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[Continued from here]


His sister pauses in the middle of passing the peas and glances his way with a quizzical expression. For a few moments, he chews thoughtfully on the tines of his fork before continuing on.

"I think the chicken might still be alive."

He pushes at the bit of meat on his plate and draws a smiling face with the red streaks it leaves behind. Amie's cheeks flush almost the same color as she hurriedly reaches across the table and plucks away his meal.

"Can I have some pudding instead?"

Read more... )


Dec. 22nd, 2015 09:39 pm
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Aug. 6th, 2015 08:47 pm
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198 )
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On the second Tuesday of March, Mrs. Mary McGraw opened her front door and found a white elephant sitting on her lawn.

Not a real elephant, of course. That would have been preposterous.

It was a marble statue about two feet in height, facing placidly towards her bay window. There was an air of capriciousness in its expression. Out of reflex, she followed its gaze, but there was nothing notable in the bay window whatsoever. The room hadn't been used in about six years, not since Mr. McGraw had gone to bed one night after a heavy meal and never stepped out of it again.

"Oh, dear," she said.

The words were rather tremulous.

Oh, dear! )
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[Continued from Kodama, Part I, Kodama, Part II, and Kodama, Part III.]

In the next moment, there was an audible click and a beam of light illuminated the length of the park. It flickered rapidly for a few moments before settling on the trunk of the great tree.

Quiet, slow footsteps carefully made their way towards Old Hickory.

I felt a lurch of fear even as Lyle quietly pulled me back into the brush, the sound of our motions obscured by the light wind rustling through the trees. With my eyes adjusted to the darkness of the night, I could make out two figures about a hundred feet away, one holding a flashlight, the other a long-handled implement - probably a shovel. On television, the plucky teen detectives would be celebrating at this point, excited about a breakthrough in the case. I wasn't excited so much as I was having a hard time keeping my bladder from spontaneously emptying.

'Hide here. Call the police.' )
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[Continued from Kodama, Part I and Kodama, Part II.]

There was more to the story than I originally thought. As we sat underneath the shade of Old Hickory, Lyle Greengard quietly leaned up against its trunk and explained the circumstances under which his family had entrusted the property to the town.

Back before either of us were born, the Greengard estate had been approximately three times the size of its present holdings. In addition to the area now known as the town park, they had owned several parcels of undeveloped land in the most inconvenient of locations - smack dab in the middle of a housing block or sandwiched between the steel mill and the railroad tracks. For as long as anyone could remember, these miscellaneous bits and pieces had stayed within the family; the Greengards had always quietly resisted any and all efforts to purchase, develop, or otherwise alter their properties. When pressed, they claimed that the land was of priceless historical value. George Washington's left foot had once trod upon the soil or something else equally specious and impossible to verify. The fact of the matter was that they simply didn't want to relinquish the land.

About fifteen odd years ago... )
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[Continued from Kodama, Part I.]

Stop them before it's too late.

This was the kind of line I expected to hear in a movie, not from the mouth of my crush during our first real conversation. But I had no doubt that his plea was sincere. He held my gaze and his eyes, dark and bitter, stared into my own with a fierce intensity. A light chill ran up my spine. It seemed strange to say, but I had never truly seen him like this before, my daydreams notwithstanding. Staring from a distance in the cafeteria wasn't quite the same, either. There was something he wanted me to understand... I received that impression very clearly. But what it was, I couldn't say.

In the blink of an eye, the moment had passed, and the spell of his melodramatic pronouncement lost its hold. I had the sudden mental image of a criminal in black skulking around the park with a can of weed killer only to be stopped by the Environmental Club suited up in swanky jumpsuits - more of a cartoon episode than anything that might happen in reality. It didn't make much sense. Why would anyone want to poison a tree? Why did anyone care? ...And why was he telling me about this? There was a sense that I was being directed onto the set of a play - and I hadn't read the script.

I felt a sudden suspicion. )
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His name was Lyle Greengard.  My first love and my first love lost.

Looking back, I think that particular sentiment was shared by half of our high school class: the girls wanted to be near him and the boys wanted to be him. He had never been unattractive, but puberty had been especially kind to his once lanky frame and slight build. Halfway through the 10th grade, we simply blinked and realized that we were friends and classmates with the most attractive 16-year-old boy on the planet. It took only a few weeks before rumors began to spread about modeling contracts and photo-shoots. The moment he graduated, he would be off to New York or San Francisco where he would spend most of his perfectly chiseled, blonde-haired, blue-eyed existence lounging about with scantily clad women on his own level. The more dedicated amongst us took this as a challenge to secure his love and affection before he left.

I would have been satisfied with his eye contact.

Lyle Greengard, of course, had been my personal crush since the 8th grade and at times, my sole reason for waking up in the morning. I had loved him before puberty. All things considered, I thought it was very generous of me to share him with the world.

Even so, I was unprepared the first time he acknowledged my existence.


It was 11:35 in the morning, April 11th, and U.S. History had just ended. I sat three seats behind him and one row over, where I had a good view of both the chalkboard and his perfectly tousled, golden blonde hair. My attention was usually focused on the latter. In summer, he sometimes wore T-shirts that exposed his lightly tanned arms.


It was 11:35 in the morning, and most of the classroom had already emptied out the door. I had misplaced my planner, and Lyle Greengard had stuck his head back in to say 'hey' in my general direction. I considered this a good omen for the rest of the day.


It was 11:36 before I realized he was speaking to me and another twenty seconds before I stopped gaping and forced my vocal cords to squeeze out sound.


My friends told me later that my voice had registered at a pitch that was physically painful to the human ear. My friends were, at times, sad, insecure, small people, and I tried not to begrudge them their understandable jealousy.

After he finished rubbing at his ear, the melodic beauty of my voice having temporarily inspired him to breathless silence, he smiled. His teeth were white as snow and his jaw thick and strong. After years of waiting, I expected, he had finally recognized that his life was empty and meaningless in its current state, and he searched now for his soulmate and perfect companion. I was prepared to rise to the task.

"You're the president of the Environmental Club, right?"

Together, we would explore our mutual interests in saving the Earth and be married in the Amazon when we hit 21. Or possibly next to a panorama of the Amazon, where there weren't any real snakes or other extremely deadly animals.


I managed to sound breathy and overexcited at the same time - what Cosmopolitan described as a flirty tone. My friends said I sounded high.

"Cool. ...I know this might sound weird, but I have something I want to ask you guys. Do you do this kind of thing? Requests?" Nothing Lyle Greengard did could ever be weird. By dint of it having been done by Lyle Greengard, it became mainstream and utterly desirable. As a matter of fact, I was prepared to sign an affidavit that he had singlehandedly revitalized the slang term 'cool', bringing new nuance and subtle depths of character to the word. "Maybe I could -- "


After looking momentarily stunned, he smiled again.

"Yeah. I was going to ask what time you guys did your thing."

It was about then that any and all knowledge I had pertaining to Environmental Club - the club that I had founded six months ago and in which I served as president and secretary and occasional sole attendee - vacated my mind. When did we do our thing? And why did it have to sound so much more interesting when he said it? My blank staring eventually gave way to the first answer that popped into my head.

"Tonight." He looked surprised. "I mean. This afternoon. ...3 o'clock after school." As I didn't actually have a room booked for the afternoon, I continued to improvise. "Sometimes we meet in the town park. You know. Closer to nature."

Surprisingly, he smiled even more broadly, showing off dimples that caused me to reconsider my commitment to chastity before the age of 18.

"That's perfect." I stopped breathing. Lyle Greengard had called me perfect. ...Well, Lyle Greengard had called something I said perfect, which practically amounted to the same thing. "The park's what I want to talk about, anyway. I'll see you then, Alex."

Lyle Greengard knew my name.

I, on the other hand, promptly forgot it as well as half of the answers to the pop quiz that happened two minutes later in English Literature. I couldn't complain, though. An F was a small price to pay for a conversation I never expected to have in my lifetime.

