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Nicodemus - Original Works Prompt Club

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Nicodemus
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Nicodemus - Original Works Prompt Club

Post by Nicodemus » Sun Sep 03, 2017 12:49 pm

A collection of my entries for Prompt Club. Will write for tips > Reviews Section

Prompt 1: Breeze
Prompt 2: La Rochelle
Prompt 3: Tavern
Prompt 4: Oak's Crossing
Prompt 5: Curiosity killed the cat
Prompt 6: Welcome to HellPrompt 7: Let the Rain Wash
Prompt 9: Steampunk
Prompt 10: Elastic Heart
Prompt 11: Beast
Prompt 12: The Mothers
Prompt 13: First Kiss
Prompt 14: Rebirth
Prompt 15: The Creature
Prompt 16: Falling
Prompt 18: Best of Both Worlds

A couple random pieces from before I joined the site:

The Last Night
The cold didn't hurt. I couldn't feel it anymore. The icy wind pestered me no further than the occasional wisp of snow flakes in my face. I pulled up the collar of my coat and walked on.

I was one of the few out this late, so close to curfew. The last of the townsfolk were retreating indoors as I turned the corner and left the lantern glow of the main street behind me. They needn't be told not to be out so late. The killings only came at night.

Down the alley, a beggar was the last soul I saw before leaving town. I could see his whiskered frown as he fed another page of a book to his small fire, paying no attention to my passing. The spine of his book read "The Old Testament". At least someone was getting use out of it. I wondered how he was so calm in the night. Of the twelve victims, half of them were homeless. A thought out tactic. No one would miss them. Yet, it still stirs fear when they are found with puncture wounds on their neck.

I wished I could've left sooner, before dark, but that was impossible. I had to make it to the old church on the outskirts of town. There would be the carriage I had arranged for. I couldn't risk staying any longer. I was certain my life was now in danger.

Two more turns, another street, and the buildings began to thin. Behind every house, I searched the shadows. I scanned the roof lines, listened for any warnings from the stabled animals. My mind entertained all manners of my death, though I knew there could only be a few.

I cursed myself for how feeble I felt in the night. I had decayed into fear with the rest of them. I understood them now. I knew why they had called for aid. Why they had sent for him.

My feet were making haste now, down the last ragged road past a house and its field. I could see the river and the bridge to the church, where stood the carriage in the dim moonlight.

I breathed out a bit of the tension, then made the way down to the stones spanning the river. I slowed my stride to steady my vision.

There were no horses. No mules. No driver. The carriage sat alone in front of the ruined church. Something was wrong.

There were no footsteps preceding the stake that drove through my back and found my heart. It came with the most devoted silence I'd ever heard. I looked down to where it exited my chest.

I knew it was him. He knew to use yew wood, not a stake of oak like the imbeciles that had tried to slay me the week past. I noticed the stake was lined with silver for good measure, a weapon of exceptional quality.

My legs gave way and I slowly collapsed onto my back. I should have left sooner, but the sunlight made it so complicated.

He walked over me to watch my death. I saw the vampire hunter's face before the icy wind blew snow over my eyes.

The cold didn't hurt. I hadn't been able to feel it for centuries.
None the Wiser
Some folks don't appreciate what they've got 'til they don't have it anymore. I remember exactly how we lost it all. I was weedin' the last bed for the day, just about to go inside. I'd been workin' on a sizeable rock--bigger than my fist--stuck in the garden dirt near the creek that ran through the yard. Couldn't have that blockin' the roots on my tiger lilies.

The rock was about to let loose when Ansel came out the back door, hollerin' about his stupid football hat. "I hung it in the closet!" I yelled back at the idiot. He went back inside grumbling. I never understood how that confounded thing was supposed to help his team win.

When I finally got the rock out and got the dirt off of it, I saw the shine on the thing. It wasn't a rock at all. It was gold if I'd ever seen it, and a lot of it. I rolled it up in my garden apron and took it inside.

Ansel was in his recliner, oblivious to the world, 'til the game was over. I just needed to find a place where he would never think to...ah, ha! I stuck the gold in the washing machine and started supper. I spent the rest of the night dreamin' of what I would do with the money from the gold. How much would it be? A new tiller? A new roof? That pretty Cadillac down at Blakeney Auto?


The next evening I came home from getting groceries to find Ansel standing in the kitchen, holding the nugget in his hand. Aw, hell! Sometimes when he can't find his lucky socks, he checks the washer to make sure I haven't cleaned 'em. His face looked like I'd changed the channel during the championship game. He started chewin' me out over not telling him about the gold. I was surprised when he guessed that I'd found it in the backyard. He told me we were gonna be rich after he dug up the whole garden. I yelled a bunch of you-ain't-neither's and he gave me a bunch of the-hell-I-ain't's. It went on 'til we both tired out and we went to bed.


The morning after I went out back to find Ansel knee-deep in piles of dirt he'd strewn around the creek. My lilies were laid over. My irises were trampled. My roses had roots hanging out of the bank. I saw red.

I think Ansel yelled "There's more!" but I wasn't listening. I slowly walked back in the house, grabbed his lucky socks for the Braves and his Cowboys jersey, and brought them outside to the grill. A little lighter fluid and whoof!

The flame was pretty high when Ansel finally turned around. He let out a horrid yelp when he realized what I was burning, then scrambled over to the fire. He kicked the grill over, saw that there was no saving his things, then marched inside. He came back out with my good plates and his 12 gauge. My saying "Don't you dare!" didn't phase him. He commenced to yelling "Pull!" as he frisbeed them through the yard and blasted them into bits. Well, some of them. He never was a good shot. But they broke all the same when they hit the ground. Fine, I thought. Let's get on with it.

I put sugar in the gas tank on his tractor and cranked it until it sputtered out. Ansel let the hounds out of the pin, then called them into the house where they drenched my quilts in drool and mud. I took a bat to the headlights on the Dodge, and Ansel took a ball-peen hammer to my garden statues and bird bath.

I was satisfied that I was winning up until that point. That's when Ansel took it too far. He pulled the chainsaw out of the shed and attacked my rose bed like a madman. He tore through the bushes, throwing a wake of sawdust and red and pink pedals. He zipped through the morning glory trellises, toppling them onto the four-o'clocks. My face went so hot I swore my hair would catch fire.

Ansel wore down after a minute. He killed the chainsaw just in time to hear me pump the 12 gauge. The look on his face was priceless, his jaw dropped open at the barrel staring back at him.

Then he pointed at something, and I realized he wasn't looking at me. Then I noticed my backside was warming up pretty fast. I lowered the gun and turned around to see the kitchen corner of the house ablaze.

We didn't put out the grill fire.


After the fire department had gone, we stood in the yard, ashamed of ourselves, and stared at the chimney. It was the only thing left to stare at. I couldn't help but take comfort in the sight of Ansel, still covered in soot from getting the hounds out of the house.

"Well," Ansel shrugged, "like I said: there's more."

He grabbed the shovel and continued digging up the back yard. We sifted through all the dirt near the creek and had found a wheel barrel full of the gold before we hit the property line. We loaded it in the Dodge and visited the jeweler in town to see who would buy it. "Lots of folks buy it," he told us. He said that our gold was special. A kind of gold for the type of people just like us.

And fools we are.
Last edited by Nicodemus on Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:05 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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Nicodemus
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From the Heart (Breeze prompt)

Post by Nicodemus » Sun Sep 03, 2017 12:51 pm

The canopy was static. The golden red crowns of the trees hued the daylight in perfectly calm beams that riddled the forest air. He stepped unsure over the diving roots and decay that would soon feed them, feeling the judgement pressing upon him from the ancient grey pillars and their disapproving branches.

He had been sent here to receive Her verdict, had been damned for his blasphemy in cursing Her and would face his trial. He had named Her, the Mother, the cause of their sorrow when Her branches bore no fruit and his son had withered away without sustenance. On he went, in his unenthused march to his sacrifice.

The trees stepped away, allowing the breadth of the river where the path waned, and the unmatched girth of the trunk loomed on the knoll of the far side, unfurling its naked branches over the stream. He knew the tree, though his eyes were virgin to it, and knew it not to be dead. It was Her heart, Her vessel in which to enter the wood. He stopped and gazed in dread and awe, still and silent as the forest, save for the babbling waters breaking on the ford. They said She came on the breeze.

The red and honey leaves of the branches began to hiss and the dried browns at his feet rattled, and he could feel Her go against his clay skin and through his soot colored hair. He watched the bare limbs of the heart tree grow sprigs, their sprigs grow leaves, and the light seeped through, painting a vivid glow of jade.

Then she was before him, across the water, Her splendor humbling that of the sum of the forest. He beheld her and his heart was ashamed. He bent his body, bowed at the stream, and asked Her forgiveness, readily offering his life if it would restore the grandeur of her realm.

He lifted his eyes to see Her cross the ford, Her gown dragging but not drenched, to take his blasphemous soul. He averted his gaze back to the stones before She spoke.

"We are, all of us, linked together and around again, no soul more deserving than the next."

It was what they had told him after his son had faded, that the boy would rejoin the forest and become part of its beauty, but his spiteful mind had not listened.

"You will know it, now that the circle is yours."

He looked up to Her again, searching for Her meaning. Her eyes seemed for a moment to be in reflection, and then were exhausted.

"I am spent."

She raised an open palm and grasped his tattooed brow. The entire web of existence, all the life of the forest, came pouring forth from Her hand. He felt both consumed and fueled by it, and wondered if he would blow apart from the force, splintered into nothing.

The rush abated, and she was gone. Forever, He knew. His form faded, dissolved into the breeze, and He sank into the heart tree.
Last edited by Nicodemus on Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:06 pm, edited 12 times in total.

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A New Bearing (La Rochelle prompt)

Post by Nicodemus » Sun Sep 03, 2017 12:54 pm

The ships always breathed. I remember the timbers grunting at the constant teasing of the salty waves that lulled into the bay. I grew so accustomed to the sounds outside my window that, on the rare nights when the winds tired and the ships were frozen on the glass water, I would pray for a breeze so that I may fall asleep.

When my chores allowed, I made sure to be at the docks to watch them come or break port, the men cheering her outward or brushing her rail in gratitude for bringing them home safely. I would pretend not to notice Papa's frown as I ran out the door. "No way to live," he'd say on occasions when I foolishly let my dreams of venturing seaward fall from my mouth.

And so I found what he'd meant, years after she took me.

She came so quietly I didn't notice her silhouette until she was already past the towers. So quiet that no one came to disturb my late night stroll on the empty docks. No voices came over the rails as she approached, no oars visible against the black sea, but she came to a smooth stop, barely disturbing the water.

I nervously scanned the stone walls of the city, barely a candle flickering within the depths of the windows, and looked back to find my feet were already carrying me around to the port side of the ship. She lay silent as I rounded her bow and stopped short. No ropes had been thrown to tie her steady, but her dock board was laid out, though I'd heard no men or wooden racket. My feet insisted once again that I go on.

It was a strange sensation as I passed over the railing onto the deck, like I'd found something after a long search, or someone had found me. It was the first time I'd actually been aboard a true vessel. I passed the helm and reached out to run my fingers over the worn knobs of the wheel.

The first movement caught my eye. I turned to find the binnacle. It matched it's ship, intricately crafted with edges weathered and ancient, and within the grime of the glass, I thought the compass had moved. I took a step around it and saw another shift. It was then I noticed the needle was not seeking north, but following me. I circled the binnacle, and the compass danced around to reciprocate.

I raised my hand to brush away the film on the glass; it wasn't possible for one to be sought out by a compass. I touched the glass, and felt as though I had touched the eye of the ship, melded with her. Her structure, her sails, her history. Her thoughts.

The dock board slid itself back onboard, and without the sound of oars, I broke port to sea.

No way to live. The words have echoed within me for decades. I am bound to her, and her to me. My crew sails in darkness, without suspicion their captain is as fastened to her as any nailed plank, never to step foot past her rails, never to feel sturdy ground underfoot.

I am bound to her, though I will not last as long. I will wither, and she will drift into port, her compass on new heading.
Last edited by Nicodemus on Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:06 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Missed Fortunes (Tavern prompt)

Post by Nicodemus » Sun Sep 03, 2017 12:57 pm

Peritt eyed the newcomer, as he would anyy man not a usual patron of his tavern; the crime rate was a scary thing here in Tarnesby. Peritt gave a "Welcome" as the fellow took a seat at the bar, pouring him a drink before the order was placed. Peritt prided himself on summing people up.

The man offered a satisfied and impressed grin after tasting the wine, then introduced himself as Tal Borren before asking about available lodgings in the city.

