A Blossom Amidst The Dead

I deftly worked my fingers around the flower stems, arranging the blooms to appeal to the eye with my cold fingers. Roses and babies breathe as was the tradition for February. Soon, couples would be flocking to the storefront to purchase their sweetheart a bouquet as a sign of their undying love and affection.

How touching, I thought

My thoughts turned to one of our regular customers. An imposing man with fancy clothes, he would often come every few months and make a purchase for whatever girl hung on his arm that day. He was rich and charming so it shouldn’t surprise me but regardless I hated the man, especially whenever his wife would show up at the flower stand. They would never show up together and she never asked after him. She would simply survey our selection before purchasing herself a bouquet of yellow roses. She was a beautiful woman.

The thought weighed heavy on my mind but of course, Mother would say I shouldn’t waste my time thinking too deeply about it. She claimed to be human is to be flighty. And I, her daughter, must never be flighty. Hence the whole putting me through college for four years so I might make something of myself. I don’t think she was expecting me to choose to major in mortuary science. But at the end of the day, she had shrugged and said to herself “At least it’s not art”.

“Dearest!” she called to me from the opened door of the storefront. A wave of warm air hit my face from where I stood, now lost in thought and no longer arranging the flowers. Instead, I had busied myself by staring at the rows of bouquets, reflecting. The word I preferred to describe this activity was pondering. Mom often called it wasting time. 

“You’ll get frostbite just standing there.” She shook her head, her golden hair shaking around her thin face. “If you’re done, come inside!”

I give the flowers one last scrutinizing look before following my Mother’s instructions and making my way inside. The interior of the shop was much like the exterior- covered in a wide array of flowers and bouquets arranged in neatly organized rows. Practically every shade of color could be seen if one panned around the room. I would miss this place.

“Thank you for letting me steal you for one last morning,” My mother said from the back of the counter. She was putting away a spritzer bottle but her mind seemed to be somewhere else as she spoke. “I know you’re nervous to start your internship today. It’s going to be a real change of scenery.”

I nodded, brushing fingers along the tops of some lilacs. “Yes. But, in a way, I’ll still be celebrating life, you know?”

My mother began to wring her hands. “I suppose you’re right. Still, if you hate it there, you can always help me here at the flower stand. There is always work to do here.”

I puffed out a sarcastic laugh. “Believe me, I know. Besides,” I added with a shrug. “If I don’t like it, the internship is only half a year.”

My mother began to chew on her thumbnail, clearly on edge at the thought of losing her precious career of examining and preparing dead bodies “Six months.”

“Mom, I’ll be okay,” I assured her, stepping forward to grab her other hand. 

She kissed my forehead. “I know. I just miss you. You know this.”

I shook my head. “It’s not like I’m dying. I’ll still be around. You know I couldn’t stay at the flower shop forever.”

My Mother drew in a deep breath. “I know, darling. I know.”

~*~

My appointment to meet with the head Mortician was at approximately 10 am and as I took a sharp turn into the parking lot, I knew I was 5 minutes over that.

“Curse you, Selena” I chastized the clunky GPS device perched on my dashboard. The British voice which I had dubbed Selena when I’d bought her only offered a cheery, “Arrived!”

“You will atone for your actions,” I grumbled to her, shoving her in the middle console compartment. “Three wrong turns in one trip are simply unforgivable.”

I did an awkward little jog up to the building in an attempt to save 5 extra seconds of time despite my strong desire to stop and admire the fancy, gothic building before me. Who knew a funeral home could look so snazzy? The architecture, or what I saw it, was intricate and worthy of being admired but I had a meeting to attend. One that I was already late for.

Thankful, my advisor was there to meet me at the door. 

“I’m so, so sorry,” I started explaining as soon as he let me in. He was a rather tall gentleman with deep-set eyes and dark hair. Oh, and did I mention he looked terrifying. My excuses died in my throat as soon as I made eye contact with him, his face looking grim but placid, those dark eyes boring into my soul. Perhaps that was why he was a mortician? He was much too unsettling to work with the living.

I swallowed and began again. “My GPS was rather unreliable this morning. Sorry for the wait.”

The man seemed to lighten a little, face relaxing, much to my surprise. “Oh! You’re the girl who’s here for the internship.”

This surprised me even more. “Uhhh, yeah. I was supposed to meet you here like five minutes ago?”

The Man smiled in a way that could only be described as sheepish. “Sorry. Things have been slipping my mind lately. I’ve been rather busy. I’m glad you showed up. There is lots to do today.”

And with that, he began walking down one of the corridors with those long legs of his, leaving me to scurry after him.

“I’m sorry, what are we doing?” I said, calling after him and trying to keep up.

“We’re getting you started Miss…ehhh…”

I fought a smile as he paused and looked over his shoulder at me. 

“You don’t remember my name either.” 

Again, The Man looked sheepish. “Sincerest Apologies. Please humor me.”

I actually allowed myself to smile this time. “It’s totally fine. I’m Persephone.”

The Man returned my smile. “And you can call me Hades. I think you’ll fit in here nicely.”

To Build A Heart

Once upon a time, there lived a man who lost his heart. He lost it to a woman with eyes like honey and a voice like silk. He handed it over to her without hesitation not thinking he would see her run away with it in less than a month. But she did. And the man was left alone and with a hole in his chest.
Determined to fill it with something, he set out to craft a new one. A new heart that could be even better than the one he had lost. So he gathered his crafting tools together and went out into the land in search of materials.
He came upon a city that sat upon a high mountain. There in its streets, he found a girl with a cart who sold colored ribbon. It was so beautiful, the man decided to make a heart of silk. He bought red silk from the girl and returned where he when about sewing his silk heart. But when he had finished, he found the heart much too light in his hands and entirely too vulnerable.
So he set out again this time into the woods. This time he came upon a woodcutter who told him of a kind of wood that could withstand anything. The man decided he would buy some of this wood and fashion his new heart from that.
He carved this new heart carefully with his tools and when he had finished, he found himself quite proud of his handy work. But another problem arose when the heart had been set on a table in front of an open window and clouds overtook the sky as it began to rain. The man returned to find his wooden heart, rotted and black on the table.
Frustrated and discouraged, the man traveled once again, determined to find the perfect material from which to craft his heart. It was on his travels once again that he met a witch upon the road who listened to his problem. She then offered the man a solution (for a price of course which he ignorantly paid).
“Take this stone,” she said after she pocketed his gold, “and carve yourself a heart that shall never break. Nothing shall penetrate its shell.”
And so the man agreed, returning to his home to carve the stone into a new heart. He found the stone quite heavy but surprisingly this did not deter him, determined not to possess a vulnerable heart ever again.
The man fashioned the heart and hid it away in his house. The man began staying home more as well, for fear someone might break in and steal his heart of stone. Soon, his paranoia grew so much to where he never left his home. And so he lived. Just him and his heart of stone.
Until one day a woman happened by his house. He was suspicious of her at first, afraid she had come to steal the stone heart. But he was slowly won over by her politeness and allowed her in.
Once inside the home, the woman remarked that the house felt cold, opening a window to allow the sun in. The man couldn’t remember the last time he had allowed the sun inside. The woman also noticed quite a few cobwebs hanging around the place. So she began clearing those away.
Grateful, the man offered her a meal for her troubles. She heartily agreed. Over warm food, the man asked the woman why she had come in the first place, thoroughly perplexed at her arrival. He was no longer in the habit of inviting anyone over.
She set her leather satchel on the dinner table.
“I found this discarded on the side of a road months ago. I have been searching far and wide for its owner. Finally, I was led to you.” The woman drew out the man’s old heart from the bag, offering it to him freely.
It was that day that the man decided he had very little use for a heart of stone. He then found himself inviting the woman to a meal the next evening if she so wished. Delighted at the gesture, she accepted.
It wasn’t before long that the two courted and were engaged, then married. And they lived happily ever after in a cottage where cobwebs never hung, and sunlight filled its rooms, for it was now a house of two hearts.

The Ugly Princess

Once upon a time, there was an ugly princess.

At least, by noble standards. In fact, not a moment after she was born, the midwife cried out, “Oh! I think a curse has befallen this child!”

The Queen, at the time, did not believe this. But upon casting her eyes upon the child, her face fell into a deep and tired frown. The Queen, who was so very beautiful but so very vein, could barely bring herself to look upon the child.

As the Princess grew older, she endured much mockery due to her appearance, even if most of it wasn’t said to her directly. She could still hear the whispers of the other noble children behind her back. But the poor princess did manage to find solace in a few. She made friends with the servant’s children instead, playing in the halls and the castle’s kitchens.

This did not do very much for the child’s reputation among the nobles which was already somewhat in shambles simply due to the child’s appearance. But it did not matter to her. Regardless of how she was perceived by the upper class, the servant’s children would actually play with and their mothers would dote over her, regardless. She often heard them speak scornfully of the noble class’s vapidity. They assured her it wasn’t her fault.

But despite this assurance, it was no surprise that the princess still hated any talk of her appearance. At age eleven, she ordered her vanity mirror removed entirely.

Her father, despite his wife’s disdain for the child, loved her greatly and was saddened by this, though he never brought it up to the young girl, wishing to not make her insecurity worse. Part of him still hoped her mother and the other nobles would grow used to her and accept her.

