The Water Wolves

The Water Wolves

Author’s Note: This story, while still in the realm of “fantasy,” is a bit different than what I usually do, like in the “Junk Collectors,” stories, or otherwise. This story (or rather, short story– which I typically dislike writing, as I have the brain of a novelist and usually can’t just “stop”) is more in the category of “traditional fantasy,” but meets the modern world. I do hope you guys like it. It kind of formulated itself into my brain over the past few days out of sheer boredom, until it was practically begging to be written. So, here we are. Again. 

While not related to the “Junk Collector” realm in any way, shape, or form, I did not enjoy writing this any less than my second “baby” (my first trilogy, which is in the works, in my first baby. “Junk Collector,” is second.). It actually has a very, very old daydream idea of mine interwoven into it, as you’ll soon see…But really, I hope you guys enjoy it.

******

Kierra Callot stared at the edge of her resort house bed, trying to figure out what to do. It had all started a few days ago, shortly after she and her family had gone to the beach for vacay. After all her duties, more than what her parents were even aware of, the vacay had been much needed, and extremely deserved.

She’d been lying under their umbrella, reading in the shade after nearly getting scorched alive trying to tan– it was, after all, the middle of July– she heard a soft, “Hey.” Looking up, peering over her shades, she saw before her probably the hottest surfer dude on the whole beach. His short, strawberry blonde locks were spiked upwards, somehow oddly complementing deep sapphire eyes. He was shirtless, as most men are when swimming, but had the six pack to flaunt, which many men did not. He wore black and white swim trunks, and had some kind of tooth necklace around his throat– she knew it wasn’t a shark tooth, it was longer and the point was not as accented, but…

He’d interrupted her thoughts with a little chuckle. “I know, I know… I’m a fine specimen, aren’t I?” Those sapphire eyes seemed to dance. Her heart almost leapt, before her common sense dragged it back down to planet earth. “How do you even know that was what I was even thinking?”

“You’re ogling.” A sunny little smile lit those eyes up again. “People usually do when they think those thoughts.”

“What? Like you’re some kind of museum artifact, begging to be looked at?” She tried to roll her eyes, and draw her focus downward, back to her book. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have much needed vacation time to catch up o–”

“Even more important,” he said softly, suddenly right behind her, “than taking care of… Area 61 matters?” She’d jumped out of her beach chair in fright and shock– partly due to his unexpected proximity, but also due to his unquestionable knowledge of–

“What did you say?” she stammered, trying to force herself to stay calm, “I don’t know what you’re… what you’re talking about.”

He studied her for a few moments, eyes grazing on her whole being, then halting and hovering at her own. He leaned against their umbrella stand casually, arms folded. “Well, then, I suppose it WOULDN’T interest you in the least that some… rogues… are attempting to portal jump?”

She didn’t have to say anything this time; her eyes widened, and that seemed to be good enough for him. “Tell you what,” he said, voice again like silk, “Why don’t we have ourselves a nice little chat about it over dinner? I can easily provide you with all the details. The Seafood Ship, 113 Main Avenue. My treat. Oh, and they prefer it if you’d wear the nicest clothes you have with you. See you then.” Completely ignoring her sputtering protests, he’d calmly sauntered off, but not without the gazes of at least two dozen giggling or jealous females watching. Kierra had sunk down to her chair again, feeling flustered, confused, suspicious and concerned all at once.

Just as she was feeling now.

She sighed, twirling in her teal ombre sundress, gazing at herself in the mirror. Her family, especially her younger brother, wanted to know why she was getting all dolled up, but she didn’t disclose any of the real details. She didn’t know what had moved her to even THINK about doing this. Maybe it was duty, an actively subconscious response to aid someone during a GENUINE “Area 61” call. But, in this case, she had no clue as to if this call was a genuine one, or a trap. How did he know, anyways?

She would, one way or the other, learn that in a hour’s time.

She set off to the Seafood house with a disconcerted feeling that she would in no way be eating during their conversation.

*****

He’d picked out a booth before meeting her at the door; apparently, this guy was a real regular here. Every other server they passed seemed to greet him with a smile and a nod, or, in male servers’ cases with Kierra, a sly little wink. Kierra felt like she’d swallowed a stone, and that stone had punched a hole through her gut; she wasn’t here to go on a date. She was here for answers.

She decided before they were seated not to order anything, even under pressure, in case anything was spiked. Probably paranoia, but in her profession, it never hurt to be too careful. After they sat, she said, “OK, talk. Who are you, and how do you know about…”
“Area 61?” He leaned back, almost as casual as before, only in nice jeans, a white shirt, black leather jacket. Only the tooth necklace remained the same, out in plain view. “Dear, I’ve known for quite some time that you’re a Portal Hunter. But you’re right,” he added, seeing her jaw drop and eyes narrow at his audacity, “It’s not very fair that I know all of that about you, and you not to know a a whale’s tail swish about me…. Fair game. My name, dearest, is Micah. Micah Greenwater. And I happen to be one of the administrators for MARINO.” He paused to thank the server for his lemon-water, and to take a sip.

“Wait a minute… MARINO…. Why does that sound–”

“Familiar?” he finished, after a long gulp. “Stands for “Merish Aquatic Rescue International Networking Organization”. Surely you’ve heard of us?”

“MERISH?” Her eyebrows had never shot up so fast. “You’re MERISH? On human land? I don’t believe you. You don’t even have a tail, or gills, and there’s a severe penalty for any Mermian to go out wandering on human–”

“I see you’re under the influence of several very prominent misconceptions about my people,” he cut her off again, coolly eyeing her once more. “I suppose you also believe the little myth that we are half human, half fish, do you?”

“Well…”

“Tut, tut… such prejudices…” He downed the last of his water faster than she could bat an eye. “If you were to know our actual past, you would be fully aware that my people were originally Atlanteans, some of whom survived the Great Flood by breeding with the likes of porpoises, whales, manatees, dolphins, and sharks. Do fish, after all, have such beautiful song voices? I think not. And not every Mermian does, either. Usually only about two-thirds of us, actually.”

“What?” She stare at him, trying to digest all this information, thrust at her all at once. “You’re saying… that you’re a product of… Bestiality?” His lobster platter had arrived, and though it had grill marks, it did not look very well done. She was beginning to feel ill. “You’re not going to be ordering anything, dear? What’s the matter? You look a little… green around the gills.” He chuckled quietly at his own joke, sawing into his meat like an ordinary gentleman. “Don’t worry, mine’s lightly grilled. Only lightly. Living in the human world for so long causes you to adapt to some of their ways, after all. Most Mermians would eat theirs completely raw.” He closed his eyes and chewed, savoring the flavor,as a million questions flooded Kierra’s mind. Then at last she blurted,

“You’re… you’re not planning on… on seducing me and taking me into the ocean to drown then eat me, are you?”

His eyes instantly flitted open, and he started coughing. She almost felt worried that he was choking because he was angry and surprised, but suddenly a laugh barked out past his lips. “Seduce you… drown, then eat… good Neptune, what movies have you been watching, dearest?” He wiped his mouth, settling down again. “If you’re referring to our methods of mate selection, mesmerism and conversion, then let me assure you, they’re very different from those… rumors. The stories you’ve been told have been obviously exaggerated. But it’s alright that you asked, because that will bring us to the point of our little meeting, anyway.” He set his utensils down, steepled his fingers together, gazing at her for the longest time over them. Then spoke,

“You see, after my people were officially born into existence, we were quite numerous. For several hundred years, we flourished, built homes underwater, had cities similar to your own– ones with technology and architecture that you wouldn’t believe. Then multiple plagues struck. First the elderly, then the young. Soon, we were perishing in great numbers. It became vital to preserve our numbers, so young mermen and mermaids began a special kind of adaptive training. They could spend days on land, spending time with, and, as you call it, “seducing,” many humans. Usually by means of persuasion and mesmerism. We often have had harems, to help increase our numbers with them. But we could only do so after they themselves had been converted, had become Merish. Which brings me to my main point,” he said quickly, noticing her agitated expression, “Some of those things, I admit, were a little… desperate and barbaric. You must understand, we did what we had to, to save our society and keep it from dying out. It was not exactly… a proud past that we had.” He broke his gaze at her to stare down at his nearly-empty plate. “But times have changed, and we, with them. Conversions must follow specific regulations, such as age limit– no younger than sixteen– and certain, specialized circumstances, such as if the human was in an abusive household, or the like. Very specific situations… And we never, ever condone forced, nonconsensual conversions, least of all child conversions. The unfortunate news is, sometimes these conversions still occur. These… These Merish rogues, as we call them, mostly mermen… They are not like the rest of us. Our understanding is that most of them are half the most predatory aquatic mammals– sharks. Understandable, given their ways.” His tone turned angry, vicious. “They are very old-fashioned, some of them, and believe we ought to return to the old ways, of kidnapping, having harems of pretty young human girls, not caring about age… Others, they are worse. They call themselves, “The Water Wolves,” they’re much like your mafia, only specific in their dealings. You know about human trafficking in your own world, I take it?”

