Raimond trailed Prince Draven through crowded French Quarter streets, pausing at each bar’s doorway to marvel at people celebrating in every available corner. He read the street signs as they walked. “Bienville?”
“Constructed the first levees.” Draven shook his head. “Woefully inadequate mounds of dirt.”
“We’re on Customhouse Street.”
Raimond pointed up at a shiny sign.
“I wish they would stop changing street names. Iberville was a naval hero and explorer.” Draven strode up to glass doors and allowed tuxedo-clad men to sweep them open. “Died of yellow fever, or so they say.”
Raimond shook a doorman’s hand and grinned at the infusion of knowledge he gained. “This building is elegant. The total opposite of our last stop.”
“It’s quite the jewel, though not my favorite hotel.” Draven walked directly toward a spinning red and white pole and sat down in an empty chair. “I have a standing appointment and a private barber—best in town. I suggest you have a shave as well. Lot’s more people to meet before sunrise.”
“Isn’t tonight the—”
“Longest night of the year?” Draven winked and leaned back while a barber draped his neck in steaming towels. “We’ll need every minute.”
Within the hour both men passed through the back of the hotel and into a residential alley.
“The shop on the corner belongs to a painter and metal sculptor.” Draven undid a button on his shirt. “It can get a bit warm in his studio, but the cloves—”
“I smell them from here.” Raimond walked straight through the soaring French doors, inhaling the rich scent with deep breaths. “Heavenly.”
Draven admired the glorious jumble of art and treasure while Raimond negotiated a sale and filled his pockets with hand-rolled cigarettes. He paid for another carton to be picked up later. “And who is this little beauty?” Raimond knelt and offered his hand to a grey dog.
“That’s Faith,” the artist answered. “She keeps me company when I burn the midnight oil.”
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Faith.” Raimond scratched her ears and she crawled into his arms.
“Faith doesn’t warm up to everyone. Sir, you must be someone special.”
Blessed Solstice to all…
Excerpt from Raimond, Chapter 28…The Hall of Villains
“I’m home!” Love closed the front door behind her and shrugged off her school backpack and coat, then she jumped in fright as she noticed her parents standing five feet away, staring at her. “God, you scared me,” she said, adjusting her volume.
“Hello, Love,” her mother said, a worried frown clouding her usually perfect face.
“Hello, Love,” her dad said, looking equally worried. “We have some news.”
“Okay,” Love said. “Give me a sec, I need to plug in my phone; it ran out of battery.”
“This can’t wait. Let’s sit down,” her mom said, and she motioned to the adjacent sitting room.
“Oh-kaay…” Love had no idea what this was about, but she knew it was going to be bad from her parents’ expressions. She sat down in the closest armchair. “Alright. What’s up?”
Her parents sat in a lounge chair opposite of her. Her mom took a deep breath and said, “Love, honey … we’re moving.”
Love just stared at them, trying to determine if she really heard what she thought she’d heard.
“We’re so sorry about what this will do to you,” her dad started to say, and was joined with similar apologetic words by her mom, until Love finally found her voice.
“We’re moving out of Woodstock?”
Her mom frowned in anticipation of dropping possibly the most unwelcome news. “Darling, we’re moving out of the country.”
“Are you kidding me!” Love almost yelled in happiness. “This is the best news! I hate my life here. I hate my school. And the country currently sucks too. I’d rather be anywhere else. Anywhere!”
Again her parents exchanged a look. “You hate your life?” her mom asked.
Love shifted in her chair. “I mean, it’s not like I hate you guys … just my school and its stupid backwards mentality. I told the counselor I wanted to be an engineer and he said I should try a career more geared towards women. What the hell? And I also hate the idea that any one of my ignorant classmates could be a potential shooter and he could just walk into a store and buy whatever weapons he wanted, and nothing is being done about it. Oh, and I hate the stupid soda machine that never works. High school sucks.”
“That’s all … very …” her mom started to say, but didn’t finish.
“Awful, yeah. I know. So … moving is the best news I’ve heard all day. Where are we going? Why are we moving?”
Love could tell her parents were ill at ease; they were shifty-eyed and looking suspicious. They didn’t answer right away, so she became apprehensive. After another few seconds of silence she all but shouted, “What’s going on, guys?”
“Hold on, sweetheart,” her mom said. “This is very difficult for us to say. We haven’t been honest with you about our … parentage.”
Her dad tried to explain. “Our family … which we’ve always said were dead, they’re now really dead, and we have to go back home to take care of … it.”
