Episodic stories of fantasy and science fiction.

Author: Ben Acosta Page 1 of 7

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

Madison

It’s been four years since we lost you. It’s been four years and three days since I last saw you. It’s been four years minus two days since I found out I wouldn’t be seeing you again.

It hurts. In times of loneliness, it hurts more. Despite the happy things I’ve been able to do and achieve, there’s still something that hurts all the same.

I’m torn between notions. At one extreme, people would agree it wasn’t my fault. I was no where near you when it happened. You didn’t do it because of anything I did. Hell, I probably wasn’t even on your mind the day the disease took you.

At another, could you argue that there wasn’t anyone that could have done anything? If someone had been there. If they had called right then. Some kind of chaos butterfly effect that would have changed the outcome.

And if something could have been done, why couldn’t I have been the one? I knew. I suffered the same.

What could I have done for you? What can I do for you?

I know why. I logically know why. But in my own sickness, I can’t help but ask. I can’t help but wonder. I can’t help but want you here today.

I know why you’re gone. It’s because a disease took you.

I know why you’re gone. Mental healthcare is difficult.

I know why you’re gone.

And the best thing I can do for you is to stay here.

– Ben

(If you or someone you know suffers from depression, please reach out for help. There are online therapists and mental health professionals. The National Suicide Hotline has their phone number [1-800-273-8255] and even online chat.)

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 17

The transparent form of a young man lies on the floor before me. I was not sure what I expected. I knew there was some sort of illusion spell in here, but I expected it to break and reveal something wrong with the room. But then, my guess on the spirit was right. It was not a ghost. So what is it?

“Why ain’t he all there?” Con’s curiosity never ceases to instill both a sense of joy and a certain exasperation in having to explain every little thing.

At least, that is what I tell myself. It is more that I have no clue what is going on here and he’s looking to me to explain it. How does this happen? I can only assume that what lies in front of us is a spirit, but what kind and what it can do are all speculation at this point.

Oh dear. It seems the young man is coming around. He pushes himself off the ground and climbs to his feet. Standing up, he looks to be even taller than I am. His hair is neatly combed into a part on top of his head. The resemblance to Lance is uncanny, though. It really could be his brother. Or potentially some kind of shape shifter. Too many options. We’ll just have to wait and see.

“Where am I?” He puts his hand to his head, looking like he has a spell of vertigo. Not sure how a spirit could have vertigo, but I can’t think about it. I ready the gem on my arm, in case he decides he doesn’t want to be in the thrall of me and my esteemed assistant and tries to escape.

“You are currently being held within a wall of light, designed to keep something such as yourself contained. I would suggest against touching it. I’ve heard it hurts.” I could not come up with a better lie to save my life. Which this just might.

“I, uh… I guess that answers my question. But who are you? And what is going on?” He squints, like he can’t quite see me. Though I suppose he can not. The curtain of light is a bit obtrusive.

“My name is Archibald Branner. This is my young cohort, Con. We are investigators, of sorts.” Con stood up proud at the mention of his name.

“Investigators? I’m sorry, I just- I’m not quite sure what’s going on. The last I remember… Wait…” He stepped back and looked down. “Wait, I remember…” He snaps up and looks right at me, eyes wide with fear. “I remember! I died!”

“Well, this is odd. Tell me, how did you die?” I refuse to relax my hand. I signal for Con, to head around the back of the spirit. I can’t take the chance that this is the demon, using some form of magic I’m not familiar with.

“I was in the master’s study. The arrangement of the furniture was frustrating him. Then the sounds started. There had been some incidents of howls and whispers. I thought it might have been some unseen hole in the wall, or maybe an unwanted rodent. But I remember the clanging. The fear in my workers’ eyes. After that, it gets hazy, but I distinctly recall seeing the blade protruding from my torso. Blood ran down my stomach. And each second, the terror in my mind overwhelmed more of my senses…” He drifts off, lost in the horrifying memory. I don’t know what to say. If he’s telling falsehoods, he’s rather fantastic at it.

“Tell me, what is your name?” I had a feeling it would be the same as before, but just to check.

“My name is Marcellus. Marcellus Welling. I am the lead footman for Doctor Maladar. Or rather… I was the lead footman.” He seems so depressed. Though I suppose it’s only natural for someone who knows they are deceased.

“Before I broke the alteration illusion placed upon you, the form you had resembled more of a normal ghost. A whispy, smoke-like appearance. Do have any clue why that is? Do you know who cast a spell on you?”

His fear and sadness did not fade, but rather grew at my question.

“Yes. After I was killed, my mind was filled with fog and memories didn’t come easy. But I found I could see new things. My soul could wander the halls, but it was the new way I perceived this place that astounded me. I could see trails of light, leading from object to object. And over time, I came to understand, that these were the remnants of something spiritual. Something magic.”

“And from there you could know what made you so different?”

“He knew I knew. The sword didn’t pierce me because of the spirits haunting this place. He cast the spell. Made it move. I was getting stronger. I could have told someone soon…”

“Who was it!?” I was getting anxious. His terror, and sorrow pointed to someone he knew. Someone he trusted.

“It was my own brother. Lance.”

“…Excuse me?”

No. That can’t be right.

“Lance was the one to change my form. My own brother was practicing such dark methods. I had confronted him in one of the side rooms. I knew there had to be an explanation for everything I found.”

“Lance was hording various odd items and I only knew what he was doing because I finally witnessed it with my own eyes. I told him that I saw him talking to the spirit haunting this house. Giving it orders. He threatened it with a small stone before the spirit went on its way. He tried to tell me otherwise. That he was only trying to help. That is when I would hear no more.”

The boy fell to his knees from the thought.

