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Monthly Archives: December 2013

“Nowhere”

This story came from a dream I had years ago. I originally wrote it down as an assignment for a writing class I took a while back, but I have never been happy with the outcome. I decided to give it another go, and while I’m much happier with this version, I’m still not 100% pleased, but I think that any more editing would do more harm than good. I hope you enjoy this weird adventure!

 

“Nowhere”

The sky was overcast, sending little droplets of water falling whenever and wherever they pleased. Klaus took no notice of the light spring rain as he walked home from school on the back road. The road was narrow, flanked on both sides with light green blades of grass. To his left, a line of tall budding trees followed the curves of the asphalt. The only sounds to be heard were Klaus’s boots against the road’s surface, accented by the soft pitter-pattering of the rain.

Suddenly Klaus froze mid-stride. He stood in an intersection he was positive he had never encountered. He studied the new road, but found no signs that the road had not existed as recently as yesterday. The black asphalt of the new road blended perfectly with the older, all the way down to slight marks of wear and tear from the tractors and carriages that frequented the back roads.

Klaus followed the new road with his eyes. In the distance, he could barely make out steep-pitched roofs. He scratched his head in thought. It was one thing discovering a new road, but a town that wasn’t there the day before was surreal. Klaus looked at his watch- he still had a couple of hours before work. Turning, he began to walk down the mysterious road toward the town.

The town grew slowly as he followed the slight curves and dips of the road. Before long, Klaus could see the buildings that sat under the high roofs. The houses were built in the same dated architecture as those in his town. Multiple stories high, they had visible beams separating sections of thick plaster. The steep roofs were hung with red tile, and unlike any town Klaus has ever seen or heard of, the houses were painted with bright colors. One was pink, another neon green, still another almost a turquoise. Klaus quickened his pace, his curiosity getting the best of him.

The road under his feet changed from the worn asphalt he traveled every day to a weird gray cobblestone he had never seen before- the pieces were perfectly uniform in color and size. Finally a sign bearing the town’s name became visible. After a few minutes, Klaus could make out the curly letters. Klaus read out loud as he walked.

“Nowhere.”

The houses grew slowly as he neared and Klaus slowed his pace to examine his surroundings. To his left was a pasture; the cows were mere dots on the horizon. A thin line of small red and yellow tulips bordered the road to the right. The grass was the same shade of green that he was familiar with, and it was tall where the cows had not grazed. Klaus turned back towards the town but froze after only a few steps. The first house, painted pink, stood only a few feet in front of him. The tallest point on the roof came no higher than his chest. The house across from the pink one was neon green. It was shorter than the first, but as Klaus spun in a frantic circle, he saw that all of the houses in the town were tiny. Klaus looked down at his feet and noticed that the cobblestone road was gone, replaced by worn, dirty gray carpet. Klaus panicked. Frantically, he spun around again, trying to get his bearings. The overcast sky was gone; in its place was a high ceiling. Worn industrial lights hanging from thin chains buzzed, bleaching the yellowed walls that seemed to close in around him.

Breathing fast, Klaus turned to face the direction he came from. On the wall was a mural of a countryside. Down the middle was a narrow road, painted with weird grayish cobblestones. Klaus knocked on the wall, causing a hollow sound to echo in the room. He began banging on the wall with clenched fists, eyes closed, praying this was all a dream, but his calls for help went unanswered.

Klaus slowly turned to examine the room. The town was still there; the colorful houses mocking him. Near his feet, on the left was a cow pasture, complete with plastic cows grazing the plastic grass. To the right was a line of colorful specks that Klaus knew were meant to be tulips. The town’s sign was standing in the field next to the wall. He bent down to read it, the letters so small he had to squint.

“Nowhere.”

