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Friday, December 27, 2013

Alone in the Universe

I’d been so wrong. About everything.

Now I was so screwed.
I always believed life wasn’t real. You know, as if everything was one big hologram and nobody else really existed. Just me. Alone in the world. And I’d acted accordingly.

Never had I imagined I was the center of my universe. Still, no matter how many people surrounded me, no matter how many activities I cluttered into my life, I couldn’t shake an overwhelming sense of isolation. Imagine my surprise when I woke up dead—well, technically when I died and woke up no longer in my familiar world.  My earthly theories were all wet—sopping wet.  So where was I?
And how much trouble awaited me? Would I be punished for my me-centric life?

The scenery loomed dark and forbidding. Despite the intense fog, I didn’t think I’d arrived in hell. At least not in society’s accepted version of the underworld. Where were the fire pits and demons?
The place couldn’t be described as heaven either. Shadows abounded, even without any considerable light source to cast them. Worse, I didn’t feel anything close to eternal bliss.

Weird that I no longer felt alone. On a less positive note, alone suddenly seemed rather enticing. Beings scurried about—cartoonish characters on a mission.  Men, women, children. Not in droves, but I kept encountering individual persons as I drifted. A woman hurried by. A young girl passed with her nose in the air. Every few minutes a man would stride past. Never the same person.
None of the beings noticed me.  “Where am I?” I repeated.

No one acknowledged my words. Not even a “get lost.”
So I walked—actually I sort of moved without walking. And refused to give up.  Whenever I encountered anyone, I repeated the same phrase, “Excuse me.”

Not a single reply.
Maybe I was a ghost.  Cool.

I needed to validate my theory. After looking left, and then right, I spotted a test subject: a rather thin man with equally thin lips.
“Excuse me.”

As predicted, no answer, but you can’t blame a girl for trying. I couldn’t exactly blitz the man without warning.  There was the odd chance I wasn’t a ghost and the hip check I planned to throw might cause Mr. Silent Slim some discomfort.
I headed straight toward him in an out-and-out run. Only my feet didn’t jog because there was no ground. My effort resulted in faster movement and I barreled toward Mr. Slim. “Hey, Mister.” Even with the freight train better known as me closing in, he still didn’t acknowledge me.

For his sake, I really hoped I was a ghost. My body steamrolled toward the man with a speed that frightened me.
At the last second, the man darted to my left. I almost toppled into the mist.

He saw me. Or at least he sensed me. Otherwise he wouldn’t have shifted. Right?
How rude.

Slim kept walking, completely ignoring me. Nu-uh. Mr. Rude wouldn’t get away that easily.
I executed a one-eighty and moved faster than a floaty person with no solid footing should be able to scuttle.  I bumped into Slim’s skinny butt with intense momentum.

And landed on my derriere. The misty ground was surprisingly hard.
Okay. So I maybe I wasn’t a ghost—not the kind I’d imagined anyway.

The man paused. Turning, he frowned in my direction, still managing to avoid eye contact. After shaking his head exactly three times, he pointed to my left.
I gazed in the direction of his extended index finger. The haze parted, revealing a large door with a sign on it:  INFORMATION.

They might have placed that room a tad closer to the debarkation point.
The door looked no more than one-hundred feet away, but the trek took me about fifteen minutes. I knocked once and walked inside. An official looking man in a purple suit sat behind an all white desk staring at a clipboard with a bored expression.  I couldn’t see his face—couldn’t tell if he were old or young.  Again, it was that presence thing.

“Sir. Can you tell me where I am? Where I’m supposed to go?”
He didn’t reply, not with words anyway, but his message came through loud and clear. “Go away.”

“Uh, em, sure, Buster. Exactly where should I go?”
The man actually raised his head. I couldn’t see his features even though no fog or other obstruction floated in the room.  Something cloaked him.

He laughed. Out loud. A real laugh, not some projected emotion like his “go away.” “No one’s ever asked that before. Actually—what’s your name, sugar?”

“Well, Sammie. People here are doing things. We don’t interact with others without an expressed reason.”
I bit at my lip, trying to be patient. “That’s all well and good, but….” I paused, figuring it wouldn’t help my cause to call him “Bozo.” My emotion must have been projected, however, because the face I couldn’t see raised an eyebrow. “Eh, excuse me…sir. The problem is I don’t know where here is and I have no idea what this person is supposed to do.”

His brown eyes seemed a bit more prominent in his haze of a face. A strange expression flickered for a second. “My, my. Aren’t you a breath of fresh ozone? You’re going to be a problem, aren’t you?”
He raised his head and studied me, his features more clear. Flecks of green and amber danced in his brown eyes—perhaps the most mesmerizing irises I’d ever encountered. Something about the man made me calmer and tense at the same time.

“She certainly is.” Not Brown Eyes voice.
Who’d spoken? After hours of not being acknowledged, having two beings speaking practically overwhelmed my senses.

“I don’t mean to be…” I whirled to address the new voice.
Coming face-to-face with Slim made me forget what I’d intended to say. Hadn’t he been headed in the opposite direction? And in a big hurry?

“Where are your papers?” Slim asked.
I turned to brown eyes, hoping for some clarification, and maybe a little sympathy, but that being had vanished. Crap. I rather liked him.

“Papers, Ms. Samantha Camille Charles. Where are your papers?”
“What papers?” And how did the man who wouldn’t acknowledge me suddenly know my name?

 “Of course you don’t have papers. That’d be too easy.” An insult, no doubt.
“No, I don’t have any papers. I just died—at least I think I did. You can’t get hit by an eighteen-wheeler straight on and survive.”

