Three maidens cast piercing glares my way. Tramps, the folk called them. Others knew them simply as the dark sisters. They tugged at the binds, squirming like a bunch of stretched worms against soaked tree trunks.
“Repent!” Father Pritchet gave them another lash across the face. The whip butchered their powdered skin like a bull carcass in a lion pit. “Admit your sins in front of your brothers and sisters! Shout it so the good Lord can hear your pathetic confession!” The sisters kept quiet, unflinching. This only further enraged the preacher.
Pritchet’s face burned as he turned to face us. His eyes were glassy and his fingers twitched and tightened against the whip. There was no question that he was back on the spirits again. “Dare you stand at your post, denying the good people of Neckam an admission of guilt in the possession of young Bette Ferstip?” The preacher pointed his scaly finger at me. “What about your little sister, Gloria? Will you not give her closure? Anything to ease her suffering? You three killed your mother, after all.” The silence was broken by a sneeze from the back. It was the baker, ol’ Maryann Callister – everybody told her flour would be the death of her. She swore it was the work of Satan and his three wenches.
“Speak!” The father whipped them another four times. Still nothing. Pritchet wiped the sweat from his brow. “Very well. You can die with your demons, harlots! Would dear Maryann please face the accused?” Mrs. Callister cut through the crowd and joined the preacher at the front. “Now tell us all what these sinister whores did to your health, Maryann.”
Despite being the source of Neckam’s sweet treats, Maryann evidently did not indulge in her product; she was gaunt, her apron barely clinging to her thin waist. She had been part of the community since migrating from the homeland sixty years ago. “They tarnished it, Father!” The audience hissed obscenities, curses of their own, as the woman coughed in a dark handkerchief. Dust danced in the dry wind. “They asked for a blackberry tart, but I explained that I ain’t got no blackberries, as the harvest was spread too thin. Most of this season’s batch was shipped to the capital, you see. And they left appalled! Shortly after was when I developed this painful cough!”
The crowd erupted. “Burn the witches!” they chanted. “Cast the flame, Father!”
And he did exactly as the spectators demanded. In seconds, the three women were ablaze. Their screams would haunt the square for centuries. Father Pritchet stood tall and proud, confident that he just ridded the land of some more of Satan’s slaves.
The death of my older sisters does not affect me. The stench of the burning hair and their screams were enough to send the rest of the villagers back to their cottages, but I watched every moment.
When the three girls walked in on me with the stones one afternoon, they threatened to tell the preacher. Everyone figured the village was rife with witches, thanks to hysteria in neighboring towns, and how great would they be regarded if they turned in the most powerful one of them all? So I casted a simple hex sealing their cancerous mouths and went to work.
“It’s such a shame it had to come to this,” I mentioned to Father Pritchet, who was scribbling something in a journal, still at his post near my burning relatives.
“We live in dark times, Gloria. The Devil’s shadow stretches far.”
“Indeed.” I walked back to my secret cottage in the woods, enjoying the smell of my sisters’ burning hair on the way. At the cusp of war, I entered my home with no bounds for the first time in a century.
Toss that rouge. And don’t even think of spreading that magenta gloss. I’m a Crazed Comedia, Louis Vitton kind of girl. The others try and copy my slide. Everybody wants to be the leather queen rocking those Wang spikes. But there’s only enough room on the throne for one queen. And that’s me.
Hand on cocked hip, lips pursed, mane slicked back. That gorgeous Swayze with the chestnut curls and jawline for days blows my name in the microphone. “Angel McVey.” The only name the viewers will remember after tonight is the big A-M. Baby Vey was bringing it to the floor.
Glitz and glam, carmine and lavender, nobody does it better. I strut across the catwalk in my glimmering 6-inch Wangs and charcoal skirt. The men watch, hands bouncing in their tight slacks, as my caramel legs traipse the stage. The young Pitt blows me a kiss – the signal – and my little earpiece hums to life.
You can bury me in glitter and Versace, manicure these nails, prop me up on a cum-stained pedestal and call it pornography, but you’ll never have the empress you imagined. My voice ruins me. No matter how much lace I wear, it’s always there to bring me back to Earth. “Ladies and Gents,” I speak into the bedazzled microphone, “that excludes tonight’s show. You’ve seen our queens and kings, princes and princesses. And you’ve seen the muses.” A caterwauling group of teenaged boys – far younger than the minimum age requirement, but, hey, Mama don’t judge – lick the pit between their index and middle fingers. As if they had eaten a pussy before. What amateurs. “Return tomorrow night for the debut of Starlet Kix, fresh from her slick spaceship!” I almost vomit from the plug – who wants to see that over-produced tramp? Not this queen. I hand the mic back to Swayze and storm behind the curtain.
“What the hell was that, Angel?” Curt was looking mighty fine in a sequined blazer, I’ll admit it, but the man had a few things he should have learned before purchasing Night Owl.
I scrub the mirror clean with my palm and remove the crystal earrings. “Come on, babe. You know this bitch don’t do no promotion for fresh faces.” Unbuttoning the dress reveals my chiseled chest and black fuzz. In an instant, I turned from full-blown goddess to simple otter. The transformation disgusts me. “You can’t expect me to give you a spectacular performance by pinning me with Scarlet Snowflake, anyway,” I admit. “That girl is out for my crown, and you know it. Has been since day one.”
All Curt can do is drop his head in agitation. He’d do anything to promote another queen from under me, kicking me out the door, but with a brain like this goddess it’ll take more than he can ever throw. I ain’t one to indulge in mind games. You get what your green dollar pays for. “Fine,” he huffs, heading out of the dressing room. “Oh, and Dalon is here. Figured I’d let you know.”
