Escape

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By Jamie Burns

She walked along the damp tunnel, her bare feet moving swiftly against the cold cement. The wind blew through the tunnel and right through the thin night gown she had been given. She knew that if not for all the adrenaline running through her she would feel frozen, but right now all she could feel was her heart pounding through her whole body.

She had nothing; no coat, no shoes, no means to tell how much time had passed. It felt like hours but really it was less than ten minutes. Less than ten minutes for her to change her life, less than ten minutes to either get her life back or end it for good.

The tunnel went on and on. She was finally nearing the end when in the distance she heard the dogs barking inside the tunnel behind her. She quickened her pace. Then she could hear men’s voices in the tunnel, yelling out indecipherable commands and information to each other. She ran through puddles and sludge praying that her feet wouldn’t find any glass. Then, a burst of fresh clean air blew across her face,  she had made it out of the tunnel. But it was of little relief since she was still a mile from the fence line. She sprinted toward it even though her lungs were already on fire. Dawn was on the horizon and if she could at least make it to the fence she might have a chance.

She had been locked in that room so long that running felt freeing mentally but excruciating physically. Once able to run for hours without feeling tired, now she was spent after  fifteen minutes. She was a shadow of what she once was and they had done that to her. They had taken all her detail away, all of her dimension and complexity. She hated them for that, she ran even harder.

The loud, clear barking of dogs filled the field telling her they had made it out of the tunnel. Their men would be behind them shortly. She ran and tried miserably not to wonder if the dogs would tear her apart before the men could shoot her.

She had covered the expanse of the clearing and reached the wooded area that came before the fence line. She was only a short way in when she ran straight through a patch of thorn bushes. She could push through a few scrapes on her legs but it was the ones that buried themselves deep into the bottom of her feet that made her fall to the ground. Rolling a few times before hitting a tree. She scrambled up next to the trunk and frantically pulled the thorns from her feet.

The low growl of a dog reverberated through the forest. They had caught up, and the first was now stopped just ten yards away. It’s head low to the ground and the fur on  its back standing on end, the snarling dog’s two companions fell in line behind it. After making it this far, coming so close, to die with nothing but a tiny hope. It was all she had left. Even with so little of it, she had to try. Maybe she was close enough. She clapped her hands together, interlaced her fingers and closed her eyes to concentrate, but nothing happened.

She opened her eyes. The dogs were now starting their slow approach. With her last shred of hope fading, she looked in the direction of the fence line and there as the first light of morning brightened the sky was a gleaming silver fence post. Without a second thought, she pushed herself away from the tree and sprinted for the post. Overjoyed to find the fence line had no fence to speak of. If she could just cross that line…

From the moment she started running the dogs closed the distance quickly.  She was sure she could feel their hot breath on the back of her legs. She extended her stride and pushed her body to its breaking point. As she did her best to jump over the brambles at the fence line,  one of the dogs knocked her to the ground. They both tumbled and rolled but by the time she stopped the beast was over the top of her, teeth bared and snarling. Terror overtook her for the split second before she realized they were over the line.   

She slammed her hands together in front of her in the space between her and the beast looming above. The blue surge of energy that shot from her hands manifested itself as a double-edged sword that glided smoothly up through the beast. Its snarl faded to confusion, then it was gone. She tossed it aside and popped up to her feet. The other two dogs split apart trying to encircle her. She pulled her hands apart but the energy stayed, the sword splitting in two so she wielded one in each hand. She felt her energy returning, the burn in her lungs and legs dissipating. Her energy filled her with more rage. Her natural state only reminded her of all they had taken from her.

The remaining dogs jumped at her almost simultaneously, the one behind her moving only seconds after the one in front. She stepped sideways and raised her hand over her head then swiftly back down, slicing off the heads of both beasts in one fluid motion.

It sounded like the men were now closing the distance. All she wanted was to get out, to get free. Now standing at the edge of her own hell, her prison over the last five years with the men that tortured her approaching a place where she was the one with the power her feelings shifted. Did she want freedom? Or did she really want revenge? Inside the scared girl that had spent years there told her to leave then. But with the energy that coursed through her, the rage filled warrior she was supposed to become told her to stay. So she stayed, broken and angry she was intoxicated with her own power and intoxication leads to bad judgement.

She moved farther away from the fence line but still within view to lure them to her. The four men stopped when they saw the dogs, dead on the ground and exchanged looks with one another. They spotted her, no blue energy coming from her hands just a slight, barefoot girl in a dirty, thin nightgown.  Like the dogs they were, they too spread out to surround her.

The man in front of her held out a hand. “27, why don’t you come back now and save us the trouble of dragging you back.”

“That’s not my name.” She said under her breath.

“You don’t have a name.” His voice dripping with disdain.

The men closed in around her, and she tried to track them all in her peripheral vision but  lost one behind her. That was the first moment she wished she had listen to the scared little girl that said leave. It was too late now. She steeled herself and looked up and meet the gaze of the man in front.  

“I might not have a name, but in a moment, you won’t have a head.”

His smug look faltered for a moment and she focused the energy back to her hands, the blue light illuminating the forest around them. All the men took a step back as the dual swords formed. The leader tried to keep his composure but every tiny waver in his confidence made her giddy with pleasure.

“You really think you can win you worthless piece of garbage?” He spat at her.

At the words, she jumped high into the air toward him, twice as high as she had been able to jump within the fence line. Calling her garbage was the last thing he ever did. She landed in a crouch on the ground in front of him and his blood ran down the edge of her blue blade. The gasps from the other men were like music to her. She stood to her full height which was still half as tall as the man she had just decapitated. Turning to the next man she ran at him, closing the gap quickly. When a pain like nothing she had known coursed through her body radiating from her chest. She started to fall toward the man and her blades flickered out, once again defenseless. She stumbled forward and to her surprise, the man caught her. Her legs went limp and he lowered her slowly in his arms. She felt a warmth spreading over her as her energy diminished. The man held her as her warm blood covered both of them before staining the earth below. The man across from them still had his gun raised and a smile on his face. She looked to the face of the man holding her and thought how she might have hated him the least. But he was still one of them. Through the blood that filled her mouth she choked out. “Do...don’t touch me.”

He lay her on the ground and stood over her. “You should have just come back with us.” He looked surprisingly sad.  The other two men joined him looking over her.

Hatred consumed her heart giving her a last surge of energy. “Death first,” she spat and a blue pulse coursed out of her body. The ripple filled the forest and she was finally free.

 

The Dark Dragon (Nathaniel)

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The Dark Dragon Accounts

(Mary)

(Isaac)

(Lucas)

The Dark Dragon

Nathaniel

By Jamie Burns

My father told me stories of the Dark Dragon my whole life. It was tradition, of course  I told them to my Children. My wife Rose and our two girls would curl up under a blanket while I repeated and added to the stories. When the stories got to scary our girls would bury their faces against Rose’s shoulders wait for the moment to pass then join back in the adventure. Those were my favorite memories of my wife.

Rose passed away shortly after giving birth to our son Isaac. For years I thought I would never tell those stories again. The memory of my girls all huddled together under a blanket listening were so perfect it hurt to think about. Until one day when Isaac was 7, he had been sick for several days, and I sat by his bed trying to comfort him. When one of my girls pointed out Isaac had never been told the tales of the Dark Dragon. Both girls agreed that mom would never have stood for that. They made themselves comfortable, Rachel at the foot of the bed and Mary along side Isaac, pulling a blanket over them both. Once again I told the tales of the Dark Dragon. Isaac loved the stories, the girls cared more for the nostalgia of the it, less about the stories themselves, but I suppose that’s part of growing up.

...

After the second tremor the merchant I worked for let us all go for the day. People were gathering in the square and it was clear no one was getting any more work done that day. I just wanted to get home to my kids. I though the tremors would be small, nothing to get worked up over and maybe we could have a nice family dinner for once.

That hope for a nice night was dashed by the fact that I got home to find no one. They were smart kids, even if they had been out they knew to come home when they felt the tremors. I double checked the rooms but it’s not like our home is big enough to have missed anyone. I paced and with every pace the room felt smaller and smaller. I couldn’t just wait here and hope they were on their way back. I left and headed toward the square.

“Rachel!” I called out when I spotted her.

“Dad!” She ran over and greeted me with a hug. “Do you know what's going on?” she asked.

“I’m sure it’s just earthquakes. But where are your brother and sister?” I tried not to sound irritated, not sure it was working. She looked at the ground.

“Rachel? Where?”  

“I saw Isaac on the path, the one that leads toward the cave.”

“On the cliff side?”

“I was going to go get him dad I swear. But it’s ok because Lucas is getting him.”

“Lucas? Who’s Lucas?”

“Um, he’s a boy I know.”

It was just getting better and better. I decided to handle one problem at a time. Find my kids first, punish them later.

“So where are Isaac and Lucas now?”

“I don’t know they haven’t come back yet.” Rachel bit her bottom lip. Something her mother use to do when she was worried as well.

“And Mary?” I asked

She shrugged her shoulders. “She wasn't with Isaac when I saw him.”

“Ok, come on. We’re sticking together.” I pulled her by the hand out of the crowd and toward the mountain. Then another tremor shook the ground.

Rachel and I were halfway to the mountain when it emerged. Every story my father had told, every story I had told and there it was. The Dark Dragon had come out of it’s cave after over 100 years.

The mountain was still a ways off but it sat like a dark shadow looking down over the village. Even from where we were it was easy to see the torrent of fire that was now pouring from the creature that stood at the cave's mouth. I ran toward the mountain,  praying Isaac had l left that cave long before.

When I realized Rachel was running behind me I turned to her. “No, go home. Run home and take cover. If your sister is there don’t let her leave.” I wished I could soothe the frightened look on her face but I was pretty sure I had the same look.

I ran at a sprint toward the mountain, and I heard it. It was a sound I had described many times over while telling the stories but never really heard till that moment. I’ll be the first to tell you that the description in the stories did not do justice to the roar of a Dragon.

It was said in the stories that the Dark Dragon’s roar was like thunder from on high. Now having heard it I would say it was a thunder that enveloped you so completely the thunder might have come from your very own bones. A sound that instantly drained the warmth from your body leaving you cold and frightened.

I ran faster half watching my path half watching the Dragon. The as the light from it’s fire dimmed the black Dragon took the the sky. It seemed to take little to no effort for the massive creature to lift off the ground. The flap of its great wings disturbing the trees and land around it with a powerful flurry of wind. The dragon shot straight into the sky. It made it’s way up out of the shadow of the mountain and what was left of the sun light hit it. I had never imagined it properly. I had been far from it and the Dragon still seemed to massive to comprehend. The Dark Dragon was indeed a black dragon just as the stories said. What the stories never got right was well the color. Yes it was a black dragon, but once the light hit it the black had a incredible undertone that glinted in the sun light. Like when lamp oil is mixed with water. A rainbow effect that mesmerizes any on looker.

I reached the start of the cliffs path and the dragon was still soaring upwards. It must have been terribly high because it was finally starting to look smaller. I thought I could see it turning slightly toward the village. I told myself again one problem at a time, first find your family. The crash of relief came with a crash of Isaac and Mary’s hugs. They had made their way back down the path and seemed to be unscathered.

“Thank God you’re alright!” I said as I looked them over to be certain.

“We’re ok Dad.” Said Marry.

“Ok we need to get back home and get Rachel.” I turn back down the path, but a hand pulled my arm stopping me. I turned to Isaac. “What is it?”

“I...I think there was another boy… in the cave.” He said.

What had Rachel called him? Lucas?

“Ok, I want you to stay right here! Do you understand me? Only move if that Dragon comes back and you need to take cover. You got that?” I instructed Mary.

They both nodded their heads in a compliant yes. I headed up the path, once I was almost to the cave opening I could see over the village and I spotted the Dark Dragon high in the air and it looked like it was flying in high wide circles around the village. I thought for Rachel in our house, I wanted to go to her right away but I hoped it wouldn’t be with bad news about her “Friend”.

 

Copyright 2016 JAMIE BURNS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Dark Dragon (Lucas)

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The Dark Dragon

Lucas

By Jamie Burns

 

I had never really noticed Rachel before, but over the summer she had started really making an effort. It also helped her social status that her two best friends were the beauties of the village. Not that it did much for their personalities. I can vaguely remember Rachel trying to talk to me once before when we were still in child's lessons. Back then she always had dirt on her face and second hand cloths, so obviously it was a short conversation. After all my family had a good reputation and I couldn’t risk talking to just anyone that drooled over me.

