Spades Fiction

Episodic stories of fantasy and science fiction.

Page 2 of 5

Mild Mannered: Issue #6

I can’t help but feel slightly used.

“Why’d you pick this pose? Seems so… pedestrian.”

Michael had talked me into showing him the submissions I drew for the contest, by bringing them up on his computer. Now he was critiquing them. He wasn’t being mean or anything, but I feel like whatever flirting I may or may not have read into his actions was a lie. I mean, it’s possible he likes me. It’s also possible he saw me buying Fantastigirl, assumed a stereotype about buying a ‘girl’ comic, and figured he could use me. I don’t even know what to think any more.

“Well, I decided to just draw the character walking because I think almost all the entries would be these over the top action poses. Putting in something a little more mundane in this case can actually show variety.” I’m surprising my own self with my ability to talk right now. I guess having gone over all this with Kara when I first drew the submissions made it easier.

“Ah! Makes sense.” His face never leaves the pages. I don’t know what he expects to do about it right now, but he’s very intent on analyzing each and every drawing I downloaded to the computer. It was rather surprising, we’d been at this for half an hour and I still haven’t seen any one else come in. He really does get as few customers as he says.

“So here’s what I was thinking,” Michael finally looks up at me again. I’m slightly less enamored by his smooth skin, and charming eyes now that I know he just wants me for advertising purposes.

“If you make it into the tournament bracket, we should do some kind of event here! Like, have fun cheering on a local, or something. Plus, that’d be great to put in advertisements…”

I really want to say no. I really don’t want to say no. Argh! What do I-

“…And in exchange, I can give you free comics or something.”

“Trade paperback!?”

He gives a giggle.

“Absolutely, so long as I can afford to keep this place open.” He leans back in his chair, turning to face me. “You know, you’re a pretty good artist.”

My face feels significantly warmer. I can’t imagine the shade of red I must be right now.

“Thanks.” I manage to eke out.

There’s a slight jingle as the bell attached to the front door opens. Must be another customer. I slide out from behind the counter where we were looking at the computer to avoid being mistaken for a worker.

The man who enters looks fancy. Too fancy to be coming into a comic shop. His blonde hair is kept short, neatly groomed with some kind of product in it. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you the brand of three piece suit he’s wearing, but the material is nice enough that even I can tell it’s expensive. That light hair, decked out in black, with piercing blue eyes feels intimidating. He gives off an air of confidence.

“Hmm, this place is even smaller on the inside,” the newcomer mumbles to himself.

Michael doesn’t seem to notice the vague insult.

“Hi! Welcome to Multiversity! Anything I can help you find?”

The well-dressed man looks him over.

“Yes, I’m looking for the owner of this shop.”

Michael chuckles, not really believing getting that twice in one day.

“That would be me. What can I do for you?

If the customer was surprised at this revelation, he didn’t show it.

“I have some very specific items I’m looking for. Could you tell me if you have these issues?” He produces a small slip of paper, and hands it to Michael.

There’s a gleam in Michael’s eye that, just for a moment, betrays his naturally friendly persona, and reveals the greedy monster lurking beneath.

“Yes! I do believe we have these comics. Let me go grab them for you.”

And with that, he rushes off into some back area of the store.

The stranger turns to me, as I realize I’ve just been awkwardly staring a little at this whole exchange.

“Do you work here as well? Perhaps your boss could use some help.” His voice isn’t really cold, but it sends shivers up my spine all the same.

“Oh, I don’t work here. I’m just a-a…” Oh crap. What am I? Acquaintance? Customer? Lustful stalker? “Friend.”

He gives me the same once over he gave Michael, as if scanning me to reveal the truth. Not that I’m lying. At least, not that I think I’m lying.

“Interesting. Do you enjoy graphic novels as well?” His body barely moves, yet there’s a slight shift toward me that I notice. Why is he so interested?

“Yes… yes I do.” My eyes find they can’t hold contact with his for very long. I turn to some of the comics on the shelf behind me and start looking through them.

“By any chance, do you read Fantastigirl? It’s expertly written.”

My ears perk up and I turn back around in a snap.

“Yes! I love that series! It’s so ground breaking-”

I’m cut off by the man holding up his hand.

“Less is more, my dear.” He finally moves, his steps very deliberate, yet graceful. Like he’s gliding over the carpet. He reaches out for a magazine on a shelf, and starts flipping through it. “Have you heard of the contest for the new artist?”

“Oh, yeah, well, actually, I entered it.” I look away, thinking about all the questions that arose from Michael finding out I entered the contest. Don’t want to have to go through all that again.

There’s a slight twitch in his hand when I responded, though. It was so slight, I’m surprised I noticed it. He turns his attention from the comic in his hand back to me.

“Is that so? Yes, most interesting.” His eyes search mine, as if they held some kind of secret he nonchalantly wanted to know. “I wish you luck in the tournament, mister?”

“Jules. Just call me Jules.

He glides over to me, extending his hand as he crosses.

“Jules. Pleased to meet you.”

Oh god, I want to leave. Why is this happening?

“A-and you too, I guess…” I trail off as I take his hand and give a very weak shake.

Right at that moment, Michael comes back into the room, arms loaded with comic books.

“Yes! We had pretty much everything. I am missing that 1956 issue of Night Fiend, but I can acquire it for you, if you don’t mind waiting.”

“I better go!” I spit out. “Michael! We’ll talk more soon, okay?”

“Oh! Yes! You have a good day, Jules!”

I give a quick nod to Michael, then turn back to the stranger, whose eyes still haven’t left me.

“Have a good day!”

He smirks.

“Oh I shall, Jules. I shall.”

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 7

I move forward to open the door. It has only now dawned upon me that all the workers in the area are watching intently. It’s unnerving being under such observation. After a quick moment to reassure myself, I grab the door latch and pull the portal open.