But, when she reached the age of 13, it had grown clear to the king that she would never be accepted fully by her mother or any of the upper-class nobles. Realizing this, the King took it upon himself to train his daughter in the ways of being royalty, his wife refusing to do this much. Though the king was not versed in the ways of being a “lady of the court”, the king knew a lot about diplomacy and what it meant to love his people and to be well versed. But he did not stop there- the King taught her of the stars as well and how one could use them to read a map and navigate as well as the best one could defend themselves in various situations. It was these traits that he taught and passed on to his daughter, and even though she was not accepted among the nobles, among the people the Princess was known to be smart and tactful. 

One day, when the Princess was at the age of 16, the King threw her a birthday party. The Queen hated this, trying to insist that the affair be private, not wishing to draw any more attention to her daughter than needed. 

The King asked the Princess what she wished for and she said, “I wish for anyone in the Kingdom to be able to attend so they might be able to see their future Queen and know I will do a good job leading them. I want it to be a public affair for their sake.”

And that was enough for the King.

The Party was to be held outside, and everyone, common or noble, was allowed to attend and speak with the Princess who would be seated upon a raised platform with the King and Queen.

This all felt too much for the vein Queen, to be seated beside her daughter and in public too, but the King commanded it of her and so she sat, frowning deeply.

This event was one to behold, with people of all kinds coming to see the Princess they loved so dearly. Some turned away upon seeing her face but most looked upon her with a smile of admiration. They knew she would make a fit Queen.

The Princess spent her time speaking to many of the common folk as they approached the platform to wish her a Happy Birthday. It was all going very well till a cloaked woman found herself before the Royal Family.

“I hope you have such a wonderful birthday,” the cloaked woman said. She spoke with a rasp and seemed very old despite her face being concealed with a hood. Then she turned to the Queen, “You must be proud to have such a fine daughter as this,” she said, cocking her head slightly. 

The Queen, who had been seething this entire ceremony, was enraged.

“Such strong words from a hag such as yourself,” she spat. “You may be able to address the Princess with your face covered so but you shall not do so to me. I demand to look upon the face of who dares insult me.”

The woman threw back her hood, and to the Queen’s surprise, the woman looked very familiar. The Queen recognized the cruel but beautiful curve of her lips and her picture-perfect skin. The face was that of her own. 

“What sorcery is this,” she gasped, hands clutching her own face. Then she realized as her fingers felt her flesh, that they did not meet her usual perfect smooth skin. She felt wrinkles. “Oh! What have you done to me!” she cried.

“It would seem your Queen would do well to learn some manners,” The cloaked woman chuckled and shook her head at the King who sat there in shock, mouth agape at what he had seen.

“You’re a magic worker,” the Princess observed tactfully though her brow was furrowed in worry. It was unnerving to talk to a stranger who had just stolen your mother’s face, no matter how you felt about the woman.

“Astute observation, my dear,” The Sorceress replied. Then she turned back to the king. “I have been greatly insulted here today. For that, you and your people must pay. I will be at the foot of that mountain if you wish to come and apologize.”

The woman jabbed a finger, indicating the outline of a peak in the distance. Then, with that, The Sorceress snapped her fingers and disappeared in a puff of purple smoke, leaving the royals in shock and disbelief. They could hardly believe what had just happened.

Not more than 24 hours later, the Sorceress‘s curse began to come true. All across the kingdom, people began to fall ill with seemingly no cause. The sickness came as no surprise to The King so he was able to track the disease fairly quickly to the water supply. But among all his medical experts, they could not figure out a way to purify it.

“The people will die soon if we do not act quickly,” The King told his daughter. “But I don’t know what to do.”

“Do as The Sorceress instructed,” The Princess replied. “Go to the base of the mountain and apologize. Maybe she will have mercy upon us all.”

“No, no,” the King said with a shake of his head. “A Magic-worker cannot be reasoned with. I am afraid that is out of the question.”

The Princess resigned herself to silence though the gears in her head were beginning to turn. She made a plan, right then and there, to travel to the mountain and meet the sorceress and plead on the behalf of her people. 

That night, The Princess snuck out of bed and dressed. She grabbed a knapsack she had already packed that day that she had carefully hidden under her bed. She slung this over her shoulder but not before grabbing a handful of jewelry from her dresser and placing them in the bag. 

Perhaps if she can’t be reasoned with, The Socereress can be bargained with, She thought to herself, though part of her doubted the Magic-Worker would be very interested in such jewels. But she thought it was at least worth a try.

The Princess then made her way to the stables where one of the stable hands whom she had befriended over the years, awaited her with a steed. She thanked her friend before mounting and riding off into the night.

Her journey to the foot of the mountain was short and uneventful, much to The Princesse’s relief, taking only about a day’s ride. Though when she arrived, uncertainty began to plague her. The Sorceress had never exactly indicated where at the foot of the mountain she would be.

The Princess surveyed her surroundings. She saw before her a room of stone. It was more of an ornately decorated cavern really. With rune writing etched into the cave walls every which way one looked. But these writings aren’t what drew The Princess’s attention. Before her, just off the platform, she noticed nine rings had been carved into the cave floor and painted gold with a giant gold orb decoration at the center. As she neared the orb to touch it, she found herself stumbling to the ground, having tripped over something.

Pay closer attention, she scolded herself as she rose to see what had caused her to fall. It was yet another stone orb, this one painted a tan color and much smaller in comparison to the giant gold one at the center of the room.

“Odd,” she mumbled to herself, dusting herself off. Then, on a hunch, began walking a circle around the giant gold orb. Sure enough, there were more orbs much like the one she had tripped over, much smaller ones, all coloring different. 

Seven, eight, nine, she mentally counted the smaller colored orbs around her. They seemed to be scattered around the cavern haphazardly with no pattern or thought to placement. But every single one rested upon a specific golden ring. It didn’t take long for The Princess to put the pieces together.

They’re not just rings, she thought to herself. They’re orbits.

She realized that she wasn’t just standing in some oddly decorated cavern, but rather a room-sized model of the solar system. She recalled the astronomy lessons that she had with her father. There were nine planets in total. 

Each of the smaller orbs must represent a planet, with the giant golden one being the sun, she said to herself. But upon further inspection, she realized that they must be completely out of order. The smallest orb, which she took to be Pluto, was proof of that, resting much closer than it should to the sun and on the second orbital ring.

The Princess picked up the pluto orb and made her way to the very edge of the room and the last ring. As she paced its edge, she found a small groove in the stone floor that rested on the path of the orbital ring. The Princess couldn’t help but smile to herself as she knew she had figured out the puzzle. She placed the orb into the groove, pressing it ever so gently into place. It fit perfectly.

The Princess then set about arranging all the other orbs in the room, rolling the heavier ones to their rings and lodging them firmly in place. She worked at this for about ten minutes, until every single planet was in its place as well as in order. 

Once she rolled the final orb into place (a green one representative of the earth), a loud click sounded, reverberating off the walls of the cave. She stepped back in awe as she watched the floor begin to roll back at the center, revealing a spiraling staircase the descended into a dark void.

Now, this is where The Princess couldn’t help but hesitate. The Stairs mostly obscured by shadow circling down in the bowels of a dark hole looked anything but welcoming. But she thought of her people she had left behind that morning and all that was at stake here. And that was enough to send her forward, taking her first step down the staircase. Then another. Then another.

It wasn’t long before she had reached the bottom, finding herself in yet another cave-like room except this one was less empty. In fact, she would go as far as to say that this room looked lived in.

Pushed against the walls were a great number of shelves, containing a wide array of objects from books, to glass bottles, to odd-looking, gilded knick-knacks. The smell of cinnamon filled her nose as she moved about the room. She also noted in the corner was a small fire pit that contained a few small embers, burning low.

“Looks like I have a visitor,” a voice came from behind her. The Princess turned, not at all surprised to see The Socereress standing before her, though this time she stood up tall and straight and wore her mother’s cold, beautiful face. It of course startled The Princess, causing her to take an involuntary step back.

“Did I frighten you?” The Sorceress’s tone held amusement. “Oh, how rude of me to wear such a wicked woman’s face before you. My deepest apologies.”

She waved a hand across her face, her features morphing into yet another face, this one just as beautiful, but a little less harsh looking and with rounder features and smaller eyes. 

Did she steal that face too? The Princess couldn’t help but wonder.

“I have but two tests for you. Three technically though you already completed the first in the room above as you wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

“Well, what are they? I’ll complete any task you set before me.”

“Ah, not so fast! You don’t think I’m so kind as to just give you the opportunity to reverse my curse upon your little kingdom? No, where’s the fun in that! Where’s the risk? The Adventure? We need stakes. So how about this; If you complete the remaining two trials, I will lift the curse off your Kingdom and your mother right then and there. But! If you lose, you must give up your birthright to rule to me.”

If she did not accept, there would be no kingdom left to rule. The Princess had no choice but to agree.

“Oh, Splendid!” The Sorceress clapped with delight. “You seem very smart so I’m sure you have nothing to worry about. Let’s start with riddles! Is that alright with you? I’m quite fond of them.”

The Sorceress paced enthusiastically around the edge of the room, The Princess eyeing her suspiciously all the wall. 

“But this dull space ought never to do! After all, trials should be exciting!”

