The Krysolux

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Even the sandwich artists who built hoagies for a living knew the importance of balance. They had a carefully selected cut of sliced ham – but only four paper thin meat curls are placed on the bun. Next the cheese, the vegetables, and finally condiments. Deborah might have enjoyed mustard, but that doesn’t mean she wanted the whole sandwich sloshed with tart yellow sauce. And that meat lover, Brandon? Give him too many slices of turkey and he’d be gassing up the whole damned restaurant. It’s all about how much is enough. When was it ever time to stop and move on?

As I walked into a miniature brick building illuminated with a neon yellow submarine sandwich, I was quickly lost in a cloud of fresh bread steam. Save for the sizzling bread and a bash-your-head-in drip of stale water from the faucet, the place was quiet. It surely was not the place kids went to on a Friday night – especially not in the west side of town.

“Welcome Marty’s,” an uninterested worker bee hummed my direction. Whether she was on the verge of collapsing from heat exhaustion from the ovens, or if she just needed another hit, I was not sure. “Weewhiteherbinschass?” The poor woman – a smiley sticker covered most of her name tag except for Fe – appeared to have retreated into a cheap version of autopilot; she couldn’t speak in coherent sentences but I deduced that she inquired my preferred bread type. She tried again, “Witwheaherbsicheez.” Her hazy eyes twinkled under a set of LED bulbs that could have fully illuminated the ocean. She breathed, annoyed, and finally she just asked, “Bread?”

How could I tell her I hadn’t come for a sandwich after all? I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, not after the effort it took to muster the first question of the grand sandwich formation. I was an artist, but I definitely wasn’t the starving one between Fe and I.

I grinned, blinked twice and scratched the erect pimple on my neck. The dripping faucet seemed to get louder and faster. I gave in. “Herbs and cheese.”

“Foorsexin.”

My face muscles began to hurt from the forced smile I was wearing, right eye slightly twitching. I surely hadn’t planned on wasting so much time selecting a sandwich. “Six inch, please.”

Right as she opened her mouth to shoot another garbled request, Fe slouched forward. Her grisly bleached hair blanketed the shredded cheese and turkey breast. With one hand supporting her weight on the counter and the other buried in pepperoni slices, the woman’s knees buckled and she fell to the floor. For a split second, I wasn’t sure if I should just let her sleep, or call the police. Sensibly, I chose the former.

I hopped over the counter, my boot catching the napkin dispenser. The metal box of napkins slid over the counter and clanged on the floor, nearly clipping the slumbering sandwich artist’s angel wing bicep tattoo.

“Sorry,” I mouthed, returning the fallen napkin tin to its position. I caught her hand twitch slightly as I leapfrogged her and walked to the back, near the register.

“I didn’t take you for an herb’s and cheese kind of guy, Vince.” A man approached from the cooler. His collar and hands were dripping red.

Every inch of the cooler was littered with wet floor signs – most of them collapsed rather than erect. A red hand print topped every filthy, plastic warning. There had to be at least fifty in the refrigerator; a pile deep enough to lose somebody.

I just blinked at the sight. My lips pursed and hands knotted in pockets. “Dave.”

My associate straightened and started stammering. “Vince, it’s not – if you hear me out.

I didn’t really want to hear it; I would have rather taken him back home and call it a night, but at that point I wasn’t sure if that was an option considering the mess he created. “Go on.”

I followed Dave into the cooler where he uncovered a second unfortunate worker who had fallen ill – this one wasn’t as lucky as Fe. The skin of his face was completely torn off, replaced with another rotting one. His arms and legs had been dislocated, and his wrists slit, but there was no blood. Rather, the wet floor signs were bathed in red paint.

Before I could roll my eyes the fuck out of the establishment, Dave closed the door, leaving him and I pinned inside the cold, metal room with an exsanguinated sap and a red lake. The whites of Dave’s eyes glimmered. “This is it,” he piped. His voice grew darker. “We found it.”

“Well, you’ve certainly lost it, Dave. I don’t think you’ve found anything.” I tried moving him aside, but he wouldn’t budge. “I don’t even know why I entertain these activities of yours anymore. If it weren’t for dad, I’d have you locked in an institution.”

“Yeah-yeah-yeah, who cares about that? Old news, Vince. What I’m saying is: We got it.”

“Got what, you moron?”

