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.

Random Quest II

Remain still…

Eagle Tattoo Png Photo - Pocket Compass Tattoo Design (441x451), Png Download

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.

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.

The Docks I

He tossed his cigarette over the edge of the pier.

Smoking was his nastiest habit, but he couldn’t help himself. It’s what he’d always done after a tough job. Especially after killing someone.

The nicotine was starting to ease the jitters in his jagged, broken hands.

“You should get that checked out.” His partner approached with his rifle on the ready.

“I’ll be fine,” He answered as he looked over his shoulder to his partner.

He checked his hands. The blood had soaked through the wrapping on his hands.

“You’ll turn into one of them junkies.” His partner slung the rifle over his shoulder and drew a pistol.

“Been there, done that,” He turned from the peer and walked past his partner. “You found the brother?”

His partner shook his head. “You?”

“Nope,” He said. “I can barely tell these junkies apart.”

“Suprised you found the girl.”

“Me too.”

“Boy can’t be far behind.”

“Nope.

He had to take out a dozen of the junkies to get to the girl. For drugged up and malnourished people, junkies had ungodly strength and endurance beyond logic. His mark nearly gnawed off his hand before he was able to subdue her.

“These bastards bite hard,” His partner said.

“Yeah,” He grabbed the potato sack holding the unconscious woman and slung it over his shoulder before walking the body to his car and popping the trunk. “And they’re strong.”

“We should check another nest,” His partner suggested.

He popped the trunk and dumped the body in. “No.”

“Why not?” His partner asked. “We don’t, another suiter will.”

“Don’t care.” He slammed the trunk closed. “Bad idea.”

“I need that bonus,” His partner said. “Ain’t leaving without the brother.”

“Shit,” He muttered.

His partner would do it with or without him.

“They’re only two of us,” He said.

“Those ghosts are more interested in the next high than us,” His partner said. “Just help me look through one of their nests.”

He watched the charcoal colored smog overtaking the river.

“Just one?” He said.

“Just one,” His partner answered.

He sighed. “Just one.”

The smog reminded him of something he couldn’t quite remember, but he could feel it gnawing at his subconscious mind.

He checked his ammunition before following His partner to the hangars just beyond the docks.

All the hangars were opened and abandoned. No traces of ever being used. Except one.

“Got your bolt cutters?” His partner asked.

He drew the cutters from his belt. “Yep.”

The fog had grown thicker over the years.

It bothered him. He didn’t know why it bothered him. He couldn’t let it bother hi-

“Hey?” His partner snapped a finger in front of his face. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” He answered.

“You keep looking out there,” His partner said.

“Ever thought of just catching a boat out of here?” He asked.

“I mean, I could,” His partner replied. “But never thought about it.”

“Why not?”

“Just never did.”

“Not curious?”

“Not one bit.”

He drew his pistol.

“You’d be sailing to another shithole place,” His partner answered.

“You sure about that?” He asked.

“The whole planet is a shithole.” His partner said. “Why not remain in the shithole you’re familiar with.”

“How do you know?” He asked.

“Should probably just sail out there.” His partner said. “Since you’re so curious.”

“Perhaps I will,” He answered.

“Could use the bonus to buy a boat,” His partner said.

“And I’ll sail to the edge of the goddam world,” He said. “And you’ll ride out too.”

“Count me out,” His partner said. “I’m fine an dandy in my shithole.”

“Know anybody who’s sailed out of town?” He asked.

“What do you mean?” His partner questioned in reply.

“Have you ever seen boats sail out?” He inquired.

“All the people I know are businessmen,” His partner answered. “They’re too busy making money to go sailing.”

They walked along the docks and approached the biggest building on the pier.

“These businessmen have yachts?” He asked.

“Of course,” His partner answered. “Several.”

“Any of those yachts leave port?” He questioned.

His partner looked off to the smoggy sky. “Probably. Will have to ask next time.”

He couldn’t think of a time when he’d ever left Rose City, or whether he knew anybody who had left Rose City.

His lip quivered.

