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Almost an Allegory

Life

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a part of Almost an Allegory, by Circ.

The container of experiences that a living creature goes through, whether asleep or awake.

RolePlayGateway holds sovereignty over Life, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

433 readers have been here.

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The container of experiences that a living creature goes through, whether asleep or awake.
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Life

The container of experiences that a living creature goes through, whether asleep or awake.

Minimap

Life is a part of Almost an Allegory.

2 Places in Life:

3 Characters Here

Genevieve [0] A confused girl attempting to discover the missing pieces of her life and deciphering what she doesn't know, while she still lives.
Nate, the Dreamer [0] Reliving the feelings, and moments that never leave through remembrance.
David [0]

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#, as written by Circ
Mockery. An insinuation of weakness. Insufficiency for even this crude masquerade. These perceptions of the rodents’ commentary arouse a contempt in Sod. Furiously, he wrestles away the wet soil, denouncing splinters of pain with sharp intakes of breath. Oaths go unsaid, but nevertheless pollute his mind. He can feel it in his arms, skull, and chest; the pounding of his heart imitating his discordant thoughts. Latching on to a safe and familiar scrap of knowledge, Sod snarls, “This is not real”, peripherally aware of how pathetic his outburst is. There is no immediately reply. Instead, an unfortunate breeze hangs on Sod’s sweat-beaded skin like a wool blanket laden with the reek of spoiling harvest goods.

Finally, “If so, you are not the master of your imagination,” emerges from the elder mouse as a meditative riposte.

“What’s that suppose to mean?” inquires Sod, incredulous of the reply as much as his predicament, exposing itself to his vision as a prison compound of sorts.

“Writhing in poverty and pain is not the intended state of man, nor a condition man willfully entertains. It is thrust upon him by one whose desire is the maturation of the soul. Given the option, you would delude yourself,” comes as an explanation.

Now on his side, Sod lurches forward, leering down at his company. The cloudiness of his eyes has since dispersed with the pain he felt on waking, and he can focus again on the details of his environs. The mouse, for example, is brown blotched with silver, but otherwise unremarkable. Certainly nothing worth opening his eyes for, so he closes them and takes a long breath, drawn to restore composure. Instead, it rekindles a fire in his ribs, erupting through his throat as a gasp of pain. Frustration and agony collide, and Sod condemns the rodent’s philosophy, shouting, “There is no guiding force in this universe, you fool. I torment myself because I deserve it!”

Unphased, the mouse calmly says, “Then I shall listen to your why.”

At first Sod is repulsed by the notion of confiding in vermin, but then the tide of his arrogance swells and, confident in his bitterness, his eloquence, and his wretchedness, he complies: A Cynic's Story.

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#, as written by Circ
“Join me,” repeats Sod, his voice absent the finality of a story’s end.

An awkward, vainglorious moment lingers after his recitation. In it, hot sweat pours down his shoulder blades, moldering in the filthy, fetid rags of his tunic and deteriorating into the briny tang and aroma of sex. She had tasted like the private beach where they hadn’t fucked. Oh, how he had so wanted to, and even shucked his shorts and dragged her through the evening surf in a juvenile effort to win her over, only to be caught and wonderfully embarrassed. The recollection makes him shiver, and he whimpers—a repulsive little expression exposing his emotional purgatory and physical arousal. To him, it is a phantasmagoria of memories, justly owned, without excuses; something precious, to be cherished unquestionably. For any observer, it is sick; like an addiction, its effects on his life are as devastating as they are vile.

A tiny voice mercilessly tramples Sod’s wallowing, muttering, “Pathetic.” The other mice peep their agreement, one going so far as to accuse, “You’re totally getting off on … whatever this is.”

Astonished and furious, Sod cries out, “She’s dead! Whenever I close my eyes and think of that day, I hear her asking me to join her!”

“Your selfishness deludes you,” notes the elder mouse phlegmatically.

“Selfish? Heartless vermin, I loved her!” Sod insists, pounding his fist into the muck, as if his exertion matters.

“What have you done to show her that love?” asks another.

Petulantly, Sod answers, “Are you not listening? She is dead! If you’re going to tell me something, tell me something real!”

“Real, eh?” snorts the elder mouse, leaning forward on a toothpick of a sword. “I’ll tell you a story, then.”

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#, as written by Odium
"Stories," began another voice, "will only serve to delude him further." This one did not lack the finality of a story's end and also it held the frailty of an infant. David appeared, not at all the Biblical hero, but instead a child. His features seemed... worn, for his age. He seemed sick and pale in the sparse light, and and atop his head sat a scoop of messy blond hair. His skin was pale but unblemished, and his clothes were in miraculously decent condition. He had been hiding in a box, but the hazardous weather had thrust him into view. Raindrops drummed their silent beat into the earth and jagged bolts of electricity flashed throughout the sky in amethyst bursts -- but anyway... David. No other feature of his was particularly remarkable, save the eyes. They were deep-set and foreboding, the color of emerald. He parted his mouth, drew his tongue to wet his chapped lips, and spoke, "Welcome to the graveyard, enjoy your stay."

His hand rested on the limestone sarcophagus, as though he needed something to support him. The young boy hyperventilated, as though breath had been suddenly stolen from his lungs and cast far, far away. Nevertheless, his gaze persevered. It scrutinized Sod's every detail, but found nothing, and he was confound. A moment of silence. The deluge outside seemed to end abruptly, as though the entrance of this new character in the play was a grave thing indeed. Pale shards of moonlight painted the landscape, and David's energy returned. The stars had reinvigorated him, given him the necessary uplifting so that he could indeed enter this tragedian drama and put an end to it. An assortment of expressions passed his face. He was, of course, cycling through his very scarce collection, searching for the right one to describe the times. He settled on knitting his brows together and frowning, projecting the image of a stern father, perhaps scolding his immature daughter for staying out past curfew. Or maybe she had done drugs with her friends and had come home on a high.

Did it matter?

He sat down on the grass. It undulated softly, still tickled by the wind. That, coupled with the perfect black outside, made David feel lost at sea. Well, it was not too incredibly far from the truth: he was indeed lost, and the Dark Atlantic waited above, always. So his roll began.

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#, as written by Circ
As sunset molds a chilling hallow from a peaceful glade, Sod’s environs decay to a midnight barricade bristling with garish pine spears. At the ready, they haphazardly lean from crumbling furrows and offset dusk in an insidious display of oozing red and slumping, pale flesh. Awareness slinks in, the now-realized scent of death intermingling with rotting barley flaring his nostrils and teasing his hackles to rigid spines trembling with cold and a warning. Lightning sears the monochrome image of hell on his soul, then abandons it to the black.

