Episodic stories of fantasy and science fiction.

Author: Ben Acosta Page 1 of 8

Short story and novel author based out of Tucson, Arizona. Freelance writer for George Takei "Oh Myyy" properties.

Japanese Curry Rice

If there’s one thing we all hate, it’s the long story before a recipe. That will not happen here. BEHOLD! The recipe we will be making today!

Ingredients:

  • Sesame Oil
  • 2 regular carrots, chopped into chunks
  • 1 medium potato, chopped into chunks
  • Half an onion, diced
  • Umami spices
  • Water
  • Japanese curry roux
  • 1 square of chocolate
  • Hot honey, or regular honey and chili powder
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 1 serving of whatever cooked protein you choose

Instructions

  1. In a large pot, heat about 3 tablespoons of sesame oil.
  2. Once hot, add onions, carrots, and potatoes.
  3. Add about 2 tablespoons of umami spice and mix generously.
  4. Once onions brown and become translucent, add about 8 cups of water and bring to boil
  5. Add the curry roux. This will vary based on brand, but about 2 full large squares is the norm.
  6. Add square of chocolate and about a tablespoon of hot honey
  7. Stir generously until curry roux is fully incorporated
  8. Plate cooked rice on half the plate, and cooked protein on the other half
  9. Scoop curry and cover the protein
  10. Eat while nice and hot

Story

So, I never liked curry. This started when I had a job at Pei Wei and thought I just didn’t like their Coconut Curry dish, because I didn’t like coconut. But I then tried Indian curry at several reputably good restaurants and came to the conclusion I just don’t like curry.

This was my life for a long time, and while I often gave it a chance, I eventually just stopped even trying curry at all. That is until Pokemon Sword and Shield. Yeah. I learned to make this dish because of a video game. Sue me.

The game just made this curry rice dish look so good.

The minigame was simple, but I knew making Japanese curry rice had to be more complicated in real life. And I never liked curry before, so why would I even try to make it? That thought changed though. Playing the game created a mere-exposure effect and soon I became very curious about the dish.

Eventually, a Japanese curry rice place opened down the street from me. After playing this game so much, I decided to at least try it. And you know what? It was good. It was really good.

Now, to be fair, Japanese curry is different from Indian curry. It tends to be sweeter, made with apple and citrus flavors, but it’s by no means overwhelmingly sweet. It’s still very recognizable as curry. Some types of Japanese curry rice use less or no tumeric, which is a spice I don’t particularly like and its absence likely contributes to my love of this dish.

Eventually, eating the dish at the restaurant was getting to be too much. My partner and I couldn’t spend that kind of money on it so often. But looking online, something that was regularly repeated was that curry rice was really easy to make. In fact, even restaurants often used pre-packaged curry roux.

The most popular brands for the roux are Kokumaro, Vermont Curry, and Java Curry. There is another called Golden Curry that’s not the worst, but man the others are just so much better.

The upside to Golden Curry, is that it’s really easily available. I can find it at my normal grocery store, when I have to do a little work for the others. Even then, my local Asian market has most of the good stuff, and online retailers can deliver the required roux. I recommend trying each, and mix and matching between all of these, as you may find a flavor combination you like.

Kokumaro and Vermont curry are my preferred mix

Lastly, we have the level of spiciness. I personally recommend getting as hot as you can stand or find. I’ve had the spiciest versions of these and felt they were very tolerable, though at this time, I had issues finding spicier versions than what you see in the photo above.

I’ve made this with some fancy ingredients, like nicely made shrimp or some perfectly fried tofu. But I’m also a gremlin who likes to just make this stuff quick, so frozen protein is regularly used as well.

It’s become a regular meal for us here, and the best part is that it makes so frikkin much of it. Leftovers for days and we could honestly always eat it. It’s really easy to mix up the protein and spices so it’s also very versatile.

Some things to keep in mind:

  1. The curry roux looks like chocolate. Do not bite into it expecting it to taste like it.
  2. The curry roux smells delicious. Do not bite into it without diluting it with water.
  3. The recipe makes a lot. You’ll have plenty of leftovers, so make sure you have containers that can store it all.

Let me know if you make it and how your version comes out!

Love you all,

-Ben Acosta, The Author

Life Updates, a New Endeavor, and Leaving Facebook

Hello random people who decided to read this!

I plan to use this blog to update people on Munerra and I, but also share my thoughts on news and pop culture. and really anything else.

If you want to receive emails when I update just for my life blog, click here to sign up for the newsletter. You’ll only receive 1 email a week, and hopefully that can keep you in touch on what’s happening with me.

So, updates: At the moment, Munerra and I are planning to move in with my parents temporarily to save money to buy a house. We’ll be getting a storage unit for most of our stuff this weekend, and slowly move a bunch of things in there. Our lease isn’t up until the end of November, so we can take our time.

Part of this plan meant cleaning out my parents’ garage for space for Munerra’s workout equipment. This was a pretty rewarding project that took it from looking like this:

To something a little more manageable.

A much cleaner garage
Holy cow, you can park another car in there!

There’s still a bit more work to be done in there, but we’re really proud of the work we’ve been able to do. Between this and the storage unit, our stuff should just be able to fit. Only just. Hopefully.

Our plan to get married next year is still on, but whether or not we’ll have the full ceremony we were planning is up in the air. If things aren’t looking a lot better in the next month or two, we’ll likely cancel, and have a courthouse wedding. Reception would happen at a future point in time, probably when it’s safe, possibly at the new house we plan to get.

