“Hez!” I jerk my starfighter up, narrowly avoiding a spray of voidblasts. “New shields. Quick!”
“Sorry, I couldn’t hear you.” Hezekiah’s voice crackles through my comlink.
“My shields are down!” I dive toward the planet, shoving power into my engines. Newhaven’s emerald surface swallows up my cockpit.
“You’re the red dot, right?”
Three Neg fighters detach from the enemy’s main formation and swarm after me. I fly in a zigzag pattern to dodge their voidblasts.
A translucent purple shield-sphere rises from Newhaven’s atmosphere and engulfs my ship. I grin, pivot, and open fire on the Negs.
“Thanks, brother.” I zoom back to the main battle, where Millie and Dax weave through space, each one holding off a dozen Negs. “Now, turn up the volume on your control panel, will’ya?”
“Do you know what the community would think if they heard photon blasts coming from a barn?” Hez whispers. “What I’m doing could get me shunned!”
Never mind that the entire Amish conclave on Newhaven would’ve been annihilated by meteor strikes long ago if Hez hadn’t secretly apprenticed with old shieldmaster. Once Father and the other elders knew Hez dabbled in forbidden technology, he’d be cast out—all in an attempt to save his soul, of course.
“Another Neg flight just dropped from the elsespace,” Dax grunts through my comlink. “My shields are cracking. We can’t keep this up.”
“There’s an ally planetside with a shield generator,” I say. “He’ll get you a new one. We don’t have to beat them all—just distract them long enough for the shield matrix around the planet to go up.”
“Isn’t that your homeworld, cap’n?” Millie chirps. “I thought they didn’t believe in generators. Or any tech.”
I nail a Neg fighter with a photon blast, sending its remains hurtling. “My brother and I have spent years trying to convince them that survival is worth breaking a few outdated rules. Hey Hez, you think this will finally get our point across?”
Hez scoffs. “Not a chance. The battle’s barely visible from the surface.”
“Negs keep coming, sir.” Dax spins past me, voidblasts blazing on all sides.
“The shield matrix is almost ready,” Hez says. “Hold them off a while longer.”
“Oh! I still have my fission charge!” Millie exclaims.
Use that right, and it could be the edge we need. “Slingshot formation! Millie in the rear.”
White light bursts from Millie’s fighter, and she spins away, seemingly out of control. Dax disintegrates a Neg, then dives through its wreckage toward Newhaven. I join him.
Most of the Negs turn after us, spewing voidblasts on all sides. Good. Millie’s ruse is working.
“A hundred Negs coming for ya, Hez.” I swerve to the right. “Be ready.”
“What’s happening?” Hez asks. “This hologrid has more black dots than a cow pie!”
“Those are Negs. I’m gonna drop them planetside. Block them with shields, or they’ll explode on impact. Probably take out an acre of farmland each.”
“What the hell are you thinking?—Now look what you’ve tempted me into!”
“Just words, Hez.”
“How ‘bout tying a millstone around your neck and jumping into the sea, Ezekiel?”
A voidblast nails me in the wing. My shield absorbs the damage, but the impact sends me spinning. I curse.
“Shield down!” Dax yells.
“Millie!” I lean over my control panel, brow furrowed in concentration. “Where’s that fission charge?”
The power of a miniature sun erupts behind me. Brilliant light reflects off Newhaven’s surface and floods my cockpit. I spiral away as a wave of energy rips my pursuers apart.
Millie whoops. I laugh and fly to her wing. Together, we unleash a volley of photon blasts on the remaining Negs. The cowards scatter.
“Get Dax a shield, Hez.” I boost after the Negs with a grin, dodging and twisting in ways that would be impossible in atmosphere, fighting alongside my friends to protect the innocents below. This is what I was made to do.
Of course, it would be nice if the family I’d left behind would appreciate that I’m risking my neck to keep them safe.
“Still blocking this junk you dropped on me,” Hez grunts. “Nearly destroyed Deacon Thomas’s homestead.”
A tsunami of Negs appears from the elsespace in front of me. Their voidblasts slam into my ship, overwhelming my shield and disintegrating my left wing. I reach for my warp drive.
“Uh, cap’n?” Millie’s voice quavers. “You weren’t planning for this to be a heroic last stand, were you? ‘Cause my warp drive just got hit—I can’t make the jump.”
No way am I leaving Millie to the Negs. I ignore the drive, instead fighting to regain control of my tumbling ship. Time for Plan B—a plan that Father will find rather inconvenient.
“Matrix is ready,” Hez says.
“Don’t deploy it until I say so.” I plunge back toward Newhaven, fists clenched around my controls. “Millie, Dax, get planetside! Now!”
Millie cries out. Her ship spins past mine, debris trailing from its rear.
“Eject as soon as you enter the atmosphere.” I disengage weapons, devoting all power to the engine. “You’ll be fine, all right? Trust me.”
“Ohhhhhhh kayyyy!” Millie’s voice rattles through the comlink as her ship enters Newhaven’s orbit.
I enter the atmosphere, the impact against the air throwing me forward. Red lights flash.
“Now, Hez!” I grab the eject lever and pull. My seat hurls me into the sky while the rest of my fighter plummets to Newhaven’s surface.
My parachute opens, and I glance skyward to see a grid of purple squares stretched across the sky. Several Neg fighters crash into it and explode.
Millie and Dax parachute in the distance. Below lies the community we just saved from certain doom—by obliterating every rule they live by.
I’d best break that news to Father gently.
I tap the com on my wrist. “Perfect, Hez. I need you to carry a message to Father and Mother. We’re having a family reunion—and I brought friends.”
Family Reunion is my first foray into a new genre: Amish sci-fi. It's not a well-known genre. In fact, I'm pretty sure there's only one Amish sci-fi novel in existence, and while I found the premise of that book interesting, the overall plot was mediocre. You get to judge my own attempt: how did you like Family Reunion? Did it engage you? Make you laugh? Do you wonder what will happen as Ezekiel returns to the life he left behind?
I recently discovered a document that I forgot I'd written, one explaining how exactly the Amish ended up colonizing other planets and how their society evolved in response to the influence of a warlike alien race, the Telek'varr. Perhaps I'll flesh out those notes into a story someday.
Over the weekend, I went on a four-hour caving expedition with a group of students from my college. We first climbed to the top of a waterfall, where we could look into the vast gorge and drink fresh water straight from a spring. Then we descended to the bottom of the gorge, where the entrance to the cave lay behind the waterfall.
And we plunged into darkness.
After squirming through crevasses, scaling cliffs, and turning off our flashlights to sing the Doxology in utter darkness, we emerged into sunlight. We emerged dirty and exhausted— but victorious. We emerged with a greater bond with each other and memories to share for years to come.
