Writing Prompt ~~ Of Fire and Rage

The lake was still and shiny as glass, as if he could step on it and walk all the way across. It was one of those days when anything seems possible, and he stood there, breathing deep and imagining taking the first step. Then the cracking of the ice like a whip cutting the air. He shivered, the phantom sensations of frigid water washing over him, swallowing him down. Inhaling water. Sinking. Drowning.

It had been a day where anything seemed possible, just as every day with her had been, and just as quick as Hope had taken root in his soul, She’d ripped it to shreds.

Though the lake whispered sweet nothings to him like the lover he’d just lost, his feet remained firmly on the shore. The snow crunched beneath his black combat boots each time he shifted his weight, and the cold seeped into every last inch of him with icy, grasping fingers. He didn’t shiver. In fact, anyone looking on might believe he was at ease, admiring the lake. The only sign of tension was out of sight: his fists clenched in his jacket pockets.

That, and the blood.

It wasn’t the first time he’d been covered with it, though he wished such things had been left in his past where they belonged. But he’d let his guard down and this was the price. He sighed, and turned his face upward to lock onto to the Heavens above, containing thousands of stars, a full moon, and darkness between them all that didn’t hold a candle to the cold dark that consumed his soul. His crystalline blue eyes were flat and dull.

“For over a thousand years I have served you,” he said, the edge of his voice ragged. “Why?” he asked, the word ripped from the rawness of what remained of his soul.

No answer. There never was. He growled, and ran a hand over his blood-spattered, bone white hair.

“Forgive me,” she whispered. “I’d never want to add to your pain, but I wouldn’t trade this time for anything. I love you.” A weak smile lovingly graced her lips, and she brushed an errant lock of his hair from his forehead. Then her smile faltered, her usually warm, caramel eyes slid to a distant point over his left shoulder, and her arm fell to the floor of the cabin. She was gone.

He clutched her tighter to him, his face buried in her shoulder and hair. Even over the multitude of death scents hanging heavy on the air—blood, bowels, burned flesh, and more—he could still smell her. Vanilla, cinnamon, and apples. She’d joked that it probably had nothing to do with what she actually smelled like, and more his insatiable sweet tooth in regards to baked goods.

He’d run his hands through the thick, wavy, golden brown locks each chance he had, and this would be the last. He didn’t even care that said hair was covered in blood. The already drying, tacky fluid on the strands left trails of it on his face, as though someone had raked their claws across it.

He didn’t move for some time, and though his muscles screamed and cramped he refused to break the moment. To leave her. Eventually, though, he did. The only signs of his grief were the clear tracks of skin cutting through the red.

He hadn’t been able to leave her there, amidst the bodies and scattered bits of demon decorating what was left of the main room like gory confetti. But when he’d broken the shovel on his first thrust trying to penetrate the frozen ground, he fell back on the old ways.

Unlike creatures from other realms or dimensions, demons were bound to the earth and did not disappear on death. It was messy business, killing demons, even more so covering the evidence up. The human idea of what they thought their world was versus what is was, was tenuous and fragile. Humans tended to react rather violently at any disturbance in regards to their concept of their world. He could only be glad that his training in the early years happened when telling someone you were hunting demons got you praise, instead of a ‘go straight to the institution’ ticket.

The cottage burned brightly enough that someone might have wagered that white phosphorus had been thrown into the one-room structure, but that wasn’t the case. Lower-level and construct demons—demons created from the blood and/or flesh of more powerful demon—had highly flammable blood. It was not uncommon for larger demons to scoop up a handful, eviscerate them, set them on fire, and then lob them at opposing forces.

He grimaced as one particularly gruesome battle surfaced in his mind. A village, a hot summer, lots of straw, thatched-roof huts, and a horde of construct demons.

After setting the cottage ablaze, which would surely attract the local authorities no matter how remote their location, he moved back over to her cairn. Though he knew it was an abuse of powers, he could not bring himself to care. They could take his power, for all the good it’d done him, and shove it up their self-righteous asses. He’d used the hot, white light that burned deep within his core to carve out a footstone. The cairn itself overlooked the lake, and he would have done better for her if the fight had not taken so much out of him.

 

Emily Grace Farwell

25 December 2017

“Hope is seeing light in spite of being
surrounded by darkness”

 

“You were my light,” he rasped, his throat protesting the abuse it’d received between the yelling and smoke inhalation.

He looked to the sky once more and scowled. “I might not have been your most well-behaved soldier, but no one deserved this. Were you trying to teach me I didn’t belong here? Well, bang-up job.” He ground the words out from between clenched teeth.

When he turned his eyes back down to the cairn, his glower softened for a moment before snapping back in full force.

“Damn you, Emily! I told you how dangerous it was to be with me, but you never listen. You let optimism and hope guide you, and it set you on the path to your grave.” He shook his head. “I know I’m to blame for this, and you could have had so much—“

“God, you were always pathetic,” a female voice interrupted him, the tone half exasperated and half disgusted.

His frown deepened and his lip curled into sneer. He turned around and took in the figure near the tree line. She was tall, her body hard, lean, and scarred from countless battles. Their uniform had received upgrades over the centuries, evolving with military trends. They currently sported cargo pants, long-sleeved, lightweight tactical combat shirts, combat boots, and armor that consisted of a vest as well as pieces that covered just about anything but their joints. A deviation from the conventional might be their magical shielding that channeled their inner power through the plating, as well as gorgets and inner-thigh plating to discourage werewolves, vampires, and anything else that might want to gain access to a major artery for a snack or quick kill. While a solider in the desert had to worry about IEDs, their brand of combat was more concerned with not having your throat torn open by something with fangs. The material was magically enhanced to be just about anything one could hope for: lightweight, temperature-controlled, flexible, and nigh indestructible. Of course, they never did seem to get away from the red color scheme, which was as dark as a full-bodied red wine like Syrah.

Her platinum white hair was cropped nearly as short as his. Flint grey eyes matched the brittle laugh she let out at his regard, and it sounded as though it was sharp enough to make the air bleed.

