation later, knowing ‘what he thought’ to expect he pulled the left shoe on:
Rory looked up to his left and saw that the scoreboard read 89 – 82…..
At long last the writer finally worked up enough energy to climb up into the dusty attic and retrieve the antiquated typewriter. A gift given to him quite a few years back by his brother; it had only been used once, to type out the “thank you”-letter. Now with three weeks of retirement under his belt — the responsibilities of clocking in and out, now, forever in the past — the writer, given his age, felt that it was now or never. To grab hold of his dream of creating a world, defining an adventure, exploring the deep, deep crevacis of imagination — to paint pictures with words.
He struggled out of the attic, collapsing with the typewriter onto his desk with loud THUD. He rested for a moment, arms crossed atop the tool of writing…thinking of all the dreams he’d been having and how to shape them into pages. Pages into chapters. Chapters into…Inspiration snapped his daydreaming away just as suddenly as it had come. He pulled the wheeled chair beneath himself and slumped down into it. His wrinkled hands, with its’ graying hairs, began to work on setting up the typewriter.
He stared at the blank stationery before him. Unsure and quite lost. But determined. He knew exactly how he wanted the tale to begin — with action, with the hero being the hero from the start — he just didn’t know the words to begin it with. His aged hands trembled over the keys. He leaned back, away from the empty page. The writer pulled open the drawer of the desk and prepared his pipe. He inhaled a deep, cough inducing, lungful and waited. Exhale.
As a wave rushes towards the shore with the surprising force and energy of nature, so did his hands begin to type. For hours he typed, until….inevitably…he was stuck: “….The Knight’s sword clanged as it fell to the marble floor. His eyes enlarged, his senses diminishing, his heart broken. The eyes of his once lover, now murderer were all he saw now. Confused. Betrayed. Outwitted?…..”
The writer fell out of his chair in shock, the chair unable to keep balance either joined him on the hardwood.
“Perhaps confused and betrayed were enough, no?” The Knight offered an armor plated hand.
The writer rubbed his eyes, perhaps he could shake them out of the lie they were showing him. “I must be dreaming…”
“No. I can assure you are not my friend.” The Knight said as he hooked an arm into the old man’s arm pit, helping him to his feet. He lifted the frail writer with such ease and placed him back into the chair as if he were a child’s doll. “Now…perhaps we could change that bit. I’d hate to die this way, no?”
“What is this?”
“This…this is a tragedy. I am not the hero?”
“I don’t know…”
“You don’t know?!?!” The Knight threw his hands up, “How could I not be? Look at me!” The Knight stood triumphantly, striking a pose.
“Well I…I suppose you are a hero of sorts.”
“That’s it. So how bouts we just change this a little…” the Knight leaned over the writer, about to strike the keys, when a strange, luminescent, stringy substance landed on his wrist. “Aww shi—“. The substance gripped the Knight’s wrist like a tightened lasso and he was yanked up to the ceiling.
“There’ll be enough of that.” The melodic voice of the Elven Princess echoed throughout the Writer’s office room. She tapped playfully at the Knights boots, dodging his fitful kicks as he hung from the ceiling by his wrist. “It wouldn’t be right for anyone but I to help. Isn’t that so?” She looked at the Writer with big, beautiful violet eyes.
He stammered, still unable to make sense of what was happening.
“Let me down this instant!” The Knight ordered.
Ignoring his pleas the elf strolled over to the Writer and placed a soft, warming hand to his cheek and kissed him lightly on the forehead. She repositioned his chair and the writer felt his hands move towards the typewriter keys. Motivation had been set in motion and he began to peg away. Putting words to the page.
“No!! Don’t let her confuse you!! Let me down now!” The Knight continued to kick and squirm. Throwing a tantrum as he dangled just over their heads.
The elf positioned herself behind the Writer, crossing her arms across his chest and he could feel her weight against the back of the chair. She twisted and curled his beard between her elven fingers. “Oh…” she shrieked, forcing him to stop typing with a slight yank on a single strand of his long, gray chin hair. “So much violence…would a dash of romance be so bad?”
“I suppose not…no it wouldn’t…”. He turned to look into her deep purple eyes once more. The speeding, metallic projectile crossed his vision as he did so. The arrow stuck into the desk with such force that wood chips and splinters flew into the air.
“T’Shai No!!!” The Knight yelled out as an Orc sprinted from the shadowy corner of the office.
“AAAAAGHH” she brought her sword down at the elf. Sparks flew as the elf blocked the attack using her forearm bracers. Unable to land a fatal strike, the Orc, with sheer strength rained down blows onto the elf’s blocking wrist. Forcing the beautiful being to her knees in defense. The attacker grunted and yelled words betweeen each blow, “VIOLENCE….IS….THE…..LANGUAGE…..OF…..THE….VICTORS!!!”. With her dark-green bare Orc foot she kicked the elf and sent her sliding into the Writer’s desk. He reacted quickly to keep the typewriter from falling to the floor.
The elf jumped up to her feet with a stern expression. Her hands glowed a myriad of colors, flowing with magic energy. She rushed forward with a beam of light erupting from her palms and struck the Orc in the chest. The Orc was lifted off the ground and into the Knight; knocking him free.
The elf seemed to be levitating as she charged after the Orc once more. The light surging from her hands began to take the shape of a sword. The two combatants met with sharp clang of weapon on weapon. Slashing and striking at one another faster than the Writer’s eyes could keep up with; surprisingly they only managed to strike each other’s defenses or failed to land anything at all. Near miss after near miss, they battled. With every contact the light sourced blade grew brighter. The Knight stood by, his own sword drawn, but he was too paralyzed to move. It was obvious his hesitation rested on the inability to choose an allegiance.
“Enough!!!” A strong voice broke up the brawl instantly. The two warrior women both took to a knee and looked towards the Writer’s direction. He turned to look also. Inches from his face and straddling the typewriter, atop his desk were the olive, slightly scale armored shins of yet another Orc. His eyes searched up slowly. The Orc Woman smelled of fear and respect. With one graceful leap she went from the desk to the opposite side of the room where the two kneelers waited. “Rise.” She commanded them after sheathing both of her blades.
The Elf and first Orc Woman did as she said, their weapons hanging limp at their sides. There were no words exchanged between the three of them, only eye contact. The elf’s magical sword dissipated. With that the respected Orc turned to the writer, “Go on. Back to your duty. Tell our story, reveal our legends…”
The Writer snapped awake. He was laying on the attic floor, he looked to his right and saw the typewriter that had fallen from the dusty shelf and onto his head. He felt the huge knot on his forehead. No blood. That was good. Right?
He took a few minutes to collect himself before struggling down the attic stairs with the typewriter.
He started to set it up immediately, he felt the rush and inspiration of writing an epic tale of a Warrior Orc Woman. He knew exactly how he would start the story, she would be a leader and fierce fighter. A champion of champions. Yes, he’d make her a character that would defy all odds and bring together warring nations with a compassionate heart that was just as fierce as her blades.
As he finished setting up the antique typewriter he noticed a folded piece of stationery stuck between the keys. He didn’t remember leaving it there. Written on the top fold was: “to The Writer.” He unfolded it quickly….
It was a simple message, not long at all. Composed of only two sentences; it read: “Do not forget. I am the hero of the story!” Signed, “the Knight”.
Dom took his three big steps back looking over to his left; Tone stared back from the slot awaiting a check, while the crafty wideout Jack stood disciplined as ever. Way wide on the right, flanking, was Zack, wiggling his fingers in anticipation….rookies. “Just give it away…” Dom muttered to himself as he settled. Two stomps. “Set!!!” Two more. “Gray Forty! Gray Forty!!” An empty signal he just wanted the defense to move a little.
The mountainous left tackle, Súarez, pointed out the outside line backer, “He’s comin!!”
The team had seven seconds to get the play off.
“He’s hot! Hot!! Bluuue Ninety! Hot! Laser!! Laser Thirty-Two!!! Laser Thirty-Two! La—“ Four stomps and four lasers got the pigskin hiked directly into his chest. Dom dropped, eyes reading the green. As he was hoping the safety had taken the speed challenge of covering Tone across the middle. That meant Jack was about to get the canon ball. He launched a sixty-yard bomb to the single-covered wideout. Easy Money. Touchdown.
“That boy…uh…twenty-seven!!! Oooweee! He bout shook you clean out the stadium!!” Tone cracked jokes at defensive-back Winston.
The locker room erupted in laughter as Tone and Zack acted out the shake and bake.
Winston, not usually one for the banter cracked back this time, “Who fumbled today though?”
Winston’s reply was answered with the deep “ooooohs” of his teammates. It was clear from stone’s expression that he didn’t take kindly to receiving what he himself fished out.
Before Tone could respond Dom interjected, “Winston ain’t drop nun t’day either, my guy!”.
“Ooooh okay, okay…so it’s jump-on-Tone day huh?”
“Nah…jus facts bro.” Dom tried to deescalate. Tone was what one would call short-tempered. A fuse shorter than his forty-yard dash time; and he was one of the fastest men in the league.
Dom was rolling his socks into a ball as Coach barged into the cramped locker room. Immediately noting how it should be a crime having to get dressed on top of one another. “Alright men, I’d tell you gather round…but you’re already here so…”, he started, “…the commissioner loved the performance y’all put on tonight. Says we may do more preseason games in Africa in the future. So congratulate yourselves!! I appreciate the professionalism and solid play. Planes up at ‘leven-thirty tomorrow. Keep it a calm easy night for me gentleman, can you do that for me?” His eyes were on Tone. “If you’re gonna go out take a teammate or two. That’s not a suggestion.” He said that, whenever he expected nothing less than what he’d said.
Dom was one of the last guys to get fully dressed and start for the locker room exit. He liked to take his time, he’d sat in the ice bath, showered and gotten a quick massage from the trainer; all the while, making the reporters earn it. Security did their best to keep the mob at bay as lights and microphones were held out, jabbing the space in front of them like torches and pitchforks. The questions were launched his direction like a shotgun blast; everyone talked at once until someone won out. Winning meant Dom’s eye contact, a direct point, a ‘what’d you just say’; any form of acknowledgement was what they all sought. Being the reporter who is acknowledged was second only to the juiciest sound byte or story. Dom knew that, so he always ignored them as long as he could too.
