Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday: Apocalypse

*This is a new story I wrote about a post-apocalyptic world. There will most likely be more later installments, so stay tuned!

You never really know how much you will miss the simplest things until they catch fire. Even now, breathing shallow breaths through her nose, she found herself yearning for the earthy scent of grass (or even the stench of car exhaust would do). Now Ash wasn’t sure those smells existed amid the all-powerful film of smoke and dust that loomed over the Earth like a blanket of fog. After all… how could you smell the aroma of fresh-cut grass where there was only sun-scorched dirt for miles around?

Soot-stifled air clogged her lungs as she surveyed the hellish gray landscape. Toppled white pillars littered the debris, white-hot sun beaming down its scorching gaze on the bare branches, shattered glass glittering with a glare so intense it burned her eyes… Ash could never imagine this would be what the nation’s capital would look like the first time she saw it.

“Wow,” she turned to him, lacing her fingers in his. Both hands calloused, yet interlocked with a decidedly firm grip that said “we aren’t disheartened yet.”  Her eyes roved hungrily over the crumbly gray expanse of land in a futile search for any semblance of the grand metropolis that used to be.

“This is…” 

“Anticlimactic?” he offered. She laughed, a beautiful sound that pierced the overwhelming silence before being swallowed whole. 

“I always thought these monuments would look…” Ash gestured vaguely to the wreckage. In spite of herself, a watery film of tears abruptly glazed her eyes. Nothing is the same. I’ll never be able to see the capital as it was, never truly see the world. Things will never be as good as they were before. Another thought yanked painfully at the edge of her mind, one she could barely suppress to a whisper: It will never look like it used to. And your family will never see it with you.

 The pair stood in mournful silence for a long while, a silence that was filled with pain unexpressed, but still just as strong. A boy and a girl on the brink of a gray, smoldering world with no idea if they were the last alive… chances were, there was no way to ever truly know.  Finally, the words fell out of her mouth.

“Like monuments. But it’s all just ash, ash, ash, just like my idiotic, ironic name. Everything is gone and there’s nothing we can do,” she ripped her hand out of his as tears sprang down her cheeks, shaking them off like his touch was poison. 

“Nothing but trek through the rubble like hyenas scavenging for scraps. What can we do, Jax? What?” For several long seconds, the space between them buzzed with silence. It was a rhetorical question, Jax knew, yet under his soot-darkened blond hair the gears churned in his head. Ash trudged a few steps down the hill towards the burned ruins of the city. Flickering flames still fluttered on the horizon– the last remnants of the heavenly fire that had rained down three months before, obliterating the world as they knew it. Harsh white sunlight (no longer the buttery-gold hue of the past) illuminated the wreckage in all its glory: a grim picture of a death-brushed world, painted in swirling gray soot, sparkling with shattered glass. 

“Wait! Ash, wait.” She turned, cat-like gunmetal gray eyes cold as steel and hot as hellfire at the same time. The handsome boy, with his messy golden hair and sweeping lashes, streaked in dirt, stood silhouetted in the white light like a vision of Apollo on Earth. 

“We could leave altogether. We could give up the search for others, give up whatever semblance of civilization we still have. Accept that we’re all alone. Our families are…” he hesitated for a second. Ash raised an eyebrow expectantly.

“Dead,” he gasped, heart thumping brokenly, “but we don’t need to keep up this search. It’s futile. We both lived to remember when the sun expanded and the sky was crimson as blood. What if no one else did? What if we are searching for something that doesn’t exist?” Jax put a tentative hand on her shoulder; he could feel the sharp edges of her shoulder blades, sharp as knives in her malnourished frame. Ash didn’t move away, yet every nerve in her body tensed like a cornered animal ready to spring away at any moment. 

“So you think we should give up? Settle down like pioneers on the prairie, give up on our families? This trip has been interesting, Jax, but… do you really not have any hope? What about your father?” A light wind rustled the chalky ash, flurries of the dry gray soot spattering their faces unceremoniously. Tendrils of her ink-splash hair billowed behind her in the breeze; the boy that had been so untouchable once upon a time now found himself dry-mouthed and unsure, yearning to run his hands through her unruly waves. The words fell awkwardly off his lips in sputtering spurts.

“My– my house was on fire when I ran. I saw my mother, my sisters, brothers, all of them burn in a white-hot blaze. As I ran for the lake, I heard my father’s gut-wrenching screams from inside the house. They were screams of death, Ash. Death,” he pursed his lips, eyes glazing over with a sheen of tears that burned his eyes but refused to be shed. 

“They’re dead. Not just our families. Everyone. Lord knows how we made it… I don’t have a clue myself. But we need to get away from this pain. Everywhere that we go, every building we see, every human thing we touch will remind us of death. Start over with me, Ash. We can forget together, migrate to Montana or some unsettled territory. Please just stay.” Her eyes darkened, scrunching up at the corners. Pain was painted in bold brushstrokes all across her face: the wrinkles on her brow, the pursed lips, the flushed cheeks. Searing fury boiled up in her gut, striking hard as lightning and twice as fast. She took off at a sprint down the slope, charging through the rubble. Pillars. Soot. Broken glass. Deflated tires. 

“Wait! Just tell me why, please!” Desperation choked his words. Ash swung around furiously, eyes roving ravenously over his gleaming golden hair and prominent jaw.

“Why? Why?” her voice rose, more and more venomous. She gritted her teeth, staring him directly in the eye. “I. Can’t. Forget. I. Can’t. My family is dead and–ha! You.. you want to play out some demented Adam and Eve fairytale ending. Former popular boy and rebellious loner girl fall in love after the world falls away?”

His gaze fell, cheeks blazing crimson. Deep within he wondered whether his feelings over the last month had all truly been some delusional attempt at a romance-movie ending, or if they were rooted in something real. Did the fact that he had never given Ash a second thought before the apocalypse mean anything? Was the rapidly festering desire in his heart purely circumstantial, as random and meaningless as two animals reproducing to keep the species alive?  

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything. But… let me come with you. Anywhere. We don’t need to run away…” he faltered for a second, grappling with the miserable thought of eternity all by himself.

 “But we do need each other.” Ash raised a brow, gunmetal eyes alight with a cold mischief that screamed “wrong answer.” Sunlight flooded the wreckage she stood in as the black clouds rolled over. She turned and took a single step away from him, a crinkled plastic bottle crunching under her tattered sneakers.

I need you, Ash.”

 His husky voice echoed in the utter silence, ricocheting off the crumbled stone and reverberating against the teetering flag pole. With a single flick of her wrist, the beautiful girl beckoned him to follow her, glancing back with a slight (still anxious) smile that said “I forgive you?” And yes, I did mean to add that question mark. For after the apocalypse, nothing is certain. You can’t trust anyone–or anything–once everything has been set to fire. They trudged on together through the rancid waste of society, heading west in search of something that they no longer were sure existed anymore: humans.

Articles, Writer's Wednesday!

Sharing Our Stories: Language, Communication, and Why Words Matter

Recently, I entered into a contest with the topic of “Why Words Matter” hosted by my city’s Cultural Awareness Society. I won in my age group with this short essay I wrote with the topic in mind. Enjoy!

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

Could you imagine even a day of utter, all-encompassing silence? As a child, the silent game was always a frustrating activity — straining to express opinions, basic needs, ideas; but the frantic hand gestures and facial expressions always seem to fall short in comparison to words. 

Words. Inexplicably powerful, yet impalpable to humans except by ear and on paper. Communication changes lives all over the world, alters the course of history, drives human development into new ideas and technologies that would be unfathomable to someone from an earlier century.  

