Category: my writing

(WP) Hellfire and The Orchid Mantis

(WP) Hellfire and The Orchid Mantis

               She’d
felt she’d earned her retirement, the former supervillain thought to herself as
she put the kettle on to boil. And she was glad; being one of the world’s most
evil supervillains was not easy. That was part of the reason that she’d risen
to the challenge; being good, heroic, just seemed so boring. Anyone could be the friendly hero, the schmuck next door
who averted everyday crises. Yes, it took someone with true fortitude to be
wicked.

               But
thankfully, that was all behind her now. She’d married, had children, had gone
on to be a productive member of society after her stint in prison. From her
place in the kitchen, she heard the television, currently on one of the
national news channels. She could faintly hear a female news anchor, reporting
on how a gang of villains were currently holding the patrons of a bank hostage
until it would fork over a million dollars in cash.

               She
smiled faintly, but she could admit to herself that she didn’t miss that life.

               Ava
suddenly found herself uneasy, as if she were being watched.

               When
the kettle screamed, she jumped, and swore quietly.

               What
was the matter with her? Pouring herself a cup of hot, steaming tea, Earl Gray,
she took the mug and walked back into the living room. Thanks to her powers,
she didn’t have to wait for it to cool. She made herself comfortable in the
armchair in front of the fireplace, turning off the TV.

Even after she’d made herself comfortable
with a worn, dog-eared book, she could not shake off that uncomfortable feeling
that she wasn’t alone. Putting down her book and mug, she stood up, feeling her
fists become enveloped with bright blue flames.

“Who’s there? If you don’t come out
and tell me who you are, I’ll barbeque you!”

She hadn’t become one of the world’s
worst supervillains by cowering in a corner, and her voice was cold,
threatening. She hoped it was only her imagination, but her instincts were much
to sharp not to heed. She gritted her teeth, forcing herself to wait, and her
patience was soon rewarded.

Of all people she’d expected, it
wasn’t one of the world’s most beloved superheroes. But the young woman stepped
out, her invisibility melting away once she was caught. The Orchid Mantis,
named for her ability to blend in, as well as her hair, as bright pink as the
flower she was named after.

“What do you want?” Ava demanded;
as far as she was concerned, the threat hadn’t been averted. “How dare you,
breaking into my house! And you’re a hero! Aren’t you and your ilk supposed to
have manners?” She bit off the rest of her diatribe and her flames extinguished.

Once she got a good look at the kid,
her defenses lowered somewhat. The teenager was pale, her bright hazel eyes
ringed with violet circles, her costume rumpled and stained. Her hair was lank
and greasy, and Ava noticed that the girl couldn’t even look her in the eye.

“I need your help.”

Ava barked out a laugh, high and
derisive. “Why would someone like Orchid Mantis need my help?”

“Let’s just say that I don’t want
to be a hero anymore. I want to become a supervillain. And you’re one of the
best, so…”

“You broke into my house!” Ava squawked
indignantly, shaking her head at the audacity of this child.

“Please, Hellfire. I’m so tired of
pretending to be something I’m not.”

**

(WP) Ironclad Hearts

(WP) Ironclad Hearts

              Once upon a time, there was a young prince who longed for love. He had everything he ever desired, except for a loving partner. Rumors had begun to swirl about the prince, about how he abducted young maids in the night to be held as prisoners in his castle.

              Of course, that wasn’t true, but truth does not matter one way or another to wagging tongues.

              The truth was, he’d fallen in love with a childhood friend, and he’d begged his parents to match him with her. He could not live without her. The prince was so distraught that his parents granted their permission for the two to wed.

              But it was not to be. The princess was engaged to another, and worse, he’d been told that the suit had been rejected with laughter.

              From that day on, the prince grew bitter and jaded and had all but given up on love. As the days passed, the castle grew into a twisted iron prison, a mirror of what lay inside of his heart.