“I decided to notify the doctor… and Lance decided to stop me the only way he could.”

“So you had known since your death that your brother was your killer.” The fact I was talking to a ghost paled in comparison to the news I had just learned.

Lance was the culprit. He killed his own brother to cover up his demonic summoning. But why? To what end would he do such a dangerous thing? I don’t believe he’s the type to seek power, but as I’ve just been shown several times over, I can be fooled. Actually, this could still be a deception on behalf of the spirit considering I’ve never heard of a ghost able to have a conversation before.

“Tell me, Marcellus, how did you come across this form? Do you remember the process after you died.”

“I- I am not sure. I remember hearing Lance say something. Something about how I don’t have to leave. After that, my memories jump to wandering around the halls, unable to be seen or heard. It had felt like I had been in this form all my life.”

Interesting. Is it possible Lance saved his brother’s soul? Or potentially damned it?

“I got stronger. I could feel myself closer to the material world. And the strands of magic helped my memory. Soon, I would be able to speak to someone and expose his actions. But then he found me, and cast a new spell. And my world became dark once again.”

“Mr. Welling, I am unsure what to do with you, or your information, for, you see, you aren’t a ghost. Or at least not a typical ghost. Because I can’t be certain of what you are just yet, your information just leads me to more questions. So for me to figure out whether or not I should go confront your brother, I have to verify your information. Do you understand?”

The spirit looked confused. He likely understood my message but was just confused as I spelled out my thoughts as I did.

“I do, but what do you mean by all this?”

“Well, I’ll need to cast a few spells on you and make sure some runes I have will actually affect whatever you are. And in order to test their ability to function on you, we’ll need to make sure that the… side-effects of these spells actually do what they need to do when you do something wrong.”

Very long and round about way of saying it, but I think that should do it.

“It’s going to hurt, isn’t it?”

“Absolutely.”

The spirit’s face turned to fear.

“I would ask why you can not just take my word as my bond and do what needs to be done, but you have already made it abundantly clear.”

“I’m sorry.”

Con was getting angry. I can only assume he was angry at me.

“Yes, Con?”

He turned his head away from me in a huff.

“This ain’t right.”

I took the chalk out of my pocket and began drawing some symbols on the ground.

“I’m sorry you feel that way, my friend. But it is necessary. If this is some sort of trick or illusion being played upon us by the demonic creatures or even the one who summoned them himself, we could at the very least, be wasting precious time and at worst, condemning an innocent man. As we get closer to providing a solution to this enigma, the more precautions we’re going to have to take.”

I stand up and inspect the runes I inscribed around the room. Con sits, cross-legged, just outside the circle.

“Don’t mean I have to like it…”

“It’s necessary. Now move over to the other side of the circle. I will require assistance with this endeavor.”

Mild Mannered: Issue #8

“Oh! Teddy! I couldn’t imagine life without you!” Estelle opines.

The man holding her in his arms is brooding very handsomely.

“I understand. But I cannot rest now. There are more patients to be seen.”

Tears fill the woman’s eyes. She tries to blink them away, then buries her face in his white lab coat.

“If I could say a magic phrase to make you stay, I would.”

He lifts her head, his eyes sympathetic.

“You can. Say, ‘I love you.’”

“Ah man! That line gets me every time!” Michael says.

I had convinced him to bring a little TV to the shop. Figured if I was going to be spending time here, I might as well watch my favorite show.

It wasn’t entirely selfish. Michael can use it for showing nerdy stuff for background noise when people start coming more often. Besides, he’s using me for clout, I might as well get something out of it.

My laptop is open in front of me as I sketch down notes and ideas in my drawing pad. The book in front of me was filled with half started plans, scribbles and doodles and the words Why are you so bad at this? written off to the side.

However, nothing new had been added in the past twenty minutes. It’s not like I can not watch Doctor Magician, M.D.

“I dunno,” I respond, “I liked him with Angela better. She was feisty.”

Michael was leaning on the counter behind the cash register. Since I came in, he’s had all of one customer. This really is a strange ghost town.

“How’s your first assignment coming along?”

Ugh. Way to change the subject.

“It’s fine,” I tried to say. The second vowel is caught in my throat and pitches my voice an octave higher.

“That sounds super convincing.”

I didn’t realize I’d have to continuously compete in this competition. Before they narrow it down to artists for the tournament bracket, they’re having a public vote.

Anyone currently accepted can redesign and resubmit their entries, and I decided to be dumb enough to do that, despite Kara’s protests.

However, now I feel super dumb because I don’t know what I would do differently. I think I showcased my range in my initial drawings, mixture of lighting and shadow, pose and form. I’m not a colorist, so it’s not like I can go too much further, but I did digitally line and shadow the images too.

So why don’t they feel like enough?

There’s still over a thousand people in the running, and I need to stand out. Sure, what I did was my best, but is it good enough to beat out some other online artist who already has a following? There are people with art accounts big enough to make it, and this is the opportunity they needed.

What do I have?

“I didn’t mean it like that. You’re probably overthinking it.”

I must have been staring at my pad for a while, because Michael was trying to comfort me with his words. I’m not gonna lie, it helped.

Before I can respond, the bell at the front door jingles. The man from the other days enters.

His clothes were different but still as fancy as ever. It’s difficult to put into words how it made me feel. Small? Insignificant? Like a gross little comic goblin?

Huh. Guess I can put it into words.

“Good afternoon, Michael.” The man’s words are smooth, but as cold as I remember. He doesn’t pay me notice as he moves right to the counter.
“I hope you have that issue of Night Fiend I requested.”

“Yes, it came just today.” He reaches down and pulls a package out from behind the counter. “Thank you very much for your patience.”

