Posted in Character Stories, Uncategorized

Piracy

“Name?”

I stare down my nose at the stout man in charge of the pier. “Captain Evans.”

His bushy eyebrows bob as he starts to write and then stops. “First name, Sir?”

I cross my arms over my chest. “Captain, Sir.” He opens his mouth to respond, but I’ve no time for it. “My parents were very set on me becoming a seaman. Full name is Captain Evans.”

I watch him take in my dark boots and the red coat draped over my shoulders before glancing to the ship behind me. “So, Captain Captain Evans?”

I have to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing as I nod. “That would be me, Sir.”

“And your crew?”

I shrug. “We’re docking for just the night. They’re likely to stay onboard while I procure provisions.”

He pulls out a handkerchief decorated with purple paisleys and dabs at his moist brow. “If they come out, I’ll need proper identification.”

They know the drill. Most of them are probably already off of the massive ship. Sneaking behind naive dockmasters is a specialty of the men following me. 

Waving the man off, I give him the proper money for the ship to stay and then meander down the well-built pier. In the distance, the blare of a French horn cuts a festive tune. There’s an answering lilt of some pipe. Christmas songs likely. 

Have we really been out at sea that long?

The scent of the ocean fades as I enter the bustling city and sweet maple wraps its way through my senses. Orange and yellow leaves are dried and gathered into long ropes that hang around doorways, giving the dull brickwork a bright pop of color. There’s a market out here, the citizens wrapped in fur coats as they try to persuade sailors like me to give up their well-earned coins in exchange for worldly goods. 

There’s pastries and wrapped sweets. Another stall offers all sorts of nuts. I don’t slow as I walk by, sticking my hand into the almond bin and then stuffing the stolen pieces into my pocket. Nobody says anything. They didn’t see anything. I didn’t fight my way to be a Captain only to be shoddy at my immoral activities. 

Up ahead, a woman inflates rubber balls with her breath and then holds them out to children. There’s squeals of delight as they take the balloons in exchange for a single copper piece. Flashes of red and yellow and blue overtake an alley to the left as the children run off to play. 

This is a good city. There’s honest work to be made. It’s the only reason we stopped. 

It’s my home. 

It was my home. 

I gave up the finery of lace dresses and servants at my beck and call for the rough seas and a rougher entourage. We’ve had a good year out there. I went from a staff of three to thirteen. We upgraded from a sad excuse of a boat to the ship I commandeered half-way across the world. Captain Evans is a name to be feared. 

Funds, however, aren’t the easiest to keep. There’s holes in my clothes and not enough food on the ship to keep us going for another two months. Should I want to pay my men for their time and loyalty, I need to gather chests of gold or equivalent jewels. I won’t be letting my ship and crew and fate fall through my fingertips at the expense of pride. 

It’s time to make a house call to the neighbors that owe Amelia August Evans a favor. 

A scream rips through the air. The horror and agony is something I’ve heard from men unfortunate enough to find their way into a lion’s teeth. Curiosity digs serrated claws between my ribs. 

It won’t hurt to take a small detour. 

Abandoning the road that leads home, I break into a run as I follow the screams. A woman. The words are unintelligible. There’s no plea for help. Instead, she’s a cornered creature yelling out her last sounds into the cruel world. 

Not on my watch. 

Not in my city. 

Sweat and sea air cling to my brow as I hurdle down another street. The screams are getting louder. 

A small voice in the back of my mind warns me to slow down. This is unusual for this area. Crime is hardly a concept here. Men and women get along. The people are happy for the most part. 

This is something else. Perhaps something I don’t want to entangle myself. A year of rowdy taverns and finagling my way through a man’s world has given me an engorged sense of self-confidence. I’m going to be the one to save this woman.

There’s a crowd. I don’t leave time for pleasantries. No words are passed between me and the band of strangers as I shoulder my way through the mass of well-dressed men. Grumbles and complaints come from a few of them as I press forward. They’re not my concern, though. 

There’s a woman in trouble. 

Up ahead, I catch sight of the girl. She’s in a plain dress. Likely a serving woman. A cart of goods has been knocked over, littering the street with red apples and tangled balls of thread. 

The man in front of her is someone I hoped to never see again. 

My ex-fiancé. 

The Count of Oceanend has his back to me and the girl corralled against the wall. I don’t care to find out what he’s trying to get from her. My hand on the hilt of my sword, I yell over the din of unhelpful men roaring for him to do worse to her. 

“Unhand her!”

Wet eyes meet mine as the girl shakes her head. Her screams have stopped. As the Count turns to face me, she immediately grabs her things and hurries down the alley. 

A trap. 

Malice glitters in Marcus’ eyes. “Welcome home, Amelia.”

Heart thundering in my ears, I stare at the jagged scar down his left cheek as I remember the night I left. Bruises marred my body for weeks after my escape. The memory of his hands on me… 

I can’t think about it right now. 

Now, I have to escape once again. It was a mistake to come home. 

Of course, there should be no reason he would know I’m here. 

“There’s a snitch on my ship, isn’t there?”

Marcus grins as he unties a bag of coins from his hip and tosses it behind him to a member of my crew. “I hear you were a plenty good leader, Amelia, but money has a way of changing loyalties, doesn’t it?”

Bastards. Every last one of them. 

I unsheathe my sword and level it between myself and Marcus. “I won’t be going anywhere with you.”

He clasps his hands behind his back, that awful smile turning into a sneer. “I don’t think you have much of a choice, fiancée. Your parents and home are gone. Your crew has turned on you. It would be foolish of a woman of your stature to turn away my good grace.”

I won’t let my hands shake. The crowd behind me is murmuring. There’s questions about my identity beneath the loose fitting clothes of the sea. They expected a fight between men. Nobody wants to see a woman dressed as a man. The concept could collapse society. 

The fragility of society and the male existence is too complex for this moment, so I brush it aside as I step to the left. Marcus hasn’t moved. He doesn’t think he’ll have to make any real attempt to contain me. Between the crowd and the chaos he’s stirred, he thinks I’ll give in. 

Marcus has made more than one mistake in underestimating me. 

Another step to the left. 

He’s talking, but I’m not listening. Instead, I’m trying to figure out if I can leap over the barrels blocking that path out of the alley. 

