Tag Archives: fantasy

Where Light Doesn’t Exist, Alex Chambers

Robert and Jaden were running out of ideas. It had been too long since Georgia had disappeared down the cave and black clouds were quickening overhead.

The cave was unlike any they’d seen or read about as it wasn’t made of stone but foliage. Trees sprouted up from the ground then curled and combined with leaves, bushes, and branches to make a completely solid structure, daunting the barely teenage boys standing just outside its mouth. It was lightless inside and no matter how much the two of them called, there was no echo or reply from Georgia. But the strangest of all was that the inside of the structure was significantly larger than the outside. When Robert and Jaden had dared to venture inside earlier, it became clear that they’d walked for much longer than physically possible before turning back.

Robert thought back to earlier this morning, when Georgia had pounded on his door and demanded he come see what she’d found. Jaden was dragged along when the pair chanced upon him on the way into the forest. When they had arrived, Georgia pointed down into the abyss. ‘Come on!’

‘What is it?’ Robert asked, approaching slowly. Jaden said nothing and kept his distance as Georgia grinned and began trotting into the mouth of the cave.

‘I dunno,’ she said. ‘But it goes a long way—I’m gonna see how far.’

She hadn’t said anything more. Before Robert or Jaden could even utter a protest, she’d dashed off. When she didn’t return for a few minutes, the boys tried to follow her, but found that the seemingly straight line surrounded by impossibly close-knit trees wasn’t so simple. As they walked, the path twisted and turned even though they never once changed the direction they travelled. The further they went, the more the light was swallowed by the shadows of the cavern.

Robert, now pacing back and forth at the mouth of the cave nearly an hour later, was starting to mumble to himself. ‘It’s getting late—we need to do something. I can’t believe we couldn’t stop her,’ he groaned. He’d been running his hand through his tan hair so many times now it was no longer neat.

‘Calm down,’ Jaden growled from against a tree nearby. ‘It’s Georgia’s own damn fault. Always running off and doing stupid stuff like this. I wish you hadn’t babbled to her about how ‘interesting’ this ‘strange new phenomenon’ looked either.’

‘Okay, I got a little excited,’ he admitted. ‘But this is like something out of one of my sci-fi books! There could be a whole universe in there—’

‘Please don’t start again.’ Jaden rolled his eyes and began rubbing his forehead. ‘I’m tired. This is the fourth supernatural thing we’ve had to deal with this week.’

The isolated, English countryside town of Edgeville was far from the first place anyone would’ve guessed would be a hotspot for paranormal activity, but for the past couple of months, the town’s children had found themselves embroiled in a series of strange happenings. A decrepit mansion appeared on the outskirts of town one evening and disappeared the next. Pale, ephemeral figures stalked the town’s graveyards. Objects floated and flew across rooms. And the children had had more than enough encounters with fanged, clawed and/or winged creatures that stalked them relentlessly, but always just out of the corner of their sight.

No one over the age of eighteen knew about any of this and most of the older children tried to deny it or explain it rationally. No matter what, any time an adult was called to investigate one of the strange and dangerous incidents it would vanish. Whole haunted houses would disappear. The floating spectres would evaporate just in time for the adult to miss them.

The children of Edgeville no longer slept soundly, but that didn’t stop some of them from trying to do something about it or being intrigued.

‘Do you think it goes underground?’ Robert said. ‘That would explain why it goes for so long and why it’s so dark inside.’

When he didn’t get a response, he turned to see Jaden yawning.

‘You’re still talking science-y mumbo-jumbo,’ he said.

‘Aren’t you interested?’ Robert retorted and then he added, ‘or worried?’

‘No. You don’t sound like you’re worried either.’

Robert thought for a moment, then said, ‘Are we just getting used to this, maybe?’

‘Sick of it, more like,’ Jaden huffed. ‘I mean, how many times has Georgia leapt into some dangerous situation and come out just fine with that stupid grin all over her face? And you’re treating it like a big mystery novel that you’re trying to figure out.’

‘This is a big mystery,’ Robert said. ‘And I do want to figure it out. And if we keep investigating, maybe we’ll all figure something out.’

A distant rumble of thunder came from far above. Jaden wrinkled his nose and frowned. ‘Go get Veronica. We’re not getting anything done right now.’

Most of the town’s children tried to ignore or flat-out deny that there was anything wrong, but after the incidents had started, a small band of kids had decided they’d actively explore the terrifying events that plagued their town. Veronica, as the oldest over Jaden by a few months, had been unofficially designated their leader, which meant that when Georgia got herself into trouble, it was usually Veronica who ended up organising the rescue mission.

‘Does your phone have reception out here?’ Robert asked.

‘No.’

‘Neither does mine. Stay here then, just in case Georgia comes back out. I’ll head into town…’

‘Fine by me,’ Jaden answered, sitting down at the base of the tree.

There was another, louder bang of thunder. Robert gave a thumbs-up and hurried off out of the forest.

He first swung by his own house, creeping in through the garage door and rifling through his father’s things for anything of use. As he’d hoped, he found a rope along with a heavy-duty torch. He wasted no time making a run for Veronica’s house a few streets over. He mulled over the thought of gathering up more friends for the rescue, but a flash of lightning accompanied by a dangerously close rumble caused him to decide that he was close to running out of time.

He approached the front door, first tossing the rope and torch into the bushes, and then knocked. Robert figured it’d be best to avoid any suspicious questions. The door was opened by Veronica’s father, Curtis, who greeted Robert warmly.

‘What can I do for you, Robert?’ he asked. ‘It’s looking to be a heck of a storm. Not really the right time to be off playing in the streets, eh?’

‘No sir,’ Robert answered. ‘I was actually wondering if Veronica was around. I had a, uh, spur of the moment idea. It was looking to be a good night for a movie so I wanted to see if Veronica and some other friends wanted to come over. Is she in?’

‘What a great way to spend a Saturday night! She’s home—I’ll go and get her. Just remember not to put on anything too scary. You know how she hates all those violent horror movies.’

Curtis called his daughter and departed the room. Robert managed to hold the smile on his face until Curtis left before grimacing. Veronica came treading down the stairs and frowned when she saw Robert’s expression.

‘Let me guess,’ she said. ‘Georgia?’

Robert nodded. ‘She’s in trouble.’

‘What did she annoy this time?’

‘It’s a little more complex than that bat thing she upset last week. It might be better to see for yourself. It’s in the forest.’

‘I’ll go get my coat and some good shoes,’ she sighed. She hopped back up the stairs and returned a moment later wearing a pair of pink gumboots and a baby-blue raincoat. Veronica was a year older than Robert, but nearly a foot shorter. She wasn’t as smart as Robert and she definitely wasn’t as brave or strong as Georgia, but she had a shine in her blue eyes and a posture that was tall and confident. Robert could tell by looking—even if Veronica couldn’t see it herself—that she was definitely most suited to be in charge.

‘I’ll try to explain what’s happening on the way,’ he said as they departed. He stopped a moment to retrieve his rope and torch from the garden before they jogged towards the forest. A drizzle of rain had begun to shower the pair as they fought through the trees and bushes towards their destination.

‘It’s over there,’ Robert pointed past some trees and over a hill. ‘I left Jaden there, in case Georgia came back.’

In between breaths and crashes of thunder, Robert tried to describe what the cave was to Veronica.

‘So it’s like a cave, but it’s bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside,’ she panted. ‘But it’s made of trees?’

‘Exactly!’ Robert said. ‘Think of what could be inside there. I mean, there could be anything really—’

‘Is that it?’ Veronica interrupted.

The rain had intensified, but there was no mistaking the gnarled shape of the cave a few metres away. As they hastened towards it, a flash of lightning illuminated the area. In the half-light, the cave looked more twisted and unnatural; the branches of the trees sharper and darker, but something else had caught their attention in that brief moment of sudden light.

‘Robert,’ she breathed. ‘Was that…?’

‘Yeah, I saw it too.’

Something had jolted like a startled spider into the cave, too fast for either of them to make out what it could be.

‘A deer?’ Veronica suggested.

‘Too big and too quick,’ Robert shuddered. ‘And…I think it was black. And scaly.’

‘I really hope you’re wrong. Could it have been—?’

She stopped and they flicked their heads towards each other. Robert switched on the torch and they hurried down the hill towards the cave. He swept the light over the area, scanning for any sign of Jaden. They both began to call his name, hoping he’d just fallen asleep under the tree, but it soon became clear he wasn’t answering.

‘He probably just went home, right?’ Veronica said. Her voice was quivering.

‘I told him to wait here, though,’ Robert said. ‘And I know he’s lazy, but he wouldn’t go home without Georgia.’

They both turned and looked down the looming maw of the cave. Even now, armed with the torch, Robert couldn’t see anything other than the walls of trees on either side of the path deep into the darkness. It seemed to stretch on forever.

‘Give me the torch,’ Veronica said, holding her hand out. ‘And one end of the rope.’

‘But—’

‘One of us has to stay out here,’ she explained. ‘And you’re right—Jaden wouldn’t have gone home without Georgia. If they did go home, we’d have seen them on the way here. So they’re in there.’

‘I want—’

‘I know,’ she continued. ‘I know you want to see what’s in there. That’s why I’m going in; you might get lost or distracted.’

Robert huffed, but complied. ‘If you see anything dangerous…’

‘I’m not leaving without them either,’ she said. Without another word, she faced the cave, torch in one hand and rope in the other, and began to tread cautiously into the abyss. A ways in, she started to run, calling Jaden and Georgia’s names.

Robert watched her get smaller and smaller, the rope in his hand unwinding rapidly as the light from Veronica’s torch steadily vanished from view. He was alone in the closing darkness. The sky howled and rain began to pelt him furiously. He stepped into the mouth of the cave, hoping its branches would at least keep him dry as he waited. The rope in his hand continued to unravel.

*

The walls of the cave had begun to change. Veronica could see the branches and foliage of the trees melting together to form some new substance that was a dull brown. It looked like it’d be sticky to touch, but she didn’t dare test this thought. A smell like decomposing fruit had begun to gradually rise in potency and it took all of Veronica’s willpower to avoid turning back. What was worse was that the light from her torch was steadily becoming useless. The blackness of the cave seemed so immense that her light couldn’t pierce it. The ray seemed increasingly insignificant as she ventured deeper. Her heart was thundering like the storm she had left so far behind

‘Jaden!’ she called. ‘Georgia!’

She stopped running for a moment to catch her breath and listen for a response. She thought she heard footsteps somewhere ahead, but otherwise the cave was silent.

‘Please, please, please be Jaden and Georgia.’ she muttered.

Veronica increased her pace and began calling again. The ground beneath her boots was growing warmer and softer. She dreaded the thought of aiming her torch downwards to see what was happening to it; instead she focused the light on the void before her. As she jogged along, the light occasionally illuminated the walls and Veronica noted that they were stretching further apart. Something was dripping from them without a sound. There was no way she was still in the forest.

When she called her friends again, she gasped at a sound not too far ahead. She thought it’d been a groan. She sprinted into the darkness, clutching her torch and rope and almost tripped over the slouched figure of Jaden.

‘Jaden!’ she cried. The torchlight flew over his features, telling Veronica all she needed to know: he was hurt. Blood was dripping from his nose and mouth. She shrieked, dropped the torch, and began to shake Jaden by the shoulders. Soon enough, she heard a voice from the darkness.

‘What time is it…?’

Veronica stopped and picked her torch back up to direct it to the space beside Jaden. It was Georgia, lying face-down on the ground. When she sat up, Veronica became aware that she was also injured: she had a crimson gash across her forehead.

‘Georgia?’

She blinked and shook her head, realisation setting in. ‘Oh, ‘sup, Veronica? How’d you get down here?’