The Sorceress grabbed a handful of blue powder from a sack leaning up against one of the many bookshelves and blew the dust from her palm. The Princess wiped her eyes and sneezed, trying not to breathe in the powder.

 “What in the-” She coughed. The dust began to settle around her once she opened her eyes again. The sight that greeted her was unfortunately a grim one.

She was in a deep pit, and The Sorceress stood above her along the pit’s edge. Across from her was a stone plate with spikes, moving gradually towards her. This was, of course, a timed trap.

“Now!” The Sorceress called with glee. “Time for your first riddle!”

“First?!” The Princess exclaimed.

“Yes, first,” The Socereress acted as if she had something irritating. “This trial is comprised of three riddles. Answer them correctly or you die. Simple. Alright! First riddle!”

The Princess backed up against the opposite wall and listened closely, trying to not let her fear get the best of her.

“My tongue is long, my breath is strong, and yet I breed no strife; my voice you hear both far and near, and yet I have no life. What am I?”

The Princess breathed a sigh of relief. This was an easy one that all children knew.

“A Bell,” she responded. “Now, onto the next one, quickly.”

The Sorceress gave the Princess another annoyed look but went on.

“I am something people love or hate. I change people’s appearances and thoughts. If a person takes care of themself I will go up even higher. To some people, I will fool them. To others, I am a mystery. Some people might want to try and hide me but I will show. No matter how hard people try I will never go down. What am I?”

The Princess’s eyes darted around the room as she thought. A mirror? No, that can’t be it…

“Age!”

The Sorceress crossed her arms poutily. “Not fair.”

The Princess flicked another glance at the metal spikes crawling towards her, ever closer.

“No, it’s quite fair. Final riddle please.”

“I’m not making these hard enough,” The Sorceress grumped, but, to The Princess’s relief, she continued. “Only one color, but not one size, stuck at the bottom, yet easily flies. Present in sun, but not in rain, doing no harm, and feeling no pain.”

The Princess shrunk against the wall. She didn’t know this one either. Her mind raced as she evaluated the possibilities. But everything she thought of was ruled out due to that last line. 

“Present in sun, but not in rain, doing no harm, and feeling no pain,” she whispered these words to herself in a rush. The spikes were only a couple of yards away. The shadow of The Socereress danced along the bottom of the pit as she shifted from foot to foot, growing ever impatient. 

“I’m waaaaaiting.”

The spikes were only about two yards away now. That’s when it struck The Princess like a bolt of lighting. “A Shadow!”

“Darn.”

The setting around The Princess shifted again, all while the complaints and grumbles of The Sorceress could be heard.

“Drat, darn, crow’s feet, and maggots.”

A new room took shape around The Princess once more. The Final trial. And it must be an odd one for she found herself in a plain, high ceilinged room with no furniture. No furniture, that is, besides rows and rows of mirrors.

“Which one is real,” The Sorceress whispered to The Princess, suddenly appearing by the royal’s side. “You have one chance to tell me which.”

The Princess sighed inwardly. Another riddle.

Still, without complaint, The Princess surveyed the mirrors, not flinching from her reflection for the first time. She considered The Sorceress’s words, trying to decrypt the magic worker’s words. Her eyes searched her reflection in the glass to her left, repeating the words under her breath, “which is real?”

She then noticed that a reflection was slightly off- the woman in the glass did not have the right shade of eyes, being brown instead of green.

Ah-ha! She thought to herself. So I am to find which reflection is real.

The Princess turned to the mirror directly to her right. Here she noticed that the Princess looking back at her lacked a mole on her forehead. 

That mustn’t be right either.

The Princess turned to the many other reflections, the words playing in her head on repeat.

Which one is real?

Finally, she came to the last mirror, looking carefully at the image of a girl before her. Then she paused, a thought suddenly striking her.

“Well?” The Sorceress taunted from behind her. “I don’t have all day!”

“You asked which one is real,” the Princess said, slowly turning to look at the magic-worker. “Not which reflection or image was real.”

She turned back to cast another glance at the mirror, a small smile playing on her lips.

“But none of these are me. So none of these,” she gestured to the looking-glasses the surrounded them. “None of these are real, are they?”

The Sorceress remained strangely silent, careful not to give anything away, her face remaining emotionless and hard to read. But the Princess knew she was right before she had even said the words out loud.

“Except for this one,” she laid her hands on her own chest. “This one. This one is real.”

Behind her, the Princess could hear the Sorceress let out a sigh.

“Right you are,” she said. Much to the Princess’s surprise, the Socererss’s voice wasn’t angry or mocking. It wasn’t resigned either. Perhaps she was wrong, but she almost thought it was relief she heard in the magician’s tone.

“And that means I win, don’t I?” 

The ring of mirrors around them dissolved with a wave of the Socereress’s hand.

“Looks like it,” The Sorceress said, with a cock of her head. “Looks like I won’t be gaining a kingdom today. Though I am not quite as sad as I thought I’d be,” Then the Woman straightened, resuming her sly and intimidating demeanor. “Looks like your birthright to rule is safe for now, Princess.”

“And the River?”

“Already purified,” the Sorceress said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “You shall return to your kingdom to find everyone in good health and healed of the water’s plague as well.”

“Thank you,” the Princess said with a curt bow. “It would seem my business if finished here.”

“But aren’t you forgetting something?”

The Princess wavered a moment. “Am I?”

“I stole something from your mother,” The Sorceress gestured to her face, smirking. “Do you not wish for me to return her beauty?”

“Oh! I had all but forgotten about that,” The Princess said honestly. 

“I do not have to,” The Sorceress told the Princess, her mischievous smile growing wider by the moment. “It is not a secret that she has scorned you. I can bestow her beauty upon you if you wish it,” The Sorceress offered with an aloof shrug. “After all, revenge is a dish best served cold. She’d be green with envy I’d venture.”

The Princess couldn’t help but laugh. “I would ask you to return it to her if only for the fact that it belongs to her in the first place.”

“How good-natured of you.”

“Not really,” The Princess couldn’t help but offer the Sorceress a knowing grin. “It is not as big of a gift as some might make it out to be.”

“Spoken as a Queen.”

The next day, the Princess returned home to find all that the Sorceress had said had come true. All were healed of their afflictions and the water was purified. And, as promised, the Queen’s beauty had been restored, though one could hardly tell with how forlorn and dejected she looked. Never again did the Princess hear an unkind remark from her concerning her appearance. Though it hardly would have mattered to the girl whether she loved or hated her. Her people loved her and she had brought peace upon her land. That was enough.

The Lantern Princess

Once upon a time, there lived a princess named Nilsa. Her mother was a just and fair queen who was known for her charm and grace throughout all the land.
Her father, on the other hand, was a noble knight who fought with the ferocity of a dragon. He was both feared and loved among the people. It was he who named Nilsa, the word meaning “champion” as she would be a champion for her people.
As fate would have it, There came a time when Nilsa’s parents died she inherit the throne with reluctance.
However, word got out of her parents’ death and her father’s enemies began to make plans to attack the kingdom.
But the princess was no fool when it came to battle strategy as her father had taught her of things such as war. The enemies of the kingdom soon Found this out the hard way, returning home with few men, many of which were injured.
The rival Kings held a meeting among themselves and discussed as to how they could take the kingdom as they could not by force.
Then one proposed an idea. They would release locusts on their fields to destroy their farms.
The there agreed to this and they did as they discussed. They collected a hundred locusts and then released then on the Kingdoms fields. After a month’s time, there was no food left in the kingdom.
Nilsa’s people were hungry so she arranged and organized hunting groups to hunt down any available food. She herself was in one and so she rode out into the forest to look for game.
She came across a lady sitting in a stump. She looked haggard and was all bent over and she was very thin. A ragged cloak was thrown across her shoulders.
“Can I help you, Milady?” She asked the stranger.
“I am so hungry!” The other woman said, her voice hoarse. “I have not eaten in ten days. Please, can you prepare me a meal? If it is my last, so shall it be.”
“It shall be done,” said Nilsa. She hunted down a rabbit and killed it and returned to the woman. She then hastily made a fire and prepared it, cooking it brown. She then offered it to the lady along with some water from her own canteen.
“You are so very kind. But You are royalty? Why should you trouble with the likes of me?” The old woman said.
“A queen can eat when her subject’s stomachs are first full,” replied she.
Then the woman transformed into a beautiful shining woman in glimmering robes.
“Blessings upon you, Nilsa!” She said. “For you have proven yourself worthy. Your kingdom is ravaged with hunger but no longer this shall be.”
She then disappeared leaving Nilsa to wonder what has happened.
When Nilsa returned home, she came to find that the crops had regrown, twice as healthy and ready to harvest. Her people celebrated as they had an abundance of food.
The rival Kings marveled at this but resolved to bring Nilsa and her kingdom Down. The Kings held a meeting once more. This time they proposed they poison the kingdom’s water supply.
And so when Nilsa’s kingdom had nothing to drink, she journeyed into the forest once more in search of a new water supply. Upon searching, she came across a rabbit trapped in a trap.
“We are not hungry anymore,” she thought to herself. “So there is no need to kill it.”
And she released it but it did not run away. Instead, the creature panted mournfully and remained to lie on the ground.
“It must be thirsty as well,” she considered. And then she spotted a small well of crystal clear water. Without hesitation, she began to draw the water from out of its dark mouth. She then picked up the small creature and wasted no time in allowing it to receive the drink it had so craved. The rabbit lapped the water up greedily and then, strength regained, began to squirm. Nilsa loosened her grip, allowing the rabbit to escape.

