For Fire

Fire is life. Without it, we are nothing. We need the fire in our lives.

It gives us warmth during the night and shelters us to welcome the great fire in the sky. It provides light so that we may see what waits for us in the dark and aids in completing our tasks regardless of the hour.

Fire also harms and kills and burns. It destroys what it comes in contact with, so that it may grow stronger and continue on. It is the nature of fire. To consume.

There are those who fire has chosen. Those few who have a raging inferno within their souls. They burn from deep inside. It is a sight to behold. To see what these Children of the Flame can do. Some dance. Some paint. Some fight. Others kill and harm. But they are never boring.

She, of the fire kissed hair, has a blaze inside of her. You see it in her eyes and her smile. You hear it in her laugh. You feel it emanating from her; the warmth, the heat, the fire.

I feel her flame when she lies next to me as she slumbers. I feel her heat when I taste her lips. I see her spark as she dances and moves. She is constantly in motion. Even when she sleeps, her body wants to continue to move, to live.

I know that her flame feeds off of me. I sense myself diminishing in her presence. I yearn for her touch when she is not around more and more with each passing day.

Soon will come the time when I am but a shell of my old self. Her flame will have engulfed me, destroyed me, and leave nothing but ash and dust.

And I will happily walk into her fire to be consumed for the last sensation of being with her.

El Ojo (The Eye)

I meant to publish this on Friday the 13th but for some reason posted a more romantic short story instead. Let’s just pretend I somehow magically swapped these two, okay?

Superstition was for the weak minded and gullible. I had always believed that. Belief in anything without the vaguest hint of testable proof was insulting. How could anyone consider faith without evidence? The very notion baffled me. It probably didn’t help that my own family fell heavily under that category.

My father was a deacon at his church. My mother could be found helping out along with him or alone five afternoons a week if not more. My sister was not as intense as them, but she was easily on her way to approaching their level of commitment to the invisible man in the sky. My abuelita is the oddest. She combines her zealous adherence to Christian faith with an unencumbered belief in practices and ideologies of her past. You would think any reasonable person would find a discord with this, but my grandmother would not be swayed.

She would still have a red string ready at any birth announcement she happened to hear. There was an egg in her hand within seconds to repel any evil that had come upon you. Her purse was filled with just the right item to aid in the prevention of harm after a prayer had been said over someone. My abuelita was nothing if not consistent in her inconsistency.

I disagreed with my family’s beliefs but never absconded them for having faith. I was just not the same as them. The world had a system and structure that though majestic and wondrous was still ordered and understandable if one was willing to look and learn. The mysteries of the universe are simply unanswered questions that demand attention.

While most of my family would roll their eyes when such topics of conversation came up over a meal, my abuelita would instead stare at me with intense worry and concern. She truly believed that my dismissive attitude would result in some catastrophic event or supernatural force wrecking havoc on my life. I loved her too much to not listen to her even if I wasn’t really paying attention. I knew that her silly old wives tales were nothing more than imagination. Even so, there were a few times when her unwavering belief made me question my own perception, not enough to change but still enough.

It was after such a conversation over a family dinner when I went out for drinks with a few old college friends. It was a pretty uneventful night. Todd got a bit too drunk and had to be carried by Kim and myself. Jamal would stand by and laugh at Todd’s misfortune even though he was a lightweight himself. The night’s level of sobriety got progressively worse as the night continued on, but thankfully there were no major issues or problems. We carried on until Todd got to stupid drunk levels and started harassing people in the bar. Needless to say, we were all strongly encouraged to vacate the premises. Todd, of course, would not be deterred from his mission of being an ass. He just shifted his focus from bar patrons to the random homeless vagrants scattered on the streets and alleys. I didn’t want to have to fill out police reports or worry about frivolous lawsuits, plus who knew if any of the people Todd was talking to had a weapon, so I desperately tried to calm him down and move away from the cluster of tattered clothes and people. The smell was quite unpleasant as well.

I thought I had successfully removed Todd without incident. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky. One individual was not too pleased with Todd’s behavior and had just enough bravery to attempt a response.

“Que esta haciendo ese muchacho?” Great, of course she would speak Spanish. I would have to play the intermediary.

