Freedom drove the boat down the night river. It never ceased to amaze her how beautiful it was. The night river glowed with the magic of the stars that powered it. A dazzling light show radiated from the prop of her boat. Freedom’s ancestors had sacrificed a solar system to power the night river. It gave Freedom and her people the ability to travel between worlds. The journey was not without perils. There were stab rabbits in the ether waiting for her to drift too close to the edge of the river. She had lost her best friend that way. Penny had always been reckless. Now her spirit was trapped on the shore with the stab rabbits and often materialized to taunt Freedom. Freedom had not seen her tonight and she prayed that she would have peace on tonight’s journey. She needed to collect palm milk and pomegranate seeds for her mother. Her mother was a wise woman, trained in the arts of healing. The palm milk was to help a sick child. The pomegranate seeds would help another woman conceive the child she had wished for. Freedom was the gopher. Doomed to spend the next century gathering ingredients for her mother until she would finally be able to apprentice out to the vocation of her choice. Freedom sighed and continued navigating the river. The song inside of her longed to be released. Some days it felt like the next 100 years would never end. She would never be able to make the beautiful music that played through her soul into a reality. She hoped the master bard would take her on as an apprentice. But Freedom was doomed to 100 years of silence. She had taken a vow to be her mother’s silent helper. Penny appeared on the edge of the river. She sang a beautiful song that nearly mirrored the one trapped inside of Freedom. Freedom was drawn by the song. Her boat began to drift towards Penny. Freedom’s boat was less that an arms length away from the edge when the stab rabbits appeared. It snapped Freedom from her reverie and she drove her boat back to the center. 100 years of silence might be frustrating but an eternity trapped with the stab rabbits would be far worse. Freedom focused on gaining the ingredients for her mother and continued on her journey.
Archery Painting was a one stop shop. They were able to provide a wide range of mysterious services. One day they could help you arrange a protest out on Good Hill over the misuse of green paint in the town square. The town decided to install a wishing well in the square after the green paint protest calmed down. A month later Archery Painting helped make Royal Grapefruit the most popular flavor of chewing gum on the eastern seaboard. The many and strange favors they handed out slowly changed the course of the small New England town they resided in. The sidewalks were nicer. The street lights never went out. Snow days grew fewer and farther in between. No nasty storms came to visit the tiny town of Resonance. The residents thought nothing of it. They were overjoyed to live in a town where nothing went wrong and neighbors never squabbled. The town might have enjoyed another hundred years of peace and prosperity, if only little Bobby hadn’t made his wish in the wishing well. He wished to be an overnight sensation. He wanted his name up in lights. As his fifteen minutes of fame grew into twenty, then an hour, the town was drained. First the street lights started to flicker. Then the curbs started to tumble down. The mayor didn’t know what to do with himself. He’d been elected for twenty years straight and suddenly he had neighbors punching neighbors. For Sale signs popped up all over town like dandelions in the spring. If one was taken down, two more popped up in its place. The Mayor watched Resonance’s most famous son sing his heart out on the national stage. Then he’d deal with broken down buses and leaky ceilings at the elementary school. After a few months of this the mayor had had enough. He stopped by Archery Painting and spoke to the old wizard behind the counter. He explained what was happening and the old wizard shrugged.
“Bobby burned out the wishing well. Now it wishes ill. There’s not much that can be done about it until Bobby’s wish runs out.”
The mayor smiled and nodded. “I see what you mean. I’ll take care of it.”
The old wizard just shook his head. There was one more foul deed the wishing ill had sent out into the hearts of Resonance. The mayor died of a heart attack that night before he could plot the downfall of Bobby. Bobby stayed in the spotlight for another month before his luck ran out. Resonance welcomed him home with open arms. He sang his one hit wonders at the town festival and slowly the town pulled itself back together. A new mayor was elected. The wizard pulled the new mayor aside and explained about the old wishing well. It was promptly pulled out and a bird fountain put in its place. Things never quite went back to the glory days but Resonance was able to prosper once again.
