Monthly Archives: March 2014

Flash Fiction Friday

Prompt: Bones in the Badlands

Remnants

By Paige Duke

Talitha walked among rows of bones, sorted and tagged by the students, until she came to what must have been the skulls. She bent and gently picked one up with her gloved hand. She turned it, examining the dingy surface with barely disguised fascination. Who were you? she wondered. What sort of life did you have in this place? She looked out across the unfamiliar terrain, the cracked clay that stretched for miles until it rippled into brown and orange striated foothills. What sort of people could flourish in so unforgiving a place?

“This is such a waste of time,” Ronell whined from behind her. Talitha turned to find the other woman looking bored; it was clear she hadn’t even started recording any of the remains. Under different circumstances—back home, steeped in the comforts of their modern lives—she liked Ronell, but the woman did not share her appreciation for the lost histories. Few did.

“Oh?” Talitha asked innocently.

“They’ll never see the outside of a lab,” she said, motioning to the minefield of bones the kids had dug up. “And how much can they really tell without a proper record anyway?”

Talitha shrugged, trying to mirror Ronell’s disinterest.

The other woman fanned herself with the webbing of her open palm, “Ugh. How many more of these godforsaken planets do we have left?”

Talitha gently replaced the skull in its row and opened the flap of her biopouch, careful not to let her treasures jingle against one another, and pulled out a thin spindle. With a swipe of her fingerpad, she pulled up the B Class Archeological Survey itinerary. “Only two more after this one.”

“That’s two too many, I say. This is the last time I chaperone,” Ronell said, shaking her head. Sweat glistening on her flawless blue skin in the glare of the planet’s single sun. “You know, the only reason I agreed in the first place was I thought we’d hear more about the Terraforming. I think it’s just amazing! The way they can take these useless old planets and repurpose them.”

Looking down to hide her dismay, Talitha nodded. She couldn’t very well argue for historical preservation when technology promised the end of their desperate troubles.

“Oh thank Oleith, I think they’ve finished.”

Talitha followed Ronell’s gaze to see the class packing up their gear and Caelith skipping excitedly toward them.

“Your boy seems like he’s really into this,” said Ronell. “All the others were bored by the third planet. Can’t say I blame them. Bones all start to look the same after a while, no matter how ingeniously they’re arranged.”

Caelith slowed, breathing hard and nodded to Ronell, “Hello, Mistress.” In one hand, he carried his overloaded toolkit and the other—Talitha saw, with a little thrill—was tucked firmly into the pocket of his robe. She reached out to smooth his feathery hair.

“Nice work today, young sir,” said Ronell with feigned enthusiasm and a stiff pat on his arm. “Well, I’m going to get out of this heat. I’ll see you two back on board,” she said, leaving mother and son alone.

Talitha waited a moment before whispering, “What have brought me this time, boy?”

Caelith smiled and pulled his hand from his pocket, looking around to be sure no one was watching, and placed a small, perfectly round disc into her palm. “Found a pile of these in a pouch. Used to be some sort of picture on it that’s worn away now, but I thought you’d like the runes.”

They exchanged a look of wonder and Talitha smiled, her heart squeezing with affection for this child who could share and keep her secret.

Caelith reached out to squeeze her fist, “I’m going to clean up. Meet you back in our quarters.”

Waiting until he was behind her and the sound of the class’s banter began to fade, she looked down at the trinket her son had salvaged for her. The disc was made of thin metal and its face was smeared with dirt where he had smudged the dust. She wiped it clean the best she could to reveal the outline of an image worn away by time and the elements. She found the runes Caelith mentioned and turned the disc until her retinal translator could make sense of them: IN GOD WE TRUST. What did it mean?

Talitha closed her fingers around her newest treasure, still warm from its earthen grave. She took one last look across the alien terrain, a piece of living history soon to be remade. She turned then to make her way back to the ship, dropping the disc into her biopouch among the other detritus of lost worlds.

The Bone Locket

By Dani Nicole

They called her Bag of Bones. A less than civil name for the witch who came to town, carrying a velvet purse that rattled when she walked.

“A dime for a femur, a nickel for a knee,” she’d sing in a voice that sounded like a hawk’s screech. She never talked of anything but bones. She never asked for anything but coins.

“Why does she want coins for bones?” a little boy asked.

His mother shushed him as if she could erase his curiosity with her firmly placed index finger. “We will not talk about the witches.”

