Thread

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It was with her for as long as she could remember, a thin golden thread of light that tugged at her as if she were a hooked fish. She had no idea where it came from or where it led. She only knew that it was always pulling, that with every passing year the tightness increased until the pain was too much to bear.

Nobody else could see it. Not her mother or father, not her relatives, not her friends. It got to be so bad that she spent most days alone, afraid others would think she was crazy.

On her eighteenth birthday, the pain blossomed into searing fire. Not knowing what else to do, she left home, left behind everyone and everything she’d ever known. She followed the pull of the thread out of Phoenix, out of Arizona, out of the US. Traveling helped; the thread slackened when she followed. She spent most of her life allowing it to drag her across the world, never knowing where or if it would end.

Now, after more than forty years of never staying in one place, she stands before a tiny redbrick house in Belgium and knows that she’s come home. She sees that the golden thread leads here, that inside the house there is an even brighter glow. This is where her journey ends.

She swallows, takes a deep breath, walks up and knocks on the door. There’s a brief moment where she wonders what she’ll do if it doesn’t open, and then it does. Gold floods her vision.

“Come in,” says a kindly voice. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

She enters. The door closes behind her.

A Father’s Encouragement

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“Come on, son. You can do it.”

“No, Daddy. I can’t. It’s too hard.” Conall pushed, slammed into the invisible wall with as much force as he could muster, and still wasn’t able to break through. “Help me.”

“This is something you have to do yourself.”

“Help me!” Couldn’t Daddy see that it was too hard? Conall was only seven. Traveling, pushing through the boundary between the worlds, was beyond him.

“You have to learn, son. You can’t stay in one world forever, and I won’t always be around to help you.”

“But I don’t want to. I’m not ready!”

“You are ready. I learned at your age, and so did your grandfather before me. It runs in the family. You can do it. You’re strong.”

Conall tried again, took hold of space and time, pushed and stretched them as far as they would go. For a moment the fabric of reality bent further than it had before, and he thought this time he might actually poke through. But then it pushed against him once more, casting him back into his exhausted body as it collapsed.

Conall’s face turned red. He’d tried a dozen times. Space and time were pliable, yes, but also firm and durable. He could stretch them, but only so far. Tears spilled from his eyes, and he had to work very hard to stop them. He was a failure. He would be the only Doran in fifteen generations to settle on a single world, incapable of pushing the frontier any further. Daddy would be ashamed.

“Conall, you’re trying too hard. Don’t force it. The harder you push, the harder it pushes back. Remember what I taught you.”

“I can’t do it.”

“You can. The blood of your ancestors is in you. You have their strength.”

Conall took a deep breath, shut his eyes and reached out once more. He seized space and time, grasped them firmly inside his mind, and pushed. The universe met his show of force with one of its own.

Then Daddy’s words popped into his head. Don’t force it. But how could he get through to the other side if he didn’t push? This time he felt more closely, examined the weave of the universe in greater detail.

There, a loose thread. How had he missed it before? He pulled, and it slipped free with almost no effort. There was a frightening moment in which he could feel the cosmos groan, where the fibers of reality unraveled, coming apart like a frayed tapestry. Then space and time righted themselves, became whole once again. And where he’d tugged one of those fibers loose there was now a hole, a soft spot where one world bled into the other.

“Daddy, I did it!”

“Yes,” Daddy said, smiling. “You did. I’m proud of you.”

“Daddy, can we go through?”

“If you want to.” He swept Conall into his arms.

They stepped through together, father and son, and emerged in a new world.

This piece of flash fiction is dedicated to all the fathers who, like mine, have been an unwavering source of love and encouragement from Day One. Happy belated Father’s Day!

Jeremy

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Jeremy glanced down at his hands, which were hidden beneath the table on his lap. A moment later he closed his eyes. It was happening again.

Tiny beads of sweat popped out of his cheeks and forehead. He could feel the pressure mounding. He wouldn’t be able to hold it in much longer.

“Please,” he whispered. “Not again.”

He looked around the crowded downtown plaza and panicked.

He saw a familiar-looking man bite into a sandwich, and his mind did a jump shot to his old best friend Patrick, who’d disappeared when he was only ten. He turned and spotted a pair of brightly dressed women chatting at a table, and was instantly transported back to high school, to the girls he’d always wanted to talk to but never had the courage to approach. They too had disappeared.

“Why is this happening?” Jeremy asked, grasping the table with trembling knuckle-white hands. He could feel the power welling up inside, knew that it would burst from him like a firework no matter what he did.

He looked down at his hands again. They’d begun to glow a faint, swampy green.

“Not again,” he moaned. “Please, not again.”

