Intermission + Some Updates

Thursday, November 29 will be the debut of Act II of Masquerade with my new short story Swallow.

From here on out you can expect to see new short stories (~1,500-2,500 words) posted regularly on Thursdays unless stated otherwise, with perhaps some super-short flash fics/poems (>400 words) sprinkled around randomly. (I do looooooove flash fiction.)

I’m overjoyed to return to writing to say the least. I’ve written a good part of Swallow and it just feels like I’m back where I’m supposed to be, like I’ve been on vacation for a year and I’m finally back at home sleeping in my own bed.

That said, having this creative energy flow through me once again is just as terrifying as it is exciting; some poor fictional soul is going to die. Who’s is going to be? My bet’s on the butler.

See you Thursday. 😈

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.

They All Fall Down

The whole village was ripe with emotion. People stood all around us in swarms, throwing stones and trash at our faces and feet. The villagers close enough reached out with long, skinny arms and slashed at our bare chests and torsos – raving dogs, every one of them. The entire community engulfed us, shouting, screaming garbled and incomprehensible incantations. None of us understood them, but surely there must have been a language in between howls. The sad part was that with all this madness, this abuse, we did nothing. Nothing was all we could do.In gaps between the ravenous mutts, through the dry dust in the wind, I noticed a mother and her son standing together with several other families. The boy, bare save for a pair of rugged brown shorts, latched himself to his mother’s left side. As he turned his head, we locked eyes for a split second. Time stopped while I looked into his dark brown eyes. He could see our pain, the exploitation – it wasn’t the first time he saw it. Then, as we were forced to walk on, a hint of a smile formed on the boy’s face, and he snickered.We began our shameless walk to the end, to the finish line of a painful marathon – each one of us the athletes, the villagers the game makers. There were no losers in this competition, however; we all would earn a medal. It was a prize we looked forward to for months. Fame, minus the fortune – it was an end to the torture.Our journey paused. Several meters ahead of me, one of my fellow soldiers had fallen out of line. They must have acted against the pack. Amid the deafening shouts I heard a faint cry. A pack master dressed in camouflage had stepped forward waving a wooden bat in the air. The bat was clearly defined in the colorless sky. Then in strong blows, the bat rushed down. With each thrust, the bat grew darker and darker, until it was soaked with blood. Glaring at each of us, the master licked his weapon in one motion, slurping the life liquid from the club. This was followed by an even louder outcry from the savages.There were two of us left.
Immediately afterward, we felt a tug at the chains and the walk resumed. This time each of us pulled our slumps out as straight as we could, despite our exhaustion. Nobody wanted to risk a repeat of the previous slaughter. The alpha’s temper was not to be tested.

The finish line was growing near. Due to the unwelcoming flatness of the area, we could see for miles, at least until our vision reached the vicious, blinding storms to the east. And before we knew it, we had reached the edge of the finish line: an altar. The group of dogs piled around the dilapidated wood structure and began rooting and whooping. Some of them had brought signs, but I had no idea what they said. I imagine they read some derogatory message against America. But I didn’t care. After months of torture, I learned that feeling nothing was the best strategy in these hopeless wretches of the world.

The plan was to bring us to the center of the stage, one by one, and film our deaths in the most thoughtless and careless way possible. On the front of the stage stood a pork-of-a-man with a Kodak video camera loosely strapped to his palm. He was the director and everything had to be perfect.

Since I wasn’t in front of the line, I wasn’t the first to die. A young man named Caleb, he was ten years older than I, was forced down on the stage, his face turned against the top of a cement block. Another dog swinging a past-its-prime machete stood to the side making practice swings.

With a wave of a hand, the machete came down on my buddy’s neck. His head rolled off the edge of the block and into the soot. They didn’t even have enough respect to have a bucket.

I was the only one left.