And I emerged with inspiration for poetry.
It started as one haiku. And then it became a cycle of five linked haikus describing my adventure in the cave.
Thus, I present you:
The Cave Cycle
Six-foot log tumbles off cliff
Four seconds till crash
Down the slick wet rocks
Do not think you’ve reached the end
No! You must go up.
Beneath the mountain
Light we cannot see; ten voices
Join to sing Tallis
Sharp crags, black fissures
Acorns at cave’s end. We won!
Wait— we must go back.
Cold and muddy, embrace light.
We taste summit’s spring.
Fun fact: In elementary school, I learned that a haiku is a form of poetry with three lines following a five-seven-five pattern of syllables. That may be true for English haikus, but the original Japanese form is different. A haiku isn’t defined by the number of syllables but by the number of on— that is, characters in the Japanese hiragana alphabet. Since English uses a different alphabet, counting syllables is the closest we can get.
One rogue android at a time
Lady Coral lies cuffed to an ancient altar in the clearing below. I scan the trees for any sign of danger, then dash down the wooded hill to her side. My first heroic deed should be simple. Free Coral. Get her safely to Tob Spaceport, out of the clutches of the village elders.
After that? Not sure, but I won’t eke out a meager existence in a backwater forgotten by the Android Wars. I, Jotham, will be a hero.
Coral’s eyes snap open—vibrant and striking as a storm at sea. “What are you doing?” she hisses.
“Saving you.” I hold up my laser-razor. “This should get through the cuffs.”
“Idiot! Get out of here!”
I press my razor against the cuff. “Don’t give me any nonsense. You’re just a traveler. The villagers had no right to sacrifice you to save their own skins. Besides, the Beast is probably just some farmer’s overactive imagination. We haven’t had a rogue android here since—”
The cuff pops open before I finish cutting. Coral clamps her hand over my mouth. I grunt in surprise—good to see that my village’s cruelty hasn’t crushed her spirit. Perhaps she’s used to fending for herself, considering how useless her bodyguard turned out to be.
A snap, followed by a crash. I stiffen. Coral points over my shoulder. I turn—slowly.
A rusty canine android towers over a fallen tree, growling. My heartbeat jackrabbits.
Ok, so maybe I was wrong about the Beast.
It focuses pulsing red eyes on me, then leaps. Coral kicks me in the chest, sending me tumbling backward, and rolls after me. The Beast flies over our heads and lands by the altar, crushing it with a swipe of its metal paw.
Coral jerks me to my feet. “Run!”
“I can’t just leave you!”
A man wielding a blaster rifle jumps from the treeline and fires a barrage at the Beast’s head. I gape. The bodyguard?
He turns to her. “Why weren’t you in position?”
She jerks a thumb at me. “Saving idiots again, André!”
The Beast bounds toward us, unfazed by André’s attack.
“Plan B, then.” André grabs my arm, towing me over an embankment and into a den carved by some creature that secretes far too much mucus for my comfort. Coral hops in after us.
“What’s Plan B?” I ask.
Carrying out my original plan should’ve been easy. If my plan had actually possessed anything close to foresight.
“You screwed up Plan A,” Coral says. “You gotta figure out Plan B.”
“Plan A was to destroy it with a pyrochip.” André hands me a metal disk with a big red button in the center. “Once you press that, you have six seconds to get away. The android’s casing is uberarium, though, so it won’t do a thing unless you hit its exposed underbelly.”
“Which I would have done already—” Coral scowled “—if I hadn’t been saving you.”
“Er... sorry.” My cheeks start burning. “I don’t have another plan. But I’ll help, if I can.”
Clanking rings out from above, followed by a shower of dirt from the shaking ceiling.
“War droids are programmed to target the weakest opponent first,” André says. “Which means you’re the perfect distraction. Now, go!”
He shoves me out of the den.
I clutch the pyrochip and stumble into the shadow of the Beast. A laser beam from its eyes incinerates the tree to my right.
I yelp and run. The Beast bounds after me. I dart back toward the ruined altar. André and Coral have a plan to destroy this thing, right? Or, at least, they did. So if I keep it near them, I should be safer.
The Beast’s paw slams into me, sending me flying. My heart almost jumps from my throat as I free-fall for a moment. I crash into a tree trunk. Pain blossoms through my body, and I fall to the ground, gasping for breath.
The android stalks toward me, metal teeth bared. A vision of those fangs tearing into my flesh flashes before me. I shudder.
I’m going to die.
Another wave of lasers strikes the Beast’s head. It jerks toward the source, robotic eyes flashing.
A battered access port dangles from its abdomen, held by a single hinge. I glance at the pyrochip in my hand. Maybe I’ll die, but it won’t be in vain.
Now is my chance to be a hero. Prove to my village that I’m more than a farmer’s son. Prove my worth to Lady Coral.
I rise to my feet, pain washing over me again. I’ve got at least one broken rib. No matter. André continues raining lasers on the Beast. It’s distracted. Now’s my chance.
Real heroism requires sacrifice. I’d been foolish to think any different.
I step forward with a wince. The Beast turns back toward me, eyes glowing with a laser charge about to be unleashed. I draw my arm back to throw the pyrochip.
Coral dives between the Beast’s legs, throwing something above her head, then rolls out in a single fluid motion. I jump backward as a column of fire rips the Beast open. Its eyes go dark and it falls, spilling charred machinery.
Relief washes over me. I sink to the ground, every inch of me throbbing.
André approaches and slings his rifle over his back. “What d’ya think, love?”
Coral strides through the Beast’s wreckage and inspects me. “Stupid, but courageous. What’s your name, kid?”
Coral takes André’s hand. “Hubby and I have spent decades making this planet safer, one rogue android at a time. It’s time we took on an apprentice.”
My jaw drops. “Wait, you’re married?”
Coral laughs. “Yep! Only husband-and-wife vigilante team out there. What do you say to helping us clean up the mess left by the Android Wars?”
A chance at something more. Not as easy as I foolishly expected, but…
“Good!” André claps my shoulder. “Now strip that ’droid for parts.”
I wrote this story to break a cliché. The hero goes to save a damsel in distress-- and turns out the damsel doesn't need saving. Of course, this cliché has been broken before, so much so that it's become a new cliché.
But hey, originality is overrated. And One Rogue Android At a Time was never meant to be a work of genius, but rather a fun story that embraced some clichés and tweaked others. I like the idea of a married couple with a vocation of vigilanteism, and destroying robots with giant pillars of flame is always delightful.
What are some clichés that you'd like to see broken more often? Or clichés that you enjoy even if you've seen them before?
P.S: If you're wondering how Coral and André make a living, they sell salvaged parts from the droids they destroy.
