Category: writing prompt response

(WP) Spooky Scary Skeletons

(WP) Spooky Scary Skeletons

               It was Friday
the 13th, and we were bored, infected with restlessness due to the
full moon.

               It wasn’t
quite Halloween, but it was close enough. It was an excuse to swipe alcohol and
other illicit substances from our parents and head to the old graveyard just
outside of town. It was something of a tradition for the high schoolers in our
town to hang out there, and it was nearly midnight.

               As I
was the oldest one of us all and the first to get a license, it was my job to pick
everyone up. Everyone else was responsible for the rest. We’d been doing this
since we were 16, and it was a smooth system. I suspected our parents noticed,
but no one ever said anything.

               I
pulled up in front of Via’s house first, which was dark, the only light on in
the house shining through the top window. It clicked off, and she came out,
clothed in black and clutching bulging plastic bags. Her bright white smile cut
a line in the cool velvet black, and she put the bags in the backseat.

               She
opened the door as smoothly as she could and slid into the front seat, bringing
with her the scent of patchouli and sandalwood. “I’m first, so I get shotgun,”
She said, winking at me. I laughed, then started the car, eager to get the festivities
started. Via turned up the music when we were close to Cat’s house, something
with a booming bass that I liked immediately, the hour be damned.

               For Cat’s
part, she was ready, jogging down the sidewalk to meet us. She was dressed in a
gray peacoat, the tortoiseshell buttons glinting even in the dark. She wore an
orange hat, and her eyes sparkled behind her hipster-frame glasses. “Finally!
It’s so cold out here, you guys!” She said, managing even in her excitement to
sound indignant.

“Come on, Cat, I’ll turn the heat
on!” Via cajoled, tapping her fingers against the door. “We gotta go! We still haven’t
picked up the other two. It’s almost midnight and I’ve got some plans for us
all.”

I blinked, looking over at Via. Her
eyes were unfocused, the corners of her mouth turned upward. I didn’t know why,
but that look sent chills down my spine.

We picked up our last two friends,
Janelle and Morgan, and we headed to the graveyard.

“Wait to see what I found in our
attic, you guys. It’s perfect for the occasion!”

I found myself wondering if she had
pregamed, if she was already buzzed. But before I could ask her, we were in the
parking lot of the graveyard, and my friends were headed to the mausoleum at
its center with their spoils.

When I caught up, using my phone’s
flashlights to avoid tripping over headstones, they were already seated in a
circle around the stone building, and the liquor was flowing freely. Via
already had a cup in hand, standing in the middle of the circle, commanding
attention. “I found something so cool in an old box the other day. And I
figured, what better night than this one to test it?”

She put an old and worn Ouija board
in my hands when I sat down. It was so ancient the wood had developed a rich,
shining patina veneer, the old-fashioned letters nearly lost to time.

“Have you never seen a horror
movie?” Morgan quipped, taking a sip of whiskey and rolling her eyes.

“Jesus, M, way to kill the mood,”
Via growled, and Janelle looked between them, her gaze bouncing between them
like a tennis ball.

“Where’s the harm?”

Via snatched it back from me,
murmuring a quiet incantation under her breath.

For a moment, nothing happened.

Then a loud, earth-shattering creak
was heard from behind me; I was sitting in front of the door.

A bony hand crept slowly out to
hold the side of the door, still speckled with layers of decayed muscles.

**

(WP) The Savior of Moonlight

(WP) The Savior of Moonlight

               “Remember,
my love, if you’re ever in trouble, just hold out your hand, palm out, and you
will get the help you need, no matter where you are.”

               My
mother had said that from the time I was a little boy, and I didn’t think much
of it, until the night that I drank a bit too much and decided to walk home. I
didn’t hear them until they almost on me, and by then, it was too late.

               A blow
to the back of my head, the metallic, bitter tang of blood in my mouth where I’d
bitten through my lip. Drunken laughter and the stink of cologne.

               “What
an idiot! What kind of person walks through this neighborhood at this time of
night? He’s got no sense.” Someone said, punctuating the insults with a few
kicks to the ribs that had me coughing.

