Monday, February 13, 2017

The Red Queen's Fight

Here's the second part of A Desperate Move. Neither of these were meant to be written, but they happened anyway. I had to know what happened next and the characters gladly told me. Forgive the raw writing, but that's not my focus as this was a just a practice piece.

Thaila
I knew he would find me. He always did. It was one of the many things I loved about him, despite his being a controlling, untrusting, arrogant beast.
Not to mention, there weren’t a lot of hiding places in the palace where he grew up that he didn’t already know about. At least this one was completely private so we could fight and not worry about who overheard us. Because we were definitely going to fight.
I had been staring out the small window, watching the roiling sea, when I heard the loud creak of the door open and close behind me. I knew it was him and I had to force myself to hold still and wait for him to come to me.
I had stumbled upon this hidden room by accident when I was looking for something to wear. It was just off the Queen’s wing of the castle, hidden behind a wall of beautiful dresses. The room was cozy, with little furnishings except a large, extravagant settee by the fireplace and a bookshelf, full to the brim with books.
“Thaila,” Canton said from behind me. “I’m glad I found you, I want a chance to explain---” But I didn’t give him that chance. Having changed into my battle gear, I was free to attack him without the restriction of my skirt and corset.
I was surprised that Canton hadn’t noticed it first thing or he would have known what was about to happen. Even so, when I swung my leg at his torso, he managed to block it with minimal impact to his chest.
Still, the hit felt good and I immediately circled so I could take another shot. Canton frowned, but kept me in his sights, moving in a circle as well so I wouldn’t be able to sneak behind him.
“Thaila, stop this. I don’t want to fight you,” he said sternly. I hated that tone. So patronizing, like when my mother would scold me for doing something a princess shouldn’t do. My whole life I had been told what I could and couldn’t do. Why would I think it would be different in my marriage?
“You don’t want to fight me. You don’t want me to go with you. What about what I want? When does that ever come into the equation, or has that thought never even crossed your mind?” I asked him. His scowl deepened and he growled something incoherent.
“Of course, I think about what you want! But you want things I can’t---”
I lunged at him again and managed to strike him in the jaw before he grabbed my wrists and pinned them behind my back. This move infuriated me more than anything else. It gave him complete access to me and left me vulnerable.
He didn’t waste any time in taking advantage of my position and before I could so much as take a breath, his lips were on mine, searing me with their heat and intensity. I knew it was only a matter of time before I completely succumbed to my desire for him. I had to move now.
He started to push me toward the wall, one hand going to my hip and the other holding my hands back. I let him, as if he had already won me over, and just before my back hit the wall, I yanked my hands free, ducking away from his reach and kicking him in the back.
He slammed into the bookshelf, scattering books all over the ground, and grunted as he pushed himself away and turned to face me. I felt a satisfied smirk on my face. He may be immortal, but he still felt pain. And right now, I wanted him to feel pain.
There was a fire in his eyes that made my heart beat fast and irregular. I knew that look; he was done playing nice. Now he would fight back. Now I would be able to show him how capable I was of taking care of myself.
He wiped a drop of blood from the corner of his mouth in a slow, deliberate move, never taking his eyes off me. It was meant to intimidate me and in truth, it did. But that just made my anger burn brighter and I moved again before he could toy with me further.
He was ready for me, knowing I would grow impatient, and when I crouched to take out his legs, he tackled me to the ground, pinning me underneath the weight of his body.
I screamed in frustration and tried to lift my knee in a move that was low, even for me. But he pinned my leg with his much stronger one and I was immobile. Keeping my legs and arms restrained, he lifted his chest off mine so he could look at my face.
I glared up at him, daring him to say that this was the reason I couldn’t go. He stared back at me with the same intense look in his eyes that first captured my heart. A look I knew meant his entire world was focused solely on me.
“Thaila,” he growled in a low voice that completely undid me. “I know you’re upset and I don’t blame you, but you will hear me out!”
I continued to struggle against him, periodically testing my legs and arms to see if I could get one of them away long enough to do some damage.
I didn’t want to hear what he had to say. He embarrassed me in front of all those people in the courtroom and refused to see reason, even when he knew how much it meant to me.
“My reasoning for not wanting you to come along has nothing to do with your capability as a fighter,” he ground out, still struggling to hold me in place. “I know you’re more than capable of taking me on, you already proved that when you nearly succeeded in ending my life. But I can’t lose you, Thaila!”
This time I did stop struggling against him. We were both breathing heavily from the exertion of our fight and our quick breathes were loud in the silent room.
“Please. Listen,” he asked me gently. I was still wired and ready to fight, but I would at least give him a chance to try and explain his behavior. I nodded my head and he slowly arose, ready to pin me back down at the slightest indication I wouldn’t keep my word.
Which was tempting.
Reaching his hand out to me, I let him pull me up after him, but quickly turned back to the small window so his stormy eyes couldn’t try to persuade me to see his side of things. I wanted to hear his words, hear what was so important, he wouldn’t grant me this small thing I asked of him.
“Do you remember the day we fought together against the Green Kingdom?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I whispered.
“I can’t think of a time when I was ever more scared, than in that moment when I first saw you out there, fighting alongside all those men. The very sight of you knocked my breath away. You were fierce and strong and beautiful and more than just the princess who fought for her kingdom. The passion I saw in your eyes as you battled for the greater good of your people, was the moment I knew I wouldn’t be able to live without you by my side.”
He paused and I wanted to turn around and run to him. I didn’t. As nice as his words were to hear, it didn’t satiate my anger. I still needed to know why it was so important that I not be a part of this mission. He sighed when I didn’t turn around and I imaged him rubbing his goatee in frustration.
            “That feeling has only grown stronger, Thaila. As my wife, I’ve come to understand you in a way I only dreamed of being able to. Your kindness, your witty humor, your patience. If something happened to you…” he broke off as if the thought alone was too painful. I sucked in a deep breath, trying to control the emotions that were stirring dangerously close to the surface.
“If something happened to you, I would be a lost, broken man. My reasons for living would no longer be strong enough to keep me here and I would follow you to the afterlife and anywhere else you decided to go after that,” he finally finished. I had to choke back a sob that threatened to escape. The thought of him going through with that was too painful to contemplate.
I finally turned around and faced him. His dark eyes were shimmering in the low setting sun and his face was full of pain and anguish.
“So, that is my offer. If I agree to let you come along, and something happens to you, you agree to let me follow you, wherever you may go.”
I stared at my husband, so tall and strong, trying to imagine how I would live without him should the roles be reversed. I too would want to find a way to be with him again, no matter the consequences.
Suddenly the distance I’d put between us was too unbearable and I took several long strides to close it as quickly as possible. His strong arms were waiting for me and he scooped me into them the moment I was within his reach.
The electric current between us was still sizzling with heat, but this time a different passion ignited our furious kisses. He picked me up and I immediately wrapped my legs around his waist as he carried me over to the settee and laid us both down on the soft cushions.

