Tag: terribleminds (page 1 of 30)

Flash Fiction: Convocation

Courtesy Terribleminds

As I struggle to return to a regular writing and blogging schedule, a big part of that routine is writing flash fiction every week, usually as part of the Terribleminds challenge. This week, the goal is to tell a story using a photo, or provide a photo for others to use. Upon seeing this photo on Terribleminds, I had to run with one of my favorite concepts – old gods and demi-gods in a new world.


For a long time, both of them stared at the sign. Neither of them said a word.

A rickety old Ford truck rattled by them, the headlamps playing off of the letters, the glass, the metal of the news box. The taller figure, a willowy man looking to be in his early twenties, could not take amber eyes from the black block letters. The shorter, stockier onlooker turned to look upwards towards the angular face framed by the streetlamps.

“You can’t tell me you weren’t expecting this.”

“It’s madness.” The tall person shook his head. “Some of my kin have always treated the secrecy with which we’ve operated for centuries as inconvenient. But this?” Long fingers made an exasperated gesture at the sign. “It’s like she wants to expose the mortals to our realms.”

“I thought you two were on good terms. What happened?”

The taller figure shook his head, reaching into his pocket for a small cardboard packet. He flipped up the top, removed a thin black filtered cigar, and placed it between his lips. A snap of his fingers brought wisps of faerie fire around his thumb, which he held to the stick until the tip glowed.

“That midsummer night all of those turns ago. I still don’t think she’s forgiven me for my conduct.”

That? Are you joking? A few drops of love potion are a petty thing. A bit of rain washes them away. It isn’t worth killing you, and this could put all of us in terrible danger.”

Oberon puffed out a ring of cherry-tinged smoke. “Even so many of us in one place?”

“We are not who we used to be, my young friend. Gone are the days of pungent, sweet sacrifice in the town square, even if the sacrifice was for some petty, selfish end, or arranged to be a form of deception.” There was a short, derisive snort. “As if piling the best bits on top of the offal would work more than once.”

“Mere mortals, deceive the mighty Zeus? Such a preposterous notion.”

“Upjumped whelp.” Zeus was smiling, though, even bitterly, as he prodded the faerie king with an elbow. “Still, my point is that nowadays we must sustain ourselves on scraps. Retold tales and Hollywood casting.”

Oberon nodded. “How often do you get told ‘I thought you’d be taller’?”

Zeus frowned. “I am not that short. 5-foot-9 by the American reckoning. And I used to be taller.”

“We all used to be taller.”

Neither of them spoke for a moment. Oberon finished his cigar, dropping it to the gravel and crushing it under his designer bootheel.

“Come on. Let’s go inside. We’re likely to be starting soon.”

As they walked, Oberon glanced over his shoulder at the sign again. Titania. What are you up to? While his queen was given to experience periods of great melancholy, especially of late, this sort of blatant disregard for the secrecy in which their ilk operated was lunacy. It simply did not fit with how Titania tended to operate, nor did it make sense even in the context of striking back against a perceived wrong.

But if not Titania, then who?

The pair of them entered the hotel’s conference room, rented out and set up for the occasion. There were over a hundred individuals gathered, having arrived from all over the world. Some were dressed in their traditional garb, in flagrant defiance of any modern fashion sensibilities. Others had invested in true top-flight fashions from the current age. Despite some of them wearing different mortal forms, due to one calamity or another, Oberon knew all of them on sight.

“Well, well, well. Aren’t we a brave one?”

Oberon turned slowly. The woman who spoke was of a height with him, gliding silently across the carpeted floor, the dark, textured fabric of her dress taking the shape of her hips and thighs as she moved. Her hair, piled into a stylish coif of curls, was ebony, shot through with silver and snow-white. She studied Oberon with ice-blue eyes, bringing a flute of wine to lips the color of frozen mulberries.

“Hello, Aunt.”

