Category: Stories

Greek Story

Prologue:

The first thing I noticed was pain and the smell of sweat and blood. There were desperate voices at the edge of my hearing, speaking words I did not understand. It seemed like an eternity passed in darkness as things went on around me. I tried to cry out, but only gargled. Someone must have heard it, because they told me it would be over soon.

“Aries! How hold the gates?”

“They hold, but not for much longer.”

“Hephaestus, where do we stand?”

“Almost finished. I need a few more minutes. Less if you stop interrupting me.”

I heard a loud explosion, and someone swore. 

“That will not help, my Lord. You need to concentrate on the lightning bolt, or all is lost.”

“I am well aware of my responsibilities, Hestia. Just keep up your end of the bargain and let me tend to mine.”

“Do not disparage she who is most high, Husband. She sacrifices as much as any of us.”

“Of course, Dear. Whatever you say. As always.”

“Go stick your lightning bolt where the sun doesn’t-”

“Hey! I don’t need that in my head!” Someone else yelled.

“Apologies, Apollo. Zeus, shut up and concentrate.”

The way the man replied “Hera,” made it sound like a curse. Before anyone could say anything, he called out, “Asclepius! To your task!”

I felt a pressure on my chest, as a set of powerful hands pressed down on me. I could hear someone chanting, but I had no idea what he was saying. Once he stopped and lifted his hands, I heard a loud crack, and I could see. I tried to scream, but my voice would not cooperate.

A woman put a hand on my shoulder and I felt myself relax. “Be still child. Let Asclepius and Athena do their work.”

I nodded, then gasped as her face came into focus. Hers was the most beautiful face I could imagine, even marred with pocks and scars the way it was.

“My part is done. The child will know as much as is possible when it arrives.” Another woman took her hands away from the sides of my head and backed away.

Whatever this person…Asclepius…did must have worked. He poked my right foot with something hard.

“OW!”

“My apologies, child. It has to be done.” I recognized Hera’s voice, though I could not see her. Before I could say anything, I heard the voice of Aries again.

“To arms! They have breached the throne room.”

“To me, all of you! Eris, Enyo, hold the gates!” Zeus snapped.

Several faces approached me, and each laid a hand on a different part of my body. The chanted for a moment, then withdrew.

“It is finished. The final form will be chosen by the Fates. Know child, you go with the blessings of the Twelve, those with us and those who are not. You will wake in a place that is not your own, and you must find your way home.”

“The task will not be easy,” someone muttered.

“As if we need the gift of Prophecy to figure that out, Apollo.”

“Peace, Ares. There is no time.”

“There is always time for war.”

“So you have said, over and over again, far more often than I would like.”

“Would you both go mind the gates or something? I’m trying to concentrate. We have so little time, and so much to lose.”

“Yes, Aphrodite, of course we do. You need not remind us of that.” Ares snapped at her. 

“Maybe go practice a bit of self-love over in the corner if you need something else to distract you.”

I decided these two were not worth my time and stared at the beautiful, scarred face of Aphrodite. She smiled, and for a moment I thought the sun had warmed the room. 

“You are our greatest hope. All our love goes with you.”

“No need to get sappy, sister. The world is coming to an end. This is no time for-”

“Shut up, Artemis.”

“You want to spend some time as a stag, Aphrodite?”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“You two need to stop talking. The child will have weapons, and the strength to use them.” Hephaestus called out. “I’ve given up the best I have.”

“We all have, Hephaestus.” Athena chided him.

“Time’s up!” someone yelled. “The portal is open and it must be now.”

“You are our last hope. Stop the Titans, and find your way home.”

Several hands pulled me to my feet. Someone handed me a pack, then pushed me though a doorway. I felt like I was falling, but I could only see a purple haze. The next thing I remember was slamming down onto the ground and passing out.

Chapter 1:

I woke to the smell of fear, and a splitting headache. As my eyes adjusted to the sun, I heard someone yelling in terror. No one else seemed inclined to do anything about it, so I made my way to a tree stump, adjusted my pack and watched along with everyone else. Someone was strapped to a board with iron collars around his wrists, ankles, and neck. I could see the collar around his neck was being tightened and it was not long before his terrified cries become stifled choking. After a bit, he stopped making any sort of noise at all.

Some people might say the punishment was harsh, regardless of his crime, but I had no chariot in that race, so I decided it was not my place to intervene. A passerby paused to look at the body and asked what the man’s crime was. One of the guards spit on the ground next to the corpse and said, “He spoke the name of our Lord Kronos with disrespect.”

Okay, so maybe that was a little harsh. I was a bit confused by the idea of Kronos being in any position to demand such brutal justice, but before I could think much about that, I realized something that concerned me a lot more. Try as I might, I could not remember much past my name, Theodolus, and a burning sense that I was not here by accident. There were brief flashes of other things, but they were just out of reach. Instead of dwelling on that, I decided to try and get my bearings. There was snow everywhere, and people were in heavy winter clothing. I was in a light one piece that ended above my knees, with sandals and a red cloak. I was getting some strange looks as people took more notice of me now that the spectacle was over. A woman with dark hair and blue eyes approached me, but everyone else seemed content to observe from a distance.

“By Tethys! You must be freezing! Come with me. We need to get you inside before you catch your death. Come! Idiot cosplayer wearing a chiton in the dead of winter!”

Since I had no idea what else I was going to do, I allowed her to lead me into a log cabin a short distance away. Once inside, she grabbed a blanket from a hook behind the bar and wrapped it around me. She ushered me into a chair and thrust a mug of something hot into my hands. “I’ve run out of fire starter, so drink up, idiot. By Iapetus I don’t need you dying on my watch.”

“Th-thank you, but I don’t feel cold.”

“Of course you do. I said drink your tea. Do it now.”

I drank the tea. I had no idea what was in it, but it was delicious. “Is there more?”

“Greedy too. Perfect.” She set another mug down and I drained it. She shook her head and reminded me to breathe before taking both mugs and putting them somewhere out of the way.

“What brings you to Titus, Idiot?”

“I have a name you know, it’s Theodolus.” 

