Writing Group: A Different Kind of War

Hello, soldiers and civilians!

Did you ever think the pall of war had missed you? That fighting was something other people got wrapped up in? Well, I’ve got news for you: there are all kinds of war, and someday, you’re bound to be drafted into one of them. That’s why…

This week’s prompt is:

 

A Different Kind of War

 

RULES AND GUIDELINES BELOW!
Make sure you scroll down and read them if you haven’t! You may not be eligible if you don’t!

At a glance, this kind of sounds like it’ll be a grim subject. War, but different. Maybe this time they’re using chemicals or memetic weapons. Maybe they’re still shooting each other to death like they always have, just for a new reason.

There will be submissions which take this more literal route, and they’re going to be great.

But remember: wars aren’t only fought on the battlefield. That’s how we use the term these days, but I think there’s something deeper in it. In fact, if you trace it all the way back to its roots, you find that it gradually shifts from our current “armed conflict” to an archaic “general, violent, uproarious confusion”. More or less. 

And that is something which can happen anywhere.

So when you’re thinking about this submission, instead of just reframing the structure of two factions and some bloody conflict between them, think about the more general tumult that erupts at the center of contention. Think about all the different places it can happen, and what it’s like to be at the center… and then layer over something new.

For instance, maybe we have the foot soldier’s perspective: a cacophonic storm of death all around them, nothing but adrenaline keeping them on their feet. And now apply that perspective to a child in a divorce. Imagine, instead of bullets whizzing by, biting words, one parent to another.

Maybe we have the surveyor’s perspective: watching the formation and the carnage that, unable to see any individual face but watching the bodies fall. And now apply that perspective to a foreman at a factory, watching, day by day, as the machines come in to replace your line workers.

These are smaller, yes, and quite a bit less bloody. But they’re wars all the same.

Find yours, and write about it. Put us at the dizzying center of that general, violent, uproarious confusion, and if we manage to walk away afterward, leave us reeling.

Dismissed, and godspeed.

 

Remember, this is part of our weekly Writing Group stream! Submit a little piece following the rules and guidelines below, and there’s a chance your entry will be read live on stream! In addition, we’ll discuss it for a minute and give you some feedback.

Tune into the stream this Friday at 7:00pm CST to see if you made the cut!

The whole purpose of this is to show off the creativity of the community, while also helping each other to become better writers. Lean into that spirit, and get ready to help each other improve their confidence in their writing, as well as their skill with their craft!

 

Rules and Guidelines

We read at least six stories during each stream, three of which come from the public post, and three of which come from the much smaller private post. Submissions are randomly selected by a bot, but likes on your post will improve your chances of selection, so be sure to share your submission on social media!

  • English only.
  • Prose only, no poetry or lyrics.
  • One submission per participant.
  • Use proper spelling, grammar, and syntax.
  • Submit your entry in a comment on this post.
  • Submissions close at 4:00pm CST each Friday.
  • Include a submission title and an author name (doesn’t have to be your real name).
  • Keep submissions “safe-for-work”; be sparing with sexuality, violence, and profanity.
  • Your piece must be between 250-350 words (you can use this website to see your wordcount).
  • Write something brand new (no re-submitting past entries or stories written for other purposes).
  • Try to focus on making your submission a single meaningful moment rather than an entire story.
  • Please format your submission as “Submission Title” by Author Name and be sure to separate paragraphs. (Example Submission)
  • No fan fiction without explicit permission from the source’s owner, and no spoilers for the source material if you are writing a fan fic.
  • No additional formatting (such as italics or bold text) will be applied to the text of submissions. Symbols or instruction indicating such formatting may render your submission ineligible.
  • You must like and leave a review on two other submissions to be eligible, and your reviews must be at least 50 words long. If you’re submitting to the private post, feel free to leave these reviews on either the private or the public post. The two submissions you like need not be the same as the submissions you review.
  • Use the same e-mail for your posts, reviews, and likes, or you may be rendered ineligible (you may change your username or author name between posts without problem, however).
  • You may submit to either or both the public/private groups if you have access, but if you decide to submit to both, only the private group submission will be eligible.
  • Understand that by submitting here, you are giving us permission to read your submission aloud live on stream and upload public, archived recordings of said stream to our social media platforms. You will always be credited, but only by the author name you supply as per these rules. No other links or attributions are guaranteed.

Comments on this post that aren’t submissions will be deleted, except for replies/reviews left on existing submissions.

 

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Montie
Montie
2 months ago

The Last Paladin
by Montie

“HURRY, THERE COMING,” George shouted.

I run, following him not far behind as I hear them screeching and chittering behind us. I dare not look.

“Come on Sam you ran faster as a child, put some effort in,” George berated.

We could see the gates of Slaughter Guard the last bastion, we had. The army of one thousand I was part of reduced to me and my brother. We were in rearguard when George and I heard the retreat order. “Lucky us,” I thought to myself.

“Sam, drop your sword it’s slowing you down. The legion will catch us,” George yelled.

We heard the crack of cannons as we ran into the gate the door nearly crushing us.

“We made it,” I said “We made it! George”

But, when I looked he wasn’t there. so looked out the gate. There he was, a statue made of soot and ash adorned in his armor. I was alone.

Felicia Taylor
Felicia Taylor
2 months ago

Sleepless War by Lunabear

“All right! Time to prepare for battle!”

Mayhew checked off his inventory one by one.

Stuffies. He looked over his three stuffed plushies: a wolf, dragon, and mini Eldritch creature. Check.

Soothing ambiance. He pressed a button on his small machine, and sounds of a thunderstorm filled the room. Check.

Warm milk. He picked up the full glass from the nightstand and took a small sip. “Ahh,” he exclaimed. Check.

A quick glance at the digital clock showed it was almost midnight.

“You can do this. You WILL do this!” Mayhew encouraged himself.

Clicking off the light, he eased into bed, burrowing underneath the warm blankets and nestling his back against the mountain of pillows behind him.

He released a sigh as the thunderstorm transitioned into an avian forest, trilling bird calls resounding.

He rolled to the right, his white wolf giving him a smile in greeting. Fluffling his pillow, he readjusted himself until his legs were curled inward. He held his position for some time in the hopes that reinforcements would arrive. The bird calls morphed into a heartbeat. Nothing yet.

He turned to his other side with a frustrated growl. He sat and flew his dragon in circles above his head as he imitated soft roars. Launching it to the foot of the bed where it landed with a soft thud, he sighed again and drank the lukewarm milk, returning the glass.

The clock displayed 15 minutes after midnight. A disgruntled noise escaping him, Mayhew covered his head with the blanket, squeezing his eyes shut until it hurt.

“It won’t win this time.”

He relaxed his eyelids and took slow, deep breaths. The oscillating fan conjured peaceful images of wind-swept meadows and dazzling sunshine. Still nothing. He groaned.

Removing the blankets from his head, he moved to his back and rested in a spread eagle formation.

He stared unblinkingly at the green ceiling.

Crackling fire was cancelled out by the twittering of birds outside of his window and morning traffic.

Muted morning light saluted him through his blinds. Mayhew gave another heavy sigh, rising.

“You win THIS round.”

NocteVesania
2 months ago

Letter from the Battlefield
by NocteVesania

My dearest Mirabelle,

How are things there in our little home? I hope our son William, young man of the house, is helping with the harvest. He was never really much on chores. And our sweet little Isabella, how big she must be now! Every night, I pray this war will end in the morning, so I can be in your warm embrace again.

Alas, the war drags on. Our forces are dwindling and reinforcements are nowhere to be found. The encampments are riddled with disease and despair. Other soldiers have resorted to desertion and I would’ve done the same if only I did not have a reason to fight, a family to protect.

The rebel forces stand unyielding. We had the advantage of strength in numbers, as well as in skill with the sword. However, that does not matter anymore. Everyday, our brothers fall fighting valiantly on the battlefield, but our foe still stands. I sometimes question the futility of this battle, especially after seeing that sight.

Yesterday, we stood our ground in the face of our foe. With every swing of our sword, blood streaks the air like a fountain of death. The battle was going in our favor, until he appeared. A man clad only with leather, walked into the thick of the chaos. The rebels see him and start to back off. My brothers and I are stunned for a second, until the man raises his hands. Some of us, the wiser bunch, I should say, start running away. It was too late when the rest of us realized what was happening.

From the man’s hands, a great fire shoots out, setting soldiers alight. Our forces scattered, and the line was broken. I ran for my life and found a trench in which to hide in. There, a comrade lay, his body scorched and his breath failing. I kneeled beside him and he uttered only one word, “Magic.”

I do not know when I can leave this accursed bloodshed, but I will always have hope while I remember your warm smiles.

Love,
Cedric

john gio cabbuag
john gio cabbuag
2 months ago

The tragedy of a young king
Author: Gio

The king is a symbol of power that rules all over its subjects with dignity and poise, he must lead them with the kindness of a Samaritan and the ferocity of a lion. Yet if the king dies how will it be decided who will rule?

At first, you think about his eldest son as most successors of the throne.

But alas, he is young and is unfit to rule. And as he takes the throne of his father, bearing responsibility that is too much of him. Many will see this as an opportunity for their rise in power.

War is like evolution, as a species develops continuously throughout the ages, so
has war evolved.

And this war is a war of power.

First, the uncle, who offers the young king all of his beautiful daughters to be his concubines. A tempting offer yes, but the uncle was not the only one who seeks his crown.

Next, came the bishop, and his offer is a blessing from God. A blessing to have freedom from the sin of greed, for him to be able to claim whatever treasure he wished. All he needs is his approval.

But, not wanting to be undone, the alchemist presents his amazing offer to the young king. The offer was a potion, a potion of immortality. The power that only rivals that of a God, the power to defeat death, and reigns his kingdom for all time.

The young, impressionable king was wise as his father taught but impressionable to those with age. The offers are tempting to him, but his resolve wavers.

The power of lust, envy, and pride. The sins that can destroy a kingdom is presented to the young king, as a token for their hand in the throne.

As the king sits on his throne, thinking about the offers that give them the power to rule, the power of a king, that he was granted. What came next, was greed, and greed leads to their deaths. In an instant, he orders their execution and takes their offers, all that leads name as a tyrant

abyssqueen14
abyssqueen14
2 months ago

The Other Hill
By abyssqueen14

“Food!”

“Food!”

“Food!”

We felt it in the air, our pursuit at a close. There before us lay several long yellow sticks that smelt of food. The membrane was tough and brittle, but after drilling through it we were rewarded with a soft center, perfect for the hill. Together we dismantled our find, ready to move on.

Marching forward, marching forward, marching forward. It was then we saw it…

Another hill.

“Enemy!”

“Danger!”

“Protect!”

We moved forward to alert the others. To our hill. The hill. When did they arrive? How long have they been building up their colony? Surely it was less complex and filled with a weak queen. Of that, we could not be certain and needed to prepare.

When we arrived at the hill we alerted the soldiers. Us foragers cannot fight as well, but we knew that numbers would be needed to overwhelm the other hill. Some stayed behind to protect the queen, the babies, and the colony as a whole. Together we pushed forward.

Following the path we just took we quickly found them. Suddenly, as we arrived enemies spilled out of the mouth they called a hill. They were ready to protect, but we were ready to win. Quickly we advanced into the sea of battle, aiming for their entrance. As we thrust forth, our brethren began to fall alongside us, but we continued to launch into attack.

We felt a new wave of the other crash into our momentum. Their inner protection must have been starting to crumble. We bit, we trampled, we continued to overpower. Finally we broke through to the entrance of this other hill.

—————————————————————————

“Wow there sure are a lot of ants there Kyle.” noticed James, motioning to Kyle.

“Seriously, it’s totally creeping me out. I swear these swarms just randomly pop out of the ground.” replied Kyle, as a look of disgust crept across his face.

“Do you wanna spray them with the hose?” eagerly asked James.

“Hmm. Lets stomp on them first, and then see if any survive for the hose!” suggested Kyle.

“Agreed! Ready when you are!”

RainbowRayBubbles
RainbowRayBubbles
2 months ago

“Fighter Pilot & A Train” by C.W. Spalding

They clutched the straps of their harness. The world was not picturesque when thrown up at them with incredible speed. Unfortunately, there’s no reprieve from the rising landscape. But, for now, other than the burning in their throat and the whine of a failing machine, the world is calm. Peaceful even. A weightlessness gripped the pilot as the nose turned down. Down.

The wind is loudly plastered against their face. The thwop of it is deafening. More so than the thudding of the blood in their skull. The pilot has little hope except the ground should decide to swallow them up. But, the rooftops stand still as the fuselage and all its accompanying parts hurdle down.

Open the way!

No such luck.

The pilot says one final prayer as they smack into the forest below.

A train howls.

The train is walking heavily.

It’s tromping over railroad ties in leaps and bounds. Is it running without breaks? Because, it isn’t slowing, despite the roofs that punctuate the trees ahead. The whistle warns it’s coming, whooping. The high-pitch of its call is deceiving. Such a behemoth should bellow, no? Regardless, the train calls out. It is trying to warn the rooftops how its frame would slam. It would crush anyone unfortunate enough to cross its path.

Again, this time more forceful, it shrieks. Because the destination is in sight and the train is clattering so quickly. Open the way!

Open the way!

Lo and behold.

The way opens.

“Thaaaat’s it!” Joanna chuckled.

Timothy burbled and batted away the next spoon she sent careening towards his mouth. The plastic thing bounded across the floor as he made an unhappy mumble.

“I swear, every day’s a battle with you!”

“Going to war again, honey?” Her wife asked jokingly from the other room.

Joanna grunted. “I can’t wait until he’s on whole foods.”

Then she turned back to baby Timmy who was much more content to munch on his high chair than accept her spoons.

She sighed.

“Here comes the train! Choo! Choo!”

Erin Clare
Erin Clare
2 months ago

“Re-Entry” by IrishPixie

Symon stared through the cave opening to the battle above: a writhing mass of flashing weapons, flapping wings, and flailing limbs. The cries, the clashing, rung in his ears. Anger, pain, and sorrow. But these were not directed at the enemy. They didn’t spring from a desire for justice that was now false. He could see their faces, the features distorted, and creased beyond sanity. Their strikes and blocks held only acceptance that there was no meaning anymore. There was no light, no hope, no belief that this war would end in peace.

“They’ve fallen into despair,” he breathed. Robin turned her head sharply to him, panting. Anna glanced up but didn’t move. He could sense the shadow of the situation threatening to enfold them too. “Don’t you see what this means?” he pleaded. “They don’t want to fight! They’re convinced there’s nothing else they can do, but that’s not the truth!” Fear and certainty swarmed in his chest. “We have to stop it. We can save them- show them there’s another way! All they have to do is stop fighting.”

“Symon, no.” Anna rose to her feet. “That’s crazy. What you’re thinking… It’d never work! You’d get yourself killed!”

“I have to agree with Ann on this one,” Robin added quietly. Her wings shook while her hands busied themselves with bandages. “There are hundreds of soldiers out there and only three of us, not counting Prince Ren.” She nodded her head at the wounded royal.

“So we get them to stop each other- start a chain reaction! It’s more possible now than ever and…” A sharp cry of pain pierced his eardrums. Imageal were falling now. Broken, battered bodies and twisted silhouettes plummeted to the valley below. The boy gazed desperately at Robin. “Someone has to try.”

Slowly, she nodded.

He strapped his helmet back on and faced the sky, wings braced. “Anna, look after Prince Ren. I’ll see you when this is over.” His wings gave the downstroke, and he took off towards the last battle.

Clement Martin
2 months ago

“Focus” by Clement Martin

“Oi! Are you even listening?”

Alain snaps his fingers in my face several times. I push his hand away absent-mindedly, looking at the television on the wall behind him. Nobody reacted when he rose his voice. The hubbub of the pub is still going on.

“No, of course mate,” I finally reply. “Yes I am. You were saying something about… fighting?”

Alain stares at me for a while, I’m not sure why. He sighs wearily, downs his pint and orders another. He starts rolling a cigarette on the counter. I love that smell.

“What I was trying to say, is they’re after us man. The rich, the powerful: it’s a class thing, plain and simple. If we so much as try and organise, they’ve got to do something because there are too many of us. They don’t stand a chance.”

Just like that attacker. There’s no way he’s passing that defence. No sir.

Fingers snapping again.

“Come on! You don’t even like soccer.”

“But I do! I watch all the games!”

“Oh yeah? Who’s most likely to win the champions league, then?”

My mind goes blank. Alain mutters under his breath and takes a swig from his second pint. I check my phone. So many notifications! Boring, boring, boring… oh that’s brilliant. He has to see this.

“…but they’re not alone. They’ve got fingers in all the pies, but especially in the media. Now listen, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, most of these guys are complete crackpots. But it’s a structural thing, with the multiplication of new forms of communication, big companies have to…”

I look at him intently, waiting for an opening. He goes on and on about competition, economics, something about time… He finally pauses to drink and I nod to the picture on my phone. It’s a caricature of the prime minister. It’s hilarious. And it’s political!

Alain smiles thinly, and sighs again. He’s always like that when I’m not listening well enough. I try to humour him.

“So… a war, you said? That’s scary. But what would they fight for, anyway?”

“Attention.”

skeptism
skeptism
2 months ago

“New Normal”
by Skeptism

Maria fiddled with the camera as she waited. She should be used to this now, but the ball of tension in her stomach never did ease. The speakers blared out a loud ring and she clicked accept.

A tired-looking woman greeted her, white hair shining under florescent light. “How are you?”

Maria smiled. “I’m doing well, and you?”

“Tell me about your week.”

Maria looked down at her notes and began reading. “Every morning I have kept my daily regimen of two antivirals in the morning and night.” She could hear the woman clicking.

“I have followed regulations on 30 seconds of 70% alcohol hand washes every hour, as well as Center regulated moisturizer.” Maria looked up to see the reflection of her hands scrubbing on the woman’s glasses.

The woman nodded. “You’ve kept up with standards of cleanliness. It’s the only way we can keep safe.” The woman paused. “Have you had any visits in the past week?”

Maria blinked. “None.” She saw the woman look through more recordings, Maria pacing in her stark white bedroom.

“I see you spend a lot of time in front of your window. Is your screen broken?”

“I just like looking at the trees,” Maria answered. “Seeing how they move in the wind.”

The woman frowned. “You are aware of the recommendations against engagement with environmental triggers, correct?”

“Yes, of course,” Maria replied.

“Then I recommend you spend less time in front of that window and return to your screen.” The woman shook her head. “Soon they’ll relocate everyone in those antiquated houses. Too dangerous.”

Maria nodded. “Of course.”

The woman sighed. “Final check – we noticed a two-second pause in your driveway camera feed three days ago.”

“Of yes,” Maria shook her head. “I’ve been talking to Global this week. Spotty connections.”

“No stable connections, always doing repairs. I’m surprised they’re still contracted.” The woman shook her head. “We will see you next week Maria.”

“See you,” Maria replied. The camera light blinked off.

She kept smiling, a slip of paper clutched in her palm. ‘I love you. See you soon.’

Inky Segno
Inky Segno
2 months ago

“I Think I’d Say Sorry”
By Inky Segno (aka Harmonic Voltage)

They were everywhere, surrounding me from all angles as I stood in the desolate no-man’s land. I should have known the risks when I leapt out, but in blind optimism, I jumped from my comfort and rushed in. All I wanted was to make it better, to do better for myself and for those waiting for me. Now that I look at my hands in desperation, knowing full well what would happen, it didn’t matter much anymore. Instead of fear or anxiety, I felt numb and oddly euphoric. 

My tired and worn mind didn’t question why the soldiers wore many different coloured uniforms. Some were white from head to toe, a few were half red half blue, even completely black. The thing we all had in common was the powdery dirt that caked our uniforms, though it stuck to us for different reasons. 

It was a colourful assortment, and they were all targeting me. But maybe I…wanted this? Craved it, even? 

Their insults were all things I had heard many times before, and I closed my eyes to let them pour over me like rain. It was when they began to speak in voices whose familiarity I couldn’t put my finger on that I felt true pain. Hearing “Why can’t you do anything useful?” from a voice that seemed to replicate my own father’s cut me down, made me bow my head in embarrassment. Someone who had the will to live would have fought back against these taunts, but not I, for I knew it was true. 

Taking in a breath, I put my hand to my throat and swallowed their words with my nonexistent pride. My head was blissfully empty, and I began to count my last seconds. At 163, a sharp pain shot through my stomach. 170, and I was smiling happily. 

If I could say anything, I would say “I’m sorry, please excuse my life.” 

   
“…Yesterday night, 27 year old Luka Trykker was found dead in his apartment. Cause of death was assumed to be suicide by overdose, as an assortment of pills were found around his corpse…”

Michael Case
Michael Case
2 months ago

Nothing but dirt

MDC

The dust from the enemy soldiers finally subsided that summer day. Theisoaso was beginning to see the scale of this battle, the enemy had somehow raised an enormous army overnight. It was thought to be impossible.

“Had the Gods helped them?” Theisoaso thought out loud.

“IMPOSSIBLE! You fool.” The field General yelled, “They must have had more men in reserve then we were led to believe.”

Theisoaso pondered the implications of their own Gods helping the other side for a minute, then he snapped back to the battle, and readied his men.

The charging of both sides quickly pacing themselves to beat the other to the attack point, but not moving so fast that they would exhaust themselves before they even engaged the enemy. The Generals on both sides have been at this war since the beginning, and Theisoaso remembers most of them from when he first took the call to arms decades ago.

Forward they moved, with their swords drawn, glistening in the dry morning sun like thousands of stars adorning the battlefield. Quietly the adrenaline started to rise, silently fear washed from the soldiers faces only to be replaced by honor and duty. They have arrived, they have engaged the enemy.

As Theisoaso raised his sword to strike his opponent. The? Man? The man just broke into pieces.

“What is wrong with you Dionysius?” Aries exclaimed, “can’t you see that these men were about to end the war with this last epic battle?”

“What war? What Battle?” Dionysius drunkenly declared, “You see men and such simple things they do, all I see is dirt.” Dionysius tosses the broken pieces of clay back onto the table and walks away taking another drink from his ever-full cantor of wine.

A distraught Aries stared sadly at the small mound of earth, while on the battlefield a confused Theisoaso stands in the rain wondering what had happened.

Calliope Rannis
Calliope Rannis
2 months ago

To Slay a Titan (The Star Titans universe)
By Calliope Rannis

“FIRE!!!”

A 30 foot long steel spear blasted out of its cradle of magnets. For a frozen second, it gleamed bright in the eyelight as the air screamed around it, before plunging deep into the flesh of the Father. A fountain of black-purple blood erupted from the gap it had found in the titan’s metres thick armour plates, as the ten-legged monstrosity staggered backwards. “It bleeds. IT BLEEDS!” the Commander roared in triumph.

But the Father was not stopped. Ignorant of the blood drenched spear sunken halfway into it, the colossus shifted forwards once more, oversized hooves cracking the ground with every stride. Observing from the Commander’s platform, Silomara could barely turn away from the titan’s domelike head, covered in compound eyes that glittered in the Watcher’s light. Even so many miles away, high in the mountain range, she felt that cold glare.

Her attention was broken by the nearby Commander’s bark down the radio. “The beast still advances! Prepare to fire again, and this time with ALL rails!” Sounds of metallic clacks and whirrs answered as the turrets of Silomara’s design were primed.

“Commander… are you sure we should do this?” she said. His head quickly turned to her, but didn’t reply. “I know you want to believe that this creature is just a monster, a mindless force. I do too.” she continued. “But if this really is the Father, if this really is His true form…how do we go on after this? How do we win a war against the gods themselves?”

“Simple.” he replied. “To slay a Titan, we do what you did – we learn their weaknesses, we innovate upon our weapons, and we make a plan to bring them down.”

“It’s not just-”

“I understand your concern. But far, far too many people have been already lost to this THING and its cursed kin. These are no gods of mine.” He turned away, and into his radio he shouted once more.

In the sky near the mountain ridge, seven great spears shone in the eyelight for a single second, before sinking into dark flesh below.

minergirl778 (aka frogfireFantasy)
minergirl778 (aka frogfireFantasy)
2 months ago

Heels in the Office
By frogfireFantasy (AKA minergirl778)

“ORVILLE!”

“…Greetings, Ms. Mechkowski.”

He hadn’t even looked up from his desk, and he could already tell who it was. He’d recognize her indignant voice and slamming of doors from anywhere. He had no idea what she could be mad about this time, so he kept his eyes on his work. That was, until, a pair of checks was slapped over his documents.

“Care to explain?”

He picked up the two checks, examining them. One was made out to Steffie Mechkowski, the other to a new hire they’d gotten this week. He gave a deadpan look to the woman staring him down across the desk.

“I don’t see the problem here, Ms. Mechkowski.”

She pinched the bridge of her nose and let out a sigh

“This greenhorn is getting paid TWICE what I am. TWICE! I’ve been teaching this kid, He can’t even unjam a typewriter!”

“Ms. Mechkowski, He’s a Yale graduate. He’s an asset to this department.”

“Oh, and I’M NOT!?” She laughed dryly “I’ve been with this company for 3 years and this little fat-head gets to waltz on in here and get paid MORE for doing NOTHING!?”

He stood up from his desk, attempting to defuse the situation “Now, no need to shriek, Miss. This is just how things work in the business world! A woman in your position should be glad to be paid even CLOSE to someone like him. There are women working for Railway that get paid a lot less than you do. It’d be wise for you to know where you stand.”

She stared at him open mouthed. A few sputters and some failed attempts to retort later she let out a breath and steeled her expression. “…Fine. If that’s how this world works… Then I don’t want a part of it.”

“What do you me…”

Her employee ID was tossed on the desk. His eyes widened in disbelief as he turned to face her. He’d never seen such fire in her eyes.

“I quit.”

Jack Crawford
Jack Crawford
2 months ago

The Misson We Carry, by JHC

Jenny squelched into the house on soggy socks. She threw her bag hard into the floor and huffed once, twice. Ellen sighed into her cereal, then offered the rest to her little sister. Jenny grabbed the last clean spoon and settled into a seat.

“So,” Ellen said softly “miss the bus, Jen?”

Jenny nodded, a drip of milk ran down her chin. Her jaw clenched tight, keeping something in.

“If its those girls again,” she paused, no reaction. “We can go back down, me and Daniel, see if it’ll help this time.”

Jenny swallowed, hard. “No.” her voice had a shaky resolve. Ellen felt the old quiet admiration for her tiny sister burn in her chest. The hardiest of their three.

“Jen, I know it can be rough but you’ve got allies.” Ellen thought of Ms Tasker, provider of many free lunches. Jenny pushed her empty bowl away. Ellen saw her eyes harden.

“Well I’ve got an old pair of shoes you can borrow till we get you new ones. They’ll be a bit loose, I was big for my age, but they’ll do.” Jen gave one heavy nod. “Honestly Jenny, let me go down there, please-”

“They’re not the worst, or the last.” she nodded to herself. “Its fine Ell, I’m fine.”

Tears threatened Ellens eyes, she rubbed them, faking a yawn. Still sore from her last shift, the yawn became mouthy and real.

“Dan will bring in the rest of dinner,” Ellen said, pulling on their dads old boots, feeling all the little holes. “Just make sure he doesn’t burn it again.”

Jen snorted and Ellens shoulders sighed. If Jen was laughing then she really was fine. Jen flashed an impish smile and slid something across the table to Ellen. Scuffed and worn, her bike lock key.

“You and those bloody quick fingers.”

The sisters gave a mock salute as Ellen headed off. The old habit had been their dads. They’d called him sir and gave him clumsy salutes. It felt right, he’d left on missions just like they did. Different places, same objective. Keep them safe.

Gregory Hess
Gregory Hess
2 months ago

“Datapoint” by gregovin [Aleph null science fiction universe][Copied from the private group]

To the national institute of Virtual Reality combat research: A description of events

It had started as a split in the playerbase. The True Citizens clan and the Game breakers clan were always in competition. The True Citizens clan is entirely based on role playing, to the extent that metagaming can get you exiled. The Game Breakers clan is entirely based on “playing as yourself” and uses exploits frequently.

Eventually the fighting started.

The actual start of the war is still somewhat mysterious. However, it is theorized that a botched dialogue update exacerbated the pre existing conflict, and some trolls took the opportunity to start a war.

And so I came down to observe. There could be so many papers written about this event.

I joined the game as a healer.

Soon, I found an organization that called itself the Red Cross, and helped them heal players on both sides.

The propaganda war exactly and weirdly mirrors real life. I’ve even seen ads decrying both sides as communists, which is quite frankly outdated and hilarious.

In my estimation, civilians had been treated far better than in any real war. Only one hospital was destroyed during my time there, which is quite impressive considering I estimate there were approximately 10,000 hospitals that at one point or another were in a combat zone.

Of course, this war had no casualties. You could always respawn. That being said, based on the admittance rates of my organization, I would say that militant deaths outnumbered civilian deaths at least 10,000 to 1.

This war is still going on today, however in the form of a somewhat cold war. Right now, major corporations are sponsoring each side(including, infamously, the wells fargo corporation). Whenever a new update comes out, there is always some fighting after the Game Breakers abuse the inevitable glitchiness of the update, but it usually calms down fairly quickly. Based on my interactions, it seems the True Citizens see this as abusing the world and react accordingly.

This is my report,
—Isaac Mathews

MysteryElement
MysteryElement
2 months ago

Cold Winters
By MysteryElement

Date: 02/18/16 – 22:15
Unexpected conflict has arisen on the western border. Since the treaty had been signed all has appeared well until now. Shared provisions, of previously agreed upon quantity, have been noticeably skewed in favor of the opposing side. Council has been called to discuss and resolve the matter.

Date: 02/23/16 – 15:22
Our allies have denied any involvement in the recent loss of resources, and have requested further allegations be presented with a greater amount of evidence. The commanders are dubious, but fear conflict may arise if the matter is further pursued. For now, the matter rests.

Date: 03/16/16 – 02:05
As winter grows more demanding, the nights become restless and required resources continue to diminish. There is no doubt our allies are involved, yet the subject is not broached in order to avoid conflict. I do not know how much longer we will last.

Date: 03/18/16 – 19:32
Our allies still maintain lack of involvement, even when presented with evidence to the contrary. With increasing animosity towards our allies, our leaders are determined to mend the rift. Further allegations have been postponed in hopes of resolving the conflict on aimable terms in the future.

Date: 03/23/16 – 05:23
Conditions have grown dire. This most recent storm has left us bereft, and without proper shelter we are freezing. We are left with no choice but to approach our allies again, and we pray the outcome is more favorable than the last.

“I do not steal the covers! You are the one who keeps tugging them over to your side all night. If anything, I only take them because you hog them all to begin with!”

“So it’s my fault? It wouldn’t be so bad if you would just let me sleep closer.”

“It gets way too hot when you sleep that close to me, stay on your side of the bed.”

“Maybe it would not be so hot if you DID NOT STEAL ALL THE BLANKETS!!”

Date: 04/01/16 – 08:10
Resolution to conflict remains unforeseen.

R J Chapman
R J Chapman
2 months ago

“The Nuclear Option” by R J Chapman

Connor Michaels was simply uncontrollable. The boy had been sent straight from Hell. It wasn’t that Connor was the Antichrist as such, merely possessed by a mid-ranking devil. Mr. Reid had set clear and strict boundaries. These had been breached. Phone calls home had been made. Adjectives like ‘spirited’ and ‘headstrong’ had been used by an unconcerned Mrs. Michaels. He had tried everything short of flicking holy water at the boy and shouting: ‘The power of the behaviour system compels you!’

Mr. Reid had been left with little choice but to escalate this conflict. The boy had brought it on himself. Yes, the humiliation coming Connor’s way would be soul-destroying, but his hand was being forced. And you never know, it may even give the boy some character in the way that conventional discipline never could. He would be doing the boy a favour.

The lesson was Armageddon as usual. Connor had been out of his seat several times, had orchestrated a bottle-flipping competition and had failed entirely to provide an adequate simile when prompted. The class had all been given a sweet and had to write an extended paragraph using all of the five senses to describe it. Mr. Reid sipped his tea nonchalantly as Connor chewed. Butterflies danced excitedly in his stomach.

As the minutes ticked by, Mr. Reid grew impatient. Final bell was approaching and still there was nothing. This stuff was supposed to be nigh on instantaneous. Giving up, Mr. Reid instructed the class to pack away. He then noticed Connor holding a small bottle. Panicking, he rummaged through his desk drawer to discover it was missing. They weren’t butterflies in his stomach.

Hurriedly, he dismissed the class early. As the rest of the class filed out, Connor marched straight over to block Mr. Reid’s exit.

This was absolutely not going to happen. No way was this happening. It was not…

Shame followed the brief relief.

‘You smell like shit, sir,’ said Connor, placing the laxative on the desk before leaving.

As similes went, it was a bit on the nose. Still, small victories.

Manyletters
Manyletters
2 months ago

40 YEARS TO LIFE

By Manyletters

GET UP

Eyelids like lead, I tried to wake up.

GET UP.

“Just one more snooze,” I mumbled.

YOU SAID THAT TWO SNOOZES AGO. GET UP.

“It’s fine, I just will use dry shampoo instead of showering.”

YOU HAVENT ACTUALLY HIT SNOOZE YET, NO TELLING WHEN YOU WILL WAKE UP. GET UP.

“My first meeting isn’t until noon. No one will miss me. It’s fin,” as I slowly sink back into unconsciousness

GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP!!!

“Just one more snooze”

YOU ARE BEYOND OUT OF SNOOZES. GET UP

“I’ll just quit. I could use some time off”

GET UP. YOU CAN’T JUST QUIT.

“I can. It would be nice, for a week, then go back”

THATS NOT HOW IT WORKS. NO ONE IS HIRING. YOU CAN’T JUST QUIT.

“Just one more…zzz”

GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP!!!!!!

Eyelids released and I blinked at the clock. Over thirty minutes behind, not only no time to shower, but no breakfast either. And lunch would have to be sourced out of the office’s meager communal pantry. Maybe I would get lucky and pizza would show up from a supplier trying to curry favor. Or a client trying to show appreciation without actually tipping.

IF YOU DON’T MOVE YOU WILL LOSE YOUR JOB. YOU NEED TO GET MOVING, NO ONE ELSE CAN PROVIDE FOR YOU.

The truth finally penetrating to my core. No one else could provide. There is no one but you. If you want bacon, you have to go out and make it. I pulled myself out of bed, and prepared for one more day working to exist.

Sandeen
2 months ago

The Siblings
Sandeen

“Stop repeating everything I say!” The eldest yelled at the youngest sister. “You are thirteen, stop acting like a five year old!” With a slam, she collapsed on the floor and resisted crying from frustration.

Lisa, the younger sister blinked her big eyes and debated knocking on the door to apologize. She knew her parents would make her apologize at some point, but also figured it was too soon for her sister to call a truce. It isn’t her fault that she’s bored, or that her sister would always produce a reaction when prodded. Never mind the fact that years of tormenting her had primed her sister to snap at her with the drop of a tease.

The parents, hearing the echoes of their eldest’s shriek, looked at one another and sighed. “Well,” the father began, “at least no one got sat on and they didn’t break anything in the house this time. Honestly, there is no way that Lisa is that annoying. Just one more year and then we will get a break.”

“Do you remember when they used to get along?” The mother said as she was double checking homework.

“You mean, for the five minutes before one would take the other’s toys? Our eldest really needs to learn to control her emotions.”

Little did the two parents realize, that a year and a month from now, they would come to find themselves regretting blaming all of the fighting on their eldest daughter. A bored annoyance is far worse than a quiet reader. The quiet reader would silently put up with anything they found bothersome, the youngest would instead engage in a yelling match for days and take glee in the interaction.

Philip C.
Philip C.
2 months ago

Sooo… why did you write this in latin?

Philip C.
Philip C.
2 months ago

Depression (A Different Kind of War)
By Philip C.

“It’s been two weeks, Bill.” Martha sighed, glancing from an uneaten dinner to Joe’s room. “He never comes down to eat, he’s on his computer all night, and he won’t talk to us about it.”

“I’ve tried every weapon of parenting I know to get him out into the sun again,” her husband replied, “but he just barricades himself in there. Ever since Mark disappeared…” he choked at these words. His face reflected her own feeling of loss and desperation.

It had been a nightmare for everyone. Mark had disappeared without a trace on his way home from school. No ransom note or call. No sign of where he may have gone. He just vanished.

“I think he blames himself, being the elder brother,” Bill continued, wiping his eyes as tears threatened to spill out, “which is ridiculous I know, but…,” He paused, “but I think we all feel that we should have been there to protect him.” Martha nodded in silent agreement, taking Bill’s hand in hers.

They stood there for a moment, fortifying each other in their sorrow.

Then a loud knock came from the front door. “Mrs. Buckley?” A voice called out, “Its Charlie. I’ve come to see Joe.”

They looked up in surprise, then walked to the door and opened it. The bright red hair and numerous freckles of Charlie Cook were unmistakable, even in the dim light of the doorway.

“Charlie! It’s good to see you.” Martha almost cried, seeing the eager face of Joe’s high school friend. “But I’m afraid Joe doesn’t want to see anyone. He’s locked himself in his room.”

“Don’t you worry, ma’am, nor you, Dr. Buckley. I’ve brought plenty of reinforcements.” Charlie turned and whistled.

Half a dozen young men popped out from behind the gate of the fence. As one they marched inside and up the stairs to Joe’s room.

Martha and Bill followed them up, but once they got up there, the door had already been forced open.

As they looked in, they saw their son, sitting on the floor, quietly crying, with his friends holding him.

Mike Collins
2 months ago

The IM of Kahn
By, Mike Collins

Casandra took a sample to check the pH balance. This year was going to be different; this year, she will win. The pH was within acceptable limits, but this wasn’t a year for acceptable. This year was a war for the best, and nothing was going to keep Cassy from winning even if it meant leaving some bodies along the way. This year’s Barberton Cherry Blossom Festival Pie Contest was going to be hers to win.

Every year for as long as there has been a contest, Mary Lynn Baker had won. Mary opened a bakery making herself ineligible to compete. For the first time in years, this was a contest. No, a war to be the best. Cassy spent months working on proper crust preparation as well as a variety of fillings from the cherry everyone will make to the delicate balance of flavor in the Peach Melba pie.

Cassy’s greatest foe Karen was making either a Shoofly Pie or a Pecan Pie. Both seemingly simple was, in fact, challenging to get right. The same judges for the pie contest were also judging the Barberton Chicken Contest, so having delicate flavors might work against a contestant. Cassy’s mix of peach and raspberries would complement the breaded chicken.

The pie was family social good but not festival good. Cassy turned to see her three children and husband sitting at the table forks in hand, waiting for the daily dose of failure pie. They rarely said a bad word about her pies. Only the great vinegar pie tragedy had the family downvoting a recipe.

Cassy’s phone dinged. She looked seeing an IM from Alexandra Khan, the head of the contest. She would check the message after enjoying her latest pie with the family. She knew this recipe would win it all.

“Cassy darling, this is Ms. Khan. I hate to relate this to you, but this year’s festival will be canceled because of the quarantine. If you have any questions, please email.”

Cassy dropped her phone and looked to the sky screaming, “KHAN, KHHAANNN!”

Matthew Cameron
Matthew Cameron
2 months ago

The hole
By Matt the bloodsoaked unicorn

They say a boy goes to war to become a man and gain the glory.I know first hand that’s bullshit just said to get are names on the enlistment forms.I was only 18 when my science professor gave me the speech of honor and glory for my country and like a fool I listened.I found myself being shipped off to boot camp a week later I left my family with a smile ready for the war.I quickly regretted my decision boot camp was harsh and by the end you didn’t feel like a person you felt like property.I was treated much harsher because of my spirt it had to go as they said.when I reached the end of the boot camp I thought the worse was over how dead wrong was I.The first time I saw another man die was my bunkmate few months younger then me and Edgar and smiles even after boot camp a routine patrol turned sour and he was hit in chest by a snipers bullet he coughed and choked.I tried to cover his wounds but there was nothing I could do,his final words he choked out was mother and then he vanished.i wish I could say he went to a better place but my faith in god left me more and more as I served.The first time I took a life will stick with me even more my squad took a group of enemies unit my surprise capturing we were all so happy no bloodshed no fighting it was done so fast and easy.My commanding officer contacted base and that’s when the order came no prisoners.I along with the others were told to to execute them anyone who could not do it would be hanged with defying a order which is grounds for imprisonment so we all took aim and fired the gun rattled kicked in my hands it felt different to fire a gun at a helpless person when it was all done we burned the bodies and left.I couldn’t eat or sleeps for days but I got use to the killing and forgive me started to enjoy it just a bit,and finally I don’t know why I’m writing all this down maybe just maybe I want this to find the next young Edgar kid a warning.I found myself along with my squad trapped in the bunker the enemies are closing in and the rest of my squad including my commanding officer have taken the direct way out to avoid capture, and I will be joining them soon enough.I would prey this letter finds someone but like I said god isn’t on this battlefield.

Joseph Kharms
Joseph Kharms
2 months ago

“Wooden Wombs”
By Joe Kharms

I entered this world crying and screaming. And I’ll leave it just the same.
I never stopped being that ugly weak thing connected to my Mother, nobody ever does, except we are connected to the rest of our genes too. We may think we grow into stronger intellectual beings, but actually in the eyes of the universe we are still very much infants.
Oh, how we cradle that safety blanket, that comforting lie called purpose. The lie that stops us from ending it all straight away.
Because we are born into a war. A war with existence.

HER: I like you.
I: Do you want to be more than friends?
HER: No.

They are always polite when they shoot down my prospects of achieving my desires. But I know what they really meant to say. They meant to say it like this:

HER: I like the way your sadness makes me feel better about myself.
I: Do you want to be more than friends?
HER: No, I find you pathetic and repulsive.

I remember when my mother used to sleep beside me when I couldn’t sleep; I was seventeen years old. It was after a particularly bad encounter with a girl, and I wanted nothing more than to crawl back up into that womb of peaceful ignorance; to be a baby once more. My parents got me a therapist, his name was Rick; he was nice.

But the war never stops. I battle myself. I battle my desire. I battle purpose. I battle Rick. I battle the mental scars left on me by my parents. I battle everything, because life is a war and it won’t stop until we are placed deep under the soil into that wooden womb of peaceful ignorance.

Slytha
Slytha
2 months ago

For the Future of the Children
By S13

“Come this way, boy!”

I watched as the brainwashed boy followed the priest, leaving me sad and sullen in the cold night outside the temple. The priest looked at me briefly and sent me a mocking smirk before he closed the door.

Losing battle after battle like this has left me empty and depressed. But if I don’t fight in this war, who would? We fight for the children, for their rights. Our opponent? Religious ideologies. And we are disgustingly outnumbered.

Those creeps had even the strongest country in the world not ratify the Child Rights Agreement. After inserting themselves and their bent ideologies in the Agreement, too!

What else can I do for the poor guy? I turned and walked back towards my car, hoping my friends back at the agency found something we can use to turn back the tides on this battle.

I checked my phone, dialling my friend at the agency while remembering how the kid looks when I tried to take him away from the Monastery. The fear in his eyes, the fearful attitude. I could feel abuse happening, but no one would tell me anything – my hands are tied. The priest must have threatened them with eternal suffering.

“Mate! I was just about to call you,” said my friend from the other side of the line, ”Judge Helvig said that he will sign the warrant to get the boy checked!”

“Thanks for the good news, maybe there is hope for this one just yet,” I replied, hoping that tomorrow will come faster. I closed the call and drive back to the office. The fight isn’t over yet.

T.E.
T.E.
2 months ago

Office Warfare
By T.E.

I sank into my chair with a yawn. While the computer booted up, I took a swig of my bitter office coffee and watched the grey morning through the window. Judging from my colleagues’ zombie-like expressions it was still a bit early for conversation.

With the usual rush of adrenaline, I loaded last night’s report, expecting large numbers and a large paycheck. I almost choked when reality hit me.

“Nothing!” I screamed in horror. My colleagues were quick to gather around me, staring in disbelief at the screen.

I googled and soon found the culprit. Bottlebroom & Co had undercut us on every possible product. I sighed. “Bottlebroom… This is war… “

We gathered our forces and cut our profit margins so close to the negative that not even stupid Bottlebroom would be able to beat them.

Only moments later an unknown number called. I picked up and found myself speaking with someone using one of those stupid voice-distortion thingamajigs.

“It’s on…” said the menacing voice. “We will -”

I hung up before the stupid whoever could threaten us further. Then our entire office went black.

“Oh *bleep*, *bleep*ing Bottlebroom!” I knocked back my coffee. “Come on soldiers!”

With evil intent, we walked towards the office next door. Bottlebroom’s office. We sent in the intern to distract them, while I cut the power chords. The reaction was instant. Our intern ran from their office in a bombardment of erasers, pens, and crumpled papers.

“Retreat!” she yelled after a particularly large eraser hit her on the back of the head.

We regrouped and assessed the situation. Our online store, offline… Our prices, low… There was only one thing to do. We gathered our merchandise and headed onto the wet street. There weren’t many customers, but we sold some. It wasn’t long before Bottlebroom and his associates came carrying cartons of their own.

We looked at each other for a long time. Like two animals pondering whether to attack or retreat. In the end, he approached me.

“Truce?”

“Truce,” I confirmed.

Alex
Alex
2 months ago

The so-called Promised Land
By Alex Nightingale

The white reception room was pale white, sterile and completely packed. The cacophony of confused voices was almost unbearable. This was a battlefield, in a war against numbers.

Felix, a reaper, held his clipboard, more out of habit than anything else. There was no longer a guarantee that its information was accurate. His colleagues hastened up and down and through the many lifts and stairs, the loud voices of hundreds of lost souls driving them on. Not every soul was lucky enough to be assigned a reaper at entry. And most didn’t even make it here. Getting into the afterlife after death was no longer a guarantee. Contrary to popular belief, reapers died. And when they did, no new ones could be created. Not anymore. That’s what happens, when the gods just leave without notice. The reapers had long ago lost control over the dying.

Felix looked around, until he saw who he was looking for. A confused-looking teenage girl, with short spiky blond hair stood at the lifts. There were scars along her face and arms. He walked over to her.

“Hello”, he said kindly: “Cynthia Bennett?”

“Y-yes”, she answered shyly: “I’m not sure, where I am.”

“You’re in the afterlife”, he said bluntly.

He hated being this blunt, but he only had about a minute per soul.

“W…What? I…I don’t understand…”

Felix glanced at his clipboard. The name Cynthia Bennett stared accusingly back at him, along with her way of death. ‘Bodythief’. Felix clenched his fists. He hated Bodythieves. They never stopped at killing. Or even at the body.

“I am so sorry”, Felix said.

He didn’t know what else to say. There was nothing else he could say.

“Go through that corridor and find Room 15. You will need Post Mortem Counseling.”

“But… I…” Cynthia stammered, uncertain of what to do.

“Come on”, Felix said, holding out his hand: “I’ll take you.”

This was a battlefield he deeply hated; a war against numbers, against fate. And their only allies had abandoned them.

ClockworkPigeonz
ClockworkPigeonz
2 months ago

“To Start A War”
By: ClockworkPigeonz

Two figures skirted the dim glow of the nightwatchmen’s plasma rifles. Slunk up walls and across rooftop gardens with the ambition of alley cats. And bolted unseen across the the courtyard in-between pools of violet lamp light.

The quiet scuff of boots and skin across rough stone was the only noise created as they clambered onto the roof. And took their positions betwixt cooling chimneys and humming A/C units. Waiting for Blackthorn’s shadow to stretch out the doorway and across the cobblestones beneath them.

It wasn’t long before the rustle of keys announced her presence.

The oldest of the pair reached past sword and pistols to pull something from her belt. Rounded. Black with an odd iridescence and the faint scent of rot.

The youngest had already withdrawn a wrapped bundle from his bag. A spark of flame from the eldest’s fingertip was all it took to light the short fuse.

Below their quarry paused, the sputtering flame not quite covered by the nighttime call of hunting gryphons.

With a delighted chuckle he hurled it over the roof down to the courtyard.

Landing with a loud thump it sparked- it sputtered…

It died.

“Well fu-” Luke began, cut off by a blast of sapphire flame and the sharp crack of reality bending in on itself.

Ember was already halfway to the opposite edge of the rooftop.

Another clap of fire and her nephew’s panicked screech was all she needed to know that Cobalt had just Gatewayed onto the roof.

She couldn’t miss this chance.

“Forgive me, Brother.” she prayed.

Turning she pulled the pin from the grenade and tossed it merrily at the blue-winged visage of wrath that had Luke by the ear.

“Ember, Nooooo!” Luke screeched.

Cobalt Blackthorn had only enough time to watch as the garbage-scented cloud of glitter obscured the quickly retreating form of Ember Asmond.

After that she was too busy retching to do much at all.

The Fourth Annual Prank War of Dedomilla had officially begun.

Madelyn
Madelyn
2 months ago

“Personal Fear”
By Madelyn

“Mr. Poe!”

Jason paled at the familiar voice. He could only pray that they did not recognize him.

Balthazar took his focus off of the conversation to see Jason’s parents approaching. He put on his professional smile and said, “I’m surprised you still recognize me, Mr. Hall.”

“Please, I told you to call me Daniel,” Mr. Hall laughed.

Mrs. Hall was the one to notice Jason. With a worried tone, she asked, “Cassandra?”

Balthazar’s eyes darted to Jason as the latter turned around and stuttered, “H-Hi, Mom.”

“You have…quite the haircut.” It was a simple question, yet it filled Jason with dread.

“Lost it.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Got stuck in some branches. Panicked.” Jason started scratching his neck. “I figured that I might as well make it look decent…”

Balthazar pretended to check the time on his watch. “Miss Cassandra, don’t you have to get to your job?”

“Ah, yes!” Jason turned around. “I really should get going. Great seeing you again!” He ran off before his parents could do anything else.

He had no idea how long he actually ran, but by the time he stopped to catch his breath, he was already in front of Avi’s library. Jason did not notice that Balthazar caught up to him.

“Interesting coverup for vampire fangs” Balthazar stepped back as Jason jumped at the sound of his voice.

“I thought…They can’t be in New York.”

“Jason…”

“Shit, what if they find out? If they hear someone call me Jason—”

Balthazar approached Jason and held one shoulder. “Slow down for a moment and breathe.” As Jason stopped himself from rambling and took shaky breaths, Balthazar continued, “You can tell people to call you Cassandra until they leave. Right?”

“…Right.” The look on Jason’s face was all too familiar for Balthazar.

“Hey, how about we focus on the vampire problem?” Balthazar figured Jason needed a distraction. “We can handle this when you’re ready.”

Jason’s breathing steadied. He managed a slow nod and said, “Thanks.”

They entered the library as Balthazar raised his voice, “Avi! We’re here!”