“Sure you can.” What was he talking about?
I shook my head. “Not when a big ol’ truck pushes you over a cliff and your car bounces off several boulders as it careens toward the earth a hundred yards away. And then explodes in a fiery crash.”

The man smiled. And scared the be-geezus out of me. 
“I’m thrilled you find my demise amusing.”

He kept grinning, showing not one iota of remorse for his abysmal behavior. “You remember that?”
I nodded. “Not something a girl forgets.”

The smirk left Slim’s face. “They usually do.”
Exactly what did that mean? And exactly  when—if ever—would I get some answers. “Can you help me or not?”

Slim sighed. You’d think I’d asked for his first born—or maybe first-dead, given my situation.
“Someone will be here shortly,” he said, reminding me of a DMV employee.

“To do what, exactly?”
“To give us a ride over to Lost Souls.”

Eh, say what?  “Lost Souls?”
The man stared up at the ceiling, as if some divine answer was written there. “Since you have no papers and no instructions, I’m guessing you’re not supposed to be here. Unless…”

My questions about being a lost soul evaporated and a kernel of hope sprouted in my mist-weary psyche. “Not supposed to be here?  Does that mean I can go back to earth?”
“Earth?” His gaze returned to my face—the intensity in his boredom almost a physical thing. “Never heard of it. What dimension is it in?”

Dimension? How the devil would I know? “Eh, the Fifth Dimension? In the age of Aquarius.”
His expression didn’t change. Guess he hadn’t gotten my joke about the 1960s band. “Never heard of that either.”

Crap. The urge to stomp my foot proved overwhelming.  Without a solid surface, the gesture did little to lessen my ever-increasing annoyance. “You’ve really never heard of earth?”
Slim ignored me. Big surprise. Maybe that was my hell—to have everyone act as if I didn’t exist. I might have been able to accept that, but his head spun completely around on his neck. Scared the crap out of me and my hereafter.

Almost immediately, his head ended the rotation.  “Had to contact Lost Souls.”

Not good. “Am I really a lost soul?”
“Do you know where you are?”

I opened my mouth, but I didn’t know.
“Then you’re a lost soul.”

Smart ass.  “Wait…” I racked my brain—not finding much to help my cause since the whole dying thing had pretty much wasted my neurons.  Hold on. “Before…”
“I am required to tell you that you must board the bus the moment it stops.”

A bus? I couldn’t concentrate. Something nagged at my brain. Oh, yeah. “Wait. Before, you said ‘unless.’ I’m not supposed to be here unless… Unless what?”
Slim’s eyebrow rose, just a little, giving him an expression that looked rather demonic. “Observant aren’t you?”

The man tilted his head to one side. “It’s here.”
“What’s here?”

“The Lost Souls transport. You must hurry.”
No way. The Lost Souls transport seemed like the fire of the proverbial frying pan.

Then a sense of urgency took hold. Without meaning to, I actually ran toward the Transport. I say actually because I could feel my feet actually on a firm surface. Was that Brown Eyes in the front seat?
The vehicle sat in the mist, no sound emanating from the strange shaped exterior, no driver in sight. If Brown Eyes had been onboard, he’d disappeared.

Why was I so disappointed? I stopped to catch my breath, only to remember I didn’t have one.
Then I heard the laughter. Silent Slim, a.k.a. the Thin Man, stood at the bottom of the entrance ramp, effectively blocking the only entrance onto the Transport.

Why did you stop?  Hurry.
Was that Brown Eyes?

Maybe it was divine intervention, but I knew I couldn’t miss the Transport. I ran at full speed.
I’d almost reached the vehicle when Slim pulled out a sheet of paper. He waved them across the door and stepped inside. Slim and the Transport disappeared.

I don’t know what happened next, but I found myself inside the information booth. “The Last Train To Clarksville,” another 60’s hit, played on and on in a continuously loop.  When I’d visited the room before, the sign clearly read “INFORMATION.” From my new vantage point, on the other side of the desk, the sign flashed “PURGATORY.”
Great. I really was being punished, for I could not leave the booth.

I did find some reading material, assuming one considers an operator’s manual reading material.  I devoured the volume.
And wished I hadn’t. The only way a soul could escape purgatory was to steal another’s soul. Translation, some innocent—or worse, some saintly—being would have to take my place in purgatory.

That wasn’t likely to happen. So I sat.
And sat. And sat. Once again, the only soul in the Universe.

I adjusted. What else could I do? Alone was a familiar, if almost unbearable state.  I don’t know how many days I waited. Eternity seemed like a coffee break by comparison .
Then it happened. A soul arrived, seeking direction.

“Do you have your papers?” I asked.
Why had Slim demanded my papers? The manual clearly stated that the booth dweller should reassure the lost traveler.

The boy shook his head.
Odd. The fluorescent sheets glowed like a neon sign.

“In your hands, son. Your papers are in your hand.”
The boy frowned but looked at the pages in his fingers. After a moment, he smiled. “Mom’s there.”

I certainly hoped so.
He grinned again. “Thanks, Miss.”

Before I could reply, he vanished in a glow of light. Cool.
I sat back into my chair, which seemed to have molded to my derriere. When had the hard surface been replaced with memory-foam?

No doubt another decade would pass before another soul came along to divert my tedium, but I could do this. Not like I had a choice. Somehow, things didn’t seem so bad.
“You’re smiling.”

I almost fell out of my newly-padded seat. “Brown Eyes.”
“So how are you, Sammie? Still causing trouble?”

“If only.” I tried to laugh, but I couldn’t focus under the intensity of his stare.
“You could have taken his papers, you know?”