Exactly one hundred years ago, the motion to give women the right to vote passed on June 4th, 1919. It is a thread we can follow all throughout American history and world history as a whole: Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights protests, Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat, the Emancipation Proclamation, The United States Constitution, and The Declaration of Independence even before that. Hard to imagine that in the 1800s women could not vote or voice an opinion when you are basking in the present day, isn’t it? Two hundred years ago it would be an utter shock to any American woman that I could express an opinion so boldly — not to mention on a computer (which would be unimaginably complex at the time) where I can communicate with an audience all over the world at the press of a button. 

You can see the never ending cycle: our progress is driven by communication, and communication is sped up exponentially by human progress. Tracing back every single event involving people (whether they be good or bad), it all comes back to language in one way or another. Our shared ability to communicate and express ourselves is what links generation to generation and weaves a tapestry of diversity and development. 

That is what makes the power of words so truly incalculable. One single author can paint the fiery crimson-golds of a sunset sky across the minds of millions, one eloquent speech can plant a seed in the hearts of humans all across the world… one single word can change a life forever, and perhaps even history itself. Almost every single event in the course of human history stems from our ability to communicate through speech or written words. After all, we have come a long way from our caveman ancestors!

So why not keep the trend going? Write a new chapter in the history books, make your move to change the world. Great ideas have brought us everything we have ever known, all the new technologies and ideals that would never have seemed possible in the past. But ideas are nothing if you can’t — or won’t — act on them. The way to do that is through words. A book. A letter. A protest. A speech. Even a simply-written, passionate pamphlet like “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine inspired countless patriots in the Revolutionary Era to fight for a cause that was widely considered absurd at the time (a cause which we now perceive as a basic birthright: freedom).

I’m not going to say changing the world is an easy task, because if it was, everyone would do it. But we all have the tools to evoke change in the world, and they come in the form of words and language. If you believe in a cause, there is no excuse to remain stagnant and helpless when you can speak out and share your view with like-minded people or (perhaps even more powerful yet) sway others to change their perspective!

No matter what others may say or what limitations you may place upon yourself, you have the power to influence the world. There’s no need to think outside the box if you’re searching for a way to inspire the masses… every single person has that power hidden right inside a box. Your voice box. So let’s write a new chapter in the history books together, one word at a time.

Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday! Star Crossed

Orion Constellation

Beady black eyes stared into his soul with a fiery calm that could only come from murder. It stared at me, unblinking, and within seconds he felt the lethal pinch of its pincers piercing the paper-thin skin of his cheek. Fire itched along his nerves determinedly as a rapid-spreading virus. This is the end. 

Pain ricocheted through his nerves, pounding his body with heat flashes that shook him to his core: one moment a burning flush that slicked his body with sweat and the next a bone-chilling cold wracking his body with shivers.

Another pinch on his neck, biting and quick as a hastily delivered injection. No…. He groaned, hacking at the viscous blood that welled in the back of his throat. No… Artemis… Prayers brushed past his lips like poison-laced feathers, begging some higher god or goddess (as though his whole life hadn’t revolved around loving one). Sand swirled in flurries, falling into his slightly parted lips, making his throat gritty with dried, sandy blood. Beady black eyes reappeared in his peripherals. The scorpion is back. Its eyes were glinting murderously in the setting sun as it raised its stinger high. Orion simply tensed his throat, waiting for the inevitable, lethal pinch that would put an end to his pathetic human life forever.

But it never came. As if in some faraway dream, Orion heard the slosh of desert sand. Like an angel wreathed in the heavenly sunlight, she appeared in his vision, towering over his body. Coughing and spluttering up blood, his lips mouthed her name but all that came out was a gurgling croak. Shadows flickered across his face as the flowing white silk of her toga billowed in the breeze. She raised her boot-clad foot ominously, yellow-hazel eyes glinting with an emotion he couldn’t quite place. He tensed, squeezing his eyes shut and waiting for the final blow, the imminent pain…

Crunch. It was a sickeningly slow sound. Orion’s eyes snapped open to see Artemis’s boot splattered with an oozy black goop, the crumbled shell of the scorpion scattered across the sand in broken pieces like a smashed bottle; Artemis’s lips quirked into a tiny grin, tossing her shining auburn curls over her shoulder. He could have sworn that she had a glowing silver aura pulsating around her, painting her moonbeam pale skin in glittering light. An avenging angel. After all I had done, she saved me.

Kicking away the scorpion remains, the goddess crouched beside him in the sand, placing a silver cup to his lips. The liquid was cool and sweet like vanilla soda, the deep golden hue of the liquid seeming to hide glimmering secrets. Ambrosia. The drink of the gods. 

Night was rapidly creeping over the rolling dunes, the crimson-gold painted sky receding into black. A brilliant crescent moon hung lonely in the starless oblivion above. Orion’s eyelids drooped, a drowsy smile playing across his lips as he stared out into the dusk, Artemis warm beside him; she smelled faintly of jasmine and pine, tinged with the beachy scent of sand. 

“I love you,” he whispered into the dark. They were words he wouldn’t remember saying for the remainder of his immortal life. Orion thought he could hear a sad sigh over the perpetual noise of wind whistling in the sand.

“I love you too,” Artemis paused, seeming lost in thought. Pursing her lips, she looked tenderly down at the pale huntsman, the red sting marks dotting his right cheek like… a constellation. Eyes drooping lower, he saw her hold a hand to the sky, bright pinpricks of stars appearing where she dragged her fingers. He would awake tomorrow morning with hardly a memory of the scorpion that almost killed him, forever sealed into the fate of being Artemis’s mercenary.

The beautiful maiden goddess let her hand fall, surveying her creation, written across the sky in stars. A new constellation, one that would be marveled at for millenia to come. Orion: The Hunter. Running a reverent hand over his forehead, she closed his eyes. As he was drifting off into a warm, vanilla-sugar sleep, he heard her whisper,

“Sic itur ad astra.”

Thus you shall go to the stars. 

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

Drawing his bow, he let an arrow fly skyward, watching it disappear into the clouds. Sic itur ad astra. The thought leapt across his mind randomly, as it always seemed to when he thought of her. Throwing a hand up to his cheek, he felt the raised skin of the faded white scar as though on some level he could feel her touch there if he concentrated hard enough. 

“Why did you do that? We have to find them now or she’ll- she’ll…” The young mercenary trailed away, voice quavering. Orion narrowed his eyes at his pathetic quaking, bounding ahead once again. The young man came up beside him, panting.

“We’re going the wrong way! They went that way!”

“Yes, they did.” The words were icy and emotionless on his tongue with an edge of superiority that came from millenia of murder and doing what he did best: hunting. I have no need to explain myself. I answer only to Artemis. My one and only love. The last thought was quiet, nervous, as though even in his own mind Orion was afraid she would hear it.

“The Mistress will- she’ll-” The Huntsman shouldered the scrawny man hard, breaking stride to slam him against the alley wall. He recoiled back. Red hair mussed. Fresh blood dripping in satisfying streaks from the new scrapes. Emerald eyes frenzied and fearful; Orion looked like a golden god of war reflected in his panicked stare.

“Kill us? Toss you away like street scum? Yes. She will.” Frustration bubbled in his throat, searing hot and threatening to boil over in a torrent of white-hot words. “Stop your incessant sputtering. Artemis,” he saw the mercenary’s eyes widen at her name (no man was ever to speak her heavenly name, not even her own assassins), “has no mercy. No love to give your pathetic, yearning heart.” Orion cringed, eyes squinting with the pain of that venomous word. Driving a boot into the young man’s gut, he laughed at the groan echoing off the bricks.

