Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Cherry Paws and Afghan Echoes


27 Apr

by: Sydney Haines

It’s been six months since Sierra returned from Afghanistan. She spent most of her time patrolling the city streets, even making friends with some of the locals. There hadn’t been much activity where she was stationed her first few months; the worst, a small car bomb detonating a few blocks down from the forward operating base. No one was injured, and Sierra had been thankful for the lack of combat those few months in Afghanistan. She of course had the training, and she enlisted knowing the risks. But seeing it for herself, trudging through the heat, automatic rifle in her hands; she wasn’t so sure she was ready for the responsibility the dusky camouflage and metal in her grip placed upon her.

The laid back atmosphere, low level danger and lack of the horrors Sierra had imagined when she enlisted soon became a distant memory. As her unit got word of the Islamic State presence in Afghanistan, they learned they were to be sent to aid those already deployed and help stop the spread of ISIL’s control while retrieving foreign hostages; often innocent journalists whose brutal ends were filmed on camera. Large, unforgiving blades embedded in guiltless throats. Sierra had seen a lot of horror in Afghanistan, but those images replayed as frequently in her subconscious as the trauma she endured and witnessed firsthand.

-)(-

Sierra had lived, for three years, in a moderately sized two-bedroom nestled above the waters of Lake Michigan. She had just turned 18 and left her parents’, and was admittedly nervous being on her own. For the first several months, she only watched her favorite horror movies during the day. She kept her bedroom door locked at night, her deadbolt on the front door locked, as well as the lock on the slider doors. A few low nightlights were spread about the house. Sierra eased into her new independence slowly, but a full year after moving out then moving into her small place by the lake, it began to feel like home. Two years after that, she was shipped to Pakistan, and her deployment lasted fourteen months; she was given an honorable discharge, and she returned to the small cottage.

It became clear, after a few days, that the house didn’t belong to Sierra anymore. It belonged to the echoes of gunshots and IEDs, shouts of comrades on her side or terrorists and the bombs strapped to their chests. No longer did the twenty-two year old leave nightlights on- she left the entire house pitch black, because she had gotten used to seeing in the dark. The horror movies she used to love gathered dust on her bookshelf, because she saw bloodshed behind her eyelids every time she blinked and didn’t need to see anymore. She was trapped in the confines of terrifying flashbacks, taking place in the cottage she used to call home; blasting music to drown out the wails of dying Marines and the roar of convoy vehicles that thundered and boomed- deafening- like a snarling, vicious hybrid of a freight train and deranged wolf whose breath pounded hot against her ear.

-)(-

The air is warmer today as Sierra scrapes the aluminum shovel across the asphalt of her driveway, nudging snow and sleet in small borders along her yard. Her ears catch every crisp rustle of leaves; her heart lurches at every screech of a hawk and squealing whistle of wind. The woman’s senses are sharpened to the point of exhaustion- her eyes scan every visible surface when she enters a room, and again every few minutes, then again when a new sound reverberates within hearing distance. But her hyperarousal goes both ways: being on constant high alert, those senses can dull and grow sluggish. So, when she fails to catch the crunch, crunch of snow flattening under booted feet, the shovel falls from her grasp.

Sierra whips around toward the intruder, one hand digging her trust switchblade from her pocket and the other reaching for her belt- only to discover her gun missing. Her muscles relax, if only the slightest of a fraction, as she recognizes the faces of the figures approaching. She has to remind herself: I’m not in Afghanistan. I’m home. I’m in Michigan. I trust this guy- I think. She throws a quick glance around her. Instead of the harsh, unforgiving heat of Middle Eastern weather and the mirages often visible in all directions, she sees nearly melted snow; far off in the distance, the waters of Lake Michigan grey in the wintry afternoon. Desert sand soaked with blood is nowhere in sight.

The oncoming figure approaches, friendly smile in place and a small beagle at his side- Cherry. Sierra remembers the dog’s name first, and a passing thought wonders if it’s the fact that Cherry was less likely to toss a grenade at her feet.

“Hey,” Sierra’s voice is automatic; monotone. She kneels to scratch Cherry on the ear, and the hound dog licks her cheek in greeting.

Micah, the dog’s owner- and her neighbor- puts a hand on her shoulder. “How have you been?”

Sierra jerks back on reflex and rises to her feet, meeting Micah’s gaze.

“I’m sorry,” he explains, “I just haven’t seen you out in a while.” She wants to wipe that look of pity off of his face with the butt of an M-16.

“Haven’t felt like going out,” Sierra replies, her voice neutral. Micah was a friend before she’d been deployed, but now she looks at him like an enemy. She knows everyone is an enemy now.

She avoids the look of concern, returning to task. It’s quiet for a long moment; the scrape of the metal on concrete, a few bird’s calls in the air, before Micah speaks again.

“Hey, would you happen to know anyone who wants a dog?”

Sierra looks back at him, obvious question in her glance. She just shakes her head no.

Her neighbor sighs. “That’s too bad,” he says, reaching down to pat Cherry on her head. “Valerie and I are moving- can’t take Cherry with us. Gotta find someone to leave her with. I’d hate to drop her at the pound or hand her over to someone I didn’t trust.”

The quiet returns, and Sierra ponders offering to take the dog herself. Probably end up shooting her during a flashback, she thinks to herself.

“I’ll keep an eye out,” Sierra responds. Micah gives her another few seconds of speculation before nodding.

“Well, alright,” he says. “I’d better get back to helping pack up the house. You need anything, just holler, ok?”

A mumbled “sure” as Sierra dumps a shovelful of snow on the growing pile.

“Take care, Sierra.”

She doesn’t know if Micah hears her snort of laughter, because he’s jogging off toward his place again with Cherry in tow.