Flight of the fading sorrow
The bounty hunter turned to stone, hatred etched permanently on his features. Veyja stumbled away as the reptilian mass that passed for hair among her kind hissed in satisfaction. Her hand went to her throat and came back stained with a tiny drop of blood drawn by the tip of the hunter’s dagger.
Veyja reached for her headscarf, but the hunter’s petrified grip held it tight. She needed to cover herself. The rioters tearing apart the city hated the Dizadian refugees Caleb was smuggling aboard his ship, but their vendetta against their fellow man would drop the moment they learned of the true monster in their midst. She tore a long swath from the bottom of her thick dress, covered her hair, and tied it around her chin. Not the height of fashion, but acceptable.
She only needed to conceal her true nature until she reached the ship, then--
The idea of revealing the truth to Caleb opened a pit in her stomach.
So did the thought of concealing it from him.
Veyja darted down twisted streets, avoiding the torchlight cast by the mob. Regardless of what she told Caleb, she couldn’t stay here, not if rumors about her were drawing bounty hunters.
The Fading Sorrow rocked gently in the harbor. Veyja burst onto the docks and sprinted toward it. She caught a glimpse of Caleb descending into the hold, a child clasped in his arms.
Veyja climbed aboard as Caleb reappeared on deck. A light sprang into his worried eyes when he saw her, and he wrapped her in a strong yet tender embrace, careful not to touch her head as she’d requested.
She allowed herself to melt into him for a moment, then broke away. “Are we ready to set sail?”
Caleb shook his head. “One of the Dizadian families has yet to arrive.”
“How long will we wait?”
He looked away. “I don’t know.”
“The rioters could’ve found them already.”
“I know!” Caleb clenched his fist around the railing.
Veyja studied him, drinking in the intensity of his gaze as he stared at the smoke rising from the city. The simple, unyielding goodness of Caleb Tantarov drew her to him more than anything else— willing to risk his livelihood to help the people his city had marked as enemies, refusing to leave even a single family behind.
She touched the engagement ring on her finger. Caleb deserved the truth: that she wasn’t helping three Dizadian families escape the violence out of altruism. She needed to get away as much as they did. She was an object of greater and more deserved hatred than they were.
Caleb picked up his crossbow and hopped off the ship, peering anxiously into the alleyway. Veyja followed him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“They might not make it,” she said. “You’ll have to face the truth sooner or later.”
Just like I will.
Caleb dashed forward. “That’s them!”
A man and a woman in traditional Dizadian garb rushed out of the alleyway, each one clutching a child. Behind them, torches bobbed closer.
The mob poured onto the docks. Caleb hefted his crossbow, aiming a warning shot over their heads. Someone in the crowd returned fire, and the bolt hit the father in the arm. He cried out and nearly dropped his son.
Veyja took the child and helped the wounded man to his feet. Caleb reloaded his crossbow and swung it back and forth at the mob. The rioters hesitated, then continued to advance, those in the rear pushing on those in front.
“He’s in league with the Dizadian monsters!”
Veyja’s breath caught in her throat. Hundreds of furious men and women poured the docks. They’d storm the ship, set it afire before Caleb could unmoor it. Slaughter the families aboard.
Unless a greater enemy drew their attention.
Veyja turned to Caleb and shoved the boy into his arms. “Get him to the ship.”
Caleb stumbled, struggling to hold both the fear-stricken child and his weapon. “Veyja, what—”
“I said, go!”
A burly rioter lunged at Veyja with a vulgar shout. Veyja tore off her improvised head covering, feeling strangely calm as the snakes on her head burst free. She met her attacker’s eyes, allowing a burst of power to come through her and petrify him.
A cry of fear spread throughout the mob. Veyja dashed away and hopped atop an empty barrel on the edge of the dock. The ocean lapped calmly beneath her feet, as if in defiance of the hell engulfing the city.
Her hair grew frenzied, a dozen forked tongues lashing the air. Veyja let out a scream of primal fury, securing her place in the rioters’ imaginations as a monster far worse than the Dizadians.
The mob stared for a moment. Then, like a warship about to unleash a deadly broadside, it turned on her.
Veyja dove into the ocean. An arrow hit the surface to her left, and she swam, not caring which direction, as long as it was away. She’d swim forever to keep Caleb safe.
The ship picked her up in ten minutes.
Veyja collapsed on deck, shivering violently. Caleb stood over her, face unreadable. Her hair hissed at him.
Veyja cringed. He saw her. He knew. She scooted away, wanting to throw herself back into the sea.
Caleb knelt in front of her. “That’s why you always covered your head?”
“I’m sorry.” Veyja looked away. She could still feel the mob’s wrath, the weight of a thousand fearful, furious eyes boring into her. She could already feel the pain of rejection, the separation that would always be her curse.
“Veyja, I thought you were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.” Caleb embraced her, pressing her soaked body against his.
Veyja choked back a sob.
“But I was wrong.” Caleb smiled. “You’re more beautiful than I ever imagined.”
A thousand weights vanished from Veyja’s back. She pulled Caleb close and wept for joy.
I wrote this story as a prequel to my earlier flash fiction, Fire and Stone. But the original inspiration came from an illustration from a collectible card game, an illustration a gorgon astride the stern of a pirate ship. I didn't want my character to be a bloodthirsty pirate, though, so instead of plundering the high seas, Veyja uses her ship to smuggle innocent refugees to safety.
If you've read Fire and Stone and wonder what happened to Caleb during the 14-year gap between the two stories, the answer is that he died protecting his family from Winthrop the Hunter. I have an outline document buried in my computer files with more notes on Veyja's backstory. Are you intrigued? If so, let me know. Perhaps if enough people are interested, I'll turn those notes into a novella.
Why, oh why, did the baby and the aliens have to come on the same night?
Joey crouched on the bathroom counter, heart racing. Purple light from the crocodile-shaped spaceship outside bathed the house in an eerie glow. Glass shattered in the kitchen. A scaled figure ripped open the refrigerator and hissed at its contents.
If someone breaks into the house, Da’s voice rang in his memory, you and Khylie get out and hide in the barn, understand? I’ll take care of the intruder.
But Da had left hours ago. Joey would have to be the man of the house tonight.
The alien seized a milk jug, growling, and turned back toward its spaceship. Joey dropped and darted down the hall, scarcely making a sound in his fluffy slippers. He dived through the open doorway to his parents’ room and slid across the carpet.
The shotgun lay beneath the bed. Joey shoved his shoulder under the bedframe—no, wrong side. He jerked his arm out and scrambled across the crumpled sheets.
