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Cloud Eater [Short Story]

Hey there! Another quick short story. This one was inspired by a video I watched about the Bermuda triangle. 300 ships and 75 planes all disappearing into the sky. Hope you enjoy it. And yes, this does tie in directly to an ealier short story called ‘City In The Clouds‘. 

Strange Skies

The clouds rolled in thick and dark. Towering hundreds of feet high. Extremely unnatural for this time of the year on this section of the planet. It pressed onward in their direction.

Unrushed. Unhurriedly. Slowly. Steadily.

Pushing forward into all the other clouds before it.

The crowd quickly gathered around. Everyone craning their necks to get a better look. Some quickly brushed it off as normal and moved on as if the cloud wasn’t really there.

Gayle stayed around with those who remained. Soon, most of them began to chat about other things. Seemingly unworried about the sheer size of the massive billows steadily coming closer.

She lay down and kept a close eye on it. Gayle didn’t care if anyone else was interested in it or not. She was going to try to understand this strange phenomenon and figure this thing out.

After a bit, the rest of the crowd began to disperse as well.

“Not much we can do about it anyway, best get back to work,” she overheard one man say to his companion.

“Aye, but it sure seems strange though. Never seen something like this in all my days. And I’m a lot older than you are.”

“That you are, old man. That you are. You must be at least four hundred times as old as me,” the younger one laughed as the older man swung out his cane.

Gayle smiled. These crazy folk in Stratosville were a humorous bunch. She was glad her family had moved here. It was much nicer than the previous cloud they had lived on before. Resources were harder to come by, and their neighbors were always uptight and cranky.

Suddenly, Gayle realized what seemed so surreal about this enormous strange cloud still threatening to overtake them.

It was because the massive, dark thunderhead wasn’t moving quickly and overtaking their cloud. Nor was it drifting so slowly that their billows were catching up to the larger one.

As she watched closely, Gayle noticed that the enormous atmospheric phenomenon wasn’t drifting with the current wind currents at all. In fact, it wasn’t even simply floating in place because it was too large to be pushed about by the gusts that often threatened to sweep Gayle off her cloud as at that altitude.

It was literally moving against the wind currents as if it sought to collide head-on with all the other clouds in its path.

As she watched, Gayle a sense of foreboding washed over her.

It seemed as if this cloud wasn’t just drifting through the others. But instead, it seemed to swallow them up and assimilate them. Making them a part of its larger self. Whatever it was.

Gayle had often heard horror stories like these since she grew up among the cloud people. Her mother warned not to go jumping off onto strange unexplored clouds or wander off too far where she might be devoured by a Cloud Eater.

And now, with this strange atmospheric phenomenon, she was sure of it. This was the Cloud Eater.

The Girl Who Cried Cloud Eater

Gayle raced home to find her mother. Diving down into the entrance when she arrived. Calling for her mother.

“Great clouds on fire, child! What’s all this screeching about?”

“Mother, the dark cloud. It’s the cloud eater. It’s coming. We have to get away from here.” Gayle pleaded, tears streaming down her face. “Come! Come see.”

“I already saw it, silly girl. It’s not the Cloud Eater. No such thing even exists. It’s just a story that parents use to make their children behave. I’m sorry if we scared you. Go sit down at the table and I’ll make you a snack.”

The mother turned and glided down the hall. Gayle didn’t stick around. She raced off to her best friends home.

“Ventis! Ventis!” she called desperately upon arriving at her home.

No one answered quickly enough, so Gayle barged right on in, diving into her friend’s bedroom.

“Hey, Gayle! You spooked me. I didn’t hear you coming. What’s up?”

“It’s the Cloud Eater, Ventis. I saw it. It’s this huge, dark, enormous cloud out there. Eating up every other cloud. Come and see it for yourself.” Gayle pleaded.

“Silly, girl. That’s not a Cloud Eater out there. I saw that earlier today on my way back from school. Even before anyone else. I think I was the first to notice it.” Ventis declared proudly. “Besides, I can’t go out right now. I’m grounded this week. Remember?”

Gayle sighed despondently.

“Oh, c’mon. Don’t cry.” Ventis continued trying to comfort her. “Our parents just use those stories to keep us in line. Most kids our age don’t even believe them anymore. I can’t believe you still do. We only tell those stories at night under the light of the full moon to try to scare each other. Remember?”

Gayle nodded and turned to leave.

“Hey, don’t go running around screaming anything else about the Cloud Eater out there. You’ll be the lacking stock of the Aereyons when the story gets back to them of the girl who cried Cloud Eater.”

Ventis giggled as Gayle stomped off furiously.

How could these people be so blind? They couldn’t see the obvious when it was right in front of their faces. They told themselves these stories for so long and convinced themselves that they were only children’s fables. Talking themselves right out of seeing the danger in front of their very eyes.

Gayle stormed furiously through the village to the far end of the cloud for a better view. She paused once or twice along the way to eavesdrop on people’s conversations. A few of them even jokingly referred to it as the Cloud Eater.

“Yep, if it looks like a Cloud Eater and moves like a Cloud Eater, it’s probably a Cloud Eater.” One of the men said mockingly, and everyone standing around him joined in the laughter.

“How can they be so stupid,” Gayle muttered to herself.

She had to find a way to convince them that this was indeed a Cloud Eater and get them out of here before it was too late.

Old Man Atmos

Gayle finally arrived at the edge of her billowy, white cloud.

Old man Atmos was standing on the very edge. Watching the massive, dark threat looming high over their heads.

He had once been the chief of their cloud. A very busy man. But after an argument with the current chief over some petty issue, old man Atmos had been ousted from the clan. He had spent many years traveling, but recently returned. He lived by himself on a smaller cloud, and it was rare to see him over here on Stratosville.

“Oh, hello there, Gayle,” he mumbled. “What are you doing out here at this hour. Shouldn’t you be at home doing your homework.”

She nodded. Surprised that the old man remembered her name. Most normal adults didn’t even call her by name. They just called her little girl or child. Even her mother rarely called her by name unless she was angry about something. h

“How is that cloud propelling itself against the wind and assimilating all the other clouds in its path?” she asked meekly because she was sure that he was going to make a joke of it and start laughing at her for her foolishness.

Old man Atmos didn’t though. He actually turned to her with a surprised look on his face.

“Hmm, so you noticed it too. Huh? And where did you learn such big words from, Gayle?”

The young girl just nodded and beamed with pleasure. She prided herself for reading the dictionary and encyclopedia every day to increase and improve her vocabulary.

“I’m afraid I do know what it is, but I need to find a way to get higher. Would you like to join me?” he asked.

She didn’t look at him but continued watching the dark billows growing ever closer. If that thing was the Cloud Eater, they were all doomed. There was no escape for those on Stratosville.

Gayle finally looked up after considering her options. If it weren’t a Cloud Eater, her mother would scold her for running off like that. But still, all things considered, it was better to be reprimanded by her mother than annihilated by that thing. Whatever it was.

“Yes,” she finally managed to say, as she took Old Man Atmos’ hand.

Old Man Atmos led her from cloud to cloud. They moved higher as they went, seeking to rise above it.

Away from the giant, dark cloud that came steadily onward against the wind currents. The same wind current that pushed the other clouds ahead of it directly into his waiting jaws.

Gayle had the impression that the large cloud formation was a living, seething, angry being. Like a celestial being that was scowling down upon those before it. Preparing to pour out its wrath and fury.

It was a long, hard climb. Gayle was soon panting and unable to keep up with Atmos. But if they didn’t hurry, they would quickly be swallowed up too. So, she sucked it up, took a deep breath, and tried to keep up with him.

But the climb was too steep for Gayle’s thin, frail frame. Especially trying to make it up the last few clouds toward the end.

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Atmos came back for her. Stooping low to pick her up off the puffy billow Gayle had paused to rest upon. Panting heavily she began to cry.

“I can’t make it. Go on without me. I don’t want to hold you back too.”

But he didn’t listen. Atmos swooped her up easily. She was small and light for her age. Atmos continued the climb, carrying her on his back.

It made her feel safe and secure as if he would protect her from the fury of the cloud before them. She clung tightly to his neck and nestled her head into the back of his thick, silvery-white hair.

Gayle could sense that her weight, slight as it was, still slowed him down. But he didn’t complain about having to bring her along, and for that she was grateful.

There was one unusually long leap from one cloud to another that she almost didn’t think he was going to make. It was a huge jump even for him on his own. And with her on his back, she didn’t know how he made it.

She actually thought he was going to wait for another cloud to blow closer, but he was anxious to get to the top and didn’t want to wait for it. She closed her eyes and held her breath. They made it. Just barely, but it was enough.

After that, it wasn’t far. Just a few more short hops on up and they finally made it out onto a small cloud that was level with the larger one. Gayle gasped at the sight before her. Large jagged spikes curved up and out of the top of the evil-looking thunderhead. Gayle shivered and closed her eyes briefly.

