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Anthony06_webWhy I Write

I would be lying if I said that I’m not bashful about creating this site.  While not necessarily shy, I only had acquaintances until 8th grade when my neighbor, Amanda Troyer, thought I was friend-worthy.  Before then it was just myself and the pages I filled. Writing is and has always been a very personal, very large part of my life.  When someone says to me “Tell me about your book(s)” or “What are your books about?” what many don’t realize is that they’re asking me very intimate details about myself.

​​No, I’m not a medium, or the captain of the Cardeau guard,​ but through these people and every other character that I’ve ever written about reside pieces of myself: past thoughts, experiences that I’ve had, and dreams accomplished or forgotten.   It’s taken me a lifetime to grow confident enough in my own works to share them with the world, and it’s taken a great deal of research and inspiration for me to enter a publishing arena in its current state, but this is the best time for me to do it.  My characters are jumping at the bit to tell their stories to other people, and I’m ready to let them.

​​I write because I enjoy to tell stories, but I also write to connect with people.  In this day and age with social media being about who you know, I actually want to know people, and I want people to know me.   Right now I’m a bartender, and I have been bartender for (oh, Christ) 7 years because I love the human interaction and because it gives me all this free time during the day to mold this career that I have been building for my entire life so that I can show people who I really am.  I would love to know you better in return.

​​I’m not asking you to buy any of my books (although sales are ALWAYS welcome :P), but I welcome your feedback so that I may continue to grow both as a person and as a writer.  If there are things you like or don’t like about this site, any of my stories, or if I unknowingly go astray, I will wish for you to tell me.  Conversations and criticisms are the only ways we grow, and I enjoy both.  That said, welcome to the new site!

 

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Chapter 3: Koston

Posted: March 27, 2018 by: AG_Creative86

Koston

 

The ecstasy of his release was much needed. Koston’s breath escaped him as he pulled himself out of his younger lover and took to the pillows beside him, drenched in his own musky sweat.

Damien rolled onto his back, smiling from ear to ear. “Good gods that was extraordinary!”

Koston agreed and went back to staring at the windows of Damien’s home. Black curtains were draped over the already closed blinds. The younger man’s bedroom door was locked, and his front door was bolted shut upon Koston’s arrival. He told Damien that it was the only way he would come by, to which Damien rolled his eyes and reminded the captain that he knew the drill.

The young man draped a hand across Koston’s chest, swirling a finger around the patch of fur between his pecks. He then cuddled up beside the captain’s shoulder and wrapped himself in Koston’s nook. “Tell me,” He said, “you’ll still be able to visit even after you become the queen’s adviser, won’t you?”

Koston remained flat on his back and stared at the white ceiling and the covered skylight. He let his thoughts run adrift, forgetting that Damien asked him a question.

Damien’s hazel eyes glossed over Koston’s muscular frame, taking mental pictures of his physique for those times when Koston couldn’t be around. He licked his lips seductively, coyly trying to get an answer out of him. “I know it will be more difficult for you, but I promise I’ll make it worth it.”

But Koston’s thoughts already returned elsewhere. He and his son would travel to Kalia in the morning to visit his cousin, Queen Justine. His inauguration party was to begin the day after he returned home to Cardeau. He would no longer be Captain: a position he would’ve gladly retired from. The men of the Donnick family were blessed with too much wealth and influence to grasp their dreams and hold onto them.

His lover rolled away from him and sat up in his bed. Koston paid him attention at last, but it was too late.

“Damien, I’m sorry.”

Damien’s head slid back toward Koston’s direction just enough for the captain to see his sly smile. “You have no reason to be sorry. I know why you come here, and in all of the years that you have, have I ever once misconstrued our relationship?”

Koston sat up and rested his back against the wobbly headboard. He eyed the edges of the bed as if the mattress was a raft floating adrift in poisoned waters.

Damien placed a consoling hand on his knee. “You are going to be an amazing adviser.”

Damien’s words fell deaf on Koston’s ears. His knights had been telling him the same thing ever since the announcement was made. People in the streets were already bowing to him and asking for autographs. The palace servants sometimes waited outside of his quarters to tell him how blessed they felt to wash his sheets and fold his clothes.

His young lover laughed. “I fear that I might not have done enough to satisfy you. You seem deeper in thought now than when you came in.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Stop apologizing—especially after that!” Damien placed a hand on his chest again. “My heart is still racing.”

Koston broke a smile.

“I, uh, I got a little something to show you my sign of support.”

Koston hid his grimace from Damien as his younger lover got out of bed wearing nothing but a sheet draped around his loins. Damien knelt toward the nightstand and grabbed the frame leaning against it. His lover held it against his chest, concealing it from him as if he was about to give him the gift of a lifetime. When he revealed it, it took every ounce of Koston’s strength not to cringe.

The frame portrayed not one image, but two. The picture on the left was of Abraham Donnick, Koston’s grandfather, who started out as an orphan and went on to become the Monarch Superior. History teachers taught children that Abraham Donnick prevented seven wars and helped the world become more prosperous than any other Superior in the last three centuries. Time would eventually tell an even more magnificent tale.

The image on the right was of Koston in his Captain’s uniform. People always told him that he looked just like his grandfather. In this pair of pictures, the resemblance was uncanny. They shared the same shoulder-length dirty blonde hair, the same noble brown eyes, and bore the same smile that made the world confident in their actions and feel safe in their care.

“The people of Cardeau—Gods, the people of Noreis all believe that you are the second coming of your grandfather. I’ve heard wishes and whispers of those longing for you to trace his footsteps for years. People talk about it in the streets, pray for it in the churches… They even speak of it in the brothels! You are going to be a great adviser, Koston,” Damien said, resting the dual picture on his nightstand. “I just hope you’ll still find time for me while you’re out there making the world a better place.”

Koston nodded, genuinely at a loss for words. He expected his knights, his servants, and Cardeau civilians to present him with tokens of their admiration. He wasn’t expecting it from his whore as well.

 

Captain Donnick’s momentary bliss was suppressed when he noticed the Queen’s missed messages. Her few choice words were frigid and severe. She was already angry with him for going to Kalia just before his inauguration. Arriving late to their meeting would be ill-received.

He rushed from Damien’s to the conference room without stopping at his quarters. Koston wanted his transition to be as peaceful as possible, but that would be up to the woman that was as wary of her choice of adviser as he was. Wary, but resolute.

Queen Kallisto wore her bright blue dress like a sheet of ice that shielded her from others. A younger woman would have worn the gown as a picture of elegance and beauty, but Kallisto traded such grace for a campaign that led to the crown. She absorbed the city-state’s stress and wrinkles, and when more was required, she donated her soul. Decades ago, Kallisto would have turned heads in that dress. Now men and women had to look beyond their cold visible breath when they dared to glance at her.

Her gown matched her icy eyes while platinum hair draped over her shoulders and rarely moved when she spoke. A white circlet was placed atop her head; her bangs were interwoven into it like snakes wrapping around it, squeezing the life out of the white leaves.

“I messaged you nearly an hour ago,” Kallisto said from the head of the table swirling a glass of schnapps in her hand.

Koston blushed and ran his fingers through his hair to make sure that no strands were out of place. He didn’t need Kallisto to know why he wasn’t answering her calls. “My apologies,” he said, taking a seat to the right of her. “What can I do for you, Your Highness?”

“I wanted to go over the seating chart for the inauguration dinner. Your vacation will occupy your time right up until the party,” she scathed. “But while Terrence and I were waiting for you, we did it ourselves. We also met to finalize the courses and the wine selection for the cocktail party afterward—all things that you were supposed to take care of a week ago.”

“I am sorry, my queen,” he said, lowering his head. “I’ve been busy working with Sir Poltowe. I want to ensure that he’s prepared to lead the Guard during this transition.”

“The Knights of Cardeau practically run themselves. Helping Sir Poltowe to develop marching patterns and writing tedious schedules is hardly at the top of your list of priorities. You will manage your time more wisely as my advisor. The right-hand seat cannot be occupied by another fool. Cardeau deserves far better.”

Thoughts of rolling around naked in the sheets with Damien became distant memories in her presence. One steely glare flushed all the joy within him. “I will learn, Your Highness.”

“You’ll have to. We have a lot to accomplish the moment that ceremony ends, from the second you say that oath until my throne is no longer challenged. I have no intention of being relieved of my title, and the very thought of losing it to Chiron Roltare—”

“It will not happen.”

Although the kings and queens of Noreis often served lifelong terms, many of the city-states placed limitations in their constitutions. If a monarch was deemed unfit to rule, or if there was enough apprehension about their ability to run a city-state with the people’s best interest in mind, a new leader could be elected in their place. Noreis’ people discovered long ago that allowing for special votes proved to be a much better solution than physically removing a monarch from office by execution or revolution.

District Representative Chiron Roltare had long been opposed to the queen’s actions and expressed interest in wanting to replace her. Cardeau needed a leader of Roltare’s caliber like it needed a viral case of the worms. Roltare’s opinions and policies went to the highest bidder. His stances changed as often as his investors, and he had little respect for the people he represented.

Kallisto wasn’t the most admirable leader to sit on Cardeau’s throne, but at least she kept her platform consistent. Even if she was about to run him ragged, he respected the woman she used to be—the woman that was there for his late wife in her most desperate time of need. Every now and then he caught a glimpse of that Kallisto; a glimmer of the philanthropic social worker that once gave girls a role model and aspired women to follow her path. That person was still there somewhere, hopefully.

“It sounds like most of the preparations for the inaugural ceremony are in order,” Koston said. “I met with Terrence the other day to discuss the oath and the closing party.”

“You did?” Kallisto said, defrosting a little. “He didn’t mention that.”

“You asked me to. I managed to find time in my busy schedule. I figured that, since I’m gone for the next few days, it would be one less thing on your very full plate.”

“Oh, Koston,” she simmered, “If you only knew how large that plate is.”

“I will soon. When I return we will work together, I will take on the duties that Adviser Tarkinson abandoned upon his resignation.”

Kallisto crossed one leg over the other. “Yes, and ensure that we avoid any further… scandals.”

“Scandal” is a polite word for what you did, my queen.

“Is there anything else you require of me?” he asked. “I have an early morning tomorrow.”

“Get some rest,” she said with a whisk of her hand. “I’ll see you in a few days.”

Koston didn’t waste his time trying to escape the queen’s conference room. The chills she emitted from her bittering presence were beginning to seep under his skin.

“Koston,” she said as he was halfway out the door.

Her breaths paralyzed his feet.

“Adjust your collar. I cannot have my future adviser looking like a whore… Or smelling like one, for that matter.”

