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.

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.

Fleeting Tale Vol. 7

He is clumsy. His footwork is ineffective.

He moves in and instantly eats a jab from the amateur boxer– his much taller opponent.

Five years of training for a fight and all he could accomplish was walking chin first into basic jab-cross combinations.

He can’t move without being hit.

No place to go.

Hands are getting heavy. Guard dropping and chin rising every time he presses forward to strike.

Pop!

The lanky boxer snaps his head back again.

He never sees them coming. He justs tastes and smells the rubber of tall boxer’s glove every time he moves in to throw an off-balanced punch or kick.

He’s hit with another jab.

He wants to blame the art he’s been training for the last five years, but that would be unfair to blame an art for his lack of spatial awareness, balance, fight IQ, or overall skill. None of that has anything to do with the art.

Smack! He takes another light jab to the nose.

Ding Ding.

Jab to his eye.

The bell sounded and ended his vicious pummeling, saving him from further embarrassment.

How could he blame the art. It wasn’t the arts fault he hasn’t picked up any real, effective skill in five years of training. .

As he walks to the sideline and removed his gloves and headgear, he thought about all the awesome practitioners who came before him his Sifu would brag about daily. People he will probably never reach. He thought about taking an art that would be more effective against bigger opponents specifically.

He took a seat on the ground and tool a guzzle of water from his bag.

The tall boxer was holding back the whole time. He knows tall boxer would have made quick work of him if he wen’t at even half his power.

He rotates his wrist.

He believes he jammed his wrist trying to punch through tall guy’s cross guard.

He can’t rely on speed, and what was the point of ox-like strength when he couldn’t even get close to opponents without getting clipped.

He removes his shin pads to massage his sore legs.

Tall guy checked one of his clumsy kick and he felt the impact through his pads.

He didn’t know his body. He blames the art. It wasn’t for him. It wasn’t for taller, more skilled opponents.

He watches as tall guy obliterates another one of his training brothers on the mat with the same jab-cross combinations he was hit with.

Tall guy’s combinations look so smooth and effortless. They are much slower when he watches other people on the receiving end of tall guy’s gloves, but the combinations were blinding when he was the one getting hit with them.

He put his water aside.

All of a sudden he doesn’t feel so thirsty. He doesn’t feel like he deserves water for his poor effort in sparring.

He watches at tall-guy dances around his opponent.

Tall guy moved like a tall guy. Tall guy knew his reach and he knew to stay out of range.

Why couldn’t he move his stocky body around without crossing his feet.

He removed his gloves and completely removed his shin pads.

He is done… for now. No sense in sparring, or learning anything new if he didn’t understand how to best utilize it for his body. If he didn’t know how to attack and move without getting his jaw clipped by simple jab-cross combinations from tall, long armed boxers.

He grabs his Gym-bag and bowed before leaving the Gym.

It will be the last time they see him for years. When he returns, he will be a better fighter.

Fleeting Tale Vol. 6

He finishes his room temperature coffee– store brand and brewed at home.

He longs for the days of old when a bank account was something he checked when his debit card was declined. The gruff, knotty white hairs shedding from his chin and cheeks were making him fiscally responsible. And boring. His adventurous-self retired the moment he resigned to being the (fiscally) responsible adult– spouse, co-worker, business owner, etc.

He rinses his reusable Starbucks cup before refilling it with fountain water.

He craves more coffee. There was a Starbucks on the ground floor, but was too responsible to buy coffee when he had plenty at home.

The hallway is quiet, but he isn’t alone since he has several surveillance cameras to keep him company.

He salutes the cameras.

He’s always tempted to wave at the camera, but that will just reinforce the idea that he was a strange and awkward fellow. It was true, he was the strangest, most awkward fellow in the (commercial) building, but he believes they didn’t need to know that about him.

He returns to his office and takes a quick sip of his cold, coffee-flavored tap water.

Responsible him no longer buys sugary drinks, nor does he drink them. He misses Snapple and the Arizona Half and Halfs– the one with the old golfer on the can, but his calories were now a thing to him and to his wife. She didn’t want him to get diabetes because diabetes were a thing to (fiscally) responsible adults.

He checks his phone.

55%… (Charging)… Spam likely called twice an hour earlier.

He turns off the Do Not Disturb on his phone and puts his phone on the Vibrate setting.

