Laura

Inara Prusakova/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on April 17, 2018.

Laura gazed into the dark midnight sky, where the moon beamed down on the world below. The luminous light was warm. It soaked into her skin, replenished her weary, weakened reserves. She could hold a lot of energy inside, but even one as ancient and powerful as herself had to recharge now and again.

Things began to stir within. Her face flushed, and she threw back her head in a state of sudden drunken revelry.

Once, the world had belonged to those like herself, creatures of strong elemental magic. They built it out of nothing but star-stuff, and when it was finished, they stayed behind to care for its future inhabitants. Now, they were so tightly bound to the Earth that they couldn’t leave even if they tried.

When Laura had taken her fill, she turned away from the sky and started to walk.

It seemed walking was all her kind could do these days. Long ago, they’d bonded with humans. They’d shown them how to live, how to care for the Earth as they themselves had done. And for a time, the humans had revered them. They’d worshiped them as gods and goddesses, sparking world religions that lived on even into the modern age. But humanity quickly devolved into brute savagery. Something in their evolutionary path had made them stubborn and aggressive, and they quickly turned onto a dark path.

There were still those who remembered the Old Ways, tiny patches of light in an otherwise dark and primitive world. They still prayed to their old gods, still reached out for help. But Laura and her kind had decided it was best not to interfere. Let the humans live or let them destroy themselves, what should they care? It was the world they loved, and if humanity wanted to destroy itself, then in its ashes, they would sow the seeds for a gentler, nobler race.

Perhaps in time, if the humans inclined themselves toward purer pursuits—if they laid down their weapons and returned to the ways Laura’s kind had taught them—they would reveal themselves once more.

But given the state of the modern world, Laura thought the odds were slim.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

Genevier’s Special Power

Zwiebackesser/Shutterstock.com

The angel Genevier stood with her back against the engraved cathedral wall, eyes wide. She could hear the demon approaching, could hear its wet chuffing breaths, its low malicious snarl. Like a lion stalking a lone gazelle, it followed her scent, and though she couldn’t see it, though the expansive cathedral lay blanketed in near total darkness, she could feel it closing in.

It was no easy feat to kill an angel, but this particular demon was strong, and Genevier was still young.

Her chest heaved with the effort of breathing. In and out, in and out. Sweat popped from her ebony skin like tiny sequin pearls, contributing to the scent that drew the creature closer.

The demon’s snarl rose in volume, and the cobbled floor began to tremble.

This is it, she thought. Just shy of a hundred years old, she hadn’t yet discovered her special power. Every angel had one, a defense mechanism that kicked in whenever they were at their most vulnerable. If she’d waited to enter the world until she was ready, if she’d given herself time to grow into her abilities, then perhaps she wouldn’t be in this position now.

A side door shattered in a spray of wood chips and metal. A moment later, a pair of smoldering red eyes appeared, flooding the abandoned nave with an unholy light. The demon’s breath hitched, then deepened, a sickly, baritone rumble that shook the stone walls, sending portraits of long-dead saints raining to the floor.

“No,” Genevier breathed. “I will not let you take me. This is holy ground.”

But the demon paid her no mind, only crept forward toward the altar, anxious for the kill.

Genevier tipped her head toward the arched ceiling, not wanting to look that horrible creature in the eye, and closed her eyes to pray.

All at once, a quiet stillness filled her heart, carving out a space where she could take refuge. Within this unexpected sanctuary, Genevier discovered something she hadn’t experienced before, an interior light that, once seen, could not be unseen. It smothered the darkness, and though the demon was nearly upon her, she couldn’t help but marvel, fascinated by the power she perceived in this otherworldly glow.

Tentative, not because she was afraid but because the noble light demanded reverence, Genevier reached out to touch it.

That was when the song overtook her.

Genevier had no idea where it came from, only that it took shape within the deepest part of herself and radiated outward like the astral light of a star. It flowed through her heart, her mind, and finally through her lips.

Transcendent. Unearthly. Beatific. The sound was like nothing Genevier had heard before. It was all at once a part of her and not, a composition of distinct selves that shook the foundation of the cathedral.

The demon stopped inches from her face, cocking its grotesque and bulbous head. Its noxious stink rolled over Genevier like a poisonous cloud, but her song cut through it. Rising in both pitch and volume, the cathedral was soon trembling not only in time with the demon’s fetid breathing, but to the empyrean strains of Genevier’s song.