Over the summer it seemed Rachel had finally figured out the way the game was played. She had cleaned herself up and stopped bringing her impoverished family in to polite civilized conversation. She was becoming increasingly more lady like and reminded me of my own mother. Something to be gazed at but scarcely forced to listen to.

The summer was winding down and there was a group of us in the town square, enjoying what was left of the warm nights and summer harvests. Rachel and I had become somewhat of an unofficial item. Which meant I spent my father’s coin buying her fruit she wouldn't be able to afford otherwise and she let me get a bit farther than I had with the other girls.  

Rachel fed me slices of the peaches I had brought in the market. I had taken her to a spot my father told me about earlier that year. “Girls love the place.” He had said. It was nice, the perfect spot to watch a sunset. It was a short hike up hill with a nice rock formation that made a natural bench. It overlooked the valley to our left and the cliffed mountains to our right.  As the sun made it’s decent I took the peach from Rachel and leaned in for a kiss. But the moment before my lips touched hers the ground beneath us started to rumble. It was a small tremor but it was enough to pull Rachel’s attention away from me.

“What was that?” She asked.

“I’m sure it was nothing.” I said as I tried to get her to face me again.

“I don’t know. It didn’t feel like……”

The ground trembled again, stronger this time. Ok maybe it wasn't nothing. I too turned my attention to the view. It was easy to see that below in the valley people had started to more around me franticly and some had gathered in the square.

“Maybe we should go back.” Rachel suggested in a way that told me my chances for a late summer make out tonight had dropped to zero.

“Fine.” I said standing up. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw movement along the cliff side trail. I squinted the make out the figure in the growing mountain shadow. It looked like the figure of a man, no a boy. He was definitely smaller than me.

“Isaac?” I heard Rachel say. She too was squinting at the figure on the mountainside.

“Do you know him?” I asked.

Rachel squinted ever harder. “I think that’s my brother.”

“What would your brother be doing out here?”

“Nothing he’s allowed to, that’s for sure. I should probably go get him.”

I guess my gallant side took over because I looked at her dress, then the sharp rocks between where we were and the path he was on and before I knew it I had said. “No, I’ll do it. You head to the square.”

 

As a balanced my way across the rocks to reach the path toward the cliff I reminded myself of how many brownie points this was getting me from Rachel. I would just bring her back to the spot tomorrow and hope for no little brother interruptions. I reached the path we call the Path of Darkness and realized I hadn't been on it for years. I remembered being 11 or so and we all challenged each other to walk the path. I guess it was still a right of passage. I headed up the path trying to catch up to Rachel’s brother. I expected to find him somewhere on the path, that’s what usually happened, kids get a certain distance and then they chicken out. In fact, by the looks of it I was now passed the point I myself had previously made it too.

As much as I didn’t want to admit it, once I made it to the cave opening that same 11 year old fear had returned. Everyone in the village knew that this was the cave of a dragon. People had been telling the story to their kids for generations. I looked around to see if the boy was maybe sitting near by. There was no one. Had he really gone in? Did I really have to go in after him?

It was dark and I hadn't brought anything to light the way so I found myself stumbling more than upright walking. I thought I heard a movement so I abruptly stopped. My head told me to call out. I thought she said his name was Isaac? But something deeper in me said to keep quiet. That was when the next tremor coursed through the mountain. I turned to run back toward the cave opening but it was dark and I’m assuming I tripped and hit my head because that was the last thing I could remember.

 

Copyright 2016 JAMIE BURNS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Dark Dragon (Isaac)

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The Dark Dragon

(Isaac)

By Jamie Burns

 

My favorite part of the day, was always when my dad would finally get home from work and he would tell me stories before bed. Stories about the Dark Dragon. The tales said that the Dark Dragon was over 900 years old! And a dragon never stops growing. He was as tall as a mountain, his scales were like black onyx and stronger than any steel ever forged by man. He had killed by the thousands with his kiss of fiery death.  Some even said there were still bone between his teeth from his last feast on the valley. Not that anyone would have truly been close enough to see it and live. So you know, awesome bedtime stories!

 

I had the great misfortune of having the two most boring sisters in the worlds. My oldest sister Rachel was all about boys, flowers, and I’m not really sure whatever girly crap she liked. She was the worst, but the most fun to scare. One little spider in her hair and she would jump like a frog. Rachel didn’t hang around our house much. I guess when you get older you just get to go out and do whatever you want.

My other sister Mary was not the worst, like Rachel, but she was still boring. I guess you could say she was “in charge” of me. I told our dad I didn’t need a babysitter. After all, I was 12 years old, not a baby. Anyway Mary had become immune to my tricks over the years so scaring her was much harder than scaring Rachel. This fact added to Mary’s boringness.

There were other kids in the village my age and they didn’t have to have a babysitter it was completely unfair. I had had enough. Yet another boring day in the house just me and Mary. I had hoped we would go out, walk around the town square and maybe I could slip away from her. My friends Henry and Philip had been talking about going to the path of darkness. It was the trail that lead up to the Dark Dragon’s lair and everyone who was anyone had been there. I was someone who was no one because I had never been. I was supposed to meet up with them but instead I was stuck watching Mary sew all day. Until luck was on my side.

I sat and watched as Mary’s head kept lolling back and forth. I tried to stay as still and quite as possible because it was my only hope of getting out of there. Her head drooped down totally and I let a good minute pass to be sure. I was out the door and with luck Henry and Philip would still be waiting for me.

 

When me and the guys got to the path of darkness it wasn't as cool as I had expected. I guess I imagined some kind of archway, not just a rickety old sign. We all stood, toes just behind the imaginary line of the start of the path.

“It’s not all that scary.” Henry said. But he glanced sideways at me like he didn’t know if he believed what he said. I know I didn’t.

“I don’t know guys, it looks pretty rockey up there.” Said Philip.

“Are we going up?” I asked

“Well… ya. That’s why we’re here right?”

We had never really talked about what we would do when we got to the path of darkness. Now that I was standing there it seemed obvious that I would be expected to walk that path. The rickety old sign started looking more ominous the longer I stood there.

“I’m not going up there.” Philip backed away from the path.

“What don’t be a coward.” Henry said, but his own voice had a shake to it.

“I’m not a coward. I’m just not going up there.”

“You sound like my baby sister, Philip.”

“Why don’t you just go up there, Henry?”

“Well, technically Isaac is the oldest. So… he should get to go first!”

The two of them stopped their bickering to look at me. Just like that supposed to not only going up the path of darkness but I was to going up it alone. I wanted to say no but something else in me wanted to be brave. The thought of telling my dad I had been to the lair of the dragon sounded great. Sure he would be a little mad at first but then he would think it was cool. Plus none of the other kids my age had ever made it all the way to the lair. What if I was the first? Yes, I would be the first kid in years to make it all the way to the Dark Dragon’s lair.

“Ya, I’ll do it.”

Both Henry and Philip’s faces looked a bit shocked. I thought how that would be the look on all the kids faces when I went to lessons the next day and they heard about my bravery. I started up the path. Only three steps in and part of my father's story came to me. The bones in the dragon's teeth and for a split second I thought those might soon be my bones.

“Wait,” Called Philip.

A wave of relief washed over me. Had he come up with a reason for me not to go? Nope.

“You have to leave and offering.” He pointed to the Sign. Under it sat all sorts of things others had left.

“Don’t want to head up without giving the dragon spirit something.” Henry nodded in agreement. I rifled through my pockets and all I had was a drawing I had done earlier that day as I waited for Mary to fall asleep. I unfolded it and put it at the base of the sign. I didn’t have any other reasons to delay. I wanted to back out, but instead I thought of the blond girl in my lessons and I was on my way back up the path.

 

Copyright 2016 JAMIE BURNS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Dark Dragon (Mary)

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The Dark Dragon

(Mary)

By

Jamie Burns

 

The legend of the Dark Dragon was always that to me… a legend. My brother and sister always put more stock in the Dark Dragon. I myself was a sceptic. After all no one had seen the thing in a hundred years. Sure the occasional elderly person, village drunk or attention seeking child would SAY they had seen it but really I was convinced it was a hoax.

It was just a scary story to keep kids from going off to the dangerous cliff side caves. Or so I thought till the day my little brother decided he wanted to be a dragon slayer. Not when he grew up though, no he wanted to be a dragon slayer right then.

Being a middle child is like… well it’s like being the middle child. You’re not the beloved first born and you're not the baby, you’re just there. That with the fact I am a girl meant I was basically a built in babysitter for my little brother Isaac. While my sister was becoming the social butterfly of the town I was at home keeping an eye on Isaac and doing all the housework no one else was going to do.

It was pretty normal for it to be just Isaac and I all day. Our father was always working so we could have nice fancy things like food and shelter. My sister was always out of the house doing God knows what with her snooty pack of friends. So there we were Isaac and I holding down the floor boards.

“Can we pleeeeease go outside?” Isaac begged.

“Not today I need to get this sewing done.”

“But why?” He whined and flopped down on the kitchen chair.

I didn’t bother responding, no point in arguing with a 6-year-old. He eventually picked himself up and sat on the floor to color. Relieved he didn’t push the matter and told myself I would take him out when I was done.

With every stitch my head and eyes grew weary. I only had a few inches of stitching to go and….  

I opened my eyes, the light coming in from the window told me it had to be close to sunset now. I must have fallen asleep. I was surprised Isaac hadn't woken me, by jumping out and screaming at me. He loved making me jump out of my skin. My back was stiff from the wooden chair, I moved to stretch out. I looked over to see the pages Isaac had been coloring, but no Isaac.

“Isaac?” I called out, I headed toward the room he and my father shared. It was dark and empty.

“Isaac, where are you?” I headed to mine and my sisters room, no one.  “Isaac if you’re hiding I need you to come out right now.” I stood perfectly still and listened for the sound of movement, but the whole house was still and silent. A shiver took over my body. A gust of wind creaked through the house and a familiar squeak hit my ears. The front door was open.  “Oh Isaac.” I pulled on my boots, grabbed mine and Isaac’s coats and ran out the door.

Two streets over was the town square. I was surprised at how busy it seemed. I started asking all our acquaintances if they had seen Isaac but no one had. There seemed to be more people arriving in the square with every passing moment, the crowd growing quickly.

“Mrs. Norris, What’s going on?” I asked the long white haired elderly woman.

“Oh, hello my dear.” She greeted back to me.

“Hi, um you haven’t seen Isaac have you?”

“No, not since about an hour ago.”

“An hour ago?! Where was he?” I tried not to let panic take over. I prayed he was safe and I would find him before my father found out I had lost him.

“Oh I saw him on the north side of town.”

“Alone?”

“He told me you were a street over and he had to get back to you. I didn’t give it much though dear. Did you two get separated again?”

That little lying munchkin. “No Mrs. Norris he snuck out without me. I need to find him.” The crowd in the square was now so large it pushed against my back. “What is going on?”

“Oh I’m not totally sure dear, there was some rumbling in the northern cliffs and a few people said they heard some kind of noises coming down from that direction.”

Oh no, “Where did you say you saw Isaac, Mrs. Norris?”

“It was on Stable lane on the….”

“North side of town.” My heart sank. Surely he wasn't that stupid. “Ok if you see him at all can you keep him with you please?”

“Of course dear, but where are you going?” She asked as I headed north.

“To slay a made up dragon.”

 

I had only been to the northern cliff side once before. It was before Isaac was born, when my sister and her friends got most of their entertainment from torturing me. It was a dare they found very clever. I found it meaningless and stupid. I was to go into the cliff’s cave and face the Dragon. I only did it because I knew there was no Dragon to face. I had hiked up the mountain side, but during my climb I lost my footing and half fell half rolled down the mountain on the rocks. My sister had to run and get my father for help, it took me a couple weeks to fully recover. I still have more than a few scars from the event. My sister got in big trouble and we were both forbidden from going anywhere near the northern mountains. Not like we were allowed to be there in the first place. My memory served me better than I had expected and I found my way to what the kids called the “Path of Darkness” Yeah, a little melodramatic for my taste but that’s what they called it. It was the start of the Path that lead up to the “Dragon's Lair”. If you believe that sort of thing. Which Isaac did. He had been talking more and more about the Dark Dragon lately.