The man accepts the package and opens it, taking a glance inside.

“Yes, I believe this quality is acceptable.” He sets the package down on the counter and pulls out his wallet.

Michael takes the money, beaming.

“Any time! Just say the word and I can get you what you need.”

“I will admit, I was surprised. My normal shop wasn’t able to find several things on that list. And I thought that Night Fiend issue all but lost.”

“I know a few people.” If Michael was bragging, it almost didn’t show. “Like I said, just say the word, and I can find what you need.”

“Do you like Night Fiend?” The stranger’s words were louder now. He doesn’t really have to shout if Michael is just behind the counter.

“Uh, Jules, I think that was addressed to you.”

“OH!” Crap. What are my thoughts on Night Fiend? He’s all dark and brooding and it feels like he pulls wins out of nowhere. A little too much for me. But he’s so well respected I can’t just say…

“Not a huge fan. He always wins and gets really boring.” Dammit, Jules! Why don’t you listen to your own internal monologue?

“Is that so?” His voice does not sound surprised, but it’s hard to get a read on him. “Interesting choice of words.”

“Excuse me? You asked me for my opinion. What about yours?”

The first bit of emotion crossed his face and it’s bemusement.

“Are you the same boy who told me he was going to enter the art contest without any confidence in his voice?”

He takes a few steps over to my table and invites himself to a seat. Michael watches in awe, unsure what to make of all this.

“So tell me, Jules, what did you enter to the contest to make you so confident?”

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 16

I’m pacing around the trap in the center of the room. Although I had instructed Con not to ask it anymore questions, I couldn’t help but wonder what else it can tell us.

“Con, I need to ask you a favor.”

The boy stopped staring at the light, shining from the string. He turned to me, looking a little more than confused.

“Uh, sure, Branner. What do ya need?”

“You are allowed to talk to the spirit again.”

I need to figure out what it is. And sitting here with it, doing nothing is getting me nowhere.

Quietly, I explain what he is to do.

“Talk with him about anything. His life. Your life. Just don’t mention anything about the demons, or Doctor Maladar.”

“Sure thing I guess, but what is this supposed to do?”

“Buy me some time. Maybe get us a little information on it. Just see let me know everything it says.”

I’m a little strained on what I’m doing, but I think my original plan might still work. I go back to the book from my bag, studying the process to de-spell this room. This spirit, ghost or not, is likely an anchor for whatever is manipulating the spiritual pressure in this room.

Before my plan was to banish the ghost and the spell would have gone with it, revealing what was wrong with this room. But now… If I were to try that, and it really wasn’t a ghost, the repercussions could prove disastrous. But there’s more than one way to break a spell.

While I read, Con moved ahead with his part.

“Mr. Ghost, where were you born?”

The low rumbling immediately after told me the spirit was responding. I do need to make sure it doesn’t interfere with any rituals I perform.

Now, this is likely an illusion spell. Something to keep me from seeing what’s wrong. Ah, this counter should work. It won’t dispel the illusion entirely, but so long as its runes are inscribed in the ground, the spell will be put on hold.

I wait for the low rumbling to stop before I grab my chalk. The runes require a very specific pattern to counter the spell and the slightly shaking room might ruin it. Wonderful, it has stopped. I must work quickly while I have the time.

“Wow… Hey, Branner, he says he was born in this house.”

“Yes, yes, Con. That’s lovely. Just keep it…” He was born in this house? No… Could he really be the brother of Lance? “Spirit, how did you die?”

The low rumble returns. It was fairly short. I look to Con waiting for the answer.

“…betrayal?” Con’s face had a mix of confusion and horror.

“Betrayal… Con, hold off on more questions. I need to finish this.”

What betrayed him? If it was really the demons in this house when he was stabbed by the family heirloom… then was he the one who summoned the beasts?

I finish the chalk drawings going in a circle around the room, runic stones placed in key locations. Now for the hard part. I’m not well versed on my slavic so I might need a bit to make sure I remember how to pronounce all of this. I don’t know what will happen, or what will be revealed in this room. Here I go.

The chant begins, each runic symbol lighting up as I call its name. The spiral of symbols sends out wave after wave of my own energy, holding back another magical force. I finish the spell, as the energy returns and converges on the trap in the center of the room.

The smoke-like spirit within the trap cries out. He falls and settles in the middle, losing his wispy form and gaining a new translucent one. He looks like a young man, with combed dark hair, and the same style of suit the other servants were wearing.

I fear I may have been wrong and this is Marcellus Welling.

Lance, forgive me.

Seeking Dusk: Part 10

I couldn’t stay around Rand any longer. I take off, flying into the night air. I need to clear my head and try to figure all this out. Rand was out of his mind.

He questioned The Presence? Willingly threw himself in league with lesser demons in the name of compromise? The words he speaks remind me of someone else. Someone who long ago thought to question our creator. And the Morning Star paid dearly for his transgressions.

I don’t want to see a good man, my friend, go through all that. But talking with him was impossible! He countered every argument I made, in his on twisted way! Dammit! He’s probably still mad. Still cleaning that mess. If only I could show him. Or talk with someone about it.

Actually, I do think I can do that second one.

The question is whether he will see me. I change direction and fly back to the office of Dr. Alexander Matthews.

I touch down just outside the doctor’s office. It was a strange sensation. Humility. I had angered him and been angry in turn on my last visit. That was a mere day ago. And here I am, already having to come back and ask for help. My foolish pride was going to bruise on this one.

I slide through the door, my spiritual form allowing me to bypass the wall. I’m sure he knows I’m here, it’s not like I’m hiding the energy flowing out of me. He’ll be down shortly.