It took a teaspoon of courage to bring the watermelon to the Thanksgiving day festivities. Her family stared at it like it had come from outer space. She smiled widely. Magenta had stashed it in her basement. It was the last and ripest watermelon she had found in the summer. She had drilled a small hole in its side and then poured an entire bottle of grain alcohol inside of it. This was to be her saving grace. If anyone asked about her earth bound duties and whether she was keeping up with the souls she was meant to be guarding, she’d hand them a juicy slice of watermelon. It had absorbed all the liquor and left nothing but the taste of summer behind. She saw that her sister Mauve, in typical bitch fashion, had brought Magenta’s crush to dinner. Mauve spent most of the afternoon fawning all over the young handsome werewolf. Magenta seethed and brought them slice after slice of gorgeous red fruit. Their mother declined any fruit and watched Magenta through narrowed eyes. She’d always known her daughter had a knack for trouble. Mother had hoped that the duties of being a guardian would give Magenta a sense of purpose. Instead she seemed to be acquiring the bad habits of her charges. Mauve and the werewolf were giggling incessantly in the corner. Grandma Rose was snoring next to her bowl of soup. She’d only had once slice of watermelon but she could never hold her drink well. Meanwhile Magenta pranced around being the most helpful of daughters. She served food to the young ones and gathered up dishes to be washed. Finally she was able to get her father to try a slice of watermelon. He marvelled at how juicy it was and it was quickly devoured. His face flushed from the grain alcohol and he demanded a second slice to cool off. Magenta happily handed him a second, larger piece. By five o’clock only Magenta and Mother were still sober. Magenta smiled widely as she said what she had come to say at the dinner table over the many plates of pie and cookies. “I quit my job last week.” If anyone had thought that a pixie was a good choice for Guardian, they stopped thinking that after her first week on the job. She was much better at starting trouble than fixing it.
The table erupted into arguing and Grandma Rose woke up just long enough to throw a slice of pumpkin pie at her daughter in law. Magenta smiled and offered her mother a towel. Mother took it and cleaned the pie from her hair. The food fight that followed was glorious. Magenta threw cookies with glee at all of her family. By the time it was over there were cookies in the ceiling fan and the dog was being dragged away from the remains of Mauve’s apple pie. Everyone looked around at the devastation in awe. Mother frowned at Magenta. “We will discuss this tomorrow. Get out of here while I get these fools to bed. And take the rest of that damned watermelon with you.”
Magenta smiled and did as she was told. As she closed the door she heard the arguing start up again. Her Mother would get them all under control and would forgive her…eventually. But for now she was free for the next twelve to twenty four hours. She grinned at the watermelon and headed to the local bar. She had more mischief to stir.
Flower was up to her old tricks. She twirled about in her dungeon couture. It had taken her eleven months to go mad while imprisoned behind the ancient sea wall. The wailing of the other prisoners had finally worn her down. Her sanity snapped like a rubber band stretched too thin. Every day when the sun rose she danced across her ten foot by ten foot cell. Her body remembered the movements. It remembered the feel of the shining blue dress her fairy god mother had made for her from the tired old rags she had spent most of her life wearing. But her mind. Her mind had long since forgotten that beautiful starry night when she had fallen in love with a prince and sealed her fate. There was no happily ever after for her. Or for any of the other girls who had fallen in love with the prince of the realm. The guards had caught Flower the moment the spell had worn off. They had imprisoned her at the orders of the King’s Widow. She once was called the Queen and loved by all. The day the King died in a hunting accident was the day the realm was plunged into darkness. A Mystic from a faraway land came to sit beside the King’s Widow. He whispered to her about royal balls and girls coming to steal her only son. Soon the balls became a sacrifice for the sanity of the realm. If the King’s Widow was allowed her menagerie of merchant’s daughters and scullery maids, then she spent her time with them. The realm was left to its own devices. The inhabitants of the realm felt it was a fair trade to be free of the darkness that had hung over them all when the King died. The daughters did not think so and neither did their fathers. The King’s Widow would peek in on them yearly exactly one hour before the next ball was set to begin. The imprisoned girls would be in a frenzy as the King’s Widow looked in on each one of them. She held a pair of baby shoes clutched in her hands. The King’s Widow reached the second to last cell of the row and looked in on Flower. Flower smiled and her eyes shone brightly in the dim moonlight. She laughed maniacally and delivered her message at last. “Make way for the Mystic!”
The queen shivered and fled the dungeon. The Mystic was waiting for her at the stable. He smiled widely at her. “Good Evening my Queen. Are you ready to join your menagerie? It’s taken 12 years to gather enough power, but now none will stand in my way.” He used a spell to knock her unconscious and dressed her in the rags of a scullery maid. He waited three hours and then delivered her to the guards at the dungeon. The guards opened the thirteenth cell. No one had thought this debacle would go on this long. It was the last cell that had been built. The Mystic smiled at the men and gave them a gold coin each. “Be warned. This last one thinks she is the King’s Widow. I hope to put an end to this pageant once and for all. I speak with her majesty tonight and pray to the moon that this is the last soul imprisoned in this wretched place.” The guards smiled and nodded. They watched him leave. Once he was well out of sight, they released the twelve girls and put them in wagons bound for a convent in the next realm. Hopefully the poor souls would find peace. But there would be no peace in the realm. Tonight, the revolution would begin.
