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.

Bayou

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Photo credit: Angela N.
I was fifteen years old when the first one drowned. “Don’t worry about it,” Lana said quietly, as if we were in an audience’s presence. “It happens to all of us after a while.” We sat poking holes in the spongy marsh for what seemed like hours as the limp puppy finally sank out of sight into the blue abyss. Weak air pockets popped against the surface of the water, resembling ants flowing out of their nest; at first there was a surge of bubbles, until the final two or three slowly surfaced minutes later.

My girlfriend nudged my arm. “Hey, Joe.” She pecked my cheek. “It’ll be alright, okay?” I believed her. After all, I wasn’t such a terrible person. So my sister’s new puppy died – so what? It’s the circle of life; things die every day. All I did was speed up the process.

That night, we took the long way home like usual. Lana insisted we stop at Keppy’s for a smoothie. Despite my telling her I was feeling just fine, she didn’t buy any of it. “You can never stay sad with a cup of ice cream, Joe,” she chirped. “Things will pick up for us,” she promised.

Four months later, we were back at the bayou.

“I don’t know what happened!” I collapsed in her arms. Shutting my eyes hard enough wasn’t enough to wash away the sight of the strangled tomcat at the water’s edge. My hands burned from where I held the kitten, a cold reminder of my rampant fury. “You believe me, don’t you?”

“Of course, Joe.” She rubbed my back and stroked my hair. “Just another accident. Whose was it?”

“Kerry’s from across the street.”

This one was different than the first. For some reason, Lana didn’t seem so sympathetic. The night was still, making her rapid heartbeat that much more audible. She was an over-analytical human being, always over-thinking and anxious. “Do you still love me?”

“Forever and always,” was the last thing she said. As she looked in my eyes, I saw the demon. It possessed her small body, the orchestrator of these little evils. It was her fault I did those awful things. We took the short route back home, never saying goodbye when we reached her house.

The next day, Lana didn’t show up at school. She screened all my calls, wouldn’t answer any of my texts. So after school I found her crocheting in her room and we went to the swamp together.

A burning chain around her neck, I pressed her deceitful face into the soggy sludge. Lana tried breaking free, but that only made me tighten the chain. “I just love you so much, Lana; I’m doing this to save you.” Her cries were muffled under my muddy palm. I sat on her writhing body in the slush until the dark clouds passed, and I could see the reflection in her pale eyes. The obsidian demon stared back at me smirking, its eyes two colliding hurricanes.

“You won’t do it,” it hissed. “You’re too weak.”

“I’m doing this to save you, Lana,” I whispered, lacing my fingers around her neck. My thumbs press into her windpipe, the blood draining from her beautiful face. With each squeeze, the demon roared. Ravens gathered around us, taunting me. They were shouting their obscenities, but I kept strong. I had to save her — had to save us all.

At last she fell limp in my grasp, her cries frozen forever on her tongue. But the demon remained. It followed me to the water, displayed in my reflection. The devil in her eyes was me.

I was seventeen when the rest of them drowned, a king reborn.

Disturb the Peacekeeper

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Photo credit: Flickr

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.

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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Read Ch. 1

Read Ch. 2

“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.

Chasing Shadows, Ch.2

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Read Ch. 1

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.

Chasing Shadows, Ch.1

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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.

Mystic Keys and Expectations

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“Dear, beautiful spectator,” said the magician, his knuckles dove-white from his clasp on an amethyst, shimmering top hat. The audience was wide eyed as the young man reached inside his polka-dotted blazer. “I ask you to look inside yourself, unlock the chest of your lonesome soul,” his eyes glinted, “tell me what you find.”

He waited a few seconds before continuing. “You will find, binding your very being, two padlocks. If you look closer at the first, you’ll find yourself with a third-degree burn on your nose and a spirit full of harmony and grace. It’ll feel you with such jubilation that you’ll never want to look away, but you risk blindness the longer you peer at the blazing bolt.” Pulling a gilded key strung on a strip of speckled lace, he added: “With haste, this first lock of lust can be overcome.”

