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With The Deepest Regret, I Wish To Inform You…, Sarah Joseph

Parker pushed his bike up the red dirt path to the top of the hill, panting. He turned around briefly, seeing his friend, Declan, close behind. Cole was further down the hill. The young boy struggled to push his bike up the path which had been created by the three boys’ frequent visits to the hill.

‘Come on, Cole,’ Parker shouted down to his younger brother, ‘We’re almost there!’

‘The shower should start at approximately 23:34,’ Declan panted, kicking the stand out on his bike as he and Parker reached the top.

Parker saw him push up his sleeve to check his watch.

‘We’re right on schedule! Excellent time, lads,’ Declan declared, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose and walking over to their spot.

Finally, Cole reached the top of the hill and Parker ruffled his dark hair.

‘Didn’t think you were going to make it, buddy!’ he said, as Cole aggressively pushed him away.

Cole punched his brother’s arm and ran over to Declan, his bike dropping and creating a cloud of dust as it skittered to the ground. Parker meandered slowly over to the others.

‘Look! There’s one!’ Cole shouted, bouncing on the soles of his feet.

The older boys followed Cole’s finger to a large shooting star. It burnt up in the sky, casting a long tail, and skimmed across the dark, quiet town below them.

‘Another one is coming in,’ Declan said, throwing his mouth open and head back, squinting up at the sky.

Parker watched the steady stream of stars for a few minutes before he sat down against a redgum tree. He absently picked at loose threads on his old joggers as he watched Cole and Declan. Cole was still bouncing, excited because this was the first time Parker had let him sneak out with them. He always felt guilty for leaving his little brother at home, but Cole was too much of a liability. Parker watched him squealing with delight, thinking back to how long it had taken them to sneak out that night because he kept making too much noise.

‘Look at that one!’ Cole shouted, clapping his hands.

‘I’ve never seen one that bright.’ Declan squinted up at the star. ‘It must be a larger mass than the others we’ve seen.’

‘It could be Martians!’ Cole exclaimed, and Parker rolled his eyes. ‘A Martian spacecraft!’

‘This isn’t one of your comic books. There’s no such thing,’ Parker called out from his seat, crossing his arms behind his head.

‘I know that,’ Cole shot defensively back at Parker, sticking his tongue out. ‘But it could be. We don’t know what the shooting stars really are.’

‘Well, actually—’ Declan started, beginning to spill facts he had read from a textbook.

Parker immediately stopped listening. He knew Declan had spent all summer holidays with the flu, hunched over tattered old textbooks. He had heard that exact spiel many times before on that very hill. It took a few trips out there and a few spiels before Parker had calmly explained he wasn’t even slightly interested.

He looked over the small town, the few blocks that encompassed the entire thing. From the hill, he could clearly see the main street. It was deserted. It used to be full of the people in the grades above him; and those freshly graduated, driving their parent’s cars, going to the pub or just sitting in their parked cars, playing music. All the guys were gone now; most of them signed up for the war the first chance they got. The girls were all in the city, working for the war effort too. The remainders, those attached to their family or work, had been the only life left in the town. They had all been conscripted over the last three years.

The only lights were coming from the garage and the pub on the corner. Inside would be the old veterans, celebrating the good news. The Germans were defeated at last. They announced it a few weeks ago.  The war was over. That would lead them into reminiscing the Great War. Parker knew they’d be talking about how they had it hardest in Gallipoli, and those missing troops in Asia, and the rumours of the railroad through Burma. That’s all they ever talked about.

Parker’s thoughts drifted to his father, and then his eyes moved off the main street to his house. It was dark and still, his mother sleeping alone. Waiting. They hadn’t heard anything from him in months, so they were left unknowing. His mother took it as a good sign. No news is good news, she said. His grandpa had whispered conspiratorially to him a few weeks ago that maybe his father had been taken as a POW. Parker didn’t know who to listen to.

It was a story he knew too well. Sons and fathers sent to Africa, Southern Europe, Asia, and never returning. Declan’s older brother and father hadn’t come back yet. They hadn’t died like many others from their town, but they had moved on. His brother was still helping with the War Office somewhere in Germany, the last they had heard. He would probably come home soon. But his father was another story. Declan had never given Parker much of the story because he didn’t like talking about it. But from what he had heard, Declan’s father found another woman while he was away. She was an English girl, a nurse or something. And they were living together now.

Parker worried about that more than he worried about his father dying sometimes. When he was conscripted, Parker had just started high school, and Cole was too young to remember. His father told him to look after his mother and brother, to not let anything happen to them, to be the man of the house while he was gone. But how could he protect them from a broken heart, like Declan’s family?  He just wanted news. Any news.

He looked over at Cole, his brother’s brows creased into a v shape.

‘Declan,’ Parker sighed, ‘You have to explain it really dumb. He’s only six.’

‘Almost seven!’ Cole shot back.

‘Lads! Look, another one!’ Declan interrupted.

The boys fell silent and watched the star shoot across the town, lighting up the whole sky. It burnt up just above Old Man Peter’s place below their hill.

There was suddenly a loud bang and a flash of light from the house. Then silence.

‘What was that?’ Cole asked.

Parker’s heart raced, and he exchanged glances with Declan.

‘We should check if he needs help.’ Cole picked up his bike, and took off down the hill.

‘Cole!’ Parker grabbed his own bike and raced after him. Declan wasn’t far behind.

 

 

 

When they got to the old weatherboard house, the veranda was caving in on the left, and the gum tree out the front littered the ground with dried leaves. They lay spread across the scorched red dirt, so that the boy’s feet crunched as they jumped off their bikes. Parker caught Declan’s eye. His throat tightened as he looked over at Cole, who was already walking towards the front door.

‘Cole, wait!’ he called out, running after him. His bike clunked to the ground.

He grabbed Cole’s arm just as he was stepping onto the veranda.

‘We have to see if Old Man Peter is okay!’ His brother’s voice was small and worried.

Parker looked back at Declan, who was still holding onto his bike, his knuckles white. They both knew what that sound had been and what it probably meant. Old Man Peter lived out here alone since his sons went off to war. He hardly left the house anymore. Leanne from the corner store even drove supplies out here for him once a week.

He remembered overhearing his mother talking to Diane, their neighbour, over tea last week.

‘Di, don’t say that!’ his mother gasped. ‘Of course the boys will come home.’

‘I don’t have a good feeling about it. They were so young. David was how old?’

‘Nineteen?’

‘God. Nineteen. And Reggie was underage! I can’t believe he left his father to run off after David and his mates. He always idolised him.’

‘It’s devastating. It would utterly destroy Peter if they didn’t come home. Those boys are everything to him.’ His mother fanned herself with a book.

‘You’re lucky your own boys are too young.’

‘I am grateful to God every day for that,’ his mother said quietly.

‘I do worry about your husband, though. Often.’

‘Di!’ His mother slammed her hand to the table, making Parker jump behind the door.

‘What?’ Dianne shrugged. ‘You have to prepare for these things. My Stan never came back.’

‘I know. But you ought not to talk about it.’

Parker let go of Cole’s arm and stepped onto the wooden veranda. He could hear the wireless playing softly inside, the sound of piano floating out on the breeze. He looked at Cole’s wide, bright eyes and called out to Declan.

‘Cole, you stay here for a minute,’ he said, and before Cole could protest, he continued, ‘Declan and I have to make sure it’s safe.’

‘Safe? From what?’

Parker wracked his brain.

‘From Martians, of course, like you were saying before! They fly their ships down here during meteor showers as cover.’

Cole’s eyes widened, and he nodded vigorously. He walked back to the bikes and stood beside them, keeping a look-out.

Parker bit his lip and locked eyes with Declan, then reached across to open the front door. It wasn’t locked, so the boys walked right into the living area.

The lights were on, casting a soft, yellow light on everything in the room, chasing the shadows in the corners. The fire was crackling quietly, and the wireless was still playing soft piano music; it sounded like Debussy, his father’s favourite. Comfortable looking armchairs sat in front of the fire, fraying from age and use.

Parker walked across to the kitchen table. Breakfast was still placed at the table, even though it was past midnight now. The cold, half-eaten eggs and a single strip of bacon had hardened fat upon them. Two flies were buzzing atop the food, dancing around each other; a synchronised dance only they knew.

The kitchen bench was a mess. There was a half loaf of bread that had gone hard from being out all day. Dirty plates and cups lay in the sink. A pan sat on the stove with a thick layer of hardened grease from the bacon. He turned around and saw Declan looking at something on the table. He picked up an open letter that was lying next to the cold breakfast.

‘Parker,’ he whispered, shakily pushing his glasses up his nose. ‘It’s a commiseration letter.’

Parker walked back over to the table and saw the War Department header on the letter. His heart dropped.

‘Both boys,’ Declan sighed. ‘Reggie was only a few years older than us. And David…’

Parker quickly turned around and walked across the lounge to a hallway. A door at the end was ajar, more soft, yellow light spilling into the hallway. He knew what he would find down there. He walked up the hall slowly, his feet padding on the threadbare hall runner.

The walls were lined with photographs. David and Reggie grew up as he kept walking, turning from bald infants into bold, dark-haired boys on the backs of horses. There were photos of them with Parker and Declan when Parker was years younger. Reggie was in his footy club. He was always good at sport; the coaches’ pick every time. They said he would get a sports scholarship and get into university in the city. The whole town was behind him.

David was just as loved by the town. He worked on the farms, helping out wherever he could. He was a hard worker, attractive, and was sweet with the Mayor’s granddaughter in the town over. The people physically felt his loss when he was sent off. Parker heard his father say it was unjust, unnatural, to send the boys away. This community would die without them. And he was right.

Parker pushed the door at the end of the hall open, slamming his eyes shut as he did. He jumped when he heard Declan swear behind him, completely forgetting that he wasn’t alone. He very slowly opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was the red splatter on the wall behind Old Man Peter’s lifeless body. The yellow light couldn’t soften the dark shade on the white wallpaper. Then he saw the gun in the old man’s limp hand.

‘We need to get Officer Winston.’ Declan’s voice was urgent.

‘He’s not here during the week.’ Parker couldn’t drag his eyes away from where Old Man Peter’s head used to be.

‘Well… we need to get someone. Doc’s here, I saw him today. We need to report this. I need to get—’

Declan raced out of the room, coming back to grab Parker’s arm and drag him out too.

Out the front of the house, they were met by Cole’s watchful eyes.

‘What’s happening?’ he asked.

Declan grabbed his bike and sped off before Parker could do as much as protest. Cole watched him peddle away and then looked back at his older brother.

‘Where’s Old Man Peter?’

Parker gratefully knelt on the ground in front of Cole; he hadn’t realised how heavy his body was. He took Cole’s small hands in his own and stared into his eyes.

‘You were right, Cole.’

‘What?’

‘It’s Martians. They’ve taken him.’

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Cattails, Melody Reynauld

Seaweed sat at the head of the table, staring at me. Her eyes were gold coins against her black fur and her blinks were slow and deliberate as if she were evaluating me. There was nothing remotely seaweed-ish about her but it was just like Grandma to give random names to her strays. I always complained when she brought home a stray, not because I didn’t like cats, but because our village was awash with them and they were usually left to wander the streets on their own. It was dangerous to raise a cat. If you kept one for longer than seven years, it would grow up to crave human flesh. However, Grandma had saved Seaweed from the thunderstorm a few days ago, bursting through the door with Seaweed stuffed under her jacket, both of them dripping rain onto the wooden floorboards. Seaweed’s ear had been torn and bloody and so I’d said nothing. I was now regretting that.

Grandma was in the kitchen making dinner. From the way the house turned to saltwater, I could tell it was some sort of seafood. Though it made Seaweed’s nose twitch, she stayed seated to continue studying me. The stitches in her ear glinted as she tilted her head. What did she think of me? She had been like this since she got here. I stood up, glancing at her over my shoulder as I slid on some slippers and joined Grandma in the kitchen. Grandma didn’t enjoy company while she cooked but I needed a break from all the staring. I watched her drag a prawn through tempura batter and dunk it into a pot of shimmering oil with her chopsticks. The crackling filled the entire room. A pot of clear soup was boiling on the next burner. As Grandma tended to it, I reached for the jar of biscuits in the corner.

‘Ah!’ she scolded, her eyes on the soup. I snatched my hand away. She clicked the stove off and wobbled past me, using oven mitts to carry the large pot to the short-legged table in the living room. I followed her. ‘Hurry while it’s still hot,’ she said, shoving a spoon at me. The soup was still bubbling and I didn’t think it would cool down anytime soon in such hot weather but I sat down on the floor across from Seaweed anyway. I was hungry. I stirred the pot, kicking up bits of silken tofu and Chinese cabbage, then blew on my spoon for a while before it was safe to put in my mouth. Grandma fetched a saucer and filled it with some soup for Seaweed.

‘I thought cats aren’t allowed to eat human food,’ I said.

‘Tch. Human food, cat food.’ She waved a hand.

Seaweed set her front paws on the table for leverage and lapped at the saucer with her tiny tongue, eyes flicking up to look at me every now and again. I frowned and glanced at Grandma but she didn’t say anything. When Seaweed was done, she pawed at Grandma’s sleeve.

‘Don’t give her any more,’ I said.

‘Why not?’ Grandma said, already reaching for the pot. ‘She won’t die.’

‘It’s not good for her either.’

‘Oh, so you like her now?’

I looked out the glass sliding door.

Satisfied, Grandma left to check on the rest of the food. Something clattered and I turned to see Seaweed pushing her empty saucer away from her. Her tongue came out to clean her claws before she looked up at me. She arched an eyebrow. I looked away, then looked back again. She had an eyebrow. It was arched. I opened my mouth but what was there to say to a cat? She rolled her eyes and returned to grooming herself. Grandma came back with the rice and prawns, as well as a can of tuna.

‘Did you see that?’ I asked.

‘See what? Move the pot, will you?’

It felt silly to say it out loud—cats don’t even have eyebrows—so I just shook my head and pushed the pot to the side. As Grandma set the table, I scooped out the tuna onto Seaweed’s dish and set it on the floor beside her. If she had any complaints about no longer eating from the table, I wasn’t made aware. Grandma and I ate with the radio playing in the background. Two men with scratchy voices were performing a skit, one of them pretending to want a pet parrot. I didn’t understand the humour of it but, once or twice, Grandma let out a little laugh through her nose.

A sharp, black smell came from the kitchen.

Grandma gasped. ‘The red beans!’ She leapt up and disappeared behind the wall, muttering curse words that would have earned me a smack on the head if I’d said them. I listened to the racket before deciding she would be a while and therefore the last prawn was mine for the taking. I picked it up with my chopsticks but a black paw shoved my hand away. The prawn bounced onto the ground. Seaweed darted for it and swept it into her mouth. She sat there for a moment, her back to me as she chewed, then turned around and gave me a smug smile.

