Fresh

Written for NYC Midnight Challenge 2; horror/tractor trailer/bar of soap. 1000 words

 A long haul trucker and his partner offer Cassie a lift from Alice Springs to Darwin without her even putting a thumb out. But what exactly do they deliver, and to who?

      FRESH

“Take ya top off or ride in the trailer.”

Dan looks at her with the blue eyes that last night looked friendly. Now they are glazed, pupils pinpricked by amphetamines.

The tip of a knife caresses the underside of her ribs.

Cassie doesn’t hesitate to pull her shirt over her head.

Not the trailer.

 

The previous evening, at a bar in Alice Springs, it seemed Cassie had got lucky. Lanky, sandy haired Dan and his partner Meg were fun company. Physically, they were an odd couple. But Meg, a five foot pepperpot with tight curls and a cute laugh, clung to her blonde beanpole with genuine affection.

“I’ll keep an eye on him,” she told Cassie with a wink.

Of course Cassie gladly accepted their offer of a lift all the way to Darwin.

It was too good to be true.

But now, pulled a mile off the highway in the middle of nowhere, with kind eyes turned to crazy, she hugs herself, trying to cover more than skin.

Dan spots the cherub on her shoulder and frowns.

 

Good. Cassie’s mind is scrambling for any positives. His expression offers a glimmer of hope she won’t be raped.

Meg peers around the seat.

“HE dun’ like tattoos.”

Her tongue thrusts into Cassie’s ear, leaving a slosh of saliva dripping from it.

“We should just put you back there,” she whispers.

Cupboards click open and shut in the sleeper compartment. A length of wire is suddenly looped around Cassie’s neck, tying her to the headrest.

Meg has a bar of Solvol. “Hold ‘er arm, honey,” she asks sweetly.

The industrial soap scours through the flesh of Cassie’s shoulder, eradicating the tattoo and exposing raw nerves and capillaries. Meg is sweating when she finishes. Neither she nor Dan is bothered in the slightest by Cassie’s screams.

He lifts Cassie’s bound hands easily, despite her struggle. There are letters across her knuckles. L.O.V.E. A remnant of her teens. The writing is clumsy, the ink faded.

It doesn’t matter.

HE dun’ like tattoos.

Dan presses her fingers closed to form a tight fist.

Meg giggles as she scrubs.

“You crazy motherfucking bitch! I’ll fucking kill you, you fucking psychos!”

Finally the soap shudders against bone. The white gleams through the blood.

The soap is thrust into her mouth. A rag tied to keep it there.

“You gotta dirty mouth,” hisses Meg.

Cassie feels the wire tighten, cutting into her windpipe. She claws at it, peeling skin from her throat with her own fingernails as she tries to loosen it.  Her eyes bulge as she gasps for the breath she can’t take, choking on the piece of soap she has bitten off.

“Meg! We can’t kill her.”

The wire relaxes. The gag untied. Dan thumps her back and the soap splats into her lap with a rush of yellow bile.

We can’t kill her.

Can’t?

 Is there a chance they’ll get careless? Give her a chance to escape?

Cassie thinks of the woman in the brown checked shirt.  They’d come across her a hundred miles or so back. Three year old boy on her hip and steam pouring out of her Ford.

“You guys chat-I’ll sort this out,” Dan smiled, jumping down from the cab.

Cassie saw the relieved woman in the side mirror. Saw Dan ruffle the little boy’s hair. Then only white as the rear doors to the trailer were opened. The freezer? Ten minutes later they pulled away, the car still spouting steam and disappearing into the depths of the mirror.

“Taken care of,” said Dan.

Meg giggled.

Despite the cab heater taking the edge off the desert’s morning chill, Cassie shivered.

 

“This is our baby,” Meg had announced earlier with pride. “Mr. White’s Quality Meats” read the giant letters on the side of the semi.

Had he put them in the trailer?

Cassie decided quickly, before they got too far ahead of the Ford.

“Sorry guys, I really need to take a leak. Can we pull over?”  She would take her chances, either with the brown checked shirt woman or whoever else came along.

But Dan pushed the accelerator down harder. Cassie scrambled for the door handle. Strong fingers immediately grabbed her throat, pushing hard under her jaw. A cloth covered her nose and mouth, drenched in something sickly sweet. Chlorof……….?

When she’d awoken they were here. Hands and feet bound.

The heater circulating the smell of body odour.

And the stench of evil.

“Gotta lose that ring.”

Cassie desperately tries to prise her mother’s ring off but her fingers are slick with blood, her knuckle too swollen.  Meg’s patience runs out quickly. She hands Dan a pair of rusty wire cutters.

Cassie runs out of screams long before the bone finally splinters and the last shred of flesh gives way. Her long moans are deep and purely animal.

Her jackhammer heart coats her fists in crimson.

The cigarette lighter pops. Dan presses it against the stump to stop the bleeding. Cassie vomits from the pork crackling smell. Her teeth chatter in shock.

Now might be time to ride in the back,” says Dan, lifting her chin.

Cassie shakes her head.

Meg climbs past to open the door.

“About time.”

They drag her the fifty five feet to the back of the trailer.

Cassie welcomes cold dark death, if she’ll be away from these two.

But the heavy doors release an inhuman stench of warm air instead.

Dozens of bodies hang from rows of meat hooks, most still alive.

Dogs, kangaroos, emus.

Humans.

The closest one is the woman in the brown checked shirt. Mouth moving silently.

A massive, pale spider-like creature is feasting on the soft flesh of her child. The milky meniscus slides back from its multi faceted eye.

It looks over the fresh offering in the doorway.

He dun’ like tattoos. Gotta lose that ring.

They don’t deliver for Mr. White. They deliver to him.

There is one hook spare.

Meg giggles as they lift Cassie onto it.

Advertisements

Truce

(Written for NYC flash fiction challenge. 48 hours, 1000 words. Prompts-fantasy, a mountain stream, milk.)…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Many years ago in the land of Ardanelle, Mikel and Melane, king and queen of the unicorns, set off to Silver Mountain, their horns encircled in vines of butter milk flowers…

“Unicorns!” laughed Jacob. “Hey, shouldn’t I be telling you a story?”

“Shush, father. You said you’d listen,” scolded Ceri.
The king nodded wistfully, stroking the raven waterfall of her hair. Outside her tower window, distant tallow smoke hung acrid on the night breeze. In the morning he would ride for the outlands. Amongst the burnt huts and bodies of subjects he could no longer protect, he must sue for peace with the mad prince at whatever the cost.
“Men never listen!”
The familiar tone jolted him back more than the poke in the stomach. So much like Kaetrina had been. As beautiful as the spring fields. Determined as the moon season rains. The dry crust of grief caught in his throat. Five bleak years had passed.
He kissed the top of Ceri’s head. Where a crown was predestined, but now never going to sit.
“I’m sorry sweet child. Please go on. Flowers? Why?”
“Butter milk flowers,” sighed Ceri. “As a sign of truce of course,” she added, dismayed that a king would not know this.

King Mikel and Queen Melane followed the narrow track ever upwards, between boulders growing ashen as they climbed. Every step sensing their enemies upon them.
Feeling their eyes and dreading their claws.
Trusting an ancient law and a circlet of pale blossoms to keep them safe.
At last they topped the plateau. Where the mountain stream began as a trickle from the snow capped boulders. Where their eternal enemies held court high above Ardanelle.
The eyrie of the griffin.

“Griffins!” remarked Jacob. “With the head of an eagle and the body of a lion?”
“Of course,” groaned Ceri, waiting for further interruption before continuing.

