Hansel and Grethel (a retelling)

(So I found this going through some old files from my back up hard drive. I wrote this for a children’s literature class I was enrolled in. Susie’s condition worsened and I never even handed this in to be graded. We were to rewrite a child’s fairy tale and I chose this one. It was the first and only time I attempted to directly rewrite someone else’s story.  I hope you enjoy what I tried to do here. It was fun. Thank you. – JM)

Hansel and Grethel

As written by

Jeffery Vogel

2010

Eng 2601

Hansel and Grethel (a reimagining)

            This is a tale of two children who lived on the edge of a large forest with their parents; the boy, Hansel and his sister Grethel. Theirs was a sad story for their parents had no food left to feed them. The children lay awake far too hungry to sleep when they heard their mother speaking to their father. What they heard sent chills down their spines.

“Husband there is no food left to feed the children, we must get rid of them right away. How shall we feed ourselves, shall we all four die of hunger?”

“But dear wife they are our children how could you be so cold?” Hearing their father speak these words, the children wondered the same thing.

It did not take her long to convince him; even the children noticed some subtle change in their mother’s voice. Their father’s objections faded to nothing more than an accepting groan.

“We shall take them deep in the woods and leave them; they will never find their way home.” The mother’s voice was calm and gentle, as reassuring as any mother’s would be accept for the terrible words she spoke.

Hansel spoke softly to his sister, “dear sister, I know what has happened, two nights past I heard a noise and awoke startled. I followed the sound outside; it led me down past the woodshed. I could see a bright almost heavenly light seeming to flow between the trees from deep in the old wood.”

“Were you not terrified brother? I could not have gone alone and seen such things I would have fallen feint.” Grethel was still shaking and her voice quivered as she spoke.

“I was frightened but I could not stop myself from wandering deeper.” He stopped and pondered what he had seen, trying to decide the best way to relate his tale to his sister.

“Well?”  Grethel ordered. “What did you see?”

“Sorry sister, I was lost in my own foolish head. I followed the light or was it the sound? My feet were finding their own way, as if by magic. It was as if I had no control over my own parts. I have never felt in such a way before, I felt like I was dreaming.”

Grethel was terrified and growing impatient to hear what Hansel saw but was too fearful of what she may learn from his answer to ask again.

“I came to a clearing and the light was so bright I could not look directly at it, there was a sound and it was then I knew that the sound had been calling to me. That’s when I saw her come from the center of the light as though she was in that moment born. She was wearing her night clothes outside!” Hansel was again thinking and grew silent.

“Who, who did you see?” Grethel could no longer tolerate another long silence so close to hearing the end.

“Mother, It was mother. She was the same but not the same. Her eyes were red like coals but as I stood watching they changed back to her normal lovely blue. Before the change she seemed not to see, perhaps that is why she did not know she was dressed so.”

“What has happened to our mother? She would never dare set foot out of her dressing room in such a state, what if someone had seen?” Grethel was mortified at the thought of being seen in her nightgown.

“I do not know. I hid behind a tree and right before my eyes…” Hansel trailed off again lost to his memories.

Grethel did not like the look on her brothers face and shook him till he became aware and he continued. “I ran and ran as fast as I could. The sun was creeping over the trees, I had been outside for hours but it only seemed a few moments. When I woke I thought it was all a dream. I prayed it was all a dream. When I was dressing I saw that my shoes were filthy, I still thought it was a dream.” Hansel was trying to convince himself but his attempts at self reassurance failed.

The children were frightened; revealing his tale to his sister had done little to dispel his own fear from the encounter in the woods. This did not make sense to them, they were terrified.

It was Grethel who broke the silence. “Father, we must tell father. She must be possessed by some evil beast or perhaps she is bewitched, yes that must be it a witch has taken mother!”

Hansel sluggishly nodded his approval and the children waited until they heard their mother’s rhythmic breathing. She was sound asleep.

“Father, wake up please.” Urged the shaking Grethel as Hansel stood blank faced. Grethel was not noticing the change in her brother’s demeanor. If she had she would have noticed that each time he thought of the encounter and remembered the night he grew more docile. His face was losing expression. In the dark and in such a hurry to quietly wake her father these things she did not notice.

Their loving father woke without a sound, he just starred blank facedly and spoke only three words, “Your bidding master?”

To this the mother who was no mother at all bolted from the bed and with a grotesquely distorted and serpentine like arm grabbed at Grethel, but the girl was faster.  Hansel was watching eyes wide but no sound issued from his mouth.

“Oh no Hansel not you too!” Screamed Grethel, she saw that what ever her mother witch had done to their father was now starting to take hold of Hansel. She quickly reacted as the mother monster crept closer to her and began throwing anything she could find to block her path.

Grethel threw clothes and finally through pure luck in the dark she found a blanket and she threw it over the mother imposter. This gave her enough time to grab Hansel by the arm and get him moving out the door.

Half pulling, half dragging she got Hansel down the stairs and out into the woods. She had been wary of the woods at night for fear of the wild things that live there but tonight nothing seemed scarier than her own mother witch.

Her mind raced trying to figure out what had happened. Slowly her brother regained his senses and after some time he stopped bewildered and asked, “Grethel what in the world are we doing so deep in the woods at night?”

“Do you not remember?” She was frightened and was certain that her brother may have been in shock but for him to have no memories of the terrible scene they had just fled doubled her fears.

“We were in our room talking and I must have dozed off.” He was completely unaware of anything happening.

Grethel quickly recounted the story and Hansel did seem to remember it but only as if he had dreamt it.  As they stood they realized they had never been this deep in the woods and they decided they needed to leave a trail to find their way home. Grethel had a piece of bread; it was half her dinner from earlier that night. Hansel would drop a bread crumb every so often so they would be able to at least find their way back to the spot and from there they could get home. They needed help so they wandered ever deeper in the hopes they could find a woodsman’s shack. They believed if they could find a big strong man he could save their father and hopefully return their mother to them.

They walked until they could walk no more and there on the ground where they stopped to rest they slept. They did not wake until well past noon. They were hungry and it was then Hansel noticed that even the closest pieces of bread he had dropped were nowhere to be seen.

“Oh no Grethel, the crumb trail is gone! We are lost!” Hansel’s eyes began to tear up as he yelled at the unresponsive trees.

“Quiet now!” Grethel demanded. “How can I think with you howling like a banshee?”

It was true they were hopelessly lost, but their mission had not changed they needed to find someone, anyone, only then would their family be saved. At last Grethel spoke. “We shall mark the trees; scratch the bark so we shall know if we have passed it before.”

Hansel was overcome with grief and trudged along quietly. Occasionally Grethel would see his eyes begin to glaze over but as the hours passed this seemed to lesson. Hansel was not quite himself but he was improving as night began to fall.

“Oh dear brother, we are saved! Look there, a light, it is a cottage!” Grethel ran towards the source of light with Hansel close behind. As they reached the cottage they were both speechless for the cottage was made of candy and cakes and all manner of delicious treats.

Hansel immediately set to eating a gingerbread flower box covered with rich icing. Grethel more cautious than her foolish brother broke off a small piece of a shutter which was made of peanut brittle. She sniffed cautiously and gave it a little taste, once she was convinced it was good she began to eat voraciously.

With a loud bang and a cackle a long bony arm came through the open window and snatched Hansel by the collar of his night shirt pulling him effortless into the house. Grethel saw this with amazement for the arm looked frail and weak but was deceptively strong.

Grethel found that though the urge to run was upon her she could not move, she was more sleepy than she had ever thought possible. She stretched out on the ground just below the gingerbread flower box and slept soundly.

She awoke when she was poked hard in the back with an old broom stick. “Wake up missy!” The old witch demanded.

Grethel’s mind raced. “It is you, you are the one who bewitched our mother!” she was frightened, but could not stop the words from coming. “I demand you give us our mother back!”

The witch was taken aback, usually the children who fell into her trap were scared and sheepish, but this one surprised her. “Missy you just hush up that nonsense, I have no use for mothers or fathers it is children I desire. Now you have work to do, your going to help me fatten up that scrawny brother of yours so I can eat him. If you give me any trouble I’ll eat you to!” The witch was sure this would quell the girl’s impetuous nature.

To the witch’s dismay this only riled the girl further. She saw that Grethel’s face had turned the darkest crimson. “You are lying!” Blurted Grethel she stepped closer to the witch. The witch retreated back a step.

This made the old hag think a moment. “What have you seen girl that would make you fearlessly speak to me so? In all my years I have never been spoken to in such a way, not even by grown folks.” It was then the witch allowed her eyes to turn to their true color, a dark glowing red.

In spite of scaring the girl into submission as the witch hoped, Grethel’s resolve was strengthened. This is indeed the witch who had taken their mothers place. “See you have the eyes you are the one who took my mother!”

The witch’s anger had grown she raised the handle of the broom to strike the girl but before she let the blow fall the girl’s words began to sink in. “You have seen such eyes as mine girl?”

“No, but my brother has”, he saw you in the woods when you turned into our mother!” Grethel was angry, scared, sad, but most of all angry.

“Interesting little one, there are no others in this part of the world like myself. I have lived many generations and never seen a single one of my kind. Perhaps there is a new arrival. This is not at all good for you or me you senseless child.” The witch’s tone was not as menacing as before; it had grown a curious air.

Grethel was trying to think of what to do, could it be there are two witches. The thought of one was bad enough, but the thought of two, well that was far worse. If this witch did not know of the other and it is bad for her maybe this could be good for us.

“So you are not the one who took our mother and entranced our father?” Grethel asked.

“Of course not you daft girl! I thought surely you would be smarter than that dim-whit out in my shed. Perhaps I was wrong.” The witch was lost in thought and the girl’s interruption warranted a thump with the broom handle. “We witches can never be to close you see, we need children to make our brews and stews which make us live. Too many witches in one place attracts too much attention, silly people will start to wonder where their little ones have gone.”

Grethel had a plan, she did not know if it would work but she had to try. She would go along with this witch’s desires, seeing the old hag’s annoyance at the thought of another witch in her area. Grethel decided to use that for her own good. She calmed herself.

She accommodated every whim of the old woman, occasionally when the moment was right she would mention something about the mother imposter. “I have never seen anyone or anything so strong! She can change her appearance with out a thought! You don’t think she is stronger than you, do you?” This went on for days, to the witch’s annoyance.

Hansel, Grethel had found, was locked in a shed heavily chained with no hope of escape. She whispered to him on the first day. “Do whatever she says brother I have a way to right things, I just need some time.” Hansel agreed and things went thusly for five more days.

Hansel ate and slept. Grethel cleaned, cut wood and did anything else the witch demanded of her. On the fifth day the witch said “that brother of yours will be ripe tomorrow and I am going to bake him in this oven so you need to clean it out and fetch some wood.” It was now or never Grethel thought.

“Mistress I have an idea that might solve two problems for you at once.” Grethel had taken to calling the old hag mistress in an attempt to show respect, the witch had not argued but seemed to rather enjoy it.

“Oh have you now missy?” The witch was intrigued for the girl was clever and not only had she jabbed at the witch’s pride she had tried to boost her ego as well by feigning interest in becoming a witch herself.

“Oh yes, I have been thinking since we got here, since there are two witches and you need children to make your brews and stews that the mother witch must have been going to cook us herself. Perhaps she is weak and long without food.”

“Dear child, you are wise. What is it you have in mind?”

“My brother you see is so plump and ready for cooking; perhaps we could use him as bait to bring the mother monster out in the open. You being more powerful than she is could kill her and take her power. There are very few children in our village; two witches will be too many to go unnoticed.”

The witch was wary as witches tend to be, she felt like the girl was up to something. “What is in this for you lass, why are you so willing to help me?”

“I want to be a witch. I always have to do what I am told and my brother being a boy can come and go as he pleases! My chores never cease!” Grethel was as convincing as she could be.

Grethel never expecting this, but the witch’s crooked mouth widened into an unnatural smile that sent chills down her spine, but this she hid well.

Grethel told the witch of her village, the witch knew it well. For over the centuries when no children wandered close she had to go and capture them herself. Grethel’s plan was to have her brother, who was now fully under the witch’s control after eating a weeks worth of bewitched goodies, would walk up and simply knock on the door. The mother monster would simply think he had wandered lost and hungry for a week and had haplessly wandered home. Grethel and the old hag would be waiting out of sight ready to attack.

The old witch had promised if Grethel helped in this task she would be given the secrets that only witches know. Grethel pretended to be pleased.

Though they had walked countless hours to come to the old hag’s candy cottage it took merely minutes to reach their village. Indeed the old hag had power, but Grethel was growing nervous that the mother imposter may actually be stronger.

The witch instructed Hansel and set him to his task. Grethel and the witch hid behind a large tree just off the corner of the house. Hansel knocked and no sound issued for such a long moment that they began to fear the mother monster had moved on.

A light flashed on in the parent’s room, unnaturally bright. Not candle light, something else. It was something sinister Grethel surely thought. Even the old hag seemed unnerved by it. The sounds of heavy footfalls echoed through the house and out the dusty windows into the night air. The anticipation was almost more than Grethel could stand. She nearly shrieked when the door slowly creaked open. Unaware, Hansel stood there stupidly slouching with his hands hanging listlessly by his sides.

In the doorway stood Grethel’s mother; she as beautiful as ever. Her blue eyes beamed in the darkness, as if illuminated by some inner light. “Ah you’ve returned. Where is your sister?” The mother witch softly asked.

Hansel turned towards the tree, at that moment the mother imposter burst through the door just as the old hag rounded the tree. They stared at each other; both seemed very surprised to see each other. Twenty feet of earth separated these two menacing creatures.

“You are not like the others.” Softly spoke the mother imposter.

“Child this is no witch.” The old hag spoke gravely.

“What are you old woman, why have you come to seek me out?” The mother monster asked pleasantly.

“A witch I be, older than even I remember. No more of us I imagine. I came here because I were told there was another witch here.” She answered, curiously she added. “Now what might ye be?”

The mother witch’s eyes blazed red, her limbs began to change, she began to grow larger. “I ask the questions and you dear witch shall make a fine addition to our collection!”

“Collect me! We will see who gets collected!” The old hag grew fierce all the while Grethel watched in horror. What ever it was that had taken their mother was far worse than the old hag who intended to eat her brother. She gained her composure as the two monsters began to circle each other. She crept around the yard to her dazed brother and pulled him into a hedge. They needed to run but she had to see what was to happen.

The two seemed to grow larger. Clumps of earth were raised and circled in the air about the old hags form. No longer frail and weak in appearance. Grethel had only heard stories of such things, monsters able to change their shape to any they desired.

When the old hag took a step towards the now completely misshapen mother imposter lightning struck the ground around her and the earth shook. Fire shot from the old woman’s eyes and the thing that had been their mother made an unearthly noise and jumped back. It was hurt but this only slowed its reaction a mere second. It retaliated with light, blazing red and blue so bright it stung Grethel’s eyes to watch. The light struck the witch in the shoulder and with an ear splitting screech she stumbled to her knees.