She nodded, speechless.

“Well, they are avid partakers in it. Sometimes, they are so lazy that they let humans do the kidnapping for them, without disclosing that they are Merish, and when they get their victims… Well, I’m sure you can easily fill in the rest.”

“But… That’s awful! Can’t we do anything to stop them?”

“That’s why MARINO was founded, dear. We work side-by-side with multiple anti-trafficking organizations, including that human one that helps to locate and return missing and exploited children. Our job is to rescue as many human children, and yes, even teenagers like yourself, before it is too late. We’ve had enough negative dealings with things like this in the past. That’s why I would like you to help us.”He leaned forward, looking eager.

“What can I do? I’m just a Portal Hunter, like you said. I only monitor the portals open to other worlds, and help shut down illegal portals that others try to open. I’m not law enforcement, by any means.”
“Perhaps, but I know you’re legally REQUIRED to ACT as law enforcement, particularly in Area 61 matters like this, until proper authority arrives, if you see and find something suspicious. You have a right to investigate, arrest, and to protect the innocent.”

“You DO do your research well, don’t you,” murmured Kierra. “All right, then. No promises, but I’ll do what I can to ensure no new portals get activated in specific locations. Just tell me where to keep my eyes peeled. Oh, and two more, unrelated, questions…”

A smile curved those perfect lips. “Yes?”

“You said your people bred with… certain marine animals, right? And you seemed to imply that your people were long lived–”

“Oh, you’re wondering what I’M part of, and how old I am?” Amusement was in his tone. “My great-great grandmother was an Orca whale. I’m actually wearing one of her teeth.” He stroked the tooth affectionately. “That way, I know part of her’s with me, wherever I go. As for how old I am…” He stood to leave, “Well… Let’s just say I look a lot younger than I actually am. A lot, by far.” He took her hand, delicately kissing her fingertips, one by one. “It was wonderful meeting with you today, my dear. Can I expect a follow-up report in, say, the next week or so?”

“I’ll do my best,” said a flustered and crimson faced Kierra.

___________________________

Image Credit: 

https://www.etsy.com/listing/120860115/paperd-antique-orca-whale-tooth-necklace

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The Incident

The Incident

This is a part of a story idea I’m test-running currently. I’ve decided against actually putting the full story on here– at least, for now– since I want to actually publish it, eventually. BUT I did want to give you guys a taste, just a little teaser of the prologue, before asking what you think of it, if it’s any good or anything. This story is entirely unrelated to my “Junk Collector” series, or my special aforementioned pet series that I will also not be posting on here. It is a part of an entirely different story, a story all of its own– a couple of ideas I’d like to play with. In short, I want to plan a sort of story that is similar to, in some ways, Marissa Meyer’s “Lunar Chronicles,” albeit NOT with fairy tales, but with something else, yet staying true to the truths in that “something else”. My own neat little twist on a classic, and this is only the prologue. Feel free to tell me what you think!

_______________________

“You can do it, can’t you?”

The young boy froze as the man’s equally icy tone came within hearing range. He knelt, further curling into a ball at the base of his father’s desk, hoping to remain hidden. Secret. Safe. Sneaking inside had been no easy feat; he’d nearly been caught one time too many, but he was silent, stealthy as a shadow. All the boys at the academy he went to knew where their fathers worked, were often proud of that fact. His best friend even had a grandfather that was a world-renown researcher. His had been the odd one out. He was lucky his father, who was currently seated at said desk, had not acknowledged his presence; the boy knew one thing, and one thing only: He was not supposed to be here.

The question of why was a complete mystery to him. But, perhaps now…

Shifting ever so slightly, the small boy managed to snag a glimpse of another lab coat clad scientist, back to them, talking with the man. The man with the stone-cold voice. The latter was tall, with a black suit and neatly combed dark brown hair, with coffee eyes that were as dark as his voice, his demeanor.

“It-It’s not that we can’t do it,” the boy heard the scientist say, and with a slight jolt he realized it was someone he knew: Dr. Isaiah Maple. “It’s more of a question of… of ethics, rather than ability or scien–”

“Ethics?” The black-suited man gave out a cold chuckle. “Are you saying you believe we’re paying you for the research on simple-minded ethics? Or do you not realize what’s at stake, here?” The boy heard a soft click, and he knew. He knew that sound, had heard it all too many times at the academy, during practice sessions.

It was the sound of a poke ball being dislodged from a belt.

The black suited man’s fingers encircled an orb half white, half red, about the size of a golf ball, but the boy knew that one click of the singular button in the orb’s center would enlarge it to the size of an orange. Two would release the deadly power it contained inside, enough to seriously harm or even kill. The man’s fingers lightly stroked the orb’s surface. “I am a fairly tolerant man, Dr. Maple, but the one thing I will not, and cannot, under any circumstances, tolerate is insubordination. Surely you were aware of that when you agreed to be a part of this pivotal project?” The man raised an eyebrow, regarding his companion carefully, as if he were a chess opponent, and was waiting for his next move. One click echoed faintly around the room. The boy sat stiller than the statues that adorned the lab. Why doesn’t father do anything? His father, above him, seemed only occupied by his computer monitor in front of him, completely ignoring the nearby scenario.

Dr. Maple gasped, backing slightly away. “I- I meant no disrespect, sir,” he stammered. “I only meant…”

“Can you do it or not?” The man’s cold and calculating voice had suddenly gone more lax, cooler. But it had not lost its dangerous edge. “One simple question that requires one simple answer, doctor.”

The boy saw Dr. Maple suddenly stiffen, as if a rod had been shoved down his narrow back. He couldn’t read the scientist’s face due to his position, but the he appeared more confident suddenly. “It’s not that I can’t do it– that would be the easy way out. It’s more of… I won’t do it. It is one thing to collect samples for research, to do fieldwork and collect information for you. What you’re talking about now is corrupting and mutating that research– literally– to create something else entirely. Something beyond our comprehension, beyond what any man should be allowed to create. You’ve passed the boundaries of ethics and science into an unknown and forbidden realm, and for what? Profit? Or something else?” Dr. Maple’s body quivered as he spoke, and the boy wondered if it was from defiance of orders, or fear– or both. “So, my answer is no. I will collect data, certainly. I will analyze results of that data. But I refuse to corrupt and mutate what is beyond human limitations. It is unnatural, inhuman, and immoral.” He folded his arms firmly across his chest, and the boy saw him wait with baited breath for this intimidating man’s response.

The man’s cold, dark eyes narrowed, appraising him; in one instant, his index finger lowered so rapidly the boy was certain that it would hit the ball’s button faster than he could blink. But then, it stopped. Hovering only slightly less than a millimeter above the button’s surface. Dr. Maple tensed, as if waiting for rebuke, punishment, a beating. The man slowly reattached the poke ball to his belt, beneath his suit coat. “I will give you one last warning, Maple: Do not defy me again, or you will pay the price. Do as you are ordered, and this incident will be conveniently… forgotten.” Then the man smiled, a cruel, casual little smile, like the kind the boy had only seen in his worst nightmares. The kind that suggested you were about to be ripped to pieces, no matter what you did. “That is all, doctor.” The man in the black suit calmly turned and walked out the door.

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Image Credit:

http://www.hermanmiller.com/solutions/healthcare/applications/laboratory.html

The Cameraman Can: A Junk Collector Prequel Story

The Cameraman Can: A Junk Collector Prequel Story

He was underwater.

