The Inspiration

One hundred miles from the capital, a mercenary meets the predacious killer he inspired to slaughter a military battalion of government soldiers”

The Project Gutenberg eBook of A Practical Handbook of Drawing for Modern  Methods of Reproduction by Charles G. Harper

Every hostage he left behind in the watchtower was gone. Dead.

He should never have left them. He should have never left his crazy partner to watch them alone. It wasn’t his worst mistake, which was what made him even less confident he could recover the mission.

He peeked into the upper room from the stairs, using the stone corner for cover in case the killer was still there.

Nobody was supposed to die.

The Killer was there. He could hear the Killer wheezing in the room with the tower window.

The hostages were laying on their side and still bound and blindfolded just as he left them.

He quietly emerged from the stairs and onto the floor, gun drawn, and quietly walked along the wall, avoiding the puddles on the stone ground.

The Killer seemed unaware of his presence as they stared out into the woods.

He was staring out into the woods just hours earlier before he left for his mission. Before he encountered the Killer for the first time, in the midst of slaughtering an encampment full of soldiers. In the midst of ruining his plans.

He tiptoed towards the Killer who still hadn’t moved from the tower window.

He was ready to eliminate the threat quickly and move on with his second plan. But he witnessed first hand how strong, indestructible and adept the threat was when dealing with the country’s elite soldiers with nothing more than a knife. He didn’t know what he hoped to achieve with a pistol.

“You do not have to hide from me,” The Killer called.

He approached with caution, with pistol drawn. “Is that so?”

His partner was in the corner of the observatory room with a gash on her forehead. He couldn’t tell whether she was dead or unconscious but she was unconscious in the corner.

“I expected you here sooner,” The Killer said.

“I’m starting to expect you everywhere I go,” He answered back. “Are you following me?”

The Killer didn’t answer.

“Who are you?” He asked.

“Who I am is what I’m now figuring out,” The Killer answered. “And you are helping me do so.”

“Am I?” West circled slowly towards his partner.

“Since the first time I laid eyes on you,” The Killer added.

West paused.

Not creepy at all.

“You can put your weapon away.” the Killer said.

“Why’s that?” West asked.

“I’m not here to hurt anybody,” the Killer replied.

“But you hurt my partner,” West looked towards Keyana.

“She attacked first,” the Killer said. “I can’t help but defend myself.”

Keyana’s head injury didn’t appear life threatening, but he needed to determine that up close. He’d seen plenty of people die from minor (looking) wounds before.

“You can lower your weapon,” the Killer reiterated. “You have my word I will not attack.”

“I don’t think so,” West answered. “I think I’ll hold onto it for now.”

“As you wish,” The Killer replied.

The Killer was much smaller close up than what he remembered.

He thought of how the Killer mounted the six foot armored soldier and tore past their armor and into its neck.

“Look out,” His partner, Keyana, groaned as she shifted her position.

Relief…

She was alive.

That was one less body to feel guilt over.

“Why did you kill them?” He asked.

Unfortunately, the hostages shared a much different fate. All were dead, but some were even sitting in the same position he left them.

“Are you alone?” The Killer asked.

He glanced over his shoulder knowing Prentace must be putting himself into position to attack the Killer.

“Yeah.. I’m alone,” West answered. “Answer my question.”

“I’m always alone,” The Killer looked over their shoulder before reaching back and grabbing empty and squeezing the life out of the empty space behind him. “But you’re not.”

“Gurk!” Prentace shrieked. “Help.”

He did his best to hide his shock.

Even animals with heightened sense had trouble tracking Prentace when he as invisible. His worry was growing with the Killer. His worry grew when he was facing something he didn’t understand, nor had the time for which to prepare.

“His cloaking fools the eyes,” The Killer lifted the Invisible boy to the air. “But not the nose.”

“Put him down, please” West ordered.

“As you wish,” The Killer dropped the invisible boy.

“That hurt,” Prentace whined. “This guy’s strong like a Grizzly Deer.”

He’d met killers who took lives for no logical reason. He hoped he wasn’t dealing with one of those. Killers without cause wanted blood. That was all. There was no negotiating or threatening people like that.

“Go stand outside and keep watch,” West ordered.

“Alone?” Prentace whispered.

“Yes, go.” West demanded.

“Okay,” Prentace asnwered.

He faintly heard Prentace staggering out of the room.

“I’m sorry,” The Killer said.

“For?” West drew closer with his pistol.

“For hurting your friends,” The Killer answered.

He didn’t have friends. Only business partners.

“But you hurt other people,” West replied.

“Yes,” The Killer coldly responded. “I do.”

“Why?” West lowered his weapon. “Who sent you to hurt other people?”

“I… don’t remember,” The Killer answered. “I just felt I should.”

West examined the Killer for weapons.

Two small curved blades. No firearms.

He would think he had the weapons advantage if he hadn’t seen the Killer use his knives.

The Killer smelled like an extinguished fireplace.

“Who do you work for?” West inquired.

He thought maybe Keyana, his crazy partner, tried to set the Killer on fire….

The Killer turned to face West “I came of my own free will.”

He looked into the Killer’s eyes.

The Killer’s eyes were vacant. He couldn’t read anything. No fear. No anger. No lies. Nothing.

“So, nobody’s paying you,” West said.

“My desire isn’t money,” The Killer replied.

West felt more confused then than he did than before he saw the Killer nearly decapitate an armored Guard with ease.

“Then what is your desire,” West asked. “Revenge?”

He figured the Killer was a Rising Tide rebel. The rising tide was an umbrella term for several, maybe hundreds, of small anti-government factions all over the country. The Killer could belong to any one of them.

“I don’t know,” The Killer said.

“But you’ve been specifically following me,” West said.

“Yes,” The Killer answered.

“Killing people around me,” West asked.

“Yes,” The Killer answered.