Yet he snorts, groundward gaze callous, sullen; the abrupt vicissitude sterile in his mind, despite his tense reaction. Yes, palpitations agonizingly batter his ribs; yes, sweat splatters frigidly beneath his arms; yes, his body absurdly disregards his commands and his throat ridiculously refuses to form a piteous wail of frustration—but his mind scoffs at the crudeness, the audacity of this manipulation! Then Sod’s frailty sponges away the passing moments with the tenderness of a rake, shredding the mice, the story, and this dreamy hell from his consciousness.

“Welcome to the graveyard; enjoy your stay?” taunts the unseen thunder, polluting innocence with a threat.

My eyes twitch, but don’t close. Darkness gathers depth, and objects, once imperceptible, come into bleary focus. My side aches, but it is just my weight on her gravestone. My gravestone.

Sitting up with a tired grunt, I squint at the night. Tearcrust distorts my vision, so I rub it away. It is no longer raining, but I can’t stop shivering and the water pooling on my lap from the creases of my jacket doesn’t help. Funereal monuments stand out from the night as stark reminders of my nightmare. This is a place of peace, of escape, of her, and I feel violated. Not like it would be the first time.

Thrusting the thought aside, I try to concentrate. With a sigh, I rub the back of my neck. The hairs are on end.

“Enjoy your stay?” hits my ears, and I drop to all fours with a yelp. In my periphery is a voyeuristic little punk with his arm draping a tomb. Before thinking, I furiously shout, “What the fuck kid? Why are you out here this time of night?”

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#, as written by Circ
“Hush. I will appreciate it if you would not speak to my son in that manner, young man,” an apparition scolds me, drifting from behind a large limestone monument and wrapping her hands defensively around the boy’s shoulders. Thin and fragile though she is, I am taken aback by the gentle weariness of her words. They are spoken tenderly, as a rebuke to cherish, and with reluctance I understand why—she spoke to me as she would to a child.

My cheeks flush with embarrassment at the realization.

Brushing the back of my hand across my face, I sputter an apology. No, a pitiful explanation. “He terrified me,” it sounds, reeking of shame. Of weakness. In revulsion, I avert my gaze back to the grass, gray amongst the shadows. So strong a word, so repulsive. Why had I used it? Because it was true, I was terrified. The jaundice complexion of the boy glowing eerily in mixture of moonlight, starlight, and streetlights is a picture of death; even now.

Yet, he is as upset as I, huddling into the warmth of his mother’s embrace as though he might draw strength from her mere touch. Forcing the dark memory down into the black confusion of half-thoughts, I return my focus to her. A light blue jacket with three-quarter sleeves clings to her arms and her wavy auburn hair shimmers under the halo of a distant street lamp, contrasting the pale skin stretching over her throat and brow. She is the image of her son, but so nonthreatening. Then again, neither is he; just mischievous, albeit melancholy. And why shouldn’t he be, at a time and a place such as this? It is a graveyard, after all.

The woman’s features soften—not from hardness, but a release of anxiety—and she asks me, “You’re soaking wet and trembling. How long have you been here?”

“Hours, maybe. I fell asleep,” is my answer. I am sitting on the grass. It is time to stand, and doing so releases a hundred pools dammed in the creases of my jeans. They’re uncomfortable, chafing even, but just as well.

“You were having a nightmare,” she points out.

As I think it I say it, although I know not from what twisted well of my heart it rises from, “This is the time and place for nightmares.”

At first she won’t speak. I see her lips draw into a tight line, sealing away some knowledge I’m unwilling to receive. The moment is awkward, because of me, so I put an end to it, “What time is it? I should go call a cab, head home.”

“Past midnight,” she says, but there is more in her eyes. Fine. I’ll wait. Fighting is always too much effort when there is nothing worth fighting for. “My name is Edna. Now,”—she patiently reaches for my name, and I acquiesce— “Sable, you will catch pneumonia if you stay here in the cold, and there is no cab service this late at night. We live a short walk from here. Please, come dry yourself and get warm.”

Her son glances up apprehensively, but with excitement gleaming in his eyes. The look of a child with few friends and less company. With a ruffle of his hair from above, he lightens from ghoul to just a kid. It would be cruel of me to deny them this offering.

“Okay,” I say.

“My name is David,” he chirps.

Somehow, I already knew.

Our walk is short, quiet, peaceful. We don’t speak. Doing so would be unnecessary, perhaps sacrilege amongst these markers of loss. Then, before I’m ready, we’re gone, passing through an opening in the rusty spike fence surrounding Hope Cemetery. Opposite, the street is still, with a few old cars along the curb and even older trees straining through the crumbling sidewalk. A thin brick building with an awning, bay windows, and double doors, like one of those old time stores, is directly across from us. We don’t enter through them. Instead, David leads us into an unlit alcove and up a flight of stairs barely visible off the side of the building.

From darkness to light, Edna’s living room is small, with a Goodwill couch and no television. Seeing the yellow wallpaper is what does it for me. This mother and her son aren’t just poor, but ascetics. Probably the religious sort, although there aren’t any observable crucifixes or statues. I take another look, and see a pile of books in the corner and some toys in the middle of the room. Well, not toys, but rudimentary art. This mother’s prized possessions; her son’s labor.

“David, please show Sable to the washroom while I put on some tea,” Edna says.

If I weren’t so cold, I might protest, but instead I follow David around the corner that is their hall and into a little bathroom. He flips on the light, and a fan turns on with it; loud enough to block out most thoughts. Like the living room before, this room is also cast in a yellow pallor, from the tiles on the walls to the obscenely-large light fixture. David pulls a towel from underneath the sink cabinet and sets it on top. It is a dark green terrycloth towel. Probably their best one. Next he pulls back the shower curtain and turn the water on, making sure it is at the right temperature.

“We aren’t suppose to take too long,” he reminds me, then steps out, closing the door.

“Thanks,” I call after him, loudly enough to be heard over the exhaust, and then toe my sneakers off. Gazing down at them, I realize David and Edna had removed theirs at the door. Edna’s carpet is probably a mess thanks to me. Not wanting to waste their running water ruminating on how poor a guest I’ve already proven myself, I peel away my socks, jeans, and the rest. Everything in a pile on same chilly tile floor my feet are sticking to. That’s enough. I step into the shower, pull the curtain shut, and close my eyes. Warm liquid rushes over my face and steam fills my nostrils.

While the cold rain of the graveyard had brought dreams of death, these hot streams stinging my chest recall memories of life. The idea of bathing in another person’s home always freaked me out. Even at my best friend’s house, when I was the same age as this woman’s kid, my buddy would sit on the toilet seat and talk to me to keep me calm. Sometimes he’d jump in, romp around, mess around, and facts like us being naked and me being claustrophobic disappeared into the vapor. That had gone on for a few good years.

Memories like that can send a handful of minutes crashing against a wall, compressing them so they feel as if not even a moment has gone by. I’m not cold, my teeth aren’t chattering, and that means my time in here is up.

Turning off the water, I pull the curtain aside, and bite down on my lip to reign in torrent of profanity bashing against my skull. The kid is sitting on the toilet next to me, feet not even reaching the floor, with a stack of clothing folded on his lap. My pile is gone.