‘Never mind that,’ Veronica said. ‘Help me get Jaden up—we’ve gotta go.’ She moved to shake his shoulder again, but Georgia motioned for her to step back. Without any further prompting, she began slapping Jaden repeatedly until a series of moans came from his throat.

‘Quit it, quit it!’ he snapped, jumping to his feet. ‘I’m up!’

‘Then we’re leaving,’ Veronica said, standing. ‘You can tell me what happened when we get out of here.’

‘Okay, but question,’ Georgia said, dragging herself to her feet. ‘How’d you get past that thing?’

‘Thing?’

‘Yeah, the thing with lots of legs and eyes.’

Veronica didn’t move. Jaden turned to her and could just make out her horrified expression in the torchlight. ‘You didn’t see it, did you?’

She slowly shook her head.

‘Well ya might soon,’ Georgia said, looking past her friends. Veronica held her breath and could faintly make out a scuttling sound in the direction Georgia was facing.

‘Stay close and don’t look back,’ Veronica instructed. No more words were said as the three tore back through the cave along the path of the rope.

*

It was well and truly storming now, with rain slamming down like the world was ending. The cave offered little safety from it to Robert who was now drenched. However, not once had his gaze left the direction of the darkness where he now watched his three friends charging towards him. Jaden and Georgia’s faces were covered in blood. Veronica looked like she was about to cry. They arrived and stopped in front of Robert, whose expression was a mixture of concern and joy.

For a while no one said anything, and the cacophony in the skies above was all they could hear. Then Robert jerked his thumb back behind him, towards town. ‘I’ve uh,’ he said. ‘Got some Disney movies at my place. And a heater. You guys want to come over? Tell me all about it?’

Georgia made some sort of discontent sound and Jaden shoved her.

‘Sounds great, Robert,’ Veronica sighed. ‘Let’s get out of here.’

 

Download a PDF of “Where Light Doesn’t Exist” here

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Liminality, Amy Garpendal

This road feels familiar.

The girl walks with her backpack slung low. She’s forgotten how long she’s been walking. Orange streaks across the sky as the sun sinks towards the horizon, the low angle stabbing into the girl’s eyes. She brushes her hand across her brow, wondering where her sunshades have gone. Her hand stops, and she stares at it. There are several bands tattooed between the joints of her dark fingers. Her smallest finger has, four, the next finger six, she stares at her middle finger counting and re-counting. Seven. Seven. Every time she recounts she wants to stop at six, but the seventh ring contradicts her. Seven. She shakes out her fingers and digs them through the tight curls of her hair. There must have been a tattoo parlour in the last town, she thinks, itll come back to me soon.

A nearby sign proclaims the presence of a rest-stop: Ama’s Resting Place—500m. The prairie slowly turns into scrub which then thickens into sparse forest. The turn-off lane shifts to gravel and curves around to meet a parking bay. A small cottage is set behind wooden picnic tables that fan out from the parking bay. The stones of the cottage might have once been a rich brown but the sun has softened the colour to an ashy grey. The windows are small and dirty. Its wooden door is propped open, the surrounding buttonbush creeping up and inside.

The girl walks in and is surprised. It is much more spacious than she had expected. There are several cases, some full of books, others half-filled with knickknacks and spare car parts. Racks of clothes and blankets, sagging armchairs, spinning displays of hats and mugs. There is an old refrigerator beside a large wooden bench that appears to be the paying counter. Perched behind the counter is a small Native American lady. She looks up from her book when the girl walks in. Her name-tag says ‘Ama’.

‘You lookin’ for anything in particular, girl?’

The girl doesn’t reply. She stares at the rotating mug rack in front of her, an empty space blooming in her mind. Green plastic mugs flash names at her; Alice, Amelia, Brooke, Catherine, Chloe…

‘We ain’t got yours?’

She shakes her head absently, staring, seeking, seeking. I should know this, she worries, why dont I remember this? Taylor, Tiffany, Tina, Tracey…

‘No…I don’t think so.’ She tugs on the straps of her backpack, thinking hard, shifting letters around in her head. Tiah, Teha, Teia, Theia.

Theia.

‘I’m Theia,’ she announces, swinging the display back to the beginning of the alphabet. ‘Do you have a map? I think I lost mine.’

The cottage-keeper, Ama, dog-ears her page and slips off her stool. She pulls a woven basket of maps from the far end of the counter. As Ama rifles, Theia drops her backpack to her feet undoing the straps and extracting her wallet. She flips it open and catches sight of her ID card. The smaller version of herself, blue-tipped mass of curls, full eyebrows, dark gold eyes, peers up at her. Theia hesitates then pushes the card further into her wallet and goes to fish out a twenty dollar bill. She hears a soft exclamation of victory and looks up to see Ama holding a dirty and slightly creased map. Across the counter, Ama hands her the map but doesn’t let go, instead she looks up into Theia’s golden eyes. Ama’s curiously colourless eyes bore into Theia. Her lower belly quivers and she feels as if the surrounds of her mind are warming and melting away.

A small pocket of memory opens. She’s been here before. She has stood in this place seventeen times before. Has walked this road seventeen times. Taken this task seventeen times. Failed seventeen times. Every time remembering a little less. She began with such determination, she thinks. When had she begun forgetting why she journeyed? The tattoo artist had stopped asking what she wanted done. She loses the map every time. Ama always looks at her the same. The hopelessness had crept in sometime around the ninth time and never left. She feels ill after every time she remembers. Familiar rage and frustration rises in Theia, the echo of the past seventeen times over.

Ama releases the map and her eyes. Theia blinks. Forgets.

She looks at the map in her hands. Her stomach roils.

‘Where’s the bathroom?’

‘Next to the postcards and the golf clubs.’

Theia barely makes it to the old-fashioned toilet but as soon as she braces herself above the bowl, the sickness abates. She tosses the map aside and waits, sure that the nausea will return. When it doesn’t she pulls herself up to the sink, tapping the faucet to wet her fingers. She digs her fingers into her eyes and rubs. Stars burst behind her eyelids and she sighs. Itll all make sense, she tries to reassure herself, Ill know where Im going soon. Her clothes are dusty and dirty, her grey shirt turned nearly as brown as her skin. The cuffs of her jeans are wearing away. Her boots are becoming lost under the thick grime. As she turns to leave she spies the map on the floor. Vertigo pulls her down to the cool tiles. Her head throbs and her stomach lurches. She feels like a dormant volcano trying desperately to reawaken. She presses her palms into her eyes, blocking everything out. She sits quietly. Breathing.

There’s a knock at the bathroom door.

‘You alive in there, girl?’ Ama’s voice crackles through the wood and urges Theia to her feet.

‘My name is Theia.’ She picks up the map and shoves it in the back pocket of her jeans. Ama is standing outside the door when she comes out. She hands Theia an unopened bottle of water and goes back to the counter.

Theia wanders about the racks and tables, taking tiny sips of water. A green notebook catches her attention on one of the bookshelves. She wonders what happened to her old one. She picks it up and goes over to where she left her backpack. Her snack supply is dwindling and she doesn’t have any mittens. The evenings are going to get colder. As she browses she finds a bunch of muesli bars and fingerless mittens; pale blue, yellow, some green. Why arent there any with fingers? There are several empty spaces next to the yellow ones. She takes the pale blue mittens and goes over to the paying counter.

‘Could I have two more bottles of water as well, please?’ Ama fetches them from the fridge while Theia retrieves her wallet. She spies a small cosmetic section and impulsively picks out a tube of purple lipstick. Ama rings it all up for her and Theia passes over a bill. Theia pulls out the creased map and spreads it over the counter.

‘Where about are we on here? Also could you point me towards…’ she trails off and looks away frowning. Ama peers at her intently, wondering whether the girl will remember this time. Rules dictate that no one must interfere. Even cottage-keepers.

‘Never mind.’ Theia’s voice is small, her eyes remain downcast.

Ama sighs and spins the map around. This time like so many others. She tracks down her cottage, a tiny dot along one of the lesser travelled highways. She plants an ‘X’next to it in red pencil. While Ama puts the pencil away and picks her book up, Theia picks idly at a small tear over west Nebraska, feeling hopeless. She looks up to thank Ama but the cottage-keeper avoids her eyes and turns the page of her book.

Theia gathers up her purchases and takes them and her backpack out to one of the picnic tables. She refolds all of her clothes and jams them into the bottom of the pack. She pulls on her sweater. It has a hole in the shoulder. The fingerless mittens she ends up putting on instead of having to later dig around and mess up her system. Apples that are slightly withered but still good go on top of the muesli bars and the beef jerky, next to her flashlight and bandanas. Her wallet slips into the front section so it’s easier to extract next time. She rolls up her blanket and straps it to the top of the pack. The two unopened water bottles go into the side nets. Finally she stares at the sheathed hunting knife that she still feels wary and confused about. She doesn’t remember where she got it or what it’s for. She hasn’t unsheathed it. She ends up sliding it into the rolled-up blanket, not knowing where else to put it. She’s left the green notebook and a pen out. Flipping it the notebook open, she writes her name in the front cover and the name of the rest-stop underneath. She closes it again and sticks it and the pen into her empty pocket. She stretches and looks back over to the cottage. Maybe Ill come back one day. After Ive finished. Finished

Theia hoists the backpack onto her shoulders. The gravel crackles under her boots as she walks away from Ama’s Resting Place.

*

Ama watches out the open door as Theia walks away from the cottage for the eighteenth time. She wonders how many more times she will see her come through, yet again asking for a map and gloves. Ama turns the page of her book. Her Resting Place. Her resting place for travellers. They would pull out their maps, she would strike an ‘X’, on they’d go. Then she’d see others again, twice, three times, five times. Never more.

She wonders if much will change if Theia makes it to the next town. Eighteen times. Her journey is not like the journeys of others before her. Ama thinks of the locked drawer at the base of the counter. Interfering is forbidden, she reminds herself. She turns the page of her book. Flips to the next chapter. The other travellers eventually made it. Why not Theia? Never so many repetitions. Eighteen. Perhaps this time, a small part of her mind whispers. She tugs on a small key hidden among the many necklaces around her neck.

Ama eyes the small locked drawer at the base of the counter.

She closes her book.

*

Theia looks back at Ama’s Resting Place as the gravel turns back into bitumen. The cottage stands in the desolation of the prairie, the sparse forest surrounding it softening the harshness. She has the most peculiar feeling that she’s been there before today, the buttonbush that’s creeping inside, the picnic tables, Ama. It feels the strangest kind of familiar. She looks at her mittens, the pale blue contrasting against her hands. I thought I had some red ones with fingers, she stares for a moment longer, or were they orange. Theia shakes her head and continues walking, following the road north. It feels like the right way to be walking. She knows there is somewhere she is meant to be going but there must be something broken in her br—

Her temples throb.

Broken Bow.

She gasps and rips the notebook and pen out, writing on the first page she lands. She drops to the ground, scrabbles for her map and searches, searches. Ama’s red X. Her finger follows the road north.

Broken Bow.

The prairie wind whips up and pulls at the map under her hands. She holds onto a corner desperately but the wind catches a tear and tugs. Half of the map tumbles away. Theia stumbles to her feet and runs. The wind whips the paper higher and higher. From behind her a truck horn blares. It swerves, headlights blinding her and she lurches to the side, falling into a buttonbush. The wind drops and the truck fades away into the distance.

Theia picks herself up. The prairie is quiet. She walks forward and hears the crinkle of paper under her boot. It’s half of a map. The southern half of Nebraska. Theia looks around the prairie, wondering if the other half is close by. She shrugs and folds the half up and shoves in into her bag. She pats her jeans down and frowns, she thought she had a pen tucked away somewhere. Perhaps not.