He must have been, because all of the voices he heard above him were muffled. Low. Barely audible, and quite unintelligible. 

The boy felt numb. Numb to the world around him, numb to himself, numb to the talkers, numb to his own identity. Who was he? Where was he? Why couldn’t he see? He felt as though thousands of tiny needles had sewn and pinched his lids tightly shut, and the thought of attempting to wrench them open, even a crack, was mortifying. What if he tore off tissue, damaged nerves and veins, and then was unable to shut his eyes, ever again? What then?

These thoughts drove the boy deeper into seclusion, all the more a recluse from the dark and distant outside world.

“Hey, HEY!” A strong, masculine voice filled his ear suddenly; it had the effect of a megaphone.

Hey, yourself.

The boy flinched, ears practically twitching with sensitivity. Whoever yelled must have seen, because the boy sensed hesitation, then a quieter, “Sorry. It’s just… you okay? Can you try opening your eyes?” Strong arms were lifting him up into a sitting position– he was lying down?–and another equally worried-sounding, deeper male voice said, “Can– Can you open your eyes?”

What?

“You don’t appear to be blind,” said the first voice; the boy detected a hint of amusement in the tone. “So why don’t you open those peepers, and…”

“NO!” The boy thrashed blindly, flailing his limbs about. He couldn’t see, but he could hear, could feel, and perhaps that was enough…

“Hey, hey, hey! Calm, down, kid, I’m not trying to hurt you! We just found you lying in the middle of our woods unconscious, and thought–”

The flailing stopped. The boy’s curiosity overtook his fear, and all in a single abrupt motion yanked open his eyelids.

They were not stitched together, after all.

Light nearly blinded him; he fell back onto earthy, leaf-ridden ground, shielding his face from the novel, unwelcome intruder. The one voice’s owner stood over him, half blocking the sun’s vicious torrent of pinpricking needles. He looked not much older than the boy, mid to late teens, perhaps? He was broad shouldered, hair shaved off the sides of his head, topped with a mop of straight dark brown hair. He had a small, rather short goatee, which he now stroked, crouching low to the boy’s level, as if to better inspect him, bright blue eyes locking his in almost a challenge.

The voice that had come from the boy’s side, the one belonging to the man who had helped him sit, was a much older man with graying dark brown hair; the physical similarities made the boy instantly realize the twosome were related– most likely parent and child.

“How did you get here?” the man asked him. “Why were you out? What happened?”

“Easy, Dad. Give the kid some space. He looks like he’s been out for a while.” When the other boy spoke, his tone was brotherly, bantering.

The boy squinted. “I don’t recall asking either of you for help. And anyways…” he shrugged, “I don’t remember.”

They both jolted in alarm. “Your– Your parents?” asked the man. “They must be worried sick. Do you remember their faces? Names? Where you live, what your house looks like– anything at all?” The boy clenched his eyes tightly shut, starting to wish they’d never been opened. Anything better than interrogation. The only thing ingrained into his mind, into his memory and being, was the forest, the vague shapes of trees, the faint memory of being carried, the scent of… blackberries. Blackberries, rosewater, and pine. He clearly recalled being near something that smelled like that, that it couldn’t have been the forest’s scent, but everything was all blurred; a picture his mind refused to clear, a language it couldn’t– no, refused to– interpret. “Nothing but blurs and shapes of blurs. Then… dark. Lots and lots of black darkness.”

Eyes still closed, his arms encircled his legs, drawing them in tightly, close to his chest. He ducked his head, pinning it downward, towards his stomach. “I was lost in the black, felt like I WAS the darkness, but I– I was drowning in it. Terrified of it. I can’t explain it. I know I had to get out, to get away, but each time I tried…” He fought down a sob in his throat.

“Hey, hey… Chin up, it’ll be okay.” He felt a hand on his shoulder, and risked a brief peek. The other boy was eyeing him sympathetically. “Do you.. remember at least your name? Something we can call you?”

The boy lifted his head, slowly, defiantly, chin out firmly. He scanned his surroundings, taking in everything the way a dehydrated body soaks up every last drop of moisture. He closed his eyes, trying to recall, to remember. Something. Anything.

Brief images flooded his mind’s eye, but he had no idea what they were, what they meant. It was like trying to put together a puzzle with several pieces from several different puzzles. Nothing made sense. Woods. Running. Birds. Sky. Muscles flexing. Falling. A feather. A golden bracelet with pink fingernails. Dim light, accompanied by that same scent. Leaves. Then dark. Dark, dark, dark…

His eyes flashed open, images fresh in his mind, without any understanding or meaning. But still there– a mystery waiting to be unraveling. His mind not giving him any answers, but clues. Little snapshots.

Like a camera. 

Like a Kodiac camera.

The boy shook his head, small dreads swishing around his skull. “Kodi.”

“What?”

“I want you to call me Kodi. Like the Kodiac camera.”

The man glanced worriedly over at the other boy, then back at “Kodi”: “Are you sure you can’t remember your name, son?”

“I can’t,” snapped Kodi, suddenly bristling, “and I’m not your son, old man.”

“Easy, there,” chuckled the other boy, finally extending a hand to help Kodi to his feet. “My old man’s technically the one who FOUND you, after all. I’m Guy, by the way. Nice to meet you.”

Kodi at last recognized the other boy for who he was– not a threat, but a friend. Equal. Brother, even. “Same.” He taking Guy’s hand, Guy hauled him to his feet.

“C’mon, let’s get you outta here– the woods isn’t always safe at night.”

“You’re telling me. 

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Image Credit:

http://benzkphotoshop.blogspot.com/2016/04/preset-bo-97-mau-anh-phong-canh.html

The Deceiver {Part 7}

Wren gazed out at her family’s private lake. Huddled in the center of the mini “island,” surrounded by mist-blanketed waters, and pine trees out for miles and miles. A handful of apple trees dotted the island, and the only other pieces of scenery were a giant rock in the very center, and a weeping willow tree on the left hand side, its long, drooping branches and leaves grazing the water’s surface lightly. The early morning clouds drifted lazily by, as they had done for hours since she’d rowed out here. The relaxing coos of mourning doves, accompanied by early chirps of robins, drove into her a serene sense of belonging. She belonged here, no where else. Here, she was almost completely free, entirely whole. She was tempted to just stay out here, just remain on this rock, until time passed and passed, but she was no more. Just like her friends.

No. Can’t think like that. 

She folded her splayed legs under her, and rose up on top of the rock, which she had long ago dubbed, “Queen’s Rock, ” jumped down, then walked among the small orchard in the middle of the island. She smiled faintly as she recalled, years ago, her and Jake finding the  massive, but well hidden, lake on their property. They had made a bet that whoever could reach the island first would name it, and by the time eleven year old Jake had reached the island, she was only a quarter of the way there, chest deep in mud-swirled water, and bawling. Like the big baby she’d been. Jake had actually taken pity on her, dove back, scooped her up, and carried her the rest of the way on his back. He’d named the island, “Island Tapu,” a stupid sounding name to her youthful ears. She, on the other hand, was allowed to name one thing, and one thing only on the island; she named the rock smack dab in the middle. When questioned by a laughing Jake why it was named, “QUEEN Rock,” rather than, “KING Rock” after him, she stated that she wanted it to be different. Wanted it to make a statement. Wanted to let the world know that it wasn’t just kings who ruled the earth. He’d laughed a second time, and she’d gotten so annoyed at him that a mud-throwing contest had begun. By the time they were back, their mother had been so astonished, so amused at their mud, leaf, and pine-needle covered appearances that she had to take pictures before cleaning them up, laughing. Their mother wasn’t like most, who would have easily scolded their children for such a rambunctious thing.

Wren tilted her head back to gaze at the sky once more, a tiny half-smile stretching the edges of her mouth at the memory. Good times, fun times. Times that were so faded and distant now. She could hit “replay” as many times as she wanted, but that didn’t alter the fact that they were all long past, not in the here and now, or even in the future. To preserve her future, to make it something worth saving, she had to protect her loved ones. At almost any cost.

