Bittersweet Replacement

When he told her they were over, the sun was shining.

It seemed horribly incorrect, the light and warmth and heat. A part of her knew the sky should have been dark, with rolling clouds and flashes of lightning. The earth should have trembled from the force of the heaven’s roar, the earth wet with its tears. Instead, far above, the sky was a clear azure and the winds were warm and the air sweet.

She stood across from him, park bench to her left and lake to the right. He had his hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched and gaze on the still water. She fisted her hands in the worn fabric of her hoodie, fighting back a broken sob as she forced a serene smile to spread across her lips. When he looked back at her, he started with surprise.

“It’s okay,” The girl whispered. “You love her, so it’s okay.”

He let out a shaky breath, smiling. “I thought you’d be angry, you know?”

She shook her head. “You wouldn’t be happy if you stayed.”

The boy withdrew his hands from his pockets, hesitated. Then he pulled her close, and she let her cheek rest against his shoulder. She bit her lip, clenched her eyes shut. She tucked her hands under his arms, relished in the warmth, and then stepped away. She smiled, a smile on her lips but expression harrowed.

They stood there for a time, neither speaking. She turned her gaze out to the lake, to the grass wrapping around the bank. He stood at her shoulder, and then he set his hand on her shoulder. The girl turned her gaze to him, smiling softly as he said, “I’ll take you home.”

“No,” The girl smoothed her hair out of her face. “Go to her. You can’t keep her waiting.”

He hit his lip. She turned her back, watched the water as his heat slowly eased away. When he was gone, her hands settled on her abdomen. She splayed her fingers across the swollen bump, tears spilling down her cheeks as a small bundle of life fluttered within her. She smiled, let her head drop back as the light washed over her face.

 The sun was shining, when he left her and their unborn child.

Overhead, a rumble of thunder echoed.


Daily Prompt: Replacement

Sex Is Math

Censorization was, at times, a necessary evil.

Zevi felt his lips curl back, pale face darkening as he eyed the book laid out on the table before him. Then his gaze lifted to the boy with too-wide eyes and a mouth stained brown by chocolate. His gaze dropped back to the book, to the highlighted text, and Zevi felt his brow twitch. He rubbed the bridge of his nose.

After a moment, he raked his hand through his hair as he tried to gather his thoughts. His gaze swept over the page, the contents made all the more obvious by the yellow stain highlighting the words. He ignored the drawings littering the page, most being diagrams the boy couldn’t quite understand. His gaze returned to the child in question, not quite sure if he liked the feeling curling in his chest.

‘Affection,’ a part of his brain rationalized.

‘Weakness,’ the other hissed in his ear.

In that moment, Zevi wasn’t sure how to approach this sort of subject with a child who just happened to be the young, impressionable son of the man who had, for all intent and purposes, abducted him. Granted, his prior living arrangements weren’t all that great, but the point remained. The man forced his father to hand over custody, an unseen blade of raw magic held to his biological father’s throat. Still.

“What does it mean, Zev?”

The teen turned his gaze back to the child, watching as he licked his fingers clean from the thick, earthen-colored substance with renewed vigor. His gaze dropped back to the book, then to the child, and, after a moment, decided the best way to approach the subject was with honest truth. So he leaned forward, bracing his elbows on the table.

He closed the book, rested a long-fingered hand on the cover. “It is a school book, for higher years. It explains how a child is made. A boring process, really. You’ll have no interest in that.”

“But it was talking about something called a peni-” Zevi held up a hand, halting the child in the middle as he said, voice hard, “Boring, it is boring.”

“What’s sex?”

“Math,” Zevi replied evenly, watching with a sense of dark glee as the child’s eyes widened in horror. He leaned across the table, caught the small hand in his and held the boy’s eyes. Face pale, eyes wide, the child shuddered. Zevi grinned. “Sex is math.”


Filter“>Daily Prompt: Filter

Simple Pleasures

He should have said no.

Perched on an impossibly soft chair, Ren folded his hands in his lap –wringing together, palms sweaty and heart beating fast- as he let out a slow exhale. His gaze flicked to the old clock above the door, but the time slipped out of his mind as soon as he looked away. As he tapped a pattern against his thigh, he knew he should have said no.

‘Stop thinking about it,’ Ren glanced about the room, ignoring the thick wooden table and the goblet of wine resting innocently before him. His host was not yet in the room, yet his skin crawled as he felt the telltale sign of someone watching him. ‘Stop thinking. I’m already here. There’s no use bemoaning my idiotic rashness…no matter how appropriate.’

His gaze shifted to the desk, the chair behind it pulled out just a tad. It rested at an angle, and Ren was certain that, if he sat there, everything within the room would be visible to his searching gaze. A part of his mind whispered encouragement, for surely that seat was far better than the one he sat on. The other half let out a rude exclamation, hissing angrily in his ear as it waved a red flag above his head.

