“Love Song to California” by Jen Hickman Inspires Audrey

LoveSongtoCalifornia_JenHickmanEight Percent

At first, the news reported the deaths at the tail end of the “if it bleeds, it leads” segment at the top of the hour. A handful of strange deaths in India. A small village in China. An unknown sickness hurting oil production in Saudi Arabia. All these things happened half a world away. They didn’t affect my life, so I paid them little mind.

By the end of the second month, the news filled with instructions on where to get vaccinations. How to stop spreading the contagion by washing your hands and wearing a mask. In the third month, the pharmaceutical companies gave away free vaccinations. Volunteers roamed homeless shelters and low-income neighborhoods. Sometimes the video clips showed them holding people down against their will and injecting them. God bless America!

They reported high numbers of sick people clogging up emergency rooms. Staff shortages due to illness became a topic of conversation in line at the grocery store. Canned goods and distilled water flew off the shelves. The huge box stores hosted fistfights and gunshots over dried goods. People coughed and sneezed, they left germs on door handles, but by then it was too late. The virus mutated and went airborne. Well, they thought it was a virus. Turns out “they” were wrong, it revealed itself as a prion. No vaccine on earth could stop it.

In the fourth month, the first major worldwide wave of deaths hit. The vaccines did nothing to stop the prion from tearing through the population. It killed the old, the young, and those between. It killed my parents and my three older brothers. It killed their wives, and children. It killed my aunt and cousin. It killed my classmates, my teachers, and my best friend. The bodies piled up at the morgue, but no one was left to bury them.

The talking heads on television called it the worst pandemic since the Spanish Influenza of the early 19th century. They debated if this was the end of humanity. Wave after wave decimated the globe. Even tiny pockets of humans deep in the Amazon didn’t escape unscathed. Globalization, the thing that had brought us together across thousands of miles of ocean and land, had also brought us to our knees.

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When Worlds Collide by Julie (An April Fool’s Extra)

*Go here to read the partial origins of this story*

Chances

Humming a tune to myself, la-dee-dah-dee-dah, as I close up shop. I exit out the back, cutting through the alley. My friends are waiting at the concert. There’s a message on my phone from the girl with the hazel eyes: I’m waiting for you.

Something tosses in the alley, glass tinkling, between the trash bins, and I drop the phone.

Hello?

A groan, deep like an animal. Then a girl rolls out, skin marked with bruises, blonde hair tangled and charred. Naked except for the trash stuck to her.

Who are you? she rumbles, yellow-eyed, and my skin seizes with prickles.

I won’t hurt you. I fling up my hands. I’m Quinn.

She snorts, blinks with reptilian ease.

Where am I?

——, I say. Heart of the city. Need me to call a cab?

Her voice stops me picking up the phone.

I think I did something terrible. She palms her forehead.

Her eyes sweep my suit, my shiny shoes, slicked-back hair. She frowns. There’s a question she doesn’t ask. I could ask her the same thing.

Fumbling, I unhook my jacket, slide it down my arms, offer it to her.

Here. You’ll get in trouble walking around like that.

She realizes her nakedness and laughs throatily. Smoke puffs into the air. She snatches the jacket.

My phone pings from the brick at my feet. She eyes it sideways, stare unnerving. I make a decision.

You did something bad? I say.

Her lips smoosh together, and she gazes at the dumpsters, the fire escapes, back to me. Rolls her shoulders.

Do you regret it?

She doesn’t answer.

I can make it go away, if you want, I say. Hazel Eyes might not wait for me.

The girl smoothes the jacket sleeves, just long enough to brush her thighs. She laughs, a more human sound this time.

I’ll take my chances on regret, she says. Why don’t you call that cab?

First I dig in my pocket and pass her the bills in my wallet.

Get some clothes, I say.

She smiles, her eyes mellowing to blue. Thanks, she says.

Once the cab leaves, my phone pings again.

Something up?

I start to type a response, pause. The alley sprawls empty behind me.

Can’t remember. See you soon.

~*~*~*~*~
A/N: Happy April Fools! I hope you enjoyed our mash-ups. We were inspired by last month’s Craft Discussion: World Building.

When Worlds Collide by Anne (an April Fool’s Extra)

Tower Bridge © Copyright, Anne Marie 2008. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Tower Bridge © Copyright, Anne Marie 2008. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

*Go here and here to read the origins of this story*

Break Your Heart

The snap of power used during the divination burns the skin above my collarbone. It takes the breath of a star to get to Cheapside, London from Réunion in the Indian Ocean.

London hits me in the face with unwashed bodies stuffed into filthy clothes. Ratty-haired women roam the streets selling themselves. The reek of burning coal and sickness hang heavy in the cold November air, a sharp contrast from the fresh sea air and white sand beaches. Like a pack of vultures, my psychopomps swoop down to join me on the street leaching color with their black wings.

Two boys, arms slung around each other’s shoulder, step from behind darkly polished doors. Power emanates from behind them, blinding me with its multicolored light. Light shining like a beacon in the dark. It sings to me. Tempts me to cross that threshold and touch every single person playing fortuneteller until the light blinks out in a wink. But the taller boy carries darkness in his pocket like a handkerchief. He’s the one.

I remove my black-lace gloves and follow. The gang hangs back; their eyes burn holes through the fabric of my gown. Usually, I remain out of human’s sight. Unless they belong to the Diviner’s Club; they see through my illusions.

“Paul,” says the taller boy, doomed and unaware, “stop holding a candle to the devil and give us the goods.”

The other boy shakes his head, and then moves the brim of his baker boy up and down on his forehead. He drops his arm off his friend’s shoulders. Good, I don’t want to accidentally touch him. They look behind them, Paul stares right at me. He holds a hand up as if to say, “We’re not interested.” I smile, wide-mouthed and bright-eyed. He doesn’t carry the mark; he’s touched with light. Interesting.

My buttoned boots click clack click in rhythm with their steps. The taller boy doesn’t notice a thing. He continues ribbing Paul to learn some secret. Maybe he wants to know that his true future was told in subtle riddles, but Paul doesn’t have the first idea how to tease out the true meaning. He whips his head behind him a number of times before his friend notices.

“What’s got your knickers in a twist?” The other boy scans behind them, seeing no one.

“There’s a lady following us,” Paul whispers. I catch his words as they echo off the building and continue down the breeze.

A carriage led by a team of four clops down the cobbled street, distracting both boys. I slide ahead of them, faster than starlight racing across the universe. Paul’s friend flinches a tiny bit when I brush a cold hand against his cheek. He steps out in front of the horses. One of them bucks up, kicking well-manicured hooves into the boy’s face and chest. He falls in slow-motion, grabbing the pocket of his coat where the darkness hides.

The carriage bumps and hops over his broken body before stopping with a “Whoa!” and harsh yank on the reins. Both driver and passenger leap toward us. A pool of crimson spreads out, staining the stones and reflecting the gaslight in muted sparks. I replace my gloves, feeling the brush of dark wings sweep past me. My psychopomps surround the body.

Paul walks to me and beats his fists against my chest. The men from the carriage gape at him. They might do worse if they could see he was assaulting a woman.

“He was my future!” he screams against the wind, tears streaming down his cheeks.

~*~*~*~*~
A/N: Happy April Fools! I hope you enjoyed our mash-ups. We were inspired by last month’s Craft Discussion: World Building.

When Worlds Collide by Jen (an April Fool’s Extra)

*Go here and here to read the origins of this story*

Firefight

“Gemma, lift!” Grace’s voice cuts me from somewhere near sleep. I thank the stars for that, because the sea is heavy on my flight feathers, misting my face with cold and salt. She swoops down to catch me in her wake and drag me up, away from the surf.

“You scared me to death,” she says. I laugh, though it’s not funny. “Only half a mile to go, looks like.”

“Where are we going?” My voice falls to the sea like lead. Grace looks over her shoulder at me and drags the air with her wings, slowing to let me catch up. She doesn’t answer, just taps me with her primaries as she flies. The sun is an idea on the horizon, spitting pastel pink on the trees we fly for. Her feathers are ash and blue in the waning dark, and I want to curl up next to her and smolder forever.

We touch down on sand that leads to woods, hiding our wings from the unknown. A river narrows into the woods, bubbling like questions. We find a hollow near the river, and I’m asleep before she can kiss me goodnight.

Pounding wakes me, rhythmic and fast.

Hooves. I reach out, catching nothing but leaves. Panic swells hot in my chest.

“Grace?”

“I hear it,” she says above me, tree branches obscuring her. “Come up here.”

I reach her branch and let the leaves envelop me. The pounding shakes our trees, but slows.

“Centaurs,” I say. Her eyes are widen. “We’re in Omnia.” We traded the abuse of one land for another, for all the talk of Omnia is of the death in their mines and their king’s dirty dealings with other lands.

These men wear his crest. They’re formidable Percherons, all hulking muscle and dappled gray. A pair of them pull a cart while two more guard the flanks.

“Stop here,” one says. “I want to check her.”

“She was stupid to run,” another laughs. A steel centaur pulls a tarp off the cart, and my skin prickles. What I thought was cargo is one of their own, bound and gagged. Her midnight coat fades into a torso that’s more bruises than skin.”He won’t have her for a daughter. I hear the wolves want her as a pet and are willing to pay.”

“Maybe we could play with her first.” They laugh again, and I can’t see straight.

Grace’s nails dig into my arm as her wings spring from her back, rustling leaves. Her eyes scream injustice. I know that look on her face, I saw it through the bars of my own prison on Maderas. I let my wings fall from my back, and I’m proud of her. There’s good in the killer and firebringer our land made us out to be.

A twig snaps. A centaur girl below us is golden and fierce in the morning light. She trembles, eyes focused on the cart. Her body screams in a silent way and I know her, too. She is us.

I jump from my perch and land soft next to her.  Grace shadows me, hands telling and soft on my hips. The Halflinger girl doesn’t flinch, but takes us in with knowing glances.

“Is she yours?” I whisper.

She nods, fire in her eyes.

Sparks fly from my fingertips. “Let’s go get her.”

~*~*~*~*~
A/N: Happy April Fools! I hope you enjoyed our mash-ups. We were inspired by last month’s Craft Discussion: World Building.