              Eventually, he was forgotten by time and his subjects, and his lands grew thick with trees and bushes and overgrown grasses and flowers.

              But he hadn’t been entirely forgotten. The princess’s little sister, Amelie, had been unable to think of little else since her sister’s rejection of the prince. She, too, had been released from a troth of marriage, due to her disability: she had a club foot and had to use a wooden stick to walk properly.

              And this headstrong, determined princess was hellbent on getting to the prince and showing him that he could be loved as he so wished. Amelie set out on horseback with a sword, her staff, and a magical book. Accompanying her was her faithful familiar, a crow with bright green eyes and a sharp, wicked beak.

              The journey led her across mountain ranges, rivers, and hills, past fields and plains. Soon, she lost track of just how many days had passed. But she had started this, and she would see it through, even though she didn’t know the outcome.

              Finally, she rode through the forests, hacking her way through it with her blade, exhausted but undaunted.

              Amelie put her horse at the castle gates, then ascended the stairs, the only sound her wooden cane on the steep marble steps. If she hadn’t already made it this far, she would’ve been unnerved.

              But there was a reason she’d lived this long, and she’d be damned if a long quest broke her. What was that, in comparison to the expectations of her own family?

              The doors were barred shut, but the sword sliced through the bars as though they were mere paper.

              Amelia limped through the silent, gray rooms of the castle.

              Where was the prince? She’d come all this way to save him.

              Finally, she found him in the library in front of a roaring fire, hearing the pages of his book turn.

              “Your Highness,” Amelie whispered. “I’ve come to end your loneliness.”

              **

(WP) The Ocean’s Rage

(WP) The Ocean’s Rage

The beast had been chasing them
across the seas, though everyone knew it was pointless to run. Its size alone
meant that it was impossible to escape. The waves surged around it in a
churning rush, and the deck of the ship became slick with saltwater.

But what had they expected? After
all, they’d enraged the Goddess of the Ocean, and this was her retribution for
their hubris.

“We should’ve left her an offering
before we set sail!” The first mate called; his words lost in the fierce gale.

“Stop your blubbering and tie the
lines!” The captain roared back, using the full force of his voice to be heard
over the elements. They’d already lost several men, both to the ocean’s wrath
and the beast’s hungry maw. “Keep your wits about you, gentlemen!”

But it was hard to keep that in
mind when a giant whale hovered behind their ship, so big it was
incomprehensible. It was like something out of a nightmare.

The creature lunged again, diving
under the waves and soaking them all with a huge wave.

The first mate, Lionel Fredricks,
began to hastily tie the lines so each member was secure. But this normally
easy task was made that much harder by the storm, and Lionel’s own fear. His
hands were shaking so badly he could barely tie a knot.

His hesitation cost him, as two men
were forced to let go of the ship’s sides. With terrified shrieks, they
disappeared over the side of the ship.

Lionel looked down into the
bubbling soup of the waves, trying to track the massive beast’s shadow, but it
was lost in all of the chaos.

Then it reared upwards, a lightning
strike illuminating its huge girth before it struck; long scars and pockmarks
marred the whale’s side, and Lionel wondered, with horror, what kind of
creature was able to cause such agony to an animal so gigantic.

The blood sprayed across the deck;
Lionel imagined that he could hear a vicious, ugly crunch as the whale feasted upon his friends’ bones. His throat
tightened.

Those deaths were his fault. His, and his alone. His
stomach clenched, and he worried that he would heave his water and hardtack
onto the already slippery deck.

Death was already a constant companion
on these waves, and it would strike at any time. He wasn’t afraid of it; it was
simply a fact of life. Especially for a sailor. But in all the ways he’d
imagined dying, he’d never even come close to this.

Lionel could sense the monster
growing tired of its games. Then the whale rammed its head into the ship,
splintering the wood and causing a huge hole to form.

At this rate, they’d either die of drowning,
or they’d become an appetizer for this monster.

He thought he would’ve preferred
drowning: It had always seemed to him a peaceful way to die.