Koston could think of no response. He kept walking, leaving the queen to her schnapps that kept plenty cold in the grasp of her fingers.


 

Chapter 1: Tia

Posted: March 13, 2018 by: AG_Creative86

Tia

 

“Prince Edward kept a hand on the hilt of his sword and slowly crossed the room, wary of the cracks in the mortar and stone as he approached three chalices,” Father read. “Each of them sat atop a pillar older than the cracked walls, as though the tower was built to surround them.

“Rays of light poured through the open window and made visible the wafting clouds of dust. They swirled together to form a granular sphere where the Raven reappeared. It waved its wings gracefully as the conductor from the eye of the storm until the dust fell to the floor, and then it perched itself on the pillar beside the chalice in the center. Prince Edward nodded at it, having known that he’d see him again before his quest was over.

“‘Where’s the behemoth? I was told that it’s guarding Maiden Eden’s room.’ Prince Edward pointed his sword toward the door at the far end of the room.”

Tia felt Father’s eyes on her even though his face didn’t leave the wrinkled pages. No matter what the fairytale, she knew that he was reading just for her. Her brother, Aaric, yawned loudly and muttered the occasional criticism. He was too busy playing with his figurines to be bothered with a child’s tale.

“‘There is a test you must pass before you can rescue the maiden, but it’s not one that requires a shield and sword,’” the Raven replied. “‘Before you are the three Chalices of Eden. One of these chalices contains a key that will unlock the final door to the tower and rescue Maiden Eden from her prison. The other two chalices contain a poison that will kill the drinker instantly.’

“Each of the chalices was made of solid gold and crafted in similar detail. Other than residing on separate pillars, the chalices bore no distinction between them. ‘How do I figure out which one holds the key?’ he asked the Raven.

“‘Each of them represents a heroic quality,’ the Raven explained. ‘The chalice on the left represents selflessness. A selfless hero is one that is willing to sacrifice themselves to save another. The chalice in the middle represents courage. A courageous hero is brave enough to take on any task at hand no matter how insurmountable their odds may be.’

“Prince Edward nodded, thinking that both selflessness and courage were strong qualities that a hero would possess. Choosing between them would be difficult. His eyes then landed on the chalice to his right. ‘And what does that chalice represent?’

“‘The chalice on the right? That chalice represents opportunity.’

“‘Opportunity?’ Prince Edward raised an eyebrow. ‘How is being opportunistic a heroic quality?’

“‘An opportunistic hero is one that’s wise enough to choose a path to success when it becomes available to them. When opportunities arise, a hero must decide which of these paths will better benefit him. The power of choice is perhaps the greatest power that any of us can behold,’ the Raven explained.”

Tia’s ears perked up through her dirty brown hair. She scooted closer to the edge of the bed and Father’s voice.

“Prince Edward found himself drawn to the Chalice of Opportunity, believing that the Raven hinted that it could contain the key to Maiden Eden’s chambers. He approached it gallantly, free of any hesitation or concern. The Raven remained perched on the center pillar, its expression unchanged as the prince made his choice. Prince Edward grasped the Chalice of Opportunity in his mighty hand and toasted ‘to Maiden Eden and all of her beauty’ before feeling the cold liquid contents on his lips. He slurped the liquid down quickly and waited for the key to land on his tongue.

“‘The Chalice of Opportunity is there to pose a question,’ the Raven said. It watched as Prince Edward gasped, staring at the bottom of an empty cup and then to the Raven. ‘A hero has many qualities, but they mean nothing if he doesn’t know how to use them. A selfless hero might make a sacrifice in vain. A courageous hero could be duped by their own hubris. An opportunistic hero may not stop to think about the alternatives before them.’”

Aaric looked up from his figurines for the first time all evening.

“‘These chalices don’t selflessness, courage, and opportunity. They also represent vanity, hubris, and stupidity.’

“Prince Edward gasped for air and fell to his hands and knees. His eyes grew wet and his vision blurry. His stomach twisted and churned as his heart beat so fast that he feared it’d burst through his chest.

“‘A true hero is the smartest person in the room. They think before they act. They adapt to their surroundings and look for alternatives. Why risk drinking poison when you could have dumped the contents on the floor? If you had, you would’ve discovered that there was no key at all.’ The Raven left its perch and morphed into a figure nearly the size of Prince Edward himself. Hands and feet replaced its claws, sparkling blue eyes replaced its beady ones, and the face of a woman most beautiful emerged from where a beak used to reside. Before Prince Edward lost the last of his sight, he got a look at the slender silhouette of Maiden Eden as she drew toward him.

“‘You heroes are all the same,’ Maiden Eden said, spitting venom and contempt. ‘Drunkards spew tales of a damsel trapped in a high tower. They boast not of her brain and benevolence but of her bust and beauty. You men grab your metal sticks and rush to slay the monster that holds her captive, then expect her to repay your chivalry with unwavering love and devotion. She truly is everything the stories say, but you’re not the only one who’s heard of it or with a pair of eyes to leer upon her. You don’t want others to notice the prize you won, so you lock her in your high tower because she is your trophy and yours alone. Anger and envy replace your only friends, and your soul curdles like sour milk. One night a fool breaks into your home, and it’s not until the blade pierces between your ribs that you realize what you truly are. In your last breaths, you look at your killer with melancholy while the damsel sheds no tears. She doesn’t even frown. She stands over your body with an expression of indifference.’

“‘You believe that choices must be made because you are told to make them. You see are three chalices and know that at least two of them will kill them, and yet you still drink. Those who cannot think for themselves have no choices to make at all.’

“Maiden Eden turned from him and walked away. As Prince Edward exhaled his last breath he heard the click of an open door as the maiden crossed the threshold. The door had been unlocked all along.” Father closed the book and found the twins sitting straight up in bed.

“What that supposed to help us sleep?” Aaric asked incredulously.

Father shook his head. “Like so much else that I’ve tried to teach you, these are survival skills. You are the gift feared by our creators, and thus need extra protection.”

Father’s gaze went from Tia’s eyes to her clavicle, where a cluster of blue scales underlined the bone. She pulled her periwinkle shirt over it and turned red. Tia knew enough about her and Aaric’s condition to understand that having snake-like scales on various parts of your body wasn’t normal. Just once she wanted to play with the other children instead of watching them from the bedroom window. She longed to attend school and learn what other children learned. She offered to wear bandages over her scales in the presence of others, but Father refused her. He wouldn’t even let them leave their bedroom whenever he had a patient over. Tia sometimes wondered if anyone else knew they existed.

“You wish to protect us because we look different,” Aaric laid back down, scoffing. “At least have the courage to admit that you’re ashamed of us.”

Tia was aghast, but her twin didn’t faze Father. “I haven’t been hiding you from the Outer World these last six years because you’re different. I wish to empower you; I want to teach you lessons that most will never learn. There are—”

A gentle clicking stole Father’s attention, and he grew pale when turned to the window. Tia faced the outside, where her bedroom overlooked the Cerulean Sea and the docks of their small waterfront town. The oscillating flames atop the street poles spotlighted portions of the pier and the woman who swayed across the wooden planks. Her movements were so graceful that she could’ve waltzed on the ripples of the rolling sea having only her toes kiss the water beneath. She was dressed in the color of the moonlight that caressed her, and her hood covered all but a few golden curls that jostled upon her porcelain face.

“Eden herself,” Father muttered.

“Eden her…” Aaric gawked incredulously. “She’s real?

“Stay here.” Father bolted from their bedroom and emerged outside in record time.

Aaric peeked his head out the window and Tia joined him in staring at the woman below. The streetlight didn’t coat the walkway to their house, so when she passed the flame’s reach, she became nothing more than the clicks of her heels. Then, for just one moment, the clicking stopped, and Tia strained her ears.

“The Ravens are watching.” The clicking started again, but the woman’s silhouette dodged the last lights painting the dock.

Aaric looked at his sister for answers when it was usually the other way around, but Tia knew no more than he did. She’d never seen this woman before.

Father reentered their bedroom. Sweat poured onto his forehead as if his hairline sprung a leak, and hands he used to stitch wounds with surgical precision quivered until he glued them to his sides. “Grab what you can. We’re going. Now.”

Tia sprung from her bed and grabbed a handful of clothes and a coloring book from her floral-printed dresser. Father threw the twins’ packs onto Tia’s bed, and she began shoving everything unceremoniously into it. It was nearly full before Aaric could be bothered standing up.

Aaric cocked his head, glancing up at the man more than twice his height. “What are we running from?”

“Aaric, not now. Let’s go!”

“Who’s coming?”

Now, Aaric!

Tia zipped up her bag as its many playful stickers shimmered in the light. She knew that she left some important things behind, but the cause for urgency made her not care. She threw her strap over her shoulder while Aaric groaned and started filling his colorless bag.

The bedroom window blew out and glass showered the floor, sprinkling their bare feet with sparkling shards of dust. Tia was screaming before she even knew what was going on and Father yelled, “Go!” and shoved the twins in front of him.

She was out of the bedroom and running down the rickety stairway without knowing why. She had to get away from whatever was in the bedroom.

Another window shattered somewhere above. Aaric jumped and collided into her, pressing her stomach against the wooden railing and knocking her feet free from the steps. She clutched onto the banister to prevent herself from falling while all air escaped her lungs until her feet found the stairs again. Aaric bolted passed her, stampeding down to the main floor and the front door.

“No!” Father belted. “My office!”

The front door’s outline glowed before Aaric approached it. He spun around with his mouth wide open as though he was about to scream. Tia swung around the banister and joined him as they ran through the living room. Lights painted the surrounding windows made them too bright to see through.

Father leaped down the last few stairs thrust forward his gunblade from the pistol on his holster. The pistol itself was only six inches long, but a three-foot silver blade withdrew above its nozzle.

The front door was knocked clean off and crashed in two pieces onto the floor. Father jumped over the banister, sword outstretched, and shot several fireballs from the pistol.

Tia barely caught a glimpse of the figure that obscured the light before it fell out of view. She kept running, angry to have looked back, and fixated on the office door as Aaric grabbed her hand. She clutched onto him and saw the door and nothing else. Windows kept breaking and glass coated tables and floors where they used to eat breakfast and play cards. Shadows snuffed out the light and poured into the room. Clangs of blades silenced father’s voice as he yelled for his children.

Aaric twisted the knob to the office door and suddenly they were through it.

Father was right behind them shooting as many fireballs as his gunblade would allow, and slammed the door shut behind them. His forehead was coated in blood and his sleeves were singed.

Aaric opened his mouth to demand answers, but Father grabbed his shirt cuffs and dragged him around the gurney to the opposite wall. He threw him at a gray panel that was a conspicuous shade lighter than the rest of the wall. Tia rushed to catch up to them as Aaric howled, crashing into the wall shoulder first and driving the panel inward.