He was more inclined to listen to the latter. Ren was on his feet in moments, fingers tapping erratic patterns on whatever he laid his hands upon. He drew in a breath as he felt a gaze sweep over his body, and Ren paced across the lavish study. He bit his lip, gaze, once more, shifting to the clock as a single thought settled: ‘I should leave.’

Ren smoothed his hands down his pants, the worn fabric a vast injustice to the richness of the room. He grabbed his bag, turned, and squeaked. There, leaning against the wall by the door, was Holland. Fingers limp, Ren could only stare as the older male gave him a slow, dark smile full of promise. ‘I should have said no. Should have, didn’t. Fuck, I’m an idiot!’

“Leaving already?” Holland stepped away from his place by the door, pushed away from the wall. He came closer, his pale hand ghosting over the back of a sofa. Red watched as the sinfully soft material changed to a hue darker as those long fingers caressed the fabric. Ren’s gaze jumped back to Holland’s dark eyes, his pulse thundering in his ear as the other continued, “We haven’t even started. Surely I don’t frighten you to such a degree.”

“That you do.”

His eyes widened, too large. ‘Backtrack! Backtrack before he gets closer!’

Ren edged around the table, keeping it between the two of them. Holland arched a slender, dark eyebrow in response. A slow, sharp smile curved along one edge of his mouth, and Ren felt his muscles lock as the other paused where he stood. Ren drew in a shaky breath, holding that dark gaze as Holland let out a low, guttural laugh.

Holland cocked his head to the side, amusement dancing in his eyes. “Come, Ren, you ought to know this game can’t go on forever.”

‘I can try, can’t I?’

Holland moved, rounding the table with a fluid grace. He grabbed the goblet of wine as he went, and, before Ren could retreat, he found himself ensnared in the other’s embrace. His arm curved around his waist, pulling him close. In his other hand, the wine rested. A silent demand, Ren knew. He eyed the cup, not quite sure if he could trust it.

When Holland made no move to release him, Ren knew he had to entertain his tormenter. This was a situation he had unwittingly invited, one that he had stupidly stepped into. It was much like setting one’s self up to be the butt of a bad joke. When the grip around his waist tightened, Ren begrudgingly reached for the wine glass.

He was rewarded with a smile and the gentle press of glass to his lips.

“It is simple, truly,” Holland’s voice was like that of a siren in his ear, enticing but deadly with the potential to be lethal. Flavor rolled across Ren’s tongue, exploding with life as countless fruits burst with reckless abandon on his taste buds. He nearly choked, almost inhaled the sinfully delicious drink, but managed to swallow. “Breathe, Ren.”

Red, red lips parted and, in that moment, Ren was done for. Holland leaned in, brushed their lips together. A haze settled over the younger as the older licked a bead of red nectar from the corner of his mouth, warmth blossoming across his mouth as Holland chuckled. In those final moments, he barely heard the other’s soft, gentle words.

“To welcome the simplest pleasures is much like inviting a demon into your bed,” A gentle hand guided his head back, and lips brushed over his slowing pulse. Another deep chuckle came from Holland, passing from one body into the next moments before the older man whispered, “A demon I could be, as you often made note of these last few months.

“However, I assure you of one thing. These simple pleasures I will teach…

“I will imprint them upon you.” Ren’s eyes fluttered shut, body limp in the cold arms holding him close. He could not imagine any other place to be, in that moment. A small part protested, the red flag waving frantically, but he could not focus on that. Not when the other was whispering in his ears, words like sweetened honey. “Never will forget me, Ren. This I promise you.”


Daily Blog: Simple

Devastation

She felt like the earth was parting beneath her feet.

In a single moment, she swore the ground opened up. Like swollen lips parting in a grotesque grin, the world around came apart. Pristine, reflective walls stretched, pulled further and further away. Vast emptiness, a world apart from the restraints seemingly biting into her pulse. She heard the others, close enough to whisper sweet nothings in her ears. Lies, everything was a lie and their mocking words were utter desolation to the flame of her singular belief.

‘I’m not crazy,’ She told herself. ‘I’m not!’

No one heard her mental plea. No one turned, the doctors passing by with clipboards in hand and white robes fluttering around them. She twisted her wrists, tugged against the hard cord binding her wrists to the arms of her chair. Lank hair clung to her neck, the ends curling loosely. A sheen of sweat glittered on her forehead, catching the pasty light above.

An old man hobbled by, slow on crooked feet. His coat hung loose, belt dragging across the ground on either side of him. He swayed as he moved between the nurses, sightless eyes staring at something only he, himself, could see. She wanted to curse him for leaving her there, for not pulling her along behind him. She wanted to scream, to cry, to shout.