Dalon. Mother fucking Dalon Arneecher. Just thinking his name makes me want to scribble obscenities on the mirror and go total psycho on his lying ass. “When the hell did he get here? He watched the show?” But Curt was already gone. He had other queens to tend to, after all. This babe didn’t need no help, that’s for sure. I can handle my own clasps, thank you very much.
Then there’s the smell. The stench of sex and honey. Gut-wrenching. It was his favorite cologne; it was the one I emptied in the driver’s seat of his Mercedes. It’s surprising he’s still wearing the disgusting poison. “Dalon, get your ass from behind that door. If you don’t, I’ll send this heel into your chest like last time.” I wipe eyeshadow and concealer off with a purple wet cloth. Every scrub revived a red canvas of blemishes and pimples.
Dalon shyly entered the room. He’s changed his hair. His dreads were replaced with a clean-cut fade. “Hey, Eddie.” His short-winded quietness catches me off guard. “Got a second?” As if I’m willing to devote an abandoned second on this asshole.
“I don’t got nothing to say to you, boy. Move along.” His sheepish smile reminds me of why I loved him to begin with. Every moment with him felt pure and undisturbed. That is, until I caught him with two other women. “Go on.”
“Is it Ashley or Eddie?” His dark eyes melt me. “Please, it’ll only take a second. Then I’ll be out of your life forever.”
“You’ve got two words. That’s it.”
He drops his head in his hands and cries. I dated the man for five years and never saw him cry like this. “I’m done.” The voice cracked and strained against the sobs. He looked me in the face, his eyes crimson and his cheeks pulsing. “I’m dying, Ed.”
“What the fuck are you talking about? Don’t you be playing those games.” My tone is soft despite my wanting to hate his ugly, crying face. Damn these sympathetic genes my dad gave me.
He sat on a metal chair at another makeup station, collapsed is the better word. “AIDS.” It was all he had to say to get me out of my perch to embrace him. “My life is ruined. I fucked up, Eddie. I fucked it all up.”
This man, the one I swore was the love of my life when I left home at seventeen, was falling apart in my arms. Dalon’s tears drip down my chest. The news leaves me stuck; for once in my life I don’t say a thing. No sexist quip, no apologies, nothing. At last, the queen is without her greatest weapon.
“I didn’t contract it from Eidan, either.” He sniffled. “I needed a blood transfusion after I…” Another sniffle. “I tried to end things, and I can’t afford no fancy hospital.” He trembles in my arms.
I take a deep breath, my nose buried in his hair. I breathe in that shitty cologne and two-dollar bathing soap. He must have scrubbed himself raw in the shower before coming to see me. He feels disgusting, polluted, but no amount of alcohol and perfume will cleanse him of his affliction. I know this because I felt the same when the doctor told me I was poz.
Nothing I can do will make him feel totally clean again. There will always be that lingering thought of how disgusted his friends and family would be if they ever discovered. That sense of potential abandonment is what earned me the lines on my thigh – I still carry the razor in my wallet. But I don’t tell him of any of this.
Instead, I hand him some gloss and a swift pat on the back. “As of tonight, you’re no longer Dalon Arneecher. A queen has been born, and her name is Lily Fierce.” He looks at me puzzled. “Just trust me, babe. You got this.” We sit up and I begin spreading concealer against his chapped face. I repeat my momma’s words. “Toss that rouge, baby. Fuck that magenta. Tonight, you’ll be Comedia, rocking that Vitton. Tonight, the throne is yours.” I pop his collar and add some more concealer against his unshaven neck. “Every wilted flower can bloom, baby. All it needs is some water and love.”
While Beatrice enjoyed living in an upscale apartment in the heart of New York and loved her large paychecks from Crown Plow Inc., there were just too many people. She could give presentations to teams of superiors detailing a new marketing strategy she had developed – dozens of old, white men packed in a cramped cubicle – but put her on a similarly dense sidewalk, clopping past mustache machos and Vera Wang’s, and she loses it. Crumbles.
That’s why she tried talking herself out of going to the reading of her grandfather’s will. Or maybe it was simply that Beatrice didn’t feel like seeing those two-faced, overweight relatives of hers. She can picture them all crying, saying how sorry they were for losing such a great man, all the while eyeing a fresh plate of bruschetta and other treats her chef sister, Balie, whipped up. They say they’re there to celebrate the life of an old man, but they’re infinitely more intrigued with the passing of his $30 million estate and the award-winning hors d’oeuvres.
“You’ve got to come, Bea.” When Balie heard the news of their grandfather’s death, she was in the middle of a signing in Chicago. The second edition of her cookbook was earning her millions. “He would have wanted you there.”
Beatrice held the phone with her shoulder as she entered her apartment. The cat had made a mess with the lily bouquet her mother had sent her for her birthday. She seethed with irritation, but patted the damned cat anyway. “I’m drowning in work, Balie. And besides, he and I haven’t talked since I was a little girl. At Aunt Della’s wedding, remember?”
“I know how that feels, but it can wait until you get in Sunday, can’t it?”
“George is expecting a full report by 8am Monday.”
Balie breathed into the phone. “Beatrice.”
“I’m sorry, but I just can’t right now.”
“For somebody who hardly knew you, you’re sure getting off alright.” Now they shared irritation. “He’s leaving you his farm, Beatrice.”
The admission made Beatrice choke on her wine. “You’re kidding.”
“Nope. That’s why you’ve got to come. Mom wanted to wait to tell you herself, but you know…”
She was shocked at the news. She had no contact whatsoever with the old man for nearly twenty years, and he decides to leave her ownership of his huge ranch? “Why would he do that? I’m not even his biological granddaughter. I’m adopted for Christ’s sake.” She chewed on a cheesy cracker. “Do you know what he left you?”