Theia dusts herself off, hikes her backpack higher, and begins to walk into the darkening dusk.

 

This road feels familiar.

 

Download a pdf of ‘Liminality’

Tagged , ,

From Slipstream, Kylie Nealon

Slipstream is a Young Adult novel, set in a parallel contemporary society, in which teenagers with ‘extra’ abilities are being recruited as part of an elite programme. At the d’Orsay Academy in central London, Scarlett, the protagonist, and her peers attend the corporation’s ‘school.’ We follow Scarlett and her three friends as they explore their new-found abilities within an organisation that is rigid about how their talents should be used. This leads to the questioning of what each of them knows about themselves, where their moral boundaries lie, and how far each of them will go to protect what is important to them. 

 

Chapter Five

‘Jeez,’ Scarlett shivered in her jacket as they gathered later that day in the courtyard, ‘this is summer?’

Conor looked a little insulted. ‘Do I look like I’m controlling the weather here? This is England, not the Outback. If you want someone to direct your complaints to, I’d suggest you blame global warming.’

He made it sound like global warming was a company with a customer services department, and she was amused by the thought. Mike interrupted them, clearly impatient to get going.

‘Why are we talking about the weather? Let’s go already,’ he said, shoving his hands into his pockets. ‘You’ve got the picture, right?’

Scarlett nodded and pulled out the folded up image of the Manhattan comic store. She’d spent the afternoon studying the picture, ignoring the algebraic equations she was meant to be doing.

‘Okay,’ she said, ignoring the niggling voice that was telling her that this was a really bad idea. ‘Take my hand,’ she told them and Conor grabbed Lena’s hand. Scarlett bit back a smile. Mike let out a dramatic sigh and took her hand. His fingers felt a little clammy wrapped around hers and Scarlett tried to ignore the dampness. Other than that, he gave no outward sign of nerves, and for a brief second, she envied him.

‘Don’t let go, no matter what.’ Scarlett took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Letting her mind relax, she recalled Mike’s picture. She saw the store with its canvas awning and battered trim take shape in her head as the sound of cars, pedestrians and faint music drifted in. So far, so good, she told herself. No sign of anything out of the ordinary. The ground shifted, and the smells of a city that ran on smoke and gasoline brought the image in her head to life. Cracking one eye open, Scarlett peered out. The other three seemed to be holding their breaths, and Mike’s grip was becoming uncomfortable.

‘Yes!’ she said, more than a little pleased with herself. ‘You guys can open your eyes.’

The other three opened their eyes, and Mike dropped his hands, breaking their circle as soon as he spotted the store. The looks on their faces confirmed they hadn’t really believed that she could pull it off. As she stood there, smug in her achievement, the others broke away, wandering off to check out their surroundings.

‘Stay connected!’ Scarlett said, sounding sharper than she intended. Even to her, her voice sounded like it was coming from somebody else. She softened it a little. ‘At least until we get to the door, okay?’

‘Don’t you think that’s going to look a little weird? I mean, I’m fine with the holding hands thing now,’ Mike said, briefly scowling at Conor as if daring him to contradict him, and then turned back to Scarlett to continue. ‘I mean, we can’t walk in there together holding hands.’

Scarlett bit her lip. ‘We have to stay together. What happens if someone wanders off and gets caught?’

He raised an eyebrow, as if to say something, but changed his mind, and nodded his reluctant consent. He grabbed Lena’s hand and shuffled over to the store’s window. A fleeting look of jealousy crossed Conor’s face. Scarlett saw the stiffness in Lena’s body as she stood there with Mike, which loosened just a smidgeon as she let out a small giggle at something Mike said. Walking over to them, Conor unwound his scarf and handed it to Mike. ‘Here, wear this. If you’ve got something of mine, you should be okay.’ Mike looked at him, surveying him, as if waiting for the sarcastic comment to follow. Lena dropped her hand, a faint blush staining her cheeks.

‘Thanks, man.’ He shrugged and wound the scarf around his neck. The biting wind was finding its way in to the nooks and crannies, and Scarlett envied the warmth he had around his neck.

‘That was nice of you,’ she said to Conor, her voice low.

He shrugged. “Nice’ wasn’t why I did it,’ he said, giving her a sly, knowing smile.

‘Um, maybe we could go inside now?’ Mike asked them, his tone plaintive.

‘Yeah, sorry. Let’s go,’ Scarlett said as Mike, finally given permission, almost took the door off its hinges in his haste to get inside. Mike headed over to the ‘new release’ section, and, having found what he was looking for, was making strangled noises of rapturous pleasure that set Lena off in a flood of giggles. Looking around, Scarlett saw that every available space of the shop was crammed with comics, posters and young guys, hanging out, flicking through the vast selection. To her relief, nobody had given them or their appearances a second glance, and she felt her shoulders sink away from her ears a few millimeters.

‘This is seriously boring,’ Conor announced. ‘What are we meant to do now? Wait for him to finish his private moment? I’m out.’ He looked at Scarlett, as if waiting for her to disagree, given her earlier warning about staying together. She said nothing, and he smiled. ‘Let’s check out next door. Some kind of music shop, I think.’

‘Yeah, but only next door,’ Scarlett warned. They made their way over to Mike, who was poring over each page in a reverential manner that Scarlett found a little uncomfortable.

‘Hey,’ Scarlett said, keeping her voice down. They’d pretty much gotten away with being here, and the last thing she needed was her accent being picked up on. ‘We’re going next door, but we’ll be back in ten minutes, okay?’ He nodded, only half hearing her and she gestured to Lena.

‘Thank you,’ she said to Scarlett as they left. ‘I’m not sure how much longer I would have lasted in there.’

‘Me neither,’ Scarlett replied, ‘so not my thing.’

The record shop was next door, and they stood aside to let someone come out, an old-school LP tucked under his arm.

‘Wow, this is totally retro,’ Scarlett said to Conor. This was more like it, she thought.

‘Tell me about it,’ Conor replied. They headed over to the ‘new music’ section and began flicking through the new releases, laughing over the photos on the covers, filled with people in lurid clothing and big hair. The look of the day seemed to be girls working bows in their hair and massive skirts, with the boys rocking gelled hair and knitted cardigans. Scarlett picked up an LP of Bobby Rydel’s Greatest Hits, looking like he’d stepped out of the movie, Grease.

Dropping it back in to its slot, she picked up a smaller 45 record and scrutinised the label. ‘Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (On The Bedpost Overnight),’she read out loud. ‘Oh, come on. That can’t be real.’

Conor leaned over her shoulder and sniggered. ‘Where did they come up with these titles?’

Lena leaned in. ‘What do you reckon our kids will think of the stuff we listen to now?’

Scarlett shoved the LP back into the section she’d pulled it out of and pulled another one out. ‘It can’t be any worse than these,’ she told her. ‘I’m Gonna Knock On Your Door,she read. Conor joined in.

You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby, he told Lena, who blushed.

They traded titles back and forth for a few minutes until they were interrupted by the arrival of Mike, who looked more than a little flustered.

‘We have to go,’ he said. His eyes were glittery and red patches had stained his cheeks. He looked like he’d run five miles, not from next door.

‘Why?’ asked Scarlett, ‘where’s the fire?’ She slid the record she’d been holding back in to its slot, a small frisson of alarm shooting up from her stomach.

He glanced around. ‘We have to go, like, now, okay? I’ll explain when we get back.’

Lena and Conor had come over to see what the fuss was about. ‘What’s the deal?’ Conor said. ‘Annoy the crap out of someone else with your comic-book back-stories?’

Mike looked a little annoyed. ‘No, I didn’t, but thanks for asking. It wasn’t my fault,’ he began to elaborate but Scarlett cut him off with a wave of her hand.

‘Just stop talking now, okay?’ She saw the scowl cross his face and knew he’d stuffed up — big time. ‘You’re an idiot,’ she stated. ‘No,’ she held up one finger, ‘that’s not up for debate. I guess we need to get out of here pretty quick, then?’

‘Yeah, like now, okay?’ He glanced over to the window and they all turned to see a few of the boys from the comic shop, peering through the glass to see if he was in there.

‘Why did we go with this choice again?’ Scarlett asked nobody in particular. ‘Come on,’ she told the other two, ignoring Mike. She nodded at Conor, and as he pushed open the door, he reached behind him and linked hands with Scarlett, who grabbed Lena. Mike was lurking at the back of them all and seemed hesitant to go back out. Lena grabbed his hand and they walked out, primary-school style, onto the sidewalk. Conor’s scarf, still around Mike’s neck, snagged on the doorframe, and tugged itself free.

The boys looked down, stunned, before picking it up and talking in excited tones that didn’t sound good at all.

‘Leave it,’ Scarlett told him, ‘just keep moving.’

‘But-’ he tried to say.

‘Well, we’re stuffed now,’ Conor said, his voice sounding a little sick. ‘I think we’re going to have to make a quick exit. And we can’t do it stuck together. When I count to three, we’re going to run for that alley, okay?’ He indicated a small opening about a hundred meters ahead of them to the left.

‘Why?’ asked Mike. ‘Why can’t you just get us back from here?’ he said to Scarlett.

‘Because I can’t just stand in the middle of a sidewalk with people walking into me, can I?’ she said. ‘I need some space. And Lena’s not up to lifting all four of us just yet. So we head for the alley.’

‘Yep,’ Lena agreed. ‘Let’s just get out of here.’ She glanced back at the boys. ‘Like now.’

‘Agreed,’ Mike said, his voice high with tension. Scarlett was seething. Angry with Mike, she was mostly annoyed with herself. So stupid, she thought. Conor broke the link and the four of them became visible again. Not the most discreet exit, Scarlett thought, looking around at the startled looks from the pedestrians who were disconcerted to find human-shaped roadblocks appearing in their paths. The group of boys spotted Mike on the sidewalk and began walking towards him as if he were some kind of Messiah. One of them was holding Conor’s scarf.

‘Jeez,’ Mike said, nervous. ‘This is not what I had in mind.’

‘Yeah?’ said Conor, ‘And what did you have in mind, exactly? Drop a few hints, look like the big man?’ They were moving along the sidewalk, trying not to run but not far from it. The boys were dodging pedestrians, their pace picking up.

‘Shut up, okay?’ Mike said, a little out of breath. ‘Maybe if you’d stayed in the shop with me instead of wanting to spend a little more time with your girlfriend, none of this would’ve happened and we wouldn’t be running along the street like criminals.’

Scarlett reached the alley and pulled Lena in, giving Mike an extra shove for his stupidity as he came past her. He stumbled, but didn’t say anything as he shot her a dirty look. They took a few seconds to get their breath back along a dirty brick wall, the entrance of which was partially concealed by large rubbish bins. It looked like the gods of time travel had come through for them, Scarlett thought. Nobody would think to come down here, surely. The first to recover, Mike ducked back to the entrance and peered around the corner, scanning the sidewalk. ‘I think they’re gone,’ he announced, a confident tone evident.

‘Not so fast,’ Conor said, pointing. The boys were beginning to gather, and they could hear the excited babble of noise and shouting as they tried to get Mike’s attention.

As the group advanced, Scarlett grabbed Conor’s hand. ‘Join hands,’ she instructed them all, ‘and stay quiet. This is going to be hard enough.’ They nodded and she shut her eyes, but couldn’t block out the sound of the strangled sounds of concern from around her. Focusing harder than she ever had before, she pictured her room at d’Orsay, and the world around them began to dissolve. The shouts from the boys began to fade and the ground disappeared and reappeared underneath her feet. She caught the lingering smell of her perfume and the wet towel she’d tossed over her desk chair earlier that morning. She opened her eyes with a sigh of relief.

