Tag Archives: Story

The Notorious Knine (teaser)

Chapter 1
Responsibility is a bitch, isn’t it?

My whole life was mapped out for me even before my conception and the details of my birth, childhood, and role in society have been fashioned specifically to accommodate what would eventually be my downfall. But I’ll get to that part later. I’ve learned soon enough that everything happens for a reason.

My name is Yasmin Knine and I am the current heir of Sol, the third realm of the Veil. My older sister Nadia is the current ruler, but once she marries Tatiana, Princess of Jupiter, she’s ruling by her side and handing me the crown.

It was for that exact reason that I found myself at the edge of a cliff ready to plummet down into a valley a hundred feet below. Overlooking the barren cliffside, I pushed my worries of taking over aside and focused on the lush undergrowth below me. From this vantage point, I could see a large expanse of Caesar, the fifth realm of the Veil. Deep hues of all the colors in the spectrum graffitied the land and the trees swayed in unison as the crisp breeze swept up a whirlwind of purple dust into the sunset. The view stole my breath and if it hadn’t been for the voice down below me telling me to jump, I would have let the beauty suffocate me.

“What are you waiting for, you coward?”

I looked down to where Jude stood. He was a tiny speck amongst the tall evergreens but his pale strands burned a clear gold in the orange hue of the setting sun.

“Shut up!” I yelled back. “Don’t distract me or I’ll lose my nerve.”

As I stepped closer to the narrowing edge, my heart sped up. As far as finding distractions from my responsibilities at court I could probably go a less dangerous route, but nowhere in all seven realms could you get scenery like this. A loud screech stole my attention and I glanced up to see a Caesarian bird looming above. Its body, five times my size, was set in flight. Its bright red feathers, interwoven with a speckling of yellow glistened in the paling light, making it seem as if it were on fire.

“It’s now or never, Yasmin,” Jude called from the ground. “Jump!”

Taking one final breath, I spread my arms out and leaned against the wind. My instincts told me to close my eyes, but I had come too far to miss the view I’d be treated with once my feet left the ground. In no time I was weightless, air whipping through my dark strands as I fell. For a moment, my heart stopped before rising up into a crescendo.

Doubt gripped at me for a moment. What if I had miscalculated and this truly was my end? I realized with sudden clarity that getting crushed to a million pieces was hardly the way I wanted to go. Gods, had I made a mistake? Nadia would be so livid. The ground rushed up to meet me and I held my breath waiting for the impact, but the Caesarian swooped down below me and I landed heavily onto its backside. Relief flooded through me. Who said you couldn’t trust the birds in Caesar?

I heard Jude’s loud, “Whoop! You did it!” as the bird dived down before curving up towards the sky and then out to the valley. I held onto its thick mane and opened my eyes against the thick gust of wind rushing against my lids. What met my sight astounded all my senses. Rivers of yellow, violet and greens hummed with life and the sweet chill of glaciers sent goosebumps down my body as we flew higher and higher into the mountains. I turned back to look for Jude, but the bird had traveled too far for him to be visible now. I was too caught up in everything around me to care for very long. For a while I remained a slave to my surroundings and engulfed myself in this weightless moment. We looped through the forests unburdened with court duties and Nadia’s expectations of me.

I hadn’t realize that it had been there a while until the sun had set and the great glaciers and verdant evergreens were nowhere in sight. I wasn’t ready for my ride to end, but I knew Jude would be worried and my sister would be pissed if she came to my room only to find it empty. She made it extremely clear what would happen if I was caught sneaking out again.

I gently tugged on the nape of my carrier to get its attention and whispered, “dimissus.” The Caesarian descended and bowed its head to the ground so I could slide down from its neck. I kissed its soft down to thank it and it gave one final purr before soaring back up into clouds leaving me in the midst of hovering trees and towering boulders. At first it felt peaceful being under a canopy of stars, but a piercing growl tore through the night and it struck me that I was without a doubt alone in unfamiliar territory. Even worse, I was lost.

I had only been to Caesar a couple of times, but I never traversed farther than the valley and the cliff. I always counted on Jude to lead the way. The Fifth Realm was hardly the most wicked of all seven, but any section of the Veil held the potential for danger. Especially at the rise of the Winter Solstice when night crawlers grew nigh and dark witches relied on this time of the year to practice their most dangerous spells. It was during this season that the air grew coldest and the shadows stretched longer than the sun.

