Meeting In The Lower Domain

“What makes you think I am not going to just feed you to my pets?” the heavy man in the filthy purple robes asked. The alligators were eagerly watching for their master to issue a command. One of the massive creatures was hovering with their scaly snout out of the foul water, its dark green eyes fixating on Taylor.

“I feel you wouldn’t be asking me this question then.” Taylor said, keeping his eyes looked on Swizard, who stood on the other side of the small stream of refuse that slowly flowed by.

Swizard narrowed his eyes, as if trying to see something on Taylor. Then a few seconds later his eyes shot open, revealing the bloodshot whites of them. “You got guts! I love that!”, Swizard said. “I’ll let you tell my why you sought me and then I will decide if you’re going to be a snack for my lovelies.”

He let himself fall down onto his throne. It was an old moldy recliner, decorated with baubles and dew-dads scavenged from all around the vast sewer system that mirrored the narrow streets of the bustling city above. The recliner squeaked and groaned under the weight of Swizard’s massive body.

 “Go on then,” he said, twirling his hand high in the air, “entertain me!”

Taylor had to suppress a smile of relief. This was going much better than he had expected. He had imagined himself being dragged down into the septic waters by one of these beasts the moment Swizard would have put eyes on him. Now he saw a chance. A chance to turn the tides. If he played this right.

“The people have sent me to propose an alliance with you,” Taylor said, his high and soft voice reverberating and bouncing around the slimy concrete tunnels.

“The people?” Swizard raised an eyebrow. “What people?”

“The citizens of this city,”

Like a jack-in-the-box, Swizard jumped out of the chair, pointing a pale finger at Taylor’s face and screamed, “Invaders!” The alligators became agitated, shuffling every so slightly towards Taylor. “Disgusting Surface Dwellers! That’s what you are!”

Swizard spat on the floor, his face taking on a deep shade of red. “You are not citizens of anything! Don’t insult me in my domain!”

Taylor stood frozen. It required every bit of self-control of him to not run off where he had come from. He knew he wouldn’t be able to escape. He wanted to kick himself for not choosing his words more carefully, but he was tired and exhausted. His head hurt from the putrid smell all around him, and he wanted nothing more than to take a long shower.

“I humbly beg your forgiveness,” Taylor said, deeply bowing his head. He stared at the ground for what felt an eternity until he heard the Swizard’s moldy throne groan loudly once again.

“I will forgive you your insolence,” Swizard said, “but I will not be as generous the next time your people insult me like this. You can feel lucky, that you don’t look nutritious. I don’t want Bandit here to have an upset stomach.”

Swizard stroked the snout of an enormous beast that had been resting next to the throne. The alligator closed its eyes in contentment. Taylor knew he wouldn’t be much more than a light snack for the scaly giant. 

“Thank you, sir.” Taylor quickly bowed again and continued, “My people sent me to offer you an formal alliance between our factions.”

Swizard huffed audibly, but did not interrupt Taylor “We understand that we have caused great harm to your and your domain and while we cannot reverse much of the damage we have caused, we are hoping you would consider an alliance that can be of benefit to all of us. As a token of our true intentions, I have been tasked with bringing you this precious gift.”

Taylor reached for his shoulder bag.

“Ah ah ah!” Swizard called out, holding up his chubby white hand. “Whatever it is you might have, you take it out slowly, or my girl Rubble who’s now right behind you, is going to bite off your legs. Understood?”

Taylor pulled out a small brushed metal box, the size of a cigarette box out of his coat pocket. Swizard eyed it skeptically.

Taylor held out the box in front of him.

“May I?”, he asked.

“Just do it slowly and know that whatever you might have, it will not stop an 800 pound alligator from tearing you to pieces.”

Taylor put his free hand on top of the smooth metal box and, with a careful movement, a mechanism clicked and the small lid opened slowly with a hydraulic hiss. He slowly rotated the open box, so the inside was facing towards Swizard.

Swizard leaned forward and squinted at the seemingly insignificant item that was resting inside a foam cutout inside the box. Then his eyes opened wide with excitement.

“Is that… what I think it is?” 

Taylor allowed himself to show a sly grin. “The token to gain full and unrestricted access for the entire SESS. The one and only.”

Swizard suddenly let out a long and guttural laugh, filling the damp tunnels with his deep voice.

“Oh boy,” he wiped away a tear from his face, “You must be in a heap of shit, if you’re giving me this.”

Swizard walked down towards the small bridge that was spanned the putrid stream, barely wide enough to accommodate him. The alligators in his way quickly scurried away, making room for their master.

“Tell me, messenger. Why shouldn’t I just take the token, turn you into alligator food and assume control of the system? I might even be able to squeeze in a nap before the second swell. It sounds much more convenient.”

Taylor turned towards Swizard, who was now on his side of the stream, and met his eyes.

“You have the reputation of ruling the lower domain with an iron fist and have repeatedly proven to be one of the most formidable foes we have fought over the years,” Taylor said in his most pleasing voice. He could see in Swizard’s expression that stroking this man’s ego was having an obvious effect.

“As flattering as your compliments may be, Messenger,” Swizard was now only a few feet away “None of those are convincing me to not take that nap.”

“We also know that you are smart enough to not let your personal feelings affect your strategic decision making.” Taylor said, now standing face to face with Swizard. “And we know for a fact, that without an alliance, the upper and the lower domain will be doomed.”

Swizard looked Taylor over, not saying anything for quite some time. Then he took the metal box out of Taylor’s hand, not taking his eyes off of him. He shut the lid and slid the box into one of the front pockets of his robe and grinned.

A big grin formed on Swizards face. “Alright, let’s talk!”

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

📷 Walking through a trunk sewer at Wick Lane by Gilda

The Path To Transformation

Day 1

We have set up camp for the first night of our journey and our spirits are high. Potato, Tomato, Onion and me have finally taken the plunge and set out on our journey. I am excited and terrified at the same time of what we will find at the end, but if the stories are to be believed, our transformation will reward us.
We spent some time in the campfire’s light to tell each other about our dreams.
Tomato hopes to become a soup or a bisque. I think Tomato is worried the most of all of us, since their expiration date is approaching quicker than ours. While they have been part of our small group since the great harvest, being a fruit weighs heavily on them. We told them that for us, they have and always will be vegetable.

Onion is the complete opposite of Tomato and does not seem at all worried about their fate. If they had to pick, they would want to be in a stew. Onion always seems chipper to me, but I am sure there is more hiding underneath that skin of theirs.

Sometimes I feel Potato doesn’t seem interested in his transformation and that they are just tagging along to not be left behind. I have a hard time understanding how someone so versatile with so much culinary potential can’t get excited about any of the things that might be in store for them.

I have to confess that when we all talk to each other, I try to project confidence and foresight, but I am terrified of the future. I want to become part of a salad, maybe cut into small strips. Being cooked, baked or grilled terrifies me, but if this is what fate has destined for me, I will do my best to embrace it.

We have a long trek ahead tomorrow and our directions lack details. I hope we will not get lost.

Day 2

We are now resting after the arduous journey of today, that has taken a toll on most of us, especially on Tomato. We are trying to keep the spirits high, but we all noticed the various soft, mushy spots that developed all over Tomato’s skin. While Onion and Potato seemed to be no worse for wear, Tomato’s body was not meant for these exertions. We will have to proceed carefully, yet balance our caution with the accelerated timeline of Tomato’s body decomposing.
Personally, I am still shaken up from a scary encounter early in the day. Shortly after setting out for the day, we spotted a lagomorph in the distance. Fortunately, it was already feasting on the remains of another traveler. I couldn’t quite make it out but Onion was certain it was half a head of Romaine. I still shake at the thought of being eaten by a rabbit.
Potato has said little all day and seems in thought. If I wasn’t so shaken up by the day’s events, I would have tried to get them to open up a bit more.
I hope that tomorrow’s travel will be easier. According to the directions, we will come across a body of water that will allow us to traverse a huge part of the journey within a single day. If nothing goes wrong, I think this will give us all a much-needed boost of confidence.

