ISSUE 20, March 2018

Cover Art by Glass Valkyrie Studios

*Please enjoy our monthly issue for free. Be aware however, that this free version contains some formatting issues such as the abscence of italics. To experience the stories in their properly formatted versions, you can purchase a copy on Kindle or a print edition through Amazon.

By Vonnie Winslow Crist

    The beekeeper stood in the woods, watched the maple boughs sway, and listened to the angels singing in the trees. Though he had not known who was doing the singing as a child, Porter had always heard angels. When he was young, he liked to scramble up tree trunks, sit among the branches, and listen to the lullabies murmured by the tree-voices.  
    He glanced across his yard at the red and white sign nailed above the side entrance to his next-door neighbor’s house: Victor’s Cuttery. The sign had been painted by Victor’s wife, Bea, twenty years ago.  It needed re-touching, but Victor did not want to cover up anything that Bea had created. Porter couldn’t blame him—Bea was a rare find.
He walked over to his beeyard. The hives were raised two and a half feet above the ground, sheltered by apple trees, and protected by a rock wall that surrounded the orchard. His mother and father had sold honey, fruit, vegetables, flowers, and Porter’s wood carvings at a roadside stand and several local markets. He had helped his parents when they were alive and continued the apiary, orchard, and woodcarving business after their deaths.
    As Porter closed the iron gate to the orchard behind him, he noticed a bee, alight on a rhododendron bloom, creep into its lilac depths. The blossom quivered as the striped bumbler lifted off, headed for the pin-cushion flowers sprawled at the edge of the perennial garden. He knew the bee was color-faithful, and watched her buzz from purple flower to purple flower, her furry body dusted with pollen.
    He wanted to delay the visit to Victor’s Cuttery, wanted to postpone the delivery of the carved angel to his best friend, but knew the decision was not his to make. He had tried in the past to deny the angels, but their constant singing had grown louder and louder until his ears rang and his head throbbed. Angels were not to be denied.  
He reminded himself that he had made visits like this to friends before. It was never easy, but he would survive the parting. Perhaps the hardest carvings to deliver had been to his parents. First, his father. Then, his mother.  
    Before delivering the carved angel to Victor, Porter stopped by the family graveyard near the south side of the tool shed. He traced his parents’ names, Leiper and Anna, with his forefinger, in the granite monument. His father’s death had been forecast by a swarm of wild bees clinging to a dead elm below the orchard—but Porter had known weeks earlier when a piece of hickory had told him to carve Leiper’s angel.  
    His mother’s angel had called to him less than a year later from a beautiful piece of cherry wood. Mother hadn’t been herself since his father’s passing, so when he had finally given her the angel, he’d felt relief.
    Porter knelt and then bowed his head. He was immediately surrounded by bees—bees dancing on blossoms, bees tasting the sticky sweetness of his sweat, bees carved into the marble tombstones. Little messengers, they carried his thoughts to the wildflowers where they traveled down the stems, through the roots, into the earth, and comforted the bones of the dead. One landed on his hand and as he gazed into its many-faceted eyes, he wondered what sort of blessing it was bestowing.
    He shuffled to his back porch, picked up a carefully wrapped bundle from the top step, and slipped it into his jacket’s pocket. He rubbed his face with both hands, pressing his callused fingertips against his forehead. The angels’ voices were becoming louder. Soon, they would roar in his head like a rushing wind. He could not procrastinate any longer.  
    On his way to Victor’s shop, Porter plucked several Japanese beetles off the tea roses in his side yard, dropped the bugs into a canning jar that he kept by the garden for just that purpose, and sighed. He could not bring himself to kill the pests. Tonight, when the fireflies were lifting up from the cornfields, he’d free the insects down by the woods. He patted the arm of a cement garden angel, whistled to a blood-red cardinal balanced in the mimosa, and walked across the lawn to Victor’s Cuttery.
    “Finished another one," he said as he stepped up into the barbershop.
    "Morning, Porter."
    He removed his sweat-stained cap and hung it on a peg by the entrance way. He unsnapped his volunteer fire department jacket, unzipped the right front pocket, and withdrew the bundle.  
"One of the best I've ever whittled," he said as he unwrapped a wooden figure from a square of plaid flannel.
    The barber placed his scissors on the speckled countertop beside him. He tapped his customer on the shoulder. "This here’s Porter. He carves angels. Porter, this is Timmy, Otis Lebow’s oldest grandson."
    "Nice to meet you," said the teenager in the barber chair. He raised his eyebrows and smiled but didn’t move his head as the click-click of the shears resumed.
    "Good meeting you, son. Hope your grandfather is well.”
“Yeah,” Tim answered. “Though he uses a cane nowadays.”
“We are all getting older,” observed Porter. “So, Victor, what do you think of her?" He held the carved angel in the palm of his right hand, slowly rotated her.
    The barber stopped snipping. "Not bad. White pine?"
    "Yup. Thought about working with walnut or maple this time but decided on pine." He placed the angel on the windowsill. "What do you think, son?"
    "Looks great," the teen responded, moving his head as little as possible. "How do you know what to carve?"
    He lifted his hands, palms up, in front of his overalls' bib. "The wood tells me. Each piece of lumber is different, and as I turn a block over and over in my hands, the wood tells my hands where to cut, what to carve away."
    Victor chuckled. "Porter, Tim is going to think you're crazy."
    "I'm not crazy, I just believe in angels. You believe in angels?" Porter stared straight into the teenager's eyes, brow furrowed.
    "Yeah, I guess."  
    "Let me tell you, angels are everywhere. They are not just hiding in the Bible or hanging off church walls. Angels are watching us all the time, are whispering in our ears. Ever get a funny feeling about something, say a train trip, and decide not to go and later you hear the train crashed? Angels. Or you're standing at home plate waiting for the next pitch, and you just know the next throw will be right down the center, so you tighten your grip, swing true, and get a hit? Angels.”  
    As Tim searched his pants’ pocket for his haircut money, Porter continued. “How about when you lose your glasses and suddenly recollect they're on the dining room table? Angels. Or when you get that feeling that you have been somewhere before when you know you haven't? People call it déjà vu. Well, that's angels, too. They whisper the future into our ears, and when the future arrives, we feel like we have already lived it. I tell you, son, angels deserve a lot more credit than they get for helping us day-to-day."
    Victor flipped off the razor. "Stop it. You're scaring the boy."  
Porter continued to study the teen. “How about bees?”
    “What about bees?” Tim said as he clenched his money in his right hand and worried a tear in his blue jeans with his left.
“Bees are little angels that transport the souls of the dead to heaven. Know why?” Porter didn’t wait for an answer. “Because they are the only animal to arrive on earth unchanged from Paradise.”
“Enough, Porter.” The barber whisked loose hair from the teenager's neck with a soft-bristled brush dipped in talcum powder. "Tim, glad I could fit you in today. Now, you think about having a good time at the prom Saturday night, not about Porter and his angels."  
Porter grunted, mouthed the word angels.
    “I’m not worried. In fact, I’d like to learn how to carve that well.”
    Porter’s head throbbed, his pulse raced. “Tim, you got a pocket knife?”  
“Yes, sir…a good one my grandpap bought for me.” The teen lifted his chin, looked Porter square in the eyes.
    “You find yourself a piece of kindling, bring the knife, and stop by my place tomorrow afternoon. Then, I will show you how to carve angels.”
    “Got yourself a deal,” Tim said and stuck his palm out. As Porter shook the teen’s hand, he felt a sudden lightness, and the hum of angels’ voices seemed a bit softer.
    Victor frowned at his best friend. "Tim, what’s your prom tux like?"
    "Regular, black with a white shirt and a blue bow tie and cummerbund," answered the boy as he got up from the chair. "Thanks for taking me on such short notice, Mr. Vic." He handed the barber eight dollars, started to leave.
    "Wait, you get change."
    "No, keep it. Thanks again. See you later." The teenager started out the doorway, paused, and then, turned around to face Porter. “I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.”
    "I will be waiting for you, son,” answered Porter. “I will be waiting.”
