Emily

Tithi Luadthong/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on September 12, 2017.

Emily gazed down from the balcony of her studio apartment, the evening shadows lengthening as the sun dipped below the horizon. She watched people pass along the sidewalk, watched cars pass along the street. A rhythm, she thought, an elaborate choreography that dazzled her every bit as much as it had when she was a little girl.

There were those who hated the city—those who thought it too congested, polluted, or confining. But not Emily. The city had a life of its own, a vibrant soul born of the intersection between its many citizens. She and the city enjoyed a symbiotic relationship; it nurtured and sustained her, while she defended it from harm. Like a superhero, she would sometimes think after coming home from the cinema, and then she would giggle like a little girl, delighted by the fanciful notion.

She was standing over the railing, just as she was every night, when she heard the cry. Loud and shrill, it shattered her concentration. The sound was tragically common in the city, and it broke her heart each time to hear it. Somewhere, in Emily’s beloved city, someone was in danger.

So she closed her eyes, and she shifted her focus from that which could only be sensed with eyes and ears to that which could only be perceived through the heart: a vast shimmering network of interconnected threads, joining every soul in the city to every other. She reached out to the closest thread, and she felt for the vibrations that traveled along its length like a phone line.

Another cry.

The thread quivered, and Emily traced it back, flying through the space between space. The souls around her blurred, streaking past her like a stained glass mosaic.

There. A young woman—perhaps nineteen or twenty—and a man barging through her door. His face was covered, and a drunken lust and violence swirled through his head like a snowstorm.

Someone must have heard her call, but as was so often the case in the city, help was in short supply. So Emily did the only thing she could. She tugged on neighboring threads, sending out vibrations of her own.

HELP THE GIRL.

She tugged and tugged without success—there were so many hearts calloused by the daily horrors of modern life—but at last, just as she thought her resources exhausted, she felt a reply. A retired cop, gray haired and out of shape as well as out of practice. Bitter and alone, he was the sort who would have preferred to be left alone. But Emily kept tugging on his heart, and he found himself unable to turn away.

Deep inside, beyond the jaded, street-wise exterior, he remained just and duty-bound, like the day so many years ago when he was first sworn in. Emily felt his unconscious reply, a resonant hum feeding back along that intricate network of souls. It was his own soul’s way of letting her know he was on his way.

That was when Emily disengaged and reconnected with her body.

Once more, lights and colors filled her vision. She gazed down at the city again, its silent lover as well as its protector, and she prayed as she so often did that the little she was able to do would be enough.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive Rite of Passage.

Balthor

Stephanie Frey/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on November 29, 2017.

It calls itself Balthor.

A being of indeterminate form, a fleshless apparition that stalks the cosmos like a wraith. Where, how, or when the name came about, it cannot remember, nor does it care. It has only one desire, a single driving force that’s guided its malignant actions from the moment time began.

Prey.

Like a poisonous vine, it sends out runners, undulating fibers of energy that crisscross the universe in an intricate network of overlapping threads. Reaching. Searching. Probing for life.

Earth.

It’s one of the many worlds Balthor has encountered over the course of its ancient life, and it teems with organisms of every sort. Balthor quivers with desire. Long has it been since Balthor has fed. Hunger ravages its incorporeal shell. Now, at last, it has found a world filled with light, with hope, with love—with all the things it lacks in itself, yet requires in order to survive.

Its runners close around the glowing planet until its light begins to dim. Slow at first, Earth’s inhabitants don’t notice anything is wrong. Yet their trust in each other fades. Love ebbs, and in the spreading darkness, selfishness and insecurity take root.

Soon, Earth has grown accustomed to the darkness, and Balthor, no longer needing to take it slow, gorges. It drains the Earth of every good; like a cosmic vampire, it leaves behind only a cold and empty vacuum in its wake.

Earth cannot survive for long, but what does Balthor care? It will feed, and when Earth has withered and died, it will move on, just as it always has.

Such has always been its nature, and such will its nature remain.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive Rite of Passage.

The Patron

Joseph/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on May 15, 2016.

The patron watches his young artist paint, follows the brush with his eyes as it whisks back and forth, back and forth over the canvas in the dim light of a one-room studio. It brings him joy to see his artist so wrapped up in his work.

It means that he can feed.