Lord Leonid and Lady Enora were paired for life, the only custom the unicorns agreed with.
Leonid’s honey flecked eyes met those of his counterpart. Mikel’s glared back, cold and blue as the stream beside him.
“This must end Leonid. Where is Mikaley? Where is our daughter?”
Enora hissed, ruffling her golden feathers angrily. “Mind your tongue horn horse!”
Melane stepped forward. “But for the snows we would have come earlier Enora.” Her sweet voice lowered. “We heard the beat of wings the night she was taken. Only a griffin…”
“Always the griffins,” snarled Leonid. “Why should we believe anything you say? Those who would trample the forests to starve of us prey? Drive the dograbbits and jackalope far from the flat lands? Use their cruel horns to gore our kin? Their hooves to crush our skulls?” He paused, the fire momentarily dulled. “What of our son. What of Levaris? “

“We know nothing of his fate,” snorted Mikel.
“Liar!” screeched Enora. “Trust nothing they say my husband.”
“And why should we trust those who would dam the river? Forcing us to drink at the valley pool, easy prey to vicious claws and razored talons? The corpses mount at the lake edge, bringing deathfly and disease.” Mikel raised his proud head. “The grasslands shrink without the river and creeks. By sun season’s end there will be no grazing lands left,” he added quietly.
“Then you too will know hunger,” growled Enora. She stepped forward, drawing close to the unicorn queen. Melane recoiled from the fetid stench of the carrion breath.
“Don’t worry,” sneered Enora, “That’s not her you can smell.”
Melane lowered her head, her horn at the throat of the Lady griffin.
“You would attack while wearing the garland of truce?”
“If you are to mock my grief for Mikaley,” growled the unicorn, “I will carry home your head.”
Enora’s fierce eyes narrowed. Her powerful hind tensed, prepared to strike.

They turned at the soft clop of hooves.
A unicorn stepped into the clearing, prodded forward by a male griffin.
The length of her body was almost hairless, a myriad of scars. Her abdomen was etched in dozens of thin stripes; fresh, cruel, weeping cuts. Her legs trembled to hold her thin body upright.
“Mikaley,” gasped her father
“You!” cried Melane, charging at the griffin. She drove her horn into his eye, puncturing through his brain and the top of his skull. With a violent twist of her neck she threw him to the water’s edge.
The garland of flowers slid from his eye socket and followed the reddening stream away on the current.
“Levaris!” howled Leonid in anguish.
Melane turned to her daughter, but Enora was already at her.
“No, wait” pleaded Mikaley as the talon opened her long throat. Enora’s screech of vengeance tore the clouds above them to shredded rags. Mikaley slumped to the ground, her face a visage of disbelief.

Jacob nodded, recognizing the madness of war in his daughter’s tale.

In the second of silence before the madness continued, came a rustling from beneath the great golden wings of Levaris.
Two small heads emerged. Eagle heads. Eyes closed, they sniffed the air excitedly. Dragging themselves from under their father’s wing they tottered towards the fallen unicorn. They pushed at her back leg with their beaks, seeking to feed at her soft underbelly.
Melane raised her hoof, blind with rage. Mikel stepped forward to halt her strike.
“Their legs my love. Their hind legs.”
Enora’s head fell in shame. Leonid wrapped her in his wings
The young ones had hooves.
The four of them watched as their grandchildren suckled.

Unicorn tears fell as diamonds. As only they do in times of peace.

Ceri gripped her father tight, her small fingers clutching the leather of his tunic. “Hippogriffs?” he whispered. She nodded, easing from the embrace.
“The union of Levaris and Mikaley gave both sides something in common. They ended the war with love.”
He bent down to kiss her cheek, but her head turned away, tucked behind her drawn up knees. She rocked gently upon them.

Jacob was nearly to the door.

“Did you really listen?”

“Ceri? Honey?””

Then he noticed.
And couldn’t help but hear.

The chair.
Her saddle on its high back. The neat pile upon it, wrapped in a pelt blanket. Beneath; her favorite boots, brightly polished.
His voice deserted him though his lips formed the words.
“Oh Ceri.”
On a wooden peg next to the chair hung her best white dress. Her long travel cloak.

And a circlet of buttermilk flowers.

Make It Rain

The screech was ear splitting. The anguished scream of the goddess. It tore the sky into ragged black shreds of woe. Isis had thrown back her white hair, her naked breasts heaving with exertion. She shuddered in sobbing gasps of breath. The remnants of her shredded clothes hung like carrion on her body. Mad with grief and frustration she turned to Nephthys/Aleesha. Her eyes dangerous vivid emeralds.
“Make it rain” she demanded. “I know you can do it”
Her skin glowed as her power regathered.
“Make it rain!” she roared. “Now!”
The demand came as a piercing spear. Aleesha felt the sting as it struck.

Nephthys raised her hands to the sky. She focused her thoughts on her mother. Called the clouds to them. Projecting her spirit among them, she felt the dampness in the air high above.
Slowly, steadily, she curled her fingers into fists. The temperature dropped as ice crystals formed overhead. With the same slow method she opened her fingers until her hands were flat.
“Yes!” hissed Isis as the first drops fell. The clouds burst into life, delivering in a torrent.
Isis looked down at him. Her eyes blazed with anticipation. This would work. It must work. This was all she had left to try.
Around her body, a ripple of blue static began to build. It crackled like a fire all over her. Aleesha could feel it’s’ intensity building. Pulsing. Growing.
And through Nephthys she knew what Isis was attempting. It may have been a mystical spell with an appropriately romantic name but it simply came to Aleesha as two words. Lightning rod.
With an enormous crack, a massive single bolt struck.
Isis and Osiris vanished in a blinding sheet of white. Nephthys was knocked off her feet by the blast, landing twenty feet from where she stood. The vegetation all around was dead and blackened by the heat.
Picking herself up from the ground, Nephthys ran to where Osiris lay. As she approached there was no sign of Isis. The blast had thrown her clear of the area. Nephthys put her hand to her mouth at the stench of burnt hair and flesh. But the sight of him was almost too much to bear.
The king of all men lay on the mud soaked ground. His severed limbs had been meticulously reattached. Amongst the sutures, written incantations protected the wounds from further detrition. Around his throat, spells proclaimed his desire to see again. To look upon his love and know her. On his legs, to come to her. On his arms, to hold her. And on his penis, to consummate their love.
But there was also more. Parts of his face and body were charred from the lightning strike. Flesh had bubbled and sagged. Steam rose from his fiery wounds as the rain cooled them.
And on his thigh.
Oh dear sister.
Dozens of slits, many overlapping into crosses and stars. Fresh and raw. Part of no ritual for his resurrection. In her insane rage she had used her small jewelled dagger. The one he had given her.
She had stabbed until the knife had disintegrated. The broken blade was still in his leg.
Nephthys tried to pull it out but the fury of the blow made it impossible.

Despite his condition, she could not contain her desperate love for Osiris. This beautiful man had opened her heart. And taken it forever captive. As her tears spilt the rain intensified.
She leant over his face, handsome despite everything.
And longed to see him open his eyes.
To look upon his love and know her.

For love.

Once for love.

She spoke the name of Ra.
And held her breath.

“Get away from him!” screamed Isis. She conjured a blast of energy which thundered into Nephthys’ body. Her right arm took the brunt of it, the bones splintering into fragments. Most of her ribs broke, puncturing both lungs as she flew twisting like rag through the air. She landed contorted and broken. Her eyes filled red with blood.
“Stay away from him!” Isis stood over his body as a lioness over its kill.
“Not you” she cried.
“Not you” she waned.

She knew.

Nephthys tried to breathe, gurgling blood and mud and wet air.

Then Isis gasped.

“It worked!” she shrieked. “Dear Ra it worked. His eyes are open!” She pecked him with kisses, muttering thanks and praising her forefathers.
Through a crimson veil Nephthys watched their dark silhouette against the magenta sky. Her sisters’ hand grasped his penis, working him to arousal. Isis mounted him quickly, holding him in place as she rose and fell. Osiris moaned as her pace increased furiously.
Nephthys shut her eyes and prayed for an end to everything.

Finally the sounds stopped. The downpour drew to an end. Several minutes passed.
Nephthys opened her painful eyes to see Isis above her. Her face a raging mask of hatred. The panther of black magic. Her hair rippling deep purple.

