Ringing

The noise was coming from inside his ear. At first he thought it was tinnitus. Everyone who worked at the factory got tinnitus. It was just a rule. But it was more of a whistle than a ring, and he had only been working there for a few months. The grizzled mechanics said it took years, each one extending the number to fit their tenure. Rupe was at twenty years, so that meant Jacob had nineteen and some change left to go.

Next he assumed it was a bug, maybe a cricket. The thought of having a bug wandering around his skull was off-putting, but stuck bugs tended to die and could wait until the morning. As long as it didn’t start biting anything, he’d be fine. The problem was: How would a cricket find its way to the 12th floor of an apartment building, and why couldn’t he feel it moving around? Also, he was pretty sure crickets were extinct and had been since RoundPharm™ had gotten into the pesticide business. All the bees were dead because of them. Sparrows too.

Jacob stuck his pinkie into his ear and dug down as far as he could. The noise stopped. His ear hurt. He grimaced and pulled the greasy appendage out, hoping it would be covered in cricket legs. It was not.

“Huh?” he said to the empty room. He wished his wife was home. She’d smile and tell him he’d be okay. Everything was okay when she was around. She’d also tell him to go see a damn doctor and not to be an idiot about it. Jacob could do that on his own, make an appointment on his lunch break.

He got ready for work, the low whistle following him into the bathroom and then the kitchen. His electric toothbrush drowned it out, as did the shower and toaster oven. The noise was so low that it might as well not be there, though Jacob didn’t find this particularly reassuring.

What if he was going crazy?

“Too stupid to go crazy,” he muttered at the TV, where two news pundits debated the latest piece of politics. Jacob switched the channel to cartoons.

He ate his toast and drank his morning orange juice while Scooby and the gang ran from a swamp monster to jaunty music. He smiled. When he remembered the ringing in his ears, he turned the volume up. When it was time for Freddy to detail his latest plan on catching ol’ Swampy, Jacob got an idea. If the noise was real, he should be able to record it. Freddy pulled out a coil of rope from off screen, and Jacob dug into his back pocket for his cell phone.

It was an old phone, one without the fancy holographic displays and light-sensitive buttons, but it managed to get service in the deepest part of the factory, which none of his colleges could brag about. He swiped through his apps until he found a blue square with a white microphone. He pressed the button, and when a red circle appeared, he pressed that too.

“Would you like to record a voice memo?” the phone asked in a sultry, robotic tone. He had never recorded a voice memo before and was surprised to hear the question. Older phones weren’t supposed to have AI like the new ones.

“Yes,” he mumbled. Maybe it had updated over night and he just didn’t know it.

“Begin recording.”

Jacob muted the TV and brought the phone to his ear. The ringing was back, soft and undisturbed, and he felt his hands go clammy. This would either prove he was crazy or that something was wrong with him. Either way, something was wrong with him.

After a few seconds, he stopped the recording. His nerves were on edge, but the sultry voice sounded quite happy as she saved the memo as voice_memo_xx.xx.01.

“Play the recording back.”

“Playing.”

The whistle was faint in his speaker, but it was there, a teapot screaming from three floors up. He closed his eyes, knowing he should make that doctor’s appointment now and not later.

“You’re a god.”

Jacob yelped the phone from his hands, and the recording stopped as it tumbled to the floor. He stared at the bright screen, sweat forming on his brow. The voice asked him if he wanted to play the memo again. His ear was ringing.

“What?”

The phone didn’t answer, though he expected it to. It had an AI now. He nudged it with his foot. The other voice wasn’t an AI; it was different, a whisper, like a ghost inside his head, and it had … never mind what it had said. He didn’t want to think about that.

By the time Jacob picked up his phone, Freddy was unmasking Ol’ Swampy and getting ready for a commercial break. Jacob navigated the screen carefully, making sure not to play the recording again, and looked up the number for the nearest hospital in his insurance plan. He called it, made an appointment, and told himself he was feeling better. He wasn’t, and the assurance didn’t help him, but it’s what his wife would have said.

Early-morning traffic was quiet, and the sun was still snoozing beyond the horizon, so Jacob turned his stereo up, jumping between stations to avoid commercials. For some reason, the noise was easier to hear during them. His attention was divided, stuck between blinking yellow traffic lights that turned green as he approached and the phrase in his ear. He was not a god. He was too stupid to be a god, and anyways, he was a Christian and that meant there was only the one God, which was not him. Crazy people thought they were gods, and he didn’t feel crazy. Was crazy something he should feel though? He was pretty sure the disease didn’t come with a sore throat or runny nose.

Just as the traffic lights were shifting from blinking yellow to a steady green, Jacob was leaving the city. A shallow grey ran along the horizon, not quite a sunrise but bright enough to dim the stars. He continued changing radio stations, and he continued trying not to think about the phrase in his ear. By the time he was at work, someone had spilled water-color pink on the clouds.

Jacob made his way into the factory, passing through two security checkpoints and third shift workers dressed in white coats. They yawned as they punched out, bags under their eyes and empty lunch boxes in their hands. One, a woman with paper-white hair and black earrings, gave Jacob a silent fist-bump. This routine had started on his second day and was currently unbroken. Jacob still didn’t know her name.

The factory was owned by RoundPharm™ and made electric toothbrushes, the kind that could transmit the news into your head while you brushed or play music if you had a Spotify Premium account. They could also tell you if you were getting a cavity and even book a dentist appointment, though that required Amazon Prime to work. Jacob did not know a single person in the factory who owned one.

He made his way through the big building, cutting well-worn corners and passing under a host of security cameras until he was in the maintenance shop. An obese man with oil stains up to his elbows worked a mill and sang to the radio, which was stuck playing country music.

“Hey Rupe,” Jacob called. “How’s it going?”

“Turnin’ and burnin. Burnin’ and turnin.”

“What’cha makin’ today?”

“Don’t know yet.” Rupe shut the machine down and removed a square piece of aluminum covered in holes. “It just might be a paperweight.”

“Cool.”

“Got a problem with line four that I want you to look at. Conveyor is stuttering. Grab the tachometer, and I’ll meet you out there.”

“Sure, sure.”

Jacob started for his things as the radio station jumped to commercials. The ringing returned. It was almost deafening, and even though he had a doctor’s appointment in nine hours, this couldn’t wait. It would be irresponsible to work on heavy machinery if he was crazy. He pulled out his phone, now with an updated AI, and asked it to find his memo.

“Locating voice_memo_xx.xx.01”

“You finally get a new phone?” Rupe asked. “‘Bout time.”

“No. It must have updated or something.”

“That’s not how that works.”

Jacob shrugged. “Listen to this for me, please.”

Rupe shrugged back and held the phone to his ear with an extreme intent. When it whispered, “you’re a god,” Jacob jumped. Rupe did not.

“Whistling sound,” Rupe said, handing the phone back. “What’s broken?”

“Dunno.” He had heard the voice. It was there. It didn’t make any sense that Rupe could hear the whistle and not the words behind it.

“Well get your things. Been waiting for you so we could fix line four.”

“Sure.”

It was, when Jacob thought about it, a fact of seniority. Rupe was the lead, and that meant he was above fixing stuttering belts. His job was taking care of the robot arms, fixing them when they broke and reprogramming them when they got lost. It’s what got him the big bucks. He was also too fat to get underneath the conveyors.