The one thing she was not carrying was her sword, which sent a shock through him that trembled down to his very core. No one went anywhere without their weapon. Ever. Even within their stronghold, no one was ever to be unarmed. It was as good as him looking at her naked, which still didn’t even begin to cover how weird it was, since he knew she showered with the damn thing strapped to her back.

“Sabrael,” he greeted, tone cautious. His snarling anger had drained away in the face of her…bareness.

Her eyes narrowed, but a small, vicious smile quirked the corner of her mouth. “I told Them it would get even your temperamental attention, Desh.”

Tadeshiel—Desh—scoffed. “Considering it’s almost like you’re flitting around missing a limb, I’d say so,” he replied scathingly.

“Is that how you’ve felt the last three years?” she asked, tilting her head to the side as she considered him.

Her words jabbed at him like tiny knives in his weakest spots. “That’s not your business,” he hissed, and spat the words at her like venom.

“So that’s a yes,” she said brightly, and ignored his growling in favor of examining her nails. “No one believed you’d last this long, and especially not the human, what with her being as fragile as they are.” She tilted her head to the cairn.

“Also none of your business,” he said, tone low and warning.

It was her turn to scoff. “Not my business? You mean when my partner abandons the Order we’ve been a part of for over a thousand years, and then taking up with a human no less—”

“I—”

But she overrode him, “—after everyone told him, over and over that it was a bad idea, even by those who had been through the exact same situation? But no, it’s none of my business when the High and Mighty Tadeshiel, He Who is Perfect in Every Way, Slayer of Armies, Possessor of the Thickest Skull in the History of—”

“None of those are my proper titles—”

“—the Order, One Who Knows Better than All, up and abandons us—me!—in the middle of the biggest battle, during the biggest war we’ve had in centuries. That doesn’t concern me?” Her voice had reached a fever pitch with her final word. Her eyes bled from their usual grey to molten gold as her power rose with her anger.

In the face of Desh’s numb silence, she continued.

“Do you realize what you put everyone through when you laid your sword down? I can’t even begin to recount the ramifications, since we were in the middle of a battle and one of our Imperial Legates walked away!”

Still, he said nothing.

“I don’t even know why they sent me out here to speak with you,” she said, her disgust almost palpable on the air like slime. “You’re nothing but a co—”

“I watched him die!” Desh shouted, his chest heaving witht he sudden onslaught of emotions Sabrael’s presence had evoked.

Sabrael’s expression was one of bewilderment. “Who…?”

Desh ran a hand through his hair. He’d done that a lot today. “Douma.”

She raised a single brow. “Douma?”

Desh blew out a sigh and nodded.

“The…healer?” she questioned, not quite able to place the name. To be fair, she had her own legions to oversee, so the fact she could even come close to the mark was impressive. Though, she’d always had a knack for memorizing troop names, faces, and abilities so could put them in a weird ranking system in her mind as to their usefulness. Also, it made punishments easier when she could identify all her troops on sight. He couldn’t figure out how she did it.

“Yes,” Desh said, exasperated. “The healer. He was…newer to our ranks. Under 100. Bright kid.”

Sabrael pursed her lips into a thin line at the mention of the healer’s age. “That’s practically a toddler.” After a small pause, though, she sighed. “Desh, we die all the time. I mean, not as often as the demons, mind you,” she said, and a ghost of a smile played over his lips. “It’s all part and parcel of what we do.”

Desh growled again. “I know that. It wasn’t necessarily the fact that he died, it was more how everyone behaved after it.”

A mop of curly black hair, a lopsided, dimpled smile, and eyes that Desh realized now were so close in shade to Emily’s it made his chest ache. The demons had exercised their evil tendencies to the upmost of their ability when they came across the tent of injured warriors. Though immunes were trained in combat, they were caught unawares. None survived.

Desh walked into the small clearing where his immunes used to be, his eyes searching for one face in particular. When he found him, body cut nearly in two as it covered an injured warrior, there was no question in Desh’s mind that Douma had tried to protect the injured with his own life.

‘He was probably waiting for you to show up and save the day,’ a voice had whispered in his mind. A cruel thought from the darkest recess of his mind, and one that had repeated like a mantra since that moment, slowing wearing away at his sanity.

He’d tried to regroup and secure the area, but what he saw on the faces of his soldiers made his gut twist: knotted eyebrows, narrowed eyes, curled lips and wrinkled noses. Disgust. Whether it was at the situation, him, or both, Desh didn’t know. They didn’t want to expend forces to secure a clearing of dead bodies, despite the fact that each of them had been saved by the immunes at one point or another.

It didn’t matter that, logically, the commander in him knew they were correct. All he could think about was the young man who spoke with such passion about being an immune, he’d nearly put Desh’s eye out as he moved his hands with his words. Between the sight of Douma giving his last breath to save his patient, and failing, and what Desh saw on the faces of his soldiers, he was done. Desh looked into each and every face around him for some flicker of guilt or remorse, but when none was forthcoming he drew his sword. Leveling his coldest sneer at the lot of them, he thrust his sword into the blood-soaked earth, turned on his heel, and left everything he’d known for a thousand years.

Now here he was. Douma and Emily were dead, and all he had gained was a seething, thick pool of bitterness and grief weighing on his soul.

She was quiet in the face of his prolonged silence, but tilted her head to let him continue. Feelings and such weren’t really her area of expertise or comfort, but she did care about keeping her mission success rate as close to perfect as possible. She was ruthless and efficient; she applied pressure and words expertly to achieve the desired results and emotions, even if she didn’t completely understand said emotions herself. This contributed to her high success rate, and she’d be damned if Desh was going to try and screw that up—again.

They were opposites in just about every way, but their opposition complemented each other, which is why their legions always worked closely together. Where he was compassionate, she was merciless. Her pragmatism tempered his idealism, and while they were both intelligent, she was shrewder in tactical thinking while Desh was more perceptive with the emotional element. Sabrael was authoritative in her command, while Desh was participative.