“Have a good time at the prom, and tell Otis I said hello," Victor called as the door banged closed.
    "Nice boy. Makes you wonder why he would ever go to the mall for a haircut."
    Before Victor could respond, the phone rang. As the barber talked, Porter looked at his friend's shoes, pale as wings in the dark forest of hair on the shop's floor. He stood, took five steps, and climbed into the barber chair as Victor scheduled an appointment for next Thursday.
    The barber hung up the receiver. "Doesn't seem to be enough hours on Thursdays and Fridays to cover my regular customers anymore. I'm slowing down."
    "We all are."
    "I haven't really taken any new customers for a couple of years now, and some of my old ones have died or moved away. Still can't keep up. Cutting hair two days a week is all I can do; three tires me out." The barber coughed, fumbled around, and found his inhaler. He breathed in a dose of the asthma medication, set the inhaler aside, and then, started to comb Porter's thick white hair.
    "The angel is yours."
    "Mine?" The scissors continued to flash.
    "I whittled it for you."
    "And the wood told you that was my angel?" Victor put down the scissors and picked up the razor. He was grinning.
    His friend laughed as he shaved the stubble off the back of Porter's neck. He put down the electric razor then combed some spice-scented tonic through Porter's hair. "Saw you working on the roses this morning. They look good."
    "Need some rain. I'm afraid the beetles will be bad this year."
    "You ought to get some of those bug bags from Smoot's Hardware. The ones with the chemical lures. Fanny Benson swears by them." The barber finished brushing talc on Porter's neck, unsnapped the protective smock. "All done."
    Porter admired his trim in the mirror, then handed his friend some dollar bills.
Victor counted the bills. "Change?"
Victor placed the money in an old cigar box he used for cash. “Can you stay a while? Visit? I had a cancellation, so I don’t have another customer for an hour or so.”
    “If you’d like.”  Porter pressed his lips together, leaned back in the barber’s chair.
    His friend went to the window and picked up the angel. “She is beautiful.”
    Porter nodded.
    Victor sat in a chair, examined his angel. She held her right hand up, pointed to the sky; with her left, she reached out. Her wings were unfurled. The barber rubbed his thumb over the carving. “You sanded it real good.”  
    “Tried to.”
    Victor turned the carving around, examined it closely. The angel's gown draped her body in swirling folds and ripples. Her toes were barely visible at the hem of the garment. There was no harp, no halo. The barber blotted his forehead with a handkerchief, rubbed his chest.
    Porter stared out the shop window at the cement cherub in his rock garden; it was surrounded by cement rabbits, deer, squirrels, and frogs. He tilted his head. He could barely hear the ceramic angel wind-chimes whispering from the dogwood branch draped over his herbs. A fat bumbler landed on the shop’s window screen. Porter felt his eyes welling up as he gazed at the bee.
    Victor continued to scrutinize the carving. “You know, I think this angel favors my sister Midge as a young woman.” The barber took a deep breath. “Of course, she’s gone.”
“You know, if you don’t like it, I can take the carving back.” Porter offered. The angels’ voices in his head grew louder. His ears began to ring.
    “Nope. I think I’ll keep her,” said Victor as he undid the top button of his shirt.
    Porter closed his eyes, listened to the soft chant of the angels, and smelled the air that wafted through the window screen. It was laden with the scent of honey.
    Victor blinked. “Looking at it more closely, I believe the angel's face resembles my mother. I recollect how she looked when the afternoon sun slid across the hay fields. We would all come in from the barn, and she’d be there holding the door to the kitchen wide open.” He licked his lips. “To this day, I can smell her chicken and biscuits, stewed tomatoes, and apple pandowdy.”
    “Did she serve honey?”
    “Oh, yes. She’d spread a layer of honey, near as thick as the bread, onto whole wheat toast early in the morning when the only sounds were the insects, birds, and farm animals.”
    Porter nodded, thought about his own childhood tending the hives and draining the honey from the combs. The finest apple-blossom honey flowed easily from the wax hexagons in May. Later, he would help his dad cut hunks of dripping combs to pop into jars. Next, they’d fill the glass containers with extra honey. Finally, his mother would hand-letter the labels: A,L&P’s Wildflower Honeycomb.
    The barber wiped his forehead again, eyed the phone, then returned to the carving. He smiled. “Wait. I recognize her face. This looks just like my Bea on the day I proposed. See,” Victor pointed at the angel’s head. “Her hair flows down her back in copper waves, and she’s wearing the muslin gown I bought for her in a dress shop in Philadelphia.”
    Porter remembered the first time he saw Bea. She had wandered over to his beeyard to ask him to go on a picnic with Victor and her. One of his hives was swarming, yet she’d walked through the cloud of bees unstung. Porter’s father had told him years before that only a virgin could pass this test. Whether the legend was true or foolishness, Porter had fallen in love with his best friend’s intended that day.  
    Bea’s carving had been almost impossible to deliver. Porter remembered crying when the old dogwood started to whisper her name. He vowed to ignore the angels, but he had barely been able to stand, much less take care of his bees when the heavenly whispers had grown to thunderous choruses louder than the scream of a jet plane. A thick branch from the tree tore off in a rainstorm a few days later. When Porter touched the fallen dogwood branch to clear it from his yard, his hands heard Bea’s angel, and he began to carve.
    And now, it was his best friend’s turn. Porter sniffed, rubbed his nose. He watched the angel turn towards Victor, saw the bright glow of her face.
    Victor’s lips parted. “Bea,” he exhaled slowly. “Look, she’s even got the nosegay of Confederate violets I picked for her pinned to her bodice. I picked the flowers from the foot of one of your apple trees, tied them together with a bit of ribbon. Didn’t know it then, but Bea pressed those violets and saved them in her diary. Found them not long after her funeral.”   
    The barber raised his hand to his chest, stiffened for a moment, and then, relaxed. The angel elongated, expanded, drenched the shop with brightness. She reached out her shimmery hand and smoothed Victor’s wrinkled face. Then the angel paused, lifted her kind eyes, and gazed at Porter. It was Bea. And for a moment, Porter thought she had come for him, too.  
    But, she shook her head and whispered the words, “Not yet.”
    Porter watched Victor and his angel as they passed through the doorway, strolled to the lilacs, then wandered across the backyard. Porter stood and slipped on his green and yellow cap. He closed the door to the shop as he left.  
    As he watched the angel lead his friend through an arch of silver maple at the edge of the woods, he touched the brim of his cap. "Good-bye, Victor."
    Porter shuffled home, stooping to pull up a weed from a rose bed before he climbed up the front steps into his house. He wiped his eyes with a handkerchief, cleared his throat, and hung his cap on the hat rack. His home was full of angels. They hovered in paint, needlepoint, embroidery, ceramic, stone, and wood.  
    He stared at a basket of his carved wooden angels. They were waiting for him to deliver them to a local gift shop. He would never know the names of the customers who received one of his angels, but he knew every angel served a purpose. Each of those angels had told his hands how to release them from the wood. Each would find its home, each would offer comfort of one sort or the other, and eventually, each would lead someone through death’s arbor.
He straightened a picture of the heavenly choir, then relaxed in an oak rocker by his bay window and studied the door to the barbershop. Victor had been Porter’s best friend all of his life.  
“Find a girl and get married,” Victor had urged after he and Bea had eloped. “Then, the four of us will have a grand time.”
“Won’t marry unless I can find a girl as good as Bea,” Porter had said. He never found one, and he never married.  
    Porter rubbed his chin, wondered who his angel would be. A cardinal fluttered to the windowsill, scolded him for his idleness.  
    He sighed, then selected a chunk of birch from a basket full of wood blocks and turned it carefully in his hands. Though he would not complete this angel until after Tim learned how to carve, he knew he had to start the whittling process today. He checked the window once more. The insistent bird continued to peer at him, bees murmured in the gardens, the silver maples swirled in the wind. The sun spotlighted the empty place where Victor had last stood, and thousands of angels hummed in the distant trees.  
    Porter picked up his penknife, began to carve. His hands heard wings struggling to be free.

