ISSUE 2, September 2016


Cover Art by Glass Valkyrie Studios

Unreturned
By Megan Manzano

Lucas peered in through the broken pane of the abandoned airplane hangar. I stood a couple of paces behind him, my bottom lip held between my teeth.
    "What do you see?" I asked, though there was a sudden pull in my gut that made me regret voicing that question.
    "Come look for yourself," he exclaimed, glancing over his shoulder at me. "It's creepy as shit."
    "Which is why I shouldn't be listening to what you have to say."
Lucas beckoned me forward once more when my feet stayed rooted firmly to the ground. "Seriously, Olivia, come look."
    He only called me Olivia under two circumstances: when he was really mad or when he was trying to get me really mad since I hated my full name. Olivia Rosenthal: like some proper English Queen that was to be fitted into corsets and ball gowns, meanwhile, my attire rested solely on tight jeans, t-shirts, and beat up converse.
    I stared at Lucas who had a hint of a grin on his face. He knew he had won and I knew it too as I approached the air hangar. From far away, it was sketchy. Up close it was even worse: a rusted shut front door and padlocks on all the others, crumbling brick, chipped paint to expose only more rust and dirt, fallen branches and the oddest thing, to me at least, a wooden bench.  It was a few feet from the main entrance and appeared to be in the best shape when compared to the rest of the building. I was going to regret this, I knew.
    And yet, I found myself peering into the same window on the door that Lucas had. To the right, my eyes were greeted with a flight of stairs leading up to a darkened floor. To the left, they were greeted with the words, "Property of the U.S. Government,” a few of the letters half missing due to what looked like bullet holes. This was etched into a wall that extended into a hallway which expanded into the space of the hangar. There were torn pages littering the ground, planks of wood, and empty cylinders.  
    I backed away, exhaling a breath I didn't know I was holding. "And they want to make this a recreational center?"
    "Right?!" Lucas' tone held enthusiasm. "To be fair, I'm kind of upset that they are because the story behind this is pretty cool. It was used in World War II as a place for American planes to land and now they'll turn it into a museum or something."
    "Or a circus," I gestured to the orange and red tent that was off in the distance alongside some construction trucks. The airplane hangar was on the opposite side of Fort Emerson field, a place that had been unused for years, though was a popular hangout spot for people to partake in activities they didn't want to be seen doing. The scattered needles, syringes, and condoms that Lucas and I came across gave evidence to such claims.
    I had never been at Fort Emerson before, but Lucas enjoyed adventures. He also enjoyed knowing things that other people commonly didn't: like the reason you felt like you had to pee when in water was because your body thinks the liquid within it will freeze or that the entire population of the world could fit in to New York City if they stood shoulder to shoulder. So the fact he knew the reason as to why there was an unoccupied airplane hangar in the middle of a field just off the coast of a small brook wasn't anything out of the ordinary.
    "We should go see the Circus."  
    "Another brilliant idea," I groaned, but Lucas was already moving, leaving me to choose between the circus and the airplane hangar.
    I caught up to him. This place was enveloped in a world of quiet. There was no wind to disturb the leaves of the trees, the overgrown weeds, and the upturned pebbles of the damaged road. Lucas and I were the only signs of life.
    "I wonder why they chose a circus," I commented.
    "Maybe they want to make it family friendly." Lucas shrugged.
    "To do that, they'll have to get rid of the hangar entirely and hire someone to clean up the garbage and yeah, I wouldn't bring my children here."
    "Eh," Lucas paused, wrinkling his nose as he thought. "I probably would."
    "Of course you would." I didn't bother listing all the reasons why that was a stupid idea. Instead, I tilted my head back and took in the clouds that suddenly made themselves known in the sky. There was something off about them. They were white, fluffy, but sharply defined as if someone had taken a pencil and marked off where each one began and ended. They seemed almost too lifelike to be real.
    "Hey." My elbow lightly brushed into Lucas' side. "Do those clouds look as weird to you as they do to me?"
    He pushed a few strands of his dark hair from his eyes. "Huh, a little bit... yeah. They look like clouds from a video game."
    "So it's not just me?"
    "No, though it would have been much more fun to pretend it was."
    "I hate you."
    The comment was ignored, all in good fashion. It was nearly impossible for me to hate Lucas, my best friend since middle school. We sat next to each other after our teachers had seated the class in alphabetical order. I had the habit back then, okay it hadn't really left, of muttering profanities and insults under my breath in response to the teachers or other students around me. Lucas heard about seventy five percent of them. Fast forward a few weeks of this cycle repeating and we were sitting together at lunch, hanging out in the school yard, going over to each others' houses. Our time was not as frequent now, both of us in our early twenties and attending university, so when we did see each other, we took advantage of it.
    "Seriously, these clouds..."
    Neither of us was able to pull our gazes from the clouds nor were we able to stop heading in the direction of the circus where the clouds were accumulated. The sky in the direction we had come from was a smooth sheet of blue.
    "Why don't we forget the circus?" Except it wasn't that easy. My legs were drawn to it, one foot meticulously moving in front of the other. I wanted to stop. I knew I should.
    "Oli?" Lucas' brow furrowed as if he had realized the same thing.
    "We just need to turn around." My legs did not listen.
    "Turn around. Got it."
    "Yeah, turn around."
    We were still proceeding forward until we heard the music. Music that caused me to jump, for I was used to Lucas' voice and only his. The song belonged to a cartoon, high pitched and cheerful. It was coming from the tent.
    "What the actual f-?"
    "Lucas, we need to go, now." Fear must have overwhelmed the spell on my legs. I felt like I had control of them again and before the opportunity vanished, I pivoted, and began running in the direction of the hangar.
    I heard Lucas behind me, the pounding of his shoes against the concrete. My heart was beating rapidly, the pulse echoing against my temples.
    I didn't come to a stop until I felt like there was a great enough gap between me and that goddamned tent.
    As I gathered my breath, I realized that Lucas and I were once again the only noise makers in the entire field. The music had faded away. I couldn't have been imagining it. Could I? No. Lucas had heard it too.
    He didn't speak for a few moments. He inhaled and exhaled. I studied the heavy rising and falling of his chest.
    "You okay?"
    "Yeah. Yeah, fine.  It was probably someone pulling a prank or -" He cut himself off. His eyes were hazed with doubt.
    "This is why I need to stop listening to you." It was a joke that would hopefully lighten the mood.
    "Don't even. What else would you be doing on a Sunday?"
    "I'd be on my couch catching up on shows that wouldn't freak me the fuck out."
    "I didn't hear you complaining." Lucas chuckled.
    "Sorry, I'll file a proper complaint next time." My words were drenched with sarcasm.
    Lucas gestured an open palm in my direction. "Thank you. That's all I ask. We've been friends for how many years, Oli? You should know the procedures by now."
    "Why don't we get out of here so I can get on that? Besides, I've had enough of a tour for today."
    There was a tug of Lucas' lips upward. I awaited his comeback with my arms crossed over my chest. I never received it for Lucas' eyes had widened and his expression went slack, the color fading from his skin.
    "What?"
    Nothing.
    "Lucas, what? What's the matter?"
    "The a...airplane hangar. It's-"
     "New..." I breathed, as I shifted my attention to the restored building. The paint was no longer chipped, the padlocks had been removed from the doors, and the window that both of us had looked through had been pieced back together. There was a low rumbling coming from the building.
    I stared at Lucas, hoping he'd have some kind of explanation, though I knew that was impossible. This couldn't be someone messing around. No one could fix the rotting air hangar in the minutes that we had been traveling towards the --
    The circus!
    I turned around, the same sense of compulsion from earlier washing over me as I searched for the red and orange tent.
    It was gone along with the construction trucks.  The only thing that remained on the field was the air hangar.
    "You know what we have to do, right?"
    "No." I protested. "Absolutely not."
    "Look at it this way. Either we leave and figure out absolutely nothing or we go over there and put our minds at ease."
    I wasn't sure there was anything that could remove the goose bumps from my arms or the chill that made itself home in my bones. Everything had happened so fast without a sign of explanation. Lucas had a point: that we would no longer be grasping for answers if we went to the source.