Yeah, right.

­-)(-

Sierra watches out her window as Micah and Valerie load the last of their belongings in a moving truck, then glances at Cherry roaming the fenced-in back yard. They didn’t find anyone who would take her? She wonders, but shakes her head, deciding to forget any concern regarding the dog. She plops down on the couch, grabbing her television remote to mindlessly flicker through channels once again.

Maybe ten minutes pass when there’s a knock at Sierra’s door. She jumps to her feet, the switchblade she keeps in her back pocket already gripped in one hand as she approaches the door.

A glance through the peephole reveals Micah, and she retracts her blade, stuffing it back into her pocket before unlocking several of the deadbolts on her door. When she opens it, she’s greeted with a shape darting past her- in the form of a short, round Beagle- and into her living room.

She looks back at Micah.

“Sorry, I, uh…” he hesitates for a moment. “Do you want to hold onto Cherry for a little while?”

Sierra blanches at this question, opening her mouth to speak but finding no ready answer for him.

So Micah continues: “It’s just, I’m still sifting through possible new homes for her, and I can do that from Illinois, you know?” He explains nervously. “But I’ve got nowhere else to take her. I know you could use a friend right now.”

Sierra watches Cherry sniff around her house, a flicker of unrecognizable emotion rising inside her. She turns back to Micah.

“I’m-“ her voice is hoarse. “I don’t know that I’d take care of her very well.”

But Micah shakes his head. “I know you will.” He holds up a bag- Sierra can see a dog food bowl and leash sticking out of the top. “What do you say?”

Sierra hesitates, but sees no way to react besides a nod. Micah thanks her, gives her his cell phone number, then says his goodbyes. She shuts her front door, slipping the locks back in place, and turns to the beagle now laying sprawled across the carpet, one of her slippers in his mouth.

She realizes, watching Cherry rip stuffing out of the left foot of the only pair of slippers she has, that any elation or joy of this turn of events was shadowed under hints of doubt and anxiety. It’s been a long time since Sierra had a pet. The boa constrictor she owned in college needed a small rabbit and a clean sweep of its aquarium once a month, as well as a full water bowl. That was about it.

That was less concerning than Sierra’s thoughts that she’d hurt Cherry; two years ago, she’d never think twice about that. But considering the amount of personal items she’d have to replace since she returned from duty- mirrors, dinnerware, as well as the holes in the walls from the time she unloaded her handgun onto the drywall- she wasn’t so sure an animal was the best idea.

But that other feeling, the one hidden by her personal doubts, was a feeling not unlike hope.

-)(-

“So, Sierra. What brings you here today?”

The psychiatrist, Angela something- Sierra didn’t even attempt to pronounce her last name- was met with silence. The veteran before her kept a tense posture, looking around the room and seeming to consider answering before sighing in relent.

“I’m here for help,” Sierra says, avoiding Angela’s gaze. The latter waits for more explanation, then after a few seconds begins to scan the medical documents in her lap.

“You were diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress while you were in Afghanistan, is that correct?”

“Well, that’s what my file says, isn’t it?”

Angela knows her client’s demeanor is one of her lines of defense, so she doesn’t push it.

“You never got treatment until now- it’s been over half a year.” Angela straightens the papers of Sierra’s file and lays them neatly on her desk, leaning forward onto her knees. “So why now?”

Sierra doesn’t reply for a few short minutes, but Angela is more than patient. The darker-haired woman is familiar with PTSD as well as the walls those with the disorder will build as a defense mechanism.

Angela is almost startled when Sierra does speak. “My fuckin’ neighbor gave me his dog the other day,” she says.

Waiting a few seconds for her to continue, Angela responds: “You don’t seem to be happy about that.”

Sierra just sighs, shaking her head. “No, I am- I mean,” she runs a hand through dirty blonde hair, “I’ve known him, his wife and dog for a few years. I’ve always loved his dog.”

“But?”

Again, there’s a few moments of silence before Sierra speaks.

“I’m afraid I’m gonna hurt her.”

“The dog?” Angela inquires, and Sierra nods a response.

“I haven’t exactly been known for handling the flashbacks well,” Sierra explains hesitantly, “which is one of the reasons I was discharged.”

Sierra goes quiet again, and she doesn’t care how long she has to sit in here- she’s not planning on talking about that. Nor thinking about it.

Thankfully, Angela doesn’t ask.

-)(-

It’s been two months. Sierra gives a look of disgust at the medications in front of her: Inderal in the morning, Buspar and Prozac mid-day and Trazodone for sleep. Xanax when she’s feeling particularly anxious. She won’t deny that they’ve helped, but she’ll never be comfortable being on so many medications at any given time. She’s taking them as prescribed, but Angela had warned her that sometimes, the flashbacks and nightmares could be stronger than the pills.

Tonight happens to be one of those nights.

Sierra had nodded out while writing a research paper for her History class. She’d been particularly stressed over the assignment, figured a Xanax wouldn’t hurt; later, when she calls Angela to tell her about the incident, she wonders if that was the cause.

She’s dreaming of her friend, Michelle. Sierra sees, along the filmreel playing in her head, the way Michelle would joke with or tease her. She relives late nights looking up at the stars, having strange conversations about universal energy and vibrations. She remembers Michelle kissing her under those same stars.

Then she remembers the barrage of bullets that hit the operating base, and the impact of her commanding officer’s body against hers as he tackled them both to the ground to take cover. Sierra can see her hands fumbling to grab her rifle and an extra set of ammo. She smells smoke, hears the deafening boom of IEDs and grenades, the shouting commands of her unit as well as similar toned voices in another language. Some of the shouts turn into cries of pain, and Sierra does everything she can to focus on setting up defense.

