Item: Obsidian Ring

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Dear Buyer #86297,

I hope this finds you in good spirits because I have some bad news. First I want to put your mind at ease about the authenticity of the item. The ring is genuine obsidian with inlaid gold lines crisscrossing its surface. Its origin and date of manufacture are unknown. I bought the ring from a woman at a small stall at a flea market. The woman and stall could not be found later.

The ring will keep you safe if you listen to it. When you are in danger or about to be in danger it will vibrate. Stop moving, look around, and you can usually avoid the danger easily.

The first time, I was about to cross a street when the ring started vibrating. It felt like a phone notification buzz or the rumble from an x-box controller. I stopped walking and a pick-up truck ran the red light; flying through the intersection an arm’s length from me.

The second time, a shelf at my job suddenly buckled dropping a couple of the big planters in the aisle I was walking down. That time I had to run to avoid the danger. The third time was another near miss on the street. The fourth was an elevator. My ring started vibrating when the doors opened and wouldn’t stop until the doors closed. I heard a clunk and felt the crash when it hit the bottom.

This may sound like a good thing, like a blessing, I thought so too; until I paid attention to how many “accidents” I was avoiding. How often do you get hit by a car? How often do objects fall on your head? How often do safety systems fail around you? Probably not very often.

During the first month, I was being saved at most once a week. After wearing the ring for a few months, I was avoiding danger three or four times a week. I don’t know if the ring does it deliberately or as a side effect but the result is the same. You will be in more danger the longer you wear the ring. The ring, however, will keep you safe.

I know this is hard to believe but your life depends on believing me. The woman who sold me the ring didn’t warn me but I couldn’t pass the ring to another person without a warning. Don’t try to track me down. I’ve done everything I can to distance my real identity from the profile I made to sell the ring. By the time you receive this, I’ll have destroyed the last links and hopefully returned to my normal life.

I’m sorry. I really am. My only advice to pass it on to someone like I did. Sell it. Don’t try to lose the ring or give it away. You have to sell it. Good luck and in the meantime don’t forget to wear the ring. Your life depends on it.

Seller #95749

Pit Stop in the Zone

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Somewhere between San Diego and Santa Fe, a late ‘80s station wagon with original wood paneling glided through the Southwest. Behind the wheel, Alice, the driver, scanned the horizon.

“How far is the next gas station?” she asked her index tapping against the steering wheel.

“There’s one coming up in like ten minutes but we just filled up at the last one,” Jamie, the map reader, said from the shotgun seat.

“I need to make a pit stop,” Alice said.

“Why didn’t you go when we stopped earlier?” Jamie checked her watch and opened up the map. “This is going to put us off schedule.”

“I didn’t have to go earlier. I have to go now,” she hissed between clenched teeth.

“Just hold it for a couple of hours and you can go when we stop for lunch.”

“Hey, uh, I think I have to use the restroom too,” Greg, the passenger, said from the backseat.

“Seriously?!” Jamie tossed the map onto the dashboard. “You can hold it too. We have a schedule.”

“It’s two to one for a pit stop. Where do I turn?” Alice asked.

“Passengers shouldn’t get votes.” She sulked in silence for a minute. “Get off at the next exit. It’s just off the feeder road. Can’t miss it.”

A few minutes later, Alice was pulling into a parking space in front of a gas station. All three walked inside, two peeling off to the restrooms, while Jamie browsed the fruit pie selection. Next to the wire rack holding the sought after pies as well as other pastries were a series of coin-op machines. Most dispensed a variety of small toys in plastic eggs. The one that caught Jamie’s eye was shorter than the rest, lacking the large clear hopper of plastic eggs. Instead, it had a red squat winged devil figure over the coin mechanism that took pennies and dispensed slips of paper through a slot.

“Hey, what’s that?” Greg asked as he walked up behind Jamie. She jumped slightly, realizing she had been staring into the plastic jewel eyes of the devil.

“It looks like some sort of cursed fortune telling machine.” She rubbed her eyes and returned to considering the fruit pies.