Vonnie Winslow Crist

Vonnie Winslow Crist is author of "The Enchanted Dagger" (Compton Crook Award Finalist, Maryland Writers Association Book Award Winner), "Owl Light," "The Greener Forest" (eFestival of Words Short Story Collection Award Winner), and other books. Her speculative writing has been published in "Faerie Magazine," "Weirdbook," "Cast of Wonders," "Great Tome of Fantastic and Wondrous Places," "Fantasia Divinity Magazine," and elsewhere. A cloverhand who has found so many four-leafed clovers she keeps them in jars, Vonnie strive to celebrate the power of myth in her writing.

The Lace Forest
By Brenda Anderson

 A hush fell over the room. Captain Quimmy held up a new gas mask and pointed to Jobo’s black-framed portrait. Along with two others, it hung on the wall of our Headquarters.
Jobo had taken off his mask for a cigarette. A minute later, he’d hit the forest floor and stayed there, a deadweight. Our entire team couldn’t lift him. When we returned, his body had vanished.
The Captain pointed out features of the latest model. Would it have helped Jobo? Funny guy, champion, always in our hearts. Some of us teared up. When soldiers died in combat, their relatives could expect to bury their bodies afterwards, but not lace collectors like us.
    Quimmy handed out the masks and made us check them, twice. “It’s been a month since we last went out. Remember, the forest will use anything to get in here.”  She tapped her head. “Smells, memories, warm fuzzies, the lot. Right now, it’s shedding leaves, which means it’s distracted. Let’s harvest the lace and get out.” Quimmy’s eyes darted over to the new recruit standing beside me. “Are you OK there, Jenny?” She looked round the room at the rest of us. “Remember this: if it gets us, no one can turn us back into humans. Ready? We leave in ten minutes.”
    We drove to the scrublands where Quimmy called a ten-minute stop. We needed to insert ear plugs before we entered the harvest zone. Sunlight filtered through the treetops, dappling us with shade. Fallen leaves felt soft and springy beneath our boots. Every now and then, a brightly colored bird flew past. Time to rehearse the story of the trees. “I don’t care if you can recite it in your sleep, tell it again.” Quimmy used her hands to sign. “It will inoculate you against the forest. Do it.”
    We’d all learned to sign. Our hands recounted the story of the trees. A century ago, a traveller’s trunk fell to the ground from the back of his carriage and split wide open. The forest reached in and claimed the wedding dress that was packed within. Tiny seed pearls took root and sprouted. Delicate antique lace grew feelers and clung to the white seeds. They swelled into pods, ripened and split open. Fine lace pushed its way free, flimsy as gauze, then thicker, creamier, and curved into scallops. The lace trees threaded their way further and further until they occupied a whole clearing. Once, an animal got tangled in the lace and eventually staggered back onto the road, where it died. A traveller came upon the dead animal and saw the lace. He noted its rarity, its beauty and commercial value. He took it to market and made a huge profit. Soon, everyone wanted the lace.
    Beside me, new recruit Jenny loosened the strap on her gas mask and pushed back a strand of her long, blond hair. I pointed, and she tucked it back in place. We all stood up.
    “Remember everything,” Quimmy waved us forward, “and you’ll get out alive.”
    Jenny grinned.
    An hour later, we came upon the clearing, or what was left of it: a hundred lace trees shoulder to shoulder like women in a crowded ballroom. Quimmy pointed. Each of us had to harvest trees in a certain section. I saw Jenny adjust her gas mask and signalled. The strap hung loose, which meant she hadn’t secured it. I leapt forward. Too late. Just like Jobo, Jenny collapsed and stopped breathing. The others ran up. Quimmy looked down at Jenny, and signed something we didn’t understand. Beneath her gas mask, we saw her eyes widen. Oh no. Surely not Quimmy. Not our Captain.
    Something fine drifted down from the trees and settled on us like a veil, light as spindrift, transparent as gauze. Quimmy unfastened her mask and slipped it off, with a smile I’d never seen before: uncertain, overwhelmed, then fierce, exultant. She removed her earplugs and motioned for us to do the same.  The spindrift whispered: obey. So we did. As we removed our masks and earplugs, hope and joy flooded through us. Birds flew overhead and chirped. The music made us hum, tap our feet, want to dance. We held hands, male, female, it didn’t matter. To the cascading trills of the birds, we danced. Up, down, and around in a pattern we knew by instinct and performed with ease. Soon, we were whooping, stamping, swirling in circles, weaving in and out of the lace trees.
    And from behind one stepped Jenny. We shouted with joy! Had she hidden on the other side of the clearing? So like playful Jenny.  She danced towards us, smiling, laughing. New dancers joined us, attractive women wearing elaborate lacy gowns and headdresses. Handsome, open-faced men in fitted breeches and cut away jackets. We danced in pairs then formed a line that wound through groups of pairs. The lace trees themselves must have bowed out of the dance, as before long, the clearing rang with the sound of music, dancing, and laughter.
    Someone passed a long, white, lacy sash along the line of dancers. Each tied it round their waist and handed it on. In this way, we danced, connected by lace. Jobo joined us. We cried out for joy. Quimmy, with tears in her eyes, smiled at me as we passed each other on the dance floor. “I love this place,” she cried. “Let’s dance forever! Oh look, they’re bringing in banquet tables!”
    The music quieted while we ate, then started up again. This time, we danced even harder, and the intricate patterns of the dance became the swirls and scallops of lace itself. We’d become the dance: all joy, all pattern.
    In the years that followed, others found us. We watched them remove their earplugs and masks and ran forward to greet them, crying, “Welcome! The lace trees embrace you! Come, join the dance!”

Brenda Anderson

Brenda Anderson’s fiction has appeared in various places, most recently in Flash Fiction Online and Every Day Fiction. She lives in Adelaide, South Australia, and tweets irregularly @CinnamonShops.