“Mommy said you can wear these while she washes yours,” David explains, inspecting me shamelessly like boys his age do. Of course I’m upset with him, but it is my fault for not locking the door. Back at school and even now in college, guys with younger siblings would complain about their privacy being violated on a regular basis. Nevertheless, carefully reaching across David for the towel, I feel dirty. Like I should scrub myself until my flesh is raw.

‘Just wait a few years, kid,’ I snarl inwardly, but regret the sentiment. He isn’t hurting me. With only a mother as a parent, he is probably afraid and confused, like I was at first.

“What’s that?” he asks. Following his gaze down, I frown. “Something to keep me safe.”

“A band around your ankle keeps you safe?” he presses, incredulous.

His answer is a bop upside the head, and then I grab the pajama bottoms from his lap. The floor is warm now, and feels as good against my feet as the cotton does around my waist. David hands me the plain white T-shirt and I flip the light switch down.

“Your mom is waiting, kid,” is my best muster.

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#, as written by Circ
As I walk out of the bathroom, my bare feet sink into cool, gritty carpet. A picture hangs on the wall opposite me. In it are Edna, David, and some older boy. It occurs to me that I am probably wearing his pajamas.

Exiting the hall, the trip is shorter than I remember it being, and I round a corner to find Edna waiting for me with a teacup and saucer. Separated by a small dinette and two barstools, she stands in her kitchen, itself an extension of the living room where the theme of aging joy begrimes the floor tiles and counter backsplash, miniature pink tulips decorating the latter. Whether they are hand-painted or stenciled, I can’t tell, but the acrylic shimmers underneath the uneven light spilling from a milky glass fixture overhead. Taking the shadows into account, the ceiling looks like the blurry projection of an Iron Cross. As for my host, she is wearing a terrycloth robe and lines of unease, doubtlessly reconsidering her offer. Despite this, the porcelain in her grasp is not trembling with the obnoxious indictment of insecurity. Poor though she may be, this symbolizes an enviable confidence.

It starts rattling as soon she releases it to me.

“Thank you,” I say, grateful my words are as bleary as my eyes. Shutting them, I lift the tea and deeply inhale its therapeutic curls of steam. Lack of familiarity with the scent becomes a refuge of inquisitiveness—a silly distraction to ponder while ignoring Edna’s inspection.

“You’re welcome,” she finally speaks, her tone difficult to read.

Pausing for a sip, I add, “For the pajamas, too,” doing my best to seem content as a stray pulled out of the rain ought, even managing to coerce a half-smile to my face along with some pretense of humanity.

She nods, matter-of-fact, and looks beyond me and into the living room, where David is. Following her, I see the sofa is now a bed, complete with plain sheets and pillows. The shadow of the frame, dominating the bulk of the room, obscures my tread marks across the carpet.

“Sorry about that.”

She ignores me, and calls out, “David, go to bed.”

“I am in bed,” he counters, and I detect a quaver of frustration in his voice. His manner isn’t rebellious, but entreating.

“Sable is sleeping there tonight. We discussed this.”

“The floor is fine,” I offer, but she gives me a glance that tells me no guest in her home, small as it may be—as is obvious by the fact that David’s sleeping quarters are apparently a fold-out in the living room—will be sleeping on the floor.

“I’m not a baby, and it is big enough,” David insists. Now he tinges it with aggression.

This kid must have very few friends, and is willing to take advantage of whatever he can get. As for me, it really doesn’t matter, so I try to make light of the situation, and joke, “Is he harmless?”

“Are you?” she looks me in the eyes and says, not snapping defensively as expected, but with a measure of delicate concern.

Holding a stare is not my forte, and I avert mine to the specs of debris floating near the bottom of my cup. No, only my intentions are harmless, otherwise I am an impotent, insipid child whose selfish negligence is as lethal as any killer. A shrug is my answer, but, reflecting on its insufficiency, I force out, “Nobody should have to suffer.”

In response, she takes cup from me, washes it, and turns out the lights. On her way to her own room, I hear her say, “Good night, boys.”

Standing there in the dark, I have no idea what to do. No, I know what to do—sleep. Sleep like the dead.

“Lay down, Creepy,” David chides, and I hear his fist thump the pillow beside him.

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Thin beams of light bleed through the shutters, a particular one, revealing the torrent of dust that floated in the air, illuminates my yellow-stained teeth as my face contorts in the facial spasm of a yawn; or so I imagined the sight. My eyelids felt leaden, gilt in the exhaustion accrued during last night's escapades, and were nearly crusted shut. A single spring in the mattress protruded most uncomfortably, jabbing my back with near viciousness. I wanted to raise my left hand to rub my eyes as I roll out of bed, smacking the snooze button to silence the Waa-Waa of the Ambulance alarm, the only sufficiently strident sound that could break my slumber, and stumble into the bathroom so I can prepare for work. I wanted to, but...

Tiger Milk

My adolescent love of Milk, which, like many of my habits, I never quite outgrew, alloyed with my contemptible urge to forget myself in a bottle of liquor had resulted in the curious concoction of milk and vodka aptly named “Tiger Milk”.

I try to pronounce the word, muttering my thoughts as I often do, but the result thoroughly frustrates me. My tongue seems to loll, my lips are too slack, and my jaw is hanging unhinged. My eyelids part, with greater effort than Moses used to part the Red Sea, and I was blinded. Was this some twisted caricature of heaven? Everything seemed to glow as if blanketed in a ubiquitous white effusion. It wasn’t that I really thought so, but my mind often wandered and jumbled and garbled my thoughts. It was somewhat reassuring to know that this stupor, though it made me clumsy and irritable, had not altered my mind. No... Suddenly I begin thinking of the strangest objects, and feel the urge to speak in rhyme.
“What…?” I slur, confused by the contradictions and oddities of my own thoughts, my mouth still utterly refusing to cooperate.

My vision clears, slowly becoming more and more acute, until I finally recognize the squalor and filth that was my room. A limp hand smacks me in the face, and I blink, trying to maneuver my finger just under my eye. What focus is required just to rub my damn eye. A fleeting thought crosses my mind, scampering quickly away from me as the rabbit being pursued by the hound. Everything was so sluggish, as if submerged in gelatin, but finally I make the connection. Vodka = Alcohol = Inebriate

An equation greater than Einstein’s, I scoff. With a drunken sneer plastered on my face, my throat issues some grotesque burble. I think I am trying to laugh, but it is so distorted that it seems more like the mewling of a dying animal. Fuck.

How much had I drunk?

Driven by some forgotten purpose, I am out of the bed and standing half dressed in my kitchen, battling with the spinning room to bring a coffee mug to my lips. It is bitter, straight black, but I feel a tingle run down my limbs. Reminds me of the first time I kissed a girl; what was her name? With shake of my head, I resolve to disregard such inconsequential thoughts. If this coffee doesn’t work, I might have to break out the peppermint oil, I think, reeling myself back from that tangent.