It isn’t until she stumbles over Michelle’s body, sprayed so abundantly with bullets that Sierra has to do a double take, that she finally wakes up.

She screams awake, and hardly notices Cherry’s yelp of surprise as her feet accidentally kick into the beagle under her desk. She darts to the floor, sliding across the carpet to grab the pistol under her mattress. Sierra cocks her weapon, shuts and locks her bedroom door; then she heaves her work desk across the shag carpeting- the difficulty of the task doesn’t slow her down.

With a loud thud, the desk is overturned and shoved hard against the closed door. Sierra crouches at the door, the gun cocked, as she listens for sounds of enemy soldiers.

Cherry trots up beside her, placing a paw on Sierra’s knee, and looks up at her with questioning irises as if to say, “Mommy? What’s wrong?”

Sierra jerks slightly, looking down into large, innocent eyes. She hesitates for a moment, then curls an arm around Cherry’s chest, pulling her close.

“It’s okay, Cherry,” Sierra says. “I won’t let them hurt you, okay baby?”

Cherry gives a quick, sloppy kiss to the wrist holding onto her tightly. The images of blood and smoke, of Michelle’s injuries as she lay dead in the sand, her fellow soldiers darting off in different directions to take cover- they all begin to fade as Sierra watches the small animal in her arms. She still hears gunfire, and her head continues to pound from the echoes of IEDs blasting in her eardrums.

But she lowers her gun, clicking the safety latch and setting it to the floor, before pulling Cherry into her arms. Sierra can’t decide if her tears are of grief, terror and despair, or if they’re tears of relief. The pops of bullets begin to fade, Cherry moves to lick clean Sierra’s tears, and the blonde smiles- a real, genuine smile that she hasn’t felt on her features in a very long time.

 

 

 

Bio: I’m a 24 year old female student at SCF. I am studying for a degree in English and Library Sciences; I plan on studying many more topics and may work on getting other degrees. I currently work as a Student Assistant at the SCF library, and in my free time I enjoy writing, drawing, jewelry making and crochet, playing guitar, and reading.

Click


27 Apr

by: Megan Finsel

She smiled back at me from the photo I had just taken. I was standing alone on the street corner outside what was now my apartment. Yet here she was, in the black and white image I held.

She looked very young, maybe nine or ten. She was standing with her back to the lamppost, her hair in pigtails and a bandage across her right knee. Her face was round, and her eyes were innocent.

I’d found this Polaroid camera in the attic this morning. I held it up again, focusing on the lamppost across the street.

Click.

I shook the photo carefully, watching as two figures slowly appeared. Same girl, she looked taller, and she was holding hands with a young man.

Click.

She was older now, more mature, and her husband stood with her in the doorway. The sunlight glinted off my own engagement ring.  I stared at it for a moment, my heart pounding.

Click.

Even older now, she looked exhausted. Three kids played around her in the yard. I could swear she could see me, judging by the glare on her face, and the warning in her eyes.

Click.

Her face was sadder, her hair was stringy. She sat in a wheelchair, hugging her body with willowy arms. Age had stolen most of her vigor, and her smile. She looked defeated. I could only stare into her eyes, as she stared back into mine.

I knew her, and she knew me. We were the same person; the same life transcending time to be captured on film.

I raised the camera one more time, but stopped. I knew what would come next. I was prepared, but I couldn’t bring myself to press the button. I gazed up at the lamppost, standing lonely on the street corner. The wind slowly pulled the photos from between my fingers and I let them go, watching them whirl away down the sidewalk.

 

 

Bio: Writing is my passion. It’s how I connect with the world, and how I share my thoughts, ideas, and feelings. If you want to truly know me more, you need to read my stories because I put a piece of my heart into each one.

Qalupalik


27 Apr

by: Megan Finsel

Lynn Canal, Alaska
December 6, 1905

Without the light he would have been lost, wandering the frozen canal for hours. When it cut through the dense night, beckoning to him, he grabbed it with his eyes and refused to let go. He had made it this far, but as he tried to run, the ocean seemed destined to keep him as a prisoner; causing his shoes to slip with every step.

The wind laughed at him.

“Look at him,” it said, “the stupid boy can’t keep his footing!”

“Silly child…”

“Run Inuit!”

He kept his eyes focused on the place he knew Eldred Rock to be. He watched as the lighthouse beacon rotated slowly around and around, and he determinedly put one foot in front of the other.

The wind rose against him. “Run!” it screamed.

The shore was in sight when he heard her soft humming from behind him. His ears said it was only the wind. Still, his imagination ran ahead, leaving him in the dark with unspeakable terrors.

The humming echoed through the cold, bouncing off the clouds overhead and the frozen swells surrounding him.

“Do you hear that, child?”

He ran faster.

“She is coming for you…”

The light broke the darkness, reaching for him as if trying to draw him in to the safety of the harbor; an embodiment of hope.

Then, there came a sound from behind.

He slid to a stop.

He heard the pounding, and felt the vibrations under his feet. He looked down to see her palm pressed against the underside of the glassy ice.

Her humming grew louder. Qalupalik; the she-demon, the kidnapper of rebellious children who snuck too close to the water’s edge.

His body was numb and his heart rattled hollowly against his sternum. His ears rang with both her humming voice and the tales his Aana had embedded inside him.

“This is it,” the wind sang, “she is here for you. You never should have tried to escape.”

The light seemed closer now. It enveloped him; taking him in with loving arms, swaddling him in warmth.

Her humming grew still louder. She continued to strike the underside of the ice.

He ran. The shore was within reach; the rocky shoreline so close now he could taste the salt that encrusted its surface.