    "Alright, but I don't like this."
    "Neither do I." He met my gaze, his body still until he obtained confirmation from me, which was a hesitant nod of my head.
    There still seemed to be nobody around the hangar, but that didn't stop us from muffling the sounds we made. We treaded lightly and held our breaths within our throats until we reached the entrance. A light lingered beneath the door.
    I didn't know why, but I felt like I needed to take the risk. I pressed my nose against the glass of the window. The staircase was still encased in shadow. The light was coming from down the hallway. The empty space had been filled with desks. People, no, men in uniform sat at these desks writing, reading, and fiddling with machines that I didn't know the names of. Behind them were a handful of small planes with 'U.S. Air Force' painted on the side along with a blue sphere encasing a white star. Extending from both sides of the sphere were one red and one white line.
    I sidestepped from the window, my back resting against the wall. Lucas glanced from me to the window and then back to me.
    "There are soldiers in there, and planes; exact planes that were used in World War II. Even the uniforms are the freakin' same."
    Lucas saw for himself and as he withdrew from the scene, his lips pressed into a thin line across his face. "We need to go inside, but the front door isn't an option."
    "Thank you for that much needed information."
    He didn't respond. Rather he began scanning the building for any signs of an opening. "There," he pointed upward.
    I followed where he was pointing. There was an open window on the second story that we could fit through.
    "I'll go first." I offered for two reasons: one, I knew there was no getting out of this.  Two, I didn't want anything to happen to Lucas if this was a death trap.
    "Oli, I can -"
    "No. No. Just give me a lift."
    Lucas obeyed, lowering down to one knee, his hand extended. I placed my foot carefully in his palm and I rose up in a quick sweep. My fingers grasped onto the window sill and I pulled myself up as best as I could. I dropped onto the floor with a thud, too loud in my opinion, though nothing happened. No one rushed upstairs. An alarm didn't sound. I was seated on the floor of a darkened hallway. There were a couple of doors that lined each side and then the stairs that led to what I assumed to be the entrance we couldn't get in.  
    I had almost forgotten about Lucas until I heard 'psst' from below. I scrambled to my feet and extended both of my arms outward. "Get your footing and I'll pull you up." Hopefully, I added silently to myself.
    Lucas' foot nestled in between a gap in the cement and brick. Once he was close enough to me, I grabbed hold of him under his armpits and yanked him upward as hard as I could. He knocked into me as he came through the window, his chest pressing against mine. I pushed him off with a grunt and listened again for any disturbance from below.     
    It didn't come. Thank god.
    Lucas too was relieved and he slowly rose to his feet, squinting as he took the hallway in for himself. "Wait a second," he murmured, digging into his pocket and retrieving a small flashlight that he always kept on him. It was black with a picture of a dragon on it. The creature's tail was extended towards the end of the flashlight while the dragon's open mouth was the source of the light at the front. He had gotten it from some comic exhibition he had attended last summer and he carried it around for good luck.
    "We're doing this fast. In and out, okay?"
    "Okay," Lucas agreed.
We began checking the doors. The first one, with the name Officer Reynolds was locked. The second, with the name Officer Bryant was also locked.
    The pattern repeated until we got to the fourth door which bore the name Lieutenant Scott. As Lucas' hand grabbed the knob, I heard an "Aha" and then, "Door's open, just... a little...stuck." He rammed his shoulder into the wooden door, my eyes slamming shut as I heard his body make contact.
    Too loud. This time it had to be, especially when Lucas rammed the door a second time and it swung open with a heavy creak.  
    My heart was in my throat. My palms were slicked with sweat that didn't seem to fade even as I wiped them briskly along the sides of my jeans. Lucas was frozen in place. He expected the same result I did, someone coming after us. The only explanation I had for the all-too-lucky fate that had been dropped at our feet was the soldiers had left, or they were preoccupied with the plane they had brought into the hangar. At least, that's what I assumed was the cause of the rumbling from before.
    Then again, I had been lying to myself a lot since we arrived at Emerson Field.  
    We deemed the coast clear and stepped inside the room, closing the door agonizingly slow behind us. It was an office, a desk centered atop of a rug, two mahogany bookcases up against the back wall, and a notice board littered with torn pieces of paper that were push pinned into a map of the world. There were circles drawn in red marker that isolated particular places, lines as well connecting various cities, towns, or continents and a date corresponding to every locale.  
    "Oli, All of these dates, they match."
    "No..." I whispered as my eyes scurried through each marked point on the map.
    "Where the fuck are we?" I noticed it then, the complete erasure of curiosity that I was used to witnessing in Lucas.
    "...1941." The year crept forward into the air between us.
    "But that's not...none of this is possible. We didn't just travel back in time. Time doesn't work that way. The universe doesn't work that way."
    "I th... think we need to forget that for right now, Lucas, cause as far as I can tell we're in an airplane hangar for the United States army in... World War II."
    "No. There's gotta be an explanation, something..." Lucas opened the top drawer of the desk, a stack of files stamped with red ink: CONFIDENTIAL. He flipped each of them open, scanning through them as quickly as he could before switching to the next one.
    The longer he did so, the more paranoid I got. Any one of those soldiers could come up the steps and find us. There was nowhere to hide.   
    "Lucas, Lucas, stop!" I pleaded, my fingers fumbling for his and yanking them away from the files. The one that he had in his grasp however, slipped and the papers scattered around the floor. I began to gather and organize them as they had been, picking up on phrases like: body discarded, death caused by water boarding, operating under double agencies. And just like that I couldn't help myself. Men and women alike had been brought here and killed. There was no trial, no public announcement. One second they were alive and the next they became a document stashed into the drawer of a desk.
    Anna Bychkov.
    Daniel Gao.
    Artem Rzeckziel.
    The names seemed endless.
    My chest grew tight. Every breath took a greater tug of my lungs to achieve it. I shoved the file back in the desk with the others as if it had shocked me and closed the drawer.
    Lucas was facing my direction, but he was seeing right through me. He was realizing just how bad of an idea this had been. I wasn't going to let him sink. For if he shut down, going back home would be impossible.
    I wasn't brave. Just the thought of a horror movie made me jump. I was scared of thunder until thirteen, the dark until, well, let me not actually share that. I was the worst person to be in this situation with Lucas. I'm certain that he understood this from all the times he tried to get me to play the "coolest" game ever, or for all the times he tried to trick me into watching something that would cause me to scream or wet my pants, or both. I merely was going to pretend that the person he was standing next to wasn't the same easily triggered best friend he had known.    
    I was ready to get us out of there when there was a popping sound. My throat burned. I couldn't stop coughing.
    Then darkness rose up to greet me.
    ***
     I awoke to a sound I never wanted to hear: Lucas screaming. It was a sharp cry, sudden.
    I jerked in the direction of the sound, but was pulled back. There was rope around my wrists which were connected to a wooden beam. I had temporarily forgotten that we were in one of the offices when my consciousness was stolen from me. The records of what Lucas and I found flooded my mind and the contents of my stomach flipped.
    They weren't afraid of hurting people and they were hurting Lucas. I tugged at my restraints again only to be pulled back into place.
    I took a second, gathered my surroundings.  I was at the back of the air hangar, at least from what I could tell. Four miniature planes that were lined up obscured my view. Lucas had to be behind them. Another one of his screams rammed against my ears. A current of electricity ran through me. I grew more determined to free myself, my wrists burning as my skin made vigorous contact with the rope.    
    "Still determined on keeping quiet?"
    Silence.
    I heard a thwack, followed by another cry.
    It needed to stop.
    God, it needed to stop.
    As if my prayers were answered, the screaming ceased. I heard footsteps and scuffling; a soldier and Lucas. Lucas whose left eye was near swollen shut, his lip cut alongside the corner of his mouth, his shirt stuck to his front, the fabric stained scarlet.  He was moving, thankfully, but his jaw was clenched, biting back pain.   