She tried to pronounce it, but her attempt was so bad I almost clapped my hands over my ears. “It’s pronounced, ‘Thee-odd-o-las’”

“Yeah, no. You’re going to be Theo.”

I was not sure how I felt about that, but she moved on before I could comment. 

“My name is Naomi. Try not to wear it out.”

“How can you wear out a name?”

She made a face somewhere between a smirk and a sneer, so I let it go. Instead, I asked her what this place was and why there were so many people in one area.

“Where have you been living? Under a rock? It’s the Festival of the Twelve.”

“I don’t…know where I’ve been living. I can’t…I can’t remember.” I felt a twinge of panic, but something about the idea of the Twelve tried to stir something in my mind. “You mean the gods?”

“The Titans. Please tell me you’re not one of those idiotic Olympian cultists?”

“I don’t think so.”

She gave me a look like she was not certain she believed me, but did not press further. Instead she set a plate of food in front of me after hearing my stomach growl.

“Cold stew will have to do. If I could light a fire I’d have hot food.”

I nodded and ate the meal without complaint. Once she was assured I would not die right away she told me to stay put and went outside to run an errand. I moved over to the fireplace and closed my eyes as I pressed my left hand against one of the logs.

If it pleases you, Lady Hestia. I thought in a brief prayer. A moment later the cabin was filled with the glow of the flames. I nodded in thanks and sat back down to wait for Naomi. It would not help me, but I decided she would appreciate the gesture. As soon as the door opened my thoughts proved true.  She came back in with an armload of blankets which looked like they had seen better days.

“Horse blankets will have to do, but they’ll keep you from—how did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Start the fire. I can’t do it without fire starter.”

“It’s uh…a matter of being good with my hands.”

“You mean you rubbed two sticks together and it caught? You’ll have to teach me that trick someday,” she noted, “You’ll sleep in the guest room. The fire will warm the entire cabin before long, so we should be comfortable enough until the blankets work their magic with body heat. My door locks, so don’t think of trying anything stupid.”

“No, nothing stupid.”

“What’s in the pack?”

Since I could not answer her, I opened it and peered inside. “Odds and ends. Some trail food, a change of clothes, things of that nature.”

“So, you aren’t completely uncivilized after all. You just want to pretend to be a homeless person with everything you have in the world in a backpack.”

I gave her a small smile because I had no idea what she was talking about. I was not sure how long I could bluff my way through things like this, so I was thankful she did not press me. She busied herself around the cabin while I turned inward. There were brief flashes of…something, from before I woke up on the mountain, but nothing I could put together. 

I remembered seeing the most beautiful face, even scarred like she was, but I could not put a name to it. People were arguing, and there were loud noises…but that was all I could recollect. I dared not tell Naomi, because I did not know if I could trust her, and because not remembering my life would make me vulnerable to exploitation, which something told me was a strategic weakness. For that matter, I had no idea why I got the urge to pray to someone named Hestia, but I was glad she answered my prayer.

The fire worked its magic quickly, and the cabin began to feel cheerful. I noticed Naomi becoming more animated and joyful as the cabin warmed up. Before long she was humming a tune I could not place, but I found myself tapping my foot to the beat anyway. She noticed and flashed a smile at me before finishing up what she was doing and sitting with me at the table.

“What brings you to Titus, Theo?”

I bristled at the familiarity, but answered, “Just a feeling I’m supposed to be here.”

“In little more than a bedsheet, in the dead of winter, calming you don’t feel cold, with nothing more than a backpack with odds and ends to your name?”

“Uh….yeah.”

“Fine then, keep your secrets. No skin off my teeth.”

“Sorry. I’m just a bit of a wanderer I guess. I did not really have any reason for coming here I can remember, I just found myself here and it seemed like an interesting place to be.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah.”

“Who is your Titan?”

“What?”

“Which Titan do you connect with most closely?”

I had no answer for her, so I said the first thing that came to my mind. “Uh…Kronos?”

She gave a low whistle. “If He accepted your service, you’re a powerful one indeed. I guess it’s no wonder you can start a fire by rubbing two sticks together. You’d have to be able to think on your feet.”

“I’ve been known to have some good ideas from time to time.”

She laughed, then continued, “I follow Phoebe. My mind is my greatest ally, and to Tartarus with anyone who tries to challenge that.” She waited as though she expected me to do just that, but I kept silent. 

“Best to rest then. Selene will take to the skies soon, and it’s best not to disturb her. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

After Naomi left, I stayed at the table for a long time. I heard her door lock behind her, so she must have been concerned I might try to do something stupid despite my assurances. I tried to pull something—anything—from the depths of my mind, and had to stop when I realized I was just making myself angry. I made the decision it was best to move on before Naomi woke up, because I did not want to risk slipping up and making her suspicious. What little I could gather from my memory told me my deities were gods, not titans, and from the way she mentioned an Olympian cult, I decided that was a bad thing. A few hours of sleep would not hurt anything, as long as I was gone before she rose for the day.

I gave myself a stern command to wake at first light, then headed toward the only open room in the cabin with my blankets. Just before closing the door, I glanced at the fireplace and was surprised to see the flames rekindle themselves, the coals becoming a large cheerful fire with fresh logs once more. 

As it turned out, my brain decided sleep was more important than any stern commands I might issue. By the time I opened my eyes, it was well past dawn, and I could hear Naomi bustling around in the cabin outside my door.

Styx” I snarled a bit louder than I intended, not caring how I knew the term.

“Did you say something?” Naomi called to me.

“My-my foot’s asleep!” I lied. 

She laughed at me, which made feel guilty for lying to her. I dug through my pack until I found a change of clothes, then ran my fingers though my shoulder length hair to make myself appear to be somewhat presentable. A few minutes later, I joined her in the kitchen.

“Sleep well,” She asked, her back to me as she fiddled with something I could not see.

“No.”

She shrugged. “The horse blankets might have some…guests, I suppose.”

“You can say that again.”

“The horse blankets might have some…guests, I suppose.”

I looked at her but did not deign to dignify that with a response. After a moment she shrugged and muttered something under her breath. 

“What’s on your list today,” She asked.

