Field Trip into Limbo (a Wendig Flash)


Chaz already had the classroom stunned with his temerity of walking in smoking a cigarette.   “Young man, you cannot just walk in here and -“

Chaz waited for Mr. Huggis to get close enough before he blew the smoke from his first two puffs right in his face. The math guru (and he was at that – it wasn’t a rumor that the mayor had offered the man the key to the city after his fifteenth year of teaching) closed his eyes but did not back away.

Chaz kept blowing until every drop of smoke was in the teacher’s face. “Now look here, Mr. Numbers, time is just not on our hands today. You can lock me up and toss the key if you’d like, but I will request that you wait until after I’ve done what madness this occasion has graced me with first. And, my god, what a glorious position we have placed me in today.” He flicked the cigarette out of eyeshot somewhere off to one of the inactive areas of the classroom before Mr. Huggis’s eyes opened.

“Now listen up,” Chaz went on. “There’s some shit about to go down and I think it’s high time you all know about it.” If the classroom had ever experienced a quieter moment, it wasn’t in the record books.

“I’ve decided we should have a field trip today.”

“Oh, you decided, did you?” Mr. Huggis coughed out his contempt while still waving away the smoke. He stood now on the other side of the room and crossed his arms over his chest. “No, this is ridiculous. Insane! We’ll see how Principal Davis approves of your field trip.” He used air quotes as he rushed back across the room to ht other side where the main door of the classrooms was.

“Nope, nope,” Chaz said. “Sorry, Mr. Huge; can’t do that right now. Not really what the message was.”

Mr. Huggis reached the door and yanked in frustration. In one motion, the door handle flew off and the instructor flung himself several steps back before he tripped over the metal mesh rubbish can right by his desk and landed with significant lack of grace face-down across his wooden floor. When his body stopped, the classroom roared with laughter.

Chaz let the natural reaction play out before he gave a clap and turned back to the class, exhaling another puff from his cigarette before tossing it behind him, the butt of which smacked against a well-washed blackboard and fell to the floor, rolling to stop underneath Mr. Huggis’s ear.

“So, check it out, we’re going to be descending into one of the sub-pits of Limbo today. The bossman wants us to come down, have a chat, ask some questions; he wants to meet you is what we’re going for here, so if there are no questions…”He reached into his left jean pocket and extracted a small BIC lighter as a hand shot up from the back of the class.”

Chaz nodded in the direction. “Yes?”

“Don’t you mean, Hell?”

“Ah, no it does not. It means Limbo. Limbo means Limbo. Hell is different. Hell is Spanish; Limbo is Portuguese. They’re different things, but it’s easy to confuse one for the other. You with me? Now, let’s get to it.” He held out his hand and flicked the lighter with another hand shot up from the front row. “Umm…” Peggy Dawots always wore a perfectly-pressed school uniform. Golden curls bounced in pigtails and braces flashed as her hand went up.

“Yes, Peggy.” Chaz said, dropping impatiently the hand with his lighter.

“Okay, so my best friend, Carey, his grandma saw someone once do what I think you’re going to do right now.

“No shit?”

“None,” said the girl. “And, umm, I was wondering if it’s safe.”

“Is what safe?”

“The trip? I mean you are playing with fire, and you know what the rule is about playing with fire.”

Chaz smirked and pointed at her. “Great point. And, yes, of course I know what the rule is for playing with fire. It’s don’t-forget-to-add-gas. Right? Okay, here we go. No more questions? No one else is gonna piss on my campfire, here? Let’s just get down there, snap some Instagrammies, and come on back to the classroom to have a great rest of the day with,” he looked back. Mr. Huggris steadily rolled onto his knees. “With this guy.”

The lighter came out again and Dusty Banes’s hand shot up from three seats back from Peggy. He sneezed loudly, covering his mouth, but missing the excess which was lost in Peggy’s curls.

“Yes! Christ, for shit’s sake, Dusty, what is it? Just ask when we get down there. What?”

“Oh no,” Dusty said quietly. “No, I just sneezed.

Chaz pulled back and slouched, giving Dusty a look of incredulity. “So you didn’t just raise your hand?”

“No, I did,” Dusty said. Freckles on his pale fat face seemed to sprout more just from being in the conversational spot light.

“Well what?!”

“No, no,” Dusty said giving a humble smile. “No, my arms go up when I sneeze.”

Chaz simply stared at the kid for several seconds. Giggles bounced around the room.

“We’re going,” Chaz said.

In one quick motion the lighter was out and Chaz held it over the center of the room. “Chaal’am Taeku!” He yelled. Then let the lighter fall.

From below the floor, orange winds rose and consumed the wood from below. Within seconds a circle of heat ate the room’s floor and howled in a circle of fire and wind. The hair on the children’s heads rose and flailed about. Chaz stood there, shielded his blinking eyes with his arms and yelled to the class.

“Don’t worry; it’s not hot. It just had to get through the floor.”

“Everything’s burning!” Peggy yelled. Dusty’s wide cheeks filled into a smile and he was already volunteering before Chaz asked who the first volunteer would be.

The class stood from their desks and lined up behind Dusty one by one.

On three, here we go!” Chaz said.

“But it’s scary!”

“No, it’s not, Violet. Just looks scary. It’s cozy. Just…just go.”

Dusty jumped. The class followed.

The fiery hole into the nether sucked in on itself and closed. And Mr. Huggis stood and looked upon the quiet empty classroom. He coughed and turned toward the knobless classroom door.

Field trip indeed!

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Esmeralda


by

L.P. Stribling

 

Keeping one step behind her godmother, Esmeralda stared at her red shoes as she entered the train station. She loved the way they clicked on the cobblestone under the grey morning sky.

“Esmeralda?” Her godmother spoke into the air as they walked into the building. She was a tall lanky woman who never let her chin drop below her jawline.

The girl lifted her gaze away from her shoes and looked up. The lights were giant stars hanging in tight clusters high in the decorative iron works of the station ceiling.  Giant stars, but small in the dark station air.
“Yes, godmother?” Esmeralda answered dropping her head back down to watch the red of her shoes. Her fingers were interlaced in front of her. Both hands bounced a little. She liked her hands. They were perfect. Pale, yes, but not so much that they were offsetting, and certainly not malnourished. There were lines running across the knuckle of her top thumb, but they were small.

Bounce, bounce, bounce. She liked that.

