Sunday, November 15, 2009

Golgotha: Chapter 1

The city of Quadesport was no stranger to dead bodies. The nightly news always lead with tales of violence and lives lost, and those stories were hand picked from too many like it to see which would get the best ratings. The death of Javier Santiago would not be reported. No one cared about another junkie drug dealer who had enough of his own product in himself to kill him twice over. With that much heroin oozing through his veins, Javier did not care either as he took his last rasping breath. It did not matter to him that it was not him that plunged the needle into his arm that last time. Darkness enveloped Javier, and even though something deep down inside him screamed at him to be afraid, to try to struggle against it, it was already too late. He did not feel the dirty ice and slush that he lay in. He did not hear the people in the street that could not see his motionless body prone in the alley. He did not care enough to fight. He did not care enough to breath. His last heartbeat was an apathetic one.

He expected nothing. Part of him hoped for it. Part of him railed against it.

The darkness was short lived. He saw the alley again through a dream-like haze that made it seem like a distant memory. He saw the icy slush on the pavement and the shape of what had been a very then body laying in it. There was something whipping around the edges of the blurred vision. Long, black, curly hair, which Javier knew was his, but he did not feel the wind that moved it.

His vision blurred. He thought he was moving. He thought his spirit was going to wherever it was going to go. He could not comprehend what he was seeing, as if his eyes were not working properly. It was hard enough to see when he was not moving. Now it was near impossible to make out anything but blurry, dreary colors. There were occasional flashes of light. Most of them were white; some of them were colored brightly. He heard things that he could not comprehend. Sometimes it sounded like voices. All the sounds were horribly distorted. He still felt nothing. He could not smell anything or taste anything.

Javier thought he was descending into Hell. The part of him that still cared cursed himself for not going to church more, and not being a better person. It waited for the pain of eternal suffering to start. The part of him that did not care simply continued to be led on not knowing nor wanting to know what was happening to him.

The motion seemed to change direction often. The blurs were racing in front of his vision, only to suddenly change directions. The distorted sounds he heard would fade and them become louder again. For a moment Javier descended into darkness again. He returned to see the blurs still moving, and then suddenly stop.

There was someone in front of him. Javier did not know where he was. All he could make out was that someone was there. He tried to speak, but nothing came out. He thought the person in front of him was a man. He looked big. Much bigger than Javier, which was not difficult feat. Years of drug abuse had left him skinny and frail. He heard the man speak. He could not understand a word that was said. Some part of him knew the man was speaking English, but Javier try as he might did not understand a word.

The man moved. It looked like there was something being offered to Javier. No, it was being pointed at him. Despite the distortion of every sound Javier heard, the sound of the gunshots was unmistakable. There was a flash of light that had to have been from the barrel of the gun. Javier heard the gun bark twice before darkness claimed him again.

When Javier next perceived anything it was the sight of a man lying in murky gray. There were blotches of red around him and on him. The man was big, like the one that had the gun. Javier could not tell if it was the same man. He wanted to look around, but could not.

Then he heard a high-pitched distorted sound. It seemed like a few seconds passed and then everything visual was a series of blurs again. The high-pitched sound faded. The part of Javier that cared was scared and confused. The part that did not care was starting to get unnerved as well. This wasn’t Hell. This was something else. This is not what is supposed to happen when you die was the only thought Javier could form.

The blurs slowed again. Javier did not know how long it had been. His concept of time was completely gone. He saw an alleyway. Then he felt the cold.

His vision cleared rapidly. He blinked repeatedly; clearing up the last bit of his sight as if he had just woke up. He heard traffic not too far away. He smelled the heavy air from the river. He felt the cold. Then he felt a gnawing relentless pain wrack his body. He convulsed, dropping to his knees. He vomited a watery mess onto the slush-covered pavement. He felt faint.

Javier managed to stand. He wrapped his arms around himself, clutching his body tightly. Slowly, he began to walk. He stumbled more than once, nearly falling, but managed to keep his feet. He wanted a hit. He wanted one badly, just to get away from the pain and cold. He had no more heroin. They had injected it into him. He had wasted their product on himself, and when he did not have their money, they decided to let him enjoy what he had left of their product.

He stumbled for several blocks, catching gazes from the people still out in the cold in the dead of night. A drunken guy who looked college aged, just slightly younger than Javier, threw a beer bottle at him for the amusement of his friends. Still, Javier kept going. He knew the apartment building was close.

His legs were shaking uncontrollably by the time he made it to the apartment building. He was dressed warm enough. His body wanted to collapse again, and Javier drove it onward not from willpower, but from desperation. He still had a key to the building.

The heat when he entered the lobby nearly caused him to pass out. He stumbled to the wall and used it to support himself once he got through the door. Anyone else would have found the temperature in the building a pleasant change from the outside’s February cold. Javier was not equipped to enjoy anything at that moment. This made climbing the stairs to the third floor nearly unbearable. He stopped at the second floor to collect himself before continuing. There was nobody around and the only sound he heard was a television from one of the apartments.

He shuffled down the third floor hallway until he arrived at his destination. He clutched his fist weakly and hit the door barely making an audible sound. He coughed and sputtered, then renewed his effort. He was fully leaning against the doorjamb as his loose fist collided with the word door over and over again in a steady percussion that even Javier could barely hear.

He was on the verge of giving up when he heard the chain rattle. He heard the deadbolt turn and then the doorknob. The door swung open. There was a beautiful Latino girl in her nightclothes standing on the other side of the door with her hair falling just past her shoulders. Even though she was obviously enraged at the disturbance, her anger did not distort her face. Her feelings were clear in her deep brown eyes. The anger seemed to fade a little when Javier finally spoke.

“Pilar,” He said, and despite him using all of his effort to speak it came out a whisper. “Help me.” Javier immediately fell forward into Pilar’s apartment.

This month's artist: Is the one and only Mark Osborne.

Monday, November 2, 2009

"Last night I dreamed I witnessed the first skirmish of the last battle. What sounded like jets flying overhead was angels coming down for combat. They routed the enemy by their sheer presence, and the enemy retreated, or so it seemed.

As one of their leaders praised his multitude he was struck down by an assassin. He found himself bound by a rusty iron ring which pinned his wrists to a small stone pillar. The pillar rested on a cart which was drawn through a city of a world I could barely comprehend.

Even though he was killed, the leader of Angels wept, for he knew where he was being taken.

And he knew he wouldn't be the last."

From the journal of Sasha Cameron
Age 15

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Learning Curve: Chapter 5

CC was only vaguely aware that she had been slammed into the block wall behind her. The blast of air that had seemly exploded out of her room had launched her into the room across the hall from hers and into the far wall. The impact did not hurt, but CC knew that it should have. She stumbled away from the wall and looked up to see Gunther, Ellison and the man she did not know rush into the room. She lunged at them and did not know why.

“Grab her!” Gunther cried as he attempted to restrain her.

“What the hell is she doing here?” Ellison yelled as he also tried to grab CC. CC’s mind was reeling. She flailed and struck at the two men. She did not want to and tried to stop, but she could not. She tried to speak but could not. The man in the dark suit hung back. There was something strange about his eyes, but in the confusion CC could not process what it was. He was speaking again in what CC could only assume was Latin. He began to approach her as the noise from the struggle, Gunther and Ellison’s yelling and the man’s speech faded to silence.

She felt her mouth move but the voice that came from it was not hers.

“You cannot stop us! They shall rise and claim their dominion over man! They shall start with this one!” CC was still flailing against Gunther and Ellison, but they had each grasped one of her arms fiercely. To her surprise, they were having trouble holding her. They both seemed to be very strong and fit, yet they struggled to hold her. She wanted to scream. She heard the voice again, but this time did not feel her mouth forming the words.

“Give yourself to me, Cecelia Tucker.”

She refused.

“Give yourself to me, and serve the Masters of this world. Theirs is the power to deliver you.”

She asked what the voice was talking about.

“Uninitiated! You know not the secret history of this world; it’s place and role in this plane of existence. I can teach you. I can make you understand so that you my revel in your new Lord’s service.”

She demanded to know who was talking to her.

“I am of the many. I am the seed, which will grow and strangle the light of the world. I am you.”

She denied the voice. The man in the suit was over her. Her eyes were drawn to the amulet hanging around his neck. It was silver and had a heart shaped stone in the center of it.

“You are nothing. Your only hope is through me.”

She felt her thoughts becoming cloudy. Her body still struggled against the men holding it, but it was as if she looking through someone else’s eyes. The man in the suit reached out and covered CC’s face with his hand. She saw nothing but darkness now. She could not feel anything. All she could hear was the voice.

“You shall be given pleasures you can not fathom. You can revel in your lust and have your desires filled. Give yourself to me and legions will give themselves to you.”

CC rebuked the voice. It was then that she began to feel something. It was sharp and feral and it was all over her body. She wanted to scream.

“This is the fate of those who stand before us! Open your eyes and look upon the Pillar!”

CC vision was obscured. She saw nothing only darkness. She felt as though she could not breath. The sharp pains were in her chest, as if something were digging into her.

“Your spirit will be inscribed upon the Pillar! Forever shall you know its weight! Accept the Masters! Only their grace can spare you from the Pillar!”

CC now knew pain that she had previously not thought possible. Even worse in her mind was how powerless she felt. She felt violated and was not even sure how. She hated the voice. She hated it and every word it uttered. She hated every vile idea it had suggested to her. She hated the pain it inflicted. She hated the numbness even more. She cursed it. With every fiber of her agonized being she wished it to hell.