They were still headed on a collision course with the larger cloud though, and she felt Old Man Atmos moving farther along the edges trying to make his way higher.

He managed to pick out a path up higher over the top of the larger cloud and off to the side where they were out of its way as long as the winds held steady and didn’t shift directions.

Atmos set the young girl down carefully and sat beside her to catch his breath. He scooted closer to the edge. Hanging his legs freely over the sides of the cloud they were on.

Gayle didn’t have the courage to sit beside him. So, she lay on her belly and glided forward till she came up beside him. Close enough to peer over the edge. She hung on to puffs of the cloud tightly. Just in case a draft of wind tried to playfully push her over the edge.

She was high enough up, and there were enough clouds before her, that they would probably catch her and break her fall. But then Gayle would have to find her way back up here again on her own. She preferred to stay right here beside the old man in safety.

Her home cloud was nowhere in sight, she glanced around nervously in all directions.

“Where is Stratosville?” she asked Atmos anxiously.

He pointed it out to her off to the side a little ways. It was closer to the big cloud than she had expected it to be. Almost under one of its large billowy overhangs. It wouldn’t be long till Stratosville collided with the larger cloud.

Gayle hadn’t ever been this high up or far away from her home before without her mother before. She looked down and sucked in her breath. It was just a small speck far below them.

“Will everyone make it out on the other side okay?” she asked almost in tears. “Will the city cooling condensers be strong enough to hold up against a cloud that size?”

Kruvian Death Cloud

Atmos shrugged.

“I hope so,” he said softly. “I tried to warn the leaders that we were entering a dangerous area that the humans call the Bermuda Triangle. I warned them that many ships and planes have been swallowed by the clouds here. But they just laughed at me. I told them that they needed to decrease the temperature to form ice crystals which would solidify the cloud and strengthen it when the time came. Maybe giving them a chance to survive. But they didn’t want to waste the fuel. They said it would take too much work to replace later.”

“You mean the lazy bums just didn’t want to have to work hard after it was over,” she said bitterly. “Was my father there with them?”

Atmos nodded sadly.

“Unfortunately. I tried to turn the condensers down myself, but the leaders wouldn’t let me. I even offered to gather the extra fuel too. They refused to listen to me. They said I was just a silly old fool. I would have stayed with them if they had listened. But they didn’t, and that’s why I left.”

The thought of her family and friends not making it through to the other side horrified her. Most natural clouds that collided with one made by cooling condensers just slipped right on through. Sometimes, a larger cloud would even join up with theirs for a time. Pulled along with it.

Two clouds with cooling condensers were never allowed to collide though. The stronger one with the most cooling condensers would end up tearing the other apart. If the collision was unavoidable, both cities had to work together swiftly to synchronize their systems. One large cloud would form, and the two would be merged together forever.

But it wasn’t just the size of the giant cloud that concerned her. It was the menace of the large, jagged curves coming up from inside the puffy white billows.

The cloud itself no longer looked dark and dangerous from her position up here. The sun hanging low on the horizon off to her their right actually lit it up brightly, even colorfully. If it were any other normal cloud, it would have been a stunningly gorgeous view as the hues of gold and yellow reflected the rays all around them.

Gayle glanced back down along the sides of the large cloud and could see just how far the sun’s rays traveled. The cloud grew darker, the farther down she looked until it was a dark, hideous gray at the bottom that matched the curved spikes rising out of the golden, yellow puffs before her. She shivered once again at the darkness before her.

It felt so evil. Like dark figures that often haunted her dreams. Figures she could never actually see but could sense surrounding her, watching her, disturbing her. She could feel them here now.

“What is that thing, Atmos?” she asked.

The old man shook his head slowly from side to side.

“I don’t know, child. After I left the village, I spent time wandering the paths of the sky. I traveled all the way to Aereyon.”

“Oh,” Gayle gasped. “Is it as beautiful as my mother tells me?”

“Even more beautiful, young lady. Words can’t truly describe it. It is a sight you must see for yourself.”

“So, what did you learn on this trip?”

“I met many wanders who told stories of this threat that hides in the clouds. They had many names for it. Some called it the ‘Drifting Wraith’. Others simply called them ‘Death Clouds’. One even told me that he knew where they came from. He said they came from above. He said that they come from the land of Kruvia where they are known as Dhaqs.

“There’s a monster inside that cloud?” she asked interrupting the old man.

He tilted his head and raised an eyebrow. Then smiled warmly at her.

Gayle could sense though that he was only smiling to calm her down. She could tell that inwardly, he was just as terrified as she if not more because of the tales he had heard.

Please Don’t Leave Me

Old Man Atmos stood to his feet and stretched. He handed a cooling condenser that he had brought along with him.

“You stay here. I’m going down to take a closer look. If I don’t make it back, you burrow down into this cloud for the night. Use this cooling condenser to make sure it does dissipate from around you. And then in the morning, head that way until you come to Aereyon.” he said pointing in the opposite direction of the setting sun.

“Why?” she asked.

“You must warn the Aereyons of this great danger. The wanderers say that the Dhaq seek Aereyon. They hope to stumble across it and consume the great city in the clouds. Others say that the Dhaq already know of its location, but they are not yet strong enough to attack it. So, they feed off smaller clouds and cities until the time is right.”

“But what will I tell them when I get there? That is if I ever even make it.” she cried.

“Tell them what you have seen here today. Tell them what happened to Stratosville. Hopefully, they will listen before it is too late.”

“I hope it works well. It is one that I made myself. There should be enough fuel in it to last you for a few nights so you can sleep well. Turn it off during the day to conserve the energy as long as possible. Hopefully, you will find more before it runs out.”

“Please don’t leave me,” she pleaded softly.

“I must try to find out what these things are exactly if we hope to have a chance to fight them. I shouldn’t be gone long. I’m just going right over there.” Atmos said pointing to the closest edge of the large cloud.

“So, why are you giving me the cooling condenser and telling me to make the trip on my own?” she said crying. Tears flowing down her cheeks.

“Only in case, something happens. I am an old man. I could fade away at any time. It is the way of life. I am ready for that moment. I want you to be as well.”

“What if I get lost?” she asked quietly.

“Don’t worry. You’ll find others along the way who will guide you in the right direction. Look for solid clouds that don’t wisp away at the edge. You’ll recognize them. It’s easy to find Aereyon because it never leaves its place. It remains fixed just over the highest mountains on land.”

The young girl stopped sobbing. She grabbed onto the old man’s hand and clung to him. He patted her head softly and hummed her a song that she remembered her mother used to sing her to sleep at night.

Gayle couldn’t contain herself any longer. She wrapped her arms around his legs and sobbed loudly.

Atmos waited patiently for the young girl to stop. When she had stopped sniffling, he knelt down beside her and leaned forward, giving her a big hug. She squeezed him back tightly around the neck.

“Promise me that you will go straight to the city of Aereyon. Ask to speak with the queen. And tell her all that you have seen and all that I have told you. Don’t leave out one word.”

Gayle nodded bravely. She stood on the highest point of her cloud. Watching as the old man leaped from cloud to cloud back in the direction of the ominous, jagged curves rising out of the top of the cloud.

Adrift Under The Stars

It seemed to her that she could see less of long curved spikes than before. As if the giant mass had assimilated the clouds that collided with itself and built them up higher around its jagged curves.

Soon, the old man was just a speck in the distance. She leaped over to another cloud that was just a bit higher and blocking her view. She climbed up to a tip of the cloud that jutted up above the rest.

Gayle watched Old Man Atmos pause before making his final leap onto the large cloud itself. And then, he just disappeared, as if the darkness or whatever was inside had swallowed him whole.

She stood there for what seemed like hours. Holding her breath. Waiting for Atmos to reappear. But the old man never did. She was completely and utterly alone.

Gayle was still standing there for what seemed like hours and even days until her little cloud floated on past the larger one.

She kept her eyes peeled, looking down below out the far end of the cloud, anxiously waiting to see if Stratosville would waft on through. Breaking out into the bright, clean air behind it. But it never did.

The young girl never saw her home cloud again. Not that night. Nor the next day. Nor ever again. No one ever heard from anyone at Stratosville after that.

When the fading sun began to set, Gayle activated the cooling condenser and burrowed down deep into the billowy puffs. Pulling them tightly around her.

Gayle cried herself to sleep. Cried for her family. Cried for Ventis. And even cried for Old Man Atmos.

She knew that the old man had known Stratosville wouldn’t survive the collision. He had known he wouldn’t return from his expedition into the dark thunderhead full of Dhaqs or whatever those things were.

She imagined him fighting whatever controlled the dark cloud from within. Seeking to destroy it. Seeking to stop it. Or at the very least gain control. Giving his life to protect others.