A young boy falls out, his hands and legs snapped stiff by the unseen energy. He looks to barely be thirteen or fourteen years of age. His hair is blacker than anything I’ve ever seen. The clothes he wears are not much more than tattered rags. His eyes burn with a violent, violet intensity, all the proof I need that he’s not normal.

“What the hell didja do to me?!”

I kneel down next to him. This was the boy I saw when I first arrived, standing off in the distance. I might not have had a good look at the time, but the energy wafting off him is unmistakable.  

“Your name is ‘Con’ is it not?” I ask.

He’s squirming, trying to escape. It won’t work. The gem and spell could only be used a limited number of times, but it was powerful.

“Yea, ah go by that. What of it?”

I pull him to his feet so he’s standing. He is still bound, but at least I won’t need to kneel to speak with him.

“You are not a human, now are you, boy?” His dark hair and eyes stand in contrast to his rather fair skin. His hands and feet are worn out, the callouses on his body speak of a life far from comfort. Yet his face remains perfect. Protected.

“Look, I’m sorry for whatever it is ya’ll think I did. I jus wanna go home. I’ll even leave the bit of silver in my shirt.

“I am afraid not, Con. You see, I need to understand whether or not you’re involved here, and I cannot just take your word for it. Don’t worry, the procedure is painless.”

I reach for my pocket, trying to decide how to dispel the boy. I can take him to my room and tie him down, but it’d be easiest if he can walk there himself. My little gem can hold even a hundred grown men for hours-

“RAWR!!” Con cries out.

There’s a quick flash of a ring of light around the boy as the spell is broken. I am stunned. That should be impossible. The spell deteriorates over time, but it should not be snapped by a boy mere moments after it had been cast.

I react quickly. The stone I just used would take to long to charge and focus. I stuff it back in my pocket to free my hands. The boy lunges at me, using his hands like a feral cat. I step backwards to avoid his blow. He goes to strike again and I block the attack with my left forearm.

I hate resorting to such physical maneuvers. However, I do not have my cane or bag, so I must rely on a more time-consuming solution. I strike him in the head with my right elbow, followed by a knee to his chest.

My word, what is this boy made of? Each strike feels like I’m hitting solid earth, but it barely slows him down. It might be due to his emotional state, but I somehow doubt it.

He is knocked back from my hits, but quickly regains composure and moves to strike again. This time I sidestep him entirely and put a quick plan into action. I remove my jacket and throw it off in the distance. I reach for my left sleeve and slide it up.

The symbols carved in scar and ink on my arms are visible now, but I don’t have the time to worry about appearing so savage in front of these workers. If I don’t do something quick, this boy might kill me. He is already turning around in the split seconds I had to work. He jumps for a mid-air tackle. I try catching him, but he is deceptively dense. I collapse backwards, the boy on top of me. He gets to his knees and tries to pin me down.

Damn, I was hoping not to resort to this, but…

BLITZ!” I scream.

A small gem embedded in my right arm glows and blinds me and the boy momentarily. Despite the disadvantage, I still continue with my plan. Grabbing my left arm, I start a series of chants. 47 words in a language I barely understand. He’s disoriented from my previous attack, and not even trying to stop me.

I yell the last syllable of the chant and feel my arm coursing with power and pain. If I were not blinded, I would see the black marks on my arm growing, stretching, and spreading outward. In the moment I’m too distracted by the pain from the fight, but in hindsight, I’m glad I blinded everyone in the room. I can explain the tattoos away, but the vision of tentacles extending from my forearm to incapacitate the boy might be too much.

My opponent cries out but stops suddenly and falls over. He was only unconscious, but it should last quite a while. A far more potent option, but one I do not take lightly. I sit up, my vision slowly returning to me. The people all around seem flabbergasted. One of the maids finally returns with help, albeit a few moments too late.

“What happened here?” My sight is still blurry but I recognize the voice.

“A small scuffle, Mr. Abbot. Nothing to worry about. If you could, please take this young man to my room and tie him down to the chair with some rope from the third smallest bag in my room.”

“Uh…” he hesitates.

“Third smallest. Please do not forget that.”

“Of course, Branner.” His blurry figure moves over to the boy. I pull my sore body to its feet and stretch out my aching muscles. Never in a thousand years would I have thought a child could make me resort to the help of an elder god.

I fear what my interrogation will bring.

The Elysian: Sixth Dream

I step out the door, the light blinding me. As my vision adjusts to the sun hanging in the sky again, I realize something very peculiar. I’m not standing on a normal floor. I look down and realize I’m on a fallen tree trunk.

Well, sort of. The tree is still standing. And I’m walking on the side. I’m walking on the side of a standing tree. Looking around below and above, there’s more. A whole forest on its side.

A thought passes through my head. What would happen if I fell?

“AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”

I drop to the ground, er, tree and clutch it for my dear afterlife. Did I really just make that joke? I’ve been here far too long. I go from an innocuous room, to the middle of the universe and now I’m in a sideways forest. When do I get to the tea party?

I crawl back to the door and pull myself up to try and go back through. It’s locked. Dammit. I grab the obsidian key I just used and unlock it. I rush through the door and find myself exactly where I was.

Screaming again, I curse the stupid magic door! Stupid key! I grab the other key, the gold one and unlock the door again. I rush back into the oblivion of space.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Hi Luna,” I meekly reply.

She gives me a dirty look. She just got done telling me not to be afraid and here I am.

“Get back in there. Coward.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I return through the door. The trunk seems as scary as before. Strange how floating in the middle of space didn’t feel quite so daunting as standing on the side of the tree. It’s probably the frame of reference. Space is nothingness in every direction. Here, I know the way gravity is supposed to work, but it doesn’t.

I don’t know where I’m supposed to go. What am I supposed to do? Crossing the length of the tree down to the “ground” takes longer than I’d like to admit, but I find it hard to balance on the trunk.

At the end, I place my hand on the dirt, picking up bits of sand and grime. I drop it from my hand and watch it curiously fall back to the ground, perpendicular to my own frame of reference.