Peritt reciprocated Tal's introduction and extended his hand before asking, "Here on business?"

Tal, enthusiastically meeting Peritt's handshake, brightened at the opportunity to speak of his trade--Peritt had known that he would--and said, "Why, yes. I am a broker for transactions of invaluables."

Peritt pictured himself a fox perking its ears as he asked, if Tal didn't mind saying, what such exchange had brought him to Tarnseby. Tal obliged with the name of a well-to-do family and spoke of the impressive collection about which they had written him letters.

Peritt furled his brow in the most concerned form he could muster. "My prayers for your venture, sir, but do be careful."

Tal's worry strangled his optimism, leaving his eyes frantic as he urged the barkeep to go on. Peritt outlined the would-be-sellers' shortcomings for the broker. Their deals-gone-awry, strong-arm tactics, and faux trinkets, all fueled by their impending financial ruin.

"But, I had so much riding on this," Tal protested. "I've borrowed the funds--"

"Now, now. Don't despair too much." Peritt knew that piecing the man's hopes back together would be even easier than crushing them in the first place. "I may have a consolation piece."

Peritt had never seen a more pleading stare. He then pictured Tal a pigeon, pecking seed from his open palm.

With his finger, the barkeep motioned Tal to wait a moment, then took leave through the door behind the bar. When he returned, he presented the broker an extravagant necklace, shimmering from the copious facets of its jewels. He then recited how the diamond piece had belonged to the Lady of Eldinvale, the countess herself, before the family fell.

As Peritt expected, Tal's hopeful gaze turned wary, so he offered him the necklace for inspection. Tal took the centerpiece, the largest of the diamonds, as he produced a jeweler's glass and peered through it with scrutiny. Peritt grinned, not too mischievously, he hoped, as the excitement returned in the broker's eyes.

The two men exchanged valuable and coin, Tal was directed to the nearest inn, and Peritt was left to clean his mugs. The only other event of the evening was Peritt's visit to his old friend, the captain of the city guard.



Morning came and Peritt opened the bar well before noon, for the particularly troubled patrons. No sooner than did the first customer arrive, the captain came through the door, holding a multi-jeweled necklace fit for nobility.

"I had the men out looking all night," said the captain. "It might no have taken so long had we guessed the fool was sleeping two doors down the way! Anyway, here's your necklace, a little blood on it. Poor idiot pulled a dagger on six guards when they rushed in. Oh, and Peritt, maybe you should invest in a safe for your valuables. That's the third time this year some fool's hear about that thing and had an itch to steal it for themselves."

"Aye," said Peritt. "Perhaps your right. The crime rate is a scary thing here in Tarnseby."

With that, the captain took his leave. Peritt decided the trick had played its use, and threw the necklace in the bin after retrieving the large centerpiece jewel. It was the only one worth anything.
Last edited by Nicodemus on Thu Jul 19, 2018 8:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Oak's Crossing (Oak's Crossing prompt)

Post by Nicodemus » Sun Sep 03, 2017 12:58 pm

It was the kind of place words like cordial and welcoming were invented for. The sun still hung lazily over the ridge, peering in between the stone houses to warm the brisk mountain air, when I rode into Oak's Crossing. Many residents were up and about, most working the soil in their multi-tiered gardens that were dug into the sloping town.

A youth was the first to notice my presence, tearing away from her parents and scurrying over to the fence around the vegetable plot and peering over the wooden gate to watch me pass with an elated excitement. Though I stooped weary in my saddle, I smiled back to her before riding on. The beaten gravel road brought me further down the hill, where more faces began to take note, eyes following me with similar enthusiasm. Soon the wooden gates were opened, and a small gathering came from all sides and walked beside my horse, issuing warm greetings and inquiries of my being there. I offered a smile or a nod to most, or told them it was nice to meet them if I could manage it before another spoke.

"You look simply spent," a middle-aged woman observed, offering a concerned smile from under her large bonnet. "Do you need a place to rest?"

I nodded to her with heavy eyes. My business was pressing, but I had ridden all night and feared I would fall from my mount, alone on the treacherous trail, if I traveled any farther. The woman addressed the others with a stern clap, then light-heartedly shooed them. The crowd parted, allowing the at least the breadth of my horse, but kept their place in the road and watched intently as the woman beckoned me with a wave of her hand and I followed her down decline of the road until we reached the small town square at the bottom of the ridge. The woman led me to a weathered but inviting house nestled into the hillside, adorned with rich green vines that ran their tendrils about the masonry and up the cedar shakes of the roof. The garden was lush, but kempt, attracting doves that leisurely perched on the fence railing.

"A very friendly place, this..." I said as I swung my leg heavily over and stepped out of the stirrup.

"Oak's Crossing," she said, taking the reins and hitching my horse to the fence. "You'll have to excuse us; we don't see many visitors." She used her apron to wipe the black earth from one of her hands before extending it. "I'm Rhoswen."

"Edmund Cassius," I said offering my hand, which she took in a suprisingly firm grip, pulling me off balance as she shook it. I retrieved my hand and inspected it briefly before turning to the house and yawning, despite myself. "Forgive me. Is this an inn?"

"Better." Rhoswen waved her hand toward the house. "You go see Ms. Gisela, she'll make you feel at home." With that, she turned and began to walk up the road. Without looking back, she said more to herself than me, "Soon enough, your troubles will be forgotten."



I poked my head in the door after a knock brought no response. "Hello." With no answer still, I entered the house, closing the iron-banded door behind me. The place was as quaint as anything in the town, the furniture stained warm and dark and the table set with candlesticks and a floural centerpiece. I called again, but only the crackle of the fireplace answered. I ventured up the open staircase and upon reaching the landing, I rapped on the door.

"Come in," the door said back to me in a muffled but soft voice. "This is your room."

I thumbed the handle to unlatch it and the hinge-bound door swung slowly open of its own accord. I found the room charming. The exposed rafters framed the gable window, which let in the morning light to paint the sealed floor boards in honey hues. The door finished its swing and I espied her, stooped and straightening the quilting at the foot of the bed.

"I am Gisela," she said lifting her head with a smile that rivaled the glow of the room. She appeared near my age, in her early thirties. Her hair hung freely, vibrant from the sun playing through it, and danced on her shoulders.

"I-em..." I became somewhat aware that I was speaking and collected my thoughts. "I'm sorry, you were expecting me?"

Gisela made no effort to rein her burst of laughter. "Not you. Someone." Satisfied with the bedding, she straightened and walked toward the door. "Most visitors are in need of a room, as I suspect you are." She circumvented me in the doorway and started down the stairs before saying over her shoulder, "Get what rest you need, and I'll water your horse. Supper's at eight."

I stood in silence for a moment, hanging on her words that softly drifted up to me, before regaining my senses once more. "Edmund. My name is..." I offered as she crossed the main room and disappeared through the kitchen doorway. "Edmund Cassius."



The sun was still up when I woke, but the beams coming through the window had taken on the orange and pink hues of evening. I rose from bed, rubbing my eyes and taking comfort in how thoroughly rejuvenated I felt, and emerged from the room. The smell of sweetly cured meat and breads beckoned as I descended the stairs and walked toward the kitchen.

Gisela met me in the doorway, unstartled, with a set of flatware in her hands. "Oh, good. I was afraid I would have to stir you." She handed me the wooden plates and silverware and nodded her encouragement. "Here, set the table."

"I really have spent too much time here. I have urgent..." I faded off, somehow failing to recall what my urgency was, and accepted the plates. Even as I spoke, I realized I wasn't willing to depart or dissappoint her. Even more pressing, the aromas wafting through the doorway had made me terribly aware of my empty stomache.

"That will still be there tomorrow," Gisela offhandedly waved my protest away and returned to the kitchen, her modest dress slightly catching air as she turned and playing on her figure. She called back through the doorway. "Whom did you meet when you arrived in town?"

I chuckled briefly. "Everyone, it seemed, to one degree or another." I stepped to the table and began arranging the flatware. "Rhoswen escorted me here."

"Ah, sweet Rhoswen," Gisela mused as she reappeared from the kitchen, carefully carrying a platter of rabbit haunches, glazed and seared and steaming, dressed with vegetables. I swallowed back the watering in my mouth as Gisela placed it on the table and continued, "She's been here since she was a girl."

"Who?" I asked absent-mindedly, staring at the rabbit as I lay the last fork in place. "Ah, Rhoswen. Of course. Very friendly, the lot of them." I paused, remembering the eagerness of the townpeople. "How long has it been since you had a visitor...since someone's visited Oak's Crossing, I mean?"

Gisela's brow raised as she drew her lips to softly whistle. "It's been years, I suppose. No one takes the mountain trail anymore; dangerous, you know. I think Mr. Quentin was the last soul to find us." She pointed as she said the name, toward the road leading up the hill. She gestured to the chair across from her as she took her own. "Have a seat. I started supper a bit early, in case you woke."

"Yes, thank you," I said, looking in the direction of the town and considering what she'd said. "He's still here? Mr. Quentin?"

"Oh!" Gisela said before answering, standing and heading back to the kitchen. "Where is my mind?" After a moment, she returned with a bowl of bread and placed it by the platter. "So, where are you visiting us from?" She returned to the kitchen once again and I called through the doorway.

"I grew up outside of Grove Lynn." My volume fleeted as she re-entered with a pair of cups and set them beside our plates.

"In that case, I hope the wine suits you, though it may not be comparable to that of the vineyards you're accustomed to." She sat down and served a portion to each plate, apparently forgetting my inquiry.

"I'm sure it's fine," I said taking my cup. "Mr. Quentin decided to stay?"

She jabbed her fork into the rabbit leg, her demeanor changing abruptly and for a moment, she was clearly agitated. But the outburst was fleeting, and before I could gather my jarred thoughts, her features smoothed into the smile I knew her to keep. "A fine a place as any to grow roots, wouldn't you say?"

I smiled, genuinely, in response and tasted my wine. I had already forgiven her for the strange reaction and decided to enjoy the meal and her company.



Days drifted, nights passed, all blurred together but in vivid memories of time spent with her. I only left the house on occasion, to water and feed Gambit or to split and fetch firewood, greeting the townpeople who always seemed to be lingering in the square. There seemed to be no reason to go anywhere. I knew I had matters pressing somewhere in the world, but as Gisela said often, they would be there tomorrow, though I had increasing difficulty in expressing exactly what they were. I would have spells when I felt I needed to remember, to continue on, but then she would speak and I would bask in those soft tones that dissolved everything else. I would let it go, and the world would be ours again; the supper table and fireplace, the house, Oak's Crossing. There was nothing beyond those things, no one to be concerned with.

I estimated it to have been a week since I had arrived in town, and decided to give Gambit more of a stretch than leading her around the yard. I unhitched her and mounted, and she seemed eager to be on her way. We crossed the town square and I started her up the road. It was morning, so of course the townsfolk were tending the vines within their fences. I had learned many of the faces, and they waved back in glee when I called them by name.

We had made it to the top of the ridge when I heard my name from Lulie, the youth that had first spotted me riding into town. She bounded right up to Gambit to wave at me and stroke the horse's neck as she came to a halt, and I noticed in her merryment just how lovely the child was. It...reminded me of something. As I studied her face, it melded with another somewhere in the back of my mind and I remembered. Someone I cared for was in trouble. Someone was sick. I had been on my way...

I looked past the crest of the hill, down the road and away from town, and tried to remember my journey and my destination. No longer concerned with Lulie, I nudged the horse onward down the road. Perhaps if I could--

"Edmund," the soft voice called from just behind me, and I reined the horse around to see her in the middle of the road. "Have you gotten turned around?" Gisela asked with a playful smile, and I was lost in it, not startled at all by seeing her there. "I didn't think the town was big enough to do so."

"No," I laughed at myself. "I was just..." I turned around to look down the road, trying hard to find the thought that had slipped away, then back to Gisela. "I was just getting her out, before she stiffens on me," I said patting Gambit's neck, then stepped the horse forward to Gisela and offering my hand. "Here, I'll give you a ride back--"

"No!" Gisela recoiled, as did Gambit, the horse scared beyond its wits as it reared and nearly threw me from her saddle. I gripped the horn and held my place as Gambit spun and bolted up the road. I cried out to the horse, pulled back mercilessly on the reins, but she was crazed into a panicked flight from something. I held on, helpless, and looked back over my shoulder to see the last houses of Oak's Crossing and the townspeople gathering in the street watch in confusion and fear.

Gambit galloped on, determined, until she was apparently satisfied she was far enough away from her imagined pursuer and began to tire. I kept my palm on her neck and coaxed her to a trot, trying to keep my voice soothing despite my racing heart.