“Banish me and your pain shall be eternal!”

In a rage, CC Tucker wished a gruesome end be visited upon the voice. The pains stabbed through her mercilessly. Coherent thought left her. She saw nothing. She heard nothing. She knew only the pain.

And then she saw the ceiling of the room she was in. The hand of the man in the suit withdrew from her face. She was lying on the floor. Gunther and Ellison eased their grip and looked at each other.

“Miss Tucker?” Gunther asked as the man in the suit left the room. “Are you alright?” CC muttered something incomprehensible. There was an elated smile on her face. Her body relaxed and her eyes closed gently. She sighed softly as endorphins flooded her body in reaction to the pain she had just been in. Combined with the previous night’s lack of sleep, CC Tucker’s body rested peacefully. Gunther and Ellison did not have time to panic before she began to snore.

CC woke up back in the room she had stayed in the previous night. She was wearing a set of soft green pajamas. There was a glass of water and note on the nightstand. She sat up and slowly sipped the water. She checked the time on the digital clock that sat on the nightstand. It was ten thirty at night, over twelve hours since what had happened. The note instructed her to go to a room on the floor below when she was ready. She found her keys and wallet on the dresser as well as her clothes, which were neatly folded and laundered.

She took her time getting dressed. She felt well rested, but still she felt uneasy. Her body ached. She wanted what had happened to be a nightmare.

Once she was ready, CC followed the note’s instructions. She walked down the hallway, then down the stairs. She passed the lobby where she had coffee with Chad. A young man was sitting at the table reading and making notes. She walked past the vending machines and turned a corner to find the room she was instructed to go to. The sign of the door read: “Doctor Carson Rodgers. Professor of Archeology.” After a little hesitation, she knocked on the door.

“Come in.” She heard Doctor Rodgers call from inside. When she opened the door he looked genuinely surprised to see her. “Miss Tucker! I didn’t expect you until tomorrow morning.” He got up from behind his desk and walked around it to offer CC a seat. The office was very organized, and looked comfortable. She took a seat in the black leather chair by Rodger’s desk. One thing she quickly noticed about his office was that there were no pictures. There were a few certificates hanging on his wall, but CC did not bother reading them. There was another door in the office near the desk.

Doctor Rodgers had a kind face. His dark eyes were warm and friendly, but betrayed weariness. That fact that he kept his head shaved did not seem intimidating. His complexion was that of milk chocolate. CC had never thought much about the professor other than how boring his class was. She now saw him in a whole new light.

“I want answers.”

“Chad warned me about that.”


“Nothing. You’re going to be fine. You were examined by a physician; who will be happy to speak with you in the morning if you’d like. She recommends rest and some Motrin for any discomfort.” Rodgers took a seat behind his desk.

“What the hell happened to me?”

“You fainted. There was a gas leak in your dorm room. Everything’s fine now.”

“BULLSHIT!” CC cried out as she leapt from her seat. She slammed her hands down on Rodgers’ desk. “Don’t you dare lie to me!”

“Miss Tucker…”

“Who was the man in the suit with necklace? I know you’re assistant and that Ellison guy were there!”

“CC, please! I’m afraid your still a bit disoriented from the gas leak.” Rodgers’ voice was even and soothing. It did not help. Her head sank and she cursed under her breath. Her anger was quickly giving way to hopelessness. She knew she was not going to get anywhere with questioning these people. Rodgers, Gunther, Armstrong, the Ellison Brothers and now the man in the suit; they were all in on it. Whatever horrible thing that had happened, they were not going to let CC in. Deep down, she knew that they must have had their reasons. Still, she did not care. She turned to leave.

“Can I go back to my dorm room?” She asked coldly.

“Of course. Everything’s fine now.” He responded. She walked to the door.

“Will you at least tell me what the hell the Pillar is?” She asked as she opened the door.

“What did you just say?”

“The Pillar. What is it?” CC turned and her eyes met Rodgers’. He sat there. The warmth fell from his face and he sat expressionless. Slowly he stood up, and moved to the door.

“Come with me.” He gave the order and made it sound like a suggestion. He opened the other door in the office and ushered her through it. It led to a small landing and a staircase leading down to the building’s basement level. They descended the stairs. Rodgers’ was silent and his silence bore enough weight to keep CC from speaking. At the bottom of the stairs there was an unmarked door. Rodgers opened it.

The room inside had every wall practically covered in bookshelves. It smelled like old books and newsprint. There was a table in the center of the room where Chad Armstrong and Tommy Ellison were sitting reading. They quickly looked up and Rodgers and CC entered.

“What’s she doing here?” Chad asked looking more than a little surprised.

“They mentioned the Pillar.” Rodgers said.

“In that case…” The man in the suit was standing in the corner. CC could have sworn that he was not there when she had come in. The suit was the same. The Heart’s Blood Medallion still hung around his neck. “… it seems we have a new player in the game.” He walked towards her. She could tell he was older, but could not even begin to guess his age. His hair was dark and had no gray to it. His face seemed weathered and years shown upon it. His eyes looked as old as the world and sparkled like rare gemstones. “My name is Dante Amethyst. Welcome to our world.”

It had been one day since CC Tucker’s main concern was hooking up with a cute guy at a party. Her mother had told her that college changes a person and makes them grow. She had not expected this. One word. One thing that she knew she had heard. That was enough to change her life forever.

This month's artist: Mister CM Frank.

Friday, July 31, 2009


Name: Ronald Rhodes
Position: Detective, Special Crimes Unit
Date: July 30, 2009

After reporting to station and arming ourselves, my partner, Detective Jack Wesley, proceeded to continue our efforts to aid in the quelling of violence that has gone one for several days. At 1000 hours we received a call about a break in at 2560 Weston Avenue. We arrived on scene at 1015. The suspects were still inside. We entered and announced. The suspects claimed to have explosives. At this point we began evacuating the building and called for the bomb squad. I encountered the suspects on the third floor. There was an exchange and they announced their intention to detonate the bomb. I saw the trigger and was forced to exit the building through the window. The bomb was detonated and the suspects attempted to escape in the confusion. Detective Wesley and I apprehended them as they exited the building. Fire and Rescue arrived soon after as well as a wagon to pick up the suspects.

At 1320 received a request for back up at Anderson Street. Police was engaged in a firefight with suspects. Detective Wesley and I joined Detective Escobar, Detective Yi and Detective Montessi as well as other officers involved. We managed to overrun the gang’s makeshift barrier and breached 566 Anderson Street where the gang was occupying. There was an exchange of gunfire. Most of the suspects surrendered. Some of them were shot. A few of the suspects were heading for the roof via the stairs. Detective Wesley and I pursued them as the others secured the floor. We received fire on our ascent and returned fire. Detective Wesley wounded one of the suspects. Detective Wesley subsequently caught a round in his calf and was unable to continue pursuit. I continued to the roof.
The events after I reached the roof are unclear at this point. It’s my belief that due to the prolonged activity in the heat my perception was distorted. I could not find the suspects on the roof. I was confronted by a man wearing dark clothes. He was pale and appeared to be in his mid-forties with blond hair. No distinguishing marks or features. There was a verbal exchange as I ordered him to surrender. I was distracted by a cry for help and saw a woman who appeared to be in her mid-twenties with auburn hair. She was wearing a white dress. When I looked back to the man, he was gone. The woman was gone as well. Detective Escobar arrived at the roof right afterward.

We went back down to help Jack. EMTs and the wagon had arrived. We loaded up the suspects and I accompanied Detective Wesley to the hospital. This concludes my account of the events of the day.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Learning Curve: Chapter 4

The room was the nicest one CC had seen on the campus. It was not very spacious, but it was much friendlier than any of the dorm rooms she had seen. The walls were plastered and painted a faint blue color; which was a great departure from the off-white block walls of the regular dorms. The private bathroom was a luxury after having to share a bathroom with eleven other girls on her floor. She took a long, hot shower and then retired to the bed. She drifted off quickly.

The events of the evening had raced through her mind before sleep finally claimed her. Encountering James Ellison, the party, Steve, whatever the hell had happened back in her room. Mostly she thought of Tonya. She was not sure what had happened. She wanted answers. She felt angry at the whole situation, and it seemed as if circumstance was attempting to make her a victim in series of events playing out. That notion flat out galled her.

Her sleep was restless. She woke up more than once in the middle of the night. When dawn finally arrived she still felt tired. She got up and dressed herself in the same clothes she had wore the night before. She was not sure what to do with the key Chad had given her. She was sure the use of the room was not a permanent thing, but she liked the thought of it. CC debated leaving the key on the dresser, but pocketed it instead.

She exited the room and went down the stairs to the lounge that was at the entrance. It was still early and there was no activity in the building, but she heard a few radios and TV fainting from the various rooms. Chad was sitting at a table with a cup of coffee that was obviously from a venting machine. He looked up from the book he was reading and saw her.

“Morning, Miss Tucker. How did you sleep?” He smiled warmly.

“Not very well. Chad, right?” She approached the table.

“That’s right, Chad Armstrong, at your service.” He offered her his hand, and she took it. He then gestured for here to sit. “You want some coffee. It’s not Starbucks, but it’s hot and does the trick.”

“Um… yeah. Cream and sugar, please.”

