She opens her mouth, lips flailing, but no sound comes out. The tomblike silence makes her bones shiver. June shrinks back and before she knows it, she runs to the bedroom and locks the door behind her. She leans her back on the wooden surface and collapses on the floor, trying to steady her breathing. Her breaths are shallow, her lungs on fire. Her eyes blurr from tears, a kaleidoscopic view flashes before them. She's dizzy. She retches. The room is a whirligig spining faster and faster.
She tries to focus on the glass of water on her nightstand. Her throat is dry. She desperately needs a gulp.
The water is too far, too far, too far...
Her body is paralyzed. It won't obey.
The room is so dark. I'm alone, alone, alone.
Numbness is all she feels.
Everyting spins. Spins. Spins.
Her chest heaves.
I can't breathe.
Her body struggls to catch up to her mind, racing in meteor's speed on collision course with Earth.
I'm going to die. I'm going to die too. He'll kill me, he'll kill me.
Bar. Bra. Oar. Damn it, think!
I scan the board, eyes darting back and forth like windshield wipers on high speed.
Orb. Bay? Ugh, I can’t concentrate!
The girl across the dilapidated table laughs, her giggle like the drilling screech of a chalk against the blackboard.
“Tick Tock, Taylor. Tick Tock.”
She runs her tongue over a yellow denture, the edges forming a Cheshire grin that makes my skin crawl. Her breath reeks of decay, a smothering stench that prickles my nostrils. I swallow hard and wipe the beads of sweat from my forehead.
“Are you going to play, Taylor? I’m bored.”
Fingers tapping on the wood impatiently, legs dangling, she sighs and rests her head on her free palm. She pouts like the spoiled child that she is, sending shivers down my spine. There’s something eerie about her; how her red lipstick is smudged around the corners of her lips, how her eyes nest on hollow sockets, betraying her true age. She looks eight but lacks the innocence of youth. Her childlike appearance is too unsettling to look at for long.
I glance down the board again. My mind is racing like a mouse chasing cheese tied to a stick.
If I could use that Q…
I reach for the velvet pouch, my hand a frozen claw. It's chilly. So chilly. Frigid gusts of air dishevel my hair, confetti of ice sticking to my skin. The sickly glow from the skylight tells me I've been here for long. Too long... It's been too long.
Please pick a U. Please….
“Play!” she shrieks and my hand jerks like a glitching robot. The pouch falls, scattering letters all over the frayed carpet.
“Now now, Taylor, are you trying to cheat?”
“I-I… I am s-sorry. I didn’t mean to,” I whimper and shake my head terrified.
“I hate cheaters,” she hisses, bringing her face an inch away from mine. “You’re not a cheater, Taylor, are you?”
Decomposing flesh. Rotten tuna. Spoiled milk.
My stomach churns. The taste of vomit climbs up my throat. It takes everything in me to contain my insides.
“Don’t worry. I’ll gather those for you. Now, pick. A. Letter.”
She throws the pouch on my lap and glares at me. I close my eyes, grab a tile and turn it over.
It’s a T. A goddamn T!
“Stupid game! Fuck!” I roar and slam two fists on the table panting.
I mournfully select my letters and place them on the board.
ABORT. 8 Points.
“You said you were good at Scrabble, Taylor,” she drags my name. “This was hardly entertaining.”
She’s mocking me. That bitch is mocking me!
As she sluggishly returns to her seat, I see myself grabbing her hair and banging her head on the edge, blood gushing out of her cracked skull, yet I’m glued in place as if a vortex is pulling me down, down, down.
Scritch scritch, the pencil goes and then, utter silence.
“I won! Game over, Taylor.”
Let This Be The Last Time…
Today we are burying the ring for the third time. I don’t know how much longer I can take this. My crew looks at me with hollow gazes; they’ve been stuck with me and I’ve been stuck with them for...
Gods, let this be the last time.