“Do not hesitate when I call you, girl. You must answer at once. ‘Here, godmother.’ Say it crisply and smartly.” The woman looked back over her shoulder to see the red of the girl’s new traveling dress. She still kept a suitable pace. “We’re nearly there.”

“Yes, godmother,” Esmeralda responded quickly. Her eyes rose from her bouncing hands and watched the woman as she walked. When people see you in the world, you should look as though you don’t mind being seen, she had told Esmeralda often enough. The woman’s dress was formal, a deep elegant white, almost creamy. It wrapped her body so tightly, the veins bulged across her forearms until they found escape at the wrists. Complementing the outfit was a hat – the smallest Esmeralda had ever seen. Matching the owner’s dress, it could have fit comfortably in the hollow of her own bouncing palms. She didn’t know how it stayed in the woman’s hair all pulled tightly to the back and greying as it was, but there it stood, as if gripped to her scalp for fear of falling to the ground.

Before today, Esmeralda had counted the number of times she had been to the station. Nine. Not that she travelled anywhere, of course; she just went to look. The place nearly always made her giddy with wonder. The first time was before her parents left and she had to stay with her godmother. From the outside, it was another grey factory – bland brick on all sides.

She remembered wanting to walk around it; naturally her father allowed it. The walls around the building all moulded together into a solid stone covering, tapering as it climbed into the air. Greyed windows around a large iron-framed entrance open to the Penrith public. As drab as every building she had seen in the town before.

The inside however – another world completely, one she fell in love with. The dark on the inside of the iron gates certainly changed the way she felt about the day, but that wasn’t what kept bringing her back. it wasn’t the people either. In as magnificently interesting as she found them, all their different voices and glances. Some of them shouted, some listened. Young, old, boys and girls, The unhurried had just as much a destination as those who rushed. It wasn’t the beautiful clicks on the floor either, as happy to be there as they all were. For Esmeralda, it was always the color – the vibrance of the shoes, the gloves, and the travel hats and scarves which sprinkled her vision. She could stand there, right in the entrance, wherever, and watch them all. Teeming as they rushed in and out in a flurry of sounds and a wash of colors. Travelers, workers, and train staff alike strutted across the polished cobblestone with a symphony of clicks and taps, each with their own decidedly appropriate way to dress to meet the day most suitably. She remembered walking to the middle of the station, being surrounded by it all, and gaping, tickled to be afloat in a rainbow of human energy.

“We must be sure of our pace, Esmeralda.” Her godmother’s voice snapped her out of another daydream. “Do we remember our train’s departure?” the woman asked, still looking ahead. With each militant step the woman took, the miniature hat shook on her tight hair with jagged flits.

“Five thirty sharp, ma’am,” Esmeralda said. She stopped her hands bouncing briefly; she had to be careful about what she said next.

“And what time is it now?” asked her godmother, looking off to the side.

But again she was drawn away.

From a prominent wall near the center of the station, the glow of a pearly moon-sized clock face wrapping itself around her. As far as Esmeralda knew, it was the only moon on earth, the guardian of Penrith, guardian of the whole station, guardian of her. One of her favorite things. In the shower of the clock’s moonlight, Esmeralda closed her eyes, craned her neck and opened her arms wide. The warmth of the guardian held her. I’m at the center of the world, she thought.

“Esmeralda, the time!” Her godmother had turned and stopped, her creamy dress drab now as she stationed her feet just outside the light of guardian’s embrace.

Inhaling and allowing her eyes to open just enough to see the clock the way others saw the clock. The numbers against the glow of the pale backdrop were a pretty swirl of dark bronze and teal. She could stare at them the whole afternoon if she were allowed. The long hands were heavy sticks of woven iron twirling from the clock’s center to pointy arrowed tips.

“Five seventeen, ma’am,” said Esmeralda.

“Move, girl,” the woman snapped again. “We musn’t get lost in things that are not part of our destination.”

Behind her a billowing cloud of white topped the large iron mass of a train at the far end of the station, slowing before it’s final puff of a stop. The girl’s eyes twinkled. What a gorgeous hunk of black metal. The smoke above looked likea marshmallow hat;  the front of the train seemed to have a big metal face. It was very happy to see her coming.

“Well, well! If it isn’t the prettiest girl in the station!” A squat elderly man with a puffy white mustache waddled up to the duo with bright eyes and a worn smile. He had on the familiar grey and white uniform of the train station staff. Doffing his conductor hat, he approached Esmeralda in the light of the moon.

“Good morning, Mr. Gibbons,” the woman sighed from the shadow, a feigned smile straining her lips, “so nice to see you.” Her eyes never met his. Instead they darted about the station awkwardly, blinking with every switch of direction.

“Good morning, Mr. Gibbons!” Esmeralda smiled.

“And a good morning to you, Your Highness,” he said removing his hat and tucking it under his arm. He made a slight bow. His head dipped over his protruding belly allowing several wisps of white hair to unfurl and fall languidly away. He straightened and knelt at her front. “And what brings you to my fine station today?”

“I’m going on a trip!” Esmeralda said.

“A trip?” the man’s eyes widened into saucers of concern. “But, but…who will lead the nation in your absence, my Queen?”

Esmeralda placed her hands on his shoulders, her forehead and nose touched his own. “I’m placing you in charge, Sir Gibbons.” The touch warmed the old man’s soul.

“Count on me, Your Grace,” he said, lowering his head

“Come, child,” cleared the woman still standing and looking away, “it’s time to go!” Her head was up and the learning of her throat was forced . “Say good-bye to Mr. Gibbons.”

Mr. Gibbons  straightened up at the shake of the woman’s voice. “Very well, Your Majesty. Duty calls. Here.” He reached into an inside breast pocket of his coat. “For the journey,” he said filling Esmeralda’s hands with a small trove of chocolates, each individually wrapped red.

Her big eyes shone on him with a grand-daughterly love. She opened her mouth to speak.

“Come girl!,” snapped her godmother. “You will not miss this train. Now, thank the man and we move.” She reached down and grabbed Esmeralda’s hand and pulled into movement. Esmeralda shoved the chocolates into the open pocket of her red dress as she was lifted into motion. She liked that she had pockets. When she bounced, things could stay with her.

“Thank you, Mr. Gibbons!” she had to speak it while being hastily turned and rushed into motion.

“Thank you, Mr. Gibbons,” the woman sighed sharply as she kept her head up and away, hauling the girl along.