Klaus slowly stood up. At the far end of the room was a normal-sized door, a single wooden step leading up to it. It appeared to be the only way out. He walked the couple steps through the miniature town and paused in front of the door, silently listening for whatever might be behind it. He heard nothing. Slowly, Klaus climbed the step and placed his hand on the tarnished brass knob. It turned easily. He opened the door and the hinges quietly complained with low squeaks. Klaus stepped through. Suddenly the door snapped back, slamming closed behind him. Startled, Klaus tried the knob again, but it was locked tight. There was no way back.

Klaus stood in what looked like a hallway of an old house undergoing a complete renovation. The studs of the walls were clearly visible and most darkened with age. Some had wires running through them, ending in new outlet boxes. In another, fuzzy pink insulation was stuffed against an outside wall, bits of it blowing as if a slow breeze were passing through. Klaus walked through the first floor of the house looking for a way out, but found none, not even a front door. All the windows were shuttered, barely letting in enough light to see by.

Klaus sighed loudly and closed his eyes, letting his head roll back on his shoulders. “Why do I always seem to get into the worst situations?” he asked aloud, waiting for an answer, but from whom he wasn’t sure- any answer was better than none. The only sound in the house was the pouring rain assaulting the roof, accompanied by the occasional peal of thunder.

He sighed again. As he opened his eyes, he noticed a huge hole in the ceiling. It appeared to continue all the way up to an attic two floors above. The edges were jagged, as if something big had fallen through each floor. He cocked his head to the side in wonder.

Hands appeared from behind, grabbing his shoulders and throwing him against a wall of studs. His right shoulder blade landed squarely on one, but the aged wood did not budge. Pain shot through his back as he landed on the subfloor. Wincing in pain, Klaus looked up to see a man and a woman standing in front if him. They were dirty; the man was skinny and unshaven for what must have been weeks. The woman was plump, her shoulder length brown hair a frizzy mess surrounding her pudgy face. In her hands she held a double barrel shotgun. She held it against her side, the muzzle pointed at Klaus, her finger shaking an inch away from the trigger. Klaus’s stomach began to turn as the stench of the dirty pair permeated his nose.

The woman said something in a language he had never heard before. He shook his head, not being able to answer whatever she had asked him. She stepped forward and repeated the question, obviously thinking she would get and answer if she yelled and put the shotgun closer to his face. Klaus backed himself against the studs as far as he could go and didn’t answer. The woman took another step forward. Screaming, she raised the shotgun to her shoulder and took aim. Her partner grabbed the gun and yelled something, and the woman stopped short of pulling the trigger. She glared at Klaus for a moment before lowering the weapon and yelled something Klaus was sure was a curse. She gestured up with her hand, and the man reached forward and pulled Klaus to his feet. He drug the injured intruder up two flights of rickety stairs and threw him to the floor. Klaus landed only inches from the huge hole in the floor. He scrambled up on all fours and backed away until his back hit a wall. He looked around, but the man had already disappeared back down the stairs.

Klaus didn’t move for a few minutes. In his mind he tried to piece together all that had just happened and how he had gotten himself into his present situation. Nothing made sense. Getting on all fours, he crawled to the edge of the hole and looked down. He could clearly see each floor, but no way of getting to them other than the stairs, which he dare not try in fear of his shotgun toting captors. Down on the first floor he could see the man and woman pacing under the hole, no doubt arguing about what they should do to him. Klaus could understand nothing, but the woman’s body language told him all he needed to know. If Klaus didn’t walk out of that house on his own feet, he would be carried out. He jumped to his feet, his shoulder painfully protesting, and began looking for an escape route, but found none. A small, unshuttered window sat high on the outer brick wall. If he stood on his toes, Klaus could see out. Outside, the rain came down in sheets, soaking large fields of corn. Far in the distance, a black mass blinked every few seconds with lightning. It inched towards them, promising a storm of epic proportions. Admitting defeat, he sat down against the wall, as far away from the huge hole as possible, and let the rain lull him to sleep.

