Nadia walked hurriedly through the thick crowds of early evening. Some leaving work for the day. Others out for an evening stroll or looking for a warm, inviting place to grab a bite to eat on a Friday evening.
She smelled the scent of fresh food wafting from inside the restaurants as doors opened to let eager, ravishing customers inside. Her stomach growled, and Nadia wished she could stop herself. But at the moment, she was in a hurry. She still had one more meeting before she could call it a day. Supper was going to have to wait.
Nadia glanced down at her watch. She was cutting it close, but she could still make it if she picked up her pace. She had wanted to leave earlier, but her boss demanded she turn in some bit of paperwork that he deemed urgent before letting her go for the weekend.
She didn’t know why. It’s not like anyone was going to look at until Monday anyway. She sighed and glanced down at her watch again to see how many minutes she had left. Nadia hated being late for an appointment. She hated making excuses. If she walked just a little bit faster, she might yet make it on time.
The auburn-haired woman felt a drop of rain hit her shoulder and looked up at the evening sky overhead. She had seen the weather forecast before leaving and come prepared by bringing a small umbrella just in case.
Nadia had thought about using one of her ridesharing apps to catch a ride, but it wasn’t that far away. And besides, at that time of day, it probably would have taken longer for a driver to pick her up than for her to walk to her destination.
She had forgotten about this particular stretch of deserted road though. Nadia had cut through a back alley and come out in a sketchy part of town. Normally, she would have skirted around it. But due to the short amount of time to get where she needed to go, Nadia had decided to risk it.
The rain had picked up. She quickened her pace. Partly due to the rain. Partly due to her soon tardiness. And partly due to being in the wrong part of town after dark. She scanned the area around here. She saw a man up at the corner.
Nadia didn’t know if she should be relieved at the sight of another person, or afraid at the sight of the stranger on the street. But it was too late to turn around now. She couldn’t pick up her pace. Any faster and she would have been running.
The man squinted his eyes when he looked up at her. Nadia glared at him. Daring him to try her. Her hand already on the pepper spray in her pocket. He simply nodded from the dry spot where he sheltered himself from the rain and lifted a cigarette to his lips.
Nadia continued on as fast as she could. Her heart pounding wildly. Kicking herself and vowing that she would never do this to herself again. Never walk around this area after dark. Never let herself get this far behind on her time. Never let her boss push her into working overtime when she had another appointment.
The angry woman started to cross the intersection when she heard the sound of someone sobbing. She turned her head and saw a young boy at the other end of the street.
She didn’t hesitate. Someone else’s safety was more important than hers. Someone else more defenseless than her needed a hand in this sketchy neighborhood. It made her feel like a protector. She no longer felt defenseless or afraid.
Ten years of training and working in social services kicked in. She ran over and squatted down beside him. Holding the umbrella over the young boy’s head, Nadia asked him what his name was and where he was from.
He seemed to be speaking. But Nadia didn’t understand anything he said. It wasn’t English and definitely didn’t sound like her native French language.
“Come on,” Nadia said, as she took his hand and stood up. “Let’s find your mommy and daddy. We’ll get someone to help you.”
They started to walk down the street. Nadia felt warm and fuzzy inside. Helping children like this was why she loved her job even though she hated the paperwork and bureaucracy.
She heard footsteps behind her and turned to see the man whom she had passed earlier walking toward them. He was leering at them. Nadia couldn’t believe that she hadn’t kept an eye out and noticed him coming sooner.
“That’s my son. I’ve been looking for him,” the man growled.
Nadia knew he was lying. She squeezed the boy’s hand more tightly and looked down at him. It was obvious the boy didn’t recognize him.
“What language does he speak?” she asked, pushing the child behind her.
“English, of course,” the man replied.
The woman took a few steps backward, pulling the boy’s arm back behind her. The man lunged forward and pushed her backward with a mean, hard shove. He grabbed at the child’s arm.
As Nadia fell, she twisted her body to catch herself on the ground and lost sight of the man. Most of her weight landed on her left wrist. She screamed in pain. It seemed like she heard a roar and another scream even louder than hers.
When she turned around, the man was gone. The child stood there, licking his lips. The boy smiled at her and picked up the umbrella. It had broken on one side and part of the covering had torn. But she took the tattered umbrella from the child numbly and held it over their heads.
Nadia looked at the ground for some sign of the man. Wondering what had happened to him. It looked like there was blood running off in the puddles and rain. But it was dark. The road was black. And she only hoped that the man had run off of his own accord.
Too scared to defy the child. Too uncertain to leave him there in the rain. They continued walking down the street under the cover of her tattered umbrella.