Munerra has incorporated her business, and is working on the prototype for her product, so we’re super excited about that. You can follow her progress and get news about her ‘athleisure’ line when it launches by following her Instagram.

As for me, I’ve been keeping busy with my job, my side job, and maintaining this writing blog. Episodes should be starting again next week, so please read if you want to support me.

That’s about all I have for our lives. Now for the real reason you’re here.

You’re likely wondering why I’m deleting my Facebook. The honest truth is that I planned to for a while. Pretty much every social media company is terrible, and escaping their clutches online is difficult. Facebook is the biggest offender by far, but has also made it really easy to connect with other people and because of that, really difficult to avoid.

On a less serious note, Facebook’s excessive lies about video performance on the site helped lead to the current crumbling of popular internet comedy websites I enjoyed, which you know, sure. Not great.

More importantly, all the content generated by users also means a lot of really bad shit happens on the site too. Sure, you probably want to avoid political arguments with family members, which can be draining. But I’m talking about other things. Situations like the Cambridge Analytica scandal are where Facebook’s system of engagement and information harvesting can backfire on society. Which is bad, sure. But even then, it can still get worse.

The straw that ended up breaking my back on this was a recent episode of a podcast called Behind the Bastards. In it, they talk about violence and genocides that are exacerbated by groups weaponizing Facebook, made even easier by the fact that Facebook practically is the internet in many nations.

While plenty of social media companies are used for this kind of thing, most companies will apologize, make some vague attempt at addressing the issue, and move on. Facebook doesn’t even do that.

When Gambia sought to hold Myanmar accountable for genocide, and requested evidence from social media companies, Twitter offered up the information. Meanwhile, Facebook just refuses. They can’t even pretend to care. If you think Google is bad about a hands off approach to content moderation, you haven’t got a clue what Facebook is, or rather, isn’t doing.

Their content moderation teams are so small, and suffer so much psychological torture with little to no help from the parent company. Facebook doesn’t care how much they hurt other people and can’t even pretend.

At the moment, I’ll be deleting my Facebook account, and in time, the account of any service connected to Facebook. Instagram will be gone soon, as well as Whatsapp.

I hope you’ll join me in doing the same.

– Ben Acosta, The Author

News: Updates and Delays

Hello everyone!

I know, it’s been a while since I’ve posted a new episode. My day job has gotten a little busy and I’ve had little time to work on this site. I’m hoping to get back on track at the end of the month.

In related news, I’m working on starting a podcast of dramatic readings of episodes! I’m starting with just myself performing The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator, but if it can grow enough, I would like to get other actors for other stories.

At the moment, I do not have a release date for the podcast, and I’m trying to get back on track for writing new episodes. I promise to not keep you waiting too long.

I may start to use the blog more often too, so keep an eye out for that.

Thank you for reading, and looking forward to the future!

Ben, The Author

The Elysian: Sixteenth Dream

As we reach the door, I pull out my keys.

The strange gold one that took me to the expanse of space.

The obsidian one specked with stars that brought me here.

The leafy one that seemed to loop me back here.

And finally the key of the forest. I place it in the lock and turn it. As the door opens and the familiar light shines out, I become a little contemplative.

“Let’s get going, bud!” Godemir urged. I comply and we step through.

Where will we go? A far-off field? Deep beneath the ocean? Another time? Another dimension?

The light fades and my vision comes into focus.

Or …a …diner?

I look around, doing my best to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. Checkerboard tile, steel rod chairs, leather covered booths, pastel blue, and hot rod red.

Yeah, I’m in a 50’s diner. But then again, I look out the window and see nothing. Similar to when I found myself in Luna’s sky, though I get the feeling I’m not going to see the wonders of space this time. It’s just an empty black as far as my perception will go. I turn back to the inside of the building looking for a sign of life.

The furniture wasn’t covered in dust, and I could smell some kind of food, so I don’t think it’s abandoned.

“Hello!? Is anyone here?!” I yell out. I feel some fidgeting on my shoulder.

“What are you? Crazy? Don’t you know anything about stealth?” My friend was obviously not too thrilled with my brilliant tactic to find out who is in this building.

“I’m already dead, what’s the worst that could happen?”

“How about second death?”

I turn and look at the door to the kitchen. An older gentleman stood just outside of it, who definitely wasn’t there before. His hair was thinned and unkempt, but long, going to almost his shoulders. His clothes were very out of place in this building, dark rags, looked to have not been washed in ages. I would have expected him to walk with a cane to complete the Scrooge look, but it was not to be.

“Hi there! I don’t suppose you have a key to this door, do you?” I have no shame.

“You’re really just going to ask that right of way?” Godemir voiced his concern in a whisper, as he hides on my shoulder. I wave my hand at him and continue speaking with the man in the room.

“I kind of need it as soon as possible.” I reach into my pocket, ready to grab my keys in case I have to run.

The old man studies me, slowly walking closer. He stops a little ahead and pulls out a chair at one of the tables.

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” His voice is deep and foreboding. And yet there’s a longing to it. Something mournful.

I shuffle a little realizing how rude I was. Luna and Puck both seemed very aware of me, but I don’t know why all these beings would. The spirit on my shoulder hops up and answers for me.

“Sorry fer my friend here. My name’s Godemir. This rude ass is Rodriguez. He’s just a foolish mortal trying to outrun death.”