The office still had all sorts of books and artifacts thrown about the room. The man might have acted all high and mighty, but he’s one hell of a pig. His bookshelves are a different story. Each and every volume was specifically chosen. Each one contains some of the most important information we’ve ever utilized. And a select few shelves contain the only pictures of friends and family he has. It’s actually a little sad. All those memories in his head and-

“Aluma. Back so soon?” The doctor had entered from the hall while my back was turned. Looked like he hadn’t changed out of his clothes from yesterday. Polo shirt tucked into some old jeans all partially hidden under his white lab coat.

The man retired years ago and patching up angels doesn’t exactly get you dirty. I suppose it’s habit. Though that means someone else was just here. Hell, they might still be.

“Of course, doc. You know I can’t stay away.” I walk over and take a seat in a chair he had in the corner of the room. I need to be calm. No insults. I need his help. Be modest, and apologetic.

“How’s the investigation with Rand going?” The doctor moves to his desk, sifting through the drawers. I can’t tell if he’s actually looking for something or just making it seem like he didn’t come in here for me.

“Hard to say. On one hand, we’re talking with someone who might know where to look. On the other, Rand has been making deals with this informant for some time.”

“Is that so? Who’s the informant?” His eyes never leave his desk. Is he really being this petty?

“A shame demon. He runs The Milton.” And here’s the reaction…

“Ah, yes, Dumah. Lucky he’s a coward, or many of your missions would have failed.” …You’ve got to be kidding me.

“You knew about this?” I don’t think it is possible for me to be more incredulous.

He finally looks up, straight at me, like I was the one who just said the completely crazy thing.

“Of course I did. I’m the one who told him where to find Dumah.”

“…I think you broke my brain.”

The old man gives a sigh.

“Aluma, I understand that you were created with the specific purpose of killing demons, but haven’t you ever wondered how we found out where their most secret compounds are? Haven’t you wondered why, despite proving so useful in The Old War, you haven’t moved up in rank?

“You are so narrow minded, and want to kill everything labeled ‘demon.’ There’s a big difference between demons and the fallen. Though they take similar paths to get there, demons started off as humans. Which gives them that freewill we were so special for.”

I can feel myself instinctively roll my eyes.

“So you’re trying to say demons aren’t all that bad. Oh gee, why didn’t I ever think of that? Thank you so much for showing the error of my ways. I’ll be sure to give the next demon I see a nice big hug.” I start to get up.

Desine

And I immediately freeze in place. Damn.

“Please sit.” The biggest downside to being an angel, is that you were made to serve.

I resume sitting, and the doctor continues his lecture.

“Aluma, you have to understand, as much as I wish we could just run out and kill every last bit of evil on the planet, that is not our duty. Ours is to hold back that tide of darkness for as long as we can.”

“I fail to see how protecting them helps us accomplish that…”

“We’re not letting them do as they please. Aluma, there will always be evil in this world, from now until judgment day. So in turn for letting small fish roam free, we can put our efforts towards stopping the bigger fish.”

“Well, even if I did believe that, that’s not the biggest issue I have. It’s Rand. He’s talking about wanting an end to the war.”

“Well my goodness, that most certainly does sound horrible.”

Okay, it kind of stings to have your own sarcasm thrown back in your face.

“Well, it’s just… I…”

The doctor finally sits at his desk and addresses me directly

“Tell me, Aluma. Why did you come here?”

I think over the question, genuinely wondering the same thing. What is it about Rand that bothers me? If he still has use of the Light, shouldn’t that mean he’s doing something right?

“… I’m lost.” It was painful to admit, but it needed saying. It was what Dr. Matthews was looking for. His proud little smirk tells me that.

“You’re a host of heaven. Not the Lord himself. It’s natural to lose your bearings and need guidance.”

I didn’t want him to be right. The Great Aluma reduced to this. Asking a human for help.

“What has Rand done to shake you? What of it has made him so compromising?”

“It’s the callous way he so quickly became trusting of those we considered enemies. Maybe they can be of use, but to me, they were just things we killed not too long ago. I haven’t been sneaking around the backs of other angels to get what I need. I’ve entered a new world where allies, enemies and tools can spring from nowhere, and just as easily switch what they mean to me. And somehow, I’m just supposed to accept all this?”

The doctor shifts forward in his chair, his face showing concern. This hasn’t been easy for him either.

“It takes getting used to, but I can speak from experience on this matter. You want so badly for things to be one way. Black and white. But time with the angels of our Lord has taught me of the shades of gray plaguing my previous assumptions. While I might not always claim to understand the actions taken by such heavenly beings, I can tell you I either trust them, or call them out. Which do you think this deserves? What has Rand done?”

I can’t answer. I can’t say he’s compromised his ideals, since his first and foremost goal was protecting mankind as I have. I can’t say hiding these dealings from me, since even I can see, and am currently proving, I would take the news so poorly. I can’t respond.

“Aluma, why don’t you go get some air? I’ll send for you if I hear movement on more of the demons.”

I obey.

Neon Noir: The Ninth Beat

How did Vash and Bella really meet? Can you trust a woman you know is running from something?

Vashti Kianian

Stupid dress. It was so stupid of me to wear it.

Vash cursed her own choices. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to be at this party. But if she was going to start her own club, she’d need the help of the families here.

The dress she was wearing was sleek and tight up top, while the skirt flowed down to her ostentatious heels.

It could be worse, Vash. You could have gone with that beaded monstrosity.

She looked around the party, trying to find Alessandro Gaudio, head of the Gaudio crime family in The City. Her contact said he should be relaxed in this setting and more apt to listen to her proposal.

And yet, she didn’t dare leave her little corner of the room until she knew where he was. The minute she did, these men would be on her like a dog on a steak.