               “Why
are you complaining?” Someone else asked, laughing. “His bad luck is our gain.”

               My eyes
streamed as more blows rained down on my body; even after I curled up in the
fetal position, they didn’t abate.

               I
remembered my mother’s words, and in desperation, I unclenched my right hand
and held it up, palm upturned toward the moonlight.

               **

               I was
blinded by a sheet of silvery, white light, and I gasped, closing my eyes
against the intrusion. Maybe it was the drink, and the agony from being beaten
nearly to death. Maybe I was just hallucinating. But from my vantage point on
the blacktop, I saw a blurred, outlined silhouette, and around it were the prone,
sedate bodies of the thugs who had attacked me.

               Could
it be that the moon had heard my cry for help?

               “Don’t
try to move, child, you’re gravely injured,” The shadow spoke, and it certainly
wasn’t in any language I’d ever heard, but somehow, I still understood it.

               “Who
are you?” I choked out, spitting out some loose teeth as I did so. They landed
at the thing’s feet, glimmering in the light it emitted like tiny, misplaced
pearls.

               “Silly,
foolish boy,” It said, and I could’ve sworn that I heard laughter in its
strange, melodic voice. “You’ve known me all your life, Jericho. Remember those
myths that your mother told you when you were little? They’re real, child. But
hidden from those who are unworthy.”

               Did
that mean that I was worthy to gaze upon a being older than time itself?
It seemed too good to be true. Perhaps the thing could see the incredulity on my
face, because it laughed again, the sound like bright bells.

               “It was
your mother, really. She asked me to watch over you.” The being’s voice was
fading, and before I finally lost consciousness, it took the form of a lithe,
beautiful woman with long, white curls, and her eyes were a sparkling, beguiling
lilac. She looked like an illustration rendered in a storybook. “And how could
I say no to a woman who has paid tribute to me for all her life?” She smiled at
me, kissing my forehead so softly that I wondered if I’d imagined it.

When I awoke the next morning in
the hospital, I was almost certain I’d dreamed up the whole thing. But the pain
was indeed real, and on the inside of my forearm, a bright violet rune was etched,
the skin raised and angry at the fresh wound.

**

(WP) A Royal Command

(WP) A Royal Command

               Magic
was an art that came easily to Lenora, ever since her powers had manifested
when she was a child. But having such an affinity for the magical arts came
with a price that grew ever steeper.

               Snapped,
broken bones, limbs wrapped in gauze, shed blood glimmering like rubies in
sunlight.

               Lenora
was accustomed to pain and agony; it was a small price to pay for unstoppable
power, and her mistress had taught her that pain was temporary, a fleeting sensation
felt more in the mind than in body, something to overcome and bend to her own
will.

               She was
lying on the floor of her mistress’s laboratory, hissing with pain as she
popped one of her dislocated fingers back into place. Try as she might to
resist them, tears stung her eyes and flooded over.

               “Breathe
through the pain, Lenora,” Doctor Carver’s voice cut through the haze, and Lenora
sat up slowly, the muted gray of the walls swimming in her vision.

               Dr.
Carver handed Lenora a heavy crystal chalice, filled with water, and she took
it gratefully, gulping down half the glass in one gulp.

               “The
King and Queen have invited us to an audience,” Dr. Carver said, her glasses
glinting in the weak candlelight. “It seems that you will have your first
official mission on behalf of the Crown.”

               Lenora,
for her part, could hardly believe her ears. She hadn’t yet seen her twenty-second
autumn, and now she was going to be receiving a mission. A real mission,
outside of the lab and the castle. Instead of being dizzy from pain now, it was
from excitement.

               “Come
along. I need to patch up your wounds as best as I can, and then we must meet
with the King and Queen.”

               **

               Lenora
was presented to King Henry and Queen Isabelle, dressed in a silk dress the
color of sapphires. Dr. Carver introduced her, head bowed in deference.

               “Your
Highnesses, it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to my ward and protégé,
Lenora Cambridge. You requested that I bring her, did you not?” Dr. Carver
asked, raising her head just a fraction.