She yanked on her wrists, instead. Grunted as pain lanced through her arms, grit her teeth as pale skin broke and red bubbled over the bruised, puffy skin. She glanced towards the doctors – I’m not crazy, I’m not crazy, I’m not crazy – as she pulled on the restraints, a tint of blue starting to bloom across her lips. She was cold, suddenly. Her heartbeat was sluggish as if submerged in ice and water.

A woman with a swollen middle was wheeled down the hallway, her screams echoing as she lurched upward. She was restrained to the bed, ankles locked at the edges. Blood pooled between parted legs, a crown of dark hair peeking out of a nest of blonde. The girl felt a wave of dizziness wash over her, eyes wide as she watched the doctors vanish with the pregnant, screaming soon-to-be-mother.

“I’m not crazy,” The girl whispered to herself as she slumped in her chair, limbs heavy.

“I’m not crazy…” There was a flicker, then. An overhead light caught between light and darkness, leaving the hallway around her white-black-white. Lights on, lights off. The staff in the hospital didn’t seem to notice, so focused on their paperwork. The girl felt a sense of unease cut through her, swallowing hard as the end of the hallway turned into a watery, mist-like wall of nothing. “I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy. I’m not!”

She yanked on her restraints with renewed vigor, desperate to get out of the chair. Her gaze darted back to the shifting, mist-like wall. It was closer, now. Smoke was creeping across the floor, thick and dark and ominous. Closer it came, steady and slow as she pulled and yanked and thrashed in her seat.

Then a hand closed around the back of her neck, so cold her blood froze. Lips brushed the shell of her ear, teeth bit into the soft lobe and tugged. She cried, silent heaves that fought for control of her vocals. A hand ghosted over her shoulder, gentle compared to the tight grasp on her neck, and then there was a voice.

“You’re it.”

The restraints fell, clattering loudly against the floor.

She threw herself forward. She did not hesitate, did not turn to confront whoever had stood behind her moments before. She ran, hospital gown fluttering over her skin with each sharp movement. Laughter followed her down the hallway, followed as she barreled to the right and shouldered her way through a door. It echoed as she raced down the stairs, a river of dark fog billowing down the steps after her.

She did not stop until she was throwing herself through the front doors of the hospital, warm light washing over her cold, shaking form. She hit the ground, bloody hands clutched to her gut. Behind her, the ruin of a building mocked her. Dead memories watched from the windows, unmoving as she sobbed and cried.

In the doorway stood a silent figure, seemingly made of darkness. It smiled.


Devastation

Five Nights

Fields of rolling silver stretched across the horizon, an ocean seemingly made of liquid ice.

Rosslyn Cogan tapped an erratic beat against the steering wheel. Dark bags lined her eyes like that of an insomniac that had not slept in weeks. She fiddled with the knob of the radio, gaze shifting from the rolling forests and their canopies drooping under white crowns to the rearview mirror. In the backseat was Veruca, her young daughter immersed in an old story draped across her lap.

Ross noted the neon violet earpiece attached to an MP3, how it rose to hide within Ruca’s thick, curling hair. Ross turned her gaze back to the road, exhaling as she drove through hills of mist and snow. It was almost as if the child sensed her, for Ross felt her daughter’s gaze biting into the back of her head. A moment passed in silence, and then Ruca asked, “Are we almost there?”

A quick glance at the clock had Ross frowning, the numbers bright and green. Fifteen-after-nine. Ross shifted her attention to the rearview mirror, meeting her daughter’s gaze with a tired smile as she said, “Nearly. Another forty or so minutes, I suspect.”

They drove in silence, for a time. As they rounded another corner, Ross pressed on the breaks. The car slowed as she flipped on the blinker, easing onto a county road. The overhead sky was black by the arched canopies, almost as if the trees were bending over the road in some desperate attempt to warn her away. Foreboding, those trees. Ross felt a hint of a smile pull at her mouth.

‘Some things never change,’ Ross tapped out a rhythm on the steering wheel, her gaze set on the road before, and around, her. The hard, frozen ground was unforgiving; the car shuddered with every hole it hit, hissing and complaining as the hard gravel threatened to toss it aside. She felt a slow grin spread across her face as her gaze shifted to the dash, gaze on the screen as if waiting for some warning to flare, crimson, along the screen. Nothing jumped out.

“Aunt Jess will be there,” Ross said, as the car rumbled down the road. The child in the backseat was silent, and a quick look showed Ruka to be clinging to the seat with white knuckles. Turning her gaze back to the road, Ross continued, “Uncle Dave, too. You haven’t seen Jim in quite some time, and neither of us have seen Lila. You looking forward to it?”

Ruka didn’t respond. Ross exhaled.

“It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?”