Even in a room full of their peers, Oberon knew better than to speak the name of Mab aloud. She smiled more broadly at him.

“Still cautious, after all of this time? No pleasantries for me? How long has it been?”

Oberon narrowed his eyes. “Not long enough for me to forget your desire to bring all of fae under your heel.”

Mab pouted, for a moment, then looked down at her shoes. “But they’re such nice heels.”

“I am not in a gaming mood. We have many matters to discuss tonight, beyond our personal entanglements.”

“But entanglements lend spice to life, my nephew.”

He shook his head. “Are you here for the price on my head?”

“What need have I for that reward, steep as it might be? You must know that if I wanted you…” Mab’s eyes met his for a long, disquieting moment that smoldered like the embers of a hearth. “…I would already have you.”

Oberon swallowed. Mab was a wily creature, and definitely preferred this sort of persuasion to anything blatant. His eyes narrowed, and he seized upon a more likely notion. “Excuse me.”

Turning, he moved with haste back out into the parking lot.

“Puck! Robin Goodfellow! Stand ye forth!”

Instead of the expected silence, Oberon’s command was met with the immediate appearance of a genteel-looking sprite, of a height with Oberon, dressed in a suit.

“My lord?”

“Were you hoping the hunters would do your dirty work?”

Puck laughed. “If you could handle them, you prove yourself worth of kingship. If not, Puck claims the reward and your throne.”

“Call off the hunters, Robin, and let us have done between us.”

The sprite’s eyes narrowed. “And let you cower indoors with your skyfather friends? Nay, my king. You have much to prove.”

Oberon gestured. A crystal rapier appeared in his hand.

“So be it, Puck. Allez.”

Flash Fiction: The Wreck

It’s been too long since I’ve gotten in on the weekly Flash Fiction Challenge over at Terribleminds. Chuck double dog dared us to write 100 words exactly of original fiction. Here’s what I came up with.


I start to wake up. I remember a lot of noise.

I’m on my side. Glass is everywhere. I smell gas. Blood.

I hear a voices. More noise. Hydraulics whine.

Dark hands reach for me. Bright eyes in a dark face look on in concern.

Part of me reminds me I’m supposed to be repulsed.

They’re inferior, says my father’s voice. That’s why they were slaves.

That made sense this morning.

The black woman says I’ll be okay.

I start passing out again.

A woman’s place is in the home, my father goes on.

Yet neither of us are there.

Flash Fiction: Sorceress of Flame, Part 2

This week’s Flash Fiction challenge over at Terribleminds is to write the second part of a four-part story started by someone else. I picked “Sorceress of Flame” by Toni J, whose site you should definitely check out.

— Part 1, by Toni J —

The magic in dragonflame lingered long after any heat had died away. Lady Sera knelt down and pressed her hand to the ground. The charred earth sent a shockwave through her body. Broken wagons and barrels littered the ground beneath the black skeletons of trees. This place had been a popular trade route not a week ago. Now, it was a grave.

Olvar stood a few paces behind. He picked up a skull, and dusted off the ashes.

“Poor souls. Is this the work of the monster we seek?”

It couldn’t be. Her father was drawing a pact between dragons and men. It would be signed by month’s end. Why would a dragon risk destroying that peace? But, the forest had all the evidence of a dragon attack. She rubbed her arm as she stood up.

“I admit, it feels like the scars of dragonflame. When the villagers described what had been terrorizing them, I didn’t believe it.”

“Dragons are ruthless, uncontrollable beasts. It’s only natural they would stoop to this depravity.”

Lady Sera clenched her jaw at the insult. She’d known many dragons; even the most ruthless could never be called mere beasts.

“I… come. Let us find Juniper. Perhaps we can catch this creature before any others get hurt.”

Olvar spoke a blessing over the skull and placed it back on the ground. They followed the trail of destruction north and west, toward the mountains. A dragon would be impossible to track once it reached the peaks. Lady Sera gripped her staff tight as they approached the shredded carcass of a goat.