‘We’re here,’ she told them, as the others opened their eyes, mirroring her relief. Mike looked around.

‘Wow,’ he said. ‘Tidiness is not your strong point, is it?’ as he took in her scattered belongings.

‘How about you keep your mouth shut?’ she countered. ‘You’re not exactly in my good books right now.’

He sat down on the edge of the bed, tossing a few clothes on to the floor as he did so. Lena took the desk chair and Conor sat on the floor, cross-legged. All three of them sat, waiting.

‘Well, that was exciting,’ Conor said, breaking the silence, sarcasm dripping from every word. ‘What’d you do to get them so wound up?’

Mike cleared his throat. ‘Nothing. I mean, I got talking to one of the guys in there and I kind of forgot they don’t know what’s going to happen. And maybe I got a bit carried away. But it’s not like I did it deliberately,’ he said to Scarlett, indignant.

‘Yeah, that makes it all okay, then,’ she told him. ‘Look, Maggie told me that if I started playing around with anything when I went time-travelling, then things here would change. So I don’t know what this means, but it can’t be good.’

‘Weeeelll,’ Mike began, ‘I guess this isn’t good, either.’ He drew out the first edition of The Fantastic Four a little crumpled, from inside his jacket. For a minute, nobody spoke. Lena let out a strangled sound, and Scarlett caught her look, as though afraid of an explosion.

But Scarlett felt like someone had zapped every last bit of energy from her. All she wanted to do was throw up. Taking a few deep breaths, the others waited to see what she’d do. Lena eventually got up to sit next to her, clearly concerned at her silence, but Scarlett held up her hand to stop her, and the other girl stopped and sat down again.

‘Did I not tell you to just go and read it and then we’d come back?’ she asked Mike. ‘Why would you do that?’ All of a sudden, she felt incredibly tired. ‘That’s it for me. I’m so out of here.’ Why am I so surprised at him? He’s only doing what I knew he would. Tom would be so disappointed in her, she knew.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, sounding a little contrite. ‘I didn’t think it’d make that much of a difference. I thought that you were exaggerating.’ His voice trailed off as he finally grasped the enormity of his error.

Conor shook his head. ‘Man, for a smart guy, you are seriously slow on the uptake. Why couldn’t you just leave it there?’

Mike looked miserable. ‘I couldn’t. It’s a first edition. Does this mean that I’ll have to give it back?’

Give it back? That’s what you’re worried about? Yeah, you could say that!’ Scarlett leaned over and snatched it out of his hands. ‘Give me that!’ The comic felt like it was pulsing with some kind of energy between her hands.

A knock sounded at the door, startling them.

Scarlett swallowed and opened the door. Gil was standing there, with a look that seemed to go beyond ordinary anger. He scanned over the rest of them before coming back to rest his attention on Scarlett.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back. Scarlett, I’d like a word, please?’ The formality of his words belied the bristly body language, arms crossed, and a mottled pattern creeping up his neck as he bit back on elaborating.

‘Let’s go,’ he said. ‘There’s no point delaying the inevitable. And you three,’ he said, directing his attention to the others who were now hovering in the hallway, ‘go and wait in the common room. Your Mentors are looking for you as we speak. And I’ll take that, too,’ he said, reaching for the comic. He glanced at the cover. ‘I’d have been disappointed if it’d been a DC one.’ Mike looked surprised, but closed his mouth as he saw the expression on Gil’s face. The older man sighed, as if suppressing some other emotion. ‘You just couldn’t leave it alone, could you?’ he asked them, his voice holding a thread of fear in it. He looked up at her. ‘What have you done, Scarlett?’

 

Download a pdf of ‘Slipstream’

Tagged , , ,

Custodian, Lindsey Hodder

Shadows blew across the ground, gently caressing the streets of packed dirt. Ghostly echoes of the clouds that threatened to blot out the moon the shadows provided ever growing opportunities to be taken advantage of, if one wished to remain unseen. One did. Emme hovered in the meagre shadows cast by the piles of debris that were all that was left of the shipwright district. Misty clouds of wasted breath hung before her in the cold night air. She hugged her shawl tightly to her ribs as she waited for a brief break in the clouds to pass.

In… out – mist, in… out – mist; she narrated her breaths with a single minded concentration. Overhead the clouds thickened as rain began to spit down, adding a layer of damp to her freezing form. She jolted herself to movement once more. Darting from one dark shadow to the next. Always on the lookout. Always listening for a hint of activity. She swore her staccato heartbeat could be heard back through the city all the way to the citadel proper itself. It mimicked the tramping of soldier’s boots, and she shook her head at the thought. Not now. Not tonight.

She paused beside a blackened shell. Once a house, the roof was now gone – the walls dark with ash that would never wash off, no matter how hard it rained. These houses, this district, had once been the pride of the city. It had been the first thing the invaders destroyed. She shook her head again, harder this time. She had to keep her mind sharp. This was the most important part. All her care was for nothing if she was spotted now. Living on the streets she had been constantly on the wrong side of the law simply to survive. This was so much bigger than all of those times. She wouldn’t be able to wriggle her way out if she they realised what she was caught up in. She’d be thrown in one of the dungeons in the cold and damp and dark to rot and –

Shrink back against the wall. Let your eyes lose focus. Watch for movement. Count three times to one hundred. The memory of the spoken words calmed the hammering of her heart for a moment as she forced her thoughts away from capture. She wasn’t going to get caught. She ground her teeth together in frustration. She hadn’t been so jumpy since she was a kid. The rain was growing harder, the smell of burnt wood filling her nostrils as the ground was slowly soaked. She wrinkled her nose and tried not to think about that either.

She reached her third one hundred, forcing herself to make the full count despite growing winds that tore at her, lifting her hair and thrusting the cold deeper into her bones. One last glance up the street and she was satisfied she was alone, pushing off the wall with sweaty palms. One, two, three steps… her heart began racing anew. She darted across the last laneway, each step propelling her faster. The pile of rotting wood on carefully disguised hinges protested at its abrupt opening as she thrust it into the air, the screeching sound caught by the wind to echo down the street. Emme jumped down through the trapdoor, almost landing on the figure that caught the timber before it could slam back down.

‘Were you seen?’ Nicolai’s words were harsh, abrupt. She shook her head, the pounding in her ears subsiding now she was safely inside. He stood behind her as she secured the latch of the trapdoor. She could feel his glare on her as she tied the knots he couldn’t. The knots he should have re-tied after his own arrival. The reminder that she bested him, in this at least, once would have soothed her. Tonight, she hated it. ‘Are you su –’

‘I wasn’t seen!’ The words came out louder than she intended. Who was he to question her? To doubt her? The older boy’s face tensed and his arm jerked halfway to her face. His glare deepened before he closed his eyes and relaxed with conscious effort, his hand returning to his side. He hated the situation even more than she did. She turned her back and started walking deeper into the makeshift shelter. Last week he would have hit her. The strain of their situation was forcing him to civility even as it was turning her into a cowering wreck.

She didn’t make it two steps before he lunged forward to drag her back.

‘You have to convince him to stay.’ She could hear fear and anger in his voice, mingled with familiar disdain. What was he afraid of, anyway? He wasn’t going to have what she was sure would be the entirety of the continent after him. ‘He won’t listen to me. Tell him tonight’s no good.’

Emme yanked her arm out of his hand. ‘What good do you think it’ll do, huh?’ She turned and started down the corridor again, pretending it didn’t bother her even as she wrapped her arms around herself once again. The damp wool of her jacket smelt of wet ash. The entire district smelt of wet ash in the rain now. It used to smell like freshly sawn wood and drying varnish. Usually, she hated the new smell; yet another reminder of the war. Tonight she desperately wished she were back outside – anywhere but here. On the threshold of the old cellar she paused. How did you get into this mess? The sound of Nikolai’s footsteps in the hall jolted her to action. She wouldn’t let him see her moment of weakness. She hugged her ribs tighter, disgusted with herself for needing the extra comfort, and forced herself into the old cellar.

Light flickered from a sputtering candle, illuminating a frail figure hunched over an old door balanced on piles of rubble. The makeshift desk had been buried in precarious stacks of moulding paper and rotting books for months now. Paper, Elias had told her, was precious, fragile. It was meant for palaces and libraries – not the damp air by the docks. It had been the first time she’d seen books up close, though she’d tried to hide her interest. Palaces and libraries didn’t welcome the likes of her. The papers and books that had covered the desk had been a fraction of Elias’ collection. Yet they had been all the scholar could save when he fled from the citadel during the war.

Now the desk before the old man was almost empty – the books and papers burnt, though their musty smell still lingered. Emme hadn’t seen the fire-blackened base of the door that had served as his makeshift desk since they first pulled it from the wreckage of the house the next street over. Being the closest to the docks these streets had borne the brunt of the destruction, though the invaders hadn’t neglected to ruin the rest of the district. Setheyi’s famous shipyards were now ruined, holding only the crude shelters the invaders had thrown together to hold their prisoners. The shipwright district itself had been abandoned, the jagged remains serving as a ghostly reminder of just how broken the city had become. It was, Elias had explained when she had first been roped into helping him, the perfect place to hide.

The candle flame flailed in an errant gust of wind from the building storm outside. Nicolai rushed to Elias’ side as their shadows danced on the walls, fiddling with the shutters on the old lantern until the flame was strong once more. Elias remained still, his attention on the thing in front of him. Emme watched as Nicolai opened his mouth once, twice. Hovering.

‘Are you sure there’s no other way?’ Nicolai’s last ditch objection burst forth, breaking the old man’s concentration.

Elias finally turned, his eyes meeting Nicolai’s. ‘It must leave the city. It must have the best chance. There is no other way.’ His slow, careful way of talking infuriated her almost as much as Nicolai’s general manner. Elias turned to her and her annoyance faltered; the lines etched across his face were deeper than she remembered from even yesterday, the mouth turned further down at the corners. ‘Emme is its best chance.’

‘But –’

‘Alchemy is a feared art, Nicolai, you know this. Misunderstood, but its accomplishments must be saved. And my time has run short.’

Emme shivered. The thing still gave her the feeling of spiders crawling up her spine. Her brief annoyance seemed petty in the face of fear. It was suddenly so very real, what she was helping them do. She had been the one to learn the guard was getting close to locating Elias, the one that had pushed Elias’ plan into motion. She and Nicolai had debated hard that night, on the same side for once, for him to simply move his hiding place, bide his time.

The alchemist had declined, caring more for its safety than his own. He repeated his words tonight, eyes unfocused, staring past the patched walls of the cellar into a past she had no part in. ‘I am tired of hiding in the damp. I wish to see the citadel one last time.’ If she’d known what his plan had been that night she would have argued harder. If she’d known from the beginning she would have abandoned them both long before she’d grown to care for the patient old man.

Now he moved away from the worktable, holding his hand out to Emme. She crept forwards, hesitant to the last; still wary of the trust he’d managed to steal from her. Nicolai couldn’t come, for all the alchemist’s apprentice had fought to be a part of saving his master’s creation. He had even been willing to put up with her. But he was on the run as much as Elias was, though the price on his head was smaller, and the mannerisms of a privileged life made him too noticeable. Elias was too old, and he didn’t want to go. The task fell to her, the street rat who’d made the mistake of trying to steal from an alchemist. She was the hateful thing’s best chance, the one with the personality to adapt and the skills to hide in plain sight.

She stepped up to the bench. Propped up on the old vase filled with the ashes of Elias’ precious books the manikin sat with its long spindly limbs splayed across the table – the old man’s life work. She was to take it far from where it would surely be destroyed. Elias had been cast out of the citadel for daring to believe the thing possible even before the invasion, and both sides of the war had been earnestly looking for the old scholar before he could complete it. Once they learnt that he had… she would be pursued without restraint. Even in the midst of a war, the existence of such a thing was a blasphemy that must be destroyed. She was to take it out of the reach of all of them, to the place Elias had told her its protection would be ensured. Then it would no longer be her problem.