Jacob donned a white smock and snagged the tachometer, complete with CAL sticker. He also grabbed his tool belt.

They made their way into the maze that was production, a dozen conveyors manned with robot arms grabbing, inspecting, and moving white, bristly parts from one grumbling piece of machinery to the next. First-shift employees watched the movement with glazed looks in their eyes and bright orange stoppers in their ears. Everything was normal.

Just as they entered the center of the room, heading for line four, the noise cut. The conveyors stopped running, the robot arms stopped moving, and the giant plastic molders ceased stomping. Jacob’s hands went clammy again, and the tachometer slipped from his fingers, landing on the floor with a plastic-y crunch. Rupe’s mouth fell open. The ringing in his ear was loud.

Every robot arm turned to Jacob and bowed its rectangular head.

It was the longest, most surreal second of Jacob’s life. By the time he fully registered what had happened, production had resumed, each machine kicking back on so RoundPharm™ toothbrushes could be sold in all corners of the world.

He was a god.

God help him.

 

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The Fire Seller

“What are you looking to burn?” the small man asked. He was, according to Christian’s associates, a dwarf, though given the orange in his beard and hints of green in his suit, he looked more like a Leprechaun. Given the amount of canine in his smile, he was probably a gremlin. He moved like a gremlin, with a shuffling, sliding grace that was hard to follow. His hands were lepric, blemished with black and brown soars, and he blinked too much. He had a small wand tucked behind one ear.

Christian did not deal with gremlins.

“I have all kinds,” the little creature said, giving his store a nod. Christian felt the store nod back. Or did it wink? There were no lights, just hundreds of fires in hundreds of jars on dark-brown shelves. The shelves couldn’t move, nor could the jars, yet something had. Christian glanced at his watch, though he we was unable to process what the little and big hands were doing. The lighting was wrong—there were too many shadows for such a small room.

“Big fires and little fires, strong and weak,” the gremlin continued. The name Christian was given was Shebasta. “The weak ones can be more useful than the strong ones. Most people don’t realize that, but you look like a man who knows his fire.”

“There’s been a mistake,” Christian said. He had to leave before he agreed to do something he’d regret. “I’m sorry.”

Shebasta smiled a salesman smile. “No mistake, no mistake. I don’t make them, and I know you don’t either, Mr. Gathers. Senators cannot afford to make mistakes!” He clapped his little hands. “Now come, have a look at my fire.”

Christian turned for the door, but the door was gone, replaced by a series of shelves holding a series of jars. He blinked. There was supposed to be a door here. He looked around and saw the only exit on the opposite side of the room.

“What?”

“Ah,” Shebasta said, gliding over. “You have a fine eye.” The gremlin grabbed the jar and gave it a quick dusting with a purple handkerchief before thrusting it at Christian. “It’s dragon, of course. Go, have a look.”

Having a look was the last thing Christian wanted to do, yet the fire’s twirling forced his attention. He brought the jar up to his face and peered inside, at the bright-red flame that wasn’t a flame at all. A tiny dragon careened back and howled, and Christian heard the rustling of wind chimes. Then the fire was back to normal, a red ember in a sealed jar.

“A little cliché,” Shebasta shrugged, “but the red dragons really do produce the best flames. The green ones are prettier, I think. More in line with what you need.”

No, Christian needed more than dragon fire, but he wasn’t going to tell a gremlin that. He was going to leave. He put the jar back and found himself looking at another. Inside, a volcano was erupting a black spew of ash and rock. Now that was more like it. He picked it up.

“You don’t want that,” Shebasta said, taking the jar and putting it back. “Too much. You want…” he grabbed Christian by the sleeve and led him towards a different set of shelves. “This one, I think.”

Inside the jar was a small lady tied to a wooden log. She struggled against her bonds, opened her mouth to scream, and then burst into a flame the color of dandelions.

“A witch’s fire to kill a witch, right?” The gremlin chuckled. “Mrs. Stumlin is a witch, you know. It’s the only truthful part of your attack ad.”

“How do you know about Laura?” Christian asked, hoping the fire would repeat itself. This wasn’t why he was here, but it was fun to pretend.

“I know everything about my clients,” Shebasta said, his canines poking out from under his top lip.

“I’m not your client.”

“Are you sure?”

Christian shook his head. Dealing with dwarves was bad, but he wasn’t desperate enough to bother with gremlins. He’d have better luck with a monkey’s paw.

“What about this one?” Shebasta asked, picking an indigo ember. “It’s not as flashy as Salem, but it’s guaranteed to burn one house down with no questions asked. No survivors either, save the fish.”

“The fish?”

Shebasta shrugged. “Mrs. Stumlin has an aquarium. Would make for an interesting story. Take the public’s mind off of that … incident of yours.”

“There was no incident,” Christian said, more out of habit than anything else. Every member of the press thought they could stump him with that gotcha, but come November, no one would care. Those that still did weren’t going to vote for him anyways.

“If you say so,” Shebasta said with a pointed grin. “You are a man who knows his fire.”

Christian once again turned to the door. It remained stationary, and if he didn’t blink, the gremlin couldn’t use his tricks on him, couldn’t move it across the room. He was done here. Let Shebasta’s cheap tricks rot like the cheap words of the press. Laura the witch could rot with them.

He started for the door and stopped when the small shop shuddered. He put his hands out to steady himself, though nothing had moved. The small room was still standing, and the tiny fires were still inside their jars. The ceiling seemed a bit higher than when he had entered though, and the floor looked askew. Shadows swirled about the ground like snakes. No, not shadows, shadow. It was a singular entity, a monster of tendrils and flat smoke, and it blocked Christian’s path to the door.

Shebasta grabbed another jar. “There’s a fire for burning money, you know.” He held it out to Christian, who did not want to touch it. “More of a metaphorical flame, yet it burns. The smell is bad. Like…” the gremlin tapped his chin in mock thought. “Like coal.”

“There was no incident,” Christian said again, though now the fire was taking shape, morphing from a little candle’s flame into a man writing a check. Christian had done that years ago, had made a small man go away so a bill could be passed. It wasn’t an incident though, and it wasn’t a problem. It was politics.

“A man who knows his fire,” the gremlin repeated.

“What do you want?” The room felt hot now, though maybe it always had. It was hard to discern the place. Even Shebasta didn’t seem so little anymore.

“To help you.”

“What do you really want?”

Shebasta gave another canine grin. “I don’t like witches. They’re … bad for business.”

Christian returned to the shelf with the volcano, or maybe it returned to him. He watched it spew another horde of ash and rock. It was close, but not quite right. He knelt down to another jar, this one with a purple flame. Inside, a wizard wearing dark robes was casting a spell. The flame puffed up, filling the entire jar, and then the wizard was gone. The flame returned.

“Nair Dworak,” the gremlin said. “Poor fellow. You don’t want that one.”

“No,” Christian agreed.

“Come,” Shebasta tugged on Christian’s sleeve. “I have more appropriate ones over here. You need something subtle. You need—”

“I need something that will destroy a state.”