Then suddenly, there was a bright light, and the lady in shimmering robes was present once more.
“Because you have proven yourself once again, I will aid you in your hour of need and quench the thirst of your land.”
And she disappeared once more and, like before, Nilsa returned to her kingdom to find their problem solved and the water not only purified but even clearer than before.
The Rival Kings were at their wit’s end.
“We need drastic measures!” Said one.
The others nodded in agreement and discussed what should be done. They finally agreed on a fire. They would allow the fields to catch fire from the north side of the kingdom and from the south side. The blazes then would eventually make their way to the castle and the village itself, leaving nothing but ash in its wake.
The night of the fire many lives were lost. But more than that, the village and the castle were reduced to nothing more than a few remnants of stone and charred wood.
Nilsa was badly burned but did not give up. That morning, she rose early and made her way into the forest. There, beneath a tree, sat the lady who had helped her before.
“I see that nothing will satisfy those villains but the downfall of your kingdom. But fear not as it will not come to pass for I have prepared a kingdom for you across the great divide. And there you and your people can live peaceably.”
“But the great divide is an uncrossable canyon of darkness where creatures of shadows roam,” said Nilsa. “How shall we cross safely.”
“The creatures are fearful of nothing but the light of fairies,” said she. “This I can give you so you might pass through safely.”
She stretched her hand out and in her grip was a lantern. “Light all the other lanterns with the light from this fire within the lantern and you will live to see brighter days.”
And with that, she was gone.
Nilsa wasted no time in returning to her fire scourged kingdom and telling her people of the fairy’s words. She then instructed her people to pack what material objects they had left and to arrange themselves in a line. Those who stood at the line’s edges and ends were armed with a sword and a lantern so to keep the darkness away.
And so Nilsa led her people into the dark divide. They encountered nothing though dark shapes in the distance could be seen, but they were long gone by the time they were nearing them.
Upon making it to the other side, the people were greeted with the sight of a beautiful, luscious, green valley with a castle at its center. Rivers of crystal clear water flowed throughout the rich farmland that lay in the outskirts of the kingdom and flowers of beautiful color lined the pathway that led to their new home. And there, Nilsa and her people built a new kingdom that became their paradise and they lived there happily for the rest of their days.
The ending for the evil kings, however, was not so happy. Strangely enough, one King’s water supply was contaminated. Another’s crops mysteriously withered away leaving him and his subjects with a food shortage. And yet another’s kingdom had a fire that swept across half of its entirety.
And while these Kings could not tell exactly why, but they somehow felt that it was the work of some form of strange magic. But the answer was far simpler; they were simply reaping that which they sowed.

The End

The Reaper’s Run

Momma drew the coat collar close around my neck and buttoned the last button. She then smoothed the edges of the sleeves before giving me one last quick squeeze around the waist.  

“Remember,” she said somberly. “The crows are your friend.” 

I nodded, throat tight and unable to speak. It was time to go. And we both knew it. The town was waiting for us.  

~*~

It was a cloudy day outside, ominous grey clouds hanging low over the village. It often was on Harvest Day. The town was nearly empty, most of them opting to gather at the cornfields that lay west of the main clump of houses. I could see a few parents, like mine, ushering their children through the streets, heading in the direction of the fields. Most of the children plodded slowly while their parents tugged at them to go faster. They knew we were running late. And they couldn’t start without us all.

Sure enough, by the time we reached the edge of the cornfield, most of the town was waiting, and a row of children was already forming. They stood shoulder to shoulder, facing the field. Most looked grey in the face and nervous, as I imagine I was. No one was ever happy on harvest day.

My mother gave me a quick peck before giving me a gentle push to line up with the other kids. I chose a spot beside my friend, Maisie, who was the same age as I was. She was dressed in a dark green tunic dress and wore brown boots. A brown jacket that was slightly too big for her, hung upon her skinny shoulders. My mother had dressed me similarly, except I wore a green jacket and a brown shirt and breeches. Better for running, she said.

Maisie looked at me but said nothing. Regardless, the fear was apparent in her big blue eyes. I grabbed her hand and gave it a squeeze to comfort her. Ever since we turned nine, we knew this day was coming. We had both counted down the days till our tenth birthdays arrived, knowing full well this day marked the beginning of the possible end.

We did not talk about it to our parents. We were never allowed to. Harvest Day must never be spoken of until the day of. It was bad luck. But, even though we would never admit it to our parents, Maisie and I stayed up late during our sleepovers and would sometimes whisper about this day, wondering out loud what it would be like. What we would wear. And if we’d run fast enough. 

The loud clang of a handbell broke the air as the Town leader, a petite and elderly man, signaled for the whispering crowd to fall silent. The sun was setting. It was time.

“Look at the light, Maisie,” I whispered, low enough that none of the grown-ups could hear. We both looked up towards the sky, as did the other kids in the line, as we watched the last golden ray disappear against the grey sky, coating us and the fields in darkness.

Another clang of a bell. Time to get into position.

I let go of Maisie’s hand and crouched on the ground, feeling the cold earth against my bare fingers. The other kids followed suit, taking their runner positions. 

The crows are our friends, I thought to myself. 

And then the third ring of the bell. 

The row of children took off into the cornfield, as did I, my surroundings becoming a blur of green and yellow. That last ring was a signal. It was loose now, running with us. We just needed to be able to outrun it for the length of the field. 

My mother’s words of advice came to mind once again.

This is a sprint. Not a Marathon. Run now and you can run tomorrow. 

My feet pounded against the earth, eyes trained on the path ahead. Corn stalks whipped against my face, cutting shallow cuts into my cheeks. I couldn’t help but wondering where Maisie was. She had been right behind. 

I snuck a glance backward. No one was there. But in the distance, I could hear the labored breathe of the other kids. Momma had told me not to think about them. 

There is no going back, darling. No turning back for any reason.

Not even for Maisie? I had asked.

My mother somberly shook her head. Not even for Maisie.

Then there came a scream far to my left. I didn’t recognize it, but it chilled me to the bone all the same. Now it wasn’t just running. It was hunting.

This was where the second part of the strategy of this run kicked in. You didn’t just have to be fast, you had to change directions. Very few kids could outrun it. But if you confused it as to your location, you did have a chance. The tricky part wasn’t getting disoriented as to which way was out. And with no reference besides the endless rows of corn, it was very easy to get lost.

I bolted to my right before making a big loop, trying to be mentally aware of which way was out. More and more noises could be heard. The shuffling of corn stalks became more and more frantic as children began to panic. The sharp screams and squeals of children either cracking beneath the pressure or being found amidst the corn.

But none of these screams were Maisie’s. So I kept on. I finished making my wide loop. I had to be getting close.

But then I smelled it. A sickly metallic scent. It was close. Despite all my running and changing directions, it was close. 

I stopped, flattening myself against the ground and listening closely for any sound or sign at all. 

This wasn’t supposed to happen. You could run from The Reaper. But you rarely succeeded in hiding from him.

The shuffling of corn stalks began to grow more and more scattered and quiet. This is when I realized that either I was in this field alone, or the other children were trying to hide like me, giving up on the whole running and changing directions strategy.

A long, long painful silence fell upon the field. All I could hear was the wind blowing a path through the corn, stalks shuffling against each other. This silence was broken by the caw of a murder of crows as they flew up from a patch of corn in front of me. My stomach dropped.

The crows are your friends.

It was here. And right in front of me. Moving slowly in my direction.

I slowly surveyed my surroundings in an attempt to formulate a plan of escape. As soon as I started running, it would know exactly where I was. Then I saw her.

Maisie.

She was crouching against the ground, like me but now she was slowly rising. I wanted to yell and scream at her to get back down. It would know where she was if she made any movement.

Dear God, please don’t let her run. Please.

She was standing all the way now. I knew then, that she was going to run. And I had to think fast. I grabbed a corn husk from around my feet that I had spotted when I was close to the ground. And then I threw it as far as I could in the opposite direction.

As soon as the stalks rustling against the husk could be heard, a force tore through the corn in that direction. I had to act fast.

I bolted forward and grabbed Maisie’s hand, no longer caring about being quiet. This was our chance and we had to take it.

“Come on!” I hissed to her. She needed no urging because she was already running with me. 

I was faster than Maisie but that rule of leaving others behind was already broken. Now I was just focused on getting us both out and alive. 

To my surprise, we were only running for only a few seconds when we broke out on the other side of the cornfield. We both fell flat out on the grass, greeted by the sight of the town on the other side, its inhabitants holding lanterns and torches close to their faces. Turns out we had stopped and hidden mere yards away from the finish line. 

My mother rushed to us both, hugging me and crying into my hair.

Maisie’s parents did much of the same.

When they had finally gathered themselves, we stood, facing the field and the darkness it held within.

Maisie looked to her father. “Who else made it?”

He only shook his head. Another group of crows flew up from the center of the field and one last scream could be heard. We all knew what it meant. We were the last ones and Harvest Day was over for the rest of the year.

