The story follows a silent martial arts master called “Girl” as she wanders through harsh environments with her best friend, a pet cricket named “Grasshopper”, and a mysterious vase. She reflects on her past training and faces off against mysterious opponents on the way to her (undetermined) destination.
The break in the clouds offered her a rare view of the sun and the moon sharing the sky.
Grasshopper emerged from her sleeve and crawled up her shoulder before resting and enjoying the rare break in the desert sand and ash.
She removed her head scarf.
Breeze. The wind brushed her bruised and cut-up face. No stinging sand, just soft breeze.
She drew her canteen and took a swig of water before offering a cap-full to Grasshopper.
How could I forget about my Cricket?
“That bug will outlive you,” A voice stated.
She ignored the voice and proceeded to stroke her cricket as it drank from the cap.
“What’s taking you?” A male voice asked. “You should’ve reached already.”
“You lost?” The male voice questioned.
She recognized the voice.
“I’m waiting on you,” The boy’s voice stated.
She felt too good to react to his presence.
“Great job on the last fight.” Pierre revealed himself as he took a seat beside her. “Great job on the last fight.”
She shot Pierre a side eye as she took another sip of water.
“Make sure you have enough water,” Pierre said. “I want you at your best.”
She packed enough food and water to last her at least another week, thanks to her last opponent.
“Not even a word for me, huh.” Pierre said. “No words for your former friend?”
She looked in his direction.
“You don’t have to keep the vow with me,” Pierre said. “I’m not really here.”
She knew Pierre was a mirage, probably caused by her hunger and lack of sleep. She didn’t care. She planned to keep her vow until she and Grasshopper arrived at her destination. A vow she promised the ancestors.
For once in my life I will keep my promise.
“Good on you, Girl,” Pierre said. “You keep your promises.”
She rotated her stiff wrist.
She felt she did more damage to herself than her last opponent. The bones in her wrist felt fragile after putting everything she had into the thunderous -desperation- overhand strike which won her the fight. She worried.
What of the next opponent?
She shuttered at the thought of striking or coverage with fractured wrist.
“I’m gone, you know,” Pierre said. “When you reach, you’ll be fighting a soulless husk.”
“Hmmm…” Pierre said. “And you know you can’t complete your journey without-”
“I would help you… But I’m but an illusion… Or, a ghost-spirit.” Pierre twiddled his fingers.
“Or, you’re right,” Pierre said. “I’m a figment of your dehydrated mind.”
She looked up.
“Time’s almost up,” Pierre stood before her.
Clouds and ashen mist thickened over the open sky. The moon, sun and stars drowned under the coal-colored blankets.
“Either way…. Don’t hold back,” Pierre’s voice faded. “Show no merc-“
He was gone.
She was alone. Pierre -his ghost or illusion- disappeared in the split second it took her to blink.
She clicked her tongue.
Grasshopper descended her arm and disappeared under her sleeve.
She returned the cap to her water bottle before returning it to her bag.
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.
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.”
“Ever wonder what’s West? Why we walk, West?” He questioned.
“No.” Ash turned her back on him.
“Why not east? Or North…”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
“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…”
Zay promised to never look back. Or down. Only up. At the perfectly capsized city in the clouds.
Clearest skies on record since the mirror world –The Upside– emerged from the smogosphere, according to Templar meteorologists. Its the divine sign he’d been praying for. Do what’s necessary. Take flight. For Shalewa.
He pumped the burners.
Balloon ascending. Turbulence. Thinning oxygen.
Flying a hastily built helium-craft composed of antiquated parts from abandoned shipyards was high-risk. Highly illegal. Suicidal. Still… far safer than returning to the Seminary.
Shalewa tiptoed to peer over the edge. “Is that heaven?”
He gently pulled Shalewa back. “Just another city.”
“Mommy and daddy there?”
Mirror versions, but their parents nonetheless.
Shalewa smiled. “Great.”
His sister was smart for her age. Much brighter than he was.
Chilly. Temperature dipping.