“Tia, help your brother!” Father said, reaching for her hand.

Tia obeyed and assisted Aaric as he pushed at the wall. The twins’ combined weight caused the panel to retract fully, revealing a stone passageway they never knew existed. The twins held onto each other to avoid slipping on the mossy slope beneath them as Father blocked them from reentering his office. Lights only highlighted a portion of the passage. There was no telling how far it went or what was below.

The creatures attacked the other side of the office door, which stood little chance against their strength. The light would soon be swallowed by the shadows, and Father along with them.

“Tia, C’mon!” Aaric jerked her hand and stole her attention.

She stared at the downward slope where the darkness never ended. It was their only path to safety, but still an ominous one. So many other dangers could’ve been waiting for them, and what lingered on the other side?

The twins sped down it as fast as they could without slipping. The path was ample enough for them to be side-by-side, but only because they were so young. Moss and twigs bit their ankles, and slimy sludge coated their toes made their feet feel like they’d been dipped in jelly. The light from above went further away, and the clangs of blades were mere echoes.

A blast of light from above illuminated the passage, turning the pitch black into a blaring white. The slope rattled and caused Tia’s teeth to clatter. The dead branches from the floor reshuffled, and her feet flew over her head. Her body crashed into the layers soppy mud and splattered around all her. She started sliding, and sludge splashed the sides and seams of her pants and shot up onto her shirt and her eyes. Her skin rippled in the wind with the speed of her descent until the slope disappeared beneath her and she free fell into the unknown.

Her feet crashed onto a plateau somewhere below, and she tumbled to her backside. Globs of mud flung from her body, but it had already done its damage. Her soaked clothes were glued to her figure, coating her with a small ecosystem that would take weeks to wash off. Aaric landed beside her, equally drenched and cursing loud enough for the echoes to paint the wall in a chorus of obscenities.

Tia struggled to her feet before grabbing onto Aaric’s hand. Nearby plants exhaled orbs of white that floated from their leaves and dissipated above. Tia’s eyes followed the spheres that flickered all around them like the inside of a planetarium. She couldn’t see where the walls were or where they fell from. For all she knew, the platform could’ve been holding them from another fall into oblivion.

“Tia, where are we?” Aaric sounded as panicked as she felt.

Tia walked backward holding Aaric’s hand, but neither could retrace their steps or see where they fell from. There was nothing around them but flickering orbs of light dying out and birthing again… And an air shuttle parked about thirty feet away.

The twins raced toward it, casting aside the orbs floating between them like paint on a wet canvas. The shuttle’s rails were planted firmly on the ground. Its glass dome was retracted, and its oval silhouette revealed two rows of seats and a steering wheel that could guide them to safety if either of them knew how to drive.

How did it get down here?

A scream echoed against the walls, sounding like it came from nowhere and everywhere. The twins spun around and watched as a man’s form fell from above. He crashed to the ground as they had, but his body contorted in angles Tia didn’t think possible.

“Father!” Tia exclaimed. Aaric clutched onto her hand, stopping her from running toward him.

It took Father a couple seconds to stir. His groans were amplified by the cave as he struggled onto his hands and knees (which took much longer than Tia would’ve liked). Tia wished to help him, but Aaric only held her hand tighter.

Father made it to his feet, but when he moved toward them, one of his legs dragged lifelessly behind the other. His shirt was tattered and torn and his hair muddy and disheveled. His face bore more blood than skin, and his gunblade was nowhere to be seen.

“Aaric, he’s really hurt,” she said, but her brother still wouldn’t let go.

“Let’s… let’s get in the shuttle,” Aaric replied warily.

“What? Why?”

“I… we need to go,” he jerked her backward toward the shuttle.

Several orbs cast illuminated Father’s form as he grunted and groaned but spoke no words, more closely resembling a walking corpse than the man that read them bedtime stories. Tia let Aaric pull her away. Not even Father’s outstretched hand could beckon her.

Aaric opened the passenger side door and let Tia slip into the front row. She trusted Aaric’s ability to drive over hers, though neither had ever tried.

“Please…” Father muttered, but Tia forced her eyes shut only to reopen them when something new and brighter appeared. A skylight flooded the underground meadow as if someone flipped a switch in the room. The flickering orbs lost their brilliance, but Tia was too distracted by the obsidian figures that encircled them to notice.

Every part of their frame was eluded in shadow, but the shadows themselves took human form. Each bore two legs and two arms and stood as tall as Father and other adults they’d seen.

Their faces were obscured and drank the light from their surroundings. Where they stood, nothing else could exist.

Three of the obsidians stepped forward from the circle. The one in the middle stood almost a head taller than the others and carried a blade as dark as they were. Tia opened her mouth to warn Father as they approached him from behind but didn’t need to speak. Father turned to them and fell to his knee. His dead leg limped on its side.

The three obsidians waved their right hands over their heads in unison and revealed three faces where there were none before. The figure in the middle became a gaunt man with salt and pepper hair and a long, thin scar that stretched from his temple down to his cheek. The man to his left was younger, thicker, and iron-jawed, while the woman to his right was covered with shaggy hair and a face both withered and severe.

“All three of you!” Father exclaimed.

The gaunt man spoke for them. “It’s so fitting that you chose to read them the tale of the chalices this evening. Like Edward, you are neither selfless nor courageous, but you’ve been very opportunistic. These children were not yours to take, Landon. If you were planning on using them as a bargaining chip, you have failed.”

“That’s Jaiden Lefendos,” Aaric muttered to his sister.

Tia went to nod, but stopped herself and shot him a bewildered look. “How do you know that?”

“What do you mean? Father just said that.” But Aaric’s confidence waned when his sister shook her head. “Didn’t he?”

A conversation between Father and the obsidian leader commenced, but Tia could hear none of it while she waited for an explanation from Aaric. She watched cogs turn in his mind, and his deep purple eyes fixate on something off in the distance. His ears were strained, but he wasn’t listening to the words being said aloud. “They’re telling me that we don’t have to be afraid.”

“Who’s telling you?”

“They are,” Aaric replied. “What are you, deaf? We don’t have to be afraid but… But he does.”

“What are you saying, Aaric?”

Aaric eyebrows pointed inward, and his watering eyes started to burn with rage. Tia had to relearn to breathe as she witnessed her twin’s transition from affliction to anger. She half expected him to birth a shadow that would encapsulate his entire body as it had the others. “He kidnapped us right after we were born,” Aaric said. “He stole us as our mother slept…”

Tia covered her mouth. She wanted to refute him, but she was never brave enough to argue with her brother. They never knew their mother. Father never even told them her name.

“All three of us had to be here to agree on what must be done,” Jaiden said, raising his obsidian blade. “The severity of your actions and the danger you’ve put all of us must be punishable by death.”

Tia’s mouth fell open. She desperately wanted to refute them, but it was her brother who discovered the courage to speak.

“Wait,” Aaric demanded. He broke his grasp from Tia and approached the three leaders of the obsidians and the man on his knee. Tia wanted to reach out and say something—anything—but all she could do was sit in the shuttle with her body glued to the seat.

“This… This man, did he take us?” Aaric addressed Jaiden as he stood beside Father, who was now just a little taller than her brother was.

“It’s a complicated matter,” Jaiden replied.

“Did he steal us from our birth mother?”

Jaiden stalled for a second. “You children are very young.”

“But he’s not our Father, is he? And… And you’ve been looking for us all this time?”

Aaric punctured his air of certainty. Jaiden turned his head ever-so-slightly in the woman’s direction, but he stopped before looking at her. He kept his eyes on Aaric and answered his question. “The two of you are very young. I cannot explain—”

“But you can,” Aaric replied. He left father’s side and stepped toward the leader of the Ravens. Aaric was less than half his height, but whatever expression her twin bore on his face caused Jaiden to step backward. The man and the woman at his sides exchanged subtle glances, sharing in Jaiden’s sudden uncertainty. “I see can the words swirling in your brain. Your mind is connecting nouns with verbs, phrases are breaking and reforming, and there’s fog. A dark, lightless fog. It’s like a barrier between the known and the unknown or a wall meant to block others from…  Are… Are you hiding your thoughts behind it? Is there something that you’re afraid for me to see?”

The Raven leader glowered at Aaric. “This man has put you and your sister in danger from both the Outer World and yourselves. He’s been selfish and naïve, and to rectify what he has done, a punishment must be enforced.”

Aaric did not refute him. Instead, he faced the man he called ‘Father’ for the last six years and looked at him with a level of disgust that made Tia shudder. The resounding silence was broken only by the heavy breaths taken by the man they’d called Father.

Jaiden raised his obsidian blade again and placed it on Father’s shoulder just centimeters from his neck. “I, Jaiden Lefendos, leader of the Order of the Ravens of Dusk, hereby sentence you to…”

Aaric grabbed onto the hilt of Jaiden’s gunblade. The Raven woman covered her mouth while the Raven man’s iron jaw unhinged.

“This man stole us as newborns and has deceived us all our lives. I want the honor.”

Tia gasped but still, couldn’t find her voice. She watched Jaiden release his hand from the hilt as though it was all a dream. Her brother’s eyes cast down upon their Father as if he was as filthy a creature as the runts that ate the crops in their garden.

“The power of choice isn’t the greatest power we hold,” Aaric said. Father whimpered as Aaric tightened his grip on the obsidian blade. “The greatest power is to take that choice away.”

Tia found no hesitation or remorse in Aaric’s voice. The figures around him drowned in his darkness, exchanging glances of uncertainty. Did they regret their decision to seek them out? Did they… Fear him?

Aaric’s hand did not quiver. His glare was focused and his aim precise. In a single swipe, he silenced the briefest of screams and stole from Tia the only childhood she’d ever known.

 

 

Continue on to: http://anthony-greer.com/chapter-2-riles

Chapter 2: Riles

Posted: March 13, 2018 by: AG_Creative86

Riles

 

Seven years later, a boy of eight woke up to the loud creaks of the front door. He laid quietly as the door shut again and listened to the clomping of boots stagger across the living room floor. The intruder slowly navigated through the dark, trying to avoid bumping into any of the furniture. They didn’t want to wake up anyone living there.

Riles Arias sat up in his bedroom and felt for the telecom on his nightstand. He slid his fingers along the forms of several Serenity Seeker figurines before finding the pen-shaped device beside a glass of water. He pressed the center button and waited for the 4×4 inch telescreen to appear, casting a ghostly glow in his otherwise dark room. Riles stared at his reflection as the screen loaded. His face was slender enough to fill the screen, while his bright blue eyes could’ve pierced it, as they had through the bangs of his unkempt black hair.