The world narrowed to a single,
sharp point: Dimly, he could hear his comrades screaming, scrabbling for
purchase upon the deck breaking under their feet.

The monster reared its tail, and
another icy wave broke over them. But Lionel barely felt it, because the whale
was staring at him with a dark, glittering eye.

Had the Goddess turned Her back
upon them? Or was this creature merely hurt, frightened over the ships that
were unlucky enough to sail into its domain?

**

(WP) The Lost Sorceress

(WP) The Lost Sorceress

               It was
a yearly tradition, being chosen as the sorcerer for the kingdom, by the king
and his council. But it wasn’t their choice alone: The sorcerer in power wore
an amulet that shone bright red when their successor was in the room. For a while,
all was peaceful: The sorcerer used their magic to help improve the lives of
everyone in the kingdom.

               That
was, until the young Prince Alastair became king. The boy did not believe in
magic, not in the way that it was used in their kingdom. If magic was used in
the kingdom, it should have been used strictly for the crown. When the sorcerer
protested this injustice, King Alastair banned all of the magic entirely.

If it was not used for the crown,
no one would use it at all. As a result, the fields grew fallow and barren, and
people throughout the kingdom began to die. But it didn’t matter to the new
king; what were the lives of a few peasants? He celebrated his coronation with
a grand party and feast, and the ceremony was lavish and extravagant.

King Alastair, I thought bitterly,
was nothing like monarchs that had ruled before him.

I was on the outskirts of my
village, scavenging for food. I’d managed to find some leftovers in pantries of
broken, long abandoned houses. Half-empty bags of grain, pickled fruits and vegetables.
It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.

Putting my spoils in the sack on my
back, I walked into a broken, crumbling hut. There was a faint, ruby shimmer
coming from the dark. The hut’s only occupants were spiders and rats, but
nonetheless, I tiptoed through the hut, following the light. I was spurred on
by a feeling I didn’t understand.

I found the source of the light in
the ashes of a fireplace: it glittered like an ember, and I knelt on the
hearth, digging through the ashes. There was an amulet, made out of gold: It
was so tarnished that I could barely tell what it was made out of. But the
jewel it held inside of it caught my eye. It looked like something out of an
old book, and when I touched it, it sparkled. The ashes fell away, and it
gleamed like new.

Something about the necklace teased
my memory; it was like something from a dream I could barely remember. It felt
as if it were meant for me, and before I fully realized what I was doing, I put
the amulet in my sack.

I began to forage through what was
left of the family who’d lived here before, and there wasn’t much. There was a
wedge of hard cheese, some dried fruit, and a heel of bread that had somehow
evaded mold.

It would keep myself and my family
fed for another couple days, at least.

My palm itched from where I had
touched the amulet, and I gritted my teeth, trying not to scratch it.

When I returned home with my pack
stuffed to the brim, I sat by the fire.

I scratched absently at my hand and
realized that there was a bright blue streak cutting through my palm.

What did it mean?

**

Desperation

               Desperation

This has been going on for weeks, and I don’t know if I can take any more.

               The cold stone floor bites through my clothes, and I grit my teeth, tears of exhaustion pouring down my face.

               I do not know when my captor will come back, though I am praying to the gods that I have a reprieve.

               The size of my cell is tiny, barely enough room for me to lie down. In the corner there is a dirty metal plate, a chamber pot, and a pail of dirty water that is beginning to smell.

               There are no windows, so I have no way of keeping track of the time. My days have all bled together, a blur of violence and nightmares. My memories of life before this existence as a prisoner are few and far between.

               I am broken from my thoughts by the deafening screech of a door swinging on rusty hinges. I scramble into a sitting position, putting my back against the wall. The cold, heavy manacles around my wrists and ankles have rubbed my skin raw, and I bite back a cry of agony.

               The sound of slow, sure footsteps echoes throughout the cavernous chamber, and I find myself wishing that I had the company of the rats and insects that live in this hovel.