He heard the ice shatter as he jumped for the shore, landing face-down on the wet, cold sand. A hand grabbed him by the ankle. He looked down at her sickly, green skin and began kicking, but to no avail. His fingers dug into the sand, as her fingernails bit into his flesh. He met her eyes, glowing just beneath the surface of the water, as she smiled a wicked grin.

 

Bio: Writing is my passion. It’s how I connect with the world, and how I share my thoughts, ideas, and feelings. If you want to truly know me more, you need to read my stories because I put a piece of my heart into each one.

Wendigo


27 Apr

by: Amanda Grosso

When I touch my belly I can feel my backbone, and I’m hungry. The signs were all there. The legends, the stories. All the warnings. They all basically said the same thing. Don’t eat. One simple rule and I broke it.

 

You have to understand though. I was so hungry. The kind of hunger that makes a man snap. So hungry it felt as if my stomach would shrivel up inside. Like it was twisting up into knots in an attempt to fill the empty spaces. A pain that leaves even the strongest of will and strength curled up in the fetal position clutching their gut with white knuckles. Since setting foot on the reservation, our stomachs began to grumble. The low rumblings kept in time with our footfalls and with each step we took, my stomach ached more and more.

 

Miss Claire was frightened the most. Her fear left sour tastes in our mouths as she told us the stories her grandmother had told her of the demons that resided in these mountains. Demons of famine, the wendigo. Her stories had gotten to a few of us. Don’t eat meat. Whatever you do, don’t eat any meat. Not even to survive. We might have been able to write her stories off if they hadn’t matched up a little too well with the natives of the town below.

 

We thought about turning around several times, but Dr. Thomas claimed that the pains in our guts must have been caused by food poisoning, “sketchy food from sketchy Indians.” Dr. Thomas was a racist asshole, but he was always one for logic.

 

By the time we were a few miles from the top, it was nearly nightfall. After three days, our expedition grew so sick, the good Doctor called it off. We were to spend the night and descend the mountain, without the mystery predator that had been on a killing spree, to seek out medical attention. That night was the worst. It felt as though we hadn’t eaten in weeks. The nuts, dried fruits, SpaghettiOs, and other rations we brought did us no good. The granola bars made it worse. No matter how much we ate, nothing could fill our empty bellies. That’s when Samson turned on us.

 

A scream had startled me from my thoughts. It hurt to move, but I struggled to my feet in a panic and ripped down the flimsy tent zipper. Standing in the middle of camp was Professor Edward Samson, a knife held up to Claire’s throat. His eyes were bloodshot, his skin a sickly grey color. Driven mad, he looked like a cornered animal. Essie had her gun trained on him but froze when he dug his face into Claire’s forearm, ripping the flesh and tearing upward with the tendon clutched in his sharp teeth. Another scream sounded out, and chaos ensued.

 

Blinding lights, gunshots, screams, and guttural snarls filled the air and my senses were overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion, yet somehow I was able to turn and run. My feet struggled to carry me as far away from the ordeal as they could. Stumbling through brush and thorns, I kept running. My sight grew hazy as lights danced around my vision; I couldn’t take the pain any longer. Tripping over my own feet, I fell. I could barely feel anything except the pain and the wetness of water underneath. I passed out to the sounds of screams and gunshots filling my ears, echoing off the mountain.

 

When I came to, I could only assume it was morning. The sun had not risen yet, and the water below had soaked my clothes through. I shook violently, risking both starvation and hypothermia – I was surely dead. Someone would find the bloodbath and think the worst. Or maybe no one would come looking at all. Yeah, that seemed the more likely scenario. There was a reason they hadn’t hired a guide, after all. No one was stupid enough.

 

I didn’t move from where I lay. Instead I prayed to whatever would listen to just allow me to faint again, permanently… so imagine my surprise when I staggered to my feet. Step by step, I came to find myself standing just outside the camp, the pounding in my head driving me towards food.

 

I was so hungry I couldn’t think straight. I think it was Buddha that said starving yourself was very distracting. Truer words were never spoken. So I ate what was left. The sticky, juicy remains of my friends and colleagues, their faces blurry in my dazed state. I ate until there was nothing left. Not even the gray husk that was mixed in. My mother used to tell me to eat what was put in front of me after all.

 

My fingers are longer now. Grey, thin and boney, my joints like knobs. My hair is rotted and falls out at the slightest touch and I’m hungry. When I touch my belly I can feel my backbone, and I’m hungry. So very hungry. Always hungry.

 

 

The Business Man


27 Apr

by BlackWitch’s Cat

How do you get rid of a person? My dear it is quite simple, for the right price. You see, I am a man with a peculiar line of work. I help madams like yourself to be free of the burden of their lazy men; to be released of their oppressive and abusive spouses. With my business, women do not need to dirty their petite, white hands, nor do they need to be trapped within a loveless marriage. Women can live the pleasant life of a widow for the price of a new dress.

 

My services are clean and guaranteed to never return back to you. It is neat and precise. My approval rating is high. Just ask Widow Johnson down the road. Yes, yes, two years ago I knocked, at the time, Mrs. Johnson’s husband over the head with a blunt club; to avoid a mess you see. Then I stuffed him in a trunk, which was not easy I must say. The man was quite thick and full of fat but his sweaty pig skin made it easier to slide him in. Then I loaded him onto the truck and my men drove him away. From there it is their duty to get rid of the poor fool. Then, after some time of absence, she was able to claim he was deceased.

 

Now my dear, tell me, how is it you wish to be rid of that nasty being? Don’t be shy, for but the price of bread I will take requests. Some women are quite vindictive. Why, Widow Johnson even requested that Mr. Johnson be buried while his lungs were still working. Devilish woman she was. Wanted him to feel the same as she when he laid atop her. Please dear, don’t be shy, and do hurry for I am a busy guy.

 

Bio:  Just a little cat writing little scraps.