Pulling the rucksack off her back she placed it on the table beside the manikin and opened the flap. An army of spiders swarmed up her spine as the manikin picked itself up, dusted itself off, and stepped in.

 

Download a pdf of Custodian

Tagged ,

From Fae’s Labyrinth, Eva Matheson

 

‘Everything is simpler than you think and at the same time more complex than you imagine‘

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

 Bonnie is the new school councillor after the usual one ‘disappeared’. Sarah must routinely visit the councillor, due to her home situation. Hayley is Sarah’s mum’s best friend.  For the past five years she has been the carer of both Sarah, and her mum.

Harry holds his distance from Sarah in social situations, but is aware of her every move. We don’t know his true intentions yet. He is fairly good-looking, but has dulled down his looks in an effort to appear more human. He has half-human blood (as does Sarah, which she has yet to discover) and half-Fae blood, from an elfin bloodline. Harry is Scottish and Sarah is English. The setting so far, is London.

 

SARAH

 

I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this. After talking to Bonnie, the school councillor, at my redundant weekly session, I was convinced the weekend holiday was not a good idea. Then after seeing Harry, talking to Harry, I felt strangely…. adventurous. It wasn’t much like butterflies in my belly, more like a whole bunch of beetles wiggling for space till I could barely stand it anymore. A blend of nerves and excitement I hadn’t felt since I was a kid going away on holidays. Long before Mum got sick. I arrived home from school, the front door creaked, and Hayley’s dogs barked from the back garden.

‘I’m doing the dishes!’

I walked to the den of a kitchen where Hayley stood facing the window.

‘Hi Hayley, looks like rain this weekend. What are your plans?’

Man I was talking fast. Hayley stopped washing the dishes, her pink-gloved hands still in the bubbles. She glanced back over her shoulder. I knew she was onto me.

‘Could you look after Mum?’ It was lame, but I pouted anyway.

‘Do you mean the whole weekend?’ Hayley went back to the dishes.

I lent my elbows on the kitchen bench next to Hayley and fiddled with the silver locket on my chain. ‘Some friends are going to the countryside. We’d be staying in their Auntie’s house, honestly.’

Hayley made a tutting sound with her tongue. She was always doing it. When she watched bad news on T.V, she tutted. If the newspaper was delivered late, she tutted. At the rising price of fuel, she tutted a lot. It was her way of disapproving of bad things, and occasionally her way of teasing the good.

She looked out the window as she washed the dishes. I followed her gaze. Mum was sitting at the table on the lawn. Her hands in her lap, her body completely still. Hayley’s two golden retrievers dozed at her feet.

‘No trouble at all Hayley. Go, pack, don’t worry about your Mum, we’ll be fine.’

I was relieved at how quickly she agreed, after all, it meant giving up her entire weekend to cook meals, bathe, walk, and put Mum to bed.

‘Thanks, I owe you,’ I replied, and squeezed my arms around her.

Hayley smiled and pulled the sink plug.

‘You can pay me back by doing your own dishes sometime!’

I grimaced as I bounced up the stairs behind her.

I didn’t pack much. Two changes of clothes, toiletries, and a book called Little Women to read for the umpteenth time. I turned the first page and read Mum’s birthday message inside. I was 11 years old then, the last birthday before she got really sick. A week later Hayley moved in.

I walked back down the stairs and that seed of guilt began to grow in my gut. How could I leave my Mum?

They were sitting at the kitchen table, the room now smelly from a slow cooked dinner. Mum stared at a wall with her hands around a cup of tea that would be cold and untouched. Hayley was chatting away about the cafe she was planning to visit for lunch the next day. Her cup was long empty. I knelt beside Mum.

‘The bus comes in ten minutes so I’d better get going… Mum?’  She looked like a fragile porcelain doll, except for the roots of silver in her hair, and the wrinkles that dolls never get.

I rested my hand on the back of her chair. Mum didn’t respond, so I touched her shoulder. She glanced over, looking at me, but her expression genuinely blank.

‘Mum, I’ll be back on Sunday. Will you be okay without me?’

She stared at me for a long moment; her blue eyes had tiny dots for pupils. Her eyes didn’t look like they even worked. Then her lashes flickered.

‘Sarah.’ She confirmed softly.

I froze. Mum hadn’t spoken in weeks, let alone recognised me.

‘Yes Mum….will you be okay here, with Hayley?’ My throat grew tight. Somehow this stopped tears.

Mum looked across the table to where Hayley sat, silhouetted by the window. Hayley was smiling back.

‘Yes.’ Barely a whisper. Then I could see in her eyes, she was fading again.

‘Pinkie promise?’ I reached my hand up, offering her my arched pinkie like I had done so many times when I was little.

Mum raised her hand and linked her finger with mine. Her mouth twitched at the corners. Then she looked to me and in the slowest motion ever, placed a warm, frail hand on the side of my face, cupping my cheek and chin.

‘I know you,’ her voice was hoarse, leaking with confusion.

I could only nod and place my hand over hers. It hurt when she was lost inside herself, and it hurt when she wasn’t.

‘I’ll be back soon. I love you Mum.’

As quickly as she had returned to the land of the living, her eyes glazed over and the porcelain doll face returned to the window. She was gone, somewhere deep inside her mind, somewhere out of my reach. I looked to Hayley, calm and collected, Mum’s best friend; and the only reason I had stayed out of foster care all these years.

‘Go Sarah, we’ll have fun, and so should you.’

I didn’t move.

‘Tut tut tut. Go.’

I nodded, and wrapped my arms around her; my throat was feeling tight again.

She was right, and it was in this moment that I realised just how wrong Bonnie was. I wasn’t being selfish like she had said.  I was just trying to be like a normal teenager with something that resembled a social life.

‘Thanks Hayley.’ I pushed my chair back. Mum didn’t react in the slightest to the scraping noise. Hayley leaned forward and gave me her serious face. She played the role of Mum, in Mum’s absence.

‘Be safe, have fun, and please don’t worry. She will be safe as long as she’s with me. I promise’.

I looked back one last time as I left the kitchen. For a moment I thought Hayley’s face seemed sad and worried, even though she gave me a smile and a wink. I hoped I wasn’t making a huge mistake.

 

HARRY

 

There she was, Bonnie, the school councillor, standing in the shadows to the rear of the platform. She was dressed in a full-length black dress; her hair fell about her shoulders, her pretty face painted with pretty make-up. She watched the small crowd entering the train station. Even in the dark she looked beautiful, and if I didn’t know better, I would have found her striking. But I did know better. I knew exactly what she was. And she was waiting for Sarah.

A water witch cleverly transformed. Naturally grotesque webbed feet, much too wide for human footwear; Bonnie wore long dresses all the time. That was my first clue. But the biggest give away was the smell leaking from her flesh.

A smell like clothes left to go damp in a laundry basket. The first time I met her, the smell was so subtle, but that odour and her feet were enough to give away her disguise. And yet, as clever as her disguise was to the inexperienced, this witch sure wasn’t good at spotting others in camouflage.

I looked at the clock on the wall above the platform. Bonnie hadn’t seen me yet, and the train would be here in five minutes, and that meant Sarah would also be arriving at any moment. I needed to get rid of the witch before she could get her claws into Sarah’s mind and convince her not to get on the train.

I knew what had to be done. It wouldn’t be the first time, and there really wasn’t any other choice.  My job was to protect Sarah and bring her to the manor where the others waited, no matter what it took. I walked lightly on my feet towards Bonnie, adjusting my backpack over my shoulder as I went. Bonnie was hidden in the dark, and distracted by her goal.

She didn’t notice me until I was standing close to her, just behind her right side. I glanced around; no one was looking our way. I pulled my dagger from my jacket pocket, and held it out of sight, but ready nonetheless. It would take only one strike through the heart, and she would be finished quickly, and quietly.

But Bonnie turned and I was caught.

‘Harry! What are you doing here?’

Bonnie smiled in a friendly sort of way, but I noticed her mouth twitch. I had caught her off guard. ‘Waiting for Sarah,’ I replied.

Her smile disappeared. She eyed me up and down with suspicion. Her eyes tore at my skin like invisible fingernails, as she tried to see if anything lay beneath my outer appearance. Is he human? Or is he not? Her eyes questioned.

I took a step closer and gripped my hidden dagger. It had to be done, now. Suddenly, Bonnie’s eyes widened, and she stumbled back.

‘Romus!  I can see you… No, please Romus, no. I will leave her alone. Please don’t do anything.’ Bonnie began to cower and shrink before my eyes.

This was murder. This was not how my clan had raised me. I had only done it once before, cornered in a cave by a pissed off red-cap goblin. It had to be him or me. Today, it was me or Bonnie.

Maybe I could let this witch walk away? I hesitated, my dagger still by my side, but Bonnie embraced my hesitation as her opportunity. Her pretty face turned grey, her smile transformed into a jaggered, diseased grin of teeth.

My arm twitched.

Bonnie whipped a hand up to the spot behind her neck and drew a long thin knife, concealed by her blanket of hair. She cocked her head, cracking her neck.

‘Oh, it feels good to be me.’

My fingers tightened around my dagger.

She was fierce in her lunge as her jaw clenched, but I was faster, and my dagger dug deep up through her ribs, destroying her heartbeat. The witch dropped to her knees as I withdrew my dagger, and in her final breath, she transformed to her true appearance. Her body was grey all over, with gills carved up and down her throat, a hunch back, twisted bony arms, and a face and chest wet as though coated in Vaseline. Her eyes were hollow now, and black, cocooned by a drawn and sagging human-ish face.

Bonnie’s knife fell to the ground with a tinkle, followed by her limp, grotesque body. No one noticed a thing tucked away in that dark corner.

I managed to control my shaking enough to wipe the grey blood matter from my dagger, onto the witch’s dress. I couldn’t help but wonder if this kill was just the beginning. There was still a long way to go. I pushed her body back against the wall. It was already shrivelling, and soon she would be just a pool of dark water and wet clothes. In my stomach, and in my head, I was queasy, and there was sweat beneath my clothes. It might have been easier if I hadn’t known her, and it didn’t help to see the gruesome corpse transformation. Then I heard the train approaching, and as I did, I watched Sarah step onto the platform, her eyes searching for friends.

I moved along the wall, concealed by the shadows. I approached Sarah far from where the witch lay.

‘Hey! I’m real happy you came,’ I smiled, and shoved my sweaty hands in my pockets.

‘Hey, Harry. So, where are the others?’ Sarah asked, glancing around.

‘They’re catching the morning train. Dunno why, they didn’t go into detail.’

I knew I was talking too fast. I was sounding contrived. I imitated a yawn.

‘Thanks for meeting me. I probably would have gone home if no one was here.’ Sarah shrugged; I thought I saw a small smile.

The train doors slid open as we talked. People were beginning to find their seats.

‘Come on. It’ll be warmer on the train.’ I reached out my hand, but I knew I shouldn’t have, not to her. It wasn’t my place, even though we were on the human side. I could hardly believe I was about to succeed in bringing Sarah back. I didn’t want to let her go. The others would be waiting. She took my hand, and we stepped inside the train.

 

SARAH

 

We sat in a strange, easy silence. The train seats were like lumpy rocks. They smelt of feet, or bad food, or both, and were structured in rows, dappled, with people all facing the wrong way. By the time the train left the city, it was so dark that I could barely see a field or a tree. Harry and I piled up our backpacks and propped our feet on them like footrests. I glanced at Harry’s reflection in the window. He looked so deep in thought. I hardly knew him, even though he’d been hanging out with my group for most of term. I’d see him at the shops and movies, or whatever was going on that weekend.