               If only I could rip out his eyes… The thought brings me a burst of dark, unexpected pleasure.

               After all, there’s not much else to do but dream up ways to revenge, in my position.

               After what seems like a whole eternity, my captor finally shows himself, standing in front of my cell door.

In the weak torchlight, he looks sallow, washed out, his eyes like tiny black pebbles in his face. His red, bulbous nose is swollen, and when I look closer, his eyes are bloodshot. There are food and sweat stains on his fine silk coat, and it’s all I can do not to let my disgust show on my face.

“Have you given any consideration to my offer, my dear?” He asks me, his words slurring.

“What does it matter? My answer is the same, always. No.”

At this, his mask of a fine courtier slips, and his lips curl. He spits, and I barely manage to dodge it.

“I believe I’ve been quite generous, considering your… situation. But fine. If you wish to rot in your cell for the rest of your days, that is your human right.”

Despite myself, despite aching for every bit of control I have, I laugh. The sound edges on hysterical, and I can feel my power coiling like a snake in my chest, calling upon the rats and the bugs and everything hiding under the flagstones. I don’t have much left; I’ve had very little sustenance.

“But know this, my love. You’re not the only one who suffers from your choices.”

I know who he is referring to. My family, outside of the palace.

Heat builds in my chest, and I murmur a command under my breath, disguised as a prayer to the Father Earth and Mother Sky.

The creatures within this prison hear my call, and heed it. The rats and flies descend on him in a black cloud, enveloping him until there is naught but dust. His screams echo off of the walls, but they are as music to me.

In his place, there lays a shining metal key, and I just barely manage to reach through the bars and snatch it. My hands are shaking so badly I almost drop it.

But my power has won me my freedom. It is finished.

**

Desperation

               Desperation

This has been going on for weeks, and I don’t know if I can take any more.

               The cold stone floor bites through my clothes, and I grit my teeth, tears of exhaustion pouring down my face.

               I do not know when my captor will come back, though I am praying to the gods that I have a reprieve.

               The size of my cell is tiny, barely enough room for me to lie down. In the corner there is a dirty metal plate, a chamber pot, and a pail of dirty water that is beginning to smell.

               There are no windows, so I have no way of keeping track of the time. My days have all bled together, a blur of violence and nightmares. My memories of life before this existence as a prisoner are few and far between.

               I am broken from my thoughts by the deafening screech of a door swinging on rusty hinges. I scramble into a sitting position, putting my back against the wall. The cold, heavy manacles around my wrists and ankles have rubbed my skin raw, and I bite back a cry of agony.

               The sound of slow, sure footsteps echoes throughout the cavernous chamber, and I find myself wishing that I had the company of the rats and insects that live in this hovel.

               If only I could rip out his eyes… The thought brings me a burst of dark, unexpected pleasure.

               After all, there’s not much else to do but dream up ways to revenge, in my position.

               After what seems like a whole eternity, my captor finally shows himself, standing in front of my cell door.

In the weak torchlight, he looks sallow, washed out, his eyes like tiny black pebbles in his face. His red, bulbous nose is swollen, and when I look closer, his eyes are bloodshot. There are food and sweat stains on his fine silk coat, and it’s all I can do not to let my disgust show on my face.

“Have you given any consideration to my offer, my dear?” He asks me, his words slurring.

“What does it matter? My answer is the same, always. No.”

At this, his mask of a fine courtier slips, and his lips curl. He spits, and I barely manage to dodge it.

“I believe I’ve been quite generous, considering your… situation. But fine. If you wish to rot in your cell for the rest of your days, that is your human right.”

Despite myself, despite aching for every bit of control I have, I laugh. The sound edges on hysterical, and I can feel my power coiling like a snake in my chest, calling upon the rats and the bugs and everything hiding under the flagstones. I don’t have much left; I’ve had very little sustenance.

“But know this, my love. You’re not the only one who suffers from your choices.”

