Episodic stories of fantasy and science fiction.

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The Elysian: Tenth Dream

“You are a different soul! Neither proud, nor humble be.

But the middle of the line, a place most un-free.

Your work demands excellence. Your daughters need guidance.

And so you found this middle ground, and built around you a fence.

“You couldn’t fail at work lest you lose your money

To provide for your family, and keep your life sunny.

And your kin must be raised, with a sense of humility

That wild dreams are work in futility.”

Yet you had a dream! Once upon a time.”

Which brings me right back to the start of these rhymes!”

He got really close to me, to make sure I could hear. It was like there was someone around he didn’t want listening in.

“You wanted to draw a building so wild!

But the jobs you took left you feeling so mild…

I had to put that spark back in your soul

There was only one problem. You had a big hole.

The hole was fear. Fear of failing, of loss

It was an experience, a bridge for you to cross.

And now with your terror, embraced and affirmed

It is time for you to find that lost feeling confirmed.”

How does he talk like that, I wonder?

He reaches into his pocket and brings out that which I had been seeking. The key was the same size as the other two, but it had a fragile look to it. Like it was made out of a fallen leaf. I had already caught on to the way this world is working, so I didn’t question it, but I still had so much to ask the strange man before me.

“Puck, I… Well, to be honest, I’m not quite sure I completely understand the lesson you were trying to impart to me, but I’ve been here plenty long and I get the feeling Death is chasing. So, I’ll just ask you one more thing. Why help me? Why teach me whatever lesson you beings feel are so important that you give them to me after I die and not before?”

“That is something I cannot tell you just yet.

But you needn’t worry about it. Don’t you fret.

Now take the key and continue on.

I swear I’ll see thee again before this journey is done.”

I take the key and turned around. Amazingly, a new door stood right next to me. Moving trees. I’ll have to try and remember those. Today’s lesson might not have made such an impact, but I certainly remembered Luna’s. Have to keep moving forward.

As I opened the door, I decide to yell back to the faerie.

“Hey, Robin. That last one was a half-rhyme.”

The light from the door blinds me as I walk through. That’s going to get annoying. Will it do that every time? Can’t this place be a little less dramatic? I suppose being the realm I’m in after I’ve died, that it really can’t.

As my eyes adjust to the light, I notice something familiar. Some familiar shapes around me- Wait…

“Most of my rhymes

aren’t perfect each time.”

Robin sits in front of me. Well, he’s standing. On his head.

“What!? I thought you gave me the key.”

“Yes, indeed you did think that.

But why, I can not tell.

You are far too trusting

Truly, an easy sell.”

He laughs to himself and jumps right side up.

“I should ask, Rodriguez, who am I to you?

What do you see standing here? Do you have a clue?”

“Um, you’re Robin Goodfellow? Sometimes called Puck? Spirit of the forest and all that?” He lifts his hand and summons a breeze that somehow becomes something he can sit on. He’s sitting on the wind. All this power and control and he just-

“You’re a prankster…”

“Correction, I am THE prankster, always seeming so odd.

My forms have been many, fox, fairy and even GOD

Your cultures revere me and used to pay me tribute.

But now my own existence has been rendered moot.

“Yet here I am, a being who can make you bleed,

Taking an interest in this little life you used to lead.

Did you really think I’d let you so easy?

Back on your quest, feeling so breezy?”

He jumps to his feet and stands on one foot while he crosses his arms.

“I have more for you mortal and I find you amusing.

So I have several tasks. Missions of my choosing.

Before you proceed-”

“NO! Stop it! I’ve had enough! I passed your little test already! Just give me the key and let me continue my futile plan to outrun death.”

“Technically you didn’t succeed…”

“Don’t care. You told me I was done. I just want to go. I can’t do this anymore. No. We’re done.”

Robin got silent. Like… really quiet. This guy likes talking too much to just get quiet for-

Oh shit, I just pissed off a god.

“Mr. Rodriguez,

I have shown you patience

Which is more than I do

In all the time I have

Been around mortals like you.

So if you would, appreciate the gifts I bestow.

Because I will turn on you, before you could know.”

I’m tired. I don’t want to keep doing this. I hate this place. But most of all, I hate dealing with personified concepts, with their phenomenal cosmic powers, with their mind games, with all the bullshit that comes along with whatever the hell they do.

I’m just so tired.