“Coming up.” Chad got up and went down a hallway to the vending machines. “Sorry you didn’t sleep very well, but after your night, I don’t blame you.”

“Yeah, it was pretty weird.” CC did not want to ask, but the thought was driving her to distraction. “Speaking of weird, what kind of name is Chad Armstrong for a Chinese guy?”

“The kind a Chinese guy gets when he’s adopted.” Chad answered as he returned to the table with her coffee. He set the cup in front of her and sat back down. “Now, I imagine you want to go back to your room and you have a ton of questions about what happened and about your roommate.”

“Well… yeah.” CC was a little put off by the fact that it seemed like Chad had done this many times before.

“First off, your roommate is fine. She’s still at the hospital, but she’ll be released today. I called about her a little bit before you came down.”

“That’s good.”

“Now, about your room, I have to ask you not to go back there for a while.”

“What? How long is a while?” CC snapped at him. She was still tired and her temper was starting to flare. Chad raised a hand gently to calm her.

“Just a few hours. We’re going to make sure that everything’s alright in the room.” Chad spoke evenly and calmly in an attempt to use his tone to try to sooth CC.

“Who’s ‘we’? What the hell happened? What the hell’s happening now?” CC snapped again, and her face was starting to redden.

“Miss Tucker,” Chad speech was firmer now. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you what happened in your room, but I can assure you that the people who are there now will make sure it doesn’t happen again. Think of them as cleaners.”

“Like I should think of you as security.” CC got up and took up her dup of coffee. Chad thought for a moment that she was going to throw it at him. “Thanks for the coffee.” CC turned and began towards the door.

“It’s just a few hours Miss Tucker.” Chad got up from the table and started to follow her. She spun towards him.

“I’m going to get some breakfast.” She said curtly. Her tone let Chad know that she was no longer interested in anything he had to say. She was in no mood for secrets or people thinking they were clever for having them. She left the building and went to the dining hall.

There were not many people up at that hour on a Saturday morning. She passed a handful on her way to breakfast. The morning air was cool on her skin and finished the job the coffee had started in waking her up. The sky was clear and the sun was casting long shadows along the old buildings of Lazlo University. She sat alone at the dining hall and ate silently. She did not particularly care for the food there, but had learned to live with it.

She weighed her options the entire time she ate. CC’s first instinct was to return to her room despite Chad’s warning. She thought about making her way to the hospital to check on Tonya. She tried to call her with her cell phone, but the call went straight to Tonya’s voice mail. Either her phone was off or it just had no signal in the hospital. CC wanted to know what had happened. She wanted answers. She wanted to be able to tell Tonya what was happening when she saw her.

She headed for her dorm room. She walked quickly, practically stomping all the way. Her frustration showed on her face. She was out of patience.

She got to her dormitory building and saw some girls gathered in the lobby. She paused for a moment and recognized the girls as the ones from her floor. She went into the lobby and spotted Liza, a girl she had chatted with a few times before.

“Hey Liza, what’s everyone doing down here?”

“Oh, hey CC! You just getting in?” Liza responded with a smirk suspecting that CC was returning from a tryst.

“Yeah, after the commotion last night, I didn’t want to stay in the room so I stayed with a friend.”

“Oh, that’s right! That was your room?”

“Yeah. So, what’s everyone doing down here?’

“Oh, some faculty guys said they needed us to leave the floor for a little while. Something about checking for a gas leak.” Liza said with a shrug.

“A gas leak?” CC cocked an eyebrow. She did not believe that for a second. “My entire ass.” CC marched past the group of girls. Liza said something, but CC was not listening. She went from the lobby to the staircase that led to her floor. She muttered obscenities under her breath with every step.

She got to her floor and the moment she stepped out of the stairwell she felt it again, the cold. She saw her breath mist in the air. She heard shouting. It was coming from her room. She heard words she did not recognize. It sounded like Latin, but she was not sure.

“Gabe, duck!”

“Dammit! Hurry this up, Doc!” They were male voices, angry and guttural. She heard things crashing. Wood was breaking. Glass was shattering. She had not heard any of that in the stairwell. For an instant she wanted to retreat back to the lobby. Her resolve to find the truth overcame that urge. She rushed down the hallway and turned the corner to she her room door wide open. CC came to the doorway.

It was like a miniature tornado in her room. Her and Tonya’s personal items were flying in all directions. The beds were overturned. The mirror was shattered. In the middle of the storm were Mister Gunther and Tommy Ellison. Both were trying to protect themselves with their arms. Tommy’s ponytail was whipping in the indoor cyclone. There was another man in the room who was seemingly unaffected by the event in the room. He wore a gray business suit and faced away from her. He was speaking in the language CC had heard but did not understand. He had dark hair that was cropped close and was not moving in the wind whipping through the room.
There was no wind in the hallway where CC stood. She was frozen there, transfixed by the sight in front of her. The air around her was completely calm until Tommy looked at her.

“RUN!” He shouted as the wind exploded from her room and blasted her back into the room behind her.

About this month's artist: Linda Jean made the time to get this piece done despite a very demanding schedule. Thanks, Linda!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Learning Curve: Chapter 3

“You so much as flinch and I’m going to melt your stupid face off.” It was an exaggeration obviously. CC Tucker knew full well that the pepper spray she had aimed at the guy who she had snuck off with would not actually melt anything. However, the threat did stop him from advancing towards her. “I scream and this room is going to be packed with people.”

“Calm down. I just want to talk.” Steve put his hands up in a submissive gesture.

“Yeah, well, I just wanted to fool around a bit with a random guy at a party, but then your Creep-o-meter started clanging off the charts.” CC kept the pepper spray aimed at Steve’s face and was very aware of the distance between them. If he rushed her, she would not be able to dodge him in the tight quarters of the bedroom. She also knew that if she wanted to get out of the room it would have to be through Steve. “Now you talk, asshole. Everyone freaks out when these Ellison guys are even mentioned. I don’t even know them! I have a professor in common with one of them and I ran into the other earlier tonight. I. Don’t. Know. Them. What the hell is everyone’s deal around here?”

“Stop pointing that at me.” There was anger in Steve’s voice.

“No.” CC answered sternly. The word had barely escaped her lips when Steve rushed her. CC hit the trigger on the spray, but Steve stretched out his hand and blocked the spray from reach his face. He grasped the small spray can and jerked at it, trying to wrest it from CC’s grip. The young blonde kicked upwards as soon as he gripped the spray. The kick struck firmly in the groin and with a loud grunt Steve winced and began to stumble backwards. He released his grip on the spray and CC took the opportunity to douse Steve’s face. He wailed in pain as CC shoved him aside and bolted for the door.

She was vaguely aware of the steady stream of profanity that was spilling from her lips as she descended the staircase. Slowly but surely the heads of everyone at the party looked to her. She stopped at the base of the stairs. No one spoke. The music continued to play. CC glanced around the room. Bitter feelings twisted her pretty face.

“Steve’s an asshole!” She shouted and then headed straight out the door. She had made it to the sidewalk by the time Tonya ran out of the house in pursuit.

“CC!” She shouted, but her roommate did not break stride. “CC, wait!” Tonya finally caught up with her and saw raw anger on her face. “What the heck happened in there?”

“Damned high school garbage.”


“That jerk Steve got me into a room and freakin’ grilled me about those guys. The twins.”

“The Ellisons?”

“Whatever. Screw this scene. It’s just like the cliques back in high school.” CC fumed as she walked down the Row. She and Tonya got catcalls much like they did on their way to the party but instead of offering a smile in return CC gave them the finger.

“What? It wasn’t that bad in high school.”

“Easy to say when you’re popular. That crap’s over. I’m not going to be judged or interrogated just for talking to a guy I barely know.”

“CC, hold on a minute.” Tonya grabbed CC’s arm and brought the pair of them to a halt. CC’s still looked quite angry but she was not going to take it out on Tonya. “I asked about those guys. There’s a ton of rumors about them.”

“So what?”

“So, none of them are good. I think the girls in the sorority are just trying to look out for us.”

“Yeah, well I didn’t ask them to. Go on back to the party. I’m heading home.” CC turned and headed up the Row and towards the dormitories. Tonya followed and quickly caught up. CC tossed her a questioning glance.

“The music wasn’t really working for me.” They both smiled and looped their arms with each others. They left the row and made their way across the campus to their dormitory. There was still quite a bit of activity on the campus. A few dedicated students were coming from and going to the library. The campus movie theater had a bit of a crowd. Tonya and CC did not say much during their walk home. Tonya wanted to ask about what had happened in the room with Steve, but she held off, not able to think of how to broach the subject.

They had planned on having a snack and watching a movie when they got back to their room. When they opened the door they were stopped in the doorway by a rush of cold air. They entered and were surprised that they could see their breaths misting in the air.

“What the hell?” CC went straight to the heating and air conditioning unit by the window as Tonya turned on the lights. The unit was off. Both girls felt goose bumps rise on their skin. “I’m calling maintenance.” CC said as she headed to the phone. She stopped short when she saw Tonya standing rigid in the middle of the room. “Tonya?”

Tonya did not answer she just stared blankly at the mirror. It was the same mirror CC had been looking at when she thought she saw something earlier that evening. Now she could only see a message. The cold and humidity in the room had put a layer of frost on the mirror. CC did not think the room was cold enough to produce frost, but it seemed the mirror had a different opinion. There was a message written in the frost:

“I’m coming.”