A dialog took shape between herself and the world surrounding her, an imperative that neither the living nor the non-living could ignore. A melancholy twang, and the stone cobbles rose from the ground to bind the demon’s feet. A desperate trill, and a series of pews flung free from the nave to form a makeshift cage.

The demon roared in a feral rage, but no matter how hard it struggled, it was stuck and couldn’t reach her.

The song reached a passionate, Earth-shattering crescendo, and with it, the most potent of commands was formed: a summoning.

Where there had once been only cold and lifeless stone, there was now fire. It surged into being inside the demon’s prison, just as hungry and eager to feed as the demon itself. The creature cried out, no longer out of rage but out of a blind and animalistic fear. The hunter had become the prey, and as the fire grew, as it made a holy sacrifice of an unholy beast, Genevier could only watch with mute astonishment.

Genevier had found her special power.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

Simon

Kiselev Andrey Valerevich/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on April 24, 2018.

I am trapped, and I am afraid.

Once I thought myself invincible. The world was a great shining wonder, a rich and sumptuous banquet of which I partook every day. I loved the world, and for a time, I thought the world loved me. Now I take stock of the suffocating darkness surrounding me, of the narrow, moldering walls that keep me penned inside, and I realize, as Jesus of Nazareth must have realized the night he was betrayed, that this love is a lie, that the world will use you up until it’s sucked you dry and then crucify you for your troubles.

I kneel before a barren stone floor, search it with feral, calloused hands, and pick up a loose stone. I close my fingers around it as if it were a crown jewel, then lash out, striking the wall.

Flecks of light pierce the darkness. They are something for my eyes to grab onto, something to anchor me in this world of everlasting night.

I strike the wall again.

Again.

Again.

I scrape and scratch until I’m gasping for breath. Then I sink to the ground, suddenly silent and languid, a hollow, hopeless shell of the man I had once been.

Just before I fall into a fitful sleep, light once more enters my vision. At first I shake it off—just another dream, I think, or perhaps I’ve gone mad—but the light blossoms, expands, until my closed eyelids glow like bright red coals.

I try to open my eyes, but the light is too painful. My heart beats faster, and I turn inward with fear.

“Simon.”

The name echoes through my prison like a bullhorn. My name. Long has it been since I’ve heard its syllables uttered, and I feel myself pulled to it like a moth to the light.

“I summon you, Simon the Banished, for the world has need of you once more.”

How many times had I myself called on forbidden powers to accomplish my bidding? Now, it seems, the tables have turned, and as the words of a stranger’s spell ensnare me, I try once more to open my eyes.

The light still hurts, but not so much as it did before. At last, I manage to squint. I am surrounded by bright, blinding gold. It illuminates the cold stone hell whose walls I’d never actually seen before today.

My eyes widen, and my pupils adjust. My prison has faded, and in its place I see first an outline, then shapes, then finally colors: an entire world outside the dark, a world of living, thriving things.

“I call on thee, Simon. Come and be part of the world once more.”

I do not know who’s summoned me or why, only that I will soon be free, that the place where I was imprisoned no longer holds any power over me.

I break into an exultant grin.

I gave much to the people of the world, yet they bound me in chains. Now, they will learn to regret it.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

The Hunt

Alvaro German Vilela/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on March 13, 2018.

“What have you gotten me into?” I peered into the starry moonlit sky, unleashed a feral, wordless curse, and ran.

The ground rose up to meet my feet in quick, pounding strides, while their cries—anguished, twisted, inhuman—rang out into the night.

I was surrounded, with nowhere left to run. But I ran anyway, because fear knows no bounds. It penetrates the thickest walls, flies to the highest tower tops, always expecting you to chase after it. But it was impossible to outrun them—I knew that from the start—and soon enough, they were springing up around me, ghostly wraiths, thin and vaporous.

“I didn’t ask for this!”

Despair, thick and cloying. I was a hare caught in a cruel and senseless trap. The Hunt had claimed me for its own, and now my part in the performance was almost over.

“Come to us,” their voices whispered. “Meet us in the dark.”

The creatures merged into a spectral tempest of billowing moonlit smoke and enveloped me. I could feel them writhe against my skin like a million tiny needles, and I opened my mouth to scream.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

Trapped Between Worlds

Nixx Photography/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on March 20, 2018.

It was too much too fast. Another world strobed in and out of view, and Kevin clapped his hands over his ears and closed his eyes.

“Stop.”

For a moment, the flow of otherworldly sensations surged. Then slowly, reluctantly, they petered out, until after a span of minutes or hours—Kevin couldn’t say—light from the world outside greeted his pupils once again.