The mother witch no longer resembled their mother. It was now twice her height the arms were larger and much longer. The fingers were much too long; the same was true for the legs and toes. Grethel gasped when the thing that had been her mother scanned the bushes seeking their hiding place. Its head was tall and askew, the closest thing Grethel could liken it to would have been a green giant gourd. The eyes were lifeless, colorless slits, these too were abnormally proportioned. Even Grethel crouched petrified as if bewitched like her brother. Her paralysis was fear induced unlike her brother’s magic induced stupor.

While distracted by the search for the children the [not] witch mother took her eyes off the witch. Commanding the air and earth the old witch hurled dozens of rocks and chunks of earth at the no longer mother thing. These hit home and when the mother thing screeched into the night Grethel nearly collapsed. The sound had seemed to pierce her ear drums and left her with a intense feeling of vertigo.

The old witch did not let up for a moment. Before the mother thing could retaliate the old hag was launching trees, farm equipment, lumber, and even parts of the out buildings and parts of the house were torn free and battering the screeching wailing mother thing.

The witch had created a vortex firmly around the mother monster. Stone and wood and steel battered it ceaselessly. It was hurt and in a final attempt to end this fight the old hag sent the weather vane straight through what passed for its chest. Grethel knew their plight was yet to be over but at least with this mother thing gone they might have a chance of escape and reuniting their family.

“Hansel, the witch killed the monster, we need to run away now.” Grethel whispered to her brother not wanting to attract any unwanted attention. Her plan was going to work. The witch was wounded and exhausted. The battle had taken its toll. They needed to flee. Grethel could hear Hansel was speaking in a very soft voice. She leaned in to hear.

Slowly as he began to drool on his nightshirt, Hansel spoke one last time. “It was some kind of coach with no horses, it moved freely and it flew into the sky like a bright round bird.”

There was a flash and Grethel could see the witch consumed in the brightest most brilliant light she had ever seen. She watched the witch scream as she was seemingly melted in the bright light. The light was upon her now and as she saw her fingers begin to melt away, there was no pain, only warmth, she lost consciousness.

Hansel, Grethel, their father, their mother, and the witch were never heard from or seen again. All that remained of their home was a scorched hole large enough to fit their house in three times over. Many years later the place seemed untouched even by the dense forest which surrounded it. Nothing would grow inside this scorched ring and it became known as an evil place to be avoided.

fin…

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Ter’Mari

(This is a novel I began writing about a year ago and I have fallen in love with my main character. It is based on a friend of mine. I do hope you enjoy it. This is my first project of this type, so I began a bit unsure but I am happy with how it is unfolding. This post is the first 50 pages so it is a bit of a read. I have sidelined this project due to life but I am itching to complete it. I’d love to earn my biscuits by writing but as of yet that dream is not my reality. 🙂 I would appreciate any critiques you’d wish to give, good bad or otherwise. Please forgive the editing mistakes I write quite a bit but I find myself lacking in the editorial department. Thank you. -JM)

Ter’Mari

The light stung Ter’Mari’s eyes when the ancient lady in waiting entered her chamber. The air was still and cold this morning and the thought of a long arduous day placating the squabbles of this corner of the grand king Vilathorn’s kingdom was daunting at best. It was her duty as Lady of House Tiernon. How she longed for the days her father would take her flying over the hills and valleys of the subterranean expanse he ruled. He was gone now and she would honor his name and the sigil of her house; yet she felt troubled as if some impending disaster loomed just out of sight. Hers was one of the most ancient names on the entire planet. There were 343 original settlers to their world. Every child knows this story.

Of the original there were 123 women and 220 men. More than half the men had been sterilized by the poisons which clogged the failing atmosphere of the once glorious earth her ancestors had been from. She thought it odd they called their planet earth. She never understood why they hadn’t named it something pretty. She had watched every film and had examined every picture in the archives and she thought it had to be the most beautiful place in existence. “Earth is dirt mommy.” She had blurted to her mother as she told the story to Ter’Mari no more than five at the time. This received affectionate laughter from both her mother and father.

The men were mostly picked for their knowledge and trade backgrounds and the women were picked based on virility. They had after all been sent to begin a settlement. The texts say that many more ships had been built and were all sent throughout the galaxy to planets which had shown the greatest promise for sustaining life. The settlers had named this new world Copious. It was overrun with game and edible vegetation. To speak that name aloud in Ter’s time was considered taboo; it was believed to be a bad omen.

The old lady busied herself straightening the room as Ter’ pulled the covers over her head and pleaded, “Ten more minutes, sweet Bondy?”

“Sweet miss you’ll miss breakfast if you dally long.” Bondy’s angelic voice echoed through the rafters.

Bondy was the oldest person on their world and Ter’ was all too aware that she too would soon be gone just as her parents were. Bondy was a rarity and had been discussed in great detail behind closed doors during the monthly meetings with all the planets leaders in Vilathorn’s palace. The scientists wanted to study her to see why she had lived longer than anyone else in 400 years. Ter’ already knew the answer and despite her position no one seemed interested in her explanation. She wasn’t a scientist and people of science do not wish to entertain the whims of a mere aristocrat. She felt it was more a matter of pride.

A thousand years after her people arrived on this once verdant planet their sun had begun to die. There was wave after wave of solar radiation. Thousands died and many others suffered severe injuries. Her people fled into the deep quarries, mines, and caverns. The mines and natural caverns provided insulation against the onslaught but thousands more died from malnutrition and exposure. There hadn’t been any warning and they weren’t prepared for such a disaster.

They had survived and they adapted to the subterranean world she had known all her life. They had all the cumulative scientific knowledge of the entire earth at their disposal and all that they had gained in the thousand years before the “darkening” they had come to call it. It took several hundred years before the sun went dark and this had given them time to harness the energy of the planets core itself. The scientist believed that it would be many more thousands of years before the star they circled collapsed and destroyed the entire solar system. This was what bothered Ter’ most. They knew people were dying far too young and that eventually all their descendants would parish in a great cosmic event.

She was almost always furious following the council meetings regarding the fate of her race. She knew better than to openly voice her agitation. To disagree was acceptable but not loudly or passionately. To do so was considered common and anyone acting in such a manner would be drummed out of their position and would be shamed publicly. Her father had taught her to cool her temper before her anger destroyed any chance of making a difference.

Bondy had asthma which further confounded the scientists. They couldn’t grasp how someone with such a debilitating illness would outlive even the healthiest people many years her junior. Ter’ knew it was her father’s doing that had kept Bondy healthy and alive all these years. She was nearly seventy and the next oldest person was forty-two. Bondy had worked for house Tiernon her entire life. She wasn’t a slave or a servant. There were no servants or slaves on Ter’s world but everyone who was able was required by law to work. If you reached age fifty you were relinquished of your duties and then the whole would support you until you passed away but when offered retirement Bondy blurted “Who is goin’ mind that youngun and warsh your shirts Mr.?” That’s all she ever called Ter’s father was “Mr.” but she loved him like a son and her heart was broken when he died. It was her job ten hours a day five days a week and she made it very clear that she was going to keep doing it until she was 150 if the good Lord let her live that long.

Knowing of her condition she was tasked with maintaining the house. The air quality had grown increasingly toxic over the centuries. There were hundreds of engineers who spent tireless hours attempting to filter the air but as the population grew the life expectancy began to falter. Then the populace began to show an increasing sign of respiratory ailments. It was a growing trend and this Ter’ knew had to be alleviated. Her father had fought tirelessly in an attempt to convince the king that each house needed its own air filtration working in conjunction with the massive filters scattered throughout the caverns. They just weren’t doing enough. That’s why Bondy had lived so long even suffering from asthma because she hadn’t set foot outside of Tiernon manner in three decades.

As a child Ter’ abhorred the manor thinking it a prison more than a home until she were old enough to realize her father keeping her in doors was why she was so much healthier than the other children her age. Her father had been an architect and engineer before taking over his mother’s seat as Lord of Tiernon Manor. In his years he had designed and built many working scale models of the air filtration units. There were four purifying the air in Tiernon Manor. It was the cleanest air on the entire planet. Not even the king had such a luxury.

As she thought of her father and her mother she felt an ache in her heart. How she missed them both. Her father spent his entire career as an engineer attempting to better the quality of life for all and her mother a doctor had spent hers treating the afflicted. They both had spent too many years outside in the bad air and had ultimately succumbed to its effects. Even the years inside the manor attending matters of state couldn’t reverse the damage his lungs had suffered. This made her angry but she couldn’t let her emotions get the better of her. How foolish their great and wondrous king was. “Nothing but a fool!” She wished to scream but she was a lady and ladies didn’t behave in such a manner, “At least not when in the company of others.” Her father had told her with a wink and smile, just weeks before his death.

These were the things running through her mind this cold morning. There was no going back to sleep. She checked the time and realized she had been lying there thinking for over half an hour. She jumped from the warmth of her bed into the chill of her frigid chamber. She was slim and very athletic. She knew living in this house with her father’s inventions keeping the air fresher than anywhere else had been almost unfair to the people she resided over but there was no helping it. She did all she could to take the children with the worst asthmatic symptoms into her own home. It had become quite crowded in Tiernon Manor. She didn’t mind the company and she didn’t like waste. She would do anything for these people she could.

She knew that even if she took in every child in the quadrant that would help but it would only be a drop in an ocean and it was only a temporary solution. It was these times she felt the most overwhelmed. To her the dilemma was clear as well as the solution, the purifiers. Or was it? An old memory came flooding back it was something her father had said to her mother when she was just a girl as she sat playing with her toys and singing as she loved to do.

It was his tone that caught her attention and they didn’t notice the singing had stopped. She climbed into an oversized arm chair and peered into the sitting room with her ever inquisitive bright blue eyes and quizzically watched the exchange. Her father never got angry and he never raised his voice so to her seven year old self this was a sight to behold.

“They just won’t listen to me. You know how Vilathorn can be! He thinks all is well and will not hear any sense on the matter. Damn his stubborn pride. At the rate we are going the average lifespan will be five years old in another hundred years. Five year olds don’t have children. You’re a doctor; you know this as sure as I. There is only one solution. These air purifiers they are refusing to use would only be a temporary deterrent. These fools will see us all dead and buried and all the while they’ll sit up in that palace kissing each other’s royal asses with big smiles on their faces.” He paused and turned but little Ter’ was too quick, she ducked low before he saw her. She was astonished. She had never heard her father use such language or say such things about the king.

She sat very still hoping she had not been seen and after a few tense moments she heard her father speak again in a much softer solemn voice, it frightened her because when she braved another glance she saw tears on his cheek. “Dear wife please forgive my outburst. I know you understand how grave this situation is. Only a fool would think differently. You spend your days tirelessly treating these poor children and the sad truth is the only respite they shall receive is death.” His voice broke on the last word and it was then she noticed the tears flowing down her mother’s cheeks. The sight of her mother and father both in tears and the talk of death frightened her worse than being punished for eaves dropping. She ran to them crying her bright blue eyes brimming with tears.

“Oh my sweet darling Ter’ I am so sorry you were not meant to hear that.” He held her close a moment and then he gently sat her on her mother’s lap. She too coddled the frightened child.

Her mother hadn’t spoken or commented during her father’s monologue. It wasn’t until Ter’ was drifting off to sleep had she broken her silence. “The ship.” Ter’s mother died less than a year after that night. She had spent too many long days breathing in the toxic air and like all the others she had died far too young.

Ter’Mari looked into the large floor length mirror. She wore only a nightshirt and had it not been for all the company in the manor she wouldn’t even be wearing that. She just enjoyed being naked especially when she slept at night; clothes made her feel restricted. She let the billowy shirt fall to the floor and purveyed her reflection with that same quizzical expression with which she examined everything new or unusual. She turned this way and that. She knew the men found her beautiful but that meant nothing to her. She wasn’t interested in a man. Her main and only concern was the survival of her people and nothing else. Once she found a way to fix this then yes she wanted a husband and children but she wouldn’t have them living in a hole like the moles she read about from her ancestor’s world.

Her hair was light and most unusual because everyone’s hair was dark; even her own parents had dark hair. They said she was a blessing when she was born. “The sun haired child with sapphire eyes,” they had called her. Her eyes were one of her most exquisite features. They were a blue that hadn’t been seen in millennia. Her eyes seemed to glow and were always the first thing anyone noticed about her despite her many attributes. Her skin was extremely fair as all the rest of her kin having never seen the sun. Her body was lightly toned and this too she found odd because not one other person appeared to be as healthy as she was. Everyone from the king to the lowliest sanitation workers ate the same food. Everything was shared yet she seemed to be the only person who physically prospered. The only difference is the air she breathes. She was twenty two years old and other than when it was necessary she remained inside Tiernon Manor.

She spent a great deal of her free time with the children playing games and teaching them to exercise. She had learned a great deal from her mother about physical fitness as well as from reading the ancient archives. She felt alien looking in the mirror. It wasn’t until she began digging in the archives had she seen anyone who even came close to resembling her. Other than her pale skin she looked just like any other girl from earth. She cut her hair in the fashion of a woman she found in one of the ancient digital magazines. It was short and she never let it grow too far past her ears in spite of being told more times than she could remember that she should let it grow long. Long hair bugged her and she hadn’t let it get long since she was young.

With one last glance in the mirror she began to dress. She was completely stressed and more so than ever, she was not looking forward to her duties as Lady Tiernon. All that kept repeating in her mind was her mother’s sad voice, “The ship.”

2

She entered the chamber which served as the hearing room just off the main foyer of the grand entrance to Tiernon Manor. The entrance was a sight to behold. There was a twenty foot hand chiseled sculpture of a friendly looking dragon that greeted all who entered. On either side were matching stair cases which rose over forty feet. The thing that impressed Ter’ most, even as a child, was the fact that it was all carved out of solid rock. Her father had very patiently answered all her questions as she would follow him around the huge manor.

“How’d they make this daddy?” She would ask with wide eyed wonderment. He had in great detail explained the history of the manor to her. She gasped when he told her it had taken over ten years to complete and later there were additions carved into the stone walls expanding it even farther. “Daddy, that’s more years than I am old.” He had laughed at this. Tiernon Manor was over a thousand years old. There were thirty-four rooms in total of which twenty two were bedrooms. Each and every room besides hers and Bondy’s were now occupied by the worst asthmatic children from Ter’s quadrant. She filled all the other rooms as well. Word had spread and each and every time someone sought out refuge for their child she would find a bed and a place for them.

She had always cherished her time with her father and shadowed him from the moment he returned home in the evenings until she would fell asleep in a little chair he kept by his desk in his study just for her. He knew one day the desk would be hers and he prayed that his efforts would make her life better.