Two additional screens appeared beyond the edge of the telecom’s initial projection, but Riles ignored them. The center screen that revealed what time it was and he grimaced when he saw that it was past midnight.

Riles clicked off his telecom and stepped out of bed. His eyes adjusted to the dark, revealing a door and knob where there hadn’t been a minute ago. He slid his feet across the room, careful not to step on the minefield of Serenity Seeker figurines in mid-battle below. He would’ve hated to have stepped on one his friends.

He hesitated when he reached the door but decided to open it anyway. It slowly crept open, revealing the long, dark corridor that led to his parent’s bedroom and then the staircase down to the living room. As he slinked passed his parent’s bedroom, the thought of waking one of them up didn’t even occur to him. Father got up early to run his Tri-City Forest tours while his mother slurped down more wine than usual that evening. Waking her up would prove to be a near-impossible feat.

Riles caught a glimpse of their wedding photo from nine years ago. A small caption on the frame read “Raiden and Wessena Arias, 2430 G.A.” He was conceived that night, or so they told him. He wished they still smiled the way they did in this photo. They insisted that they did all the time, but Riles he wasn’t convinced. The only Arias that still smiled all the time was Grandpa, but compared to Grandpa everyone looked miserable, so he was hardly a fair comparison.

The figure in the living room sniffled, making Riles more curious than before. He left the photo and his parent’s door, reaching the stairs. They creaked under his lightweight, but the intruder didn’t notice. Halfway down the steps, Riles discovered that the intruder wasn’t an intruder at all.

Father had collapsed somewhere between the floor and the shaggy couch. His legs were crossed under his body while his face and hands dug into one of the seats. Hearing his father whimper gave Riles goosebumps. Raiden was never one to hide his emotions, but crying was foreign to him. He would’ve wanted Riles to go upstairs and back to bed, but Riles couldn’t leave him like this. Mother couldn’t help, and Grandpa taught him that sadness was never something one should deal with alone.

Riles walked down the rest of the stairs, only catching his father’s attention when Riles was close enough to see cuts and bruises on his arms. The tree orbs that emitted light into the room caressed Raiden’s face, where his lines of tears glistened like morning dew. The red in his eyes matched the scrapes on his shoulder and dried blood on his tunic. He reached for Riles’ face with his hands. Riles could smell the earth on his palms and dirt beneath his fingernails as if father come back from some midnight gardening, but gardening wouldn’t leave a blood stain on Raiden’s chest where he bore no wound.

Suddenly Raiden was holding him tighter than ever before. Riles hugged him back, but his father’s embrace didn’t bring him the warmth that it should’ve. Something was not as it was before.

“I’m sorry. I… I tried.” Raiden’s voice was barely a whisper.

Riles asked why he was sorry, Raiden only continued to cry.

Riles shivered, as the damp tears on his shoulder felt like ice. He started to regret waking up at all, but he couldn’t leave his father in such a state. He placed his hand on Raiden’s shoulders until his father winced, and then stared into the only eyes he’d ever seen that was as bright and as blue as his. “I’m gonna get you a new shirt and a washcloth.”

His father could only nod and bit his lip, fighting down more tears.

Riles went back up the stairs and tried to ignore what caused his father so much pain and where he got his injuries. None of them looked serious, aside from the bloodstain on his chest, but that was what worried him the most.

His mother slept like a rock in her bed. She was nothing more than a lump under the covers, and he knew that waking her wouldn’t help. Raiden needed someone that could take care of him, and she wasn’t in any condition to do it.

Riles grabbed the first shirt of Raiden’s that he could find in his closet, then went to the bathroom and soaked a washcloth in water and peroxide. He returned to the living room where Raiden was sitting up on the ground with his back against the couch.

Raiden struggled to take off his shirt without catching the material on his open wounds. Riles noted that his father was just as lean and slender as he was, thinking him a hypocrite for always telling Riles to eat more. Riles dropped father’s new shirt on his lap and draped the washcloth under the cuts on his shoulder. Father winced and bit down on his lip, but didn’t cry out in pain.

Raiden tried hard not to show Riles how much agony he was in. The scrapes were all new but wiped clean in just a few minutes, and Riles doubted that any of them would leave a scar. Father’s injuries were almost exclusively on his shoulders and forearms. His back had a tiny cut, but his chest was bare, only making the blood on his shirt more ominous.

Riles handed him a pair of pills he’d grabbed from his parent’s medicine cabinet. Mother frequently took them in the morning, so he knew that they helped with the pain. Raiden took them generously while Riles collected his dirty shirt and the stained washcloth. He turned and stood up, stopping when he noticed a pistol on the ground by the front door. He recognized the nozzle and design to be Serenity Seeker grade. It confirmed what he’d been worried about ever since breakfast that morning…

 

 

“I’ve got one from here, and from Barencos, Kalia, and Meniffa!” Riles exclaimed. He moved his plate to make room for his Serenity Seeker figurines.

“Riles, eat,” Wessena said, skillet in hand.

“But… Mom!”

Grandpa let out a haughty, masculine laugh. He looked at Riles with the same love that he’d had for him ever since he was small enough to cradle in his giant, calloused hands. His size and personality cast a large shadow on Raiden, but Raiden loved and honored the man for it. Neither he nor Riles could’ve ever asked for a better role-model.

“Can I get you anything else, Galen?” Wessena asked.

“No, this is delicious,” Grandpa said, still watching Riles.

“I want to get a whole set!” Riles exclaimed. “I’m gonna get one from all twelve city-states!”

Grandpa chuckled, careful to keep his mouth closed so that he didn’t spit out his scrambled eggs. Riles swore that he saw a frown in the laughter, but that could’ve just been a reflection of Father’s expression. He looked as somber as Grandpa was jovial and ate his eggs in silence.

It only then occurred to Riles that he couldn’t remember the last time Grandpa had called in sick to work.

Father pulled Grandpa outside before Wessena could take their plates away and shut the door behind them. Riles scarfed down the last of his pancakes snuck into the living room. The front door was closed, but the living room window was open just a crack. Riles peeked through it, doing his best to conceal the rest of his face and hair was Wessena started cleaning the kitchen.

“Raiden, I don’t know how to say this.” The lines of time that long avoided Grandpa’s face made their engravings overnight.

“I wish you would, Dad,” Raiden said. “You’ve had a heavy heart since you came in today. Even Riles noticed!”

Grandpa placed his hand over his Seeker’s emblem, leaving nothing visible but the bases of the twin gunblades over his chest. Grandpa commanded a team of Serenity Seekers for six years. He led them into the darkest parts of the world to bring outlaws to justice. He fought rogue criminals and rabid creatures, and never once did his job cause him noticeable stress.

“Riles is in danger.”

“Riles? My Riles?”

“Shh!” Grandpa replied. Riles ducked before Grandpa cast his eyes on the front door. “Please, keep your voice down.”

An air shuttle whizzed by and made a turn into another residential neighborhood two blocks away. It was the first sign of people by their tree-house that day. Even the walkways were unusually quiet that morning.

Raiden lowered his voice. “How is Riles in danger? What’d he do? He’s barely eight years old.”

Riles peeked his head out the window again and watched Grandpa struggle for words. “A man named Rexus Poloray has been spending a lot of time in the desert settlement. He’s made a lot of the residents very nervous. They kept the secrets from him—the ones that only they know about. Last night he cornered the Conservator and demanded that she tell him where he could find out about Transcendence Theory.”

Raiden’s jaw fell to the floor.

“She refused, of course,” Grandpa paused. “And then he threatened Riles’ life. That’s when she contacted me. She gave up the first clue about its whereabouts, and now he’s on his way here.”

“He’s on his way here?”

“To Malysai,” Grandpa corrected. “The clue she gave him is here in this forest.”

Raiden was baffled, then frustrated. “Where?”

Grandpa didn’t say a word.

“Where in the forest?”

“You cannot come with me.”

“You cannot come into my home, tell me that my son’s life is in danger, and expect me not to do anything about it.”

“That’s exactly what I’m expecting of you,” Grandpa said. His tone switched from stern to solemn. “It’s a part of the forest where no civilians dare to go.”

“The District of Shadows,” Raiden muttered.

“I will be heading there before nightfall to take care of this. No one—not even the other Serenity Seekers—can know.”

“Why not? They can help apprehend him.”

“No,” Grandpa was shaking his head. “I have been a Seeker for a long time, but I haven’t forgotten my roots. There are things that you don’t know—that no one can know—about the Transcendence Theory. The promise I made to them is more important than my oath as a Seeker. No one can learn about the Transcendence Theory. Not even us.”

“Why are you telling me all of this if you don’t want me to go?” Hela was shining directly behind Grandpa and caused Raiden to squint when he looked at him.

“We never know how long we have in this world, Ray. Every time I go on a mission, I know full-well that it may be my last. I’ve been lucky so far, but there are exceptions for everyone. If this is my—”

“Dad—”

If I don’t make it home tonight… If something goes wrong and I fail to apprehend Rexus, I wanted to have one last meal with all of you. I wanted to be with my family one last time—you and your son, one last time. I… I… I cannot let circumstances divide this family again.”

Father looked like he’d just met his hero and discovered all their flaws. The window’s pale reflection revealed the same expression on Riles’ own face.

“You’re coming home for dinner,” Father insisted. “I’ll cook it myself. And tonight, after this is over, we’ll sit down as a family. We can eat and forget that today ever happened.”

“Ray—”

“You’ll be back here tonight once it’s done. I’ll hear nothing else about these foolish exceptions of yours.”

Grandpa placed his hand on Raiden’s shoulder. The notion silenced him.

Father tried to say more, but Grandpa headed back down the wooden walkway between the trees and treehouses. Another air shuttle glided by, but Father didn’t notice it until the breeze from the wave of the wind it created hit him as it passed. Grandpa disappeared around the corner a moment later, and Riles left the window to avoid being seen.

 

 

Grandpa’s gunblade was on the ground by the front door. Riles didn’t know how long he was staring at it, or how long Father sat there watching him. There was only one reason why it was there, but its owner was not.

“I didn’t get to say goodbye,” Riles whimpered, too shocked to even shed a tear.

His words paralyzed Raiden. “…Neither did I.”

 

 

Continue on to: http://anthony-greer.com/chapter-3-koston

Messengers Chapter 1

Posted: February 13, 2018 by: AG_Creative86

1.    Robert

 

 

Robert Baselton had a hard time looking at his girlfriend without staring at the sable haze of the Messenger looming in the hallway shadows. Its eyes were absent in a pair of harrowing sockets as black as a starless sky; its skull protruded through a dark mist that filled the hall. Its presence could paralyze the bravest of souls, but Robert knew that the message it would bear was worse than the Messenger itself. Someone else was going to die.

