Halloween Collaborations

CSM Creative Writing proudly presents seven collaborative short stories written in honor of Halloween.  Our writers were put in pairs, with one writing the beginning and the other the ending.  We hope you enjoy!

  1. Leaves

Written by Joe and Braden

Wiping sweat from his brow, Gordon straightened up and stretched his back. The yard was clean. Finally.

An endless carpet of leaves had seemed to encompass each individual blade of grass earlier (a metaphor taking almost as much work as clearing the yard), but now the yard was green once more. Now they were all stuffed into one huge, orange bag. Fine work he’d made of it too. Fine work. It was time to go inside, grab a beer, find a book, try not to step on the LEGOs in the living room, and relax a bit in front of the fire. Then he could come back and tie the bag and leave it in the trash. But not yet.

The back door was flung open as he approached to reveal his daughter, Gracie, in a pair of overalls, a plaid shirt, and a light denim jacket. “Daddy!” she yelled, even though he was only six feet away, “You finished!”

“Yup. Jump right in darling,” Gordon replied, chuckling. The leaves were waiting. She made room for him as he stepped into the house. Then she dashed into the yard with a high-pitched laugh.

As Gordon opened the fridge, he heard a prolonged rustling sound from the yard coupled with some muffled yelling. Looking outside, he saw Gracie’s denim jacket sitting on the ground beside the leaf bag. He chuckled again, thinking of the energy of youth.

He made his way to the fire, avoiding the LEGOs, and began reading. Naturally, he immediately fell asleep.

“Where’s Gracie?!”

Groggily, Gordon attempted to rouse himself.

“Gordon, where is she?! I can’t find her anywhere!”

Gordon’s wife, Gertrude, would looking down at him with concern.

“She went out to jump in the leaves. I fell asleep before she came in.”

They were both worried now (Naturally. I mean, what kind of parents wouldn’t be?). Gordon and Gertrude rushed out to the front yard, but Gracie couldn’t be seen—only a flattened pile of leaves and the orange bag. Gordon got a feeling that someone was watching him. They looked around the yard until they heard “Mommy! Daddy!”

They both looked to where the voice was coming from—the tree—and saw Gracie on one of the higher branches.

“Gracie! Get down here right now!” Gertrude shouted.

At the same time, Gordon yelled, “Gracie! How’d you get up there? I’m impressed!”

Gertrude slapped Gordon.

They got Gracie down safely, after which Gertrude scolded her for climbing so high where it was unsafe and to go to her room. Grouchily, Gracie grumped off to gouge her thoughts gregariously. Gee.

So remember kids (or parents), don’t let your kids go play in the leaves unattended. They might get stuck in a tree and have to grouchily grump off to gouge their thoughts gregariously.

2. Scare Crow

Written by Grant and J. West

Scarecrows always stood alone surrounded by an empty field of dead and dying vegetation.  They were the silent watchers of the fall decay and the summer growth.  But whenever Laya thought of them, they were always surrounded by a field of barren earth, or the remains of the season’s crops.  She hated scarecrows.  Such sad creatures.  Pinned up and left to rot alone.  She made it a habit to stay far away from them, wishing to avoid the dread that always rose up in her gut.

So when she found herself, arms crossed over her stomach, clenching shut her jacket against the cold, staring into the empty face of a scarecrow she had to ask, what had driven her to come this far out into the field?  Maybe it was because this scarecrow was different.  There was something odd about it.  A sense of wrongness clung to it.

The face was made from a burlap sack stuffed full of old oily rags.  Color left over from what looked to have once been eyes oozed down the fabric of the bag before it ran down onto the plaid shirt.  Its arms and legs hung limply and swayed slightly in the wind.  Something was definitely wrong with it.

Scarecrows were usually festive and goofy-looking.  This one was too…dead.

Laya glanced around, this last thought scaring her.  What had made her think that?  Okay, maybe the color from its eyes did look a little like blood, but why should that make her afraid?  It was just dye.  And she’d always hated scarecrows, ever since she was little.  It was probably just that.

She vividly remembered when she had been six or seven, and Grandfather had taken her out into the field to help him put up this same scarecrow.  The cornfields that day were still in their prime; still rolling with green and yellow and gold leaves.  But the moment they put up the new scarecrow, Grandfather had fallen off the ladder.  Heart attack.  They buried him a week later.

Perhaps scarecrows killed the things around them.  Perhaps they didn’t protect the crops at all.