As we stood in place and caught our breath, I looked around the wooded ridges I had traveled days ago and began to remember. I had been riding home. Home, in Grove Lynn, to see my child sister. The anonymous dove-bound note had informed me of her grave illness and, without having time to spare, I had set out on the treacherous but quicker mountain path.

I was still lost in thought, but my hand tugged the reins to turn Gambit about and I nudged her to start up the road, back toward home and the trail to Oak's Crossing. We walked slow; I felt as though I had been drained since our sprint out of town, like something was missing inside me. At first I didn't notice the clouds that moved in and, for the first time since our stay in town, greyed the sky above the mountain. I wondered, in truth, how long it had been. I had felt no urge to track the days that passed within the house. The first drops were unpleasant as their chill pricked my neck, but soon the rain set in and I accepted the cold. I rode on, trying to reconnect myself with my memories from before Oak's Crossing, trying to relate to them so they didn't feel like the recollections of another soul long forgotten.

She was waiting for me. I pulled the horse to a halt as we reached where the road branched, one trail leading me on and the other to Oak's Crossing. Gisela stood there in the town's road, drenched, yet radiant. Her skin held its vibrant complexion despite the rain and the dress clung to her below her shawl. She offered me a new smile, as warm as the others, but one of understanding and yearning.

"Do you know where that road will lead you?"

I returned her smile briefly, though I couldn't justify doing so. "You kept them all. All those souls, bound to you. Why?"

"They are happy."

I stared at the ground and fumbled through what memories I could muster. "You sent the note. My sister is well?"

She nodded, a hint of an apology in her unwavering smile.

"Why me?"

"Were you not content?" She took one step forward, wanting to come to me, but her image flickered and faded, her tangibleness giving way to the rain, and she quickly moved back, her brow furling momentarily in frustration. Her smile returned, this one reminiscent, one of familiarity. "I knew you before you came to me." She looked up the road that would lead me away. "I knew this was the only place you could be happy."

I followed her gaze, studying the washed out gravel that would lead me home, to the life that felt so distant.

We looked back to each other, our eyes meeting and exchanging what we had not yet said. Then she turned to go, and I reined the horse and started behind her down the path to Oak's Crossing.
Last edited by Nicodemus on Thu Jul 19, 2018 8:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Draven : Origins I (Curiosity killed the cat prompt)

Post by Nicodemus » Sun Sep 03, 2017 1:01 pm

What if?

That bare question had driven the last two years worth of research and experimentation. Draven knew it to be regurgitated rubbish when they said that only a fraction of the human brain was put to good use. The different sections of the organ were assigned to their respective tasks, and when one engaged in any complex endeavor, the thing was nearly tapped out. However, what if? What if there were a way to achieve a substantially greater level of neural activity?

His rats had told him there was. A combination of serum and electrical stimulus applied to the subjects had crazed the needle readings on his machines, and produced rodents with logistic skills comparable to that of a great ape. The problem it seemed, was in the method. Draven had targeted not the brain itself, but other areas of the rats' physiology to mutate and produce something akin to additional brain matter. The catch was that the mutated tissue stopped serving its original function, a side affect that was usually fatal. To press matters, the Library of Sciences had attached his funding to an ultimatum for results.

Draven hooked the curved brim of his homburg on the hat rack, rolled up the sleeves of his long frock coat, and stooped over the lab table to inspect the cages. Two dead specimens--he'd expected as much--and two more delirious and spasming in a puddle of excrement. After euthanizing the sickened rodents to end their suffering, Draven turned to the last cage, to his last hope, to find a lone water tap behind the ajar door.

After he had learned to engineer the serum to target specific types of tissue, Draven had decided to aim for the spinal column. The length of nerve threads did, after all, act as an extension of the brain and was connected directly to it. He had believed in the revelation enough to even give the rat a name, his first subject not labeled solely with numbers.

Draven's eyes darted around the lab until he spotted Monty atop the high shelf, calmly staring back at him, aware and by all appearances healthy. Monty was, like the other later specimens, a common sewer rat. His charcoal coat almost concealed his polished black eyes, which seemed to observe Draven with a casual interest instead of fear.

Draven glanced at the cage door, contemplating the complexity of the latch, before he advanced and reached for Monty. The rat sat unconcerned on his hind haunches until Draven's fingers were almost around him, then reached with his front paws to produce an electrical cord from the shelf and jabbed the exposed--and live--wires into Draven's palm. Draven recoiled, clutching his seared and throbbing hand at his waist, and toppled over the leather rolling chair. After a moment of groaning and mutters, he pulled himself to his feet and decided to speak to Monty.

"Alright, alright. You can stay there." Draven glanced to both entrances to the lab to make sure they were shut.

As if in response, Monty descended the shelves and crossed the desk to nibble at the crackers left out from last night's soup. Draven traced the cord that was the rat's trap to its source, unplugged it, then rolled up the chair to the desk and took a seat, hovering over the rat with scrutiny.

"You're truly in there, aren't you? Aware as anything."

Again, in response, Monty left his crumbs to take several quick steps across the desk and stopped at a syringe, filled with the same deep red serum he'd been injected with a week prior. Draven told himself that the rodent couldn't possibly be suggesting what it looked like, but it had placed the idea in his head all the same. Reaching for the syringe, Draven glanced once more to Monty.

"What if, eh?"

Draven found the vain and watched the crimson disappear into his arm. He felt a surge of sluggish warmth creep through his body, but knew it would be days before the serum took affect.

Draven looked back up to Monty, who lay seized on the desk, his nostrils flowing red.
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Welcome to Hell (Welcome to Hell prompt)

Post by Nicodemus » Sun Sep 03, 2017 1:02 pm

You reluctantly climb the weathered porch steps, and an animatronic skeleton lunges its head forward and cackles hysterically at you from underneath its spider embellished top hat.

Your mother insisted it was the neighborly thing to do, to visit the Pritchards' haunted house. The Pritchard siblings have always made you uneasy. They always seem to be ominously staring at someone at school, as if waiting for a horrible fate to befall their classmates. You couldn't just pass up the peeling grey house two doors down from yours, though. Your mother said it would be rude.

You pass the plastic skeleton and the hay bales topped with crudely carved jack o'lanterns and knock on the door, just below the hand-painted sign that reads Welcome to Hell in red acrylic. The corroded mushroom knob turns and the hinges complain as the door swings slowly open to reveal no one behind it. The house is dark save a narrow path, designated by synthetic spider webs arranged to catch the light.

Your shoulders pout and you turn your head back, sending your best pleading expression from under your zombie makeup. But your mother shoos you forward admonishingly from the lawn.

You resign sullenly, turning back, and step over the threshold into the house. The rusty hinges give no warning as the door slams shut behind you.

The Pritchard house remains dark even after your eyes adjust, so you follow the dimly lit webs through their narrow tunnel. The dusty hardwood moans under your feet. It is the only sound, as there is no recorded cycle of cackling witches or howling wolves playing. You fail to stifle a cough in the stagnant air, choking on its sickly must.

You remember a boy from school, Connor. He was a little odd himself, and came to this house to visit the Pritchard siblings. When he didn't come to school the next week, your mother said he'd moved--

It leapt out of the darkness in a flash of colors, a distorted yell coming angrily through a staticky speaker, and you nearly drop your skull-shaped bucket of candy as you jump back. The clown holds its serrated blade limply and seems to stare at you as you gather yourself. You notice how detailed it is, much more disturbing than the cheap porch ornaments. It dangles there with a wide stitched grin, strings grotesquely bound through holes in its hands and around its neck, like a macabre marionette.

You circumvent the clown at a distance and continue down the path, turning a corner before more strings fling another figure towards you. You're surprised at how much it startles you, already having been fooled once. But the scarecrow is equally as unsettling as the last exhibit. Its face is not burlap or cloth, but something closely resembling skin and loosely stitched over its dead eyes and dry mouth. You're no longer certain that the anguished moan that accompanies it is a recording.

The scarecrow's cry fades away, and you move on through the silent dark. You've taken a few steps before a rat scurries across the floor past your feet. You hop and spin to avoid it, not sure whether it's a prop or not. It hurries away, and you realize the lights behind you have died, and you can't make out the path back out of the Pritchard house.

You turn and follow the faint lights forward, more quickly now.

Two figures come into the path, suspended on more limp puppet strings, one from either side. You're ready for the scare, but are startled this time by how much like flesh one of the twin girls feels as her swing collides with your arm. You stop to study them, but their faces are hidden under long dripping locks. Aquatic weeds cling to their soaked hair and lace-trimmed dresses. Their frames are of young children, and the exposed skin on their arms is incredibly detailed with purple veins and rotted pits. No moan or scream accompanies them, but you find that to be somehow more eerie.

You move along the path, backing away from the twins and into a tangle of the spider webs. You pull at the strands in annoyance until you feel something very alive creeping down your neck. You drop your bucket of candy and swat at the thing, stumbling around in an attempt to get away, until you're satisfied you've brushed it off. After your body's residual shiver, you realize you're no longer on the path and in utter darkness.

You stand still and unsure. You wonder if your mother has come looking for you yet; it seems you've been in the Pritchard house for far too long. You begin to imagine the siblings a few feet away in the black room with you, staring with their knowing grins.

Your eyes adjust slightly and you spot a faint strip of light on the floor. You feel your way across the room and find the cold metal of a knob. As you turn it and push, the sign on the door is readable in the light: Private - Trespassers Will Not Return.

Before you can consider the odd message, something scrambles up your leg. You leap back and flail your leg wildly to shake it off. You slam the door shut to keep the rat away.

Catching your breath, you look around in the light at the sweating cinder blocks and the molding stairs and realize you've entered the basement. You clutch the door knob and twist, then again frantically, but it refuses to turn.

Maybe there is a window in the basement--you can't see past the landing wall of the stairs--and you could crawl outside. You make your way down the steps in a manner appropriate to your zombie costume, tired from adrenaline surges with knees threatening to buckle.

You stumble down to the landing and see the room is occupied. A man in a dirty surgical mask and stained apron stoops over a table opposite his assistant, a woman with wrinkled jowls handing him tools from an assortment of sharp rusty things on a stand. A body lies unnaturally still on the table between them.

You quickly turn, wanting desperately to get out of the room before they see you, to find the Pritchard siblings standing on the stairs. Their usual stare has become angrier, as if they have been affronted and you must be tried for your crime.

You wheel around, now in panic, to escape their gaze, only to meet that of the surgeon and his assistant, the man holding up a crimson tipped fillet knife.

There is a moan from the table, the body twisting enough so that you see his face. You know the face, from school. Though, his features are now mutilated, sewn in patches like a living corpse made of several cadavers.

You tremble, not from the damp cold, and crumble on top of your legs. You sob, slumped on the rough concrete, and watch the assistant roll over a second table.

You feel the Pritchard siblings scoop you under your arms before you're carried to your own spot next to Connor.
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Things to Come (Let the Rain Wash prompt)

Post by Nicodemus » Sun Sep 03, 2017 1:05 pm

I step out into the rain. It feels like it'll help, like it might rinse away the horrible choices clinging to me like matted dirt. I step out and steady my hand enough to light my last cigarette.

It's not easy seeing what happens next.

Sometimes I try to stop it, but it comes anyway. I don't know why I see it. I don't know what triggers it. I just know there's nothing I can do about it.

Just a few hours ago it was all just a vision. Nothing bad had actually happened. Mom still had a husband. Danny was still alive, still scolding me for not stocking the shelves right. And I was still wishing I didn't have to work for him and listen to his shit. But then he walked past me and, like always, I couldn't stop it.

I saw him signing papers, papers with Mom's name on them. His name too, under "beneficiary". Then I saw him at our house, pouring a drink. He put some kind of powder into the glass and stirred it until it disappeared in the wine. He handed it to Mom.

Then the vision jumped and I saw her. Mom was lying on the floor, her eyes open but not awake, the wine spilled beside her and running through the carpet like blood.

My lips shake as a puff on my smoke, the drizzle threatening to fall on the cherry and put it out.

It wasn't supposed to play out like this. That's the problem with seeing what's next. It usually falls apart when you try to change it. But what else was I supposed to do?

They must've found Danny's body pretty quickly. I picture Becca, the innocent secretary finding Danny's head caved in like that, the crowbar from the stock room covered in splatter beside him. I know they found him quick because I didn't have time to make it home after the next vision.

I saw her pick up the phone. I saw her good mood melt into horror, then pain. The kind you can't get out no matter how hard you cry. She dropped the phone, sobbed for a while on the floor, then crawled to Danny's nightstand where he kept his pistol.