“What are you thinking?” Julia asked, pleading for a way to start a conversation.

Robert spent most of dinner facing the lukewarm meatloaf and mashed potatoes that his mother made the day prior, before going to her second job. He had taken three bites before feeding the rest to the still silence in the room. It was hard to eat while knowing he was about to receive the same message he had received twice already.

“R—Robert?” Julia’s hand quivered until she hid it underneath the table. She kept her other hand busy portioning an even ratio of meatloaf and mashed potatoes on her fork. She raised it to her mouth but didn’t eat it. Instead, she kept looking at him, waiting for some semblance of a response.

“R—”

“Nothing. I’m not thinking of anything.”

Julia grimaced; her paling face was counteracted only by her soft red lips. She took a bite of her meatloaf and slowly chewed it, and he could see that she was running through her index of potential conversation-starters. Robert only hoped that her new subject would be less mundane. He had no desire to talk any further about classes or school.

“Pastor Gordon wants me to teach the kids’ Sunday school lesson this week,” she said with a smile. She was always smiling when she was doing charity work. Tonight her philanthropic duties involved filling the emptiness that usually accompanied his meal after the blur of lipstick and heels he referred to as “Mom” left for work.

He didn’t usually mind Julia’s company. After all, Julia was much nicer to look at than a vacant rickety chair or the Messenger. Her big brown eyes and sandy-brown hair reminded him of a Disney princess, but he was hardly the prince to give Julia her happily ever after, and tonight was no fairytale.

“Are you even listening?” she asked as her smile faded.

“That’s, uh, that’s great.” He forced himself into an oafish, cheesy grin to feign an emotion that he couldn’t feel. He pondered how much the presence of the Messenger had affected their conversation. Probably not as much as it should have.

“…Yeah…” Her wide, hopeful eyes begged for him to inquire more about it.

He took another bite of his meatloaf and kept chewing it much longer than necessary. Even after it dissolved into nothingness in his mouth, he continued to chew on his saliva.

“Would you like to go?” she asked.

“Hmm?”

“You know, um, go see the lesson?”

He put his hand over his mouth and mumbled as he swallowed. “I’ve, uh… I’ve got a thing that day.”

“Oh, yes, of course.” He watched as a hand reached into her throat and took the words right out of her. “A thing.”

More silence. At any moment someone’s death clock is going to tick toward zero. Who will the third victim be? Robert thought.

Julia stood up abruptly, blushing as she caught his attention. She carefully picked her plate up from the table so that none of the contents would slip off. She approached the garbage can and dumped the majority of the meatloaf out before turning on the sink faucet.

“Don’t,” Robert said, “I’ll wash it.” You’re okay, Julia. You’ve done your good deeds for the day.

“No, that’s all right.” Her voice was barely audible over the sink. She rinsed her dish and then put it in the dishwasher next to the other plates that had been victims of previous awkward dinners at the Baselton residence. “I’m gonna go. I should get to bed soon.”

The microwave clock read 8:23.

“…’Kay…”

She lingered by the sink, just a few feet from the front door. Robert felt her prolonged stare as he sat with his feet glued to the dated sepia tiled floor. He couldn’t get up without acknowledging the other presences in the room. The house was busy that night. The spirits outnumbered those who were living.

“See you at school tomorrow?” Julia was still there, bearing the same expression that his father gave his mother when he was alive: a pair of doe-like eyes, widened and watery, quietly begging for an exchange of affection. The Baselton family was known for consisting of two kinds of people: the budding socialites who brought families and friends together, and the wallflowers who shut out the world. He and his mother were one in the same.

Julia muttered a meek “bye” and crossed through the front door. He saw her silhouette stop at the top of the front porch stairs, but then she trudged down the steps and disappeared from view.

Robert found himself alone with his cold meatloaf and the Messenger, with nothing but Julia’s car pulling out of the driveway to drown out the silence. He stabbed his fork into the butchered slice of once rectangular meat like an explorer would with a flag on uncharted ground. There was no longer a reason to feign enjoying his meal. He never liked meatloaf, but it was easier to pretend that he had eaten it than it was to suggest to his mother that she make something else. Her night shifts made her irritable (not that she was in a good mood before). Even so, Robert would have preferred her company over what currently filled the house.

The Messenger’s skull became more prominent than it had been when Julia was in the room. It was protruding from its shadowy haven, covering the entire hallway entrance with its sheer mass. The outlines of the shadow swayed the way a black cloak would if met with a sudden gust of wind.

The sound of the fridge cooling coils covered the silence mustered up between him and the Messenger, but he couldn’t spend the rest of his awful night having a staring contest. Robert knew he had to approach it, but when he did, he would be told of another future funeral.

With a deep breath, Robert rose to his feet and took a step in the direction of Death’s courier. His foot pressed slowly on the kitchen tile. He could hear every crease in his shoe as if he were walking out of a movie theatre that was littered with buttered popcorn. With each step, his pulse became a little louder. He wanted to grip his heart before approaching the Messenger, out of the fear that it could reach through his ribcage and rip it from his chest.

He had to look almost straight up at the swarthy skull before him. He trapped in his throat whatever courage he had left and spoke as bravely as he could. “Are you gonna tell me or what?”

The Messenger peered down at him, revealing the traces of a smirk and charcoal rotten teeth.

A bee-like buzz overcame the silence and kitchen lights flashed, then went out. The entire house darkened as if a power surge had tripped the breaker, and Robert was left with nothing but the ethereal cerulean glow of the moon to guide him. The Messenger didn’t like his attitude.

His heart bounced against his bones, and goose bumps ran up his skin. It was as if an icy finger had caressed the discs of his spine. Robert took a step back from the obscurity that he could no longer see. Then he took a second, allowing his feet to be coated in the ghostly glow of the Sun’s cousin.

He spun around to acknowledge the transparent teenage girl and the old woman that his back had been facing during the meal. The moon’s glow coated them with a set of hazy outlines, emphasizing their bleak realities: they were no longer a girl and an old woman, but the first two victims of crimes he had yet to understand.

“Do you want another person to go through this?” he asked them.

The two remained as silent as they had always been. The girl had her face on the floor and whimpered quietly to herself. The old woman’s mouth was slightly ajar, and the corners of her lips turned downward.

The hair on the nape of his neck stood straight on end as the Messenger glided behind him. His body froze in its icy embrace as if its frosted boney fingers were reaching through his chest and pricking fractals of his soul. The skull contorted downward until the Messenger’s maggot-encrusted jaw was nearly pressed up against his ear. It spoke in a guttural tone that should have been difficult to comprehend, but he heard its voice loud and clear. “Murder.”

Robert shuddered. He didn’t want to look at Death’s courier—not when it was so close to him. God only knew what sort of unholy displeasure resided within the twin pools of finality where eyes should have been. They would scorch an image into his mind that would resurface every time he closed his eyes until the day Death came to add him to his registry.

“Who is going to be murdered?”

The chills went away. The lights flickered back on. The courier had relayed the message and left him alone to deal with it.

Robert focused on the old woman. The girl seemed inconsolable so, if anything, the old woman was most likely his best bet. The last time he had received the “murder” message the girl didn’t do anything but sob. He spent twenty minutes trying to get her to speak but to no avail. Maybe the old woman, being the more recent of the two victims, would say something.

He got within a foot of her transparent body. She grimaced and hid behind her heavy pink shawl. If she weren’t dead, she would have looked amusing with it draped around her morning gown with beige slippers to match, but Robert could find no humor when peering into the eyes of the deceased. “Who is going to be murdered?”

The old woman gave him a blank stare as if he had asked her the question in a foreign language.

“You must know something.”

She remained quiet, but her eyes grew more somber while the girl continued to cry. It had been a week since he last pushed for either of them to communicate with him. After all of his efforts, he was beginning to ponder whether or not they even could.

“Do you really want someone else to die?”

A tear rolled from her right eye as he spoke. She faded away before he could protest. He motioned toward the girl, but her hysterics had overtaken her, and she vanished before he could reach her.

For the first time all day he was alone. Julia had left him awkwardly, his mother wouldn’t be home until the early morning, his father would never be home again, the Messenger spoke of a murder-to-be, and the spirits had failed to be useful. Without company or a desire to eat any more, he left the kitchen and entered his living room with walls stripped of photos of a once happy family. His mother had taken most of the Baselton family photos down after the accident. She preferred to pretend that his father had not existed, rather than look at the past and dwell on better times.

He turned on the television where, for the next several hours, images and storylines blurred together in his mind. It was always easier to ignore what wasn’t in his control: another benign day of school ahead, his decaying relationships with everyone around him, and the knowledge that someone was about to die and there was nothing that he could do about it.

 

 

Messengers Chapter 2

Posted: February 13, 2018 by: AG_Creative86

2.    Alexis

 

 

Alexis Kearns charged back into the lobby of the downtown station. Forester was walking fast, but there was no getting away from her.

“That’s a lie, and you know it!” She caught the attention of an elderly couple and several officers when she made her declaration. She must have looked sophomoric while yelling at an officer of the law in her skull-and-crossbones tee, but at that moment she didn’t care.

Forester gave up running long before he reached the confines of his office. He wasn’t safe from her there anyway. “No, actually, it’s not.”

“You’ve had worse.”

“Oh,” the detective crossed his arms while his blue eyes tried to impale her. “Who?”

Alexis raised her arms dramatically allowing for her pink bracelets to rattle on her forearm. “Oh, I don’t know, how about Ashley?”

“She had her issues, but in her defense, she broke it off so that she could better herself.”

“Oh? And Janelle?”

“She cheated on me, but afterward she had the decency to move to Florida!”

“What about the one who threatened to kill you?”

“She found Jesus.”

“And the escort?”

Forester blushed, trying to not acknowledge the elderly couple and their growing fascination with him being yelled at by a girl ten years his junior. “I didn’t know about Sadie, and I never paid for her.”

“Well, what you said is still completely uncalled for—and false!”

“Oh please, Alexis, you know it to be true as much as I do. That’s why that comment upset you so much,” Forester said.

If Alexis could blow people up with her mind, pieces of Forester would be scattered throughout the station. “I am not the worst ex-girlfriend you’ve ever had!”

“Ashley, Sadie, Brittany, Sarah, and the Jesus freak—whose name is Carly by the way—all remain in Seattle but know that it’s best that we don’t see each other anymore. Janelle and Candy were even kind enough to leave the state! But you—we call it quits, and you’re here even more than when I was helping you with leads. And honestly, after the Halverford case, I think that you’ve got a lot of nerve even to show your face here any more.” He cocked his head, “Are you hearing me loud and clear? I don’t want you coming here anymore.”

