Monday, April 28, 2014

The Path to Eden I - Angela (2/2)

The way he said it made it seem like he knew something I didn’t. Like something bad was going to happen. The entire walk home from the station, I felt like someone was watching me. Thankfully, I reached my apartment building perfectly safe. I opened the door with a small sigh of relief and called out “Hey.” I got a “hey” in return. It came from the kitchen. Ellie was sitting by the table, tablet in one hand, an apple with the other. Her green eyes were moving left and right as she was reading an article of some sort. She’d done her hair in two thick braids today. A new look I think suited her nicely.

“How was school today?” I asked her as I placed my coat on the hanger.

“Fine,” she said with a shrug and took a bite of the apple.

“Is that schoolwork?”

“No,” she said matter-of-factly. “It’s all over the news. The president announced a full global disarmament.”

“So soon?” I asked in a surprised tone, but in truth, I felt nothing. I didn’t feel like that knowledge affected me at all. It seemed like just a formality. The whole world was finally at peace now, anyway. No wars, no poverty, no hunger, no disease. All under one federal government. A disarmament seemed like an afterthought at this point. “You ready to go to bed, though? You done with all your homework?”

“Yup,” she said as she locked her tablet. “I aced a biology quiz today. Is everything okay, Angie? You look pretty shaken?”

“It’s nothing. There was just this creepy guy on the train. I don’t really wanna talk about it.”

“Oh, another admirer?” she said with a grin on her face that she always used if she wanted to annoy me. “When can I expect him? You know, if you want me to print more breakfast you have to tell me beforehand.”

“Funny. And if you keep sassing me, maybe I can give Jeremiah’s mom a call and tell her about what happened at the Friday party you guys had, huh?”

“But nothing happened,”  she pouted.

“Yes, and that guy was just a creeper I met. So let it go,” I said as I made my way to the bathroom. Before I completely took my top off, I stopped in my tracks and turned around to face Ellie. “Oh, right. Josh invited us both for a bike ride this Saturday.”

“O, happy day,” she said as she twirled one of her braids. “What a glorious turn of events.”

“Just try to be nice, okay? He is pretty nice, and I like him.”

“Yeah, yeah…”

I took a quick shower and went straight to bed. I was pretty exhausted. Traces of long lost memories swirled around my head, then some familiar faces. Ellie, Josh… And that guy on the train. In my dream, I was trying to run away from him as he followed me on the station. He kept wishing me a safe journey. All I knew was that I wanted to get away and I didn’t care for any journey.

That’s when I woke up. Or at least, I thought I did. I felt a huge pain in my head. Everything around me was white, though I was still in my room. It was some sort of light. A blinding white light so bright that I felt like I was floating among a huge white nothingness. The pain intensified. I then noticed a red glowing orb float out of my forehead. It looked like a red firefly, though it flew up in a straight path, further and further away from me, until suddenly, there was a rift in the whiteness. Flames protruded into twelve different directions, and in the middle of it all was what seemed to be a rainbow-colored eye. The eye opened wider and wider, the red orb of light heading right in the middle of its pupil. When it finally reached it, it was engulfed by the eye. The pupil became red and burst into a blue flame. The twelve flames started spinning and what seemed like a human silhouette appeared in the middle of the blue flame. Eleven human shadows appeared around me. Then I heard a voice. A completely featureless voice, that was for some reason extremely imposing. I started to tremble.

“The Contact is lucid. Commence operation.”

I woke up gasping for breath, cold sweat trickling down my spine. The sun covered the room in bright stripes as it shone from between the blinds. I’d never felt such relief. Something was off, though. The apartment was quiet – it must have still been pretty early if Ellie still wasn’t up. There seemed to be some sort of commotion outside, however. I approached the window and opened the blinds. A lot of people had come out to the street and pointed at the sky, talking to each other excitedly. I looked up to where they were all pointing. I didn’t need to look hard. The entire sky was dotted with countless white speck of light. Instinctively, I touched my forehead. The point where I’d felt the red light leave it in my dream. That somehow made me feel calmer. It made me feel more at ease with the fact that they’d come. Whatever was coming my way, I knew I could take it.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Path to Eden I - Angela (1/2)