“Esta bien. No mas esta un poco borracho. No queremos ningun problema.” I smiled as a last attempt to appease the ratty woman. She looked me up and down and extended an open palm. I could not believe that this woman had the gall to ask for a handout after interrogating us. My response held back none of the annoyance I felt.

“Puta loca. ¿Piensas que te voy a dar dinero? No manches.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the woman before me. My friends responded in kind. The homeless woman did not. She merely stared at me almost like she was looking at something inside of me. She brought her index finger to her eye and then pointed it at me. Afterward, she kissed her thumb and signed the cross. I had no clue what she was attempting to do. We stared at her in confusion. Once she was finished with her random ritual, she turned around and walked away. No one moved for a minute or so. It was sort of like seeing a deer in nature. You kind of had to take a minute to recompose yourself. Thankfully, Todd started laughing at the ridiculousness of our situation, and we all soon joined in.

It was mean, perhaps, but ultimately a harmless event. We forgot about it the very next day as our attempts at relieving the detrimental effects of our hangovers were unsuccessful. I parted ways with my drunken friends after filling our stomachs with a stream of biscuits, eggs, meats, and gravy. I could not have known that that would be the last time we would all be together.

***

As per usual on the weekend, I ended up visiting my abuelita on Sunday. I would no longer step into a church with my family, but post service meals were never going to be missed. My father and uncles argued over which country had the superior style of futbol. The Brazilian World Cup team of the 1990’s had the most votes though a few outliers held fast that Argentina was more deserving of the title. No one at the table over the age of 30 would ever argue for a European country.

The afternoon seemed to be going smoothly. Everyone was eating heartily and laughing and avoiding any controversial topics of discussion. The only odd thing was that my grandmother kept staring at me, intently. It was unnerving to say the least. She never dropped her gaze from me countenance. At times, I felt like I should just leave without a word, but I couldn’t bring myself to move. Finally, sensing my desperation, she came to speak to me.

“Mijo, se que no me crees ni me entiendes, pero alguien te puso el ojo. Es muy fuerte y no creo que vas a poder escapar. Te amo y voy a orar por ti para que estes bien cuando pases.” She clasped my hand tightly as she spoke. Tears were welling up in the corner of her eyes. I understood about every other word she said, but instantly recognized it as more superstitious nonsense. Still, we were having a nice moment, so I just smiled, patted her shoulder, and responded, “Si, abuelita. Gracias y te quiero mucho.” Her stern expression barely lifted but she seemed resolved to what I had said.

The next day is when I heard about Todd’s accident. His girlfriend, or at least the girl he was with, spread the news like wildfire through Facebook and Twitter. She swore her first account testimony was completely true if not a little weird. He had drowned in his bath tub. Todd had never been suicidal and had big plans for his future at his uncle’s law firm. Hell, he had even bought tickets for a trip in Belize to celebrate his upcoming job. Yet, I was seeing pictures and reports across my screens of his apparent suicide. Though, according to the police Todd’s death was odd since there did not seem to be any drugs in his system to render him unconscious and there appeared to be small hand impressions on his chest as though someone was keeping him underwater. Of course, there was no other evidence of foul play to be found.

I could not wrap my head around the loss of a friend. I tried to go about my day with some sense of normalcy, but that was soon upended when I received a phone call from Kim about Jamal. Jamal had gone missing since our hangout last week, and Kim was starting to get nervous. He wouldn’t respond to any phone calls, texts, emails, or tweets. Phone calls and texts were one thing, but Jamal lived for the validation of social media attention. Kim was right to be anxious as I would later come to learn that Jamal in a supposed drug induced state of hysteria had gone into the woods and succumbed to the ravages of nature. His death would be reported as the result of dehydration, hunger, and a vicious animal attack all within the span of 48 hours disregarding that there are no vicious or large animals in the area.

I began to freak out. Every rational bone in my body was telling me that these were all unfortunate, freak occurrences and not the work of non-existent supernatural forces. I knew this to be true, but it did not stop me from driving straight home, opening the dusty bible I kept on my bookshelf for appearances, and grasping at the prayer beads my grandmother had given me in one of her desperate attempts to save my soul. I sat down on the floor in the middle of my apartment, lit a few of the “holy” candles my extended family had gotten in the habit of gifting me, and began to silently pray to whoever would listen.