Day 3

I have been gravely wounded and I hope that focusing on the day’s events will help to distract me from the pain and humiliation, but more on that later.
The directions we have received were correct! We came across a small stream. At first, I disheartened us to learn that aside from Onion, neither of us could float on our own. We had hoped that we could make use of the currents to carry us closer to our destination.
Frankly, our hopes were crushed at this moment. Rather than abandon us to pursue the transformation by himself, Onion did not let this put a damper on his spirits and in no time, he threw all kind of things into the stream. After a while he called out to us, informing us we could make use of a large piece of bark that would easily carry all of us.
We would just have to bring it into the water and, with Potato’s solid body, hold it in place while Tomato and I climbed aboard the floating piece of bark. Onion then lifted potato onto our floating vessel. Rather than trying to cram themselves onto the already tight space, Onion decided they would float alongside us and potentially steer us around obstacles as best as they could. Suddenly we were hurrying along the stream, our spirits rising to all-time highs, and we were singing songs we heard from the field workers during the great harvest.
Just before we reached the end of the floating leg of our journey, I was gravely wounded. We had been carefree, and all enjoyed the water splashing on us, especially Onion seemed to love soaking in the stream next to us. As I was resting on the bark, I had not realized that the narrow tip of my root was hanging into the water. If we had been less careless we might have even noticed the threat approaching. Then I felt a sudden pang of pain as something pulled me off the bark. My body had lured, and it bit down on my exposed root.

Only thanks to Tomato’s fast reflexes, this horrific creature did not drag into the water. Potato and Tomato weighed me down and that is when my narrow tip broke off my body. This could have ended in my demise, and I am ultimately glad that I survived. I feel vulnerable and humiliated. While Potato and Onion were sympathetic to my suffering, Tomato seemed to dismiss the injury. While I understand that their own situation is dire as well, I wished they would have been more sympathetic and understanding towards my pain in that moment. I have exchanged no words with Tomato since then, this has put an emotional barrier between us that I am not sure we will be able to gap, especially not when our focus will be on on the travel.
I am scared that my wound will become infected, accelerating my decomposition process and ultimately make me unpalatable. I need to preserve my energies and hope I will be able to sleep through the night despite the pain.

Day 4

Our path was leading us down a steep, rocky hillside, but we decided to take a longer and slower path along the leafy underbrush to reduce the damage on Tomato’s skin. Onion decided to simply roll down the hill, unwilling to wait. It seemed Onion underestimated the impact and lost some of their outer shell and took some bruising as well as some smaller cuts. I am not sure why, but I couldn’t help but cry once we caught back up with Onion, despite my frustration about his reckless behavior. As we trudged along a less treacherous past, we began to hear voices in the distance as well as smelled a campfire. Now that we are getting closer to our destination, I am not surprised we would encounter others that have the same goal.

The voices came from a group of lemons, who have been themselves traveling across the area, transporting a surprising amount of equipment. They were very eager and willing to explain to us their ‘lamp’ to us and even offered a demonstration. The pulled out two sticks made out of two types of metals called copper and zinc that they referred to as nails. Those were connected to vines, which were also made out of the copper metal. I am not certain I can describe what have seen next.
They jammed the nails into one of their friends, deep into their flesh and suddenly their campfire was not the only source of light. They say that they are able to turn their own energy into light. I have heard the harvest workers talk about gods and am wondering if these are what they referred to.
The lemon party explained to us that they were initially destined to become a drink called lemonade, but their now dried up leader had taught them about another lifestyle that does not involve being an ingredient for a dish. It didn’t make much sense to me and I was slightly put off by seeing that they kept the dead body of their former leader and teacher with them. I started to worry that seeing a dessicated fruit would send Tomato into a spiral of worry. It seemed Tomato just kept to themselves.
They asked me if I was interested in experiencing the feeling that comes from being able to create something beautiful as light with my own body. I didn’t want to be rude, so I let them stick their nails in me. It was painful and nothing happened, the light did not come back. I believed they were playing a trick with us and I wanted to give them a piece of my mind, when Potato asked them if they could give it a try with him. They obliged and to their surprise, the light was even brighter than they had ever seen it before. I am pretty certain this is the first time that I have seen Potato happy ever since we started our long journey.
I wonder who else is out there. I also hope that it will not take much longer as we are all being worn down, especially Tomato.

Day 5

I write these words with a heavy heart and deep sorrow. In the dark of last night and with Tomato being withdrawn, we could not see the extent of damage they had endured so far. This morning I saw multiple open cuts, their entire body appeared misshapen and softer than I ever recall it being. Sometimes I see drops of their fluids dripping onto the ground but I do not tell then, to not further alarm then. Their movements were less steady and on a particularly narrow pathway, Tomato rolled down a small ravine, gaining speed and we could do nothing but watch him collide with a tree and break open. We rush down towards them, seeing their insides have spilled and their flesh has ripped open. To our horror Tomato was still conscious.
The next few moments I will forever carry with me, when we promised Tomato that their seeds will sprout and their descendants will become the bisque they hoped they would become. We tried to tell them that

We did our best to calm them by letting them know their seeds will sprout and the many descendants will be turned into the most delicious dishes, soups, bisques or even ketchup. As Tomato’s life fades away I take one of their spilled seeds and promise them I will make sure that this seed will be put in the sunniest place I promised to them it will sprout into a massive plant filled to the brim with other tomatoes. We covered Tomato with a few leaves, hopefully deterring the wild beasts to consume their body and seeds. After that, we continued our trek saying nothing else for a long time, until the sun sank below the horizon again.

Just like last night, we were drawn towards a campfire burning brightly in the evening. This was the first time any of us had met a cheese. Cheese offered us a place around the fire and offered to tell us about their life’s journey so far. We were in dire need of some distraction.

We learned that Cheese used to be called Milk and when they learned about being turned into what they called ‘Butter’, they simply refused, rather deciding to expire than to simply do what everyone else did around them. One thing particularly stuck with me: “If they don’t accept you the way you are, they don’t deserve you.”

As Milk turned older they could feel a change from within them, feeling more aged and gaining wisdom as well as a completely new form. They felt more stable and solid in life. Their story even made me question my own purpose, but I have come so far that I want to see it through to the end.

I have to believe that being transformed into a delicious dish will bring me the happiness and satisfaction I deeply crave. Potato is now asking Cheese many questions and listening with rapt interest to its stories, while I write down these words. I am certain they will keep talking deep into the night.

Day 6

Today we have left behind another one of our group. It was Potato’s own choice to not continue their journey, deeply moved by Cheese’s words. According to their own words, they have realized, that they want to return to their roots and have a family, that the pursuit of becoming a dish has never been what they truly craved in life. Once Potato had been pulled out of the ground during the Great Harvest, they have been lacking something. The place where we camped even seemed to Potato to be the perfect place.

While we tried to argue with them, ultimately Onion and I agreed to bury Potato into the ground. Cheese decided to help us and as much as I was to be angry at this rotten milk, I cannot help but feel grateful that they have been able to make Potato realize what they ultimately want from their existence. As we placed dirt on them, Potato told us that they finally feel like they are doing the right thing.