Shebasta’s salesman grin slipped off his face, and for the first time, the gremlin looked confused. “What?” the little creature asked.

Without waiting for permission, Christian grabbed another jar. “I need to burn a state.” Inside, a landscape of brush and weedy trees was ablaze. Animals were running around the perimeter of the fire, hugging the glass walls that kept them confined. This was better, though still too small. He put the jar down and started for another.

“What?” Shebasta asked again.

“You want to help me, right?” Christian said. “Then get me something that will torch Hawaii. Make it look like North Korean launched a missile.”

Shebasta fingered the wand behind his ear and gave Christian an obscene look. It was one the Senator had seen before, and one he knew how to deal with. It was not, however, one he expected to see from a gremlin.

“No,” the little creature finally said.

“Why not?” Christian asked, surprised. The bigger the favor, the bigger the price, and for a gremlin, the price was everything. Yet Shebasta looked confused. Even the shadow oozing along the floor wasn’t sure what to do.

A heavy arm fell around Christian’s shoulder. He jumped. Shebasta was gone, and the burned, blemished appendage holding him was too big for a gremlin. Christian followed the arm to a face that was Shebasta’s yet not. The creature was no longer little, and his beard was now bony. Four other horns poked out of his head in the shape of a rough pentagram. The wand stayed wedged behind his ear.

“Come,” the demon said, embracing Christian like they were drunken frat buddies. “Away from that shelf.”

“But—”

“First,” the demon continued, hauling Christian away from his wares. “I will not sell something you already have. And second,” the demon gave Christian an uncomfortable squeeze. “What on Earth makes you think I’d condone this?”

Christian shrugged as the shadow pulled away, stretching until all that remained of it was a dark spot in one corner of the room. “I don’t see why you wouldn’t,” he said. The shelves with their little jars of fire began disappeared next, fading away as if their batteries were dying. For the first time since Christian had entered the strange shop, the lighting was normal. He looked at his watch and read the time: 11:58. Two minutes until the witching hour.

“I could guarantee you a reelection, yet you want to destroy a state.”

Christian laughed. “I’m already guaranteed a reelection. My state’s so gerrymandered not even your magic could stop me.”

“Then why are you here?”

The politician smiled. The problem with demons is they always thought small and personal. It’s what kept them from being humans. “President’s poll numbers are down. America likes a war. We need at least two more years to pass—”

“Out!”

Shebasta yanked the door open and shoved Christian threw. Christian stumbled back and bumped into a man wearing a suit and tie. He looked around, at familiar walls with familiar paintings. He was back in the White House.

“How’d it go?” a Senator from Georgia asked. He had liver-spotted jowls and no chin. “You get what we need?”

“No,” Christian said, not sure how he should view what just happened.

The Senator from Georgia shrugged. “Magic isn’t the only way to start a war. It’s not a problem.”

Christian nodded. There were other ways to ensure another four-year term, and fire was still the easiest.

 

If I Were You

It was too fucking early for this shit, or that’s what Brandon was thinking as he opened the door to the company van. Too fucking early, and too fucking stupid. There was no reason all four of them needed to go on this abysmal four-hour trip to bumfuck Georgia, where the tail end of hurricanes went to sleep, drowning the grass and flooding basements but not actually destroying homes. The town wasn’t even good enough to die by hurricane. Not even God cared.

But his fucking boss sure did! This was going to be one part R&D, one part machining master, one part Engineering guro, and one part Brandon, the dumbass with the camera. Everyone present had a smart phone, but everyone else was important. They had to ask questions! Take notes! That meant ol’ Brandon had to film. “Documentation,” the plant manager had said. “So I don’t have to go,” the plant manager had said. Brandon supposed that made him part of R&D, which was kind of cool, but it was also 5:00 in the morning. That was too early for cool, even if it was chilly for Alabama.

“Everyone ready?” Dave said as he put the van into drive. It hummed and thrummed and did things vans did. Brandon didn’t care because it was time to sleep. At least he’d get paid for that, and he supposed that was kind of cool too.

“Yeah,” Molly said, the engineering guro. This was her idea.

They pulled out of the parking lot, and Brandon did his best to make his forearm into a pillow. It wasn’t quite working, but he was also too tired to really care. His norm was waking up at 7:30, chugging a coffee, and driving to work for his first morning piss. It wasn’t a great routine, but it worked for him. It also started three and a half hours later, but who was counting?

“This is going to be so cool,” Scott said, already tapping away on his laptop. “If this goes well—and I think it will—we’ll be the first machining company to purchase a robot. Well, a real robot. Think about it!” Scott kept talking, but Brandon didn’t want to think about it. It wasn’t important.

Brandon dozed off as Scott went on about robot workings and robot accuracy. Something, something, never missing registration. Something something never getting dirty because the robot wouldn’t ever leave the plant.

The underlying thought was, of course, something something firing half the plant because robots didn’t need insurance, hourly wages, or smoke breaks.

“Hey Brandon!” Molly said from the front, waking Brandon up from a light doze. “You awake back there?”

“Yeah.” Bitch.

“You got everything, right?”

“Yeah.” Two batteries, a notebook, and the company camera. It shot in HD and probably did a thousand other things, but the manual was too long for Brandon to really bother with. He got the point of it; point and click. Just like a video game.

“You sure? No going back now.”

“Yes.”

Molly turned on the radio, finding a political station because she had to be insufferable in every sense of the word, and the whole van listened as Brad Horkson fear mongered about the dangers of Atheism.

Brandon punched at his arm, trying to soften it up like it was a pillow, and began to doze again. A bruise formed where he had hit, blackening his pale skin.

“Hey Brandon,” Molly said, waking him up again. He checked the clock and saw an hour and a half had passed. Well, that wasn’t so bad. Two and a half to go, but he had his phone with him. That had video games. “You awake?”

“Yeah.”

“You ever think about killing yourself?”

What? “What?” There was no way he had heard the question right. He was still half asleep, still groggy.

“Sure,” Molly said, as if she had asked about the weather or the second wall the president was building along the Canadian border. “I mean, it’s normal, right?”

“Yeah,” Scott said. Jeff echoed the sentiment from the front seat.

“Uh,” Brandon said, hoping someone would repeat the question he clearly had not heard right. “I dunno.”

“How can you not know?” Molly asked, performing a lane change without blinking. God she was even a bitch while she drove. “It’s a yes or no question.”

“If I were you,” Jeff said, his face buried in his phone, “I’d kill myself.”

“Only logical,” Scott said.

“What?”

Brandon was stuck between confused as hell and angry as hell. What the fuck was going on?

“If I were you,” Molly repeated, “I’d kill myself. Probably with a knife. Everyone owns knives.”

“I have one if you need it,” Scott said. Brandon heard a click as Dan opened his pocket knife and made to hand it to him. “Here.”

“What…”

“I mean,” Jeff said, “If I were you, I’d kill myself.”

The knife gleamed. At some point during the last half hour, the sun had risen. The sky still had wafts of pink shot through it, though the knife didn’t reflect those. Just the sun.

“Here,” Scott said. “You can borrow it, but I want it back when you’re done.”