“You got a smoke,” He asked his partner.

His partner shook his head.

“Shit,” He muttered.

His overthinking would always get the best of him when he didn’t smoke. The last drag was all he had left until he got back to town.

“C’mon, let’s clear this place out,” His partner said. “The wife’s expecting me home early.”

“Alright, I’m good to go,” He clipped the chains on the door.

His partner nodded as he pulled the hammer back on his pistol.

He opened the door.

A gathering of glowing white eyes stared out to them from the darkness.

“Alright…” His partner lowered his pistol and drew a picture of their target along with a glowing white vial. “Free drugs for the first junky who leads us to this kid.”

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.

The Sleepless Sleuth

Seven days.

He propped his leg on the chipped windowsill as he emptied what was left of the pill bottle past his lips.

Clouds in the sky. Gray clouds.

Looked like rain.

He hoped it wasn’t rain. The integrity of the roof in that dilapidated building couldn’t take another washout.

Cracks in the ceiling were spreading. The leaks were decaying the walls.

Thank goodness he didn’t keep too many of his important files there.

Time for a new office.

He reached past the powder vial in his breast pocket to draw his stuffed envelope.

A faded picture fell out of his pocket and onto his lap.

He picked up the picture and stared at it a while before placing it in his pocket, closest to his heartbeat, once again.

Rest easy, Sister Nanci.

He stared at the wrinkled envelope.

It’s an envelope he’d been carrying around for weeks. An envelope some street fiend would have gutted him to get their hands on. An envelope he should have used to repair the moldy roof, or a lease on an entirely new office on the North Side of town. An envelope he thought of gifting to someone far more deserving than he was instead of pissing it away on another commercial space.

She can do so better than this dump.

He stuffed it in his pocket before washing down the pills with a mix of two day old cup of rancid coffee, melted ice with a splash of vodka.

Breakfast.

His vacation was imminent. It was seven days away and no amount of old joe, case files or expensive street pharmaceuticals were going to keep him in the city past seven days. It wasn’t his reservation to cancel. The vacation was happening whether he wanted it to or not. And, something told him that it would be a trip from which he would never return.

“Your desk is full,” My assistant said from the doorway behind a cart with a single file.

“Sorry.” He turned to face her and nearly kicked a tower of files from his desk. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Into the office?” She asked.

“Into work,” He replied.

“I’ve been here since morning, Malone.”

“That so?”

He was buried so deep in his thoughts, so focused on his works, that a marching band could have set off a fireworks display in his waiting room and he wouldn’t have noticed.

“Have something for me?” He asked.

“Work.” She handed him a file.

“I was hoping for coffee.” He stared into his empty cup.

“You’re out of coffee,” She said.

He placed the empty mug on his desk. “I figured… If you have time.”

He hadn’t left the office in a few days. Maybe weeks. He couldn’t recall the last t..ime he hit the market for food.

“I’ll buy coffee,” His assistant offered.

“That’s kind of you,” He said.

“It’s nothing,” She took his mug.

He hadn’t eaten in days. He’d been so distracted in his mad rush to solve cases before his vacation that he kept forgetting to eat.

He felt normal. He felt no pain. No weakness. His stomach was unusually silent for someone who is starving themselves to death.

“Anything else?” His assistant gestured for the empty pill bottle he was squeezing.

He was gripping the bottle so tight it had left his fingernail dents in the empty white label.

“No thanks.” He pocketed the empty bottle. “Just coffee.”

She cleared old cigarette butts from his desk and ashtray. “There’s a client.”

No time for any new cases.

“Uh huh.” He flipped through the new file. “Where?”

“The waiting room…”

“No kidding…”

“Will you meet with him?”

“When?”

“Now?”

“Unlikely.”

“Right…”

He had more important things to do than to take on a new case. Also, it wasn’t like he needed the money. He had more money than he needed to take care of himself and to pay for a new faucet for the bathroom and paint to cover up the green fuzz growing on the walls.

He felt her staring at him. “Yes?”