Laya forced herself to take a step closer to it.  It had been sitting in this field for far too long.  She trembled as another icy gust of wind raked its claws across her face.  Her hand, somehow no longer connected to her brain, was moving to take off the scarecrow’s burlap sack.  Was something under there?

Laya’s mind was screaming, “No! Don’t do it!”

But her hand was no longer listening.  And when she felt the scratchy fabric against her dry hands, part of her wanted to close her eyes.

And when the scarecrow’s mask came off, Laya knew why her grandfather had died all those years ago.  Because what was under that mask radiated evil and power and anger.  And her body overloaded with the fear.  He had died of fright, and no one had even noticed.

And Laya’s last thought before her heart gave out and she buckled to her knees was of a man of hay, standing before death and destruction, scavenging for fear like a bird.
He truly was a Scare Crow.

3. Candles

Written by J. West and Brody

Mark lit the first candle and stared at it.  It stuttered to life, the new wick quickly turning from white to black, the red and yellow embers slowly becoming a flame.  He watched it flicker helplessly for a few seconds until it stabilized, and took delight as it began to burn.

It was dark in the shop, and he was the only one there this late.  Mark had never liked Halloween, and so he had volunteered to work that night while all his older co-workers took their children trick-or-treating.  As soon as everyone had left and the sun had set, Mark had pulled out the candles; the electricity was on the fritz again.  

Mark was about to light the second candle when he heard a slam near the back of the store, near the bathrooms.

“Is anyone there?” he asked.  He’d intended for his voice to be loud, but it came out just above a whisper.

There was, of course, no response.  It was almost stereotypical, the way something like this would happen to him on Halloween of all nights.  Mark nearly laughed, the mirth rising in his stomach like hot air.

But then the first candle went out with a small “thwpp.”  And Mark froze, his hands halfway through striking a match for his second candle.

“Hello?” he asked, this time hoping there wouldn’t be an answer.

And then an icy chill descended over him, and he felt something grab at his face.

“Got your nose,” said a snide voice.

“John, you had me going.  I thought there was a burglar.”  Mark blew out a relieved breath.

“Yeah sure.  You’re afraid of being robbed…but a ghostly visit is normal for you?  You need to sort out your priorities.”

“Haha, yeah, you’re right…” Mark chuckled as he kicked his demon summoning book under a table and out of sight. “What do you want?”

“Oh I just wanted to see how you were doing. Catch up. Have some tea.” John’s smile quickly faded into a frown. “You think I don’t know that you’re summoning demons? I will not tolerate you ‘having fun’ with another being from Beyond.”

“It’s not that-” Mark began.

Then what is it?” John nearly shouted.

“I just- I just feel like you aren’t fully interested. Like my soul isn’t really worth that much to you.”

“And a demon would treat you better? Mark, seriously, why are you acting so hostile towards me. I’ve given you all you ask. You never worry about rent, all your enemies are mysteriously frightened to death, what more do you need?”

“Working lighting would be nice,” Mark muttered.

“Fine. When you decide you still care, call me on your Ouija board. Until then, I’m gone.” John vanished.

Mark sighed. He picked up the demon book. After staring at it for a moment, he put it on his bookshelf.

The full moon peaked through the curtains as Mark tried to light another candle. A fourteen year old walked into the store. Great, Mark thought, more teenagers looking for demon books. They never take this seriously. This kid, however, was not looking for books. He was looking for blood.

4. Cookies

Written by Brody and Likith

Screams of horror resounded through the graveyard. Kathy, who bears no resemblance to any Kathy who ever attended Colorado School of Mines, ran towards the screams. She was horrified to find a boy who had been stabbed with a sword of dry ice. Above the trees, she saw a figure riding a broom towards the old, abandoned house on the hill.

Slowly, Kathy walked up the street and opened the tall, wrought iron gates. Her coat snagged on the gate, and when she turned, she saw a black cat sitting behind her. The cat hissed, and vanished before her eyes. The door creaked as she opened it and looked inside. She cautiously stepped through the door, which slammed behind her with a resounding bang! She carefully debated between the stairs in front of her and the kitchen to the right.

A pleasant scent of chocolate chip cookies wafted from the kitchen, so she followed her nose. She sat at the cold, wooden table and grabbed one. She bit into the cookie. It was surprisingly warm, as it didn’t seem like anyone had been around for a long time, and remarkably similar to the chocolate chip cookies her grandmother used to make. Oh, how she had craved for these exact cookies, whose recipes her mom simply could not master. It would always seem like something was amiss. Neither of them could ever place a finger on it. But these were different. It was at that precise moment when she realized that an ice-cold wave took over her spine, and the blood drained from her face, making it almost waxy.