“Do what?”
Brown Eyes smiled, making me feel like purgatory didn’t exist. Even though my thoughts would send me straight to hell.

“The papers. Doesn’t happen often, but new arrivals, especially arrivals who’d had a traumatic passing, don’t always see the papers. You could have snatched the kid’s credentials and been out of here.”
“New arrivals?” Was he kidding? “Don’t you mean Lost Souls?”

Brown Eyes shook his head. “No such thing.”
“So why do they call it the Lost Souls Transport?”

“They don’t.”
“But Slim said—”

“Slim lied. He stole your papers, thinking he’d avoid doing his time.”
“Stole my… When I bumped into him.” I couldn’t see it at the time, but suddenly I remembered everything. Slim had taken my papers.

Brown Eyes nodded. “You could have done the same thing.”
I shook my head. “No way.”

He studied my face. I studied him right back, wondering why he seemed so clear. I could make out every molecule of his handsome face. “Maybe next time.”
“Next time?”

“The next time a confused soul finds your booth.”
I shook my head again. “If that’s what I have to do to get out of here, then I guess I really am stuck in purgatory.”

He narrowed his eyes. “You’re giving up on heaven? Even if the papers belong to some corporate raider or drug dealer? Someone who deserves purgatory?”
I shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. It just wouldn’t be…”

I shrugged again, not comfortable discussing right and wrong in a place so full of gray. “What’s your story, Brown…eh, Mister.” Yikes, I’d almost called him Brown Eyes again. “You’re clearly not lost. Or rather confused.”

“I supervise the information booth workers. Make sure they follow the rules.”
Say what? I mean, I liked the big dude—as in really liked him—but letting me lose my spot on the Transport seat just seemed mean. “Yet you let Slim take my seat?”

“Not exactly. Don’t you worry, Slim will get what’s coming to him.”
I didn’t really care about Slim. “What about me?”

He grinned. “Been a long time since someone caused trouble.  Of all the information joints, in all the realms, in all the worlds, and you wander into mine.”
I thought that line came from some old black-and-white movie, but the source of his quote didn’t rank high on my important stuff list at the moment. “Eh, could you translate that into something more understandable?”

“I wanted to keep you on my staff a while longer—see if you’re as good as you seem.”

“What can I say?” Darn man actually winked at me. “I like you.”
I swear, I had to have lungs, because they stopped working. “You left me in purgatory because you like me?

He grinned again, like his killer smile would get him out of trouble.  “I really like you.”
I sputtered.  There simply weren’t words. Even in the afterlife, the male intellect remained an oxymoron.

“Besides…” He pointed at the Purgatory sign—which no longer read PURGATORY.  Instead, COFFEE? flashed into the swirling atmosphere. “Want to get out of here?”
No doubt about it, I wasn’t alone in the universe. And the afterlife had definitely gotten interesting.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Guardian of the Banshee by R.T. Drake

Lasair was his name, and he was asking her to do exactly what the one called Aidan had warned her about. In fact Lasair saying, ‘Say My Name’, had jogged the memory of her first, and only, encounter with Aidan.

For a second she was tempted. His offer was so tantalizing his name on the tip of her tongue. But he became obsessed with it. Bringing Aidan’s warning to the surface while a cloud of doubt on Lasair’s true intentions formed.

He will appear to you when you are most vulnerable. He will seem kind and will offer you aid, so long as you say his name.”

Given how horrible her day had been she did not want to add to it. The universe deciding today, of all days, was the best to suddenly take an interest in her, and show her how insignificant she really was.

For most people October 15th meant preparing for Halloween. But for her it marked the fifth year of her parents passing. Killed on their thirtieth wedding anniversary, by some drunken college students, it only reminded her they were gone.

She had gone to her temp job in Finance & Accounting where, upon arrival, her ID badge didn't work. After inquiring she was told her services were no longer needed. The female accountant she was filling in for, who had been on maternity leave, had returned two months early.

When she questioned the rep on how long it had been known the accountant would return early, she was told it didn’t matter. Oregon was an Employed at will state, meaning she could be let go at any time for any reason. Furious she had told and showed the rep what to do with her finger before driving to her fiancĂ©'s apartment.

Hoping to seek comfort she approached his apartment door, hearing shouting from inside. Concerned she used her key to gain entry discovering in the process he was the source of the shouting. More precisely he was shouting very descriptive obscenities at the woman under him.

Beyond shocked all she could do was stare for a moment before, out of repulsive disgust, she ripped off her engagement ring and threw it at him as hard as she could. His yelp of pain, as it hit his exposed rear, brought her some enjoyment as she stormed off.

His shouts of apology from the apartment went ignored as she returned to her car. If the allure of an actual virgin in today’s society did not keep him faithful, nothing would. The decision to save herself for someone who actually loved her was her way of honoring the love and commitment her parents had shared for so long. Obviously he did not understand what that meant.

With anger gripping her, she slammed the car door so hard she heard something inside snap. Not caring she pummeled the steering wheel until her fists were red before finally starting the car and peeling out of the parking lot.

Soon she found herself heading towards Jones Creek campground off Highway Six. As a child she camped there with her parents often and since their death, when she needed to just get away from everything, it allowed her to think and be at peace.

She came upon the Highway Eight and Six merge, the back way into Forest Grove, when a small red truck decided it could get out in front of her fast enough, but didn’t. Even after slamming on her brakes she still hit it, the collision knocking everyone around. Though luckily it was not enough to cause major injury or serious damage, it was enough that her premiums would go up, yet something else she could not afford.

Pulling over to the side of the road they exchanged information while they waited for the police to arrive. Of course once they did the other drivers’ neck suddenly started hurting and the witness, his passenger, backed up everything he said. After two hours of repeating her side of the story, and the cop all but actually confirming she would be found at fault, she found herself alone in more ways than one.