The Elysian: Ninth Dream

Standing there, admiring the absolute hopelessness of the situation, I noticed something peculiar. Robin Goodfellow was staring at me. Not in the incredulous way he was doing earlier. As a matter of fact, it was almost a knowing smile. Only without the smile part.

He seemed to understand exactly what I was thinking. The emptiness piercing my being. I felt hollow. And my competitor was not taking another leap towards his ill-defined finish line. A curious sight.

The swarm was getting closer. My feet weren’t moving. It was done. I embraced the pain to come. As the first of the flying pests struck me, something odd happened. I felt nothing. The bees passed right through me.

The look on my face must have been something to see, because the imp broke out laughing. After the horde of insects made it through my now even more ghostly form, they faded out of existence. What in the hell is going on?

“The mortal’s mind twists and turns

He reaches for answers, he grasps and yearns

This strange event bewilders his senses

Let’s end this charade and drop the pretenses.

Ask the question. That you wish to know

I’ll answer in kind and make it so.”

The imp had hopped back over to me, laughing to himself. This whole thing was freaking me out, and that’s saying something considering the kind of time I’ve had recently. I was too tired to deal with this.

“What just happened? Why didn’t the bees sting me to undeath?”

Robin gives me a wry smile, almost as if he expected me to already know. A beat later he responds.

“The spirit of the moon told you the means

Through which your will has provided these scenes.

Your emotions and belief change your person…”

I blink and from seemingly nowhere he pulls out a screen, displaying an uncanny picture of myself.

“…And since your self confidence could only worsen

The wispy form you currently possess

Ditched what little it had; removed the excess…”

He snaps and the screen changes, showing a transparent version of myself. Little animated bees flew at the false visage of my being. I don’t know how it was doing that, but it was odd to say the least. Best not to ask.

“…Your non-physical body let the massive swarm

pass right through you, without coming to harm.”

He snaps and the screen disappears into nothingness. Robin grins, appearing pleased with himself.

I finally get the nerve to speak.

“So, I felt bad. And I became… feel-through? That’s… That’s ridiculous. What in the hell does feeling bad have to do with teaching me something?”

“Well you see, mortal-”

“DON’T ‘MORTAL’ ME! You jerk! What are you trying to do to me!?”

“Now it is with a chortle-”

“Stop with the rhyming! I’m done with it. Why in the hell do you rhyme?!”

He gives me a dirty look. Still not as scared of him as Luna, but I do have to remember he is the spirit of the forest. Best not to trifle with such beings.

“You forget that our existence is based on belief.

And we play such a charade without a relief.

Now if you’re quite finished with all your screaming

I’ll tell you why it is you should be beaming.”

“I am the master of pranks, who is sometimes called Puck

If find those around me who are down on their luck

Then I change their thinking, add a correction

Take a good hard look at your life in reflection

And if the mortal in question has a head far too big

Then his ego must shrink, lest he become like the pig”

“And yet back to you, our dear, good friend Rodriguez

…um…”

“Can’t think of anything that rhymes with my name?”

The imp looked embarrassed. His whole monologue fell apart. He takes several minutes, thinking through his words. If he’s supposed to rhyme, what does that mean for our ‘delightful’ conversation? I sit down on the tree trunk, quickly becoming bored. I should be trying to get the key out of him, but after his last outburst, I don’t think it so wise. Still, this was taking forever and-

“Allow me to start again. That rhyme was too slick

My words fell apart with but a mere simple flick.”

“Hold on, that’s not fair. You can’t just stop rhyming halfway through! You told me so yourself.”

“Devil’s in the details, my dear boy! Pay attention.

I can’t stop solely because it causes you tension.

But if my knowledgeable mind can’t find that right verse

I can slip around it, to stop my speech from becoming worse.

Now hold on a second… What was I saying?”

He takes his time again, perusing the recesses of his brain. I think I would prefer to deal with Luna over this. She at least knew where she was going and had a lesson I learned at the end of her test. This guy is trying to explain what I should know from completing his task. Wait…

“Robin, sir, if you don’t mind me interrupting, why are you acting like I finished the race when I didn’t?” Crap. That was probably going to bite me in the ass.

His eyes lit up at my question.

“Ah yes! I was going to explain the game we’ve been playing!”

Neon Noir: The Seventh Beat

The Belrose Crime Family rose to prominence with the implementation of prohibition. While their political connections mean they could work to have it lifted, there’s more money to be made with it in place.