“I want to be a witch, mommy,” said the curious boy’s sister. “I want to buy a bone.”

“You will do none of those things.”

The little girl was not satiated. “But no one ever buys her bones mother. How shall we know what they do?”

“They are bones. They are meant to be in the ground.”

The woman hurried her children along but the witch continued singing, “A dime for a femur, a nickel for a knee,” because though the curiosity of the children had stirred curiosity in the witch, she still had a job to do.

***

I met the witch when I was hungry, standing outside the bakery. The smell of freshly baked bread perfumed the air, and she came sing-songing down the street. “Two dimes for a femur, two nickels for a knee.”

“Excuse me, miss, but I must ask,” she stopped walking at the sound of my voice, “But why are the bones twice as much today?”

She smiled revealing black and gray teeth, she smiled revealing her soul. “Because you need them twice as much, of course, than you did any other day.”

She walked away from the freshly baked bread, down the street into an alleyway. My mind followed her, but my stomach protested, sounding off for a pastry.

I purchased my delicacy, but I was distracted and kept searching for the witch who’d disappeared. What kind of witch sells bones, I wondered. What kind of witch needs coins?

I walked to where her robes disappeared, into an alleyway– a narrow sliver, almost too small for one man. I stopped for a moment, then turned sideways, shoving myself towards the Badlands. There were overcast skies and naked trees, and cracked earth prickled by plants.

“There are bones in the Badlands,” said a creaky voice. I turned to see Bag of Bones on my right.

“Why do I need the bones?”  I asked.

“We all need the bones, or rather, what’s inside.”

“Marrow?”

She shook her head. “I know what you lost, someone you loved. I know many things.”

“I thought you were a witch.”

“Of sorts,” she said, reaching into her bag.

“No, I don’t want to—“

“If you see, you’ll understand.” She removed a flat, round locket and handed it to me. I touched the milky-white surface.

“Is this made of—“

“Bone,” she said, as if that were a normal thing.

“What is it?”

“It is a way to release what the world needs from bones.”

I opened the locket which revealed two words. On the left it said life; on the right it said death.

“What do these words mean?”

She took the locket and looked toward the Badlands. “There are bones in my purse. There are bones in the Badlands. There are bones in our bodies. But what do these bones mean? They do not mean we are alive, because our bones are here when we die. They do not mean we are dead, because we are born with bones.”

“Perhaps they mean that we existed.”

“Precisely.” She paused. “Bones are given to us when we are born and we give them back when we die. The one you lost is gone, but not her bones.” She opened her bag and peeked in. “These bones belonged to mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. These people were loved and now they are missed. When you love someone, that love does not leave. It stays buried in their bones.”

I stare at her. “Can the bones bring back the lost?”

“What has perished has perished, but the love remains. With my locket you can release that love. It will continue into the world, a new baby receives, and perhaps she will grow to love. Perhaps she will lose, the way we all do, and release more love from more bones.”

“Your locket, it seems, can recycle love.”

“Precisely.”

I closed my eyes and remembered her, swirled in beauty and grace.  I pulled the coins in my pocket and said, “Tell me what I must do.”

“Purchase the bones, bury them near the lake. When you are done you are free.” She took a step forward, put her face near my ear. “But if perhaps, you want to help, you can bring me more bones from the Badlands.”

“And what do you do with the coins?” I asked.

She smiled, secretly, and I knew she would not say. “I buy more velvet bags.”

I gave her my coins; she gave me three bones. She smiled and turned on her feet. Her velvet bag rattled, the bone locket clanked, and Bag of Bones walked away.

Blood Red, A Poem by Dani Nicole

Her stare could pierce the sky

Her anger knew no bounds

She buried sin in her heart

She buried death in her arms

Blood Red is the color of her hair

Blood Red is the color of her soul

 

She longed for a child she could not bear

She longed to live but never would

And so to punish the entire world

She brewed her hate until it swirled

Into a mix of misery

Into a rage that could calm the sea

She called it Blood Red

She called it Blood Red

 

The misery like silver spirals

Swirled throughout the air

It tangled inside

Innocent victims’ hair

Grasping at their clothing

Winding in their veins

Becoming one with patience

It turned them into hate

They called it Blood Red

They called it Blood Red

 

Intoxicated by the feeling

Of powerful tyranny

A wonderful sin brewing

They smiled blissfully

“They will call us Blood Red”

“They will call us Blood Red”

 

Marching through the forest

An army of her own

Wanting nothing but pleasing her

To take her to her throne

She stops in front of them

Bending to her knees

She tells them she’ll be with them

Hidden among the trees

“We will call for you Blood Red”

“We will call for you Blood Red”

 

They march towards the castle

They march towards liberty

And in that ivory tower

They only find mutiny

Their weapons turn inwards

The mirrors shatter all around

And every tyrant soldier

Falls to the ground

 

Blood Red comes from the trees,

Steps over bodies and does not weep,

Takes a seat in her stolen throne,

And takes the world for her own.