He let in a lungful of air. Let it out.

In.

Out.

The world, along with the park bench on which Kevin sat, came back into focus.

The sun, warm against his skin, provided some comfort. It made the Earth feel a little more tangible, a little more real. That was a rare feeling now, and he treasured it, held it close like a newborn child.

For the thousandth time, Kevin questioned his sanity. He’d once had a schizophrenic uncle who went off his medication, and he could remember the man sitting in a secluded corner of his grandmother’s house, laughing and whispering at people who weren’t there.

But wasn’t the definition of insanity the inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy? If Kevin was crazy, why did he feel the need to ask himself if he was sane?

A child shouted in the distance as if punctuating the thought, and he turned to see a little girl in the playground tear through the air on a swing.

Kevin remembered when he himself had been a child. Ages ago, it seemed now, a whole other life. The fantasies had taken him hostage then, too. But it hadn’t occurred to him until he was much older that something might be wrong.

Like a ghost, he’d slip back and forth between two worlds, an effortless transition that always seemed so innocent, so normal, so natural. Mom and Dad would send him outside to play, and he would hydroplane across the stars, sliding through an alternate reality that seemed custom built for him.

He was just using his imagination, he assumed, like every other boy and girl his age. Then he turned into a teenager, and things took a turn for the worst.

He would hang out at school, chatting with friends, or trying to talk to the pretty girl who sat across from him in Math, and all of a sudden the visions would return, as lucid and as real as his life at school. Then, when he finally came back to himself, he’d be wandering the halls like a zombie, or sitting on a toilet in one of the bathroom stalls, or even walking home, with no recollection of the intervening hours.

He never talked to anyone about his sudden lapses. For him, they were something to be ashamed of. He was afraid, and so, one by one, he withdrew from his family and his friends, while inside, he quietly went mad.

Incursions of that other world into his own increased, until it was happening all the time, until he could no longer tell up from down or left from right.

Now he was twenty-seven and still lived at home, with no prospects for college or work.

I’m lost, he thought. Lost in the space between two worlds. It was a terrible kind of half-life that he hated bitterly.

Light. It tugged at Kevin’s eyes once more. This light wasn’t from the sun but from someplace elsewhere, a luminescence that was different in both quality and intensity. Blue sky and clouds one moment gave way to star-studded black the next.

“No,” Kevin whispered. It was happening again. “Stop.”

But it didn’t stop. In the end, it never stopped.

The world flickered, and Kevin, whimpering, closed his eyes and waited to be taken again.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

Remembering

andreiuc88/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on March 27, 2018.

The sun beats down upon my neck, but I do not feel its warmth. The light is wan, sickly, and I hug myself against the cold. The Earth—or the Old World, as it has come to be called by my people—is a graveyard. Ancient rotten buildings line deserted streets like headstones.

And yet, this is where we all began, where we all sprang up from a soil that was once fertile and rich. We are descendants of a celestial seed sown by our forebearers when the Old World was little more than stardust, and we honor our old home with reverence.

Of course, we moved on long ago. We didn’t want to; the Old World had been good to us. But we had no choice. Earth had given all it could, and as the sun dimmed and the oceans cooled and the plants withered and died, we opened the Book of Creation, placed our hands upon its shriveled pages, and let its magic sweep us away to someplace new.

Our world is once more a place of blue skies and clouds, of brightness, fertility, and life. But each of us must return to the Old World at least once, not just to connect with our distant past, but to divine the secrets of our far-off future.

I take one last look at the lifeless sky and shake my head. Nothing left to see here, only monuments by and for the dead. I open the Book of Creation. A warm light envelops me, and after I whisper the sacred words of our ancestors, the Old World once more gives way to the new.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

The Bell

worradirek/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on February 13, 2018.

A bell rings behind me, and I turn. But no one’s there, and a moment later I continue on, boots clip-clopping against the paving stones of an abandoned street, their cyclic echo like a cannonade in the darkness of the night.

The bell rings again. The sound stirs uncomfortable memories, and I whirl, desperate to catch whoever rang it by surprise. But again, I see only a dark and empty street.

Faster. I must walk faster. The continuous rhythm of boots-against-stone rises in tempo to match the accelerating beat of my anxiety-ridden heart.

The bell rings yet again. Like a grenade, it bursts inside my head. The sound is so close now, I can almost feel cold metal pressing against my cheek. Those dark memories swirl, like dust kicked up by a storm, and I begin to remember what I tried so hard to forget.

