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[Slick Nick] [Reader View]
“It’s interesting, you see, that your reaction was so unique. Most die within hours of the scratch or bite, however you lingered on for days. This is why I returned, I wanted to observe. Your biological makeup seems to give you a unique acceptance of the poison that I use to line my blades and that acceptance makes you very interesting indeed.” The old man was yammering on and pacing the room when Nick came to. His eyes were heavy and burned harshly as he blinked them repeatedly, trying to focus. He was sitting in a light wooden chair; he wasn’t tied up but he couldn’t move his limbs at all. The room was lit dimly by the same candles as before and Nick could barely make out a small table with a bowl of green liquid on the table in front of him, though he could hardly move his neck to look at it. “I won’t go into the details but…”

“You’ll pay for this.” Nick interrupted the man, growling harshly as his throat burned with the words. The man stopped pacing and looked at him with a puzzled look on his face.

“Now, now. This is no time to be a buffoon. You clearly are in no state to make threats. I’ll laugh this one off as one would a child, but make no mistake, a second threat will not be taken lightly.” The old man’s eyes flashed with a hint of rage as he spoke the last words and Nick’s heart skipped a beat. “Where was I? The fewer interruptions I have, the quicker this will be.” The man pondered for a minute, standing in front of Nick regarding him thoughtfully. Finally he shrugged in resignation and moved on. “No matter, I guess I’ll just cut to the chase. I’m not certain you’re what you say you are.”

“What do you mean ‘what’ I say I am?”

“I mean, what are you?” Nick stared back at the man coldly, unsure of how to answer the question.

“I’m…human, I suppose.”

“You see,” the old man continued with a grin, “that’s what I am talking about right there. I’m not convinced that that’s true at all. What evidence do you have to support such claims?” Nick squinted at the man, knowing whatever answer he gave would be mocked and ridiculed. He kept his mouth shut. “I see. Would you like to hear my evidence against the matter?”


“Well,” the old man threw a hand up, stopping Nick before he could finish his answer. “The poison I used is an ancient recipe. It reacts with the white blood cells causing them to rupture uncontrollably. Death is almost immediate and relatively painless, as far as I have been able to tell. It has been used for thousands of years on millions of humans with the same effect. However, once in a great while, we find one of our own hidden amongst the human race. For them, it’s a mere paralytic, such as you’re experiencing now.”

“So…what are you then?” Nick was growing impatient and began to grip the chair arms tightly. He hoped the man hadn’t noticed the fact that he was regaining control of his limbs, or was he? Could he move his fingers before? He couldn’t remember.

“I…” the old man glanced down at Nick’s hands, seeing his knuckles white with pressure, “am like you.” As he finished his sentence he swung his arm in a single quick motion in a circle around his body and the candles blew out with a whoosh of wind. Nick sat alone in the dark for some time, listening for the old man but he heard nothing. It seemed as if the man just stood in place after the flames went out. As the minutes wore on he could move his hands, then his arms, and soon his legs. Nick pushed himself to a stand and stretched cautiously, anxious for an attack any minute. He was still wearing his jacket, he reached inside his pocket and pulled out a book of matches.
Lighting one, he could see the small room fairly clearly; the old man had left but a small note sat on the table next to the bowl.

The contents of this bowl are more potent than the doses I gave you. It will, surely, cure you of the disease in which I have inflicted upon you. However, if you choose to adopt your heritage just go home. We will find you. We will save you.
The note was written in elegant handwriting that swooped across the paper beautifully. Nick could almost make out the way the hand would have gracefully swooped and swirled over the paper to make such beautiful letters. He had never seen handwriting so exquisite and beautiful. We will find you. Nick pondered a moment. He could go back to his life as a renowned adventurer, saving the town from beasts, or he could investigate this strange group that claimed to be of his own genes. A group that had poisoned and captured him, nearly tortured him for no apparent reason. And yet, there seemed to be a quality about the man he met. Something about him that said he was meant for bigger things and knew many secrets.

“No…” Nick shook his head, remembering the beast that attacked him. “I am not you.” He grabbed the bowl and drank quickly, the thick green liquid coating his throat and soothing the burning sensation that had set in since he had woken. With a stab of pain he dropped the bowl on the floor and it bounced away with a loud rattling noise. Nick sunk to his knees, his gut wrenching with a pain whose intensity he had never experienced before.

“I see you’ve made your choice. Very well. The tonic has cured you.” The old man’s boots made a soft sound on the floor as he walked around Nick’s chair form behind, standing in front of him in the dark. Sweat began to bead on Nick’s forehead as a chill ran through his whole body. He tried to rise from his knees but fell forward onto the small table. “You are a disease.” The old man leaned down to whisper in his ear. “You disown your own kind and like all diseases, you must be cured.” With a final jolt that rain from Nick’s stomach up to his heart, he closed his eyes and fell still.

“Such a pity.” The old man stood over Nick’s dead body. “So much potential.”
[Slick Nick] [Reader View]
The old man was surprisingly nimble as he hopped through the snow, hot on Nick’s heels as he guided them to the cave.

“We must be quiet,” Nick warned, as the old man started singing a jolly tune. “Trust me, this beast is not to be messed with.”

“Oh, relax. I’ve handled a beast or two in my day.” The old man laughed and continued his tune while Nick gritted his teeth, keeping his head on a swivel as he looked for signs of the beast. The trip was relatively uneventful, the two men saw no signs of the beast though the old man did collapse in the snow at one point with a fit. His body shook violently and he screamed in agony, snow flying everywhere as he writhed in pain. Nick grabbed him by the shoulder and tried to calm him but the fit needed to run its course. When it was over the man hopped to his feet, smiled, and returned to his tune, skipping through the snow as if nothing had happened. Nick tried to ask him about it several times but the man seemed to have no recollection of the event and didn’t want to talk, just sing.

When they reached the cave Nick waved to the old man, telling him to quiet down. The man smiled slyly and did as he was told, crouching in the snow next to Nick.

“So, the beast is in there, eh?”

“Well, this is where he held me, that’s all I know.”

“You said you knew where he lived!” The old man became agitated.

“Well, I assumed that…”

“You assumed? You assumed!?” The man handed Nick the water skin full of green liquid.

“Drink this, you ninny. Can’t have you turning all crazy in there.” As Nick took a swig the old man darted towards the cave.

“Wait!” Nick tried to stop him but the man disappeared into the cave. “Fuck…” he muttered to himself, following cautiously. As he entered the cave Nick could hear a quiet giggling echoing off the walls. Following the sound he found his way to a dimly lit room in the back. A rough wooden chair sat by a table with five candles, all quite low, wax covering the surface. A rusty nail was driven into the wall a few feet from the candles and on it hung a fur suit.

“He’s not here.” Nick surmised, relaxing a little and looking around the room. Scattered around the floor were ropes and bags, nothing that made this place look like a home, no survival gear.
“Not here? Are you sure?” The old man laughed, dancing lightly on his toes. Nick’s head started to ache and he took a swig of the green liquid again, but this time the headache only intensified, blurring his vision.

“The medicine, it’s not working…” The old man beamed at Nick as he began to reel around the room, losing his balance and looking for something to hold on to.

“Here, here,” the old man grabbed his arm and guided him to the chair. “The candles, the wicks are lined with sap from the Teramon tree, an ancient tree from far away, it’s counteracting the…no matter, sit! Sit!” Nick sat as his muscles began to stiffen.

“We need to leave…” Nick muttered as his vision began to fade.

“No, we need to talk.”
[Slick Nick] [Reader View]
The man quickly strolled out of the room, then returned from Nick’s office with the tome concerning mysterious and fantastical creatures.

“I’ve already read th…”

“Read, perhaps, but understood?” The man cut Nick off, lifting his finger in the air to wag it disapprovingly. Nick pulled himself out of the chair with a groan; the pain was gone but his muscles were stiff as if he’d been sitting for days. He rubbed the stiffness from his arms as he walked towards the man. “This is not a creature…”

“It’s a disease,” Nick finished, sighing. “I told you, I’ve read it already.” The man closed the book with a snap and stared at Nick with a smirk on his face. “The author is just claiming that the species needs to be eradicated.”

“Or, perhaps the creature is not a creature at all, but a diseased man. You were scratched, you contracted the disease.” The old man smiled at Nick as the realization rolled across his face. “Here,” he said as he tossed Nick the book. “Maybe you should read it again, unless of course, you know everything.” The old man retired to the kitchen with a smile on his face and began arranging strange ingredients on the counter as Nick slumped back down into his chair to read.

He continued to toil away in the kitchen and periodically brought steaming bowls of green liquid. He seemed to know exactly when Nick was starting to feel ill again and would bring it immediately, keeping whatever sickness was setting in at bay. On one of these occasions, as Nick’s head was starting to ache and his arms starting to stiffen, he noticed something strange on the page as the old man brought his medicine. He nodded to the man and grabbed the bowl, but set it on the small table next to his chair instead of drinking it right away. The old man smirked and wandered back to the kitchen, whistling quietly as he did.

Nick squinted at the page, staring at the rough sketch of the Anunnaki that had been scribbled amongst the text. It’s teeth were large and dripping with saliva, claws curled and fur thick along its entire body. He narrowed his eyes further as his head began to pound. The image suddenly began to animate, slowly at first but quickening as his head pounded harder. It started with a light jog, standing upright like a human being then slowed to a walk. Suddenly, the creature’s head split and the fur slipped off as if removing a jacket. The fur and claws slid to the ground leaving a naked man, almost seven feet tall with a long, slender face, stepping out of the pile on the floor and standing next to it. Next the figure leaned down and lifted the massive hand from the pile on the floor, inspecting the claws. He reached behind him, his hand disappeared behind the text on the page and returned with a small corked vial. The man popped the cork and poured the contents of the vial on the claws. Nick’s head was pounding vigorously and his joints were becoming stiffer every second. He moaned in pain as he squinted at the page; the man looked up and startled Nick as he seemed to make eye contact with him. Then, without warning, the image faded away and the original sketch of the beast returned.

“What…” Nick mumbled, closing his eyes and grabbing the warm green liquid from his side. He gulped it down vigorously as the headache subsided.

“Did you see something?” The old man was standing in front of the chair, grinning.

“The claws…they were poisoned by something.”
“Ah, so we must find the creature’s lair, he must keep an antidote in case…”

“It’s not a creature….it’s a…costume.” The man scratched his chin, ruffling his beard and squinted at Nick. “I’ve been to his home, it’s not safe but I guess we don’t have another option.”

“Say no more!” The old man scurried to the kitchen and started pouring the green liquid into a water skin. “We must go at once!”
[Slick Nick] [Reader View]
The dreams were vivid, but Nick knew they were only dreams. He sprinted through the forest at lightweight speed; his vision as as keen and sharp as an eagle’s. He ducked under branches and leapt over brambles without effort, charing through the woods and into a small clearing, blue in the moonlight. A man was standing there facing away from him, his hands limp by his sides and a hunting knife, red with blood, hung loosely in his fingers on the left hand. Nick slowed and crept closer, listening to the snow softly crunch under his feet. Slowly the man turned to face Nick, his face was blank and featureless. A slight blur hung in the air about the face, Nick could make out shadows where the nose, eyes, and mouth should be but the features just weren’t there.

For a moment, the two regarded each other silently as it started to snow lightly.

“Follow the old man.” A voice echoed through Nick’s headed that sounded much like his own, but much older and more weathered.

“What old man?”

“Follow the old man!” The voice commanded again as the body began to flicker, as if it was about to disappear.

Nick opened his mouth to question again but the man vanished before his eyes leaving one last whisper echoing through his skull.

“Follow the old man…”

Nick woke with a start; a fire crackled in his fireplace and the room felt warm and comforting. He was sitting in his rocking chair in the living room of his cabin, a warm wool blanket draped over his legs. As Nick tried to stand pain shot from his neck down his back and into his legs, forcing him to collapse back into the chair with a yelp.

“Easy there, it will be best not to move right off.” The voice was gravelly and rough, it came from behind him near the kitchen.

“Who are you?” Nick’s throat burned as if it was on fire as he tried to speak the words, it was dry and raw. His voice came out harsh and sounded more like a croak than the english he usually spoke.

“Shh, shh, now. Here, drink this.” The man walked around the side of the chair with a steaming bowl of green liquid and held it up to Nick’s lips. “Don’t worry, it won’t burn you.” Nick gulped the liquid down, suddenly realizing how thirsty he was. It was sweet and coated his throat, he could feel the burning sensation waning already. As the man pulled the bowl away Nick caught his eye for a brief second before he headed back to the kitchen. His skin was wrinkled with a slight grey tint and a long, white beard flowed from his chin. The whiskers under his nose blended with the beard, completely obscuring his lips from view, but when he talked his toothless maw could be seen flapping underneath. His head was bare and shiny, devoid of both hair and wrinkles and his grey eyes had a sparkle to them that Nick had never seen the like of in his life.

“Who are you?” Nick asked, his throat now soothed and his voice familiar once again.

“Names are unimportant. What matters is that you have been infected.”

“Infected by what?”

“Don’t be foolish, your memory can’t have faded yet.”

Nick shook his head slightly as he remembered the beast pulling him out of the window, the infected claw marks on his neck, and the horrible fight in the woods.

“The tonic will push the infection away, but it won’t cure you. Unless you find the cure, your body will fail and the eggs in your neck will spew forth thousands of creatures like the one that attacked you upon this town.” Nick began to panic. “But relax, I know the cure.” The man was standing before him again with a sick smile on his face, offering him the bowl. “Take it, your arms should work fine now.” Nick lifted his hands, ready for the intense pain but nothing came. He tenderly grabbed the bowl and drank the sweet green liquid, feeling his muscles strengthen with each gulp. “Good,” the old man beamed, “now follow me, we’ve work to do!”
[Slick Nick] [Reader View]
For a brief moment the two stood face to face, Nick’s blood pulsed through his veins. His head pounded with each beat of his heart; his veins felt as if they were pumping ice. Nick’s fingers played with the hunting knife in his hand, twisting it slowly as he held it by his hip. The creature made no move to attack or flee, it simply stood there, examining Nick silently. Soft puffs of steam left its nostrils every few seconds, otherwise it remained completely motionless.

“Who…Who are you?” The words broke as they came out of Nick’s mouth and he stuttered involuntarily, his mouth feeling awkward and hard to control. The creature just cocked his head slightly and continued to stare. “Wh…what did you do to…m…me?” The creature cocked his head the other way and reached out with a tentative paw. His hand was the size of Nick’s skull and sported claws the size of his big finger, hooked and deadly looking. Nick absent-mindedly reached for his neck, causing a sudden intense pain to shoot down his spine. In a fury, he swung upwards from his hip with his knife and slashed the back of the beast’s hand. He let out a bellow so deep and intense that it shook Nick to his very core, his heart began to race and the ice in his veins pumped with a new ferocity, making his head spin.

In a rage, the creature charged at Nick, hitting in hard in the chest with his shoulder and the two flew backwards into the snow. The world became a blur of blood, fur, and snow as Nick stabbed and slashed with his knife and felt the creature’s claws rip at his close and tear at his skin. As his knife found a tender spot between the ribs the creature let out a loud bellow and jumped off of Nick, leaving him stunned and confused in the snow. As the adrenaline began to wear off intense pain started to set in. His ribs throbbed, his back ached, and a burning sensation ripped through his body from the dozens of cuts and slashes he had endured.

With a grunt, the creature rose out of the snow, his hand clutching his rips as thick, black blood dripped through his fingers; his eyes focused on Nick, red with rage. With a sudden panic, Nick realized that the had lost his knife in the fray. His hands dug through the snow at his sides but found nothing as the creature took a step towards him. “No,” Nick muttered as the pain surged through his body and the creature took another step forward, slow and deliberate. “No!” He rolled over and tried to push himself onto his hands and knees but the pain was too much; the ground shook as the creature took another step towards him and grunted in pain. “No, no, no,” his brain raced but Nick couldn’t seem to think anything else. The pain seared through his body with every move as he clawed through the snow, trying to craw further away from the creature as he shook the ground with his heavy steps. “Please!” he pleaded with the creature, still trying to crawl away but feeling him step closer and closer. “Please, no!” A massive, clawed hand grabbed his shirt and lifted him off the ground. The sudden forced movement sent a burning sensation through his body, he felt as if he had just been struck by lightning or lit on fire. “Please,” he muttered as he slowly lost consciousness.
[Slick Nick] [Reader View]
As the days went and Nick continued to pore over the tome on his desk, re-reading the chapter on Anunnaki over and over, a horrible anxiety began to set in. He stopped eating, barely slept, and spent all of his time pacing back and forth from his office to the living room and back, reading from the book and mouthing the words to himself silently. From time to time he would reach up to his neck to touch the open wounds. They were so painless he would forget about them until his fingers absentmindedly grazed them causing immense, searing pain. His neck would burn and the pain would shoot down his neck and into his chest, centering on his beating heart that threatened to pound its way out of his chest, suddenly.

Nick didn’t own a mirror but when he caught his reflection in the window he could see that the scratches were red, puffy, and oozing a yellow puss. His eyes were bloodshot and the skin around the cuts had started to turn a light shade of gray. The first day Nick had gone through everything in his medicine closet, trying to clean it up but nothing worked. According to his book no one had ever lived through an attack and barely anyone had lived after seeing one. After a particularly painful spell where Nick, without thinking, rubbed his neck causing such a spasm of pain that he dropped the book and fell to his knees he found himself screaming, “What is happening to me?!” As the pain faded and he regained his composure he saw two yellow eyes peering into the window, but as soon as he noticed them they disappeared into the darkness.
As day after day wore on Nick’s palms began to grown small, soft tufts of hair, and his knuckles became thick and knobby. On the fifth day his neck started to become very stiff and his cuts began to throb constantly. He caught a glimpse of himself in the window and saw that his brow was enlarged and a thick beard had sprouted in patches across his face. His heart thudded loudly in his chest and an uncontrollable rage started to take over. He needed to know what was happening to him, he needed the beast in his house, dead or alive, ready for experimentation. In a fit of fury, Nick grabbed his hunting knife and bounded out the door into the snow without grabbing his jacket or even his shoes.

Nick leapt through the snow with an inexplicable energy, the cold snow caressed his bare feet but didn’t bite like it should. He ignored this, focusing solely on finding this creature that had apparently been watching him. He rushed through the woods, branches and leaves whipping at his face as he charged through, breaking out of the underbrush and into a wide clearing. He could recognize the faint blue glow on the snow and the trees, the serene and peaceful scene that he remembered so well, the first night he saw the Anunnaki. As Nick slowed his pace in the middle of the field he heard a rough snort behind him. He spun to find himself face to face with the beast, standing barely five yards apart. They locked eyes and Nick readied his hunting knife in his gnarled hand.
[Slick Nick] [Reader View]
As Nick let the ice melt from his veins and he unglued his wide eyes from the, now empty, window, he started to claw at the bottom of his desk, looking for the shotgun that he kept mounted there for this exact scenario. He snatched it from the desks weak hold and bolted out of the office, headed for his front door. Carefully pulling it shut behind him he started to quietly walk around to the back of the house, looking for footprints as he went. When he reached his office window he found a scuffle of prints in the ground, then tracks leading away from the house. A chill passed through his body as he noticed how large this creature’s step was, there was almost four feet between each footfall.