At the beginning of the path of darkness it was traditional for people to leave a token of some kind. As a way to show who had ventured up. A sign of your bravery I suppose. Then I saw it, plain as day there with other dusty old knick-knacks was a sheet of paper. It had a sloppy drawn black dragon on it and at the bottom of the page was Isaac’s messy signature.

I headed up the path, it would be dark soon. I had only made it a few steps when I decided to back track. I wasn't superstitious and I didn’t really care if people thought I was brave but I took off my necklace and hung it over one of the other tokens that was left at the path’s start. That way if my father made it here he would know that I had as well.

I was halfway up the path when I felt a rumbling through my feet. It had been 4 years since our last earthquake. It had been strong enough to crack the fountain in the town square. It took them two months to repair it. This quake however, was nothing compared to that one. I still didn’t like the thought of Isaac being inside a dark, empty cave when an earthquake hit, small or large.

More than half way up the path and the sun was down but it’s light still kissed the sky. I heard movement ahead of me on the path and stopped. “Isaac?” Nothing.

A few more steps. Then I heard a fast hard patter of small feet running. “Isaac?”

“Mary!” Isaac cried out and he slammed into me with a hug.

My relief was overwhelmed only by my irritation. “What were you thinking?”  I bent down to get a good look at him in the growing darkness. He was breathing heavy, sweat covered his face along with a look of terrified fear that left me cold.

“We have to run!” He said and pulled my hand back down the path.

“Be careful! What’s wrong?” But he didn’t get a chance to answer before the ground shook again. Twice as hard as before. Then the darkened cliff side was suddenly illuminated and instantly grew impossibly warm. Fire poured into the air behind us. I looked up to see the cave opening, orange and red flame plumed into the night sky. In the shadow the fire cast I saw it and finally believed in the Dark Dragon.

 

Copyright 2016 JAMIE BURNS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Protector of the Night

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Inspired by an illustration you might have seen…

Protector of the Night

By Jamie Burns

 

I was born of no Father and no Mother. However, I am one of many brothers. Forged and created in the hellfire of oppression, sent across the sea to serve. I have served my current Master for eight long years, and his father before him. I was hand chosen by my Master’s great-grandfather to serve their family with unwavering loyalty and courage.

It falls to me, to protect the Master in his most vulnerable state. In the long nights when the sun falls and darkness is the ever present threat. I patrol the realm for all atrocities that might attempt to befall my young Master. I alone, in the hours before the sun returns its protective light to our world, am solely responsible for his life.

My Master’s predecessor had all manner of threat come to him in the night. Years I spent sleeplessly watching over him. It wasn’t uncommon for a threat to show its horrible face. They would look out from their hiding places hoping it get a clear shot at the Master, instead they would find me. The rage and fire of feverish protection glinting from my eyes. I protected my first master with every stitch I had. Threats arriving once a month, sometimes more, attempting to disturb him.

When he passed my services on to his only son I promised that I would serve my new Master with the same ferocity and love that I had him. I had no idea that my job would become so much more treacherous.

As I grew to know my new Master he showed me even more kindness and thankfulness than his father before him. He was a generous Master beyond what I could have imagined. I grew to love him like a king and would willingly lay down my life for him if the situation were to arrive.

The young Master had more foes than his father. Some weeks I would face a threat every night. Enemies would silently slink into his quarters in a haze of mist, Monsters would quake the ground as they approached hoping to get close enough to swallow the Master up. Every one of them seeing my grizzly face between them and the Master.

When threats from without weren't present threats from within often haunted him. His own inner consciousness often playing cruel tricks, sending nightmarish scenes to his mind's eye.  He would wake in a cold sweat screaming for relief. When he woke I was always there. There to reassure him that those things were unreal or had not come to pass. His family was safe; no evil had befallen them. No nightshade was present. I was there to protect him and he could rest assured.

Years passed and my watches were always busy. My Master grew, and together we forged a bond like steel. Over time the legend of the protected Master grew and threats diminished. His mind eased, becoming less likely to turn on him. But when his mind betrayed him I was there. He would find me on watch, constantly vigilant.  

I am proud to serve the house of my master. I look forward to my days in service of his son as I have served him and his father before. For I am the protector of the night, the guardian of slumber, vanquisher of monsters, and dispeller of fear. For I am a Teddy Bear.

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I wish I knew who to credit for this illustration alas I do not. Sorry.

Disappearing Act

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By Jamie Burns

 

          “Close your eyes.” she whispered into his ear softly. She stood behind him with her hands gently placed on his shoulders.

           Standing as still as a statue he did as instructed. His heart beat fast against his chest, racing at a pace he didn’t think possible.

           “Just relax.” She said as she started pacing in a circle around him. “Deep breaths, let your mind clear, let all that is within it dissolve. All that exists right now is you and the sound of my voice.”

           He relaxed his shoulders and took a long deep breath, then another. With every breath that grew deeper his heartbeat slowed. He soon forgot his discomfort. In a room so large and grand he heard nothing. Nothing but the sound of her voice and the step of her boot on the floor as she paced him.

          “Leave nothing in your mind, let every thought sink down to the souls of your shoes.” The circle she had been walking around him was getting smaller and he could feel the hem of her dress brush past him.

          Another deep breath in and just like he forgot his discomfort, he forgot what he had done with his day before that moment. The Magician circled him now so close he could smell the scent of her hair as she passed in front of him. Her voice, her scent and the steps of her boots was all that existed to him. With every breath and every step of those boots he forgot.

          Step. The color of the suit he was wearing.

          Step. The things that upset him.

          Step. Who he had come there with.

          Step. Where he worked.

          Step. The crowd of people watching him.

          Step. And eventually his own name.

 

          The audience waited in anticipation. Unsure what would happen next. The show so far had been a stupendous spectacle of illusions and trickery. The beautiful Magician had a gift for performing. Her act was done so flawlessly that even the most skeptical of her audience could not explain how she performed some of her tricks.  Now with the stage cleared of any prop or device none of the onlookers knew what to expect. The thick dark red curtain hung along the back of the stage and all there was to see was the man, eyes closed, body slightly swaying and the Magician. This trick felt different from the others and the audience wasn't sure they liked it yet.

 

           The Magician stopped and faced the man on stage, just a small step from him. The scent of her hair filled his head, a rich creamy scent of black currant. He tried to push the thought of it away like everything else.  Keeping his mind clear as he had been told to, but passively wondering what his name was again. His head tried to tell him he should be more worried about a thing like that. At the moment he couldn’t manage to care. He was too relaxed and the Magician’s voice was too soft, her smell too intoxicating.

           “You have nothing to fear. Let everything in you sink down. Let it settle as far from your mind as possible.” Her dulcet tone told him.  He already felt heavy but now his feet felt weighted to the floor. The Magician spoke again but this time it sounded muffled and far away.

 

           The Magician had turned back toward the audience.

          “As you can see our handsome volunteer is now in a deep state of relaxation.”

          “Hypnotized.”  A young woman called out from the front row.

          “No, not hypnotized. Not technically. He had done most of it by himself. I mostly just guided him in the right direction.” The Magician gave a sly smile and turned back to the man.

 

          He had been waiting, swaying in fields of black currant, listening to the low distant hum of indiscernible words she spoke. Then the sweet voice was once again clear.

          “Henry.” She said.

          The name that had been missing from him was given back. His own name filled his head and made him slightly less comfortable than he had been the second before. But it settled in him and he once again accepted it. As if she had been waiting on this process the moment Henry was Henry again she spoke.

          “Henry.”

         “Yes?” He replied, his own voice sounding harsh and raspy compared to the silkiness of the Magician’s.

         “Do you feel relaxed?” She asked.

         “More than I thought possible.” He said with a smile spreading across his face.

         “Good, is your mind clear?”

         “Yes.” He lied. For his mind was still full of her scent and the sound of her voice saying his name.

         “Good.” She said again and turned away.

 

          Facing the audience, the Magician pulled a handkerchief from a pocket specially sewn into the folds of her dress. She held the white handkerchief over her head and waved it back and forth in a long wide arch. As it reached each far side of the arch it doubled in size. Until it was as long as a bed sheet. She swirled it in the air effortlessly as if it had no weight at all. She spun back away from the audience.

          Grasping the edge of the cloth and holding it up between herself and Henry. Making it so only herself and the cloth where visible to the audience. She held it high over her own head and took a deep breath.

         “Henry, relax for me and please take a deep breath.” She said, and then shut her own eyes. She listened to his intake of breath and once the exhale came she too exhaled.

She released the cloth from her grasp and it fluttered to the floor.

 

           There was silence in the theater. The Magician still had her eyes closed and she grimaced. This was usually the time when the applause would fill the air but no sound came. She opened her eyes and to her own shock there he was. Still standing there was Henry.

           His eyes still shut and a small happiness settled on the corners of his mouth. What had she done wrong? This had never happened during a live performance before. Now she would have to turn around and come up with something to say to her audience. The Magician looked at Henry feeling perplexed. She turned to the audience and was meet with a second shock.

           Where was the audience? The theater she and Henry now stood in was empty, completely devoid of another soul. The candles were still lit and the curtains had not drawn. All was just as it was before only without the people. Was it even possible? She wondered as she examined the desolate theater.

           “Henry?”

          “Yes?” He answered swaying slightly.

          “Who are you?” She asked in a gentle way.

          His swaying stopped and the smile faded a bit. “I’m not sure at the moment.”

          “Open your eyes.”

          When he did his relaxation slowly started to ebb away. But the sight of the empty theater didn't shock him the way the Magician expected it too. He looked at her and a long silence passed between them before she said.

           “Your mind wasn't as clear as you said. Was it?”

           “Not exactly.” Henry said and he felt his face flush with heat.

           The Magician took a last look around from ceiling to floor and wondered at the feat that had just occurred.

           “Well Henry, you’re incredibly powerful and wonderfully intriguing. But we need to fix this now.”

           “We? Didn’t you do this?” He asked

           “It’s difficult to explain, but let’s just say I draw from my subject’s mind and power. Whatever was in your mind when this happened holds an unprecedented amount of power.” She explained, and Henry’s blush grew deeper. The Magician didn’t notice.

           “So how do we fix it?” Henry asked.

           “Um, it should be fairly simple. Just do that same thing in reverse.” She looked at him and saw the confusion. “You know what, don’t worry. You just do the same thing as before.”

            “Are you sure?” He asked, nervous it wouldn’t work or more importantly nervous she would somehow read his mind.  

             “I’m sure. Stand on the spot and close your eyes.”

            Henry did, and the Magician guided him back to the empty space that she had hoped for. Just like before that place for Henry became a field of black currant filled with the voice of a goddess. Together they took a deep breath and the Magician dropped the cloth again. Nothing.

 

           Twice more they tried and twice more nothing. It became harder and harder for Henry to relax. The fourth time came and before they took their last deep breath Henry asked. “What’s your name?”

           The Magician paused, she was most often known simply as The Magician. She had performed under many different pseudonyms and briefly thought of telling him one of them. Something within her said no. So she told the truth, which was a rarity for her.

           “Abigail.” It came out in a whisper.

           The name floated over the fields in his mind, her scent became stronger and enveloped him. Together they took a deep breath and once again Abigail released the cloth that fluttered to the floor.

 

           The audience erupted in applause and whistles. They stood to their feet and the roar filled the theater. The Magician stepped aside to stand next to Henry. He looked at her and gave a smile. She motioned for him to bow and he did. He in turn gestured to her and she gave a curtsy. The applause getting louder as she did.  Henry made his way off the stage and back to his seat.

            The Magician picked up the cloth and with a few short flicks of her wrist it was back to the size of a handkerchief, and she stuffed it in her pocket. The rest of the show went smoothly and the audience gave her another standing ovation at the end.

 

           During her career, that performance was one of the most talked about, becoming known as her best. There was never a mention of the disappearing audience only her magnificent showmanship and the feeling of electricity or magic that was in the air. For the Magician she remembered it as the only night she was ever unable to make a man disappear.

 

 

Copyright 2016 JAMIE BURNS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Copper Key

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Today I’ll be using a writing prompt I found care of Pinterest. Enjoy.

The prompt:

“One day you notice there’s a new key on your keychain.”

The Copper Key

By Jamie Burns

Most mornings I have plenty of time to make my coffee, put on my boots, and leisurely gather my things to head to work. That morning was not one of those mornings.  