***

I have been in my apartment for the last 3 days. I have not heard from Kim since yesterday as he shouted into my phone that he thought someone was following me before cutting off. My family has not bothered to try to reach me for some reason and none of them are answering my calls or text. Not even my abuelita.

I am writing all this down so that someone can know that if I die it was not by my hand. I don’t know what’s going on or why this is happening, but I know something is coming for my death.

There is a strange smell in the air. Slightly putrid and overbearing.

I am trying to come up with any possible solutions to save myself, but it is getting harder and harder to breathe and think. It is like my brain is slowly suffocating in this small apartment. The lights no longer work properly. I need more light.

Maybe staring into the flame of a candle will help me focus. Kills two birds with one stone. Wonder what that smell is though…

The Bus Ride

I love riding the bus. I prefer the control and freedom of my own car, but there is some mystical quality to being solely a passenger bound to other’s choices.

My bus is special. I have been on other buses, but they do no compare to mine. My bus is quiet. Not eerie, dead silence. Instead, it is the right decibel of chatter between patrons within the umbrella of calm for other things to occur.

There are the standard cast of characters on my bus. In the morning are the students with earplugs pushed deep into their heads trying their damnedest to cram the lessons they should have reviewed last night on the half hour commute. With them come the conscientious and frugal businessmen using the clout of environmental concern to avoid moving their vehicles and having to fill the ever emptying tanks with new blood.

Midday brings about the rush of famished individuals from all walks of life hoping that this time around the bus will be on time to all stops so they can actually enjoy their meal without being rushed. They rarely get their wish. Afternoon, is not too different from midday. The students and businessmen return to their homes to rejuvenate for the same journey the next day.

Night is when things become more interesting. The eclectics and night-owls, and vampires come out during the night ride. People with the offbeat professions and passions going all over the city, sometimes with no clear plans. I have seen passengers leave wearing colorful feathers and boas and horns and return with simple garments of shirts and pants and dresses during the night ride. I have no idea what they did or where they went. They seemed happy enough.

I love the bus and all its mysteries. Mostly though I love sitting across from her, the freckled girl with a new book every week, sometimes every day. You hardly notice the world around you. In fact, the only time I ever saw you lift your gaze from the pages of your book was when that man dressed as a ballerina and a crown sang an aria in the middle of the bus. People were about to complain until they heard his voice. Then they just clapped. You smiled.

We have yet to speak. I don’t know your name or if you have ever even noticed me. Oddly enough, you have inadvertently given me some great book recommendations. You have great tastes. So many times I have wanted to try to talk to you. To ask you about your book or just strike up a conversation. But I don’t. And I probably never will.

Would it be sort of creepy to do so? Most likely, but that is not what stops me. You, stranger reading a book, are an idea right now. The moment I speak to you, you become a person. You could be an incredible person. An astounding individual with so much to offer. You could even be my person. However, I have to admit that I need the idea more than the person. I am not ready for a person because I am still working on being one myself and moving past an idea.

For now, freckled girl reading a book, I will have to be satisfied with the idea and hope of one day being able and ready to meet the person. Until then, you are the reason why I love the bus ride.

Betrayal

I stood by your side amid

The blood and horror of battle.

We marched into unknown hells

Celebrated unbelievable victories and

Mourned great losses.

You were as a brother and

Became the only family I had

I held nothing back  and

Gave all I could to your efforts

I took up blade once more

When your call to arms was

Spread

All I sacrificed was for you

I even stayed silent when the

Woman I loved walked down the

Aisle toward you

I held no regrets in

Any of this. Yet

You could not spare

Me one bit of happiness

One thing to call my own

You left me behind

In the ash of your

Mistakes

Yet you foolishly left

Me alive to seek

Justice

To seek

Revenge

Know that your end

Was of your making

By my hand

For them

For

Her

A Simple Trade

I don’t know if this will become a series or random interconnected stories, but this character was interesting enough for me to write him at least one more tale. The first one can be read here though it is not necessary to appreciate this one. 

