Hawke stood beside his friend, in the clearing. The sun beamed down on his skin, and yellow leaves fell from the forest around them. He looked at the oldest boy with the light eyes. “The stone, son,” he said. “Where’s the stone?”
One of the twins spat at his feet.
Dinon cuffed him in the head.
“Don’t disrespect,” Manus said, sighing. “If you were innocent you’d have nothing to fear. You knew before you stole the Bloodstone that this was law.”
“We didn’t steal any stone,” the eldest said.
Manus shook his head. “I’m here because I know you did. Look. I get it kid—“
“I get it, Aleem.” Manus laughed. “I’m from the Bottoms myself. When money’s short, theft seems like a good option, but you’ve been caught. You rolled the die and missed. Face the effect.”
“Lieutenant,” Aleem looked at Hawke. “We stole nothing. We’re just smiths.” The boy’s eyes had an honest greenish-brown glint to them, and Hawke believed him completely.
Manus roared in laughter.
Every eye flickered down to the dark-skinned man sitting in the dirt. He touched the brand on his cheek lightly, as though waking from a strange dream, and rubbed at the drool on his cheek. “Sorry,” he said. “Sometimes I just… go… Aleem, get the rings.”
Myron flashed a look and his son shuffled over to the forge. “He’s… they’re all still young,” the man said sleepily. “But given time, Al will be the best at his craft. They all will. It’s in the blood.”
Hawke looked off after Aleem. The boy had donned thick gray gloves, and pulled open a heavy, metal furnace door. Reddish smoke poured out with a creak, and on the center rack sat a smooth, red ring.
“That’s it?” Manus asked.
Aleem nodded, placing the ring in his father’s palm.
Hawke couldn’t tear his eyes away. The band pulsed like life.
“It’s nice,” Manus said, taking the glowing metal between his fingers.
“I take full responsibility for stealing the stone,” Myron said.
“The children knew nothing about the theft,” he continued, talking over his son. “My name is Myron Gibran and I mined it myself. We’re the only ones left that know how to mold it.” He sneezed and wiped his nose. “I’ll serve whatever sentence is just, but my family is innocent.”
“There is real money in this for the city, captain. It’s taken centuries to develop our method.”
Manus studied the ring. “Six shards were stolen, you realize? You’d have to serve each sentence, yourself. Six half-lives.”
“I’m Ageless, captain. And fading as we speak. With this, my children may have futures… when I am truly gone.”
“300 years for the man that can’t die…” Manus scratched his beard.
Myron stifled a cough. “You’ll be fine. Listen to Al and Artemis.” He moved to grasp Manus’ hand, when his body shuddered.
Myron brought his palm back from his mouth bloody. And then he began to hack; dry barks failing to gasps for air—standing there gasping and wheezing. Then kneeling; saliva dribbling from his open mouth. He collapsed to his side.
Hawke took a nervous step back, looking at Manus with his blue eyes narrowed. The twins staring at their father, unblinking.
And Aleem went hysterical. “I dont—Did we do it wrong? What’s going on?” His fingers went to his trousers and he pulled out a small journal. “This is what he said to—"
Myron’s skin started to wrinkle. Crows-feet cracked and fissured beside his eyes and brow, and he began to crumble. First to bone, and then into tiny bits and pieces that broke off and scattered to the wind. He was a gritty red powder.
Then the wind blew, and he was gone. As though he’d never existed. For a moment, everyone stared at his pile of clothes. Hawke wondering whether his mind was playing tricks on him. Maybe Manus was messing with him?
“D—Dad?…” Aleem stammered, falling to his knees, journal forgotten.
It seemed to snap everyone out of it. The soldiers looked at Hawke. Hawke looked at Manus. And Manus looked at the kids, regretful. He pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Kill them,” he whispered.
Hawke blinked and wheeled. “What?” he said. He could see glances from the other lieutenants in his peripheral.
Manus straightened his back and frowned. “I said, kill them, Hawke.” He looked at the other guards and nodded. “Trust in me.”
“They’re only kids?” Hawke’s panic ballooned. “And you already have the ring and the journal. We can just take the book and go?”
Manus looked past him, stern. “These are orders, lieutenant.”
“But they’re just—"
Lieutenant Decius grabbed Aleem by the hair and sliced a small geyser beneath his chin.
It had happened so quick: boy to corpse.