She was jerked from her reverie as the large metal doors creaked open and the procession of plaintiffs began to shuffle in. She dispensed with formality during these proceedings. She had no desire for the pomposity of the great palace or even her peers which controlled the other quadrants. No, she was a matter of fact in her rulings and in almost every case she could easily find a happy median which would satisfy each party. For this she was widely respected.

It was during these hearings she spent a good deal of time observing her people. She didn’t feel superior to the men and women before her. She felt that each and every person was just as valuable to the survival of her race, maybe even more so than she was. It saddened her to watch the effort it took for some of them just to explain their problems. A man explaining a property dispute had begun to collapse and it was the person he held the grievance against which saved him from falling on the hard stone floor. These acts of kindness were common amongst her people. They, even when at odds, took care of each other. She loved them all for this. She needed to do something. She must do something.

The day carried on like each before and despite her anxiousness to do what she did not know, she listened intently and passed judgment as fairly as she was able. She noticed the time and realized she had been holding court for a solid six hours. She called for a break and directed everyone to the kitchen for lunch and refreshment. She was an extremely generous person. During lunch she didn’t eat she only had what passed for water. It was bitter and all she had every known but she couldn’t help but feel there must be something better. She wondered what real fresh water tasted like. She had seen it in pictures and in the archived footage. It must be absolutely wonderful she mused.

Ter’ was lost in thought. Why had that conversation come to her that morning? Why after all this time had she remembered now. She couldn’t shake this growing feeling of uneasiness and impending doom which had taken hold of her. After an hour break she returned to the hearing room which in a few hours would be housing twenty sick children as they rested for the night. She was relieved to see that there were only a dozen more cases to hear and she could get back to worrying. The thought brought a wave of distress on her and she quickly began the proceedings to temporarily block these negative feelings.

Just as she was finishing up with the last case she heard the door slowly creak open and to her surprise it was Lord Mendleson. He was one of her peers from the western most quadrant. This was a great surprise he must have travelled for four days to get to Tiernon Manor. He like Ter’ had one of the ancient names and by reputation he was kind and generous. Ter’ hadn’t ever talked to the man outside of the council chambers and never about anything other than official business. Mendleson never argued but when she had tried to explain why Bondy had lived so long he hadn’t openly dismissed her comments. He had seemed interested but had kept quiet due to his colleague’s negative comments.

Mendleson’s quadrant was in far worse shape than Ter’s. She knew the air quality in the west was far more toxic due to mechanical failures following a seemingly minor earthquake. It had collapsed the thermal vent which powered the air purifier which was deepest in his part of the kingdom. There was no rush to aid the westerners and to this Ter’ had spoken up and offered aid but as per usual was dismissed. “They can fix it.” This was all the fool king had said and the issue was discussed no more.

Mendleson was a scientist before he took his seat as lord of Mendleson Manor. His specialties included metallurgy and electromechanical engineering. Ter’ remembered several late night meetings between this man and her father. She never thought much of it at the time. Being a child she was more focused on the adventures of a child. She felt all that was about to change.

Mendelson stood quietly at the rear of the chamber patiently awaiting an audience with Lady Tiernon. She approached as the room began to clear. “Welcome to Tiernon Manor Lord Mendleson.” She gave a slight bow.

He grinned and returned her halfhearted curtsy. “Why thank you Lady Tiernon.”

“Perhaps you’d like to join me in my study?” She offered.

“Certainly,” Mendleson quietly followed Ter’ up the stairs and down the long hallway to her father’s study. Her mind raced faster with each step. What could this visit mean? Perhaps he wants to discuss the air purifiers? That was the only probable answer she could conceive. Once inside Ter’ took her place in her father’s ancient chair.

Mendleson sat across from her and as an afterthought stood and quietly closed the door to the chamber before returning to his seat. This act caught Ter’ by surprise. Her imagination began to run wild. The anticipation was nearly more than she could bear. Patience had never been Ter’s strong suit. Her father had on numerous occasions told her, “Good things come to those who wait my sweet impatient daughter.”

Mendleson could see how anxious she had become and at this he grinned, “Your father told me of your impatience. I can see he was not wrong in his description nor was he wrong when he told me of the goodness of your heart. You are the most loved of all the Lords and Ladies of our world. You’ve filled your home with the infirm and this has not gone unnoticed. If that fool king we have would have been half as wise as your father we probably wouldn’t be in such dire straits.” He paused a moment.

His words had shocked her. Other than that long ago night she had never heard anyone speak badly of the king. “Lord Mendleson I don’t understand.” His comments had only added to her anxiety. She was nearly bouncing in her chair by this point.

“Please Ter‘Mari, if I may, I’d prefer if we dispensed with formalities I find it quit droll and pompous.” He grinned as he spoke. “Your father told me you feel much the same way.”

She knew then that this man and her father had been much more than colleagues, they had been friends. Ter’ decided she liked him as well. It was quite odd to hear someone of such a high position speak in this manner. “I didn’t know that you and my father were so close.”

“We spent many years working together. We spent countless long days as young men laboring on those damnable air purifiers which do little more than prolong our people’s suffering. Then as Lords of the realm we worked ever so tirelessly attempting to fix the problem with the toxicity levels in our homes.” He paused briefly; his skin was paler than usual even for someone who’d spent forty one years below ground. He began to cough and the sound made Ter’ cringe. She ran out of the office to get him a drink. The coughing had passed when she returned a few moments later but the strain it had taken was visible. “Thank you.” He said gratefully as she handed him the water.

She knew the signs all too well. Her father had coughed like that. It was a scenario which was being repeated by many at that very moment all throughout the subterranean kingdom. She knew this man had maybe six months tops but only if he remained in the pure air of Tiernon Manor. “You could stay here. The air here will ease the coughing fits.”

“My dear child you try so hard to save everyone don’t you? “ He looked at her with a sad knowing smile that made her feel uneasy. She imagined that perhaps his visit had nothing at all to do with the air purifiers. “You can’t save them. Not even half. I am most saddened to tell you that you will only save two dozen if you are lucky. I am sorry it has to be me to tell you this. I feel like the executioners errand boy. I’m guessing you thought I was here about the air purifiers but I am not. I am here to impart the greatest secret of our people on to you as your father passed it to me nearly twenty years ago. Dear girl I am here to tell you about the ship.” He could see the light of recognition in her eyes.

“The ship? I woke with that thought in my head this morning. I was thinking of my mother and father and I remembered them talking and yes my mother had said, ‘The ship.’” Ter’ was nearly overwhelmed. What ship? She couldn’t get the words out.

“You’ve read the archives of our ancestors and our history from the time they landed here. You know of the darkening and the death of all life on the surface but there is a second history unknown by all but a few. There have never been more than ten people who’ve known about what I’m going to tell you at any given time. Our king was not deemed worthy to know what you are about to hear.” He began to cough again but far worse this time and she realized that she had been wrong. Six months was a far too optimistic guess, this man wouldn’t last the month.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Although her question was sincere she knew there was nothing that could be done.

He waved her off and after a few more grueling minutes the coughing stopped and as he gained his composure he began again. “After the darkening and we fled below the surface some of our people decided that we needed to find a way off of this planet. Others argued that we could survive indefinitely below ground. Humans were not meant to live in holes. We evolved on a planet with sunshine and fresh air. This is no life. Yes it’s all we’ve known since birth but just look in a mirror. You my child were a blessing because it was your birth that changed it all. Your father was a brilliant architect and engineer, this you knew but he was so much more. Your father was also an incredible inventor and rocket scientist.” He chuckled as her jaw went slack. Ter’ had the funniest dumbfounded look on her pretty face. He couldn’t help but enjoy the moment. Then he resumed with a more serious tone. “He worked himself into and early grave so that you my dear wouldn’t have to. Ter’Mari you were the catalyst that drove him and in turn drove us all to finish a secret project that has been underway since our star went dark.”

“That was nearly two thousand years ago.” She stammered.

“Yes child it was. This project was kept secret because of fools like our great king. They felt safe below ground. They ignored the data the scientist had gathered before having to flee and leave their equipment. We had been here nearly a thousand years and so many restrictions were put on our advancement because the people in charge believed that we would end up destroying our atmosphere the same way we destroyed the earths. So there was no advancement in some areas of science at all. They preserved the ship which brought us but the components were cannibalized for other projects. They left only the hull but thank the Gods someone had the foresight to save the schematics.” He paused. He was terribly winded and needed to catch his breath before he triggered another coughing spasm.

She softly spoke. “My father built a ship?” She was asking herself more than Mendleson. “So these people secretly began an aerospace program?” She remembered that when her father would take her flying it was always late at night which she never found odd at the time but it made plenty of sense now. “He was testing his ship and teaching me to fly wasn’t he?” She let slip out louder than her earlier question.

“Yes child. More than anything he wanted you to not be afraid of flight. Remember when he told you the craft was broken and he couldn’t fix it? It was needed elsewhere. We were testing various alloys for the hull of the ship and your little bird was a perfect test craft. We tested fuel mixes and hull density. We had the schematics for a fully functional spacecraft but we had no clue how to build the individual components. So we experimented. We’ve lost good people to accidents. You must understand we knew it could be achieved but we had no definitive instructions on how to do these things. A great deal of our scientific information brought from earth was lost during the solar radiation storms. We had to all but start from scratch. The fools tried so hard to make this planet a utopia that they stifled any chance of escape if something went wrong and regrettably it did.” He paused briefly.

“How many people can we take with us? Where will we go? How long before we can return to get more people?” She was growing more and more excited having forgotten Mendleson’s earlier words.

“I told you Ter’Mari if we try and put any more than twenty-two people on board then there is a chance that none of you would make it to your destination.” His expression was grim.

“Well ok then we can only take twenty-two at a time. That’s not the greatest but we will just have to make more trips.” She was ever optimistic.

“Ter’Mari I need you to understand that this is a one way trip.” She began to argue and he cut across before she could get a single word out. “When our ancestors set out on this journey it was understood that it was one way and one way only. There was never a plan to go back or to ever try and join up with the other settlers strewn across the galaxy. I am afraid that this is the case here Ter’.” He watched as her already troubled expression grew even dimmer.

“The men and women who came here traveled for forty years. They were young when they left and they were rotated in and out of cryogenic stasis. So in a period of forty years they each only aged ten. The ship we’ve built is exactly like the ship that brought them here only much smaller. One of the major obstacles was that we had no raw materials with which to build. The proper alloys needed to build such a machine were very rare on this planet and the fact that the surface is now uninhabitable and incapable of supporting life made gathering these materials that much harder. You couldn’t survive on the surface for more than a minute unprotected.” He could see she was on the verge of tears.

“These purifiers weren’t an experiment for our survival were they? They were prototypes for this ship?” She couldn’t continue for fear of completely breaking down.

“Yes my dear. You were picked to be our representative on this mission. There is something more I have yet to tell you. First let me explain as to how and why I know what I am about to tell you. Your father kept these things from you knowing your impulsiveness would have you jumping head first into this project. He knew that your heart would end up being your undoing and in an attempt to save everyone you would not even be able to save yourself.” The words burned her and he saw it. “I am sorry. If you can save twenty-two then twenty-two you must save. It’s a hard fact Ter’ but it is the truth. Since the start of this secret endeavor we’ve had many triumphs and many failures. The earlier members tried with some degree of success to start settlements on the surface. Many lives were lost and many resources were expended but they did eventually manage to build a fortified settlement. It was quite small but from inside they were able to observe our star.

This fool king and his ilk have clung to their facts and say that we have many thousands of years before the end but I am sad to say the end has already begun. There were twenty two planets in this solar system when we first left the surface. When the first settlement was built there were twenty-two. In your short life time seven of the twenty-two have broken apart. Since the darkening it would seem our orbit has slowed. The seven planets which have been destroyed are closer to our star and had quicker orbits. The earthquake that collapsed the thermal vent in my quadrant wasn’t a random occurrence. It was just the beginning. The earthquake coincided with the destruction of the planet closest to our orbit. Each year our star grows denser and it’s slowly pulling our planet as well as all the other planets closer to it. Our calculations show that in six months and four days our planet will be in the same orbit as the seven already destroyed planets. It is our belief that we shall share the same fate.”

3

Lord Mendleson was given a room after a bit of jostling around of some of the children. He looked a haggard mess as Ter’ bade him good night. She saw the look of death on his face. It sent a chill down her spine she fought to conceal. It was a look she found was easily recognizable once seen on the face of one you hold dear. She almost felt bad for the relentless questioning she had given him. She wanted to know everything about this ship they had built. She couldn’t conceive of only saving twenty two people.

He had informed her that there would be a crew of seven plus herself and the rest would be the healthiest children from their world. This was unacceptable to her saving only fourteen children, but she had learned to keep her objections to herself. Ter’ quietly thanked her father. She knew that this man would not be alive at the launch so she would be the ranking official over the project and she was going to find a way.

It was late but there would be little time for sleep now. Not with so many little lives at stake. She went down into the recesses of Tiernon Manor to her father’s old workshop. There was a terminal with access to the palaces data base. She needed information and she needed it now. She was aware that all access logs to the main terminal were monitored but she was known to access random information at late hours when she couldn’t sleep it was never questioned.

The first thing she downloaded was the original mission files for the ship which had carried her people three thousand years ago. The next were random files pertaining to that time period. Files she had no interest in but she wanted to make her downloads to appear random. Her next important files were the last surface aerial maps of the original city they had built just before the star had begun to emanate the dangerous radiation. Then along with that she downloaded many other non-essential files. If there were inquiries she would just say it was for teaching purposes; she did have a house full of children. Yes the files were for them but not in the way she would make them believe.

She knew that Tiernon Manor sat below the old coliseum built in the style of the romans so she had a reference point to start from. There was so much to do and so little time. She knew what she had in mind was improbable and there was a chance she wouldn’t live through what she intended but she had to know. Was the original ship still there? How badly had the millennia damaged it? Was it salvageable? She was certain that even if she located the ship there would be no real way to fix it in time but she had to know. She would try until the last second and if only twenty two made it off this planet, twenty one would be children with one person to fly it.

She had no intentions of keeping a seat for herself. She was Lady of House Tiernon and no one on this planet save the king himself could question her word. Mendleson assured her that she would be apprised of all the pertinent data regarding the mission the following week when he returned but at this she scoffed. “You just told me about my father’s secret project and expect me to sit here waiting a week to learn more. No sir! I am coming with you.”

Despite his many arguments and misgivings about his already odd behavior having come so far in his condition without a royal decree, she refused to budge. He quickly learned when Lady Ter’Mari of House Tiernon had made up her mind there was no changing it. She didn’t know how to accept the word “no.”

They left together the next morning under the guise that Ter’ wished to see the conditions of the west and its people. Bondy knew better. When she had come in to wake Ter’ she was shocked to find her awake and packed for a journey. Her bed was not slept in and Bondy realized it was time. Bondy with tears on her wrinkled cheeks embraced Ter’ with a strength Ter’ didn’t expect. Ter’ was caught off guard and her cheeks were soon moist with her own tears.