I could see it. At first it was clear, close. Just like in the pictures I’d seen on the Internet. I could see clouds soaring over masses of green continents and the endlessly navy blue seas, the snow white ice caps, the sunlight reflected on the seemingly calm waters. It was breathtaking. But then, in an instant, the clouds got less distinguishable. Everything was blurry. The whole globe shrunk, becoming a small ball of swirling blueness. Soon enough, it was impossible to tell it apart from all the stars soaring by. The stars themselves came closer and closer together. They’d melded into a single, all-encompassing light. I felt tears run down my cheeks. At least, I thought I did. Why? Ellie was with me, I could feel her hand, its reassuring warmth. There was no need for tears. I was doing the right thing. There was no other way…


I lost track of time. I don’t even know if it’s been weeks or months since I found out. They say ignorance is bliss – I’m still not sure how I feel about that. Up until that point I’d lived a normal life and now I was leaving all of it behind. Not that there was much to leave behind. My sister was with me. And that was it. There was no one else that would miss me. And now there was no turning back. I no longer had a chance to change that.

That day seemed to be just like any other. I doing my part of closing up the game shop just like I did every day. I had to hurry if I wanted to catch the monorail home. As usual, Josh volunteered to help me so that I can make it in time. He was a really sweet guy. Tall, dark-haired and blue-eyed, he was really good-looking, if a bit awkward. I think I was in love with him. There were days when I would hope that what we had could one day develop into something more. At other times, the same thought would fill me with dread.

“You think you’re gonna be free this Saturday?” he asked me as he placed a large box full of collectible cards on top of a huge shelf. “I was thinking we could grab some coffee or something.”

“Oh, sure!” I exclaimed in a pitch that was way too high. I almost made him lose his balance. “I’d love to. I just hope Ellie doesn’t burn the house down. You know how she is.”

“Well, in that case, how about we take a bike ride out of town?” he hopped down the ladder. “I mean, the three of us. You know Ellie and I get along pretty well.”

“Oh, don’t be fooled,” I grinned. “I’m pretty sure that’s just your opinion.”

“Oh come on…” he said. Even though he kept smiling his cat smile, I could see the disappointment in his eyes. I gave him a peck on the cheek.

“I’ll see what I can do,” I said as I turned around and gave him one last wink. “Last night was pretty amazing, by the way. I hope we can do that again someday. And thanks for taking care of my stuff!”

As the door closed behind me, I heard the sound of boxes falling on the floor. I was just about to check if Josh was okay, but then I heard him swear under his nose. He was fine. I took a look at my phone – time was running out. I ran down the back alley into the main street. The orderly rows of cars rushed by. The sky was orange, lights from the glass buildings making it seem dimmer than it actually was. As I passed a television store, I noticed a broadcast of President Nguyen. She was giving some sort of important speech, but I didn’t have the time to stop and watch. I looked at the skyline behind me – the monorail was already coming my way. I ran all the way to the station.

The hall blinded me with its pristine whiteness. I passed by a couple of people checking the interactive timetables, rows of others waiting patiently for their turn. Squeezing by them was quite a feat, but I finally reached the gate. I flashed my card in front of the sensor and hurried to my platform. Perfect. The monorail had just stopped at the station and the doors opened with a soft swoosh. A couple of people exited the tram, a couple more entered it. The doors would soon close, I picked up the pace. And then everything turned upside down, my knee scratched the surface of the even floor, and I lay sprawled on the cold ground. There was no way I could make it in time. I heard someone run past me, yelling “hey”. I lifted myself up and saw a man holding the door of the monorail for me.

“Come quickly, you can still make it,” he called out to me in a deep voice. His accent seemed funny. I had no time to question it, so I quickly grabbed all my stuff and entered the train.

“Thank you so, so much,” I heaved.

“It was my pleasure,” he said with a slight bow. His accent sounded perfectly British. There was something too perfect about it, though, and something too rough about the “r”s. He must have been a foreigner, though I couldn’t pinpoint where he came from. As he lifted his head, I noticed that he was much older than me. He could have been around sixty or seventy, though the way he’d run past me did not indicate that. He looked at me with piercing, cold blue eyes from behind his delicately framed glasses. Those elegant specs, expensive-looking coat and neatly trimmed, mid-length, graying blonde hair and goatee indicated I was dealing with a man of supreme wealth and taste. “Are you not hurt?”

