The sky is on fire

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“Mama look! The sky is on fire!”

Sonya smiled at little Jean. “No baby. That’s the sunset.”

“But mama, there’s flames and smoke.”

“That’s the sun and clouds, Jean.”

“No, mama. Look!”

Sonya looked up and gasped. Across the bay she saw smoke and fire rising from the long dormant volcano. She scooped up Jean and ran as fast as she could, bare feet collecting sand as she went.

“Dominic, we have to go. The mountain is erupting.” Her husband looked up from his phone, annoyed. He followed her pointing finger and blanched as he saw the first signs of lava slipping over the side.

He didn’t even stop to grab their things. He ran for the car, Sonya in hot pursuit. Jean stared over her mother’s shoulder. “Mama, the clouds are moving.”

Sonya spared a glance back. Great clouds of ash filled the sky, blotting out the setting sun. It fell like snow, choking everything. She coughed. She pulled Jean close, sheltering her daughter with her own body.

“Hurry, Sonya. We have to get to the car,” Dominic called.

The car was clear on the other side of the parking lot. Already Sonya’s lungs burned. Where the ash touched her skin it felt like she was on fire. Grimly she pushed on. Dominic coughed and stumbled. He caught himself on someone else’s car and pushed on.

Sonya followed him. Jean was whimpering and clinging to her mother. Other people were racing to their cars, scrambling to get inside, to get away from the burning ash. More fell and Sonya found it hard to keep track of Dominic.

She lost him in a cloud of ash. “Dom, where are you?” she called, choking on the ash and nearly falling. There was no answer. “Dom!”

A blanket of hot ash swept over her. She lost her footing and fell, twisting her body so she didn’t crush Jean. Jean was limp in her arms. Sonya tried to rouse her but she was unresponsive. Sonya felt her own consciousness slipping away. She struggled against it but soon the darkness overwhelmed her and nothing remained but silence and fire.

Speed of light

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“Rose, your sister’s here,” someone called.

Rose came out in time to see Renee stagger and almost fall. Blood trickled down her chin from a split lip. One eye was swollen completely shut. There were bruises on her arms and face. Her right foot was twisted in.

Rose sighed. The twins had been close since the day they were born, but their lives had taken very different turns. At sixteen, Renee had gotten involved with drugs and some minor criminal activity. It had landed her in juvenile detention several times, and not even their parents’ strict religious upbringing could keep her out of trouble. After she graduated from high school, she moved in with the first in a string of boyfriends who used and abused her.

Rose on the other hand excelled at school. She stayed out of trouble, got good grades, and graduated with honors. Yet to her parents’ dismay, she didn’t take the scholarships she was offered to the more prestigious universities, and instead settled for a job at the cafe and started at the community college. She was there because Renee needed her.

“Come on, Ren,” Rose said. “Let me grab my purse and I’ll take you to the hospital.” Again, she added silently.

Renee didn’t say anything until they were in Rose’s car. “No hospital.”

“Ren, you could have broken bones this time. I told you Nick was bad news,” Rose said.

“No hospital. You can fix it,” Renee said.

Rose took a deep breath. “Not if you’re going back to Nick.”

Renee coughed. “I need him.”

“No Ren, you don’t. You need me. You need Crystal and Sabrina.” She named the only two friends from high school Renee had left that were still decent human  beings who cared for her. “You don’t need Nick.”

“But he loves me.”

Rose sighed. It was always the same story. Renee clung to her abusers because she mistook control for love. That was a carryover from their lives with their parents, whose control was supposed to be absolute. Neither Rose nor Renee had ever seen it that way, but Renee was the one who’d acted out the most so she was the one who’d come in for the most punishments.

“Ren, he doesn’t love you. How many times do I have to tell you that? If a man loves you, he doesn’t try to beat you to death?”

Renee coughed again. Her head lolled forward. “So…tired.”

“Snap out of it, Ren. We’re going to the hospital.” Rose turned the car and hit the gas. She didn’t care if a cop saw her. Renee was fading fast and not even Rose’s magic – a magic Renee once shared – would be able to save her. This would require modern technology over ancient witchcraft.