The Gardener’s Reaper

A Sestina

This story begins as many. Once upon a time,

The Reaper lived in a kingdom of bones

His job to collect the souls that rest.

Adorned with a scowl and a cloak grey.

Every day he woke, alone. Every morning  he sadly rose.

His love being only his garden.

But it did not love him back, his garden.

He would tend his plants, time after time,

He would have been content only with a single red rose,

A rose to brighten his kingdom of bones

But alas his flowers would die, his garden as grey

As the face of those who passed.

But as fate would have it, a woman he passed,

For his errands called him to the surface where he saw a garden.

Lush and green, filled with red blooms. This gardener’s domain was not grey.

So he offered her pay to stay with him for a time,

To tend his garden, in his kingdom of bones

In hopes the gardener would yield him a rose.

She agreed, saying she would give him his rose

Before three months would pass.

And so they went together, to the land of old bones,

Where the woman worked to make a beautiful garden

For the reaper. A place where he could bide his time.

A place beyond the reach of the underworld’s grey.

The gardener toiled, her garden green against the skyline so grey.

And on the third month, as promised, she yielded the reaper a rose.

Delighted, he put it beside his bed, where he could see it all the time.

Every time he would wave at the gardener as he walked passed,

The smile on his face not only because of the garden.

His mind no longer burdened with thoughts of souls and bones.

But alas, oh, alas, the gardener was not made to stay in the kingdom of bones,

For the green drew the attention of the souls who were jealous in the grey.

So, one day, when the reaper was gone, they found their way to the garden.

And there they destroyed every living thing. Every single rose.

The Reaper returned and knew something was wrong as he walked passed,

The gate was ajar. He ran to her, but, tragically, the gardener had run out of time.

There in the garden, the Reaper cried, laying to rest her bones.

He could not fix it this time. The grey had won.

But as time passed, as if in defiance, on her grave, it can be seen growing tall. A rose.

The Emotion Seller

Once upon a time, long ago in a land very far away, there lived an elderly shopkeeper. But, since tales rarely revolve around the ordinary, this was no ordinary shopkeeper. What was unique about her wasn’t her per se, but her wares. This woman bottled and sold emotions. Her most popular items were motivation, love, joy, bravery, and confidence.  

But she has one very special bottle that no one had ever dared to touch; sadness. 

“Why would I buy that which I could get for free?!” People often jeered.  

Now this Emotion seller was very famous and rightfully so, news of this merchant being told far and wide. As a result of this, she gained many new customers, many of which who were very rich. But none dared touch the bottle of sadness even with her hundreds of new clients.  

As news spread, An arrogant lord heard of this seller and ordered his servants to fetch her so that she could sell him some of her wares. Within a few days, she arrived at his castle and gained an audience with him where she showed him every bottled emotion she sold, including the bottled sorrow. The Lord is taken aback by this, shocked she would dare carry such a thing. 

“What use is sadness to anyone?” He said in a mocking tone.  

“If that is so,” the seller replied. “Drink it, and prove to me it is useless.” 

Now the lord had no such desire to drink the potion, but being prideful and not wishing to back down, he accepted.  

“The effects should only last a day. If you find the potion to be of no use, I will give you every bottle of joy that I have,” the seller promised.  

That was enough to push the Lord to take the potion from the seller’s hands and down it in one gulp. 

The seller didn’t even wait to see the effects set in upon the noble. She smiled at him politely and turned to exit, saying nothing. 

The King could feel his confidence waning as she strutted out. He couldn’t imagine what reason she had to be so self-assured. He couldn’t see how she could possibly win this “wager”.

She is just trying to make you question yourself, he told himself as he went to sleep that night. The next day will be a miserable one but that should not matter as you will have guaranteed happiness for the rest of your life.

The next morning, as soon as The King’s eyes opened, he could tell he was not feeling well. Sure, physically he was in top condition but he couldn’t help but notice this awful weight in his chest. It was all he could to do to get out of bed. Momentarily, he thought about staying in the rest of the day and taking his leave as sick for the remainder of the potion’s time but the thought was fleeting. By now everyone in the court would have heard of his wager with The Emotion Seller. If he were to hide the entire day he would be nothing short of a laughing stock. 

It was this thought that drove The King to drag himself out of bed and prepare himself for the coming day.

His day already was off to a dreadful start, as when he began to eat his chicken pie for breakfast, he found a bone. 

“What on earth?” he grumbled to himself, spitting the bone out onto his plate. “Bring in the chef!” he commanded his servant. They scurried off and quickly returned with the kitchen’s head cook.

“There was a bone in my breakfast!” The King exclaimed, glowering at the cook. The cook shrunk away, wringing his hands nervously.

“I-I am so very sorry, my liege,” he stammered.

“Not as sorry as you’re going to be,” The King said with a frown. “I could have choked and died! You are hereby banished! You are lucky won’t try you for an attempt to kill the king!”

“Oh!” The cook cried in horror. “Banishment! Please, have mercy sire, I cannot leave my family here alone,” the cook began to cry. “They depend on me for the very food they eat. If I am banished they shall surely starve.”

Now, The King was not the most merciful of Kings as one could guess but this morning was a special one. To his surprise, he found that weight in his chest grew upon seeing the cook shed tears even though he was angry with him only moments before. The King drew in a long sigh.

“Well, perhaps I won’t banish you then,” The King relented, barely believing the words coming out of his own mouth. “But if this ever happens again, you shall face even harsher consequences! Everything that comes out of that kitchen is your responsibility,” He added grumpily though he found it hard for him to muster any sort of disdain for the man.

The cook blinked in shock, as did the other servants in the dining room.

“Oh-! Thank you! Thank you, sir!” The cook bowed low before he returned briskly to the Kitchen.

An act of mercy becomes a king every now and then, The King said to himself, slightly put-off by the occurrence. But it soon vanished from his mind as he became aware, yet again, of the sorrow that rested upon him. If only I can make it through today…

~*~

The King made his way briskly down the castle hall, a well-dressed Advisor at his elbow, penning something down as he spoke.

“The Ambassador of The Green Isles arrived just yesterday,” he talked quickly and cordially as if the fast pace of their walk was affecting his speech. 

“And how are the people of The Green Isles?” said The King.

“Er, not so good,” The Advisor admitted. “I’m afraid they’ve come to ask you for aid.” 

“Relations with The Green Isles are strained as is,” The King said more to himself than anyone else. “They’ve never really taken a liking to me as King, that much has been made obvious in the past years. Things must be pretty bad for them to come crawling into my court.”

“My thoughts exactly, sire,” The Advisor bobbed his head in an almost animated manner, fidgeting with his quill now. “I can’t help but advise you against helping them. They’ve been rather vocal about their disapproval of how you handle diplomatic relations. Perhaps it would teach a lesson to them as well as the surrounding Kingdoms. They too have voiced opposition against your “abrasive” way of dealing with the neighboring lands.”

The King slowed his pace as he thought.

“So you’re saying this is a chance to elevate ourselves?” he spoke slowly, a pensive look in his gaze. 

“Precisely.”

The two finished the walk to the Diplomatic chambers in silence, The King thinking to himself all the way until they stopped before a large set of double oak doors. 

“Well, I suppose there’s no use in putting off the unpleasant,” The Advisor reshuffled his papers and gathered himself.

“One more question before we go in.”

“Yes?”

The King inclined his head towards The Advisor, eyes curios. “What has brought The Green Isles so low?”

The Advisor sighed as he began combing through his papers for the third time that afternoon.

“Er, Plague or famine I think it was,” The shuffling of parchment filled the hall as The Advisor searched for where he supposedly jotted the information down. “Something of that sorts. Though I can’t see it being of much importance in this specific case. I think the course of action is clear where it concerns The Green Isles.”

The King found himself irked at The Advisor’s coldness, a trait he had never thought to dislike until this moment.

“If I deem it important it is so. And as far as a course of action is concerned,” The King glared pointedly at the man. “I am The King and I will decide what course of action is best. Are we clear?”

The Advisor set his jaw, realizing he had agitated The King; never a wise thing to do.

“Yes, sire,” he responded, still as cold as ever.

The King pushed open the doors, revealing a long, high ceilinged room with an equally long, stretching table with numerous chairs arranged around it. But all but one were empty. At the far end of the room and look very small was a woman clad in a modest, earthy-green cloak and dress. She wasn’t adorned with much else. No jewelry or intricate hairpieces. She looked common.  

As The King neared her, it was clear to him that the woman he could already sense her nervousness as she rose from her seat and bowed.

“Be seated,” he told her before taking a seat himself. Not at the head of the table as he usually did, but at a seat at The Ambassador’s side. This confused The Advisor, his expression said as much. But still, he said nothing and hung back behind The King, ready to pen whatever was needed.

“Hello, Ambassador…what’s your name?”

“Elle,” The woman said quietly. “Ambassador Elle. I come on the behalf of King Daeryen of The Green Isles, as I’m sure you know.”

The King nodded. “You have come to seek our aid.”

The Ambassador drew in a breath before continuing to speak.

“The is correct, your grace,” She did not meet his gaze. “The King Daeryen says he knows he would be the last person you would wish to help. But he promises you his unwavering support if you were to show him kindness in our time of need, if not for him but for our people who have nothing to eat day in and day out,” she looked up and The King was just now noticing how pale and frail the woman- no, the girl, looked. She continued, her voice becoming faint and shaky. “People are dying and we cannot stop it on our own.”