“But…”

Brandon took the knife. He didn’t want to, but he also kind of did. He didn’t know why. Yeah sure he was depressed sometimes, but who wasn’t? The country was building a fucking wall on the border of Canada and robots were going to take over the most basic of jobs. The American dream was as dead as a forgotten goldfish won at a carnival. For some fucking reason, the country still had those.

“Fuck you,” Brandon said. “I’m telling HR about this.” Yet took the knife. He held it and watched the sun gleam.

“That’s okay,” Scott said. “That’s what I’d do too. But only after, you know?”

“Sure,” Jeff said. He was still looking at his phone.

“Did you know AI will do whatever we tell it, because the A stands for artificial?” Molly said from the front seat. She made another lane change without blinking. “Cool huh?”

Brandon looked at the knife. He didn’t want to use it, didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want about a million things, but he wasn’t sure if that mattered.

“Fuck off,” he said as he closed the knife then flicked it back open.

“If I were you, I’d kill myself” Scott repeated. “And then give me my knife back. It’s a good knife, you know?”

Brandon did. It was sharp.

Jeff put his phone down and turned to look at Brandon from the front seat. There was something off about his face, something twisted and broken. He didn’t look real.

“Do you want to do it?” Jeff asked. “Kill yourself, I mean?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Molly said from the front. She was speeding now, zooming by everyone at 20 mph over the limit. On the radio, Brad Horkson talked about the horrors of atheism and the wonders of AI because they believe everything they are told. The A stands for artificial.

“I don’t want to,” Brandon whispered.

“I wonder what that’s like,” Jeff said, now going back to his phone. Brandon saw that he was playing Angry Birds. “Not wanting to do something.”

“If I were you,” the Molly and Scott said together. “I’d kill myself.”

Brandon pressed the knife to his left wrist. He didn’t want to, but he realized that even though he was himself, he’d do it too.

 

Unshelfish Lovers (Aquaman Porn)

Okay, so the long and short of this is that I do a comic book podcast called Comics Dash, where I and two other people talk about comic books for about an hour and ten minutes each week. One of our running jokes is that Aquaman and Black Manta have tons of sexual tension in the new run of DC books–because they totally do–and if Dan Abnett wasn’t going to make them have sex, then someone had to.

Well, that someone was me!

So yes. I wrote Aquaman porn. No, it’s not good. Yes, it is a vessel for tons of fish puns. That’s…literally all it is. If you want some sexy fish puns, then the next ~1000 words are for you!

 

Aquaman closed his chamber door sporting a wide grin that would soon have a dick in it. His wife knew something fishy was going on, and that’s why he had taken a hook out of Bill Cosby’s hat—who once terrorized Atlantis as the Morerape Eel—and asked Mera to toast the recapture of Black Manta. She had taken the bait. Now she was sleeping with the literal fishes, but in the metaphorical sense since she’d wake up tomorrow with probably a bad hangover and wondering why there was seamen on her back. But probably not. Being a man of the sea, Aquaman was prawn to wet dreams.

The king of Atlantis made his way through his castle, descended a bunch of steps, and walked through a few gloomy hallways, stopping every so often to make sure he wasn’t being followed. His conchubine … oh wait, no, conchubrine! was in the dungeon, which meant he had to be careful. It would be one thing if Atlantis found out he was cheating on his wife, but a whole coddamn mess if they found out his lover was Black Manta.

Still, that made the whole thing all the more fun. Something about keeping your friends close and your anenemoies closer, though at this point, Black Manta was neither. What should one do with his lovers?

Aquaman rubbed at his crotch, which was stiffer than a sturgeon’s nose, and knew exactly what he should do with his lover.

“Halt! Who goes there!” the two soldiers stationed to guard the undersea terrorist asked as Aquaman approached. They looked on edge because Black Manta always escaped. Always. It was all part of the clam.

“I am here to question the prisoner,” Aquaman said in his most offishal voice. “Please let us be until I call you back.”

“Yes sir” both said, urchin to be free of the most cursed post in all of Atlantis. Aquaman watched them round a corner, their shoulders relaxed and their spears clanking against the stone floor as they headed for the break room. Aquaman listened, herring their footsteps fade into the background.

“Please tell me you aren’t wearing orange and fucking green,” Black Manta said sharkastically. He was facing the wall and not wearing a shirt.

“Have to.” Aquaman said as he closed the door. “I look krilliant in orange and green.”

The undersea terrorist laughed, his voice deep and sexy because he was deep and sexy. “You look like a clownfish.”

“Shut up and kiss me.”

Black Manta tuna round, and soon he and Aquaman were wrapped in a pike embrace and staring into each other’s walleyes. Black Manta’s were like green pools of ocean water, and Aquamans were blue or some shit. Back Manta then kissed his lover, so gently that it was like a ghost upon Aquaman’s lips.

“I missed you,” the scarred terrorist said.

“Always. But did you have to kill eight people this time?”

Black Manta tugged at Aquaman’s crotch. “You know it’s more fun this way.”

Aquaman grabbed at Black Manta’s ass with both hands and brought him close so their ol’ dicky dicks were rubbing together. Even with his pants still on, he could dophinatly feel Black Manta’s black manta throbbing … uh … lustily! Aquaman leaned in close and whispered into his lover’s ear: “It is better this way.”

Black Manta knelt and unbuckled Aquaman’s ugly green pants. He then placed his finger on Aquaman’s tridick and ran it from the tip to the dace. It didn’t take very long because Aquaman had a small penis. Though he didn’t consider it small; he just had a bad case of the shrimpage. Plus, it was still much bigger than the Flash’s who fucking sucks and should be ashamed for existing.

“That feels good,” Aquaman said.

“This will feel better.”

Black Manta opened his mouth and began salmonating all over Aquaman’s member. Aquaman groaned.

“Don’t even think about it!” Black Manta warned between suckerfishing. “I’m just lubing this up so you can stick your hotdog flavored water it into my chocolate starfish.”

“Never!” But Aquaman blushed because it totally happened one time. He had a hair triggerfish when it came to ejaculating.

When Black Manta finished, he shifted anglers and pulled his own pants down, exposing his tight basshole.

“Stick it in where the sunfish don’t chine and oyster it around,” he said in his deep, sexy voice because he was still deep and sexy in case you forgot.

Aquaman obliged. He thrust his throbbing member into Black Manta’s halibut, forcing it in so far their balls slapped together, which made it totally gay. It’s hetero if the balls don’t touch. His lover made a face, and Aquaman knew it would stringray a bit. Black Manta was still getting used playing the role of powerbetam. It had to be this way though, because Aquaman was a king and, despite having a small penis and suffering from premature ejaculation, could not be a bottom. That would just be orcaward.

It only took a few quick threshes before Aquaman was breaching his salty chum into Black Manta’s tight carphole. “Ugh,” Aquaman groaned, pleasure shivering through his loins.

“My turn,” Black Manta said, turning around. His penis was huge and already dribbling precum.

Aquaman knelt down and opened his mouth, goblin sharking as much of the penis as he could. Like Black Manta with anal, he wasn’t very good at deep trouting.

“Just relax,” Black Manta said. “You don’t have to take the whale thing. And if it gets uncomfortable, let minnow.”

Aquaman wasn’t normally koi, but Black Manta could somehow make him blush with ease. He felt his face heat up, and Black Manta began to laugh.