    The man leered as he saw me, tossing Lucas to the floor.  He didn't bother tying Lucas like they had me, as if he already resolved in his mind there would be no fight. "See that?" He chimed. "That's what happens when you're not cooperative so I would recommend you tell us the real story once we figure out what we're going to do to you." He turned and headed towards where he had come from. There were voices, a murmured and static filled conversation that I wasn't anywhere near focused to make out.
    I inched towards Lucas, extended my leg so my toe could tap against his side as gently as possible. "Lucas," I hissed. "Lucas."
    "Mm...yeah."
    "Lucas, please."
    "Mm." This time it was louder. He rolled onto his side and through his uninjured eye, I saw that he was looking at me. But I couldn't bring myself to do the same, not yet, for the light that seeped in from the windows colored his blood an even deeper red, the bruises an even deeper blue and purple.
    This couldn't be happening. This couldn't be fucking happening.
    "T...they think -"
    "Don't. You need whatever energy you've got."
    But Lucas didn't seem to care. He forced himself up on his elbows. "He...thinks... we're spies. He wants i...information." He uttered these words in between pressing his shirt against whatever wound he had received.  
    We were no longer able to deny the fact that this place was dangerous. We were no longer able to pretend that this would fix itself. Somehow, we were in the middle of a World War with soldiers who wouldn't dare believe us to be anything other than foreign: the way we spoke, our clothes, our intrusion into their air hangar. There were only two conclusions for how this would turn out and I was unable to guarantee the one in my mind where we survived.
    "I g...got something."
    My brows lifted. Lucas retrieved a pocket knife that was tucked into the band of his pants.
    "How the --"
    "Magic." He chuckled, though it ceased almost as soon as it began. He inched himself closer to me, his palm clenched around the base of the blade. He was trembling as he cut through the ropes, my hands falling away from the beam. Etched into my skin were red lines that singed as the air hit them. Those were petty in comparison to Lucas' wounds; he had either been sliced or whipped across his chest.
    "Lu-" If he hadn't interrupted me with a 'sh', he would have heard my voice crack.
    "Wait for h...him. Then run. He's c...calling others."
    "Not without you."
    "I'll be right b...behind you." I wanted to believe him for Lucas always came through for me. If he made a promise, he kept it, except he hadn't been half beaten in the past when he had made these promises.
    "You swear?"
    "I s...swear." He smiled at me despite the fact it hurt and I believed him then. Or maybe I simply needed something to believe in.
    He'd be there. He would.
    I folded my hands behind my back and cupped the blade. I could hear bits and pieces of the conversation now.
    "Make either of them break."
    "...doesn't matter what..."
    "...different...I've seen."    
    "...still a spy."
    "We follow the same procedures."
    My breath was in my throat as footsteps approached where Lucas and I were. I counted them silently to myself. I held on tighter to the knife. Lucas shot me a glance and I nodded. I could do this. I had to do this.
    "You two are in for a world of fun." It was the same soldier from before, the only one here from what I gathered. I didn't like the way his eyes hovered over me, an unforgiving malice within them.
    A hand grabbed a chunk of my hair, jerking my head back. I bit back a squeak. I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction he craved.  My face was close to his. I could feel his breath on my lips.
    And that was when I plunged the knife into the side of his neck. I hadn't thought. I just reacted. His eyes widened as he pulled the blade out. The blood began to pool. He knew however, it was too late. I heard his voice curdle and his body started to tip.
    I had done that. I was the reason for someone's death. Lying there on the ground, twitching until their last breath. I couldn't dwell on the fact despite it screaming as loudly as it could within my head.
     I hurried to my feet and helped Lucas up who was thankfully able to stand on his own, although not without a grunt and not without his knees shaking. He stared at the soldier for a split second.
    The door to the air hangar opened and in came two soldiers, those who I presumed that the now dead soldier had been conversing with. We didn't wait for them to spot us.
    We took off, straight for the exit. The other soldiers were startled, but the illusion faded fast as they reached for their belt and I knew what they were going to draw, and that we wouldn't stand a chance if they fired.
    "Go l... left!" Lucas called out to me. I could hear his voice strain.
    I veered to my left using the wheels of the nearest plane as a shield for the bullets that I heard fire. One grazed past the wheel. Another followed. I sucked in a breath and moved to the next wheel, searching for the location of the soldiers as I went. They had split up, one heading towards the south of the air hangar, the other heading towards me. His eyes held the same intent as his comrade's; he wanted me dead.
    To avoid my death, I could either make a break for the exit which was a curved line to my right or I could keep hopping from barrier to barrier with the hopes to run into Lucas and avoid the bullets from those chasing us. I didn't have the time needed to choose as the soldier came around the wheel and pulled the trigger of his gun.
    I dodged, preventing my brains from being splattered about. I ducked to evade becoming like the man I had killed. The soldier growled, but didn't hesitate in aiming the barrel of the gun at me once more.
    I never understood until then what it meant to run for my life, to have fear pumping in my veins, a sign that if I didn't hurry, I would end up hurt... or worse. My feet hitting the ground were the only sound I heard. Keep going was the only thought that rushed through my mind.  I didn't stop when my chest began to burn. I didn't stop when sweat began to bead atop my forehead. I didn't stop when my tongue grew dry and my breathing labored. I didn't stop when there was a searing pain in my arm and shortly thereafter, my hip. It hurt, but I didn't care. I couldn't afford to care.  
    I stopped only when I had made it outside and noticed the tent was back. The goddamned circus tent. It stood tall and proud, mocking me as I collapsed onto the ground. You're going to die here, it said. I glared at it despite knowing it wouldn't react. The action was a small drop of personal satisfaction as I gulped in the air around me. In. Out. In. Out.
    There were smears of my blood on the concrete. My hand made its way to my hip. The wound was slightly deeper than the surface level of my skin. I stared at my stained fingers, the way more red liquid trickled down from a hole in my arm.
    I tried processing what happened. An air hangar, a completely run down air hangar, had transformed into a hangar from the second World War. Inside that hangar, people were tortured and killed. I had been shot at. I should still be running.
    I forced myself to a sitting position and then swivelled around. All I could see was an expanse of concrete and the air hangar, the once again run down air hanger. Where were the soldiers? Where was Lucas? He told me he'd make it.
    "LUCAS!” I called out only to receive an echo in return.
    I waited five seconds and tried again. The echo answered once more.
    There was only one thing for me to do; head back to the air hangar. My body ached at the conclusion I drew, but I fought against it. Lucas could still be in there. No. Lucas had to be in there.
    I hobbled towards the air hangar. It was a stupid idea. I had no plan and no weapon, but Lucas was in there and that was all that mattered. The air hangar was empty, abandoned, the glass in the panel of the door broken. The only difference was the door was no longer locked. I pressed my bloody palm against it, watched with folded lips as it swung open. Papers along with empty bullet shells were scattered on the floor. There were no people - just like before. Except it wasn't just like before because Lucas wasn't there and the air around me was heavy.
    Time slowed with each step I took. I kept my arms close to my body as if they would somehow protect me. They wouldn't, not if someone jumped out and grabbed me, not if someone shoved something into either one of my wounds, not if someone pulled the trigger of a gun. They most especially wouldn't save me from what I saw when I glanced down at my feet. Smudged with dirt was a half sheet of torn paper with the word ‘Thompson’ in the upper right hand corner.
    Thompson.
    Lucas Thompson.
    I picked up the sheet with shaking hands. I made it about four words in before I dropped it, like I had been shocked.
    His throat had been slit. His. Throat. Had. Been. Slit. The sentence became a mantra in my head. The oxygen around me grew thin, my breathing shallow.
    It wasn't possible. None of this was possible.  
    "L...Lucas. This...this isn't funny." I didn't recognize the sound of my voice, the way it shook.
    I backed away from the paper. Something crunched under my feet. I didn't want to look. I didn't want to be a part of this sick joke any more.
    I betrayed myself, my eyes shifting to the black and crumbled pieces that were under my sneaker. Black and crumbled pieces with an open dragon's mouth.
    I...no, no, no, no, no, no.
    A scream erupted from my throat. I didn't believe I'd ever stop.
   