And that was where the problem came in.

When he said nothing more, she scowled. “You got too emotionally attached to one of your subordinates, and when everyone else didn’t stop in the middle of a battle and sob along with you, you took it upon yourself to just abandon us?”

He could understand how she might perceive it that way, but… “Douma was young, exceptionally talented, and proud to serve, but none of that mattered to them. Some of Malgareth’s forces managed to break the line close to where the non-combatants were positioned. I had told Tearny, the Prime Immunes, to move camp earlier in the day, but he argued that many of the gravely wounded could not be moved.” His voice went soft at the last part, because that had been his first mistake, borne from his compassion.

Sabrael honed in on it like a bird of prey on a field mouse. “So instead of moving everyone else save the gravely wounded, whose chance of living was less than everyone else around them, you let your subordinate play on your kindness. Instead a handful being slaughtered they wiped out your Immunes, including this Douma,” she finished.

As she spoke, his demeanor shrank in on itself as her words beat him about his head and heart, making him small and frail. There was a howling in the back of his mind, like a storm ready to break upon the shore of his sanity.

“I revise my previous statement: you’re a coward and an idiot.”

He snapped. In his fight with the demons that took Emily’s life, he’d known his physical abilities had deteriorated over the three years he’d been away. Chopping wood was not an equal replacement for near-constant battle training. However, when he flashed across the clearing to attack Sabrael, he realized just how far he’d fallen.

Construct demons were pathetic, and the only advantage they usually had were numbers. That’s what happened with Emily. That and the fact she was human and fragile, and all he had were his personal magics and no sword. Sabrael, on the other hand, was not a construct demon. She’d always been top of just about every class they took, and she relished hand-to-hand combatives.

Sabrael turned, his fist missing her face. She grabbed his arm, continued his momentum with a slight adjustment, and her power flared. Her strength easily tripled with the surge of energy, and the trees surrounding the clearing never stood a chance.

Sabrael flashed to the impact crater past half a mile of splintered evergreens. He was dazed, and the disturbed snow of the trees created a slight haze and drifted slowly to resettle on the land. Though he’d recover quickly, it wasn’t quick enough if he needed to defend himself from her if she decided to go on the offensive. So when her face appeared in his field of vision, he stiffened. A thrill of terror sped through him like rabbits being flushed from their burrow, and his mind scrambled to clamp down on the dread threatening to overwhelm him. She was smiling. Sabrael only smiled when she was going to kill or heavily maim something.

“I—” he spluttered, trying to find the words, willing his body to cooperate.

“I feel better now, don’t you?” she crooned.

His eyes widened.

“Now,” she said, her tone deadly calm and smile sickly sweet, “I read the after battle reports, which were as painful to procure as it would be to drink incaendium piss—” Desh flinched at that glorious imagery, “—because fully half of both our forces were slaughtered. All because you decided to let personal guilt outweigh your duty and responsibility to your people. Not mine, not the Order’s, yours,” she said, the last word hissing and full of contempt.

“Sabr—”

She kicked him in the ribs. It might not have looked like much, but the cracking that reverberated through his body followed on its heels by searing pain and an inability to breathe begged to differ.

“I’m not finished. It’s rude to interrupt,” she said, voice calm again.

When he finally managed to drag in a breath, he coughed, and could not fully breathe in. His chest was tight, and his vision started to darken around the edges. Sabrael rolled her eyes and leaned over. He tried to move away, but she dug her finger painfully into the spot she’d kicked and he writhed in response. As her power moved through his body, it was as though someone had poured molten metal through his veins. His back arched and his fingers curled with the need to claw at something.

He’d forgotten how much healing hurt, especially coming from someone as unsuited to it as Sabrael. Yes, any of them could heal, but with a lack of a healer’s precision and temperament, it was like cutting off a limb to cure a broken bone. It worked…sort of. The only reason Desh could stand it was the fact they were of a similar potential strength. If she tried this with someone further down the respective ladder than them, they could die from the shock.

When she removed her finger, and along with it her power, he sagged back into his crater. His consciousness and body were floating in the wake of so much foreign power running rampant through his body.

“Drink this, or you’ll be useless for the next day,” a voice said, the words floating like dandelion fluff through his mind.

Something cool and hard pressed into his lips, but when he didn’t open his mouth the voice scoffed with disgust and forced it open. The liquid that hit the back of his throat was refreshing and cool like a mountain stream, followed closely on its heels with what felt like lightning dancing over his nerves. Desh gasped, and then coughed when some of the potion went down the wrong way.

When he’d relearned how to breath, he opened a bleary eye. Desh didn’t know how long he lay there, out of his mind, but when he came to Sabrael was sitting on a stump, her chin propped in the palm of her hand. Her eyes were back to their usual grey, her power having receded to just below the surface.

Given what Desh knew of Sabrael, he wasn’t sure if staying silent or speaking would contribute to his continued existence. As she watched him like a bug she was deciding whether or not to crush, Desh took a chance.

“Why are you here, Sabrael?” The words came out roughly, reflecting his weariness like a mirror.

She simply continued to look at him for a moment, not answering. Just as he started to say something else, she spoke.

“We want you back.”

The words froze his insides as though he’d actually plunged into the lake as he had imagined earlier.

“No.” It was a knee-jerk, instant response. The word hadn’t finished forming in his mind before it flew from his lips.

She raised a single eyebrow, the one on the right that was bisected by one of her many scars.

“Wallowing in self-pity for three years isn’t enough?” she asked, scathingly.

Desh scowled. “I just buried someone I loved, and you want me to jump back into the fray?”

Sabrael snorted and shook her head. “As if they’d put you in charge again after what you pulled? No.” She paused and cast a sly glance his way. “Despite the mess you left, I managed to beat back the demon horde, and as a result I earned a shiny new promotion. My record has never been better. We recently won a major battle and they offered me a reward. I chose you.” She shrugged.