Ter’ began to speak but Bondy hushed her, “Sweet miss I know where you are going and I know why. Mendleson’s presence here will surely be noted by now. I am most certain Lord Rasten sent an emissary to the king the moment Mendleson arrived to recharge his caravan and to take rest. That means the king knew Lord Mendleson was coming here before he crossed our threshold. There will be inquiries and you know how big a fool Vilathorn is. His father and his father before him were thought to be the biggest fools that palace had ever seen but Vilathorn proved them wrong. A bigger fool has yet to be born!” She spat the last sentence and Ter’ couldn’t suppress the giggle it elicited.

“Oh dear Bondy, you’ve kept this secret too? How long have you known?” Ter’ was quite curious as to why even her lady in waiting knew what she had not.

“My father spent his entire life trying to perfect the fuel for that ship you’re about to get on. He’s the one who brung your father in on this project. He died in the pursuit of this mission and you my dear will see it through. All our hopes rest with you now sweet miss.” She hugged her again and walked out of the chamber.

Ter’ sat for a moment stunned and quickly she leapt to her feet and ran after Bondy. “Bondy please, do you know what is going to happen? Do you know about the seven planets? I can’t leave all these children behind! How could anyone expect me to be so cruel? How am I expected to choose so few from so many only to leave the rest to perish?” Ter’ was as close to hysterics as Bondy had seen her since she had become an adult. The sight of the bright eyed girl with so much love in her heart to be nearly crippled with grief nearly made Bondy cry out in pain.

“Oh dear child, yes I know all too well the plight we face. I can’t imagine what your heart must be feeling and I swear if I were a younger woman I’d bear this task with you but I am old sweet miss and my time like most of us here is coming to an end. Your dear father.” Bondy got stuck on the words and needed a moment to gain her composure before she could go on. “Your dear father knew you would not be able to accept taking so few. He even expected that you’d give up your place so that another could survive. I beg you for your mother and father’s sake go and if there is a way to save more, find it. But please sweet miss go. Your parents spent their entire lives making sure you were healthy. The men and women they are sending with you will not survive the journey. They are to get you going and to keep things in order as long as they are able. You miss are meant to survive because the young ones will need you when you arrive to keep them safe. You noticed even as a child you were different, healthier than all the rest. You stood out but that was for a reason. You’ve been given supplements your entire life. Your father and mother put everything into you. You’ve eaten better and lived better than anyone on this planet. Everything from the day you were born until now was all for this trip. It is what they wanted for you.” Bondy was growing winded, Ter’ helped her to a chair on the side of the corridor.

“It is unfair to put this all on you. From a small child you have been educated in our history. Yes all children know the basics but you are the first child ever to sit and read directly from the royal data base. Your father always smoothed over the access violations claiming he was doing research and there was naught else said. It was all for you. You needed to know our history as well as that of our ancient ancestors because if our race is to survive it will be you to make it come to pass.” Ter’ stood there, tears drying on her cheeks, red eyes glazed over shocked at all Bondy had just told her.

The trip was long and slow. On the third day they stopped at house Reston and to their surprise Lord Reston was not there to greet them. Lord Mendleson’s caravan only consisted of two vehicles each powered by ancient batteries that needed recharging only after two hundred miles. They were told to have lasted a full thousand miles on a single charge when they had been new many ages ago. These were even a luxury to the royalty of this subterranean tomb. The thought made her shiver, but she couldn’t shake it. Each face they passed on the king’s road further enforced her sad conclusion. All these people and all they love will soon be gone. No it’s no tomb, they will not have the dignity of a tomb they will be ripped apart and flung into space along with this god’s forsaken planet. She quietly wept not wanting to arouse suspicion from her driver. She was in the second vehicle and Mendleson in the first as per custom. She must act as a Lady and not give any sign that something was amiss.

Lord Reston had left word that Lord Mendleson be given every courtesy of his home and despite the generosity of House Reston both Mendleson and Ter’ felt uneasy about his absence. She knew they had nearly two full days left before they would be free to speak without unwanted ears nearby. The suspense was taking its toll on Ter’. This was obvious to Mendleson and he said only one thing in regards to their deception. “Two thousand years Ter’, you can survive two more days.” He grinned and made no more mention of their true intent.

As they supped the two spoke only of living conditions, water treatment, and air purification. Each certain their every word was being recorded by Reston’s all too eager staff. They made haste with departing house Reston as soon as they had each feigned a nap. They were more concerned that the batteries were ready for the last leg of the journey. It was 382 miles from Tiernon Manor to Mendleson Manor and they each intended to make the trip as quickly as possible.

The workers they passed on the road haunted Ter’. They all work so tirelessly for our survival completely oblivious to the impending doom of this planet and everyone on it. “In it,” she nearly scoffed aloud catching herself as she noticed the driver watching her over his shoulder. “Lady, are you well?” He asked innocently.

“Yes, sorry just thinking aloud is all. I have a great deal on my mind.” She scolded herself quietly; she needed to keep it together. She had never felt so torn in all her young life.

To the relief of Ter’ they could see Mendleson Manor in the distance. It was truly a sight to behold. She had never traveled to the west in all her years but she had seen pictures. It was carved completely in the side of a great wall nearly 300 feet high. She had studied the diagrams of the great elevators which rose all the way to the grand courtyard nestled at the very top. Massive artificial lights had been installed which were used to grow the algae the people in this quadrant survived on. She had never known anything other than these algae and wondered if it tasted the same to others as it did to her. Bondy’s words echoed in her mind. “Supplements,” She had read of such things in her studies and almost surprised herself as she started recounting all the things she did know about food and harvesting. Facts she had tucked away in her mind never really believing they held much value. Hadn’t her mother been extensive with her education of things she felt were unnecessary?

The responsibility of education was bore by their parents. If your father were an engineer then you would be an engineer. It was only the royal families who had any choice in the career paths they chose. Her mother had been a Buren far from the south and had studied medicine and botany from the time she was a small child. She had married her father when she was only 16 and he had been 15. Royals only married royals and that was a tradition that went back even before the darkening. A great deal of their history was lost as her people fled the radiation but it was believed the king descended from the captain of the ship which brought them here but those records had not been completely salvaged. Names were augmented over the generations to give them a more royal air but Ter’s father had assured her their name is the same as our ancestor who boarded that ship three thousand years ago. Ter’ had set out at one point to find out the names of the crew and passengers of the ship which brought her ancestors over but it was incomplete. She spent weeks going through the data until one day she found an entry that sent her flying up the stairs and through Tiernon Manor raving like she had gone mad.

She had to suppress a giggle at this memory. She had only been ten at the time and as excited as she was her father wasn’t home so her excitement had to wait. She had found Bondy and for the next hour as Bondy prepared their dinner went on and on about Ensign Matthew Tiernon. She had found proof that yes her ancestor was definitely on the ship and he was a crew member.

To her surprise the caravan drove right into the great elevator and before she knew it they were rising quite rapidly towards the summit. The pictures hadn’t done justice to the immense size of Mendleson Manor. She felt like one of those ants she had studied as a child. She felt tiny and insignificant in the face of such a massive structure. The driver casually spoke. “Impressive isn’t it, it was under construction in one form of another for over 300 hundred years. It is the tallest structure on the entire planet”

Ter’ already knew this but she smiled acknowledgment at the driver just the same. Ter’ was extremely impressed as the elevator rose she became dizzy watching the people grow smaller as she ascended. She had to look away. The driver noticed and smiled at her. She thought he was attractive; more so than most of the men she encountered. He had to be in his thirties and already showing signs of the illness that all eventually fall to. Despite his warm smile her heart sank and she knew he was just another who would soon parish in the great cataclysm.

At the summit they drove through the seemingly endless algae fields and after five minutes they had arrived at the entrance to the great hall. It had a carved archway with intricate patterns which appeared almost delicate in design. She thought if her mission weren’t so dire she could spend days wandering this place admiring the ancient stonework and beautiful carvings.

At last the trip were through and she was about to start battering Lord Mendleson with questions until she saw the state he was in. They hadn’t stopped in hours and though he hadn’t looked well from the time he arrived at Tiernon Manor he looked far worse now.

“My dear Lady Tiernon, please forgive an old man.” Ter’ thought a forty one year old calling himself old was ludacris but isn’t that what he was, old? Bondy nearly seventy could run laps around this poor soul. “Perhaps I was hasty in my misgivings about your visit. It would seem the hour is later than I had thought. Your impertinence it seems has served us well. I doubt I could make that trek a second time.”

“Take your rest kind sir I am certain your attendants can see to my needs.” She was worried. He seemed to have aged ten years since they set out. She wondered if he would make it through the night much less the week.

“We’ve much to discuss. As soon as I am settled I will send for you.” With that he left aided by two younger men neither of which were the picture of health. She felt tightness in her breath; it had started not long after they passed through Reston’s lands. It was if the air was heavier here and she supposed that maybe that and not just the height had made her dizzy.

She was guided to a luxurious guest chamber where she quickly settled in for a nap. Despite her excitement she was truly exhausted and she knew she had better rest while she was able.

4

Ter’ woke to a knock at the door. It was the handsome driver, he was all warm smiles. He brought her an iced pitcher of water. This she graciously accepted. She had awoken with an acrid smell in her nose and her tongue seemed to have soured in her mouth. The attendant noticed the way she gulped the bitter liquid and spoke. “It’s the air here Lady Tiernon I am sorry for the discomfort. It has grown worse at an alarming rate.” His tone was sullen and Ter’ thought perhaps even sad. Did he know?

“Once you are ready I’ve been instructed to take you to Lord Mendleson’s private dining chamber.” He turned and dismissed himself.

“I need just a moment.” Ter’s mind was racing and her heart was breaking. She had known of the destruction to come for five days but she could not combat the distress she was feeling. No, her distress had not abated but had only grown exponentially worse. To her every minute was a waste and yet here she sat on this bed wishing she could pull the covers over her head and forget the world as she would do as a child when she had been upset or frightened at a noise in the night. She stared at the closed door and realized for the first time in her life that she was terrified. It was a feeling as alien to her as she imagined bathing in real water would be.

The fear wrapped around her squeezing all that was good out of her. She felt she’d never know joy again. “God’s Ter’ you have to get up and do this. What would people think if they saw you sitting here cowering on this bed like a child?” She mocked herself and in doing so she found strength in one word, “Child.” From somewhere in the pit of her stomach she felt a stubborn burst of courage and she could have sworn she heard her father sigh as he did when she did something that made him smile. “The children,” she spoke aloud as she rose.

Lord Mendleson to her dismay looked no better than at their last meeting. Ter’ hadn’t considered the air when she had thought of his returning. He looked bad at Tiernon Manor but here he looked down right ghostly. He quietly spoke with a strained but pleasant smile, “My dear Ter’ your offer to stay at Tiernon Manor was a great temptation I must admit. It seemed I had reversed the effects of this accursed toxicity. It would seem my condition has advanced further now than it was when I first departed. It was as your mother had surmised. It was her hypothesis that once exposed for too long there would be no chance that the body could heal itself. It seems that clean air can at least alleviate the symptoms briefly but not stop the deterioration.”

Ter’ had tears in her eyes. She had witnessed the two people she held most dear die in this manner and even though she hadn’t had the time to get close to Lord Mendleson she truly liked him and couldn’t stop the tears. “I am sorry.”

“I’ve no doubt you are my dear but a difference it does not make. My lungs will fill and I will go like all the rest.” He weighed what he was preparing to say knowing it would sting Ter’ but the time for coddling had passed. “Just as your mother and father and everyone I’ve ever loved and everyone they loved.”

His words did have an effect on Ter’ but she hadn’t flinched. He had made no offense he had only spoken a cruel and tragic truth. The air was a worry for the dead not the living. That time had come and had passed and though they had tried all they had managed to do was keep their people alive like moles in a hole. No one had lived in over two thousand years. They had only survived. Ter’ began to speak but caught herself and nervously looked at the man who had apparently been assigned to her. Mendleson noticed and grinned, “Ah sorry this is Lanon he’ll be aiding you while you’re here and he has been apprised of our situation. He’s been an extremely helpful addition to our efforts. We’ve broken more than a few of our oldest rules regarding the ship. A necessary evil when haste is the priority.”

She surveyed Lanon in her trademark fashion and at her piercing gaze he began to fidget and blush. She jerked away when she realized she had been staring far longer than she had any right.

“I imagine you two will be spending a great deal of time together the next few months. You have many things to see and even more to learn Ter’. Lanon is going to help you.” Mendleson began to cough like before but this time he wasn’t able to stop. Lanon shouted down the corridor and more men rushed in and carried him away on a stretcher like the ones her mother had used. Like the one her mother was placed on when she died and just the same as her fathers. She couldn’t shake the chill this brought on.

Lanon could see the distress the scene had caused her and he made an attempt to console her but she waved him off. “I’m ok. Let’s get to work.” He led her through passage after passage moving deeper and deeper into Mendleson Manor and after ten minutes they arrived at what seemed to be a blank wall with passages heading in three directions. Ter’ thought without a guide an intruder could get lost in there for hours. It was like the Minotaur’s labyrinth she had read of as a child. Lanon looked left, right, and then back the way they had come and as she was about to ask he pushed in a concealed panel she hadn’t even seen it had been so cleverly carved.

The air was the first thing she noticed. It wafted out around her in a cool rush. It was fresh and she reveled in it. They quickly stepped inside and the large stone door banged shut. It was quit ingenious. She recognized the craftsmanship; it had been built in much the same fashion as the massive elevators.

As ingenious as the door had been to her nothing had prepared her for what she saw as she passed under a skillfully carved archway leading into a massive chamber. The fresh air had made her a bit unsteady on her feet but the sight of the massive craft was far more impressive than anything she had ever seen.

Lanon gripped her elbow as she nearly fell. “Lady Tiernon please be careful, we need you.” She had indeed nearly toppled over staring nearly straight up at the behemoth craft. She placed her hand on his and held it a long moment as she continued to gaze upward. She had seen the photos of the ship which had brought her ancestors to this world but she couldn’t fathom what must have been sacrificed to construct such a craft on a world with nearly no access to natural resources.

She became aware that she was touching Lanon and a it occurred to her that she had never touched a man other than her father and the occasional accidental brushes but she had never even so much as held a man’s hand. Lanon’s hand was course and rough against the soft flesh of her palm. His touch was warm and before she realized she was no longer focused on the craft but was staring blankly across the cavernous hall only thinking of his touch.

She flushed as she looked up into his eyes, “Ter’, please call me Ter’, and thank you.” She slowly removed her hand from his and immediately longed to touch this man, pull him close and press her lips to his. The flush worsened as they started towards the back of the hall where a group of haggard over worked men were preparing a sparse meal and talking quietly. She couldn’t shake the desire Lanon had woke in her. She felt strange almost alien in her own skin but she liked what she was feeling. She had to focus on the task at hand; that was to save as many children as she could. Everything else had to wait.