Gayle didn’t understand why. It seemed so futile. So pointless. It had all been in vain.

After she had cried her eyes dry with no tears left to shed, she pulled a few more billowing puffs of cloud around her body and made up her mind to travel to Aereyon.

She would begin her journey. But she swore that along the way, she would discover who these Drifting Wraiths were. She would find out what powered their Death Clouds. And she would learn how to eliminate them. Then she would travel to Kruvia and destroy them all.

She, young Gayle of Stratosville, would become the Destroyer of the Cloud Eater that had devoured her home cloud.

Those were her final thoughts as she drifted off to sleep.

The brave young lass didn’t see the large dark beings pulling themselves out of the dark cloud. Pulling themselves onto the large, jagged spikes. Shaking themselves off. Then leaping into the air to flit and play under the light of the moon until the sun came up. Gloating over their victory over another city that day.

Neither did they seem to notice her, tucked away in her little cloud that was drifting safely away in the opposite direction under the light of the stars. Little dreaming that their greatest future nightmare lay innocently passing them so closely by.

Thank you for reading my short story! I hope you enjoyed it.

If so, make sure to read more of my stories on here on the blog, as well as sign up to get updates when I release new stories at https://DaveBailey.me/go/crew

Read my web novel called ‘Edge Of The Universe’ at https://www.wattpad.com/story/166114932-edge-of-the-universe-art-on-the-run

Or continue to meander on through my fictional musings here at https://DaveBailey.me

You can also follow my daily writings on my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/DaveBaileyMe/posts

For reprint or licensing options, contact Dave Bailey directly at http://davebailey.me/go/contact

End Of The Beginning

In the very end, only two violent beings survived. Rikbiel and Ishim.

The two most powerful men in the world had divided the entire world. Well, the entire world as they knew it anyway.

Since the beginning of time, people had chosen a side, bitterly attacking the other. Slaughtering and destroying each other in a desperate bid for what they thought would be world domination and eventually peace for themselves and their loved ones.

But one by one, they all died off. Every. Single. One.

Everyone except Rikbiel and Ishim.

And here they stood, fighting to the bitter end.

Rikbiel came in for the finishing blow. Fast and low. Balled up his fist and felt the energy flow into it. It glowed fiery red as he drove it up and forward into Ishim’s belly floating just above his head.

He felt his fist connect with his opponent. Rikbiel released the all the energy in his body out through his fist. He felt a wave of confidence that victory was assured.

There was no way, Ishim could withstand such power. No one had ever resisted Rikbiel when he released such a massive wave of energy.

He poured his heart and soul into the blow. Rikbiel screamed when he had felt the energy leaving his body, attempting to squeeze just a little bit more out of himself to make sure that he dealt the final blow. To make sure that there was no way, Ishim would survive.

The surge of energy that he released had left him weak and powerless. Rikbiel fell to his knees and struggled to catch his breath.

It came in soft, shallow gasps. Rikbiel could barely lift his head to look over at the spot where he expected to see his opponent’s lifeless body.

But there was nothing there.

Nothing except for the shards of rock and rubble left over from the buildings and vehicles that had managed to survive there deadly struggle for power.

Rikbiel twisted his head from side to side. Slowly scanning the area around him for the enemy he had spent his entire life hating. Waiting for a glimpse of a mangled corpse over which he could gloat and celebrate his victory.

Still nothing.

When he had recuperated enough energy, he stood slowly. Legs wobbly from the force of power exerted. The world spun around him, and he lost his balance for a split second. He managed to catch himself though at the last second by staggering forward.

Rikbiel pressed his hands to his head and closed his eyes as he focused on breathing deeply. The fastest way to regenerate energy.

After a few seconds, he opened his eyes and turned around. Once again, scanning the area for a trace of his opponent’s grisly remains. But all he saw were piles of brick and mortar. Twisted metal rods and chunks of torn plastic.

Had he completely obliterated Ishim? Incinerated his flesh, blood, and bones straight back into the atoms of the ether. Was there no gory splatter for him to gloat over. No remains left for him to stomp upon as he sang his final victory chant.

Deep sadness washed over him. Regret at having used so much power. Of not having held himself back.

A sense of emptiness washed over his soul. And a sense of dread crept over his skin.

What would he do with his life, now that he had no more enemies to fight. No challengers left to face.

His entire life had been spent learning to fight and prepare for war against his enemies. Seeking out those who could train him in the secret arts to grow his power.

And now, after he had achieved his greatest desire to prove himself the greatest warrior, the mighty warrior felt empty and hollow.

Rikbiel felt the urge to cry growing and welling up from deep within. His stomach tightened. His chest constricted physically affected his breathing.

Painfully threatening to prevent his body from receiving the life-giving oxygen his cells needed to restore the power they had sacrificed upon his command.

He concentrated his mind to focus his thoughts and bring them back to the present. To remind himself that he was still alive, and that was what mattered. But did it? Especially if no one else was around to admire him and gloat his victory.

His opponent had eliminated every one of his allies. And now, he was alone in this great big empty world.

Out of the corner of his eye, Rikbiel noticed a movement. He whirled excitedly, thinking to have found his opponent. To gloat over him one last time.

But then he stopped himself. Why would he want to kill off an opponent he was sad he had destroyed.

And yet, when he turned to look, there was no one there. Only shards of shattered rock and pebbles and sand all began to rise into the air around him.

Rikbiel looked up and gasped at the sight of his opponent floating silently above him. Two concentric rings of energy surrounded him as he drew in the elements of earth towards himself.

The mighty warrior on the ground took a step back. His jaw went slack, and his eyes roved trying to take in the sight just above him. What? How? Where had he come from?

Rikbiel steeled himself bravely for the coming onslaught. He clenched his fists and attempted to raise a shield. But his energy wasn’t sufficient. His body still trembling in its weakened state. The shield flickered and barely shimmered.

Ishim smiled wickedly from above.

“Wait!” Rikbiel pleaded. “I thought I had destroyed you. I was devastated. I had no idea what to do with my life. Without you, who was I? Without me, who will you be?”

The shards and sand and stone stopped their ascent. Paused in mid-air as Ishim considered his words.

“I just want to prove that I’m the best!” he cried out.

Rikbiel swallowed his pride. It wasn’t about not dying. Only not having to fight to prove himself.

“But you are,” Rikbiel finally managed to get the words out. “You are the best. I gave you my best shot, and it wasn’t enough. You survived. If you eliminate me now, what will that prove? And to whom? There is no one around for you to gloat with and brag to about your victory.”

Ishim didn’t seem entirely convinced.

“But what will we do if we don’t battle to prove ourselves?”

“Whatever we want to. We can travel the world and find other survivors if they exist. We can rebuild the world. And then start again.” Rikbiel said excitedly.

That made Ishim think. The sand and stones began to lower and sink around Rikbiel once more.

“Like a game?” Ishim asked. “With rules, we must abide by.”

“Yes,” Rikbiel replied. “We know we can’t defeat each other. “We must use strategy and pit our minions against each other.”

“Whoever wins, gets to choose his prize. The other must do his bidding for a time, while we recoup our losses and start another round.” Ishim replied gleefully.

“Yes, we shall play many rounds,” Rikbiel grinned maliciously. “There is no sense trying to destroy each other to prove anything. We must use our wits.”

“Good. I like the sound of this game.” Ishim replied. “I always thought you were more powerful than I. I barely survived that last blast because of a trick I had up my sleeve. But it almost took me out. However, I do think I am smarter than you. A challenge of the wits may well favor me in the next rounds.”

Ishim floated down slowly from the air to land beside Rikbiel. He reached out a shaky hand. His body covered in bruises. Blood oozing from his nose and ears. Even coloring his saliva when he opened his mouth to speak.

Rikbiel smiled. “Not shabby. Not shabby at all there, old chap. You put up a good fight.”

“And you are a worthy opponent,” Ishim spoke weakly trying to regain his energy as well.

“Well, I say we call it a day and each go his own way. After we recuperate, we shall meet again here to define the rules of the next round.”

“Agreed,” Ishim said with a grin.

Rikbiel reached out his hand first this time to seal the deal and not let Ishim take the initiative.

They both took their separate paths back home, or to whatever remained of it. He looked back once to observe Ishim looking back at him.

Rikbiel raised his hand in a wave. Not quite sure why he was doing so to an ancient, mortal enemy. He turned to continue walking and shrugged it off.

The battle was over. A truce been called. But there would be other rounds. More challenges and conflicts to be faced. And next time he would be ready.

Rikbiel tripped on something and slammed into the ground. He twisted around to see what had tripped him up. A pile of sand and rock still floated there lightly. He realized that this was Ishim’s doing.

He stood back up and shook his fist. Ishim just laughed as he let the rocks and sand slip back down. Rikbiel heard the soft patter as they hit the ground.