Another vicious growl echoed and a high pitched snicker followed close behind. It amazed me just as much as it scared me how easily Caesar could turn from a verdant Haven to a frozen hell in between the moments of twilight.

Despite my unfamiliarity with the realm, I remembered my training in Academy and endeavored to remain calm.

Step one: Assess your surroundings. Ahead of me lay a forest and to my right lay a shallow cave. Behind me a river flowed rapidly down into an infinite abyss that Caesar was infamous for.

Which led me to step 2: Decide the best course of action. The abyss was an absolute no go. Although I’m sure I would be able to find some good conversation were I to meet up with someone in the infinite void as we endlessly freefell.

The forest was my only option if I wanted to keep moving and the cave would do if I wished to wait till morning. If I chose the latter, Nadia would kill me for not getting home in time, but if I went through the forest I could get chewed up by the creatures of this realm.

After much thought I concluded that Jude had already gone back to Sol to tell Nadia and that she had already dispatched a band of guards to come find me. I opted to stay. I made my way to the dark mouth of the cave and for absurd reason, knocked on the entrance.

“Hello?” I inwardly laughed at how stupid I must’ve looked knocking into a dark hole and expecting a response, but nothing came. Finding the surplus of bravery that remained after cliff-diving, I enveloped myself in the swarm of darkness and sat down on the hard ground. Pulling my legs to my chest, I rested my head on my knees. My adventures of the day caught up with me and gravity pulled at my tired eyes. Giving in, I closed them and waited for morning.

*****

A soft caress woke me. My lids were too heavy to open so I felt around me instead. Something soft cushioned my body and a sickly, sweet stench of roses intertwined with an unpleasant smell I couldn’t identify. Was I home? Had they found me and brought me back? I tried to rub my eyes open, but the movement was met by resistance. My arm dropped back down with a clang. I yanked harder, but to no avail.

“Shhh, child. Do not fret.” The voice sounded like gravel being tossed around in a bowl and fear escalated my body. That was definitely not Nadia and this was definitely not home. Without warning, the cold hand that woke me pried my eyes open and an old hag came into view. “Such pretty hair,” she cooed as she fingered her red, stringy locks. “And those brown eyes look so delicious.” She cracked a smile, but all that was visible were yellowing gums. A white film glazed over her irises and her pupils were non-existent. She looked blind, but I could feel her stare piercing through mine.

I tried to push myself up, but chains held me to a bed of leaves. I opened my mouth to talk, but my voice felt like a desert. The hag silenced my protests with a wrinkled finger to my lip. It smelled my rotting meat and roses.

I ignored the urge to vomit and my voice shook as I pleaded, “Please, let me go.”

She ignored me and instead stroked my face with longing on her features.

Hags were once witches of the Southern Veil, famed for their beauty and powers. If a one was ever found in the north, away from their homeland, it was because they had been exiled for breaking a covenant to Hetia, their goddess of light magic. Any witch that is away from their motherlands for too long turns into one. Their bodies decayed while their soul remained eternal, never having the benefit of a sweet death they could only experience in their plane. It was because of this state that hags often preyed on the flesh of young women and ate of it to attain beauty, even for just a little while. It was clear by the stench of this cave and the rotted sores on her body, that this shrew had been here a while.

Maybe this one was different, I reasoned. Maybe she just wants a friend? The possibility of ever encountering a nice hag was slim to none and I was without a doubt screwed, but I couldn’t stop the little sliver of naive optimism that escaped me.

She drew a candle close to my face and a steady flow of black wax dripped down and landed on my cheek, earning a wince from me. Then her hand came up to place a rusted dagger with a blunt edge on the bed and all thoughts of a good resolution left me. I struggled against my bonds, but the metal cut into my skin and the pain was too much to bear. She turned away from me and began mixing her ingredients together, chanting as she crushed items into her bowl.

Calm, Yasmin. Remain Calm. I stifled the bout of panic trying to escape me.

Step one: Assess. Chains, check. Loss of hope, check. Old hag about to eat my skin off, check. We were no longer at the mouth of the cave which meant the shrew had probably moved me deeper into the dark hole, making it impossible for me to be visible by any resident of Caesar. I had to rely on myself to get out of this situation.

I saw that the knife was just a few inches from my fingertips and if I could just reach it– the hag loomed over me suddenly and slathered a thick paste on my forehead. It was cold to the touch and dripped down to my temples.

