Fantasy

Totem, Part 5

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Deep inside the dappled light of a tall oak tree, the six blackbirds stood watch. They’d followed the girl to this location, a two-story house in the suburbs, and had spent the rest of the afternoon contemplating how best to proceed. When they first arrived, the sun had still been bright overhead. Now it was a dull, burnished copper, slipping fast beneath the roofs of the other houses.

She hasn’t been outside since she got home, remarked one, a slim creature who in another life had gone by the name of Zane. A boring one, she. He took a moment to preen himself with his beak.

She’s troubled. That from Rashidi, their leader. You saw the way she fled from us.

A hopeless cause, argued Kasim, another of the six. Millennia of endless flight, just for it to end like this.

Not hopeless, said Jahi. He’d been so quiet that, until now, they’d forgotten he was there. His voice was elegant, stately, bellying his many years of experience as a diplomat. No cause is hopeless as long as one maintains hope.

A worthless platitude, spat Kasim.

And one, said Rashidi, that I happen to believe is true.

Chibale, barked Kasim, what do you think?

I think, came the creature’s reply, That we should stop arguing and focus on the girl.

He’s right. Rashidi addressed them each in turn. Let us consider the task at hand.

Kasim offered his bitterest telepathic grumble, but did not reply.

Azibo, the last of their number, was staring into the sky and hadn’t said a word. The youngest of the six, he was only a teenager when he was changed. He rarely spoke and spent much of his time peering into the heavens with longing. Rashidi felt for him, for he also felt the weight of his own punishment and could only guess how much more it must have affected the boy.

An Egyptian magician had set it all into motion over two thousand years ago. A man history no longer remembered, yet a man who was once the most powerful in the world, for although he was mighty in deed and strength, he preferred to rule from the shadows.

“Better to be the power behind the throne,” the cruel old man proclaimed when Rashidi was still one of his most favored servants. “Let the Pharaoh enjoy his pomp and ceremony. True power lies in obscurity.”

And the man had been wise, his continued rule all but certain, until a plan set in motion by Rashidi and the others nearly toppled him.

After their failed mutiny and subsequent transformation, they’d taken to the skies. They dwelled among the Babylonians and the Assyrians, then traveled Northeast into Persia, then farther East still toward the lands of the Huns and the Mongols. When enough time had passed to hope their master had forgotten them, they circled back in search of the bracelet, wishing to destroy it and undo the spell that bound them.

But when they returned, they found their old master’s estate in ruins, neither he nor the bracelet anywhere to be found. Farther West, a vague interior sense whispered. Farther West is where you’ll find the bracelet. So they took to the skies once more, wandering the world in a futile search, that sense of the bracelet’s proximity moving almost as fast as they themselves moved, until finally it drew them toward the North American continent on the other side of the world.

Now, Rashidi began to pace along the tree branch.

We must find a way to communicate with her.

We could get into the house ourselves, offered Chibale. Sneak in through an open window when no one’s watching.

And then what? scoffed Kasim. How do we break the bracelet? In case you haven’t noticed, we’re birds. Unless they make hammers and chisels for our delicate size and shape.

Kasim, said Rashidi, Be calm.

He’s right though. Jahi jumped in once more. We’ll need her help.

Azibo? Rashidi pulled up behind him. What do you think?

No reply.

Azibo? He approached the boy and tapped him with his beak.

With agonizing slowness, Azibo finally turned. But his eyes were blank, as if he had no idea where he was.

Help us. If the words had come out as sound, they would have been the faintest of whispers.

The others were all looking at him now. He’d always been quiet, but never this strange.

Help who, Azibo? Once more, Rashidi tapped him with his beak.

Please, help us.

Who’s he talking to? asked Kasim, all his characteristic bitterness and sarcasm gone.

I don’t know, Rashidi answered. Azibo, who are you talking to? What’s wrong?

And then, just like that, the youth’s eyes blazed to life. Startled, he tottered back almost to the edge of the branch.

Azibo! What’s wrong?

The boy’s head twittered, and he stepped to the side, ruffling his jet black feathers.

I felt the girl.

What do you mean? Chibale.

A pause while Azibo collected his thoughts. I don’t know. I was gazing into the sky, daydreaming. Then I was a wizard, and a girl came to seek my wisdom. A different girl, yet the same.

Azibo shook his head.

I was in her head, I think, like we were sharing a dream. I asked her for help, and I could feel that she understood me. Then she was gone, and I was back here with you—

Again, Azibo shook his head.