Manus was talking to him. “It had to be done, Hawke,” he was saying. “For the greater good.” He took his hand off Hawke’s shoulder and turned to the other two guards.
“Remember your Oaths.” Lieutenant Juda passed Aleem’s journal to Manus; smearing red fingerprints across the worn, navy leather.
“You’re going to have to trust me,” Manus said. “If things could’ve been different, they would’ve. This will...”
Hawke deflated, nodding slowly. Manus was still talking—his mouth was moving, but the words coming from him… They were all underwater. And the fog of his mind was pure, nothing, white noise. He glanced down at the puddle of red mud beneath Aleem.
Title: "Six Gifts of Stone"
Age Range: 15+
Work Count: 70k
Author Name: Michael Spears
Good Fit: Medieval dark-fantasy with elements of magic, in an American socio-political microcosm.
Synopsis: In the aftermath of a mysterious murder by the Vesper city guards, "Six Gifts of Stone" follows a tired soldier, a child refugee, and a girl that wants justice.
Target Audience: Fans of fantasy, adventure, history, spirituality, and philosophy.
Bio: Black man that wants to make enough off his art to enjoy life.
Platform: @stringbeanspearzzz ?
Education: B.S. UNC-Chapel Hill
Personality: Luffy, Marcus Aurelius, and James Baldwin listening to Isaiah Rashad in Hayao Miyazaki's house.
Hometown: Durham, NC
A More Important Prompt
We’re protesting for George Floyd, but are we really? Isn’t that the bare minimum? Isn’t it the bare minimum that when an officer murders a man, we don’t forget what justice looks like?
I think it is. I think too many people have eyes for this to go unpunished. Nationally. Globally.
But then what? They convict the officers (maybe) and we all talk about how we showed up that one time when it was obvious? We all make a show about how whenever Americans stand together, things change?
With the tear gas adrenaline gone, I think I’ll be more rational.
Eventually the news will harp on a different issue. Eventually what has happened won’t be the only important headline, and people will have to remember the name. The names. We’ve had hashtags before. We’ve had peaceful protests, and riots and triumphs and defeats, before. We have funerals.
But I think that maybe you can see this is bigger than George Floyd. What a terrible thing to say when a man’s murder is paraded for public display, but I think we can all see that this is bigger than George Floyd. This is about being Black in America. And Brown in America. About the minority experience that bleeds parallel whether Black, or Latinx, or Native American, or Middle-Eastern, or… This is about how dangerous it is to be UnWhite. How dangerous it is to exist.
This isn’t just about George Floyd.
It might have started with him, but this is about revolution. This is about continuing the revolution. This is about a generation of people vitalized by the stories of the heroes that risked their lives in the name of progress. The Kings, and Shakurs, and Hamptons. Men and women so brave that they stared at death without blinking. Wise enough to plant seeds that they would never see sprout. Who doesn’t want to be remembered? Who doesn’t find comfort in the notion that, my name too will live on after they’ve killed me; accidentally—for some reason or another. One day, we’ll get our peace.
But today, while I watched a video of a dog chewing on a protesting black boy, I noticed something; like a kind of generational déjà vu.
I ask you, haven’t we already had these protests? 60 years ago did my ancestors not shed enough blood for me to stand here and say, I don’t want to be the next Dr. King. I don’t want to be the next Shakur, or Hampton, or X. Because for every martyred legend there are a hundred forgotten hashtags, and I want to live.
I want to write stories, and to fall in love, and to fail and succeed and live long enough to die happily in my sleep. I want my Dreams to become realities, and my children to know what it feels like to choose their own destinies. I want justice as action and not merely abstraction. I want everyone to scream when I can’t breathe. The freedom to not feel like this is something that will ultimately kill me.
It’s important enough to.
We aren’t the same people that asked for equality all those years ago. We have sprouted. We are them and more. We have more to offer than just our blood and our lives, but if we have to shove Change along through the promise of a new generation, then we will. We have before.
Still, I think that maybe you can see this is bigger than George Floyd. I think, maybe the majority isn’t okay with what’s been happening? I think maybe people are seeing how ridiculous it is to have to push the same heavy boulder up the same steep hill, everyday?