It simply could not be. Her mom didn’t even know she was here, let alone the scant chance that she did, somehow, master the recipe overnight. And her grandmother couldn’t have just sprung back from the dead. Unless…

5. Dave The Cat

Written by Braden and Grant

A cat was walking down an alley. People called him an alley cat. He didn’t know why, but people are weird like that. Because “the cat” is going to get tedious to write and readers typically connect with a character better when they have a name, the cat shall be named Dave. Now, Dave was a black cat, partly because this story is being written by a Halloween-themed prompt, partly because I didn’t want to describe him too much. Oh, and Dave has green eyes, because eeriness. And because people seem to be obsessed with eye-color (I’m looking at you, Lit Majors).

Now Dave usually just wanders the streets looking for food, like and ol’ stray would do. Except this time, he felt as if something was watching him. No, not the people passing by on the street, nor the surveillance cameras on the light posts, nor the rotting fish sitting next to a homeless guys who has passed out with a bottle in his hand. It was the bottle, you see. Something was glimmering in the reflection, but Dave hadn’t the slightest idea what it was.

He crept closer, then used his above-average sense of kitty-awareness to locate what was in the reflection: dry ice. Why? Because it was on a white board and I felt like it should be in the story.

Now it should be said that this wasn’t just normal dry ice.  This was the kind of dry ice that gave people the spooks.  Or at least, given the purpose of this story it does anyways.  Dave was taken back.  What was dry ice doing in his reflection? He was just an alley cat going about his business not wishing to be disturbed, yet there it was, staring back at him from his own reflection.

Dave was smart though, his instincts said something wasn’t right so he turned and left the alley. After all what cat would ignore their instincts.  And he was of no mind to spend any of the remaining lives he had.  Since the last laser pointer incident he was certain that at least one of his lives was gone.

Back to the story, since this is supposed to be about something sinister watching Dave, it was rather clear that this wasn’t the last Dave would see of the dry ice.

6. The Boy in the Abandoned House

Written by Likith and Emily

A very unusual blend of fear and festivities sets in at this time of the year. What incident sparked this all off, I can’t help but wonder. This place I have now come to call home stuns me every other day. Here, the people celebrate their differences rather than try to hide them. I think a good example is the time of year they call Halloween. Although I haven’t experienced very many of these, I enjoy the smell of pumpkin pie that hangs in the air when the Forman family next door bakes them for their kids. Last year, they were even kind enough to spare me a piece. A sudden reminder that I wasn’t as invisible as I thought.

You may wonder why it is that I feel invisible often, and it’s not because people ignore me. Well, they do, but the reason they do, is because I am a ghost. Though I can keep up the image of being a normal human boy, it requires a large amount of my energy, and I tend to become as unnoticeable as a gray wall. When people actually notice me and go out of their way just to do something for me, it’s honestly quite a surprise. Even something as simple as sharing a piece of pumpkin pie is an act of kindness that I won’t easily forget.

I spend every day living as a normal person, but being normal is hardly easy when you have to remember not to walk through objects or pretend to eat three meals a day. I’m sure that people think there is something wrong with me, as I’m constantly saying things that are nonsensical to them or perhaps just outdated. Thus, I am the outcast of my class, deemed a “weirdo” and “strange”. So I am very thankful for any kindness shown to me.

7. UFOs

Written by: Joe and Emily

It was Halloween in the year 2057.  It had been a completely normal day with the usual parties and costumes.  But as soon as the sun started to set, it would mark the beginning of the “Age of Devils”.  At first, people speculated that the huge, black UFOs must be some sort of trick for a movie or just some crazy rich person gone wild with special effects.  As they neared, it became obvious that this was not the case because each UFO was filled with devils.  The devils were over ten feet tall and gave menacing glares while chanting something that sounded like a curse.

Fire began to rain from the sky, perhaps originating from the UFOs (shaped like huge shards of half-molten rock) and perhaps originating from the spaces in between.

The spell of Halloween was broken as trick-or-treaters disappeared in gouts of flame.  Panic spread like the sugary sweets had before.

Then the devils came down.  They had curling horns, like a bighorn sheep’s, but covered in spines.  Dark, scaled plates adorned their torsos, their pairs of arms and pairs of legs.  They hefted long, flaming whips as they herded humans before them.

Some brave souls tried to fight back with street signs, power tools, or just over-full bags of candy.  But inevitably, they were felled by devil-flames and sent burning into the night, beacons of despair to all that beheld them.