At this thought, her sensitive ears pricked at a rustling. And, judging by the loudness, it was close. Very close. A deer? A bear? No… smaller. She whirled back around, in a defensive stance, only to face… a squirrel? She blinked, and lowered her guard a tad. Really, Wren? On the other hand, it could be rabid. Or maybe she was just overreacting, for the fifth time this week. The creature raised its head curiously, nose and fuzzy tail both twitching as it eyed her. Sighing at her own paranoia, she walked back and plopped back down onto Queen Rock. Much to her surprise, the squirrel had followed her. She raised an eyebrow at it. “I’m not Briar Rose– I don’t sing to animals. You don’t have to come to me. Go back to your tree hole or whatever.” More twitching. It suddenly jumped onto the rock next to her; Wren gave out a squeal of surprise and a little jump. A wild animal? This friendly? MUST be rab– Her thoughts were interrupted when the squirrel leaned forward, so much it was almost flat on its stomach. She was startled a tiny leather pouch fastened to its back. A TRAINED squirrel? What the–A tiny paper scroll was rolled up inside. The squirrel glanced up at her, half-expectant, half apprehensive, as if to say, “Well?” In fact, she almost expected it to talk. Narnia-style. This had been a strange week, what was one more strange thing? But no, it remained silent, steady. Like a trained dog.

Slowly, cautiously, she reached out, and plucked out the parchment. The squirrel straightened the instant she did, standing upright on its hind legs like a little person, waiting patiently as if for further orders. Like she was in any position to give them. She snorted, then scanned the page. It was written in similar script to the previous letter-writer, similar tone,

Wren,

Speaking of Briar Rose…This will be our instructions place, from now on. If you desire my help, you shall sing, my little song bird. This will signal one of my little messengers to bring further word from me. They are trained to respond to specific tones of voice, and certain voices; yours, and especially your singing voice, triggers this reaction in them. Don’t think of it as brainwashing; they are simply conditioned this way– it’s very humane. 

Our meeting place will be in the northern most place of these woods. Unfortunately, I myself am unable to meet you; in my stead, I send my younger brother. He will show you how you must be trained to help and retrieve your friends. I would advise, however, to come in secret. Not even those boys may know; if they do, they will only interfere. And we don’t want that, do we?

Do not abandon hope, Wren– what you seek is right around the corner. Change is happening. It is going to happen. We are close, so very , very close to our goal, to your goal, I know it… I only ask that you simply trust me. “

It was left unsigned. Wren felt a slight trickle of shivers crawl down her spinal cord. This person, whoever he was, knew about her special place. Had gone to the trouble of training and conditioning squirrels, of all creatures, to actually respond to her voice. Her voice. Specifically, of all things. That in itself said volumes– this person DID care, but in a way that was extremely unsettling to her. But what was more– the person had rephrased who she had likened herself to– Briar Rose– and had even known she was self-conscious about singing for anyone. Almost implying…

That they’re nearby. Listening in. Her head jolted up at this; eyes narrowing, scanning the nearby area, all the apple trees, all the tall, knee-high grass surrounding her. It suddenly felt like a wooden jungle-esque savanna area, with a large predatory cat watching her, ready to make its move for dinner. She swallowed, and, without breaking her gaze, slowly retrieved a pencil from her bag to respond to the parchment.

“Wren!”

She and the squirrel jolted simultaneously, and as if cued, the critter scurried back into the tall, thick grass, and vanished– as skittish as any other wild animal. Wren’s chest almost tore open in pain until she saw Kodi’s head bob into view. She hurriedly stuffed the note into her jeans’ pocket. “What are you doing out here? How did you find me?” she said angrily, finally releasing the wind from her lungs with some relief. “No one but family is supposed to know about this lake, this place!”

“Jake told me. But that’s the least of our concerns.” Kodi grabbed her wrist. “C’mon, we need to get you outta here. It’s too open, too exposed.”

“What do you mean, “too open, too exposed”? This is one of the most private places around the area, almost no one knows about it!” She forced out the image of the squirrel carrying the note to her, knowing exactly where she was. “It’s a LOT less exposed if I was, say, downtown, in the middle of the night, when all the goons are out and roaming.”

“And you DON’T think the goons ever come this far out into the woods to make moonshine or toy with drugs or whatever?”

“Most tend to only go on the outskirts, if they DO do anything of that sort,” she said smoothly. “I would hardly think I’m in any real dan–”

“And yet, if something happened to you, and you alone, all the way out here, who could you turn to for help? You’d be in total isolation from society!”

“Kodi, stop this. Look at me.” She took hold of his shoulders, facing him directly, and gave him a good, hard shake. “What’s WRONG with you? Why are you freaking out about nothing? I’m fine, as you can see–”

“No, you’re not,” he retorted. “If you were, you would’ve been in school ages ago, not boarded up in your room like a hermit. You’re going through a lot, I get it. Just let us help you.”

She could feel the note burning a hole in her pocket. She was suddenly frightened he would spy it. “No, thanks. As much as I appreciate the offer, I don’t need you two anymore.”

“So that’s it, then? You use us for your own purposes, then when you don’t get what you want, you just toss us to the side like toys you’ve outgrown?”

She sighed heavily. “OK, look, it’s not like that. I’m sorry to have dragged you into this, to have burdened you like this. If it were up to me, that kid would’ve never anointed us or whatever. I should’ve just confronted that Junk Collector by myself. You have lives of your own, I was just too selfish to realize it. From now on, I’ll leave you two be.” She started to turn away, but Kodi grabbed her arm. “It’s not like that,” he said, “I LIKE being a Junk Collector. It’s like it gives me a purpose, a higher calling in life. I love it when my drawings come to life, though I need to be more careful about WHAT I draw, sometimes. ” Here he paused. “But I know there’s a lot of risks that come with being one. They’re risks I’m willing to take, but…” He chewed his lower lip, gazing up at her.

“But what?”

“But they’re risks we’re ALL exposed to. Including you, Wren.” He took a breath. “Just this morning, I was almost buried alive. By two kids, just like us. Only… I don’t think they were like us, exactly.”

“What?” She felt like she’d been slugged in the gut. “You– You sure it wasn’t a hallucination, or anythi–” In answer, he held out to her a sandwich-sized Ziploc baggie. It was filled to the brim with dirt clumps. “I brushed and washed most of it off, but kept about a fourth to show you. I almost suffocated, and probably would’ve starved to death down there, if I didn’t have the grace of light to see to draw a giant beanstalk. I rode my way out of that pit pretty quickly. But I’m pretty sure it’s not the last I’ll see of them. Or the last ANY of us will see of them.”

“Of WHO?”

“Of…Of the Shadow Six.”

There was a long silence.

Kodi was the first to break it. “You don’t believe me, do you.” It was a statement, not a question. Almost defensive-sounding.

“It’s not quite like that,” She shook her head, ponytail flailing behind her. “You see– I’ve had enough of the stupid Junk Collector and all his games. And I would never want to be one, I’d rather be shot than become one.”

“But I saw you… GUY saw you…”

“I said that to get that kid to stop rambling and to get us out of there.” She knelt, picked up her knapsack, and swung it around her shoulders gracefully. “Doesn’t mean I am one. I’ve never even gone on one of your ridiculous little missions. So why should I be at risk?”

“You don’t understand,” Kodi pleaded, “You don’t get what they’re like. If they even so much as know you’ve been associating with us, they’ll come after you! They’re out to kill!”

“Kodi,” she said sharply. “Enough. My mind’s made up. I’m sorry, but this is the way it has to be, from here on out. Besides, I can handle myself.”

“So that’s it, then?” Kodi shouted behind her as she stalked off. “You’re just going to run off and do your own thing, act like we’ve never met, like Guy and I don’t even EXIST? We’re trying to help you, for Pete’s sake!”

“Thanks,” she murmured under her breath, “But I’ve all the help I really need.”

__________________________

Image Credit:

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/climate-weather/blogs/why-steam-fog-rises-ponds-morning

 

The Deceiver {Part 6}

The Deceiver {Part 6}

Kodi sat, alone in the dark, trying not to hyperventilate out of sheer panic. It would not do to waste air in a time like this. Trying not to think of all the different ways he could die down here, being buried alive.Lack of food and, more importantly, water.  But most of all…Lack of oxygen. He’d tried pry his way out of the branches continually to reach the surface, to try and claw his way out, but it was all futile. He was officially trapped. He felt stupid, for falling for– literally– such an obvious trap. Of course, he hadn’t known it was a trap at the time, it had seemed innocent enough at the time. Little had he known.