The men almost hadn’t noticed as she approached. Once aware they all leapt to their feet. “Lady Tiernon they all spoke nearly simultaneously.” They each gave a cursory bow.

“Please, let that be the end of this pompous drivel. My name is Ter’Mari, and I prefer Ter’ so please be done with all this Lady and bowing nonsense.” Her comment almost seemed to confuse the men as if it was a trick and she found their reactions more than she could handle and began to laugh so loudly it echoed all around them.

Ter’ knew that to see a “Lady” act in such a manner must have been a sight to witness for people who had spent their entire lives kowtowing to Ladies and Lords. They adhered to ancient customs she felt outdated and foolish but she had been a servant to tradition her entire life just as they had been.

She caught her breath and coughed a few times then cleared her throat. “You guys really need to learn to relax.” It was a phrase she had picked up, as a child, from an ancient text about a young girl who solved mysteries. She had ran around Tiernon Manor using it on all she encountered enjoying the silliness of the sound of her own voice.

To this some of the men actually began to chuckle. “That’s better,” she beamed at them. None of the men present had ever met Ter’ but they knew right away that the choice they had made had been right. If she were to be the legacy of man they wanted someone who would be a kind and fair leader. Ter’s parents had trained her and had spent her entire life preparing her even without Ter’s knowledge but a decision still had to be made. The project had been worked on for many generations and many had given all to aid in its progress. Her father knew this but he had been right in knowing that she would be accepted because she had a mind for business and a heart for the people. Yes his daughter would lead as many as she was able and he had every faith that she would be successful. The others with a vote had agreed with Lord Tiernon and everything had been geared towards Ter’ leading the mission.

“Captain, if I may,” The voice came from a man wearing a strange silvery suit which she immediately recognized from the archives. It was a space suit. The man couldn’t have been more than thirty five but the lines on his face said eighty. “I’m Arnon; I am in charge of getting this ship in the air and off this planet.” His eyes were stern and she could see this man was all business. She felt like a child again. She felt she was about to get reprimanded for being disruptive during one of her mother’s many lessons on botany. The reprimand hadn’t come but she now knew what Alice must have felt as she fell down the rabbit hole.

“Captain,” she said befuddled. She hadn’t realized she was going to be the first captain in three thousand years. Vilathorn would be thrilled, this thought made her grin. “Yes Arnon, let’s begin.”

Ter’ spent the next six hours going over the ship with Arnon; she at several points had to stare in wonder at the sheer capacity of this man’s brain. He seemingly knew everything about everything. He too had marveled at how Ter’ absorbed the information as quickly as he could recount it. Ter’ was surprised at how much she knew about the technology. He father had been an integral part of the design team and she had studied engineering under his tutelage for nearly her entire life. Ter’ was an extremely brilliant designer in her own right. She had for fun built many gadgets and she had built twice as many more beyond the assignments her father had given her.

Now more than ever her seemingly directionless education made sense to her. They were training me to survive on a ship for a very long time with limited resources. She understood how to maintain and operate the air purifiers. The algae hydroponics system she could have built by the time she was eight. The only truly alien component to her on the ship was navigation. This Arnon made clear would take her months to truly grasp and she showed no signs of distress at this news only an eagerness to get underway.

She had paused as the thought of how selfless her parent’s actions had truly been. She had been trained in medicine, botany, alchemy, engineering, electronics, hydroponics, ceramics, and many other things she had found funny but now they all seemed to make sense. She felt her cheeks warm and her eyes begin to moisten. She could see her mother’s ceramic work on some of the larger electrical components. They had used these ceramic parts as insulators.

Arnon noticed Ter’s reaction and quickly he understood. “I loved your mother and father as if they had been my own family. Sometimes it is hard to look around this ship and see the work of so many I cared about. Good people who are no longer here to see their work come to fruition. All I can say is that they did this for you and for the survival of our race. This ship was built by love and paid for with lives. You remember that and you tell your children their stories. Remember us and live that is all we ask.” Such sweet words from this stern man caused Ter’ to let a few tears fall but his words had instilled her with a purpose.

Arnon busied himself for a moment on an open circuit housing allowing Ter’ a moment to gain her composure. They continued their tour after a few moments. Ter’ was silently keeping a running total and estimate of everything that she could remove from the ship without effecting its operation. This she kept to herself, she would inform the rest once she were fully prepared with a plan of action.

The tour concluded with the inspection of the small hangar bay which held the small plane her father had taken her up in so many times when she were a child. It was decisively different than she remembered. Arnon noticed her deep interest in the changes. “This bird has been built and rebuilt over twenty times. It has been to space.”

“My father,” she began but was stopped.

“No, it was Lord Mendleson’s son Elton.” Arnon replied with a grave expression.

“I never met him. I heard he died in a fall exploring the forbidden caves.” Ter’ replied.

“That’s what was publicly announced, but there was a faulty seal. He began to lose compression, it was a small leak but it was enough. Although he managed reentry the damage was already done. He is a hero; with his dying breaths he saved the ship and landed just above this structure where it could be safely retrieved.” Ter’ listened intently as Arnon had conveyed the story. How many people had died for this over the millennia she was afraid to ask but she must know. A history must be kept. She will never let anyone forget what had been done and sacrificed by so many for so few to live.

“Vilathorn called Elton’s death a foolish act and refused to have a royal burial at the palace which has been tradition since our time began here. Lord Mendleson has never forgiven him this trespass. Elton did more for the people of this world than the past two dozen kings combined. They care for nothing but their serving girls and that damnable paste they consume.” Arnon nearly spat the words and quickly regained his composure, “Lady Tiernon, please forgive my vulgar language.”

Giggling Ter’ countered, “Oh no dear Arnon, anytime you wish to make me laugh at that fools expense feel free. I encourage vulgarity whenever I speak of our most humble King Vilathorn.” She bowed low as she spoke Vilathorn’s name and at this Arnon couldn’t stop his own laughter from escaping.

5

Ter’s brain was nearly overloaded by the end of the day. After Arnon had completed the tour of the ship she began to pour over the records which had been kept for generations but were noticeably more focused in recent decades. She gleaned the older records but found little that would aid her in her ultimate mission.

The records of her father’s involvement were what she was most concerned with. They hadn’t even begun construction until fifteen years ago. Luckily the predecessors had taken to stockpiling whatever materials could be salvaged from the surface and the rare deposits sometimes found in the forbidden caverns. The caverns were unsteady and prone to collapse. The caverns were ordered forbidden many generations ago by one Vilathorn or another for whatever whim they had at that moment.

It hadn’t thwarted the efforts of the ship builders. That’s what they called themselves in secret when really only those involved in the past fifteen years had an actual hand in building a ship. Ter’ noticed that these men though content and seemingly happy were extremely serious about their work. They were healthier than most she encountered and they worked nonstop.

There was no end of the day or beginning of the day for them they just worked while they were awake and if they needed to rest they would rest. They worked like no men she had ever seen; tirelessly and selflessly. She had been glued to the data viewer where they had meals for nearly eight hours. She had to stretch and eat. She was famished and realized she hadn’t eaten in days. She saw a makeshift cold cabinet in the corner. As she opened it she was surprised to see that it was actually working. Arnon happened to notice her curiosity. “It’s something isn’t it?” She looked up smiling as in answer to her query. “This is the system for cryogenics. At least this was one of your father’s miniature models. We’ve expanded but it’s taken a combined effort and over fifty years to perfect this technology even with instructions from the ancients.”

Ter’ was impressed it was as advanced a piece of technology as she had ever seen in person but yes she had studied cryogenics as well. “I always pondered why I the daughter of a Lord in a subterranean kingdom would need to understand cryogenics. So much makes sense to me now.”

After a quick meal of algae and water she buried herself back in the archives. She stayed glued to the screen until her eyes betrayed her intent and she were no longer able to force them open. She slept. She dreamed of strange moons with clouds of red and green. She saw animals unlike those from the stories and history lessons, but these seemed to be from a surrealistic nightmare but there was no fear in her dream. There was no fear in her. Even as she slept she felt her purpose, her mission, and her destiny were divine and that neither hand of man nor claw of beast would sway her from her duty.

Ter’ jumped up from the table ready to fight some unnamed horror from her sleep only to find herself standing alone near the giant ship. Her viewer tipped over and her things were scattered about the floor. She had believed she were alone but just as she began to right her viewer she saw Lannon approaching. The sight of him excited her. She felt a wave of passion flow through her body and the closer he got the more she ached.

“Lady Tiernon, are you well?” He was earnest in his asking. She could tell he was a kind soul. Despite very little conversation on the trip from Tiernon Manor he had not let an opportunity to address her wellbeing pass. His constant coddling made her feel cherished.

“Ter’, please call me Ter’.” She wanted him so badly and she didn’t care that royalty didn’t mix with commoners. All she knew was this man before her was all she wanted right now and nothing was going to stop her from having him.

“Yes my Lady, as you wish.” He started to bow and she reached out and grabbed his shoulder to stop the motion. He was strong and despite looking sickly before the oxygen rich cavern seemed to refresh him. He no longer appeared sickly but virile and healthy.

Yes she wanted him and in the face of certain disaster and her current situation who would stop her? “No one,” she whispered aloud as she wrapped her arms around Lannon’s neck and kissed him deeply. Her first real kiss and she enjoyed it more than she had ever imagined. Lannon did not try to stop her. He had wondered since the second he had lain eyes on her what it would be like to kiss someone so beautiful. He was frightened of her. To him meeting a Lady who carried herself and spoke in such a manner was akin to seeing an actual angel walking down the king’s road. She was an anomaly and he was already in love before she had pressed her lips to his.

“Take me to my room please.” Ter’ had decided and when Lady Tiernon made a decision it was set in stone.

Ter’ made her intentions clear when they reached her chambers. She did not speak, she only guided him through the doorway by the hand and once the door had closed she again kissed him deeply. He stood almost stunned watching as she disrobed. Lannon’s eyes were glued upon Ter’s and he too let his tunic fall to the floor. They each in turn examined the others nakedness. He had never seen a woman so alive and healthy. There were other beautiful women in Mendleson Manor but in comparison to Ter’ they no longer existed. He knew that she had been trained and nourished far better than any other and he could see the results before him.

Ter’ felt her face catch fire as she traced the naked man in front of her with her eyes. Her breathing was deeper and she could barely stand the heat rising up from inside. He seemed to be chiseled from pure white stone. Each and every muscle stood out. She could see he needed to gain a few pounds but to her and for her he was perfect. Her eyes went lower and Lannon could see the look she quite often gave things she was studying and he also began to flush.

Ter’ noticed his nervousness and reached out to him. He joined her on the bed each lying quietly staring into the others eyes. Ter’ broke the silence first. “I am sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable. I have never seen a man unclothed before.” As she said this she felt a bit embarrassed. “Have you been with a woman?” She asked timidly.

“I was married but I lost my wife to the cough two years ago.” He had a solemn air in his voice.

Ter’ using her hand traced the outline of his face. Yes he is handsome she thought. She rubbed his chest tracing the lines his muscles made below the skin. She was growing more curious and anxious with each touch. Lannon was still quite nervous by what was happening. He other than his wife had never wanted someone so badly in his entire life yet he was frightened to touch her.

She sensed his hesitation and she guided his hand to her lips where she kissed his fingers and smiled the sweetest smile he had ever seen. The look in her eyes and the desire for her overcame his misgivings. She may have been inexperienced but she was no child. Ter’ set out with the same overwhelming passion she applied to every aspect of her life.

Ter’ dozed wrapped in Lannon’s arms that night. In the morning she woke to find him dressing, but she pulled him back into bed naked. She was not yet satiated. Ter’ knew sadly what was to come. He would not be allowed on the ship and even she couldn’t argue taking a man who may be irrevocably ill in place of a child who might have a chance.

As they lay together naked she realized that she had never felt this kind of closeness to any other person in her entire life. Two things occurred to Ter’, she loved this man and she would have to leave him to die. She cried silently in his arms until she fell back to sleep.

Lannon gently rubbed Ter’s shoulder. It was far later than she had intended sleeping. She rose slowly and wrapped her arms around his bare chest. She was shaking and he could hear her soft cries. Lannon knew why she was upset but he also knew he couldn’t allow Ter’ to lose focus on the mission at hand or their people would be doomed.

Ter’ began to speak but Lannon silenced her with a kiss. “I know beautiful why you are sad but there is no reason. I have had too many years in the bad air. This state I am in is nearly magical. I could barely breathe before I was brought in on this project. If I stayed two weeks outside this oxygen rich environment I would be choking on every breath and within two months I’d be bedridden. Your mother wrote the book on this condition I am certain you have read it. Not all follow the path but I am a very typical case. Following your mother’s pathology I have six months to live. Lord Mendleson is not so lucky. He will not live to see us launch.”

Ter’ knew that what he said was true. Her mother had “written the book,’ and there was no denying the inevitable fact that even under the best circumstances he would be gone before the year was out. She did not fight the tears which came. She knew that no one would have the chance to cry over him when the time came so she would let him see her love for him while she could.

“This is love?” She asked Lannon rhetorically and quickly continued, “This is love. How can it be I meet the first man I have ever loved only to get a few months with him? The god’s cruelty knows no limitations.” Her tears had stopped but the look of sadness never left her eyes as again she guided Lannon to her. Despite all that had to be done she pulled him close and as they indulged in each other’s passion she whispered I love you.”

7

Ter’ and Lannon’s arrival to the lab that afternoon had gone unnoticed. It was the way they functioned. Each man had a special area of expertise and toiled many hours alone. Being from a subterranean world it was easy to mix one’s days and nights. Ter’ was deep in thought. She hadn’t been descriptive; she had only said she had some ideas that needed to be discussed.

“How much faster could we work if each man had a twenty man crew under them?” She said to Lannon without ever removing her gaze from the ship.

“The progress would definitely increase exponentially but we mustn’t let that fool king get wind of what we are doing. He’ll have the castle guard at our door ready to shut this all down.” Lannon answered cautiously.

“The castle guard is a joke Lannon. Those fat fools wouldn’t make it a mile much less the entire march to Mendleson Manor.” Ter’ smiled as she told him this. Lannon laughed at her irreverence. Yes he knew there were no other women like her on the planet and he guessed even if every ship had survived the mass exodus of ancient Earth that there could be no one like her in the entire universe.

Lannon set out on his usual duties. He was more or less the glorified gopher of the project but his services were priceless. Each and everyone loved having him around. He wasn’t trained as royalty but he had worked with engineers his entire adult life and was one of the most mechanically inclined people Ter’ had met. He was adept at problem solving. His ability to look at things and not reference a text as she had studied with many unavailable options to her, he referenced his experience and looked for practical ways to solve the issues at hand with available resources.

Ter’ wondered had allowing only royalty to study been a dramatic hindrance to her people? “This is one rule that will be abolished if I am going to be the one to start over for our people.” She blurted aloud and jerked a little in her chair startling herself. She looked around to see had anyone heard her. She whispered, “They would think me mad.” Then she giggled.