Finally a question broke through, “Are the rumors true about you and Tone having a an argument in the locker room?”
“What did you just say man?!” The room got a little quieter, but not by much. Everyone wanted to hear the question that got Dom’s attention.
“Yes. Frank Denton, Stat Sheet Media. Dom, could you explain what’s behind the rough patch between Antonio Murray and yourself?”
“Rough patch?”, Dom chuckled.
“I mean that would explain your poor connection with him in tonight’s game.”
“Poor connection?” Dom laughed out on that one. “C’mon man. It’s our first game. First pre-season game. And did you forget…we won!?” The mob all laughed at that. “Tone and I are great…who told you that lie anyway?”
Dom’s face flushed with embarrassment and anger, “Look man…get out of my face.” He pushed through the crowd with the help of security. The mob pursued them out into the stadium garage and up until the point Dom’s limousine pulled off a microphone was pointed in his direction.
“Man what’s up with you?! Got me lookin’ crazy with the cameras on me!!” Dom exclaimed at Tone’s voicemail. “Call me back ASAP.”
The limo driver sent the motorized center window up; it was either a very respectful gesture or he just didn’t want to hear Dom barking at the electronic device. No matter. Dom wanted privacy anyhow. It was a thirty minute drive to the hotel, that gave him an opportunity to collect his thoughts and review the game in his head. Although they were the vastly superior team to the South African club, he learned a lot from the scrimmage. For one, that they needed to work out a few kinks in their timing, he had made a few throws too early overthrowing his men more than once. Back home those throws would’ve been intercepted. Secondly, he needed to put the fear of god into the Rook about staying focus and not losing his edge now that he “had made it”. Keeping Mac, the second year scat-back from the dreaded sophomore-slump would also be key to their success this upcoming year; if this warm up game had taught him anything about Mac, it was that the kid had one mode. Go. He and the other starters had only gotten to play three series, they only scored once. Against a team they should’ve sailed past that was unacceptable in his over competitive mind.
Running through each play in his head, slowly guided Dom to sleep. He was awakened by the driver shaking his shoulder, “We are here sir, would you like your game bag taken to the team bus?”
“Yes Sir…” the driver responded with a thick South African accent that had traces of French in it.
“Uh…no, no, my bad man. Let me get my iPad out first. Got some work to do.” Dom stretched and yawned as he exited the vehicle.
He walked into the hotel lobby and immediately spotted a few of his teammates. A couple of the younger guys were huddled in a mass, laughing and horse playing in front of the hotel’s restaurant. Probably deciding on whether they’d eat there of risk a night out on the town.
Jack was at the hotel bar, alone. Of course he was. What else would the old vet be up to?
Dom strolled over to chat before he headed for his suite on the top floor. “What’s up Jacky Boy!?”. They dabbed up in their trademark fashion. They’d had plenty of practice on the handshake over the years; last year the fans got to see it fourteen times, as was the amount of receiving TD’s for Jack. The only other touchdown Jack recorded last year was a reverse handoff from Dom as well. Still though the duo was bounced out of the first round of the playoffs even after winning the division.
“Man eight years and you still throwing bombs in preseason bro?” Jack joked.
“Aye. Easy Money. I’m launching it til I’m ninety man!” Dom chimed back.
“I know Tone thought he was getting that check…been talkin bout it to the other guys.”
“That dude man…he ain’t gon he happy til he get every single pass.” Dom stated. “Don’t even get me started on his mouth though…had me looking like a fool today.”
“Oh yeah!” Jack smiled pointing up at the bars sole T.V.
Playing on a loop was Dom shoving the phone of the reporter away, as he stormed off. The headline below the looped video read: “Dominique Porter is ‘Tone-deaf’”.
“Great…”, Dom let his head fall to the bar, onto his folded arms. “That’s just great.”
“Can I get you anything sir?” The bartender asked.
“Nah he’s good my man. Thanks though.” Jack answered, knowing QB1’s aversion to drinking once the season started.
“Look man I’m gonna head up to my room.” Dom began, “…prolly go for a jog, so I miss all the memes on social media about this.”
“A jog?!? Dude you need to relax…” Jack insisted.
“Nah man.” Dom shook his head, “Somebody out there putting in work, RIGHT NOW. Ain’t finna outwork me tho, I’m gon’ be ready for em!”
“Always.” They dapped up again and Dom strode to the elevator and made his way to the massive suite.
Forget what Coach was on, Dom decided he was going on a jog with a teammate or not. A few hours after catching up with family via video chat and a solid decrompressing lounge on the balcony, he made his way out of the hotel. He adjusted the navigation app on his phone, donned his headphones and took off as soon as the bass dropped in the first song of his ‘track days’-playlist. It was a specific playlist timed at exactly thirty-five minutes and nineteen seconds. As he picked up the pace he thought and hoped a few fans would spot him and he’d get some of that “Ali Bomaye”-type love while he jogged here in Africa.
After awhile the mindlessness of keeping pace and zoning out to the music took over his attention. The lapse in awareness cost him. It came out of nowhere and knocked the six-foot, two-inch quarterback completely off his feet.
“Agh…”, he groaned out in pain, trying to crawl out of the dry shrubs that lined the hiking trail. “What the—“. His words became lodged right at the crescendo of his esophagus, afraid to come any further into the world.
The beast lumbered in front of him, stalking. Saliva oozing off it’s six-inch canines. It’s weighted paws crushed into the earth as it made its way around Dom’s position. Dom did his best to circle with it, trying to keep an eye on whatever it was.
The last thing he remembered was the pause, it was almost like the pause right before a big hit. When you know there’s no amount of juking in the world that will keep it from happening. That pause before car crashes when you realize the only option is to brace for impact. The beast lunged, claws gleaming in the moonlight and tearing at Dom’s jogging suit.
The steady, rhythmic high pitched beep of his monitored heart was all he heard; as the world began to come into focus Dom recognized the dripping IV fluid bag and smelt the steril, stale crispness of hospital air.
“Don’t try’n be moving too much now, son.”
“Hggngh…Dad?…”, Dom grunted as he came to.
“Yeah, yeah.” His father reassured, “I’m here, I’m here…calm down.” Dom’s Father stood over him a hand on his head. “Here drink this, Tia an’ your mom’s be here in a minute…”
The water was hard to swallow but Dom was able to gurgle it down his dry throat. “What happened?”
“You’s attacked by sum’n out in dat jungle!” His Father raises his voice.
“Nah Nah, it’s a resort pops…shouldna been no wild anim—“
“No. I’m tellin ya what I know!”, his Father reasserted.
“Aggghh…” Dom winced, trying to sit up. His abdomen burned with a difficult pain. His mind burned from the reality. It wasn’t a dream. But what kindve animal looks like what he saw. “What dey sayin?”
“Well…they sayin a awful lot son.” His Dad looked down at the floor. “You need be prepared to not be the same. Y’know stuff like this take some time to heal an—“
“What dey sayin Pops?!”
“Lacerations, punctures, lotta ‘brasions n’ that…dey say’n you’re lucky to still have an abdomen at all.”
“My God.” Tears began to form in Dom’s eyes, “the team?”
“Don’t worry yourse—“
“THE TEAM??” Dom screamed, the liquid finally finding route along his face from his eyes. “When will I be back?”
“That ain’t what you need to be th—“
Dom yelped out from the absolute torturous pain that surged from his abdomen as he tried to punch the heart monitor. “AAAAGGGHHH!!!”
“Doc!! Doc!!” His Father yelled out as he held his son in his arms.
One year later:
No one had an answer for his strength, beyond human speed, incredible athleticism or near perfect reaction time and instinct. Dom absolutely dominated practice, leaving his teammates stumped on his transformation. He was like a new man, after sitting out an entire year, no one expecting him to even pick up a football again; let alone comeback as a one man wrecking crew. He had even ran a few snaps on defense just to ‘get his heart rate up’ while the other offensive starters took a quick break.
Tone slid next to him in the locker room after practice, “Aye listen man….”, the receiver looked over his shoulders, sketchily making sure no one was eavesdropping. “I want in. Whatever it is, I want some….”
“What’re you talkin bout bro?”
“C’mon man…” Tone smirked, “You gotta put on a better act if you tryna fool somebody here…”
“Man I don’t kno—“
“Don’t don’t do that….I know that stuff when I see it.”
“I ain’t doping man!!” Dom protested.
“Shhh!!!” Tone raised his arms up in indignation. “Okay….Okay…it’s like dat then…Aight.” Tone got up and stormed off.
Reporters were allowed in the locker room minutes later and they had questions eerily similiar to Tone’s accusations. Of course they were sprinkled in with the compliments of heroism and the triumphant return. Dom answered everything honestly, “I’m just ready to play ball again, man.”
As he left the practice facility, Dom decided today he would need to drive himself. It was one of those days after all. He hopped on the freeway and drove for the country, he’d bought a cabin about two hours outside of the city for days like this. He just hoped he would make it in time, the sun was setting fast.
Dom turned the music down as the blaring horns of standstill traffic were drowning it out anyways. This wasn’t good. His heart beat faster in his chest, the anticipation and anxiety crawling up his back felt like an army of spiders. Every hair on his arm began to rise, feeling the energy of night approaching. With every nervous pore of his body opened up, the cars air conditioning couldn’t do much in helping him to cool down. The sky turned from yellow to pink to red to black, all the while he’d only moved one exit. There was no time.
In a panic Dom exited the $90,000 sports sedan and abandoned it. He started running away from the free way. Many a driver behind him had to be freaking out over the potential bomb threat, they had no idea what was about to happen way worse.
It started in his back, the pain dropped him to his knees as his spine began to shift and enlarge. He contorted and yelled out. The cracking, morphing bones echoed like a hammer striking an anvil.
Dom began to smell the ozone coming from the exhaust pipes stuck on the free way. The smell from the vehicles mixed with the presence of evergreen median trees. The firs strong odor filled his nasal passage. Them it him in a strong wave, the sweat…they were all sweating. He could smell every single on of them.
Their horns were slamming his ear drums around in his head like a pinball.