Her posture was like one of those billboards in Time Central. Blaring, bright and boisterously advertising her innermost thoughts. All she needed was a cigarette and an over the top pose.

“Ask me anything, alright?” He faced her.

She huffed. “Are you leaving again?”

“Yes.” He returned his attention to the file. “Soon.”

“How long this time?” She asked.

Wish I had answers for you.

“Last time it was weeks.” His assistant cleared all the solved case files from his desk. “How long this time?”

“A few days, hopefully,” He answered.

“That’s what you said last time,” She answered.

“Sorry,” He replied.

Silence.

“Need someone… to water your plants?” She asked.

He shut his file and clasped his eyes. “Yes…. Please. That would be appreciated.”

He loved his plants. His plants were colorful and too beautiful for that world. He would hate to return from his vacations to see his beloved plants dried up.

His assistant perched her lips. “Okay.”

“Slip this into a red folder.” He drew a pen and wrote a few notes in the file before placing the file on top of the pile. “File it under solved.”

“I just handed you that file,” His assistant opened the file.

“I know.” He replied. “It’s connected to the big arson case we just solved.”

He remembered the Arson case being an open and shut one. The Police Chief wanted to give him credit and the keys to the city for that one. He refused. He neither wanted nor needed anymore accolades from the city.

“I’ll have the courier collect it,” She placed the file evenly atop the tower of solved cases in her cart. “And I’ll tell the client in the waiting room you solved his case.”

“Thanks,” He said.

“How much should I charge him?”

“Nothing… Tell him it’s on the house.”

“Will do…” The little lady shuffled quietly out of his office before he could reply to her insistence on seeing the client in the waiting room.

He faced the window again but didn’t bother reclining.

He thought about his cases were getting easier to solve, and how there was no need to leave his office anymore to solve them. Much like he never needed to see a chess board for more than a second to beat the pants off of a park hustler. He learned early in his career that people in that city were walking-talking game pieces– at most, wind up toys. Everybody’s movements. Everybody just played their positions from sunrise to sundown. Wake to sleep. Birth to death. People in the city were like flesh-carved chess pieces, and Rose city was the overcrowded, noisey, polluted game board, tearing at folds in the center and barely being held together with flimsy tape; and all he needed to see was a first move. One move and then he could step away from the table, and call in checkmate from a pay phone from the South Side of town.

Sad.

He grabbed his scarf, hat and pistol.

He once considered himself lucky for his omniscience. He once considered himself God’s favorite– if a God existed. It took him six vacations to realize the truth.

He yawned.

Truth was, he was cursed. He was being force-fed things his tired mind and deteriorating body could barely handle.

He needed some air.

The one case he couldn’t solve was his own– what’s happening to him. The human brain wasn’t built for what he was being forced to carry. There was no way to stop it. His next vacation was going to kill him.

He needed a cold shower and a hot meal.

He threw on his hat, holstered his pistol in his pocket and wrapped his scarf around his neck before leaving his office.

He waved to his Assistant as he walked past her and some other guy in the waiting room. “Take the rest of the week.”

“Malone…” His assistant chased him into the hallway. “Are you leaving now?”

“Just heading out for some air,” He paused allowing her to catch up.

“And you’re coming back, right?” His assistant questioned. “For your coffee.”

He peeked back into my office and noticed a small, jittery looking man slouched over in our rickety waiting room chair.

“Maybe tomorrow,” He said.

“I won’t make it until then.” She painted a smirk across her face. “The coffee.”

“Thanks.” He pulled the fat envelope from my pocket and handed it to her. “Take the kid out for a steak.”

The contents of the envelope would allow her to buy steak dinners three times a week for the next month. Knowing her, she would use forego the luxury and spend it on something more responsible rent and groceries for the next six (months).

She took the envelope. “He doesn’t eat steak.”

“Pie then,” He said. “Get pie.”

She nodded while examining the envelope.

The envelope he handed her could be severance pay. He hadn’t decided yet. It may not be his decision after all after he goes on his forced vacation.