Lannon had seen her busy in her work and thought it best to give her a wide birth not wanting to distract her. She did not eat when the others ate she was oblivious to their chatter as she worked. Her plans were ambitious and more than a little dangerous. She knew in council her ideas and plans were readily dismissed but here she hoped for a better audience. She was new and had a fresh set of eyes. Perhaps she could come up with another way that could save more lives.

That night it was her who found Lannon. He was busily insulating wire couplings by hand. It was an arduous task and he took his work very seriously. This was his go to position when not busy with the requests of the other workers. She hugged him from behind and as she laid her head on his shoulder he closed his eyes and savored the moment. They were very much in love and even Ter’, whom was a slave to her wild imagination, even found the situation a bit logically unsound, was blissfully happy for it.

“Can we go now?” Ter’ asked coyly and without words Lannon rose and kissed her forehead and took her hand and pulled her towards the door. She loved how he looked sat her. His gaze made her feel alive like there was no wrong in the world and that everything was going to be ok. She knew this to not be true but then and there as he smiled down at her she promised herself that no matter what she was not going to let her sadness overwhelm the time they had together.

They showered together in the bitter water. It emanated a smell when heated for the shower. Her whole life Ter’ had held a great distaste for the smell. For the first time she realized as they stood together enjoying the warmth spending far too much time according to a Vilathorn kingdom wide decree that she would miss this smell, she would miss him. Ter’ caught herself before she could let the reality set in. “Enjoy the moment while it’s here.” She spoke softly.

Ter’ could not remember a time in her life when she laughed so much. Lannon was her equal in every way. He was a bit of a smartass just as she was and for someone without access to literature as she had been, he was quite intelligent. They laughed themselves to sleep and lay curled in each other’s arms. The next day they woke earlier. Ter’ had insisted, but still couldn’t resist yanking Lannon back into bed for another half hour before they set out for the day.

Ter’ spent the next twelve hours poring over schematics, maps and lists of the workers in Mendleson’s quadrant as well as her own. The night was wonderfully the same as it had been the previous evening and they woke at the same time and started their day in much the same way, they each had an untamable smile as they parted ways for the new days’ work.

The third day Ter’ spent just as the first two and before she and Lannon fell asleep that night she told him, “Tomorrow I’m going to call a meeting. I’ve spent three days coming up with a plan and let’s just hope they take me seriously.”

“I’ve no doubt my dear that they will not take you any way but seriously.” With that he kissed her and they each slept soundly.

8

Ter’s plan was unorthodox and went against every secrecy rule put in place many ages ago by her predecessors. Ter’ realized that they could proceed as originally planned and save a dozen and that would be commendable but she wasn’t looking for commendable she was searching for a miracle in the texts and from her people. “This needs to be a combined effort or we could all perish.” She said to no one, as she studied her presentation.

She knew that to travel to a new world with so few could be folly. With so few they could easily be wiped out by disease or any number of natural sources even predators. They needed strength to pull off mission success and what had she read somewhere in an old magazine file? “Strength in numbers,” as she said this, Ter’ smiled as the first few attendees for the meeting approached.

Arnon was the last to arrive. He stood ominously at the rear of the chamber they met in. Ter chose it for the lengthy conference table but more so for the large view screen mounted on the wall. Ter’ had designed extremely detailed and intricate plans for what she had in mind. “Please Arnon take a seat this, is going to be a lengthy presentation. I know you have been warned that I may be a bit impulsive but I assure you that if it becomes apparent that any of my ideas are going to hamper our mission then they will be scratched. I’m not up here giving orders. I am up here because as many of you know I was specially trained for this, a fact I wasn’t even privy to. So I beg of you gentlemen a few hours of your time to hear what I have come up with would be stupendously appreciated. I do not mean to stand up here and discredit generations of work and loss. I am a fresh set of eyes and sorry to say gentlemen it is quite obvious none of you has set foot outside this place in ages.” As she finished Ter’ gave them her brightest smile and all were silent except Arnon.

“We are listening Lady Ter.’” Hearing him call her Lady Ter’ made her giggle. She loved the nickname and from that point on it stuck.

She began as earnestly and as passionately as she was able. “I have gone over every schematic and every diagram and in turn, every piece of data on all the test results simulated and actual. No matter what these numbers tell us we must find a way to save more. If I arrive at an alien planet capable of supporting human life there is a good chance other things will be living there too. One adult with twelve children on such a mission could be disastrous.”

Ter’ paused, waiting on the inevitable rebuttal, but none came. So she continued on offering ideas on decreasing the weight of the ship without decreasing stability or soundness. She believed that the decreased weight would allow for more passengers and a larger life support system. Ter’ talked nonstop and she was pleased to notice they all listened attentively and some even took notes. It was silent until she said, “What if we launched the ship empty and use the little ship to shuttle the passengers up. Perhaps we could build another. With help we’d have time?”

Two hours had passed since she began and Arnon as well as everyone else in the room realized that she had just turned their project upside down. Some of her ideas had been privately thought of but no one dared say them aloud. Ter’ wasn’t afraid of anyone, not with so much at stake. It was a matter of survival. She meant to survive and take as many people with her as possible. These forbidden thoughts were out and there was no forgetting them. Lady Ter’ had made up her mind and this was going to happen. She laughed and told Lannon, “I always get my way I was just humoring them by giving them a choice. “ Lannon gave her a quizzical look and she blurted as she began to laugh hysterically, “I was terrified.”

They had broken for lunch and reconvened shortly after. This was the discussion portion and she was still worried about what they would say.

Arnon cleared his throat and the room grew silent. “We need lots of folks you know?” He did not pause for an answer. “There will be repercussions and Vilathorn will come and he will try and stop us. His guard will be in tow and they will attack if we do not give in to his demands.” Again he cleared his throat. “I spoke to Lord Mendleson during our recess and I speak for him and myself both, when I say, To Hell with Vilathorn and his ilk!”

To this Ter’ breathed a deep sigh of relief and sank into her chair, the men cheered. “It’s going to happen.” Ter’ spoke with a single tear in each eye.

The next few days were a whirlwind. It was chaotic but necessary. There were heated discussions and much more laughter than ever before. Ter’ was pleased but growing more anxious with each day. Finally they met again this time out by the ship.

Arnon slowly began, “It would seem that if we built another shuttle designed for passengers and freight we could accommodate eighty passengers but and I say this regrettably there are some major obstacles to overcome. Life support adjustments will be a major issue, cryogenics, hydroponics, as well as fuel consumption, just to name a few.”

“We need kingdom wide cooperation. This is where it gets messy.” She gave Arnon a weak smile.

Lannon arranged a conference call with all four houses. Arnon spoke for house Mendleson. Arnon gave Ter’ an introduction and took a seat in front of his own viewer. Ter’ walked in front of the camera and nervously began.

“Lords and Ladies of the kingdom I have dire news. This planet and all who abide within shall be destroyed in a great cosmic event in less than six months.” There were gasps and she signaled Lannon who began sending the data supporting these horrifying claims. “You can see for yourself it is true. The king will view this is a traitorous act so I ask you to choose carefully how you act. We here are committed to this mission no matter the costs. It is the survival of our race I am concerned with not keeping Vilathorn happy.” There were a few gasps as she finished but she could have sworn just off camera she heard a young girl giggle.

She continued to explain how nothing less than a kingdom wide effort would allow them to succeed. “I trust you as the most highly educated of the realm will see the truth in this and aid in saving if not all at least some of our children. I will contact you each in twenty four hours. If I am not answered I will assume that is your answer and will begin our preparations for what is to come along.” Ter’s eyes were red and she was dead on her feet. The call had wiped what energy she had left out.

The next twenty four hours were going to be the longest of Ter’s life. She couldn’t eat or sleep. She was a mess. Even Lannon couldn’t lift her spirits even though he sweetly tried. Ter’ had given up on sleep and was lying in bed going over schematics passing the late hours as Lannon peacefully slept beside her. Just being near him gave her a sense of peace but the hour was late and even Lannon’s presence was having difficulty appeasing her worries. For fear of waking Lannon she went back to the ship. She needed room to pace and a place to be noisy without disturbing her what? She mused to herself. My lover? At this she smiled and spoke, “Yes my lover.”

She was oddly alone in the hangar. As big as it is you could pass the whole day with ten other people in there and barely see any of them, but it was truly deserted so she was brainstorming loudly and extremely animatedly as was her way. Her father had loved her quirks. He adored how she would find old sayings from ancient earth and use them until she got bored and found a new one to mimic. His all-time favorite he had told her was, “Right on!” It never failed to get a laugh out of him even years after she was grown.

The thought of her father made her feel alone and she couldn’t think of anywhere she’d rather be than curled up in Lannon’s arms. She slept soundly the rest of the night.

The Picture

(I was inspired to write this story by a picture in the office of the CEO where I worked while in college. The picture was of the CEO’s daughter and as beautiful as she was her eyes always seemed to follow me around the room as I worked. This unnerved me a bit and I decided to write a story about it. I hope you enjoy. -jm)

 

The Picture

 

It was bitterly cold when he arrived at work. In his haste he sliced his hand on the old ragged door handle as he was frantically trying to force his key in the lock. Inside dripping blood he tripped over the rug in the foyer of the decrepit office building where he worked. He righted himself and disarmed the alarm with only a few seconds to spare. He was running late and he knew his five minute tardiness would cost him fifteen minutes of pay. Didn’t seem fair to him but who was he to argue.

Johnny was often stuck on what was fair and what wasn’t. It was a mantra he repeated over and over. He repeated it at school where he struggled to stay above a 3.5 grade point average because he worked a shit job for shit money and was barely getting by while all these kids wandered around without a care in the world. He resented them all. “Not fair, not fair, not fair.” He mumbled as he passed them in the hall.

“So why should today be any different?” His work day hadn’t even begun and he had already made things considerably harder on himself. He clocked in on the dreaded Kronos keypad which never seemed to want to read his thumb print. This he felt was unfair. “If you treat your employees like criminals they will act like criminals.” He blurted this nearly every time he would try and fail to clock in.  Several times this prevented him from clocking in entirely. On both occasions his check had been shorted a full eight hours. “Unfair, unfair, unfair!” He ranted to the empty hallway when he opened his checks. It took payroll four weeks to correct the error because everyone was gone before he even arrived and he could never get anyone on the phone between classes.  “Did they care I went three days without eating during exams? No because it’s fucking unfair!”

He often talked to himself in here just to hear something other than the sounds he made as he cleaned. Anything was better than the sounds the old building made. As the weather grew worse the building seemed to become livelier. This he could easily explain to himself. It of course had to be the wind or the old plumbing. He was a smart guy and not prone to flights of fancy. He didn’t believe in the paranormal. He only believed in the here and now but somehow and in some way this building was getting to him.

He noticed after wrapping the jagged wound on his hand that he had gotten blood on the companies teal and white logo printed into the rug in the foyer when he fell. “Unfucking Fair!” he blurted. “Why does this shit keep happening to me?” He was a klutz in every sense of the word. He was only graceful behind a computer screen with his hands on a keyboard knee deep in zeros and ones. He could type in binary as easy as he could in English. It was what he had always been great at but no one would give his resume a second glance without college credentials. “Unfucking fair!”

His hand ached as he hopelessly scrubbed the bright crimson stain. His efforts seemed only to smear it more than anything else. The first aid kit had only small butterfly band aids and they weren’t enough to quell the bleeding so he made a bandage from paper towels and taped it to his hand. “Is anything going to go my way today?” He sneered at the bloody mess on the rug.  He got some but not all of the blood out and this took him over an hour. He knew he’d be hearing about this if his boss decided to pop in unannounced as was his method. “Trying to catch the criminals red handed are we?” He was convinced this was his boss’s only pleasure in life.

He was now over an hour behind schedule and he wasn’t feeling well. The cut on his hand needed stitches but he couldn’t afford to go to the hospital and miss work. He had tuition to pay and books to buy. “Unfair.” He mumbled as he began his rounds.

He begrudgingly emptied the trash and vacuumed the offices but as the night drug on he felt weaker and weaker. He packed a lunch but was to nauseas to eat it and besides he was so far behind he would never get finished on time if he took a break.

It was almost midnight before he started the last hall. “This is where all the big wigs work,” he mused aloud. He followed a pattern which didn’t make much sense even to him. He would avoid the CEO’s office and clean all the rest first. He always saved it for last. This last hallway is what really bothered him about the building. He felt so out of sorts and even on hot days in the summer this whole area of the building was chilly. In winter when the rest of the building was uncomfortably warm from the massive unit on the roof the hallway remained cool and in some spots downright cold, but none worse than the CEO’s office.

It was well after one when he entered the last office. The room was quite homey and warm for an office he thought except for the chill in the room. It had a large mahogany desk with six matching bookshelves and a matching conference table. There were books of all sorts. Many psychology books and accounting volumes mixed with various religious texts. Some in languages he didn’t recognize. One day out of curiosity he did some research and discovered what languages these books were in. There were books printed in Hebrew, Russian, Romanian, Latin, and several extremely old volumes printed in German. He had never met the man who sat in this big chair behind this big desk but he thought he might like him. He was clean and very well organized. From the looks of all the books he owned he couldn’t possibly be dumb like most everyone else he meets.

He spoke aloud, “one day I’ll have a desk like this and my own big office. One day this will all be mine.” He actually smiled and despite his growing dizziness and the ever present throbbing in his hand he went about his duties more cheerfully than he had felt all night. He always cleaned the back half of the office first saving the desk and sitting area for last. There in an ancient silver frame behind leaded glass was a beautiful young woman peering out at him. The frame had to of cost a fortune he thought because of all the ornamentation. There were dozens of crosses hand hammered into the silverwork. The glass itself had tiny etchings all around the border. He tried and tried to make out what they were. He wasn’t sure if the etchings were just a fine pattern or if it were actual script of some kind.

The thing he found most curious about the picture and the exquisite frame was the fact that each time he sees the woman gazing out at him it’s like seeing her for the first time. He realized as he stood there vacantly staring that he had no recollection of it ever being there before but it must have. He remembers cleaning it. He always hand dusted the frame carefully and he was extremely careful when he cleaned the glass for fear of breaking such an heirloom. “Why can’t I remember you when I leave?” He asked the woman.

He felt a sudden chill as in answer to his query and the room grew dim. He felt as if he would feint and he realized as he began to fall that he was holding the frame to his chest. When had he picked it up? Why was he holding it clutched to his chest like a mad man? He fell into darkness. When he woke he wasn’t sure how long he had been lying there. His first thought was panic. He frantically searched the floor but the picture and frame were not shattered on the floor as he feared. He gained his feet and saw it was sitting safely where it had been when he entered. The woman gazed upon him with seeming adoration for his concern for her safety. That thought chilled him deeply.