Despite being cloudless, the sky was bleached an empty, sandy gray. And even with this harboring atmosphere in a realm of hell, I could feel that it was early August back home. This would be the time when Miranda would be taking Paulie clothes shopping at the mall. This would have been his first year of school; he would be starting kindergarten. For so long Miranda had been pressuring me to spend more time with the both of them, because these were the years that go by the fastest. But who was I to care? Sure, I loved them both, but what I really cared about was the future. And despite rigorous planning, even though I had meticulously set everything up to where I would retire at just the right age with just the right amount of money, it was for nothing. My future ended here. Not beside my wife. Not years after Paulie’s college graduation. I would die in front of dozens of barbaric hounds whose only sense of love is predation.

The next moment took place quicker than I had anticipated. The filthy beasts ruthlessly kicked Caleb’s headless carcass off the altar – it met the ground with a loud slap. The man with the camera motioned the brute to lead me to my place at the table. As suddenly as I closed my eyes standing as a viewer of the atrocity, I opened them at the table as a participant.

The cameraman faced me, grinning with victory. Then, he said in clear English, “I love you, Tom. Don’t you forget that.”

Suddenly, the man’s face turned twisted and contorted. The colorless sky turned to a white ceiling. The gritty sand turned to speckled-white tile. The merciless mongrels that once surrounded me in hatred were now only blank stares from nurses in teal. Instead of staring into the face of a sinister director, I was peering into the sweet, wrinkled face of my dearest wife.

“Miranda…” I mumbled. Then I noticed her bleeding nose and busted lip. Her cheek was bruised. “What happened?” I couldn’t move to hug her however; my body was constrained.

But why? She had nothing to fear from me. I did all I could to protect her and Paulie. How could they do this to me? Then in a rush it came to me.

The war. My survival. My violence. My poor Miranda.

My eyes moved to a mirror that hung in the corner of my room. A gray old man stood in my place, and a photo of an older Paulie was propped up in a silver picture frame near the window behind me. Outside I could see many old folks strolling around with their family and others sitting alone near a great fountain. A fence separating the facility from the parking lot stood like blackened knives scorched by fire.

Sniffling, Miranda stood from behind the observation desk and kissed my head; her body was trembling. Softly, she whispered in my ear: “I’ll see you again soon, honey.”

Foreboding Tides

A tall man sporting a long gray coat, navy breeches, and an overly large top hat struts across Lady Catherine’s main deck and gulps the ocean-licked breeze. “It won’t be long now boys!” he calls over the roaring waves crashing from below. Laughing heartily, he claps the back of his first mate. “Can you believe it, Nora?”

“Of course, Borris. I never had any doubt we would be unsuccessful.” Nora snarls, only worsening her already avian appearance. There was talk amongst the crew that she was the reason Captain Borris never carried a compass, that it was Nora’s abnormally long nose directing the ship. “The question is are you prepared for what’s to come?”

Captain Borris peers out into the open sea, engrossed in its mesmerizing glimmer. He tightens his grip on the wooden railing. “They’ve brought this upon themselves. There was once a time that I’d stand by their side no matter the situation.” He turns around to meet Nora’s sympathetic glare. “How else would they expect me to react, anyway?”

“Why don’t you collect yourself in your chamber; I’ll let you know when it’s been done.”

The captain shakes his head. “Absolutely not – I’ll be watching every second of the attack. It’s not every day you witness your hometown and family blown to smithereens, Nora.” He spits a wad of tobacco overboard, channeling his apparent rage into the thick banister.

“Alright, I can respect that. It’ll be on your orders then, Captain.”

Captain Borris waves a dismissive hand at his first mate, turning back to the welcoming, cobalt horizon. “Oh, and Nora?” he calls, “Fire the first shot away from the house with the bright-yellow roof; it’s right off the dock so you can’t miss it. I’ve got something different in mind for Ma and Pa.”

