One by One
Vinessa sips her glass of wine, eyeing the hair peeking out from my shirt.
"Have you ever been in love?" she asks. I shrug, drink my shot, then practically shatter the glass on the counter.
"You're not impressing anyone with that," says the bartender, frowning at the mistreated shot glass. Vinessa strokes my arm with her nimble fingers. "I'm a little impressed," she coos.
"Yeah, well, I'm not," says the bartender. "If one of those glasses shatters, you're paying for it."
"Yeah, yeah, I know," I grumble. I take another shot, closing my eyes as I feel the burn roll down my throat.
"Oh my God," she squeaks, pointing to the corner of the room. A man lies dead there, a bullet hole in his right temple.
"What the hell is this?" I ask. I hop off my stool and walk towards him, though the alcohol is starting to affect the way I walk. People scooch away from the man, leaving a path for me.
The man hangs back with his arms splayed out. A tiny trickle of blood falls from the wound in his forehead to his lapel. As I lean closer, Vinessa squeals. "There's another one," she says. "A woman near the dance floor. I don't know why I didn't notice her before."
"How are these people dying?" I growl. "I don't hear gunshots, and I would definitely hear a silencer from this distance."
"EEE! Another one!" says Vinessa. I turn, and every time I blink, I see another man or woman dead. "What's going on?" I cry. "What is this?"
I blink, and the bartender's draped across the counter, his precious glasses smashed over his head. Blood drips down from his slit throat.
I turn again, and at long last, everyone in the bar is either dying or bleeding out...
...except for Vinessa and I.
I turn to her and I grimace. "You're doing this, aren't you?"
But then I remember her...I had been in love once.
She smiles at me, and she laughs like a drunken hyena. Then she dissolves like paper in a pool of acid rain, leaving nothing behind.
Blood and death surround me. I throw up my hands...
...but that's when I notice it in my left hand. My father's revolver, spattered with blood.
I came to the bar for shots, all right.
“Are you relaxed?” I ask.
Jeffrey Epstein looks up at me. His eyes are hungry.
I’m going to let them starve.
“Hell yeah,” he says. He spreads his legs and loosens his tie. I feel a pang of panic. What if it doesn’t work? What will he do?
“I’m ready for you, sweet cheeks,” he says, and I put on my fakest smile. I reach into the pocket of my dress, searching for the one object that will save me from him.
I find it, and it rolls into my fingers on its own.
“Close your eyes,” I say. He does.
“Now imagine me naked,” I say. He shudders with pleasure. “Easier done than said,” he says. I want to slap him, hurt him, but I need him to be relaxed. Otherwise, the hypnotism won’t work.
“Can you see me?” I ask. Epstein nods his head, his eyes still closed. “Ohh yeah.”
“One.” I snap my fingers. Epstein’s face becomes as blank as paper. He has an erection; I shudder, disgusted.
“You will stop. And think,” I say. I hold up the object from my pocket: a little ball of amethyst crystals. With most hypnotisms, you cannot make a person do anything they don’t want to do. With these enchanted crystals, however, I can make them do anything I want.
“You will think about all of the girls you violated. Every. Single. One.”
For a second, Epstein has that hungry look again. But that’s about to change.
I squeeze the ball of amethyst, and I see his expression darken. He flails in his seat, but he doesn’t leave it. I won’t let him leave it. He’s caught like a fly.
“Do you see them?” I growl. “Do you see what you’ve done to them?”
“M-make it stop,” says Epstein. “I don’t want to be—no, stop—”
“Do you understand what you did?”
“Please, make it stop!” he cries. He flails again, jolting left and right from a phantom abuser.
I drop the ball back into my pocket. Epstein slumps as if nothing had happened.
I say one more thing before I loosen my hold on him.
“Die,” I say, tracing the shape of a noose on his arm with my fingernail. He nods, as if in agreement.
The private jet comes to a stop.
I let go of my grip on him. He snaps out of it, his legs again splayed, and he looks at me like a cheetah would look at a helpless gazelle.
“So are we doing this or not?” he says impatiently. I smile that phony smile again. “We’ve landed,” I say. Epstein peeks out of the window, then sighs in disappointment. “Maybe we’ll do this later, then,” he purrs.
But I know about the police outside. I know where he’s going next. And I know that Epstein’s going to hell, regardless of who he pays off.
That is my purpose.
I cannot see, I cannot speak.
My heartbeat speaks for me.
I feel the fluid around me,
Warm. Home. Safe.
Then I feel a rush of something cold.
Cold? What is cold?
What is breath?
I open my mouth and I feel it smother me.
But it's good. It's comfortable.
I hear things. Things I've never heard before.