The rest of the day passed incredibly slowly, which, I expected, was the universe's way of telling me to savor my remaining few moments with Lyle Greengard. I hadn't any idea what sort of project he wanted to propose or what a high school Environmental Club could do on his behalf, but I assumed he would get bored of the matter soon enough. Someone like Lyle Greengard had better things to do than spend time with the president of the Environmental Club.

The town park was within walking distance of the school; I arrived 20 minutes early and briskly power-walked between all three entrances once I realized I had never improvised a meeting spot. This was less tedious than it seemed - calling it the 'town park' was analogous to calling an inflatable kiddie pool the town pool. The number of trees could be counted on one hand, and on first sight, most people assumed it was an unusually large backyard with a swingset stuck in the middle.

Most people assumed right. The park had been gifted by the Greengard family, whose estate lay directly adjacent. A wrought-iron fence separated the park from the small manor and accompanying grounds, and from time to time, the Greengard patriarch could be spotted taking a stroll in his gardens through the bars. On the whole, we were thankful - a small park was better than no park, and the Greengards had gifted a significant portion of their land to the town for no apparent reason ten years back with the stipulation that the trees be maintained exactly how they were.

Incidentally, Lyle Greengard was going to be incredibly rich when he turned 18.

"Alex?" The voice jolted me from my thoughts. "Hey! There you are. I couldn't find you." I suppressed my annoyance. Later that afternoon, I would learn that there were, of course, four entrances. "...Where's everyone else?"

The right thing to do would have been to tell the truth.

"Oh - they couldn't make it today. There's a... State Environmental Fair in... Topeka. I couldn't go because I had strep." He looked alarmed. "Two weeks ago. I had strep two weeks ago. I was too sick to sign up."

He frowned, anyway. Possibly because Topeka was several thousand miles away. Possibly because I had made up the concept of a State Environmental Fair.

"Oh. Sorry to take your time, then. We can do this another day if -- "

"No. Now's perfect. I've got nothing else to do! Cleared out my whole schedule."

The look on his face suggested that this was not a wholly appropriate thing to say. He paused for a moment before glancing towards the middle of the park.

"Well. I'll be quick. ...It's about that."

His meaning was clear.

That was an incredibly large and tangled Southern live oak that shaded nearly a quarter of the park. With low, thick branches, it was a favorite for small children to climb and for mothers to stand underneath shouting unintelligibly. In lieu of a town mascot, we had Old Hickory instead, so named by someone who didn't know the first thing about dendrology. The name stuck because Old Southie conjured up uncomfortably political thoughts, and no one had the imagination to think of anything else.

"Old Hickory? What about it?"

He paused.

"I think it's dying."

This was tragic, but also probably unavoidable. No one called it Baby Hickory for a reason. As I looked vaguely confused, he continued on in a serious tone.

"I mean. I think it's being poisoned. I have evidence, but the police don't think it means anything. They don't care much about trees." He gave a shrug. "I thought maybe you might."

His voice was so deep and rich that I would have cared about anything he suggested.

"Of course I do!" I paused. "But what do you think the Environmental Club can do?"

"Stop them, of course." He smiled again, and I was startled by the expression in his dark eyes. There was something... intensely bitter that contrasted with his easy smile. "Stop them before it's too late."

There are a lot of 'firsts' in this story. My first love, my first conversation, my first eye contact...

But this... was the story of the first time I was frightened by Lyle Greengard.


Jan. 5th, 2015 11:48 pm
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Krrrk. Krrrrrk. ....Krkrkrkrkrkrkr --

"Grace! I'm trying to do my homework!"

Five minutes of blessed silence followed before the inevitable grinding started again. With a scream of rage, she threw herself across her bed and released her frustrations into her pillow.

It had been three weeks since Christmas, and the holiday cheer had long since faded. Some godfather or godmother or other oblivious soul who hadn't the slightest idea what to do with small children had thought it would be fun to send her little sister a 'cute present'. And that was the end of Christmas being her favorite holiday.

It was a cabasa. Or at least, that was what the label said. One of those hand-held percussion instruments she had seen the band use on occasion; rubbing your hand back and forth against the beads created an incredibly obnoxious grinding noise that reverberated throughout the house. Grace, of course, loved it. She had taken to playing with it every time she was bored, which, by virtue of being a seven year old, constituted about every other waking second. The gift giver probably considered this a success; she had a less optimistic outlook, being fairly certain that the world had become an infinitely worse place. She reminded herself three or four times a day that first-degree murder of a family member would definitely disqualify her for valedictorian. ...Sometimes, it still wasn't enough.

"Grace, if you don't stop it right now -- !"

A pause. ...What could she reasonably threaten? Their father was never at home, leaving her to look after her little sister. And it wasn't as if Grace had much she could take away. They didn't even have a working TV; their father refused to move on from the 1960s, begrudgingly allowing only a single ancient mobile phone by way of technology. This was, of course, the only reason the cabasa hadn't been dismantled and thrown into the stream in the woods yet. It was the only thing Grace had ever gotten for Christmas that wasn't socks or pants or some other boring vital necessity.

"I will make you dinner for the next week instead of buying it!"

...The grinding stopped.

The next day, she woke up with what she assumed was a tension headache. She wasn't sure, having never experienced one, but in the absence of the existence of cabasa headaches, this seemed like a fair second guess. It wasn't enough that the sound tormented her constantly during the day, either; she had dreamed about cabasa noises all night. Krk krk krk... on and on and on. She couldn't even say what the dreams had been about. Grace hadn't seemed to be in them, but it had seemed like a straightforward nightmare scenario - endless woods behind the house, lots and lots of running... and the sounds of the cabasa echoing from every direction.

They really needed to get Grace more toys.

The headache refused to go away, and she spent the rest of the day feeling unwell. She'd finished her homework, at least, no thanks to Grace, but passing it in was about all she could manage without her temples threatening to cave in. Miss Thorton, her calculus teacher, seemed to delight in the fact that she couldn't even manage to solve a simple example problem and snottily corrected her with a great air of condescension.

Miss Thorton was exactly the sort of person who deserved to be sentenced to endless cabasa nightmares.

Halfway through chemistry, her phone vibrated and jolted her to attention. She realized with chagrin that her notes consisted of nothing but a doodle of O2 holding hands in marital bliss; Mr. Reiner's attempted metaphor about covalent bonds had gone a bit awry. Silently, she slid her hand into her purse and eased out the phone.

Coming home early today. I'll meet Grace at the bus. Love you.

She allowed a smile. Nights when he finished work before midnight were rare, something to cherish when they had the opportunity. ...In a practical sense, of course, what this actually meant was that she didn't have to face the cabasa for a few hours. She suspected this was exactly what he was trying to say.

Maybe she'd head to the library instead. The nice, quiet library.

The remainder of the school day passed uneventfully, and on a whim, she deliberately hopped onto an entirely different bus than the one bound for the city library. She felt a slight thrill. Nobody was there to care, but she had very recently been accused of being the most boring eighteen year old girl on the planet, which she had strenuously denied. She did do spontaneous things. It wasn't her fault her schedule was always so restricted.

But she knew what she wanted to do: she would go now to the city aquarium and perform preliminary research for her upcoming biology project. Scope out the field a bit. She knew the topic she wanted, too: penguins.

...Alright, maybe she was a little boring. But she defied anyone to say that an afternoon spent with penguins was a poor use of time.

About thirty minutes later, she reluctantly concluded that what was a poor use of time was arriving at an aquarium with a penguin exhibit undergoing remodeling. The sign was irritatingly clear on the point, boasting an enormous graphic of an apologetic penguin and small sad children. There wasn't much else she wanted to see, if she was perfectly honest with herself. Worse still, the headache was beginning to intensify, and she felt a sharp flash of pain as she turned to the ticket office. ...Was it even worth paying admission now?

She felt a strong urge to simply go home and see her dad.