Megan Manzano

Megan Manzano recently graduated University with a Bachelor's degree in English. She is a resident of New York City and has been published in Everyday Fiction, Maudlin House, and Firefly Magazine. She recently picked up a job as an editor for Fantasy Works Publishing. Her favorite activities include reading, blogging, finding ways to travel, and expressing her imagination through writing.

Dolls for Deities
By Russell Hemmell

It had been a long and surprisingly dry summer in the coastal city of Nariehamn, and not by accident. Instead of bringing over the usual clouds full of rain, Lyrie, the resident Goddess of the lake, had decided it was now time to let the mortals know of her existence.
Lyrie was unhappy, and she had every right to be. She had been providing that ungrateful little town with fish, water and protection against ghouls for centuries and they had not even considered it worthwhile to offer her any token of appreciation. She was not greedy, but small offerings every now and then would have been a nice touch. There was nothing strange in her request, either: she knew for a fact that water deities were loved and cherished around the world. Whenever Lyrie thought about that shameless Brazilian Yemanja with her mermaid tail, she turned green with envy. (Fine, she was already green--hair, skin, and everything-- but still-)
Therefore, Lyrie decided that Sunday, knowing that the whole town would be by the lake to pick up some much needed fresh water, she was going to make her presence known and get all the attention she was entitled to.
She was not exactly sure of the modalities, though. She didn’t want to scare the mortals - after all those centuries, they were sort of family to her. How many had she rescued when stumbling in the water late at night after too many drinks, or during winter storms?
The only thing she wanted was a bit of respect, some company, and possibly flower wreaths and fancy garlands to adorn her underwater lair. Roses and lilies, if she could have a say.
I’ll wait for them to come to me, she eventually decided.
Lyrie waited until the majority of the people were at the lake with buckets and water-pumps. She emerged triumphantly from the water, long, green hair over green scaled skin with the delicate features of a banshee.
She sauntered along, full of hope.
"I am Lyrie, the Goddess of Lake Narie," she said to everybody that crossed her path. "I’m going to do something for you. No more drought. No more stress."
But, she soon realised in dismay, nobody could see her - as if she was as transparent to their eyes as the water she inhabited.
"Why can’t you hear me?" she howled to a group of little girls splashing each other.
No reaction.
Saddened and in a foul mood, she sat by the lake’s shores, looking at her reflection. I am ugly, she cried, with all these scales and seaweed-like hair; maybe it is not so bad they can’t see me. But they can still worship me, if I help them.
Lyrie had an idea.
She manufactured a small doll that shared her features (more beautiful, she had to admit, with no frightening scales) and let it float around in the water in the direction of the little girls she had met before.
"What’s that?" One of them picked the doll up, observing it.
"It looks weird," another said.
"Maybe it’s a fairy. Look at her green hair," a third added. “And she has pale green skin.”
At that precise moment, Lyrie made the rain start. It rained for days, and people danced in the streets. That was the end of the drought, and the little town could breathe – and drink - again.
"It was the Good Fairy of Lake Narie that made the rain come," the girls said to the adults, showing them the doll. “She is our town’s Fairy Godmother, who looks after us.”
Grown-ups are not known to believe in fairy tales, and even less in water deities, but since all excuses are good to have one more celebration, the town decided that day was going to be remembered as the end of the Summer Drought, and spent every year by the lake, where dolls like the one just found were to be made and tossed into the water as an offering to the Fairy.
It’s not exactly roses and lilies, Lyrie thought with a gleeful smile, but not even immortals can have it all, can they?