When the Ghost of the Future Catches Up
By Mary E. Lowd

        The harsh blue light of Astralis II shone over the horizon. It cast long shadows at an acute angle to the shorter ones cast by the tawny, warm light of Astralis I, nearly overhead at this hour of noon-night.  The longest, sharpest shadow pointed towards the volcanic cone of Mount Kiyaro, cast by the pearlescent, spiraling horn that rose from Elliae's snowy-furred equine brow.  She faced the mountain; she faced her destiny.
"Giddyap!" the demon-imp on the unicorn's back shouted, digging his heels into her sides.
Elliae reared and whinnied, but Karoon clung to her, fists wrapped in her long flowing mane, tight as a tick.  He'd ridden her across numerous solar systems, through the vacuum of space, the glittering darkness of nebulae.  She'd spent eons lost in the void with only his telepathic whispers in her ear to remind her of who she was, where she was going.  But now they were here, and the mountain loomed before them.
"The spirits will catch up to us!" Karoon dug his sharp heels deeper into the unicorn's heaving sides.
Elliae knew they had at least a lunar month's lead on the spirits chasing them.  She had sliced through the folds of space with her horn, cutting across the empty blackness faster than any spirit could have.  Her horn had been designed by the All-Deity to carve through spatial dimensions, and her hooves had been designed to spring off the surface tension of reality.  No mere ghost could fly as fast as a unicorn.  The spirits' ectoplasmic structure was written onto the surface of reality and must fold with it.  Only a unicorn could transcend the layers.
Yet, as Karoon dug his pointy demon heels into her sides, Elliae broke into a tired trot with a sigh.  She had been made for better than this.  She had been designed for spreading beauty and love across the universe. From brightening a single moment with the sudden appearance of a colorful butterfly (transported through a deftly cut portal in space-time) to adjusting the orbit of entire planets into the habitable zones around their stars (again by slicing space-time into a cooperative shape with her powerful horn).  But ever since Karoon's master—Zilther the Corruption of Universes—had captured her, saddled her with his minor demon as a slaver, and held her beloved home of Lunaie hostage, Elliae had been little more than a carthorse, dragging Karoon from one planet to the next, ensuring none of them would grow into beautiful inhabited homes.
One wasteland after another.
Dead red planets.
Dusty gray orbs.
No life.
No love.
No beauty.
Not a world for unicorns.
Not a single one.
The peak of Mount Kiyaro grew closer as Elliae plodded across the desolate plains of this young world.  Bits of green moss squished under her hooves, and tiny insects buzzed in the air, but once she delivered Karoon to the volcanic mountain top, it would all end.  This world would never develop to its full potential, never know the beauty of teeming with kingdoms and phyla of life.
The last few steps were always the hardest.  While flying across the universe, Elliae could forget the corruption she was helping to spread.  But when she set her hooves upon the ground that Karoon would soon cover with lava and riddle with extremophile bacteria—rendering the planet toxic to any other life form—Elliae could not avoid seeing the shades of the lifeforms to come, the creatures who would exist if it were not for her complicity. 
Voices spoke in her pointed ears, and shapes danced before her color shifting eyes as she trotted across the plains and up the mountainside. These were the ghosts who would follow them to the next world, joining the fleet of spirits chasing them down from all the worlds they'd already visited.  Someday, those spirits would indeed catch up to them, but half the universe would already be destroyed by then.
"The day could be today," a voice whispered in her ear.  Not Karoon's voice.  Not scratchy and demonic.  But soft and fluting, like a strain of music carried on the wind from the past… or the future. A ghost of this world's future was speaking to her.
"Not this world’s future," the voice said.  "Your future."
Elliae whipped her head to the side, flicked her ears, and felt Karoon yank on her mane in response, urging her to keep trotting.  Still, she caught sight of an equine figure like herself painted on the air like a fading watercolor—a ghostly vision of another unicorn.
"Lunaie is already lost.  Do you trust the Corruption to release your home?  Ever?  Fight back now.  Save every world you can, and that means starting with this one."  The ghostly unicorn washed away in the hot, dry wind.
Leaving Elliae alone with her demon and her thoughts.
"Too slow, you stupid pointy horse!" Karoon screeched, kicking her repeatedly.
And suddenly, it was one kick too many.  Elliae swung her head, swished her mane, and sliced her horn through the air, cutting a portal through the folds of space on the mountainside.  She reared, stomped down her front feet, and galloped away from the new portal, towards the volcanic mountaintop.
Behind the unicorn and her demon-rider, the portal poured forth spirits and ghosts who'd been chasing them for eons across the vastness of space.  All of them displaced.  All of them homeless.
At the lip of Mount Kiyaro's volcanic cone, Karoon leapt off the unicorn's back and screamed at her.  "They'll catch us now!  We'll never escape this world!"  He took the obsidian amulet from his neck, but before he could uncork the black-glass vial to release Corruption's extremophile bacterial presence on this virgin world, Elliae sliced through the air with her horn again.  This time, she didn't cut through dimensions.  She only cut through demon skin, soft as melting butter.
She should have done it long ago.
Unsheathing her horn from his limp body, she flicked the still-unopened amulet into the sky, where it flew so fast, so high, it escaped the planet's gravity.  The dark amulet flew true, on course for the closer of the world's two suns: Astralis II's blue light would fry the dangerous bacteria inside.  Even lava-loving extremophiles couldn't survive a blue star's super-heated plasma.
Elliae's attention returned to the world around her.
The spirits rushed toward her, spiraling around the mountain and stretching across the sky like smears of paint on an empty canvas.  Elliae was ready for the ghosts of those she'd betrayed into never-existing to devour her, but then the ghostly unicorn reappeared in front of her like a mirror of herself in the shimmering volcanic air.
"Make this world into their home.  Give it to the ghosts."  As the ghostly unicorn said the words to Elliae, she also said them herself.  The ghost was her.  It was her future to become the ghost.
With a final triumphant whinny, Elliae leapt from the lip of the mountain cone towards the roiling lava inside.  As she fell, she speared her way through the air, pearlescent horn slicing a complicated portal into the mountain's volcanic mouth, connecting this planet with as many planets rich with life as she could find.  Life would bleed through the folds of the portal, flowing into this world for centuries.  In her final act, Elliae made Mount Kiyaro a cornucopia of life. She left it to the ghosts, so they could finally realize themselves and create a future.

Mary E. Lowd

Mary E. Lowd writes stories and collects creatures. She’s had more than one hundred short stories published, and her novels include the Otters in Space trilogy, In a Dog’s World, and The Snake's Song: A Labyrinth of Souls Novel. Her fiction has won an Ursa Major Award and two Cóyotl Awards. Meanwhile, she’s collected a husband, daughter, son, bevy of cats and dogs, and the occasional fish. The stories, creatures, and Mary live together in a crashed spaceship disguised as a house, hidden inside a fairy's garden in Oregon. Learn more at