“I will call it Blood Red.”

“I will call it Blood Red.”

 

-Dani Nicole

A Review of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (by a shameless Rainbow Rowell fan)

Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell

I found Rainbow by accident. A few years ago, I was scrolling through the library’s electronic audiobook catalog, feeling underwhelmed, when I saw a novel titled Attachments. The synopsis was by far the most interesting, so I went for it. I have to stop here and (reluctantly) admit to you that I’m a bit of a book snob. To my delight, though, I was attached to hooked on Attachments in no time, and by the end of the story, I was a committed Rainbow Rowell fan.

Fast-forward three years (past her second novel, Eleanor & Park, which is equally stunning and another must-read). My mom called me and wouldn’t stop gushing about Fangirl. When I looked it up and saw Rainbow’s name on the cover, I needed no further prodding. The story follows Cath—an introverted and angsty college freshman—through her first year at the University of Nebraska. While her twin sister Wren flings herself eagerly into campus life, Cath is resolutely stuck in the comfortable bounds of her high school existence. Namely, the world of Simon Snow—a fantasy series reminiscent of Harry Potter. Cath’s alter ego, Magicath, is practically a celebrity in Simon Snow fandom, as the author of a popular fan fiction series, Carry On, Simon.

By the end of her first semester, Cath is feeling overwhelmed. She’s juggling an unpredictable roommate, a shifty new writing partner, the standoffish and erratic Wren, deadlines for classwork between writing the next installment of Carry On, Simon, and the stress of her dad’s manic episodes. Not to mention her growing feelings for Levi, her roommate’s charming and attentive best friend. Magicath may be brave and courageous on the pages of Carry On, Simon, but can Cath Avery live as boldly in the shifting landscape of her own, real life?

From the first page, I felt connected to Cath and I really grew to admire her. She’s unapologetic about things I find myself making excuses for in my own life: being introverted and insecure and vulnerable. But as in real life, she’s blind to some of her own flaws. And that’s the charm of this story—at its heart, Fangirl, is just about navigating the uncharted waters of college life, but it has that elusive quality of being both entertaining and true-to-life. For a few days after I finished the book, I had withdrawals! I really missed having Cath and Levi and Wren and Reagan in my life. That’s the mark of a great story—its power to stick with you after you’ve closed the cover. It’s one of the reasons I LOVE reading Rainbow Rowell; she writes believable characters in ordinary circumstances, but with such insight and affection that they take up space in my life. Rowell’s next novel, Landline, is coming out in July, and OMG I CAN’T WAIT TO GET MY HANDS ON IT.

Have you read Fangirl? I’d love to hear what you thought of it. Which writers have turned you into an avid fan?

(You can find out more about Rainbow Rowell at rainbowrowell.com and she’s really fun on Twitter @rainbowrowell.)

 

-Paige Duke

She Said, She Said… You Are What You Write

She Said, She Said… posts are actual conversations taken place via instant messenger between authors. All names have been changed to protect identities, keep us out of trouble, and otherwise clear our names.

[On deciding what to share with a co-ed writing group]

Paige Duke: Do you have anything ready from your novel?

Dani Nicole: Yeah, but the first chapter is really romantical.

Dani Nicole: And after my last Vortex of Love short making me sound like an overly romantic 14-year-old girl…

Dani Nicole: I have Luther… that short story I was working on forever.

Dani Nicole: But it’s also romantic.

Dani Nicole: -_-

Paige Duke: Ohhh

Paige Duke: Well maybe you just need to own up to the fact that you write romance.

Paige Duke: It’s good.

Paige Duke: And the boys will be totally fine with it.

Flash Fiction Friday

TheDarkRayne, Depths DeviantArt

TheDarkRayne, Depths DeviantArt

A Harmless Diversion

By Paige Duke

Something was different today. Bryn knew the moment she stepped into the lake. The waters felt expectant somehow; they shivered around her, where before they had exuded an almost narcotic calm. They had been waiting for her.