He noticed his makeshift bandage had torn loose and he had begun to bleed again luckily most of the blood was on his shirt and not the floor. He knew it was late and knew if he clocked out after two he’d get a reprimand so he hurried around the office making sure everything was in place. He adjusted the picture one last time and in doing so he smeared blood on the frame. “Unfair!” He yelled as he ran to the storage room to fix his bandage and to grab the silver polish.

By the time he entered the office he couldn’t remember why he was going back until he saw her and he remembered. “The blood, damn I’m losing it.” He was not at all feeling well but wasn’t sure why a cut would make him feel so bad. He searched the frame front and back and carefully scanned the glass but there was no sign of blood. He couldn’t even find a single finger print on the glass anywhere. It wasn’t just clean it was pristine. It appeared to have never been touched by a human hand.

He gave the woman one last puzzled glance and walked out of the office. He was done for the night and he relished the idea of going home and properly bandaging his hand eating a sandwich and passing out. He grabbed his things knowing it had to be two or a little after and to his horror it was nearly six in the morning.

He had no rational explanation for why he was still at work at six in the morning. He didn’t remember falling and at this point he couldn’t even remember cutting his hand. His entire mind went blank. He remembered checking the time a little after one then entering the CEO’s office cleaning it and that shouldn’t have been more than thirty minutes tops. “Why am I here?” He questioned the empty hallway.

He felt a sharp surge of pain in his wounded hand. He looked at it astonished not remembering how or when he cut it. “I must have a fever. It’s got to be an infection.  Fuck it I’m going to the hospital.”

As was his habit he always checked the foyer before leaving because that’s the first place everyone sees when they walk in. Everything was clean and in order right down to the bright white and teal rug. He wondered how a rug with such bright colors stayed so perfectly clean.

Hospitals were a place of dread for him but he felt so bad he didn’t think he had a choice but to go. Even so early in the morning he had to wait. “Unfair!” He muttered halfheartedly. That’s the last thing he remembered. He woke late that evening alone in a communal room with three other empty beds. He was very confused and completely oblivious as to how he got there.

He found the call button and paged the nurse. “Oh good you’re awake.” came the voice of a very cheery nurse. She was all teeth and smiles. He liked her instantly. “You’ve had a busy day haven’t you dear?”

“What happened to me?” He asked in a hushed tone. His mouth was so dry he could barely swallow.

“Well we were hoping you could tell us. You signed in at about half past six and told the nurse you cut yourself and you might be infected. When the orderly came out to bring you back you were unconscious. That cut on your hand is serious. You nearly bled to death. What we can’t figure out is why you weren’t covered in blood when you came in. Even your bandage was clean.” She paused seeing the quizzical expression on his face then she gave her biggest tooth filled smile yet. “We do appreciate people cleaning up before coming to see us but honey you should have just called an ambulance.” Then her expression still very sweet became grave, “You could have died from losing that much blood.”

“I don’t understand. I don’t remember bleeding.” He had no recollection of anything other than going to work.

“Honey I’m going to get the doctor and he can explain this to you a little better than me. He’ll be glad to see you’re awake.” She smiled and walked away.

He was completely bewildered and confused. Then he remembered school and work and was starting to rise just as the doctor entered. “Take it easy there buddy. You’ve had a very rough day even if you don’t remember most of it.” The doctor was a portly man in his fifties. He had a grace unusual in someone with his stature. Johnny watched as he glided around the bed like he was in some sort of ballet.

“The nurse tells me you are having trouble remembering what happened. Maybe that will come back to you when you regain your strength. Your body has been through quite an ordeal. When you cut your hand you grazed an artery. Perhaps you did it at work thinking it was no big deal but it’s my guess that at some point during the night you banged it and fully punctured the artery causing severe blood loss. I’m not trying to alarm you but had you lost any more blood we wouldn’t have been able to save you. “

“Doctor I truly don’t know how I did this or what happened to me after. I don’t remember a bunch of blood I don’t.” He stammered more confused than ever.

“It’s alright so don’t worry about that now. You’re safe and we are gonna get ya back on your feet in a day or two and you’ll be right as rain.” The doctor turned to walk away.

“My job, school?” He stammered.

“Well I’ll have notes for both for the week. All that can wait, what’s most important is that you’re healthy.” With that the doctor smiled and left.

He found his cell phone on the table next to his bed. He tried calling his boss but he didn’t answer. He didn’t have anyone else to call. His parents were both gone and he had no family nearby. He had no close friends to ask for help. He was alone in this world and it wasn’t until this did he realize it. He had liked plenty of girls at school but it was like he didn’t exist. He wasn’t clever enough to be the class clown and he wasn’t athletic enough to be an athlete. Now in college he is even less noticeable. He keeps his head in his work. He occasionally sees a cute girl but the thought of actually walking up to one and speaking is more than he can bear. “Jesus man you almost died a virgin today at 21 years old and no one would have noticed.” He mumbled to himself and quickly fell deeply asleep.

He dreamt of the woman in the frame. She came to him right there in his hospital bed naked and inviting. It was the most vivid of dreams. He could smell her perfume. He could feel the warmth of her skin. He could feel her lips on his. Greedily tasting him like a predator about to devour her pray. He could feel her nails digging into his skin. He could feel her silky smooth hair on his bare chest.  The dream seemed endless. Time and again she had him all the while whispering to him in a language he could not comprehend yet when it was ending he begged her not to stop. “You are mine now.” She kissed him and simply faded away. He woke with a start nearly jumping out of bed.

“Don’t go!” He shouted as the nurse calmed him.

“It was just a dream honey.” She smiled but her smile did little to ease his panic. “It’s a side effect of the medications we had to put you on.”

He stared blankly at the ceiling for a long moment feeling his heart slow and the sweat evaporate from his brow it was then he felt the scratches on his back and chest. He put his hand to them they stung and burned hot and he saw there were tiny traces of blood. “She scratched you up good.” Aloud he said attracting the nurse’s attention. “Sorry nothing just mumbling out loud to myself.”  He told her. As he dozed off he tried so very hard to remember what he had been dreaming about. The nurse added something to his IV and he slowly drifted off to a peaceful night’s sleep.

He woke to his cell phone at ten the next morning it took him a minute to get his bearings enough to answer. It was his boss and he almost refused the call. What can they do I had an actual medical emergency. “Hello.” He answered in his least cheerful voice dreading what his boss would have to say.

“So you no called no showed for work last night, got anything you want to tell me?” His boss was an ass under the best circumstances but today it was ok because he was safe and his boss couldn’t do a damn thing about it. This cheered him up immensely.

“Yeah I guess. But one question first, did anyone find an unusually large pool of blood in the building yesterday morning?” He knew this would have his boss guessing.

“Well no, should they have? What’s happened?” He grinned, hearing actual concern coming from his boss the hater of all things good.

“Well at some point the night before last I cut myself somehow and I nicked an artery. Apparently I busted it open at work.  I’m having some memory problems from all the blood loss. The doc says I nearly died.” He stopped to see how his boss would answer.

“Did you get hurt here? Cuz if you did I’ll have to write a report.” The concern had faded.

“I just told ya I don’t know how I did it. I can’t remember anything but going to work and leaving work.  But I was extremely out of it. I could barely drive myself to the ER.” He left it at that.

“I’m heading over to your building to see if I see any blood anywhere. I’ll call you back and let you know what I find. I’ll have someone fill your shift.” He abruptly hung up sounding more annoyed with each word he spoke.

“Asshole.” He spouted then went back to sleep.

He slept until late that night. When he woke there were four figures in the room. It was dark and he couldn’t make out who they were. “Hello, what’s going on?”

The overhead lights flickered on and Johnny shielded his eyes. After a moment he could see two people he recognized. One was his asshole boss and the other was a man he had seen only in company newsletters. It was the man with the big office, the CEO of the company he cleaned for. He gave a wary smile and said “Johnny we haven’t met but I think you know who I am.”

“Yeah I’ve seen you’re pictures, I know who you are.” It’s then he realized the two men he didn’t know were detectives. They each had badges clipped to their belts. “Am I in some kind of trouble?”

“Well son that’s what we’re here to find out. When your boss came in my office and apprised me of your phone exchange I was concerned first of all because you said you nearly died. The second concern and forgive me for sounding insensitive, but you said you nearly died at work. So I wanted to find some answers for you and for us. You do understand I have to protect the company and if some crime were perpetrated against you at work we need to find and prosecute the offender.”

Just then the doctor walked in and politely greeted the men and before he could speak Johnny asked, “Doc could you tell them what kind of shape I was in when I got here?”

The doctor explained how life threatening this was and how much blood was lost. He explained that the amnesia of the incident could be a symptom of shock from whatever happened.

One of the detectives spoke up and said we have a video we’d like you to take a look at. He produced a small laptop and started the footage. It was the front door of his building. He watched as he got out of his car and ran to the door and he watched as he cut his hand attempting to open the door. Even from the grainy video you could see blood pouring from the open wound. He could even see the blood spilling on the white rug as he fell. His face felt hot like he truly was in trouble. At this point the officer sped the video up for a moment then stopped. He watched as he spent over an hour trying to clean the blood from the stark white rug sped up to take only moments. Then he fast forwarded the video all through the night. The camera caught a glimpse each time he passed the door. He noticed there were digital markers on the video that automatically paused, each time you could see him by the door.

The detective stopped the video and said this is what we can’t explain.” Please try and remember and tell me if you recognize this person. It’s important. “

He was utterly confused all the video was showing was that he was doing his job. Hurt but still working. There was no one there with him was there? He was always alone in there. “Ok. I’m a little more than confused who are you talking about?”

“Just watch,” said the second detective whom up until this point hadn’t moved a muscle. He startled Johnny a bit.

So this time at the next marker it stopped. He saw as he walked past the door on his way to the last hallway. The marker said 1:23 a.m. Ok here it comes please watch carefully. At marker 1:35 a.m. a figure walked past the door. It wasn’t Johnny. Johnny you could easily see wearing a bright red hoodie and blue jeans. This was a woman but is it a woman? Her hair looked old and mangled and the skin was white and dead like something from a zombie movie. Her clothes were rotted and tattered barely hanging on just as her skin barely clung to her bones.

“I don’t understand? Who was in there with me? Did they do something to me? Did you see their car when they left?” Johnny was actually scared. It truly dawned on him that someone or something took his blood.

The quiet detective spoke up, “son we don’t have any more answers than you do. You sure you don’t recognize her? “

“It looks like a fucking zombie but that shit isn’t real. Is it some sick joke people dressing up like they’re dead siphoning people’s blood?” Johnny was livid.

“I wouldn’t normally show you this but considering the circumstances I will. If I were you I would want to know what I was dealing with,” calmly replied the detective with the laptop.

He started the video again and the thing walked back in sight of the camera and stopped. It got down on its hands and knees and from the video it appeared to be sucking the blood out of the carpet. It opened the door and with a grotesquely elongated tongue licked the door handle clean and crawled across the floor sucking up every drop of his spilled blood.

“What was that?” Johnny was half hysterical by this point. Every man in the room looked uneasy.

“Son we don’t have any answers for you. We have people now checking all local surveillance tapes with any hopes of catching a glimpse of this woman. We took a forensics team and scoured every inch of that building. There was no sign of anything afoul. They took the rug from the entrance to test for DNA and we found yours but the saliva we tested did not come back as human. It’s an animal species not in any database.

Johnny was speechless a moment then broke into angry hysterics. “An animal? An animal that looks like a 200 year old woman sucked out my blood? I don’t believe in this shit! Was it a werewolf or a zombie or a fucking old ass vampire? I don’t even know how to react to this. Am I gonna turn into a fucking dog or a bat?”

The doctor had been present this entire time but hadn’t spoken until now. “Son we’ve sent your blood in for analysis but with this new information I think we need to do some further testing. The problem is we gave you a fairly large blood transfusion so any tests we would do would not be conclusive until the blood has been in your system a while. There are other tests we can do and it might be a good idea to treat you for rabies. If you were infected it is possible the new blood could have hid that from us.”

“Fuck me!” Johnny said and he surprised himself because he didn’t say unfair.

None of the men knew where to go from here. The CEO was at a loss, he didn’t want a story like this coming out turning his business into a circus tent. The detectives told Johnny they wanted to have an officer there in case this was a targeted attack against him personally. That didn’t do much to ease the anxiety he was feeling after having half his blood sucked out by the dog faced girl. At this thought something familiar popped into his mind. Didn’t he know her? Didn’t he love her? But that was a monster that wasn’t the beautiful woman from the frame.

“Oh shit, I know who that is!” He gave everyone in the room a start. The doctor nearly dropped a blood sample he was labeling the nurse nearly dropped his dinner tray as she entered.

The detectives, the CEO, Johnny’s boss and all were all ears. But then he slowly began, “I told ya I don’t believe in all this voodoo shit but who is the girl in the silver frame on the desk in your office?” He directed the question to the CEO.

The CEO looked confused and then said I don’t truly know. I was in Romania a few years back and I found it in an antiques store. The old lady told me it was a witch trap. I thought it was just some old wives tell that helps boost sales. There are lots of old tales in small villages in that part of the world of vampires and demons. I bought it for the silverwork. Some of the finest I have ever seen. Why do you ask?”

“Please just humor me a second would ya. I already feel like the world’s gone crazy please continue and when you’re done I’ll explain.” Johnny was quite shaken but very focused on what he was hearing.

“I was going to replace the picture but I had it looked at by a reputable antiques dealer and he laughed at the thought of me opening it. The only way to get the picture out would be to destroy a 500 year old piece of handmade glass that’s etched with very tiny runes dating back to the time of the druids. So I left it as is. Then he said and I quote ‘would be unwise to release the witch trapped inside. She has 500 years of wrath to unleash. For a true witch can nigh be destroyed, only kept for a while.’” The CEO usually a fairly rigid sort seemed weakened by what he was saying.

Johnny surveyed the room and asked, “Is there more? Did he tell you more? Please it’s important.”

No one protested they had all save the nurse seen the video so the CEO went on. “He then laughed and said yes in those days they would take anyone believed to be a witch and have the best painter available come and do a portrait. For paint they used parts of her body ground up into paste.  You’d be surprised how many colors one can garner when using the human body as a medium. It was quite barbaric. They would take these parts from her while she was alive and in agony she would be made to sit still for weeks if necessary until the portrait was perfect. It wasn’t until then I knew it wasn’t a photograph. When I bought it I had no idea it was an actual painting. So if the painter wasn’t good she might have to sit all hacked up through multiple sessions. He also said from the looks of the frame she must have been considered to be an extremely powerful witch. There were over 200 runes and holy marks on that frame. It must have taken four skilled artisans a full six months to construct. Once the portrait was complete the witch would be slowly tortured to death by whatever means they deemed fitting and all that would be before her was her own portrait. They removed the eyelids and cauterized the wound so she would have no choice but to stare at her own face. Upon death the belief was a witch’s essence could transfer to any other living thing until she found a suitable host.” The CEO knew how crazy the story he recounted was but after what he’d seen and heard today he didn’t think it would stand out much. He concluded by saying, “By forcing her to stare into her own image she would become trapped inside the frame. He said he’s only seen two in his entire life and the first was a fake he offered me $20,000 cash there on the spot but I declined the offer. “

Johnny cleared his throat and thought to himself before speaking then after an awkward pause he began, “look go ahead and fit me for a strait jacket because that thing in the video is that girl on your desk.  I know it sounds completely crazy but my God I am being very serious.”