Vashti Kianian

The sounds of cracking tables, thuds against walls and gunshot punctuations fade into the distance as Vash leads Bella through the kitchen. She hadn’t even protested when Vash left this way.

Out back, behind the building in the alley, Vash’s mind started working on what she’d do out here. Even assuming Mr. Shane survived, she doubted he’d be able to get her car pulled around quickly. And if the attack ended up being more than the one man, she couldn’t wait around.

Looking around the alleyway, Vash took stock of her options. There was a fire escape, but she’d have trouble getting Bella up it. The exit down the alley itself was the most available option, but if more men were coming, it’s also how they’d be caught.

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

Vash turned her attention to Bella again, wondering what she thought of the dress, but realized she was shaking. This wasn’t the confident woman Vash remembered.

“Bella. Do you know why they were attacking us?”

The woman’s head droops down, the brim of her hat covering her eyes, but Vash knew exactly what they looked like.

They were afraid.

“It’s why I called you. The Belroses are after me.”

Vash froze for a moment.

“What did you do?”

All traces of Vash’s politeness were gone. She did not sign up for a war. In that moment, she mentally cursed putting so much effort in dressing up for Bella.

“I didn’t do anything!” Bella insists. “They think I killed Raphael, but I could never!”

This was getting a lot more complicated.

“Why, in the name of the maker, would they think you killed Raphael?!”

“You have to listen, I would never have hurt him! They just…”

Before she could finish her answer, the sound of screeching tires came from the end of the alleyway.

“Bella, give me your gun.”

She stares at Vash, horror in her eyes, but not moving.

“I said, give me your gun! Do you want to live?”

This time, Bella quickly moves, opening her purse and pulling the revolver from it. It was a little thing with a wood grip. Vash grabs the gun and points it at the car, now driving towards them.

There’s a wall behind us, but maybe if I hit the driver, we can go back through the restaurant. Ryan might be done by now…

The car pulls to a quick stop, and the door opens.

“Whoa there, don’t shoot!” Ryan says as he steps out of the car.

Vash lets out the breath she didn’t realize she was holding.

“Oh good… Wait, where’s my car?”

“No time. I’ll come back for it, but this guy’s was closer. Get in.”

In any other situation, Vash have protested Mr. Shane giving orders, but now was not the time. The two ladies moved to the back of the car as quickly as they could.

Ryan backed up, faster than Vash was comfortable with, since they were between two buildings, but he pulled it off. The car peeled back out in the street, making some cars screech to a stop, as he shifted and pulled into traffic proper.

“So, Mr. Shane, if I may ask, whose car is this?”

“After the first attacker went down his friend pulled up in this. I wasn’t sure if more could be on the way, so I figured I’d borrow his car.”

Looking around the vehicle, it was a far cry from Vash’s luxury machine. But it had a back seat, and enabled their getaway. It was clean though, which was surprising. Vash had expected brutes like that to leave their cigarettes or whatever laying about.

“Mr. Shane, did you kill the men?”

This was important. If he didn’t, he’d have to drive well to ensure he isn’t followed. If he did, they’d have lost those attackers, but the Belrose family would never stop hunting them.

“I didn’t. I knocked out the one in the restaurant. After I took away his gun, the guy in the car was easy.”

“Good. You know how to lose a tail?”

“We don’t have one, but I’m on it.” Ryan turned the car down a random road, away from Vash’s apartment. It might have been unnecessary, but Vash hadn’t lived this long without taking some precautions.

“Now that we have a moment, Bella, I need you to start talking.”

Bella clutched her purse.

“They think I killed Raphael.”

“Yes, you mentioned that. Why do they think you killed him?”

“Because they found his body in my apartment.”

Vash’s eyebrows shot up.

“Sweetie, you’re going to have to explain.”

Bella sighs, a tear trickling from her eye.

“We- we were seeing each other.”

Vash continues staring, Bella trembling a little.

“Mr. Shane, after you’re sure we aren’t being followed, please take us to the Arcadia. I’m going to need a drink.”

The Elysian: Eighth Dream

I pull myself into the crouching stance I assumed before. No time to think about hurting my ethereal body. There’s a sprite on the run, and I need to catch up. This time when I leap, I keep my eye on the trunk I’m aiming for to keep from hitting my stomach again.