She waded in up to her knees, immune now to the way the water soaked and darkened the pure white lace of her dress. The first day she’d been so afraid Vanesh would be angry with her, but he was only pleased that she’d found the lake.

He hadn’t even mentioned the dress. She thought again how odd it was that they hadn’t quarreled about her long absences from the resort or the damage to her gowns. His precious white gowns. It had frightened her a little that first day in the diplomat’s mansion, to step into the closet full of identical white frilly things. She shouldn’t have been surprised, though. Every public photo of Vanesh Nagiri sported a young blonde, never the same face, but always the same gown. It was a status symbol, one that she had craved and envied.

And now she had it. The gown and the man. But for how much longer? That was the question always on her mind. Is that why Vanesh had brought her to Fios I—to give her a final chance to charm him? They were arguing almost constantly back at home, but she was running out of ways to appease him. Bryn swam forward and submerged her face, feeling the kiss of cool water, and the ends of her pale hair lifting lazily. Am I replaceable? She forced herself to ask, though it stung. Every time. If she didn’t regain his interest, would Vanesh dispose of her as he had done with his other courtesans? After all, she was just a type once she donned the white dress.

Bryn held perfectly still, eyes closed, limbs suspended. She breathed steadily—still so unused to the sensation of Fios I’s aerate water—and listened intently. The strange, alien melody pulsed against her ears and she let it roll over her until . . . yes, there it was. Words, snatches of lyric amidst the melody. They tantalized her, promising to confide something essential and secret. But always at the last moment, they disintegrated into meaningless bubbling nonsense.

She opened her eyes and searched for clues, as she had done each time before. From shore, the lake looked positively small. She could walk around it in a half-hour’s time. But below the water’s surface, it seemed infinite. For hours upon hours, she had plumbed its crystalline depths and hunted the source of its secret song. But to her amazement, she never seemed to cover the same terrain twice. Always a new vista opened up to her, dazzling scarlet corral, massive rock outcroppings covered in electric orange algae, spindly underwater trees with delicate fronds for limbs. But never an answer to the mysterious melody that permeated it all.

Something had changed, though. The music was louder and clearer than ever before. She felt that she was in the lake’s very heartbeat, she was so overcome with the sound and sense of the rhythm. Suddenly she knew that it wanted her to Come Come Come. But where?

Opening her eyes, she saw the familiar violet corrals waving lazily, the same dappled light filtering in from above. “Where are you?” She pleaded. No answer but the steady beat of the music. But then, movement to her right. Bryn froze and raked the lakebed with her eyes, searching for the source. Beneath a ledge of jagged rock, a stream of bubbles rose from the sand.

As she stared, another appeared beside the first and then another and another until streams of bubbles rose like strings of pearls to the surface. Her heart was racing. This was it. The thing she had come for day after day. The sound, the song, the voice that had beckoned her.

Her approach felt effortless, as if the music itself was drawing her nearer, inside the curtain of bubbles. They streamed all around her, frenzied, until she thought she’d burst with the expectation of it. Bryn turned and kicked her way toward the bottom. As she neared the source, she could see a thin film, like a clouded bubble or some pale shroud stretched dome-like across the floor. It pulsed and writhed with white rippling light. Why had she not seen it before? Why was it only now revealed to her?

But her questions were subsumed beneath the music, for it was here, she knew, that she would discover what the voice, the voices—it wasn’t solo, she realized, but harmony—were trying to tell her. She had reached the bottom; the roiling filmy whiteness was just inches from her. Bryn reached out a trembling hand and her fingers met and then breached the surface. Her wrist continued through the veil effortlessly. The haze began to clear, the picture beyond resolving into a flurry of white. Slim fingers and whole hands grasped her elbow and pulled her closer, closer, until her shoulder, then her neck, and finally her face broke the surface. But wait. No. This was wrong. A terrible shrieking filled her ears, it was not music at all, but a horrifying layered screaming. She tried to pull away, but the hands bound her like shackles. She was lost, tumbling and twirling, and all around her was the thrashing of a hundred white gowns and the varied hues of golden hair.