Desh’s eyes bulged. “But you said They sent you to talk to me—”

“I lied to make you angry,” she said, cutting him off with a nonchalant wave of her hand as well as her words. She scanned the surrounding area. “And it worked. It broke the tension you were holding like a taut bowstring, and made you stop and listen because I could beat the wings off you right now. Now, do I have your attention?”

He quieted but held his glare. She’d manipulated him, and easily at that. He gave her a grudging nod, his teeth gritted against lashing out with words, and his fists clenched, because using those had proven equally as useless.

“Good,” she said, looking like the cat who ate the canary. “As I said, you were my reward.” She paused again and sniffed, looking down her nose at him. “Though maybe not a good one. This was my one chance to bring you back into the fold with minimal fuss, because they want to keep me happy and winning battles.”

“I still don’t see how this benefits me. I don’t want to go back,” he said, grumpy and dare he think it, even pouting a bit? He didn’t like to lose, and Sabrael had him at a distinct disadvantage.

She huffed out an annoyed breath. “If you’d shut up, I’m not finished,” she snapped.

Desh shut his mouth accordingly, though he still didn’t lose the scowl.

“I knew you’d need an incentive, but I haven’t gotten there yet. First, I want you to hear my terms, and if they are agreeable to you then I’ll tell you why I think you’ll jump at the chance of coming back. Okay?” she asked. She stood up then, hand going to her hips as she gazed down at him in his pathetic state. She knew he just needed a little push.

He didn’t like it, but she was going about this in a very fair way for him, but instead of being relieved, it made him all the more suspicious. Instead of luring him with the incentive, and then forcing him to give into her demands, she was giving him the chance to hear her demands, decide if he could handle them, and then walk away if he couldn’t.

It stank as bad as day-old fish left baking in a high summer heat…

“Fine,” he snapped back.

…but something niggled at the back of his brain, driving him forward.

“Good, now these are my demands…”

She droned on for the better part of fifteen minutes, outlining what would and would not be expected of him. It came down to the fact that Sabrael found herself rather displeased with the combat teachers, stating all the good ones had died, retired, or joined the fight on the battlefields. She was wroth about the whole situation, and the lack of proficient teachers was producing sub-par subordinates. This simply would not do.

She offered him an instructor position, but he’d hold no power—not even allowed the usual authority of a magister. She would assign him someone to dole out punishments and rewards and assist him in any way she deemed necessary. He’d be an old wolf with no fangs, teaching the young pups how to be a proper wolf. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

If she had concerns about his pride getting in the way of having no power while she held it all, then he could definitely say no one had been watching him the last three years. They’d written him off, just as he’d wanted. That being said, it was hard to get upset over hurt pride when you had none anymore.

“Okay,” he said quietly, “those aren’t the worst terms given what I did. They are agreeable, and fair.”

Her eyes went a little wide, and it made him smile. He’d surprised her, and it was an interesting, yet somewhat gratifying, feeling.

“Just like that?” she asked, incredulous.

Desh nodded. “Just like that. Now spill, and tell me why you think I’ll come back, even with such a kind offer,” he said, though he couldn’t keep the mocking tone out of his voice. Nothing in Heaven, Hell, or on Earth would get him to go back…

“Malgareth is back.”

…except maybe that.

Eyes blacker than the void, heartless as a force of nature, curved horns, and a cold smirk danced in his vision, which had gone an alarming shade of crimson. A casual and cruel taunt on the battlefield, suggesting that he should check on his immunes instead of wasting time losing a fight with him.

He closed his eyes, and his body shook with the force of the rage that howled through him like a tornado of fire and fury. Desh was glad he was still laying on the ground. He wasn’t sure he could have kept his feet in the face of that revelation in combination with his recent healing.

When he opened his eyes again, Sabrael’s face was split with a feral, pleased grin at the expression she saw on his face. He took in a deep breath, let it out, and narrowed his gaze on her.

“When can we leave?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Song Inspiration: Demons by Jacob Lee

Potato Chip Prompt: One for Sorrow

writing-prompt-36

 

One for sorrow
Thick as her blood
Two for joy
Sun after the flood
Three for a girl
Eyes open forever
Four for a boy
Who’s ever so clever
Five for silver
The gleam of his knife
Six for gold
Why he’s taken her life
Seven for a secret
Never to be told
Eight for a wish
To never grow old
Nine for a kiss
Of forbidden desire
Ten for a bird
Stole the tongue of a liar
Eleven for a funeral
The coffin so small
Twelve for Hell
Through broken glass they’ll crawl
And Thirteen for the Devil
Who’s come to take them all

Original Rhyme here.

Writing Prompt: (Graphic) Sometimes, the Low Road is More Satisfying

writing-prompt-35

 

Her hair was stringy and greasy, an unwashed, tangled mess of brown hair that was probably once a rich dark chocolate, but was now lackluster. The rope only allowed enough slack for her to stand on the balls of her feet, and the muscles in her calves twitched and jumped. Her face contorted and a small whimper escaped her throat, like a rabbit flushed from a bush, and she lifted her legs up enough to flex her feet.

“Cramps,” she said, breathless from the agony.

“Wh-where am I?” he asked, surveying the small, metal box of a room. The dark gray walls ran with some kind of green mold intermixed with rust stains, like someone threw water on a particularly drab watercolor painting. A slow, steady trickle of water ran from the ceiling down toward a drain in the center of the room. Patches of dark red were splattered here and there, as though someone had taken a can of paint and tossed it about to add color.

There was a quivering spot, just below his sternum, that whispered, ‘That’s not paint.’ He resolutely turned his head, straining his neck to watch her, and waited for her response.

She shrugged, an interesting movement given her position. “I don’t know. I’ve been here a while,” she said, her voice raspy from disuse and thirst.

The end of her sentence echoed eerily against the walls, and should not have been possible in the tiny space. Her words thrummed through his mind, familiar in their cadence, and he tried to dig the memory out from the haze of his mind like a particularly obstinate rock from the dirt.

He turned his eyes away, not wanting to see his horror reflected in the muted despair and surrender of her dull hazel eyes.