“Why?” West asked.

“You’re the leader,” the Killer answered. “Isn’t that what you want us to do?”

“Who?” West asked

“The Rising Tide,” the Killer answered. “You are the leader, correct?”

He was the leader. It was what he was hired to do. Be the leader. Be the figurehead and symbol of the fractured Rising Tide movement.

“Your goals are my goals.” The Killer asked.

“What do you mean?” West asked.

West wasn’t the first person in his position. There were several before him. He was the latest iteration.

“I no longer have to wander alone. I know my reason for being now.” the Killer said.

“I’m happy to help, I guess.” West raised his pistol. “But I’m going to need you to stay out of my way.”

“Why?” The Killer asked. “Have I done something to upset you?”

“You’re making my job more difficult,” West said.

“Your job,” The Killer said.

“I can’t have you bringing heat on me,” West said.

“What would you have me do?” The Killer said. “Tell me… Show me the way.”

“Frankly, sir…mam, I don’t care what you do,” He said.

West reached into his pocket for his last mint tobacco straw.

He was starting to lose his cool. He was losing his grip on the mission, the least he could do was keep his cool.

“You brought me to life,” The Killer said. “I’ll do what you command.”

He bit down on the tobacco straw.

“You can do whatever you want, just not anywhere near me,” West pointed to the fallen secretary who provided him intel in the encampment.

“What do you mean?” The Killer asked. “I did what you asked.”

“I never asked for this,” West said.

“With your actions… You asked without words,” The Killer said. “We’re removing the weeds, like you said.”

He promised to keep her safe if she talked. He promised to get her home alive to her children.

“Everything I do is because of you,” The Killer said.

He had less than a week left in the island nation and he was already was behind on his obligations to his employer. The Grand Archive was still standing.

He couldn’t allow anything or anyone to derail his well-laid plans and jeopardize his money.

West turned his back to the Killer. “Once I’m gone, you can kill whoever you want.”

“You’re leaving?” The Killer cried. “Why would you leave?!”

“I suggest you find your own way,” West said.

“But the mission is far from over,” The Killer said. “We need you! I need you!”

“Lower your voice, please.” West ordered.

There was nobody else around to hear them -they were dead- but the Killer’s voice was throwing him off even further. The medicine was wearing off.

“You give me purpose, why would you leave me?!” The Killer asked.

He bit down on his tongue.

He’d already said too much.

“I said, lower your voice,” West commanded.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you!” The Killer banged their head against the wall near the window. “I can’t be lost again!”

He wondered how right the killer could have been about what he’d inspired with all his actions, sabotage, and machinations. He never considered what parading around like an immortal, resurrected terrorist and inciting a civil war war do to the island. How many lives were lost and would be lost because of him.

“I’ll follow you,” The Killer calmed themselves. “I’ll follow you wherever you go.”

He couldn’t allow that murdering psycho to ruin his well-laid plans, and ultimately his payday.

“Will you leave me alone?” West asked.

He wasn’t the one relying on that money. Someone more important than he’d ever be was relying on the money from the job.

“I will not,” The Killer said. “I will follow you everywhere you go-”

West fired a single shot into the Killer’s chest.

The Killer staggered back towards the window and collapsed beneath the window sill.

He fired, striking the Killer once in the chest and a second time in the head.

“I’m sorry,” West said. “Can’t let you get in my way.”

There was too much at stake.

His stomach turned.

He didn’t want to shoot anyone. He didn’t mean to spill any blood.

He felt nauseous.

It was all messed up.

He pulled back his shoulders and took a breath.

He wasn’t sorry. He did what was right.

“Whoa!” Prentace shrieked. “You shot him!”

He approached the body.

“You really shot him,” Prentace shrieked.

“Why do you care?” West asked.

No blood from the body.

“Because we don’t kill people!” Prentace said. “You said…”

“I know what I said,” West interrupted. “Why aren’t you outside?”

“That was our rule!” Prentace said. “No killing!”

“Shut up,” West pointed his weapon at Prentace’s voice. “Why aren’t you outside?”

They left me no choice.

“Son of a…” Keyana tried to lift herself from the wall, but fell immediately.

He would take care of her later… If her condition didn’t make her a liability.

“Somebody’s… people are coming,” Prentace answered shakily.

“People?” West moved to the window.

“Yeah, a bunch of people,” Prentace answered. “And they’ve got a big gun.”

He could faintly hear the rumbling of the army marching on their tower.

Shit.

And all he had was six bullets.

Unseen Life

His translucent hands…

He held them up to his bathroom mirror.

The disease. The curse. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair he had to live that way. It was no way for any human to live, if he could call himself that.

He opened the cabinet behind the mirror to obtain his last vial of skin-colored makeup.

Most people in the world were born visible, and remain visible by default. He considered them the lucky ones. They woke up visible and remained so without effort. Not him. He was the what the media called the Unseen.

He applied makeup to his fingers.

He wanted to be visible for his job where his co-workers appreciated how eager and amicable he was in his support role. His boss needed to see him so she could pat him on the back and tell him how much of a big help he always is around the office.

He yawned and began to apply the flesh-colored makeup to his fingers.

He wanted to be visible for his family. They needed to know what he was like when he smiled, or when he cried– like when he lost his sweet grandmother.

Much of the junk in the makeup bottle was thick and sticky. It was an old bottle.

Need to hit the store…

He wanted strangers on the street to see him. To see him see them. Sometimes he longed to be ugly, because there was nothing uglier in this world than to be an unseen.

He stared at himself, at his nothingness, in the mirror where his face used to be just days earlier.

He touched his face.

He was sick, tired, and he’d been out of work and stuck inside for days, so he couldn’t do anything for anyone. He couldn’t work so he’d lost his entire form during those vacation days.

He left the bathroom for the living room.