It is the first time I have seen Onion cry. A little while away from Potato, I decide to place Tomato’s seed into a moist sunny spot. Maybe Tomato’s and Potato’s offspring will become friends like we had become.

Tonight it is just the two of us. We say nothing and I just appreciate to not be completely alone on this journey. I can’t help but wish for Onions chipper attitude to return, but I myself feel close to the breaking point.

Day 7

Hello, this is Onion! Today we did it. Truth be told I had my doubts, but we arrived at the place where this magical cook lives, that can transform anyone into a delicious dish. It is a little hut adjacent to the woods and surrounded by a few meadows. We had placed ourselves in front of the gigantic wooden portal as we were supposed to, when suddenly I hear a massive crunch.
A giant beast with white fur, big black eyes, horns and hooves had walked up to us, and without any warning grabbed Carrot and began chewing them. It immediately broke carrot in half and I could hear their screams as the beasts chewed them into smaller and smaller pieces before finally swallowing it.

I had expected for the beast to attack me next, when the giant portal opened. I don’t know if it was the cook that picked me up, but they dunked me under water and cleaned me off. Then I was placed on other Onions. They seemed to have found themselves here not by their own doing but have been harvested by the cook themselves. I did not know that a Cook could also be a Harvester. I wonder if we could have avoided a lot of the pain and suffering we endured by staying where we had been left after the Great Harvest? I for one am glad to have made this adventure, even if I was the only one who arrived at the planned destination. I have already talked to the other Onions and they have told me that the Cook is planning a big stew soon. Some dreams do come true, I guess.

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

📷 ‘Tomato’ by Jonas Tana


Has it been a week? A month? A year? In the darkness, time blends together. It becomes something unreal. All that remains of it is distant, meaningless memory. My world has become one of sound, smell and touch. Dreams tether me to the past where I still see things. Maybe they are glimpses of my past, from a time that feels distant and foreign. When I am awake, I am not sure if those dreams were ever real. Perhaps they never existing outside my mind and dreams is all that they are, all that they will ever be.

Sometimes a voice different from mine talks to me. We don’t know each other’s name, but we both have no need of names. We never call to each other. We speak into the darkness, only hoping to be heard. Their voice is rough and pain, but when it echoes through this dark, cold space, it is like a soothing balm, a tether back to my own self so I don’t lose myself completely here.

The voice does not remember where it came from, why it cannot leave. Just like me, it is here, not knowing why. Like me, it was chained to these rocks, unable to leave this place.

Often I let my hand glide alone the grooves and ridges of the cool rock and sometimes my hands touch a thin throbbing thread when it skitters by. I don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. It is wet and cold as the stone it traverses, but I can perceive its life-force. It reminds me of my own.

I often try to remember how I arrived here, what happened between the dreams of the past and the unending now. I only remember the feelings. Judgment. Hatred. Disbelief. I cannot recall if those were my own feelings, but their essence still lingers in me.

The voice sometimes tells me of other places, devoid of this complete darkness. Of towering constructions, so overwhelming in their beauty and size. Of fearsome creatures, equally impressive. Their hot, gushing blood, their wails. The voice goes quiet. I don’t know how long before it reaches my ears it again.

I dream of those places, of giant structures made of beautiful white stone, reflecting the bright light of the sun. Are they my own memories or do they belong to the voice? I dream of many creatures, different but not unlike myself. In my dreams, they are everywhere and I want to touch them, hold them, but I am tethered. They are always out of reach. They don’t see me. It is possible they think I am not one of them. Maybe I am not even real to them. I wonder that about myself sometimes.
The more I reach for them, the more the tethers hooked into my back pull me back. They tear my skin, but don’t break the bones. They bend and stretch them, they crack, but they never ever break. The tethers pull me into the dark. This is when I wake.

I remember hoping for an end to all of this, but I am scared that the end is just more unending darkness. It scares me. When I am scared, I know I am not dead yet. I don’t want to be scared. I don’t want to be alive. There is no hope.

My heart. It is pounding in my chest. A never-before heard sound. The other voice hears it too. I can hear the voice’s fear. It mirrors my own. At first it is a dull thud, something felt rather than heard. It becomes louder, turns unmistakably real. The sound enters my bones, shakes my flesh. My own shape vibrates.

Dust and debris falls down on me from nowhere. Tiny pieces of stone clatter over the floor. I am not afraid; I am not hopeful. I just savor the new sensation. It does not matter whether it is good or bad. Just that it ends the unending monotony of the dark. The floor and the walls are now shaking. The rocks shift back and forth all around me. The darkness is filled with the booming noise, the shrill shriek of the only other voice I’ve known for so long.

The noise crescendoes, a gut-wrenching sensation. A sudden pain; a burning sensation like sharp blades thrusted into the soft sockets, where I remember my useless eyes to be.

It is bright. Brilliantly, shockingly bright, overwhelming and terrifying. Something has set aflame my eyes, but I don’t close them at first. I welcome the blinding pain. Memories flood back in this single instant. When it becomes unbearable, I close them, but the light still shines bright red through my eyelids. I cover them with my hands and the pain ebbs slowly away. I want to see it again; I want the light to touch me again, so I carefully move my hands. I am scared that the light is gone, it returns. It is beautiful. Suddenly there are voices. They are so different and alien. But also loud and full of life.

“We found some,” the first new voice calls out. “Turn off the main beams, periphery lights only.”
“How many?” The second voice says.
“One.” is the reply. Silence. Something scrapes along the ground. Footsteps?
“Two,” the first voice says “We found two! Bad shape, let’s get two RST units here in here right now!”
More steps, faster, some moving away, some moving closer.
“Can you hear me?” The first voice says. It is close to me. Does it speak to me?

I slowly open my eyes, still hiding them behind my eyes. The light does not hurt anymore. It is warm and red. I see shapes and form, soft and indistinct. Slowly, they come into focus. I can see myself, my legs, the ground I sit on, the hands in front of my face. Nothing looks like I remember it.

“Sir, can you understand me?” the voice says again, louder, and my eyes try to find the source. A sea of red strange shapes forms into a person. My eyes find the face. It has a beard, full and thick, long hair, and eyes, dark and probing. It is looking at something. Looking at me.

I don’t recognize the face, only notice the warmth that pours into me, fills a void I had forgotten existed.

“You are going to be alright, sir,” the man says. He kneels down in front of me. “We’ll get you out of here.”

He touches my shoulder with his hand, and I recoil. Something grips my heart and the shapes and forms lose their meaning. They are threatening to me. I can’t breathe. I am drowning.

The man says something, but I can’t understand him. Every syllable scares me, makes me want to disappear into the familiar dark again. Another touch, a sharp pinch on my arm, followed by a gentle burn. The darkness finally returns.

“I am sorry I have to do this, but you can trust me,” is the last thing I can perceive before I dream again. I believe him.

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

📷 ‘First picture of a Black Hole’ by Bengt Nyman

The Carnival

Elidyr was woken by the first lights of sunrise streaming through the fogged up window of his little trailer. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and listened to the hustle outside. Everyone was busy this early in the morning. Most people here liked to take it easy in the morning, especially when they expected another busy crowd of people from town to come for a show.

The carnival had picked Elidyr up several months prior when they had come to his hometown. The carnival’s proprietor, Theo, had done his initial scouting and came across Elidyr busking on their small main street. Elidyr had always had a fascination with alchemy and chemicals, mostly in the form of small fireworks, colored fires and smokes. Usually, he would be told off by the local guardsmen, but the meager tips he received were often enough to buy himself some food, more supplies and sometimes even shelter at one of the local farmers.