CC looked closer at the message. While the frost prevented her from seeing a reflection, where the words were written the mirror was clear. Something was looking back at her. She looked quickly at Tonya and them back at the mirror and saw her own eyes in the reflection. Without a word she grabbed Tonya by the arm and pulled her out of the room.

“Tonya!” CC nearly shouted at her friend whose face was still blank and expressionless.

“What?” Tonya replied. She was blinking quickly and looking around. “What just happened? What’s happening?”

“Screw maintenance. I’m calling security.” CC pulled out her cell phone and quickly dialed the campus operator. It wasn’t long before security arrived and the dormitory was buzzing with activity. By the time security did arrive, the temperature in the room had returned to normal. There was no evidence of there ever having been a message on the mirror. Tonya was taken to the hospital. She seemed to be in shock.

CC sat on a bench in front of the dormitory. She had been told that it was all right for her to go back to her room, but her gut feeling was to stay as far away from it as possible. The night air was crisp and clean. It helped her relax a little. She thought about sleeping on the couch in the dormitory lounge that night.

She looked around. The evening was peaceful. It was nearly midnight and only a few of the students were out. Most of them were either sleeping or already wherever they wanted to be that evening. The area was well lit, but there were spots down the road that ran along the dormitories that the streetlights did not fully illuminate.

In the dark area were two people. CC focused on them. They were men and the same size. They seemed to be looking at her, but at the distance she could not tell for certain. They were joined by a third man and for the life of her CC did not see him approach the other two. The one began walking away from the others and towards the dormitories. The other two began walking down the sidewalk in the other direction. They walked out of the darkness briefly and CC swore it was the Ellison Brothers.
“Bullshit.” She said to herself. “You’re tired and your mind’s playing horrible tricks on you.” Then she saw that the third man was walking towards her. CC continued talking to herself. “So help me if this guy is coming to me and gives me an ounce of grief I’m going to quit this stupid school.” The man did indeed walk to her. The area around CC was very well lit and CC recognized the man as the young Asian fellow that had nearly run her over on the stairs earlier that day. He stopped short, keeping his distance.

“Tucker, right?” He said with a gentle smile.

“Um… yeah…” CC did not know how this guy knew who she was, but she already did not like it.

“I’m Chad. I heard something weird happened in your room. There’s a suite over in Ellis Hall that you can stay in if you want.”


“You can get some of your things out of your room if you want. I’ll even come with you.”

“Are you campus security?”

“Something like that.”

“’Something like that’ isn’t going to cut it.”

“I understand. You’ve had a rough night.” Chad fished a very plain key ring out of his pocket. There was only one key on it. Chad kept his distance and tossed it to her. CC caught it. “Good hands. Anyways, it’s an open offer. Stay there or not, it’s up to you.”

“And why do I get this open offer?”

“You’re not the first person to have a rough night around here.” Chad smiled and nodded. Then he turned and walked away. “Room 212.” He called back to her without turning around. He walked away leaving CC staring at the room key. The offer of a soft bed in a suite was good, but more than that she wanted answers. Her gut told her she might find some in Ellis Hall room 212.

She went with her gut.

This month's artist: Is Hawaii's lovely and talented Kai Lee.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Learning Curve: Chapter 2

The fall chill had already arrived and was making its presence known that evening. CC and Tonya made their way to the lane of houses that comprised the “Greek Row” where the majority of the fraternities and sororities had their houses. The girls heard music playing even before they got to the Row. Almost every house was hosting a mixer that evening. The street and sidewalk were mostly clear, and those that were out on it seemed to be freshmen like Tonya and CC whom were attempting to find their destinations.

The houses on the Row were obviously built later than the main building on campus. The Gothic architecture and cobblestone walls were replaced by colonial styles and modern siding. All of the houses were two or three stories and had the Greek letters representing the different organizations displayed proudly on the porches by the front doors.

CC was smiling. The parties going on looked promising. She helped Tonya look to try to find the Kappa Theta Kappa house, but as of yet they had no luck. They did receive a few catcalls and whistles from some of the fraternity houses, and more than one invitation to join the festivities.

“This is going to be great!” Tonya chirped, reiterating the same sentiment she had been exposing the entire day.

“Yeah, although if we don’t find the house soon, I may take someone up on their offer.” CC eyed a few fraternity guys waving at them to join their party.

“Don’t be such a ho bag.” Tonya teased as she entwined her arm with CC’s in an effort to keep her from straying off. “The mixer is going to be a lot of fun. Julie promised to introduce me to all the girls and they sound really awesome.”

“Alright, alright. I’m not going to bail on you.” CC barely got the words out when she spotted someone dashing out from between the houses. The Row was well lit, but it was difficult to make out who it was until he was nearly upon the girls. “WHOA!” CC shouted at him as her hand went into her pocket to grab her pepper spray.

The guy came to a halt on the sidewalk in front of them. It was the student that CC had seen Mister Gunther talking to before her class earlier, but it took CC a moment to recognize him. He was not wearing his cowboy boots and had found the time to get a haircut after she had seen him last. His dark hair was uncombed and spiked out in places as if he had trouble keeping it under control. He wore a black leather jacket, which the chill in the air did not warrant. His jeans were loose fitting and faded. He looked at the girls was deep brown eyes, and offered them a smile which looked to CC as if it was as practiced as Julie’s had been earlier that day.

“Sorry to startle you.” He offered by way of an apology. Tonya clung tighter to CC’s arm and CC did not release her grip on the pepper spray in her pocket.

“You’re Tommy, right?” CC asked and both the young man and Tonya seemed surprised.

“No, Tommy’s my brother.” The young man said keeping his distance.

“You look a lot alike.”

“We’re twins. You know Tommy?”

“We both have Professor Carlson for anthro.”

“I see.” The young man was glancing around but trying not to be obvious about it. “Doctor Carlson is a great teacher.”

“If you say so.” CC could not see the appeal of Carlson. His lectures were about as entertaining to CC as watching paint dry.

“Say, do you know where the Kappa Theta Kappa house is?” Tonya asked, finally unclenching from CC arm.

“You’re almost there.” He answered. He gestured with his head towards the house, which was only a few more houses down the row, while keeping his arms at his sides.

“Great, thanks.” Tonya started walking with CC right behind her. They passed by the man without saying another word. Once they thought they were out of earshot, Tonya said softly to CC, “That guy seem kinda weird to you?”

“Yeah, just a bit. We didn’t even catch his name.” CC glanced back at where he had been standing. She caught sight of him hurrying down the Row away from them. She saw a splatter on the sidewalk where he had been standing. She did not pay it much attention, and barely registered that the spot was red. “I bet it was Tommy and he thinks he’s funny.”

The Kappa Theta Kappa house was bustling with activity. The house was like all the others on the row. Some of the girls had taken the time to hang some Christmas lights on the porch to make the place stand out for their guests. CC and Tonya agreed that it was a cute touch. There were a few girls on the porch, chatting over their drinks. The front door was wide open and Julie was waiting right inside at a table. It occurred to CC that the only time she had every seen Julie was in front of or behind tables. Either she was very dedicated to the sorority, or she had a habit of drawing the short straw.

“You made it!” She shouted over the music that filled the house. “I’ve got name tags for both of you!” The tags were the standard stickers that read ‘Hello, my name is’. CC wasn’t thrilled with the idea of having to wear it, and briefly contemplated writing something weird on it. However she filled it out as did Tonya and stuck the tag on her shirt. “Did you have any trouble finding us?”

“Not really.” Tonya answered. “A friend of CC’s showed us where to go.”

“Oh, you have a friend on the row?” Julie asked through her permanent smile.

“Just a guy from class. I don’t really know him. He was screwing around and claiming he was his own twin brother.”

“It wasn’t one of the Ellison brothers was it?” Julie’s smile was starting to look forced.

“Who?” CC raised an eyebrow.

“James and Tommy Ellison. Those guys are really creepy. You’re better off avoiding them.” Julie seemed earnest in her advice, but that only got CC’s curiosity up. More girls entered before CC could ask Julie more about the brothers, and Tonya was pulling her away.

CC met dozens of girls that evening and if held at gunpoint could not be made to remember a single name besides Julie’s. Tonya however was in her element. She seemed to program the phone number of every girl they encountered into her cell phone. A few of the boys caught CC’s attention. One in particular, who was a ‘sweetheart’ for the sorority, caught her eye. His name tag identified him as ‘Steve’. Steve was tall and muscular with brown hair that looked like he spent time making it look like he spent no time on it. He was talking to a small group of girls. CC made her way over to them as Tonya was programming yet another number into her phone. She had had a few drinks and her courage was up.

“Hi Steve.” She said after waiting for just the right lull in the conversation to speak up.

“Oh hi… um…” He checked her name tag. “CC. Um, did we meet already?” CC pointed to his name tag to show how she knew his name. Steve looked down at it and the recognition clicked in. “Oh… DUH!” He laughed and CC giggled. He was cute, and seemed not terribly bright at the moment. “Are you having a good time?”

“Actually, I was hoping for a tour of the house.” Her eyes caught his and held them. She smiled.

“Oh, sure! It’ll be my pleasure.” Steve ushered her away from the main party towards the kitchen area. She felt a little bad about ditching Tonya, but Tonya seemed to be enjoying herself. CC figured it was time to enjoy herself too.

