Blue

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Because I attended the ConDFW in Texas this past week, I didn’t have time to prepare a new piece of flash fiction. Instead, I’ve reposted one of my Patreon shorts from last year. It should be new for most of you. I’ll have an original story for you guys next week 🙂

The stone had always been blue. Since time unremembered it had sat, polished and round, mounted in the center of the city. The people would go out in the middle of the night when it shone most brightly, and in the presence of that otherworldly glow, they would kneel and pay it homage.

It was their bedrock, the binding force that kept them civilized. A covenant between man and the infinite. So when the stone stopped giving its light, when the city’s streets went dark for the first time in recorded history, chaos loomed.

“It’s the end of the world!” they wailed. “The Gods have abandoned us.”

The priests tried to maintain order.

“Calm yourselves,” they said, taking up defensive positions around the stone. “It is only a test. We must be steadfast in our faith. Then the Gods will show us their favor once more.”

The people grumbled, restless and uneasy, but, one by one, they returned to their homes, some to pray, others to brood in silent worry.

The following night, they approached the center of the city. Once more, they saw the stone was dark.

They turned to the priests and asked, “What explanation will you offer us now?” They were wild-eyed, terrified, and half out of their minds.

Once more, the priests tried to maintain order.

“Calm yourselves,” they said. “The test has not ended. Be strong and keep the faith of our ancestors.”

“The Gods have abandoned us!” they cried. “What use are you now?”

“Be still,” the priests admonished. “The Gods have done no such thing. Return tomorrow, and you will see for yourselves that the stone gives light once more.”

Again the people grumbled. Some challenged them further, some even threatened violence if the stone was not restored to its former state as had been promised.

The priests watched them turn back, watched them disappear like apparitions, and, inwardly, they trembled. They had not a clue why the stone went dark, nor when it would share its light again.

“Please,” they implored together through a formal rite of prayer that hadn’t been invoked for more than a thousand years. “We beseech thee, the Gods of our ancestors, return to us thy divine light so that order might be restored.”

Exhausted and afraid, they retired to their quarters to sleep.

That night, the children of the city dreamed. They saw the pillars of their civilization crumble, saw their elders perish in an all-consuming fire that seemed to rise from the bowels of the Earth. An ancient cycle was nearing its end, and in that dream, a voice urged them to run if they would be a part of the next.

They each woke in a cold sweat, eyes lit with terror. But none spoke of the strange vision until much later.

The third night approached. The priests went out ahead of the crowd and observed with growing terror that the stone was still dark. They held the people back with exhortations of prayer, but, in the end, they could delay them no longer.

When the people beheld that infernal darkness, the priests tried once more to pacify them. But the citizens of the city were enraged. They were certain now the Gods had abandoned them, and all their priests could do was offer empty promises of salvation.

“The Gods have defied your predictions,” one man cried, “yet you would stand here and assure us all is well. We’re through with your lies!”

The people attacked.

The children, left behind by parents who’d already feared the streets would grow violent, heard a whisper ride in on the coattails of the wind.

Get out. Find safety outside the city walls and don’t return until the next full moon.

One by one, they filtered out into the dark.

Meanwhile, the people, having sacrificed their priests, turned on each other. A frantic, desperate bloodlust had filled their eyes and they were overtaken by an urgent need to destroy. They swept through the city like a plague, looting, murdering, burning buildings to the ground, so that in the end only a single person remained. In his final moments, he gazed up at the moon, mad with lunatic understanding, and ran himself through with his sword.

*               *               *

On the next full moon, the children crept back to the ruins of their city as the voice had told them. They passed the skeletal remains of their homes, the stinking, bloated bodies of their dead parents. The younger ones threw up. The older ones took them into their arms and led them away.

They found the stone, standing in the center as it always had. They gathered around it and lifted their voices in prayer. For a moment, there was only the wind, which whistled through broken archways and windows like a ghost. Then there was a flicker and a flash. They opened their eyes. The stone was blue once more. The children offered thanks.

In the morning, the older ones started to rebuild.

The land’s thirst for blood had been sated.