“Peppermint oil burns like hell, but it sure as hell wakes me up…” the thought of it was exciting and dreadful simultaneously, an interesting contrast.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Gazing at the white marble, I can feel something more than my reflection looking back at me. Could a reflection be something more, like a ghostly intimation of some alter-ego in a parallel universe? The fanciful thought is momentarily amusing, until somebody bumps into me. His words pass by me, swallowed in the incessant din of the city, but I understand his intent. I stir, walking out of the middle of the hall, as if waking from a daze.

Life has seemed more like a dream than reality lately, making me wonder if this world was a waking dream. Could this be a dream, my real life what I perceive to be a dream in this universe?
My psychiatrist seems to be determined to rid me of these so called “avoidance tendencies”. The official psycho-babble is that I’m unhappy with my life and that these “delusions” are my escape.

The elevator chimes and slows, floor seventeen. I stride quietly out of the parting door, my slacks rubbing together at the thighs; a sound that has always bothered me.

Sometimes I wonder if the psychiatrist is the crazy one. In a world of mad men, the mad man is the only sane one… isn’t that some famous quote?

“Good morning, Mr. Warren.” I nod my head slightly.

“Well, do you have those internal audit reports from finance yet, guy?” he replies aggressively, and my perfect façade threatens to crack and shatter into a sneer; I hate when he calls people whose names he cannot remember, “guy”. Images with lurid detail flash across my vision, superimposed over the endless sea of white cubicles and that somehow condescendingly polite smile of Mr. Warren. A few unpleasant thoughts cross my mind, one BDSM in nature; less because I would take sexual pleasure from it, but more because of my thirst to bask in this self-righteous imbecile’s shame and agony.

“Of course, Mr. Warren. I called them yesterday after lunch; it will be on your desk by closing.” It sickened me that I had to act and pretend every moment of the day, all in the hopes for a dollar or two raise and promotion. This perfunctory existence was maddening, and my rage threatened to explode into a crime of passion any day now. I wanted to commit a crime just to break the monotony of work, drink, sleep, work, drink, sleep.

He grunted and continued his daily patrol, harassing employees with a reserved zeal. Like a fucking cannibal slavering over the half-dead, insatiable in his quest to taste our flesh. Most of the people here looked half-dead anyway, pale and thin and weak. A man being berated by Jones had become nearly livid with embarrassment, and began typing furiously on his keyboard as if to show his sincerity.

I sigh and plop into my chair, enclosed in my cubicle. The sheer vastness of the workday ahead presses down on me, oppressive with every breath, leeching my strength. A day like any other, I suppose.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Crimson swirls around the drain, dyeing the water from the faucet. I wash my hands with such purpose, serenity, it is nearly unbelievable. I smile contently, as if my greatest desire has been fulfilled. It disturbs me too, my conscience poking at me indignantly, but I can not deny my actions, or deny the pleasure.

In my younger days, before I had been tied down by marriage and aged by divorce, I was a lively person and traveled often. I had been proud of my body and had been quite interested in martial arts. It didn’t seem like that long ago, seven years; I still have a little definition, the vestiges of my once toned body. Martial arts had been a hobby, a pleasure, but I had warped and twisted its purpose, yet I didn’t care, which scared me the most.

As I stare into the mirror, into the depths of my eyes, the so called window into the soul, I remember the details vividly. Mr. Warren demanded those internal audit reports, even though I received them late, and I was forced to stay after-hours, without overtime, to finish it. Down the elevator, a mumbled greeting to the security guard, out the door, and into the dark maw of the parking garage. I felt uneasy even then, walking between the isles of luxury cars. There was a pretty run-down apartment building just across the highway.

As I near my car, fumbling with my keys and pressing the unlock button, a dark silhouette jumps out. He is crudely dressed, compared to my crisp suit, but what is most disturbing is his wild look. He lunges at me with an open knife, his movements appearing slow and drawn out, adrenaline pumping through my veins. At first, I am too shocked to move, but suddenly, subconsciously, I drop my briefcase and grab his wrist between my forefinger and thumb, breaking his wrist with a sharp twist. My hand shoots out, hitting him in the throat with the webbing between the thumb and fingers, collapsing his trachea and silencing him before he can yelp in pain; the whole experience is surreal, as if I am watching someone else control my body, as if I am just a spectator. He crumbles onto the ground, eyes wide with fear, pain. But I don’t stop; I keep beating him, his blood staining my fists.

With shake of my head I dispel the images, trying to focus on the towel, on drying my hands. I was excited, yet the consequences hung dreadfully over me, and this time the contrast was not so pleasant. Numbness spreads over me, and I cannot think. I simply fall into bed, mindlessly pulling the covers over myself, letting the sweet embrace of darkness envelope me, caress me until this world left and another came.

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#, as written by Odium
The couch wasn’t particularly uncomfortable – well, it had been at first, but David had gotten used to it. He overheard the conversation between Sable and his mother. Of course, comprehension never dawned on him: he was young, and with youth came an impenetrable barrier between the real world and the imaginary one that built itself in his mind and freed itself through his eyes and ears and mouth. “Lay down, Creepy,” David chided, and his fist thumped the pillow beside him. “I don’t bite.” He grinned, revealing a mouthful of white teeth.

Sable grunted and complied. David felt somewhat claustrophobic. He scooted as far away as the couch fold-out allowed to give his guest as much space as possible. Then, when he had situated himself and deemed it as comfortable as was possible, he said, “I used to have a brother and a father.” There was only a very distant semblance of sorrow hidden in his voice. He tried not to think about them. Kenneth, his older brother, had died a year or so before, but he had been made a true martyr. David’s father Stuart had been a drunk and a psychopath. He had regularly abused the three of them, and then wasted what little extra money they did have on beer and drugs.

One day, in one of his inebriated tantrums, he had punched Edna so hard she hadn’t gotten up. He had laughed, the pig-headed swine, and it was clear he wanted to rape her. Kenneth had landed a blow to his face, but Stuart had been older and more powerful even in his graceless fury. Kenneth had been brutalized and stabbed, and with the last of his strength, he had retrieved the family’s gun from their bedroom. He had missed, however. Stuart, sobered into a mirthless insanity, removed the gun from his son’s clutches and shot him. David still remembered watching from the hallway, seeing that blood pool under Kenneth’s body, watching his brother’s fading eyes locate him and his broken lips whisper a wordless goodbye. Then, he had been gone, and Stuart had proclaimed, “Lost my mind? No, I left it all over the wall!”

Bang.

And that he had. David voiced this to Sable, to Creepy. He remembered the flashing lights of the ambulance and Edna’s shriek and the men in uniforms who had come. He remembered the rainy day and the black umbrellas and the gray field and the tears and the holes and the casket and the solemn ‘goodbyes.’ He remembered it well. It had been the last time he’d ever cried, that day in the rain, and no one had seen it, but no one had assumed it was just the raindrops landing on his face as he stared up into the sky and the invisible dusting of stars that hung there.

