Crossing the Divide

cake_wormhole_by_alienphysique-d5n64pmPhoto Credit: Alienphysique

Chaos bloomed behind me. A literal ending of the world. I paid it no mind. I instead stood at the threshold to the divide and stared deep into its turquoise depths and considered all the possibilities laid out before me. I could go anywhere. To any point within the known universe, or, if I was brave enough, into the unknown.

I went to the one spot I was always going to go. I went home.

+

I stepped out of the cold of the divide and into the heat of a thirty five degree day in Melbourne, Earth. Brown grass crunched beneath my feet, scratching my skin. When had I lost my shoes? I wondered, more with curiosity than any feeling of concern.

‘Bernice,’ a voice said from behind me. I turned, my mind still a whirl after passing through the divide, and saw a woman looking at me, a house behind her. Her forehead was creased with worry and her eyes leaked tears over her dark skin.

‘Nora,’ I said with a smile, not really sure who she was but happy to see her.

‘What? Where?’ she started, but her words became drowned in a sea of heavy tears. She rushed towards me and threw her arms around my shoulders, burying her head into my shirt. I put my arms around her.

‘My sister.’ I said, the fact returning to me.

She pulled back and looked into my still smiling face and in a rush asked, ‘What the fuck happened to you? Where have you been? Are you okay?’ A blinked against the barrage of questions as a flurry of knowledge drifted down from somewhere in the upper reaches of my mind like an autumn tree losing its leaves. The knowledge settled and returned me to me. I was Bernice Jarrin, I had crossed the divide.

I looked into Nora’s eyes feeling more like myself. It must have showed because some of the worry fell away from her face. ‘Yeah. Yes. I’m okay,’ I said. ‘As for what happened, I…’ I trailed off, not sure how to explain it.

‘Why don’t we go inside,’ she suggested. ‘Get away from this heat.’

‘Actually, can I take you somewhere?’ I said. ‘There’s something I can show you that might provide context as I answer your questions.’

+

‘I don’t know what I’m looking at?’ Nora said, her voice echoing through the large and mostly empty warehouse.

‘It’s…well, it doesn’t really have a name yet. I’ve just been calling it the UD. Unknown Device. I, well, I built it.’

She ran her hand across one of the three curved pillars of brass, then gave a hard flick to the dome on top, causing it to let out a hollow ding that hung in the room. ‘You built it but it’s unknown?’ She asked.

‘No. Well, yes. I built it, but it’s not my design.’

‘So who’s design is it?’

‘I don’t know.’

She turned to look at me, eyebrow raised, all sass. It was good to see her usual manner had returned after the short car ride. ‘You realise how unsatisfying these answers are, don’t you?’

‘Right, sorry. It’s from a design I found.’

‘That’s it? Bernice, I swear to god, you are the worst story teller.’

‘Sorry. Sorry. It’s been a long…how long was I actually gone for?’

‘Just over a week,’ she said, some timidity returning to her voice. ‘The police thought you might have been killed. Either that or you’d ran off somewhere. We should probably call them. Let them know they can call off their investigation.’

‘Umm, it might be best to hold off on that for now.’ I said.

Nora whipped her head toward me, eyes penetrating, and I felt the desire to rub my hands together. ‘Why? You planning on leaving again?’

I did rub my hands together. ‘Well, possibly. It might be necessary to-’

‘No, I don’t want to hear any wells, or possiblies, or mights. Tell me straight where the hell have you been?’

‘Luyten b.’

‘What? The exoplanet?’

‘That’s right.’

‘How is that even-? ….and it imploded. It’s been on the news.’

‘Really? For how long?’

‘A couple of days.’

‘So, the crossing isn’t instantaneous. Interesting.’

‘Bernice! What is going on?’

‘Right. The machine, the UD. It’s, for lack of a better word, a transporter.  But it’s also so much more than that. It took me to Luyten b, I watched the world implode. It was…beautiful, terrifying. I, I really don’t have words for it.’

‘I don’t care about the description, Bernice. What do you mean it took you to Luyten b? That’s impossible. That’s…holy shit, I need to sit down.’

I dragged over two old stools I had found by a dumpster when I was first putting together this workspace, and, after a look of reluctance, Nora sat in one. I took the other and spoke.

‘I’m sorry, I really am doing this badly, I know it sounds crazy, but that’s why I wanted to show you the UD, so you could see that this is real. This device, it created a divide between here and Luyten b. All I had to do was step through and I was there. The planet was habitable, just like they thought it might be. I could breathe and it had this kind of odd grass that felt like silk against my feet. Well, at least until it all imploded.’

‘How? How can this device do that?’ She said, pointing at the statue of brass. ‘That’s science fiction, I mean…how?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘You don’t know? You built it!’

‘Yes, but from a set of instructions, the science of it is…unexplained.’

‘Okay. So where did these instructions come from?’

‘Space.’

‘Space?’

‘Originally, although that’s not where I got them from. I found them in one of Marie Moreau’s notebooks.’

‘Okay, and who is she?’

I rolled my eyes. ‘Seriously, Mona? I’ve told you about her a million times.’

‘You talk about a lot of old people!’

‘My thesis was based off her work! My career is based off her work! I went to France last year to visit her ancestral home!’

‘Oh, the one who went crazy.’

I sighed. ‘Yes, but that’s the least of what she-’

‘Wait. If you got the instructions from one of her notebooks how come no one’s ever discovered this before?’

My cheeks flushed. ‘Because no one knows this particular notebook exists. I noticed an image of a book hidden in one of the many paintings she did of her garden. So, last year, on my trip, I had a look, and sure enough in the hollow of this elm tree was a notebook–

‘And you stole it?’

‘I discovered it!’

‘Bernice, come on. Shouldn’t it go to her family trust? Or some scientific society, or something?’

‘I am her scientific society. There is no one else on this planet who knows her work as well as I do. Most academics simply think of her as crazy, dismissing her work entirely. Trust me, the best hands the notebook could possibly be in are mine.’

‘Okay, putting aside your theft for the moment, how is it that you don’t understand the science? If you have the notebook wouldn’t it explain it?’

I blushed again and looked away, knowing Mona wouldn’t like what I was about to say next. ‘Well, the notebook’s a bit hard to understand. It came from later in her career so a lot of it is more, ah, raving, than coherent thought, or written so messily that it can’t be read. But the instructions were clear, as were the descriptions of how she got them.’

Nora gave me one of her classic hard looks. ‘So, let me get this straight. You found the notebook of a woman who was clearly losing her mind, in which was the blueprint for a device that the crazy lady said she got from space, and you decide to build it? Not to mention go to a planet that you thought was habitable. You realise how dangerous that was? How irresponsible?’

‘Yes. Well, no. More risky than irresponsible. But being a scientist is about taking risks.’

‘Controlled risks, that you tell your sister about. Not hide up in a secret warehouse somewhere like some mad doctor. I thought you were dead, Bernice. Hell, if this device had been designed for something else, if anything had gone wrong, you could have been.’ Her voice had risen to a shout, and there were tears in her eyes. Her breath was coming fast and I realised mine was too. I took a deep breath and apologised.