Second Sequence

It’s been two days since the launch of the operation and already I’ve received transmissions of implying doubt of a success of any kind; our main problem lies with morale. Before the Cleansing, we were covered by such a great cloud of optimism and confidence, but all that remains is a pathetic fog of uncertainty and despair. Perhaps things would be better if the Broodmaster had given us more information on our mission – I sure would have appreciated so much as a mere rumor of the strange practices this otherworldly species engaged in.

Seriously, how could they live like this? I’ve been carefully studying the leader of the familial unit – the creature’s family call it “John,” so that is to which I will refer in the remainder of this assessment – for which I have been assigned and the preliminary results are astounding to say the least. At precisely 040:510 – I’ve concluded that at that hour, their singular cosmic heating unit rises, marking the start of the “day” – John awakens from its plush resting cushion and proceeds by entering the central washing station to cleanse its figure of the filth acquired from the previous day’s excursions. During this odd ritual a strange caterwauling emits from John’s feeding hole, which is oddly in tune with a transmission from the communication cube. Unfortunately, John and the transmission’s unsightly duo-wailing created a disruption in my Enerboard, and I had to evacuate the washing station to reestablish my camouflage core.

Upon completing a rather lengthy washing cycle, the leader John inserted a long, blue probe covered with a blue paste into its feeding hole perpendicular to its information-processing unit. Until 040:758, John repeatedly prodded its feeding hole with the object, after which it discharged white foam and he progressed to wash its opening with a warm, transparent fluid.

At 040:759, John donned a colored cloth protective sack. Why this species believes an extra layer of protection is required over their already durable exotech is beyond me. They have the strongest exotech I’ve ever studied – its unfazed by fluid or pressure! I have yet to test the effects of mild and extreme temperatures on this advanced technology, however (that will come in further installments).

Careful not to disrupt its reproductive companion, Lynn, John advanced expeditiously into the largest unit in the nest and grasped a white container of hot, black liquid before rushing out of the nest.

Thus concludes my initial study into this alien species. Secondary reports detailing the other members of the familial unit as well as the leader John’s other daily rituals have begun, and I am confident they will arrive to the Broodmaster’s carrier within the next three Earth days.

Until then, stay poised soldiers.

Just Breathe

“It’s such a beautiful, foggy autumn evening,” I observe in between gulps of hot coffee. “Babe, I’m going outside to sit on the patio. Care to join me?”

A smirk appears on Marybeth’s masterfully painted face, and her gaze meets mine. “Seriously?” she asks. “I didn’t spend two hours putting on makeup just to have it smudge before work.” Then, before handing me an “I ❤ Illinois” coaster for my coffee mug, she adds: “What’s with your sudden interest in the weather, anyway? You wouldn’t give two shits about it before we married.”

I want so badly to say: “Yeah, well you weren’t so bitchy either,” but I restrain myself and manage to pull my lips into a painful smile before heading outside.

A steady, cool wind greets me, twisting and knotting my long hair. I can’t help but smile as I recall the times daddy and I would rake leaves, only to have the breeze blow them away in complicated spirals.

I take a seat by the black square table my friend Julie had given us as a wedding gift, and I take a deep breath. As I inhale, I imagine that I am stealing tufts of cloud – an angel somewhere must be dead tired from my inhalation of her comfy bed. The brisk tufts that fill my lungs leave a warm impression in my throat. When I exhale, I’m not just clearing my lungs of the obscuring fog cloud; I am ridding my mind of the tension of a stressful marriage and permitting an inflow of sparkling, cinnamon bliss. Nature is a beautiful thing.

But suddenly, the sensation in my throat intensifies; the fog’s warm touch shifts into a stinging poke and finally a fiery stab. Air hot as molten metal flows down my gullet, but I can’t scream or motion for help; I can’t even breathe.

It’s not until the rapidly increasing weight of exhaustion is too much to bear and my breaths turn into constricted wheezes that I make the stunning realization that this isn’t fog that I’m breathing.

As I collapse to the ground, I notice a faint shadow of a bomber jet disappear into the horizon.