A reptilian silhouette darkened the doorway. Joey dropped to the other side of the bed and pulled out the smooth wooden box housing Da’s shotgun. He fumbled with the padlock. He'd never guess the combina—
The alien cleared the bed in a single leap and landed in a crouch next to Joey, claws wrapped around the plastic jug. Joey froze, the box falling from his limp hands.
Please, God, don’t let me smell tasty!
The alien sat the jug down and clacked its teeth, then pointed. Its hot breath crashed into Joey. He flinched. The creature clacked again, pointing more insistently.
Joey crept forward and unscrewed the jug’s lid. The alien hissed, opened its maw, and downed the entire gallon in a few gulps. It licked its lips, then pointed at the jug again.
Joey rose, hugging the gun box as if it were his life. “You want more milk? I’ll get you some, just follow me… out to the garage.”
He pressed his back against the wall as he crept past the alien, lugging the box and desperately trying to think of a way to break it open. Across the hall, Khylie’s brown curls peeked around the doorframe. Joey met her eyes and held a finger to his lips. Her face went white as bone, and her little fist clenched her blankie.
Joey entered the garage, all too aware of the alien looming behind him. He fumbled for the light switch, illuminating an empty space where Da’s car belonged. Another fridge hugged the wall, humming softly as if aliens didn’t exist and were most definitely not invading the house.
Joey leaned the gun box against the wall and removed two gallons of milk from the fridge. Saliva dripped from the alien’s forked tongue.
Joey paused. What will it do after this is gone?
Joey took a deep breath, swung his arms back and hurled the milk across the garage. The plastic jugs cracked against Da’s workbench. The alien howled and bounded after them, then tried to gather the precious white liquid in its talons. Joey grabbed the box, let out a battle cry, and slammed it into the alien’s back.
A bellow of rage and fury splintered the musty air. Joey clamped his hands over his ears even his own scream burst forth to join it.
Joey leapt for the garage door, dashed into the house, and slammed the door shut. Crashes reverberated from the garage. Khylie cried out.
“Run, Khylie!” Joey dashed toward his sister. Lock it. He pivoted and slipped on the smooth linoleum, feet flying out of his slippers. The handle on the garage door rotated. Joey pushed himself up, reached the door, and slid the bolt in place. The alien slammed into the door from the other side.
Joey slumped down, breathing heavily. The door shuddered. Adrenaline shot Joey forward. He grabbed Khylie’s hand and towed her out the front door.
Khylie sobbed and pressed her face against his side. “Mama! Want mama!”
Joey clamped a hand over her mouth. “Shh!”
She bit him.
Joey winced and pressed harder. “No mom! If you make noise, the alien will find us and you’ll never see mom again! Got it?”
Khylie’s eyes went wide, and she collapsed in the grass, her sobbing reduced to a pitiful whine. Guilt pierced Joey. He picked her up with a grunt and stumbled toward the barn.
The crisp night air chilled him to his bones, and the wet weeds soaked his pajama bottoms, but they reached the barn without seeing the alien again. Crashes continued from the house. It’s still throwing a temper tantrum in the garage.
Joey slumped down on a bale of hay, shivering. Khylie clung to him. His heartbeat returned to normal. Even if it does get out, it will look for more milk, not us, right?
“Cold,” Khylie muttered.
Joey grabbed a saddle pad and wrapped it around himself and his sister. A bag of grain made a makeshift pillow as he closed his eyes and gave into the exhaustion haunting him.
“Joey! Khylie!” a familiar, frightened voice called out.
Dawn peeked through the slats in the barn wall.
Joey rubbed his eyes, then sat bolt upright. “Da! We’re in here!”
The barn door flew open, revealing a figure of strength and safety incarnate, haggard eyes shining in the morning sun. Da swept Joey and Khylie into a bear hug. Joey relaxed, the terror of last night melting like butter.
“Are the aliens gone?” Joey mumbled.
“They all fled to their spaceship and took off when they saw me coming.” Da placed a hand on his shoulder. “When I couldn’t find you, I thought…”
“Joey beat up aliens!” Khylie exclaimed.
Da beamed. “Well done, son.”
Joey flushed. “The house is a mess. Mom won’t be happy.”
Da shook his head. “Three safe children are all the happiness she needs. Now, let’s go to the hospital. You have a new sister to meet!”
Writing this story revealed an area of my ignorance. As the oldest of eight siblings, I grew used to food coming bulk. Mom went to Costco and bought four gallons of milk at a time. But when Dad read this story, he said, "You realize how weird it would be for a family with only two kids to have three milk jugs in the house, right?"
I guess Joey's family drinks a lot of milk. Which is probably why the aliens invaded their house.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this story. And I have a question for you: what's one thing you took for granted as a child that you later realized was unique to your family?
Comment with your answer. It'll be fun to hear!
After the end
After the End is a sequel to my flash fiction The Endbringer, which you can read here: https://authorzacharyholbrook.weebly.com/awesome-things-to-read/the-endbringer
After the End
The world ended, and yet, life went on.
Gerard set his shoulder against the fallen doorpost, straining to push the wooden beam back into place. Throughout the rest of the desecrated cathedral, the workers who now relied upon his guidance swept away broken glass and scrubbed at the black ooze that stained every corner of the city.
Three weeks. Three weeks since the shadowspawn rampaged across Hynuil. Three weeks since Gerard fought them off with a brand of fire, earning a host of titles he could never deserve. Like savior.
“Nen!” Gerard called to one of his workers. “This place needs new doors. Can you get them up within two weeks?”
“Aye, Shadow-slayer!” Nen beamed and saluted.
Gerard smiled despite the regret haunting his heart. How would these men react if they knew their venerated new leader was a fraud? His decision to release the shadowspawn had left thousands dead, and he didn’t even deserve credit for discovering their weakness. That belonged to Hayiene.
Hayiene. The last he’d seen of her face, trembling yet strong, stabbed through his mind. She’d avoided him since the battle. Understandable, considering what his rebellion had cost her, but that didn’t make his yearning for her go away.
“Leader!” Varel, Gerard’s lieutenant, sprinted down the street. “We have a problem. Some nobles escaped, and the people aren’t happy about it.”
Gerard cursed. He’d led the rebellion in order to allow the people to govern themselves through democracy. Now that they had their freedom, they acted as if he was king—except when it came to one issue.
The deposed aristocrats.
Gerard raced to the prison. A few of his soldiers manned the wall, nervously pointing spears at the growing crowd of malcontents. Bloodthirsty chants rose like steam in a pressure bomb about to explode.
“Death to nobles!”
“We want vengeance!”
Gerard climbed the ramparts and extended his hands. “People of Hynuil! Return to your homes!”
“We don’t have homes!”
Blast. Bad word choice.