‘You’re right,’ I said. ‘I…I should have told you. I just, I didn’t know how to. It was all so crazy and exciting and…I was selfish. I’m sorry.’ I climbed off the stool and hugged her. After a second she returned it.

‘You’re all I have, you know. Ever since we lost Mum and Dad…well, I thought I was alone.’

‘I’m sorry.’ I repeated. ‘It was dumb.’

She pulled out of the hug and looked at me. ‘But you’re planning on using it again.’ She said, more statement than question.

‘Not without you.’ I told her, meaning it.

‘You want me to go to an alien planet with you?’ She asked.

‘Yes, I mean, sure, why not? There are still a number of planets that have been discovered that scientists are confident are habitable. We could visit any one of them. Be the first sisters in space.’

She wiped a tear from her eye as she shook her head. ‘Bernie, you know how crazy that sounds. You don’t know that this device will even work a second time. And what if the scientists are wrong? What if these planets aren’t habitable.’

‘Like I said, the UD can do more than just transport. Moreau wrote that it also provides a protective barrier around you that contains the properties of wherever you’re transporting from.  Basically, a little pocket of Earth. And I think that’s just the start of what it can do. It’s not as dangerous as you think, Nora, trust me.’

‘And if I say no? What then? Will you still leave?’

‘No,’ I said, but with a moment’s hesitation.

‘Fine,’ she said, hearing it. ‘But we’re doing it right. Bring supplies, plan ahead, and get you some shoes. And I need to know everything I can about this device. Just explain it in as non-crazy-smart person as you can. For starters, how does it even work?’

‘Like this,’ I said, and placed my palm wide over the dome. With a twist clockwise, turquoise bloomed around us.

++++

Thanks for reading

Damian

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Up For It

17-NerveCells-Rex

The procedure was experimental. Well, maybe experimental isn’t the right word. Unproven. It had been proven now though, all thanks to my agreement to be a case study, but there’ve been some complications. No, side-effects is probably a better word. Oh man, I never used to care about words. 

I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on my thirtieth birthday. Literally on the day. I blew out the candles of my birthday cake in the hospital cafeteria and let me tell you they are not exactly festive places.

Sclerosis, if you’re Greek’s a bit rusty — and mine used to be non-existent — means scars. The multiple scarring the name refers to takes place within the central nervous system. On the nerve cells themselves. The protective coating that surrounds the neurons actually shears away. The hard truth is there is currently no known cure.

When I found out the reason I’d been having trouble holding cups lately, not to mention my bladder, was due to multiple sclerosis the doctor also told me that it affects roughly three times as many women as men; as though knowing I shared this disease with all my fellow double X chromosome sisters was somehow comforting. It wasn’t. It just further proved we get the rougher end of the deal. When he mentioned that there was a more radical treatment available though, that got my attention.

That’s what my procedure was, a treatment. Not like a mad scientist harnessing lightning from the sky kind of treatment, but still, it was a bit out there.

Look, I’ve never exactly been a model student, or employee, or person, really. I’ve had a few scraps with the law and done some things I’m not proud of, and maybe haven’t achieved a whole lot, but that didn’t mean I was ready to roll over and let this disease have my body. So, when the Doc said ‘stem cell transplant’ I said ‘sure, I’m up for it’, without really bothering to think it through. Honestly, to my non-medical school trained brain it seemed pretty straight forward. You have these stem cells, which are kind of a blank slate capable of turning into any other type of cell, repairing or replacing damaged cells in the process. So, a donor offers them up for whatever reason, my crappy nerve cells get repaired or replaced, and I’m free to spend my thirty first birthday not in a hospital. Simple.

Maybe simple’s not the right word. Straight-forward. Anyway, not so straight-forward, it turns out. Although even the doctor’s didn’t know that.

My donor’s name was Rupert Hellings. The hospital insisted I meet with him beforehand. Personally, I would have preferred to have taken his stem cells and been on my way, but he was a nice enough guy. Bit older, real academic type. Professor of linguistics at the University of Melbourne, whatever that entails. His wife had had multiple sclerosis and, while it wasn’t what killed her, he said he wanted to help others avoid what she had gone through. Like I said, nice guy; although he had this habit of always cracking his knuckles, drove me crazy.

Anyway, the procedure went fine. Stem cells were transplanted and I stopped having issues with vertigo and motor control. For all intents and purposes I didn’t have multiple sclerosis anymore. Good, right?

Then it started. The side-effects. Little things to begin with. Like I started correcting people’s speech. ‘It’s Holly and I, not me and Holly.’ Things like that. I just couldn’t stop myself. I would hear someone say something incorrect and I would have to correct them. I’ve never been that type of girl, and my friends aren’t the kind of people that like being corrected, or who have much of a grasp on the nuances of language. Basically, I was correcting them a lot. Like, constantly. They stopped inviting me to things, and I could hardly blame them. I was getting fed up with it too.

Then it got worse. I would see a word, just any normal word, written on a sign or a poster and I wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it. I would become captivated with it. No, not captivated. Obsessed. I would think about the different sounds that made up the word. How it could be used in different contexts. I would begin to wonder about the history of the word and have to look it up, which would inevitably lead me to some new word I would become obsessed over. It was weird, it was wrong, it wasn’t me.

When I started cracking my knuckles, it all fell into place. I realised I was cracking them whenever I was lost in thought, usually over some word or another. Like I said, cracking knuckles drove me crazy, but for some reason doing it now felt right. Then I thought of the only other person I knew who cracked their knuckles in that way, the only other person who was likely to get obsessed over words, and my gut dropped.

What could I do? I knew what what would happen if I went back to the hospital. They would be fascinated by the whole thing. The idea that a stem cell recipient might take on the personality traits of the donor? C’mon, I wouldn’t be leaving that hospital anytime soon. They’d want to do so many tests and experiments on me that every birthday for the next thirty years would likely be spent in that hospital cafeteria. I decided instead to pay my donor a visit.

+ + + +

He was sitting at his desk when I stormed into his office. Universities, it turns out, are pretty easy places to just walk into. He looked up in shock, then pleased recognition at the sight of me. He didn’t stay pleased for long.

‘You’ve infected me,’ I yelled.

‘What?’ he asked.

‘Your knuckle cracking, your word fetish. I’ve got all of them.’ I realise I probably could have been a bit clearer in my language but to be honest I was furious and scared. My body was being taken over. To his credit he figured it out pretty quickly.

‘Wait. Are you saying you’ve somehow taken on some of my mannerisms through the stem cell transplant?’ He asked. Smart guy.

‘That’s exactly what I’m saying and I want you to undo it right now!’

He ignored this statement, too caught up in the implications of what I was saying. He stood and started pacing around the room.

‘That’s amazing. My traits are expressing in you. Part of me is in you,’ he said thinking it through. ‘If its existence can be proven then…’

‘Then you and I would never leave a hospital or laboratory ever again,’ I finished for him. That got his attention.

‘Yes. Yes, I suppose you’re right,’ He returned to his seat. ‘This is all a lot to take in.’

‘You think? Try being on the other end of it!’

‘Right. Tell me, what is it exactly you’ve been experiencing?’

‘Words, man. I can’t stop thinking about words. I’m bloody fascinated by them. Like, right now, I can’t stop thinking about the word fascinated. Why do we use it? What’s its history?’