‘Grandma!’

‘What?’ she snapped.

‘Your cat stole my prawn.’

With a huff, she appeared at the doorway, wisps of grey hair escaping her bun. ‘I leave you alone for a second,’ she said. She returned to the table and sighed. ‘Dessert’s ruined.’

I looked at Seaweed, who seemed pleased with the change of topic, and said, ‘Should I go grab something from the store?’

‘For yourself,’ Grandma said, leaning over to turn up the volume of the radio. ‘I don’t feel like it anymore.’

I got up and grabbed my wallet. It would have felt incomplete ending the day without something sweet. At the movement, Seaweed raised her head and unfurled herself from her position against the table leg. She trotted over to me. Grandma didn’t comment on it so neither did I. I went over to the shoe rack and tucked my feet into a pair of ratty sneakers while Seaweed sat on the doormat, her tail swaying left and right as she waited. The sun was just beginning to set. She followed as I locked the door and set off down the porch steps. The dish of tuna that Grandma laid out every night by the front gate was untouched. This was probably the fifth night in a row that a stray hadn’t come around our area. Maybe there would be another storm. Seaweed sniffed at the plate but was otherwise uninterested. There was only so much tuna a cat could fit in.

The gravel path naturally fed into the street on which all the shops sat. Everything was still open except for the florist. Mr Okada, who owned the place, was around the same age as Grandma and lived next door to us. He enjoyed leaving work early to spend the night tending to his garden. I wondered why. He had nothing but cattails sprouting in his yard. The tails were edible but did they even taste any good?

Seaweed was the only cat on the street. I didn’t know if she was on edge because of it but she stayed close to my feet like a shadow as I approached the vendor selling shaved ice.  It was right outside the little convenience store, both of which were manned by Ken. Ken had bleached hair, which he liked to push back with a headband. It made the ends fan out from his head like rays of the sun. He was sitting behind the counter, a cigarette dangling out of his mouth when he spotted me through the open door.

‘Oh, Mio,’ he said, coming out to start work on an ice cone. ‘Blue?’

‘Yes please,’ I said. I watched him drizzle some blue syrup onto flakes of papery ice before I noticed Seaweed fixated on the pastry case inside the store. It was empty save for a single stuffed pancake shaped like a fish. ‘You’re selling them in summer?’ I asked Ken. They were best in winter when they were warm between your hands.

‘Had some red bean paste that was gonna expire,’ Ken said. He handed me my cone and I gave him enough coins to pay for the fish cake as well. He put the cake into a white paper bag and then went back to his crossword puzzle after I thanked him and began walking home. Seaweed trailed after, staring at the paper bag.

‘What? You want some?’

She nodded.

I had resorted to talking to a cat and now it was actually responding.

The dough broke apart with a crunch as I tore the fish in two. Steam curled up from the red bean paste within, ashen against the darkening sky. I bent down to offer Seaweed both halves to see which she would pick. The head was swollen with red beans, the tail thin and crispy with little filling. The tail was my favourite.

Seaweed nipped the head between her teeth and dragged it off my palm, continuing the walk home. I put the tail back into the bag and began to eat my shaved ice. It was already melting.

Mr Okada was outside his wooden house, waist-deep in cattails when we approached. Hearing my shoes crunch on the gravel, he looked up. He regarded Seaweed with thin eyes. He had never liked cats much despite living here his whole life, so he and Grandma didn’t get along. Still, I bowed and he nodded. Seaweed stared holes into him until I nudged her up the path with my foot. She climbed the steps to our house and waited as I took off my shoes, keeping her eyes on him the whole time. There was a rustle and then a grunt. I looked up as Mr Okada plunged his hand into the cattails and brought out a muskrat. He squeezed it between his fingers. It struggled against him, long claws scratching at the material of his glove. He tightened his hold until Seaweed hissed and he remembered that we were watching. He opened his hand. The muskrat scrambled through his yard and fled into the grove behind our street. Scooping Seaweed up, I rushed inside.

Grandma was washing the dishes. The radio was still on, now playing an old song, and the pot that had once held our dessert was soaking in the sink. Seaweed jumped out of my arms to finish her fish cake at the table. I threw the plastic cone from my shaved ice into the bin.

‘What’s with that look on your face?’ Grandma asked. I shook my head. She spent a moment examining me, then lifted her hands out of the sink to shake them dry. She went over to a drawer and took out a matchbox, passing it to me. ‘Light the lantern outside, will you?’

Seaweed lifted her head when she saw me walking back outside and dashed to follow. I raised my eyebrow. I still couldn’t figure her out.

I crouched down to the little lamp sitting beside the post on our porch. Mr Okada had returned inside his house. The polished wood attracted cuts of moonlight that were painful to look at for too long. I struck a match and held it to the wick, letting a flame form. A pair of paws landed on my thigh. I looked at Seaweed but she was looking at Mr Okada’s house. He was old-fashioned and used sardine oil to light his lantern. On humid nights like this, the smell clung to the air.

She ran towards it.

‘Hey!’ I shot up. The cattails parted where she stepped until she disappeared into Mr Okada’s backyard, leaving me with nothing but the sound of crickets. I had no choice but to follow. If she wasn’t interested in the lantern, what had caught her attention?

I pushed away the cattails as best as I could. The heads, usually rough, were now starting to burst with cottony hairs that raised goose bumps on my arms. The ground was muddy and it was only then that I realised I had forgotten to put on my shoes, but it was pointless to turn back now. I took the same path Seaweed had, the mud slowly giving way to soil and then grass as I rounded the corner and entered the backyard.

A giant plum tree stood erect in the middle of the garden, bulbs of deep purple fruit hanging from the branches. One plum began to move down the branch until it landed on the grass and I saw that it was Seaweed.

‘You’re in serious trouble,’ I whispered, marching towards her. She ignored me. ‘Hey, are you li—‘

A yowl cut me off.

The back door burst open and Mr Okada came down the steps. He stopped when he saw us. In his hand was something long and white, flecks of red at one end. The expression on his face was unreadable and I realised he was holding a cat’s tail, newly chopped off. He dropped it. It landed on the deck with a dull thud. His eyebrows drew together, the corners of his mouth pulled down, revealing yellow teeth, and his wrinkles grew even deeper as anger took over his face.

A strangled sound escaped me and I stumbled back.

‘You… the cats…’

He seized my wrist, his long fingernails cutting my skin. He might have said something but the image of that long line of white fur flushed my ears with blood. He began to drag me into his house. I pushed against his hunched back but he dug his nails deeper into my flesh.

‘Let her go,’ said Seaweed.

We both stopped.

Mr Okada turned to face her, the silver wisps of hair on his chin trembling. ‘What did you say?’ he asked. His voice was barely there.

‘Are you deaf?’ Seaweed said.

I ripped my hand out of his grasp and tripped down the stairs, gathering Seaweed to my chest and sprinting over the grass, across the soil and through the cattails. Cold sweat pricked my forehead. With muddy feet, I raced up the porch steps of Grandma’s house to the front door. My hand was shaking as it tried to twist the doorknob. I forced myself not to look back, not to think about the sickening brush of those cotton tails against my elbows.

The door opened and I tumbled inside, Seaweed jumping out of the way before she was crushed beneath me.

‘Heavens,’ Grandma said, ‘what happened to you?’

I looked up at her but it was like a film of oil was covering my eyes. ‘Mr …’ My throat closed in on itself.

‘God,’ she said, pulling me up. ‘Let’s get you to the bathhouse.’ She thumbed away my tears and left in the direction of her bedroom. Seaweed stroked my calf with her paw. I looked down into her golden eyes as she nestled on top of my feet and began to purr. For now, I would get clean. Everything else would have to be dealt with after.

 

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The Quest for Sky, Joshua Kent

No longer do the heavens cast their gilded light in so broken a place. A place where great grey tendrils reach perilously to the lost skies. No longer does the grass shoot greenly in the fields, shrouded in ever-lasting cloud. Here, the rain tastes of poison and the trees bear ash in place of fruit. Their soil crumbles and their tools are fashioned with more rust than steel. None alive has known of Spring or seen a Summer Sun. The people here return to the Earth before their time, whether through famine, pestilence, or a harrowed heart. Beyond their fields is naught but decay, and the Sun that was once gold.

This place is called Middlehaven. No longer does it live up to its name.

 

 

 

Algild leant out of the shack window, mindful of the metal shards about his pale arms. Though beyond the naked eye to count, they were lesser and duller than when he was a child. A morbid part of him wished to test the edges. To see thin blood trickle down the faint canvas he always wore. Mindful of the cuts and bruises that would accrue on his journey, Algild refrained.

He stayed his taut brow an inch from the daylight which filtered through the monochrome clouds. Even the night skies wrinkled like a blanket as they billowed from the east. Algild’s crimson eyes granted him the darksight, yet blindness by day. To all it was a curse, save his mother. She thought him special.

‘Algild? What are you doing?’ Her son shook away the premonitions haunting his mind as he continued to squint into the day.

‘Preparing, mother.’

She walked to the room and paused under the lintel to gather her resolve.

‘You don’t have to do this, which you know.’ She quelled the shudder in her throat. ‘If you’d known your father—’

Algild released a chesty hmph as he searched for the setting Sun. She continued.

‘He… he wouldn’t want me to convince you to stay.’ Her son ground his teeth and gripped the sharded sill with bare hands. They yielded no blood.

‘Comforting.’ Algild turned to her as the world turned dark. ‘I’ll keep that in mind.’

His hard face eased when his nocturnal eyes saw what she was holding. A fist-sized jar of salve in one arm and an archaic, scrap-iron pitchfork in the other.

‘Thank you, I suppose,. He leashed his confrontational nature. ‘But the Stone Forests hold little to harvest.’

‘You must forget to sow and learn to reap.’ She passed her gifts into his winter-white arms and left. Her feet were her final goodbye.

The rear of his skull seared as he fingered the jar. He hadn’t applied the substance in many years, preferring the protection of night. One jar remained in the house, though Algild had always thought there a second. The secrets of their making had been lost with much else in the fall of the old world.

For all her gifts, he could only return the favour with one. He knew not why he had taken his mother’s place. It was not to know, but to feel. No gift should leave a mother childless, nor turn a wife into a widow. The very thought drove his heart to his throat. The only gift he granted was an unspoken promise of his return, and to apologise that it had not come sooner.

He watched over Middlehaven, heart gripped by lunar light as it trickled through the clouds. Each month, Algild admired nightfall under it, merely suspecting that the Sun’s pale twin was at its fullest behind the smoky shroud. His last night upon the broken window was like the last night with a lover. Short, yet comfortably silent. He dreaded the next day and the world beyond the wall.

For now, it was sweet dusk. This moment was his alone.

 

 

 

The stone-faced guards stood clad with mechanical bows slung upon their backs. Algild emerged from the Great Eastern Gate into a dead world. What green he knew, was left behind him. It was death in the shape of a rainless expanse. Rods of rust, floors of dust, and endless mountains of motley grey greeted him on the horizon. He took the first few steps and felt the ochre ground crumble and decay before blowing into the meagre wind. It swept up beyond reach and into the merciful heavens. The thin overcast provided sparse cover from the blinding Sun. Another step. More dust. Soon an ochre tail licked from his heels. The impressions of his feet faded as soon as they appeared.

The Grey Forest seemed no closer with every laboured push, so he cast his eyes to his shadow. The days came and died more times than he bothered to count. Perhaps a week had passed before he made details of the distant landscape, as the ruins of the lost world neared.

He granted his screaming skin a treatment, applying the better half of the jar. It soothed his form, though weakened him within. Algild raised his weary head and was pleased to see that he had paced true.

A curious shape emerged at the fringe of the Grey Forest. Its base was rigid and rooted, yet the upper body swayed freely in the growing breeze. Despite his pulsing eyes, Algild saw the unmistakable green of a plant in bloom. The apparent fountain held little water, as roots wove through its basin and culminated into a verdant tree. The marble base was off-gold except for the grey and black crevasses which marred it. He projected shade before him and knew the Sun hung high in the sky and was soon to fall. Unwanted warmth poured on his back. He ran towards the beacon, cursing the sweat which washed the salve away.

Algild buckled under his weight and fell upon the lip of the pool. The water was browned by root and soil which peeked from the sundered base. It tasted sweet despite its warmth, though hints of iron lingered on his tongue. With tunnel-vision subsided, the exile took stock of his surroundings. He huddled in a jagged square the size of a Middlehaven crop-field, flanked by dying skyscrapers and shadowed by petrified trees. The rough road had eaten away at his soles and his pitchfork was smattered with sweat.

As Algild lay upon the edge of the basin, a faint wail spoilt the air. He jolted up and snapped his eyes to the source, weapon in hand. Fresh blood painted the ground in specks, trailing from the ancient fountain towards a statue weathered beyond recognition. He prowled forth. The branches overhead rattled like bone chimes and bent like the legs of a dying spider.

One of the wooden limbs snapped. Rising winds and beige light rushed through the empty space, illuminating a foetal figure on the ground. A man. His skin was leather and his bloodied eyes sat sunken beneath a burgundy-drenched blindfold. Droplets escaped the cloth and split across his face. Fevered dreams wrangled his head between the heavens and the hard concrete. His spine fractured and twisted into a question mark. His very being marked the limbic divide between the living and the departed.

Algild shook the wretched thing with the blunt end of his weapon. The body shuffled to face the sky. Fresh wounds sputtered through the old man’s clothes, tearing him from slumber. Great gashes ran across his chest and arms. His robes, far nobler than Algild’s, were repurposed into a motley of bandages. His near-human face contorted as it formed words. The tightness of his jaw and the sporadic movement of muscle were sure signs of rust poisoning.

‘I am no one any longer,’ the false corpse croaked, ‘though I know you.’ Algild leant in, moving his arm to see if the man’s eyes followed. They did not. ‘It is my duty to know my subjects, even if they refuse to know me.’

‘Are you… ’ Algild damned himself for not seeing the sword under the ravaged cloak. ‘Are you the Wiseman?’

‘I thought myself the blinded one.’ A laboured chuckle parted his cracked lips. ‘Yes, my child. Cast out many Moons past on the Quest for Sky. Middlehaven claims to have no need of me, save a weary exile in my likeness.’

‘What do you mean, Wiseman? You stepped down. You volunteered to leave.’

‘Is this my legacy?’ His face grew long as the blood was sapped out of it. ‘I was made obsolete, removed from our people like a festering limb. I volunteered merely to perish on my own terms.’

‘So, the Quest is for naught? The world beyond is but a grave?’ Algild took a knee by the old king’s side.