“What!” Love asked, totally confused. “Who’s dead? Who’s not dead? Take care of what?” She flipped her hand palm up in sign of questioning. “Can you be any more cryptic? Please explain.”
Her mom looked at her dad, then back at Love. “Okay, we’ll tell you everything. It might be very upsetting to hear,” she warned.
“I don’t care. Just tell me.”
Her mom took a deep breath. “First of all, we are … not human. We are fae. Faeries.”
Love’s jaw dropped. No words came out, so her mom continued. “We came from another place, the faerie world, where we lived under the rule of our father …”
“Did you say faeries??”
“Yes. And I know it might be hard to substantiate that claim without some form of proof, so look.”
Her parents held an open palm toward the other and held them a few inches apart. Before Love’s very eyes, a ball of light appeared between their hands. They held it there for a few seconds, then, with a quick burst of light, it vanished.
Love’s jaw dropped. “What was that?”
“Our magic,” her mother said. “It works much better back in our world.”
There was a moment of silence while Love’s brain tried to make sense of what was happening. It sounded crazy, but it also seemed very true. And it was … kind of exciting. Actually, really exciting. Her favorite comic book had always been one about faeries—she had been captivated by them for years and years. And to learn that faeries were real? That there really was a magical faerie world … and her family was going back to it?!
Her mom looked anxious. “We know this might be difficult for you to grasp—”
“That’s where we’re moving to? The faerie world?” Despite her parents’ apprehension, Love could not contain the excitement in her voice.
“Yes,” her dad answered. “We just learned that our father passed away. He wasn’t a nice person, which is why we never wanted to talk about him and pretended he was dead, and why we were so eager to leave our home and live here amongst humans. But … he was the ruler of our kind back home, and now that he’s gone, we have to go back to take care of our family and our people.”
“Your father was a ruler?” Love asked. “You mean like … a king?”
Her dad nodded. “Yes, a king—”
“Oh my God.” They were royalty.
“—and now that he’s gone, we have to go back to take our place in the realm,” he finished.
“So you get to be king now?” Was she going to be a princess?
Her parents exchanged a worried look again. “Maybe,” her dad said. “Maybe I’ll just be a prince, and Aurelia will be the queen. We don’t know yet.”
She looked at her mom, Aurelia, who closed her eyes; and before Love could form a question in her head, her dad spoke again.
“This might be a little disturbing to you,” he warned, “but I’ll just go ahead and say it. Your mother and I are twins, firstborns of our royal parents, King Razel and Queen Ashelia. We hated the royal world and our father’s tyrannical rule. We always relied on each other for strength; we were inseparable. After our mother passed away, our father only got worse; he forced Aurelia to marry an awful prince of another kingdom without caring that he was a known sadist; so Aurelia fled the night before the wedding. In his arrogance our father never expected her breach of duty and obedience, so it was easy for her to escape. I went looking for her and a month later found her here, in the human world. We stayed hiding, and we never meant to go back. But as of this morning, we’re both feeling a strong magic pulling us back home, as though something inside us has been activated with the passing of our father. It seems we can’t escape our blood.”
“I know this is a lot to handle, my dear,” her mom said. “Ash and I never meant to return, and we thought it would be extremely dangerous for you, so we never wanted to tell you. But we didn’t know about this magic that would call us back home.”
“Oh God!!” Love didn’t know what to think. She could handle having a tyrannous grandfather in a magical kingdom that she’d never been told existed before … but her parents, twins? This was some incestuous Lannister shit. Oh God. She was afraid she might puke. “You … is this normal in the faerie world? Brother and sister … relations?” Gross.
Her parents looked at each other and immediately started talking at the same time.
“No! It’s not like that—”
“We’re not lovers, no!”
“We love each other, but not like that.”
“We’re just best friends …”
“Wait, what?” Love was confused. “But you sleep in the same bed,” she pointed out.
“We’ve slept in the same bed since we were born, honey,” her mom said. “We’re like two halves of one soul, and we sometimes joke we’re the same person in two bodies, male and female … but that doesn’t mean we’re involved romantically.” She laughed awkwardly.
“But then … how did you have …” me, Love trailed off and couldn’t finish her question. Because all of a sudden a lot of little things that she’d noticed or questioned about her life, but always mostly ignored, started popping up in her head. First and foremost was that her parents were impossibly beautiful and she looked nothing like them. They both had fine blond hair that matched their bright golden eyes, and yet somehow had managed to produce a daughter with brown hair and brown eyes and average looks.