I drop to my knees on the sidewalk and let my drenched cigarette fall from my lips into the gathering puddles. I sit there in the rain at the bottom of the steps to our apartment where I found her, sprawled and twisted on the floor beside the gun. I try to think back, back to every vision I ever had. Have they all come true? I changed some of them, and it usually turned out worse. But were they ever just wrong? What if Danny wouldn't have followed through? What if, if I'd done nothing, Mom would still be alive.

I begin to hate my visions, to hate myself, when another one comes. I see a car, a drunk driver, coming around the corner and down the street in front of me. He drops something, bends in his seat to rummage around the floorboard. He's not watching the road. The car jumps a wheel onto the curb just before he reaches me and takes me out. Just like that. In a violent shove of speeding metal I'm crushed into a pile of broken parts.

I come out of the vision, and I hear tires squealing as the car appears down the street. It speeds closer and begins to veer toward me.

I have time to move.

But it's not easy seeing what happens next.
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Prompt 8: Thunder

Post by Nicodemus » Sun Sep 03, 2017 1:07 pm

Coming soon

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Embers (Steampunk prompt)

Post by Nicodemus » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:30 pm

"Thank you, Benjamin," Mr. Roland gave his formal but familiar smile as he took the cup and saucer, then placed the tea on the oak table to steam while he returned to his book.

"Your welcome, Sir," I said.

He seemed content for the moment, lounging, in his own proper manner, in the tall green armchair he favored. I returned to the fireplace and retrieved two lumps from the coal box and inserted them into the iron-hinged hatch on my belly.

After a moment, Mr. Roland parted from his pages to find me standing by the hearth and bid me to sit. I didn't particularly enjoy sitting; it required no steam for me to stand still. But he seemed to think it put me at ease, so I obliged as usual, and he went back to reading.

Mr. Roland always asked when there was something to be done, though he need not seek my agreement, as I was his property. Mr. Roland had made me. He had made us all. Jeffrey, who tended the property, and Michael, who was near the size of Mr. Roland.

Mr. Roland left his book once more.

"Benjamin," he said, then raised a hand to stop me from standing. "I don't need anything. I wanted to ask you, do you know today is your third birthday?"

"Yes, sir. You constructed me on this date three years past." I remembered the very moment when the steam pressured and I was aware of the world. In the first months, it was very confusing, but Mr. Roland had been very patient. Recently, he had even taken me twice into town, though he told me never to return after the sheriff had threatened him. "Unnatural contraptions" is the phrase the lawman chose.

"Benjamin," he shifted in the chair and exchanged his book with the tea, "The others..."

"Michael and Jeffrey, Sir?" I helped. They were the only others on the property. Mr. Roland had no family, and very few visitors. The last guests were employees of the bank, there to make an offer for Mr. Roland's land, which he refused.

"Yes. They are different from yourself."

"Yes, Sir. Michael is equipped with a substantially larger steam chamber in order to labor in the shop, and Jeffrey--"

"No, Benjamin," he stopped me with a humored but friendly grin. "I don't mean physically."

"I don't understand, Mr. Roland. You mean that they don't speak a great deal."

"You often ask me about the people in my books. Why they fight. Why they're sad... Why they love."

"Yes, sir." After Mr. Roland had taught me to read, I learned that the characters Mr. Roland read about were not like him. They harmed one another over trivial things, took things that did not belong in their possession, and engaged in strange activities for recreation.

Mr. Roland started but did not find the applicable words.

"Come with me, Benjamin."

I followed him through the kitchen, to the back of the house, and into the shop, where stood a white canvas sheet, concealing something of approximately my size. I had suspected that Michael had been helping Mr. Roland make another like us, though I did not know why. The three of us managed all the chores on the estate.

"I want you to meet someone," Mr. Roland said, pulling the drape.

I paused, perhaps to analyze what I saw. It was very similar to my design, yet different. Michael had done well in filing the iron and neatly bolting the plates, yet it somehow seemed more delicate than myself.

I looked to Mr. Roland. A look that would have been quizzical had my features not been rigid.

"Her name is Elizabeth," he told me.

"Elizabeth," I repeated, for no purpose I could name. I raised my hand to its...her arm, though I knew it would accomplish nothing.

"She's almost ready," he said, smiling about something.

"Guests, Mr. Roland," Jeffrey said from the shop door.

Mr. Roland thanked Jeffrey and they exited. I thought there was a reason I should stay with her, but I followed suit.

Mr. Roland stepped outside to greet the visitors as I returned to the coal box. I took one lump and walked to the window behind the reading chair.

I recongnized one of the men on the lawn as the bank employee, remebering his blue pinstriped suit. The other was in pointed boots and a large hat, much like the men who drove cattle. The banker and Mr. Roland spoke for a moment, each matching the other's intensity, until Mr. Roland gestured them to leave and turned toward the house. The banker nodded to the man in boots, who produced a revolver and shot Mr. Roland in his back. Mr. Roland crumbled on the steps and the men left.

I stood at the window. It was one of those times, I thought, that people would know what to do. Something that would help the situation. Mr. Roland was dead. That thought provoked something. It was as if a mechanism within my chamber was malfunctioning. I couldn't describe it presicely, but I knew that it was not right.

I stood, as I often did when waiting for Mr. Roland to ask me for something. For a long while I stood, until I needed to retrieve another lump of coal.

**********

That evening I returned to the shop and stood in front of Elizabeth. Michael continued his work of filing and polishing the small projects that were in his memory. He said little of use when I asked him of Elizabeth.

In weeks following, Jeffrey kept the property. Michael eventually finished his tasks and began to aid Jeffrey in his. I dusted and cleaned when necessary and helped mend any intricate pieces of the others that wore. Most days, we only saw each other at the coal box. Elizabeth kept her place in the shop.

I saw her every evening, when I finished my chores. I began to bring Mr. Roland's books and read to her as Mr. Roland had to me, though I knew she could not hear. I often pictured her face like ours, her eyes glowing incandescent.

One day, I noticed through the window that there were people on the property, constructing something of wood in the far field. They never came to the house.
Days passed and the buildings grew, but we went about our chores.

The coal was getting low. Before, our embers would tire and blacken every night and Mr. Roland would replenish our chambers in the morning. For a while, I asked Michael and Jeffrey not to burn at night, and I would stoke them at daylight, but the coal box slowly diminished.

The day came when I made one of the biggest decisions of my existence. I instructed Michael and Jeffrey to let their coal burn out until I returned, then packed a bag full for myself. I left three of my favorite books stacked beside Elizabeth and said goodbye.

As I crossed the threshold of the front door of the house, I noticed a malfunction... no, a pain in my chest, similar to when Mr. Roland died. I closed the door behind me and walked down the steps.

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Through the Stones (Elastic Heart prompt)

Post by Nicodemus » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:31 pm

Each day I awoke to find her there, opposite the stone wall of my cell, peering through the tiny crack in the mortar or humming in notes too cheerful for such times as those. She kept my spirit in those notes, kept me awake when my body longed to slumber and breathe out what little life was left within.

I tried to give back. I tried to tell her we would be free one day, that the beast would not come for us, but her eyes labeled me foolish and told me neither of us held faith in my words.

Every day the footsteps came, and I would catch glimpses of the beast through the barred window of the iron door. He would choose his meal and the screams would follow him back to the oven from whence we heard him fire his meat until the screams subsided. And I would return to the stones to find her eyes, those bruised, malnourished eyes still bright through it all.

Of course, the day came when the footsteps came for me. The beast pushed through my iron door and I came willingly, knowing that it wouldn't be her that was taken today. The grotesque, giant of a man led me out of the cell. I looked to where her iron door should've been, to tell her eyes farewell, to find nothing. No iron and no stone cell, just the missing sliver of mortar through which she had peered at me, open to the corridor.

The giant shoved me on, down the hall until I saw the glow of the oven, stoked and waiting. He shoved me into the kitchen where sat a young girl at the table, bibbed and waiting anxiously with utensils. I looked into her hopeful eyes. Those bruised eyes.

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H3X - Chapter 1 (Beast prompt)

Post by Nicodemus » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:33 pm

- VACANT -

"Well, this was a great idea," Harper said under her breath, seeing the fallen door that had been ripped off the hinges. Ronan must have heard, but only grunted a response before moving in towards the house. She wiped the humidity from her brow and followed. The place was small--maybe three rooms--and run down, but the jungle around it was kept in check. Someone lived there. Or, had lived there. Harper guessed from the dried blood on the doorjamb the home was probably vacant. Ronan lead them over the threshold, sweeping his shotgun across the empty living room. Harper realized her tight grip on her machete was hurting her palm. "Let's just go."

Ronan shot a look at her. "Someone could've made it. Might still be here."

Harper clenched her eyes long enough to steel her nerves and followed him to the next room. It was pointless to argue with Ronan; his orders were set. The house was old. The walls were painted, though the colors were indiscernible under the grime and water stains. The kitchen--the second room--even had a relic of a sink that presumably had running water at one time. Blood stained the floorboards there, a streak where something had been dragged.

Ronan lowered the shotgun to check the pantry. He slowly swung open the cabinet door, then started. Harper jumped back from the flash of gray fur, her machete raised in a show of defense. A moment later, when the rat had scurried off through a hole, Harper let out her breath. Ronan simply frowned before continuing his investigation. He found something in the pantry and pointed for Harper to see. A half-eaten bunch of bananas, the remaining fruit black and withered in spots, but not decayed. Ronan's eyes became more intent over the barrel of the gun, and they moved through the next door.

The boy was ten, maybe eleven, with the tan skin and dark hair of the natives. He froze where he stood by the bed, his frightened stared fixed on the towering dusky man with the gun. They stood still just a moment--time enough for Harper to see the gore-stained bed had been the spot where they had been killed, and eaten--before the boy bolted for the window.

"Wait!" Harper yelled at his back. Ronan crossed the room quickly, but his grasp just missed the boy's foot as it disappeared out the window. "Shit!" Harper scrambled back through the kitchen and living room, her shoulder ramming into the wall as she made a fast turn to the back door. She skidded to a halt on the porch and spotted the boy, sprinting and nearly to the trees. "Dammit, wait!" But he was about to be gone, hidden in the foliage, and a pain in their ass to track in the jungle.

"Muerte es fuera hay!" Harper heard Ronan's voice, noticed him hanging out the window in her peripheral, and the boy stopped. "Only death is out there. You won't make it,” Ronan continued. The boy put his head down, defeated, and slowly turned back to face them.

- BESTIAS -

"Are you sick?" Harper asked the boy. They sat at the table on the porch. The boy said nothing, still in his chair. She saw no signs of infection, so she moved on. "Was it your parents?" She stamped down her own fear and tried to sound nurturing, but the boy responded with an inscrutable stare. She pulled her chair close to his, bending down level with his eyes. "It's okay. Do you speak English? Habla--"

"Has it came back?" Ronan interjected from behind Harper "¿Ha regresado?" He gave the boy only a moment before his patience disappeared. He slid to his knee by the chair and took the young one by the jaw to face him. "What happened, boy?"

The boy, his head still caught in Ronan's grip, cut his eyes to the forest and pointed. "Bestias."

Ronan's face went grim as Harper waited for translation. "What is it?" she asked. "Bestias. That's plural. He's saying there's more than one?" She scanned the jungle, felt her hairs stand on end. "Ronin, we need to go."

Ronan kept his eyes on the boy, as if studying him, but let go his jaw. "There's a base nearby. American. You can come with us. Lead us there. We have food." Seconds passed with no response. "Speak!"

His eyes flinched, but then the boy stood and indicated a trail through the brush. "That way."

- THE TRAIL -

The sun was high, steaming and pulling the moisture up from the forest floor. Ronan walked point while Harper and the boy--Lucio, he called himself--trailed behind. "We should be getting close, eh?" Harper asked, smashing yet another mosquito on the back of her neck. Lucio nodded without looking up from his feet. She rolled her eyes at his incessant silence at tried again. "Do you go to town much, or did they kick you out for talking?" This got her only a puzzled stare.

Overhead, a brightly colored bird Harper didn't recognize called out as it crossed the path. Lucio glanced up, and Harper decided to mimic the shrill 'Ca-haw!' as the bird disappeared into the trees. The boy shot her a quizzical look. She thought she saw an inkling of a smile before she nearly collided with Ronan, who had halted in the path.

"Quiet!" he said in a whisper. He indicated the ground at his feet, where Harper saw tracks in the slick clay. Her first thought was jaguar; she saw the ball of a foot with clawed toes. Then she found the front prints, knuckles pressed deep in the mud under substantial weight, the rainwater still standing in the depressed earth.