“I think I just scraped a knee,” I said brushing some of my cropped hair out of my ear, where it had tangled itself so bad it was starting to itch. The man just stared at me, a crooked smile on his face. There was something off about him, though I have to admit, he had a certain allure about him for someone his age. I decided to break the silence and extended a hand towards him. “I’m Angela, by the way.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Angela,” he said as he shook my hand. His grip was firm, but there was a strange gentleness about it. Then, just for an instant, I felt nauseous. The feeling quickly went away, thankfully. “My name is Sergei. I am glad I could be of help. Now, if you could only tell me which monorail I can take to get back to where I was, I would consider the favor returned.”

“You mean you helped me even though you weren’t even taking this train home?” he nodded. I suddenly felt really ashamed of myself. “Well, why did you help me then? You really didn’t have to make the effort.”

“You would be left stranded there at the station, wouldn’t you? The next monorail doesn’t come for another hour at this time of day, correct?”

He was correct. But if he knew the monorail schedule, why did he need me to tell him how to get back? I suddenly felt somehow unnerved by his presence. His narrow eyes and cat grin made me feel as if my soul had been laid bare in front of him. I told him how he could get back and he mercifully got off at the next stop. Still, he felt the need to finish it off with “I am glad we met today, Angela. I wish you a safe journey.”

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Evie & Chuck I

There are times when I just wake up in the middle of the night. There are times when I can’t go back to sleep. I then usually stroke Antares’ fluffy orange coat and make my way towards the fridge. Most of the time, there is some chocolate chip ice cream in it. I grab my laptop and try to watch some videos on YouTube, all the while nibbling on pieces of chocolate in the ice cream. I try to keep my mind off the things bothering me, and yet even as I keep looking up cute, silly, fun stuff, eventually some video that will quickly remind me of the very thing I’m trying to escape will be suggested to me. I can ignore it, and I usually do, but just noticing it makes me go back to that dark place.

Last night was different. For starters, I was in a hotel room at the opposite coast of the country. The reason I woke up was also a bit different. I was excited. This was the first job that had me go to the West Coast. I always wanted to go there, but somehow never got the chance. Of course, my usual anxiety was there, but thinking about it was unavoidable in my line of work. I didn’t really have any food left over in the fridge, so there was nothing I could eat. I also did not want to wake up the other person in the room. I got the normal bed, he had to sleep on the mattress. Not that I forced him to, he volunteered. His name was Chuck and I was genuinely surprised by that display of gentlemanliness. He was about my age, sandy haired, constantly scruffy, he had the build of someone who used to be a star player on his high school’s team but later partied more often than trained in college. His face, illuminated in the full moon, wasn’t that bad looking, with a strong jaw and a large nose. Can’t say he made a good first impression, but you could say we made some progress since the day he got assigned as my new equipment tech. I guess I was just bitter that I couldn’t work with Nikki ever since she got herself injured.

Chuck and I had an opportunity to get to know each other a bit during the flight here. None of us seemed to want to start a conversation. The welcome I had given him once the boss said we would be working together wasn’t exactly the nicest, what with the way I spilled my coffee on him and later pretended it was an accident. Still, I was usually the first to break the ice.

“So, Chuck,” I began, trying to maintain a neutral tone, even though I had a huge lump in my throat. “Shauna told me you used to be a photographer for a magazine.”

“Yep,” he replied. He was playing something on his white DS lite. I always thought that was a poor choice of color for a handheld.

“Really? What was it? Maybe I’ve seen your photos.”

“I doubt it. You’re not really the target audience.”

“Well, you never know,” I twisted in my seat, so that my left arm was lying comfortably on top of it, with my face resting on my fist. My insistence on keeping up this conversation clearly made an impression on him, as he put the DS away and fixed his hazel eyes into mine, a slight condescending smirk on his face. “I am interested in a lot of things girls usually aren’t. Was it a car magazine? Something about gaming, sports?”

“Not really, no,” he chuckled, now mimicking the pose I made. I blushed a little, but didn’t switch poses. I’m still not sure whether he was mocking me or not.

“Do you think I’ve even heard of it?”

“I’m pretty sure you have.”

“Huh. Now that’s surprising. I figured you were one of those people who wouldn’t hesitate to brag about having their pictures in a well-known magazine. If I heard of it, I’m pretty sure I’ve read it at least once.”

“I don’t think so. Unless you’re into pictures of naked chicks.”