“Something isn’t right.”

Olvar sniffed the air.

“Agreed. The meat’s soured, but still smoking.”

“Over here. Another berry bush, burnt to a crisp. The evidence is too evenly spread to be random.”

“A trap, then. Very good!”

He rushed forward, pulling his longsword from its sheath. Lady Sera reached out to stop him.

“Wait! Juniper hasn’t caught up yet. Olvar!”

It was too late. The paladin let out a battle cry as he disappeared into the darkening woods. Lady Sera wreathed her hands in fire as she rushed after him. The magical flame lit the forest around her. She followed the sound of Olvar crashing through the underbrush.

She heard a falcon’s shriek overhead; Juniper’s hunting bird meant the ranger would be near. Soon after, a bellowing wail pierced the air. Lady Sera’s heart sank. It was a dragon after all. Massive wingbeats sent gusts of wind through the trees. When she reached the open cliff, she saw Juniper firing two arrows into the dragon’s right wing. The creature flapped once, twice, zigzagging over the foothills.

Olvar heaved and wiped the sweat from his brow. Bronze blood tipped the paladin’s blade.

“We were close. Next time, the monster won’t be so lucky.”

Lady Sera shook the magic flames from her hands.

“He won’t get far with those injuries. We should rest a while.”

Olvar wiped the dragonblood from his blade and saved it in a vial.

“When you said you were hunting, Junie, I thought you meant boar.”

“Never fear. Hera and I caught four rabbits. Build the fire and you can have two of them.”

Olvar piled the wood and set out bedrolls. Lady Sera struck the flint and bent low to blow on the sparks. They only caused a little smoke. She checked to make sure nobody was watching, and spat into the tinder. The fire sprang up instantly. She sat back to find Juniper shaking her head.

“Don’t waste your mana on our fires. You’re going to run out of replenishment potions.”

Lady Sera laughed, perhaps a little too loudly.

“I’ve never been good with the flint. Magic’s expensive, but it’s easier!”

During their meal, they discussed the scene of the dragon attack, and the creature responsible. Lady Sera had a host of questions, very few she could ask aloud.

“Did you see the dragon, Junie?”

The ranger shifted in her seat.

“It was dark. Must have been a male, though. A real brute.”

Olvar grunted as he tore off a chunk of leg.

“What do looks matter? Tomorrow the beast will die, and we will collect a kingly reward!”

Lady Sera’s appetite waned as she considered the possible dragons in this land. None that she could name deserved death. An interloper, perhaps? Her father would want to know of it. If she could identify him or her, she could alert the dragon leaders. They would lose their bounty, but what was gold compared to peace?

Later that evening, she waited for her companions to sleep. Olvar’s snoring kept the mountain wolves at bay. Juniper’s breaths grew deeper and more peaceful. Once she was certain they wouldn’t follow her, Lady Sera snuck off in the direction of the wounded dragon.

Dragonblood made a pungent trail through the foothills. Each drop reeked like a smelting factory. Where it touched stone, the surface became metallic. Lady Sera’s nostrils flared as she took in the scent. Mixed in with the blood, there was something… else. She followed that new, strange aspect straight into a bramble patch.

She hardened her arm from the thorns while she reached inside. The source of the mystery smell was an arrow. By flamelight, she noticed thin layer of poison coated the barb. She wrapped the arrow in fabric and tied it to her belt.

A low roar rumbled up ahead. Lady Sera took off toward the sound of the dragon. She found the wounded creature a mile later. It thrashed in the underbrush, dragging one wing along the ground. She cautiously approached, staying outside the range of a lashing tail or snapping jaw.

“Great One, I am Lady Sera of the Flame. Please, speak with me.”

The dragon wheeled on her. His golden eyes were clouded over. She held up her fire-wrapped hand to see him better. He staggered toward her; his slick, black scales reflected the orange light. Lady Sera’s eyes widened.