The invasion had begun.

And maybe prophetically, we were losing.

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The Gate – Chapter 1: The Trax

Elder Rex strode through the gathered people and took his place in a chair at the foot the Gate.  The clear crystal that made up the Gate scattered the fading light of day, filling the room with beautiful colors.  Just past the Gate sat a single carving that perfectly framed the setting sun on the horizon.

For a moment Elder Rex let the temple sit in silence as he looked from face to face.  His somber attitude stood in juxtaposition to the celebration earlier in the day.  Of course it was his job to be somber, he was a keeper of the past.  Without him the Ceremony of Twilight couldn’t be completed and the past was bound to be repeated.

Or at least that’s what Rawlin’s parents had always told him.  Now he mostly doubted that there was anything to the Ceremony.  Aside from the celebration that took place before it the Ceremony was mostly just words.  Originally it had been used to link together two different people, one of the Trax, and one of Rawlin’s people.  But that hadn’t happened for a very long time.  Now, Elders just told stories of the past.

Rex took a deep breath and began just like he always did, “In the time before remembering, there were two Peoples that walked this land.  The Trax and our ancestors.  Together they lived in harmony and peace.  Magic roamed the lands then, free and strange.

“Twas the duty of the Trax to safe guard magic and its use, for they were creatures born of magic.  While the responsibility of looking after the land itself fell to our ancestors.  For this land we call home represents the sacred grounds upon which the Gods first walked amongst mortals.  There is power here, not just in the magic, but the land itself, being so touched by divine power.

“But that harmony was not to last.  A betrayer rose up the ranks of the Trax and took for himself the power of magic.  With it in his grasp he wrought untold destruction upon the lands.

“The Gods were enraged by the actions of the Trax and descended upon the land.  In their mercy they created another realm for the Trax to live in, one identical to but separate from this one.  There they sealed away the Trax where they could do no harm to this world.  Our ancestors were then charged with a new task.  To protect the gateway between the realms.

“Before the Trax were sealed away, we elected representatives from amongst ourselves to join with representatives of the Trax.  Today we celebrate that holy ceremony and tonight, at the fall of twilight, we put up our representatives as we have always done.  Before the pairs would be named as Guardians of Otium, but now, our representatives become Guardians of the Gate and the realm beyond.

“There is no higher honor than to be chosen for this holy purpose.”

Drums began to thump behind Rex as he was handed a list of names.  There was never more than a few names read each year.  Being chosen was more of an honor now because of the skill and mastery it took.  This year Rawlin was eligible to be chosen, and he wanted that more than anything else.  His father had been a Guardian before him, and so had his father’s father.  For that matter his family had been standing watch over the Gate for as long as the Gate had stood.

It didn’t really matter to him whether the stories were true.  There were many perks to being given an Atie sword that marked the Guardians.  There was prestige to the position.

Rex waited patiently as the drums beat in the background.  The single sliver was all that remained of the sun, moments before twilight fell.  That thin sliver of light sat framed by an intricate and ornate sculpture just above Elder Rex’s head.  Slowly but surely the sun disappeared leaving the land and the temple in twilight.  With a final resounding beat the drums went silent.

Rex raised his voice against the silence, “We, the people of Otium, select Rawlin Crysal and Havern Medat as our representatives.  We find them pure of heart, strong of mind, and skilled in the art of swordplay.  They are worthy to be named as Guardians.  It is our hope that they are found worthy in the eyes of the Gods.”

Two men came forward and presented Elder Rex with two beautifully carved boxes adorned with the crest of the people.  Elder Rex laid each box carefully on the floor before him and stood, “Rawlin and Havern, rise and come kneel before your blades.”

Slowly Rawlin rose up, just barely keeping himself under control.  He had waited so long for this moment, had worked so hard for this.  Already he could imagine the sword at his hip and the feel of the hilt in his hand.  There was no blade equal in all of Otium to an Atie sword.

When both Rawlin and Havern were knelt before Elder Rex, Rex opened both boxes to reveal the swords and scabbards within.  He lowered his tone again back to somberness, “Repeat after me Guardians, I take up this sword in the protection of Otium, its people, and the Gate.  By my hand or by my life peace shall remain.  The Gods as my witness I join the Guardians, for now, and forever.”

Rawlin said each word with conviction, excitement pounded through him.  When both he and Havern were finished Rex closed his eyes and said, “Take the swords then and if you truly are committed touch the blades to the Gate.”