Steve showed her around the kitchen and dining room area, which were the only places on the first floor CC had not seen yet. They ascended the stairs. There were a few girls up there as well, mostly looking around and seeing how they liked the house. Steve talked about the sorority and the house and bunch of other things that CC did not listen to. She was hoping to find a place to have a bit of fun with Steve, but he said something that disrupted her search.

“So, I hear you know the Ellison brothers.”

“What?” CC was caught off guard by the remark. She turned from the bedroom she was looking at to Steve. “Not really. I have a professor in common with one of them and I ran into the other one earlier.”

“So… there are two of them.” Steve’s demeanor was changing quickly. The semi-dense, smiling sorority sweetheart had just taken a very serious sounding tone. He gave CC a slight shove into the empty bedroom they were looking at and enter behind her closing the door behind him. “I’m going to have to ask you a few things.”

CC reached into her pocket for her pepper spray.

About this month's artist: Marty Nozz wrote all the stuff you just read. All five of you.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Learning Curve: Chapter 1

Cecelia Catherine Tucker was facing her most difficult decision since entering Lazlo University. This would affect not only the rest of her time at the university, but also possibly the rest of her life. She stood at the table looking in front of the campus dining hall mulling over her decision as dozens of other students passed by her, never running into each other, yet so much in their own little worlds that they were seemingly oblivious to everyone around them. She contemplated going into old Gothic style building that was the dining hall to mull over the decision. At the very least she would not have to decide on an empty stomach. Unfortunately, she stood transfixed. She was trapped, unable to move. Her captor wore a sweater branded with select letters of the Greek alphabet and a smile that seemed permanent.

“So are you interested in rushing Kappa Theta Kappa?” Her name was Julie. She had been sitting behind the table for the better part of the morning. She made sure that every last item on the table was laid out perfectly and was easily seen by any passer-by, and should those passer-bys happen to look she was prepared to deliver the sales pitch which she had just inflicted on one Cecilia Tucker.

Miss Tucker was tempted and yet unconvinced. She shifted her weight back and forth and brushed her long blond hair behind her ear. Her soft hazel eyes studied Julie as she pondered what it would be like to be wearing a Kappa Theta Kappa sweater. Her roommate Tonya was already going to rush the sorority, and it seemed like fun. She had heard stories about parties with fraternity boys and much drinking. She could not bring herself to ask Julie if any of these stories were true, because if they were not, she was not interested.

“CC!” She heard from behind her and recognized the voice immediately as Tonya’s. She turned to see her friend bouncing up to them. Tonya was a bit taller than CC, which was the nickname she had since first grade where the two had met. Tonya had gotten her brown hair cut short, which she deemed her ‘college’ look. “Hi, Julie! Have you talked her into it yet?”

“I’m working on it, Tonya.” Julie responded with a smile.

“Come on! They’re having a mixer tonight! I don’t want to go alone.”

“Alright, I’m in.” CC said finally with a shrug. Then she turned to Julie. “Just make sure there’s some guys there to mix with.”

CC and Tonya had lunch together in the dining hall. Tonya spent the meal chatting about how excited she was about possibly joining the sorority. CC mostly just nodded and looked about for boys she could deem worthy of classifying as ‘eye-candy’.

From there CC went to the first of her afternoon class. As a freshman she had the last pick of classes and she loathed her schedule. She had only one class that afternoon, but it was an anthropology course which bored her senseless. However, since she had yet to declare a major she was stuck taking the university’s requirements for liberal studies. She made her way across the campus and paid no attention to the building with their old cobblestone with the ivy attempting to overtake it at many points. She had lived there for an entire month and still had not noticed the gargoyles that sat perched atop many of the roofs. She came to her destination and moved with the flow of students into the building, and started up a flight of stairs to her class.

“Coming through!” An Asian man, a few years older than CC came barreling down the stairs, slicing through the mass of students in his way effortlessly. He muttered something by way of an apology as he passed by. CC thought of saying something, but another student beat her to it, yelling at the man, who had already turned the corner and was gone.

CC walked to the classroom with a few minutes to spare. Standing outside of the room were two men. She recognized one of them as her professor’s assistant, Mister Gunther. Gunther was an imposing man who did not seem to fit her idea of an academic. His blond hair was chopped short as if he was in the military, and he had a mustache and goatee. Gunther was talking with a student, but it was not one from CC’s class. He looked like a freshman and dark long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. She had seen him before around campus. His cowboy boots made him stand out.

“Just see if you can find the books, Tommy. I know there’s a lot to go through.” Gunther said in a rather hushed tone.

“Don’t worry, Gabe. I’ve got this.” And with that the student hurried off, with his boots clicking on the tile floor as he hurried away. CC shrugged and passed Gunther as she entered the room. She took a seat near the back of the room as the professor entered. Gunther followed her in and sat in his usual seat at the front of the room. CC was hoping she would be able to stay awake for the class. She had already been caught napping once and was still embarrassed by it. She knew it would be difficult, as she could not think of anyone more boring than Doctor Carson Rogers.

* * * * * * * * * *

She had managed to stay awake in class, but despite that, she could not remember a bit of what the class was about. She was happy to have her classes over for the week and found herself looking forward to going to the sorority mixer that night. She dumped her books on her desk, where they would in all likelihood stay until Sunday when she would frantically try to complete her reading assignments.

She and Tonya spent about an hour after dinner picking out their outfits and getting made up for the mixer. Each had vetoed the other’s selection at least twice.

“Gawd!” CC griped. “There had better be some damn hot guys at this thing.”

“Well, we’re mostly there to see if we want to hang with these girls. The guys are just a perk.”

“They better be damn perky if they want me to join.”

“Oh come on! You don’t think the idea of joining a sorority is cool?” Tonya asked as she made some adjustments to her hair.

“I guess.” CC replied as she applied some make-up. The two were sharing a mirror in their dorm room.

“Oh, once you get there, you’re going to have a blast.” Tonya grabbed her toothbrush and toothpaste and headed for the door. “Be right back.”

“Sure thing.” CC watched her go and then turned back to her reflection. In the glass behind her image there was a person. CC gasped and turned quickly. She was alone in the room. She looked back at the mirror to see nothing but her face looking shocked. “Gawd.” She groaned. She felt silly for letting her mind play tricks with her. Tonya returned soon after.


“Hell yes! Let’s go find some beer and cute stupid boys.” They both laughed.

“Whoo. Did it get chilly in here all of a sudden?” Tonya asked. She passed CC and turned the heater up. “I don’t want to come home to a freezing room.” They left for the mixer. Despite the heater’s best efforts, the room did not get any warmer.

About this month's artist: Bridget once snorted orange-flavored Pixie Stix dust when she was younger, simply because someone dared her to. Not only would she be sneezing orange for a week after the incident, but many would blame the act for her current mental state. All evidence suggests otherwise, proving she was never the brightest sandwich in the galaxy even before the lapse in judgment.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Roads Not Taken: Chapter 5

“It’s over.”

“I wish it were that simple.”

“What else is there?”

“That… depends on you.”

It had all gone to hell. Cole Buchannon’s worst-case scenario was playing out right in front of him and despite is beastly strength and speed he was powerless to stop it. The training had been fruitless. His efforts had been in vain. He was going to die at the hands, claws and fangs of his fellow monsters, and he knew he would not be the last.

Michael Bralter approached the group in the woods. Cole had seen him transformed before during the brief training earlier that day. The strength in Michael’s werewolf form was obvious. He had taken incredibly well to the training. Cole had been positive that Michael would be able to resist the sway of the full moon. But there Michael was. Cole did not want to think about what had happened to Michael’s wife and young daughter. It was all on him. His mistake has cost them their lives, and would soon cost Cole his.

The vampire that had become a wolf clenched its jaws hard, biting deeply into Cole’s arm. His accomplice gripped Cole fiercely keeping him on his knees. Cole struggled against them, but they had the strength and leverage to hold him. The pain Cole was in was a minor annoyance compared to the dread and regret he was feeling.

The blond vampire that was the ringleader was smiling. He watched Michael approach and stop near him. In it’s animalistic style a werewolf was easily controlled by the mental powers vampires developed over time. Once under a vampire’s control it would obey it’s master whenever it transformed. The blond shot Cole a condescending glance and then turned to Michael.

“Leave him alone!” Cole snarled, his transformed vocal cords struggling to form words.

“Shut up.” The blond said flatly. He walked forwards Michael. His other accomplice flanked him. Cole continued to try to pull away, but was held fast. He snapped his wolven jaws at the vampire holding him, but it did not faze his captor. The blond stared at Michael intently. “You’re all mine now.” He said calmly and Cole knew he was taking control of the poor man who was just a victim in all of this.

“Like hell I am.”

Cole was shocked and he was not the only one. Michael Bralter had just spoken. The vampires holding Cole loosened there grip ever so slightly as the surprised hit them. That was more than enough for a desperate werewolf to take advantage. Cole got a foot under him and pushed himself to his feet. The powerful motion threw the vampire off balance causing him to loose his grip.

The blond vampire turned to see Cole getting free. He had no time to utter any commands before he felt Michael’s claws digging into his face. It was a simple slashing strike, but enough to take about half of the meat from the front of his skull. The blond barely managed with his remaining eye to see Cole manhandling the vampire that had transformed into a wolf. It was already trying to change into something else when the sickly sound of its neck breaking was heard by all. It was the last thing the blond vampire saw.