She got Renee to the emergency room. She ran in. One of the security guards saw the blood on her uniform. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“My sister was beaten badly by her boyfriend. She’s in my car. I need to get her inside,” Rose said. “She’s unconscious and I can’t wake her.”

Those were magical words. Nurses scrambled to get Renee out of the car. Rose filled out paperwork while doctors took her twin back to work on her. An hour later, a young doctor with a sad face came out to her. “Rose Cramer?”

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry. We did what we could, but we couldn’t save her.” There was a pause. “The coroner will do an autopsy on her, and then he’ll release her body. Are you the one we release it to?”

“Yes,” Rose said. “I am. There should be a power of attorney on file with the courts that proves that.”

“Just make sure you have the paperwork as well, in case someone challenges your right,” the doctor said. “Again, I’m very sorry.”

Rose stood and walked out of the hospital. She got into her car and started driving. She was almost to the small house Renee had shared with Nick before she realized where she was. She could see red and blue lights flashing. The police were there and they were talking to Nick. She pulled in across the street and watched. The handcuffs came out and Nick was arrested.

There was a flash of blue and a snippet of a vision crossed Rose’s mind. Nick would only be found guilty of manslaughter, serve only three years in prison, before he was out to do this to another family. Rose’s hands tightened on the steering wheel.

“Not this time,” she muttered. A tiny thread of light, no bigger than a hair, worked its way from between her fingers. The police car was still there. They were just putting Nick inside. The thread worked its way across the street and up Nick’s leg. It worked its way under his shirt and then pierced his chest. It wrapped around his heart.

Rose closed her hand slowly. Nick started gasping. He fell and the cops holding him started yelling for him to get up. She sped up her movement. Nick screamed and the cops were forced to drop him as he fell writhing to the ground.

Rose held him there for a few moments before clenching her fist. The thread tightened on his heart, stopping on it. Nick made a few more gasps before going still. The thread slithered back across the street and into Rose’s fingers. She continued watching as they tried to revive him, called for an ambulance. She saw the EMTs try to resuscitate him but fail.

Rose shifted her car into gear and drove away. She sighed. Another death to add to her body count. “And mom and dad called Renee the evil one.”

A child’s guardian

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Carrie pulled the blankets up around her head. He was coming again. She could hear his heavy breathing. There was the sound of dragging feet. She began to cry. She clung to her teddy bear. It was almost as big as she was. Her parents had bought him for her to comfort her when she cried at night.

“Little girl, where are you?” the raspy voice whispered. “I can smell you.” Carrie muffled her sobs and curled up as tight as she could. “I know you’re afraid. I can taste it. Your parents don’t believe I exist, but soon they’ll know. When their precious little daughter dies for no apparent reason, her body unmarked, they will know.”

Carrie shuddered. Every night the creature stole a little more of her life to make itself stronger. She was getting weaker. She’d had to stop going to school because she kept passing out. Doctors were baffled. Her parents were frantic. No one knew what to do.

Something wiggled in Carrie’s arms. She clung tighter to her teddy bear. The movement grew more pronounced. A voice whispered in her ear. “Let me go. I’ll protect you.”

Carrie opened her eyes. Teddy’s eyes were shimmering gold and there was a faint white glow around him. “Teddy?” She tried to be quiet, to keep it from hearing her.

“I’m here to protect you, Carrie. Let me go.”

Unsure but desperate, Carrie released him. Teddy climbed out of bed. “What is this? A new toy?” the creature rasped.

“Her defender.” Teddy’s voice was clear and strong. It rang like a bell.

“You can’t protect her.”

“Watch me.” Teddy began to glow brighter. The creature, never more than a shadow, hissed and drew back from the light. Teddy steadily approached it, his light driving away the darkness. “You will never devour another child.” A sword of fire appeared in his hands. He thrust it into the shadows. The beast let out a high pitched wail. Carrie clapped her hands over her ears.

In a moment it was done. The feeling of dread lifted. The beast was gone. Strength flooded limbs made weak by constant feedings. The dizziness passed and Carrie sat up for the first time in weeks without aid. She pushed back her blankets and got out of bed.