“Ah, of course, ma’am!” the conductor said, standing and waving his grey hat. “Be safe, child. Enjoy your tr~”

“For nothing,” she continued, her voice low as she cleared her throat. She continued toward the terminal, her head straight, nose up. Esmeralda missed the end of his words as the raucous animation of the train station enveloped her again. The bold colors of it whirred by her as she and her godmother strolled along the central red-bricked center of the walkway. Passengers, restaurant workers, booksellers, and ticket agents all played a part; whether standing in line or racing from one wall to the next, they formed a wave of colors in the tapestry of the moment. Passing by the forest green of the empty or half-empty benches, or waiting in line at the striped black-and-white newspaper kiosks, and the blue food stands, the colors of the people painted their own masterwork in front of her.  Esmeralda sighed in a wish to walk more slowly. It was dark – the train station. But it was her own personal cave of colors, her very favorite place.

Her free hand dashed to her pocket. At least I have these. She allowed her fingers to count each wrapping as they jumbled in their quiet compartment. Bouncing in their own way, the chocolates kept pace with her.

Two loud whistle calls piped out of an already-steaming locomotive up ahead. Its roll was slow at first – almost unnoticeable upon the well-kept orange of the iron tracks beneath it. Small puffs of cloud sprung from the stack of the lead car.

 

puff—Puff—PUff—PUFf—PUFF 

 

Each bloom of smoke a bit larger than the one before.

A slender man in a perfectly-pressed blue uniform stepped out from the shadow of a nearby pillar, cupped his hands around his mouth, and hollered into the crowd.

“449, All Aboard! — second call!”

The low guttural grumble from the woman came then from a wan wrinkled throat. “No! No! Move girl, this is your train! I will not have you here one second longer than need be.” She tightened her grip on the girl’s arm and hauled her closer as the train’s goliath body began to pick up pace. Ahead of them, several passengers were showing their papers and jaunting up the steps into the iron body.

The whirr of the station had become a collage of colors on both sides and Esmeralda’s head swiveled. There were creams, lavenders, blues, whites, and easy yellows.

And then a purple.

So odd was it to see such a neon hue of purple that Esmeralda stopped mid-stride, ripping her wrist from her godmother’s grip to fully allow the observation. She heard the woman’s yell, but the strain of the noise swept by her.

The rich glow in the middle of the train station drifted playfully amid the hustle of the crowd a dancing light of a broach on the soft lapel of an elderly woman. Her curly white hair matched her jacket and shoes. Her figure moved slowly as she maneuvered a thin cane at her front to make her way across the vast train-station floor. A younger woman stood at her side, her hands around the woman’s arm to help her along. With her the filigree-cushioned stone passed by Esmeralda and out of sight.

How pretty, she thought.

“…here right this minute, young lady! This train will not wait for you!” Her godmother’s voice descended on her, sonorous, scolding, snapping her back to the forced quick pace of dull necessity. Esmeralda spun in time to see the green coat of another man walking headlong into her. He was checking his watch and did not see the girl before he barreled into her. Together they tumbled to the unforgiving cobblestone of the station floor, green and red mixed in a downward fall.

She winced in pain and let out a cry as she rolled onto her back. A scattering of ticking pattered across the floor around her, and through teary eyes, she found the chocolates Mr. Gibbons had given her. strewn about in a spray of red dots  on the cobblestone.

“You get up this instant, you wretched thing! Dawdle along is all you do! I’ll not waste one more moment looking after you and your nonsense. GET UP!”

She was just rising into a seated position when she felt the woman’s icy wrist on one of her own. The man in green had already hurried back into the crowd.

“No!” She shouted then, flipping back over, waving the woman’s hand away from her. “No, wait, my candies!” Behind her the steam billowed, the body of the iron beast picking up pace.

puff-PUFF-puff, puff-PUFF-puff, puff-PUFF-puff

“449 – last call. All aboard!”

On hands and knees, Esmeralda crawled about in a panic rushing to pick up wrapper after wrapper, her knees rubbing the lower edge of her red dress into the well-worn concrete of the train-station floor. “My candies,” she continued to yell. “They match my dress. No, please, ma’am. One more minute!”

She had five collected when her godmother’s claws snatched the back of her dress and clasped her around the front of her neck, lurching her up onto her feet. “Now!”

Esmeralda’s eyes quivered behind watery gates. She sniffled and tucked in her lips before feeling herself ripped toward the train. “Wait!” Her godmother shouted at the moving iron wagon. Her white-gloved hand clutching a paper ticket and waving it wildly in the air.

“Wait, please. Oh, please wait! One more.” Behind her, the grip she held on Esmeralda’s wrist began to pool with small droplets of blood on the underside. Esmeralda grimaced and bit her lip as her red shoes fumbled to rush along.

“I’m sorry, madam,” said the man looking down to mark notes on a ticketing pad. “You’ve missed this one, I’m afraid. Next train to London runs in three days’ time, same hour.” He jotted two more quick strokes in his book, tipped his hat without eye contact, and walked off.

Her godmother turned on Esmeralda with bitter rage.

“This is your fault!” she growled. She shot a gloved hand high in the quiet station air, palm open, eyes wide.

Esmeralda’s eyes squinted and she dipped her head into her shoulder and waited.

In the span of several hard breaths, whispers began to flutter into the air around them. The woman’s eyes darted from one side of her powdered gaunt face to another. Reluctantly, she slowed her breathing and lowered her forearm to her hair. The other hand came up to assist with the ruse. She straightened as she checked the stability of the small hat.. It remained rigid; it knew its place.

“Ma’am?”

As a slender man in a grey traveling suit, and matching bowler approached, her face immediately regained composure. He offered a nod a smirked a greeting before holding out a palmful of wrapped chocolates. “I believe these belong to your daughter?”

The woman’s eyes moved only, falling to the red scattering in his hand. Then to him, to Esmeralda, and back to the candies before she gave a lugubrious sigh.

“No,” she said clearing her throat. “No, I’m afraid you’re mistaken. I don’t have a daughter.” Her eyes rolled obligatorily to Esmeralda. “I came to the station alone today.”

The man’s face slacked as his eyes slid from her to Esmeralda.

“You’re speaking of this, I presume.” she gestured to Esmeralda open handed. “No, this one’s homeless. A vagrant. Do you see the red dress?” She sighed. “There are so many ways to beg these days; awful.” Esmeralda’s furrowed brows seemed to go with the scratches at her wrist and scuffs on her knees. “Let’s hand these to a deserving child, shall we?”  She grabbed the candies from the man and shuffled past him. The woman strutted through the busy station crowd then, mixing herself in with the kaleidoscope of hurried hues. Esmeralda followed her hat until she couldn’t see it anymore.