And he voiced that to Sable, too. And then he sat there, quite cozy in his little spot there, and he slowly drifted off to sleep. He dreamt about the cold stares of those around him, and how he returned those stares with his inquisitive emerald eyes that held within them the hidden knowledge of something so distant, and he dreamt about the devil, and he dreamt about Dante, too, locked in the devil’s fiery embrace. From the hallway, Edna watched with those vigilant, intelligent eyes of her own. She had a certain natural distrust that made itself known to anyone who had ever met her.

She heard David’s soft snoring. He was a good boy. A bit disillusioned by recent events in his life, sure, but he was still a good boy... That monster she had called a husband had wrought so much of his hatred into tangible being; a single crystal tear slid down her cheek. She bit her lip, and began to ponder over the situation of their unexpected visitor. She couldn’t cast Sable out, she knew, for to do so would be too cruel, and he had, after all, said so righteously and so correctly: nobody should have to suffer. Unfortunately, the world and all its people had different plans. She looked at the clock in her bedroom. 1:07. She sighed, took her pain medication and her stress/relief pills, and slipped under the covers.

Within moments, the world had faded to black.

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#, as written by Circ
Sitting on the edge of the fold-out opposite David, the mattress protesting under my weight, a dart strikes my heart. Am I sinning irredeemably with this betrayal, this abandonment of ritual? The night of her funeral, an event I heard of later as I was too timid and guilty to attend, I had cried myself to sleep while clinging to the granite slab in disbelief. It was unusually clement that night, that year, comforting even, but comfort has little to do with the fact that I now should be freezing atop the barrier separating me from her. Instead, I am now warm in someone else’s home, at rest in someone else’s bed, and wearing someone else’s clothes—a departure even from my relatively normal routine where, in a medicinal stupor, I nakedly collapse atop sheets I can call my own, much to the offense of my roommate.

Needing to abandon all thought, I lean down and force my cheek against a lumpy pillow. It smells faintly of mothballs. Bedsprings bite at my side, and the unnatural sensation of sheets and garments coils around me with all the affliction their creases can inflict on my torso and neck. A few moments pass, and I shift my weight to smooth out the wrinkles, but that does nothing. Frustration creeps in, and, just as I determine to sit up and pull off this wretched shirt, a callow voice melts the stuffy air behind my back.

“Those are my older brother’s pajamas. My daddy killed him,” are as startling to me as the first words out of the kid’s mouth, and immediately any craven demand of physical appointment disperses behind a cloud of rage and sorrow. Before I can acclimate to the discussion in time to interrupt with a sincere, but utterly impotent, gesture of commiseration, he continues, flooding my mind with halting whispers of the cruel event.

It feels wrong that I am being so cold, so distant, when he is exposing so much. Perhaps he isn’t aware of it, of just how intimate these thoughts he freely shares will become in a matter of years.

As in every case, where I know what is proper, I ruminate over the implications and try to talk myself out of it—but there is no suitable evasion to withhold comfort. I roll to my other side, my legs bumping into his, and face him. David doesn’t retreat, but merely pauses in confusion, which he seems to dismiss for the sake of finishing his story. I have no idea how long he talks, but when he is done, I wrap my arm around him, say, “Goodnight, David,” pulling him him into a brief, clumsy hug.

It has been a while, but it feels right, so I allow it to continue.

A moist heat gathering over my heart breaks me out of my trance. His head is against my chest, and he is breathing evenly. By the time I gather the courage to tell him part of my tragedy, the soft, nasal whining of a snore accompanies the throaty sighs. He is asleep. Thinking better of the idea, I close my eyes, and pray for silence in my dreams, knowing I won’t receive it.

* * *


The next morning, it isn’t the oscillating blare of an alarm clock, but the persistent, high-pitch chime of a doorbell that rouses a man from his Tiger Milk coma.

Standing outside his door is Amanda Torres, just as she had been standing for the past five minutes; calmly, professionally, pressing the doorbell every minute on the minute. The angular planes of her face slope upward into a pinched mouth and intense blue eyes. Accompanied by the tight bun of auburn atop her head, her face gives the distinctive sensation of dissatisfaction and suspended belief. Straight shoulders, pulled back in a casual indifference, are held in place by a coal gray jacket that chisels the outline of her lean torso in straight lines, punishing the very notion of femininity. It drops down past her waist and flares out around her hips, hiding the top of her trousers, which are of similar lines and color.

Once more, she lifts her finger to the doorbell. It rings, and after a few moments the door opens. On the other side is a man, disheveled and unshaven. She had woken him up, evidently from a deep slumber. His pupils indicate he is hungover, although his breath doesn’t immediately reek of it.

‘A closet drinker,’ she surmises, reaching into her jacket and withdrawing her credentials. Pushing the badge under his nose, she says with a tone of sharp disdain, “I am Detective Amanda Torres, of the St. Glears Police Department. I would like to ask you some questions.”

“Huh?” the man says, clearly not awake enough to grasp what is happening.

“May I come in while I wait for you to get dressed?” she says, looking into his eyes. He is still having trouble concentrating.

“What’s this about?” he finally asks.

“A murder,” she replies, in a resolute but apparently bored tone. “This is very serious matter, and I would appreciate your cooperation.”

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As realization dawns, so does sobriety and the torrent of reality that accompanies it. Memories return, floating atop waves of conscious, soaked in the spray of this destitute sea. I am nauseated, now feeling the immense gravity of my situation.

Though I am concerned, and my demeanor must surely show my unease, I attempt a smile and beckon her to step across the threshold. I turn, stumbling out of the entrance hall and down the corridor to my room. Faint red splotches adorn my knuckles, a single scabbing cut running along my left-middle-finger-knuckle. I rub them, as if to absolve myself of sin, and wipe away the evidence. My heart is beating, throbbing as I wallow in this deluge of guilt. But I know, deep down, that I am neither sorry nor remorseful; I feel guilt because society says I should. A spark of anger threatens to ignite this alcoholic haze: a paroxysm that looms ahead, a dark path of no return.

Would you like something to drink?” I manage to shout whilst shoving my legs haphazardly into a pair of musty jeans; suddenly I realize I must not have been wearing anything but off-white briefs and a wrinkled dress shirt. A nervous laugh bubbles from my throat, as if unsure of whether to laugh or cry. Clad in casual attire, and a waning confidence in myself, I step back into the Hallway.

No, thank you. I can wait until we get to the station.” She replies curtly, hiding behind her profession and a wall of feminist ideology, built to protect that fragile little ego. I know people like her, and their dishonesty with themselves makes me cringe with distaste.
Well, please sit down.” I motion towards a couch, “Let me just grab some coffee and we can go.” My tone is surprisingly pleasant, deceptively calm. As my hand wraps around a mug, an impulse surges through my arm, my grip becoming deathly tight. I pour the cold, straight black coffee into the mug and quickly dodge around the counter. She has not sat down, I observe, instead fidgeting near the doorway, obviously anxious to leave.