The light faded to nothing. “Teddy?” There was no answer. She crept forward until her foot found something soft. She bent down and picked him up. The gold was almost gone. “Teddy?”

“Don’t worry,” Teddy whispered. “Teddy bears are the protectors of children. I will always protect you.” The gold faded and the bear became the toy again. Carrie clung to him as she went back to bed, free from fear for the first time in months. She crawled under the covers and, holding Teddy tight against her, drifted into peaceful sleep.

My recent adventures

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So, yes I’ve been posting little random bits of stories and yes, I’ll get back to that. But I wanted to tell you what I’ve been dealing with lately. Namely…my heart.

Back in August I started having chest pains. At first I figured it was nothing. I didn’t have the signs of a heart attack that they tell you to watch for in women. I just had a lot of pain radiating from the left side of my chest into my arm and down my side. When the pain continued to the point where I was almost sobbing, I went to the ER. They did an EKG, told me I was okay, gave me some pain meds and a muscle relaxer, and sent me home.

This was the second week in August. We’re in the 4th week (or 3rd if you don’t count the first few days as a week) of September and I’m still having pain. It’s not as bad and it seems to have relocated to mostly my shoulder, but the concern for heart issues is there as there is a huge history of early onset heart issues in my family. So there’s the chance, given my age (not 40 yet but close) and my family history (don’t get me started on that), that there’s something wrong.

So on Monday I made the trip in to have a heart stress test. Because I’m having trouble with my left knee – another reason I’ve been having issues most of August and September – they didn’t put me on the treadmill. Monday I went in after fasting and was injected with something that sped up my heart. It also made it hard to breathe, made me sick to my stomach, made me feel like a heavy weight was sitting on my whole body, and made me feel hot (and not in a good way.) That feeling lasted 5 minutes, and then I was a little disoriented after for maybe a minute, but beyond that I was fine. They did another EKG while my heart was sped up and nothing came up on it. They’d also shot me up with a radioactive isotope to make my heart stand out better in pictures. They took some pictures of my heart and told me to come in the next day for the second half of the test. Total time in the doctor’s office? 4 hours.

Tuesday I went back in and they injected me with that isotope again. Twenty minutes after the injection I went in and she took pictures of my heart during my “resting” phase. After that, we were done. Sort of.

See now that the test is over, I still have to meet with my regular doctor to find out what all those tests mean. So the first week of October, I’m making two trips in that I’m not looking forward to. One is for an EEG (sleep deprivation…yay!) and the other is to talk to my doctor about the heart tests. Now, I’m pretty sure if something was wrong I’d be in there a whole hell of a lot sooner than the first week of October, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something. Just not something life shatteringly dangerous for me. We’ll have to see.

So yeah. I’ve been dealing with that lately. We’ll see what else happens going forward.

Okay, and now we’re going back to our irregularly scheduled flash fiction and random weird story bits.

Iron and blood

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The music throbbed in her body, making her head hurt and – Theresia was sure – her ears bleed. “Why did I let you talk me into this again?” she yelled at her best friend. Shouting was the only way to be heard. Between the music and the screaming fans it was nearly impossible to hear yourself think let alone talk to the person next to you.

“Because you adore me and didn’t want me to go alone,” Elinor said. She was jumping up and down, bobbing her head to the music. Her hands were in the air and she was waving them. “You have to admit they’re awesome.”

Awesome was not the word Theresia would use for The Sandman’s Children. But they were Elinor’s favorite band, and fear of druggies and drunks assaulting her best friend had forced her to agree to accompany the flighty young woman.

The concert ended and Theresia and Elinor joined the mass of people leaving. “That’s over now,” Theresia said. “Let’s get you home. I’ve got work in the morning and I don’t need to be out super late.”

“Aw come on, Tessie. There’s always an after party at The Stolen Graveyard,” Elinor said.

“Forget it. You brought me with you so I could protect you. I’m doing that now. We’re going home.”

“Spoil sport,” Elinor muttered.

“I’d be happy escort such a lovely lady as yourself.” Both women turned around.

A tall, slender man dressed in tattered jeans and a tight sleeveless shirt was standing behind him. He was well muscled for his build. Something about him set off all of Theresia’s alarm bells.