“Miss?”

Esmeralda turned her head from the colorful confusion back to the man at her side.

“Miss, are you traveling today? Do you have somewhere to go?”

She thought for a moment, looking back to the bustle of passers-by. She looked for the tight white dress, the thin gaunt face, unbending velvet hat. She even took two steps to be sure. May she just needed a couple of steps. Seconds later she shook her head and turned back to the man “No,” she said.

“Come…umm, ..why don’t you come with me. I’ll see you to the Conductor’s Office.”

She nodded and stepped past him, following his gesture.

 

Through the colors she walked, one step behind the nice man with the grey suit. His socks were the perfect type of yellow. It made it easy to follow. The other colors passed her by as they made their way to Mr. Gibbons’s office. In the middle of the station, Esmeralda slowed her steps again as they came upon the moonlight of the station clock.

From her periphery, the colors of the station drifted and she opened her arms as she walked into the light. The face of the pearly moon covered her completely, her smile grew with the light’s embrace.

When her red shoes stopped then, Esmeralda closed her eyes and opened her arms wide as her neck craned back. At the center of the world the warmth of the guardian held her.

 

Tourmaline – Part II


There was a tickling sensation which grabbed her then – a lovely gripping coolness which sprayed giddy chills across every pore of her. She smiled, wanting almost to cry at the same time. The flooring felt soft and her toes curled to feel what it was made of – it seemed a mass of miniature cushioned fingers, each welcoming the weight and feel of her feet. Her legs moved through the coolness, her nose catching the weightless blips of spray as the water from the fountain’s center fell into the pool. It was dangerous here, an easy place to fall and not wake up. But she was here for a purpose.

Quickstepping to the center of the fountain, her toes digging into the fingered flooring beneath, she ducked into the cascade, her body covered by the raging water. Once inside, she grabbed onto the center column, from the feel, made entirely of marble. As grip-less as it was, she managed to pull herself up the high column, one step at a time, steadily going up the pillar. She was happy for the raging sound – up this close, she felt it was just herself and the water. This close she could near nothing but the water’s raging speed as it welcomed her to be a part of it.

Yet, she knew they were there on the outside and she knew that they were coming for her. The raging water as peaceful and comforting as it may have been, was not going to simply keep them out. Steadily, one step at a time, she climbed. As there were branches which came out of the center shaft of the pillar of the fountain, so there were also some handholds, areas for her fingers, at least for some time.

Some of the water came in droplets which seemed to pepper her cheeks as she climbed and there was the other water falls of the water which came at all times, cascades of it, endless pours as she climbed. Several times after areas of solid footing, she would have to turn her head to catch her breath. It was on one those times that she happened to notice two things. First, how high above the ground she had climbed (and not even made it have way up the spire). Second, that there was a darker cloud of insidiousness which was rolling toward her. Sand dogs. Another deep breathe, and she turned her attention back to her climb.

Once out of an area of high water, she looked up again, The sky was blue, just as she had remembered when she was running up to the fountain – out of breath and with pained heels digging into the sand. Beyond the highest point of the spire a small glow found her eyes.

“Cruan!” She muttered to herself. It is in the light of Cruan that you’ll need to make the pull. She had never meant to count how many time Alaster’s voice had come to her. It was almost as if he had never died.

It was a giddiness that she felt which helped her jump up to the next step of the the long central pillar. She could see the next handhold clearly. In the cool water of the falls she left her footing with a smile. Whether she wore that same smile on her face was something no one would ever have been able to say.

And it was when she felt herself leave, that she slipped.

It was her footing, or the water, or the thought of almost making it all the way to her goal, to the place where Alaster and the team had placed all of their training and faith. Even in the small seconds that passed that told her she was going up, she felt herself falling.

On the descent, she had somehow made herself face downward – if not to see them coming, to see where she would fall and die.. One of her first thoughts was more of a wonder than anything else. Will it be in the water? The water was there below her, certainly, but her body wasn’t entirely over it.

She yelled, and did nothing. There were too many thoughts in her to do anything else. Eve the thought of berating herself for the pride of the jump was lost in the sea of the other thoughts. No clawing; no cursing at herself, no saying good-byes. Last time. I won’t reboot after this. None. Nothing. Of anything. All that was there and all that came from her at that time was as cream. It was all that she could think of – all of her thoughts combined into this one sound. Not even one for help or anger. It was simply the only thing that her body knew how to do.

Before she hit, her eyes took in the black mass that was the army of Sand Dogs, the hunters – those who had been sent after her – her the traitor, the runaway. She couldn’t be upset with them; they had been given their orders and it was something she could understand. No. She wasn’t upset with them.

She closed her eyes before she landed.

All she felt was the force of the ground, half mixed with the ledge of the fountain’s water basin, crack into her.

“Take her!” The voice of the rider from somewhere in the back, commanded the high energy of the esurient animals.

Pain fled through her system; it would have been easy to say that it was something she was used to. She had been through a series of varying degrees of pain in her lives. Death was always easier. Somehow, in as many times as she had done this, it just wasn’t anything she was used to. The ground rippled through her and the voice in her wanted to scream just as she had done when she was several tens of feet in the air several seconds ago. But, it wasn’t there – on the outside at least.

The current of the pain staggered its way through her limbs and rattled ;her bones and it rippled through the small several cubic meters of ground that she covered in her fall.

“Decode!” His yell came to her then and there and it was as though he was coming closer. She was surprised she could hear his yelling commands over the wild beasts as they came upon her. It was just as she had expected after slipping form the top, well nearly the top of the spire. She was right there, and after all of her lives, this was how it was going to end.

The dogs individually were unsightly. Vermin which had no qualities of civility. Their coats were disheveled and matted for the most part. They subsisted on carrion or smaller creatures in the sand. Their snouts were malformed almost all of the time, and with their lips hanging down only halfway to the bottom of their chins. Their gross teeth were always exposed and no part of them where white; the color of them had decayed with their diet of feeding on the dead and the exposure to the air and the sand. She remembered at one point wondering why the grains of sand never whitened their or at least made them softer. These were the thoughts she had they came upon her.

Like an untamed virus, they came on her to feed.