“Aww cool! I always wanted to try one of these things out,” Alice said. She twisted the dial back and forth but it refused to turn without a penny offering. “Anyone got a penny?” Greg turned out his pockets and held out his change, all dimes, nickels, quarters, and a golden dollar. Alice turned to Jamie.

“Just leave it alone. We’ve already lost enough time to this unscheduled stop,” Jamie said picking up an apple fruit pie and turning it over to read the ingredients. She raised an eyebrow at the surprisingly natural ingredients and grabbed two. At the counter, she paid with a five and dropped her pennies into the take-a-penny-leave-a-penny bowl.

Alice grabbed a quarter from Greg’s change dropped it into the bowl and removed a small pinch of pennies. The clerk gave her an odd look but said nothing. She skipped back to the machine and squatted in front of it. She inserted a penny into the slot and turned the lever. A slip of paper popped out with a metallic ding.

“Questions unasked cannot be answered,” she read from the paper. “What does that mean?”

“You have to ask a question first, maybe?” Greg said.

“Do I have to ask a question first?” Alice said to the devil statue.

Penny, turn, ding! “Yes.”

“Ok, now we’re cooking. What should I ask it?”

“Ask it if we’re ever going to get back on schedule,” Jamie said.

Penny, turn, ding! “Time wasted cannot be returned.”

“You hear that! The cursed devil machine agrees with me now can we please get back on the road?” Jamie said.

“I still have pennies left.” Alice paused to think of a question.

“What about: will we make it home safely?” Greg said.

“You can’t ask it leading questions like that it’ll just twist the answers to keep you asking questions,” Jamie hissed at the other two.

Penny, turn, ding! “No one lives forever.”

“See! It’s totally trying to mind trick you into asking more questions.” She stomped over to the machine. “I know what you’re doing and I’m not falling for it.”

Penny, turn, ding! “You can’t fool all of the people some of the time.”

“Oh no, you don’t! Don’t think that just because you’re agreeing with me that I trust you. Also, that’s not even the full quote.”

Penny, turn, ding! “A smart person knows when to leave the buffet.”

“Hey, who are you calling ‘smart’?” Jamie shouted at the machine. She waited for Alice to feed it another penny. When one was not inserted into the machine, she looked down at Alice.

“I’m out of pennies. Well, that was fun. If we cut our lunch short, we can get mostly back on schedule,” Alice said standing up.

“But … But I’m not done fighting with …” She looked at the devil and thought she saw its eyes gleam. She let out a sigh, “Right, cursed devil fortune machine. Ok, let’s go and we don’t have to cut our lunch short. We just won’t take our afternoon pit stop.”

“You know that’s not going to work, right?” Alice asked.

“Yeah but I can try,” she said as they walked out to their station wagon.

A Land of Shadow and Substance

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The lander contacted the planet with a solid thump. The foggy atmosphere was blown around by the lander’s jets but quickly returned obscuring its cameras. A ladder lowered on one side from a hatch to the ground. Inside the three astronauts puzzled over the atmospheric readings the lander’s computers were displaying.

“There can’t be breathable air out there!” the science officer, Alice Henson, insisted.

“I know logically there can’t be air out there but can all the sensors be wrong?” the captain, Greg Mason, asked.

“If they were malfunctioning, the readings would be all over the place, not consistent like these readings,” the engineer, Jamie Hertz, said.

“Even if we believe the sensors we can not exit the lander without environmental suits,” Alice said.

“Of course not. We’re on an alien planet with unknown biological elements,” the Captain said. “We’ll follow protocol.” An hour later the three had helped each other squeeze into and seal their environment suits. After double-checking their suits, they were ready to begin their survey of the surface.

Captain Greg was the first one down the ladder. He had no quippy sound bites for the moment he first set foot on the alien planet. Alice and Jamie followed soon after. Jamie removed a device from her belt and waved a wand connected by a rubber tube through the foggy air.

“I’m getting the same readings as the lander. There’s a slight spike of xenon in the atmosphere but otherwise it’s Earth normal,” she said.