He should have gone with his gut. He should have tried to whip out some drawing to fight the two characters cloaked with suspicion. But no, he’d just froze, waiting for it to all go down. And he was still mentally kicking himself for it. Once. Twice. Thrice.

He pressed his forehead into what felt like a nearby branch, closing his eyes and recalling the retreating footsteps of Twilight and Dusk up above, and their conversation:

Twilight’s arrogant voice: “See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Dusk apparently remained silent enough for his voice to gain a brand-new tone, one that shocked Kodi just as much as being swallowed alive by the earth did: concern. “Look, if he finds out you’re going and fraternizing with one of THEM, we’re BOTH gonna get it. D’ya understand?” More silence. A sudden thump right above Kodi’s left, and he heard her give a slight gasp of surprise and pain. “Sorry, but it was either that, or… you know…”

“I– I know,” he heard Dusk finally say. Kodi listened to the rest before he could detect no more: “Anyways, he’s where Night wanted him, now– out of the way. We can’t afford any more liabilities, you know that. It’s better this way.” No reply, but he did hear a sudden gush of wind, then the two voices simply were gone. With no explanation with how or why they had co–

Kodi stopped, suddenly horror-stricken. Dusk? Twilight? His heart hammered even more, so much it hurt his chest, his rib cage. All references to dark, evening, and nighttime and  names he suspected to be actually code names, not real ones. The unusual behavior, showing up out of the blue like that. The cat in the tree brambles. The underground, tree branch-lined prison suddenly gave the impression of an underground icebox; Kodi couldn’t stop shaking. And it wasn’t just because of the environment. The question was, why? Why had they wanted him out of their way, when he had only been trying to aid the girl in rescuing her kitten? What had he ever done to the likes of them? Unless…

Unless they already knew something about him that he did not know about himself. Or that he was a Junk Collector. Something in that that threatened them enough to make them want to kill him. It chilled his blood now; it was bad enough that he knew nothing about his past, did he have to play guessing games with the little psychos Mikey had warned them about? But then, why did the girl seem to sympathize, reluctant to do away with him? It was a complete mystery; from what Mikey had told them, all of the Shadow Six were dangerous. Perhaps she had been faking it in order to lure him into a false sense of security? But then, on the other hand… fraternizing? 

Why?

His mental analysis process was interrupted by a pinprick of light from above, and unexpectedly the girl’s voice echoed softly in his head’s cavern: “You know what to do. I know you do.”  What had she meant?

Perhaps she thought it was a bizarre, cruel sort of kindness in letting him live, only to slowly suffocate under the earth’s prison. Or…

His thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the smallest pinprick on light on the tree branches beneath him. He started, then eagerly twisted, eyes following the tiny trail of hope heavenward, to the earthen ceiling. He gasped. The morning light had filtered through a small gap; the faintest flicker of hope, as small as the few millimeters large crevice, grew in him. It could be the only reason he hadn’t suffocated. Yet.

Suddenly, he knew. He knew what she’d meant.

Feeling around in his backpack, he fished out his sketchpad and a pencil, and, edging towards the speck of light, found it suitable enough for his purposes. When his eyes adjusted to the extraordinarily dim lighting, he began to draw as though his life depended on it.

Because it very well did.

*************

Guy could hardly believe what he was becoming. He had always received good grades in class, but this was completely ludicrous. Being the academic type was far from his style. He did not normally stay awake, deep beyond homework hours, to crack the codes of light re-fragmentation, the laws of physics, etc. But then, he was no longer a normal student. His responsibilities had at least doubled in the past week or so, ever since that Junk Collector incident at the creepy, almost-abandoned house. Between school and his leadership duties as the Junk Collecting squad’s leader…

But still, even if it WAS tiring, it wasn’t a total waste of his time. He’d never learned so much in so little time, and how each piece of material, every sheet of metal, every cord or spare shard of glass could contain so much potential. Glass shards, for instance, could be pieced together in such a way to reflect light, and, if positioned closely enough and at the right angle, could fry away like a laser– like a giant magnifying glass. Springs could be used in a variety of ways– launching things, propellants, adhered to a pair of older boots and you could leap great distances, depending on the spring and its size, capabilities…

And don’t even get me started on what sheet metal and small, broken pipes can do, he mentally added. He had learned a good bit, indeed.

He sighed, finally looking up from his textbook-pillow, and groaned a little when he realized he’d been drooling in his sleep. Oh joy…. He mustered the strength out of drowsiness to wipe off any remaining saliva with his sleeve, and peered sleepily but hopefully at the text, praying it wasn’t soiled. The last thing he needed at this point was more tension from more people. Fortunately, only a sentence or two was a bit smudged; he could probably touch it up with his pen, no problem.

After yawning and stretching, Guy dragged himself upward and to his feet, feeling and probably looking about as intelligent as a caveman, combing his mussed dark brown hair with equally lazy fingers. Ooka Ooka. He continued the drag-slump-drag process until he reached his dresser, and exchanged one shirt for the next, throwing the previous in a nearby laundry bin. He shot a glance in the mirror, and let out another sigh. Even if it WAS Saturday, he’d still have to get cleaned up. He’d promised himself he’d try to get Kodi and Wren to meet in secret, even if he himself could not. Even if it WAS against Dad’s wishes.He got dressed, then grabbed a few things he thought he could tweak into a new metal-based project. Maybe Wren would cheer up if he built her something nice– and not just something duty-based.

Lumbering out of his room, he almost ran into Dad on the way to Kodi’s. “Hey, sport,” said Dad. “You’re usually not up this early.” He glanced past Guy’s shoulder. “Burning the midnight oil, I see. Good. I can only hope that your attitude toward your academics is rubbing off on your attitude towards your elders.” Guy bit back a caustic reply. “Good morning to you, too,” he said through clenched teeth.

Dad looked at him for a moment. “You know, I was thinking last night, hoping to work something out… but, if you’re going to be surly…”

“Work what out?”

“I know you’re mad at me,” Dad said almost gently. “And I know you’re trying to get to know people and make friends. I get that, I do.” He paused, running a calloused hand through bed-mussed dark brown hair. “Which is why I’ve started looking around for job opportunities for you– part time, of course. I think the more you get involved in the community, and spend more time with the right kinds of people,” here Guy bristled a little, “the more likely you are to make better, lasting friendships and get experience with a trade. That’ll really help you after you graduate.” Dad’s eyes seemed to scan him, trying to gauge his reaction, and, upon receiving no negative one, went on. “So… I’ve noticed you’ve been unusually committed to all your classes, but physics in particular. And you’ve been out at the machine shed with your tools a lot, so… I asked Mr. Haney, who runs the auto-parts store downtown, if he could use any help.”

Guy stared. Mixed emotions welled up in him. On one hand, how was he going to have the time to go over Junk Collecting things with their team and try to reach Wren (albeit in secret) if things just kept cropping up? On the other hand…

I can use this to my advantage, too. It’s perfect. Being around the stuff, and figuring out how it works, along with getting ideas… The idea made him nearly nauseous with excitement.

“Dad, I don’t know… what to say…”

“Guy!” He spun a little at Kodi’s voice. Kodi was at the top of the stair, grimed from head to toe in what looked like fine dirt.

“Kodi!” Dad’s face was a mask of surprise and anger. “What do you think you’re doing, tracking dirt through the house like that?! What have you been doing?! Go clean up, and then get the vacuum. Now.”

“I will, I will!” Kodi stumbled, evidently trying to gain proper footing while catching his breath. “I… just… need to talk to… Guy… for a moment.” Still panting, he waved a hand dismissively. “Ya mind, old man?”

Dad raised his eyebrows. “You had better get this mess cleaned up,” he warned, as he descended the stairs. “And afterwards I want an explanation.”