That morning, in my sleepy haze I had hit snooze five times, instead of my usual once. By the time I came to my senses I was thirty-six minutes behind, throwing off my entire routine. I tore out of bed like a force of nature bent on destroying a city. A furious flurry of flying laundry, followed by a hair brush and hasty ponytail. By the time I pulled on my second boot and skipped tying it another five minutes had passed and I was forty-one minutes behind.

No time for coffee which is always the worst part of being late. I grabbed my bag and rushed out the door to my car. The keys felt different than usual in my hand, bulkier. When I looked down I noticed it, right there between my car key and mailbox key. A key I had never seen before. A small shiny copper colored key that had to my knowledge just shown up. I pushed the oddity of it from my head and grabbed at my car key. I was much too late to wonder about such a small thing right now.

I lived in the countryside a ways outside of the city which gave me a twenty-minute commute. On an average day it was one of the more enjoyable parts of my day. That day ten minutes into my drive I must have hit a nail because before I knew it, I was pulled over to the side of the road fifty-six minutes behind schedule. I stared at my passenger side front tire in defeat. By the time I got it changed I would be impossibly late. I took a deep breath and turned my back to lean against my car. I took in the open valley and the sun coming up over the distant mountain.

That’s when I saw the door. In the field, about fifteen yards directly in front of me sat a single green door and frame. It stood out in contrast to the tall yellow grass of the field and the purple cast of the mountains. What was a door doing just sitting out here? I couldn’t help but look around. The long lonely stretch of highway was devoid of anyone but me. I stared back at the door, my curious nature tugging on my imagination while my sense of responsibility told me I was now fifty-eight minutes late. I checked my watch, then out of the depths of my mind or my soul, I’m not sure which. A voice said ‘In two years you’ve never been late. Just go have a look.’

I traipsed through the open field, excited for no reason obvious to me. I stopped in front of the door and looked around again, wondering if someone might be watching me from a distance. The door stood alone, with no structure that might have need of a door. Just a bright forest green door with a dark chestnut door frame. I walked around it examining both sides, they seemed to be identical. It was so curious I had to smile in amusement. Who had placed it here and why. I assumed it was out of some sense of whimsy for people that drove the road every day. There weren't many explanations I could come up with.

I noticed the tiny copper colored circle in the door. A spyhole. I didn’t think too much about it when I pressed my face against the door to peer through it. If anyone was watching me from far out I’m sure the confusion on my face was priceless. Through the spyhole was a dark heavily wooded forest. I pulled my head back and grimaced. It must have simple been a trick, a joke for anyone that was crazy enough to walk all the way out to the random door in the field. I checked again, sure enough the forest was still there, I was positive just a picture placed over the back of the spyhole. Then to my shock a deer bounded across my view of the forest.

I grabbed the bright copper knob but the door didn’t budge. I took a few steps back, confused as ever. ‘Odd morning’ the deep down voice said again. It was an odd morning. There was that other odd thing this morning… I pulled my keys out of my pocket and flipped them over to find the small copper key. It slid into the lock with ease and before I turned it I considered leaving. I could just go back, change my tire and go. I was a contradiction of sensibility and curiosity. So I turned the key.

The knob made a click sound and was loosed from its locked state. I pushed the door open slowly. My adventurous heart only half expected to find my field on the other side.  My heart was not disappointed, the door opened completely silently to the dark forest. The smell of pine hit me along with the chill of the air. I walked through the doorway from the yellow dry field under my feet to the damp soil of the forest. Both places had been quiet but with the wind of the valley, the forest was eerily silent in comparison.

I looked back through the doorway and saw my car sitting on the side of the highway. Being late for work seemed far less important now. With the key back in my pocket I closed the door.

On this side the door was yellow with a pine frame but the copper spyhole and knob were the same. I looked through the spy hole and there was the field and my car in the distance. Delighted and curious I turned my attention to the forest now around me.

The deer I had seen had long since made off out of sight. I wondered at the trees and their sheer size. Thick, tall and numerous the trees were overpowering to say the least. They were so thick I couldn't see the sky through the tops of them, explaining why it was so dark.  I wondered what part of the world I was in. The trees weren’t completely unfamiliar but if someone were to ask me what kind they were I wouldn't know quite what to say.

I had only moved a small ways from the door when I saw a movement in the corner of my eyes. All was completely silent. I was sure I was the loudest thing in this forest. My quiet whisper felt like a yell in that stillness.

“Hello?” I waited for a response. Nothing. “I saw you.” I said this time a bit louder.

“If you continue to wonder, you might end up with more than you bargained for.” A low smooth male voice responded. I couldn't see the speaker and the forest carried his voice so I wasn't sure where exactly it came from. I could only assume it was near the vicinity I had seen the movement.

“And what kind of bargain might that be? Ambiguous forest voice…” I said as I craned my head to try and catch a glimpse of the speaker.  This time I heard soft movement coming slowly toward me as the voice spoke.

“The kind that would be difficult to explain back where you came from.” A black and gray wolf padded out of the forest into view, then sat tamely a distance away. “If you were ever to make it back.” The silky voice of the wolf finished.

 

 

Copyright 2016 JAMIE BURNS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

How to get by in the Galaxy- The Conclusion

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Start from the beginning Part 1

How to get by in the Galaxy Part 10

How to get by in the Galaxy

Part 11

The Conclusion.

By Jamie Burns

 

The years spent traveling through space were my best years. It was when I finally found who I was and where I was meant to be. The answers: April Norian and in the sky, out seeing the Universe. A nomadic life of new adventures, it was my perfect fit. Now I was feeling like the whole of the Galaxy was pulling me in as it’s own. I saw an innumerable amount of stars fill every bit of my vision. I was ready to accept the fate that I had been given by the cold hand of death, also known as Tom.

I was ready but I guess the galaxy didn’t want me like I thought.

 

Feeling returned to my limbs and I sensed cold metal under me. I opened my eyes to a dimly lit room that I had been in before. It was the galley of the Lamplight, and I could see Nathan fiddling with something in one hand at the counter. His other arm was in a messy bandage and sling, his shirt underneath still covered in his blood.   

“Hey bro…” My voice cut out. Pushing the words out felt excruciating.

Nathan flinched at hearing my voice. “Oh thank God. You’re awake” He said as he dropped whatever he had been holding and walked to the table beside me.

“Wha… happen..” I managed to force out.

“You should try not to talk.” Nathan instructed me as he brought me a cup of water in his good hand.

“You were passed out cold when I got to you but still breathing. The sounds of the gunshots must have drawn some attention because some of Cryton's men started to head back our way. When the Lamplight showed up without Clara I was sceptical but I didn’t have a lot of options.”  

“After we broke orbit and I wrapped up my arm, Lucinda told me who she was and about your plan. She said it didn’t go exactly right, but we’re all alive so I’ll take it. We aren’t sure what happened on Clara’s end. We are on our way to the rendezvous point to meet her and the Thestrious.” Nathan sat down and gently adjusted his poorly made sling.

We were on our way to the Thestrious. The thought made all the pain I was feeling in my body ebb. I took as deep a breath as I could muster and slowly exhaled it though my nose. I let my body relax and rest till I felt like I could sit up without passing out. Then I rested again.

 

Slowly with rests between most moves I was back up and moving freely. I worked on replacing Nathan’s hastily done bandages. Luckily the bullet had gone all the way through. I fixed him up with a clean shirt, clean bandage and a much more effective sling. I didn’t want Clara seeing him all covered in his own dried blood. As we finished up Lucina called over the intercom.  

“We have a visual of Clara and your ship, we’ll be docking in about 20 minutes.” She said.

Nathan and I made our way to the bridge. Nathan moved slower but I would have run if I could have managed.  I wanted to see her, The Thestrious. Was she still in the shape she had been in when we were forced to part? Had they cannibalized her? What kind of repairs would she need?  I wouldn’t feel totally at ease till I saw the damage.

I stumbled onto the bridge and Lucinda gave me a sideways glance. Like her sister, Lucinda was sometimes hard to read.

There in the distance was my Thestrious. Looking none too worse for the wear. Yes it looking like a few things were missing but I had prepared myself for much worse.

 

The Lamplight was docked and the air lock between the two ships opened. Clara was waiting on the other side for us. At the sight of Nathan you could see Clara’s body relax. She ran to him and then slowed and gently hugged him over his sling. Nathan pulled her in for a kiss and the contentment on their faces said all they needed to say.

After Clara and Nathan parted she walked over to me and threw her arms around me, I returned in kind.

“Thank God ya’ll are alright.” Clara said.

I smiled and wanted to say something similar but my throat still felt like I swallowed a bag of nails. I was using my words sparingly but I made a note in my head to tell her later how grateful I was. I made for the corridor, eager to walk the ship and see the state of things. Just before I stepped out of the room I heard Lucinda.

“Well Clara Bug, this is where we part again.” she said.

I turned and Lucinda was holding out her hand to shake Clara’s

“Come wait in the galley with us.” I rasped out.

“She’s not waiting for a ride April.”  Said Clara

“Your men aren't coming?” I asked.

“No need my ride’s right here.” Lucinda said and pointed a thumb over her shoulder toward the Lamplight.

My heart sank. The private conversation Lucinda and Clara had, the one where Clara convinced her to help us. She hadn't convinced her at all, she had payed her. Clara had traded her ship for my ship and Nathan’s life.  I knew that for the rest of our lives I would always feel indebted to her.

Clara pushed past Lucinda’s outstretched hand and hugged her. It was brief but fitting. Lucinda headed back toward the Lamplight and tossed a few sacks that had been laying by the door into the Thestrious.

“Here’s your things… and Clara never come back to this planet again.” Lucinda said and she closed the Lamplight’s air lock.

I closed the Thestriouse’s air lock and the light on the control panel switched to green. We felt a slight jar as the Lamplight broke free. I watched out the small window as the Lamplight grew smaller. I was sure Clara was devastated, but when I turned to look at her she was walking with Nathan back toward the corridor. Unconcerned about the arrangement and seemingly fully content with it’s outcome.

 

Over the next few days we made our way back from Exodus, making plans for the future. I asked Clara if she would be willing to stay on the Thestrious and act as my second in command. Technically I owed her a fortune, between the money I had promised at the start of the journey and her losing the Lamplight because of it, I would never be able to repay her. Clara didn’t seem to care much about my outstanding debt and happily accepted my offer.

Nathan asked if I would mind if he stayed as well, which I saw coming. I agreed, as long as we set ground rules about his gambling and that he would be required to start paying off all the debt he had laying around the galaxy. By the time we made it back to a civilized planet life on the Thestrious was starting to feel like the new normal.

I sat on the bridge alone in my large, soft cushioned pilot's chair. The sound of the engines whirring down and an electric hum in the air coming to a close. With a deep breath I could smell hints of oil and the leather of my chair, smells that remind me of my dad. Once again it was clear to me who I am and where I’m meant to be.

 

Copyright 2016 JAMIE BURNS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

How to get by in the Galaxy Part 10

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How to get by in the Galaxy Part 9

How to get by in the Galaxy

Part 10

By Jamie Burns

 

The scene in the shipyard changed dramatically. Some of the men running away from the explosion, others running towards it. Panic and chaos took over like a flash flood. My ears still had a ring in them from the sound of the explosion. As it dissipated I could hear the air was filled with yelling, the sound of a blazing fire, falling debris crashing back to earth and in the farther distance screaming.

The men that moments before had me surrounded at gunpoint were gone. Infact, almost all of Cryton’s men had gone, swept up by the commotion. Which lead me to think that the explosion must have been close to their base of operations. The thought of Clara being there when it happened was scary but more over the though she might have been the one to cause it was no more comforting.

All who remained in our standoff now was myself, Cryton, (his gun now trained on me) and two of his men who had been standing slightly behind him to his right and left, suggesting they must have been his most loyal, and his right hand. The last soul left in the clearing was Nathan still laying on the ground, thankfully yelling in pain. I wasn’t happy he was in pain but I was happy to see he was still alive.

“What did you do!” Cryton yelled, and I could see the spit fly from his mouth as he raged at me.

“That wasn't us!” I wasn't totally lying because I really wasn't sure if it was Clara who was responsible for it or not.

I stepped closer to them and Cryton shot a round near my feet, causing me to freeze instantly on the spot.

“So you’re saying this is all a coincidence?” Cryton waved his gun toting hand around at the scene.

“How would I have done that?” I pointed to the smoked out area behind him. Cryton had no response. He looked down at Nathan then back to me and finally up to the Lamplight that was far in the distance behind me. Much too far away to be responsible for the explosion.  He was at a loss, the plan might not have been going exactly like I had thought but the main principle was still holding. He thought it was just the three of us Nathan, Clara and I.