“List?”

“Of things to do.”

“I didn’t have one.”

“You should probably find some new clothes. That chiton will be the death of you.”

“I don’t-”

“Feel cold. That’s because you’re crazy. But even if that was true, you don’t want people giving you funny looks, do you?”

“I guess not.

“That settles it. You can go to Arachne’s place in the shopping district. She weaves all the best stuff.” She got up and started bustling around the kitchen again. 

“Oh. I don’t have enough money for that, and I should find something to eat so I don’t give my stomach reason to–” I caught the apple she tossed my way. “Hate me. This works, thanks.”

I took a bite and was surprised at the flavor. “I wonder if this is what the apples taste like in the Garden of the Sunset?”

“The what?”

“Garden of the Sunset. You know, with the Hesperides.”

She looked at me for a long moment before she shrugged. “I guess you’d have to ask their father…Adonis, wasn’t it?”

“Atlas.”

“I knew it! You are one of those Olympian cultists!” Rather than looking shocked, she appeared gleeful at the implications of my slip of the tongue.

“How do you mean?” I rallied, “Atlas is a Titan.”

“But the Hesperides are associated with Hera!” She countered, her expression triumphant. 

“Only incidentally! The wedding and all.”

“To Zeus! How can you blather on like this if you’re a disciple of Kronos?”

“I—”

“Lied to me!”

“What?”

“If you were a disciple of Kronos, your lord would strike you dead for disrespecting his name!”

“I’m…sorry.”

“You should be. Where are you from? And don’t lie to me.”

“I don’t remember.”

“What do you mean you don’t remember?”

“I don’t remember anything before waking up right before you saw me yesterday.” So much for not being vulnerable, idiot me.

She glared at me for a moment more before disappearing back into her room and shutting the door. I was not sure what to do, so I sat at the table and did not do or say anything. 

I heard her talking to herself for a few minutes, but then her voice faded. A short time later she came out of her room and went straight to the door.  She opened it to admit someone a new guest. 

My fight or flight reflex kicked in and every nerve in my body began to ping. The hackles on the back of my neck stood up and I shot to my feet as though I had been fired from a bow.

Sit down right now.” There was something about the hooded newcomer’s voice compelled obedience, but I was still hesitant. I sat but found myself holding a knife I had not known I possessed. I made sure to keep my hand under the table but pushed the chair back so I could jump up to defend myself if need be.

“I told you, Reg. He’s one of us!” Naomi seemed excited rather than angry, which left me more confused than anything. Τhe newcomer threw back the hood of his cloak to reveal a middle-aged man and a thinning beard.

He held out his hand and to quiet Naomi said, spies are everywhere and we can’t be too careful. Remember what happened to—”

“One of you,” I interrupted, further confused.

Instead of answering, Naomi locked the doors and windows as Reg watched me like a hawk. When she sat down again, she was almost vibrating with excitement. Reg smiled at me, then shot to his feet, raising his left hand, fingers pointing straight up.

“Hail to the Twelve gods. Hail to Hestia, she who is most high. Hail to Lord Zeus and Lady Aletheia, to whom I give allegiance.”

Naomi followed suit, but said, “Hail to the Twelve gods. Hail to Hestia, she who is most high. Hail to Ladies Athena and Artemis, to whom I give allegiance.”

Without understanding where I knew the words, I rose and mirrored them. “Hail to the Twelve gods. Hail to Hestia, she who is most high. Hail to the Olympians, to whom I owe my life.”

Silence reigned.

Both Naomi and Reg looked shocked and a little uncomfortable. Naomi opened her mouth, but Reg spoke first. “To whom you owe your life? Hail all of them? You don’t follow one or two specifically?” 

“I can’t remember.”

“Then how do you know the words?”

“I can’t remember. I hate to repeat myself but…”

“That’s impossible.” Naomi glared at me again, but Reg put a hand on her shoulder.

“I don’t sense untruth from him. Aletheia would know.”

“What’s going on?” I asked them. 

“You’re safe here. Hermes must have sent you to Naomi as safe harbor.”

“The messenger?”

“He’s also the god of travelers.”

“That still doesn’t explain what you two are going on about.”

“We follow the Olympians, Theo.”

“But I thought you said they were ‘idiotic Olympian cultists’ last night.”

“I did. When you hide something for as long as we have, you learn to play the right tune.”

“The right tune?”

“People who follow the Olympians are killed if they get found out.”

“Is that why that man was killed yesterday? Right before we first met?”

“Maybe. Even the accusation of being a follower of Olympus is enough to turn people suspicious of you.”

Reg cut in, “but if you can prove you’re a follower of the Titans, or at least make it believable, the person who accused you can be killed instead, so people don’t toss that accusation around unless they think they can make a good case.”

“Oh.”

“So don’t say anything to anyone if you can help it. You got lucky Naomi found you.”

“A blessing of Hermes, I guess.”

“As I mentioned, yes.”

“I suppose I should thank you, Naomi.”

“Don’t mention it, Theo.”

“I never heard of someone named Theo who followed the Olympians.”

“My name isn’t Theo, Reg. It’s Theodolus. But Naomi can’t pronounce it.”

“Yeah, I agree with her. Theo it is then.”

“Whatever sharpens your blade. What do I do now?”

“I was serious when I said you needed to get new clothing. Reg, why don’t you take him to Arachne’s shop?”

“I don’t have any money.” I reminded her.

“Naomi takes on charity cases now and then. Don’t worry about it. She’ll work you to the bone in compensation, but it’s honest work.”

“Oh, okay.”

Naomi gave me a predatory grin before unlocking the door, tossing my pack to me and ushering us out of her cabin. I turned to Reg in surprise, but he shrugged.

“Once she makes her mind up about something, she tends to want things underway.”

“Thanks again for your help.”

“No problem. Let’s go get you some decent clothing.”

We walked for a long time before getting to our destination where I learned something new about myself. As it turns out, I hate spiders.