Dom’s last conscious memory was grabbing a pawful of dirt. He paused to admire the gleaming claws and the powerfully black sheened coat of fur that concealed them.
The beast stood up on its rear legs, roaring animalistically up at the moon before charging at towards the highway……
Doctor Williams had made the decision weeks before he signed the papers; he’d known the entire time what he would do, it just came with such a regretful weight he had waited. Maybe if he’d done it sooner, or even had he waited longer, things would’ve gone differently. He thought as he stared at the empty casket meant to represent his most incredibly phenomenal patient D’Amber Lyons. Ms. Lyons was a peculiar case, sixteen years young and had been in his care since she was only a toddler. They had been melded into family by the time spent. Tear drops fell from his face and crashed into the hardwood church floor, besides their intentions the hands rubbing his back and hugging his shoulders could not stop the water works. He sobbed heavily. He sobbed throughout the remainder of the service and until the empty casket was lowered into the ground. Well, it wasn’t entirely empty, just bodyless. The casket held three feathers.
Fourteen years ago:
“Doctor Williams…”, the young nurse looked into Doctor Williams’s eyes. She wanted to know what to do next; if there would even be a next thing to do. Or whether he would call it.
He stammered for a moment, “Time of —-“ before he could finish the statement of medical finality, the young girl came back to them with a huge gasp of air.
At only two years old D’Amber had gone to the beyond and made it back. Her life would not be the same after.
She had been at the hospital for three days before her next of kin was finally contacted. A Great Aunt, three states away. She was unable to leave the nursing home to care for the child, who’d just lost her entire family to the accident. Her father who’d been a successful musician had only intended to give everyone a great time; he nor the bus could have reacted fast enough to the speeding, red-light running Honda that crashed into them. Initially the cops had been more concerned with arresting the drug induced driver of the Honda — who had apparently held up a convenient store moments before ramming the bus — than they were in checking on the overturned tour bus. It would take the EMTs who arrived after to care about the well being of the inadvertent victims. The eight counts of vehicular man-slaughter added to the Honda driver’s charges would later mean nothing to the two year old survivor, D’Amber, but in the minds of the public it served as justice.
Dr. Williams watched her play in the hospitals nursery while they waited on the state officials to come and take her away. She’d be resigned to state care until she was old enough to receive her Father’s estate. At least that would have been her fate had she not began to writhe and twist in pain in that moment. The doctor rushed into the nursery to console the girl. The Doctor rushed her to the intensive care unit as soon as he felt the wet, red patch spreading across the back of her shirt.
The peculiarities would begin from there.
Two weeks before D’Amber’s disappearance:
“Morning Pat,”Dr. Williams greeted the psychiatrist, Doctor Patricia Hart. “How’s our little angel today?”
“Well…” Dr. Pat took a sip of coffee, “The little angel won’t come down from the ceiling and she is having a meltdown over some Facebook comments. She is still refusing to see any of her tutors. She wants to go to a ‘real school’. I’m telling you Forest, I just don’t know how you’re going to keep a young woman locked up like this all her life.”
“Once she can demonstrate control, I don’t have a problem releasing her. This isn’t a jail Pat.”
“Yeah…well convince the teenager of that.” Pat said stirring cream into the warm coffee. “Good luck today. She’s in rare form. I’m late for an appointment. See ya tomorrow.”
“Have a good one Pat. Tell Rob hello for me.”
Doctor Williams heard the screaming from down the hall and ran the rest of the way to her room.
“GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME!!!” yelled D’Amber before biting the hand of the orderly who was trying to administer a sedative. As the man yanked back away from the tussle in pain, one of D’Ambers massive, seven-foot long wings sprung out pinning another of the nurses to the adjacent wall. She had little control over them still, even with fourteen years of training and experience. But who among them really knew how to train a girl with wings?
Using all six of her limbs she broke free of the group of nurses and assistants. Her feet never touched the ground as she swung off of the gurney they were trying to strap her to. In a flash she came towards Dr. Williams who stood in the doorway. “Dad move!” She yelled out.
He saw the pain in her face as she tried to turn her body away. The wings disregarding any commands she gave them to avoid crashing into the Doctor. Without control over the flight path she outstretched her arms and legs crashing into and bracing against the doorframe. She strained against the momentum of the wings. The orderlies convened on her, immediately restraining the beating wings. Dr. Williams knelt down and stroked her hair as he had always done to calm her down, he ordered them to put the sedative away, “Just strap the wings…leave her be.”
D’Amber began to sob, hugging Dr. Williams leg as the nurses placed the custom made wing strap on her. When they were finished the Doctor helped her to her feet and ushered her to her room. The entire facility was dedicated to Dr. Williams’s study of D’Amber and the feathery growth on her back. The wings were attached to her spinal cord and fed off of its fluids; amputation would be a fatal procedure, so she was resigned to learning to live with them. After years of trying to help her control them, they’d only managed to discover that the wings responded in intensity based on her mood. Her and the wings’s outburst had been getting worse as the woes of being a teenage girl who could fly weighed on her.
“You have practice soon right?” Dr. Williams questioned.
D’Amber wiped the tears from her eyes, and looked down at her watch. “Oh shoot!! I’m late—“.
Dr. Williams watched as she ran to the band room, she was the drummer in an amateur band called ‘Sacred Dark’. They met and played exclusively online. The fan base they had was growing steadily along with their play, the Doctor knew how frustrating it must be for her not to ever see them or her band mates in person. Her life was completely digital outside of the facility walls. Of course she felt trapped, inprisoned even. What could he do to give her some semblance of a real teenage life at this point?
Two weeks later he would give her that semblance. The only instruction he’d given her the day before was to wear her favorite outfit and to be prepared. She had begged and pleaded for him to just tell her what was happening, “It’s not even my birthday! Just tell me. I promise I’ll still like it Dad!!”
“Just be ready tomorrow okay…”
“Ugggh,” she threw herself back onto her bed not even minding to move her long dreadlocks out of her face as she mumbled through them. “You know I don’t like surprises.
Dr. Williams had invited Sacred Dark to the facility and setup a makeshift garage for them to live stream a performance. It was a huge deal for D’Amber to finally meet the band in person. She cried tears of joy when they yelled out surprises. Cupcakes and sodas were enjoyed, they talked to the fans who’d joined in on the live chat and even played a game of truth or dare before they settled down to begin the live concert.
In all his years as her caretaker, Dr. Williams had never seen such joy in her eyes and smile. She was truly the light of the ‘Sacred Dark’. Her vibrant laughter filled the lab-tech constructed garage with festiveness.
“This is a historic moment for Sacred Dark, family!” The leader singer Gary addressed one of the three cameras, “So were gonna put on our greatest show ever! Y’all ready?!”
D’Amber struck the cymbals repeatedly, faster and faster, for a full bar before Sacred Dark engulfed the entire facilities ear drums with their most popular song, ‘Raining Fire’.
The band wailed on going through song after song. Giving the nine-thousand online fans their all. D’Amber didn’t notice her wings pop out. Everyone else did, including Dr. Williams. “Open the door, open the door!” He ordered the lab technician.
He started for her but she continued playing and shook her head profusely. She pointed her drumstick out towards the 50-inch monitor that displayed the bands viewing statistics. The views were shooting up. The drumming angel was going viral. The band started playing harder and louder.
They eclipsed a million views in less than five minutes after her wings had so abruptly emerged. They jutted out proudly behind her as she laid absolute work on the hi-hat and snare.
Then it happened. Faster than anyone could react. “Let’s get some air in here!!” Gary yelled dancing towards the pseudo-garage door.
“Gary No!!!” The doctor yelled, but his words were too late.
Gary slung the door open, drowning the room in sunlight.
“Nooooo!!” D’Amber shrieked as the wings carried her towards the opening at breakneck speed. Dr. Williams and her band mates scrambled to grab hold of her. The doctor managed to get a hold of her forearm. The wings, for the first time feeling the freedom of open air, showed their full strength and weight. Dr. Williams’s feet were lifted off the ground and just like that she slipped from his grip. The wings jettisoned her away, she went speeding into the air like a skydiver without a parachute would barrel towards the ground. It happened quickly and all they could do was watch her float away, at the mercy of the parasitic wings.
The band and Dr. Williams stared up until she was no longer visible. Dr. Williams alone stared until night fall, long after the band left, long after the lab technicians left, long after she’d left him.
“Come on Doc…”, Dr. Patricia consoled, “Me and Rob will drive you home.”
Dr. Williams couldn’t resist as she led him to the car. He stared out the window into the night sky as they drove. He clutched the feathers tightly. They would not leave his possession until he buried them.
Ten Years Later:
The news reports and social media buzz flooded every news feed around the world. Anyone who claimed to have seen the ‘Sacred Dark Angel’ went viral almost instantly. Dr. Williams, who was now fully grayed and retired, found a mix comfort an disgust in the legends people posted of her online…even if they were all fake.
He scoffed at the TV; this time it hit too close to home. There were these two potheads claiming to’ve been rescued from their overturned Jeep by the ‘Sacred Dark Angel’. They weren’t the first and definitely wouldn’t be the last people to make such absurd claims.
There were reports out of third world countries claiming a winged-woman had brought their villages food and water. People stood outside of burning buildings telling news stations that the Black Angel had saved them. There were Internet forums and blogs dedicated solely to her. D’Amber had become the modern version of Big Foot or flying saucer sightings. Social media sites boomed with traffic about her and the heroics she was supposedly involved in.
It was the anniversary of her disappearance, Dr. Williams clicked the TV off, grabbed the prepared bundle of flowers and made his way to the door. The doctors knees went weak as he reached for the door, the pain clenched in his chest like a fist; light-headed and dizzy, he dropped to floor.
Years of being a medical professional told that he was having a heart attack. The doctor reached for his cell phone but could not remember how to dial 9-1-1. The phone fell from his weak grasp and he began to slip in and out of consciousness.
She stood over him, her hand out stretched, he took it. Immediately his strength returned, the tightness in his chest alleviated. No longer nauseous or delirious he tried to speak.
