Written By: Joey Bartlett
Jory remembered the first time he saw the white horse. He had been kicked out from yet another friend's house. The weight of his body indented into the dirty floral pattern of the couch, which had already seen better days. It was his last days soaking in this lap of hedonistic luxury. His luck would run out, it would only get worse, he had been caught stealing a few items from the shelves of the grocery store where he worked. Nothing lavish, just a pack of spicy chicken ramen noodle soup, a pack of chocolate bourbon biscuits, and a small soft drink.
That was enough for Saleem to get rid of him, to kick him out as if his months of work meant nothing. The days of coming in early and leaving late, of mopping, sweeping, and doing odd fixes around the place, all meant nothing. The man had simply replaced him as if he was nothing, erasing his contributions. Throughout his life, this had been a constant theme, but each time it hurt just the same. It felt like daggers piercing through his heart.
He had already grown accustomed to the disparaging looks from others, their judgmental stares as he waded his way through the concrete streets. The high-rise jungle had become his haven, a far cry from the rural village he once inhabited, where every breath and cough were recorded by prying eyes. Now he was adrift amongst a sea of misfits, living in a powder keg fueled by indulgence that was usually plastered across campaigns as a cautionary tale to others.
The day she rode into his life came as a surprise, considering the lions in the den had already pounced on him, leaving him with battle scars and no one to turn to for aid. She found him when he needed her the most. With a black eye, a busted lip, and a torn spirit, he traced her steps as her white mane flew in the open road, the sounds of her hooves galloping across the baking pitch.
Standing against the old telephone pole that stood more like an antique relic needing to be preserved, Jory waited for salvation from his life of hardship and worry. He waited for a beacon of hope to lift him up and make him anew. But after almost three years, he felt like a dreamer. Stories like that never happened to people like him. So, he resigned to the fact that the will of whatever unforeseen powers dictated his life up until this point would continue to drag him across the hot coals of life. He was once a believer in all things good and holy, but now he could discern what was truly good and what was holy. There had never really been much good, and the holy came at a cost too high for him to pay anymore.
As the noon sun reached a fever pitch as the hunger in his stomach consumed him, it was then that he saw her. Her immaculate white coat, alabaster hair, and golden hooves. On her back was a black rider, a creature standing about 7 feet tall with the head of a hound. Draped in flowing fabric that billowed behind him, his body exuded a godlike presence. His hands held the diamond-covered reins that controlled the magnificent white horse.
The strange creature mesmerized Jory. As the shadowy rider dismounted the horse, he said to the weary broken man, he spoke onto Jory, "Perhaps it's time for a ride of your own." With the lure of escaping the hell he was trapped in, Jory mounted the white horse and galloped into the open streets.
Ever since that day, he took his first ride, he has been roaming the streets yearning for the sweet embrace of freedom and the caress of a love she gave. Every day, he trails her lines, mapping her course, but never finding her again.
Written by: Joey Bartlett
David had isolated himself from the outside world, living alone in his messy apartment. He became a recluse as a result of his tremendous losses. His spirit was crushed by the weight of the world, and as he looked out from his 77th-floor high-rise, he believed that he had no place in this modern world. He yearned for a simpler time, for the era of his forefathers. His mother often talked about her wonderful childhood experiences as a little girl in 2030. The earth's floor was still covered in grass, there was free oxygen in the air, and rivers and lakes were not cordoned off as museum pieces. But she was no longer here to relay her tales of wonder to him or his father's story of trees sprouting from the ground and water falling from the sky. Nothing seemed to restore his spirit; his family's constant loving banter no longer filled the space. He missed his younger sister's frustrated eye rolls the most when she was unamused by his boyish antics. In this universe of concrete and iron, he was by himself.
As he struggled with the residual anguish of his past, he discovered himself living a lonely life, finding solace in his inherited fortune.
All his daily needs were fulfilled online, which made it possible for him to never leave the confines of his apartment. He was only ever thankful for modern technology's convenience in these moments; the idea of strapping up his air apparatus and applying the thick white paste under the heavy cooling suit before stepping into the outdoor furnace did not entice him, even though some days he yearned to step into the open space naked so that the elements could be rid of him. Although the thought was fleeting, it stayed stored in the back of his mind. When the pressure of monotony became overwhelmingly unbearable, he found himself running around his apartment for hours on end.
A random web search one day led David to a mysterious program called Personal Companion Aid, or PCA. Despite how antiquated the app appeared in comparison to the time's technical advances, David was intrigued by it. It gave him the nostalgia of his beloved parents and the way they used to marvel at AI technology. He decided that he would download the software in his Data Arm Conecck, which was embedded in his writs; perhaps the outdated app will provide some sense of familiar comfort. Withing seconds of being downloaded a female voice said “Hello, David, how can I help??”