I know who he is referring to. My family, outside of the palace.

Heat builds in my chest, and I murmur a command under my breath, disguised as a prayer to the Father Earth and Mother Sky.

The creatures within this prison hear my call, and heed it. The rats and flies descend on him in a black cloud, enveloping him until there is naught but dust. His screams echo off of the walls, but they are as music to me.

In his place, there lays a shining metal key, and I just barely manage to reach through the bars and snatch it. My hands are shaking so badly I almost drop it.

But my power has won me my freedom. It is finished.

**

(WP) The Dark Goddess and the Prophecy

(WP) The Dark Goddess and the Prophecy

               Everyone knew the old story. It had been told since the founding of the kingdom and the countries surrounding them. The prophecy had predicted that there would be six heroes that would face the old, dark god. They would all be chosen from different walks of life. All with different strengths and weaknesses, but united, they would overcome the god’s tyranny and free the people from under its thumb.

               Well, as it turns out, the prophecy was only correct about some things.

               First of all, it was not a god, but a goddess. One of unimaginable darkness and rage, twisted by all of the negative emotion she’d repressed when she was a human, several centuries ago.

               The whole of humanity cowered under her cruel rule, but there were some who had willingly helped her rise to power: assassins, criminals, those dissatisfied with the law and the people who had ruled before.

               Second, only five heroes showed up.  No one knew what had happened to the sixth member of the group. There were rumors, of course. They’d died, been assassinated, or worse, even become one of the goddess’s spies.

               The first of the heroes, a young man named Nikolai, arrived at the abandoned palace, where the goddess and her cohorts were rumored to be hiding out. He was astride a handsome stallion, and he himself was adorned with furs. There were weapons hidden everywhere on his person, and he frowned. He couldn’t help wondering, if, indeed, he should wait for the others: the people said to help him in this monumental task.

               But he already had so little time. Perhaps it would be better to wait until the sun set, to hide in the lush, green foliage that surrounded the old palace.

               It was so different from his homeland, frigid and cold, where snowflakes and ice decorated everything like a pale, glimmering veil.

               Sick of thinking instead of acting, he directed his horse to the thick, leafy trees, and there they hid, waiting until the next hero in the group showed up.

               Never mind that they all didn’t know each other, they were said to save the world.

               **

But the newcomer had doubts that could not be silenced.

                 Eris knew that she came from nothing. Her family had been poor all their lives, and what chance they’d had of glory and comforted had gone up in smoke, thanks to their mother’s leaving to serve The Dark Goddess.

               It didn’t matter that she’d sent extravagant gifts, bolts of silk from which to make gowns, heavy gold and silver coins, jewelry studded with real precious stones instead of the false ones that were pasted on in the village, or that she’d done it for their family’s safety.

               That meant nothing to their proud, bitter father. He’d been so certain when Eris’s mark had shown up, inked across her back in glittering runes. He’d even asked their neighbors to donate things she needed so she could get to the palace. But even with all this planning, she’d been late.

               There was a mean, ugly little voice that spoke in the back of her mind.

               If even your own family did not want you, did not think you were capable of anything, what makes you think you will be able to unseat the Dark Goddess?

               But she, and all the others mentioned in the vision, had little choice in the matter.

               Destiny and fate seemed to have their own plans.

               **

(WP) Galaxy’s Most Wanted

(WP) Galaxy’s Most Wanted

               She was
the most wanted fugitive across the galaxies, and she felt a sort of
bittersweet thrill run through her.

               It
seemed like merely yesterday that she had been cowering in her uncle’s inn,
forced to serve her aunt and cousins as if she were not family herself. But she
had gained the courage to leave that life of drudgery and servitude behind her.
Oh, if her wicked, awful family could see her now. They’d cower before her,
begging for mercy.

               Lucky
for them, she was not the type to hold grudges.

               And
anyway, where was the fun in life without a little risk?