“You’re cute like this.”

On his knees and with his ugly green pants still around his ankles, the king of Atlantis suckerfished the worst terrorist the sea had ever known to completion. A salty, warm spray filled his mouth, and now the last question was: Should be squid it out or swallow?

With a light shrug, Aquaman gulpered it down. It wouldn’t do to have the guards come back and find an empty cell filled with cum. That would raise some strange questions and make the custodians crabby.

Black Manta sat back down on his cot, and Aquaman sat next to him. For the next twenty minutes, the two cuddlefished together, happy to be in each others’ company. Then it was time for Aquaman to leave, though not before hiding the key to his secret lover’s cell underneath the cot.

“Until next time,” he said, wondering if Black Manta would be cool with taking a huge crappie on his chest.

“Until next time,” Black Manta repeated.

 

FIN (get it?)

Streams Chapter 5: This Will Change

Assuming ya’ll know the drill by now. Chapter one can be found here, chapter two here, three here, four here, and Thomas’s EP that inspired this project here. Enjoy.

Chapter 5: This Will Change

The pathway up the mountain was smooth as glass and white as beach sand, with sea shells of all sizes and colors covering the its rocky face. Rain ran her hand over a series of little shells and stopped when she touched a bright green one that was bigger than Lana. The sea was close. If she closed her eyes and breathed deeply, she could smell it. It was cinnamon flavored, not salty like her teacher had said, and it reminded her of the apple pies her mother always made for Thanksgiving.

Rain walked up the path in silence, knowing it was her turn to not say anything. She didn’t want to bother Lana, though she wanted to tell the talking cat she was sorry about what happened. She also wanted to tell her she was scared. She had never talked to a moon before and wasn’t sure how. What if it wouldn’t take her to the sea or back home, or what if it just laughed at her? What if it did nothing at all, just stared at her because she was a silly little girl who went on an adventure and got lost. But Lana was being brave, and Rain knew she had to be brave too. She didn’t cry.

When they were nearing the top, Rain decided to inch close to the edge of the path and look down. She knew she wasn’t supposed to, having seen enough cartoons to know that looking down was how people fell, but Rain also knew she couldn’t fall if she wanted to. It was like the mountain had some kind of people magnet in it. It was safe, even if there weren’t any railings or stairs.

The view down was gorgeous. Rain watched the never-moving sun play off the white rock face, turning the smooth path into a bright gold. It was The Wizard of Oz, only real. Down below, like little fairies, Rain could see the witch’s village. The witches were still partying, some dancing in little circles that Rain could cover up with her pointer finger, and a few were even flying. Rain thought she should be envious of those ones, but she wasn’t. The witches no longer mattered.

“How come I can see them from up here?” Rain asked.

“The spell doesn’t work on heights, since all witches can fly,” Lana said, joining Rain at the edge of the path. “Though if they flew up here, they wouldn’t see us.”

“Why not?”

“Because talking to the moon is always private.”

They continued upwards. The moon was now so close that it filled the whole sky, and Rain was sure if she jumped, she would touch it. It was breathtaking, so big and bright and calm that she realized all her worrying was for nothing. The moon would help her, just like Lana said. It was a nice moon. It had made her stream into a river so she could escape the frozen ghosts, and if it could do that, it could do anything.

The top of the mountain flattened out into a small, smooth platform that was bursting with color. Sea shells and pretty rocks sprinkled the surface, each one catching the moon’s glow. Rain had reached the end of a rainbow, only instead of a finding pot of gold, she could make a wish.

Rain knew that was better than gold. Gold could buy toys or clothes, but a wish could be anything.

“Hello, Rain,” the moon said. Its voice was like wind chimes on a bright, cloudless winter day. It reminded Rain of playing outside and laughing, of looking for shooting stars at night and watching rain drops race down windows on stormy days. “It’s nice to see you again.”

“Hello,” Rain said, her face breaking into a wide smile. “Have we met before?”

“We have.”

Rain laughed. Of course they had. She couldn’t remember ever meeting the moon, but something about this reminded her of talking to an old friend, one she had once loved dearly yet sadly lost contact with.

“And you too, Lana. It is good to see you again.”

“Thank you,” Lana whispered.

“Have you forgiven yourself?” the moon asked the purple-and-grey tabby.

“No.” Rain heard Lana’s sing-song voice break, and she sat down cross-legged beside her. It wasn’t fair that the cat should be so sad and low to the ground at a time like this.

“Is that why you brought Rain here?” The moon’s chiming voice jingled upwards, like she was cocking an eyebrow.

“Silly girl,” Lana said to the ground. Then she looked up. “Rain is lost. She crossed the threshold and needs to return home. Can you help her?”

“Would that be helping her or helping you?”

“I’m sorry,” Lana said, still unable to look at the moon directly.

“I know. You’ve apologized so much for that, Lana. Everyone has forgiven you but yourself.”

Rain thought of the witches and mean cats in the village below but didn’t say anything. The moon was doing what her mother sometimes did: a little white lie to make things better. Those were nice to hear, but they didn’t do anything. Lana didn’t need a lie, she needed a friend.

“It’s okay, Lana,” Rain said, and she made to pet the talking cat but found herself giving it a big hug instead. Tears welled in her eyes. “It’s okay. It’ll all be okay. For both of us.” Lana snuggled up against her and purred softly.

When Rain let Lana go, the cat stood taller, and she stared into the moon. Her amber eyes caught the moon’s glow and lit up like flaming torches.

“Well Rain, is that what you want?” the moon asked. “To go home?”

“Yes,” Rain said. Even though the sun hadn’t set yet, she knew it was late. It was time to go home. She missed her parents and her own cats, even if they never talked. She missed her little stream.

The moon’s voice chimed in thought, and Rain’s heart sunk. This was magic, and magic should be able to send her home right away. The only reason she wasn’t standing in front of her house right now was because it wasn’t possible.

“You can’t do it, can you?” Rain asked.

“I have no control over the world’s thresholds” the moon said. “I cannot create or destroy them. However,” and Rain heard a grin in the moon’s voice. “I can help you get to one.”

Something glinted across the sky, and Rain looked up to watch it. She thought it was a falling star at first, but it wasn’t falling; it was flying. It floated towards her, and when it landed, she laughed. It was her glass rose pedal, her boat. It hadn’t melted at all.

“I think your boat needs a makeover, something a bit more becoming of a young witch. What do you think, Lana?”

Lana chuckled. “I think I’m going to die of fright before this little adventure of ours is done.”

Before Rain could say anything, ask the moon just exactly what was going on, her boat changed. One second it was made of clear glass, and the next it was blue velvet, as light and piercing as the sky. She gasped. It was wonderful! When she finally remembered to breathe again, she could smell the rose pedals sweet fragrance, and underneath that, the cinnamon taste of the sea.

“Is this for me?” Rain asked.

“Yes,” the moon said. “Take it, young witch. Take it and travel home.”

Streams Chapter 4: Fair Weather

Assuming ya’ll know the drill by now. Chapter one can be found here, chapter two here, three here, and Thomas’s EP that inspired this project here. Enjoy.