So, I need us to VOTE. I need us to care after it’s not so easy to. I need protestors and poets and policy makers. Donations to righteous causes. I need those four officers imprisoned. I need incorruptible oversight for law enforcement, and no acts of injustice ignored. I need you to text “FLOYD” to 551-56. I need our elected officials to move beyond acknowledging the problems. I want solutions. I want to know if Trump will be held accountable for the damage he’s caused? I want to know why we’re 6 months into Armageddon, 4 trillion dollars in debt for the year, and amidst COVD-19 killing citizens, we’ve decided to relax the quarantine? Why we’ve given the abstraction of an economy more value than the individual lives the idea serves? Why it’s 2020 and we still vote like its 1787? Why prisons are privately owned? Why minorities are disproportionately affected? I need us to not be afraid to try and make things better.
Because if you only care right now, then you’re missing the point.
Maya woke from a euphoric dream, with dust in her lungs and a face full of sand. She spit by reflex, snapping her eyes open to see, and the sun exploded with light. That’s when she knew something was wrong. Even before she’d rubbed her eyelids and tried to get a sense of her location. Before she’d seen the landscape.
Maya was facedown in the middle of the desert: the sun beating down on her bare back; a migraine like muffled wailing; sand and shrubs and heat for miles around. She coughed violently and sat up too-quick, painting more bright stars across her eyes. Then, focusing, she dragged the shards of last night to mind.
A white car door closing. A black woman with dark shades. A small puddle of blood— and vomit?… Gone. There was something else there, but the images lurched away, with a sudden breeze.
Maya looked down and saw that she was shirtless. Her bare breasts dusted over with dirt and sand, while a bottle of Olde English laid empty across her lap.
"Huh?" she mumbled, laughing. It was all so absurd. Her tits out in the middle of the desert. Failing to remember anything.
Then she saw her hands; caked in dried brown blood and dirt, and the fear slithered in. Dry blood? she thought. Where’s my shirt? She gulped and covered her breasts with her arms. Embarrassed. And alone. And the unnecessary modesty was the feather on the scale. With a grimace on her face, Maya dipped her head and began to cry.
She almost missed the backpack, through the tears. It was just a leathery smudge beneath her running mascara. Off in the shrubs as though someone had carefully placed it there. Sitting open and upright. Inviting.
Maya dared to hope. She prayed it held answers. Maybe a phone? she thought. Or a fucking diary…
She walked over to spill the contents of the bag, and out clattered cans of beer. All empty. More alcohol? she thought, reaching down to grab a can, and her shoe nudged something heavy from inside. A gun dropped to the sand with a soft thud.
Maya flinched, and the night blasted back to mind.
Smoking in the alleyway. Wrestling with a black lady. Snatching the gun from the woman. A struggle. The gun—!?
Maya gasped. She’d shot the lady! She’d shot the lady, and watched her bleed out in the alleyway.
Suddenly Maya could taste the vomit from the night before. Rancid, stale acid on her tongue. She gagged, and the retch catapulted her back into the memory.
Maya looking down at the blood spread beneath her vomit. Maya alone and petrified in the alleyway. Maya buying beer in the gas station. Maya running into the desert, the border town behind her.
It was all too much. She dropped to her knees in the sand, and squeezed her head hard enough to hurt. She couldn’t breathe. She was a killer! And her temples wouldn’t stop pounding. And her eyes wouldn’t stop watering. And the damn screech was getting louder.
She opened eyes she hadn’t remembered closing and began to run; arms pumping and sweat pouring. She didn’t pick a direction. She didn’t plan ahead. She just ran, wanting to put as much distance as possible between her body and the evidence. There was only her rhythmic panting, and the screech, and the wind stealing the moisture from her cheeks. A blessed blind panic.
At some point during the running, she tripped over her feet, crashing hard to the sand. And there she laid. Crying into her arms while she considered what she’d done— what she’d become.
When she finally ran out of tears, some time later, Maya forced herself into a sitting position to think— to plan. If she was going to escape, she’d need a strategy. She'd need a way to get back into the town, unnoticed. Or at the very least, she'd need a shirt.
Imagine her surprise to see one lying in the sand before her. A shirt. Her shirt. With her bloody handprints all over the sandy white fabric. She vaguely remembered yanking the blouse off right after she’d left the town. When she’d realized it was obvious proof of the murder. When she realized she’d been stupid enough to wear it inside the gas station.
And there the shirt was. At the top of a small hill. Just outside the city limits. Meaning… Maya had run back towards the town! She looked up and she could see the buildings in the distance. The dusty short post office pressed up against the courthouse. The people going about their days.