Back in her car she tried to start it, only to have it not turn over. Several attempts later she found herself using her cell phone to call a tow truck. Tom, from Forest Grove towing, said he was not sure how long it would be as she was the fourth person to place a service call in the past half hour. He promised he would be there as soon as possible and no sooner did she say thank you, then her phone died, its battery dead.

Unable to believe her luck she threw it, regretting doing so the second it left her hand. It crashed into the windshield instantly causing a spider web crack to form, as the phone itself shattered, electrical components flying everywhere.

Balling her sore hands into fists she screamed at the top of her lungs, yelling until nothing was left. Afterwards, miserable and hating life, overwhelmed by how much her life utterly sucked, she burst into long held back tears. What else could go wrong she thought? Then he showed up.

A honk from behind made her jump, snapping her back to the reality of how much her life resembled a stupid Soap Opera right now. Figuring it was Tom she got out, not bothering to hide she had been crying. At this point it didn't matter. She only wanted to get home and make it through the rest of the day without anything else happening.

The man introduced himself as Lasair instead, saying he saw her broke down and thought he could offer aid. After she expressed she was fine they began to converse. It was towards the end of their talk when, out of the blue, the whole ‘say my name’ and your problems will go away bit came up.

Now the two stood regarding each other as she spoke.

“You know, you’re not the first person to say that to me. Someone else, a long time ago, did too. Don’t suppose you can explain that can you?”

“I’m afraid not.” He said simply, but his demeanor said otherwise as he stood more upright, his shoulders going slightly back.

“Are you somehow connected to the other guy?” she pressed.

His smile was sudden and fake.

“If you but say my name, I promise you every answer you seek.”

“What is it with the name thing?”

“I am not permitted to say exactly, except that doing so, aligns you so to speak.” He dipped his head.

“What do you mean aligns me? Aligns me with what? Or are you not permitted to tell me that either unless I say your name?” she meant to be sarcastic, but his response showed he took it seriously.

“Now you’re getting it, Lass.” He slipped into a similar Irish like accent as Aidan.

“What if I don’t say your name?”

Lasair’s smile turned wicked as he spoke.

“Then you make my task much easier, and all but assure certain things.”

“Like what?”

Silence fell between them.

“Say your name and you’ll tell me, right?” she asked.

He nodded.

“Ok this is getting old, alright, this …this name thing. So just tell me what exactly it is you want from me.”

“Merely to say my name, lass”

“Like I said the joke has run thin. Besides that’s what the other guy, Aidan, said.”

“I much prefer you saying mine, over…his.” His lip curled in disdain.

“You don’t like Aidan, do you?”

“It’s complicated.” His tone dismissive.

“Complicated?” she nodded a few times. “So what happens if I ‘complicate’ it further and say his name, instead of yours?”

“I will kill you.”

He said it so plainly, it almost escaped her.

“I’m sorry, you’ll…you’ll kill me?”


“Why?” Shrinking back a few feet as her shoulders hunched inward.

“That is something you need not concern yourself with. Your task is very simple. Speak my name, you live. Speak his name, you die. Speak neither, you die. Would you like some incentive in making your decision?”

Still trying to discern what he meant, a sudden burst of red lightning shot down from the sky, striking him where he stood and blinding her in the process. Desperately she rubbed her eyes, trying to negate the effects. His threats of death still foremost on her mind. When her vision returned she was surprised to see he had not moved. He also held something in his right hand.

Blinking several more times the object became clearer, it was a sword. Unexpected as that was, what really garnered her attention was the amber colored symbol glowing upon its blade.

Sitting directly above the guard, the triangular shaped emblem glowed with a fierceness she had never seen before. Its three distinct points came together in the middle and interlaced with one another, reminding her of a Celtic design. Above it, running half way up the blade were scrawled markings, Runes she thought, set horizontally across the face of the blade.

As her gaze drifted back towards the handle, his right wrist was now covered by a black leather like gauntlet with the same glowing symbol as the sword. Still trying to come to terms with what she was seeing his voice sounded, at once drawing her attention.

“I did not think choosing between life or death would be so difficult a decision.”

Remaining guarded she took a step back. As her foot moved backwards, his
moved forward mirroring her. Blinking she looked to his legs then back up to his face before casting a sideways glance at him. He remained motionless.
Keeping his legs in her sight she stepped back again, making sure to watch while she lead with her left foot. In return his left foot came forward at the same time. She glanced at him and saw no change in his expression. She took several hasty steps back watching intently as she did. Every move she made he mirrored it exactly. Looking up to him his smile grew wide and wicked.
“If you run, I will match every move you make. I will not tire, but you will, quickly I might add. And when you collapse from exhaustion, I will kill you. A lady does not run from her Guardian, after all.”
“Guardian? Lady? What are you talking about?”
“Say my name and you will find out.”
“What is it with you and your name? Of all the stupidest things I have ever heard!”
At once his smile vanished, his face stone.
“Names are powerful words, Lass. Spoken at the right time they can do a great many things, their power almost limitless.” His voice left no doubt he believed what he was saying.
Great, she thought, I am on a two lane highway, with a sword wielding psycho, who thinks names are powerful and, according to him I am unable to get away. Ironically this would make an awesome horror movie.
Then it hit her, she was on a highway. She only need flag down the next car she saw. Looking to the road and back she took a few cautious steps towards it, watching his reaction. He remained where he was observing her, amusement coming to his face.
Turning back to the highway she scanned it hoping to spot someone, maybe even one of the logging trucks that were always around. But looking back and forth several times she saw the road was empty. Puzzled she wondered how that could be as cars were always going out to the coast and back. Then it suddenly hit her. Aside from him she had not heard, nor seen, any cars pass by since the cops left.