A moment of silence ensued as The Ambassador lowered her head in what looked like defeat, even though she hadn’t yet heard the King’s response. It was apparent to everyone there she was without hope.

A deep sorrow overcame The King as The Ambassador’s words began to sink in. Families with no food. Children left with no parents. People dying in the street unable to take the heat and malnutrition. The streets filled with vagabonds unable to feed or properly clothe themselves. The desolation and destruction it not only brings to the Kingdom as an entity but upon every person who misses a meal to feed those they care about with what little food they have left.

“Send them whatever supplies they need,” The King found himself saying. “So that every empty stomach might be filled.”

The Ambassador and The Advisor’s mouths both dropped at nearly the exact moment.

“I’m sorry?” The Advisor said, clearly taken aback. 

“Send them everything they need,” The King said again, more firmly.

“But-” The Advisor hesitated. “Do…do you think it wise, sire?”

The Ambassador sucked in a breath, waiting for The King’s response to this.

“Is empathy ever unwise? Now I repeat,” he turned to fully face The Advisor at his left. “Send them their supplies.”

The Advisor looked as if he might something else before opting to clamp his mouth shut, resigned.

“It shall be done.”

~*~

The King felt somewhat better after he met with the Ambassador even if he continued to carry the weight in his chest with him the rest of the day. But somehow, it now felt more bearable. And soon, before he knew it, night fell and it was time for him to retire to his chambers. But as he was escorted there by his Servant, he found himself pausing before a window, catching a glimpse of the bright orange sky outside. He stopped and took it in for a moment, noticing how the pink wispy clouds met the golden rays of the sun as they peeked over the edge of the Earth before shrinking completely out of sight. The King found himself entranced.

“It is very strange,” The King said to his servant. “I have never noticed how beautiful the sunset is until now. Has it always been so?” 

The Servant paused, uncertain how to answer The King. It was just as well because The King didn’t really expect an answer.  

“How is it I have lived my life without noticing this. And then the day after I take that Merchant’s potion, I find myself marveling at it?” 

“Perhaps one must be a little sad to love a sunset,” the servant said in a low voice. “Will that be all, my lord?” 

“Yes,” The King said with a nod. “You may go.” 

The next day, The King awoke to a light feeling all over him, as if the weight he had felt the day before had been completely lifted. His morning was a blur as he dressed and ate breakfast, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the merchant. The King received news that she had arrived in the mid-morning and The King wasted no time in allowing her an audience. Just moments later, an elderly woman hobbled to the center of the throne room, potions clinking at her side as she walked. She stopped when she reached the foot of the throne and looked up at The King with old but curious eyes.

“I see you are doing well, Potion Seller,” The King remarked.

“Very much so, my liege. Business has been good since news of our little “contest” spread.”

“That is good to hear,” said The King. 

The Potion Seller cocked her head at this remark. “Do you find yourself satisfied with my bottle of sorrow?”

A beat of silence ensued before The King responded with a simple nod of his head.

“And tell me, did it make a difference?” The Potion Seller flashed her signature smile, mischievous and crinkling at the edges of her eyes. The King felt she somehow already knew the answer.

“I spared a man and am revered among the common folk as merciful. I came to a Kingdom’s aid when I was overcome with sorrow for them and gained their loyalty. And I watched the sunset with new eyes,” The King spoke slowly and thoughtfully, something he had not been accustomed to doing until the recent days. “Tell me, how is it sadness is so powerful?”

“I think you know,” The Potion Seller said, surprisingly gentle. “It would seem I have another satisfied customer!” The older woman’s eyes sparkled with jubilee before clicking her walking stick loudly upon the throne room’s marble floor and turning to leave, calling over her shoulder as she went, “My work here is done!”

Soul Gazer

Many people are born with gifts, my mother told me. Some are fabulous singers, talented artists, or dancers. Some are good at math, some can write stories and weave together words to create a beautiful picture. Seemingly for no rhyme or reason, people just have a natural knack or skill of some sorts. That’s just how people are. And I am no different.

There is a gift in my family that runs deep in our bloodline. One that is passed on from firstborn to firstborn. We are Soul Gazers. We can see souls.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’m not exactly sure why it is considered a gift. It seems to have little effect on how I live from day to day. Sure, it’s interesting to see the many shapes and forms souls take in people. The luminescent creatures trapped in people’s chest might even be described as beautiful to some. But such beauty I think is wasted on me.

You see, Souls are often mentally pictured as ghostly forms of a person. But that isn’t quite right. Souls actually take the form of metallic glowing animals trapped in people’s rib cages, waiting for the day they are freed. 

But they never struck me as beautiful or pretty. When you grow up seeing such things all your life, it simply becomes a part of your scenery. Such a sight becomes mundane. We have souls and they take different forms. But seeing them doesn’t change anything. We still die. In fact, to this day I find such a gift rather useless.

My mother finds my somewhat emotionally removed sentiments shocking, being a rather emotional person by nature. She says I must have taken after father though I don’t know how since I never knew him in the first place.

Whenever we would see a free-roaming soul when we walk the streets, she would always point and whisper sadly to me, “I wonder who that was?”

I never said it aloud, but I didn’t think it mattered? Whoever it was they have been reduced to a orange glowing fox, or a violet mocking bird that has crossed our path. There’s no way of knowing who they were so why speculate?

“Jean,” she would often say to me. “Each soul has worth.”

But worth never saved them. What did it all matter?

~*~

“Jean,” my mother said one morning at breakfast. “I have a favor to ask.”

I stirred my oatmeal quietly, waiting for her to continue. I guess she was waiting for a sort of response because she didn’t go on, though she still looked at me expectantly from across the table.

“What is it?” I asked, a little suspicious. “Not more weeding the garden I hope.”

“No, more important than that. Do you remember your grandmother? Grandmother Violet.”

“Dad’s mom?” The question caught me off guard. I hardly ever heard about my dad’s family. In fact, I don’t think we had seen an extended member from that side for almost three years. With dad’s absence, I always assumed they felt little reason to make contact. And I assumed his mother was no different.

“Was that the lady who had that awful cat that scratched me when I was little?”

“Venus,” mom laughed. “She still has her you know. May not for much longer though…” she trailed off. 

“Good riddance, I say,” I shrugged. “She wasn’t a very nice cat.”

“That’s not the point, Jean.”

“Then what is?”

“Grandma is sick and I thought it would be nice of you to go visit her,” my mom told me earnestly, finally getting to the point.

“With what?”

“You don’t have to be sick with anything particular to hospitalized at her age,” Mom explained, clearing her dishes from the table.

“Ah. Oldness.”

“Jean!” my mom said sharply. “Show some respect.”

“Is she going to die soon?” I picked up my oatmeal bowl and poured the remainder of it into our scrap bucket that rested beside the sink.

“The Doctors aren’t sure. One can’t rightly know with older people sometimes. It could go either way.”

“But why would she enjoy my company?” I queried. “She never seemed to like me very much.”

“Oh, of course, she did! Do you not remember that she was the one who gifted you that lovely keyboard on your tenth birthday?”

“Oh yeah,” My thoughts turned to the dusty little instrument sitting in the corner of my room. It had been forever since I played it. “Well, she didn’t come to visit often to how I played it,” I couldn’t help but add.

“Grandma Violet has been declining for a while, it makes sense that she hasn’t been able to visit very much.”

“I thought it was because she didn’t approve of you and dad,” I said this quietly and under my breath but my mother heard all the same. I could tell she thought about getting on to me but decided it against it. Instead, she only heaved one of her signature sighs then added with a shake of her head, “Ever the cynic.”

I shrugged again. She wasn’t wrong.

~*~

My Mom was nice enough to drop me off at the hospital on her way to a meeting on the other side of town, telling me she’d pick me up back on her way through. Admittedly, I was a little disappointed, expecting my mother to come with me when I was reunited with my Grandmother Violet.

“But what are we going to talk about?” I asked her as I slid out of the passenger seat and onto the sidewalk. “I doubt me and someone as old as her have something in common.”

“Jean if you don’t straighten up…”

“Alright, okay, I’m sorry,” I apologized hastily, casting as gaze towards the hospital’s front doors. My gaze fell upon a flock of glowing soul birds pecking near the entrance, chirping and flitting about. Then my attention diverted to the bushes where I saw a silver glowing fox chase a blue one out of its hiding place and out into the busy street. They ran through a passing car, giving no indication to even noticing the vehicle that would have otherwise smashed a normal forest creature like them to bits.

“Lovely, isn’t it?” my mother said to me quietly, now out of the car as well and standing beside me on the sidewalk. “Hospitals always have so many souls about. If I had a camera that could see them too I’d capture.”

“Why do they linger here?” I wanted to know. “Most take to the sky and leave everything behind. Why do these choose to stay?”

“Not all, Jean. Just some. And why not?” she gestured to the group of birds, chirping to one another. “They have plenty of company here. As you can imagine, many souls pass over here. So of course there are some that move on and scour the world as they wish, but some choose to stay right here.”

I wasn’t sure why, but the sight evoked a strange sensation in my chest. A sort of sharp feeling. But I shook it off. I had a reason for being here.