Nick squinted into the distance but the thick forest covered any sign of the creature. He pondered going after him but the sight of those massive footprints daunted him, plus his slippers were not meant to be in the snow and he was starting to get cold. He quietly slipped back into his house, locking the door behind him and keeping the gun at his side as he sat back down at the desk to continue reading.

The first few pages were about the creature’s diet, which could have just read “anything” since it was found almost anywhere in the world. The next few pages discussed various genetic differences that had been reported and theories as to how those differences were linked to the location the creature lived in. As he flipped to the section about migration patters the hair on the back of his neck stood on end and a chill ran down his spine. Nick’s head snapped up and his gaze was met with two yellow eyes once again.

Nick sprung out of his chair and reached for his shotgun that had been propped against the table next to him. His fingers grazed the barrel as his eyes remained locked on the window and the gun fell to the floor with a loud clang. The yellow eyes in the window narrowed with an angry glare then disappeared again. Nick cursed himself for potentially ruining this opportunity and grabbed the gun off the floor. Instead of running through the house and running outside like a madman he unlocked the window and pulled it open, climbing across his desk to peer outside.

With a sudden stab of pain, Nick felt claws rip into his neck as the mysterious creature grabbed his collar from his hiding spot below. He yelled in pain and his finger instinctively pulled the trigger on the shotgun in his hand, firing a loud shot into the air. With a horrifying howl the creature released Nick and barreled into the woods, leaving his prey to flop through the window, bloody and confused. Nick landed in a heap in the snow, gasping for air and clutching his gun with both hands.

“What the hell…” he sighed as he pressed the palm of his handed over the wound in his neck, his hand came away bloody. “Son of a bitch!”
Read Up
[Slick Nick] [Reader View]
Nick’s brain told him to sprint home, that this mysterious creature could sneak up on him at any second, but he did his best to remain calm. His pulse was slow and steady as he quietly slipped through the snow-covered woods. His breathing was quiet and shallow, he didn’t even realize how tired he had become until he flopped into his large chair by the fireplace and let out a loud sigh. His muscles started to ache as he relaxed them, one at a time, feeling the tension rush from his body as the warmth from the fireplace started to warn his skin. Nick allowed himself to close his eyes just for a minute before he pulled himself back out of the chair to head to his study. His muscles screamed in pain and he almost fell back into the chair, but there were more important things at hand then rest.

“Rare Mythical Beasts” sat on the top shelf, covered in dust. The very title of the book declared that it was not to be trusted as a resource in any real capacity and so he read it once then put it away, forgetting about it until this last encounter. As he flipped through the pages Nick began to wander to the small wooden chair next to the reading desk. His study was small, more like a closet to most people, but it was enough space for him to read and write as well as keep his books. It had a small window with tattered red curtains over it that blocked the light from the outside when he needed, they were slightly parted right now and the moonlight streamed in. A small candle rested on the desk that lit the small room very well. Wax dripped down he side and pooled on the desk, effectively mounting it to the wooden surface.

“Damn,” he muttered as he squinted at the pages, the room was too dim with just the moonlight so he grabbed a twig from a basket by the desk and headed to the fireplace. He returned, lit the candle, then tossed the twig into the fireplace. By the time he got back to his chair the room was fully lit and he could begin reading. Slowly, page by agonizing page, he plodded through the book. Descriptions of dragons, griffins, and sea monsters bored him. These things weren’t real, at least, not anymore. “I should have marked these pages,” he muttered to himself, annoyed that the book didn’t have a table of contents or index of some kind. In the past he had written his own, added page numbers and slipped his own table of contents into the front of the book, but this one he had written off as useless and so had ignored it. Now he was paying for that laziness with his valuable time.

“Whoa…” After quite some time Nick found a page that had no text on it, just a simple sketch of a tall, hairy beast, dark of hair and humanoid in features. It was almost an exact sketch of the scene he saw in the woods as the creature ran from him. His skin began to crawl and goosebumps raised on his arms. The next page started with a list of names; Ape Man, Big Hairy Monster, Cave Spirit, Forest Devil, Gin Sung. The list continued down the page until a final bolded word rested at the bottom on a line of its own, centered. “Anunnaki.” Nick flipped to the next page to see more text than any other creature had received. Pages and pages of historical sightings from across the entire globe, cultures as far back as the ancient Sumer race. “Anunnaki,” he said aloud, letting the name sink in as the hairs on the back of his neck suddenly stood on end. His heart skipped a beat and a chill passed across his skin. There were only a few times that this feeling had passed through his body and he had a scar for each one. Nervously, Nick looked up from the book to meet two yellow eyes staring at him through the window in front of the desk.

Nick almost fell back out of his chair but he didn’t yell or make any sound at all, and almost as fast as he had seen them, the eyes disappeared into the night.
The Cave
[Slick Nick] [Reader View]
The sound of dripping water gently dragged Nick from his deep, dreamless slumber. His dim surroundings didn’t leave him much to discern, but he could hear the echoes of dripping water off in the distance. The air was thick and had a musty quality to it that lingered in his nostrils after each breath. The cold, dry stone against his face scratched and tore at his skin like an animal as he tried to drag himself to a sitting position. His head was pounding and his neck was still, but he felt like he was in tact. He could vaguely remember flying through the air after being attacked.
“Shit,” he muttered to himself, suddenly realizing the predicament he was likely in. He felt around in his fur jacket and found that none of his gear had been stripped from him. His knife was still strapped to his belt, his pockets full of dried meat, matches, and bits of moss. He blinked hard a few times, trying to get his eyes to adjust to the dim light. Stabbing pain shot through his temples and down his jaw with every blink but he continued, the room slowly coming into view.

When he could finally make it out he saw that he was being held in a cave, a short bend up ahead had the blue hue of moonlight shining around it, he was obviously close to the exit. He turned to look behind him and found that the cave drove deeper into the ground at a steep slope, but it faded to pitch black and he couldn’t make out how deep it went. His ears picked up the heavy dragging noises echoing off the stone walls from below and his heart began to race. That creature was here, dragging another poor soul to its doom. Without another thought Nick ran out of the cave, as quietly as he possibly could.

As he burst out of the cave opening into the moonlit woods he began to realize that he had no clue where he was. He hoped that he was close to home but a creature that size and that fast could travel miles to hunt. Wanting to avoid leaving too many footprints he climbed the nearest pine tree, pushing through the branches as snow rained down on him, filling in his tracks slightly. The woods were thick enough here that he hoped he could climb from tree to tree for a while, and he could. It was slow going, and his freezing hands started to tense up on him as he gripped the ice cold branches, shaking snow onto the ground below, but he pressed on. First one tree, then the next, he slowly worked in a semicircle around the cave entrance, hoping to get out of sight of the cave entrance before his captor noticed his absence.

A gentle breeze rolled through the forest, sending painful chills into his knuckles. Nick grabbed his compass from a pocket sewn into the front of his jacket and examined it. The breeze was blowing from the North, unusual for this area. He squinted his eyes and tapped the compass, watching the needle rotate slightly before settling back in place. Frustrated and starting to worry, Nick decided to climb higher up into the tree, it was sturdy enough and taller than the rest by a short bit. He should be able to see quite a distance over the trees. He carefully pulled himself up, one branch at a time, trying his best not to knock too much snow off in case his captor exited the cave to look for him.

Before long he broke through the thick canopy and found himself staring at a gorgeous view of the forest. Smoke in the distance told him that he was likely about fifteen miles from town, his home was on the outskirts but he couldn’t tell which way from here.

“HAROOOOO!” The sickening howl echoed from the mouth of the cave as the creature realized his prey was missing. Nick watched through the branches as a tall, furry beast burst from the mouth of the cave, looking left and right then sniffing the air, hoping to catch his scent. “HAROOOOO!” The beast howled, perhaps in anger, then took off North, away from Nick and his tree at a sprint. Nick could barely make out the shape of the creature as he caught glimpses of it through the canopy below him, but he could tell it was large, affirming what he had seen before the attack. Nick’s heart slowed, pounding in his ears as he watched the creature disappear in the distance.
“I need to get home.”
The Beast
[Slick Nick] [Reader View]
For a short time Nick stood in the quiet field, the Marēdier’s blood melting the snow around his feet. The creature’s howl still echoed through the woods, bouncing off the trees and back across the field as if it was taunting him. His heart was racing and a lump rose in his throat as the creature disappeared into the woods ahead. His home was the opposite direction, but his eyes were locked on the large tracks left by this new beast.

“Shit,” he muttered to himself as he took off after the strange being, not sure what he was really going to do if he caught it. He raced across the field, his keen eyes examining the tracks as he ran. They were large and without feature, much like the tracks left by his own wolfskin boots. The creature ran on two legs like a human, swung its arms while it ran like a human, but that howl was far from human. He had never heard another human being utter such a horrible and gut curdling sound. It still rang in his ears, forcing his heart to race with anxiety at the mystery of it.

Nick had never encountered a creature in these woods that he hadn’t heard of before in some story or tale. Everything he found made sense but nothing he had ever heard even remotely resembled that beast. It stood at least a foot taller than he, and he was large compared to the men of the town. The creature’s stride was long and it ran far faster than Nick could ever hope to. As he plunged into the woods at the end of the field the beast was already long gone. His tracks were all that remained of his sudden presence, and even those were starting to become obscured in the woods, as if something had tried to brush them away. The further into the woods he ran the harder it became to spot the tracks until, after about 5 miles of unrelenting sprinting, he lost the trail completely.
“Dammit,” Nick muttered to himself as he shook his head in disbelief. He had never failed to track anything before, this was all so new and strange to him. Something odd was definitely afoot. He turned to head back towards his home, his mind wandering to the hundreds of books on his shelves about various mysterious creatures of lore that he could pore through while he sat next to the fire. He was determined to discover this creature’s orient and would not sleep until he had. As he took a step towards home the snow in front of him exploded as a large mass flung itself from the trees above and landed directly in front of him.

“HAROOO!” The sickening howl rattled his skull and his vision became blurry. Nick’s heart raced and leapt into his throat again, his chest began to pound as if he was being kicked in the chest and his vision continued to blur until the mess of snow and fur merged into one unidentifiable texture. With a sickening crunch, Nick felt a stab of pain in his shoulder and an unbearably strong force that shot him off his feet and launched him into the air. ‘This must be how it feels to fly,’ he thought to himself as the blurry world faded and his weightless body floated through the air.
The Ghost of the Woods
[Slick Nick] [Reader View]
The snow didn’t glisten in the moonlight like glitter or diamonds like the stories always said. It didn’t sparkle and dazzle the eye or create a magical or enchanting scene. The full moon simply turned the white field into a dull blue waste. The trees were black with blue snow causing the heaviest branches to droop. A light blue-white haze danced lazily about the bases of the trees but disappeared in wisps as it tried to approach Nick where he stood. His footprints behind him became mere dark circles in the otherwise perfect blue field in which he stood. They led back into the woods behind him, towards his home, but he had no interest in going back there just yet.

His quarry stood just before him in the middle of the field, walking slowly across the depressing landscape, a bloody red foam on its lips. It was known as Marēdier in these parts, gray of skin and course fur with open sores covering its body that oozed blood and puss. Its eyes were jet black and its head sported a massive rack of black antlers that were broken and cracked in several places, making them sharp and dangerous. It walked deftly on four hoofed feet and a slight red mist hovered around its nose as it snorted. Nick quietly shook snow off of his fur boots and pulled back his fur hood, letting the cold air lick at his ears. His black hair was ragged, he kept it short with his hunting knife to stop it from snagging on low-hanging branches as he walked through the woods.

The Marēdier glanced behind him, hearing a sound somewhere in the distance and Nick froze. The creature was harmless aside from the antlers. They weren’t aggressive and they weren’t contagious, but they made the locals very uncomfortable. No one really knew where they came from, once in a while they would be seen or heard in the forest but no one ever saw a baby or a migration path. They closely resembled the local deer that roamed the woods and the locals referred to them as zombie deer, using an old Nepali word in their name. For some reason they always came to Nick when they found one. Perhaps it was his size, or his proclivity towards hunting, but either way when a strange creature was found Nick was asked to don his furs and trek through the woods to rid the town of its presence.

The Marēdier went back to grazing, digging its snout into the snow to reach the roots and grass below, leaving a trail of dark red in its wake. Nick silently moved in, feet softly and silently sliding through the snow as he pulled his large hunting knife from the sheath on his belt. With unmatched speed, Nick hurtled forward through the snow, pouncing on the Marēdier’s back before it had a second to react. As it reared and tried to throw him off, Nick’s knife dug into the skin on its throat and tore a hole in the tender skin. The creature tensed, then collapsed in the snow, the gaping hole in its neck leaking dark blood into the snow. Without a word Nick stood, pulled a match from his pocket, lit it, and tossed it onto the corpse which ignited immediately.

With a slight nod, glad that everything went according to plan and happy with a successful hunt, Nick turned away to head back towards his comfy cabin in the woods. To his surprise, his eyes locked on the dark eyes of another large humanoid creature in thick furs that was creeping towards him in the snow thirty feet away. The two silently eyed each other as drops of blood dripped from Nick’s blade that was held ready at his side. Suddenly, without provocation, the person bolted from the field, moving with lightning speed. Nick’s heart raced as the being fled from the field with a sickening howl, he was no longer the only hunter in these woods.
With a Bang
[Joe] [Reader View]
Joe left the woman where she laid and her whimpers slowly quieted and she faded away in the back of his mind. The sirens got louder and louder, the faint flicker of lights could now be seen in the distance as they raced to the station. He pulled out his flask and finished it, tucking the empty canister back into his breast pocket. He glanced around at the carnage and mayhem, blood oozed from various bodies that were strewn across the platform. A few of them still twitched here and there, a few’s chests rose and fell with heavy breathing, most lay still.

“This is how the world ends,” he muttered to himself, a wry smiling crawling across his face as he pondered the crazy journey he had set out on without any forethought or planning. “This is how the world ends.” He said it louder, laughing a little to himself as he did. In his mind he could hear Justin Timberlake saying it as he envisioned the opening scene of one of his favorite movies, Southland Tales. Heavy footsteps thudded around the corner as the first team of cops was arriving on the scene. “This is how the world ends!” Joe yelled as the cops neared his location.

“Freeze! Hands up!” They hollered at him, peering around the corner, pointing their weapons in his direction. He was standing in the middle of the platform now, surrounded by bodies, a pool of deep-red blood forming around his feet.

“Not with a whimper,” Joe yelled back, changing the quote to something that seemed more fitting for his situation.

“Hands up or we’ll shoot!”

“…But with a bang!” Joe reached behind him and pulled his pistol out of his belt. As he swung his arm around to his front he took one last look at the bodies laying around him and allowed the magnitude of what he had done sink in. The cop peering around the corner fired his gun. Joe’s mind was racing, his heartbeat slowed and the world seemed to descend into a sudden state of clarity. His eyes focused in on each of the victims laying around him, he saw their faces as clear as day in his mind’s eye. Twisted in horror and pain, confused at what had happened, their faces were committed to his memory as he moved through each one like a slideshow.

His mind began to drift as he thought back through his previous kills. The blood spraying the walls or the cement as he moved through time back to that very first night. That very first night where he had found the first small bit of relief in an otherwise miserable existence. As a wave of satisfaction washed over him the memories faded Joe felt the hard punch in his chest as the bullet struck him. It was as if someone had suddenly kicked him, then lit the wound on fire. He felt his body suddenly push backwards with the weight of the blow and the fire intensified, threatening to pull him out of his final moments of bliss. As he felt his back, shoulders, then head strike the platform Joe held on to his feeling of satisfaction with everything he had left in him.

As the life quickly drained from his body and a warm pool of blood formed around him Joe smiled with the sheer bliss of a man who held no regrets, and he closed his eyes and allowed himself to die.
[Joe] [Reader View]
Joe wandered down the street for a few blocks, clutching the small stack of bibles and pamphlets to his chest. “I shouldn’t take my own car,” he kept telling himself as he walked further and further from his apartment. “Be smart about this, you already fucked up, we can save this.” He stopped in his tracks for a second. “We? Who is we?” He shook his head and walked to the bus stop ahead. He was about five blocks from his apartment at this time and had passed two other stops, he hoped that would be enough that anyone checking security cameras wouldn’t be paying as close attention as in front of his building. He dug some coins out of the bible thumper’s pocket and paid his far, choosing a seat near the midsection of the bus, trying to seem as normal as possible. He hoped the dirty looks he received were due to his disguise, not his face that was plastered all over the news.

He rode the bus to the second-to-last stop then departed, well outside of town. As he hailed a cab he checked his pockets to make sure he hadn’t absent-mindedly grabbed his cell phone, he wasn’t leaving anything else to chance.

“Where to, kid?” The cabbie was a large man with a graying beard who spoke with a slight Boston accent out of the corner of his lip as he chewed on something. Joe hadn’t thought of where to go just yet, but he didn’t want to seem suspicious so he tried to use his ignorance to his advantage.

“I have to grab the address, just keep heading this direction for now, I’ll find it.” He fumbled in his pockets while his mind raced, counting the money he had stolen from the poor kid who had come to his door, mixing it with his own. He had enough cash to get him well-away from town but without visiting an ATM he wasn’t going to do much else. If he had learned anything from the TV shows his parents used to watch it was that the cops always track your ATM charges, so all this running would be pointless if he used an ATM at the end of the line.

“Ah, it’s on this road, about 10 minutes further or so. I can stop you when you get there, I don’t have the address I guess.” The cabby nodded at him and spit brown liquid into a plastic cup he kept in his center console. Joe watched as the scenery became less and less houses and more and more trees and dirt roads. Finally, a couple miles after they passed a branch of his bank he asked the cabbie to stop. He paid his fair and left a generous tip, hoping that if the man liked him he’d remember him less, then he was off to walk back towards the bank and hopefully hail another cab, or find a bus or train station nearby.

His heart started to race and he could feel his blood pumping through his ears as he took out the maximum amount the ATM would allow. He’d have to make a few more stops before he had it all, but best not to do it all here and raise some sort of red flag in the system. Joe stuffed half of the money into his wallet, the other half into his socks then headed back up the street where he came from. It was just after noon, he had plenty of time to find another form of transport to keep on heading away from town. Currently he had been heading west but he thought he might change it up and head north, try to confuse anyone who might eventually track his movements. Everyone always looked for patterns in the TV shows, maybe if he was erratic he’d actually get away with it. Joe pulled his flask from the breast pocket of the jacket and took a sip, trying to slow his panicking heart. The warm liquid rolled down his throat and the world slowed down slightly, allowing him to focus a little better. “Alright, there’s a train station around here, I remember hearing about it, I should head South, not North, away from any of my crime scenes.” He glanced around to make sure no one could see him talking to himself, then tucked the flask away and started walking again.
By a wild stroke of luck he found himself in front of the train station within the hour and bought a ticket to Miami, Florida. He didn’t plan to ride all the way there but at least he was headed south. While he waited for the train to arrive the other passengers stared at him and whispered amongst themselves, the TV in the station was silently detailing a terrorist cell’s recent activities in the middle east. His paranoia was starting to rise again, but it was absurd. “They’re not talking about you,” he told himself, pretending to read one of the bible’s he was holding in his sweaty hands.