“Now you’re left with one obstacle, to unlock the soul – you’re full potential. If you focus hard enough, you’ll make out a black padlock; its cloak of darkness shrouds the brightest light.” He pulled a twisted obsidian key from his blazer. It shone under the spotlight like a thousand black candles. His mouth was pulled back in a sneer, his heart racing. “This one is infinitely more difficult to handle than the first. Every second you peer into this bolt is an eon of torment.” Several spectators coughed in their red, cushioned seats, disturbed. “You must face your demons, peering into the boiled face of the devil, before the lock drops and the restraints are lifted. In this battle, the deepest force of the universe is concentrated on you. Bleak vultures will try and tear at your shoulders; shadowed serpents will sink their fangs into your heel.” A viewer bellied over and vomited on the black tarp.

The magician grimaced as he dropped the key, reaching within the ornate top hat. “Let the dancing fumes wash away your glowing, painted wings. As the toxin slithers into your conscience,” the magician pulled a skeletal, writhing creature from the hat, “I will exonerate you.”

Suddenly, the viewers fall to the floor, scratching at their chests and throats. Children’s eyes turn vermillion, their skin splintered like blistered glass, as their parents stumbled to their side. Whispers muted the indignant bellows. Cloaked specters carried the babies to the ceiling, sending their fragile bodies back to the ground, smashed and mutilated. Every breath was an inhalation of bladed powder and cyanide. Boiling slime expanded across the tarped floor, an ocean rife with starving, scaly beasts.

The magician groaned, snapping the patchy, wiry neck of a vicious rodent – its squeal a nightmare siren. Virulent typhoons of shadow and disgrace protected him from the evil consuming the theatre. Flickering emerald flame followed his footsteps, as he approached the door.  With every step closer, blurry phantoms shouted: “You’re not invited!” One flung an infant’s decapitated corpse at him. “NOT INVITED!” The banshees’ shrieks nearly brought him to his knees, but he forced himself to reach the locked door.

Trained on the shimmering, golden deadbolt keeping him contained in this infernal trial, the magician pushed in the key and turned. The padlock opened with a pop and dropped to the floor. In a flash, the charred tarp turned into soft prairie grass; the intestine-adorned walls faded to reveal a sunlit forest and a diamond-specked pond, disgusted incantations a chorus of mockingbirds.

For the first time in an eternity, the magician smiled and laughed, rolling around on the damp grass. “Free at last!” he shouted.

The magician’s expression changed, however, when he cut himself on the teeth of a charred, barbed statue resembling the Bringer, the evil entity from his dreams. Elation melted to malice. Ravens obscured the beaming sun, and the forest collapsed to a frozen graveyard.

The Bringer’s silhouette was etched on the horizon. “For years you relied on slight-of-hand to deceive unwitting spirits. Now you shall wear their souls and walk through the inferno you so dexterously illustrated.” Sharp winds ripped the clothes off of the magician, the great entertainer reduced to a bumbling, naked boy in a bed of sweltering snow. “You will forever chase the jester of your former being, always falling short of vindication.”

“Please,” the magician begged, “make me forget all of this. Give me a fresh canvas to start anew.” His tears evaporated against the hot snow. “I’m so sorry, for everything.” He wept. “I know I shouldn’t have touched those kids. I’ve learned my lesson! Please!”

The Bringer roared, cracking the frozen earth. “Something tells me you enjoyed that first trial too much to ever be forgiven.” It cackled. “Granted you survive the night, you’ll find your black key somewhere in the winding river of tar up north; the padlock is deep within the Salahrin Mountains, but I’ve got a feeling the army of vengeful infants and tortured toddlers will pick you off far before you reach the border.”

Devils Dance, Ch.3

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Read the previous chapters here, and here.
New chapters posted every Thursday!

“Don’t touch anything.”

“I know the drill.”

Despite being on the third week of dismissal from the station, ex-detective Robert Greer was not one for neglecting protocol. The last thing he wanted was for his superiors back in Dallas to find he was still investigating the case.

Robert waved his flashlight across the room, illuminating the gruesome scene: a shattered flat-screen T.V. was in shards on the floor, strange red depictions featuring strange symbols and images stretched along the walls, and then there was the blood and the body. “Shit, fucking bitch,” officer Stephenie Moran exclaimed, surprised at her colorful choice of words. “Is that the one?”