“He thought it was you” she seethed.

She pressed her foot into her sister’s stomach. Blood bubbled out of her nose and mouth.

“He called me by your name”

She held up the head of Osiris. The magical stitches had held. No knife.
She had torn it off.

With a thud she dropped it onto Nephthys’s chest.
And walked away.

(from the novel “Last Goddess”)

Miriam

From Aleesha’s description he knew it was her. White gloves. Pale as the moon. Long black hair with a silver streak. Eyes a funny grey, bluish in the right light. Small, delicate like a bird.
Well the little bird had flown in.
David painfully crunched the M.G. into reverse. He wanted neutral ground. He also didn’t want to hang around and chat with the seven foot, scar faced man at the gate.
He manoeuvred through several side streets, heading north towards the clinic. There was a large community park with bike tracks and a duck pond he knew of. He spun the car to a stop with a spray of gravel. By the time he had the keys out of the ignition, the woman was standing near the edge of the pond. Houdini in a nightie. David stomped down as barefoot as her, still in his running gear.
She looked out over the diamond surface of the lake. The sparkle of the moon reflected ice blue in her eyes. David thought she looked fifteen and fifty at the same time. Beneath the lustrous hair, the tired face of a child up past her bed time. But for some reason, even with his emotions raging about Aleesha, he felt intimidated by Miriam. She unsettled him. He kept his voice level.
“Did you do something to Aleesha.?”
“No. I only spoke to her.”
“I tend to think that may be bullshit.”
“I am not the one you seek.”
“Who is the one I seek?”
“Another part of me.”
“Well do I need an appointment? Tell me what the hell’s going on.”
She took a breath. It reminded him of Ruth just before she was about to deliver a speech she expected you to pay attention to.
“All of us have spiritual energies. Kas, souls, psyches. Parts of these transfer between people when we interact. Become part of our own. Giving up some as well.”
David took his own pre speech breath.
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
Miriam turned to face him, her small face serious.
“Some of these spirits are very unique, powerful, and seek a stronger body when the one they’re in becomes too old or weak.”
“Are you telling me Aleesha’s being possessed by a spirit?”
“No. But affected by one.”
The words she was saying sounded crazy, but the way she said them was not.
“Are you the body that’s become old and weak?”
“Yes.”
Miriam shivered, brushed by a chill that David couldn’t feel.
“So what is this thing? This spirit. And why Leesh?”
“It is ancient. As old as any of the spirits. It knows her remarkable qualities. It is making itself known to her, though she doesn’t want it too. But it is accustomed to being accepted, and will show her things to tempt her.”
“What do you mean show her things?”
“It will play with her appearance, her body. Seduce her. She may get ill or hurt forcing it away. It will give her gifts. Enhance her senses, give her traces of magic.”
“Traces of magic? She was collapsed in the bathroom when I got home. Puke and piss on the floor. Then she had some sort of psychotic episode. Didn’t seem very frigging magical to me!” he shouted.
“Nevertheless it was there. It probably scared you. You will need to be there for her until she can control it. It will be scaring her too.”
“It fucking scared me all right. And you’re not helping.”
“You will need to have faith.”
“Faith? Faith in what?
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
“Yeah, Martin Luther King, I know. But I don’t see any of the bloody staircase. And I don’t know that Aleesha does either. Faith must be enforced by reason. When faith becomes blind it dies. Gandhi.”
“Faith makes things possible, not easy” Miriam replied calmly. “Unknown.”
“And blind faith in your leaders, or in anything, will get you killed” David growled. “Known. Bruce fucking Springsteen. Look Miriam or whoever the hell you are, something’s happened to Aleesha. But she’s not enhanced, not getting, what did you say, traces of magic. I’m a vet. There’s life, death and patch ‘em up when you can. But there’s no bloody magic. It doesn’t exist.”
He heard the familiar jingle of his keys. She was tossing them casually up and down in her hand. He looked at his empty hand. How had she taken them without him feeling it? She swung her arm in a gentle arc and threw the keys into the duck pond. They plopped below the surface twenty feet out.
“What the hell!” yelled David.
“The magic exists.”
She gestured out at the lake with one hand. She pulled her thumb and fingers slowly apart. David had already sworn more than he meant to while talking to her. But this one was worth it.
A gap opened in the water, a corridor exposing the silty bottom. A path from the edge of the pond to his keys, shining in the moonlight.
“Holy fucking shit.”
Like a zombie he walked out to get them.
“The faith is a bit harder to find” he heard from behind him.
As his fingers plucked the keys from the mud, the water rushed back in, reforming the pond surface.
When he turned back she was gone.
He waded out of the pond, scanning the park for her. A single duck squawked at him as he walked toward the car. His world had become ridiculous.
David started the car, still looking around for. There were plenty of dark shadows she could be hiding in, but he knew that wasn’t the case. This Miriam could pull out a freaking Moses. She was wherever she wanted to be.
He rattled the gear stick into reverse. Then for the first time ever, he stalled the M.G.
He hurriedly unwrapped the handkerchief from his bloody fingers. No skin was torn. No bones broken. He turned over his hand, slowly examining it.
Not an ounce of pain.
Two miracles in five minutes. “Holy fucking shit” was not a big enough statement to do the night justice. And it wasn’t over.
He had to get home.
On the way he flexed his blood covered hand. He kept glancing at it, as though it wasn’t his. But it was. Good as new.
“Holy fucking shit” was the best he could do. He’d momentarily lost the ability to say anything else.

(from the novel “Last Goddess”)

Kir-eleyne

There was a pause in the heartbeat of the earth.

The god of the sun exhaled for the last time and for a moment everything stopped. Reason ceased. A small flock of belling birds, the last thirty or so left in Etelenty, forgot how to fly. More than half of them simply fell out of the sky, their small bodies landing with muffled thumps on the dead leaf carpet.
Spreading in a concentric pattern from Ra’s body, any plant still clinging to life lost its fight, the ground blackening as though burnt. The ring spread rapidly, and in moments everything to the horizon had darkened.
At the same time, the air diluted, losing its freshness, its vibrancy. Its life.
Above the head of Nephthys, maniacal violet thunderheads surged across the sky. The hue of the world changed to a sickening vermillion in the challenging rise of the winds. Magenta explosions raged inside the swirling clouds, threatening a monsoon of blood.
A storm unlike any other. A cataclysmic storm.
Her mother had begun to grieve. Her mother the sky.

Below her pretty bare feet, she felt her father’s protest.
A rapidly intensifying tremor rumbled through the sanctity of Aedom, tumbling her backwards across the charred and brittle turf. The sudden imbalance in all things was personified by an enormous crack, the loudest sound Nephthys would ever hear. An angry jagged fissure opened up in the earth, splitting the great Acacia in half. The fountain of truth disintegrated into thousands of obsidian chips, which whistled in all directions like tiny missiles. The psychotic fissure screamed through the ground, splitting Etelenty from one coast to the other, releasing choking sulphur. Nephthys gasped for air as the great trees began to be consumed by the quake, spilling like toys into the growing abyss. Deep below, the ravenous magma began its hungry climb, preceded by the fiery glow of warning
As her beautiful Mother Sycamore plummeted into the chasm, she actually did stop breathing, the air at the epicentre too thin to maintain respiration. She slumped forward crazily, the pricked balloon of a dying goddess. As she came to rest on the ground her wavering vision tried to focus on something. Anything to give her hope.
A familiar face swam through the haze.
An important, familiar face.
Green catatonic eyes staring.
I…..know………..you.
Sister.

With the last of her strength, Nephthys gave her voice to the hellish sky. A desperate call to the one who had always come. Without hesitation or judgement.
The magnificent Kir-eleyne punctured the armies of warring clouds, hurtling towards them.
My dear friend.
Thank you.
She felt a lopsided, palsied smile on her face.
Thank you.
The mighty raptor snatched up the two sisters like mice.