I throw a worn leather jacket on, and step towards the door. She is already walking, and I hastily lock my door and turn to follow. I sip the coffee, grimacing from the bitter taste, boring holes into the back of her head with a glare. Already this day seemed onerous, and I could hardly imagine it becoming better. I wasn’t sure if I was scared, angry, or impassive. I seemed to cycle between them, unable to decide who I should be.
My fist ached with phantom pain, a recollection of the adrenaline coursing through my veins. My brain screams against it, reminding me of the consequences, of the rules of society. I remember once caring so much about my future and its promise, but this empty existence is tasteless and dry to my palate. The feelings and passion of the last night are growing, in memory, and at present; a phantasmagoria of spinning insanity and blood and screams.

My hand is poised to smash the ceramic mug against her pristine hair, but I hesitate, still bound by some vestige of morality. I redirect the motion into a sip, grimacing once more at the bitterness, and complacently walk at her side. With nothing to lose, I wonder, how long can it last.

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#, as written by Circ
“Wake up” a familiar, unwelcome voice snarls in Sod’s left ear.

A sharp boot to his ribs emphasizes the command.

Cracking open his eyes to permit a sliver of light the penetration of his weariness, Sod examines the shadow on the ground. Stout, with a mess of spiky hair made hard with lime. A battle hatchet dangling from a broad belt. Yes, he does know this fool.

“Hello, Kylun,” he acknowledges unhappily, dragging his chest out of the mud and adjusting his view to take in the angry, red, bulging silhouette. Wiping the front of his tunic off, he observes that the rain was not entirely his imagination. The mice are gone, but the pine stakes outlining the perimeter of the compound remain, and the time is—ah, who knows or cares of that triviality anymore? It is light, which means it is day, which means there is drudgery to endure.

“Aye, and to you, he who cannot settle on a name, and instead identifies himself with his role. When you left us, you were Scout. Then we called you Traitor. Well, now you are Prisoner. It suits you, don’t you think?” he hears Kylun inelegantly boast.

“I suppose it does,” Prisoner humbly replies.

“Hah! It certainly does. Well, Prisoner, you thought you could just defect and get away with it, eh?” Kylun asks of him, but—without the courtesy of awaiting a response—grips the scruff of Prisoner’s neck and compels him to his feet. His strong hand fills with the wooden haft of a short sword, the blade rusty and dull. “We’re marching, and if you don’t fight and die, we’ll kill you like the traitor you are.”

“Who are we fighting?” Prisoner asks.

“You damn well know who. We’re fighting the City.”

“Why?” Prisoner almost presses while automatically tucking the gladius into his belt, but stops short. Kylun will have no information as to the real purpose behind these conflicts; instead, he will vomit some nonsense about fighting because they are told to by their betters. Instead, Prisoner satisfies himself by declaring, “Something is terribly amiss.”

“Nevermind that,” Kylun answers with disinterest, “we’re moving out now.”

Indeed, Prisoner is not alone, nor had he been. Eyes of terror and resignation gaze up at him from pits in the ground, from which they cannot escape due to the seal. Other eyes, wide with horror and rage, but long since dead from impalement, peer skyward in a plea to any benevolent force capable of guaranteeing salvation—if not in this life, than in the next.

He cannot decide who are less fortunate, but his pity extends to those whose doom is a slow death by starvation.

Further away, beyond the fence, a body of soldiers is decamping. The trail of his boot prints matures toward that formation, beside which are those of Kylun. It is a mangy sort of assemblage, half nomad and half marauder, wearing inexpertly skinned and tanned animal pelts—still bloody—, belts of chain-link, and colorful wool—all held together with gristly pins of bone. Not out of necessity, but choice. To think these are businessmen, pastors, musicians, and politicians who deign to embrace this special degradation. Yet here, without absolutes, they choose to urinate, defecate, and spit tobacco openly before their comrades, male and female alike. Prisoner has no doubt the meat they engorge on as they secure their trappings may very well be what remains of some of their less fortunate captives.

“Why do I yet live?” Prisoner demands, not arrogantly, but necessarily.

He watches Kylun shrug absently, as if trying to recall an esoteric peculiar, then the rogue finally answers, “That”—there is a gesture toward the corpse-heavy stakes—“abuse means nothing when done to you. You delight in it, as though through the pain you might find redemption. Hah! You are an imbecile, I say, but one without will. Better to force you—but nevermind that! Did you hear, he was executed?”

“He who?” Prisoner instantly questions, his words reeling with an unnameable perturbation.

“Professor Cimerreau,” Kylun laughs.

Prisoner suddenly ejaculates “No!” and does not hear or say anything for a long while.

When he sees again, the daystar is burning hot against his neck, bodies are marching thick around him, the air is putrid, and a newsprint is in his hands. Kylun is saying, “It is gibberish, I dare say, but read it anyway and curse your life. Hah!”

He reads:

“The last words of Professor Arties Cimerreau, prior to his execution, follow.

‘Metaphoric of a parent deceiving a child to the belief that they may exceed their highest expectations in life, this world turns to a variety of Gods and prays its hollow petitions for perfection; a goal only resulting in the decimation of entire cultures, where hopes are dashed, spirits dwindle to ghoulish memorandum, and backs are stained with the vitae of a best friend’s melancholy betrayal. Emotional and spiritual genocide sweep the globe: a sphere menacingly turning on a spindle of hate. Created Gods, insinuated Gods, Gods cast into the abyss of fallacious denial, and wraiths echoing behind the footsteps of prospect, ever holding us back, pushing us forward, and casting us aside like rags. This is Mortal mind.

Where is the line drawn between possibility and insanity, crushed spirits and bruised knees? Foolishly leaping off cliffs with dreams of flight when walking has only recently been mastered, our aspirations are set far too high. Death or insanity are the only possible culminations of such extravagant goals. To dream, and to believe the dream, are two entirely separate realities. Mortality has suffered the consequences of such fool-hearty notions. Again, our goals are set to high. The result will be chaos, painful defeat, and in the end the clutch of darkness.

A deadly rift opens beneath our feet, subjecting us to an unbearable decision: shall we lower the bar or raise it? One hand is blackened with the lie that we can surpass our prior goals; goals we could not touch the heels of. The other holds a hammer yearning to descend on our unsuspecting forms, and dash us to pieces with the bitter reality of failure. Balance was lost when Justice removed her blindfold, when truth became subordinate to desire, when dust became flesh and flesh became lightning. So now, faced with this plight, where do our actions lead us? Into denials and distractions—anything to prolong the eulogy that keeps open our tomb.

Now standing a hairs-breadth away from the void of reason, the edge of a knife under our feet, and nothing preventing us from plummeting downward, the collective folly is realized. All the lies fed compulsively to one another lifetime after lifetime have ceased. Silence, prolonged and agonizing silence, holds the floor. We have fallen.’”