Doesn’t really matter, does it?

Even if I fall or make a mess, I’ll go down fighting for my freedom. 

So close. Almost time. If I was a man on the run, I’d probably make some comment about how they almost caught me. 

I don’t have the time or ego for it. 

More yells come from up the street. Heads turn. They’re distracted. I brace myself to make the jump and run. 

I don’t get the chance. 

Horns blare. Soldiers on foot and seated on horses make a semi-circle around us, yelling for everyone else to leave the vicinity as a man pulls out a scroll and starts to read in a booming voice. 

“Captain Evans?”

As the only person dressed in any form of attire for a captain, I don’t ask them to clarify that they mean me. I could still run. I won’t make it far, though. I slide my sword back into its sheathe. 

“How can I help you fine gentlemen?”

The sour-faced man glares over his scroll at me. “You’re to be arrested for the act of piracy. Give up your weapons and come willingly.”

I sputter. “Piracy? I’ve not done anything here besides walk down the street.”

This man doesn’t care for my arguments, he clears his throat again as he looks over the edge of his wired spectacles. “The King has need for a pirate, Captain Evans. Do we need to take you in chains or will you walk along yourself?”

The King?

If there’s anyone who can get me away from Marcus, it would be royalty. 

And I want a new ship with a better crew. 

Negotiations already turning in my mind, I wave the men to lead the way as I exit the alley and head towards the castle.

Author’s Note

Happy Saturday, loyal readers!

The prompt was vague enough this last week that it could have honestly fit any of the characters I’ve already introduced, so I wanted to challenge myself to create someone new. I hope you enjoyed Captain Evans as much as I did! Let me know in the comments below if you would like more stories done from this perspective!

As always, please take a moment to read my writing partner’s story on the same prompt.

Bridgette White: https://bridgettetales.com/2022/09/24/meet-me-at-the-elephant-ears-a-short-story/

We’ll see you next Saturday!

Posted in Uncategorized

The Bird Cage

It’s almost been ten minutes since I came to this room. Luke’s letter is wrinkled in my sweaty hands as I open it, read the short note, and close it again. Over and over. He said to meet here at noon. 

I don’t know why he would want to meet here instead of any of our regular areas. I like most when we visit the castle’s petting zoo. Luke says it’s just a stable, but they have all sorts of animals: horses, llamas, piglets, and a handful of hardworking orange cats that keep the mice in line. Nobody bothers us when we’re there. I get to talk to Luke and listen to his day while I pet the friendly creatures. It’s the happiest I ever feel.

We have a tiny camp near the woods, too. That’s Luke’s favorite. He’s far away from the castle  and the worries of being a prince. People are always trying to trick him or stab him or kidnap him. It’s a lot tougher than being the only son of the head cook. 

The door finally opens. I stumble off of the rickety stool I’ve been using to look out the tiny window near the ceiling. My heart a stuttering clock in my chest, I push back my hair from my forehead and smile over at my best friend. 

Except it’s not him. 

I stuff my wrinkled letter into my pocket and tilt my head down as I bow at the princess stepping into this odd storage closet on the left side of the castle. “Princess Taliya?”

I’m supposed to say everything with respect and admiration for the ruling class. It doesn’t come out that way, of course. Instead, it’s a question. I don’t know why she’s here and I want to know why she’s here. What am I even supposed to say next? It’s not customary for me to get trapped into a room with any member of royalty besides Prince Luke.

Stepping all of the way in and shutting the door behind herself, I hear the brief sound of the lock clicking into place. These old castles are so hard to escape. The locks haven’t been properly cared for in a long time. Hopefully the mechanism doesn’t break. That last thing I truly want is to be trapped in here with her for any extended amount of time. 

Carefully, she pulls a bird cage out from behind her back and sets it on a dusty table near the door. “Did you like your note, Zachariah?”

That’s not my name. Princess Taliya is a visitor from another country who is set on always making everything and everyone around her fancier than it really is. I’m just Zac. I don’t tell her that. There’s no point in arguing with the noble class. There’s really no reason she should be so invested in me and I try really hard not to let any sign of annoyance cross my face. 

I play over her words in my mind. Note. The note that’s crumpled into my pocket. It’s signed in by Luke. How would she know it exists?

Before I can say anything, her pink lips peel back into a vicious smile. “Prince Luke is very handsome, but quite easy to manipulate. It took me only two tries to get him to sign a piece of paper for me under the guise that it would be for my personal journal. Then, I just jotted down a meeting time and place for you, had a servant deliver it, and,” she claps her hands loudly, “voila! You appeared like a good boy.”

Words. There’s no words in my personal arsenal for this situation. I’ve grown up most of my nineteen years around this castle and the upper class. I’ve had a handful of tense situations to talk myself out of or walk away from, but nothing like this. 

“Why?” I finally choke out, wiping my sweaty hands on my pants as I stare across the space at her pristine, grey dress. 

She gives me a shrug. “The Prince is having trouble focusing on making his decision on whether or not to marry me by the end of the month and I don’t have time to dilly dally, so I needed to get rid of you.”

My eyes feel like they’re going to roll out of my skull. She laughs at me. I have never been good at composure or standing my ground and I hate it very much right now.

“Not kill you or anything, Zacariah. You’re not worth that kind of trouble.” Pulling a small book from some hidden pocket in her gown, she flips to a pre-marked page while she continues to state her intentions. “I just need the weekend really and I thought it would be cruel to have you shipped off or thrown in the dungeon, so I’ve come up with a plan to leave you unbound and alive. Isn’t that wonderful?”

I can’t force myself to meet her wicked gaze. The window is too small for me to slip out of and honestly we’re too high up for me to survive that kind of escape attempt anyway. My mother has never told me about my father, but I doubt there’s any immortal blood laying dormant in my veins. I either have to get through the princess by the door or deal with her insane punishment. 

“You look tense, Zacariah. You should have a cocktail and relax.”

She shouldn’t be able to move this fast. Certainly not in heels and around her swishing skirts. No matter the logic of this moment, she has crossed the room and left me no space to escape. I made the expected reaction of a serving boy. I didn’t step forward and face her. I didn’t duck out the door or make an attempt to get out of the door. I staggered backwards. Cornered, my back pressed to a dusty shelf, I ignore the clatter of abandoned glass bottles as I duck my head and avoid the vial she’s trying to push my way. 