* * *

I have never taken music lessons in my life. Hell, I had never even touched a piano before tonight. Yet, my fingers felt fused to the ivories of that exquisite instrument. Every note sung out into the audience and reached into their souls. I am not speaking from pride or ego. I saw the emotion dripping from their faces. No one who was within earshot could resist the lure of my music. Ink had worked his magic once more. The pianist’s skill would forever be mine to wield.

I ended my song to applause from the lounge and bar. I sincerely doubt most of the patrons would normally welcome any disturbance to their constant search for inebriation. Such was the power of a well played tune by the hands of a master.

My client would not be ready for a few hours still, so I felt a celebratory drink after my debut performance was in order. Whiskey neat, heavy glass, perfect pour; all that was missing was a rare piece of meat or a good looking woman seated next to me. I should have known trouble was coming when she sat came, especially since there were several empty seats along the bar.

“Is this seat taken?” she asked. I was on the job. Distractions are deadly in my line of work, but it is damn difficult to say no to a fine woman in a little black dress.

“I believe it was actually waiting for you to show up,” I said.

She smiled at my poor attempt at flirting. Her crimson lips parted slightly when she did. The rose hue on her cheeks complimented her lips and alabaster skin. This woman was dangerous. I liked it.

“Does that line ever work?” she asked as she sat down.

I took a sip of my whiskey before responding. “Got you to take a seat, darling.”

“Oh, I was always going to sit next to you this night, Shadow.”

Yup, she was trouble. I slammed my glass hard on the bar. It got the bartender’s attention, yet didn’t faze my female companion at all.

I turned to face her, not bothering to hide the murder in my eyes. She did not retract or flinch from my gaze. “You are not a client, a contact, or a friend, so how the hell do you know my name?”

She picked up my glass and threw the last of its contents down her throat in one quick motion. Just a few seconds ago, I was curious what that neck would smell like as I put my lips on it. Now, I was imagining what it would taste like when I tear it to shreds.

“To be fair, that is not your actual name. It is your chosen title. Everyone among the Darkness has one. Hell, even those in the Light do not go by their true name.”

This dame had knowledge though she did not seem like one of my kind. She still smelled very human.

“Your name, however, is still an odd on. Most of your kind choose a moniker denoting their skill or some inflated sense of ego. Yours does neither. Why is that, Shadow?”

She knew more than she should. Someone had been telling tales out of class and that would not stand. My client would be here within the hour. Assuming I did not enjoy the moment, there was more than enough time to get some answers from her and dispose of the body and any evidence.

“I am not here to cause you trouble, Shadow. I am here to make an offer.”

She could offer me nothing of substance. But if she was willing to provide answers without force, I was not going to stop her.

“Alright, say your peace, woman,” I said.

She ordered another round of whiskey for the both of us. I was not going to risk anything by drinking her olive branch. The drinks arrived quickly and she took a drink of her own just as fast. Her leg was shaking slightly. No doubt the whiskey was a means to calm her nerves. This woman may know something of the Darkness, but she had never truly walked in its depths. I almost felt sorry for her. Almost.

“I know you are here on business.”

“I am here to see a client, yes.” I said.

It was her turn to look incredulous. She did not want to mince words or bullshit at the moment.

“No semantics. You are not here for a ‘client.’ You are here to kill a man on someone else’s dime.”

I was genuinely surprised. “How do you know…” I was silenced by a finger in my face. I really wanted to break that index finger.

“Doesn’t matter. The point is you cannot kill this man or the ones you will be hired to kill after his death.”

I had not been hired to kill anyone else. Granted, my benefactor had insinuated that more work might become available upon a successful and completed job. How did this girl know this? She was definitely human or had some shape shifters just gotten good enough to trick all of my senses and magics? No matter. This girl had to be put down.

“Look lady, I don’t know who this guy is to you, but someone paid for him to die and I have a reputation to uphold. So, I will be taking my leave now. Enjoy the drink and pray that we do not meet one another again.”

She stood up and blocked my path. This woman was becoming a persistent nuisance. She was not very tall. Some would even classify her as petite. She was pretty and, truth be told, she was making the dress work and not the other way around. It was a shame for the world to lose such a specimen, but work was work.