Prisoner gulps, and a tear inexplicably traces the pallid contour of his cheekbone. Yet, with an air of ignorance, despite the hole in his throat, he betrays, “What of it?”

Kylun, with great oratory dexterity, stemming from his acquisition of authority over Prisoner, confides, “Nobody knows! Devil take him, but he was nevertheless executed for it in the same clinical manner that he euthanized countless others for the glory of the City!”

“Something is terribly amiss,” Prisoner repeats.

“Nevermind that, I said!” Kylun spurts. “We’re almost there. See the lights? Those monstrosities of nature looming ahead of us?”

“You’re insane!” Prisoner gasps, realizing where they are and their intentions.

“There are thousands of us, trust us, Prisoner, we will make a dent in their pride,” Kylun asserts, his tone stern and for once actually threatening, a departure from its typical mirthful vulgarity. Certainly, their numbers are greater than before, and a swarm of brown, green, crimson, and pale yellow stretches out around him.

“This isn’t real,” Prisoner reassures himself, turning aside so as not to be heard.


* * *


‘Cooperation, but there is something creepy about this guy,’ Torres determines, securing the rear passenger door behind her lead. No cuffs, but the security cage is sufficient to keep him from pulling a reckless stunt. At the very least, it will keep her safe from him during the commute to the police station a few minutes downtown.

“Is it necessary to lock me up back here, lady?” he asks, just as every other civilian had, for the last fifteen years, inquired of her on the event their of first time in the back of a police car for non-recreational purposes.

Brief, sharp eye contact hammers her canned response home: “It is for your own safety.”

He rolls his eyes, and she makes a mental note of it.

After locking the passenger door, Torres walks behind the vehicle to the driver’s side, visually scanning for any inconsistencies. Nothing is out of place. Sliding in, she adjusts her rear view mirror so she can observe him and the road simultaneously. The compartment smells of cleaning product and is pristine; there are no food wrappings or bits of dust desecrating the hard plastic dash and fake leather bucket seats. No excess baggage, like the string of partners and relationships she had left behind the day she made detective. She stands tall on her own merits, now. The ridge between her eyes crinkles in a bizarre substitution for a smile, and she turns the key and starts the engine.

A sigh of satisfaction wouldn’t be unearned, but she settles for tensing the muscles of her jaw.

‘Best not to let him think I’m a pushover,’ she muses to herself; ‘It is better to appear hard than weak.’

Traffic is uneventful, and the red lights are less temperamental than usual. Most people are already where they aught to be at this hour of the morning, she realizes. Half past nine. The sky is overcast, threatening rain.

He asks a few questions on the way to the department, but she remains as grim as possible, expertly deflecting his curiosities with noncommittal verbiage. If he is guilty, let him sweat it out with worry; otherwise, if he isn’t, he has nothing to worry about, and this is just a minor inconvenience from whatever boring ritual he no doubt calls a life.

Six minutes later, she pulls to a stop in the parking lot behind the police station: an old, deteriorating, three story relic of grander times with red—some darker than others—brick construction, concrete reinforcement around the windows and atop the turrets at its four corners; the town’s initial armory and militia headquarters, when such concepts were necessary. For those not familiar with the building, it stands as a brutal fortification recalling to mind those ancient times when castles were red with the blood of opposing serf and yoemen armies and the shrieks of political opposition rang shrill in unsanitary dungeons.

To her, it is an immovable symbol of justice; a monument to security in uncertain, modern times.

Torres lets her charge out of the vehicle and escorts him beneath the keystone with the nigh-indistinguishable engraving St. Glears, 153rd Militia. She signs in, drops him off in an observation room, and promises to be back soon.

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#, as written by Circ
“You keep saying that like it has some sort of meaning,” Kylun huffs, swiping the gritty back of his hand across across his damp brow and managing to shift a few beads of grime from one patch of skin to another.

Their destination starkly ascends from blocky schorl roots without the nuisance of urban sprawl, and each towering edifice after the next twists darkly skyward, but fails, perhaps necessarily, to grasp the luminance so readily at hand. Not even the loftiest of the jaggy pinnacles reflects the vibrant noon sky. Instead, the building tops scowl a furious scarlet; like a deep, enduring sunburn, unquenchable by rain or a cool midsummer breeze. True to their defiance, not even a one possesses a portal permitting the inhabitants the luxury of acknowledging the outside, the Nature that the City holds as an aberration, boasting novelties, distant in memory and in meaning, such as flowers, streams, or trees.

‘Little wonder Charlotte fled this place,’ Prisoner deduces, recalling her vision and bitterly suspecting, ‘if she isn’t merely a horrid, splendid daydream.’

Having seen its silhouette countless times, Prisoner adjusts his scenery to glower irritably and impotently at his own feet. Mud almost entirely coats his tawny boots, making them even more difficult to discern through the high meadow grass swaying temperamentally against his thighs. Within hours, all the lushness will diminish to a field of mud, blood rags, and excrement. All for the sake of a camp site. In the end, it will be as horrific as the city. An unpleasant thought, pushing him back upon his conversation with Kylun, into which he mutters, “I only wish it did.”

“Wish what you like,” Kylun observes, his humor returning, “but when the sky fire dances on the ground, you’ll be charging into your first battle. If you survive, you’ll finally be able to call yourself a man.”

“A man?” Prisoner considers, both words wet with the poison of overwhelming skepticism. He briefly glances up at the bronze archway of the world, reminding himself of the season. The boundary of the atmosphere resembles molten metal churning in a kiln.

Kylun leans near enough to Prisoner for the stink of their perspiration to mingle, then snaps his neck from the nearing colorful throng to the bleak outline of the city. Its sheer black walls devour the blaze of day. Tossing up an arm, he squeezes Prisoner’s shoulder, pulls him into half an embrace, and confides, “Runaway and traitor you may be, but still you’re one of us. Do you honestly think I’d let you miss out on the most important day of your life?”

“No, I imagine not,” Prisoner relents, suddenly aware he is recoiling from the unexpected touch. Angry with himself for reacting, he decides it is not the sweaty contact grasping around his shoulders that is so repulsive, but the pretense of a paternal bond intrinsic in the gesture.

“You’ll be bound to a brother in blood, but before that, we’ll bind you to him with chains for a day in order for you both to get to know one another,” explains Kylun, dropping his arm back to his side and stepping forward.

“I know what’s involved,” Prisoner manages, despite his weariness precipitating the coming ordeal by crushing a sigh out of his chest. It is going to be a humiliating nuisance. As though being stripped, shackled to another boy, and run about in an indecent public spectacle is, through abasement, an obvious foundation for trust, intimacy, and camaraderie. Flushing, he wards off the memory of a real friend—with whom he had recklessly experimented and confided without the precurse of some hollow rite. Pulling his face up, he focuses back on the towers ahead of him until his blush subsides, and, with near indifference, demands, “Just … who is it?”