“One sip, kitchen brat.”

Stop. Please. I am thinking the words loudly in my mind, but I don’t dare say them. I have my lips sealed. She isn’t getting some magic potion into my system. 

Well. 

She wasn’t going to get it into my system. 

The woman is more feral animal than princess. Stomping on my foot and fisting my hair in her free hand, she manages to make me yelp. The potion vial is upended into my mouth. It’s a purple, gloppy mixture that chokes me as it slides over my tongue and down my throat. There’s a hint of blackberries around the otherwise disgusting dirt-flavor of the concoction. I gag and cough, splattering the princess’ dress in an effort to not drink the potion.

Princess Taliya staggers back, grumbling some words as she uses a handkerchief to dab at the spots on her chest. Spell. Potion and magic spell. The princess is a witch. 

Crap!

I have to tell Luke. He can’t marry someone like this. She’ll turn him into a toad and take over the country. 

Speaking of toads, I panic as the room starts to stretch. Not stretch. I’m shrinking. 

“What have you-?”

I don’t get the whole question out before a wretched squawk cuts me off. Not from her. Me. I’m making horrible croaking caws. 

What am I? What did she do? 

Hopping from one foot to the other to make sure I still have both of them, I glance down. Talons. Black knobby ankles and inch long nails that click, click, click on the floor as I scamper around. 

I try to cover my face as I gasp in another croaking groan. Not hands. No fingers. Feathers. 

Glossy and black and I croak again. 

Wriggling to turn my head to see the rest of myself, I nearly collapse in a heap on the floor. I’m a bird. She turned me into a bird!

A crow!

Crap, crap, crap. I’m not even a cool bird. She could have chosen an eagle or a peacock or something, but instead I’m a hands-height off of the ground with heavy, black feathers and the singing voice of an incredibly sick creature. Heck, I’m the official sign of bad luck in this country. Nobody is going to want to see me around here. Not even Luke. 

Luke.

I have to get out of here. 

If I can’t stand up for myself, I have to at least do it for him. The sole heir to the throne cannot become a freakin’ crow. 

Princess Taliya is talking, her voice is incredibly shrill down here as she fiddles with that cage in the corner. I’m not sticking around to find out how spacious that thing is. Spreading my wings, I flap and flap and flap and…

Go absolutely nowhere.

Triple crap again. 

Feet it is. 

Shoulders hunched, I shimmy forward on legs that seem as thin as toothpicks. Princess Taliya turns in time to see me lurching towards the door. She laughs. The booming sound reverberates off of the walls. 

“I was going to put some food in here for you, but if you’re so ready to go, I’ll just let you go. One less annoying thing I have to check before I get that ring on my finger.”

I should be bothered by her words. I am. Probably somewhere under all of these feathers, but I don’t have time to reconsider. I will not be a prisoner in this dusty room. 

Luke needs me. 

Honestly, the whole kingdom needs me. 

Crow or not, I’m going to save the day.

Author’s Note

I hope everyone enjoyed a different character voice this week. I have a dream to do an entire “medieval” fantasy series where princesses become pirates and the kitchen staff can be heroes. Zac is just a small portion of that! Let me know what you thought in the comments below and thanks for showing up for another Saturday!

Please be sure to also check out Bridgette’s story about an Octopus: The Octopus in the Room

See you all next Saturday!

Posted in Uncategorized

Demise in Golden Eyes

It’s too late to turn back. We’ve been traveling on horseback for three days. Before that, we commandeered a rowboat. The Princess even resorted to taking a small plane from the islands to her home country. 

Now, the wind swirling around us, it flings snow at our faces. The flakes settle on our shoulders. We’ve given up slapping them away. Wrapped in furs and blankets, the cold temperature still settles into my bones. 

Princess Nabil looks like a snow queen, though. Her shoulders back, face forward, she gallops along the frozen landscape without fear or trepidation. I vowed to follow her anywhere, but this is getting to be ludicrous.

I should have put up more of a fight when we realized her parents were no longer in Egypt. Their imperial castle deserted. No servants, no king or queen, no sign of the girl. 

Nothing touches this area of Norway. No windmills or cypress tress. It’s just snow. We passed a town yesterday, the whole community huddled into their homes as the blue hour stretched across the sky. I saw their smiling faces through thick windows. A little girl with blonde hair waved as we trotted through the town, her childhood not yet endangered by the presence of strangers. 

I wish I could have given that to Erisa. A childhood filled with wonder and awe and kindness. Instead, she was raised on the end of a blade, bloodied and bruised before she even knew that gentleness existed in the world. We’ve been bound to each other for several decades now and I have spent too long watching her take on the weight of the world just to get nothing out of it. 

Erisa slows. There’s nothing out here still. Just a white landscape staring back at us. 

In an elegant slide, she dismounts her horse, her cloak swirling around her shoulders as her boots sink into the snow. I don’t let myself hope that she’s given up. We’ve come too far for her to turn around and go home. There’s something here.

“My parents have several homes around the globe,” she says quietly as I step off my horse and move to join her on the ground. “This one, though, is their favorite.” Her golden eyes flit around us. “Isolated. Cold. Enough humans to feed from without having to deal with any consequences.”

“Why bring her here then?”

Her gaze snaps to me, liquid fire touched by the shadows of something darker. “This isn’t about Kanani. It’s about me. We’re walking into a prison, Seymour.”

“It’s a trap?” My breath plumes in front of me. 

One curt nod. That’s all she can give me as an answer as she struggles to catch her breath, her hands opening and closing into fists at her sides. Scared. That’s what I’m seeing in her features. Princess Erisa Nabil is terrified. 

She keeps her chin up. “There isn’t a very large chance she’s alive,” she says carefully, each word damaging her as she accepts the reality of our situation. “I have to go in there. If she is alive, I have to see her.” Another slow, deep breath. “If she isn’t, I have to stop her murderers from getting away with it.”

A death sentence. She’s walking right into one. Against all protocol between us, I reach out and wrap my hand around her cold wrist. 

“Is she worth it?”

Determination sets her shoulders. She doesn’t shrug me off, but she remains stiff in my grasp. 

“I will tear this world apart for Nani. She’s worth it.”