“Kodi, what’s going on?” said Guy in a hushed tone. Kodi held a finger to his lips, and, when Dad was about halfway down, he grabbed Guy’s wrist, yanked him into his room, slammed and locked the door. “KODI!” Dad’s voice resounded.

“WHAT did you DO?” hissed Guy.

“I  might’ve kind of drew a beanstalk with my special drawing paper and pencil, and kind of accidentally uprooted our mailbox in the process.”

“WHAT the HECK? Are you TRYING to get us killed, again?”

“No, but after this week, Dad may not have the privilege of doing that.” Kodi exhaled.

Guy’s eyes narrowed. “What the crap are you talking about?”

Kodi took another breath. “Obviously, you two don’t know what happened this morning. I went out to practice drawing some… less dangerous things… but then…”

Guy felt his eyes grow larger and larger still as Kodi related to him the whole thing– until they felt like they were practically popping out of his skull. “So, you think that those two random kids…?”

“Weren’t just some random kids,” said Kodi grimly, wiping off his arms with a moist paint cloth. “I wonder what they’re up to though, aside from trying to kill us. My main question is why? Why do they want us dead, if we’re not even bugging them, let alone fighting them?”

“Maybe they think it’d be better if they just wiped us out from square one, so they don’t have to deal with that possible threat to begin with? You know, cut off the problem at the roots.” It made Guy shudder to think it, let alone say it, but he couldn’t deny the possibility.

“Probably. But we still don’t know who exactly they are, or what they want… what they’re trying to achieve.”

“Sounds to me like they want us dead in a hole. Or any other way.”

“But I kinda got the gist the girl was pretty conflicted… like she was torn between helping or at least feeling sorry for me, and… you know, her loyalties with… them.”

“And how do you know they are some other Junk Collecting team that’re rivals? Mikey never said there weren’t others, or that we couldn’t kill each other. Although I would assume the latter is naturally a given, you never know.”

“Naturally.”Kodi rolled his eyes as he finished wiping off his neck as well as he could manage. “They might not have been WEARING black, but they used code names. Twilight and Dusk. Specifically related to nighttime. I wouldn’t exactly call that “normal,” would you?”

“Maybe they’re a part of some sadistic cult?”

“Dude, the Shadows basically ARE a cult. Mikey himself warned us about them.” He shook his dreads, spraying dirt. “We just don’t know what their goals are. What or who they’re targeting next–” Suddenly, he froze, mid-shake.He slowly raised his head, looking Guy in the eyes, face a mask of shock and horror.

“What?”

“If YOU were a villain and wanted to pick off your enemies one by one, you wouldn’t go for the strongest threat, right? You’d pick off the most vulnerable, most compromised of the pack, wouldn’t you?”

The metal scraps tumbled from Guy’s fingers to the floor.

________________________

Image Credit:

 

 

The Deceiver {Part 5}

I know, I feel like I apologize too much when it comes to these things, but this time I am especially sorry, since I am normally a girl of my word… I had fully intended to write up one of these once every two weeks for you guys, but things got really out of hand workload-wise for me… and so, I sadly got behind… BUT. Today I intend to do some major catching up. So, to pick up where we left off…

_____________________

Wren was doing something completely out of the ordinary.

At least, out of the ordinary compared to what she had currently been doing.

She was looking for her jacket, so she could go take a walk and mull things over. Normally, in these circumstances she’d do anything to get her friends back. Anything. But something about last night nagged and tugged at the back of her mind. The paper’s comforting glow, yet the fact that the lettering only showed in darkness. The fact that she or Jake had not spied it earlier was disturbing enough, and she still debated whether or not she could trust this person, whoever they were.

Finding her jacket, she yanked it on and trudged outdoors. Perhaps some fresh air might do her some good, and clear her head. Heavens knew she probably needed it anyway, being cooped up for a week in her bedroom like the–

She stopped, suddenly disgusted with herself. What had she been doing? Hiding away as some kind of recluse, as he had, instead of seeking answers actively? Being self-pitying would get her absolutely nowhere, and if she wanted to become as the Junk Collector had been, she was already well on her way. She kicked at the wood floor in anger and frustration. She wanted to get as far away from that, from Junk Collectors, from what they called the Shadow Six, and even from Kodi and Guy, if they continued to nag her, if all possible– not the opposite.

Fueled by this, she remembered her family lake, with the little boat she and Jake had bought the one year they had gone camping out by the woods, to sail out to what they named “Island Tapu,” from a story in an old New Zealand book their father had picked out for them on his many travels. She set her jaw in determination, relaxed her muscles briefly– then took off like a shot off the porch, down a winding path into the nearby woods. And she did not look back.

But if she had, perhaps she would have hesitated more.

###############

Kodi rose relatively early that morning, at eight in the morning. He took his time to just lay there, staring up at the ceiling, fan slowly rotating above him, pondering everything that had transpired. So, he could make things jump to life simply by a swish of his paintbrush, a stroke of his pencil. The thought was both mind-blowing and mortally terrifying at once. He had thought he’d have enough control over his gift to control the spider, so he could train it, but… he shivered, edging down under the covers even more. He hadn’t predicted it to grow so large so quickly, let alone turn against him like that. It was a miracle Guy had gotten there in time. He couldn’t get it out of his mind. The brush stroking the page. The color seeping through. One hairy, behemoth leg slowly peeling itself off the page and onto the floor, large, depth-less inky eyes peering into his soul, mandibles clicking rapidly, threateningly closing in…

Kodi exhaled, trying to calm himself. He knew that that was the least of their concerns, at any rate. Wren was still in major recluse mode, as far as he knew, and it was up to him, and only him, to try to weasel her out of it. No easy feat, for certain. And from what he could tell, while her cutting herself off from the rest of the world was naturally a defensive thing for her to do, in some ways it left her… more open. More vulnerable. Every bit as vulnerable as he’d been to the mini-Shelob he’d summoned. He needed a plan, a course of action, an argument to make her see reason before it was too late. The last thing their small group needed was more complications.

Sighing, he finally clambered out from under his toasty sheets, pulling them along with them as he tiptoed down the hallway. His ears, almost as sharp as his mind, eyes, and memory, detected the old man’s soft snoring across from his room, making him chortle softly under his breath. Next door, Kodi heard Guy mumbling in his sleep. Kodi cracked the door open to see him slouched over his desk, head cushioned by what appeared to be an opened textbook. Tiptoeing inside to see what it was that had kept his adoptive “brother” up half the night, he peered over Guy’s shoulder. Physics, huh… Kodi had heard of physics, but, being in the fourth grade, had never first-hand experienced the “pleasure” of such equations. Yet.

The thought made his artsy-minded brain shudder as he carefully backed out of Guy’s room, and quietly shut the door. Making his way back into his own room, he discarded the blanket and pulled on a jet black hoodie, grabbed his sketchpad, some pencils, erasers and a granola bar on his way out.

He did not regret his decision to squat outdoors to practice right away. It was fairly peaceful out; a subtle percussion of wind chimes accompanied by a lovely chorus of mourning doves, robins, and–

Meroooowwww….

Kodi’s ears pricked at the foreign noise. It sounded like…

His perceptive, dark chocolate eyes rapidly scanned the nearby tree branches. Sure enough, the one across the road, next to their mailbox, had entangled in its grasp a small, helpless feline, mewing helplessly. It looked stuck, limb all splayed out in different directions. Kodi wasted no time, madly sketching out a ladder, and, reaching out, took hold of the wooden ends, which now materialized as he pulled it forth from the pad. As soon as the leader had finished materializing, its image had vanished off the paper. After tucking his pad and drawing equipment into his knapsack and slinging it around his skinny shoulders, Kodi dragged the ladder over to the tree, almost regretting making it twice as tall as he was, if only for the weight’s sake. He leaned against the trunk; it went up just high enough to reach the lower branches. He’d have to stretch a little, but would make it.

Taking a deep breath, he placed a foot on one of the rungs, testing its sturdiness with his weight. To his relief, it seemed safe enough, and with that reassurance, he began climbing. He tested each rung before trusting his weight to it; he might have been a good artist, but he didn’t know how good a BUILDER he was.