His flesh turned deathly pale. ‘No, child. Heed my dying words, for all is not lost and others shall come in our stead. In my youth, we were chosen by a council of the wisest, then by the will of the people. You feel the Quest as mere exile, as punishment divinely wrought. Heroes of the Quest never come to be as they did of old, for the weak are sent to preserve the strong.’

‘But I came in my mother’s stead so she may die in peace.’

‘And live in pain. Such is the way of this cruel world.’ The Wiseman gazed blankly at Algild through the bloodied rags. ‘You grant a dying man comfort in being Chosen to find power within. Press on to the peak where the black clouds breed. Defeat the Beast to sow Dawn’s seed.’ His head fell limp as his right hand reached for the sword.

‘Wiseman!’ the younger cried. ‘What is this Beast? Where is—’

The elder had no words, for he had no breath. Only his mangled sword arm moved, thrusting the point to the sky before dropping it squarely at the feet of Algild. His left forefinger pointed to a passage through the rubble, past the Stone Forest fringes.

The boy lay there until the Sun left him and the heavens turned to black. The now-waning Moon gave him the strength to stand and follow the signs deeper into the dead city. It rebirthed his waning shadow, which buried the corpse alongside Algild. By midnight, the fallen king slept under a concrete cairn with sword placed squarely along the chest.

Algild was not concerned with the Wiseman’s sword, despite being wary of the beast which had killed the man. No weapon, no matter how sharp or swift, could serve him better than his ancestral pitchfork.

Passing through the narrow gap, he discovered the source of the ever-cloud. A great tower was buried under a mountain of city and from it billowed a smoke darker than black. A shriek murdered the silence as Algild neared his destination. It was almost human, yet its mere voice shook the very ground.

 

 

 

The base of the rubble pyramid was labyrinthian. Metal vines coiled and jutted from the Earth’s skin. The landscape was mottled with monochrome Man-stone. Dozens of pathways proved false, before one led to a promising steel door. He approached it, feeling the first few raindrops of an impending storm. The shrouded dawn was yet to arrive and night reigned. The door barely moved, having bent half-open under the weight of a crumbling mountain. Every sinew in his farmer’s arms bulged, yet for naught. His mind suddenly turned to the pitchfork, which wedged smartly in the gap. Lightning rended the skies as he put all into the task at hand. With a resolve worthy of high-carbon steel, the wood held its form and pried the door from its ochre hinges. Algild stepped through. Under a city of rubble, the room within was in a permanent dusk.

His devilish eyes attuned as his ears warned of a predatory rumble. He shuffled through the concrete hallway before him. At its end was a staircase which snaked endlessly into the concealed heavens. Algild pressed all his weight into each step, forcing his limbs to move despite every urge to turn back. The beast grew louder with each lunge. Shrapnel protruded from the walls and lay strewn about the floor. Even with nocturnal boons, only a faint glimmer gave it away. Hours passed as his initial stride devolved into an infantile crawl. He brushed aside the debris, allowing some shards to find flesh. The pain kept him awake and felt red in the black-white darkness. Soon it turned to orange. Then to hot white. His heart had deceived him, though his eyes knew the truth. The light was real and came through a door left ajar at the highest accessible level. Algild swung it open with a bloodied fist.

Beyond was a room with desks, chairs, and electronic equipment strewn about the shattered walls. Blackened clouds encircled ahead. Rain poured around the building, though not onto it. The roof had crumbled and fallen long ago, allowing the opaque smoke to rise from a gargantuan furnace sat in the centre of the room. It was tyrannical in stature, forged of the darkest iron, coated in both the sheen of soot and slicks of blood. The liquid gore ran from the mouth of the foul contraption towards a pile of broken bodies in varying states of decay. Algild was not in the eye of the storm, but rather its mangled gut.

Amongst the cadavers, a lone figure lurked. A ten-foot horror. A corrupted mass of flesh and steel. It cradled its bulk upon two meaty stalks, walking almost as a person whilst it slung a corpse over its iron-plated shoulder. The body wore attire unlike Middlehaveans, though others in the mound were vaguely recognisable to Algild. He watched the thing lurch towards the great furnace. He saw the glass teeth in its maw and the poison seeping from its eye. He heard the crunch of bone and loose flesh hit the white-hot metal, the sudden boiling of fat and deep cough of smog into the choked heavens. Though, he was mostly chilled by what he did not see. A shadow. The beast cast no shadow. Algild looked to his own shade and came to realise that it did not need one. He knew that the fiend’s shadow lived within its ashen skin. Frozen, he dropped his weapon and watched the beast turn to him. It raced towards Algild with ochre claws extended.

He jumped to the side and kicked the pitchfork ahead of him, towards the cadaverous mound. It charged through where Algild was, catching naught but its quarry’s shadow. The Middlehavean rolled to the far side of the infernal burner, snapping up his weapon on the way. The beast was upon him within the second. It flung wayward organs out of its path, with crimson eyes locked. Once again, it overshot as Algild ran along the furnace’s edge. His face cried for salve as it burnt and fell onto the concrete floor. He jabbed blindly behind him, feeling a faint connection whilst he fled from the hellfire.

It turned once more and Algild closed the gap with another dodge. The iron prongs merely glanced off its sinewy flank. He prepared for a final joust with his back to the metal pyre. The creature made its battle roar and charged without compromise. Algild stood fast until the last moment and drove the weapon into the beast’s throat as it crashed into the furnace and toppled forth into Algild. The iron cried and bent. Flames shot from the contraption’s wounds as both man and beast fell into the fresh cavity.

He felt no pain as his skin charred and his hair turned to grey, then dust. The last he saw before leaving this broken world were the skies brightening. The ever-clouds faded to thin white and scattered to the winds. Algild’s mortal being perished atop the grey mountain, bringing gold once more to the skies.

Shafts of light brought promise of a new dawn. Promise of an age of prosperity to Middlehaven. The promise of a son to visit his mother every day, until the day she returns to the earth, where eternal dusk brings eternal sleep.

Download a PDF copy of ‘A Quest for Sky’

Death Day, Louise Douglas

1. TELEVISION SET. DAY. 1

Quick succession of television talk shows and news clippings.

 

NEWS REPORTER

Growing concerns surrounding the protest today-

 

NEWS REPORTER 2

Fights broke out in Washington D.C. as-

 

TELEVISION TALK SHOW ATTENDANT

It’s absurd! You’re condemning people to die!

 

TELEVISION TALK SHOW OPPONENT

You’re condemning people to live!

 

NEWS REPORTER 3

Experts weigh in on whether medically assisted suicide should be an option.

 

PANEL ATTENDENT

Everyone deserves to die naturally.

 

PANEL OPPONENT

Even if that includes losing all their dignity in the process?

 

NEWS REPORTER 4

California became the fifth state to legalise medically assisted suicide today in an effort to treat-

 

2. INT. SEFRARO LIVING ROOM, SYDNEY. DAY. 2

MIKEY, 17, sits on the floor of the living room, leaning against the lounge. TINA, 45, sits on the lounge, holding the hand of GEOFFREY, 48, who is sitting in a wheelchair attached to an oxygen tank.

 

On the television, an old family video plays.

 

It is Mikey’s first baseball game, age 5. Tina is behind the camera, and Mikey hits the ball with the bat. Geoffrey runs onto the field and lifts Mikey high into the air. Geoffrey kneels down in front of Mikey and grabs the hair on the back of Mikey’s head, and they press their foreheads together, grinning. The camera zooms up close to them.

 

Mikey, real time, turns back to look at his dad who is clenching his left fist in pain; he is wheezing, but tries to smile at Mikey. Tina squeezes his right hand gently. Mikey turns back to the TV. He looks down.

 

3. INT. SIERRA’S OFFICE, SAN FRANCISCO. DAY. 3

SIERRA, 25, wears round glasses and sits at her office desk facing the window, looking at the San Francisco skyline. On her computer screen, she realigns and adjusts graphic images.

 

TRACY, 23, blonde and bubbly, pops through Sierra’s door.

 

TRACY

Did you get Mindy’s email?

 

Sierra shakes her head. She clicks on the envelope icon on her screen.

 

Tracy comes behind Sierra’s chair to read over her shoulder.

 

You are invited to celebrate… mindy.tah@gmail.com.

 

Sierra clicks on the notification and the email takes the entire screen.

 

You are invited to celebrate Mindy’s ReBirthday.

 

TRACY (CONT’D)

She’s not wasting any time.

 

SIERRA

ReBirthday?

 

TRACY

It’s a bit nicer than death day, isn’t it?

 

The phone rings from Tracy’s office. She rushes out to grab it.

 

Sierra’s eyes widen. She blinks harshly and her hand shakes over the mouse. She grabs the small bin by her desk and vomits. She leans back in her chair.

 

SIERRA

Rule number one: No crying.

 

4. INT. MIKEY’S BEDROOM. NIGHT. 4

Mikey sits on his computer. The walls of his room are blue and a big window looks out to native bush outside, surrounding their house. Tina enters. She sits on his bed.

 

TINA

I’m going to hire some help.

 

Mikey swivels in the computer chair to face Tina.

 

MIKEY

Why? We don’t need help.

 

TINA

We do, sweetie. I can’t do this alone.

 

MIKEY

You have me.

 

TINA

Just someone part-time. You go back to school next week.

 

MIKEY

We can’t afford help, Mum.

 

TINA

I know, Mikey, I just can’t do it anymore-

 

Tina starts to cry. Mikey sits next to his mother and puts his arm around her.

 

TINA (CONT’D)

I don’t know how to help him. I know all this sickness and health stuff… It’s really hard.

 

MIKEY

It’s okay, Mum. We can do this.

 

5. INT. SEFRARO CORRIDOR. NIGHT. 5

Geoffrey sits in his wheelchair outside Mikey’s room, able to hear the entire conversation.

 

6. INT. SIERRA’S STUDIO APARTMENT. NIGHT. 6

Sierra walks through the front door and puts her keys in a bowl by the door. Sierra’s housemate, LAURIE, 26, has long ginger hair tied in a top knot. She is chopping vegetables in the kitchen.

 

LAURIE

Hey! How was your day?

 

Sierra sits across from her at the bench.

 

SIERRA

Weird. I got invited to a ReBirthday.

 

LAURIE

What’s that?

 

SIERRA

A friend of mine has ALS and she got prescribed that medication that essentially kills you-

 

Laurie puts the knife down.

 

LAURIE

Well, it doesn’t essentially kill you; it does kill you.

 

SIERRA

Yeah, so I guess she thinks it’s a better way to go.

 

LAURIE

And you’re going to go watch her die?

 

SIERRA

I’m not going to wa-

 

LAURIE

No, you’re going to enable.

 

Laurie picks up the chopping board and pours the chopped vegetables into a saucepan.

 

SIERRA

It’s not my choice whether she lives or dies.

 

Laurie walks back to the bench.

 

LAURIE

It’s your choice to attend.

 

SIERRA

I have to say goodbye.

 

LAURIE

Either you go to that party and I won’t be here when you get home, or you take a stand with the living.

 

SIERRA

She’s going to take the drugs
whether I go or not.

 

LAURIE

You don’t know that.

 

SIERRA

She’s suffering.

 

LAURIE

No, she’s living. And she’s very fortunate to be living. If she doesn’t appreciate that-

 

SIERRA

I would’ve thought you of all people wouldn’t push this ‘God is good’ crap.

 

LAURIE

I just don’t want to see you hurting after your friend kills herself.

 

SIERRA

Well, apparently, I won’t have any support from the people who are supposed to care about me.

 

Sierra gets up from the bench and storms off to her bedroom.

 

Laurie throws the chopping board into the sink.

 

7. EXT. MANLY BEACH. DAY. 7

Mikey sits on the beach wall in his school uniform. There are a few surfers on the waves. A couple walk by, rugged up, with a small dog.

 

KAYLA, 17, has blonde hair, tied back, and also wears a school uniform. She sits next to Mikey.

 

KAYLA

You going surfing?

 

MIKEY

Nah, I have to get home.

 

KAYLA

You didn’t want to come to school today?

 

MIKEY

It just seems pretty pointless. I should be at home.

 

KAYLA

So, why aren’t you?

 

MIKEY

‘Cause Mum wants me to keep going on as normal.

 

Kayla scoffs.

 

KAYLA

Bludging school will do that.

 

Mikey laughs.

 

KAYLA (CONT’D)

How you doing, really?

 

MIKEY

Fine.

 

Mikey shrugs his shoulders. Kayla raises her eyebrows at him. He looks back at the ocean.

 

MIKEY (CONT’D)

I can’t sleep. I can hear him all night in pain, crying-

 

Mikey turns away from Kayla. He is tearing up. Kayla wraps her arm around Mikey.

 

MIKEY (CONT’D)

You know, men aren’t meant to cry.

 

KAYLA

Don’t be stupid.

 

MIKEY

He was the best guy I know, and now he’s an empty shell just waiting to die.

 

KAYLA

It’s not fair.

 

Mikey turns away from the beach.

 

MIKEY

No, it’s not.

 

Mikey presses his forehead into the palms of his hands. He breathes in sharply through his teeth.

 

MIKEY (CONT’D)

I know everyone always says that no parent should have to bury their child, but no kid should have to watch their parent die.

 

KAYLA

Mike-

 

MIKEY

It’s fine. I’m fine.

 

He stands up and picks up his school bag.

 

MIKEY (CONT’D)

I’ll see you at school.

 

KAYLA

Tomorrow?

 

MIKEY

(Chuckles)

Maybe.

 

Mikey walks away from the beach.

 

8. INT. TRACY’S OFFICE. DAY. 8 8

Tracy is typing on her computer. Sierra enters holding an opened parcel.

 

SIERRA

Did you get one of these?

 

She holds up the card.

 

SIERRA (CONT’D)

Please wear to my ReBirthday.

 

Tracy leans back in her office chair.

 

TRACY

Yeah, she sent me this hideous green dress I made her buy four years ago.

 

Tracy laughs.

 

TRACY (CONT’D)

What’d you get?

 

Sierra pulls out a stunning, purple, floor-length dress.

 

Tracy stands up and holds it in her hands.

 

TRACY (CONT’D)

Wow! You lucked out. What’s it from?

 

SIERRA

About seven years ago, I picked her up from a date with some guy that had gone horribly. I said she wasted a pretty dress, and she told me that she’d be buried in it, so it wouldn’t go to waste.

 

Tracy goes back to her desk.

 

TRACY

(Laughs)

Now you’re going to have to be buried in it. She told me she’s going out how she came in: butt-naked.

 

Tracy pulls her chair in and starts typing. Sierra looks at the card.

 

SIERRA

(Under breath)

Rule number two: wear what I send you.

 

9. INT. SEFRARO LIVING ROOM. DAY. 9

Mikey enters the front door in his school uniform. Tina stands looking out the window, her eyes red and puffy. Loud groaning can be heard from down the corridor. Mikey drops his school bag by the door and walks down the corridor.