“I’ve never seen you before!”

The bright and colorful voice snapped Vash out of her thoughts. She quickly looked to her side where it came from and saw a cute flapper.

“I’m new in town.”

Vash’s own voice shifted. Rather than her normal calm, directed tone, she spoke with interest and bravado.

“Really?! And you already got invited to one of these parties? They’re very exclusive, ya know!”

The girl was cute. More than cute, she was gorgeous. Her dark hair framed her face perfectly. Vash wasn’t a huge fan of the dress, but her confidence made it work.

“Who’s to say I was invited? Maybe I snuck in?” Vash says.

The girl laughs, a haughty laugh that didn’t quite seem to match the flapper dress.

“Oh, no one sneaks in to these parties.”

She grabs two glasses off a passing server’s tray and very pointedly sets one in front of Vash.

Vash takes the glass and downs the drink.

“Maybe I did.”

Vashti Kianian

In the office of the Arcadian, Vash stared down Bella. After having him pour their drinks, she asked Mr. Shane to change using the spare clothes she kept at the club, and keep lookout, outside the club.

After another cocktail, Bella gathers her nerves.

“Raph and I had been seeing each other for a few months. We knew out parents wouldn’t approve, so we kept it secret. From everyone.”

“No one knew? You’re positive?”

The woman shook her head.

“No one I knew. Raph swore he kept it to himself as well.”

Vash stops to consider the Belrose family. They were almost as close as Bella’s so Raphael would have been smart enough to keep it from them.

But they were kids in love. They had to go out in public. It just took someone who recognized them to ruin it.

“When you were together, where would you go?”

“We didn’t.”

Vash shook her head.

“We have to figure out who knew. I need to know who could have found out.”

Bella shakes her own head back.

“You don’t understand! We’re not fools, Vash! We didn’t go out together after we met.”

What in gods name did she mean?

Vash’s face must have conveyed her confusion because Bella filled in the gap.

“We talked on the vidphone. A lot.”

“So you weren’t together in person?”

She shook her head again.

Vash was perplexed. She couldn’t imagine a relationship being confined purely to a vid window. Bella was always a little different though.

“I know. It’s not conventional. But he loved me. And I loved him.”

Vash put her thoughts about this to the side.

“Okay. Who suggested running? You or him?”

“He did. Said we could disappear to another city; start over away from our families.”

“Your father alone has enough sway to find you most anywhere, you had to know that.”

“I do! I do now.” She gets up and starts walking around the office. “But Raph… he made it sound so easy. Get some money together, hop a train, and live free.”

Vash’s ears perked up.

“Money? How much money?”

Bella looked a little sheepish.

“Well, I mean, we were planning to start a new life. We needed something to get going, hide our tracks, and build a safe life for us!”

Vash stood up and slammed her fist on the table.

“How much did he tell you to get?”

“…another $10,000.”

Vash’s mouth dropped. There’s no way her pop would have given that to her, or she would have just paid off Lenny and this whole scenario would have never happened.

Which means…

“You borrowed it from Lenny, didn’t you?”

“We were running away! I didn’t think I’d have to pay it back!”

Vash lets out a string of curses she’s sure Mr. Shane could hear outside the club.

“Fine. Where is the money now?”

“I got it! Stop treating me like a foolish child, Vash!”

Okay, that’s one problem solved.

“We’ll take it back to Lenny. Negotiate the interest. That will be one thing off your back.”

“No.”

Vash’s anger was filling her body. She had never dealt with a situation quite like this before.

“No?”

“If you can’t settle this, I’ll still need to run. Besides, Lenny says I got until Friday to pay him back. No rush.”

“Do you really think he’ll just let you keep it when word gets around what happened?! I wouldn’t be surprised if those goons weren’t with the Belroses but instead Lenny’s guys trying to collect before you skipped town!”

“Oh. I didn’t think of that.”

Vash took a deep breath and sat down. She put her head in her hands and thought things over. Lenny was a loose end she couldn’t leave hanging.

“We’re giving him that money back. Then we can figure out what else happened.”

“…Fine.”

Vash breathed a sigh of relief.

“Great. Where is it?”

“Under the floorboards in my apartment.”

Vash cursed again.

The Elysian: Twelfth Dream

I finally stop being so dumbstruck and command my body to move. I force myself to float to my right, just barely avoiding the plant monster. But I’m too slow up here. I need to get out of here! I never expected to find an abomination here! Everything, even Death, has seemed so innocuous, despite their abilities. I’ve never been so scared in my life.

He sends several more vines at me. I focus as hard as I can and dodge this new wave of attacks. Three snap on different sides of me. The last few barely miss my legs. I grab the last one before he pulls it back. This was a bad idea. It starts to shake back and forth, trying to get me loose. I can’t really focus as he sends some new vines at me. Then, I get an idea. I remember the lesson Puck taught me and let go of my emotions. I surrender to the empty feeling and lose my touch on the vine I was holding. The new wave all pass through me. Time to get out of here.

I try to fly away, but I hear him strike again. There’s no way to avoid it this time. I feel the vines snap around my leg. The jerk shakes my whole body. I try to become intangible again, but my heart is racing, and my emotions too ingrained to let go. I can’t slip out of this. His whips retract and pull me toward the frightening visage that was his face. I see the vines move and squirm as it opens the gaping jaw he’s made. He’s gonna eat me!

The forest monster was drawing me closer to his mouth, my mind racing to find a way out of this. My emotions were to worked up to turn intangible again. I had no weapons within reach. The creature’s grasp was too strong for me to break free. And I… I had an oddly long stretch of time in which to think about all of this.

I look down, the creature’s vines were not really pulling on me.