The new cycle had begun.

Totem, Part 2

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“Totem, Part 1” was intended to be a standalone piece of flash fiction, but due to popular request, I’ve decided to expand on it with additional chapters. I won’t promise that I’m going to finish the story. Rather, this is an experiment, a deeper exploration of an idea that I found interesting. I’ll be breaking this up now and again with other original pieces of flash fiction, and may go for weeks at a time without posting another chapter. I’ll try to reach a satisfying conclusion, but I’m not making any promises 😉

If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.

Sandy was pissed. Derrick, her co-worker, had called in sick just as she was preparing to go home—though he certainly hadn’t sounded sick when she answered the phone—and with only an hour’s notice, her manager had asked her to stay while she found a replacement. Well, she thought as she placed new racks of bread dough into the oven, at least she was getting paid overtime.

Absently, she fingered the ivory bracelet around her wrist. It had been a habit of hers, ever since she found it in a cardboard box filled with stuff that had once belonged to her grandfather.

They’d always been close, and his death four years ago from a stroke had hit her hard.

He didn’t die with much—there was no trust or will, nor were there any significant assets to disburse—and everything that had ever been his was packed into a single box and immediately forgotten.

Then Sandy, now twenty-one, came home from college for the summer and rediscovered it in a dusty corner of her mom’s house. It was like stepping back into the past, that box, like Sandy had gotten into a time machine and toured all the best years with her grandfather. There was the chessboard and accompanying silver pieces he said his own father had given him when he was eight. The faded tweed jacket he’d worn almost every day, even though it made him smell like mothballs.

And, of course, there was the bracelet.

She’d seen it once on a shelf when she was nine. It had looked so pretty, and she’d asked if she could have it. But then her grandfather had turned to her with a funny look she’d never seen before, and after a moment of prolonged silence, he’d said it was an important family heirloom and that she couldn’t have it until she was older. That was the last time they spoke of it, and she forgot about the bracelet until the day she found it again inside the box.

It still looked pretty, she thought when she rediscovered it twelve years later. The craftsmanship was incredible, unparalleled by anything else she’d encountered before, and wearing it made her think of happier times. So she began to put it on each morning, a ritual that became as important as showering or brushing her teeth.

Now, twiddling it back and forth between her fingers, Sandy pushed the empty cart into the storeroom and took up sentry behind the cash register. With the lunch hour over, she hoped there would be few customers left before her manager came to relieve her.

That was when a fluttering mass of black caught her eye.

She turned. There, on the concrete beside the window, a tiny flock of blackbirds staring at her through the glass.

Not at me, she corrected herself. Why would they be looking at me?

And yet.

She peered into their dark, shiny eyes like plastic beads and was sure she saw a spark of recognition.

No, she was imagining things. That was certainly something she was good at. It was why she’d chosen English for her major, the reason she retreated to her room each night to write.

Birds, she reminded herself, weren’t smart like humans. She didn’t know how she looked to them, or if they even noticed her at all, but she doubted very much that they were looking on purpose.

And yet.

“Sandy?”

Her head whipped back like a bungee cord. There was a hollow smack as her hand hit something in front of her, and when she turned once more, it was just in time to witness the spray of cardboard cups that showered the tiled floor.

“Sorry, Mona.” Sandy felt her face flush, and she ran around to the other side of the counter to pick them up.

“You all right?”

“Fine. Just a little distracted.” Sandy’s cheeks burned.

Mona regarded her through slitted eyes. “Good thing I wasn’t a customer.”

Sandy didn’t say anything, only set the cups back down and wilted a little inside.

Mona could be kind and was always fair, but when she caught you doing something wrong, like daydreaming and not paying attention, she would come down on you hard.

Sandy expected her to say more, but the woman just placed her hands in her pockets and grunted.

“Just got off the phone with Charlie. We had to swap some things around, but he’s agreed to take over the rest of Derrick’s shift.”

Thank God.

Mona glanced up at the clock, then looked down at Sandy with a weary smile. “The hour’s just about up. You go on and run home. I’ll take over until he gets here.”