“Oh,” I blushed again, this time turning my gaze away from his piercing eyes. Then it hit me – a well known magazine with pictures of naked women. “Wait, you don’t mean– “

“Yep,” the smug smile on his face turned into a grin. His teeth were perfectly even and almost unnaturally white. With his arms now folded, he looked really pleased with himself. “I used to work for that magazine.”

“Wow,” I said in almost a whisper. I looked back into his eyes. I needed to save face. “Well then, why did you quit? I’m sure they paid you better there. Or perhaps you got bored with taking pictures of celebrity boobs?”

Chuck chuckled. The word boobs attracted the attention of an old lady sitting in front of us. She gave me a look of utter disapproval as she put her headphones back on to get back to watching Forrest Gump. “Not really something you can get tired of, no. I wasn’t really paid that much, anyway. I was no lead photographer. Plus, I do get the feeling I’ll be able to deal with something personal working for you guys.”
“What do you mean?” I did my best to not let him know how thrilled I was to know what he meant.

“I mean that in your – our – line of work you get to deal with lots of weird stuff, right? I just thought I could get some answers,” for a while there he seemed deep in thought. That was the first instance I felt I could connect with him.

“So did I,” I told him. “But don’t get your hopes up. Usually, it’s not really anything worthwhile. You get all excited and think you found your proof, but then it turns out you were just seeing something that wasn’t there. Just because you really wanted to see it.”

“You said ‘usually’.”

“I still have hope.”

“So do I.”

We then gazed into each other’s eyes just a little too long. I thought I could see something familiar, something comforting in those eyes. I got lost in them, if only for a short moment. We came to our senses almost immediately. He went back to play his DS, while I put on my headphones and watched the movie. Couldn’t really concentrate, though.

On the way to the hotel we didn’t really talk any more but I did try to be less antagonistic towards him and he seemed to be more open towards me as well, pointing to any landmarks that seemed interesting. Once we got into the room, I was really furious they only had one bed and was sincerely grateful to Chuck for taking the mattress they brought in later. We must have been more tired than we thought, as we fell asleep almost instantaneously.

And then I sat on my bed in the middle of the night, watching the full moon over the ocean. I missed my cat, my ice cream and my Wi-Fi, but somehow, that night was different. I still couldn’t sleep, but the fear I had in me felt somewhat weaker. I felt a level of comfort that I usually couldn’t achieve with cute videos. I felt I needed to talk to Chuck more. I wanted to get to know him, get to know how he deals with those things. His loud snoring told me he was certainly doing a better job than I was.

I started to get drowsy much quicker than I usually do at home. To keep my mind away from its dark areas, I thought about the case we were on and couldn’t help but laugh at the name Shauna gave it: The Mothman.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Something new (2/2)

The next day I got to see Joe. We did go cycling. He actually looked a lot better than I had expected. In fact, he looked  much better than he had the last time I saw him after the divorce. That was probably partly because of all the weight he had lost. I started to get worried if he was eating properly. But his skin and hair looked pretty healthy and he was actually smiling, so maybe he just started eating healthier. I started to get curious what he had to say to me, but the topic didn’t really come up at first. We spent a half an hour just riding around the field, the yellowness of the tall flowers almost overwhelming. We finally stopped, a long distance away beyond the beaten path. We sat down on the grass, watching the river flow, the hills on the other side covered in trees that cast huge shadows.

“Listen, there’s something I wanted to talk about,” Joe started. “I mean, it’s not something I’ve already decided on, but I’ve been thinking.”


“I… I think I’m going to move. Somewhere far away.”

“You’re joking,” I said. Joe shook his shaggy head, a pained expression on his face. “Is this about Marie again? Listen, it’s already been a long time since the divorce, you guys don’t need to-“

“You just don’t get it,” he snapped.

“Calm down, man.”

“Sorry… I just… Listen to me.”

“I’m listening.”

“I…” his voice trembled. “It’s too much for me to take. I love her, but I can’t bear to be anywhere near her anymore.”

He was right. I didn’t get it. That raised so many questions. If you love her, why don’t you try to win her back? Can’t you guys just talk it out? She doesn’t hate you either, maybe there’s still a chance? But I just couldn’t bring myself to ask any of them. It seemed so inappropriate. I had no idea what had happened. That made being a good friend really hard. Never being in a relationship certainly didn’t help matters.