Havern glanced momentarily at Rawlin and rose first, drawing his sword from its scabbard.  Carefully he touched the edge of the blade against the crystal gateway.  A spark of magic leapt from the gate and darted up the blade of the sword, leaving the distinct and glowing lines that marked the blade as an Atie sword.

Rawlin rose and drew his sword preparing himself to do the same.  Father had said that it would hurt.  The magic would burn like fire within him and he would want to drop the sword.  Rawlin could not be a Guardian if he did not pass this final test.  This final binding of sword to man.

Nervously he approached the gate and slowly reached out with the sword.  The moment the blade made contact with the crystal all of his muscles clenched tight with sudden pain.  It felt as though he had been struck by lightning.  For a split second he could feel the terrible power of the magic racing through him, tearing at his insides.

But it was over as soon as it started.  Rawlin withdrew the blade and stared at the faintly glowing lines now etched along the length of his sword.

The drums began to beat again, their powerful sound echoed around the valley and rung heavily in the temple.  Rex opened his eyes and said, “May the Gods guide you on your holy path Guardians and may your swords never break.  All praise be upon you Guardians of the Gate.”

The gathered people rose as one and joined together chanting, “Praise be upon the Guardians of the Gate.”

Rawlin took his place next to Havern and sheathed his sword.  He looked out to the crowd before him, hardly able to believe that he was actually standing here.  It had taken so long and now that it was here, he couldn’t believe it.

As the chanting began to die out there was a loud crack behind him, as though one of the drums had broken.  But when he turned to look, what he saw was far worse.

A glowing rope of light stretched across the Gate’s entrance, snapping and cracking with energy.  People stood in awe as the rope began to stretch and flatten out, forming a shimmering surface in the Gate.  Rawlin drew his sword again ready to take down whatever was going to come through the gate.

Rex grabbed his wrist though, “Wait, let us see what comes through before you kill it.  This may be an act of the Gods.”

Rawlin had his doubts that the Gods cared but relaxed anyways.

The Gate stood ominously open well into the fall of night before anything happened.  Havern and many people had already left assuming that nothing would happen.  Rawlin stayed put, sword in hand, waiting.  There was no way that he would muck up his first day as a Guardian by leaving the Gate unattended.  So he took to pacing just before the Gate, waiting to see what would come of this strange turn of events.  Rex stood leaning against a wall, arms crossed and his face growing ever more impatient the longer the night wore on.

Another loud crack resounded through the temple and the Gates color changed from a shimmering silver surface to pitch black.  Out of it came a human like creature running as fast as it could directly into Rawlin.

It took Rawlin only a moment to incapacitate the strange creature.  “Please, please, don’t kill me!  I am here to honor the Ceremony of Twilight!”

Rawlin froze, “What did you just say?”

“I am here to honor the Ceremony of Twilight.”

“Who, or what are you?”

The creature looked around the temple with pure black eyes, “I am Ajay of the Trax.”

“Blasphemy!” Rex shouted, “The Trax were banished from Otium.  Guardian, kill the Trax invader!”

“No, please, I mean you no harm!” Ajay said, struggling to get away from Rawlin.

Rawlin looked from the Trax he held pinned beneath him, to Rex who had gone beet red.  “This is your duty Guardian, you have sworn your life to this.”

Rawlin took a breath, he couldn’t do it, he couldn’t kill Ajay.  He had no reason to assume that the Trax was dangerous, it certainly looked to be unarmed.

“I swore I would keep peace and protect the Gate.  As far as I can tell, one Trax isn’t a threat.  You selected me as a Guardian, Elder Rex so that I may choose what is a treat and what is not.”

Rex calmed a bit, “Fine, but the Trax is not to leave the temple until we know for sure what it is doing here.”

The Gate snapped shut then, plunging the temple into sudden silence.  For a moment no one moved a muscle until Ajay finally said, “If you’d get off me, we could complete the Ceremony properly.  Then I will tell you why I am here.”

Rawlin carefully got up and helped Ajay to her feet.  She frowned at Rawlin as he looked over her strange skin, “What did you expect that we would look the same?”

He hadn’t really known what to expect, no one had ever described a Trax before in the stories.  Ajay did look human, save for her orange hair and black and dark blue skin, the same lines glowing lines that had just been etched in his sword were on her skin and traced their way up from her left ankle up to the right side of her face.  Their glow could even be seen faintly through her clothes.  “Why isn’t your skin all the same color?” Rawlin asked.

Ajay looked at him as though he had asked a stupid question, “Why isn’t your skin different colors?  The Gods made us this way, we do not question why any more than you question your skin.  Now, we must complete the full ceremony.  How many representatives did your people present?”