 

10. INT. GEOFFREY’S BEDROOM. DAY. 10

Mikey stands in the doorway. ESTELLE, 26, is the nurse hired as help. Geoffrey’s body twists in agony as Estelle tries to calmly keep his body down.

 

ESTELLE

Shh, shh, Geoffrey, it’s okay. You’re alright.

 

GEOFFREY

Help me.

 

He sobs.

 

GEOFFREY (CONT’D)

Just make it stop.

 

ESTELLE

I’m sorry, Geoffrey. There’s nothing I can do.

 

Mikey turns away from the room and leans back on the frame of the door.

 

11. EXT. MINDY’S DRIVEWAY. DAY. 11

Sierra parks in front of a quaint house, wearing the purple dress. She turns off the engine and sits in the car.

 

PARKER, 30, dressed in hideous parachute pants and a dark green raincoat, thumps on the car window. It makes Sierra jump. He opens the car door.

 

PARKER

What are you waiting for?

 

SIERRA

I feel strange coming to a party empty handed.

 

PARKER

She’s got no use for gifts where she’s going.

 

She gets out of the car. Parker pretends to faint. He grabs her hand and makes her twirl under his arm.

 

They walk toward the house. CHAD, 23, the nurse, opens the front door. His white uniform is pressed neatly, and a clown flower is pinned to his lapel. He grins, welcoming them into the house.

 

12. INT. GEOFFREY’S BEDROOM. NIGHT. 12

Geoffrey lays in bed as Mikey tries to feed him. As Mikey lifts a spoon to his face, Geoffrey keeps his mouth clamped shut. Mikey throws the utensils down.

 

MIKEY

Come on, Dad. Help me out a little, please?

 

Geoffrey shifts uncomfortably, his face grimacing.

 

MIKEY (CONT’D)

Why are you doing this to me?

 

GEOFFREY

Estelle and I have an understanding.

 

Mikey picks up a cup of water and a spoon and tries to spoon the water into Geoffrey’s mouth. Geoffrey turns his face away.

 

MIKEY

So, you just don’t want me to help you?

 

Mikey looks out the window.

 

MIKEY (CONT’D)

Or you don’t want to eat at all?

 

Mikey looks back at his father.

 

MIKEY (CONT’D)

That’s it? You’re just going to starve yourself?

 

GEOFFREY

(Straining)

It’s less painful this way.

 

MIKEY

For who?

 

Mikey stands, pushing the chair he was sitting on aggressively back against the wall.

 

MIKEY (CONT’D)

You’re not even going to try?

 

Mikey’s eyes are filled with tears. Geoffrey is shaking slightly in pain.

 

MIKEY (CONT’D)

And that bitch knows? Why the fuck did we hire her then? She’s wasting our money and letting you kill yourself?

 

GEOFFREY

It’s the only choice I have.

 

MIKEY

You could fight!

 

GEOFFREY

For what?

 

MIKEY

For me! For Mum.

 

GEOFFREY

I’m sorry-

 

MIKEY

No. Fuck this. Fuck her and fuck you!

 

Mikey picks up the food tray and chucks it at the wall. He goes to storm out.

 

GEOFFREY

Son-

 

Mikey stops in the doorway.

 

GEOFFREY (CONT’D)

I only get worse from here. I don’t want you to remember me more shrivelled up than I am.

 

Mikey pauses for a second. He walks away.

 

Geoffrey sobs.

 

13. INT. MINDY’S BACKYARD. EVENING. 13

Sierra sits on a lounge chair on the porch. The backyard is donned with paper lanterns. There are 15 other guests dancing in the backyard. Sierra watches them.

 

MINDY, 32, is frail in her wheelchair. She has eccentric curly hair and wears a bright orange ball gown. Chad wheels Mindy to be next to Sierra. Mindy struggles to speak.

 

MINDY

You’ve brought a mood with you.

 

SIERRA

I haven’t.

 

MINDY

You’re worried I’ll regret it? I can’t.

 

SIERRA

I guess I’m just confused.

 

MINDY

I’m not.

 

Sierra looks at Mindy.

 

SIERRA

Aren’t you scared?

 

MINDY

Every night I would go to sleep scared-of living. Wondering what new hell I would go through the next day. I got the prescription two weeks ago… and haven’t felt scared since.

 

Sierra nods.

 

MINDY (CONT’D)

Now rule number three: you owe me a joke.

 

Sierra chuckles and looks back out at the party. She turns back to Mindy, smiling.

 

SIERRA

Okay, so-

 

14. INT. MIKEY’S BEDROOM. NIGHT. 14

Mikey sits at his computer desk. The computer screen shows a Google search:

 

How long until someone dies of dehydration?

 

On the wall behind the screen is a photo of Mikey aged three atop his dad’s shoulders. He sobs.

 

MIKEY

(Under breath)

Fuck.

 

He clasps his hands together. He breathes deeply.

 

MIKEY (CONT’D)

Maybe I should’ve turned to you earlier, and I have no idea why you do the things that you do, but he’s going to go soon and I just pray you do what’s right by him.

 

He leans back in his computer chair.

 

15. INT. MINDY’S BEDROOM. DAY. 15

 

The nurse picks up Mindy from her wheelchair and positions her sitting up in her bed. Mindy’s friends gather around the bed. Mindy starts to cry.

 

CHAD

Thank you everybody, I think it’s time to go.

 

Parker squeezes Mindy’s hand.

 

PARKER

Bye, Minds.

 

MINDY

Wait-

 

The guests turn back to the bed.

 

MINDY (CONT’D)

Thank you, everyone, for coming. Not to the party-into my life.

 

Sierra holds back tears. She forces herself to smile. Mindy smiles back at her.

 

MINDY (CONT’D)

I couldn’t have killed myself without you.

 

Sierra lets out a stilted laugh. Parker wraps his arm around Sierra.

 

PARKER

One more joke for the road.

 

The group walk out of the bedroom.

 

16. INT. GEOFFREY’S BEDROOM. DAY. 16

Geoffrey rolls around his bed in pain. He is screaming. Tina is trying to get him to be still. He rolls off the bed and lands heavily on the floor. Tina runs to the door.

 

TINA

(Screaming)

Estelle!

 

Estelle runs into the room. Estelle and Tina try to lift Geoffrey back into the bed. He cries.

 

Mikey appears in the doorway.

 

ESTELLE

Come on, Geoffrey. You’re okay.

 

Geoffrey thrashes in the bed. There is a large cut in his leg, bleeding. Tina backs into the corner of the room, hyperventilating and crying. Estelle injects Geoffrey in the leg with a needle.

 

Geoffrey cries and blubbers.

 

ESTELLE (CONT’D)

I’m sorry.

 

Mikey comes into the room. He gets into bed with his father and grabs the back of his head. He pushes their foreheads together. Geoffrey stops shaking aggressively. His breathing is shaky but calmer.

 

17. EXT. MINDY’S BACKYARD. NIGHT. 17

The guests sit on Mindy’s back porch. They are silent. Chad comes outside. The guests all turn to look at him.

 

CHAD

Mindy is in a coma. It may be a few days before she passes, but it was a success. She’ll die pain free.

 

Tracy exhales heavily. Sierra wraps an arm around her. Tracy collapses into Sierra’s chest and cries. Sierra looks out across the backyard. Her eyes are filled with tears.

 

18. INT. GEOFFREY’S BEDROOM. DAY. 18

Geoffrey breathes heavily and slowly in his bed. Tina lays with him rubbing his arm. Estelle monitors his IV and oxygen tubes. Mikey sits in a chair in the corner. Geoffrey grits his teeth. He squeezes Tina’s hand and nods.

 

GEOFFREY

(Weakly)

Son-

 

Mikey gasps. His breathing becomes shaky.

 

GEOFFREY (CONT’D)

I’m going to close my eyes.

 

A sob escapes Tina’s mouth. Mikey stands and opens the blinds more.

 

MIKEY

I’m going to tell you what’s outside.

 

Geoffrey lets out a weak laugh.

 

MIKEY (CONT’D)

Remember that tree? And I’d collect the leaves in Autumn. Then you cut it down because it wasn’t native? The stump is still there.

 

Mikey laughs.

 

MIKEY (CONT’D)

You know, that was my favourite tree, and you had to explain to a seven-year-old that it had to go. I thought I’d never forgive you for that.

 

Mikey turns to his dad. Geoffrey’s eyes are closed. He isn’t breathing. A small smile on his face. Tina is cuddled up tightly to him.

 

MIKEY (CONT’D)

But I do.

 

Mikey collapses back into the chair. Estelle pulls the oxygen out of Geoffrey’s nose and the IV drip from his arm. She leaves the room.

 

Tina sobs. Mikey continues to stare at his dad.

 

Finally, he screams.

 

Download a PDF copy of ‘Death Day’

The Back Door, Lilli de Kantzow

The group stepped out of the lift and turned the corner. They walked in pairs down the hall, two dark-suited men in front and two behind. In between was a small man of roughly thirty-five with thick brown hair and a very beautiful woman. The porter who was walking down the hall towards them jumped to the side as they passed. The two men in front stared at him menacingly, but the rest of the party barely acknowledged the porter’s existence.

The door to Room 1101 swung open as the first pair of men reached it. It had been opened by another set of men in suits. They greeted each other with a nod as the group filed in. The middle-aged man and the woman headed straight down the hall and into the suite’s sitting room. As they entered, the man sitting in the corner stood up.

‘Ah!’ he exclaimed, ‘Our guests have arrived!’

‘Sergey!’ the woman beamed, throwing her arms up and making a show of kissing the air either side of Sergey’s bald head. The woman then gestured her companion closer. He stepped forward and extended a sweating palm in greeting. Sergey looked between the pair disconcertedly.

‘Anthony, this is Sergey Popov,’ she said graciously, ‘Sergey, this is my husband, Anthony Wyatt.’ Anthony shuffled forward a few more steps and grabbed Sergey’s meaty hand. After a few seconds of awkwardness, Sergey freed his hand and gestured for the pair to sit down.

‘Tanya told you of our… knowledge?’ Sergey inquired of Anthony. Tanya tried to force her smile to widen, as Anthony attempted to take a cup of tea from a security guard. Anthony’s eyes had fixed on the Glock G43 under the security guard’s suit jacket, and his hand was grabbing at thin air. The security guard moved the cup toward Anthony’s hand, and he finally made contact with the china. The guard’s emotionless face flickered for a moment as he glanced up at Sergey’s unimpressed expression, and realised his boss was thinking the same thing he was.

Tanya had noticed the guard’s glance and kicked Anthony’s foot. Anthony jumped slightly, and then his brain seemed to switch into gear.

‘She has, but she made no mention of the type of knowledge you possess’, he said, and Sergey’s brows creased.

‘No, because she does not entirely know what knowledge I do have,’ said Sergey, nodding at another security guard. Tanya raised an eyebrow in Sergey’s direction, but he pointedly ignored her. The nominated security guard disappeared into another of the suite’s rooms for a moment before re-appearing with a thin manila folder. Tanya carefully watched Anthony’s expression as he opened it.

Anthony stared for a moment at its contents. He twisted his head side-to-side, cracking his neck and took a deep breath. After a few more seconds of contemplation, he slapped the folder down on the table.

‘How?’ he said to Tanya, his voice cracking slightly in anger. She looked at him quizzically, then picked up the folder. She looked from Sergey to her husband.

Tanya could feel her heart pounding through her fingers as she opened the folder. She had barely lifted the top before she let it drop shut. Her face turned bright red. She rounded on Sergey.

‘This is the knowledge you had?’ she growled.

Sergey smirked and nodded, clearly enjoying watching Anthony’s seething anger and Tanya’s frantic panic.

‘For seven million dollars?!’ Tanya couldn’t contain her rage as she spoke. She reached forward, pulled the photos out of the manila folder and began to rip them up.

‘They are not our only copies,’ muttered Sergey as a security guard moved forward to restrain Tanya. The guard stopped as Tanya collapsed back into the couch next to Anthony. She turned to her husband. Tanya attempted to speak, but her mouth opened and closed in frantic silence.

‘I think that was worth every cent,’ Anthony said, standing up. One of Anthony’s security guards came forward with a nondescript briefcase and handed it to Sergey. Sergey stood up in almost surprised at the speed with which Anthony recovered, and took the briefcase now being handed him.

‘The entire amount is in non-sequential hundred-dollar bills, as requested’ said Anthony. Sergey mustered a gracious smile and handed the briefcase to one of his men.

‘Perfect,’ was all Sergey could say. He looked disconcertedly from Anthony to Tanya, who was now sobbing uncontrollably on the couch. He gestured towards Tanya, trying to think of something to say.

‘Evans,’ said Anthony, ‘take my wife downstairs and out through the back entrance’. The blonde security guard who had handed Anthony the briefcase now stepped forward, whipped a handkerchief out of his pocket and ushered the sobbing Tanya out of the room.

Anthony watched Tanya leave and waited until the door had shut securely behind her and the sobs had disappeared down the hall.

‘You have another copy of the images?’ he asked, and Sergey produced another manila folder from the desk behind him.

‘Would you like to be informed of any more knowledge that I may become aware of?’ asked Sergey.

‘Yes, I think this could be a very profitable relationship,’ Anthony smiled, extending his now dry hand purposefully. Sergey smiled, shook Anthony’s hand, and handed him the new manila folder.

Anthony then turned on his heel and strode down the hall, opened the door and went out into the corridor. His security staff scurried out after him. He handed the manila folder to the shortest guard, who stowed it in his jacket. The four men then set off down the hall towards the lift.

‘That was a slightly unexpected turn of events,’ commented one guard slyly.

‘Yes, but also rather advantageous. I can kill two birds with one stone,’ Anthony replied.

There was a ding as the lift arrived at the hotel’s lobby. The men stepped out, walking straight into two porters. One jumped forward.

‘Oh my god!’ he exclaimed, ‘You’re Anthony Wyatt! I hope you win, I really do.’

‘Thank you, my friend!’ Anthony beamed, and reached out to shake the porter’s hand. The porter grabbed Anthony’s hand and shook it violently.

‘Could I get a photo?’ he asked, still not letting go of Anthony’s hand. Anthony smiled graciously, trying to subtly pull his hand out of the porter’s vice-like grip. The porter pulled out his phone and took a photo.

‘Good on you, son,’ said Anthony as the porter put his phone away. ‘Is there anything you’d like me to advocate for?’

The porter shook his head, still smiling from ear to ear. Anthony slapped him on the back and was ushered away by his security guards as a small crowd began to gather around them.

‘Who was that?’ asked the other porter.

‘That was Anthony Wyatt,’ replied the first, ‘you know… the Presidential candidate’.