Theo had watched him with interest and instead of giving him a tip, had dropped a small business card into his hat with the collections and said, “Come and see me tonight.” When Elidyr had gone to the carnival that night, he had not left it since, starting his own little show with the support of Theo and the crew. With the added support, his shows became more elaborate, but he was just one of the many weird acts that the Three Morning Carnival had on display, but it felt good to earn a living and leave the town he grew up in behind.

Elidyr rolled out of bed, threw on some of his few clothes covered in stains and burn marks and immediately began to finish up some of his concoctions he had prepared the night before. He had set up a batch for one of his biggest show tomorrow night, at least by his standards. As he felt his stomach rumble, he decided to head out amidst the bustling crowd and see if Maycie would still make him some breakfast or at least had some leftovers for him.

As he stepped out of his wagon, he realized his preparations must have taken him longer than he expected. He caught Naddi carrying some equipment and he caught up with her. He put his hand around her shoulder and she shrugged him off.
“Eli, no here,” she hissed.
“As if they don’t already all know.”
“Maybe, but I just don’t like being showy and I’m working right now.”
Naddi was a female dwarf with a big bushy beard that she had braided mostly down into two braids, and her mane had the same vibrant red color, contrasting with her piercing blue eyes.
“Is everything alright?” Elidyr asked.
“Yeah, yeah, uh,” Naddi said, clearly not expecting that question “Sorry, it’s just all a bit hectic right now.” “What’s going on?”
“Eh, just some prep for a thing that Theo wants to do tonight. It’s just one of his speeches.” Naddi put down the heavy box and wiped the sweat off her forehead. “Something about the numbers he’s not happy with. You know, how we have to put more effort in.”
“Does he do that often?”
“Well, he does them once or twice a year, yes, but I just didn’t expect them already. I think that’s why everyone is scrambling a little right now,” she said, picking up a different crate. “Let’s talk later, okay?”
“Your trailer or mine?”
“Mine of course, I don’t want you to burn half my hair off again.”
“It was an accident!” Elydir protested.
“If you say so. See you later!”
She seemed really stressed. Their proprietor hadn’t held one of these meetings before, so Elydir had no idea what to expect, but if he judged it by the faces on everyone, it wouldn’t be a very fun event.

After Elydir managed to get a few apples from Maycie, he caught up with his friend, Reuben.
“Doing alright, just made some room after last night.” Reuben said and gave Elydir a big grin that made him shudder.
Despite all the acts Elydir had seen, he still thought Reuben’s one was probably the weirdest. He just ate. Like an inordinate amount and that was somehow his entire schtick. He would eat all kinds of things until his belly was round, like he had just swallowed a large boulder. And he wouldn’t eat just normal foods. His diet ranged from fried rats to pieces of broken glass or an entire piece of firewood. Elydir still didn’t understand how he managed to even chew it enough to be able to get it down. First, he thought it had been a trick, but then Reuben had let him observe him very closely. It was just a thing he was good at, and being at the carnival getting paid to eat sounded better than working with his father in the fields.
“So everyone’s kinda on edge because of the thing tonight?” Elydir asked, “Theo holding some sort of speech?”
“Oh yes, that’s Theo. He just does that every once in a while. While people don’t love it, it has definitely for the best for our carnival. Theo knows what he’s talking about. I think we’ve been doing really well the past couple of years.”
“Had it been different?”
“Oh yes, most towns we went to, we were almost immediately kicked out. Or at least we weren’t welcome. People thinking we’d bring crime and curses and other such nonsense. But ever since the meetings, things have been picking up.” Reuben said, trying to get out something stuck between his teeth with a toothpick. “It’s a bit unpleasant at times, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not too bad.”
“What’s unpleasant about it?”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, it’s fine,“ Reuben said casually ”just nobody likes meetings. People would rather spend their free night getting drunk, you know? Don’t think too much about it. Oh, sorry, gotta run, nature’s calling again!”
Elydir looked after Reuben as he disappeared to the outhouses in the back. Now that he thought about it, if there was going to this meeting tonight, that might seriously cut into his alone time with Naddi. Well, a bit of time would be better than none. Overall, he was feeling vibrant today.

Elydir helped out with a few crates and carrying firewood for a large bonfire in the middle of their carnival and some extra boxes with supplies he couldn’t identify. Theo was a showman through and through, so he was probably going to wow his crowd, even if they were his own employees.

Looking up at the sun, Elydir realized that he’d have to get back to his trailer to finish up some more of the now dried charges for tonight. As he made his way back, he noticed that Zorg and Grit, the two half-orcs, were keeping a distance but were following him around. They always had a problem with him, or rather with him being a half-elf, which seemed to be too much elf for their taste. Luckily they weren’t dumb enough to do anything about their mistrust other than stalk him from time to time and Elydir had gotten used to it.

He got back into his trailer and prepared a few more charges, taking extra care not to cause any to go off. This had not been his first trailer after he had blown up another just a month prior. Since then, he had been more cautious and had been mixing smaller batches. When he was done, he would in on Naddi again, maybe pull her aside for a bit. His heart quickened at the thought of being close to her. He opened the door of his trailer and as he stepped out, he was greeted by Zorg and Grit, blocking his path.
“Uh, can I help you two gentlemen?” Elydir asked.
“No, we just want you to stay in your trailer,” Zorg said, the more vocal of the two.
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Because we tell you so.”
“Why would I listen to two dumb half-breeds in the first place?” Elydir said, trying to bait them, but knowing that they’ve been receiving insults like that all the time.
“Well, Theo told us so, you wouldn’t want to upset Theo.”
“That makes no sense. Can I just talk to him?”
“No, not unless Theo comes here. You stay in your trailer until we let you out, you got it?”

Elidyr looked around the carnival, but couldn’t see anyone nearby. It was as if the place had been abandoned, only to be guarded by the two half-wits standing in his path.
“Where is everyone?”
“How about you stop asking questions and get into your trailer?”
“But what if I need to pee?”
“Not my problem. Pee in one of your bottles,” the half-orc grinned.
“How about I just pee on your feet instead?”
“How about I break your nose,” the grin was now gone ,”Knife Ears?”
There was no way he’d been to take on these two brutes, so he angrily returned to his trailer and slammed the door. Then he turned around, opening the door and quickly added, “Sorry about the half-breed insult.” He waited for a moment and added, “You know, this is the moment where you say how sorry you were for calling me Knife Ears.”
“Is fern-face any better?” Zorg replied.
Elydir rolled his eyes and slammed the door shut once again.

He had no idea why they would want to keep him in the trailer? Were they going to talk about him at the meeting? Were his performances bad and they were going to vote him out? Well, whatever they were discussion at Theo’s meeting, he was clearly not allowed. Maybe he just hadn’t been here long enough. But they could have just told him that. He would have understood and he had a mostly clean track record when it came to listening to commands. Mostly.
Something wasn’t right, but there wasn’t much he could do about it now, so he set out to work on his charges for tomorrow’s show. When he was done making the small compressed balls, he carefully wrapped them in cloth and placed them in a metal box. He wondered how long they would keep him in here, because he was eyeing the bottles in his trailer. He would have preferred to keep their purpose for mixing chemicals. Then suddenly, a heavy banging on the trailer door startled him out of his thoughts.