He clamped down harder on the table. His grip was so tight he thought it might snap in two. Then he convulsed. His head whipped back, his stomach clenched and he was certain everything he’d eaten for a year would come back up again. He gasped and shuddered. Shrieked. Brightness filled his vision.

A moment later, all was dark.

*    *    *

The first light to reach Jeremy’s eyes was cracked and broken. He lifted his head mechanically and sat up straight.

When his mind came back online he whirled. He searched his surroundings, already knowing what he would find but hoping this time would be different.

Jeremy was alone.

The tables were empty. There was no sign anyone had ever been there. Silence hovered over the plaza like a thick fog. Tears began to fall from Jeremy’s eyes. He raked a hand through his hair, gazed up at the sky and shouted.

“Why?”

It was the same thing that had happened to Patrick and the girls from high school. They were there. Then his hands started to glow. There was light, then dark, and when he came to they were gone.

The glow was gone now, just as it had gone before. Now, all he could do was wonder how long it would be before it happened again.

Tainted Eyes

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They say you can see it first in the eyes, a blue tint in the whites like colored contacts. A day or two later, the madness sets in. Nobody knows what it is or where it came from. If they’d had more time to study it, they might have figured it out.

Now, blue-eyed monsters roam the streets at night, breaking the world, creatures that were once our fathers and our mothers, our sons and our daughters. Though human in appearance, they’re only hollow shells of their former selves, dark monuments of loss erected by an unknown disease. Not the zombies of pop culture, who prowl the remnants of a post-apocalyptic world. Something else. Something worse.

Nobody knows how it spreads, only that more of us turn each day, that any one of us could become the monster we fear. If tomorrow you wake with tainted eyes, make your peace with God and pray we put an end to you before the madness does it for us.

The Last Heir

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Tien walked along a grassy plain, bathed in moonlight. In the distance stood a ruined castle, the final defiant cry of a long gone age. Once a fortified structure crafted by the greatest of rulers, it was now nothing more than a weathered collection of broken walls and battered gates.

Tien approached the drawbridge, face covered with mud and sweat, clothes torn, streaked and stained.  He gazed up at the massive structure, turned dreamily from one gate tower to the next, crumbled and broken.

A low rumble sounded from within and the massive wooden bridge tumbled to the ground. Tien made his way across, rickety panels of ancient wood creaking beneath his feet.

He passed through the gate and emerged on the other side of a forgotten world, a wide open space that had once been occupied by laboring serfs and peasants. Now it stood empty and alone.

He continued past the inner ward, all the while clutching the handle of his sword, constructed according to the tenets of an ancient craft that had died along with the castle. He passed the remains of what had once been the great hall, then finally stood before the keep.

Here all four turrets still stood, untouched by the ages. It seemed that not even time had breached the castle walls entirely. Tien slipped through the open doors. He marched in the dark across a faded red carpet, past moth-eaten banners and flags, and stopped when he reached the throne. There he knelt and closed his eyes.

A wind gusted, blowing through the room, and for a moment the banners of a forgotten kingdom flapped once more. Then the keep flooded with golden light, and when Tien looked up he saw the King, holding audience from the throne.

Tien’s eyes fell to the floor.  The King, gazing down at him in solemn understanding, removed his crown and placed it atop Tien’s head. A flaccid smile grazed the old man’s lips.

Tien rose to his feet, spared a final regretful gaze for the world beyond. Then the room darkened, and once more the ruins stood in silence.

The castle had claimed its heir.

A Web of Ink and Paper

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Giles sits in a corner near the back, wearing a dark fedora. He watches as a man enters the coffee shop and places an order for a grande Americano, waits for the man to hand over his money and receive his change, follows the man with his eyes as he makes his way to a seat near a distant window.

The man is not actually a man at all, but something else. Something dangerous.

Giles reaches into his pocket, produces a faded leather notebook and silver fountain pen and begins to write. He works carefully, starting with the coarser, superficial details and slowly working his way to the more refined. They are special words. Words of power.

Giles does his best to capture the essence of the man, though even words such as these are only crude approximations. They reach inside and bind him, pair with flesh and bone and spirit, tearing him out of space and time like a coupon from the local newspaper.

It isn’t until he’s nearly finished that the man by the window notices, and by then he’s already fading like an overexposed negative. He bolts from his seat and stumbles backward, opens his mouth in shock, ambles toward Giles like a wounded soldier.

The patrons of the coffee shop have taken notice. Some scream. Others run. More than a few gawk stupidly, cell phones at the forefront. God, thinks Giles, these are the creatures he’s sworn to protect?

Before the man can take ten steps he’s already disappeared, torn from the fabric of reality and bound forever in a web of ink and paper.

Giles caps his pen, closes the leather notebook and strolls to the door, ready to tackle his next assignment.