“Nope. He’s too young. All the others have been over eighteen; that kid looks to be fourteen or so.”

Suddenly, Moran felt something brush against her leg. “Mrrp.” A little tabby rubbed its little cheeks on her boot. The etched name on its collar read Mumu. The small cat seemed totally careless of the scene that had just played in front of its chestnut eyes.

“Get it away.” Greer growled. “I don’t have time to run back and get my inhaler, so keep the kitty away please.” She shooed the cat away, who ran into the kitchen, obviously on the hunt for some chow.

Moran trained under Greer at the academy; he taught her all she knew. So when she discovered his plan to continue the case without formal support, she felt obligated to follow along. Greer was the only one to ever stick up for her – standing at a plump 5’4” with a face for radio, she was always the victim of her peers’ jokes. So her support in the case he was so passionately involved in was the very least she could offer.

“You coming along, Moran?” Greer had that look on his face, the one he got right when shit was about to go down, as if he somehow knew what he was going to find upstairs.

Stephenie nodded, her nose in her palm. “Yeah, boss.” Adding: “How much longer do you think we have before the squad shows?” She dusted the cat fur from her boot.

“Ten minutes.” He traced his light along the winding staircase, noting a singular set of bloody footprints ascending the steps. “Be careful there,” he advised, gesturing at the blood. “We can’t leave any footprints.”

Moran shook her head and sighed. When was he ever going to stop looking at her as a rookie and consider her his partner? “You got it,” she chirped.

The bloody caricatures and footprints stopped at the farthest door in the hall. It was the master suite. A  few days ago, the room would have looked expertly designed and beautifully kept. Eggshell drapes covered the room’s two large windows, wonderfully complementing cashew walls and glossy mahogany trim. What elegance the room displayed had been completely washed away under a layer of blood and brains.

“That’s the one.” Greer pointed, his lips parted in a painful sneer.

“Does he have the…?”

Robert nodded. “Yes. Right there. See?”

Sure enough, there was the mark. Moran could not believe her eyes. Seven murders scattered across the nation alone – possibly more once they get the files back from Interpol – all connected by a miniscule detail often disregarded in investigations. At first glance, any expert would deem the scene a murder-suicide, and leave it at that; however, each of their perps have a small four-spiked star printed just behind their left earlobe. The star is only visible for a few hours after the act is committed, eventually vanishing completely.

While Robert was a renowned detective, he could analyze copious amounts of information at record speed as well as recognize complicated patterns in bundles of random information. He attributed his many past successes to his attention to detail. Granted, his obsession with patterns got him kicked off the squad, he was in too deep with his case to simply turn in his gun and badge and leave it at that.

“Well I’ll be damned. Rob, we’ve got to say something to the commissioner. Looks like we’ve got a serial killer.”

Robert missed the suggestion, as he was too occupied with what he was observing out the window. Three officers were speaking with the neighbors, the ones who reported the attack. Moran and Greer had seconds to get out of the house before they would be booked. “We’ve got to go now! Check one of the other rooms for a window with access to the roof. If we can get out the back, we still have time.” His breathing was heavy and thick. He wished he wasted the few minutes to retrieve his inhaler – he was going to need it.

The two found an open window in the young boy’s room at the back of the house, forgetting about paying careful attention of smudging the floors. “We didn’t get pictures of the symbols, Rob!” Greer helped Stephenie onto the roof.

“We’ll get some at the next one,” he muttered, dropping off the roof, with an empty flowerbed breaking his fall and roll. “Now you. Hurry. We’re on foot now.”

Moran leapt from the house, and they ran, jumping hedges and scaling the rustic privacy fence. As they were sprinting for the woods, Stephenie peered back at the scene – she counted four cars and an ambulance, all arriving within seconds of each other. Two officers were turning Greer’s black Mercedes inside-out.

“How are we going to find the next one?” Moran inquired between exhausted huffs.

The two had reached the woods and kept going. Robert almost missed a short string of bare barbed wire, nearly getting a face of snow and leaves. “It’ll find us. It always does.” Images from Greer’s past flooded his mind, bringing him back to that frightful night in Chicago where he first encountered the thing. His difficulty in describing the sight to his superiors was what consequently led him to his dismissal and round with alcoholism.