The charred bodies of the remaining belling birds dropped like stones into the molten mouth.

Kir-eleyne thundered its massive wings to get to safety, but the poison in Isis climbed rapidly though its talons and into its body. It dipped in the air as this strange sensation coursed through it. Kir-eleyne had never suffered weakness. Never been afraid. It would have dropped Isis but for the call of the girl with eyes the colour of sky.
Help us.

The great bird drew upon the essence of Belleren, using it to limit the spread of poison to the blue eyed girl. Knowing that it must do this.
It struggled ahead, crashing though the now brittle trees of Aedom, trying to gain height. Magma spewed out of the ground, bringing forth deadly cannon balls of fiery subterranean rocks. Kir-elyne’s wings were punctured, leaving smoky holes.
It had never felt pain either.
Somehow it lifted the sisters over a ridge, but it flew drunkenly as blood loss weakened it more.
A little further.
A little further.

Help us.

Get them safe.

As the poison reached Kir-eleyne mighty heart, it recognised the touch of the pale man.

You will not have them.

One giant push of its wings was all it had left. It pulled the two girls in close to its body. With the help of Belleren it encircled them with its golden wings, locking itself into a ball around their bodies.
Kir-eleyne said farewell to the sky and died while still in the air.
It crashed to the earth, protecting them as it tumbled and broke.
It was far enough to be safe from the earthquake. But not the rain of molten rock. They peppered the great bird’s body, and its feathers and flesh burnt with a stench lost in the madness of the apocalypse.
The ka of Kir-eleyne passed to Isis and Nephthys, giving them the essence of its being and the remnants of Belleren. It was just enough. It would allow them to survive.

They were safe.

from the novel “Last Goddess”

Morton Street, eight years earlier…

She felt conspicuous in her St.Bernadette uniform. But within her, right from the start, she knew she could have been wearing a potato sack and it wouldn’t have changed a thing. He was looking at her face. Mainly. Trying not to stare in the clumsy way of boys. He kept stride with her from the other side of the road. A quick glance revealed enough information for her to work with. She recognised the drab grey of the state school uniform. She hadn’t seen him before. Tall. Fair haired. Non threatening. Not creepy but annoying. Was he lost? He stood out amongst the dispersing tide of St Bernie’s kids in their royal blue. As she crossed another side street he did too.
Why me? Lucy Bower was walking with the pretty girls ahead of her. Everyone looked at Juicy Lucy. She had a career in T.V. or modelling ahead of her. And the others in her well groomed pack Amanda, Rachel and Carina. They plumped and preened and chewed up boyfriends like crazy. Aleesha didn’t consider herself attractive in the slightest. She tried not to be. But her peripheral vision picked up the line of his eyes. As she was walking on her own (as always) it was her in his sights. She felt exposed, her anonymity taken.
Increasing her pace, Aleesha used Lucy’s group for cover as she ducked into the mini mart. Prising a hand basket from the stack, she rummaged a pocket for the brief list of supplies Ruth had asked her to pick up on her way home.
She’d been in the store a full five minutes when the door chime signalled a new customer. Though several people had come and gone since her entry, Aleesha knew it was him. She wore no makeup or jewellery, which most of the other girls did despite school policy. Her skirt was a modest length, at least four inches longer than Lucy’s. Aleesha chided herself for suddenly caring. It was just a boy, damn it.
His sun bleached hair contrasted like a new mop on top of the slate grey shirt and pants. State school haircut to match the uniform. Straight fringe and shapeless cut. Done by his mum, possibly while having a beer, she thought. His sleeves were folded back to the bottom of his biceps. Nice arms, she conceded.
Picking up a magazine, he pretended to read while scanning for her over the top. Found her adding a packet of pasta shells to her basket. The small amount of his face she could see around his roaming green eyes was blushing.
She smiled an “oh brother” which he interpreted as a “come here baby” and was there before she had got past the rows of spaghetti sauce.
Up close he was cute-ish. Kind of.
He stammered through an introduction with a voice struggling with nerves and adolescence. His name was David and he was two years older than her. His unease transferred to her but she kept a lid on it. Ruth had told her men took a lot longer than women to mature. This guy seemed light years away. Aleesha cursed herself again for being aware of her plain appearance. And for seeing something in his eyes which brushed ever so lightly at her soul. For feeling something. It felt uncomfortably nice. Double damn.
David appeared genuinely shocked when she knocked back his offer of a movie date.
“But you smiled at me” he reasoned, leading her to a second grin.
For a moment he just stood there, and she saw a brief flash of something she would never forget. As though she could read his very thoughts, she knew what he was going through. I’m losing her. I can’t lose her. I’ve only just found her.
After just a few moments of meeting, he already valued her. It scared her to realise this. And it scared her how much.
His brain, obviously in tunnel vision- hunter mode, struggled to work it out. He raised the magazine he still held.
“Was I holding this upside down?”
Aleesha shook her head as he realised which publication he had grabbed. Cleo. The sexually transmitted diseases special. His face went from awkward pink to traffic light red. He glanced down, then back at the magazine, serious as though checking his symptoms.
Aleesha couldn’t hold back a snort.
He broke into a laugh that was contagious. She laughed along, something she did far too little of.
“Find a guy that makes you smile.” Ruth.
The words escaped her lips before she could reel them back in.
“Would you like to walk me home?”
He looked almost ridiculously happy. Oh lord.
Aleesha paid for her items. The cashier returned her change and a sturdy brown paper bag. David reached for it with eager chivalry but Aleesha wrestled it back. She was independent and wanted to show him that right away. It would have been weird to let him carry it, despite his wounded look.
He crammed his hands into his pockets as they exited the store. They walked side by side along Morton Street with little conversation. He seemed content enough to just be with her, which confused her. The awkwardness made her wonder if this was a mistake.
But along the way their hands slipped together. She wasn’t really aware of it happening. Her small hand felt right in his warm grip.
And for the first time in a long while she felt special.
Safe.
She belonged.

She hoped his hand would always be there.

from the novel “Last Goddess”

Tuccia

Rome, 31 A.D.