I hoped I’d escaped, but now, too late, I realize the truth: They were always watching. I can feel them breathing down my neck, their wet, noxious stink rolling over me like poison gas.

The air grows still, pregnant with anticipation.

When the bell rings again, the force and volume drag me down into a restless sleep. But before I lose consciousness, I feel them place something around my neck.

My own bell—polished silver—flashing in the moonlight.

Then I close my eyes and return to my eternal unrest, knowing I am theirs once more.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

Firefighter

Selin Serhii/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on February 20, 2018.

The fire was so much worse up close.

Eric had seen it on the evening news every night since he was ten. He’d watched it gain a foothold, watched it advance, watched it spread like a contagion through most of the world, until Earth’s entire population, as far as anyone knew, consisted solely of those lucky enough to have lived in or retreated to a tenacious cluster of neighborhoods in Fort Worth, Texas.

Nobody knew where or when the fire had started. Perhaps someone had left a faulty device plugged in at home while on vacation, or perhaps someone had cast a still-smoldering cigarette onto a clump of dry and flammable weeds. All anyone knew for certain was that the fire was impossible to put out. Every time they fought it with water and flame retardants, the wind would blow it in a different direction, or the heat would burn so strongly that the firefighters had no choice but to pull back and retreat.

Like it was alive, Eric had come to believe. Like it had a mind of its own. And now, standing before the dwindling Fort Worth perimeter inside the small scrap of civilization that hadn’t yet been consumed by the fire, he thought that assessment was accurate.

Burning columns of flame rose high into a rusty, soot-filled sky as if taunting the survivors. Come get me if you can, the fire seemed to shout, and all the while it pushed against their failing defenses, promising to eliminate the final remnant of humanity.

But Texas wasn’t built that way, and neither was Eric. He believed it was better to die defending one’s homeland than it was to cower in defeat, and though the end was nigh—though everything he’d ever known stood at the utter brink of annihilation—neither he nor his fellow firefighters were going out without a fight.

So Eric donned his helmet, suit, and hose. He took a deep breath through his fogged respirator, then angled his head toward the sky to offer up a final prayer.

Then he charged headfirst into the flames.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

What Goes Around

Selin Serhii/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on Janurary 31, 2018.

The wind has become a billowing gust, a mounting power that taunts me as I stroll through my private gardens. I do not reply but continue on, while inwardly I consider the old adage that humans have always been so fond of: What goes around comes around.

An ancient enemy is the wind, from a time when the Earth was only slag, when the stars were nascent blossoms of fire streaking across an infant sky. “I claim the cosmos for myself,” I said, though the wind was its sovereign master. A battle ensued, not of good versus evil, nor even of ideal versus ideal, but might against might, a contest for supremacy and the right to rule all.

I bested her in the end. Worthy adversary though she was, my strength overtook her, and she was cast into the darkness on the outside.

But now that I grow old, now that my strength diminishes, I can feel her breath on my back once more. “Soon,” she whispers. “Soon, I’ll rise again and take what’s rightfully mine.” And I know, loath as I am to admit it, that I won’t be able to stop her.

What shape will the universe take when she breaks free? I cannot bear to imagine. The cosmos is mine, I think, though I never had a right to it. I shake with quiet, indignant rage, and I take comfort only in knowing I won’t be around when her time to rule comes again.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

Outsider

Oriol Domingo/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on September 27, 2017.

I hear the cadence of their voices, the rise and fall in pitch as their mouths open to form words, followed by sentences. I attempt to reproduce their style, but it is only an affectation, a counterfeit exchange. My true self is beyond expression. Bound by a centuries-old rite, it is out of reach even to myself.

I have spent the past twelve hundred years in exile. During my unnaturally prolonged life, I’ve had a front row seat to the violent mood swings of history. I’ve witnessed the rise and fall of nations, conversed in foreign tongues with people of every color, nationality, and creed. But in the end, I am and will forever remain the outsider.

It is my punishment for a crime I’m not allowed to remember. I am dead to myself, dead to the world. Yet I wander the Earth still, little more than an animated corpse.

The guards told me that the key to unlock myself lies within, and I search the tattered remnants of my soul for it each and every day. But perhaps they lied. Perhaps they only told me this to torment me, to set me on a quest that has no end. Sometimes, I wonder if they watch me still, if they laugh from the shadows at my foolish attempt to reclaim my lost humanity.

Either way, I’ll never stop searching. My determination is an indelible part of my nature—the only part they couldn’t take away—and I choose to believe that it will someday set me free.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.