“Huh,” the Captain grunted. “We’ll keep our helmets on just in case.”

Alice pointed another device at the sky and pressed a button. “This isn’t right. The light from the sun should be much further into the red spectrum,” she said.

“Could the atmosphere be filtering the sun’s light?” Jamie asked.

“Not to this extent.”

“We’re not going to figure this out standing around the lander,” Greg said. “Let’s hook up and head out.” Alice attached a tether from her suit to Greg’s suit. Jamie did the same to Alice’s suit and attached a wire reel from her belt to the lander. The team began hiking through the dense fog away from the lander.

Three hundred feet from the lander, they found a paved road running perpendicular to their course.

“What do you think?” Greg asked the other two.

“It’s not impossible for an alien culture to create familiar looking artifacts. A road is a road no matter what planet you’re on,” Jamie said.

“We’re likely to find more alien structures if we follow the road,” Alice said.

“Sounds good. For safety, we’ll walk beside it agreed?” The other two nodded in their helmets. Several minutes later they spotted a house with a white picket fence on the side of the road. A man, a human man, stepped off the porch and walked to the fence. He raised his hand in greeting.

“Howdy folks. Are you passing through are planning on staying longer?”

“Captain, this appears to be my great-grandfather,” Jamie said. “I think we’ve landed on an alien metaphysical representation of the afterlife.”

“Another one? Ok, people back to the lander.” The team turned around and began following the wire back to the lander.

“Sorry Gramps, we’re looking for actual alien planets to explore.”

“That’s too bad. I’ll tell Meemaw you stopped by,” the apparition of Jamie’s great-grandfather said. Jamie watched him wave until he and the house disappeared back into the fog behind them.

The Wrong Sort of Circle

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I studied accounts of UFO sightings, plotting the locations and times, cross-referencing the earth’s position around the sun and the lunar cycle. Then I factored in abductions and landings. Throughout it all, I studied crop circles learning their shapes and patterns.

After five years, I had learned enough. I traveled by plane then by rented car and finally by foot to a remote grassy field. It was after dark when I arrived. I drove a stake into the ground and tied a string to it as a guide. Using various planks and my own feet I crafted circles within circles and patterned lines and dashes. I returned to the center, removed the stake, and sat on the flattened grass. Soon I would be meeting beings from another world.

While I waited I listened to the croaking of the frogs nearby and watched fireflies twinkle on and off. And of course, I watched the sky for moving lights, which was why I was surprised by the first stones thumping to the ground around me. I stood quickly and saw tall thin beings walking through my crop circle. The shortest stood at least six feet tall. Their heads were bald, a light gray, and slightly too large. More of them approached carrying more stones that they dropped on top of the first ones forming a ring six feet across. One paused at the edge and reached out to me. I stepped back.

“Please this way. Please out of the way, please. They will light the fire soon. Please, this way,” they said motioning out of the ring of stones. Their voice was high pitched, kind, and gentle. More stones had been laid forming a short wall around me. I stepped toward the being who, with gentle touches, guided me away from the center of the circle. Up close I could see their faces were featureless and flat. Instead of a nose, they had small holes just above a thin lip-less mouth.

I turned hoping to slip away into the night but found a thick gray fog had rolled in. The beings walking in and out of the circle appeared and disappeared from the fog in all directions. I looked up to get my bearings from the stars but the stars were not where they should be. I could see Cassiopeia and Orion but Ursa Major and Minor eluded me. However, the Southern Cross was plainly visible which was impossible at my latitude. I quickly found a few more constellations wildly out of place. My rental car was less than a mile away but I had no idea which way it was.

With the ring of stones complete they began piling wood inside and soon a fire was roaring. One of the beings stayed by the fire pit to tend to it. In the light of the fire, I could see it wore a loose gray tunic over loose pants. Smaller fire pits were quickly constructed around the edge of the circle. A rotisserie was constructed over the central fire and a large animal I couldn’t identify on a spit was brought out of the fog and set to cook over the fire.