“Whoa, hey, too mean,” I whisper to my ‘friend’.

“Your travels have reached my ears, Mr. Rodriguez. A soul trying to escape death. A futile pursuit. But an entertaining one to say the least.”

He takes his seat and gestures for me to do the same. I comply, keeping an eye on the door from which he appeared. Are there more people here?

“What do you guys use to communicate? I had barely left Luna and Robin Goodfellow already knew about me…”

“Do you not even understand the entities who are giving you audience? The power they possess? And they spend their time teaching you lessons and playing games. Why are you so special?”

“I dunno. You tell me. You are going to give me a challenge, aren’t you? For your key?”

He glares at me, his mind trying to find a way to not say what I know to be true.

“…Yes. My earlier question was not to say I’m unaware of you, but to say we do not know each other. We’re not friends. I owe you nothing. What purpose would I have to give you my key?”

That’s a good question. Why would these entities be giving me keys? Is it a trap? A bigger game? I couldn’t say.

“I’m sure you have one. What it is, I don’t care, so long as I can find my way to my family.”

He gives a smile and reaches into his cloak and produces a deck of cards.

“I do not suppose you are familiar with gin rummy?”

Neon Noir: The Eleventh Beat

The City has something for everyone. Beyond material, beyond joy, beyond experience. It can give you purpose, understanding, or even just someone. But it always takes its payment.

Robert and Selene Howell

The city’s heart soothes the rushing mind of Selene Howell. She knew her husband’s job was dangerous, and his obsession with that speakeasy made her all the more worried. But so long as someone can hear the heart, they’re never too far away.

And yet, despite having him back home, Robert felt more distant than ever. He got a new clue, just a picture, but it reinvigorated him and his investigation. Selene wasn’t sure how to stop him. She wasn’t sure how to keep him safe.

For his part, Robert had tried to keep his wife from worrying. He wanted to rush out and start finding more answers the day he came home but he waited after scaring Selene by not coming home.

But it had been long enough.

They sit at the kitchen table, making polite conversation. Robert’s mind raced trying to decide how to broach the subject. While he’d taken a few days off, he couldn’t stop forever, and he’d need to go out at night to find the people who could tell him about the woman in the photograph.

“Selene, I-“

“I want you to quit.” Selene wasn’t expecting to say it so bluntly, but based on how fidgety Robert had been, she knew she had to say it now.

Robert is taken aback by his wife’s suggestion. He knew how she felt about the danger of his job, but he thought there was an understanding.

“I can’t do that. You know I can’t do that.”

“Why?” Selene’s eyes focused on Robert. They seemed to bore into him, like he was mad to not even consider the option. Robert adjusted in his seat.

“We’re barely scraping by as is. I don’t have a job, you don’t have a roof over your head.”

“We’ll figure it out.”

“Like hell we will!” Robert slams his hand on the table. “We can’t get by hoping to luck into something. More importantly, I’m getting close! I got a strong lead!”

“And what happens when they come for you again? These people have so much money and they don’t care about killing you if they have to! You want to leave me alone?”

Robert’s voice gets quieter.

“That won’t happen.”

“How? How are you going to promise that?”

“I would never let anything happen to you! That is what I can promise!”

Selene’s eyes go wide. The voice Robert growled in was the same one that he answers the phone with, in the middle of the night.

“I think… I think I’m going to stay with my sister. Just for a bit.”

The muscles up Robert’s arms relax. He hadn’t realized how hard he was grabbing the table until now.

“That might be best. I promise things will be better in a few days.”

“Please. Please stop making promises you can’t keep.”

Vashti Kianian

What in the hell is taking Mr. Shane so long?

Vash quietly cursed the situation she found herself in. She was sitting in the stolen car from earlier today, one whose owner was surely searching for her, thinking of how Ryan could screw up this badly.

She was expecting to waltz right in after Ryan either took out the men, or drew them away so she could get the cash, but it’s looking like he either got caught or killed.

She curses one last time, before stepping out of the car. Her suit was not conducive to this activity, so she hoped nothing was truly wrong.

She counted the floors up as she crossed the street and tried to figure out which apartment was Bella’s. If she counted right, the fire escape just around the side and little bit back should take her there.

This estimation was confirmed when she reached the bottom of the fire escape and found a ladder already down. Someone went up this way before her.

Vash climbs to the top of the ladder and slowly makes her way up the fire escape, doing her best to not rattle the metal against the building. As she gets closer, she moves slower, unsure what she will find at the apartment.

The window is lit with a soft light. They clearly want to see what’s going on, but they also don’t want to alert anyone that they’re there. Vash creeps up and spies through the window.

Inside the apartment a group of men gathered in the middle of Bella’s apartment, thankfully with their backs to the window. Some on the little couch, one on a stool, and two by the door.

Ryan stood in the middle of them, surprisingly cool for his situation.

“You said you’re helping Bella. So tell us where she is.”

Mr. Shane paces in a small circle, clicks his tongue, and responds.

“I can’t. Not just yet. You know as well as I do, she’s in danger. I won’t tell you until I believe I can trust you.”

“Now listen here boy, you aren’t in a position to-”

Ryan holds up his hand.

“I give you my word.”

Vash was impressed. Mr. Shane seemed so unsure of himself around her and in the club, but here he was standing down muscle from one of the families.

Rupert entered from the kitchen.

Hell, that’s what happened.