It works, and I land exactly as I planned. Yes! I can do this! The imp is still a few trees a way, but I can catch up now!

I work on launching myself immediately after landing, making up the time. It doesn’t take very long for me to be only two trees behind.

“The mortal leaves me impressed. Good work I must say!

But your task is not so easy, more to do for you today.”

“What does that mean?!”

He smiles, putting his fingers to his mouth and lets out a loud whistle.

“Robin Goodfellow is no individual thing.

The entire forest my will. At my call they will sing.”

I hear something. Something behind me. It starts low, like a gentle hum. But it grows as we move, getting louder and more violent. I stop and turn just for a second, just to see what follows us. Immediately, I realize the mistake, and seeing the dark cloud following us, I figure out pretty quickly what he summoned.

I jump faster. Pushing myself from trunk to trunk. I may not be a physical being anymore, but I don’t want to see what a swarm of bees can do to me.

They were catching up quickly, and the focus on jumping from tree to tree is keeping me from thinking clearly. The faerie I was competing against just laughs at my predicament. I can’t help but wonder how it came to this. It couldn’t have been more than a few days ago that I was just an architect, driving home to see my family. Now, I race forest spirits who summon swarms of bees.

Remind me to give Fate the finger and a swift kick in the shin if I ever meet him.

How do I avoid bees? It’s not like I have insect repellent on me. The thought of cartoons hiding in water pops in my head, but even that far flung idea won’t work. I haven’t seen any lakes or ponds around so yeah.

I’m officially out of ideas. Wait… what did Luna have me do?

I yell ahead to my opponent, “Hey, Mr. Goodfellow? Would you please call off the swarm of bees?”

He stops and stares at me, his eyes going wide. It’s like I just asked him some horrifying question. I catch up and land on the same branch as him and wait for his answer. He just keeps that same look on his face. I turn and look at the oncoming horde of pain and back quickly.

“Will you please call them off please?!”

“Hmm.. No.

Let’s go!”

He responds quickly and jumps off towards the trees again. Damn! He was messing with me. The bees are even closer now. I have to keep moving. The hum of the swarm never lets me forget the danger should I stop. As fast as we’re going, they’re going to catch up at some point.

Bees behind me, unhelpful imp ahead, and the stupid wind circling all around us.

Wait. For real this time. Robin entered with wind. Each movement draws more air in gushes and gales. The following swarm moves faster with his movements. So is he controlling wind? Is that the secret?

Luna taught me how gravity was just my perception. That I didn’t have a body to be pulled down. Can I possibly control the wind like Robin?

If so, how? I had to let go of my beliefs to lose the pull of gravity. Do I have to forget I can’t control wind? I take a leap to the next tree and close my eyes. I concentrate on the belief that I can control the wind. I can’t not move the air with my mind.

“Hoo-aah!” I scream out. The tree I was aiming for moved, hitting me in the head. I fall to another tree below.

Ugh! I don’t have time to think. And closing my eyes to concentrate leads to the trees messing with me. Besides I don’t think it was working. I tried changing my thoughts but I didn’t feel anything.

I didn’t think it would be that easy, but I was really hoping. The bees are getting closer and I don’t know what they’ll do to me. I’d hope against hope that I can’t be hurt, but hitting these trees show me how wrong I’d be. The real question is ‘Can I be stung to death if I’m already dead?’

Both yes and no have bad answers. Second death versus eternal pain. Of course, I could maybe have the bees pass through me. I’m not real. Lord knows I’m not that lucky though.

There has to be something I’m missing. The swarm is almost on top of me. The faerie is nearly out of sight. I’m stuck on this branch, without any clue as to how to move forward and escape this whole scenario. My journey looks to be over as soon as it started. There has to be something…

No… There is nothing. I can’t win.

I might continue to jump forward and catch up to Robin, but I can’t win the race until he decides it’s over. Highly doubt he’d be so kind as to do so before the bees catch up to us. I could try going somewhere else to escape the bees, but that gets me nowhere. I lose this race, I lose my chance to move on. And it’s very unlikely the bees will listen to reason. I have nothing. I can’t move on.

I surrender.

The Elysian: Seventh Dream

The imp in front of me quickly regains his composure, and addresses me again.

“The mortal is direct, bold and fierce!

But should watch his voice or his tongue I will pierce!”