The Tale of Lunt


25 Apr

By: Jesse Leisch

 

“Come, children come. It is time for a tale,” the story teller said. He was and old crippled looking man. He wore old tattered robes with a big pointed hat, and carried a walking stick with what looked like a giant pearl on top of it. He had a great long beard that was as white as the snow, which seemed to reach his waist whenever he stood a certain way. His skin was wrinkly like he had spent too much time in the water, but his eyes were a bright green still filled with life. The only thing on him that looked of any value was a golden ring with a stone the same color as his eyes. The old story teller was a well-known man who traveled from village to village, telling wild tales of all kinds taking place in exotic lands filled with unique people.

The children quickly started to gather around, as well as some adults who happened to be in the tavern having a drink. The old storyteller was next to the fire place, sitting in an old mahogany rocking chair. He had been staying at this particular tavern for a few days now telling tales for free lodging. “Now what tale would you all like to hear today?” said the storyteller. Almost all at once the children started yelling out suggestions hoping theirs would be the one that got picked. It all turned very quickly into indistinct yelling, and the storyteller had to quiet them down. “Ha-ha, hush now children. My old ears can’t keep up,” he said. He then took a moment to survey the crowd when his eyes fell upon a little girl, maybe 12 years of age. She had dark brown curly hair that fell just past her shoulders, and her dark skin tone made her unique purple eyes stand out all that much more. Her name was Isabell, and she had a reputation for being quite intelligent, far beyond her years. “Ah Isabell, you’ve been so silent back there, like a mouse, please tell me what tale you would like to hear today?” said the storyteller.

Isabell took a moment to contemplate a tale would be a good one. She started tapping the bottom of her chin with her index finger, a habit she’d picked up whenever she was lost deep in thought. After what seemed a time, she looked up, “I would like to hear the tale of Lunt” she said. Many of the other children started murmuring and whispering amongst themselves.
“Oh I’ve never heard that one before,” another girl in the audience said.

“I don’t know, sounds kind of boring,” a boy sitting next to Isabell said to no one in particular. The old storyteller just leaned back in his chair stroking his beard.

“Ah the tale of Lunt, a fine story indeed,” the storyteller said while he continued to stroke his beard. “Very well, the tale of Lunt shall be the tale of the day,” he said while pulling out a pipe and lighting it with a match. He took a few puffs and began.

Lunt was a red-haired man who loved nothing more than to steal famous valuables. Whether they were heirlooms in distant families, or they were jewels belonging to a duke. In fact the more difficult the valuable was to get, the more likely it was that Lunt would try to steal it. He once stole a simple comb from the leader of a group of bandits, just because a drunk man at a tavern said he didn’t have the skills to do it.

“What is the value in that?” a boy said interrupting.

“Well, Lunt enjoyed proving people wrong, and he wanted to be known as the greatest thief ever as well,” the old storyteller said. Now over time, Lunt’s ambition to be the greatest thief started to affect him, he found that his red hair was a very distinguishable trait and soon enough his infamy grew too much. He started to get recognized by people in the villages; now as a thief, this is the worst thing that could happen to you.

“But I thought he liked it when it was really hard to steal something,” a little blonde haired girl said while raising her hand.

“He does indeed,” the storyteller said. In fact Lunt loved that he started to get recognized. It meant that he was on his way to becoming the world’s greatest thief. He also knew however, that he needed to perform a theft so great that even years after he was gone people would still remember him.

Now it just so happened, that Lunt had been hearing rumors that a great king would be in his area. This was to celebrate the wedding of his daughter to one of the Duke’s sons. Lunt had never stolen from a king before, nor had he ever heard of anyone else successfully stealing from a king.

“Is he going to steal his crown?” another one of the kids said.

“Yes,” the storyteller said with a big smile on his face. But not just any crown, this particular one is the greatest one that’s ever been created. It was solid gold, and lined with jewels all around it. All the money in the kingdom would not have amounted to its value. However with Lunt’s reputation getting so big, he knew the guards would be on the lookout for thieves. He couldn’t run the risk of being recognized before he could get close to it. It just so happened though that this particular king had a great interest in magic. He had his very own wizard that traveled with him everywhere he went. Though a great king would not just have any wizard, oh no, he had the great Nero traveling with him. Now Nero was a man who took great pride in his abilities. He was a world renowned enchanter who gained all of his fame from creating great artifacts with immense power. One such artifact was a ring that could alter ones appearance.

This sparked Lunt’s curiosity, for there would be nothing better for a great thief who gets recognized, than to be able to alter their appearance. All Lunt had to do was get the ring from Nero before anyone recognized him. He quickly set out with a plan in mind, and when he reached the castle the king was staying at, he put his plan into action.

First, he went around back to the kitchens and disguised himself as a cook, making sure to put a hat on to cover up his distinguishable red hair. He then went about regular chef’s duties biding his time until Nero asked for food to be delivered to his quarters. This was the perfect chance for Lunt to check out the castle. He needed to figure out where the king’s quarters were, as well as where all the guards were posted, and of course figure out an escape plan if things didn’t go his way. Now after walking through the castle and getting lost a few times, Lunt finally found the kings quarters. To his dismay however, there were two colossal sized guards standing on either side of the door leading to the king’s room. Lunt did not want to get in to a fight with them by any means.

After passing the king’s quarters and going down a few more hallways, Lunt finally arrived at the wizard Nero’s room. He stood outside the door for a moments to collect himself. He knew that he needed that ring, but was unsure of where it might be or what it might look like.

”Wait so you’re telling me, he doesn’t even know what the ring looks like?” said one of the boys in the front with a look of shock on his face.