               She
slunk through the city, edging toward the tavern, smirking to herself when she
saw her own image smiling merrily back at her, middle finger raised high at the
viewer in naked defiance.

                For a single moment, she was tempted to throw
caution to the winds entirely and throw her hood away from her face, revealing
her identity.

               But
even for Freya Starsinger, that was tempting fate a little too much.

               Waiting
until the reckless urge passed, she kept close to the edges of the streets,
letting the crowd carry her toward the inn.

               When
she could finally see the sign, depicting a flag with skull and crossbones on
it, she broke away from the crowd and slipped inside.

               Thankfully,
the bar was so crowded that no one so much as looked up when she walked in,
still cloaked.

               Finding
a spot at the back of the room, she sat down, the air heavy with cooking smoke
and the stench of unwashed bodies. Freya did not stay in one place for long;
even if she weren’t wanted by the corrupt government chasing her, she could not
stand being confined. It reminded her, too much, of her past.

               She had
escaped, but the scars had not yet healed.

               Her feet
and her ship could carry her as far as she liked, but she could not leave behind
her pain, or her memories.

               The
thought made her more than a little bitter.

               In
order to avoid detection, she’d cut her hair and filed her canine teeth to
points, but her armor and swords weren’t nearly as easy to conceal.

               She was
jolted from her melancholy thoughts by a serving girl appearing at her elbow.

               “Would
you care for something to eat or drink? Our inn boasts the best wine this side
of the cosmos,” She said, smiling winningly.

               She was
very pretty, and a few years older than Freya herself. She had long, strawberry
blonde hair that was piled up into a bun at the top of her head. Freckles
dotted her face like fiery red stars, all around her nose, mouth, forehead, and
cheeks. Her eyes were the bright blue of a clear Earth sky.

               “Yes,
please,” Freya said, making her voice deeper than her usual alto. “A bowl of
stew, some bread, and some of that famous wine of yours.” She set down a few
fat gold coins and slid them toward the other girl.

               She
blushed pink and took the money, thanking Freya before taking her order to the
kitchen.

               Freya
would have to set out, again, after a night of short rest.

               As
tempting as it was to let her guard down, she couldn’t afford it.

               There
were eyes everywhere, and there would be worse things waiting for her than her
aunt and uncle’s house if she were caught.

               **

(WP) Blood Like Poppies

(WP) Blood Like Poppies

               The
Queen has summoned her executioner to her chambers for a ‘private audience and
repast’.

               The
page kneels before the woman, so petrified that the parchment, sealed with
bright green wax, trembles in hand.

               “Thank
you,” She murmurs, slipping him a couple of coins for his trouble.

               The
missive is short and to the point, “Meet me for dinner in my private chambers.
You and I have something to discuss.”

               Something
tells Poppy Bloodletter that this is not exactly a social call.

               Perhaps
her luck has finally run out, and her queen has discovered one of her many
secrets.

               She
goes to her room and changes her clothes. When she comes out, she is dressed in
black, as if she is attending a mourning ceremony. Gloves, shot through with silver,
adorn her hands, to mask her fear.

               There
were many different kinds of armor, she has learned, and she will be a fool not
to protect herself in what little ways she could.

               The
queen is not a patient woman, and there is no use in delaying the inevitable.

               **

               Poppy
is announced by the queen’s page, and after several long heartbeats, she is
allowed inside. She is escorted through the sitting room and brought to the
queen herself, and there she is, pouring tea herself.

               Poppy
realizes that there is not a servant to be seen, and she can feel her heartbeat
all through her flesh, but especially in her throat. She doesn’t dare speak;
she just waited, the minutes stretching out like taffy.

               “Do you
remember, my dear, when you first came to my castle, when your father demanded
you be trained in the arts of killing and assassination?” The Queen looks up at
her, beckons her to sit at the small table, across from her.