If he wanted to remain visible to the human eye he had to continue to do things for people. Those were the rules. He had to do things for people and satisfy them in some way, and by doing that, the universe or whoever cursed him with that disease, would grant him momentary visibility. Those were the rules.

His phone chimed.

He was a slave to his disease.

He could feel his hand and his fingers but it was still difficult to guide his hand to his phone.

It was a text from his sister.

Sometimes he forgot where his hands were located.

Stress. It was probably stress. And age. Getting older wasn’t making his Unseen status any easier.

His sister needed him to pick up their mother from the store.

He sighed.

He lived in another state and he was tired. But, picking up his mother from store would be enough to restore visibility to his hand for at least another week.

He started to apply makeup to his hand.

He chose to apply the last of his makeup to his hand. He didn’t like how his face looked with makeup on it. He didn’t like how his face looked without…

It didn’t quite match his mocha colored flesh but it was the only thing he could find in the last minute.

He exhaled.

There was no cure for his curse. He learned that the invisibility was permanent, even in death. There was no sense crying about it. It was who he was. One of the Unseen citizens who just had to keep doing things for people if he wanted people to continue seeing him. If he wanted to exist, he had to do things for people.

He lifted his hand to his face.

His hand looked like a mannequin’s.

The problem was, each time he lost visibility, it took more effort –doing things for other people– to restore it.

And the makeup was already starting to disappear.

He put on his cap.

The invisibility had gotten so bad by the time he was thirty years old it would even envelop his clothes. So, no amount of loud colors or glow in the dark paint helped. A slave to his curse.

“Tre!” He called.

His dog rumbled out of their bedroom and jumped on his chest.

“You walked already.” He petted Tre’s head.

Dogs and cats could see him. Only humans couldn’t.

“I’ll walk you when I’m back,” He said.

Tre rolled onto his stomach, allowing his tongue to droop down his snout.

“I see you, buddy.” He rubbed his belly. “Thank you for seeing me.”

He stared at his jacket on the hook before swiping it.

He liked how he looked in his jacket and hat. He just wished it remained long enough for him to appreciate how he looked in it.

His jacket vanished before he could exit the building.

He held on to how good he looked in his mind.

There was a lot of foot traffic outside. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people on one block with either somewhere or nowhere to go in a hurry.

In a city built for thousand but populated by millions, everyone recognized everyone else, even when they didn’t. And in an apartment of one, outside of his dog, there was nobody to see him. The unfortunate bastard bastard could rarely even see himself.

He frowned.

The makeup on his hand dissolved as he set off towards the metro station.

Hopefully a day in the office and of service to others would allow him to be visible again. Even for a moment…

He texted his mother.

His transparent hands danced on his invisible phone– since he’d memorized his mother’s number and the qwerty keys on his smartphone.

Using the voice option was a painful reminder that one day, no matter how hard he worked, the world would no longer see him.

He texted his mother again.

See you soon…

Though.. he knew she would not see him.

Fleeting Tales Vol. XI

I should have finished my book years ago. Instead…

I stared a hole through my monitor. The one line I typed in Word was starting to blur because I refused to blink because I was tired and I knew blinking was too close to sleep.

All the talent in the world and I was still drafting my novel.

I sighed. I took my second shot of rum.

I used to laugh and scoff at authors who spent decades writing their books.

That will never be me. I’ll be published.

Decades vanished, and I was no closer to The End than I was a decade ago because I keep starting from the beginning.

I stood and start punching the air.

I shadowboxed when I felt anxious.

Jab. Cross. Jab, cross, uppercut, roundhouse….

Sometimes I’d set my boxing app and go the whole twelve rounds trying to figure out what to write next. What to do next.

I took a seat.

When I started my novel I was forever young, single, and directionless with all the time in the world. I was also a terrible writer. But I had time, and youthful exuberance (ignorance) on my side. Now, I was just old and careful and too painfully aware of my mortality. I was confused at to whether I should care more or care less at my age.

I typed a line.

My main character was now in the middle of an existential crisis. It’s all I knew.

Write what you know, right?

I closed Microsoft Word and reopened my Youtube browser.

I chose not to care as much anymore. It was my choice. It made little sense to waste anymore time on a story I’ve failed to finish for more than a decade.

I clicked on a channel about cameras and filmmaking.

It was cool. A lot of quick cuts and After effects.

I yawned. I clicked on Microsoft Word and reopened my story.

I needed to finish my book. I couldn’t go a third decade without finishing my book. It was the first book of a series. I’d be damned if I died before I finished that story.

I wrote a paragraph.

My main character was a twelve year old was crumbling under the weight of an existential crisis. That was how I would write the chapter. A twelve year old child in a fantasy world suffering from a real adult world problem.

I smirked.

I felt hope. I would finish my book in the next ten years. I no longer cared whether it was trash or whether anybody will read it.

Hope.

F*ck yeah.

I kept writing.

Random Quest II

Remain still…

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He laid his rifle and compass on the grass before taking a seat on a rock.

His soldier, Ash, must have been halfway towards the sunrise before realizing he was no longer behind him.

He smirked.

That kid… that girl… His soldier was young and enthusiastic with good knees, and would often walk ahead of him even though he should always be in the lead because he was her superior officer and she was the soldier.

Ash returned. “The sun is setting.”

“I see that,” He replied.

“Why are we stopping?” Ash questioned. “The shadows are on our tail.”

“The shadows are always on our tail,” He said. “Always will be.”

“Which is why we continue west during the day…. Sir,” Ash drew a cone. “We’re down to our last shelter cone.”

“I’m aware.” He massaged his knees.

“And we’re low on ammunition,” Ash added.

“That we are,” He said.

Ash groaned before taking a seat on the grass beside him.

“Ever seen the sunset?” He asked.

“We walk west,” Ash answered. “The sun sets in the west.”