Nathan still writhed on the ground but had managed to stop yelling.  Over the radio that was attached to Cryton’s belt a voice called out, “Boss, boss we need help over here! This place is going up like a candle!” The radio cut out and Cryton looked more annoyed than concerned. He pulled the radio off his belt and tossed it to the man on his right. “Go tell those idiots what to do.” He barked. The man was off towards the blaze and then there were two. Only two men stood between me, my brother and freedom.

“Come here little sister.” Cryton said, motioning with his gun to stand in front of him. I cautiously approached but stopped just out of his reach. He pointed the gun back down to Nathan. “Now tell Blondie to LAND!” He screamed the last word at me.

“As soon as you let him go.”

Nathan was now weakly pulling himself to a sitting position.

Cryton just looked at me, once again sizing me up. Without taking his eyes off me he called over his shoulder. “Tom, go get Sheila.” Cryton pointed his gun at me. The man hesitated for only a half a second then headed into the open dock of the ship they had pulled Nathan from.

“Who is Sheila?” I asked.

Cryton only smiled.

It took only a moment for Tom to return. My surprise that he returned alone was brief before the despair set it. He might not have returned with a person but he had brought what I was assuming was Sheila. An over-sized portable ground to air missile launcher. Then right there on the right side in large messy white paint I saw her name Sheila. Tom hosted Sheila up onto his shoulder and waited for instruction.

Nathan and I looked at each other. He had now made it onto his knees. He held his sagging blood soaked shoulder, and I saw his eyes twitch toward Cryton then back to me then to where Tom stood. The smallest of actions that told me all his thoughts. It wasn't the plan I had come up with but desperate times called for desperate measures. I casually straitened my index finger of the hand at my side telling him to wait for my signal.

Cryton pulled his shoulders back and looked up to the Lamplight. “Now shoot Blondie out of the sky.” He said.

“Wait!” I took a step toward Tom.

Cryton held up his hand to keep Tom from firing. “Are you ready to tell her to land now?”

Then I saw it, a shadow moving in the smoke filled sky over the explosion. My plan had mostly come together, maybe even better than I had hoped.

“No, I have to tell you something.”  I said to Cryton.

“And what’s that little sister?” He mocked.

“Taking my ship was a mistake.” Then I let the slight grin I had been holding back spread over my face.

The loud rumble and rush of air from my low flying ship tore over our heads from behind Cryton. Clara was definitely not in the explosion. The air pulled Cryton and Tom unexpectedly off balance along with the shock of seeing The Thestrious in the air. I clenched my hand into a fist. In unison Nathan and I acted. Nathan threw himself to grab at Cryton’s gun and I sprinted with all I had toward Tom.

I was sure the man had more than a hundred pound on me, but I was sure as hell not going to stand there and let him shoot mine or Clara’s ships from the sky. I aimed all of my weight at his torso and knocked him and Sheila to the ground. I heard the metal hit the ground a few yards away and had a small sense of relief.  No Shelia, no missiles. The victory was short lived. Tom had easily thrown me off and was then over the top of me. I kicked with my legs trying to keep him at a distance but it was useless. I held my arms over my face as a shield but that too was useless. I felt his hand grasp my throat like a vise.  I wasn't even sure he was using both hands.

I looked up into Tom’s face and found no anger or emotion, just a stone expression that made me think he had been doing Cryton's dirty work a long time. I started to feel a burning in my chest and a pressure behind my eyes. Tom’s face grew black around the edges. With whatever I had left I tried to dig my nails into his hand. Then I felt the feeling leaving them and thought about the fact that Tom’s hand seems very soft for a strangler. I let my head roll back and I caught a glimpse of the sky and a large gray object passed overhead.

The last thing I heard was the sound like a gunshot. The pressure around my neck was released and replaced by what seemed like a 200 pound man laying on top of me. This pressure was quickly removed as well.

I saw the world through a pinhole. My small and tiny world. My brother, the sky, the Thestrious, darkness, then stars and the universe.

 

 

Copyright 2016 JAMIE BURNS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Imagination Monster

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Imagination Monster

By Jamie Burns

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He comes in the most innocuous of ways,

Before you know it your mind's wandered for days.

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A passing reflection,

A stray idea,

A naughty thought that makes you red in the ears.

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For some a moment is all that he takes,

Focused again now back on their days.

But others he finds the company quite grand,

Then you're strolling along now hand in hand.

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He takes you down paths untraveled.

Adventure with characters,

Your minds unraveled.

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Present no longer in the here and the now,

Instead your mind’s gone,

Off on the prowl.

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A darkened forest,

The far reaches of space,

Depths of the ocean,

All time just to waste.

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Hours might pass or days better still,

Before you show up,

Back in the real.

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He drops you abruptly

I do have to say,

Back to monotony that fills your day.

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But if you find you prefer

The adventure

The thrill

Just wait for tomorrow

He’ll come back he will.

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.

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Copyright 2016 JAMIE BURNS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

How to get by in the Galaxy Part 9

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How to get by in the Galaxy Part 8

How to get by in the Galaxy

Part 9

By Jamie Burns

It was early Christmas morning, I woke up feeling awful and promptly ran to the bathroom to throw up. I felt a hand rub my back and then put a wet washcloth on the back of my neck. I expected to look back and see my mom but it was Nathan. I was only seven years old but then again so was he. When I was feeling ok to move he helped me to the living room, he put me on the couch, gave me a blanket, turned on the Christmas tree lights and made me a cup of tea. We sat there looking at the twinkle lights of the tree, some blinking slowly on and off, others steady. I drifted in and out of sleep. Nathan all the while sitting beside me making sure I didn’t need more tea or a bucket if I had another bout of sickness. Two hours later when my parents woke up they asked why we hadn't woken them and I remember saying “Nathan took care of me.” That’s all I can remember from that particular Christmas.

I hadn't thought of that in over sixteen years. As we sped in the Lamplight toward the rendezvous point the words stuck in my head. “Nathan took care of me.” Throughout primary school, high school and well into flight school Nathan took care of me. I helped him with homework, studying and even would cover for him with mom and dad on occasion. It was what we did. We took care of each other and I was determined to keep the tradition alive.

I landed the Lamplight a few miles from the rendezvous point. Clara and Lu both walked on to the bridge. Lu was dressed in some of Clara’s clothes and they had pumped up the volume on Lu’s blond hair. “Alright, this is the best spot.” I said to Clara and headed to the back of the ship expecting her to follow. When I realized she hadn't I turned back around. Clara and Lu faced each other awkwardly. Clara held out a hand, “Thank you for your help.”

Lu took Clara’s hand and gave it a firm shake. “You’re sure it’s worth all this?” She asked.

Clara said nothing just gave her head one firm nod.

Clara and I walked to the back of the ship, she opened the hatch to the cold air outside. We both looked out then at each other. “Remember watch your back at all times. She’s going to be a lot heavier than the Lamplight so don’t be timid. Don’t be afraid to push her around, just get her in the air and head to the place Lu setup.” I told her.

“It’s gonna work.” Clara said it as if she was trying to convince both of us.

I dropped the hard tone in my voice, allowing myself to be genuine and vulnerable for a moment. “Please just be careful Clara, I don’t want to have to come save you too, but I will if I have to.” I gave her a weak smile but it was all I could muster. Clara pulled me in for a hug. “We’ll get him back.” With that she turned and set off.

I closed the hatch and the moment it was sealed the Lamplight rose back into the air.  On the bridge I found Lu at the helm, looking confident and at ease.

“No wonder they could never catch you.” I said as I sat in the co-pilots seat. Lu just smiled and pulled back on the helm sending us higher into the gray clouds.

We arrived at the rendezvous ten minutes ahead of the dead line. How we managed that  seemed like an act of God or a lot of happy accidents all in a row. Either way I was grateful. Instead of landing the Lamplight in the spot that had been clearly left open for us it dipped low and I tossed the rope over the edge of the hatch and slid down to the ground. Once my feet had touched I raised my hands showing I was unarmed and the Lamplight quickly gained in altitude again. I walked to toward the crowd.

Turned out the rendezvous was yet another shipyard, but this one had far more security and was much busier than the one we had been in earlier that day. The ships in this yard didn’t look like the junk that was in the other shipyards.  Here they were larger, well built, with weapons, no rust and some I would even call shinny. It felt more like a showroom than a shipyard. I recognized the ship the crowd was gathered around. The last time I saw her she was flying away from the planet Cierra with the Thestrious flying away beside her as I could only watch from the ground.

Hands still up I kept walking toward the crowed. Some of the men had their guns raised while others looked on relaxed, in the middle of them was Cryton. He was wide in the shoulders and seemed fit for a man that looked like he was in his late forties.  All the others seemed to look to him for cues on what to do next. It made me wonder how bad a man you have to be to have others fear you on a planet like Exodus. I pushed the thought down because it made me more nervous than I liked. Cryton on the video had seemed charismatic and likeable for a kidnapper. That's what made me so nervous about him. He was a kind of bad man made worse by his good lies. Not that I didn’t have a lie or two up my sleeve.

“Well there she is boys, the little sister.” Cryton called out. With a flick of his finger the men with guns advanced towards me.

I watched as they encircled me. “Yep that’s me… where’s my brother?”

“Oh he’s close by.” Cryton said, him and his men chuckling at that. I instinctively took a step back.  Cryton eyes narrowed in on me, “What’s your little gal pal doing up there? Tell her to land.”

I had to laugh at this one. “So you can kill all three of us and keep the ship. I don’t think so.”

“You know I could just shoot that match box out of the sky if I wanted to.” He was getting more frustrated.

“I’m sure you could, but you don’t want to.”

He paused and let out a breath. “No, I don’t but if you’re up to something fishy I might just change my mind.”

“Where is Nathan?” I asked again.

He looked back toward his ship and waved to the men waiting there. A moment later two men dragged Nathan down the dock and dropped him next to Cryton. Nathan slowly stood to his feet, I was sure he couldn't see much with his face swollen to it’s current size.  I called to him. “Nathan it’s ok I’m here.” I walk a bit closer to get a better look at him. The sound of my voice didn’t put him at easy. If anything it seemed to make him angry.

“April? Why? I told you guys to leave.” He was scared and angry and I didn’t really blame him. He forced his eyes open and looked right to where I was standing. “Why can’t you ever listen to me?”

“Alright now little sis you tell blondie to put her ass on the ground now.” Cryton demanded.

“Give me Nathan, then she’ll land in the distance. You’ll let us go while you head to your new ship.” I called out sounding as confident and forceful as possible.

Cryton stared at me for a moment in shock, I guess at my demands. Then a slow smile spread across his face and he looked around. His men nervously looking back at him. He started to laugh, the men looked at each other, and started to laugh as well. Though it was clear they weren't sure why.

“I don’t think you understand little sis, this is not a negotiation.” He said then he pulled his gun from his holster and turned Nathan toward him. I knew I was to far away but I still lunged forward, Cryton pressed the barrel against Nathan’s shoulder and pulled the trigger.

I could have sworn that I felt that bullet. I felt the shockwave flow through my body and weaken my knees. At least that’s what I thought at first. Then I realized everyone was looking up. In the distance behind Cryton’s ship was a plume of black smoke. The massive explosion had socked all of us. I saw Nathan lying motionless on the ground my heart sank and I looked  back to the plume of smoke now lit by the fire that burn beneath it. My face must have been white as a sheet as I wondered where Clara was.

The Ocean and I

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This week we are taking a small break from "How to get by in the Galaxy" for a bit of Flash Fiction. In a style I have never really tried before. (Present Tense Writing) It might work, might not, but that's kinda the point. A place for me to try new styles and find out what I like and what I don't. Enjoy.

 

The Ocean and I

By Jamie Burns

 

I had said it so many times. As a way to bring humor to a real fear that plagued me. People would always laugh and ask “Is it?” I guess I always really did feel like the answer was, Yes. The Ocean was out to get me.

That’s what I would say. “The Ocean is out to get me.”

“Is it?”

“Yes, it wants me for it’s own.”

I would just smile and  laugh, they would laugh and chalk it up to another one of the silly things I say.

Now as I panic inside this sinking ship it was less funny. I’m not sure what made me agree to get on this ship in the first place. Ever since the situation has turned for the worst I was starting to forget things. Why I was there in the first place, what we were doing there, who we were traveling with, it was all becoming more muddled in my head as the water on the ship rose.