Weird. Could it be because I’m shifted from…

The wind picks up. There’s a whistle in the air. I can feel something coming. It rustles at my ear, making me flinch. Whatever it was, it just went behind me. It’s fast.

I hear it again. Ridiculously fast. But it’s actually moving, unlike Death and Luna who seemed to teleport.

In all the wind, I hear a voice. It calls to me.

“It seems the traveler is lost and found,

when in a new place, he looks around

Sky above and trees below

What can he do? How can he know?

The path he seeks cannot be seen

A futile search as ever been…”

Where is that coming from? It sounds like it comes from the woods themselves. The wind chants along in the verse and the leaves dance to the rhythm.

“Your world you wish is not your own

Not life but Death, must you pick a bone

Scream to the earth! Yell and bellow!”

In a whirlwind of leaves and air, a small man, covered in brown fur appears before me on the tree trunk. He has two blue horns protruding from his forehead. The sly smile on his face made me fear his intentions. His entire being exuded a sense of unease.

“But fear not the whims of Robin Goodfellow!”

He takes a small bow, his eye never leaving mine.

I stood, dumbfounded. With an entrance like that, how could I not? What was I supposed to do? Oh, right.

“So… Do you have a key for this door?”

The faerie falls over from the question, exasperated from my audacity, I can only assume.

Neon Noir: The Sixth Beat

Ryan Shane had fought in The Great War. Looking back, he felt he was too young to be there, but there he was. While he learned a lot from the experience, it’s not one he wants to go through again, and one he wouldn’t wish on anyone else.

Ryan Shane

I was positive I was fired. I slept on my boss’s couch without asking her permission. I interrupted a private conversation. Dammit, Ryan!

Mr. Shane yelled in his own mind, when he should be scoping out the area. He realized the same thing.

Dumb, dumb, dumb! Get it together, Ryan!

His boss had called the number from the card. The one she got from Kegs the night before.

Ryan wasn’t sure what his boss heard on the other end of the line, but she seemed to freeze when the call connected. Her tone became far quieter, too quiet for Ryan’s curiosity to get the better of him. After a quick exchange, her bravado was back as she spoke.

“It really has been far too long, darling! We should grab a bite! Say, Minetti’s in an hour?”

Things moved quick from there. Ryan didn’t have time to change, but luckily his jacket was still fresh enough for the outing. He might have looked out of place, fancy suit and all, if it weren’t for Vash.

She had disappeared into her room and reappeared in something Ryan didn’t expect. A dress.

And what a dress. She seemed to be poured right into it. A deep, midnight blue. The strapless ensemble was covered by a small jacket and topped with a wide brimmed hat. She’d also put on some jewelry.

Mr. Shane had only seen her in suits, perfectly tailored suits mind you, but still suits. This took some getting used to.

When Vash stepped out of her room, she made a beeline for the door, giving Ryan a pointed look. He quickly snapped back into action and headed for the door himself. He opened it and after a quick look outside, gave her the signal it was clear.

Sitting here at the restaurant, Ryan felt uneasy. The joint was fancy. So fancy, it made Vash’s choice in attire make sense. At least the nice suit he wore helped him fit in somewhat, but definitely not enough.

“Stop fidgeting.” Vash’s voice was quiet, yet firm.

Ryan immediately stopped shaking his leg. He wasn’t even aware he was doing it.

“Sorry,” He whispered back.

“Don’t be sorry, just don’t do it,” Vash scolded.

“Right, right. Sorry,” he regretted the words as soon as he said them.

“I’m going to stab you in the leg with my fork the first chance-”

Vash is cut off before she can finish. At the entrance to the restaurant, a woman clothed in black walked in. She was by herself, but she was dressed every bit as fancy as Vash. Her own dress clung to every curve of her body. The shoulders were modest, but the deep cut they fed into certainly wasn’t. She wore gloves and a small veil from her hat.

Upon her entrance, all the animosity Vash had vanished. Instead, she waved the woman down and whispered to Ryan.

“You know how to be polite to a lady, don’t you?”

Ryan stood up from his seat, waiting for their guest. As the woman approached, Vash also stood, extending her arms in a hug. “Bella! Oh how I’ve missed you!”

Bella returned the greeting with just as much gusto.

“My dear, Vash! You look amazing!”

Their greeting complete, Ryan pulled a seat out for Bella. She sat in it without even acknowledging Ryan. He politely pushed her in and then headed to the bar, as Vash had instructed.

This was not a speakeasy, so the bar’s drink selection was lacking any alcohol. Which perfectly suited Ryan. While he didn’t drink anything last night, going to sleep so late was not something he was used to lately. The coffee he had earlier helped, but he could use some more.

The bartender brought a cup of the house blend, the smell wafting up to the bodyguard’s nostril. As good as it smelled, Ryan fought to not let it drag him down. He had to be focused. Alert.

He spun the barstool around and looked over the restaurant. It wasn’t too busy, and very quiet, a welcome change from the club last night. But it was also not his scene. It honestly didn’t seem like Vash’s scene either, but she was able to blend in so easily.

Ryan considered his new boss. She was like a chameleon, changing with her situation. Whether she was acting as the boss of a night club, working deals with criminals, or socializing in polite society, she never felt out of place.

The only thing that would set her apart is her choice of clothing. That’s not to say it feels out of place, but it’s bold and instantly recognizable. A club boss in a nice, and well-tailored suit feels right, but she’s a woman. Women don’t wear suits.

Though, she is a very different kind of woman, apparently. Ryan thinks back to that morning, seeing Anastasia come out of Vash’s room. The words of tenderness she shared before she left. It was at that moment Ryan connected the morning’s events to what Vash had said about Abby when they first met.

Never would have guessed Abby was into women.

Outside the restaurant a man in a pressed suit approached the door. His facial expression is what drew Ryan’s eye. He didn’t look to be another patron, looking for a fun brunch.

Ryan slid away from the bar, going around the outside of the seating area in the restaurant, right up to the door.