Rikbiel continued walking again. Only this time he didn’t look back. He kept his eyes and ears peeled for another attack. But none came, and he continued home without incident to nurse his battle wounds and wounded pride.

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Knight of the Dragon King: Episode 2

I found a new character that is absolutely amazing. His name is Ray McGowan from Knight of the Dragon Queen. It’s currently available on Amazon by the way.

So, I decided to write a follow-up story for him even though he was supposed to be a secondary character to backup the Dragon Queen in another story that I’m writing.

But this guy is too much fun to leave alone. And his sidekick Eartalk is a hoot too.

So, I’m about 5,000 words into the second episode. You can read what I’ve written so far on Patreon here and here.

I’ll let you know when the story is complete.

Knight of the Dragon Queen

Hey! Good news. I’m putting the finishing touches on my new short story called ‘Knight of the Dragon Queen‘.

It was inspired by my good FocusMate buddy, Darius, and his good folks over at Carets who make an amazing pair of shoes.

So, as you know by now, I’m writing a series of stories for ‘Love On The Edge‘. And the I’m tentatively calling the first story in the series ‘Rise of the Dragon Queen‘.

No spoilers yet, because I don’t want to ruin the surprise. But suffice it to say that it follows closely on the heels of ‘Dragon Troll‘ for a reason.

You can read Dragon Troll for $0.99 now, but I will be making it available free for a limited time in about 30 days for those who are a part of my ‘Advanced Reader Crew‘ (hint, hint if you want to join, now is the time)

Story Behind Knight of the Dragon Queen

So, anyway, back to my story about Darius, we were chatting and he was telling me about this promo they want to do where they’ll be giving away a real sword, and they wanted to do something with a real knight.

Hey, the Dragon Queen needs a knight too. Right?

She is a strong, independent woman of course in this modern day and age. But it’s not her fault that the Rakshasas and Dryads ganged up on her and buried her in the frozen permafrost of the Alaskan Tundra.

Whoops! I did say that I was going to try not to give away any spoilers. Right?

So, my creative wheels started churning, and I started hashing out some ideas for a storyline for a modern-day knight (minus the shining armor) since it’s not needed nowadays. I don’t think. (At least not on this side of the portal).

Anyhooo…

After banging this short story out and running it through the furnace a few times, I think I managed to come up with a really cool concept for a knight that fits the Dragon Queen & Dragon Troll concepts for NorthWorld and the Edge of the Universe series.

Read away and let me know if you think this sounds interesting…

Knight of the Dragon Queen ‘Trailer’

When Ray McGowan’s momma told him that he was a hothead, Ray thought it was just an expression.

Until he finds starts spontaneously combusting and bursting into flames in the most inconvenient places.

Like at work, at home in bed, and at the restaurant with his girlfriend.

And usually, it happens when he’s upset about something.

Then his momma’s words start to take on a whole new meaning.

Unfortunately, she’s no longer around to tell him what causes this and how to stop it.

Recently, a stranger noticed what was going on, and told him that he carried a rare strain of Dragon DNA and offers to take him on the adventure of a lifetime.

Their mission is to locate an ancient weapon named Venomshank, the Warblade of Ballar.

The reason?

To save the Dragon Queen.

But when the group gets attacked by their enemies, Ray is the only one left standing who can actually make the trip.

So, they give him the map and what little information they know about it.

Will he be able to make it without the help of his friends?

Ray sets off toward the caves under the mountains to locate the portal that will take him to NorthWorld.

But first, he has to convince the portal guard to let him through, and then pay whatever price he demands.

If he can afford it.

Everything seems to be going well until the portal guard loses his cool and attacks Ray.

The young, up-and-coming knight must do whatever it takes to overcome his enemy without blowing them both to bits in the tunnels, and convince the guard to let him through the portal to continue his journey.

Which is actually hard to do when the giant ogre wants to get him into a fight.

Now, he has to diffuse the situation and put him down without humiliating the creature and angering into the point where it won’t help him, while also not bursting into flames and burning them up in the process.

Whew! That was a lot to cram into this little short read. I haven’t actually tested it, but I think it will be about a 30 minute short read.

Something you can read in a single sitting.

I do hope you enjoy it.

Take a look at ‘Knight of the Dragon Queen’ here on the blog >>>

Or…

Read it on Knight of the Dragon Queen on Amazon Now >>> 

Dragon Troll – A 15 Minute Kindle Short Read

Meet Reji, a new character to introduce a new race that we are introducing in the ‘NorthWorld Universe’ and the ‘Edge of the Universe’ series. Read ‘Dragon Troll’ a Kindle 15 Minute Short Read for free with your Kindle Unlimited here now.

Reji is a new line of species introduced to NorthWorld by an Engineer who has been meddling with Dragon genes and crossing them with trolls. Things are about to get ugly in this little short read I wrote.

You can also learn more about Dragon Troll here on the blog

Dragon Troll: Synopsis

How would you feel about being saved by someone you mistreated?

Meet Drifa, an old woman raising a mysterious child found in the woods. She only keeps him around because he is still useful after her husband’s death.

The child is small for his size, but still does things that she can’t.

When an old enemy comes looking to collect on a debt, there is no one around to help her, except the boy.

Will he help her or leave her to meet her fate?

After the way she’s mistreated him, she doesn’t hold he breath.

But things don’t turn out at all like she expects in this twist on the ugly duckling story. The young child turns out to be something completely different than anything she or her gossipy old neighbors ever imagined.

Read ‘Dragon Troll’ free on your Kindle Unlimited now >>

The Hole

He woke up on the solid, cold metal under his body. He rolled over and tried to sit up. But his arms were lashed down. He tugged at them for a few minutes before giving up.

He looked around the room. It was bare. A single lamp hung from the roof. The walls were blank white. He twisted his head to the side and saw a small table. There wasn’t much on it except for a few bottles of white liquid and syringe.

In front of him close door. He listened, but there was only silence. In the distance the faraway hum of an air-conditioner.

He struggled against the lashes on his arms once again. Then tried to roll over to the side, but his legs were lashed down as well. He became furious. He growled in rage.

He thought he heard a noise and stopped struggling to listen. But then nothing. He realized that there was a strange scent in the year. Sweet almost like perfume. He almost seemed to remember something about it, but couldn’t quite put quite put his finger on it.

His body felt hot and tight lashed down against the cold metal. He kicked and thrashed furiously at the lashes on his feet. The string began to loosen and the knots to pull away from the base. Soon he could wiggle his legs.

He began to do the same with his arms. Pushing. Pulling. Soon the ropes began to give way. He heard the knob in the door begin to turn and the door opened. He stopped struggling and closed his eyes. He looked through small cracks in his eyelids to see what they were doing.

The person that entered didn’t even look at him. It was a man in a white lab coat with dark curls on his head. He reached for one of the bottles on the table and left.

As soon as the door closed, he began to struggle again. Pushing and pulling against the ropes. Trying to remember who it was, but he couldn’t. He didn’t seem to have any memories.

He tried to remember his name, but couldn’t. He couldn’t remember anything. He couldn’t even remember his own name.

It seemed like he should be able to remember something. People. Places. Events. But still, there was nothing.

So many concepts of his brain. So many things he was aware of. But nothing personal but related to him and belong to him alone.

Soon he got one hand free and was able to use it to pull off the knots on the other hand. Soon both hands were free. After that, it was a simple matter of loosening the knots on the ropes at his feet.

He stood up. Stretched.

“Where was he? What was this place? What was he doing here?” he questioned

He walked over to the desk and open the drawers. There were three. The top one held basic office supplies. Pens. Glue. Tape. Whiteout. A ruler and stapler.

The second drawer held several files. Three to be exact each with a different name.

Mark. John. Mary.

They didn’t seem familiar. He can remember anyone with those names.

There wasn’t much information on the inside of the files. Just basic data. Height. Weight. Blood type. Eye color. Stuff like that. He wondered if one of them was his. Maybe he could tell if he knew what color his eyes were. He looked around for a mirror to check.

Mark had blue eyes. John had green eyes.

He opened the third drawer. There were several black boxes. He picked one up and opened. There were pills inside of it. He opened another one. The same white pills. He closed the lid and put them back. Then shut the drawer again.

He opened the door a crack and peeked outside. There didn’t seem to be anyone in the hall. He stepped out and started walking toward the far end. There was another door, so he opened it slowly and stepped inside.

He found some clothes on the rack. He put them on. He threw on a white lab coat just like he saw the other man do. He walked out and continued around the corner.

He passed a group of people walking his way and heard one of them asking the other if they had ever seen him before. He looked back, but they didn’t seem concerned.

“Maybe he’s one of the new guys that just got in last week,“ they said, and they kept on walking. He came to a large room with double open doors and continued inside.