 

Chapter 4: Fair Weather

Rain and the talking cat began walking towards the taller of the two mountains, which bathed the surrounding land in a cooling shadow. It was less than a mile away now, just beyond a meadow of tall grass that went up to Rain’s waist. They entered the meadow, and the cat vanished into the brush. It hadn’t talked at all since they left their glass boat, which Rain found kind of odd. Last time they walked through grass, it wouldn’t stop telling her to turn around.

“Are you okay?” Rain asked it.

“Silly girl,” the cat muttered with no enthusiasm.

“Are you sure you’re okay? Oh! You aren’t hurt are you?” Rain thought back to the frozen ghosts and immediately felt awful. The cat had saved her life, and she hadn’t even thanked it. Why, she didn’t even know the cat’s name! No wonder it was upset with her.

Before Rain could say she was sorry, a strong gust of wind passed over her head, causing the cat to sigh and say another bad word. Rain looked up, afraid the ghosts were back or something worse, and saw a flying carpet heading towards the mountain. She stared in awe. It was beautiful, a tapestry of green and gold with little brown tassels. She squinted, trying to get a look at the person riding it.

“Hurry up,” the cat said. “We have to reach the mountain before the moon sets.”

“But that person was flying!”

“It’s how witches tend to travel.”

Rain followed the cat, now asking it all kinds of questions. She had seen plenty of movies with witches in them, and while most witches were evil, not all were. Some were very nice, and she knew only a nice witch would fly on something as pretty as that carpet. The cat ignored all of her questions though, even the ones Rain knew were worth responding to, like “have you ever seen a house made out of candy?” and “do you think if I ask nicely that lady will fly me back home?” Finally she asked it, “What’s your name?”

“Lana,” the cat said.

“Oh. You have a pretty name too.” Rain didn’t have the heart to tell Lana that she had a people name and not a cat name. She was probably really self conscious about that. “Thanks for saving me Lana. From the ghosts I mean.”

“You know the last little girl listened to me,” Lana said, annoyance coloring her sing-song voice. “The last two. They didn’t cross the threshold, nope. They followed my directions.”

“I’m sorry.” Rain was sorry too. “If you want, you can have my last juice box. It’s probably got warm now, but they still taste good. It’s fruit punch flavored.”

Lana didn’t say anything to that, and Rain was secretly glad. She would have given the cat her last juice box, but she was also thirsty from walk and wanted it for herself. She fished it out and pushed the straw in—her favorite part—and began to sip on the fruity drink while looking at her map. The sea was now really, really close. Just beyond the mountain.

As soon as they stepped through the final patch of tall grass, the world became alive with sounds and movement, as if someone had just turned on a light switch. Rain stared in shocked silence. It was a hidden village of small tents and fireplaces, of flying carpets and bubbling cauldrons, of people dancing and singing in big circles to strange music. There were cats everywhere.

“It’s a party,” Rain said.

“Something like that, yes,” Lana said, though her ears were back. “Do you see that path over there? Between those two large, white rocks?” Rain nodded. It looked like it wound its way around the mountain. “Good. What I need you to do is—”

“What are you doing here?” a new talking cat asked. It was big and black, and its tail was fluffed out like it had just been scared. “You’re not welcome here anymore.”

“Go away Cynthia,” Lana said, a slight hiss in her voice. “I’m not in the mood.”

“Do all cats have people names here?” Rain asked. She was pretty sure no one in their right mind would name a cat Cynthia, not when Snowball and Peanut Butter were options.

“Shut up, little girl. No one is talking to you,” the big black cat said.

Rain glowered. “I don’t think I like talking cats very much. You’re all rude. Didn’t your mother ever teach you any manners?”

Cynthia laughed and flicked her tail. “You sure know how to pick ‘em, Lana. Don’t let this one die on you too.” The black cat looked at Rain, shook her head, and then walked away, her tail standing straight up like a little Christmas tree.

“She wasn’t very nice,” Rain said.

“Come on,” Lana said. “Let’s get this over with.”

They started walking through the witch’s village, Lana staring straight ahead and ignoring all of the eyes upon them. Rain hugged herself and tried to do the same, but it was hard. Everyone stopped what they were doing to stare, and Rain realized she was the only kid in the whole village. She was also the only person dressed normally, but since she wasn’t wearing any funny-looking clothes, it made her stand out. She wished she had left her backpack in the tall grass; it was blue and no one else was wearing blue.

When one woman pointed at her and whispered to another, Rain turned her gaze towards the ground.

“Ignore them,” Lana said. “They aren’t mad at you; they’re mad at me.”

“Why?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Oh.” Rain wished Lana would talk about it. Everyone had seemed so nice a few minutes ago, but now no one was dancing or laughing anymore. Even the music had stopped. “It’s just like school,” Rain said, more to herself than anyone else.

“How so?”

“Everyone seems really nice on the first day. It’s all new people and sounds, and you think it’s going to be fun. Even the teacher is happy. But then you find out that some kids are mean, and even though you haven’t done anything wrong, they don’t care. They’re just mean.” Rain sighed. “I didn’t think adults were like that though.”

“Adults are often more childish than children,” Lana said.

As soon as they were by the two large rocks, the sounds and laughter returned to the village. Rain looked back, at all of the new people and sounds and fun, and wanted to cry. It wasn’t fair. She hadn’t done anything wrong, but that didn’t matter to them.

Instead, she turned back towards the mountain and passed between the two large rocks. Once she did, the village and sounds disappeared, as if they had never existed at all. They were alone again. Her eyes followed the smooth path upwards until it rounded a corner and went out of sight, and when she craned her neck and looked at the top of the mountain, she saw the moon waiting for them. From her vantage point, it looked like it was balancing on the very tip and could fall over at the lightest gust of wind. They were almost there.

“At least the weather has been really nice,” Rain said. She couldn’t have asked for a nicer day to go on an adventure.

Lana nodded, and together they started walking up the mountain, heading towards the moon.

Streams Chapter 3: Planemo Rogue

Assuming ya’ll know the drill by now. Chapter one can be found here, chapter two here, and Thomas’s EP that inspired this project here. Enjoy.

 

Chapter 3: Planemo Rogue

Rain ran for her life. The sound of a thousand blowing gales howled behind her, the invisible monsters getting closer with each step. She closed her eyes and screamed, though she never stopped running. The ground had turned into a steep hill again, and if she stopped, she would fall.

“Not that way!” the cat shouted from behind, its hissing voice adding to her panic. “Go back, go back you stupid little girl!”

Rain did not. The monsters were behind her. All around her the world was growing colder and darker, but when she finally glanced backwards, she saw empty air. For a split second she thought she was safe, and then she heard the crunch of footsteps. The white path was advancing, chasing after her, its green color frosting and turning to clear glass. The frozen ghosts were going to catch her.

Then the cat was latched onto thin air and growling like a lion, its fangs sinking into an invisible foe. Steam gushed out of its mouth. Rain screamed again and put on another burst of speed, and when she blinked, she was standing in a maze of glass sculptures. Huge walls of ice and glass closed in from all sides; plants, animals, and strange people with little horns growing out of their heads stared blankly down at her, their faces a mix of confusion and sorrow. Rain tried to back away, but somehow the maze had closed shut behind her. She was stuck.

“Help!” she screamed, feeling her tears freeze against her skin. It was so cold. “Someone please help!”