A Family Outing (Card Walker Universe)

Have you ever seen a day go from beautiful to disastrous in the course of an hour? I have, and while I can laugh about it now, it wasn’t fun at all while it was happening. We had been out and about all day in the backwoods of the Kingdom of Cups on the day of the storm.  My wife Alexandra and I, and our two twin girls were going on their first camping trip. I chuckled as I corrected myself. This was the first camping trip the girls would remember. They had been out a few times, but they were too young to form lasting memories. I grunted as I lifted my eldest daughter up on a stump and smiled at her. I was still fighting fit, but I could tell my body was not as spry as it had been when I was younger. Still, I had more than enough energy for my children, and I would show it.


“What do you think of this place, my darling child? Does it meet with your approval?”


I’ve never met anyone as observant as Alethea. I knew she would have something brilliant to say, and I was not disappointed. Her eyes took in the clearing where we had stopped for the day as she noted seemingly every blade of grace and leaf on all the trees. Finally, she nodded her approval.

“There’s an ant hill over there, but it’s far. They’ll leave us alone if we leave them alone.”


I smiled at her and agreed. “Do you see anything else, sweet girl?”


“We should pitch the tent in the center of the clearing and have the fire a bit away. The rocks will make the heat come back.”

“How do you know that?”


“Lord Steam told me. He called it a re..re..ref…”


I smiled anew as she struggled and finally looked at me for help.


“A reflector?” 


“Yeah! It makes the heat come back.”

“It sure does.” I reached for my daughter as though I was going to give her a hug, but at the last second I moved and tickled her sides. She dissolved into giggles instantly and started squirming to get away. I noticed she kept her feet well away from the edges of the stump she was on so she would not fall.


After a while, I allowed her to escape and made a big show of how she had won our contest.  “Daddy?” she tugged my sleeve as she turned her head toward her sister.


“Yes, sweetie?”


“Felicia is hungry.” 


In any other child, I would have expected that to be a ploy to get some food for herself, but the twins had an amazing bond I never really understood. If Alethea said Felicia was hungry, then it was her sister who needed food.


“Is she now? We better fix that. And what about you?”


“Well, a little.” Alethea blushed as her stomach grumbled. From a few feet away where she was unpacking lunch, my wife laughed out loud.


“Why don’t you two come over here and have a snack. We can set the tent up in a little while. It’s a beautiful day.”


Felicia piped up before her sister could as she sat down next to her mother. “Yaaaaay!”
We had spoiled the girls a little, so our snack was tea and bread pudding, a treat both of them loved. Felicia started digging into hers immediately, taking huge bites.

“Felicia, slow down or you’re going to choke.” Alexandra was gentle, but firm. Felicia took smaller bites after muttering an apology to her mother, but I noticed she finished her pudding in record time and sipped her tea while the rest of us ate at a more reasonable pace. 

Once the crumbs vanished and the last of the tea had disappeared, I grabbed the tent.  Alethea was busying playing with her mother, but Felicia was right at my side to help me put it up.
“How does it work?” she wanted to know.


“It’s pretty easy. It doesn’t even need poles. You drag the corners out so it’s square, and then you put the steamer in the valve on the side and push the button. The steamer does the rest.”


“Can I try?” 


“Of course, Leelee.” She giggled and gave me a hug. I felt a special pride in being the only one who could call her that. We pulled the corners of the tent out, and then I held her hand as she put the steamer into the valve and pressed the red button attached to it. Almost instantly it whirred and pulled in air. In moments, hot air had filled the tent, and it was standing upright.
“How come steam doesn’t melt the tent?” 


“It’s not really steam. It’s just hot air.”


“Oh.  Why does the tent stand up?”


“It has some tubes that get filled up and make it stand up straight.”


“That’s neat, Daddy.”


“I think so too.”


With that, Felicia darted into the tent to look around, leaving me to put in the stakes. Her mother and Alethea brought pillow and sleeping bags from our vehicle, and Felicia came back out of the tent a moment later to help set them up. The girls put our sleeping bags on the outside, and theirs were on the inside. Felicia put hers next to me, while Alethea’s was next to her mother. Once everyone had their bedding the way they wanted it, we went for a hike. I’d spent quite a lot of time in this area as a boy, so I took us on what I would call a medium length hike, but with the girls’ shorter legs,  it took quite a long time. By the time we finished the hike, I was carrying Felicia, and Alethea was fast asleep being carried by Alexandra. I smiled at my wife as I noticed, and her face blossomed into a huge grin.


“We have amazing children.”


“They didn’t complain once. We did something right, didn’t we, Sterling?”
“Of course. They take after their mother, and she was the best decision of my life.”


“Flatterer.”


“Guilty as charged.”


We allowed the girls to nap as I prepared dinner. Tonight we would have a wild stew my father taught me about. I brought the beef from the castle, but this place was full of mushrooms and tubers I could cut up and add to it. I smiled momentarily as I remembered the first time I made it for Alexandra. She clearly remembered too since she grinned at me once she realized what I was making.

“Only the best for my family.”


“I can’t wait.”


“You always loved this.”


“Too right I do.”


Dinner was an animated affair as the girls talked our ears off about the things they’d seen on the hike. I loved hearing them talk about their experiences, and I would make sure they had a lot of them. If things went the way I hoped, my girls would never think they were any better than anyone else, and could identify with our people because of common experiences. For now, though, I was content to just let them enjoy their time away from the various pressures of Royal life. As we finished dinner, I noticed the sky was a lot darker than I thought it should be for late afternoon. I was still considering the clouds when a tremendous clap of thunder made both of my daughters scream.


“Right. Into the tent with the lot of you. I’ll clean this up.”


Alexandra followed the girls and I could hear her distracting them with a story from her reader as I put things away. I had just finished when the first fat drop splattered against the side of my face.


“Thank all the cards for timing.” I muttered to myself as I zipped the tent shut behind me. The storm intensified enough to make Felicia curl up close to me, and I noticed Alethea sitting closer to her mother than she normally would. I sang them a song about the Fool’s Journey to help them calm down, and soon both were fast asleep. I fiddled with the dials on the side of Felicia’s sleeping bag to regulate the temperature so she wouldn’t get too hot, and I could see Alexandra doing the same thing for Alethea. I loved camping, and the sleeping tech was an enormous benefit. Sometimes, I felt I slept better out here than I did in the castle.


