…things…

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Tonight, the dying sun is huge and red as it drops into the embrace of the horizon, painting the sky in a panoply of oranges, violets, and pinks. It casts its paintbrush onto the dirty mounds of snow choking the narrow streets as well, rendering a floral display bursting with cold life.

The Natural will always find a way to disguise the ugliness of our world, if we mere humans will only take the time to admire its work.

I register this artwork as a small detail in my peripheral vision during my run toward home, without stopping to appreciate the view.  My instinct for self-preservation is stronger than Nature’s nightly art display.  Curfew is sundown, and for good reason.

Anyone not within safe enclosure?  …things… happen.

Chest heaving, I shove the heavy glass door of my building open, barely beating the soft ‘click’ of the auto-lock mechanism inside the solid steel frame and the rapid decent of the iron safety bars in front of the glass facade.  The door swings shut to adhere to its weighty frame with a satisfying thunk.  The cage finishes its drop a moment later with an equally comforting rattle that tickles the ears and reverberates through the painted concrete floor.

In the sudden silence of the lobby, my labored breathing is deafening, and I double-up against my shaking knees, trying to catch my errant breath.

 

“A moment later…” a little voice chimes in my head.

The rest of that thought is too horrifying to complete.

 

IMG_0287I shift to lean against the graffiti-and-grime spattered wall, furiously sucking in great drafts of musty air.  The muscles of my body demand fresh oxygen after their efforts to propel me to safety, and my lungs labor to fulfill that need.

My heart pounds furiously in my chest as it, too, labors – distributing the oxygen-rich blood the lungs are busy providing.  My fingers and feet throb in time with the casket of muscle straining in my chest.

I give myself a bare five minutes to recover from the mad dash of the last minutes…to bring my raging lungs back to more normal patterns of breathing and my heart to slow its rapid pounding.  I may have passed the immediate danger of being out-of-cover after nightfall, but I’m still visible to the street…and there are 11 flights of rickety stairs with floor-to-ceiling plate glass on each landing, between me and the tiny cube of interior walls I call my sanctuary.

stair darkI contemplate the derelict risers.  Time, and endless feet, have eroded the carpet on the stairs from thick, cheerful swirls of color to a slimy streak of threadbare fabric the color of ashes.  Those same feet have worn the wood’s glossy varnish down to mediocre grayish-brown and black stains.  The hands accompanying the before-mentioned feet have wreaked equal havoc on the handrail – streaking the polished wood with infinite layers of human oils and other, less pleasant to think about, substances.

The endless circle of stairs is both the bane of my twilight sojourn home, and the reason my home is sanctuary.

…things… never happen any higher than the 6th floor.

With a sigh of inevitability, I place my hand gingerly on the slick/sticky rail, setting my foot on the first of countless steps.

Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

Behind me.  On the glass enclosure of the lobby.

Two fingers of ice slowly walk their delicate way down my spine as I freeze in place, left hand on the railing, right foot on the stair.  I suck in a very slow and cautious breath, careful not to let the movement of my chest disturb my exposed back.  My heart hammers in my ears, furiously pumping adrenaline-spiked blood through my veins.  It’s a titanic effort of will to keep myself motionless against the beating demands of unleashed chemical instinct which is screaming at me to run, hide, conceal myself in the convenient shadows just 3 steps up.

…things… happen when your movements draw attention.

Chemistry changes tactics.  If flight isn’t an option, we’ll go to option two.  The roaring blood in my ears blocks out sound, demanding I turn and face the unknown adversary tapping on the glass.  The fingers of my left hand tighten on the rail, and the right’s digits attempt to curl.

One more shallow breath, one more slow release, another Herculean effort to keep my fingers from fisting.

Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

Three sharp, staccato bursts echo through the lobby.  Lance through my head.  The urge to turn my head ever-so-slightly, just a teasing hint of movement, so I can see the glass and the creator of that terrifying sound out of the corner of my eye, is powerful.

There are some …things… that shouldn’t be seen.

A kaleidoscope of fractured images of the dank stairwell and dying carpet dance across my vision from the unshed tears crafting prisms in my eyes.  Slowly, I blink, jostling the moisture into motion down my cheeks.