“I’m telling you, it’s him. Look!” His fear getting the best of him, Joe looked up at the TV to once again see his face plastered on the screen. “It’s him! Get your phone!” He turned and looked at them just in time to see them snap a picture with a smartphone. Joe was shell-shocked. His mind raced, the noises around him deadened into a dull murmur while every stared, pulling out their phones. There was no time, he had to react. His mind raced as he tried to think of his options, but nothing came to mind. He barely registered the thought as his right hand pulled the pistol out from it’s hiding spot in his belt and fired a round directly into the woman’s head who had taken his picture.
Her head jerked back as a small red hole formed and a warm spray covered the two men standing behind her. The room was suddenly alive, and Joe with it. He circled, firing shots wildly into the crowd as they all fled from the platform. A woman here, a man there, his bullets punctured their skin sending red droplets to the ground. Some of the fell silently, most of the fell screaming, clutching some hole in their body as blood spurted out. When the platform was clear Joe quietly tucked the gun back into his belt and sighed. The area was silent except for the pathetic whimpering of a few wounded men and women. Joe took a long haul off of his flask before tucking it into his breast pocket where it had come from. His shoes landed with heavy thuds as he approached a woman crying on the ground. Kneeling down, he stared into her face, looking deep into her eyes as she started to hyperventilate, clutching her arm and moaning with pain.

“I…” Joe opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by the sound of sirens in the distance.
Blood of Christ
[Joe] [Reader View]
Joe wiped the sweat from his brow and crossed the room as the loud knocking on the door continued. He took one final deep breath before pulling the door open.

“Hello! Can you spare five minutes to talk about our Lord and Sav…” Joe slammed the door in their faces.

“Fucking idiots!” It was just two men in their early twenties in pressed suits trying to promote their lies so they could feel accomplished. He loathed them, was disgusted by them, but could they be his ticket out? His heart raced as he pulled the door open again.

“Hey! I have five minutes, c’mon!” He called down the hall just before they could knock on the next door. The two men returned with huge smiles on their face.


“Come on in!” Joe smiled at them as best he could, given the situation. “Have a seat,” Joe said as he motioned towards the couch that doubled as his bed, “I just have to grab something.” He bolted to his desk and started moving papers around, looking for the hammer he had used a couple weeks back for his first kill. It only seemed fitting. The next few moments were all a blur as his panic finally took over. His fingers wrapped around the hammer, he took mental stock of the men’s placement on his couch, then he turned and with the first swing of his body slammed the hammer into the temple of the closest man, killing him instantly. Blood spurted out of his temple and hit his friend, who pulled back in fear but barely had time to utter a sound before the hammer collapsed his skull from above, and his body crumpled to the floor. Joe quickly grabbed a blanket from the couch and mopped up the blood on the first victim before it could reach his suit, wrapping the mans head in it to slow the spread for now. As he quickly undressed the man his heart began to finally slow and his vision became clear again. It wasn’t until he had the man’s entire suit and pants in his hands before he stepped back to admire his handy work. He smiled to himself, delighted with his idea and quickly dressed in the man’s clothes. As he pulled on the shiny black shoes the man had been wearing he scanned the room for the man’s bible, as well as the stack of pamphlets he was to hand out. He found them both sitting on the couch next to where the man had sat before he was bludgeoned to the floor.
The door clicked behind him and Joe ruffled his hair, trying to pull his bangs over his face, though they barely reached his eyebrows. He hadn’t shaved in several days, and with his hair different from the news he hoped that he would be difficult enough to recognize for a little while. With as much confidence as he could muster he strolled to the elevator, softly patting his breast pocket where his newly filled flask rested. He had a pocket knife stored safely in his pocket, his hammer, recently bleached, at the bottom of the sack of pamphlets, and his gun tucked neatly into the back of his pants.

A smile crept across Joe’s face as the elevator doors shut and he punched the button for the lobby. “Here we go…”
[Joe] [Reader View]
The next few weeks were a blur as the news rambled on about the the horrendous killing in Vermont. Police canvassed the area the following morning, talking to neighbors, interrogating suspects that lived nearby. Joe watched it all live from the comfort of his desk chair, chuckling as they fumbled around, completely clueless. The best part was that no connection had been made to his local killings, so there was no search for a serial killer, just a random drunken bimbo stabbed to death in her apartment. For days Joe lived the charmed life of the blissfully happy. He went to work, he smiled at strangers, and he laughed as he sat in front of his computer each night, watching the cops talk about “clues” they had found that Joe knew had absolutely nothing to do with the case. They were drowning in failure and had no idea that he was a thousand miles away, safe at home, sipping the woman’s blood in his pajamas.

As the case wore on it started to become dull. Other people died, horrible things happened around the world and the mysterious gruesome murder was no longer the forefront on everyone’s minds. It had been chalked up to just another unsolved case and everyone moved on. Joe began to become quite anxious. He sat in his chair, bouncing his knee up and down under the desk and sipping the blood from the flask, letting the iron taste take him back to that night for a few moments of satisfaction.

A week to the day after the murder had taken place Joe was sitting in his chair late at night, fighting sleep and listening to the reporter drag on about how there were no new developments. His flask sat in front of him, a fain streak of red running down the front of it.

“This just in,” she said, bringing her right hand up to her ear to shield the noise as she listened to an important message. “Security footage has been found from outside a local pub that shows the victim leaving with an unknown man.” Joe’s blood was suddenly ice cold and his heart stopped for a second as the clip began to play. There he was, all over the news for all to see, clear as day. They zoomed in on his face then cropped the photo, zooming out with the photo and placing an 800 number next to it. “If you know this man or have seen him lately, please call the number on your screen.” Joe looked out the window to his right and saw someone walking by on the sidewalk, they glanced up so he darted away from the window, falling out of his chair and slamming into the floor hard.

He grabbed his chest as he laid there on the floor, his heart had resumed beating but so fiercely he was worried he would have a heart attack right there on the floor, at least the cops would never catch him. Joe scrambled to his feet and grabbed the flask off his desk, unscrewing the lid and tipping it back, nothing came out. His mind was racing, his anxiety hitting an all-time high.

“I have to go…I have to get out of here.” Joe started pacing the apartment with the empty flask in his right hand, muttering to himself. His anxiety turned to frustrating and he flung the flask across the room, “Shit! How could I have been so stupid? Four kills…four! Lamest serial killer ever!” Joe suddenly froze, aware that he was talking out loud, hopefully not too loud but he was never quite sure how much the neighbors could hear. “Ok, I have to go,” he whispered to himself, rushing across the room to collect his flask. He headed to the kitchen and pulled out a bottle of bleach from under the sink, dousing the flask until the blood was completely washed off and he was sure the inside was cleansed. He then rinsed it repeatedly until he was sure it was safe to drink from again. Throwing it in the drying rack next to the sink, he darted back towards his desk, he kept his clothes in a small dresser next to it. Clothes started flying everywhere as he tore through them, trying to make the ones he wanted land in the suitcase that was still open from his last trip. He grabbed the gun that still sat on his coffee table, checked the safety, then popped it into his pants pocket. As he zipped up the suitcase another panic attack began to set in.

“I can’t just walk into an airport with a gun and my face all over the news…I can’t drive anywhere, they’ll eventually have my license plates…it’s only a matter of time.” Joe began to pace again, taking a momentary break to drag his suitcase over to the door and slip his flask into the front pocket. Maybe I’ll just find a motel in the country, somewhere outside of town for a while. Then I can plan a way to ditch the car and keep moving…” Joe barely had time to finish his thought before a loud knock sounded on his door. He froze in his spot, awkwardly poised in mid pace, his heart beating so loud he was afraid whoever was in the hall would hear it. A few moments of silence and then the knock sounded again, louder this time. BAM BAM BAM, three quick slams on the door, but no voice. On TV the police always yell something, right? Something like ‘Police! Open up!’ So maybe it was fine, just an angry neighbor or someone selling something. His mind played through a million difference scenarios, none of them positive.

BAM BAM BAM! Joe pulled his gun out of his waistband and started to walk towards the door.
This is Where the Magic Happens
[Joe] [Reader View]
The stars twinkled in the black sky like a thousand brilliant explosions going off all at once, since that’s exactly what they were. Joe marveled at the thought of it as his breath steamed passed his eyes, obscuring the view slightly. Millions, perhaps billions of contained explosions rocketing through open space at incredible speeds, destined to, one day, either collide with another massive explosion or to succumb to it’s own powers and cave in on itself. He allowed himself to close his eyes briefly and surrender his soul to the great unknown, slowly feeling weightless in the frigid air.

“Bill, c’mon!” Daisy called from up ahead on the sidewalk, “what are you doing?” She giggled a little as he looked down at her, snapping back to reality. She was drunkenly skipping down the icy sidewalk towards the bar that she loved and just had to take him to. As she giggled her feet slipped out from under her. Her knees locked and her legs shot straight out, sending her down onto the hard path with a loud smack. Joe rushed to her side and helped her up, laughing as she broke out into a loud drunken song. “I fell! I fell on the ice and I didn’t feel it!” She sang at the top of her lungs, laughing between every few words. By the time Joe had her standing again he was failing to see the humor in it anymore. “Maybe I shouldn’t drink more,” she said followed by a large gulp that he could only imagine was her swallowing a burp. “Let’s just…let’s just go to my place, I’ll take you to the best bar in town tomorrow night.”

“Ok, we should probably get you some water and aspirin.”

“Oh, I’m fine. Didn’t feel a thing.” She laughed again, hanging onto his right arm heavily enough to almost pull him down onto the sidewalk. He pulled his left hand in and grabbed her arm, then swung his hand around her waist and helped her balance as she gave him directions back to her place.

“There’s beer in the fridge,” she muttered as she walked into her apartment and headed straight for the couch, “grab me one, too.” Joe watched as she threw herself down on the couch and stretched out for a minute, staring at her ceiling. He took out his empty flask and funnel that he kept safely in his jacket pocket and set it down on her counter. Daisy glanced at it as he did so and looked back at the ceiling. “You’re going to kill me now, right?” Joe was taken aback by what he had just heard. The room began to spin slightly as Daisy sat up on the couch, holding her head which had started to ache a little. How could she know? Had he given her some hint? A sign? Had he drunkenly outed himself for who he was?

“What?” he questioned, holding onto the counter to try to stop the room from spinning so violently.

“You’re going to fuck me now, right?” Daisy looked at him with a mischievous look in her eye, he was still stunned by his mistake.

“Oh, I thought you said…”

“No you didn’t. Grab me a beer and come here.” She watched him as he grabbed two beers out of the fridge and set them on the counter delicately.

“Want to see a trick?”

“Always!” Daisy hopped up off the couch enthusiastically and headed to the kitchen as he pulled a large knife out of a drawer. She sidled up next to him and slid her hand around his waist as he inspected the blade. ‘I am a stranger in her apartment,’ he thought to himself, ‘with a large knife. How is it that she is so trusting?’ He continued to pretend to examine the blade as his mind raced. Was it right to do this to someone he trusted him so much? Did she really deserve it? His mind drifted back to the airport, as he was forced to listen to her incessant dribble that she called conversation. The flight where she talked nonstop about absolutely nothing, she had asked someone to switch seats with him so that she could sit next to him, it was horrible. Then the entire evening as she drank glass after glass, getting completely hammered with a complete stranger, and talking about work and family and all of the things that he couldn’t have cared less about. Her eyes pierced into his as he twisted the knife, her reflection caught in a loving gaze as she watched him examine the blade, waiting for a trick that she was sure would blow her mind.

“Alright, stand back.” He said and Daisy backed off a few feet. He grabbed his flask and examined it, moving it to the edge of the counter in direct reach then picking up one of the bottles and pretending to inspect the cap. Miller Lite, figures. All remorse gone, the intensity of the night washed over him as he embraced the true reason he had flown to Vermont. He set the bottle down on the counter just as gingerly as before and opened his eyes. He smiled at her and she smiled back, eyes wide with anticipation. Anticipation quickly turned to horror as the knife slid into her belly and his hand flew up to cover her mouth. Daisy shrank away from him but he pressed into her as their two bodies slammed into the wall. A photo sprang loose from it’s nail and glass shattered onto the tile floor of the kitchen. Daisy clawed at him and tried to scream but she was weak from the alcohol and weaker from the blood loss. He held her in his arms, almost lovingly, as she slumped down to the floor, head drooping and eyes closing sleepily.

When she lay still Joe stood, grabbed his flask, and began the process of filling it. Once it was full he secured the top, rinsed the flask and funnel, then slid it into his jacket pocket. Without a word he stared at Daisy one last time, she really was pretty. With a slight smirk on his face he zipped up his jacket and left the apartment, locking the door behind him on the way out. Daisy lived in a busy neighborhood and it was easy to find a cab. Joe was back at the airport within the hour talking to the ticketing agent about a flight home. The warmth emanating through his jacket pocket onto his chest made him smile as he boarded the plane and looked out the window at the snowy Vermont runway. As the plane’s wheels left the pavement he closed his eyes and Joe fell into a deep slumber full of the wonderful dreams that came with a truly happy soul.
Forming a Pattern
[Joe] [Reader View]
Later that evening Joe was delighted by the sounds of sirens and the sight of police cars flying past his building towards the second murder. ‘The next one needs to be further away,’ he told himself before even realizing that he was planning a third engagement. He giggled at the though as he could feel his blood pulse through his veins. His flask sat on the counter next to a bottle of scotch, still containing his collection from the night before. He smiled at the though of opening the flask and drinking his contents but he resisted. He knew the feelings would fade and he wanted to save it so that he could savor this bliss as long as he could. With the cops running around the area he would need to start spacing out his play time a little more, and perhaps plan it a little better in the future. The time and stress that it would require would definitely cause him to need a little relief and so he saved it and poured a glass of scotch instead.

“Ah,” he sighed obnoxiously after a deep drink, silently hating himself for doing the blissful things he had seen others do in public, but at least he was in the privacy of his own home. After both excursions he had woken up feeling like a new person. It was as if a dark, heavy veil had been lifted from his life. The sun shone brighter, the birds sang clearer, and the air was crisper. Everything about the day screamed that he should be happy to be alive, and for the first time in his life he was. Joe sipped his scotch and danced about the apartment, cleaning up the random debris that had collected through years of neglect. By the time the sun was setting on this beautiful Sunday afternoon the apartment was spotless and new. He stood in the corner and marveled at the beauty of it all and started to picture placement for various pieces of furniture that he had never possessed the desire to own. A television, or a real couch perhaps on that wall over by the window, and a dining table next to this counter top here. He laughed at the thought but quickly reminded himself that the source of his happiness would likely cause him to need to leave suddenly and this wanton waste of money would be fruitless and silly, but still he loved the thought of it.

The week dredged on and the news waned about the mysterious killings in his neighborhood and Joe began to bore of his life once again. He woke up, drank coffee, went to work, came home, watched the street, drank, and went to bed. Each day less exciting than the last, but at least the hype of a possible serial killer on the local news sites kept him entertained slightly. Since both sets of bodies were found on steps a few blocks away from each other many people had tied them together, and Joe loved them for that. However, the mass public saw this as a pathetic attempt to create a connection that wasn’t there and dismissed them as typical city violence. As the story passed away slowly Joe began to itch to go out on the town again. When friday rolled around he broke down and pulled out his flask. He had moved it to the fridge Sunday evening so that it stayed fresh and he drank deeply as his hands shook with frustration. The irony bouquet pleasured his nostrils as his gulped down the thick liquid, letting the memories of that evening wash over him as if a flood had just broken through a dam. Joe woke up on Saturday like a new man. The sun was brighter again, the birds sang clearer again, and the air was crisper again. And so Joe was able to push his happiness for another week before another Friday hit and he slumped down onto his futon filled with rage.

“Keep up the great work!” His boss had told I’m that day, as if he hadn’t been doing great work before he started killing people. He resented the fact that his work potential had changed at all based on his mood and his previous feeling of hatred for that incompetent buffoon overtook him. He sat there, on his futon in the dark, stewing over the week. All of the extra work he had done, all of the extra hours he had put in while he whistled through the day and then receiving a bland, useless compliment at the end of the week as a measure of fake appreciation, it was all so humdrum and pointless. He loathed the idea of accepting this horrible satire that was his life and so he plotted. A third murder close to his home would launch an investigation, right? That’s what all the shows said, patterns always came in threes. Yes, he needed to leave if he was going to do this, commit his act somewhere far away so that it could not be tied back to him. He checked his watch, it was still early in the evening, this could be done quickly.
“OK, lets do it,” he told himself as he grabbed his flask from the drying rack next to the sink and filled it with scotch. Joe quickly changed into some fresh clothes, stuffed the flask into his jacket pocket, and locked up the apartment. He hailed a taxi downstairs and demanded to be brought to the airport. When he arrived he threw the cash at the driver, barely counting out a tip and dashed out of the car for the ticket counters. The lady at Delta was friendly enough, she smiled and acted as if she was in love with selling people tickets to better places. She needed to be destroyed, but this was not the place for that. He told himself over and over as he gritted his teeth through the conversation that she wasn’t the one, she was not the one to fix him.

“Where to?” she finally asked, satisfied with whatever ridiculous smalltalk she had attempted previously.

“Vermont.” Joe demanded, not sure exactly where yet but just needing to be somewhere away.

“OK,” she hit a few keys on her keyboard and squinted at the screen. The attendant rubbed her chin a little and cocked her head as she scrolled through the page. Her mouse made an irritating clicking sound as she scanned through the results. “I can get you to Burlington by the morning, the flight leaves in an hour and a half. What great timing!”

“Sure,” Joe said, losing interest in the lady as he watched various passengers drift around the airport consumed by their cell phones. The lady collected his ID and credit card and printed him a ticket. When she asked if he’d be checking any backs he claimed he was on a business trip and would be back in the morning, she upgraded him to a round trip for the following day and he was off. As he walked towards security he fumbled around in his pockets for his headphones, hoping to drown out the idiocy of the people around him arguing about where their gates were and whether or not they would miss their flight. Pointless, every bit of it, and more pointless with every passing second. By the time he reached his gate he was panting heavily and he snuck a quick drink out of his flask. He was surprised they had let him through security with it but things had become more lax since the 9-11 hype had worn off, just like his news articles.

Sip after sip Joe drank as he sat at his gate, watching the passengers move to and fro when he caught a glimpse of a woman at the help counter near the gate arguing with the attendants there.
“Listen, I don’t care what my ticket says, I know I picked a window seat online, I know I did!” she scolded them, assuring them that whatever issue she had concocted with her incompetence on a simple website was their fault. “I don’t care what you need to do, but this needs to be fixed.” She slammed her phone down on the counter causing a few of the passengers waiting in the terminal to turn to look at her momentarily then go back to their pathetic texts. Joe narrowed his eyes and watched as she switched her balance from foot to foot in agitation and flicked her blond hair as the attendant looked for a window seat on the computer.