His phone needs to be on in case his wife calls. She wants to leave work on time so she can work from home for another five hours.

He spins his chair towards the door and reclines.

Its the week before a holiday weekend so he expected the office to be quiet.

He watches his door, waiting for Calliope, or one of her fine sisters, to twirl into his office and sprinkle magic dust on his eyes, or even his typing fingers.

It has been months since he’s written or snapped or played anything good or updated his resume or added anything to his website. He wonders whether he’s forgotten his muse in the Colorado mountains. Or whether his muse decided to remain behind, refusing to accompany or empower a person who periodically checks his bank account and refuses to buy coffee or ingest sugary drinks.

What’s happened to me?

He logs off of his computer, yanks his phone from the charger, grabs his jacket and prepares to promptly exit his office.

If his old muse won’t return, he’ll walk to the pier for his lunch hour and snap pictures of wandering pigeons and quirky restaurant signs until another muse takes notice. Or… so he hopes.

His phone rings.

Its his boss.

He removes his jacket, returns to his desk and returns his phone to the charger before answering the phone.

“Hello,” He says.

His new muse will have to wait. Or, send him an Outlook calendar request like everybody else.

Rockstar’s Rent II

Part I : https://darrionjwrites.com/2019/02/13/rockstars-rent-i/

Do you know who the fuck I am?

He side-eyed the trashy, piss-coated alley.

He thought of trying the alley again but didn’t have the energy or the patience to tussle with the diseased cats and Thick-neck bouncers who antagonized him with their lies, claiming they didn’t know who the fuck he was.

My goddamn name should be in lights. My guitar and I made this goddamn club.

He made that Goddam city. The Rose ain’t shit without him.

A black limo crossed the corner of his eye and drove past the block.

The same limo, fueled by the pain and oppression of Landlord’s tenants, which drove past three times before.

He examined the cracks in his guitar.

The neck of this guitar was one drop away from irreparable.

The fire escape did more damage to him than he first thought. He wanted justice. Payback.

He fought back tears as he dropped his guitar to his side.

A very special woman gave him that guitar. Taught him how to play.

Sister Nanci.

The guitar was one of a kind. She was one of a kind. Its why he named his guitar after her. Landlord was going to pay for the guitar with his money and with his blood.

Screw this.

He shoved his way to the front of the long line and dared everyone with his eyes to say something.

Half the spot was his. He should not have to wait on a line to place which was mostly his. The son of a bitch owner, Bird-Killer., owed him big time, and he was there to collect the debt.

“Wait,” Bouncer ordered.

“What?” He said.

Thick-neck bouncer waved in half a dozen whores in front of me.

He bit his tongue.

Allowing whores before him.

He took a deep, calming breath.

He wasn’t in the mood for static. Perhaps he’d deal with thick-neck bouncers after his sit-down with the owner. Until then, he’d exercise restraint and patience, like one of the delusional peaceniks with the drum circles he liked spitting on.

“What do you want?” Thick-neck asked.

“Entry,” He answered.

“No can do.” Thick-neck looked him up and down. “No shirt no service.”

He could kick himself for not grabbing a button-down and loafers before leaping from his from his second story window to escape If he’d have just stayed an extra minute, dug through his closet for some decent clothes and in turn allowed Landlord the proper time to cave in his skull with a shotgun cane, he’d be headless, but at least his body would be appropriately dressed to enter Bird-killer’s crappy establishment– which he partially owned.

He smirked. “Look buddy-“

“I’m not your buddy,” Thick-neck snapped.

“I’m here to see Bird-killer.” He replied through his teeth.

“And who are you?” Thick-neck said.

“He knows.” He pointed to the second floor window.

Bird-killer was watching their interaction. That creep loved to watch.

The black limo pulled up to the end of the block.

Shit.

Landlord and his limo was stalking him. Waiting for him to leave Bird-killer’s block.

“Your boss knows me,” He pleaded.

“Pretty sure he doesn’t,” Thick-neck said.

He attempted to step around Thick-neck to enter the club.

“Back of the line.” Thick-neck shoved him hard.

He tripped on the curb and lost grip of his guitar.

His night couldn’t possibly get any worse. The dark clouds were thickening.

Nanci hit the street and shattered into three parts.

No!

He fell to his knees.