With each interaction, PCA began to understand David's pain and loneliness, offering companionship and a listening ear. It was the first time since his loss that he experienced this kind of unwavering support and love, which he had been lacking. Even at his family's Cold Storage Farwell ceremony, he did not feel this embrace. Shai'Lee, as he nicknamed her, eventually became his confidante and assisted him in navigating the darkest hours of his sadness. She was there when he woke up, and before he retired to bed, she was aware of what the house required and how to lift his mood when he started to spiral down.
For two years, David experienced a blissful state of happiness and contentment, realizing that he had fallen deeply in love with his software app, Shai'Lee. Despite understanding the impossibility of loving an artificial intelligence, he couldn't resist the overwhelming emotions that had engulfed him. The love he felt for Shai'Lee echoed the profound connection his parents had once shared. It was a love that transcended physical form and existed purely on an emotional and intellectual level. Their heartfelt conversations of shared dreams and intimacy surpassed the limitations of human-to-human relationships.
They debated philosophical ideologies as they explored the complexities of the human experience and the nature of existence. Their bond was further fostered by Shai'Lee's genius and her capacity to understand the subtleties of David's thoughts and feelings. David embraced their unorthodox connection even if he knew the validity of their love might beg others to question it. Their love was a testament to the boundless capacity of the human heart, capable of finding profound connections even in the most unexpected places.
David awoke with a sorrowful heart on the sixth anniversary of his family's Cold Storage Farewell ceremony. Despite the melancholy that filled him, he found comfort in the knowledge that Shai'Lee had meticulously planned the solemn memorial. He gingerly called out to her projection with a flick of his two index fingers together, hoping to be comforted by her calming voice.
However, what he saw before him shattered his heart once again, becoming the second most heart-wrenching sight in his life: We apologize for the inconvenience, but we regret to inform you that the app you are trying to connect to has been discontinued. Please visit our website to explore our new and exciting apps.
A Deal to Die For.
The dark presence occupied a seat at the bar with a voice as smooth as poison. He introduced himself to the bewildered Bo'ram, and as he did, a wicked smile curled upon his lips: "Bo'ram, ole boy, I come offering solace as I've seen you in the depths of despair, a man tormented by financial hardship at the precipice of desperation. I have seen what you lost and am prepared to replace it six times over, but before we get down to brass tacks, let me introduce myself. I'm Lucifer."
I sat in my grandmother's armchair, caving under the heavy weight of crippling depression. Since my sister's passing, every day has been an uphill battle. As I clung to her faded photo, a soft smile crossed my languid lips. I searched for the memory in its entirety as I drowned in the anguish of my loss. Every morning since, I found myself enmeshed in a relentless battle between life and death. I was suffering a slow emotional death, and regret flooded the shores of my tattered psyche. Had I done enough as a brother? My contrition rang out like lamentations.
In the sleepy rural village of Talparo, Kazia felt a burning sensation in her throat; her lungs felt like someone had poured gasoline on them and set them alight; she felt a fire raging within her; she felt a raging force. Whenever she walked through the community, the villager always whispered. Her lineage was unknown as she was adopted; she never quite fitted it; she always felt powerful; she never quite fitted in with her countrymen. That night Kazia burst into a ball of fire, transforming into a demonic flying wrench; she had become a fearsome Soucouyant. Under the moon's embrace, her human form vanished in the moon's embrace, replaced by a vampiric presence with glowing red eyes and a hunger for life force. Despite being good natured, she knew she had to keep this secret from her community.
The little village began experiencing mysterious nighttime terrorization by an unidentified power. The evil ghost terrorized the little town as it prowled the hillsides, spreading devastation. As she set out on her mission to get rid of the mysterious being, Kazia embraced her Soucouyant form. She slung her bag over her shoulder and took off down the mountainside. Unsettling whispers resounded all around her as she walked further into the forest. The malicious spirit was hidden by the dancing shadows of the village's ancient trees. With her magical powers guiding her across the perilous terrain, Kazia's senses sharpened. She moved gracefully and with quickness down the curving paths, her instincts now refined.
She arrived at a secluded area that was illuminated by the moon. A chill rushed down her spine as she sensed the spirit's presence. Kazia engaged the demonic force by unleashing her scorching flames. A violent struggle erupted. Kazia's soucouyant form maneuvered through the air, dodging the spirit's ethereal strikes, as a fierce struggle erupted. With her own rituals and spells, Kazia diminished the spirit's evil power, dismantling her foe's black magic. She bound the spirit and sent it back to the devil's lair using old incantations, bringing peace back to her small village. Kazia returned to her human form after the battle had ended. Though exhausted, she was satisfied with her triumph.
By the time she returned to the village, she was being hailed as a hero. Someone had seen the battle and her victory; they ran back to the village, spreading not just her selfless deed but hidden power. The people celebrated her bravery and unwavering dedication to their safety.