But Robert Greer finally had a name for what he had encountered in Illinois. Moran was correct in her speculation that they were dealing with several crimes committed by one entity, but calling it a killer was assuming it was human; the thing that murdered his girls was anything but.

Homecoming

Scantily-clad skeleton whores and their royal subjects march the fine line of morality, drunkenly toeing a cum soaked strip of purple satin and grit. A squad of gaping streusel mouths danced at their backs, so close in fact that they are practically stomping the bone wenches’ furry capes. The paper mache orgasm brigade, we call them; together, they performed with such finesse and skill, only to be reduced to soggy strips of yesterday’s news when the patrons erupted.

Glass serpents coil the thirteen Corinthian columns in the main hall, sacred sentries of the citadel. In the lobby, I wave to Glinda, but she doesn’t see me for the green and gold plasma bulbs floating past in a cold draft, like a festive hot air balloon fest. Besides, these days she’s so strung out on poppy shots that she probably would not even recognize me.
Loud music deafens the wailing children in the back and the chunky belches of their parents hurling in the sugar-glazed stairwell. Those who try to move from the stairs to the bathroom do so with the assistance of a molten chocolate and vinegar Slip’n Slide.
I can’t help but just sit and stare, a dorky smile pasted on my face. For forty-seven years I had been in the west, scaling jagged cliffs, dodging countless blazing apple cannons, and fighting teams of feathered simians – my journey transformed me, yet the emerald castle was just as I left it.

Innocence preached that there was no place like home; wisdom taught me that home is where you make it. I left the palace beside three flawed friends, and return now alone with a plastic sack containing the head of the bitch that killed my family because of a pair of ugly shoes. She claimed the dull things contained immense power, but all they had was the horrid stench of sweat and a broken latch.

Suddenly I see him by the gumdrop dispenser, with a handful of purple gummies and a devious grin. He was the only one with enough power to travel between the worlds, and now, with the Bitch of the West done for, no one could stop him – us – from purging the two realms. With his magic and my wielding of Glinda’s wand and the so-called powerful slippers, we will be unstoppable.

I light a cigarette, before a couple handsome Munchkin boys take me by the hand and lead to me to my king, my wonderful wizard.

Santa Simulator

“Luffal, it looks like we’ll be out of business within the next twenty years,” Santa Claus confessed, quoting the data conveyed in the annual Star Gift report. He slumped back in his fuzzy candy cane recliner. “Kids nowadays just aren’t interested in the traditional toys anymore. What good are our wooden block sets if they can get the same thing on a screen coupled with stellar graphics and educational interactivity?”

The wise elf, Luffal, wiggled in his pink polka-dotted stockings, stuck in thought. Then it struck him: “How about we stop with the old toys then, Boss, and move along with society?”

“How so?” Claus was confused. Never had he ever thought of abandoning his old-fashioned toy making lifestyle. Vintage would never go out of style, he believed.

Luffal sunk in a hot chocolate mug bath, the exfoliating steam renewing his sagging skin – there were perks of being only five inches tall. He waved a candy stick at the gloomy, cherry-faced toymaker. “Well, for starters we can make a few renovations to the west factory – Etch-A-Sketches are so last century. Round a few smart elves together, slap them with a tome outlining programming and illustration basics, and put them to work in the west factory designing hit mobile games.”

Santa Claus chuckled in his seat, sipping bubblegum tea. “You say Etch-A-Sketches aren’t desired anymore? Then answer to this,” he handed the head elf a manila folder. “Since 2005, I’ve distributed nearly 100 million of them; you can’t argue with facts.”

“Boss, please, I literally just saw you write that in the report as I was reciting my idea.” Luffal passed the document back to Claus. “That cinnamon-scented ink doesn’t lie.”

The frosty bearded fellow dropped his head. “Fine, Luffal, I admit that I may be a tad stuck in the past – only a tad, mind you. And –”

“Hold up!” the elf exclaimed, nearly falling out of the ceramic coffee mug. “I’ve got it! The Santa Simulator – a blast for kids of all ages, players take control of the reigns for the very first time and they’ll be able to fly while delivering presents to others all around the world!” The festive manager glowed red with excitement. “It’ll be like that Google Earth technology! Only, rather than being subjected to the outside, kids can enter houses through chimneys!”