“Um, weren’t you going to eat me about two seconds ago?”

The vines release me and retract back into the forest man.

“No, I was expecting you to break free and fly away. Now I’ll never get rid of you.”

“…But… b-but….” He was just trying to scare me?! “I-I… but that…. BUT YOU TRANSFORMED INTO A GIANT MONSTER WITH AN INSATIABLE APPETITE FOR MY FLESH!!!”

“I changed into my guardian form.” As he talks, the vines shift and shrink, disappearing to God knows where. “I don’t really hurt people unless they hurt my trees. You were bugging me, so I wanted to scare you off, but you proved too weak and stupid for your own good. So look, I let you go. Can ya please leave? Go away?”

Out of all the insanity to have happened to me, I must admit, this hit me the most. I felt every bit of confusion throughout every fiber of my being. And everything said the same thing.

“Wha…?”

The spirit was finished shifting back to his small, wooden man form. He crossed his arms as he spoke.

“Leave me alone. Go run your little errand for Goodfellow. Get your reward and have fun bragging.”

That’s an odd thing to say.

“My reward? Now what are you talking about?”

The little man sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Happens all the time. Some spirit hears about the legendary challenges and pranks of ‘The Master of the Forest’ and thinks they can best them. After being led on a wild goose chase, he congratulates them on doing nothing, using his fancy word play and rhymes, making them think they actually did something of worth and let’s them wander off.”

…What?

He continues. “It’s actually one of his funnier pranks. It’s only once enough spirits are successful that they realize it was all a joke. I’m more curious to what they will try to do to him after-”

“WHAT?!!!?? He’s playing a prank on me!? I swear to whatever god you all worship I will wring his neck until he can’t-”

“Now calm down, ya idiot. He’s the master of pranks. Didn’t you think when you decided to come here and accept these challenges there might be something else going on?”

He thinks I’m just some afterlife thrill seeker.

“I’m not here for some faux-challenge given by an almighty jester! I’m trying to find my way home and your master promised me a key to the magic door if I solved his challenges!”

“Oh. Then you’re stupider than I thought. No way is Goodfellow giving you his key. Might as well go back to where you came from.” And the spirit turns to walk away.

“But that’s what I was trying to do…” I slowly descend to the branch. My prospects bleak. This was just a sick game, played by the master of sick games. What do I do now? How much time have I lost? Is Death getting closer? Did he trick me and this tangled mess my punishment for not choosing to pass on?

What do I do now?

“Ugh, dammit. Look kid, I don’t know what’s going on here, but everyone finds their way home.” The small man walks over to me, trying to be comforting. “Puck is more trustworthy than you might assume. Of course, that’s if you assume everything he’s doing is untrustworthy.”

“Thank you. That’s very helpful… I just- So, I apparently died not too long ago. Death came for me, but I couldn’t accept it. I ran away from him and have been trying to find my way back to my family. I thought if I just kept collecting keys from these spirits, one would maybe get me back home.”

“Fine. Let’s go get you that feather.”

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 15

“What now? Do we just talk to it?” Con was pacing around the trap containing a ghost. The curtain of light shined with a flickering luminescence, enrapturing his attention.

“Not quite. See, ghosts such as this aren’t whole, and don’t have all their mind to aid them in communicating. They’re more of a flurry of different emotions, bound to a spirit with unfulfilled purpose. And depending on the how long such a storm is allowed to wander, it can intensify, becoming something else entirely.” I reached for a small book I keep in my bag, hoping it held the spell I needed.

“Oh. So, how do you know how old it is?”

“Well, the methods vary and usually involve something of a-”

“HEY! GHOST! HOW OLD ARE YA?!” Con yelled at the ethereal being in the light. I didn’t quite know how to react.

“Now Con, uh, that’s not…”

A low moan rumbled throughout the room, shaking the bookshelves around me. I could hear a bit of shuffling against the floor behind me. It was Lance, attempting to get as far into that corner of the room as possible. Poor chap. Likely afraid of the vision before him.

“The spirit can’t understand you. All you’re doing is-”I began to speak, but was cut off.

“He says he’s 23, Branner!”

“I- Well- What?” Did he just talk to a ghost?

Con excitedly moved closer to the curtain.

“What should we ask it next?” Can this boy really speak with ghosts? Demons have no particular affinity for our dearly departed. Why would he be able to do that? He could always be fooling around. Of course. He must be. I regain my composure.

“Con, could you please not agitate the-”

“HEY! WHAT’S YOUR NAME, BUD?!” Con yelled again.

This was getting frustrating. I’ll have to find some way to explain to him that there’s no time for games, but it seems his whole demeanor is different now that he’s my assistant as well as a guest. He’ll… Wait. The spirit is moaning again. No. No, this can’t be. Can it? Coincidence, right? Ghosts aren’t conscious of their actions or even the world around them, necessarily. They only respond to other emotions, and even then, it’s a very primitive form of communication.

“Marcellus? Well, nice ta meet ya, Marcellus.” Oh my goodness. Con was talking to a ghost.

“Wait, what did you say?” Lance had finally found his courage again. He approached us from the safety of his corner as he spoke. “Did you just tell me that the spirit is 23, and is named Marcellus?”

Con looked over at the young man helping the two of us. “Naw, Mr. Ghost here told me that. Try to keep up.” He gave a wry smile to reinforce his sarcastic remark.

“Well, it’s just… I think that’s my brother…” Lanced seemed to have lost his breath. He was on the verge of tears.

Oh dear. This was bad.

“Lance, I need you to calm down. Step outside if you need to, but don’t do anything rash. This spirit isn’t your brother anymore, do you understand?” I tried to calmly walk toward the boy. People tend to do outrageous things in a hysterical state. If he did something to disrupt the ring of light around the spirit we could lose it and all that effort would be lost.