Okay, so it’s not just his entrance. He’s going to speak in rhyme this whole time. That won’t get annoying or anything.

“Robin Goodfellow…” Why does that name sound familiar? “I’m trying to get through this door. Would you happen to have a key?”

He gives a smile and responds.

“No need, Mr. Rodriguez, to be so meek.

I know of your plight, and have what you seek.

I had heard you were different.

That your mind is quick.

So let us compete.

Off I go, to my path must you stick.”

He lets out a chuckle, and bends down on all fours. He wants to race? To where?

“Um, what are the rules?”

“The endeavor is simple. Stay within sight.

None have done so. Not beggar, lord or knight.

The trees are our road. The air, our muse!

And dire consequences if you should lose…”

I’m getting annoyed with all this rhyming. Just got to remember what Luna told me.

“Fine. I keep up with you until the end, and I get the key. Let’s get this over with.”

“The mortal accepts. Very hasty, quick thought

A challenging ordeal for himself he has bought”

“Yeah, yeah I get the picture.” At least, I hope I do.

I don’t know where we’re running to, or what nasty tricks he’ll throw at me along the way. He’s right though, I did just kind of agree to this without thinking. Barely two minutes in, and I already got myself into a bit of a mess. This sideways forest, and the man who challenged me are complete mysteries. How do I know if I can keep up?

I focus. Concentrate on my beliefs, turning an mere thought into absolute certainty. My body separates from the tree trunk, hovering a few feet above it. Robin Goodfellow gives a chuckle before speaking.

“What wise Luna teaches, you masterfully learn

But now is the time, for this key you must earn

Are you prepared to start? Can we begin the test?

Can we see if you’ll truly best the best?”

I couldn’t help myself.

“Take off for wherever, I swear to keep up.

And when we reach the end, you’ll have to pay up.”

The spirit laughed.

“You cannot rhyme a word with itself, silly man.

Though it’s funny you tried.

Enough with these words. Let’s begin

And see the power I eyed.”

With that, he leaps into the air, landing on a tree trunk next to us. He’s so fast. I float after him, trying to concentrate on moving myself faster. Before I’m halfway there, he jumps to the next adjacent trunk.

Have to keep moving, but I feel so slow in comparison to my opponent. Luna showed me there were limits to belief here. Is it a limit on my belief specifically or is there a universal limit? I push onward, trying to keep Robin in sight. He was fast and could easily outrun me, but I think he wants to play games with me. Or maybe teach me something like Luna.

We keep up this game for several more trees. He would land and wait, while I do my best to fly over faster. If he keeps up the show, I’d make it to the end with my eye on him, but I somehow doubt he’d be so simple. He jumps to another tree, and I decide to land on his previous one.

“This can’t be all. There has to be a catch. What’s going on here? Are you really just going to take it so easy on me?”

The faerie gives a smile. I immediately regret my words.

“If the hazard is too low, then I suppose it should increase!

Prepare to lose mortal! With your deity, make your peace!”

“No!” I cry out.

It was too late. The spirit takes off jumping from tree to tree, with no pause between. I must act fast. Have to think! How do I keep up? He runs and leaps on all fours faster than I can on two. He jumps like an insect, and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

I try to push my floating ability to keep up, but it feels like flying through jello. I’d almost think I could do better running and jumping myself.

That’s not a bad idea. Maybe.

If he can go that fast moving like he does, then maybe I can too? It’s stupidly simple logic, but I don’t have anything else to go on. I crouch down, readying my legs for what was sure to be a huge mistake.

I look over the edge of the tree. No, that was the huge mistake. C’mon, I can do this. I concentrate. I believe.

My legs push off as hard as possible, my will focused on moving like Robin. I’m sent sailing through the air for my efforts, moving quickly like the faerie.  I’m moving so much faster! The wind seems to carry me, and it feels as if the trees are moving.

The trees are moving?

I look down and notice the trunk I was aiming for shifted to just out of my reach. I try to reach my hand out, still miss and go sailing down.

Another tree below it has moved into position to intercept me, and I thank whatever gods may exist for the save.

Then I land on my belly, sending pain through my entire body. It’s not fair. I don’t breathe, and can barely be said to exist, but somehow I can still be hurt? If I had a stomach, its contents would be coming up about now.

But I did it. I can move like him. Now I just need to catch up.

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 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.”

