I sent out two stories this week, revised a third, and worked on writing a fourth. That third story is on its third year of revisions. Yes, year. I love it though, and I refuse to give up on it. Three is a magic number, right? Maybe this’ll be the year I find it a loving home.
Remember, you can always read more of my writing on my Published Works page. Most of them are available without purchase, but if you like them, it’d be nice to boost the magazines with a “like” or a donation to help them stay afloat.
Jackie emerged from sleep as if she were surfacing for air in the murk of dreams. Voices mingled with blurry colors, and her mind attempted to give these signals context. She dreamed she was on stage. Lily Quee was announcing Jackie to an attentive audience. She would need to sing, but she hadn’t practiced. The anxiety drove her fully awake and she broke free of her stupor with a gasp.
“She bragged a Mage brought her here.”
“Don’t forget the magic.”
“Yes, yes. Don’t rush me.”
A crowd of people stood in a circle talking around Jackie. Why am I on the ground? She struggled to try and sit up, but one of the people dressed in a uniform put a boot on her shoulder. Her head swam and her stomach threatened to follow, so she took the hint and laid back down.
A woman reached over Jackie’s prone body and placed a pointed finger on the soldier’s chest. Jackie remembered she knew this woman. Seven, her name was Seven. “I’m telling you. You put this one in the Cage, and that Mage will come running. Otherwise?” Seven shrugged and made a show of looking around at the others. “Otherwise, you’ll have to keep taking us away.” She looked back at the soldier. “I’d like to believe you hate this as much as we do, but your stomach calls you?”
The soldier looked down at his boot still pinning Jackie to the dirt, then he lifted it away and turned. “Feor, bring her. Leave the others.”
Feor, a sweating man with limbs too large for his narrow torso, spread his long arms wide. “But, Captain. What about the quota?”
“I said leave the others. That’s an order.” He kept walking, his shoulders tense with his decision.
There was no victory cheer. Most of the women slipped away without a word.
A pair of hands lifted Jackie by her underarms, dragging her after the retreating Captain. Jackie looked up into Feor’s eyes. It took her three tries to get enough saliva worked up to speak.
“I can walk.”
Feor dropped her none too delicately and pulled a pair of handcuffs off his belt. She stood gingerly, testing gravity’s pull before thrusting out her wrists. He spun a finger at her, and she turned to put her arms behind her instead.
“Where are we going?” she asked as the locks snicked shut.
“To our deaths, most likely.” Feor pitched his voice low enough to avoid the Captain’s ears.
Jackie wished she had some water. The Cage sounded bad, but she was thirsty. “Do you have any water,” she asked.
Feor laughed. “They bang you on the head or something? You ain’t gonna need water in the Cage.”
Definitely bad, thought Jackie.
They walked in silence for another twenty minutes, groups of women and soldiers joining them at corners, all funneling toward the mass of stone Jackie had seen the day before. Everyone was quiet, even the soldiers.
“I think I’d rather go with them.” Jackie’s voice bounced off the stone walls as they passed under the entranceway, and many of the women raised their heads to see who was bold. She smiled at them with all of her teeth. A few smiled back. Only a few. Most had given up to whatever fate awaited them within the stone’s maw.
She eyed the thick-cut windows and random doors along the inner walk. A bit like Telemon’s Mansion back home, but bigger and less residential. Where do the Fathers live, then?
“Hey, Feor. Where do the Fathers sleep at night?” She didn’t expect him to answer, so the ferocity of his reply surprised her.
“The in-between where daylight and moonlight dance together.”
His recitation sounded like a spooky nursery rhyme to warn off errant children.
“That so? You ever see a Father?”
He looked like he might strike her, and she braced for the blow. Instead of raising a fist, he lowered his gaze to his hands. “They took my Marlie. I know what they look like. They look like grief.”
They stood together a moment watching the women file past. It took every ounce of Jackie’s training not to cry out or flinch when Sharna walked past with the others.
(Thanks for reading. See you next week!)