The Black Angel held a finger up to her lips and graciously accepted the bundle of flowers. She was different now, her skin had gone from a beautiful cocoa-brown to a now an deep black. Black as the night sky. Black as the view behind closed eyelids. Black as the universe. Her unnaturally dark toned body was adorned in gold. Gold bracelets, gold necklace and earrings, a golden headband tying back her gold-beaded locs. She even wore a golden chest plate of armor, with golden bands across her forearms that matched the golden shoulder plates. She had golden, tribal-like tattoos that spiraled and shimmered with their own light going up her arms and around her neck. Her large wings spread out behind her; strong, bright and proud as ever.
Dr. Williams took in the spectacle before him, breathing heavily. He had truly raised an angel on earth.
She leaned down and whispered into his ear, “Thank you.” With that she turned and flew off into the afternoon sky.
Dr. Williams stared at her navigate the sky with the grace and expertise that no human would ever know after her. He stared until she was no longer visible. He remained there until nightfall, staring up at the sky.
Seconds…Minutes…Hours…One by one they had began to blend together until the solitary confinement that he was currently trapped in, had completely eroded their meaning. His only means of time telling were the rays of light coming through his window. The window…the window. It represented hope and the proof of an existence beyond these four walls — the four walls that worked his sanity like a master carpenter. Carving, shaving and chipping away, molding his mind into the shape and form ‘it’ chose.
He lay back onto his cot, it and three hots were dependable..even now. As he stared up at the ceiling he danced his fingertips across the beams of sun; they taunted him with their freedom – with their fun, fun, sweet freedom. Free to shine and brighten any place they went. Knowing nothing but going; nothing but riding the lightspeed course of excitement that they are set on by that giant ball of fire and life. They burned to complete their missions. As he thought of the sun rays, he began to fell pity for them.
How sad it was for them to journey all this way only to end up trapped in this prison with him. Perhaps he should reflect them back out of the window; maybe they would find a plant to nourish or a fire flies butt to charge.
He needed to find a reflector. Maybe this sheet? He thought it over, but decided that it would look too strange if someone by chance to look up at his window and see the sheet there. No, he couldn’t do that. It would be a bad idea. He pondered some time about how he was full of bad ideas lately.
Filling his mind with the dark thoughts of past mistakes wasn’t exactly helping the time to go by. He dropped his hand from the light stream and sat up. The book, on the floor, by his bed could help flush his mind of the ill thoughts he decided. It was a mystery book, one he already knew the solution to, one he’d solved four and a quarter times already. He opened it up where he had left off and began to drone over the words.
Peripheral vision started to betray him, every time he looked down on the pages, he could’ve sworn he saw movement around the empty room. Nothing but bare walls when he looked up to catch ‘it’.
“It’s not like you don’t know what happens next…”, said a mocking voice from the corner.
The detained clasped his book shut in excitement, “What?!”. A reactionary, irrelevant question. Fear started to creep in as his brain calculated the addition of a voice, that was not his own with the emptiness around him. “Who’s there?”
There was no answer. Only the silent realization that his mind was tired of being cramped in this room and so was making its move to escape.
“I’ve gotta get outta here…”, he said to himself.
“Yeah we do!” The voice from nowhere responded, “What’s the plan?”
Searching frantically. His head turning every which way, eyes darting to every single inch in the room. This must be a joke — a hidden microphone somewhere. He looked under the cot.
“What’re you looking for?”
His head hit the hard frame as shock sprang him up too soon to react to the voice. “Where are you?” He called.
“I’m here.” The voice called from behind. “No, no stop moving!” It ordered.
“Don’t play around with me! I’ll hurt you! Whoever you are!” The captive earned the intruder. Could confinement be intruded…or just interrupted?
Ready to swing he wheeled around quickly. Nothing. Nothing until he saw it, it took a moment of concentration to convince his eyes what they saw was real. That the actual reality in front of them was his shadow, on the wall, waving.
He fell back, scrambling away until his back pressed against the wall. The monster only grew with each inch he tried to escape.
“Well this is awkward.” The lightless one began to rub his head, “I’m usually the one looking up at you, huh?”
“Help!! Heeelp!!!” He yelled.
“What’s going on in there boy?!” The warden called from the other side of the door.
“I need to get out of here!”
“No!”, the Warden scolded before laughing and walking away, “You need to think about what you’ve done.”
“No…no…nooo,” he cried out, “you can’t leave me in here!!”
“You’re gonna need to stop that or they’ll never let us outta here.” The shadow advised.
“What are you?” He tried to calm himself down, “Why’re you here?!?”
“Now that I don’t know…” the shadow thought out loud rubbing it’s own chin. “Why are you here?”
He stood up, testing his theory. “You…yo—you’re my shadow??”
“Yeah…suppose I am.”
He held up his arm, the shadow copied. Lifted a leg, the shadow copied. Jumped up, copied. Flexed, copied. “I’m going crazy…”
The shadow broke the charade to respond, “Nah I’m just good at my job.”
“Yeah we shadows, we work a different person everyday! I got you t’day…” the shadow looked down and kicked. “It sucks.”
“Well everyday ain’t like this.”
“Oh yeah —”, the Shadow perked up “wad’ya usually do?”
“Uh…well.” The detained stuttered, “I go out in the yard, hang out with my brothers. We play basketball a lot. But we just moved here, so…I don’t really do anything yet.”
“I see…”, the Shadow looked up, “Well, I think that’s why I’m here.”
The Shadow pointed towards the window, “There’s not much time, so you have to listen well…”
He followed the wall-tattooing arm with his eyes and saw that the shadow was referring to the setting sun. “Oh…I get it. What is it?”
“I think we’re supposed to switch…you know you’ve been getting in trouble a lot…” The shadow informed, attempting persuasion.
“Switch?!” The detained one exclaimed, “I can’t be a shadow! I have skin, bones and all this…stuff” he said patting himself down.
“People do it all the time, that stuff doesn’t matter.” The shadow explained. “Shadows can go anywhere, you wouldn’t be stuck here if you didn’t want to be.”
“Anywhere!” The shadow confirmed excitedly, “We have to do it quick though…” the shadow motioned towards the window once again.
“Okay…uh…how do we do it?”
“You just ask to see my eyes…”
“Okay…can I see your eyes?”
“No!” The Shadow shouted, his voice now aggravated, aggressive even. It was a sharp, short exclamation of the desperate. It happened so fast and receded so quickly the detained hadn’t noticed the difference when the shadow began to speak kindly again. “In Latin, you gotta say it in Latin.” The shadow laughed out.
“I don’t know Latin.”
“Okay just say this: ‘Volo videre quae videtis’”
He did. The shadows eyes appeared. They were glowing white and orange orbs that were so bright and calling that they seemed to drown him in their essence. He supposed that’s exactly what happened, because not a moment later he was looking up at….himself. Was he a shadow?
Suddenly his arm jerked up independent of his control. He saw and realized that his other self was in control of his limbs; this other self stood over him, seemingly checking himself out.
A moment later he heard the voice of the Warden, “Dinner!! Deon you can come out of your room now!”
Freedom! His punishment was over.
The warden opened the door. There was darkness for a moment, then he could see again. The warden and his other self were walking down the brand new halls, she had hung some of their pictures on the wall since he’d been banished to his room.
“After dinner we can setup your room, your Dad just got back with the Uhaul.” The warden said.
His other self responded to her, “Sounds good Mom. And I’m sorry about your table, I won’t spray paint an—“
Darkness and silence encapsulated his vision. When he could see and hear again he could only see out of a small sliver of light. His brothers, dad, mom and his other self were laughing and joking at the dinner table.
His other self looked down at him and winked sadistically. “Look at sunset mom, isn’t it beau—“
“Archers!!!” the Knight announced the orders that would begin the determining battle of this campaign. “Nock!!!” This battle would be different though, the training wheels were off, he was no longer interim Brigadier Commander Calin, he was Brigadier Commander Calin. “Draw!!!!!” How many times had he reacted to the Commanders elite Archer unit kicking off battles? That was his elite bunch of marksman now, and it was he who would lead them to victory, “LOOSE!!!!!”. The Knight knew the enemy well, his forces had been pushing the Orc Cavalry Regiment into retreat for the past 3 months; however, it was important to not allow their retreat to draw them into a trap. As a final order before stepping down, the Knights predecessor — through the work of the Brigades most skilled scout platoon, ‘The Shadows’ — was able to pass on the reigns to the Brigade as well as the information they needed to unleash a full onslaught with confidence that the Orcs did not have any reinforcements coming. The nearest Orc allies were a days march east, in the Orc seized township of Halfensteid; far enough away to warrant this final attack to take out Orc Commander Lerriz. Lerriz has had his troops hunkered down in this valley for about a week trying to buy time for reinforcements, his time was up. Today was the day.
Lerriz was protected on three sides of the terrain, housed one of the Orc Armies most formidable Trebuchet units and the Cavalry soldiers rode on the most aggressive beast the Knight had ever encountered — Orcs called them snyrpinns. They were six-legged reptilian like creatures, some had spiked tails, others attacked with stingers, ever lethal still were their beaked mouths with double-rowed razor sharp teeth.
However, a well timed Arrow to the eyes or a brave foot soldiers sword underneath their armor was enough to bring the beast down. This battle would be costly, there was no avoiding that fact. But it was now or never; defeating Lerriz in his first battle as Brigade Commander before returning to the Capitol would be a tremendous victory for the whole of the war. It would undoubtedly destabilize the Orcs plan to secure supply routes throughout the region.
“Onward!!” The Knight commanded his soldiers — both Arrow and Darkhorse Battalions were riding with him behind the hail of arrows towards the enemy encampment. The Trebuchet response was imminent, expected and devastating.
The first impact crushed a heavy steed and rider, debris downing all riders in short vicinity as well. The enemy Orcs were not far behind the projectiles. The two armies met in a violent crash of armour; bodies flew from spiked tails, headless Orc bodies dropped to the ground before the blood knew to spill, men shouted in agony as friendly fire from the Archer unit caught them instead of the enemy. The Knight witnessed the first of his casualties just like that, seconds into the fight. “Sound the first of the horns!!” He called on Cobra Battalion to make its move sooner than planned. At the sound he looked ahead and saw the cascade of liquid fire descending onto the Orc camp from the tallest peak of the valley.
The Orcs panicked. Stricken with complete confusion they stampeded from the sticky flames as their post began to burn.