The man enters and quickly scans the room. His eyes land on Vash’s table. Without any kind of reaction, he reaches into his jacket.

“Hello there, sir! Will you be dining by yourself today?” Ryan loudly mocks.

The stranger freezes for a second, looking at Ryan at his side. The rest of the restaurant, Vash included look at the entrance of the establishment. A look of acknowledgement crosses Vash’s face, and she starts gathering her things.

The stranger tries to pull the gun from his jacket, but Ryan snatches the man’s arm in a hold. A gun shot pierces the roof as someone else in the restaurant screams.

As everyone panics, Vash and her guest sneak out through the back.

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 6

After breakfast, I set about my task. The morning routine here at the manor was busy. The Doctor had a tight schedule and would spend the day returning missives in his office, with possible medical case studies taking up other portions of his time. The massive estate didn’t suit such a pragmatic man, but it employed many people from the nearby town.

The rest of the house was set about their jobs, cleaning, cooking, and preparing things for possible guests. While I may not consider myself someone of honor, the entire household treats me as such. Luckily, Mr. Patrik, the butler, has spread word that I’m allowed to investigate and question whomever I determine necessary.

However, I’ve not needed to ask anything. Not yet. Instead, I’m far more focused on the strange energy and boy from last night. I haven’t told the doctor about the incident, seeing as I should find more information before worrying him.

Though I can’t be certain with my memory alone, but that face from last night was the same as the boy I saw in the distance when I first arrived. At least, I believe it is.

Which doesn’t make sense. The face I saw was clearly a young boy, less masculine than a grown man, but not easily mistaken for a grown women.

As much as the events in the household might disorient and scare the inhabitants of the manor, I doubt they’d mistake him for the former lady of the manor. Is he a part of this? Something else? Perhaps the true face of the demon? I still haven’t verified for sure it’s a demon, but despite the contradictions, it is the most likely, and deadly possibility.

To begin, a demon summoning requires an intricate altar. The rooms in the manor are inspected and cleaned nearly every day, and likely would have led to someone discovering the altar. So, my search takes me outside, looking over the outer grounds.

After a quick chat, I acquire a tour of the estate. The grounds keeper foreman was a man named James Abbott. A rather calm and somber sounding man, yet there is an alert and focused aspect to him.

“I’m not sure what you’re expecting to find, Mr. Branner-

“Just call me Branner. I’m trying to find an area where people don’t normally frequent. Somewhere secluded.”

“Well, …Branner, there aren’t any places like that out here. The fields are rolling but visible. The trees are visited by nearly everyone and tended by my men. This place isn’t really ripe for secrecy.”

“So it appears. Thank you for your help.” I turn to leave, but remember something. “Oh, one more thing: I saw a young boy earlier. His hair was a mess, and clothes too ragged to be someone who works here. What can you tell me about him?”

Mr. Abbott sighs, obviously familiar with the lad.

“You must be talking about Con. I don’t know his full name, or even if that’s his real name. He’s some drifter kid, got it in his mind he can do whatever he wants. Been sneaking around the house, stealing what goods he can. We try to catch him, but he always gets away. You ask me, he’s nothing but trouble.”

“So you’re saying he doesn’t live here?” Well, that eliminates one suspect.

“No, he makes his home in some gutter in town. Thanks for telling me you saw him. I’ll have my people on alert.”

“Of course.” I nod my head reassuringly. There was something odd about that boy. I don’t believe Mr. Abbott’s men will catch him. I’ll have to find him myself and sit him down for a nice chat.

I take my leave and continue searching the outer grounds. It is much as the groundskeeper said. Very open and nowhere to hide an altar. But the boy, Con, he is intriguing.

I’d not told the Doctor, for fear of what it would do to him, but if it is a demonic summoning, it can’t be some drifter. For the demon to be brought forth like this, it has to be someone given a degree of authority in the residence. Someone who lives there.

This means he was betrayed. It doesn’t take much, even one of the lowest servants who calls the manor home could be a suspect. With how often people inspect the rooms, it could be a conspiracy. Multiple people hiding the altar. Which would take my search back inside.

As I approach the entrance once again, I feel the talisman shake in my pocket again. After the events of last night, I’ve decided to carry it with me more often. I’d not known of its secondary effect, but it seems to react to a specific kind of demonic energy. It must be very specific, as I’ve not seen this in the years I’ve owned the talisman.

I quickly search my jacket pocket for my lens, and focus my energy. The lens sifts through its filters, settling on a shifting sea of green and purple. It isn’t until I’m inside that I find my trail.

I follow the mist of color leading me through the entry foyer, into the dining room, and through several other parts of the house. I finally reach the kitchen, which is completely awash in the energy, much like when I nearly caught the boy last night.

The lens is useless now, seeing as there isn’t a trail to follow. I replace it in my jacket pocket and try to look for whatever I can. The workers are trying to ignore me and go about their business. A few stop and give me a stink eye before returning to their work.

As I pass a closet I hear a small clink. Could have been a bit of silver settling, but I knew better. I slowly move closer to the closet door, keeping my own movements as quiet as possible. I press my ear to the door and listen. Repressed breathing. I pull back and reach in my pocket, pulling a green gem.

I quietly gesture for the workers to stand back, which gets most near to stop what they’re doing and watch. As my energy flows out and into the stone, it begins to glow.

“Restringo!” I cry out.

The gem glows ceases, as the energy releases from my hand and pierces the door in front of me. It has found the target and ensnared what lies behind the door in a magical seal.

*Thud*

…Well, it didn’t keep it upright, apparently.

Mild Mannered: Issue #5

“Have you been sitting there all night?”

I snap up, my head peeling from the keyboard. Gross. Did I fall asleep here? Again?

“Jules, you’re not going to hear back from them right away. When did they say they were announcing the results?”

My head turns toward Kara, standing in my doorway. She was dressed in her work uniform, tying an apron around her waist.