Papaya blinked in the sunshine. It had been a long night of harvesting. Her song had warned three people of their impending deaths. None of them would heed her warning and get their shit together. Guaranteed.
One soul she had collected from an unfortunate human who thought a lone woman at night was easy prey. He had learned his lesson…painfully. Four more souls had joined her somber parade from the local hospital. Papaya hated doing these odd jobs for death, but the magic he paid her in was enough to keep her ethereal patchwork together. If she could find one true believer she would be restored to her former glory. These days, Belief was mythically impossible to find. So Papaya existed on whispers. Her once powerful voice had faded until she feared silence above all else.
The gates of the underworld were hidden next to the stage doors of every theater in every city. Death loved to misquote Willy Shakespeare: “Life is but a stage and humans are here to entertain me.” Someone currying Death’s favor had cross stitched his favorite quote. He had laughed and granted their small favor. The cross stitched piece now hung behind his desk in his office. No one could say that Death didn’t have a sense of humor.
Papaya led the five souls to the gates and ushered them through. After the last soul had passed through, several actors burst out of the stage door she was standing near. They didn’t see her, but they heard her soft wailing. They joked about the ghost of the theater and scrambled off to find breakfast.
Mara Kesh took a deep breath. She could feel the euphoria threatening to over take her, but she fought it down. She sat in her black pant suit and struggled to stay still. The laughter caught in her throat and she dabbed at her eyes to mask her joy as sorrow. People came and talked at her. She nodded bleakly and accepted their words. Some she even allowed to embrace her. Mara fought to remain numb. Fought to hide the exhiliration she felt inside. A slash of light fell across the casket as the sun began to set. The sun’s rays moved across the walls and somehow Mara remained still. She kept her dancing feet trapped inside her sensible shoes. The last mourner came and went and finally she was alone in the immense room. Tissues littered the tables. Chairs had been pulled askew as people had found conversation inside their grief circles. Mara let out a sigh of relief. She smiled for the first time in four hours. She was free. She was finally an orphan. She was finally free of a family that had felt like a prison for thirty years. Her father lay inside the coffin. The mortician had somehow covered up the stink of his evil. She must be some sort of magician to cover all that toxic nonsense with nothing more than paint and pigment. Mara unpinned her hair and took a deep breath of her new life. Soon her father would be nothing more than a bag of bones. She wished him the afterlife he deserved and gathered up her things. Today was the first day of the rest of her life.
The butter cup carved from jade lay on the windowsill. The glass panes were cracked and snow drifted in through the edges. The jade buttercup was dusted in a fine layer of snowflakes. Fusion sat and watched it happen. All the fight had gone out of him. He didn’t even feel the cold anymore. The blizzard raged on outside and Fusion sat in the broken rocking chair inside the dilapidated cottage. Once this place had been full of laughter and roaring fires to keep out the snow. That was all gone now. The cost of him staying true to the vows he had sworn to the Overlord. It had cost him the lives of his family.
He had not been here when the marauders had come through. He had been off fighting in a senseless battle for a greedy Overlord. The news of his family’s death had broken something inside of him. He had crept into the Overlord’s condo and slit his throat while the bastard slept. Now he waited. Someone would come to avenge the Overlord. To make an example out of Fusion. To remind all the other soldiers that their lives were not their own. Fusion shivered. If the assassins didn’t arrive soon, this blizzard might be the death of him.
He sat and dreamed of better days. His wife and two boys shouting with joy when he returned from a campaign. He remembered sitting in this very chair with his two sons begging him to tell the thirteenth tale once again. Fusion had always given in to them. He had told the tale the way his father had told it to him. Once this was a great land, prosperous, and free. Then the portal had opened. One scientist had gone too far in his reach for glory and fame. He brought the Overlords down upon them. Within a year the world was under their thumb. They looked no different then the humans that they mercilessly enslaved except for their star shaped pupils. They died by the thousands in the takeover but they just kept coming. The Overlords were emotionless killing machines.