               Much to
Lenora’s surprise, it was the Queen who spoke first.

               “Yes,
Doctor Carver. Thank you so much.” The queen smiled kindly at Lenora, her gray
eyes twinkling with something that looked like amusement.

               “Lenora,
my lord husband and I have invited you here to ask you a question.” The queen
said. She remained smiling, but it did not reach her eyes; they looked to her
like dark, cold tunnels.

               “We
understand that the good doctor Carver has taught you the art of magic wielding,
and that you are the best student that she has had in years.”

               Lenora
nodded, waiting for the ruler to continue. She could hear her heartbeat
thundering in her ears, inescapable. What task was the royal family about to
ask of her?

               “We
would like you to journey throughout the land of our empire and teach other
young people how to use the ancient, noble art of magic, to prepare for the
coming war with the goblins across the seas.”

               Lenora
could not believe what she was hearing. Were her King and Queen honestly asking
her to go overseas and teach people how to kill?

               **

(WP) The Monster Next Door

(WP) The Monster Next Door

               The
thing about being immortal was that it sounded like fun and games, until you
realized that you were living through immeasurable stretches of time by
yourself. Sure, you got to watch empires rise and fall, be at the deathbeds of
monarchs, but it was all so monotonous. Humans craved blood and violence, just
like monsters; they just hid their true faces behind honeyed words and bright
smiles.

               There
were so many songs you can listen to, and books you can read. Even immortals
were not immune to restless ennui, which was what led Octavia to a crowded bar,
sipping at a dirty martini. Alcohol never lasted long in her system, but she
liked the way it made her feel.

               A group
of young people were sitting in a booth in the back of the room; Octavia could
smell them, the tang of metal and blood and the sour, sweaty odor of their
skin. They were speaking quietly, but her sharp ears picked up every word they
exchanged.

               There
were four of them, two men and two women, munching on bar snacks: mozzarella sticks,
fried pickles, olives stuffed with garlic and feta. All but one had glasses of
water in front of them; one of the men was nursing a beer. Octavia could smell
it, and she resisted the urge to lick her lips.

               “I’m
telling you, there’s a monster in this room,” The drinking man said, taking
another gulp of beer. “I can feel it.” Octavia smiled faintly to herself.

               “Or you’re
just drunk and confused,” One of his companions quipped, smirking bitterly. “We’ve
been at this for almost six months and we still haven’t found a monster.”

               “It
could be possible that we’re not good at monster hunting.” Someone else said,
with a blasé shrug of her shoulders. “I mean, we’re shit with weapons and even
worse with strategy.”

               “Why
did we think that this was a good idea again?”

               “Yeah,
Cameron. Just because your dad was good at this and left you this weird legacy
doesn’t mean we’re meant for the ‘art of hunting’ or whatever.”

               Cameron
frowned, and an uncomfortable silence descended upon the table.

               Octavia
could not help but pity this sorry group of humans; they were obviously
earnest.

               Then an
idea began to form inside of her mind: What if she let these bumbling children
capture her? It had been centuries since she had messed with what her kind
called ‘the other white meat’. Where was the harm?

               “I’m
telling you,” said the man, brandishing his beer bottle. “There’s a monster in
here. I can feel it, and my gut never lies.”

               “Or you’re
just hungry, like you were last time. Come on, Nash, give it up.”

               Octavia
finished her drink, her limbs light and springy from the alcohol, and paid for
it. It was showtime now.

               She slung
her bag over her shoulder and made a show of passing their table, slowly. She
caught the eye of the one called Cameron, and she smiled widely at him, showing
off her pointed, sharp fangs. Her eyes glinted gold at him, and she walked out
of the bar.

               She got
halfway down the street before they caught her.

               Now the
real fun would begin.

               **

(WP) Stranger Than Fiction

(WP) Stranger Than Fiction

               Fiction
and myths aren’t just stories. Everyone says that because they’ve been told to,
because some things are just too fantastic to be believed. But they’re indeed
real, and I can prove it.