‘Oh, well that’s very interesting actually-’

‘Stop,’ I say. ‘I don’t want to hear it. Well, I do, but not right now. The point is you need to think of a way to get you out of me.’

‘I- I don’t think I can. My stem cells aren’t even my stem cells anymore. They’re your nerve cells. Even if we did go to the hospital I doubt they could reverse it. They wouldn’t know which neurons had been altered, and from the sounds of it it’s affecting your whole central nervous system, all the way up to your brain. I’m sorry but I think you’re stuck like this.’ He gave a tight lipped smile and raised his eyebrows apologetically. It didn’t do a whole lot to comfort me.

I collapsed into the chair opposite him and put my head in my hands. Was it even my head anymore? It didn’t feel like it.

‘You know, it might not be all bad,’ he said.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked, not really caring for whatever pleasantry, no, platitude, he was about to give me.

‘Well, you said you were fascinated by words, even wanted to hear the history of the word fascinated. I take it that means you’re getting at least some level of enjoyment from the study of language?’

‘Yes,’ I said, feeling ruefull, because the truth was he was right. It had alienated me from my friends and made me feel less like myself, but I had also never had such purpose before.

‘Okay. Good. Well, you could always apply to study here. I run the Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics. I could ensure you get a place next semester.’

Me, study? I had certainly never thought of that before.

‘And you would teach me about words?’ I asked.

‘I would,’ he said, smiling.

+ + + +

I took the professor up on his offer. I mean, what else was I going to do? Part of me feels like I’m almost his daughter now, anyway. No, daughter’s not right. Clone. Either way, I decided I’ve just got to be up for it, see where it takes me. Or, at least I think I did.

++++

Thanks for reading

Damian

Mary’s Memory Box

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Mary kept a box inside herself in which she kept all her unwanted memories.

It started when she was nine, on christmas day. After running into the lounge room to see what presents Santa had brought her she had slipped and hit her head, and so her parents had rushed her to the hospital. They’d spent the whole day in the waiting room only to be told she didn’t have a concussion, or need stitches, but rather just a bandaid and some pain killers. It had been the worst day of her short life, all brought upon by her over excited running and falling, and she’d made the decision that she didn’t want to remember it ever again.

She’d been in her bedroom at the time looking at the small wooden box where she kept all her stickers. The box had a small lock attached and so could be opened by no one but her, which meant the stickers only came out of the box when she chose. Why couldn’t she do that with her memories, she’d wondered, and so the memory box had been created.

At first it had resembled the sticker box exactly, but over time it had changed and grown, and, now at twenty nine, Mary envisioned her memory box as being made of walnut, gilded with gold and silver filigree that wrapped itself around the box’s exterior.

The locking mechanisms had been upgraded as well. In order to ensure no memory slipped out, or in, by accident, Mary had added layers of puzzles to the box that she had to navigate in order to allow herself to open and close it. She had to first mentally move the filigree in a specific order, which caused a chunk of wood at the front of the box to slide away, revealing a twenty five digit combination lock. Once the code was correctly inserted the lid would open revealing a second lid, engraved with an intricate jungle scene. A number of buttons were hidden in the scene which she would then have to press in a specific order. Finally, she would whisper a secret sentence to herself, and only then would the box open, and only for the length of time it took for her to stuff her unwanted memories inside.

The box worked perfectly. Ever since that day of its creation all those christmases ago, Mary hadn’t been able to recall her trip to the hospital; all she had in her head was a blank space and the knowledge that she’d hidden a memory away. Her parents had assumed she must have hit her head even harder than they’d expected, calling the doctor that had seen her a quack; but Mary knew the real reason was her memory box.

In the years that followed more and more memories had been added to the box. From the time in high school when she’d gossiped about her best friend Genevieve to the cool kids, sharing all her secrets, to the the time she’d gotten so drunk at a party in her third year of uni that she’d not only vomited a black-orange mix of sambuca and cheetos all over her soon to be ex boyfriend while trying to kiss him but had also broken the home owners dishwasher when she’d used it to wash her vomit covered dress, and then had finished the night by crying and screaming at all her friends until she’d passed out.

It wasn’t only youthful indiscretions she used the box for though, adulthood brought with it a score of memories that Mary cut out and locked away. The job interview she’d started crying in, the shame she’d felt when her ex, Alex, caught her cheating, the regrettable joke she’d made in front of the korean client her company had recruited, which had lead to her being fired, and another night of drinking, breaking things, and saying words that hurt the people who loved her most. Every one of these memories made it into the box, and once the lid was closed, Mary, happily, couldn’t remember them anymore.

Other people still did of course, but with the forced forgetting these people seemed callous and moody to the now unaware Mary, and inevitably, with her thinking them undeservingly rude and them thinking her unremorseful for her actions, the relationships ended.

Now she was having a problem, though. The box wouldn’t close.

She was sitting tearful and hurt in the small bathroom, her swollen eyes closed as she tried to force the box lid down. It refused. She had gone through the regular unlocking sequence without a problem, had mentally sawed away the unwanted memory and placed it in the box without issue, and yet when, in her mind’s eye, she tried to close it, the lid became jammed at the last moment. She furrowed her brow and tried again, imagining an invisible force pushing down on the lid. It refused to budge, as though something in there was blocking its way. It was ridiculous, Mary knew, the box couldn’t over fill. It was, in theory, infinite.

A pounding came from the other side of the bathroom door.

‘Mary,’ her dad cried. ‘Honey, let me in.’

She ignored him, leaning forward over her knees to stick her fingers in her ears and really concentrate on closing the memory box.

The problem was that with the lid open one of her past, forgotten, memories might slip out, and Mary couldn’t allow that. She needed this box closed, and she needed it closed now.

‘Mary,’ her father yelled again. ‘You’re not doing that thing again are you? That repression thing? Please, open the door. Or, at least, just talk to me.’

Mary clamped down on her sniffling externally while internally she pushed even harder on the lid of the box. It moved a fraction of a fraction downwards, validating her efforts. She gathered her resolve and pushed harder still.

A memory slipped out.

It was from when she was eleven. She’d been angry at her mum for refusing to buy the toy she wanted and so had instead secreted the toy into the pocket of her mother’s coat without her noticing. The plan had been to retrieve it once they were home but, as soon as her mother had stepped through the stores sensors, lights had flashed and alarms had rang. A security guard had approached her mother with all the zeal of a want-to-be-cop who had finally found a criminal and swept them both away into a tiny room in the interior of the shopping center. The man had been unnecessarily aggressive and suspicious of her mother even though it was obvious who the real thief was, and had kept them there for over an hour before finally letting them off with a warning and a demand that they pay for the toy. Her mother hadn’t said a word to Mary on the drive home, simply giving her a look of such disapproval and disappointment that made a sick feeling grow in her belly. When they’d gotten home all her mother had done was give her the toy and say, ‘here, you wanted this so bad you might as well keep it.’ Mary spent that evening in her room trying and failing to ignore the toy. Everytime she looked at it the sick feeling in her belly grew, until, of course, she’d decided to put the memory in her box. After that she’d played with the toy without a worry.