“Artemis will kill you without hesitation if you fail. There was ever only one exception, a long time ago…” his thoughts drifted to a lethal sting, stars painted across the sky, the waves of her auburn hair gleaming under the lonely moon. No. No. No. Snapping back to the crumpled mercenary, his throat raw with emotion,

“That was a lifetime ago. It will never happen again. The arrow to the sky was a message of distress, directly to Artemis. Alerting her to watch over us, track our progress and dole out punishments for those whose services are lacking. As for going the wrong way? We aren’t.” He pointed to the opening of the alley just in time for the staggering gaggle of girls to slink past. Eyes burning with passion, Orion yanked the young mercenary to his feet and took off without missing a beat. 

🌱Zara

Watching someone die is a lot different than what I had imagined. And trust me, I’d imagined it a million different times, a million different ways ever since Inara had taken off that night. 

You always think it will be dramatic. Gasping breaths, whispered last words, reverent hands reaching for the sky only to fall down halfway. In reality, death is a more of a creeping phantom than a grand grim reaper. 

I winced as the viscous blood gushed between my fingers, repeating to myself over and over, It’s not her. It’s not her. It’s not her. The glassy blue eyes staring up into space were not the sparkling emerald of my sister’s. Yet the setting was the same, the bumpy roads of Kommetjie that haunted my dreams, the roads where I envisioned her dying every night. It had been years since she had taken off into the night, headed for the bustling little town she had fallen in love with, heart soaring and head filled with dreams of a bakery of her own and a townhouse on Main Street. I never heard from her again.

“Zara!” Kenna hissed, yanking my arm. I fumbled with Daria’s limp body as we took a hard right into the alley. At the end of the musty little corridor, silhouetted against the bricks was a figure that made my heart skip a beat. Cascading black hair, ebony skin, lean, muscled arms. Inara. It’s her. Every ounce of logic disproved this: the police had launched a full-scale search combing every inch of the area. But hope bloomed with the deadly strength of a poisonous flower… sweet and with dangerous potential. Hastily handing off Daria’s body to Kenna, I sprinted down the alley, watching as the figure slunk around the corner. 

“Inara!”

🌙Artemis

This was painfully easy. Changing forms usually wasn’t my forte, per se, but today the facade was utterly flawless. The Earth girl’s voice yelled her sister’s name after me as I ducked around the corner, loping down the street and drawing her further and further away from the pack. 

“Inara! Come back! It’s me!” My lips quirked up. Poor girl. She has no idea… her sister has been dead for a long time. I almost felt bad… no, I didn’t. The chase was on. Zara Nightlock had no idea that the trophy she was chasing was not solid gold, no. Just a convincing plastic fake laced with deadly intentions.

Uncategorized, Writer's Wednesday!

Mind Games 4- Aftershocks

The last thing I remember before I died was the sickening smirk on his ugly, bald head morphing into a snarl. Then, in the blink of an eye, I was dead. That was the only way to describe it. 

An unbearably strong pang of raw love that struck me so hard it hurt, every cell in my body yearning for James’s touch, to put my head on his chest, smell his cinnamon-sandalwood scent, hold my hand in his- and then it was over. Crash! Waves of despair crashed over me, heart howling for mercy. James would never like me. My parents didn’t care I was missing. Everyone was better than me. There will always be someone better. Always, always, always. I couldn’t breathe. Each uneven thump of my heart was like a knife piercing my back. Through tear-streaked vision I saw James’s father cackling over me like the devil watching my demise. I must be dead.

Always. Always. Always. Always broken. Always hurting. Always an outsider. Always ordinary. Grief in every imaginable form possible screamed over me in a tidal wave. I was pushed under water in a sea of more than melancholy, monsters lurking just below me as I struggled to get up. I clutched my heart, feeling it shatter to pieces under my touch. 

Slam! Another sob wracked my chest, another wave of memories and worries and crushed hopes. You will never be great. A smooth, calm voice whispered. Never. Never. Never. Never the best french horn. Never the prettiest girl. Never the smartest. Never extraordinary. Something snapped. I screamed, a blood curdling cry that soared through the room. At least I was dead. At least I was dead. There was solace in that, yet every second still set my lungs on fire as I was dragged further under.

Always. Never. Always. Never. ALWAYS. NEVER! I shrieked, the devilish man yanking my wrist. I didn’t fight. Couldn’t fight. Wouldn’t fight. I am dead, I am dead, I am dead. The words repeated over and over in my head like a prayer. More memories clashed over my mind. Rainy days. Failed tests. Girls my age brandishing their shiny trophies and straight A’s and me, overwhelmed with a burning frustration that I couldn’t even begin to put out. I went limp in his grasp, tears spilling rivers down my cheeks. Never enough. Never the best. Never. 

Just when my soul was starting to rip, the ear splitting howls of my inner demons the only noise in the world (James’s father’s roar the loudest of them all), I felt it snap. One last heart-wrenching burst of grief- and then a rush of a million emotions all at once. Jealousy anger surprise love pride confidence empathy sympathy fear awe pain happiness despair- abruptly, it all stopped. Opening my eyes, I saw James passed out on the floor, saw the devil sprint out of the room clutching his head like it was about to split open. Shuddering and colder than I’d ever been before, I just laid there. There was no triumph. No relief. Just pure, ice cold disappointment that I wasn’t dead. 

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

I don’t know how long I was out, but when I woke up, Vivian was still huddled in a ball, sobbing quietly. There was no sign of my father, no way to tell that he had ever been there at all- except for Vivian’s eyes. They were no longer the brilliant blue I knew them to be. They were pure silver like the color had drained from them along with her tears. I said nothing, just moved over and closed the open door, wrapping her in my arms. 

Truth be told, I was scared to death. My father had never pushed anyone as hard as Vivian, forcing so much grief upon her that it physically changed her. For someone that had led an enviably normal life, there was no telling what she might do.
“Viv?” I asked, lifting my head from her shoulder. Her eyes dilated, drawing in a rattling breath. The new silver of her eyes looked out of place in her face now that I was so accustomed to the blue. It was strange. Frosty. Beautiful. When the words finally fell from her lips, it was in a rough husk from crying for so long.

“Am I dead?” I looked her in the eyes, taken aback. When I didn’t answer she whimpered, grip on me tightening. “Please say I’m dead.” The words were so full of hope it hurt. My father had wrecked her. Vivian Rose. Sweet, innocent, blue-eyed girl. Vivian Rose. Broken, fragile, silver-eyed angel. I’ll never forget the pain in her eyes when I shook my head. 

Slowly, I stood up, extending my hand. To my surprise, she took it. I started walking her to the bathroom, turning on the lights. Might as well get all the pain out of the way at once. 

“Ok, I know this is going to be tough. Don’t look yet!” I warned when her head turned towards the mirror. Her gaze snapped back to me. The silver was still unsettling, strange… but I had to admit, it looked natural on her. Or at least it would, once I got the image of the startling blue out of my mind. “I don’t know what he told you. What memories ran through your head, how much insurmountable despair held you under. But you’re better already. Not dead. Not yet.” Her chin fell slightly, curtain of lashes brushing her cheeks like feathers. 

I gestured to the mirror. She turned, studying her reflection. For a second, she didn’t see… looking at her hair, skin, running a tentative finger along her pale cheeks. A pang of guilt strummed in my chest. 

“Your eyes.”  Her hands flew up to her mouth. She stumbled back, shivering. 