I force myself to meet her hardened gaze. This isn’t the face of a princess. This is a warrior. This is the woman who will become my Queen. 

“And if she’s not there? If there’s no way to save her?” My chest tight, I force the next words out because I need to know she’s completely invested in this notion. “You’ll send us to the depths of Hell for someone who cannot be reached?”

Erisa’s bottom lip trembles. “You don’t have to follow me, Mour.”

I gently rub my thumb over the silky skin over her too thin wrist. “You aren’t going in there without me.”

A whisper of a smile touches her lips before she pulls me towards her and wraps her arms around my neck. “You are my only friend, Seymour Mostafa.”

Without giving me a chance to reciprocate or find a way to speak past the lump in my throat, she pulls away and twirls back towards the plain landscape. Tugging a short sword from the arsenal strapped to her body, she stabs it directly into the ground, gives it a hard turn to the left, and then takes two steps back towards me. The ground trembles. The snow shifts, slowly creating a large circle in front of us. 

Not a circle. A tunnel. 

This is it. Everything she has been searching for in the last week and half. We’ve crossed from one hemisphere to the next and passed through several countries all for the girl Erisa loves. 

I’d be a fool to walk into this optimistically, but I let my fingers wrap around the pendant that hangs on my neck as I whisper a prayer to the heavens. Maybe we’ll be okay. Perhaps they’ll be reunited and we can make it back home in time for lunch tomorrow. 

Maybe. Perhaps. Probably not. 

I take one last deep breath of the frozen air and let the cold latch onto my lungs. It’s time. She puts one boot on the rung leading down and I’m following before her head dips below the surface. 

We travel one on top of the other for several meters before Erisa lets go of the ladder, free falling the rest of the distance into the dim pit. Her feet barely make a sound as she lands. The only other noise is the whisper of metal on leather as she pulls out two knives and glares down the tunnel. 

Should Kanani be in a bad shape… I let that thought die. Erisa Nabil is not the kind of demon I would want to meet on this day. To lose the love that ties her to her humanity would be a travesty no riches or pleas could ever appease. 

Soon enough my own feet settle onto the concrete. I don’t pull out any weapons. My princess can threaten the other members of the royal family and survive, but I won’t get away so easily. It’s best to see if we can talk this out before I pull out a sword and forfeit my life. 

No more words pass between us. She moves into the shadows and I am right on her heels. This isn’t the first battle we’ve walked into together, but, if things are as bad as I suspect, it may be the last. 

I try to memorize the firm line of her shoulders in the minimal light. Her hair braided tightly down the back of her head and her eyes forward, this is a woman ready to take on the world. Should she need me, I won’t let her down.

There’s a faint click and then the lights for the tunnels blare to life. Flickering bulbs burn a golden imprint onto my retinas. I manage to stay on my feet, jaw clenched as I blink to clear my blurred vision. Erisa doesn’t even flinch. She likely has contacts in that filter the light for her sensitive vision. I should have been smart enough to do the same. 

My Princess waits for me to be ready before she stalks further down the tunnel, her knuckles taking on a pale tone as she grips her weapons tighter. “You know why I’m here,” Erisa shouts into the blackness beyond us. 

The sharp click of heels on concrete echoes down the tunnel as her mother walks towards us. A wine glass in hand, she stops several meters away, smart enough not to get close enough to Erisa to lose a battle while silently daring her to lunge. Should Erisa attack first, no explanation or sentimental story or plea could save her. To touch Queen Nabil is a death sentence. Even if the Queen makes the first move, there’s a large chance Erisa will still be condemned for defending herself. 

We’re trapped now as a thud rings out behind us. The hatch has been closed from the outside. I have no doubt this place was built to keep vampires in. We won’t be forcing our way back out. 

Erisa never planned to leave. 

My heart thuds heavy against my ribs. Love is as good a reason to go to battle as anything else. It’s one of the greatest reasons to die, so that two lost souls can eventually be reunited. I let my fingers curl around the hilt of the blade at my side. No matter what happens now, whether we leave these places as ourselves or something less corporeal, Erisa Nabil will not go alone. 

“I see you brought your pet, darling,” the Queen drawls after taking a generous sip of the dark liquid in her glass. 

Most princesses are tied to a man at an early age. I was given to Erisa. A warrior bestowed on a child. The royal line obligates her to take a husband, but she has kept me as a friend and confidante. I am a failure in the eyes of her parents. 

I couldn’t care less. The only eyes I care to see myself in are Erisa’s. 

She and I. 

Now until the end.

“Where’s my fiancée?” Erisa’s voice is cold, each word dripping with the kind of power typically reserved for a god. 

“He’s right there, darling.”

I swallow hard, but make no move to speak. This isn’t my fight. Erisa doesn’t dare glance my way, but I scrape my foot across the cement flooring to remind her I’m here. 

Here. Behind her. Whenever she needs. 

“Kanani, Mother. Where the Hell is she?”

The older woman clucks her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “Did I teach you no manners?”

Erisa is a half a breath away from throwing one of those knives. I brace myself for it. 

“Is she dead?” My princess is spitting the words through bared teeth, her fangs pushing out of her upper jaw as she readies to jump into battle. 

We’re likely to be dead before we ever know the answer. I brace myself for that decision, for the moment Erisa will need me to lunge into battle alongside her. The woman in front of me is holding herself together by sheer will and determination alone. I can see the way her hands tremble when she asks questions about her missing fiancée, though. Her breaths too short, her words too clipped, she is seconds away from breaking and I have to be ready to put myself between her and the sharpened point of a sword if I want her to have any chance of surviving.

I never get the chance to move as the Queen snaps her fingers. 

A single man delivers the remains of Kanani’s body in a cardboard box. There isn’t time to take in every pain inflicted on the girl. It’s impossible to equate what’s left with what once was a woman in love with tourists and the idea of running away to be a hippie just so she could fight for what she believed in. This isn’t the woman who I helped sneak into Erisa’s rooms in order for her to get down on one knee and ask my princess to stay in her life forever. This is our worst nightmare coming to life. 

The inevitable break I expected crashes through my princess. A guttural scream wrenches itself from Erisa. Not a cry from the throat. Not a sob. This comes deep from her stomach, rattles through her chest, and flings itself into the world as she hits her knees in front of the dropped box. 