“HORNS!!!!” The Commander yelled out.
The second sound-off signaled the remainder of Arrow and Bandog troopz to complete the highly orchestrated ambush. The archers readied and fired rope attached arrows to various points in the flame engulfed Orc Camp. The Bandog men donned those ropes, and rode into the camp; brave men willing to sacrifice chainmail and plate armor for the defense of surprise. The Bandogs landed on the camp with malicious intent, immediately slashing through the confused Orc soldiers. Their goal was met swiftly. “Sound the drums!!”
“Are you ever gonna jump in or just gonna play with that thing all evening?”, Rosy has been shooting complaints at Gil for the last half hour. She knew they only had so many baby-free minutes left before her twin sister, Violet got tired of babysitting and would go home.
Gil on the other hand, the two-week experienced Father of triplet daughters knew he only had so many minutes left to practice his guitar before the bottle and diaper juggling fiasco began once more. His fingertips were on fire, as he was only a two-week old guitarist as well. “Give me a sec, hun…”, he was already on his third request for a second. “I’ve almost got this down…”. He did not almost have it down.
“And that clicking noise is so annoying…please Gil, just get in the pool!”, Rosy whined before tossing back onto the pool surface, floating lazily. After a few more annoying metronome-filled minutes passed by, she sat up briskly and swam to the edge of the pool once more. “Gil…Gil…”, she raised her voice, “Gil!”.
Enlivened from a frustrated stuper, Gil shouted back, “What?! What hun??”
“Really?”, upset that he had yelled, Rosy responded ornately, “…nothing.”
“Come on…”, Gil pleaded, “What is it, Rosy?”
She gave him a slightly snobbish eye and then continued to back stroke.
“Look I’m putting it away…”, Gil said setting the guitar down lightly. “…okay…okay. I’m getting in—“
“Hey sis!”, Violet called out from the back door, “We gotta run! The twins have school tomorrow. Babies are all asleep.”
Rosy looked at Gil — who’d just gotten his feet wet — and laughed out maniacally, rich with sarcasm. “Okay, look.”, she pointed up towards the young night sky, “I thought you said the meteor shower was next week?”
“That’s because it is…”, his words trailed off as he snapped up his collar hung glasses and gazed up at the streaking lights across the dark sky. Gill was an astrologist and saw to it that his career would not pause just because he was on paternal leave. He’d done a marvelous job of recording and predicting all astronomical events of the past three weeks from the comfort of his in-home, attic-filling observatory.
Gil rushed inside, brushing shoulders with his sister-in-law who stood in the doorway bewildered. “Wow, okay…”, she retorted, “See you next time too!”
“Don’t mind him, you know how he gets about this kinda stuff…”, Rosy said. “Thanks again! I definitely needed a break.”
“Oh no worries, sis, I totally understand.”, Violet handed her sister a towel as they stepped inside, “I thought the twins were rough, It’s whole nother ball game with three…”
“No way…”, Gil chuckled to himself as he swiveled the massive telescope around. He began noting that the meteor storm was originating from the constellation Perseus the Hero, when a loud BANG broke his train of thought. The explosion seemed to suck the air out of the attic. Glass shattered, car alarms blared, the security system and fire alarm began to sound off; in addition the triplets erupted into a crying frenzy, right along with Rosy’s scream. He instinctively bolted down the attic stairs to the nursery — luckily the gaping hole in the side of their house sat opposite to the babies’ room.
Rosy was doing her best to console the infants when he arrived, tears of confusion in her eyes as well. “What was that Gil?”
“I don’t know, I’ll be right back!! Don’t move!”, They were all safe, only afraid and confused. So was he. Gil dashed through the house back to the large hole that was now in place of one of their walls. The backyard was a literal ground zero, for what Gil imagined a bomb site looked like. What used to be the pool was nothing more than a a few pieces of wet rubble, mud and fire. He could feel the heat coming from the large space rock even as he was still about 15-feet from it. “Oh. My. God.”. Gil felt an odd combination of excitement, fear, confusion and intrigue. He couldn’t quite place the smell either; outside of the burning debris, there was a strange odor that dominated his nostrils, over the charred remains of his pool yard.
The heat was becoming unbearable as he approached, about five-feet away from the asteroid he had to stop and just circle the gift from space for a full view.
Had it not been for the incessant buzz murmuring from the cosmic boulder; or the chaotic, blares of houses and cars in distress surrounding him, Gil may’ve heard the neighbors asking if he was okay.
As he made a full lap of observing the asteroid it dawned on him that he needed to not only grab his phone to record this, but also the Geiger counter he kept in the “in case of asteroid”-drawer of his office. Suddenly, as he turned away and back towards the house a wave of energy pulsed from the asteroid knocking him to the ground; in addition to knocking out all of the lights, alarms, cellphones and any other electronic equipment in a ten-mile radius.
Gil couldn’t believe his eyes when he looked up from the ground. Everything he saw was frozen, the dust and rocks that’d flung up when he was tossed to the ground were suspended mid-air. His neighbor, Mr. Larry, was defying gravity — remaining about three feet from the ground after leaping the fence to help. The entire world around him seemed to have just paused. Well everything from his world had, at least.
A loud hissing started up from the asteroid. Gil scrambled to his feet to investigate. The heat from the rock had miraculously all but dissipated as he closed in on it. Gil was just barely able to place one foot in front of the other as he rounded the sphere to get a view of whatever was causing the pressurizing hiss.
“Gil Anderson…”, a robotic voice called out his name. The holographic projection appeared as it repeated, “Gil Anderson…”
Gil hesitated, looking around for the joke to be over. Nothing moved except the sliding face of the asteroid and the holographic image of a floating head. The being in the hologram had two rows of three eyes, that ran horizontally across its forehead. It had what Gil would describe later in his journal as, “tentacles coming from its mouthless chin”. It’s ears were larger than its head and flowered.
“Gil Anderson?…”, the floating head called again, this time turning to face him with its six eyes.
Fear-stricken, Gil answered, “Yes….?”
“Fear not…”, the head replied, “You have been chosen for a task of galactic importance…”
Gil was at a loss for words, he would later write that he responded with, “Okay.” But in reality his mouth merely gaped open, allowing a drip of drool to escape it even.
“Please listen closely…”
Gil nodded absent mindedly.
“My name is ____”. Gil would not be able to repeat or transcribe the sounds that escaped the holographic creatures mouth when it told him it’s name. But it was from that point forever etched into his mind. “I am from the planet your people call Mars. We have remained hidden and concealed, but are very aware of the efforts you are making to study and eventually habitat our home…”
Gil was utterly dumbfounded.
“That cannot be accepted, until we understand the nature and intentions of your kind.”
“Wooow…”, Gil replied with what in his journal would be the only accurate recording of his dialogue with the Martian.
“You Mr. Anderson have been chosen to raise my son, I too am a scientist. We have been watching you and feel that if my child were to be safely protected and cared for by yourself and family we will reveal ourselves to Earthlings in due time. Given the other chosen humans are also able to pass their test.”
With that the asteroid opened to reveal a small infant; the child was not crying — as Gil would later note how he, “…would assume any infant who was inside of an asteroid would be crying.” — and to his surprise only had two eyes, a tentacleless mouth, regular baby ears, a nose, ten fingers and ten toes. It appeared to be a human baby.
“We have encoded a human camouflage into my child’s tracking chip; we will constantly monitor his mood and health over the next 16 years. Given your and your counterparts successes we will then return and reveal our existence to your planet. Do you have any questions?”
Gil had plenty of questions that went unsaid but would later appear in his journal entry. He responded with a still open mouthed gaze and head nod.
As if by some form of magic the physical world outside of Mr. Larry— who still remained three feet above Gil’s yard — began to reassemble itself.
Gil walked slowly with the Martian baby in his arms, towards his daughters’ nursery.
“Will you give me a hand?!”, he heard Rosy yell out as he approached the door of the nursery. “I’m out numbered here! Three to one!!”
Still trembling from the death he’d seen in the incredible beasts’ jaws, T’Rik admired the dexterity and speed of his savior binding the creature with a pulsating rope. “Thanks I’d been a gon—“
“You are a fool!”, Omerik spat, snatching the protective glove off one hand, as he reached into his belt-bound pouch. He unveiled a sturdy, field ready syringe and stabbed the creature who shook the greywoods down to their roots, with another roar. This one was less of a roar and more of a painful cry of distress.
Although T’Rik could not understand what the young man had said, he could tell it wasn’t in good spirits by the tone. He looked away from the man’s handiwork and knelt, peering into the eyes of the beast. He saw tears forming in their ducts.
Omerik took a timeout from the preparations to transport the Kredoja back to camp and chastisedly stared at the moron. “Why have you acted so careless…”, he paused for an answer only to receive a confused face in return. “…and where is your blaster?! You would be dead if I’d no—“. Omerik snatched up the blaster and aimed it at T’Rik’s chest.
“Whoa, whoa…wait. Please! Wait, wait!!”, T’Rik lowered to his knees and raised his hands above his head. “I don’t know what you’re saying…”
Keeping his weapon steady, Omerik used his off hand to unlatch out the bola rope from his waistband. “Lowers your arms, Outsida’!” Omerik ordered.
“I—I…uh” T’Rik stammered with fear trying his hardest not to piss himself.
“Hands. Now!!” Omerik jutted his arms out in front of himself in demonstration, being sure to press the blaster barrel into his prisoner’s ribs.
T’Rik emulated as instructed, his hands about to fall loose at the wrist from his long, shaking arms.
Omerik swung down, slapping the bola tightly around the wrist of the Outsider. “Get up.”, he tilted his weapon up and down to compliment the commandment.
T’Rik understood the body language well enough. He toppled and flopped onto the ground helpless as the second bola rope snapped shut around his ankles. He once again stared into the eyes of the Kredoja. She stared back, almost as if she empathized with his situation. T’Rik, immediately cried out as the pulsing shockwaves began to travel through his nervous system. The pain eventually led him down the path to unconsciousness.
With the prisoner bound and unconscious, Omerik got to work on the sled, he’d use for transport. He un-backed his pack and searched out the foldable axe. He stepped over the whimpering Kredoja and towards his targeted Greywood.