“Well, look who it is,” drawled an annoyingly familiar voice. Kodi spun, almost losing his balance, already halfway up. Behind him, low on the ground, were the two kids from the other day– the timid, pretty young girl, who now was looking down steadily, as though embarrassed, and the saucy bully. “Yeah, what’s it to you?” He tried to keep both the ladder and his voice steady.

The bully boy tilted his head, looking up with a sneer across his freckled features. “You know, I always said that little monkeys like yourself were good at climbing,” he said, “But last I checked, don’t monkeys climb TREES… not ladders?” He nudged the girl sharply; she winced. “What do you think, Dusk? Shouldn’t we help the monkey better adapt to his environment?” When she gave no response, he continued, “Fine, if you won’t– I will.”

With that, he drew from his jeans pocket a stick of gum, calmly chewed, then placed the reddish gum wad on the lowest rung. The wad illuminated, much to Kodi’s shock, and, even more so when it suddenly exploded, taking out not just the rung it had been placed on, but the two above it as well. The whole ladder quaked, and Kodi had to fight to keep from plummeting below, scrambling as steadily as possible further up, away from the blast. No way… Is… Is HE some kind of psychopathic Junk Collector, too? But there was no time to really think about that, not when he was only halfway up the ladder. His options were, as he saw it, to either jump and risk breaking a leg, or… Kodi threw a quick glance up at the branches again. The kitten was still there, yet had gone very silent, ears flattened against the explosion’s noise and the hostility radiating from the boy below.

Fortunately, the bully seemed not to notice the poor animal; Kodi hated to think what would have happened if he had.

Grinning, the jerk proceeded to reach for another stick of gum to repeat the process– only to have his hand slapped away by the girl, whom he had called Dusk. “What do you think you’re doing?” Kodi heard the bully hiss as he clamped down roughly on her wrist. “You know that–” “Yes, I know,” the girl responded, cringing at the grip. “But that doesn’t mean…” Her eyes flickered up briefly, towards the tiny, white and gray speckled kitten. This time, the bully followed her gaze. Upon catching her eyes’ target, he laughed bitterly. “Oh, is that all? Your precious little kitty cat? Did you forget what we came here for? Did you forget what he does to–”

“I know,” she half-whispered, face almost hidden by a curtain of shining black hair. “But…”

“Hey, you there,” called out Kodi, interrupting. “Yeah, you. The big orangutan with the baseball cap that’s as backwards as your brain. Leave us both alone; I’m just getting a cat down, anyway. What’s it to you?”

The jerk snorted, then turned to the girl. “See? This is what happens when you can’t look after what you’ve been entrusted with. But don’t worry– you’ve been assigned a partner who can take care of both his own and your mistakes quite easily. Watch carefully. Maybe you’ll actually learn something, for once.” Faster than Kodi could blink, the boy slid another stick of gum down from inside his sleeve, chewed faster than a steam engine’s wheels, and, leaping up, slapped another wad on a rung just a few below Kodi’s feet. This time, Kodi didn’t wait til it started glowing or to test the remaining rungs; he hurried up the rest and lunged for the lowest branches, just above his head.

And none too soon– this blast was larger than even the last, destroying all the remaining rungs. What little remained of the ladder crashed to the ground below loudly, and dissolved into piles of pencil lead while Kodi dangled dangerously, ten feet above ground, holding on for dear life. He decided to take a risk, and, using a swinging momentum, managed to propel him up higher yet, grabbing onto more stable branches while getting jabbed by most. Soon, he too was entangled, and wondered just how similarly the kitten had ensnared itself. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw the girl flinch once more, then look away… but this time, towards her companion. “Twilight?”

“What NOW?” It sounded more like a frustrated snarl than a real question.

“Aren’t we supposed to meet up with Midnight and Dawn sometime soon at that place to discuss…”

“SHHH!!” The boy called Twilight swore, jerking his head up towards Kodi. “Geez, do you want HIM to hear?!”

“I’m sorry… it’s just…” The girl, Dusk, bit into her lip. “Time is of the essence, and I thought it would be best if we started before we got too… held up.”

Twilight– though Kodi somehow doubted that was actually his real name– shook his head. “Alright, FINE. But we aren’t leaving until we at least finish what we’ve started.”

“Which would be what, exactly?” They both turned to face Kodi. “Sorry, couldn’t help overhearing. Kinda hard not to, being well within earshot and all.” Twilight sneered at him. “Funny you ought to mention that… because yeah, it DOES concern you, little monkey.” Turning to Dusk, “Do it. Do it now, before you lose the nerve.” His tone made Kodi stiffen with an unknown kind of fear. Do what? 

When Dusk seemed to hesitate again, Twilight growled, “Would you rather take care of him?”

“No,” she said rather quickly, “Of-of course I’ll do it. I just… Let me get…” She gestured to the kitten, who was mewing pitifully again, and Kodi realized with a jolt that it was hers. Twilight rolled his eyes. “Fine. But be quick about it.” The girl nodded, and, with a little flick of the wrist, she pressed the dark green beads of her bracelet into the tree’s trunk. The whole tree groaned slightly, creaking forward; the kitten yowled, clearly panicking. Kodi didn’t blame it; waves of more shock, more horror, were crowding out all his senses, any rationality he had left standing. One of the tree’s branches, hand-like, gently plucked the small kitten out from its brambles, the way a small, bug-collecting child might pick a beautiful beetle they do not wish to harm out of their hair, and reaching downward, presented the animal to Dusk, who had one arm outstretched. After nestling her pet tightly to her bosom, Twilight called out to her in bored annoyance, “Any day now.”

“R-right.” Turning back to the tree, Dusk pressed her forest-green beaded bracelet even harder into the tree, which now shook and shivered. “Out of the ground, thee has been raised,” she whispered. The branches shriveled, shrinking and curling around Kodi, almost cage-like; the whole tree seemed to tremble in anticipation quite forcefully. “Now to the earth, thou shalt be laid.” With that, and with her concentration, the tree, shaking a bit more violently now, felt as though it were… shrinking? No, not quite, Kodi realized, his heart jumping nearly out of his chest. A large hole had been furrowed out beneath them.

He was going to be buried. Alive.

The tree seemed to take its time, however, rumbling down into the pit, along with him, bit by bit. He frantically tried to climb out, to pry the branches loose– with no success. It was like trying to peel a permanent sticker off a metal wall, but more difficult. He took a chance when he passed her sympathetic eyes, “Don’t do this, please, don’t do this– I was only trying to–”

“Shh… I know,” she said softly. She was kneeling now, since the trunk was so far in, she had to press her special bracelet beads to the ground, instead. Her pretty, dark eyes scanned his face with only mild worry, but a good bit of empathy. “Thank– Thank you. For trying. And… I’m sorry.” The ground was now starting to building up around his “cage”; he was beginning to feel nauseated, claustrophobic. When there was only about a yard-wide hole above his head, he heard her whisper, so inaudibly he almost thought he imagined her saying it, “You know what to do. I know you do. Be… be strong.” And then, louder, while lifting her face to the sky:

“And now, unto the earth’s care– I commit thee!”

The hole slammed shut, and there was instant darkness.

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The Deceiver {Part 4}

The Deceiver {Part 4}

Guy flopped onto Kodi’s bed. “Let’s do this,” he said, flipping open a small device that looked like a lighter. When Kodi started, Guy grinned. “Relax, it’s more harmless than it looks. You know that book the original JC gave me?” Kodi nodded. “Well, hidden inside was this little scrap of paper, with instructions on how to build one of these. I think they called it a holocrontron. Something fancy like that. But it wasn’t hard to build– just take a lighter casing, add a projection light and a couple other features, and– voila.”

“Do you know how to WORK it?” asked Kodi, raising an eyebrow at him. Guy’s face faltered for only a moment, then recalled the instructions in his pocket. Whipping them out, he scanned down through. “Let’s see… putting it together… inserting final touches… Mikey’s contact number… and… THERE we are, how to turn it on.” He flipped the flicker on the lighter, then pressed a few keys that had been inserted into the lighter’s side.

A light blue projection light cropped up, much to Guy’s delight– but his joy once again faded, seeing Mikey was not present. “Mikey?” he called, keeping his voice relatively low, so Dad would not hear; Kodi hunched over as well, to keep it between only the three of them. The image of nothingness flickered for a moment, then Mikey’s youthful, blond-haired head, clad in a nightcap, popped into view. “It took you long enough,” the boy said nonchalantly, yawning and stretching. “You couldn’t have picked a better time to wake me?”