“You’re not my father?” Love asked, looking at the man that she called her dad. She was starting to question who her real father might be when her mom spoke.
“Our dear daughter,” Aurelia said with a deep sigh, “Ash and I are not your birth parents.”
“Whaaat …” Love started. She took a minute to let that sink in. So many signs pointed to it, yet it wouldn’t sink in. She was adopted? She knew a girl who was adopted. That girl knew she was adopted. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Her parents looked very uncomfortable and took a few moments to form an answer. Finally her mom spoke.
“We’re faeries, dear. I didn’t know what to do when I found you. You see, your birth mother—I was hiding in this world, living in the woods, learning to live on my own, when I heard a human shuffling around. I could tell it was a woman, but she didn’t say a word; she left as quickly as she came in, got in a car and drove off. I didn’t follow her; I didn’t think much of the odd, brief visit, until some short time later I heard a baby’s cry! I just rushed to the noise and found the most angelic thing I’d ever seen. I picked you up and decided to keep you safe. I joined human civilization for the first time. I stole infant formula to feed you and clothes to dress you and keep you warm. I left my crumbly shack in the woods and moved into an apartment in this small town. By the time Ash found me and told me I wasn’t supposed to just keep an abandoned baby, that I should’ve taken you to the human police, I loved you more than I could ever describe, and I couldn’t give you up. I had named you Love.”
“So naturally I stayed here with my sister, and we raised you together,” her dad concluded.
“So let me get this straight,” Love said. “You’re faeries, you can do magic, you’re royalty, and we have to go back to your faerie world for you to rule now that your father is dead?”
“Yes, Love, that is correct,” her mom said.
“But I’m just … a human someone abandoned in the woods?”
“Well, yes; but you’re not just any human; you’re our daughter and we love you so much—” her mother replied, not seeing the problem here.
Love burst into tears. “That is just the worst news ever!” And she ran up the stairs to hide in her room.
A wiry man crossed the avenue and limped under City Park’s arched gate to admire fresh holly wreaths. Gravel crunched under his pointy black boots. “This could be fun.” He raked one hand through the platinum streak at his temple and plucked a glittery ornament from the winding path. “Hard to believe so many rotten children don’t believe I exist.” Behind him, impending sunset glowed through tangled boughs and draped Spanish moss. “In exactly one week, their nightmares will come true.” He crushed the cardboard Papa Noël in his fist. “Yessss…positively jolly fun.”
“Halt, beast!” Cloaked in a flowing sapphire habit, the figure emerged from an ancient grove. She strode through the cathedral of sweeping oaks and blocked his progress. “Not in my city, sir.”
“And who’s going to stop me? You?” The man snickered and offered his bony hand in friendship. “I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure.”
“I’m Charmaine Roussel.” She flicked her gaze to his mock greeting and then locked her eyes with his. “I’m aware of what you are and you know bloody well I’m not alone.”
“Do I?” The man turned and doubled over with laughter. “So, your back-up appears to be a nurse who has clearly never held a pistol before and a crone waving her crooked stick. With all due respect, Mademoiselle Charmaine…” He struggled to compose himself. “You don’t stand a chance.”
“Shoot it.” Charmaine glanced at the trembling nurse. He might look like a normal man, but it’s a disguise. “Shoot now!”
The first bullet flew wide but the next two rounds blasted through the man’s ribs. He dropped to one knee as the swamp around them swallowed the sharp noise and spat back pulsating silence.
“Leave now and I’ll spare your life.” Charmaine gritted her teeth. “You’ve been banned from this city for a century.”
“Oh, the mighty New Orleans…how she has fallen.” The man shrugged a heavy cloak off his hunched shoulders. His fingers plunged into the wound, ripped out the bullet and tossed it into the underbrush. “Seven years of mourning and seven years of weakness after an incompetent fool killed your Duke. Once a coward, always a—”
The elderly woman wailed, stood straight and wielded her cane like a sword, blasting a ball of blue fire that ripped the man from the ground. He slammed back down in a smoldering fractured heap.
Charmaine crossed her arms with precision. “You were saying?”
The groan that escaped his twitching lips descended into a growl as black hair twisted into horns. For a few seconds, the misshapen head of an animal loomed in blue-grey smoke. “Savior of the soldiers, defender of the innocent, care-giver to the hopeless…” A human face fought back while the figure staggered. His eyes glowed a crimson hue only found in the deepest embers of the devil’s fireplace. “I think your Duke was a fraud.”