“I’ll switch with her,” he said, rising form his seat and walking to the counter. “I don’t really care where I sit.” The attendant looked at him, puzzled by his generosity at first then relieved.
“Oh thank you sir, are you sure?”

“Absolutely!” Joe flashed a fake smile at the woman and extended his hand. “Bill LeFleur,” he said, trying to seem friendly.

“Daisy McKenna,” she said, seeming a little embarrassed as she shook his hand then quickly pocketed her phone. Joe handed the lady his ticket and winked at her, hoping she wouldn’t out him for the name change. She glanced at the ticket, then back at the man, catching his wink and continued with the process a little shaken.

“Thanks, sir” she said as she handed him his new middle-seat and Daisy her new window-seat before turning away and ignoring the two at the counter.

“Well, have a safe flight,” Joe said and turned to sit back down.

“Thanks, that was really nice of you,” Daisy responded, following him to his seat. “I really appreciate it.”

“Not a problem.”

“Really, though, I’m so embarrassed by the way I acted, I must seem so high-maintenance. Let me buy you a drink on the plane at least, what’s your new seat?” She tried to steal a glance at his ticket but he turned it away from her.


“Ok, Bill in 28B. I owe you one.” She flashed a smile at him and walked off to find her own seat in the crowded waiting room. Joe smiled a little, staring down at his ticket and realizing that he had just began his first real hunt.
[Joe] [Reader View]
The following day Joe watched with delight as the blue and red lights flickered throughout his apartment, bouncing off his walls from the street below. He watched as the cops gathered the body and placed their tape and markers all over the scene. He loved how they scurried to and fro like mice trying to figure out a maze. He hadn’t felt this alive and happy in years, a giggle even escaped his lips a few times. After some time one of the officers saw him watching so he backed away from the window and just sat in the red and blue glow, listening to the commotion with a wry smile creeping across his lips. When it was all over he remained seated at his desk, listening to the empty street below. The knock on his door jolted him out of his stupor. Suddenly agitated and anxious he crept to his door and peered through the keyhole. The cops! He opened the door slowly and just enough for him to pop his head out, leaving his shoulder pressed against the inside of the door in case he needed to slam it shut.
“Can I help you?” he asked timidly, trying to appear as nonchalant as possible and failing miserably. The cop peered at him through squinted eyes, then looked him up and down, at least what parts of him could be seen in the barely open doorway.

“Are you Joseph Terry?”


“I saw you in the window, do you know what happened?”

“No, sir.”

“A young man and woman were murdered last night, none of your neighbors saw anything, most of them claim they weren’t home. They all said you rarely leave the apartment, did you happen to see or hear anything last night?”

“No…I…I’m sorry, I didn’t.” Joe opened and closed his mouth a few times after stammering out that pathetic sentence, trying to figure out what to say next. “Sorry.”

The cop crooked his head to the side like some idiot puppy and narrowed his eyes as Joe continued to stutter in the doorway. With a sly grin, as if he knew something Joe didn’t and was lording it over him he shook his head and said, “Alright, just relax. Don’t get out much do you? It’s ok, if you think of anything, just call me.” He extended his hand to give joe a small paper card with his number written on it. The outrage, this man pitied him! That smile, that shake of the head, it was just like they used to do in school, as if he was some urchin so comically low in society that he wasn’t worth talking to. The anger began to well up inside of him as Joe gingerly reached out and pulled the card from the cop.

“Thanks, I will,” he said cautiously, then closed the door as the cop walked down the hall. As soon as the door shut and latched he began to breathe heavily. The audacity of that man, treating him like he was some kind of child. That smile that he let cross his face at my expense, due to my stuttering, it was absolutely maddening. Joe’s anger surged inside him as he grabbed a bottle from the shelf in his kitchen that held the various whiskey and scotch brands he had collected over the years. With a shaky hand he poured himself a tall glass. Sipping on the 10 year old scotch whiskey he had selected, he walked briskly to his desk and sat down. It was nothing special but soon he began to relax. ‘What am I doing? I cannot be angry at a cop, not now.’ He mused to himself, starting to see the humor in the situation as the scotch warmed his belly. The memory of the blood spilling out of the woman the night before, running down the steps like a majestic waterfall brought a smile to his lips and he laughed for the second time that he could remember. For the first time in his life he was happy, he leaned back in the chair and listened as the cop knocked on his neighbors door to resume his line of questioning.

As the days wore on his mood slowly started it’s downward journey back to normal. The street seemed a little noisier each night and his coworkers slightly dumber. The people on the train talked a little louder or smelled a little fouler and his patience began to wear thin. Even the thoughts of that wonderful night began to feel a little less comforting and invigorating. His apartment, which use to be his fortress of solitude, had begun to feel like a cage at times. The walls would close in, the windows would shrink down to pinholes and he would sulk in the corner listening to the incessant dribble of shallow conversation echoing up from below. He had taken to going for walks in the evening to remedy this. Once or twice around the block usually did the trick but he hated it. His neighbors gawked at him as he walked by, as if just because they had never seen him out at this time of night meant it wasn’t allowed and he was breaking some sort of rule. No one said anything, they just stared and avoided him.

One particular night, about eight days after the events that he referred to as his happy night, he found himself wandering a little further out. Instead of rounding the block like he had been doing most evenings he went straight at his first corner headed down the darkened street. The streetlights had all gone out and he usually avoided it, it seemed smart to do so. This particular night the quiet called to him and he let his trance take him into the void. As he walked past the darkened trees and stoops by the dark buildings he began to hear a faint conversation playing on the air ahead. As he came closer he could start to make out the words, a typical imbecilic conversation about sports or music or something, he didn’t recognize the names they were comparing. His heart began to race as he neared the conversation and could hear more and more of it. The anxiety bubbled up inside of him and his hands began to shake slightly, but instead of a panicked feeling he felt excitement. Joe pulled out the flask that he kept tucked in his pocket and unscrewed the lid. After drinking the remains of the flask he slid it back into his pocket and pulled out a knife. For a brief second his inner self questioned him, why did he have a knife? He didn’t remember bringing one, but here it was in his hand. The questions slowly gave way as he rounded the corner and saw the man and woman engaging in conversation on the stoop in front of their building. Their faces were obscured by the dark but he could make out their basic features in the faint glow of their cigarettes. Joe wriggled his nose in disgust at the horrible smell emanating off of both of them as they puffed away on their sticks of flaming tobacco, paying him no mind.

Without having time to consider his options Joe ran up the steps and shoved the man’s left shoulder. Caught by surprise, he fell forward into the woman, catching his feet on the steps and slamming his knee hard as he went down. The woman opened her mouth to scream but Joe’s knife quickly silenced her with a quick slash to her throat. She made a queer gurgling noise and clutched her neck as red lines squeezed through her fingers and dripped onto the stone steps below. She stumbled slightly as Joe danced out of her way, then collapsed, slamming her face into he concrete sidewalk and splaying her legs out at odd angles. As she spasmed slightly Joe turned to the man who was holding his face, blood dripping through his fingers.

“What the…” he was muttering, unaware of what had happened in the few seconds he had spent trying to stand up. Joe’s knife came down from above and plunged into the back of his neck. The man jerked suddenly but made no sound as he collapsed to the ground. His chest heaved and his breathing quicker as joe watched the steps and sidewalk slowly transform into a bloody mess. The smile returned to his lips and a quiet laugh escaped him. He quickly filled his flask while the blood was still flowing freely from their wounds and then backed up, taking one last long look at his work and glancing around to be sure there were no witnesses. Feeling satisfied and turned and began to skip home, laughing gaily and humming a little tune, he had no idea what it was. ‘This is a wonderful night,’ he thought to himself as he tucked away his flask, ‘a wonderful night indeed!’
Birth of a Serial Killer
[Joe] [Reader View]
“I regret every decision I ever made.”

The words stared back at him, peering into the very depths of his soul as the cursor blinked at the end of the line. Joe leaned back in his chair and rested his hands on the back of his head, the stale taste of whiskey filled the room as he exhaled and closed his eyes. Every night, ‘Every god damned night,’ he muttered to himself, as he sat at this computer in the dark listening to sirens scream by outside his dark windows. All of the self help gurus, or con artists as he liked to call them, said the same thing day in and day out. ‘No regrets! Live every day to the fullest! The past is the past, tomorrow is a new day!’ Yet every night Joe sat at his computer and ran through his day, word for word, step for step and found that he regretted it all. Every step was in the wrong direction, every word was wrong for the situation, every smile fake and every hand shaken was with a person who should have been shot instead of embraced. Every decision made that day was wrong and he regretted each and every one of them.

The streets outside buzzed with life as people rushed here and there. Sometimes Joe would watch them from his darkened apartment, enjoying the fact that they couldn’t see him as he started down at them. This didn’t last long, though. Typically after ten or fifteen minutes Joe would grow impatient or angry, unable to understand why that one girl smiled or that one guy laughed. Whys should they be happy? They were pathetic. It was he who should be happy, he who should be laughing. He’d pull his gun off the table and marvel at the weight as it hung limply by his side and he’d watch them laugh. Once in a while he’d even aim the gun at one of them as their neck craned backward and an exclamation of joy escaped their lips. He’d peer down the sights at them as they smiled and reveled in the moment. ‘They do not deserve it,’ he would tell himself as he checked to make sure the gun is loaded, ‘they do not deserve to be happy.’ Every time he’d put the gun down, if they didn’t deserve to be happy they definitely didn’t deserve him to either give his life to take theirs or for him to sacrifice his life to prison to end theirs. ‘One day someone will be worth it, then it will finally be over,’ he would say as he set the gun down on the table, leaving the safety off.

Tonight the gun sat on his short wooden coffee table in the center of the room, away from the window. Joe listened as the sirens faded into the distance, wondering who they were off to abuse or arrest. He clicked the button below the monitor to shut off the screen, leaving the apartment dark and silent. He loved the moment before his eyes adjusted, when he was completely lost in the darkness, unable to see his own hands in front of his face. It was as if he had been transported to a different world, one less horrible, perhaps. But like all good feelings, it came to an end as the ugly apartment slowly faded back into view and his eyes adjusted to the new level of light. Joe’s apartment was spotless but mostly unfurnished. He had his desk with the single monitor on it. A simple mouse and keyboard then the rest of the surface was clear, save for the occasional glass of scotch or perhaps bottle. He had a futon and a coffee table but no tv for it to face. Shelves or cabinets were only for people who owned things and Joe owned nothing. His studio apartment felt more spacious and empty than most three bedroom homes but there was nothing inviting or warm about it. The entire unit was a reflection of its owner; cold, alone, and depressed. Joe loved it and yet he hated it at the same time. He constantly regretted not buying a tv or some bookshelves, not making the place more habitable. Perhaps if he did he would be happier. Of course, he immediately regretted that thought, the things you own end up owning you and it was pathetic to think otherwise, and so the cycle continued night after night.

The street was quiet tonight as Joe stood from his desk, he didn’t even own a chair, he sat on a wooden crate he had used to transport his computer when he moved. Not many people milled around and he enjoyed a rare moment of silence. When the streets were empty, these were the only times that Joe felt truly happy. As if he was the only one left in the world, left to die alone, the last human, allowed to live beyond all overs due to his superiority over all. It never lasted, though, and soon a cab pulled up in front of the building and a couple got out. The man got out first and ran around the back of the cab, opening the door for the lady and helping her out. Joe grimaced with disgust at this act of chivalry, it was disgusting and pathetic, treating another human being like something other than a sack of meat with falsely derived emotions. As he pulled her out of the car she giggled and waved to the cabby. The door shut and the two stepped onto the sidewalk, watching as the car pulled away and around a corner, disappearing into the night. They laughed some more and engaged in conversation, kissed here and there, it was all too much for Joe to take. He stormed away from the window in a rage, snagging the bottle of scotch off his desk as he swept by.

Joe clutched the bottle of scotch tightly as the wind and rain pelted his face. He squinted down the street, his head reeling slightly and his ears ringing. ‘How did I get here?’ He wondered silently to himself, trying to recall the span of time between grabbing the bottle from the desk and leaving his apartment. The street was silent again, no cars or laughter. ‘The couple,’ he sneered to himself, remembering their horrible smiles that were obviously undeserved. He took a step out of the doorway to his building and peered both ways down the street. Not a soul in sight. Joe ran his hands through his hair, letting the water drip out and onto his face. As he turned to head back inside there they were. The happy couple sat awkwardly, propped up in the doorway of his building. Blood trickled down the stairs and washed away in the rain, creating a pretty red smoky look on the sidewalk before disappearing down a drain. He stared at them, then down at his hands. He was still holding the bottle of scotch, there was no blood on him. ‘They deserved it,’ he shrugged and pushed past them into the building.

Joe sat back down at his desk he poured himself a tall glass of scotch. As he lifted it before his eyes it seemed thicker than usual, and darker. He sniffed and caught the heavy smell of iron. In shock he pushed the glass away from his face and watched the thick liquid swish around violently, not spilling but nearly splashing out of the glass. His gaze shifted from the glass to the window, then back to the glass. His memories completely evaded him but something felt different, a feeling of relief had washed over him outside and he was experiencing a calm that he had never felt before. He brought the glass to his lips and tipped it slightly, letting the warm liquid touch his tongue. The taste of iron evoked a horrible gag reflux and he was forced to set the glass down on the desk for a second. Breathing deeply and clenching his fist he picked the glass back up and tossed it back, swallowing the liquid in a massive gulp.

Suddenly the memories washed over him. He was standing in the doorway with a hammer and the bottle of scotch. He threw back the scotch and drained the bottle, then set it down gingerly in the doorway. As he stepped out the couple was happily kissing in the rain and remarking on how romantic and odd they each were to do such a thing, it was stupid. The hammer was heavy in his hand as it caved in the mans skull from behind, forcing his face into the woman with such force that she fell back, slamming her head on the pavement. She made a quiet squeak then fell into a deep rest on the ground as Joe stood over her, hammer dripping with the blood of her lover. He smiled as her face caved inward with the hammers blades and cursed as it became stuck in her skull. Finally, he was able to pry the bitch off of his weapon and drag them both to the shelter of the stoop where he used tattered pieces of their clothes to soak up blood and squeeze it into the bottle of scotch.

Joe sat in his chair, an eery smile playing on his lips as he thought through these events over and over. Each step, each action played over in his head a thousand times from a thousand different angles. It was like a beautiful ballet as he watched himself dance around his victims, ending their lives without any regard for his own. As he played through the evening events he realized something that he had never known himself to realize before. For the first time in his life he had done something that he truly did not regret. He laughed aloud and began to dance around the room to the music in his head, laughing gaily as he did so. A life without regret and without consequence was freeing and exciting. “This is the first day of my life!” Joe yelled, craning his neck and screaming into his dull white ceiling. “I regret nothing!”
Mr. Toad Part 5
[Mr. Toad] [Reader View]
Mr. Toad set out once again on his long journey, croaking as he went and listening for the echoing response in the distance. Before long the familiar ache in his legs and behind began to set in but he pushed forward. As he hopped into a familiar clearing Mr. Toad paused for a moment to catch his breath and rest his aching body.

“Bartholemeu? Are you here, friend?” The little fairy zipped through the bushes ahead and into the clearing with a light twinkling noise.

“Oh, it’s you.” The fairy had a disappointed look on his face and turned to fly away.

“No, no! Please sir, allow me to apologize.” The fairy paused a moment, looking very annoyed. “You did a wonderful thing to me, gave me a marvelous gift and I took advantage of it. I broke a promise to you and abused the powers that you had granted me. I’m very sorry.”

“Alright then.” Bartholemeu smiled and fluttered to Mr. Toad’s side. “Well, what are you doing out here anyway? It’s a bit far from your home, is it not?”

“Well, I wanted to apologize and wanted to meet this toad after all.”

“I don’t think I could give you wings again…” The fairy trailed off.

“No, no. I do not want them. I will do this on my own. It will make the meeting that much more special.”

“Oh! Well be safe, friend!” Bartholemeu flashed a smile at Mr. Toad and disappeared into the bushes ahead. Feeling much better having resolved his differences with his new friend, Mr. Toad hopped forward, croaking as he went and listening to the replies growing closer and closer.

That evening Mr. Toad met with his new friend and they exchanged the most interesting conversation he had had in months. They talked about the flies that had been out lately, the changes in the creek, and other toads that had passed through. Mr. Toad told his new friend about the crazy journey that had brought him here and they both laughed, ate flies, and basked in their new friendship. The following morning, as the two toads shared a breakfast of morning flies that were enjoying the morning sun reflecting off the water Bartholemeu flew out of the bushes and joined the two.

“Hallo, my hopping friends!” He was quite jovial this morning, perhaps excited to see Mr. Toad so happy.

“Hello, there! This is the fairy I was telling you about!” Mr. Toad replied, turning towards his new friend.

“So happy to see you two getting along. Will you be returning home today, Mr. Toad?”

“Why, yes I believe I will be. I should probably be leaving soon, it’s quite a long journey.” Mr. Toad’s new friend nodded in agreement and the two exchanged goodbyes, vowing to see each other again very soon. As Mr. Toad began to cross the creek Bartholemeu sped off into the woods, reappearing seconds later carrying a massive leave in his hands. He dropped it int he water delicately then, with a spin that flung gold dust everywhere a pole appeared in his hand and the leaf glowed for a short moment.

“Hop on, Mr. Toad!” Mr. Toad looked at the fairy, perplexed for a moment, wondering what trick he was up to.

“I’m far too heavy for that leaf, I’ll sink!”

“Trust me, friend. I was proud that you didn’t ask for wings again, let me help you get home!” Mr. Toad obliged, hopping delicately onto the leaf and he was happily surprised when it stayed afloat.

“Goodbye, friend! We will meet again soon!” He helped with a wave and a croak as the two started to float away. The toad smiled and waved back as Mr. Toad and the fairy floated around a bend in the river, headed for home.
Mr. Toad Part 4
[Mr. Toad] [Reader View]
Throughout his entire, very long, life Mr. Toad had thought himself to be a simple creature with simple pleasures. As he zipped through the forest, the leaves screaming past him on either size, creatures of all sizes shambling about below he suddenly felt a sense of wonder that he had always been missing. The world was far more interesting from the air than it had seemed from his bend in the creek. As Mr. Toad flew into an opening he looked down and saw his creek running below him, babbling along without a care in the world. He was farther upstream than he had ever been and a small group of toads were hopping about the rocks below him happily.