“Don’t like it much, do you?” she asked, her voice changing from the consistency of gravel to the purr of a high-end sports car.

It snapped his head around like someone in a movie breaking a neck.

She was changed. No longer bound, she walked over to him, swaying her full hips. Jeans with artful rips in all the right places, and a v-neck, sleeveless coral shirt that shimmered in the low light that came from nowhere, yet everywhere, clung to her. She also wore a white, half-sleeve cardigan, and her hair was in in a messy carousel braid, hanging over her left shoulder and ample breast. Her strappy, caramel brown sandals had beads over the top of her foot, and revealed feet tanned to the color of Kahlua and Cream, just like the rest of her smooth skin.

His mouth went dry, and his heartrate picked up, beating against his rib cage like a man desperate to be released. He clenched his fists against the painful tightening in his jeans, and he licked his lips.

“Untie me, and you’ll find out just how much I like it,” he fairly growled.

She laughed, low and cruel, running her hands mockingly over her breasts and hips. “What, you don’t remember me?” Then she paused. “Or this?” she asked, and ran her finger over the tip of her tongue, and slowly pulled her lower lip down.

Then she pouted, and moved closer, until her breath was hot on his skin, even through the thin material of his blue cotton shirt; the one he’d picked because it matched his baby blue eyes.

“I thought I’d made more of an impression on you…” she trailed off, looking away.

His mind raced, still trying to place her, but it eluded him in the same way a nightmare dissipated upon waking. In fact, it gave him an uneasy sensation in his gut, much in the same way greasy food sat uneasily on a bottle of his favorite rum.

“I mean, a girl doesn’t get much closer to someone than being killed by him,” she whispered, and her eyes turned back to his, no longer hazel, but eyeless with the angry yellowish-red of lava in the center of the pits, and surrounded by the black of volcanic sand. Blood mixed with her mascara and ran in crooked lines down her cadaverous skin.

He jerked back. “What the fuck?!”

She tsk’d. “Such language. Though what did I expect from you? Certainly not this,” she said, and stepped back. Like magic, blood ran like a river from the corners of her mouth, and she opened it wide to reveal no teeth and her tongue cut out. She held it in a hand devoid of fingers from the second knuckle onward, replaced from that point on with sickly green, scaly fingers tipped with razor sharp obsidian nails. It was as though her human hands were merely fingerless gloves for something far worse hiding beneath. All her hair had been clumsily shorn, leaving clumps as an insult to her former beauty.

Her shirt sat oddly flat against her chest, as both of her breasts had been cut off, and blood soaked through the shirt. It fell from the hem in a slow, steady drip, and splattered on the floor in the softest of patters. The crotch of jeans was soaked through, too, and all down the inseam of her pants.

Recognition slammed through him like a bullet through the gut, and his breath caught.

She hadn’t been his first, or even his tenth. Not for him or his knife. He’d kept her chained in that box for weeks, prolonging the torture for as long as possible. First he’d taken her hair, removing the braid she’d played with coyly on their date, her tears of shame and humiliation making her makeup run almost as fast as she had when he’d taken her. After raping her more times than even he kept track of, and breaking her spirit to pieces smaller than eye could see, he’d stabbed her where all women were filthy and tried to control men. But not him. After that, there was no more amusement for him, so he’d untied her and made sure the police couldn’t identify her remains; his final act of control over all of them.

How was he to know the road to his favorite dumping ground had been washed out in the heavy rains, as his windshield wipers labored to keep up with the downpour? When the water swept across the road and took him into the river, it forced him to be the one to feel the fear he’d inflicted on others, as a force beyond his control took his life.

He choked on the remembrance of the river, and his eyes widened as he couldn’t look away from her gaze.

“Good, you do remember.” Then she smiled, her mouth full of brand-new, needle-like teeth, and a longer, prehensile tongue grew from the stub of the old, like watching a vine lengthen in fast-motion. When she ran it hard over his cheek, it tore flesh away as though it were made of shark’s skin, and she laughed as he screamed in pain.

“Stop!” he demanded, his emotions a maelstrom of fear and anger.

“But you didn’t, did you?” she asked, and pouted again, though this time it didn’t have the same effect on him. “You know, when I died they offered me a nice place for the rest of eternity, or I could join you here, and wallow in this miserable pit, but I would have my revenge.” She paused, as her smile grew even wider. “Taking the high road is overrated.” Then she straightened her fingers and stabbed her nails into his crotch, closing her fist and ripping everything away, flesh and clothing alike.

He howled like the winds of a tornado bearing down on a town, and thrashed against his bonds. She shoved her severed human tongue in his mouth, cutting him off, and he gagged against the cold, slimy flesh. Vomit hitting the back of his throat like a jab. But when the first icy touch of water met the flesh of his feet, he cracked open a tear-filled eye. The room was filling with murky water, fast, and pooled around his ankles. His panic spiked higher as the water level increased, and all she could do was laugh.

She grabbed his handsome face, her nails now stabbing the flesh of his cheeks, and pulling his chin down to look in her eyes again.

“You shouldn’t give it all up on the first date,” she crooned, throwing his words from their first ‘date’ back at him, like hot oil from a frying pan. “We’re going to have so much fun.” Then she rent the flesh of his face as he cried out around the tongue, blood, and water choking him.

The last thing he heard was her chuckling, the sound falling like heavy stones in his mind and against his flesh, and then all went black. He couldn’t breath, and his lungs burned with the water and blood that made its way past his constricted throat.

Again, her voice echoed in the dark, and it was then, for the first time, he knew their fear. The fear of the never ending. Of an eternity of pain.

Good, she whispered. There were times her dance with his pain was fast, like a quickstep, while others were slower, like a samba. Even though she’d given up the chance to be in a better place, sometimes revenge was enough.

Potato Chip Prompt – Banks and Lawyers: Vultures and Wolves

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Banks are there for the optimistic, and lawyers are the last resort of the ones who have drowned but don’t realize they’re dead yet. They both run on something that has no soul: money. Yet people still feed the gluttonous beasts in the hope that something positive can grow from the roots of something corrupt. Like planting dead seeds in barren soil, yet expecting an orchard of juicy fruit.