Tuccia pulled her veil firmly around her head. She didn’t want to attract any more attention than necessary. She prayed for the respect of the citizens as she descended the steep steps of the Atrium Vestiae.
At the edge of the square she strained to see through the crowd of onlookers. Their attention was focused on the column of condemned, meaning for the moment she stayed unnoticed. The parade of tragic souls moved slowly past, harassed and beaten by the ruthless Praetorian Guards. One by one Tuccia studied the manacled prisoners, hoping beyond hope her information was wrong.
She gasped when she saw that it was not. In the middle of the thirty men, she recognised Gallius, her childhood friend. It was obvious he had been treated as poorly as the others, his blonde curls and body caked in blood. The crowd remained eerily silent. None wanted to incur the displeasure of the guards. Established by Augustus, they once symbolised the strength and mercy of the emperor. But under the rule of Tiberius, they had become much feared. Led by the cruel Sejanus, the guards had become manipulators of the city, the state, and therefore the empire itself. A network of spies and informants fuelled their zealous drive. Few were safe from their growing dark reach. On their authority alone, without trial or even discussion, nearly anyone could be marched away to their death. While Tiberius led a life of debauchery in Capri, he grew steadily more ignorant of their activities.
The prisoners were minutes away from the end of their lives. Sweet Gallius, the only pure hearted man she had ever met, was going to die. For nothing. The time had come for Tuccia to act. She wormed her way through the crowd.
A gap presented itself when two guards focused their attention on a stumbling man. Within earshot, Tuccia called her friends name.
Gallius reacted to her familiar voice, but did not look at her. Brave, noble Gallius. Despite her position, despite his fate, he would not risk endangering her. He only had to look upon her to be free.
He would not.
She had no choice. Rushing forward, she threw her arms around him.
“No Tuccia!” he pleaded.
A blow from the hilt of a sword knocked her to the ground. As she fell her cloak parted enough for the guard to see the red and white bands of the goddess. Shamefaced, he ushered her to her feet. The line of condemned men halted as other guards came to the scene.
Regaining her composure, she addressed the forlorn soldier who had struck her.
“I have touched this man. He is pardoned.”
He, and the other guards who had gathered, bowed their heads in respect. This law was beyond all statutes and arguments. Her order predated the Praetorian Guard by seven centuries.
Gallius held his place, his shock visible. The nearest guard produced a ring of keys, stepping forward to free the man.
“Wait!” came a booming command from the rear of the column.
Tuccia felt a cool shiver as she recognised the voice.
The voice of Lucius Aelius Sejanus. Personally responsible for twelve thousand elite soldiers. The man whose power exceeded even the emperor himself. Why was he here today?
His troops parted like obedient children as he strode toward her. His deep bronze shield, breastplate and helmet contrasted with his cold pale complexion. In his hand, a silver lance with an intricately decorated grip. He fixed her in his proud amber gaze.
She stank of the goddess.
“Who are you, bitch?” he demanded.
“My lord,” began the guard who had knocked her down.
Like a striking snake, Sejanus spun the deadly lance in an arc. As he did, the tapering end flared into a narrow blade. Tuccia saw this clearly although it moved at such incredible speed. With a whoosh it was back at the side of Sejanus. The soldier’s severed head slid noiselessly down the angle of the cut. Like an overripe tomato it splotched to the ground.
“I was talking to her” he continued, casually kicking the severed head into the throng.
Tuccia stepped next to Gallius. She loosened her veil to reveal more of her face.
“I am a Virgin of Vestia” she announced boldly but not loudly. “And by my touch I free this man of all false charges against him.”
Sejanus looked over her with obvious contempt.
“The only falsehood before me is that of your chastity” he sneered.
Her mouth fell open in disbelief.
“The pontifex maximus will confirm it” she stammered.
He spat on the ground at her feet. He strode to her, tearing away her veil to reveal her shorn hair. Then her cloak, uncovering the palla pinned over her left shoulder. Roughly he tore away this shawl of dignity, leaving her bare breasted in the centre of all. The red and white ribbons of Vestia fluttered around her. She made no effort to cover herself.
“I see the Virgin!” shouted one of the prisoners. Like wild fire, the cry spread amongst the condemned. They all knew that even the sight of a maiden from the temple, while en route to execution, meant their freedom. Their voices grew in number and volume along the line.
“Silence!” bellowed Sejanus. “I see only a whore. For who but a fornicator would throw themselves upon this pig.”
He turned with malice to the shocked Tuccia.
“I offer you the chance to prove yourself. A challenge. For is it not true that your goddess empowers you?” Her knees trembled, threatening to give way, but she held her ground and his terrible gaze.
“My goddess walks with me always” she said bravely.
“Good” He took a metal pot from the kit of one of his men. “Then this will be simple for you. You will take this to the Tiber. Fill it with water and return it to me. If it is still full when you get here, I will release every prisoner. If it is not, you will take loaf and wine to Campus Scelerus. Do you agree?”
“I agree” replied a defiant Tucci quickly. The prefect of the city had given her an easy task, apparently upon realising the impropriety of his actions. She was proud to have stood firm against this arrogant bully. The threat of Campus Scelerus, the evil field, was empty. She would not be joining the skeletons in the underground chamber of death. The food and drink were traditionally provided so that the victim was not killed, which was sacrilege, but rather died “by their own choice.”
He stood, holding it aloft so all could see. He turned slowly, scanning the sea of faces for the real target of his actions. She was here somewhere. He smelled her.
“The Virgin of Vestia has agreed to the challenge. Her word is binding. If she fails in this task, she is deemed unsuitable to maintain the flame. She will end her days in Scelerus.”
Sejanus dropped to his haunches. He pulled a jewelled dagger from his belt. Aggressively, he punctured the inverted pot with numerous holes, turning it into a sieve.
He threw it to her. She was too stunned to catch it and it clattered noisily to the ground.
“I will wait on the steps of your temple” he laughed. He walked away, resheathing his knife.
“Wait!” she called to him. Sejanus spun on his heels.
“You have changed the conditions of the trial. I demand the same right.”
His chest heaved in anger and his hand instinctively went to his sword. Still she would not cower beneath his cruel eyes, as so many had before. He cursed the obvious influence of the goddess.
Tuccia had pulled her garments around her and held the battered pot in one hand.
“I will bring you your water, but surely the Tiber is too far away. On such a warm day, you must be very thirsty. The fountain of our temple is just over there. You can watch me, to ensure there is no trickery. For surely water is water my lord. And this business can be ended much sooner.”
His fingers played eagerly upon the hilt of his lance. How easy it would be. But the hundreds gathered round would not tolerate the murder of a Vestal Virgin under any condition. His gold eyes flittered amongst them. Where are you?
He bowed with exaggerated grace to accept her condition. He still held the upper hand.
Tuccia turned to the people. This time she held the pot aloft. She raised her proud voice to the masses.
“The Prefect of Rome has given his word. It is as binding as my own.”
Sejanus bristled at her mockery.
The crowd parted to form a corridor from the steps to the fountain. She walked purposefully over and knelt before it.
She was no fool. The task was impossible. Her training had given her courage and conviction. But not the ability to perform miracles.
Trembling, Tuccia dipped the bowl beneath the surface, reluctant to raise it.
Her genuine devotion to Vestia had brought out her brave demand to draw water from the temple fountain. She had known nothing else since the age of eight.
Now, twenty years on, she would have her faith tested at the risk of forfeiting her life. She prayed it would be enough.
Her goddess answered.
On the temple steps, Sejanus tensed as he felt the influence of his sister.
Tuccia felt another pair of hands cup her own, giving her strength.
She raised the pot, trickles of water dripping off the outside. She watched the surface, for surely it must drop.
It did not. None escaped from the holes Sejanus had made.
She carefully got to her feet and carried it back to him.
He did not look in the least surprised.
Tuccia gently dropped to one knee and offered him the pot.
He smashed it away with the back of his hand.
He stepped past her, calling his troops to follow.
The prisoners were left, dazed in the middle of the square. Families and friends rushed to their loved ones, weeping with joy.
Some remained around the figure of Tuccia. She had fallen onto the steps and lay without movement. They longed to help her but none could touch one such as her. Several called to the temple for help. Finally two other maidens of Vestia came down to aid their fallen sister.

Within days, Sejanus’ reign of terror had ended. Statues of him were torn down. Any mention of him removed from public records. His broken body was left, ironically on steps. The Germoin Stairs. He had been strangled. A crowd descended upon the body, tearing it to pieces.
In their rage, few noticed the fierce amber of his eyes gone. In their place, the kind blue ones he was born with.
As though his spirit had flown, leaving only the shell of his battered corpse.

from the novel “Last Goddess”

Bubblegum

The sparkling white Rolls Royce eased gently to a halt in the driveway of twenty five Brown Street, a non-descript two up-two down in suburban Whitfield. A chauffeur alighted, zipping efficiently to the back door. He opened it, bowing so low his breath cleared the dust from a small patch of concrete.
“Thank you Jenkins.”
The long and luscious legs of Consuela Quest, CEO of Raven Chemicals, emerged. She stood, shaking her luxurious dark hair and smoothing the front of her knitted Givenchy sheath dress.
“Hello Hades” she whispered, stepping gracefully over an upturned skateboard. She glided up two low steps onto the front porch of the house. A blank, fair haired woman held the front door open for her.
“It’s expecting you” announced the glassy eyed blonde.
“Thank you Mrs. Thorne” replied Consuela, drawing a long breath before tackling the sharp stairs to the upper floor.