“Father?”

— Part 2 —

For a moment, the grove was covered in an aura of utter silence. Dragon and sorceress stared at one another. Lady Sera’s breath caught in her throat. Her father’s countenance was aggressive, almost feral; had he been so gravely wounded that he was blinded by his pain and his rage? Even at their most calm, dragons were dangerous creatures. Wounded and slighted, they were far more likely to strike rather than talk.

After a hearbeat that felt far too long for its own good, the golden eyes of the dragon cleared slightly. Vertical pupils blacker than obsidian narrowed within molten gold irises. Then, after a moment, she heard what was both a relief and a concern.

Daughter. You are the last presence I expected in this wood.

Lady Sera bit her lip at the sound of her father’s heart-song. In their natural forms, dragons did not have the proper structure in face and throat to make the sounds required for most mortal languages. Instead, when a dragon wished to converse with a mortal (and was uninterested in taking mortal form themselves), they focused their wills into a projection of their part in the song all dragons shared. It sounded like a chorus in Sera’s mind, low and harmonious, dangerous and soothing all at once, the words emerging from the song after a moment of clear, beautiful music.

The concern was that the voice of Vorathrax, her father, sounded somewhat strained. She approached, eyes on the dark ichor that stained his scales.

“Father, you’re wounded!”

Yes. The dragon turned his head to regard the gash in his shoulder. An envenomed arrowhead, slipping past my scales. An expert shot from a practiced archer. One of your companions?

Lady Sera winced. “Yes. Juniper, the ranger.”

Vorathrax chuffed, smoke billowing from his nostrils in brief, singular puffs. Better her than that oaf of a warrior you slum with.

“The wound is deep. You could die.”

I have endured far worse, and you know it.

Even as she heard his words, she watched him settle his four feet into the earth, then turn in a circle three times, reminding Lady Sera of a housecat. As he did, the song she could hear grew in pitch and depth, and she felt a sympathetic chord struck within her own being. Draconic magic was not like the arcana studied by mortals; dragonsong was a fundamental part of creation. As he rested, curling up on the ground, Sera approached. The dragon opened one of his eyes to study her, then closed it again. She slid into the center of the circle created by his body. Her father’s breath rumbled deep beneath the scales of his chest.

“Did you attack that caravan?”

No. Of course not. That was Skarathrax.

Sera nodded. Skarathrax was her half-brother, a young and impetuous dragon. “What set him off this time?”

Farouk and I were teaching him some of our history. He was struggling to pay attention. I chided him. He flew off in anger.

“What were you discussing?”

Some of our interactions with mortal-kind. Farouk and I were sharing stories regarding the songs that change form, for a time.

“Like how you met my mother.”

Just so. The music paused, and Vorathrax huffed again. It was perhaps not the best subject upon which to educate him at this point. He needs to shed soon. He is always cranky before a shed.

She nodded, resting her head on her father’s chest.

Serathrax. The feel of her own name, full and in the music of her father’s blood, made her shiver. You should come home.

“I can’t. The mortals have to be taught that you’re not all dangerous. And you’re far from savage animals.”

And you come into the wild hunting us as part of this education?

“It’s my hope that one day we’d find a dragon who would be willing to share their heart-song with someone other than myself.”

Your optimism has always heartened me. She felt a rumble in his chest; it was a sound of contentment and comfort. But you know, daughter, that those of us willing to mingle with mortalkind are few. And when we do, we prefer to do it in a form more familiar to lesser beings.

She nodded. “I know. But I still have hope.”

For a time, neither of them said anything. Then, her father’s heart-song, more melancholy and soft, drifted into her mind.

How is your mother?

Sera swallowed. “She’s ill. Nothing threatening, yet, but she’s rather miserable. I had to leave her to investigate the attacks.”

Vorathrax rumbled. I should come to her.

“You should stay with her.”

You know such an arrangement is impossible for me.