The Elysian: Fourth Dream

“I have to find Earth? Doesn’t that seem a little bit…”

“Impossible? Of course,” Luna tells me. “But then you’ve pointed out all the impossible things you’ve seen today. Why don’t you try doing one?”

That is a load of crap. For starters, I don’t even know where I am. Hell, even if I did, I wouldn’t necessarily know where Earth is in relation to here. I could maybe recognize the 9- er, well, 8 planets of my solar system, but I’m a little out of luck beyond that.

And to be honest, I don’t know how fast I can travel. They could give me until the end of time and I still would never find it.

“Listen, Luna, I understand you feel the need to make me earn that key, but there’s no way I could do this in the short time I have. I’m trying to get back home to my family. To my daughters. Can’t we just say I’ll owe you one, or something?”

She furrows her brow again, this time really hard, like she’s really thinking it over.

She obviously isn’t.

“Nope. Go find it, or be stuck here forever.”

“I don’t have time for this!” I lunge at her, hoping I can hold her still and get the key. She disappears into nothing before I can reach her.

“Yes you do,” she says right in my ear.

I jump back away from her, surprised at how she moved. She laughs and disappears again.

“Rule Number One: Nothing is as it appears.” She materializes as she speaks off to the side of me. She’s floating in mid-air, her gown flowing around her, pushed by some non-existent wind.

“How are you doing that?”

“Time for another obvious question: Have you felt the pull of gravity?”

“I guess not…”

Luna puts her hands on her hips and tilts her head at me. Right. No guessing.

“There is no gravity here,” I affirm. “But I believe I am standing on something.”

She claps her hands together and points at me.

“You almost got it!”

“I believe I’m standing? So, if I believe I’m not, then I won’t be?”

She zooms around me for a few laps. It can’t be too hard, right? I’m doing it right now.

I walk forward a few steps to the invisible ledge before. It only hits me now that we had manipulated gravity when we were sitting there.

Moment of truth. I crouch down and jump up as high as I can. At the apex of my leap, I concentrate on the idea that this is all belief. There is no ground, no gravity.

I fall.

I don’t stop falling. I go careening past the place where the ledge was into the nothing of space. I don’t know how or why, but I’m not stopping. I let out a scream that would make someone feel embarrassed to know me.

As I fall, I pick up speed, not knowing if I’ll ever stop. Where am I going? What is pulling me? There’s no gravity, so what else could…

“You suppose? Are you sure of anything?”

“Are you breathing? Do you remember taking a breath since you died?”

“I’d hoped you’d learn by now to not assume.”

“That depends. Do you believe I’m the moon?”

“Rule number one: Nothing is as it appears.”

I stop. I will myself to stop. It’s as simple as being absolutely sure of something, which is more difficult than you might imagine. I’m back to standing on nothing, willing myself to not move further down.

But I’m not stopping there.

I lift my leg up, stepping at an angle. It feels like I’m walking up a wall, but as I orient the rest of my body, everything feels right. My other foot leave the ‘ground’ and I stand perpendicular to my starting position.

Gotta admit, I feel a little proud.

“And here I was thinking I’d have to deal with your screaming for a few thousand years.”

Luna was flying a little above me, lying out with her face in her hands.

This time, it’s my turn to smile. “Luna, the moon. So many cultures had their beliefs of a spirit or god inhabiting or even being the moon, and you were made from that belief.”

She giggles.

“I figured that was obvious.” She stands and floats down so she’s eye level with me. “I am the culmination of all those beliefs, given power by the believers. I may not have as many giving me form anymore, but I’m still a force to be reckoned with.”

“Yes. You’re right. That should have been obvious.”

“See! You’re not saying ‘I suppose’ or ‘I guess’ anymore! Good job, Mr. Rodriguez. You might do okay here.”

“Fantastic! So can I have the key?”

“The terms were you had to find Earth. I don’t see Earth, yet, so, no.”

Damn. Well, this lesson was about how belief shapes reality. Maybe if I believe I’m next to the Earth, I will be.

I concentrate hard, bringing that feeling of absolute certainty to the forefront of my mind. I connect with the idea, I’m next to Earth, floating in orbit around it.

My eyes open to find I haven’t moved.

“Thoughts and belief have a limit,” Luna smiles. “Even less for you, what with the whole ‘being dead’ thing.”

I sit, letting my body listlessly float away from Luna. This is still impossible.

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