When people think of vampires, they invariably imagine sharp-fanged creatures of the night who prowl the Earth in search of human blood. And that is certainly one type. But vampires are a diverse group, similar only in their universal need to feed. Some dine on emotion. Others on ambition and greed. Still others on strength and vitality.

The patron is unique. His staple is creativity.

He lures frustrated artists to his tiny studio apartment with promises of patronage and recognition. Over the centuries, he’s learned just the right strings to pull: a subtle combination of inspiration, desperation, and urgency that always gets humans banging down his door, begging for his help. He lays at their feet the tools they require for their work, and he watches while they offer themselves up as a living sacrifice for their art.

He hovers over them unseen, imbibes the creative energies that flow from their bodies like rivers of milk and honey. All the while, they grow more intense in their study, more focused, until the effort finally kills them.

The pieces his victims produce are always masterpieces, works of rare genius that in other hands might change the world. But the patron throws them all away. He has no use for such things.

Now, sweat pops from the forehead of his latest acquisition like drops of dew. The artist’s eyes go wide as he labors to get a single feather stroke of the brush just right. He reaches out, arms rigid, hands shaking, then gasps and topples head-first into the canvas.

It is in the wake of the artist’s final sacrifice that his patron climaxes. He tosses back his head, shuts his eyes, and lets wave after wave of pleasure overtake him.

A timeless moment passes in the throes of the artist’s dying passion. Then the patron approaches his lifeless body. He’ll dispose of the dead painter and his work, sleep for a decade or two, then look for someone new.

It won’t be hard. The world is full of frustrated artists.

If you liked this, you’ll love my books. Pick one up here!

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive Rite of Passage.

The Day Earth Disappeared

Triff/Shutterstock.com

Click here to find out where you can read my books!

I was five the day the Earth disappeared. My father had gathered us together beneath a late night moon, and when he had our attention, he said:

“The Earth is no longer safe for us. We have to go.”

“What?” I was devastated. I had friends. I went to a good school. I’d just started to settle into my new life as a human, and now he was telling us we had to go.

“I’m sorry,” my father continued. “If there was any other way…” He trailed off, gazed toward the star-encrusted sky. “Perhaps the next world will be more accommodating.”

I opened my mouth to protest, but my father had already uttered the sacred words, and any further argument was quashed by the surging, hurricane-strength wind that swallowed the world and cast us into darkness.

Through stars and empty space we tumbled. Time stood still, and our souls, once more without shape or form, slipped and slid from one part of the universe to the next, drawn by an unseen gravity toward whichever world would become our new home.

“I hate you!”

Now, as an adult, I understand that my father was looking out for us. But my five-year-old self couldn’t comprehend the brutality of the situation, and as far as I was concerned, it was all his fault.

“I’m doing this to protect you,” he said.

“No,” I replied. “You’re doing this because you don’t want us to be happy. I hate you. I wish you were dead.”

I felt the collective gasp of my mother and sister beside me, but I stood my ground. In that moment, I believed all the worst things about my father, and I hated him as much as any other child who ever hated his parents for taking something of value away.

I thought he would argue, that he would threaten me for talking back. Instead, he gazed upon my undefined features with such love and commiseration that the raging fire within me began to cool.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and the sincerity and conviction in his voice reduced me to silence.

I brooded the rest of the journey. Love and hate waged a bitter, violent war in my heart, and I couldn’t bare to look at any member of my family.

Then our new world came into focus. There was the sensation of stretching as we passed through the cosmic veil—like a thin, rubbery membrane that wrapped itself around our souls. Thought and will coalesced into flesh and blood once more, and when I opened my three new eyes onto a bright, vermillion sky, I broke down at last.

“I’m sorry,” I bawled. I reached for my father, who was lying on the ground beside us, and let him take me into his thick, alien arms. “I’m sorry, Daddy.”

“I know,” he whispered. “I’m sorry, too. We’ll find peace and happiness soon, son. I promise.”

I nodded, face wet with tears and snot, and got to my feet so we could behold the unfamiliar landscape together.

“I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, too.”

Click here to find out where you can read my books!

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive Rite of Passage.

Totem, Part 11

Images licensed by Shutterstock.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

I always thought you would have been a better leader, said Jahi after stopping his part of the story to rest. I wish you’d had the chance.