“Demon!” The nurse tossed her gun aside and grabbed the old woman’s cane, waving it at the beast’s face as if stoking the flames in his skull. “Show yourself!”
Invisible ripples of power exploded through the emerald canopy while the sky beyond plummeted into deep purple. At the moment of sunset, a vampire with tasseled gloves stepped from behind a massive tree trunk and fired her crossbow. A solid gold bolt lodged in the man’s neck. His body twisted and swelled until the fabric of his clothes ripped free revealing the coarse fur of a demented goat. He pawed one cloven hoof and bared warped fangs before lunging at his attackers.
Charmaine took two steps, reached under her habit and drove a swirled blade into the beast’s heart with her final stride. Time flickered and the ground thundered as the creature collapsed to the muddy pebbles, swirling his split viper’s tongue around her ankles.
Four women—a nun, a nurse, a witch and a vampire—stood over the writhing body. In unison, they grabbed the blade’s carved hilt and twisted until the demon disintegrated.
“I’ll take back the Duke’s knife.” Charmaine plucked her weapon from the ash. “Bonne nuit, Monsieur Krampus.”
If you enjoyed this Holiday Lagniappe from theMonsters & AngelsRealm, catch up on the saga...
Most writers choose the endings to their stories . . . most writers are not Weavers.
Laney Holden is a freshman at Madison College whose life goes from normal to paranormal in a matter of seconds. When the antagonist in the book she’s writing shoves her down the stairs at the subway station, she learns she is a Weaver. Weavers bridge the narrow gap between fantasy and reality, bringing their words to life.
Laney soon meets William whom she also suspects is a character from her book—one she’s had a mad crush on since her pen hit the paper. But he’s in danger as her antagonist reveals a whole different ending planned for Laney’s book that involves killing William. Laney must use her writing to save the people closest to her by weaving the most difficult words she will ever write.
THE WEAVER is the first installment of The Weaver trilogy. It is an NA paranormal romance set in a small town on the north shore of Boston. It will leave you wanting more…
~a silly story about a great kingdom and the power of love~ aka: another tale of Luke and Laura
by Elizabeth L. Lemons
WORDS TO USE: Avalon lake crossbow comrade corruption enfold disgraceful grass orphan list
Once upon a time, in a groovy era filled with free love and flower power, Woodstock and presidential corruption, there existed a tiny yet lovely island known as Avalon. Surrounded by shining blue lake waters, this petite fantasy island was known by most households during the 1970’s due to the quotable declarations of a small man on television as he exclaimed, “The plane, the plane!” Anyway, known in the royal history books as “the age of Court Charles”, here on this wee island great meetings were held in the Mouse Castle, where the King’s knights would sit around a custom-created round table made entirely of driftwood and beaver boards. This particular legendary table had been built by one of the local area river rats’ finest artisans whose name was Lucky Charles. To commemorate its creator’s name, the legendary Court Charles Round Table gatherings were born. This fine table was a representation of the King’s intent to bar corruption as had been witnessed in previous disgraceful reigns. The extraordinary table’s design allowed that no one sat at the head of the table, that no one creature was head over another, that each voice garnered equal merit, and even the King himself included his own decisions to be discussed and voted on by his respected rodent Knights that sat round in advisement. This new-fangled practice allowed justice and fair treatment to all the mice of the land. The desire for a better kind of kingdom where every teeny voice could be heard was the brainstorm of the goodly mouse-king known as King Robert Scorpio.
The king was a jolly good and just mouse and was, (as an older, ordinary looking mouse-man with both idealistic and romantic plans), still filled with unfulfilled personal longing. King Robert had his visionary crossbow hairs focused on wooing and marrying the fairest maiden mouse in all of Avalon. When he found her, she was both wise and beautiful, with the softest of grey fur and a comely tail. Her name was Laura Vere. Laura Vere’s tiny mousine countenance was like the golden sun, her smile filled all the good people of Avalon with hope and cheer in the days that were plagued by war, tie-dyed clothing, music by Jimi, Janice and Jim, and bra-burning. Still, Lady Mouse Laura Vere knew a good opportunity for stability and loads of mouse munchies when she saw them, and so, despite the difference in their ages, and lack of any physical attraction, she consented to marry good King Robert. She did truly admire him, and they enjoyed the dancing and the music of the castle, as well as squirrel-back riding on warm days. They had fun and laughter and often exchanged wit and private ponderances, but these alone moments were not the kind of romantic escapades that Laura Vere had dreamed of as a young mousey girl.