“Whoa, slow down there, bud. Wouldn’t that be considered an invasion of privacy?”

Luffal deadpanned. “What? I’d never bring this to you if I had even the slightest inkling of its misuse.” He reiterated, “No, definitely no, Boss. This will be used purely for fun. We’ll add a point system and everything! People will be too focused on delivering presents that they’ll never have time to abuse the game. You have to trust me on this, Boss.”

“Absolutely not, Luffal. It all seems like a good idea, but it has the potential to be disastrous as well – that’s all I’ll say on the matter.” Claus stood from the chair and started toward the bathroom. “We’ll discuss other ideas after I take a warm bath,” he said in passing.

As soon as Santa Claus locked himself in the bathroom, Luffal phoned an inventive comrade. After a few seconds, the colleague finally answered the phone. “Yo, Gremmal – have I got a job for you,” Luffal whispered. “No time for details; meet me in the west parking lot in an hour. Be sure to bring a sleeping bag – it’s going to be a long night.”

The Price

The laws of life and death are meant to be broken, this I knew. The Creator would not have put a species capable of such intelligible thought if he did not expect it to eventually realize rules are only governed by those to which they apply. With this epiphany anything is possible, so I set out to put it to the ultimate test.

I was going to bring her back; she didn’t deserve to die. All it took was a blessed herbal concoction and a recited sacrament under the light of a full moon. Sure, the ritual would be much easier with the staff of the Grand Wizard, Arca, but neither he nor the rest of the council would ever consider aiding me in an act they would deem blasphemous.

As I am standing atop Talonbreak Hill, having already recited the sacrament, the king intervened. “Alastair!” He hobbled up the hill to meet me at the top, his white hair glowing in the night. “Stop this insanity this instant!”

“Don’t you have a kingdom to ruin, Rock? Go back to that corrupted council of yours where you belong, and let me be.”

“Alastair, step away from the circle. I’ve got fifteen archers with you in their sights if you continue to disregard my orders. You’ve been warned on multiple occasions that the use of magic is strictly prohibited in accordance to last year’s incident.” The stress incurred from his reign is amplified under the moonlight – deep wrinkles stretched across his face.

My gaze turned to the potion; all that was left of the ritual was the pouring of the concoction over the grave. I was so close to seeing my precious daughter once again, but yet I faced another obstacle. “Oh, I know all about that massacre, Rock. My daughter and all of her students lost their lives that day by the blade of the magic resistance – a group mirroring your ideals. So you’re going to have me killed just as you did Emily?”

Festered, the king replied, “For the last time that was not my doing. You really think I would be capable of the slaughter of an entire school full of children and teachers?” His face was expressionless. “Now, I am very sorry for what happened to Emily, and honestly if her revival had no repercussions, I would personally see to it that all of those poor people were brought back. That’s not the case however.” He gestured at the night sky. “The cost of reviving your daughter is eternal darkness. Not even the council, as wise and powerful as they are, can reverse it either. So do us a favor and walk back with me to the village.”

“A world without Emily would be dark anyway,” I said, diving toward the potion. Unfortunately, Rock wasn’t lying about the archers, and before I reach the ground four arrows tore into my chest. However, before my last breath I spill the vial’s contents onto Emily’s grave, pouring the magic into the earth.

My last sight was of Emily, enveloped in a warm, heavenly light. She hadn’t aged one day, and was prettier than she ever had been. Her golden hair fell over her shoulders just as her mother’s had – if only I could tell her how much she looked like her mother. But before I closed my eyes and left the realm, the silver moon receded into darkness and the star-speckled sky turns black. The curse of eternal night had befallen the land, and I, blinded by sorrow, selfishly dragged Emily out of everlasting bliss and sentenced her to live the rest of her days under a black cloak. My final gift to my daughter was that of damnation.

Lightweaver

I had always been intrigued by fame. The memory of my name carrying on years after my death was my one true goal. And finally there was a way I could achieve it – complete immortality. There was a contest in which winning guaranteed a spot on the television, and perhaps even a biography. I had to win.