As unhappy as I am with the situation I find a twisted satisfaction in being right about the Ocean and it’s intentions for me. If I was going to be dead at least I was going to be right. It’s important to remember these things at times like this.

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As we try to make it to the upper decks of the ship I can see my companion bounding up the stairs in front of me. The stairwell is square with steps lining all four walls, ever going up and up. When the ship wasn't filling with water you could look over the side of the railing and see all the way down to the bottom decks. There must be people waiting for us at the top of this never ending stairwell. Who those people might be is gone from my mind. The only thing I can focus on besides trying to stay in step right behind my companion is the raising water. It gets faster as we do and it is now just two steps behind me.

My lungs are starting to burn from the pace, but I can’t slow down. I feel the water lap against my shoe as it takes me too long to pull it up from the step behind. I look ahead to see that I’m falling behind now. In an effort to pull myself back to the pace of my companion I reach out to grasp the railing.

I’m not sure what happened next. My best guess is that I must have just slipped. For a brief moment I feel a lurch in my stomach, I see my hands reach out to try and grasp at anything. Its so fast that I barely have time to call out, my companion turns back toward me but I have already hit the water.

It’s not as cold as I expected. Infact its pretty warm, the water wraps around me, my face drops just below the surface. Through the wave of dancing water I see my companion, his face filled with concern. Before either of us have time to react I feel something I never expected and could never have imagined.

The cold icy grip of two large hands reaches up from the depths of the Ocean, grabs me at the hips, wraps it’s arms around my waist and pulled me down. The sound of the water rushing around fills my head. My companion's face is filled with a mix of confusion and horror. Because as I am pulled down the water recedes, as if the Ocean was satisfied now with just me in its grasp. I am pulled down into the dark, the water lowers rapidly back down the steps leaving my companion on his still dry step, the water quickly far below his feet.

The humor of my statement still lingered in my mind. The Ocean truly was out to get me,  and now it had.

 

Copyright 2016 JAMIE BURNS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

How to get by in the Galaxy Part 8

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How to get by in the Galaxy Part 7

How to get by in the Galaxy

Part 8

By Jamie Burns

 

In a universe that seems vast and infinite, every once and awhile the stars align. When they do it fills you with a sense that maybe, just maybe, the galaxy isn't totally out to screw you. That’s how I felt when Clara and I found Lucinda.

Right up till the moment that Lucinda punched her little sister Clara in the face.

The people in the crowded bar looked at the commotion for a moment before quickly looking away. Almost like they didn’t want to be caught looking. No one made a move to stop the tussle. After Clara landed a backhanded slap across Lucinda’s face the fight digressed into that of school girls pushing each other and pulling hair. The three large men that had been surrounding Lucinda moved the crowd back. I was going to try and put a stop to it but one of the men's overwhelmingly large hands pulled me back from the two swinging blondes.

“Clara!” I yelled.

My voice seemed to bring her back from the edge she had gone over. Clara pulled herself back from Lucinda. They both huffed with heavy breaths. “Damn Lu.What in creation was that for?” Clara asked, rubbing her bruised jaw.

Lu’s voice was so similar to Clara’s they were almost interchangeable. The deep draw of each word pulling on the air. “Six years, you don’t contact me. You don’t want nothin’ to do with me? Then, I hear someone's looking for me, because they need a favor. That someone turns out to be you. How you think that makes me feel Clara Bell?” Lu said with a conviction that made even me feel bad.

“Don’t you lie to me Lu. You knew I was the one looking for you.” Clara retorted.

The large man, had released my shoulder and moved back toward Lu. I realized now the three men were obviously Lu’s bodyguards.  I watched as the two sisters stared each other down. I had never imagined Clara with siblings. She had never mentioned a sister even though she had told me several stories of her parents and when she was younger. To find out now there was another Bell family member present in those tales changed the way I saw Clara. We were both the younger sister. But somehow Clara had cut Lu from her stories. It felt strange, I couldn’t think of a single memory from my childhood that didn’t involve Nathan in some way shape or form. He had always been there, my ever present big brother. Even if he was only a few minutes older than me. Was Lu that way for Clara in the beginning? Her best friend, her co-conspirator, her backup?

The women stayed a fair distance from each other. “I’m sorry it turned out like this.” Clara said and she really sounded like she meant it.

“So am I Clara bug.” The comment brought a hint of a smile into both the Bell women's faces. “Yes, I knew it was you. I have eyes and ears all over this rock. I knew you were here the second you stepped off that wind-up toy you call a ship.”

“What do you mean eyes and ears everywhere?” It was the first time I had spoken since breaking up the fight and I realized that Lucinda had no reason to know who I was. That fact didn’t faze her.

Lu smiled “Oh sister, you think I would come to a place like Exodus and I wouldn’t naturally take over?”

“Take over what?” Asked Clara.

“I’m the ‘Queen of Chems in six different quadrants.” Lu twisted her wrist in the air with a flourish.

“You’re a drug lord?!” Clara exclaimed.

“Oh Honey, don’t say it like that. But yes.”

I wasn't sure what Clara had expected to find when we went looking for her sister but I was sure a drug lord was not it. Clara was speechless with her mouth agape. I hated to interrupt the thought process that must have been running through Clara’s head but I needed to.

“Clara, we’re running out of time.” I said to her.

She composed herself again. “We need help Lu."

“And we need it in the next 3 and a half hours.” I added.

I wasn't sure what Clara said to Lu while they sat in Lu’s privet both in the back corner of the bar. The conversation took less than five minutes and I was elated. Clara and Lu returned, with Lu’s agreement to help us get Nathan back, as well as get the three of us back off Exodus. Now with Lu’s help and her unexpected resources my plan was looking more like a plan and less like a suicide mission.

Copyright 2016 JAMIE BURNS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

How to get by in the Galaxy Part 7

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How to get by in the Galaxy Part 6

How to get by in the Galaxy

Part 7

By Jamie Burns

 

The white letters burned bright in the dimly lit bridge of the Lamplight. “9 O’clock ladies.” Clara and I stayed glued to the screen till it once again went black. Clara turned in her chair to face me, her normally rosy cheeks were as white as paper. I could see a rising panic in her eyes despite the fact she tried to fight it back. “We can’t leave him.” Clara said in a determined, this is set in stone kind of way.

“Well of course we can’t.”

Clara’s face softened and her shoulders relaxed.

“You didn’t really think I was going to suggest we leave my brother here?” I asked.

“Well no… I just.” Clara’s voice dropped off.

I put my hand on her shoulder and mustered up a small smile. “It’s ok, we will get him back… somehow.”

“9 O’ clock is less than six hours away.” Clara said. “What do we do? Just hand over the Lamplight?”

“No, we can’t do that, all three of us will die on this planet if we do.” I started pacing the floor of the bridge, trying to inspire my brain into some kind of brilliant idea.  Clara leaned back in the chair trying to do the same.

“Could we buy the guy off?” Clara suggested

“We don’t have enough for him to even consider it. Plus all my money is on my ship, the ship he has. For all I know he has already found it, either way we don’t have it.” I spoke as I rubbed my temples and paced.

I tried to think of a plan but nothing came, what did come to me was guilt and anger. The guilt, why had I said yes to splitting up? When had I ever let Nathan come up with the plans? It’s always been up to me to look out for him and I just let him go off alone. Then the anger, he managed to get himself caught, and ruin another one of my plans. This was all his fault to begin with. I stopped pacing, this was a poor waste of the short time we had.

Five minutes had passed when I finally dropped down into one of the seats. “This is impossible, every idea I have needs at least three people to attempt.” I complained.

“We need help.”

“Yes, we need help. In a place we know no one, and no one we do know would come. Even if they would, there’s no time.” The word hopeless came to mind.

In the softest tone her deep southern voice could manage I heard Clara say. “I might know someone.”

My head snapped to look at her. “Who? Are they trustworthy?”

Clara hesitated to speak, “No, she’s not trustworthy, and I’m not totally sure where she is, but it sounds like it might be our only option.”

“Clara,” I said slowly “Who is it?”

“My sister.”

 

Despite Clara’s obvious hesitation and concern, I was overjoyed. I jumped out of my seat and rushed over to Clara. Quickly pulling her by the arms out of the pilot's seat and took her place. Firing up the engines of the Lamplight.

“Good gracious, April what are you doing?” Clara asked.

“We need to find her right now. On the way you can tell me what went down with you two and I’ll tell you the plan.”

“I don’t know where she is.” Clara said

“Well we have a little over five hours to find her, convince her to help up, and hope she doesn’t screw us over.” I  lifted the Lamplight into the sky and headed in the direction of the nearest populated area. Looked like we would be getting to know Exodus better than we had planned.  

...

Clara hadn't spoken to her sister in six years. Her sister Lucinda Bell had been convicted for murdering her husband, who, according to Clara was no winner himself. While he was alive Clara’s sister and her husband had led a life of regular criminal activity. Traveling around robbing people and evading the authorities. Eventually something went wrong between the two of them, and Lucinda’s husband was found dead. She was caught and convicted of the murder but before she was taken to prison she had escaped the authorities once again.  After two years without word Clara received a video message from Lucinda telling her she was alive and on  Exodus. Six years had passed and Clara had hoped to never contact her again. But today was a very special circumstance.

The only thing Clara knew about the location of her sister was the quadrant of the planet the message was sent from and that was a six-year-old message. Since it was all we had to go on that’s where we started. Thankfully Exodus was a small plant, Clara and I both watched every minute tick by, it took us forty of them to get to the area. I started formulating a plan B, for if we couldn't find Lucinda. Plan B was not looking so good.

Once on the streets we started asking around about Lucinda. Most of the people in this area seemed to be on some kind of drug that made them a starry eyes mess, seeming incapable of understand words. Another twenty minutes passed and the tightness pulled at my chest.  I was about to suggest we move to the next quadrant when out of the mess of starry eyed dope heads a man started walked towards us. I pulled out my gun, not sure what to expect. When he saw it he stopped his approach. I saw then he was a young boy probably in his mid-teens, he looked strung out and wiry, he was on something different.

“I just want to talk.” the boy said as he coward a few yards away from us.

“About what?” I asked.

The boy looked around. “Who you’re looking for.”

I looked back at Clara, and she returned a ‘might as well’ look to me. I nodded my head toward an open ally off the side of the street. The boy made his way in and we followed, once inside I raised my guy in case of ambush.

“You, you don’t need that.” He stammered.

“Well I feel pretty when I hold so I’m just gonna keep it, kay.” I masked my nerves with sarcasm as always. “What do you know?”

“Well I want to tell you but…”

“But what?” I asked.

“I can’t tell you for free.” He said as his nervous form looked around the ally.

“Really? You’re going to try and give us the shake down? I have you at gunpoint.” I was already sick of Exodus.

“I, I don’t think you know how to use, use that.” He stammered.

Without warning I shot an empty can that sat next to his left foot, causing it and him to jump into the air. “Is that so?” I asked.

He hunched himself over even more.

“Look kid, we are in a time crunch and if you really know anything you better say it right freakin’ now!” I was losing all sense of patience. My watch said we only had another four and half hours, and it would take 40 minutes to get to the location we were to meet Cryton.

“Ok, ok.” He backed up to the ally wall and slid down to a seated position.

“Well?” Clara said.

“You’re, you’re looking for Lu, right?” he asked.

I looked back at Clara. “Yes.” She said, her eyes growing bigger.

“She’s in the Brice quadrant.” He said as he dropped his head into a slump, realizing his sad attempt to make some money had failed.  My heart leapt, the Brice quadrant was not far and it was even the direction we need to be going. We might still have a bit of hope left, if I didn’t think about the fact we only had four hours and fifteen minutes to save my brothers life and get the Thestrious back.  

 

Copyright 2016 JAMIE BURNS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

How to get by in the Galaxy Part 6

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How to get by in the Galaxy Part 5 

How to get by in the Galaxy

Part 6

By Jamie Burns

 

“Are you sure about this?”

It was the first time any one of us had questioned our presence on Exodus. I didn’t blame Nathan for asking because truthfully I had my doubts.  We hadn't been shot out of the sky on the way in, so that was a small victory. Getting back off the planet would be the hard part. Especially in what would be seen as a stolen ship. No point in trying to reason that I was just stealing back what was rightfully mine to begin with. Clara, Nathan and I stood on the bridge of the Lamplight looking out over the dirty, gray, shipyard. Ships and parts lay out for miles in front of us. A maze of junk and potential treasures sprawled out waiting to be bought, sold or stolen.