“And the whole place is full of memories you two shared, right?”

“I just…”

“Look, bro,” I looked straight at him. “You really think moving will change anything?”

“I don’t know… That’s why I wanted to talk.”

“You want to talk? Fine. I don’t think you should move.” Joe smiled a sad smile. I knew he knew I’d say it. “Sure, you shared a life with Marie here. All the pain you’ve had to endure is here. A lot of things will remind you of that, too. But you can’t go on pretending none of it happened. And it’s not just Marie you’ve spent times here with. There’s me, Jim, Gina, Candace, Dan, and you’ve got more friends. Oh right, before I forget, Jim’s starting a new D&D campaign next week and he wanted me to tell you you’re invited. Don’t worry, no girls allowed, just us guys.”

Suddenly, Joe burst out laughing. “It’s been so long! Sure, why not?”

“So, you think that’s worth staying for?”

“I don’t really know yet, honestly,” his face became somber once again. He took off his glasses and cleaned them with his t-shirt. “But thanks for talking with me, anyway. It felt good to get that stuff out of my system. And I’m really sorry I’ve been such a burden on you guys. We wanted this to be a private matter, so that no other people would have to be involved, but…”

“Hey, it’s no problem. I know you would’ve done the same for me.”

“Thanks a lot, pal.”

On the way home I picked some of the yellow flowers and put them behind my ear. I may have looked ridiculous, but that was the only way to transport them safely home. They were too beautiful to resist. Ginger liked them, too. Because of that, I spent the rest of the day trying to find a spot that would be unreachable to her to place the flowers. I doubted it would help in the long run. In the end, nothing I did ever made an impact.

The next day, I had trouble getting out of bed. I felt so tired and I had no idea why. Still, I had to get to work. That day I was manning the cash register. Around noon, a middle-aged woman entered the store. She had a kind, round face and big eyes.

“Can I help you, ma’am?”

“Yes, I saw that cute cockatiel you had on display. It’s a very pretty bird. I wanted to buy it.”

I hesitated for a moment. I couldn’t believe the time had come. “Sure,” I said with a slight stutter. I went up to Bradley’s cage. “The bird is 100$, but you’re gonna need some food and a cage with that, ma’am.”

“Oh, I know, I have a small cage with me,” she said. “I’ve actually had one for quite a long time, to be honest. I just can’t take the silence anymore…”

“Yeah, I get ya,” I said as I looked at her. Somehow, I felt I could really connect with this woman. “That’s always the worst part about having the pet. They’ll always live shorter than you will, and then they’re gone and it’s just so…”


“Yes.” We just looked each other in the eyes for a second. I then finally reached out my hand to grab Bradley. He chirped. “Anyway, Bradley here is still pretty young- I mean.”

“His name is Bradley?” she chuckled.

“I apologize, that’s what we called him at the store. He’s just such a friendly bird we couldn’t help ourselves. But you can call him whatever you want, you’re his owner now.”

“Actually, Bradley sounds pretty good,” she said with a warm smile. She bought some more bird feed and left along with Bradley. For some reason, at that moment, I felt really happy.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Something new (1/2)

“Bro, calm down,” I said, desperately trying to keep my iPhone from falling off my shoulder with my cheek.  “Wait a sec,” I hastily set down the cardboard boxes I was holding, causing the cages within to rattle. The noise of metal against metal unleashed turmoil among the many parrots sitting in their own cages. Cages not bound by cardboard boxes. And they were all falling asleep just a few minutes prior. Luckily for me, they calmed down pretty quickly. My hands were now free to hold my phone. “Listen, Joe. I can’t come over. I’m really sorry. I just can’t leave the shop unattended now, there’s so much to unpack.”

Joe sounded drunk. He was sobbing uncontrollably. It was the worst he sounded since the last couple of months. Since the divorce. The sun setting beyond the shop’s large window dyed the place a deep crimson. A young couple passing by stopped to watch the bald rats snuggling in a cage that was deliberately placed there to attract customers. I couldn’t tell if their faces expressed intrigue or disgust, but I always felt bad for the poor rats in such cases. That was a pretty calculated move on the boss’s part, but I doubt the rats liked that.

