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I thought I was going to wait until this was finished to write a little blurb about why I wrote it but I didn’t see a point. If I’m being honest, and I always try to be, this story arose out of a battle that I have been waging with the mice of the Northwoods and their attempts to establish dominance in my cabin. They are not winning but that has no bearing on the players in this story. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that mice, despite their size, are FEARLESS. Enjoy!

There is a legend among foxes of a cavern hidden deep within the mountains. Only whispers of its location remain, for no creature who found it has ever returned.

In this cave, there trickles a stream of magic water. It is said that one drink from its crystal pool would bestow the gift of immortality. It is said that a fox would become like crystal themselves.

It had been generations since a fox left the dale in search of the cave’s hidden waters. They had grown content with their fleeting lives among the tall pines and thick grass. Until one day, in a familiar  fashion, chance met a fox with a mouse.

The mouse had found itself in a shallow hole in the ground with an opening the tiniest bit too narrow for the fox’s paw. Knowing that the fox would wait until the mouse tried to leave the opening to capture him, he did what no mouse had ever succeeded in doing before. He stood on his hind legs and, with his strongest mouse voice, tried reasoning with it.

“Mistress Fox, I beg of you! Listen! Spare my life. For with my death comes the death of any hope of finding that hidden place where foxes find glory. You know of which I speak. By my grandfather’s grandfather’s word, I swear it is true.” 

“What do mice know of glory?” The vixen asked.

“We know where it hides. We slip through crevice, nook, and cranny and find lost things, as is our way. Many a useless thing we find but we never forget a sparkle in the dark. I can take you there…if glory is what you wish.”

Her amber eyes narrowed, skeptical of the offer. After all, a mouse will say anything to save its skin. The fox, thinking herself a clever creature, sat and thought of all the clever ways she could capture the mouse should this be an elaborate rouse for his survival.  Convinced she had not overlooked any scenario of escape, and content with a light mousey snack should they fail to reach the hidden cave, the young vixen agreed. 

“Well done, Mistress Fox! Well done! I shall take you the safe way. The Mouse way.” 

“The mouse way? I follow only one way and that is the fox way.”

“If you wish to reach the hidden cave, there is but one path,” the mouse urged.

“Very well. The lead is yours, Mouse.”

The vixen followed the mouse through the glen until they came to a vast grassland. A lone hawk sat perched in a dead tree in its center. 

“Here lies our first difficulty. It is imperative that you do as I do. Come, we’ve no time to lose.” “Can’t we just go straight through the grassland? I could pick you up in mouth and carry you to the other side.”

“It is our way to dart and dip and the way to the cave is braided in our memory. I’m sure a fox such as you will have no trouble keeping up,” the mouse smiled.

Hawk and harrier circled over head but the mouse safe under the belly of the fox traveled unseen across the grass “sea” that had claimed so many of his kind. For hawks are not known to miss/ignore OR are known to spy even the quickest of scurries. But never before had a hawk seen a fox move in such a way, Stuttering its way through the swaying grass, confused and jumpy. The hawk sat and watched as the fox zig zagged its way to the other side not knowing that a plump mouse was just underneath the belly.

When they were out of sight of the hawk, the vixen put a firm paw to the body of her escort.  “You made a fool of me, Mouse! Did you see the way that hawk looked at me? Now, word shall spread of a foolish Vixen with too much jitter in her step. Do it again and I will forget our little ‘arrangement’,” she said snarling.   

“Please! It was not my intention! It is the only path I know to take. Because of you, I was able to cross that vast grassland where so many of my forebears were taken. I promise, on my life, that it will not happen again.” He trembled beneath her claws.

“It had better not. ” The vixen took her paw from the mouse and smoothed her pelt in an effort to regain her composure. “Alright then, where to next?”

“To the Great Ravine, Mistress Fox. On the other side lies our goal.” 

 The pair walked in silence through brush and briar until the craggy entrance to the Great Ravine loomed ahead. The vixen hesitated, as no fox had ever crossed the Great Ravine and lived to tell the tale. She sensed her doom. The rushing waters at the bottom of the canyon thundered deep in her chest. The mouse, having continued on quite a ways, looked back for his companion. Before he could see her fear, the fox carried on.

They stood side by side and watched the river cut through the rock, rushing wherever it is rivers go.

“We mice used to have a way across but the river erased that path long ago. Now, only the most agile can catch hold where the hidden entrance greets you. You’ll know it when you see it. If you fail, we will both be at the mercy of the river.”

The vixen inspected the waters and scratched her ear absentmindedly as she formulated a plan. She scrunched up her fox a bit before speaking.

“I can get us there. Climb up on to my back and hold on tight.” 

The water was cold as she stepped down into the shallows. The mouse felt like a knot at the back her neck where his claws clung to her fur. She took one step, then two. The smooth surface of the pebbles at her paws were too slick. She sputtered as she fought the current to keep her head above water as the river carried her down, down, down. 

She bumped and banged against the boulders that stuck out of the water like jagged teeth until an odd sight greeted her ahead. A rock, carved by years of running water to resemble an outstretched claw, jutted out just over the water’s surface. In the chaos of the river, the mouse’s words echoed in her mind.

“Catch hold where the hidden entrance greets you,”  If she could just grab it, the vixen could pull herself out of the water and onto the ledge. If not, well, she preferred not to think about it. 

The vixen jumped with a mighty leap out of the water just in time to catch hold of the rock pile with her claws. She scratched and pulled her body onto the platform with gasping breaths full of water. She made it. But something was off. The knot on the back of her neck was gone. She frantically searched for the mouse until she found him laying near the other edge of the platform, soaking wet and unconscious. 