“Do not tell her that!  Figure out what she is doing here first.” Rex said.

“Elder Rex, I mean no disrespect, but could you please wait outside of the temple?  I promise I will not allow Ajay to leave until I know what she wants.”

Rex took a breath and opened his mouth to say something but then crossed his arms and let out a sigh, “As you wish Guardian.  I will be waiting outside.”

Once Rex was gone Rawlin said, “We only named two this year.  Myself included.”

“And where is the other?”

“Honestly, everyone left a while ago.  The Gate is a fairly long distance from the village and no one wanted to walk back in the dark.  No one wanted to wait and see what would happen.”

Ajay nodded and took a moment to look around the temple, “The Ceremony grounds are not as the books described they would be.”

“What did you expect?  Bonfires?”

“No, not that, I just thought they would be more extravagant.”

Rawlin shrugged, “Perhaps they used to be, now though the Ceremony isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be.”

Ajay nodded again and walked to where the gate stood, Rawlin could see rips and cuts in the back of her shirt.  “Are you alright?”

“Oh, yes, I am fine.”

“But your shirt.  Looks like you were attacked by an animal or something.”

Ajay shrugged, “You could say that.  There was some that were against my coming here.  But that’s not important right now.  That statue is.”

Ajay pointed at the statue that stood behind the Gate.  It certainly had the appearance of being something important to the ceremony, but what it was for Rawlin had little idea.  “What exactly does the rest of the Ceremony entail?”

“Well first, we need to check if you and I can be paired or not.  The magic that etched your sword and my body was only the first step of the Ceremony.  If the magic is the same for both of us, then we can move to the next step.”

“Which is?”

Ajay paused for a moment, “Are you squeamish at all?”

“No.  Why?”

Ajay motioned to a small bowl that sat at the base of the statue, “We both must fill this bowl with our blood drawn by your blade and with my magic I will create the binding drink.”

“Wait, what do you mean binding drink?”

“It’s better for me to show you.  Now, draw your sword so I can look at the marks left by the magic.”

Rawlin did so and watched as Ajay carefully inspected the blade.  She brushed her orange hair back out of her eyes every now and then as she inspected the length of the blade, occasionally she touched its surface and traced some of the lines.  “Interesting, I didn’t expect to see this pattern.”

“What are you talking about?”

Ajay straightened and said, “Well the magic that marks the sword isn’t just random in what it does.  The lines on your sword are a representation of your heritage and also certain things within you.  The parts of the lines that represent your heritage are a well known pattern among my people as this pattern designates descendants of those who originally were paired as Guardians.”

“And, what does that matter?”

Ajay frowned, confused, “What do you mean what does it matter?  Your bloodline is everything.  Doesn’t it determine your social class and position amongst the others?”

“No.  Each person is for themselves.  They either succeed or fail by their own merits here, regardless of their parents.”

“Oh, I see.  Well, then don’t worry about it.  Just thought it was interesting.  In my world, a mark like that would basically make you royalty.”

Ajay flipped the blade over and then nodded to herself and started to undress.  “Hey, what are you doing?”

Ajay paused midway through unbuckling a leather strap that held several pouches at her waist.  “I need to check the patterns on my body.  I haven’t had a chance to see them yet so I don’t know if we can be paired or not.”

“Do you really have to take your clothes off though?” Rawlin asked.

Again, she gave him a look as though he had just asked a stupid question and said, “If you feel that uncomfortable at seeing me naked then turn your back.”

“But what if someone walks in?”

She gave him a blank stare, “So what if someone walks in?  I don’t care.”

Rawlin opened his mouth to say something again but thought better of it and turned his back.  A few minutes later Ajay said, “Alright I am done now.  We can pair.”

“How do you know that?”

“Well without showing you the mark, I can only say that you and I come from a similar heritage.”

“So you’re saying that you are royalty then?”

A pained expression ran across her features, “Well, technically yes.  I guess I am.  Now, give me your sword.  I’ll go first.”

Rawlin proffered up the edge of the blade and couldn’t help but grit his teeth as she cut the inside of her forearm on the blade.  Carefully she let her red blood drip into the small dish until it was about half full before she pulled a strip of cloth from one of her pouches and bandaged her wound shut.

“Your turn.”

“Why exactly should I do this?”

“Because, you are honoring your ancestors and taking up the true duty to which you are called.  Guarding the Gate is only a half measure and you are not a person who is satisfied with half measures.”

“How could you possibly know that?”