One more shallow breath in…one more slow exhalation out.

***thud***                                     ***Crrrrrrrrrrrack!!***

The window creaks madly at the sudden weight thrown against it.

I bolt up the stairs, no longer able to control the mad rush of chemicals flooding my muscles and sinews, knowing from the stories that …things… stretch the truth of reality in a fiction story turned horribly real.

I reach the ninth step before the back of my left calf explodes into a bloody mess of shredded skin and fabric an instant before my ears register the crash of broken glass striking the concrete lobby floor.  I push harder, forcing the muscles of my legs to keep working, keep pumping and contracting, keep pushing my weight against the pull of gravity to get me up, up, up!

It takes me a moment longer to realize the insane screaming echoing within the vast stairwell is coming from my vocal cords.

I grab the curved railing, swinging my body around the bend in the stairs, neatly vaulting myself over the landing and onto the next flight of risers.  Frantic, screaming, wide-eyed and bloody from the knee down, I charge up toward the first of the plate glass landings.  Instinctively knowing the more sections of curving staircase I put between myself and the lobby, the greater chance I have of drawing breath past the next few minutes.

The plate glass is darkened by decades of grime – reflecting perfectly my crazed appearance…

And the surreal …things… tearing up the landing below me.

 

My chest is on fire- my lungs straining to complete the exchange of choking carbon dioxide for clean oxygen fuel.  My heart is pounding at an alarming rate, trying to cycle the blood fast enough to keep my legs pounding, pounding, pounding on the staircase.  My vision narrows to single flashed images:  the next stair above me, my grimy shoe, a patch of cleaner wallpaper.

I bang into a solid object.  All forward momentum is halted, and I grab wildly at the object to keep myself from pitching backwards down the stairs.

The object grabs back.

A navy-on-black, 3 piece, double-breasted pinstripe suit.  A bright red, (possibly) silk tie.  Perfect half-Winchester knot between the tabs of a crisp, white collar.  Gold watch chain snaking across the matching vest.  Black leather shoes, buffed to an eye-blinding gloss.  Shoestrings carefully tied in twin bows.

I feel ten very solid – but very human – fingers digging into my upper arms.

“Tsk, tsk…” The sound slides from between perfectly sculpted, pursed lips, enshrouded with a dusting of black, five o’clock shadow.  “A mad dash?  All that wild screaming?  Such sounds coming from such a little thing?  Whatever will the neighbors think?”

Five of those iron fingers slide up my arm, along my collar-bone, and tease a gold chain from beneath my clothing.

“You know …things… happen when you steal from The Company.”

 

 

All 10 iron fingers lock around my throat.

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Katie and Morris (EM from A – III)

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From cheezburger.com

10:13pm CST, USA, Illinois, Springfield, Laketown Subdivision, 252 Circle Drive.

 

Katie was jolted awake  by the frantic scrabbling of claws embedding themselves in the screen section of the dining room’s sliding glass door.

“Wuzzit?” she slurred from the recliner.  She glowered myopically at the TV, the final scene from ‘The Devil Wears Prada,’ flashing Meryl Streep’s ending, secretive smile behind the dusty glass of the set.  The music swelled in the glorious upswing that Hollywood movies were famous for ending with – the triumphant, jaunty music that says ‘Annnnd – now:  HAPPY ENDING!’ as the picture fades to black and credits roll.

Katie’s sleep-mussed mind didn’t recall any cats in the picture, and certainly no cats with claws determined to turn the rather expensive screen into a pile of metal shavings on the hard wood floor.  Unlike….

“MORRIS!” she shouted in the direction of the dining room, and the big orange tabby who was industriously working at widening the tiny holes.

“Mrrrrrow!” came the cheerful reply – along with renewed pinging as hooked claws snagged delicate metal mesh.

Katie growled as the recliner’s footrest dropped to the floor, along with bare feet.  “That screen cost a fortune to replace,” she grumbled as she levered her sizable bulk off the well-serviced furniture.  A snarled “Not again, furball,” accompanied the quick grab of the spray bottle sitting within arm’s reach on the coffee table.

Stomp, stomp, stomp.   The cat, sensing an imminent dousing, made a mad dash for safety between her chunky ankles.

Horrified, Katie shifted her weight awkwardly, to avoid stomping on her pet.

Duckwalked in a broken parody of a graceful pirouette as she attempted to regain her balance.

And danced as gracefully as a crushed bird across the darkened dining room.

**crash**

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Well…so much for the screen door…

 

“Mrrrrrrow!”

“Mmmph…”

Katie reached out and pushed Morris’ whiskered muzzle from her lips, completely disoriented to why she was laying outside on the deck in the middle of the night.

In the shorts and next-to-see-through UIS tee-shirt she slept in.

And why everything on her body throbbed in time with her heart.

Clarity reasserted itself, as she took stock of the twisted bed of mangled aluminum and torn wire mesh which was currently between her and the wooden slats of the back deck.  The screen door was, of course, ruined beyond repair.

“Oh, Morris!” she wailed, scooping up her personal orange menace and cuddling him close.  It wouldn’t do to have him vanish in the night!  “Why did you do this?”

A growl was her answer, as the lights and subtle background noise from the freeway cut off suddenly.  Followed by 10 extremely sharp claws digging into her forearms.

“Yeouch!”

Morris bounded off into the now very-dark night.

“Damnit, cat!”

Katie disentangled herself from the ruined screen door, and trundled down the three steps to the cool, dewey grass of her back yard.

And into the leading edge of a maelstrom of orangy-red, black and sparkly particulate-matter storm.

She could feel the particles bouncing off her skin.  Her hair, whipping wildly in the swirling gale, grew heavier as more particles tangled within the auburn curls.  Her ears plugged up as the pressurized storm forced particulate matter up the canals to embed themselves in ear wax.

The worst part was the smell.  Particles wormed their way up her nose, imparting a dry, cloying, sickeningly-sweet, coppery tang – the smell of rotting sawdust, over-ripe fruit, laced with a hint of freshly-spilled blood.

All around her, the storm raged in fury, the howl of the wind blending with…crunching noises, the groaning of bending wood, the tinkle of glass, and … in the very background, almost too low to hear … what sounded like maniacal female laughter.

Katie stood in the grass, too terrified to move…too horrified to scream … too overwhelmed by the raw forces battering her about to stop the warm rush of fluid washing down her inner thighs as her bladder voided itself moments before she inadvertently lost control of her consciousness for the second time of the evening.

Morris, emerging from the blackness, curled up at her feet.

“Mrrrrrr-Wow!   Wow?  That’s new.”

 

 

10:16 pm CST, Illinois, Springfield, Laketown Subdivision, 252 Circle drive.  2.1 miles from UIS.

3 minutes later.  Precisely.

Email from the Apocalypse II

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UIS Mascot – Orion the Hunter

10:03pm CST. USA, Illinois, Springfield, UIS Campus, Lincoln Residence Hall, 3rd floor.

 

“Hey guys, you GOTTA see this!”

“Holy Shit!  What’s that guy on???”

“Damn, man, that’s some twisted shit right there!”

“Dude, you GOTTA share that to my page!”

The email, Titled:  Greetings from the Apocalypse (wish you weren’t here), hit an approximate 4.6 billion email inboxes pretty much simultaneously.   Within seconds, it had been opened, read, discussed, and become the latest trend on Facebook.

Gene’s shout to his roommates, and the subsequent micro-conversation above, pretty much summed up how the email was received around the globe.

Gene shared the post, offering his own two cents in the field Facebook offered for the pithy responses its usership lived for:

“LOL, guys!  This guy seriously trippin bawls.  He seein things inna sky!  share, man, FUCKIN share!”

Gene turned up his stereo.  His bedroom walls started to vibrate.

Beez in the trap, beez, beez in the trap…

The single window in Gene’s room shook – the loose storm window rattling against the more solidly-affixed piece of glass.

“Clunk, clunk, clunk…”

“Damn wind…” Gene growled, popping the top of his third beer of the evening. “Cheap-ass dorm rooms.  Mother-fuckers don’t never fix nuttin!”   He turned up the stereo even more to compensate for the banging.

Beez in the trap…Beez, beez in the trap…

“LOL, man!” came the first response on Facebook.

Followed closely by ‘GTFO!’

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Quickly Gene posted one of his favorite memes.

 

As the ‘likes’ piled up around his post, the first crack appeared in Gene’s wall, creeping along the drywall in time with the now violently-banging storm window.

“Shits legit.” The Dragon posted in his thread.

Gene scowled at his computer screen.  “Yer not one of my friends, shithead,” he mumbled, moving the mouse toward the delete button.

He never reached it.

Gene’s entire room lurched to the north.  His school textbooks scattered across the floor.   His “prized collectible” glass pipe (a genuine replica of the pipe Gandalf was smoking in The Lord of the Rings, only 1000 ever produced!) flew from its genuine black ash display base on his desk, rocketing into his beverage.

The can tipped, spilling a near-full beer all over Gene’s Razer DeathStalker Ultimate! keyboard, inundating Gene’s lap with a mixture of soaked keyboard, cold MGD and glass slivers.

His wireless mouse flew in the opposite direction, leaving a fair-sized dent in the drywall and plastic pieces of the housing to bounce around Gene’s desk.

“Mother-fucker!”

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As final words go…these are mediocre at best…

The outer wall, Gene’s rattling bedroom window, and the Orion the Hunter poster valiantly holding on by a single strip of yellowed tape, dissolved in a shower of glass shards, twisted metal, shredded drywall, and powdered brick as the maelstrom touched the dorm building, eagerly consuming masonry, carpeting, wooden support beams, furniture, and residents.

**Screaming**

**silence**

At 10:13pm, CST, the campus of University of Illinois, Springfield, was completely destroyed by a strange and unnatural storm of intense electrical and turbulent wind energy.  Experts are calling it the ‘worst tornado disaster of all time in the midwest region,’ and are urging residents to stay off the streets and indoors for their own safety.  Stay tuned to WKRX Channel 9 as we stay on top of the latest developments of this bizarre storm.

10 minutes – Precisely.

 

 

 

 

Email from the Apocalypse (wish I weren’t here)

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Welcome to the Birth of the End-of-All-Dreams.  I shall be your tour guide.

Your story teller.

Your lesson planner and teacher.

I am pleased to announce the new life which has just been thrust upon you- the journey in which you will, quite outside your own free will, be embarking in mere moments.

You still have free will, I assure you … but your options have narrowed to two selections:  survive, or die.

It’s time to choose one of these options.  I suggest you choose wisely.

 

If you are reading this than you, like the majority of your population, live more or less comfortably – within your safely enclosed bubble within your enormous apartment building,  windows firmly shuttered and doors securely locked against untoward (and potentially unsettling) outside influences.  You venture outside this little bubble two or three times a day for work and food, head hung low and back hunched slightly to avoid those before-mentioned outside influences.  The rest of your life is trusted to your electronic gizmos to artificially attach you to the rest of the world.  At this point, I’m willing to bet you’ve completely forgotten what the sky is supposed to look like.

So you’ve undoubtedly not noticed the unusual weather patterns going on right outside your walls.

Put down your phone, and open those curtains now.

16195713738_5be17f622eTrust me.  I don’t care that your weather app says its a beautiful day, that your news app is reporting all is serene, your social apps are showing you the latest one-line diversion or amusing argument, or that your job app says your 12 o’clock deadline is 15 minutes away.

 

Your life deadline is due in 10.  Go look out your window.

No, you’re not going mad.  The sky has never been that exact shade of muddy-reddish-orange-black before, has never held that sparkling particulate matter before, and has never rolled toward the city in that solid a mass before.

And you’ve always been able to see through the atmosphere before, to view as much of the horizon as your surroundings would allow.

Scared yet?  You should be.

That solid/moving particulate mass is going to eat your apartment.  It’s going to eat your building.  It’s going to eat the neighboring buildings, too.  In fact, that mass is going to eat everything Mankind has constructed as a means to separate itself from the rest of the natural world.  Any individual caught in this feeding frenzy will be…

Well, let’s just say Humanity has the numbers to spare…

The choice is yours, now.  Abandon your constructs, or become a corpse.

Choose wisely.