Lowering her head onto her shoulders, terror creeping in, she faced him. His smile somehow turning more sinister.

“How is Tom?” he asked, sending her eyes wide. “Last we talked he was pretty busy. Something about everyone suddenly forgetting how to drive. Of course I spoke with him after you slammed into the red truck. Which though it wasn’t planned, worked out nicely. It has given us this wonderful time together alone, and unhindered. Timing the last accident to occur right after the cops left, I admit was tricky, but well worth it.”

Her heart plummeted in her chest.

“How did you….?”

“Know you got into an accident? I saw it through your eyes. I’ve been doing so for most of your life. Today was no different, save the loss of your job, your boyfriend, and all on the anniversary of your parent’s death. In comparison arranging the accidents, though I did have help, was the least of your problems. Well until now.”

Anger and frustration filled her, replacing the fear she had been feeling a moment ago. She had enough of this jerk and despite what he said, she was confident she could get away. She had been on the long distance running team in high school and ran three times a week. She could out pace him or loose him in the woods, she thought, starting to step backwards.

“You can not escape me, Lass, so don’t try”

His words spurred her to prove him wrong. Quickly turning, determined to put as much distance between them as possible, she saw him intentionally trip over his own feet from the corner of her eye. His actions had only just registered when she felt her own feet mimic his, tripping her and sending her sprawling sideways to the ground.

Throwing her arm out to stop her fall, her hand slammed awkwardly into the uneven gravel. She heard, and felt, her wrist snap from the impact, eliciting a loud and painful scream as she lurched to her back, clutching her injury.

Tears spilling from her eyes she rolled to and fro as a moment later a shadow fell over her. Knowing it was Lasair, hating him with everything she had, she went to shout at him. Instead she went rigid noticing the point of his sword a few inches from her.

“I have always enjoyed that ability. It comes in handy when I need to keep ones like you, from running away.” Unable to hide the twisted glee in his voice.

Laying there, seething in hatred and pain, defiance sprang up in her.

“What do you want from me?”

His eyes narrowed for a moment before answering.

“Simply to say my name. Do that and all this will be a memory.”

“You want me to say your name? You want me to say it, fine!”

Drawing in a long breath, feeling her lungs fill until she thought they would burst, she screamed as loud as she could, shouting the name she had wanted to since this all began.

“AIDAN!” Long and drawn out her voice filled the surrounding area as it echoed off into the distance.

Watching Lasair blink several times in confusion, no doubt still trying to determine if he had heard correctly, she saw him snap out of it a second later. With gritted teeth and dark intent in his eyes, he raised his sword high above his head. For the briefest of moments it stood poised before its deadly arc descended towards her. There was no time to react, no time to do anything save lay there watching her demise.

The sky was suddenly ablaze as a second streak of red lightning ripped through it. A fraction of a second later something slammed into the ground beside her. The force of the impact rippled through her, causing her to flinch away and shield her eyes. The deafening clang of metal slamming against metal rocked her ears, followed by a venomous voice shouting the name Aidan.

Through ringing ears she opened her eyes, focusing on the scene before her. Gone from her vision was the red sky, returned to normal. Replaced instead by the sight of Lasair’s sword as it wavered but a few inches from her. At once it sent her already racing heart into overdrive.

Peering past the tip she saw a two headed axe, something straight out of a museum, had prevented the killing blow. It held Lasair’s sword trapped between its blade and shaft, locking it in place. A voice unheard in a decade, but one she never forgot, filled her ears, bringing with it a sense of hope.

“She has chosen, Lasair. You will not have her, not like the others.” The voice strained but sincere.

Gazing up to the owner she recognized him even from the side. It was Aidan. The man she had thought about often these past ten years, finding him at first to be strange and even creepy. Yet the more she had thought on him, the more at ease and comfortable she became in regards to him, wondering who he was.

Standing shoulder to shoulder the two men were locked in place. Each one grinding their weapon against the others until Lasair roared in outrage and disengaged from the battle. Taking several long hasty steps back he glared at Aidan, raising his sword to eye level and pointed it directly at him.

“It matters not. Her death would have only ensured yours. Samhain is in sixteen days and I promise you she will not live to see it, just like the others.”

Aidan stepped deliberately between her and Lasair. In doing so her attention focused in on the bracer he wore, causing a double take as she noted it matched Lasair’s in every way, including the glowing symbol.