The fight had been short but brutal. The nature of the combatants demanded it. Cole had one more thing to teach Michael, and that was the proper way to kill a vampire. When it was over Cole and Michael were left standing. Both were sore, but the bleeding was quickly stopping. The bodies of their opponents would combust once the morning sunlight hit them. Both men took on their human forms and returned to Michael’s house.

Cole was washing the last of the blood off of himself in the utility sink in Michael’s garage. The wounds were already healing nicely. The pain was still there, but it was not the worst he had felt. Not even close.

“Here.” Michael offered Cole a bottle of beer, which Cole accepted with a smile. “I see myself needing a lot of these tonight.” Michael took a long drink from his bottle, and shivered a bit. “God. We killed them.”

“They weren’t human, Michael. Don’t forget that. And don’t forget they had every intention of killing your family just to get to you.” Cole took a drink from his beer. It had been a while since he had one, and he realized he had missed it.

“I know that… it’s just… it should have been…” His took a moment to find the right word. “Harder. It should have been harder.”

“I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering if maybe you’re on your way to becoming a killer despite what you’ve learned.” Michael leaned against the wall in him garage. His eyes told the whole story. He was still scared. “Look, I’m not going to tell you that you’re out of the woods. Yeah, you’re dangerous, but you know that, and knowing that is what’s going to keep your family safe. You’re also a target now. You’ve got power, and that’s valuable.”

“You think more vampires are going to come after me?”

“Vampires or something worse.”


“There’s lots of nasty stuff out there.” Cole reached the interior of his jacket, which was lying on Michael’s workbench and pulled out a business card. He handed it to Michael who looked it over. There was a phone number on it, but nothing else.

“If you think something nasty might be heading your way, you call that number.”

“Is that your number?”

“No but they can get a hold of me, or they can send someone else to come check on you.”

“I don’t know what to say.” Michael studied the card for another moment. “Thanks.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Cole took another drink.

“God, I don’t know how I’m going to explain any of this to my wife.”

“You’re on your own there, man.” They both chuckled.

“What did you tell your family after you got bitten and you knew?” There was a long pause after Michael asked that question and he saw the smile leave Cole’s face. He knew he had just touched a raw subject. Cole did not give him the chance to back peddle.

“I don’t have much family. Only family I still talk to is a cousin I see maybe once a year. I was going to get married. Then I found out the hard way about all… this.” Michael stayed silent. He wanted to apologize for bringing it up, but could not get the words out. “Marissa was taken from me. Lost some very good friends. Hell, I lost just about everything. I don’t want that to happen to anyone else. Getting bit didn’t bring me into this. I got bit for payback. I got bit to put down monsters that treat people like a walking meal.” Michael saw anger flash in Cole’s eyes. He was not angry with Michael. Despite Cole’s talk about protecting people Michael knew that the man who had saved him and his family that day had a vendetta.

“You could start over, Cole. I know it hurts. God, I can actually smell it on you, which is freaking me out a bit. But seriously, man. You’re life isn’t over. There’s no reason you can’t still find someone.”

“Oh, I’m looking for someone, but that’s business. The rest of my life is on hold.” He slowly ran his fingers along the stubble on his cheek. He let out a heavy sigh. “Whether you tell you family, or try your best to keep it from them, just hang on to them. You fought for them tonight. Don’t stop fighting.” Cole finished his beer. “Because it sucks if you lose them.”

Cole left after that. Michael Bralter spent the night in his living room thinking about his future. More than once he checked out of his window to see if anything was lurking in the yard. He checked on his sleeping wife and daughter. He thought a lot about Cole Buchannon. While he was thankful that the road Cole traveled brought Cole to him when he most needed it, he was more thankful that he was not on that same road with him.

About the artist: Owen Gilbride is an experimental musician from New Brunswick, Canada. When he isn't devoting all of his time to getting synthesizers to make scary noises, he enjoys churning out abstract colour patterns in Photoshop.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Roads Not Taken: Chapter 4

“Come with me, we can be together forever.”

“That’s not you.”

“Of course it’s me.”

“No. I wouldn’t kill you.”

It was dusk, and Cole was nervous. The training had gone well. Michael had been a much better student than Cole had been. Still, Cole was not certain about the training paying off. He had told Michael that the training would let him be in control once the moon came up. What he had not told him that there was a very good chance that it would not work. He had considered restraining Michael or telling him to just take off for the night and get away from the situation. That would have shaken Michael’s confidence, and confidence was what he needed. If his will faltered then the day’s work would have been for nothing. Then Cole would have not only keep those wanting to take Michael away at bay, but also try to save the man’s family from him.

Cole sat on the steps to Michael Bralter’s house and waited. His clothes were loose fitting despite his large frame. His jacket was heavy as he had it stocked with things he knew he would need soon. Cole was not sure what he had told his wife about his presence on the stairs. She had not said anything to Cole’s knowledge about it, and he was thankful not to have to deal with that inconvenience.

It was a pleasant enough evening in the quiet suburb. People had returned from their commutes to work. Lights were on in the houses as they settled in with their families. The air was crisp and cool. The sun had just set, but the moon had not risen yet.

Cole pondered the situation as he looked at one of the houses. His keen eyesight could clearly make out a young couple playing with their toddler in the living room. There was a time when that was all he wanted. A part of him still wanted it, but he knew it wasn’t in the cards for him.

His daydreaming came to halt when he spotted their scents on the evening breeze. He looked around and saw a fine haze down the street. It would have been over looked by anyone not familiar with what to look for. It was a mist, the same kind the visitors the previous evening had vanished into.

“Cute.” Cole looked away from the haze for see a man lunging at him. The man was thin and pale with brown hair. He was wearing a black buttoned and trousers. The man snarled as he lunged revealing a set of fangs. “Too bad I’m not stupid.” Cole sprang from the steps and grabbed at his assailant. He caught hold of the vampire’s arm and pulled him forward and down. Cole had successfully sidestepped his attacker and grabbing the now off-balance vampire, drove him face first into the cement steps.

“UK!” The creature stammered as Cole jerked him back up to standing. Blood covered its face and Cole noticed it was now missing several teeth, including one of its fangs. It was flailing wildly in pain and did not even notice Cole pulling a wooden stake from the interior of his jacket. With a grunt Cole impaled the vampire, piercing its heart. The creature went limp in his arms. Whether it was truly dead or just in a state of shock Cole did not now. What he did know is that this was one down. Unfortunately, it wasn’t one of the ones from the previous evening.

“Let him go.” Cole turned. The mist was gone. In its place was the blond vampire from before and he had three others with him. Cole recognized two of them from before.

“Kiss my ass.” Cole replied with a smirk. He tossed the body of the impaled vampire over his shoulder and broke for the woods. The weight of his undead hostage did not slow Cole down much. Cole had already triggered the change. His skin felt like it was burned and his muscles screamed in protest as they spasmed and convulsed, yet were still made to run.

Cole was familiar with his path. It was the same one he used when he confronted the vampires the first time. He glanced over his shoulder, and saw them in pursuit. One of them had taken the form of a wolf. Cole grimaced, not from the pain, but in the knowledge that these four would not be as easy to dispatch as the first one. The first one obviously was the rookie of the pack and had not yet turned how to transform himself.

Cole made it to the woods in a matter of seconds. Whether or not anyone saw the chase, he did not know nor care. His shoes were feeling loose around his transformed feet and he slipped out of them as he ran. The transformation was complete, and with that, Cole came to a halt. He turned and saw the four vampires. They had stopped too and were moving to surround him. The gray wolf that the one vampire had become stalked between the trees looking to try to get behind him.

Cole rose up to his full height and held the limp body of the staked vampire by its shirt in his outstretched claw. His dark brown fur blended in with the dark woods, but the vampires had not trouble seeing him.

“Give up, wolf. We’re going to take our friend back one way or another.” The blond vampire said calmly. The others hissed at Cole, ready to pounce on him. Vampires were tough to actually kill. Sunlight was out of the question. He did not have the means to burn them either. That left decapitation or completely destroying their hearts. The stake may have done the job, but then again it might not have. There was only one way to be sure.

Cole released his hostage and struck with his other clawed hand. He was a blur of motion. The body had barely begun to fall before its head was taken off. Cole heard the pine straw on the ground rustle softly and knew the wolf was making his move. He heard the leader curse as he caught sight of the wolf in mid-leap towards him. He backhanded the wolf, sending it flying into a tree. It slumped to the ground, but quickly got it’s feet back under him.

Cole turned and roared at the blond vampire. “You’re not getting him!” He shouted in a guttural inhuman voice. He quickly noticed that he saw only two vampires. The leader was smiling and one of his henchmen from last night flanked him. Cole did not have time to look for the third before he felt its hands on him. It was materializing out of mist and clutching for Cole’s throat. It hissed as Cole attempted to throw him off. The vampire’s strength was nearly equal to Cole’s and the last thing the massive werewolf wanted to do was get into a wrestling match with it.

He heard the pine straw rustle again. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the gray wolf leaping at him again. Its jaws were open and poised to tear Cole’s throat out. Cole got his arm up and the wolf’s teeth sunk into it. The pain shot up Cole’s arm. The vampire grabbing Cole stomped down on the back of Cole’s knee, driving him down.

Cole felt the fur on his head getting grabbed roughly and jerked back. The blond vampire was walking over to him with his other minion right behind him. Cole struggled to break the grips of those holding him, but they redoubled their efforts and kept him on his knees.