No good can come from either, yet here we were. I was withdrawing my meager savings, painstakingly deposited to hopefully pave the way for a better life, and borrowing against my equity. All in order to pay a lawyer in the hopes that another lawyer won’t take me for all I’m worth, and more. Like taking food from vultures to feed a starving wolf in the hopes it’ll fend off the other, just as hungry wolf, in gratitude for the sustenance. Soon, though, the vultures will circle, looking for their fair share plus more, and the food you took from the vultures to feed the wolf only whets the hungry beast’s appetite. Neither are satisfied for very long, if at all.

Because you are not a person. You are nothing more than the sum of numbers gathered and calculated by the vultures and the wolves, who feast on your flesh and the marrow in your bones. That is, until nothing is left but the desiccated and broken fragments of you and your family.

“Pleasure doing business with you,” the vulture said, and held out a hand for me to shake.

I said nothing in response, but nodded instead, and shook his hand.

I exit the vultures’ nest, and make my way toward the den of wolves on the other side of town. The alpha wolf’s smile is as sharp and predatory as his suit, and he was just as equally eager to do business with me as the vulture.

I liked to hope I could be the better predator and make out the other end of this alive, but the chances were slimmer than my savings as of an hour ago.

“Let’s see what we can do to make sure we win this,” the hungry wolf growled, and gestured for me to sit down across the desk from where he was seated.

I sat and said a silent prayer, but when you choose to do business with vultures and wolves, using the very heart of greed as currency, it was unlikely a divine life preserver would be thrown your way.

Greed does not rest until it is satisfied, and greed is never satisfied…Sam Eastland.

Writing Prompt: Lesson Learned

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The hilt of the knife was slick in Sarah’s sweaty palm, and the lantern rattled softly in her other, trembling hand. The sound of it was swallowed by the trees, crowding over her, as though they were waiting for her to do something.

Watching.

It wasn’t quite dusk, yet this deep in the woods the darkness was rising from the forest floor, swallowing her pale white light. Her knees ground into the damp foliage and scattered sticks beside the hole that was too small to have swallowed Jeremy. But it had. No matter what any of those stupid grown-ups said, he hadn’t run away.

She dropped a rock into the hole. Maybe not the best thing to do with something that had eaten a person, but what else should she have done? As she dropped it, everything went quiet in the forest, like a switch had been flipped to off. No birds calling their end of day songs, or the critters that were snuffling and running around nearby.

Dead silence.

The rock never touched the bottom. At least not that she could hear. The air was heavy with the scents of rotting, Autumn vegetation, and folded around her like a wet blanket. Her heart tripped along at the continued silence, and she held her breath.

Then, something rumbled from deep below her. She gasped, and went to to stand and flee, but the shaking of the earth made her fall on her butt. As she fell, the knife flew from her hands into the foliage of nearby ferns, and the lantern fell to the ground, the plastic cracking on a rock. Then the tremors stopped, as her blood thundered in her ears, and her breathing was a ragged pant.

Maybe it was nothing, she thought, as the forest slowly resumed its usual chatter around her. There are mines everywhere around here. Maybe one of them collapsed.

Maybe I imagined the hand.

It had been blue, like a person caught in a blizzard and frozen to death, with blackened, broken nails. But she’d been so shocked when Jeremy…fell? Perhaps that was it. He’d fallen in, and now he was passed out at the bottom of a forgotten mine shaft, dying, because she was scared of an imaginary hand.

She crawled forward toward the hole. They’d been silly to come here, chasing ghost stories of miners trapped in the shaft during a freak blizzard. Her parents had been furious that she’d come here, after being told her entire life to avoid the area. It wasn’t safe. She thought her father’s head would explode when he found out she’d been out here with her boyfriend–someone her father strongly disapproved of.

“J-Jeremy?” she whispered, cringing back quickly as the name tumbled from her lips, ready to be dragged down, too.

“Ssssaaaraaah…” The voice was faraway, but definitely coming from the hole.

She gasped. “Jeremy!” She scrambled forward, unafraid now that her worst fears–yet greatest hope–had been confirmed. “Are you okay? I’m going to go get help!”

Then the same blue hand shot from the hole and grabbed her wrist. Except this one had the same freckle on the first knuckle of its thumb that Jeremy did. She tried to wrench her hand from its grasp, or reach for the knife to stab at it, but the weapon was too far away. She was reaching for the lantern to bash the thing, when a face floated up from the darkness, freezing her in mid-motion.

“That won’t be necessary. I missed you so much, Sarah,” he said, his voice raspy as dead leaves scratching across the pavement. “Now we can be together…forever.”

She screamed as he dragged her down, just as he’d been dragged down. No one heard her, though, as the forest muffled the sound as surely as a murderer suffocating someone with a pillow. Not long after, the forest went about it’s usual business of life, but the creatures had long ago learned to avoid the business of the dead. Something the humans never seemed to figure out. Jeremy and Sarah weren’t the first, and they wouldn’t be the last.

Writing Prompt: Between

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There are varying degrees of pain in life, each unique in one way or another. A sudden trauma is like crashing without a helmet, and waking up with road rash. Immediate, and sometimes deadly. A loss is like quicksand, slowly sucking you down, and never knowing if you’ll ever manage to get out.

Another kind, however, is forever being stuck between two existences. I’m not exaggerating when I say forever, either. I mean, I am immortal. Immortally doomed, anyway.

I’ve read the original The Little Mermaid, and through the marvels of modern technology, I was able to see the movie. The latter is wishful thinking to the extreme. I’d call it crap, but it’s for kids and not adults. The first is closer to the truth, but still off.

“Mornin’ Lykke!” A voice boomed over the docks, like someone beat one of the those big drums in an orchestra. A large man waved at me from the end of the last dock for the little town of Haven Cove.

“Morning, Jeff.”