“My son, Cada!” Kylun exclaims proudly, thumping his chest. He had been anticipating that question. A warm smile softens his usual gruff demeanor, although that does not last long, and he impetuously catches Prisoner by the wrist and drags him down toward hectic swarm of bodies.

The transition from a pristine field to a senseless winepress of humanity, dense to the degree that the uninitiated cannot act without accidentally fondling a passerby or blushing at some meaningless intersection of moving flesh, awakens Prisoner’s claustrophobia. He shuts his ears to the din of shouting voices, ignores the rude bludgeoning of strange shoulders, and trudges obediently in Kylun’s wake. In a vague sense, he aware of the business around him, including pairs and sometimes trios of laughing young men stumbling along in their loincloths, bound at their biceps, hips, and ankles, with their cheeks red from the hot, eager embarrassment of youth and their shoulders red from the blaze of day. Soon, the oppression manifests as a comfort, an enemy with which he is familiar and need not fight; an abuse to gratefully accept. The merchant-clatter of tins and clank of jewelers’ beads reminds him that this is more than a crude attempt to revitalize the Savage’s philosophy of freedom through the destruction of reason and elevation of base emotions, but a unquenchable thirst for tribalism, kinship, and openness. How odd that such values die unexpectedly in the face of civility.

“Cada!” Kylun shouts, disrupting Prisoner from his trance in tandem with the alarming liberation of his arm, which hitherto had been jerked mercilessly forward through the crowd for the past several minutes.

Focusing his mind on the verisimilitude, he sees Kylun scooping up a woman and assaulting her with more spittle than kisses while navigating his fingers underneath the hem of her billowing sunflower skirt. A moan vibrates the saliva clinging to her parting lips, and then she reels back and abruptly slaps Kylun across the face.

“Your wife?” Prisoner inquires.

“One of ‘em,” comes the breathy response, the sharp sound of another slap close behind. Refusing to relinquish his prize, Kylun assaults the woman again, going so far as to mount her dress around her hips and expose his activities for all who care to see. Two fingers twist up and vanish into the hag before Prisoner has the sense to look away, acutely aware that he is the only one with the decency to undertake the effort.

For some reason, in the midst of hoots, jeers, and applause, Prisoner assumes he should register disgust.

“Cada! There you are!” pants the lecherous father, and Prisoner observes a stout, tan youth torn from the crowd and into a chest-shattering, threefold embrace, jostling his burdens of a pack, a stout club with spikes protruding crudely forth, and a small bar-piercing above his left eye.

“Greetings, Kylun!” responds the lad, once free, ostensibly immune—if not delighting in, judging from the devious curl of his lips—to the affection between his father and what Prisoner imagines must be the mother.

“Lad, this here is Prisoner. You two are to become brothers in blood, war, and all other things that stir a young man’s blood!” bellows Kylun, his hand lingering on his offspring’s shoulder.

“Prisoner?” wonders Cada, black coals where his eyes should be burning into Prisoner from beneath equally dark eyebrows, “why does he go by that?”

Finally, Kylun unhands his woman, who reluctantly slides away and goes back to her business of withdrawing and assembling a series of poles and pelts in a wagon nearby; no doubt the makings of a shelter of some sort. Momentarily, she produces several heavy shackles and flings them at her mate.

They hit Kylun square in the chest, just as he is preparing to answer. Stooping down, he plucks them from the dirt, cursing her temperament just loudly enough to convince himself she cannot hear, then recollects himself and explains, “If he would go by something on his own, we wouldn’t—but, suffice it to say, he is a bold traitor—a runaway—but one with no will of his own. You couldn’t ask for a better fool to stand by your side.”

“Unbelievable,” mutters Cada, crossing his arms over his broad chest and propping his rear against the wagon wheel.

“Don’t question me, boy!” shouts Kylun, raising his arm threateningly, his throat pulsing with anger. Then for some reason, he stops, perhaps thinking better of the idea, and settles for throwing the chains at his son, which hit the boy in the chest, slide down, and resonate with another clank-thud upon the newly-made road. His rage now a threat, Kylun orders, “Now both of you strip, put those on, and finish setting up camp. They’ll come off this time tomorrow, and then you’ll be on your hunt.”

Unblinkingly, Cada shrugs his shoulders, and his pack slides down atop the wagon.

“You, too,” Kylun reminds Prisoner.

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Seated on a bench, in a park, Aerin Chambers couldn't help but feel rather lonely. She had just left her house when her presumed "parents" started to fight over petty reasons she felt no need to remember. In her hand, she held a white ribbon, at the end of the ribbon was a single red balloon attached to it. She had gotten the object from Berry Bakery down the street, the bunny mascot was handing out cupcakes, tied to the balloon. The wrapper, Aerin had properly disposed of in the trash receptacle, but the balloon she had kept.

"Aerin, hello!" said a young child's voice. It was little James Hendrix, her next door neighbor. They had met numerous times, always at a different place.

"Hey kid, how's it going?" She asked, looking up to see him crossing over to her. He joined her on the bench and peered at her with inquisitive eyes.

"They were fighting again?" He guessed.

"Yeah."

"Don't be sad, it will be fine."

Aerin shot him a look, but then recomposed her features to that of indifference, he was only 6, what could he know?

"How can you be so sure?" She cautiously asked, eying him suspiciously.

The boy diverted his gaze up to the sky. "You can never really be too certain, but mom always tells me, if you want something to happen, just think about it, and it will. I always thought that you would be my friend, and you are." He leveled his gaze back at her, and smiled.

Aerin frowned, he made it sound too easy, if she could just think of what she wanted, and it came true, she wouldn't be here. She'd be in the grave with her parents, there was room for three...right?

"Want to know what I dreamed about last night?" James asked, changing the subject.

"Okay, what was it this time?"

"I dreamed about my cat, Soel. I dreamed that we were in a field, and flowers were everywhere...then we were cuddling...but then...she ran away from me...and I was searching for her, but she was gone." The boy looked almost sad as he told her this.

"So you didn't find her, you could always try again."

"No, because she died, and she is gone."

"That doesn't mean she won't come back to you, maybe if you call her name, she will return."

"And what if she doesn't hear me?" The boy looked at her with straight forward eyes.

Aerin held his gaze with a confident one of her own. "Then yell louder."

They both stared at eachother for a moment longer, then Aerin handed her balloon to him.

"Take it, it's a thank you gift for telling me your wild dreams."

James took the balloon from her, "They aren't wild, they are special. What did you dream?"

"My dreams are always the same, as long as I could remember...since that day...aren't dreams always the same?" Aerin asked, as if unsure.

"No, not really. Every night a dream should be different, at least they are for me." The boy said as he stood up and turned to leave. "You should go back home now Aer, it's getting late. Your mom and dad will miss you."

She scoffed and shrugged, "No they won't!"