“But have you ever paused to watch the sun… set?” He asked. “Or even the sun rise.”

Ash turned her mouth. “No… why would I?”

The young soldier looked frustrated, but he couldn’t tell whether the frustration stemmed from his questions, or his decision to rest.

“We fight shadows and we walk west,” Ash said. “There is no purpose in standing still to look up.”

“Why do we walk west?” He asked.

“Because… its what we were created to do,” Ash said.

“You sound frustrated,” He said.

“You continuously stop and ask silly question, sir.” Ash stood. “We are wasting time?”

“And you never wonder why we walk west…” He questioned again.

“The prophets said so,” Ash replied. “Our purpose is west.”

“What’s West?” He inquired. “I’ve lapped the world and have seen nothing.”

Ash scoffed.

“Ever wonder what’s West? Why we walk, West?” He questioned.

“No.” Ash turned her back on him.

“Why not east? Or North…”

“No…”

“Or South?”

No!” Ash paused to inhale. “We will know our purpose when we find it.”

“You sound so certain,” He said.

“It is not our job to be certain, sir,” Ash answered with venom.

“Is it not…” He replied.

“Stand up, sir…” Ash commanded. The enemy is clos–“

“Remain still.” A soft whisper carried on the wind. “Still… remain stilllll…”

“Shadows…” Ash drew her rifle. “They’re here, sir.”

“Yeah, as expected.” He reached down to reclaim his rifle from the grass.

Ash’s eyes widened as she stared behind him. “The sun sets on us… We need to move west.”

The girl looked ready for a fight.

“You go…” He said.

“What?” Ash reached for his arm. “Move, sir…now!”

He was done fighting. He no longer had the energy or faith or desire to fight.

He handed his rifle to Ash. “I’ll remain to watch the sunset.”

Ash dimmed her eyes at him before removing her hold. “You’re a stupid old man.”

He smirked.

It took the girl longer than he expected to stop calling him sir. He lost a bet with himself.

“Perhaps.” He reclaimed his compass from the grass and handed it to her. “Lead whoever you come across and lead them well.”

Ash snatched the compass and shook her head at him. “Stupid…”

Ash took off towards the what was left of the sun, that time without turning back. His soldier quickly disappeared below the setting horizon and over the grassy distance.

He wished Ash well. He hoped for her to meet someone younger and that she would lead them well.

A chill on his neck.

“I knew you’d catch up eventually,” He said.

“Remain… still,” The loudening whisper commanded.

He drew his canteen and took a drink as the shadows around him grew.

The sun was all but gone. The shadows were all but on top of him.

“Alright… I’m remaining still…” He called. “Now what?”

The sun vanished, stars appeared, and scythe shaped tentacles emerged from the grass.

Fleeting Tale Vol. 10

No amount of caffeine could have woken him up that morning.

He stumbled off the elevator and shuffled his way through the dimly lit halls of his office building.

He didn’t feel like himself. He felt like someone else was in control of his body and he was just the passenger.

He swiped his badge.

Boop!

He opened the door and entered his office through the kitchenette.

The office was quiet, which was usual for a Tuesday.

He was an hour behind his usual schedule but he was certain there wouldn’t be enough people present to notice.

He entered his office, gently shut the door, hung up his bookbag and jacket before taking a seat to power his computer.

He never shuts down his computer. He simply logs out, because it takes a whole millennia for it to boot, and part of him was hoping the constant running would burn out the computer so his employer would be forced to either get him a new one or telework.

He was burning out. He only logs out and never shuts down.

He left his office for the kitchen.

His coffee was cold. He needed the microwave.

He needed to believe the caffeine would kick in eventually.

“Morning?” Someone called.

He looked over his shoulder to greet the old man. “Morning, how was your weekend?”

“It was fine, thank you,” His old coworker replied.

“Was the office busy yesterday?” He asked.

“The office was closed,” His old coworker replied.

“Oh, wow,” He itched his beard. “I teleworked yesterday.”

“The boss let us out early on Friday,” His old coworker said.

“I can imagine,” He responded. “The place must’ve been a ghost town.”

His old coworker nodded.

“The boss here?” He asked.

“Not yet,” His old coworker replied.

“Okay, let me know if you need me for anything,” He said.

“I will,” His old coworker waved before exiting the kitchen.

He popped his coffee in the microwave and set it for thirty seconds before stretching his ailing knees.

He questioned whether there was a different life for him. Whether he had reached his cosmic peak, and working hard to leave the office life was like fighting gravity and that he’d be far happier accepting his pre-destined position in life.

He pulled his coffee from the microwave with two seconds left on the timer.

The coffee was lukewarm, but he didn’t have the patience to wait another thirty seconds for his caffeine. He needed his caffeine. He could do nothing about his mental tiredness, but the physical tiredness…. caffeine will hold him over until its time to head home.

He returned to his office and immediately guzzled down half of the lukewarm coffee.

He sat in front of his computer and opened his email.

No new emails.

The coffee was failing to rejuvenate him.

He had to accept the reality that no amount of coffee or prayers or well wishes will replenish his mental and physical energy.

He sighed.

It was time to accept the reality that he will always be tired. Tired and bored was his lot in life, and ironically, the acceptance of that truth was his one chance of finding peace. If he can’t find success, then would dedicate his life to finding peace. It was all he could ever hope for.

He forced himself to smile before opening his word processor to begin his work.

Random Quest I

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Her bite wound was beginning to turn. And so was she.

Her cleric’s healing magic was ineffective against the spreading rot, inside and out.

Her flesh turned cold, numb, and she could feel the same happening to her soul ever more rapidly. The pain all but disappeared. She felt nothing- and that was a terrible thing. To feel nothing was a terrible thing because to be human was to feel something.

She shoved the healing cleric away.

The cleric’s magic did little to slow down her descent.

Kill the cleric. Kill… the… cleric.