She checked her phone for the time - and was unsurprised to see that it had died for no apparent reason. It had a habit of turning itself off at the most inopportune times. She was also unsurprised to see that she had a notification when it finally rebooted.

...Several notifications.

Three missed calls. A voicemail. Five texts.

Jenn are you there?
Pick up please.
I need you to go home I'm sorry.
Something came up.
Jenn please go home.

She could feel the blood in her temples attempting to pound its way through bone.

The city bus didn't actually go any faster despite her pleading with the driver. Grace was a smart girl, she told herself. She knew the right thing to do. She would let herself inside with the key hidden in the planter, get herself a snack, and play with the stupid cabasa. Nothing would go wrong.

A sudden flash of fear jolted through her as she wondered why she didn't have any missed calls from Grace. Surely, that would have been the first thing she would do when she got home...


The front door was still locked. There was no key in the planter.


Of course - Grace had just locked it again when she went in.


But no one was answering... Her heart was in her throat as she finally fit a key in the lock and threw it open.

The house was empty, her sister's room bare.


Where could she possibly have gone? Their closest neighbor was through the woods a half mile away. There was no chance... No chance whatsoever that she would think to go there. ...Right?

She frantically dialed the neighbor's number even as she raced out the back door into the woods.

No answer.

"Grace! Can you hear me?! Grace!"

Panicking. She was panicking. She wouldn't accomplish anything like this - she had to stay calm. What would Grace do? There was no trail. But they had taken the path to the neighbor's before, and no doubt, she would attempt to reproduce it. The easiest way was by following the stream through the woods and then making a turn at a particular oak.

Grace was smart. She would remember.

She crashed through the branches and brush, running as quickly as she could. It had already been an hour since Grace would have gotten home...


There were no footprints or signs of recent passage that she could find near the stream. But that just meant Grace had joined the stream at a later point. ...That was all it meant.

Twenty minutes and twenty hundred screams later, there were still no footprints.

She was exhausted - the cold air was like daggers in her lungs, her feet ached, and her head was, inexplicably, still pounding. She felt something rising within her - she needed to cry or hit something or curl up into a ball and scream and scream and scream.

Where was her sister?

She leaned against a tree with one hand, panting, and allowed herself to do one of those things. The hot tears streaming down her face, at least, warmed her a little.

"Grace... Please..."


She froze.


It sounded so faintly that she was sure she was imagining it. But as she held her breath, forcing herself to keep completely silent, she could hear it clearly. Faint and far off... a familiar noise.


Her sister was so smart.

Krk. Krk. Krk. Before her, the disembodied sound of grinding beckoned her on, and she pounded through the woods again with renewed vigor. Off in the distance, the sun was beginning to reach the horizon. But she already knew there was nothing more to fear. Each time she lost the way, the grinding would point the way, and she would redirect herself towards the source of the sound.

Krk. Krk. Krrrrrrrrrrk.


And finally...


The most beautiful thing she'd ever heard.

She was openly sobbing when she spotted her - red jacket against a tree, knees pulled to her chest for warmth. She lifted her sister up in her arms and was amazed at how light and frail she suddenly seemed.

Somehow, she had never recognized before how small she was.

Grace would need a medical check-up, she was sure. But for now, she was safe. And that was all that mattered. A few murmured words fell from the girl's lips.

"My cababa..."

She smiled.

"Yeah. Your cababa... Thank goodness for that, huh?"

Grace nodded slowly in her arms as she closed her eyes in exhaustion, breathing out a few more words.

"Mm-hm. I followed it... right to you..."

Her smile froze on her face.

Krk. Krk. Krrrrrrrk.

wightknight: (Default)

His face flushed. It was trying enough, he thought, to suffer grave misfortune without having to be defensive about it. Perhaps it was overly optimistic to expect sympathy, but some recognition of personal inconvenience wouldn't have been unreasonable. Possibly pity. Naturally, they had managed to skip past the warmer feelings altogether and had settled uncomfortably near scorn within the first 60 seconds of the conversation.

"Yes, I know it's the busiest day. I just can't; I'm sorry. ...Yes, a hole in the window."

A pause.

"Are you saying I should have made it easier to break in?"

The voice on the other end of the line eventually conceded that leaving a key out so burglars could bypass the window altogether was probably not in his best interests. After agreeing to work the next three Saturdays, he hung up feeling more irritated than he had when he'd first discovered the break-in.

It could have been worse.

That was what his mother had said, and he had agreed; he certainly could have been at home and some drug fiend could have stabbed him seventeen times in his sleep. Like as not, he would have survived and been in constant misery for the rest of his short, crippled life. On a whim, he had stayed with a friend who lived some twenty miles away, which, he expected, was also the number his BAC would have measured when placed behind a decimal point. His mother called it providence. Most other nights she called it sin.

It could also have been better, of course; nothing at all could have happened last night. Or, if someone really had to break in, they might have swept the floor after smashing his window and taking his rent money. He couldn't be bothered and hadn't been bothered to sweep for the last six months, which meant that he hadn't the least idea which spots of dirt might have been left by the burglar. The police hadn't been impressed.

At least they'd made a vague attempt at sympathy.

Ostensibly, he needed the day off to get someone to fix the window; in reality, he was at a loss as to where to find a window fixer. Whether or not 'window fixer' was an actual occupation was also a murky bit of knowledge in his mind.

After a few moments' contemplation, he picked up the phone.


"Kid's out today. Says someone broke into his house."

"He has a house?"

"Apartment. Whatever. Who knows? Kasper's taking his shift."

She managed a few murmurs of sympathy before returning to her magazine. She wasn't particularly fond of the kid - then, she wasn't particularly fond of anyone. Off the clock, she preferred not to acknowledge her job and its various trappings; coworkers were relegated firmly to the zone of the casual acquaintance. She considered that she was required by law only to refrain from physically assaulting them, which she managed with aplomb on most days. No one had ever said anything about friendship.

Still, it was too bad. Less the burglary and more that she was stuck with Kasper, who had a talent for telling stories that no one but Kasper ever found interesting. He had talked for two hours straight once, beginning with a tale about his first day on the job and eventually tapering off with... well, she supposed it had probably been the third day of the job. She remembered very little of the lost time afterwards and wondered if perhaps he was secretly training to be a hypnotist.

Fifteen minutes left for lunch. She swallowed the last bite of her sandwich and briefly considered the possibility of escaping early - but she had already called out sick three days ago on account of a sudden acute attack of Apathy. She heaved a sigh. At the very least, she'd need caffeine to survive an afternoon with Kasper.

"I'm running next door for a coffee. Catch you later."


What an asshole.

He glared silently at the man who had cut in front of him in line. That was about all his tepid personality could really manage; he held an intense fear of confrontation owing to what amounted to cowardice but consoled himself with the thought that he simply preferred to take the high road. The silent epithets that accompanied him onto this road were, of course, all the more justified.

It had been twenty minutes since he'd stepped into line, and he still didn't have his coffee and cake. He would have complained, but the kids who worked in these place were always, he felt, abominably rude. That was the problem these days: nobody had any respect. The clothing and the cursing and the attitude - repulsive to behave that way in public. He muttered general ill wishes upon the establishment and the collective group of all human beings under the age of twenty-five.

It was another seven minutes before he got his cake, largely due to the five minutes he spent abusing the cashier for her poor service. He was sorely late. He would have to eat while walking. Incredible inconvenience.

He was two steps out the door with the coffee to his lips when he walked straight into a girl leaving the shop next door.

The coffee exploded.

Assholes everywhere.


"Oh my god, what happened?"

She gasped as he hobbled in, hopping on one foot. He offered a bashful sort of smile.

"It's so dumb. ...You'll laugh."

"I would never."

Sometimes she did.

"...Some dick left a puddle of coffee all over the sidewalk. I twisted my ankle; it's not really a big deal."

The injured limb in question was bright purple. She arched an eyebrow, to which he responded with a shrug.