“It’ll be fine. We have to find the Thestrious then I can figure out how to get her back”

“We’ll find it.” Nathan said, reaching over and squeezing my shoulder. Now that we were on Exodus it seemed like the guilt was finally hitting him. It was, after all, his fault we were there.

“Clara, you should stay here.” I suggested

“You sure? Maybe Nathan should stay and I can come with you.” Clara said.

“No you’ll draw too much attention, it’s mostly men in the shipyard. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb.”

“Yeah, April here can basically pass for a 15 year old boy.” Nathan said and slapped me on the back. The memory of the kind comforting shoulder squeeze faded away. What else should I expect from my screw up brother.

I rolled my eyes and turned back to Clara, “For now, I think it’s best if you stay here.”

The shipyard was cold, which worked well for us. We wore our dark heavy coats, I pulled my hood up and made sure my hair was tucked in tightly. Nathan could have said it in a nicer way but he was right, I was a much more believable male from a distance than Clara could ever be. My total lack of curves made my figure ambiguous under my large coat.  

We quietly searched the yard. It was still the early hours of the morning and there was almost no one around. The weather was gloomy and behind the smell of oil, rubber and garbage was a hint of oncoming rain.  Several hours passed and Nathan and I still looked for the Thestrious, the rain must have kept people away because we had only seen a few roaming the ship yard like us. I started to look for any parts that might have come off the Thestrious, but I was afraid to find any, because the implication of what it would mean had happened to my ship. Several more hours past and the rain continued.

We reached the end of another long row of miscellaneous old ships.

I checked my watch, “We should go back and check in with Clara. It’s almost 1 o’clock now.”

“Ok, we should split up, go two different ways back to the Lamplight so we can keep looking along the way.” Nathan said as he scanned his eyes over the next row of ships.

“I don’t know if we should split up Nathan.”

“We’ve seen maybe four people in the last five hours, No one cares that we’re here.”

The shipyard looked just as empty and desolate as it had in the early morning. After hours of rain the ground had become a muddy mess, I couldn’t guess what the temperature was but I would describe it as frigid. Not many people would be out unless they had to be.

“Ok,” I hesitantly agreed.

“Alright I’ll take this path.” Nathan gestured to his left.

“Then I’ll swing back around. You take that one.” Pointing to his right.

“Then we’ll meet back at the Lamplight in about an hour. Sound good?”  He had a hopefulness to his voice that I appreciated. As if the Thestrious could be right around the next corner.  “Ok, be careful.” I said, and we split up.

It took me an hour and forty minutes to make it back to the Lamplight, the shipyard was a maze and I had hit a dead end on one of my chosen paths. The moment I entered the Lamplight and threw off my heavy wet coat I had Clara’s arm around me in a tight embrace.

“Thank God, you’re alright!” she said with her southern drawl too loud and too close to my ear.

“Yeah, thanks, I just had to take a little detour.” I said and she quickly released me from the hug. I started to pull off my mud caked boots, Clara still hovered over me.

“How long ago did Nathan get back?”

“He’s not. I was hoping you two were together.” Clara said.

“What?”

“Why aren’t you two together?” Clara asked.

“We split up to cover more ground. He’s not back?”

Clara stared at me, her mouth agap.

“Haven’t you two ever seen a damn movie before? You never split up on a strange planet!”

Clara took off back toward the bridge. I followed barefoot behind her.

“Maybe he just had to take another way back, like I did.”

“Yeah maybe, or maybe not.” Clara’s voice was tense. We both looked out over the ship yard.

“I don’t know April. I have a bad feeling in my stomach.” Clara’s face was filled with worry. I knew her and Nathan had history but this was the first time I started to think Clara might have really been in love with him.

“Maybe I’m just being paranoid. If something was wrong you would feel it too right? That’s a twin thing isn't it?” Clara asked.

“Um…” I wasn't sure how to answer. Before I could decide the sound of a soft chime came from the console in front of the pilot’s seat, drawing both mine and Clara’s gaze. A moment of hesitation swept over the bridge and everything was still as we glanced back at each other.

Clara was the first to move as she rounded the console and plopped into the seat, clicking away on the screen.

“It’s a message…” She said.

“From who?” I rounded the console and looked over Clara’s shoulder.

The subject line of the message read: “To the comrade and concubine of Nathan Norien” The video message started to play, and there he was. The ass hat that stole my ship! If I had known him for any other reason I might have called him handsome, but I didn't. He was the head of a gang of thugs that was responsible for my current headache. The message continued.  

“Hello Ladies,” He stared, his mouth too close to the camera, then leaning back into a chair. “My name’s Cryton Hays and I believe you are looking for something of mine.” My rage flared up at the statement. “We know you’re on Exodus and invite you to leave immediately.  I’m a nice guy you see, so as long as you leave now I’ll stay that way.” He flashed a big toothy smile at the camera.  “You leave now, I’ll keep Nathan here with me.”  Cryton pulled Nathan into the shot by the collar of his shirt. Nathan’s face was almost unrecognizable. His nose was obviously broken and both his eyes were red and swollen shut. Clara grasped the arms of the pilot seat. “Or if you would like ol’ Nathan here back you can head over to our location and turn over that sweet little ship your pretty asses are sitting in.” It felt like all the blood drained from my body. It was that feeling of knowing you’re totally 100% screwed. “So it’s up to you ladies. You’re free to go or come swap.” Nathan pushed toward the screen “April, Go! Get off this rock!” He yelled before Cryton hit him in the face, to silence him. Clara looked away from the screen. “We’ll need your decision by 9 this evening, I’m a busy man after all.”  The screen went black. Then in white letters a location appeared across the screen followed by the words “9 O’clock Ladies”

 

 

Copyright 2016 JAMIE BURNS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

How to get by in the Galaxy Part 5

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How to get by in the Galaxy Part 1                                                                                                                                                       How to get by in the Galaxy Part 2                                                                                                                                                       How to get by in the Galaxy Part 3                                                                                                                                               How to get by in the Galaxy Part 4

How to get by in the Galaxy

Part 5

By Jamie Burns

 

The amount of empty space that stretches between the mainstream planets and Exodus scares a lot of people. I remember one instructor in particular while I was at flight academy that would always  manage to list at least one of the dangers of Exodus and its surrounding space quadrant in every lesson.

“It’s a place without law.”

“Disease is everywhere.”

“No one will stop to help if you need it.”

and my favorite “If you go there you will probably never come back.”

I was fairly certain that instructor had never been remotely near Exodus. I thought he was just trying to scare the new class of students. Once I started traveling on my own I heard more stories. Not all of them as ominous and dire as the ones from my professor but none of them painted a very nice picture of our galaxy's outermost planet.   

It was a long trip to get to Exodus, you needed to prep for before setting off. Once you started the journey you just hope nothing happens between point A and point B, because none of the repair services would come close to Exodus to get you.

There were 2 small black holes on the way to Exodus that needed to be closely monitored as you passed them to make sure they didn’t expand and suck you into their field. There were scavenger ships that would try and overtake whoever they passed so they could piece out and sell parts from the ships they took. Past that was a field of space junk that was mostly comprised of government cruisers.  

Exodus was known as the Outlaw’s planet. Originally terraformed as a prison planet, it was picked for its isolation from the other planets and set up to sustain itself with little supervision. I know, stupid idea right. The years passed by and eventually the prisoners outnumbered the guards and took over. Once the government realized what was happening they sent an armada to try and regain control. It was a futile effort, Exodus had been designed to withstand incoming attacks and ships that would potentially add in escape attempts. With the prisoners in control of the planet’s weapons defense system, the armada didn’t stand a chance. Hence the field of government cruiser space junk that surrounded the planet. Basically the government handed the bad guys the perfect fortress.

Fifty years later the planet wasn’t just for prisoners anymore. It was the planet of misfit outlaws, drug lords, runaways, space ruffians, thieves, and all manner of corrupt individuals. Exodus had it’s own system of government that was anything but just. Control of the planet would change hands often and sporadically as whoever the current ruler was would be assassinated so another more corrupt person would step into the role, making it a place of chaos and disorder. No law needed to be followed or enforced, except one. Exodus had only one rule universally followed by all who lived there. If  any outside government or law enforcement shows up kill them, or report it so someone else could.

I was never officially part of the government, once I graduated flight academy and my Ex had publicly humiliated me, I decided I didn’t want to stick around and take orders from some uptight brass. It was a good call that I still stand by. I was still nervous the closer we got to Exodus, given my almost affiliation with law enforcement. The crazy tales my old professor told our class ran through my head as we gently glided through the field of demolished cruisers. I decidedly hadn’t shared any of these stories with Clara or Nathan. No need to add to the already tense and nervous atmosphere on the ship.

Not one of us had even mentioned a doubt about going to Exodus. It had been almost three months since Nathan and I were left on Ciera, stuck watching my ship The Thestrious fly off into the sunset without me. Clara agreed to help us, for a price of course. Since then getting to Exodus had been our only goal. Why go to the scum bag capitol of the galaxy? Well where else would they set up the Universe's black market.?

Exodus’ black market was as under the table as your local grocery store. No need to hide your deals when there is no one around who cares. The market took up almost a quarter of the planet, one could easily find anything they wanted from government grade weapons, every kind of designer and back alley drug you can think of, to all manner of stolen goods, and for those with enough money there was even an area for those looking to buy people. What a sick notion.

We would be looking for the shipyard. Without a doubt that was where I would find the Thestrious. We entered the atmosphere and it seemed to strengthen my resolve. I was going to get her back no matter what. I wouldn’t leave her here to be bought and used by some dirtbag. The Thestrious was everything I had poured my life into and I wouldn’t just give up on my life because it had brought me to the worst part of the galaxy.

 

Copyright 2016 JAMIE BURNS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Forest of Imagination

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By Jamie Burns

 

I always loved my grandmother’s house. It was down a long dirt road that passed fields with horses and usually grazing deer. Past the fields was the forest filled with tall strong pine and oak trees. Then tucked at the base of a beautiful mountain range was my Grandmother's house. A small simple A-frame home with tall windows all along its front.

The time I spent there as a kid always felt warm, cozy, inviting, all the things you expect from your Grandmother. As I look back now the place felt like magic, not just because of the house but because of the forest it sat in. It had everything, heavily wooded forests and brief openings into golden fields of tall grass. A creek that ran along the back achers, and a spring of clear water that flowed right from the side of the hill in the backyard. There were walking trails all over the property, my brother and I would race down one in particular to a large group of rocks that we liked to climb on. My brother would always win, since he was four years older than me and two feet taller, I never did gain the advantage.

My time there was filled with skinned knees and sticker bushes, but also things like baked cookies and picnics. It was a place for pretend and wonder, a place where all things were possible. My imagination would tell me that fairies or giants lived in those woods and they liked it when I came to visit. I would be a warrior, a princess, an explorer, I could be stranded on an island, in a tomb, or even on another planet. The perfect canvas for my adventurous mind.

As an adult I know that a place like that was the best gift I could have ever had as a child. I wish I could somehow give that kind of gift  to everyone.

I told myself that it was impossible. So the next best thing I could do was sit down and write. If you don’t have a place to explore and imagine, or you’re feeling like you imagination is too tired, feel free to use mine.   Copyright: 2016 JAMIE BURNS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

New School Lucy

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New School Lucy

By Jamie Burns

 

My younger sister Lucy and I had just moved to DC to attend new schools. Lucy was to attend an advanced high school for highly gifted teens and me a local college in the DC metro area. I was mostly there to get a free education and keep an eye on Lucy.  

Lucy was the one that made it all possible. My super prodigy sister had impressed the school so much that they were now paying for my education just so my parents would agree to let us move across the county without them, so Lucy could attend their school. My parents wouldn’t send her by herself so this was the school’s solution.

We all headed off to DC and got settled in, after a few weeks our parents reluctantly went back to Seattle. Lucy and I started our respective schools and tried to adjust to our new way of life. Lucy was instantly thrilled. After years of attending classes she could have done in her sleep she was finally being challenged. I was also being challenged, but I was not so thrilled about it. School was always so much harder for me than Lucy so I spent most of my time in the library studying or in our apartment doing homework.