“I wasn’t looking at that. I promise. I just got in late.” I wipe the saliva from my face, praying that I didn’t mess up my keyboard.

“I don’t know how much I like your overnight shifts at work.” She walks down the hall, her voice becoming more muffled as she talks. “Promise me you won’t obsess over the contest!”

“When have I obsessed over anything?” I yell back.

I got my entry submitted. It only took a small pep talk from Kara that was mostly her yelling and me mixing my tears with digital paint. I sketched, lined, and colored seven poses from a fictional detective story based on one of the episodes from Kara’s favorite podcast.

It’s been two days since I sent everything in, and it’s been torture the entire time. The results aren’t being announced until the end of the month, so I have weeks of waiting ahead.

“And Jules! Do something with your day or I’ll kick your ass again!” Kara’s voice rang through the apartment before the door closed. She is off to work, while I’m stuck here alone with the contest website.

She’s right. I shouldn’t obsess over this.

I refresh the webpage a mere twenty-seven times before getting up and showering. I throw on some clothes and consider what I can do with my day.

My hand instinctively grabs the remote and navigates to the next episode of “Doctor Magician, MD.”

I pour myself a bowl of cereal, a late breakfast, as the credits play. Cliché items used in magic tricks are interspersed with medical tools and surgical equipment.

Aw, man! Are we really out of normal milk? Did I not get some the last time we went grocery shopping? All we have left is Kara’s almond milk. She’ll be pissed if I drink it, but I can’t eat dry cereal. That’s just uncivilized.

I sit down with my ill-gotten cereal as the episode starts.

Two men are running down the sidewalk, chatting about their wives.

“Did you remember Stacy’s birthday?”

“Only barely. I was able to squeeze in a reservation at Grigorio’s for Saturday. Should buy me some time.”

“Hey, hold on, I need a quick break.”

The two stop jogging, one putting his hand on a nearby wall, trying to catch his breath.

“I didn’t think you were getting that old, but I’ve been wrong before.” His friend jokes.

The one catching his breath is having trouble. He can’t breathe.

“Jackson? Are you all right? Jackson!”

Jackson is wheezing heavily, as he clutches his throat. Soon a white bird bursts from his mouth flying off into the sky.

Jackson is immediately able to breathe once it’s gone.

“I think I need to see a doctor,” he says.

“Or maybe a magician,” his friend replies.

Ah, this is a great episode. The return of Dr. Magician’s arch-nemesis, the Plague Wizard. He uses his sleight of hand skills and medical knowledge for chaos.

I crunch down on my breakfast, wondering what I can do to take my mind off my contest. Binging TV shows all day would certainly accomplish that, but then Kara will be upset. I could go out, but where to?

The man from Multiversity Comics enters my head and I feel my face get flushed. I mean, he probably isn’t there. He can’t work there all the time, right?

But what if he is?

I finish scarfing my cereal, then run to my room and quickly put on some shoes and grab my wallet and laptop. As I leave, I turn off the TV.

As I walk down the sidewalk, I consider the sun. It feels pretty good right now. Not too hot, maybe a little bright for my tastes. While I’m used to walking everywhere, I’m also used to walking when I’m more awake.

It takes longer than I expect to get to the comic shop, but the sign appears in my line of sight soon enough.

I enter the front door, the cool air relaxing every muscle in my body. Thank god. I’m probably in terrible shape, seeing as it wasn’t that far of a walk, but man, air conditioning is the bees knees.

“Oh hey! Jules, right?”

Michael calls out from behind the counter. Oh my god. I can’t believe he’s here.

“What are you doing here?” I ask, incredulous.

“I kinda work here,” he smiles. “Did you submit for the contest?”

“Yes! It was good. Very, uh, very good.” What should I do? I can’t leave, he already saw me come in. Plus, I’m really tired. But I can’t handle talking to him without support. Maybe I can buy a single book and leave? Walk a little bit to a café to read and catch my breath? Somehow, I’m blaming Kara for this when she gets home.

“Are you okay? You’ve been standing there silent for like, five minutes.

“…Yes,” I slowly respond, not at all looking like a weirdo. “So, Michael. How long have you been working here?”

Oh god. I’m engaging him in conversation. This is a bad idea.

“Well, since I opened it last month.” He seems to laugh in his tone.

“Oh! So you were here for the opening? How did you get a sweet gig like that? Do you know the owner?”

“I would hope so. You’re looking at him.”

“Oh.”

What does that mean? Is there someone else here, or…

Wait.

Waaaaait.

“You own this comic shop!?”

“Yeah! Well, I own the business. I rent out the shop space itself.”

“How? Isn’t it expensive to open a business? You’re so young! Getting contracts with wholesalers must be a process, but if you-”

“Slow down, Julie-boy.” He stepped out from behind the counter and crossed over to me when I wasn’t looking.

“It’s a long story. Though, I’m having a problem. You’re the first return customer I’ve had.”

“How? You’re in a great location, especially since you’re so close to the mall.”

“I thought so too, but it isn’t working out that way.” He crosses the store to a gaming table and pulls out the chairs, he gestures to me to sit down.

“That’s insane.” I’m having a normal conversation with him. Oh man, this is so great.

“I’m worried my father was right. He told me there wasn’t a market for comic and game shops anymore. Everything is online.”

He isn’t wrong, I think. I’ve seen a few places shutter up, despite the popularity of superheroics and new games. But others have thrived.

“Well, you got a good idea here. People may be able to order games online, but they need physical places to play them,” I point to the gaming table. “And maybe you just need some buzz, like some local ads, or um…”

“Like discovering a super star artist?” He grins.

“Yeah! That’s be great if you were lucky enough to…”

Oh.

Ooooooh.

Oh shit.

The Elysian: Fifth Dream

How do you find a planet? I know it’s all relative, but I have to imagine it’s in relation to other planets and stars. Like reading a map. You just need a reference point.