Anger flared within the sorceress. “You are one of the mightiest of all dragons. There is nothing that is impossible for you.”

I have power, this is true. But as one of the eldest wyrms, I also have responsibilities. Few of us yet live to believe in coexisting with the world, rather than conquering it. Without my guidance, hatchlings like your half-brother are doomed; perhaps not to death, but to lonely and completely destructive lives. I will not abandon them. Not even for you, my daughter.

Sera wanted to protest loudly, to argue, but a tingle at the edge of her senses pushed the discussion aside. Vorathrax felt it, as well, and his head raised even as he uncurled to stand. Lady Sera got to her feet, calling forth flame to her hand. By the flickering light of her arcane fire, she saw two familiar forms emerging from the underbrush, and her heart dropped into her stomach.

“Good work, Lady Sera!” Olvar crowed, the blade of his sword gleaming in firelight. “You found the beast!”

Juniper’s eyes narrowed, settling on the arrow tucked in Sera’s belt. “Something is not right about this.”

Lady Sera held up her flaming hand. A familiar itch tugged at her forehead, and down her spine. Not now, not now… “Olvar… wait.”

Instead, Olvar charged.

Flash Fiction: Bart Luther, Freelance Exorcist

I’m getting back into the saddle with the Terribleminds Flash Fiction challenge, and doing so has me writing the first 1000 words of a story someone else will finish. Hopefully, someone will find this interesting.


I can’t imagine to understand everything that occurs in my life. I can’t account for everything I’ve seen. At least in terms of science. But those aren’t the circles I’ve traveled in, even after I left the church.

Not that me leaving keeps the church out of my life.

The balding priest sitting across my desk from me kept looking down at his hat, his fingers on the brim, perhaps because instructions were embroidered on it in really tiny letters. I rested my elbows on the desk’s blotter and interlaced my fingers in front of my chin. The clock on my wall ticked away seconds quietly. Finally, he took a deep breath and looked up at me.

“Forgive me, Mister Luther. This is not the sort of thing I am used to discussing.”

I shook my head. “It’s okay, Father O’Donnell. This isn’t the normal thing your parishioners deal with.”

“Ah… yes.” His brow furrowed. “I would appreciate it if you did not mention I brought this to you.”

“Right. Because the church would not want to admit that things like this actually exist.”

O’Donnell shifted uncomfortably in the chair. I kept myself from shaking my head or making a retching noise. Instead, I took a deep breath.

“Why don’t you tell me about the problem?”

“The problem is Samantha. She’s the daughter of one of our parishioners. She’s sixteen years old.”

I lowered my hands to reach for my notebook and a pen. “Possessed?”

“I’m not sure.”

I stopped writing. “You’re… not sure? Is it possible she just has a fever or something?”

O’Donnell shook his head. “She is speaking in tongues. Being… abrasive with her parents, when she never has before. She refers to things she could not possibly know. We cannot think of another way to explain it.”

“And how are you keeping the family from telling everybody in the neighborhood their daughter is possessed by a demon?”

“Her father told me of the trouble in confession. I reminded him that what he told me there remained between us, and that his wife and household were also bound by that stricture.”

I chuckled. “No wonder the girl was open to possession. It’s clear her old man isn’t very bright.”

O’Donnell glared at me. “I don’t think I appreciate your tone, Mister Luther.”

“Not the first time I’ve heard that.”

“We don’t have time for this.”

I looked up from my notes. “If you don’t like how I do things, Father, the door is behind you. Best of luck finding another freelance exorcist in the phone book.”

“But you are not listed in the phone book, Mister Luther. The church office has your card on file.”

Some priests, like most nuns, have no sense of humor. “My point is, I am your only option, unless you want to dust off your older texts, launder a fresh collar, and do this yourself.”

“I have no experience with such things. You have a great deal. Which is why you charge such exorbitant amounts of money for your… freelance exorcism services.”