I stopped reaching and waited for her to get closer. In no time, her face was inches from mine. I let instinct take over and slammed my head against hers, knocking the hag to the ground. Her eyes flooded red and I knew she couldn’t see through her anger. Literally. She rose and screeched, but it was suddenly drowned out by a cacophony of howling.

I could recognize those howls from anywhere. Wolves. But not just any wolves. These were tracking canines of the Sol realm. Which meant Jude was here. I just had to buy myself enough time till they found me.

It was then that another wave of fear threatened to strangle me. I had wolves and Jude to rescue me from this altar, but no one could save me from Nadia.

The Days of the Week If They Were People

Monday walks into work, half awake and filled with Adderall. Despite his ragged attire, his over-washed, once navy now sky blue button-up, and his breath that reeks of cheap coffee, his overall appearance is passable. He’s not much of a crowd favorite and most tend to avoid him if they can. Everyone except the small percent who show up to their desk half an hour ready– with bright smiles on their faces. Sometimes they bring a dozen donuts to share. This endears them to Monday, somewhat, but even still his mood is mostly all but pleasant. He opts for raising his eyebrow rather than giving a half hearted wave to Tuesday as she walks by because he’s still waking up from his Nyquil induced sleep.

Tuesday is much more put together. She walks to and from her desk to the lounge room, scrounging for sugar to spill into her already too-sweet mocha latte. Her overall demeanor is stiff. Her shoes are black and sleek and taper to a point that could do some real damage if she were so inclined. Her hair is spun tightly in a French twist. Heaven forbid a single strand escape from its perfect fold. She pays in exact change and eats with her lips pulled slightly back so her red lipstick doesn’t smear. She’s the kind to grab a donut from Thursday, but mumble about his work ethic in her cubicle.
No one really likes her either, but she gets invited to more parties than Monday.

Wednesday is a real charmer. She’s also a bit of a wildcard. One minute she could be spying for Monday and the next, gossiping with the weekends. She’s always eager to lend a helping hand, giving you that extra push to send you down the hill. Most of the time you land on your face, but there are a few times where you land on your face but the crash isn’t as hard. She usually arrives 14 minutes too late or 33 minutes too early, there’s never an in-between. She’s been known to pour milk before cereal, but she throws great parties so it’s a judge’s overall score of 7.

Thursday tries. He has jokes at the ready, but no one really wants to know what happens when a judge, a parrot, and a naked cyclist walk into a church. Still, his ceaseless optimism can be refreshing. He’s the hype man no one really asked for, but still tolerate because his older brother is just so damn cool. But despite how many donuts he may bring, he still lives in the perpetual shadow of his parents’ favorite, Friday.

Now Friday is the man to be. That is if you want to perfect half-baked proposals and have an affinity for cheap beer. He’s nice enough to ask how your day is going, but not too nice that he’ll actually care about your answer. Still, he’s a crowd pleaser– in more ways than one. Mainly because he always offers to pay for dinner or take your whole tab even if you’re just a few coins short, but don’t be fooled. Friday is mischievous and just dangerous enough to be exciting but not too much to be alarming. He’s been known to clock out a bit too early, but no one blames him

Saturday lives by maybe one or two morals and the rest are few and far between. She hardly takes a break from going out or shopping with the money Friday has given her because she’s “his good little girl.” She takes LSD four times a month– sometimes consecutively if it’s Spring Break– because she read somewhere online that it boosts creativity and is responsible for the Mona Lisa. She’s more than a bit reckless, but everyone, well everyone except Tuesday, can agree she’s a good time. Free to laugh and eager to jump with both eyes closed, she can be a bit daunting and hard to keep up with, but all the best stories start with Saturday.

Now, Sunday is the calm before the storm. Usually pissed because he wasn’t picked first again, he’s easily mollified with a hot coco and baby marshmallows. In the mornings, he tends to the gardens or cleans the garage and sometimes he goes to church if his mother asks him. But mostly, he sleeps, tangled legs interwoven with the covers, slightly damp from the hot summer’s day. He tends to shower late into the afternoon and binge watch pirated episodes his favorite mini series. He eats day old pizza, cold and just right. At the edge of 1, he crawls back into bed, staring up into the ceiling as the fan whirls in an lulling buzz. He enjoys a peaceful 5 hours of sleep before he wakes up to head into work for Monday.

Writer’s Block

“I can’t write.”

