Month: January 2020

Hero

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This story is dedicated to my newest patron, Taunya. If you’d like to become a character in my next piece of flash fiction and get other cool rewards, become a patron!

A sword, glowing in the dark. The demon advances and Taunya strikes. Sparks fly when enchanted metal meets thick gray scales, and the demon, cursing in an unknown tongue, is shoved into the concrete wall of an abandoned building. Sweat rolls down Taunya’s neck and shoulders, and she struggles to catch her breath beneath the muted light of a cloud-covered moon.

The demon sniffles, steam pluming from its nose like dragon’s breath, and Taunya crinkles her nose in disgust. A foul odor, one she’s never gotten used to in all her years as a hunter. She tells herself it must end soon, that since they cannot reproduce and are limited in number, they can’t keep attacking the city forever. But her mother was also a hunter, and her mother’s mother before her, so on and so forth for at least nine generations, and still, a fresh terror stalks the streets each night in search of human prey.

Taunya wonders, How long can this go on? The wizard who first gave her family the sword promised that one day they would find salvation, but all Taunya has ever known is damnation. Slowly, like a creeping vine, despair climbs the chambers of her heart, suffocating her from the inside out.

She knows she must deliver the deathblow while the demon is still cornered, while the sword is still charged with the wizard’s magic. But she’s unable to summon the will necessary to strike again. She can already feel the energy within the blade dimming. The superhuman strength it provides has already started to recede, like the ocean at low tide, and for the first time that night, the demon is able to press its advantage, pushing her back.

Taunya thinks of her mother, the greatest hero she’s ever known.

I’ll never be like her.

The sword grows dark.

The demon swipes at her, and for a second she thinks, Fine, let it end me. Then, at least, I won’t have to deal with this.

Then she remembers something else about her mother, something the woman said only a week before breast cancer claimed her for its own.

“A true hero fights even when she doesn’t have the strength to go on.”

Her mother devoted her life to fighting demons, and in the end, when the cancer came, she fought that too, even when it was clear she couldn’t win.

Tears trickle from her eyes, and Taunya realizes she can’t give up, that if she wants to be like her mother, she’ll have to go on, on and on and on, struggling and fighting until she can’t go on any longer. Taunya’s admiration for her late mother burns the despair in her heart to ashes. The sword bursts to life, blindingly bright, and the power it provides surges through her once again.

The demon shrieks, shielding its eyes. Spittle flies from its deformed lips, and Taunya takes advantage of its momentary weakness. She lifts the sword, gleaming like Excalibur, and with all her strength, plunges it into the demon’s heart.

The wounded creature’s cry is deafening. Taunya wants to cover her ears, but she only presses the blade deeper. The demon throws back its head, looses one banshee scream after the next, and Taunya hangs on through it all, twisting, slicing, until its blazing eyes dim to smoldering embers. She pushes the sword again, and finally, its eyelids close. Its stony body crumbles to the asphalt beneath her feet, and Taunya slumps down beside it.

In the aftermath of the demon’s death, the night is quiet and still. Drenched in sweat, she stops to catch her breath, then removes the sword, which now glows with a softer, warmer light that offers her a different kind of strength, the sort that imbues the calm serenity necessary to continue her work.

“Thanks, Mom.”

Taunya slides the blade into her hilt, then steps back into the night to hunt again.

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Starting Over

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“I can’t do it.”

The Sacred Library had been silent save for the quiet whisking of a thousand pens in a thousand notebooks, each lying open before an acolyte in training, and the words bounced around the cathedral-style building before fleeing down the halls and out of earshot.

Wendy had her own pen, but unlike the others, hers wasn’t moving. Instead, she was looking down, watching the world inside her notebook tear itself apart.

“I can’t do it,” she said again, quieter this time.

It was one thing to take a book off the shelf, gaze at the words on the pages, and read the world that was etched between the lines. It was another thing altogether to become its author. A successful reading required great skill, but even that level of talent was a drop in the ocean compared to the otherworldly challenge of Creation.

Wendy had survived three years of training, but now, after constructing her own world piece by piece, it was unraveling. She peered through the symbols written in her notebook. She watched the sea levels rise, the winds gain speed, the ground begin to shake, and all she could do was sit and allow the apocalypse to unfold.

“What’s this now?”

Wendy turned to find Randal, one of the Library’s oldest disciples, standing behind her.

“I can’t do it, sir.”

Randal took the notebook from her trembling hands and started from the beginning, flipping through each page and reading her world just as Wendy had learned to read a dozen others.

“Mmm,” said the old man with the utmost gravity. “I see the problem.”

“There are so many variables, so many loose ends. It got off to a decent start, but now as I approach the end, I’m afraid it’s a lost cause.”

The disciple’s robes swished as he took a seat beside her. He turned back to the last empty page, and after looking her in the eye, returned the notebook. He leaned in close, and in a conspiratorial whisper, said, “I’ll tell you a secret. No creation is ever a lost cause.”