“Just think…”

My mind traveled to various tangents my brother had pursued since he’d completely lost his sanity. None of the possibilities added up, so I took a shot anyway. “Oh, I don’t know… The gate to Hell?” A few months prior, he woke me up and demanded that I pledge my soul to the devil and walk with him through this massive black gate that was supposedly inside of his bedroom. Instead of a black gate, I found three black men nailed around his bathroom door.

Suddenly, Dave slapped me in the face, sending my glasses into the murky red waste. “Fucker!” I yelled, swiping the paint from my eyes, instantly going down to fish for my spectacles.

“The motherfuckin’ Krysolux. I got it.” The light flickered above as Dave spoke. “We’re going to be rich.”

I sighed, giving up the search for my glasses after I had heard a loud crunch. “And what does that have to do with all of this?” I asked, gesturing to the horrific scene before us. My head started to burn.

This? Oh, nothing at all actually. Not really…”

I sat in complete silence with my brother for a minute, just trying to digest everything that I had seen and heard in the hour I had since arrived at Marty’s. I wasn’t sure if it was the insanity of it all that was causing me to get light-headed, or if it was all the paint fumes I had ingested.

“So, just help me get this clear, Dave.”

“Sure, boss.”

“You found the Krysolux.” Squinting, I glared at the fuzzy blob of color that was my brother.

“Kind of.”

“And after that, you came here to Marty’s.”

“That’s right, V.”

“You mutilated that man – let me guess – outside by the trashcan? And just so happened to have one of the spare faces from your collection with you.”

Dave chuckled. “It’s like you’re an oracle, bro.”

“And then you stuck Fe with some concoction you mixed up at home.”

“Si.”

I sucked my teeth. “Then something called upon you to cover the cooler with paint.”

“It’s actually paint with some water,” Dave corrected. “I needed the paint to be thinner.

Right.” I waited another few seconds to recollect my thoughts. “And you called me here to tell me you found an imaginary thing. That’s all?”

“I wouldn’t call it imaginary, but you’re basically correct.” He grinned. “You mad?”

“Hand me this Krysolux,” I demanded, to which Dave complied. He fished a small globe from his pants. I wanted to kick myself for indulging in Dave’s fantasy. Expecting some disgusting thing, I took a look at the item.

At first glance, the orb was all gold, emitting a white cast, but as I more closely examined the item, the more I can see that it wasn’t solid gold at all – something within it was moving. The inside of the Krysolux was a deep yellow liquid, molten sunlight, and it flowed with the rhythm of my breath. The paint on my face and in my hair dried after peering into the orb. The item hummed in my grasp and radiated heat inside my palm. Flecks of red and silver floated within the golden syrup.

“See, brother? That’s not imaginary.”

My face and lips grew chapped; my eyes reddened. “Where did you find this?”

Dave snatched it from me. “Watch this, watch this!” It took everything I had not to slam his head against the wall and steal back the enchanting item. He took it in both hands and raised it to his mouth, whispering into the ball. The room began to change, or rather, revert.

The wash of red paint receded from the cooler, fizzling into nonexistence along with the worker’s corpse. I spotted my glasses on the floor, untouched and perfect. I had never been a man of faith, but at that moment I reconsidered everything.

Now I stammered. “How… H—”

Dave was ecstatic, jumping up and down. “They finally allowed me to let you in on our secret!” His loud echoes pierced my skull. “You don’t know how long I’ve been wanting to tell you!”

Fifty-thousand questions filled the haze in my mind. My chest grew heavy and I leaned against a crate. The room started to spin. “What did you do?”

Dave shook his head. “There’s a time for questions later, big bro. Follow me; we have’ta get out of here before Felinna finds us.”

“Felinna?” Oh, Fe.

“Come on!” Dave whispered, pulling me out the back. Outside, I spotted the faceless worker, now perfectly fine, tossing out the trash. I needed answers.

When Dave and I got a safe distance from Marty’s, my head cleared and equilibrium was restored. “Tell me what the fuck just happened.”

Dave shrugged, flashing a cutesy smirk. “They said you’re not ready yet, Vince. And there’s usually no changing their mind. Trust me, I’ve tried. Be glad they even allowed me to tell you about it.”

“Come back to Earth, you little shit. Where did you find that orb? What did you call it?”

“Krysolux.”

“Yes, that.”

My brother put his index finger against his lips, and whispered, “We’re not supposed to talk about it anymore, I mean it. Not in the open. Not ever.” He dropped his gaze. “She’s looking for it.”

“Who?” I whispered.

“They call her Abigail.”