“Mouse! Mouse! Are you alright?” The vixen nudged him until his little black eyes opened and he let out a weak squeak. The vixen exhaled a sigh of relief as he wobbled to his feet and bristled his fur as one does on the first morning of winter.

“That was a close one, wasn’t it? Good thing I had you. Never would’ve made it otherwise! Come. It’s not much further.” And off he went towards the open mouth of the cave, vixen following close behind.

The air in the cave was crisp and free of scent. They made their way through the dark over rocks and down tunnels that led to other tunnels. The light was minimal but the rock surrounding them held a glint every so often. The deeper into the cave they went, the more that walls seemed to sparkle. 

“I thought I lost you back there,” the vixen said with concern. It surprised the mouse to see such care over a being like him from a being like her.

“We’re almost to our destination, Mistress Fox. Won’t be long now.”

The last bit of their journey brought them to a narrow hole with ample room for a mouse but barely enough for a fox. The mouse hopped its way over and began to walk into the black hole until he noticed the vixen wasn’t following.

“Come, Mistress. Just a little further. On the other side of this wall, glory awaits.”

She squeezed her shoulders against her body as flat as they would go and crawled into the tight space. It surrounded her on all sides and once the tip of her tail entered that hole, there would be no going back. She would have to continue or die. It was hard for her to breathe and the walls seemed to be closing in on her. Her world was dark except for a tiny pinprick of shimmering light up ahead. If the fox didn’t know better she would think she was crawling towards a star.

Relief washed over her as she freed herself from the tunnel at long last. She collapsed on the hard ground as she caught her breath. She would lay there forever is she could.

“Congratulations, Misstress Fox. You’ve made it to the hidden cavern of fox legend. Behold, the crystal pool!” The mouse’s words snapped the vixen back to her senses. She had made it! It glistened in the sunlight that found its way into the heart of the mountain through the hole in the ceiling. It was just as beautiful as the legend told. It was the deepest blue the vixen had ever seen.

The mouse let the vixen lead the way to the edge of the crystal pool. The water was so clear if was as it she was staring straight down into the earth’s core. She bent down to lap at it cold waters when the mouse spoke.

“Wait! I have one last question for you. What are you going to do with your newfound immortality? What do you hope to accomplish?”

“Well, that’s easy. I shall travel the land and take a fox’s rightful place as the ruler of the forest. I shall kill and eat as I please. All shall cower before me. Except for you. You shall be at my side until the end of your days.”

The mouse hung his head in disappointment. 

“Very well, Mistress Fox. Drink from the crystal pool and claim what is yours.” She leaned down and lapped at the cold waters. The mouse looked away.

He walked with a hung head through the tunnels of the cave until the scratching sounds of a

 mouse horde greeted him. The open chamber erupted in cheers. From among the mouse folk came one with silver fur covering his entire body. He beckoned to crowd.

“Rejoice! For our prince has returned to us!”

“Under hawk’s eye and over turbulent waters, our crown prince has returned from his year long exile triumphant! Not only did he brave the trials set before him, but he returned thanks to the hubris of our greatest foe, the wily fox! Now, he is back and we crown him, Lord Mouse of the Dale!” The mice cheered for their new king. A crown of crystal graced his head like as it did his father before him. And though he had accomplished what he set out to do, the mouse felt remorse.

He would go on to rule with a gentle hand and wise words until the end of his days but he would never forget the vixen doomed by the pool’s cursed waters. With one sip she was frozen in regret, forever crystalline. Forever silent. Long would the Mouse Lord’s story be passed down, from mouseling to mouseling, telling how he tricked a fox with a sparkle in the dark.

This month I’m going to try something a little different. Each month I’m going to expand my Flash Fic Pics so that you get one story with lots of cool illustrations. Each month you’ll get a different look and theme. Check back everyday for a new picture and the next part of the story! See you on the other side…

When I was young, I met a man. I was out drinking some coffee with a couple of friends when he arrived. He wasn’t a particularly remarkable man but he had the kind of face you’d swear you’ve seen somewhere before once. Maybe even a hundred times. You could have passed him on the street every day but you would never remember where or when. The day I met the unremarkable man with the familiar face, he told me I was going to die.

That day, my friends and I were sitting in a room—a den really—talking about this and that like we always did. I don’t recall the topic but I’m sure it was unimportant. Hell, the rest of the room escapes me. I’m assuming there were other chairs and tables and it was painted a light blue, I think. Or maybe gray. But the angel—that I remember. It hung on the wall near the entrance, life-sized and crucified.  It made me sad to look at it (which is probably why I stared). It’s funny what you remember at the end. Anyways, they were sitting with their backs to the angel when he walked in and stood before us. 

His head scraped against the low ceiling to our little nook and he held his neck in a craned way that made me uncomfortable. My friends, up to this time a loquacious pair, stopped talking. After an awkward  and very pregnant pause, they stood and left me alone with the bent man. To this day, I’m not sure if they could even see him. He sat down in the chair opposite me and rested his face in the purlicue of his hand. His eyes were intense. He said nothing.

I asked him if we had met before and he shook his head. No. I asked him if he was from the area and he shook his head. No. Out of towner? Nope. Admirer? Not even close. Then what? What did he want?  I’ll tell you what he wanted. With a voice as calm and as deep as still waters, he said that he had come to take me. My heart barreled in my chest as I searched his face for an intention. Did he mean to murder me? It sure sounded like he meant to murder me. I felt like a caged animal caught in a trap in a tight corner. Where? Where are you taking me? Where are we going?