"Is this--" Harper began as she looked up, but found Lucio, his worried stare darting from the tracks to the jungle around them. "It's okay," Harper lied. She pressed a finger to her pursed lips and gestured that he follow.

- THE TOWN -

The jungle had begun to reclaim the small town. Vines crept up the low buildings, piercing the cracked plaster. The main strip was somewhat clear, though trees grew in the storefronts and weeds were breaking apart the asphalt. The place was silent, the air stagnant in the blinding sun. Across town, Harper could see the largest building at the end of the street, an industrial thing with sheet metal siding and red-iron beams. Harper shared a nod with Ronan that confirmed it was what they were looking for.

"There's nothing left," Harper said, then looked to the boy. "They were infected. How did you avoid it?"

"I got sick, but they gave me a shot." Ronan's shotgun wheeled on Lucio before he finished speaking, and Harper lunged between the two.

"Wait a minute." She stared down the barrel, but Ronan kept it aimed at the boy behind her.

"Move," he said, as if there were no debating the matter.

"Look at him!" Harper's thoughts raced. "The town. The villagers have been gone. It's been years since he was vaccinated. It took. Otherwise, he'd be turned already." She slowly raised a hand to the barrel, but wasn't sure if Ronan was going to relent. "He's fine, Ronan."

There was a sound, a guttural growl, and Harper saw something move before it disappeared behind a broken down vehicle far down the street. Ronan spun, forgetting the boy, and searched the horizon for a target. "Go," he whispered urgently. Harper took Lucio by the collar and they moved out of the open. The door on the nearest building had fallen off the jamb. Dragging the boy inside, Harper saw the general store had been converted into a makeshift hospital. The goods and shelves were stacked on the walls, the floor opened up for crude table beds and dirty medical trays.

Another growl, closer, told Harper something was coming down the street. Ronan stopped and scanned the room, frowned at the large storefront windows that had them exposed. The creature, still out of sight, let out a deep whine, anxious and grinding. "Hide," Ronan said. "It's got our scent." Harper pulled the boy behind the store counter and they ducked down. She looked out through the packages on the open shelves and saw Ronan frantically searching. He found something, set down the gun, and pulled two liter bottles out from under a medical table. He ripped the tops off and poured the contents onto the floor, circling the room and covering the store in the stuff. The sting of ammonia hit Harper's nostrils and she felt she would choke. She pulled Lucio's shirt collar over his face and gestured he keep it there. Her eyes began to water.

Ronan set down the bottle quietly and started for the counter. Then he froze. Harper heard scratching outside the door, could see the sweat dripping from Ronan's motionless face. It stepped inside on all fours, leading on its knuckles and walking on the balls of its clawed back feet. It was the first one Harper had seen up close. It was large, but clearly female. A thin layer of dark hair covered her naked back. The thing sniffed, then recoiled from the cloud of ammonia, shaking its head and baring fangs. It snorted, and Lucio startled. Harper pulled him close and covered his mouth.

It advanced into the room, toward the prone Ronan, who stood perfectly still, barely breathing, his gun on the floor two steps away. Harper gripped her machete. The creature creeped, flaring its nose and making choking sounds as the fumes assaulted its senses, but it didn't charge. It seemed to grow frustrated, tossing its head back and forth and searching with coal black eyes. It couldn't find him. It's squinting gaze turned toward the counter and Harper's breath caught. She could see it was thinking, confused. Intelligent. Seeing the remnants of humanity in its face filled Harper with an eerie disgust. A sneezing fit came upon the thing, and with a frustrated grunt it spun and scrambled out the door.

Ronan remained frozen a moment longer, then retrieved his gun and he was with them. "Let's go."

"How did you--" Harper began.

"I didn't. I only knew they were nocturnal. They're out now; they must be hungry. But they can't see in the light." He looked around, motioned to the roof access ladder. "C'mon."

- ROOFTOPS -

They stayed low, away from the parapet edges facing the main street as they leapt the small gaps between buildings. Lucio seemed to take it as a game. The gravel roofs radiated the heat back at them as they picked their way around the soft spots of rot. After a few jumps, they came to a wider alley. It would take effort from Harper and Ronan to clear the distance, but the boy...

Harper and Ronan were considering the jump when a blur rushed between them. Lucio, in full run, planted a foot on the parapet and launched himself through the air. He rolled when he hit the far roof with a couple feet to spare.

"Jesus," Ronan said. Harper though she heard worry in his voice. "So he's athletic," she offered with a forced grin.

She backed up to give herself room, bolted and flung herself across. She landed clumsily and turned back to Ronan, who tossed the shotgun over. Then the large man was running. His thick muscles seemed to slow his momentum, and he looked to heavy to make the gap. Harper reached for the nearest thing, the overhead line that had torn from the electrical pole and fell to the roof. Ronan leapt. She whipped the cable around as Ronan's boot reached the parapet, then his toe slipped. He grasped at the line as he slid over the edge. Harper threw her body down to the roof, braced her legs as the cable went taught and drug her across the gravel, slamming her feet into the parapet. She gritted her teeth, stifling a scream as the bare ground cable slid through her hands and ripped open her palms before it caught.

"God dammit!" she growled as quietly as possible. "Hurry!" Ronan climbed the line, pulled himself over the parapet, and Harper felt every tug before she was freed of his weight. He fell to the roof beside her and nodded his silent thanks.

Ronan got to his knees and ripped off his sleeves. He began tying them around Harpers hands. "Anything to show off your arms," Harper smiled, trying to ease his apparent guilt. Ronan paused, but lowered his head back to his task without humor.

They crossed the roof and ducked out of site when they saw the creature from the general store in the street. There was one last building between them and the research facility, its low gable roof covered in corrugated metal.

"It's gonna be loud," Harper said, kneeling down beside Lucio.

"Mhm," Ronan grunted and flipped off the safety on the shotgun.

She studied his stare toward the facility. "You're not going alone." Before he could respond, a snarl, almost excited, came from the road. Ronan half-stood, craning his neck to see, then knelt back down. He looked at Harpers bandaged hands, then back up to her, and she knew the thing had caught her sent.

Harper suddenly noticed Lucio was no longer standing beside her. She turned to see him returning across the roof with a short length of galvanized pipe in his hands. "What are you..." she began, but he simply reached out and pulled the slack sleeve of one of her bandages. He gestured to Ronan's belt knife, and Ronan obliged by cutting the fabric loose. Harper and Ronan watched, puzzled, as the boy took the strip of blood-soaked sleeve and knotted it around the middle of the heavy pipe. He walked to the roof edge facing the street. "Wait!" Harper said, but Ronan remained silent. Lucio wound back his arm, then chunked the pipe--incredibly far--down the road and away from the facility. The metal pinged heavily against the blacktop, bouncing and ringing until it rolled under a car. Both Harper and Ronan peered over the edge. The creature spun, its tendons rippling. With surprising strength and agility, it bounded down the asphalt, only slowing as it approached the car to sniff the air. It pinpointed the smell in no time, and began inspecting the vehicle, scratching and thrashing its claws underneath the fenders.

Before Harper and Ronan knew what to make of it, Lucio sped past them. As soon as his foot hit the parapet, Ronan was moving. "Go, go, go!" They followed the boy across the jump, all three landing seconds apart with one long clatter of trampled roof tin. None of them stopped, none looked back. They clambered over the roof and dropped off the far side. A few steps across the street and they were at the side entrance to the research center. "Don't be locked. Don't be locked." Harper blew out a breath as she snatched the door open and they fell inside. She heard an infuriated roar over the clawing footsteps as Ronan slammed the metal slab shut and slid the heavy latch in its catch. A half-second later, a thud vibrated the wall.

- INSIDE -

They felt their way through the dark of the corridors, Harper leading Lucio by his collar. She kept one hand on the wall as they turned corners and backtracked dead ends. Once, Harper was searching a door for its handle when the boy grabbed her hand. "Es el baño," Lucio said. After a moment of silence, he clarified. "The restroom." Harper turned back from the door. She heard a noise from Ronan, no doubt wondering how the boy could read a door plaque in such blackness.

Finally, they espied a dim light at the end of a corridor and followed it into what appeared to be the lobby entrance to the building. The windowed steel doors that lined the front wall sent in rays of light as the sun sank lower outside. Ronan walked up to the panes and peered out. He jumped back as the female creature pounded its maw against the thick glass, snapping her teeth at the air. "Bitch."

"Oh, now," came a voice from somewhere in the lobby, from the back of the room where the light failed to reach the corners. "She's not all bad." Harper pulled Lucio close to her as footsteps drew near, and a silhouette formed in the pale brown light. The man approached the receptionist desk in the center of the floor and took a seat, just out of the light. "Why are you here?" There was a tired indifference in his words. "Food? Sanctuary?"

"You're American," Harper observed. "Did you work here?"

"Do, miss. I do work here. And yes, Irish-American. Dr. Stephen Pierce," he tipped an imaginary hat, “genetic engineer. Dysgenics specialist.” The dark shape of Pierce propped his elbows on the desk. "Why did you come?"

"There was a rescue mission sent to a ViGen facility in Mexico," Ronan began. Harper noticed him straighten out of habit, as if reporting to an officer. "In debriefing, one soldier claimed he'd found documents that mentioned a cure. A cure to the influenza strain. It listed this place, center Alpha-6, among the successful runs. It said you could stop it."

"Cure?" Pierce paused, cocked his head. Then he nodded. "Yes. We surely made a cure." He sounded perplexed with Ronan's reasoning.

Ronan relaxed visibly. "So it's over. You can stop the flu. You can save people from turning."

"Ah," Pierce said in humorous revelation, "I see." He leaned back from the desk, and a faint light reflected humor on his face. "You're here to kill the flu virus that causes the animalistic mutation." A guttural chuckle arose, then swelled to hysterical laughter. Ronan and Harper exchanged a confused glance. Pierce finally settled, wiped his brow. "You believe the infected become the animals. Well, we made a cure for the flu." He leaned forward, bringing only his solemn green eyes into light. "The animals are the cure."

"What do you mean?" Harper felt a dread in her chest. "Who are you?"

"I am what's left of the research team," Pierce began. "We were in this shithole for a year. 'Can't do this kind of experiments in the states,' they told us. We were supposed to stop a super virus, an influenza that had become untouchable by modern medicine. A strain that had evolved quicker than us. So, in the end, we decided we must devolve it. And we did! We reverted it back to the strains we knew and killed it. It worked so well and the need was so urgent. The virus had jumped continents and... well, let's just say the FDA didn't give a shit about further testing and side effects."

Ronan’s head dropped. He spoke more to himself as he stared at the floor. "The vaccine mutated the virus, but it changed us, too."

"Bingo!" The man seemed to revel in Ronan’s despair. "We didn't isolate the devolution hormones to one species. It took longer with us, of course, but after a while, our DNA shifted. We reverted to more primal versions of ourselves. Not to something in the fossil record, but such is the chaos of nature."

"Why did the mutation spread so far?" Harper asked incredulously. "You didn't vaccinate that many people."

"No, no," said the man in the dark. "'Course not. No, we saw the effects and the project was put on halt. Later, we found out the mutated--after the vaccine had worn off and they'd caught the super flu again--could transfer the hormone stimulus by spreading the virus. They could spread the devolution." He chuckled at some irony Harper didn't register. "We created fucking were-apes!"

Harper looked to Ronan for guidance. He was standing limp, staring at the floor tiles. She'd never seen him so resigned. She wasn't giving up. "You said you work here, still. You're working on the mutation, a way to reverse it."

"God, no," Pierce laughed. "Not with the flu still around. No, you can't survive the virus without the mutation. We're prone as humans."

"Then what the hell are you doing?!" Harper demanded.

"Learning to control the situation!” Pierce snapped, then he gathered himself. “And, bettering us as a species. You see, devolution is a relative term. That's exactly what we were attempting, yes. But who's to say these creatures aren't a step up from what we were as humans. They were dying, being stamped out by a micro-thing. Now, they're thriving.

"I'm simply taking another step. Finding a middle ground between the species. And it's working out well. In rare instances, it even occurs naturally. Ask your friend there.”

Harper’s breath caught. She looked down to the brown-eyed boy at her hip. She thought back to all the things Lucio had done a little too well. She remembered the worry on Ronan’s face.