It was late, and the birds who’d once been advisers to a cruel and powerful ruler gazed at the distant horizon in anticipation of a dawn that wasn’t far in coming.

What makes you think I would have replaced the master? Rashidi glanced in Azibo’s direction. I can think of others who might have wanted to take control.

Azibo didn’t acknowledge him, only flicked his eyes downward.

Anyway, that kind of responsibility never appealed to me. I’d rule if necessary, but only if duty required it.

And that, Jahi said, is precisely why you would have been a better ruler.

I should have had more faith in you, said Azibo at last, changing the subject. He turned to address Jahi, but his eyes never lifted from the ground. I was certain you would turn me in. I should have known better.

If Jahi were still a man, he might have smiled. Those were uncertain times. You had every right to be afraid.

All that silence that passed between us after I told you what I thought about the master. It made me uneasy, and then that night you finally returned to my door with the others, I thought for certain…

Azibo stopped to consider his words.

With the exception of Zane, who came into the picture a little later, none of the others needed to hear the rest. They’d all been there. But there was something sacred about hearing the tale unfold, as if the experience allowed them to travel back in time to live through it all again. Here, in the semi-darkness of the nascent dawn, they could almost feel their human bodies, and none of them wanted to let that feeling go.

So Azibo considered how best to pick up where Jahi left off, and when the others had gathered around him like a village elder, he recounted the fateful meeting during which most of their paths finally crossed.

*               *               *

When the knock at the door came, Azibo jumped. The hour was late, and he hadn’t been expecting visitors. Could it be Jahi? The two had exchanged glances earlier that evening. The man’s dark eyes had appeared troubled, and before he turned away, Azibo had wondered if he’d be ready to talk again.

Has he come to arrest me?

The thought made Azibo’s body grow cold, and when he opened the door and beheld not only Jahi, but also three of the master’s guards, he thought, just as Jahi had when Rashidi first came to his chambers, that he’d been betrayed. Then he reached out to the men’s minds, listened to their thoughts, and realized the truth.

They were on his side.

A tsunami of emotions raced through his mind—gratitude, guilt, relief—an oceanic wave that slammed hard into the back of his eyes so that he had to fight to hold back tears.

One of the guards must have noticed the struggle, because the first words out of his mouth were, “This is the sniveling brat who can help us overthrow the master?”

Though Azibo’s face was flushed and he was certain some of his tears had broken through, he drew himself up to his full height, turned to Jahi, and asked, “Who are these men?”

“Friends.” Jahi shot the guard a murderous glare. “I trust them, Azibo, and you can trust them too.”

Azibo eyed them all warily.

“I thought— Never mind.”

He’d been about to say he thought Jahi was going to turn him in, but instead said, “If these men are friends, then we should be introduced.”

“Yes, of course.” Azibo felt some of the tension in the man unwind. “This is Rashidi,” he said, pointing to the oldest looking guard. “He’s the master’s head guard. And these two,” he said, pointing to the men next to him, “are Chibale and Kasim. They’re under his command.”

Kasim. So, that was the name of the man who’d spoken out against him.

Jahi turned toward the others. “Rashidi, Chibale, Kasim: this is Azibo.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Chibale, and both he and Rashidi shook his hand by way of introduction.

Kasim, on the other hand, said nothing, only stared at Azibo with open contempt.

Azibo’s first instinct was to take the emotional pulse of the room. Jahi, for his part, felt more sure of himself than he had the first time they spoke. He was less doubtful now, and possessed both clarity of mind and purpose.

As for Rashidi, there seemed to be little room in his heart for ambition, only a deep and abiding sense of duty and an unquenchable demand for justice. Rashidi wasn’t the sort to claim victory for himself or to blame others for his defeats. He had his doubts about Azibo, yet he nevertheless maintained an open mind. He desired only what was best and what was right, and he held little regard for what others might think of him should his moral or strategic senses deviate from commonly held assumptions. The man was not above selfishness, but that selfishness centered not around petty jealousies or a coward’s desire to save his own life, but the all-consuming need to be the best possible version of himself and to be a capable leader. Azibo decided then and there that he liked the man, even looked up to him, and he would be honored to serve alongside him.