***

 

He was awakened by a low roaring noise. The house creaked as the wind pushed it one way and pulled it another. The rain beating on the roof sounded like the gods were throwing stones from the heavens. He could hardly hear himself think over the deafening roar. Slowly, he pulled himself to his feet and peered out the little window. The black storm cloud now sat directly overhead, and Klaus could see very little due to the heaviness of the rain. The roaring steadily got louder, and he wondered what was behind it.

Suddenly his captors appeared at the top of the stairs. The man held the shotgun now, and he used it to motion to Klaus to move to the other side of the room. Klaus navigated around the hole and turned to face his captors. The woman’s face was a mask of anger, while her partner’s showed only reluctance. Behind them, the window let Klaus see that the rain had let up some, but in its place a huge, swirling vortex swung back and forth through the air, its mass changing colors as it sucked up dirt and corn. Klaus gasped, and the man raised the shotgun.

The roar intensified further, finally drawing the attention of the captors. Simultaneously they turned to look out the window, giving Klaus the chance he had hoped for. He pushed off the stud behind him and lunged for the pair. He planted his shoulder squarely on the man’s chest, throwing them both to the floor, grabbing the shotgun as he fell. Klaus wrenched the weapon from the man’s grasp, the shotgun firing as a grungy finger was pulled off the trigger. Beside them, the woman screamed and dove for the shotgun. Klaus rolled to the side, the woman landing hard on the floor, her momentum taking her further until she disappeared through the hole. Her screams lasted only a second, stopping when she hit the first floor below. Glancing over the edge, Klaus saw that she had fallen through the subfloor and her limp body lay on the concrete basement floor. Behind him, the man had pulled himself up. Yelling, he lunged for Klaus, but grabbed only air as Klaus managed to roll aside. The man stumbled and hit the floor, his thin frame rolling right over the edge of the hole just as the woman had only seconds before. Klaus jumped to his feet and peered over the edge. Suddenly, a hand shot up, grabbing his foot, threatening to pull him down. He struggled as the man managed to pull himself high enough to get his other hand around the same ankle. Klaus lost his balance and fell onto the floor, his bad shoulder taking yet another blow. He screamed in pain as he inched towards the hole, the added weight from the man pulling him down. The man let go with one hand and pulled himself up a little more, grabbing on to Klaus’s knee, his head and shoulders well above the edge of the hole. Frantically, Klaus shouldered the shotgun and took aim. The roar from the tornado outside did nothing to muffle the shotgun blast, and the man’s grip lessened as he fell through the hole, landing dead on top of his partner three floors below.

Klaus gasped for air as he once again pulled himself up to his feet. His shoulder was in agony, but he knew he had no time to assess the damage. Dropping the shotgun, he glanced out the window one last time. The house shook in the wind as the monstrous funnel moved closer to the house. Shingles were already being torn from the roof, and Klaus guessed he had less then a minute before it struck. He bolted from the window and ran down the stairs two at a time until he was on the first floor. He located the door he first came in and tried the handle, but it was still locked. The roar was deafening, and Klaus could hear the house start to disintegrate. Using his undamaged shoulder, Klaus lunged at the door, but it didn’t budge. Again he lunged just as the shutters from the windows were torn from their anchors. He lunged a third time, the door finally giving way just as the side of the house disappeared into the swirling mass, pulling everything untethered with it. Klaus jumped through the door and down the single step. The miniature town still covered the floor, the carpet muffling his heavy feet as he ran past the colorful buildings. Klaus closed his eyes and took a deep breath, pleading to the gods above as he ran full force into the far wall. Behind him the house was torn apart, the studs looking like matchsticks as they flew through the air. He couldn’t hear his own yell over the roar; he just ran until the roaring was behind him, his yells matching the ringing in his ears. He opened his eyes.

He stood in a grassy field. Turning in a full circle, he could see the town that drew him in the first place was nowhere to be found. Ahead, he could see a line of trees. Breathing heavily, he turned towards the trees, and the road that would eventually lead him home.