“Idiot.” The blond vampire sneered. “What did you think was going to happen here? Did you think you were going to kill us and then somehow stop Bralter from killing his entire family?” He laughed cruelly as Cole continued to struggle. “The moon is up, wolf. I wonder if his wife and daughter screamed when they saw him change. Do you suppose they begged him not to hurt them? “

“Go to hell.” Cole snarled. He stopped struggling when he smelled it. There was a new scent in the air.

“I suppose we’ll get to find out soon enough.” The blond smiled. He smelled it too. He turned back to the suburb and saw it skulking through the woods towards them. It was another werewolf. This one was a lighter brown than Cole and not as massive. It was wearing a pair of now stretched, Navy blue sweat pants. It quietly made its way towards them.

They all knew it was Michael Bralter.

About the artist:Erick Barroso was born in San Sebastian, Spain. He majored in visual arts though specialized in photography. Nowadays he works as a designer. He likes music, he likes it a lot. Probably that's his foremost hobby and everything he does he does thinking in a song. He likes soccer, though maybe he's most interested in the visuals of soccer than in anything else, more exactly, he loves soccer jerseys, they're the best. Oh... and he likes colors. A lot.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Roads Not Taken: Chapter 3

“We’ve got to go!”


“Adrian, I’m sorry! They’re gone!”

“Shut up, Cole!”

The night had been uneventful. Cole had returned to the woods and camped out there. It was chilly that night, but it had been a long time since cold weather had bothered Cole. There was no trace of the three that were stalking Michael Bralter. Cole knew he had not scared them off. They would strike the next night, hoping to recruit Bralter to their group as they had down to others.

As the sun rose, Cole made his way to his motorcycle, which he had concealed on the edge of the woods. He rode the Harley Davidson a few miles to a stretch of farmland that he had passed on the way to Bralter’s neighborhood. He had noticed what looked to be an abandoned barn that was on the verge of utter collapse. The crops had harvested for the season and the area was deserted enough for Cole’s needs.

The barn was entirely unstable. The aluminum roof was rusted in some places and flat out missing in others. Support beams were dry rotted. Old wooden crates sat off to one side, collecting dust. There was an area in the center that would serve for Cole’s needs. He kicked miscellaneous broken planks and debris out of the way as he brought in his supplies.

There wasn’t much that he would need. The bottled water was most important. He also brought some protein bars in case either of them got hungry. The lesson was a difficult one when Cole had learned it. He was wondering how he would do as a teacher.

Bralter arrived about a half hour after Cole did. He was wearing a blue business suit and pulled a duffle bag from his car as he emerged from it. He was nervous, but was trying to hide it.

“Mornin’.” Cole said with a nod.

“Hey. I brought the change of clothes you told me to. Told my wife I was going to gym on my lunch break.”

“Good man. Go ahead and get changed. The sooner we start, the better.” Cole took a seat on one of the crates still solid enough to support him. Bralter began to undress. Cole did not look at him. “You take some Motrin before you came out here?”

“Yeah. Does it really help?”

“Little bit. Don’t get me wrong, it hurts like hell. You get used to it eventually. For now, stuff like Motrin takes a bit of the edge off.”

“You’re sure about this? You’re sure I’m…” Bralter’s voice trailed off. He had a hard time even thinking about what he was saying. It was all still felt surreal.

“Yeah. I can smell it on you.”

“Why didn’t I change right after I got bit?” Bralter asked as he pulled on navy blue sweat pants.

“Takes a while for whatever it is in the saliva to effect the change.”

“It’s in saliva?” Bralter looked panicked. “My God! My wife! I kissed her!”

“Hold on, Mike. It’s OK. From what we know the saliva has to make direct contact with the blood stream and it’s got to be a significant amount. There’ve been times when the person bitten wasn’t even effected. You’re family’s safe. As long as you don’t bite the shit out of them.”

“God, I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be. It’s alright, man.”

“I just…” Bralter stood there wearing his navy blue sweats. He was barefoot on the dirt floor of the barn. He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed heavily. His eyes stayed on the ground in front of him. He had barely looked at Cole since he arrived. “I’m worried about them.”

“Good.” Cole smiled. “Consider it motivation. This is going to be hard, but doing this will keep your family safe.”

“Yeah… OK.” Michael Bralter finally locked eyes with Cole. Cole knew he was ready. “What do I do?”

“Alright, here we go.” Cole kept his tone even and calm. This was going to be a rigorous and possibly a very long day for Michael. Barking orders at him would not help. “During a full moon people experience something on a subconscious level. We call it the Trigger. It makes some people act weird, just ask any cop. What we’re infected with reacts to the Trigger. It’s what makes us transform.”

“So, how do we control it?”

“We identify it. We focus on it. Once you do that, you will transform and it will hurt like you’ve never hurt before. But once you’re conscious of the Trigger, once you know what it feels like, you can control the change.”

“Even on a full moon?”

“People change uncontrollably under a full moon because they don’t know what’s happening. They panic. They black out. They don’t remember what happened because they don’t know how to cope with it.”

“I’ll be in control, even as a… God, I can’t even say it.” Bralter shook his head. He took a deep breath still trying to take it all in.

“Yeah, but you’ve got to own this thing. Close your eyes.” Cole started walking around him in a circle as he closed his eyes. “Think about being out at night. Think about being out under the stars. Imagine the night sky. It’s packed with stars.” Cole watched as Bralter stood there in the middle of the old barn. Bralter breathed deeply and controlled. It would not last. “See the full moon lighting the night sky.” Bralter twitched. “It’s light on your face; the night air on your skin; the feeling of being alive and feeling like you own the night.”

Bralter convulsed and cried out in pain. His legs gave out under him and he fell to the dirt floor. He opened his eyes and saw Cole standing in front of him with a bottle of water.

“Oh God. It felt like an electric shock.” Bralter took the bottle. His hands shook as he opened it.

“Drink it slow.” Cole knelt next to pained student. “Congratulations, you just took a big step forward.”

“Didn’t feel like it.” Bralter muttered as he sipped his water.

“It took me over an hour of meditation to get as far as you just did.”

“No shit?” Bralter raised an eyebrow, looking at the large man smiling at him.

“Well, I never was a very good student.” Cole grinned and ran his hand through his messy brown hair. “Now you’ve got to do it again.”

“Crap.” Bralter handed the bottled water back to his new mentor, and stood up. “I was afraid you’d say that.”

“I can promise you this: you get through the change and you’ll be feeling no pain.” Cole stood as well. And took a step back.

“Actually, I feel kind of good.”

“Endorphins. Body’s natural reaction to pain. Close your eyes.” Cole watched Bralter closely. “Where are you?”

“I’m in a field under a moonlit sky.”

“You feel it?”

“Yuh-yes.” Bralter said with a twitch.

“You feel it, then own it. Your life has changed. This is about accepting that fact.” Cole saw and heard Bralter’s breathing quicken. “This is the new you, Michael. Take control, power through this.” Bralter convulsed again, but this time did not collapse. “The pain will pass! You can do this! Do it for you, for your family!”

The screams of Michael Bralter echoed through the dilapidated old barn. The only witness was Cole Buchannon, who watched coldly as the man before him slowly, painfully became a monster.

This month's artist is: Alexa Riley. Thanks Lex!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Roads Not Taken: Chapter 2

“You wait here. I’m sure it’s nothing.”

“If it’s nothing, then why am I waiting in the car?”

“Just humor me. This’ll just take a minute.”

“A lot of things can happen in a minute.”

Cole knocked on the door and waited. He glanced around knowing full well the creatures he had faced were gone. He could not help it. He had not counted on ones such as them getting wind of this so soon. It would make things much more difficult.

A woman who looked to be around thirty answered the door. She was petite with short auburn hair. She looked up at Cole and he saw that she was confused. She had a smile on that Cole knew was fake. Cole knew his appearance was a bit intimidating and given the chance he would have gotten himself cleaned up and dressed nicer before approaching the family, but there was no time.

“Missus Bralter?” Cole asked as politely, smiling down at the woman.

“Yes. May I help you?” She kept a grip on the door and seemed ready to close it.

“My name is Cole Buchannon. I’m sorry to show up on your doorstep at dinnertime, but I need to speak with your husband.”

“May I ask what this is…”

“Who is it, honey?” Mister Bralter approached the door while adjusting a Florida State University sweatshirt he had just put on.

“He says he’s here to talk to you.” Missus Bralter replied turning to her husband. The man stood for a moment and looked at Cole, sizing him up. Cole smiled at him and tried his best not to look threatening.

“Cole Buchannon.” Cole extended his hand.

“Michael Bralter.” Bralter slowly accepted Cole’s hand. Both had a firm grip, Cole from years of hard work, Bralter from much practice in negotiations.

“I’m afraid I have to interrupt your family time, Mister Bralter. It’s fairly important. If I could speak with you in private…?”

Bralter’s wife looked back and forth between the two of them. She seemed ready to say something, when her husband looked to her.

“Honey, why don’t you go on ahead and eat. I’ll be in in a minute.”

“OK, but don’t be long. Katie wants to tell you about her day at Pre-school.”

“Sounds good. You two leave some garlic bread for me.” He kissed his wife as she walked to the dining room. Bralter stepped outside and closed the door behind him. He faced Cole on the porch. “Now then, Mister Buchannon, what can I do for you?”