When her daughter remained silent, Ross gave up. ‘Six years old, and still as stubborn now as she was then,’ Ross muttered a few choice words under her breath as the car dragged along the rolling, mountainous terrain. On the passenger seat, several nondescript files jerked about, nearly coming out of the seat when the old, dark car hit a pothole.

Ross swore, grip tight on the steering wheel. The battered and old car jumped and shook, as if fighting both the road and its owner that was forcing it to go onto uneven ground. Ross didn’t blame it; the side of the road was perilously close, and the slightest mistake would send them tumbling down the side of the mountain. As she steered the car around another bend, she exhaled.

Along the side of the rode, thick metal polls jutted out of the ground. Absently, Ross wondered where the railing had gone. The road was narrow, the trees looming over the path like some form of natural barricade blocking the world above from seeing the twisting pathways they kept.

“Are we almost there?” Ross shot a quick look into the rearview mirror. Her daughter was white, one hand wrapped tight around the seatbelt and the other clasping the handlebar above the window. Thick, long hair stood on edge, defying gravity as the girl asked, “Mom? Are we almost there?”

Ross grinned. “Not yet, no. We still have a ways to go.”

“I have to pee,” Ruka grit out, the small child shifting uncomfortably in her seat.

Ross tossed a look out the window, towards the winter wonderland surrounding them. There was nowhere to turn off the road. ‘It’s not like I can park in the middle of this fucking road, either,’ Ross shot a look at her daughter, lips pressed in a line as Ruka shimmed in the seat. Her daughter caught her eye, voice low and rough as she said, “Mom, I have to pee. Now.”

“There’s nowhere to stop,” Ross shot back as the car rounded a bend. Ruka let out a very unladylike noise in the back of her throat, but Ross pressed on before the younger could speak. “It’s cold out, anyway. Hiding in a frozen bush to relieve yourself would be highly unpleasant.”

“And peeing myself wouldn’t be?” Ruka deadpanned. Ross had to hand that point to her child, but was unable to stay anything as the young girl continued, “I don’t have to hide in a bush, ma. It’s not like I have to squat to use the restroom, most days.”

Ross drew in a breath, grip tightening on the steering wheel. ‘Sometimes it’s easy to forget about that,’ the car swept around another bend, and then it was descending. The light of the headlights reflected off the iced roads, leaving the path glistening with an ethereal glow. She pressed on the breaks, exhaling as the car slowed.

“There’s nowhere to pull over, Ruka,” Ross came to a stop, eyeing the two paths in the road. She took the one on the left, following the curve. She cast a quick look out the widow, a slow smile spreading as she caught sight of the Belmont Aerial below. Resting on the edge of a cliff-face, it stood as a silent observer. Ross let out a pleased hum, voice light as she said, “We’re almost to the station, honey. Just wait a bit longer.”

“How long?” Ruka asked, knees pressed together. Ross could hear the thin bones knocking together, absently wondering why she let her daughter wear a pair of shorts when the mountains of Albara were known for their cold, unforgiving winters. ‘Then again, I hadn’t planned on coming this way,’ Ross exhaled, sharply, as she answered, “Ten minutes, fifteen at the most.”

The drive down the mountain was tense, the road buried in snow and ice. Ross gripped the steering wheel with a white-knuckled grip, hyperaware of the sheer drop on her left. Ruka was very still, in the back. Quiet, MP3 tucked away. A quick glance at the clock showed it was nearing ten, the sky outside dark and endless.

Ross pulled into Belmont Aerial, kicked the door open and rounded the car. She opened Ruka’s door, lifting her daughter right out of her seat without a moment’s pause. Skinny legs clutched her sides, vanishing into the open folds of Ross’s coat while thin arms wound around her neck. Curling her arms around her daughter, Ross shut the door with her hip and made her way across the parking lot to Belmont Aerial. Over the entrance, the words Belmont Aerial Tram Station watched silently.

The moment Ross had the door unlocked, Ruka was on the ground and across the foyer to the nearest bathroom. She watched the door swing shut before turning, making her way back to the car when her belongings rested. She made quick work of the car’s contents, repacking bags with a sense of ease. She hefted them out of the car, locking the battered vehicle and then made her way inside the tram station.

“This place looks the same now as it did when I was a kid,” Ross eyed a massive map stapled to an equally large bulletin board in the center of the room. She sat her bags down on either side of her, content to eye the map – gaze lingering on the cities on the edge of Albara, so far from them but yet unnervingly close – while she waited for Ruka to return. It wasn’t long before her daughter was pressing into her side, one small hand slipping into hers. “How far does the tram go?”

“All the way across Alano Pass,” Ross traced the tram lines on the map, eyeing the massive chasm that separated Albara from Norano with a frown. Her gaze shifted to Ruka’s untamed mop of hair, voice light as she continued, “Jess and Dave should already be on the other side, waiting for us. It can be a bit of a long trip, so we’d best load the tram now or we’ll never get there.”