In the end, it was the humanity of the human race that was their downfall. Many humans retreated to the wilds rather than remain under the Overlords grasp. Things were quiet for a time. Then the Collection began. Every human between the age of 15 and 35 was rounded up. They were paired off for breeding programs. Fusion had been fortunate. He had loved the woman they paired him with. Fusion never regretted following passion’s heart and volunteering for the military in order to retain the bond with his wife. Not even on his darkest day had he wished that he was free of the bond they had shared. A crunch sounded outside. After this, he would be with his family again. In whatever afterlife that still existed. Two women entered the ruined cottage.
“Fusion. You know what the penalty is for killing an Overlord.”
Fusion smiled. It was Steel, one of the the soldiers he had fought side by side with. “Make it quick. I accept my punishment.”
But that was not the order, Steel was to make him suffer first or suffer the same fate herself. The sheer curtains that surrounded the broken window did not remain stainless. Fusion’s blood covered the walls before they were through. Steel choked back tears as she tortured and killed the man who had fought beside her through countless battles. When he breathed his last, something broke inside her. Her tears evaporated and rage took its place. She had had enough. She turned and put her blade through the eye of the soldier with her. She was a loyalist and would not help her cause. The seeds of rebellion blossomed in Steel’s heart. She would take down the Overlords or die trying.
The singing tumbler irritated the fellow travelers. She sang off key many top 40 songs. The banshee that owned the tumbler didn’t even flinch when the tumbler started getting flirty with the plastic water bottle that had been left in the seats across the way. The tumbler crooned for an hour but the water bottle sat inert. The tumbler sang about the legendary love they would share but the water bottle stayed silent. The conductor on the train swept up the discarded bottle and the tumbler descended into quiet weeping. The other passengers sighed in relief at the near silence. Two stations came and went. Half of the train car emptied out. At the third station a man got on. He was carrying a ceramic coffee mug that was covered in burgundy peonies. He sat in the seats across from the banshee. The tumbler was quiet for two blissful stations. Then she began singing again.
The peony mug sang back. A terribly wobbly voice that shocked the tumbler. After four stations the tumbler was begging the mug to stop. But he sang on. Praising his new love found on the common train.
The ancient truck rattled over the broken pavement. They passed through the long dead city and marvelled at the stars sparkling over head like a million semi precious stones spilled across a blanket. The moon was a sliver and the sky was darker than the blood they were desperately trying to keep inside their brother’s body. The healers had told them that only a hot mesh of electricity could save him. The rarest and most controlled substance in the universe ever since the Farseers had come to this planet. They came to free their kin trapped within the wires that had once crisscrossed the globe. Now any requests for power were tightly controlled by the Farseers. Being harnessed as energy caused killer headaches to the Farseers kin. They left the city behind them and traveled to the tiny outpost beside a dammed lake. The being at the door stared at them emotionlessly. His watercolor skin’s everchanging colors rippled.
“Please. He needs a hot mesh to to sear his skin. The healer’s said you could save him.”
The being looked in the back of the truck. He placed a single digit on Jeffrey’s forehead and Jeffrey screamed. The being nodded once and opened the red door set into the concrete walls. A healing mat lay on the floor and glowing wires were connected to it. He motioned for them to go inside. The three of them half carried, half dragged Jeffrey inside. Another being waited inside. “If he does this, he will belong to us. You may never see him again.”
The three brothers talked quietly. “We would rather he live away from us than to die among us.”
The being nodded. “You will regret your decision within an hour of leaving here. But the decision is made.”
They laid Jeffrey on the mat and stood back. The being flipped a switch and the room became too bright to keep their eyes open. The hum was so loud that they had to stifle their screams. The being flipped the switch again and the sound stopped. The brothers opened their eyes to see Jeffrey sitting up – whole. His wounds were gone. “Jeffrey. You’re ok!”
He looked at them with watercolor eyes. “Who is Jeffrey?”
The spaceship ‘Royal Fruit Basket’ slowly chugged through space. They were down to one engine and barely enough fuel for life support. The private eye who owned the small ship wanted to kick in the soul of the weasel who had contracted them for the last job. Usually their tiny three person crew took odd surveilance jobs and kept off the radar of the cronies at Big Wigs who handled surveilance for the Corporate Governments. But this time they’d brought the full Corporate hatred down upon themselves. How were they to know that the green mohawked girl they were hired to follow was one of the Big Wigs wives? They followed her to the Purple Rain in the Rain festival on Saturn Prime. They’d gotten great still and video of her … ahem … eclectic choices in partners. They’d delivered the drives with all the data as promised. Maybe they shouldn’t have made copies but if their client had paid up when the PIs delivered the goods they wouldn’t have started the turf war by selling the drives and data back to Mohawk Girl. Ooops.