Barely registering this she caught site of the same symbol upon Aidan’s axe. Looking closer she saw the blade also held the same runes as on Lasair’s sword. Closing her eyes hard for several seconds she reopened them, at a loss when they were still present. The only difference between the two weapon’s symbols and runes was the placement. Aidan’s symbol was in the middle, where the two blades joined, the runes scrawled above and below it.
Still observing Aidan’s emblem it changed color. Going from bright amber to dark crimson as small flecks of fire flew from it. His gauntlet however remained unchanged, maintaining its bright coloring. Looking around Aidan to Lasair, his weapon, and gauntlet, were following suit.
“Not this time, Lasair.” Aidan said, drawing himself up to full height. “I am her Guardian.”
The words had barely been spoken before her attention was brought back to the sets of runes upon his axe. One by one each set lit up until all were aglow. Then as one they shifted downward, creating a new space at the very top of the axes blade. Once complete the runes changed before her eyes. The symbols turned from straight lines and geometrical shapes into recognizable letters and words. When complete, the markings, now in English, appeared as names, specifically women’s names.
Staring, still unable to understand it all, she watched something inscribe itself on the metal of the axe, using the newly created space. As seconds passed by letters burned themselves into the blade, each one forming as if some unseen pencil was using the metal as paper. When it was done and the new letters were glowing brighter than the rest, her mouth fell open. There upon his blade was her name, Lynette.
“Lynette.” Said Lasair interrupting her thoughts as he regarded his sword, “Now that’s a fine name, lass. It’s a shame it won’t glow long upon our blades,” pausing he looked directly at Aidan, “will it brother?”
Lynette’s mind reeled, she had to have misheard.
“Her Ladyship will be safe from you and your Dark Banshee. Those who you have twisted into morbid reflections of what they once were, forcing them to prey upon the innocent. Brother.” replied Aidan.
She had not misheard. These two were brothers?
“No one is innocent Aidan. Something I learned a long time ago, from you.” Looking directly to Lynette he continued, “I will see you very soon, lass, I promise.”
A sudden flash of red burst forth from where he stood, forcing her to avert her eyes though it was not as blinding as before. By the time her eyes focused Lasair was gone and beside her, already kneeling, was Aidan. Gone were his axe and bracer, replaced by a concerned look.
“Are you alright, My Lady?” he asked.
Looking at him this close again she felt her heart skip for a moment. His blue eyes, like the sky, were the same as she remembered. His face, taught and angular, was smooth, showing no hint of the years that had passed since their last meeting. In all he looked the same, handsome as ever.
Realizing she was allowing herself to become distracted, she forced herself to focus on the current situation, allowing her suspicion and anger to take lead.
“What the hell is going on? What was all that talk about? My Lady? Guardian? Brother? Are you two brothers? I swear if you are...”
She saw his gaze shift to her arm and instinctively she drew it back, the action causing her to wince in pain.
“You are injured, My Lady, please allow me to assist you.”
“Don’t ignore me, answer the question.” She demanded.
“Which one, My Lady, you have asked several.”
Pausing knowing he was right she could not think of an answer right away.
“Allow me to tend to your wound, My Lady, and I will answer whatever questions you desire. You have my word as a Guardian.”
“Like I know what a Guardian is, or what their word is worth? Who are you?”
“I am Aidan.”
“Yeah I know that. You told me ten years ago when you said to ‘say my name’ instead of his. But who are you, really?”
“As I said, My Lady, I will answer everything you desire. Please just allow me to tend to your wrist.”
“It’s broken. I can’t move it and as you can see it’s already swollen. It’s not the first time I’ve had a broken bone, nor will it be the last the way this day is going. I swear…..”
“Please, My Lady.” He interrupted, his voice barely a whisper yet full of conviction.
His plea silenced her. The tone alone conveying more in those three words than people wrote about in entire books. It carried a sense of promise and commitment she had seen only once in her life. As if he was pledging himself to her some how, though she could not be certain. In that moment all doubt she felt about him vanished. She could trust him with anything in the world, though she did not know how or why she knew.
Offering her arm she nodded slightly, after which his attention was solely on it. While he examined her injury a million questions sprang to mind. One by one she listed them in order as to how she would ask, determined to get to the bottom of what was going on. Still making the list, she watched his hand come up and pass slowly yet deliberately over her wrist.
An intense searing pain followed, bringing with it the desire to scream. Opening her mouth to do so the pain was abruptly gone, causing her to instead look to her wrist with confusion. The swelling and bruising disappeared before her eyes returning it to normal.
Gingerly she moved it back and forth, expecting high levels of pain, but none came. Moving it around more she continued to do so until her hand was flopping about, but still no pain was present. Perplexed she watched him stand and offer her his hand.
“Please allow me to assist you, My Lady.”
“What did you do?”
He said nothing, merely stood patiently with his hand out and a small frown of apprehension. No doubt hoping she would not argue further, she thought.
Figuring she could get the answers she sought standing, she grasped his hand. When they touched two things happened. At the same time she was pulled effortlessly to her feet, his immense strength taking her by surprise, a streak of warmth shot into her from their joined hands, making her inhale sharply.
Like liquid it surged through every fiber of her being. Encompassing her so quickly an involuntary shudder went through her as goose bumps formed along every inch of her body. The warmth throbbed like it was alive, passing between them before overtaking her completely. Within seconds it was part of her, so familiar she could not tell it from her own pulse. Then just as quickly as it appeared it vanished, disappearing back into him with a rush, leaving her unsteady.
Barely recovered a headache slammed itself against the inside of her skull. Hitting with the ferocity of a twenty pound sledgehammer, instantly buckling her legs. Large and powerful arms wrapped her up, halting her fall. A voice gently filled her ear.
“I have you, My Lady. It is the Celtic Fire and it shall pass, I promise.”
Before she could respond, images flashed behind her eyes. She saw Aidan, Lasair, the two battling, other women sitting upon a throne, and many things she had no clue what they were. They streaked by so quickly that by the time she could discern something from one, a dozen others passed in which she could not. Image after image flew by. Each one attaching itself to her very soul until she was as heavy as the world itself. Seeming to continue forever, she was on the very brink of madness when they stopped.

Breathing heavily like she had sprinted a thousand miles, she clung to him for dear life. Her heart pounded against the inside of her ribs. Her body, drenched in sweat, was beyond exhausted. Her clothes, sticking to her everywhere, suddenly were tight and confining. Her head pounded, making her bob it up and down in rhythm, trying to alleviate it.
Looking to him, her eyelids like heavy bricks, she noted his eyes were full of resolution and happiness. Weaker than she could ever remember feeling, she tried to speak but found her throat was cotton.
“Don’t speak, My Lady. Save your strength, for you will need it.”
Feeling blackness creeping in, letting her know she had little time, she managed to gulp down enough saliva to ask the most important question she had wanted to know for years.
Before she could hear his response she went limp in his arms, unconsciousness taking her. But even as it did, she knew she was safe. Aidan would protect her at all costs. Deep down she knew it was true and always would be.

