short stories

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

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

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

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 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

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.

 

Little Lucy

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(Story prompt is Italicized) Little Lucy

Even as a young girl, my little sister had always seemed older and wiser, as if she had glimpsed the future and was going to keep it all to herself, she knew things you just wouldn’t expect a young girl to know, like… the contents of different museums throughout the world or the world's different regions for agricultural developments.

I would always have her help me with my history assignments despite the fact she was four years behind me in school. I would say I would help her with any other subjects if she needed it, but she never did. She always had a much better academic mind than I did. Is it odd to look up to your little sister? Even though Lucy was obviously far more talented, smart and charming than I was, she never made me feel that way. She still looked up to me like any other little sister looked up to her older sister. She would follow me around, ask if she could hang out with my friends and I. She would try and do everything I did. Usually she did it better than I did. I didn’t mind, Lucy was special and having a sister that was so amazing intrigued me.

When I was eighteen and in my last year of high school, Lucy was fourteen and just starting her high school years. It was less than a month into the school year before one of the teachers took a special interest in her. He talked to my parents about her amazing potential and soon after that my father and Lucy took an all-expenses paid trip to Washington D.C. so Lucy could do some specialized testing for “Gifted” children. When they returned Lucy told me all about how they wanted her to come stay in D.C. to attend an advanced school, but mom and dad didn’t want her to move across the country, at fourteen with little to no supervision. No matter how much the school promised they watched over their students.   Thankfully Lucy agreed. Although it was exciting, the thought of leaving Mom, Dad, me and Seattle in general was to intimidating for her at the time.

As an alternative they set up twice a week private lessons for her at the local university, where she studied things that no one ever really elaborated to me. All I know was that she seemed to enjoy them and as always she was exceeding expectations. By the end of the school year she was having four lessons a week. I was getting ready to graduate, and thanks to Lucy my GPA was just high enough that I was accepted to a few colleges, nothing in the Ivy League, It’s not like I let her do all my homework. Not that she wouldn’t if I had asked.

When mom, dad, and I sat down to look at my options the sad truth was that we couldn't afford any of the colleges, without me getting a scholarship or an outrageous student loan. Then Lucy’s fancy D.C. school stepped in.

They offered us a deal, they would pay for my education if... Lucy and I moved to D.C. for school. They would pay for me to go to a local college in the D.C area while Lucy attended their advanced school, solving the problem of sending Lucy by herself across the county and the problem of how I would get an education without crushing debt. All so they could have “The best and brightest!” at their school. My parents were elated by the offer even though the thought of sending both their daughters off to the nation's capital didn’t seem ideal. Lucy and I on the other hand were more skeptical. Why would this place be willing to shell out tens of thousands of dollars just so their potentially star pupil's older sister could get a degree? Was getting Lucy to their school that important?

The whole family took another trip to D.C. where we were shown around the beautiful college campus I could potentially attend, the advanced school for Lucy, the heavily secured apartment just a block away we would live in, and the national mall, where Lucy fell in love with the museums. If we started off skeptical that was quickly overshadowed by the fancy campuses and highly educational museums.  With the promise that mom and dad would fly out to see us as much as possible it was decided that in the fall Lucy and I would move to D.C. and start our higher education.  

I wish I knew at the time what I was leading my sweet baby sister into.