“Mist-…er, I mean, Branner, sir, do you think it’s possible this is all true?” His hands were shaking, his eyes never left the spectacle in the center of the room.

No use lying to him. The truth might even reassure him.

“I’m not sure. It’s possible this is your brother, but it is very unlikely. This estate has had many come through and pass on.

“If Con is indeed talking to the ghost in some manner escaping my understanding, it could also be that the spirit is lying.

“Now, I must ask you to leave, Lance. You are excused. Leave us and return to your normal duties. I’m certain this isn’t your brother.” Alright, that last sentence was a lie.

“Of-of course. Should I report to The Doctor your current progress?” Lance was quickly fighting his fear and attachment. Talented young man. Not sure how I would do in such a situation.

“Yes, that would be prudent. I just need you to not be here anymore.” A very blunt way to put it, but I am sure he understands.

Lance bows out and walks to the door. As he leaves, I can see the fear return to his face.

Now that the most pressing issue is resolved, what in the name of the creator is going on with Con?!

The boy seems to be communicating with the ghost. I’m not sure how that’s even possible, if it’s true. All my understandings of ghosts points to a being of nigh-pure emotion, their sense of mind having long abandoned them with their body.

Even if you could speak the same language, their consciousness no longer consists of reason or logic. They shouldn’t be able to answer in kind to your questions. And yet, I don’t think Con is lying to me.

This leaves me with three options. First, my knowledge of ghosts is lacking, and I just haven’t encountered one with the power to think. Nor have I had someone along who can talk back to the spirit. Fairly unlikely. Second, we got extremely lucky, in that the being is still emotional, and the things it has fixated upon sound like answers to the questions Con has asked. This option is the least likely. No, what I believe the answer to be is my third thought.

This isn’t a ghost.

The Elysian: Eleventh Dream

“Fine. I give in. What do you want me to do? I need to get out of here and the sooner I get done, the better. Tell me, Robin Goodfellow, what quest will I go on, and what lesson must I learn?”

Puck leans back, once again sitting on his breeze.

“That’s better. Now listen and hear my words.

The first item you seek is one for the birds.

A feather, specifically, one of color unknown.

But it’s not in sky, or trees. It’s under a stone.

And over a river. And next to the earth.

Bring it to me, and show me your worth.”

“That’s it. I have to bring you a feather? It’s no finding a planet in the universe, but what’s the catch?”

He smiles.

“There is none this time. Except the lesson you must learn.

It will all become clear. I hope the moral you don’t spurn.”

I am really starting to hate rhymes.

“Fine. I believe you said it’s near a river? Mind pointing me in the right direction?”

The master of the forest stands up and whips the wind around him. Leaves and dirt take shape at his sides. They form arrows pointing in either direction.

“…Really?”

“Well, to be fair, you didn’t say

which river was more your way.

I’m afraid I’ve no more time.

I must go, enjoy the last rhyme!”

He opens his hands and slams them together causing a large splash of wind to envelope his body. And like that, he disappears. The little jerk just left me here. His two arrows pointing me towards the rivers are still here though. So helpful…

“Why can I not catch a break?!” I cry out, my voice echoing through the trees.

I can’t say I feel completely better, but there’s something cathartic about yelling and cursing at nothing.

Time to pick a path. Left or right? Towards the right is the path he had me traveling down for his first test. But he’s a trickster so it might have been to throw me off. Or maybe he knew I would think that.

Moment of truth. God, I wish I had a coin. Maybe if I start down one of the ways, I can get some kind of clue if it’s right or not.

“Ya mind, moving, buddy?”

What the hell? Where is that voice coming from? I turn around trying to find the source. There’s no one here. Maybe it’s invisible? I ask myself a lot of questions.

“I said move it buddy!!”

It’s coming from the downward direction. It’s a tiny little man, isn’t it?

I look down and try to find the small person. Bingo.

“Sorry. Can I help you?” I ask.

The source of the voice looked to be a miniscule figure made of wood. He had a beard made of grass. And a head that went up into a point with a single leaf.

“Yes you can. You can get off my tree!”

“I’m terribly sorry. My mistake.” I take off from the branch and float next to it. “So this is your tree? The whole thing?”

He looks up at me, his face incredulous.

“Yeah, the whole thing. Don’t ya see my name on it?”

“Well to be perfectly honest, no…”

“Look, mortal-”

“Why does everyone insist on calling me that?”

“-I don’t care what your problem is, and I don’t care why you’re so interested in me. Just leave me alone and float on somewhere else.”

Well, I obviously can’t let that slide.

“Well, you might start caring. My new problem is you. And I have a way to take care of that. Just point me in the direction of the river.”

“Those arrows left by Master Puck should show you the way out. Now get out of here.”

“But I need to find a specific river.

He sighs and looks at me with the angriest look on his face.

“Fine. Which river?”

“Um… the one with the feather?”

“Oh you’re a funny one, jack. Now, like I said. Get out of here.”

“But I need help! Your Master Puck has me trying to find some special feather around here. He said it was by a river. Ringing any bells?”

The strange little man gives me such a dirty look, it felt like he was cursing at me with no words.

“Look, buddy. I ain’t getting involved in none of the games Goodfellow is playing with you. Ya got a 50/50 chance of finding whatever river you’re searching for. I suggest you take it. NOW GET LOST!”

This is not going as I planned. I had hoped if I annoyed him enough, I could get him to tell me just to get rid of me. But I’m not sure where to go from here.

“What part of ‘Get outta here’ are you not getting, bub?” The wooden man has turned his attention back to me. I suppose I should go ahead and leave.