               The
Queen was dressed in a gown of forest green, with emeralds dotting the bodice.
Along the hem, there is a ring of garnets. To Poppy, she looks like spring
embodied, given human form. With her dark skin, dusted with subtle glitter, and
black curls, the color is a stunning contrast. Her eyes, though, are the red of
the poppies that gave the executioner her name. She is beautiful, terrifying,
and arresting. More like a goddess than a monarch.

               “How could
I forget?” Poppy murmurs in reply, smiling in spite of herself. “It was the day
that my life changed forever. You told my father that I would be taking up his
trade, once he retired.”

               “That
is also the day that you swore fealty to me, my children, my house and kingdom,”
Queen Kali whispers, and a cruel, sharp smile graces her full, lovely lips.

               “I
feel, my darling Poppy, that you have lost sight of your duty. Are you unhappy
here? Is there anything you need that I have not provided?”

               As she
speaks, her voice grows dangerously lower, more like a growl than a purr.

               As if
to give Poppy more time to answer, Queen Kali quickly uncovers the food she has
ordered for them both: a tureen of spiced lentil stew, a roasted haunch of
beef, crusted with mushrooms and spices and served with a rich wine sauce,
thick, dark bread slathered with butter and still warm, and for dessert, meringue
lemon tarts.

               She’s
really pulling out the big guns, Poppy realizes.

               “No,
not at all, Your Majesty. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”

               “Then
why, my dear Poppy, have you spent all of these years lying to me? Betraying myself and the Crown? I know
what you’ve done, and consider this your last meal. You will die for your
crimes against the Kingdom, Poppy Bloodletter.”

               **

(WP) Phoenix’s Fire

(WP) Phoenix’s Fire

               The mansion that had once stood proud on the hill was nothing more than a pile of burned wood and stone.

               The family that had lived inside were all dead, burned to a crisp in their own beds.

               Still, this wasn’t exactly an open and closed case.

               The only member of the de la Fuego family that was unharmed was the youngest of them all, an infant named Phoenix.

               The firefighter who had saved her, a young woman by the name of Stone, was in shock. She’d even spoken to several local news stations about the incident.

               “Unfortunately, I did not arrive in time to save the rest of this poor child’s family. But I climbed what was left of the stairs, and I could’ve sworn that I heard a baby crying. I walked into her bedroom and there she was, sitting in her crib, unharmed, crying her little lungs out.”

               Stone looked away from the camera, a comely blush darkening her cheeks. Tears ran down her cheeks at the memory.

               “That little girl has some lucky stars, she does. She’s a living miracle.”

               **

The infant was placed in the care of Child Protective Services while the police and fire department investigated the circumstances of her family’s death.

The case grew more perplexing as time went on.

In the care of a social worker, Phoenix grew. She grew from a tiny infant to a chubby, apple-cheeked toddler with a cap of dark curls and bright amber eyes that were the same color as honey.

The social worker taking care of the child began to notice strange things about her ward.

The near-constant smell of smoke faintly wafting off of her, reminding Miss Haypenny of a campfire.

The way Phoenix’s eyes glowed whenever something went wrong or she was denied what she wanted.

Miss Haypenny began to suspect that the little girl she’d taken in was extraordinary.

**

Eventually, the investigation was put on hold. There was no accelerant used, nothing to suggest that the fire had been more than an unfortunate accident. People throughout the city donated to pay for the de la Fuegos’ funeral, though they had mostly kept to themselves and were called eccentric by the kinder folks in town, and weird and unfriendly by the others.

Miss Haypenny put the papers through to have Phoenix adopted, though if she were being honest, she had grown used to the little girl in her own home.

But perhaps it was better that she be adopted by other people. There was only so much of herself she could give.

And, if she was being completely honest with herself, Phoenix scared the hell out of her.

She suspected, somehow, that the girl had started the fire that had killed the rest of her family.

But that was crazy, the stuff of fiction. After all, this wasn’t a Stephen King novel.

Still, she could not quiet the voice inside her mind, that said that something was deeply, irrevocably wrong with Phoenix de la Fuego.

**