Russell Hemmell

Russell Hemmell is a statistician and social scientist from the U.K, passionate about astrophysics and speculative fiction. Stories in Not One of Us, Perihelion SF, SQ Mag, Strangelet, and others. He can be reached at: @SPBianchini.


Angel of Death
By Travis Brantner

Angel of Death,
        I am willing to pay you $15,000 in cash if you eliminate Jeremiah Stevens, as well as an additional $5,000 if you make it look like an accident.  Once you make the kill, I will leave the money in the confessional at St. Matthias’ Church of Grace.
            - X
Elizabeth read the note again and shivered with excitement.  Angel of Death.  That was the first time someone else had called her that and it gave her a feeling of satisfaction.  Anxiously, she adjusted the hood of her habit and tugged at her rosary beads.  Elizabeth was officially a hitman; and while she didn’t know much about it (she was a nun who had spent most of her time in a convent and the church), she knew it was a glamorous job.  At least, that was how it seemed in the movies she saw when the other sisters would go to town with her.
Putting the note down, Elizabeth began wondering where she should begin.
Jeremiah Stevens was the choir leader and teacher of the CCD program at St. Matthias’ Church.  His attendance was steady and he was a model parishioner.  What most people didn’t know was that Jeremiah Stevens suffered from the sin of vanity.  The only reason Elizabeth knew was because Father Michael got drunk at the last Christmas party and told her.  Father Michael also told her that it was drafty under his robes and he wished he could wear pants underneath them.
It had been an exciting Christmas party.
Vanity — The act of loving yourself and putting yourself above all else.  That would be a good reason for someone to order a hit on someone else.  Especially since most of the church members were strict and believed that the smallest sin would mean an eternity of damnation.  Someone could easily believe that Jeremiah was putting himself above God.
Wait! She thought, Is ordering a hit considered a sin, too?  What if someone then orders a hit on X?  And someone then hires a hit on them…This could go on for awhile, I could be rich!
Except that she didn’t know the first thing about killing someone.
This could be harder than I thought…
***
A few days later, Elizabeth stood in the rafters of the parish and looked down at the congregation below.  She had decided (after much thinking) that the best way to kill Jeremiah was to drop a chandelier on him.  The church was very old, making it possible that a rope would give way on its own and the entire thing would be an accident.
It was the perfect plan!
Elizabeth smiled.  She was so excited that she might even replace the chandelier with the money she received.
She watched carefully as Jeremiah walked down the aisle and stopped directly below her.  It was still early and there were only a few people present.
Good.  If I hit another person, I’d be doing Hail Mary’s for the next two months.  I don’t want there to be any mistakes.
Using a knife that she had tucked into her habit earlier, Elizabeth began cutting the thick rope that joined the chandelier to the ceiling.  The rope was tougher than she had imagined and the small knife didn’t seem to be making too much progress.
The coyote doesn’t have this much trouble…
Furrowing her brow, she began moving the knife quicker.
After what seemed like an eternity (or just a small time in purgatory), the knife began moving through the rope.  She almost let herself smile again until she noticed that Jeremiah wasn’t below her anymore.  Instead, an older gentleman who looked to be in his mid-40’s was standing below her.  Wearing brown pants, a white dress shirt, and brown suspenders, the mustached man looked like he belonged in a family board game, not Sunday mass.
She froze.
Had she cut through too much of the rope?
Elizabeth let out a sigh of relief when she saw that she had only cut through an eighth of the rope.  Surely it would still hold the chandelier.
Slowly, she tucked the knife back into her habit and began walking toward the ladder to join the rest of the congregation.  She would have to kill Jeremiah another way.
Placing one hand on the ladder, she was about to begin her descent when she heard a dull creaking noise, followed by a loud SNAP!  Looking back in the direction she had just come from, Elizabeth saw that the chandelier was missing.  A chill ran down her spine as a loud crash filled the church.
Her eyes instantly went to the congregation below and saw that the chandelier had crashed to the ground.  Thankfully, the man in brown had managed to stay out of harm's way, but the chandelier had landed directly behind him, leaving him with a terrified expression.  Other church goers were beginning to walk toward him.
Son of a bi— Elizabeth began before catching herself.  Feeling guilty, she crossed herself and finished her climb to the ground.
Maybe Jeremiah knew about the hit on him and thwarted my plan on purpose…He could be my nemesis.
She let a smile play across her lips and joined the rest of the congregation.  While she was sure that Jeremiah would be a worthy opponent, she would get him later.
***
Crouching behind one of the tall, gold candle holders near the front of the church, Elizabeth watched Jeremiah Stevens talk to some of the other members.  The service had been delayed briefly to clean up the mess from the ‘faulty’ chandelier.  Now that it was over, everyone was talking to each other about the sermon (it had been about the Ten Commandments).
Elizabeth planned to use the confusion and large gathering to her advantage.  When Jeremiah Stevens walked by, she was going to stagger into one of the lit candles like she had tripped and catch him on fire.  Then she would watch her nemesis die and collect the money.  This plan was perfect, unlike her previous plan.
I’m becoming better at this already!  I’m going to be rich!
Elizabeth could feel her heart racing in her chest.  Jeremiah was slowly getting closer.  It would only be a matter of time before she would act.
Finally, Jeremiah was in position.  Taking a deep breath, Elizabeth heaved herself forward, staggering, and knocked the candle over.  However, her triumph was short lived.  At the same time she began to ‘fall,’ an elderly woman shoved Jeremiah out of the way and moved into the path of the candle.
“Zachery!  Come meet my granddaughter!  She’s single and I think you’d both make—AHH!”
The candle had fallen as planned, but caught the old woman’s hair on fire.
“Son of a bit—Oh Mother Mary,” Elizabeth said crossing herself.
By now, people were rushing to help the older woman.  Jeremiah Stevens was yelling for someone to call 911.
It appears he’s smarter than I expected…He knew that woman would do that and just wanted to give me a false sense of accomplishment.  I definitely underestimated him.
Sighing, Elizabeth slowly made her way from the group and began heading toward the nun’s corridor.  She would have to regroup and strike when he least expected it.  But what if he launched a counterattack against her?  She had never thought about that.  Did Hitmen ever become targets themselves?
Elizabeth was so lost in thought that she almost didn’t hear the voice calling her name.
“Sister Elizabeth!  A word please?”
She turned around and stopped.  It was Father Michael, the Church Priest.
“Sister Elizabeth, I know why these accidents have been happening…”
“Oh?” she said, trying to sound like she didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Yes.  I ordered the hit.”
“You did?”  She didn’t see that coming.
“I was playing golf two weeks ago with Jeremiah Stevens. We have an ongoing bet every time we play.  I won’t tell you the details of the bet except to say that preaching in women’s underwear is extremely uncomfortable.  I was about to win, but that…” Father Michael paused and crossed himself, “that Heathen began whistling.  I tried to ignore him, but I missed and he ended up winning… Again.  Sister Elizabeth, I couldn’t take losing another bet to him.  I decided I had to have him killed.  I saw your add on the Church bulletin board and knew it was you.  Only you would try to use church terms in clever puns.  Everyone thought you were kidding, but I decided to see if you were serious and left you that note.  Sister Elizabeth, if you don’t stop this, I’m not going to have a church to oversee.”
“It’s OK, I’ve decided to abandon being a hitman.  I think Jeremiah was onto my plan anyway and outsmarted me at every turn.”
Father Michael clapped Elizabeth on the back and lead her back toward the worship room. “It’s for the best, Sister Elizabeth.  Let this be a lesson to both of us that God has intended for us to help people and share His love, not to kill off parishioners… No matter how terrible they may be.”
The two of them entered the large worship room to find that the ambulance had already taken the older woman to the hospital.  There were only a few people left, talking about the day’s events.  Father Michael motioned toward the people and was about to speak when a loud scream echoed off the walls.
Turning toward the noise, they saw Jeremiah Stevens trip over a piece of the chandelier that was missed during clean up and fall down the stairs near the entrance.  Rushing over, both Sister Elizabeth and Father Michael saw Jeremiah lying at the bottom, his neck obviously broken.
“Oh my goodness!  The Hand of God has intervened!”  Sister Elizabeth exclaimed.  Then, turning to look at Father Michael, “Do I still get the $20,000?”