The second porter shrugged, ‘Huh, I thought he’d be taller.’

The first porter laughed, and then began looking through the tickets on their desk.

Outside, a large black SUV pulled up in front of the hotel, and Anthony got in. Already inside were the blonde security guard, his hysterical wife, and Anthony’s fixer, Hector Baldwin. Hector nodded at Anthony and held out his hand. Anthony duly passed over the manila folder, and the car set off. Hector flicked it open, considered the contents and flipped it shut again.

‘How do you wish to proceed?’ he asked Anthony.

Anthony leant forward slightly and pulled a small brochure out of the driver’s seat back pocket. Hector flipped it open and began to read. It proclaimed the history, credentials, and benefits of The Wyatt Clinic, a psychiatric clinic in a remote part of Montana. It was opened by Anthony’s family after the Civil War as a hospital for shell-shocked and disabled troops, and was now run by Anthony’s older sister and her husband as a psychiatric hospital and rehabilitation centre for the rich, famous, and criminally insane. Tanya’s wails were refreshed when she glanced up to see her husband’s proposed solution. Hector gave a small, twisted smile.

‘And call Lydia. I should give her the story before someone else gets to it,’ said Anthony.

‘Already done. She’ll be waiting,’ replied Hector, pulling out his phone and dialling the number on the front of the brochure. After a few minutes of talking to a receptionist, Hector handed the phone to Anthony.

‘Samantha!’ he said, attempting to fain some enthusiasm. ‘How are you?’

‘Why are you sending me her?’ came his sister’s irritated reply.

‘Because it seems she’s been having an affair,’ responded Anthony blankly.

‘Another one? With who?’ Samantha scoffed.

‘Adam Huntington,’ said Anthony.

‘As in, the Adam Huntington? Your largest and most powerful political rival, Adam Huntington?’ asked Samantha. Anthony could hear her trying to suppress her laughter.

‘Yes,’ said Anthony, his voice turned hollow. ‘We’re going to say that the miscarriage she suffered in August caused her to fall into deep depression. She lost all self-confidence, and when Huntington heard about this, he used this knowledge to seduce her to try and weaken my position in the race to the White House.’

Samantha promptly stopped laughing, ‘Okay. Send her here, and I’ll look after the rest.’ Samantha paused for a moment, ‘I’m sorry Tony… I know this can’t be easy for you.’

‘Thanks, Sam,’ He cleared his throat and straightened up in his seat. ‘I’ll send her with Hector. There’ll be press. I’ll do my best to keep them away from the clinic,’ he said, looking at Hector for his approval. Hector nodded.

‘If the Press harass any of my patients or staff, I’ll string you up by your belt and feed your body to the pigs,’ Samantha’s voice returned to its usual abruptly stern tone.

‘Message received,’ said Anthony, nodding in compliance. Hector looked at Anthony with a bemused expression, he had clearly heard Samantha’s vivid threat.

The moment Anthony hung up and handed the phone back to Hector, Tanya flung herself on him. She began pleading with him not to send her to the Clinic. Anthony brushed her off. She quickly got angry, punching Anthony’s arms and chest.

After a few more seconds of abuse, Anthony grabbed Tanya’s wrists and held them until she stopped screaming and calmed down enough for him to speak.

‘How could you think I would not find out? I’ve found out about all the others, what possessed you to believe this one would be any different?’ Anthony’s voice was calm, even, and completely void of any emotion. Tanya stopped struggling against his grip and stared at him in shock. She slumped defeatedly back into her seat.

The car rounded a corner and pulled up out the front of the Wyatt’s townhouse. Tanya moved to get out, but Anthony put a hand on her leg to stop her. He kissed her on the forehead and quickly got out of the car. Tanya’s voice escaped her entirely as the tears poured down her face. She watched her husband walk up the steps to the front door where a tall, very beautiful young woman in a simple maroon business dress, black heels and long black coat waited for him. He opened the door and ushered Lydia into the hall. Anthony turned to close the door but avoided stealing one final glance at his wife as she was driven away.

 
 
 

The next morning, Anthony woke up to the breaking news of his wife’s affair. His phone was ringing off the hook. He sat down in bed with a steaming cup of coffee and switched on the TV. The photos of Tanya in a hotel room in bed with his most significant political rival, their clothes, empty bottles of French champagne, and small bags of cocaine strewn across the floor were plastered across every news channel he could find. His lead in the race was increasing exponentially as everyone was waking up to one of the biggest political scandals of the century.

The sound of the doorbell pulled Anthony’s attention away from the television screen. He wrapped himself in a dressing gown and peeked out the window. On the street below, hundreds of people were milling around, news vans, camera crews, and journalists had completely blocked off the street. He looked at the front door and saw two heads of frizzy, fiery red hair. A huge smile crossed his face as he dashed to the front door.

His niece and sister burst through the door the second he flicked open the lock. Natalie threw her arms around her brother’s neck and held on tight as the door slammed behind them. Anthony let a few tears roll down his cheeks as he hugged his sister, before turning to his niece and picking her up.

‘And how is my Princess?’ Anthony asked of the 6-year-old. She smiled and wrapped her arms around Anthony’s neck.

‘I’m very well, thank you, but Mummy says Aunty Tata is sick,’ she said, her glittering emerald eyes staring into her uncle’s hazel ones.

‘Yes, my little Harriet, she’s gone to stay with Aunty Samantha until she’s better,’ he replied, his voice cracking for the first time.

‘How will you be President then? If you don’t have a First Lady?’ she asked innocently. Anthony smiled as he set her back down and walked with her into the kitchen. Natalie too started at Anthony, clearly wanting an answer.

‘You can be my First Lady,’ he said, leaning down to kiss Harriet on the head and putting the strength back into his voice. ‘Now, who’s for pancakes?’

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A Man in a Marriage, Olivia Newsome

As winter approached and the trees began to shrug off their burdens, Taron prepared to take up his.

The farmstead was overflowing with visitors and well-wishers, people that Taron had known all his life. Marriage between the blacksmith’s daughter and the son of one of the oldest farming families in the district was always going to draw attention. But, as his mother promised him, it was only one day. He could manage.

He maneuvered a path through to the parlour where his new bride was waiting for him. She was perched by the fireplace, the glowing embers casting a gentle light onto her skin. Taron thought she was pretty enough, but he’d barely spoken two words to her throughout the entire day. There was no telling if they’d suit each other. He swigged another mouthful of ale at the thought.

The girl looked up at his approach. She was surrounded by the old matrons of the village who welcomed him coyly, no doubt expecting him to give them something to gossip about. Taron took his seat and tried to think of something to say that would allow him to get the measure of this girl. But the words eluded him, and he turned back to one of the other women and asked after her son.

He hadn’t given much thought to marriage, not until one morning when his mother informed him the roof of the barn was leaking, and it was time for him to find a wife with enough of a dowry to fix it. A suitable match had then been found and a date was set. He’d hardly had any input and the whole affair felt as solid as the morning fog, disappearing in the early air.

Now he was forced to come to grips with his new reality.

‘The house is lovely.’ Her voice was small, and if Taron had not been sitting so close to her, he would not have heard it. His wife was looking down at her hands, resolute in not meeting his gaze. The matrons talked over their conversation, but he felt the women’s interested stares digging into the both of them.

Taron wanted to respond, wanted to tell her all about how his mother had swept through the entire house to make things ready for her new daughter-in-law. He wanted simply to speak, but the words would not claw their way out of his throat. She still wouldn’t look up from her hands and he was suddenly awash with anger.

This was his home. He’d spent his years exploring its depths and loving it for the shelter it provided. When his father passed, it had become his own. He had relished that duty, the chance to prove he was now a man. And now here was this woman, this child, with whom he must share everything. She had not toiled the land until calluses formed on her fingers. She had not sat all night with the cows as they brought their young into the world. She had not done anything, yet his home belonged to her.

Taron felt his heart beating faster and faster as he tried to get his temper back under control. It would break his mother’s heart if he made a scene in front of the entire district but his feet had a mind of their own, and he’d stood up and strode away before anyone could say anything. He felt the eyes of the women, all of them, stare at him as he left.

A heavy burden indeed.

 

 

 

Mila slammed the jug of water on the table and Taron winced at the pounding in his ears. He reached out and downed another swig, his throat protesting.. His whole body felt wrong, discombobulated, and painful.

‘I had thought to go and speak with Sara this morning,’ Mila said as she worried at the ash on the apron covering her distended belly. ‘They may be able to spare a son or two to help with clearing the barn. And those boys will be far more able to track down the cows who managed to escape.’

Taron didn’t think his burning throat would allow him to voice a single thought and he closed his eyes at his helplessness. All he could do was nod his heavy head and hope that the cattle would be found quickly.

Those beasts had already been through too much. He could still hear the cries they made from their stalls. Brutal and panicked. The flames had made him feel the same. But the creatures, summoning their strength, had managed to break free of their cage, clearing a way through the fire for him to follow.

They had saved him, and he wasn’t even strong enough to make sure the survivors were alright.

‘Taron?’

He came back to himself to find Mila’s gaze penetrating him. She had looked at him in many ways through the years, but never like that. A sad, raspy sound escaped his smoke-damaged throat.

She sat down in the chair across from him, reaching across to wrap her fingers around his bandaged hands. The pain was not as sharp as Taron’s surprise at the intimate gesture. His wife was close enough that he could see the morning’s brightness reflecting off her hair.

‘I thought you were going to die last night.’

The words were a shock to his system, a surprise he wasn’t prepared for. He tried to pull his hands back but she had a grip on them. Pain filled his senses and forced him to stop.

‘You’re not an easy man to like, Taron,’ she said. ‘I wanted my parents to find me a nice man, one I could be fond of. But they gave me to you.’ Her face was stripped of expression and it reminded him of how young she’d looked on their wedding day.

‘I thought you’d made me a widow last night. I thought my whole life had changed again.’

The urge to respond, to rage against her, was strong. He didn’t care how she’d felt. He had been more scared than any other moment of his life. And now the barn he had sold himself for was gone. Her words were the flies that buzzed around the animal’s’ arses.

She broke contact and her hands went to cradle her stomach—his baby. Taron withdrew his hands before she could change her mind.

‘I kept trying to imagine what I would tell the baby. That his father was a good man who died trying to protect his farm? Or that he was an idiot, who cared more about his animals than this family? Which is it, Taron?’

He recognised the emotion in her eyes and he couldn’t help wondering if she saw it in his. They sat opposite one another and the distance between them felt real and impenetrable.

‘You had a choice, last night. And you chose to risk everything that we have.’

Her words made it clear to him. As far as his wife was concerned, he was nothing more than a weight she was made to carry.

 

 

 

Taron’s stomach heaved as he drove the hoe into the earth. The soil needed to be cleared for planting or the harvest would be bleak, and that was the last thing they could afford.

It didn’t seem to matter how many hours Taron spent working in the fields, it was never enough for his family. But the mouths to feed were nothing compared to the taxes he was forced to send to the Crown. The thought of it made him strike at the ground with force.

Just a little bit more, he decided. Then he could go back to the house.

Mila was stewing meat over the kitchen fireplace by the time Taron walked through the door. Her brown eyes observed him disinterestedly before she turned back to her task. Little Micah sat near her feet, flashing his gums at the sight of his father. The boy waddled over with unsteady legs and Taron disregarded the ache in his back, picking up his son.

‘There was a letter today,’ said his wife, attention still focused on the pot.

He placed Micah back on the ground and told the boy to go to his bedroom, and then he grasped the correspondence on the bench and pried open the seal.

His knees buckled beneath him and he slumped his way into the nearest stool. His head felt so heavy and his hands came up to hold it, fingers sliding over his scalp and grasping his hair. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think.

Footsteps sounded on the stone floor and Mila’s scent wafted through his nose. The paper crinkled as she picked it up, and Taron’s heart sank as she read it. When she spoke, it was with a tone of incredulousness and he knew it couldn’t be good news.

‘The King demands we go to war. All able-bodied men are hereby conscripted into the army.’

The words were like wounds, amplifying the sores and weaknesses of Taron’s body. It hurt, but he managed to lift his head out of his hands to face his wife. Mila stood, watching him and still holding the letter.

‘I’m expected to report to duty in a fortnight’s time,’ he croaked out of his dry throat. ‘I don’t know how long I’ll be away.’

‘Then we need to be practical. There are many preparations that need to be made and not very much time to make them. Micah and I will need to economise. We won’t be able to work the entire farm, only enough to ensure that we are fed. We should try and put some money away. Maybe if we sold the cows—’

Taron felt a hot energy pulse its way through his body, drawing him to his feet. He wanted to stalk towards his wife and rage about the generations of his family who had raised those very cows on this very land. The wariness in her eyes suggested to him that she knew exactly what he wished for, but Taron knew he couldn’t give in to his temper.

‘Sell them if you must,’ he said, moving past her. ‘But you won’t be the only wife looking to get rid of farm animals you can’t afford to keep. There will be plenty who’ll use your desperation to cheat you out of a good price.’

‘I’m not a simpleton, Taron.’

He turned away from her, head pounding and desperate for bed. Her voice made him pause.

‘I do hope you make it home, dearest husband.’

Her words were as soft as they were on their wedding day and though she may have fled the room without a response, Taron couldn’t help but feel hungry for more of her comfort.

 

 

 

Taron imagined how the women would be folding themselves around the men like scarves, their smiles bright and their dresses almost transparent.

Taron listened to the display as he sharpened his sword, ignoring the tightening in his groin and the pulses of heat that shot through him with every ostentatious moan. The knight’s tent was a few feet away, but drink and women often made men louder than they had any right to be. His mind flew to the horrified expression his mother would wear if she could hear what the men were on about, and a wry smile worked its way onto his face.

War was a breeding place for the desires of men, as he’d discovered in the weeks since he’d arrived.

He’d also learnt that there was a hierarchy to the way the camp was run, determined by skill and wealth. The best fighters were the ones with training and expensive weapons, and they were the men the king valued. Taron was young and strong, but he’d never fought in a battle, and his sword was more rust than steel. He was happy enough as a foot soldier, and if he occasionally heard something that disturbed him, he knew enough to keep his mouth shut.

Once his sword was back in its sheath, and he’d passed the whetting stone onto the next poor soul, he started to trudge his way back towards his own bedroll. His limbs ached from the brutality of the day’s drills and he was hoping to snatch a few extra minutes of sleep before dinner. He kept his head down as he passed the knight’s tent, not wanting their notice, but a voice yelled out to beckon him despite his efforts.

There were five of them, wearing their armour with wide leers. Taron could see the sharp lines and scars on their faces, unmarred by the dirt, which was more than he could say for himself. He swung his torso forward in what was supposed to be a bow, then stood at attention, waiting for the drunken lords to release him. If he felt the stirring of anger in the bowels of his stomach, he didn’t let them see it in his face.