“I’m sorry, you lost me at Candy. You dated a ‘Candy’?”

“Yes.”

“Was she an escort too?”

“No, actually she was a grad student. She was only in the area for the summer. We had a great month together and—why am I even explaining this to you? Alexis,” he went on to emphasize every word, “I don’t want to see you anymore. You need to leave.”

“I’ll leave after you explain yourself!” Alexis’ voice carried through the lobby. She amused herself with visions of terrified police officers in the next room ducking under their desks in case they took their fight to Forester’s office. It wouldn’t have been the first time. “Why did you lie about the tip you got about Congressman Waverly?”

Forester’s ears were becoming red. They always did when he was angry, but never as red as they would get around Alexis. She would have found it endearing if she didn’t have the urge to rip one of them off and shove it down his throat.

“Oh, I’m sorry! You want me to explain to you why I didn’t rush to my ex-girlfriend, an investigative journalist, with private information about a government official?”

She placed her hands firmly on her hips. “No, I want to know why the Times, KOMO, KIRO, KING, NWCN and the douche from my paper were all able to learn about Waverly when I had asked you directly before the story could leak to anyone else.”

“Alexis, you’re young. You’ll have plenty of other men to terrorize in your—”

“Oh, so we’re bringing age back into this?” She nearly growled. When their relationship started, it turned a lot of heads. Not only was she a journalist and he a detective, but she was just nineteen years of age at the time. Forester wasn’t happy to have learned this after they had started dating, but she didn’t understand his issues with it. She found herself to be far more mature than most her age—and definitely more mature than he had been.

The age comment made him blush, so she kept going. “Turning thirty obviously hasn’t affected your choices for a sexual partner. Is screwing you part of the pledge process for the Delta Beta ditz sorority or do you regularly troll the campus with a badge and a hard-on?”

“My sex life,” his face lost all color when he noticed the elderly woman’s jaw drop, “is no longer your concern.”

She refused to admit that he was right (as always), so she moved to the next subject. “I was on Waverly’s ass for weeks, and you screwed me out of the story because you’re upset with me.”

“You’re damn right I’m upset with you!”

Alexis blinked with surprise as Forester’s voice echoed throughout the lobby. The elderly couple who had found themselves entertained by the banter turned away and pretended to converse with one another. A few of the people that had been walking by stopped to stare as if they were looking at two people amidst a strip of landmines. Upon realizing they might get hit with shrapnel, the onlookers trudged cautiously around them and went about their business.

Alexis withdrew her hands to her sides. She did not want to show him that he had defused her, even though she was well-aware that he had been aware of that for far too long.

Forester let out a sigh, and she knew that he had let out more anger than he had ever wanted to show her. When he spoke again, his tone was much softer. “Alexis, we haven’t been broken up for that long.”

“It’s been nearly three months—”

“Will you just let me speak? Jesus!”

“Okay.” She lowered her head.

“We haven’t been—”

“I’m sorry.”

Forester reddened further. She knew that she was playing with a malfunctioning pressure cooker on the way to exploding, so she kept herself from saying more.

He took a deep breath and let a few seconds pass, probably to enjoy the sound of her not cutting him off for a change. “We’ve been broken up for three months—nearly three months. With all of my ex-girlfriends, there’s always been a period where we haven’t seen each other. With some of them, it took just a few days to get over, while with others it’s taken months. Alexis, I broke it off at six p.m. on a Wednesday. At eight a.m. Thursday morning you were waiting for me in my office before I’d even gotten to work because you wanted to cover a story about an armed robbery. You’re in here two-to-three times a week. Even if it’s to talk about work, I’m still seeing you two-to-three times a week more than I saw any of my other exes.

“You wouldn’t accept that I don’t want to be your ears in the department anymore, but now you need to take the hint that I refuse to be. Yes, I knew about Waverly, and I know that it was a story that you wanted to break. Yes, I purposefully didn’t tell you about it and knew it’d be leaked to your competition, and I will continue to withhold information until you realize that I need this time to grieve over our break up so that I may one day move on. That, Alexis, is why you are the worst ex-girlfriend that I’ve ever had.”

The elderly couple had left. Forester’s pleading words must have made them feel guilty for eavesdropping.

It was guilt that had failed to infect her. “You’re the one who broke up with me.”

“Did none of that get through to you?”

“If anyone should be grieving, it’s me!”

Forester raised his hands in submission. “That’s it! I give up! I’ve dealt with women who have turned out to be hookers, who have threatened to kill me, who have cheated on me, who have had multiple personality disorders—”

“Which one had a multiple personality disorder?”

“Alyssa.”

“Alyssa?”

“I think one of her personalities was Alyssa. The point is that you’re the most inconsiderate of them all! I’ve got to get back to the office now so please—” Forester gasped as a crash behind her rang louder than his words. “Holy shit!”

A chorus of screams and obscenities followed: “Ahhhhh!” “Oh my God!” “Jesus Christ!”

Alexis spun around and gawked at the sight of a man’s body that had slammed onto the pavement. A pool of blood gushed from it and spilled from the sidewalk onto the street. A semicircle of mortified people obstructed her view, but she was able to see a man face-down, mostly concealed by his soiled-brown coat.

She felt the wind of Forester rushing past her and shoving his way out the revolving door.

This is it. This is my break-out piece!

Alexis withdrew her smartphone and chased after him. She pushed through the revolving door with her shoulder while she set her phone to begin recording video footage. She spoke into her phone once the red light appeared.

“This is Alexis Kearns, a reporter for the Seattle Chronicle and I’m at the intersection of Fifth and Cherry where a man has fallen from the city hall building across from the downtown Seattle police department.” She bolted from the door and onto the street where a crowd of shocked and horrified civilians began swarming around the body.

“Everybody, back up!” Forester yelled. He withdrew his badge. The emblem worked like a cross to vampires as onlookers got out of his way.

Alexis rushed toward the front of the herd and turned her phone to get a shot of the man. His limbs contorted unnaturally. His right leg bent in the opposite direction, and it looked as if he had landed on his face and his left arm at the same time. His elbow was fractured. If it weren’t for his jacket, she probably would have seen a bone popping out of his skin.

Forester placed two fingers close to the man’s jugular to get a pulse. His frown indicated what she already knew.

Alexis turned to the woman in a pantsuit carrying a to-go box and spoke with the camera focused on her. “Miss, can you please describe what’s just happened here?”

The woman opened her mouth but couldn’t put two words together. She looked as if she could see the spirit of the man rising from his body and flying toward the heavens.

“Did you see him fall from the building?”

A youthful voice concealed behind her spoke. “He didn’t fall. He jumped.”

Several people muttered indistinctly at the announcement while Alexis maneuvered her way around the businesswoman to get a clear shot of the boy who made the claim. He was a black-haired teenager dressed in dark colors. He stood next to a girl who could have come straight from an American Eagle catalog. The girl hid from the camera, but the boy gave Alexis his full attention.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Forester get on his cell phone. “I need a forensics team and crowd control out here right now. A man just fell from the city hall!”

Alexis waited for Forester to stop speaking to ensure that she picked up his quote loud and clear. After, she talked to the boy. “Kid—sir, what is your name?”

The boy’s eyes swept from left to right before he spoke. “Tim.”

“Tim what?”

“Tim Ashbury,” his voice trembled as he spoke.

“Tim Ashbury, tell me, what did you witness?”

Tim shrugged, keeping one eye on the fallen corpse a few feet away. “My girlfriend and I are on our way to Westlake Center, and I looked up and saw a man on the ledge of that building right there,” he pointed to the city hall. Alexis panned quickly to reveal the ‘City Hall’ sign before returning to Tim for a mug shot. “I… I didn’t realize that it was a man at first. I thought it was a large bird or something. I went to point him out to Stephanie, and then he jumped.”

An army of police officers stormed the revolving doors of the station and flooded the street.

Forester spoke in the loudest voice he could muster. “Everyone, please take a few steps back and remain calm!”

The crowd of people moved out of the way for the officers to form a shield around the body.

Alexis lowered her camera as they passed and made extra sure she kept close to Tim and Stephanie. She pointed the camera at the girl but, unlike Tim, Stephanie did not want to be filmed. Instead, she captured candid shots of the shocked and devastated faces of the civilians that found themselves unable to turn away from the gruesome sight. Even with the police forming a barricade of blue between the people and the body, Alexis could still make out the brown coat in the scarlet pond.

“This… this is horrible!” a woman in her forties exclaimed.

A couple of men in lab coats forced their way through the crowd with forensics kits in hand. The barricade granted them access to the body. As they began to examine the deceased, Alexis kept the focus on them and spoke just loud enough for the recorder to pick up her voice. “Now we have a forensics team investigating the body. The crowd watches in an uncomfortable silence. Detective Joseph Forester was the first on the scene.”

Two sets of eyes from the row in front of her turned after her narration, but she shrugged them off and zoomed in on the scene.

“Carver, come with me to the roof.” Forester said. A shorter, stouter officer followed Forester as he rushed through the city hall entrance, disappearing from view.

Alexis ignored Forester’s movements. She couldn’t step beyond the police barricade to chase after him. Besides, there was plenty to do while still on the street. She zoomed in as one of the investigators put on a pair of gloves and started to rummage through the corpse’s coat pockets. She stepped forward to get a little ahead of the crowd, her camera directly in front of her. A couple of officers shot her dirty looks but didn’t protest. They most likely knew who she was and that it was already too late to avoid publicity. In the distance, the siren of an ambulance was growing louder.

A man from the forensics team pulled a wallet out of the brown coat. She zoomed in closer. It was going to be impossible for her to hear what the man was telling his partner over the sounds of the sirens. Luckily, her roommate during her freshman year of college had been deaf and taught Alexis to read lips.

She repeated into the camera what the forensics analyst was saying. “The man’s name is James Hawthorne, age thirty-two, lives at forty-three twenty-six Canterbury Road, Seattle, Washington, nine-eight-one-oh-nine.”

“How did you do that?” a man behind her in a tracksuit asked.

“Sh!” Her pink bracelets rattled on her right hand as she raised her pointer finger to her lips. The bracelets slid down her forearm, revealing a tiny kanji tattoo on her wrist that read “never forget.” She had told her parents it meant “family.”

The analyst sifted through the cards in James’ wallet.

She read his lips aloud again, “He’s a real estate agent.” Alexis turned the camera on herself. “I’m going to have to verify that a James Hawthorne lived at that address of course, but first…” She panned her camera to allow the man in the tracksuit behind her to be in the shot. “Sir, might I have your name?”