Her fingers hesitate over the once beautiful face before gently closing the glossy, brown eyes. I don’t move. I can’t until I know what course of action she wants to take. There’s a clear shot to take down the Queen right now, but it isn’t my right to take such a death. 

This is Erisa’s decision. 

Soldiers file into the room, taking up space in front of and behind the Queen. “It is time for you to stop playing around, Daughter. Time to live the life I have created for you. I suggest you get off of the ground now before I put a sword through your friend.”

Now or never, Erisa. I don’t mind the sword. It would be an honor to die for this, for her, for the right to let her live and love and go on in this world how she chooses.

We have seconds to live and concede or to choose to go down fighting. 

I tighten my grip on my sword, popping a button on my other hip to give me access to some smaller options since we’re stuck in this tunnel. “Erisa?” I finally allow myself to speak, my voice unnatural to my ears as it slips by my teeth. 

Ever so carefully, she wipes her nose on the back of her hand and stands to her full height. She doesn’t look to her mother. She instead turns to me, our eyes on the same level, so I can come face to face with the horror and devastation that Kanani’s end has brought to her. 

“I will stay,” she says it loud enough for the sensitive ears of our enemies, “but you must go.”

There’s not enough air in here. My chest is tight. I shake my head. I would rather die in these halls than go above ground as a coward. 

“Something I love has to survive today,” she manages, each syllable trembling over her lips. 

My heart cracks and I nod. “As you wish,” I murmur back, stepping into her as she pulls me in for a hug. “You are my queen,” I add, my breath a warm caress on her cold ear. 

I don’t know how she expects me to leave until I feel her tug my chin down. Our lips brush. Magic tingles across the space between us, making my face feel fuzzy as I stagger back from her. 

“Gideon Carter,” Erisa commands. “Find him and wait until I’m ready.”

Her knives are flying in the next moment, but there’s nothing I can do to fight the magic coursing through my system. I shrink in front of the soldiers coming for me. Once a man, now a mere pest. 

Erisa takes down seven soldiers before one manages to get his hands on her. I shuffle out from the confines of my bulky, winter clothing and stretch my wings. Erisa is on the floor as I take to the air. 

Her gold eyes follow me as I slip out of an air vent as a bat, the cacophony of the battle echoing around me as I do the one thing I swore not to.

I run. 

I abandon my queen and let her mother get away with murder, so we may win another day. 

The wind batters me as I find a way back to the surface, a single thought on the front of my mind as shame does all it can to pull me back to the ground: Gideon Carter. 

I must find Gideon Carter and wait until Erisa can rejoin me. 

There is no way to tell how long we will be separate, but there is one thing I do know. I will find Erisa Nabil again in this life and we will not lose the next battle.

Author’s Note

As always, thank you to everyone who has made it to this part of the post. Seymour and Erisa are an important piece in the overall theme of my novels, two beings from out of time fighting to fit in and survive and love in their preferred ways. When I saw the prompt for getting away with murder, I thought I would write something goofy and light-hearted about an accident that had to be covered up, but this story became so important after the one-sentence clue I gave to it a few weeks ago in Gideon’s story about Tomorrow. Decades will pass before these two are reunited. It’s going to be really interesting to see how they change and adapt in the twenty-first century.

Again, thank you!

Be sure to check out Bridgette’s post for the same murderous prompt: https://bridgettetales.com/

Posted in Character Stories, Uncategorized

High School Nightmare

I’m in a white room with white curtains and a white couch. I’m in here a lot. It’s a no distraction room. Sitting with my legs crossed in the center of the couch, I stare down at the question on the first page of my spiral bound notebook.

Who were you in high school?

I don’t get to leave until I put something on the paper. The dull tip of my pencil rests on the page, but words don’t come. I can’t reorder my thoughts because there’s nothing up there in the foggy expanse of my brain. 

They should have laid off of the medication before this exercise. I can barely function. 

High school. High school. High school. What do I know about high school?

I like to watch a lot of movies. High school kids always end up talking to each other inside a hectic cafeteria. They talk about the cheap food and toss slices of cheese at the next table, cheering when it plasters itself across the chipped, blue surface.

The cameras pan around the wide space, making it clear for the audience that each table has its own click of kids. Those closest to the door are wearing cowboy hats and talking about the next project for their class inside the future farmers program. They’ve already decided that tending chickens and growing crops is going to be a good path for their lives. It must be nice to be so sure of what’s ahead.

In the center of the room are guys pushing extra tables together, their jerseys sporting different numbers as they make space for the whole team to sit together. They likely play football. They’re the coolest kids in the school just because they can catch a ball and have a mob-minded posse to back them up. Girls from the cheerleading team flit around them. Their captain, the girl who stands on the top of the pyramid, lays across the lap of the quarterback. She’s all smiles and innocence, her outward persona covering up the mischief simmering behind her hazel eyes.

A girl like that runs the school. She’s the top of the proverbial kingdom. She’ll wear the crown at the school ball and kiss that boy in front of the school. 

That’s not who I am.

I let my mind’s eye trail over the rest of the picture I’ve created. There’s the kids who like anime. They’ve spread out their notebooks covered in amateur artwork. It’s all bright colors and action scenes. They are close to the bottom of the high school power network, but they can’t care less. They’re happy with their oddball friends. 

I wish that was me. I don’t remember having friends. Of course, I’m in therapy because I don’t remember anything, but that’s besides the point. 

Who else? 

That girl in the corner. She has an untouched lunch in front of her and a book open. She’s just a green flannel and brown hair around the edges of The Odyssey. It’s her hiding place and current salvation from reality.

I think I might be a bit like that. I don’t really care for episodic poems, but I read plenty of books in my spare time. 

My pencil at the perfect angle, I press it hard enough to put a dent into the page, but my hand doesn’t move any further. That’s not who I was. It’s who I’ve become. A man in need of hiding from my life by slipping between the comforting pages of a fantasy. 

How did I get here?

The door across from me opens and this week’s therapist walks in. I didn’t bother learning his name. Matthew will fire him by the end of the week if he doesn’t figure out what’s wrong with me. Since nobody has done it yet, the odds are truly not in his favor. 

“How’s the progress?”

