Episodic stories of fantasy and science fiction.

Author: Ben Acosta Page 1 of 9

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

Mild Mannered: Issue #10

I’m lying on my couch, holding my phone above my face. My eyes are glued to the little “Saved” counter on my profile on the Fantastik Comics website. In the time since I got home, the number had gone above 1,000.

The front door opens and closes as Kara gets home from work. The unique jangling of her keys tells me she’s carrying something in her hands.

“Jules! I bought food!” She yells out, probably assuming I’m in my room.

“I also used the money from your account to do it…” she says more quietly, not realizing I’m on the couch.

I don’t react to this though. I’m still too focused on the rising number on my profile. I have an audience now. There are going to be people looking at my art just because a stupid, haughty, well dressed stranger told them to. That’s pressure I don’t need.

“JULES!” Kara yells up the stairs.

“I’m over here.”

She pops her head in the living room, holding what looks to be takeout. We probably should have just got groceries, but I’m not exactly complaining either.

“What are you doing in here? I figured you’d be obsessing over your computer.”

“I didn’t make it that far. I got caught on my phone here.”

She sits down next to me, setting the bag of food on the table. She holds out her hand, and I place my phone in it.

The light shines and flickers across her face as she flicks down to refresh the page.

“A lot of people have been looking at your profile…”

“Yeah.”

She jumps off the couch, eyes glimmering with energy.

“This is amazing! See, you have a following now! I told you your art would be good enough!”

I snatch the phone out of her hand. I tap the screen, perform a quick search, and hand it back to her.

“It wasn’t me. It was him.”

Kara takes the phone and sifts through the artwork Tobias had submitted. She seems impressed, but her face contorts with furrowed brow.

“I don’t understand.”

I explain everything that happened at Michael’s shop while we eat. When I mention that Tobias has comic strips that go viral online, her face lights up with understanding.

“Oh! I think I’ve seen one of those. Never really thought about who drew it though.”

She pulls out her phone and starts scrolling through it likely, to show me.

“Yeah, it’s just, I don’t know how to feel about this. On one hand, this is likely the only way I was going to move forward in the contest. On the other, it feels wrong that I only got by on a chance encounter.”

Kara finishes finding the comic and hands me her phone. It looks like someone else edited the word bubbles to make a funny meme, but I don’t think I get it.

“You gotta relax, buddy. Successful people often work hard, but they all got a lucky break somewhere along the way. Maybe this is yours?”

I finish scrolling through the comic and set her phone down.

“But is this a lucky break, or is it just cheating?”

Kara throws her hands in the air.

“I give up. You’re completely hopeless.”

“Hey!” I exclaim.

Kara stands and walks away, taking her takeout box with her.

“You’re hopeless. You catch a lucky break, and decide to sit there, over analyzing it. Do you know how badly some people would love to be you right now?!”

“But I didn’t get there on my own! What kind of man am I if-”

“What are you even talking about?! ‘What kind of man are you?’” She mocks. “You’re the kind who doesn’t know what he wants, and is too afraid to go for it when he does, and when he’s forced to have what he wants, he asks if he deserves it.”

“I mean, you don’t need to say it like that.”

She sets the takeout on a counter, and turns to face me.

“What was the name of the last guy I tried going out with?”

“It was Rodrigo, right?”

I’m not sure what just happened here? What is her point?

“His name was Rodney.” Her voice is low. Quiet.

“Why does this matter? You shut him down because you thought he was boring, didn’t you?”

“Yes! But you don’t care enough about me to ask why I haven’t tried finding someone since. You haven’t asked why I started picking up more shifts.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. I’ve been sitting here worried sick about this art contest and Michael and I couldn’t tell you what my best friend was doing the last few weeks outside of work and talking me through my shit.

“Jules, my mom cut me off.”

“…What?”

“She wasn’t exactly happy that I dropped out of college. We’ve been going back and forth for months, but she finally pulled the trigger.”