Ross grabbed the suitcases and backpacks, smiling as Ruka slipped her own pack over her shoulder with squared shoulders. She ran a hand through her daughter’s tangled hair, fingers catching on each knot. Ruka swatted her hand away a moment later, eyes narrow and jaw tight. Ross laughed.

Once the glass-encased tram was loaded, and Ruka sitting on a padded cushion, Ross pulled out a keycard from her wallet and passed it over the tram’s card reader. A moment later, the light turned green and the door closed. Ross plopped down a seat across from her daughter, reclining against the seat as the gears turned over. Just as it started to shift, a voice cut through the otherwise silent station.

“Wait! Please, wait!”

Ross hit the button above the card reader, rising to watch as a few people came racing towards the closed doors. She leaned against the wall next to the door, eyes narrowed. There was one person, a young man with a great deal of scruff on his face. He was panting on the other side of the door, hands on knees as Ross said, “Yes?”

“I’m glad I caught up,” he straightened, popping his neck as he did so. He fished a badge, pressed it against the glass door. A name badge, she noted as she shot a quick look at it. Her hand brushed over the button on the wall, right beneath the first one she had pushed as he said, “Brian Walderon, ma’am. I work here. I was hoping you might let me ride with you.”

She eyed the badge. His name was there, plain as day. His photo, too. The man in the picture was more clean shaven than the man in front of her, expression grave and eyes dark. She turned her gaze back to him, voice light as she asked, “Last I checked, no one worked her anymore.”

“Last you checked, there wasn’t a group of people gathering in the Manor either,” Brian retorted.

“Indeed,” Ross’s eyes narrowed. Brian held her gaze. Behind her, Ruka hopped off her seat and came closer. Ross felt her daughter’s hands grip the back of her shirt, fisting in the material as the man on the other side of the door said, “My job is to keep the grounds, and Belmont, clear. Private pay. Started about ten years ago. I have papers, if you would like to see them.”

“You’re the only one?”

“No,” Brian crossed his arms over his chest. Ross eyed the gesture for a moment, the almost casual posture not quite matching the tightness in his jaw. Her gaze turned to his as he said, “There’s two others, one in the mountains of Albara and other in the forests of Norano. As I said, I do have papers if you’d like to see them.”

“Mom,” Ross didn’t look away from him, but she did turn her body towards her daughter. Ruka pressed against her front, a small hand resting on her stomach as her daughter continued, “I think we should let him in. He’ll take the next tram, anyway.”

Exhaling, Ross hit the lower button and the door slid open. Brian stepped through without pause, blinking as he caught sight of Ruka. He eyed her bare legs, and Ross’s gaze narrowed as his gaze shifted to her. He plopped down on an open seat, careful of the luggage in the tram, and Ross sat across from him with Ruka beside her. Her daughter’s side brushed against hers, and Ross wrapped an arm around Ruka’s shoulders.

“Thanks for not going without me,” Brian leaned forward, resting his elbows across his knees as he caught, and held, her gaze. One corner of his lip quirked up, and Ross leaned back in her seat as she drummed her fingers across his leg. Brian laced his fingers together, smirk firmly in place as he said, “The guys and I, we keep in touch. Haven’t heard from either of them today, and I don’t think you or your group would like to have the power cut in the middle of the night.”

Ross frowned. “If you keep in touch, then why haven’t they called?”

“Walkie-talkies and radios,” Brian gestured to the glass windows of the tram, pausing mid-sentence as he sat upright. He tossed her the walkie-talkie a moment later, and Ross caught it as he said, “It isn’t always easy to keep that thing charged. I’m bringing a few extras, to be safe. The radio might be cut out due to interference.”

“Interference?” Ruka’s voice came, then. Soft and even, almost hesitant.

Brain’s gaze shifted to her, and then he said, “Yes, interference. The transmission could have a shot fuse, could have frozen over, or maybe the lines are down. Happens often enough.”

The rest of the trip was done in silence, and it wasn’t long before Norano’s Aerial Station came into view. The tram glided inside, coming to a stop. As the door slid open, a group of people were waiting on the other side. Brain stepped out first, nodding sharply to the others gathered, and then he was gone. Ross carried Ruka out, stiffening as Jesse’s eyes narrowed.

“Not here,” Ross murmured once Jess was beside her, handing Ruka over to Dave with a light smile. He wrapped her in his coat, zipping them both in as Jess said, “I was thinking you weren’t going to make it, Rossi. Glad you did, though. Who was that man?”

“Brian something,” Ross answered as they made their way outside, a massive truck with chain-laden wheels waiting for them. Ross loaded the back with the luggage, then climbed into the warm, steady heat of the truck with a content sigh. “Apparently he and a few others are hired to keep an eye on the grounds around here. It was a rather…tense ride.”