“I also ghost-write inspirational books for churches like yours to sell in their gift shops!” I gave Father O’Donnell my best, cheesiest smile. He glared at me.

“Please. Mister Luther.” He paused. “Bartholomew. She needs your help.”

I sighed. “You don’t have to use the girl to get me to help you, Mike. I’m going to do it.”

“You had your reasons for leaving the church, I know, and…”

“Mike, come on, it’s okay. I’m sorry I was so hard on you. You can relax.”

The priest clutched his hat and let out a long breath. “It has been a hard time for me. I christened Samantha. Her confirmation is in two weeks. Or, at least, it should be.”

That got a smile. “Do you know I still have my confirmation bible?”

The priest started smiling, too. “Still sentimental after all these years, my son? That’s a promising sign.”

“You know I’m not coming back to the church, right?”

“I’m not sure why you left the priesthood in the first place…”

“I didn’t like the view from the inside.” I picked up my valise, opening it to check the inventory. “I still pray every day, Mike, and I do what I can to do right by Christ and my neighbors. But between bilking innocent, gullible people for cash and all of the shady crap the Vatican’s been responsible for over the years…”

Father O’Donnell held up his hands in surrender. “I do not agree with your reasoning, Bartholomew. But I’m heartened to know you’re still serving the Lord.”

I shook my head. “However you see it. Now, what else can you tell me about Samantha?”

Father O’Donnell told me where Samantha and her family lived, the sort of things she’d been saying, and I wrote all of it down. I made a fresh batch of coffee, poured some into a paper cup for Mike with a lid, and handed it to the priest before he left. I returned to my desk and sat.

An actual exorcism. From everything Mike had told me, Samantha was now renting out her head to one of the more nasty denizens of Dis. I dug out one of my source journals and looked through my notes. I had it narrowed down to a few possibilities, but I would need more information before I knew for sure. I closed up my journals and notebook, dropping them in the valise on top of the vials of holy water and my blessed crucifix.

I needed to get myself to Samantha’s family’s house to try and save her. But I also needed to make sure I had all the help I could manage. If I was right, I wasn’t the only one in danger.

So, taking a deep breath, I reached for my phone and started to dial her number.

Flash Fiction: The Gift

It was an anonymous package. Those always raised suspicions. The museum’s security had gone over it several times, and it had been run through all sorts of tests before it landed on the assistant curator’s desk. Amanda came back from Starbucks to find it waiting there, illuminated under the wan light of the lamp that always seemed a little too dim for her tastes. Her requests for stronger lighting continued to fall on deaf ears. She shook her head, put her coffee aside, and turned the package to face her.

Even at that small touch, a chill ran up Amanda’s arm and down her spine. Her hand snapped back from the plain brown wrapping of its own accord. Her mind scrambled for a rational explanation. She stepped away from her desk and towards the thermostat. She found the temperature the same as when she had left.

open it

Slowly, Amanda turned to look at the package. It had not moved, of course, but the chill found her again. Her shaking hand reached out for her coffee, but moved towards the package instead. It took a moment of intense focus for her to pick up the paper cup instead of touching the string tied around the delivery.

open it

It took Amanda a moment to decide on a course of action. She went to the curator’s desk, near her own, and picked up the Rolodex. Frantically, she paged through the notecards, finally finding the right one. Doctor Gibbons often called upon the person in question to discuss more esoteric or obscure fines, always out of the office, always off the record. She didn’t know what else to do, other than obey her lizard-brain instinct to run or the voice telling her to open the package. She shook her head, and used her free hand to pick up the phone.

open it

Amanda drew in a sharp breath. Her hand seized just above the receiver for the phone. She looked up at her desk, at the package under the lamp. Without taking her eyes from it, she picked up the card from the Rolodex, backed away towards the door, and picked up her coat from its hook. She was out the door as quickly as possible, draining the cup in her shaking hand. She tossed it into a garbage can near the exit and looked down at the car. She walked as fast as she was able. The address was a dozen blocks away, but her long legs ate up the distance quickly. She was sweating and her breath was short as she headed up the stairs.