Pierce got up from the desk chair and sauntered to the back wall. "Yes, he doesn't have the same scent as you two." He began flipping light switches, and the rows of halogens flickered on one by one, though he still stood in shadow. "But don't chastise him for being a creature of survival. It's quite advantageous, you know." A switch flipped. The last row of lights came on, and they shone on Pierce for the first time. He grinned at Harper with bared fangs. She could see thick mats of red hair running from underneath his sleeves and down his forearms. He raised a clawed hand near the switches and pressed a bright red button. Harper heard an alarming siren sounding outside the building. Ronan, head lowered and staring at the floor tiles, seemed to barely register the conversation. "They've learned to listen to me," Pierce said, his grin curling into malice. "Feeding time."

Harper left Lucio's side and walked to the doors. She looked through the glass and saw the female creature on the steps. It was pacing with newfound anxiousness as the alarm wailed. Behind it, along the main street of town, hulking figures were leaping from the jungle. They snapped and growled at one another as they scurried toward the siren.

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Mothers in the Woods (The Mothers prompt)

Post by Nicodemus » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:33 pm

Jamie pulled the iron latch to as quietly as she could--she didn't wish to wake them--and hesitated on the porch of the snow covered cottage. She scanned the bare trees past the yard, the frosted branches a ghostly blue in the first hint of morning. The resolve she'd gathered before sneaking out of the house had suddenly abandoned her. She watched her warm breath and thought of Aunt Mim, the old crow's kerchief wrapped low over intense eyes as she recalled a tale, Jamie's siblings gathered around her in front of the fireplace.

The old woods, these very woods, once played host to a good people. A people who loved the land, harsh as it is, and the land loved them and helped them thrive through the winter. They made their own things and played no part in fiefdoms or war.

That was before the king came.

Jamie took a step, and had to catch herself against the post when the frozen planks nearly took her feet out from under her. She fought down the sickly panic from the near-fall and had to steel her nerves all over again. She had to leave, before they woke and stopped her.

The king claimed the woods, said they were his own, and sent for strong men to fight for him. Every father and son from the woods, ripped from families and carried to war. The mothers were left alone with their little ones, and the woods loved them still, let them thrive.

The snow was deep, and Jamie felt the damp cold seep through the wool of her pants and bite at her knees. She threw herself forward through the pristine white blanket and the dead trees drew closer. Her boot caught in the packed ice and she fell, the powder enveloping her body and threatening to drench her before she pushed herself up on her hands.

Her head turned back to the cottage. She thought of her pallet by the fire, wanted to go back and curl up in its warmth, but knew she couldn't. She missed her. It had been just days and she missed her so much she wondered if the knot in her chest would soon render her without breath.

The men won the king's war, and more lands were claimed. Then, the king remembered his woods, thought they would make fine gifts divided among the nobles. But there were the mothers, still here. In the chill of winter, the king sent swords to clean the woods of the mothers and take their children for workers or squires or brides.

The woods did not approve.

Jamie fought the sinking snow until he was on his feet and stomped onward. They could not have Eslie. She belonged to Jamie. It was Jamie's knee her sister always chose to sit upon when they gathered at the fire. Eslie would hide her face in Jamie's shoulder when Mim's tales were frightening or fall asleep on her arm when they were not.

She pushed on until she neared the grey branches and the snow on the ground thinned under them. Into a wide trail she went, the trees looming sadly overhead.

The woods took the mothers, kept their souls. Nourished them until they were part of the forest.

But the mothers were just that, so they longed to nurture, yet they had no one after their offspring were stolen. And as the nobles claimed their corners of the woods, the mothers took back what was owed. The noble children, one by one, began to vanish to the woods, and the wealthy families fled back to their plots on the plain.

The woods aged and weathered away their titles, and the land became no one's once more. The houseless and the poor found homes in the woods, as the king had all but forgotten the disturbing rumors of vengeful spirits. And no one now cares when the mothers, in the harshest of winters, come to claim a child of no import.

Jamie searched the woods, about the dome of towering trunks and limbs, as the first yellow light licked the tops of the frosted branches, and found nothing.

"Here--" her words wheezed with silence, from the cold on her throat or fear, and she forced them out. "I am here, willing. Take me, and leave her behind."

The trees swayed in the windless air, or something moved amid the sparkling stems. Grey, like the trees, but bound to no roots and meandering through the forest.

Her name was called out from the cottage, then closer. Her Ma would find her soon at the end of his deep tracks through the snow.

But the mothers are not without love, empathy. And they recognize love to be cherished. If they see that someone is truly cared for, they will bargain. True, a price must be paid. They have been wronged, and they need to nurture, to make new souls as they are. Mothers in the woods.

Eslie sat alone in the snow and hear them calling for Jamie, not knowing why or how she was there, as her Ma and brother came trudging towards her. She had dreamed of Jamie before she woke, had felt warm in her arms.

Her Ma scooped her up from the white powder and sobbed in bittersweet relief. They never again called for Jamie.

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A Time for Change (First Kiss prompt)

Post by Nicodemus » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:35 pm

"Where to?" he asked a little too politely, probably uneasy with the way I hunkered down after getting in the cab, my hood pulled low to block the streetlights.

I tried to remember the name of the place, but came up blank. She hadn't stayed there very long. "To where you just came from."

I saw him freeze briefly--definitely uncomfortable--before he forced himself to move and his easy-going mood returned. "The pizzeria? How would you know I came from there?"

He was trying to throw me off. Smart. But I didn't have time for this. "No," I said, trying to be patient. "Take me to her apartment."

He spun on me, dropping the friendly act and about to say something that would let me know he was pissed.

I held up my hand and kept my head down. "Woah, easy. I know Kate. We're..." somehow lying to him didn't seem right, "...old friends."

For a long moment, he stared me down, trying to come up with a reason he shouldn't take me. I knew I wasn't much older than him, yet he looked so young. Finally he turned back to the wheel, but not before giving me a look, I'm watching you, buddy.

The cab pulled off and we spent the ride in silence. He offered no more niceties, just wary glances from the rear view. It was just blocks to Kate's place, and when he braked at the curb I opened my door.

"Thanks, Donny."

"Wait, the fare..." he started. "Hey, how do you know my--"

"Sorry, didn't bring any cash with me." I closed the door.



* * *



I was back at my place. My key still worked so that hadn't changed, though I hoped something had. I stood in the doorway, searching my memories that all seemed...liquid, like they were washing into something else. I tried to focus on one. That night, the first time I was there. It started coming back...



* * *



I flipped on my cab light to start my shift. I'd just dropped Kate off, and I was still cursing myself for being too nervous to kiss her on our first date. I had to convince myself it was even real, that she'd agreed to go out with me. She was transferring schools next semester and I didn't know if I'd see her again.

I hadn't seen him and started a little when he opened the door. He climbed in without a word and bent over where I couldn't see him. He was strange to say the least, but he said he knew Kate and wanted to see her. After an awkward ride, he didn't even pay his fair. I didn't care about the money. I stayed put in the cab and watched him go up the sidewalk and ring her apartment doorbell. A moment passed, and I started to hope she'd already gone to bed.

The door opened. She stepped out and I felt my chest relax when she smiled at him. She knew him. It was okay. Had I been too worried? Would she be angry with me if she spotted me in the street, found out I was spying on her friend? I reached for the ignition, ready to be gone before I found out, when I glanced back at them.

He pulled his hood back. I pulled my hood back? He was me. I mean, I was standing there with her. A bit older perhaps, but it was definitely me.

I was trying to decide what to think of it. Then he pulled her close and they kissed.



* * *



"Hey, babe."

Her voice pulled me out of the memory. Still standing in the doorway, I looked up to see Kate walking out of the kitchen in her pajamas. She came to me, pecked me on the cheek.

"Where've you been?" She turned, crossed the den and curled up on the couch.

As I looked at her, my waving memories slowed, solidified, and I recalled a hundred of them. Wonderful, happier than they had been before.

"Donny," she said again, "where've you been?"

"Oh, just out," I said. "Setting myself straight."

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H3X - Chapter 2 (Rebirth prompt)

Post by Nicodemus » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:37 pm

- MISUNDERSTOOD -

“Ronan!” Harper shook him by the shoulder, the whine of the siren beginning to dig into her. He looked up from the floor, and his eyes slowly found hers. They seemed to be lost, set deep within his dark face. “Dammit, Ronan!” Harper shouted and threw her machete to the floor. She snatched the shotgun from his slack fingers, ignoring the pain in her gnarled palms, and wheeled the barrel about on Pierce. “Call it off!” She motioned to the alarm button on the wall with a jerk of the heavy gun.

Pierce’s mischievous grin faded around his fangs, his wild green eyes now playing innocent. He opened his mouth to speak, but then eyed something behind Harper. Harper turned in time to see Ronan come past her, a determined malice on his face as he strode toward Pierce. In an instant, he was upon the doctor, his clenched fists trembling, ready to end the man. “Ronan, no!” Harper yelled, too late.

A look flared on Pierce’s face, a supercilious anger for his would-be attacker. Ronan’s swing was wild, angry. Pierce dodged the blow with ease and lifted the much larger man by the throat. A gurgled choke came from Ronan before he was heaved backward through the air, barreling toward Harper. She crumbled under Ronan’s weight, the two piling onto the floor and the fumbled shotgun sliding across the tiles. Ronan’s shoulder dug into her ribs, and she wheezed as the air was forced from her lungs. She heard his head crack as they landed. Still, Ronan recovered first, scrambling to his knees. Then he froze. He was staring at the barrel of the shotgun, a daring but calm Pierce on the other end.

“Enough,” the half-beast man announced with finality. He let the air calm a moment in the blare of the siren, then raised the gun and started pumping the forestock. A pair of shells popped out of the magazine and were swooped out of the air by a clawed hand. Pierce seemed to quickly look over Ronan’s person, then, “You came out here with two shots?” He shook his head in feigned disappointment. Harper, gasping and trying to hit rhythm with her breathing, turned her head to check on Lucio, but found only an empty corridor from which they’d come.

“Yes, your little friend took off,” Pierce said, slipping the shells in his pants pocket. “A shame. I would’ve liked to take a sample from him.” He spun the shotgun deftly in his hand, offered the stock to Ronan. “Relax. It’s only feeding time. No one said you were the food.” Ronan, a run of blood black on his temple, shot a confused glance at Harper before taking the gun. Pierce nodded a direction and turned about to leave. “Follow me.”

- FEEDING -

Pierce killed the alarm sirens, for which Harper was grateful, then led them down an adjacent hallway, the lobby lights fading behind them. Harper tried flipping a wall switch with no result. Pierce paused, as if suddenly remembering something, and gave Harper a flashlight keychain he found in his pocket. He apologized for forgetting they couldn’t see, but there was no reason to repair the circuits in this part of the building. He had to be more conservative with energy, he explained. Many of the solar cells needed replacing. They continued on, Harper illuminating the hall in the pale blue light. Pierce insisted on introductions, as if they were his guests. He played impressed upon learning Ronan Marquez was a captain. The soldier simply pointed out such titles hadn’t mattered in a long time. They started up a stairwell, and Pierce turned his study to Harper. “You’re not military,” he said without question. She only offered, “Harper Simmons.”

The sun was sliding toward the horizon, its angle less harsh on the rooftop. Harper trailed the men out of the stairwell, and the cool, open air was a welcome reprieve from the smothering lobby. The sound of birds flooded her ears. There were traps everywhere, littered among the solar receptors. The research facility was sizable, and Harper couldn’t have taken a long stride anywhere on the gravel roof without stepping on a live trap, steel jaw trap, or homemade box trap. Every kind of jungle bird, it seemed, was flapping about or hunkered in a cage, calling for help with tweets or whistles or caws. Every color painted their feathers, the bright blues and reds and yellows weaved together in a tapestry upon the roof.

“The newly-changed need a bit of time to learn how to hunt properly,” Pierce explained, a hand shielding his eyes from the sun. “No one to formally teach them how, you see.” They followed him to the edge of the roof, and Harper and Ronan peered over the edge. There were four creatures now, pacing the front steps. Two males, Harper guessed. They were even more massive than the female that had tracked them. The females stayed close to each other, moving about in anxious jerks, while the males kept their distance with an irritated regard for each other. With a clawed hand, the doctor plucked a bird from a jaw trap at his feet. It was rather large, with a curved beak colored brilliant green and tipped crimson. It put up little resistance, weary from struggling in the trap. “Until they learn the ropes...” Pierce let the sentence die, and he jerked the bird’s head violently but absently. Harper flinched when she heard the muffled snap of its neck while Ronan observed in silence. Pierce held out the carcass and let it roll off his fingers over the edge of the building.

Harper and Ronan watched the bird thud limply on the concrete of the steps below. The sound triggered them all at once, the four creatures scrambling for the meat with bared fangs and tense growls. The dark-coated male, the largest of them, made an impressive enough show and, in the end, took the treat in his maw and retreated to a patch of grass with his prize. His eyes on the intent reaction of his guests, Pierce smirked with satisfaction before turning to the other traps.