Or, and hear me out here, I can go for stupid.

I barely think it, and my hand shoots out and snatches the small man from the branch. He squirms against my grip, but he’s no match for my giant proportioned strength.

“Let go of me, you filthy mort! Put me down!”

His cries annoy me, but I can’t do much about it. He feels so fragile, and I think if I try to cover his mouth, I’ll accidentally break him.

And yet, he feels a bit denser than I expected. If he is made from wood, I would think it’s something closer to an ebony wood, as opposed to the apple wood kind of look he sports.

“I need a guide through this forest. You’re the only one around. So too bad for you.” It was mean, but I really couldn’t care. I need to get out of here now.

“You want to put me down, right now.” His voice became much more focused.

As threatening as it was, I maintain my grip.

But something is wrong. He doesn’t feel right in my hand. He feels like he’s… gaining weight? He’s heavier. The squirming in my hand has shifted. He was no longer moving like he was trying to escape, but rather something was moving around him.

And he was so heavy now! I reach out with my other hand to help hold him. That’s when I realize what’s happening. I couldn’t hold him anymore. I throw him back onto the branch, hoping to reverse the process, but it’s no use.

He has vines and branches growing out and wrapping around him. He lands and continues growing. All the added layers have made him immense. He’s bigger than me.

His body no longer resembles the small gnome before. He is now a rather rotund, humanoid figure. His face was a grotesque mess of vines and wood that I’m sure was meant to look like a human face with a beard, but instead, reminded me of the horrifying visage of an eldritch creature. His eyes were what scared me the most. The growth around it left sunken holes in his head where his eyes should be, a vain attempt to replicate a human.

“I warned you.” The booming deep voice sounded nothing like the little man. He was now a monster. And I pissed him off.

“I am no normal waldgeist. I’m a leshy.”

And with that, he waved his hands at me, vines shooting out of his arm and flying right toward me.

Seeking Dusk: Part 9

Most of the creatures are smart. They fled off into the night after the death of the lead vampire. The few scragglers who wanted to stand their ground would soon know why I am feared among their kind. Why my sword is the bane of their masters. And why my temper is something not to be trifled with.

I grip the hilt of my sword tighter and prepare the descent to-

“ALUMA!!”

Dammit. It’s Rand. He’s standing just out of the door of the club, arms crossed, wearing the face of a disappointed parent.

The other beasts notice the second holy warrior and run away.

“Don’t you ‘Aluma’ me! These creatures laid a trap for us!”, I cry out.

“That you willingly walked into. Did you even consider asking for help? Did you think when you maimed a dozen human souls without the mercy of a swift death?”

I float down slowly, my anger far too focused on my friend for me to go faster.

“You don’t get to judge me, Garrow! How long have you been coming here?! How long have you been making deals with the darkness? You offered what I could never condone. Was I to ignore that? I leave and they ambushed me. They wished to cause me harm. Yes, the vampire gave them courage to attack, but they’re the ones who wanted to. I refuse to let a mortal judge me for defending myself, especially against such an attack by the lowest of beasts.”

I touch down right in front of him. He’s thinking. Thinking about what happened here. About my words. He’s trying to find a way to turn this around. To find a way I could have avoided violence. But he knows there is none. Humans. Ever hopeful.

“You still could have come and got me.”

“I didn’t think I had the time with a wendigo at my throat.”

“No, you just didn’t think.” He turns to one of the wounded creatures. He points his hand at the beast and lets his energy pour out. The bright white beam shooting out his hand envelopes the monster and when he’s finished, there is no more.

“I’m going to take a while cleaning up here. Go patrol. We’ll rendezvous-”

“No.”

He turns and faces me.

“Excuse me?”

“You’ve been acting so morally superior all day.  What is wrong with you?”

He looks around, slightly annoyed. He doesn’t get to play this game.

“Tell me Rand. Something happened between last night and this morning. Hell, something happened in the last few years. When I was last on assignment, you never would have gone to The Milton alone. You never would have defended these monstrosities.” He turns back around. I won’t let him escape so easily. “You never would have lied to me.”

“I didn’t-”

“Don’t start. Those marks on your arm this morning weren’t from a dog. It’s my turn to tell you to stop being stupid and tell me what’s wrong.”

He sighs. His head moves from left to right, surveying the carnage I wrought.

“I’m tired, Alli. Tired of fighting. Tired of this war.”

Is that all?

“You’re only human. An absolutely amazing one, but still human. Been fighting for, what, 10? 15 years? I’ve been at this for eons. Since the Morning Star first fell. The doctor isn’t as active-”

“No. I’m tired of this war. Tired of seeing pointless blood be spilled.”

Surprise doesn’t begin to describe how I felt.

“Rand… this is far from pointless.”

“Sure it is. One ideology versus another. Good and evil are merely-”

“Don’t you dare blaspheme around me, Garrow!”

“Alli, we want to protect humans, yet here are souls, wounded by your own blade. I can only purify so many before I get exhausted. Our God chooses to leave them to the wolves.”

“He leaves them to us. And we are-”

“Warriors. Spillers of blood. Violence is our nature, and he expects us to be equipped to heal the very warped souls he orders us to destroy?”

“He expects us to do our best.”

“Then I will. And if that involves me making deals and allies you don’t like, don’t complain to me.”

This is insanity. How could he have lost so much faith in The Presence? 

“Garrow…”

“Don’t you ‘Garrow’ me. Humans are born into a trap. Our world pains us. Teases us. Brings us down.”

“You at least have freedom.”

He walks over to the next creature and extends his hand.

“Freedom to choose how we die.”

The white energy fires from his hand.

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