Fear gripped me to the seat. But then he offered me his hand and the fear melted away. I realized I was going on this ride whether I wanted to or not. The train had already left the station. “Hurry,” he said, “you only have 48 hours.” I rose to my feet like some newly born Bambi and grabbed hold of his outstretched arm. The nervous beads of sweat on my palm crystallized, fusing me to him like a tongue on a frozen pole. His skin was colder than ice. I peeled my hand free and walked out of the den into the morning light.

It was official: Fall had gone for good.  The sun shone through the tall buildings in blocks of warmth and winter. The trees lining the roadway were bare. I asked him his name but the answer was lost in a sudden gust of wind. He walked off down the sidewalk before I could ask again so I dubbed him the Ice Man. It took me a few blocks to realize he was wearing a jacket. I’m almost positive he didn’t have one when he arrived. It was one size too small and his hands were stuffed in the pockets as if ice could get cold. It was a nice coat, though, one of those unisex leather trenches. My mother owned one just like it. One year I left it outside for the whole winter and when we found it again in Spring, the leather had cracked. She never forgave me.

Trying to stave off the bitter winds of winter with their empty gazes, the ambling host of transients provided us with a wide berth as we made our way down the boulevard. Their accommodation was too wide for just me but also too wide for just two. Their eyes darted every way but ours, leaving evidence of my companion’s corporeal status in short supply. He was cold, yes, but was he imaginary? I kept my eyes forward for the most part, only stealing glances every chance I could. It was pointless. Every time I’d look away, the image in my head would get lost in the faces of the crowd.

I don’t know why I went with him. In situations like this, the need for self-preservation would advise against it. This time, it didn’t. Looking back, I suppose it’s because I didn’t want to be alone. My friends had all but disappeared and he was there. I didn’t ask him to be there, he just was. He walked by my side, led by some Ouija force, past the relics of my youth (which, in my opinion, was not long enough ago). I waited for my chance to escape. It had to be coming. I just had to wait for it to show itself. We walked in silence, stopping only when a friendly smell or showgirl’s laugh came drifting on the wind. Fountains misted me with cold spray as they step danced with their water jets. 

After walking for God knows how long, we took a break at a crosswalk to let cars on their way to somewhere better zoom past us. The tower where I received my first kiss loomed overhead across the street. I waited for the feeling of awe and nostalgia to wash over me but it would never come. I suppose I lost it a long time ago. The look in Ice Man’s eyes, on the other hand, was full of it. I mentioned it was weird being back here as an adult. His eyes asked why and I didn’t know for sure. I just always thought it was taller when I was a kid. Everything was taller back then. 

I don’t think I ate at all that day. Just couldn’t find the urge to. Ice Man didn’t seem to mind.  He seemed perfectly happy to do what I wanted to do. Maybe this dying thing wasn’t going to be so bad after all. In lieu of a better idea, I decided the best thing to do was sit in the same spot for the next 48 hours and wonder if this was really happening to me. I was convinced that if I just sat there and stayed still, Ice Man would go away and this would be over. It was either that or get drunk. I stared off into space hoping I was right.

Option number two went into effect when I decided to drink my night away in some 24 hour dive bar that night. Seemed like a good enough use of time for someone in my position. Like going in a time machine where you can just skip past all the sucky moments. Stopping on the not-sucky moments is the tricky part. It didn’t matter to me. My life had been a whirlwind of sucky parts on top of sucky parts. What’s one more? The Ice Man sat on the stool next to me, never leaving my side. I got the best look at his face that night. Too bad it was a blur.

On the morning of day two, with a splitting headache and 24 hours to go, he let my feet lead the way.  If there was a right way to go, he gave no indication we were going the wrong one. The boulevard gradually whittled down to an avenue and the avenue to a street occupied by solely my car. My keys jingled in my shivering hand as the wind blew snow drifts from mound to mound. The jagged cuts of my name etched into the sidewalk by the stoop made me pause and look at the ashy brownstone with its blue doors. I knew this place. 

The site of multiple after-school playdates and hours wasted waiting for my mother should have carved out a deeper pit in my mind but its place in my memories were as shallow as my name in the cement.  But I figured if anyone could tell me if I was going crazy, they could. They’ve been there from the beginning. They were the best people I knew and they could save me from the Ice Man. I stomped up the stairs and was halfway up when I noticed that he wasn’t following me. “There’s no one there.” he told me. “They’ve long since gone. You will join them soon.” Frantic, I rang the doorbell, knocked and shouted but he was right. There was no one home. He shrugged and opened my car door. As he sat down in the front seat and buckled up, I decided that maybe he was real after all.

As I drove away, I got angry. Angry that this was happening to me. The leather of the steering wheel squeaked under my furious grip. It was too soon. Too soon for this stranger to come for me. I was still young. Too young. This is bullshit, I tell him. Of all of the fucked up things going on in the world, why he had to come to me? It’s not like I deserved it. I told myself I didn’t deserve it. I had my whole life ahead of me, damn it! He merely patted my hand and stared out the window.

My angry breath fogged the windows of the car until my windows were opaque. I had to lean towards his side at one point just to see. His side was crystal clear. He told me he liked my car and I said thanks, I worked really hard for it. My mother always liked Mercedes so I guess I got it from her. Champagnes tastes, beer money. I told him it was even better on long drives. We could go anywhere. All he had to do was tell me where and zoom, we’re on our way. I would have driven one thousand miles away if I could. Anywhere was better than where I was headed.

The lonely feeling started to creep in about an hour outside of the city. As long as your parents are still alive, you’re somebody’s child but when they’re gone you’re just….you. The ‘you’ that you have to be without them depends what you got from them because, believe me, once they’re gone there’s no more. The tap is tapped out. All you can hope is that you got some good stuff. What did I have left behind? The me I was at that moment was a sad human being. Really sad. The worst thing is I vowed to myself that I would be different. Do the things my parents didn’t do. Looks like I’m just more of the same.