Four months into the school year I was finally getting used to my course load and had even been earning a passable GPA all on my own, sans Lucy’s help. Since she was totally immersed in her own school work. We started seeing less and less of each other once she told me they had offered her some extra classes with  private instructors for her physical training and her advanced math.  I assumed that she was talking about Fencing and some of the math she handled I couldn't even pronounce.

Since Lucy would stay late at school I started to get more involved in the college scene on my campus. I had never been a social butterfly but I had made some good friends that would invite me out pretty regularly. When Lucy and I were home at the same time she would usually fall asleep on the couch while working on homework. It was the first time in our lives I remember seeing her so tired. She would still get up early and head to the track every day. Once I even went with her and she could literally run circles around me.

Thanksgiving came and Mom and Dad came to spend the holiday with us. It was a great visit, that went all too quickly. Lucy and I both agreed that it made us desperately home sick and we would head to Seattle over the winter break. It was just the thing we needed. It was great to be back and visit with mom, dad and old friends but by the end of the break I found I was excited again to head back to my new life and friends in DC.

The night before Lucy and I left Seattle my Dad pulled me aside and said we needed to talk about Lucy.

“How have things really been going over there sweetheart?” He asked.

“Great, we both really like it. Not that we don’t miss you guys.”

“Really?” He asked.

“Yeah, why? What do you mean?” My dad’s concerned face confused me.

“It’s just that Lucy seems so not herself. I mean I’ve never seen her this tired. What do they have her doing?” He asked.

I thought about the question and was embarrassed I didn’t have a better answer. “I um, I noticed she’s been tired but didn't think much about it. I’m not really sure what her exact courses are. I mean, I know she has extra lessons 4 times a week but isn't that pretty normal for Lucy?”

“Sure it was here but at that school it might be a bit much.” He said.

He was right Lucy wasn’t her usual self during the trip home. Now that he said it I replayed the holiday from the previous year in my head. Christmas was Lucy’s favorite. She had always insisted on making cookies, playing nonstop Christmas music, going out caroling and was basically the Christmas spirit embodied. This year she had done none of those things. She was so subdued by comparison I couldn't believe I didn't notice sooner. Quite, subdued, and a bit run down. Other than her usual 6 am run she just lounged around the house. I suggested maybe she was feeling sick since she had been so busy since the beginning of the school year. My Dad hesitantly accepted this as an explanation but made me promise to keep a closer eye on her in the coming semesters. I was happy to make that promise. How had I not noticed how diffrent she was. I guess I was too busy having a good time in my new college lifestyle.

Once we got back to DC and school started up I stopped going out with me friends as much and started to stay home. I would wait for Lucy’s return in the evening with dinner at the ready. After two weeks I realized she usually didn’t get home from school till 8 or 9 at night. I asked if I could come with her to a lesson and see how amazing she had become at fencing but she quickly shut me down, saying that her instructors wouldn't like it, that I would be a distraction and she would just show me sometime on our own. The semester continued and I made it a point to really take care of my baby sister, by making sure she ate well, got as much sleep as possible and giving her a ride to school on all the days I didn’t have an early class. It seemed to make us both happier and it gave me more glimpses of the Lucy I remembered her to be. But I was still getting no where on what Lucy’s school was like. My Dad and I started talking more often about Lucy and the school and we were both feeling more and more concerned for Lucy’s well-being.

We reached April and the cherry blossom trees around the tidal basin were in bloom. My afternoon class had been canceled and I decided to head over to try and see Lucy during her Lunch hour.  

That was the day I found out that the school was not just a place for educating gifted teens. It was much more than that. Much more sinister. Because my sweet, kind, little sister Lucy was training to be the ultimate weapon.

 

 

Copyright JAMIE BURNS 2016 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Prince of the River

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The Prince of the River

By Jamie Burns

Price Theadad was beloved by all in the city. At only 15 years of age the prince was a handsome, well mannered young man, highly educated and gracious to his people. That was the Prince the people knew. He was all these things, but he also had the rebelliousness that can often be expected of a boy that was always forced to look proper in the public eye. Prince Theadad or Theo to the few closest to him, was notorious inside the castle walls for only doing about 20% of what he was told. A percentage that Theo himself felt was quite generous, considering how well he behaved for his father in the public eye. The royal guard did the best they could at keeping Theo within the castle walls. But most of the time they found themselves vexed by the quick witted, agile young prince, and would soon be in search of him again. Theo liked to occasionally make his way past the guards and head to the river on the outskirts of the city where other children would swim in the hotter season.

It was one of the hottest days of the season so far and Theo was once again told by his father to stay inside the castle walls. Finding himself bored and feeling more defiant than usual Theo had slipped past the guards yet again. He was starting to feel it was getting easier and easier to do so.

At the river the other children were already swimming and splashing each other when he arrived. His presence started quite the stir. Theo threw off his shirt and jumped into the water. He was tall for 15 and was sure of himself, his whole life people had told him how handsome he was and he always took the statements to heart. Causing him to be more proud and cocky then the average 15 year old, as one might expect of a prince. The girls drew around him and giggled at all he said. Theo loved the attention.

“They just let you come out here?” One of the girls asked.

“Let me? Of course I can do whatever I like. I’m the prince after all.”

This response was followed by a clamer from the girls. Slowly the arrival of the price became less of an uproar and the splashing continued. Theo enjoyed feeling a bit like he really was aloud to do what he liked, but he knew it would be short lived once the guards realized his absence. As he swam around he noticed a boy that sat along the bank on the opposite side of the river. The boy sat in the shade of a large bush so close to it that he almost seemed to be hiding under it. “Mary.” Theo called to one of the girls. She blushed, surprised that he knew her name and she quickly swam to his side.

“Yes, Prince Theodad.” She said eagerly.

“Who is that boy?” He asked

Mary was visibly disappointed, thinking that he was going to ask her something about herself.  “I don’t know his name. He’s just some poor beggar from the east side of the city.” She told him.

“Why isn't he swimming?” Theo asked.

“Well,” Mary started then hesitated. “He was going to but when he started to get in the water the other boys started yelling at him.”

“Yelling at him?”

“Ya, they said he was swine and that he would dirty up the water with his filth.” Mary looked away from the prince and back toward her friends.

“And is that what you think?” He asked Mary.

“I… he’s just too strange. Why wouldn't he just leave? He’s just been sitting there watching us.” Mary gave a small shiver as she said it.

“Have you seen him before?”

“Yes, He is around quite a bit. Watching us walk to school, or working for scraps in the market. He’s strange.” Mary said.

Theo stood silent and wondered about the boy. When he said nothing else to her Mary left his side and returned to her giggling group of girls.

“Oh great Price Theodad!” Called a voice in mock wonder. It’s was one of the boys on the shore. The thoughts of the boy under the bush swept from Theo’s mind and he turn toward the speaker. A hard proud look set in Theo’s face. The boy that had called to him was named Argus. Theo had heard the others calling him that early while they were roughhousing in the water. He seemed to be somewhat of a ringleader to the small group.

Argus stood on the shore with his fists proper one on each hip. A challenging stance to be sure. Argus was not quite as tall as Theo but was much wider in the chest.

Argus continued, “Well since you are our great prince and all, how about you be the first to jump from the look out?” Argus pointed his meaty hand up to the large rock formation that rose up over the river. Everyone looked to the rock and back to Theo.

“That’s not so high.” Theo said, trying to sound unimpressed.

“Good then you won’t mind being the first to go.” Said Argus.

Theo looked back up to the top of the rock and couldn't help but swallow hard from the dryness in his mouth. It truly was high, and Theo was no fan of heights. But he could feel the eyes of the crowd of kids on him. It was the perfect trap, no Prince could not accept the challenge and still be respected. Or so Theo thought in his adolescence.

“Of course.” Theo said. The other cheered at this and Theo started out of the water and climbing the tall rocks. Once he had reached the top he found it to be even higher from there. The kids below looked impossibly small to his eyes. And he wondered if what he saw was true or if his own fear were playing a trick on him. He approached the edge and the world seemed to sway before him when he looked over it. He had been standing there a few moments trying to get his bearings when the jeering started. The other boys calling up to him. “Do it!” “Come on Prince!” And other things that Theo couldn't make out over the pounding of his heart. He inched closer to the edge and found once again that the rock had grown and he was now impossibly high. He couldn’t jump, and decided to back away when he lost his footing and heard the screams of the girls below.

For such a high fall Theo found that the water came quickly up to him. Was it water? It felt like rock when it hit his chest. Or what he had always imagined it felt like to be kicked by a wild stallion. Then he sunk under it. The force had pushed all the air from his lung and the pain seemed to seize his whole body. He was unable to move, unable to breath, unable to surface.

He opened his eyes and could see the sun light dance a crossed the surface of the water. Past it he could make out shadows of moving figures, surely one of them would come for him. His eyes burned and he felt his back hit the bottom of the river. His head was so clouded that the idea of moving his arms and legs couldn’t seem to make it to his limbs. Looking back to the surface Theo realized that the shadows were growing smaller, they were backing away.  “Good God help me I’m your prince!” Theo screamed in his head. The edges of his vision started to grow darker, the last thing he was able to see was a flurry of bubbles and the beams of sunlight were completely obstructed by a dark figure.

Theo felt himself being dragged along rock and sand. Then hastily dropped onto the ground, the figure that had been doing the dragging crouched next to him. Theo opened his eyes to see the face of the dirty peasant boy that had been sitting under the bush. The boy had darker skin from spending most of his time outside, he had dark hair that lay matted and wet against his face. When Theo had seen the boy earlier he thought him a younger boy maybe 12 looking so meek huddled next to the bush, but now he could see that the boy must be closer to his own age.

The poor boy leaned back in relief that Prince Theo had opened his eyes and was indeed alive. The pain that had struck Theo started to subside and he slowly sat up on to his elbows.

“Don’t try to sit up just yet your Highness.” Said the boy. His voice was deeper than Theo had expected yet still soft in tone.

Theo looked around the river banks, they were deserted but for him and the boy. All the kids that had been there moments before telling him to jump were now gone with not a trace left behind.  

“Cowards.” Was the first thing Theo was able to get out with his raspy voice after a few minutes of silence.

“I’m sure they were just scared.” The boy said.

“And you.” Theo said, looking over to the boy and giving him a once over.

“I was scared, but in a different way I suppose.” The boy gave a polite smile.

Theo couldn’t deny that even for a peasant the boy had good features, featured one might find in the face of a noble bloodline. Once the boy stood Theo realized he must have been at least 2 inches taller than himself. But his limbs where fraile from lack of nutrition.

“Do you feel like you might be able to stand your Highness?” The boy stretched out his hand to Theo.

“Yes.” Theo took it and together they slowly got Theo to his feet.

“Come, I shall help you get home.” The boy pulled Theo’s arm around his shoulder and allowed Theo to place his weight heavily on him. They made their way slowly back toward the town.

Along the way Theo realized he was doing little to no work and the boy was mostly carrying him back toward the castle. Theo tried harder to carry his own wait but found it too difficult.

“Thank you.” Theo said as they walked

“Of course your Highness.”

“No, you must not call me that again.” Theo said as he winced trying to put more weight in his own feet. The boy looked to his Prince with worry, had he offended the Prince in some way?

“I’m sorry Prince Theodad?”  The boy unsure what else to say.

Theo laughed a bit. “No, you should call me Theo.”

The boy’s eyebrows raised. “Surely I couldn't do that your highness.”

Theo stopped them in their tracks. “Yes, you will, you have just saved my life and that will never be forgotten. I insist you are to call me Theo for that is what a friend would call me.” Theo said in the most commanding voice he could manage with the rasp still in his throat.  

The boy stood up a bit straighter “Yes your hig… Theo.”

“Ha there you go, it wasn’t so bad was it? Now my friend, what shall I call you?” Theo through his arm back over the boy's shoulder.

“I’m Erian your highness.” He grimaced after he said it. The thought of calling the prince by his first name was unacceptable in Erian’s world.

Theo smiled “Don’t worry you’ll get used to it. Erian you say. Alright then Ery you will be joining me for dinner tonight.”

“Oh Theo I’m not sure I could do that.” Erian said. He thought about his dirty skin and his dripping clothes. He would never be allowed to stand in front of the castle much less go inside to dine looking like he did.  

“You can and you will. I will have no more talk of it.”

So they made their way back to the castle and as it grew closer so did Theodad and Erian.

 

 

More tales of Erian's:

Won without Victory

Copyright JAMIE BURNS 2016 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.