‘Funny, huh men? Looks just like one o’ those tin soldiers that I used to play with as a lad.’ Taron couldn’t tell the speaker from his companions, as they were all long-haired and bearded. The only way he had to tell them apart were the different coloured dresses worn by the women in their laps.

‘I think he’s handsome,’ a woman said as she separated herself and walked towards Taron, circling around him like a bird of prey. She was so close he could faintly smell the sharpness of her perfume and he fought the urge to cover himself from her gaze. Her dress was lilac. She gave him one final smirk before reclaiming her place with one of the men.

‘You ever had a girl, boy?’ cried another voice. Taron couldn’t look away from the girl, who smirked back in return. When he didn’t answer, the voice laughed, ‘Not something you’d forget.’

Taron’s head snapped up at the laughter of the men, his limbs suddenly uncomfortable as the attention turned unfriendly. The anger came bubbling back and he choked out, ‘I’ve a wife. And a son. Sir.’

‘She tell you that?’ another man said, while trying to stuff as much meat as possible into his mouth. Taron’s fist clenched as he watched the cretin’s mouth form the words. Mila would have stared at the man with a look of bitter and intimidating contempt. But all he could do was stand there, longing for his bedroll and the relative quiet of sleep.

‘The boy’s got my look.’

‘Renna’ll let you have a go,’ said the man standing next to the woman in purple. He tapped her bottom and pushed her forward, back towards Taron.

But the allure of the beautiful woman had faded, and it didn’t matter how much she smiled or how many times her fingers wove their way through her long hair. She wasn’t his wife and this wasn’t the choice he wanted to make.

‘Excuse me, milords. I’m wanted elsewhere.’

His fist unclenched as the men’s laughter dissolved into the background noises of the camp. He felt free.

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ISSUE #10 COMING SOON

QuarryCover_highres_flat

 

Cover art by Ailie MacKenzie

Design by Teresa Peni

Self-Extinction – Emerson Cassidy

EXT. DESERT – ASTRONOMICAL DAWN 1

An open, dry desert plain. Small, dry shrubs that cling to the ground make up the only life in sight. It is dawn and the sky is just beginning to lighten. Stars disappear from the horizon as the faint, glistening light of the sun slowly creeps into the sky. Apart from a soft whistle of wind as it races across the plains, not a sound can be heard. We see an abandoned gas station. Rusted old cars and fuel tanks decorate the scene.

BRIAN, mid-twenties, male, lean physic. He is dressed in a cloak with black goggles and gloves as he looks at the desert.

BRIAN (V.O.)

Immortality is a joke… When you’re alone in a ruined world.

We see broken bottles, food cans, keys and a smashed iPhone. An old newspaper titled “Our end has come!” flicks open in the breeze.

BRIAN (V.O.)

Hunted by what remains.

CRUNCH. A boot appears, crushing the iPhone.

UNKNOWN POV

The surrounding landscape whips past as the unknown POV leaps over rocks and vaults over the gas pump outside the station. Heavy huffing can be heard. The unknown POV leaps several meters into the air. The surrounding landscape whips past.

SPFX: Brian turns to face the pursuer and sees a beast!

Standing on four feet. It is armoured, with crimson eyes that shine. A growl cuts through the silence and we see Brian sail through the air, towards a rocky canyon.

Brian lands hard on the floor of the rocky canyon.

Effortlessly, Brian stands, feet firmly planted at shoulders width apart. The beast lands in front of Brian and charges. Brian punches towards the oncoming beast.

FLASH. A brilliant blue light erupts from Brian, whiting everything out with light. The beast shrieks in pain and white noise blankets everything.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT – ROCK LABYRINTH – NAUTICAL DAWN 2

Brian stands in the middle of the rocky labyrinth. Open ground, with tall rocky walls either side surround unsettled dust. The sky can just be seen past the limestone walls. Brian is alone, bent over one knee and facing the labyrinth’s exit – a tall, blue-sky passageway squished between rocky walls. Growls come from the distance. Brian looks up, eyes still glowing.

SPFX/ SFX: Dozens of shadows appear above the canyon. Some have longer arms or stand on four legs. They lower their heads as much larger one steps into view and roars loudly.

They move towards Brian. Brian closes his eyes and reaches down into his pant pocket, pulling out a small vial. He grips it tightly in his left hand, spreads his arms and gazes into the sky. Light from the sun breaks through the dust cloud as the sun rises.

SPFX/ SFX: The shadows suddenly halt, and then retreat, squealing like pigs.

Brian keeps his eyes closed as his body goes limp and he falls sideways into the dirt. Quietly, he starts laughing… and sobbing. He pushes himself up from the ground, howling in despair. The rising sun can only just be seen past the shelves of rock that blocks this view.

Brian’s howl travels through the air.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT, CANYON – MORNING 3

Moving out of the labyrinth, we see abandoned buildings, houses and broken brick roads. ANNA, an 18-year-old girl in tattered and raggedy clothes, wide-eyed turns towards the sound as the howl fades. Her skin is sunburnt.

Brian kneels in the dirt of the canyon. Sitting between curved rocked formations and smooth limestone walls, the sky can only just be seen past the shelves of rock that block this view.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT, CANYON – NOON 4

Anna walks slowly towards the rocky labyrinth, gripping tightly onto a long piece of wood. She gazes at the dust cloud before heading straight into it. Passing through the labyrinth’s entrance, Anna tightens her grip on her wooden staff. She squints and constantly checks her surroundings.

A silhouette appears. Anna tightens her grip on her wooden staff and steps slowly forwards. As she gets closer, she raises her staff, ready to swing. The silhouette comes into plain view. It is nothing but and oddly shaped rock.

Anna lets out a sigh of relief. She lowers her staff, her shoulders relax. A soft CRUNCH sounds behind Anna. Anna spins around, bringing her staff up again.

Brian ducks.

Anna’s staff just misses crashing into his head. Anna stands in a combat stance, staff out in front, ready to fight.

Brian raises his hands and his eyebrows.

BRIAN

Hey. OK, just wait. I’m not trying to hurt you.

Anna holds her ground, answering him with a glare.

Brian takes slow, steady steps towards her.

Still holding his hands out. Anna swings again. Brian steps back.

BRIAN

Hey! I said I’m not going to hurt you.

ANNA

You’re not gonna take me. I’m not dying by someone like you or those monsters.

Anna rushes at Brian with a series of swings.

Brian easily dodges each swing. He leaps back, putting more distance between him and Anna.

Anna raises her staff above her head, and charges at Brian with a war cry.

Brian catches the staff with his right hand, unflinching from the impact, he rips the staff out of her hands.

Anna stumbles, but she quickly regains her footing. She holds her ground, keeping her eyes fixed in a cold glare towards him.

Brian watches her, glancing at her clenched fists.

BRIAN

(sternly)

Now listen.

(slowly)

My name is Brian. I’m not trying to hurt you.

ANNA

Oh really.

(raising her tone of voice)

Then care to explain what that light was? There is no one else around here, and I can’t see what’s underneath that cloak.

Anna straightens her posture and takes a small step towards Brian.

ANNA

Are you another kind of monster?

Brian lowers his head. He clenches his left hand into a fist. He looks up and tosses the staff at Anna’s feet. He turns and walks away.

ANNA

ANSWER ME!

SPFX: Brian stops. He takes a deep breath. His eyes shine briefly.

Anna notices the shine, and slowly reaches down to pick up her staff.

Brian turns around.

Anna freezes.

Brian starts removing sections of his outfit; gloves, goggles and reveals his face and arms. SPFX: Blue marks cover every visible part of his body – like vines that have grown onto his body – and they are glowing.

BRIAN

I’m not like them.

Anna has a look of astonishment and confusion clear on her face.

BRIAN

But we were born in the same fashion.

CUT TO:

EXT. CANYON – LATE AFTERNOON 5

Anna and Brian sit opposite each other in the empty bottom of the canyon. The day’s light has begun to fade. A small fire rages between the two. Anna watches Brian with caution. She clenches her staff tightly in both hands. Brian drinks from a military water bottle. Brian offers the bottle to Anna. Anna glances at the bottle for a second, before her eyes dart back to Brian.

BRIAN

Like I said

(speaking slowly)

I’m not trying to hurt you.

Brian shakes the bottle. The water sloshes inside.

Anna snatches it from his hands.

She gulps down what liquid remains.

Her eyes never leave Brian. She throws the bottle back to him.

Brian catches the bottle and sets it down on the ground.

ANNA

You said you’re similar to them.

Anna leans closer to Brian

ANNA

What does that mean?

Brian takes a deep breath, and sits up straighter.

BRIAN

We were both created as a long time ago. In an effort to create immortality… By your kind.

Anna looks at Brian, confused.

Brian holds out his right hand. He nods at the glowing blue marks.

ANNA

Alright. By why are you different?

BRIAN

I was a success… mostly.

SPFX: Brian removes his cloak completely. The markings are thicker and more prominent the closer they are to his torso. This is because his torso is covered with black marks that form a vest of scars, covering his chest.

BRIAN

Most of humanity was experimented on. I don’t even know if there are others like me.

Anna moves in. She gently touches his chest.

Brian breathes in through his nose as though it hurts where her fingers touch. Brian pulls away.

Anna looks sad.

ANNA

They were people. Those creatures?

BRIAN

They were my friends. Now they’re beasts.

(His voice turns guttural)

When I fight them, all I can hear, see and feel is their agony.

Brian buries his head into his hands.

BRIAN

(softly, out of earshot)

It’s always there, always clawing into my head. It never stops. It doesn’t get quiet. It won’t ever stop.

Anna steps, slowly, towards Brian.

Brian suddenly jumps up. He quickly pulls his cloak back on. Brian turns and walks away from Anna.

Anna raises her hand to his shoulder. Brian shrugs off her hand.

ANNA

Anna.

BRIAN

What?

ANNA

That’s my name.

CUT TO:

EXT. CANYON – LATE AFTERNOON 6

Brian and Anna walk through the canyon. The brown stone lightly streaked with shades of red and burnt orange. As the afternoon sun becomes darker, the light shifts to purple.

Anna keeps pace behind Brian.

BRIAN

So… Do I get to hear your story?

ANNA

I was in hiding. Until your little light show caught my attention.

Brian slows his pace.

BRIAN

And before that?

ANNA

Not much to tell. I’ve been alone out here for a long as I can remember.

Brian turns to look at Anna, continuing to walk.

BRIAN

No parents?

ANNA

I’ve learned to take care of myself.

Anna swings her staff over her shoulder. While a small grin appears on her face.

CUT TO:

EXT. CANYON/ABANDONED GAS STATION – LATE AFTERNOON 7

Brian enters through the abandoned gas station doors and begins rooting around the shelves. He tosses aside magazines, boxes, and checks an empty cigarette carton before also tossing that to the floor too. Anna moves behind the desk and finds a hooded jacket. She puts it on.

ANNA

Where are you going? There’s not much around here.

Brian continues rummaging through the junk. He does not answer Anna.

ANNA

Hey! what are you looking for?

Where are you planning on going?!

BRIAN

To the mountains. It’s got to be better than this place.

Brian grasps at the pocket that holds his vial and sighs.

Anna looks at him. She opens her mouth to speak; her lips quiver as she hesitates.

ANNA

How do you know?

BRIAN

(spits)

I don’t! But anything is better than this.

Anna frowns.

Brian stands up, holding onto a road flare. He turns to walk back out the door. Anna eyes him suspiciously. He moves his arm to cover the markings on his right wrist. Brian stops just outside the gas station entry. Anna, still inside, watches Brian leave.

BRIAN

(loudly)

Let me show you something.

Anna doesn’t answer, but follows Brian outside.

Brian moves over to a small patch of earth and kneels down. He puts his hands together.

BRIAN

These powers had an original purpose, Instead of killing those beasts.

Anna watches him closely.

SPFX/CGI: Brian closes his eyes and holds his palms together. A small orb of light appears. His blue-vein markings glow. Brian lowers his palms to the ground. As soon as the light touches the ground, it dissipates. Light travels through the ground like a pulse. Anna’s eyes follow the points at which the light vanished. Small blades of grass begin to grow from the ground. Anna looks at her feet, eyes wide and mouth open. She glances up at the gas station roof. Rusted edges of the gas station now have vines growing up the edges.

ANNA

Impossible!

SPFX: Brian moves out of Anna’s eyesight. He looks at his fingertips, which are now turning a sickly black colour. His hands have begun to age. They are wrinkled, grey-skinned and frail. Brian clenches his fists. His markings flash and his hands look normal again.

Anna watches Brian from the corners of her eye. She turns her head away as he stands.

EXT. CANYON – DUSK 8

Brian and Anna walk through the canyon. The canyon walls are darker now.

SFX: The sounds of their footsteps can be clearly heard.

Brian kicks a small rock. The sounds echoes.

Anna walks closer to Brian then before. She glances behind them warily.

ANNA

So what are you? Some kind of god.

BRIAN

Pfft…

I’m no god.

(Looking at Anna)

I don’t know. Interpret it however you want.

ANNA

You’ve killed those beasts?

BRIAN

It affects them differently.

ANNA

What about your chest? What happened there?

BRIAN

Not entirely sure…

Brian stops and looks at her, his brow furrowed with irritation.

Anna raises her eyebrows.

Brian turns. He is not going to continue. He walks on in silence.

Anna looks at the back of Brian’s head, eyes narrowed…

SPFX: Brian stops and doubles over, retching. His eye glow, darker than before. His body tenses up. He moans quietly. His eyes stop glowing as he stands up straight. Anna looks at him with unease, gripping her staff tightly. She jumps, eyes leaving Brian as growls can be heard in the distance.

Brian and Anna both look into the sky, then at each other, expressions worried/fearful.

BRIAN

We have to find cover. Fast.

ANNA

Where? We’ve wandered too far out to head back

BRIAN

Come here. Trust Me.

SFX: Anna opens her mouth to protest but is interrupted by a loud snarl from the b.g.

BRIAN

COME ON!

Anna immediately steps to Brian’s side. He grabs her arm and without warning, throws her over his shoulders.

ANNA

Hey! What are you going to-

-Brian takes off, running with the speed of a car.

EXT. CANYON – NIGHTFALL 9

Brian bolts through the canyon with inhuman speed. Anna holds tightly onto his back. The night leaves the canyon a dark, midnight blue.

SFX/CGI: Shadows are everywhere. CRASH. Rocks break apart either side of Brian and Anna. Loud growls travel through the canyon. Anna lifts her head to look behind them.

CGI: Shadowy beasts erupt from the darkness behind them.

They burst up through the earth and smash through the rock wall. There are dozens of them. They bite and snarl at each other in an attempt to get ahead. More growling shadows can be heard from above Anna and Brian.