Chibale was also decent enough, though his thoughts were more aligned with pragmatic concerns. He, too, harbored doubts About Azibo, a fact that stung his ego. But he had to admit those doubts were reasonable, and he could find no fault in this man either. Like Jahi and Rashidi, he was loyal and wanted only what was right, and so Azibo decided he could trust him, too.

Kasim, however, was a more difficult subject. Unlike Rashidi or Chibale, his thoughts were both contradictory and erratic, a violent tug of war between his fear of the master and the trust he’d placed in his comrades. The man was brash and quick to judge, but paradoxically, he was less sure of himself and his decisions than the others. He seemed secure enough in his choice to follow Rashidi, and Azibo didn’t think he’d intentionally compromise their mission, but his belligerence and tendency to second guess the decisions of others gave him great pause. Would Kasim be an asset or a liability? He would have to get to know the man better before he could decide.

If only they knew what I can do, that I’m reading their minds even as we speak. But that was a secret he couldn’t share lest he risk giving up his greatest advantage, and so he would have to find another way to convince them of his worth.

“As I was telling you,” Jahi continued, “Azibo made me realize what we had to do.”

You could have come back to me first before consulting with others, Azibo thought. But he held his tongue. In their eyes, he was just a boy, and he couldn’t afford to reinforce that image by throwing a tantrum.

Fortunately, Azibo didn’t have to work very hard to convince Jahi. Since their first talk, the man had come to hold for him a certain level of respect.

“Yes,” Azibo said, working hard to maintain his composure and to exude what he imagined was a sufficiently adult serenity. “He and I discussed the master a few days ago, and though Jahi was uncertain at the time, it appears we both now believe the same thing: that unless we stop him, he’ll eventually come for all of us.”

Rashidi nodded.

“That is the conclusion we have reached as well.”

“Well then,” said Azibo, “I suppose all that’s left for us to discuss is how best to proceed.”

Kasim jumped into the conversation.

“And you can contribute to this discussion how?”

Before Azibo could answer, Rashidi spoke over him.

“Jahi tells us you saw the master depart in secret.”

“Yes.” Azibo sat on his bed, trying to appear relaxed. “He loaded a donkey with supplies. From what he took with him, it seemed he intended to be gone for a while.”

“But you’re not sure for how long.”

Azibo pondered his last encounter with the master. At the time, he’d learned from reading the man’s mind that he was considering an absence of one or two weeks, perhaps even three. He could relay that back to them, but then he would have to explain how he knew. Doing so would almost certainly lead to uncomfortable questions that Azibo preferred not to answer, so instead, he said, “A few days at the least, a week or two at the most.”

“Are we really going to take him seriously?” Kasim started to pace across the room, wide-eyed and angry. “We can’t base our strategy on the testimony of a child. It’s madness. It’s—”

“Kasim, be silent.” Rashidi’s exhortation was a whispered whipcrack in the torch-lit chamber, and Azibo didn’t need to read Kasim’s mind to know the man had just been humiliated.

I’m going to have problems with him, Azibo thought. He would have to be strong enough to rise above him. His young age meant there was a strong prejudice for him to overcome, and that in turn meant he had to be more of an adult than the adults.

“I understand your concerns,” Azibo said, trying hard to be the consummate diplomat. “But I saw him with my own two eyes, and as his apprentice, I’ve gotten to know the master well enough to be a reliable judge of his behavior.”

The master’s apprentice. The reference to his privileged station was intended to remind Kasim of his authority in this matter, and it seemed his words had had the desired effect. He could feel Kasim’s mind wrap itself around the fact, and after a moment or two of silent fury, he reluctantly came to appreciate Azibo’s value, even if he would never admit it out loud.

“As I was saying,” Azibo continued, “I believe we have some time to plan before we have to worry about the master returning.”

Rashidi nodded.

“Thank you, Azibo. Your observation is most valuable.”

“We shouldn’t allow ourselves to grow comfortable,” Jahi warned. “We don’t know how long he’ll be gone. He could decide to return tomorrow.”

“Agreed.”

“The question is,” Jahi continued, “how do we fight someone so powerful? We don’t even know what he’s capable of.”

“Azibo,” Rashidi asked, “you’re his apprentice. You know him better than anyone else. Can you tell us anything that will help?”