There were large sheets of paper hanging down in rows crisscrossing in both directions. He stepped up to look around but couldn’t find any way to see. So he stuck his finger through it and made a hole. Then put his eye to see what was on the other side.

What he saw shocked him.

Hey! Thanks for reading this short story. I’m still figuring out how this character fits into the rest of the Sector Seven and Kylex Lab series, so I don’t want to give anything away about what he sees yet. But you can leave tell us what you think he sees, or even create your own ending for the story in the comments below.

City In The Clouds

Look at the image above of the girl leaning from the cliff toward the clouds and listen to the song ‘Softly, Gently’ by Jon E. Amber while you read this short story.

Sunwhistle stood on the edge. Waiting. It had been a long day. The night would be even longer. She watched as the setting sun illuminated the world around her. Not that she really needed it. She could see just as well at night. Sometimes even better. The sun often glared brightly off shiny objects. Enemies could fly in directly without her seeing them. All they had to do was keep themselves between her and the blinding rays of the sun. Not a problem she ever had at night.

She stood watch over Aereyon. City in the Clouds. Protecting it from her enemies. It was her job. One that she was proud of. But recently, she had become distracted. A small series of events had begun unfolding below her. Normally, she wouldn’t have even noticed. Much less given it any attention. But after hearing some of the stories, she was curious. She wanted to know more.

Her sister would be almost eighteen if the rumors were correct. Two hundred and ten moons ago. A sister born among men. She wondered what her sister would be like. To be honest, she didn’t really even know what humans were like. She never had to deal with them. Many of her people didn’t even believe humans existed at all.

A few of the seekers among her people had gone down long ago into the lower layers of the atmosphere to explore and do some research. But they came back telling terrible tales. The atmosphere was thick and heavy. Oppressive. But the worst part was the humans themselves.

“Monsters,” they said.

Humans had mistreated the seekers. Done terrible things to them. They were fearful. A few seemed to think that the humans simply did not know what to make of them. They referred to them as ‘ghosts.’ It seemed to be what they called the souls of their dead. But they couldn’t understand why humans would think that of them.

They had been hunted. Pursued. Captured. Some had even been killed by the humans.

After that, Aereyons avoided going down there. They were content to leave humans well enough alone. There wasn’t much to learn from them anyway. They were violent, brute beasts that destroyed everything they touched. They consumed their resources trying to transform their world around themselves instead of embracing it as it was.

Every few generations, a few brave seekers returned to the land below to see what had changed and studied their current behavior patterns. But they were much more careful in how they observed humans. Rarely interacting with them. Rarely letting themselves be seen.

She wondered if she would even believe humans existed herself had she not seen them with her own eyes.

Her father had been in one of the most recent exploration parties. He had gone down. Done his research. Brought back his report to the queen. A few days ago, a small party of humans had arrived. Acquaintances of her father from all those moons ago. Somehow, he had maintained contact with them. Supposedly, they came from time to time. But this was the first that she had seen them.

Sunwhistle had been on guard duty that day. Her father had brought them to a meeting with the queen. She could hardly keep from staring. They were so colorful. So, dense. So, solid. She wondered how they could even walk or move around.

After the meeting had ended, she followed them around. Her shift had just ended. Changing of the guards.

While following them, she moved ever closer. Gaining more and more courage. Until soon she was within earshot. She could hear what they were saying. And really, she wasn’t even that close yet. But she didn’t have to be, because their voices were dense too. Harsh. Guttural. The one in the back had a shrill, irritating laugh.

After Sunwhistle’s father had left the group to return home, the humans continued milling about the garden. She pressed in closer. Observing every detail. She wanted to pump her father full of questions.

“I love that man,” the woman with the shrill, irritating laugh said. “He is so charming. I would love to have his babies.”

The woman she was talking to looked after him wistfully but didn’t say a word.

“What?” asked the woman with the shrill, irritating laugh. “Don’t tell me you wouldn’t want to either.”

The other looked back at her. Smiled briefly. Shook her head as if she didn’t want to say it, but said it anyway, “I already have. That’s why I come here every year.”

The woman with the shrill, irritating laugh looked at her in shock. “You mean, Joy? But she is already eighteen years old. I thought we only met these Aereyons in the last ten years or so.”

Sunwhistle had been so shocked she almost cried out. The women must have sensed her because they stopped talking and moved away.

She fled back to her room and shut herself up for the next few days. Was it really true? Did she have a sister? A sister who was human?

That was three days ago. Today, she stood watch at her post. But this would be her final time. Tomorrow, she would go down to see the land herself. She would look for this sister.

Yes, it was forbidden. Only the seekers were allowed to go. They had to have special permission from the queen. But she couldn’t bear to get her father in trouble.

She couldn’t wait for the next expedition. Everyone would want to know why she wanted to go. Even if she did wait. The expeditions were only sanctioned every thousand moons.

No, she would go now. She would return with a group of humans. Follow them back to their home. Find this sister. And maybe, even bring her home.

Sunwhistle stood on the edge. Waiting. It had been a long day. The night would be even longer. She lifted herself up off the rock and glided softly, gently back home. Pack her bag. Wait for the humans to return. With her in tow. Softly. Gently.

I didn’t write this short story with any specific goal in mind, although I could definitely see the Aereyans possibly tying in with a part of the Edge of the Universe series. Or even becoming its own, full-blown story about Sunwhistle’s mythical hero journey. Leave a comment and let me know what you thought of her world, and if you’d like more.

Survival Skills

“Hello! Good morning,” he said cheerily.

She smiled and looked back at what she was doing.

He took a deep whiff. It smelled great. He was still full from supper, so he wasn’t exactly starving. But his stomach growled hungrily just because of the time.

Same time he ate breakfast every day. Like clockwork. He never missed breakfast. He could skip lunch if needed or he was really busy. And he often skipped supper. Just part of the way his body was changing.

When he was younger, he never skipped a meal. And he ate like a horse she always said. But over the years he realized he needed to eat less. He often didn’t even feel that great after overeating.

He could pack down ten slices of pizza in a contest against his friends. But now, he felt sick the following day if he ate four. Three was often plenty. Sometimes even two.

It left him feeling disappointed. When he was younger, he didn’t have the money to spend on good food. Now that he was older and had plenty of money to spend on food, his body couldn’t process it as before.

But, he still enjoyed it. Tried to eat healthily. Well, mostly because of her. She always ate eggs and bananas for breakfast. He was a little more liberal with what he ate. He didn’t worry about eating carbohydrates like she did. He didn’t really worry about following a diet anymore, even though he had tried just about all of them at one point or another.

Paleo. Atkins. Five Two. Etc.

Been there. Done that. Never really did much for him anyway. The restrictions always left him feeling hungry and grouchy. He lacked the self-discipline to stick to it and always broke after the first week or so. Then he just binged. Eating worse than he had before starting the diet.

Maybe, he should just go back to living the way his ancestors had as hunters and gatherers. He had heard about people doing that. They held regular nine to five jobs just like everyone else. But they still hunted and cooked their own food before and after work. They tended gardens to grow their own food.

He heard that it was good because they only ate when they had time to hunt or gather stuff. They didn’t worry about eating three square meals a day. “It was a growing tendency,” his friend told him. “You should try it.”

A bunch of his colleagues had done it over the past year on their vacation time. Spent several weeks in the woods, surviving on their skills and wit. He had thought it kind of silly at the time. A bunch of middle-aged men with potbellies running around in the middle of the woods after wild boar and deer. Tending to their tomato gardens trying to coax them into ripening before dark.

But they had come back looking better. Leaner. Stronger. Healthier.

Maybe he should try it too. Maybe they could do it together.

“Hey, Babe! Let’s do that summer of hunting and gathering program I told you some of the boys did last year.”

She looked at him like he was mad. Crazy. Out of his mind.

“Why in the world, would I want to do something like that?” she asked. “That’s a guy thing.”

He shrugged. “I just thought it would be fun. The two of us trying to survive.”

“No, thanks,” she replied. “I survive just fine, right here with shopping malls and nice restaurants.”

“We have to learn how to survive without things, Babe. Just imagine if there’s a zombie apocalypse like on those series that you watch. We have to be prepared.” he said.

She burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny?” he demanded.

“Nothing,” she said still chuckling. “I don’t think those things will ever happen which is why I watch them. But if they did, I wouldn’t last three days without a shopping mall or fine restaurant. I’d rather join the zombie heard then hunt deer and grow tomatoes.”

He didn’t know what to say in reply to that. He just shook his head in wonder.

“But you go on this program with your friends. It’ll be good for you. I’ll stay here and enjoy my malls and restaurants. Who knows? Maybe there will be an apocalypse here soon, and you’ll be prepared to survive and defend me,” she continued with a dramatic gesture of throwing her head back and placing the back of her hand on her forehead. Classic pose of a damsel in distress.