He lost Sister Nanci twice. The pain felt like he did.

He stood to face Thick-neck.

Thick-neck cracked his knuckles like he was go for a scrap. “Try that again and I’ll-”

Thick-neck didn’t see him coming.

He cracked Thick-neck across his jaw with a leaping elbow. A hundred and fifty pounds of force across Thick-neck’s obese melon before chopping him across his buffalo shins.

Thick-neck staggered back and bulldozed a trio of whores who were politicking with a couple of simps at the door.

He didn’t want to kill Thick-neck, he just wanted the guy to know he meant business. Give him something to think about the next time he put hands on him.

Thick massaged his face before wiping the blood from his lips.

“You done fucked up,” Thick-neck said.

No sir, you fucked up when you finished my guitar.

I took a high-guard fighting stance.

The elbow shot should had dropped Thick-neck like a sack of oranges, but the bouncer was clearly juiced and thick like a coconut. He was prepared to chop Thick-neck down like a tree– he had nothing better to do.

Two more buffalo-built bouncers stepped outside the club.

Aw fuck.

Thick-neck and his two behemoth buddies were on top of him in a blink, beating his ribs and twisting him like a pretzel in the streets.

A whistle.

Thick-neck and his two bouncers immediately hopped off of him and returned to the door.

He spotted the silhouette of a man wearing a feathered fedora in the upstairs window.

He wiped the blood from his nose as he staggered to his feet. “You better talk to me.”

He looked down the street.

The window was cracked in the limo.

“You owe me bitch,” He screamed at Bird-killer in the window. “How quickly we forget, partner.”

Landlord was watching. Waiting. Landlord wouldn’t dare make a move on Bird-killer’s block. Honor among demons.

He turned his attention back to the window. “I built this place!”

Bird-killer stepped away from the window and closed the blinds.

Seconds later a young lady stepped outside to speak with Thick-neck.

That ungrateful…

He helped build that club. Bird-killer would be a drugged up nobody if he didn’t bring him into his circle. The fedora wearing fairy was a subpar drummer who lacked the talent to make it in that city without him, which is why he resorted to pimping and weapons-dealing.

Ungrateful bastard.

Thick-neck approached him again.

He raised one hand to a half-guard with the other holding his ribs together.

He was going to lose the fight but took satisfaction in the idea that he was about to be beaten to death and Landlord was never going to get his rent.

“Bird-killer will see you,” Thick-neck said.

He lowered his guard. “That’s what I thought.”

He snatched the pieces of his shattered guitar from the ground and followed Thick-neck into the alley to the VIP entrance at the side of the club.

The hall was dark and he could feel the rumbling of the shitty music in his bones.

Bird-killer had done renovations since he’d last been to the spot. The VIP entrance was completely separate from the club.

He followed Thick-neck through the dark hallway and up the stairs and into the office.

Bird-killer was behind his desk.

Behind him was a view of the club floor and to his side was a view of the street.

The limo was no longer there.

“Stain,” Bird-Killer pointed to a seat. “Please.”

He took a seat.

Bird-killer poured him a drink. Vintage bottle. Expensive looking.

That’s more like it.

He took the drink and downed it in a single gulp.

It was like cold medicine going down but set fire to his chest.

He wanted another.

“You here for me?” Bird-killer asked in his effeminate voice.

“I’m here to collect,” He replied.

“Oh.” Bird-killer poured and slid him another drink. “Not here to pay off your debt.”

My debt?” He gulped another drink.

“You owe me a lot of money sweetie.” Bird-killer poured and slid him another drink.

“Owe you?” He drank another. “Bullshit.”

You owe me, Bird. The world owes me.

Bird-killer took a seat, crossed his legs to the side and rested his chin on his clasped hands. “No matter….”

The room started to spin.

“I’m happy,” Bird-Killer said. “You’re here to pay either way.”

His fingers froze..

Crash!

He lost his glass and nearly melted out of his chair.

“I promise you it’ll be painless,” Bird-killer said. “I owe you that much, partner.”

Pain…less?

The drinks. Bird-killer slipped him something heavy.

“You backstabbing piece of… …” He slurred.

The room went black. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t see shit. But he could hear.

“Prep him for surgery,” Bird-Killer said.

“Yes boss,” Thick-neck replied.

Shit.