OPEN IT

“How did it follow me?”

As if in response, the door opened in front of her. She was greeted by a man slightly taller than her, with short stylish hair graying at the roots, dressed in a bathrobe and holding a mug of what smelled like tea.

“Um. Can I help you?”

“Yes. I think so. I’m the assistant curator at-”

OPEN IT!

Amanda grabbed hold of her head with both hands and gritted her teeth in pain. The man put his tea aside and put a gentle hand on Amanda’s shoulder. Only slightly aware of what was happening, she let the man lead her into his office. She was eased into a couch or chair. An indeterminate amount of time passed, and Amanda felt her head pounding in an incredibly uncomfortable fashion. Something warm and aromatic was waved under her nose.

“Here. Drink this.”

It took an obscene amount of effort for her to put the mug to her lips and tilt her head so the liquid flowed into her mouth and down her throat. A hand that was not hers eased the mug away from her before she started to choke. The warmth of the tea washed down through the core of her being and the throbbing behind her eyes faded to a dull, distant ache. The voice with its demand began to echo deeper in her mind, still present but nowhere near as overwhelming.

That was when Amanda started crying.

The man took the mug away and returned with a box of tissues. Amanda wiped her eyes and blew her nose. She was horrified when the tissue came away stained red with blood.

“What is happening to me? I don’t understand.”

“You must be Amanda. Doctor Gibbons has mentioned you several times when we’ve had lunch together. Do you know who I am?”

She shook her head. “I know your name. You’re Nathan Deacon. You’re an archaeologist. That’s what the card in Doctor Gibbons’ Rolodex says.”

“He’s a good and private man. He hasn’t mentioned my falling-out with the University administration or how long I’ve been looking for another position. I had to sell my car and house, making sure I have the money to fly to digs and locations. Oh, and pay for this.” He gestured at the somewhat run-down office and the basket of blankets on one side of the futon, topped by a rumpled pillow. “The price I pay for being a ‘crackpot’.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

Deacon opened a small first-aid kit, removed a penlight, and used it to study Amanda’s eyes. “When did the voices begin?”

Amanda blinked. “How did you-”

“I’ve seen this before. A former colleague of mine came across an artifact that he claims filled his head with voices. He had nosebleeds and migraines for two weeks solid before he eventually wandered, delirious and screaming, into traffic. City bus hit him. There wasn’t much left.”

Amanda shivered. “That’s terrible. What was the artifact?”

“It was part of an ancient cult.” Deacon stood and walked to step behind a privacy screen set up in a corner of the office near the wardrobe. “They believed that god-like beings were angry with the course of human history and the species’ impact on the planet, and were praying for what they describe as ‘a great cleansing’ to wipe out humanity and let the planet heal itself.”

“Almost every culture has an end-of-the-world scenario.” Amanda felt her mind returning to normal. “We’ve had artifacts from those sorts of things before. This is the first time I’ve had this sort of reaction to such a thing. I mean… voices in my head…”

“It’s disconcerting. I know. I’ve been researching the cult for years.” Deacon reappeared in a rumpled button-down shirt, jeans with a hole at his right knee, and a leather jacket he was shrugging into, an item with quite a few zippered and snap-closure pockets. “Like I said – ‘crackpot’ in the eyes of the university administration.” He handed her a handkerchief. “For your nose.”

“Thank you.” She dabbed at her nostrils. They were clear, for now. “You say your friend…”

He held up his hands. “Don’t panic. The tea I blended works as a stopgap, but we need to deal with the source. We need to destroy the artifact, whatever it is.”

“How? This all started when I touched the package. Just the package.” She looked up at him. “How do we do this?”

Deacon smiled, and offered her his hand. “Trust me.”

They walked back to the museum. Along the way, Amanda felt the voice beginning to get stronger. She told Deacon about what it was saying, how it sounded, and the nature of the pain it caused. The older man nodded as they walked, holding the door open for her and following her through the building back into the offices.

To Amanda, the inner office she shared with Gibbons seemed darker. The light on her desk was a single, weak source of resistance to the encroaching gloom.

“What do we do now?”

She looked to Deacon in order to get her answer, but she saw the man was pulling on a pair of white gloves, with circles and odd symbols embroidered into their backs. He reached into another pocket and handed her a small, crystal vial.

“Repeat after me.” Deacon then said a short phrase in a language Amanda didn’t recognize, but she sounded out the words as best as she was able.

“Good.” He pulled the stopper from the vial and handed it to her “Drip some of the tonic onto my gloves, repeating the phrase as you do it.”

Amanda didn’t say or do anything for moment, then obeyed. Deacon held out his hands, palms up first, then turning them over and holding them under the drops before he nodded.

“Thank you. How do you feel?”

“My head hurts. It still is telling me to open it.”

Deacon knelt by the desk, drawing a circle with a piece of chalk. He gestured for Amanda to approach.

“I want you to put your hands near the circle. Please think about the world you know. Family, friends, good things, bad things. The entirety of the human experience. Fix the image of humanity in your mind. Do NOT break the circle. This is not going to be pleasant.”

Amanda nodded, sitting cross-legged near the chalk and leaning out to lay her hands near it. A low moan began in her mind, and she ground her teeth together, careful not to move. Deacon reached to the desk, pulling the string loose and unwrapping the brown paper. He took a sharp breath, and gently opened the wooden box. The moan became a howl, and Amanda winced.

“What are you thinking about, Amanda?”

“Picnics with my family. A really nice date I had with James.” She winced again. “Breaking up with James. Spending New Years’ alone. Spending New Years’ in the club…”

“Keep going.” Deacon removed the artifact. It was a small stone statue. Amanda couldn’t tell if it was a bust or a full figure, but it was a mass of appendages that were not remotely human, eyes and beaks in odd places. The whole thing turned Amanda’s stomach. But she kept speaking as things came into her mind.

“Getting sideswiped by a bike messenger. Walking with people to protest police corruption after Ferguson. Dropping that vase that I had just dated back to the 3rd century…”

Deacon placed the statue in the middle of the circle. Immediately, the shadows seemed to deepen even further around Amanda. She shrieked, and for a moment, her mind went entirely blank, save for a oily, ineffable feeling of what could only be described as a cold, unfeeling, empty void…

“Don’t stop!”

Deacon’s voice felt like a whipcrack. She repeated herself, her voice rising, adding memories from her childhood and things she hoped for, opening her eyes to see Deacon raising a claw hammer. The statue had begun to glow, emitting seething violet light from somewhere within it. Her eyes widened but, in spite of her fear, did not stop talking.

The archaeologist brought the hammer down hard on the statue. It shattered into stone shards that flew throughout the office, sizzling and spitting as they dissolved. The shadow of the creature rose over the humans, violet points of light reaching for Amanda. Deacon quickly pulled out a handkerchief embroidered with a design similar to those on the back of his gloves. After applying some tonic, he dropped it into the circle on top of something Amanda couldn’t see.

The shadows and noise immediately ceased. Deacon knelt, gathering up the cloth in his hands.

“What was that?”

“An idol to a being that pre-dates mankind and was worshipped by that cult I mentioned. This is a drop of its blood.”

What?” Amanda blinked at Deacon as he removed his gloves, which were still around the cloth. “That thing was real?”

“Not was, is. And it’s looking for for a way into our world to destroy the humanity it sees as a plague.”

Amanda felt another chill slide through her body. “It would have used me.”

“Yes. But now we have its blood.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Are you saying ‘if it bleeds, we can kill it’?”

Nate Deacon shrugged. “I’ve seen movies before. But yes. We can, in fact, kill this thing.”

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