It didn’t take very long before the Queen’s days in Court began to grow long, they became a total bore, and without any challenge whatsoever. Being Queen allowed Laura Vere and her maidenly mice maidens lots of room to roam, to venture across the island with complete freedom. It was on one of these daytime excursions that Queen Laura Vere took notice of a very charming and handsome knight. Luckily, on that day, longing for some Queenly solitude, she had decided to leave the ladies behind ashore for a quick solitary row for a bit of quiet. The mouse maidens constantly chattered too much and would eat all the cheeses that Cook had provided in the basket way before lunchtime. Queen Laura Vere found their unladylike greediness to be quite appalling, so on this day, she set them and a few provisions on the bank and paddled away. Her solitary adventure began as a fine sunny afternoon, filled with hopes of tranquility, until a westerly wind picked up suddenly, as a summer storm blew in. Laura Vere became frightened as she had floated a bit too far away from dry land and her leaf was teetering in the wavy water. She panicked. Just when she thought she might burst into mousey tears, Sir Luke-alot paddled up gallantly beside her on a large piece of whitish driftwood. Wearing a long forest green morning coat, he reached for her teeny ivory lace-shrouded mouse paw and helped her board his vessel. Sir Luke-alot had saved Queen Laura Vere!
“Queeeeeeeee-nie!” He said, much too familiarly. He held her delicate paw, as he simultaneously and suggestively used his masculine body to closely enfold her as he pretended to steady her stepping aboard.
She trusted him implicitly, because Laura Vere had heard a great many complimentary words spoken by King Robert in regards to his own admiration of this Knight. She knew Sir Luke-alot was her husband’s closest comrade and confidante as he performed his honor-sworn duties. Still, Sir Luke-alot was also known by all the ladies of the kingdom to be a bit of a rogue with a sullied, “ladies-man “reputation. Laura Vere generously allowed a coy smile at him as she said a silent goodbye to her rocking leaf. She decided to be lenient with him, for surely, he couldn’t help his lack of proper manners as her husband had told her that he was an orphan, and could call no other place other than this kingdom his home. That didn’t mean he was not beguiling. He was and he knew it, scoundrel or not. Overly-confident, he certainly was, but Laura Vere fell for it all… the looks, the laughter, the twinkle in his itty bitty mousey black eyes. And he smelled so good!
As Queen Laura Vere made herself comfortable upon the curved inside of his driftwood boat, she laid back in an enticing fashion as she watched him first roll and then smoke some grass with his right paw while his left paw guided them along in the lake. Sir Luke-alot was famous, seriously, he was Mouseketeer famous. Everyone knew him, everyone loved him. He was smart, quick, knew countless ways to avoid traps, water poisons, cats, and he could wield a thorn sword better than any other mouse in the land. He feared nothing and no one. It was this complete confidence that was Lady Laura Vere’s undoing.
Nature, of course, followed its destined course (as you knew it would!), and soon, the unexpected afternoon outing became a looked-forward-to daily pleasure that Lady Laura Vere and Sir Luke-alot partook of in great secrecy and lustful happiness. They were made for each other and Luke-alot (sadly) was everything that poor old King Robert was not. And you also know as well, that, now, just as it was then, there were sneaky spy rats (who were, for some unknown reason, called “Cassadines”) hiding everywhere on the riverbanks and amongst the tall weeds just waiting to uncover a tainted tidbit to tarnish the good Queen’s image and her honored place next to the King. Whether the motivation was just plain devilment or jealousy, a sordid rodent or two always seemed covetous of what someone else had, and Queen Laura Vere was blessed with all the riches of the kingdom and now, love. Soon, she and her secret lover were revealed!
Without going into all the sordid details of this long-tale extramarital affair, it is needless to say that King Robert felt betrayed when he was given the shocking news. It was quite a harsh blow of deception that brought him to his trembling old mousine knees. Yet, he could find no real fault with his beloved and kind Laura Vere. Being a wise old King, he contrived in his mousy mind a list of all the good qualities and traits that he admired about his gentle Queen and he determined in his heart that she ably fulfilled all her wifely and courtly duties to him but one, and it saddened him greatly that he was not physically able to fulfill hers. He knew he was too old to maintain her physical happiness and so he forgave her and also Sir Luke-alot. In fact, he felt a great deal of relief after the initial embarrassment of it all. Sir Luke-alot had assumed the role of lover, thereby letting the King off the hook, so to speak. But forever and ever, the betrayal and story of Sir Luke-alot and Queen Laura Vere and their tumultuous tryst would be told throughout history. King Robert actually felt quite proud of himself for being so gracious and accommodating.