I cross my arms over my chest, pressing the blank page to myself, so he has no way to see that I’ve failed yet another writing prompt. Why does it matter who I was? I have amnesia and I can’t access those memories anyway. Why do I need to know who I was in high school?

The dark-skinned doctor takes a seat in the white chair across from me. He doesn’t pull out a pad. He likes to take notes on his phone. He probably thinks it makes him look cool or hip or less confrontational. It doesn’t. I wish people would stop writing about me. 

Since I haven’t given an answer and he has probably assumed that I’ve gotten nowhere in my writing, he presses ahead. “You still function as an adult with a proper education, Miles. From your file, I know you have no problem remembering details of previous literature and you quote old films easily. Fiction isn’t a problem for you, but reality is.” He taps the screen of his phone several times. “There’s a patchiness to your memory that’s uncommon in most amnesia patients, so we can’t treat you with the usual practices. You need to be open to alternative healing exercises.”

Yeah. I’ve heard that before. Something’s wrong with me that hasn’t ever happened to someone else. I don’t know how long I’ve been doing this, but it’s been a long time. The faces of the doctors blur together, lost to the depths of my memory just as much as the facts of my life. 

“Let’s try this same question, but together. Sometimes talking helps.”

Screw talking. Arguing and debating and talking haven’t done anything for me yet.  I want to crawl into my bed and pull my blue comforter over my head and pretend like there’s nothing wrong. Talking is the last thing I want to do right now, but fighting against the doctor’s suggestions doesn’t get me out of this room. The only way to get from here to there is to answer the doctor, play nice, and act as though any of this matters. 

Matt wants me to get better. My husband is slowly going mad and he has paid too much to all of these doctors to get no results. I’d like nothing more than to give Matt some good news at dinner tonight. I don’t know how many more times I can watch disappointment cloud his dark gaze across the table from me. It’s for him that I lean back against the couch and nod to the doctor. 

“High school, Miles. Tell me who your friends were.”

I put my pencil to the pad, making my writing big enough to take up several lines so he’ll be able to see it from his seat. I don’t think I had any.

I hold the pad up between us. His eyes flick over the words. He nods and then jots a note into his phone. “Did you play any sports?”

Blowing a hard breath through my nose, I shrug. There’s no point in writing an answer out for that. I have the physical build of a pool noodle. I get winded coming up the stairs to our apartment. There’s no way I was on an athletic team. 

The doctor holds his hand up for me to calm down. “Hey, we have to keep our minds open to any possibility.”

Whatever. Not an athlete. I was definitely more like the girl hiding with her nose in a book. I was probably the kid who never left the library. A bottom feeder in the high school aquarium, that’s what I was. The kind of disabled guppy that nobody notices until it ends up floating belly up near the top of the tank. 

“Family? Did your mom drop you off at school? A sister pick you up?”

I shake my head. My family is Matt. I don’t remember anyone else. 

He doesn’t push me on that question. I’m sure my file details how I can’t remember anyone before coming to live in this hotel with Matthew. I know lots after that. Julien usually runs the lobby counter. He has a nice smile and always remembers how much creamer I like in my coffee. Then there’s Stephanie who manages entertainment. Her fingernails are always an odd color and she never speaks directly to me. Paul delivers our laundry from the laundromat. Jessica brings me lunch everyday. 

Lucy. 

She’s my favorite. A dancer and singer who runs her own club somewhere else in Vegas. She always says hi to me after performances. If Matt is busy taking care of clients and business partners, she stays by my side. Her makeup is always beautiful and she shares the details of her handmade costumes with me. Someday, she promised, she would teach me how to sew. 

I suppose if she and I had gone to high school together, Lucy wouldn’t have seen me. She’s the center of every party, the light in every room, the reason to show up and smile. We’re a very odd pair to become friends. 

“Hey. I can’t read your thoughts, Miles. Can you write down what you’re thinking?”

Right. The doctor is still here. I shake my head. Lucy is my friend, not the topic of my therapy. Next question, I write instead.

His lips press into a line. He’s frustrated. Good, so am I. 

“You like to draw nowadays, Miles. Did you take any art classes back in high school?”

I pick at the blister on my thumb. Matt lectured me last week about taking care of myself. Sometimes I start a project and I don’t stop to eat, to rest my hands, or to think. The world disappears when I sit down in front of my sketchbook. Graphite sinks under my fingernails. Ink stains my palms. Paints smear up my arms and occasionally find a home on my cheeks or forehead. It no longer matters that I can’t speak, that I can’t remember, that there’s something wrong with me when I start an art piece. My hands work just fine and I can create beautiful things. 

Can’t remember. I’ve always liked drawing.

The doctor lets out a slow sigh. We’re not making progress and he’s feeling discouraged. Hopefully, that means I’m out of here sooner rather than later. 

“Did you get good grades?”

I shrug. Not good at tests, probably B or C student.

He adjusts to lay his ankle across the opposite leg. Crap. It’s never good when they start to get comfortable. It means they want to stay for hours. 

“First sexual experience, Miles? Lots of people have them in high school. Tell me about your first partner.”

The pencil falls out of my hand. It clatters to the ground, sending ripples of sound through the room, announcing to the doctor and anyone else in ear shot that I’m nervous, caught off guard, and actually surprised by a question. Sex. Nobody has ever dared to ask me about that before. I’m with Matt. Nothing else should matter, should it?

The doctor latches onto the break in my passive position, spitting his next question before I can lean down to pick up my pencil. “Was it a woman? Are you worried Matthew would be upset? Is there someone else you like more than your husband?”

Bent in half, my fingers inches from the yellow pencil, I freeze. When did this become an inquisition? Is he here to help me or here to make me look like a fool?

“What are you scared of, Miles?” He starts berating me once more, his voice higher pitched and his words fast. “Do you think someone is going to find out that you’ve faked your condition just so you can continue to live off of your husband’s money?”

His words ring through my ears as heat rushes to my cheeks. This can’t be happening. He’s a doctor. A doctor can’t talk like this. My eyelids burn. My nose tingles. Tears are coming and I can’t stop them. 

“Answer me.”

I pick up the pencil, barely able to hold it in my trembling fingertips. I press the tip of it to the pad. I’m going to write stop and he’s going to get out. I’m done with this. We’re done. 

Just one word and this is over. 