But this all assumes I even know where things are! If you point out Orion’s Belt, I could maybe orient myself to have a 50/50 chance of flying in the right direction of Earth. Assuming I’m not off by a few degrees.

“UGH! This is impossible!” I scream out.

Luna floats into view, upside down from my perspective, as I sit on my little plot of nothing.

“You’re really boring, you know that?” is all she says. Some help she is. For a celestial god, she’s really worthless.

“I’d be less boring if I had a clue on where to go. This is like finding a needle in a haystack. Or a specific screw in a skyscraper.”

She reorients herself, floating down to right in front of my face.

“Yes, but you’re forgetting something. It’s possible to find that screw. How would you do it?”

What? How am I supposed to know that? I mean, maybe with completed plans of the building, I’d have a shot. A map?

“I could consult the plans? You happen to keep a map of reality on you?”

She shakes her head.

“No! Let’s try this again. How would you find a screw on a building you didn’t design?”

“Um, I’d ask whoever drew up the plans for help?”

She smiles, like a proud teacher.

“You’ve almost got it. Say again, but slower.”

“What?” This is a weird game, isn’t it? “I’d ask the-“

“STOP!”

I snap my mouth shut, unsure what she was getting at. This doesn’t please her, as she sighs and shakes her head.

“Try to use more than two brain cells, mortal.”

What is she getting at?

“I’d ask?”

“Bingo! Took you long enough.”

“I’d ask” I repeat, slightly more confident. Is it really so simple.

“I jove, I do believe he’s got it.”

“Luna, will you please take me to earth?”

She almost giggles as she responds.

“Of course!”

She raises a hand and snaps her fingers. In the flash of a cosmic loading screen, we’re in orbit around a familiar blue marble.

The oceans gently move beneath me, as the cloud swirl over familiar continents. Somewhere on that planet is home. If I can’t find a way to get back in my body, I’ll have to remember this way back to this place.

“So… can I have the key now?”

“Don’t be so shy. You earned it. Here.” She holds out her hand and in it, I see a small key.

It’s shaped similarly to the one that brought me here, but instead of being gold, the key looked like a reflection of the room around us. The same darkness with twinkling diamonds. As the key moves, the stars within move unnaturally.

I reach out my own hand and take hold of the key.

“Having fun? I know it’s mesmerizing but snap out of it. You have a problem.”

What is she referring to? I look around trying to figure out what’s going on. It takes longer than I’d like to admit to realize what she was talking about.

“Oh. I’m nowhere near the door, am I? I don’t suppose you’d be willing to take me back there?”

She smiles and floats around me. I’m glad my daughters never had the ability to fly. Would have made managing them so much more difficult.

“Heehee, sure thing. In exchange for the keys of Death.”

She holds out her hand, like a child asking for money.

“Oh sure. Now you’ll take those.”

“If I took them before, you never would have learned anything. Besides, there are some things mortals are not meant to possess. I had to take them at some point.”

I look down and put my hand in my pocket but stop before pulling it out. Is this a fair trade? Why does she want these so badly? Could one of these keys help me?

“You could always stay here with no way to use those keys,” she threatens. “You should feel glad I’m giving you a pass on the door keys.”

Maybe it’s because I don’t like being told what to do. Maybe after all the games she played on me, I felt like it was my turn. All I know is I unlatched the key ring and let a few keys slide off into my pocket. I release it, the ring re-latching itself and pull it out of my pocket.

“Here. They’re no good to me anyway. My plan is to stay as far away from Death as possible.”

“You can only do that for so long. In the end, of course, you will meet him again.”

“For one who doesn’t like people to know what’s going to happen, his endings aren’t a surprise, are they?”

“Fate? Yes, he has his reasons for his secrecy. Still better company than Death.”

She holds out her hand. I drop the keys to her. No sooner do the keys hit her hand do we vanish, reappearing back by the door.

Looking at it now, it feels so much more ominous. Before I was just looking to escape. I didn’t have time to think about where it might lead me, but now I know this could take me anywhere.

“If you’re going to stand there all day, I’m going to ask for my key back.”

“I’m going. It’s just, well, where does this key take me?”

“Stop questioning it! Just go on and be surprised. That’s what an adventure is all about, right?”

I smile. This little girl, this all powerful god won’t let me back down. Powerful being and wise beyond anyone I’ve met.

“Thank you, Luna.

I turn and step toward the door and unlock it. The last thing I hear before stepping through the door is the giggle of a little girl.

Neon Noir: The Fifth Beat

There are two warring mob families in Capital City. The Belrose’s have strong ties to the politicians and city hall, though not strong enough to remove their rivals. The Guadio’s have bribed enough of the police force to keep out of jail.

Robert Howell

“Wake up, ya dirty bastard!”

A splash of water slaps Robert across the face, drenching his whole body. He awoke to a mostly dark room, a single beam of light shining down into the center. It lit enough for him to see the two men holding him captive, but not enough to tell exactly where he was.

“I’m awake,” the detective calmly responds. It took all his strength to remain in control.

He tensed his arm, feeling out the restraints. Rope held him to some kind of metal frame. However, he was only tied at his arms and wrists. His legs were free.

Small miracles…

“So you are.” The voice was self-assured, and deeper than the pit Robert found himself in. The man who woke him up was another wiry fellow, could have been Jack’s stronger brother. But the other one? He looked like a train car. He had a cap and a cigar, but nothing fancy, and was bigger than a gorilla.

These two were enforcers, but not ones Robert could place.

“How was your nap, copper?” The thin one set his bucket upside down and sat on it. A little bit of the water dripped out under him.

“Well, I woke up. Couldn’t have been all bad, I guess.” Robert’s eyes started adjusting to the darker parts of the room. The mishmash of metal surrounding them didn’t provide too much more on his whereabouts.

The beat of the city’s heart did though. Now that he was fully alert, he could hear it clearly, ringing through the metal room. The loud but regular hits told him he was near a construction site, or metal shop. Somewhere that would use an electric hammer.