I smell things I've never smelled before.
I shriek at the top of my lungs.
But then I hear that special voice,
The one beneath organs and tissue and fluid
That called my name before it was mine.
I still shriek, but I now know,
That the name-voice is home.
With name-voice, I'm home.
Eté sits beside me on my tree branch, her wings fluttering nervously. For a wolf spirit, she’s usually very calm, but something has her mind occupied tonight. I scratch behind her ears, but she doesn’t turn to look at me; she stares into the darkness, her eyes fixed on the airships far away.
“We shouldn’t be up here,” says Eté. I plant a kiss on the top of her head.
“I mean it,” Eté says, bending her head backwards to look at me. “If Anu or Oto find out, it’ll be my hide.”
“I’ll just say it was my idea,” I say to her. “Come on, Eté. Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“In the house,” she grumbles. “Where humans won’t pick us off like flies.”
“You worry too much,” I laugh. “But you’re right. I don’t feel like being lectured by Anu tonight.”
I leap from my tree branch, and as I fall, I begin to float. My silken robes flutter around me like butterfly wings. Eté leaps after me, circling around me as I reach the roots of the pine I was sitting in.
“We need to get ready for the ceremony,” says Eté, folding her wings as she reaches the ground.
“The ceremony!” I gasp. “I completely forgot about it. Anu will kill me if I’m not ready.”
“Which is why you have me,” says Eté. “Inside now. We must hurry.”
I take off running as soon as my feet hit the ground. The house is colder than the Great Forest I return from, but I don’t mind at all. I change my robes and hide my sap-soaked ones from view, then speed to the mirror to force my explosion of white hair into a braid. Eté brings me shoes from the front door, and with a quick wave of my hand, the cuts in my mahogany-brown skin sew together, leaving no trace of my time in the tree.
Just as I finish, I hear the wind pick up outside. “They’re here!” says Eté, rushing out the door.
I run outside with open arms. Two silver dragons—long and serpentine—circle around the house, surrounded by other winged wolf spirits. Eté howls, and a wave of wolves echo her call.
The dragons dive from their circle in the sky, both coming to a stop directly in front of me. I embrace them, throwing my arms over their horns and kissing them both on the nose.
“Anu. Oto. Welcome home,” I say. Anu—the female dragon—grabs me with her claws and tosses me in the air. I laugh as I fall back down, twirling in the air like a cyclone. I land on Oto’s back, and I spin as he curls his body like a slide. I roll off of him and land gently in the grass.
“Thank you for being ready, dear,” hums Anu. She sniffs me—once, twice. “Though you’ve been climbing trees again, haven’t you?”
“How did you know?” I say, but Oto just rubs his face on my back like a cat. “We dragons have the kings of noses,” he says proudly. “We can sniff from here to the other end of Arunoska.”
“I don’t see why it’s such a big deal,” I say, pushing Oto’s face away with a smile. “You guys go above the trees every day. Why can’t I?”
“You know well why,” said Anu. “The king’s patrols grow ever closer to our home. Those airships you see? They have bombs in them, meant to kill our fellow magic-folk. If they ever see you, they’ll turn on you.”
“I guess,” I say, tugging half-heartedly at my braid.
“But right now, we have a festival to attend,” says Oto. He poises, his body curled into a spiral. I run and leap onto his back, and immediately both dragons shoot up into the air. Eté follows, with the other wolf spirits at her back. The crisp night air bites into my robes, so I lean and hug Oto’s neck for warmth.
We fly above the trees for only a moment, but it’s a moment I breathe in and savor. Far, far away, past the lonely villages and farms near the Forest’s border, lies the sparkling kingdom of Arunoska. Ugly in the daytime, beautiful at night, the castle walls and houses are all made of treated iron.
Iron—like skin-peeling acid to someone like me.
We magic-folk aren’t allowed within half a mile of the city. Otherwise, we’re kidnapped and put to work in the forges…or worse, eaten. That’s what Anu tells me, but there’s only one way to find out if it’s true. One day, Anu and Oto will teach me how to fly—really fly—and I’ll be able to see the human kingdom for myself.
The ceremony is set to take place on a little hidden beach, where the trees of the Great Forest meet the waves of the sea. Magic-folk of every kind gather around a river that leads out to the ocean, and on the banks of the river are the Dryads, laying down covered objects that are about the size of a lamppost.
I think the Dryads are pretty, but humans always seem to be scared of them. Their entire bodies are white and speckled, made of the bark of a birch tree, and their eyes glow blue with the spirit of the ocean. Their mouths are rough and crooked, but they speak so softly and sweetly. They also keep secrets the best—and I’ve kept many secrets from Anu and Oto.