Travis Brantner

​Travis Brantner is a 27 year old EMT in Pennsylvania who lives with his wife. He has been writing since he was 6. Travis often finds humor in the most unexpected place, and seeks to share that insight through his writing.


​​Albino Rhino
By Jacqueline Seewald
    
"This one’s guaranteed to win you the Pulitzer."
    "Yeah, and if I believe that, you’ve probably got a nice little bridge to sell me over in Brooklyn."    
    Dave Carter, Editor-in-Chief at Person Magazine, gave me a condescending smile. “Now, Sara, I don’t deserve that. I’ve never misled you.”
    This, of course, was a load of horse manure, and we both knew it.  
    “I think you should be delighted to interview the famous, charismatic Chad Wainright. Rumor has it he’s planning to run for the Senate in the next election. People want to read about him. And you do a hard-hitting interview. We already cleared it with Wainright. He’s delighted to have you talk to him about his new book, It Takes a Cowboy.”
    “I can hardly wait to read it for the insights.”
    “No need to be sarcastic, Sara. Didn’t we hire you to cover the literary scene?”
    I studied the light reflecting off his bald pate. “That’s right. But most literary editors don’t have to traipse around the country. They just review books.”
    “Think of it as a job perk.”
    I rolled my eyes.
    “Besides, you’re a reporter. You’re supposed to go wherever the story takes you.”
    I gave him a look that told him exactly where I thought he should go. "Have you confused me with Heraldo Rivera by any chance?"
    “Of course, if you don’t like it, you can feel free to discuss the matter with Mr. Andrews.” Dave's voice was saccharine sweet. It was followed by one of his nasty I-got-you-now smiles.
    Seeing Mr. Andrews, our publisher, was the ultimate threat. Reporters like me saw him only three times: once after being hired, at which time he condescends to shake your hand, second time, if you happen to win an award, and third, if you're being fired. Well, I wasn’t winning the Pulitzer as yet so Dave’s suggestion made me a tad nervous. Still, I wasn’t giving in yet either. The man always saved the worst assignments for me--so I was wary.
    “Why aren’t you giving this to one of the guys? Wainright is a macho man and a male chauvinist to boot. It seems to me he‘d relate better to another man.”
    “Male reporters respond to Wainright with awe. Jeff would be taken in by his good-old-boy ways and Frank would get down on his knees, grovel and worship the man like he was cast in bronze. I want a story that cuts deep.”
    I was a little surprised by this. “So you don’t want a glowing, gushing whitewash?”
    “Nope. This magazine stands for something. Put that irritating, brusque manner of yours to good effect and get us the real deal on Wainright. How much do you know about his ranch?”
    I shrugged. “Just that he’s turned it into a private game preserve, a place where the rich and famous go to hunt exotic animals.”
    “There’s a lot of these big game hunting safari-style ranches around the country, but the buzz is that Wainright deals in animals on the endangered species list. Apparently, game like lions, tigers, bears, water buffalo and rhino can be had there for a price. You name it, he'll import it.”
    “There are lots of shady dealings of that kind. If Wainright is importing animals captured illegally by poachers, it won’t be easy to prove.”
    “But not all the people who run these ranches are retired movie stars and wannabe politicians,” Dave said, wagging a pedantic finger in my direction.
    “Just makes this assignment all the tougher.”
“The cowboy does have friends in high places,” Dave agreed.
“Better than friends in low places who carry knives and guns.” Then again, Wainright could afford to keep those kind of people on the payroll. “So you’re looking for a lot more than some fluff piece. Have I got that right? You’re talking the talk. No double-speak?”
    “Sara, Sara,” he shook his head at me disparagingly, “Trust me. Bring me something with teeth and I’ll see it gets printed.”
    “If I don’t get killed first.”
    “As far as I know, they haven’t put you on the endangered list yet.”
    Somehow the thought of myself as being hunted did not sit well, but I wasn’t about to quit my job with a first-class magazine like Person. My work ethic was too ingrained in my physique, and Dave knew it. The intricacies of our tortured relationship could have filled a book--unfortunately, a very dull one. These were hard times for journalists and my boss knew it. Newspapers and magazines are going out of business or cutting positions to the bone to stay alive.
So I took the next plane out to Texas. I rented a jeep in El Paso and drove off into the rural, open country of West Texas. The day was hot and dry, the road dusty. I sang along with the Dixie Chicks bemoaning lost love on a cold day in July and forged ahead like a good, little trooper.
    I’d done my homework and discovered that according to the last survey, Wainright’s ranch was one of over six hundred hunting ranches in the state. I figured Wainright was just typical of a mentality that looked to hunting as some basic divine right.
    The ranch was fortified like the Alamo. I had to stand outside the gatehouse until my clearance was checked. While I waited, I noticed the daunting electrified fence that was maybe twelve feet high. Was it meant to keep animals in or keep people out? It made me just a tad uneasy.
A character who looked a lot like a cowboy in an old western film finally greeted me. “Howdy, Ma’am,” he said with a wide grin that could have melted the hearts of old ladies and caused impressionable teenage girls to giggle. “I’m B.J. Newly, Mr. Wainright’s top hand." He removed an absurdly large black Stetson, revealing hair the color of melted butter, and then he shook my hand vigorously with his large, callused paw. “We don’t get many big city reporters down here.”
“I’ll just bet.”
As he led me through the gates, I had a sense of entering Jurassic Park.  
I guess he must have noticed my apprehension. “The animals won’t attack you,” he said. “They’re not like in the wild. We feed them real good here. But just in case, I keep my gun on the ready.”  
I could only hope he was referring to the Colt holstered on his hip.
“So, how big is this place?”
    B.J. didn’t seem eager to answer my question.
“More than a thousand acres?” I persisted.
He shrugged. “More like 15,000 acres.”
I let out a surprised gasp, but then Texans always do things in a big way. I got into the passenger side of his SUV and studied the scenery analytically. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a huge animal; a massive hulking beast with a predominating horn. The color was extraordinary. It was a gleaming white creature. I thought it actually glowed like a Medieval painting of a saint. It totally weirded me out. There was something other about it, like some supernatural or alien creature. I blinked and it seemed to disappear just as quickly as it came.
“Wow, that was some rhino,” I said. “I never saw a pure white one before. And that horn; really something.”
“Ma’am, you’re mistaken,” B.J. said in a tone generally reserved for retarded children. “First off, there wasn't any rhinos around just now, and even if there was one, white rhinos aren’t really white. They just call them that because they wallow in mud. When it dries, the mud gives them a gray-white appearance. And another thing, white rhinos have two horns not just one.” He pursed his lips as if he’d been sucking on a lemon. Clearly, my comments had annoyed him bigtime.
“Okay, maybe I just thought I saw it.” I decided it was best to change the subject. “You have a lot of unusual animals around here, don't you?”
“That’s right, we do. You got any other questions, little lady, you best take them up with Mr. Wainright.” He eyed me askance. We didn’t talk to each other after that.
B.J. saw that I got settled into a room in the country lodge where the hunters stayed. It was certainly no ordinary bunkhouse. The room was comfortable and clean. Then again, the magazine was paying good money for me to stay here.  
As soon as I got unpacked and went back outside, there was B.J. again. He was sniffing after me like a bloodhound on the scent and I could only think he’d been assigned to follow me.  I finally got fed up when my shadow nearly bumped into me. It was just too much.
“Look, I don’t need a tour guide. You can take off.”
I suppose I hurt his feelings because I didn’t see him again until dinnertime, which was when I got to meet the big Bwanna himself. Chad Wainright was a tall, rangy man. He’d starred in countless westerns in both the movies and on TV. He was surrounded by an entourage of admirers, all of them male.  Except for me, everyone sitting at his table had paid major bucks for the particular honor of sucking up to him.
I confess to feeling odd being the only woman present. With my usual perverse nature, I'd dressed in a Pepto-Bismal colored pantsuit. It was hard to properly accessorize pink, but I think it made the right statement anyway. This hunting for trophies was obviously a guy thing—most women wouldn’t waste time or money on anything as stupidly destructive as killing for sport.  
I studied Chad as he gave me a firm handshake. The aging actor looked pretty much the way he did on the silver screen.  There were character lines around his eyes and mouth, deep wrinkles etched on the craggy, Mt. Rushmore face. He’d obviously chosen not to have himself enhanced by the plastic surgeon’s knife. Clearly, that was meant to make a statement about him, just like the tanned, weather-beaten skin and lean, hard body.
During the dinner that consisted of barbecue, slabs of roast beef, ribs, venison and just about any other kind of meat known to man, served with side orders of beans, corn and fries, I tried to interview Chad. I already knew the basics, such as the fact that he’d been divorced four times and had at least six kids scattered around the country.