About Time
By Mike Murphy

The rain hammering down, Quigley opened the door to the sodden stranger who had knocked. “My car died,” the young man said. “Can I use your phone?”
“Of course!” Quigley responded, moving aside eagerly. “Come in.”
“Thank you,” the visitor replied, stepping inside. He held out his hand as Quigley locked the door against the storm. “Clark,” he said. “Tim Clark.”
“Adolphus Quigley,” the old man responded, shaking hands.
“I tried calling Triple A on my cell. No bars.”
“Cell phone coverage is spotty around here on its best day. I have a landline.”
“As long as it works,” Tim said.
“Can I get you something to warm up? Some coffee?”
“No thanks. Just the phone.”
“Follow me.”
The colors in the glass chamber at the center of the large computer panel swirled like a kaleidoscope. Hundreds of buttons, switches, and blinking lights lay below it. As the two men entered the room, an urgent-sounding beep greeted them.
“Excuse me,” Quigley said, walking to the panel. He sighed and flipped a few switches, which silenced the beeping.
“What is this?” Clark asked, approaching.
“The Controller,” his host answered.
“What does it do?”
“It controls things.”
“What sort of things?”
“You name it,” Adolphus continued. “I’ve been its caretaker for more than four decades.”
“Forty years!”
“It’s a twenty-four seven job.” Quigley gestured at a worse-for-wear rollaway bed in the corner of the room. “I even sleep here. . . in case it needs me.”
“What would it need?”
“I must keep everything in check.”
“What everything?” Tim asked, growing frustrated at not getting a straight answer.
“Time,” Quigley said matter-of-factly.
“This thing’s a time machine?”
“In a way. It allows me to reverse terrible events. See here.” He took a large notebook down from atop the panel and handed it to Clark, who flipped through the pages in disbelief.
“The attack of the giant Gila monsters? The invasion of the Althusians? The National Earthquake?”
“Terrible things, all,” Adolphus replied.
“Mr. Quigley,” Clark continued, “the dates you give for these events. . .”
“They’re all during my lifetime. I don’t remember any of them.”
“Of course you don’t! That’s the way The Controller works. I was able to make those catastrophes ‘un-happen.’” He tapped on the kaleidoscope chamber. “They’re in here now – against their will. Aside from undoing any new harmful happenings, I must see that what has been corrected is kept in check.”
Tim paused to assess what was happening. “Can I make my call now?” he asked.
“Your call?” the old man replied, astonished.
“That’s what I came here for.”
“Didn’t you hear what I said?”
“Every word.”
“And?” Quigley prompted.
“It makes me want to leave even more.”
“You cannot!”
“I’ll find another house.”
“The next home is more than a mile away. You’ll catch your death in this rain!”
“I’ll manage.”
“Please, no! You must help me.”
“Why is that?”
“I’m. . . dying,” Quigley answered, sadly looking down at his shoes.
“By eight o’clock tonight.”
“How can you know that?” Clark asked.
“I’ve seen it. A heart attack, I think.”
Tim rapped on the wall panel. “Why don’t you use this gizmo to fix that?”
“I can’t. The Controller can do many things, but only for the greater good – the big picture. It can’t change things for one person, not even its attendant. I can protect against the Gila monsters, the aliens, and the earthquake, among many others, but I cannot help myself.” Quigley looked plaintively at Tim. “That’s where you come in.”
“You’re my replacement.”
“Says who?”
“Whatever god delivered you to me this night.”
“A broken car brought me here.”
“It doesn’t matter. You’re here.”
Clark paced briefly and then looked at the great machine, taking it all in. “I don’t know how to run this thing.”
“I can show you,” Adolphus answered. “I still have a couple of hours left.”
Tim had heard enough. “I’m leaving,” he announced.
“You can’t! Without an attendant, there will be chaos!” Quigley grabbed at Clark’s arm, but the younger man pushed him away. Adolphus stumbled to the floor, grabbing at his chest. Tim rushed over and knelt beside him, cradling his head. “My time is now,” Quigley gasped. “You changed history.”
The Controller emitted several urgent-sounding beeps as the colors of the kaleidoscope chamber began to swirl madly. Clark shook Quigley’s dead body, anxiously and uselessly calling for him to please wake up. Tim rushed to the panel. He tried to read the labels on the controls, but the strident beeping, growing ever louder, was cutting into his brain.
He began pressing buttons madly. Before he could stumble on the right combination, the floor beneath his feet began to violently shake, and, through the window, he saw the great Althusian spaceship hovering above the heaving ground – waiting for its chance to touch down.
Tim heard the chamber’s glass shatter and winced as the immense spotted claw pierced his shoulder to the bone.

Mike Murphy

Mike has had over 150 audio plays produced in the U.S. and overseas. He's won five Moondance International Film Festival awards in their TV pilot, audio play, short screenplay, and short story categories.

His prose work has appeared in several magazines and anthologies. In 2015, his script “The Candy Man” was produced as a short film under the title Dark Chocolate. In 2013, he won the inaugural Marion Thauer Brown Audio Drama Scriptwriting Competition.