Brian jumps onto a rock, still holding Anna.

SFX: The rock breaks apart as he launches off, into air.

Brian and Anna fly through the air, past beasts that leap at them. One of the beastly shadows tears into Anna’s back.

Anna screams in agony despite keeping her grip on Brian.

Brian lands on the top of the canyons edge, out of reach of the beasts.

SFX: Shadows amass below.

Anna’s moans of pain drown out their sounds.

BRIAN

Damn it.

Brian lays Anna facedown onto the ground to check her wounds.

ANNA

I’m fine.

She tries to push herself up from the ground, but the pain proves too much. Her arms give way to her body weight and she falls down.

BRIAN

You’re hurt.

A loud roar is heard.

Brian moves over to the ledge.

SPFX: The alpha beast is moving past the now-placid crowd.

It looks up at Brian and shows it’s horrid and mangled teeth in a sadistic grin.

Brian swallows loudly.

SPFX: The beasts’ start to claw and scale up the rocky wall.

Brian picks up the now unconscious Anna like a princess, her head resting on his chest. He shakes his head at her condition and starts running across the top of the canyon, towards the ruins of a once sprawling city. His confident footsteps pound the ground.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT/CITY – NIGHT 10

Brian passes by a wrecked plane, a convenience store and piles of abandoned, rusted cars. He enters the city, following a path of cracked pavement that separates crumbled buildings. Brian stops in the middle of an overpass.

Brian looks quickly left and right. He gently places Anna on the ground. Brian grabs the vial from his pocket. It has a silvery liquid inside.

SPFX: A faint mist escapes from the vial as the cork is popped. Brian directs a silvery drop into one of Anna’s wounds. He quickly places his right hand on her back.

Brian’s blue markings glow. Anna starts to convulse and groan. She almost yells out, but Brian puts his hands over her mouth. His hands have aged again. His face now shows similar degrading features, becoming skeletal. Anna’s wounds heal. Her entire body regenerates itself; her sunburnt skin returns to its original, pale complexion, her red hair increases in saturation and her body becomes shapelier, curvier.

SFX: Roars echo from the distance.

Brian removes his hand from Anna’s mouth and he picks her up once again and starts running. Brian heads towards the closest building. He kicks the cracked glass of a window.

SFX: SMASH.

Brian ducks under the fallen, wooden pylons and steps carefully around piles of rubble.

SFX: Growls and snarls can be heard from outside. Brian continues to move through the building. CRACK. Brian stops in his tracks. He looks down. The floorboards creak loudly underneath his weight. A CRASH is heard from outside.

The shadowy beasts ram the outside of the weakened building with their combined weight. Some try to claw through the walls.

Anna wakes up. She yells incoherently at Brian, and starts to fight free from his grasp.

BRIAN

Don’t move. The floor–

SFX: CRUNCH. The floor breaks apart from underneath them and both are sent tumbling down into the darkness.

CUT TO:

INT. BASEMENT BUNKER – NIGHT 11

SPFX: Suddenly, a flash of red erupts from the darkness, illuminating the screen.

Brian struggles to his feet, holding the flare from earlier. Anna moves into the light.

ANNA

What happened to you?

BRIAN

(menacingly)

I saved your damn life. Now the voices are louder than ever…and they’re COMING!

Brian scurries about the room. Anna looks confused.

ANNA

WHAT HAPPENED!

Brian turns to her.

BRIAN

I gave you the gift. Now you’ll hear the voices. Only you won’t live until they consume your mind.

ANNA

What?

BRIAN

I’m going to kill them… and us.

CUT TO:

EXT. CITY/BUILDING 12

SPFX: Their building is being attacked. Dirt and debris fall from the rafters at the impact made by the beasts.

CGI: The beasts leave scratch marks against the stone, as they try to dig into the building. The large shadow leaps onto the building and digs its claws into the stone.

SMASH. It breaks through a window and starts pulling out various objects; rubble, desks and a table. It then moves inside, pulling itself over piles of rubble. It smashes the floor with both arms. The floor caves in. The shadowy beast proceeds to start smashing its way through the next floor, moving closer to Brian and Anna.

CUT TO:

INT. BASEMENT BUNKER – NIGHT 13

An old lantern, somehow still alight, illuminates the darkness of the bunker in which Brian and Anna now hide

SFX: Sounds are heard above a set of stairs, behind a door.

SPFX: The door bursts open, flinging Anna into the room. A faint red light illuminates from the direction she was tossed from. Brian walks in, his body is glowing a ruby red instead of bright blue.

Anna rises to her feet.

ANNA

(fearful)

You’re mad!

BRIAN

(yelling)

You don’t know what it’s like.

I’ve had to suffer this power for nearly two centuries. TWO CENTURIES of constant pain, endless voices, and having my sanity slip… day… by… day.

Brian falls to his knees. He pulls out the vial and stares at it crazily.

ANNA

Then why did you save me?

BRIAN

No one wants to die alone…

Anna rises to her feet, backing away from the crazed Brian.

SPFX: Anna’s hands glows, but she talks no notice.

Brian eyes her hands, a small grin spreading across his face.

ANNA

(desperately)

I’ve been alone for my whole life. I’m used to it!

BRIAN

Perhaps… But now we will stay and ignite these ruins with the powers I was punished with.

SPFX: Brian looks at the vial again. His markings glow faintly. He turns around and stretches his arms out – and grunts loudly. Brian looks down and sees a STEEL BEAM plunged through his chest. Anna twists the beam.

Brian falls to his knees, but doesn’t seem in pain.

Anna snatches the vial from his hand.

SFX: A roar shakes the darkness of the room.

SPFX: The red light still illuminating the doorway shows the shadow of the Alpha.

Anna looks at Brian with pity. Before she turns on her heel and escapes through the bunkers open air vent and into the darkness. Brian gazes after her.

BRIAN

One day you’ll see things my way.

Especially now that you possess it.

SPFX: The alpha approaches Brian. Its teeth gleam in the low light. The alpha’s crimson red eyes look into Brian’s.

Brian lets out a small smile before his eyes flash, and he screams at the top of his lungs.

CUT TO:

INT. BASEMENT BUNKER/BEAST TUNNELS – NIGHT 14

Anna runs blindly through a dark hallway. She trips over a wooden beam and falls into a hole, tumbling forward into a tunnel dug by the beasts. The tunnel is rough and the floor uneven. Bits of broken pipes and debris can just be seen poking out the tunnel walls. Anna rises, and keeps running.

SFX: Anna flinches at the sound of Brian’s inhuman scream.

SPFX: The light from an explosion appears behind her. Anna is swept up in the blast. Anna crosses her arm to shield herself from the explosion. A blue light glows. She moves her arms down. They are covered in glowing, blue markings. The yellow/white light from the blast fills the screen.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT – ASTRONOMICAL DAWN 15

A pale white mist covers the ruins of the collapsed city.

SFX: A soft thump is heard from a pile of rubble.

SPFX: Anna bursts up from underneath the rubble. Her body is covered with the same markings that Brian had possessed.

She squints her eyes as they adjust to the light of day.

Anna stares at her arms with horror, before looking up and appraising her new surroundings. She turns, looking all around her, realizing that she is alone.

CGI: Anna looks down to the ground, where small green shoots are emerging from the rubble. Anna’s head slowly lifts up. The same growth is now reaching over the entirety of the destroyed city.

FADE TO BLACK

Download a PDF of ‘Self-Extinction’

Self-Extinction – Emerson Cassidy

EXT. DESERT – ASTRONOMICAL DAWN 1

An open, dry desert plain. Small, dry shrubs that cling to the ground make up the only life in sight. It is dawn and the sky is just beginning to lighten. Stars disappear from the horizon as the faint, glistening light of the sun slowly creeps into the sky. Apart from a soft whistle of wind as it races across the plains, not a sound can be heard. We see an abandoned gas station. Rusted old cars and fuel tanks decorate the scene.

BRIAN, mid-twenties, male, lean physic. He is dressed in a cloak with black goggles and gloves as he looks at the desert.

BRIAN (V.O.)

Immortality is a joke… When you’re alone in a ruined world.

We see broken bottles, food cans, keys and a smashed iPhone. An old newspaper titled “Our end has come!” flicks open in the breeze.

BRIAN (V.O.)

Hunted by what remains.

CRUNCH. A boot appears, crushing the iPhone.

UNKNOWN POV

The surrounding landscape whips past as the unknown POV leaps over rocks and vaults over the gas pump outside the station. Heavy huffing can be heard. The unknown POV leaps several meters into the air. The surrounding landscape whips past.

SPFX: Brian turns to face the pursuer and sees a beast!

Standing on four feet. It is armoured, with crimson eyes that shine. A growl cuts through the silence and we see Brian sail through the air, towards a rocky canyon.

Brian lands hard on the floor of the rocky canyon.

Effortlessly, Brian stands, feet firmly planted at shoulders width apart. The beast lands in front of Brian and charges. Brian punches towards the oncoming beast.

FLASH. A brilliant blue light erupts from Brian, whiting everything out with light. The beast shrieks in pain and white noise blankets everything.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT – ROCK LABYRINTH – NAUTICAL DAWN 2

Brian stands in the middle of the rocky labyrinth. Open ground, with tall rocky walls either side surround unsettled dust. The sky can just be seen past the limestone walls. Brian is alone, bent over one knee and facing the labyrinth’s exit – a tall, blue-sky passageway squished between rocky walls. Growls come from the distance. Brian looks up, eyes still glowing.

SPFX/ SFX: Dozens of shadows appear above the canyon. Some have longer arms or stand on four legs. They lower their heads as much larger one steps into view and roars loudly.

They move towards Brian. Brian closes his eyes and reaches down into his pant pocket, pulling out a small vial. He grips it tightly in his left hand, spreads his arms and gazes into the sky. Light from the sun breaks through the dust cloud as the sun rises.

SPFX/ SFX: The shadows suddenly halt, and then retreat, squealing like pigs.

Brian keeps his eyes closed as his body goes limp and he falls sideways into the dirt. Quietly, he starts laughing… and sobbing. He pushes himself up from the ground, howling in despair. The rising sun can only just be seen past the shelves of rock that blocks this view.

Brian’s howl travels through the air.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT, CANYON – MORNING 3

Moving out of the labyrinth, we see abandoned buildings, houses and broken brick roads. ANNA, an 18-year-old girl in tattered and raggedy clothes, wide-eyed turns towards the sound as the howl fades. Her skin is sunburnt.

Brian kneels in the dirt of the canyon. Sitting between curved rocked formations and smooth limestone walls, the sky can only just be seen past the shelves of rock that block this view.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT, CANYON – NOON 4

Anna walks slowly towards the rocky labyrinth, gripping tightly onto a long piece of wood. She gazes at the dust cloud before heading straight into it. Passing through the labyrinth’s entrance, Anna tightens her grip on her wooden staff. She squints and constantly checks her surroundings.

A silhouette appears. Anna tightens her grip on her wooden staff and steps slowly forwards. As she gets closer, she raises her staff, ready to swing. The silhouette comes into plain view. It is nothing but and oddly shaped rock.

Anna lets out a sigh of relief. She lowers her staff, her shoulders relax. A soft CRUNCH sounds behind Anna. Anna spins around, bringing her staff up again.

Brian ducks.

Anna’s staff just misses crashing into his head. Anna stands in a combat stance, staff out in front, ready to fight.

Brian raises his hands and his eyebrows.

BRIAN

Hey. OK, just wait. I’m not trying to hurt you.

Anna holds her ground, answering him with a glare.

Brian takes slow, steady steps towards her.

Still holding his hands out. Anna swings again. Brian steps back.

BRIAN

Hey! I said I’m not going to hurt you.

ANNA

You’re not gonna take me. I’m not dying by someone like you or those monsters.

Anna rushes at Brian with a series of swings.

Brian easily dodges each swing. He leaps back, putting more distance between him and Anna.

Anna raises her staff above her head, and charges at Brian with a war cry.

Brian catches the staff with his right hand, unflinching from the impact, he rips the staff out of her hands.

Anna stumbles, but she quickly regains her footing. She holds her ground, keeping her eyes fixed in a cold glare towards him.

Brian watches her, glancing at her clenched fists.

BRIAN

(sternly)

Now listen.

(slowly)

My name is Brian. I’m not trying to hurt you.

ANNA

Oh really.

(raising her tone of voice)

Then care to explain what that light was? There is no one else around here, and I can’t see what’s underneath that cloak.

Anna straightens her posture and takes a small step towards Brian.

ANNA

Are you another kind of monster?

Brian lowers his head. He clenches his left hand into a fist. He looks up and tosses the staff at Anna’s feet. He turns and walks away.

ANNA

ANSWER ME!

SPFX: Brian stops. He takes a deep breath. His eyes shine briefly.

Anna notices the shine, and slowly reaches down to pick up her staff.

Brian turns around.

Anna freezes.

Brian starts removing sections of his outfit; gloves, goggles and reveals his face and arms. SPFX: Blue marks cover every visible part of his body – like vines that have grown onto his body – and they are glowing.

BRIAN

I’m not like them.

Anna has a look of astonishment and confusion clear on her face.

BRIAN

But we were born in the same fashion.

CUT TO:

EXT. CANYON – LATE AFTERNOON 5

Anna and Brian sit opposite each other in the empty bottom of the canyon. The day’s light has begun to fade. A small fire rages between the two. Anna watches Brian with caution. She clenches her staff tightly in both hands. Brian drinks from a military water bottle. Brian offers the bottle to Anna. Anna glances at the bottle for a second, before her eyes dart back to Brian.

BRIAN

Like I said

(speaking slowly)

I’m not trying to hurt you.

Brian shakes the bottle. The water sloshes inside.

Anna snatches it from his hands.

She gulps down what liquid remains.

Her eyes never leave Brian. She throws the bottle back to him.

Brian catches the bottle and sets it down on the ground.

ANNA

You said you’re similar to them.

Anna leans closer to Brian

ANNA

What does that mean?

Brian takes a deep breath, and sits up straighter.

BRIAN

We were both created as a long time ago. In an effort to create immortality… By your kind.

Anna looks at Brian, confused.

Brian holds out his right hand. He nods at the glowing blue marks.

ANNA

Alright. By why are you different?

BRIAN

I was a success… mostly.

SPFX: Brian removes his cloak completely. The markings are thicker and more prominent the closer they are to his torso. This is because his torso is covered with black marks that form a vest of scars, covering his chest.

BRIAN

Most of humanity was experimented on. I don’t even know if there are others like me.

Anna moves in. She gently touches his chest.

Brian breathes in through his nose as though it hurts where her fingers touch. Brian pulls away.

Anna looks sad.

ANNA

They were people. Those creatures?