“I’d bet,” Jess fiddled with the knobs on the radio, brow furrowed in thought. “They stopped by the house, a few times.”

Ross hummed, quiet as Ruka cuddled against her side. Beside her, Jess exhaled. As Dave started the car, her sister said, “It’s bad enough a storm’s coming, but the old man thinking an old superstition will be an issue – I don’t even know what to think, anymore.”

Dave drove away from the station, the truck gliding soundlessly through the snow-laden grounds. Ross rested, head slumped against the back of the seat, but her mind twisted. Ruka twisted next to her, rising onto her knees to peer out the back window. In the whiteness of the winter, the dark shadows stood out like fire upon snow.

The curly-haired child rested her chin on the top of the seat, arms folded across the warm cloth, but her gaze did not turn away from the steadily vanishing station. There was something there, the girl knew. It was near the edge of the building, almost as if the shadows were peeking around the corner. A quick glance to the side showed that her mother was asleep.

She looked towards the lodge again, startled as a dark, unclear shape rose from the ground like black ink drawn from the earth. Then it turned, it’s eyes like that of a twisting, unending black scrawl of lead and ink. Ruka stilled, eyes widening as its roar cut through the forest. Birds scattered, snow raining from the treetops. Dave cursed, slamming on the breaks the same time Ross twisted to catch her.

“Must have been a silent rumble,” Dave muttered.

Her mother stroked her hair from her face, fingers brushing away the tears gliding down her cheeks. Ruka pressed herself against her mother’s chest, burrowing her face against her neck as she drew in the comforting scent that was purely motherhood. Thin fingers fisted the worn fabric that was her mother’s shirt, closing her eyes as a winter wonderland whirled around them.


image_push

Oversight

They had no way of knowing. The fallout, it came without warning; it was calm, the winds warm and the sands of the beach rolling against a light breeze. This was the way it was meant to be, each and every day. Calm, but warm. Calm, but mindlessly boring. Perhaps the true issue was the fact few, in a perfect environment, thought to ask themselves ‘what if?’

It was an oversight, and a costly one.

When the ship came, crashing through the atmosphere with a shrill scream of fire and death, the calm became stillness. In the single exhale of a moment in time, something changed. People sunbathing on the beach turned to watch, their eyes impossibly wide as the stone-and-metal ship broke and fragmented in the sky above. Thousands of small pieces of wreckage hurtled through the sky, each a brilliant comet with a burning tail of light and fire.

The stillness ended when the ship hit the water.

In that one moment, someone would, one day, stop and ask themselves a few questions. Why had they just sat there, when it was obvious the ship and sea would meet in a violent embrace? Why had they never thought ‘what if?’ Why had they never prepared? And, more importantly, how had they overlooked the possibility that there was more to the world than they had first thought?

Why hadn’t they, at the least, prepared for a worst-case scenario?

When the ship and sea met, the ocean waters swelled with rage. They surged upwards, as if trying to make a wall of water. Then it collapsed, and the water came. Those who had not yet managed to shake their stupor screamed, their bodies trampled by the violet churn of the water. Those who had started moving realized, in that moment, danger was real.

Hysteria broke out as the calm was severed. The beach was drowned, innocent lives taken to the sea. As the rest managed to escape the tides of the ocean, fleeing through the streets of a civilization both ancient and new, they knew only one thing for certain: this flaw, this vast breach of knowing, this oversight, would never be overlooked again.


Daily Prompt: Oversight

A Fallen Star

A fallen star lit up the sky.

An array of lights spiraled across the heavens, brilliant hues of pink and violet and silver. In the darkness, the children paused their game to watch as the lights swirled and danced through the sky. At the heart, a solid piece glowed like a newborn sun.

The moon was miniscule to this new beauty. The other children agreed. One young child watched, eyes wide and alight as the star continued on its course. Larger and larger, the fallen star sang. There was a sharp hiss, the sound of air streaming past his ears, but his gaze was glued to the oncoming orb.

‘Wish upon a fallen star,’ his mother’s voice echoed in the back of his head. ‘Wish before it is too late, for when the star is gone, so is its magic.’ He eyed the oncoming star, its size twice what it was when they first saw it. Then he knew. This star was coming to them, closer and closer so their wish could be made. So they would not have to fear it would pass before they decided on what they wanted.

He pushed through the other children, fell to his knees and clasped his hands before him. He had seen his mother do this, when wishing to God for a blessing. His father often scoffed at her for it, his words echoing in the child’s head: ‘We can’t rely on some invisible god or star or magic to make things happen. If you want something, you have to get it yourself.’

The boy felt a hand on his shoulder. A little girl, with large eyes and a larger smile. They stole away in the middle of the night together, alongside so many others, to play. Out here, in the darkness, they were free. For a small time, they were free to do as they pleased. Free to play, free to laugh, free to be happy.