The doctor is on his feet. He snatches the pad out of my hand. “Use your voice, Miles.”

I can’t. I haven’t spoken since the accident. I know for damn sure that is in my file. 

He’s not done. Dropping the pad, he leans into my face. “Anything, Miles. Talk.”

I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. 

My mouth is open, but no sound comes out. Not a whisper, not a cry. A hot tear streaks down my cheek. 

“He’s going to find someone better, Miles, if you can’t get over this.”

I know. Snot drips to my upper lip. 

I’ve known that for a long time. He takes pictures with plenty of other people. He was in a celebrity magazine last week as a bachelor. A different report bragged that he had been seen leaving a bar with a woman named Victoria. I’ve been cooped up in our home for so long that everyone has forgotten that Matthew Quinn is a married man.

I’m going to lose him if I can’t get better. I didn’t need a doctor to tell me that. 

Red starts to bleed into my vision.

No. No, no, no. 

This can’t happen. Not here. Not now. 

Matt says it’s a bad reaction to my medication. 

Breathe. Please, just breathe. 

I squeeze my eyes shut. I can stop this. I won’t let myself be a victim to the hallucinations.

The pencil in my right hand snaps. My eyes open. In front of me, the white room has been bathed in maroon. The doctor is on the floor, his face frozen in a look of horror. There’s claw marks through his suit. 

No. This isn’t real. Breathe, Miles. 

High school. That was the question. Think about it. 

Who was I in high school?

I push off of the couch and stumble across the doctor’s still body. I’m seeing things. The room isn’t red. That’s not blood on the floor. Somebody is going to come in here and sedate me and I’ll wake up with Matt by my bed. 

I lift my hands in front of my face. Black claws extend from each of my fingers. 

High school. 

Who was I? 

Not the cool kids at the top. Not the nerds and outcasts at the bottom. 

What was I?

A monster. A nobody. A danger that wasn’t contained in time.

Author’s Note:

This week’s creative writing prompt was “high school hierarchy.”
I wanted to spend some time with another character from my future novels. Miles Quinn has gone through a hundred revisions. A decade ago, he was a cliche vampire who got the girl at the end of a very basic, supernatural romance. Today, he, as well as a mix of other characters from my cast, is redefining what it means to be a monster, a vampire in his case. His story will deal with a lot of psychological trauma, black outs that leave him at the mercy of the vampire virus raging through his system, and a challenge to find love even when he doesn’t understand what that looks like. If you read last week’s prompt, you’ll recognize Lucy. Someday in the future, they’ll share a novel detailing their troubles amongst the hectic layout of Las Vegas.

Thank you for reading this far! I hope you have a great week.

Make sure to also check out Bridgette and Anna’s stories:

https://bridgettetales.com/2022/05/28/challenge-week21/

https://loscotoff.com/week21-hierarchy/#comment-250

Posted in Uncategorized

Little Lucky Star

Mama and I stay together in a cavern. It’s always wet. Bits of moss and sea kelp cling to the walls. Mama adds driftwood over the front most days. It doesn’t keep out the water, though. The ocean laps at the entrance, curling its frothy fingers in my direction.

Not today, I think.

Not ever again.

Not if I have anything to say about it.

I throw off my blanket and stretch my fingers up towards the moist ceiling. There’s a starfish lingering in the uppermost corner. Mama either hasn’t noticed it or has deigned to let it live with us. Little, lucky star.

It’s quiet today. Just the subtle purr of the ocean and me. Mama must have gone out early to get breakfast.

In the furthest corner of our camp, Mama has filled in the bland, wet walls with paintings. There’s all sorts of fish in every color. I run my fingers over the tails and their shiny fins and wonder what it must be like to like everyday stuck under the water. Mama says she used to live that way. Swimming forever, swimming and searching and swimming some more. She says she still hasn’t found what she’s looking for, but she had to stop long enough to take care of me before she continues on her journey.

Amongst the fish are all sorts of plants. Mama loves everything green. Ferns and weeds and winding bits of ivy. She paints the fan-like leaves of the ginkgo biloba tree with a long brush. They grow in a place called China. She says the people there were nice to her until they learned the truth. Nobody may ever know the truth of what we are. It’s important. It’s imperative. It’s the only thing keeping us alive.

Since she’s still not back, I walk over to the chest where she keeps her makeup and take in the little round containers full of sparkling powder. Mama is always pretty. She says the colors help attract potential mates. Like a bird from the jungle or a fish from the Great Reef, sometimes we need special colors to attract the right people.

There’s a ton of other stuff littering the corner: clothes, shards of broken dishes that Mama uses to craft jewelry, a half of a yardstick she once salvaged just to show me how to measure shells, and several bottles of aloe for when we lay in the sun too long. Mama says she’s a bit of a clutter bug. She likes pretty things and useful things and doesn’t have the heart to let them go before their time.

She’s still not back. My stomach lets out a rumble loud enough to alert any nearby whales. It’s time to eat. I guess I’ll have to go out and get something. I’ll bring back extra for Mama. She’s probably just busy today.

Slipping on my green jacket, I creep out of the cavern. We don’t wear shoes. There’s no point. Everything we need is always somewhere along the beach.

I’m careful about making my way along the rocks near the front of our home. The world is dangerous and even more difficult to manage with hurt feet. It isn’t long before the slick, black rocks give way to the shifting sands of the nearby beach. Not many people are out right now. The moon is high in the sun. It’s the perfect time for creatures like Mama and me to be out on our own.

A salty smell drags me further up the beach away from home and safety and Mama’s return. Popcorn. One of my favorite snacks. It must be the weekend already. Hopefully, one of the moviegoers left some in their bag and I can save it from the sand. Popcorn is not very good with a crunchy texture.

I walk up the short dune to the marked off area that humans come to for their movie nights. It’s a big event. Lots of talking and laughter. I like to lay at the front of the cavern and listen to them when Mama is away. Sometimes, they even blow up huge balls of colors in the sky and I can see them without having to get close to the humans.

That’s rule number one. We don’t ever get close to humans.

Checking left and then right, I make sure the platform is clear before I sneak around the beach chairs. Humans always leave lots of trash. There’s blue cans all over the sand. I once found one with some liquid left in it and decided that it is not a very good drink at all.