I could barely understand what Joe was saying through all that sobbing. “Listen, I got a day off tomorrow. Maybe we can go cycling? At the usual spot. I know,” I said as he kept insisting he had something important to talk about. “I know you have something to say, but I want to hear it from you when you’re sober, okay? So just get yourself together and we can talk tomorrow. See you there, man.” With a defeated Okay he hung up. I put my phone back in my pocket when I heard a flutter of wings. Bradley the cockatiel was sitting on my shoulder now, staring at me with his beady eyes,  whistling Fly me to the Moon, just like Veronica, my co-worker, had taught him. He bowed his head, as he usually did when he sat on my shoulder, urging me to give him a cheek-hug. And so I did. He was nice enough to return to his cage on his own, though I still had to close it.

Of course, Bradley was what we called him at the shop, but we all knew he’d get a new name once someone bought him. I was seriously considering doing just that – buying him with my own hard-earned cash, but I don’t think Ginger the cat would be pleased about that. Or maybe she’d be too pleased, it’s hard to say. I went back to take care of the boxes at the back of the shop, when I heard a commotion in the bird cages again. This time, it was the lovebirds. A pair was clawing at each other, it looked pretty serious. I had to reach in and separate them. I put the one I had in my right hand in one of the empty cages, not sure if it was the male or the female. Everything went back to normal again. It was bizarre. I’d heard of this happening from the other co-workers, but I’d never seen it myself. Apparently, this couple would fight viciously, but when you separated them, they would just keep pining for each other. When they’d get back together, it’d be fine for a while, but then they’d scratch and peck at each other again, feathers flying all around the place. And indeed, the bird in the empty cage was staring back at the cage where his partner was. It was kind of a sad view. None of us could ever get to why this was happening. I didn’t even know lovebirds could have arguments.

It was completely dark outside when I was done with unpacking all the new stuff. As I rode back home, I kept thinking about Joe and his failed marriage. That was so bizarre. They always looked like such a happy couple when we all got together, Joe and Marie. They’d been married for five years or so, before they divorced. And it really seemed like they’d split up on good terms. And yet we could never all meet again anymore. It’s like none of them ever wanted to be around the other anymore. Joe was holding up and we met up often. He was my best friend, but he never really told me anything about why they got divorced. And I’d heard some nasty gossip – that they’d been cheating on each other that whole time, or that one of them was secretly gay, but I never believed any of that. What I did know, however, was that they really wanted to have a kid, but couldn’t conceive. But was a couple of miscarriages really what ultimately ruined their marriage? I kept thinking about it for a couple more hours, as I lay in bed, ready to sleep, stroking  the cat that kept purring and rubbing her face into mine.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Fabulous Misadventures of Matoya, the Witch II (2/2)

And so we left. Oddly, the raven did not protest. He seemed pretty eager to be moving about as a human being again. I talked to him all the way to the city, but I could tell he wasn’t paying attention most of the time. It was strange, he seemed so thrilled to be seeing the world from this perspective. I always imagined someone capable of flight would consider an earthbound lifestyle dull.

Come high noon, we’d finally reached the city marketplace. Bustling as ever, the place made it hard to breathe. Nevermore seemed none too pleased to be there, yet he was ever watchful. He must have taken the escort job to heart. That calmed me down a bit. The last summer bazaar ended with the Lord of Malady burning down half the stands. I was not intending to let that happen again.

As my luck would have it, I started to spot some shadowy figures with the corner of my eye. Having Nevermore watch them, frantically shifting his gaze from one end of the bazaar to the other was not exactly reassuring. At least I knew the direction from which I could expect an attack. I finished packing the heaps of asparagus I’d just bought almost for free, and turned toward an alley where I thought I could lose them.

“Come, Nevermore,” I pulled him by the cuff. We entered a dark alley, passing by some homeless people begging for some money. Nevermore eyed them carefully, all the while occasionally glancing back. His pace quickened. I started walking faster as well. As we made a turn, I bumped into someone. We both tripped. My fall was broken by Nevermore who’d managed to catch me before I reached the ground. She had no escort. A tall woman in a maroon robe, her flowing brown hair done in a high pony tail. The distinct mole below her right ear and the shadow figures pursuing her were proof enough – she was one of us. “Can ye get up?” I extended a hand toward her.

“Yes, but we’ve no time,” she gasped for breath. “I must-“

“I know, they’re following us too. There’s no way out. Ye got any magic left in ye?”