The humongous, dark figure loomed hideously in the shadows. Mei froze. It was too late. Her hopes of getting in and out of the cave before being spotted were now dashed. She hunkered down in the shadows, hoping she wouldn’t be seen.
But the giant figure took another step in her direction. Mei fought her instinct of turning to run. There was no way she could outrun the small dragons that she was used to seeing fly around the mountains of her home country. Much less a giant one of this size.
She slipped her hand into the soft, leather pouch at her side. The dragon stopped moving and snorted loudly. Its head moving steadily in her direction.
Mei stopped tugging at the object in her pouch. She held her breath.
She watched the soft gleam in the dragon’s eye grow brighter. Then flare to life. A bright, orange glow emanating from deep within its fiery body.
The black dragon opened its humongous mouth and hissed loudly.
“I smell you human. Come out and answer my questions before I torch you alive. What brings you to my cave?”
Mei stood back up to her full height which barely came to the height of the dragon’s claws. It opened its mouth and hissed even more loudly, sending a trail of glowing smoke along the damp, cave floor.
The fiery glow from the dragon’s belly lit up even more of the dark cave. Mei could see greater detail of its body in the orange light. Its giant claws were enormous. It’s large, hard scales were impenetrable, making it almost impossible to kill.
Mei had never heard a single story of anyone ever killing a dragon before. The fact that she would even attempt to do such a thing, seemed to be the epitome of foolishness. She had hoped to find what she needed and leave before being discovered.
The old blacksmith had told her that he found most of his iron here over the past fifty years. And he had claimed that he had never seen a dragon around this particular mountain. She had honestly thought that she could come and go without facing one of these monsters.
But now it was too late. She was here, and the dragon had spotted her. But she wouldn’t go down without a fight. If only it weren’t so big though. Why couldn’t she have been found by a smaller one?
Mei wrapped her hand around the large, solid rock inside her pouch and slid it out behind her right thigh. Away from the dragon’s line of sight.
She didn’t know if the dragon knew what this object could do, but she didn’t want to risk taking the chance that it might recognize what she had.
“What are you doing here?” Mei asked the dragon quietly. “I didn’t mean to disturb you, but I was told that no dragons had been seen in the area for over 50 years.”
“Silly human,” the dragon hissed. “Dragons are never seen unless we choose to be seen. And I have never chosen to be seen by a human until you caught me unaware. And only because I’ve been busy making preparations for the arrival of my young.”
“I apologize honorable Dragon. I will leave and never return.” Mei said and took a step back.
“It’s too late, human. I can’t let you leave now. Besides, you came at just the right time. My young are about to hatch. They’ll be ravenous. You saved me from having to go out and find them something to munch on.”
Fear hit Mei like a lightning bolt. Her heart dropped to her stomach. She instinctively activated the weapon in her hand.
Mei let the Rudruntyne rock drop to the end of the Oskil chain it was attached to. She snapped it up into a quick spin behind her. And before she could pull it around in front of her, the dragon blew out a stream of blazing fire from its mouth.
She felt the heat, but it didn’t hurt. Even from behind her body, the Rudruntyne weapon absorbed the flames before they could harm her. The ground still hissed and burned where orange drool had dripped from the dragon’s fiery mouth.
The giant beast hissed in fear and fury. It tried to get off another stream of fire but came up empty. It stood there with its mouth wide open as if it were about to devour her whole. She felt the wind coming from its breath. But there were no more flames.
Mei didn’t hesitate to finish off the job. She flung the Rudruntyne into its mouth and deep down its throat. The dragon choked and tried to spit it out. It took several tries before the Rudruntyne hit the ground, covered in dragon drool.
But it was too late. The weapon had done its job and absorbed the fire from the dragon’s body. The giant beast lunged away from Mei. Trying to head deeper into the cave. Then it writhed and squirmed. And eventually lay twitching before breathing its last.
Mei gulped and rubbed her eyes. She could barely believe what had just happened. The girl had barely believed the blacksmith when he told her it could protect her from a dragon. But she had no idea just how powerful it was.
She snatched the Rudruntyne up and wiped it down before placing it back in the pouch. She started to leave, but curiosity got the best of her. She wanted to see what dragon eggs looked like.
They weren’t that impressive. They looked like skinny, leathery ostrich eggs. She put the four eggs in her pouch as well. She kicked at the dragon’s corpse as she walked back past it. She wondered what others would have to say about her when they found out she had killed a dragon.
Would they call her a heroine or consider her an enemy for breaking a taboo.
Mahesh set the power pack down on the ground and let out a long sigh. Partly from the relief of having arrived, but mostly from the exhaustion of carrying the heavy weight. It felt good to stretch.
“Whew! We made it,” he sighed.