“How’s the bite?” he asked, once my boat was flush with the dock.

I tossed him the rope to tie up Sea Witch, but didn’t disembark.

“Active east past Acker’s Rock.”

Jeff whistled, a high, ear-piercing shriek that tore into my ear drums, and I flinched. He gestured for a couple of the dock workers to hop aboard and unload the catch.

“You don’t say? Mind if I pass it along? Been a slow day for some of the guys.”

“Sure, but I’m not sure how good it’ll be now,” I warned.

Jeff let out a great bellow of a laugh, and his belly shook with chuckle tremors afterward.

“Fished it out, eh?”

“Something like that,” I hedged. I may be in exile from my kin, but I still had my magic, and I could call upon the Sea and Her bounty. Granted, I did so sparingly, and never took more than I needed.

“Well, thanks anyway.” He ran a seasoned eye over my trawler. “You know, I never see the Witch in dry dock, and yet she’s always lookin’ dandy, and never needs to repairs,” he observed suspiciously.  “I’d love to get in contact with whoever does your repairs.”

“I’ve told you before, Jeff, I can’t give you his name. If I did, he’d never help you, and he’d abandon me. Then what would I do?” I scolded, and put my hands on my hips.

Just like humans, the Sea Folk came in all shapes and sizes. As someone who spent most of her time swimming to the surface and exploring, I was all lean muscle and slender, so I didn’t have much to put my hands on. My most striking features were my–you guessed it–ruby red hair, and my eyes the blue of the Mediterranean.

“Alright, alright,” Jeff said, holding his hands up in surrender. Then he tucked his thumbs behind the straps of his orange bib overall, and gave me a giant grin, showing off one of his missing molars in the back. “You can’t blame a man for trying.”

I harrumphed, and we both waited for the dock workers to finish their offload. Jeff wrote the receipt out, and handed it to one of the workers.

“Go and fetch the lady’s funds,” he growled, “and I will be countin’ it once it comes back.”

The worker mumbled something and scurried off.

“Problems?” I asked, watching the other worker watching the interaction between us.

“Nah, he’s a good lad, strong back, just doesn’t always mind his manners around temptation.”

“Why can’t she turn in her own hand receipt?” asked the other worker. He was young, and new, and had that gangly look about him that teens had. The one where they weren’t used to their longer limbs. The skullcap was pulled low over his brow, so I couldn’t see his hair, but his eyes were a warm brown, and curious.

“None of yours,” Jeff said, the growl this time not as biting. “Start taking in the haul to Ned.”

The kid walked away, sneaking glances at me. I’d put my chilled hands in the pockets of my blue parka, though I could have worn a bikini and not been bothered by the chill October air. I did it for show–for the humans. Nothing outed you as strange like wearing shorts in a blizzard. So I made sure to pay attention to the weather, and had on my knee-high rubber boots, angler pants, and a knit cap to help tame the hairs not contained by the braid that fell to my lower back.

Jeff didn’t know the story, just that I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, leave the boat. He chalked it up to some quirk or another, maybe a phobia, though the word was likely beyond Jeff’s ken. He was a simple man that was willing to work with my eccentricity, as long as I brought in the catch.

Little did he know I couldn’t step foot on land, or in the sea, or risk dying.

The other worker came back, and as Jeff said he would, he counted the bills and had the man hand them down to me. Jeff boasted arthritis in both knees, that left him to waddle his sturdy form up and down the docks. His days of climbing in and out of boats was over.

I thanked the men, they tossed me the bow line, and I puttered my way back out to the ocean on the Witch to find somewhere to tie up for the night.

It was a little after midnight, and I was sitting on my bed and downing a shot of liquor from a flask given to me by a Shaman. He was an interesting character. One of many I’d met over the years. Then dripping water pattered over the deck.

I sighed and flopped back. “If you’re here to kill me, do it. I’m already bored,” I said, and ditched the shot glass. The flask was supernaturally warm against my lips, and I took a long haul, trying not to lose my cool and sputter.

“Why ever would I do that?” a soft voice asked. “It’s so much more fun to watch you suffer,” he hissed.

I groaned. “You don’t have permission to be on my boat, you slimy sea snake.”

The Beisht Kione hissed at me. I turned my head to the side, and his long, thin form was silhouetted in the doorway against the light of the full moon. Imagine an eel, whose head was black, while the rest of him was a murky brown. He was twelve feet long, and his tail remained in the water, dipping in and out as the boat rocked. There were spiked fins along his spine which he could collapse, starting at the base of his skull going all the way to the tip of his tail, as well as out the sides of his face. They were flared out, and his mouth was open, showing off dozens of razor sharp teeth.

“I may not be able to touch you while you are on this boat,” he spat the word, his phlegm eating through the wood of my small table, “but one day you will slip.”

“Literally? Because I’m pretty sturdy on my feet. I’ve had lots of practice over the years.”

I couldn’t help but poke fun at him, just as he couldn’t help but want to kill me. We were eternally bound, he and I. Both of us doomed to spend our lives alone. He had a few motivations for murder: I’d killed his brother and his boss, the actual Sea Witch. She’d also originally bound the brothers Beisht to my aura, and they could track it with their eerie, yellow glowing eyes. I’d named the boat after her, because she was the reason I was stuck like this, forever. If I touched the land, I’d turn to dust. If I touched the water, I’d be ripped apart by the Beisht Kione.

All because I didn’t manage to get one lousy kiss. Falling in love with someone who doesn’t love you back is bad. Falling in love with someone who’s engaged to be married the next day, and you didn’t know that but the Sea Witch did? That is the epitome of crap with a side of shit.

“I will taste your flesh, Lykke, and we’ll both be free. Do you not grow tired of being confined to this cage?” he crooned, his voice almost as slippery and smooth as his skin.

“Not today I’m not. Now get out of here. You’re ruining my drink,” I said, and held up the flask. “A toast to us, Beisht, for continued health and happiness.” With that heaping dose of sarcasm, I took another gulp to kill the tightening of my throat.