Ajay shook her head, “Just do it.  This is supposed to be the Ceremony of Twilight.  Not Darkness.”

With a sigh Rawlin laid the edge of his sword against his forearm and drew it across his flesh in single smooth motion.  The feeling of fire spread out from the fresh wound and immediately he began bleeding.  Not wanting to waste time he thrust the fresh wound over the bowl and let it drip.

When the bowl was full Ajay took his arm and bandaged it with another strip of fabric she had ready.  When she released his arm he cleaned his sword on the outside of the bandage and then slid it home into its scabbard.  Meanwhile Ajay had quietly begun to chant over the bowl.  The blood in it began to spin and mix together on its own accord, slowly turning from a red color to a dark purple color.

Glowing lines began to spread up the statue, moving away from where the bowl was up to where the sun had been framed previously.  The bowl at the bottom slowly rose up towards the top of the statue and Ajay followed it up chanting faster and faster as she did.  When she reached her full height she stopped chanting and drew a deep breath.

“Come here and stand opposite to me on the other side of the statue.”

Rawlin did as he was told and looked across the bowl to Ajay.  “Remember what I said about being squeamish?”

Rawlin nodded.

Ajay reached up and grabbed one of the two handles on the bowl closets to Rawlin, “Take the other handle and drink after me.”

“You have to be joking, I am not drinking that.”

“It isn’t blood anymore.  Trust me I wouldn’t drink it if it was.  This is what you have to do.”

Rawlin took a deep breath and relented.  He reached up and took the other handled.  Ajay chanted a few more things over the bowl that made the liquid quiver and shake.  “By the way,” she said, “I never learned your name.  I thought that might be important to know now.”


She smiled at him pleasantly then, “Well, to good health then, Rawlin.”

With that she drank no more than a mouthful of the liquid and swallowed.  “I should admit, I have no idea what this is going to do to us.  I know only that it must be done.”

Rawlin frowned and then raised the bowl to his lips.  The liquid tasted like a poorly aged wine, but wine none the less. He found that there was only enough left for a single mouthful and without thinking about it again.  He swallowed.

Ajay smiled at him when he finished, “That wasn’t so bad was it?”

“How did you do that?”

“I am of the Trax.  We have magic.  Now, nothing in the things I read said much about what happens next.  I only know that it might hurt.”

Before Rawlin could say anything he felt his knees give out below him.  The ground rushed up suddenly and he heard himself moan as he fell.  He was vaguely aware that his body hurt, but it felt distant and dim.  Somehow he could see Ajay laying next to him, her own features were similarly contorted by pain.

Somehow he felt a connection with her, maybe that’s why he had done the things he had done, why he had stood up to the Elder on her behalf.  For whatever reason, it made him ache all the more to see her in pain.  It baffled him that he felt so powerfully about someone he had only just met and despite the pain he was in, he wanted to let her know that he was here.  That he wanted take her pain from her.

With immense effort he reached out towards her and she towards him.  He couldn’t say anything to her, nor she to him, but he could see her eyes still.  I wish I could take your pain from you, he thought.

Their hands met and the warmth of her presence flooded through him.  He gripped her hand tightly, imagining that he could send her his strength.  Perhaps he held her hand also for her support and strength.  They were united against their shared pain.

Eventually it grew to be far too much for him to handle and the world faded out to darkness.


In the morning, there is always coffee.

The place has a strong, sweet scent, like vanilla, embedded in the walls.  The air tastes like honey and milk as light as meringue.

In the afternoon, there is always silence.

There is a still moment after the caffeinated rush of those first hours.  The people who come here when it’s quiet remember what made it loud, boisterous, and messy.  The silence has a cherished status.

In the time before dusk, a door always opens.

Heavy backpacks slam to the heavy wooden floor.  There are exclamations of relief and the refrigerator opens to release cool drafts on unsuspecting bare feet.

In the evening, there is always light.  

Electric, of course, except for one solitary royal-blue candle lit in the corner, because Ellie likes candles.  They smell good and last a long time.  Just like this place.

Ellie and I come here every day.  Because we must.  But mostly because we want to.

In the mornings, it’s hard to leave it.  It’s warm, cozy, and delicious.

In the afternoons, we grumble because we wish we were there.

In the time before dusk, we arrive wearily.

And in the evening, we make the place bright with our glittering laughter and enduring lights.                


Every morning, the wick on Ellie’s candle is burned black and curved like a fishhook.  Every night, it’s lit with flames of white and cream and tangerine and periwinkle.  The wick grows a little shorter.  A little more time has passed.