Mike keeps a blog at

Big Buddha
​by Kyla Chapek
  Being cooped up in our tiny hotel room was driving me nuts. With a sigh, I tossed aside my Cosmo magazine and fell back on my twin sized bed. I tangled my finger in my thick curly hair, which was its natural purplish pink, and tried to think non-mischievous thoughts. It was hard though, and I was so bored.
In a last-ditch effort, I turned on the TV and flipped through the channels. Everything was in Thai and I hated subtitles. I let out a cry of frustration and chucked the remote against the wall.
The door to the conjoining room burst open. Warrior Boon ran in with his massive broadsword in hand. The muscle-bound barbarian, wearing nothing but a loin cloth and a bronze helmet, looked around the room with fierce eyes.
“God, Boon!” I flopped back on my bed after the initial surprise. “I’m not in danger. I’m bored! Why can’t I go sightseeing or something?”
The barbarian sheathed his sword in a scabbard hanging on his back. Then the giant blurred and his figure morphed into something new. A tall skinny man with a painted face, wearing a jester’s costume now stood before me. Clown Boon raised a decorative rattle and shook it.
“Want to hear a joke, Magenta? Knock, knock.” Clown Boon had a funny high-pitched voice.
I rolled my eyes and threw a pillow at my Boon. “I’m sixteen, Boon, I’m too old for clowns.”
Clown gave me an exaggerated pouty face. Then his body morphed into the form of an old woman. Nanny Boon gave me a warm smile.
“How about a story, Magenta. Maybe one about the Gingerbread Man. You love that one.” Nanny Boon had a warm nurturing voice.
It took a lot not to roll my eyes again. Nanny tended to flick my ear if I showed too much sass. “Yeah, I liked those stories when I was five. Why can’t I just go for a quick ride on the scooter?”
Nanny shook her head. Her body blurred and reshaped into Boon’s final form. Professor Boon, as I called him, was a clean-cut middle aged man who always wore a dark blue suit with a red tie. Professor adjusted his cufflinks and gave me an admonishing look.
“You know exactly why you can’t do that.” Professor spoke with an English accent. “I brought you halfway around the world to keep you away from Them. They will kill you if they get their hands on you.”
I waved off the old warning with a bored wave. “Maybe if you ever told me who They are I could keep a better lookout for them.” It was bad enough being on the move ever since I could remember, but not knowing why or whom we were running from drove me nuts.
Professor just shook his head. He turned and headed back into the conjoined room. “I need to go out for a few hours. You will remain here. You will not connect to a ley line and you will finish your schoolwork.”
I moaned and nudged the stack of textbooks on my nightstand farther away. After a few minutes, Professor Boon emerged from the other room holding a briefcase.
“Where you goin’?” I sat up, my interest piqued.
“Nowhere that concerns you. Stay inside and get started on your studies.” Professor marched out the front door to my room.
I threw one of my textbooks at the door closing behind the Boon. Then I let out a high-pitched squeal that could crack glass. I couldn’t blame the Boon too much. The mystically created artificial lifeform, commonly known as a Boon, was programed to only share certain information with me. He couldn’t go against his programming even if he wanted to.
For a full five minutes, I seriously contemplated behaving. Then my gaze fell on the brochure that had fallen out of my textbook. The massive Buddha statue pictured on the front looked interesting. In five more minutes, I was dressed and ready to go.
The last thing I did before I left was look in the mirror on the wall and activate a guise spell. My light brown skin paled to Caucasian coloring and my general features altered and aged a few years. The coloring of my eyes, which naturally matched my pink purple hair, turned blue, and my wild hair straightened and went blonde. With a wink at my foreign face, I made a beeline for the door.
The day was hot and humid. Warm wind blew on my face as I cruised down Chao Fah Tawan Tok road on my rented scooter. Traffic was pretty crazy in Chalong, not that it was extremely busy or anything. There just weren’t really any traffic laws in Thailand. Driving on the left side of the road was also throwing me for a loop.
Glancing down at my speedometer, I noticed my gas line was nearing empty. I pulled over at one of the many markets that lined the street and parked the scooter. I hopped off the bike and walked over to a rack just outside the market’s door. The rack was full of old beer bottles filled with a brownish liquid.  
Grabbing the bottle of gasoline, I walked over to the market’s owner who had come to meet me at the door. He was an older man, with dark wrinkled skin and a bald head. His teeth were crooked and yellowing.
“Sah wahd dee kah.” I held up the bottle and gestured that I wanted to buy it.
“Sah wahd dee krahp, forty baht,” the old Thai man said.
Fishing around in my backpack, I pulled out my wallet and handed over two twenty baht bills. He took the money and the bottle of gasoline, and walked over to my scooter. I popped the seat up for him so he could get to the gas tank. As the old man emptied the bottle into the tank, I looked up towards my destination. High up on a nearby hill was a giant marble Buddha statue. I wasn’t sure how big the statue was, but judging by how large it looked from this distance, it had to be massive.  
With the bottle emptied, the man replaced the gas cap.  
“Kahp khoon.” I bowed my head politely.
Once back on the road, I zig-zagged around potholes and other vehicles. The helmet I wore didn’t fit me very well and the loose part of the chin strap flapped in the wind annoyingly. I wanted to take it off, but Boon had insisted I wear it at all times while riding. Even though it was unlikely, you could get arrested for not wearing a helmet. It did happen on occasion, and that was the kind of attention I didn’t need.
I wondered what my Boon was up to on his little mystery mission. He would be pissed when he found out I had left. I knew this was a stupid risk to be taking while on the run. However, I’d been on the run my entire life. I would have gone mad a long time ago if I let the risk of death keep me from having fun once and awhile.
Up ahead, I saw a big white sign reading, This Way to Big Buddha, with a red arrow pointing to the right. I made my way down the side street leading up to the Buddha. The road made several sharp twists and turns before it climbed up the hill.  
The many shops and houses quickly fell away to be replaced with palm and rubber trees. Restaurants, viewpoints, and other stores geared towards tourists like me made the occasional break in native flora. A few advertised elephant rides. I felt bad for a baby elephant I passed who hopelessly tugged on his chained ankle. The winding road steadily steepened. My scooter’s engine struggled with the climb.
Just a little farther, I thought. You’re the little blue scooter that could.
Finally cresting the top of the hill, the massive marble structure came into view. I steered my scooter over towards the half empty parking lot. I parked the scooter in the shade, stood and stretched. My limbs were tingly from the vibrations of the scooter.
The Big Buddha sat in a cross-legged position raised up by a concrete foundation platform with its back to me. The foundation raised the statue at least twenty-five feet into the air, adding to its already towering height. Two smaller standing Buddha statues were built into the concrete foundation facing me. These were still under construction with green mesh covering their faces and steel bars sticking out of the tops their heads. To the right of the Big Buddha was another smaller Buddha statue, this one gold plated, which also faced away from me.
I walked through the parking lot and around the left side of the statue towards the entrance. The Big Buddha was a public shrine, so entrance was free. Several informational signs in both Thai and English spoke of the construction of the Buddha and asked for donations towards its completion. I hadn’t known it was such a newly created monument.
    The entrance walkway led to a courtyard sitting about a hundred feet downhill from the statue’s foundation. From this angle, you could see big white letters embedded in the hillside that read THE BIG BUDDHA PHUKET. An assembly of tourists congregated around a group of statues in the middle of the courtyard. The tourists took turns posing for pictures next to the statues of a Thai monarch and an old man Buddha statue with the Big Buddha in the background. Another small group of tourists stood nearby around a large gong-like instrument.  A blonde-haired woman made the instrument ring eerily by rapping her knuckles around the raised center of the gong.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a middle aged white man approaching me. I tensed, readying my muscles to flee.   
“Could you take picture,” he said with a Swedish accent. He held up a camera and pointed to a woman and group of kids I assumed to be his family.
“S-sure, no problem.” I relaxed and accepted the camera.  
You’re being paranoid, Magenta. There was no way the man could be one of Them. Boon had taken me half a world away from our usual stomping grounds in order to lay low for a while. There was no way They could have found me already.
The man joined his wife and herded his children in front of the monarch statue. His oldest child, a bored looking teenage girl, rolled her eyes as she put her phone away and grudgingly joined her family for the picture.
A ping of jealousy went through me as I snapped a few pictures of the happy family. The girl didn’t know how lucky she had it. What I wouldn’t give to have a real family like she had. The only family I had ever known was my Boon.
Boon had been my parent, friend, teacher and protector all rolled up into one, literally transforming himself into his different personas. Theoretically, he was all the companionship a person would need. It just wasn’t quite the same as having a real family, though.
“Thank you.” The Swedish man took back his camera with a smile.
“No problem.” I returned his warm smile, happy I could help immortalize this memory for the family.