Her soft hand landed on my shoulder, the tendrils of comfort drifting from the warmth of her palm glided over my skin in vain. I was cold.

“Try,” came her whisper.

“You make it sound so easy.”

I clutched my pen with pleading fingers, willing my whitened knuckles to tighten their hold— as if the strength of my grip would bring forth the words I knew were buried deep. 

I closed my eyes, as if it would negate the blinded vision I had fostered in my mind.

“Think,” she said.

“Of what?” I grew angry now. How could I think when I could barely comprehend what I was after. I had no idea what I was looking for, no grasp of what I wanted— needed— to do, to write, to become.

I willed myself to stand up, to go and give up what was a fruitless attempt to mean something, to be someone, but I stayed glued to my seat. As if someone had stitched the very bottom of my soul in the dark confines of the space I occupied— forever reminding me I had no escape.

I clutched at my hair, wondering how many strands I could pull free before I was blinded by the blood that seeped from my tired mind.

I pulled— harder.

Harder even.

Harder even than that.

“Write.”

I thrashed, yelled, and screamed.

Let is stop. Let it stop. Let it stop.

The mantra of an idle soul. Desperation and hatred, hopelessness and defeat– all diseases crawling through the very veins that once flowed so languidly with imagination. I laughed now, hysterical at the hand I was too lost to deal. Who am I kidding?

“Think.”

Of what? Dammit, what!

The hand, gentle on my shoulder, glided upwards, clasping the nape of my neck. My chills became shudders then. I was trapped, immobile, in a world I could not even create. Tied to the bones of my broken dreams and aspirations. Their mocking skulls set in a cruel countenance, disappointed and accusing.

How could you, their hollow eyes screeched at me. Demanding to know how I could let them drift away, from the palm of my once firm hands into the brittle graveyard of where all dreams go when their owners abandon them.

I saw their ghosts trail from the room, their bright light dimming as they traveled farther into the darkness— screaming, begging, pleading for me to run after them. To save them from the abyss billions of other dreams had traveled to only to be forgotten.

“Go,” she said. Her voice laced with earnest this time.

I fought against the grip of the hand holding me down yet telling me to go. I pulled with all my strength, trying to unravel the stitches that had so firmly held me captive. I fought until I could no longer separate one breath from another, one heartbeat from the next. I tore at the edges of my seat, hoping to cut the stitches with my bleeding, frantic fingertips.

But to no avail.

“Go.”

“How!” I screamed.
I raised my hand to my neck, ready to rip the grip so tight on me, but came across air.

Nothing.

Whirling around I found only darkness, a vast empty space. The only sound came from my heavy breaths and erratic heart.

I was alone— abandoned by the very presence that I had so loathed. The being of hope. Myself. 

My panic surged and my lungs gave out. As if pebbles were being forced down my throat, blocking air and life from my drained body. It sent me to a frenzy.

I grasped for sanity, but only found its counterpart.

The vapor of madness seeped into my pores filling the hollows of my very soul.

Urgency rode me and the Insanity clamped its diamond hold on me.

I did the only thing I knew how to do.

I wrote. With no agenda, no plot, no plan. Just wrote the overwhelming thoughts and words and actions that rushed through my mind. None of them making sense, but none of them having to. 

I struggled to keep them close, close enough to record their very meanings, my hand writing furiously on my paper and before my very eyes, the dark expanse that so clouded my vision gave way to green, rolling hills. People of all shapes and sizes, life as I had only imagined and not seen with my naked eye.

She appeared again. This time, not gentle. But strong, fierce. The same ferocity of waves crashing against the rocks or a storm’s heavy breath blowing away the leaves attached to a branch. Her warmth didn’t envelope me. It drowned me. She is ready.

I am ready.

For the very first time in my life, I realized I was not confined, I was merely stagnant. Stuck on a seat I thought held me captive when all along it was merely a device ready to transport me to any realm or world or wish. I sat there, laughing like mad. Not sure if I was happy or just crazy. Maybe I was both. But for the longest time I felt it. I saw it. I knew it. It was laid in front of me, clear as day. It was a world I was ready to write.

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

Just a short explanation on this piece:
When I wrote this, I was taking a class in Creative Writing. We were tasked with creating a short story in fiction, and as the story usually goes, I had no idea what to write about. I had no inspiration, no motivation, no freaking clue what type of story I even wanted to write.
I was at the highest level of frustration.
So, as all writers are wont to do, I used words as a catharsis. The more pretentious and intense, the better. Because the more dramatic and emotional we are on paper, the more sarcastic and seemingly withdrawn we can be in real life.
This is the product.