The Landing

By Dani Nicole

This watery coffin cannot contain me. I will die in this collision of wind and water, but the elements cannot take away what I have gained. I have touched him; I have kissed him. And the electric feeling of his salt-bitten skin is enough to keep me calm. The vortex pushes me to the bottom of the ocean, deeper than I have ever known, and I am drowning.

It was worth it.

When my feet touch the sea floor my body collapses. My lungs scream for air and my head feels as though it may burst. I claw at my white dress, claw at the seaweed around my toes. And when I can take the fire no more, I open my mouth and breathe.

Water swims into me, fills me entirely. I am water; I am human. The water soothes the fire, like oxygen above the surface. I exhale, and I can do nothing but breathe, stare at my translucent skin and breathe again, as if I were meant to breathe salt water my entire life, and every breath of oxygen was just a cheapening of the woman I was supposed to become.

I am alive.

I have to find Marlowe, separated by the depths of the ocean. I can still feel the burn of the wind and water on my cheeks. The Vortex came just as Marlowe said it would and yet we did not die as Phaedra warned him when she gave him his curse.

Touch another soul and perish. You will manipulate the elements, but they will also manipulate you.

Yet I am more alive than I was before he kissed me, before he breached the rules of his universe to put his lips on mine, just for one infinitely blissful moment. He has awoken in me what was always meant to be stirred.

Marlowe called it suicide. The emotion that would rise from touching someone like me would destroy us. The wind and water would rage against us and as we touched the vortex would take us, and we would drown.

But love can manipulate us too. It can make us think what is risky is wrong. But as my arms slice through the water I can’t help thinking that I’ve never been more right.

***

“I can’t, Genevieve. I can’t be who you want me to be. What you need.” Marlowe runs his hands through his dark hair. He looks exasperated, as if he is grasping onto his last fleck of sanity.

“What makes you think I want you to be someone else?” I counter.

He laughs, just a sharp exhale of air. “Because that’s what you deserve Gen. You deserve the world and I can’t even touch you.”

“I don’t want the world without you,” I say, taking a few steps toward him.

He leans against the railing, rests his hands on it, but doesn’t move. “You don’t know how every fiber of my being responds to you when you say that, when you look at me that way, when you walk towards me. It’s like a current Gen.”

I keep walking, slowly. “Love is electric. It’s not something that can be easily contained. Or ignored.”

“You love me then?”

I stop in front of him, look into his eyes. I want to brush his hair from his face, the way he does when he’s trying to get control. “Marlowe, I am more than in love. I am incomplete.”

I step towards him, so close that I can feel the heat of his body, just like he said–electricity.

“Gen,” he whispers.

I shake my head. “I won’t. But I want you to.”

“You know the end of this.”

“I don’t care.”

“The vortex, Gen—“

I interrupt him. “Love is a vortex Marlowe. Don’t you get that?”

I plead with him, stare at him, long for him. Something changes in his eyes. Some flicker of understanding wells up and he reaches for me.

When his hand touches my arm it sends a surge up my spine. The boat rocks as the water begins to rage. “Don’t let go,” he shouts over the brewing storm.

Thunder cracks in the sky and the boat kicks up. I reach out for him and he grabs my other arm. He is holding me. Marlowe is holding me.

“We won’t have very long, Gen.”

“Whatever happens, you’re worth it.”

He looks as though I’ve already killed a part of him, and pulls me in. He wraps his arms around me and my body presses against his. I am blanketed in Marlowe. He is what I see, what I smell, and when his lips touch mine he is what I taste.

I can feel nothing but bliss.

I can remember nothing but him.

When the water and wind collide, when they spin around us, Marlowe kisses me still. My feet are ripped from the deck and Marlowe clings to me. I bury my face into his chest as he tightens his arms around me.

We rise.

We fall.

We crash into the water and Marlowe is pulled from my grasp.

***

I have swum as long as I am able. My new body makes it possible to swim for days, but I still grow weary. I sleep on the sea floor, among the plants and fish. I do not see Marlowe.

I find a sea cave. I sleep. I do not see Marlowe.

And on the fifteenth day, I hear something I could never hear before. A heartbeat that pulses in my wrists.

“Marlowe?” I whisper into the darkness.

“I am with you,” he replies. “In your heart.”

I would cry if it were possible. I would speak if I could find the words.

“You will live, Gen, but I will only live in you.”

“Love is a vortex,” I whisper.

“And I am forever drowning.”

She Said, She Said…The Pitfalls of a Writer’s Lunch

She Said, She Said… posts are actual conversations taken place via instant messenger between authors. All names have been changed to protect identities, keep us out of trouble, and otherwise clear our names.