He shot her a questioning look, but then faced the camera and obliged. “My name is Ted Covington.”

“Mr. Covington, can you describe the scene here right now?” Alexis double-checked her phone to ensure that they were both in the shot. In the distance, the ambulance grew louder. The blaring sirens caused several people in the background to wince and cover their ears.

“I,” he hesitated. “Miss, what are you doing? This isn’t for some sick blog or something is it?”

She scoffed. “I’ve been writing for the Seattle Chronicle for three years. I’m a reporter.”

Wrinkles of confusion appeared on his forehead like a mountain range above his eyebrows. “Three years? How old are you?”

“I started as a guest reporter my junior year of high school. Please describe the scene here before these sirens drown you out.”

“All right. Um, it’s—it’s a little frightening. I mean I’ve never seen anything like it. All these people were just going about their day—I was just jogging myself, and then this man he just… just jumped off a building and took his own life.”

“Did you actually see this man jump?”

Ted hesitated. “N… No.”

“Well then you can’t make that assumption,” she snapped. “I’m sorry. Go ahead.”

He complied. “I was just jogging, and then I saw someone falling from that building over there. I nearly stopped in the middle of the street because I was in such shock. Everything is just—I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The last of Ted’s words were going to be impossible to hear with the ambulance pulling up to the scene. The screaming of the alarm silenced as the ambulance came to a stop, but the rotating bright lights were blinding the crowd as a team of paramedics rushed to the body like the offensive line taking their positions on a football field. Behind them, Alexis was able to make out the first of what would be a series of news vans on their way to the scene. She didn’t have much time.

“Paramedics have made it onto the scene, and soon Fifth and Cherry will surely be flooded with dozens of reporters asking many of these people questions about the truly tragic event that has happened today, but you’ve heard it first here from Alexis Kearns of the Seattle Chronicle.” She stopped recording herself and logged in to her e-mail account. She typed in the e-mail address of Hugh Bauer, the Editor-in-Chief of the Seattle Chronicle. She typed ‘URGENT’ into the subject line and then left him a short message: ‘more to come.’ She added the video as an attachment and sent it.

A series of overly-polished men and women in two-piece suits emerged from their news vans with camera operators of all shapes and sizes. They began to flood the streets where they fought over the best lighting, camera angles, and people that they deemed “TV-worthy.”

Alexis didn’t have time to wait for Hugh to check his e-mail. She pressed ‘2’ on her speed dial, which went straight to Hugh’s office (‘1’ was for her voice mail, and ‘3’ was still Forester). While it rang, she put it on speaker and started to Google James Hawthorne’s information to ensure that she read the forensics analyst’s lips accurately. Hugh answered as she finished typing “James Hawthorne Real Estate” into the search bar.

“Hello?”

“Hugh, this is Alexis. I just sent you an urgent e-mail. Get it onto the web right away.”

“Hold on, let me log on.”

“James Hawthorne Real Estate” got several hits. “Yes!” she muttered to herself. She could do more research in a couple of minutes, but for the moment it was crucial that the full story made it onto the web before anyone else broke it.

She was able to make out her voice on Hugh’s computer. “This is Alexis Kearns, a reporter from the Seattle Chronicle, and I’m on the cross streets of Fifth and Cherry where a man has fallen from the city hall building across from the downtown Seattle police department…”

Hugh paused the video. “Is this for real?”

“You’re damn right it is! I’m at the scene. Other reporters are setting up to go live. Run the story—now!”

“Are you still there?”

“Yes,” Alexis said. “I’m going to continue shooting and interviewing on my phone here. If any of our photographers are available, get them down here! In the meantime, I’ll keep e-mailing you video clips as I complete them.”

“Excellent work!”

“I need someone there to do some background research on James Hawthorne. He’s a real estate agent and the man who died here. The faster you or someone else can get some information about him the bigger start we’ll have on this.”

“The police have leaked his name?”

“No, I did. Now get going! I’ve got a ton more to do down here.” She hung up on him and went back to setting up her camera to record video. She glanced up at the rooftop of the city hall building where a figure that must have been Forester was staring down at the crowd. She could feel him scowling at her from nearly a hundred feet above her.

Alexis sighed and sneered in response, but she knew that if she hesitated any further the other reporters would begin to catch up to her. She turned the camera on herself again and hit record. “This is Alexis Kearns, a reporter for the Seattle Chronicle…”

Messengers: Chapter 3

Posted: February 13, 2018 by: AG_Creative86

3.      Robert

 

 

Jamie Miller was absent from English class that day. The teenage girl was in her stead and sat in on the classes as a reminder that while he was learning, someone was dying.

In calculus she sat directly in front of him, so he had to peer through her to see the overhead projector. Looking through a ghost was kind of like peering into a body of water after skipping a rock across it. The asymptotes were rippling on the projection screen—as if they weren’t complicated enough to figure out already.

In his comparative literature class, he sat in the back row with the teenage girl right beside him. His eyes were relieved to not have to look through her for fifty minutes. Instead of paying attention to the lesson, she spent the whole period facing his direction, ogling him with her large batty eyes emphasized with black mascara. When Mr. Howard called on him to read the next section of act four of Oedipus Rex, he had to find the page again and blushed with embarrassment.

“I know it’s no Game of Thrones, but—” Mr. Howard stopped himself mid-comment. “Actually, there’s tons of gore, incest, and a bunch of people die. This is exactly like Game of Thrones.”

Several students in the front row giggled, and Robert was grateful that he avoided scrutiny. He found his place and started to read. The other students leaned in to listen to the boy who barely spoke to anyone as he read the chorus’ next lines.

He later walked the halls with the spirits of the girl and the old woman on either side of him. When Ted Riley ran through the old woman, she shimmered a bit, like a stepped-in puddle. The girl was more apt to move around people as if she were still alive. An all-too-giddy freshman bolted down the hall with four textbooks in hand. Robert had to sway one way while the girl jumped the other, both briefly worried that the freshman would knock them to the ground if they had not moved. The old woman raised her eyebrows from behind her pink shawl but said nothing. As usual, neither of them said anything.

But it wasn’t just the dead that didn’t speak to him that day. Aside from being called upon in class, no one living bothered to acknowledge him. Nobody addressed him in the halls or sent him texts in class. When Charlie Whitmeyer waved in his direction on the courtyard, he was actually waving to Kyler Reed behind him. Sophie Tumbolt said “excuse me,” but only because she was actively squeezing herself between him and a senior cheerleader in uniform so that she could get past. Allie Jones turned around in history to ask him a question, but then she thought better of it and wrote something in her notebook instead. During lunchtime, he wasn’t that awkward kid who stood with a blue tray full of food in the cafeteria, looking for a group to sit with. He was the kid that didn’t go to the cafeteria at all.

During the period he served as a TA in Mr. Gould’s biology class, that had a substitute, he went to the library and sat at the back table. Usually, Robert would be needed in the absence of the actual teacher, but the class was watching the second half of a Discovery Channel documentary that day. He had no desire to sit there are watch it with them.

He nibbled on his ham sandwich while he surfed the web on his laptop, thinking about better times. Mrs. Ellis, the librarian, would have said something about him being there if he had not caught her watching her soaps on the TV designated for PBS specials and the news. Even when she got up to get back to work, she continued to leave him in peace.

He scrolled through a file of photos that had been taken during the middle school year and the beginning of freshman year, before the accident. A slight smile spread across his face.

Most of the photos were of him and his buddies Matt and Brad playing soccer, or of him and his then-girlfriend Jeanine. He told Julia that he had deleted the pictures of her after she confessed how insecure Jeanine made her feel. Jeanine and her family came to the States from London. Often when she’d ramble on about the differences between England and the US, he would drown in her cute accent. There was hardly a day after school when they didn’t hang out at the park or at one another’s house. They went on camping trips together with his family and explored pieces of the city with hers. They hiked Mount Rainier together; they did the underground tour of Old Seattle and the ghost tour in the Paramount Theater (back before Robert started getting visitors). He saw more of his home with her in the months they spent together than he had seen in his whole lifetime, but then her father’s old company offered him a position he couldn’t refuse back in London. It broke his heart when she left, and after his dad died, it broke his heart even further because he had to end the friendships he had struggled so hard to build. He could still feel that coziness that the memories of the past gave him, back before real life happened.

He closed the folder and maneuvered himself so that if the librarian or any other students came by, they couldn’t see what he was doing. He continued surfing the net, reading a series of articles and documents about recent murders in the Seattle area. He’d been doing research ever since he connected the Messenger’s “murder” to the appearance of the teenage girl. He suspected that she was a year or two younger than he was, which should have narrowed down the search, but after three weeks he had found no victims of murder in the Seattle area that matched either the silent girl or the old woman.

The two peered over his shoulder while he did the research, but he paid them no attention. If they weren’t going to help him, he had no desire to interact with them.

The research felt like a waste of time. The Messenger was his only vocal lead, and all it ever muttered was “murder.”  How was he supposed to find out to whom it was referring before they died?

Julia entered the library and approached the main desk. She was stunning today, in her white V-neck and a blue miniskirt. When she noticed him, she broke into a smile and waved. He’d forgotten that she worked in the library during fourth period this semester. He should’ve found somewhere else to sneak away.

He closed the tabs on his laptop as she walked up and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I didn’t know you’d be in here. What a sweet surprise!”

He smiled back as she wrapped her arms around his side. Robert couldn’t remember when they started dating or even how it happened, but Julia seemed to enjoy his company. Even her friends didn’t understand why, but that didn’t seem to bother her.

“How’s your day so far? I missed you at lunch.” She noticed the crumbs atop the crumpled up sandwich bag before he could slyly conceal it.

As Robert opened his mouth to rebuttal, the vibrations of Julia’s phone cut him off. She withdrew her cell phone and cocked her head. Whoever was calling her must not have done it frequently. She stood up and said, “Hello?” while taking a few steps back.

He got a chill. It was very similar to the sensation that the Messenger had given him when its distorted skull grazed the edge of his shoulder blade and breathed on him with its wet, mossy breath.

“Oh, hey, Alexis,” Julia said, disappearing behind a row of biographies.

Robert turned and found the cracked lips of the old woman within an inch of his ear. Non-corporeal fibers from the pink cashmere shawl tickled his neck.

“Channel seven,” muttered a cold, raspy voice.

Robert spun around so quickly that he nearly knocked his laptop to the floor. “You speak!” He kept his voice to a whisper. He didn’t want Julia to think that he was talking to himself. The television and couch in front of it were both vacant, so he closed his laptop and carried it with him over to the lounge area.

“What? Oh my God!” Julia exclaimed, ogling Robert’s movements as she reemerged from between the bookshelves.