 

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction – Not all Reapers are Grim

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This is a Flash Fiction post I created waaaaay back in July for Flash! Friday.  In the spirit of cleaning up my drafts folder – and actually putting content on the T&T (instead of amusing myself at night by twisting wire into pendants…) I’m posting some of this old stuff.

The book FF suggested for this week of flash was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

 

Not all Reapers are Grim
Elements: Character & Conflict (man v man)
with just a hint of Theme…
102 words

 

Snatches of sing-songy intoxication wiggled their way around the filthy towels valiantly clinging to the charred beams masquerading as walls.

“Food for all!”

“Comfort and Fun!”

“Dreams come true!”

The man in the bright-purple great-coat wandered the alley – an ocean of deserted street-urchins caught in the wake of his swell as he sang us songs of dreams.

Willingly we followed him into the dark building – visions of meat and heat and candy and comfort dancing in our heads.

Only to find combat, blood and death, all broadcast LIVE to the well-paying audience.

 

He planted our dreams.  Harvested our nightmares.

Flash Fiction – Old Mack Donald

Rose lineup Flash FictionI got a shock when the winners of the latest Flash! Friday contest were posted…I got a double-mention!

Not only did my story of the week make 2nd runner up (Which is the highest I’ve been in the ranks!) but the judges also went through some of their older judging weeks, and picked out stories that, for one reason or another – continued to stick in their minds.

So I’m all excited and bouncy and stuff 🙂  I’ll be damned – I CAN write!

The weekly contest was a tough one – we had to incorporate a farmer as our main character, and the photo to tie in was three men in bakers whites looking intently into a long window.  I fought over this one – cussed and swore at it – no matter how I tried to tie the farmer in with a baker, the story wanted to veer wildly off-course.  At the zero hour, I finally threw up my hands and said – ‘Ya know…I’m just gonna do the damn song…”

And then, that magical line appeared – the last line in the story.  There it was – beginning line, and end line.  The story almost filled itself in.

You Know You’re Singing this Song…
197 words

Old Mack Donald – he had a farm. He’d inherited it from his father, who had it from his – and so on and so forth back to the first Donald to set foot in the country. The chains of tradition had bound Mack to the land for longer than he’d drawn breath.

“The Donald Men always tilled the soil,” he’d say with his soft drawl to anyone listening. “And we always tended to the beasties. I didn’t know no different.”

But Mack was old – and Mack was tired. And, above all, Mack was sick of life surrounded by the cacophony of brays, snorts, peeps, moos and oinks from the assembled livestock. At any time, day or night, there were animals sounding off. Sometimes they were panicked over an errant shadow. Sometimes, especially in the spring, they were busy finding a mate to continue the cycle of life for the farm.

And sometimes, Mack swore – they made noises simply to piss him off.

So Mack sold the farm to a huge conglomerate, and slipped into clean, crisp baker’s whites. His bread is the best in 5 counties.

Old Mack Donald sold his farm – to knead a bit of dough…

And our esteemed judges had this to say:

TS – I don’t know if I remember the passage of even one week in the last seven years of being a mom where this song wasn’t stuck in my head at least once. So… thanks. For that. 😉 Ee-I-ee-I-Oh, I did enjoy the fun feel of this piece. I may or may not have laughed out loud over the “cacophony of brays, snorts, peeps, moos and oinks.”

And I love how Mack takes his final revenge on the animals that have drowned him in never ending brain vibrating irritation: he becomes a chef, and I bet (even though the story doesn’t say), that one or two of those animals might have found their way onto a plate. –Apologies to any vegetarians. 😉 Nicely done. Now I’m going to go drown out “Old MacDonald” with something infinitely more enjoyable, like “The Wheels on the Bus.”

MK – I saw this and smiled. A few times recently I have tried to incorporate songs as a theme of my stories and really enjoyed how they made the reader respond. The writer has picked a song here that was always going to spin around in our heads all day. It’s totally on-theme, and the writer has crafted something that is memorable, humorous, yet also deals with the progression of character. I’m not sure what the bakeries in Virginia do differently than the bakeries in England, but I’m scared that my fellow judge thinks it’ll involve the use of animals on plates. 🙂 Remind me not to eat bread at Tamara’s if I ever find myself in that part of the world 😉

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The story that stuck in the judges heads was one I created in December – and showed up on the T&T shortly after I’d posted it.  It was sooooo new a posting to me, I hadn’t gotten the ‘Flash Fiction’ banner done yet (although I was close – I was using the origami flower lineup…)

They called it the ‘Jailbird Santa as Best Character’ and this is how they introduced all the special mentions on their final, tear-inspiring duty as judges:

Alas, our time has drawn to a close, and as we’ve looked back over our time as judges for Flash! Friday, we’ve been amazed all over again by the magnitude of talent that has been displayed on this page over and over again. You’ve written your hearts for us, and we’ve so enjoyed the experience of delving into each story and reveling in every world that unfolded before our awed gazes. Truly, we are sad to end our time here, but a hearty thanks to each one of you for making it all so worth it. Thanks to our Dragon mother, who unselfishly gives of her time to make this board what it is, and I (Tamara) thank you, Mark, for being the best possible judging partner a person could ever ask for.

Over our time, each week we were up to judge, we wished we could choose more winners than we were allowed. So on our last time, we went back and picked out three from various weeks – the “Unsung Story Awards.” These, for one reason or another, didn’t make the final list the week they were entered, but they stuck in our heads, and we hoped to give them a little recognition this time.

And now, before I use up too many more tissues, one last time, here are our results.

Guys – you will be missed as judges, but I’ll still look for your stories each and every week!

Calling All Cars!
157 words

“Calling all cars! Calling all cars!”

Every year, we get the call. Every year, we respond. Every year, our department fails to close this decades-old case.

“Person of interest male, white, late 70’s, portly. Full facial hair, white. Last seen wearing bright red suit and hat with white fringe, black belt, black knee-boots.”

My hands curl around the steering wheel, mentally preparing for the yearly bloodbath.

“Suspect get-away vehicle tiny sleigh pulled by 8 animals of reindeer origin. No plates evident.”

My partner and I lock eyes, knowing…HATING…what’s coming.

“Ocular trauma to multiple victims. Eyes replaced with charcoal briquettes.”

I yank a cigarette from the pack on the dash. “Shoulda been nice…” I whisper, even as my partner mutters “Here comes the weird part…”

“Suspect 3.75 inches tall. Last known locations… ”

A string of addresses follow, blanketing the car in a wall of sound.

“Public Enemy number one…” I growl, flipping on the siren.

Dragon Memoirs – A Rather Curious Bug

Every once in a while – a strong character emerges from my little bits of flash fiction, and decides to stick around after the story is written.  They generally add to the chorus of little voices in my head.  Every once in a great while, they meet in the landscape of my dreaming mind, and cause all sorts of trouble.

The Dragon has been around since this winter – nattering in my ear and occasionally breathing new tales of his ancient race to my concious mind.  Dutifully, I jot these leavenings down.

A bit a go, he met up with Bug – another very strong character who emerged from the rough streets, and has been enjoying herself intently in the darker corners of my mind.  As you can see – they have now had the opportunity to meet.  What trouble will they get into next?

 

Dragon Memoirs – A Rather Curious Bug

210 words

 

Book 1 alternate

My daily sojourn – to connect with the essence of the world and keep apprised of the human collective – was met today with a rather remarkable occurrence. I had the opportunity to cross paths with a rather curious bug.

A slight, soft, little half-grown human with abilities decades beyond her physical years caught my inner eye.  She blends into her environment as easily as I do, manufacturing personae at will to appear helpless and weak – tactics successfully employed to extract enough wealth from the comfortable to survive.

It wasn’t this pitiable personae which stirred my inner sight, though.  Rather, it was the warp she had stitched into place around her.

Imagine my surprise – here before me stands a human child who, with no formal training or even a clear understanding of the energies surrounding all life, masterfully weaves the Earth’s Song to do her bidding.

A human child – weaving the magics of the Dragons.

I was so stunned by the feel of magics not my own, I almost missed the gun she withdrew from her clothing.

She sleeps now, and will continue to do so, until certain questions are answered.

Why was this child – this Master of the Street known only as Bug, turned into a weapon and aimed at me?