Most of the time he just sat with the boys, not that he was anything much like them. He was…kind of weird, polite in an old fashioned way, holding doors open and saying, ‘After you.’ And he always looked so serious.

‘I heard about your mum.’

‘Heard what?’ my words cracked like a whip. ‘You heard she’s brain damaged? Gone crazy? A vegetable? A retard? What?’ Oh god shut up Sarah.

Harry was staring, his mouth parted.

‘Forgive me, I didn’t mean to –’

‘Don’t.  Don’t pretend you understand.’ It was so dark outside I could only see my face in the window.

I looked back at Harry.

‘I didn’t think you had green eyes.’

Harry was staring ahead. He dropped his eyes, and turned to me.

‘I don’t. They’re brown.’

As the train rolled on, Harry got a message on his phone. I pretended to stare through the dark window, but I was carefully watching his reflection. He looked worried at first, but when his phone beeped with a reply message, he smiled.

The motion of the train was winning. I closed my heavy eyelids; it was what they wanted. I didn’t know how long I slept for, but when I woke, my head was on Harry’s shoulder, and the train was slowing.

 

Download a pdf of Fae’s Labyrinth Ch1

Tagged , ,

When the World Turned Grey, Lynda A. Calder

 

Bringer is a Young Adult Fantasy that begins in the real world and takes Jemima Jennings into the mystical world of Maladria where she meets Lamasuard Ingan and his horse, Amicus. Both of them are searching for something but they will both find more than what they are looking for.

 

When the clouds rolled in and the rain wouldn’t stop, Dad knew there was something wrong with Mum. He insisted the weather was the barometer of Mum’s moods. No one believed him. Not even me. Why should I? He was the pragmatist in our family: the engineer, the scientist. Facts only, not omens of impending doom. That was Mum’s domain: the artist, the writer, the gardener. She was the one who looked to the sky or put her hand to the dirt, and could tell you how your day would go. Anyway, only Dad had dark moods. Mum made them evaporate. She was the bright light.

No, there was nothing wrong with Mum. But what did I know, until that day when Mum finally cracked it.

 

Two more wake-up calls and then I’d get up.

Mum was so predictable. Every morning it was, ‘Jemima, dear, time to get up. Wakey, wakey, you’ll be latey.’ And she did that three times, five minutes apart.

Yes, ten more minutes. I huddled under my covers and took in the smells of cooking bacon wafting from the kitchen.

Stomp, stomp, stomp. My covers disappeared.

‘What?’ I spun around and sat up. ‘What was that?’

Mum thumped out of my bedroom door.

‘Psycho,’ I mumbled, rubbed my eyes, and swung my feet to the floor.

I don’t know how, but hair has a way of spending the night tangling itself into impenetrable knots. I tugged at the brown bird’s nest twisted down my back. CRASH! I winced at the noise from the kitchen.

I twisted up the tousled mess and shoved a beanie over it.

Lingering over a cold bowl of cereal, I eyed off the burnt bacon and eggs still filling the kitchen with grey smoke. Shards of crockery intermingled with a splatter of porridge on the lino floor.

The rain streamed down the kitchen window. Great.  Another day fighting with umbrellas and wet raincoats on public transport. But today it was really pouring; torrential.

‘It’s raining again,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ Mum said, peering out the window and clutching a steamless cup of coffee.

‘The bus is going to be crowded with wet people, again. And I’ll get soaked walking to the bus stop.’

‘Probably,’ Mum droned, not moving.

‘You could drive me to school?’

Mum spun. She blinked as though not expecting to see me sitting there. Then she returned to looking out the window, at the greyness.

‘Ask your father.’

‘Dad’s at work!’ I scraped the chair back from the table, making as much noise as possible. ‘You don’t care.’

Mum still didn’t move. She just stared. I stomped from the kitchen.

It bucketed all day; I had wet shoes. After the walk home from the bus stop, I was soaked through to the skin. Mum was still in the kitchen, staring out the window, with three half-finished cups of coffee beside her.

Water dripped from the tips of my long hair and uniform onto the kitchen floor.

‘I got wet.’

‘Mmm.’

‘I’m soaking wet and you’re just sitting there. I could get the flu. I could die.’

Mum turned, and again she blinked at seeing me in the room.

I held out my arms. Hello! Wet here! Soaked through and it’s your fault.

Mum took a deep breath and returned to the window.

‘ARGH!’ I dumped my sodden bag onto the tiles and squelched to the bathroom with an armful of dry clothes. Ah, a hot shower. The best thing after being damp all day.

Amid the welcome drops of warmth, I remembered: Miss Wendy’s today! Miss Wendy was my fastidious, perfectionist violin teacher. She wasn’t even a great violin teacher. Most other teachers have students who win Eisteddfods. Not Miss Wendy. I could have won Eisteddfods, if only she had been a better teacher.

I turned off the shower. If I could just get dressed and hide in my bedroom, maybe Mum, in her staring-out-the-window state, would forget, and not take me to another hour of useless torture with Miss Wendy.

I snuck into the hallway. No movement in the kitchen. Sliding along the wall, I backed into my bedroom. With an ear to the gap, I eased the door closed, until it clicked shut. No violin lesson! I spun in triumph. Mum stood up from my bed. My back slammed against the door.

Mum’s purse was over her shoulder, my violin case by her feet.

‘Time for violin.’

‘Why? I hate Miss Wendy. She’s annoying. She makes me do things over and over and again, and she doesn’t even tell me why!’

Mum’s nostrils flared. ‘I need you to go to violin today.’

I crossed my arms. ‘I’m not going. You can’t make me.’

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. We stood in silence. She then released that breath, slowly, through clenched lips, and sucked it back in through her nose. Her eyes snapped open. ‘Pick up the damned violin and get in the bloody car!’

Was it Mum’s first ever swear word, or was it her first ever yell? Whatever it was, I had that violin case in my hand and was in the car before I’d given it a thought.

Most parents would drop their sixteen-year-old daughter off to a violin lesson and go home or wait in the car. Not my Mum. She insisted on coming inside. She sat behind me, in the same chair, every lesson, and faced the stairs, or, more exactly, a round, stained glass window under the stairs.

The window was beautiful. It contained vibrantly coloured glass: a unique round bottomed chestnut violin with leaf ended F-holes on a field of jade-green grass framed by ruby red and golden yellow flowers. In the background, stretched violet and indigo mountains beneath a sky the colour of Mum’s eyes: cobalt blue.

When it was sunny, the picture’s colours would project onto the floor at Mum’s feet. As the lesson progressed, the colours would climb up her legs and rest on her lap.

Today, though, there was no sun and no colours. It was as grey outside as it was inside Miss Wendy’s. Yet, Mum took her seat and watched the darkened window.

There was this one music piece in particular, that Miss Wendy was forcing me to learn. I know Mum asked Miss Wendy to include it in my repertoire, but it was not on the list of ‘allowed’ pieces for my studies, yet, Miss ‘everything must be done by the rules’ Wendy was still forcing me to learn it. It was a really hard arrangement of Gustav Holst’s ‘Jupiter’. Mum loved it. I hated it. My fingers couldn’t get across the strings fast enough, and my bowing was messy and the violin squeaked and squealed. But, I’d played it enough times that I could see the music in my head without needing the manuscript in front of me.

Miss Wendy asked me to start playing ‘Jupiter’ that day.

She frowned. ‘I can tell you have not been practising every day.’

She was right. Mum hadn’t been on my case, lately, so I hadn’t practised. I hated practising; it was a waste of time.

‘Start again! No sighing.’

Yet, I sighed anyway, and looked around at Mum. At that point, I would have forgiven her for the harsh awakening that morning, and allowing me to get sodden in the rain, if she would just turn and look at me. I needed one of those encouraging smiles with her cobalt blues – that’s how Dad described her eyes, ‘the first time we met, those cobalt blues saved me. They still do.’

No. Mum’s eyes were fixed on that stained glass window under the stairs. But the gloom outside was not going to allow any coloured light to play at her feet this afternoon.

Mum! Look at me! I thought. Damn her. Snap out of it! Come on, this was stupid. Nope. She wallowed in her own private self-pity. She deserved my anger.

I jabbed my bow onto the strings and played the first few un-jolly notes. I squinted at the music, intent on making it through ‘Jupiter’s’ tricky part without Miss Wendy interrupting and telling me to repeat it again.

My shadow appeared across the score. I glanced over Miss Wendy’s shoulder at the window onto the street. No sun. Rain was still pounding the pavement. Where was the light coming from?

I played on. The light grew warmer. The paper seemed to shine as the room filled with a golden glow. Mum’s chair creaked. Bowing, I began to turn, but Miss Wendy tapped her fat 2B pencil on my music.

‘You must keep your violin pointing forward and pay attention to –’

I thought Miss Wendy was going to poke my eye out, but she thrust the pencil over my shoulder to point at the stairs.

‘No, Mrs Jennings. You must not touch my window, it is very special to – Oh no!’

It feels so clichéd to say it, but time actually seemed to slow down at that moment.

The pencil dropped from Miss Wendy’s hand and spun its long way to the thread-bare carpet. Her hands retracted to grip her face. I stopped playing and my long plait flew outwards as I turned my head. Golden light shone from under the stairs.

And then time resumed its steady progress. I could have sworn that the stained glass window was projected onto the chair where Mum had sat. But where was Mum? The room faded to the dullness of outside.

‘Mum?’ My eyes wandered the room. ‘Mum? Where are you, Mum? Miss Wendy, what happened to my Mum?’

My teacher was still frozen in her own pocket of time; her mouth open, eyes wide.

‘Miss Wendy?’

Blinking, she returned and dropped her hands. She looked me up and down. ‘Lesson over, time for you to go home.’

‘But, Miss Wendy, where’s my Mum?’

Miss Wendy already had the phone’s receiver in her hand and was dialling.

‘Mr Jennings, Sir. I need you to come and pick up your daughter. Your wife has… ah… done a very strange thing. She just walked out the front door and has disappeared down the street…’ Miss Wendy drew back the curtains to peak out onto the street. ‘Yes, she just left her car outside… No, Sir, she does not appear to be coming back. This lesson is over and I have another student coming soon. You must come and pick up your daughter now… Thank you.’

Miss Wendy’s eye’s wandered over towards the stairs and snapped back to me. ‘Pack up your things and wait on the porch. Your father is on his way.’

‘But Miss Wendy, my Mum didn’t walk out the front door.’

She puffed air from her cheeks. ‘Don’t be ridiculous, girl. Did you not see her walk past us and out the front door? That will be enough.’

With my violin shoved into its case and before I could argue, I was on the porch with the front door slammed behind me. The rain had stopped; the first time in ages. Water dripped from the leaking gutter and bounced from the tiles to spray my violin case, sneakers and calves.

Had Mum gone out the front door? Had I missed her walk past? No. Miss Wendy had pointed to the stairs, hadn’t she? But I didn’t actually see Mum walk towards the stairs. But there was light from the window; the colours projected onto the chair, even though it was grey outside. Impossible!

Dad arrived in a taxi half an hour later. No new student arrived for tuition with Miss Wendy. Dad paid the driver and beckoned me from Miss Wendy’s porch. We sat in Mum’s car, abandoned on the side of the street.

‘Dad, Miss Wendy’s lying –’

He held up his hand and shook his head.

He was silent as he drove us home. His concentration was on the road. I watched him. Was that a tear dropping from his eye, or just a drip of water?

He pulled into the driveway and his hand went for the door handle.

‘Dad, don’t you really want to know what happened to Mum?’