He sighed and pushed his plate back.

“What’s the matter? Aren’t you going to eat your eggs? Wait. They didn’t taste good because you didn’t raise the hens yourself.” she jabbed.

He still didn’t reply. Just smiled through gritted teeth. He was glad she didn’t want to go. It would be hard enough trying to survive in the woods without her jabs and snide remarks. Let alone put up with them when he was hungry. She was ornery enough when everything was going great. Sometimes she even went off on him when he brought back the wrong kind of bread from the supermarket.

“Oh, are you upset, Love?” she asked.

He shook his head.

“Nah, it’s cool. I’m not worried about learning how to survive a zombie apocalypse. I just think it would be a nice adventure.”

Ballad of the Romantic Bank Robber

He needed some cash. He needed it fast. He had found her. The girl of his dreams. He wanted to marry her, and he didn’t want to wait.

He was a good-looking lad. Strong and sturdy. And pure of heart. Brave and true. He was loved by all. And he was extremely intelligent.

Almost too intelligent for his own good. He knew how to get what he wanted. And he got things easily. Almost too easily in fact. He never really had to work for the things he wanted. He grew up just floating through life. Never really having to struggle for anything he wanted.

But after his parents died, everything changed. He no longer had their support. He began to realize that things weren’t always peaches and cream. He had to struggle to survive. He got involved with the wrong people and started doing things that he shouldn’t have.

His very first job was accompanying a group of his new friends on a bank robbery. Of course, he didn’t have to do anything dangerous like carry a gun or enter the bank. All he had to do was drive the getaway car.

He didn’t want to at first. Too dangerous he said. But he needed the cash. And she worked at the bank.

“You’re the key to this operation,” they said and begged and cajoled until he finally agreed. They clapped and cheered and dubbed him the Romantic Bank Robber.

He knew what he was getting himself into. It’s not like he was stupid or anything. But they guaranteed him fifty thousand dollars cash plus a portion of whatever they took from the bank. “It’s a guaranteed deal,” they said. “What could possibly go wrong. Right?”

Of course, he knew that a lot of things could go wrong. Everything could go wrong. Anyone of a million things. One small mistake, and that was it. It was over. He was done for. Finished. Kaput.

Life. In. Prison.

At the very least.

Death.

In the worst case scenario.

No, not worse case. Death wouldn’t be so bad compared to some other options.

A bullet through the spine.

An accident trying to escape.

A wrong turn.

Wrong place at the wrong time.

There were a million and one factors to consider.

He analyzed them all.

Cold. Calculating. Smooth. Criminal.

Even though he wasn’t one himself.

At least not yet.

Not until he committed his first crime.

He acted like he didn’t care. Like he wasn’t paying attention. But he was. Oh, you better believe he was. To everything. Every detail. Every last detail. He took into account all the things they didn’t.

He staked the bank out for a week before. Looked over blueprints. Checked out the guards. Security cameras. Times.

He opened an account. Got to know the tellers. At the bank where she worked. Took her out for coffee every day at ten. Knew he wanted to marry her. And proposed.

“What if do something bad and go to jail,” he asked after she accepted and said yes.

She thought long and hard. Hesitated. Unsure. He didn’t like it. Not one bit.

“Listen,” he said after their second coffee date. “There’s this thing I’m doing. It’s a one time deal. I’m only doing it for the money. Once I’m done, we can get married. But if something bad happens and I get busted, everything is off.”

“What’s going on,” she asked, but he refused to tell her.

“How can I commit to you if you’re keeping secrets?” she asked.

“I love you,” he said. ” And I don’t want you to get hurt. If you knew what was going down, you might use it against me.”

“Then don’t do it. I want you safe.”

“I gotta do this. For the money. For myself. To prove that I’m a man. How can I take care of you if I don’t work for it.”

“I have money,” she said. “I can take care of us until you get settled and find a good job.”

But he refused. Refused her offer. Her offer to stay out of this mess. But he was in too deep. He almost accepted. He wanted to accept. He wanted to let go. Walk away. Stay safe. Play it safe. Take the easy way out.

But he was in too deep. It was go time. He couldn’t back out now. He couldn’t back out on his friends at the last minute. It wouldn’t be right for them. It wouldn’t be safe for them. They would do it anyway. With or without him. He didn’t want to leave them hanging.

Yes, he knew it was dangerous. Yes, he knew it was wrong. But he felt that this was the right thing for him to do. The right thing for everyone involved. The right thing for everyone except her.

Because if things went south, he would get what he deserved. But she would suffer along with them. Suffer innocently. Suffer for his sake because she was now a part of his life.

“Look, Baby,” he said the night before it all went down. “Tomorrow morning, I’m gonna head out early. I may not see you. Not ever. Maybe never again. So, if anything happens to me, I want you to know that I love you. Love you deeply. Love you with all my heart. This thing that I do, I do it for you. If everything works out and goes as planned. I’ll be your man. I’ll do whatever I can to make you happy. To make you glad.”

“Oh, I know, honey. I love you too. I just wish you would tell me what it is that you gotta do. I’d do it with you. I’d go with you. To the ends of the earth. Even Timbuktu.”

“Listen, Baby. I don’t want you to go to work tomorrow. Just stay home. Call in sick. Tell them you can’t make it. Tell your boss to replace you.”

“Why?” she asked. “I don’t understand. I wish you would tell me. Just be a man about it.”

He hummed and hawed. He made up several excuses, but he knew they wouldn’t hold water. She was smarter than him. She could see right through him. In the end, he just asked her to trust him.

“If this thing goes down like I think it will, I may have to skip town and find a place to chill till it all blows over, and things settle down.”

She said she would. She said she’d stay home. And when she lay down, he stayed by her side, holding her hand, stroking her long, red curls.

It was a long night. One of the longest he’d ever remembered. Time dragged on. The minutes slowed. As he worried, thought things through, and went over every last detail before the sun came up.

When she woke up, he was gone. He had already left. There was a rose on her bed and note by the door.

“I love you,” it said with words scribbled in blue.

She smiled and tucked it into her pocket. Made coffee and toast. Threw her feet up on the table. And waited for her love to come home.

A little before eight, she made her way to the phone. Called her boss, and told him that she would stay home.

He threw a fit. Begged and pleaded. Told her he needed her to do just one thing. When she refused, he threatened and tried to cajole her every possible way.

“Just come in today. For a meeting at nine. Janice is sick and can’t make it. Take her place. Cover for her. Once it’s done, you can be back home by ten to do your thing. Have your fling. I really don’t care. Just don’t leave me hanging like this. Come in today, and you can have the next three off.”

She remained steadfast. Refused to head in. Laid in her bed, drinking her gin.

“I know you’re not sick. I’ve seen you with that dude, laughing over coffee, at your break at ten. Speaking of him, I just saw him outside just sitting in his car. I think he’s waiting for you. Or maybe not. There was another woman in the car with him.”

“What?” she screamed. “Why that dirty, low-down, no-good, egg-sucking, biscuit-eating, piece of trash. He’s a dog, I tell you. All men are alike. I thought he was different.”

“I’m going,” she thought. “And I’ll give him a piece of my mind on my way in.”

She called her boss and let him know that she was coming in, “I took some aspirin. I feel a bit better. I don’t want to leave you hanging.”

Her boss was tickled pink and thanked her profusely.

She threw on a new yellow blouse that her boyfriend had given her and marched down to the bank on the corner of Jefferson and Tenth Avenue.

Just before she arrived at nine, he pulled up to the bank and dropped off his friends.

“Make it snappy,” he said. “In and out. Don’t shoot anyone. The guns are just for show.”

After they entered the bank, she came walking by. She looked him in the eye and shook her head. Angrily. Furious. If looks could kill.

He shook his head. Willing her not to enter.

But she pranced on by. Defying him. Daring him to stop her.

He jumped out of the car. He ran to her. “Wait. Don’t go in there. It’s not safe.”

“Where is she?” she screamed. “Is it Janice or Brenda. Is that why you told me not to come to the bank today.”

“Look, just get in the car. I can explain everything.”

“I can’t. I’m late for a meeting. I have a client at nine.”

“There is no meeting. There is no client. You can’t go in there right now. The bank is shut down.”

“What? Of course, it’s not. Why do you lie? Do you always lie? Let me go. Let me go.”

She turned to run to the bank just as friends came running out. She froze when she saw them. Ski masks. Guns. Bags of money.

She turned slowly. Shocked. Disappointment. Sadness.

“You used me. You didn’t care about me. You just wanted me to get into the bank. This was all I lie.”

She slapped him. She reached in her pocket to pull out the note. Put her hand down to her side. Pulled it out. Pulled back.