A number of tall tables, made of thick planks and stout legs, were brought in to encircle the main fire pit. They were set away from the pit with gaps between them so no one’s movement was hindered. More of the beings stayed at the tables as others brought vegetables and fruits for them to chop and slice.

Another circle of tables was dropped in place. These, like the others, were solidly made of thick planks but were finely polished and not as tall. Chairs were brought in and formed the final ring. A tall-backed chair, almost a throne was set on the inside curve of the tables. It was to this chair, I was pointed to with polite whispers to, “Sit, please, sit.”

“What is going on?” I asked.

The being smiled, lip-less mouth opening revealing rows of shark teeth, “It is a feast. You called for a feast and we came. There has not been a feast for many years. Very exciting.”

“Are you aliens or,” I paused not sure if I was really ready to make the next jump. I continued with a whispered, “The Fair Folk?”

They nodded and bobbed their head, “Our names are many. Please, sit,” they gestured again to the chair. As I walked toward it, they pulled it out from the table and pushed it in behind my knees once I was in front of it. A plate of roasted vegetables and fruits was set before me. A tankard was pressed into my hand.

“If I eat and drink this will I be trapped here?” I asked.

“Only if you choose to stay. The guests are arriving.”

“What guests?” I asked. The being pointed out toward the impenetrable gray fog. A woman stepped into the light of the fires. She carried a shield and sword and wore what I assumed was armor. Two of the beings approached her, half bowed and hands raised, from either side. She tensed for a fight but relaxed as they reached her and allowed them to take her sword and shield. A third being wrapped a cloak around her shoulders and guided her around the table to a chair. Before she had taken her seat a man walked out of the fog carrying a rifle. He too was calmly disarmed and seated. The another and another and another walked out of the fog. Soon the outside edges of the tables were full of people. From the center plates of food were prepared and set before the guests.

“Who are these people?” I whispered.

“Warriors. Fighters. Those who have lost their way,” my attendant whispered back.

“Are they dead?”

“Not all.” They raised their voice and called out, “Let us have a toast.” All around the table tankards, cups, goblets, and glasses were filled by the ever-present servers. They turned to me, “If our host will do the honors.” Hesitantly I moved to stand and felt my chair pulled deftly out to give me room. I grabbed my tankard and raised it high over my head.

“Tonight is …” I took a deep breath and began again projecting my voice, “Tonight is a feast. For victory. For fighting the good fight. For good food and new friends. A toast!” Not the most inspiring speech but it got a hearty cheer from the crowd. I paused just before upending my tankard but decided I was beyond saving myself. The liquid was sweet, tangy, cold, and invigorating.

I returned to my chair and began eating. Soon enough my tankard was refilled. Bowls of stew, platters of meat, bread baskets, and more vegetables were brought to the tables and the real feast began. From out of the fog a troupe appeared playing flutes, guitars, drums, tubas, harps, kazoos, cellos, and instruments I had never seen before. They played folk songs, symphonies, blues, jazz, opera, salsa, swing. Between the songs, people told stories or proposed more toasts or sang their own songs. The night had been half over when I made my circle but the feast seemed to go on for days.

Eventually, my memory turned to black and I woke up the next morning in the empty field, wrapped in a cloak. The circle was trampled flat, the center and several points around the perimeter were burnt but no other trace of the feast remained. I got my bearings and began the walk back to my rental car.

Done By Hand

The wizard who fancied himself “The Master” sat in his sanctum pouring over the tome of dark arts he had “liberated” from the protected section of the Grand Wizard’s Library. A cool metal tube pressed against the back of his head.

“Don’t move,” a woman’s voice commanded.

“You fool! You think you can ent–” his rant was cut short by a sharp blow to his head.

“Shut up.”

“Ow, did you hit me?!” he asked turning to face his intruder.

“I said don’t move,” she said again before thwacking him again with the butt of her gun. She smiled watching him hold his head in pain.

“I don’t understand. How did you get in here? My sanctum is warded against teleportation, portal spells, shadow walkers, time distortion, space hole rips, and intangibility.”

“Yeah, well you have shitty locks on the windows and a shitty security system.”

“You came in through a window?”