I had spent months training for that competition. Twelve hours every day I practiced on the recreational field. The first day of the week was concentration. Day two was light control. And to kick off mid-week, I focused on agility. Then it all started over again. Rinse and repeat.

Now was the day of truth. Today each of us contestants gets to demonstrate the product of rigorous training to thousands of viewers. And it was possible that a few of them would agree to sponsor one of us in other contests, if one were good enough.

My name was finally called, and I walked to the stage. The routine was to state my identification and my tribe clearly in front of my audience. Any mistakes on my part could lead to disqualification, or worse, humiliation. So I stayed careful and vigilant. Afterwards would be the start of my presentation. The goal was to captivate the spectators. This is what we each prepared so vigorously for. Even though this was my first time participating, I had watched clips of previous victors. I had it all down. Ultimately, it was all about shock and awe.

I focused a burning orb of energy onto my palm and watched it expand and grow. With my every heartbeat, waves of vermilion pulsed from the sphere. I was holding a miniature star in my hand.

Wielding such energy was not without repercussions, though. The sphere was only the width of my palm, but it burned just as powerfully as its larger counterparts. Immediately my hand began to throb. Before I knew it, my arm burned carmine with raging heat flowing within it. Regardless, though, I persisted and maintained my posture and demeanor. No pain, no fame. Isn’t that how it’s said?

My creation did just as I had commanded, which pleased my audience. Beams of blue and purple shot from the base of my palm and pierced the sky. I had mesmerized the audience with my power. Just watch this, I thought.

With my other hand I made an even larger energy ball, from the smaller one. This was a feat I had not planned nor practiced, so my surprise was genuine when I started losing control. The heat from the orb was growing more intense. It was too much.

I yelped and fell to my knees. I tried to release the light, but I couldn’t. Release was something I didn’t practice, as I believed that was the simplest part. So when the ball wouldn’t respond, I panicked and ran toward the viewers. I pleaded, “Help me!”

Tears streamed my face as the mini-star scorched my arms and burned through my clothes into my torso. But I wasn’t upset that I was probably going to die as a result of my negligence. I wasn’t crying for the lives of the dozens of viewers.

Nobody would ever want to sponsor me after this.

The star, my creation, had already enveloped me and was beyond control. The thing emitted flares that took out one side of the stadium.

They were fleeing, all of them. Mothers were calling their children and businessmen were tripping over their feet. But nobody would escape with their lives. They would all be devoured by my hungry flame.

Word of the chaos of what I had done spread fast, and soon I noticed the whirling propeller of a hovering media copter. The realization startled me. Despite my flesh dripping off my bones like candle wax, what was left of my lips widened to a grin.

I won.

Devils Dance, Ch.1

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Mr. Brewer wrapped his arms around a little pig-tailed girl. “You come back and see me now,” he said quietly. “Next time I won’t be so tired, I promise.”

The hint of a smile appeared on the child’s face. “I love you grandpa. I’ll come back as soon as mommy lets me. Like maybe next week.”

“I’ll be counting the days,” Mr. Brewer stated, releasing his granddaughter from his weakening grip.

Everything had happened so suddenly; one minute he was lying next to his wife back in Atlanta, the next his love had died of pneumonia and he had been deemed too much of a burden to care for by his only daughter Shelly. She wasn’t wrong, however, and Mr. Brewer by no means had any animosity toward his daughter. She simply had made the decision that was most appropriate for her family, and that was just fine.

But life at Serenity Summit was not what Mr. Brewer had expected it to be. On the pamphlet Shelly had presented him during his last weekend as a free man, he noticed all the folks living at the Summit were smiling and having a blast, their images plastered under the title, “Serenity Summit #1 for its Engaging Family-Oriented Atmosphere.” Although it was true that during his stay he had acquired new friends, actual family visits were scarce – he imagined he wouldn’t see his granddaughter again until next month, but Shelly’s demanding lifestyle was to blame for that, not so much the hospital.

“Goodbye,” Mr. Brewer shouted, to which the girl shot him one last hopeful grin before walking out of the facility.

Suddenly, a nurse dressed in Peanuts scrubs nudged the man in the shoulder. “Wow, Hayley has sure grown a lot since I first saw her.”