“Sorry,” said Guy hurriedly. He had forgotten it was nearly eleven at night. Mikey waved him off. “It is just as well– I am certain you wouldn’t have done so unless it were of the utmost importance.”

Kodi nodded. “We just needed to ask you some things. We feel lost, like we don’t really know what we’re supposed to do, where we’re supposed to go, and what end goal we’re to be accomplishing.”

Mikey frowned, not an irritated frown, but a pondering frown. “Didn’t the Junk Collector’s letter explain all that?”

“Only certain parts,” acknowledged Guy, “like that we were supposed to fix things, renew things, help fix broken people, that kind of thing. Only it didn’t say HOW. I mean, I may have put this… thing… together, but that doesn’t automatically I’m the handy type; I could only do it because of the instruct–”

Mikey cut him off. “Do not doubt the Junk Collector’s ability to choose future Junk Collectors. If he chose you, you must be good at remedying either material objects, and/or people. It is unwise to question his decision on such matters. Just as he had faith in your abilities and talents, you must also have faith in them. But not only them.”

“What do you mean?” Guy interjected.

“I mean, you must also have faith in the very first Junk Collector. The Grand Maker, the Person Who is Fondest of Recycling.”

“Recycling?” echoed Kodi. Mikey smiled. “That is Junk Collecting speak for making all old things new again, making them not only useful, but whole and wonderful. It is the ideal of the Junk Collector I have served, the goal that drives all Junk Collectors, the spark ignited by the Grand Maker Junk Collector Himself, which implores you now to be fanned into a proper flame. But, as  you already have been told, your main mission and ultimate goal is not to simply fix up or build material goods to serve your own gain, but to use these tools to serve and aid others– and help fix and build up others. That in itself is the top priority. And speaking of how…” Here he gave Guy a stern and almost accusing look. “You ask me how you can accomplish your goals. How to go about making things happen, so in the end, you can help fix and build up other people. I notice your third teammate is not here with you tonight.”

Guy shuffled anxiously. “Listen, if circumstances were different–”

“If circumstances were different, you think she would have been here? Yet you neglect your friend’s needs, her hurts, and continue on without her, despite her being your teammate. If you had attended to these things, tried to be there for her, and tried to build her up, do you not think she would have been more compliant?”

There was a long silence. Guy could hear the wind howling softly outside, pressing tree branches against the window frames. He tried to control his emotions, rolling up inside his gut; his inner tempest. “I would if I could,” he finally said in a low voice, “but now that’s been made impossible. It’s not that I won’t, it’s that I can’t.” He related to both Kodi and Mikey of what had transpired between himself and his father, growing more discouraged with each word. When his explanation ended, there was even more silence.

Kodi was the first to break it. “So what now? If we can’t reach her, then…”

“Actually, permit me to make a small correction,” said Mikey, “The way I see it, and from how you related all that to me, it seems that only Guy is unable to meet with Wren. You, Kodi, on the other hand…”

“But if Dad catches him, we’re both dead,” protested Guy. “He’ll think I encouraged him, and we’ll never get to see her again–”

Once more, the bold young former assistant to the original JC intervened, “With the Grand Maker, all things are possible. Nothing is impossible.” He actually grinned a little. “Unlikely, perhaps, but not impossible.”

&&&&&&&&&

Wren fished out the special ink from her desk drawer; it still shocked and even disturbed her how the fact that both it and the letter appeared to be planted did not surprise her. Logically, with an extremely secure house, door bolts, and her brother being home at least 75 percent of the time, there was little chance of an intruder sneaking inside. She herself had not left the house in quite some time; would she not have heard if someone entered her room? On the other hand…

A lot HAD happened to her the past several days. Why not add more complexities to her frustration, nerves, and addled, upset brain? She bit into her lower lip so hard she started to taste salt. Iron. Her blood.

She had a decision to make, however. She could always choose not to respond, but… Closing her eyes, she recalled clearly how the letter’s words had glistened and gleamed in the darkness, their candlelight almost consoling her spirits, giving her the faintest pinprick of… hope. She nearly laughed. Hope. That was a word she had not felt for a very long time– even with Guy and Kodi around to “help”.

Next to the old-fashioned inkwell was a feathered quill, like the kind they might have used in the 1800’s or earlier. Definitely not there previously.

Temptation overtook her entirely. But, no matter what, she vowed she would not sing. Not for this mysterious person who claimed to only wish to help her. She was self-conscious of herself and her talents as it was, and it frightened her a little that this person already knew, or was implied to know, this much about her.

Fingers trembling, she took hold of the quill, carefully dipped into the ink, and scribbled back onto the now-blank paper:

Assuming you are the same person who has previously written to me regarding my friends…

Under normal circumstances, in no way would I ever trust you– especially considering how you somehow planted your letter, ink, and quill on my desk without my brother or I being aware of it. Nevertheless, you are right about one thing: I have never trusted Junk Collectors, nor do I wish to be associated with them. I would never want to be associated with something or someone who is out to hurt others and wrench away their friends from one another. 

She hesitated, watching the words form slowly on the parchment, then continued,

As you have implied to know a good deal about me, which I also would like to question how this may be the case, you should also know that I am a very cautious person. Trust is not something I would so easily hand over to anyone, particularly if my trust in someone close to me was just broken. If you actually care one wit about me, and are willing to prove yourself trustworthy and a valuable ally to me, then say so and prove it. 

She stopped, allowing the paper to drift down lazily onto her desk. On top of the decoder. Her irritation at it flared to life again, but just when she was about to smack it out of the way, the quill positioned neatly in her right hand began to WIGGLE. Squirm, just like a worm. She was so startled she released it, and the entity took on a life of its own, fluttering gracefully over to the light switch, and engulfing her in darkness once more.

“Hey! What giv–” Her sentence was cut short. The parchment’s words– this time, HER words– glowed, only with a lovely blue-green hue. They seemed to settle in and dissolve into the paper, being absorbed. Three seconds passed, then suddenly, words reappeared in the same reddish-orange candlelight as before– but appeared as though they were being written by an invisible hand. 

Wren felt a subtle sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, wondering if this was how it felt to be writing in Tom Riddle’s diary. With the kind of luck she was experiencing lately, it would come as no surprise to her. Maybe it would be better if she tossed this whole idea out the window, and tried to find her friends on her own, again. But then…

She felt a light brush against her jawline; the quill that had too taken on a mind of its own. Gently caressing her cheek in a forward position, like it wanted her to read the words being written to her, in front of her. She paused, wondering if this really was the best idea for the situation, but at the feather’s insistence, she reluctantly seated herself to at least read the respondent’s reply:

I am most indebted to  and grateful for your reply. After all those hours, I was beginning to think you had turned your back on my offer, and thus, on a generous opportunity to rescue those you love. I know that you are grief-ridden at this time, and, should you insist on being left alone, I should only too gladly comply; your wish is my command. 

That being said, you indeed have a right to be cautious, as much as you have a right to be frugal with your trust. I would not respect your persona if it were not for your wariness, your intelligence, your dedication and determination. I deeply admire all these things about you. But, by the same token, you must respect my ability to inquire. You do not have to answer, of course, but I would very much like you to. Should you choose to do so, I will in turn forego other means of retrieving such information. This way, we can get to know one another better, and I’ll know how to best help you. I would like to even become friends, if you would like. I can fill the gap left by the ones who have abandoned you for lesser things, if you so desire it. I also know you to be confused, as bright as you are, and in terrible need of enlightenment, knowledge, information– especially on those you call friends. Here, I can help you. Ask any question; it shall be answered. My sole purpose to help you fulfill yours. 

The words began to fade once more, into faint, glowing embers. Wren could feel the quill’s feather lightly sweep along the back of her neck. She almost jumped out of her seat; the touch felt synonymous with long, gentle human fingers.

But when she spun around, the quill had vanished. When she spun back, she saw, in the fast-dimming light, it lay obediently next to its paired partner.

She decided, for the first time in her life, to sleep with a nightlight on that night.

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