“No such luck, I’m afraid. I’ve been pursued for quit be exe some time now.”

“Step aside, then. Nevermore, hold her.”

The raven man listened and shielded the woman as I sent out a fiery whirl to deal with the figures that had been on her tail. Had I not wasted all my energy on making Nevermore useful, I’d probably have done more. That was my last spell for the day.

“Let’s get a move on.”

We ran down the alley the woman had come from. As was to be expected, a whole crowd of them was waiting for us as we entered the main street. There were no back alleys on the way, and we knew there were more and more of them coming from where I had come from. I was sure that was the end. The figures soon approached the other two. Nevermore managed to knock a few of them down with his cane, but I knew that was only a temporary solution. Nothing short a miracle could help us.

Yet what happened I’d hardly call a miracle. The main street filled with terrified screams as a huge beast came rushing down the adjacent hill. It hurled itself at the crowd of shadow people, separating shadowy limb from shadowy limb with its huge lupine, its auburn fur ominously fluorescent in the midst of the blackness, its electric blue eyes a ray of hope to us, the petite rider on its back shockingly familiar.

“Isolde!” I shouted. “What in Lamia’s name are ye doing here!”

Isolde smiled as the beast slowly dispersed the crowd of shadows, black liquid seeping from its multiple rows of teeth as if it were the blood of its victims. Though the body was mostly lupine, the ears, paws and tail were more reminiscent of a lynx. The creature was oddly familiar.

“Is that Cillian?!” I gasped. The shadows had finally disappeared but I could not find it in me to rejoice. I was simply baffled. “Did ye turn him into a strix again?”

“Don’t be silly, sister, I can’t do that,” she grinned. “William here was pretty thrilled with the idea, weren’t you, honey?”

“It’s different this time, ma’am,” Cillian said, his voice unchanged. I saw Nevermore and the witch that joined us flinch. “I mean, Matoya. That is to say, I’m not a strix this time, I’m slave to no one. I mean, this change was not of my own volition, but now I can change at will with no repercussions. The power of the eye is amazing and lady Isolde’s powers are quite impressive.”

“Ye were supposed to keep an eye on her, not let her change ye into a wolf, or cat, or whatever yer supposed to be, ye dimwit!” as I scolded him, his ears lay flat on his head, the look he gave me was uncomfortably guilt-inducing, and I was pretty sure I heard him whimper. His rider was smiling in the most smug way imaginable. “And what are ye smiling at, lady Isolde? I told ye to stay home!”

“No you didn’t,” she grinned. “Ye told me not to touch the biscuits. I didn’t. I was bored out of my mind, though, so I used the eye and took Trillian for a walk,” at this point Cillian grumbled. “Quiet, I’m talking. I believe it’s turned out to have been for the best. Wouldn’t you agree, sister? It did not look like ye were going to handle those by yourself.”

“I thank ye,” I said through gritted teeth. It was true. I owed her my life. Woe is me.

“And who’s the witch ye brought?”

“She’s been running away from that same lot, we’ve met by chance.”

“My name is Leofwyn,” she said as she released herself from Nevermore’s protective embrace. The robe she was wearing was actually pretty ornate and covered her body tightly, revealing a distinct, full hourglass figure. She looked at me with large emerald eyes. “I thank you, my sisters, for helping me escape the clutches of the Lord of Malady. You must be Matoya and Isolde, holders of the crystal eye.”

“Aye, I be the holder now.” I said. Isolde’s tiny fist sunk into Cillian’s soft fur with a muffled thud. He didn’t seem to notice.

“That is absolutely delightful. I’ve actually been sent to find you.”

“Really? By whom?”

“The Grand Hierophant himself requests your aid.”

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Fabulous Misadventures of Matoya, the Witch II (1/2)

A warm summer breeze entered the room as I thrust open the dusty wooden windows. Dawn had barely arrived, and yet I was already wide awake, ready to clean up every last bit of the household. If I were to stack up any more reagents in this dump, I was sure to drown. I was hoping everything would go smoothly, what with the helper I had lodging in my house. I entered the bedroom and ripped off the sheets from the bed. What had looked like a neat bundle of pillows underneath the blanket was actually a little girl with curly golden hair. She could have been five, judging solely by her looks. As the sheet exposed her, she stirred and greeted me with a hateful glare.