"Look, it's fine."

"It'll be more fine at the hospital. You can't just leave that. Come on - we're going."

She was occasionally inclined to think that she was betrothed to an idiot. A cute idiot, to be fair; it helped her forgive a lot.

"What about your thing?"

"It's Saturday. I don't have a thing."

Strictly speaking, this statement wasn't true. It was, in fact, almost never true, given that she had 'things' lined up for every waking hour of every day. As a matter of course, alternate Saturday afternoons were spent on private swimming lessons. He didn't know about them, of course, but their wedding was happening in Hawaii in four months, and she was determined to scuba dive amongst the reefs and look for Nemo. Apart from the whole marriage bit, it was the only reason to go to Hawaii at all.


She grabbed his arm and pulled; he collapsed to the ground in a heap.


"Leaving so soon?"

"Yeah. Three o'clock canceled, and I've got nothing else the rest of the day. I'm gonna do some late Christmas shopping."

A medical emergency, she had explained over the phone, and though he didn't usually allow last minute cancellations, he had generously agreed to reschedule for the next day. Holiday spirit, he had called it. 'Because you're hot' probably wouldn't have gone over so well.

It was too bad she was getting married. He had enough shame to refrain from seducing anyone on the eve of their wedding, but not enough that he didn't allow himself to exercise a healthy admiration from afar. ...Occasionally up close.

She always flirted back, anyway.

He showered and changed and made it to the mall in a half hour. It was three days before Christmas, and he hadn't yet bought a single present. In his college years, he had been in the habit of buying gift cards; this was, for some reason, no longer socially acceptable in his mid-twenties. He couldn't say why. From his point of view, gift cards and wads of cash were much preferred to ties and scarves and sweaters; he had already managed to accumulate eight ties over the course of his adult life, none of which he ever wore.

He sometimes wondered if his family realized that swimming usually entailed being 95% naked.

He preferred that, anyway. It showed off his better side.

The mall teemed with throngs of people; he pushed through without much issue, mildly pleased to see that he had not procrastinated alone. He mentally tallied the loved ones in his life who deserved a present. Family. Roommates. ...Probably coworkers. Two or three girls he had a shot at inviting over for New Year's. His other friends, he considered, would be satisfied with a case of beer and a declaration of eternal masculine love eased by said beer.

He ran into a cardboard cutout before he could get much further.

Amazing deals, it read. The numbers $399 and $349 were struck out with a flourish, with $319 printed in extra large blue font below. It was the new game system - a holiday deal, complete with two games and two controllers. He recalled he had vaguely considered picking one up for the past few months.

Through the window of the store, he could see a small crowd composed primarily of young males aged 18-30 enveloping the few offerings left on the shelves.

He paused for a moment before shrugging and walking in. It wasn't as if he didn't have the money. Besides, he had gotten off work early today - that almost never happened. If that wasn't a divine sign for him to splurge, he didn't know what was.


One hundred. Two hundred. Two fifty. Two seventy. Two ninety. Three ten. Three thirty. Three fifty.

Three hundred and fifty dollars in cash.

He had counted it and recounted it and counted it again. He hadn't slept all night. He had considered skipping school, but arousing suspicion was the last thing he wanted to do.

It wasn't his fault his football had gone straight through that crappy glass window.

His hands trembled slightly as he hurried down the path. He had been sure he would be caught - he had frozen in place for what felt like hours. But no neighbors had screamed, no police had come, and there was nothing at all, he had realized, stopping him from retrieving the ball and running.

So he had done that.

It wasn't his fault some fool had left an enormous amount of cash sitting on a table.

He couldn't remember if he had seen the money first. He didn't think he had. It was an accident. He just wanted to test his reflexes. Wallball. Wallball with a football. Maybe he should have paid more attention - maybe he shouldn't have gotten so close to the glass. How was he supposed to know it was so fragile?

And then some damn fool had just left three hundred and fifty dollars sitting there where anyone could see.

He wanted it - he needed it - he desperately had to have it. They didn't have any money, but they should have had the money. He would have had it. But his brother had busted his arm fooling around two weeks ago and that was that.

No Christmas presents.

He hadn't taken it. Not at first. He had turned around - gone back to the window. But it was right there and if God didn't want him to have the money, the window wouldn't have broken and some dumbass wouldn't have left three hundred and fifty dollars out.

It was for him.

It was for him to buy what he had wanted for six long months.

He had taken the bus straight to the mall after school and sprinted through the parking lot. Halfway through, he had stopped, looked around to see if anyone had seen him running like a crazy kid, and casually sauntered the rest of the way.

Three hundred and nineteen. That was all he needed. Maybe he'd even put the rest of the money back when he was done.

He wasn't a bad kid.

It wasn't a burglary. He hadn't meant to break in. It was an accident... and the rest had been so easy.

When he was grown and made money of his own, he would pay it back.

Through the revolving doors now, and he quickened his pace. Lots of people were walking briskly through the mall. They had places to be, things to buy. He did, too. The store in question wasn't far from the entrance; he could already see the big cardboard sign from here. He had passed it so many times in the last two weeks, and it had rekindled his burning desire every single time.

Everyone else in school had one... It was only fair.

Closer now.

He knew what the sign said. The sales price had dropped each week; it had become more and more affordable - for people who had money, anyway. But he had money now. He had the most money he'd ever had in his life, and Christmas was only three days away.

And there it was. The sign. This was it. Finally, finally... He imagined himself going home. Switching it on. Playing for hours until his mom came home from the late shift. When she asked, he would say he had entered an online raffle hosted by a gaming blog.

He had, of course. ...Not that he had won.

He turned towards the door.

"Oh. ...'Scuse me, kid."

An employee in a black cap squeezed out the door with a thick marker. Through the door, he could see one of the packages being handed to a man in his mid-twenties.

His face turned white as the employee stooped over and scribbled over the sign.

Sold Out.

[Inspired by someone breaking into my house on Christmas.]
wightknight: (Default)
"Washington Circle coming up. Next stop: Washington Circle."

She is sitting on a faded gray bus across from a baby in a stroller.

Everything is terribly foggy. Her head seems filled with wool; she cannot remember boarding the bus or having any particular destination in mind. She does not usually take the bus. Her school is within walking distance of her home, and her time is spent at one or the other.

The infant across the way squirms and launches a stuffed giraffe out of the stroller. She frowns, absently reaching for the toy.

Where is its mother?

She feels a sudden chill down her spine - where is anybody?

The bus is nearly empty...

She takes a quick breath - Washington Circle is not a wholly foreign place. It isn't as if she's lost. Emma from tennis lives in this direction. She will take the bus to Emma's house, and she will ask her for a ride home. Something is very wrong with her, she is sure, and Emma isn't usually one to say no.

Her head feels slightly clearer. She leans forward and drops the toy back in the stroller.

"That's Washington Cir -- "

There is a sound like a thunderclap.

She feels, rather than sees, the vehicle smashing through the side of the bus. One moment, she is looking at a sheet of metal bearing a sign advertising for an online college - the next, she is sprawled on the floor.

It is far too late to leap away, but she tries to, anyway.

She cannot. ...Something has lodged in her stomach, and she is pinned to the floor in a contorted position.

She was wrong - there are many people on the bus. Or what ought to be people. She can see them now. The blood. The tangled limbs. The staring eyes. Close beside her, a woman lies in a pool of dark liquid with her head bent in the wrong direction.

She is the right age to be the baby's mother.

Where is the baby?

Its wails sound in the next second, and she is a bit surprised by the relief that floods through her. Some part of her is strangely satisfied. There is no pain. And there are many worse ways to die than being in the way of a truck smashing into a baby.

It cries louder. Louder and louder with each breath, pounding almost... rhythmically.

She doesn't mind. She wills it to keep crying.



Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.

"Get up! You're going to be late for school!"

She awakens to wetness on her cheeks and the realization that her pillowcase is soaked in tears.

She starts to cry again, anyway.

It is the most vivid and realistic dream she's ever had in her life. She has never seen or felt anything so violently real - immediately, she has the distinct thought that it is a premonition. Her mother scolds her for watching too many gory movies. Her father, more sympathetic, offers no commentary and asks if she wants a ride to school. She has no particular desire to be in a moving vehicle, but she is already ten minutes late, and she cannot stand to listen to her mother's unwarranted reproaches. In the idling car in the traffic circle, he writes a note hinting that she has been having issues of a feminine nature.

She rolls her eyes good-naturedly.

She is at the age where she prefers her father to her mother.

The homeroom teacher accepts the note with a sympathetic nod. When she starts to cry quietly again halfway through the morning announcements, he glances over and asks if she would like to see the nurse.

The rest of the day passes in a daze. In class, she passes in her assignments and spends the rest of her time staring blankly at her desk. She isn't called upon even once - in the back of her mind, her suspicions that her teachers gossip about her are strengthened. At lunch, her friends chatter and laugh to fill in her silence. Halfway through the meal, she realizes there are three pudding cups on her tray and none on her friends'. They pointedly ignore her when her searching eyes glance their way.

She feels a little better afterwards.

When the final bell rings, an anxious voice startles her out of her day-long stupor.


It is Aaron from Honors Chemistry.

"I... I heard you weren't feeling well. You still on to meet at the library?"

She stares uncomprehendingly.

"It's fine if you can't."

It is less that she cannot and more that she has altogether forgotten. She is back on after a long gasp and a stammered apology. The project is due in three days and is worth 25% of their final grade. The prospect of failure is more terrifying in several ways than the prospect of gruesome death.

Still, she decides that she will not take the bus to the Washington Circle Library. She consults the bus schedule. There is a second line going directly north. She will disembark at the Terrence Avenue stop and walk twenty minutes' west. She needs some fresh air, anyway.

Her excuses made, she waves as the others board the Washington Circle bus. Part of her wonders if she ought to have warned them - but they were not in her dream.

The north line pulls up seven minutes later.

A feeling of dreadful familiarity sweeps over her as its doors squeak open. All the city buses look the same... There is still, after all, time enough to turn around and walk.

But it is an hour's walk. And it is not even the right bus, besides.

She gingerly takes a seat.

After three stops, the bus is nicely filled. There are no infants or strollers as far as she can see. She mentally chides herself for having wasted a perfectly good day.

"Hey, folks."

The crackling of the intercom interrupts her thoughts.

"I'm hearing word of a, uh, major accident ahead. We're making a detour - going to, er, take a little more time. Sorry for the inconvenience, folks."

Her heart catches in her throat.

Could it be -- had what she feared actually come to pass? Her dream... had it really saved her? She cannot help the intense flood of relief that sweeps through her. Somewhere, somehow, something had thought fit to warn her, and she is sitting here now alive and well. There is guilt, too - some small amount. Should she have said something? Would they have believed her? Surely no city bus line would stop running just because a schoolgirl had a bad dream. She remembers her friends and snatches quickly at her phone. A text to Aaron is returned promptly mere moments later.

She has nothing to feel guilty about.

What is important is that the accident has happened... and she was not in it.

Her heart lightens tenfold as the bus slides to a stop again.

"Again folks, there's been a major accident up ahead. Going to, uh, make a detour left here. Sorry again, folks - nothing we can do."

Across from her, a man stands to offer a seat to a grateful woman struggling up the steps - she pulls a stroller up behind her.

"Swinging around now towards Washington Circle. We're gonna make a, uh, quick stop for you folks if you need to change buses or, uh, to the metro."

The baby coos and reaches for its toy.

"Washington Circle coming up. Next stop: Washington Circle."

It is a stuffed giraffe.

"That's Washington Cir --"


Dec. 5th, 2014 09:24 pm
wightknight: (Default)
He is bored.

It is Sunday afternoon, and he has spent the majority of it doing nothing whatsoever, which is how he prefers to spend his afternoons. Three hours ago, he had discovered a comic strip about a German Shepherd that engaged in superheroics under the cover of moonlight. He clicks now to comic six hundred and seventy four and entertains a vague desire to adopt a German Shepherd.

Something knocks at his window.

He does not recognize the sound at first. He lives on the fourteenth floor of a high-rise. He has never heard it before, has never expected to hear it, and has never bothered to consider what it might sound like, hypothetically. In the realm of non-hypotheticals, he decides it sounds rather like the glass might shatter.

A part of him hopes it is a German Shepherd with a cape.

The rest of him hopes it is not a dead bird or a dead anything. He does not know the correct procedure to clean blood from the outside of a fourteenth story window, but none of the options that leap to mind seem very appealing.

He is disappointed to see that it is neither a dead anything nor a German Shepherd with a cape.

It is a frisbee. White, cheap plastic, scuffed about the edges, and perched precariously on the point of the half-height iron window grate. Some university insignia is emblazoned upon it - perhaps the University of Sketchy Calligraphy, as the last letter is stylized to the point that it could be any number of things. The University of Superhuman Catapulting comes to mind as well, as he cannot imagine how else the object might have reached his window. He stares in incredulity. He considers the possibility that he is about to be the subject of a reality television prank.

As he has made strict plans for several more hours of being bored, he hopes he is not.

He opens the window with some effort, sending a cloud of dust and specks of what he hopes is paint into the air. He is skeptical of the frisbee's reality. It does not seem as if this can be a real object, and so he examines it under the premise that it might be just about anything in disguise. He is not sure what exactly it might be in disguise, but he is certain there is a non-zero chance that this is true.

Perhaps it is a very small UFO.

Squinting at it fails to reveal its true identity. Closer observation does not prove helpful, either, and he decides that his life has become annoyingly more complicated than it was five minutes ago.

This is a statement that is usually true.

He sets the disc down and returns to his computer.

On page six hundred and seventy five, he pushes his chair back impatiently and reaches for the disc again. A frisbee has smashed into his fourteenth floor window, and he cannot concentrate. There are any number of possibilities. Perhaps a fan of competitive frisbee is clinging to the fifteenth floor at this very moment waiting to burgle his above-floor neighbor and has made a crucial mistake in dropping his favorite frisbee onto the floor below. Perhaps a psychologist is conducting an experiment to determine if random stimuli can successfully perturb someone's day. Perhaps the powers that be would like him to exercise more and has taken to dropping unsubtle hints.

He leans out the window and glances up towards the fifteenth floor. He surveys the cityscape to see if anyone might be looking his way with binoculars. He invokes every deity he can think of and promises that he will do fifteen push-ups next Sunday.

These avenues do not prove very fruitful.

He returns to the cityscape. He has lived in this room for two and a half years and has never bothered to take in the view. There has never been anything worth seeing.

There still isn't anything worth seeing.

On a moment's whim, he tosses the frisbee out the window, closes it, and draws his curtains shut. He hopes it does not land on anyone. It is Sunday afternoon, and his life is now less complicated than it was five minutes ago.

A German Shepherd in a cape dives down and carefully snatches it in its jaws before it descends too far.


It drifts back up carefully to the fifteenth floor.

"You've got to be more careful. You were almost caught!"

Buster whines softly.

Seven days later on the fourteenth floor, he reaches comic page twelve hundred and ninety four, posted earlier that day. It features a particularly attractive cartoon of the German Shepherd with a cape playing frisbee outside a high-rise, framed by the amber rays of the sun. He smiles.

He will follow the comic for about four more days before he becomes impatient with the slow update schedule and moves on to newer things.

Later that night, he does five half-hearted push-ups and stops.

He is bored.


Dec. 2nd, 2014 06:49 pm
wightknight: (Default)
"Sir! Sir! The target is breaking through; we’re completely overwhelmed!"

The voice is a blare of static through his headset, barely audible over the sound of gunfire and explosions.

"We won't hold it much longer! Advise immediately!"

There is only time for a moment's hesitation before he makes a decision.

"Fall back! Let it think it has a clear path; we'll engage from behind the walls. Follow behind and provide fire from the rear."

"Roger that! Be careful, sir! The bastard's stronger than we thought!"

When the transmission dies, he slumps back with a long exhalation of breath. Nothing had gone the way it was meant to.

Ho-oh, the Rainbow Pokémon. Master of the skies, it had only deigned to show itself after its servants had been defeated. The plan had been simple. Subdue one of their leaders and show the others that humanity was far from defeat. Ho-oh itself was considered a lesser threat in comparison to some of its fellows, with a crippling weakness to a common resource and a general aversion to conflict. With any luck, they might even convince it to come around without a fuss. After all, it had been fond of their city once.

And after all, it knew the price that war demanded from those who would engage in its games.

Six months had passed since the sinking of the Sevii Islands. Known survivors of the disaster could be counted on one hand, and the situation hadn’t much improved for humanity since then. Many called it the outrage that had ignited the Insurging War, but in truth, the flames had been simmering long before then. Across every land, the legendary masters of their long-abused allies had arisen out of the mists of fable and story to become all too real, resolving age-old disputes with unceremonious surety. He had been skeptical himself, once.

It is hard to be skeptical when a bird the size of a small whale has been flopping and shrieking outside your window for days.


A sharp knock on the door rouses him from his thoughts. The voice is carefully composed; it belongs to a woman he vaguely recognizes as a former assistant at the Poké Mart. He frowns.

"Where’s Jordan?"

"Infirmary. ...A portion of the wall collapsed earlier. He was struck."

Better than the mortuary.

"Fine. Status on the inner defenses?"

"No, sir."

He is fairly certain he had not asked a yes-or-no question. He clears his throat and tries again.


"No, sir."

He notices her bloodless lips for the first time as they quiver with emotion, attempting to form some further response.

"...They've all fled, sir. The militia doesn’t dare to attack their – to attack it. We have no inner defenses."

He stares uncomprehendingly for only a moment before he swings back around and takes a few brisk strides back to his window.

He was wrong. It is the size of a large whale. A very, very large whale.





He stares wearily at his companion. By default they are best friends now. Everyone else he likes is smoldering gently thirty feet away from their position behind an enormous slab of granite fallen from the walls. There isn't, he thinks, enough time left to find a different best friend before he joins them, but he can't help being impatient regardless.

"Stop fucking saying that and tell me what’s fucking wrong."

His companion stares mutely at the ground. After a few more moments of terse silence, he gives up and joins him.


He stares at the rainbows shimmering in the mud and concludes there definitely isn’t enough time. Silently, he raises a flask to his lips before offering it to his best friend.



She pulls him away from the window two seconds before it cracks and shatters violently. He has no idea why it did that even as he feels the wave of heat rush into the room.

"Sir. We need to go."

He tenses. Nothing in the world would keep him from protecting his city, regardless of the threat – not storm, not foreign invasion, not even their patron deity returning to exact retribution for who knows what insult. ...That was what he had said in his speech on Tuesday, as he recalled. He had meant it on Tuesday.

What day is it today?

"This isn’t a ship, sir. No one wants you to go down with your office."

Impertinence seems to have a linear relationship with fear, he observes, as she tugs on his arm in a less than respectful manner.

"It’s a very nice office. We can build you a new one."

The heat is so intense now that his sweat is soaking through his clothing. She pulls away in surprise and examines her slick palms with a vaguely disgusted expression before deciding there were more important things to worry about than sweat. He is very conscious that his mind has stopped running.

"Please, sir."

He has still only half-formed a response when an explosion rocks the building, and he is thrown to the ground.



No answer. He hadn’t expected one – the radio had been outputting nothing but static since his last transmission. He quietly replaces it while exhaling slowly.

"Bastard’s sitting right on top of us."

His companion seems to be frightened into paralysis. This might be preferable.

"What d'ya think we should do?"

'Silently retch' is not an answer he had been considering, but he pats his stricken friend very quietly, anyway, before inching forward to peer up around the lower lip of the rock slab. From here, its talons are clearly visible, the nails alone each the size of his head. A little further out, and he can make out its legs and belly, the plumage as radiant and colorful as he had always been told.

It is meant to be majestic, he thinks. He is reminded instead of the fat birds that sit around waiting for crumbs in the park.

A drop of something viscous splatters in his face as he gapes, and he quickly retreats back under the slab.

"Looks like it’s wounded."

Deities still bleed red. This is comforting, for some odd reason.

"It’s resting. Probably regenerates if it sits around a few minutes."

Because why shouldn’t a god carry Leftovers if it wanted to?

"We can wait until it flaps off and crawl away. We’d probably survive."

The rock slab rumbles above them as the giant bird adjusts its perch; simultaneously, the other man’s eyes roll back in his head as he faints.


He’d survive, anyway.

He finds what he is looking for after a few moments rummaging around the prone body. The poor guy had never had a throwing arm worth speaking of – still stupid as hell to just hang on to them like souvenirs, though. He’d be more irritated if he hadn’t wholly expected it.

They’d each only been issued two. As for launchers... there were only four in total to go around the entire city.

Good thing he had raided the armory early on.

When all is set, he casts an expression of faint guilt at the unconscious man before he slowly begins to edge out once more. There isn't any sense delaying it. At any moment, the great bird could flap off, and he'd lose his chance entirely.

It still takes him five minutes, anyway.

When he slides out beyond the shadow of the rock, it's too surprised to do anything but stare blankly at the ant that's appeared underneath its feet.


He fires straight into its massive chest.


There is an almighty cry.

He cannot be sure he’s still alive until he feels a tugging on his arm once again, and he sees the lips of the young woman mouthing silently from the corner of his eye. He can’t hear her, though. He can hear nothing but that scream, and he struggles to his feet, ignoring her as she attempts to pull him away.

From the hole where his glass windows used to be, he can see it die.

It burns fervidly, the flames flickering through a multitude of colors, each more brilliant than the last. He isn't sure whether the flames are spreading throughout the city or if it's simply an illusion caused by the lights shining and reflecting every which way. The fate of the city doesn't seem as important now, somehow. There is nothing else to see but the lights, and he feels sure that if the whole of his attention isn't focused on them, he will regret it for the rest of his life.

The great bird stretches out its wings and shrieks again, its eyes directed to the heavens. It cries, on and on, the sound reverberating across the city, and he feels as if it is trying to speak. To leave a message, to communicate to something, anything that might be listening. ...He wonders what it could be saying.

'Avenge my death'? 'I will not be stopped here'? 'Oh foolish humans, see what you have wrought'?

He does not feel it is any of those things.

It is a lament. A cry of tragedy, a cry of sorrow at what has been and what must be and what is yet to come.

It burns for what seems like hours, the flames vividly flickering every color known to man and several he has never known.

It's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen.
wightknight: (Default)
[Continued from here]

I know what you’re thinking. This is an old cliché story, the tried and true tale about how two kids from different worlds end up becoming best friends. Saint would be the innocent Christian choir boy raised by perfect loving parents who just needed someone a little more worldly-wise to be his friend and defender. Me, I’d get C grades and ditch school and start drinking when I was 16, and people would call me… I dunno, Scamp. Something lame. We’d be Saint and Scamp and we’d have this whole alliteration thing going on, and I’d be headed down the wrong path until his tragic untimely death inspired me to go to college to study theology or something else I hated.

The problem is that there are too many tragic untimely deaths in this story.

Saint’s mom died from smoke inhalation that night in the hospital. I didn’t see him again for a year.

I heard later... )


Feb. 1st, 2014 12:13 am
wightknight: (Default)
The first time they met, he was three.

He doesn't quite remember it.  There are vague memories of a lost ball, of forest paths that never ended, of a sun that seemed so hot his skin blistered with every moment that passed.  What he remembers best are the emotions: the fear that overwhelmed him and the panic that sent him running down the same wrong paths he had already traversed three times over.  The stubborn determination to continue to place one foot in front of the other and the muted surprise when he realized he was being watched.