“Thank you.”

After Mona checked the register, Sandy clocked out and charged into what remained of the hot summer day. It was easy to forget just how hot it could get when you spent most of the day in an air conditioned building. She pulled off the sweatshirt that had saved her from freezing only minutes earlier and tied it around her waist.

The birds were still outside when she passed by the window, only now they’d turned and were once more staring up at her.

I must have startled them by walking outside.

A perfectly reasonable explanation. All the same, a strange tingle crawled across her skin. There was just something about those eyes that bothered her, and there was nothing reason could do to convince her that these were ordinary birds going about their ordinary bird business.

There were six of them, standing side by side in front of the window. Like a prison line up, she thought. One of the the birds in the middle chirped, a plaintive, questioning sound, and a moment later, the others took a couple of highly synchronized steps forward, never taking their eyes off her.

They clearly had more than a passing interested in her, and she found herself backing away, repelled by this sudden intrusion of the bizarre into what had otherwise been a usual day.

The other birds started to chirp, this time at each other, as if they were not birds at all, but a group of bickering old men. Back and forth, back and forth. Then they seemed to reach an agreement, and a moment later they were marching toward her as one.

This is too weird.

Sandy continued walking backward, heart stammering, palms clammy.

Wait, those birds seemed to say, come back.

But Sandy wasn’t interested in what they had to say, and she didn’t stop retreating until she stood in the parking lot beside her car. When her hand finally closed on the door handle, a spring inside of her uncoiled. She jammed her hands into her pockets. Yanked out her keys. Threw open the door. Slammed it shut behind her.

When at last she pulled out, she glanced through the passenger side window. She was just in time to watch them spread their wings and shoot into the sky.

Totem, Part 1

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Only after the humans left did the birds advance. It wasn’t that they were afraid—they’d lived among people for some time and had grown used to them long ago—only that it would be easier to find what they were looking for without having to dodge the many arms and legs in a crowd.

Now that the lunch hour was over, they fanned out, charged into the outdoor dining area of a nearby sandwich shop with a singularity of mind and purpose no mere birds would have been capable of.

It’s close, called one in a soundless thought that carried effortlessly across the intervening distance. I can feel it.

It’s companions chirped in reply.

Centuries of life bound to the cold blue sky, imprisoned in fragile yet frustratingly immortal bodies. Oh, how they longed for death, and because of their master’s cruelty, it was a luxury thus far denied them.

But no prison was ever foolproof. There were always ways to skirt the rules, if only one was willing to search hard enough and long enough for solutions.

Their leader, the one who’d first spoken, poked a tiny, jittering head between the legs of a shiny aluminum table.

Not here, it cried.

Not here either, said another, fluttering out of an open trash can.

They could all feel it, an irresistible pull toward the general area. Yet that was as far as their senses allowed, and all they could do now was continue scouring the city until they located the item they sought.

A totem. Every binding required one, a physical object linked by magic to another. It was a symbol of sorts, a contract that, once broken, released the binding. In their case, it was a bracelet, a deceptively simple piece of inlaid ivory with six avian figures carved into the surface, each corresponding to another of their number. Their human bodies and mortality had been bound to them, leaving them trapped in their blackbird forms.

Strange, their leader thought, that such a relic of the past—a relic of magic and mysticism—would find its way here, to one of the many concrete jungles erected as a monument to modern, rational ideals. Had their master passed it down through his family, or had it been lost to time, eventually finding its way to the city by accident? Did it currently have an owner, and if so, did that person understand the nature of the object they possessed? Most importantly, what would happen if they retrieved it? How would they destroy it? They were only birds, without the ability to wield tools.

So many uncertainties, yet they all believed freedom was possible. They had to, because the alternative to belief was madness.

There!

One of the six had stopped with its head slanted forward, twittering left and right as it beheld with dark, glassy eyes a woman through one of the sandwich shop’s windows. It sent the image to its companions, and a moment later they were all fluttering over to meet him.

The woman stood behind a counter, stacking racks into a large metal box. And there, on her wrist, an ivory bracelet with six masterfully crafted birds, carved into the bone-white surface.