“You misunderstand me, Shadow. The man you are after will die tonight, but not by your hand.”

“Oh,” I asked partially intrigued. “Then by whose?”

“Mine,” she responded showing me the blade she had managed to conceal. I honestly could not find a single place where she could have hidden the knife on her person. I wanted to try to find it, but that seemed ill advised in the bar.

“I don’t care about credit or money. I just want to be the one to end the life of this man and the ones that will come after him. You get the names. You keep the rewards. I take them down.”

“Is this your offer, girl? I don’t know you or how you could possibly have any of the information you possess. Frankly, I am debating whether to kill you now or after my actual assignment is done. Why would I agree to your ridiculous proposal?” It took every ounce of self control to not raise my voice or cause a scene or slit her throat there and now.

“Because I’ll let you keep their blood and give you a vial of my own.” My ears perked up at her suggestion. She knew of my ability. Many would die for that. Some I even considered friends.

“That’s your thing, right? You collect blood as some sort of weird trophies?” So, she did not know the true reason for the blood or at least she was smart enough to pretend to not know. I was actually considering her offer at this point. I needed information and her being alive might be the only way to get it.

“I can acquire what you offer on my own without much difficulty. You give me nothing I desire.” I began to move pass her, but she grabbed my arm before I could move away.

“What about the blood of a changeling? Would that be enough of a prize for you to agree to my terms?”

Changelings, true Changelings, were a rare creature. Most believed they were extinct, but rumors persisted of a few survivors that had managed to avoid that sad fate. If I could get a sample of a living Changeling’s blood or skin or just anything, I would have an unimaginable advantage.

“If you can provide such a trophy, I will slice up anyone you name and present you their remains on a silver platter with a bow.”

“That won’t be necessary. Just agree to work with me and give what I have asked for.” She held out her hand. Bonds and oaths were terrible things in my world. For humans breaking them meant very little ultimately. For us, however, the costs of going back on our explicit word were not without substance. But this was too good an offer to pass.

I grasped her hand in agreement. “You have a deal. Shall we begin?”

She released her soft touch. “Yes, we should.”

We made our way through the lounge bar passing the addled occupants of the hotel lobby toward the elevators. I had the details of our target. She was the instrument of his demise. These terms were acceptable. I inserted the special key to access the upper penthouses and selected our victim’s last abode.

“Since we’ll be working together for the foreseeable future, I think I should have your name like you have mine,” I said over the droll sounds of annoying elevator music.

“Agreed. You can call me Nemesis,” she responded.

“Really? That is your actual name?”

She turned to meet my skeptical gaze. Her eyes were full of fire and rage, yet resolute in what was to come in her journey. “It is as much my name as Shadow is yours. It shall be what I am known as for this job.” She returned her sight to the elevator door grasping the blade in her hand. There was no more shaking, no more jitters, no more hesitation.

I don’t know who you are or what you are doing girlie, but I can tell this is going to be a fun ride. 

A Father’s Love

Not sure it competes with Bryan or Stru but a ‘horror’ story nonetheless, I think. Enjoy and leave some criticism!

I can perfectly recall my daughter’s beautiful, blue eyes staring up at me as I held her as a babe.

There has never been a more blissful moment in my entire life which is why I still felt so much love as she plunged the knife deep into my chest.

A Coin Flip

There’s an old decision making trick with a coin. The idea is pretty basic. When faced with indecision, you simply flip a coin. The theory goes that you really want one option over the other and thus will hope that either heads or tails lands up.

Of course, this only works under the assumption that there are only two options and that you actually want one over the other. The slip of metal twirling in the air did not hold any answers for me. I knew what I truly wanted and it was not going to be provided by either a head or an eagle. I could only pray for the best option.

An eternity passed before the disk landed. A quick examination by the announcer provided my answer. “Heads! No weapons! Just bodies!” His announcement yielded great excitement and resounding applause from the spectators.

I stared down my opponent across the ring. My fists were now my only chance of beating a man I knew nothing about for no other reason than to survive…at least until the next coin flip.