Turning into the street trundled a small but powerful Chinese runner in purple, towing an elaborate black lacquered rickshaw embellished with gold detail. The puller eased the handles to a stop, positioning the rickshaw at the kerb near the lopsided mailbox. From its opulent padded seat, a rotund, bald Asian man stretched a satin slipper cautiously to the sidewalk. Gathering his vast black silk robes around his considerable girth, restaurateur Min Fa shuffled through the gateway and took the same path as Consuela.
He stopped at the overturned skateboard, shaking his head in disappointment. Bending more fluently than his body shape should allow, he flipped the skateboard back onto its wheels. Stroking the battered deck with his hand, Min sighed before proceeding to the house. Mrs. Thorne, holding a tray of razor blades and wearing a glassy smile, stepped back to allow him room to squeeze past.

Min Fa had just manoeuvred himself inside when a fire red Hummer roared up Brown Street, making no attempt to stop in time to avoid hitting the black rickshaw. It disintegrated into kindling, the Hummer coming to rest with one tyre pinning the crushed Asian man. With a piercing metal creak, the red door swung open. Colonel William Ares Richardson almost stepped over the fallen rickshaw puller, but managed to step on one of the man’s hands. The small fingers crunched like popcorn under Richardson’s heavy boot. He hitched his khaki service pants up under his outrageously hot pink t-shirt. Richardson briskly vaulted the low front fence, despite the open gate. Striding across the patchy front lawn, he ignored the blonde woman at the entrance and took the stairs two at a time.
Rapping sharply on the purple door with his clipboard, he barged past the posters of Sheldon Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch without waiting for a reply.

In a hanging wicker chair suspended by macramé rope, perched their host. Dea sat cross-legged, sixteen year old sweet in Nirvana t-shirt and frayed jeans. Lightweight headphones crowned her straight blonde hair. She was blowing dry the fresh pink polish on her toenails and didn’t look up as Richardson entered the cramped bedroom.
The Colonel snapped his combat boots together loudly. Dea glanced at him briefly, then reached for a skull shaped bong and a dime bag of marijuana. Richardson, muscular and buzz cut, surveyed the remainder of the small room. He bowed his head politely at a sunflower coloured beanbag, ignoring the silk clad Min standing at the window. His gaze travelled past the screen and game console, Guide dog puppy calendar and Mickey Mouse alarm clock.
Consuela sat on the end of an unmade bed, one long leg over the other. Colonel Richardson smiled leeringly at them, his eyes not bothering to go as high as her face.
“You make my skin crawl.”
“Why don’t you admit you want me inside you Connie?”
“The only way you would get inside me is if I ate you, which I assure you I am more than capable of. However, since no doubt you would taste like you behave, you would be completely unpalatable.”
Richardson grunted, turning his attention to Min Fa.
“Not much you’d find unpalatable, you fat fuck.”
Min continued to look out of the narrow window. “Perhaps your parking skills William. Perhaps you could manoeuvre an automobile in a non-destructive, and perhaps, less lethal way.
“Perhaps you could take a shit in your best hat.”

Mrs. Thorne crept into the room, trembling and covered in a cold sweat. She offered a bowl of drawing pins around, her shaking hands causing a few to bounce out of the bowl. Once all four of them had ignored her, she withdrew silently, her pupils tiny spots in wide white eyes.

“It’s all right Fa Min, I’ll give you a lift home” said Consuela.
“Most gracious of you to offer Miss Quest” bowed Min.
“Moost gracious of you to offer” mimicked Richardson. “Fucking fat cocksucker” he added. “Maybe you’ll get a fat dose of pestilence riding in that mouldy Rolls.”
“Don’t you dare call me pestilence! It sounds like a bug spray” snapped Consuela, sitting forward suddenly.
“Well that’s what everyone knows you as. And if the stiletto fits…”
“By name but certainly not by nature” chipped in Min diplomatically.
A cloud of dope smoke unfurled from the wicker chair, crawling lazily across the room. Consuela’s burning umber eyes penetrated the haze, glaring with loathing at Richardson and Min.
“I am the Conqueror” she spat. “You, Mister Richardson are a mere imitation of me, and a poor one at that. What you struggle to achieve with individuals, I bring to nations and continents. On a grand scale.”
“Grand scale? What have you brought on a grand scale lately? Not much since the Great Plague.”
“What about two world wars in a century? Pol Pot? Idi Amin?”
“No way can you claim those two! They were both projects of mine!”
“Well what of Cancer? Ebola? AIDS?”
“See? Pestilence! You admit it yourself. And by the way princess, they’ve cured a kid from AIDS. Maybe it is time for another plague! Grand scale? The only thing happening on a grand scale around here is this sack of crap here.”
Min still looked down at the roadside, oblivious to the insult. “Hoi was such an accomplished puller” he sighed. “An area you no doubt excel in as well William.”
“Still no famine at your place Min Fat?” sneered Richardson.
“As always, the cultured debate; the stirring riposte, the sparkling repartee…”
“If I throw you food would you shut the fuck up?”
Min clapped his silky sleeves together, giggling. “Oh my. Shakespeare? Oscar Wilde? It’s hard to tell.” He faced Richardson for the first time. “All your type looks the same to me.”
“You forty acre smart ass” snapped Richardson. “Why don’t you report first Min Fat, since you’re so clever and ar-fucking-tic-u-fucking-late?”
Another waft of dope smoke breezed through from Dea’s wicker nest. She offered the bong to Consuela who politely declined.
“Very well” announced Min Fa. “Africa continues to be our shining light. Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya are performing well. North Korea is reporting cannibalism as a reaction to food shortages. I’m still hoping for a relapse in Russia and China, though it may be wishful unless we can find another Mao. On a brighter note, most east and central African countries have no hope of effective aid distribution with their current regimes.” Min smiled broadly, Africa having been the jewel in his crown for a century.
“What’s the mortality rate?” posed Consuela.
“It is difficult to attribute percentages specifically to death by hunger with other contributing causes” answered Min carefully. “Our preferred method is to use the child deaths by starvation per second scale. Currently it sits at one every three. Our aim is to reduce this to two every one.”
“One child death every two seconds?” asked Consuela, unimpressed.
“No no no. Two every one second. One every half-second.”
“Lovely” declared Consuela. “I look forward to the day. You can do it Min Fa, I know you can.” The pudgy Min blushed a little at the mini pep talk.
“We do have competition of course. As corrupt as most are, aid agencies are getting some supplies through. The use of growth hormones, drought resistant crops and genetically altered foods continue to threaten us. However, the areas of unsustainable land are widening. In short, as long as they keep copulating, the scales tip my way ever more.”
At the use of the word “copulating”, Richardson fixed hungry eyes on Consuela.
“Do endeavour to keep it in the khakis.”
“So your plan is same as last time Min? You eat. They don’t. Impressive strategy.”
“It’s so much more than that Will..”
“Gentlemen!” interrupted Consuela. “Well then Colonel Richardson. What of your efforts this year? You’re surely not trying to pass off those school shootings as acts of war I hope? They are little different to last year’s meeting when you had us on that paintball range. Small scale and messy.”
“Yeah well who wears white to paintball?”
Consuela shuddered at the thought of those colourful splotches on her Valentino suit.
“I did try to protect you Connie.”
“Protect me? You spent the whole time blasting Min Fa!”
“Well ya gotta admit there’s plenty to aim for. And, there’s no point trying to shoot something that can’t be hit.” He cocked his head towards Dea, who was innocently unwrapping a cube of bubblegum.
“Anyway, what about the meeting you hosted the year before that? On your yacht?”
“Yes, quite. My apologies again Colonel. I’d forgotten how severe your phobia of water is.”
“It’s not a phobia! I’m just not comfortable at sea, that’s all. You have known that since the beginning of time by the way!”
“Ah” stated Consuela, raising a finger as though just remembering. “I have, haven’t I.” Min Fa failed to suppress a giggle behind a voluminous black sleeve.
“Fuck you. Your hostings are nothing more than glorified pig outs. Except I can never get a steak unless it’s dripping with soy sauce or some shit.”
“I wonder Colonel, whether you could actually make your report. Or is this room the only place you’re capable of starting war?” Richardson offered a short arctic stare in reply, interrupted by the sound of Mrs. Thorne banging into the other side of the door. They heard her burst into tears and run back down the stairs. Dea blew a large pink bubble with her gum.
“Very well” began Richardson, “We continue to pursue our successful policies. Instigating civil war. Destabilising governments and economies. Spreading distrust and promoting anarchy.”
“Then of course the Americans show up” added Min.
“God bless us” agreed Richardson. “We hate them, they hate us. Doubles up on the paranoia, doubles up on the carnage. Then while we’re playing schoolyard bully, we effectively fan the flames of terrorism and…” He stopped as Consuela and Min both rolled their eyes. “What?”
“Terrorism? Seriously William. That’s just not producing the numbers.”
“Have you come up with anyone more imaginative than Bin Laden?”
Richardson paused, determining that they were both finished for the moment.
“You’re missing the point. It’s the environment created by it. People living on a knife edge. Making the world more trigger happy every minute.”
“Oh the clichés! You’ve been saying that for a long time now William” stated Min calmly.
“Neck a dick, dim sim.”
“Oh Mark Twain lives on. Do you really think your references to my origins and appearance upset me? Would it offend you if I called you hot dog?”
“Would it offend you if I got mine out?”
“It would offend me” admitted Consuela.
“Or astound you.”
“Are you referring to the amount of time it would take you to locate it?” she smirked.
Another bubble popped.