It was remarkably composed.  It sat in the shadows of a half-dead, crooked sapling and softly shook its rattle until he noticed.  He approached it instinctively; when it calmly hopped away through the underbrush, he followed it without question.

In twenty minutes, he was in the arms of a terrified mother who vowed to never let him out of her sight again.  His references to his fairy friend were dismissed as feverish imaginings.  And though not a single word had passed between them, he was quite sure, then, as he would be for years to come, that it was indeed his friend.

He spoke of it often, thereafter.  He drew pictures of angelic squiggles and named every one of his stuffed companions Rattles, even the carrot with the googly eyes pasted on.  Once, they came across a snake in the road, and he tried to pet it.

He saw it again when he was nine.

Not the genuine thing.  A picture in class.  His teacher, a bubbly young woman who smelled of cut flowers and grass, pinned up a poster one morning and explained to him all about his friend.  Its name was Dunsparce, and to see one was a once-in-ten-lifetimes occurrence, owing to their shy and fearful nature.  It was known to have wings, though no one was quite sure whether or not it could actually fly.  Once, long ago, a Dunsparce had been sighted in the forest that bordered their town.

His clarification that it could fly, though only for a bit, and his voiced suspicions about the accuracy of the 'shy' part earned him an extra ten minutes spent with her after class and ten minutes less from his recess period.  He reflected afterwards that it had been a waste of time.  For some reason, she persisted in explaining that it hadn't been seen in the forest for over seventy five years despite his repeated descriptions of the day he had followed it home.  As she seemed to be stuck on the seventy-five year thing, it would be best to bring it in, he decided.

He spent the afternoon in the forest.  The next one as well.  Weeks passed, and his searches rewarded him with nothing but sore legs and a pine cone shaped like a giraffe.  He didn't mind so much.  It was nice in the forest, now that he knew it well enough to avoid getting lost, and he managed to trade the pine cone for two chocolate cookies at lunch one day with Arthur who liked this kind of thing.  After a while, he stopped looking so hard.  It wasn't that important, and he was sure that if he ever needed his friend again, nothing would stop them from meeting.

When he meets it for the second time, he is sixteen.

He does not remember why he spends so much time in the forest.  He draws pictures of trees now, trees and bushes and flowers and birds.  His stuffed companions have been adopted by his younger brother, though he keeps the carrot with the googly eyes.  His friend renames it Dollar Store Reject.  When he sees a snake, he takes out his pencils and asks it to hold still.

Two months after his sixteenth birthday, he leaves home and heads for his tree, a strong oak beside the skeleton of a half-dead, crooked sapling.  The oak blocks the sunlight; the sapling had been dying for as long as he could remember.  He half-wishes, as he always does, that there was something he could do to help it.  It feels as if it's important.

He has been in his tree long enough to grow drowsy when he hears a distant, high-pitched shriek that only stops because it is interrupted by an explosion.  He is scrambling to his feet, wondering if he's caught in a dream, when the second one comes.  ...Then a third.  Each louder, each closer.  He does not know what to think.  He can't think.  He can only feel a familiar fear overwhelming him, a panic that sends him scrambling down the tree with no better plan than to run.

It is waiting for him when he drops down.

Its expression remains composed, though its hopping is much faster than before.  He follows it without question.  When it shifts aside some bushes to reveal a gaping hole dropping down into the depths of the earth, he understands and wastes no time in squirming inside.  After they are safely ensconced, it calmly blocks up the entrance.

They wait together as the explosions continue, one after another, shaking the underground burrow with unimaginable force.  When he thinks the ceiling will collapse, he holds out his arms, and it allows him to scoop it up.  They hold each other tightly as the dirt and rocks rain down, and they wait for an end to it, one way or another.

An hour after the explosions have stopped, they dare to stir.

It takes thirty minutes to dig up out of the collapsed tunnels.  They emerge into a devastated landscape, trees shattered and burning, nothing green left to see.  He cannot comprehend this for some time.  He simply stares.  It is inconceivable that this could be the forest he knew and loved.

Then he remembers his home.

The paths are destroyed beyond recognition.  Once again, he needs a guide.

In twenty minutes, he is staring at the ruins of his house or where he thinks his house ought to be.  Nothing remains but a shell, a wood and metal outline of the home he had known for sixteen years.  He stares from the middle of the street.  He cannot bring himself to step closer.

When he finally turns away, his expression is curiously blank, and his step is uneven.   He turns back in the direction of the forest, and he slowly stumbles forward.

...It follows him without question.


Dec. 18th, 2013 02:52 pm
wightknight: (Default)
The sickness began in late winter.

In hindsight, it ought to have been clear what was happening.  The patterns weren't subtle.  We knew that war was raging; we knew that it was only because of our factories that we were given leave to carry on with our normal lives.  We were thankful for the exemption, and we believed that, perhaps, we could endure until the end of it all, here in our valley.  Though the world might crumble around us, as long as those we knew and loved could remain safe, we might remain content.

Foreman Lungern was the first.  The overseer of the steel mill in the valley, he was known as a silent man who ran his operations with military precision.  His workers respected and feared him in equal parts, and when he failed to report in early one morning, there came the suggestion that he had finally succumbed after years of self-inflicted overwork.  Since middle age, he had been warned about the condition of his heart, but dismissive of these matters, he had continued to sleep less than five hours a night and never took proper meals.

The Electrike tracked him to a ditch close by the forest, eyes wide open and heart still beating at a steady pace.  They thought he had suffered a stroke, at first.  But the scans revealed no brain abnormalities, and it was soon decided that the ailment, if any existed, was likely to be psychosomatic in nature.  The stress had finally caught up with him.  He was only human, after all, and he had been at the job for decades; the man needed some well deserved rest and relaxation.  With time, he might come to himself again.

We threw a retirement party for the Foreman, attended by every last one of his faithful workers.  Everyone had a story to share about his gruff manner and the warm heart underneath it all.  He had visited someone's dying mother.  He had remembered someone's birthday when no one else had.  He had bought Christmas presents for a newly widowed woman's children after her husband had unexpectedly passed due to an undiagnosed condition.  He had caught a new employee, a boy barely in his late teens, crying in the bathroom stalls, and after learning he had to support his five siblings, had taken him under his wing.  He had been a saint, a pillar of our community, a hero, and now, practically a martyr.

We wished him all the best, sent him home, and waited patiently for him to recover.

Spring came, heralded by the song of the seven-year Nincada, and the Foreman remained the same.  Two and a half weeks after the initial onset of the ailment, he quietly passed away in the night, his weakened heart unable to support his motionless, speechless, meaningless life.  We mourned him, but he was, after all, an aging man who had lived a difficult life.  Though it was a tragedy that he had gone in such a manner, we agreed that it was probably for the best.  He had finally attained the rest he long deserved.

It was somewhat more difficult to accept when twenty-six year old Randy Grisham was found four days after that up against a tree, eyes wide and unresponsive.

The condition was identical.  Normal pulse, normal brain scans, normal resting brain activity.  No significant damage to any part of the body apart from minor scratch marks all about that were attributed to the normal hazards of the job.  Randy had been almost as well regarded as Foreman Lungern.  We all knew him, we all liked him, and as a matter of course, he happened to be the boy who had supported five siblings from the time he was seventeen years old.  He had grown into a most able young man in every way, smart as a whip, quick on his feet, and we agreed he was too good to stay in the valley.  Either that, or poised to become the next Foreman.

I had been especially fond of him, being his younger brother by three years.

We took him home, we fed him porridge that dribbled down his chin, we changed his soiled linens.  He had cared for us for nine years; we had hardly begun to repay our debt.  But we remembered what had happened to Foreman Lungern, and as the days passed without reprieve from this nightmare, we began to despair.