Alexandra drifted off not too long afterward, but I could not sleep. My mind was too full of all the things I wanted to show them and teach them how to do. We would keep going camping, and they would need to learn to sword fight. Both of them would need to know how to prepare food for themselves, and a myriad of other things, I could not wait to show them. My mind was running merrily along when a gigantic crash of thunder startled Alethea awake. She screamed silently, and it amazed me that even in her fear she was careful not to wake her sister. She climbed out of her sleeping bag and curled up with me, her green eyes clearly afraid, but not terrified. The wind picked up, and I could see the rain outside was torrential. I did not mention any of that to Alethea and focused on the noise that woke her up.


“It’s just the thunder. It will go away soon.”


“What makes it thunder?” 


“Weather.”


“Oh. Do you know what it sounds like?”


“What’s that, sweetie?”


“Someone shuffling their tarot deck.”


“I… suppose it does. I never thought of that. You’re a smart girl.”


“I know.”


“And so modest too.” I ruffled her hair. Alethea said nothing, choosing instead to close her eyes. A moment later, she opened them.


“Maybe someday I’ll marry an Arcana and we can take the Fool’s Journey, just like in the song.”
“There’s time enough for that later, sweetheart. You just focus on being the best Knight you can be.”


“Okay. I’ll make you proud, Daddy.”


“You always do. Get some sleep, okay?”


She was already fast asleep and did not answer. I gently tucked her into her sleeping bag and then settled into my own. When I woke again, it was morning and I could tell by the way the birds were singing the weather had cleared. The rest of my family woke up as I rustled my sleeping bag trying to get out of it. Alexandra stretched and complained about it being morning already, which made our children laugh. Soon enough, we were out of the tent, and had polished off a simple breakfast. The girls complained about how wet and muddy everything was, but Alexandra explained that was just how things were after a huge storm. Since Felicia helped me put up the tent, Alethea was the one who would help me take it down.


“Daddy?” she called as she was removing the stakes.


“What, Alethea?”


“A stake bent.”


I walked over and took it from her. The wind had been bad enough to bend it almost to a ninety-degree angle.


“That’s the power of nature.”


“It’s scary sometimes, isn’t it?”


“It can be, but just remember that if you keep your head about you and don’t give into panic, you can think your way though anything.”


“I’ll remember Daddy.”

With that, we finished collapsing the tent and putting it away, before we stowed everything and were on our way toward home.


“Daddy?” Alethea spoke up.


“Yes?”


“This was a wonderful trip.”


“I think so too. I’m glad you had fun.”


My eldest daughter never ceased to amaze me. Observant and optimistic. She would make a fine companion for someone someday, Arcana or not. My thoughts drifted off as I started planning our next trip. Maybe Jules and his family would like to join us on the next one. I knew he had a daughter about the same age as mine, though his son was already old enough to be away most of the time.

A Life in Color

I was not expecting it. I don’t you can really be prepared, can you? We got our colors a long time ago, but I remember it with a vividness that takes my breath away even now.  I was working on her father’s farm, picking apples if I recall right. It was not long after the morning meal, and she was home from school and wanted to look things over. There were rumors that she was going to take over the business once her father decided to retire. I was new to the farm, so I had not met her before. When she came up to me, I did not notice her right away because I was focused on my work. I do not know how long she was standing there until I noticed her, but I do remember it was her humming that caught my attention. I found myself whistling along with her before I realized what was happening, then I dropped my basket and turned to her.

In an instant, everything changed as my world filled with colors I had only read about in school. I could tell by the sharp intake of breath that it happened to her too.

“H-hi. I’m Abigayle.”

“Um… hi.”

“Hi.”

“Yeah.”

“May I know your name?” She asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh, uh, Henry.”

“Well, Uh Henry, put your work aside. We should talk.”

“Oh. Yeah okay.”

I glanced at my basket full of apples. “So that’s what red is.”

“So it seems. Come on!”

She took me by the hand and almost skipped toward the Old House as I struggled to keep up, longer legs or no. I was too busy looking at everything my eyes could take in, and I was a bit surprised she was moving so fast. The flowers dotting the field were a breathtaking shade of yellow, but the grass looked a like a sad shade of green. Twice I almost tripped over my own legs as she dragged me along, but we got to the Old House in one piece, somehow. She darted ahead, saying she was supposed to go first. I shrugged and told her it was her house, so it was proper. 

“Dad!” She thundered she soon as she burst through the door. I looked at her in shock for a moment.

“You’ve got a set of pipes, Miss Hinchcliffe.”

“You mean I can yell? Yeah, it’s a gift. Don’t call me Miss Hinchcliffe.”

“Oh.”

Her father appeared in a moment with a surprised look on his face.

“Are you trying to wake half the dead, Abby?”

“I can see colors!”

The old man was so shocked he dropped his coffee on the floor. “Really?”

“Really really.”

Things moved in a whirlwind after that. Old Man Hinchcliffe took me under his wing and taught me everything he knew. I remember going around the farm and seeing all the various colors. Corn is yellow, apples are several colors, bugs are usually dark colored, and so on. I loved the big yellow tractor and decided that was my favorite shade of yellow. It was hard work, but worth it. Old Man Hinchcliffe was tough but fair and before long I could manage things on my own. Once he felt I was ready to carry on, he gave us his blessing, so I married Abby almost a year after we met. It might have happened faster, but we wanted to wait until she turned eighteen, just for the sake of tradition. I guess it made sense, though no one would have said anything if we had we’d straight away. No one ever messes with a couple who have found their colors. I figure it might have had to wait if we were really young, but I never heard of anyone finding their colors before they turned seventeen, so it was not an issue as far as I knew.

After that, we dove into building a life of our own. We had our first child, Henry Junior almost a year after that, and before we knew it, was talking, walking, and giving his mother and me gray hair Toughest job you’ll ever do, but so worth every moment. Before we knew it, he was off to school in his favorite brown corduroy pants and yellow shirt, much to Abby’s dismay. Time passes faster than you know, doesn’t it? They grow up so fast, and life seems to move by faster than we would like, especially when you’re not looking.