“I got his cabin in Wisconsin and some other things. So does this mean you’ll come?”
“I guess I can send an email to George…”
“Good girl. Listen, I have to go. Steve’s home. Love ya.”
Beatrice sat the cracker platter on the coffee table and flipped on the news. She drifted off on the sofa wondering what the hell she was going to do with a big ass farm in Pennsylvania.
“Honey!” A woman of about sixty, adorned with knock-off jewelry and White Diamond perfume clutched Beatrice, crushing her against two big pearl necklaces.
Forcing a smile, Beatrice said, “Hi, Mom. I’m sorry about Grandfather.”
Her mother joined her in a guest room upstairs. It was the only quiet place in the Victorian manor. “You must not have heard.” She watched as Beatrice’s face went to strained sorrow to white-washed confusion. “Honey, you’re grandfather’s death was no accident, and I’ll leave it at that.”
She nodded. “It was a travesty. All over the news. But it’s too much for these Christian lips to mutter.” Her mother closed and locked the door, bringing a finger to her mouth, waiting for some distant relatives to pass. She resumed. “Now Balie told me that you already know about your inheritance.”
Beatrice cocked her head and smirked. “Mom, what’s wrong? You’re acting weird. Val didn’t slip you some of his Liquid Surprise, did he? Because, you know that’s just butterscotch and tequila, right?”
“No, no, no. Hush, baby. You have to listen.” She handed Beatrice a rubberstamped note. It had yellowed with time. “He and I both decided it was best to have you as the keeper of our secrets. Not even Balie knows of this, so you can’t say anything. Hear me?”
Beatrice figured the tequila got the best of her mother. “Sure, Mom.” She couldn’t take the woman seriously. Secrets? The only secrets they cared to keep were the family recipes and the fact that sometimes they skipped Sunday sermons to drink soda on the coast. They were such sinners. Rebels.
“I need you to leave here now and go to the farm. Don’t open the letter until you get there. Promise me.” The woman revealed in her mother’s eyes was not one with which Beatrice was familiar. This was a seriously ill lady who needed some professional attention. “Beatrice, promise me.”
Regardless of the lunacy of the case, Beatrice enjoyed the thought of escaping all the madness. “Fine, I will. It’s right off Milwey and next to the old food warehouse, right?”
Her mother yanked her arm, her sharp magenta nails drawing blood. “Heavens, no! Honey, it’snot that farm. I’m talking about the one just about thirty minute’s hike from this manor, maybe less if you walk fast.” Her face was flushed, nostrils flared. “It’ll all be explained. Just go. Don’t tell anybody. Hurry.”
Beatrice was out of the house in a split second, evading Balie and the others with ease. They didn’t act like they cared at all that she had left. The fresh air lifted her spirits, which she desperately needed after the strange encounter with her mother. She made a point to inform Balie of everything when she got back. She was not one to keep secrets of any kind.
The fresh autumn breeze made the hike easy in black leggings and tennis shoes. Beatrice was relieved to have decided against the heels and skirt for the reunion. The last thing she wanted was to draw suspicion for her fancy dressing – the family had a disliking towards anybody who displayed their wealth so nonchalantly. But it meant everything that the lower-class relatives appeared financially comfortable. It was just a big sham.
Sure enough, there was a farm about two miles from the mansion. At least there used to be one. All that remained on the parched earth was a metal silo behind a bent, barbed wire fence. The silo had been refashioned into a larger structure, complete with a power generator and a door.
“Okay, Grandfather. What did you have to tell me?” She whispered, ripping the letter’s black seal. The seal was etched with a wingless bird. It was almost dinosaur-like upon first glance.
From the envelope, she found a tarnished, double-sided key and a note. While the letterhead consisted of strange symbols Beatrice had never seen before, the message was very clear: You know what to do.
Only she didn’t. Sure, she knew the key unlocked the silo, but what then? “I really should have stayed home. I’ve got a bunch of crazy fucks for family,” she mumbled quietly before popping the key in the padlock on the silo door. After a few twists, the lock fell and the door slowly waved open. The beastly creak echoed throughout the chamber and gave Beatrice a bad taste in her mouth.
The smell was foul, unlike anything Beatrice had ever experienced. She flicked the light switch by the door, and the inside of the silo was illuminated. But she didn’t find grain.
The silo was hollow save for a spiraling, wire staircase that went all the way to the top. Hundreds of savagely torn corpses, if not thousands, were stretched along the wall, some overlapping others, kept dangling on hay hooks molded to the inside. The floor was a toxic blood mire. Beatrice fell to her knees at the sight, horrified, tears streaming her face. She tried to scream, but nothing came out but a series of suffocated gasps.
Then she noticed a hatch leading underground, kept shut by another padlock, this one sporting the same strange wingless bird on the rubberstamp. Beatrice looked at the other side of the key and back to the hatch. She was paralyzed, unfazed by the pungent odor of decaying bodies. There was no way she was opening that hatch – for all she knew it was a portal to Hell.
Beatrice could not begin to understand what she was seeing. Every corpse was ripped in a similar fashion, and the longer she looked, she realized the bodies made a pattern just like the one on the letterhead of the note.
“Now you know.” Her mother came up behind and spooked her, the silo amplifying her scream. She fell and sobbed under her mother’s forceful grasp. Her nails sunk into Beatrice’s shoulders. “Now you know your grandfather was an artist. There’s no doubt he was troubled, but sometimes I find myself sitting right here where you are, just marveling.” Her voice smelled of stale Sulphur.
Beatrice was still speechless, fighting against the woman’s tight embrace. She just wanted to go back to her apartment in New York, back to her boring life at the firm, back to her mischievous cat.
“But I’m afraid this is not the secret I was talking about.” She pointed at the hatch. “In there. Go on.” The woman picked Beatrice up and pulled her towards the hatch. No matter how hard she kicked and screamed Beatrice could not get her to stop. The once frail sixty-something had found the strength of an athlete in an hour’s time.
“Mom, stop! Please just stop!” She was covered in the bloody mixture, it burned her skin and ate holes in her clothes. “Momma!”
The woman grunted and cackled menacingly. “Don’t you see, Beatrice. He choseyou. From the very start.” She dropped Beatrice for a second to unlock the hatch. It wasn’t long enough for Beatrice to regain balance. “It’s why we adopted you. You’re the chosen one, baby.” Then: “You’re the one who will bring the Forgotten back to our realm.”
“Mom, stop!” She kicked the old lady and clawed at her face, allowing her ample time to get to her feet and sprint out of the silo. She jumped over the barbed wire fence, and darted for the manor. She saw Balie and her brother Brandon off in the far reach of the field. “Guys!” She caught up to them. “Please, call the police.” Balie was holding her phone, searching for a signal, while Brandon grasped a slugger.
Balie was dumbstruck. “What the fuck happened to you, Bea?” She hugged her sister. “Mom told me and Brandon to follow her out here, but we lost her. Did you see her? Is she okay?”
“We’ve got to get out of here.” Beatrice was crazed. Her heart was beating in her throat. She turned to her brother, forcing herself to speak between cries. “Brandon, something’s wrong with Mom. We have to get the police.”
Balie tugged at Beatrice. “Come on, Bea. I don’t have cell signal out here, so we need to go back to the –” A sharp blast whizzed past and struck Balie. The blood blinded Beatrice as her faceless sister was flung to the ground. Lifeless in an instant.
Suddenly Brandon cracked the slugger against Beatrice’s knee. He was dragging her by her hair back to the silo before she had chance to scream.
“I got her, Momma.” Brandon tossed Beatrice to the ground, who was wide-eyed with shock and fear. He flung off a fistful of hair that had laced around his fingers. “Val got Balie.” He didn’t sound disappointed.
“Such a shame about Balie. She had a bright future, but if Val felt it was necessary then I won’t argue.” She gestured toward the hatch. “Now throw her in, Brandon, so we can begin the ritual. Your grandmother is decidedly hungry.”
The shop is closed, has been for three decades, but he knocks anyway. Four heavy thumps nearly tear the flimsy screen door off its hinges. The taps disturb the awkward stillness in the old building, rattling the dust mites off cracked neon wall trim and warped tables. Fried Frieda and her ceramic pal Burger Bob haven’t seen this much traffic in the thirty-two years since the restaurant’s closing.
“Knock, knock,” the man huffs, “anybody here?” He taps again.
A glass hula-hooping figurine falls off its wooden pedestal, shattering in pieces on the checkerboard tile. Another would topple the whole six-foot shelf. “Who are ya?” I ask, my fingers tracing a heart with a smiley face on a dirty mirror.
“I was told to meet somebody here. Uhh… A Mr. Hayes?” That name I haven’t heard in forever. I need to update my profile.
Clearing my throat, I say, “Yeah, hold on a sec.” Through chapped, barred windows I can only make out the man’s silhouette. I walk the trail of broken plates and lightbulbs over to the door. “You know, from the stats you gave me on Facebook, I pictured you to be a smidge larger.”
“You won’t be disappointed.”
I unlock the door to face a husky, the total package. His legs were the size of tree trunks, and he could put an entire buffet bar across those broad shoulders. Sure, his acne scars and lazy eye would keep him from winning an award for most attractive assailant, and his being on the short side – 5’9” probably – but that didn’t matter much in the long run.
Our handshake seems to last hours. At this point, I would not be surprised if I didn’t have an unbroken bone left in my limp hand. His eyes were cold silver, and his black hair shined in the cloudy sunset. “You must be Dawson.”
“I got your payment safe and sound.” We take a seat inside on a couple barstools, and I’m surprised he doesn’t fall through the shitty thing.
“I’d give you a drink, but I’m afraid all I have to offer is some warm piss.” Small talk is not my strong suit. I release an ugly giggle before locking my lips.
He gives me a concerned look and shakes it off. “You know,” he scratches his head, “I don’t usually engage in this sort of thing with my clients. I find it easier to come in, get the job done, clean up, and get out.”
“So you do this often? I figured I was the first.”
Dawson chuckles. “You’d be surprised what people ask for.”
My mouth runs like a river. I can’t stop. “How long have you been doing it?”
“Not for long. About a year.”
“So it pays well, I reckon? I mean, you’re getting $5,000 from me, and that’s just for an evening of fantasy.” Fuck me. These lips need sewn shut.
He evades my question and places his hand on my thigh. Dawson’s warm hands feel like freshly grilled beef patties against my jeans. “Look, let me grab my bag from my truck, and we’ll get started.” He hands me a black tube. “Usually I add this in secret to my clients’ drinks, but seeing as the only other option you have is a glass of piss, you’ll have to take it straight.” He claps my back. “Drink up.”
It would have tasted better with the piss. The concoction chewed against the back of my throat, lingering there as I gasp and choke. I feel it ooze down my gullet, scorching everything it passes, until dropping into the pit of my stomach. My stomach quickly bloats, and I want to vomit. But that’ll cost extra.
Dense rain drops fall against the tin roof of the rickety restaurant, and if it were different circumstances, I would call it almost romantic. Dawson returns with a plump red bag, his drenched clothes clinging to his sinewy frame.
“So? How was it?” He unzips the bag and places a roll of duct tape and plastic ties on the bar.
I imagine myself sporting that sexy half-grin, all alluring and unfazed, but all I can muster is a sheepish, beaming smile and a runny nose. The only place I can find for my clammy hands is pressed firmly against my crotch. To Dawson, I must look like some hormonal, strung-out youngster; he would not be too far off with that description. “It was fucking awful, but I downed the thing,” I admit.
Dawson has all his tools lined up on the table. The golden sheen of a machete and glossy surgical tools glisten with every flash of lightning through dusty windows. His duct tape is covered with pink unicorns. At least he has a nice sense of humor.
“You… you drank the whole tube?” Dawson rips a strip of unicorn tape with his teeth and wraps my hands with it.
His words are slurring, my vision fuzzy. “You didn’t tell me not to…?”
He buries his head in his hands. “Shit, man. I’m –” He begins to pace. “Fuck! It hap –”
“Dude, dude, dude, duuuuude, slow the hell down. I can’t make sense of a thing you’re saying.” But from the look on his face, he can’t understand me either.
Suddenly a little clown with donuts for eyes and a wig of bright pink curly fries hops into view. The small guy has been hiding in a pile of ripped magazines all this time. Who would have known? I try to dodge a blue ball he hurls towards me and fall off the bar stool. My tongue turns to cotton as the clown pecks my cheek.
A team of bopping toy soldiers dressed in drag vigorously shakes my head until I see Dawson again. “Mr. Hayes.”
I can’t help but stare at his pink lips. Reminds me of a guy I fucked last Hanukah. We were just about to kiss when he toppled his chardonnay on my lap. I never got that stain out. The memory brings tears to my eyes; I can’t stop laughing.
“Listen to me, Mr. Hayes.”
“It’s Ryan,” I lick his nose. “Baby, why are you still dressed? It’s only fair after I had to take mine off.” I cross my arms around his thick neck and go in for a kiss, but he pulls away. Rude.
Every blink grows heavier and heavier, until at last I drift off to sleep, joining my new friends Elbur the Clown and the toy drag soldiers in the cotton candy bushes.
“Shit,” Dawson mutters. His words faintly echo in my head as I drift in and out of consciousness. “He wasn’t supposed to take all that GHB. What an idiot. Or didn’t I tell him?” I feel my wrists and legs tighten together in the duct tape. “Well, a deal’s a deal. The money’s still green.” Then: “Surely it’s not enough to overdose. Surely not. Fuck, I should have asked Ben about the dosage.” A crack of thunder steals the rest of his speech.
Right as I fall to sleep again, he rips my clothes off. My hard dick springs out of its cage like a drooling jack in the box. My paralyzed body and frenzied mind aches for him. I’ve never felt so horny and horrified in my life. It’s a shame I can’t be conscious to experience the evening of brutal pleasure a cold $5,000 bought me.
The next thing I feel is splitting pain in my gut and his calloused hands and tongue raping in my ass. Then he sinks his fangs into my thigh and releases a throaty gurgle. He promised there would be no nasty transformation, but then again he said he was a sexy brunette over six feet tall.
I push, but it pushes back harder. Tears chap my face as I run through the jungle, pursued by my demons. I hurriedly dash over frozen leaves and snow piles, barreling over cracked boulders and old stumps. The sense of security I had days prior is reduced to an itching feeling of loneliness and regret. Voices that are not my own quarrel in my head; my mind is a verbal battlefield.
Slow down, baby. You don’t need to run anymore.
My heart thumps in my chest, begging for me to stop. With every step, I wish I am spotted by a Tracker or Ranger fleet – anything to end this convoluted race. I can’t help but think of what happened to the general and the other Renegades, what I did to them. It was unconscionable, savagery. I am a monster.
What is unconscionable is the total lack of Fangclush imperials. Bobby and I encountered dozens just in our short journey to this so-called forgotten realm. “Beyond the Courtshyn Lake, the Sentinel’s blood runs thin,” Aaron told us. If only I could concentrate this telekinetic monstrosity lurking within me toward that man’s scarred forehead – I would rip him to shreds, or do whatever it is that I do. The Renegades mentioned I am called the Nuclear Bitch by the soldiers out of Fort Legacy. Sounds kinky.
It does not take me long to clear the forest, and I’m back at the old field, our safe haven. I return to the old shack’s remains. It was the first thing we saw that reminded us of home. And in a world rife with insanity and violence, we took advantage of what we had.
Even though it feels as though I was running for hours, the amber stain in the sky informs me I only ran a thousand yards or so. In the horizon, above the tree line, I make out the tallest tower at Fort Legacy. The fort was known for its intimidating, barbed peaks.
Something comes back to me as clear as the sparkling ripples dancing upon Courtshyn Lake.
“Tell me something…” The lieutenant never seemed tenser. A man in his position should have been overcome with glee, having captured the most wanted criminal in the realm, yet his lips were pursed and his brow pulled together.
A slight beeping comes from a machine behind me. I trace green and yellow cords in the veins in my arm. Mirrors lined the room from wall-to-wall. “What was that?”
“Even in death, you refuse to cooperate.” He chuckled, annoyed. “Do you even know where you are, Lange?”
I mumbled, “Legacy.”
“You heard me, dammit.” I spit in his face and writhe against my restraints.
He flashed a look at a monitor and back to the notebook in his hands. “And do you know why you’re here? Let me –”
“I’m here because I killed her. She was dead before she could call her porcelain goons.”
His face softened. “You Disgraced will never learn what it is to be civilized.” Something inside of him cracked. “Every single one of you sits with your hands at your crotch, chiming your immortality, while everybody else suffers. And you get offended when we start speaking up. You call yourselves the peaceful ones, ha!” He readied a black syringe, his hands trembling.
“And I’d do it all over again,” I retorted. “That bitch killed my family, so it was only fitting that she suffer a similar fate. You humans reproduce like filthy rabbits anyhow. I’m sure you had three other cows loaded the instant her bloody head hit the floor.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Lange.” He propped me back and inserted the syringe. “She wasn’t just human. Sheridyn was a plesmorph – just like you.”
“Lying doesn’t suit you, Lieutenant.”
“Thankfully, Sheridyn provided us with enough information into the special breed, not enough to produce a hard set defense against it, mind you. But give us time. You won’t be a threat for much longer, and then the war will be over. The pathetic rebels will drop to their knees as we humans take back the Earth.”
They already had the Earth; it was the other two realms to which he was referring – and they’d never have those. But I don’t correct him. The injection made my eyes heavy, my chest dropping. Though I tried to stay strong, I whimper. My blood turned to tar, my mind spinning. “It’ll never be enough,” was all I could muster. The humans wouldn’t stop until they drown the realms in their paranoia and terror.
The lieutenant left the room and the lights dimmed. Another man’s voice appeared on a speaker above. “This begins the second session. Tell me what you know of the Krysolux and its power.”
It was what gave the Disgraced their luster, their life force, but I did not comply with their requests. I couldn’t.
The truth is hard to swallow: there are parts of my memory that are missing. The memories arrange themselves in a scattered jigsaw puzzle, all solid black with no side pieces. Each one leaves me more lost than before.
Fall into slumber. Return to Elymia, Sophia.
I sprint toward the only place I know will have answers.
I abandon the safe haven and inch closer to a forgotten artery of the Fangclush – I return to Legacy.
“Excuse me?” I ask, pulling out from under his meaty palm.
Tarkin approaches as the old man backs away, obviously offended that I didn’t accept his embrace. And why would I? He literally just appeared from the shadows and put his hand on me. That’s not how I roll. “We heard of your actions back at Fort Legacy.” His raised eyebrows and smirk make me feel like I should know what the hell he’s referring to, but I’m at a loss. “Your face is plastered everywhere. You can’t tell me you don’t know that.”
Another chump chimes in, nodding. “They call you Nuclear Bitch for what you did at Legacy.” They laugh. “You’re fucking famous. Even more so than the general.” He motions toward the old man. By the look of him, I can tell he’s of some prestige – how could I have known I just offended the Renegade leader?
“General, huh?” I offer a smile as a peace offering. Thankfully, he accepts it.
“Sophia, please come with us. I have so much to tell you.” His comforted expression flips. “About the war; about you; about Sheradyn.” He pauses, noticing my failing state, to sit me on the carrier.
I stammer at the thought of her. There’s no way she can still have a part in this. I try to speak, but my parched tongue won’t budge.
“Sir, we need to get her back to the refuge. There’s no telling for how long she’s been in the absorption tube.”
This is all too much. A maelstrom of thoughts concerning Sheradyn, my past, and my alleged past rips through my conscience. And now an absorption tube? Is that what they call the metal crypt? Bright runes burn red on my skin, urging me to do what I know best. Run. It’s all I know, or think I know.
The runes have a voice of their own. It kills the maelstrom.
Recede. Let me guide you.
I feel my eyes grow heavy. I have not slept in weeks. Times that I had to rest, I was up crying my eyes out over losing Bobby. And that damned Sheradyn! Thinking of her drowns me with inescapable fury. Her violet eyes, designer clothes, and that voice. God, that voice.
“Get her sedated, boss.”
“There’s no need for that, Tarkin.”
Their faces begin to blur. My body shakes.
That’s it, Sophia. Forfeit control. Almost there.
I try to hold on to their words, but I’m slipping. With every dazed blink, a cerise cloud behind my eyelid darkens, grows richer, thicker. I feel her coming up my throat, and choking on her tangled hair. I can’t breathe. Crimson becomes me.
“General, we’re losing her! Quit standing there and do something, damnit!”
That’s it, baby girl. I’ll take care of you.
My eyes flutter open to an orchid expanse. Then I see him within the fog. “Bobby!” I yell, but his image fades away. Shadows of my past dance around me, a silhouette ball. My mother, dressed in her beautiful golden gown, is pressed against my father, and they sway with the rhythmic silence. Their blown kisses hit me in tufts, pacifying tranquility.
A flock of glimmering meadow larks and hawks glide past, their songs changing the pace of pirouetting shadows. I giggle at the sight and run to join my family in the mist. But before I can get close, the vapor turns to a violent downpour of galactic tears.
The birds are empty shadows in the sky. Gaiety turns to loneliness, as I am abandoned in a limitless expanse. Within moments, everything fades to reveal a little box.
The box is wrapped in periwinkle ribbon – my favorite color – and it sparkles under the dreamscape’s infinite light. The present is electrically charged, the static tickling me as I hold it in my palm. The lid comes off with ease, and I peer into the case, finding a strand of red hair.
Suddenly, the scape turns black, and I scream. Furious cackling shatters the sky, and red hair falls endlessly from the gorge. I feel a bulge form under my eye, and I pull loose long strands of hair. With every terrified scratch and tug, it continues to flow.
My stomach erupts scorched hair into my esophagus, burning strands snared between my teeth. It rips my tongue backwards, down my throat. I feel a pair of cold hands around my neck. The ground begins to fall in pieces into an ashen abyss. A pair of violet eyes beckons me forward, and I fall. The gravity of Sheradyn’s voice pins me to the wall, which was swiftly spiraling down to an obsidian snare.
“Bring me back!” My muffled screams fill the chamber. “Take me back now!” At last, the shadows subside, and I escape through the darkness.
I come to in the middle of the jungle. Instantly, I survey my body, scratching. My voice is hoarse and my body aches, but the red runes are gone. “General –” My voice is exhausted. But the scene in which I am placed needs no words.
Corpses lie scattered about, scorched beyond recognition. I recognize Tarkin from his old cloak, and the man beside him must be the general – the Renegades, each of them, all dead. A miasmic smog drowns the forest, filling it with the putrid stench of blood and shit.
Runes similar to my own cover the ground. The portion of sky directly above my spot in the jungle is cracked and stained amber. Among the Renegade and Pale bodies are also those of birds and other wildlife. Black blood oozes from a crevasse. The land has been poisoned… Surely, I couldn’t.
My fingers trickle with newfound passion, and a flurry of conflicting memories and words flood my mind. So, I run. I run as fast as I fucking can. Not even the bloody tears in my eyes and an infected shoulder can slow me down.
I won’t deny them their humanity like they did to us. They labeled us Disgraced, as if they have any ounce of grace themselves. For thousands of years, my kind took part in a grand charade; in our mind we became human. But deep within, we knew we’d have to face the truth someday.
We speak the same language as the humans, walk the same; we eat just as they eat. We were the neighbors who greeted the newcomers with a cupcake basket the moment they moved in next door. But the similarities weren’t enough. We were trapped, beautiful angels forced to live a filthy pig pen, controlled by savages. They treated us like monsters, so we became monsters.
While we share space, we Disgraced are further separated by our luster. Some exhibit their luster outwardly in the form of a physical attribute, while others are more inwardly focused and thus are infinitely more intelligent. Inwardly-focused Disgraced are more apt to survive in these tumultuous times; it’s just the other side that has a hard time blending in.
“So what do you think we’re going to get for bringing in this witch?” The voices echo in my metal chamber.
“Lovers and gold, my friend; lovers and gold.”
“Both of you shut the fuck up! Unless you want to join it,” Eric snaps.
It. That’s all we are to them now, and it’s sickening. Thousands more are brought to the Pale every day, placed in shackles and fed to the Stolks.
It’s hard to believe that there was a time, before the Pale, in which I believed I had feelings for the pathetic shrew. With Eric’s blonde hair and chiseled chin, he would be a total catch if he wasn’t bat-shit crazy.
The rugged road brings me back home. I can still visualize the look on Daisy’s face when I told her I knew her secret, that I caught her kissing Daphne Varlin in the graveyard. She was horrorstruck, until I told her next time to find somewhere a little more romantic, and she might just have a partner for life. It didn’t take a scholar to see they were in love, but in our small town the only thing worse than being Disgraced was a homosexual. Not a second goes by that I don’t wish they would’ve turned me and not Daisy. She was so pure.
Suddenly, we stop moving. “Renegades! In the hills!” The men mumble and I hear them bunch outside the globe. Then there is a charged hum, different than the Sizzlers. The last time I heard this sound was the night Bobby and I were ambushed.
We don’t have a name for it, but its hum is the sound of nightmares. It’s a weapon capable of harnessing luster – the humans’ way of leveling the field.
“Stay away!” I yell, slapping the cold steel wall, as if that’ll do anything.
The fight ensues, but I remain blind within my spherical prison.
“There!” one of them shouts, launching the weapon. The piercing shrill of the gun amplifies within the cooker; my right eardrum bursts, the force blowing the orb and me off the carrier. The door hinge pops slightly, allowing enough of a hole for me to spectate.
It is a full-blown ambush. For every Pale soldier there are at least three Renegades. Whips of cobalt energy clap through the air, electrocuting a few soldiers. Eric is right in the middle of them, safe under a special, plasmic shield, blasting them with the super weapon. I watch seven Renegades melt under one shot. But more come from the mountain. It’s as if Eric kicked an anthill, and now he has to deal with the ants.
I shove a finger through the hole in an attempt to loosen the door, to no avail. Luster pulses throughout my body, itching to join the fight. If I can escape and have time to focus, I can obliterate them all in one swipe. I can be free.
Eric disappears from my sight and things quieten down. A foot obscures my peeping hole. “Hey!” I shout. “I’m stuck in here! Help! Please!” I’ve never sounded so desperate in my life.
Something rips the door out and brings me out in a single swoop. A fist of boulders sinks into my flesh and tosses me into the air.
Angry, carmine streams of light flow from my palms and grip the trees, allowing me to softly fall back to the ground. Inside, I am aching to go total-psycho on these dudes, but I can’t risk the energy loss knocking me out for hours like last time. The runes are already forming on my body; I can feel them burn into my clothes. I’m a ticking time bomb.
“Who the hell are you?” The man wears a tattered coat, his long hair loose against his shoulders. The others are in position, ready for retaliation should I turn out to be as crazy as I appear.
One of them comes from behind and pats my back, reminding me of the Sizzler bolt that was still lodged in there. “Stand down, Tarkin. This is Sophia.” The group erupts in gasps and whispers. Then, the man turns to me. “It’s nice to finally put a face to the legend, I must say,” he says, chuckling.
I have no idea what the fuck this dude has been smoking, but I want some of it.
My feet trample the freshly-fallen snow as I sprint across the field. Every step sends my body quivering, my mind shouting for me to stop and just let them take me. I can’t go on forever, I know that. Capture is inevitable, but I’ll be damned if I made it easy for the bastards.
Scarlet bursts crack and pop against the tree line. Sizzler bolts zip and shatter in the air beside me, my face chapped from the bullets’ mini explosions.
I spy two Fangclush guards running for the gate. They think I want to hijack one of the copters, but I’m no fool; perhaps if Bobby were with me, that would be an option, with his experience with the Glaritor equipment. I have better chances of surviving in the jungle.
Another explosion, it was Raina’s shack, recalling the time we all sat at her bar making small talk just before the invasion. That was the evening Bobby proposed. If only I had said yes.
There had to be at least seven of them on my trail, and from the charge in the air, more were coming. I barrel over a short barricade and run into the jungle. Aside from the frantic huffs and Sizzler shots, I hear a pack of Stolks howling.