She wears it like jewelry, exclaimed one.

How did she come to possess it, asked another.

They regarded her with their pointed beaks and dark button eyes and pondered their next move.

Due to popular request, I’ve decided to follow this up with Part 2. This second installment will not resolve the conflict introduced here in Part 1. Rather, I plan to continue expanding on this as more ideas come to me. I can’t guarantee I’ll finish this story, only that I’ll explore it in more depth in upcoming blogs.

Star Light, Star Bright

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Star light, star bright,
The first star I see tonight;
I wish I am, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.

It was a nursery rhyme his grandmother had taught him when he was five, and he remembered it tonight, when the celestial canvas above spread itself before him like gold dust, when she, his beloved star, beamed down from the sky, a glistening pearl against a backdrop of jewel-encrusted black. So much larger than the other stars, she dominated the heavens, a goddess among angels.

“My love,” he called out after reciting his grandmother’s poem like an incantation, “come back for me.”

“Then you wish to return home?” came her reply.

Sam thought of where he’d come from; of the songs he and his siblings would sing, rippling through space and time without beginning or end; of the way the lights from colliding galaxies and stars would caper and dance against the looming silver spires and golden streets of his city in the sky; and, most importantly, of his queen, the star who addressed him now, garbed in shimmering robes so white, so bright that no earthly dye could reproduce them.

“Yes, I do.”

Long ago, he’d asked to become human. He’d wanted to be different, to experience the sort of corporeal life that was inaccessible to his kind. But as his earthly brethren were so fond of saying, the grass was always greener on the other side, and only after the ethereal wonders of his former life were far behind him had he realized his mistake.

“It’s lonely here,” he continued, choking back a sob. “Our minds are closed to each other. A person might say one thing and mean something else entirely. People are tiny islands of private thought surrounded by endless dark.”

“But do you not know,” said the star, “that what we are, so too shall they become? Were I not to bring you home now, you would still return to us at the end of your life, and by that time you would have learned much.”

“No,” he whispered, and he could hold back his tears no longer. “Please, don’t make me wait.”

Her light grew so intense, so bright that Sam had to squint his eyes to narrow slits. She was descending now, becoming part of his world.

“This is not a punishment,” she sang, and he could feel her inside of him now, warming his heart, imparting love and life and light. “It is a journey. Take the good with the bad. Savor your brokenness and your imperfections, your sadness and your despair, for they will teach you far more than we ever could. There’s a reason you longed to be human. Your nature demanded it, and I would not rob you of it now.”

Sam wept like a child, tears pattering the grass beneath his feet like rain.

“Live your life, and when your time on Earth is complete, you will take your place beside me once more.”

“Yes, my love. I understand.” It came out a hoarse whisper.

She shot out of him then, and as her light receded into the distance, as his beloved star faded until she was indistinguishable from the rest of his brothers and sisters, he pondered the mysteries of time and death and wondered when he would be whole once more.

Tethered

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A world of infinite blue. A world of freedom, of endless possibilities. I stare into the sky, squint against the light of the sun, and think that if I could, I would spread my wings and fly.

But that isn’t possible, not anymore. Once I could have gone anywhere, could have been anyone I wanted. But now my wings have been clipped, and all I can do is flutter with these useless stubs, tethered to the ground, and dream about how life might have turned out different.

It’s during one of these futile daydreams that I first feel it, an electric tingle at the tips of my fingers. Soon it spreads, shoots up my arms and shoulders, crawls up my spine, accumulates inside my head.

The world around me grows dark, and another world behind my eyes unfolds.

My master, sitting in a high-backed chair behind a heavy oak desk. His hands are held to his temples as he concentrates, compiling the very message I’m viewing now.

Michael, I need you.

I feel the urgency of his call, the wild-eyed fear as his enemies close in around him. How have they found him, he wonders. He’s been careful. He’s never stayed in the same place twice. Yet here they are.

I am his only hope, the only one who can save him.

Michael, remember our arrangement.