“Woke up you did, by the boss’s good graces.” The big man spoke again. The voice was cockney, undignified, not what you’d imagine a high-ranking enforcer to sound like. Of course, the outfits said the same. Something was off though. Something about his phrasing.

“That does bring a question to mind. Why didn’t Francis just kill me?” The events of last night finished coming back to Robert. Jack Cuthbert sold him out.

The thin man started giggling to himself, not the one doing the talking today, it seems.

“Our boss has plans for you. Of note, your snoopin’ about for his business partners.” The big guy gives Robert a tap on the chest that would have sent him to the ground were he not tied up. The man was muscle on muscle. “He’d prefer if you stopped.”

Robert lets out a laugh.

“Then he should have just killed me. What makes him think I’ll stop?” Robert’s mind races as he speaks. This doesn’t make sense. If what he knows about Francis is right, he would have just had him killed.

I’ve been so careful, taking every measure to avoid being caught. How did he find me?

“We could threaten your life, but I feel that’s wasted effort.” The large one takes a few steps over to his friend and puts his hand on his shoulder.

“Randall here had the bright idea to threaten your old lady, but that’s so unseemly.” The cockney accented words snapped Robert’s attention on the two, and off his attempts to place his location.

“If you lay one hand on Selene, I swear I’ll-“

“It would have been two hands on her throat, but you’ve nothing to worry. That would be far more trouble than its worth.” The talker has been so calm in all this. Even for the crime in this town, kidnapping a cop can’t be a common occurrence. How is he keeping his cool?

He continues.

“No, we’d rather you keep doin’ your job.” He snaps his fingers and the one he called Randall jumps off his bucket and disappears into the darkness.

Robert tries to follow him, but just sees him standing by some more metal? Is that a shelf?

He comes back, having retrieved what he went for, a physical file folder in his hand. He hands it to his associate, who proceeds to thumb through the contents.

“You’ve been looking into the Arcadia.” He says, matter of fact.

Robert’s brain churns, trying to figure out what that is. His keeper notices the pause and fills in the detective.

“The club. The one you can’t prove is real.”

The cop’s face keeps the look of confusion, but now it’s for a different reason. Robert sought Francis to find his supplier, and through him, track down this other bar. If he happened to build a case against the mobster while he was at it, then maybe after bringing down the hidden club, he could have the resources to go after one of the two major families.

But here, he was being given a shortcut. He had a name.

“I have here a picture, and a name. More than enough for you to piece things together. In trade, you stop putting your nose where it don’t belong.”

Robert considers the offer. If he says no, there’s a chance they’ll kill him anyway. On the other hand, they’ve already proven they know how to track him down if he breaks this promise and keeps going after the mob.

It’s not like he has a choice.

“Fine. You can cut me down. Not like I could take you both down.”

The large man gestures toward Robert and Randall jumps up. He pulls out a big knife and starts slicing away at the rope. Once his arms are free, Robert stretches them out, his muscles sore. He notices a small hole on his arm, likely where they drugged him after knocking him unconscious.

Got to be more careful.

“If I were you, detective, I’d go home and plough my wife. You’re not getting sleep for a long time.” He drops the file on the ground and starts walking away. Randall is close behind.

Robert quickly drops down and looks through the file. In it is a candid photo of a dark-skinned woman, with long hair. It looks to have been taken through some bushes. He turns it over and reads the name on the back.

“Well, Ms. Vashti Kianian. Looks like you’re out of shadows to hide in.”

Seeking Dusk: Part 5

Rand dropped his coat off at his apartment and met me at a diner he frequents. We sat in a booth near the back. While it’s unlikely anyone would purposefully listen in on our conversation, people who happen to overhear us talking of demons might get the wrong idea.

“So a dog attacked you, eh?”

…I don’t have to start the conversation with business.

Garrow is still looking over the menu, eyes never leaving the page.

“Yup. Mangy mutt. But at least I’m not dressed like a regular at Walmart.” He folds up his menu and gives me his damned self-satisfied smile.

I sit for a moment, and consider abandoning the body, to leave Rand looking like a lunatic, but decide against it.

“Point. What are you getting?”

I look over the menu myself. It has felt so long since I’ve had the sense of taste, but I am salivating. How do you keep yourself from ordering everything?

“I’m considering an omelet. Might go crazy and fill it with spinach. What about you?”

“Haven’t had human food in a while, I kind of want everything.”

“Sadly the pockets of a freelance demon hunter don’t stretch that far. I recommend the French toast here. It’s terrible, but absolutely an experience.”

Our waitress walks up, a woman named Daisy. As I turn to look at her, a chill shoots up my spine.

“Ya’ll know whatcha orderin’?” she asks, unceremoniously.

I can’t explain it, but when she looks at me, I could swear she lingers. Her eyes dart above and behind me, just for an instance, like she can see my now non-existent wings.

Rand speaks up first.

“Yes, could you please get me a bacon omelet with spinach and peppers and just a bit of mild cheddar cheese? No sides. And an orange juice to be brought with my meal.

Garrow gives her his winning smile after his order. She somehow appears unaffected.

“Right. And you miss?”

“I’ll have a waffle.”

“Oooh, the waffle meal is a good choice.” Rand interrupts. Daisy and I both stare at him.

“And if you could, please top it with some whip cream and strawberries?”

“Uh huh. Anything else?” Daisy looks ready to leave.

“No, that will be all, thank you.”

“Right. Be right back with your orders.”

Daisy walks off.

Rand’s silence has gone on too long.

“You know, if I didn’t know any better I’d say you ordered your waffle with whip cream on purpose.”

“Don’t forget the strawberries,” I coyly respond. “Or did you forget that part of the night?”

I take a long sip from my water, staring down the now blushing British man across from me. He quickly looks down, quite possibly in shame.

That’ll teach him to make fun of my clothes.

“What’s your big plan for hunting down your demons,” Rand quickly asks.