Vash was expecting the Belroses but instead it’s the Gaudios. At least now she gets what happened. Rupert is likely looking for Bella.

He crosses from the kitchen to the middle of the apartment with the other men, and tries to hand Ryan a drink. He politely takes it, but Vash knows he won’t drink it.

“Mr. Shane, if you truly want to protect Lady Gaudio, I am the person to tell. You supposedly know who I am, told by Bella herself. Meanwhile, I still don’t know who you are, and have no reason to trust you beyond what you’ve told me.”

Ryan’s eyes search the room, gauging the men up and down, when they catch the eyeshine just outside the window. Vash quickly motions for Ryan to look away, and he understands. He looks at the other men in the room, but whether he knows what she has planned, she isn’t sure.

Vash tests the window and finds it unlocked. As Ryan speaks she slowly opens it and crawls inside.

“Maybe, but I’m more than willing to die to protect Bella if I don’t trust you completely. If you want to know where she is, I’m going to need some proof. Some guarantee beyond you reacting to the name I said. For all I know, you aren’t Rupert at all.”

Vash moves into position behind the men, and speaks as loudly as she can without shouting.

“No worries there Mr. Shane. That is absolutely Rupert, the old bastard.”

The men nearly jump out of their seats as they pull guns from their jackets and point them at the intruder.

Rupert whips around in surprise, a surprise that doesn’t end when he sees who’s speaking.

“Lady Vash?!”

“Oh please, Rupert. You’re far too formal. Just call me Vash. And pour me a drink, would you?”

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 23

I find myself perched precariously on the precipice of a shelf. Climbing up here to find that statue, I question whether I should have kept Con behind to do this kind of thing for me. It would certainly be much easier for the half demon boy to fetch this than myself.

“Please be careful, Branner! I’m not exactly here to catch you if you fall.” Marcellus had been looking rather fearful, though whether that was for my own personal safety or the potential for the bookshelf to make a mess in this room, I was unsure.

“I’ve almost got the statue.” I step up another shelf and reach my hand out behind the books to acquire the sculpture.

My fingers just barely brushing against it, I curse my situation. I’m not close enough. And I can feel the bookshelf wobbling beneath my grip. The shelf starts to lean over. I quickly adjust my weight, hoping to counterbalance it. The book-filled piece of furniture falls back into place. That was too close. All right, it’s time to try something else.

At that moment a deep and loud roar pierces the air.

No. No, no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no! NO!

I can hear the sound of thunderous crashing as the demon barrels through bookshelves trying to get to me. I have to get down, before the monster kills me. I look down trying to find the next shelf, when I feel it lean back again.

“Oh, hell…”

The bookcase tilts back towards me from the domino-like destruction around it. I can’t climb down in time. However…

I turn my head as far around as I can, looking to time my jump. As the bookshelf closes in on its neighbor, I leap to the next one, landing higher up than where my old shelf will hit it. Being on this side certainly helps, but the crash at the bottom is jarring to say the least. Optimistic thought, I’m not squished.

The beast roars out again, sending a shiver up my spine. He stands before me in the wreckage of wood and paper.

Pessimistic thought, the demon I barely injured with the help of a supernatural boy has recovered and found me again. At least I can tell his general location by the eye wound Con inflicted upon him earlier. He’s still covered in coagulated yellow blood, allowing me to aim my attacks at his head.

“Marcellus, please find Con. I have a feeling I’ll be needing him.”

I reach into my pocket and try to think of what I can use to fight such a beast. I find them empty. My talismans and gems are in my bag, back near the entrance to the study.

The beast doesn’t waste time. It charges me. The debris covering the floor hampers my movement, I don’t have time to run out of its path. Instead, I dive around the side of it, with my arm out. If I remember right, it has four arms. I catch on one and swing myself up on top of it. Its body is scaly, and rough. I also find this plan to be a mistake. He swings his arm, and knocks me off. At least I’m out of the path of his life-threatening tackle. But I’m still on the wrong side of the room to acquire my tools.

“Branner, I don’t know much about my current state, but I can’t seem to leave the room,” Marcellus yells from the door.

This must be a joke.

“All right then. Just…” What can he do? “Try calling for help. See if you can get someone else to get him.”

Though if I’m lucky he’ll have already heard the thunderous crashes and be on his way. I remove my jacket and throw it off to the side.

The beast changes tactics. I see a light appear about where his good eye would be. Fire shoots from his eye, aiming for my airborne jacket. It hits, incinerating the article.

“No!” I was fond of that jacket.

I close my eyes as tight as I can and scream, “BLITZ!” The flash from the gem embedded in my arm blinds the beast. I open my eyes, vision still blurry despite my efforts. But I can see well enough to make it to my bag. The demon is not so lucky. He roars and yells at his lack of sight. I can hear him crashing against the walls, ground, and furniture, but I don’t have the luxury of admiring his predicament. I make it through the rubble to the other side of the room as my vision finishes returning. The demon’s sight won’t be far behind.

I reach into my bag and grab what trinkets I can. I also grab my cane. If all else fails…

“Branner! He’s behind you.”

The beast was quick. I don’t have time to think. I spin around, swinging my cane and feel it hit the creature. Without thinking, energy pours through the staff and the gem on the end glows, releasing a bolt of electricity. The demon screams out a distorted yelp of pain. That bought me more time. Now, what did I grab. I have my octagonal talisman, several spellbound gems, and my chalk. I can make this work.