“Thank you,” She said.

His assistant didn’t even check the envelope. She just held it in her hand like an empty pack of cigarettes.

He called the elevator.

He didn’t deserve her. Not only was his assistant the lifeblood of their agency, she was the most honorable, warm-hearted person he’d ever meet. She was a partner, a friend; the closest thing to a wife and family he’d ever have in his waking life.

“I’ll buy fresh coffee.” She tapped him on the chest with the envelope. “And some new chairs for the waiting room.”

“That would be nice,” He replied.

Ping

The elevator arrived.

He stepped into the elevator.

She waved at him as the door closed and the elevator descended.

He stuffed his hands in his pocket instead of waving back.

He was never good at goodbyes.

The elevator rumbled down to the first floor. He saluted the door man before leaving my building for the darkness and the drizzle.

His car was parked out front.

Fuck driving.

He tightened his top button started his way up the damp street in the opposite direction from his apartment.

The Stockton’s had a monopoly on refueling stations. On all energy in the city. He’d sooner walk in the rain and catch pneumonia than to give those gluttonous bastards another cent of his cash.

“Sir,” A sheepish voice called from his flank.

If he had to guess based on his voice, his stalker was an unimposing man. The nail-biter from the waiting room must have been following him for a good mile.

“Mr. Malone, I was hoping you’d take this case,” nail biter said.

“It’s closed,” He replied. “Sorry to disappoint you.”

He wasn’t even in the mood to humor nail-biter.

“It’s not,” nail biter insisted.

Arson. A hospice ward full of coma patients incinerated by a lone wolf lunatic. It was an open and shut case. One of the easier cases to solve.

“Mr. Malone, you’re the only one who can solve this case.” The stout little guy positioned himself in front of him.

“Nothing left to solved,” He said. “The arsonist is getting the chair in a week.”

Executions were speedy in that city. Trials were quick and efficient. To save space in the overflowing jails. Soulless but practical.

“No…” Waiting room man blocked his path. “You locked up the wrong guy.”

“What’s your name?” He asked.

“Cyrus,” Waiting room man replied.

“Okay Cyrus,” He jabbed his finger into Cyrus’s chest. “I caught the right guy.”

“Not this time,” Cyrus said.

That Cyrus fellow was really trying his patience.

“Get home safely.” He stepped around Cyrus and started walking.

“You’ve got seven days right?” Cyrus said. “Your sleep cycle. Seven days until you go on your vacation.”

He paused. “What did you say?”

“I know what happens when you sleep, Mr. Malone,” He said. “Where you go….”

He drew his pistol grabbed Cyrus with his free hand and slammed the portly man against a store gate.

“I have visions too!” Cyrus pleaded as he gasped for air. “You and I are the same!”

He pressed his pistol against Cyrus’s temple. “Choose your next few words carefully.”

There was only one person in the city who about his vacations and she’d died months ago.

Rest easy, Sister Nanci.

He nearly Cyrus’s front teeth shoving his pistol in his mouth. “Say something useful.”

If the man know about his… then he’d know about how to fix it. If Cyrus didn’t know how to fix him, then he would have to immediately remove Cyrus from the equation.

“The arsons… my visions… your Insomnia…” Cyrus coughed. “Where you disappear to twice a year…Its all connected.”

He removed the pistol from Cyrus’s mouth and took a step back. “Connected how.”

Cyrus hunched over, trying to recapture his breath.

“Connected how?” He asked again. “Answer now.”

Cyrus stood tall and handed him an envelope. “You’re the only one capable enough to find out.”

He opened the envelope.

On the inside was a tape labeled Sister Nanci, and it was dated on the label as recorded seven days ago.

“First, we listen,” Cyrus said. “Then we bring her back from the dead.”

The Proud and Grateful Pan Knight (On his Tenth Birthday)

How to Draw a Wrapped Gift or Present with Ribbon and Bow - How to Draw  Step by Step Drawing Tutorials

My tenth birthday was a full sixty years before my final birthday. 