“Will we feel upside down?” Shalewa asked.
“It’ll feel like normal.”
Or so he’d heard from Solomonic diplomats who’ve visited the Upside.
“But then, our city will be the one upside down,” Shalewa said.
“Correct,” He replied.
Rising doubts… They’re breaking laws and risking lives to meet strangers. A selfish, dangerous plot. But… Shalewa deserves better. She needed parents, even if they’re doppelgangers of the ones they lost.
“Are versions of us there?” Shalewa asked.
“Maybe,” He answered.
Shalewa bit her fingernails. “What if they hate us?”
“But what if?”
Zay felt for the pistol with the disintegration rounds hidden in his belt.
A once a century, secret Congress of the most powerful and influential monsters of all nationalities, species, and realms. A parlay among humanity’s predators. He was tasked with surveilling the meeting by the foolish and misguided Humanic Order. He had greater plans. The Order will thank him whence the smoke clears.
Red Vampire, the host, was in his cross-hairs. Succubus brides trailing behind him, arranging and rearranging furniture. Preparing for their big feast.
Humans gathered in the city square. Visibly frightened but with an unmistakable resolve in their eyes.
They offered me no praise, nor sacrifices they’ve owed me.
“You no longer want immortality,” I concluded.
I wasn’t the creator, but I protected them as such. And unlike my mother– the creator, I was conflicted. Caught between virtuous duties as a cosmic being, and obligations I bestowed upon myself when I shielded them from extinction.
“We’re grateful,” The Governor declared. “But we can no longer offer you our children.”
I was not mother. My power required Life for life. An expensive, but unavoidable cost. Draining my own cosmic well could be catastrophic for all realities.
“You’ll be erased,” I warned.
Governor wiped tears. “We understand.”
They chose offspring over immortality. Perplexing.
“Are you certain?” I asked.
I summoned swords. “Worship me.”
“Okay…” Governor’s face ashened. “Michaela.”
‘Michaela”… the embodiment of mother’s wrath. The sword with dreams of being a shield.
My protective seal appeared above the city.
I wished to give, not take life. But they left me no choice.
I raised a sword to the exosphere. Let it simmer in the hellish heat before cleaving the seal with angry force
My seal shattered on impact. Mother can see them now. The city and everything in it, turned to dust.
Damn you, mother.
I felt rage. Sadness. Guilt.
Brother was right to rebel.
“Mother!” I slashed gashes in reality. “Show yourself!”
Ilana frantically searched for her car keys and taser. She was an hour late for her tattoo appointment with ‘Freeze’, the only tattoo artist capable of drawing Buttercup and Blossom. See, Freeze was an ill-tempered and impatient drag queen with switchblades who moonlighted as a bar-tending dominatrix at a bar frequented by homicide detectives. She understood having two jobs. Understood life as an enterprising diva. Tatts and hairdos don’t pay for themselves. She needed to get her ass in her car.
She snatched her keys and was about to leave when her phone rang.
“What?” She answered.
“June’s calling,” Camaiyah said.
“Impossible,” She replied.
“Can’t be him.”
“What do I do?”
“He can’t trace anything back to you.“ She leaned against the counter. “Even if he did manage to escape.”
“Back to us.”
“Don’t do that,” Ilana warned. “There’s no us.”
“I’m not the one who hacked him.”
“You paid me. I did a job.” Ilana used her phone to trace Camaiyah’s location. “I’m just a third-”
Her phone buzzed.
“Party…” She checked her phone. “He’s calling?”
“How did he-”
“Shut up.” Ilana interrupted as she frantically pushed ignore.
But the screen was frozen. Phone kept ringing. Text and email inboxes flooding.
Phone answered on its own. Speaker phone activated…. on its own.
“I know you’re there, Ilana,” June said.
Camaiyah was silent. Breathing hard. Swallowing spit.
“I know everything,” June said. “I just want to talk.”
‘Lies’ she thought. June wanted vengeance.
“Okay, lets talk.”