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Challenge Part Five: The Final 200 of the Fair Folk’s Favour

This week, the final week, our challenge was to add the final 200 words to a story. I chose The Fair Folk’s Favour and wrote the 200 required, but I wasn’t quite done. After editing it down, it ended up being a bit over 300. I had quite a bit of fun with this one! The players who contributed to this story are Strange Corners, Mckkenzie, Justice, and Simon B. As always, my contribution is at the end.

 

The Fair Folk’s Favour

The wolves came in. That’s what happens when you leave the front door open at night, which is exactly what I did. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I was in the kitchen warming up some midnight milk for myself when I saw their shadows slinking along the hallway, breaking up the moonbeams across the floor. I heard their panting, smelled breath most foul. I froze, of course. But–and I guess this was stupid of me but I still had my wits about and what else was I to do with them–I tried to figure out just by looking at their shadows if these wolves were scared, bored, or hungry.

You’d think the hungry ones are the most dangerous, but these aren’t ordinary wolves. And if they were bored, I was as good as dead.

Very quietly, I shut off the gas. Stove dials would make too much noise, and so would my bunny slippers. I slid the biggest knife we had from its place in the wooden holder with the brood of ducks on it before I realized that one, I tended to focus on the most mundane things when I am scared, and two, I sure as hell didn’t know how to wield a knife.

 ***

 Well, not against wolves like these anyway. It just wasn’t in me. They couldn’t help that they’d been corrupted any more than I could help fixing what had been done. Why did this always seem to happen? I was planning a quiet few years this time with no conflict, no involvement in anything. The wolves were always the first to come. I knew they’d be followed by elves, dwarves, pixies — all needing my help and here we’d go again.

I clenched my teeth and sliced the big knife over the palm of my hand. The blood flowed and I cupped my hand to collect it. Then I watched the milk turn pink as I turned my hand over the saucepan.

I lifted the pan in absolute silence and squatted down to cast the grisly mixture across the floor. The wolves smelled it immediately and closed in to lap it up. I didn’t move a muscle, counting on the distraction to keep them interested until they started to change. Luck was with me and it didn’t take long. Their matted fur smoothed and their rank panting mellowed to something not much worse than dog breath. There were three of them and they padded over to surround me, nuzzling my skin with their night-chilled noses.

 ***

 “Good boys,” I mutter. “Go.”

They stare up at me as though they expect something else.

“Go!” It is a harsh command, but they linger. Why? I have nothing more to give them.

My heart thuds in my chest when I realize what the pack is – not hellhounds, werewolves, or skinchangers. These are Cu Sith, and it’s taken me this long to see the greenish tint in their dark fur.

I don’t expect to be alone, but my breath still catches when I look up: Melvina.

This is why you don’t leave the door open. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

“Maleficent thing,” I say, “you tricked me.”

She wears embroidered brocade. Impractical for the weather, but the Sidhe have no need for practical things.

“Such silly magic,” Melvina shakes her head when she sees the pink paste on the floor. “A child’s trick. It would not work against beasts of the Fair Folk.”

“I did not know they were the Sidhe’s hounds,” I reply.

“You say our name?” Melvina grimaces.

“I have your wrath already. What do you want?” I answer.

“A favor.”

 ***

 I snort incredulously, not realising my stance is considerably diminished by my choice of footwear. I glance down for a barely a second but it’s enough for Melvina to notice. She smirks.

“Don’t be so quick to dismiss the idea,” she continues. “Your threshold was unwarded. If malice was my intent, you would already have breathed your last.”

A fair point, but not one that helps me relax. Any sort of contract with the Sidhe should not be taken lightly; their word is quite literally their bond. “And should I refuse?”

“We leave, I and they. And you close your door.” Melvina flashes the briefest of smiles.

My reply is worded carefully. “And what consideration for me?”

Melvina nods, as if approving. “The three thralled here.”

I shake my head, glancing at the beasts roaming my kitchen. The smallest of the Cu Sith lies clumsily at my feet.

No chance.

“You know I can’t keep the bonded,” I say.