Azibo considered the question at some length. He knew the master could read minds, but he didn’t want to reveal that ability for fear he might also give away his own advantage. What else could he contribute to the discussion? The master had not yet taught him any magic, only worthless meditation exercises.

What about the dream?

Azibo thought of the scene that’d unfolded the day he’d first stumbled into the master’s mind: the invocation of Isis and Osiris, followed by a vision of the master’s sacrificial altar underground. One conclusion that might have saved them all escaped him until it was too late, but he did think of something else.

Because of what he’d observed in the dream, Azibo knew the nature of the master’s immortality. He was aware of his growing need for human sacrifice, along with the weakness that resulted from not being able to fully meet that demand, and he also knew from their last encounter that the master was agitated and afraid.

The two conditions made for a dangerous and potentially fatal combination, and if they could take advantage of them somehow, if perhaps they could catch the master by surprise…

“The master,” Azibo began, and then he paused to consider what he should say next. A lie, he decided, would be in his best interest. “He told me a secret. This was before he was so paranoid that he refused to speak with me. He said something was wrong, that he was weak and sick and that he needed time to rest and recuperate. I believe this weakness could make him vulnerable if we were to take him by surprise.”

Azibo saw Jahi furrow his brow, and he opened his mind for a moment to listen to the man’s thoughts.

What if the master reads our minds when he returns? How can we take him by surprise if he knows what we’re thinking even before he arrives at the front gate?

Azibo felt the man wrestle with himself over whether or not to reveal the master’s secret, and he realized he needed to alleviate Jahi’s fears before this discussion could take an unwelcome turn.

“The master,” Azibo continued, “has certain abilities, certain ways to sense the people around him.” There. That was close enough to reference the master’s secret without actually revealing it. He hoped Jahi’s mind would make the connection to mind reading on its own. “Whatever weakness has overcome him has also dulled this ability.” That second claim was a bald faced lie, but Azibo knew, from personal experience, how the master’s secret talent worked, and he was confident it didn’t pose them any danger as long as they were careful.

Like himself, Azibo reasoned, the master wouldn’t be able to hear the thoughts of those around him without first reaching for them specifically. They might leave an emotional trace that could be sensed without effort, but only when he focused in on someone could he read them in any detail. If he didn’t know anyone was there until it was too late—if they could hide until they were ready to strike him down—then their chances were good.

Azibo let Jahi mull this information over.

We can do this, thought Azibo, silently urging him to be strong. Don’t worry, Jahi. I know we can do this.

“If the master is as weak as you say he is,” Rashidi said, “then I agree, a surprise is likely our best option. A swift, clean cut. But there’s a complication. We can’t murder him in the open. Our rebellion has to remain a secret, even after we’ve killed him. If any of his other advisers catch on, they’ll have us arrested, then fight over who among their number has the right to take his place. I’ve seen the chaos that results from a powerful leader’s execution, and no matter how many crimes they were guilty of, the power vacuum that replaced them was almost always worse.”

That gave Azibo pause. He realized there was still so much he didn’t understand about politics. Kasim’s concerns, though irritating, suddenly seemed painfully valid. Could they do this without making things worse?

But after a moment’s consideration, Azibo decided anything was preferable to the master remaining in power—even the risk of a bloody struggle over who would get to take his place when he was gone. None of the master’s other advisers were capable of the magic or supernatural cruelty the man so dangerous, and as long as they could take him out before they were caught, that would be enough.

“We should let him arrive,” Azibo said when none of the others offered a solution. “He left in secret, so he can return in secret. Only, we’ll be watching for his return, and when he’s tucked away in the privacy of his study, then we strike.”

Azibo could feel their emotions and realized this last statement had startled them. That such a cold-blooded thought could come from someone so young gave them all pause.

Well, thought Azibo, let them be scared. Maybe now, they’ll understand that I’m more than just a child.

“I think,” said Rashidi, his voice just the tinniest bit unsteady, “that what Azibo proposes is a good idea. Kasim, Chibale and I can wait for his arrival, and Jahi can keep watch and signal when he’s close. Azibo, you’ll have to look out for his signal and warn us when the master approaches.”