A black stag with antlers the color of autumn leaves steps forward when we arrive. “I hope we’re not late, Akutu,” Oto says to the stag, nuzzling his forehead with his nose. Akutu bows his head. “Of course not, Oto. The three of you are just in time.” He smiles at me and bows. “Welcome, Lazuli.”
“Thank you, Akutu,” I say. I want to say something silly, but I can feel Oto’s back become tense. It’s almost like he knows what I’m planning. I step down from Oto’s back and embrace Akutu’s neck, giving him a small kiss on his cheek.
“Well, it seems everyone is here,” says Akutu, nuzzling my shoulder. “Let the ceremony commence.”
The Dryads bow to Anu and Oto, then uncover the objects at their sides. There by the water are twelve birch logs, the tops of which are carved with extraordinary skill into handsome Dryad faces—some male, some female. The hair of each carved Dryad differs; some are made with dying leaves, while others are fashioned out of hand-made twine. The living Dryads push the lifeless ones into the water just a bit—enough for their hair to be touched by the water.
The moon, an enormous size tonight, sits high on its throne in the clouds. It casts a beam of moonlight onto the river, and the lifeless Dryads soak it up with their hair. One of them—one with thistles for hair—opens his eyes. For a moment, they’re black as polished obsidian, but as the Spirit of the Moon goes onto another Dryad, they glow a soft and lovely blue. His parents and sculptors whoop with excitement, then help the boy up so that the log stands on its flat end. The boy shivers, and with the slightest movement of his head, the rest of the log sheds away to reveal a muscular boy with arms and legs.
As the night goes on, the others wake for the very first time. Some come out fat, some come out long, but the Dryads do not care—so long as life breathes in their children, they rejoice.
One Dryad I notice, however, remains untouched by the moon’s tendril of light. The mother and father push the log farther into the river, biting their fingers and whispering to each other in hushed tones. Akutu leaves my side, heading to where the couple kneels in the sand.
I wish I could hear what Akutu says to them, because whatever he says puts the couple at ease. I never seem to have that talent, even when I try my hardest.
“Come, Lazuli,” Anu says to me. “We have a surprise for you.”
“What is it?” I ask, but Oto shushes me with a claw to his mouth. “Hop on. We’ll see if you can guess,” he purrs. I climb onto his back, and as the dragons take off, I see something on the moon.
Did that crater just…wink at me?
I turn away, blaming the wink on the wind in my eyes. The wolf spirits follow us, gliding like birds in the cool night air. When we’re a little ways away from the coast, Anu and Oto touch down in a large clearing, just the right size for two dragons. The wolf spirits remain in the air, though Eté joins me as I dismount from Oto’s back.
“So…the surprise?” I ask. “Gnorod the Golem isn’t going to jump out at me again, is he?”
“No,” laughs Anu. “This we’re taking very seriously.” She whistles between her fangs, and one of the wolf spirits descends from his place in the clouds. On his back is a large sack, and I can tell whatever’s in it is pretty heavy. He descends as though he was diving from a cliff, and when he swoops to carry it to me, he crashes into the ground before me.
“Oh, Yuki, I’m sorry,” I say, untying the sack from his back. I scratch his neck, then he swoops back up to join his brothers and sisters.
“This isn’t heavy at all,” I remark, looking quizzically at Anu and Oto. Anu just smiles a toothy grin. “Open it,” she says. “It’s something you’ll like, I promise.”
I smile and open the sack. At first I’m not sure what I’m looking at, so I reach into the sack and pull out what I feel.
I gasp in adoration.
It appears to be a mantle, or at least a long cloak, made entirely out of golden feathers. And I don’t mean golden, the color—each feather is an actual gold creation, woven together into a mantle by rich golden thread.
I throw the mantle on, and it moves as though it weighs a ton, but on me, it weighs nothing. “Did you enchant this?” I ask Anu. She chuckles.
“Yes. It was initially made of moon pheasant feathers, but gold is much more fashionable, isn’t it?”
“Its use is also enchanted,” says Oto. “Only you can use it, so if anyone else tries, it becomes very heavy.”
“Oh, that’s why Yuki…but what does it do?” I ask.
“Close your eyes,” says Anu. “It’ll tell you.”
I feel silly, but I do as I’m told. Instantly I feel warm inside…but there’s something else, too. An itch. An itch to spread my wings and…
I open my eyes and gasp.
Two enormous golden wings flap before me, stemming from the mantle. They’re tall and beautiful, trailing behind me when I walk. I reach out and will the wing to touch my hand, and it does. Inside I feel bone and sinews, but when I take the mantle off, the wings disappear into the mass of feathers as if they were never even there to begin with.