“Why?” Ronan still stared at the beasts, his brow stern and appalled. “Because you can? You help them stay alive so you’ll have pets?” He turned on the doctor. “You know, I had a neighbor. Old biddy had thirteen cats, strays she fed. When they found her--”

“What would you have me do?!” Pierce snapped as his face changed a moment, an animal in its place, raw and offended. The beast gathered himself, and Pierce was back. He motioned for them to look again as he retrieved another bird. Harper noticed the man was selecting the birds in the jaw traps, the ones that were suffering. Turning their attention back to the ground, Harper and Ronan saw the dark creature keeping guard over his treat and an eye on the other male. He waited, and the two females crept up to the bird. Without so much as a snarl, he allowed them access to the meal. They bit into it, ripping it in half and each strolling away with their share of the carcass, leaving their provider empty handed but apparently content to help.

“You see,” said Pierce, “they aren’t mindless savages, nor or they crazed from some defect.” He tossed another two birds over the edge, each promptly snatched up by one of the males. “They are a species. They have as much right to be here as you do.” He looked about the roof, to the birds left in the live traps. “This will have to wait. There’s something I want you to see.”

- THE OTHERS -

Pierce lead them back through the corridors and down the stairwell. They came out into the hallway, and he didn’t seem to notice when Harper and Ronan began to slow and trail behind, or perhaps he thought they could use some space to mull things over.

“This isn’t over,” Harper stated without preamble, a whisper the hall wouldn’t carry. Ronan’s look told her he didn’t follow. “Back in the lobby,” she explained. “Don’t let me see you like that again.” He gave her a dismissive frown, but Harper went on. “I’m not trained for this shit. If you fall apart…” Still nothing. She expected as much.

“He’s going to kill us,” Ronan said matter-of-factly.

“Why let us live, then? Why show us--”

“He’s off his goddamn rocker! He’s been out here…” He slowed, stumbled just a step. Harper reached to test the wound on his temple, but he recovered and pushed her hand away. “I’m fine.”

“Here we are.” Pierce waited by an open door for them to catch up. Through it, the stairs took them below ground level and into a smaller basement area. Pierce flicked a switch and lit up the control room and Harper clicked off her flashlight. The long desk was littered with scribbled notes and pads strewn among computer screens, one of which powered on with the lights. The desk faced a window, the glass running nearly the length of the wall, beyond which Harper could see a corridor lined with more ceiling-height glass panels on the opposite side. Holding cells, Harper guessed; she thought she saw something move in the darkness beyond the glass. Pierce stopped a moment at the screen, seemed to check the numbers, then lead them through a door into the corridor and up to the glass panels. Without announcement, Pierce turned on another switch and flooded the first cell with light.

The creature was startled. It leapt at them, pounding heavy fists into the glass. Harper jumped back from the gorilla, while Ronan widened his stance and raised the unloaded shotgun by the barrel, stock ready to swing.

Pierce let out a chuckle and rapped a knuckle on the glass. “It’s perfectly safe.” Harper forced herself to ease, and Ronan reluctantly followed suit. The creature calmed, and Harper saw that it was not an ape, or at least not a gorilla. Its frame was to thin, its facial structure off. It looked back at her with blue eyes. “What the fuck is that?” Harper asked with what seemed like too many emotions at once, unable to look away from whatever was in the cell.

“We found that the vaccine lasted only weeks,” Pierce began. “Plenty of time to degrade the influenza virus into something manageable and time to begin to mutate its host. “After this one had begun mutation in the jungle,” he motioned to the caged ape-thing, “we tagged her, darted her from the roof, along with another dose of the vaccine. We shot her again a few months later, a sedative included this time so we could bring her in. After just six administrations, she became this.”

“So keep pumping them with the vaccine,” Harper said with open disgust, “and you can revert them until not a shred of human is left. Good for you.”

“That’s what we thought, too!” Pierce ignored her sarcasm, and Harper couldn’t tell if he was genuinely enthused or mocking her. “She’s obviously ape-like. It seemed the vaccine was simply backtracking them along the evolutionary path. But...” he paused, beckoned them to the second cell and flipped its switch on the wall. The creature wailed, as if the light assaulted him, and folded back into the corner, shielding his beady black eyes. “This guy,” Pierce continued his thought, “was administered the same regimen of vaccine, only in a different environment.”

Harper knelt cautiously next to the glass. This one was a farther cry from a great ape, if more disturbing. Most of his body was bare, his skin pale and tender. His ears were pronounced and stretched to membranes of skin, out of proportion with the tiny eyes. The image of an infant bat came to mind.

“We kept him in the dark,” Pierce said. “Made him find his food. He’s sensitive to light, but nearly blind when it comes to focusing. His hearing and scent, on the other hand…”

“You kept him…” Ronan repeated back to Pierce. “Meaning controlled experiment, meaning he was still human when you put him in there!” Harper tensed as Ronan advanced a step toward the doctor.

Pierce laughed, but his brow creased with annoyance. “Yes, human. Infected human. Meaning dead human. Get off your moral high-ground, big boy. This is science. You’re military. Who do you think authorized this?”

“Bullshit!” Ronan snapped. “Why would they use humans? You’re supposed to do this with animals, lab rats, monkeys--”

“You still don’t get it,” Pierce said, staring through the glass at the huddled creature. “We administered animals. We’d see a longer tail on a salamander, or above average sight in an armadillo, but there was no real change. Animals are already what they need to be to survive. Us, though? With our conditioned air and touch screens, we’ve become like toddlers lost in the wild.” He looked to Ronan. “The vaccine doesn’t just wildly mutate. It triggers a function of DNA to make us what we need to be. A function to analyze and then adapt, rapidly.” Pierce stepped closer, his hands sweeping in grand emphasis as he continued. “With enough injections, we can become anything.”

Harper rose from her knee. Pierce’s words planted a sick worry within her gut. “Why are you showing us this? Why haven’t you killed us?”

“Killed you?” The doctor’s gaze pivoted from Ronan with a politeness that mocked her. “So inhumane. No, Ms. Simmons. I need you. You’ve never been infected, never been dosed. You’re the ideal subjects for a truly controlled experiment. You could help me push the boundaries of evolution. Together, we can help our race find purchase and climb out of the chaos. Humanity reborn.” He looked to Ronan’s clinched countenance, with a grin that fully anticipated the man’s answer. “What do you say?”

“Tell me,” said the captain through his teeth, “did drugging up with that poison make you an asshole, or have you always been--”

A ping from behind them and then metal gliding across the concrete. They spun to see the canister rolling toward them on the floor, emitting a greasy smoke in its wake. Harper started for the door. Through the grey plumes that were already burning her throat, she could see Lucio securing the lock from inside the control room. Over her shoulder, she heard the grunting swings and thudding meat as Ronan tried his luck again with Pierce. She snatched at the handle, over and over, until blood was flowing freely from her bandages. Lucio was backing out of the control room, mulling over each step. “Lucio,” she cried. The boy’s gaze offered her something, but his unsure feet finally brought him to the exit. “Lucio!” She beat on the glass, leaving spatters and streaks of red with her fists, but he was gone. She spun around. There was nothing in the corridor with which to break glass, if it would shatter. Ronan’s gun. She could hear them on the other side of the thickening cloud. She went through the smoke, and the gray melted to complete black.
Last edited by Nicodemus on Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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The Creature (The Creature prompt)

Post by Nicodemus » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:38 pm

"Who's there," I sent the words into the cave and heard them return, deep and hollow, from the vast shadow beyond my torchlight. I wasn't sure I'd heard anything, but the sensation that I was being watched was unmistakable.

The memories of my voice faded and no answer followed. I held the torch high, picking out tentative footsteps on the sweating rock beneath me. Further into the cave I went, until the soft light from outside the entrance abandoned me completely and I could no longer discern the breadth of the passage by fire light. The ceiling must've been low; I could feel the damp heat from my torch gathering around me.

I drew my knife. I'd heard Papa tell the workers there were no predators in the valley to worry over, but the thought of disturbing a sleeping boar was unsettling, and Papa had said I was too young for a short blade. I was suddenly aware of how far up the mountain I'd come alone, but there was no meaning left to go back to in the stale village, not in the absence of Izza.

Izza had been the one thing that broke the rigidness of the place, like a reply to my wish to be somewhere better. She had spotted me instantly, recognized the lethargy of the village slowly seeping into me, and claimed for herself a partner in mischief and adventure.

***

"What are you waiting for?" she asked me, brushing the lively locks from her face and taking my hand. We ran through the street like it was our own, fleeing from a scolding after we'd stirred up Master Crandell's playful hounds, sparking superstitious rumors by hiding ourselves in the trees and growling and hissing at nervous carriages, letting Mrs. Wendall discover a coin in place of the dewberry pie that had been cooling on her windowsill. When we grew tired of the grey timber houses, Izza tugged me across the river, into the woods, where we would lie in quiet and marvel at the canopy, at a wandering doe and fawn, at ourselves in trusting conversation. Both of us came to need the other's company, and when the day had not been long enough, we scuttled out of our bedroom windows to find each other in the moonlight and merrily let the chill spring current of the river take our breath.

"She's not well. Run along, now." The words seemed out of place as her father closed the door. I stood on the door stoop for a long while staring at the iron-bound planks, wondering how someone such as Izza could fall ill. Her father was more perturbed when he shooed me the following day, and the next, until I stopped knocking and simply circled the village square, ever searching for Izza's face to turn up behind the soot-stained miners and sweaty smiths. There were times, I would've sworn, that I did see her glimmer through the faces, but found my frantic pursuit of her down the street to end in a lonely alley. There was a young girl with the same flow of curls, whom I frightened half to death when spinning her shoulders too face me.

I asked news from Papa, who told me Izza had slipped further, that her father had left the mine so that he may tend her. I overheard talk among the workers. I learned that there had been a sister, an apparently talkative and enjoyable young girl who had slipped away in an unfortunately similar manner. They seemed to think that Izza would succumb to the same fate, that Dirk would never be the same should he be bereaved of both his children.

Days stretched into weeks, my ventures outside became less frequent, and I watched the village relapse to its weary grey through my bedroom window.

Papa--he rarely notice me before, having a load of responsibilities with the mine--occasionally paused outside the doorway to my room. He would for a moment stare at me sitting on my stool, seem to say something to himself, then finally take his leave.

One day I was roused from my room by a voice downstairs. Someone, whom I didn't recognize as one of the workers, was talking to Papa. Perched on the landing, I listened through the rails as the doctor shook his head at Papa's questions.

"I'm doing all I can," said the doctor. "I've sent word as far as Hembrook, even though I know Dirk can't afford to spare the coin the medicine will cost me."

When Papa, his back to me, murmured something in the tone of a plea, the doctor continued.

"There is a healer, just down the river, but she'll tell you the same. The mushrooms have gone from rare to extinct in these parts. The caves are bare of them."

***

As I pushed further through the dark of the cave, I realized the heat that was threatening to overwhelm me was not of my torch, but the natural current of the tunnel in the mountain. Ahead of me, a cloud of blood red began in the endless black. I neared it, and it grew to a fiery crimson. I could see the silhouettes of unnaturally sleek pillars, towering and fading to black far beyond where I had thought the cave's ceiling to be. The red glow pooled into a bowl in the rock, spanning the floor of the cavern and writhing molten about itself.

I found the wall, pushing myself against it and scurrying past the heat of the pool before my skin began to blister. On the far side, I wiped back my drenched hair, runs of sweat assaulting my burning eyes.

"You come for a wish?" The voice that came from the shadows was female, resounding and monolithic. It shook me, and I didn't know how to answer, but the deep echoes of the question still implored me to reply.

"I need mushrooms," I said, as if it were enough.

The shadow silently thought a moment, then, "They can be found in more comfortable places. Tell me the truth, did you come for a wish?" The voice was soothing, friendly, but too large to be taken lightly.

"No, mushrooms," I said regaining my thoughts. "Feverbane. I've searched every hole in the mountain. I need them--"

The shadow scoffed, growled without the human warmth it had held before. Then it shifted. I could feel the weight of the shadow in the vitrified stone beneath my feet. It came forward and the shadow gave way to a face, impossibly vast and impossibly high above the ground.

"Then you have come for me," it said accusingly as I was thrown on my haunches by my shock, scrambling to retrieve my worthless dagger. She was feline and canine and neither, the pale fur of her muzzle fading into what might have been feathers crested between her tucked ears.

"No!" I pleaded as she came closer, her graceful black eyes angry with the reflection of the molten pool. "Listen to me!"