“Run little girl,” one of the statues gasped, its mouth not moving. “Take the right path and run.”

Rain ran. When the maze forked, she took the right path, passing by more frozen statues. From somewhere behind her, she thought she heard a howl of pain, though she wasn’t sure if it was from the cat or one of the ghosts.

When the pathway forked again, she paused. There weren’t any talking statues to guide her way. Three glass flowers towered above her, their pedals as big as walls and perfectly transparent. The first flower was a rose, the second a wilted tulip that pointed to the right, and the third a broken lily that leaned to the left. Beyond them she could see her stream, raging ahead like a wild river.

“We’ve found you,” voices wheezed from behind. The crunching of more footsteps followed. “A pretty new statue for our garden.”

“Help!” Rain mouthed, though all that came out were the chattering of her teeth.

“We like pretty statues.” The crunching got closer.

Rain turned around and saw an empty path, though when she looked at the ground, she could see footprints advancing, pressing against the now glass pathway and cracking it. Each step was like a lightning strike on a bad, stormy night.

“Run!” a sing-song voice hissed out. “Through the rose!”

Rain blinked and saw a purple-and-grey streak zip by, towards the frozen flower blocking her path. She turned and followed it, scrunching her eyes shut. She wasn’t sure if time slowed or stopped as she sprinted towards the sculpture, but the world around her got colder and a frozen breath touched her cheek. The cracking of broken glass filled her ears.

She struck the glass wall with a hollow thud. The cat said another bad word, and the frozen ghosts behind them screamed in fury. Then she was falling.

Rain was suspended for so long she thought she might have accidentally learned how to fly, and then she hit the ground. She slid and stumbled, the sound of moving water now filling her ears. She blindly reached around for something to hold onto, but her right hand only found cold, slippery ground. Her left landed in the stream. Rain yelped at the burning cold and jerked backwards, finally opening her eyes. She was on her back, and the sky was above her, still a piercing shade of blue. The sun was in its normal spot, as if nothing strange of horrible had just happened.

But the sky had changed. Now the moon was out, full and bright despite the early-afternoon hour.

“Are you okay?” the cat asked between deep breaths. It was purring and licking itself all over.

Rain looked around. They were on the stream, though now the stream wasn’t a stream but a raging river. She could see through the floor, and it took her a few seconds to realize they were sitting on a giant glass rose pedal. It had broken off when she and the cat had run into it.

“No,” Rain said, already starting to cry. That had been really scary, and now she wanted to go home. She wanted her mommy and daddy. They would tell her everything was alright and make the sting in her hand go away.

“It’s alright, Rain,” the cat said, now snuggling up against her. Rain began to pet it. “We’re safe now.” The grey-and-purple tabby chuckled. “And we found ourselves a boat.”

“I want to go home.”

“You can’t. You crossed the threshold.”

Rain cried and petted the cat for a long time, though the sun never moved. Together they floated down the stream, passing by meadows and orchards. The world grew warm again, and a host of pink flamingos flew over head, their numbers so big they made the entire sky look like pink lemonade. The only thing they didn’t cover up was the moon. They flew behind it.

“I’ve never seen a moon like that before,” Rain said, though she had also never seen a group of birds like that before. Flamingos only lived in zoos, as far as she knew.

“It’s a rogue moon,” the cat said. “A good omen. It’s why your little stream is now a river.”

“Oh.”

The current carried them onwards, the miles passing by quickly. Rain was now so far from home she was afraid the cat might be right, that she’d never find her way back. Soon two mountain peaks were jutting out of the horizon, and not long after, they were between them. Rain wasn’t sure how that could be possible, since it would take hours to reach them in a car and they were only floating down a river.

“We have to climb the mountain,” the cat said. “Don’t worry, I know a path, and there are no ghosts here.”

“Why?” Rain asked, though she followed the cat off their pedal-shaped boat. She wanted to stretch her legs, and now that the air was warm, she was afraid the boat might melt.

“Because you have a witch’s name, and this mountain is where witches go to ask the moon for favors.”

Streams Chapter 2: The House of Ice and Glass

Here’s chapter 2 of my ongoing little short story project set to the EP my friend–the very talented Thomas Rakowitz–put out a few months ago titled, Streams Volume 1.

Chapter 1 can be found here

The EP in can be found here

 

Chapter 2: The House of Ice and Glass

“Wait, stop!” the cat called. Rain turned around to see the tabby trotting after her, its tail swishing back and forth in an agitated state. “Listen, you can’t go that way. It’s dangerous.”

Rain shook her head. “Nope. I have a map, and it would tell me if there was anything dangerous.” When she had drawn her map, she had made sure not to put anything dangerous on it. This might be an adventure, but Rain was a practical girl.

“Oh really?” the cat said, rolling its large amber eyes. “Check it.”

“Fine.” Rain reached into her backpack and unfolded her map for the second time that morning, already pointing at where she was. “See? The sea is just ahead.”

“Look again, little girl.”

Rain did. Her map was different. The sea was still on it, and still expertly colored in crayon, but now there were other things in the way, places and landmarks she had not drawn. “I don’t understand,” Rain whispered, feeling that twinge of fear return, only now there were no adults. That was bad. An adult could fix this.

“You crossed the threshold,” the cat said. “Things have changed.”

They had. The stream now followed a zigzagging path through the countryside until it wound its way between a series of mountain peaks. Rain had never been this far from home, but she was very sure there weren’t any mountain ranges where she lived. Her teachers would have said something about that. They would have also mentioned the series of towns and cities between her and the sea, none of which Rain recognized. Most were out of the way, but one, a single house drawn in blue, was right on the stream.

“You should have listened to me,” the cat said.

“Shut up!” Rain snapped. It was just like Jody Casper to have the rudest talking cat in the world. “You’re a very mean cat, you know?”
“And you’re a silly little girl.”

“I don’t need your help.” Rain still had her map, and though it was different, it was still a map. It told her how to get to the sea. She wasn’t scared. Much. “I just need to go to this nice blue house.” She smiled. “I bet there’s a talking dog there who will help me. Dogs are so much nicer than cats.”

The cat said another bad word, this one much worse than the last one, and Rain turned to leave. Her mother always told her not to make friends with people who said bad words, and her mother was right. Rain wasn’t entirely sure how that rule applied to talking cats, but it didn’t matter. She had a new destination, and when she got there, she could get the help she needed.

Maybe whoever owned the blue house had a car and could just drive her to the sea.

Rain walked for awhile, though every time she checked her watch, the time hadn’t changed. It was still only a few minutes after 11:00. She tried not to let it bother her, mostly because the cat was still following her and she didn’t want it to know she was upset. The cat was mean and would only make fun of her.

The ground grew uneven and hilly, and Rain was finding it hard to traverse. Some of the hills were really steep and slippery. When she finally crested one tall hill, following the stream upwards the whole way, she stopped. It had grown colder all of a sudden, and a light breeze was picking up, blowing at her back. In the distance, small but shining like a little star, was the blue house. Rain was almost there.