‘Perhaps I should say hello,’ he thought to himself, but then decided to continue flying for just a bit longer. Mr. Toad took a sharp turn and followed the creek for a short way. He could hear the toad he was searching for’s call echoing down the creek bed up ahead and his heart began to race with anticipation. ‘There he or she is! She’s right up ahead here!’ As his excitement began to mount in his head he remembered the terms the fairy had declared when she gave him his wings. He was to see his new toad friend then return home and the wings would disappear. ‘But I do not want my wings to disappear, the world is so big and marvelous!’ he thought to himself as he approached. Suddenly Mr. Toad banked hard to his left and dove into he forest, zipping away from the bend in the creek as quickly as he could. ‘I will just explore a bit more,’ he said to himself, trying to stay convinced that it was ok.
The leaves slapped his face and ran across his belly as he zipped through the branches far above the forest floor. He dove towards the ground and swiftly ducked under a log, zooming past a few squirrels that were collecting seeds. As he rocketed back towards the canopy his heart filled with joy at this newfound freedom. Mr. Toad explored the forest around the creek, showing off with loops and circles above the forest creatures below and swelling with pride at their envious stares. As Mr. Toad burst from the leaves and returned to the creek he could see the toad that he had wanted to visit perched on a rock up ahead. ‘Well, I really have no need to talk with a toad on the ground,’ he said to himself as he passed overhead. ‘Let me find a creature that can share my love for flying.’
As he turned a corner and the toad disappeared behind him Mr. Toad saw a flurry of gold dust materialize over the creek straight ahead. Mr. Toad dove towards the creek and prepared to bank to the left to dive into the woods, away from the fairy but the dust surrounded him and he could feel his wings begin to shrink. “No! No, Bartholemeu, please!” Mr. Toad pleaded as he slowed and plopped down onto the hard ground. “You promised I could meet that Toad and return home!”

The fairy materialized in front of him on the ground, arms crossed, tapping his foot on the ground impatiently. “I’m disappointed, sir.” Bartholemeu scolded, walking towards him, hovering just above the ground as gold dust flittered off of his body. “You said you would meet this toad and head straight home, but I clearly saw you pass said Toad as if you were too good for ground creatures.”

“I just did not think he would have much to say to a magnificent creature such as myself,” Bartholemeu cut him off with an angry stare and a wave of his hand.

“Enough. It is clear that without the labors of a hard journey you don’t appreciate the destination!”

“But…” Mr. Toad tried to protest but it would seem that the fairy had had enough of the conversation. With a blinding flurry of gold dust Mr. Toad found himself perched on a roach in his bend in the creek just as he had been the day before. As the dust fell into the water and floated away like pollen on the current, he sighed, filled with sadness for what he had lost. The creek babbled quietly to him and the loneliness was almost too much to bear until he heard the familiar croak in the distance. He puffed his chest and hollered back, listening intently to the echo that resounded through the forest. The return croak was no closer, just as before, so Mr. Toad hopped forward again, heading into the woods one slow hop at a time. ‘I will do it right, this time,’ he told himself. ‘No cheating, I will find my friend.’
Mr. Toad Part 3
[Mr. Toad] [Reader View]
“Hello, friend!” Mr. Toad tried his best to sound approachable and friendly as he slowly hopped towards the bushes. “My name is…”

“Mr. Toad!” A light, high-pitched voice erupted in excitement from the bushes as they rustled violently. “Oh Mr. Toad! It’s been so long!” A bright yellow fairy zipped out of the lush bushes ahead and swiftly flew in tight circles around Mr. Toad’s head until he was quite dizzy.

“Do I know you?” Mr. Toad inquired, not recognizing the creature at all.

“Oh no, no, I suppose you don’t. I visited your pool from time to time when you were just a small lad, before you had your legs and that magnificent voice.” Mr. Toad’s chest swelled with pride at the compliment.

“Well I…”

“Oh my how you’ve grown, Mr. Toad.” The Fairy interrupted, saving him from his stammering of appreciation. “What brings you so far out into these woods?”

“Well, you see, it has been quite some time since I’ve had a visitor and there is a toad in the distance who has been calling. I was waiting for them to travel closer but they don’t seem to be moving so, I suppose I decided to go to them.”

“Well, I see,” said the fairy, rubbing it’s chin with it’s tiny golden hand. “That’s quite a long journey! The toad you seek is past the dark knoll over that hill and beyond the thicket, in a bend in the creek much like your own!”

“You’ve seen them?”

“Oh,” the fairy chuckled, “I’ve seen everything, though I probably shouldn’t have told you that. No no, I should not have meddled in your affairs. Do accept my sincerest apologies Mr. Toad.” The fairy bowed deeply in the air, flitting back and forth in front of Mr. Toad’s face. “I shall leave you to your journey.”

“Wait!” Mr. Toad pleaded as the fairy started to zip back towards the bushes from whence it had erupted moments before. “I should very much like to meet this toad that you speak of, but it sounds like a long and perilous journey and I fear my body is not up to the task. Is there another way?” The fairy pondered for a moment, considering its options.

“Well, for a toad such as yourself I suppose not. Hopping is precisely how you get from point A to point B, is it not?”

“For a toad such as myself, yes, but what about a toad that is not such as myself?”

“A toad not such as yourself…” the fairy rubbed its chin again, flitting back and forth as it pondered the riddle. “A toad not such as yourself could perhaps be there much faster if it could fly! I suppose you need to fly. But a toad cannot fly so hop you must!” The fairy began to dart for the bushes again but Mr. Toad stopped her with another question.

“But, fairy…I did not catch your name, I’m sorry. Are you not a magical being?”

“My name is Bartholemieu,” the fairy bowed deeply as it had done with its original introduction, “thanks you, kindly, for asking my good toad! And yes, why of course! All fairies are magical beings.” Bartholemieu acted as if the very question was preposterous.

“Well, could a magical being such as yourself not help a lonely toad in his travels by perhaps giving him some magical wings?” The fairy considered this very seriously.

“It seems to break many rules of nature, toads are not meant to fly, you know.”

“Oh, I know, but I want to meet this other toad so. You can take them away once I’ve had a chance to meet the fellow and returned home.” The fairy thought about this again, long and hard.

“I suppose there is no harm in this, you’re a simple fellow with simple pleasures, no harm can come of your happiness.” And with that the fairy did a little whimsical spin in the air and let out a light squeel of joy. A dusting of particles erupted off of it and sprinkled Mr. Toad, covering him in a golden glow from which beautiful webbed wings appeared.

“Oh my!” Mr. Toad commented as he flitted his new wings and lifted off the ground slightly. Bartholemieu admired them with pride. “You are something marvelous, aren’t you?”

“Do you like them?”

“Oh, I do indeed. Thank you so much!” Bartholemieu nodded, a smile spreading across the fairy’s tiny face.

“Well, I must be going. Once you have found your toad friend and returned home the wings will disappear. Please do this quickly. Toads weren’t meant to fly, you know.”

“Oh, I know, thank you so much, I’ll be very quick indeed!” And with that the fairy zipped into the bushes and disappeared as quickly as he had appeared to begin with.

“What a charming fellow!” Mr. Toad remarked to himself, hovering just above the ground with his new golden wings. “And what marvelous wings I have!”
Mr. Toad Part 2
[Mr. Toad] [Reader View]
Mr. Toad opened his eyes to the pre-dawn glow the following morning, filled with excitement and energy. He hopped onto a rock near the middle of the shallow stream and stared into the dark sky, observing the light forming at the edges of the horizon with pleasure. Mr. Toad closed his eyes, puffed his chest, and let out a massive croak, one of the best he’d ever emitted, in his own humble opinion. He listened as the croak echoed through the woods and back again. And then he waited.

Several minutes passed with no response so Mr. Toad croaked again. His voice echoed through the woods as he waited, and to his delight a faint croak reverberated back to him that was not his own. His excitement was soon crushed as he realized this toad was still just as far away as it was the day before. ‘Perhaps he or she is in trouble?’ he thought to himself, starting to worry slightly. Most toads make a lot more progress in a day of travel, and if he wasn’t moving he would have heard this toad long ago. ‘I must go find him,’ Mr. Toad decided very quickly.
And so Mr. Toad hopped into the shallow stream, and hopped a few more times until he landed on the shore on the far side. As the water dripped from his skin he croaked again, hoping for a better response. The other toad was still far away and so Mr. Toad began his first journey. Now, Mr. Toad’s legs were very long, but his arms were very short. With every hop he would spring several inches into the air, land on his arms, then fold his legs in under him. With every jump his bottom would bounce off the ground as he tried to pull his legs in fast enough. He wasn’t sure if it was just the nature of being a toad or if it was because he spent his life as a sedentary being, never roaming munch, but after the first 15 hops or so his behind was beginning to ache as it slammed into the ground.
Before long, each jump was accompanied by a quiet ‘oof’ or ‘ouch’ uttered from Mr. Toad’s lips. As he pressed forward into the woods the twigs slapped his face and the leaves rubbed uncomfortable across his back. ‘Why would anyone wish to leave home?’ he wondered to himself, but before he could turn back the faint croak echoed through the woods from up ahead and he pushed on.

‘Oof! Ouch!’ Mr. Toad’s complaints became slightly louder as he pushed further and further into the woods. Twigs snapped beneath his toes and swung up to strike him in the stomach. Leaves batted his face and dirty covered his undersides. Finally, as he reached a small clearing Mr. Toad stopped for a break. Breathing somewhat heavily for a toad, he was not accustomed to such activity you understand, he listened for the faint croaks up ahead. When he heard them he realized he had made little progress and he began to despair.
‘What was I thinking?’ he wondered to himself, starting to feel very miserable. ‘I should never have left my home, toads were not meant to travel so.’ His behind ached and burned with a horrible intensity as he sat in the small clearing. ‘Toads were definitely not meant to travel.’ With a mounting feeling of defeat Mr. Toad resolved to turn around and return to his bend in the creak but a quiet twinkling in the bushes ahead halted his thoughts and demanded his attention.
Mr. Toad Part 1
[Mr. Toad] [Reader View]
Mr. Toad had lived on the banks of the creek his entire life. He had spent his child and teen years amongst the small pools, and most of his adult life sitting on one rock or another. It was a simple, yet pleasurable, existence. His voice was his best quality, or so he would tell himself on the quiet nights while he listened to the creek babble along. He would puff his chest and exert a loud croak when he felt it acceptable, then he would listen for a reply. Sometimes there was one, sometimes there wasn’t, but he always looked forward to the day where he would meet a new friend. The problem was, no one stayed long. His friends always passed through with idle conversation and he was left wanting more.

“The flies are good today, yeah?”
“Careful, there’s a hawk up ahead. I don’t know if he eats toads but he was scary!”
“Heya, buddy. Where’d you get those spots?”

It was always so dull but Mr. Toad looked forward to it, so. No one ever traveled far in a day but they never came back either. He would wander up and down the creek some days but he always came back to his home. The flies were plentiful due to the boggy surroundings and it was at a convenient bend in the creek that many creatures passed through. The tree cover was perfect for deterring predators and the fresh water smell was always pleasing.
Due to the opportune position of the creek bend Mr. Toad had lots of opportunity for brief company but no one wanted to compete with him for food or intrude on his home so they always moved on. Every evening and into the early morning he would croak and listen for responses. His heart would jump whenever he heard one and he would look forward to meeting this new Toad friend.

For a couple of days now, however, Mr. Toad hadn’t heard from anyone. All night and into the morning he would croak and croak with no reply. The first night was disheartening but it had happened before. The second and third night began to throw poor Mr. Toad into a rather unfortunate state of depression. It wasn’t common for him to go quite so many days without any reply at all. The loneliness was almost too much to handle for the poor fellow and so he began to grow desperate. He would wake up early and stay up late to continue croaking, hoping to hear from someone. Early morning on his fourth day alone Mr. Toad finally heard the faint croaking of a friend in the distance. It was quiet and the echoes made it hard to read, but at least it was someone. That night Mr. Toad went to sleep a happy creature.

The following evening with Mr. Toad awoke his thoughts were full of wonder as he thought about his new friend. You see, Mr. Toad had lived a life of mostly solitude but he was an incredibly social being. As you know he looked forward to visits but he never realized how much he relied on them in order to retain his very sanity. This morning he was suddenly very aware of how much he wished to meet this new toad and so he croaked as loud as he could, hoping to guide this new friend towards his home.

Mr. Toad croaked, then he listened. He croaked again, then he listened. His heart became heavy with sadness as he heard no reply. He was about to give up and go back to sleep when he heard the echoing croak of a faraway toad respond to his greetings. The toad sounded just as far away as it did the night before. He conversed with this mysterious toad for several hours and it didn’t sound like it was any closer. By the time Mr. Toad went to sleep that night he was starting to worry that this new toad would never come his way. ‘One more night,’ he told himself, ‘and he or she will be much closer!’ He closed his eyes to sleep and dreamt of his new best friend.
The Butcher Round Two
[Diero] [Reader View]
The Butcher, usually a grumpy, brusque man, rejoiced at the sight of the two hooded figures eating his business and closing the door behind them quietly.

“Ah, what can I do for you today my lads? I’ve got a fresh pig out back…” Diero’s mentor raised his right hand and the Butcher stopped talking, suddenly looking very nervous. The old man pulled back his hood to show his scarred and wrinkled face, his long hair pulled back in a neat tail. His eyes were cold and gray as he stared at the large man, not blinking.
“Thank you for dealing with those hooligans who thought they could claim my territory.”
“Not a problem at all, sir, it was a pleasure! Really…” The large man stammered, setting down the blade he had been holding and wiping his hands of on his white smock.
“Your brother in law…”
“Oh, him, he’s not a bother. More dangerous to the wolves outside of town than anyone in it. He just needs to blow off some steam and…” The Butcher was wringing his hands together nervously as he stammered out the excuses and defenses. The old man raised his hand again, cutting the man off.
“It is your job to deal with these things, not to let them run their course.”
“Right, sir, I understand. I will speak with him immediately.”
“No!” Diero’s mentor stepped forward, drawing his dagger from the hidden pockets in his robes and slamming it into the Butcher’s counter, driving it deep into the wood. “You’ve failed me twice now. Talking does no good, you are a man of action or you’re of no use to me.” The large man shrunk back against the wall, averting his eyes from the robed figure and glancing towards Diero who still stood by the door, hood obscuring his face slightly.
“Ok, I will take care of…”
“My apprentice, here, has already taken care of the issue. You will not fail me a third time.” The old man abruptly yanked the knife from the wood, leaving a deep gash then stored it in his robes. He turned and left the establishment quickly as the Butcher nervously paced behind him. Diero followed him out into the street quietly and they turned down a dark alley to the side of the building. “If they don’t fear us, we have nothing.” His mentor uttered the words quietly, his tone was stern and Diero knew that he didn’t want a response. He nodded respectfully and the two parted ways, it was time to lay low for a time until their recent murder was forgotten.
[Diero] [Reader View]
The ranger sat alone at a small wooden table inside the crowded pub. Diero and his mentor watched him from afar, sipping on ales and listening to the idle conversation that surrounded them. A long bow was slung over his back, a knife stashed in his boot, and a heavy back on the floor next to his chair. He spun a golden coin on the table in front of him, starting at it as it spun but not really watching it. His face was long and drawn out in what looked like pain; despite the crowd he seemed to believe he was completely alone in this room, as if he didn’t see the other patrons that nearly bumped into his chair as they drunkenly stumbled past.

“What’s wrong with him?” Diero asked, setting down his mug and glancing around the room casually.
“That girl you delivered a while back was his niece. The butcher has fallen in line but the streets say he is planning to make a stand.”
“I see…” Diero trailed off as the ranger stood and wavered a little over the table, groggy from drink.
“He’s a formidable foe. There’s no shame in taking advantage of someone’s weakness.”
“What’s his weakness?” Diero’s hand checked his knife under his cloak, making sure it was easily accessible.
“Open your eyes. He’s drunk, he’s sad, he has to piss. In a few moments he’ll be alone in a dark alley with his cock in his hands. How much weaker does he have to get?” The old man glared at his young apprentice, his eyes filled with hatred and disapproval. Diero nodded his head, ashamed of the question immediately and filling with rage at his own stupidity. His mentor let out a low chuckle. “Use that rage to your advantage. Play on his stupor, if you’re drunk too you won’t seem a threat. And last, go for the kill. Don’t stab him in the back like a pathetic urchin.” Diero rose from the table, handle on the sheet of his blade, and discreetly left the pub. The ranger still wobbled at the table but was trying to turn and walk out.

As Diero waited outside the door, back to the wall pretending to get some air, he listened to the commotion inside. A rush of people headed for the door and he braced himself, unsure of what was happening. A force of yelling and laughing spilled through the door as it was kicked open and the ranger tossed out.
“Go sober up ya drunken buffoon!” A large man hollered, laughing as the ranger hit the muddy street and rolled, spraying mud in all directions. A sly smile crept across the young rogue’s face.
“Too much to drink?”
“Aye, he ‘fell’ into one of my waitresses. Just an excuse to get handsy if you ask me.” The man pulled the door shut and returned to his duties behind the bar. The ranger struggled to lift himself up from the mud but fell back down, face-first with a groan. Diero watched as he tried a few more times before he rolled onto his back and sighed heavily.
“Need some help, friend?” He tried to sound as cheerful as he could.
“No!” The ranger barked at him, abruptly sitting up then pulling himself onto his feet. “I’m fine…” With a nasty glare he stumbled past Diero, letting out a quiet burp and holding his stomach as if he was about to vomit. He stumbled into the alley and Diero checked the street; no one was paying him any mind so he crept into the alley behind the man. He had walked into the alley about ten feet and was propped up against the wall with one hand, draining his bladder into the mud below. Diero scuffed his feet and pretended to stumble, causing the man to look up and see another drunk shambling towards him.
“They throw you out too?” he looked away, staring down at the pool he was making by his feet.
“No.” Diero said calmly, slipping the blade from its sheath and deftly grabbing the man by his hair. It was long and greasy, giving Diero an excellent grip. He tugged hard and pulled the man’s head back, exposing his throat. The ranger let go of himself and tried to lift his arms to fight back but Diero’s knife quickly dashed across his open throat. The rogue promptly released the drunken ranger, a spray of red painted the wall of the tavern in front of him. He quickly and quietly wiped the knife off on the man’s green cape then replaced it in its holster, then left the alley as casually as he had entered.

“Much better.” His mentor commended with a smile as they listened to the soft gurgling of the man drowning in his own blood. “Maybe next time cut a little deeper into the left side, he’ll die quicker and won’t make such a racket drowning like that.” Diero nodded. “Great! Lets pay the Butcher another visit.”
[Diero] [Reader View]
The weeks following that fateful morning in the alley were rife with abuse. Diero’s mentor obviously took the failure quite personally. Up until this point he was tasked with watching and learning everything his mentor did. Most of his activities, however, were so atrocious and lacking of any moral value that Diero had a tendency to shut it out and only learn what he thought was valuable. This was unacceptable in his mentor’s eyes, and he made that known. Demands followed by harsh retribution became Diero’s life. ‘Pickpocket that man,’ he would be commanded. After doing so, if the man so much as flinched in the process Diero’s knuckles would be swollen, bruised and bloody moments later. He was forced to repeat the process on different individuals until he could no longer grip a coin in his bloody fingers. ‘Climb that fence.’ ‘Jump to that roof.’ ‘Catch that bird with a dagger.’ The demands grew more and more difficult by the hour and each one met with its own punishment.

After a few days Diero stumbled into his room to get some rest and caught a glimpse of himself in the reflection in an empty bottle. His face was barely recognizable; covered with stubble an growth, eyes almost swollen shut and blood smeared here and there form cuts in his forehead and eyebrows. He reached for the bottle but his numb fingers knocked it to the ground, leaving a smear of blood that obscured the reflection. With a heavy sigh he collapsed into bed.

The following morning Diero woke with a start as cold liquid splashed into his face. He spat and sputtered for a moment, rubbing his face and trying to figure out what was going on. As the shock wore off his cuts and eyes began to burn with a fury. He moaned and groped around the bed with his eyes shut, looking for something to wipe his face off with as the pain intensified. The cuts burned more fiercely by the second and his eyes hurt so badly he couldn’t open them.

“Who’s there?” he pleaded, still trying to dry his eyes. “What did you do to me?” A second splash hit his face and the burning increased ten-fold, forcing him to emit a scream.
“Next time I sneak in here unnoticed, you’ll be dead.” The whisper came directly next to his ear and he recognized his mentor’s voice immediately. A third splash hit his face and the burning left, leaving Diero to whimper in his bed until he could open his eyes again. From that day on he slept less soundly, always on edge and listening for any type of movement. Most nights he would place something in front of the doors and windows that would make noise if they were opened, a vase here, some ball bearings there. One morning around two the vase toppled over and he shot out of bed, holding the knife. ‘Good,’ his mentor whispered from the hallway as he shut the door and silently walked away.

The weeks passed and Diero’s strength returned, his skills had improved dramatically and the beatings were less common and less severe. His face returned to a recognizable state and his fingers became deft and nimble like they had been before. His confidence was mounting though he remained cautious, knowing his mentor could yank the rug out from under him at any moment.

“It’s time, again.” He told him one morning as they drank their breakfast ale. “This time, we do it together.” He stood up from the table abruptly and left the tavern. Diero dropped some coins on the table and scrambled to keep up. “Lets start with someone your size, this time. I know just the fellow.” The two turned down a darkened alley towards the center of town.
The Tavern
[Diero] [Reader View]
The Tavern smelled of ale and vomit, the walls were visibly stained and the furniture in desperate need of repair, but no one even noticed the two figures shrouded in black as they walked through the room towards the inn above. His mentor loved places like this because they could hide in plain site, Diero hated them. He wrinkled his nose as he walked by a patron passed out at his table, having noticeably urinated in his trousers.

“Don’t look so disgusted.” His mentor demanded, turning his head slightly as he walked. Diero had no idea how he always knew; he never seemed to actually look, but he always knew when the young rogue did something wrong. At the top of the stairs the they took a sharp left and stole into a quiet room just above the bar. Diero could still make out the hubbub below through the poorly insulated floor, and could see most of the patrons through the large gaps between the boards. “There’s a man, drunk and belligerent.” Right to business, his mentor was always about business. “He’s in debt to many, drinks away his earnings before they can collect. Owns nothing, has no one, there’s no way to pressure him to pay.” His mentor pulled a blade out from under his robe. “No one will miss him.”
The blade was dark, made of something metal that he didn’t recognize. It was cold to the touch, like steel, but it reflected no light. In fact, it seemed to actually absorb light. The hilt was made of a simple polished wood with slight markings etched in gold into the grip. It simply read, “Death’s Embrace.”

“It’s beautiful,” Diero stammered as he tested the balance. It laid perfect flat on his pointer finger without wavering at all. “And perfectly balanced, what is it?!”
“It’s a gift. The best blade an assassin could hope for.” He clasped Diero on the shoulder, a rarity as he didn’t like to touch anyone if he wasn’t killing them. “Make me proud.” The young rogue nodded brusquely then headed for the door, stashing the blade in an accessible pocket inside his robes. “He’s in the alley,” his mentor said quietly. Without looking back, he left the room and exited the tavern into the street.

He quickly pushed past the ladies of the evening that stood around out front, ignoring their requests and lewd gestures and strolled into the alley. It was late morning and the sun was high in the sky, the alley was lit well and, though secluded, still very public. There was a large man covered in sweat bent over a cask, vomiting loudly onto the ground. His body heaved and shook with each fit which was followed by a bout of coughing and spitting. As Diero approached him the man stopped and straightened up, stretching his back and yawning loudly. He quietly slid the new blade from his pocket, his heart starting to race with anticipation. He’d seen his mentor do it so many times, so smooth, like an angel of death. He envisioned himself dancing through the alley, blood spraying the walls as the man was sliced into tiny chunks before he could even move to defend himself. A grin crept across his face and he stole closer to the drunken buffoon, who was now scratching himself and preparing to take a piss.
As Diero came within striking distance he paused momentarily, letting the power of the situation wash over him. He was in control of this man’s life, and he was about to end it. Dozens of years cut short by his blade. He chose who lives, and he chose who dies. His heart raced faster at the glory of it all, the godliness that he would embody as he embraced his life as an assassin. With a surge of excitement the young rogue jabbed his arm forward, plunging the knife into the man’s back.

“Fuuuuhhh!” The man bellowed, throwing his head back. His voice echoed through the alley and into the street, a few passers-by looked in, curious as to what creature had caused such a noise. No one cared, however, and continued wandering as they saw the black hooded figure pull a bloody blade from the man’s back. The blood spurted gently out of the gaping hole left in the man’s flesh, splashing across Diero’s fingers. It was warm and Diero’s excitement grew. He jabbed forward again but the man, large as he was, wasn’t ready to give up and the initial cut didn’t incapacitate him as Diero had believed. He turned quickly and grabbed Diero’s arm by the wrist, swinging his second arm with a powerful punch to the young man’s chest. The vile drunkard was surprisingly quick for his size and apparent state of inebriation. Diero flew backwards and landed in a pile of trash, the blade bounced away on the stone alley floor, just out of reach.

“Raaaaah!” The man bellowed again as he charged, but stopped suddenly as his bellowed turned to a throaty gurgle. Diero watched as his lips reddened and a small spurt of blood spat out, bubbles forming behind it as the man struggled to breathe. With a heavy thud he slammed into the ground, more gurgles wetly sounding from his lips.
“I…” Diero started as he saw his mentor standing in the alley, a red, dripping blade in his hand after the man fell. He shook his head and Diero silenced himself. The man’s face was drawn with disappointment and frustration. Without a word he picked up the dark blade, wiped it off on his sleeve, and stashed it back in the robe from whence it came.
“You’re not ready.” He said quietly, the disappointment in his voice bouncing off the alley walls like the fat man’s bellows. Without another word he quickened his pace and hastened out of the alley, leaving his young apprentice struggling to keep up.
[Diero] [Reader View]
That night Diero’s sleep was restless. He tossed and turned as The Butcher’s face, broken with sorrow, flickered into and out of his memory. ‘How could he?!’ he had wailed, clutching his daughters body and rocking back and forth. ‘What could I possibly have done to offend him? I’ve been nothing but obedient!’ The following morning Diero woke early and prepared himself for a long day. With whatever feud his mentor and the Butcher were having out of the way, there were far more pressing issues to deal with. A few wandering adventurers had been gathering in the inn Diero stayed at lately and rumors had it they were planning to form together to attempt to run a few small districts in the city. Diero had been sent as an envoy to see if they would serve his mentor like the other groups in the city did and they resisted, they were the next order of business.

“Rogue!” The innkeeper boomed from down the hall. “Deal with this, now!” Diero rushed out of the room and into the hall. “I told you that you could stay here as long as you brought no trouble here! Deal with it or get out.” Diero eyed the man suspiciously, he hadn’t done anything or attracted any attention as far as he knew the night before, he always kept to the shadows. The innkeeper pointed down the stairs and Diero obliged, keeping his hand on his dagger and eyeing the innkeeper with an icy glare. The large man averted his gaze as Diero passed him, he didn’t much care for the rogue but gold was gold these days.

As he crept down the stairs silently, unsure of what was awaiting him a foul stench assaulted his nostrils. The tavern at the front of the inn had been completely redecorated overnight. Bodies hung limply over tables, chairs, and on the bar. One dangled precariously from one of the hanging lamps in the middle of the room. Red splatters and smears dotted the walls and the floors were slick with blood. A quick count turned up eight bodies as Diero counted and recounted. The man hanging from the lantern had small piece of parchment flittering in the wind attached to his belt. As the rogue grabbed it he read: ‘I am sorry. — The Butcher’.

“Curious…” Diero muttered to himself, pretending to be confused in case the innkeeper was watching. He pulled on the hanging man’s shoulder and spun the body slowly. He recognized the face immediately as a man everyone called “Pierce.” He was one of the adventurers attempting to form a gang here in town. He counted the bodies again, eight. Eight adventurers encroaching on his territory, eight bodies left to rot. It may have been messy but his mentor always got his way. Diero strolled out into the street, tucking the note into his pocket.

“Hey! Who’s going to clean this up?”

“Dunno. Sounds like a job for the innkeeper.” He continued down the street without turning back, the innkeeper cursed and threatened behind him but he knew better than to take it any further. He found the old man enjoying a hearty breakfast and an ale at his favorite tavern half a mile away. He always started his mornings as such, claiming that the best days come from the best parties. Diero handed the old man the note and quietly sat himself across from him at the small wooden table.

“Hah! I hope he didn’t make too much of a mess.”
“I’ll probably have to move.” The old man laughed at that remark, Diero’s face stayed stern, he wasn’t looking forward to the process.
“Alright, next order of business!” The man’s face cracked with a fearsome smile.
“Yes, sir, what will you have me do?” He wiped his mouth on his sleeve after finishing the rest of his ale and eyed the young rogue thoughtfully.
“You’ve learned to keep to the shadows, to pickpocket from the keenest of folks, and to sneak into a crowded room without so much as a peep.” Diero’s eyes narrowed, his mentor was not usually so forthcoming with compliments. “Today…today you’ve earned your first kill.”
[Diero] [Reader View]
Diero looked up from his drink at the haggard traveler, peering out from under the dark hood that hid his face. The tavern was full of men and women who liked to cause trouble and he found that the more mysterious he seemed the less they bothered him. The traveler fidgeted nervously as Diero glared at him, passing a note from hand to hand. “Sir?” the man repeated, unsure of what to do. Diero reached his hand out and took the note from from the man without saying a word then watched him as he ran out of the room as if he was being chased by dogs.

As Diero opened the note he could smell iron and see blood stains covering the paper. His heart began to race. ‘Dry Dragon Inn, room 3. Now.’ The message was simple and straightforward, not signed but clearly in his mentor’s handwriting. For months he had been following this man around, doing odd jobs for him; he was often tasked with picking up and delivering packages to dangerous parts of town. The man claimed to have great power and would train Diero in his ways if he trusted him and did as he was told, perhaps this was the moment that he finally would see what this mysterious man was all about. Diero didn’t even know his name.

Without a moment’s hesitation Deiro swallowed the last of his ale and dropped a coin on the table. His dark leather boots made no noise as he deftly exited the pub and headed into the darkened street. The hour was late and the lamps in this district were all but destroyed, most of them weren’t lit any more, for fear of causing a fire. The Dry Dragon was a brisk ten minute walk from here and his mentor did not like to wait. Diero broke into a light jog to try to lessen the travel time and ease the rage he was sure to meet when he arrived. The man had a horrible temper and seemed to believe that Diero should somehow know where he is at all times and be within a two minute walk.
When Diero arrived at the inn he was out of breath but there was no time to wait, he pushed through the doors and ran up the stairs to room three without even looking at the innkeeper or anyone in the lounge.
“I hope she was worth it,” the cloaked man scolded as Diero pushed open the door and quietly slipped into room three.
“I was at the pub.”
“You should have been here!” Diero bowed in submission to the man, offering his apologies for being late.
“What can I do for you, sir?” The man pulled back his dark hood that matched Diero’s and glared at him with his silvery eyes. His hair was long and gray, usually greasy, and left to hang loose about his shoulders. His skin was pale and his grey eyes gave him an almost unsettling undead look.
“There’s a man they call the Butcher. He works across town. He helps me dispose of…enemies.” Diero listened intently, the man always cut to the chase and expected him to react immediately. “Rumor has it he’s been making friends with the guards by the castle so I have a bit of a reminder for him. Deliver my message.” The man slipped his hood back over his head and abruptly strolled to the door. “He loved her very much,” he said, pausing for a moment then exiting the room.

Diero turned away, slightly confused but ready to do his mentor’s bidding when he saw the young girl laying on the bed, blood covering the white sheets, her eyes frozen open with a look of horror. The deep gash in her throat still oozed blood slowly. Her blonde curls were stained in her blood and lay splayed about the bed in disarray and she clutched a small golden locket in her pale fist. Diero regarded the young woman for a moment or two, expecting horror and revulsion to creep in but as usual, his feelings failed him. He felt nothing for this poor soul, and the sight of the blood gave him urges to take a life of his own. He shook his head, trying to lose the urges behind his task.
“Well, darling, let’s get you home, shall we?” He chucked to himself as he started to bunch up the sheets around her body in a makeshift bag. “I’m sure your daddy is worried sick.”
[The Breach] [Reader View]
The road ahead was twisty but dull. The same half-dead trees lined either side of the street each day, the same cars proceeding in a slow, methodical procession from point A to point B. The drivers sat in their vehicles listening to music or radio shows, usually in some sort of daze. When the road ahead flickered for an instant, Lucas almost didn’t notice. His eyes were half shut and glazed over, he was only conscious enough to keep the car on the road, guided by the yellow line and the tail lights ahead of him. He perked up for a second when the image before his eyes flickered, as if he was watching a television that was losing signal. It happened again, and then again two more times. He lifted his foot off of the gas pedal and hovered over the brakes for a brief second before his head started to spin. The whole world suddenly appeared to be underwater. Waves passed over the trees and the tar, the car in front grew in size and then shrank again as the waves shuddered across his windshield. His head felt light, as if filled with air, and his breath became short. His heart raced and his eyelids grew heavy as the waves became more pronounced and the flickering returned with added fervor.

Lucas started to think that he should pull over, but before he could press his foot to the brake and move to the side the road ahead of him exploded in a fiery blaze. The explosion shot upwards and out from the car ahead of him, shrapnel flew everywhere. He could smell the burning flesh and hear the screams of men and woman around him, suffering. Gunfire and more explosions erupted around him, his eyes darted to and fro in a panic. He stomped his foot, trying to stop the car before it flew into the flames but he car was gone, he was running full of heavy gear towards the flames. A rifle hung loosely around his shoulder and a grenade was poised in his hand, the pin removed and nowhere to be seen. His panic grew worse as the waves and flickering returned as suddenly as they had appeared the first time. Suddenly the car ahead of him was there again and he was sitting straight up in the driver seat of the car, beads sweat dripping down his temples. The brake lights flew towards his face as he screamed and cranked the wheel, flying around the vehicle on the right as it made a slow left turn.

“Shit!” Lucas yelled as he slammed on the brakes and skidded to a halt, throwing sand into the air and creating a cloud of dust and smoke that whirled around his vehicle. “What the fuck was that?” As he said it the world flickered and wavered again, the sounds of gunfire and explosions came and went with the images, fading in and out. He could hear people screaming, then the familiar sound of traffic, explosions, then a horn blaring at him as a car whizzed by. The waves started pulsing over his vision and his head swam. Lucas grabbed his head and held it as he rocked slowly back and forth in the drivers seat, one moment running towards gunfire, next reeling in the seat of the car. With a nauseating pop, the back and forth ceased and he succumbed to darkness.
“Shit, Jones, get up!”
“What?” Lucas’ head was pounding and his gut felt like he was carrying a bowling ball.
“Get up! We have to go, evac team is here.” Lucas lifted his head to look around. He gasped and squinted as the bright sun burned his eyes and his head screamed in pain. He could feel the grit of sand stuck to his face, he was lying on his stomach in the middle of a desert. Slowly the sounds of battle returned to his ears and the haze in his head began to lift, as did the pain. Someone was pulling on his shoulders, trying to lift him up. He pushed himself off the ground and turned to see a man in full soldier garb with a concerned look on his face. “What’s wrong with you? Move it!” The man took off running in the opposite direction and Lucas followed, his heart racing and unsure of what to do next. Bullets whizzed through the air and children cried out for their mothers. The steady crackle of fires breathed a constant supply of smoke, Lucas coughed and nearly fell back down. “Just ahead, get to the safe house.” The man looked back at him, lifting his arm to wave him on when he exploded in a fiery, bloody mist. The warm spray covered Lucas as he shielded his eyes and stumbled, barely keeping his balance as he sprinted through the cloud of smoke that was a man moments before.

“Fuck! Fuck!” he screamed as he sprinted for the doorway the man had motioned to. He pushed his hands outward as he reached the door and threw his weight against it, forcing it open as his body crumpled inside. His eyes tried desperately to adjust to the sudden darkness. The sounds of battle were dulled and he could hear the scraping of boots on the wooden floor around him, but he could make out no figures. He tried to stand but the wave of nausea struck him again, more violently this time and he doubled over in pain. When he opened his eyes he was back in the car, a warm stream of drool dripped down his chin and his pants were soaked threw. The vehicle stank of urine and sweat. Lucas looked around feverishly, trying desperately to figure out what happened, where he was, who he was. As he sat there in panic his head slowly cleared and his heart slowed to a normal rate. As he caught his breath and wiped the drool from his chin he reached a shaky hand forward and turned the key in his car. The engine purred to life. He checked his mirrors and pulled into the road to continue driving home. “I just need to get home, I need to sleep,” he said to himself as he pushed down on the gas pedal. “That’s all, I just need sleep.”

Later that night Lucas laid in bed, eyes wide open as he stared at the ceiling unable to find rest. He ran his fingers through his hair and his wife stirred as he let out a loud sigh. Not wanting to wake her, he quietly got up and put on some clothes. His wife stirred again and he paused in the dark, watching her roll away from him and pull the blankets up under her chin, settling back into a deep sleep. He left the room quietly and walked down the darkened hallway to his office. He always kept a bottle of Macallan scotch on his bookshelf, next to his copy of Moby Dick. He liked to think it was symbolic but really it just made him feel cool, like he was classy and educated, of a different society or class than he really belonged. He grabbed the bottle and a glass behind it and poured himself a double. For a moment he sat at his desk, sipping the scotch and thinking about what had happened but the anxiety it was causing was getting the better of him. “This is ridiculous,” he muttered to himself, finishing his drink and pouring himself another.

He left the office with a fresh drink in his hand and headed for the back door. The land around his split level home swooped up around the house in a sharp hill. The house had literally been implanted into the hillside and one could walk up the hill and then step onto the roof from behind, it was one of his favorite things about the otherwise mediocre home he and his wife shared. Many nights he had spent lying on his back, staring at the stars as they slowly twinkled and moved about the sky, tiny signs of life amongst an otherwise dead and empty expanse. It was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. As he sipped his scotch and watched a satellite blaze through the sky his mind wandered from his own problems to the typical existential questions a man ponders when staring into the soul of the universe. The stars pulsed overhead, appearing to gain and lose power with the beating of his heart. The thumping in his breast intensified and the stars grew more and less pronounced with the rhythm. “No…” Lucas muttered as his head began to swim, “not again!” He placed the scotch glass on the roof as his hands began to tremble. He grabbed his head and tried to sit up but the dizziness was too much and he laid back down quickly, resting his head on the roof as the stars grew so bright that he was blinded with white light.