“Decode and dismember!” The voice of the hunter was softer now, somewhere off in the distance. She could feel their warmth, and their snouts rubbed upon her with a coolness. It was the entirety of the pack at once. All of them, seemingly came to feed on her. It seemed unlikely that it would be all of them; there were thousands. Only the first who got there would be able to take her. If there was any of there left over within a few seconds, it wouldn’t be much.

Pain. Her back groaned and, with her own cognizance, she realized that she could feel nothing from her legs down. Her eyes only caught colors here.

The dogs’ snouts were more now; they growled and shredded the clothing from her body. It wasn’t much to work with, however. Her body never had enough meat to give.

Her blouse, the white snap-on, and her shorts were ripped from her person. The snouts of the animals continued to sniff her and the sounds became to get softer a bit and there were more growling from the three around her body. Pain.

She prepared as best she could for the pain. This would be the last time.

She watched the clothes leave her body as she let go. She saw something odd as they left her vision, there was a spot there – in the shorts. A green lovely circular spot.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

“Tourmaline,” she smiled. There was no pain, and her questions were answered. There was no pain because there would be no pain. The drug. Left in her back pocket had shattered upon the drop.

Her eyes fluttered and watched as the dogs walked away. They walked away slowly against the yells of confusion and discontent of their master.

“Get the code, NOW!” he yelled. “Rip it from her! No! No! What are you doing?”

Constance turned her head (no pain) and saw him in the background. She saw him there way off in the distance. He was there in black with dust swirling around him. His image swirled and rolled with the hazy distance as his limbs jerked wildly. The dogs were growing farther and farther away from her. They steadily walked from her, panting. They had run so far and with so much energy that they seemed to feel they had all met their objective. It was though they had crossed the finish line, had their fill of whatever treat, and decided to head back. They had dropped her clothing just feet from her. No longer interested

In the distance, the dog master had given up yelling his whips and his orders. He decided to run toward her.

No pain.

Her neck had not hurt when she turned it. The drug. Tourmaline.

Constance smiled and lifted her head before pushing herself up on one elbow. She looked in the distance after a quick rub of her eyes. She felt her breast softly dip down and rub against her upper stomach . The man was coming toward her wildly and with a knife drawn. The blade flashing with each cycle it completed in his hand. Her nakedness felt good then. There was a sun in the sky – a large golden globe, and a cool wind found her cheeks.

She lifted herself to her feet and for the first time again heard the water. She turned back to see what she could still see, where she should have been buried had she not stuck the vial in her pocket. The water fell as though a tipped flower vase from the heavens, emptying upon the dry land in endless drips, showers and hails. She stood there looking at the pool at first, the stem which she tried to climb. She noticed where she was when she fell. Almost made it. She needed to finish her task.

There was blood of course. Her soft skin on the back side had been cushioned by the hard sand and punctured by the titanium vile. How can titanium break? She was glad it did.

“AAAhhh!” The man was behind her, but everything happened slowly form that point. Everything was slow; time was all hears. She was becoming more powerful; she felt it. It was inconsequential to watch the man or to worry. Facing away from him, she could almost see him.

She focused on the water. His hand was raised above him, the knife high pointing down. There was a glint upon the blade that no human eyes would ever notice. It was a shame as it was very pretty. It came down, but only fell half way before the man was taking down by jaws by the thousands. His own pack. Their growls were just as heightened and powered as they had been when digging into her the first time.

There was a clank at her feet and she looked down seeing the knife, just as it was supposed to be – for her taking.

“Thank you,” she said and walked again into the pool in front of her as the echoes of his screams were lost in the raging of the waterfalls. She stepped in the water and focused on her steps. On the water, on the cushioned flooring of the pool. This was the whole of the last vial of Tourmaline. In her mind she knew the dogs were behind her, all of them. Sand dogs. She did not have to look at them or for them. They were quiet now, the ones in the front, eight of them or so, were stained with the neck blood of the man they had before then obeyed. She walked on the floor; she twirled. The knife in her hand gleamed with more of a magic than it had seen ever, more than they had seen in years.

When she was ready, she returned to the spire and climbed. The army of sand dogs sat and watched.

Up through the raging of the water she climbed. This time taking her time. The coolness of the water, the splashes, the dumps, the sprinkles, the sprays, all of it, the entire ocean of the water of her childhood fairy tales; she wanted all of it. Yet, she did not dither here. The drug was in her inner self. She was the last one to use it. She was the last one to have snapped the vial.

Open the vile over the Cruan, and bring then the green to feed the land.

 “Yes, Alaster,” she said, water filling her mouth, her pores, her face and all of her. Her hair was the wettest it had been. She shook her hair and answered. “I will do as you say, just as you have taught me. This is the last of it, you know.” She climbed farther upward and as she climbed, she rotated her body around the spire of the fountain in the middle of the desert. A quick glance at the army of those below. They had all sat eager for something. For her to return?

The water pouring of the fountain lessened as she got higher and as she gained more ground. This was the time. At the end of the spire, she found two perfectly wide and flat points for her to stand upon.

The Cruan. Its surface… just the surface had filled her head with all manner of childhood stories and questions. She pulled herself to a standing position.

“I’m here, Alaster,” she said.

For a moment – the only moment she would have here, she took a breath and straightened to look up and about the land.

The desert. She began from the backs of the sand dogs and followed it back. In the distance far off, beyond far, she saw the thick grey walls of the Institution. The ominous place where they told her that her parents didn’t want her, where they told her the existence she led was nothing – that she was nothing.

That was enough. Again she looked around once more before getting back to the task.

She held her wrist over the top of the spire, the Cruan. Before she began to cut, she looked around the top of the pillar for the halo, the glow. Nothing. No, it’s here. Of course it’s here.

She held her free wrist above the top of the Cruan and cut with the blade. Blood, dark and thick, moved as though it had just been awoken form a long slumber. It dripped down the last mote of skin and fell through the air to the top of the pillar. One drop, then two, then fifteen, a stream of blood.

The structure began to shake and a pulse of light lit the entire structure. Once. Again two, three times.

Constance cut herself again twice more, the tears in her eyes were blurring her vision.

The blood ran from her in heavy streams and the top of the pillar was covered. Her footing began to weaken and she saw chunks of the pillar fall away from the main and into the water below. What was standing in its place was a patch of light burning more brightly than the sun in the sky. Patches and patches they fell from it, more and more and quicker and quicker. They fell. As her footing gave way and the placeholders for her feet fell into the water below, Constance jumped to the hold on to the top of the spire.