And so, on a morning soon after the revelation of the affair, when interviewed by the daily newspaper, aka The Gouda Gazette, the good King seemed comfortable in trying to put the sordid incident completely behind him as he commented, “What’s done is done. I really don’t want to talk about it, actually, I’m pretty tired. Disappointments happen from time to time, but the truth is, you know… the kingdom will persevere…I’ve simply just had a bad knight.”
“I’ll have you know I don’t normally show up to luncheons wearing designer sequins carrying a toolbox.” The woman wasn’t just wearing designer sequins and carrying a toolbox, her hair was frazzled and sticking about in all directions. There was definitely glitter in it too.
”Oh?” I asked, uncertain. I didn’t know who this woman was or what she had wanted but I had been sitting at the Sammy’s Sammiches minding my own business when this woman had plopped down across from me.
“May I?” The woman held the toolbox over the table where my notebook and cellphone were sitting.
I moved most of my stuff out of the way just in time for her to drop the toolbox loudly on the table top. The only casualty was my half-eaten sandwich. The other patrons of the sandwich shop looked over, some annoyed, some concerned. I tried to form some kind of verbal protest but the woman opened the toolbox and pulled out a stack of loose papers. Was she using a heavy tool box for a briefcase? All things considered I guess that wasn’t the strangest thing.
The woman eyed the papers like she couldn’t quite make out what they said and then leaned over the table at me conspiratorially. “How about forty acres?”
“Mars?” She said this as if it were obvious.
“What are you, fifty?”
I squinted at her, confused. “Twenty-three.”
“My apologies, it’s hard to tell these days. You’re a young lady, you are a lady right? Last time I assumed I misgendered someone and they were not happy. I felt terrible about it for days, I’m absolutely determined to never do it again.”
I just nodded. “You’re right… this time.” Was this woman for real?
“I know forty acres on that dustball of a planet doesn’t sound all that great, but listen, terraforming is only a decade away, what costs you pennies on the dollar today will get you a thousand times the investment.”
“Wait a second. Are you trying to sell me real estate on Mars?”
“It’s what we agreed to!”
“Uh, I didn’t agree to anything.”
“Look, I know you might be having second thoughts–”
“I’m not having second thoughts, I haven’t even had first thoughts. I’m just sitting here trying to enjoy a sandwich between my classes and you turned it into a pancake with your toolbox.” I pointed to the pitiful thing, half-eaten and half-squished.
The woman peered around the toolbox and frowned. “Why ever would you put your sandwich under a toolbox?”
“That’s…oh my god.” I ran my hand across my face and tried to find an escape route without being obvious about it.
“Listen here Miss Cargill–”
“Thomas,” I said absently and regretted it the second I did.
“My last name is not Cargill; it’s Thomas. Dany Thomas.” What was I doing?! Run away you fool! Abort! Abort!
“Are you sure?” She looked mildly alarmed.
I pointed to the student ID clipped to my collar.
“Oh my.” The woman leaned back and stared at me like she we seeing me for the first time. “You’re not the person I’m supposed to meet.”
“No…shit,” I said with heavy sarcasm. “You owe me a new sandwich.”
“How should I know?”
“I was supposed to meet them here.”
I lifted my hands in a shrug and then waved my open palms in a half-circle to indicate the rest of the sandwich shop.
“Oh, this is bad! I’ll lose my commission over this!”
“Listen, don’t worry about it. I won’t tell anyone.” Lies! I’m telling everyone this bonkers story!
“Oh no, you don’t understand. It was certain, for sure, the contract is right here! It’s supposed to be signed today! If I don’t have a signature and a buyer, I’m toast! I’ll be banished to live on Mercury! Oh, what a world! The worst. No margaritas anywhere!” She genuinely looked on the verge of tears.
“Are you okay? Humans have only been to the moon. No one is going to send you to Mars, much less Mercury.”
“Oh you poor human girl, you don’t get it do you?”
“I’m obviously not getting something, no, so please enlighten me.” Why? Why did I keep encouraging her?