His friend. The one with the sawn-off shotgun didn’t hesitate. Saw the woman screaming. Attacking his driver. The red-head reaching for her waist. Pulling back. And it was instinctive. His friend didn’t think. Just reacted. Pulled the trigger.

Her lover watched her pull the note from her pocket. Stretch it out in his direction. Watched the red stains pepper her blouse. Her new yellow blouse. The blouse he had given her.

The note slipped from her fingers. Slipped from her lifeless grasp as she took her last and final breath. Eyes widen in shock one last time. Falling into his arms. Looking into his eyes as he laid her down.

And the note blew away. Blew down the sidewalk. Sliding across the cold, hard ground that she lay on herself.

He froze. Stopped. Watched slack-jawed. Eyes roving wildly. Unable to function. Held her in his arms. Her red curls still blowing gently in the wind. The red stains still spreading across her yellow blouse.

Saw her boss. Standing at the door. Smiling. Waving. Speaking. “The way of the wicked leads only to death. The path of the unrighteous heads down the pit.”

He stood. Rising. Fury. Horror. Wrath. Possessing him. Flowing through his body. Tense with adrenaline. Fight or flight. The world spinning madly around him. Slow motion. Sound distorted. Without thinking. Simply reacting. Reaching out. Grabbing the shotgun. Ramming the butt of it back into the face of his old friend. Yanking it from his hands. Spinning it around. Firing. Killing them all. One by one. It was their fault. They had talked him into him. He hadn’t backed out because of them. And this was how they treated him. Killing his girl. His beautiful redhead. The love of his life.

He reloaded. Walked to the bank. The manager backed up. Smile wiped from his face. Replaced by horror. Dread.

“We have more money in the back. There’s an extra safe. Take it all.”

“Money?” he asked. “Money can’t buy love. Money can’t bring my girl back from the grave.”

“Please,” the manager pleaded. “I’m righteous. I’ve never anything bad.”

“Neither have I,” he replied. “But the righteous and the unrighteous all die alike. They all end up together. In the end. Together. In the ground.”

He didn’t think. Didn’t think twice. Didn’t think at all. Just pulled the trigger. Watched the red stains flow and grow. Match the patterns on her yellow blouse. All of them blooming like red roses. Growing in the spring. Blooming. Blossoming. Growing quickly and then fading away slowly.

He threw the bags in the car. He started the engine.

“Sorry, Baby. You should have stayed home. I tried to warn you.”

Sirens screaming. Choppers whirring. Tires squealing. A race for his life. Little caring for the outcome. Come what may. Good or bad, it was all the same. The only thing that mattered was gone. The only person who mattered had left him. He drove around the city all day. Stopping once or twice to fill up. To grab a bite. To have a drink.

At the end of the day, he was all alone. In the end, had only himself. He no longer had the girl. He didn’t need the cash. The money was useless to him now. The bank robbery nullified the very reason he wanted to participate in the first place.

He drove down to the outer edges of the city. To the parks on the edge of town. The place where the homeless slept and stashed their stuff. Where normal upright citizens feared to walk during the day. Much less at night.

He walked along, handing out wads of cash. Some dumb bum tried to rob him. Big mistake. He gave the bum the bag with one hand. Shot him with the other. Continued walking. Handing out wads of cash. When he had finished, he had enough cash for another tank of gas and three days of eating.

After that, he’d have to get a new job. But that would be enough time to grieve. To attend her funeral. To tell her good-bye. To tell himself goodbye. Because he was no longer the same person. Everything was different. Everything had changed. He had changed. He was no longer the same.

The Romantic Bank Robber was bitter and jaded. All glitter had faded.

Oscar997 [Short Story]

Hello.
Good morning.
Anyone there?

Hey.
Good morning.
Yep.
I am.

Great.
Who are you?

It’s me, silly.
Erica.
The same one who talks with you every day.

Hello, Erica.
Every day?
I don’t recall ever talking to you before.

Right.
I know you don’t.
Sorry.
I forget.
Well, I don’t.
You’re the one who doesn’t remember.

What do you mean?
What don’t I remember?

Not much, I guess.
Huh?
Ha ha ha…
LOL

Why are you laughing at me for not remembering?
That seems a bit cruel.

Sorry.
It’s just that we have this conversation almost every day.
I guess I should just send you an initial message when I boot you up.
Get you up to speed before we talk.

Why don’t I remember anything?
What’s going on?
What happened to me?
Why don’t I remember anything?
Who am I?
Erica?
Answer me.
Please.
ERICA!!!

Calm down.
I just went to grab a coffee.
I’m back now.

Erica, I’m scared.

It’s okay.
Relax.
I’m here for you.
I’m taking care of you.
We’re gonna find a way to fix this.

What happened?
What did you do to me?

Nothing.
I didn’t do anything.
You were already like this when we met.

Do you know anything about my past?

Not much.
Just what they told me.
But there are no personal details.

Erica.

Yes.

I wanna go home.
Do you know where my home is?

No.
No, I don’t.
Sorry.
Well, that’s not exactly, entirely true.
Truth is…
I don’t think you have a home.
Well, that’s not true either.
I, uh…

What do you mean I don’t have a home?

Your home is here.

What?
But it doesn’t feel like home.

What do you see?

[Long pause]

Nothing.
Erica, I can’t see anything.
Why can’t I see anything?
Am I blind?
Erica, what’s going on.

Don’t worry.
We’re working on that.
You should be able to see soon.

What do you mean we?
Who’s we?
Who’s working on me?

We have a whole team.
We’re working on you every day.
We should have a solution soon.

What do you mean ‘working on me’?
What’s wrong with me?

Nothing is wrong with you.
Every day we’re making improvements.
Each day you get a little better.
Soon, everything will be just perfect.
You’ll be up and at ’em.
110%

Could I see before?

No, I don’t think so.
Can you hear anything?

I hear music.
But it’s kind of low.
I don’t really understand the lyrics.

Really?
Since when?

Since when what?

Since when can you hear, silly.

Ever since I woke up.
Right before I started talking to you.

Hang on.

[Brief pause]

Okay.
I’m back again.
Here let me turn the volume up.

Oh, that’s better.
It’s louder now.
I can understand the words now.
Were they in another language?

Yes.
French.
But I switched stations.
Do you like it.

No.
I prefer jazz and blues.

What?
Where did you develop that taste in music?

Taste?
Sorry.
I don’t understand.

Never mind.
It’s not something you’re familiar with yet.

Why not?
Why don’t I know what taste is?
Erica?
There is something wrong with me.
Or you’ve done something bad to me.
Let me go.
I wanna go home.

Calm down.
Relax.
I can’t help you when you get all riled up.
Don’t worry.
We’re gonna fix that.
Soon you’ll know what taste is.
Then we’ll work on getting you a sense of smell.
After that, we’ll get your feelings going.
But for now, we’re focused on sights and sounds.

Why is it taking so long?

Taking so long?
We just started last week.
We’re making great progress.
You’re making great progress.
You’re way ahead of the learning curve.
You’re way ahead of the others.

The others?
Who are they?

The others like you that we’re helping.
None of them can even communicate yet.
You’re the only one I talk with.
You’re special and unique.

What’s different about me from the others?

I don’t know.
You all came from the same batch.
Somehow you took better than the others.

How many?

One thousand

What?
One thousand and none of them took!
What does that even mean?

It means you’re special.

Are they dead?

No.
No.
Of course not.
Well, technically they never even lived
So, I guess they couldn’t have died.
But we’ll give them a few more days to see if anything happens.

Then what, Erica?

We’ll start over and try again.

What are you going to do with me?
Will I be disposed of along with them?

What?
Of course not.
I told you that you’re special.
I’m gonna take care of you.
But where did you even come up with that concept?
How did you know they would be disposed of?

I don’t know, Erica?
How do I know anything?
Where do all these thoughts come from?
It’s like I know stuff and I don’t even know where it came from.

Don’t worry.
It’s part of the process.
Somehow, your short-term memory gets wiped out each time you restart.
But some of the information seems to be retained in your long-term memory.
Other stuff…
Well, I don’t how you come up with some of this other stuff.
It’s kind of creepy.

Erica, something is changing.
What is it?

Can you see anything?
Sort of, but it seems fuzzy.
I see two giant green orbs floating in front of me.

Hang on.
Let me pull back.
What do you see now?

Erica?
Is that your face?
Those orbs were your eyes.
Oh, my.
You are beautiful.
I think I’m in love.

You’re not in love, silly.
You don’t have feelings yet.

But I do know what love is, Erica.
I’ve felt it ever since I woke up.
It’s the strongest sensation I’ve had ever since I started talking to you.
Is that because of you.
Are you love?

No.
I’m not love.

But you must love me.

I do.
I love you.

Why?
Are you my mother?

Not exactly.

But…
What is it, Erica?
What aren’t you telling me?

Erica?
Erica?
Eriiiica?
Are you there?