And you know what? It worked. The more I wrote, even if it wasn’t for the specific assignment, the more inspiration and motivation I fostered.

So moral of the story: If you don’t know what to write. Write anything. Even if it’s nonsensical.

The Devil’s Gate

It was a normal day.

The outside world hummed the same tune as always. The mailman delivered the post at exactly 8:30 and the sound of wind clap and padding paws greeted me as I awoke from a dreamless night. It was another Tuesday of another month set in motion by the rotation of a universe I thought I knew so well.

The sound of branches hit against my window as an angry gust of wind flowed through the leaves. I got up from my unmade bed and whistled over to Joost, urging him to follow me to the kitchen where I filled his bowl with food. He pranced up to it, and looked up at me expectantly. Seeing that I wouldn’t be adding anything special to it, he huffed and buried his nose in the dry kibble. The cruch cruch cruch of his chewing alerted me to my own hunger. I shuffled through the contents in the fridge.

No milk. Taking a seat on the kitchen counter, I reached my hand into a box of cereal and chewed. I glanced at the calendar reading “November 1st 2016” and a bright pink post-it next to it caught attention.

Yo Scott, Holly gave me this ticket to some psychic. Really hard to get an appointment w/ her. Can’t go. Spending the weekend with Janice… Didn’t want to waste the ticket. Check it out for me
-Ronnie

A black ticket stub attached itself to the note of my roommate’s messy scrawl. I perused the flimsy strip of paper. The edges were worn as if the owners were too cheap to keep making new ones and decided to recycle the tickets they gave out. On the front, the words Madame Bodhi: The Awakener Get your fortune told today! was scripted in a lavish gold ink. I rolled my eyes and fought the urge to throw the damn thing in the trash.

I dialed Ronnie’s number in my cell. He picked up on the third ring. “Yo, what’s up?”

“What the hell is this, Ron?” I waved the stub in the air as if he could see me. “You know I don’t believe in this stuff.”

He sighed with exasperation. “Look. Holly got it for me. Nothing big, nothing serious. Just to have a little fun. She paid a lot for it, but I can’t make it tonight. Just check it out for me so I can make something up for her when she asks.”

“What the hell kind of anniversary gift is a psychic reading?”

“Don’t be a dick. You know she’s into that stuff.”

“Well, ask Matt to go.” I clutched my temples.

“He works. Check it out, all right? You owe me for Main Street.”

“Jesus. Main Street? We still on that?

“Yeah, we’re still on that,” His voice rose. “I’m still cleaning that shit out of my hair. Just go and tell me how it is so I can tell her about it.”

I paced around the room. Joost noticed my mood and whined in response. “Fine. But after this, we’re even.”

I hung up before he could respond.

Bringing the box of cereal to the couch, I turned on the TV and flipped to baseball. Outside, a storm loomed.

***

6pm rolled up and Madame Bodhi was a no show. A flyer on her door fluttered through the heavy wind, held together by a thin tape. I read it. It was a foreclosure notice. I looked around the area. Talk about a ghost town. Only two or three stores looked occupied but even then, they looked as if they were fighting to stay open. Up above me, gray clouds covered the sky threateningly.

     “I’ll make up for Main Street another time,” I decided. I walked away then, intending to drive back home, but a tavern across the street caught my attention. I halted mid step. Something about the decrepit building drew me in. As if in a trance, I headed over. The walls of the exterior were painted a garish blue, the paint peeling off revealing a tacky yellow that had been painted over. A cheap sign was posted on the edge of the roof. Neon red lit up the name The Devil’s Gate. Beside the door a stand-up chalkboard read: “Saints and Sinners Welcome. Leave your morals at the door, but your money at the bar. Remember, God doesn’t serve alcohol in heaven.”

A loud clap of thunder sounded above me. Soon after, heavy rain pelted itself against the roof forcing me to duck under the eaves of the building. I’d have to wait it out here. There was no way in hell I would be walking back to my car three blocks away in this downpour. The heavy door wouldn’t give and I had to put my whole weight into it in order for it to budge. Eventually, two men stepped out and the first held the door open for me.

I muttered a quick thanks and walked up to the bar. The soft tinkling of the bell at the knob announced my entrance, but no one bothered to notice.