“You can come out now.” Zorg called out to him.
“Finally! Almost peed my pants!” Elydir called back “One second.”
On a hunch, he took a few of the charges he had made and stuffed them carefully into his pockets. He’d have to be careful to not run into a solid wall with them so close to his precious bits, but if he could avoid any direct impacts with the are near his, he’d be fine.
He opened the door and stepped out.
“Okay, so what now? Can I finally use the outhouse?” Elydir asked.
Grit grabbed Elydir’s arm, causing him to yelp. Then Grit forced his hands together and Zorg came around and quickly wrapped a rope around them.
“You know, I can go there by myself, I’m all grown up, you know?” Elydir protested.
Squirming while being held in their grip seemed as effective to him as trying to pull giant tree out of the ground by himself.
“What is wrong with you two? What are you doing?” Elydir asked, his voice in an even higher register. “You can’t just tie me up like that. What is going on?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll bring you right to Theo.” Zorg eventually replied when he had made sure the restraint wasn’t going anywhere. “I’m sure he’ll explain it all to you!”
They pushed him ahead and made their way to the center of the carnival. Even before they arrived, Elydir could smell the smoke in the air and see the orange flicker of a fire shining glowing against the tents. The center was taken up by an immense bonfire, surrounded by what must be dozens of cloaked figures. It didn’t take him long to recognize some of the dimly lit faces staring into the fire. The performers, roadies and even Maycie were standing in a wide circle around the flames. Closer to the flames, standing in front of a large wooden table, or tall platform, stood Theo. As his eyes caught Elydir’s, Theo showed a large grin and started a low chant in a deep, guttural voice. Almost immediately, he was joined by all the cloaked participants and the chant filled the space, Elydir feeling the rumble in his chest. He couldn’t make out a single word and it all sounded like gibberish to him.
“What is going on?” he tried to pull out the grip of the half orcs. “For fuck’s sake, let me go you idiots!”
While he tried to break free, a robed figure strode slowly towards them coming from the crowd surrounding the bonfire. Most of his thin body covered in the dark-red robes, so Elydir didn’t recognize the figure immediately as Reuben.

“I’ll take care of him,” he said to the two half-orcs and stepped past one of them and grabbed Elydir’s bindings “Don’t worry about it!”
Reuben started to feel around Eli’s pockets. When he felt Elydir’s charges, he audibly sighed.
“You two are as incompetent as you are ugly.” Reuben said as he pulled out the charges. “What do you think would have happened if we threw him on the pyre with that in his pockets? Morons.”
Reuben put the charges into a pocket in his coat. The two half-orcs exchanged a quick glance, shrugged and then walked off to join the other participants in the chant.
“Reuben, what’s going on man?” Elydir tried to turn around “You want to throw me on the pyre? Is this some really messed up initiation prank? Please tell me!”
He could feel the cold steel of a blade against his throat.
“I’m sorry Eli, it’s nothing personal, it’s just how things worked out sometimes.”
“What do you mean? What worked out?”
“So I wasn’t quite straight forward about the meeting thing.”
“Oh really?”
“Don’t smart-mouth me, Eli,” Reuben said with a hiss. “I’d prefer not to hurt you more than necessary. Do you want to know or not?”
“Fine.” Eli froze, trying not to gulp as his friend was pressing the blade against his throat with even more force.
“Remember when I said, that carnival business was hard?” Reuben continued, almost whispering into Eli’s ear “People used to spit at us, kick us out of their town, sometimes they’d even beat us up, just because they were scared of us.”
“People love our shows!” Eli protested.
“Yeah, you’d think that, but you haven’t been here in the early days, before we had his blessing.”
“His blessing? What are you talking about?”
“I’m getting to that Eli, you’re always so damn impatient.”
The chant had taken up in volume and more wood was thrown on the bonfire. Theo lifted a blade into the air. It was an ornate dagger with a wavy blade, gleaming in the fire’s light. Theo was a showman, Eli thought.
“I don’t know how Theo did it, but he found Deadspark, willing to help us, protect us, even thrive where before we were shunned and chased off. For a price, you see.”
“Deadspark? Like the deity? What are you talking about?” Eli tried to turn towards Reuben and he could feel the blade cutting slightly into his skin. He was no staring Reuben into his face, the blade pressed against his Adam’s apple. “You can’t be serious!”
“Oh, you’ll see how serious we are when we—“

Reubens eye’s went suddenly wide, staring directly into Elidyr’s eyes. Now the only things coming out of Reubens mouth were bubbly gurgling noises. A sharp blade was protruding from his throat, streams of blood running down along his neck. Then the blade disappeared and he fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Wearing her own robe, Naddi stood in front of him, holding the blade and breathing heavily.
“Naddi … what” began Elidyr.
“I told you I’d see you later, didn’t I?”, she turned him around, positioning herself behind him.
“Are you one of them?”
“I don’t have time to explain,” Naddi cut his ropes, “but you have to get out of here. Now!”
The chant had turned into almost a continuous screaming, making it difficult for him to hear her.
“Let’s get both out of here.” Elydir tried to take her by the shoulder “Come with me!”
“It’s not that easy Eli.”
“Why not? We just run away together!”
“Don’t argue with me, just get out of here.” Naddi gave Eli a quick kiss, took a step back and then took a deep breath. Then with a rapid motion she jammed the blade into her shoulder. Her face was a grimace, but she managed to suppress a scream.

“What are you doing?” Eli bent down towards Naddi. She grimaced, pulled out the bloodied blade, and pushed it into his hand.
“Eli, please!” she said through gritted teeth “Run!”
Elydir heard that the chant seemed to have lost in strength. Multiple voices were calling out something he couldn’t understand.
When he turned, he saw that multiple robed figures were approaching him.
“Fuck, they’re going to get you,” Naddi winced.
Elydir bent down towards Reuben’s lifeless body and put his hand into the robe’s pocket, retrieving two of the charges wrapped in fabric.
“Please come with me.”
“I can’t. Please, run now or we are both going to die!” Naddi said and let herself fall sink to the ground, pushing against the bleeding wound in her shoulder. “I’ll convince them you did this.”
He now heard the voices calling out for him.
“I’ll come back for you!” Elydir said, not waiting for Naddi’s response.

He took one of the charges, aimed it in front of one of the figures approaching, threw with all his strength and covered his eyes. As the charge hit the ground, it exploded in a big white flash, quickly flooding the surrounding area in a big white smoke. He ran in the opposite direction, hearing multiple people shout and cough violently. Once he was clear of the thick smoke, he took a deep breath, turned around and threw the other charge into the thick fog. Another white flash and more confused screams followed. He ran to his trailer, quickly snatching a bag he had prepared earlier and toppling over a few bottles with various liquids. As he disappeared into the dark woods that had surrounded the carnival, he heard an enormous explosion from behind him. The purple cone of fire shooting up into the sky was his biggest show yet.

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

📷 Bonfire at West Park by Lee Haywood

🎵 Last Word [DNP01] by Light Blending In

🎵 Achievement by pilotredsun

Eyewitness Report Of Incident At 120 Guerra Street

You mind if I bum a cigarette? You got a flame? Thanks.
Okay, so I’m not in trouble, right? No, sir, I got no ID. Lost that damn thing a while ago. You just want to know what went down for your report? I mean, I don’t even think I believe that shit myself. For all I know, you’re gonna put me in the bin if I tell you. I know they got security cameras, I’ve seen ‘em behind the counter and I wasn’t the only person who saw that shit go down. I mean Freddy saw it, too.
Alright, so I was inside the store when that shit happened. I was actually warming up. Freddy usually let me stay for a bit when it gets cold and I at least buy a can. Sometimes he just lets me hang out for a while anyway, even if I buy nothing, because I don’t cause any trouble, you know?
He’s a smart kid, a good kid. No idea why he works in a place like this. I think it got something to do with his dad. I gotta be honest, I was never much of a listener. Especially not that late in the evening’ when I had a beer or two. You think you could get me one? I mean afterwards. Alright, can’t blame me for asking, right?