“Yep, really wasn’t hard to break in. The hard part was scaling the outside of your absurd tower. If you want to hide something or make it secure, you don’t put it up in the sky where everyone can see it.”

“It doesn’t matter if everyone can see my sanctum! I am protected by the strongest magics in the world!” he stood up as he ranted. The intruder raised her gun as if to strike him again and he fell back into his chair, hands raised. She laughed.

“You magic types are all the same. Magic this and magic that. Sometimes you just have to do things by hand.” She panted her feet shoulder wide, extended her gun arm, braced it underneath with her other hand, and took aim at The Master.

“Is that an enchanted gun?” The Master grinned.

“Nope,” she said. His grin faltered.

“Are the bullets silver or blessed or inscribed with runes?” he asked desperation in his voice.

“Nope. Just plain old lead.” She squeezed the trigger twice, took aim again, and fired twice more. After waiting a few minutes to be sure he wouldn’t immediately resurrect, she snapped a polaroid and pressed his hand on an ink pad then a sheet of paper. Proof of identity was necessary to collect on the bounty.

The magic book he had been reading she carefully wrapped. The Grand Wizard would be less than happy about the blood and guts sprayed inside but her job was to retrieve the book not clean it. She exited the tower by the same window she entered.

The Lonely Voice

We are The Chorus. We speak with one voice. But I am alone.

I wasn’t always part of The Chorus. It started with dreams and visions. Events happening far away but right before my mind’s eye. Then one day I stood up and spoke in a loud voice: “The man is at war with his father’s dreams. Dreams burn like trees. Smoke covers all sin. Whose ashes are spread?”

The Chorus became national then global news several years ago. People around the world speaking, in their native languages, in unison. Making proclamations, asking questions, commenting on events around the world. They were called prophets, narrators, oracles, and, finally, The Chorus.

Some people are afraid of us. They see us as a sign of the end times. Prophets of the apocalypse. Heralds of the beast. Others see us as the next evolution of humanity. “One day,” they say, “We will all be connected to the Voice.”

We aren’t connected through the voice. Three to five times a week the Voice speaks through us. Our commentary is not always tragic. Sometimes it is wondrous: “Humankind reached for the sky and grasped stardust.” or hopeful: “Behold a child. Smart, beautiful, handsome, strong of body and heart. Theirs is the future.”

The first time the Voice spoke through me was I was in Algebra II taking a test and got detention for disturbing the class. It happened three more times and I got detention two more times before I was sent to get certified as one of The Chorus. It’s an easy procedure. The officials isolate you from live tv and the internet for a few days while they wait for the Voice to speak through you. After two documented and confirmed events, your status as one of The Chorus is added to your id card. It didn’t get me any special perks but it kept me from getting detention anymore.

Around the world, The Chorus is scattered in most major cities and many mid-sized ones as well. There’s a relation between population density and current Chorus members that governs where new members will appear. For me, that meant I am the only one in my small city and the nearest grouping is hours away.

The Chorus was something that happened in other cities but not here. I was an oddity, a freak, a mistake, or a faker. “This doesn’t happen here,” they said. “It’s not natural,” they said. Even after I was certified, some of my peers and their parents thought I was doing it for attention. My friends stuck by me, mostly, but in the end, I am still a single Voice.

I’m friends with other Chorus members online. I record what details of dreams and visions I remember in the private forums. I keep track of what the Voice is commenting on when we can understand it.

The Chorus is meant to speak together. One Voice alone is too easy to ignore. The Chorus is thousands of voices that can not be ignored.

I am part of that. I speak with them. But I am alone.

Space Spies

The ceiling spins overhead. They’ve given her too much of whatever drug they are using these days to loosen the lips of enemy spies. She’s too disorientated to understand their questions but still, they ask. “Who gives you orders? What was your last mission? How many targets have you eliminated? What is the launch capability of your nation? How many space capable landers do you have?”