“I don’t know why we bother with these meetings anymore” added Consuela. “We have little respect for ourselves, let alone each other.”
“I too doubt the value of our gatherings” agreed Min.
“We’re bored” concluded Richardson. “It feels like we aren’t getting anywhere. The sum total of our efforts all end up on her scorecard anyhow.”
Dea smiled sweetly at the flustered Colonel. A pink bubble burst on her face and she retrieved the spattered gum with her lips and teeth.

“We’re never going to get them all. As Min said, they’re fucking machines. What’s that thing they say? Breed like rabbits? And even if we did wipe ‘em all out, then what? What do we do after that? Retirement home? Rocking chairs and comfy slippers? None of it makes sense. The whole deal is horse shit!”
“You forget our true purpose William.”
“Which is what exactly Lord Dumpling?”
“Do you really not know our purpose? The apocalypse? Remember, we were released from the seals to await the coming of the great dark? Conquest emerged first, with crown and sword etcetera etcetera.”
“Nope.” Richardson clunked his knuckles just above the temple. “Metal plate. Korea. Fifty four. Got too close to a grenade. Blanked out everything further back than Alexander.”
“Serious?”
“Sure am Connie. What do you know about this stuff?”
Consuela wriggled her shapely buttocks. “Um. Well. It has been a while.” Richardson enjoyed the rare discomfort. “I’m sure there’s a bit on it in the bible” she diverted.
“O.K. Let’s take a look. Who’s got a stinkin’ bible?” The three looked at each other, then all turned to the hanging wicker chair. A raised “As if!” eyebrow answered them.
“Right. No bible. Can you remember it, Jabba the Chong?”
Min, also embarrassed, realised he knew little more than the others. “I think we lead an army of the dead..”
“I honestly don’t remember that part.”
“How do we lead an army of dead bastards?”
“I think they rise up as we sweep past dramatically on our horses.”
“Really? Who the hell writes this stuff? Tarantino?”
“And I seem to recall something about warning signs. Plagues of locusts, that sort of thing.”
“Locusts? They have plagues of locusts all the time. There was one the other day somewhere. Morocco or some fucking place.”
“We should get a bible and check up on the reading” suggested Consuela.
“Why?”
“You know why William, to clarify…”
“Clarify bullshit. Are you telling me we use the bible as our playbook?”
“I merely thought..”
“Look at who we are Connie. Do we really have to wait for instructions from that damn book? Do we have to wait for any type of signal? There’s been locusts. Lots of locusts. Army rising from the dead? Sounds sweet to me. Surely this shindig starts as soon as we decide to mount up.”
“I guess it would” admitted Min.
“Are you suggesting…?” asked Consuela.
“I’m suggesting we get this party started.”
Min Fa considered this bold declaration. He also pondered an eternity of Fat jokes, racist jibes, bean bags and paintball.
“I have no argument with William’s suggestion” he concluded.
Consuela surveyed the two men, who seemed serious enough. It was not for her to decide. It was not for any of them to decide. Only one could call them to their steeds. Still. The thought of occupying Richardson’s mind with something besides her body was tempting. She could agree in principle, since there was no way it was going to happen anyway.
“Very well” she finally muttered.
With The Three in agreement, they turned to The One.
Dea lifted one earphone, irritated. “What?”
“We were wondering whether we might um.., well, instigate the apocalypse. You know, get the show on the road?”
Dea screwed her delicately freckled face in annoyance. “I’m listening to Lego House.” She dropped the headphones back in place. Using her foot, she spun the chair so her back was to them. The Three sat quietly, not having a clue what “Lego House” was, while Ed Sheran finished. A couple of minutes later the chair swung back to face them. Dea unclipped the headphones and tossed them on the floor. She stretched her legs, getting circulation back into her pink painted toes.
“Apocolypse? Yeah.” She arched, catlike while yawning.
“Whatever.”

Consuela’s mouth fell open like a dying fish.

Dea pushed herself up to her feet. Sliding open a narrow closet, she rummaged for a moment before pulling out a lacrosse stick.
“Nope.”
“Another rummage. An ice hockey stick.
“Damn. Third time lucky?” She withdrew a thin black scythe, its hellish blade rusted with ancient blood.
“Gotcha!”
She turned to them, smiling. Not the cute Dea smile.
The other one.
“Ready.”

Dea lead the way downstairs, where Mrs. Thorne was frantically tipping paper clips
into a fish bowl half full of vodka. She looked up at Dea, tongue out, hair stuck flat on her perspiring forehead.
“Are you going out somewhere?” She reached for a blister pack of tablets, popping out and swallowing four of them without liquid. She scuttled outside after them, carrying the fish bowl as the girl she’d known as her daughter quietly spoke the four hails.

The white Rolls Royce began imploding, grotesquely folding in on itself. Jenkins managed a short scream before he was assimilated into the swirling, bubbling mess. Within a few seconds the blob had reformed, reshaped as a startling marbled Arabian mare.
At the same time, the flattened rickshaw and its puller began to twist into a single merging of darkness, reassembling as a tall black stallion. It shrugged the Hummer off, itself transforming into a giant angry chestnut, snapping at the neck of the stallion as it was pushed aside.
Dea’s battered skateboard shimmered for a moment. Shuddered for another. Then grew, stretching and distorting into hideous shapes. Human faces, screaming silently, protruded from the mass. Agonised and molten, it steadily changed, forming the final steed. A flighty palomino. Its pelt the sickly sallow of decaying flesh. Dappled in patches of vomit green. The blackened gums were pulled back, exposing double rows of razor-like teeth. Hades, the only horse of the four to have a name.

“What time will you be back sweetie?” asked a trembling Mrs. Thorne.
The palomino sniffed excitedly at the air, its head turning quickly to her. An instant later the fishbowl and its contents disintegrated on the concrete path, the woman’s throat torn out. Hades continued to eat from her fallen body as Dea sprung effortlessly up on to its back. She blew another pink bubble.
The hell horse tore another strip of flesh from the dead woman as Dea turned its head towards the gate.

The bubblegum popped.

“Don’t wait up mom.”