“Indeed I am,” the storyteller said simply while leaning back in his rocking chair and taking a good long puff of his pipe before continuing. Lunt took a deep breath and knocked on the door, he waited a few moments, then a few more. No answer, so he knocked again, this time a bit louder. Deep down he was hoping Nero had been called away or fallen asleep in the time Lunt was surveying the castle. This would give Lunt the perfect opportunity to search Nero’s quarters for the ring. Lunt decided he would try one more time before breaking into the room. Just as Lunt went to knock, the door swung open, and there both men stood staring at each other. Nero was a bit taller than Lunt and had a big black beard that seemed dark as the night sky. He also wore simple robes that were a dark blue.

Nero was the first to break the silence, “Ah Lunt, I wandered when you would show up,” he had said with a slight smirk on his face.

“What? You must have me confused with someone else, I am but a simple cook,” Lunt said while awkwardly gesturing with his head to the food he was holding in his hands.

“No, I’m not. Please come in we have much to discuss,” Nero said while turning around and heading back in to his room. For a second Lunt just stood there stupefied, not knowing if it was a trap or not. “Are you coming or not,” Nero said from inside his room. Lunt reluctantly entered closing the door behind him. “Be sure to lock that door, don’t want anyone eavesdropping on our conversation,” Nero said sounding even more distant than before.

“So how did you know it was me?” Lunt said while taking the chef’s hat off his head.

“Because we have met before,” Nero said while coming around the corner. But he no longer looked like he had when he answered his door; he looked like a completely different person. A more familiar person but very different. His beard was gone, he had shrunken down about three inches or so, and had a huge belly now. It took Lunt a moment to figure out why this man looked so familiar, then it dawned on him. He was the same drunken man from the tavern that had dared Lunt to steal the comb from the bandit leader.

“You’re,” he paused, “from that tavern,” Lunt said, still awkwardly holding the plate of food.

“Yes I am, and you can put the food down over there on the table,” Nero said gesturing towards the dining room table while he removed the appearance shifting ring from his finger. As soon as the ring was off Nero transformed back to his old self.
“But why?” Lunt said while putting the plate down on the table and walking back over to Nero.

“Because I had heard rumors of a great red haired thief that could steal anything no matter how impossible it may be. So I sought you out and tested you,” Nero said very calmly.

“Ok, but why did you test me?” Lunt said curiously

“I need to steal something that I myself cannot get, even with all of the trinkets at my disposal.” Nero said gesturing to a trunk at the base of his bed behind him.

“Oh, and what might that be?” Lunt said cocking his head back and squinting his eyes.

“I need you to steal my magical staff back from the king. He has taken it from me and knows I will not leave his company without it.”

“And just what is in it for me?” Lunt said taking a step towards Nero.

“Two things,” Nero said holding up his first two fingers “One, I will let you keep my appearance changing ring,” holding up the very ring as he said it.

“And two?” Lunt said taking another step towards Nero.

“Two, I will tell the tale of Lunt in every village and city that I visit after I leave here,” Nero said extending his hand out that held the ring. Lunt took another step towards Nero, held out his hand for the ring, and with a big smile across his face said, “You have a deal, where is your staff?”

“Wait so you’re Nero the wizard!” a boy in the audience said.

“There was a time I went by that name, but now I simply prefer to just be called storyteller,” he said rocking back and forth in his chair. Just before the old man could get back to his tale more people came into the tavern. They were the parents of all the children, the hour had grown late and it was time for them all to head home. Many of them protested saying they wanted to hear the rest of the tale, but the parents were not hearing any of it. The storyteller quickly chimed in and told all the children that they could come back tomorrow, and he would pick up where he’d left off. After a few more moments the whole tavern was clear except for the storyteller and Isabell.

“Is there something I can help you with Isabell?” the storyteller said still rocking in his chair, puffing his pipe. Isabell walked toward him until she was standing directly in front of him.

“You’re not Nero, you’re Lunt,” Isabell said.

“Oh, and what makes you say that?” the storyteller said.

“Because the world’s greatest thief would have stolen the crown, the staff, and the ring,” she said staring the old storyteller directly in the eyes.

“You’re a very clever girl Isabell,” Lunt said lifting his pointed hat to reveal a golden crown lined with jewels.

A Really Killer Ad


25 Apr

By: Breanna Glover-VanRensselaer

 

He washed the red smears off his hands, then sat down at his computer and began to type. Things with his last roommate just hadn’t worked out.
He wrote:

Room for rent, $600, at 1200 Serial Lane, Salt Lake City, Utah. Includes:
A furnished bedroom, with a queen-sized bed. Don’t flip over the mattress.
A garage full of power tools. Not available at night.
An updated kitchen. Don’t eat the meat in the freezer.
A huge back yard. Sorry, the grass is dug up.
A shed on the property. You may hear some noise coming from it at night, but just ignore it.

You can use my car sometimes, if you need to, but only during the day. I drive a white Volkswagen Beetle.

You can have guests over, because I have many visitors. They’re always gone by morning.
He heard a whimper behind him. He got up from the desk, dealt with it, and then it was quiet in the house again. He returned back to his ad. What else to include to really hook someone? He decided to write a bit about himself.

I’m a single, white male with dark brown hair, no facial hair, and light blue eyes. I’m quiet and charismatic. I go by Ted, and I prefer a female roommate. Girls are just so much easier to handle. But I promise you I won’t try to hit on you. I’m sure you’re not my type.

Behind him, the television was playing the local news. The anchor was reporting about a young college student named Beth who had gone missing a few days prior while walking home from the bar. On the screen, her distraught parents pleaded that if anybody had any info, to let the police department know. Ted smiled. He decided to lay out some specifications for his new roommate. He couldn’t live with just anyone, after all.