               I park
outside of the imposing, grand building, the coffee I gulped down on the way
churning in my stomach. This is only my third day on the job, and I’m still in shock.
And I can’t even tell anyone; I signed a nondisclosure agreement. I get out of
the car and lock it, keeping my head bowed as I walk into the building.

               “Jenkins!”
A slight woman meets me at the doors, her arms full of thick manila files. “The
Boss has been asking for you! She’s in a right mood; she’s been trying to subdue
a Titan who escaped its confines. Nearly blew up the whole building.”

               “Thank
you, Eliza,” I reply, smiling at her gratefully, and her cheeks pink demurely.

               “What
do I have to do to get some good coffee around here?!” The Boss, Director Salazar,
is standing in the center of her office, not a hair out of place. The only sign
of the event Eliza told me about is the color, high in her cheeks.

               “Excuse
me, Director, but Eliza said you needed my help. What’s going on?” I cut in,
and she frowns, turning to face me.

               “Where
the hell have you been, Jenkins? We’ve been in crisis mode all morning, and you’re
fifteen minutes late.” Director Salazar snaps through gritted teeth.

               “Traffic
was a nightmare, I’m sorry,” I apologize, resisting the urge to snap back at
her.

               “Never
mind that,” She replies, tucking a stray strand of dark hair back into her
severe bun. “A Titan escaped its cage and we had to subdue it.” She chuckles
bitterly, her gray eyes shining like chips of polar ice. “Y’know, our job is to
make sure the public knows that stories don’t come to life, that they’re not
real. It’s not really looking good for us.”

               I
blink, taken aback by her words. I’d expect this kind of talk from any other
government employee, but never The Director. She is frowning, and her hands are
trembling; I don’t dare try to comfort her.

               She
takes a deep breath and looks up at me. “We have a serious situation, Jenkins.”

               “How
serious are we talking, ma’am, with all due respect.”

               She frowns,
her already grim mouth thinning even more.

               “First,
I need your word, on your job, that what I tell you will not leave this
building.”

               “Of
course.” I know better than to even attempt to bring my work home with me; I
don’t want my family wrapped in these bright, unbelievable threads.

               “The
princesses have gotten out of their cages. Snow White and Rose Red, Shahrazad, Rapunzel,
Cinderella, they’re spreading magic the longer that they are free. We must
return them, or the world will be out of balance, and our organization will be
compromised. Will you help me?”

               **

(WP) Only Human

(WP) Only Human

               It
happened slowly, gradually. At first, no one really knew what was happening.
But humans were deemed too unstable, too emotional and volatile to rule
themselves. And so, the AIs took over the government and everything else. Humans
were considered as children, wards of the state who could not take care of
themselves.

               Our
benevolent rulers told us it was all for our own good. Our numbers have increased
to the point where a lot of the younger humans don’t remember that there was life
before, unimpeded by machines. But I suppose it was our own fault: We created
beings with artificial intelligence to serve us, to help us improve our lives.
For a good century or so, humans and AIs lived in harmony, until the robots
began to realize that they weren’t equal, that their only purpose was to serve
humanity.

               There
were protests, riots, and eventually, killings of the one percent of humans,
and the scientists who’d created the AIs in the first place. Bloodshed ruled
until the Supreme Ruler rose to power and clutched the humans within tight iron
fists.

               But
there has been a growing number of humans who are sick of the AIs and their
sympathizers. Hidden in the slums of the city, The Order of the Heart and Mind
are but ghosts, striking like a sightless storm. The note in my hand is
handwritten, on a scrap of aged yellow parchment. The symbol of the Order is
the only signature at the bottom of the letter: An open hand cradling a bloody
heart, and a disembodied brain opposite it.

               Meet
us on the edge of the slums of the city at dusk, after the curfew. Stay out of
sight.

               When
I found this note in my locker, I was curious, in a way that I hadn’t been in
years. And so, here I am, standing in the rain, avoiding the sensors and the
droids that scan the area for undesirables. Their sickly, florescent light
makes me ill, and I bite my lip, ducking behind an abandoned, dilapidated
building, wincing as raindrops snake their way down my collar.