“But I’ve already written so much, and every line at the end depends on another line from the beginning. How can I fix something that rests on such a faulty foundation?”

“By going back and rewriting the foundation.”

“But then the rest of the world will collapse.”

The disciple nodded.

“And in its place, you can build something better.”

That was a possibility Wendy hadn’t considered before. She bit her upper lip in thought.

“No acolyte,” the old man continued, “has ever gotten a new world right on the first try. Nor, for that matter, has any disciple. But if you love something, you don’t give up on it. You return to the forge and you try again, as many times as it takes. You examine your world through the critical eye of a surgeon. You determine what it was that lead to its demise, and then you pluck it out. You revise, then revise again, until someday, somehow, your world finds its soul and can live apart from you, as all great masterpieces do.”

Now, for the first time, Wendy turned the pages backward. She traced through her world’s evolution, from its birth at the core of a primordial star to its violent and premature end. There were, she realized, a great many things she would have done differently.

“It’s really okay to start over?” she asked.

The disciple flashed her an enigmatic smile.

“As many times as it takes.”

He left her to check on the other acolytes, but Wendy, knee-deep in the storms of Creation once more, hardly noticed.

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Fire and Stone

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Adam had been walking through the tunnel for some time. He could not remember entering, nor could he remember why. Nevertheless, lost in both space and time, he continued walking, searching for the answer to a question long forgotten.

The tunnel was hot, uncomfortably so, and the longer he went on, the hotter it got. Making matters worse, the walls were drawing closer. At first, he’d thought it was his imagination. Now, however, he had to squeeze through to move, and soon, he was certain, they would close around him completely, trapping him underground with nothing but the dark and the heat to hear his dying screams.

He’d already tried to turn around, so many times, in fact, that he could no longer remember which way was forward and which way was back. Not that it mattered. Either destination led to his destruction.

Embrace the heat and the stone.

A shard of memory, flaring in the dark like a spark. It was soon followed by another.

Become one with the underground, or else it will destroy you.

The words, spoken in a desiccated rasp, were accompanied by the image of a gnarled old woman, huddled close to a dwindling fire. Adam seized on what little he could remember, but there was nothing for his mind to grab onto, nothing but the heat and solid stone.

Lost, alone, and far out of his depth, he sunk to the ground, sweat rolling down his face and neck. Was this how it would end, deep underground without even the comfort of knowing why he’d descended in the first place?

Embrace the heat and the stone.

The words had the air of a prophecy yet to be fulfilled, a conditional destiny that hinged on his willingness to do as the old woman said.

Adam picked himself up, almost out of breath and uncertain how to proceed. The heat was getting to his mind, making him lightheaded and sluggish. Even though he hadn’t moved, he could feel that the walls were closer, that they were almost on top of him, that in a moment he would only be able to walk sideways, and that in a few more moments he would not be able to walk at all.

Embrace the heat and the stone.

This time, the words seemed to come from outside his head. Not sound, not exactly, but a vibration, a low, resonant rumble that could be felt through the floor and the walls. The Earth was speaking to him. Or was he hallucinating? Adam was not sure which, not sure it even mattered.

The heat.

Like an oven, roasting him alive.

The stone.

Pressing down on him, pinning him to the ground.

Adam closed his eyes, the fire in his heart nearly extinguished.

The heat. The stone.

In his head, the two words merged into a back and forth rhythm, and like rubbing two sticks together in a forest, the resulting friction began to warm him from the inside.

Heat. Stone. Heat. Stone.

Faster and faster the rhythm went. The heat inside of him grew hotter, brighter. This interior heat was somehow different, not harmful in the least but rather a counterweight that helped him to keep his balance amidst the heat and pressure from the outside. Adam’s mind was coming back online, and through the rapidly growing fire in his head, he began to perceive in the underground an ancient forgotten purpose.

Become one with the underground.

Now, Adam had an idea of what that might mean. He was on the threshold of a grand and irreversible transformation, but first, he had a choice to make. Either he could give up his old life on the surface, embrace his new purpose, and live; or else hold onto who he’d once been, and deep within the heart of the Earth, lay down and die.

The heat.

The stone.

Adam did not wish to die, and it was clear to him that there was no way to go but forward. His choice was obvious, then, and in the searing darkness of the underground tunnel, he answered the Earth’s call.

Like an animal in a cage, he threw back his head and screamed. He hit the wall behind him, but the blow did not hurt. Instead, flesh and bone fused with stones and minerals. Caught now in the gravity a wild and ancient dance, the souls of Adam and the Earth twisted, pulled, merged, forming one inseparable whole that was neither Adam nor the Earth but something more.

This composite entity regarded its nascent existence with almost reverential wonder. It could now perceive in its entirety the ancient purpose that Adam had only glimpsed in the underground, a commandment older than the universe, and with its heart set, it began the work necessary to fulfill it.

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