Professor Boon always discouraged pictures. He said if they fell into the wrong hands, they could leave a paper trail They could easily follow.
Done exploring the courtyard, I wandered into an indoor area. The indoor area was one large room with tables on all sides covered in Buddhist charms, books, postcards, and various other souvenirs. I paused at a rack of necklaces. Pretending to examine the jewelry, I inspected my reflection in the small mirror on top of the rack to make sure my guise was still intact. I might take stupid risks now and then, but I wasn’t above some basic precautions.
Satisfied my guise was intact, I continued my examination of the various charms and baubles. Minor mystical vibrations coming off some of the charms told me the blessings placed on them were legit. On one table were several marble blocks destined to be a part of the Big Buddha. Tourists wrote their names and other messages on the blocks for a small donation. At the end of the table, two orange cats snuggled together, one giving the other a bath. I scratched one of the felines on the head as I walked by. It meowed happily in thanks.
I wandered towards the pull of even stronger mystical energies coming from the back of the room. The entire back section was dedicated to a large shrine. There was a distinctive line in the floor where the tile changed patterns, and a yellow sign requested the removal of shoes beyond this point. I slipped off my flip flops and walked over to the shrine.
On a raised stage, sat a variety of Buddha statues of all shapes and sizes. In front of the statues sat two monks, easily discernible by their simple orange colored robes. A line of tourists sat on the floor receiving blessings from the monks. I joined the line and knelt before the monks. I wasn’t really a religious person, but hey, every little bit helped. When my turn came, I bowed my head respectfully. The old monk smiled kindly down at me, and he held up a piece of colorful string.
“This for good luck,” he spoke with a thick Thai accent.  
I nodded and held out my right wrist for him to tie it on. After securing it to my wrist, he picked up a handful of small sticks from a bowl and shook them above my head.
Water sprinkled on my head and face as the monk said, “Good luck, good luck, good luck.”
Bowing again, I placed a twenty baht bill in the donation bowl, and then moved to the side to let others receive their blessing. I exited the shrine area and slipped my feet back into my flip flops. I continued to examine the variety of informational signs and made my way to a side door with a sign that read, To Big Buddha, above it.
Outside the door, a set of stone steps led up the hill towards the Big Buddha. I ducked under a row of small golden bells hanging over the walkway and ascended the steps, which were steep and narrow, barely wide enough for two to stand shoulder to shoulder. I had to squeeze past several other tourists making their descent.
By the end of the climb, my skin was moist from perspiration. I swung my backpack off my shoulders, unzipped it, and pulled out a bottle of water. I took several large gulps of the lukewarm liquid as I got my first up close look at the massive statue. The Big Buddha was about 150 feet tall and 80 feet wide of shining marble that sparkled in the sunlight.
The platform holding the statue aloft was made of rough concrete. The incomplete foundation had spray painted numbers and jagged steel bars sticking out here and there. The foundation was round with a series of pillars on the outer edge. Beyond the pillars was a small overhang before a solid wall.  Placed randomly between the pillars were more Buddha statues, none larger than six feet tall. At the very front of the statue, was an opening in the foundation’s wall.
I peeked inside and found a large room obviously still under construction. The room stretched the entire expanse of the foundation with dozens of concrete pillars supporting the monolith of stone above it. Six feet up in the air hung a checkered grid of white yarn. This I could only guess the purpose for. Light poured in from a similar doorway on the opposite wall.
My curiosity satisfied, I walked out from under the overhang, so I could look up at the statue once more. Walking counterclockwise around the Buddha, I admired the various smaller statues and the breathtaking view the hilltop had to offer.  Looking out from the statue, I could see the various towns of southern Phuket, and the ocean beyond. The spectacular view would make one hell of a panoramic picture.
With a deep breath, I focused my core and used my second sight to look out over the horizon. Everything took on a reddish hue. I could see the many ley lines criss-crossing over the landscape, easily identified by their bright gold color. The stronger ones were thick bright lines pulsating rhythmically, the weaker lines thin and faint. On my wrist, I noticed the bracelet the monk had given me gave off a faint glow. The mystical energy coming off it was so faint I couldn’t even feel it, but I could see it with my second sight.     
Reaching out with my awareness, I made contact with one of the closer lines. The raw power flooding into my core made me shiver. The ley lines here tasted different than they did back in the States. I slowly directed the power back into the line before I broke contact. It wasn’t smart for me to keep contact with a ley line for too long. If one of Them happened to be connected to the same line, they could track me through it.
Dropping my second sight, the colors of the world returned, and I resumed my walk around the Buddha. On the left-hand side of the Big Buddha was the golden statue I had seen from the parking lot. Though dwarfed by the Big Buddha, this statue still towered above me, thirty feet in the air. Like the Big Buddha, it also sat cross-legged, but had its hands in a different position. The golden statue didn’t look very secure on the edge of the plateau with two large steel beams bracing it up from behind. Several steel cables were also lashed around the statue’s chest and connected to the foundation of the Big Buddha.
After I completed my revolution around the statue, I sat down at a picnic table directly in front of the Big Buddha. I slipped off my flip flops and flexed my toes. The heat and humidity were making my toes and ankles swell. I removed the bottle of water from my backpack. I sipped my drink and watched the sun near the western horizon.
“Tommy, get back here.” A frustrated father chased his toddler son.
“Can’t catch me, Daddy, can’t catch me,” squealed the little boy, laughing. He ran between the pillars of the Buddha’s foundation.
A memory came to mind of Nanny Boon reading to me back when I was still jumping around from foster home to foster home.
“Run, run as fast as you can, can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man,” Nanny Boon read.
“I don’t get it, Nanny. Why doesn’t the Gingerbread Man stay and fight the old mean wolf? Why does he always run away?” I asked when I was no more than eight years old.
“Well, dearie, the wolf is much stronger and meaner than the Gingerbread Man. However, the Gingerbread Man is faster, so it is just smarter for him to run away,” she had answered.
“Is that why we always run away from Them?” I asked, pulling my teddy bear closer. Even at that young age, I had already had unpleasant encounters with my mysterious foes.
“Yes, that’s exactly why. You’re my little Gingerbread Man.” Nanny tickled my sides.
I giggled happily as the old woman tucked me in and kissed my forehead.
Coming back to the present, the runaway toddler was about to go through the doorway into the inner foundation when his father caught him and swooped him up in his arms.
“Awe, you caught me, Daddy.” The little boy made a pouty face.
“Yep, it’s time to go.” His red cheeked father swung the little boy to his shoulders.
I sighed and returned my attention back to the view. As the tip of the sun reached the horizon, I realized I was completely alone. Looking down on the courtyard below, I saw the last few tourists making their way to the parking lot. It was time to leave and go endure Professor Boon’s tiresome lecture. He would be doubly pissed I stayed out past dark.
Humming softly to myself, I walked down the stone steps.  It had been a nice afternoon. I was glad I had decided to sneak out. Halfway down the steps, a weird feeling made me pause. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and I got the distinct feeling someone was watching me. Paranoia took hold of me. I spun around looking for the unseen threat.
There was nothing behind me but empty steps. I had a real bad feeling about this. I needed to get out of here right now. I turned back around and made to run down the steps. My path was blocked by a tall figure. In the dying light, I couldn’t see who or what it was that stood in my way. When the figure raised its hands and drew in mystical energy, I knew I was in trouble. A green ball of light formed in between the figure’s hands, illuminating its face.
The figure was a tall Hispanic man with short, slicked black hair and an evil grin. “Found you, little girl.” He pulled back his hand and threw the ball of green light in my direction.
I ducked just in time. The sizzling ball of light singed my hair as it flew inches above my head. It collided with a small shrine next to the steps. The shrine burst into flames, melting the golden statue inside.
Holy shit, that had been a close one. I sprinted back up the steps to the Big Buddha. I couldn’t believe They had found me. This was so not good. I shouldn’t have tapped that ley line.
Running in flip flops was not the easiest thing in the world. I stumbled over the last step and nearly fell on my face. Regaining my balance, I continued running without looking back. There had to be another way down from here. A buzz of mystical energy came from my right. I dove to the ground. Another ball of glowing light flew over my head. It smashed into one of the foundation pillars of the Big Buddha. The stone pillar exploded into dozens of pieces. I rolled to my side and scrambled back to my feet to face my enemies.
Next to the picnic table I was sitting at earlier, stood three more of Them, two sorcerers and a sorceress. The men were tall white guys with brown hair. They looked like they could be twin brothers. Their accomplice was a short Asian woman with long black hair. A ball of mystical energy was forming in the woman’s hands.