The heat shook and seared her. Her eyes, her skin, her spirit burned from within. The structure shook more and more violently and from within the voice came to her.

AAhh, I thank you. Here is were it begins. Here and now.

Constance did not scream with the pillar of the fountain exploded outward in a far-reaching burst of white light.

It rocketed across the sand dogs, the desert whole and for leagues afterward in every direction. Every mote of life of every plane where the light touched was burned and changed from whatever it’s color was to a n easy meditative sort of brown. And then there was quiet and the light died down, easing itself from its reach into the sky, in competition with the sun, and it pulled back from its tracts along the desert.

The sun dogs were quietly decimated below; they went without disagreement. It was her they were following; her, the keeper of the drug.

When the light slowly pulled all of its reaching fingers from all places anid reverted into itself, it crumbled.

There was no water, no fountain, no life. Nothing remained. Nothing yet.

 

Somewhere else, somewhere behind the veil which separates this world from the next a long-white haired man looked at the spot where the Tower had lain. His eyes, blue and silver, surveyed the image. He nodded and recovered his tea and saucer from the table at his front.

“Good,” Alaster said. “You’ve done well, child.” He lifted the cup to take a sip. China, it was called somewhere else. She had heard it before. “Green will be restored and the good civilizations will be back here in a few millennia. That’s sadly what happens when you incur an Ice-Age in the middle of history – especially one they’re not ready for.”

“I just want to keep going,” Constance said.

“What do you mean?” Alaster said, his loose white robe folding with predictable movements as he walked She was used to his walk.

“I mean I want to be somewhere else. Another planet, another time. Something.”

He set his teat down and gave her a pat on the knee. “Well, I for one, am very happy to have you back, I’ll have you know.”

She smiled. “Thanks, Alaster.”

“You were always good at listening.” He smiled back. “Now cheer up. I happen do have a new destination for you. But first, supper. We’ll speak after that. Oh, and Constance.”

Her eyebrows rose. “Mmm?”

“May I suggest that we not involve ourselves in drugs on this next run?”

“I wasn’t supposed to be brought back in the first place; seems like drugs are working out perfectly for me.”

He nodded. “Your point, although taken, is irrelevant. You drugging yourself accidentally doesn’t really count. Yes, the drug gave you another life, but ~”

“Nope,” she said, “no ‘buts’. I’m here, and if drugs keep me alive, I will do it. Now, supper please.”

Alaster nodded and continued forward. “As stubborn as your mother. Come, come.” He moved through the doors and let it slam behind him.

Constance stared at the screen for a few more seconds. The brown hold where the fountain stood, the fountain she had climbed. She turned the screen off and followed the man. Tourmaline in her blood.

Tourmaline (a serial story)


 

Dear Reader,

Happy Sunday…night. I hope your weekend glistened as mine did. I wanted to bring a story to the space, but I wanted to do it in parts. The following story is called “Tourmaline,” and it comes from of the Chucky Challenges from Mr. Wendig’s space. I guess, that being what it is, it could be called a collaborative effort.

Nah.

Sorry, Chuck. This one’s mine.

-lp

—-

 

Tourmaline

By L.P. Stribling

Part I

 

Constance ran toward the quarry with the last vial of the drug clutched in the prison of her palm. The dirt and rock, dry under her sneaker soles, kicked up after her feet rushed down the hard-packed plane. The day was mild, very little wind. The sun was out looking over her from the center of a healthy spring sky, and she knew that if she were to stop and look behind her, she wouldn’t see anything. It would seem that she were alone. But all illusions were easy here. And dangerous.

 

There are no breaks here.  Not in this world.  Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

Alaster’s word’s ricocheted in her head amid a steady rising pace of breath and the thrum of her sneaker soles on the hard-packed dirt became the metronome which somehow kept her alive. Yeah, well, look what happened to him. Even the best of us fall. The sad voice of reason always appeared at the most inopportune of moments. Try as she might, there was no exorcising herself of him. He was along for the ride. She gave a shout then, a noise to bring her out of possible decline into the hole of his reality.

When the beat of her steps slowed, the closer she was to death. Ten minutes ago, things were explosive. Ten minutes ago she wouldn’t have been able to hear it. Not with the gunfire.

She topped the next hill and saw the easy ochre glow, the pulse in the distance. It could only be the fountain. She stumbled a bit in the sharp slip of her footing. Her feet swerved off course awkwardly for a couple of steps, but she caught herself when her vialed fist touched the rough ground and rebalanced her.

Fuck! She thought. Don’t slip up now.

The shouts behind her seemed to push the thumps of her foot pounds to the side and found their way to her ears. Instances of voiced guttural cringing – armies of it. They were gaining, the fiends and the sand dogs. How many of them were there this time? This would be the last time, the end. She would die for eternity. No rebirth. She smiled at the thought and dug into the packed dirt, jolting herself for the glow of the fountain. There was a mild shake of her head then. Inside she laughed despite the voice of her body that it needed rest.

How funny is it that when I die this time I won’t be born again?

Under the thump of her feet now, she gave the world a glinted minor smile and quickened her pace.

The fountain closed in and gave itself to her with more detail. It was taller than she imagined. She could see the central spire calling to her in its coruscating outer shell. Like barrels of sand had been sugared with diamond powder and spread on the outer wall of this tower, the structure demanded that she approach it.

The growls of the dogs behind her had no doubt caught her. Her grind was slowing, and as her pace began to lessen, she could not help but hear the monster growls over the dogs. Even with her head focused, she could hear them. There were masses of them. More than she had ever seen or known before. She was on her 309th life. Each of those had not truly been deaths, of course, but resets. And each time brought more of them. They worked for Him, the central man. All of his commands were treated without question and executed. When she had finally learned of her own bounty – an executive order to eliminate her code, she ran, and they followed.

Cocksuckers, she heaved as her feet brought her form into the bastion which was the fountain’s umbrage.

The waters of the round pool sung in quiet laps as they meandered among themselves. Just what she had been told of what it would look like – it was all of that and more. It held a central tower encompassed in the smaller replicated fingers of itself – all of them a stunning mild amber. The natural pores of the stone blistered the skin of the structure with a beautiful sizzling texture. The outside of the structure glowed, pulsing in richness from a medium light to an almost sunlight golden, which lit up the sky around it.