When the light faded he was laying on his back still, grass blew gently in the wind, tickling his ears and cheeks. The stars were far more numerous than they had been and he was lost in the beauty of it. He sat up suddenly, aware that he was no longer on his roof. He was laying in a small field, a clearing in the middle of the woods. Large pine trees surrounded the clearing and rustled slightly in the cool summer breeze. An owl hooted in the distance, perhaps calling for it’s mate or celebrating a successful hunt. As he sat in the grass he realized he wasn’t wearing the same jeans and sweatshirt he had donned when he got out of bed. He was wearing some sort of rough wool shirt with ties in the front, cotton pants that also tied instead of zipped or buttoned. His feet were bare and dirty, he could feel the thick callouses as he placed them on the ground and pushed himself to a standing position. He spun in a circle, scanning the woods, listening intently for any sign of life but found nothing. He was completely alone in this strange field, accompanied only by the creatures of the night and his own thoughts. He took a few steps forward, peering into the darkness when he stepped on something wet. He stopped short and knelt down to see what there was. In the glow of the moonlight he saw a naked woman lying in a twisted heap on the ground. Blood had pooled around the body but there didn’t seem to be any visible injuries. Her body was twisted and contorted in a way that looked entirely unnatural. He reached out a shaky hand towards her face, hoping to get a better look when she suddenly sprang forward, face contorted in a horrible scream, blood dripping from her lips. Lucas shot backwards, landing on his back in the grass as she sat and started to crawl towards him. He tried to turn to run but she grabbed his ankle. She was surprisingly strong and dragged him across the ground towards her as she continued to scream. He felt the warm spray of blood as she dragged her broken body on top of his and screamed into his ear.

“Stop! No!” Lucas screamed and squeezed his eyes shut. As quickly as she had sat up, she let him go and the warmth of her breath disappeared from his neck. Panting, he slowly opened his eyes. He was propped up on one elbow, the rough ceiling tiles biting into his arm and his glass of scotch sitting just in front of him. His hands were shaking terribly but he grabbed the glass and drank the last of the scotch inside. Suddenly overcome by the cold breeze, Lucas shivered and stood on the roof, walking unsteadily towards the hill and off the roof. As he stepped off the roof the grass was cold and wet, his foot slipped and he dropped his glass as his hands shot forward to break his fall. He hit the side of the hill hard and his hands slipped on the grass, shooting outwards in each direction and allowing his face to slam into the ground. He felt a sharp bite of pain as his chin split on a stray rock and he felt the cold lick of the wet grass on his forehead as he slipped out of consciousness and into a deep sleep.
The End
He stared at the dark screen as the gray cursor blinked repeatedly. He had been at this for hours and the screen was still mostly empty, save for a single sentence and a few random marks leftover from his short nap on the keyboard. He held the backspace key for a few seconds and cleaned it back up. The blank screen stared him in the face, taunting him with the only phrase he had been able to punch out so far.

“This is the end.”

When he had scribbled it out he had been filled with intention and excitement, it had poured out of him like a deluge and he was prepared to sit and write for hours with a huge smile on his face but as soon as he hit the period key on his keyboard his mind went completely blank. Never in his long career had he experience such severe writer’s block. Nothing came to mind, nothing sounded fun. It was almost as if that was the story right there. As if he meant to say “this is it, people, it’s all over now, just sit back with a drink and enjoy it.” It wasn’t the end, though, at least he didn’t want it to be.

He pushed back from his desk and let the chair roll to a slow stop on the hardwood floor, let out an exasperated sigh, then stood and walked to the bar he had placed by the window. After pouring himself a drink and taking a sip he pondered his night, searching desperately to find something to blame for his current predicament. To be honest, this wasn’t the first time it had happened. It was the worst case so far, for sure, but his deadline was tomorrow and he had been faced this all week, throwing away several different drafts that he had powered through. An entire week wasted on second tries, the though of it amused him, though it shouldn’t have.

“This is the end.”

The words echoed in his head, taunting him. Maybe it was time, maybe his career was over and that is why the only sentence he could muster up had to do with ending. Maybe it was time to fold, call it quits. He swallowed the last of his scotch and set the glass down roughly, he was never one to quit and the thought, alone, made him wince. He took a long look out the window before turning around to get back to work when his blood froze in his veins. Sitting at his desk, staring at him with a complacent smile, was his wife. His late wife, to be exact, but she looked just as beautiful as she did the morning before she died. Her auburn hair laid gently on her pale shoulders, just as it had before he sliced her neck open with his hatchet. That smile, it lingered on her lips knowingly, taunting him as he stuttered and shook violently by the window.

“It’s time, you sick son of a bitch.” She cackled, suddenly by his side laughing into his ear. He squeezed his eyes shut and whimpered. “Finish the story,” she smiled cruelly as she whispered to him. “Finish it.” He ran to the computer, ready to slam it shut when he read the screen.

“This is the end. This is my confession.”

“No,” he whimpered again as tears strolled down his face and she laughed her maniacal laugh from the corner of the room. The keys clicked and he watched in horror as his story typed itself out, and his wife laughed and laughed as he cringed and cried. When the detectives found him two months later he was a dried, horrified husk, still sitting at his computer. His face was frozen in a cruel, grotesque shape as if he was screaming and crying. The computer screen glowed, illuminating him in an eery light. The detectives commented that they heard a woman laughing as they entered the room but could find no evidence of anyone in the house. His confession letter was still on the screen in front of him, typed out in full. The computer screen had been smeared with blood near the bottom right corner and when they looked closely they found that he had signed his letter in his own blood.

The detectives recommended that the house be burned, they all agreed that something horribly evil still lingered there. To this day none of them will speak of that day, and all but one of them have left the force. The house still stands where it did, silent in the woods amongst the northeastern pine trees. The neighborhood kids tell stories to each other around campfires about a woman’s wild cackling that can be heard if you drive by the house slowly at night with your windows down. They say the cackling is always followed by a woman singing the words “this is the end” to a distinct, light tune. They don’t like to talk about it for long, and no one likes to hear of it very much.

When the “For Sale” sign was taken down and the yellow tape was removed the town quietly cringed in fear. No one was supposed to be there. They gathered together before move-in day and burned the house at the end of the road, and huddled together in fear as the screams grew louder and louder, rising above the flames. As the house collapsed everything went silent and the whole town let out a collective sigh, the nightmare was finally over. They started to disperse as the quiet and gay cackling started again and the town watched in horror as a fiery form waltzed out of the fire, laughing hysterically and performing a slow, seductive dance while singing “this is the end, this is the end.”
[The Bunker] [Reader View]
Bill threw down his notepad and darted across the room to the phone in the corner of the kitchenette. He snatched up the receiver and, without hitting any buttons, said as clearly as possible, “108 is ready for extraction. I repeat, 108 is ready for extraction.” He hung up the phone and ran back to the window, yelling for James to get up. He ran out of the bedroom tying his robe shut in haste.
“What happened?”
“He figured it out!”
“No shit! How?”
“The bird loop!”
“Did he notice the delay?”
“He didn’t say anything about it so probably not, but who cares? We can go home!”
The two men laughed and hugged as the extraction team opened the steel door at the front of the apartment and charged in, guns at the ready. They were dressed all in black, with helmets and large rifles, it was almost comical given the fact that they were merely incapacitating and removing a test subject. Bill and James had always secretly joked that the guns were plastic, or at least not loaded but they had no way of knowing for sure. These experiments were always a 90-10 split of theatrics and reason but you could hardly tell one from the other most days. The team quickly subdued 108 and gave him a tranquilizer. The two men watched proudly as the team carried the unconscious subject out of the apartment and closed the door.

The elevator chimed and James got in, “ready?”
“Yeah, hit the button, I want to see.” James punched the button for the lobby and held the doors open with his hand. The apartment erupted in turmoil in front of his eyes. The furniture flew in the air and erupted in flames, pictures rocketed off the walls and incinerated before hitting anything, and the walls appeared to melt into the floor. After half a second of intense burning there was a flash of light and Bill shielded his eyes. When he looked back he was staring at a cement chamber as ashes swirled towards the vents in the ceiling. He smiled and headed for the elevator, glad for a little vacation.

Bill and James shared a pleasantly quiet ride to the surface. As they watched the doors close behind them in the lobby the smiled and thought of their lab being incinerated now that it was empty. They walked outside into the sun laughing and joking together.
“Wonderful job, boys!” Their driver said with a smile as he opened the door for them. “Your families are waiting.”
[The Bunker] [Reader View]
Francis gripped the coffee cup with a shaky hand as he stared out the glass door at the birds hopping from branch to branch. He hated those birds as they flew about, unaware of how marvelous their freedom was. He glared down at his coffee mug and lifted his other hand to stop the shaking. He wasn’t quite sure if it was the lack of sleep, the anger, or the jealousy but the shaking had grown progressively worse every day.
For ninety days and ninety nights he had been trapped in his apartment. His cell phone had no signal, not even for a 911 call, his windows were unbreakable and his walls were backed by cement. He had spent days trying to break out from every angle he could think of, nothing worked. On this, the 91st day, he stared at the birds and wondered why. It was a thought process he had visited before but he felt it was time to really address the issue. Why had someone done this to him?

He drank the last of his coffee in a large gulp and kicked some confetti around mindlessly before one of the birds caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. A little brown bird hopped to the feeder, grabbed a few seeds, saw him in the window and promptly flew away. “That’s odd,” he thought to himself. These same birds had been coming for the past 90 days and he wasn’t moving, even in the slightest. This bird should be used to him standing in the window by now and not become alarmed. He glanced at the clock, 9:42, and committed that to memory. He figured the bird would be back at a similar time the next day and he wanted to see him. Francis smiled and went about his daily routine of trying to find a weakness in his prison walls.

The next morning he washed his coffee mug from the previous day, filled it, and placed himself in front of the glass door by 9:00 AM. He even wore the same clothes as the day before, he wanted everything to be the exact same to see if his little friend would still be startled. After a considerate amount of time a brown bird with the exact same markings hopped onto the feeder, grabbed a few seeds, became started and fled. It was all exactly the same as the day before. He looked at the clock. 9:41, right on schedule. It was frighteningly punctual and he sat down to puzzle over it.

The next morning he arrived at the window around 9:30 and a thought occurred. What if the bird couldn’t see him? He drew his blinds on the window adjacent to the door and gave himself just enough room to see out. Sure enough his little brown friend arrived, ate, startled, and flew off. He was relieved that it wasn’t him frightening the bird but was still confused as to what its problem was. He glanced at the clock; 9:41. The most punctual bird in the world.

The next morning Francis was grumpy. He had been up all night puzzling over the bird’s odd behavior and had grown angry with his little feathery friend before falling asleep. This morning when he saw the bird hop to the feeder he started to holler and pound on the glass. “Go away! No one likes you!” He pounded the glass until his fist hurt. The bird paid him no mind and exhibited the exact same behavior as the day before. Francis was frustrated and glared at the clock. 9:41, this was too uncanny. A sudden realization struck him as he grabbed his phone and brought up the camera app. He started to record the birds outside his window. The next morning he watched his little friend show up, do his dance, and leave. He checked the clock; 9:40. He was early today. He then held up his phone and began to play yesterday’s video as he watched the birds outside. The video and the birds outside matched up exactly. They zipped this way and that, first on the phone, then outside. Francis sank down on the couch.
“It’s a recording, it’s not real…” he said out loud, he had taken to talking to himself lately. “It’s….it’s all fake…simulated…where…?” He put down his phone and began to cry.
An Early Start
[The Bunker] [Reader View]
“Up and at ’em, Bill! Show’s about to start.” Bill groaned and rolled over. Six A.M. Why did everything have to happen so early? They were buried three miles underground in a cement lab next to a mock apartment. The sunrise and sunset were all faked and controlled outside fake windows, they could start the experiment at any time but they insisted on “realism.” “The subject wouldn’t notice the difference, this is all just a pain in our asses,” he insisted to himself as he dragged himself out of bed and tried to rub some clarity into his eyes. James had taken the night shift, he specialized in analyzing sleep patterns while Bill focused on behavioral patterns and mental health.
“Pretty normal night, nothing special. Slept pretty soundly, seemed to dream pretty heavily…wish we could have hooked him up to something but whatever, we did what we could.” He handed bill a cup of steaming coffee. “What was really fun was watching those clowns prep the apartment. I swear they moved that gun about thirty times, two inches here, two inches there, like it matters.” Bill took a sip of the coffee and chuckled.
“They call it attention to detail, plus if he doesn’t find it whose head do you think will roll? Not ours.”
“Yeah yeah, I get it, it’s just funny to watch.” James left the room, sensing that Bill needed a moment before starting work. Once he was alone, Bill stared about the room. Cement walls with no decorations, a wide window with simulated sunlight streaming through dusty blinds, a small black dresser in the corner and a twin bed fit for a prison inmate were all that they had to call home during these experiments. He listened to the silence and felt it creeping into his bones. These cement labs may have been economical but they were depressing to say the least.
He wandered into the main room, an expanse of more cement walls devoid of decoration. They had a small kitchenette in the far corner with appliances from thirty years ago. They were hardly used but that didn’t make them any newer. They also had a small two-person plastic table with two plastic chairs where they could eat together, though they hardly did. The rest of the unit was wide open. The entire southern wall was a giant window in the apartment they were viewing. They could see every room and were to keep the subject in view at all times. There was no furniture along the wall so they had nothing to trip over, just a wide open space to pace back and forth alongside their poor experiments. James was standing at the window staring into the bedroom. His final task was to observe the subject waking up, then he could finally get some rest. Bill joined him, ready to start the day shift.
“108, right?” He checked, grabbing his clipboard from the nail below the window.
Bill sighed, “107 failures, 108’s the charm, right?”
James chucked and scribbled his final notes as Subject 108 got out of bed.
“Well, I’m beat. Enjoy! I heard they left you a present in there.”
Bill ignored the comment as James headed to the bedroom to sleep. He knew Bill got bored and always hoped for some excitement, they always teased him, telling him something exciting would happen that day. Twenty years on the job and it was always the same, it was getting rude to claim that anything could be any different. The subject went about his business like they all did, experienced the same sudden panic when he was stuck inside and had the same realization when he found the gun. Everything was par for the course until the subject turned towards the window, gun in hand, and aimed straight at Bill’s head. He froze for a second, unsure of what to do. He knew he was in no danger, the bullets couldn’t breach the glass they installed there, but this was completely new behavior, not to mention potentially detrimental to the facility. Most of the subjects threw the gun away or turned it on themselves, never had they turned it on their environment before. If he fired that gun he might be able to deduce that he is not just stuck in his apartment but in a different facility altogether. The bullet may not breach the window but it may show that the window is there and 108 would become the fastest failure yet.
“Don’t do it, Frank” Bill mumbled under his breath.
Subject 108 pulled the trigger and an explosion of confetti rocketed out from the barrel covering the window with bright bits of paper. Suddenly balloons were falling from the ceiling and dancing around the floor as party blowers sounded and a rush of voices all joined together behind him. “Happy Birthday, Bill!” They broke out into song as a young intern grabbed his clipboard and took over his post to take notes on Subject 108 collapsing onto the couch in confusion and misery. James clapped him on the shoulder, laughing.
“You thought we’d forgotten? Nah, man, have a piece of cake! Your family is waiting for you upstairs when you’re done. Enjoy a day on the surface, let me know if the birds still sing, eh? The real ones, anyway.” Bill laughed, he couldn’t believe they remembered. He couldn’t believe they had gone through all the trouble, this was sure to be his most memorable birthday yet.
[The Bunker] [Reader View]
Francis awoke the next morning to the familiar chirping of birds outside his bedroom window. He shot up and looked around, confused and tired. He stared around the room for a few moments, piecing everything together. “What a dream,” he muttered to himself as he dragged himself out of bed, finally. He rubbed his neck where he had felt that prick that knocked him out and felt nothing there. It had all seemed so real and yet here he was, safe at home with no sign of injury. He stumbled to the kitchen to prepare his morning coffee. “Work is going to be strange with that weighing on my mind” he thought to himself as he waited for his coffee to finish. He decided to shower and dress for the day instead of staring at the pot as it filled and by the time he was finished his coffee was ready. Thinking a breath of fresh air would be good he filled a cup and headed for the balcony. As he reached the door he flipped the lock and tugged on the door but it wouldn’t budge. Confused, he set his coffee down on the coffee table behind him and gave the door a harder tug. When it still didn’t budge he fiddled with the lock a little and tugged on it some more, nothing would make the door open. After several minutes of puzzling over the door he reached for his coffee to take a break. Laying on the coffee table next to his mug sat James’ gun from his dream, exactly as he had imagined it. Francis stood there, frozen in horror as the blood drained from his face as a million explanations ran through his mind, but none of them made any sense. He crumpled onto the couch in awe.
“It was a dream, wasn’t it?” he wondered aloud, “It had to be.”
An hour passed of Francis sitting on the couch in a trance, sipping at his coffee and staring at the gun, thinking. When the coffee finally ran low and he stood for a refill he was struck with inspiration. He set the mug down and ran from room to room trying all of the other windows and doors. None would budge, he was completely sealed in. He returned to the living room, breathing heavily and feeling lightheaded. His mind was racing and he was starting to panic. He grabbed the gun from the table and pointed it at the window across the room, hesitating for only a second before pulling the trigger. The gun made a loud pop and a shower of brightly colored pieces of paper shot from the barrel, dancing to the floor in a colorful and showy display. Francis was stunned. He sat on the couch, jaw dropped, and let the gun hang down beside him. As he stood there the last bit of confetti ran down the barrel and onto the couch. He watched as the last of it settled on the floor and the room was quiet and still again, save for the constant repetitive chirping from outside his window.