After a moment, she, too, knelt beside him. The others followed suit, their small frames basked in the light of a celestial star descending upon them. His mind raced; what does one wish for, when the star will answer only one wish? Then he looked around himself, to the fields of limp, dying grass and hunkering trees. To the sky, a haze always covering it.

He knew what he wanted, then. The little girl took his hand.

“Make the wish,” she said, smiling. The others nodded, expressions alight.

So the little boy bowed his head. ‘I wish the world was whole, that it was well and healthy.’

As the star collided with the ground, encasing a small group of children, the fallen star pulsed. Waves of energy washed outward, flooding the clearing and spilling across the ground. Where the light touched, dying life breathed in the celestial power. Trees rose, bent backs rising to stand tall and proud. Dried lakes rumbled, water gushing from the cracked lakebeds. And the grass grew, limp brown turning lush green.

Shouts and exclaims filled the world, but it was where the star fell that a tragedy came to be. A group of children slept within the crater, skin glistening as if they had fallen from the heavens. They were smiling, hands interlocked, but move they would not. As the people of the town came, mothers wailing, they could only stare. A father fell to his knees, tears in his eyes as his wife laid her hands on his shoulders.

“A fallen star is an act of the universe,” she whispered to him.

He looked up at her. She smiled, “Should the universe, and God, deem a wish acceptable, it will be granted. But every miracle demands a payment, some greater than others.”

His gaze shifted to the crater. Some payments greater than others: he knew what she meant, then. As he rose and stumbled to the lip of the impression, his gaze moved from the ring of children to the glowing, crystalline rock resting in the heart of their sphere. It glowed, light sweeping out and brushing over the children.

It stood, a silent guardian. Within it, images of dancing, laughing children spun.


762b2306aa6083161c7955cf6d143190

Haunted

Static, hissing and quiet and echoing. A young boy sat curled up in an old dumbwaiter, one arm pressed against the side of the freight elevator and the other against the ceiling. The floor bit into battered knees, unforgiving and as uncomfortable as the tight square of space he occupied. He could hear something, faint somethings just beyond the edge of his hearing. They were almost familiar, in their distant beckonings.

The dragging whisper of feet on the ground, the whisper of wind in the walls, the gentle call of a distant guard beckoning him to leave his hidey-hole; stupid, stupid, stupid, a mantra of words echoing in his mind. Why had he done something so stupid even when he knew the outcome would be less than desired? Why? He clenched his eyes shut, shrinking into himself when another gunshot cut through the silence, a sound accompanied by a shrill, feminine scream.

‘I’m scared,’ he tucked his head into his chest, jaw clenched tight as he silently begged for the nightmare to end. For the men to go away, to stop rattling the doors and laughing when they caught someone. So he sat in the dumbwaiter, muscles stiff and limbs trembling from remaining in one position for so long. In the distance, he could hear them.

A woman begging, the sound of cloth ripping and her screaming.

The loud, creaking echo a bed hitting the wall and flesh hitting flesh. His stomach turned, numb and cold as the jeering laughter of the other men echoed, as it cut through the broken cries of a broken woman. He didn’t dare leave his spot, even though part of him screamed to. Maybe he could help her, do something…

‘No,’ a part of him insisted. ‘That’s what he’s waiting for. What they’re all waiting for.’

So he hid, wishing he could cover his ears as easily as he could close his eyes. Anything to block out the cries that soon faded to silence, the laughing of men and the sound of a gun going off. He wasn’t sure how long he was in that dumbwaiter, tired and afraid. How long had passed since the building went silent, how long before the scuffling sound of rattling bones filled the hallway outside.

‘Is it night, then?’ He wasn’t sure. He never was, anymore. So he listened, shifting ever-so-slightly. There were telltale signs of movement; the scuffing of boots on the floor, the creaking groan of upturned furniture, and the creaking whisper of doors opening and closing. ‘There’s no going back, not anymore. Nothing left but the shadows of my mind.’

He exhaled, and opened the dumbwaiter. He winced as the metal groaned, a scratchy cough that echoed. He slipped out, falling onto his face when his legs gave out from under him. His hands stung, the ground dusted with wet, red smears; he rose to his knees, trembling as he drew in a tight breath. Bleeding, his hands were bleeding. He pressed the stinging appendages to his stomach, body tingling with pins-and-needles as he slowly rose to his feet.

‘Why did I come here, to hide?’ He shook his head, stumbling forward. ‘Maybe she’s alright, maybe she’s just hurt and unconscious and can’t call for help.’

The hallway was long, endlessly so. The end was shrouded in darkness and shadows and swirling hues of grey and black. It was like a game, really; it didn’t matter how long he stumbled forward, the end was just always out of reach. Never closer but not further away, either.