The woman wiped at a nonexistent tear and seemed disappointed there was nothing there except specks of glitter. “I’m from a small backwater planet about fourteen light years from here. This was supposed to be my big break into interplanetary real estate. This pilot program was going to boost our economy and everyone in my family was going to be able to afford all the finest luxuries.”
I was nodding encouragingly until the entire thing percolated through my sleep deprived, over studied, hyper caffeinated brain. “What?” I said stupidly.
“You wouldn’t know it, I think it shows up as being about fourteen light years from here on your star maps.”
“You’re an alien?”
“For better or worse.”
This lady was either on the fast train to crazy town or already there. Or she was telling the truth. She seemed legitimately upset that I wasn’t the person she was supposed to meet. I honestly didn’t know which direction I wanted to believe.
“Alright,” I said and crossed my arms across my chest. “Assuming that you’re telling me the truth. How do I know that I’m actually going to get the forty acres after I pay?”
I think she got glitter in her eyes while wiping at invisible tears because suddenly they were sparkling. “You’re interested?”
“Oh! Oh! Oh!” The lady started frantically going through her toolbox. “I’ll have to amend the contract but that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“First, what’s your name?”
“Your name is Unpronounceable?”
“Oh! No! I mean, yes, but when I’m here I go by Chuck.”
“Chuck. Okay, Chuck, my last question…”
“How do you know you’ll get the forty acres?”
Chuck readjusted herself and a new demeanor took over her posture. She was cool, confident, and sparkly in her designer sequins.
“I am not of this world. However in two years’ time the Galactic First Contact Association will be contacting your world and providing technological advancements, assistance, and personnel. Your species has been selected for a pilot program to determine if near-space faring species can be contacted and enriched without destroying themselves.”
“It is isn’t it? I’ve seen the reports, even if you do destroy yourselves the chance that another sentient species will rise on your planet is at nearly 88%! Those are great odds.” Chuck didn’t seem to realize that wasn’t encouraging at all.
“So in two years we get contacted and then we get to go to Mars?”
“Yes! We give you the supplies and provide transport and a 25 hour help desk!”
“A Martian day is almost an hour longer!”
My phone beeped and I pressed my finger to the near-silent alarm. It was almost time to head back to class. I could miss one class of Special Topics in Anthropological Literature. I could probably write a whole essay about what I was experiencing right now. If it was real.
“Now, since you are being introduced to this fresh, I don’t want to force you into a contract you know nothing about. May I see your cellular device?”
I clutched my phone close to my chest and frowned at her. “Why?”
“I need to call in a transport.”
I reluctantly handed over my phone and she fussed with it for a moment before awkwardly holding it up to her ear.
“Karen! I need a transport from my location to the prospective acreage. Yes. Yes. That too. New inductee! Byeeee!” Chuck handed me the phone back and smiled happily.
“So…where are we going?”
I didn’t have a second to question that idea because the air around us started to glimmer and a feeling of warmth replaced the cool sandwich shop AC. The chair under me disappeared and I fell to the floor. But not the floor of the sandwich shop, the floor of a UFO.
Chuck appeared next to me and lifted me up onto my feet. “Apologies, our gravity is heavier than yours.” Once I got my feet under me and stable enough I got a good look at the rest of the room. A wide window looked out on Earth and in the distance I saw a sliver of the moon. Other than the window, the room didn’t have many other features. There was a wide doorway that led into a hallway and a single console in the middle of the room.
Chuck tapped the floor with her foot and the area opened up. A couch lifted up and Chuck pushed me to a seat.
Okay, up till now, I had just been playing along, looking for a good story, and not really taking Chuck’s antics seriously. But I was sitting on a purple couch IN A UFO! I was looking at the southern hemisphere of the Earth. Australia and New Zealand took up the length of the window.
“Ready to see your new plot of land on Mars?” Chuck asked.
I just nodded, at a loss for words.
Chuck took up a position in front of the window and tapped her foot on the floor again. A control panel lifted out of the floor and Chuck tapped happily on the buttons. “Here’s hoping I don’t bring this back to Karen dented!”
“Dented?” I asked. The view out the window shifted as the ship turned away from Earth. I felt no movement or momentum. The only indication that we were moving coming from the track of stars across the viewer as the ship turned. The view went white and colors streaked as the ship zoomed forwards. In seconds we were no longer in orbit around Earth. The rust red surface of Mars filled the window and I gasped again. The pictures I had seen of Earth and Mars from space did nothing to compare to seeing them with my own eyes. I gingerly got up off the couch and went to stand next to Chuck at the window.