“Oh… my god.” Vivian peeled her hands away from her face. What I saw plastered on her lips sent my mind reeling in shock. It was a smile. A smile. Pure, happy, eyes locked on the mirror with fascination.

“What is it? I-” I cut off the sentence, the words dying on my tongue. I liked your eyes the way they were before. Never would I let that sentence leave my lips… I didn’t like Vivian, certainly. So why were those brilliant blue eyes frozen in my mind? 

“No, I- my eyes aren’t blue. They’re silver,” she smiled, looking back at me, “not gray. Not ordinary blue. Silver.” At my confused stare, Vivian laughed. “Do you know anyone with pure silver eyes?”

“No?” 

“Exactly. I’m… special.” The words were foreign on her lips, infectiously happy. On some level, I was aware how ironic it was that as I had always craved normalcy, Vivian had yearned to escape it. Nevertheless, I grinned at her, leaving the room to let her soak it in for a second; the beautiful frost of her eyes were still dancing across my mind even as I walked away.

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

2 weeks later…

Life had returned to normal… except that it hadn’t. My days were still the same schedule. School, classes, band, stealing glances at James- yet in a sense, everything had changed. People stared at me as I walked through the halls, whispers followed me everywhere I went. 

“The girl that got kidnapped.”

“No one knows who took her.”

“I hear she ran away with James Blackthorn.”

Girls snickered behind my back, but I saw how they stared longingly at my silver eyes. Boys laughed at my name, but now they carefully watched my every step, faces contorting in visible envy when I talked to James. 

It felt nice to be extraordinary for once. Vivian Rose, the talk of the school. Silver-eyed and confident. New persuasion powers untapped. To some it might have seemed like the chase was a miracle: such a short chapter of pain for such great rewards, a whirlwind of mystery experienced alongside my crush. Yet still every time I saw a kitchen knife or stood on a balcony, a dark urge screamed at me to take the leap, draw the knife. 

Those minutes when I had thought I was dead had changed me, amplified the call of the void inside me to the point that some days it was the only sound I heard. Grief so strong it was physically overwhelming jumped out at me randomly every now and then, an aftershock of the weeks before. My parents were more than just concerned, and the police were on high-alert trying to capture James’ father off our descriptions, thinking that justice would calm my pain. Needless to say, counseling doesn’t help when you were convinced that you had been brushed by death itself. 

My teachers were the same, my family, clubs, classes- but now everytime I looked in the mirror at my eyes I smiled, every time I got out of the shower my heart raced… but more than anything, I could feel his presence still. When I stared out the window during science, the shadows playing across the lawn looked like figures lurking in the dark. I screamed when I saw my vice principal again for the first time because his balding head and light eyes reminded me so much of him. Before bed, I swore I felt his sickening, power hungry presence hovering just behind me like a vengeful ghost. I know James did too.

Today I walked the halls with James, heading to science, the place where everything had started. We had destroyed his father’s power core, his one tether to the supernatural world. Everything had changed… then life had resumed its course, steadily chugging along like a grand river. I felt like the world should change as I had so much, but more or less (except for the occasional bad feeling), it was as though James’ father had never even existed. The police were turning up with no leads or evidence in the search, and the school only had one blurry security camera shot to aid their cause. No one had seen him- I was starting to think we never would again. It was a warm thought, one that made my brain rest easy. The drone of life continued on, buzzing in the masses of students around us. 

“Hey, do you ever think about-” I stopped dead in my tracks, James doing the same beside me. There, standing at the end of the hall bathed in fluorescent light was a man with watery hazel eyes, disgustingly pale. His bald head gleamed as he fastidiously wiped off an imperceptible speck of dust from his impeccable black suit (which stood out like a sore thumb among the writhing mass of athletic-wear clad students). The world seemed to slow as his thin lips curled into a disgustingly wide sneer. Even from across the hall we could hear his voice loud and clear.

“Hello Ms. Rose, Mr. Blackthorn.” That slimy, superior voice watched over me, immediately triggering a mind-numbing panic in me like a tripped alarm. I shrieked, grabbing James’s hand and pivoting without a moment’s hesitation. As I started to sprint down the hall with James in tow, I heard the dreaded thump-thump after me. 

“Whoa, there! Vivian, what are you doing?” Mrs. Croft (my favorite teacher) yelled, stopping me with a warning hand. My heart leapt as I struggled against her push. 

“He’s here! He’s here!” James shouted at her, trying to pull me away, but now Mrs. Croft had a firm fist knotted in my shirt, concern sharp in her thoughtful eyes. I looked back to catch a glimpse of him, but there was nothing. Absolutely no trace of him in the crowd. She let us go with a promise to see the counselor after school. 

As we walked away, I could’ve sworn I could hear his laugh far in the distance, an echo of a living nightmare.

Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday! The Huntsman

Artemis and Orion, Greek Myth

*Note- this is a continuation of the Elemental series (find the first edition in the archives page)! A new perspective has been added to spice it up. Hope you enjoy! For all my Twitter users, remember to hit the Life and Lemons logo in the corner to visit the actual site (if you aren’t already on it). Happy reading!

This is the end. His heart pounded, a deep, thundering pulse that he could feel in his fingers all the way down to his toes. Dread was a panther, a shadow lingering just out of sight, following him as he watched the little boat speed off down the glass-like water, leaving an ominous trail of ripples in its wake.  He could see her eyes in the water, hazel turning a jaundiced yellow with fury. His fine-tuned ears heard her violin-song voice in each sputter of the engine- a melodic, slightly husky sound that he had loved for so long. A voice had been (and always would be) disappointed in him no matter how many sins he committed for her. 

Somewhere in his shattered heart he knew he should hate Artemis. She had made him his mercenary out of punishment for a crime long ago, made him do unspeakable things: fight, battle, kill, sin for her. Always for her. Always. 

But even as regrets swirled like a whirlpool in his heavy heart, watching the captives jet across the waves, surveying the burned shreds of their bonds on the boat… Orion still loved her. Always her. Always. No matter how many times he heard her voice lower in disgust when he entered her sight, no matter how many innocents he had hunted or how many times she had turned away from him, he would always love her. The sound of her laugh, the flecked amber of her eyes, the gentle curl of her auburn braid against the nape of her neck. 

Orion was the hunter, she was the huntress. It was simple- written in the stars, but never to be. Artemis had lost some of her humanity over the centuries; he had seen the spark of mercy fade from her eyes since the first time he had met her… yet still his adoration never faltered. She was the maiden goddess, and he was a man; sometimes forbidden love isn’t passionate, but rather something cold, red-hot like smoking dry ice. Artemis had ordered that they not kill any captives, but he didn’t care if this decision sealed his fate- Orion would do anything to serve her. His love (that was pure and sweet as a flute serenade long ago) had become something raw and twisted. But it had never faltered. Never. He wouldn’t fail her now.

Orion sucked in a breath, drawing an arrow from his ancient leather quiver. Other mercenaries shouted at him, fumbling with the wheel to pursue the young goddesses, the ship diving bravely ahead through the furious waves. Men were tossed from side to side on the deck, the ocean bending under the Sea girl’s blood-stained fingers. Orion never moved an inch. With a misplaced faith burning hot in his heart, the hunter slid the string back, the deadly silver tip glinting as the arrow itched to fly. Aiming. Her muscled, black-clad back in sights. The softest twang, the quickest motion, the strongest desire. Always. For. Her. He closed his eyes and let the arrow fly.