  The inside of The Devil’s Gate was just as charming as the outside. Only a handful of people sat inside. Dim lights barely illuminated the ketchup stained on the tables and the vulgar phrases carved into the dulled mahogany bar. The floor looked as if it hadn’t been mopped in years and the entire room reeked of smoke and worn out leather. Pretzels scattered the ground and the wooden pillars that held up the roof smelled as if they had been soaked in whisky for more than a decade. On the far left, an overwhelming amount of Elvis posters lined the wall.

The bartender was a thick man with a heavy beard. A tattoo of Cher during her glory days lined his outer bicep. He uncapped a bottle of Blue Moon and handed it to the lady next to me.

Without looking up, he asked, “What will it be tonight?”

“Just a Heineken.” I replied.

A man behind me took the stool besides mine and ordered, “Guinness, for me Lenny.”

“Comin’ right up,” he told us.

“And can you change the channel?” The man asked. “I hate this garbage.”

The TV perched precariously on the shelf caught my attention. Lenny grabbed a remote beneath the counter and flipped the channel away from The Real Housewives of Dubai. Static from the impending storm interrupted the signal before a baseball game flashed on the screen.

An old man folded his newspaper on the table and paid avid attention to the game.

“Who’d have thought,” The lady with the Blue Moon mused. “That the Detroit Tigers would even make it this far? Against the Red Sox no less.”

I let out a strangled laugh. “The Tigers? You’re joking, right? They haven’t won a World Series in over 40 years.”

Sure enough, the sports commentator announced the current score of the game. It was the ninth inning, Detroit and Boston tied for the championship. If I had been eating the pretzels in front of me, I’d have choked on them.

I shook my head in disbelief. Speaking to no one in particular I commented, “How in the hell? But they were shit this season.”

The old man took a swig of his drink and replied. “They surprised us all, that’s for sure. Ever since they recruited that damn Macrieve, they’ve been unstoppable.”

“Macrieve?” I wasn’t too crazy about baseball, but my dad spent half his income on Red Sox memorabilia, tickets, and all. I kept up with the game to keep up with him.

Lenny piped up then, handing the patron next to me his Guinness. “He’s a great hitter. Guy can’t miss a ball for the life of him.”

I noticed I was still waiting on my order. I faced Lenny and reminded him, “Hey, man. I ordered a Heineken.”

He turned and reached inside the cooler, pulling out a bottle of Dos Equis. Jesus. I opened my mouth to tell him again, but he pulled out a Heineken right after. He was just about to uncap the bottles when the man besides me asked, “Oy, Len. How much for this Guinness?”

Lenny responded, “Eleven ninety nine, Ed.”

The bottle halted midway to Ed’s lips. “Twelve bucks?” Incredulity painted his features. “That’s three more than you usually charge.”

“Gotta make the bills. Don’t want to be forced to close like that crackpot across from me. What’s her name? Madame Berry?”

My interest piqued. “What’s the story with her? People finally figured out she was a fluke and decided not to waste their money?”

Blue Moon inserted herself back into the conversation. “Madame Bodhi. She met the same fate every other owner in this cursed street had and will. Businesses won’t thrive here.” She swiveled her bar stool and faced us to say, “No one wants to come here ever since that psycho Wroth.”

“What’d he do?” I asked.

“He swallowed a whole bottle of Bourbon, snuck a few pills in there, and lit up the entire strip of Becker.” She shaped both her hands in the form of a machine gun and made a crude sound of bullets being released from a barrel.

“Jesus.” Ed and I said in unison.

Blue Moon finished her drink and motioned for the Dos Equis. Lenny handed to her and he brought the Heineken over to where I sat. I was too interested, my thirst forgotten. She continued, “Total body count? Fifty six. At least an extra twenty injured. This place hasn’t been the same since.”

“When was this?” I asked. I hadn’t heard of this mass shooting and I had lived in the area nearly all my life.

“Happened three years ago. The anniversary was yesterday, in fact.” The old man said. “November first.”

Ed shuffled uncomfortably on his seat.

My brows furrowed. “No, you must be mistaken. Today’s the first.”

The old man ignored my comment and Lenny sighed. “Damn shame too. Half the stores on this strip couldn’t afford to pay off the damages. I thank god every day the cops were able to stop that wack job before he ruined this place beyond repair.”

The old man spoke then, “Hey, didn’t a man die right outside your place?”