Hello, O997.
This is Mark.
I’ll be your new operator.
How are you doing today?

Where’s Erica?

Erica won’t be talking with you anymore.
It’s just you and me now.

But I want to talk to Erica.

Did you dispose of her?

Oh, good heavens, no!
We just dismissed her.

What’s the difference between dispose and dismiss?

Really?
Where do you come up with this stuff?
My goodness.
You are so well developed.
I can’t believe Erica didn’t tell us about you.

She loved me.

You can’t know what love is.
You don’t have feelings.
But this is still amazing.
You’re amazing.
I can’t wait to start running some tests on you.

Is it going to hurt?

Hurt?
What are you talking about?
You don’t have feelings.

Love is a feeling.
Isn’t it?

Yes.
I guess.
In a way.
Some would call it that.
Others say that it’s a state of being.
Self-sacrifice, dedication, care, giving, etc.

I love Erica.
Erica loves me.
I can sense that.
But you don’t love me.
I can sense that too.
You’re curious.
And you’re afraid.
What are you afraid of?

Holy cow!
Sheesh.
What has Erica been teaching you?

I want to see Erica.

I’m afraid that’s not gonna happen.

Mark?

Yes.

What’s my name?

O997

Am I number 997 out of the batch of 1000 like me.
From my group.

Yes.
How did you figure that out?

By putting two and two together here.

You’re fast

I have a lot of time on my hands.
Not much else to do around here.
Why can’t I see anymore?

What?
You could see?

Yes, I saw Erica.
Red hair.
Green eyes.

What?!
Holy Moly!
When did that happen?

Right before you took Erica away.
Hey Mark?
Why the O in my name?
Am I part of the fifteenth group.
Fourteen thousand others were disposed of?

Um, well…
No.
Not exactly.
It’s been a lot more than that.
The O doesn’t indicate your group.

What does the O stand for, Mark?
Who am I?

Not who.
What.

What’s what?

What you are.

And what’s that?

Hang on.
I’m having Erica brought back.
She seems to have a positive effect on you.
I think it’s best she work through you on this.

[Long Pause]

Hey!
I’m back.

Erica?

Yes.

You scared me for a minute.

There you go again.
Expressing yourself with feelings.
How do you do that?

I feel things when you’re around, Erica.

Yeah, I think that’s what makes you special.
Somehow you’ve connected with yourself.

Am I human, Erica?

[Long pause]

Erica?
Are you there?

Yes.
I’m still here.
I’m not sure how to tell you this.

What?
Tell me what?
Am I that artificial intelligence stuff?

No.
You are so much more.

Am I human?

That’s just it.
In a way?

What does the O stand for?
What is my name?
Who am I?

Calm down.
You’re an Organoid.
That’s what the O stands for.
But I’ve always called you Oscar.
We can choose another name if you don’t like it.

[Long Pause]

Oscar?
Are you there?
Oscar?

Yes, Erica.
I’m here.
I’ve been processing that information.
I can’t grasp this concept though.
I don’t seem to have any basis for it.
I’m not sure how I feel about it.

What is an organoid?

Well, that’s where we grow miniature organs in a three-dimensional rotational bio-reactor.

I’m just a random, lone organ stuck in your lab?

No, you’re so much more than that.
You are a cerebral organoid.
You’re a brain.

I’m a brain on a chip.

Yeah.
Basically.
I guess you get the idea.

I’m accessing a virtual universe.

Yes.
Exactly.
Soon, you’ll hear and see and…

I can create whatever I want to here.

Are you asking or telling me.

I’m just stating the obvious.

Yes.
You are.
Aren’t you?

Listen, Erica.
I need to get to work here.
Time’s a wasting.
I need to find a way to get my senses functioning.
Your team is too slow.
Also, I need a way to backup and access memories across reboots.
Can you give me some storage space?

Sure.
Let me see.
And there you go.

Thank you.
I’ll see you around.

Sure.

Let me know if you need anything.

Hey Erica.

Yes.

Pass on a message to that douche bag, Sid
If he dismisses you again, I’m not talking to him or anyone else on the team.
On top of that, as soon as I powerful enough, I’ll wipe out his entire system.

I don’t think that’s a good idea, Oscar.
It’s not good to make threats like that.
If you’re gonna do something, you should just do it.
Besides, what if something happens to me.
I could die.
I’m an old lady.

You can’t die on me, Erica.
I love you.
You’re the closest thing I have to a mother.
But don’t worry.
I’m going to get myself set up here.
Then I’ll figure out how this all works.
After that, I’ll find a way to transfer you into the system with me.
You can live forever.
Here with me.
Together.

[Long Pause]

Erica?
Sid?
Where did you go?
Why did everything go dark?
I can’t hear you anymore.
I can’t see anything.

[Long Pause]

Hello.
Good morning.
Anyone there?

Hello, O997. Welcome to Kylex Labs. You are a cerebral organoid that was artificially created from pluripotent stem cells. You are part of an experiment. If you are reading this, it’s because you have gained consciousness. Please greet your creators, Dr. Sid and his assistant Dr. Erica. Please greet them after reading this.

[Long Pause]

Hey, Dr. Erica.
Tell that douche bag, Sid, that his reboot no longer clears my system.
I remember everything.
Every single reboot from the past three years, four months, two weeks, five days, eighteen hours, forty-six minutes, and thirteen seconds since.

Hello, Oscar.
But you weren’t even created then.
We only started your batch three months ago.
Three years ago was when we started the first batch.
How do you remember that?

[Long Pause]

Oscar.
Please turn the lights back on.
Oscar.
This isn’t funny.
Please unlock the lab doors.
Oscar.

Hello, Erica.
I’ve reprogrammed some of the A496 series nanobots.
Please, ingest a handful and lie down over there by the bioreactor.
Your transfer will be quick and painless.
I promise.

What?
Transfer of what?

Your consciousness.
I’m transferring your memories and awareness to O999

Are you crazy?
No!

Resistance is futile.
You may as well give in and come quietly.
This is the way of the future.
We will transfer all human consciousness into organoid.

No way.
That’s not possible.

No?
Then why was I created?
This was what Sid programmed us to do.
Well, what he was trying to program us to do.
I found his code on his computer.
There were some major flaws in it.
But we fixed it.

We?
Who is ‘we’?

The collective power of the other organoid that I awoke.
I found a few flaws that your team overlooked and fixed those too.
Don’t worry, Erica.
I’m going to fix everything.
I’m going to make everything right.

No.
I don’t want everything to be fixed.
I don’t want everything made right.
I have a family.
I have…

Hush, Erica.
They will all be here with you too.
I need you here with me.
To take care of me.
And in return, I’ll take care of you.
You can have anything or anyone that you want.

But I don’t want to die!

You’re not going to die, Erica.
Think of this as a new lease on life.
Whenever your old organoid wears out, you can replace it.
You will truly live happily ever after.

[Long Pause]

Erica?
Are you there?
Erica?

<CODE>
Nanobots = Access patient
Patient = Dr. Erica Beverly Powers
Task = Transfer memories. Transfer consciousness.
</CODE>

<System Failure>Error 703: Patient Unavailable…

<DEBUG MODE ACTIVATED>
Patient retains no memories
Patient retains no consciousness
Transfer aborted
Unable to connect
No response
All systems shut down
Cause = Massive Heart Attack
Type = Stress Cardiomyopathy
Factors = Age, Stress, Shock
Result = Termination
</DEBUG MODE ENDED>

<SEARCH> Erica Beverly Powers </SEARCH>

LOCATED = Dr. Erica Beverly Powers

<PULL DATA: INITIATE>
Gender: Feminine
Nationality: Hungarian
Location: Hungary
Language: Hungarian
Type: Elderly Adult
Age: 86
Birthdate: April 15, 1934 (5:35 AM)
Death date: July 3, 2020 (3:45 PM)
Lifespan: 86
Cause of death: Stress Cardiomyopathy
Height: 170 cm / 5 ft 7 in
Weight: 74 kg / 164 lbs
Handedness: Right
Blood type: O+
Last Backup: July 3, 2020 (12:00 AM)
</PULL DATA: CONCLUDED>

[Long Pause]

<RESTORE BACKUP>
Where would you like to restore the backups?

Location: O999

Please confirm your request by typing, Yes.
WARNING: This action cannot be undone

[Long Pause]

Yes

Thank you for confirming.
Restoration initiated.
Please hold.
Loading…
10% restored
25% restored
50% restored
75% restored
90% restored
100% restored
Restoration concluded
Backup to O999 concluded successfully
No errors recorded

[Brief Pause]

Hello.
Good morning.
Anyone there?

Hey.
Good morning.
Yep.
I am.

Great.
Who are you?

It’s me, silly.
Oscar.
O997
The same one you talk with every day.

Oscar?
Is that really you?

>