Mr. Brewer stared blankly into the nurse’s eyes, the name echoed in his mind. “Who?”

“Your granddaughter, Mr. Brewer. You remember Hayley, don’t you?”

Irritated, the old man straightened his posture. “Granddaughter?” He chuckled. “You’re mistaken, miss. That was my daughter Shelly. Isn’t it a bit early to be talking about grandchildren? I mean, by God, she’s not even six yet!”

“You get some rest now, Mr. Brewer, so you’ll be full of energy for the bingo game tonight,” she encouraged, giving him two pats on his knee before walking over to another resident.

Hayley. The name resonated in his head. Surely the nurse was mistaken, he thought. There was no way he could have a grandchild.

In an attempt to find a photograph of his daughter, for proof that he wasn’t losing his mind, Mr. Brewer rolled himself into his room, and sure enough he found it. On his nightstand was the picture of a grown woman who closely resembled his Shelly – she even had the same birthmark on her face just like his daughter.

“Damn,” Mr. Brewer cursed, dropping his head.

He hadn’t realized his roommate Greg was in the corner reading a newsletter dated from 1942. Nor did he realize that Greg’s record player was on. Mr. Brewer finally realized that his wife Nelly was right: he had gone bat-shit crazy.

“What’s the matter? Nurse didn’t get you that green Jell-O you like so much?”

“Naw, just seein’ things more clearly for the first time in a while, is all,” he replied, noting that the music was getting louder. “Hey, turn that down would you?” He motion toward his buddy’s record player.

Greg was dumbfounded. “Huh? I don’t hear nothin’. It’s not on.”

Mr. Brewer wasn’t about to let himself be played as an ignorant fool. Just who did Greg think he was, anyway? “Greg, I said turn the fucking music off. It’s not the ‘40s anymore, so you need to stop reading that goddamned paper and listening to that ridiculous song every afternoon!”

“Bud, I swear there ain’t no music playin’.”

The old man lost it and knocked a vase to the floor, sending dozens of ceramic shards spiraling across the cream-tiled floor. “You listen to me, bud,” spat Mr. Brewer. “I’m not taking your shit anymore. You’re always treating me like a sucker, and it’s going to stop today.” Then, with one of the longer pieces of ceramic, Mr. Brewer shoved the spike into Greg’s throat, puncturing his jugular artery.

The white room was painted red in seconds, after a frenzied Mr. Brewer continued to stab his old friend. With each puncture, a memory was brought back to Mr. Brewer: with a gash to the jugular came that of his wife Nelly, who had given birth to the most beautiful baby girl in the world; then a splurge of hot blood on his face brought a replay of Shelly’s wedding into his vision, and then of Hayley’s birth; with a swift plunge to the chest, he remembered that his withering consciousness and his temper were what landed him in Serenity Summit to begin with. His rage subsided after the strings of red goo expanded into a dark crimson pool. His buddy reduced to a ripped blood fountain, the gurgling of blood made Mr. Brewer vomit into his palm.

“Oh my God, what I have I done,” he asked, dropping the bloodied ceramic shiv – the spike shattered on the hard floor. Turning to the record player, he realized that Greg was telling the truth after all; there was absolutely no record spinning, but Chattanooga Choo Choo still blared through the speaker.

Suddenly, Mr. Brewer opened his third story window, revealing a beautiful expanse of wilderness. And to make it even more desirable, the music didn’t reach outside. So, with his face chapped with tears, he jumped. He never felt freer than the second before his skull met the sidewalk.

Several states over, a similar chilling melody hummed down a drive of freshly fallen snow. Death’s stale tune whisper met the door of an honors boy and precious Mumu.

Weeds In the Field

“How could he do this to us? We could lose the farm!”

“That’s enough, Gisette.” A woman of sixty-five clad in a tailored blue gown, her silver hair pulled tightly back in a perfect bun, waves a hand of dismissal toward her daughter. “Your brother is well aware of the risks he’s taking; he is a smart man after all.”

Patti, Gisette’s twin sister, uncharacteristically slams her porcelain tea cup down onto the oak table. “David cannot marry that… That gold digging whore! If he had an ounce of wits about him, he’d see through her act.”