“He’s fucking with me,” the truth of the statement was like a clear, ringing bell in his head. He drew in a tight breath, thoughts like a hive of bees as he tried to think. Loud, buzzing and impossible to dismiss. Of course the man was fucking with him, messing with his mind knowing the anticipation, the worry and stress, would eventually make him come out of hiding. “Fuck, of course…”

Leaning against one wall, hair matted and dark with sweat, eyes glazed, he breathed. There was something, then, at the back of his mind. A flicker of something; amusement, his mind supplied. Coughing, sides aching, he forced himself to take a step, and then another, his gaze focused on the path in front of him.

‘Come on, Toriel,’ he trembled, stomach turning onto itself. Hunger, he realized. When had his last meal been, anyway? A day, two or three? A week? Water, though? He drank plenty of that. His backpack, wherever he had left it, possessed five more bottles of life-saving liquid. ‘Where did I leave that at, anyway? In the cafe, back in town? We were hiding out there, for a while. Or is it at the school?’

He tried not to think too deeply, his mind honed onto one thought: keep moving forward.

“What kind of name is Toriel, anyway?” He paused, chest tight. “Other than it being mine, that is…”

It was then, that he saw it. A door propped open, the dust disturbed and something shiny glimmering in the soot. Pushing off the wall, he closed in on it. Toriel paused in front of it, staring down at the charmbracelet. His blood whooshed through him, a drum banging away in his ears. Thum-thump-thump. War was ringing, a constant thrum humming along. He stepped over the bracelet, pushing the door open.

He grasped the doorframe, a broken whimper rising unbidden. She was there, sprawled out across the bed. Her shirt torn, her torso bared and bruised and cut. Her skirts were pushed up around her hips, red staining her inner thighs and staining the old, battered bed red. He stumbled across the room, tripping over a broken chair and catching himself on the bed.

His hand fell upon hers, barely warm and smooth. Blood was pooling out from under her, the skirts and blouse bunched around her abdomen stained red. He was frightened, to move the clothing aside. Behind him, the floorboards creaked. A slow, ominous sound he ignored as he pressed his fingers desperately to her pulse. Praying, hoping, begging –

“She’s dead, Toriel,” a cold chill crept along his spine, and his head bowed. Her wrist was limp under his touch, her pulse a ghost somewhere far away. Dark, oppressive darkness advanced on him from behind; it was like feeling the deadliest of storms advancing from the blindside, seeing it in a rear view mirror but being unable to turn around. The presence stopped at his back, impossible heat and cold sinking into him. Opposite sensations but existing at the same time, haunting and utterly unnatural in every way. A hand ghosted over the back of his neck, and then his head was pulled back by a tight grip on his chin. He was forced to look up, into black eyes, as his hunter murmured, “If you hadn’t went and run away, I wouldn’t to have her killed.”

“They raped her,” Toriel closed his eyes, something wet and hot burning beneath his eyelids. It leaked out, trailing clear down his cheeks. A thumb gently traced the tears away, a stern hand hauling him off the ground. He turned, his body like a puppet getting its strings pulled as he whispered, “After everything you’ve done,

“You let them hurt her in a way that is…” He pried himself free, shoving a hand between them. Toriel’s eyes opened, rose-quartz irises tinged red around the edge. His hunter shifted, seemingly breaking apart around the edges as he swayed from side-to-side. Toriel stepped forward, gaze narrowing further as he hissed, “After everything you’ve done, you think I’d ever come willingly? Are you fucking nuts?”

His breath came out uneven, ragged and sharp. Somewhere far belong, the earth groaned. The glass beads hanging from lamps startling clinking together, one after another. The room jerked, one side dropping dangerously. A wail cut through the air, a siren of some otherworldly demon shrieking as electric green webs cracked through the floor around them both.

“Toriel,” The hunter stepped forward, reaching outward. Toriel’s eyes narrowed, his chest burning, burning, as the wail grew louder still. The bed screeched as it slid across the floor, dropping into the black chasm that split through the building. She went with it, consumed by the darkness and the shadows and the shifting hues of movement lurking within. His hunter lunged forward, but Toriel was leaving, his body breaking apart as his hunter snarled, “Run, Toriel. Run knowing that I will always come after you, a hound on a bloodtrail. I will pursue, and you, Toriel, you will forever be haunted by me.”

It was noise, then. Static, hissing and crackling and echoing. One moment the building was around him, coming apart in his pain and sorrow and fury; then there was utter blackness, the world snuffed of light. Toriel huddled in it, screaming. Outside, a world fell to ruin. A world crumbled, dying, as people continued to abuse it. Toriel cried, sinking into himself in his dark place where only the faintest, ghostly white flower dared bloom.

For he was forever haunted.