Feeling fine, and still ignoring the cat, Rain decided to sit down and rest. She took her socks and shoes off again and went to put her feet in the stream, expecting the water to be cool and refreshing like it was last time. “Ouch!” she shouted, pulling away. The water was freezing, colder than ice. Rain looked at her big toe and began to cry. It was all white, like someone had covered it in snow. It hurt.

“Hush, hush. It’s alright,” the cat said, sliding up to Rain and rubbing against her.

“Go away,” Rain said, though already she was petting the purple-and-grey tabby. It was impossible to not pet a very soft cat.

Instead of leaving, the cat started licking Rain’s foot, melting the frost with its tongue. It hurt at first, and Rain winced, but soon the pain was gone and her toe was back to its normal color. She wriggled all her toes and grinned, remembering a game her father used to play with her when she was a little kid.

“What’s your name, little girl?” the cat asked.

“Rain.”

“That’s a pretty name,” the cat said, and Rain smiled. She liked it when people thought she had a pretty name. “A witch’s name. You’re destined for great things Rain, but not today. Today you need to turn back.”

Rain shook her head. She couldn’t turn back, not when she was so close. She put her socks and shoes back on and stood up. Her foot didn’t hurt at all, and now that her scare was over, she felt refreshed. “I’m going to the sea,” she said, and started following the stream again.

It only took a few steps for her to stop. Somehow, the grass in front of her was changing color, turning from a bright summer green to a bitter white. She knelt down and watched one patch transform right before her eyes, like someone was painting over the landscape. When she exhaled, her breath was foggy.

“The house of ice and glass is up ahead,” the cat whispered, its ears flat against its head. “The frozen ghosts live there. If they see you…” but the cat trailed off. Something was approaching.

Rain looked around but didn’t see anything. They were alone.

Then she heard the crunch of a foot stepping on ice, and the world turned into a din of screams.

Streams Chapter 1: We’re a Long Way From Home

Before I begin, allow me one quick introduction. I make it a habit to write to the music my friend Thomas Rakowitz puts out, which isn’t news if you follow this blog. Well a few months ago he put out an instrumental EP titled Streams Volume 1, and I’m only now getting to it. Sorry Thomas.

Ideally I’d do this as one quick story, writing until the EP ended in a stream-of-consciousness style, but this isn’t an ideal world. It looks like I’ll be doing multiple installments for this particular story with some forethought put in place for good measure. Whoops.

So here is chapter one, based off of the first song of the EP. There will be four more chapters, ideally released once per week.

 

Chapter 1: We’re a Long Way From Home

Rain was a long ways from home. She had been walking all morning, mostly humming to herself and skipping when the mood struck, and now she wished she had brought more snacks. All her Oreos were gone, and she was down to her last juice box. She supposed it was her fault for eating all of the cookies right away, but she also supposed it was impossible to only eat just one.

The sky was cloudless and a piercing shade of blue, and Rain couldn’t have asked for a nicer day for her adventure. She knew that real adventurers could tell the time based on the position of the sun and moon, and since she was on one herself, she decided to try. She considered the sun and the length of her shadow, looking back and forth, and then she checked her wristwatch. Her shadow did the same. It was a few minutes after 11:00.

Rain was going to the sea. Her teacher said that all streams eventually lead to the sea, and Rain had always wanted to see the sea. She had seen pictures of course, some she had drawn herself (her mother had put the best ones on the fridge) but she had never been there. Even at eight, Rain knew that seeing and being where very different things.

So she had grabbed her Lilo and Stitch backpack, filled it with cookies and juice boxes, and set off, following the little stream that ran through the edge of her family’s farm. She figured she’d be back by lunch time, though now she wasn’t so sure. The sea should really be on the horizon by now. Rain shrugged because it wasn’t a problem; it was a beautiful summer day, and she still had one juice box left. It would last her until she got to where she needed to go.

The stream gurgled around a little bend as it dropped half a foot in what was easily the prettiest waterfall in all of Oklahoma, and Rain decided to take her shoes off and soak her feet in the cold water. She started humming again as birds skimmed the surface, looking for bugs and fish to eat, and checked the map she had drawn the night before. It was on a white piece of computer paper and expertly colored in crayon. She had started with her own home and fields, which she knew like the back of her hand, and then the Jordy’s farm and finally the Casper’s. She was now nearing the edge of the Casper’s farm, and her map said the sea was just ahead.

Rain nodded because her map wouldn’t lie—she had drawn it after all, and she wouldn’t lie to herself—and stood up. It was time to go.

For Rain, this adventure was more than just her desire to see the sea, though that was a big part of it. No, this was serious. The stream was shrinking. Rain played it every day during the summer, which made it hers even if it did cut through at least six other farms, and she paid very close attention to it. It was growing smaller. When she had first learned how to swim at four, it was practically its own sea, but now she could swim across it in a few minutes and even touch the bottom with her toes if she stretched them hard enough.

Rain was afraid it might disappear entirely if someone didn’t do something about it.

“Are you lost, little girl?” a voice rang out in a sing-song fashion.

“Who’s there?” Rain called back. She wasn’t afraid since she was still near the Casper’s farm and knew the family very well, even if she didn’t recognize the voice.

“Turn around. You don’t want to step over the threshold.”

“Sure I do,” Rain said, though now she was a little worried. This sounded like an adult, and an adult would make her turn around and go home. An adult would yell since she was very explicitly told to not leave her house until all her chores were done, and she hadn’t done any of them. She also wasn’t supposed to wander into other people’s yards without permission.

When the voice made a soft, hacking sound and a grey cat with purple stripes walked out of a tall patch of grass, it’s ringed tail standing tall and proud, Rain forgot all about the angry adult.

“Oh hey kitty!” she called, already taking a slow step towards it, one hand outstretched so she could pet it. “Who’s a good girl? Are you a good girl?”

“Ugh,” the cat said. “Why is it always children? Listen little girl, you can still go back. The threshold is—”

“You can talk!” Rain blurted out. She had never met a talking cat before, though she supposed since she was on an adventure, anything was possible. She watched enough cartoons to know that. “What’s your name?”

“You’re about six steps away from being stuck here. Turn around now and go home.”

“Are you one of the Casper’s cats?” Rain stamped her foot. It was just like Jody Casper to have a talking cat and not tell her. If she had a talking cat, she’d tell everyone! Well, maybe not everyone, but she’d tell Jody. Maybe.

The cat sighed in such a heavy fashion that it flopped over onto the ground. “Why is it always children?” it sang to itself.

Seeing an open opportunity, Rain walked over and began to pet the strangely-colored tabby. The cat’s fur was so soft that it couldn’t be a farm cat. Rain should know; she had had three farm cats, and they were always filthy, especially Peanut Butter who was perpetually caked with something that most certainly was not cake.

“What are you doing?” the cat asked, now purring.

“How come you can talk?”

“All cats can talk.”

“My cats can’t talk. I should know, I talk to them all the time. They never say anything back.”

“That’s because you’ve never asked them anything worth responding to.”

“Oh.” Rain wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, but it sounded rude. “You aren’t a very nice cat, are you?”

“If you don’t turn around in two more steps, you’ll be stuck on this path,” the cat said again. It stopped purring.

Rain got up and took two more steps south, following the stream. “Good,” she said. “This is the path I need to be on.”

The cat responded with another sigh and a bad word.

Chapter 2