Blood on Water, Image courtesy of “The Central Trend”

🌊Daria

For the longest second, I felt nothing but the sea spray on my face and the tickle of wind in my flying hair. We were doing it. Miraculously, I hadn’t bled out on deck. Selene had smiled when I had asked her why that was, replying in the simple, regal way she always did, “The sea is right below deck, is it not? I don’t see a reason why it wouldn’t want to heal you.” My swimsuit that I practically lived in for all my life was torn, bloodstained, battered- but now it was finally drying in the whipping wind. Running on adrenaline, I was strong enough to mess with the sea and the sailboat in pursuit, sending Artemis’s mercenaries toppling. Sea salt barraged my nose, my new friends beside me, hope on the horizon in the form of… the actual Cape of Good Hope. 

For the longest second, it was paradise. Then it wasn’t. A sharp, precise prick on my back. It felt like a needle for a fraction of a second, piercing the edge of my skin. But then it just kept going. And going. I could feel veins snapping, my bones cracking. I’ve been shot. I’ve been shot. Distantly, Kenna screamed. My vision blurred as I felt the now-familiar wet gush of blood down my back. I toppled forward. The crystal clear water blossomed with red. Zara shrieked, the dark girl veering the boat wildly. We careened around a corner, zooming past the Cape of Good Hope. 

Through the smudged-watercolor haze, I saw Selene’s pale face above me. Strands of her glittery black hair tickled my cheeks like the brush of an angel’s wing. Somewhere in the sea of pain, I let go of my hold of the water. Talia’s blonde-framed face crumpled as she stared off into the distance. I could only imagine the sailboat surging ahead, hope fleeting away with the flap of a hummingbird’s wings. 

“Daria? We’re going to Kommetjie now! Hold on!” I nodded weakly, but I was already sinking deep into the black depths. Kenna said something, but it was far away like a voice speaking above the water when I was way far under. Garbled. Quiet. Hopeless. Hold on. 

Warm blood seeped down my back in gushing bursts. The metallic scent of blood smelled like vanilla and cinnamon as memories of birthdays and Christmas Days past flitted across my mind’s eye. Instead of feeling sad, or happy, there was a strange nothingness. There was something calming about letting yourself sink when you should be trying to swim. 

✨Selene

I watched helplessly as the life started to drain from her eyes. “Daria?” The word was taut as a fraying tightrope, desperation sinking its malicious jaws into my voice. “We’re going to Kommetjie now! Hold on!” Even as she gave a weak nod, I saw her slipping, body starting to go limp. The blood-slicked arrow protruded angrily from her back, just missing the heart. Daria had already been weak from the previous injury. There was no way she would survive without divine intervention or serious doctors. Kommetjie was the closest town, the closest hope. And Artemis’s mercenaries were hot on our tail, inching closer each second. 

“Gun it, Zara!” The girl nodded, engine roaring even faster, sputtering pathetically. It wasn’t made for this. Kenna splashed water onto Daria’s lifeless figure as best as the rippling current would allow, splattering all of us with wet droplets. Talia motioned for her to stop, scrunching her brow in concentration and clenching her fists. There was a storm coming, I knew. Talia may be meek at times, but her power was unrivaled. Panic flared her nostrils, thunderous black clouds clumping the sky into a dark mass. A column of rain lightly sprinkled down on Daria, but I could see the sheets of hail pounding the mercenaries on the horizon. 

The small boat’s engine sputtered again, screaming like a banshee on a cold winter night. But we were still too slow. The sailboat was gaining, fueled by the storm’s wind. Struggling to manage the rain, hail, and wind, Talia squinted her eyes in effort, pushing her hand out and shifting the wind with it. Kenna clamored to the back of the boat, surveying the struggling sailboat for the sniper. I saw him before she did. 

 I pointed. Kenna’s face fell. A muscular, towering man with a crown of golden hair stood on the bow, unperturbed by the rocky sea and howling winds. For a brief second, I made eye contact. Before I could blink, his bow was up.
“Get down!” I screamed. A silver blur whizzed through the air, shearing a strand of hair from my head. Zara shrieked, ducking at the last second as another arrow rocketed towards her. He fired rounds of them with lightning-fast motions. There was hard fury in his stare, a devotion that sent each arrow pummeling through the sky with purpose. I wasn’t sure if he was bloodthirsty, dumb, or completely insane. With each shot his lips quirked up into a smirk, watching the arrows graze us: Talia’s arm, Zara’s leg, my hair- and with each barrage of silver blurs flying through the air, he looked up to the dark sky, lips moving like a silent prayer.

Dodging and ducking in a trance of movement, my eyes kept wandering over to Daria’s slack face, the trickle of blood down her back, the lethal silver arrow embedded in her back. All we could do was protect Talia… and have faith in the storm.

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🌊 Daria

Faraway I heard screams of pain. Selene’s voice saying my name. Wind roaring, a struggling engine. A groan that held effort, a groan of someone trying to hold on. I clawed at life, reaching blindly in the blackness for an angel’s touch. Prayers flowed like a river in my head, but I couldn’t move my lips to let them free. Life was above the surface of the water. The mercenaries’ yells. The whizz of an arrow. A steady drip somewhere on my body. Kenna’s rough whisper, “We’re here.”

They’re in Kommetjie. Hold on. Hold on. I could feel death gripping me. Sensations were growing softer as my will started to melt away. The pressure of the arrow in my back was like an echo, detached. Rain tapping on my back in a cold pitter-patter was the only little bliss on my body. It didn’t matter. I could feel myself leaving my body behind, sinking deep underwater. Death coerced me down with each feeble attempt to kick upwards. I didn’t quite let go. I couldn’t quite release my grip.

Every book I’ve ever read, every movie I’d ever seen depicted this exact moment as one of panic. Clawing desperately, fighting to stay alive, veins tingling with emotion and sensation! But I just felt detached, like my spirit was calm as my earth body panicked. I went numb to the world, losing all sensation of my body. There was only darkness. And yet, I didn’t quite let go. Why? Because hope fluttered in the dusky world, a dancing flame lighting the black. I followed the light, and didn’t look back.

Orion

Orion nodded to his fellow mercenary to dock the boat, a young-looking man with bright green eyes and a shock of red hair. He looked jubilant and young, about early twenties with an unwrinkled face. He looked happy and youthful. Of course, looks could be deceiving. Orion himself, the huntsman, had been around for hundreds of thousands of years but didn’t look a day over thirty. He still remembered, somewhat wistfully, how life had been as a human before he had met Artemis. Hunting in the woods, laying in the meadow at sunset watching the blaze of red and yellow brushstrokes fade into dusk, naming each constellation in the night sky without a clue that one day he would become one of them… it didn’t matter now. His love had changed him forever, altered everything he had ever known, thrown all his morals away like dust to the wind, carried away with each silvery word from her lips. 

“We’re docked!” the young man called. Orion wondered what Artemis had done to him to make him indebted to her. Was he in love with her too? The thought made him cringe… both out of jealousy and at the fact that technically, he laid no claim to her heart. No one did, of course. But it still hurt.

Orion blindly pushed down the pain. It was swept away by a wave of devotion, the dog-like desire to never fail her taking over everything else. He gracefully hopped off the bow with the light footedness of a panther prowling the jungle. He could see the black-haired girl turning the corner at a run, disappearing into the tangled streets of Kommetjie, Cape Town with the bleeding young woman in tow. 

Even surveying the blood-spattered cement, Orion couldn’t find even a pang of sympathy in his heart. It had been broken every time he saw her face disappointed, every time she rejected him… every word that she spoke shattered him with hopeless longing. After a while, his heart had stayed shattered, never quite healing. He had never tried to fix it. In the end, he knew he would fall right back apart the next time he laid eyes on her, so what was the point mending a hurting heart? Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the blonde girl scamper off after them, straining to maintain the rapidly growing storm. The dark girl slipped around the corner too, pain written plainly across her face- both from the small arrow wound, and, he suspected, from a deeper emotional hurt buried beneath.