Yes, Azibo thought, that was a good plan. A sudden wave of giddiness washed over him as he considered the very real possibility that the master could soon be out of the picture. If they were successful, what challenges would await them next? With the ability to read minds, there was nothing Azibo couldn’t accomplish. A vague sense of guilt vexed him as he considered the prospect of using this secret ability to his advantage, but he chose not to let it bother him. He didn’t have to be like the master. He could find a way to use his talent for good.

He beheld the others, who were now, for better or for worst, his comrades in arms, and he swore he would do right by them when this was over and they were finally free. He didn’t allow himself to consider the possibility that they might fail. After all, he believed, their plan was foolproof.

Unfortunately for them all, it wasn’t.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive Rite of Passage.

Let The Show Begin

Tithi Luadthong/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on August 28, 2016.

Quick note: I’m currently working on “Totem, Part 11,” and plan to release it on November 7 🙂

The world is ending. He can feel it, buzzing like a high tension electrical wire. Like the bass in a celestial orchestra, it began as a rumble, emanating from the core of the Earth itself, and quickly rises to a crescendo. It’s only a matter of hours before the whole thing uncoils like a tightly compressed spring.

He’s witnessed the births and deaths of many worlds, and the end has always fascinated him the most. It’s almost always self-inflicted, a wellspring of violence that erupts from the inside out, blowing the world asunder.

He sometimes likes to imagine he’s the cause—that he’s an Old Testament God, raining down judgement and destruction on an ungrateful world. But of course he is not. He’s only an observer, a cosmic tourist in search of entertainment. He doesn’t want to get involved, and at any rate, humans have done a fine job of destroying the world themselves.

He’ll stick around for the end, and when it’s over—when the Earth is adrift and bereft of life—he’ll move on.

He gazes up at the sky and smiles.

The show is about to begin.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive Rite of Passage.

Water Charmer

Tithi Luadthong/Shutterstock.com

A sparkle, followed by a twining liquid shimmer. Tara flexed her fingers, and the suspended ribbon of water before her wormed through the air like a snake.

She cycled through a series of basic patterns, all geometric constructions her parents had taught her to form when she was young. But she had no real investment in what she was doing, nor any desire to venture beyond mindless repetition.

There’d been a time, long ago, when her talent had been revered. Water charming, it was called, and it ran in Tara’s family. But the world had moved on, and now, it was good for little more than idle amusement.

“It’s your birthright,” Mom had said when Tara was nine after she’d complained about water charming the way some of her friends complained about piano lessons. “It’s part of our identity.”

But Tara never felt a deep connection to her ancestry, only a desperate longing to be like everyone else. She wanted to come home after a difficult day at school and veg in front of the TV like her peers.

Instead, her parents made her study how water resonates with the energy in the soul, and how intent, amplified by physical gestures, not only contains, but shapes and molds the water as if an extension of the physical self.

Now, Tara wondered how those lessons had helped her through life. Had it gotten her through college? Secured for her a decent job? Saved her parents the day they died in a high speed collision on the freeway?

No, no, and no.

Tara sighed, then let the water go. It lost cohesion immediately and splattered on the kitchen floor.

“Useless,” she muttered.

Tara stalked into the living room, seized her sweatshirt and keys, and stormed through the front door. The frosty November air prickled against her skin as she pressed into the deepening darkness, and she welcomed the sensation.

This was how she connected with the mysteries of her secret power and the many questions they inspired: not by performing parlor tricks in the privacy of her apartment, but by wandering the neighborhood at night, surrounded by the dark and the shadows, free to speculate on matters she preferred not to think about during the day.

The question that was always first and foremost in her mind was “why.” Why the power to manipulate water? Why her family? And, coming in at a close second, was the question of “how.” How could such a talent be useful? How was such a talent even possible?

Tara had studied chemistry in high school. She’d even taken physics in college, though it had nothing to do with her major. She was aware that polar covalent bonds held water’s hydrogen and oxygen atoms together; that water possessed the remarkable ability to shift from solid to liquid to gas within a remarkably narrow band of temperatures and pressures; that water, contrary to many other substances, was denser as a liquid than as a solid.

But none of what she’d learned in school explained the mystical influence she exerted over water, nor the almost tangible connection she felt whenever she moved it around by willpower alone. There was so little that humans understood about the world in which they lived, and Tara had always found this fact to be unsettling.