“So, where is it?” Cliff grunted as he set down his powered stake as well.
“Not sure exactly,” Mahesh replied. “But it must be nearby. Both packs are fully lit up. We’ll have to walk around one at a time until we get a lock on it.”
Mahesh picked up his pack with a low grunt. He walked away from Cliff until the orange light down the front of the power pack started to dim. He turned around and walked back a few more steps.
“Okay,” he hollered. “This is about the edge of my limit. Take the power stake back and to the left until it starts to dim.”
He watched as Cliff struggled to carry the power pack in front of his body so he could observe the light source until it began to dim. Cliff paused and turned to walk carefully back a few steps. Then set the stake down into the ground about 20 yards away from Mahesh.
“This is about as far as I can go!” Cliff hollered over at Mahesh.
Mahesh looked around and noticed that they were in the middle of a ring of small stakes that surrounded an indent in the ground that had filled with water from the rain over the past few days.
The city that surrounded them was a wreck. Entire buildings utterly destroyed by the raiding armies who had come seeking the spaceship. The governor and mayor had claimed that they didn’t know where it had gone. But the raiding army didn’t believe them. They had razed the city looking for it.
Mahesh chuckled at the irony. Not at the destruction, but the fact that the ship had been right here the entire time. If his calculations were correct and the power packs really could tell them where it was, then the ship was somewhere nearby.
He didn’t have much hope that they would find it intact though. It had most likely been destroyed by the bombings along with the buildings that surrounded them.
“Okay!” Cliff shouted. “Ready when you are.”
Mahesh reached down and pressed the large, round, orange button on the power pack. It hummed to life and began to crackle. He took a step back and adjusted his suit. Then straightened his gas mask as he waited to see what would happen.
Cliff gave him a thumbs up from across the puddle. A bolt of blue lightning snapped up from the ground to the side. Both men jerked back from their power packs. Cliff took a step back from the puddle of water and moved to the center of the small, dry area that surrounded him.
More bolts of energy began to sizzle and snap around them. A loud humming sound filled the air. Cliff shifted nervously. Mahesh could tell that he wanted to run.
“Stay close to the energy pack. That’s where you’ll be safest.” Mahesh reassured his friend to keep him from bolting away.
A large ball of white light began to form in front of them. Dirt and leaves began to float up into the air. Even Mahesh felt his body grow lighter under the strange power that surrounded them.
He glanced up and noticed the large, black ship floating down from the sky. Mahesh pointed up for Cliff to notice.
“There it comes,” he said softly.
“No wonder they never found the ship before,” Cliff whispered in awe. “It wasn’t in the city. It was floating up above.”
They both stood in silence as the ship continued to descend. Blue energy continued to arc up from the ground to an invisible shield that seemed to vibrate around the dark vessel.
The craft got close enough for him to see the intricate details. The blue lights along the edges flashed and flickered in sync with the bolts of energy shooting up from the ground.
It was close enough that Mahesh could almost reach out and touch it. He hesitated for a moment, but couldn’t resist even though he half-expected a shock.
There was a quiet hissing sound and a door opened from underneath with stairs leading down to the ground. Mahesh ducked to see if anyone was coming down. No one appeared.
“What do we do now, boss?” Cliff asked, his voice quivering.
Mahesh answered excitedly, “I guess we go for a ride.”
Carmen pressed her hands against the glass. She watched the spectacle taking place in the hall. It was complete and utter madness. Yet at the same time, it seemed so familiar. As if she had seen this scene playing out before her a hundred times before.
She knew what was going to happen next. Carmen wanted to close her eyes. She wanted to will away the events that she knew were about to unfold. Carmen had witnessed events like this before.
Premonitions of what was about to happen. A strong gut feeling. A clear vision in her mind’s eye of what was about to happen. And then a complete and utter feeling of helplessness to stop any of it.
That was the worst part. Not being able to prevent it. She had tried before, but it was always useless. No matter what she tried, the events that played out in her mind always came to pass. Always. Without fail. It was the most horrible feeling in the world.
The feeling of abject terror of knowing what was going to happen along with the utter impotence of not being able to stop it. That was why she was here in this insane asylum.
Three years earlier she had foreseen horrible events of brutality and carnage on the streets. Rioters and protesters destroying the city she once loved. Carmen had foreseen the death of most of her loved ones in the fires that took place. In the shootings that took place in the clashes.
She had known that most of those she loved would die. Yet still, she tried to warn them. They laughed it off. Called her crazy. Her own brother had brought her in and admitted her himself.
“Don’t worry, sis. When this is over, I’ll come get you out myself,” he said.
That was the one thing that Carmen hadn’t foreseen. Him placing her in the looney house for confiding in him. She had known that he wouldn’t return. And here she remained even three years later.