The shovel in my hands holds the weight of the land. The soil beneath my bare feet is made of pins and shards. The sun is lava against my face. But the worst of all? The fiend hovering just a few inches from my face. It smiles—it always smiles—rotten gums and wretched teeth, a stagnant stench of mold emanating from its pores. It never leaves. It doesn’t move. It looms over me, shackled by invisible chains; the chains of my doom.
Gods, let this be the last time…
I dig up a hole large enough to bury a baby dragon. My palms are sticky, my face drenched. They all stare at me with glassy eyes only the dead should have. I don’t blame them. It is I who got them into this mess. I thought I could beat it. Curses, after all, are easily broken by those raised by a witch. I was wrong. So wrong. For the wealth of a lifetime, we were condemned in misery.
The soil is marked with blood from the battle of Athehorne. Hundreds lie beneath, bones turned to dust. This is what it wants. I just hope that this time the bloodshed will be enough. This land is considered the unholiest place of our known world. It should be enough. It has to be…
I finish up and drop the shovel. My heart is racing. Another try… Another decade of waiting… We are all bound to the curse, as am I to the shadow. Our punishment? To feel nothing but emptiness. Hunger that’s never satiated. Thirst that’s never quenched.
It’s been thirty years…
I kneel and place the ring in the middle as if it’s made of snowflakes. Now it’s my crew’s turn to do the deed… The entity smiles a little wider. It’s pleased…
My feet get covered, then my knees. Once the dirt reaches my waist I can no longer move. The hardest part are the shoulders. I’ve experienced it before but it doesn’t get easier… I wheeze and cough but the more I struggle, the more my tongue feels like sandpaper, the more my lungs feel on fire. The sounds become a muffled buzzing. I see and then I do not.
It’s all black now… It should be over soon. If I’m right, then this is my last breath.
Gods, let this be the last time…
Much worse, he thought to himself, flicking ash off his cigarette and stepping out of the shadows to follow Angela. But he could live with doing a little worse if it meant getting revenge on Carlos.
James Burns was never supposed to be born. As unnatural as a frigid inferno or a planet orbiting around a black hole, he belonged neither in the human world nor in the demonic underbelly. A hybrid who shared compassion and cruelty, a lust for creation and a lust for destruction; he had to hide his true origin for as long as he remembered. His existence alone was a defiance to the laws governing earth and his mother was the one who paid the price. He never met her, for he was condemned to kill her as soon as he took his first breath, but her voice still echoed in his mind, singing lullabies while still in the womb. He remembered the warmth of her love when she’d rub her belly and read fairytales to her unborn—it was the blessing and curse of his duality and the nourishment of his hatred. Yes, James Burns was prepared to do anything to get revenge on Carlos; the creature who sowed him, the demon who bestowed a taste for murder on him, the father who gifted him the thirst for blood, and soon the half-breed would return the favor...
James would watch the earth burn and be reborn again if it meant fulfilling his life’s purpose. He had waited an eon for the perfect candidate, the missing piece, the correct pawn to set his plan into motion, and, of all the minions his father leashed, Angela was far the most promising. She nurtured the right amount of aversion for James to exploit in convincing her to switch sides and the rebellious personality to encourage her to fight back. He had to find a way to summon her. Tiptoeing between the world of the living and the kingdom of monsters came with limitations. No mortal could come within arm’s reach without feeling the chill of corruption in their hearts. As for a mortal who carried the Mark, he was as bare to their gaze as the shadow of an atom under a microscope. Should he ever approached her without permission, should she ever saw his true form, Angela’s sanity without a doubt would be ripped to shreds and then she’d be useless to him.
He trailed her back to her house and lingered outside, contemplating on his next move—if she kept rejecting his card, he’d have to try a different way—when, through the walls, his eyes caught a glimpse that seemed imperceptible to everyone but the marked human. It crackled with energy that tingled his skin. It called to him but at the same time stung like a porcupine wiggling inside his brain. His mind circled back to the exchange he witnessed in the dark alley, the mysterious box and the golden lock, and a gear snapped into place, forcing a gasp out of him. It couldn’t be... He couldn’t possibly be so lucky as to have stumbled upon the Possessor, right?