A smell pulled her from her thoughts and made her look up, a scent like burning charcoal, or wood from a meat smoker. Her first thought was that it was a barbecue, and that she had a hankering for a juicy rack of ribs. Then she spotted the smoke—thin, ghost-like tendrils that glowed in the moonlight—and panicked.

The house beside her was on fire.

I should call someone, she thought. Then she reached into her pocket and realized she’d left her cell phone at home. Her next idea was to knock on the door and see if whoever lived there was okay. Only the house was dark, and it looked like no one was home.

Tara became acutely aware of the water beneath the street: a hidden, surging reservoir that, if channeled, could be diverted. She reached out with her mind and was instantly overwhelmed by it’s immense weight—not at all like the tiny droplets she played with when she was bored. Nevertheless, she wrapped her will around it, and without thinking, she began to pull.

She routed the water through various patterns, all of them shapes her parents had taught her to make when she was young. The drainage slits in the gutter were what she was aiming for, and she pulled the water toward them in a rush, first dividing the flows, then pulling each segment out like thread through the eye of a needle.

Once the water reached the open air, she recombined the streams, braiding each channel around the others like a rope. The result was a massive column that seemed to shake the very foundation of the world. She strengthened her hold of it, and then, with a fierce tug of the will, she pulled it back and slammed it into the house.

Windows shattered in the onslaught. The sound was so loud, so deafening, that Tara instantly lost focus. The raging airborne rapids collapsed, and the water, once more under gravity’s influence, cascaded from every open surface, carrying glass and debris as it journeyed back into the sewer.

Had Tara just done that?

Dazed, all she could do was stare, until people started to shout, and sirens started to wail. Then Tara grew short of breath and the world contracted. Someone must have seen her.

She had to get away.

It wasn’t until she sprinted home that she considered the magnitude of what had happened.

Who knew how long it would have taken the fire department to arrive. She might have destroyed the house in her attempt to save it, but how many others would have caught fire and burned alongside it if she hadn’t intervened?

Her entire worldview shifted. She was no longer the practitioner of an arcane and esoteric talent. She was a superhero.

Alone in the lengthening shadows of her apartment, she gazed up at the ceiling and whispered, “Thank you, Mom and Dad.”

Then she let her face fall into her hands and cried.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive Rite of Passage.

The Enemy Within

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

This post was originally published through Patreon on December 5, 2016.

Emily trembled in the dark. She was not alone.

“You can’t get rid of me so easily,” her demon snarled, a writhing mass of black. “You’re not strong enough.”

It had controlled her for most of her life. It was the power behind her throne, the puppeteer that pulled her strings from beyond the shadows.

“You hurt me,” Emily whispered.

Her demon didn’t reply, only issued a rumbling laugh that shook the world around her.

“You used me.”

Her heart pumped like a piston, her hands were sweat-soaked sponges, and the world tilted and began to spin. But she would not let this creature consume her. It thrived on her anxiety and fear, and there was nothing else for her to do but cut the cord.

Something in her features must have caught her demon’s attention, because it stopped laughing.

“What are you going to do?”

By way of reply, Emily pulled a knife. It caught the glimmer of a distant light and seemed to burst in a white pyrotechnic flash. She hiked up her shirt and looked down.

Beneath, attached to her clammy pallid skin, was a shadow blacker than the dark that connected her to her demon like an unholy umbilical cord. She seized it with her other hand. The knife hovered, ready to cut.

“It would hurt both of us,” her demon rasped. “You wouldn’t dare.”

But Emily would. She’d had enough, and she hesitated for just a moment before thrusting the blade down.

Both screamed. Emily and her demon threw back their heads as one and howled like mortally wounded animals. Through the bond they shared, each could feel the other. Fear rebounded, a feedback loop of mounting trauma that nearly destroyed them both.

Then there was a snap and Emily recoiled.

She smacked hard into the wall behind her, and a single starburst of pain drove her to to her knees. When it began to subside and she finally had the chance to catch her breath, she examined the skin beneath her shirt once more.

Clean. Her skin, in fact, had already started to fill with color. She gazed up, terrified the creature might be waiting to pull her back. But this time, Emily was alone.

Taking a deep breath, Emily let her face fall into her hands and cried.