Now the memory swept out and escaped into the ether of her mind, re-affixing itself to where she had cut it from all those years ago. The action weakened her, made it harder to focus on closing the box, two decades worth of regret sweeping back in an instant. She knew if she didn’t close it soon more would escape, and so she gritted her teeth and continued pushing.

‘C’mon, you’re twenty nine, now. You can’t keep doing this.’ Her father said from the other side of the door. Mary felt the box close a little bit more.

A second memory escaped.

Mary, at sixteen, in full flight of a hormone and alcohol fueled rampage, yelling and screaming at her parents as tears and mascara dribbled down her cheeks. They had caught her sneaking back into the house through her window after leaving the same way earlier to spend the night with two friends and a boy three years older than her. The boy, Alessandro, had supplied the three girls with as much spirits as they could drink, and the night had become one of binge drinking and eventually fighting when it was revealed Alessandro had been making out with all of them. She’d come home angry and confused and when her parents had apprehended her she’d exploded in a rage she didn’t know she’d possessed, using all the knowledge she had of them to say the things she knew would hurt the most.

The memory shot away to return to its rightful place, but Mary kept pushing.

‘Say something to me,’ her father continued. ‘Don’t push me away. Don’t push this away.’

Mary screamed internally, forcing her well of mental strength to dip deeper, and used everything inside her to push down on the box. With a click the latch caught, and her memories were once more trapped inside. She felt immediately lighter, her tears slowing down as she allowed the emptiness to fill her.

‘Please, love,’ her father said. ‘I’m in pain too.’ And the box exploded.

Memories burst out like confetti inside of her, whipping around her mind in a tornado of pain and regret and sorrow. She threw her head back, eyes going wide, as she re-lived all the moments she had forced away for so long. Her tears came back in an instant, starting with a dribble and turning into a full downpour. Every mistake she’d made, every act of stupidity, and cruelty, and selfishness, found their way back to the appropriate dendrite, the cells flashing with renewed connection as Mary became whole.

One memory, the latest, the one that the box had been so resistant to close over, played inside her mind.

She’d been drunk again, passed out at a bus stop in the middle of the city when two police had found her. They’d looked in her phone for her parents number, and her mum had come to collect her. Her mother had given her the usual spiel from the driver’s seat, asking Mary why she could never learn from her mistakes, why she always pretended everything was okay, why she never talked to them about her issues. Mary had lashed out, swearing and screaming, demanding her mum pull the car over and let her out. Her mother had eventually capitulated, stopping not far from Mary’s apartment, and Mary had managed to stumble the rest of the way. Her mother never made it home. A sleep deprived truck driver had hit her as she entered the highway and she was gone before the ambulance had even arrived.

The next day Mary had slept through her father’s many phone calls. Awaking in the afternoon to read the messages and rush to the hospital, where, after finding out the tragic news, she’d locked herself in the bathroom and promptly opened her memory box.

Mary’s wailing caused a spike of panic in her father. It took him four tries until his shoulder burst the bathroom door open. Mary fell into his arms, apology after apology falling from her lips.

+

Six months later and the box was still gone.

On the advice of her therapist Mary had made a list, a physical one this time, on which she wrote down every one of the memories that had been locked away, all the parts of herself that she had cut off and hidden.

She’d been staying with her father ever since the accident, back in her childhood bedroom, and managed to find her old sticker box in the base of the wardrobe, hidden behind bags of clothes. She cut up the list into little strips of memories and placed them in the box. It would take time but she planned to make amends for every one of them.

She didn’t know if she’d ever get over the loss of her mother, or be able to forgive herself for her death, but she also knew that she was healing. Things made sense now, while shame and regret were not good feelings to have they allowed her to see the whole picture and work to not repeat the same mistakes.

She snapped the little lock off the sticker box and in thick black marker wrote on the lid;

MARY’S MEMORY BOX
(never to be locked again)

++++

Thanks for reading

Damian

Copy (Part 2)

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Image credit: Bogi

The first part of this story can be found here.

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‘Are you sure you know where we’re going?’ Dev asked.

They had been walking for hours. Shuni’s nose leading them away from the business district, past the tightly packed units and stacked apartments, until they got to the outskirts of the suburb, where the two to three bedroom houses squatted like herds of sleeping cattle.

‘Oh yes,’ Shuni said, not lifting her snout from the ground. ‘Sacred cow has a very distinct smell. For something so divine, it is rather smelly.’

‘Really? What does it smell like?’ Dev asked.

‘Like a really big cow.’ Shuni said. ‘I think we’re getting close, now.’ She lead them away from the track and into a growth of bush.

Dev moved behind her as she trotted forward into the undergrowth, her short stature allowing her to pass easily around the various shrubs, bushes, and branches, all of which inevitably hit Dev in the face, or worked to trip him up.

‘Shuni, is there some other way around all this? I’m having some trouble here.’ He said as he tore his leg free from a particularly spiky patch of brambles.

‘I’m afraid not, Dev, this is the way their trail leads.’

‘Then why isn’t there a track? This sacred cow managed to destroy my office building, surely it should have created a path.’

‘Oh no, the panis can fly. They would have simply carried the sacred cow over all this.’

‘Then why are you still smelling the ground?’

‘It’s droppings. It must have been very scared, there are a lot of them. You’re standing in some right now.’

‘Ugh,’ Dev said, shaking his leg to free himself of the invisible waste with no idea if it was actually helping. ‘Can’t we fly over all this, or something?’

‘Ha, dogs can’t fly, Dev. We don’t have wings. You’re so funny.’

Dev stopped walking as an idea came to him. ‘What if you did though?’ He asked.

‘Did what?’ She said.

‘Have wings. You said you could alter-’

A noise somewhere between a bray and a cackle cut him off.

‘Panis,’ Shuni growled, her little corgi body moving into an alert stance. ‘Come on, they must be close, time to do battle!’

Shuni charged forward through the brush. Dev worked to follow, pulling himself free to fall into a clearing. He looked up to see a large overgrown wall of earth in front of him, an open cave mouth at the centre of it. From within the cave’s depth more barking laughs could be heard, and it occurred to Dev for the first time that he was expected to fight demons.

‘Shuni, I don’t wish to appear to be less brave than a dog, albeit a dog/god hybrid, but is there anyway I could not go in there?’

‘Oh, don’t worry, best friend. You’ll be great. You’re the best, most loving, most favourite human I know.’

As pep talks went, it left a lot to be desired, but the honest sincerity of the words coupled with Shuni’s open faced adoration moved Dev, and caused a swell of courage to grow in him.

‘Thank you, Shuni. You’re right, we can do this, and I even have a plan as to-’

A bellow so loud it caused Dev’s ear drums to wobble rolled out of the cave mouth.

‘That is one unhappy cow. Time to go, best friend.’ Shuni turned and ran, her tiny legs a blur as she galloped towards the dark cavern.

‘Wait, Shuni, I have an idea,’ Dev called out, but her small form was already through the opening and heading inside. Left with few options, Dev repositioned his satchel and strode forward.

+ + + +

Darkness enveloped Dev as he moved into the cave, but he could see a small point of flickering light ahead of him. The braying of the panis sounded again, and Dev felt his courage contract. A small shadow in the form of a dog broke the spot of light, and Dev’s courage regained some of its size. Shuni trotted around a bend and Dev hurried to follow her.