So anyway, I was there nursing the beer that I bought, hanging out near the magazines and newspapers. You gotta stay informed; you know? Then this dude comes in. Mind you, at this point I’m not paying attention. For all I knew, he was just some guy wanting to buy a pack of smokes. Next thing I hear is some glass shattering, like a bottle breaking, but I don’t see nothing. Maybe Freddy dropped something, but he’s just staring at this dude, like his eyes were popping out of his head. You know, really freaked out, like he was looking at the devil, you know what I mean? So I immediately know something isn’t right. Maybe he’s getting held up, but I don’t see a gun in the guy’s hands. Pretty sure he had said nothing either, just stands in front of the counter. Freddy is still staring at him with wide eyes, but he’s not moving. It’s like he’s frozen.

I know that something is obviously going down, so I try to duck behind one of the stands with the chips but my clumsy ass bumps into it and some of the stuff falls to the ground.
Oh yeah, I got a good look at the guy, but let me tell you, I wish I hadn’t. I know you’re not gonna believe me, but I swear by my dead mother’s grave, that dude’s eyes were like glowing red. No, I mean it. It looked like he had some hot coal stuffed in his head. That shit really freaked me out, so of course I fall backwards, knocking a bunch of more shit over, but whatever, at this point the guy just stares me down.

I don’t know man; he was some pasty white guy with black hair. No, no beard. I mean, just look for some motherfucker with red glowing eyes, right? There’s can’t be too many of them running around.
Anyway, so that guy stares me down with his creepy-ass eyes and I just can’t move, like I’m stuck on my ass looking back at this dude. Then Freddy takes off, you know, books it out of there. Can’t blame the kid, that dude was messed up big time. So that get’s that guy’s attention. He turns around and goes after Freddy. First, I thought he would just go behind the counter and grab some cash, maybe some smokes and get the fuck out of there. I mean, why else do you start trouble in a store like that? But no, he just follows Freddy around the corner, so I don’t see them, but I can hear Freddy shout “Leave me alone” or something like that. The kid sounded freaked out. Then I just hear some weird noises, like someone’s choking. So I get up to check on Freddy.

Yeah, I know I could have run, but we don’t do that here, alright? Listen, I know I look like a piece of shit, but I still try to be a decent person when I’m not completely drunk and Freddy is a good kid. I know, I know, you just think we’re a bunch of drunken assholes. So, no, I don’t book it, I go an check what’s up with Freddy, see if I can help the kid. What else was I going to do? Find a pay phone and wait for you clowns to show up to make some notes while that kid’s in trouble?

So I walk around the corner and here is what I see. Freddy is pushed against the wall, but not by the dude. At least not with his hands. Freddy’s a few feet off the ground and he looks like he’s choking. The dude is standing a few away, just facing Freddy and I know how this sounds, but I somehow knew that he was pushing Freddy against the wall.

I don’t know, maybe with his mind? Maybe he has a magical dick? Fuck man, I’m just telling you what I saw. I don’t know how he did it, just that he did. Oh yeah, I’m certain that boy was off the ground, no doubt in my mind, no, sir.

So I don’t know what else to do, so I just grab a can from the shelf and hurl it at the freak, hit him on the shoulder. Motherfucker didn’t even flinch, so I grab another can and want to throw it again, but then he turns his head and looks at me over his shoulder with his fucked up eyes and I freeze. He looks seriously pissed, his face is all scrunched up, shows me his perfect teeth. Looked like he was snarling’ at me like a pit. Pretty sure he’s gonna do the same weird shit he did to Freddy, but then I see the kid come up from behind the dude and full on tackle that son of a bitch, right to the ground. As soon as they hit the ground, I can move again and try to help Freddy pin this fucker down.

Now I don’t know exactly what went down, but we pin that guy down and he just starts screaming. And I mean, not just like some druggie screaming, that shit was not normal. It was hurting my ears. And then next thing I know, someone grabs my coat from behind, throws me and I crash into the shelves with all the snacks and shit. Hurt like a motherfucker. So I think, the freak brought his friend, and I didn’t hear him come in. Looked like a damn giant, too. Long blond hair, wore one of these black topcoats. But then Blondie picks up the freak by the neck and just lifts him off the ground like he weighed nothing. Just holds him there and the guy keeps screaming and screaming, worst noise I ever heard, so I have to cover my ears. Bottles and shit keeps breaking all around me, like you see in the movies, but for real. I mean, you saw the mess inside, right?

So the giant just punches the screaming freak right in the face. Just one blow and it knocks the freak straight out, like flipping a light switch. Boom! Never seen that before. Then he just throws the freak over his shoulder like he’s just a damn towel. Doesn’t say a word, doesn’t even look at me or Freddy. I mean, I don’t want him to look at me, so that’s all good, but it’s like we don’t even exist. Grabs a bag of chips from a shelf and just walks out the front door.

You kidding me? You think I’ll follow Humpty and Dumpty down the street to see where they are going? I’m dumb, but not that dumb, alright? That’s all I know, so can I go?

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

📷 Photo ‘Woerner’s’ by Thomas Hawk

Bad Habits

He paid the funeral director in cash, got into the hearse and headed to the agreed upon meeting spot. The funeral director was a quiet man, well versed in discretion and a lot of vices that required a lot of cash. Cash and vices had gotten Clancy into this mess in the first place, and now he was driving through barely illuminated neighborhoods at night, hoping nobody would see him. 

Luckily, the hearse’s windows were darkened, not that he thought anyone in the neighborhood would pay attention. It’s not like he was driving a monster truck with blinking lights. Clancy yawned, trying to pay attention to the road, the lack of sleep finally catching up with him and the dark, comfortable interior easing his frayed nerves. If the cabin was this comfortable to ride in, he wondered how well he’d sleep inside the coffin in the back. As tempting as the idea of a quick nap was, he would be happy if he didn’t actually end up in the coffin with someone else driving his dead body around. 

As he drove out of town, he noticed that Rick’s police cruiser was parked behind the big advertisement for the funeral home he came from. Clancy hoped that Rick was getting some shuteye himself rather than paying attention to the occasional drunk driver. Rick’s sense of duty was at best questionable and despite or because of his occupation, he had a lot of bad habits. One of them was to get some sleep during his time on duty. Now that Clancy thought about it, everyone he knew in town had some sort of bad habit, pastor Johnathan included. Clancy drove slowly past Rick’s parked cruiser, making certain to keep to the speed limit. Once he passed the cruiser, he looked out the rearview mirror, making a silent prayer to whatever deity that would listen, praying that Rick was too drunk himself to do much driving.

Going far enough into the past, drinking too much had gotten Clancy into this mess in the first place, but quitting that particular vice on a night like this would not do him any good and pulled a narrow silver flask out of his suit pocket. He unscrewed the top of the flask, took a deep pull, and let the burning warmth spread through him. As the alcohol loosened him up, he felt more comfortable in the suit he had to borrow from the director as well. Driving to the designated location was only part of it – he had to look the part as well.