He heard the door click shut softly but he waited a few more minutes, listening for the clicking of heels down the hall. Once he was satisfied and sure he was alone he opened his eyes slowly to look around. The floor felt cold against the side of his face and he could feel the corn syrup pooling underneath his suit. The red dye would stain but it didn’t matter, the boss would replace it. James let out a sigh and grunt as he hauled himself off the floor, shaking his right arm to try to dry it slightly. Corn syrup flung off his sleeve and left blood spatter patterns on the white walls. He glared at the deep-red door filling with rage as he thought about the turn of events from the past few minutes.
“Fool,” he muttered as a chuckle broke out behind him.
“A fool indeed,” Bill Wyatt beamed at him and slapped him on the shoulder. “Dumbass really thinks he got you, how’s the arm?”
James shrugged his shoulder and swung his arm in a windmill, checking the muscles. “Worst part was pretending it hurt and that I was stuck. Hell, I thought I was going to have to hand him the stupid gun myself.”
Bill smiled again and chuckled. “I’m just impressed that he went for it. Kid’s got balls.”
“Had balls” James corrected as they shared a laugh. “Anyway, shall we?”
Bill snapped his fingers and a man in a gray jumpsuit came out of the blood-red door across the hall carrying a mop and pail. Bill motioned for James to follow him into the next door. They entered the unit adjacent to the one that Francis had entered. Bill helped James off with his jacket and tossed it back into the hall. “Don’t touch anything.” They walked around the corner into a dim living area. “There’s a clean suit in the back room.” James headed to the back to change while Bill moved a frame on the far wall and flipped the switch under it. A larger mirror on the wall behind him lifted into the ceiling revealing a window into the room next-door where Francis was staring, perplexed, at a TV. James walked back into the room straightening his tie.
“What’s good ol’ Frank up to?”
“I think he’s drooling.” The two men laughed again and settled in to watch the show in the large comfy chairs that had been set in front of the window.
“So how long you think it’ll take him?”
“Please, you know Harvey started a pool, I’m not giving you any tips. Kicking all of your butts will buy my kids’ christmas presents this year.”
“Like you need the money.”
“It’s never been about needing it.”
“Fair enough.”
The two men quieted down as their boss entered the room silently. James pulled out a notebook and a pen while Bill grabbed his phone and activated the room’s cameras and set them to record, their work had only begun.
[The Bunker] [Reader View]
The elevator chimed as it pressed down into the earth. Floor after floor it would chime and the display above the door would update. Minus eight, minus nine…Francis looked at his feet then adjusted his tie.
“It’s too bad, really…the way this will all shake out,” the suit next to him said evenly. “I always liked you, Frank. You had a lot of potential, a lot!” Francis shuffled his feet as the elevator continued to beep. He glanced sideways at a faded picture on the wall. A sunrise over the desert with one word emblazoned in the sun. “Life.” His gaze was interrupted as the suit nervously checked his firearm inside his jacket. Francis sighed and stared back at the display over the door. Minus twenty, minus twenty-one; deeper into the Earth than he had ever planned to go before.
“You know,” the suit began but was interrupted as the elevator came to a halt at minus twenty-four and the doors opened. Before them stretched a long white hallway lined with dark-red doors with black trim. The hallway had no visible end but it couldn’t possibly go on forever, could it? The suit cleared his throat and smoothed his tie before striding forward with the faux confidence his employer required. Francis followed him closely, dazed. After some time, a half a mile perhaps, they came to a sudden stop.
“Here we are, 4815.”
Francis stared at him blankly then looked at the deep-red door to his right. There was no number on it, how did he know where he was? What does it matter, asking questions is what got him here in the first place. He nodded at the suit and waited for him to open the door. The suit nodded back and reached for the knob saying “Well Frank, it’s been a pleasure.” Francis grabbed his wrist and looked him straight in the eye.
“My name is Francis.” With one swift move he twisted the man’s arm behind him and reached around to his jacket pocket while he flailed to free himself. He lifted the gun from it’s holster carefully and clicked off the safety. Before the man even knew what was happening Francis pulled the trigger and sent a round into his chest at an angle, flinging them both backwards and onto the floor. Francis scrambled out from under the man and steadied the gun in his face as he tried to stand up as well, clutching his chest and gasping for air.
Francis fired a final round into the man’s forehead, painting the white walls and floor with blood and brain matter. He stood there watching the blood gather and pool on the floor before he stepped back a few feet and checked the clip. It was full when they arrived so he was in good shape. He turned toward the door and straightened his tie.
“4815” he muttered, clicking the safety back on and stuffing the gun into the back of his pants. Francis turned the knob and pushed the door open. The blood on the floor behind him had almost reached his shoes and he thought about looking back. He decided not to, just in case there is life after death and he didn’t want to give the man’s soul the false impression that he cared. Without further hesitation he pushed his way into the dark room and gently closed the door behind him.
Once the door was shut the room was completely dark except for a dim light playing on the wall as if someone had left a TV on in the adjacent room. He double-checked the gun in the back of his pants to make sure it was accessible and then turned the corner. The dim TV in front of him was flickering dully across a few familiar images when he entered. He scanned the room and, seeing no one around, allowed himself to relax a little. The screen suddenly brightened with an intensity that made him blind int he dark room. An audio feed started playing suddenly and seemed to match the video. His eyes couldn’t adjust to the dark around him and he was consumed by the picture in front of his face, as if he and it were the only two things that existed.
“You know when you’re driving and there’s no one behind you or in front of you going the same way, but there’s a line of cars coming at you?”
“Sometimes I like to think that they are all trying to escape some sort of apocalypse, zombies or something, and I’m heading right into it without knowing.”
Francis shrunk back against the wall behind him as a new scene began to play.
“Happy Birthday to you!”
He tensed up.
“Happy Birthday dear Francis, Happy Birthday to you!”
The screen flickered again and he was staring at the tiny meeting room from his first job.
“Truthfully, I can’t take credit. Francis ran the project himself, he’s really shown initiative on this one.”
He took a couple steps forward, jaw dropped as more memories flashed by. Promotions, breakups, parties, conversations, it was all here. The audio quieted and the lights came up in the room slowly, showing a cozy living room with a couch, a couple of chairs, some end tables, a coffee table…his coffee table. It was all his, this was his exact apartment ten years ago, before he had taken that job out of the city.
“It’s uncanny, isn’t it?” A voice said sharply from behind him. He spun to find an older gentleman in a gray suit with white hair and a graying beard. Francis opened his mouth to speak but the man continued, walking in a slight curve towards one of the armchairs. “We had to upgrade the TV, of course, but I think you’ll find everything else to be the same.” The man eased himself into the chair and motioned for Francis to do the same across from him. He obliged as the man continued. “As you see, we have been with you for some time, Francis.” The audio picked up again as a scene from his toddler years emphasized the point. “The path that led you here was no accident, you see, it was all an exercise. Sure you improvised here and there, poor James paid for that out in the hall, but in the end the result is the same. We are here and now we must complete the exercise.” The TV turned off and retracted into the ceiling leaving behind a map of the Atlantic ocean and adjacent shores. The man sighed as Francis stared at it blankly. “I really expected more from you by now, has nothing occurred to you yet?” Francis wracked his brain trying to figure out what was going on but he came up short. After a few minutes of awkward silence the man continued. “Well, we hired you as a sort of recruiter, yes? You brought us new employees and we bought you things to hide your misery.” Francis opened his mouth to object but the man silenced him with a wave. “We taught you everything about the company that someone of your pay grade could handle and you absorbed it. You became our star employee but when offered a raise and a promotion you refused it. You were happy to stay in your pathetic position even though you had been professionally groomed for higher management, why?” Francis opened his mouth to answer and was silenced again. “Because you knew something was up. So how is it that you could know something was wrong then and be so stupid when we are right here in your face?”
Two strong hands suddenly grabbed his shoulders and held him down as the man stood up. “We don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, you’ll accept this promotion and you will excel at it. I will be back to accept your formal apology and a statement of intent for your new position as soon as you figure out what we do here.” He crossed the distance between the chairs and leaned into Francis’ face, pausing inches away. “Don’t be long, I’m not a patient man.” He patted Francis on the cheek and left the room. Francis struggled to rise and go after him but the hands held him strapped to the chair. As he continued to struggle he felt a sharp prick in the back of his neck and a wave of calm washed over him. The muscular hands released him as the room faded to black.
[Resurgence] [Reader View]
The old truck bounced down the dirty road. Its passengers sat quietly and watched the lush forest speed by. Birds of every color swooped and screamed through the trees and rodents scurried away from the ruckus. Normally, the two would be embroiled in some conversation or competition to help pass the time as they sped down this same road they had traveled once every two weeks for the past fifteen years, but today they sat silently and watched it all speed by. Something was off this morning, they had been on edge since they woke up and neither could figure out why. They hadn’t felt this way since the lizards first came. Those first two years had been the most frightening thing they had every experienced. Long sleepless nights, fists clenched with fear as they jumped at every creak and groan fro the trees outside, it as so long ago but the memories still hung thick on their minds. Normally they could shut them out, they had learned to deal with this new life, but their was something somber about today
As they bounced past the old gas station they saw a jumper sprint out of the forest, leap over a rusted out station wagon, and disappear in the woods again. This, now normal, sight triggered a deep memory in both of them that finally allowed them to understand their moods. Today was the anniversary of their arrival. “The Rise of the Birds” they had called it, jokingly. It helped to laugh but they never laughed for long. They had endured far too much, it felt wrong to smile. For sixteen years to the day they had lived with this nightmare and they still had no idea why.
They were so lost in thought they almost didn’t notice the loud whirring sound that was starting to overpower their engine. From the passenger seat she reached out and grabbed his arm and he pulled over, squinting down the road, listening. There was a large open field to their right and dense woods on their left, no living creatures in sight. The whirring grew louder and louder until, with a flash, something passed over their heads. They watched, half in amazement half in horror as a giant metallic dish slowed to a stop in the air above the field, lights flashing brilliantly in blues and purples. It lowered to the ground and the whirring faded. Suddenly snapped out of his stupor, the driver turned the key but nothing happened, the truck made no attempt to start. They sat together, trembling, as part of the disk lowered to the ground making a door and a ramp, then the whirring stopped completely. For the first time in sixteen years they weren’t alone, but they so desperately wanted to be.

The weeks passed and the couple slowly resumed their usual schedule, stopped looking over their shoulders constantly, and stopped asking questions that had no answers. They had settled back into their blissful complacency they had adopted to get them through this new life so many years ago. He was strolling through the woods one day that fall, admiring the leaves and watching for any signs of a den being set up near their home. It was important to make sure no one tried to move in; the lizards had a tendency to be extremely territorial and would constantly attack them. He chuckled to himself as he realized how territorial they, themselves, had become. There are no neighbors in the apocalypse.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw some light reflect off the trunk of a tree, sending bright flashes of light through the branches. It wasn’t until he had a flashback to the sun glinting off of cars as he walked the streets of his old city before he realized how out of place that was. He startled then turned to the tree. It was a normal tree but hidden along its trunk was a slender metal pole, topped with what appeared to be a periscope. It turned silently left and right, setting its gaze on him for a few moments then quickly sucked itself downwards into the ground, turning up its eye to slide effortlessly through the leaves. He rushed forwards and brushed away the leaves around the tree to reveal a hole in the ground among the roots with a metal tube in it. The lip of the tube extended just above the surface, enough to keep dirt out but remain hidden. He stared down at his find, stunned, then took off in a sprint for home.
She came to him while he was rummaging around in their shed throwing aside hammers, pickaxes, old boxes, looking for the shovel he knew to be hidden somewhere under the mess. She watched silently for some time until he tossed an old hunting rifle to the side. It landed on the corner of a red metal toolbox and the old decrepit firearm unintentionally misfired through the shed wall and into the woods. She dove out the door then stormed back in, heart racing in a fury.
“What the hell are you doing?” she screamed at him, now huddled on the floor trying to figure out what happened. He glanced up at her and sighed.
“Sorry, I have to show you something! I need the shovel! Go get the flashlight!” he ordered excitedly. They had learned long ago that fighting was useless and she could tell that something had him very agitated, especially since the shovel was hanging on a rusty nail on the left wall just where it had been for the past decade or so. She walked to the house and grabbed the flashlight, tested the batteries and grabbed a few backups from their supply, then casually walked back to the shed. He was standing in the middle of the floor messing up his hair and staring at the mess he made. She clicked on the flashlight and pointed it straight at the shovel and said cheerfully, “ready?” He looked at the shovel, sighed, snatched it off the wall and said “follow me.” She moved aside to let him push past her and followed him into the woods. In his haste he had failed to mark the exact location in his mind and he started to wander around feverishly, checking various trees and muttering to himself. She hung back after a while and began watching him closely, becoming worried about his state of mind. Just before she was about to ask him to call off the search he straightened up from the tree he was examining with a huge smile and beckoned for her to come closer. As she approached he turned on the flashlight and shone it proudly onto the metal hole in the ground.
She squinted at it for a few seconds then shrugged, “I give up, what is it? A drain?” He beamed at her.
“When I walked by earlier there was a periscope sticking out of it, looking around! Then it saw me and disappeared down this tube!” He made a sucking noise with his mouth to animate the disappearance. She stared at him blankly, unsure of what to think. Uncaring of how she felt, he picked up the shovel from where he had dropped it and began to dig.
“What exactly do you expect to find?”
“Someone is down there!”
“What if they’re not nice?” He stopped for a second; pondering the possibility that this was a bad idea.
“If they’re not nice they already know we’re here, they’ll come for us anyway.” He said, then went back to digging, satisfied with his rationale. She sat down on a fallen tree and chewed her lip.
“There has to be a door somewhere, give me the flashlight.” He wiped his brow with the back of his hand then picked it up and tossed it to her. As he dug deeper and deeper she wandered around, poking and prodding the ground everywhere she could while staying within earshot of his shoveling. She figured a shelter underground couldn’t be that big and must have an entrance close by.
Hours later, as the sun began to set behind the hills to the west, she returned to the tree to find him standing in a six foot deep hole with the metal pipe jutting up through the middle like a flag pole.
“It just keeps going!” He was beaming, clearly excited by the find.
“Look, it’ll be dark soon, we’ll come back tomorrow.” she said sympathetically, worried he would be upset with the prospect of giving up for the night.
“Yeah, no door huh?”
“Oh, yeah I found one three hours ago but you needed the workout so I kept quiet.” He chuckled and tossed the shovel out of the pit. She reached in to help him climb out.
“Maybe we should bring some rope tomorrow,” she grunted as she pulled him up. He agreed and they gathered the shovel and flashlight then headed home, holding hands as they walked they began to hum their favorite song.
[The Tribes] [Reader View]
Word arrived by messenger pigeon that the Maine tribe was under attack by an unknown force. Apparently their raiding parties had been disappearing commonly for months. Assuming desertion, some scouts had been sent out to report on their whereabouts to ensure our existence remained a secret. They found almost every missing acolyte executed in the woods. Bound, gagged, and dragged into the bushes just off the main trail, the bodies were not hidden very well. Reynolds was sending large groups out to try to collect the body of every missing person before a ranger happened across them and started an investigation. The last line of his letter was the most alarming. “Reinforcements requested, something big is coming.” Reynolds was a hard man. He didn’t rise to the top of the most remote chapter by taking prisoners. He had raped, murdered, and pillaged his way to the top without a single report opened against the chapter. Some believed he had connections within the state, which was absolutely prohibited by the oldest statutes of the organization, but everyone who met him insisted that his reputation was just and he was a truly frightening man. For him to ask for, or need, any type of help was unheard of.

The next day a pigeon was sent but the elders would not relay their message to the lowly acolytes. So the rumors continued. Mostly centered around a war with the lost Canadian tribes that had abandoned in Northern Maine were the most prominent, but talk of law enforcement or the plague could be heard echoing off of the cave walls late at night when everyone was supposed to be sleeping. How the plague bound and executed our trained scouts was beyond me, but I tried to not become involved.

Finally, after two weeks of rumors and mild panic, the response came. Every day that went by the rumors had worsened. The reason for the delayed response had been guessed at and argued over daily and when the pigeon arrived the whole community rushed to the great cavern expecting some big news. In an effort to finally calm down his charges and regain control of his branch, elder Adams brought the pigeon to the great cavern to read the message to the people. He began by explaining the situation.

“As you have all heard,” his voice echoed off the walls, silencing the community. “Reynolds has requested reinforcements against an unknown threat. Two weeks ago we sent him a response. We asked him for proof of his plight before we parted with men that we absolutely needed. We wrote that we meant no insult to him or his clan but that his request was far too difficult for us to cooperate without solid information.” The crowd froze, realizing how dangerous an insult to Reynolds could be. The clans had been at peace for 85 years but they were still separate cells with separate leaders and ideals. “The fact that he took so long to respond has worried us just as much as it has worried all of you so I will read his response to you now to set everyone at ease so that we may deal with this issue with level heads. I have not yet read this response and will experience it at the same time as all of you.”

The cavern was absolutely quiet, everyone seemed to be holding their breath. Adams unrolled the thin slip of paper that had come strapped to the bird’s leg. He opened his mouth to read but nothing came out. The blood drained from his face as he stood in front of everyone, open-mouthed and pale as a ghost. He shoved the paper harshly into the hands of one of his advisors and roughly grabbed the two others by the shoulders, forcing them out of the cavern and apparently cursing at them as he did it. The remaining advisor read the slip then stared at the silent crowd and began to tremble.

“It…I…It…says…” he stammered, trembling harder. “It says…I’m coming.” The advisor squeaked out the message then turned and ran from the room as if he were being chased by wolves.
[The Tribes] [Reader View]
They came in the predawn glow as it illuminated the range ahead of us. We had woken up early to enjoy the sunrise and marvel at how magnificent and important we were to be some of the first in the country to see it. Atop some small mountain or another along the Appalacian trail in Maine the air was cold and crisp on this fall morning and we were at ease. As we watched the sun rise over the pines they emerged from all angles, rifles carried carelessly, huge hulking figures stomping the ground as if we had wronged them somehow. They didn’t speak, they just attacked.

They grabbed her first as a couple came at me from behind. I had snuck my firearm out of its holster just in time to get a shot off into one of their ribs, causing him to collapse and his friend to jump back in surprise. I pierced his skull with another round and ran for the two trying to carry her off. One received a new hole in his throat while the other lost feeling of his arm as his shoulder was blasted and became a useful shield against his three remaining friends. Screaming for their lives they threw down their weapons and surrendered. We tied them all together as they begged and pleaded for us to let them go, apparently they had never met resistance. While bound and gagged together like bundles of wood I executed each of them with a quick shot in the back of the head.

As the sun continued to rise it danced off of the blood in shattered beams as it rolled gently down the hillside. We packed up our camp and prepared to begin our day. Our message would be heard loud and clear. She picked up one of their rifles and tossed it from hand to hand, a sly smile creeping across her beautiful face. The war against the lost tribes had begun.
Destination Zero
I stood frozen in place in front of the massive stone gate. The intricate carvings of ritual sacrifice, a man standing over a naked woman with a scythe in his hand, were the symbols of the past five years work becoming a success. In the span of a few heartbeats, as I crested the hill, everything seemed worthwhile. The long nights studying by an oil lamp, sweating in the heat it threw off but determined to work out the issues that wracked my brain were suddenly but minor bumps in the path. I looked down at my blood stained hands that were shaking with a mix of anticipation, excitement, and hunger. The smears of blood on my shirt, satchel, and hands reminded me of all those who were lost in the efforts to deliver me to this very spot. A pang of guilt shook my soul as their faces raced through my memory and their screams echoed in my ears. I fell to my knees, tears streaming down my cheeks, mixing with the mud and blood that had caked there. It was all for this moment, what happened in the next twenty-four hours would determine whether or not their lives had been given in vain. I mustn’t falter now.

I pushed myself back to my feet and stumbled forward. The horrible hunger in my stomach that had plagued me the last couple days was slowly replaced by the hunger for knowledge that had driven me to the jungles of Peru to begin with. My parched throat seemed insignificant compared to my parched mind ready to receive the plentiful answers beyond this gate. I pushed forward. As my excitement rose my pace quickened and I soon found myself walking briskly, taking high, proud steps like a boy on his first day of school. As I passed under the massive gate and proceeded down the hill that followed I knew that everything had changed. My journey had only just begun.