We talked about his book, which I’d examined on the plane.  It was evident he wanted some good publicity and so he proceeded to hand me his usual propaganda. I hadn’t expected anything else.  I didn’t bother to share my conviction with him that politicians are whores who’ll prostitute themselves for very little.  Somehow I didn’t think he’d appreciate it.
One of the men at the table was an overweight sales manager from Dallas by the name of Rick Lowell. He took in my pretty-in-pink exterior and gave me a flirty smile. “I’ve got three heads mounted and stuffed in my den. Bagged a grizzly bear last time. I’m looking after something really special next.”  His face was the same color as the rare piece of roast beef he forked into his mouth with gusto. I had the sudden thought that his head might not look too shabby mounted on someone’s paneled wall.
“Animal rights advocates call what you do here ‘canned hunting’ and say it’s more slaughter than hunting because the property is fenced and the animals have no chance for escape.  Since they’re fed on a regular basis, bred and raised in captivity, they’re accustomed to people, have no fear of them and have lost their instinct for survival.” I kept my voice even and non-accusing.
But Wainright wasn't fooled. His eyes screwed into bullets that he shot in my direction. “Ma’am, ranch hunting is a long standing tradition in this part of the country. Our animals are treated humanely. There’s no cruelty intended.”
“Fine, then can I come along on tomorrow’s hunt and see for myself?”
Everyone at the table stared at me as if I’d just formed a giant zit on my nose.
Wainright cleared his throat. “We don’t normally allow women.”
“Why not?” I challenged.
“Females tend to be squeamish.”
“I’m not like that,” I persisted.
“Are you an undercover investigator for the humane society?”
“No, just an interested observer.”
“I don’t think it would be a good idea,” Chad said with an air of finality. “Why don’t we meet tomorrow afternoon for a final interview. It’ll give you a chance to finish reading my book in the morning. After that, I’ll be too busy to talk to you again.” He was clearly blowing me off.
The room we were in was decorated in what could only be described as Contemporary Roadkill. A collection of dead animals was mounted on every wall, their glassy eyes staring down on us. Mounted above the mantle of a stone fireplace, I noticed a huge horn.
    “That’s a rhino horn. Biggest one I ever saw,” Rick Lowell said, observing my focus. “Where did you bag that one?” he asked, turning to Chad who looked strangely uneasy.
“I shot an albino in South Africa.”
    “Wow, and you didn’t take the head?”
    “Long story,” he said tersely.
    “Sounds like an interesting one,” I prodded.
    Chad shrugged. “No big deal. I sent the natives out to decapitate the thing and they got all crazy on me. They claimed the rhino was a spirit creature and that killing it brought bad luck. Bottom line, they wouldn’t touch it. When I went back myself, all I found was the horn.”
    The fat man’s eyes widened. “What happened to the rest of the rhino?”
    “Can’t say.”
    Beef-breath Lowell shook his head. “Doesn’t make any sense, unless it really was a ghost.”
    Chad laughed scornfully. “More likely I only thought I killed it but only wounded the beast. There’s always a logical explanation.”
    “Yeah,” B.J. agreed, “Ain’t no such things as spooks. Only ignorant, superstitious folks believe in them.”
    Lowell looked up at the horn again. “Man, that thing must be worth a small fortune. You know Orientals grind up those rhino horns into powder and sell it as an aphrodisiac. They think it has mystical power.”
"How interesting," I said.
Chad downed a whiskey. Something was making him nervous. I had every intention of finding out what it was.
I had a camera with me and resolved to get out and use it the following morning.  
So there I was up at the crack of dawn. I located the stable and asked for the least spirited horse available, since I was barely competent in the saddle. Luckily, the mare I got was old, gentle, and suited me perfectly.
It wasn’t long before I started seeing animals roaming the range. I took pictures of boar, elk, buffalo, along with some exotic-looking species of deer and sheep. The sportsmen weren’t in the area; probably these creatures were too tame for their tastes. I’d overheard one of the men the night before talking about hunting leopards.
I kept following along the trail, getting hotter and more tired by the minute. I was about to stop for a drag on my water bottle when I saw a party of riders just ahead. As I got in closer, I observed Lowell drawing a beat on a white leopard with a 35. caliber rifle. He shot the animal in the rump repeatedly.  It quivered and red blood flowed across the white fur like good wine escaping a shattered decanter. I did my best not to upchuck my breakfast.
I recognize an endangered species when I see one. Definitely this was an illegal hunt and one I intended to report. That was a no-brainer.
All of a sudden, Chad’s flunky was grabbing my reins.
“Let go, B.S.!”
“That’s B.J., Ma’am.”
“Yeah, well tell it to someone who cares.” Try as hard as I might, I couldn’t get free of him.
“Chad, we got trouble. She saw the kill go down.”
Chad ignored both B.J. and me. “Shoot it through the heart,” Chad told Lowell, disgust evident in his tone of voice. “You want to go for a clean kill.”
“Wouldn’t want the poor, dumb critter to suffer, would you, Chad?” Sometimes my mouth is bigger than my brain.
Chad gave me a cold, hard look. “I thought you were a smart gal. It appears I was wrong. The only thing smart about you is your mouth. I told you this was off-limits but you wouldn’t listen. I figure you’re as dumb as you are nosy.”
I would have told him to bite me but I was afraid that he would. A butterfly screamed in the pit of my stomach. Chad and B.J. herded me away from the group of hunters who seemed a lot more interested in Lowell’s kill than my fate.
“You ever hear of Langtry? It’s between Del Rio and Alpine.  Nice little town. Judge Roy Bean had his Jersey Lilly saloon and courtroom there. Now that was a man who knew how to dispense justice West Texas style. Judge Roy was good at punishing criminals. I sure do admire him.”
“I’m not the criminal here,” I pointed out. "Look, I think you're over-reacting."
Chad looked at me as if I hadn’t spoken. “Sometimes I get downright bored hunting these stupid animals. I’m thinking the best kind of animal to hunt is a semi-intelligent quarry.  Haven’t hunted a man in quite a long time. Never have hunted a woman. Tell you what, just to make it sporting, I’ll let you keep the horse, and I’ll give you a fifteen-minute head start as a handicap. You go anywhere you please, darlin’; do what you like, but God help you when I catch you!”
"Hey, you obviously think you can live out the movies in real life, but this is totally sick!"
Chad ignored me and looked at his Rolex, studying the time.  He'd obviously classified me as too-dumb-to-live.  
    I felt the blood thumping in my head. Terrified, I took off in a fright barely able to think. It was surreal. I felt as though I were a character in an action flick. Life was definitely imitating bad art. They were going to kill me! I was going to die! I couldn't catch my breath. My heart felt ready to explode. What had I gotten myself into?
And then I saw it. The white rhino still had its one good horn. It was looking straight at me, its pink eyes glowing. It came toward me, sunlight glowing around its pure white fur, and I wasn’t frightened anymore. I felt serene, safe, secure. I could think clearly again. Like Buddha beholding the Bo Tree, I had a sudden revelation.
I realized Chad expected me to panic and head right for those electrified gates, but I knew better than that. If I played his game I could only lose. I took off and rode as hard as I was able back to the lodge. When I reached my room, I locked the door. Then I went to the phone and called emergency, identifying myself as Chad's secretary and reporting a fire at the lodge. I extracted a promise that they’d be coming immediately.
    By the time I got off the phone Chad was knocking at the door. “Come out,” he ordered. “I thought you were at least going to give me a fight.”
    “I’m not going anywhere,” I said, checking my watch.  “You’ll have to huff and puff and blow my door down.”
    He fiddled with the lock and cursed. I guess he was trying to figure out whether or not he wanted to break in the door and make a scene that could be witnessed by other people. Not everyone on the premises worked for him.
    It appeared to be a Mexican standoff until I saw B.J. climbing up to the balcony by my window. Quickly, I located the two waste paper baskets in the room, filled them with all the toilet paper, tissues and stationary I could get together in a hurry and used a matchbox from my handbag to light them. By then I could hear the fire engines in the distance. Pretty soon the fire alarms were shrilling and the sprinklers were dumping water over everything in the room including me. As B.J. smashed through my window, I tossed the smoldering wastepaper baskets at his head causing him to fall backwards. Then I gave him a hard shove before he could regain his balance. He sailed backwards over the balcony, fell flat on his ass on the grass below and looked pretty darn foolish lying there groaning.
    It wasn’t long before two brawny firemen whisked me out of the lodge right under Chad Wainright’s nose. Needless to say, this was one corrupt celebrity who wasn’t going to run for politics after all. He was busted; totally screwed. So maybe I wouldn’t get a Pulitzer, but it didn’t matter.
    Chad’s ranch met with disaster as well. Apparently some large animal spooked the horse of one of the hunters who later claimed to be crippled for life. He sued Chad for millions on grounds of negligence and won. Chad who was under-insured ended up losing everything. A case of divine justice?  I couldn't say for certain but I did think the albino rhino would have felt a sense of satisfaction, just as I did.