He stumbled forward into the light and saw…an empty cavern. It was huge and open with a number of small fires spotted around it’s jagged floor, but the cavern itself was empty except for Shuni and himself.

‘Shuni,’ he started. ‘What’s going…’ His eyes were caught by the shadows. They displayed humanoid figures that leapt and danced over the walls, silhouettes of creatures that didn’t exist. ‘Is that them? Are those shadows the panis?’ He whispered to the god in a corgi’s body.

‘Huh? Shadows? Oh, I see. Lean down, please.’

Confused, Dev moved his face down towards the dog, who leapt up and swiped her tongue across his eyes before he could move away.

‘Ugh, Shuni, why did you…’ Dev’s words fell away as he looked around the now packed cavern. Human like creatures, the panis, hovered and flew around the cavern’s interior. No, actually, they don’t look like humans at all, Dev realised. They had two arms, two legs, and a head, but that was where the resemblance finished. Instead they were stunted and wrinkled, lacking necks and joints in their too straight arms, with overly wide mouths that split their faces in half when they let out their braying laughter.

And as if that wasn’t shocking enough, in the middle of them all sat the biggest cow Dev had ever seen; larger than an elephant, larger than ten elephants. Dev’s neck bent back as he followed it’s length up to where the animal’s head brushed the cavern ceiling. He only had one thought in his mind as he took in the giant creature. It’s so beautiful. The animal’s enormous eyes, while wet and scared, were stunning, seeming to encompass entire galaxies within their depths. It’s coat was clean and gleaming, shining like sunlight over water, and the muscle underneath rippled with angelic health. He couldn’t help but wonder how the milk of a creature as divine as this would taste, and had no doubt that it really must have once fed all of humanity. Then it let out a thunderous bellow and shat itself, and suddenly the spell was broken.

His eyes instead went back to the horrible laughing demons, as yet unaware of he and Shuni’s presence, and felt fear rise up inside of him. His feet instinctively began backing up as he looked around for the closest place to hide.

Then Shuni began barking. It was a loud bark, a challenging bark, full of righteous joy at the prospect of the imminent battle. Dev wanted to throttle her.

‘Shuni,’ he started, but she was off, charging at the demons as if they were simply seagulls.

Dev stood, conflicted. Unable to pair the desire to fearlessly support his friend and the gut wrenching panic at the thought of confronting these literal demons. Instead, he stayed motionless as Shuni bit down hard on the ankle of the closest panis. The thing let out a scream as terrible as its visage. It turned as it’s features changed to rage, and picked Shuni up by her bottom and pulled. Shuni came free with a chunk of demon flesh in her teeth.

The demon tossed her to a nearby hovering fellow, who, laughing, threw her again to a panis on the other side of the cavern. Dev watched in terror as Shuni passed from one set of demon fingers to the next, barking with a ferocious exuberance the entire time.

Mustering up every ounce of bravery inside of him, Dev pushed back his shoulders and with a shaking voice, cried out. ‘Let her go!’

The demon who currently held her, did. He dropped her with a cackle from over five meters in the air. She hit the ground with a soft whump and Dev raced over to her.

She turned her head to look up as he knelt above her. ‘Hey, best friend,’ she said. ‘Did you see me taking on the panis?’

‘I did, Shuni,’ he said, trying to make his voice even a fifth as cheery as hers. ‘You were very brave.’

‘We both were,’ she said.

Dev looked away and up at the swarm of panis hovering.

‘Shall we keep fighting then?’ Shuni asked, bringing her battered body to her feet.

‘I don’t know,’ Dev said, hopelessness creeping into his voice. ‘I’m not sure you can beat them.’ He looked at her chubby little body. ‘Not in this form.’

His idea came back to him.

‘Shuni, you said you can alter certain aspects of reality, right?’

‘Yep. I sure can’

‘Your alterations though, they need to be grounded in some kind of reality, right?

‘That’s right.’ The smile widened on the corgi’s face. ‘What’s going on in your big head, best friend?’

Dev whipped his satchel around himself and pulled out the Ye Old England doggy outfits.

‘What about this dragon outfit? Could you make it so that putting it on turned you into a dragon?’

Shuni thought, taking in Dev’s suggestion. ‘No,’ she finally said. ‘It’s too much of a stretch, the product wasn’t designed for that.’

Dev’s heart sunk.

‘But you could.’

‘What?’ Dev asked.

‘You write the descriptions for these products. I can’t make it that this outfit will do something it’s not supposed to, but I could if you made it part of it’s description.’

‘You mean, if I change the copy so that it says the costume will turn whoever wears it into what it looks like, then it’ll work?’

‘Yep.’

Dev looked up in amazement. ‘In other words, you’re saying that I posses a certain set of skills that have come in handy right when we need them!’ He began laughing and Shuni leapt up and licked his face.

The panis, sensing their excitment, all turned. One let out a cackle and began moving slowly towards them.

‘Right,’ Dev said, and pulled his laptop to him and began typing. His fingers clicked across the keyboard, words and sentences weaving magic as he created copy. Shuni pulled two of the outfits aside and looked up at Dev as he closed the laptop and pushed it to the ground.

‘Two? Why two?’ he asked.

Moments later and Shuni was dressed smartly in the dragon outfit. Beside her, Dev had squeezed the dog sized samurai costume over his head and arms.

‘I feel ridiculous,’ he said.

‘I think you look great,’ Shuni replied.

The panis chuckled as they gathered above them.

‘Ah, Shuni. Why isn’t it working?’ Dev asked, panic rising.

‘I don’t know? Did you press enter?’

The panis dove at them, mouths open wide.

‘Shit!’ Dev called out as he reached for the laptop. He opened its casing just as the first demon was about to touch them, and clicked.

Shuni’s costume molded into her. Her limbs and neck began to elongate immediately, becoming scaled and green. Her snout pushed forward, her teeth grew into fangs, and her puffball of a tail snaked out behind her. Shuni let out a joyful roar, followed by a belch of flame that roasted the closest of the panis.

Dev’s costume likewise stretched, flowing across his body until it fit him perfectly. He felt himself leap impossibly high to kick one of the laughing demons across the mouth, shattering teeth. His hands found the two swords at his back — which, until a moment ago, had been made of felt — and he sliced through two more of the panis before landing perfectly on the ground.

The fight didn’t last long. The panis may have been able to take on a small dog and a giant cow, but they were no match for a samurai and a dragon. Realising this, most of the demons panicked, popping out of existence to return to whatever realm they had come from.

Dev stood beside Shuni, still in dragon form, and looked up at the giant bovine. ‘What do we do with her?’ he asked from behind the cloth of his mask.

‘Don’t worry, best friend. I’ll take care of it.’ Shuni roared around splutters of fire.

‘Do you think you could take the costume off now? It was hard enough bringing myself to talk to a dog let alone a dragon.’

Shuni raised a clawed hand to her neck and pulled. Her green scaled skin tented outward then came free, reverting to a small, fairly cheaply made, dragon doggy outfit, leaving Shuni hanging in the air. She fell, the outfit fluttering down behind her, and Dev, still capable of samurai reflexes, caught them both easily in his arms. He placed her down and pulled off his own outfit.