Trent and Mattie Shaw, brother and sister and Randy's close friends, succumbed next.  The victims the following week followed the same pattern, and soon enough, the rumors and whispers began to resound throughout the entire valley.  They said that the condition was contagious, that the workers at the steel mill had been exposed to tainted metals, that one among us was deliberately poisoning all those competent enough to pose a threat to a desired promotion.  None of it had any basis in reality, but all of it was terrifying and impossible to refute.  No one could combat something that could not be identified.

In time, we settled on a name: the Hollows.  Potions were worthless, bed rest even more so.  They sat in chairs and stared at walls for hours, expressionless.  They responded to no stimulus whatsoever.  They would eat what was placed in their mouths, but seemed to be incapable of deriving any nutrition from it whatsoever.  They did not know their names, they did not know their families - they didn't seem to know anything.  For those who had seen their family members in perfect physical health only hours before reduced to such a state, the shock was enough to cause several illness in and of itself.

Randy died three weeks to the day after he was found against the tree.  A full autopsy was ordered, and to the surprise and horror of us all, not only his heart, but every organ in his body was found to have deterioriated.  Eaten and decayed.

I think, then, there must have been some who began to guess at the truth.

From there, the situation escalated rapidly.  Each week, a dozen new cases.  By mid-spring, there wasn't a single family in the valley who wasn't caring for one of the catatonic or the swiftly dying.  A state of emergency was announced, and for the first time in anyone's memory, the steel mill was closed.  No one was allowed inside save for the experts in the hazmat suits who would carefully comb every inch of the building in the following weeks and would find absolutely nothing of concern.

The tension in the valley reached a fever pitch.  Nobody left their homes, nobody approached anyone else, and nobody dared to so much as speak to another human.  For all we knew, it was a memetic mutation communicated by sound, it was a mental disorder created by psychic broadcasts, it was a scattering of fungal spores that silently infested the body and turned it into a hollow shell.  The possibilities were endless.  The valley had fallen completely under the spell of the Hollows.  In a way, the ones who contracted the disease were the luckier - for them, at least, the interminable wait was over.

On the first day of summer, the silence was broken.

From the forest to the north, a wail resounded over the entire valley - every one of us, afterwards, swore we had heard the ghastly, despairing cry.

Melanie Newton and her young teenaged son, Jared, had chosen to leave the house that day.  She had worked in the steel mill, but it had been six weeks since she had stepped foot inside.  They needed to pick up groceries from the store, a task complicated by the discovery that the car had broken down.

It wasn't far.  She decided to walk and asked him to help.  They set out in gas masks and homemade hazmat suits, carrying empty baskets they knew had been thoroughly cleaned and sterilized.  Around 2:00 in the afternoon, they closed the door behind them with the intention of returning home within the hour.  Melanie's husband, Teddy, was already a victim of the Hollows, and he was rapidly deteriorating, even under their constant care.

The sight of Nincada crawling along the ground was far from unusual.  Every seven years, they infested the Valley and instilled disgust in those suffering from entomophobia, though they did relatively little harm.  They sang for their mates, had relations, and peacefully died.  From time to time, some of the children would choose to keep one as a pet, and these would live much longer, bonding with a human as they had.

They were not alarmed when they saw an unusually large number of the Nincada seeming to follow along beside them as they walked.

They became alarmed when they were set upon and dragged into the outskirts of the forest nearby.

He said, afterwards, that it was more terrifying than any of us could ever imagine.  Thousands of Nincada, clicking their mandibles as if communicating, coating the ground such that it was impossible to step without crushing one, a congregation of insects as large as small dogs with a malevolent, alien air.   Hundreds of Ninjask, wings vibrating at speeds too high to follow, the hum of the vibrations serving as a constant background to the chirping and singing of the Nincada.

But the true horror...  What he had identified to be the threat the moment he had spotted them, hanging in the air like marionettes...

Shedinja.  The Husk Pokémon.

Who would have believed it?  Who would ever have believed the ridiculous stories of children?  It was impossible.  Absurd.

Peering into the crack on its back is said to steal one's spirit.

They pressed her head to the floor and manipulated it into place with strangely delicate movements.  She screamed, struggled, cried out for her son to help her - no, don't help, run while they were preoccupied.  She bit at their legs and thrashed, but against the numbers, the outcome was inevitable.

They turned her head upwards, excruciatingly slowly.

Her eyes met.

He screamed, then, the sound that echoed up and down the valley.  And as children, perhaps, may believe the ridiculous stories of children, he thrust out a Cleanse Tag he had traded ten Great Balls and a Qualot Berry for on the playground and screamed once more as the Nincada rushed him, trying to tear it from his hands before he could strike the Shedinja with the charm.

They didn't succeed.  It shuddered, shriveled, and cracked open, an empty, hollow husk animated by some force we can only begin to guess at.

Jared Newton survived. 

The rush to obtain Cleanse Tags swept through the valley, as did a sudden surge of hope.  The Hollows had lost their mystery.  The cause was clear.  They could be defeated.  Ghost Pokémon were not invincible.

But they didn't need to be.

Just as quickly as the news spread, so, too, did open war.  The insects descended on the houses of the valley; the Nincada chewed at the boards and the tiling, and the Ninjask slammed into the windows over and over again, their motions nearly invisible until the window simply shattered.  The Shedinja hovered, motionless around the house in groups of six or seven, patiently waiting for their victims to be brought before them.

Jared had taken his attackers by surprise.  Pieces of paper could offer only so much protection.  With their knowledge of this new weapon, it was a simple matter for them to devise new tactics.  And we...  we had no new tactics.  All we could do was cover every square inch of our valley with our talismans and pray that it would have to be enough.

They worked quickly.  Hundreds lost in the first week alone, carried from their houses in the night, beset upon by insects bursting through the barricades, or even accidentally glancing out the window in the exact wrong angle.  And then...  only then.  We realized what it all meant, at last. 

Every single person who had succumbed to the Hollows had been a worker in the steel mill at the time that Foreman Lungern was first discovered.  And we knew...  We knew that despite our hopes, we had never, could never avoid being a part of the war between human and Pokémon.  We created the guns, the tanks, the ships, the subs.  With the loss of our valley, the blow to the human efforts would be immense.

In less than five months, they had destroyed us so completely that it would be decades before the steel mill could ever enter production again.

We had lost.  There was nothing to do but accept death graciously.

For me... it is only a matter of time, now.  The chirping and buzzing are intolerable.  I can see their forms through the curtains, pressed up against the windows; I can hear the sound of millions of legs pattering all over the roof.

As far as I am aware, I am one of the last surviving employees of the Rustboro Steel Group in the Valley of Steel.  I had never intended it to be a permanent position, only to do my duty during the war - novel writing, admittedly, couldn't be of much use to anyone.  The pay wasn't much to speak of, either. 

It is very unfair.

But then...  I suppose they aren't very discriminative of such things as motives.  Anyone who bears the taint of the steel mill must go.  War is, after all, inherently impersonal.  I can only hope that when I am gone, they shall leave our valley at last, and for seven years, at least, the valley can recover from this ordeal.  I don't think they'll be in any hurry to revitalize production - by that time, the war will have long been concluded, in any case.  No one has any doubts as to who shall have been the victor.

I am almost finished here.  When I put the last word to paper, I will open a window.

...This will be the only piece of work I shall ever have the chance to produce in its entirety. 

What do you think?  It isn't bad for an amateur, right?  It was always my dream to have something published, one day.  Perhaps this will be good enough.

My name is Tanner Grisham, I am twenty three years old, four months, and seven days, and when I am gone, I hope very much you won't call this something awful like 'Shadow of the Shedinja'.


I suppose I am forestalling the inevitable. 

Goodbye, then.  Goodbye.  Please don't forget me.  Please don't leave me.  I don't want it to be this way.  Not like Randy.  Not like that.  If I had a poison, I would take it now before they come for me. 

Oh!  I wish there were more time. 

This isn't fair......

It isn't fair................

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