Illustration #1 for “Rite of Passage”

I have great news! The artist I’ve been working with to illustrate my soon-to-be-published short story, Rite of Passage, is nearly done with the first picture. Above is a partial reveal to whet your appetite.

Want to see the whole thing? Join my mailing list by submitting your email address directly below this blog post. I’ll be sending it out in the monthly newsletter the first week of June. I’m really excited about this project and can’t wait to share it with you! 🙂

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Taxi

Taxi in Ljubljana, Slovenia
“Taxi in Ljubljana, Slovenia,” by Petar Milošević. License: CC BY-SA 4.0.

Steve stood by the side of the road, arm extended. He was hailing a taxi.

The street was filled to capacity with tricycles and jeepneys, all of them honking their horns and spurting plumes of dark gray soot into the air. He’d never seen anything like it, not until his first trip to Manila last year.

This was now his third time in the Philippines. He’d booked a condo in Quezon City for two weeks through Airbnb to see his girlfriend, an orthopedic doctor he’d met online. Now, he was on his way to her apartment.

Almost fifteen minutes passed beneath the sweltering tropical sun before a white MGE taxi pulled over to meet him. He opened the right rear door and addressed the driver.

“Banawe? By the Orthopedic Center.”

The man nodded and Steve got in. The taxi pulled back into traffic.

Steve was still unsure of himself abroad and had a lot of anxiety navigating Manila. His girlfriend had told him horror stories about foreigners abducted and held up in taxis, and she’d warned him to be careful. He pulled out his cell phone, which now contained a Globe prepaid SIM, texted the plate number to his girlfriend and pulled up Google maps to make sure he was headed in the right direction.

On the left, a cluster of street children was running around half naked in the middle of the street. Behind them, squatter buildings jutted from the ground, jagged, haphazard constructions of the flimsiest building materials imaginable.

By the time they merged onto Quezon Ave., traffic was moving at a snail’s pace. It was so much worse than LA. He’d never imagined so many cars could be packed into the same space.

“Bad traffic,” said Steve.

The driver didn’t respond. Steve settled back into his seat and sighed. At least the car was air conditioned.

A tiny black fly landed on his arm, and he swatted it away. He glanced down at the map on his phone, even though he’d already done so three times and knew exactly where he was.

Another fly, this time on his shoulder. Then another on his forehead, and another on his leg.

It was when he felt them getting into his ears that he began to panic. He looked up and gasped. The air inside the cab had swollen with bugs. They were buzzing all around him, filling his nostrils, drilling into his ears, reaching into his mouth.

He had to get out of the car. He tried to open the door while they were stopped in traffic, but the handle wouldn’t budge. It seemed the cab had been locked from the inside.

“Let me out!” he cried, choking on flies. The driver didn’t say a word.

For one crazed moment he was certain it was a dream, that any second now he would wake up in his bed to the sound of the aircon whooshing in his room.

He coughed, gagging on air that was becoming increasingly dense and unbreathable. A deep resonant hum rose up from the front passenger seat, and when Steve gazed in that direction he saw something like a bloated, deformed dragonfly, floating lazily in his direction.

He kicked and thrashed, trying once more to force the door open. At one point he started banging on the glass, convinced that if he pounded hard enough it would break and he could escape to safety. All the while that disfigured creature drifted toward him, humming and buzzing as if it had all the time in the world.

It landed on his shoulder and Steve batted it away. Then it landed again and Steve batted at it once more. He tried to strike the creature from the air, but it nimbly avoided him. Finally, it landed on his ear.

Steve felt it vibrate against his skin, the buzzing becoming a deep bass rumble. When it burrowed inside, Steve squealed like a little girl. Never before had he experienced such world shattering pain. It pushed and clawed and tore its way inside. There was a deafening pop as it punctured his ear drum. Then it was digging into his skull.

In a fit of madness, he considered banging his head against the door. Then the world went dark.

More digging, more tearing, and then—

Steve was assaulted by thoughts that were not his own. He could hear them all, the tens of thousands of flies in the air, the driver in the front seat, blurred and indistinct, a collective consciousness born of their intersection.

It swirled inside of him, dissolving his mind like a corrosive acid until what remained was not Steve, but something larger. The part of himself that had been distinct, the part that had made him human, was gone. Not dead, but driven into the background and put to sleep.

When they pulled up at his girlfriend’s apartment, he didn’t pay. Instead, he exited the car and waved. The driver returned the gesture before merging into traffic.

Steve greeted the guard and started up the stairs. He couldn’t wait to see his girlfriend.

He had something to show her.

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The Forgotten Magic

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

The man stood beneath the moon and the stars, desperate and afraid. The world was bearing down on him, threatening to crush him under its immense and unyielding weight. He leaped into the air uselessly, tried in vain to spread his arms and fly.

Long ago, on the outer periphery of time and memory, he could have done it, could have sprouted wings, kicked the dust from his feet and soared into the air. But that power was lost to him now, forgotten with age and responsibility.

He couldn’t go on. He no longer had the energy to trudge through the trenches of daily life. He needed to escape, to run far away from the world and its heartless machinations.

He leaped again, flapping his arms from side to side like an off-balance windmill. It was useless. The man nearly cried.

When had the world lost its magic? When had it transformed from a bright glowing ball of potential energy to a soulless machine that had consumed his humanity and left nothing of it for himself? He had given the world everything, and the world had spared nothing for him in return.

The man looked up, away from the world. He gazed at the stars, and they gazed back at him with ancient understanding. If only he could touch them. They seemed to call his name, and he was certain that all he had to do was answer.