I think for a moment. While there’s been plenty of time for me to come up with something cleverer, I hadn’t dedicated enough time to the thought.

“I suppose they’ll come to me.”

“Bad plan.”

“Why?”

Rand rolls his eyes.

“We went over this.”

“Did we now?”

Rand leans in a little closer, his voice noticeably quieter, but not quite a whisper. Like he’s genuinely afraid.

“We can’t take that chance. We don’t know what these things are capable of, or what they even want.

“We do know they like hurting me.” I point to the spirit thread in my chest, which, now that I think about, isn’t visible in the false body.

I think he got the point anyway.

“That’s precisely the problem.”

I give a small grunt of disapproval.

“Okay, so what do you want to do?”

His eyes get shifty, and his voice even quieter. I’m not going to like this, am I?

“Well, if you want to find information about demons, who better to ask than another demon?”

I’m not quite following. My eyes must have given away my confusion, because Rand continues.

“We could ask someone at The Milton.”

He did not just say that.

“Are you insane?! An angel and a devout in that literal God forsaken place? I thought you were trying to keep me from doing something stupid!”

“I have a contact there who might know something.”

My mouth drops as I try to find the words.

“How long have you been going there? Why? What in The Presence possessed you to go there? Wait, are YOU possessed?” I stat trying to remove the false body, but Rand puts a hand on my shoulder.

“I get it. It’s a horrible club for low level demons, evil spirits, and the possessed. But it’s also a place the bigger baddies stay away from. You and I could easily wipe out everyone there.”

He leans back trying to look cool.

“Here’s the catch though: those little guys hear things. And even better, they’re there getting drunk. If we’re going to get information somewhere, that’s the place to go.”

For once, he’s dead wrong. This is bad. This is an outstandingly bad plan.

“Garrow, I want you to really understand how much it pains me to say this, but I’d rather go back and apologize to the doc than go there.”

“You know him though. It’ll be a few days before he’ll see you in person again.”

Ugh. So frustrating. Maybe this is the best plan. Maybe the entire bar attacks at once and overwhelms us.

But I need information.

“Fine. I’m in.”

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 5

I lie wide awake in bed, thinking over everything the doctor told me.

Events began a year after the death of the Lady Maladar, though at the time, the doctor was too distracted to realize it was exactly one year. That feels purposeful. Like it is meant to be linked.

There is no reason it should. An infestation of a spirit like this occurs as soon as the ghost has gained enough energy to manifest. Even in extreme cases, it’s not more than a few months after their funeral.

Again, this doesn’t discount the theory entirely. The rage at being forgotten or at their unfinished work is what tethers the spirit to this world. Perhaps this household did a better job of keeping her in their memory.

But the doctor also told me that one of his workers was killed, fairly early after the start of events. That is beyond odd, it is nigh impossible. The psychic energy required for a spirit to take a life would be tremendous. Months of time from when the books started moving would be needed for the ghost to become that strong.

I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit. Still, to set his mind at ease, I placed protections charms in occupied rooms, as well as the servants’ quarters, and then told the doctor we’d need a good night’s sleep to begin in earnest.

And yet, here I am, the inconsistency scratching some corner of my mind. I chose not to tell the doctor I believe it to be a demonic summoning gone awry, as that would have invited more questions to which I have no answers.

As my thoughts fly back and forth, I hear a strange buzzing noise. I quickly sit up, ready for an attack, but still enough to listen.

The buzzing continues. What in the devil is that?

I hop from my bed and search the room, listening closely. On the table across from me, I see it. The talisman. It shakes, vibrating on the hard wood.

I pick up the smooth stone.

“What are you trying to tell me?”

A thought crosses my mind, and I quickly move to my bag, digging for my lens.

The ‘Auk Loori’ is a monocle-esque lens, flanked by feathers. It was enchanted to allow one to temporarily pierce the veil and see through to where the spirit realm crossed with the physical world.

However, it’s a new procurement from eastern Europe, and I’ve yet to determine its full abilities and limitations. At the moment, it presents powerful spirits as wisps of colored light.

I’m rather grateful for this lens, as I’ve yet to learn to see through to the spirit realm without it. While I’ll have to practice at some point, a repeat of that lesson is not one I look forward to.

I hold the lens over my eye and focus my power through it. The room filters through a shifting color palette of greens, pinks, and deep purples. However, no trace of light.

The hallway proves much more fruitful. As I open my door, I see a trail of energy trailing down the hall. The sense I get from the colors and movement are one of joy, like the spirit was happily skipping as it moved.

This doesn’t seem like a dark entity but does feel sentient. Between the talisman’s reaction and the energy I’m seeing, I’ve no idea what to think beyond that though.

I grab a provided robe and slippers and quietly skulk down the hall. Every so often, the trail of energy stops and waits at different places, in front of pictures, by tables, outside certain doors, only for a few moments, before seemingly moving on.

I lower the lens and turn down a hall to continue following my lead when I’m startled. The face of a young boy fades into nothingness, just as I can see down the new corridor. I quickly hold my lens up to my face and find the energy ends where he appeared to be standing.

While running down the hall might awaken some of the manor’s residents, I’ve no time to wait. I find the spot where the boy disappeared and resume my search with the lens. The whole area is awash in the energy, pooling all around me.

A slight click catches my ear, leading me to turn as fast as I can in the direction of the noise. A window that most certainly was not open before was certainly now.

Before I could even think to question it, the energy surrounding me pours out of the opening, disappearing into the night.

I quickly try to close the window, but it’s all gone by the time I’m successful.

There is a moment as I try to guess my own next move. I could rush down stairs, and try to catch up to the spirit? It’d be long gone by the time I touched the bottom of the staircase though.

Perhaps there’s more clues in the places it stopped along the way? I saw nothing of interest on my first pass through, but the cleaners might have more insight as to what’s been moved or missing.

All told, I this did wonders for my insomnia. I quietly walk back to my room, falling asleep as quickly as my body falls into my bed.

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