My ideal roommate would be in her twenties or thirties. She would be quiet and clean. If you’re new to town and moved here all on your own, that’s great.

There. Perfect. He was sure the replies would start pouring in. He just had to clean up his latest mess first. He hoped it wouldn’t stain the floor. No one would like that.
A week later, there was a soft knock on his front door. He opened it to see a girl in her early twenties, wearing a backpack and carrying a duffle bag. A run down car was parked in his driveway. She looked timid. He liked timid.

She had been the second person to respond to his ad. The first had been a man in his early forties, and that just wouldn’t do at all. She had paid him her deposit, which he promptly spent on a new blow torch.

That night, he offered to make her dinner. A welcome present, he told her. If she noticed that the chicken alfredo tasted a little off, she didn’t mention it. When her eyes began to look a bit glassy, he said to her, “Would you like a tour of the house? Let me show you my garage.”

He couldn’t wait to test out his new blow torch.

 

Biography:

I am a 20 year old Public Health student who enjoys reading and writing in my spare time. I like dystopian novels, fantasy stories, dark comedy, and anything that has to do with magic.

The Ultimate Ultimatum


07 Dec

By Brandon Henry

On an ordinary day, Bickford would have been already deep into the bowels of the Clearwell mine. He has now worked in that bloody mine for over fifteen years. Like most families in England, times were tough. Bick only makes five quids a day, barely making ends meet. The Great War has been ravaging Europe for years now. Workers of all types were required to work longer hours in support of the war efforts. Before the war had broken out, Bick had met his wife whom was studying at Oxford University. A beautiful, fair skinned woman, who had fancied Bick since they met at a local tavern while she was on holiday. They wed six months later, and started a family together claiming home to the suburbs of Gloucester.

Bickford would work until the wee hours of the night, eat dinner with Dorothy and his two beautiful children Alice and Peter. He was a picture perfect father, always there to tuck the children into bed with a good story. All of that had changed. The war had forced Bick to practically live in the mines. Some workers have gone on unofficial strikes, claiming they could not afford to feed their families. Which was another reason Bick was forced to pick up more work hours. This inconvenience had placed a lot of strain on Dorothy and Bickford’s marriage. He was only home long enough to shower and sleep never seeing his children awake. He was also never drafted, the doctors told Bick he had early stages of “The Black Lung.” He wasn’t opposed to joining, he actually liked the idea of throwing a spanner in the works on those Jerry’s.

Several hours after Dorothy had readied the children for bed, Bick stumbled in the door after a grueling thirteen hour shift, black as the night sky; he headed straight to the washroom to have a shower. Quietly Dorothy says “Bick, I can’t do this anymore.”

“Do what Dorothy?” Bick said.

“We never see you, your children, they don’t ever get to see you. They need their father, and I need my husband. You need to leave that mine, it will kill you too, just like your father!”
Bick replied, “How do you plan to live? I cannot just stop work, I have to make money! How would we bloody live then?”
As the tensions rose, Bick stormed upstairs, wondering how she could be such a selfish twat. He thought what can I do? After all he has grown rather zonked of the mine. He finished washing up, and proceeded downstairs to confront Dorothy. As he walked down the staircase, he could here Dorothy whimpering over the creaks and groans of his footsteps on the old wooden floor boards.

Dorothy continued to argue with Bick, telling him to find another job. She stressed that her and the children needed Bick. She gave him an ultimatum, change jobs to be with the family, or they – her and the children – must leave for her parents in London.

“That stonking mine Bick, it has nicked you from us!” Dorothy said.

“Have you gone barmy? If I leave the mine, where will I make money? I Love you Dorothy, but I can’t just sit on me arse!” Bick said.

“What if we leave? We can pack up and go across the pond, at least until the war is over.”

“Yeah Dorothy, that would be cheap as chips! Sod off! You’re mad!
The arguing continued until the early hours of the morning. Bick had finally fallen asleep on the couch, while Dorothy had claimed their bedroom.

Bick had been woken up by the sounds of planes flying overhead accompanied by thunderous booms in the distance, one after another. It sent shockwaves that shook the entire house, it resembled the shocks while in the mine. The sunlight had pierced through the raggedy curtains, shinning onto Bick’s face. He realized he was late for work. The sound of the planes and booming was all too familiar. He sprung up off the couch and ran to gather his things for work. As he rushed out the door onto the front porch, he could see plumes of black smoke, the blackest of black he has ever seen. Blacker than the soot that caked his entire body after a hard day’s work. Overhead were Nazi bombers. Not knowing if there would be more attacks, Bick drove to the mine. As he reached them, he could see police officers and Tommy’s blocking off all roads leading to the area.

“Blimey!” Bick said, He had finally realized that they had bombed the mine. The Germans have occasionally bombed areas which aided the war with coal and iron. Bick decided to stay, and see if there was anything he could do. Perhaps now, Bick won’t have to argue the toss about the ultimatum Dorothy laid down.

Meanwhile, Dorothy had risen and started her day while listening to the BBC on her wireless. There were lots of dishes to be done and other choirs around the house. She also figured she needed to pack later to be off to London by dinner time. She thought it was obvious what Bick had decided to do. “How could he choose that mine over his family,” she thought? On the broadcast, Tord Lidell was talking about some bombings that had happened in Britain today. “…And in Gloucester, the Clearwell mine, which is a major supplier of our naval ships, had been destroyed just after 7:00 am this morning. Casualties are unknown at this time, it doesn’t seem likely any inside have survived.” The plate Dorothy had been washing crashed to the floor, shattering at the same time her heart did. “Bick…” she thought, “Bick was to be at work,” she did not see his truck outside. Panic had set in, knowing her husband is buried alive. Her stomach began to knot, she felt weak and nauseous knowing the last thing said to one another was not “I love you,” but was her threatening to leave him.