It would be a days affair, he figured as he took his first full swing. He scoffed, as the strike barely chipped the bark of the mighty tree. Omerik removed his protective outer layer of armor and rolled up his sleeves, before delivering a second, equally dismal blow. “Okay, two days…” Omerik muttered his thoughts aloud to himself. He pulled back, eyeing the spot of tree bare of any bark and struck the tree once more. The axe nearly flew from his hand as it rebounded against the infrangible surface. After collecting himself, Omerik took stubborn aim once again.
Before he could bring the axe down the crying Kredoja broke his concentration with an ear bursting howl.
Omerik cowered from the sound. “Be calm beast!!” He shouted, afraid the monster would give his position away to the other competitors. The boy, who now, was just one trip home away from being a man, strode towards his prey; he was fully prepared to administer another dose of tranquilizer when he noticed it. Omerik followed her eyes and fell onto his backside from the shocking turn of events. The egg had begun to crack.
His fear of the strength the mother would soon have overrid his cognitive functioning; he was without a doubt sure his makeshift restraining rope knots would not hold her, if the newborn Kredoja appeared — Omerik slid, crawled and scrambled to his feet, Greywood leaves flying about his haste towards the egg. Moronically he started to try and pick pieces of the multilayered egg from the ground and put them back into place. Failure of the feat finally allowed for his mind to register a more practical solution. He tumbled towards his pack, dumping its contents in search of the second syringe. It bounced away from his lap and rolled down the small hill, he belly crawled in a hurry after it. He reached out…
The blue liquid crystallized under the scrutiny of the forest air, glass and metal fragments danced across the forest floor. To Omerik’s horror, the growling, saw-toothed, acid drooling face of the Kredoja mother accompanied the paw that had crushed the syringe.
It was now fight or flight.
Omerik rolled away just in time as the snapping jaws excavated a pit of forest soil. He started for his blaster but the smart predator made a quick move getting between he and his equipment.
She began slashing violently and uncontrollably, a long talon drawing the blood of the non-responsive bipedals wrist. Anger and rage fueling her every action…
Omerik & T’Rik:
The searing pain in his wrist was T’Rik’s first conscious thought as he came to, the second was the smell of burning fabric. A quick glance at the gash to his wrist explained the reason Greywood leaves stuck to his face as he lifted off the ground. Without regard to the steam coming from his pant leg or the wild fight underway mere meters away, T’Rik applied pressure to his wound. He searched for something to wrap his arm, until finally resting his eyes on the fragmented bola rope. Before he could grab hold of the twine his ankle erupted with pain. He looked down and saw the lesser sized beast gnawing at his rope bound leg. Fear fully driven he jerked away and began to roll down the hill towards the ongoing brawl.
Omerik dodged another four-taloned swipe incoming at his face, only to be tripped by the rolling prisoner. He crashed into the forest floor, and with the quick eyes of a warrior found the beast once more. Omerik’s reflexes acted quickly, before the Kredoja could stomp mercilessly onto the rope-bound fool’s head he push kicked T’Rik out of harms way.
T’Rik was one-hundred percent sure the kick had cracked a rib; nonetheless, he was thankful for having a cracked rib than a smashed skull. His eyes bulged as the massive paw sank into the hard forest floor as if it were sand.
Omerik scrambled away as the Kredoja leaped for him yet again. This time he had an angle on the pack. He sprinted as hard as he could. With the blaster only an arms length away he was forced to barrel roll away from it as a stream of acid flew in his direction. The newborn Kredoja taking on the fight of its mother almost ended it. Omerik did not have much to marvel over the way the Cubs saliva began to melt the Greywood trunk he could barely splinter. He ducked quickly, evading another furious slash from the adult Kredoja. Without a moments hesitation she struck again. The tail of Omerik’s shirt was torn off as he flipped away from her bite. Th Greywood was not as evasive, it began to topple. He galloped away, with the desperate mother right on his heels.
“Here!!!”, T’Rik yelled, powering on and then tossing his saber up hilt-first into the air as Omerik approached.
In one motion, Omerik caught the laseric-blade and dived over the prone prisoner. He tucked his legs and rotated so that his back hit the forest floor first, upon impact he extended the saber…
The blood thirsty Kredoja ignored the easy prey and leapt after her attacker…
The orange blood splattered and burned across Omerik’s face as the laser pierced the Kredoja’s heart, killing her instantly. The dead weight of the beast fell atop the startled warrior. The pure intensity of the moment faded…just like that. Omerik’s senses began to broaden slowly; once again able to take in his entire surrounding and not just life-saving necessities. His breath was short and strained under the weight and stench of the forest conquering Kredoja.
It took a long while but he was finally able to squeeze out from under it. He paused a long moment glaring down at the limp monstrosity; his awe the only thing making him capable of ignoring the cries of help from both the prisoner and the infant Kredoja. Omerik shook off the shock and trotted towards the man who’d saved him.
The warrior returned the saber into T’Rik’s grasp with a stern look and a head nod of approval, before releasing his legs from the bola rope.
Without any words exchanged between the two they made their way towards the wailing cub. Two of its six legs was trapped underneath the fallen Greywood.
“Do it.”, Omerik said.
“What??”, T’Rik could not believe his translator was not working in deciphering the strange warriors tongue. He stared down at the small beast, it’s frill was barely strong enough to fully erect. Despite its’ only being minutes old and in an inescapable position it continued to fight and spit acid; trying its best to turn and face the men who’d murdered its mother.
“Do it or I will!”, without pause for a response, Omerik snatched the saber from T’Rik and started to bring it down upon the trapped Kredoja.
“Noooo!!!!”, T’Rik shoved Omerik’s arm saving the creature.
Location: Union Prime Space Station/Colony — Union Prime University
Date: 9th day of Lesser Equinox
Classroom 418B. Rose dreadfully scanned herself into attendance and took to her desk. She slumped her chin into her palm, her elbow barely maintaining contact on the slippery, sanitized desktop. As all Amber students at the university were, she was mandated to completing three-credit hours of “Amber History and Sociology 101”. Each. And. Every. Year. As refresher of course. So that they never forgot their place. The bottom. The instructor, ignoring the commonly practiced five minute grace period, promptly locked access to the classroom at exactly 1500.
“Exam.” The days learning objective was displayed through a holographic projection screen on each students desk.
“Attention.” He called, “Please turn your Chronos off…Today’s exam will be conducted with the tools of our ancestors…”
A murmuring stir bubbled throughout the class as he produced a thick stack of papers and an accompanying box of writing utensils. He sat the supplies on the rotatable table that sat in the center of the classroom; taking his seat immediately after. “Well…”, he interlaced his fingers, “What are you waiting for? Begin.” He instructed while looking down at his watch and starting the forty-five minute timer.
The students scrambled. Reaching and frantically grabbing at the rotating table for the exam taking tools.
Rose thought of how elementary and basic it was for them to be given a written exam to close the semester. Rose had detested everything about the class for the entire semester but this was downright laughable. A slap in the face of intellectual progression. She grabbed the antiquated exam booklet and a pencil; slowly rotating the latter in her hands, developing a feel for it. Rose hadn’t used a pencil since grade school — Mrs. Ferguson’s arts and crafts classes, during Union Prime history month, in which the students emulated life in various centuries of the past.
Toying with the pencil was eating at her time as she daydreamed. Finally, Rose used it to break the adhesive seal that held the exam pages shut. She fluttered open the booklet, taking in the pulp scented document and considering the test length as she did so. She inhaled a breath full of revolt and exhaled a stream of loathing.
The first page was simply a request for the test takers name. Simple enough. She turned the page and found that the next one was intentionally left blank. A Union Prime University logo rested on the accompanying page. Rose glanced up at the timer being displayed on her desk — she had forty-three minutes remaining to complete the exam. To her that meant it would be forty-three minutes of pure propaganda driven torture. That’s all the entire class had been.
On the next page the directions for the exam were given: “1. This is a closed-Chronos exam. You are prohibited from using any forms of resources that are not directly on your biological person.
”2. There are 11 pages, including this one, of multiple-choice questions and a final page featuring a short survey response question. The latter will not be graded. The survey will be used purely to assess your understanding of Amber sociology.
”3. You will be given 45-minutes to complete the exam.
”4. The entire 45-minutes must be observed by all students and there shall be no talking until the entire time limit has run its course. Good Luck.”
Rose turned the page only for her jaw to drop in complete horror. She slammed her fist down hard on the desk and searched the room for any semblance of mutual disgust in the faces of her classmates. There wasn’t a single pair of eyes with a shred of Amber-empathy in them, other than her own. Not even the slightest hint of consideration was amongst any of their privileged consciousnesses.
“Is there a problem, Ms. Zuri?” The professor interrogated with a anger inducing smugness about his expressionless smile.
Rose cleared her throat, embarrassingly holding her rage in; with every breath she pressed it back down. Deep, deep, down — into the recesses of her mind and spirit, where it had to stay for her own safety. She took a moment to fully collect herself before answering, “No, sir. Everything is fine, I just…uh…dropped my pencil.” She gave a quick smile and waited for his response.
“Ahhh…”, he chuckled. “…it may take you a bit longer than the others to become adjusted to it. Very well. Proceed.”
How Rose wished to snap his twig-like body in two at that moment. Instead, she nodded and read the hideous first question once again:
“1. Why were twenty-third century geneticist compelled to create isolated gene therapy in order to suppress Amber mutative properties?
”A. Because Ambers’ are prone to violent outbreaks and the mutations would put society at greater risk during an outbreak.
”B. Without suppressing the genetic disease all of humanity would potentialy come to have contaminated DNA.
”C. The Ambers faced extinction without some scientific breakthrough to help them combat the genetic disease.
“D. All of the above.”
Cringing, she gave the answer needed to pass the test. The wrong answer in actuality — she like all Ambers knew the reason for the SGT shots was too keep Ambers from being more powerful than non-Ambers. Now in present times, they shared none of the superhuman abilities of their ancestors; the only traces of their former selves was in their eyes.
The remainder of the test was much of the same. Anti-Amber propaganda driven theories and historical lies hidden with sprinklets of truth. She powered through it. Holding back the tears and anger as she had done the past two years she’d been forced to take the class. Both times she’d been the only Amber enrolled. However, hurtful as it may be, it was imperative that Rose not cause a stir about it.