Henry’s sister Amber was born about two years later, a splitting image of her mother with green eyes and brown hair. She kept us on our toes more than Henry tended to, and only kept it up as she got older. Their teen years… do not get me started. It was about a year after Amber was born that Old Man Hinchcliffe passed away. It turns out black looks the same after you have your colors as it does before. So does white, now that I think about it. Amber’s wedding dress was as brilliant shade of white and almost gave me a headache to look at, but I figured she looked amazing anyway. The man she married reminded me a lot of myself at his age, but his hair was brown instead of blonde.

I figured Henry would have looked as radiant in his suit as his sister did in her wedding dress, but he never got that chance. He was on his way home from college after his first semester when he was killed by a drunk driver. We all wore black for a long time after the funeral. No one should ever outlive their child, and I still hate that color to this day.

Life settled into a routine not long after our children were gone, but the house seemed empty. Abby and I talked at length but decided not to stay. Everywhere we looked, we could see Henry and the Old Man. I had to clean out Henry’s room on my own… Abby could not do it. We found a nice cottage out in the country and got rid of most of our possessions. One of our more trusted employees would run the farm, and I felt it was in good hands..

When we got to the cottage, she darted though the door first.

“I’m first in the new house!” She told me, grinning like she used to when we were younger.

“You’re supposed to go first. It’s only proper!” I teased her.

“Just like back when I told dad about my-our colors.”

“Best day of my life.”

“Mine too!”

I smiled as she turned and led the way into our cottage. I reflected for a moment about how her hair had gone gray, but she was just as beautiful as the day we met. Truth be told, her hair may have gone gray, but I saw only the gold. She would tease me about that, but I guess that’s how we all see our loved ones, right? No one is perfect until you love them, and then they are perfect in spite of their imperfections. That does not make a lot of sense, but it works for me.

We stayed in that cottage for almost forty years, and as we got older Amber and her husband moved closer so we could watch our grandchildren grow up. That was what she told us, but I think she wanted to be close in case something happened, and we were not going to object. Amber’s children loved apples just as much as we did, so I always made sure to have some on hand.

“Could be worse, Pop,” Amber told me one day, “She could be after the cookies.”

“Too right she could, but her mother raised her better than that. You’ve done well, Baby Girl.”

The thing I remember most about that day was the brilliant smile my daughter gave me, and how blessed I felt to have such amazing people in my life. I think back on those days sometimes, to help make peace with what came later. Abby and I turned in early…the cold just does not agree with us anymore. I woke up sometime during the night, but I was not certain why at first. It was only after I curled up to Abby and noticed something was off that I started getting concerned. A moment later I was seized by a wild fear and my heart thudded in my chest as I shook her, then called her name.

She did not answer, and I could hardly breathe as I pressed my fingers to her neck but could not feel the pulse I was searching for. It took a moment for me to understand what that meant. I got up like a robot and flipped on the lights. The sheets were gray. In a moment of terror, I glanced around at the rest of the room. The walls were light gray, the painting was shades of black and white and….

“Oh, baby, no no no no.  It isn’t proper. You weren’t supposed to go first.”

The Colors of Love

I’ve heard the stories about your world from time to time. They say that in yours, humans can see in color from the moment of birth… well, most of you anyway. I cannot imagine what that must be like, but I imagine it makes things more complicated as you get older. In my world, everyone starts out only seeing black and white with some shades of gray. You only get your colors after you find the person you’re supposed to be with. Like a soulmate, I guess. Some people say they do not get their colors right away, but for most of us the effect is immediate. In some ways, I envy the ones who have to work at it, but I imagine it opens up the possibility for stupid mind games where you’re from.

Yuck. How do you people stand it? What’s stopping someone from using the people they meet as a source of free entertainment and food or leading someone on for the fun of it? Not for us, thanks. Like most people around here, I did not have to worry about that. I got my colors some time ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was at a party for one of my mother’s friends; you know the type. I did not know anyone there, and I was bored out of my skull until I saw a burst of light behind my eyes. When I could see again, I dropped my jaw on the floor for a moment before I picked it up and jammed it back into place. I saw colors I had never seen before and knew only by reputation. The sky was blue, grass was green, trees were brown, that sort of thing. I was so surprised it took a few minutes before I came to my senses and started looking around. 

Across the field some distance away was a woman about my age who was giving me the most amazing grin I’d ever seen. Judging from the expression, I figured she must have seen her colors too, and had not been expecting it any more than I was. I broke into a gigantic smile of my own and made my way over to her.

“Hi. I’m Matt.”

“Hi yourself. I’m Lyric.”

I must have looked confused because she rolled her eyes. “My mother is a music fanatic. My sisters are Treble, and Rhythm.”

“Here comes Treble?” I asked. Lyric rolled her eyes again, and swatted my arm.

“Well, at least she’s consistent. Look at everything. Isn’t this amazing?” The colors were overwhelming to me, but Lyric was more subdued and muttered that it was a good thing they taught us colors by association. No one around here knows what green is at first, after all. I took her hand, and we wandered away from the others. At first, we surprised people, but most of them backed off as they realized what was happening. In our world, you never interfere with someone who has just got their colors, so someone led away those who did not understand, but we did not notice any of them. It turns out tree leaves are a different color than grass, and flowers have amazing variations. Some of them are vivid! 

I should tell you about the rest of it, I guess. Colors are not the only thing we get when we find our soulmate, it’s more of a bundle of things. Colors are the most noticeable, but we also get a better sense of taste, smell, and touch. You lot don’t have to experience that, do you? You get the sense of touch and all these great things right from the get-go. Taste too, you get straight away. In some ways I envy you, but in other ways you are missing out. The sheer excitement these sensations bring is indescribable.  I know one of you said they consider themselves an expert on eating because they took it up when they were little. We do too, obviously, but we don’t eat anything other than nutrition cubes for the most part. Why bother when everything tastes and feels the same? I think you would hate it, especially in places where cooking is almost a religion. I mean, we have our food artisans too, but to a one, they’re all married if you catch my drift.

As amazing as the colors were, I was less thrilled with some aspects of this new sense of touch. I grabbed a rose, which was more vivid than the rest, intending to hand it to her. Instead, I cut the hell out of myself, and I remember screaming something like, “Ow! Son of a—”

“What’s wrong?” Lyric gasped as her face clouded over.

“Thorns suck!”

She picked up the rose by the end of the stem and held it close to her face. Sure enough, they covered the thing in nature’s idea of a cruel joke. She grabbed one of the thorns between her two fingers and snapped it off, then did the same with the rest of them and smiled at me. “So it would seem. I’m keeping it anyway, it’s mine.”

I nodded, and we continued to explore. Leaves are strange because they have a unique feeling depending on what kind they are. Have you ever held an orange? Or stepped on something unfortunate? You know what I mean about touch. It can be dangerous, but it is almost as much fun as color. I guess sometimes it’s even better, but I’ll leave that to your imagination. We looked around for about an hour or so, getting to know each other, and the world in a whole new way before we finally headed back to the others, hand-in-hand. No one commented, though there were a few smiles that were not there before. 

That’s when we discovered food.  Several of my mother’s friends had their colors, and one or two of them were food artisans. Chicken and potatoes are amazing, and fruit juice is good. I even tried ice in my drink for the temperature change. Don’t get me started with ice. I figured out I dislike things that are cold. Ice hurts to have in my hand for a while, and it felt like it almost burned my tongue when I tried it the first time. Before, when I ate it, it did not seem to have much of a temperature or anything. Our sense of touch just does not develop until we get our colors — beyond the most basic to keep us alive. It felt good on my messed up fingers though, so I decided that was okay.

Once we were so full we could not eat anymore, we wandered off to experience the sunset. I never realized how amazing a sunset could be. Orange, blue, purple, and red and yellow. Lyric seemed to enjoy it even more than I did. She got annoyed at one point when the wind blew her hair into her eyes. After she fixed it, she forgot all about the sunset and played with her hair for a while. It turns out hair is soft and liked hers. It was a brilliant red and smelled good. I guess the stuff we wash it with smells nice, even though most of us can’t notice it. That makes sense in a way. If not, everyone who had their colors would riot. 

After that day, we were inseparable. No one here expected anything else, but I guess things are different for you, aren’t they? It was not long before we were married, and since I had a decent job, we had a nice red brick house of our own, with a garden full of flowers of all kinds, with almost every color of the rainbow. She tended it every day, and we loved it. We talked about having children, but neither of us was seriously considering the idea. Knowing Lyric, she would have a musical name picked out ready to go. That was just her personality, so I guess the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. Apples were something else she enjoyed. Vivid red they are, and an amazing taste. But I digress.

As far as I understand about your world and the people who live there, you can see color for good pretty much, unless something happens. You get taught what color things are the same way we do if I understand right. Apples are red. School buses are yellow. An orange is… orange. But that doesn’t really matter. My point is that you never really stop seeing color. The same goes for taste and smell and touch right?

Lucky you. That’s not the case here. As I said before, we were inseparable right up until… I remember this too, no matter how much I wish I could forget. I had been working late and was on my way home. She was driving home herself, though she was at the supermarket. I remember she was telling me about her plans for dinner as we drove. I often cooked, but she was better at it, so she was going to make beef stroganoff, with its amazing yellow noodles and brown meat, along with a green salad with red tomatoes. I was looking forward to both the colors and the taste. I could eat beef stroganoff until I exploded, and she knew it was my favorite. We talked about some other random nothings, but the dinner was what she was excited for. She always loved the way things changed color. Meat changes color when you cook it, though not so much with the noodles.

People here never tire of seeing their colors, or seeing how they can change. We were about to hang up when it happened. I heard her scream, and I heard a sicking crunch. I was so scared I had to pull off the road as I screamed her name. I felt a searing pain, and tasted blood. I must have bit my tongue, but I did not care. I spat out the blood and screamed her name again. I dimly noticed as I continued to call out to her that my blood was red, but not a good red, like the tomatoes she was going to make.

I kept calling, but she did not respond. I was hoping against hope, but something happened I will never forget. As I was yelling and pleading with her to answer, the world went black and white. I lost my colors. I remember sitting back, stunned and devastated. You see what I mean about colors. You guys never stop seeing them. I wish we were so lucky. I will never forget the day I lost my colors. I knew right away that calling for her would do no good, but I could not help myself. I do not know how long I sat on the side of the road before I called emergency services, but no matter how fast I called them, it was too late. My colors were gone, and so was she.

 It never ends well for us when that happens, though some hold out longer than others. I try to remember what colors look like, but I’m losing the memories. Sometimes I see them in my dreams, but more often than not, they’re gone. Even today, as I walk down the halls of the hospital they put me in, I cannot help but wonder what color the tiles are. The horrible thing is, I see the colors from time to time, almost. I get a brief flash but then it’s gone. I saw a nurse once here who looked very similar to Lyric. I think it was the style of her hair. For a half-second, the gray of the world was gone… but then as soon as I was done blinking in shock, the gray was back. My colors, and my love… both are gone. 

It tears me up inside to think about her, and I think it’s driving me insane. They have me on antidepressants, but I do not care. They keep me numb enough to crawl out of bed, I guess, but not numb enough to make me forget.  I cannot help but remember the day the color died. It was not just my colors, and it was not just Lyric. This story… these fading memories… they’re all I have left.

You are lucky, over in your world. You get to keep your colors, no matter what happens to your loved ones. I do envy you for that. As for me… I may have told you my story, but this body has no soul. Consumed by thoughts of Lyric, and of my colors… don’t cry for me. I’m already dead.

Please let me know what you think!

-Rowan

The Painting

We lived in our new house for less than a month when Grandma’s old painting started to scream. I was so startled I felt ten years shave themselves off my life. I was listening to a news channel droning on about another missing persons case… that made twelve this month. The noise jolted me out of bed and onto the floor. By the time I found my way out from cowering under my bed, the painting was a bit less vocal.

“Well, get out here, boy! Daylight’s a-wasting.”

This did not inspire an abundance of confidence, and I dove back under my bed. To my great misfortune, I misjudged things and stubbed my toe, so I had to contend with trying not to scream whilst trying to hide away and pretend I did not exist.

“Hiding under your bed won’t help you, you little snot. Get your carcass out here.”

I did not move for quite a long time. I had just about convinced myself I was imagining things when I heard the painting speak again.

“Charles, so help me, if I have to come get you I’ll tan your hide something fierce.”

I thanked every deity I knew of that my wife was out of the house this weekend. I heard the voice in the den sigh and fall silent. It took almost as long again to gather my courage and drag myself out from under my bed once more. This time there was nothing from the other end of the house, so I let loose a nervous laugh and told myself I was being an idiot.

“Chuck, old boy, you really need to lie off the sauce.”

Easier said than done. I loved tequila like most people liked to breathe. I crept toward the den on unsteady feet, starting at the slightest noise. I almost gave up the ghost when Tippy, my tuxedo cat, rubbed up against my leg.

“Tippy! Shh!” I admonished her. She looked at me like I was an idiot… she had said nothing.

“Cats,” I muttered. Tippy did not deign to dignify me with a response. She rubbed against my leg once more and sauntered off to who-knows-where. I crept closer to the den once more, hoping against hope I’d left the TV on. No such luck, as it turned out. The TV was black as death as I looked at it in dismay.

“About time you dragged your lazy bones out here.” Grandma’s voice split my thoughts again.

“AHHHHHH!”

“Quit your bellyaching, Charles John Tillum!”

My instinct to obey my grandmother was so ingrained I snapped my mouth shut without thinking. Grandma smirked at me from inside her frame.

“Grammy, how is this possible?” 

“Oh come off it, idiot boy!” “But Grammy…”

“Can it, Charles, or you’ll have Achlys to answer to.”

“Who?”

“I don’t like your tone! Now make yourself useful and get over here where I can see you properly.”

“Um… Grammy…”

“If I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you, now get to it!”

I moved toward the painting for a moment, before setting my jaw and turning toward the door. A thunderclap shook the walls of the house, but I decided I could brave a storm instead of whatever was brewing inside. I was almost to the door when Grandma started screaming again. I grabbed hold of the doorknob but jerked my hand away as I felt my hand burn. 

“Ahhhhh!” I yelled as my flesh sizzled. I tore my shirt off and wrapped it around my hand, then took hold of the knob again. I had it three-quarters turned when I felt a force drag me back toward the living room. I held on to the knob until it was torn off the door and I moved backward, screaming in terror. 

“I SAID GET OVER HERE!”

I curled up into the fetal position and rocked back and forth with my eyes closed for a moment, but then shot up and had every plan to get back under my bed. Alas, it was not to be. No sooner than I took my first step than I felt a hand press against my chest and push me back.

I snapped my eyes open and found myself face-face-face with someone covered in a black cloak and a face mottled with bruises. She grinned so wide I almost screamed again. No one human could grin that widely.

“Tsk tsk.”

“No! No no no no nononononononononono!” I muttered, my words running together in my fear.  The figure before me mocked me, repeating my words in a high-pitched voice. 

“This isn’t happening! This isn’t happening! This isn’t happening! You’re not real. You’re a bit of undigested meat or something!”

The laugh I got in response to that almost froze my blood. “My, but you are a feisty one.” The cloaked figure told me. All the while, Grandma’s old painting continued to scream. I tried to duck past the figure and get away from the den, but a hand stronger than any I had ever known grabbed me and threw me against the wall. I felt a wet spot form behind my head, and the world went black.

When I woke up, things were quieter. I was back in my bedroom, but it felt wrong, somehow. The air was hot and thick, and the door refused to open when I tried it. I strained my ears and could hear voices in the den… one belonged to the painting, and the other to the cloaked figure.

“You did well, Achlys. We are pleased.”

There was no response, save for a satisfied grunt.

“Soon, friends. Soon.”

“Wh-what?” I called out, but no one answered. I was not expecting one, but that did nothing for the terror twisting my insides. I yanked on the door several more times, but I might as well have been trying to pull the Statue of Liberty for all the result I got from my efforts. I had to stop when my elbow popped hard enough to send a shot of pain through my entire arm. A moment later, the door opened on its own. I shot out into the hallway, but almost tripped over my own feet when the door slammed shut again. I could no longer hear the voices, so I tiptoed toward the living room and poked my head around the corner. Achlys and Grammy were waiting for me, but Grammy’s face was twisted into an expression so horrible I almost lost my lunch. 

“Awake again, then? Good.”

“Wh-why?” I asked. I tried to move backward, but either my fear or some unholy force kept me from moving my legs.

“It’s almost time.”

“Time for what?” The painting did not answer. Instead, I heard the news report droning away again, but only in my mind. Before I could focus too much on it, a vortex of some sort sprang into being at the far end of the den, and seemed to open like a mouth, though I could not see teeth. I felt myself draw toward it, but my feet were not moving. The carpet burned my feet as I moved, and Grammy let loose a horrible laugh.

“Soon, Charles.”

“What’s soon?”

“Lunch.”

“But I’m not hungry!” 

“Oh, that’s quite all right. We don’t mind at all.”

I forced my unresponsive limbs to do my bidding for a moment, but only long enough to turn around. A moment later, I was being dragged backward toward the vortex again as I twisted and screamed in terror.

“Why is this happening?”

Grammy’s voice changed again, this time both mocking and horrible. “You should have eaten your green vegetables as a youngin.”

“But I did! I ate my green vegetables!”

My struggles and cries did nothing as I felt my body move through the vortex, and then the stinging pierce of hundreds of small teeth. The pain got worse and worse, but for some reason I did not pass out. I screamed in terror and agony as the teeth continued to move upward along my legs and began to devour my torso.

Another missing person case today, making twelve in total in the last three weeks. We advise residents to lock your doors and stay inside.

Oh. I got it now. Before I could consider the memory anymore, I felt the teeth lock onto my neck. The last thing I saw was Grammy’s scowling face.

A jaunt into the horror genre. Let me know what you think!

-Rowan