“My men will find you shelter!” Gerard gestured to the city beyond. “Work, too, with good pay! And we will bring justice to those who have oppressed us— justice, not vengeance. Join the rebuilding efforts. Create new life for your children. I, your leader—”
A fierce murmur washed over the crowd. Tyrant. Governor. Noble lover.
Gerard changed tactics. “I, your savior, have spoken.”
The reminder of their near-annihilation at the claws of the shadowspawn cut back the rising tide, and they began to disperse.
Gerard sighed in relief and turned to his lieutenant. “Now, what about this escape?”
“A family of three.” Varel hesitated. “They escaped through one of our tunnels.”
“I thought those were blocked.”
“They were. Someone opened one from outside.”
Great. Just what he needed: a member of his rebellion aiding the enemy. “Double-check all cells,” Gerard ordered. “If word of another escape gets out, we’ll have a riot. I’ll search the passages leading out of the city.”
Gerard hopped into the abandoned sewage drain. This passage brings back memories. Smuggling supplies for the rebellion. His final flight as shadowspawn overran Hynuil.
I was really was an idiot, wasn’t I?
A cry sounded from deeper inside the passage. Gerard crept forward, sword at the ready. A light flickered around the next bend.
A flash of movement. Someone darted from the tunnel and pinned Gerard’s sword arm to the wall, then kicked him in the groin. Gerard groaned in pain, but wrenched his arm free and prepared to strike down his attacker.
The voice shattered his strength like a wave against the shore. Gerard took in the half-shadowed features of his opponent. Smooth skin, frenzied hair, and those eyes— deep brown wells of kindness and fortitude.
Gerard’s blade clattered to the floor. “Hayiene?”
She retreated back into the tunnel. “I should’ve known you’d find us.”
Gerard followed, discovering two wide-eyed children. An older woman in a once-fine dress stood over them, wielding a broom as an improvised weapon.
Gerard swallowed, then turned to Hayiene. “You helped them escape? Why?”
Hayiene folded her arms. “They’re children, Gerard. And Lady Treina is a devoted mother, not some murdering tyrant. Has the light of your rebellion grown so bright that you see all else as shadows?”
Gerard shook his head. “Hayiene, I—”
She met his eyes, and all his excuses crumbled to dust.
He swallowed. “I need you, Hayiene. I know I’ve hurt you. I know can’t bring back your father. But I am sorry. Please forgive me.”
Hayiene glanced at Treina and the children. “You need to tell them the truth.”
“Because it’s the truth, Gerard.”
“What truth?” Lady Treina leveled her broom at Gerard.
“I…” Gerard took a deep breath. “I summoned the shadowspawn. I thought the rebellion could control them after they killed the governor, but— I’ve seen the consequences of my actions. I’ll set you free, and protect your children from the mobs, if it’s any consolation.”
Treina gave a grim nod and stepped back.
Gerard glanced at Hayiene. “Don’t bother keeping my secret. I’ll have to make it known if I want to be a better leader than the governor. I’m not ready to fill that role, but—”
Hayiene let out a shuddering breath. “I’ll help you.”
A weight rolled off Gerard’s shoulders. He reached to take her hand, slowly, as if she might be a mere spirit. But she was real, solid, an anchor amid the storms rocking his life.
Gerard knelt. “Hayiene, I need you to help bridge the gap between nobles and commoners. More than that, I simply need you. You are my heart. I yearn to join in the soul of your story, through gutters and glories. Will you marry me?”
Silence. And then embarrassment. He had overstepped. He was a fool…
Hayiene dropped down to face him, tears adorning her cheeks— along with a jubilant smile. “Yes, Gerard Nashen, yes!”
She kissed him, and all shadows fled.
Let the world end. With Hayiene, he could take it.
The monstrous leviathan rises from the depths, swimming across the bay toward Super Awesome City. I grin. At last, the battle where I prove myself has come. Every shortsighted inventor who dismissed my ideas, every teacher who gave me detention for starting food fights in class—they will all look upon me as their savior.
“Load the pineapults!” I bark.
Soldiers of the newly-created Edible Defense Corps™ rush to obey. Gears whir. Ropes tighten and release. Thousands of pineapples fly though the air, pelting the scaly beast on the snout. Our foe roars in pain but continues to advance.
Well, that was only my most obvious attack. Any fool could weaponize pineapples, but the arsenal wielded by the rest of the EDC is truly a work of genius.
I unclip my radio. “Unleash the Sky Shakes!”
A squadron of bombers rises into the sky, pelting the monster with wave after wave of milkshakes in a wide assortment of flavors. Thick, multicolored liquid seeps into its eyes, and the monster jerks his head about wildly.
“Commander Bob!” My right-hand man, Spatula Sam, leaps from a frosting-coated parapet and lands in front of me. “We have a problem—an amphibious invasion of some sort.”
I look down at the beach. Sure enough, people in sinister cloaks are swimming ashore and running into Super Awesome City, wielding strange, sheet-like weapons. Of course. A cult of evil cultists that worship the monster and want to rule the world. I should’ve expected as much.
“This won’t be pretty,” Spatula Sam mutters. “If we have to repel ground troops, many more of our men will die.”
“Their names will be baked forever into the bread of history!” I clap Sam on the shoulder. “Come with me, friend. Let us put the fear of food into these cultists!”
I descend into the city, two trusty bananarangs in hand. Innocent civilians scream in terror, fleeing as cultists brandish their weapons—which appear to consist of white sheets tied to long sticks. Not very threatening, but I can’t let my guard down. Perhaps those sheets are cursed with dark magic.
“Hey! You!” I wave at the nearest cultist, then hurl a bananarang. “Get out of my city!”
The cultist scoffs as the bananarang flies past his head. “You missed!”
I smile at his naivety. A moment later, the bananarang slams into the back of his head, sending him sprawling to the ground. I retrieve my weapon, peel it, and take a bite.
The other cultists look at me in stunned silence.
“He killed Fred!” one yells.
I glance down. “Oh, him? He’s not dead. Just unconscious. A bananarang isn’t a lethal weapon, ignoramuses. But this…” I reach for the blueberry bazooka strapped to my back. “This, on the other hand…”
The cultists pale and slowly back away.
“Um… sir?” Spatula Sam says. “I may have misread this situation. I don’t think they’re invading us.”
One of the cultists hoists his weapon in the air. “Actually, we were sent to negotiate with you—”
“Negotiate?!” I roar. “You think we’ll just surrender? You think you can subjugate the proud people of Super Awesome City to your false god in the bay?”
“God?” The cultist raises an eyebrow. “Toothyface isn’t a god. Where did you get that idea?”
That's… a good question. Where did I get that idea?