‘I suppose you’ll go now,’ he said.

‘Yes. And no. I’ll go, but the part of me that’s your dog will remain. You’ll still have your best friend.’

He knelt down and took her in his arms. ‘I’ll only have half of her, but I suppose that’ll have to be enough.’

Shuni licked his face, her eyes a conflicted pool of happy and sad. ‘Well, if me or any of the other gods ever need a writer, we’ll know exactly who to come to.’

‘A copy writer, you mean.’

‘What’s the difference? Time for me to go, best friend. I’ll miss you.’

‘I’ll miss you too, Samara.’

He placed her down and she trotted over to the sacred cow. With one final look back at Dev she turned and licked the leg of the enormous creature, and it disappeared, taking the deity with it.

Shuni, the non-holy version, turned and looked about the cave, before seeing Dev and excitedly trotted over to him. He picked her up and started the long walk home.

+ + + +

The next day Dev went back to work, which is to say he went back to the office to quit, only to remember it was still destroyed. In the end he sent his manager a strongly worded resignation letter. He also decided to keep the laptop, he would need it for the novel he would write, the one about the god and the dragon and the demons and the dog.

++++

Thanks for reading

Damian

Copy (Part 1)

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IMAGE CREDIT: Miazola

Dev Madani worked as a copywriter for a large novelty pet supplies company, which meant he spent the majority of his day writing up over the top descriptions of products like ferret scarves or cat wigs.

His main task was to ensure that he used whatever keywords the client requested as many times as possible while still keeping the description intelligible. Keywords were meant to be included in repetition in order to increase the likelihood that someone would find their website when they searched for that term, but clients were idiots, which is why his summary of a civil war era bonnet for rabbits included the word ‘hop-tastic’ fifteen times. Dev thought that whoever the person was that searched for the term ‘hop-tastic’ deserved to pay the exorbitant forty dollars for their crappy product.

It was fair to say Dev wasn’t feeling very fulfilled in his job.

Today, he was working on a write up for a new line of doggy dress ups. They were being toted as the Ye Old England range and allowed buyers to dress man’s best friend up in costumes of knights, maidens, dragons, wizards, princesses and samurai’s – the historical inaccuracy of which made Dev want to scream out loud. Nevertheless, he raised his fingers to the keyboard and thought about the best way to convince some lonely shopper that the reason they weren’t satisfied with their life was because there dog didn’t have the right outfit.

Then the roof fell in.

+ + + +

The rescue services hadn’t been able to say what caused the cave in, which Dev had been a bit annoyed by. They’d done a great job of pulling him out of the rubble, and luckily no one had been hurt, but when the top of a building falls on you, you generally want to know why.  

A lot of companies would grant leave to their employees after having a near death experience on their premises. Dev’s workplace instead handed out all the undamaged laptops and told everyone to work from home. Likewise, a lot of people would take a near death experience as an opportunity to quit a job they so clearly hated, Dev instead grumbled softly under his breath, took a laptop, and headed back to his apartment.

He placed his satchel which contained the laptop and some of the Ye Old England outfits for reference, onto his kitchen counter, and went to the fridge to grab a beer. Shuni, Dev’s chubby corgi trotted up to him with a look of pure happiness on her face.

‘You want a beer, Shuni?’ Dev asked. Shuni’s response was to continue to smile at him in her doggy way. ‘So, that’s a no?’

Dev had named Shuni for Samara, a figure of Hindu mythology, who was also known as Deva-shuni — the translation of which is ‘Divine Bitch’. As far as Dev was concerned, his Shuni was a divine bitch. His religious faith didn’t extend far beyond that.

‘What about juice?’ Dev asked the still smiling dog. ‘Red bull? Not after five, right? White wine? Milk?’

‘Oh, milk would be nice, thank you,’ Shuni responded.

Dev had the milk in his hand before his brain caught up with the fact that his dog, who, until now had been limited to a series of yips and barks, had just spoken English. He froze, and looked at the happy corgi.

‘What?’ Shuni asked. ‘Has the milk gone bad?’

Dev dropped the milk. Shuni trotted over to the container as it leaked its contents onto the hardwood. ‘Smells alright to me,’ she said, before lapping at the white liquid.

Dev told himself to remain calm. Told himself he might be dreaming. Told himself he might be going insane. Told himself to finish his beer, which he did in four quick swallows.

‘Look at us,’ Shuni said, ‘just two best friends sharing a drink.’

The beer was already working its way into Dev’s bloodstream, and so he felt his impending freakout get covered softly by a thin blanket of alcohol.

‘Shuni?’ Dev said, forcing his voice to remain calm.

‘Yes, Dev,’ Shuni responded, her muzzle drenched with milk.

‘You’re talking.’

‘Yes, Dev.’

‘Why are you talking?’

‘Oh, well, I need your help with something,’ she said, and lowered her muzzle back to the pool of dairy.

‘Okay, that’s nice, maybe stop drinking for a minute if that’s okay. I was more wondering how you’re able to talk, and, secondly, if perhaps I’m losing my sanity.’

She smiled at him again, which didn’t help the situation any.

‘No, you’re not. I’m just a god, that’s all.’

Dev took another beer from the fridge and drunk it even faster than the first one. Shuni seeing Dev scull desperately from the bottle took it as a sign that she could continue drinking too, and so went back to the milk.

‘Sorry, could you just elaborate on that last part.’ Dev said, his calming blanket of alcohol just barely hanging on.

‘The god part?’

‘Yes. Yes, the god part.’

‘Oh. Okay. Well, it’s pretty straight forward. You named your dog, me, after a deity, which allowed that deity, also me, to be able to inhabit your pet.’

‘Wait, you said you’re both my dog, and the god Samara?’

‘Yes. We just kind of merged when I, she, took over.’

‘And when was that?’

‘This afternoon, after the mystic cow crashed into your office building.’

‘I’m going to need more beer aren’t I?’

‘Maybe! Can I get some more milk?’ Shuni asked him, tail wagging.

+ + + +

‘So, let me get this right,’ Dev said as he walked through the fading sunlight back to his workplace, Shuni trotting beside him, a look of pure joy on her face. ‘A group of demons known as the panis.’

‘Yes,’ Shuni encouraged.

‘Stole the sacred cow, who is invisible to us mortals, and who they dropped on my office block, from the Angirasas.’

‘That’s right.’

‘Who are the the ancestors of man.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘The Angirasas, back in the day, used the sacred cow’s milk to nourish humanity, allowing us to become the people we are today.’

‘Mm-hmm.’

‘Except, if the panis do something to the sacred cow then the ramifications of that will go back through time and all of humanity will be lost forever.’

‘Correct.’

‘And so you, Samara, a mythological Hindu being in the body of a corgi, have been tasked with stopping them, retrieving the cow, and saving the world; and you want me, a guy who writes copy for a living, to help you.’

‘That’s it. Ten out of ten. Two best friends on the hunt.’

‘This is just the most ridiculous shit,’ he said.

‘It’s an adventure!’ Shuni cried.

Dev rubbed at his face, half hoping that when he stopped some form of reality would be restored. When it didn’t he sighed and decided to just go with it.