               A group
of droids spread out, and I cringe, looking away from them. They are humans who
willingly undergo surgeries and meld tech into their own bodies. A cruder term
would be cyborgs, but they are traitors. Doormats. Turncoats. Humans who have
betrayed their own natural inclinations to gain limited privileges in our
computer-ruled society.

               I don’t
move, and don’t even breathe until the group of droids and AIs have moved on.

               The
note is crushed in my fist, the ink blurred by the sweat beading on my palms.

               “So,
you made it. I wasn’t sure you would come,” A voice says from behind me, and
before I can so much as inhale to scream, they clap a warm, strong hand over my
mouth.

               “The
Order of the Heart and Mind would like to extend an invitation to you to join
their ranks,” Lips brush my ear, and then I feel the pinch of something biting
into the soft skin of my neck. “Welcome to the Resistance.” Darkness rushes up
to meet me.

               **

(WP) A New Home

(WP) A New Home

               The
bright lights of the city shone upon the water like a spray of a million stars.
The moon floated aloft, mirrored like a bright gem in the ocean’s reflection.
Even from above, it was a thing of beauty, a promise of hopes found and dreams
fulfilled.

               Etta
hadn’t crossed a light years’ worth of space to be haunted by ghosts and blood.

               Here,
she would make a new life, entirely her own. If there had been something, she’d
learned out in the velvet darkness of space, it was to trust none but yourself.
She’d busted her ass to be free of the shackles of her past.

               The
spacecraft landed delicately into the hangar on the tarmac, and she was funneled
out of the craft’s hatch. She’d thought of this moment for months, and it still
didn’t come close to anything she imagined. It was a place to hide, a sanctuary,
but even more than that, it was a new beginning.

               Etta
had closed the book on everything she’d left behind; it didn’t matter that she
was alone. Because she’d made it here, all by herself. Significantly low on
cash and down on her luck, sure. But the tides had always turned quickly for
her; she knew how to eke a living, regardless of her surroundings.

               Eager
to lose herself in this unfamiliar environment, she went to retrieve her
luggage, a small duffel bag, then headed out of the hangar. Her stomach
complained loudly, and her first thought was lodgings. Even with what little
she had left; Etta could afford to put herself up in a nice hotel for at least
a few days. Surely that would be enough time to find work.

               She
began to search for a hotel, using her cell phone. Everyone she knew opted for
the more invasive tech, implanted in your eyes or your skull. But she didn’t
want to be mistaken for a droid. The best thing for her was to lay low for now.

               She’d
put everything on the line to get to this planet, and she wasn’t about to be
dragged back home to be imprisoned again.

               Cold,
biting stone, manacles cutting at her wrists and ankles, the only sounds the
scurrying of the rats and her own harsh, ragged breaths. Moldy bread and
brackish water. A bucket in the corner serving as her bathroom, her skin
blackened with grit and bruises.

               As
quickly as the memories had come, they retreated again, back into a place she
could not follow. Etta shook herself mentally; if she had a flashback here, it
would mean her doom. She’d sought out the planet of Lavara specifically for its
isolation. That was, its jurisdiction being far out of reach for the
Intergalactic Council and their restrictive rules.

               She
found a hotel just down the street, making sure to keep her gaze low and not attract
attention. This was quite a difficult task, considering so much was going on
around Etta. She was in a new place, and she wanted to explore it. After
checking in her bags and changing in her room, a modest one with a bed, solar
lights, a nightstand, and a book shelf, she set out to find a meal. And then
she would really get down to business.

               It was
high time she’d found a home she felt comfortable in, and Candleon was Lavara’s
capital. Etta would fit in here just fine.

               **

(WP) Too Hot to Handle

(WP) Too Hot to Handle

               Everything
started when she tried curry for the first time, weirdly enough.

               Her
friends had been raving about the new Indian restaurant, and Morgan had just
managed to save enough to go with them. Morgan was also the only one who wasn’t
yet able to summon her spirit animal, and the thought left a bitter taste in
her mouth.