“No thank you,” Theresia said, moving to put Elinor behind her. “We’re going home.”

“Tessie,” Elinor began.

“No Ellie. We’re going home.”

The tone in her voice alerted her friend that something was wrong. “Okay. We’re going home.”

“Such a pity. I’d have loved to walk in with a delicate little elf maid on my arm,” the man said.

Elinor stiffened. Theresia gave him a withering look. “Elves are faerie tales.”

“If you choose to believe that,” the man said.

“Come on, Ellie.” Theresia led her friend away from the man.

Pounding footsteps came up behind them. Theresia fell. Elinor screamed, high and loud. Theresia rolled to her feet.

The man was standing over Elinor, blood dripping from a black knife. He turned and faced Theresia. “Save her if you can, bitch.” He turned and sauntered off into the crowd.

Several people were gathering around the stricken woman. Theresia pushed her way through and knelt at her friend’s side. “Ellie what happened?”

“Iron.”

“Damn.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault.”

Elinor opened her mouth to say something else. Blood foamed at her lips. She shuddered and fell silent. Her body went limp and her eyes stared vacant at the starry sky. Theresia reached over and closed her eyes.

Someone was on the phone to emergency dispatch. Theresia gathered her magic and wiped the memory of the crowd. She cloaked herself and the body in invisibility before scooping up her friend.

The Hunters were growing bolder. The non-human races, already decimated by centuries of war, were in danger. It was time for the guardians to step up. Theresia carried Elinor’s body to her car. It was time to call the circle and begin.

Hellhound

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Photo via Visual Hunt

Aimee watched out the window as the lightning tore through the sky. She shivered. The wind couldn’t get through the thick glass windows, but she still felt cold watching the storm.

“Aimee, come away from the window. What do you think you’re doing? Don’t you know what will happen to you?”

Aimee sighed but rejoined her mother at the fire. “Yes mother, I know.”

“What do you know?” her mother asked.

“If I spend too much time watching the storm, the gods will grow angry and send a great beast with black fur and red eyes to carry me off,” Aimee said. “Mother, I’ve watched storms dozens of times and nothing like that has ever happened.”

“That’s because your father was here to protect us,” her mother said. “He worked hard and the gods rewarded him for it by leaving us alone. With him gone and your fool of a brother almost as useless as a toothless cat, only you and I are left to carry on with our work to please the gods.”

Aimee rolled her eyes. Her mother had gone on and on about pleasing the gods ever since the new priest had gotten his hooks into her. A short while later, Aimee’s mother set aside her work and pulled on her cloak.

“Mother, what are you doing?” Aimee asked.

“It’s time for service. I can’t miss it or I’ll anger the gods,” she said.

“Mother, it’s pouring down rain. You could be struck by lightning or caught in a flood,” Aimee said.

“The gods are testing me,” Aimee’s mother said. She pulled on her cloak and opened the door. She walked out and tried to close the door behind her.

Aimee sighed and went to help. She got the door closed and was about to return to her work when she heard a faint scratching. Thinking it was her mother, she wrestled the door open. On the front stoop was a black dog bigger than any she’d ever seen. Red eyes glared up at her. The mouth gaped open, full of too many teeth. Aimee screamed.

Darkness lurks

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She sat, staring, not moving. It remained blank. The cursor didn’t even blink anymore. It was waiting for her to do something. But she couldn’t. He was trapped inside and to type meant letting him out.

“Sasha, you need to stop this. Unplug yourself and go outside,” her mother said.

“I can’t. He’ll get out and then we’ll be in trouble.”

“Sasha, there’s no one inside your computer. Just turn it off.”

“No. He’ll get out,” Sasha repeated.

Her mother gave a disgruntled sigh. She stalked over and yanked the power cord out of the wall. The screen went dark. “There, it’s off. Nothing came out. Are you satisfied?”

Sasha opened her mouth but before she could say anything, a dark, tar-like substance leaked out of the vents of the computer. Her mother jumped back, dragging the chair with Sasha in it away from the computer. It smelled of sulfur and other things Sasha had no name for.

“I told you he’d get out.”