“Do you like it?” says Oto. “Do I like it?” I laugh. I bury myself back into the mantle, and the warm feeling spreads from my back to my new wings. I push from the ground, and the wings propel me high into the air. I whoop, going higher and higher. Anu and Oto join me, and we duck and dive around each other. Oto lets out a mighty roar…
…as a bomb explodes, ripping the scales from his face.
I begin to cry. “Oto!” I call, but he doesn’t respond. He falls, his beautiful coils spattered with burned flesh and fresh blood. I turn around, and directly behind me is an ornate airship, hovering above us as though it’s a hawk eyeing a helpless fish.
“Reload!” shouts a voice from the airship. Anu roars, in both anger and anguish. She darts towards the balloon of the airship and slices her claws across it, and immediately, the airship sinks.
“Fly away, Lazuli,” Anu cries. I draw closer to her.
“Fly!” she roars, and strikes me with her tail. My wings collapse for a moment, unused to such abuse. I’m frozen. I’m terrified. But when Anu attacks the airship again, I dive down into the Forest, blinking away my tears.
I have to find Oto. He has to survive. I fight back sobs, and the wings lower me into the darkness of the Forest, away from the eyes of the humans.
Title: Lazuli and the Golden Mantle
Target Audience: 16-18 year old boys and girls
Word Count (of chapter): 2,127 words
Author Name: E. S. Arnold (real name is Sara Berndt)
Education: Chaffey College, Redlands East Valley High School, Laguna College of Art
Hook: When Lazuli is stolen away from the Great Forest by an evil king, she can't help
but to fall in love with the Prince. Meanwhile, she must fight to find her
identity, and not lose her life in the process.
Hobbies: I like drawing, writing, reading, and listening to music. I also like to learn new
languages (right now it's Japanese)
Hometown: Nerotovice, Czech Republic
The Power of an Empath
They all stare at me. They don't look, they stare.
But that's okay. I'm not what they expected.
They heard there was a surprise guest that was going to open for Spikes and Shieldmaidens, but they sure as hell didn't hope to see me. They were hoping for a scantily-clad girl with a flamethrower bra, or men in tight leather with guitars. They weren't expecting me, a woman in her thirties, wearing a forest green ball gown and white silk gloves.
They hate me, because they do not know me. But all that will change very soon.
I approach the microphone; it rings with sour feedback, and the crowd shrieks with displeasure. Boos echo onto the stage, and with every ounce of summoned courage I can muster, I manage not to run away.
"Please, be quiet for me," I say, but the boos only increase in volume.
So I whip out my talent. I shush into the microphone.
The stadium goes silent.
"Thank you," I say. The crowd stares at me, wide-eyed.
I call my talent the Aura. A misleading name for most, but I like it. It gives me a solid mental picture of it.
I close my eyes and concentrate. The Aura reaches out from my core. My heart. It sinks and rises over the crowd, and the people breathe it in like air. Soon, I can feel them, each of the thousands of people that stand in clumps before me. I can feel their anger, their happiness...their pain.
Unlike most other empaths, I can divide my mind. I relax, sinking into the darkness behind my eyelids. Like the eyes of a housefly, the crowd's souls appear together, linked at the edges. I study each one carefully.
To the metalhead directly in front of me, I whisper that things will be okay. He's angry, and hurt--mostly from the loss of his son.
To the woman in seat B12, I whisper that she is more valuable than she thinks. She doesn't have to accept the abuse she receives from her husband on a daily basis.
To the girl with dreadlocks somewhere in the middle, I whisper that she has people who love her. A God that loves her. She shouldn't need to conceal her new pregnancy from anyone.
One by one, I go to each person, whispering helpful truths and encouragements. Each person has a weight on their soul, something they regret or something they can't control. I do my best to alleviate that weight, even if it's just for a short amount of time.
When I reach the very last person, I return to my normal self, drawing the Aura back to my core.
The entire stadium weeps.
I bow, and I leave the stage. I can feel that they're happy, at least for now. That's all the applause I could want in the world.
Fools Must Learn
I stand above my fellow jury members. Confused, they look at me, questioning my sudden movement.
"Fools," I say. "Are you so in haste to play God, so in haste to cast this man into oblivion, that you do not stop to hear his plea? Have you been so seduced by the lies of the prosecution that you have replaced all logic with the filth of their mistruths?" I point at the defendant; he ducks from the intensity of my stare.
"This man is innocent," I roar. "If you all weren't so obsessed with the prosecution's fairy tales, you would've noticed that this poor man's story lines up. For once in your goddamn lives, pay attention."