Holding the woman he had met once as a girl, Aidan found himself staring at her, finding her just as beautiful as that day in the mall. And though he had lived for centuries that passed into Milena the past ten years had seemed the longest.
Her deep emerald eyes were still as lovely as he remembered and still capable of holding him captive. Her red hair, vibrant and rare, was the only visible link to her Celtic ancestry. It reminded him of their common birth right, the Celtic Fire, as well as the true Celts themselves. Once great warriors, whose deeds, both good and bad, were forgotten to almost all, save a few like him.
Studying her as she began the longest part of the Binding Ritual he thought on what it meant. Capable of lasting for days, it was said to be like a long hard slumber. During which she would be shown the past so she could understand and prepare for what was to come.
When she awoke he would be there, and the ritual, begun when she chose him by speaking his name, would be complete. From that moment on he would be her Guardian, forever. Only death could release him of that bond. Weather hers, which he would not allow to happen, or his, which could only come from her hands. He would protect her at all costs. From his brother, from the Dark Banshee, even from himself, and soon she would know everything. Almost everything, he corrected himself.
He recalled what the oldest of the Oracles had told him in secret. That he would find love again this century. Of course, as with all Oracles, she had not said when, or with whom. Needless to say he had never expected it to be with her.
Discovering that love had reminded him of a long dormant memory he thought buried. A day when his love had betrayed the woman he loved and his brother. In doing so he had helped create the Dark Banshee Lasair now surrounded himself with. The same his brother wanted to let loose upon the world, bringing forth its devastation.
This was why she could never learn of his love, never know everything. Because she would need to be strong for what was to come. In order to do so she would need a Guardian who was not blinded by love, or even pride. One who could actually protect her, unlike the last time.
Scooping her up in his arms he recalled what Lasair said about Samhain being near. Though his brother was correct, unlike each time before, this time there was hope. She had chosen him. So long as he kept to his Guardian’s oath. So long as he could keep his love hidden, that hope would remain and lead them to victory, possibly even forgiveness.
Focusing on her, knowing she would be able to hear him in the dark recesses of the Binding Ritual, he spoke.
“I am Aidan, My Lady. Born of the Celtic Fire and Guardian to the Banshee as well as their queen. I am, and will always be, your Guardian. My future queen.”

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Copper Dagger

Encounter on Winter Solstice 1879

Joy breathed in the cold December air. The trek up the hill to the ancient standing stones had taken the better part of an hour, but the blessed silence of that house soaked into her very soul. London was all so congested with soot and grime. Not to mention the bigoted aristocrats her adoptive parents spent the majority of their time socializing with.

Breathing rapidly she hitched her satchel of painting and sketching supplies further onto her shoulder as she reached the top. The view before her took what breath she had left. The moss and snow covered stones tilted up into the air like giant stone sentinels.

Quickly needing to sketch what she saw she dropped the satchel to the ground to pull her sketchbook out. She sat down spreading her wool skirts and cloak out around her protecting her rear from the snow still on the ground. Crickets sung in the moonlit meadow. Joy looked up trying to gauge the height of the top mantel piece. She gasped. Expecting to see the ancient stones she was startled to find a man stood before her, his back to her blocking her view.

"Excuse me."

The man turned slightly.

"You're in my view."

"My apologies." He stepped three feet to the side.

Joy sighed. The peacefulness of the solitude was gone. She tried to turn back to her artwork, but the need was gone. Groaning she threw the book and pencil back into her bag and stood up.

"I disturbed you."

Joy rolled her eyes turning to him. "You think?"

"There's no need to be sour about it."

She gave an exaggerated sigh grabbing up her bag before stomping off towards the stones. As nice as his voice was, she didn't want to be around anyone. Especially tonight.

"Wait! Miss!"

Swallowing and sending a quick glance over her shoulder her stomach dropped. They were alone in the middle of no where and no one knew she was there. Now a strange man showed up trying to get her attention? She tried to ignore his calls as she rounded the stones of the outer circle. The energy in the area hummed as if she was in the middle of a Tesla experiment. She puffed warm air over her clasped hands only now feeling the dropping temperature. She wouldn't be able to be out much longer.


She groaned. All she wanted was to be left alone. Was that too much to ask? She ducked into the center of the ruin and crouched down behind the center bluestone altar. She held her breath as footsteps crunched in the snow.

"Ah, come on. Miss! Miss, you dropped something."

Joy hunched debating with herself for a minute. He'd come upon her and could have hurt her then, but hadn't. Why would he do something now? Unless he was one of those sick people who enjoyed their victim knowing who their attacker was. She peeked over the top of the altar. He looked frustrated and irritated, but as she watched him she really couldn't see him as someone who would hurt anyone. Not willingly. He had the carriage of a soldier. Finally figuring it would be easier to retrieve whatever she'd dropped than listen to him yell for her all night, she popped up.

He turned towards her as if he'd heard her. She shifted and snow crunched under her feet. Of course, he'd heard. He really was a handsome fellow. If one tended to look for that sort of thing. Past experiences had taught her that she wasn't the type for a happily ever after. The closest thing she could ever get was the quiet evening of the Winter Solstice in the middle of nowhere. For a quick second she thought of the driver she'd paid to deliver her to the peaceful wilderness. Would he still be waiting for her in the two hours she'd requested?