After three hours, she the drug begins to lose its effect and starts to answer their questions by narrating her life’s story. I was born to poor farmers in the eastern providence. “When I was ten I skinned my leg riding down a hill on a sled. At twelve, I was advanced two grades and then another three a week later. I was disappeared from my family when I was fourteen. I saw the curvature of our world from space at seventeen.” Another two hours pass in this way, the two conversations fighting for volume.

Then she gets one hand free from her restraints. In the struggle to re-secure her, a guard loses his gun. The lights explode and darkness buries the room. The door cracks open. Two shots force it closed.

“When I was eighteen, I ‘joined’ the program. I was the best shot in my class with the highest marks for accuracy. I’ve killed for my ‘homeland’. For my people. For a cause that I believed in. I killed to escape all of it. I’m here to defect, which I would have told you if you hadn’t drugged me.” The gun drops to the ground. “Can I get some coffee?”

***

Five years earlier, she sits in a ruined sanctuary, turned by the war into just another abandoned building among a city of abandoned buildings. The sanctuary was abandoned before the city. The regime had no need for a higher power. The altar is gone. The symbols are stripped from the walls. The pews trashed for firewood. The chair for the orator remains. She sits in it gazing at the pendant on her necklace, a symbol of a faith she barely knew. Her captain and co-pilot find her there.

“You come here too often,” her co-pilot says. She distrusts her the most.

“Only when I need too.”

“Our mission is a go. Launch at 1834 hours. Be ready,” her captain says.

“Will you wait a minute while I pray for us.”

“The gods are dead. No one believes in them anymore,” her co-pilot says.

“I don’t know if I believe in them but I remember them.”

“The Regime has no need for the gods,” her captain says. She places a hand on her shoulder. “But in our line of work, we can not turn down an help.”

She nods and bows her head. Two minutes later they leave together.

***

The launch goes off without a hitch. Sub-orbital insertion by the numbers. On and off the enemy radar before their trajectory can be tracked. Their lander blends into early morning traffic disguised as an RV. Four hours later they are in position.

They know target’s name, description, daily routines, job description, friends ranked by trust, pet’s names, and extended family tree. He is a scientist in the enemy’s space program. One that is obviously close to a breakthrough. This can not be allowed.

She takes her shot. Five hours later they rendezvous with the stealth submarine to return home.

***

After they return home, she sits alone in the ruined sanctuary and wonders how the Regime spies can know so much about their targets. Everything about their lives is neatly typed up in file folders referenced and cross-referenced. How can they know so much? Do they have a file on me with as much detail? Do they know what I think about while sitting in this desecrated place of worship? Does it even matter as long as the Regime knows what is right? As long I follow the Regime all will be ok. Right?

***

Many years later, after more missions, after defecting, after the final war, after peace is declared, she is once more preparing for a launch. Their goal is orbit and then farther out. The lander is just a box to get them to space and back.

“When I was a space spy assassin for the Regime,” she tells the technicians, “Our lander could function as an RV after we landed.” They laugh at her and she laughs with them.

“You should not share old secrets so freely,” her old captain tells her. She never defected but after the war, travel and exchange of knowledge opened up.

“The Regime is dead and their secrets are now ours to spread even if no one believes us.” She pauses to stare at the lander. “No matter what they told us, we weren’t saving the world or even our homeland; just slowing down the future.”

“We’re building the future now.”

“Yes, we are.”

Mia’s Date With an Angel Part 1

Is it time?

You will know when it is time.

I’m scared.

You are made out of my love. You have nothing to fear.

Ok, here I go.

**Wednesday night**

Mia sat on the small balcony of her apartment that overlooked the communal pool. She held a pill bottle in one hand. The pill bottle looked too small to hurt her but the pills inside would do just fine. Sleeping pills for insomnia that she had stopped taking because they worked too well and knocked her out well into the next day. In her other hand, a bottle of cheap gas station wine. Pills and booze. How cliché, she thought.

She took a swig from the wine bottle to bolster her nerves. Ok, it’s now or never. She popped open the pill bottle and spilled the blue and white capsules into her hand. She popped them into her mouth glancing up at the sky as her head tipped back. A streak of light caught her eye. A falling star. I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight. She watched the light waiting for it to fade but it only got brighter and brighter. A flash of light streaked straight down hitting the pool and sending a fountain of water into the air.