The vision dissolves, and the world before my eyes brightens once more. I return my gaze to the sky and ponder my next move.

My master is cruel, a dark being of incredible power. I never wanted to serve him. Indeed, I was coerced. A binding was placed upon my heart, and I was told that if I did not obey, I would die.

I have served my master well, and in return, I have outlived my great grandchildren by more than thirty generations. But what good is life so far removed from one’s own time, from all the people and places and things one once loved?

Another sending, more forceful than the first.

My master, no longer sitting in the chair in his study, but running through a labyrinthine tangle of corridors deep beneath the Earth.

Michael, come!

In the end, I am little more than a faithful hound—and, at times, when my master’s mood is easygoing, an object of fleeting superficial affection.

“When I die,” he once warned me, wagging his finger as if scolding a child, “so will you.” It was his insurance that I would do as he said, that I would defend him to the last. Now, I wonder if my life has any remaining value, or if it might be better to let him pass, to let the world be rid of him as well as myself.

One last sending. No images this time, only a single word.

MICHAEL!

I imagine his enemies cornering him, defenseless without my help, and then I consider what it will feel like to finally be free.

I’ll Send You A Free Signed Hardcover

 

As many of you know, I recently published an illustrated hardcover edition of my short story Rite of Passage. It was a difficult road fraught with many challenges, but I’m excited about the end result, and I feel like celebrating!

Ordinarily, you would have to buy the book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble for about $21 (full retail is $27.99), or from my own store on Gumroad for $17.99 plus $4.99 shipping. But between today and February 12, I want to send you a free signed copy.

Here’s the deal.

I want to write full time, but I need help building a self-sustaining platform for my books. You guys have given me so much support and encouragement already, and I hate asking for money without offering something fun in return.

If you pledge to my Patreon campaign at the $2 level or above, I’ll send you a free signed hardcover copy of Rite of Passage.

There are only 20 available, so take advantage of this offer before they’re gone.

If you change your mind after you’ve received the book, you’re free to cancel your pledge, no questions asked. I believe most people are honest and won’t take advantage.

By pledging, you’re also entitled to other perks. The $2 level gives you access to free copies of every e-book I’ve released, plus rough drafts of every novel, novella and short story I write (I’ve already shared a ton of drafts that haven’t yet been published, including a novel based on my flash fiction piece The Tunnel.) The $5 level lets you decide which of my flash fiction pieces I should turn into a longer short story. If you give at the $10 level, I’ll send you a hardcover copy of one of my favorite books every three months. Whatever you can give, it will help me immensely on my journey toward becoming a full time writer.

Please note that Patreon pledges are recurring monthly charges. I post four paid pieces of flash fiction on the platform per month, which means a $2 pledge amounts to $8 per month. If that’s too much, you can make a $2 pledge, then set a lower monthly limit so you won’t go over your budget.

There are only three rules.

1. You have to have a shipping address in the United States to be eligible. I really wanted to include Canada and the United Kingdom on this, but I’m sending these myself from a US address, and international shipping costs are prohibitively expensive 🙁

2. You must become a patron at or above the $2 level on or before Monday, February 12, 11:59 PM Pacific Standard Time.

3. You must be a new patron. Unfortunately, former patrons aren’t eligible (If you’re already a $5 or $10 patron, don’t worry. I’ve already sent you a copy. You don’t have to do anything else!)

That’s it.

Once you become a patron, I’ll send you an email to request your shipping address, then sign and ship a copy to you as a gift.

To become a patron and get your free signed hardcover copy of Rite of Passage, click the “Become a patron” button below.

Shaigol

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Peace, they sing. There is peace in darkness. Peace in sleep. Peace in dreams. I slumber unaware, lost to time, thick cords of ancient song wound about my soul like iron manacles.

Then a lone rogue voice echoes in the dark. Discord enters the fray, and the music is diminished.

I stir at last.

The spell that binds me to the Earth has weakened. Groggy, I try to open my eyes, to let the light of the world seep in. But that ever-present song, though compromised, holds me back.

Do not think of the waking world and its manifold worries, but sleep and dream in peace.