Discipline was always swifter and harsher on an Amber-eye. Plus, she needed to get through the next few weeks without any trouble finding her, so as retain eligibility to be for the Earth trip. All third years went to Earth for field studies in their respective career paths.
As a Civil Engineering Major, with a minor in historical civilizations, Rose was slated to visit the ancient ruins of Egypt and study the many monuments and wonders that the ancients there had erected. She was beyond excitement. Nothing — not even a prejudiced professor teaching an even more prejudiced curriculum could break her determination to study on Earth.
Kora and Rose stood in line next to one another and giggled excitedly about the opportunities that lay ahead. They were in queue to be fitted for their traveling kits — a full body protective suit, equipped with the latest amenities of space travel. Including, among other necessities, was a suit patching kit, first aid pouch, auxillary oxygen tank and a state of the art communicating module.
This Field study trip would be both of their first times leaving Union Prime. A huge milestone in a young woman’s life. They’d gotten extremely lucky to not only both remaining eligible through the entire year, but also in both being tasked to visit Egypt. Kora had wisely put her Non-Amber privileges to good use; as a Creative Writing major, she had been able to convince the University Council that a chance to visit the ancient library of Alexandria would be tremendously beneficial for her studies.
“I’m so excited!” Kora exclaimed as they stepped forward in line. They were next up.
“I know…Me too!” Rose agreed, unable to hide her smile. “I can’t believe it’s already here. I’ve waited all year for this…”
Kora squeezed her fists tight and bounced on her toes with pure joy radiating from her smile. Her short crop hair was dyed a bright purple with blue tips highlighting the eccentric style. A single braid bounced around her temple as she jumped.
“Jeez, sis! Calm down a bit before they turn us away…”
“You’re right. You’re right. I just…aaah…we’re going into space!!!” Kora announced.
“We’re already in space…”, Rose laughed.
“Next…” the registar called out.
Kora sprinted towards him and began the onboarding process with her usual high-level energy and enthusiasm.
As soon as her best friend left her side, Rose felt completely isolated and exposed. The feeling, mostly due in part to the ominous glances she received from the Union Prime Travel Security Agents. She felt a swell of pride mixed with fear in her heart as the realization that, though they did not want her to, she did in fact belong there, fell upon her. She quickly swiped the tear from her eye and smiled back at Kora who was now heading towards the entrance of the dressing facility.
“Next…”, the Registar motioned for her to step forward.
Rose ignored the snickering of the students behind her as she tripped, taking her first step towards her trip to Earth.
“Hello,” She greeted the Registar and held her Chronos out towards the verification device. “Where do I n—“
“Gotta ‘nother one…” the Registar announced.
“Aw you gotta be kidding me…”, said one the other agents in disgust. “This way, you.” The agent called for her.
“Uh….okay…”, she started towards the new agent, confused and looking to the Registar for an explanation.
“Next…”, he called for the next student without giving her a second glance.
“Come on. Come on. I ‘on’t have all day….”, the new agent called.
Rose noticed his name tag, “Yes Sir….uh…”, she stammered, “Officer Holizar…why a—“
“This way. Let’s go.” He ushered her towards a separate facility across the pathway from the dressing and fitting building that Kora had entered. “Hands up.” He commanded as he used his Chronos to scan her body for weapons and contraband. “Clean!” He yelled into the building before instructing her to enter.
As she stepped into the doorway and forceful mist blasted her above, below and into her face. After her body was completely coated with the sterilizing mist, she felt a strong clasp right above her elbows.
Two Agents had hold of her and began walking her towards a desk in the center of the office.
The woman manning the desk, held a hand out indicating to the two other agents that they may leave. “Take a seat.”
Rose did as she was told and sat in the poor excuse for a chair that faced the mountainous desk. “Um…ma’am…may I ask—“
“You may not.” The woman cut her off. “Rose Zuri. Twenty. Height, one-hundred, fifty-seven point four, eight. Weight, forty eight ‘an half…”, the cold shouldering woman spoke with such a sharpness that Rose felt attacked by her tone.
It came as a shock when Rose realized she wasn’t the one the woman was talking to. “Got it.”, said a voice shrouded in the darkness to Rose’s left.
“First trip?”, the woman asked.
“I’m sorry…”, Rose had heard her but she was so terrified her brain and ears weren’t communicating properly.
“I’ll take that as a yes…”, woman tapped on the tablet before her, and quickly looked up into Rose’s eyes. Piercing deeply with her stare. “Do not cause any trouble while you are away.”
“Y-y-es….ma’am…”, Rose forced herself to respond.
Suddenly the footsteps of the two agents at the door drew nearer. The took up her arms once again, almost lifting her from the chair, before she stood on her own. They wheeled her around the large desk and towards another door. The agent on the right’s Chronos lot up as he accessed the next room. She was slightly pushed away and the door closed behind her.
“Rose!! What’s up!!” Darren stood and greeted her as she entered.
“Hey Darren…”, Rose greeted him in return, her voice hollow. “I…uh…I didn’t know seniors were going to Earth…”, she tried to force conversation.
“It’s only a handful of us. Going to complete my Research project in this place called Arizona. There’s this amazing, naturally formed rock canyon. Apparently there’s no other expansion like it on Earth! I just have to see it! Y’know?”
“Yeah…yeah…that sounds cool…”, Rose joined him on the bright white bench. The entire room was obscenely lit and a bright metallic white that stung the eyes. “Where’s Darrius?”
Darren looked down for a moment. A rare, quick moment of defeat parsed his face; though it was gone just as quickly, Rose knew what it meant before he said it. “We got split up…” he tapped his face just below his eyes with two fingers. “You know…”
“Yeah…”, Rose said sadly.
Darren pulled her close hugging her shoulders. Rose knew they hug was for him as much as for her as a few more tears found a way to escape her eyes.
Rose fell asleep on Darren’s shoulder as the wait and boredom got to her. She was startled awake by the chamber door sliding open.
The two guards who’d escorted her entered and demanded they both stand. The Agents shoved a folded set of suits into each of their arms, atop the suits sat a paperback book entitled: “Enjoying Earth.”
“No need to try them on. Your measurements were scanned when you entered.” One of the agents declared.
“Thank—“, Rose started.
“You may leave.” The other agent interjected showing them the door.
Rose walked out and into the boarding lobby and immediately spotted Kora’s bright hair. She was staring out of the giant window pane that overlooked the transport dock.
“Go on”, Darren laughed when Rose looked back at him. “I’m gonna go find Darrius.”
Rose nodded with a smile and paced diligently towards Kora.
Before Rose could sneak up and give Kora the surprise hug she had planned, Kora turned and spotted her. She bounced giddily and they embraced.
“That was so cool right!!!” Kora exclaimed.
“What was?” Rose questioned.
“Oh cut it out,” Kora laughed. “Even you have to admit that was awesome. Like when I walked in the machine went right work, it measures everything even our fingers?!?!” Kora searched Rose’s eyes for a shared enthusiasm that just wasn’t there to be found.
Rose tried, “Uh…yeah, yeah. It was weird too, huh.”
“Very!! Hey…you okay?”, Kora asked.
“Yeah. I’m fine.” Rose reassured before deflecting Kora’s attention towards the window. “So is that it?”
“Yep. That’s it!!” They two besties awed over the beauty of the shuttle that would take them to Earth. It was a massive, masterful work of art and spacecraftmanship.
The trip was bittersweet for Rose. As the other students enjoyed floating jello fights, flipping contest and racing in the zero gravity chamber, she couldn’t shake the ill-feelings towards the separate boarding practices.
Nevertheless she and Kora were here now. The home of ancient Egyptian civilization. Kora ran towards the first temple they saw, speeding away from Rose and their tour guide.
“Kora wait!!!” Rose chased after her.
“Oh my—“, Kora exclaimed.
“It’s…it’s her isn’t it?” Rose stepped slowly towards the statue that Kora was frozen in admiration before. Tears of joy curling over the dimples of the huge smile on her face.
“It has to be…”, Kora answered the rhetorical question. “Pain of The Lyon-ness.” Kora read the inscription below the statue.
Rose was stuck in a state of admirable silence. At a complete loss for words, she shrank before the display of her ultimate hero. The winged statue held a hand out reaching for…what? Her eyes and facial expression showed nothing but the utmost terror and pain. The wings: one erected straight out and the other curled back in distress.
“I wonder why the sculptor had her kneel. I can’t imagine anyone with wings would ever kneel! Right?!” Kora pegged excitedly.
Rose couldn’t respond, she was too lost in a bevy if emotions. She wiped the tears off her face and reached out towards the statue. Just as her hand grazed the tip of one of the wings the tour guide case screaming into the temple.
“Do not touch!! Do not touch!!!” He yelled, “This. More expensive than you both. We go now. Come.”
Kora laughed and quickly followed the guide.
Rose marveled at the figure a moment longer, backing away slowly.
She turned on her heel and quickly caught up to Kora and tour guide as they made their way to the planned route to the Library of Alexandria.
The spot where Rose’s tear soaked fingers had grazed the wing began to crack. Small shards of stone fell to the ground revealing the trapped, feather. More pieces began to fall to the temple floor, revealing the entire wing tip. The sun shining through the skylight coated the newly freed tip in heat.
“…please know they deserved it. They deserved all of it.”
— quote from Among Us II
The thrumming helicopter blades dragged D’Amber from the neck cramping, slob inducing nap. She stretched her neck from side to side, scoffing at the very idea of being shuttled in the flying machine. What a mockery of who she was. The shackles around her ankles and wrist clanged as she jostled for a more comfortable position amongst the others. Although strapped shut against her core, her wings bumped and pressed the unlucky two who sat beside her. There were four of them all together. Former humans who at some point in their lives had all ascended, developing unbelievable traits and/or abilities; only to now be degraded to nothing more than tools and weapons. Forced to fight a war in which the elites funded both sides. The endless war games of the rich and powerful had no limitations.