“Free them, then.” Melvina’s words are clipped by an impatience I’ve never seen in her. I’m suddenly curious.

“And what do the Sidhe ask?” I realise I’m still holding the knife.

“Not the Sidhe. Me.” Melvina steps forward, her gaze cast to the floor. She takes a deep, measured breath, and for the first time my would-be enemy seems frail and small.

Her eyes meet mine, and the tiny moment of weakness is over. She speaks softly.

“I want you to kill me.”

 ***

I laugh. “I can’t do that. I would have the Sidhe at my doorstep in an instant. Besides, killing the likes of you requires runed weapons that are unfortunately hard to find.”

Melvina smiles. A bundle wrapped in worn leather appears in her hands, seemingly pulled out of midair. She places the bundle on the counter beside her and it begins to unroll, exposing runed daggers one by one. A black sword is the last weapon, and I know its runes protect against rebirth. Silently, the weapons rise into the air and fly, point first, straight at me. I step back, but the weapons freeze in midair, hanging silently between us. She laughs quietly as she walks around the weapons, gently fingering the hilt of the sword as she moves.

“As you can see, I have come prepared.”

I shake my head.

“The Sidhe want me gone. I won’t be missed.”

“No.”

She scoffs. “He was right.” She turns to leave.

“Who-?”

“Does it matter?”

I thrust my hand out toward the weapons, throwing the full force of my magic against them. The blades spin around and race toward Melvina. Fanning out at the last instant, each dagger sinks into an extremity. Once again the sword hangs in mid air. Melvina spins around, her face contorted in pain. Black smoke streams from the dagger wounds. She breathes heavily as her strength drains away.

“Ridding you from this land is the biggest favor of all!” I grab the sword hilt from the air and drive it through her chest. She screams as the black smoke envelops her, taking her eternal soul with it. As the smoke dissipates, the steaming weapons clink to the floor. The wolves stand and nod their thanks before disappearing into the hall, the soft click of the door closing following soon after, leaving me alone in the quiet house.

Challenge Part Four: 200 More

This week: add another 200 words. Pretty straight forward at this point. Next week is the conclusion, and lots of fun will be had reading the results of this challenge.

This week I chose this gem by Mildred, Dean, and J. As always, my addition is at the end. And, as always, ~grumble-200-word-limit-grumble~!

Part One (by Mildred):

They say a picture is worth a thousand words but I will try to paint for you a picture of what I found, using only nine hundred words. Why nine hundred? Because any more than that and I will have run out of time!

It is the smell that greeted me. I could actually see vapours of this smell seeping underneath the big, oak, door. These vapours were – for lack of a better word – intelligent. They forged a path that went into the chilly night, a path that clearly avoided the area I was standing on. If I wasn’t so horrified by what I was seeing, I would have taken offence. No one likes to be avoided, whether by other human beings or by intelligent vapours.

I was determined to complete this doomed mission so I walked to the door and opened it. There was a slippery substance on the door knob but I refused to dwell on what I had touched. What I saw inside was far more horrifying. There wasn’t a single drop of blood on the floor and the absence of blood was somehow more disturbing than if the room had been flooded with blood.

Part two: (by Dean):

The smell of blood, heavy with copper filled my nostrils, making its absence all the more confusing. I sniffed at my fingers, if only to see if they had picked up any of the crimson fluid; they hadn’t. Instead they smelled of seawater and fish, grown old and pungent. I pulled them away quickly, my stomach, already threatening revolt, at risk of an out right rebellion.

This can’t be real the sensible part of my mind whispered. You don’t have a mausoleum in your garden. This must be a dream. Yet here I was, inside it, unable to convince myself that I was asleep. Yes, I was dressed in my pajamas, but the floor felt icy cold under my feet, a breeze played around my neck and somewhere nearby I could hear a whippoorwill calling. Could you hear things in dreams?