‘She’s gone,’ Dad said, his face downcast. With a big sigh, he opened the door.

‘Yes, she’s gone. But she didn’t go ‘out the front door’ like Miss Wendy told you. She’s lying.’

Dad turned on me. ‘It’s not nice to call someone a liar.’

‘But she is. Mum went under the stairs.’

Dad put a foot into a puddle. ‘Then Mum is gone.’

 

Download a pdf of Bringer Ch1

 

 

Tagged ,

Underside, Dennisse Ruaix

The room was drowning in the scent of wild flowers. The double bed in the corner was buried in ball gowns and shoes. The balcony door was open to let fresh air in.

‘Will you stop fidgeting?’

Jolie clasped her hands together. Sweat built around the top of her lip. Jolie was standing in front of her vanity mirror brushing her un-kempt hair. Her skin was a sickly white, her cheeks burned with anger and her eyes shone like silver swords. She carefully parted her hair on the side and took unconscious care not to drag the brush across her long pointed ears.

‘Fix your hair,’ her mother ordered. ‘No one will want to look at you if your hair is standing on end like a peacock’s tail.’

‘At least it’s as colorful as one,’ Jolie replied. Indeed her hair was a mass of colours; red, pink, blue, green, purple and silver. No one would call it dull.

Jolie’s mother looked at her for several intense seconds without blinking and turned away towards the door. ‘Wash that out. It looks awful and unfit for a Lord’s daughter.’

Jolie trudged to the bathroom. The citizens of Underside call themselves Undersiders and within the citizens are ranks of family, at the top are the aristocratic elite. They were families linked directly to the Elders who ruled in the government. These families called themselves the Black Lords and Ladies of the Court.  She was a Black Lord’s daughter, and daughters of the courts must remain dainty, chaste and weak. And they absolutely could not step outside the city walls. For outside the city walls were the tunnels the led out in to light. Step out in to the light, and any Undersider would burn. Well, that was according to the prophesies of Isaiah, the prophet that led the remaining of Earth’s other-world creatures down in to the Centre of the Earth to escape the sun’s fatal heat.

Her mother never approved of the tournaments she participated in. She would rather have had Jolie at home learning how to boss the servants around and treat them like flies on toast. Tournaments were the only thing that allowed her to participate in combat, weapons fighting and dragon riding in an acceptable way.

The annual Ball for the family of the court’s Lords was being held tomorrow. The court’s stuffy dignitaries would all be there including the prospective suitors for Jolie’s hand in marriage. At nineteen she was the perfect age for the ritual. Marriage was a dead act of love; it was all about power and position in the court.

Jolie stepped out into the balcony and looked over onto the edge of the city. Far in to the distance, like ridges on a dragon’s back, were the walls that kept anyone and anything from accidently entering the tunnels. If only the world above the ground was possible. If only Jolie could breathe fresh air.

*          *          *

       ‘You’re human,’ said Jolie.

Jolie could not believe it. There was a human sitting in front of her, she was taught all her life that humans only existed in myths, tales and legends. Her fingers were itching to touch his face where the skin looked smooth and was brown and orange like terrariums setting over the sea.

‘Yes, for the thousandth time in the last two hours I have known you,’ Julian replied.

‘Well tell me the one thousand and one time,’ Jolie couldn’t stop staring at this human adolescent that was running sand through his fingers. ‘You’re extinct.’

Julian cocked an eyebrow, ‘Clearly.’

‘No. According to the Prophecies, ‘All will perish left on the surface.’

‘Well how racist of Isaiah to only lead, ‘other-world’ creatures down here and leave us all to supposedly die.’

Jolie just stared. Awe scratched all over her face.

‘Look, as far as I know humans are real. We live on continents all around the world in peace, ok no that’s a lie, there are wars going on all the time and we kill each other constantly. But, we are definitely not extinct.’ Julian finished by throwing a handful of sand in to the sea.

‘How did you get down here?’ Jolie asked.

‘There was a massive earthquake that raked through my town and now Main Street is in two.’

Without hesitation Jolie demanded, ‘Show me.’

*          *          *

       Jolie walked down the giant stone steps along with twenty other late-teen and early-twenties women. Like birds on show they were looked at, pointed and whispered about as they paraded around the hall. Eligible single men watched them with intense stares. A mass of gentle waves of black hair caught her eye.  It was Mark. A court’s son and friend since she was six years old.

Jolie made her way to Mark and said, ‘you clean up good. Dance with me? Otherwise I’d have to dance with those men, their eyes look hungry.’

‘Then don’t dance with me, because I’m starving,’ Mark said.

‘Don’t tease,’ Jolie tugged at his hand and pulled him to the dance floor.

‘Guess what?’ she pronounced as he led them on a slow waltz, ‘I found a human.’

Mark stopped dancing, his eyes wide. ‘Ok. If you say so.’

‘It’s true. I’ll take you to meet him,’ she said.

‘Him?’

*          *          *

       ‘Any human that knows about us will be hunted and killed.’ Mark said.

‘They can’t do that. What about the law?’ Jolie demanded. They could not just punish someone who doesn’t even belong in their world.

Mark’s eyes were wide and fearful, ‘That is the law,’ he said. Guardians were law abiders, through and through. The rules are simple.

‘What do you mean? As far as anyone knows humans are legends,’ Jolie said.

Mark took a deep breath, ‘There are Undersiders called Guardians who were sworn to keep the secret of the surface and the human world. I’m one of them.’

Jolie had nothing to say. There were too many thoughts fighting for attention inside her head. Humans existed and now her best friend had just told her there were Undersiders who knew all along.

Finally, a question made itself clear, ‘What do Guardians do?’

‘We make sure no Undersider make it to the surface and no human makes it down to us,’ Mark answered.

‘And what if you fail at the border?’ Jolie asked.

‘Then we hunt them down,’ Mark said.

‘Julian has to be safe,’ Jolie said under her breath. ‘Will you protect him?’

The question hung in the air un-answered.

‘Jolie I can’t break the law. If I do, if I protect Julian, other guardians will not only hunt me down, they will kill anyone else that was involved. They will come after you.’

*          *          *

       Why couldn’t Julian just stay put and waited for him to bring him back to the surface? Now it was Mark who was being tracked down. Mark sprinted down the alleyway, blood dripping from his arm to his palm, coating his gun in red slime. The concrete at his feet slick with sweat and sewage seeping from the broken pipe threatened to trip him over. The air around him that was as hot as the inside of a stone oven burned his lungs. The buildings flagging the alley way didn’t have any fire escapes, no way to hide if they catch up.

A corner turn was coming up, he couldn’t slowdown in time to safely swing around the corner and so his shoulder smashed in to the brick building. A sharp pain reverberated through the joint down his arm. Dammit. He didn’t have time for bruised nerves.

Twenty cars were parked haphazardly in a small opening in the alley like dice thrown at random in a square box. A screech echoed behind him. He ran faster towards the nearest car; a blue Toyota with broken windows. He opened the unlocked door and tore open the glove box, in it was a key. He wiped his forehead in relief; his racing heart relaxed the slightest.

He had no idea how to get to Julian’s house. He had never been outside the city before and driving to the country was far from foreign, it was otherworldly. Mark knew how to drive a car, he was taught modern technology at a young age so that Guardians can track and blend in the human world. Prosecuting your own kind should be illegal, but that was the law.

‘What the hell Julian? I told you to wait for me at the gate!’ said Mark.

‘I told you! There were guards after me already. They would have caught me if I didn’t run,’ Julian said.

‘Will you two stop arguing? They’re almost on to us,’ Jolie said.

All three ran towards the cover of the woods just outside Julian’s hometown. After Mark surfaced on to the human world Jolie heard rumours among the elite that there was a funeral being arranged for a young aristocrat, Mark’s name was mentioned. The Craft was an ancient magic older Undersiders have forgotten to use whilst the younger generations were never taught. Jolie’s grandmother belonged to the last generation who wielded magic. She had taught Jolie everything she knew. It was a secret; no one knew except Mark that Jolie had mastered The Craft. Armed with her powers Jolie set off on to the surface to find Mark and Julian.

Jolie took deep breaths as her legs pumped along the field. She had never been more terrified or exhilarated her whole life. The feeling of breathing in fresh air could only compare to the feeling of being on a dragon’s back for the first time as it flew along the underground sea.

Just twenty meters from the first trees of the woods a flap of gigantic wings seared through the air around them, encircling them in a light twister. Above them was a dragon twenty feet tall. Hooded beings, Guardians, were saddling its back with guns pointed at Jolie, Mark and Julian. They were not shooting, their gun only poised to shoot for intimidation.  Jolie closed her eyes, whistled and punched the air in front of her with palms open. Another dragon, as big as the other darted from the woods as quick as a flash of light and tackled the dragon above them. The Guardians were knocked to the ground as their dragon was hit so hard it was buried by the crevice it made in the field.

Only a few, the more skilled and advanced Guardians regained their balance in a second and proceeded to run towards Mark, Jolie and Julian.

The quickest, a man six-foot tall lowered his hood, gun raised, reached them first, ‘you did a good job, hunting them down little brother. Now be a good boy and hand them over,’

Jolie gasped as she recognized Erik, Mark’s brother. She looked over at Mark expecting the same reaction but only a hard stare escaped Mark’s face.

‘Jolie, I knew you would be the one who would eventually shame my brother in front of the entire Court,’ Eric spat.

‘Leave her out of it,’ Mark said.

Eric turned towards Mark, ‘You really should stop wearing your heart on your sleeve. I told you she was trash.’

Mark moved quick as lightning, he charged, slid on the ground and kicked at Eric’s knees, a loud crack reverberated throughout the wood and the open field.  As Eric fell down, hand still outstretched with a gun in his hand, Mark elbowed the gun out of Eric’s hand and in the same motion smashed Eric’s nose.

‘Lets go,’ Jolie said as she ran for her dragon that was already in front of them in a kneeling position.

Without hesitation Mark followed Jolie and climbed on the dragon’s back. Julian was hesitant for a second until Mark held out his arm and pulled him on to the giant lizard’s rough back. Jolie was up front, whispering to the dragon under her breath, eyes closed. The dragon flew in to the air, climbing as high as it could go. With one last murmur from Jolie the dragon disappeared from the sky with only a fleeting light left in its wake.

*          *          *

       ‘How the hell are we going to survive now?’ Julian asked.

They were on top of a hill somewhere along the Italian coast.

‘Blend in.’ Jolie said, her eyes shining like reflected light from silver metal.

‘We’re going to probably die. You know,’ Mark said. But he too was smiling a small, excited smile.

‘Whatever. We’re out,’ Jolie said.

Julian looked from one elven fairy to the other.

‘You two are insane. There’s nothing special about the human world. Not enough to risk your lives,’ Julian said.

‘Maybe to you. But to us its new territory,’ Jolie said.

‘Speak for yourself,’ said Mark.

Jolie looked at Mark, smiled and threw the rock she had been rolling around her fingertips, at him.

‘Look at your world Julian. The rolling green hills, the boundless oceans and the limitless sky. My dragon is going to love it,’ Jolie said.

‘You know you’re going to have to keep it out of sight during the day, humans will freak-out if they see it,’ said Julian.

Jolie turned to Julian. ‘Of course.’

‘Or she could make a leash and walk with him in to town. That’d be fun.’ Said Mark.

Jolie laughed, a big real laugh from the gut.

‘Bloody fairies,’ Julian said.

‘Badass fairies,’ Mark said.

Jolie said, ‘Half-elves. Thank you. Do you see wings?’