“I’m here about your hunting accident last month.”

“Please tell me someone finally bagged whatever that was that bit me.” Bralter grinned a bit.

“Matter of fact, yeah.”

“Good. I had to get rabies shots because of that. What the hell was it anyways? We didn’t get a good look at it. Pete thought it was a wolf.”

“Pete’s got pretty good eyes. It was a type of wolf, yes.”

“So are you with animal control or something?” Bralter cocked an eyebrow.

“No, I represent a group that deals with these sorts of things. I’m afraid there’s much more to that bite.” Cole took a deep breath. He still could not smell any trace of those he had faced moments ago. He knew they would be back. “When you got bit there was a full moon that night…”

“Wait, hold it.” Bralter waved his hand to silence Cole. “This is a prank Pete and Jason set up. Real funny. I’m going to eat my supper now. Have a good one.” Bralter turned and started to open the door.

“The fettuccini alfredo with chicken that goes along with garlic bread you mentioned.” Cole said it calmly and Bralter stopped. He turned towards Cole and his face was starting to twist in anger.

“Listen asshole, I don’t appreciate you spying…”

“I can smell it. You could too before you walked into your house. Lots of things have been smelling more potent. Bet you’ve been seeing a bit better at night as well. You haven’t really thought about all that, have you?”

“Look man, the joke’s over.”

“Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me that nasty bite you got didn’t heal up pretty damned quick. In fact, don’t bother, because I know you’ll be lying.” Cole held his hand up and felt searing pain tear through it. His skin itched as course brown hair sprouted from it. His hand twisted. His fingernails began to lengthen. Cole tried to hide the pain, but it was written on his face.

Bralter took a step back and nearly stepped off his porch. His eyes were glued to Cole’s transforming hand. His mouth hung open and if he was trying to speak, he was doing a poor job of it. Finally he looked up at Cole’s face.

“I know what you’re thinking.” Cole said calmly. “You’re thinking this is a joke. You’re thinking it’s not possible. You’re thinking all the same things I thought when I discovered all of this.”

“You’re a…”

“Yeah.” Cole’s hand began to change back to normal. “You are too now, and there’s going to be a full moon tomorrow night which means if you’re left alone you are going to change into something horrible and attack people like you got attacked. To make matters worse, there are… things that would like to use people like you.”

“Oh my God.” Bralter leaned against his house. “This isn’t happening.”

“Yeah it is.” Cole sighed heavily. He took no pleasure in this. “Look, Michael, this isn’t your fault. This is something that was done to you. I’m here to help you.”

“You said there were others… that want to use me.”

“I’ll deal with them. But no matter what you don’t invite anyone into your home tonight. I don’t care how long you’ve known them. That’s the best way to protect your family.”

“My God. My Family! What’ll I do? What’ll they do? I can’t hurt them! I have a little girl!” Bralter’s face was pure desperation.

“Look man, I’m not going to lie to you. They’re in danger. The things that are coming for you have no qualms about using them or hurting them. Fortunately, I have no qualms about killing them deader than hell. I’ve got your back.”

“But what about me? If I’m going to turn into some horrible monster what’s going to protect my family from me?” Cole could see tears starting to well up in Michael Bralter’s eyes. Cole took no pleasure in seeing a person’s life changed so dramatically. He hated seeing Bralter’s desperation. However, what came next was something that Cole did enjoy a bit.

“I’m going to hang out here for the night to make sure you don’t get any visitors. Tomorrow, you are going to call into work and take a sick day.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I’m going to teach you how to be more than a monster.”

About this month's artist: You know him, you love him, it's the one and only Chris Johnson. Chris is a busy, busy man working on MERE MORTAL as well as a lot of other really great artwork, but he made the time to turn out some great art for the story. (That and he's been dropping serious hints since i started this project about wanting to play too.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Roads Not Taken: Chapter 1

“Will you love me forever?”

“What kinda of question is that?”

“An important one.”

“Forever is a long time.”

It was a quiet evening in a quiet suburb. Families were home from their commutes to the city and ready to sit down for dinner. The neighborhood was one that was carefully laid out around man-made miniature lakes. The houses were crammed close together and did not allow much room for yards. A small playground served as a centerpiece, and the mothers had sat on the strategically placed benches and watched their children run and play.

Cole Buchannon watched it all in silence and searched for a killer. There was a stretch of forest that the small community backed to. It was not enough for any wildlife larger than squirrels to claim as a home, but it was enough that Cole could move around without being detected. He had spent the day walking through the woods in silence. Cole cursed the fact that he had so little time to work, but knew it could not be helped.

He was a massive man, well over six feet tall with a thick build. His dark brown hair was clean, but wild. He kept it cut short, but did not bother to comb it. There was a couple of days growth on his face. It made him look older than he actually was. He was a young man but everything about him, from his appearance to his movements, made him seem older. It was the result of having to grow up too fast.
Once he had heard about what was going to happen he traveled across two states to try to stop it. Someone in that little community would become a danger to everyone around him soon. Their very soul was in jeopardy, and in all likelihood they did not even know it.

The mothers and children all retreated into their homes for the evening. Rain was coming. Cole could smell it in the air. He could smell many things. The house closest to him was having pot roast for dinner. The family two doors down from them had fertilized their garden two days ago. Someone’s dog really needed a bath. However the one scent Cole was hoping to catch on the light evening breeze eluded him.

He perked up as a car made it’s way into the community. It was a small blue four-door sedan. Nothing looked out of the ordinary, but Cole followed it all the same. He hurried through the woods. His heavy boots did not make a sound upon the blanket of pine needles that he ran across. The car pulled into a driveway well away from the woods Cole used to conceal himself. Still, the massive skulker could see the driver well enough, even in the fading light of the day.

The driver was a thin man in a gray suit. He was rather pale and had a receding hairline. There was a smile on his face, obviously from being happy to be home after a long day at work. He did not make it halfway from his car to his front door before Cole knew. That man would become a killer tomorrow night if no one stopped him.

Then another scent caught Cole’s attention. It was one he was all too familiar with. He was not the only one after the thin, pale man in the gray suit. Cole did not know who they were, but he knew why they were there. He also knew they had to be stopped.

Cole bolted from the woods leaping over privacy fences and sprinting across streets. The man in the suit had gotten into his house. That was not Cole’s concern. What was his concern was the scents that were becoming more powerful with every step. A few of the neighborhood dogs barked protectively as Cole sprinted past their yards. Cole managed to get to the street in front of his quarry’s home. He paused. Despite covering over fifty yards, including leaping over a few fences, his breathing was not labored. He looked around and saw nothing but well kept houses, manicured lawns and an assortment of cars in the numerous driveways, all of this illuminated by the glow of streetlights and a the few porch lights that were now on.

“Might as well come out where I can see you. There’s not enough sunlight left for you to be shy.” He looked to his left and saw the three of them. They stood together on the sidewalk in front of the house next door to the one Cole was standing in front of. Cole walked slowly to the sidewalk, blocking their way to house. They were dressed casually, and looked like they would fit right in with the neighborhood.

“You think you have business here?” One of them spoke, and Cole took him to be the leader by the way the other two flanked him. He was young and handsome with well-coifed blond hair.

“Yeah. I do.” Cole answered flatly.

“Hope it’s not with Mister Bralter in there, because that would make things complicated.” The blond man glanced over to house Cole was standing in front of.

“Well, I guess things are just going to have to be complicated.”

“You’re trying to poach our find.”

“Don’t go talking like this is a game!” Cole snapped and he felt his heart quicken. “Walk away. All of you. You can’t have him.”

“My friend, you are hardly in a position to make demands.” The blond said calmly. The two men with him started to walk forward. They were nowhere near as big as Cole, but he knew that made no difference. They were dangerous. Cole did not know them, but he knew their kind.

“Don’t do it.” Cole warned sternly.

“Why not?” The blond responded with a smirk. His companions were nearly to Cole and still walking calmly. Both were smiling. The smiles faded once they saw what was happening in front of them.

Cole’s face was twisting. He grimaced in pain as the sound of popping and wet friction echoed in his ears. His skin itched horribly as hair began to sprout. His muscles spasmed and contorted, yet Cole barely stirred. He just stood there and slowly became a monster.

“You’re looking for a victim, not a fight. I’ve got no problem doing this, right here, right now.” Cole’s voice was guttural and barely human at this point. “Question is: are you boys ready to be outted?” Cole’s twisted bestial face smiled. The change was continuing, but he was ready to fight them.

The two stopped advancing and looked to their leader. Their leader was not pleased.

“Filthy animal.”

“You should talk.”

“This isn’t over.” With those words the blond man seemed to dematerialize and a fine mist took his place. The two others followed suit and soon the mist they had become dissipated. Cole did not reverse his change. He stood there in the dim light and waited, paused between animal and man. It was not until he could not smell them anymore that he reversed the change.

He breathed deeply trying to dispel the memory of the pain he had just been in. He turned to the house he just protected. The Bralter residence had been spared being plunged violently into a world of horror and violence by the three monsters that had faced him.

It saddened Cole Buchannon that he was to be the monster that did the deed.

About this month's artist: Kat is a doodler from Texas. She likes comics, monsters, and an assortment of old stuff. Someday perhaps she'll get off her lazy duff and make one of them thar comic doohickeys. For now, though, it's all about the random sketches. She thinks that Hellboy is awesome and believes that you should think so too.