Everyone looked at him as if he had a third eyeball instantly appear on his forehead. “Listen I know how crazy it sounds. This is Occam’s razor gone mad. Think about it. Occam’s razor basically states the simplest answer is usually the right answer. Ok so something resembling a woman with animal DNA sucked out a bunch of my blood then ran around the building sucking up all the evidence. You tell me that there is no sign of her leaving the building from the security cameras and this guy just happens to have a 500 year old witch trap in his office. I have never believed in stuff like this but you just showed me video of a creature with a foot long tongue that sort of looks like a woman but doesn’t who was alone with me in a building for God knows how long doing God knows what to me and y’all are looking at me crazy?”

No one knew how to reply and as insane as it sounded Johnny actually made sense. They left after a few more mundane questions. They asked to search his car to see if he had lost any blood in there but he hadn’t. It was a dead end. Save for the little on his hoodie none of his blood was accounted for and that disturbed all of them. With a little help from the nurse Johnny fell fast asleep after everyone had left.

She came to him again that night and before she was on him he stopped her and asked “did they really hurt you like that?”

Her beautiful face changed into the grotesque deformed figure they had hacked her into before she died. He could see her swollen red eyes lidless and in great pain. He felt anguish for her. He could feel the fear she was feeling but there was no hate in her. All the malice and rage came from those screaming around her for her to die. She looked ashamed for him to see her this way and her face went back to normal. She wept and curled up with him in his bed careful not to pull out his IV.

“Are you really here?” Johnny asked and she just stared lovingly into his eyes He could feel her as surely as he could feel the stitches in his aching hand. “You are real aren’t you?”

She smiled and nodded “yes I am very real.”

“What do I do?” He was uneasy and unsure of how to feel. He felt what she felt as they slowly tortured her and murdered her. Whatever she was she wasn’t evil or bad and she didn’t deserve that shit.

“I am sorry I took so much of your blood. You were bleeding badly and you didn’t even notice. I was afraid you would die. You always spoke so sweetly to me when you saw me. I needed the strength to heal you enough to get you to help. You’re innocence is what released me at least partially. I look grotesque and frightening. I can’t be fully whole until my portrait is released.”

Johnny looked at her and smiled, “let’s go get you out.”

She stopped him with a kiss, “wait, I’m frightened.”

“That makes two of us, “he smiled and unhooked his IV and hurriedly dressed.

She whispered, “I’ll be waiting for you.”

Johnny slipped out past the guard who was dozing at his post and made a hasty and uneventful escape from the hospital. He hailed a cab and was on his way in minutes. He had the cabby drop him off a few blocks away and snuck in through a storage room he and the other janitors had keys for. There were still cops outside but he discovered he was alone in the familiar hallway he had dreaded for so long. There was an alarm but it wasn’t set due to the police presence so he was lucky on that point.

He made his way to the CEO’s office and was shocked to see the picture was not in its usual position but after a few long seconds he found it. It was on the conference table with empty coffee cups surrounding it. He imagined they probably had a good laugh at his expense.

He held the picture in his trembling hands and spoke aloud to the empty room, “God please be real. I hope I haven’t gone insane. Well here goes nothing.” He took a stainless steel stapler and very carefully cracked the glass below her face for fear he would somehow damage her.

At first nothing happened he just stood there trembling half crazed with anticipation and just when he was coming to the realization that he had gone mad he heard her voice say put me down.  He did as she told him and the frame started to shake and lift off the table. It was really happening. The brightest light he had ever seen filled the room and in the light he could see her distorted form from the video but it slowly changed and she was once again the lovely girl in the picture.

She ran to him arms wide and showered him with kisses. “You saved me,” she had the thickest most beautiful accent he had ever heard. She bumped his hand and he yelped from the pain. “Oh here my darlin, let me.”

She took his hand in hers and a glow began to emanate around his injured hand and he could feel it healing. It itched uncontrollably for only a moment and then stopped. He pulled off the bandages and he was fully healed.

“What’s your name?” He stammered.

Before she could answer they heard them coming through the doors. The flash of light had alerted the officers outside and by now they knew he wasn’t in the hospital anymore. “They will take you away. We have to get out of here.”

His warning came too late. They were nearly to the office and he stepped in front of her. I won’t let them. I’ll think of some excuse I work here.

To his dismay it was the quiet detective and he knew all about the frame and what he had said. They were trapped. He wouldn’t let them take her he couldn’t. “Step away from her Johnny. I thought this whole story was bullshit but you had to see for yourself?”

“You don’t understand she’s not bad, she saved me that night. She didn’t cut my hand that was an accident and if she hadn’t of helped me I would have died right here in this office two nights ago.”

“Johnny if you don’t move I’m going to taze you and I’ll shoot that evil bitch if she so much as blinks!” The detective wasn’t going to budge he was convinced she was evil and nothing Johnny could say would change that. Johnny could see how unfamiliar fear looked on this man’s face.

Before Johnny could speak again the detective tried to shoot him with his Taser but in mid trigger pull a book flew off a bookshelf and knocked it from his hand. It along with the book thudded uselessly to the ground.

“What the fuck just happened?” Shouted another officer Johnny didn’t recognize standing to the right of the detective.

“Please just calm down and stop this. She’s not dangerous. The detective was edging towards his Taser. He slowly picked it up and said, “bitch try that again and you’re dead. “

“I won’t let you hurt him. He set me free. He is my hero and he is mine forever. “Her expression was very calm but her voice was commanding. This frightened the officers even more and again he tried to use his Taser and this time she sent a book from either side of the room crushing his Taser hand between them.

The officer to the right of the detective fired at the girl but Johnny dove in front and took the bullet for her. He crumpled at her feet and she screamed she knelt over her dying love and wept. “I will not let you die my love.”

She stood to her full height and she spoke in a voice which seemed to come from the walls themselves. The officer who fired looked on bewildered and the detective nursing his crushed hand tried to back out of the room. “In nature there is a balance that must be paid. For there to be life there must be death. This man has not wronged you yet your actions have slain him and thus the debt must be paid. From each of you I take half your life to repay the one you have stolen.” With a single flick of her wrist the detective and the officer were encased in the same light which she had used to heal Johnny’s hand but it was much larger and brighter.  She conducted the light with slight gestures of her nimble fingers and directed it into Johnny’s lifeless body.

When he woke he opened his eyes and he saw she had been crying. He smiled up at her and her down at him. “Lilith, my name is Lilith.”

 

October (a short story)

October

The old man sat stolidly surveying the wind-blown yard. He silently remembered every October which had come and gone in these past thirty years since he had turned his back on his one true love. He had spent so many years trying to twist the memories in his own mind so he could believe that he was not to blame.

No one could believe the story he screamed when the police had first arrived. He had been called a murderer, a lunatic, and many other terrible names. No matter who questioned him or how long they kept him in the sanitarium and despite the laundry list of experimental medications he never changed his story.

The detectives were vexed for an explanation which was made quite evident by their stuttering testimonies. These testimonies and a brief statement from a psychiatrist are what kept the old man from the electric chair but he was still remanded to the state psychiatric hospital for more than three years.

The old man recounted every detail fighting the chill this new October’s wind brought. He was ready. He wouldn’t run anymore. “This is where it started and this is where it shall end.” He spoke aloud with a hushed tone to the brown grass and the dead swirling leaves.

The veteran detective was hung up on a detail that neither he nor anyone else present that night could explain. What had happened to the woman’s body? The couple had just arrived home from a late movie where their neighbors had also been present and they had each pulled into their adjoining drives only minutes apart. The events that had taken place that night happened in mere moments.  The detective had conveyed this all to the jury with a cold horror filled face. Then as if speaking out loud in a dream he questioned, “Where had all the blood come from?”

The grizzled old detective concluded, “There was enough blood present at the scene of this atrocity to fill the veins of two full grown men. I do not understand this at all. In all my thirty-four years as a police officer I have never seen anything half as horrible as what I found that night.” He paused briefly and cleared his throat; he was trembling at the thoughts eating away at his subconscious. He wanted to scream demons or monsters did it but he knew he’d find himself in the sanitarium right alongside this poor man who had witnessed God knows what.

He shakily continued his testimony, “After further investigation it became clear that the blood we found came from at least six other victims. The blood that was present could not have been from the defendant’s wife because her blood type is type-O-negative and not one drop of her blood was found anywhere on the property. It is my professional opinion that this man is innocent and that we should be searching for a group of severely demented individuals.” He closed his eyes as he concluded and images of demons filled his mind.

The old man pulled his collar close around his wrinkled neck fighting the chill this memory had given him. That had been a full year after the “incident”. He mused at how polite the word “incident” was. That’s how they always referred to it in the sanitarium. He remembered how frightened he had been even a year after. The medications never eased his anguish or made him feel safe. No sane explanations could take away the terror which greeted him each and every night when the lights went low. No, nothing but death would ease his fear. Death he did not fear. Becoming is what he had feared most. Now, thirty years later even that paled in comparison to what he now knew was his greatest fear.

Three years after the incident and two after the trial he was released. He had begun lying in his therapy sessions. Telling the doctors he truly couldn’t remember what had happened to his wife. When asked he assured them that it was not demons or monsters which he had screamed at the top of his lungs for well over a year. He admitted something horrible had happened and in his confusion and grief of seeing his wife’s abduction by masked men he had lost his sense of reality. It had worked and he had been set free.

The first October after his release had nearly been his last. She had come so quickly from the darkness he had nearly been overcome. Despite the liquor coursing through his veins pure fear pushed him onwards through the locked door he had crashed in a full run. The door jamb splintered and gave way under his massive build.

As he remembered this night it seemed his chill doubled as if his bones were encased in ice. He had landed hard in the small foyer. The house was virtually unchanged from the night of the incident except for three years’ worth of dust layered upon every surface. He was certain he was having some sort of break down like so many of the other patients he had encountered in his stay at the sanitarium.

Then he heard her giggle. It resurrected feelings he had long since forgotten. How odd to hear such a welcoming warm sound from the cold unforgiving night. How could this be he thought. Then he slowly turned and his eyes fell on her. She was beautiful and young standing there in his doorway, their doorway. She did not enter but only gazed at him with longing, hungry eyes.

The old man jerked like he had suddenly awoken from a dream of falling. Two boys were noisily making their way down the sidewalk. They each gave the old man a wary glance and grew quiet as they passed in front of his house. They whispered as they moved on. He knew what they were saying. The story had become an urban legend in the neighborhood. A story told to the young to frighten them at sleepovers. Some versions say he ate her before the cops arrived. Others tell that he walled her up and that she is still in the house all these years later alive and well behind the living room wall. There is no end to the imaginations of children he supposed. He held no malice for these kids, he only envied their innocence because if they knew what really happened they would piss themselves and run home crying.

Things had changed over the years. He was no longer the lumbering hulk of his youth. He had become merely a shadow of his former self.  Each year she would come in October. The same Friday they had had dinner at the drive in. The same night they had laughed and talked of having a boy and a girl over hotdogs. The same night they had watched some cheap thriller and he held her close in his arms. She feeling safe from his embrace and him feeling safe from the love she had given him. In his bachelor years he had never believed someone could love him. When he met her his life was flipped upside down and turned inside out. He couldn’t speak around her without putting his foot in his mouth. The attraction had been mutual.

As he remembered how they met a smile crept onto his withered lips making him look so much younger than his years. He was all grease from head to toe driving a 48’ Dodge he had parted together from local junkyards. She was the prettiest thing he had ever seen in her bubble-gum pink poodle skirt with matching ribbons in her long dark hair. They had run into each other at the malt shop as he was entering and she was exiting. He had been horrified when he saw he had gotten a grease smudge on her blouse but she sheepishly assured him that it was ok.

She looked so perfect to him and the thought of that smudge haunted him ceaselessly so each and every afternoon he waited until he finally saw her again. He convinced her that he should buy her another outfit despite the fact she had made her own she had argued but he would not hear it. Any chance he had to see her he took. She was shy but she longed to see him just as much.

As he sat in the cold watching his last sunset he had tears on his tired cheeks as he remembered the love they had shared. They had been so very happy. Then the shame flooded into him as he remembered. He wept and thudded his big hand on the arm of his rocking chair. “I’m sorry.” He sobbed to the empty yard. “Please forgive me.”

On her yearly visits she would stand outside the door and he knew she wasn’t alone. He could hear the others and on the following mornings he would find small puddles of blood around the yard. Sometimes even dripping from the awning as if they had hovered above his roof but they never came into view. She had never tried to come inside and he always wondered why. The first visit she just watched cheerfully as he gaped from the floor disbelieving what he was seeing. She had stayed until nearly dawn and like the mist on a cold morning vanished with the warmth of the sun.

He quivered as he recalled the night she was taken from him. They were walking the short distance from the drive to the porch and instantly she was gone and he found himself flying across the yard. He looked back to find her but she was being dragged away and to his disbelief upward. The creature had the silhouette of a man but no man can fly. He remembered the smell, noxious like rotting meat. Had his terror not been so great he was sure he would have choked on the smell. He rose and started in her direction but then he saw them. They were all around, he froze in fear and even as she screamed for help he scrambled backwards and darted into the house. Her screams continued only a moment more and were then silenced. He knew she was gone.

The sun was now gone and he sat silently in the ever growing darkness. It was quite cold now. The sky darkened further as the first October storm rolled in. He could see his breath and he wondered how long she would make him wait. He had never stayed outside always sure to be in doors with some sort of protection. He wasn’t frightened of her. He was frightened of going on alone. He had spent nearly thirty years alone longing for her.  The thought of one more day was more than he could bear. That prospect was far worse than death. It even outweighed death at the hands of her companions and becoming what they had made her.

The two boys were walking back down the street early the next morning. It was very cold and rainy outside. They were bundled up so tightly trying to hide their faces from the brutal wind that they almost didn’t see the old man motionless on his front porch. They stopped to take a closer look. Despite the bite in the air and the rain the boys found courage in the early light. They slowly approached the old man.

One boy stopped halfway up the walk. There was a nasty looking puddle on the ground he couldn’t quite make out what it was but before he could inspect it any further his friend said “oh man, I don’t think he’s moving.”

The boy who had been inspecting the puddle joined his friend on the steps of the old man’s porch. They slowly approached together. Just as they reached the old man’s lifeless body a huge gust of wind moved the rocker causing the boys to scream and run.

The old man’s eyes were wide. There was a gleeful smile on his old withered face and in his clinched fist was a bubble gum pink ribbon.