“Kara, I’m so sor-”

“I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to hear how sorry you are. I just want you to stop being so damn sorry for yourself.”

Goodbye to 2020. 2021 isn’t starting much better.

We Open on Death

My grandmother died December 29th, 2020 to COVID-19. To call it a punch to the gut would be an understatement.

She’d been better and worse over the course of the month, a month which saw us all get infected with the virus causing a worldwide pandemic. But while I only suffered a fever, and my parents had little in the way of symptoms, my grandmother kept getting worse.

It’s horrible to lose someone so close to you like this. It’s painful and broken and nothing feels like it should. I’ve lost people in my life before and all this is, is another open wound. A sore exposed to the harsh realities of the world.

Patsy Escalante was color in a gray world. She loved drinking and calaveras and traveling. And the poor response of this government killed her.

Riots and Traitors

How can one characterize what happened earlier this week? A bunch of right wing assholes, high on their own gas, took to the capitol building and broke in with intent to take hostages and plant bombs. You can make arguments about their intent, but enough wanted violence that to associate with that puts the same on everyone involved.

I understand the need to do everything you can to make a change when you see something you think is morally wrong. The problem is the absolute lack of self-reflection. Before the dust had the chance to settle, conservative assholes already tried to turn this around, claiming the left and the media didn’t give the protests last summer the same amount of vitriol.

Except they did. The media absolutely tried to paint the civil rights protestors and rioters last year as nothing more than violent maniacs. This is despite the fact they had a very clear motivation for their protest and most of the time the police instigated the violence.

So what happens now? Now that the literal man-child who was running this country with his Twitter account has lost his Twitter account?

I’m not going to lie, I’m not super optimistic. Democrats have a poor record holding themselves against Republicans. I mean, Bush Jr. and Trump both lost their popular votes. The populace has been pretty liberal for a while. And yet we still have so many problems passing progressive policies.

Hopefully, the right-wing politicians that enabled this riot, that enabled Trump and his draconian policies, that have tried to take every dollar they can from this country and give nothing back are held accountable.

Hopefully.

Positivity.

Oh, I’m getting married. I mean, I talked a little bit about this to family and friends, but it’s happening. We downsized due to COVID-19, but we’re planning to sign the certificate on April 4th, 2021, and maybe some kind of ceremony or reception at a future date.

We’re sorry we can’t do something bigger to celebrate our day with everyone, but to us, the most important thing is that we can spend our lives together.

If you’re interested in helping us out. We do have a wedding/married life fund you can contribute to at this website.

The fund will help us try and save up to purchase a house so we can start a family. Anything you can give is appreciated.

There isn’t much there for me to talk about today. A lot has happened in the last few months, and I’m still trying to process most of it. Hopefully 2021 can improve over the last four years, but that outlook doesn’t feel reasonable given how the year started.

My love to you all reading this.

– Ben

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 24

I try to push myself off the ground when I hear my protégé crash into the beast. The sound of breaking wood tells me they landed on one of the fallen bookshelves. I can’t waste too much time. I use my cane to pull myself back to my feet. Looking over, I see Con grappling with our unseeable enemy.

Well, I was going to throw him my cane to use as a weapon, but he seems too busy for that. I can only hope he doesn’t need it, seeing as it’s all supporting me right now. I struggle to move forward, needing to complete my modified ritual.

When I initially discovered this stone, the shenwu had it set in the middle of a room, with channeling energy used to create a powerful protection field. I experimented with the stone myself and found different effects the talisman could produce based on the kind of energy put into it, as well as other controlling factors, such as my chalk lines. The circles I drew crossed over each other, allowing me to push the energy from one side to the other. The intersecting lines would condense the power from the stone into a beam of light that should do more than stun our adversary. While it can’t kill the beast, I can hope for incapacitation.

I lay the talisman upon the ground in the middle of one circle. I’ll need Con to bring the monster into position to finish this, but I have to say, this kind of encounter becomes much more simple with the addition of a half-demon child on my side.