[On skipping lunch to finish up flash fiction]

Paige Duke: I’ll figure something out

Paige Duke: I don’t like skipping lunch

Dani Nicole: Sounds like a poem

Dani Nicole: Skipping Lunch

Dani Nicole: By PD

Dani Nicole: It was a hungry day

Dani Nicole: But I was typing away

Dani Nicole: On my computer while the cafeteria glistened

Paige Duke: And friends call me out to play

Paige Duke: lol

Dani Nicole: Laughter swelled from the underground smells

Dani Nicole: Until my stomach rumbled

Dani Nicole: And my typing fingers fumbled

Dani Nicole: Go away hunger pains

Dani Nicole: I’ve got $hit to write

Dani Nicole: Go away hunger pains

Dani Nicole: I’ll feed you tonight.

Dani Nicole: -PD

She Said, She Said… Cryostasis

She Said, She Said… posts are actual conversations taken place via instant messenger between authors. All names have been changed to protect identities, keep us out of trouble, and otherwise clear our names.

Dani Nicole: How bout I just live in a cave?

Paige Duke: Why would you do that?

Dani Nicole: Cause, I’m sick of everything.

Paige Duke: Want me to put you in cryostatis until men evolve into higher beings?

Dani Nicole: yes

Paige Duke: K

Paige Duke: I’ll get right on that.

Effervescence

That word has been on the tip of my tongue lately. I’m not sure if it’s a muse-type thing or just due to the fact that sometimes I get obsessed with words that just hit a certain spot of my soul.

It’s just the only word I can think of to describe the pre-epiphany buzz–that feeling you get when you’re on the edge of discovering something great. Whether it’s in you, or a part of you coming to the world through channels of creativity, there’s nothing more euphoric than sheer inspiration.

I feel that way lately, nearly all the time. I am on this quest for self-enlightenment that I’ll just call my twenties. I’m looking for answers, or at least facets of answers, for facets of myself–for joy, love, and euphoria. As a result, I am constantly anticipating discovery. Always on the edge of my seat in love and faith and creativity. I am on a quest I couldn’t imagine myself NOT being on, and what I love about it is how thrilling, how unknown, how untamable, and how effervescent that journey is.

-Dani Nicole

Flash Fiction Friday

Bluefley, Impossible LOV3 ver.3 DeviantART

Bluefley, Impossible LOV3 ver.3 DeviantART

One Thing Left

By Paige Duke

Her search was coming to an end. The mad race across galaxies and years had led her to the hold of the prison ship. As she’d known it would. But there would be no fight, no glorious reunion, no happy escape. The scavengers had gotten there first and the place was abandoned, silent but for the useless blaring alarm.

Rowenna picked her way through the wreckage of twisted metal and the snaked coils of exposed conduits. The shapes became monstrous in the sparse light, so that she walked through the lair of some great beast, a graveyard of discarded bones. The thought pierced her, almost slayed her, for what could be left of Janu now but scraps? She should just turn around, there was nothing left for her here. Even if by some miracle she found what remained of him, all trace of his living memory would be gone. That was the Regime’s real punishment, they could strip away flesh and bone, but until the mind was wiped of its humanity, the captives were still free.

One step after another, she moved further into the belly of the ship. The hope that had propelled her all these years was gone, but a new rhythm took its place, words echoing to her from another lifetime. Beside the waterfall of Arnith, as the waters roared around them, she’d whispered a desperate promise. Three words that sealed their fates and redirected the trajectories of their lives. “No matter what,” she’d said, when she was just the Prime Minister’s headstrong daughter and he a lowly servant boy, before she knew what it would mean.

The floor whined beneath her and the ship’s bones creaked with every breath of solar wind. She came to a half-open bay door and forced her way in. When she stepped through, she saw it was the hold. And then she saw the bodies. The floor was littered with the shredded limbs of droids, picked clean of all their sellable parts. But where were their skulls? She shuddered. Even criminals deserved a better end than this—this faceless obscurity.

The wan light of the neighboring star filtered through a strip of high windows, enough for Rowenna to find a path through the room. She kept her eyes on the floor, trying her best not to step on any remains. Then out of the shadows rose a mound, but it wasn’t the reflective metal of the droids . . . they were human—the new convicts. They may have escaped Transition, but their deaths were just as senseless. Piled carelessly in a human trash heap. She closed her eyes and tried not to be sick. What kind of world was she living in, where thieves and murderers roamed free while lovers and revolutionaries were condemned, dismembered, Transitioned?