Jacqueline Seewald

Multiple award-winning author, Jacqueline Seewald, has taught creative, expository and technical writing at Rutgers University as well as high school English. She also worked as both an academic librarian and an educational media specialist. Sixteen of her books of fiction have been published to critical praise including books for adults, teens and children. Her short stories, poems, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in hundreds of diverse publications and numerous anthologies such as: THE WRITER, L.A. TIMES, READER’S DIGEST, PEDESTAL, SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY MAGAZINE, OVER MY DEAD BODY!, GUMSHOE REVIEW, THE MYSTERY MEGAPACK, LIBRARY JOURNAL, THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR and PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. One of her poems took first place in the Reader’s Digest 2015 Poetry Contest. She’s also an amateur landscape artist and loves blue grass music. Her writer’s blog can be found at: http://jacquelineseewald.blogspot.com


About the Editor:
Madeline L. Stout

Madeline L. Stout started writing when she was a little girl and completed her first full-length novel at the age of 15. Mostly, she loves creating fantasy worlds filled with beautiful creatures and strong heroines. When her husband insists she takes a break from writing, she enjoys reading and gaming. She started Fantasia Divinity to give back to the writing community and to help spread great stories. Madeline has two short stories available on Kindle and other major devices as well as two books coming out in early 2017.

Visit her website to check out her latest projects.


Want to know more? Madeline is featured in an interview by Cathleen Townsend, where she discusses the magazine and her writing.