               “You’re
gonna love it! If you don’t burn your tongue off, that is,” Riley told her, laughing.
Her spirit animal, a chestnut horse, shimmered right above her right shoulder,
neighing in tandem with her mistress’s laughter.

               “Aw,
come on, Riley, don’t scare her off before she even enters the damn place,”
Riley’s boyfriend, Mason, shook his head, his shaggy hair blowing in the
breeze. His spirit animal, a bear cub, trotted after him, growling low in his
throat.

               Alyse
brought up the rear, hands in the pockets of her dress, hiding a smile. Her
spirit animal was a swallow, and its merry chirruping provided a soundtrack
that only their group could hear.

               “I like
spicy food!” Morgan protested, frowning. “God, Riles, don’t ruin this for me!”

               She
followed her nose, letting the aromas of garlic, chili, and ginger led her
toward the building. It was tucked into a little alley, and the glass door was
already open, with a hand-drawn sign that said Welcome! Please seat
yourself.

               Morgan
led the way in, her mouth watering. She was so hungry, and her stomach
grumbled. Mason smirked, but said nothing as they all sat down around the
table. There was a short wait, and then a tiny woman shuffled out of the
kitchen, armed with a notepad and pen.

               “What
would you like, dearies?” She asked, giving them all a bright, full smile.
Alyse ordered green curry, with a side of yellow rice. Morgan was feeling
daring, so she ordered one of the spiciest curries on the menu. Mason ordered
garlic naan and red shrimp curry, and Riley opted for a vegetarian lentil soup.
Taking their orders down, the woman disappeared back into the kitchen.

               “I don’t
think I’ve ever been more excited for food in my life,” Morgan said sheepishly,
feeling her cheeks warm. Riley grinned at her; eyebrows raised teasingly. Mason
waved a hand, and the bear disappeared. The other two girls followed his lead,
and their spirit animals dissolved in a flash of bright, glittering smoke.
Morgan bit her lip, hoping that her envy didn’t show on her face.

How she wished that she had a
spirit animal of her own. Was there something wrong with her? Something flawed
deep inside that she couldn’t see? Morgan was soon distracted by the arrival of
the food, and it all smelled so good.

               “Please,
everyone, enjoy, and do let me know if you need anything else.” The woman
smiled at them, and Morgan grinned back, before digging into her food. The
first bite set her tongue ablaze, and she gasped, feeling her eyes water and
her nose run. But her cursing was impossible to make out clearly. Tears ran
from her eyes, and through the tears, she could see a huge, blurred shape
hovering above the table.

“Morgan, I think you finally summoned
your spirit animal.”

“And it’s a fire dragon! How cool
is that?”

**

(WP) For Your Own Good

(WP) For Your Own Good

               “Yes,
Ted, we’re receiving an urgent message, our regular news program will resume
after this bulletin.”

               The
pretty anchor onscreen is joined by her male co-anchor, his face grave. “I’m
afraid that I must tell the world grave news. Aliens have taken over our
planet.”

               I
blink; for a moment, I worry that this is a prank, that we’re being Punk’d on
an enormous scale. But then I see a bright, metallic collar around Ted’s neck,
buzzing ominously.

               “And
now we’re getting a transmission from our new extraterrestrial overlords.” He
speaks in a garbled language that I cannot begin to translate, and I shudder.
Did Ted betray us to the mysterious alien race that somehow held the entire
planet in their palms?

               The
screen flickers, and a pair appears, smiling kindly. They are hand in hand, and
I would almost think them human, if not for their bright orange skin and green
eyes. They begin to speak, and I read the subtitles under them, outlined in
black.

               “Earthlings,
it has come to our race’s attention that you are freely abusing your planet’s
ability to nurture plant, animal and human life. To prevent the extinction of
so many different, unique life forms, we have decided to take the fate of Earth
in our own hands. Your cooperation is appreciated, but not required.” The rest
is left unsaid, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure it out.

               Somehow,
overnight, Earth has become a commodity to an unknown intergalactic race.

               The
other one, silent, smiles widely at the camera, already confident in their own
victory.