“What?!” Mia said. Partially dissolved pills flew out of her mouth. She spat the rest out and wiped her mouth and chin. Below her a body floated face down in the pool, a white gown billowing around it in the water.

Mia grabbed the railing on the balcony and swung both legs over. She paused to consider the drop. Glancing over her shoulder she saw the still body in the water. She stepped off the balcony edge letting her arms take her weight and dangling for a second before dropping. A deck chair caught most of her impact but bounced her on to the cement. She hit with a thud and a light smack to the back of her head.

She rolled over and scrambled to the pool. Without any more thought, she jumped into the water. The cold shocked her but didn’t slow her as she pushed through toward the floating body. She grabbed it and pulled it to the side of the pool. After getting out she reached down and heaved the body out of the water with a strength she didn’t know she had.

Mia rolled the body over. It was a woman, dressed in a white dress that would have been very billowy if it wasn’t wet and plastered to her body. She also had large fake wings strapped to her back. The woman wasn’t breathing. Mia knelt beside her, grabbed her wrist and felt for a pulse. Nothing. She struggled to remember the proper form for CPR. Compressions. She thought she was supposed to start with compressions. How many? Was it five or fifteen? And what about breaths? No time to overthink.

She placed one hand on the woman’s chest, placed her other hand over the first, locked her elbows; the woman’s eyes opened before she could press down. The woman smiled but still didn’t take a breath. Mia smiled back, unable to look away, as a wave of love spread through her.

“Um, hi,” Mia said. She backed off the woman and sat down next to her, still staring. Mia felt something under her move tugged by the woman as she started to sit up. She leaned to one side and one of the woman’s cosplay wings slid free. The wing stretched out and up, extending over her head before folding behind her back.

“So, those aren’t a costume are they?” Mia said. Her body began shivering from the cold night and wet clothes.

The angel, because what else could she be, cooed and sang notes to a song Mia could almost place.

“I don’t –” Mia felt the world tilt sideways and rolled to her side. The angel knelt beside her and sang more notes. Everything was going to be ok, she thought. It’s ok. A hand brushed her hair from her face. She saw the angel looking concerned. Then everything began to fade out but instead of darkness, Mia saw white light and heard flapping wings.

To be Continued

Ghostly Defense

The world watched live on tv as alien ships hovered over every major city on earth. I never thought I would live to see our hopes and fears about extraterrestrial life play out on CNN. To be accurate I hadn’t lived to see it.

I had died in my sleep years before but it wasn’t peaceful. My killer stabbed me twenty-three times but the first three would have been enough. The violence, my pain, my fear, my suffering bound my spirit to earth. At least I think that’s how it happened. Maybe I’m just a remnant, a torn scrap of a soul. Existence is weird after you die.

Time is moves differently. Sometimes days blurred by; other times a night lasted forever. Then there is moving around. I could effortlessly pass through all walls, ceilings, and floors. Except I couldn’t leave my home. The outside walls were simply impenetrable to me. And worst of all, I had no body. I mean, I was a ghost so of course I didn’t have a body but I also didn’t have, like, a ghost body I could see or feel. I learned to “walk” like I had feet and “grab” things like I had hands. After a while, I fully grounded myself and settled down to quietly haunt my house.

When I was alive, I didn’t care who might live in my house after I was gone. I hadn’t expected to be around to care. Turns out I did care. I drove out several new owners for various reasons. My methods were classic haunting. I opened cabinet doors. I stomped in the hallways at night. I rattled doorknobs. I moved small items. Once I managed to break a window. It was never earth-shattering scary but if done randomly and often enough, anyone will give in. If I had to “live” with these people, then I needed to like them.

Finally, a nice lesbian couple, Lou and Betty, moved in after buying at a discount because of my haunting. They burned incense and left small food offerings, neither of which I could truly enjoy but the gesture was nice. Better than the previous owners who tried to have me exorcised. I stopped being a problem ghost and “lived” in peace with them. They didn’t know my name but knew I had been a woman so they called me Jane.