How can this be? asked Rashidi. I’ve never heard of such a thing.

They began to argue. Rashidi and Chibale asserted that Azibo should rest, while Zane and Kasim insisted he’d gone mad. Finally, Jahi broke in.

I’ve heard of it.

Reduced to silence, they all turned to face him at once, an unspoken question burning in their eyes like hot, black stars.

I don’t think he’s mad, continued Jahi, and I don’t think he was dreaming. Azibo, this has happened before, hasn’t it?

The boy didn’t answer, only put his head down and refused to meet Jahi’s eyes.

Azibo?

Still no reply.

It’s okay, Azibo. The master is dead. He can’t hurt you now.

Still the boy hesitated, until at last Jahi sidled over and gave him a gentle nudge with his beak.

You can tell us, Azibo. You’re among friends.

After more prodding, the boy looked up and said, maybe.

Jahi nodded, while the others looked at both of them aghast.

I thought so. You hid yourself well. The master would have killed you if he’d known.

Would one of you please explain what’s going on? It was the first time in centuries that any of them could remember Rashidi losing patience.

And with Azibo’s silent assent, Jahi told them a story.

Read part 6 here.

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I Saw Her Again

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The line we draw between reality and fantasy is a fragile thing, a brittle house of glass that requires only one small pebble, one hairline crack, to fall shattering to the ground.

I saw her again.

I saw her again, and my psyche, like our metaphorical house of glass, burst into a million sparkling pieces.

I was seven when I watched her die, and I was thirty when I spied her outside in the pouring rain, holding an umbrella in her right hand, along with a smoldering cigarette in her left.

I can already hear what you’re going to say next. How do I know she was the same person? People look like other people all the time. And if not for what happened next, I’d say you were right.

The world, dreary and gray, took on a hollow, distant cast. I thought, surely, I must be dreaming. I wanted to move on, wanted to shy away from the uncanny encounter before I could be undone. But in such mad and dreamlike moments, we do odd things—dangerous things we wouldn’t dare attempt by the ordinary light of day.

I pulled up beside her, not minding the cold and the damp and the pelting rain, and I said, “Excuse me, don’t I know you from someplace?”

In the instant before she turned, I thought, This is all a misunderstanding. The crawling goosebumps will pass, and when I see for myself that she isn’t the same person, that it was only a bit of déjà vu, I’ll wander on, shaking my head and wondering how I could have been such a fool.

But then she looked at me, and she was the same person, and I stood there in a hapless stupor as her lips curled into a malicious sneer.

“Hello, Joseph. How good to see you again.”

That from the woman I watched die.

That from the woman I helped my father kill.

“Say hello to your father for me.”

Then she turned away, just another stranger in the pouring rain. First I was walking. Then jogging. Then running. I careened down the puddle-laden street, convinced she was right behind me, ready to mete out cold, hard justice at last.

Murderer, whispered a part of myself I’d locked away for twenty-three years.

Impossible, shrieked another.

And inside, in the manic chambers of a shattered mind, a million shards of my broken soul clambered and shouted at once.

Now I am broken, and like Humpty Dumpty, all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put me together again.

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“Dying Breath” is released!

A place of waiting.

The thought echoes over and over again through Jerome’s mind. Waking in a barn with no memory of where he’s come from, it is his only clue. But before he even has time to think, sleep bears down on him, and when he opens his eyes again, he’s someone else.

A soldier one moment, a financial analyst the next. A little girl. An old man. With each life Jerome experiences, he remembers something else of his own. Flashes of a bright light. A hospital bed. A mysterious woman named Darlene.

But what does it mean? What does each life have in common? Most importantly, what can it tell Jerome about himself?

My latest short story, Dying Breath, is released today!

About a year ago, I posted the first rough draft on Patreon. Now, finally, after having been through three editors, it’s released 🙂 I had a great time writing it, and I’m excited to share it with all of you.

You can buy the e-book for your Amazon Kindle, Kobo, Nook or Google device for just $1.99.

Find it for the Amazon Kindle by clicking here.
Find it for your Kobo device by clicking here.
Find it for the Barnes & Noble Nook by clicking here.
Find it on Google Play by clicking here.

I hope you enjoy the story, and if you feel so inclined, I hope you’ll write to me at jeff at jeffcolemanwrites dot com to let me know what you thought of the story 🙂

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