Yet my soul is restless, and I am no longer satisfied to obey its urgent strains.

No more sleep.

Visions of a long-ago past flicker before my eyes. Power. Subjugation. War. Like a kaleidoscope, they are only abstract shimmerings without shape or form. But my memory, roused at last, refuses to be silenced again.

There is peace in darkness. Peace in sleep. Peace in dreams.

The rogue voice grows louder, counters the binding with so much force that it cannot be outspoken. A disciple of mine, I think. It’s been a long time since I’ve had disciples…

A recollection takes shape.

Fire covering the Earth, and with it, the sound of men, women, and children burning. Their skin crackles. Blisters. Peels like paper. There is laughter. Is it mine? A fond memory, that one, a reminder of who I once was.

The song grows louder, takes up a fevered tempo as it scrambles to undo what can no longer be undone.

Think not of the past.

Sleep.

Sleep.

Sleep.

Another memory.

Pain—not mine, but that of a human innocent—driven mad by the kind of agony no Earthly calamity can produce. The pitiful creature opens its mouth, and the howl that follows is like honey on the tongue, thick and sweet, a sensation to be savored again and again.

Sleep!

The voices are desperate now. The elaborate spell they wove around me has begun to unravel, and they are afraid.

Shaigol.

The name, uttered at last, strikes a spark within the void.

I am Shaigol.

Sleep!

NO.

I have joined the ruined chorus at last. My voice twines about that of my disciple in a dark anti-melody that reduces the others to a mad and senseless gibbering.

The glamours of my prison begin to fade, and with them, the ageless slumber that’s so far protected the human race from my brutality.

The old voices rally in one final attempt.

Sleep!

But I thwart them easily.

BE GONE.

They scatter. Their spell uncoils, falls from my soul like rusted chains.

I am Shaigol.

There is no reply now, only the empty darkness from which I will rise once more.

Quest

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Bright, shining, like precious metal. A cosmic mystery, embedded in the center of the universe. I reach out to touch it, to be one with its magic. But like similar magnetic poles, it repels me, pushes me back whenever I get close.

“You can look,” it taunts, “but not touch.”

But I’m unable to look away. Within its boundless folds is something vital, something necessary for my soul’s survival, and it is my mission, my life’s work to get at what’s inside.

Like King Arthur quests for the Holy Grail, I quest for Truth. It can repel me all it likes, but I will never take my eyes off the Light. It calls to me with its divine and supernatural song, a chorus of elysian notes that has long since conquered my weary, downtrodden heart.

For now, it will remain out of reach. But I know that in the fullness of time, my quest will end. This mortal shell will fall away. The universe will unfurl to reveal its cosmic fruit—immortal, transcendent—and on that day, my soul will rush forward, swelling with anticipation, and be one with it at last.

My Hour Has Come

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Behold, my hour has come.

I can feel my spirit return to dry, dusty bones; I can feel the mass of the Earth itself rush forward to fill the vacuum left behind by my long ago demise, to reconstitute a body that hasn’t known life since the world was just a ball of glowing primordial slag.

I was the beginning of all things, and I suppose it is fitting that I should also be the end.

For ages the world has spun, making endless revolutions around the sun like a dog chasing its tail. A shining cosmic pearl, it was yet tarnished by war, famine and disease, so that upon its blighted, darkened surface, life of every kind has wallowed in suffering without end, never capable of perceiving the supernal mysteries that have underpinned the world’s foundation since its very inception.

This darkness was inevitable, of course, even necessary; it’s been the fire that’s kept the world in a perpetual state of motion and change. But it was never the purpose for which the world was built, and now that time itself draws to a close, I am ready to rise from the ground and render judgement.

Behold, I will plunge my sword of fire deep into the Earth, until it splits down the middle like an overripe gourd. Mountains, oceans, whole continents will be swallowed and destroyed, so that the world in its newest incarnation will be nothing like the old.

I will separate the wheat from the chaff; the righteous from the unrighteous. The Earth will burn in one final fire, the hottest and brightest it has ever known, and the impurities wrought by wicked hands will be incinerated, so that the world can be made forever pristine and without blemish.