Then she could hear the police sirens; like sharp wails or a high-pitched screeching. The high-pitched screeching. The officers getting closer and closer to a killer. A killer by the name of Maya.
She was as good as caught.
Maya could feel all the emotion leave her. The remorse and hope and fear all shrinking until she was a hollow shell of a person. Until she was empty. And from somewhere faraway, she remembered seeing the name, Cate, on a name-tag. The four letters covered with speckles of wet, red blood.
“Officer Cate,” she muttered detached, correcting herself. Cate was a police officer. She'd killed a cop.
Without thinking, Maya grabbed her blouse and pulled the bloodstained cotton back over her head. She closed her eyes. Crossed her legs. And then she waited for justice to find her sitting in the sand.
Death & Life
The boy was aware of the act of breathing.
How hard it was to force the bad air out and the good air in. How each breath felt like a sharp knife slipped through the flesh of his ribcage.
The boy pushed himself, with each rasp, further and further from panic. He needed to be clear. Needed to think straight. He looked around at flickering street lamps and looming shadows in dark windows; struggling to see through boarded glass and down unlit corridors.
Each wink of dim yellow light only made him more terrified.
He’d seen Death! An omen: tall, and thin and—and those eyes...
His heart thumped faster.
Think, he thought. I saw it on Manning. And now I’m on— he squinted up at a fading traffic sign— South Rd. I’m probably lucky. I probably got away.
But he didn’t feel lucky. He couldn’t stop imagining the thing watching from every dark window and shadowed alley. Silent. Unblinking.
No-one outran Death. He knew that. Some people that saw it from a distance could prolong its coming— get as far away as possible. Buy themselves some time— but the boy hadn’t just seen it watching. He’d seen it coming.
Not walking— not really. More like a glide or a hover. Like it knew it’d catch...
The boy shook the ice from his spine.
I can’t think about it. Just keep moving. Gotta keep moving.
So he kept running down the street. Away from Death, and his death. Focusing only on his breathing.
In. Past an old building on his right, with dead brown grass growing wildly in ugly patches.
Out. Past the sad-looking graveyard on his left; old names and dates lost to weeds and to time.
In. Crossing beneath the dull traffic light at the intersection where South hit Mason. Where the monster stood waiting for him.
The boy gasped, freezing in place mere feet from the shadow. His breath caught in his throat, and he stared dazed into two brilliant blue stones where eyes should have been.
His blood turned to ice.
Then he heard the screech.
But it didn’t come from Death.
It came from behind him.
The boy turned, and locked eyes with the murky yellow eyes of a Honda Civic.
He didn’t feel the pain where his arms and legs bent at impossible angles, or where his lungs glitched, pushing out good and bad air in one violent lurch. He didn’t even feel the air beneath him, some six feet that should have connected his soles to concrete.
Instead, the boy watched the car, headlights off, speed down South Rd into the dark, and he felt Death—with its cobalt eyes and tattered black cloak—catch his soul before it crashed to the pavement along with his twisted body.
Death exhaled then, shaking its head while whispering into the boy’s ear.
“Warned?” the boy repeated, confused. “What warning? You came for me. What’s going—”
“you ran,” it sighed, interrupting. With each breath Death dissolved some; everything but those blue eyes slowly paling to white.
“I ran from Death—from you, so I wouldn’t die— but did I?… Am I—“ The boy choked through his fear. “What’s going on? Why can’t I see you?“ His vision was growing hazy, and he was beginning to suspect that Death wasn’t the one that was fading.
“relax,” Death hummed.
There was something unmistakably ancient about the voice. Something that matched the impossible blue of its eyes, and the way it moved like the wind blows. Something relic and tired.
It did little to calm the boy. He was dying and he knew it.
“What’s gonna happen to me?” he whimpered softly. He couldn’t think past the fear and the confusion. And everything was getting so bright. Like he was in a hospital room, or someone was shining a white LED light in his eyes.
Death ignored the boy—or perhaps it didn’t hear him. It looked out into the distance preoccupied; its blue eyes sparking and fading into the white.
Then it was gone, and the boy thought he could hear people talking and moving around him: men and women whispering excited and urgent, the area buzzing with activity.
Is that a baby crying? he wondered.
Am I crying?
Then he heard Death; like the faint groan of a soft breeze, spoken directly to his head.
“now. we reset.”