He smiled in spite of the grim sight, drawing his bow and bouncing off after them down the sidewalk. A twisted emotion resembling happiness rose inside him, one that only came from the fresh blood of a new hunt and the rush of a chase. He may be broken-hearted, merciless, foolishly in love, but more than anything, Orion was a huntsman. It was time to hunt.

Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday! Mind Games 3- Manipulation

Hello! If you are new to the blog, you can go to the archives page (you can find it on the navigation bar) to find the first edition of this series! For people who read my blog through Twitter, remember that you can click on the Life and Lemons logo in the corner to visit the real site also! Enjoy this week’s highly anticipated edition!

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Manipulation. Deceit. Vile. My mind churned with the thoughts as I lay in the dark hotel room. Memories clung viciously to the edge of my mind, sucking away the elation from the previous hour, the golden rush of euphoria that the use of my powers always gave.  It was like a drug addict’s high: pure bliss, the tangy taste of infinite power tantalizingly within grasp. But it wasn’t like before, meaninglessly reading people’s minds in class, compelling the math teacher to let them out a few minutes early… no. This felt wrong. 

I am James Blackthorn. My whole life I had lived with my power, looking into people’s minds, molding thoughts and shaping reality. At first, it had seemed intrusive and wrong… because it was. The high it gave me was disgustingly addictive, the surge of adrenaline and the power to change everything. To change the world. I had been to prisons, wiped dark thoughts from minds, compelled people to be better people, convinced my friend to ask out his long-time crush. Even with all the good, there was always that niggle in the back of my head. To abuse my power- do something wrong. Convince someone I hated to do horrible things, make a girl fall in love with me, steal as much money as I wished. It was an evil, gut-wrenching urge that I shoved down deep. It was an urge put there by my father a long time ago.

No. Stop. You haven’t let him control you. You can’t let the darkness overwhelm you because of him. Because of your… father. Even the thought sounded wrong, that word coated in venom in his mind. 

I haven’t done anything too bad yet. Have I? Manipulating our way into a free hotel room was one thing. My father seeking me out, being foolish enough to get comfortable, compelling the teacher. I could let go of it all. What I couldn’t let go was her. Always her, always Vivian Rose. Pretty, sweet, a talented musician with a beautiful laugh like tinkling bells. Her life had been so blissfully… so incredibly normal. Just a girl with a crush and a knack for the french horn. I had set off a chain reaction. Trying to alter her thoughts, her powers showing themselves, my father hunting us down. It was all my fault. 

I shifted onto my side, peering out across the empty room, the pitter-pattering drops of the shower the only noise in the silent night. My eyelids started to slip down like they were being gently dragged by some invisible weight. Despite the guilt writhing in my gut, my fatigue was grappling at any hold it could reach, desperately sinking me into a light doze.

Please, let sleep come… I squeezed my eyes shut, praying for the plain darkness of dreamless sleep, for the thoughts to leave my head and the guilt to evaporate from my gut. I should’ve known it wouldn’t be that easy. 

The instant I let my mind attempt to slip off into sleep, a million images attacked  my mind like a slideshow gone nuts. Vivian’s blue eyes, wide with fear. My father’s twisted smile. Ash brown hair whipping in the wind. A speedometer screeching higher. Vivian, her innocent, blushed face tense with anger. The blank look that slid over the hotel clerk’s eyes as I meddled with her thoughts. Betrayal, utter disgust scrawled across Vivian’s face when I let the shy facade slip. My heart pounded faster, the light at the end of the tunnel (sleep, in this case) rocketing further and further out of reach with each passing second. 

Please! I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I hardly knew who I was pleading to. No one would hear my cries, no one could stop the guilt that barraged my stomach or the past that poisoned my thoughts. I was all alone. There was no way I would ask Vivian for help. I had already broken her heart, shattered her perception of reality, thrown her into my twisted world of fear and lies. She had done enough already. Dealt with enough.

A million noises sounded in my mind, a discordant roar that didn’t match up to the torrent of images. Teacher’s yells. Vivian’s angelic voice. My father’s hissing chuckle. Revving motors sputtering, struggling under intense speed. The slap of my sneakers on the school tile. One blood curdling scream that sliced through it all like a knife. Everything cut out, leaving me in an empty blackness, echoes of the cry still reverberating in my ears. That scream seemed too loud. Too real. It was real. Vivian! 

Before I could begin to drag myself out of sleep, two hands yanked my shoulders. My eyes snapped open and I yelped as the slim figure shook me violently. When it finally halted, she was there, vibrant blue eyes wild with something more than panic. Sheer. Terror. My heart sank like a heavy rock in a pond, leaving a trail of bubbling worries in its wake.

“James! James, wake up!” Her hand swept my cheek in a slap that left my ears ringing. It stung as bad as hydrogen peroxide poured on an open wound, a lasting sting that sent shock waves rippling through your skin. 

“Ow! What is it, Vivian?” The words were sluggish as I surveyed the room. It was quiet, except for an ominous thump-thump beating in the hallway. It was a familiar sound, one I had heard (and dreaded) thousands of times before. My father’s footsteps. I would recognize them anywhere. It was the thump-thump rhythm that tortured my dreams, one that I cringed at when I was little and heard him coming down the hallway to my room. She didn’t need to say anything. I knew what it was. 

“We have to go. Now. He’s here.” 

Seconds raced ahead in rapid succession. My feet striking the floor, Vivian fumbling with the lock frantically, my heart a jackhammer pounding my ribs. Each little movement of her quick fingers seemed like an eternity. Just as she was about to open the door, everything happened at once. My heart soared as the handle turned under her fingers. Butterflies barraged my stomach suddenly when Vivian looked back at me, hope bright as a flame in her brilliant blue eyes. I didn’t have time to analyze the feeling, to wonder why in that moment I was so suddenly awestruck by her flushed cheeks and bright blue eyes. Then, right before the door could squeak open- knock. Knock. A dreadfully long pause. I held my breath, stepping back in horror. Knock.

Crash! Vivian was thrown backwards as the door burst open to reveal him, in all his fury. Sickly white as a corpse, a vengeful phantom in his impeccable black suit. His unsettlingly pale hazel eyes landed hungrily on Vivian (still scrambling to get up), then, after a long moment, on me. A spark of emotion flashed in his gaze. Hunger? Fury? Pride? Love? Grief? Joy? Disappointment? Any one of those seemed to fit just as good as the next.

 It was a look I had learned to be afraid of- you never knew if you were going to get beat or praised. From him? Both options were equally as bad. Praising meant pressure to use my powers, usually for my father’s gain or to hurt an innocent just out of pure, malicious spite. Beating? Well, you get the point. His barely-there muscles were taut under the expensive fabric as he stepped forward. 

“Dad.” The word was a curse, a horrible swear that was like poison on my lips. As bad as a priest shaming his God, condemning as townspeople accusing a witch, a word that left a bad taste lingering on my tongue like a too-sour candy. 

“James. I see you and your girlfriend got my message.” I faltered, my heart stuttering at his voice, how disgusting the words sounded as they dripped from his thin lips. With all the strength I could muster, I spat back, 

“She’s not my girlfriend.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Vivian’s body convulse at the words, brow creasing slightly like the words put her in physical pain. I took a careful step towards her, eyes still trained on my father, looming in the doorway like the Grim Reaper.