“Well, I guess I’d better get going,” I told my mother, craning my head up to kiss her cheek goodbye. 

“That’s right!” my mother returned to the present, the faraway misty look in her eye gone. “I don’t want to be late to the shareholders meeting! Be good Jean and I’ll pick you up here later this afternoon.”

And with that, she hopped into the car and drove down the street, though I noted she did so slowly, giving the flock of birds time to flit out of the way, even though we both knew that they would just pass right through the vehicle with no injury.

“Mom is so weird,” I said out loud to myself, staring after the car for a beat more before turning to enter the building itself.

~*~

A nurse led me down a series of winding hallways that all looked the same before I reached Grandma Violet’s room. I tried to remember the way I came but got disoriented in the process and gave up, resigned to the fact that I would have to ask someone the way back to the entrance when I would need to leave.

“Here we go,” the nurse said in a too-cheery voice. “Room 112.”

“Thank you,” I said politely as she opened the door to the room to allow me in.

The room was as dull as any other hospital room. I supposed it was the only thing Hollywood got right in its movies. They always showed them as so generic with uninspiring beige or blue walls and white tiled floors. They all looked the same, the only difference being the body that occupied the room’s bed.

This one particularly was occupied by an elderly woman with a round, wrinkled face, and sort of “crinkly” eyes. As she turned to look at me, I noted her hair was white and sort of patchy, not covering her head entirely. But even so, her face broke into a small smile as she saw me. As she did so, I took notice of the glowing blue butterfly soul, resting in her chest. Almost at the same time, my ears picked up the sharp beep of a heart monitor, resounding in the now silent room, the busy sounds of the rest of the hospital shut out.

“Hello, Jean,” Grandma Violet said quietly, still smiling faintly.

“Hello, Grandma Violet,” I said in response. “It’s good to see you.” But somehow, such simple words sounded hollow and impersonal to my ears. Like a greeting card sent to someone, you don’t know very well.

But either Grandma didn’t pick up on my tone or she ignored it because she not only continued to smile at me but beckoned for me to sit beside her.

“Good to see you too,” she said. “It’s been so long.”

I half expected her to say something about how tall I’d gotten or how I’ve changed so much since I last saw her but she didn’t. Instead, she waited patiently for me to take a seat beside her, eyes sparkling.

“Still have that scar on your hand I see,” she chuckled. 

I instinctively looked down to look at the small white mark across the back of my right hand. 

“Yeah, Venus didn’t play very nice, did she,” I said, tracing the scar with my thumb.

“Still doesn’t,” Grandma Violet laughed. “I have about three just like it. I know she just gets excited but I got her declawed anyways.”

“That’s a relief,” I wasn’t sure what else to say. I was still kind of sad that the dumb cat was still around.

“I know you’re lying,” Grandma chuckled again, but she didn’t push it. “Play that piano lately?”

“Not for a year actually,” I said truthfully. It seemed she could tell when I was politely fibbing so why not?

“What a shame,” Grandmother Violet sighed. “You did seem to like it.”

“I did,” I surprised myself with the sudden agreement but it was true. “It allowed me to express myself, my mother said.”

“Music is just another language after all,” Grandmother agreed. “We have to learn it just like we have to learn any language. But it’s ever so rewarding.”

“Did you ever play anything?” I asked her, genuinely curious. She spoke of music with such fondness, I knew she had to.

“Viola,” she replied. “In high school. And then guitar when I was older. But my hands have gotten so shaky now, I don’t think I could pluck a note,” she gave a short laugh and shook her head slightly.

This woman struck me as strange. She laughed so freely about things that didn’t feel normal people would find funny.

“What did you play?” I asked her, not knowing what else to do but keep the conversation going, anything to drown out that incessant heart monitor’s bleeps that seemed to be growing more and more uncomfortable the longer I stayed in the room.

“Everything!” her eyes were filled with a new kind of light as she spoke about the songs she played. Everything from Mozart, to popular pop songs, to old Irish tunes, to even some songs she wrote herself. She went on to tell me about her sheets and sheets of music at home and how one of her old houses caught fire and how she cried because she lost so many sheets of music. But thankfully, she was able to salvage some sheets, though they were positively soaked due to the firefighters’ “explosive” hose as she called it. She spent all that next night laying out her remaining music sheets carefully and drying them with a hairdryer. To my surprise, I found myself engrossed in the story, and even laughing a little when she reached its conclusion. But as she came to the end, my attention reverted again to her soul.

The little butterfly flitted against her rib cage. It was so eager to fly. It wasn’t going to wait much longer. It was going to escape any second now.

“I’ll take care of Venus,” I said suddenly, surprising even myself.

“Venus?” Grandma Violet turned to look at me, inclining her head ever so slightly towards me. “But you hate that cat?” her faint ghost of a voice held shock.

“I know, and I do,” I scowled at the floor. “But he misses you I’m sure. I’ll take care of him. Just till you get back.”

Grandma Violet settled into the hospital bed. The butterfly was almost erratic at this point, batting left and right against both sides of her chest. The bleeps of the heart monitor began to slow.

I sucked in a sharp breath, surprised at what I was feeling now; a pang of sadness in my chest that bubbled to my throat, making it feel as if it were closing, making it hard to talk all of the sudden.

I barely knew Grandma Violet. She always lived so far away. We hardly ever saw her. And I have seen many souls pass on, sometimes in the most unlikely of places. 

Once I was at a park, and I saw two glittering Koi fish swim their way through a window from a house nearby. An hour later, an ambulance screamed by and parked in the driveway. 

Another time I was at a beach where I talked to a gentleman at an ice cream stand. I didn’t see his soul pass exactly, but the gilded bird in his chest was restless, flapping its wings, preparing itself for its eventual flight.

All souls pass on someday. That’s life. Whether you can see souls or not, we all have to accept it at some point. I suppose being a Soul Gazer is sort of pointless in that regard. It doesn’t change anything.

Yet, at this moment, I wish it did.

I looked at the pale elderly face, blankets drawn to her wrinkled chin. I never noticed, but her eyes didn’t seem quite as old as the rest of her. Part of me wondered what all those eyes had seen in her long lifetime.

The rush of sentimentality continued to shock me as I counted the heart monitor beeps in my head as they grew farther and farther apart.

Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry, I chanted to myself. You hardly know this lady. The only string that ties you together is one of blood.

But this line of thinking that I had normally entertained suddenly struck me as callous. It never had before. Is this a part of growing older?

“Are you okay, Jean?” Grandma’s voice sounded far away but still managed to hold a note of concern.

I swallowed before I spoke but my voice sounded hoarse regardless.

“I’m fine, Granny.”

But even as I spoke, I couldn’t peel my aways away from the butterfly stretching its silvery wings before taking flight. One last bleep and Grandma’s eyes fell shut.

I watched as the soul flitted out of her chest and lilted out the opened window, taking to the blue skies beyond.

A wet sensation on the back of my hand startled me as I came to the realization I was crying. 

“I’m fine,” I murmured to myself, though I didn’t wipe it away. 

~*~

When I returned home that evening, I turned to the dusty keyboard in the corner. I set it up in front of my bedroom window and took a wet rag to it, wiping away a year’s worth of dirt. When I was finished, I took out my folding chair and positioned myself in front of it. But even before my fingers settled into their positions, I couldn’t help but notice a faint blue glow in the corner of my eye. Perched on the edge of the keyboard, a little blue butterfly was resting itself, wing outstretched. The cynical part of me began to speak. 

There’s no way of knowing for sure it’s her.

But for some reason, I found myself ignoring it.

“Listen closely,” I said to the butterfly. “This one is just for you.”

Synthesia

Synthesia is defined as a coalescing of one’s senses. It is a phenomenon where the five senses are securely linked. Today, it is described as a “disorder” though I would describe it as a sixth sense. It does not obstruct me. In fact, it avails me in experiencing and feeling life in a thoroughly different but beautiful way.

Where one hears music, I visually perceive a breathtaking exhibit of flashing and swirling color. My vision becomes a kaleidoscope of vibrant hues.

This particular aspect of my synthesia I have been most thankful for. After all, music has played a key role in marking momentous and memorable occasions.

I can recall lying in bed as a puerile child and my mother would sing me a lullaby to draw me to slumber. Lilac and blue hues flashed and then faded to ebony as I drifted off to slumber.

My first concert was a sight to behold. I could feel the beat of the music coursing through my veins as I raised my hands with the crowd and sang the words out loud and clear. The scarlet hue that tinted my view commixed with the flashing strobe lights as I became one with the crowd. I had never felt so alive.

Then the time came for my first prom. My view of the scene afore me blushed pink as I danced with someone for the first time.

And then came the time for me to marry. My vision virtually glowed yellow as the organ played but, throughout the golden mist, I could still see the love of my life at the end of the aisle.

Then there was the day my mother died. The music played soft and slow and greys and blues mixed with tears as I stared down at the floor. When I came home that night, a hollow feeling had rooted itself firmly in my gut. I did not listen to music for a very long time.

And then one day I turned on the radio and my vision of was bright once more.

At last, There came a time when I had my own child. Beautiful and bright-eyed, she lit up my life. I recollect taking her home and laying her in the crib for the first time and then singing the lullaby my mother had sung to lull me to sleep. Familiar hues danced before me and life was wonderful.