“My name is George, chief ambassador of the moving island of Toothyface.” The cultist bows. “Our home, which has the distinction of being alive, has quite an appetite. When I heard Super Awesome City had a surplus of food, I thought we could work out a trade agreement.”
I spit. “Trade? I spent years turning all that food into weapons of the EDC, and now you want me to trade it away? No! We will fight, and I will win glory and honor for Super Awesome City! For the Edible Defense Corps™!”
George shakes his head. “Bad idea. You’ve got Toothyface riled up now, and he’s never in a good mood when he’s hungry. If we don’t get him fed quick, he’ll destroy the entire city!”
“My men will resist that monster,” I growl.
“How many will die, though?” George asks. “My own people can’t stop him. We’ll have no choice but to evacuate while Toothyface rampages.”
“Could you at least consider a trade agreement, sir?” Spatula Sam raises his hand. “I’d rather not die.”
I clench my fists. Negotiate, and go back to being nothing more than an inventor with useless ideas? Or fight, and win respect for myself—and possibly death for my comrades?
Toothyface’s thunderous roar shatters the air. I glance toward the bay, at his black maw surrounded by gleaming white spears. A third course of action appears before me. I can’t help but smile at my cleverness.
“Fine,” I say to George. “Your island gets a full belly. In exchange, I ask only that you leave and never return. If you dare break our agreement, know the Edible Defense Corps™ will be ready for you. We won’t let you off so easily next time.”
Sam lets out a sigh of relief.
I turn on him. “Don’t breath a word of this to anyone. You understand?”
“Yes, sir!” Sam salutes.
My glory is secure. The EDC will drive away the fierce beast, and Super Awesome City will hail me as a hero.
I tune my radio to all channels and send an order to the courageous defenders stationed across the city. “Aim all ammunition at the monster’s open mouth! We can’t penetrate its scales, so we’ll have to target its fleshy insides. Repeat, fire only at the mouth!”
Pineapults crack, cheese cannons boom, and grape gatlings chatter. For a moment, food blots out the sun— then the yummy barrage crashes into the sea monster’s maw. Toothyface chomps, chews and swallows.
I smile in satisfaction and clap George on the shoulder. “And that, my cultist friend, is how you defend a city.”
The Light Smuggler
Ral stumbled into the smoky tavern and allowed himself the indulgence of sitting next to one of the blazing torches mounted along the walls. Dangerous, perhaps, but at this point he didn’t care. He needed to get away from the presence of the Shadow.
A barmaid brought him a glass, but he didn’t drink, instead watching the firelight play on the liquid surface. He thought he saw the shape of a young girl among the shadows, pale-skinned, wide-eyed, dancing across a barren field by the light of a skeletal moon.
Ral cursed and shoved the glass away. I shouldn’t be here. If the Thralgard knew that a minister of the Shadow had sulked back to an unscrupulous neighborhood like this, he’d be demoted so fast he’d— he’d--
Be free from work so I could watch Riley die.
Ral poured the beer down his throat and called for more. He should be at home, where he could hold his daughter’s hand, listen to her fading breaths even if the light allotted him by the Shadow was insufficient for him to see her withered face. But if Ral had been the sort of man to do what he should do, he would’ve joined Eric on his quest for the unknown. Probably would’ve died, but maybe it was better to die looking for light than to survive in submission to the Shadow.
“Hello, Ral.” A man with bronzen skin and a beaming smile sat down on the other side of the table. “A wise woman told me I’d find you here.”
Ral squinted. “Eric? I’m not that drunk, am I?”
Eric chuckled. “That would make convincing you easier. Come, I’ve rented a place to talk in private.”
Eric grabbed Ral by the arm and led him down the stairs to a pitch black room.
Ral felt for the wall. “You realize the only people who rent these rooms are whores and Thralgard, right?”
“Listen, Ral,” Eric said. “The legends are true. There is a place beyond the Shadow. I found it.”
Ral froze. “What?”
“Look. I brought proof.”
The room exploded with light. Ral cried out, shielding his eyes with his hand. Slowly, he peeled his fingers away. He could see. Every corner of the room, Eric’s jubilant face, all by the glorious luminescence flooding from the open box in Eric’s hand.
Ral reached forward and withdrew one of the six shining spheres with a trembling hand. This… this was a treasure worth cities, a legend spoken of in hushed tones far from the Thralgard’s ears. This was power, beauty, life.
And this would get them both killed the moment the Thralgard knew about it.
Ral replaced the sphere and slammed the box shut. Darkness reclaimed his surroundings. “Put it back. I don’t care where you got it, just put it back!”
“I risked my life smuggling these across the border,” Eric said. “But with a government minister to cover for me, I could bring in thousands more. We could bring hope, Ral!”
Silence filled the darkness, then…
“You could heal Riley.”
The old weight of darkness settled over Ral once more. “How did you know she’s sick?”
“I looked for you at your home first. You should have been there.”
Ral gritted his teeth. “The Shadow takes whoever it wants. There’s nothing I could do for her.”
“Wrong. I’ve seen healing with my own eyes. Fugitives half-dead from the wasting disease spend a day in the light and emerge more vibrant than ever.”
Hope flickered in Ral’s heart.
No. The Shadow would kill them all if it knew about this.
Better to die looking for light…
“Save my daughter.” Ral reached through the darkness for Eric. “I’ll shelter you in my home. But no promises about protecting smugglers, understand?”
“You’re a good friend, Ral.”
They left the tavern and prowled along shadowed streets toward a more respectable part of town. Ral’s heart beat faster with every step, but he resisted the urge to run and draw undue attention.
Despite their caution, only the faint hiss of leathery wings warned them of the Thralgard’s approach. The bulbous-eyed creature plummeted into Eric’s chest, sending him crashing to the ground.
The Thralgard laughed. “Stranger. What have we got here, mmm?”
Ral bowed, panic clawing at his chest. “O great dark one, this is my friend, a fellow servant of the Shadow visiting from a faraway town.”
“Away? Then we has to inspect him, mmm, right away!” The Thralgard chittered and patted Eric’s side, stopping when it felt the box underneath his cloak.
Eric punched it in the face. “Gerroff me!”
The Thralgard ripped the box free, cracked it over Eric’s head, then opened it. A horrific scream shattered the night. “Poison! Stranger has poiiisssooon! Kill it! Now!”
The Thralgard hurled the box aside, then drew its scimitar.
Ral dove after the box. That’s life. Riley’s life.
Eric groaned, the Thralgard’s blade above his throat. Ral glanced at his friend’s face, then opened the box and shoved a luminescent sphere in the Thralgard’s face. The creature screamed and shied away, its sword going wide and scraping against the street.