“Ah, but wouldn’t she like to be? That’s how this all started. Ms. Rose’s desire for you, James. And that’s how this will all end.” Vivian got shakily to her feet, instantly freezing in panic. She was a deer in headlights under his malicious gaze.

“Leave,” she inched a little closer to him, body tensed, “now.” The power of the word slammed down on the room like an earthquake. I had to strain to keep my feet in place. They itched, burning to leave and run away as fast as I could. Her command, the heavenly voice so articulated and clear, made even me (who had years of training in mind control resistance) want to dart away. My father barely flinched, but I could see his left foot twitch slightly backwards. Almost imperceptibly, he moved back a little. I locked eyes with Vivian. She had seen it too.

“Ah, Ms. Rose. So powerful. On any normal human, I’m sure they wouldn’t have been able to stay for a millisecond after that. But I’m not so normal, am I?” He cocked his head to the side, staring her directly in the eyes, lips spreading into a twisted grin.  While he was distracted, I began to inch around the side, slipping into the bathroom and grabbing the first thing I could… which just so happened to be a plunger. Shiny, cherry red with a rough wooden pole poorly grafted onto the plastic. Holding it by the plastic, I brandished the wooden stick, readying myself to lunge forward.

“No. You are a sick, grotesque naked mole rat of a man. Leave.” His grin widened at her words, a deranged Cheshire Cat lurking smugly in the dark. But I saw the way his feet inched backwards slightly, how shivers ran down his arms and his muscles strained. Vivian wasn’t normal like I had thought. She just may be the most powerful mind controller I had ever met. Stronger than me, and perhaps even… my father? 

“Ms. Rose, I could either do this the hard way or the easy way. You see, you have a natural defense block against mind control. But I don’t specialize in mind control, I dabble in it. However, I have a much greater gift. I control emotions.” The smirk morphed into a snarl, and Vivian’s eyes widened with pain. Tears burst down her cheeks abruptly, and she clutched her heart, falling to the floor. Gasps of breath wracked her chest, face contorted in heart break. Waves of pure, causeless despair crashed down on her violently; Vivian writhed like she had never felt so much pain in her life. She probably hadn’t.

When she started to scream, I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t wait another second watching the utter grief storm over those bright blue eyes, the defiance melting and her shoulders tensed with pain. Lunging, I struck him over the head with the stick. Crack! I heard the sickening crunch of the impact as his skull was smashed by the wood, which splintered into pieces. He gave a deafening roar of pain, grabbing Vivian’s wrist and yanking her up, tears still cascading down her cheeks like roaring waterfalls.

“No!” I reached for her, and my father brought up a hand. Immediate tidal waves of fear pushed me under. Grappling for his thoughts, I struggled through the fear, pushing my way into his mind. Horror clawed at my heart with icy fingers. I was hot and cold, sweat stinging my eyes. But through the racing heart and trembling body, through the pulsating terror, I pushed deeper into his mind, thrusting myself into his thoughts. I could see his tether to Vivian, coursing with palpable despair and grief like a laser beam of heart break pumping into her skull. The bubbles of thoughts floated further out of reach each time I tried to manipulate one. 

Exhausted, shivering with sweat, I was about to give up. Curl into a corner and let him do as he wished with the world. I just wanted it all to end. For the fear to stop, for my heart to stop pounding like a jackhammer. It hurt. Everything hurt. More than anything in the world, I wanted it to stop. And it would. If I let him take Vivian, he would release me and I could live in peace.

With one glance at her despair-filled blue eyes, I ruled it out instantly. The pain in her face flushed away the fear. I had dragged her into this… it was my fault she was feeling this pain. Now I was going to make sure he could never do this to anyone ever again.

Instead of hacking at the tether to Vivian, I hurled all my power into one mighty jab at his core power, a glowing ball of energy that tied him to emotions. All my force into one finishing blow. For a second, nothing happened. Then I saw the grief melt from Vivian’s face. Not a moment later, his power core exploded in a blinding flash of light. A million emotions blasted me all at once. Love hate fear envy despair sadness joy anxiety awe surprise anger – all in one booming second that made my heart overload. I just destroyed his power. I thought in awe. There was only a second to feel triumph before I blacked out.

Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday! 🌠Without a Trace

“Without a trace.” These were the words that rang in the ears of the people, that sliced on the wind with whispers and ruffled the wise willows (who seemed to droop lower and lower with each time her name was spoken.) Pictures plastered the windows. Amber alerts screeching their discordant call into the night air. One name spat like a curse, one woman sobbing it, the whole world buzzing about it. One name that swept through the school hallways like a tornado, leaving silence and tension in its wake. One name that rolled through the rural Ohio town like a ghostly fog creeping over the fields.“Mira. Casse.” 

It was the last thing Melissa Casse would hear before it happened. It was a night like every other before it, deathly silent except the whisper of the wind and the chatter of crickets roaming the moonlit fields. Selene’s captor stood in the light of the open window, looking out across the glittering grasses.
“Mira. Casse.” A detached voice whispered into the night, a voice that had plagued her nightmares, haunting every waking moment. A second later, a silver blur screamed down from the clouds. The frail blonde woman felt a prick on her chest, a burst of pain like a bee sting amplified a hundred times. She shrieked, placing her pale fingers to her chest, feeling the wetness there. 

Blood. The silver glinted in the light as she yanked it out of her chest, crimson spurting onto the wood floor in gushing drops. Rattling moans escaped her chest, the pain starting to jab at her. Eyes wide, her knees buckled.

“Melissa? Honey, are you okay? Let me in!” His voice was rough with worry, each muscle of his sun-weathered skin taut as a tightrope. She could imagine him outside the door-  his head in his hands, dark hair ruffled wildly, dark shadows lurking under his eyes like a brand of the many sleepless nights. 

“Melissa, please. Please, don’t do this. What’s wrong? Let me in!” Silence clung to the air for a second, shattered almost instantaneously by a screeching sob. Pure pain, the rawest heartbreak, the hottest fire, the iciest cold- bottled up into an ear splitting scream. James pounded the wood. Crack. Crack. Crack. CRACK. Not enough. Not enough. Melissa cried out again, thrashing as her heart pounded brokenly. Panic surged in white-hot waves, crashing through her veins. 

She had to get to the window, had to lock the latch and get away from this place as soon as possible. Mira. Casse. Artemis’s chilly laugh echoed on the night as though mocking her futile attempts to move. Crimson blossomed over her white nightgown as she covered her ears, slicking her pale fingertips with blood like Sleeping Beauty with a lot of curiosity but no prince. Melissa dragged herself an inch closer, the little metal latch glinting in the moonlight. 

Sharp, stabbing pain rocketed through her, vision blurring into a foggy haze with each little movement. Everything was blurry now. Swishing white curtains like vengeful phantoms. Stars in the sky shone painfully bright like torchlights bobbing in a dank black cave. Her cotton nightgown stained with red, creeping over the fabric like weeds in an untended garden. The silver arrow protruding from her chest was like an exclamation mark misplaced at the end of a grim sentence.

Crack. Crack. CRACK. CRACK. “Melissa, I’m coming, hold on!” Blackness began to creep in around the edges. The frail blonde woman slammed the window shut, stinging pins and needles pricking her skin. Just as she reached for the latch, so tantalizingly close, the window flew open with a gust of wind, knocking her back onto the floor. THUD. Pain crackled through her skull, a spark bursting in a blazing inferno.

Standing there, wreathed in moonlight, was Artemis in all her glory. Auburn hair loose around her shoulders, hazel eyes burning with fury like hot embers in her pale face. Her stark white toga fluttered in the breeze as she reached for her quiver. Melissa tensed, braced for another shot, but nothing came. Artemis plucked a broken chain from the leather bag, tossing it at the blood-stained woman. Mira’s star necklace. 