BRIAN

They were my friends. Now they’re beasts.

(His voice turns guttural)

When I fight them, all I can hear, see and feel is their agony.

Brian buries his head into his hands.

BRIAN

(softly, out of earshot)

It’s always there, always clawing into my head. It never stops. It doesn’t get quiet. It won’t ever stop.

Anna steps, slowly, towards Brian.

Brian suddenly jumps up. He quickly pulls his cloak back on. Brian turns and walks away from Anna.

Anna raises her hand to his shoulder. Brian shrugs off her hand.

ANNA

Anna.

BRIAN

What?

ANNA

That’s my name.

CUT TO:

EXT. CANYON – LATE AFTERNOON 6

Brian and Anna walk through the canyon. The brown stone lightly streaked with shades of red and burnt orange. As the afternoon sun becomes darker, the light shifts to purple.

Anna keeps pace behind Brian.

BRIAN

So… Do I get to hear your story?

ANNA

I was in hiding. Until your little light show caught my attention.

Brian slows his pace.

BRIAN

And before that?

ANNA

Not much to tell. I’ve been alone out here for a long as I can remember.

Brian turns to look at Anna, continuing to walk.

BRIAN

No parents?

ANNA

I’ve learned to take care of myself.

Anna swings her staff over her shoulder. While a small grin appears on her face.

CUT TO:

EXT. CANYON/ABANDONED GAS STATION – LATE AFTERNOON 7

Brian enters through the abandoned gas station doors and begins rooting around the shelves. He tosses aside magazines, boxes, and checks an empty cigarette carton before also tossing that to the floor too. Anna moves behind the desk and finds a hooded jacket. She puts it on.

ANNA

Where are you going? There’s not much around here.

Brian continues rummaging through the junk. He does not answer Anna.

ANNA

Hey! what are you looking for?

Where are you planning on going?!

BRIAN

To the mountains. It’s got to be better than this place.

Brian grasps at the pocket that holds his vial and sighs.

Anna looks at him. She opens her mouth to speak; her lips quiver as she hesitates.

ANNA

How do you know?

BRIAN

(spits)

I don’t! But anything is better than this.

Anna frowns.

Brian stands up, holding onto a road flare. He turns to walk back out the door. Anna eyes him suspiciously. He moves his arm to cover the markings on his right wrist. Brian stops just outside the gas station entry. Anna, still inside, watches Brian leave.

BRIAN

(loudly)

Let me show you something.

Anna doesn’t answer, but follows Brian outside.

Brian moves over to a small patch of earth and kneels down. He puts his hands together.

BRIAN

These powers had an original purpose, Instead of killing those beasts.

Anna watches him closely.

SPFX/CGI: Brian closes his eyes and holds his palms together. A small orb of light appears. His blue-vein markings glow. Brian lowers his palms to the ground. As soon as the light touches the ground, it dissipates. Light travels through the ground like a pulse. Anna’s eyes follow the points at which the light vanished. Small blades of grass begin to grow from the ground. Anna looks at her feet, eyes wide and mouth open. She glances up at the gas station roof. Rusted edges of the gas station now have vines growing up the edges.

ANNA

Impossible!

SPFX: Brian moves out of Anna’s eyesight. He looks at his fingertips, which are now turning a sickly black colour. His hands have begun to age. They are wrinkled, grey-skinned and frail. Brian clenches his fists. His markings flash and his hands look normal again.

Anna watches Brian from the corners of her eye. She turns her head away as he stands.

EXT. CANYON – DUSK 8

Brian and Anna walk through the canyon. The canyon walls are darker now.

SFX: The sounds of their footsteps can be clearly heard.

Brian kicks a small rock. The sounds echoes.

Anna walks closer to Brian then before. She glances behind them warily.

ANNA

So what are you? Some kind of god.

BRIAN

Pfft…

I’m no god.

(Looking at Anna)

I don’t know. Interpret it however you want.

ANNA

You’ve killed those beasts?

BRIAN

It affects them differently.

ANNA

What about your chest? What happened there?

BRIAN

Not entirely sure…

Brian stops and looks at her, his brow furrowed with irritation.

Anna raises her eyebrows.

Brian turns. He is not going to continue. He walks on in silence.

Anna looks at the back of Brian’s head, eyes narrowed…

SPFX: Brian stops and doubles over, retching. His eye glow, darker than before. His body tenses up. He moans quietly. His eyes stop glowing as he stands up straight. Anna looks at him with unease, gripping her staff tightly. She jumps, eyes leaving Brian as growls can be heard in the distance.

Brian and Anna both look into the sky, then at each other, expressions worried/fearful.

BRIAN

We have to find cover. Fast.

ANNA

Where? We’ve wandered too far out to head back

BRIAN

Come here. Trust Me.

SFX: Anna opens her mouth to protest but is interrupted by a loud snarl from the b.g.

BRIAN

COME ON!

Anna immediately steps to Brian’s side. He grabs her arm and without warning, throws her over his shoulders.

ANNA

Hey! What are you going to-

-Brian takes off, running with the speed of a car.

EXT. CANYON – NIGHTFALL 9

Brian bolts through the canyon with inhuman speed. Anna holds tightly onto his back. The night leaves the canyon a dark, midnight blue.

SFX/CGI: Shadows are everywhere. CRASH. Rocks break apart either side of Brian and Anna. Loud growls travel through the canyon. Anna lifts her head to look behind them.

CGI: Shadowy beasts erupt from the darkness behind them.

They burst up through the earth and smash through the rock wall. There are dozens of them. They bite and snarl at each other in an attempt to get ahead. More growling shadows can be heard from above Anna and Brian.

Brian jumps onto a rock, still holding Anna.

SFX: The rock breaks apart as he launches off, into air.

Brian and Anna fly through the air, past beasts that leap at them. One of the beastly shadows tears into Anna’s back.

Anna screams in agony despite keeping her grip on Brian.

Brian lands on the top of the canyons edge, out of reach of the beasts.

SFX: Shadows amass below.

Anna’s moans of pain drown out their sounds.

BRIAN

Damn it.

Brian lays Anna facedown onto the ground to check her wounds.

ANNA

I’m fine.

She tries to push herself up from the ground, but the pain proves too much. Her arms give way to her body weight and she falls down.

BRIAN

You’re hurt.

A loud roar is heard.

Brian moves over to the ledge.

SPFX: The alpha beast is moving past the now-placid crowd.

It looks up at Brian and shows it’s horrid and mangled teeth in a sadistic grin.

Brian swallows loudly.

SPFX: The beasts’ start to claw and scale up the rocky wall.

Brian picks up the now unconscious Anna like a princess, her head resting on his chest. He shakes his head at her condition and starts running across the top of the canyon, towards the ruins of a once sprawling city. His confident footsteps pound the ground.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT/CITY – NIGHT 10

Brian passes by a wrecked plane, a convenience store and piles of abandoned, rusted cars. He enters the city, following a path of cracked pavement that separates crumbled buildings. Brian stops in the middle of an overpass.

Brian looks quickly left and right. He gently places Anna on the ground. Brian grabs the vial from his pocket. It has a silvery liquid inside.

SPFX: A faint mist escapes from the vial as the cork is popped. Brian directs a silvery drop into one of Anna’s wounds. He quickly places his right hand on her back.

Brian’s blue markings glow. Anna starts to convulse and groan. She almost yells out, but Brian puts his hands over her mouth. His hands have aged again. His face now shows similar degrading features, becoming skeletal. Anna’s wounds heal. Her entire body regenerates itself; her sunburnt skin returns to its original, pale complexion, her red hair increases in saturation and her body becomes shapelier, curvier.

SFX: Roars echo from the distance.

Brian removes his hand from Anna’s mouth and he picks her up once again and starts running. Brian heads towards the closest building. He kicks the cracked glass of a window.

SFX: SMASH.

Brian ducks under the fallen, wooden pylons and steps carefully around piles of rubble.

SFX: Growls and snarls can be heard from outside. Brian continues to move through the building. CRACK. Brian stops in his tracks. He looks down. The floorboards creak loudly underneath his weight. A CRASH is heard from outside.

The shadowy beasts ram the outside of the weakened building with their combined weight. Some try to claw through the walls.

Anna wakes up. She yells incoherently at Brian, and starts to fight free from his grasp.

BRIAN

Don’t move. The floor–

SFX: CRUNCH. The floor breaks apart from underneath them and both are sent tumbling down into the darkness.

CUT TO:

INT. BASEMENT BUNKER – NIGHT 11

SPFX: Suddenly, a flash of red erupts from the darkness, illuminating the screen.

Brian struggles to his feet, holding the flare from earlier. Anna moves into the light.

ANNA

What happened to you?

BRIAN

(menacingly)

I saved your damn life. Now the voices are louder than ever…and they’re COMING!

Brian scurries about the room. Anna looks confused.

ANNA

WHAT HAPPENED!

Brian turns to her.

BRIAN

I gave you the gift. Now you’ll hear the voices. Only you won’t live until they consume your mind.

ANNA

What?

BRIAN

I’m going to kill them… and us.

CUT TO:

EXT. CITY/BUILDING 12

SPFX: Their building is being attacked. Dirt and debris fall from the rafters at the impact made by the beasts.

CGI: The beasts leave scratch marks against the stone, as they try to dig into the building. The large shadow leaps onto the building and digs its claws into the stone.

SMASH. It breaks through a window and starts pulling out various objects; rubble, desks and a table. It then moves inside, pulling itself over piles of rubble. It smashes the floor with both arms. The floor caves in. The shadowy beast proceeds to start smashing its way through the next floor, moving closer to Brian and Anna.

CUT TO:

INT. BASEMENT BUNKER – NIGHT 13

An old lantern, somehow still alight, illuminates the darkness of the bunker in which Brian and Anna now hide

SFX: Sounds are heard above a set of stairs, behind a door.

SPFX: The door bursts open, flinging Anna into the room. A faint red light illuminates from the direction she was tossed from. Brian walks in, his body is glowing a ruby red instead of bright blue.

Anna rises to her feet.

ANNA

(fearful)

You’re mad!

BRIAN

(yelling)

You don’t know what it’s like.

I’ve had to suffer this power for nearly two centuries. TWO CENTURIES of constant pain, endless voices, and having my sanity slip… day… by… day.

Brian falls to his knees. He pulls out the vial and stares at it crazily.

ANNA

Then why did you save me?

BRIAN

No one wants to die alone…

Anna rises to her feet, backing away from the crazed Brian.

SPFX: Anna’s hands glows, but she talks no notice.

Brian eyes her hands, a small grin spreading across his face.

ANNA

(desperately)

I’ve been alone for my whole life. I’m used to it!

BRIAN

Perhaps… But now we will stay and ignite these ruins with the powers I was punished with.

SPFX: Brian looks at the vial again. His markings glow faintly. He turns around and stretches his arms out – and grunts loudly. Brian looks down and sees a STEEL BEAM plunged through his chest. Anna twists the beam.

Brian falls to his knees, but doesn’t seem in pain.

Anna snatches the vial from his hand.

SFX: A roar shakes the darkness of the room.

SPFX: The red light still illuminating the doorway shows the shadow of the Alpha.

Anna looks at Brian with pity. Before she turns on her heel and escapes through the bunkers open air vent and into the darkness. Brian gazes after her.

BRIAN

One day you’ll see things my way.

Especially now that you possess it.

SPFX: The alpha approaches Brian. Its teeth gleam in the low light. The alpha’s crimson red eyes look into Brian’s.

Brian lets out a small smile before his eyes flash, and he screams at the top of his lungs.

CUT TO:

INT. BASEMENT BUNKER/BEAST TUNNELS – NIGHT 14

Anna runs blindly through a dark hallway. She trips over a wooden beam and falls into a hole, tumbling forward into a tunnel dug by the beasts. The tunnel is rough and the floor uneven. Bits of broken pipes and debris can just be seen poking out the tunnel walls. Anna rises, and keeps running.

SFX: Anna flinches at the sound of Brian’s inhuman scream.

SPFX: The light from an explosion appears behind her. Anna is swept up in the blast. Anna crosses her arm to shield herself from the explosion. A blue light glows. She moves her arms down. They are covered in glowing, blue markings. The yellow/white light from the blast fills the screen.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT – ASTRONOMICAL DAWN 15

A pale white mist covers the ruins of the collapsed city.

SFX: A soft thump is heard from a pile of rubble.

SPFX: Anna bursts up from underneath the rubble. Her body is covered with the same markings that Brian had possessed.

She squints her eyes as they adjust to the light of day.

Anna stares at her arms with horror, before looking up and appraising her new surroundings. She turns, looking all around her, realizing that she is alone.

CGI: Anna looks down to the ground, where small green shoots are emerging from the rubble. Anna’s head slowly lifts up. The same growth is now reaching over the entirety of the destroyed city.

FADE TO BLACK

Download a PDF of ‘Self-Extinction’

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Gaymergate, James Renshaw

 

Get triggered by my bara-tiddy worship,

a can’t-unsee in your rule34 search –

the SFM McHanzo ship too stronk

for a bronze-tier tinder dudebro. Yeah

I’ll find someone like you raging on

a dell fit for CS:GO.

 

You’ve programmed me to be a lurkr,

an NPC following custom Dank Souls

rules, forever fucked in the faget spam –

teabags with the hacker’s headshot

(git gud) (deal with it), and

crackles of your e-peen playback

from a booth-babe Razer headset.

 

Are you in a monochrome cult classic

closed convention for the nerds who

grew up gains, and for those devolved

into fedora goblins – pimple neckbeards –

double-teaming G.I.R.Ls just so long

as you can common ground the cleavage

of Lara Croft’s supple poly prisms?

 

(I’ll bet you’d find them moist)

 

I can just feel your hands now: sticky –

bad handling of the pre-cream n’ tissues –

glossed over with the dirt of Doritos

and a fine Mountain Dew finish,

ready for some low-key ERP

STR8 hero fapfests in a hetero World

of Warcraft –

 

your fantasy; you know we’re living

a testosterone conundrum:

dat male blood-elf ass barrage,

all deez beefs and swole, and waves

after endless waves of orc cock

capping your daily quest logs.

 

But you’re salty. You can’t even

reality; butthurt that Bioware bitches

can warp the conversation wheels

and mod a man from your head

canon into the nope-depths

of the online dark side.

 

Welcome. Login

to the Grindr app crossover –

your sacred mancave backdoor’d

by the furfags and double rainbows;

you know what it means. ParTy up

and protect your fragile masculinity

from my emoji raids, encrypted:

1. SMiley2. Eggplant3. point4. OK

inb4 the Tumblrina cries, inb4

the Reddit downvote karma-fire,

before the 4chan trolls swarm,

doxx and DDoS with unsolicited

rootkit dick pics. GTFO

or get rekt.

 

 

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