As the hearse made its way along the almost empty interstate, Clancy couldn’t help but wonder how much different his life would have turned out if he had listened to his uncle’s advice to become an undertaker himself. Well, for one, he wouldn’t have had to pay an outrageous amount of money to borrow this car and he could have bought that coffin at cost, probably saving him a good amount of change. Nobody had told him what kind of coffin he had to get, so he opted for the cheapest model: A cherry-tone solid poplar casket with cream velvet interior, with matching pillow and throw in a French Fold Design and Swing Bar Handle Hardware. He didn’t care about the specifics. He just wanted the cheapest model, but decades of repetition had conditioned the funeral director to give him a full sales pitch. Clancy had learned more about coffins in those five minutes than he had his entire life. Luckily, the funeral home also had a casket lift. With Clancy’s bad back and the director who looked like he’d be his own customer any day now, they wouldn’t have gotten the coffin off the ground, much less into the back of the hearse. 

Clancy hoped they did not require him to lift the darn thing out himself. His lower back was spasming just at the mere thought of trying to lower the 200 pound monstrosity. But what was he required to do? 

The caller had been extremely vague, just as he had all the few times he had called before, bordering somewhere on the line between riddle and barely helpful instructions. He would have hung up on the caller the moment he heard the modulated voice through the phone, if he hadn’t already known that his daughter was in trouble.

When he had first received a call, he hadn’t heard from his daughter Tammy in over a week. She did not call often and he didn’t blame her, but after two weeks of no calls, Clancy knew something was not quite right and had reached out to her. After two more days of only getting her mailbox and leaving her messages until it was full, he had driven over to her apartment; the address cut out from last year’s Christmas letter. So what if he was embarrassing her? He was worried, and he was still her father. If she wanted him to keep his distance, she should at least pick up the phone.

Tammy’s roommates had at first eyed him funny and then downright not believed him when he told them he was Tammy’s dad. Tammy had told them she would visit him, so him asking for her at her place raised a few eyebrows. Her roommates had any idea who else she might have been visiting or why she would have not told them the truth. While Tammy’s roommates were just as confused as Clancy, they seemed less concerned about her well-being and ultimately were no help to him. They figured she had her reasons and would be back sooner or later.

As he had gotten home, he had finally received a call from Tammy, or at least her phone number. The caller’s voice sounded robotic, stretched and wavering, further distorted by the phone.

“It is important that you listen carefully. We have your daughter.” The caller then ignored next few minutes of Clancy’s questions, threats and pleading in silence. When eventually Clancy quieted down, the voice had simply given him tasks. Small errands, like picking up packages and dropping them off in various places all around the state. The caller had made it clear that if he wanted to ensure his daughter’s safety, he would complete them without fail and without question. Every time he had finished one of these tasks and was contacted again, he had asked for proof of her well-being, fearing the worst. He had barely slept over the past few days, and his stomach was in knots.

Eventually, he had threatened to go to the police, but the voice had convinced him they would be of no help. What could they do? The caller told Clancy, if he did this, he would find his daughter in pieces. Now his current instructions were to bring a hearse with an empty coffin to the abandoned storage lot along I-495 and to wear a suit. He had tried to ask questions, but the caller had a bad habit of leaving many of the logistics to Clancy to figure out.

After about a half-hour drive, he came to the exit and after a few more minutes of navigating in the dark, he arrived at what used to be Pete’s Self-Storage. Abandoned storage lots, either fallen-in or filled with rubble and dirt, were lining a broken up asphalt road. The only light came from the headlights of the hearse. He heard the bars of the coffin bang against the wood as he hit one pothole after the other. After carefully navigating around rubble to the end of the lot, he put the car into park, now idling in the middle of nowhere.

For all he knew, they were going to pull him out of the car or shoot him. But why go through all the trouble with the hearse? Maybe they were just messing with his mind and having some fun with him. He knew he couldn’t possibly understand the motivations of someone who’d kidnap a person and force their family members into compliance. He pulled out the flask from his coat pocket, wondering if whoever was watching him would think he had been pulling out a gun and shoot him. 

There was no shot, and he brought the flask to his mouth and emptied most of the container. He wanted to seem calm, not stressed, but his hands were shaking badly. Who could blame him?

As he put the flask down, a figure appeared from behind one of the dilapidated storage units. The man shielded his eyes against the bright headlights with his hands and strode to the passenger door of the hearse. He had short, well trimmed, black hair and a neatly trimmed full beard. The man reached the hearse and tried to open the passenger door. When the door did not open, he bent his head down, looking at Clancy, and pointed wordlessly towards the car door lock. Clancy hesitated for a moment and then leaned over to unlock the door. The man opened the door and let himself fall into the seat and closed the door, without saying a word or acknowledging Clancy.

Clancy couldn’t help himself and blurted out, “Where is my daughter?”

As if Clancy had said nothing, the men simply said 

“Turn around and take a left out of here.”

His voice was surprisingly high, but calm and collected. No sign of nervousness or agitation, as if getting into people’s cars at night in abandoned lots and them directing them somewhere was like ordering a pizza with extra cheese and pepperoni. Clancy didn’t know what he had expected, but the calm tone was like a slap in the face. They had turned his life upside down and here was this… kid, acting like he had no care in the whole wide world. 

Clancy turned to his passenger, “First I want to know if my daughter is still okay, that’s all I want to know. I’m not going to do anything else unless… Unless I know she’s alive. I need to know!”

The kid sighed and put his hand in his own suit pocket. For a second Clancy feared he would get tazed, or worse, shot. Then to his relief, he saw that the kid was just holding a smartphone in his hand. He swiped across the glass screen and turned the phone towards Clancy. 

A video was playing. It took Clancy a moment to understand what he was looking at. He saw a cluttered space, like a small apartment filled with stacks of boxes and papers. In the middle of the room sat a brown couch. On it, he immediately realized was his daughter, with her hands tied up in front of her and mouth taped over. At the sight, his stomach cramped and he couldn’t suppress a hoarse cry. Then the camera moved closer towards Tammy and Clancy tried to see if she had been injured. She looked shaken and uncomfortable, but she didn’t look hurt. Then the camera quickly panned towards the TV. A news channel was on. He made out today’s date and the time on ehte screen. This video was less than an hour old. Desperation and relief washed over him simultaneously. He balled his hands into fists so hard that the nails dug into his palms. 

Before he could say anything else, the kid spoke up again. This time he looking him straight into Clancy’s eyes. Even in the low light coming from the car’s dashboard, Clancy could see their piercing blue color. His passenger repeated his instructions, this time slowly and clearly enunciating every word:

“Turn around and take a left out of here.” Then he sat back in the seat 

Clancy swallowed, loosened the parking brake and put the hearse in reverse.

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

📷 Hearse photo by enmanuel m

🎵 Dystopian Memories by Sangam

Alone With The Stars

Have you ever looked at the stars? I mean, really looked at the night sky, far away from the light pollution of the cities, all alone in the dark? It is a breathtaking, humbling experience. I almost didn’t get to experience it and maybe that would have been for the best.

When I arrived at the cabin I had rented for this week, the sky was grey and oppressive. The last time I had checked the weather on my phone was at a gas station / bait store about half an hour away from this cabin. Out here I had no reception, and I had no intention of listening to the radio, hoping to catch a weather forecast. It would have eradicated the little bit of hope I had left in me that the sky would clear up. I had intentionally planned for the entire week, knowing that there is nothing worse than having a weekend ruined by ruin. I tried to enjoy the silence and the solitude, but the rain on the metal roof of the cabin was a constant reminder.

I cleaned my telescope twice during the first two days and trudged in the rain through the muddy woods to scout out the ideal location to set up when and if the weather would clear up. A large rocky hill about half an hour hike through the woods would be the ideal location to set up to stargaze. As the rain continued on the third day, I felt more and more anxious, pacing around in a tight circle in the middle of the cabin. I had brought enough food supplies to last me the entire week, but I had barely touched them. As the daylight faded and the rain continued, I felt a migraine setting in, adding to my general misery. I wasn’t expecting the rain to let up anytime soon, so I decided to get some extra sleep.