The cleric extinguished the warm light emanating from his ankh. “I have to tend to your wound.”

She stood and retrieved her ax. “I’m beyond healing.”

It was inevitable. Her soul will be lost and she will become another legion in the army of the underworld. The least she could do, in whatever time she had before her soul ceased to exist, was to fight her way to the next level so that the next Paladin could fight their way even further towards the bottom floor. If… there was a bottom.

She moved to the chamber door.

She could hear the monsters wheezing through the cracks in the chamber door. She could feel their warm breath.

There were more than before, she could tell. She was certain there were more beyond her own understanding.

“You have to let me heal you,” The Cleric protested.

“No,” She placed her eye to the key hole. “Save your magic. You’ll need it to get back above ground.”

A bloodshot eye stared back at her.

They were patient, waiting for her to open the door and engage them again.

“I was a fool for thinking you and I could make it to the bottom.” She moved from the door and retrieved her dented helmet from the ground.

“You followed your visions,” The Cleric answered.

“You mean the fever dreams?” She answered. “They amounted to nothing but my demise.”

She should have never listened to the Council of Clerics and their visions. Now, she was going to die in a cellar, and her spirit would wander and rot in the sub-earth for eternity much like her stolen body.

“When you return to the surface…” She said.

“We both,” The Cleric interrupted.

“When you return… command the council to flood the tower with hellfire,” She commanded.

“What of the captives?” The Cleric cried. “The villagers and the hundreds of others.”

“They’re not alive,” She answered.

“I saw it in my dream,” The Cleric replied. “They’re scared.”

“It’s a trick,” She shot back. “This tower… it plays tricks. It uses our belief in dreams against us.”

She walked to the chamber door with her ax at the ready.

“We are here to rescue innocents,” The Cleric protested. “I can’t.”

She turned her ax on the cleric. “You will.”

“I can’t turn away from those in need,” The Cleric said.

“How many die if this demonic sickness reach the surface?” She asked.

“They won’t,” The Cleric answered.

“And who will stop them?” She questioned. “God?”

Behead the Cleric.

“Your God created this evil,” She said.

“This is not you talking,” The Cleric said.

“Who summoned this evil?” She cleared her throat. “That’s what I thought.”

She pulled her ax away.

“You’re asking me to sacrifice innocent people.” The Cleric looked to the ground.

“I’m asking you to open your eyes,” She said. “We will never reach the bottom before they reach the top.”

She was taught in her training that the high ground gave a warrior a great strategic advantage. She learned quickly, after watching hundreds of her fellow Paladins, wielding the most divine weapons and armor ever created, fall easily under a flood of shadow, decay and teeth, that the high ground was a disadvantage, both tactically and spiritually, in that hellish tower.

“I’m going to open this door,” She said. “I’ll get you to the elevator. Take it to the surface. Tell the council to burn this place to the ground.”

She imagined the hellfire rushing down the elevator shaft and shadowy staircases like a blue monsoon, quickly disintegrating everything it saturates in its path.

“Ready,” She said.

The Cleric nods before lighting his ankh.

She unlocks the chamber door and whispers a prayer to herself before yanking it open.

The Cleric screams an incantation and blasts the room and hallway with the light which momentarily freezes the monsters in place.

Go home. Go… Home. Go home!

Her ax burns a blinding blue as she beheads several beasts in a single swipe. “Stay close!”

The Cleric places a hand on her shoulder and envelops them both in a golden silhouette as she hacks and slashes her way through the hallway, through hundreds of beasts.

You will fail. We will reach the surface.

Her ax gets lodged in the armor of one of the cellar beasts.

An alpha. Armored and hard to kill. They’re rumored to be from one of the lower floors. She would like to believe they had made it close to the bottom. Closer to the Great Beast who sat on the throne.

She kicked the Alpha in the chest to free her ax. “I need juice!”

The Cleric shifted all of the golden silhouette to the ax.

They were naked. Unprotected.

“Go!” The Cleric commanded.

She slashed through the beast.

No resistance. Like a blade through melted butter.

The Alpha beast split in two as it hit the ground.

“Ahhh,” The Cleric screamed.

She turned her ax behind her.

A beast bit through the clerics cloak into his side.

She beheaded the beast quickly.

“The Gods…” The Cleric whimpered.

The monsters were beginning to recover from the jolt of light. They were regrouping and turning their bloodthirsty eyes on the both of them.

She grabbed the cleric and tried to usher him towards the elevator.

“I have to heal myself,” The Cleric said.

“We don’t have time!” She answered.

We have to return to the room.

“No!” She said. “It’s too late! We have to get to the surface.”

The possessed in the halls, the monsters, were breaking free of their magical stupor and were staggering towards them.

There were too many for her to face alone.

She yanked the Cleric towards the elevator but he pulled back.

“We need to regroup,” The Cleric resisted.

They were closing in. They were too many.

“I’m sorry,” She said before shoving the Cleric towards the attacking mob.

Kill the Cleric. Go home.

She rushed towards the elevator and pushed the up button.

Much of the mob was consumed with the Cleric and his tasty spiritual energy, so they were distracted.

She easily dispatched the few that came for her.

She felt jubilee as she separated their heads from their bodies.

She would allow them to reach so she can separate their limbs from their torsos.

She was amused. The carnage amused her.

The Cleric forced her hand. He should have just listened to what she commanded. He should have not resisted or dismissed her logic with his illogical faith. Destroying that place, and everything in it, including the innocents, was the only option, and the Cleric’s immovable ignorance would have doomed all on the surface.

Ping.

The elevator arrived.

She entered and shut the door.

Thump! Thump! The monsters in the hall beat on the door.

She hovered over the buttons.

She was infected. It was inevitable she would turn. The Cleric was her only hope, or so she thought.

She removed her helmet and collapsed against the wall.