George, a junior high school janitor, struggles to protect his disabled twin Bill from an otherworldly evil. In the process, he discovers a startling secret about his brother—one that leaves him questioning decades-old assumptions and wondering which of them truly is the stronger half.

Purchase your copy of The Stronger Half today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover editions! Signed and discounted copies are also available through my Gumroad store 🙂

Buy Now

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive Rite of Passage.

Death of a Fire Starter

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

A ring of fire surrounds her. Its heat rises in bright, shimmering waves, baking her skin. How long does she have left? Three minutes? Five? Samantha draws into herself, wracks her brain for any opportunity to escape. But she knows death is inevitable.

All around her, hooded men and women stand at a safe distance, flickering as if ghosts.

“You knew the price of disobedience,” they told her before lighting the fire.

Samantha did, and if she’d been given the choice again, she would have done the same. If the Fire Starters had been able to forge ahead with their original plan, thousands of innocents would have burned.

The Fire Starters have always been her family. They took her in when she was a child and raised her as their own. For all their grievous faults, they were good to her, and choosing to betray them was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do.

She knew their history. She understood the crucible of relentless persecution in which the Fire Starters were transformed into the despots they are today. As she grew older, she tried to open their eyes, to show them a better way of living.

But when they decided to burn a city for refusing to pay them tribute, she knew no amount of reasoning would be enough to stop them. So she warned the population ahead of time, and when the Fire Starters came to destroy them, they found the city deserted.

Her only worry now as she burns to death—as she scents her hair smoking at the tips—is for the rest of the world. What will they do when their only advocate among the Fire Starters is dead?

And then it occurs to her. Perhaps she can’t save herself. But maybe, if she can find the strength within her—if she can intensify the flames—she can take her family with her.

She reaches for the Spark—the primordial power within as well as the source of every fire—and finds it waiting, as bright and fulminating as it was the day the Fire Starters taught her how to reach for it. She takes hold of it now and pairs it to the flames already blazing around her.

The fire responds at once, resonates with the fire within herself. The flames intensify, wild tongues reaching for the twilit sky, and she feeds it with all her remaining strength.

She hears their startled screams and knows she’s done it, that there’s no way they’ll be able to escape. They’re surrounded, just as she’s surrounded. Her own life is nearly extinguished, her vision turning black like her soon to be charred remains, but at least she’ll go with the knowledge that she was able to take them with her, that she was able to save the world from their wicked rule.

Let’s go, she thinks, into the fire we ourselves started.

Awareness gutters, and Samantha slips into the dark.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive Rite of Passage.

Fighting the Shadow

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

It reaches out from the depths of space—creeping, feeling, groping for purchase. Like a poisonous vine, like a venomous serpent, it trawls the cosmic waters in search of prey.

Until today, my people were out of reach. Until today, the Builders protected us. Until today, all was well with our world.

Until today.

When the walls came down, when our once protected corner of the universe became contaminated by the darkness from the outside, panic reigned.

How could such a thing have happened, and why?

We sent our strongest warriors to petition the Builders for help in mending the breach. But once they passed beyond our borders, they were never seen again.

Now, I’m the only one of our people left, the sole surviving remnant of a once proud and sprawling civilization. Such tragedy. I cannot bear it.

My loved ones, dead.

My world, consumed.

Despair has taken root in the chaos that was once an able mind, and I can feel the Shadow’s tendrils reaching inside of me, eager to consume the last remaining crumb.

I cannot let it win.

No! I won’t let you have me!

Oh, no? comes its reply.

A war ensues, a battle that rages on as the universe tilts and tumbles, as time processes through an uncountable number of eons and epochs.

I am broken—easy prey, it must have thought on the eve of battle—and am always on the brink of annihilation. I am saved from tumbling off sanity’s bottomless ledge by sheer will power alone.

I am almost spent, and I can feel the Shadow’s laugh as it prepares to swallow my shattered soul and end our ageless struggle for good. But I hold, because I know something the Shadow does not.

The Builders are coming.

I can see them on the horizon, a resplendent light that rekindles my weary heart with hope. The Shadow cannot see them. Its focus is on me, and all I have to do is keep it occupied long enough for them to arrive.

So I hold.

And I hold.

And I hold.

My redemption is at hand, if only I can stand long enough to survive.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive Rite of Passage.