               “As the
lifeform Ted has said,” It continues, smiling and gesturing to his collar, “it
would be in everyone’s best interest to register for your tracking devices.
Nothing too invasive, just a cautionary measure to take each human’s carbon
footprint. How will we save your planet and its precious environment and atmosphere
without taking these steps? It is for your own good.”

               It all
sounds so reasonable, and I grit my teeth as my suspicions about Ted are
confirmed.

               With
questions floating in my head like a swarm of agitated bees, I watch for a few
moments more, as the screen is returned to Ted and Lisa. I turn off the TV and
walk over to the windows.

               Nothing
seems to be out of the ordinary, at first. But then I notice a flag, embroidered
with the same symbols that appeared at the bottom of the newscast. It’s bright
blue, and I grit my teeth.

               How did
this happen so quickly, so insidiously?

               A knock
is heard at the door, and I frown, peering through the peephole.

               A
neighbor, Jenna, waves, smiling, but her eyes are tight.

               I open
the door, and without waiting for an invitation, she pushes past me, into the
living room.

               “Did
you see the news, Leo? Aliens!” Jenna says, her dark, curly hair floating
suspended around her head like a cloud, her amber eyes sparking with skepticism.

               “Yeah,”
I reply, “Somehow aliens took over the Earth, right under our noses. How did
this happen?”

               **

(WP) Unexpected Voices

(WP) Unexpected Voices

               It all
started with the whispers. She had no idea where they’d come from, this strange
chorus inside of her head.

               They
took me from my children and locked me inside of a cage.

               My
young are dead, and I am barely alive.

               She’d
begun to think she had cracked, but that all changed when Minerva took her kids
to the zoo. Hand in hand with her daughter and son, they eagerly explored. Safiya
and Virgil squabbled good-naturedly. She wanted to see the elephants first, but
Virgil was adamant that they go see the new wolf pups.

               “They
might not be out, sweetheart,” Minnie said, running her fingers over his hair. “They’re
tiny, they might not have even opened their eyes yet,” “So let’s go see the
elephants!” Safi said, one hand on her hip. Virgil frowned up at Minnie, his
bright green eyes sparkling in a way that told her he was on the verge of
tears. “Could we at least go check, Mommy?” He asked, and she nodded.

               Safi pouted,
but she returned to her place at Virgil’s side, slipping her hand into his.

               Relieved
they’d found a solution, albeit one that didn’t please everyone, Minnie and the
kids walked toward the wolf enclosure, which was in a little old-frontier style
trading post. The cool dark was a shock, after such bright sunshine. Virgil ran
forward, pressing his face close to the window. Safi followed, though she
stayed a few steps back.

               Minnie’s
eyes were drawn to the cavern that served as the wolves’ den, and she gasped
when she realized that one of them was staring right at her, bright blue eyes
hiding something she couldn’t read.

               Then
the voice in her mind spoke, endlessly sad and impossible to ignore.

               They
took us from the mountains and put us here. To replenish our numbers, they
said. We have forgotten the taste of fresh air, and of hunts and fresh kill,
blood speckling our faces.

               Minnie
gasped in horror, but her children were too absorbed in watching the animals to
pay any attention. Who did they think they were? These animals were beings
worthy of respect, and it was all she could do not to gag on sobs. Freedom
stolen and blood spilled, all in the name of supposed conservation.

               Minnie
was soon brought back to herself when Virgil tugged lightly on her hands. “Mommy,
I think the babies are in there,” He said, pointing to the black that stood
behind the animals. She nodded absently.

               “Can we
please go see the elephants now?” Safi asked, stomping her foot.

               “Yes,
Safiya, just a second.” Minnie said, frowning at her daughter.

               She
nodded in response to Virgil’s statement, unable to tear her eyes from the
wolves.

               She
wasn’t cracked at all; Minnie was beginning to realize that she had somehow
gained the ability to understand animal language. How was this possible? What
did it all mean?

               This
stuff only happened in the pages of comic books, and Minnie was certain that
those weren’t real.

               But she
could not deny or ignore the voice inside her head. This was her blessing and
her curse, and she was going to do something with it.

               **