Had he changed? Was that why he’d forgotten? Perhaps the world had always been what it was. Perhaps the problem was not that the world had changed, but that he himself had changed. Perhaps the magic was not gone after all. Perhaps it had only been neglected, a childhood toy abandoned in the attic.

He basked in the light of the moon, bathed in it until he felt pure. Finally, he donned the cosmos like a cloak. The stars accepted him then, adopted him as their son, and in a flash of clarity they granted him the gift of memory.

He let it all go. He laid his burdens before the stars as a sacrifice, an offering to be exchanged for something much older, something pristine, something everlasting. He closed his eyes and the magic overtook him.

Transformed into something both new and ancient, he spread his arms, which transformed into the wings of an eagle. He flapped, and he could feel the air push back against him, countering gravity, bearing him high into the atmosphere. He flew toward the stars.

He didn’t look back and he never returned.

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Sacrifice

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

Max stood in the middle of a darkened desert beside a man whose name he did not know.

“I didn’t ask for this,” said Max.

“No,” the man agreed. “You didn’t.”

He sighed and gazed up at the stars, knowing full well it could be the last time he saw them.

He’d been given a choice. Lose the world and save it for future generations, or stay and fail to prevent the world’s end. There were no compromises, no half measures.

The man shrugged his shoulders. “You could just walk away, you know.”

“No,” said Max after a long pause. “I can’t.”

The man offered him a sad smile. “That’s why I picked you.”

Max took one final drag of air from an atmosphere that no longer belonged to him. Then he took the man’s hand, and together they disappeared into the dark.

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The Edge of the World

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He was nine the year he lost his grandfather. All that was left was a note: “Gone to the edge of the world.” He never saw him again. At age seventy-five, the man decided to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

His grandfather would tell him stories about the edge of the world, how his own father had taken him to see it when he was only a child, how they’d sailed across the ocean for months on a private boat, how the experience had haunted him the rest of his life. He’d said that with every passing year it called to him with increasing urgency, until it was all he could do to keep from running away and jumping into the empty cosmos beyond.

He used to think they were just stories. Now he knew better.

He was an educated man, and he knew the world was round. He’d flown all over the globe, had explored more than a dozen countries in pursuit of something elusive and unseen, something that up until very recently had remained an unarticulated mystery. He also knew that if you sailed long enough you’d encounter the edge of the world. He was certain because he’d been there.

He’d sold everything he owned, bought a small boat and sailed for months without stopping, just as his grandfather had told him. It wasn’t hard to find. He only had to choose the brightest star in the sky and follow it across the horizon. But the journey was long and perilous, and after he ran out of food and water he was sure death would take him.

That was when he found what he was looking for.

Most people, if they believe in the edge of the world, think it’s somewhere in the middle of the ocean, a colossal Earth-sized waterfall cascading down into endless black. His grandfather had known better, and the old man had passed the knowledge on to him.

His tiny boat washed up on an impossibly large shore, a flat carpet of wind-smoothed sand. He blinked when he came to a stop, hardly daring to believe he’d been successful. He tumbled awkwardly over the side, pushed himself to his feet and reached back into the boat to pull out an old gas-lit lantern. He removed a set of matches from his pocket, which he’d carefully packed inside multiple layers of plastic zip lock bags to keep them dry, and ignited the burner to produce a flickering flame. Finally, lantern at the forefront, he pressed into the dark, the flame forming a small orange halo on the sand.

His grandfather had told him this place was special, that here it was always night, and what he found corroborated the old man’s story. Though his watch said it was two thirty in the afternoon, the cosmos were laid bare before him, naked and unashamed, stars dusting the sky like ground gemstones. And ahead, just a few hundred meters away, was the edge of the world.

It was not the steep drop of a precipice. Instead the sand, turned pale gray in the light of the moon, faded to black like a fine mist, pocked occasionally by tiny wellsprings of darkness like mini black holes. As he walked, the ground became mushy, soft and pliable. And ahead, where he dared not go, it thinned to a nearly transparent film, beneath which there was only the black of space and the shimmering stars beyond.

He lifted his head and the lantern, risked a peek over the edge. But the space beyond swallowed the feeble light and refused to reflect any of it back. Well, he supposed there were some mysteries that weren’t meant to be solved, at least not on this side of the cosmic divide.

Anyway, he would discover soon enough what the universe was keeping from him. It had been calling to him for a while, only he hadn’t recognized the call for what it was. Until now.

He stood at the edge and gazed into eternal night. “I’m coming, grandfather.”

Then he closed his eyes and jumped.

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Can You See Me?

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Can you see me? I’m standing right in front of you.

I’m the guy with the soiled, unkempt beard, the haunted eyes, the mouth that hangs slightly agape in an expression of permanent disbelief. I don’t bother trying to get your attention. I know you’ll just look past me, that you’ll either be unable or unwilling to acknowledge me for who and what I am.

The world, once hospitable to my kind, has shunned me. I was cast into the streets like a dog banished from the pack, left to forage for myself in the dim shadow of the forgotten.

I cannot die, not unless the world dies with me. And oh, how I wait with bitter anticipation, how I labor for that day.

There are advantages to a life unseen.

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Don’t Miss Out!

Tomorrow at 10:00 AM EST, I’ll begin sending out the final sketch of the first illustration for my soon-to-be-released short story, Rite of Passage. If you want to see it, be sure to join my mailing list before then by submitting your email address below this blog post. You’ll also get a free copy of another short story, The Sign, just for joining 🙂

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.