She killed him. She killed the Cleric. Her soul was beyond saving. The cold had all but taken over her soul. It was only a matter of time before she became one of the legion.

She placed her helmet on her head before pressing the down button.

There was no turning back for her. She would fight the infection with sheer will alone, and she would not allow it to overtake her until she reached the bottom floor to confront the one on the throne. The one flipping the switches on the tower.

I look forward to meeting you….

Somehow I knew… They knew I was coming, and they looked forward to it.

Hungry Fists I

He itched the top of his bandaged hand.

The alley was silent. His cocky opponent’s cheerleaders fell silent, giving way to the ambulance and police sirens blocks from the dimly lit alley.

He cracked his blackened knuckles.

None of his fallen opponents shit-talking friends were stepping up.

“Whose next?” He quietly asked his remaining opponents.

He dropped their preppy pal faster than an ugly John’s paycheck on a two dollar whore.

He checked his lifeless opponent’s neck pulse with with his bare toes.

He’s breathin. Laid out on the ground like a seal out of water but breathin.

“Nobody?” I ask them.

His hands were trembling worse than before the fight.

He was grinding his teeth so hard the roof of his mouth felt tender.

He wanted to clobber each and every one of them but he needed them to engage him first. He needed to stick to his code and not start any fights.

“Cowards?” He tried egging them on. “Pussies?”

They weren’t budging. It frustrated him. Standing there frozen in fear was worse to him than running away.

He looked the biggest one among the four square in his eyes.

“You, big guy….” He pointed to the biggest one. “Make your mother proud.”

Big guy lowered his gaze to his friend and then to his feet.

“Uh huh,” He said.

Big guy nor none of these preppie college kids from the North side don’t want none of what he had brewing in my fists. All the smack talk from the bar earlier fell silent the moment they heard the crack of his fist connecting with their pal’s jaw. All the liquid courage evaporates from their pores as they watch their friend lying in a pool of his own blood and puke.

He cracked his neck.

He wasn’t the best at trash talking but he’d been practicing in the mirror. He thought if he improved his trash talk then it would increase his chances in finding a worthy scrap.

Clink.

Some guy staggered out the side door from the club and leaned against the wall and lit a cigarette.

“Fuck you looking at?” The new guy said as he lit his cigarette.

“I’m looking at you,” He replied.

“Well look elsewhere, bitch,” Cigarette guy replied.

“I’m no bitch,” He answered.

“Yet you respond to the title,” Cigarette guy blew smoke in his direction.

He recognized the cigarette sucking twerp. It’s the drunk at the bar with the guitar who was giving the waitress hell for no reason. But the guy looked familiar from elsewhere. He didn’t know that guy personally but he hated him with a passion. Something about him.

He kept his eyes on the guy hoping he would approach aggressively.

Gotta stick to the code.

“You some kind of fairy?” Cigarette guy tossed his cigarette to the side.

“Don’t you wish, punk,” He tightened fist.

The cigarette guy was talented at trash talk. He was impressed even though he wanted shove the lit cigarette up that guy’s nose and brand his tiny brain.

Cigarette guy looked down at the unconscious preppie and then the unconsciou’s preppies conscious friends and then at him and then snickers.

“Something funny?” He asked.

“The fact that you’re so sloppy,” He answers. “That’s funny.”

“Me, sloppy?” I replied.

“Yeah, big man,” Cigarette man said. “Looks like you had a little trouble putting the kid down. He get his hits off of you?”

He touched the faint strawberry mark on his cheek the preppie gave him at the beginning of their brief scrap.

It was true. His unconscious opponent managed to get a punch in. The kid had above average head movement and speed and could throw a straight punch. Without a doubt, the preppie had some pugilism training, as does most of these rich kids from the North Side do. But I easily caught on to preppie from the North Side’s movements and ended the fight quickly. He ended the fight quickly.

He didn’t like that cigarette sucking punk was making an already cheap victory feel even cheaper.

“That’s what I thought,” the cigarette sucking punk smirked at him before reentering the club– probably to harass more poor and defenseless waitresses. “Later, loser.”

I screamed. “I’m not a loser!”

How dare… I’ve only been defeated once in my entire life. He doesn’t know me. I’m a….

He punched the brick wall leaving a chip in the brick wall. He kicked the dumpster, nearly sending it rolling out of the alley like a semi with a drunk driver behind the wheel.

Call me a loser again!

He took a breath.

Dumpsters and brick walls weren’t going to hit him, though he liked the feeling of old brick against his knuckles and the feel of rusted steel against his bare toes.

“Take this weakling and leave,” He commanded the Preppies.

The preppies wasted no time grabbing their pal and fleeing the alley.

No more pounding on preppies. he had a new target.

He cracked his knuckles before re-entering the club.

It’s on sight whence he found the cigarette sucking punk. That punk’s going down the moment that punk raises his tobacco stained fists.

If cigarette sucking point didn’t want to fight, he would do whatever it took to make that that disrespectful bastard want to fight. He would never stop until he got his fight.

Read about the “cigarette sucking punk” right here.

Fleeting Tale Vol. 9

It seemed like trying only made him worse. At everything.

His joints hurt. His brain hurt. Everything hurt and every progressive thing he did on a daily basis only made him more tired.

Even taking breaks made him tired.

He finished his coffee and placed his glass on his wrinkled notebook next to his camera.

He was starting to feel envious of the old people he’d see practicing Tai Chi, sitting in their horse and balancing on one leg, in the park everyday at five in the morning. He wondered where they found the energy. Whether it was something inherent to everyone other than him. Whether he needed to return to the city to regain that enthusiasm for life and career he had as a teenager.

He stood from his chair, reached down and attempted to touch his toes.

He was a centimeter closer to his goal, and his lower back wasn’t bothering him.

Progress.

He sat back in his chair.

Ping.

There was a new email in his inbox from a coworker.