I twist the end of my cane and slide the chalk into a compartment at the bottom. Next, I race away from and around the demon, dragging the chalk across the room. I don’t have much time to prepare this, though I’m sure nothing short of eight prongs will bring this behemoth to his knees.

The monster recovers and searches for me, quickly finding me. The more I injure him, the less transparent he becomes, in a way. He’s covered in burn marks from the electric bolt, his eye is still gouged, and a bit of dust from his charging makes him significantly opaquer.

But it hasn’t made him less deadly. His charge can still squish me, and the fire he releases from his eyes is beyond deadly, thought luckily it takes him time to prepare that attack. As long as he doesn’t try anything new, I should be able to-

“Grooghr!” The beast growls as it takes it’s demonic whisp form. Oh bugger, forgot about that.

He roars again as he materializes quickly behind me. I barely have time to turn before he slams one of his powerful arms into my chest. The blow sends me across the room. I hit a wall and feel several ribs crack. It takes everything I have not to pass out. I push myself to stand upon my feet before he has time to attack again. I look for the signs of his presence. I don’t see his eye and burns anywhere. I chance it.

I move as quickly as possible with broken bones back to the middle of the room to finish my chalk drawing. Two concurrent circles intersected by eight lines. The center of this drawing will pull the energy I fire from the talisman directly towards it, concentrating its power to pierce right through the damned monster.

I feel it. I hadn’t moved like this in a very long time, but my instincts kick in and I jump, barely dodging a swipe from the demon’s tail. I’m saved from the attack, but my chest makes me immediately regret the decision. I land and fall over, my body beyond fighting.

The monster lets out a roar, most likely due to his oncoming victory. This is it.

“Just what in the hell do ya think yer doing to my friend?” a boys voice yells from across the room.

Con, you may be half-demon, but right now, you’re my angel.

Seeking Dusk: Part 13

I don’t move. This is not my fight, but I am somehow involved. How could a member of the Dominion threaten another? I’d never heard Lord Zadkiel be so intimidating.

This whole endeavor is quickly escalating into something far beyond my expectations. They should have decided all this before they came. And what is Puriel thinking? If there is such a threat to reality, more help is better than less. It’s why The Presence sent me in the first place, isn’t it?

“Aluma Firebrand, if you would stem this tide of darkness, listen well.” Zadkiel spoke, lifting what felt like a long silence after his threat.

“There is an artifact that has been taken from within the Gates of Paradise. It would for all appearances be nothing of value. A small wooden box. But the power it holds could turn the tide of our war.”

“Do we know who has taken this box?” I ask, my mind cleared of previous doubt. Zadkiel smiles.

“Yes. He is one called Azazel, and he is a former angelic host.”

A fallen angel? How could someone like that have gotten a hold of such an artifact?

“After taking the box, he fled to earth, and has been in hiding beyond even our combined sight.”

“How can something hide from The Presence?”

“Well, The Presence is-“

Zadkiel is cut off by Puriel.

“Absolutely not! You may fight us on telling her why we’re here, but business involving The Creator is far beyond anything I would allow you to share with a mere soldier!”

If what I thought I saw in her before was anger, then there isn’t a word to describe what she’s showing now. The Power in her is leaking out, far more than she means to. And if this is but a fraction of her power, she is not someone I want to have for an enemy.

A smile stretches across Zadkiel’s face as he looks at Puriel.

“My apologies. You are absolutely right.” He turns back to me. “This fallen host is hiding from The Presence. That is all I can tell you.” His eyes glimmered as if to add ‘for now’ to the end of that sentence.

Kushiel breaks their hovering formation and quickly flies to the other side of Rand, intensely studying the man.

“Tell me, Mr. Garrot, are you willing to lay down your life and soul for this mission?”

Rand barely moves, glaring at the large angel out of the corner of his eyes.

“Like I haven’t proved that already?”

Kushiel’s eyes narrow.

“Don’t be flippant. This is far beyond your petty squabbles with these lesser demons. You’ll need to be ready to fight a full-blown angel.”

I interrupt this rousing conversation.

“But he is fallen. He doesn’t have access to The Power. And unless he can venture down to the bottom of The Pit, he won’t be receiving any help from the Morning Star.”

“That is where the artifact comes into play,” Ariel says, in her relaxed voice.

“Indeed.” Muriel spoke next. “Tell me, Aluma, have you ever heard the human legend of Pandora’s Box?”

Human legends? What kind of nonsense is this? Rand must have seen my look of confusion because he took this opportunity to step in.

“Pandora’s box, Greek myth of a girl who opened an ancient box and let loose all the ills of the world. But the box also contained hope, keeping mankind ever determined to push past such problems.”

“Yes, in ways, very similar to the story of Eve eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge.” Muriel seemed to know much of human story telling.

I found the courage to speak.

“Okay, so you’re saying this box is real?”

“Degrees of truth, my dear.” Zadkiel took over again. I glance at Puriel, only to see her trying to contain her anger. But Lord Zadkiel just ignores it and keeps talking.

“There was an incident of someone opening a box and releasing something terrible. But the box didn’t contain ‘the world’s ills.’ Instead, it housed power. Tremendous power. Dark power.”

“And our job is to retrieve it from someone who is likely willing to use it against us?” Rand sounded annoyed.

Zadkie’s lips curl into a sly smile. Which is my clue that this is going to be beyond dangerous.