Today is no different. I snag a candy wrapper from the cup holder of a chair and unwrap it. There’s still chocolate smeared in the corners. I hold it up to my face and lick it clean before putting it in my pocket to throw away. If I see trash, I should throw it away, so it doesn’t go into the ocean.

We always have to protect the ocean. 

More cans. Some empty chip bags. There’s a crumpled movie poster caught under a chair leg.

Superman.

I let my finger trail over the big “s” in the center. Maybe I’ll tell Mama that I want letters on my clothes. Something green with a big “L” for Lucy.

Lucy Lore. Mama says it’s the best name. The kind that won’t be forgotten.

A little further. I stuff more trash into my pockets. There’s a full water bottle stuffed into the sand. It’s warm, but the water is still good. I open it and take a big drink.

I hope Mama is having more luck than me. Usually, there’s more out here to pick through. The seagulls probably beat me to it.

I start on the next row of chairs, bending down and looking under them. A tiny, red crab wriggles away from me. He burrows further into the sand, clacking his large claw at me. Click, clack, click.

“Okay, Mr. Clicker. I won’t bother you anymore.”

Moving over to the next aisle, I finally catch sight of the red and white striped bag. Popcorn. The bag is bunched up and stuffed under one of the chairs, but I can reach it if I just lay on my stomach. There’s not much. I shove a couple pieces in my mouth. Still salty. A little chewy. I wonder what it must be like to have it fresh.

It must be hotter. Is it less chewy? Is there more butter? I really like butter. It’s good on fish and Mama mixed it into pasta for us once. Obviously, it’s great on popcorn, but I want to know what other foods it would be great on. Is it really something all humans like?

I’ll have to wait until I’m grown up to find out those kinds of questions. Mama hates talking about the humans. It’s my fault she left home so early this morning. I start on the next aisle of chairs as the memories from last night come back to me.

I just wanted to know if human girls spend as much time learning from their mamas as I do. I didn’t think it was a bad question. Mama has taught me how to build a fire and make a camp. She has walked with me along every beach and shown me how to catch our dinner. I listened very closely when she told me which animals are sacred and which can be sacrificed for the greater good of our species’ survival. There aren’t many of us left in the world and sometimes we have to kill in order to live.

I thought it was usual for girls to stay close to their mamas. Baby birds stay in nests and learn to fly with their mamas. We’ve sat together on a cliff and seen schools of fish. We once were further up north and had the chance to see a mama bear with her cub.

Yesterday, though, I stayed out late. I saw some human girls near the movie area. Their parents were nowhere near. I watched the three of them braid the others’ hair and share snacks and sit together on the edge of the crowd. They had bags of food they shared with each other and they never seemed worried about being away from their mamas for too long.

I just wanted to know that I was normal, that I was good, that Mama felt the same way about me.

She didn’t.

Knees weak, I slump over into one of the chairs and hold my bag of popcorn to my chest. Mama wasn’t mad. She was more than that. I could see the fury in her dark eyes like it was a tempest over the sea.

Her lips pressed tight together, making the pink gloss she’d worn disappear as the lines in her face deepened. Eyebrows scrunched together, hands on her hips, she yelled. Mama yells a lot, but never directly at me. I felt as though a ship had slammed into me.

Even when I said sorry, she kept at it. She stepped towards me and I backed away. She wasn’t acting like Mama. She was someone else, someone scary and mean and angrier than a great white after it has lost its meal.

Somehow we made it outside. We were at the edge of the rocks. The ocean was icy under my heels, urging me to take another step back as it nipped at my bare skin.

“You have never appreciated everything I have done to raise you.”

My heart pounded in my ears. I do. I did. I just had questions.

Mama was in front of me, a looming force. She said more angry things. Her hands were on my arms and she squeezed hard enough to make me cry.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

I don’t know if she could hear me. Snot trickled down my face. We stepped further back. The ocean was at my knees.

I didn’t ask for it to help me. I really didn’t, but Mama was yelling and I just wanted it to stop.

The water swelled up from my knees, to my thighs, and then to my waist. We hadn’t moved back. The water was rising, its surface bubbling along to my pleas for her to stop. When she shook me again, the ocean retaliated.

The wave that crashed between us flung me backward from her. I tumbled under the water, gasping for air, flinging my arms out to try to stop my continuous rolls. Nothing I did mattered. I had no control. Mama had told me not to touch the water until I was ready and I didn’t know what she meant until that moment.

Shaking the thoughts from my head, I push up from the chair. The water put me back onto land shortly after. I was fine. Mama didn’t say another word last night. She merely watched me, a thin line of blood running down from her lip. The water came between us, stopped the fight, and we went to bed.

She was fine. I was fine. We were fine.

I make a game of stepping back into my own footprints as I take my bag of popcorn home. Mama should be back by now. She’ll have found something else to eat. We can sit by the fire and share some food and I won’t ask questions and everything will be just like it was before last night.

The sand turns into rock which leads me to the front of our home. Everything seems fine until I step inside. Mama isn’t here. Her things from the corner are gone. Everything is gone besides the paintings on the wall and the starfish in the corner.

I stumble to the middle of the cavern. This is a game. Mama is going to jump out and surprise me. She’s trying to make up for last night. We’re okay. We’re supposed to be fine. It was a fight, not the end of the world.

Right?

It’s not fine.

I walk to where her things were and touch my fingers to the message written in red paint.

You’re officially a Syren

Her necklace is hung on a rock jutting out just above the words. A black pearl in a silver, crescent moon. The symbol of our people.

My people.

I sink down to the ground and let my eyes fall on the starfish. Maybe he’s not a lucky, little star. Maybe he’s just a problem Mama didn’t want to deal with.

Like me.

Author’s Note:

I was invited on a weekly writing challenge with two brilliant writers, Bridgette White and Anna Loscotoff. This week I spent time working through the prompt by detailing a background to a character I’m using in a future novel.

Prompt: A young child makes a discovery

To see the work of the other writers, click the links below:

https://bridgettetales.com/2022/05/21/challenge-week20/

https://loscotoff.com/week20-Superman/

Posted in Uncategorized

Welcome

Thank you to those readers that have found and taken a moment to explore this page. All things related to A. D. Reece and her upcoming novels will be posted here. Remember to hit the follow button in order to receive notifications about book dates, new posts, and all other information.