He heard her coming up behind him as he reached for the remote and turned on the television. “Babe, turn on channel—” he switched to seven before she finished speaking. Robert saw Julia blink with surprise, but chose to ignore it. A blonde news anchor appeared on the screen next to a man with perfect teeth and salt-and-pepper hair. The blonde began to read a report from the teleprompter.

“In other news today, dozens of Seattleites were given quite a shock when James Hawthorne, a real estate mogul, died after falling from the roof of the seven-story-tall city hall building this afternoon. Currently, there’s no evidence pointing to whether this was death by suicide or if foul play was involved. The city hall is located directly across from the downtown Seattle Police Department. Though police and medics were able to reach the scene quickly, they were unable to revive Hawthorne. Detective Joseph Forester of the Seattle PD was the first on the scene.”

The television cut to an interview with Detective Forester directly in front of the ‘City Hall’ sign.

“Oh my God, it’s Joseph!” Julia exclaimed.

“I was in the lobby of the department at the time when I saw Mr. Hawthorne fall.” A stoic looking Forester said into a microphone held to his mouth by an unidentified hand. “I couldn’t believe it at first. You never expect to see someone die right before your eyes—and in such a way! My condolences go out to Mr. Hawthorne’s friends, family, and other loved ones and I urge the Seattle community to show them support. Mr. Hawthorne’s death is truly a tragedy for everyone in this community.”

The news crew reverted back to the anchor desk where the blonde continued her report. “While Hawthorne’s death was a shock and horrified all those who witnessed it, twenty-year-old news reporter Alexis Kearns of the Seattle Chronicle was not only one of the onlookers, but also captured some amazing footage, and interviews on her camera phone before any other news crew arrived at the scene.”

Julia shrieked with glee.

The next image was from Alexis’ phone pointing at a teenager who resembled one of the emo students in his third-period class. The words “Tim Ashbury – Witness” appeared at the bottom of the screen.

“My girlfriend and I are on our way to Westlake Center when I looked up and saw a man on the ledge of that building right here.” He pointed to the city hall, which Alexis panned to with her phone and then returned to his face before he continued. “I… I didn’t realize that it was a man at first. I thought it was a large bird or something.”

The screen cut to another man with the byline “Ted Covington – witness.”

“I was just jogging, and then I saw someone falling from that building over there. I nearly stopped in the middle of the street because I was in such shock.”

“Alexis, that… This is insane! You were seriously there? You got all of this on film—and they aired it?”

Robert half expected a librarian to shush her, but they must have been out of earshot.

The camera cut back to the anchor desk where the blonde spoke again. “Again, authorities are still trying to figure out whether Hawthorne’s death was a suicide or a possible homicide. If anyone has any information regarding James Hawthorne’s death, please contact the Seattle Police Department.”

The camera returned to an establishing shot of both news anchors. Julia removed herself from the lounge area to continue her conversation with Alexis.

The male reporter with salt-and-pepper hair turned to his co-anchor. “It’s not every day that we air footage that is taken from a reporter who’s not affiliated with our station, but I must say that that is truly an act of courage and great journalism on Alexis Kearns’ part.”

The blonde nodded. “Indeed! I’m sure Seattle will see a lot more from her in the future.”

Robert would most likely be seeing her at the Kearns’ family dinner that weekend.

“Up next, Congressman Waverly’s scandal takes yet another interesting turn. Stay tuned.”

He turned the television off. That segment was all he cared to see. “Was that what you wanted to show me?” He leaned back to look at the spirit of the old woman, but neither she nor the girl were still present. They must have disappeared sometime during the report.

He grimaced. It had taken him weeks to finally get a word out of one of them, and now they had vanished yet again. What was significant about a news story that his girlfriend’s older sister and her ex-boyfriend happened to be a part of? Could it have involved James Hawthorne and his mysterious death? Was he the murder victim that the Messenger was referring to last night?

He sat on the floral couch in front of the TV and reopened his laptop, but shut it abruptly when Julia returned to the lounge area.

“Isn’t that crazy? That was Alexis’ footage! She did that!”

“Yeah, I saw.” He feigned enthusiasm. She didn’t need to see that his mind was riddled with questions, and it was no secret that he and Alexis weren’t exactly close. Gun-lovers and tree-huggers were likely to have more in common.

“That’s just… It’s out of this world. She’s not even that kind of reporter! She’s a print journalist, not a broadcaster.”

“Well, obviously she’s talented enough.”

She shrugged and smiled. “I just think that it’s cool, that’s all.”

He nodded and allowed for a silence reminiscent of last night’s dinner to overcome them. Finally, a rosy color appeared on Julia’s cheeks, and she told him that she had to check in with the library staff to see what they needed her to do.

He went back to his laptop when she left. James Hawthorne had to have been the newest victim. Why else would the old woman have finally spoken to him? Jumping from a building was hardly murder though unless someone else had been on the roof with him and managed to get off before anyone realized they were there.

A gentle breeze caressed the top of his head, knocking a few strands of product-free hair out of place. He spun around in search of an open window, but there were none to be seen. The girl and the old woman were absent as well, and if the Messenger were coming to visit, he would have sensed its presence by now.

He strained his ears to focus on the near silence that claimed the room, with nothing but the distant murmurings of Julia and a school librarian in the background. Things were too quiet, resembling the two or three seconds of stillness in a movie right before an atomic bomb goes off and desecrates half of a city. There was a soft, yet prevalent grumble similar to the second half of a snore. It was coming from an entity that didn’t belong there. It didn’t feel like the girl or the old woman, but it wasn’t the Messenger either. No, this was something different.

A man materialized in front of him a blink later.

“Huh?” Robert blurted out.

The man’s transparent body sat on the arm of the chartreuse and yellow floral couch, staring into Robert’s eyes with a combination of anger and confusion. The longer he stared, the softer his brows became, and the ridges on his forehead began to recede.

The news report didn’t display an image of the deceased, but it wasn’t hard for Robert to figure out who it was in front of him. “James…”

James Hawthorne didn’t respond.

Robert wasn’t surprised. He was still reeling from the old woman’s contact. He couldn’t think of what to say. Ten or twenty seconds must have gone by before he thought of something, even if it lacked all relevance. “I’m sorry.”

James clasped his hands in his lap and continued to stare Robert down. There was frustration in his otherwise soft eyes—not anger or disdain, just frustration. James’ face was free of stress wrinkles or frown lines, and his mouth too small to have been used for much yelling. It was doubtful that his fuse was ignited very often, but Robert still didn’t want to risk it. He’d never angered a spirit before, and he didn’t wish to start now.

“I…” He sighed, “I wanted to help you. I wanted to help them too, but none of you are giving me anything to go on.” He lifted his laptop. “I’ve been trying for weeks to figure it out, and it seems like none of you have even been murdered. Am I getting the wrong message?”

The old woman and the girl reappeared at James’ sides as his expression receded to an empty stare. The women echoed his facial cues as if they weren’t looking at Robert but rather the white walls behind him.

“Okay… Well, I know now that your name is James Hawthorne. Will the two of you at least tell me your names?”

The teenage girl faced the floor and started to sob again. It was all she ever seemed to do, so Robert kept most of his attention on James and the old woman. “Is there a connection between the three of you?”

The old woman took a deep breath (which he found ironic since she no longer required air). Her lips parted, but only slightly. She wanted to say something, but no words issued from her mouth.

“There is a connection, isn’t there.”

The girl vanished. He was surprised that it had taken her that long. She was always the timid one.

Robert put the laptop aside and rose from his seat. He approached the old woman, who had to look up at him to still see his face. Her back was hunched over, and her gray eyes were watering the valley of wrinkles that covered her face. What he saw in them was something he was surprised that he hadn’t noticed before. It could have explained why they never spoke to him.

“Are you afraid?” Robert asked. She had vanished before he even finished asking the question.

James was a little taller than he was and didn’t seem to be as afraid as the old woman had been, but he wasn’t speaking either.

“I just got more answers in the last five minutes than I have in the last three weeks,” Robert said. “Are you starting to understand why I’ve had so much trouble helping you?”

James was motionless.

“Wh—what are they afraid of?”

Still motionless. Robert took a second to let this new information sink in. What was it that the dead had to fear? Were they still reeling from the causes of their deaths, or was there more to it than that? And if they were afraid, should he be worried also?

“What are you afraid of?”

James’ bottom lip trembled. He seemed to be braver than either of the women, but not immune to the fear that plagued them. He slowly began to fade away, but not before Robert heard his quiet, desperate plea.

“Help us.”

The Selene Experiment

Posted: March 4, 2016 by: AG_Creative86

If you are looking for some indie author gems, this is a good one. Here’s my review of it:

“Books like The Selene Experiment and authors like Wendy will eventually take phrases like “stories with a strong female lead” and absorb them into more deserving the phrases like “stories with a strong main character.” Giffen paints a beautiful picture with her words and tells an intriguing and unique story. It’s different from anything I’ve ever read or heard of before, and it’s difficult to predict what will happen next–and I was wrong on multiple occasions! I’m very excited to see what Wendy Giffen has in store for us next. This was a real treat to read.”
http://www.amazon.com/Experiment-Adventure-Pa…/…/ref=sr_1_1…

Enemies, Fate or Survival – One Woman holds the KeyThe new Science Fiction Adventure Romance series by Wendy C Giffen reveals a genetic link with…
AMAZON.COM

Season 6 is coming…

Posted: March 3, 2016 by: AG_Creative86

The show’s creators tell Jim Windolf about the series’s rocky start and the worrisome problem on the horizon.
VANITYFAIR.COM|BY JIM WINDOLF

The Night Circus

Posted: March 2, 2016 by: AG_Creative86

Just read this and loved it! If you’re looking for beautiful prose and a world you could get lost in and never want to come out of, this is the book for you!

Slight spoiler:

My one and only criticism is that the reason for why this whole world was created in the first place lacked a purpose. The story itself is incredibly romantic (setting, dream-like imagery, the characters and their ideologies), but in function there were some basic flaws in the “whys” of the matter. However, I read the last 300 pages from 11pm-4am the other night so obviously it wasn’t a deterrent for me!

http://www.amazon.com/…/…/B004J4WKTW/ref=dp-kindle-redirect…

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le…
AMAZON.COM

Sansa nearly spills the beans

Posted: March 1, 2016 by: AG_Creative86

Not really much of a spoiler… though the Lady Stoneheart joke had me for a second!

http://www.ew.com/…/02/28/sophie-turner-game-thrones-spoiler

Sophie Turner just accidentally dropped a big Game of Thrones spoiler on the Oscars red carpet. While being interviewed on the E! News preshow…
EW.COM

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