Every time I looked over at the Ice Man, he reminded me of what I was losing. Time. Opportunities. Love. Soon, those things would be buried deep down and there was no digging them back up again. I had my chance and I wasted it. I still wonder how I got here. Months of not speaking turned into years until you’re at the point where no one even checks to see if you’re alive. I didn’t want to go like that. No one should go like that.

I drove on autopilot until we came to a familiar house. I recognized it because I grew up there. My parents and I had moved in right after I turned 3. It was shiny back then. Now, there was a grime on it that I couldn’t unsee. My throat grew hot and nostrils stung. A miasma had polluted my childhood home and its influence was clear. No one lives here now. As I wiped the tears from my burning eyes, the gray face of my mother peeked out from the upstairs window. I looked again and saw only a smudge.

I waited at the end of the driveway with my companion for the UPS guy to finish his business at the front door. He rapped on the wooden door and placed the package underneath the bench to its side. I got out and put a hand to my face for protection. I could no longer see the memories I forged within its walls, only danger. Did you know, a human body, if left untreated, will begin to liquefy after a month? Did you also know that in a warm environment, such as a house, the effects of bacterial decay on a human body can leave a rather distinct odor behind that could likely traumatize a person? I didn’t. Now, I do.

The warning signs that plastered the door what I thought was only moments ago were gone and all that was left was the sound of my ragged breathing. There was no trace of tattered plastic or caution tape to be found. Like so many other things that day, I wondered if I had imagined it all. I was glad to see that the package from the UPS man still sat underneath the bench as real as the nose on my face. The box was heavier than expected and I struggled to lift it from its hiding place. I read the name on the slip. It was addressed to me. 

The urn inside of the box was beautiful, a glossy navy blue with a pearl rose inlay. And it was right on time. If I had to choose between this jar or a bag of bones for a resting place, I’d take the jar. The Ice Man asked if I got what I came for. I hoped so. I drove us to a hotel downtown and laid in bed with the windows cracked, thinking about the places I had been. I asked him why he chose those places and he said he didn’t. I did. He was right. I needed to see those places again. I needed to say my last words. He sat in the corner watching over me as I tried to exhale the grief out. The shadows grew long as the sun set on my day. Exhaust from the cars stuck in traffic beside us puffed along like grumbling locomotives. Stop, go, stop. Puff, puff, pass. 

The following morning, I dressed in my best death suit and left my hotel room for the home across the street. The Ice Man was standing on the sidewalk waiting, presumably, for me. I smoothed down the front of my clothes and told him I was ready and he asked what for. How could he not know? My 48 hours were up. It was time for me to die, he said so himself.  “Is that what you heard? Go. They’re waiting for you.” He picked at his fingernails until a chunk of ice piled up on his thumbnail. He flicked it away casually and watched a squirrel bury an acorn in the snow across the street. The sounds of familiar voices drifted over on the wind. I stepped off of the curb and into the empty street.

I had barely taken two steps when the Ice Man yanked on the back of my arm with his ice cold hands like a bear snatching salmon from a river. “Sorry,” he said, “there was something on you.” He directed my scrambled steps beck across the street and I glared at him one last time before heading on my way. The place where he touched me on my arm felt raw and burnt. A piece of me had been torn off and I let him have it. I had somewhere to be.

It was a quiet procession to the other side. I held the urn one last time before I had to hand it over to the man who cremated what was left of my mother’s body. Last I saw the Ice Man, he was standing on the other side of the street, far from the heavy wooden doors to the mortuary behind me. I would have to enter on my own. He stood there, hand in hand, with a child that resembled someone I used to be. My arm still burned from where he touched me. A bus with an advertisement for an injury firm sped past me, buffeting me with its wind. When the bus passed, they were gone. 

Some people believe that the killing frost marks the true start of winter. The ice grey day when all the color seems to have gone from the world and you have to hold yourself to keep warm.  That’s the day life stops. You never know when it’s going to come until it does. When I met the unremarkable man with the familiar face all those years ago, I wasn’t prepared for it. I told you this was the story of how I died. And although I’m still here, living and breathing, it was true. The person I was before was a child and children cannot survive on their own. I went inside and said goodbye to my mother that day.  I had no other choice. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized he hadn’t come for me as I was then. He had come for the child I used to be. He was making room for growth. He was making room for Spring.

The Killing Frost.

THE END

This was a little blurb i wrote while out in LA for the month of November. I was sitting in crowded cafe (sans headphones…the horror) and was amazed at the little nuggets of information I would pick up every now and then. So, I got to wondering: what truth would the universe share if you […]

This is actually my very first story ever accepted by an editor for an anthology but due to reasons out of my control (and his, I believe) the anthology was never published. This was a cool one because the theme was based on the John Silence universe created by Algernon Blackwood. John Silence is a psychic doctor who uses his powers to diagnose his patients with otherworldly maladies. This story branches off of that idea and applies it to POC as psychic detectives battling foes from the Unseen, another dimension that houses unknown terrors. I always saw this story as continuing on and on as my main character get stronger. This story takes the form of journal entries so who knows? Maybe there are more pages left to her adventures….

Water Babies

September 24, 1959 – Entry #159

It was waiting for me in the shower. 

It wasn’t always there. 

Over the past few days it had been slowly getting closer and closer to the house. Water attracts them so the bathroom was a natural choice but compared to the lake just outside, it made me wonder: why here? 

There are tons more down by the lake, milling about like deacons in the church.