Ral kicked the Thralgard, wrenched its scimitar away, then ran the monster through.
Eric stood, a pained grin on his face. “Thanks, friend.”
Another screech. Ral glanced overhead to see the circling forms of more Thralgard, drawn by their comrade’s cry and the hated light from below.
Resolve stronger than any he’d ever known filled him. He clenched the scimitar’s handle. “Go.”
“Heal Riley. You know what to do. Then get her and my wife out of here. Away from the Shadow. The Thralgard think I’m the only one. I’ll hold them off as long as possible. Go!”
Eric reached for the scimitar. “No, I’ll stay.”
“Only you know the way to the light-filled lands. Get my family there.”
Eric saluted. “Riley will know of her father’s heroism.”
Ral took a deep breath and shoved the light toward the sky.
The Light Smuggler is one of several pieces of flash fiction that I wrote during a time when I was starting to despair of my writing. It was the end of 2019. I'd spent months drafting fantasy novel, only to throw my manuscript out and start over before anyone had a single page of it. I also had to go to college, get a job, and make money, so I didn't think I'd have time to do much writing in my future. I wasn't sure I'd ever manage to write the novels I dreamed of.
Flash fiction, though, was within my reach. Once I developed a solid idea, I could write and revise a piece of flash fiction in a few hours. And I was able to get several of my stories published online through Havok, which meant people would actually read them and enjoy them. In a dark time in my writing journey, these stories proved to be a bit of light smuggled in for me.
Fun fact: The Light Smuggler shares a story-world with Fire and Stone.
Twine Man: A short STory
The bale of alfalfa hovered in the air, held together by three strands of twine that pulsed to a rhythm only Farmer Ben could hear. Anxious cattle swarmed beneath it. At a mental command from Ben, the twine snapped. The bale crashed to the ground where a horde of bovine maws devoured it.
The twine twisted in the air. With a flick of his fingers, Ben sent it flying to the bed of his pickup. He gazed over the dairy, taking pride in his day’s work. Not as dramatic as swinging through the city and capturing criminals, as Russel always urged him to do, but he was content.
Ben’s phone rang as he climbed into the cab of the truck. Russel again. Ben sighed and answered. “Hello?”
“Ben? You remembered you have a date tonight, right? You can’t leave poor Lillian waiting in the cold outside Zapata’s again.”
“Correction,” Ben grunted. “I have a farm to run. You have a date. This whole thing was your idea. I didn’t even want to go on the first one.”
“Listen, you and Lillian—Wait, what is that?”
A thump came through the phone, then silence. Ben tensed. A faint scream sounded.
Russel spoke again, his voice frantic. “Ben, Ben, we need you! See that ominous, dark cloud on the horizon?”
“Really? Look closer.”
Ben squinted toward Ogleden. “I see a speck.”
“That’s a creation of the nefarious Dr. Overlord. He’s threatening to destroy the entire town unless the great Twine Man fights him.”
“Tarnation!” Ben slammed the door shut. “I hate these guys. Fine, I’ll make you a deal. You take care of your sister, I take care of this lunatic.”
“Thanks, old friend. I knew I could count on you.”
The battered pickup sputtered to life, seeming to protest as Ben steered it away from home. Ten minutes later, his truck clunked into Ogleden, driving down eerily quiet streets. The few civilians who hadn’t already run for shelter looked toward the dark cloud, pale faces drawn in terror.
Ben parked a few blocks away from the perimeter of the dark cloud, then summoned his twine. Brightly colored strands wrapped around him, forming into a suit of armor. He strode into the darkness. A single light flickered in the distance—the sign over the door of Zapata’s restaurant, blinking as if in defiance of the mysterious threat. Ben scanned the courtyard in front of Zapata’s. No sign of his foe. The only other person was--Lillian?
She was tied to a tree, jaw clenched. Her hair whipped back and forth in the possession of frenetic, unnatural winds. She met his eyes, and Ben beheld a soul full of desperate courage.
His heart-rate spiked again. Curse you, Russel.
A malevolent laugh rang throughout the streets, and a masked figure emerged from an alley. A vaporous cloak streamed behind him, grasping the air with tendrils of living darkness.
“Twine Man. Your day of destiny has come.” Dr. Overlord swept both arms toward Lillian. “The lady you love has fallen into my foul clutches. Save her, or die trying.”
“Great,” Ben muttered. He’d let himself be coerced into one date, and this happened. Now he had to rescue a hostage and defeat a madman.
A fierce gust flung Ben backward. He crashed into a stucco wall, his twine armor tearing. The wind blasted again, this time from behind, sending him tumbling into the pavement in front of Zapata’s. His face scraped against the asphalt, tearing up skin.
“Done already, Twine Man?” Dr. Overlord loomed over him. “Pathetic.”
Ben pushed himself up, gasping for air. The wind pulled away from him, sucking the very breath from his lungs. His vision swam.
Lillian shouted something. Ben met her eyes once more, catching a glimpse of two brilliant diamonds through the ever-shifting veil of her hair. She held her head high, then gave a slight nod.
New strength flooded into Ben. He called for his twine, commanding it to rise from his body. Now was not the time to protect himself.
His armor slithered away and reformed into a single strand, thick as a tree trunk. The twine slammed into Dr. Overlord. A scream of pain and fury rent the air. Suddenly, the winds lost their power. Ben sucked in huge gasps of air and rose to his feet.
Relief dawned on Lillian’s face. Ben rushed to her side, slicing away her bonds with his pocket knife. She fell against him, pressing her head to his chest. He stiffened. His head spun— Was this some poison of Dr. Overlord’s? If so, why did it feel so… good?
Ben relaxed and wrapped his arms around Lillian. “I’m sorry you got dragged into this.”
“It’s all past now.” Lillian broke away from his embrace and blushed. “You’re—”
“Watch out!” Ben swept her behind him as Dr. Overlord rose to his feet. The twine spun around the villain, trying to bind his arms, but a burst of wind scattered Ben’s strands in all directions.
“Excellent, Twine Man.” Dr. Overlord stretched his arms. The cloud overhead split, allowing a ray of sunshine through.
“You’ll never get away with this!” Ben summoned his twine in preparation for one final assault.
“Don’t worry, I got what I wanted.” Dr. Overlord removed his mask and cast it aside, beaming.
Ben gasped. “Russel?”
“Come on, you have to admit it was clever,” Russel said. “Farmer Ben wouldn’t give her a second chance, but Twine Man—well, he’d just have to save her.”
Ben glanced at Lillian. Heat rushed to his face, and he glared at Russel.
Lillian strode across the courtyard and slapped her brother. “You moron! You terrified the entire town. You nearly killed your best friend. I can handle my own love life, thank you very much!”
Russel shrugged. “Maybe it was a little much…”
Ben groaned. “A little?”
“I’ll make it up to you.” Russel indicated the entrance to Zapata’s. “Tacos are on me tonight. All you can eat.”
I grew up around oodles of twine. My family bought dozens of hay bales a month to feed our horses and goats (and an occasional lamb or steer). Whenever one of the kids cut open a new hay bale, the twine that once held that bale together usually got left on the barn floor. Dad and I gathered most of it and threw it away, but we always kept a little extra for repairs.
We used twine to fix fences, secure boxes of feed, and even as a goat leash in a pinch. It's so versatile that associating it with a superpower came naturally to me, and thus Twine Man was born.
Wilson's Smile: A short story
“You knew this day would come. Why did you insist we stay?”
Wilson pretended to load his gun. He had far more potent weapons at his disposal, but he needed the excuse to avoid Maria’s accusing gaze.
Outside, hideous shadows danced on the window, the first visible evidence of the approaching mob. Glass shattered. Screams.
Jax echoed the terror on the streets. Maria clamped a hand over his mouth, holding him tight against her breast. “We could have fled.”
Wilson set his gun down, summoning the courage to meet his wife’s eyes. “I have duties in this city. I can’t leave. But please, please trust me. You and Jax will be safe, I swear on my life. You two mean the world to me.”
Maria rested a clenched fist against the countertop. “Your smile, Wilson.”
“What about it?”
“It’s gone. Something grave has been on your mind for far too long.” She took a deep breath. “I need the truth. Did you know that they would come for me?”
Wilson nodded. “I prepared for this.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Light from the mob’s torches crept around the windowframe. The shouts grew louder. Wilson stood up, shoving his hands into his coat pockets. “Into the basement. They’ll never know you’re here.”
“Wilson!” A note of desperation crept into Maria’s voice. “What is happening?”
“That which must.” Wilson kissed her gently. “I love you. Now go.”
Maria stared at him, jaw clenched in defiance, then descended into the basement. Wilson sighed and covered the trapdoor with a rug. The writhing mass inside of him, once so vibrant and full of energy, drooped like an empty bag. Never had the centuries weighed on him so heavily.
A sole purpose animated him. Protect them. With that task finished, he could finally rest.
The mob passed by the house at a command from the white-cloaked man at its head. The rioters knew a woman of Dizadian descent lived here along with her half-breed son, but Winthrop’s control over the mob still exceeded the rage they felt at the terrorist acts committed by Maria’s countrymen.
Only their leader remained. The door creaked open. Wilson had left it unlocked. Best not to delay the inevitable.
Winthrop the Hunter leaned against the doorframe. “Which name are you going by these days?”
“It’s Wilson. From now until the day I die.”
Winthrop sneered. “You took your teacher’s name? Too bad you don’t have a fraction of his resolve, or I might actually have some fun tonight.”
“What kind of hunter mocks his prey before the kill? Just do your job.”
Winthrop snapped his fingers, and a dagger materialized out of thin air. He slashed open Wilson’s stomach.
Wilson doubled over in pain, his fingers pressed to the wound. They came away covered not in blood but in glowing worms, writhing desperately as they spilled from his gut onto the floor.
“So this is what goes into immortality, huh?” Winthrop swept Wilson’s feet out from under him and stabbed again. “The higher-ups pour all that money into discovering the secret, then they have to create someone like me to track down their escaped creations. Pitiful.”
“Immortality… isn’t what they thought it was.”
Winthrop continued the attack, slashing ruthlessly. At first, Wilson focused on Maria, imagining her telling Jax the story of his father’s sacrificial love late at night. Then pain eclipsed his ability to focus, and he let out a scream.
Winthrop plunged a hand into a wound and ripped out a mass of worms. That cloak of his should’ve been bloodstained. But no. He didn’t kill ordinary people.
Wilson’s insides crawled about aimlessly, their light slowly fading. A new wave of fire burst on his skin. Breathing was too much effort. So this is was it takes for an immortal to die. No, don’t think that. Thinking was too much effort.
Wilson gave up, surrendering his whole world to torment.
It was morning. His windows were broken, and half his body was missing. But he was home.
It was the most horrifying truth he had ever faced.
A scream erupted from his lungs. He glimpsed his worms crawling towards him, reforming his legs. He felt no pain. His reservoir of pain was empty.
“Um… honey? You’re alive?”
Maria’s voice brought him back to the present.
“I was supposed to die,” he growled. “What does it take for an immortal to die?”
He sat up, then slumped back to the floor. Nothing had changed. He was still locked in this body, doomed to wander the earth for eternity. Maria and Jax were still in danger— Winthrop would never give up pursuing him, and wouldn’t hesitate to use his loved ones as hostages.
Maria crossed her arms. “Immortal?”
He told her everything, from his days in the lab to Winthrop’s attack last night. When he finished, silence pressed on him like a physical weight.
Maria bowed her head.
“I’m sorry,” Wilson added. “I endangered you and Jax, and in the end, I couldn’t even sacrifice my own life to keep you safe.”
Maria looked up. “This… hunter. He’ll never give up until you’re dead, right?”
“Well, why are you still alive?”
Wilson’s legs linked together, the critters emitting a protective coating that became his skin. Winthrop had completely shredded every inch of his body. Nobody could survive that.
A smile danced across Maria’s face. “He thinks you’re dead. You didn’t fail, Wilson. You saved us from the rioters and from Winthrop.”
She took Wilson’s hand and pulled him up. Wilson groaned, his muscles weak after not existing for several hours.
“Immortality isn’t all bad,” she said. “I’d rather have a worm-filled husband than a dead one.”
“But you’ll die,” Wilson protested. “I’ll leave you.”
“I’ll live first.” Maria rested her head against his chest. “And my life will be better for having you in it. So smile, honey. You’ve done good.”
Almost against his will, Wilson obeyed.
I've always thought immortality would get kinda depressing after a while. It's a trope that seasons much of the fantasy genre-- yet little thought is given to its downside. I wrote this story to consider what hope looks in for someone stuck in a dark and broken world. Wilson's brief adventure doesn't answer any deep philosophical questions, but it does introduce an interesting topic to think about.
And it may not be my last word on immortality. Among my many potential novels lies The Immortality Cure, a dystopian story exploring a society in which everyone expects to live forever.
What makes you want to be immortal? What do you think would happen if death were no longer a certainty? Comment and let me know. Perhaps I'll use your insights as inspiration for a story.
Progress on Doombear, Rough draft:
Progress on The Lore of Yore, third draft:
"In truth, by leaving, I was seeking only one thing. A journey."
-Oathbringer, pg 981
Types of blog posts: