“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 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.

“Initiator” by Tian Miao Lin Inspires Jen

Initiator_TianMiaoLin

Willowreach

Opal

“Opal?” my mother calls from the hallway. “Are you ready yet?” Her words sound like razors and train tracks, metal on metal, but I’m past answering. She only gets sharper as my father’s presence fades from the house. The windowsill is hard against my palms and my toes stretch down to reach the ground below my bedroom window.

The summer grass is cool and sticky soft under my feet and shoes would have been a good idea, but they were the furthest thing from my mind. I run through the back fields and the tall grass swallows me whole, catching my hair and the breath I didn’t know I was holding until it rushes from me. This is Willowreach in the summer, all green, even in the dark. I run fingertips across rough tree bark as I pass and the trees whisper sweet nothings to me. I could listen to them all night, but I don’t have the time. I pass my dad’s grave just yards from where the river took him, and a fresher one next to his.

Fireflies light the banks of the river, like the slowest strobe lights in the world, and I’m looking for Indie. I startle a bullfrog from the reeds and he splashes into the water, the ripples lapping at my toes. Something heavy presses at my temples and it has a voice like blades against my skin. The draw to walk in and let the warm water have me is immense. I’ve felt the pull all summer, like a buzz in my brain, getting louder as time passes. Mud squishes between my toes and I swear there are voices in the water too. They say things I couldn’t repeat to my mother without getting slapped. An arm snakes around me and pulls me back. My feet squelch out of the mud, as if it was already trying to pull me in.

“You shouldn’t be so close to the water.” Indiana’s eyes are green really, but in the night of Willowreach they’re as dark as the shadows the trees throw around us. “It’s talking to you.” It’s not a question, but it should be. She always knows. Her eyebrows come together and she looks as angry as the water sounded.

“Yeah, it is. Everything is.” The truth hangs between us, heavy as a summers storm. I hadn’t said it out loud yet.

She spins away from me. “Shit.”

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“Angel of Grief” Photo by Days of K Inspires Jen

AngelofGrief_photobyDaysofK

Stone Wings

For my entire eighteen years I have known nothing but the solid grit of rock. Cast in stone for all my life, I live in the shadows of a world that knows nothing of my kind. They paint us as gargoyles. Concrete monsters, with horns and teeth. Creatures of the night, but that is not what we are. We are the gatekeepers. We safeguard the Souls drifting between the here and away. I don’t know what’s beyond this life on Earth, but I know I am to keep humans moving past it when they die.

For a rock, I have the grace of a falcon. Horns and fangs are actually feathers and skin that is all silk and slate. My perch is at the top spire of a sacred church. I was placed here because I was born here, and I’m sworn to protect the souls brought here after death.

The stone angels are more like shepherds with wings and at night, when the resting souls are vulnerable, we keep them from the Vultures who would lead them Underground to feed their kin. Like I said, I don’t know what’s beyond, but I do know what’s below. It’s no place for a Soul. So I fly, and keep my sheep safe from the darkness of a Vulture’s wing.

This night will be darker than most. Moonless and cloudy, the sky is a soup of vapor and sounds dampened by fog. My knees scrape the edge of the church’s dormer.

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“Loud Without the Wind was Roaring” by Emily Brontë Inspires Julie

Blue and the King’s Head

I.

I couldn’t go to her burial. I didn’t see the body.

She had run out on the moors, the skirts of her blue dress trailing, her feet bare. She left tracks through the heather and footprints on the mosses. It was foggy that day. Where she stepped, the dewy beadwork on the grasses was torn and scattered. The earliest spring petals were strewn.

At the earliest sign of spring these last years, E– came calling and we walked on the moor. She loved to climb on the rocks, cutting her feet but emerging standing at the top, her cheeks pink and the wind whipping her dark hair.

“Come up to me!” she cried, stretching out her hands.

But I waited on the ground, shaking my head.

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“Crystallize” by Lindsey Stirling Inspires Anne

黃金比例
(The Golden Ratio)

“Jin Zhēn-Zī!” Māmā shouted from the back room over the slam of the door. “I told you not to leave the back door open.” The sharp click of the lock admonished me further.

A pristine sheaf of paper laid in front of me as empty as it was when I first sat down. The chair abraded the wood floor and banged into the wall when I got up too fast. “I’ve been working on sums all morning, Māmā! I haven’t left my desk.” Only the second part was true.

Harsh afternoon light streamed through the shop’s front windows. It bounced off the metal hangers holding the repaired garments along one wall. Bolts of fabric were stacked on tables and piled along the other wall. The new embroidered silk tunics were displayed in the very front, the price tags discreetly hidden in the sleeves. The back room stood dark where the sunlight couldn’t penetrate, the silhouette of my mother blended perfectly into the shadows.

When she appeared — her eyes opened wide like an owl and her mouth a tense slash across her face — all the muscles tightened along my body. Another figure moved behind her, materializing into a man holding a long silver blade in gloved hands against the base of her skull. The brush dropped from my hand, splattering black ink all over the polished wooden floor.

“What happened?” I said, my voice croaked against my tongue. I swallowed and tried again. “Māmā, are you okay?”

She kept her hands outstretched above her shoulders. I knew that pose and curled and readied myself for a fight.

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“El Petó de la Mort” by Jaume Barba Inspires Julie

El Petó de la Mort by Jaume Barba

El Petó de la Mort by Jaume Barba

Bone White

I’m cradling him in my arms, but at my touch he shrinks away, though his breath comes in shallow, pained gasps. I thought I saw a glimmer of recognition when he first beheld me, then terror. I winged out of the ether, calling his name—a croak, a breeze, a grinding of bone against bone in this deathly form of mine. There he was, beautiful as ever, at the edge of the lake.

His eyes, blue as its waters, begin to cloud. His leg is twisted beneath him. He rests on a pile of stones at the bottom of the incline where he fell, in his panic.

“Cassius,” he groans, and though I no longer have the faculty to feel warmth, to feel anything, I can imagine that my heart would surge at the sound of my name.

I brush aside the hair that has fallen across his forehead and he winces, tosses his head.

“Be gone,” he says, and blood wells between his lips.

I came to bid him farewell, for I feared he had forgotten me. I was wrong, and I see now that I’ve sealed his fate, too. continue reading…