‘Okay, so, why do you need me? Are you going to imbue me with, like, magical powers or something? Or do I possess some certain set of skills that’ll come in handy right when we need it?’ He asked

‘You can let me into the office.’ She said, still smiling.

‘Oh.’

‘And you’re my best friend.’

Dev sighed again. ‘You’re my best friend too, Shuni.’ He said, knowing just how true that statement was.

+ + + +

Dev pulled his swipe card from his satchel and opened the door into the office block. His company didn’t employ a night guard, and even if they did all they would have to guard at the moment was a giant pile of rubble, but, perhaps due to the quiet and the dark, Dev felt like he should be creeping.

‘What a mess,’ Shuni said, breaking the silence. She plodded past Dev and started trotting across the rubble, her flat white butt bobbing up and down as she went. Dev had always thought Shuni’s corgi butt was cute and comical, but knowing it now belonged to a god confused those feelings. Unsure exactly what he was supposed to be doing to help in this situation, Dev began pacing around the destruction.

He stopped and picked up a poster for one of their past products, the bitchin’ birdy spa bath. It had been one of the first products he’d written copy for. He hadn’t been confident in his skills at the time and so had plagiarized the write up of a similar product that was already on the market. He had been found out, however, when one of the rival companies noticed the same word for word description of their paradise parrot hot tub on his summary of the bitchin’ birdy spa bath. He’d been lucky not to be fired, his saving grace only coming from the fact that both products were quickly recalled; birds bathing in hot water turned out to be a very bad idea.

Since then he’d gotten quite good at writing copy, but, while there was some satisfaction from a job well done, he mostly found his work meaningless. It was hard to feel like you were making a difference in the world when your greatest accomplishment was the perfect description of a three piece — monocle, bow tie, and top hat — for cats.

‘Dev, Dev, bestie, over here. I’ve found the trail.’ Shuni called.

Dev made his way across the rubble to see Shuni sniffing around a section of collapsed roof.

‘What is it?’ He asked.

‘Sacred cow. Oh, yes, definitely sacred cow.’

Dev lowered himself to the ground, then looked to Shuni for confirmation. She gave him her usual doggy grin and he took in a big whiff.

‘No,’ he said. ‘Can’t smell anything.’

‘Really?’ Shuni asked, tilting her head to the side. ‘Because right now you’re face deep in its droppings. You mortals are so interesting.’

Later, once Dev had thoroughly wiped his face clean of the invisible mess, and once they had left the building, he turned to Shuni.

‘Okay, so you can see invisible cows, see their invisible droppings, and follow their invisible trail, not to mention the fact that you’re part god. I still don’t see why you needed me to let you into the building?’

‘Because I’m also part dog, that comes with limitations. Look at my little legs,’ Shuni said, stopping to wiggle one of her soft and stumpy limbs. ‘You don’t expect someone with legs like these to be able to open doors, do you?’

‘If that someone’s part god, kind of, yeah.’

‘Oh best friend, you’re so silly. I still have to work within the reality of this world. I can alter certain aspects, but why would I need to, I’ve got you.’

‘To open doors?’

‘Exactly! Come on the trails leads this way.’

++++

The conclusion to this story can be found here.

++++

Thanks for reading,

Damian

The Fox’s Beard

The Fox's Beard Audio Cover

I wrote this short story a little while ago and it’s up there as one of my favourites. It’s a fairly standard fable, which is what I like about it, as well as having an unlikeable protagonist, which, while can be challenging to get an audience behind, is quite fun to write. It’s message is pretty simple, namely the tried and true warning; ‘be careful what you wish for’, which is always fun.

I’ve wanted to do an audio version for a while because I like reading stories aloud, and I think this one, with its humour and narration, really lends itself to that format. Thanks to Movie Maintence Presents, this now exists.

You can listen to the audio here, or find MOBI, EPUB, and PDF versions to download below, for those of you who’d prefer to read the story yourself rather than hear my voice. Simply click the appropriate image, then ‘download’ in the new window that opens.

I hope you enjoy it and thanks for listening/reading

FB-EPUB       FB-MOBI      FB-PDF

Talk soon

Damian

Once Hidden, Three Times Found (Part 2)

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The first part of this story can be found here.

+

Steam rose from the cup of coffee in front of me. It’s sharp smell burned my nostrils, even though they weren’t really my nostrils. I moved my head up. Or, at least, I watched it move up from somewhere behind the scenes. I wasn’t presently in control of my body, because it wasn’t really my body, just a memory of it. I could still feel everything it felt, however, as though it were really happening, I just had no control over any of it.

People moved past the window of the cafe as I, the past me, smiled at Alona, who sat across from us. I could tell the smile was bitter and sweet, and as I felt that I also remembered it, the day being revealed to me one second at a time.

‘Is there anything we can do?’ I asked.

‘To stop me dying? No. The foretelling was quite clear. It will happen today. Once told there’s nothing that can stop it, you know that. Besides, Ressenti wants me dead, even without the foretelling I wouldn’t like my chances.’

I felt the past me stifle a sob. My hand touched hers. Present me felt it and I wanted to weep. ‘How long?’

‘Two hours. Ressenti will burst into our house, where I’ll be standing, waiting for him. He’ll give some ridiculous monologue, you know how he is, then he’ll get one of his mage’s to stop my heart. They’ll bury me this afternoon, at the cemetery, gravestone and all, but you won’t be there.’

Tears dripped from past me’s eyes, as present me wondered how this day’s liquid could have possibly been amber. Surely, it should have been the deepest of blacks. But, it wasn’t, so…

‘What? Of course I’ll be there. Why won’t I be there?’ I heard myself say.

‘Because I have a plan,’ Alona said with a small smile.

‘You…do?’ I asked, wanting to return the smile but not yet sure what it meant. ‘What does that mean? You won’t die?’

‘No, I will. Or, at least, my body will, I just won’t be in it.’

+

I inhaled deeply as the rest of the day’s memory settled over my mind, then looked from Alona’s empty body to Meesha, who was watching me intently. I could feel a wellspring of happiness inside of me ready to burst.

‘You find your day?’ She asked.

Ripples of joy passed through my chest and out my mouth as the well burst in a chorus of happy laughter.

‘I found a lot more than that, Meesha. A lot more!’

I looked down at Alona’s cold face, ‘You clever, beautiful, wonderful, person.’ I reached my hands under her armpits and pulled her upwards.

‘Why are you taking that dead girl?’ Meesha asked, head tilted in question, less concerned with the grave robbing than confused by it.

‘Because she’s not dead, Meesha.’ I said, still unable to keep the grin from my face. ‘Just…temporarily not alive.’

Meesha’s head tilted further as she tried to understand my words.

‘Could you help me? Grab her feet.’

Meesha shrugged, nodded, then pocketed her vial once more and stood.

‘Where we take her?’

‘My home. It’s only around the corner from here.’

+

We dropped Alona’s body onto the couch with a heavy thud.

‘Sorry, Love.’ I said to the corpse.

Meesha leaned towards Alona’s face. ‘She definitely look dead.’

‘Not for long, dear Meesha. Not for long.’

‘You too cryptic,’ she said, squinting her purple eyes at me. ‘It annoying.’