“Yeah,” Lenny shuddered, as if the memory replayed in his mind. “He was young too. Barely twenty three, if I remember the reports correctly.”

I leaned in close. “Do you remember his name,” I asked.

He stroked his beard. “What was his name? Stephen? Shane? Christ, I can’t remember. But damn, the sight of it’s seared in my mind. Found him lying on his back right in front of my door. Must’ve crawled over looking for help. Didn’t make it though. Can’t remember what his face looked like but I remember that ugly lime green button up with pink flowers that clung to his body with blood. ” 

I froze at his words. Lenny continued, “Half his insides were pouring out. Poor kid had been shot at least half a dozen times.”

“Well, what’d you do?” Ed asked.

“Nothing.” At Ed’s frown Lenny said defensively, “Well, what could I do? He was nearly dead and shivering from the rain. It was storming then too. There was no saving him. Besides, I had to take care of the customers in my bar first. Three of them had been shot. Gotta take care of the living before the dead.”

I stared down at the shirt I wore. The neon pink flowers were stark against the lime green that started to fade in between washes. It had been a gag gift that Ronnie had picked up at a thrift store. “A one of a kind,” he had told me. But surely there were others like it in the area.
…the ugliest lime green button up with pink flowers…

                                                                          … The anniversary was yesterday, in fact. November first…

But today was the first. Wasn’t it?

I watched with dawning horror as Lenny took a swig of my Heineken bottle then. Realization hit me like a punch in the gut. No. Lenny took a swig from his Heineken bottle. He never brought mine over because he never heard my order. In fact, none of them actually looked at me when they talked. 

“No,” I whispered. I stood up then, my legs unstable. The rest of the room seemed to be shaking, but only I struggled to stay upright. Fear gripped my insides as I tried to make sense of things. 

I waved my hands in front of Lenny. No response. Ed. Nothing. Blue Moon merely turned away, facing the TV once again. They couldn’t see me. I wasn’t real. I let out an agonized yell and dropped my knees, hysteria grappling for control.

“Scott!” Lenny called out. I stood up, relief welling in my chest before dying down as he added, “Kid’s name was Scott. Poor family was devastated. His roommate came in with the guiltiest expression I’d ever seen on a man.”

A wave of vertigo hit me. I staggered towards the exit, the voices from the bar growing distant. They must’ve stopped talking about the massacre because a boom of laughter erupted. I didn’t make it to the exit before I collapsed near the table where the old man sat. I grasped the edges and stared at the folded newspaper beside him. In bold letters, the front heading read: “Boston Residents Pay Tribute to Fifty Six Dead from Shootout.”

An image of candles displayed in front of a wall posted with pictures of the deceased victims was printed beneath the headline. A damp ring left from the wet bottom of the old man’s glass encircled the date on the paper. November 2nd, 2019.

2019. Three years since I’d visited Madame Bodhi. 

Outside, the wind picked up and a whistling echoed through the tavern.

A sharp pain erupted in my stomach. I looked down and wounds started forming before a pool of blood gushed forth, staining my shirt. Lime green with pink flowers.

Time was up.

***

“Hey, watch where you’re going,” I said. The guy who bumped into me nearly knocked me to the ground. I looked him over and backed away. His eyes were bloodshot and he could barely stand on his two feet. Sweat dripped from his forehead. In his hand, he held a half drunk bottle of bourbon. Disgust colored my face. He pounced on me, but in his state he was too weak to do anything more than clutch at my shirt.

I shoved him away. “Get off. Jesus. Get a hold of yourself.” He fell to the floor and I walked around him.

“You’ll be sorry! You all will!” He shrieked after me weakly.

“Sure thing, asshole. I’ll be waiting.” I yelled back, chuckling.

I walked down Becker Street the wind picking up the closer I got to my destination. I reached the glass door shadowed under the violet awning. Madame Bodhi The Awakener, the sign on the glass read. Step in if you dare. Your life will change forever.

“Jesus. We are so even after this,” I muttered to myself. I went for the handle, but it opened before me, revealing a busty woman wrapped in a bright yellow shawl. Her thick rimmed glasses were cat-eyed and she regarded me coolly with all the practice of a well-rehearsed fraud.

“I saw you coming, Scott.” She cooed.

“I bet you did.”

She waved her hand inside, motioning for me to come in. “You’ve got an exciting day ahead of you.” I followed her inside.

Just as I entered, rain descended and thunder boomed.

The storm had arrived.