I don’t know how long I had slept, but when I woke, my head was still throbbing. Then I realized it was silent and my eyes shot open. Moonlight softly illuminated the inside of the cabin, shining through one of the small windows. Adrenaline shot through my body and I jumped out of bed, ignoring the searing pain in my head. I ran to the front door, pulled it open and stepped out into the chilly night. The moonlight shimmered from the branches and off the wet ground. The air was cold and clean, wisps of exhalation rising into the air in front of me.
Peering between the trees, I could already see the lights of all the galaxies so far away from me and I felt the stress and anxiety of the past months and days slough off of me in an instant. Quickly, I returned inside, slipped into my clothes and grabbed my gear. I didn’t linger to see if I had forgotten anything, so great was my excitement to be underneath the stars.

The trek to the rocky top was slower than I would have liked, but the last thing I wanted was to slip and break my gear. I had to restrain myself not to run. I worried this was only a momentary reprieve and that the sky would be hidden again from view at any moment. After what felt like an unbearable eternity, I reach the top and once the entire sky opened up ahead of me, I couldn’t help but just stand there and admire it in its beauty. If this was the only moment on this entire I got to enjoy, I’d be content. An overwhelming energy and love for the universe swept through me.

Once I was able to pull my eyes from the sky, I set up my gear, carefully installing my telescope. I was shaking in anticipation. What would I look at first? The possibilities seemed endless, like the glittering sky above. I decided I would aim for Jupiter. Once I had everything set up, I watched the night sky a moment longer and then held my breath as I leaned down to look through the telescope. My initial aim had not been as good as I hoped and I carefully adjusted the telescope until finally Jupiter became visible in all its gorgeous detail. I don’t remember if I made a noise, but Jupiters intense beauty and gorgeous detail on this night startled me. Even the Great Red Spot was clearly visible. I don’t recall how long I stared at this sight.

It might have been the absolute silence that made me pry myself away from the telescope, but as I looked up, I gave an involuntary yell. The sky was almost devoid of stars and the darkness had almost completely engulfed me. Where the moon had stood in the sky before, I could only see a faint shimmer before even that disappeared.

Something must have been happening to my vision. I closed and rubbed my eyes and when I opened them; I was in perfect darkness and absolute silence. I could only hear my heart beating fast in my chest and the blood rushing through my ears. Had I damaged my eyes when I looked into the telescope? It couldn’t be.

I tried not to panic and felt with my cold hands for the lantern I had used when setting up the telescope. After feeling along the wet rocky surface, my hand found it. With shaking hands, I flicked the switch. The bright light of the lantern was painfully bright. The relief I felt from being able to see only lasted a fraction of a moment once I realized the lantern was the only source of light. I could not see the delineation between the black sky and the woods that had been all around me before. I felt as if I was drifting on a small rock through the darkness, untethered to everything. I strained my eyes to make out anything beyond the small radius the lantern provided, but it was as if nothing existed outside of my little bubble. I somehow knew with every fiber of my being that this was not a natural phenomenon and that there truly was nothing around me. I feared walking away from my position, terrified the ground would stop.

For a moment I tried to discern if I had possibly ingested something poisonous or anything other mind-altering. I had been drinking water from plastic bottles and the stress of the past few days had made it difficult to eat anything other than a few small snacks. I felt my face and my skin, trying to discern if my perception was altered, anything to tell me that what I was witnessing was in any shape or form as unreal as it seemed. My skin was cold and damp from sweat, but nothing else felt out of the ordinary. As the panic rose inside me, I hope to wake sweat-drenched in the cabin’s bed, but I stayed in the nowhere.

I cannot tell how long I must have stood motionless after that, but once I turned towards my telescope, my joints and my muscles felt stiff and painful. I don’t know what I was expecting to find once I looked back through the telescope. I slowly bent down and held my breath as I pressed my eye against the instrument.

I still can’t recall what I saw at that moment. My mind will not let me, though I can still feel the fear taking hold as if was there again. Every time I think about this moment, it returns and grips my entire being. I pushed myself away from the telescope, stumbling and falling away from the only place that seemed to exist outside of me. The fear was so overwhelming that I got up, turned, and ran into the nothingness. I wanted to cease existing, disappear. I don’t know how long I ran or how much time had passed, but I found myself in a strange place when my consciousness or my memories returned to me.

I distinctly recall how foreign my perception felt to me, as if I had never seen, heard, or felt anything before. The shapes and forms I saw made no sense to me at first. I couldn’t tell if they were real or imaginary, but even if I attempted to conjure such images now, I could not.

Eventually, my surroundings began to make sense to my mind. I perceived shapes and distances, colors, and even sounds.

I could feel my body sitting on the floor, my hands firmly placed on a smooth, warm surface, like a smooth stone warmed by the sun. I sat in front of an enormous steep cliff, its surface so perfectly black and smooth, I didn’t realize I was looking at myself. My form looked so foreign, out of place, as if it did not belong here, and I can recall observing myself like a scientist might observe a captured creature.
Standing up, I noticing all the minor sensations like the tensing of my muscles or the movements of my joints. I could feel something flowing over my skin, like a pleasant cold breeze. I turned and ahead of me I could see a massive plain ahead. Giant abstract shapes and forms, hundreds of not thousands, were jutting at impossible angles out of the ground and shot towards the red sky. The tallest ones pierced through the firmament and, where their tips disappeared, purple waves spread outwards along the sky until they faded into its deep red.

I stared for a long time, trying to make sense of the landscape before me, but it felt as foreign to me as I did to myself. I am not sure what I felt, but I had no fear. To this day I can’t say if it might have been in shock, but I felt oddly calm, if alone. I felt a sort of excitement when I eventually noticed smaller structures far away in the distance, surrounding what must have been the largest and tallest of the impossible forms jutting out of the ground. In a place like this, their placement and repetitiveness looked out of place, though they were too far away for me to make out any details. I immediately knew this was where I needed to be.

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

📷 ‘Stars’ by Denny David

🎵 Emotional Combinatorics by Spreadsheets

🎵 The Tape Project by Matt Thibodeau

🎵1 Less Throne by The Nekoma Void

NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts

This year for NaNoWriMo, I am attempting to write 50,000 words in the form of 30 First Drafts, one for each day of the month. My goal is to force myself to bring many of my ideas to paper and then see at the end of the month what I can salvage. I will keep track of my word count on the NaNoWriMo website.

As the term implies, these are first drafts (with minor edits for readability, not touching the structure). I will write them fast and they will be full of mistakes and problems. Trust me, I know they are there.

I will try my best to add my daily first draft to the list below at the end of each day. I’d love to hear your thoughts on them, so I opened up the comments on each of them.

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My First Published Short Story

These past few weeks, I have started submitting some of my writing to various online magazines. Finding the right fit can be more challenging than I thought, and the research/submission process takes more time than I had expected. It is very enlightening, though! I have collected a handful of rejection letters so far, and the first one is now sitting framed next to me on my wall! 🙂

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The Wolves And The Blizzard

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In their den under the fallen oak tree, the four young wolves stared out at the ever-moving wall of snow. Their warm breath puffed out their noses, turning into cold little clouds. It had not been their first winter storm, but this blizzard was rolling over the lands for many days and nights. Whenever the winds died down for a moment of reprieve, one could hear their growling stomachs. Laying in the darkness behind them were the elders; they had endured many winters before and knew this wouldn’t be their last.

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