“Amazing isn’t it?” Chuck asked.
“I can’t believe it.”
“Seeing is believing!”
Chuck tapped a sequence into the console in front of her and the ship began to descend. I watched with amazement as the Martian landscape filled the viewer and Chuck landed the ship on a flat, rocky bit of terrain. In the distance, huge mountains broke up the horizon line.
Chuck led me further into the ship and at an airlock had me pull on an overlarge EVA suit. I felt like I was wearing a tent. “Why is this so big?”
“This is the suit that was made for the previous contract signer. We had their measurements prior to this flight. After we visit your plot of land we’ll have to have to get your measurements.”
“My measurements? What for?”
We have to make sure we get the right habitat for you. We can’t be trying to put a human sized person into a cat sized habitat now can we?”
“Wait, are you selling Martian real estate to cats, too?”
“Well, of course! They have every right to be there just like you!”
The image of a cat habitat with cats in little cat jumpsuits was unavoidable. I snickered.
“Come along!” Chuck had her own suit on, and of course, it had sequins and glitter all over it. We walked out onto the Martian surface. Chuck used a little red laser pointer to show me the area of land I was being sold.
“How much?” I asked after a minute. It was too much to take in. As soon as I got back I was going to skip class and go home and sleep.
“One US dollar an acre.”
“A dollar…an acre? That’s really cheap.”
“Like I said, pennies on the dollar!” She clapped and then wiggled her fingers outwards like she’d just performed a magic trick.
Forty dollars wasn’t that much if this all turned out to be real, but forty dollars was a weeks’ worth of groceries for my poor college ass if it wasn’t.
“What’s the chance this all falls through and I don’t get to come to Mars?”
“Oh! The money is held in escrow until successful integration and introduction is complete.” Chuck seemed really proud of that.
“Wait, why do you even need money? Earth money isn’t going to be good on other planets.”
“On the contrary. The galactic economy is built on the economies of every species in it. If your planet successfully enters the galactic society your Earth money will be incorporated. One of the reasons my people are doing this is because the sooner you get a jump on and initial standard of another planet’s money the more profitable you’ll be.”
“Well that sounds really complicated.”
“It is.” Chuck nodded.
I looked out on the barren desert and tried to imagine it lush with gardens and greenery. “Two years?”
“Two years. I believe they will try to aim for a slow news day on Earth. They have some algorithm they follow but that is not my forte.” Chuck smiled at me through her helmet.
“Alright. Sure. Let’s do it. I can eat ramen for a week.”
“You can come by my apartment and have some if you want.”
“I would enjoy that. I’m very fond of the chicken flavor. It’s very ubiquitous.”
I laughed. “That’s one word for it.”
So I signed the contract and handed over forty dollars. Chuck joined me for a ramen lunch and two years passed with little trouble. There were only a couple times I regretted the purchase. But the ride to Mars alone was worth it. I graduated from university, got a job as a programmer, and found myself sitting in a cubicle typing code for hours on end. Above my monitor I had a postcard with a picture of Mars on it. Chuck had given it to me after I’d signed the contract. I had put a sticker of a cat in a spacesuit on it at some point.
Chuck had never given me an exact timeline of when Earth would be contacted by aliens but I really wanted it to be today. It was slow, the news was just stories about a goat rescue in China, reforestation in Chile after a forest fire, and every baking show was a rerun.
I guess whoever was in charge was listening, because every screen in the office flickered and a message appeared on the screen.
From the creators of the #1 bestseller The Box Under The Bed horror anthology and its #1 bestseller sequel Dark Visions, comes Nightmareland . . .
A horror anthology with 23 stories from 14 authors!
In a rundown shack deep in the woods, a high school girl dares herself to try the strange new drug all the kids are talking about. One injection of “Nightmareland” is all it takes to unleash a person’s biggest fears to them – and then they are on their own! But rebellious Jessica thinks she will prove herself to her peers and parents.
Tremble along as she is strapped into the chair and becomes a lost child on a Florida party island, an investigator looking into a circus’ bizarre side shows, an abused prisoner locked away in a desolate concrete cell, and much more as Jessica faces the most terrifying ride of her young life.
Compiled by USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre, this anthology of horror once again unites the minds and pens of more than a dozen amazing authors.
Nightmareland will send you into the foggy twilight of the eerie and macabre, with heart stopping stories from: