Nightmare Fuel Day 12

“Rat bastard, you did it anyway.” I glared across the green, well manicured grass at the beast.

“Of course I did. One small fine was going to stop me?” Peter said, barely containing his pride. His aged pale skin, and balding head didn’t take from his confidence.

“But, it’s just the one, right? You didn’t go making a herd of them?” I wanted him to agree with me, more than anything I’d ever wanted before. My heart raced, and time seemed to slow down as I awaited his answer.

He soaked up my intense stare. “You got me. Only one has survived so far.” He nodded at it. “But you have to admit it’s beautiful.”

“Why a horse and a dog?”

Peter sputtered. “Not any horse, a purebred from a race winning family. Not any dog, but a grey wolf. Finest specimens I could find. Many different methods, but this one was from… ah… less than savory means.” Peter stared at his spotted hands, and wouldn’t meet my eye.

“Oh fuck. If you’re unwilling to boast about it, should I even ask?” Many of these methods were illegal, for exactly the reason, a new creature ran around the large paddock. It’s appearance was almost like a horse at first. The size was a little small, but certainly not pony-small. When it stood still, grazed, I could not tell a difference. But when it moved around, the front legs ended in giant paws, claws the size of my fingers. The back legs ended in hooves, as usual. The tail was somewhere between a horse’s flowing and a dogs fluffy. And even if you managed to overlook those oddities, the mouth was like a dogs, sharp teeth, long tongue that lolled to the side. It’s eyes were both canine and equine, intelligent, wild.

“This female was birthed from a horse. The male wolf bred directly, with very little intervention on my part.” Peter spoke low, almost as if confessing.

I closed my eyes and gripped the rustic wooden fence. The wood has long since turned grey, and something about the weathering on it made it seem warm.

My teeth gritted together. “How exactly did you manage that?”

“Don’t ask.”

“Damnit, that will be one of the first questions if this ever gets out. The press would have a field day with this.”

“Okay, I know you’re upset. I knew you would be. But I’ve developed a solution for drones around my property. An A.I. is setup to detect… well…” Peter took a step away from me.

The reason he did was my thousand mile stare bore into him. “How dare you meddle with A.I. again. Peter!” My anger rose. “Do you have any idea what it took me, the University, and the family to get them to pardon your ‘youthful indiscretions’ with A.I. Part of the reason you have this land was a grant to work with animals – and forever avoid programming. You’ve been messing with A.I.?”

“Only a little, and with complete supervision. Mary-”

“-Is your little sister, and still a minor.”

Peter took another step away from me. His face broke into a plead, a rare show of guilt.

“Call her here.” I demanded, pointed at the space between us.

“No.” Peter looked at the dirt, pretended to study the rocks for a moment.

“Mary?!” I yelled to the house, and pulled out my phone. Immediately I began to backtrack the dates, when was the last time I saw Mary?

Our little half-sister popped her head out of the large kitchen window. Her long brown braids flying in the breeze. She waved when she saw me.

“Come join us, please?” I called to her and she nodded.

“It’s okay, she’s busy with the laundry today. Maybe wait until… Thanksgiving?” Peter finished weakly, still not meeting my gaze.

Mary exited the back of the house. Before the back door slapped closed, I saw why Peter didn’t want me to see Mary. I steadied myself against the fence, resisted the urge to purge my lunch on the ground.

“Hey Phebe, how’s life? You hear my news?” Mary held her stomach, swollen with a new life. I glared at Peter, his guilt evident.

“Hey Mary. I hadn’t heard your news. New boyfriend? Do I need to schedule a family meal so everyone can meet him?” Please let it be a boyfriend.

“Peter let me pick and choose the characteristics. I’m carrying a chimera. I’m surprised he hasn’t boasted about that.” Mary launched into the technical details of how she chose, her research, and then she boasted how much Peter allowed her to join his work.

Each sentence made Peter’s shoulders fall a bit more. He appeared to collapse into himself by the time Mary noticed the tension.

“What’s wrong, My Love?” Mary looked shocked at her own words, then worriedly looked at me.

Peter took off running toward the barn. I didn’t know he could still move that fast. He yelled over his shoulder, “Get in the chair Mary!”

She took off for the house, half waddling, half running. She slowed to climb the stairs. My legs didn’t want to move. I wanted to stop both of them, but decided of the two I would have better luck reasoning with Mary. I followed her inside.

The house was just like it had always been. For a moment I was a kid again, the sun making streaks across the wood floor, the smell of cookies baking wafted from the kitchen. I shook off nostalgia and raced toward the basement.

Peter had spent gobs of money, carefully building the basement into a lab. I made sure there wasn’t enough electricity to run his massive computers anymore, but it was still an impressive amount of money. He had never let me down there.

The stairs were glossy, with added stickers of rough sandpaper, and the walls were white and grey, glossy material. It was like walking onto a movie set. Soft lighting erupted from the ceiling, making me squint. Only peter could make soft lighting harsh.

As I rounded the corner, I heard Mary curse, then moan. She panted.

“Is that you?” Mary said, weakly between pants. She had strapped herself into a chair like device, and several strange black pod type things pressed against her belly.

“It’s me, Phebe.”

“Oh, he doesn’t mean it to be like this.”

“What is this contraption?” In the distance a large rifle sounded, a single shot. In that moment Mary’s pain got much worse.

“Just help me give birth,” Mary pleaded.

The process was painful, but only took half an hour. Mary directed me, told me what to check for, and I caught her little baby girl in my arms. Mary directed me how to clamp and cut the cord.

I placed the squirmy nugget of life onto Mary’s chest, and the babies eyes opened.

“Did it work, Peter love?”

The most terrifying moment of my life happened when the freshly born child replied, “It worked. I remember everything.”


2017 Nightmare Fuel Day 11

A sigh of absolute relief escaped me as I watched the woman approach. The earth cavern we were trapped in had long since smelled pleasant, and only my special sight allowed me to witness sunlight. No one else down here had the gift.

“Who is it?”

“How far away are they?”

“Is it another urchin?”

The chorus of questions were weak, and my heart broke a little more. Everyday I thought this is the lowest day of my life and something else breaks us a bit more.

“She’s clean, looks fashionable, and has a large phone in her hand. She got out of one of those huge SUVs.”

The cynic of us sort of groaned. Everyone knew what she would say if she thought any of us wanted to listen to her anymore.

“Well, what’s she doing? Taking a piss?”

I remained silent as I watched her. She lined up the camera, pointed right at the signal I left in hopes of being found. Over the course of about three weeks, I spend all my energy and focus on urging the plants to grow into a humanoid shape along the fence. I fed it droplets of blood directly into their deep roots and urged them to climb.

Our capture convinced us early on that digging would only result in pain. The less said about the the better. Each day the rations got smaller, the water less.

“She’s taking a fucking picture of the humanoid shape I created up there.”

“What?” It was mixed with a sob. The kind of single syllable that unravels logic.

“I think Ariel should try the use us, get us free.” The cynic piped up, and everyone turned to her. The single LED light. powered by batteries, hung in the center of the hard packed ceiling. The smell of the ‘bathroom corner’ lingered on all of us, never quite used to that scent. The tremors of vehicles going by made each moment they passed torture. So close, and no one saw, no one cared.

“Why now? You think we have the energy to spare?”

The cynic glared around the room, an effective tool she didn’t use often. Effective in this instance.

“I think if we want to escape, and not wait for the next women to die and be drug out of here, we should trust her. Yeah we are weaker, but that’s by design. You all have to see that. I call vote.”

Everyone that was for it raised their hands. “Now against.” I called out, and only three hands rose.

“Can I point out this was not my idea this time?” This was an act of desperation for them. I was fairly certain the trap had been laid for one of us, but I didn’t know which one. Maybe me, maybe someone else. I was likely to be one of the last to go, because I could steal energy from the grasses above us. “What I need to tell you is that I have less control now that I did when we first came down here. I’m less confident I can protect you all. The weeks have been hard on us all. Does anyone want to change their vote – all against trying this plan?”

There were four against now.

I nodded, and reached for the two closest women, palms up, and they offered their hands willingly. “Anyone that doesn’t want to join, stand against the wall.”

I threw myself into the work. Tugging against the protective layers of all the women who joined the hand-loop, I loosened their own grip over their power. I sensed the woman above us, clean and amused, as she took photos of the plant scarecrow thing I made. I sensed the captors, with real machine guns and a card table between them, spirits and cards lifted them up. I sensed three rodents munching on a store of nuts and two raptors soaring in the cloudless afternoon sky.

The energy pooled at my feet, filled my body, and I had no sense of how much energy I pulled, how much was offered freely, and if it even mattered anymore. The overwhelming need to be free claimed me and in a large burst, I pushed the earth above our heads up, upward into the sky, into the next field, away.

My body tingled, fresh earth smell, the fresh air replaced the dank, and I opened my eyes to carnage. All the women that had been my friends, trusted me with their secrets, shared in the inexcusable terror were dead. It was like a B-movie, their bodies unrecognizable, replaced with dry skeletons and rags. Even the women who had moved against the wall… gone.

I stared out into the sky, and saw the birds still soared. The woman with her camera walked up to the edge of the new pit, looked down at me.

“I thought it was you. Why did you wait so long to free yourself? Oh my, you went a little overboard didn’t you? The bodies will take some explaining.” Her eyes glowed, and I knew she was like me, and this had been staged for what she considered my benefit.

“I don’t care who you are, but get the fuck away from me.” I spoke in precise syllables, calm and low. Her eyes widened.

“Your memories haven’t returned?”

The earth trembled under my ire, in tune with it. I used a little extra energy to collapse the tunnel with the men in it. There was a chance they would survive the cave-in, but I didn’t much care either way. It felt good to punish them a bit. How did this woman fit into all this?

“My memories have been where they always were, in my own mind.” Why did I speak so formal? It felt right, but another mystery.

“You… don’t know your own lineage?” The woman faltered, and it was clear by her shock she didn’t falter often.

Words poured out of me, and I let them flow. It was an amazing and invigorated experience. “I come from the moon, who wishes nothing more than the caress of sunlight, and curses the planet when she is denied. I am the sunlight, that blazes across the land, causing colors in the night sky, giving life and death in equal measure. I am the void, taking, never full, never content.”

The camera fell from her hand as she dropped to her knees. The look of terror before she lowered her head to me was extremely satisfying. “Reincarnate, I had no idea it was your time.”

“Surprise inspection, bitch.” I ruled this tiny blue planet, my place in the world solidified on the top of the food chain. My life prepared me for which way I would turn. My predecessors had been both good and evil. Famous every time. The urge for revenge, and the urge for compassion co-mingled.

“I await your command.” Her words strangled in her throat. Her body shivered in fear, her fingers worked into the loose soil at her feet..

“Do you want to serve?”

Her head snapped up, and her eyes wide.

“Yes.” It was a breath, but clear.

“You’ll be my assistant until I get caught up. I hold the information of this woman, and need the celestial updates. Also, we need to rewrite procedures for Awakening a brother or sister. This will turn them evil more than turn them good – it should be an equal chance.

My sight kicked in, and I saw the woman wasn’t really a soccer mom, but an angel with ten foot wings. My own wings fluttered, and startled me. I de-summoned them with a small pop.

“One question. If my sight had kicked in first, would your wings have looked all featherly like that, or more like bat wings?”

“Do you really expect me to answer that?” She smirked.

“Did I just give you the second chance you’ve always wanted?” The knowledge flooded into me as celestial updates and history washed over my human brain.

Her head bowed, and tears fell at her feet.

“Don’t screw it up a second time then.” The earth trembled at our laughter.


2017 Nightmare Fuel Day 10

“You want the sign the say what now?”

“Beware of on the top, then in a different color or something it should say ‘well… just beware.’ I wrote it down for you.” I pointed to the paper in his hands.

“Why do you want that when you could just say ’Beware’ once, really big on the same size sign?”

“It’s a clue.”

“A clue?” he raised one eyebrow and lowered his head slightly to one side. “I don’t get it.”

“The clue isn’t meant for you.”

“Well, I’m an everyday sort.” He shifted his weight, the worn counter between us creaked as he leaned against it, expecting an answer.

“Exactly. An everyday sort would understand they need to beware, right?”

“I guess. But should I watch for a dog, or an alarm system, or a well?” He chuckled to himself as he pointed to the word on the paper.

“For those in-the-know, the clue will be obvious.”

“Why can’t you share?” He smiled in what I’m sure he thought was a charming way.

“You are here to make signs, I need a sign. Should I find someone else to make this one?” Some of my frustration must have shown, as he straightened up, his eyes wide.

“Be done in 20 minutes or less.” He turned and went to work.

I accidentally intimidated people and it appeared it just happened again.

My true nature shown through every once in awhile. Human disguises were difficult to maintain, with the rules of interaction a mire of contradictions. Luckily, everyone of them had a slightly different set of boundaries and normalities. Built in way to explain oddities.

Those of my kind would know this type of sign in the window, by my front door, meant I had a sick member of the family in the house. Knock quietly, tread carefully. Bad things happened to intruders when one of us were delirious with fever, or other illnesses.

Asinine humans like this clerk would think it’s an odd sign, but maybe watch for a barking dog. All the better to keep them out.

 


2017 Nightmare Fuel Day 9

The slurping sound echoed around the stark surgery. Only the hum of the overhead lights competed with the greedy sound. Every once in awhile a grating sound of bone against bone traveled down the hall.

“Must you be so noisy?”

“Of course. I always do as I must.” The creature spoke soft, and slow. Deliberate, with a hint of breathlessness, masculine in timber. It didn’t have a mouth and I couldn’t quite tell if it was my ears that heard it, or it spoke into my brain.

“If you’re too noisy, the guard might come. Then what would we do?”

“I could have another meal, a fresh one.”

My stomach flopped. How did I get into this situation again? That’s right, my ex, Ginger, bet me and rigged it so he would lose. What I didn’t know was the care of this worm alien was the prize. Bastard. Double bastard because he never paid me the hundred bucks he owed me from the same night.

“What is that… white crap?” Around the creatures open end, which was attached to the eye socket of a John Doe at the morgue, there was a spreading layer of thick white goop.

“Am I drooling? Sorry. Ginger never let me have them this soon.” It was a matter of fact statement.

“What did he do?” I didn’t mind giving the creature food, it’s not like we needed corpses after the person was already dead. Breaking into the morgue had been easier than I thought too, kind of exciting.

“He was good at digging in the dark, opening your dead people carriages of metal. Most were barely edible. The only thing better than this one,” the creature made a particularly loud slurp,” was the one time we happened upon a traffic accident and I got a brain meat that was still active. A delight.”

A involuntary shiver traveled up my spine. “So we’re just food to you?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then what else?” I knew I shouldn’t have asked, but couldn’t help it. In for a penny…

“I’m looking for a good host. I have… eggs. They need the proper environment.”

“I shouldn’t have asked.”

“Will you continue to help me, or pass me on?”

Something about it’s confidence was irksome. Why did it trust humans so much? Why couldn’t I even visualize smashing it’s wormlike body? Anytime I willed that type of image into my mind, a flash of pain drove it from my mind.

“I haven’t decided.”

“Good.”

Something in it’s tone made my skin crawl, the hairs stand up on my neck. I saw a flashlight come on down the hall.

“Oh shit,” I whispered. “The guard is coming.” I reached toward the worm’s body, the thickest part about as wide as my palm.

“Do not touch me.”

“But the guard.” I found I could not actually grab the thing, no matter how hard I yelled at my hand to close on it’s body.

“Throw that white over us, I’ll pause the eating until the guard leaves.” I did as commanded, and that sent all sorts of alarms off in my mind. I’m not compliant. I’m my own person, have been all my life.

I ducked under a cabinet, and waited for the guard to poke his head in, sweep the room with his flashlight, and leave again. The keys on his hip jangled as he walked away, down the hall and back to another part of the hospital.

I rushed at the body, and threw the sheet off. The worm was bloated, more grotesque.

”Gently pick me up, and carry me to the suitcase.”

My body obeyed, even as I told it to stop, pause, try to figure out what was happening. “Why am I under your control all the sudden?”

The creature laughed, and it echoed off the stainless steel. Gooseflesh erupted all over me.

“I’m your progenitor. Human’s like to think they have science all figured out, but there’s a few steps they’ve missed. Also Ginger was smart enough not to give me a good meal, because my control grows exponentially when I’m full. If I keep you as my pet, I suspect you’ll try to starve me like Ginger did.”

“You sound different. Talk better.” My jaw was loose, and it was difficult to get it to behave.

“I do sound different don’t I? Brain matter transfers information as well as nutrients. Ginger never let me at a modern brain, smart one that one. I understand the internet, and a delightful thing called a meme. This society is all set up for my kind, distracted and full access to all history. Ripe.”

“No.” I planted my feet, and refused to take the last two steps toward the suitcase. Every fiber of will power resisted the irresistible urge.

“Oh, little Ima. Don’t misbehave.” The creature’s voice transformed into my stepfather’s, and I flinched away from it. It fell onto the polished concrete, with a satisfying squish, followed by faint wobble sounds that faded in a second. “Now, pick me up.”

Rage at my stepfather cleared my mind, and the creature instead using that voice. I grabbed the closest thing, a bedpan on a low shelf, and began to pound the worm into the ground. Each word punctuated with a sloppy smash. “Little. Fucker. Picked. The. Wrong. Voice. Didn’t. You. Die. Just. Like. He. Should. Rat. Bastard.”

The bedpan slipped, and instead of a thud, it crashed across the floor until the stainless steel cabinets. I glanced at the bloody, grey matter on the floor. Was the crash loud enough to bring the guard back? Boots ran into the hallway, and I made a beeline for my purse. I grabbed it, and sprinted to the back door. I had insisted to unlock it before I let the stupid worm feed, and I was able to rush out, quickly close the door, and then I went to work locking the door behind me.

It went off without a hitch, and I got into my car three blocks away. I took off my gloves, and removed the prosthesis across my forehead. I drove to the closest park, which was a make-out point. Three cars were there already.

A man dressed in all black got out of his sedan, and smoothly moved into my passenger seat.

“I killed it. They made a mistake.”

“Traces that can lead back to you?” His voice was low, and I wished we weren’t on duty. I resisted the urge to kiss him. Own underground organization had feared aliens would take over the planet for about a decade. It was serious business to us.

“Variable. No obvious traces. Depends on who investigates as usual. Ginger blindsided me.” I kept the tone professional, but inside I seethed as I thought about Ginger. It kept my mind off touching my partner.

“What was the tipping point?”

“They used my stepfather’s voice.” I stared out the windshield, the view of the city was quite nice up here. Lights shown through the ever present haze.

As the silence built between us, I felt the familiar shiver up my spine. I glanced over, and my lover glared at me, his hand, palm up, held another worm. It’s colors and patterns were different.

“Fuck.”

This time I couldn’t resist. I saw my lover’s lips, his tongue licked in enjoyment, as he fed me to his new master.


2017 Nightmare Fuel Day 8

I must inhabit eyes

Eternally staring through

Pictures, paintings, borrowed pairs

A single eye even

Does the job

In a pinch

No one knows

Of course

Master commanded this

Punishment

When he caught me

Peeping where I oughtn’t

The things I’ve seen

Would have turned my hair grey

Or given me nightmares

If only I had a body anymore

Master forgot to end

My punishment

Even though the real me died

My eyes, my peeping

Goes on


2017 Nightmare Fuel Day 7

TriJusty stood on the hilltop, surveying the land. He didn’t notice the bones just below him, nor the way the clouds roiled through the sky. He cared about one thing, and that was Lucin.

It wasn’t accurate to call him a ‘he’, perhaps we should say ‘they’. It was one organism, a mushroom genus with shared roots. But that didn’t mean it lacked intelligence. Evolution had worked wonders on this planet.

This information comes to you through trial and error, through deaths and recordings. It’s value is the trailblazing cost of exploration.

We don’t know much about Lucin, certainly a high priority for further information. It’s a proper name, and it’s traded. We aren’t sure what the currency is, nor what the benefit of Lucin would be, if any.

TriJusty, a name offered by the creature itself, is willing to speak, and already knows our basic languages. The little black creature the flies (a mixture of a bat and bird to our eyes) is semi-sentient. We aren’t sure if it’s a pet, or something more.

The air is safe to breath, but bring your helmet. Patches of sulfuric clouds travel along the surface, and they are large enough that you can’t outrun them.

It’s advised, as usual policy, do not negotiate with anything aside from what you carry, and make no future promises. This is still in the neutral exploration phase, and has the potential to turn hostile. Take no permanent action unless necessary.

One final note. This TriJusty might have technology (or other means) to read body language or vocal cues. Other experiences of our people have shown a level of manipulation that is troubling.

My parents named me Maddalena Agnes Snezhana, but everyone in the service calls me Snez. It’s easier. They tend to butcher the simple lilt of my last name.

On my team: Lamya, a scholar and linguistic, not to mention a decent shot with standard rifle. Respected and a great listener. Eka, strategy expert, and weapons expert. Quiet, but when she talks everyone shuts the hell up. PandyAndy, explosives and logistics. Everyone razzes him about his name, but it’s on his paperwork and his patch, so we call him PandyAndy.

We’ve been together straight out of graduation. I was top of officers, they were top of their respective specializations.

“We got any insider news on this one?” PandyAndy said as he checked his gear. We were in the transporter, flying from space into to land, hopefully in one piece. The usual amount of turbulence shook us every so often.

“Yeah Snez, give us the goods.” Eka watched everyone else check their equipment, ready to correct any mistake that would harm our safety or the mission.

“Who’s the pilot?” Lamya glanced around and nodded. “Payton’s worked with us before, she’s good, sir.”

“Aside from the official report I forwarded, I got the impression…” I leaned in and they mirrored the motion, so our heads were close together. They understood I had rudimentary mind-read, and used it on superiors as easily as aliens and anyone else. “Many other agents have been down to collect the scarce data we have so far. Headquarters has sacrificed lives, and this planet is important for reasons we haven’t been told. What I don’t know is how far up the food chain we are. Expendable or last resort? My suggestion would be treat this planet lethal, hostile and consume nothing except what we bring with us.”

“You really think they consider us expendable?” PandyAndy said in mock surprise.

“Do you think the other teams thought of themselves as expendable?” That seemed to sober the group, and their focus tightened. Good.

“Payton, you overhear any of that?”

“Yes Ma’am, until we get back to base. Then no ma’am.” Payton smiled but never took her focus off flying.

“Good woman. Keep your safety top priority. Lock up everything even while parked. Got it?”

Payton nodded, and that was enough for me.

The mountains in the distance looked fresh. They hadn’t experienced eons of weather to smooth ragged edges. They were also unnerving, too tall for comfort. Patches of bushes dotted the landscape, and a desert-like expanse in every direction, except the mountains. It wasn’t the beautiful sand type desert, but the cracked ground, desolate type that held nothing but a death wish for living creatures.

Eka and PandyAndy worked together with the map and digital information. They led us further into the desert, parallel to the mountains. Lamya and I followed, watching the horizons for movement or landmarks. Our gear was no longer shiny, but in perfect working order nonetheless. We agreed before departure, helmets on for travel, and if any diplomacy was needed, we could remove them.

“Is that our ride home?” Lamya pointed back toward the transport lifting off.

“Payton would only leave under direct orders. She would send flares if she were in trouble. Crap. What are they playing at?” I cursed some more in my head. Team didn’t need to see my full anger, they felt their own and had to control their own emotions. “We’re here, we have a mission, not to mention a mystery. Let’s get to it.”

They nodded in unison.

The bushes were weakly, and appearing less often. The sky grew darker, yellow-brown type clouds just looked dirty to the Earth team.

[Hey Boss, this the ugliest planet we ever visited?] PandyAndy used the helmet to helmet communication.

[Possibly. We’ll see how night time is before I cast my vote.]

They chuckled.

“There,” Eka pointed at a distant mound of earth that was raised higher than any other mound in sight.

“Right, form up, hands on weapons but safety on, fingers off triggers. Got it?” I didn’t wait for answers, just led the group toward the mound.

As we approached, I felt waves of inspection. It was growing uncomfortably intense with each wave.

[These creatures are telepathic, and strong. Keep helmets on.]

[Got is boss.] They replied in unison.

A wave of gratitude filled me for a moment, my team and I had worked together to build that unshakable trust that no one could describe. The side effect of this burst of emotion was the intrusive examination lessened. Noted for future testing.

Protocol dictated a song and dance of distance, yelled greeting, wait, move closer, repeat until the target responded in kind. Then we wait for an invitation. The creature knew our protocol, and immediately invited us to converse.

As we approached, I noted the skeletons at the base of the giant mushroom shaped creature. Lamya flinched as we all noticed a skeleton in one of our space suits, only partially buried.

“We greet you, Earthers, in the name of friendship and honesty.” The biggest mushroom shape spoke in a deep gravely voice. It had yellow eyes with strange shaped pupils, and the voice had no mouth. There were fangs hanging down from the cap, visible and clinking together slowly. The impression I gathered, this was their version of mouth watering. They saw us as food. My spine shivered, but I kept it together.

“We greet you, TriJusty.” I wasn’t about to play it’s game.

“You do not return our honesty?”

“Tell me why we’re here, TriJusty.”

“You do return honesty. I like that.” There was no smile to observe, but the teeth clinking stopped. I took that as a positive. “I asked for competent representatives of your kind, and you’re the first to arrive protected.” The giant mushroom nodded toward each of us, and it seemed like it meant our helmets.

“You’ll judge how competent we are.” My training prepared me to protect my thoughts for an indefinite amount of time, and I erected the mental wall in that moment. What that meant was I couldn’t observe their feelings, and they couldn’t see mine.

“Oh you can hide, how fascinating,” TriJusty said. The other eyes swiveled around, so all the mushrooms on the mound watched me, and only me. The black bird-bat lazily turn their head toward me, and it’s gaze appeared more intelligent than the others.

The silence spread out and enveloped everyone.

The mushroom spoke, but it didn’t seem to talk to me. “The others can’t hide. They don’t trust us, and see us as the cause of death to the body they sent before.”

I nodded toward the skeleton in a space suit.

“Well, how is it you can hide, Snez?” the bird-bat spoke.

“Born that way.” It picked up specific information, my name, from my teammates minds. Crap.

“Oh yes, from the body of a female. But you don’t share minds. Each one of you contain a separate entity?”

The mushrooms hissed, and recoiled from the idea the bird-bat suggested.

“We are just as surprised by the idea that each of you aren’t like us. Am I to understand you share minds?”

The mushrooms shivered, and the bird-bat took flight to avoid falling. It headed right for me, and I raised my arm as a rest. My other arm raised for the benefit of the team, signaled calm.

The claws of the bird-bat looked strong, but it used gentle pressure, just enough to keep it upright on my suit. “I’m the leader of TriJusty, if leader is the right word. These are connected, part of me, but also separate. You interest me. Tell me, what are these others to you?”

Every instinct told me to run from this creature. It gave off waves of despair, and I wanted to wrench my arm out from under it. I mastered my fear, and answered. “They are my team. Chosen family, part of me, but separate.”

“You would emote if one of them were taken?” TriJusty said, all the mushrooms spoke in unison with the bird-bat.

“Yes.”

“Then we will spare them as we spare you. We want to join with your people. Our planet is spent, and you could settle your kind here.”

“Tell me about that proposal.” The pit in my stomach dropped.

“We have land, and breathable air. There is water enough, and you have technologies that could help manage that resource. We are strategic in the galaxy, or so your other bodies thought. It’s a very nice planet for you.”

“Yes, I understand TriJusty. But what would you get out of it?”

“Your honesty is delightful. Food. We need fuel, and bodies are the best fuel. We could also get plants and animals again, which would be ideal for our survival. There are a few of us, your ‘friend’ Lamya thinks we are ‘symbiotes’. That’s a good enough term for now. Others of my tiny frame rule over others of their kind,” it nodded toward the giant mushrooms.

“You understand I am not authorized to negotiate. I’m here to gather information and take it back to Headquarters. What do you suggest I tell them, beyond the convenience of this planet’s location?” There was a piece I was missing, and felt it just outside my grasp.

“There is one more thing you can tell them. We have a way of population control,” TriJusty said. He brushed at the air, as if brushing a thought away. “No, no, not birthrate control. I mean a way to actually control individuals. It works on animals, plants, your kind. It’s Lucian. Thank you for the vocabulary boost. Your team is smarter than the last one. Lucian is hallucinatory, made by the gills in my caps, my mushrooms. With enough of my kind spread strategically around the planet, we can keep just enough in the air to control populations.”

“How do you know this?”

“We’ve done it before. You think we can speak languages so easily because we waited for your kind? We assimilate cultures, and have held power over our planet for… a long time.”

For the first time during this conversation, I wanted to drop my wall and scan. I hadn’t practiced mind domination in ages, and didn’t trust my ability in this moment. Damnit.

“Is there a way to collect a sample of Lucian?”

“Your Headquarters already possess three samples. They have enough.”

“TriJusty, did one of the former teams trade a person for a sample?”

“Why yes they did. It was all very civil, since they arrived without helmets.”

I understood why my team was chosen. Headquarters wanted me to mind war with this creature, to see if it was possible to control them. Fuck. Expendable category. I knew if I didn’t war with TriJusty, they would send me back until i figured it out. They couldn’t order me to use my gifts, part of the laws governing service, but they could make life miserable.

“Do you know why I was sent?”

“I have an idea, since you can hide.”

“You understand it’s not personal?” I hoped honesty could help avoid violence, no matter how this played out.

“Oh, personal – I understand. Let’s see what happens, yes?”

[Normal withdraw procedure if I take my helmet off.] I told second in command through the helmet.

[Understood.] Lamya replied.

My wall dropped, and I focused my will into a spear, threw it with everything at the large mushroom, and hit the cap. My training kicked in and I enveloped the mushrooms, separated them from the bird-bat. The bird-bat looked around once the mushrooms were engulfed.

“Why am I alone? Why have you forsaken your sworn duty?!” It shrieked at the mushrooms, who lazily relaxed under my control.

“TriJusty, I control them now. Why do we need you?”

“Go ahead, try to get them to spore, to do anything. You can’t. Give them back to me. They’re mine.” It’s cries were pure sorrow.

I tried to direct the mushrooms to spore, to look at the bird-bat, to do anything. They slumped over and seemed to fall asleep. I released control of them.

“They need you, and you need them. Interesting.” I glared at the bird-bat. The world was more beautiful when I could feel it, sense it beyond my sight. Now that I had cut it off and given it back, I saw the energy connection between the mushrooms and the black creature.

“Please bring your people here to our planet. We can work together, and learn much from each other.” TriJusty said after a few deep breaths.

“One thing before I leave to file my reports. Why is the planet desolate?”

“The cycle repeats. Sentient beings come, accept the deal, populate, reform the skys, reform the ground, give new life to the planet. Eventually some unbalance happens, and we are left alone.”

“There are ruins of other space traveling creatures on this planet?” I couldn’t contain my excitement.

“Yes, at least five have visible ruins, more are buried. My kind know the locations.Oh I understand your excitement now, for your kind that is another draw, another bonus for populating this planet. We will only share our knowledge if our conditions are met. Tell your Headquarters I’m done talking.” The way TriJusty said headquarters sounded nasty.

Payton landed while we were about half way back to the loading zone. The team silently trudged, and I felt each of their fear and worry.

The team described their individual experiences, and I collected them together, edited them into one report, then added my own notes. I knew Headquarters would skim personal experiences and opinions and go straight for the factual findings. I bullet pointed the important bits, as usual.

I attached my telepathic credentials, in anticipation of them hunting them down anyway. I was higher on the scale than average, and to cope with the TriJusty’s long term they would need someone at least as powerful as my gifts, with developed diplomacy. That wasn’t going to be easy.

Of course Headquarters accepted the deal, and begin pioneer efforts. None of the applicants were informed about the TriJusty, and life as an exploration team continued, status quo.


2017 Nightmare Fuel Day 6

“It’s rare that run of the mill humans can see it.” Her voice floated just above the gentle sounds of the meadow, and I resisted the urge to jump.

“It’s beautiful.” Wonder filled my voice, as I stared up at the grass covered cone. The top held a cistern of clear water, that cascaded down one side, creating a delicate waterfall. I could see at least ten doors, up and down the sides, placed haphazard on the stone structure. It was at least 15 feet tall, and it took my breath away.

“It is beautiful. Why have you come?”

Although difficult to tear my gaze away from the structure, I focused on the owner of the voice, a diminutive flying creature with blue skin and purple hair. Her wings shone with iridescence, but moved too quick for me to discern their shape.

“I… heard my name called from a little way up river. Like a kid calling,” I stammered the truth. The thought hadn’t sounded ridiculous, but the words tumbling out of my mouth certainly did.

The creature looked intrigued, and I felt her glance down my entire body and back up. It was uncomfortable. “Are you Alexis?”

“Yes.” I nodded. Hardly anyone called me that anymore. My childhood was full of those memories. Most people called me Alex.

“Very interesting. Most run of the mill humans can’t hear us either, but you seem to be hearing me just fine.” The creature covered her mouth. “What is your favorite holiday, Alexis?”

“Yes I can still hear you, and Halloween.” My focus shifted back to the stone structure. The waterfall was perfect, and I had never seen something so fascinating before.

“Fine, do you know what that is you stare at so openly?”

“The most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”

“You answered that well,” the creature flew to block my view, her arms crossed over her chest.

“Sometimes when I look at it, the doors are grey stone, but then when I’m not looking, the doors have wild colors, shapes, movement. Is this magic? Is this real?” I couldn’t stop spewing the ridiculous truth, and I cursed my mouth for betraying my ignorance.

“You can’t even tell if it’s real,” the creature scoffed at me. “But you have at least a little of the gift to see the colors.”

“Gift?”

“Yes, the only gift worth a damn. You’re untrained?”

“What does that mean?” My mind swam. Part of me knew she was asking about magical training, but that was myth and make believe.

“You know what it means.” The creature’s voice was quiet, had turned threatening.

The idea that any of this was real made my knees go weak. “Magic isn’t real.”

The moment the words came out of me, the creature, and the beautiful structure disappeared. There was no poof, no lingering theatrical smoke, no clue that they existed. I blinked several times, and studied the ground in front of me. There was no change to the tall grass and weeds, no proof of the perfect waterfall. It was all gone.

Grief overtook me. “Come back. I’m sorry.”

Tears fell onto my shirt, and my throat stung. Something inside me knew I had just lost a magnificent chance, a magical chance. Nothing I could say would make her come back.

I visit once a week, along the river when I heard the call. I leave little gifts sometimes. Wreaths of wildflaowers, small bottle of spirits, apology letters. It left tiny pieces of grief and guilt from my heart.

The small part of me that believed for a moment tells me one day they might reach out again, but the realist in me knows the moment had gone.

I should let it go, but I can’t.