My grandmother called them “water babies” and said they were the ones who led the slaves out of the South up the Mississippi and into freedom. The more cautious travelers thought it was safer to settle here where there weren’t as many people. Figured they couldn’t get in any trouble if no one knew you existed.

But that’s where they were wrong. 

There’s always something watching from the Unseen. But that’s a story for another time.

But it was this water baby that had me a little concerned. No one knows what they are really called but I do know there were a lot of them back home in Georgia. They were especially abundant where my family lived up in Cherokee County on Lake Allatoona. During my unconventional education (which by any convention was very hard to come by for someone of my Color) I would learn that an intense battle during the Civil War was fought on the land under the lake. I would also learn that more than 1,500 lives were lost. 

I think that had something to do with the considerable number of water babies but I don’t have a way to prove it.

Yet.

Reminder: examine sites of major battles near water. 

But still, there were not as many of them at home as there are up here.

After the newly freed men and women started to settle I suppose the water babies ended their journey here too and even in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” there was enough of them to make it seem crowded. There are some areas where they cover every square foot. I hear that walking in areas like that is akin to walking into a pond. The school surrounds you but at a safe distance. You are not likely to bump into one of these.

But this one was different. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to one and I couldn’t help but wonder if this one was trying to lead me somewhere too. 

I think it knows why I came to this place. It has me feeling quite nostalgic considering the situation.

The lake was calm this evening, a one way mirror between us and the Unseen world.

I wonder if my creature had his claws pressed against the glass, picking its next meal from the pasture. 

Humans are the cows, if you didn’t know.

I wonder if normal cows know that they’re even meant for the slaughterhouse. One day, you’re minding your business, chewing your cud, and the next, poof! You’ve been chosen and you’re gone. 

It would be kinder not to know, I think.

That’s how it is for the rest of my family: shuffling through life blissfully ignorant. My relationship with my family is fine, I suppose. Ever since father died it’s been a bit strange but I don’t mind the solitude, if I’m being honest. We love each other very much but our interaction is limited to casual check-ins and gossip concerning those outside our family. Always outside of the family.

Through it all, family comes first. 

But Grandmother and I share something special. Grandmother and I can see the Unseen. 

Well, not “see” see. You don’t know exactly what they look like but each creature has a unique feel.

The feel kinda fills in the blanks, you know?

Of course you do.

I think about Grandmother a lot. Especially on nights like this. Her birthday is the day after mine and passed only four nights ago. When she disappeared I had to leave Georgia. I knew that it was a creature from the Unseen that took her but no one would believe me. It was a night like tonight, when the moon is bright and the water still. I was there when the giant monster broke through that mirrored lake and pulled her through. The police classified it as a missing persons case but they don’t worry too much when a Colored woman goes missing. They filled out the obligatory report and left it alone. My family figured it was a bear that got her. A bear! 

I knew I couldn’t rely on them either.

I was but a young Colored woman myself, barely out of my teens, and my resources were already minimal. 

Ever since I could remember Grandmother and I made a game of it. Solving our town’s most persistent problems, which more often than not were the results of lower level Unseen, had become a training ground for my budding psychic powers. Over the years my strength grew and so did the size of the Unseen we encountered. But through it all grandmother and I would defeat them.

We were a great team.

But this case is different.   

I pursued it alone for months relying on everything she had taught me to track down the bastard who took my best friend from me. 

Luckily, she taught me well and I tracked it to this lake.

It took me years but I found it. After many run-ins with the wrong sort of Unseen I was finally about to have a run-in with the right sort.

At least I hope so. His feel had waned over the past few days and I can’t quite put my finger on his location. The water babies are all that I “see”.

Another odd thing: the lake’s population of bald eagles had been steadily increasing over the week and with it the water babies were less and less. I think there’s a connection to the raptors’ presence and the lack of the water babies. I feel like the eagles are the heralds to something far more sinister.

Shame. I really liked eagles. I don’t want to think of them in that way.

Or maybe they are guards? Protecting a doorway that is soon to be opened? Perhaps it is the same kind of door that opened and allowed that thing to take Grandmother.

Yes, but back to the water baby still waiting for me in my shower. I feel drawn to it. Maybe this is the same feeling my ancestors felt when they took that long walk to freedom along the river. I have come too far to stop now. I always thought it strange that I never could feel Grandmother’s spirit when I could feel almost all other departed from my family. 

That means she is still alive, right?

It has to. 

So, wish me luck. I’m going to follow this water baby wherever it means to lead me and hopefully I will find Grandmother, too.

Or die trying.

Yours always,

S.L.

It is worth noting that although none alive have seen the contents of this journal, the penmanship of the following entry is that of a person still unsure of reality and who is also in a great rush.

Entry #160

I just got back today.

Not that I knew today was today. It feels just like yesterday. But thanks to the papers at the 46 Store I found out that today was November 17th, 1961. 

A full 2 years, 1 month and 24 days since I followed that water baby to the Unseen. 

Slipped right into the water and fell out on the other side. The eagles that night made quite the fuss as I got closer.

Maybe I should I have listened to them. 

I’m glad I didn’t.

When I washed up on the shore they were there again. Maybe they never left. 

I think the door only opens every so often and every time they’re there.

Reminder: research eagles and their psychic significance to natives.

It also turns out the water baby sort of had a life as a little girl in a town just over the border into Alabama. She was about nine years old and she lived and died over a hundred years before me, murdered long before her time. She was part of the necessary “migration” our people had to take and she wanted to show me something. 

See, Nanny, you were right. 

Reminder: William McGinnis, LOACHAPOKA

Anyways, on that night 2 years, 1 month, and 24 days ago she showed me the way.

The way in.

But there’s one problem…

No matter how hard I try I can only remember my time there in flashes. It’s like I was walking in a dream stuck in that little place between the curtains and the window. 

I hope it will come back to me. 

But I do remember the rage. It was everywhere and I felt bombarded by it the second I touched down. I’m afraid it won’t be contained for much longer. It took all I had to fight back the charging Unseen. Maybe it wasn’t the true Unseen world. I found it to be more like a giant waiting room for the bad things lining up to kill us and the real Unseen was just behind the curtain.  

Oh, I found Grandmother too.  

In that space between spaces I wasn’t alone.

She stuck out like a sore thumb with her light and together we kept the rage away. I don’t know how she survived this whole time but it was amazing! I’ve never seen our powers so in sync. And I’ve never felt so powerful.   

Although, the creature that took her was nowhere to be found. I find this odd. Grandmother’s recollection of events is fuzzy as well so I will continue to observe her for any clues to restoring our memory.

The cabin is pretty much in the same shape as it was when I left. Only the dust and cobwebs show the passage of time. 

Then there were the letters. 

Mother had sent two.

The first invited me to the then impending and long since passed wedding of my sister to the pastor’s son. 

The second was a bit more interesting. 

In the course of the time I was away, the country had changed. 

Colored people had changed.

The new president was ruffling feathers all around the world but the situation in the South was more volatile than ever. The fragile state of race relations had been pushed to its limit and was spilling over into the streets.  

The resulting hate, anger, and fear was the perfect feeding ground for the Unseen and they were flocking there in droves.

Unfortunately, my brother, as sweet and well-meaning as he is, had left home over a month ago to join the Freedom Rides to Alabama. 

He has no idea what he’s in for.

We are leaving tonight for Montgomery.  

Now that I think about it, I think that’s why Grandmother let herself get captured, to find the greatest clue of all. The Unseen are planning something big and we have to help stop it. 

Til next time,

S.L.

END

I initially wrote this story as part of an anthology where the world due to end by way of an alpaca-lypse. Yep, you read that right–an alpaca-lypse. I was just starting out as a writer and it was a bit of a stretch for my imagination but overall, this was a very fun story to write! Enjoy!

A Neck Above the Rest

The war with the Llamas had gotten out of control. The humans were largely ignorant to the secret battles but every alpaca birth, every new grazing beast, was an encroachment on Llama territory and a threat to their survival. Since the birth of our kind, the relations between our two races has been tense but one could say the war started when the humans took an interest in us and made the delineation between us all the more clear. The world was still young and the population of the human tribe was concentrated in the valley of our great mountains. Valued for our wool and embraced for our gentle dispositions, the humans nourished our growing numbers with care and love. Our larger counterparts were relegated to a more custodial position protecting us from other animals, of all things. A role they reluctantly accepted for if they were to refuse it, the humans would most certainly find another, more delicious, purpose for them. Of course, the occasional mountain lion or coyote would “sneak” through and disturb our peace but blame was hard to appoint.

And so we have lived, forced to be in such close quarters with our sworn enemies.

Until the year the war turned against us. 

Our side suffered extensive casualties when the introduction of plants poisonous to our kind ruined our pastures and killed over eighty percent of our population. The true cause has not been determined but most suspect it was the doing of the llamas. We’ve barely been able to survive since then. But thanks to the effect the plant had on some of us, we’ve developed an evolutionary miracle. Our spit now had the corrosive power of sulfuric acid and was our saving grace against the llamas. The only problem is that using the newly acquired advantage takes a serious toll on the alpaca who used it.  At most, an alpaca only has ten occasions where they could trigger acid spit before it completely degrades the throat and mouth. While the method does have incredible stopping power, using it more than needed would do more damage to the population than good. Luckily, this has discouraged the Llamas from retaliating but we fear that soon they will take advantage of our weakness and launch a full scale attack that will eradicate Alpaca kind for ever. We have come to a point in the war where we can change the course of history forever and save all Alpacas.

Or die trying.

The elders of the Alpaca tribe, led by the Most High Neck, had created a weapon. This weapon had the power to destroy all Llamas in existence and end the war for good. 

Unfortunately this weapon, by way of the fallout it creates, would also destroy the humans.

There were arguments both for and against using the weapon. On one hand, the humans cared for us, kept us in our rightful place above the Llamas. On the other, our kind will go extinct if we don’t. 

My name is Go and this is how the war between the Alpacas and Llamas finally ended.

On the final day we needed to make our decision, I woke up like any other day that came before it. My siblings were already awake and engaged in a mini debate similar to what gripped our herd in recent days. 

“We survived before the humans and we will survive after they are gone!” Kabo, my older brother, had risen among the ranks rapidly and was considered one of the highest Necks among us. He was one the staunchest supporters of using the weapon.

My younger sister, Eila, was the exact opposite. She was sickly as a cria and relied heavily on the humans help to survive. She tended to get a bit more emotional when subjects such as these came up.

“If we acted in this way with no regards for the lives that would be lost, then we are no better than the llamas! We should resume talks with their leader and see if we can’t come to some amicable solution. We have lived this way for so many years, can’t you see there’s enough room for all of us? We can join together and leave the humans behind!”

“Resume talks?! There is no reasoning with the llamas. We have tried over and over again and there has never been and there will never be a truce! The sooner you and the others realize that, the sooner you will get over what it is we have no choice but to do.” And then he left. That would be the last day he and I would be in the same room as brothers. 

The truth was I agreed with her.

I didn’t understand this war. I went through all the training and trials like a good macho but I could never bring myself to hate them. 

Our cousins.

“Why didn’t you say anything GoGo? He listens to you! He would’ve listened to you.”

“I’ve already tried, Eila,” I lied. I hadn’t really tried. Sure, I’ve had discussions where I’ve expressed my thoughts but when Kabo disagreed I didn’t do anything to try to convince him. I just let him have his thoughts and he left me to mine. And ever since Kabo was granted rank as a High Neck we hardly even talked anymore.

I decided to leave before my horrible secret came out. You see, unlike me, Eila was a fighter; any time she had an opportunity to talk about the injustices of the war or the stiff-necked beliefs of our leaders, she took it. This didn’t leave her very popular with some of the others in our tribe but she had more than a few on her side. She was a leader.

My place was close to the humans. My inability to get emotionally invested in this war had left me an outcast. Publicly shunned, the humans naturally thought the rest of my kind was excluding me because of some sickness so they fussed over me constantly. The little programming I did receive caused me to abhor their attention, my imposed punishment, but after a while I grew fond of it. Especially the young female who oversaw my grooming. I can tell she is well respected by her tribe and has several young ones of her own. She hums when she grooms me, like my mother. Of all humans, she is my favorite.

It is she I think of losing when thought of the weapon crosses my mind. She does not deserve to die, her family does not deserve to die, because we cannot control ourselves. 

It was on that day, the end of days, that I made my decision. I had never felt so sure of anything in my life. I had finally chosen a side and committed to it more than any other alpaca, even Eila.

I was going to warn the humans. 

How you ask? While humans have only been to able to crudely interpreted our sounds, we alpacas find their sounds to be quite easy to understand and mimic. Of course, direct contact with humans is forbidden according to Alpaca Law but if they are going to be wiped out what could the harm be?

With only hours remaining I decided to make my move during my ear inspection. I was sure to be alone with her and out of sight. When it came time to do it the sounds stuck in my throat. What was I supposed to say? Where do I start? I settled on using a sound that her young ones made to get her attention.

“Mamah,” the word came out clear and loud. I was quite proud of myself.

“Wow, little one, I’ve never heard you make that noise before. It’s almost as if you said my name!”

“Yes, I suppose I did say your name. Please. Try not to react.” But it was too late. She had dropped the tick removing apparatus and began to scream. So I did the only thing I knew to do and screamed with her. Either because she truly felt concerned for me or because she didn’t want any one to come and witness her breakdown, she set about comforting me when it was I who had scared her. 

Adding yet another to the many reasons why she was worthy of salvation.

She shushed the both of us until things had settled down and there was no sign of any one coming to check on us. She sat on the stool in front of me and stared at me. So I tried again. The words flowed easier this time.

“Mamah, please. Do not be afraid. I must tell you something. Your life depends on it,” she tensed up at my voice but did not scream. Her voice was small and quivering compared to mine.

“S-so you can talk?”

“Yes.” This was going to take a while if it was going to take her this long to catch on. I spoke as clearly and simply as I could, “humans are in danger. Big fight of Alpacas and Llamas is over. Big tool will end Llamas. And end Humans.” 

“Big fight? You mean to tell me that you are in a war? With the llamas. And that you have a weapon that will destroy the llamas and humans. When? When is that going to happen?” 

She was surprisingly astute. I should have allowed her the courtesy of shock but nevertheless I was pleased. I knew I had made the right choice, if I could get anyone to listen it would be her. 

“Tonight.” 

“Tonight?? Well, what kind of weapon is it?”

“One of great destruction and death. Only the Most High Neck and those of High Neck status know exactly how it will be triggered but it has to do with our spit.”

“Your spit?”

“Yes, it is very, what’s the word, melty. It will destroy everything in its path and only those who know the safe places will survive. Alpacas from over all the land have been preparing this weapon and they will release it tonight unless the Most High Neck says otherwise. I plan on bringing you and your tribe to one of the safe places and changing the Most High Neck’s mind.”

“Is that allowed?”

“I don’t know but I have to try. I have to try and save you.”

“Why? Why me?”

“Because of the way you hum. Because of the mother you are. Because of all that humans do for us. And because, of all humans, you are a neck above the rest.”

She looked at me and then the ground and then back at me. I could tell she was taking time to process this but that was a luxury we did not have.

“We do not have much time. It is now or never.”

She looked out at her family and turned to me with her answer, “What do I need to do?”

I was ecstatic. Any fear of reprimand from the High Necks was gone and I felt like I had a purpose. I showed her the location on the first peak of the tall hills where my herd is usually seen grazing, just past the high stone wall dividing the valley from the mountain range. After slight protest, I revealed the hidden path only Alpacas know and told her to meet me there when the sun is red in the sky.

I returned to the graze lands and she returned to her tribe hopeful that she could make them believe her. I found a place next to Eila, who was usually the only one to let me graze so close. She stopped chewing to talk with me.

“There’s a lot of activity in the human tribe. What do you think has gotten them so riled up?” Her eyes scanned the scene and her ears with pricked in an effort to hear but all conversation was taking place inside their shelters. 

Just as I told Mamah to do.

Even so, I could tell some were unhappy with what she was saying and brushing off her warnings. I wasn’t sure whether I should tell Eila what I had done. She was my sister and only friend left and I didn’t want to chance losing her too. But she wanted to save the humans, didn’t she? Surely, she would understand why I did it? What other choice did I have? I had finally chosen a side and it was hers! 

Wasn’t it?

I decided to tell her. Everyone was going to find out tonight anyways and I didn’t want her to be surprised. Maybe she could help me.

“I told one of the humans about the weapon. They are going to gather themselves and meet me at the path before sundown,” I blurted out. It was done and my secret was secret no more. I was oddly calm. Eila on the other hand was not. She spit out her cud and yelled in the loudest whisper she could.

“WHAT?! You broke ancient Alpaca Law? You know we are not to communicate with the humans! How could you, Gogo?”

“It was the only way! They are going to die and I don’t want that so I decided to do something about it. Isn’t saving the humans what you have been talking about this whole time?”

“Yes, but not by cluing them into the fact that our society exists! That we can talk! We should’ve just—“

  “Just what, Eila?. Hoped that a war that has been raging since the dawn of time would suddenly be resolved in one night of talking? On the eve of the greatest attack in Alpaca history? In all of history? At least my way has a chance of working. If we can’t save all of them at least we can save some. I thought you of all alpacas would understand.” 

“I……I do understand, Gogo. I do. And you’re right. What can I do to help?”

A weight was lifted off my shoulders and we prepared for the evening. Eila gathered together those who supported her stance and they met me at the foot of the path towards the safe place. The rest of the herd had slowly been migrating up the hill while the llamas stayed ignorant in their territory at the border of the graze lands. 

Mamah arrived as planned but only had a few of her human tribe with her. Six family units at the most. No one else believed her and so they went about with their lives and awaited their destruction. I stepped forward and spoke with my favorite.

“Is this all?” Those that traveled with her stood with gaping mouths and wide eyes at my ability. They knew now that Mamah was telling the truth. 

“Yes, little one, this is all I could get to come with me. It was very hard to convince the others.” She put her arm around one of her younglings and sighed.

“Very well then. This will have to do. Follow me.” Eila and her faction brought up the rear of the odd group and we made our way to the top of the hill and into the cave of the safe place. 

We were the last to arrive.

We were not well received. I could see Kabo standing near the Most High Neck with a look of hatred on his face. If it weren’t for EIla standing next to me I might have turned tail and run but as she stood there proud and neck strong, her strength gave me strength.

A loud grunt from the Most High Neck quieted the cave and the crowd split to make way for their leader. He walked towards me and the humans. It was a slow and powerful walk, one that only the wisest and strongest of us could possess. He stopped in front of me, and in Alpaca language, began to speak.

“What is the meaning of this?” His eyes bore down into me but with a reassuring look from Eila I answered him.

“Oh Most High Neck, I have brought these humans here so that they may be spared from the aftermath of the great weapon. Surely, they can serve as an example for us noble Alpaca to find another way.”

He spat at my feet and the acid sizzled loudly. He disapproved.

“And how, I wonder, did you get these humans to pack up their belongings and follow you to our safe place?”

“I spoke with Human noises and told them about the coming danger. There was no other—” The crowd grew loud with outcries from the rest of the alpacas. The Most High Neck screamed so loud that it echoed throughout the cave and we all shut up.

“You broke Alpaca Law? One of our most sacred and important commandments? I assume you know the penalty for this?” 

I did. 

It was death. 

“Yes, I do, my Most High Neck. But I cannot live in a world where I did not at least try. I would rather give my life for this than to live haunted by my cowardice until the end of my days.” 

My sister Eila smiled and added her voice to debate, “There are many among us who feel this way, your Most High Neck. Many of us believe that the humans are too precious of a resource to squander. They mend our broken bones, nurse our pregnant hembras and care for our crias as if they were their own. If there was a way for you to call off this attack—“

“I will do no such thing. We survived before Humans and we will prosper long after they are gone. They are a young race and the earth will not miss them. End of discussion.” The Most High Neck turned and headed back towards the platform where his chosen generals stood. He addressed all Alpaca in the cave now.

“My tribe, whom I love so much, the time has come for us to end this war. The time has come for us to end all Llama.” The entire cave shook with the stomping of feet, an obvious show of approval from the masses. “While there are some of you out there that may not agree with what I have decided to do and I say to them this: I tried. Just like the Most High Neck before me and the Most High before him and on and on to the beginning of this war, I tried to reason with the Llamas and there was nothing, NOTHING, I could say to make them see reason. But I am not without a heart. Tonight, one of our young Alpacas has brought a group of humans into our secret place. And while he has broken one of our most sacred commandments, he has also shown a great deal of bravery. He upholds a great Alpaca belief and is a prime example. All life is precious. And as so, it is my decision that those humans who are in our presence now shall be spared from the great weapon and allowed to care for us in the time after. This is final. Now, High Necks, release the weapon.”

Mamah touched me on my flank and I turned around to face her. “Little one, what is going on? What happened? Did you convince him to see the humans in the valley?”

“Your tribe is going to safe.”

“That’s great! You did it, little one! So we can go back to our homes?”

“I’m afraid not, Mamah. The other humans you brought with you tonight are your new tribe. The Most High Neck has decided that you and your group are to allowed to live with us in the time after this. The others will not make it. I am sorry.” She ran outside and I followed, wanting to comfort my favorite even though I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t happy. I told her about the weapon and I saved her, why is she still sad? 

I wish I hadn’t followed her out there. It was my first time seeing what the great weapon was and it was horrible. After we were gifted our acid spit, the Most High Neck from over one hundred generations ago decided that we should set out to collect all we could in one place and unleash it on the Llamas when we had enough. The stone wall separating our lands from the lands beyond was actually a dam holding back years of our acid. When the Most High Neck gave the word, the dam was broken and the great weapon unleashed.  She sat on the cliff overlooking the valley and watched as the valley was destroyed by wave after wave of our acid spit. The screams of human and Llama alike filled the night air as the great weapon dissolved everything from mountain base to the great plain. By sunrise, all that remained was the scalded land and stench of what lived there before. 

It was done. The Llamas were gone. The humans were gone. Except for my favorite’s new tribe, the whole world was Alpaca. And with our herd of Humans we begin a new era.