Constance heaved, her body doubling over from the exertion. She had run long and far enough. She would be out of time soon enough. Now was not the time to catch her breath. What did her breath matter at this point? The sounds of her pursuiers were still there and they would be upon her soon. They would be there to eliminate her., and this time , again with a smile she touhgout about it., this time they would succeed – in a sense.

“But not they way they think they will,” she said to herself. “Good, I love you.” Her hands loosened and the vial rocked in her hand, steady and sweat painted. She could feel even then her heartbeat thankful for the encasement of the titanium vial. No matter how hard she squeezed, at least that area was secure. Through the greying small circle of transparent glass, the green fluid lulled back at her.

A bark echoed across the arid ground and her ears brought her eyes back to the hill in the distance – the same hill she had just left and darted here. A million other voices streamlined across the ground and their forms en masse bubbled over the bumpy horizon.

“Nope,” she said to herself. “Not today.” She plopped the vial in her pocket and knelt to pull off her shoes. With a quick toss, she disposed them and took a mental breath before stepping over the beautiful fountain barrier and into the cool crystal water.

Decisions


      by

L.P. Stribling

 

Her face was no longer something she could feel; the wind, the ice had made sure of that. Carla still pushed through the biting slices of nature’s army toward the wooden structure on the hilltop, one high step at a time. The snow reached well past her knees, and beyond that with the ground dipped. On the inside, her legs began to ache.

Almost there, Carla. Push through.

She tried putting her mind elsewhere again. That seemed to work at the bottom of the hill, at least for the first half mile, until the frost winds began to howl. One of the thoughts she found was more of a memory – one from when she was six. It was the first time she recalled hearing the howl of the wind. Her sister, Dari, had run back to the bedroom after the power had gone out to jump under the covers with her.

“What’s that?” she remembered her sister saying. The pause lasted for seconds, until the low curling of the wind’s howl came through the windows. Dari disappeared under the blanket and gripped on to her sister, preferring clearly to be inside her twin’s body.

“Chill out, girl. It’s just the wind,” she had told her.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Dari said. “Just the wind.”

The words ran through her mind with each slow step up the hillside. “Yeah,” she echoed her sister’s voice. “Just the wind.”

The snow depth shortened and the steps became easier. The last few she pushed into a stride of three as she tried to make hasty cover behind the walls of the wooden building.

“Dari!” she screamed at the door as she pounded on the cheap wood. “Let me in!”

Sounds came from beyond the wood. Tapping and shifting. The door fell open and Dari’s hand reached out and pulled her sister in. “I thought you said one o’clock?” Dari said. Her short frame was covered in a parka and ski pants over heavy green socks. “ I’ve been waiting for two hours!” She pulled Carla inside and shook the snow from her back. “Sit,” she said. “I have tea.”

Carla walked to the table in the living room where two steaming mugs of tea sat waiting. A small dish of cookies was at the table’s center, and a fire burned in the gated fireplace. Carla sat.

“Now,” Dari said, sitting and raising a tea mug. “Why don’t we talk about how badly they want you, and how much we stand to gain with the right decisions.”

Carla held the mug between her freezing palms and inhaled the scent deeply. She clinked her mug against Dari’s and took a small sip. Jasmine. It went down warm. She cleared her throat and reached inside her pant pocket, removing a thin vile of neon orange fluid. A solitary air bubble dipped back and forth as she tilted it. “Here’s to making our first decision right.”

The Man Behind the Mic


by

L.P. Stribling

    The man who stepped onto the podium in the middle of the last quiet moment of humanity wore a suit which suggested he was the true face of patriotism. The small two-cent flag on his black suit’s lapel was tilted slightly, but would pass for centered for the majority of those he met. His eyes flashed hard at the center camera below him, his gaze rocketing into every living room of the nation; in the following seconds, those same eyes would release into every living hollow on the planet that contained a pulse of human life.

    He smiled and began.

    “My fellow World Order people, today we have shown that…”

    From the back corner of her living room, Dena Metrin’s heartbeat brought itself to her attention as she watched the screen, almost panting.

    “Please tell me you’re close, Rick.“ Her eyes darted over to the man hunched over his computer at her left. His fingers ran across his keyboard as if he were epileptic. White text sprayed across a blue screen. The pencil in his mouth had a body lined with bite marks. He had been rolling it around in his mouth clamping his teeth down slightly as he worked. As long as Dena knew him, it was his own peculiar way of dealing with stress. When he bit all the way through it, he would spit it out and pull a fresh pencil from the pack next to his keyboard and begin anew.

    “Err,” he said through his pencil. “Ah depfinilhee feek ahm gehng crossr.” She reached out and threw the pencil out of his mouth to the ground.

    “What?”

    “I said,” he repeated, still looking at the screen, his fingers not slowing, “that I think I’m getting…closer!” The last word erupted from him as the screen began raining white text as a full download of something was coming in.

    “Good,” Dena said, “because I think we’re about to get to the pretty bad part.”

    “…it’s not that often, and we all know this, that we have an opportunity in our history to really change everything that we’ve done – all the mistakes, all the backwardness, all the evil and wrongdoing.” Pause. “Well now, ladies and gentlemen of this beautiful moment. Now is that time, and you should feel a tingle run through you in knowing that you are alive here to witness it, because..”

    “Okay, so now how long? Remember, we only need the microphone. That’s what he’s going to use.”

    “Eah,” Rick said, another pencil in his mouth being gnawed on at breakneck pace. “Uss a fsheew mor sekns.” The keyboard sounded like each key was being hit with hard rain.

    “…and with that I’d like to begin by saying ‘so long’ to our past.” The man motioned off camera with a nod of his hands. The building behind him, almost half a mile away, the backdrop of every presidential speech in the history of the nation shattered as a missile came from the sky and blew it directly from its center outward.

    The sound rocketed the people; the cameras shook, and screams were heard from every angle off camera. The man’s beady eyes focused on his audience without any emotion; he nodded as if this was the reaction he had expected all along.

    “Okay, I’m going to need you to make those magic seconds happen right now because…”

    “…and you can see,” he went on, his voice stern and heavy, “that we are on the precipice of greatness! We are ready for change, for tomorrow, a bright tomorrow. We are ready for…ladies and gentlemen, we’re ready for a makeover.”

    “Got it!” Rick yelled.

    In their room, the only sound came as the pencil dropped from his mouth and clicked a bit as it hit the floor and came to a roll and then stilled. Three hundred miles away, HBC’s main camera shook slightly as the man behind the mic grabbed it from the podium and tore it free to hold it aloft in one victorious hand.

    “Behold!” He yelled. “Our makeover!” He turned the mic upside down and pressed a button on the bottom.

    The nation, the world watched. Nothing.

    He pressed again twice, three times. Nothing.

    “Fucking thing!” He slammed the microphone down and stood back from the podium reaching into his vest under the pin of the nation.

    “Welcome to the new you!” He yelled, drawing the revolver out and aiming at the audience, pulling the trigger faster than the audience could comprehend.

    BAM! BAM! BAM! “Welcome!” He cried with each shot. BAM! BAM! “Welcome!”

    Bullets riddled his body and the man dropped to the stage. All camera screens went black then.

    Dena slid to the floor and loosed a sigh. She and Rick said nothing for a long time. Rick’s box of pencils lay untouched.

    “Well,” she said breaking the silence. “There’s that. Take us home, Rick.”

Seconds passed before the rain started again.

Pleather


by L.P. Stribling

    There was wind, light wind, upon the hillock that night. Wisps and whips of it at least. Yet, in the middle of the near-lightless twilight. The only color to the distant sky was a slow-waking maroon. Both women held each other clenched in the an unbroken gaze, unaffected but bonded by that wind.

    Holsters were hollow, their contents barren as the tempered steel of the women’s barrels languidly locked on the center points of the other’s face. Cobra revolvers – the starry glints of each hollow-point tip hugging the triggers faded slowly with the passing seconds

    With her free hand, Kumiko flicked her head and repositioned the long stray tuft of black trail hair that stood apart from the rest of her buzzed brethren. Before jumping behind her, it ran down the glossy full-body red pleather she wore opposite her enemy.

    “Smoke?” she asked.

    Maiyu shook her head, a slow concentrated shake. “Nah. But please, take what you need.”  Maiyu’s eyes were an almost-emerald dark as she motioned her gun for the girl to proceed.

    Kumiko holstered her gun, took out a worn packet of cigarettes and, after a moment of selection, lit one before scrunching the pack back into her leg pocket. A lighter appeared out of nowhere, served its purpose, then vanished.

    The girl drew, blew a burn of smoke into the air and looked back at her rival.

    “Why didn’t you shoot?”

    Maiyu cocked her head with the girl in her sights. “Excuse me?”

    “You could have shot me. Plain and simple. Reasons?” She took another drag as if giving the girl a chance to answer.

    “Do I need reasons?” Maiyu said. “Regardless of what happens here, the cycle is broken. All you need to know before one of us dies, Siranes and her people will be loosened from your shackles and there will be no repeat this time.”

    Kumiko took a drag and nodded in easy understanding. “I see,” she said, exhaling into the night. “And you’re certain this time will be far different from every attempt in the past century? You were sure of yourself countless times before. Well, no matter. That’s my opinion, anyway.” Another drag she took then, easy, calm.

    “I know some things,” Maiyu said.

    “Like?”

    “Like what will happen to you if you return to your lord empty-handed.”

    Kumiko thought about this and exhaled. “Mmm,” she nodded. “You’re right . I don’t know exactly what he would do, and yes, the consequences would be disastrous. That’s why I’ve ensured that I will not be going home empty-handed.”

    Maiyu cocked an eyebrow and steadied her aim on the woman. Lightening pulsed behind the overcast evening and in a matching of drums, the neon ashen end of Kumiko’s cigarette spewed her opponent in a fiery burst of orange trails. Maiyu’s lithe body dropped in quick reaction, and she rolled as quickly as she could, but she wasn’t fast enough. She felt the irate claws of the liquid fire before the smoke had a chance to rise from the glossy pleather of her suit.

    The streams of lava roared into her skin and Maiyu cried out. Tears rushed from her face and began streaming downwards as though they were racing one another in competition.

    Maiyu continued to roll – her only attempt to stop the burn, somehow managing still to hold the Cobra in her hand. The hillock sloped and after the initial tumble, she managed to slow herself, dragging herself painfully toward wide boulder – one of the night’s black giants, one quiet and without judgement.

    The steel of the gun tip clanked on the rock before she scooted behind it. She ducked then, evading another wave of heat.

    “I thought you were so sure of yourself?” She heard Kumiko’s voice, it had risen as the woman stepped toward in a lazy obligatory approach. How many more waves within that cigarette did she have? Why did I allow her a smoke? How many times had they fought? How many times had she lost, been killed of her own folly? She was always so sure of herself. Why continue to trust “always?”

    There would not be another chance. The time was now. She peeked around the stone wall of her cover, her head shaking. Kumiko’s mini molten glow still hung between her fingers as she approached. The sky was darkening. Dark misty swirls high above began to fall. Rain. How long until I feel it? Kumiko pulled up the cigarette again and flung it at Maiyu.

    “How’s that for some confidence in the end?” Her tone was pretentious. Cocky. She strutted as if she knew she had won.

    No. This would not be the way of it. The true way had already been spoken for, had been foretold. All she needed was a window. And there, through the haze, the blur of it all, she saw it. Kumiko brought the cigarette to her mouth and Maiyu crouched to brace for another shower of lava. But no. She just wanted to take one more victory drag. She saw Kumiko pull her head back and empty the smoke into the air. It seemed as though the puff of her own smoke was going up to meet with the rain clouds that were coming down. When will I feel the rain? It must be soon.

    Window.

    Maiyu raised the snake and took aim. Kumiko’s face in her sights was unnoticing.

    The first drops of rain fell upon her skin just before she pulled the nickel-plated trigger of the snake. A blessing in black.

    If there were stars out then, they would have burned out.

    The lift from the gun almost lifted her prone body off the blackened earth. Her eyes shut with an automation that came from her body’s (her spirit’s) desire for protection. She would look back at the moment as a small fraction of a bliss she would have loved to indulge in – the frame-by-frame of the red-pleathered body going limp as its command center shattered and fed the dark grass with the nutrients of blood, cranium meat, and a fragmented globe of haughtiness.

    Nor did she hear any of it. Maiyu simply remembered her body’s confusion in the thoughts of almost. It was just as it was destined to be. It almost wasn’t. It almost was me.

    The rain sheltered her then. That was the next thought, the only thought that she was able to carry into her future – the beautiful dark rain, feathering her there in the field, easing the lava away from her wounds, lending good-night kisses to her skin.

    It was there that she melted. Looking up in blinks, the sky was dark. She lay there in a field of pain and falling angels. She no longer felt the wind.