Bodies In the Sandbox I: The Mutant Boy

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Photo Credit

The Mutant Boy

Tommy Gillespie fought hard but couldn’t break away. He was tangled in the grasp of George Turnboat, a 6-foot meaty giant, who flashed a grin that could make grown men buckle to their knees and the Stitcherton High girls swoon. At first glance, Tommy appeared courageous, a superhero standing up to the evil villain for every other bullied fourth grader in his school, but that wasn’t the case at all. Rather, his stoic expression was the pizza rising back through his esophagus, and his puffy chest was simply severe Marfan Syndrome. In reality, Tommy was a flea against an elephant, a child against a yeti. He knew very well this wasn’t a battle he could win.

George forced Tommy against the freshly painted lockers, staining Tommy’s backpack and elbows bubbly crimson. “You scared, Mutant?” snapped George, spitting in the boy’s matted chestnut hair. As George released his grip, Tommy fell on his ass with a thud. “Stay away from my girl, or we’ll see if your insides are as red as Stitcherton red, pussy.

For the moment it took George to march out of the main hall, Tommy remained still and reserved. A stream of wet red paint streaked down his forearm and fell off his wrist. “This must be what it looks like if I slit my wrists,” he thought somberly. “Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea, after all.” He waited until the metal doors clashed shut, when he was alone with the welcoming silence, before he lost himself.

Tommy wiped the tears away, striping his cheeks crimson. Never in his life had he talked to George’s girl, Natalie. The only one he ever talked to was his brother, but not even his twin could help him in such a hopeless situation. When George Turnboat wanted to beat the living hell out of the school’s deformed weakling, nobody could stop him from doing just that.

Mrrp, mrrp.

A cellphone vibrated in one of the lockers behind Tommy’s head, reminding him to check his own. And sure enough: “Three missed calls,” Tommy blubbered. Each were from unknown callers. He sat still against the wet lockers for a few more minutes, just crying. With his cherry face, he resembled the Stitcherton Devil mascot suit — flaming red, stinky as fuck, and empty on the inside.


Tommy found his brother sitting atop the monkey bars at the playground, chewing on a wad of bubble gum. “Hey, David,” Tommy sniffed, rubbing the dark welt rising on his throat. “We can go home now.”

David hopped off the bars and landed in the soft grass, trampling the recently sprouted wildflowers. “George again?”

“Yep.”

Chuckling, David added: “In the main hall? Y’know Mr. Harris is going to be pissed when he gets back tonight to see your pack print in the lockers.”

“Fuck him,” rasped Tommy. Following his brother to the sidewalk, heading towards home. “Did you know they’re calling me Mutant?” He rubbed his nubby sixth finger on his left hand, kicking gravel into the ditch as he walked.

David beamed. “Started that one myself. Figured it was better than Titty Tommy.”

A semi raced past the duo, stirring up dust and a crumpled page of Stitcherton Daily. When the soot settled down and the boys moved farther from the dirt road, Tommy patted the dirt from his hair and whispered, “He called again.”

David stopped. “Did you answer?”

“No.”

“How many –”

“Three,” answered Tommy. “It’s not stopping like you thought it would.”

“Whatever. Let’s just get home before Mom grounds us for life.” David’s attempt at quickly changing the subject had no effect, as neither of the boys could escape the thought of what was to come should they continue to ignore the blocked calls.

“It’s going to come again,” warned Tommy.

“And when it does, we’ll be ready.” David swallowed his gum. “As long as we have a bathtub….”

Tommy hid his panic behind a quivering grin. “…We have a fighting chance.”

Beautiful Life

He grew his hair out so you’d forget the ugly shape of his face
Sucked in his gut to hide the Bacardi pints from lonely nights past
A life drowning in vodka sweats and bad intentions, he swore he’d swim

Once your lover, the man stood before you a blue collar stranger
He rubbed his naked finger where once there was a ring
Daydreamed about the life that almost was

He smiled when he greeted you because you said you’d never forget his dimples
Sucked in his gut further so you’d see how much he had changed
But hopefulness turned to humiliation when he noticed your finger was bare no longer

Once your best friend, the man wept quietly in his room
Tears streaking the old ultrasound photo he had hidden in his wallet
Fractured, he turned to his past demons and welcomed them back with open arms

He drowned in the liquor so he’d forget your beautiful face
Slit his wrists to forget the baby girl you both had lost
As his blood slipped down the bathtub drain, so too did the pain and regret

Once your enemy, the man drifted away a lost soul
Forever dreaming about the life that almost was

Incubus, Ch. II

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Photo credit: aka Tman

Chapter II
Rapture

I wouldn’t argue that life was completely different; it was merely wearing a different mask. Twenty years ago, I would have never believed the thought would come to mind, comparing the past to the future, realizing the many similarities over the few differences. I suppose it was something one would only believe after their first dance in the star fields.

“Lieutenant, how are you feeling?” Dal’s eyes twinkled bronze and cobalt, tiny supernovae.

“Well, healthwise, I’m feeling a tad nauseous and got a headache from hell. But if you’re asking me about the situation — I’ll be honest — it’s manageable.” Fifteen years in the Defender unit might have taught me how to accurately protect a planetary system from an impending attack from a celestial force and even safely enter a black hole, but lie effectively? No way.

Not surprisingly, Dal was not convinced. He placed his warm hand over my frozen paw, his radiation bringing life to my scarred palm. “You don’t have to protect me, Eyla. What are we up against?”

The tension in my neck lessened and my shoulders slumped. I extended my claw and tapped the glass window, gesturing toward the grand Tryssian cityscape, resembling a miniature block set from space. The synthetic planet was often mistaken for a star from nearby systems from the spectacular light reflecting off the largely metallic sphere. “Got a transmission from Tryssia,” I paused, pointing toward a plasmic cluster that must have been light years away. “Primordials are moving, and they’re not taking prisoners this time.”

“But what about the peace treaty?”

“Primordials respect no one but themselves, much less an agreement.”

“Which one is coming?”

I reposition the transmitter on my hip and pat down the fur that had natted up on my shoulder. “Well, considering the planets he’s leaving are paved gold, I believe we’re dealing with Kuthar.”

Supposed guardians of the sanctums, the Primordic Sentries combed through our system like a parasite. Long ago, they were respected celestial beings, protectors, but the battle for Earth fucked with everything. One planet’s death caused the entire universe to shift off balance.

“Who was it that signed the treaty? Wasn’t that Kuthar as well?”

I shook my head. “Telari. The only one who’s got our backs.” I started pacing the observation deck. “And she never responded to our transmissions.”

“Damn.”

“You got that right. If Kuthar reaches our system, I don’t know what the fuck we can do. Hell, war with the creature isn’t even an option; we’d have the entire Primordic guard to answer to.” I cleared my throat. “So, yeah, other than that, I’m feeling dandy.”

 

Incubus

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Photo Credit: N G

Chapter 1
Evensong

First, we nail boards to the windows. Every slam of the hammer shook our little trailer; on a better day, from the vigorous trembling, you’d think I was getting laid. But, no, this was not a good day, nor did I figure we would have one for a long time.

As I offered him the planks, Jared smashed and stuck them against the windows. In all, the trailer had only four windows, each nearly too small for even a toddler to squeeze through, but we could not take any chances. Sweat glistened on the nape of his neck, diamond droplets trickling down his spine. The muscles in his back swelled and tensed as he helped me fortify our home, and suddenly I was thankful for the long nights he spent pumping away at Hartloch’s community gym.

He drove the final nail in, the head of it slightly bent from the force. “What next, Aubs?”

Jared knew what was next; I knew it too, but that didn’t make it any easier. “The sinks, with the carpet.” My eyes dropped to the stringy shag carpeting daddy installed for me the first week after he was diagnosed with cancer. It was the final project he ever completed, and it killed me what had to be done with it. Sunlight beamed between the furniture pressed against the front door, revealing all the swirling dust in our quaint trailer house. “Then after that…” My voice quivered.

“Don’t even,” Jared barked, falling to his knees. “How much d’we need?”

“Just start cutting, and I’ll let you know when.” An image of the creatures crawling up the pipes made my stomach churn.

But before he could drive the knife into the carpet, Jared stopped. “Look at us, Aubrey.”

“What?”

“What the fuck we doin’?” His voice was raspy with authentic country roots. “Say we get the placed locked up, how long we gonna survive after that? We ain’t got food to last us maybe a week, not to mention the Reverend and his tricks.” His eyes flashed like frenzied lightning under the flickering ceiling fan bulb. Despair bleached Jared’s typical enthusiastic tone. “We can’t do this alone.”

I snapped. “Who the hell can we call, Jared?” Pacing the living room, hands clenched in my hair, I repeated: “Who the hell can we call?” My mind pulled images of everyone I ever loved from my mental scrapbook. “There’s no one left but us.”

We sat in silence for a moment, me glaring daggers into Jared’s forehead. He knew it as well as I did: we were screwed. “Now get to stripping that carpet; we’ve got to fill these motherfucking sinks if we’re going to last until morning.”

#####

With our home finally fortified — every possible entry plugged up tight — Jared and I sat in the naked living room. The place where the entertainment center was that once held the television and Jared’s huge collection of games had become the place where we kept the shit bucket. Picture frames against the walls only existed as faint dust outlines against dirty wood panelling. Everything we used to have was either distorted and used to keep us safe, or rotting in a fire pit back at the refuge. I imagine that was also where the passionate, electric love Jared and I had for one another was buried.

The ceiling fan was the only one humming with excitement as Jared and I sat cross-legged on the cold, bare floor. Bright summer heat and light dimmed to a pale twilight as night was cast upon the land. Aside from a pack of dogs in the distance and the blaring emergency sirens, everything was quiet.

Something had also turned the volume down on my heart. I felt empty. I was empty. “Jared,” his name felt unfamiliar on my tongue, “I’m sorry for flipping out on you earlier.” Silence. “Babe, please don’t be this –”

Shh,” he huffed, pointing to the door. “Do you hear that?”

It started as a drip-drip-drip, like water from a faucet, but it quickly got faster and louder. The single light we had on in the trailer let out a final, bright burst of light before turning to lifeless gray. Illuminated by only the dusklight peeping through the cracks in the wood, my heart bounced to my throat. “They’re here,” I whispered.

The weight of the air I breathed splintered my lungs, the sheer pressure of it squeezing my brain. Tears streamed Jared’s face as the realization that we had been chosen had struck him. “I love you,” I mouthed, my fingers pressed to my burning temple.

Dust filled my body as I continued gasping for the very thing that was torturing me. Checkered shadows danced on the walls. Blood dripped from our ears. Our tears turned to crimson. In the back of my mind, I heard a haunting melody, drawing me to the door. But I knew I had to stay put.

I looked at Jared, who was still bent over in agony. We wanted so badly to scream, to say literally anything, but sound no longer existed, the very waves dissolved in the potent air.

Suddenly my body twitched, and I rose from the floor. All of my hair was standing on edge in the electrified atmosphere that had consumed the trailer. Time slowed to a trickle as every particle sluggishly ascended. My face was stricken, my mouth gaping, trying to breathe any ounce of oxygen.

Just as I was on the brink of death, everything stopped. The air returned, the pain subsided. Everything was in its perfect place — the entertainment center was back in the corner of living room, the television broadcasting an old cartoon, and Jared’s game collection was placed neatly on the side shelves. The picture frames of momma, my brother, and me were immaculately hung on the walls. Daddy’s shag carpeting tickled my toes. Soft moonlight shone through bare, crystal windows.

But one thing was not in its place; Jared was gone. In his place: a bloodstained stone tulip. My passion for Jared returned the moment he had gone. Before I could start to cry, there was a faint knock at the door. Two small taps shattered my soul.

The Reverend was outside, myself in my own twisted nightmare. But it wasn’t until the stone tulip crumbled to ash that the terror truly began.

 

White Rabbit

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Photo Credit

One by one they march

Their swords drooled blood of the enemy

They won’t stop

It was time to claim the divine reward.

 

Even the seas of magnetic dynamite they pass in stride

A cynic’s illusion, He should have done better

The purest magic wilts against stolid steel, they assure each other

Their eyes glued to the glacier palace, they keep marching.

 

Though the crystalline keep was anything but.

With every inch closer, the tower transforms.

Dreamy beryl walls to tarnished silver

Glimmering treasures to bleached ash

 

The Ivory Prince rises from the levitating tomb

His gaze reverts the silver suits to searing ingot

The soldiers’ knees buckle, but still they march.

He won’t let them stop.

 

Roaring razor storms consume the East

Corrosive lizards creep from the crevasse in the West

The forked tongue of darkness flicks at their heels.

All that remains is the Prince and His keep.

 

One by one they march

Crippled under concrete crowns of thorns.

They’ll be royalty, too

Dreaming of crystalline treasures in the furnace.

Behold the Begrudger

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Photo credit: Tim Abbott

I envy the dark souls who beg for time,

The ones who spend them stoned out of their goddamned minds

Too beaten and bloody to face the next round of rapid purgatory.

 

I envy the saints who have no regrets.

They wave beautiful gifts of glory with eyes and mouths sewn blissfully shut,

Disoriented by the very light from which they claim liberation.

 

I envy the hopefuls who always stride forward,

Finding ambition amidst hordes of cynical fiends.

They’ll never descend.

 

I envy the boy who once had all the time in the world

A ghost of the past,

His light violently extinguished by the hand of the ones he loved.

 

I envy the miscreants who ask for forgiveness,

Scarring their knees on icy daggers as remorse consumes them.

The slain monster lays broken in its teardrop prison.

 

Though I envy not their revelation or rescue, their happiness or faith

But their willingness to live

Despite the spirit they lost mercilessly clawing for a way out.

 

I envy volition,

The gilded steps to tranquility,

For desire I have none.

Ostriches

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Photo Credit: Esra Erben

The king wears a crown like no other;

Gaudy ornaments conceal a cranium of illusion and treachery.

 

He points to the left, executing the peaceful lamb.

Signalling to the right, he leads his people into war.

 

But they see and hear nothing,

For their heads are buried in the sand

With the lifeless others who dared defy the chosen one.

 

A life without purpose, without freedom and dreams,

Welcome to the land of nightmares.

Code Blue

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Photo credit: Jacirema Ferreira

Gone are the days of courteous suits and well-mannered sprouts.

The last drop of decency rests at the bottom of a bottle,

A shallow globe of love-drunk nobodies.

 

As the surviving guardians disappear

In comatose clouds of abandonment,

We hide beneath damp cloths.

 

Chivalry is dead.

Every Day Is Christmas

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Photo credit: Andreas Sautner

Gray boxes are unwrapped amid

A hapless audience of frozen machines.

As we’re lost in avalanches of veiled dysphoria,

Powder snow stains steely sidewalks red.

 

The paparazzi flash their black flowers,

So we sport a grin and sit up straight.

It’s what we’re bred for – all we know.

But behind pink, plastic walls rests a frenzied terror.

 

You’ll read about it tomorrow, I’m sure.

Fill the Mold

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Photo Credit: A.M.Martens
Nobody visits Grandma anymore. Some say a life without the heavenly aroma of freshly baked cinnamon cookies on a chilly Christmas morning just isn’t worth living; in the brick wall of reality, Grandma was their keystone. That is, until she brought in the ceramic head.

“If you listen close, you’ll hear it, too,” she whispered, waiting a few seconds before adding: “You hear its beautiful song?” But it was always a simple no from me. No, I did not hear the statue’s funny quips about why an apple is dangerous, nor did it explain its opinion on healthcare. “Just listen, Martin! It’s all you need to do! Listen!”

“Maybe you should ask Greta,” I shoot, grinning at the thought of Grandma bugging my older sister with such nonsense. “You know she’s Wiccan?” As if that was some clarification.

The statue stared at me from its post on the mantle, largely unfinished. She claimed she couldn’t find the right color for them, thus she left them blank. Many times, I found myself staring into the pearl pits for what seemed like hours, thinking of the conversations we would have if it could speak.

Grandma pulled me in closer, my nose nearly pressed into hers. She didn’t blink. “Abadii tells me of the things you do behind the door, Martin. Tell me you’re not becoming one of them. Are you listening?” She broke away, her words turning to tiny whispers as she paced around the room. Apparently, she gave the head a name.

“Becoming what, Grandma?” Despite my trying to appear unfazed, the nervous quiver to my voice betrayed me. She never gave me a straight answer, always a concerned eyebrow and a painful groan.

The statue was only on the mantle for a day before my dad had to call an ambulance. “I don’t know what the fuck is happening, Cheryl, but you need to come home – now,” I heard him yell over the phone to Mom. Then to me: “What did she do after you called for me to come get you?”

“Can’t remember,” I replied, a lie. There was no forgetting the moment Abadii opened its eyes and whispered the command, healing my shattered soul.

The ceramic head still rests on the mantle where Grandma put it, though it now casts its glares behind crimson eyes; blood-spattered lips prepare its dark decrees. And I listen. For the first time, I finally listen, and its song is beautiful.

Shallow

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Photo credit: Javier

Time trickles away,

Moments merely whispers.

Weeks turn to months and suddenly I forget

What it’s like to be human.

 

I no longer recall the taste of her flesh.

The look on her face

When I told her she wasn’t the one

Is as familiar to me as a stopwatch is to a sequoia.

 

But not a second goes by

In this wretched existence

That I don’t remember

The sound of her shovel packing my grave.

Chasing Shadows, Ch. 4

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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.”

“What’s that?”

“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.

Come home.

I abandon the safe haven and inch closer to a forgotten artery of the Fangclush – I return to Legacy.

Chasing Shadows, Ch.3

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“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!”

“Hold on!”

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.