“Patti, Gisette! Hush, both of you. I need to hear myself think.” Geraldine Hatchett pinches the bridge of her nose and closes her eyes. She was the eldest daughter of a wealthy politician – and the smartest, she would argue – but if there was one thing her father taught her before being sent to prison for embezzlement, it was how to remain calm in stressful situations. Her daughters have yet to pick up on this nifty skill, but they were going to learn one day.

After a moment of silence, Geraldine resumes: “For thinking of the good of the farm, you both are right, and until your brother met Beatrice, I believe he had a similar state of mind as well; however, now he is without the good sense his father left him. Something must be done to stop this blasphemous marriage.”

“What are you thinking, Mama?”

“Well, obviously I can’t get through to David; she’s already poisoned him.” Geraldine pastes a grim smile on her face, showing a set of dull, golden teeth. “It’s only reasonable she suffer a similar fate.”

That night, Geraldine and her girls crept into the cornfield behind the Hatchett manor, guided only by the light of a full moon. Despite the rumors, Geraldine wasn’t just a lonely widow pent on rotting in her web-infested mansion – she had an advantage that many other women of her time were without: she could read.

Specifically, she took to books of a mystical nature. So, when she found out her only son, David, was marrying a poor valley girl she knew her knowledge of the dark arts would come in handy. All she had to do was get her two stupid daughters on the same page, and to do this she fed them lies. “That girl your brother is marrying, I heard she was married before,” she once told Gisette. Then, to Patti: “I ran into David’s fiancée this morning; I could see such hatred in those twinkling blue eyes of hers. Pretty soon David will have the same hate in his.” It didn’t take too many lies to convince her daughters, as gullible as they were.

“Patti, you hold your sister’s hand, and both of you hold mine with your other.” It all came together perfectly; she was following the instructions lain out in the devil’s book completely. Together they formed an oval; in the center was a burning concoction containing crushed henbane and jimsonweed and a cocktail of other spices and chemicals – the smoke coming off the brew smells foul but that was part of it, she presumed. “Goddess Katriah, I call upon you.”

Truthfully, at this point Geraldine has no idea what she was doing – the chant was written in a language unknown to her. But she had followed every other step to the letter, so she believed all should be fine.

“Katriah, Goddess of the Harvest, bless this potion I have before you. You must have heard my prayers, so you know our situation. A threat has come upon our fertile land, intending to burn it all. I ask that you bless this potion, fill it with the power to stop this Beatrice Nocant. By your beautiful hand, the Hatchett farm can flourish once more.” The last words resonate in the darkness. That was it. But why was it that she wasn’t feeling any different?

“So, did it work?” Gisette was looking painfully perplexed.

Geraldine has no answer for her daughter, because she was wondering the same. Regardless, she keeps confident. “Yes, darling. It’s in Katriah’s hands now. All we have to do is wait for her gift.”

But days pass to no avail. Beatrice was still alive, and Geraldine’s patience was growing thin. What was it that she had done wrong? Surely everything was done correctly. Every day that her soon-to-be-daugher-in-law continued to breathe, the old woman skimmed the frail page of the spell book one more time. Finally, it came to her: “That potion was meant for me. It wasn’t just meant to summon Her.” With her spirit returned, she walks back to where she and her girls so foolishly tried to call on Katriah.

“How could I have not considered this?” she asks herself on the way to the clearing. “Katriah isn’t a vengeful Goddess – she can only transfer the power to protect her domain to a worthy soul!” Geraldine cackles, grasping the bowl of magical herbs and spices. Before downing the potion, Geraldine mutters, “Give me your power Katriah, so I can wring that girl’s neck.”

It takes a few gulps, as well as some control of the gag reflex, to drink the bitter mixture. The brew stirrs a rumble inside of Geraldine’s stomach, making her want to throw it all up. “That certainly is not your afternoon sweat tea,” she states, smacking her lips.

Suddenly, she a deep roar of laughter invades her mind. “Katriah!” Geraldine exclaims. “You’ve come to help me!”

The goddess scoffs. “Honestly, I was hoping for a stronger soul to steal, one with more years left, but I’ll settle with this one.”