She paused, cocked her head as if regarding my slight frame and harmless blade. "Who are you, searcher?" Her voice rumbled, but with no threat and perhaps curiosity.

"I am from the village, in the valley, and here for the sake of an ill friend." She betrayed no disbelief, so I dared further. "Who are you?"

She eyed me a moment longer, and when she seemed satisfied for me to sit on the stone in front of her, she stepped forward. Two muscular talons came out of the shadows and she slumped on top of them, a wave of powdered dust escaping and choking me as she lay down. "I am the one left," she said quietly, as if all her energy was now spent, "soon to be the last that was."

She looked defeated, her eyes now tired and cold. I sheathed my dagger, stood and gathered my torch.

"Feverbane," I said, daring a step toward her. "Does it grow here?"

She told me it didn't, but I had just to wish for it. This puzzled me for a moment, but after considering the fantastical creature with whom I spoke, it seemed an acceptable premise. I wished for the ingredient.

Her massive head raised and she stared at me curiouser than ever. Finally she seemed to discern something from the air around me. "You've had your wish already." I said that I hadn't, but she insisted, extending her neck and sniffing me. "You have. You wished to be some place better."

***

The daylight was merciless when I emerged from the cave, my hands empty of Feverbane and my wish denied. Though the thin breeze soothed my heat-burned skin, I hardly noticed. Lost on me was the view of the valley below, gray as the village to which I now had no reason to return.

I thought of the creature, of her voice, strangely familiar now in recollection. She'd said she was the one left. There had been another like her, and now she, it seemed, was dying. For all my worry for Izza, I thought of the creature, couldn't help feeling I'd found something in her important to me.

Papa never asked of my long walks, never knew I'd been so far up the mountain. In fact, he didn't ask me of anything. He left me to my stool by the window and I didn't look up to notice his pauses at my door.

He called on the doctor, each time receiving news that another city, another healer, had reported they could not provide a cure for Izza. The last visit, I eavesdropped from my perch on the landing as always, ducking down out of sight when the doctor's grim stare turned upward to my room. He and Papa disappeared into the den from where I could hear little, but knew it was ill news.

That night was without moonlight, but I found my way to her house, up the woodshed and through Izza's window. I could see her bed near the fire. It was hard to imagine that underneath the still mound of quilts lay what was left of Izza's spirit. I went to her, minding the complaining floorboards.

"You came." It was only a whisper, a shadow of the life I knew her to carry, that came from the bed.

"I wanted to check on you," I said. "They should find medicine that will help. It won't be long now."

"You lie," the shadow said, with an effort to laugh. "It won't help anyway."

"It might yet." I wanted to comfort her, looked frantically for words she would believe and keep as hope. "You're strong enough."

"It took my sister," she said. "I'm all that's left. And now it's come for me."

"Don't say that. You don't--"

"I'm sorry you didn't get to keep your wish," she said, brushing off talk of what might be.

I searched the shadow for her meaning. I had told no one of the cave or the creature, and what was more, I was denied a wish there. "What wish?"

"The wish you made before we met," she said, as if I were silly for not knowing. "The village, it was a better place, wasn't it? At least, for a short while."

I remembered making the wish, staring out my window from my stool and hoping for the gray of the village to be washed away. "I never told you of any such thought."

She shifted her weight to her shoulder and found the strength to lift her head. As she came out of the shadow, the firelight danced in the depths of her black eyes. "You didn't have to. I could hear it."

***

The mountain did not overcome me, though not for its lack of trying. Izza's slight frame, laid in a barrow I had liberated from the mine for the purpose of her makeshift gurney, had become heavier with every step up the sloping logging road. She'd slipped further away and had not said a word since I'd quietly lifted her from her bed in the night. She was asleep by the time I wheeled her into the cave. I lay down the barrow handles at the molten pool and allowed feeling to seep back into my hands before nursing my canteen.

I rounded the barrow and brushed away the sweat-soaked tendrils from her face. "Izza, we're here."

Her eyes fought their way open. Her face was drained, pale even in the red glow. She seemed to liven when she noticed something I did not. "Emly?"

"It's just me. She's gone, remember?" I took her hand and tried to calm her.

"No," she insisted, failing to push herself up in the barrow. "She's here. She's come back."

There was a tired sigh from the shadow across the pool, then the resounding voice. "You've done well, searcher. Leave her with me."

***

There were interrogations, search parties, panic of all sorts, when they discovered Izza's empty bed that morning. Master Crandell's hounds drug them from one stretch of woods to the next. I thought they would find her when the dogs bolted up the logging road, but the men came back down the mountain confused and empty-handed. There was so much commotion, the bereaved sorrow so intense, that I often felt pangs of doubt and wondered whether I had made the right decision. I wondered if I had known something they hadn't, or if I was, indeed, a naïve child filled with empty dreams of hope.

The days wore on the village, and on me. I dare not go back up the mountain with so many eyes searching for conspicuities. The panic slowly turned into despair, and the place became more absent of color than I could remember, settled in its sorrow.

I began to mourn with them. I found the stool by my window, a suitable place as any for a foolish child, and watched the workers imitate the iron sky.

I was staring at nothing, lost inside myself, when my head raised. There had been a sound, perhaps. Something outside. I wasn't sure, so I returned my stare to the floor. I heard it again.

A bellow from the mountain.

I leapt from the stool, clutching the windowsill. I scanned the misted silhouette of the mountain, searched the bright fog that framed it. The sound wouldn't recur, no matter how I strained my ears. My heart raced with excitement, then faster with the fear that I had imagined it. The place had never been as silent as that moment that stretched more than time should.

It broke the horizon with a glorious roar, the shape that found its way in the sky on enormous but graceful wings. I bolted from the room, kicking over my stool, half-descended the stairs and leapt the railing to get outside. I squinted in the light and searched for it again. The workers, loosely gathered in the square, were beginning to swivel their heads, confused by the strange thing they were hearing.

She was close when she cleared the tree line. I could make out the pitch black eyes in the feline face. I felt her voice in the ground, the wind as she swept over. The workers, the villagers, all ran. They scurried inside and latched the doors. I stood steady and watched in the direction of the mountain.

I saw her, the second creature, and smiled as she soared on bright-feathered wings over the square. I turned and watched them fade into the mist of the horizon. Neither of them the last, but whole again together.

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The Coming Veil (Falling Prompt)

Post by Nicodemus » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:39 pm

"Damn your hide! I've told you, only come here on sunny days," her father scolded, the silhouette against the grey sky towering over her. She swore the man grew when he was angry.

The stern visage softened and a large hand came up to tousle her dirty hair.

"You're here now. Come on."

She grinned and followed as her father continued on, trying to mock his long strides over the bare, eroded rocks and sand that covered the valley. She was sick of seeing the world framed by the deep slit window that looked out of the entrance to the bunker. The clear days were far and few in-between, and she wanted to be outside.

They reached the field crop, the small greenhouse, crudely fashioned with scrap metal. It was skinned in obscure glass that her father helped make to keep the rain off the plants. The others were already there--she had seen their horses outside--trimming the sucker vines and adding compost to the beds. She saw them smiling and nodding respectfully to her father as they approached.

She circled the room, pleading each of them let her help. She was allowed to pick two ripe fruit, and water the vines until she spilled a cup of it, making her father grow a bit.

She wound up back outside, talking to the horses. While petting the buckskin one, she noticed one of his hooves looked cracked. She remembered seeing her father tend to the horses, so she bent down and attempted to replicate his work. As she tried to pick up the leg, the hoof sprang out violently past her, shattering a brittle glass panel of the greenhouse into shards, one of which opened the meat on the horse's leg. The buckskin was hysterical as the others rushed out. One calmed the horse as her father looked her over, raising her arms and turning her about until he was satisfied. He seemed to grow, but didn't say anything.

Her father announced he was taking the buckskin back to the bunker, along with her, and the others went back to work.

It seemed so far away, back up the ridge to the bunker, her father silent as he lead the rope and buckskin along. She stared at the bare earth under feet. Her father had told her stories of things from before, like grass. Plants that spread all over and made the ground as green as tomato leaves.

They had barely started when the others shouted. She mimicked her father's gaze and saw the clouds, deep grey on the horizon. She could already see the far hills disappearing behind the wall of rain.

In moments the others were upon them. Her father placed her behind one of them riding the mare. Another beckoned her father, but he told them to go on. At first they refused, but her father grew a bit and they listened.

She never looked forward on the ride back to the bunker, watching the grey veil sweep over the hills and engulf them, the mountainous clouds encroaching as her father urged the buckskin along.

They rode into the bunker and waited in the entrance. One of them said her father wasn't going to make it. Another started to a horse, but was discouraged by the group. The clouds were coming so fast.

Her father straddled the buckskin, who was hesitant at first, but after coaxing reached a brisk but uneven run. He was going to make it. He would be home and they would watch the rain together through the slit window.

The buckskin faltered and collapsed, her father sailing forward and into the rocks. He lay still for a moment that had no end. When he recovered and rose to his knees, the veil was at his back. His frame seemed so small against the white wall spanning across the valley. He looked toward the rain, then at her. She thought she could see him smile. He looked so small.

The veil came for him. Her father crouched, bent over and covering his face with his arms. She saw his skin begin to smoke and melt before the falling grey took him.

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Prompt 17: Her Morning Elegance

Post by Nicodemus » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:40 pm

Coming soon

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Stray (Best of Both Worlds prompt)

Post by Nicodemus » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:41 pm

-OPEN LOG #021-

"Don't stray to the gap. Pray for the Lost. Keep the harvest." All the children recited it in unison, as we were told to every night. It was what they said was important. So we helped them in the fields, and most everyone stayed away from the gap.

But it didn't help to pray for the ones that tried to cross. They were all still there, the Lost. You could see them from the village, living but perfectly still statues decorating the half marks of the bridges that spanned the two cliffs. No one ever made it to the other side, no matter which bridge they chose.

I would ask who made the bridges, but they would give me a scolding stare like I'd sworn. They didn't know, I supposed, and found it uncomfortable when I reminded them of it.

I knew it didn't help to pray because Kamber was still out there. She'd left seven months before. She had grown weary like the rest of us. So much work and so little food. So she hugged me goodbye and walked away. I followed as far as I dared. Just close enough to see her slow like the rest of them. She dragged to a halt as she neared midway on the bridge and froze among the Lost.

I went home. I worked. I half-starved with the rest. I worked the lifeless sand that refused a decent harvest. I would stare out over the last field to the bridges, picking out Kamber among the frozen forms. Then to the far cliff she was ever walking towards, where the grass still grew in hills of black dirt.

"It's okay," Kamber had said. "I'm tired anyway. There's nothing here."

After the next months without her, I realized what she'd meant. I never laughed. I never felt rested or awake. I worked field after field. The days melted together into one endless summer of choking heat and pain in my stomach.

There was nothing there.

I lay down my hoe and began walking through the field. No one looked up from their rows or stopped me from leaving. With the first few steps, I noticed a deep relief within me. Then a calm overtook me. I wasn't afraid at all.

When I reached the cliffs, I chose the same bridge Kamber had, the one upon which she still stood, walking away forever. The gap grew enormous as I stepped upon the first laid stones. I looked down to see no end to the chasm, just the rock faces fading away into mist. I saw the Lost, all the figures frozen in time. Some were walking like Kamber. Some had tried to leap across the midpoint and past the others, only to be forever suspended. Some, I was close enough to see, had made it farther. There were more of the Lost farther down the bridges and even on the other side.

I paused as I neared Kamber and the others. I could see the same relief and calm on her face. I took a deep breath and walked on.

Kamber walked with me. The others beside me, ahead of me. All of them came to life and continued their journey across the bridge.

It took a moment before Kamber, seeming as puzzled as me, looked around to see me. "You came! I knew you would!" She hugged me, then took my hand. "Come on. Let's go."

We walked with the others and made it to the far cliff where people were waiting. They were dressed in strange fabrics and holding what I guessed were metal tools, but they greeted us and asked us to follow them so that we may be fed. Some of them used the metal tools, or at least held them up to their face and spoke into them. I heard a woman say "...a group has made it across." A man said something about an "event horizon".

I thought to turn around. I could see across the bridges to where the fields had been, now nothing but patches of shrub and dirt. Beyond them, only the stone walls remained of the houses, the village empty and covered in years of sand.

This is our story.

I've sent this message across the gap, as we do when we see a knew village emerge, to let you know what is on the other side. I hope the circumstances are better for you than those I knew. But if you decide to cross, know that you may never return.

At least not to the world you know now.

-CLOSE LOG-

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