(from the short story collection “nine”-available on Amazon)

Emma

London, October 2004

“Emma! What the hell is this?”
Martin Windsor held the photograph in front of her face, his fingers as red and bloated as his round, jowly head. She looked at her boss over the top of her glasses, not at the picture. She didn’t have to or want to. Emma was the one who had put it on his desk after having it enlarged as much as the office copier could.
The photo showed a set of rusty iron manacles, set into a rendered stone wall. The edges of the cuffs were cruelly burred to deter attempts to slip out of them. Caked dry blood showed someone had tried anyway.
Cally Frost had tried. Ten year old Cally.
She had bled to death trying to free herself. What he was doing to her was worse than severing her own hands to escape.
She took the picture and turned it back to face him.
“The rust Marty. The rust. Those cuffs had been there a long time. Probably used before” said Emma.
“But no evidence was found of other victims” argued Martin.
“He altered them by hand. Customised them. Liked them. Liked how they worked. The cuffs were the only constant.”
She wanted to slap Marty’s smug face.
“The guy is smart” she said exasperatedly. “What about the drugs he used? Those doses had to be incredibly accurate to achieve what he wanted. And he used plastic. Acids. Bleaches.”
“O.K. Emma, keep your voice down. You did your job. The court did theirs. You know how it is. On to the next one.”
She shook her head wistfully. “Martin, I interviewed him over a four day period. Thirteen hours in all. He was a textbook case. Broken, low income home. Promiscuous mother. Violent stepfather. Began harming animals, other children. Textbook. He poured his heart out to me and I could barely keep my composure at the incredible sadness in him.”
“It would certainly help explain how he turned out the way he did” reasoned Martin. He rubbed his hand over his oil slicked hair.
“You don’t listen very well for someone in our line of work do you? Textbook Marty. He made it up. He was acting.”
Martin seemed offended by this.
“Well your case notes helped win him an insanity verdict Emma. He’s in the best of care now.”
“No Marty your testimony won him that verdict. I was kept off the stand because of my age and sex. You presented my notes, but not my summary. You and that defence lawyer twisted it. That’s what saved him from a life sentence. He’ll do five years at Wellingsgate. They’ll review his progress. He’ll act his way through the whole process. There’ll be remorse, remarkable improvement. The doctors at the ‘Gate will be still slapping each other on the back when he finds the next one. He’ll be back raping and torturing little girls about the same time your Lucy is turning ten. The same age as Cally Frost.”
The photo of Martin’s freckle faced five year old beamed at them from its proud place in his office. The use of her name in Emma’s argument was boiling his blood.
“How dare you!”
Emma ignored him. “On his way out of court he winked at me Marty. He knew exactly how it would play out. I got a P.I. to check out the details of his story, and a few other things as well. He got a few smacks as a kid, sure, but he was never beaten. He added countless embellishments to his saga. His poor mum worked her butt off to provide for him. Only the parts about his own cruelty were true.”
“This man is not mentally ill, at least not by the definition which spared him from prison. He’s smart. Very, very smart. He didn’t do it because he was sick. He did it because it was fun.”
A single line of perspiration ran down Martin’s temple.
Her boss went to the door and closed it.
“Emma..” he began.
“We have to go to the courts and resubmit Marty. Admit our part in this miscarriage of justice.”
“Listen to yourself Emma! That would make a mockery of this firm’s reputation. More than half our work is legal. Think of what it would do to us!”
“Are you telling me that’s more important than another Cally Frost turning up?”
He hesitated a moment too long.
“To the senior partners, yes”
“It could be Lucy next time!”
He leant towards her.
“You’re one of our best and brightest Emma Stone. You let this go right now. Keep your mouth shut and the sky’s the limit for you.” He withdrew to the plush chair, stroking a stray hair back into the fold.
Emma looked across at the man who until recently, she had admired greatly.
“Sadly, I knew you’d say that Marty. That’s why I’ve written a revision of the case study, highlighting the real relevance in it. Included with it are statements from private investigators and family services. There is a summary of faults and omissions from the trial, the biased defence questioning and our firms’ ties to that of the lawyers.”
Martin Windsor’s eyes widened as much as his fleshy cheeks would allow.
“Emma, where is this document?” He sounded like a schoolboy who’d lost his lunch money.
“In the hands of the Frosts’ lawyer. Along with a cheque for fifteen thousand pounds to fund the preparation for a mistrial.”
“Oh sweet Jesus, what have you done?”
“You really don’t listen that well at all do you? I just told you exactly what I’ve done.”
Emma began gathering personal belongings from her desk as Marty sat like a bullfrog in shock.
“It’s the designer defence. We are constantly building back stories for criminals. Pitying them because of their poor mistreated pasts. Their crimes are forgotten as the catalogue of woe is poured out. Our opinions are taken like the word of God in a courtroom. Think of the horrors we have helped excuse in the name of mental illness.”
She slammed her hand down on the photograph.
“Enough!” she yelled in his face.
She tossed the last of her things in her bag and stood.
Martin opened his mouth, his eyes suddenly menacing.
“Don’t bother threatening me Marty. You’ll never work in this town again. See you in court. Cement boots. Or any other crap you’re contemplating. You can’t scare me.”
She took off her jacket and began pulling up her blouse to expose her side.
“Not everyone who’s had it tough becomes a serial killer.”
From her hip to her collar bone, a litany of horrific scars covered her. The marks continued down her thigh and around her chest and back. She ran her finger over them, listing the implements that had been used on her.
“Belt buckle. Poker. Cigarettes.”
She touched her oddly angled upper arm, which had been broken and not set properly.
“Hammer”
She pulled down her blouse and reached for her jacket.
“I was thirteen before I found out not all daddies showed they love their daughters this way.”
Emma picked up her bag and opened the office door.

“No one can scare me anymore.”

(from the novel “Last Goddess”)

Nephthys

14 B.C. The Sea of Galilee.

I have been discovered. Without the ability to take to the air, I run, stumbling from the assassins working for my brother. They are so close behind I hear the exertion of their breathing, the thunder of their chasing feet. Through dusty alleyways I run, looking for a way to shake them off. Finding none.
But wait. Of course there is a way out. Where the likes of these brutes could not follow. I turn east.
In the moment it took to decide this, I had paused long enough for a rough hand to rip at my shoulder, spinning me off balance. The tendons in my ankle strain to breaking point and only barely hold.
I scramble over a low wall, landing on rocks. The man who had just slid past now vaults the wall, inches behind.
“There is no way I can make it” I think. Not like this anyway. The body I inhabit is now so weak I barely have any coordination. I back away as he closes in, both our chests heaving. His eyes full of hatred. A string of curses pour from him as he threatens a multitude of cruel fates for me. More men appear behind him. The same threat in their eyes.
Across the rocks I edge. The men are not bothered of course. For at my back lays a great expanse. I am almost completely out of energy. The flight is at an end.
This will have to do.

Strong hands reach out for me as my eyes roll back in their sockets. With my mind I reach out far beyond this time and place. To a kindly old man in a beautiful garden. I call for my grandfather to aid me.
“Ra take me”

And all the assassin felt was the dampness on his outstretched fingers.

As liquid I run between the rocks and stones, dispersing and reforming. Before trickling into the soothing welcome of Lake Galilee.
The water comforts me though I struggle to keep my spiritual form intact. I drift in body and mind across the broad lake.
Is this to be the end of me? It surely cannot be. For I know there is much to be done. But my purpose is diluting and dissolving.
My thoughts reach out. Seeking my sister. My friends. Nothing returns to me. It was futile to try anyhow. My sister is lost to me. Friends long gone.
I am so, so tired.
I am alone.

On the rocky shore, the man who had nearly caught her stands in shock. His comrades search in vain for a trace of the woman. What will the pale man do to them if they come back empty handed? They shake the stunned man, who doesn’t react.
He is looking at the shapes of the clouds. The blue of the sky. The shimmer of light across the lake. He sees it as a blind man cured. It is marvellous and new. His broad knife clatters to the rocks at his feet. Nicoli is going home to Chorazin. To see his wife and son. It has been three years.

For an indeterminate time I drift in the silken lustre of the lake.

Lightly, the stroke of a downy feather, I am aware of an attraction at work. I am gently being pulled back toward the western shore. Something waits for me there.

There is an old saying “Left in the lap of the gods.”

For better or worse, I am truly there.


(from the novel “Last Goddess”-available on amazon)