“What have you done to her?” Melissa sobbed, blonde strands of hair whipping in the wind that picked up with each passing second. The goddess’s face was cold, emotionless, missing any humanity. The glint of mercy and love she had seen and nurtured in Selene wasn’t there in Artemis. Washed away with the countless centuries… or perhaps it had never been there at all. 

“Nothing, Mrs. Casse. Nothing at all… yet. Perhaps you should ask her what she did to me.” Venom overflowed from the icy words, a fury so cold and deep it burned away the melodic, silvery sweetness of her voice. “You changed her, Melissa. Turned her weak-willed and sensitive. I could have fixed her, could have hardened her with the passing centuries. If that had been all the damage you’d done. But it wasn’t, was it?” 

Mrs. Casse moaned, visions of Mira’s sparkling midnight blue eyes dancing across her mind’s eye, memories of family breakfasts, looking lovingly on as her “daughter” scampered onto the high school bus in jeans and flannel, completely oblivious that she had lived in golden gowns for most of her life until Melissa had taken her away. Crickets’ chirps cried in the golden fields, interrupting the still night air. 

“It wasn’t was it?” Artemis asked vehemently, trembling from head to toe. Her silver heels jittered on the floor, an uneven, jittery tap like a soundtrack of insanity. The mellifluous, crooning voice of the huntress was gone, scorched away like green grass burning to a crisp under a desert sun. Melissa groaned, the arrow throbbing in her chest just a fraction of an inch from her heart.

 “Was it? Was it?” Artemis shrieked, her heels tapping more violently with each passing second, her pale face flushing a furious pink. Crack. CRACK. CRACK. CRACK. The wood of the door splintered, beginning to give way. She could see a glimpse of her husband’s sweat-beaded face through the cracks, bronze cheeks flushed red with effort, eyes wide with desperation. Melissa whispered a silent prayer that he would have the strength. Hope rose in her chest like a phoenix unfurling its mighty wings. 

“No. It wasn’t the only thing I did. But I’m glad for the things I did. You made her cold, heartless, almost beyond saving. I loved her, I helped her, I tried to give her humanity and mercy-” 

“Ha!” Artemis’s lips curled into a twisted grin. “Mercy is for the weak. You did the damage that I couldn’t repair. Not only did you steal her from me, wipe her memory, pit her against me, you did the worst thing of all. You made her human.” Before you could blink, Artemis drew her silver bow and flicked her finger. Melissa felt a sharp prick of pain and saw her husband’s tortured face looming above her. Artemis was gone, disappeared without a trace. The last thing she felt was the sticky blood on her fingertips where the second silver arrow had directly pierced her heart. Mira. Casse. 

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I jolted awake, gasping for air. My heart throbbed, pulsating with a sharp pain that felt like something lodged directly in my chest. Clutching my throat, I ran a hand over the star shaped scar where my necklace had sat for so many years. 

“Where are we?” I asked, glancing around the deck. Daria’s puddles of sticky crimson blood had dried by now, leaving ominous brown stains clinging the the wood like an omen of disaster; the cloying metallic scent still clung to the air, intermingling with the tangy sea salt breeze. 

“From what I’ve heard, we’re nearing the Cape of Good Hope. There’s buzz that they came to Africa to hunt down Earth, but are concerned by a new article that was released about us.” Daria paused, widening her eyes in a shockingly good imitation of innocence as one of the mercenaries stalked by. Grumbling along, he barely gave a second glance to us. Obviously the crew didn’t seem to think we were much of a threat (with the enchanted bonds and lack of substantial food). They’re probably right, I thought with frustration, staring helplessly at Artemis’s burly mercenaries conversing on the bow. 

“Crescent Cunningham, a news reporter from Manchester-” Kenna’s head shot up like a bullet, tendrils of dark brown hair swirling around her shoulders like Medusa’s snakes.  

“Manchester?” The word flew out of her mouth like a dart, so fast it was almost hard to tell if it was a question. Something about the feral look in her eyes made me cringe back, as though shrinking myself down could save me from Kenna’s glare. I had never seen her coal black eyes burn so bright. The ropes around her wrists hissed, sizzling violently like an egg slammed to the sidewalk on a hot day.

“Yes,” Daria cleared her throat anxiously. “She’s from the Manchester Post. It’s something about our disappearance. She thinks we’re witches.” Her voice fell to a whisper on the last word, face crumpling as she put a hand to her anklet. It was adorned with a little golden cross. This power she was given must seem very unholy to her… The thought that our gift was unnatural sent shivers down my spine. It would take years for her to come to terms with it, let alone the fact that the Olympians existed, just barely out of sight her whole life. I pushed the thought aside. This was no place to console her. 

Kenna drew her knees to her chest, lip trembling with fury or grief- I couldn’t tell. Her bonds hissed angrily, charring black with each second. Out of the blue, it hit me. My heart pounded as I took in her knitted brows and tense shoulders. This just might work.

“Your school probably thinks you’re an arsonist. Don’t you think? They hear the accounts of you murdering a man, exploding in a ball of fire. An article about you on the run with other delinquents? They must think that you finally snapped,” I said lightly, sprinkling in some snark on a few words like an exclamation mark punctuating an angry sentence. Murdering. Delinquents. Snapped. Daria looked at me in alarm, mouthing a silent warning. I ignored her, smiling as Kenna clenched her fists, dark eyes scrunching at the corners. 

“Manchester, your hometown. Imagine how shocked they were, how disgusted they were to hear about you. A witch. I bet your brother can’t even walk through the hall without whispers and laughs trailing in his wake. Will, was it?” Guilt twinged in my heart as the words hung in the air, my heart strings plucking a discordant twang. It was working. Her coal eyes smoldered with intensity, furious tears dripping down her tan cheeks. Frayed black strands of rope were falling away slowly, hissing like an angry cat. Daria glanced at the charred threads then back at me, understanding lighting her eyes. 

“Stop. Now.” Kenna hissed through clenched teeth. I conjured up my most venomous smirk, suppressing the disgust and guilt that roiled in my gut. You have to do this. We have a chance. My lips were stretched so wide my cheeks stung; I felt like the Cheshire Cat lurking smugly in the dark woods.

“Oh, wait. I forgot something, didn’t I? Don’t you think Charles would be upset too?” Her eyes glowed hot. The rope curled away, threads blackening quicker and quicker with each word. The smile that curled my lips felt wrong, twisted, demonic. It was necessary. I tried to think of happy things as I braced myself for the next sentence, but all I could think about was how merciless I sounded. How… inhuman. Like Artemis. I steeled myself with an achy breath. 

“Ah, but he can’t be, can he.” My smile was pained, teeth gritted as I forced out the words. “Because you killed him.” A single, silent second passed, a second that felt like an eternity. Then she exploded. Fire burst from her fingertips, ravaging her bonds in a foul swoop of flame! Kenna lurched for me, a blur of flying hair and clenched fists. Charred ropes fell from her wrists.

“It was an accident and you know it! You sick, twisted, lying-” She screamed, too consumed in fury to finish.Within seconds I was pinned to the ground, Daria frantically holding Kenna back as she threw herself forward. Fire licked my skin, searing pain rocketing across my arms. Then it all stopped. Kenna froze in place, her furious face smoothing as she looked out across the horizon. I sat up and followed her gaze. There it was. The Cape of Good Hope in all its glory. But more than that? Storm and Earth racing towards our ship in a boat. Today was the day we would escape.