To her right sat one of the privatized soldiers, gripping his weapon tightly; unsure and uneasy of the group he was being paid handsomely to deliver. His sweat was due more to his fear than the one-hundred and five degree day they were all berated by. He constantly fidgeted against D’Amber’s wings, uncomfortable at every brush against them. The concern he had over the metallic wing-restrainer’s ability, continued creasing his face into a mix of disgust and terror. D’Amber could sense his racing heart; Its quickening beat was dangerous with a weapon under its command.
Glowing and tense against her left wing was Nightlight. The mute been given his nickname, not only for his extremely introverted nature, but more so for his gifted bioluminescent skin. He could literally shine on command. So he had been showing the entire day; Nightlight had refused to dim a single wavelength since before they’d left the helipad in Taji. D’Amber assumed he was determined to produce enough heat from his light to burn through the tungsten-diamond alloy shackles. Highly unlikely, but even if he did succeed it’d be all for nought if he didn’t have plan for dealing with the shock collar. The determined introvert continued to strain every drop of his power, illuminated the interior of the helicopter.
“Quite a tool, that one is. Eh?” The Aussie, spoke up trying to get D’Amber’s attention. He was known and famous around the world as the Ascendant who cured the common cold. Of the four of them he had the most passive gift; any illness his body beats naturally gives him the power to heal that same disease in any who he touches. As the outstanding human being he is, he went into business as a TV pastor “healing” patrons and collecting tax free dollars.
“If anyone’s a tool here, it’s you.” The wittier one of the quartrett, Jaxson, was gifted with superhuman speed. He explains it as just slowing down time, but to the observing eye he appears to move near light speeds. He yanked hard against the chains that binded he and the dollar-made reverend. “Why don’t study some scriptures or something, let us ponder our own demise in peace.”
“Mind yourself kiddo…” The Aussie started, “My power works both ways y’know…”
The young soldier next to D’Amber shuddered at that.
“Are you saying you can give people diseases?” She asked.
“Ah…” the Aussie’s eyes brightened, “…so the angel speaks as well?”
“You gonna answer her or just grin like the fool you are?” Jaxson interjected.
The Aussie scoffed, “Yes, love. I can do just that…” he carried his grinning gaze from D’Amber towards Jaxson before continuing. “And much, much more if I’m annoyed enough…”
Unaltered by the threat Jaxson sneered back, “Bluff…”
They shuffled forearms as the Aussie raised up trying to initiate a fight with Jaxson; before D’Amber’s eyes or reaction could adjust Jaxson appeared behind the Aussie on the opposite side of the bench choking the aggressor with their shared chain.
The shook soldier beside her began to raise his rifle; reacting quickly she pressed the muzzle down, gently but firmly. Soothing his fear with her calmness, bullets being fired within the aircraft they all sat on was the last thing they needed. His childlike eyes beamed into hers with that understanding.
Only moments later the Commander of the privatized team leaned back from the co-pilot seat, wielding a small remote and shocked them both into submission.
“Welcome to your new home freaks…” the Commander barked back to them, as the chopper descended. “Good ol’ Camp Liberty…”
The talkative leader continued to describe their new surroundings but D’Amber couldn’t comprehend a word beyond the dust and sand that began to invade all of her senses. She had thought the last camp was the dustiest place on Earth but as the helicopter landed she realized just how wrong she was. Even as the blades whirred to a stop, she saw that everything was immediately covered in an everlasting coat of dusty grime. Camp Liberty literally hugged them on arrival, great. Home sweet home.
They were escorted past more Clear-Sky (private mercenaries) soldiers and some actual military members, towards a massive military-tan vehicle. It reminded her of the trailers livestock were transported in. Smelled even worse. The two pairs of chained weaponry were pushed into the back; again everyone cramped against the space D’Amber’s wings longed for. There were no words spread between them before the double-doors clanged shut; save for Nightlight still concentrating on burning his chains, they would be in complete darkness.
“This isn’t getting anything over three-stars from me…” Jaxson joked, dragging the Aussie nearer to Nightlight’s glow.
D’Amber didn’t have any other choice but to be illuminated by the silent lightbulb. Although she did let a small laugh out at Jaxson’s joke she was determined to mantain a serious attitude given their circumstances. That was a hard task given the group she was presently stuck with.
They jostled and swayed constantly, apparently the heavy military vehicle manufacturers were not too concerned with investing in suspension. Every bump sent them either into the walls or each other; and there were many bumbs en route to wherever they were going.
As they traveled D’Amber began to focus on her breathing. She had spent many moons under the tutelage of Ethiopian herbsmen a year ago and had developed a strong practice of meditation — she had come to find it the most helpful solution during stressful times. Stress was more common than any other emotion given her self-defined role as protector of the weak.
Jaxson occupied himself by humming a meditation-blocking tune. Not only was he being obscenely loud, it was even more infuriating that he was not even rythmically capable of sustaining the tune.
The Aussie stood face to face with Nightlight, staring at the quiet sole’s closed eyelids as he strained to glow brighter and brighter.
They were an odd group, forced together under derest. D’Amber could not envision anything good or wholesome coming of this gathering.
D’Amber thought back to the day her wings finally succeeded in pulling her into her destiny; although it was a day masked by heartbreak, she had come to the realization that it was for the good of all those she saved. She had decided years ago that she would not waste the powers she’d been given. Once driven by their own responsibility to deliver her where she needed to be, she now had full control over her wings; she could still feel them “talking” to her, but the relationship was more symbiotic than parasitic at this point in her life. The dust and heat of the prison she now found herself reminded her of fonder memories when the wings dragged her away from Doctor Williams and delivered her at the steps of the Great Pyramids of Egypt. She was trasnformed and her destiny revealed in an astro-spiritual experience that she tried to immulate and find whenever she meditated.
“C’mon mate!!!” the Aussie broke into everyone’s peace as he yelled at Nightlight. “What’s the deal with this one?”
“Concentrating…” Jaxson opened a single eye to answer in a sarcastic tone, “…by the looks of it I bet he’d like to be left alone…”
“Yeah…n well I’d like a stra-burry cone!” The Aussie replied as he began thumping Nightlight’s forehead.
D’Amber stepped between Nightlight and the Aussie, her wings outstretching, slow and intimidating, their presence began to fill the width of the trailer.
“Madam…”, the Aussie paced backward with his eyes glued to D’Amber’s wings and his hands upraised, until he stumbled into the equally unamused Jaxson.
The wings collapsed under her command and D’Amber reached down to grab the restraining device. She reseated it into it’s former position, holding her gift back once again.
Fifteen more silent minutes passed before they’re rough trip came to a stop. The four of them all fell away from the door as the truck came to an abrupt stop.
“Out!!”, the doors flung open as a native ClearSky employee yelled at them with one of the few English words he knew. “Out. Out. Go…” he hurried them out of the truck and quickly shuffled back to the cab, speeding off.
D’Amber watched as the truck passed through three separate gates, distancing itself as far away from them as fast as it could.
“Over here…” called out another ClearSky employee. A fence separated them from the caller. They shuffled their chained feet towards the man quickly after he shook a ring of keys over his head.
“What is this?”
“Where are we?”
“Who’s in charge?”
Their questions went ignored as the guard unbinded them in silence.
The very second the Aussie’s chains dropped to the sand he broke out in a run in the direction the truck had sped off.
D’Amber took note as the guard didn’t do so much as flinch.
The Aussie’s body burned to a crisp as his hand reached out for the fence. Nothing but a pile of ashes and the ClearSky shock collar remained of him after the the gate did its job of keeping him inside its perimeter.
“Anyone else?” Called another guard.
The three remaining ascendandts were frozen in unbelief.
D’Amber’s eyes had never been more open, her mind never more made up as they entered the compound. There were hundreds of them. People just like her and the others, all Ascendants. All gifted in one way or another.
For weeks they ate and trained together. Helped one another hold onto sanity and counter indoctrination by sharing stories and getting to know one another. Compared thoughts on escape and consoled those who saw no escape in sight.
They became family. They became the Ambers. A name given to them by the ClearSky Guards who felt that Ascendants was too great a title for scum such as the kenneled weapons.
From time to time they were individually ‘signed’ out. Forced to engage in combat against anyone who ClearSky deemed an enemy. Those who refused in battle never returned to the camp. The others did their best to keep their names alive, as legends and heroes.
D’Amber cried herself to sleep the day Nightlight did not return. She didn’t know much of anything about the man besides that he was gifted like her, that mattered not, he had become a brother to her.
It would be three months before D’Amber was summoned to fight. To be the weapon of choice for the day. Apparently ClearSky had a need for a winged woman.
She would later write in her journal: “I had even asked before it became a serious problem: who the soldier was? He just kept pacing. We were hunkered behind the trench, the resistors Hs the high-ground. They had had us pinned down for three days at that point, so maybe he felt complacent. I still don’t know. The story I keep hearing is that the resistors’ radio towers were causing earaches in all the soldiers. Apparently the only reprise this man could find was in packing back and forth. Long story short. The sniper found him. When you read about what happened in our history books, I was not a traitor. They deserved it. They deserved all of it.”
As the soldiers body fell limp to the ground, she saw his eyes. Amber. Just like hers. He had been an Ascendant. Her anger burned for the man’s killer’s, until she heard the soldiers beside her echo coordinates of the sniper into their radios. The truth donned on her….they had used him. Forced him to be bait, so they could fight their pointless fight.
In anger she burst into the air; rocketing higher and higher. Higher than she’d ever gone. She fought against the shocking collar with all her might until, “CRACK”, it froze and broke under her fingers. D’Amber immediately angled down, back towards the battlefield.
She swooped down like a bird of prey picking up an enemy soldier with a speed far beyond what their reaction times could even consider. She flew up until the altitude and speed caused him to lose consciousness and that’s when she saw it. The missing link to all of the madness. The man’s eyes….were Amber. They were fighting their own. Forced to fight their own. Though these men who they thought were the enemies had no powers it was undeniable proof who they really were.
Excerpt from the foreword of “The Journal of D’Amber Lyons, by Gary Cartwright”:
…D’Amber set the man down gently away from the fight and then proceeded to slaughter each and everyone of the ClearSky soldiers. The Ascendants were freed from their bondage that day. By her hands. And the tide of the war shifted drastically with the Amber’s under their command. You’re not going to learn that in school, they don’t want you to know they weren’t the good guys…