"There you are. You dropped this." He moved towards her.

Joy tried to move forward, but found her courage had frozen just like the ground under her feet. She held her trembling gloved hand out over the stone.

"Thank you."

"Are you here alone?" He sent a quick glance all around them holding his closed fist above her open palm.

"My driver is waiting for me."

"No husband?"

Joy scowled. "Of course not."

She slammed her open hand into the air. The jerk of her arm bumped the edge of her hood, a swift breeze rushed through the stones bringing a light snow flurry with it. The cold moisture felt refreshing against her heated cheeks as her hood flew away from her face. The world around them froze, the only sound his inhaled breath.

***   ***

She was gorgeous. Like an ancient warrior Goddess. The snowy breeze only seemed to heighten the color of her rose cheeks. Cade blinked coming back to what they had been discussing before Mother Nature had decided to interrupt them. She seemed offended that he'd asked about a husband. Surely whoever looked out for her would never let her wander around in the wilderness alone. If she'd been his he would be assured she was at home cuddled in front of a fire content to stay inside. The snowy countryside was no place for a woman to be alone. Especially at night.

"My possession?"

He shook his head. Of course. Her beauty had momentarily distracted him. He tried to smile but the muscles had been stiff and silent for too long and only twitched now. He lowered his closed fist to lay against her kid leather. He took a step closer bumping against the bluestone mantel between them.
Kid leather was expensive, her wool cloak of good material. She wasn't poor which meant she didn't live in the area. Only farmers lived near Stonehenge. And only a select few would ever dare to visit on such a wintry evening. She sighed again rolling her eyes. He opened his hand not sure why he was finding it difficult to let go of the slim copper and bone dagger.
She pulled her hand back frowning.

"That isn't mine."

"It was by your feet."

"I guarantee it's not mine. I wouldn't have anything to do with a dagger."

"Not even to sharpen your-"

"Not even then." She shoved it back to him.

Bang! Ping!

Instinct took over. He grabbed the shoulder of her cloak and yanked her towards him. She jerked across the stone with a scream. Ping!

Someone was shooting at them. Breathing heavily Cade couldn't believe one of the farmers would so willingly endanger anyone on sacred land.

"Get off me!"

"Hush." Cade clamped a hand over her luscious mouth searching over the stone for the shooter.

Whoever had fired had been aiming from the woods to the right. And downhill. She bit down on the fleshy part of his palm. He growled pulling his hand away. Her chest rose and fell rapidly. His stomach dropped. She'd been hit. He slipped his hand under her cloak breathing in relief when he didn't feel any wet liquid which would mean she had been shot. He scowled when instead his fingers discovered his swift action had caused a stay in her corset to snap and press into her ribs. If he didn't remove it soon she would suffocate.

"Leave me alone!"

He shook his head at her whispered vehemence. Her body started to sway against the stone.

"Your driver?"

"Down the path."

He looked back down the path he'd come up. There hadn't been anyone at the end of the path much less a carriage. He turned back to her kneeling over her to gently lay her on her wool cloak so that the corset laid flat. Her eyes fluttered shut.

"Forgive me, but-"

"Just do it. Quickly."

He nodded though she couldn't see in the failing light. He pulled the copper dagger from her gloved hand and tilted her slightly away from him. He sliced through her woolen bodice to the ribbons tying the corset sides together. With a slight puff of air the two sides popped open. She gulped in a full breath, groaned then went silent. She stared at something above his right shoulder. He tightened his grip on the bone handle.


Cade glanced up over his shoulder. The light had nearly vanished leaving everything in a hazy shadow world. A world he knew so well it felt like his home. A glint of moonlight bounced off the barrel of a pistol. Older model. More likely to misfire at close range.

"Move away." The assailant waved the gun at him.

Cade sent a quick glance down at the frozen woman. Her lips were starting to turn blue from the cold wind sweeping towards them. Even the thug above them shivered and hunched further into his woolen jacket. Cade raised his hands in the air trying to present a harmless target as he slid away.

"I'm awful sorry, miss, but we can't let you take control." His voice was soft in the snowy darkness.

Cade silently slipped behind the man as he stepped towards the woman pointing the pistol at her forehead. Her sigh was soft in the air but went straight to his heart like a bolt of lightening. She closed her eyes as if she was waiting for someone to end her suffering. He wouldn't allow that. The pistol hammer clicked into place.

The world slowed.

Cade slipped his arm around the man's neck and twisted.

The neck snapped.

The pistol exploded.

She screamed.

The wind rushed in blowing heavy snow with it. Cade dropped to his knees just as another shot rang out.

Then another.

And another.

In rapid succession which could only mean a Gatlan gun. Someone really intended for her to perish. He dropped his body over her.


"Who are your friends?"

She shook her head vehemently her body trembling against him.


"We have to get out of here."


Cade searched around them. They were sitting ducks. He needed to get them to cover. Unfortunately, the only cover was the woods the shooters were using.

"Can you move?"

"I...I... think so."

"Good. We're going to make a dash-"

"Where? There's no where to go."

He cupped her cheeks trying to get her gaze to focus on him. After a few seconds her gaze collided with him.

"There we go. I need you to concentrate on me."

"I don't know you."

He felt the little twitch of a smile again. "I know, but it looks like we don't have a choice."

"Do you know..." her gaze slid to the man whose neck he'd snapped then shot back to him. She swallowed. "How do I know you're not one of them?"

"I had plenty of chances to hurt you. I didn't. I saved you from being shot. At least three times."

I hope you enjoyed this short. The next installment will be posted on January 3, 2014.

Copyrighted 2013 Mae Pen