Who am I?
For a long time I lost sight of who I was.
I hated myself. I doubted my existence.
Who I were and who I became were different people.
Everything was black, there was no joy around,
For if you don't know who you are,
How will you let the world know?
There was no light, it all seemed vain.
And I thought I'd never put the pieces together again.
Time heals all wounds.
It's cliche but so true.
The me who was, will never be again.
But I learned who I am anew.
The old me will never be again.
And that's okay...
If I’d known life was going to be this way, I would have asked never to be born.
If I’d known the torment and pain that come from living, I would have asked never to be born.
If I’d known how much ache and suffering I’d witness, I would have asked never to be born.
If I’d known how people spend their lives in a monotonous routine, I would have asked never to be born.
If I’d known how much I’d have to struggle, I would have asked never to be born.
If I’d known the obstacles that scramble one’s way, I would have asked never to be born.
But now that I know the little joys that come from living, I say “I’m glad I was born.”
Her Last Gift
“If you sing to the mermaids, they come when you’re drowning...” Mother would tell me, while tucking me in bed. I used to think it was a fairytale, a story parents tell their kids before bedtime, but I sang anyway. I would sit on the prow, absentmindedly gazing at the open sea, and I would sing about my dreams to anyone willing to listen, even if that weren’t my parents.
Mermaids were a rare sight. After the Aqua War they had retreated back to the depths of the ocean, but their lore was still very much alive. I did believe there was somebody, something out there that listened.
And so I sang. I sang for the lands I wished to visit, for the life beyond the water I wished to have, for the marvels that awaited me.
If only I could leave...
Years passed, my responsibilities grew, but I still found myself sitting on the prowl, legs dangling, pouring out my soul to the infinity of the blue. I never got a response but I didn’t care. Maybe Father was right after all. Maybe mermaids had gone extinct but my dreams hadn’t. I sat there, watching my life pass before by eyes, filled with longing that was never satisfied, and I felt such intense desperation that was a worse and more slow death than drowning.
A fearsome man, my father was; I had never dared defy him until that day. The day I had enough. A satchel was all I took when I embarked on my journey. It was time to part the sea.
Throughout the years I distanced myself from my roots, a painful reminder of the agony in Mother’s eyes and the scorn in Father’s gaze. I had to reinvent myself. The sea was all I knew, but the land was my new home. I traveled everywhere. I saw everything I could. I no longer needed to sing. I let go and I forgot. And it was enough for a while.
Until it wasn’t...
I was on a small frigate, on the way to the Capital, when I heard the news. Mother was no more. The guilt I felt at that moment made me crumble to my feet. Memories of her warm hugs, her sincere kisses was all I could think of. Her sad eyes was all I could see. I always thought I’d go back eventually, but I took time for granted and then it was too late. I could never go back again. I couldn’t face Father, I was afraid to. Suddenly I felt the burden of displacement deep in my heart. I had renounced my true home and that was my punishment. I didn’t belong anywhere anymore.
I felt the water calling out to me, the mesmerizing waves enticing me. By our traditions, Mother’s ashes must had been scattered at sea, and maybe that is where I belonged as well.
So I jumped… An act of cowardice but probably what I deserved, to die a shameful death. But fate had other plans for me.
As I was sinking deeper and deeper, oxygen running out, I came to terms with my demise. I thought of Mother and closed my eyes. Cold surrounding me, I could have sworn I felt warmth on my hands. I thought it was her spirit. It had come to me in a time of need. And slowly things went black…
I woke up coughing water, smooth white sand under my bare body, and realized what had happened. I thought it was a fairytale, but maybe she was protecting me all along. Maybe she prepared me for that exact moment. It was my mother’s last parental gift and I had to honor it. I would live with my guilt and I would move on.
And maybe, one day, I’d find the courage to return...