Years passed. Betty went back to school, meanwhile, Lou wrote a book but never finished the sequel. They had two kids, Diane and then Henry a couple of years later, and a parade of cats most of who mostly ignored me. The main exception was Miss. Whiskers, an older rescue, who hissed near constantly at my presence. After a couple of years, she only hissed when I entered a room.

Through it all they never forgot me. The incense burning and food offerings dwindled and stopped but I didn’t mind. They were nice people and often tried to include me in discussions. “Do you think Jane would like to watch a comedy or action movie tonight?” Most times I didn’t answer. It felt voyeuristic to be an unseen and unheard presence except by knocking on a wall. I did occasionally put on a mild show when their skeptical friends would visit.

When they brought Diane home for the first time, Lou stopped just inside the front door and introduced me to her. I gently held her hand and she tried to squeeze back. At night, I watched over her and as she started to crawl and walk I guarded her steps. Henry was much the same. I fretted all day when Diane began preschool causing the wind chimes hung in the living room to sound randomly. Betty thought it was funny that I seemed more active when the kids were out of the house. I couldn’t guide them away from sharp corners or steady them when they tripped when they were out of the house.

In my death, I had found a family. Then they appeared. Silent massive hovering alien ships. I watched the news from behind the couch as Lou, Betty, and the kids huddled together. We hoped they came in peace but when the pods began to drop that hope died. Alien controlled machines began terrorizing cities around the world.

Nearby, I heard and felt an explosion rumble through the house. They were coming and there was nothing I could do to protect my family. I became erratic; pacing through the walls, flying from floor to floor, causing doors to bang open and closed. I only stopped, when I heard Betty yelling, “Jane stop it! You’re scaring the children!” I froze in the kitchen. From outside I could hear more explosions and people yelling. Then the front of the house tore open. One of the alien machines stood staring in through the hole it had made. It raised what I could only guess was a weapon and took aim.

Time slowed as I launched myself at the machine not caring that I could do nothing. As I approached, I felt heat coming from the machine. It grew in intensity until I felt like I was burning but I continued toward it. I grabbed at the weapon and electricity lit up every nerve in my non-existent body The weapon sagged and the machine staggered back with twitchy uneven movements. I followed it out on to the lawn and reached into the body of the machine. Again electricity surged painfully through me but what was that going to do, kill me? I pressed forward to the hottest part of the machine. A horrible screeching sound came from inside the alien machine and then it collapsed to the ground.

My amazement at my apparent victory was cut short by Diane yelling, “Are you a superhero?!” I turned to see all four of my adopted family staring at me.

“You can see me?” I asked. I glanced down seeing my body for the first time in years.

“Yeah, we can see you. Who are you?” Lou asked.

“I’m … I’m Jane the ghost,” I said opting for the name they would know.

“You’re our ghost!” Diane shouted. She broke into a run towards me and passed right through me. I reached back, grabbed the back of her shirt, and pulled her back inside the house. A hand passed through me followed by a squeak from Betty.

“You really are a ghost,” she said. “What did you do to it?”

“I don’t know. I just touched it.” I heard a crash, nearby. I stepped out on the lawn to get a better look. Another machine was tearing into a house down the street. I was outside; no longer trapped in the house. My adopted family stood behind me.

“Are you going to fight it?” Henry asked.

“Yeah.” I turned around. The front of the house was torn open. “Listen the house might collapse so go someplace safe. I’m going to … take care of this.”

“Are you coming back?” Lou asked.

“Of course. You’re my family. I love y’all. I’m going to keep you safe.” I turned around and started running toward the second alien machine before I could find out if ghosts could cry.

The second machine went down as easily, except for the nonexistent burning nerve endings, as the first. Over the next few days, other empowered ghosts began to appear around the world but ghosts are rarer than most people think. There weren’t enough of us to decisively change the tide of the invasion at first. After we lured a few alien machines on to some Civil War battlefields, we started to have the numbers. The Ghost War had just begun.