A request for a Database change.

He sighed.

He wondered if the old people in the park ever had to deal with annoying coworkers.

He replied to the message before leaning back in his chair and sighing.

He reached the conclusion he would never reach enlightenment sitting in front of a computer, answering emails. He would have to escape the 9 to 5 timeloop if he ever hoped to reach enlightenment. Enlightenment was just outside of his comfort zone.

He stood tall from his desk.

He would have to leave his comfort zone. That was the simplest, yet most frightening solution to his lack of enthusiasm for life. He would have to risk it all.

He claimed his coffee cup from his desk.

Time to make a change.

But first, coffee. He needed coffee.

Fleeting Tale Vol. 8

He was going about it the wrong way.

Who does he think he is?

Someone was challenging him by consistently and persistently invading his space. Or, at least, that was how it appeared to him.

Who do they think they are?

He reached down to his toes and took a long, deep, calming breath.

I hope they don’t think they’re going to impose themselves on what I am doing.

His peers were not his competition, nor were they his rivals. He kept trying to drill that thought into his overactive brain, but either the drill-bit wasn’t sharp enough or his mind was damn near impenetrable.

He stood tall, raised his biceps to his temples and stretched towards the dim ceiling lights.

He barely touched his coffee. It at at the corner of his desk near a mound of confidential files and it was probably getting cold.

He was too anxious for coffee at the moment. His coworker walked by, but he was indifferent about what they thought at the moment. Sort of.

Do they value me?

He took one last breath before taking a seat before his dusty keyboard.

There was nothing he hated more than a person shoe-horning themselves into his work. Especially if that person wasn’t made for that work. Didn’t live or care for that work.

I bring value, right? He kept pondering to himself.

What did he offer his workplace, his other workplace, his relationships that they could not find anywhere else.

Hard work didn’t count. Anybody could work hard. Availability or kindness didn’t count either. Those weren’t rare or invaluable skills or talents in his opinion.

He checked his phone.

There was a missed call from his mother.

He took his phone off of Do Not Disturb.

The idea he couldn’t figure out what value he brought frustrated him and made everything he knew and thought he knew feel worthless.

He pushed his rolling chair away from his computer and claimed his lukewarm coffee.

Anybody can buy a camera or pick up a pen. Anybody with money or time on their hands, but does that make them professionals.

His stomach to turn.

He felt he needed to hit his heavy bag.

But he needed to figure out what set him apart from the weekend warriors and hobbyists or big spenders who believed wielding a camera or pen made them something. More importantly, he needed to figure out what made him any different.

He stood from his desk.

He needed to find out, and fast. He wasn’t getting any younger and his insecurities, his need to always compete with his peers was becoming counterproductive and stifling his progress.

He locked his PC.

He needed to understand that any peer who put pen to paper or pointed a camera was not his competition, nor his rival, and that it was okay for them to want to do what he does. He needed to stop being so self-important. He would be looking for a professional to help him work through those dark, counterproductive dispositions and insecurities.

He left his office to warm his coffee in the microwave.

He planned to work light that day and answer very few emails.

What his peers were doing were not his concern. He needed to focus on himself, and if anything, figure out what sets himself apart– for himself, and not others and set it for one minute.

He planned to reach out to his peers to applaud them for what they were doing. They were not his competition, nor his rivals.

The World Below Damocles I

There were living people who remembered the Doomsday Clock like it was yesteryear.

He sprinted across the street and through the revolving door to his office high-rise.

The Doomsday Clock became an afterthought the day the asteroid scientists call Damocles appeared, and suspended itself in the atmosphere. That was when all the nuclear powers unplugged the Doomsday Clock and aimed their arsenals –away from each other– and towards the more powerful threat.

He checked his watch.

Ten minutes before his grace period would elapse.

Ten minutes to midnight…

Traffic was madness. Not that his supervisor cared. Late was late. The clock on his Supervisor’s desk was his own personal Doomsday Clock. There could be a great flood or an erupting volcano in the middle of the freeway and his Supervisor would still write him up for tardiness.

His grandfather would talk about a time where there was only one fiery ember in the sky during the daytime, as opposed to two. The sun would set and then there would be complete darkness. The other fireball on the horizon never set, and burned nearly 24 hours a day, leaving much of the earth with near constant daylight.

He put his cell phone and keys in his bookbag’s front pocket before walking through the full body scanner.

The security guard smirked at him as she sipped her tea.

He smirked back.

She was cute. He liked her. And he guessed she liked him. He thought of asking her out one day. He needed to think about it before he did.

He was alive too, but too young to remember the Doomsday Clock or a time where countries were at odds with each other. Too young to remember the time when the possibility of nuclear annihilation or mutually assured nuclear destruction was more a potentiality than a science fiction trope.

He picked up his bookbag from the conveyor before flashing his ID to the half-asleep security guard near the elevator.

He heard something about Damocles on the morning news but couldn’t remember what. If he had time, he planned to scroll through a few articles while he sipped his coffee. If he had time.

The cubicle farm looked busy.

He still wasn’t used to seeing so many people so early. Since his supervisor changed everyone’s hours to work at the same time– for lord knows what reason.

He powered his computer before taking a seat at his desk.

What was that thing I heard about Damocles….

He couldn’t remember that news report about Damocles for the life of him. It was probably something unimportant and irrelevant to his day no more relevant than a cloudy day or high pollen count.

Partly cloudy with a chance of rain. Also, Damocles is reported to have moved two centimeters.

Whether Damocles had moved forward or backward was irrelevant. People stopped caring. Even the government had slowed their efforts to safely destroy it or propel away from the atmosphere or even try to study it. The government had diverted their funds elsewhere– he believed into defense. Damocles was beginning to cost too many tax dollars.

The boss was cooking curry in the microwave for breakfast again. It burned his nostrils and made his eyes water.