I look again to my helper. Con and the demon were having an intense battle of strength. The boy could throw a rather spectacular punch, which became especially impressive when you realize how much larger the creature is over the child.

But it was the passion that moved me most. The feral zeal with which he attacks was admirable. While his fighting was unrefined, he understood enough about the way he and his enemy act to render such training unnecessary.

Con takes both of his hands together and slams them as hard as he can into the beast, sending it flying, not entirely unlike what the demon had done to me not so long ago. The beast crashes into debris and I realize this is my chance.

“Con! Catch!” I throw the cane to the boy. Con grabs the stick in midair, looking a little perplexed in addition to the exhaustion he must feel.

“I need you to move the demon to the center of this circle,” I point to the chalk drawing with the talisman in the center, “once there, hit him with the gem on the end of the cane, while focusing your energy similar to how I had you do so with that truth spell earlier. It will electrify the beast and…”

“GRAAAAHH!”

“I got it, Branner.” And with that he jumped back into his fight.

Meanwhile, I needed to perform my end of this plan. Taking a seat on the floor in the circle opposite the trinket, I consider how to best enact my ritual. The chant I use for the talisman is a rough translation of the original Chinese words spoken to activate the stone’s mystic properties. But it’s been said that a spell spoken in the original language is stronger.

While I’ve been studying it since I first received the stone, I haven’t had a chance to test the properties. Now I need to decide whether I think the concentrated power from the English translation will be enough, or if I should attempt the Chinese phrasing in the event the extra power is needed. This beast is draining so much energy from myself and Con, that putting it down now is imperative if I hope to live to save these people.

I start chanting. In Chinese. I’m terrible, but the effect is activating. The chalk lines light up with the energy of the talisman leading me to think it will at least be equally as powerful.

Con is across the room, using something I never considered he’d might be skilled with; his agility. He leaps from wreckage to the beast itself, and lands several hits, then jumps to another destroyed bookshelf. All this taunting enrages the demon, whose attacks have become so much more violent, and yet, it works. The unbridled fury keeps the monster from refining his strikes and most importantly, keeps him from using his deadly fire eyes.

The boy is leading the beast back to my ritual. I’m keeping as close an eye on them as I can, without losing my concentration on the chant. Con’s tactics are much better than I’d have ever expected. He’s balancing his strength with his speed, attacking enough to keep the demon’s attention, but not enough to provoke an over-reaction.

His strength and agility are far beyond anything I could imagine a human has the capability to perform. Each move he takes is planned multiple steps ahead of time. His martial prowess is astounding. However, I’m reminded that each strategy and strike are learned from a life of need and want. You do not excel at violence like this without leading a harsh life.

Each step Con brings the monster towards me, echoes with the pounding of my heart. I’m worried. I’m regretting my choice of going with the Chinese chant. I should have gone with the translation I had been using. If this attack fails, I can’t guarantee we’ll make it out of this room alive.

No! I can’t think like that. The energy feeding into the talisman from myself can’t be tainted with doubt. This will work. This must work.

The beast is almost in position. Con runs right up to the demonic being and seems to slap its face. He then turns and quickly runs towards me. The monster is charging right behind him, ready to kill. Con stops right in front of me, flashes a smile and bends backwards, sending the cane right into the face of the demon. Sparks pour out from the gem, electrifying the targeted monstrosity who lets out the roar of all his agony.

I end my chant, letting the talisman do the rest of the work. The lines of chalk glow brighter when our final goal shows itself. The beam of light shoots up from the center of the second circle, piercing the enemy.

The roar of agony turns to one of pure fear as he realizes what is happening. As the light drills through the monster, portions of his being start to fade, unable to ever regrow in this realm. He pulls all his effort together to move out of the ritual, but the damage was done. He collapsed, more than likely cursing his immortality.

I let out a sigh of relief, hopeful that we can solve the rest of this mystery without further interruption. Con falls on his back, exhausted from his efforts.

“That was amazing…” he says, drifting off into unconsciousness.

“You certainly were.”

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, though 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?”

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