“Ye’ve quite some nerve, Matoya,” Isolde said to me through gritted teeth.

“Come now, sister, remember who’s in charge this time,” I said in a sing-song voice. “My house, my rules, at the very least til yer as big as me.”

Nevermore was sitting by the window above the bed. Silently watching the argument we were having, he shifted his gaze from me to Isolde, and back to me as we exchanged insults. Her voice was driving me insane with its piercing pitch, a quality possessed by most children’s voices, yet the sharpness of her words gave away her true age. Nevermore cawed and waved his wings once, which made us both put aside our bickering and get to some actual tidying up.

Once the sun was high above our cottage, we were already done with the cleaning. The interior now seemed much less gray after all that dusting. I began to prepare to leave for the market in the city. The summer always offered the most bountiful rewards for my products, and the available goods were also most desirable. A knock came on the door. Just in time. I opened it and saw Cillian, a big smile smile on his handsome bearded face. He was looking much better since the strix incident. Though the paleness of his skin turned out to not be an effect of the curse, his cheeks were significantly rosier than when I first met him. The hours he spent chopping wood shirtless in the sun gave his body a fine pink glow. He was almost a full member of our household now. Turned out the poor lad was on his way from the Northern lands which had been desolated by the Lord of Malady. As he had nowhere to go and chopping wood was something I could never bother to do myself, I let him stay as long as he made himself useful. And useful he was. He diligently chopped heaps of firewood every day, rewarding me with not only fuel for my fireplace in the evening, but also a nice view as he worked in daytime. So eager he was that he built his own shack right beside the cottage.

“Ah, Sillian! Right on time,” I knew well how his name was supposed to be pronounced. The wince he gave me every time I mispronounced it was too priceless to pass up.

“I got your firewood, ma’am,” he said as he entered the house. His bright blue eyes lost some of their sheen in the dimly lit room.

“What’s that? How many times do I have to tell ye not to call me that! Do I look that much older to you?”

“No, not at all,” he blushed ever so slightly, his skin tanned pink seemed so dark indoors that it almost matched his auburn hair.

“Look at ‘im,” Isolde uttered as she entered the room. “Such a burly man and he’s shy as a mouse.”

“I’m not,” Cillian muttered. “And I would appreciate it if you would say my name properly for once ma- I mean, Matoya.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said. “Now, I need you now because I’m leaving for the city to sell some goods. Last year was quite a mess, so I figured I’d be needing an escort.”

“Yer taking him?” the look Isolde gave Cillian was that of utter contempt, as if someone had just told her a swamp toad was going to be making her supper.

“No, I’m taking Nevermore.”

“What,” Isolde’s jaw dropped as she said it. “How will that be of any help?”

“And may I ask what my role in all this is?” Cillian muttered.

“Yes, yer staying with Isolde. I can’t take her, people will ask questions. What’s more, I don’t trust her. And I know Nevermore spoils her. Don’t let her touch the biscuits, hear?”

“Y-yes ma’am,” he sighed as Isolde pouted.

“Like Nevermore’ll be a good shield against crooks,” she said in a condescending tone. “Ye should take Gillian here.”

“Ye forget, sister, some fine details,” I said as I reached out to grab the crystal eye lying on the table. I called Nevermore and he landed on the floor in front of me, as if he knew what was about to happen. The ancient spell etched in the Tome of Clarity echoed across the cottage as I uttered them, light seeping slowly from the eye down on the large raven. He stretched his wings which became steadily more elongated. The black sheen of his feathers became uniform, more reminiscent of a glossy black fabric than bird down.  As the light intensified, the form Nevermore took seemed more and more human-like. The crystal fell to the ground with a loud clunk. The man standing before me was tall, dark and slender. His pale face with sunken cheeks and dark, deeply set eyes was strikingly handsome, his tangled dark hair adding to the image of a brooding poet. He was dressed in an elegant ebony suit and coat, a cane in his hand, an equally raven top hat with a single decorative feather on his head. I’d already managed to forget what he looked like.

“By the gods,” Cillian whispered.

“Well, well. Nevermore, yer quite the dashing fellow, I must say,” Isolde giggled. Nevermore turned to her, smiled an enchanting smile and bowed. “Can he not speak?”

“Nay,” I said. “And it best stay that way. The best escort it a silent escort. Come, Nevermore. We’ve a whole day ahead of us.”