I somersaulted over the gate and landed in an ankle deep excrement pie. There was no time to clean my boots so I quickly abandoned them on the porch before sprinting into my cabin. 

“Morning mother,” I said. 

My mother nodded. 

I was up long before the sun to feed the chickens early so my mother could not scold me for not taking care of the coups and the stocks before breakfast. So I was free to sit by the big unmarked box in the living room, near the fireplace.

Mother cleaned and brewed Ginger Coffee while grandfather sucked on a pipe. 

“Can I open it now?” I asked

“Have a seat?” My mother ordered.

I nodded and took my seat quietly at the kitchen counter. 

“You need your srength,” Mother said. 

“Grandpa says understanding self is as important as building strength,” I said. 

Mother placed a steaming bowl of fish porridge before me and started wiping the counter. “Your grandfather will never be drafted.” 

“I can still scrap,” Grandfather coughed. 

Mother stared at Grandfather. “If he’s not strong enough to wield the armor…” 

“Then he’ll get lighter armor,” Grandfather answered. 

My mother slammed her rag on the counter. “And less protection.” 

“He won’t grow much bigger than he is.” 

“Yes he will, father…” 

“Let the boy discover what is best for him,” Grandpa lowered his pipe. “What’s best may not be a heavy suit of armor. ” 

“What’s best won’t matter if he’s dead, father.” 

Silence. 

“I will check on the chickens,” Mother said before leaving. 

I fed them already

“And some more tobacco, please dear,” Grandpa said. 

“You have legs,” Mother shot back. 

The poultries and meats were reserved for the Shining Knight brigade. Nothing more important than to support God’s mandate to expand the Potentate’s vast kingdom. We had mud-salmon for protein. 

Mother’s seasoning masked the bitter taste of Mud Salmon. 

I was happy to support the war effort by tolerating a few more months of mud salmon for breakfast. Anything for our divine potentate. Anything for our Glittering Knights.

“Did you thank the Gods?” Grandfather asked. 

I nodded. “And the empire.” 

“Then, open your gift,” Grandfather said. 

I looked over my shoulder. 

I was far from finished with my breakfast and I didn’t want to incur mother’s wrath. 

“I’ll deal with your mother,” I said. 

“Thank you!” I leaped off my stool. 

Grandfather grabbed my shoulder. 

“Patience,” Grandfather said. 

I slowly approached the box. 

The box seemed even bigger than when grandpa brought it into the house a week earlier. 

I took a breath. I removed the ribbon. I removed the lid. I reached in. I pulled out what looked like…

“A pan?” I said. 

I reached in again. Pan lids strung together with chains and leather. 

“Your new armor,” Grandfather said. 

I wiped away a tear. “I love it…” 

I loved it because it was mine. I didn’t care how it was made. I didn’t care how inexpensive it was. I planned to train in it to make it an extension of me. 

“Thank you, grandfather,” I said. 

Pots vs. The Glittering Knight

Pin by DracaCard on How to draw a Knight | Sketches, Drawings, Humanoid  sketch
“Reliance on my advantages was my greatest disadvantage…”

I stifle my laughter just long enough to draw my Great-sword. 

My opponent has a rice pot for a helmet and small frying pan lids for shin, and elbow guards while my armor glitters as it was forged in the sun’s corona using minerals from the far side of the moon– armor I received from my uncle at my recent birthday. My opponent looks more like the town beggar than an actual warrior. 

We were yards from the rogue village. I can see into the empty town from the empty road– our battleground. I can almost see their eyes peeking from the cracks in their window shutters. 

They will watch me break their champion. Slaughtering their village was unnecessary because defeating their champion will break their spirits. They’ll beg to be folded back into the kingdom. They’ll have the privilege to bow to us once again. 

I turn my attention back to the opponent before me. 

He was wheezing heavily. My opponent’s mouth is buried beneath his coal and ash peppered beard. He is diminutive and frail and has yet to show he can lift his spear. 

I am amused, but also disrespected by the champion the village sent forward to face me. Of all This will be easy. 