Distracted, I tumble over a frozen stump and fall face-first into a boulder. Before I have to react, a Sizzler splices my shoulder and I slump in the snow, frozen. In moments, I am surrounded by an army of glistening soldiers. Despite my pain, I don’t utter a sound. I can’t.
The packmaster approaches me and removes his visor. It’s Eric. He still sports the gnarly burn I gave him last time we met. “Told you I’d find you,” he spits, motioning for the others forward. “Put her in the tank before the bolt wears off.” Then, to a sluggish responder: “Now!”
This was not the Eric I grew up with, the younger boy whose family I ate brunch with every Sunday. He was forever changed by the Pale. “Go to hell,” he adds, before two beefy men hurled me into a metal globe. Oh, Eric, I’m already there.
After a few minutes, the paralysis wears off and I am finally able to wipe the blood and soot from my eyes. Rage boils inside me; I see a light flicker in my skin, but I extinguish it. If I were to use my power now, I’ll just end up frying myself in this meat cooker. Instead, I lay my shattered head against the cold steel and dream of the bubbling tar I am going to reduce Eric to the second he opens this dark crypt. For the first time since the takeover, I smile.
Though my blog has only been up for a short time, writing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, I started stuttering pretty severely, so I relied on pencil and paper to be heard. This blossomed into a love for creative writing and fiction, and later on flash fiction and short stories. Though the speech impediment will be with me forever, I was taught ways to overcome the stutter so my voice can be heard – the main way is still through writing.
Writing has taught me more than I will ever be able to communicate, but I have compiled a list of six that you might use to improve your own work.
1. Screen the Haters
This is not necessarily about criticism. Criticism is truly a lovely thing if it is given positively and constructively. What I am talking about is that group of readers who seem to stalk your progress – they read EVERYTHING – and spew hate about each little letter. I call them anti-groupies. They’re the ones you would rather not have in your tour bus, but they seem to show up anyway. (Check the trunk!!)
Whether they are linked to you somehow in real-life or across the net, we all have to deal with them someday. And the way in which we deal with them determines how the parasite will multiply. If you spew fire on this already howling inferno, it is no surprise that you’ll see those fantasy worlds you so skillfully created reduced to ashes and dangling modifiers. They will bite back, chewing holes in the mystical motivation ferry on which you are a frequent passenger. Rather, you should ignore them or serve them up a savory plate of friendliness. It is a lot like how a killer might stop stabbing when they realize the victim is already dead. The fight is half the fun, so don’t give it to them.
Writing is like memorized math formulas, basketball, fishing, rock climbing – basically anything that requires at least a modicum of skill – in that it must be practiced or you will risk losing it altogether. I strive to write at least 300 words per day. Now, I know this isn’t much and most of the time I hit 1,000 pretty quick, but it’s just enough to keep the dust and cobwebs away. Additionally, setting a small goal like 300 is realistic enough regardless of how busy a day you might have; it’s small enough to not be deterring. The crux of it is to aim to write every day, whether it’s a simple paragraph in a sleep journal or a full-blown blog article. You’ll thank yourself for it later.
3. Go Crazy
If there’s one thing the U.S. presidency has taught me, it’s that people love drama – many don’t even realize it. Our eyes automatically spring to the juiciest article. And fiction writing is very similar; the biggest difference is that what we write doesn’t necessarily have to be based on fact: we can run wild.
If you’ve scrolled Everybody Dies At the Masquerade, you might have come across my flash fics Teacher and Best Friend. These are two I wrote specifically to ruffle some feathers, and they have – there is a reason why they are my two least liked posts. And that is okay. Some nights I get a crazy streak and write something insane enough that my family will want to offer me a graced Bible to stymie this oh, so sinful mind of mine.
For many of us, writing offensive material works in that it gets people talking. Before long, you will have a group a readers standing by just to read your latest tongue-in-cheek article about a child molester who relates his work to butterfly catching (OH wait, I already did). #ShamlessPlug
It is one thing to write offensive material, but another to just outright bash a group of individuals. This is not, and will never be, okay. The most important thing is to stop when you realize you’ve gone too far.
4. Take Breaks
There will come a time when the creativity well will dry up, and any words thereafter just do not come out or you will be dealing with some shitty work. What I have learned is to take breaks every hour and a half – initially it was once an hour, but personally I do not mind sitting in front of the computer for an extra thirty minutes – this way I can get up and stretch my legs, get some blood flowing, and maybe grab something to eat or drink. Many times I find myself deep in a writing phase in which I completely lose track of time, which is why I set a timer on my phone. Not only does this keep me alert in time to take a break, but it allows me to pace myself. I have experienced significantly less blocks with this method, which results in better, fluid writing.
This goes along with practice. We don’t expect the Saturday Night Live cast to simply practice their satirical skits without watching videos of the person of which they plan to impersonate. Granted, by reading other authors’ work, we are absolutely not seeking to imitate the piece, but it keeps us informed. We might come to enjoy a particular writer’s style, so we try to emulate it along with our own; similarly, we might be inspired by his or her use of voice. Without a doubt, reading will make us better writers in that we analyze the work and perfect our own, but it also provides some good entertainment! Read an extra book a week, month, or year depending on your schedule, and watch your writing soar.
6. Be Yourself
There is no better writer than one who is not afraid to pour their raw self onto a page. Ultimately, we write for ourselves, before the reader. And if we do not feel a part of what we write, if what we write deceives us, we end up with shoddy work and a mouthful of antidepressants. Each of us has a voice and want it to be heard, or we would not be writing in the first place. So, the first step is simply picking up the pencil or typing that first letter; the rest will come naturally, like hot blood through a tube.
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