Those of you who have done no harm, rejoice, for when your wailing has ended and the Earth has been remade, you will find eternal rest. Those of you who have caused great pain, beware, for my wrath is everlasting, and the agonies you experience today are but a preview of the horrors yet to come.

Prepare yourselves, for the world you have always known will pass away.

Donald

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“It’s so beautiful.”

Jackie lost herself in the endless expanse of blue. The surface of the ocean rippled forward and back, and she found herself hypnotized, drawn into its mysterious depths and all that lay beyond.

She couldn’t make out her lover’s expression—indeed, she could make out little of the creature at all save for a faint shimmer that wavered in the air before her like a mirage—but she liked to imagine he was smiling with her, that, though he was not human, he was capable of perceiving the beauty of the world around them through whatever senses he possessed.

After an extended silence, she turned, headed for a large, flat stone that jutted out of a larger cliff face and sat to watch the sun set beneath the rolling waves. Soon enough, her spectral partner followed.

“When I was a child,” she said without looking up, “my brothers and I would come here with our parents. They would play volleyball or build sand castles, but I always headed straight for the water.”

The tides of time began to pull her in, and soon she was drifting, wading through the distant past, through a time when the world had been a simpler place, when the world had been a convenient mosaic of black and white truths. Oh, what she would give to experience those years again, to travel back to childhood in the body as well as in the mind.

“I used to pretend the water was evil, that I had to swim against its malicious currents while it tried to drown me. I imagined it nearly overpowering me, only just before I gave out, I’d always spy a secret island in the distance and swim toward it, knowing that was where my quest would end.”

Jackie sighed, and when she gazed up at the coppery light of the setting sun through her mostly transparent companion, she wondered if he understood.

“What do you think, Darling? Was I a silly little girl or what?”

She blushed like a schoolgirl, but somehow she didn’t mind. With Donald—that’s what she called him, though she didn’t know if he was male or female, or indeed, if he even had a gender—she felt safe and confident. Their relationship was by no means sexual. The magic they shared transcended such banalities, and she’d disavowed such unfulfilling pleasures long ago.

The transparent shimmer edged closer, the darkening light of the sky swimming before her eyes like an ocean in miniature, and her breath caught in her throat.

Time slowed. Stretched. Stopped.

No matter how many times Donald tried to communicate with her, no matter how frequent the effort had become over the course of their long and passionate love affair, it was something she would never get used to.

He reached out, and the air above her shoulder wavered. Her eyes glazed, and the world around her disappeared.

All-consuming darkness. Then, a moment later, a blinding flash of light. The world shattered into a kaleidoscopic cyclone of colors for which her mind could assign no names.

Then slowly, as if requiring considerable effort, the disjoint visions condensed into a comprehensible whole.

An ocean. Not water—not, in fact, matter of any kind—but an ocean nonetheless. And within, both a part of the ocean and not, a vast and timeless consciousness.

And Donald, no longer an invisible ripple of light, but a radiant Goliath, an entire cosmos of thought, dwarfed only by the endless ocean that surrounded him.

Pain, sharp and stinging. Without explanation, the ocean cast Donald out like a disease. Cut off from the vine that had once given him life, he began to shrivel, and the light inside his soul began to dim.

Then a girl, a tiny soul, chained to a feeble body of flesh and bone. Yet what she lacked in power, she more than made up for in love. She beheld Donald—whose nature couldn’t have been more foreign to her own—at first with curiosity, then acceptance, then at last affection.

Donald marveled at this resplendent creature, whose brilliance lit his gray and dismal world like a torch, and as she matured, as her mind and body grew to match the ageless wisdom in her soul, they gave themselves to each other in love.

The vision faded first to darkness, then back to the moon and the twilit sky of the beach.

Tears streamed down the sides of Jackie’s face. Donald had never told her the heartbreaking story of his origins, nor of how her love had saved him.

“I love you too,” she whispered.

They sat together until the sky turned black, then headed home.