By the time Ellie’s candle runs out, my time at this place will too.  I’ll be absent while the coffee brews and the milk froths and steams.  In the afternoons, I’ll be gone when I’ve always been gone, and at night, I’ll be away when I shouldn’t be away.

I’ll be in college when Ellie takes her first sip of coffee and declares she prefers tea (as I predict she will).

I’ll be in college when Ellie arrives home from her first day of high school and her pack full of books slips from shoulder to elbow to the stained, gleaming wood.

I’ll be in college when she finds a new candle to light, and when that candle’s used up too.

There’s no sense in denying it anymore, so I might as well commit this place to memory.  Special circumstances must be taken to remember where you came from.

Five months later, I purchase a large royal-blue candle.

And think of home.

Entering a Rumor

Chapter One: Charred Ashes

Fire was spreading from house to house, consuming the wood as the kindling it was. Had one looked closely, there were bodies littering the dirt paths; most had fatal wounds and if they didn’t, they were charred beyond recognition. There was next to nothing left in the once populated village. Death has visited, collecting the souls of the departed.

A light drizzle had begun, Mother Nature herself mourning the lives of the individuals that had been lost. The water, however, had done nothing to stop the sole survivor’s tattered shirt from soaking in his own blood; the surrounding flames failing to relight the spark in his now dull emerald eyes. Rain matted his messy brown locks to his head, covering the shallow gash that he had obtained some time before. His black breeches dripped water onto the blood soaked ground, a tear at the thighs showed another shallow gash spilling blood to join the runoff. A blade remained strapped to his back, an empty sheath hanging off his waist.

He didn’t notice the smoke of his village being slowed nor the alarms echoing in the distance. The only thing he noticed was the sword point punctured in his twin’s chest and the blood stained hilt that remained in his hands.

“Forgive me,” the teen mumbled, jerking his sword clear. He stumbled past the limp body, flinching as his free hand brushed the golden hilt of the sword strapped to his back. Panting softly, he leaned against the pillar of the gates to his village, his sword slipping into its sheath.

He knew he couldn’t stay at the boundaries, not with the relic entrusted to the Protectors strapped to his back and the hilt of a blood stained sword hanging at his waist. They had probably already mobilized and the closest neighbor was maybe half an hour away by horse, if that long. He supposed he was lucky that the village was located at the edge of the clan grounds, at the entrance of the wilderness.

The teen pushed off the wall, standing shakily before stumbling past the gates. He was half-conscious when he crossed the boundaries. He wasn’t thinking when he continued into the foliage. He didn’t hear the rustling of the foliage as the animals scattered from his path. He didn’t notice the swirling scenery as he forced one leg in front of the other.  He didn’t even feel himself hit the ground.

The tension was thick within the clan grounds. Even the new members could feel it as their commander approached the training area. The senior members frowned gently, watching the long strides and taking in the furrowed eyebrows. Members cleared from his path, their eyes following his every step.

The head of the Liaru clan, Ewald Lorstorm, was younger then the position would’ve suggested, being no older than of 28 perhaps 29 summers. His chocolate eyes, normally warm and understanding, had hardened into a cool glare, a hand running irritably through his short auburn hair. His sword, strapped to his waist, was easily accessible for the swordsmaster, and normally, its familiar presence would be enough to ease his nerves. Not this time.

He caught the gaze of a golden haired male, moving quickly to the edge of the sparring arena. His junior turned, an eyebrow raised as he took in the disheveled state of his commander.. “Isidore, would check the eastern boundaries and two miles past? I fear that our time of silence is over.”

Sapphire eyes met chocolate before nodding. He swept past his superior and long time friend, walking into his tent a ways away. Grabbing the blade that lay atop his mattress, he strapped the sheath and steel to his waist before hooking a bow and a quiver of 24 razor sharp arrows to his back. Absently he pulled a tunic over his bare chest before grabbing a black cape.

His progression through the camp went unnoticed; being completely armed didn’t faze the members of the clan as much as it would have with different clan. A soft neigh drew his attention, a hand patting the mare as his attention turned towards his captain.

“Speed be with you Isidore. Travel safely.” The blond nodded his gratitude, swinging onto the horse and with a quick nudge was out of the clan grounds. Clansmen jolted at the thundering horse; each of them turning to stare as one of their senior members stormed past. They swung to meet the eyes of their commander, some curious, others worried. He shook his head gently, calmly waving his hands for them to continue their activities. If his gut was correct and something did indeed happen, he would tell them then. “Good luck Isidore.”