“Of course! Aluma is already tasked with the hunt for demons associated with the theft. What’s one more task for our beloved soldier?”

The Elysian: Fifteenth Dream

“It is not possible. It cannot be.

That feather should be out flying free!”

I can hear Robin’s voice, but I cannot see him.

“Well, too bad. I caught it. You promised me my key.” I turn over, struggling to get to my feet. I have to wonder if I’ll ever get over feeling pain in this spirit body.

“You don’t understand! This is wrong and amiss!

The lesson you learned was nothing like this!

You were meant to give up! To surrender to me!

And in your despair, I’d give you the key!

But I don’t under-”

“I DON’T CARE! Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!!!”

My footing found, I stand straight up, furious at everything around me.

“My god! You are so annoying! I couldn’t give a rats ass what lesson you wanted to teach me! Just give me my goddamn key and let me go!”

A whoosh of wind envelopes me. I blink and Goodfellow is standing in front of me. He has his arms crossed, and a look of disapproval on his face. He takes a few steps towards me. I feel my fear return, remembering that he’s akin to a god. Even so, I stand my ground. He comes in close. It’s a little uncomfortable.

“Fine. Take it.”

He holds out his hand. There’s a new key in his hand, this one looks to be made of wood, an endless expanse of trees in the shape of a key. I feel like looking at this thing while alive might have driven me mad. I reach for it, unsure if this is some kind of trap. Snatching the key from his hand, I’m relieved to see he lets me take it.

“…Thank you?”

“Leave.”

Not the response I was expecting. But when an all-powerful god stops his normal, fun-loving rhyming and tells you to leave, you should probably do what he says.

I take off into the sky, flying back towards the door.

“Wait.”

I look and see him glaring at the leshy.

“Go with him. I want to hear how that mortal’s journey ends.”

And with another whoosh, he disappears with the wind.

“Excuse me! What did he mean by that?!” The leshy was upset. Which, frankly, is perfectly understandable. I did kind of just interrupt his day with… uh… Oh crap.

“WHAT DID HE MEAN BY THAT?!”

The wood spirit transforms into his larger, monstrous form. Vines shoot at me, restraining my movement.

“Shit.”

It reels me in and I come face to face with this beast for the second time.

He lets out a monstrous growl in my face and I wince from the noise. But I know now this is just him lashing out.

“So, I know you won’t eat me. What do you plan to do?”

The monster just seems to look at me, as if he’s only just now trying to figure out what he’s going to do with me.

“You realize I’m being punished for helping you, right?” his deep voice growls from inside the monster.

“Well, yeah. But it’s not like I could see this coming. I’m truly sorry.”

He continues holding me captive. This isn’t terribly productive.

“Do you have a choice?” I ask.

He sets me down and slowly transforms back into his normal form as he speaks.

“No. Goodfellow would find a nice way to make me suffer if I didn’t. You got a partner for now.”

I kneel down and stretch out my hand. He takes the hint and hops on it, running up to sit on my shoulder.

“What’s your name?” I finally remembered to ask my new companion.

I take off into the sky flying, with the spirit on my shoulder. It was slightly more difficult to navigate for me now that the trees were facing the proper direction, but the spirit seemed to correct any mistakes I made on my flight back to the door.

“You can call me Godemir. And you?” He still sounded perturbed, but I couldn’t really blame him.

“Rodriguez.”

“Nice to sacrifice for you. And then meet you. In that order.”

I wonder how long he can hold a grudge. “So, what’s your plan here? Just keep running from death for the rest of eternity?”

I have to admit, that was a good question.

“No. I want to find my family. A way to return to them as well, if possible. But above all that, I want to make sure they’re going to be okay without me.”

And to be honest, I wasn’t sure how I was going to accomplish that. I’m just a man, trying to escape death at the moment. And if history is anything to go by, things aren’t really in my favor.

“Then your goal is to find Fate himself? Geez, you really know how to pick your battles, don’t ya?” He turned over on my back and laid down, arms behind his head.

I’d berate him for relaxing at a time like this, but I don’t really have a moral high ground.

“Death mentioned Fate. Said he’s a bit secretive.”

“Understatement of the millennium. No one has seen him since the dawn of time, and to be honest, from what I’ve heard, I’m not sure you want to.”

“Why? He smell funny?” I shouldn’t be joking, but I have to do something to stop myself from feeling so heavy. All the shouting I’ve done and talk of Gods and concepts has my head spinning.

I feel a sharp crack on the back of my head as my passenger hits me.

“Don’t be stupid. I swear, you’re dealing with deities and somehow don’t get the kind of shit you’re in! You’ve been lucky so far. But it can’t last. Start thinking. What’s your plan?”

The door is finally in sight, but the leshy’s words make it seem so far away. What is my plan? I know nothing of this world or how it works. Am I just going to walk up to a powerful being and kindly ask that he does what he’s never done in billions of billions of years? Can I gain some kind of leverage? Am I just going to run headlong into oblivion?

“Let’s just push forward. Can’t go backwards, right?”

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 22

The spell broken, the small study had become a massive library. It wasn’t quite that the rest of the room was hidden. Rather, our minds were prevented from seeing it. From noticing it.

Rows, upon rows of shelves of books. The whole thing stretched back, filling the space to the wall. On the other end of the room were large windows, flooding the space with daylight.

I remember Marcellus and turn to our spirit friend. He isn’t as enamored with the reveal of the room as Lance and Con. Rather, his attention was focused on his own being. His body was stable, if translucent.