She grew up too quickly, as most children do, and her graduation was soon upon us. Orange was the shade that I saw as the music sounded throughout the large room and the graduates throw their hats and my daughter was grown.

Time passed swiftly and I have grown old and my body creaky. That leads me to where I am today, lying in a bed with startlingly white sheets and covers. My family circumvents me and they all look sad.

And then they begin to sing.

I can scarcely tell through the fog of my mind but I think it’s a hymn. And then, for the last time, the colors appear.

Scarlet
Green
Amber
My pulse is slowing.
Lilac
Turquoise
Blue
Grey
It’s time to rest.
Pink
Yellow
White
And then
Black.

How to Kill A God

Once, in the great land of Greece, there lived a man of great knowledge who was known to all the people as a great scholar. This man journeyed far and wide and dedicated his life to the gain of knowledge and answering life’s greatest questions.
The Gods found his pursuit of knowledge honorable and invited him to dine with them at Mount Olympus. So the man accepted the invitation graciously and attended the great feast held there in the kingdom among the clouds.
He sat at an immense table and dined seated next to the Athena, the goddess of knowledge and across from Hermes, the great messenger god.
As they ate, they entertained intelligent and interesting conversation until the scholar posed a question to the goddess Athena that caused her to pause.
“Forgiving me for asking,” said the scholar. “But since I have dedicated my life to the gain of erudition, I find no question impertinent.”
“Please, ask,” said the wise one.
The man continued.
“Philosophers and scholars alike have asked and argued over this question for many years so please answer me this,” Then he breathed in sharply before posing the question. “How do you kill a god?”
Athena was silent for a moment before giving the scholar an answer.
“You cannot kill a god without killing humanity,” her voice sounded far away as she spoke. “For we are a part of you and you, us. One cannot live without the other.”
“Athena, you speak well,” Hermes interrupted. “But may I interject?”
Athena glared at the Golden Haired man from across the table before saying begrudgingly, “Speak.”
“You speak wisely, old friend,” Hermes said. “And what you say may very well be true but might I offer our friend another point of view. To kill a God, one must cover their presence with another myth.” He drummed his fingers against the table as he spoke. “Make them less than a legend. Pray no longer and make them the devil.”
The scholar thanked the two deities and returned to his meal.
After the feast, many of the gods mingled and some even danced. Amidst this ruckus, the scholar found himself in the company of Zeus, the Ruler of Olympus and Lord of the skies. The scholar seized this opportunity to ask the king of the gods his question.
The man’s laugh rang loud and strong as thunder.
“We cannot die!” He said. “That is to be a God. To rule to the end of time. ”
The scholar bowed low, thanked Zeus and left his company, wishing to refill his goblet. Upon doing so, he ran into Poseidon who was refilling his cup as well. The scholar, determined, offered his question to the sea God.
“Ah! An interesting question indeed!” Said he. “The answer is you must strip away his power and all that he exerts authority over. For what is a god over nothing worth?”
The scholar thanked Poseidon earnestly and returned to mingle with the guests. As he socialized, Aphrodite glided over to the scholar and invited him to dance with her. The scholar accepted and he guided him to the center of the floor. As they swayed, the scholar asked the fair goddess what he had asked the others.
Aphrodite threw her head back as she giggled, her eyes glittering like stars.
“A bold question, mortal,” said she. “But I shall answer it all the same. You deprive the God of the love of their people. Take away his adoration among those who worship. What is a god who is not known? What worth is he without his tributes?”
The song ended and the scholar bowed and kissed her hand, thanking her.
He returned to mingle with the guests when a loud, boisterous laugh sounded throughout the room. It echoed sharply in the marble room, making all that heard it stop and look briefly.
It was none other than Ares, the God of War. A large presence among the Olympians, he was known for his power and strong stance. He fought fiercely and without hesitation. However, the mighty warrior of the Gods had a surprising charismatic air about him, drawing others close to listen to his tales of wars and battles.
This aura intrigued the Scholar, and it wasn’t long before he found himself at the side of the war god.
“Hello, wise one!” he boomed. “How may I oblige a collector of knowledge such as yourself?”
“I only request that you answer the question I ask,” The scholar explained.
“Ask!” Encouraged Ares, the fire in his eyes ablaze. “And I shall answer!”
“How does one kill a God?”
The God seemed taken aback for a moment.
“A strange question indeed!” He commented. “But I shall fulfill my promise! To kill a God, one must destroy him only by the power of another. An opposing celestial being! A God for a God. For this is how any mighty warrior will fall! At the hands of one greater and mightier than he!”
The Scholar pondered this answer for a moment but did not have time to thank Ares, as the War God had returned to retelling his stories and amusing the mass around him.
“Quite a strange one,” a voice echoed to his left.
The Scholar turned to gaze on a tall, dark figure. He had a goblet of the darkest wine in his left hand and his other rested at his side. HIs tunic was a deep purple and upon his head, a crown of vines rested.
“Dionysus,” The Scholar murmured.
“How very kind of you to address me so,” Dionysus said. “Being one of the lesser Olympians.”
The Scholar said nothing.
“Your silence is wise,” Dionysus laughed. “One must be careful when trifling with the immortal and powerful.” The God took a sip from his goblet and eyed the Scholar curiously. “But you have been quite bold this evening, if I may say so.”
“You speak in reference to my question I suppose,” said The Scholar.
“What else?” Dionysus smiled. For an instant, the two remained silent as they surveyed the party. Then the immortal spoke.
“Would you fancy an answer from a lesser deity, such as I?”
“But of course,” The Scholar told him. “I would be a fool to reject such an offer.”
“To Kill a God,” Dionysus began. “Is no simple task. However, it can be done.”
The Scholar nodded, intrigued.
“Take that what he desires and give it to him. This in of itself is difficult to do for what does a God desire? Does he not have all that he wishes? But upon giving him what he has hungered for, take it away, but not before he has tasted all that he has dreamed of.”
Dionysus sipped his wine once more. Then he turned to the Scholar.
“It seems I am out of drink,” He said lightly. “If you will excuse me?”
And the immortal left the Scholar standing alone amidst the crowd.
The mortal was dumbfounded for a time, mulling the words of Dionysus over in his head. But a feather-like touch against his hand brought him out of his daze.
“Excuse me,” a small, innocent voice whispered. Then two, star-filled eyes gazed up at the Scholar’s face. “Oh! The Wise one!” The young woman’s melodious voice rose with recognition.
“Forgive my rudeness!” Persephone smiled. “I would have spoken to you before now but I was tied up,” her gaze shifted to over his shoulder but flickered back to him quickly.
“But, I can speak to you now!” she led the Scholar over to the balcony that overlooked the city of Olympus, with its brilliant architecture and shining palaces.
“How are you enjoying yourself among the immortals?” She queried.
“Very well, thank you.”
The two made polite conversation and discussed many things. Persephone spoke of what it was like to dance in the spring meadows and plant flowers with her mother all summer and spring long. She talked of Olympus and how her mother always adored the city with its glamorous buildings and fancy gardens.
“And do you like Olympus as well?” The Scholar asked the young Goddess.
“It is my home, but I find it quite… gaudy,” she hummed. “Nothing compared to the Underworld’s palace.”
“But of course,” The Scholar hesitated for a time, then ventured to make his request.
“M’lady, can I be so bold to impose a question on you?”
“Ask it and then I may tell you,” Persephone replied.
“How does one kill a God?”
Persephone gazed at the city and smiled.
“Take away what tethers they to this world,” said She. “Be it be the sky, the sea, or the one they love.” She turned to face the mortal. “That is how one brings an end to the divine.”
The Scholar returned her smile, and was opening his mouth to thank her when a voice called out, “Persephone! Persephone! Where are you?”
“Oh!” Persephone cried in surprise. “That’s my mother! Thanks so very much for the talk,” and with that, the young lady quickly disappeared into the crowd, returning her mother’s call.
“Coming!”
The party was drawing to an end and the scholar was prepared to leave when he spotted a shadowy figure tucked away In the back of the room.
He approached and came to face the God Hades, the keeper of death.
“I never thought you’d make it to me,” he said, his face dark as night. The scholar gazed upon the shadow of a god as he spoke, barely above a whisper.
“How do you kill a God?”
“Your strip away his senses,” he said. “He is made blind and so he cannot feel or here. You take away his ability to feel and send him into oblivion but even then, that is not death.”
The scholar was silent for a solemn moment. Then he bowed and thanked him just as he did the others.
The scholar thanked the Olympian’s and was led out of the grand palace, escorted by a woman in a brown robe holding a lantern. They traveled through winding passages and finally down a lob staircase before they reached the gates.
Upon reaching them, the woman turned, the lantern illuminating all but a small portion of her face.
“My child,” said she. “Do you wish to pose me your question?”
“Why do you ask that, M’lady?” Queried the scholar.
“For I am Hestia, the oldest of the gods,” she spoke quietly, a slight smile playing her lips. “No one knows of death more than I.”
“Then allow me the honor,” the scholar dipped his head. “How do you kill a god?”
“The question is but a difficult one to answer but I shall do so all the same,” she leaned forward, holding the lantern low as she whispered, “You make them forget. Forget who they are and once were and what they will be. But remember,” her voice became more quiet, barely audible over the wind. “What you kill, you must be prepared to become.”

The End