I shrugged, determined to see this thing through. No blood? Check. Stinky fish smell on my fingers. Check. What else was in here? From where I was stood by the door I could see a half dozen shelves, laden with coffins, all of them heavy, lined with brass on the outside. One was partly ajar, the tendrils of amorphous vapour leaking from it.

Part Three (by J):

I shuffled toward the open coffin, foolishly, I suppose. It is what one is meant to do in a dream, is it not?

The vapor oozed out of my path unlike any kind of gaseous emanation I had encountered before. To the eye, it was more like an oil slick upon water than like smoke, fog, or steam. Tendrils of the stuff seemed to beckon.

As I approached the coffin, the rank smell of a dead and abandoned tidal pool emanated from its confines. My stomach, momentarily forgotten, lurched at the odor and acid burned in my throat.

It seemed to me that something rustled within.

I contemplated ancient desiccated flesh, its forgotten owner now woken into this nightmare, somehow shared twixt the two of us. The mere thought was repellant and filled my mind with instinctive reptilian dread. I wished for nothing more than to flee from this dreadful phantasmagoria and return to my bed.

Alas, I was rooted in place by some inexplicable force. It required me to continue, somehow I knew.

I hesitated but the sound did not repeat itself. I must have imagined it, I thought.

Reaching out, I pried at the coffin lid.

(My addition)

It didn’t budge.

Stepping closer, I grasped the lid in my hands and pushed. There was enough space for the lid to open another few inches, and it took all my strength to raise it. The hinges cried out in protest, filling the space with a chorus of deafening squeaks before the lid banged into the shelf above.

A dim blue light pulsed from within the coffin. I leaned closer for a better look. The breath I didn’t realize I was holding came out in a rush when I saw what was inside. Nothing. I reached inside, searching for the source of light.

Suddenly, the lid snapped down, pinning my arm. I struggled as the vapor closed in around my feet, feeling like a cool ocean mist. It billowed up around my legs, the chill going straight through my pajamas, the smell assaulting my nose. I struggled harder, my breaths coming and going rapidly. I watched the vapor as it reached the top of the coffin directly under the one I was pinned in. In an instant, its lid popped open, and two skeletal arms leapt out, each boney hand wrapping itself around one of my legs and pulling me forward. The vapor crept higher, and I wanted desperately to wake up.

Challenge: And Another 200…

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This week is week three of Wendig’s five week Fiction Challenge. The challenge: select a 400 word story fragment and add another 200. I chose this one, originally began by Shane Vaughan and continued by Courtney Cantrell. This week was difficult for me because I had a lot to add, but in the end, I had to accept the rules and do my best in the 200 words I was allowed. (I came in at 214 actually, so lets just say those extra 14 are there out of spite.) There are some questions to be answered, so hopefully someone picks this up for round four. Here is the whole thing:

COLD

(Shane)

He is cold. It’s always cold around this time of year. The sun decides it’s had enough and pops off for a quick solstice nap. Not that he minds. He’s used to the cold by now.

He props his collar up, puffs his scarf to cover all exposed skin; all that dead, gray skin. He tucks his gloves down over the wrists and sucks on the butt of his last cigarette. Damn things never last. His wife used to say it’d give him cancer, not that it matters now. He lowers his woolen packer hat over his brow and stares at his reflection in a shopfront window. He used to recognize himself, now what is he?

It had all happened so fast; the heart attack; cracking his head on the tile floor; the ethereal sensation that he was losing life, as though it were seeping out of a hole somewhere. And then the doctors. The nurses. The scalpel. He saw it all, from outside his body. He watched as they operated, trying so heroically to save his life, but in the end the line went dead.

So what the hell is he doing back on Winthrop street in high Winter, and how did he return?

 (Courtney)

He shuffles down the sidewalk, leaves skittering at his feet. They’re as dead as he, but at least their hop-skipping gives a pretense of life. The cold slows him, as though he’s walking through vats of the red gelatin his daughter snacks on. Childish giggles echo in his memory.

He wonders what his funeral was like. What they wore. How they sat. If her tears were as loud as her laughter.

Did his grave the next morning warrant an investigation?

His sluggish foot kicks a loose rock at a passerby. The woman glances at him, frowning. But then her eyes widen. He already knows her thoughts. Too many other well-meaning lips have spoken them. Sir? You look ill. Can we help?

And in undertones: Is he contagious?

That question always makes them back away. Even now, the woman veers aside, covering her mouth and nose with her hand. Just in case. Can’t be too careful.

If only he could tell them this is no illness they can catch by breathing his air. He shies away from them, too. Even in the cold, they smell too good. He places his hand over the scarf covering his own mouth. Even through the wool, he can feel the fangs.

(My continuation)

He had forgotten how hungry he is as he studied his reflection in the shop window. Now, as he turns and watches the woman scurrying away, he wonders if anyone would notice her absence. A sharp pain brings him back to reality. He was clenching his jaw tightly, piercing his lower lip with his fangs. It wasn’t the first time he’s done this. Luckily he heals quickly. Shaking his head, he turns away from the woman, now a small dot a few blocks away. Now is not the time to slip up.

He keeps moving, fighting the cold breeze as it assaults his legs and threatens his pace even more. Behind him, a shadow flits under the yellow street lamps, quickly concealing itself in the shadows once more. He smiles. His lengthy pause in front of the shop window had done the trick. His plan is working beautifully.

Every move he had made since he dug himself out his own grave had been witnessed by that shadow, and it was now time to find out who, or what, it was. He turns the corner and immediately enters through the first door he comes to. The house has been vacant for years, and it is the perfect place for a predator to trap his prey.

This one turned into something surprisingly fun…

Posted on

The last thing I need is another project, but sometimes an idea pops into my head that just won’t go away. Rarely do these ideas turn into something I like as much as this one below. It’s just a random beginning, and maybe I’ll do something with it, but for now, hopefully I can focus on something else for a while.

***

The sun never sets in Sunrise, nor does it rise in Sunset. The towns are neighbors in a hidden world, and yet they lay a land apart. In one, the sun rests peacefully atop a hilled horizon. Its light is bright and unhindered, its rays bringing the scent of dew and soil, fresh baked bread and frying meat, of new beginnings and happy endings. In Sunrise, it is as if all things were possible, and the people who call it home know only the fruits of their labor, whether hard or easy. They smile upon waking, and again when they lay their head upon feather-filled pillows before sleep takes them away. They bask in their peaceful existence in the soft rays of a sun frozen in the act of ringing in a new day.

Its neighbor is not so fortunate. In Sunset, the great ball of light lowered itself behind jagged peaks and stopped. Not one of the few inhabitants of the town knows when this happened, but theories abound. They live their lives by candlelight, as the sun is only high enough to cast a red glow across half of the sky. Only the brightest of stars peers down upon the tired population, twinkling tirelessly above a people who have never known anything other than a life of tiresome work and little reward. The landscape has gone barren, refusing to produce even scant fodder for the few pigs that manage to survive the harsh life. The people here are downtrodden and tired, pausing to face the dusky glow behind the mountains only to shake their fists in contempt.

The two cities have one thing in common, however, and that is Magic. The blood that runs through Sunrise is strong with White Magic, and the inhabitants use their powers to improve their lives even more. White Magic is of the light, while the talents of Sunset traverse down a darker path. Black Magic was once a talent of the majority of residents, but as their numbers have dwindled, so has the number of those able to wield it.

One of those few was an elder by the name of Damian. His beard was scraggly, and his once pristine black trousers and button-down shirt were now worn thin and gray. His shoulders slumped forward as if the weight of the world rested upon them. And in a way, it did. Damian knew the stories his forefathers had passed down, stories about the Magic that pumped through their veins, about its strengths and weaknesses, and about White Magic. He knew Sunset had once thrived in the darkness, and he believed it could again. Black Magic built Sunset, that much was clear, but Damian believed that played a part in the town’s decline. A very big part.

And what better way to combat Black Magic than with White?

His father once told him about Sunrise. He described the color of the sky above and the soft crunch of tall grass underfoot. He described the homes inside and out, and the people who lived in them. The Risers were tanned from the sun, their hair was fair, their eyes either blue or gray, but never dark like the Setters. They laughed often and spoke only of what was to come, preferring to leave the past where it belonged. Damian’s father knew these things not from his ancestors, though. His father was the last of Sunset’s Eagles, a trio of talented inhabitants who acted as ambassadors to Sunrise, and to the world beyond. There were always three, and only those strong in the Magic were selected for the honored position.

His father never told him why they failed to select more Eagles. He refused to talk of the work that the group did with the Eagles from Sunrise, only that it was always as a team, and only out of necessity. When he died, he took many secrets with him, leaving Damian alone and seemingly in charge. As a young boy, he didn’t want to lead his small herd of pigs to the stream; as a man, he became the reluctant shepherd of Sunset. The people looked to him for guidance, but he had none. They looked to him for aid as their children kept dying in infancy, but he had nothing more than sympathy to give. His town was dying, and he was powerless to stop it. So he turned to the only place that might be able to.

When he was a very young boy, Damian watched his father communicate with an Eagle from Sunrise. Using simple crumpled paper and a stick dipped in ink, he wrote a quick note and set it aside for a moment to let the ink dry. Damian couldn’t read then, and the message on the paper was never made known to him. His father folded the paper into an intricate sunburst and threw it into fireplace, the flames snatching the paper and turning in to ash in seconds. His father stood before the fire and stared silently into the flames. After a few moments passed, a small triangle shaped note flew out of the flames and straight into his father’s waiting hand. He unfolded the paper and read the note quickly. Nodding to himself, he ripped the paper in half and tossed it back into the flames. After he was certain no trace remained, he called a meeting with the other two Eagles, and after a lengthy talk held behind closed doors, the ambassadors never traveled to Sunrise again.

Damian replayed this memory often lately. The act of sending the message was simple and required very little digging through his memories. It was the shape of the note that had him stumped. He had sat at the only table in his tiny house and folded every piece of paper he could find in every possible shape he could imagine. He was surrounded by small piles of oddly shaped folded paper, the highest reaching almost as high as his waist, and yet none of them were the right shape. He spent months folding, creasing, cursing. Months watching the stream go dry, more townsfolk dying. So much time spent, time he didn’t have. But he finally figured it out.

It sat flat on the wooden table in a space cleared of his past attempts. Damian stared at it in disbelief. He had all but given up, only sitting down a moment before because he found this paper stuffed in the back of his kitchen cabinet and decided to give it one more chance. The chair groaned as he sat back and exhaled; he hadn’t realized he had held his breath as he folded the paper. Closing his eyes, he recalled the memory one last time just to be sure, but he already knew. For the first time in ages, Damian smiled.

The kitchen was small enough that all Damian had to do was scoot his chair over about a foot and he would easily stoke the small fire he had lit earlier. The chair legs were loud as they moved over the uneven floor, but its occupant paid the noise little attention. Grabbing the fire poker, he poked at the logs for a moment before finally getting up to throw two more on the fire. Wood was scarce in Sunset, but this fire was worth a whole cord of firewood. Damian sat back down and gently unfolded the sunburst. He grabbed the pencil resting atop his ear and stared at the blank paper in thought. Slowly, he lowered tip to paper and began scribbling. His message was short, and he replaced the pencil over his ear and began to fold the paper back into the required shape.

Damian watched the fire as it spread eagerly to the new logs. The flames grew, spewing heat back into the room and warming his toes through his boots. The heat was a welcome bonus to his actions, and for a moment he thought that even if he received no reply, it was well worth the effort. He took a deep breath and let it back out. Grabbing the sunburst off the table, he tossed it into the flames and watched the flames consume his very last hope.