“Surrender,” I command. 

The broken old man lifts his spear. 

“Is there nobody else?!” I call towards the village. 

The old man grunts. 

I lift my sword. “Alright then.” 

His crudely made armor will shatter easily, but not on first impact. His armor was made of old pots, but they were metal nonetheless. They’ll require one or two strikes before I’m able to cleave through his bones. His neck was unprotected, so I figure two strikes and I will have his head. 

I lower my helmet and and take small steps towards my opponent.

I want to punish the feeble old man for wasting my time and tricking me into donning my new armor. 

My opponent backs way from me. 

I pause.  “You won’t outrun me.” 

My opponent raises their spear and pauses. 

I’ll easily overwhelm him. I’m stronger. Faster. Younger. 

I raise my sword. “Goodbye, sir..” 

I rush my opponent and bring my sword down on his head. 

My sword strikes dirt. 

My opponent’s spear pierces the side of the knee, beneath the hinge. He withdrew just out of my reach before I could counterstrike with a slash of my sword. 

I’m bleeding through my armor. My armor is stained in blood red and dirt brown. 

I’m furious. 

I stalk my opponent and follow him off-road and into the dirt. 

My opponent circles back towards the road but remains within striking range. His spear is raised but he’s leaving his whole right side open. 

I swing at his right side. 

He parries and throws his body into my chest, knocking me off balance. 

I slash again but fail to connect because my opponent has already retreated to outside of my range. 

Clonk!


I am blind for a moment. I’m rattled. 

Frustrated. Perplexed. 

I couldn’t see the hit coming. 

I shake it off and start applying more pressure to my opponent. 

I’m faster but none of my attacks are connecting. The harder I push the more I’m fumbling over myself. 

The old man is moving blindingly swift in his armor made of rusted pots and pans. 

I’m moving like cement in my celestial armor. 

I attack with all my might. All my speed.  

I’m hoping to tire him out but I’m taking brain rattling hits to the head and stabs to the tender spots in my armor. 

I’m striking where he’s standing and either meeting resistance or empty air. 

It’s not as if he’s moving very fast either. The old man just seems to know where to be like a magician. Like he has precognition.  

I’m crumbling. 

“Enough,” I say as I fall to my knees from exhaustion and all the blows I took to my helmet. “You win.” 

The old man staggers towards me and steps on my sword. 

My sword is too heavy to lift, especially from beneath my opponents tattered boots. 

“Nice armor.” The old man removes my helmet with the blunt end of his spear. “Is it yours.” 

I don’t answer.

“How did I beat you?:” He asked. 

“You tired me out,” I say. 


“You tired yourself out,” He replies. 

My head was pounding and I was starting to feel pain in all of my joints from stab wounds, and from small punctures and incisions from the old man’s spear. 

He takes a seat besides me and lights a pipe. 

I could smother him where he sat. My armor would be too heavy for him to push me off. I could finish this-

“Relying too much on your advantages was your greatest disadvantage,” He says.  

I release my blade. “I don’t understand.” 

“If you’re lucky, you’ll live to be a broken old man like me,” He exhaled a smoke ring. “Then what will be without your speed, strength, and youth?” 

I recognize the sweet scent of smoke. It was the sweet scent of Jane flower. It was often used by peasants as an opiate to calm the body or suppress pain. His hand trembled as he extended the pipe to me. 

I take a quick pull of the old man’s pipe.

The pain quickly disappears and all my regret and disappointment is replaced with a blissful emptiness and clarity. 

“Know your weaknesses better than anyone,” The old man stands and returns to the road. “You understand?” 

I stand and nod.  

Schwoop! Schoop!

Two arrows strike the old man in the back. 

I look over my shoulder. 

An Imperial archer aiming another arrow at the old man. 

I stagger towards the bleeding old man and turn him on his side. “I didn’t order this.” 

The old man laughs and gags on his own blood. “I guess my weakness is mercy.” 

The old man’s head rolls back and so does his eyes. 

An imperial army materializes behind the archer.