After the police had shooed Bick away as if he was a curious child in a restricted area, he headed for home. The thought of him missing work brought all kinds of emotions to him. He felt overwhelmed with a flood of guilt, sadness, and even joy. He kept thinking of his friends, crushed below the surface. He thought of how Dorothy last night yelled and pushed him to leave the mine. He reached the front entry and frantically shoved the door in, almost removing it from the rusted hinges that supported it. There, he saw Dorothy and the children weeping huddled together on the couch, as if striving to stay alive out in the blistering cold of winter. As if seeing a ghost, they hesitated. For a brief second, time seemed to be at a standstill. Dorothy lunged off the couch and embraced Bick, the children followed frantically. “I thought you were dead!” Dorothy cried, “I’m sorry Bick, I Love you!”

“I love you too Dorothy, I am sorry I haven’t been here for you and the children.” Bick replied with a broken voice. Overwhelmed with emotions they all began to cry, and for a moment, forgot about the tragedy at the mine. Without any other words spoken, they knew they were a family again.

Bickford had been so furious with Dorothy this morning over last night’s event. He now knew that if that argument never had happened, he would have been in the mine. It would have become his final resting place, a tomb. One in which would not suitable for any man. His marriage had been endangered, but without that threat, he would never even had a chance to decide about the stipulation which was thrown at him.

The following day, Bickford had given it a lot of thought, perhaps going to America was the best choice. They packed their things and sold the house, and left for America. Since that dreadful day, their affection for one another had flourished, it grew greater than when they first fell in love. Bickford started working for General Motors, assembling tanks. As for Alice and Peter, they couldn’t be happier to have their father back. No longer would Bick live in a world of utter darkness such as that mine. Even with the war continuing, he at least had his family and they were safe in America. A job can always be replaced, but a family cannot be.

Stains


07 Dec

By Megan Finsel

“It won’t come out,” she said, and I could hear panic in her voice.

“Just scrub harder.”

From the sound of the splashing liquid hitting the tile, I could imagine she was slapping it against the side of the tub.

“What do I do if it’s permanent?”

I rolled my eyes. “You wear it just like everyone else does.”

“But what will they think of me?”

Humans, you’re so insecure; you always let the opinions of others define you. “No one will notice unless they truly know you,” I said, “and then they won’t care.”

She was crying; I could hear her sobs from under the bathroom door. I sighed. “It can’t be that bad.”

“Not that bad?” The door swung open and she stood there, bearing before her the shimmering piece of herself. I could recognize her soul even though it had a very red, very obvious, stain in the middle.

“It’s still there!” Her voice quivered. “I ran out of good deeds to wash it with.” Behind her, I saw the bathroom was a mess; iridescent bubbles floated on the floor. “What do I do?”

I shook my head. “This is a part of life. We make mistakes, and souls stain. Sometimes we can wash them out, sometimes we can’t. Go iron it, it’ll be fine.”

The Ghost in the Bedroom


07 Dec

By Megan Finsel

She was screaming again. I could hear her even though the door muffled the sound. I tried not to listen as she shrieked and hollered about muddy work boots and nonsense. I didn’t envy her husband; the poor old man took the worst of it.

A slice of light fell in a golden sheen between the curtains, making a wedge on the floor. I watched as the dust drifted lazily, not a care in the world. I wish I were dust, I thought. Pounding footsteps came up the stairs. When the bedroom door blew open, I jumped from my seat. She swept in with the strength of a tempest, carrying a whirlwind of noise. Nothing about this woman was silent.

“…and that cat!” she screamed. “You’re always letting it inside the house! Told you, I’m allergic!” She blew past me without even looking.

“Would you shut up?” I asked. She was rushing about, yanking papers off the desk, pushing books onto the floor. A can hit the floorboards, scattering pencils at my feet. I looked at them, longing to pick one up again, to hold it in my hands and write with it. I miss creating things.

“If you can leave the house a mess, then so can I!” she declared, yanking the quilt off the mattress.

I wish they had never moved in, I thought, the other tenants had been so nice and quiet.
“Please, shut up.” I said, but she didn’t even look at me. I missed the days when people could hear me. Not that they listened, but it was better than being invisible. Now, nothing I could do would get anyone’s attention.

“And your underwear!” She held up a pair of red boxers and shook them at the doorway. “You’re always leaving them about. Would it kill you to pick them up once in a while?” She went to the closet and began pulling out clothes. “You’re always telling me to tidy up, how ridiculous!”

“Shut up!” I shouted. She spun around and looked at me, past me, through me. Her eyes couldn’t focus on where my face was; they stared out the window and into the woods. See me! I thought. I’m right here. I’ve always been right here. Why don’t you ever see me? She whirled away and proceeded to yank boxes from the top of the closet.

“Shut up!” I screamed, louder than she had ever been. The walls shook, the floor shook; the entire house quivered with the force of my voice. She stopped and stared at me as if she could actually see me this time. Her eyes met mine and steadily grew larger and larger.

“Can you see me?” I asked. I was both scared of, and desperate for, the answer.

“G…” she whispered, and as she stared at me, she progressively grew paler. “Gh…!”
“Can you hear me?”

Her response was a scream, the shrillest scream I had ever heard from her. She flung herself at the doorway, tripping over the quilt that snared her feet. I ran towards her, but she crawled into the hallway. I was stopped at the door, unable to go any farther; unable to follow her downstairs, outside, or anywhere. I looked about my prison and moaned. If I weren’t already dead…

Downstairs I could hear her yelling at her husband again, telling him about me, the ghost in the bedroom. The stories were all true, this house was really haunted, and they had to move. I sat myself down at the window again and wondered who would move in next, as the dust continued swirling in motes.