The rage that had festered in her for so long frothed and surged and overflowed its bounds. “Is this your justice?” she shouted, the words reverberating and dying in only a moment. But of course it couldn’t reach her father’s ears, he’d always been deaf to her brand of truth. She shook her head, defeated. What had she hoped to accomplish here? From the first spark of their forbidden love, she and Janu had walked a doomed path. There was no redemption for their kind.

The persistent melody of her words was the only power to move her forward, “no matter what no matter what no matter what.” With every step, she saw deeper into the shadows as the light from the windows grew brighter. Another ten steps brought her to the end of the hold and to the droid’s skulls. She cried out at the sight of them, suspended from the wall like hunter’s trophies. Rowenna pressed the heels of her hands tight against her eyes. Her breath came in ragged gasps. She hardened herself, let herself play into the Regime’s hands, sloughing away the tender layers of her own humanity. How else could she steel herself for this one thing she had left to do?

She opened her eyes again and searched the faces before her one by one.

She found him ringed in a halo of light, mouth frozen in a silent, eternal scream. His Transition was in its last stages; the skin of Janu’s face was the only part of him still human. She closed the distance, every step driving a knife deeper into her chest.

Coming closer, Rowenna saw the scavengers had managed to peel away the thin metal scalp. Underneath, he was all cogs and metal. It was small consolation that the most valuable parts of him were untouched—the spinal graft that held him, all of them, to the hull had protected his holoprojector and his memory sensors. But had his captors already managed to reprogram him?

She reached for him then, hands cupping the cold metal where once his blood had beat hot and fast. Where she had kissed him a thousand times, along every inch of his jawline. Weakening red light winked out at her from where his eyes, the purest green, had once been. He had looked on her with such love. Her cheeks were wet, and her fingers shook as they groped for the chip at the base of his neck. There was a crackling, a gentle shock along her arm, transmitting the data to her own optic nerve. A stream of code. A well of darkness. And then the rushing, pounding of water and three whispered words.

Running Home

By Dani Nicole

Pierce was only afraid of one thing – the Elite. And they came for him. They found him the way they always find us when they need human organs. They look at us like cattle about to be slaughtered. They want us to believe we are animals. But they are the ones who are animals.

Pierce hid Nadia and me for months. He was the one who would go into town for food and weapons. He was the one who would come up with a believable explanation for the guards. He never let us set foot outside the cave we made our home.

And now without him all I have are the screams that still echo in the cave that keeps them captive. “Anya, Anya,” he wailed, like a coyote in the night. “Anya, Anya.”

Nadia shivers and cries into my chest. I stroke her hair, think of how they grabbed Pierce. I kiss her forehead, think of how they knocked him unconscious. I breathe in the scent of her hair, think of how he’s never coming back.

I ran when they took him, just like I always promised I would. But I didn’t run for me. I ran for Nadia. And we ran for two days until we found another cave. This one is damper and smells like mold. There’s a small stream nearby that provides enough water to live on. And although the sound of rushing water is soothing I cannot stop the constant mantra of fear running through my mind. They will come for us. They will find us. They will kill us.

When I fall asleep I can see the Elite ripping Pierce apart in my dreams. When I’m awake I can still hear what the Elite said when they took him. “The Elite shall never die. The Elite shall never decay. You are on this Earth to serve us. You give us the gift of life, and in return we give you shelter, water and food. We give you community.”

I can still hear the other guards recite, “This is the way it is. This is the way it always will be.”

Before my stomach can even start turning at the memory I hear a snap outside, the sound of a branch breaking beneath a boot. A heavy, Elite boot.

“Nadia, come here.” I whisper.

She comes to me, clings to me. I lean into her ear, so close. “You run, okay. You run if they take me.”

Tears pool in her eyes but she nods slowly.

“It’s cat and mouse,” a voice says outside the cave. “We wait and she will come.”

I freeze. That deep, grainy voice–I could never forget it.

Nadia tugs on what’s left of my dress. “Anya. What is it?”

“Stay here.” I tell her, pulling her arms off of me. “Don’t move until it’s time to run. Okay?”

“Anya what are you going to do?”

“Nadia, promise me you will run.”

She nods again, this time letting a tear fall.