If pressed, I couldn’t explain what had happened to him. Some combination of the manner of his death and magical spells used to maintain his presence on this plane of existence.

“Marcellus, how are you feeling?”

He turns to me.

“I’m… I’m not sure. Based on your conversation, I didn’t expect to still be here after you destroyed the circle.”

“Understandable. I wish I could offer you any comfort, but I’ve no idea what was done to you. We’ll have to question your brother on his part in that later.”

Upon hearing us talking about him, Lance realizes his predicament. He tries to run, but his arm is immediately snatched up by Con.

“I don’t think so buddy!”

I point to the desk chair across from us, and Con understands. He takes Lance over as I reach into my bag and pull out some rope. We tie the boy to the chair, ensuring he can’t escape.

“Please! Let me go!”

I speak, informing him he’s still needed.

“Lance, you’re the only one who has any idea what is really going on. And you have much to answer for. You’re going to stay put until we have a better handle on things.”

Marcellus hangs his head, unable to look at his helpless brother. I do not blame him, as his condition is the direct result of Lance’s actions.

“Come, we must investigate the library. Marcellus, can you please help?”

He gives me a look of confusion.

“You’re more spirit than human now. You should be able to float and we need to figure out why this room was being hidden.”

He nods in understanding, and immediately starts to look through the shelves. Con checks the ropes again, ensuring Lance won’t be leaving, and then takes off running down the aisle of shelves.

“Please, let me leave.”

Lance’s voice is small. Sorrowful. Pleading. It almost breaks me.

“You know I cannot.”

The boy hangs his head, his body relaxing in his binds. He won’t be going anywhere.

“Branner! You better come see this!”

Con calls for me. Did he find something already? I leave Lance and rush down to the other end of the aisle of books. There, Con was staring at something off in the corner of the room.

Something hidden by the shelves from where I was in the front of the room. Something for which I was not prepared.

An altar. A demonic altar. A demonic altar encompassed in swirling demonic energy.

Whoever did this, is absolutely brilliant. I cannot merely dismantle the altar and expect the demon to be banished. The energy outside it is binding all the spells together and will react to any hostile force in kind. I…

I actually have no plan to dispel this. This kind of magic is far beyond anything I expected to be here.

“Branner? What is that?” Con never took his eyes off the altar.

“That is why things were hidden. This altar is what has bound the demon we fought earlier, to this house. And the dark energy that we all can feel is preventing me from ending all this right now.”

I can’t hold back. They must know the truth.

“Whoever did this may even be beyond my abilities. And judging from the amount of power coming from the altar, the demon is awfully close to obtaining his sacrifice. The daughter…”

“I remember her! I can’t believe I forgot.” Con exclaimed.

“Yes, now that you mention it, I can’t believe I hadn’t heard anyone mention her name. And she wasn’t outside the house to greet me when I first arrived, a fairly standard practice.”

“Well, that is due to her condition.” I jumped a little. Marcellus had joined us, silently coming behind me.

“Not too long after the demons were brought forth, Juliet Maladar came down with an illness, the like of which even Doctor Maladar couldn’t understand,” Marcellus spoke. A spirit looking very human. This had to be the most unnerving aspect of it all, though it would be better I not say such a thing.

“It may have been inflicted upon her by Lance’s demon. If the girl dies, the other demon cannot collect and would be banished. Assuming I’m right and the beasts are warring.”

I hate to interrupt my thought process piecing together more of the puzzle, but I needed to know what kind of demon Lance had brought forth.

My cohorts and I return to the front of the library where we left Lance. He did his best to avoid the gaze of Marcellus.

“Lance, where is the book you used to summon your demon?”

The boy looked ashamed, as he remembered his role in this mess. “I keep it under my pillow, in the servant’s quarters. I can take you there.”

“No, I have more I must do here. Take Con with you. Fetch it for me. If the Doctor tries to stop you, or harasses Con, just run past him. We have no time to abide social distractions.”

Con turns to me. I’m sure he’s incredulous at what I’ve suggested.

“Branner, you can’t be serious.”

“I’m afraid I am, my friend. I must find something here, and I cannot trust the boy to bring the book back himself. And I’ve no idea what the good doctor would do if he found you by himself.”

I put my hand on his shoulder.

“I’m trusting you.”

The two boys look at each other and understand the tone of my voice. Con walks over and released the ropes around Lance and the two leave the room.

“You try to bolt and I’ll make ya regret it,” Con says.

The door closes behind them and I set about my work, examining the newly revealed room, looking for signs of the enchantment previously placed upon it. Such a large and powerful spell must have used some form of physical conduit. If I can find it, I could maybe breach the dark energy around the altar.

“Mr. Branner, sir. I have to ask, why did you not ask Lance about who committed this heinous act?” Marcellus was following me, his freedom granted with the breaking of the ring of light.

“I already know. And if I want confirmation, I could ask you.”

I reach into my bag and pull out rope and a smooth stone. I hang the stone precariously on the rope and concentrate. The stone stays perfectly still.

Hmm, no chicken bones anywhere. That was a bit of a long shot. What could have been the item used?

“Me? I have no clue who summoned the other demon. I thought Lance had cursed this house.” Marcellus found he could float high up enough to look at the top of the shelves, and began examining another aisle from me.

“Yes, but in your current form, you possess a unique ability. You can see magical remnants. The trails of leftover power from spells and rituals. And since there is a powerful source of such energy in this room, I could have you compare to the other people in the manor.”