“One day,” he promised. “I’ll join you for that drink, but only after you’re in my gullet.” Then he slid noiselessly back into the black waters.

The ocean rocked the boat, and I remained silent. “Not today,” I whispered, closing the flask and tossing it to the floor. It clattered somewhere, and I’d regret having to find it later, but I couldn’t muster a care.

For the first time in days I rolled over and tried to fall asleep, hoping the liquor would grant me dreamless slumber. As usual, though, my dreams–or rather nightmares–were filled with dreamy blue eyes the color of a cloudless summer sky, soft, coal black hair, and a kind voice overlapped by the cackle of an evil woman I’d killed.

Writing Prompt: Ten Notes of Sorrow

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“She has been up there all day,” her mother said, a permanent, disapproving frown on her face.

“I see,” he said. The man stepped through the open front door, his pressed suit at home in the grandeur of the mansion.

Piano music floated down the sweeping staircase, like bits of tulle thrown into the air and left to fall where they will. It was the same set of ten melancholy notes, over and over.

“If you do not do something about this, I will be the one that needs to be committed! It is the same, all night and day.”

“I understand,” he replied, his tone patient and voice low. He held his right hand up, just above shoulder height, and without looking back he twitched his ring and middle fingers forward a couple of times. At the signal, two men in white orderly uniforms walked through the front door. They were burly men, who could probably muscle their way through anything, except maybe a book.

“Thank you, Dr. Slater,” the mother murmured. Her shoulders slumped, but she regained her stiff, upright posture as a pause in the music occurred, followed quickly by the restart of the song. She grumbled something under her breath as she followed the men up the stairs. As she set her foot down on the step that would bring her eyes level with the transom window, she turned. The lead-lined glass offered a distorted view of the medical vehicle in the growing darkness, which thankfully did not have the name ‘Stillwater Sanatorium’ emblazoned on the sides. The woman gave a slow shake of her head, careful not to dislodge the perfectly coifed hairdo. What a scandal with the neighbors that would have been, but thankfully Dr. Slater knew how to be discreet.

The men had gone ahead of her to her eldest daughter’s room, but she froze with her foot on the top step when her younger daughter yelled, “No!”

As quick as was ladylike, she rushed toward the bedroom at the end of the long hall, lit by the yellowish light of electric wall sconces. Through the commotion, the piano music had never faltered or changed in volume.

“She is not crazy!” the younger sister shouted as their mother reached the doorway.

Her older daughter was still at the piano, thin shoulders hunched over it, never making eye contact with anyone. Her dirty brunette hair was pulled back in a loose, messy braid. Bony fingers moved at a constant pace over the keys, like some kind of undead creature trapped playing the same song for all eternity, and all who heard it were damned.

Her younger daughter stood between the men and her sister, arms stretched wide to bar them from moving further into the room. She was what her sister may have looked like, if not for her addled brain. Slender of body and face, smooth, creamy skin like her mother, and lustrous mahogany hair that fell to her waist when let down. She was scowling at the men, but turned pleading eyes to her mother. They were a captivating cornflower blue just like her father’s, God rest his soul.

“Helen,” her mother scolded, “this is no way to behave. Your sister is sick, and she needs help.”

“She needs to be at home!” her daughter insisted. “She hates that place.”

Still, her older daughter said nothing, and she never would. In her twenty years on this earth, she’d never cried, not even as a baby, or uttered a single word. She wouldn’t even make any noise as she thrashed when being forced to do something necessary that she didn’t want to do, like eat, or take the occasional bath. The only person who could get her to do anything had been her husband, and the last five years after his death had been a hard lesson in her older daughter’s stubbornness.

“We cannot take care of her here. At least when she is at hospital they can get her to eat something. If we continue this at home, she will waste away and die.”

“Her body may die here, but her spirit will die there. Which is the worse death, Mother?” she asked, the words raw in her throat. Then, under her breath, “What would Father say?”

The mother rocked back as though her daughter had slapped her. As she opened her mouth to say something they would both regret, Dr. Slater cleared his throat.

“Helen, dear, this is for the best. We have doctors that can work with your sister to try and help her learn a way to communicate with us and–”

“She communicates with this,” Helen said, and gestured toward the piano.

When their father had been alive, the only thing his older daughter responded to in regards to learning was the piano. He’d tried to hire her teachers, but she refused to learn from anyone but him. They’d been working on a song together, but he’d died before they could finish it. Now, she played those same first ten notes he’d taught her, over and over, and refused to play any of the other songs she’d learned.

“She just misses Father,” Helen choked out, tears falling freely down her face.

Her mother rushed forward, and took her younger daughter into her arms, consoling her.

“Be that as it may,” Dr. Slater said gently, as the two men moved past them to the older girl, “it is too much of a burden for your mother and you to watch your sister die at home. It was bad enough for you to discover your father the way you did…” he trailed off.

The two women’s faces went white as a sheet, then they both turned to watch the men carefully pull her sister to her feet. They were relaxed, but ready for any kind of violent tantrum she might throw their way.

Nothing happened, and she shuffled docilely along with them toward the bedroom door. As she passed, Helen reached out and grabbed one of her emaciated hands, drained of all life.

“I love you, Dorothy,” she whispered, her throat closing around the words like a fist.

Her sister said nothing and continued to stare at the floor. The men–who had paused when Helen grabbed Dorothy’s hand–eased her from her sister’s grip and they continued on their way.

“I will see you out,” he mother murmured, and followed behind the sad procession.

The dam of her emotions was like a fist squeezing her heart. She was heading toward the window, where dusk softened toward night, to watch her sister go, but stopped at the piano. The music sheets, usually neat as a pin on the music desk, were askew. Helen adjusted them, brushing a loving finger over the only ten notes her sister played during the years following her father’s death.

“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high…” she trailed off, her voice barely a whisper. For the first and only time since her sister learned to play, the lid on the piano closed. The soft discordant notes as a result of the little impact was like a small death in her soul. As though some part of them all died that night, not least of all the music, her sister’s only voice.