I kiss her on the cheek, then walk towards the man with the familiar voice.

With every step the memory floods back to me. Ten years ago, me, lying on a cold stone table in a barren white building, where the Elite strapped me down.

Thrashing.

They held me down and injected me with blue fluid. The burn of freezing liquid ran through my veins until every part of me stopped thrashing. Every limb fell limp.

They started cutting.

From my navel, upwards, towards my ribs. I imagined the sound of tearing flesh, the feeling of trickling blood. But I felt nothing and heard only muffled sounds.

And then a voice.

The Elite who held the scalpel turned as still as me.

And that’s when I saw the boy with black hair and gray eyes, holding a syringe into the Elite’s neck, pressing the blue liquid into the Elite’s veins.

I knew that man would come for Pierce after he rescued me. The one with the deep, grainy voice.

I emerge from the cave and the man looks at me, smiles, throws his cigarette butt onto the ground. “So we meet again, little mouse.”

“Take me to Pierce.”

He points his laser gun at my head. “I thought you’d never ask.”

The Elite has blue eyes like my grandfather. But the bunker is not a place for fond memories of story times and rocking chairs. The ceiling is dripping oil and the walls smell like mold. The only source of light comes from the last room at the end of the hall.

“Your boyfriend is in there,” the Elite says.

I hold my breath against the putrid stench and step into the light. He keeps his gun at my head.

I stop moving like I have freezing liquid in my veins again. But this time Pierce won’t be able to save me, to make my heart start again and make my limbs move. Because Pierce is crumpled on the floor in the corner of the room, and he is barely human. He is barely alive.

Where his strong jaw used to define his face, there is machinery. Metal and wires. His eyes are red lights of injustice. He is not my Pierce, the boy I spent hours with in the cave. He is all that is left of humanity. All that my kind stands for in the end.

And yet he is still beautiful to me. He is still mine, somehow. I place my hands on his face and guide his eyes to mine. I want to find the words to bridge the impossible gap between us. I want to tell him that nothing the Elite could ever do to us would change the way I feel.

But I can’t seem to do anything but cry.

He kisses my forehead with cold steel lips. “Anya,” he says with a mechanical voice. “You promised you would run.”

I stroke his metal cheek, look into his red eyes. “I did run.” I kiss him again. “I ran to the only home I’ve ever wanted.”

Surviving the Post-Downton Abbey Blues (spoiler alert)

© Bas Sijpkes

© Bas Sijpkes, Flickr

Well, y’all, I’m in mourning. Another season of Downton Abbey has come and gone entirely too fast. Sunday nights are back to normal and I’m definitely feeling a void. Who’s moving in on Mary? Can Edith really keep her love child a secret? Are Anna and Bates finding their way back to wedded bliss? I need to KNOW! My one consolation is my Twitter updates. Thanks to @DowntonAbbey, I’m in the know about what’s cooking in the kitchens, who’s visiting the manor, and what my friends across the pond (both upstairs and downstairs) are doing from day to day.

Oh, and then there’s Instagram—@downtonabbey_official posts SO many good candid, behind-the-scenes shots. The only thing that could make me love the DA crew more is seeing their camaraderie on set, before the camera ever starts rolling. There’s something, too, about the actors in their period costumes offscreen that makes it even dreamier.

By the way, if you’re a fabric freak like I am, and you haven’t seen Kathy Hall’s Downton Abbey collection, prepare yourself (and your wallet): www.hawthornethreads.com/fabric/designer/kathy_hall/downton_abbey. Pst! There are themes inspired by the leading ladies!! Oh man, so many projects, so little time.

And for my fellow booknerdigans: My sister-in-law (and DA watch-party buddy) pointed me to the Downton Abbey inspired booklist. There are a few of them floating around, but I really liked these Huffington Post suggestions: www.huffingtonpost.com/zola-books-/what-to-read-while-waitin_1_b_4537255.html. The only one on the list I’ve read is Ian McEwan’s Atonement, which I loved. It’s so haunting and melancholy and . . . well, I’ll save the book review for another post.

I won’t prolong the agony by giving you a countdown until Season 5 begins, but hopefully we’ll muddle through the long months together stalking our DA Twitter and Instagram feeds, turning the pages of a DA-inspired novel, or picking out quilting squares for a DA-worthy sewing project. What about you? How are you getting your Downton Abbey fix in the meantime?

-Paige