I tapped into the closest ley line and let the power flow through my core. Manipulating it with my will, I formed it into a protective wall of blue energy. The impact of the Asian’s energy ball knocked me off balance, but my shield absorbed most of the impact. It was time to go into Gingerbread Man mode and get the hell out of here.
I spun around and sprinted towards the Big Buddha and through the doorway into the inner foundation. It was too dark to see in there. I focused the ley line energy still flowing through my core to my hand. “Lux Lucis,” I muttered.  
A small ball of light formed in my right hand, illuminating the path to the other doorway. The inner foundation had a dirt floor, littered with random debris from the construction of the place. I leapt over a pile of steel bars in my desperate sprint to the other exit.
Where the hell was Warrior Boon when I really needed him?
When I was twenty feet from the exit, a tall figure stepped into the doorway. I skidded to a stop and held my light ball up to identify him as friend or foe. The light illuminated the Hispanic man’s face with slicked black hair; defiantly foe. He ran towards me with red mystical energy swirling around his hands. Instinctively, I threw my small ball of light at my attacker. The ball of light was harmless beyond a minor distraction. Upon impact it evaporated, and barley broke the man’s stride.
Trying to escape, I tripped and fell right on my ass.
My assailant stood over me with a nasty grin. The harsh red glow emanating from the man’s hands seemed to amplify his malevolence. “Time to die.” He brought his fists down on top of my head.
Terror broke my concentration and severed my connection with the ley line. I wouldn’t be able to get a shield up in time. Reflexively, I threw my hands up in front of my face, even though I knew it wouldn’t do any good. I was so dead.
When the man’s fists collided with my wrists, it was like he hit a stone wall. A bright light flashed, originating from my little string bracelet. My attacker’s magic rebounded back at him. He had a stunned look on his face as he was sent flying into the ceiling. He landed on the ground a few feet away from me out cold.
Wow, I thought. I looked at the colorful string tied to my wrist just as shocked as my downed assailant. Guess this thing really is lucky.
I could figure out what had just happened later, right now I needed to run. The man’s short flight had knocked down the string grid hanging from the ceiling. I felt like a fly trapped in a spider’s web as I struggled under the net of strings. When I broke free of my stringy confines, I ran out the door into the fresh air.
“There she is!” a man cried off to my left.
I reconnected with the ley line and threw up a blue shield. A green blast of energy side-blinded my shield. I took cover behind one of the outer pillars of the foundation. Then I cautiously took a peek at my adversaries. The twin guys stood side by side near the golden Buddha statue.
“Give it up, Magenta!” cried one of them. “You’re outnumbered, and there is no place to run.”
Yeah, like that was going to work. Did this moron really think I would just give myself up so they could kill me? These people were really pissing me off. Just one day. Was that too much to ask for? Just one day of peaceful sightseeing without being chased and shot at.
It was time to show these guys I was more than just a Gingerbread Man who only knew how to run away. I was also one of the most powerful sorceresses in the world, and it was time to show them that. In that moment, I decided to do something I had never done before. I decided to fight back.
“Okay, I’m coming out,” I yelled. “Don’t shoot.”
Drawing in mystical energy from the ley line, I projected a lifelike image of myself. My guise had fallen apart at some point during my struggles and my projection was my usual Hispanic teenage self. At least, I thought I was Hispanic; Boon would neither confirm nor deny this. As my illusion walked out from behind the pillar with its hands raised in the air, I crouched low and ran to a pillar closer to my enemies. Twin balls of green energy flew at my mirage. The spells passed through it and blew up a picnic table nearby.
I didn’t know many offensive spells, so I threw basic stun hexes at the twins. The one on the right dodged my spell, but his brother wasn’t as quick. Taking it full in the face, he crumbled to the ground.
The remaining twin gaped at his fallen brother. I crouched behind the concrete pillar as he threw another energy ball at me with an angry cry. The energy ball blasted the top of the pillar. Chunks of concrete rained down on me. I made a protective dome to shield me from the falling debris.
Standing up, I drew in as much mystical energy as I could handle. I couldn’t think of any good offensive spells beyond my stun hex, so I just released the raw energy towards my opponent, putting all my frustration and anger into it. A beam of purple energy shot from my hands. The remaining twin’s eyes went as wide as saucers when he saw what was coming at him.
He raised a shield around himself, but the impact of my energy beam threw him back into the side of the golden Buddha. The man fell to the ground and didn’t get back up.
“That’s right, asshole!” I yelled in triumph. I looked down at my hands, mystified. I’d never channeled such a massive amount of mystical energy before. I didn’t know I had it in me.
A loud snapping sound drew my attention back to the golden statue. My blast had knocked away the steel beams supporting the golden Buddha, along with a good chunk of earth behind the statue. The statue was leaning perilously off the edge of the plateau. One of the steel cables that attached it to the Big Buddha’s foundation snapped, making me jump.  
The last two cables snapped simultaneously, and the statue tipped over the ledge. I stood there, dumbstruck, as the golden Buddha tumbled down the hill, making horrible crashing sounds.
Whoops, I thought. The statue came to rest in the middle of the parking lot. Time to go.
Running around the right side of the Buddha, I made a beeline for the steps. I noticed as I ran by that both the unconscious twins had miraculously avoided falling over the ledge with the statue. I could barely see where I was going in the fading light, but I took the steps two at a time. I was breathing hard by the time I reached the indoor area. That last energy blast had taken a lot out of me.
    I slowed down my pace as I made my way to the exit. It was darker in here. I could scarcely see the many tables scattered throughout the room. “Lux Lucis.” A ball of silver light appeared in my hand, illuminating my immediate surroundings.  
    The Asian woman from earlier appeared out of the darkness and slammed into me. We collided with a table and fell to the ground along with a heap of marble bricks. My ball of light remained illuminated but rolled away from my hand. The woman straddled me, clamped her hands around my neck and squeezed. For such a small woman, she had a vice-like grip. I hopelessly clawed at her hands, trying to get air to my lungs. Seeing spots, I felt myself losing consciousness. I tried to tap into a ley line, but I couldn’t focus enough to get a connection.
    “Meeeeeooooow, pssssst,” came from somewhere in the darkness.    
An orange cat appeared and lunged at my attacker. The woman cried out. She released her grip from around my throat to try and fend off the cat as it bit and clawed at her face. I sucked in sweet oxygen, grateful for my feline friend.
With a feral cry, the woman threw the cat away from her. I grabbed a chunk of marble off the ground and hit her in the side of the head. My attacker dropped like a sack of bricks. I didn’t know if she was alive or dead, but I didn’t care as I rolled her off me.
I got to my feet. A dizzy spell hit me. I had to pause for a moment to steady myself.
“Meeeeoooow.” My feline savior rubbed up against my leg.
“Thanks, kitty.” I rubbed the cat’s head. “Gotta go now.”
“Meeeooow.” As the feline disappeared into the shadows, it looked like the outline of the cat grew and changed into a robed human form. It could have been just a trick of the light.  
I picked up my ball of light and dropped one of the precious rubies Boon gave me for monetary emergencies in the nearest donation jar. Hopefully it would be enough to cover some of the damage done to the shrine. Then I ran out of the building towards the parking lot. I had downed all my attackers I knew of, but there could be more any second. I sprinted to my little blue scooter, the only remaining vehicle in the lot. I jammed the key it into the ignition and started it up. The weak growl of the engine was music to my ears as I strapped on my helmet.  
I peeled out of the parking lot and zoomed down the hill.  It took several deep breathes to calm my pounding heart. As the adrenaline seeped out of my system, fatigue creeped into my muscles. I grinned happily as I sped down the twisting road, confident I had escaped Them at this point.  
Run, run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man, I thought as the warm air blew in my face.

Kyla Chapek

Kyla Chapek is a twenty nine year old woman living in Eugene, Oregon and identifies with the LGBTQ community. Kyla grew up in the McKenzie River community and graduated from McKenzie High School and Oregon State University. To pay the bills, Kyla bartends along with other odd jobs and aspires to be a stuntwoman someday along with having a full writing career. When she is not reading or writing, Kyla enjoys training in martial arts, traveling and getting lost in the woods. Kyla's previously published work can be found in the Roar Seven anthology through Bad Dog Books.


About the Editor:
Amber M. Simpson

Amber M. Simpson is a nighttime fiction writer with a penchant for horror, fantasy, and sci-fi. When she's not editing for Fantasia Divinity Magazine, she divides her creative time between writing short stories and working on the creations of two very different novels; a mystery/horror called Wolves Hollow, and a medieval fantasy she hopes to make into a series, called The First Blood. She has a Bachelor’s degree and lives in Northern Kentucky with her husband and two little boys, who keep her feet on the ground even while her head is in the clouds. To learn more, visit