Tag Archives: #FFC52
* * *
“I’m telling you this story because you are the only person I can trust not to judge me . . .”
Taj froze in response, mug of mead partway to his lips. His friend looked older somehow. It may have been the lighting in the tavern, or it could’ve been the many mugs of mead prior to the one he held. He set the pewter mug on the table and leaned back. “This oughta be good.”
Themba scowled at his friend. They had grown up in the village neighbors. Neither of them worried of the advancing years. They were celebrating Taj’s twenty-fifth birthday. They had celebrated the same for Themba only six months ago. “If you can’t handle it, perhaps I’ll keep it to myself.”
Taj leaned forward conspiratorially. He managed to force a smile through the cloud of inebriation. “Tell me, Themba.”
“I saw a woman in the desert,” Themba replied thoughtfully.
“Saw? Did you gather the courage to speak to this woman?”
“She spoke to me of desperate measures.”
Taj smiled, fervently empting his mug. “What did she say?”
“Not here, my friend. Meet me tonight at the arch.”
Taj shrugged. “You bring the mead and I’ll meet you anywhere.”
* * *
Taj leaned against the great arch. He didn’t know why they called it ‘great.’ There were stories about the arch. It used to be covered with gleaming brass. Artisans used to polish the brass with leather and cloth so that it gleamed. There were great men whose sole purpose was to spend hours every day to maintain the arch. The great arch could be seen many legions across the desert. It was said that caravans never ventured out too far as to not lose sight of the landmark. If ever one felt homesick, the next dune promised a view of the great arch.
Taj shook his head and ran his palm against the rough stone. Bandits stole some of the brass, but the wars of the past were the true thieves. The brass was ‘repurposed’ as swords and armor. When the war finally ended, no one returned the precious metal, and the world had lost a monument to human engineering.
Taj felt something in the pit of his stomach as he ran his fingers along a recess in the arch. He had been told the original purpose was to store the tools to maintain the metal, but now…
Now, Taj thought, it gathers sand.
Taj shook his head and sat at the base of the arch. Great or otherwise, he thought, this is where I’lll meet Themba.
* * *
Everything about Candice was fake. The blunt nose she sported when she was younger had been tweaked to look the same as a popular actress. She had other augmentation so she would fill out the Escada Goldny Gown correctly. That is, if the Escada wasn’t also a fake. The nude tulle and silk lining perfectly elongated her figure. The slightest train was stunning, but sadly it was the wrong color. The Gianvito Rossi Rose embellished Court was a fine skyscraper stiletto, and the crystals glittered in the low light, but the heel tip was the wrong color. The Wallace Crocodile was a perfect match for the rest of the outfit, but Nancy Gonzalez would’ve voluntarily exiled herself if the stitching on the strap had come from her own line.
Even the lethargic swagger Candice adopted was purchased from the internet. She played the drunk Aristocrat, but she had been nursing the same daiquiri for the last four hours. She flipped her dyed, permed hair as she laughed at a presumably funny comment. She slapped her paramour’s shoulder. The lingering contact and Botox smile were straight out of a romantic comedy. Even the person inside the body wasn’t real.
The only thing real about Candice was her purpose for attending the party. Teresa made eye contact with Candice about an hour ago, but there was no recognition in her eyes. Teresa was only supposed to observe and report back, but she hadn’t seen or heard from Colonel Lance Bishop for more than a week. Teresa was resolute in her desire to ‘take down’ Candice, but she wasn’t authorized to do so. Only the Colonel held any authority in their organization.
“You’ve been busy since we last met Teresa.”
Teresa spun and saw a man in a suit and tie. There wasn’t anything special or even noteworthy about the man other than a lapel pin shaped like a chess piece. Teresa paused for a minute to recall the name of the piece and to ascertain if she new the man. “I’m sorry,” she replied, “I don’t recognize you.”
The man smiled. “Oh, I wasn’t wearing this body when we first met.”
* * *
The first time I watched Adam die, I thought my world had ended. Intellectually, I knew this wasn’t his end, but seeing his body on the floor of the convenience store in a rapidly expanding pool of blood really threw me for a loop. This time… This time his remains were no more discernable than the rest of his crew. I’ve tried to kill him so many times.
The number and ways were so varied. But each time, he managed to kill himself before I could. I could hear the sirens in the distance. Before too long, the police would be here. I couldn’t explain my presence in terms they’d understand. I took the gleaming sphere out of my handbag. I marveled briefly at its compact design. People gathered to help the survivors. I had only moments to act…
I gripped the sphere; I could see my reflection before a tear splashed on the metal. I leaned over and picked up a metal shard from the rubble. I took a deep breath and ran the shard across my throat. A fountain of blood ensued and I almost dropped the sphere. I felt brief jubilation. Then I felt nothing.
* * *
“Adam, I think I’m pregnant.”
He put down the knife next to the cutting board. “That’s wonderful, sweets.”
“We’ve been hiding our relationship from everybody,” he said. Adam walked around the island and took my hand. “This isn’t something we can hide.”
“Yeah, but we’ve both worked so hard to get to where we are,” I replied. “We neglected to advise them of our relationship. They’ll transfer one of us. I don’t want either of our careers to suffer a setback.” I squeezed his hand. “I’ll see a doctor the day after tomorrow.”
“You don’t mean…”
Krystal sighed. “You’re disgusting. What do you say when you belch?”
Kristof smiled. “Man, that felt good…” Kristof grinned even wider, “mother!”
Krystal rolled her eyes at the same joke Kristof made every time this situation presented itself. “Sometimes I feel like your mother. Always cleaning up after you.” She sighed again, “and would it hurt you to put your damn shoes in their cubby instead of leaving them in the foyer?”
“Hey, babe. Where’s this coming from?”
“Nothing’s changed. I thought your…” She raised her fingers to make sir quotes, “powers…” Krystal started to continue, but she ended up staring at the carbs on her tray.
“Man, I’m so hungry, I could eat the butthole out of a skunk.” He took a long pull on the straw of his extra large beverage. “You gonna eat that, babe?”
Krystal allowed her face to show obvious disgust. “Kristof…” She waited for a response from her husband.
Kristof operated the straw once again and raised his eyebrows.
“We really do need to talk,” Krystal said.
Where’s a would-be robber when you need one, Kristof thought. He emptied the contents of his cup with a loud annoying slurp. He scanned the room for the soda dispenser. “Sure thing, babe. Lemmie get a refill first.” Kristof stood, shoved a handful of fries in his mouth and made his way toward the soda dispenser.
Deja vu, thought Krystal. She watched Kristof stroll to the soda dispenser. He waved to the cashier and she beamed at his attention. He made some comment and the girl laughed. She turned and retrieved another burger, looked over her shoulder and slid the wrapped sandwich across the counter. Krystal noticed she wasn’t the only one watching Kristof’s antics. A man sat alone in a booth and his eyes never wavered from her husband. Soon to be ex-husband, the errant thought popped into her head. If he lives that long. She watched him saunter back to their table. It’s been a long time coming.
Denisha smiled at her grandmother. “I wouldn’t miss your birthday for the world, Nana!”
Denisha’s grandmother squinted and her nose crinkled. The lines on her face reminded Denisha of a much younger version of herself. Then, unlike now, her grandmother would toss her into the air and catch the little girl that Denisha once was. The giggles and shrieks of pleasure were a constant companion when playing with her grandmother. Nana had a love of life that was notorious.
Now… thought Denisha. Now her grandmother lifted the oxygen mask to her face and inhaled deeply. “I’m afraid these old bones…” Nana coughed and a tinge of red splattered against the mask. Denisha felt heaviness in the center of her chest as she watched her cherished grandmother slowly suffocate.
The doctors had given Nana a year and a few months to live. Denisha hid a smile and admired the strength of her grandmother, almost three years after their initial diagnosis. It’s sad to see her strength fade… thought Denisha.
“I could tell you a thing or two about strength,” wheezed Nana.
Denisha’s reverie was suddenly interrupted. “Pardon, Nana?”
“You were mumbling something about strength.”
“Sorry, Nana, I was lost in thought.”
Nana smiled and despite her coughing fit, she had a conspiratorial twinkle in her eye. “I’ve never told anybody this…” Grandmother started to say, but clamped her mouth shut.
Denisha walked to the couch and held her grandmother’s hand. “You can tell me, Nana. We all have secrets.”
Nana squeezed Denisha’s hand lightly. Denisha knew what those hands were capable of. Many a tantrum had those hand quelled. When Denisha was very young, she would succumb to fits of night terrors and those hands and arms would hug her close to Nana’s bosom and the fear would subside. It was as if Nana had a secret strength that would overcome anything. Anything that could be solved by a hug, reminisced Denisha.
“I’ve kept this secret from your pappy and from your mother.”
* * *
“Seek not roads well traveled.”
Octavius leaned back and regarded the young man standing at his desk. The cave was dark, absent of light, except by candles.
The young man cleared his throat. “Did you hear me, Octavius?”
Octavius leaned forward, steepling his gnarled fingers. “I heard you Rashid.”
“And your response?” Rashid prodded.
“I’m ascertaining if you truly comprehend my response and the ramifications.”
Rashid bowed deeply at the waist. “I’m ready, Master.”
Octavius picked up a crooked staff leaning against his desk. He leaned against it as he rose, and stroked his long white beard with his free hand. “Very well.”
Rashid stood to his full height, shoulders squared, head held high.
“Seek paths left untraveled, my son.”
A fragment of metal tied to the top of the staff gleamed in the dim torchlight. A ring worn by Rashid matched both the metal’s consistency and brilliance. He cried out as the intensity overcame him. Dropping to his knees, he grasped his ringed hand by the wrist, tears streaming. He continued to hold his hand firm until the ritual was complete. “Master…” He wept, cradling his agony close to his chest.
Rashid witnessed sadness in Octavius’ eyes. Octavius watched as his pupil writhed on the stone floor. He watched in disbelief as Rashid gripped the gleaming metal between his teeth and slid it off his finger. Once freed from flesh, the ring struck the cave floor and bounced twice before resting – dull and tarnished brass.
Octavius sunk to his chair. “Great Goddess, I feared this result,” he said quietly.
Rashid looked up, his bloodshot eyes pleading. “Master, I…”
Octavius sighed. “You are no longer my ward, Rashid.” Octavius’ eyes focused on the spots on the ground where the ring bounced. Each spot had transformed from solid rock to lifeless sand. Rashid followed his former Master’s gaze and followed it to the ring. He reached for it.
“Stop!” bellowed Octavius.
Rashid froze, mid reach. His heart raced and he felt a shiver. He looked to Octavius and saw anger for the first time in the twenty years he had studied with him.
“You were well aware of the ritual.” Octavius rose, quicker than the time previous. “It was crucial it be allowed to complete.” His voice softened. “You are no longer of the brotherhood.” Octavius touched the metal of his staff to the sandy spots and they reverted to rock. “May the Goddess, Kanoni, watch over you in your future endeavors.”