Another reason he needed a transfer to another division. He couldn’t stand sitting so close to the microwave, and he believed his education was being wasted where they placed him.

He walked to the window to look at Damocles.

He remembered listening to a radio program the past where the hosts argued whether Damocles had grown bigger since it appeared in the sky and that bigger just meant it was growing closer. Of course, there was no way to substantiate or verify that claim. Scientists were baffled by Damocles existence or the nature of it and any time they tried to get close enough to study it their instruments would fall out of the sky or melt.

“Hey pal.” His older co-worker slapped him on the back.

He nodded. “Morning.”

“How was your weekend?” His older co-worker asked.

“Didn’t do much,” He replied. “Yours?”

“Can’t complain,” Older co-worker answered. “Went fishing.”

He tilted his head. “Didn’t you do that last weekend?”

The old co-worker looked taken aback by his question, as if he expected a more vague, less probing response. “Yeah… I guess I did.”

“Don’t you want to try something different?” He questioned. “Like… gardening. Or traveling.”

“Traveling?”

“Yeah, somewhere other than the same pond you always go to…”

His old-coworker stroked the matted white bush on his chin. “No… fishing at the pond’s fine.”

“Cool,” He said. “Catch you later.”

“Lunch?” Older-coworker asked. “I got fish.”

“Maybe tomorrow,” He said before heading back to his cubicle.

He’d had enough of his old co-worker’s fried fish to last him a lifetime. Plus, he was tired of the smell.

“Suit yourself,” Old co-worker said.

“Thanks though,” He said. “Appreciate it.”

His co-worker moved on and he returned to his desk.

He looked over to Evan, his cubicle neighbor, who was playing with his phone.

Evan would normally greet him first, since he was always in the office before him. But lately, Even always seemed distracted by things other than work. That time it was his phone.

“What?” Evan said without looking away from his game.

“The boss will be making his rounds soon,” He said.

“So,” Evan answered. “My magic meter’s about to fill. Monster’s about to get a dark matter charged foot up his ass.”

His heart skipped a beat as his supervisor turned the corner and looked in his direction.

“Hey, put that away,” He warned.

“Almost there.” Evan waved him off.

Their supervisor skipped over several rows of cubicles to head straight for theirs.

His supervisor had a serious but relaxed face and reeked of day old coffee and was sipping more coffee from a mug nearly as big as his orange face. .

“Good morning,” Supervisor said to him.

“Morning,” He greeted.

“Great job on the reports.” Supervisor was speaking to him but had his eye on Evan.

“Thanks,” He replied.

“Evan,” Supervisor called.

Evan grunted.

“Have a report for me?” Supervisor took a sip of his mug.

“Sure thing,” Evan replied.

“Well, can I have it?” Supervisor moved closer to Evan.

“Can you….” Evan put down his video game. “You nearly made me lose the battle, dude.”

Supervisor rested the mug on his desk.

He hated when Supervisor would rest the mug on his desk. He knew it was a territory, alpha male thing to show dominance over the space, which is why he hated it.

Supervisor leaned over Evan’s railing. “I think your reports are more-“

“Shh,” Evan interrupted.

Supervisor stood up as if he was literally taken aback by Evan shushing him.

“F*ck.” Evan slammed his phone on his desk. :”See what you made me do?”

“I’m going to have to write you up, pal,” Supervisor said to Evan as he retrieved his mug.

Evan looked up at Supervisor. “Do what you feel is right.”

The Supervisor took a sip and shot Evan an angry glance before stepping away.

“The f*ck Evan,” He said. “You trying to get fired?”

“I don’t think that matters,” Evan answered.

“What matters?” He asked.

“Getting fired,” Evan answered again.

“I guess you’re not worried about food and bills,” He said. “You must have a lot of money I don’t know about.”

“Is everyone insane but me?” Evan massaged his temples.

He used one of his McDonalds napkins to scrub away the sticky coffee ring left by his supervisor’s mug.

“There’s a ten mile wide fiery freaky rock suspended above our planet,” Evan said.

He balled up the tissue and tossed it in the recycling bin. “Yeah… I’m aware of that.”

“You sure?” Evan said.

“Of course,” He answered. “See it every day.”

It wasn’t like it rose or set like the sun. The fiery ball in the sky was ever-present. It was a flaming, permanent fixture, frozen in time

His old coworker rolled a cart to his desk to drop off several packages.

“Thanks,” He said to his old coworker.

“Screw this.” Stood pocketed his phone and stood from his desk.

“Where are you going?” He asked Evan.

The old coworker looked just as puzzled.

“To empty my bank account and travel,” Evan answered. “The world could end tomorrow… Hell, today.”

Evan walked over to his desk and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t get caught by Damocles doing something…. boring,” Evan said.

Evan withdrew his hand, entered the break broom and emerged with the microwave before disappearing into the elevator.

The old coworker shrugged and moved his cart to the next aisle.

He leaned back in his chair.

Leaning back in his chair allowed him a partially obstructed view –now that Evan had abandoned his cubicle– of Damocles fixed in the sky as a lone cloud passed over it.

He stood and walked to the window.

He rarely thought about what Damocles would do to the world if it suddenly propelled towards earth, or even away from earth. He rarely thought about what his life would, should, or could be like if he considered the possibility that there was a hidden countdown somewhere, and time was ticking away and would one day reach zero and all life would be wiped away within minutes.

“Hey,” His supervisor tapped him on the shoulder. “We’re all heading downstairs for coffee. You should come with.”

“Okay,” He said.

“Now that what’s his name has resigned there’s an opportunity for you,” His supervisor shielded a smirk behind his enormous coffee mug. “An opportunity of a lifetime.”

“Yeah.” He gave Damocles one last glance before facing his supervisor. “A lifetime…”

But how long was a lifetime?

The world could end at any second.