 

Download a pdf of Underside, D.Ruaix

Tagged ,

Co’viri & Sera, Joshua Spudic

The gates to Trinawine Cemetery stand before me. It’s surrounded by the townhouses of my home city, Lundinium. The gate squeaks as a gust of wind barrels through the cemetery. The flames flicker on my staff, made of oak with a crystal at the summit. Some of the leaves that litter our path sail through the air as the wind sends a chill down my spine. Sera, who decided to accompany me, snuggles underneath my cloak. She gives me such a warm feeling in my heart. It’s hard to believe that we were just friends for most of our relationship. Now, she is in love with me and I am in love with her.

We were only eleven years old when Sera and I first met. She was sitting right in front of me in our first class of Elemental Magic at the Academia Magus. Our professor, an elderly man in red robes, asked us what we thought of using the elements as a magical weapon. Sera was the first with her hand up. My hand shot up as well, but was hidden behind her hand, also raised. When she spoke, my ears felt like they went to heaven. Her voice was soft yet sharp and clear. Her knowledge was apparent when she answered the question with even more than I knew. When that class was over, I walked up to her.

‘That was a good answer,’ I said. That was when I saw her beautiful smile for the first time.

‘Thanks, um…’ she said.

‘Co’viri.’

‘Sera.’

Ever since that day, the two of us kept each other company. We were considered inseparable by some of our friends, a notion that rang true when we realised our feelings for each other when we were sixteen. Since then, I have never had a thought that wasn’t about Sera.

‘We need to split up, Co’viri,’ Sera says as she breaks my trip to the past. She is right; it would be faster to locate Helmut Grinvolt’s tomb if the two of us cover smaller sections of the cemetery separately.

‘Take the east side, I’ll take the west side,’ I say. She releases her hold on my arm and runs to the right. I walk to the left.

A lot of these gravestones corrode as fungi take over them. Some of them are in such poor shape they are impossible to read. I brush off each one I encounter. Does it read Helmut Grinvolt? No. How about this one? Nope. Is this even the right Trinawine Cemetery? It has to be.

I gaze upon Sera, who is scanning each gravestone on the other side. She isn’t having much luck either. Helmut Grinvolt must have wanted to keep these staffs well hidden. Then again, they are considered the most powerful staves in the world. According to the story, he created the staves for his wife as well as for himself. He spent years in his workshop, carving wood from an elder tree and searching for the perfect pair of crystals. This is where the power comes from, as it is said that the love between two people draws out its power.

She is staring at another gravestone when I squat down next to her.‘Why are you helping me?’

‘That’s an odd question to ask, Co’viri,’ she said.

‘I know, but you could have said no.’

‘True.’ She averts her gaze upon me. ‘I have two reasons. The first is my love for you. Ever since I fell for you, I can’t let go of you. It hurts my heart when we are apart.’

‘I can say the same thing,’ I add.
‘Then there is my family. My baby brother has gotten ill, a rare disease that will eventually kill him, Co’viri. He is so young.’

I grab Sera and wrap her in my arms. Tears flow down her cheeks as she rests her head on my chest. She continues, although her voice is muffled a little. ‘Possessing one of these staves could give me the power to cure him, as everything else has failed. My family and you are the most important people in my life. This staff could protect all of you.’

I smile as Sera finishes talking. This is out of selflessness, better than one of my reasons for the staff. ‘We better keep looking,’ I tell her. We scan the gravestones together. Again, we come up short as we pass most of the gravestones. Where is the gravestone? Why isn’t it here? This is frustrating me.

‘Co’viri, here,’ Sera says. She stares at a rather clean gravestone. I read the name: Helmut Grinvolt. This is it. Sera found it. I smile and kiss Sera on the cheek.

‘Thank you, Sera,’ I say. ‘Now… something on this gravestone must be the key to the location of the staves.’

‘Be careful, Co’viri,’ Sera says as I run my fingers over the gravestone. As I run my fingers over his name, a green light emits from the letters. I take a step back as the whole gravestone is covered by green light. It flashes, forcing Sera and I to cover our eyes. The ground begins to shake. The dirt of the grave starts to sink. Stone stairs begin to appear. Once the dirt disappears, a small corridor reveals itself. This must be the entrance to Grinvolt’s tomb. I quickly glance at Sera. She nods. We must investigate this, so I lead the two of us right into the corridor.

The corridor is tight, small and dark. I lead the both of us further into the abyss of darkness. I sincerely hope I did not lead Sera to any danger. I periodically look back at her. She is always smiling. Is this her way to show there is hope in this situation? At times, I would wonder why I decided to undertake this journey. At first, the power the staves give to their bearers can never be described with mere words. But power isn’t everything to me anymore. It was when I saw Sera’s smile that I found a new reason.
The staves float in the middle of the chamber as we enter it. The circular room is all stone. Our footsteps echo throughout the room. The emptiness feels wrong. Something should be protecting the chamber and its contents. But we encounter no resistance. Was this too easy?

Sera approaches the two staves. She examines the neatly carved wood. A small white crystal sits atop of the staffs, glowing quite brightly. I approach the staffs, holding onto Sera’s shoulders. Sera turns to me. ‘We found them,’ she tells me. ‘We have found them.’
‘Should we grab them?’ I ask her. She simply turns around and hugs me. I felt her lips locking with mine. Her tongue moves around in my mouth. A euphoric sensation.

‘This is what we have been looking for.’

‘I don’t think we should just simply grab them.’ I continue to stare at the glow from the crystal. It’s pulsating a bright white light. My eyes don’t want to turn away at all. I want to reach out for it, but something is stopping me. My gaze returns to Sera.
‘Hmmm…’ I agree. Grinvolt has hidden them, yet getting them was quite a breeze.

Sera is pacing all over the chamber. We are so close, yet so far. I must touch it. I want its power. No, I need its power. I reach out for one of the staves and grab it. The wood is smooth and light. I can feel a stream of energy channelling through my body. I feel more energetic. I just want to cast spells. Doesn’t matter what they are, I just want spells.

‘Co’viri, no!’ I hear Sera shouting. Her footsteps echo as I see her rushing to my side. I raise my hand.

‘Sera, I feel fine. In fact, I feel better than fine.’

‘Really? Should I… reach for the other one?’

I give Sera the go ahead. While one mage holding one of these staves is powerful, two who are close must be unstoppable. Sera slowly approaches the staff. She reaches out with caution. Does she fear some sort of consequence? When I did it, nothing happened. She should be fine. She clenches the staff and pulls it towards her. I could see the astonishment on her face as the energy of the staff flows through her body.
‘Grinvolt should have protected these better,’ she tells me with a smile across her face. She comes to my side once more and embraces me. My world is complete. The love of my life is by my side with the most powerful staff in the world of Gaia. I grab her waist and pull her even closer. I can feel her tender breasts upon my chest. Her soft lips occupy my own. I knew she wanted a powerful me. With this staff, we shall be unstoppable.

A gust of wind interrupts our passionate embrace. The torches surrounding the chamber extinguish. Sera and I hold the staffs tightly. The crystals glow a white light, illuminating our line of sight. I turn my head all over the chamber. It is still empty, except for Sera. She also scans the chamber. This is quite perplexing. Who or what is doing this?

A sinister laugh echoes through the chamber. I take a step back, taking Sera with me. We hold our hands as we search for the source. It rings throughout the chamber again. Where is it coming from? Is it the staves? They say searching for lost treasures can turn you into a psychotic mage. All of the students and professors thought I was crazy when I told them I was going to conduct this journey. I can’t wait to say that they were wrong.
I raise my newly acquired staff. A bright flame emits, further lighting up the chamber. I notice that the door is still open. Relief spreads throughout my body.

‘Sera, through the door,’ I tell Sera. She nods and we make a run for it. As soon as we are about to reach the door, it slams shut on us. This must be the defensive charms placed upon the chamber. As my mind brings in thoughts of defeat, a deep, cold voice echoes through the chamber.

‘So, who has come to take away the great Staves of Grinvolt?’

I turn to Sera. Her head is staring at the ceiling, but a frown paints across her face.
‘I am Sera Vintamosa, daughter of Gregor,’ she shouts. I smile and nod, knowing what I need to do.

‘I am Co’viri Bolzano, son of Ygridi.

A fog fills the chamber. A human figure approaches. It is a man, taller than the both of us and long, bushy facial hair. He wears a green robe with a hood covering his hair. He raises his arm. A staff materialises into his extended right hand. The fog stops as he removes his hood, revealing an elderly man with grey hair.

‘I am Helmut Grinvolt, keeper of this chamber and all that is contained in it,’ he speaks in that cold tone.

As the chamber re-lights itself, I point my staff in his direction. Sera raises her staff and points it to Grinvolt.

‘Grinvolt? Are you not… dead?’ Sera says.

‘I do not possess my original body, rather, my soul lives on through an unwilling volunteer,’ Grinvolt says. ‘You have, in your possession, unworthy ones, the greatest staves Gaia has ever seen. You cannot bear the power it produces.’

‘We shall see,’ Sera adds. Sera lights up her staff with fire and launches a fireball towards Grinvolt. Grinvolt summons a dome of blue light. The fireball strikes the dome, disintegrating. Grinvolt is untouched.

‘A mere fireball? Try to use it properly.’

‘You mean like this?’ Sera launches another fireball. This time, Grinvolt is struck on his chest. He is pushed back quite far. He lands with a thunderous thud. He gets up slowly, clutching his chest.

‘Not bad. Not enough to do anything, but you are catching on,’ Grinvolt teases Sera. ‘Now it is my turn.’ Grinvolt summons lightning from the tip of his staff. It ejects and heads towards Sera. She erects a blue dome of her own. I enter it as the bolt of lightning strikes it.

‘Co’viri, our spells can pass through the dome. Cast something on him,’ Sera informs me while holding the dome. I nod and slam my newly acquired staff into the ground and hold it there. The ground beneath us begins to shake. Grinvolt still casts the bolt of lightning and just stands there. One bolt pierces through Sera’s shield and hits her on her arm. Sera dispels her shield, panting. In an instant, however, two coned spikes of rock, one beneath him and one above him, impale him as I raise my staff in the air. Blood drips down the lower coned spike of rock. Cracks begin to show from above and below, starting from my earth spell. The chamber begins to shake. Rocks tumble down from the ceiling.

‘We need to go,’ I say, grabbing Sera’s hand. We both sprint for the entrance. A big chunk of rock narrowly misses us, forcing a sudden stop of momentum. We make our way around the rock and continue for the door. The stone door is stuck. I try to open it to no avail. Rock continues to fill the chamber.

‘Ready?’ I ask Sera as I point my staff to the door. She nods and does the same thing with her staff. Raw energy exerts from the staves, exploding the stone door. We rush through the opening as the corridor begins to fill with dirt and rock. A light pierces through ahead of us. My legs pump as hard as I can.

I make that final leap with Sera still holding my hand. The corridor that led to the chamber is no more, collapsing in upon itself. In fact, the chamber is now a pile of rubble. I lie on the ground as the shaking stops. I turn to Sera and hold her. My face snuggles up to hers.

‘Are you alright?’ I whisper in her ear. She gives me a smile. I rise to my feet and extend my arm to Sera. She grabs it. I pull her up. As she brushes herself, I take one glance upon the staff in my hand. Our mission is a success. The crystal still flashes white. I turn to Sera once more. I raise my staff in triumph. She does the same thing.

‘We have what we searched for,’ I say to her. ‘What now?’

‘I must return home, Co’viri,’ she tells me. ‘I have a brother to cure. Come with me, will you?’

I nod my head. I hold her hand and we walk out of the cemetery. As we walk, a strange, tingling sensation travels throughout my body. All of a sudden, I feel like I have more energy, similar to the feeling in the chamber. All I want to do is exert the energy, use powerful spells. No, I must not. What is… this sensation?

Download a pdf of Co’viri & Sera

Tagged ,