I laughed, I couldn’t seem to stop laughing, and answered her. ‘Fair enough. I suppose I can give you the whole story.’ I kept talking as I moved to the kitchen where I opened a draw and took out a screwdriver. ‘You see, Alona and I, we are…were, I suppose, ferrymen. Go betweens for the natural world, and the mystic.’

I moved back into the lounge and pushed the coffee table to the wall.

‘If someone from your world wanted a job done in the natural, or vice versa, you’d hire us.’ I rolled up the rug from the floor and threw it to the side, revealing the floorboards underneath.

‘What jobs?’ Meesha asked.

‘Well, anything really. Delivering messages, selling mystic products to naturals, or natural products to mystics, smuggling folk across borders, and other, less, legal, jobs.’

‘You were criminals.’

I started unscrewing one of the floorboards. ‘Of a sort, I suppose, but very small time. However we did occasional do jobs for some of the big timers. You ever hear of Ressenti?’

‘The crustacean? Of course. He very bad. No prairie ever deal with him’

‘Yeah, well, you’re obviously a lot smarter than Alona and I. We took a job from him to smuggle a seer over to his lands. Except, it turned out the seer was less a guest and more of a prisoner. Ressenti was capturing seers from all over, then torturing them into doing foretellings for him. The idea was that they would tell him his opposition’s moves before they made them, allowing him to cut away their business or simply steal from them. All that goes against the seers core beliefs, however, so they weren’t giving up their knowledge easily. He’d killed three of them already. The one we were transporting would have been his fourth.’

I pulled away the first floor board and felt my excitement rise.

‘When Alona found all this out she decided to free the seer. The seer, being so grateful, then gifted her with a foretelling. Mostly, it wasn’t good news. Alona told me some of it, namely the time and place of her death, as well as a few other things.’

The second floorboard gave way. I quickly started on the third.

‘Of course Ressenti lost it, as we knew he would, and came looking for Alona. He killed her, just as the seer had predicted.’

I lifted the third floorboard but still couldn’t quite reach underneath.

‘They came for me next, not to kill me, I’d been with Ressenti when Alona had set the seer free, but they wanted to search my memory to see if Alona had revealed anything to me. She had, obviously, but by the time they caught up with me I’d already given away that information, in the form of days, like the one in your hand.’

Meesha looked at her vial, then back to me.

‘Only problem was that the knowledge that I’d given away the days was in one of the days, so I didn’t know where they were, or what had happened. Luckily, Alona had planned it all. She’d left me a note explaining that she was now dead and that I needed to find my hidden days. I was distraught, of course, but finding the days meant I had something to do. I’ve spent the last seventy two hours looking for them.’

The fourth floorboard came free. I fumbled in my pocket for my phone.

‘The one you helped me find was the last, it filled in all the missing pieces, including how to bring Alona back. All we need is…’

I turned the torch on my phone on, and shined it under the floorboards.

There was nothing there.

‘NO!’ I screamed, desperately scanning the small space for any sign of what Alona had left behind, or perhaps, some other clue.

It was empty, she was gone.

Then, a spot of colour caught my eye. A small smudge of gold and black pressed onto the wood. A fingerprint.

‘That fat bloated son of a bitch!’

+

‘Where is it?’ I yelled into his lumpy, bulging face.

‘Where is what?’ The bloated man asked with a pompous smile. ‘You’ll have to be much more specific if I’m to answer your questions?’

Meesha snorted angrily behind me.

‘What you stole. I know she came her. I know she asked for your advice. Asked if it was possible. You knew her plan and then you stole it before I could find it. Tell me where it is!’

‘I don’t believe I like your tone, or your accusations. I’ll ask you to leave my store, right now.’ The bloated man drew himself up, using his bulging form as both threat and intimidation.

I was far too tired and angry to give a shit.

I reached across the counter, grabbed two folds of fat from around his neck, and pulled his face closer to mine. ‘Where is it?’

At the back of my mind I could hear Alona’s advice, telling me to picture myself above the situation. But I didn’t want to calm down, I wanted to stay angry. Still, reflexively, I glanced upwards. The bloated man’s eyes also moved towards the ceiling, and then he swallowed nervously.

It was upstairs.

I shoved him backwards and then raced towards the stairway at the side of the room and started up them. The bloated man was right behind me, moving fast despite his bulk. I made it up to the second level, little more than an open attic, and there it was, sitting in the center of the room. Alona, in the form of a large glass keg. Amber liquid filled the keg, and dotted inside were thousands and thousands of baby squids. One for every day of her life.

‘NO!’ The bloated man roared behind me. ‘It is the jewel of my collection. The ultimate prize. You will not have it!’

I turned, ready to fight, only to have one of his chubby hands seize me by the throat and lift me into the air.

‘You will never appreciate the splendidness of this accomplishment.’ Spittle formed at his mouth and spat at me with every word. My face was growing hot, I could feel my eyes bulging, my lungs burning as air failed to enter them. ‘It is my life’s work!’ he growled.

‘But it’s her life,’ I wheezed out with my last bit of air.

Darkness was reaching in from the edge of my vision but I still managed to see as Meesha lept onto the bloated man’s shoulders. He cried out, and squeezed tighter on my throat. Meesha rode him one handed as he bucked, using the other to pull the vial from her clothes and rip the stopper out with her teeth. She pulled back on his head and poured the vials contents down the bloated man’s throat.

His eyes grew wide and he finally dropped me as he started to scream. Meesha leapt clear, and I gasped in breath after sacred breath. The bloated man dropped to his knees, his screaming only intensifying as his mind recalled the day Meesha has forced him to ingest. Torture, if I recalled. It seemed appropriate.

He was still screaming as we left his store, the glass keg in my arms.

+

Meesha held Alona’s mouth open as I carefully poured her life back into her. It took hours, with us having to pause in between each mouthful to allow the liquid and squids to slide down her throat, but, eventually the last drop fell into her, and as it did her eyes opened.

She blinked, then breathed, then smiled.

‘So, it worked then?’ She asked.

‘Yes,’ I said as tears of joy slid over my cheeks. I pulled Alona to me, and squeezed, breathing in her smell and warmth and life. I was so tired.

‘Umm, Meesha should leave now.’ Meesha said.

‘Oh, hello.’ Alona said to her.

‘Meesha, wait.’ I called, letting go of Alona to turn to the prairie girl. ‘Is there any chance you’d be interested in doing a job with us? I’ll pay you. I already owe you so much for everything you’ve done.’

‘Job?’ Meesha asked, tilting her head.

‘Yes, we, ahh, we’re planning to liberate-’

‘We’re going to rob Ressenti blind,’ Alona cut in. ‘And we could certainly use your help. I’m Alona by the way, but I guess you already know that?’

‘Meesha,’ Meesha said. ‘But how you rob Ressenti? He very powerful.’

‘He is,’ Alona agreed. ‘But a seer told me both where he keeps his wealth, and his method of hiding it. Or at least, how he will hide it. He’s going to move it in three days time and I would very much like to take it from him.

Meesha shrugged, then nodded. ‘Okay. Meesha help.’

I smiled and hugged Alona again.

Three days.

I might just sleep right through all of them.

+

Thanks for reading

Damian