She smiled grimly at the irony of the situation. Carmen knew what was going to happen to others, but she could never see what happened to herself.
In a way, not having had any more visions for the past three years had been a relief. They had been three years of peace and respite from the haunting visions that befell her.
Until today anyway. That old fluttery feeling had started up again. She had sensed it. And everything happened just the way she had foreseen. She didn’t even try to warn them. Carmen had seen them all die in the explosion. Seen the fires consume them.
But she didn’t bother to tell any of them that this was their last day. No one would have believed her anyway. She was locked up in an insane asylum. That would have only upped the dosage of her meds and gone on about their tasks.
And even if they had believed her, it wouldn’t have done any good. They would have all been dead before the end anyway. If they had tried to run, the flames would have followed them. Their death was certain. There was no escape.
She heard the explosions before she saw the fire and flames. Carmen didn’t cower or cringe. But even if she wanted to, the woman was locked in. There was nowhere for her to flee to.
Carmen heard the screams. She saw people running up and down the hall. And then there was silence. She knew the man was coming before she saw him. She had already witnessed his arrival.
The man paused outside her window. He turned to look at her. Reached up. Placed his hand on the glass.
“Carmen,” he mouthed through the thick glass that separated them.
She reached up and placed her hand on the other side of his. This was where the vision stopped. This had been the last thing she had foreseen. After this, everything that would take place was a mystery.
His name was Scottie. He had been admitted to the institution a few months back. But they had never spoken before today. Someone had told her that he had no memories before being brought here.
Scottie stepped over to the door and opened it from the outside. Carmen fell into his arms sobbing.
“There were whispers that you mentioned this to the others. How did you know?” he asked sternly. “Were you a part of this plan?”
Carmen took a sharp breath and a step back. She shook her head. Tried to deny it, but knew it would do no good. It never did. No matter what she said, nobody ever believed her.
“You told someone earlier that there would be fire before the end of the day,” he growled.
Scottie turned to leave the room and slid a gas mask back over his face. Carmen shook her head, silently kicking herself for not having kept her mouth shut as she followed him. Even if those she loved didn’t die, she lost them because of this curse she carried.
He stood close to the fire. Silently watching it. A sheet of paper from the nurse’s station floated down the hall under the effects of the warm draft.
Scottie bent over to pick it up. A patient information sheet. Carmen glanced at it. Her name written at the top.
“It says that you have strange visions and claim to see future events,” he asked.
Carmen nodded silently without looking up at him.
“Do you find that strange?” she asked. Still not looking up.
Scottie didn’t answer right away. After a few moments of silence, Carmen looked over at him. He didn’t look back at her but could tell she was watching. The man shook his head. A few more moments of silence before he spoke up.
“No. Not anymore. I just remembered who I am and why I’m here? I can travel back through time. And I remember having seen you before.”
“Maybe it’s destiny,” she said. “Have I traveled with you before?”
Scottie nodded. “Yes. I remember everything now. I’ve been here before. You’ve been here before. And I’ve taken you back.”
Carmen swayed unsteadily. Trying to breathe.
“Maybe that’s why I have all these visions. These foreshadowings are simply things that have already happened and that I’ve lived through before,” she finally managed to say.
He looked at her and nodded. “That could well be the case. Do you want to go back with me again? Or do you want to stay here? If you don’t go back with me from here, you shouldn’t have any more visions after today.”
Carmen reached out and took his hand.
“I want to go with you,” she said. “I want to see my brother one more time. Maybe this time, I’ll remember enough to make a difference.”
Oliver wanted to find a new job. He did not like his current job. His boss was very tough. So, he decided to look for a new job.
He filled out many applications, but he did not have much success. He filled out 138 applications and only received a request for one interview.
He went to the interview, but there were many other applicants. They were very good.
Most of them had more experience than Oliver. And some of them spoke very good English.
The interview was very tough. A woman asked him many difficult questions that he didn’t know how to answer. He did not get the job.
So, he decided to improve his English. He began to study every day. His mother had always told him to study when he was a boy.
He wished he had listened to her. But he knew it was no use crying over spilled milk.
Oliver dedicated himself to learn and practice the language every day for two hours.
At first, it was difficult. But it became easier. He practiced speaking with people on Facebook every single day.
He applied for more jobs. One day, he went to another interview. It was on a Monday afternoon.
This time he felt more confident. He had studied very hard all weekend.
However, Oliver did not get the job. They gave it to someone else.
Instead, they gave Oliver another job at their headquarters in New York because his English was so good.
Now, Oliver lives in the Big Apple. He is happy that he studied English. He helps many people learn English online.
Oliver loves living in New York.