I put my tools away and decide to search by hand.

“I believe I understand, but then how do you know who our villain is?” Marcellus asks.

“That would take some explanation. Right now, I need to find something. I’m looking for an odd object. Something out of place here, that would act as a container for energy. There isn’t much that could do that. Precious metals, animal bones-”

“Small statues?”

“Yes! Where do you see that?” I run from my aisle toward his voice and looked about for the spirit.

“It is up here, on a shelf, hidden behind a book.”

I find him floating next to a strange little statue. I couldn’t quite tell if that was what we were looking for, but it did look out of place from the rest of the room.

“Excellent! Can you bring it down to me?”

“Well, I would, but my current form is less than useful on that matter.” Marcellus extends his hand, phasing through the entire shelf.

“…Right.”

Mild Mannered: Issue #9

The man sitting in front of me is tall. Even seated, I can feel him towering over me. His brown hair is coifed into a perfectly formed tuft on top of his head. His eyes are narrowed as I sit here thinking about how to avoid his question.

“I said, what has made you so confident, Jules?”

I guess it’s now or never.

“I’m not. But you shouldn’t have to be confident to share what you think.”

His eyes look me up and down, searching for I don’t know what. Then he reaches down into a bag I didn’t even realize he had with him.

He pulls out a large binder, filled with plastic protected sheets. The book flops open and the images spill into my mind. The figures within remind me of Renaissance marble statues captured on a page, with hyper realistic anatomy articulating each sinewy muscle.

Gods of lightning and thunder, of science and power, of patriotism and duty, splash across the pages caught in some imaginary war, clashing with the ultimate evil.

This is comic books.

The colors pop and the lines are crisp.

Oh god. He entered the contest. He’s one of the other competitors. This is what I’m up against. I may have gotten into the top fifteen hundred contestants for public voting, but there’s no way I’m ever going to be able to be better than this guy.

“Let us try this one more time. What makes you so confident, Julian?”

Before I can even begin to respond, there’s a voice booming over my shoulder.

“He has every reason to be confident! I’ve seen his work and it’s great!”

Oh god. Oh god, Michael, what are you doing?

He slaps my back and gives the other customer the biggest grin, like it’s all a joke. My hands tremble over the notebook I have on the table. There’s no way I could show him the silly cartoons I drew in comparison to this art.

Before I can protest, the stranger’s hands snatch up my book and flip through the pages.

“Hey! That’s mine!”

“Fair’s fair. I showed you mine, let’s take a look at-“

He stops after flipping back to my original sketches. The pad didn’t have my completed pieces that were submitted, since I lined them digitally, but the pencil sketches were there.

His eyes narrowed, looking through the images on the page. He flips through another page, and then another, finding where my dumb doodles start. He immediately flips back to the original sketches.

“Why did you pick this pose? It seems so…”

“Pedestrian?” I guess.

“Unconventional. Your style fits right in with the fantastical world of comic books, so to see something less over the top is surprisingly refreshing.”

I look at Michael who gives me a wink and my heart melts just a little bit.

Our well-dressed friend sets my book down carefully and slides it back to me. I take it, and slide it off to the side.

“You’re good. I can give you that.”

I am?!

He continues,

“My name is Tobias. I suppose you’ve earned that.”

“Um, nice to meet you Tobias.” Did I really not know his name? That feels wrong.

“I do hope you get through this preliminary vote. My win would feel less complete if I didn’t beat you properly.”

Okay… Well that seems more antagonistic than necessary.

“Do you have a following online?”

“Well, no?”

“That won’t do.”

He slides out his cell phone and starts tapping the screen very quickly with his thumbs. After a minute, he turns the screen off and slides it back in his pocket.

“There. That should help.” He stands up and grabs his binder. “Don’t ruin the chance I gave you, Jules.”

He turns around and walks to the door.

“And Michael, I’ll be calling later this week with another order.”

And with that he leaves.

“What the actual hell just happened there?”

I turn to Michael, but he wasn’t behind me. He’d moved like lightning behind his counter, using his computer there to pull up something.

“C’mon! You stupid hunk of junk. Load!”

“What are you doing?”

He looks at me incredulously.

“Do you now know who that was?”

I grab my stuff and take it with me to the counter.

“He said his name was Tobias, and he dresses in nice suits, and can draw like some kind of art god, but other than that? No.”

The screen in front of Michael finally loads wherever he was trying to go. The blue website of a social media page.

“Jules, that guy is famous online. He literally has millions of followers.”

“Oh. That’s cool I guess.” Oh my god, that is so freaking cool!

“Cool? Cool?! Jules! Do you now know what he did?”

At some point I’m going to have to learn how to piece together my own life and figure out what’s going on. But it is not this day.

Michael grows frustrated at my silence and points to his screen. I step forward to get a better look.

The series of posts by what I assume is Tobias on his social media page show more of that gorgeous art. Some of it is just poses, others are self-made comics. But there, at the top, was what Michael was getting at

Check out this artist in the Fantastik art contest! I am loving this art! Be sure to follow BeJuled, I’m sure they’re going to do great!

The post linked to my entry in the contest. I click the link and find my profile, showcasing the entries I had submitted. While the voting hadn’t started yet, it was possible to save the page, and the counter would show my how many people have saved it.

This morning, I had myself, Michael and Kara. Right now, I’m sitting at several hundred.

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