 I knew I would have to think about his offer more seriously before making such a big decision, but right now, all I could think about was showing my husband just how much I couldn’t live without him.
                                     *Copyright Jayne L. Bowden*

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Desperate Move

Here's a scene from a book that I still have to write the prequel to, but I couldn't get it out of my head. So naturally, I had to stay up till 1:30am writing it. Enjoy.

Theron
I watched the two of them argue quietly from under my lashes, both fascinated and terrified by the whole ordeal. I held my breath while I waited for them to debate my fate, knowing that at any moment I could lose my head. Having heard of The Red King’s reputation, I knew the likelihood of that happening was almost a guarantee.
It was worth the risk though. She was worth the risk. And I knew she made the right decision, no matter how tempted I was to take her up on her offer of staying with me instead of claiming her rightful place on the thrown.
But that would have been a mistake. The people of the Green Kingdom needed a ruler who cared about their well-being. And who better to do that, then the woman who spent the last several months living as one of them.
There was a small pause in their conversation and I chanced a glance, keeping my head bent low. As I looked at the King and Queen of the Red City trying to communicate something with their eyes, I felt increasingly sure that the man sitting on the thrown was not the same man I heard about growing up.
I couldn’t imagine the fearsome, ruthless leader who wiped out nations without so much as a blink of his eye, was the same man, sitting here and staring at his wife with all the love and respect a man could possibly be capable of, no matter how beautiful she may be. And she was beautiful, there was no denying that. But my heart had been taken, a long time ago, by a different woman.
They seemed to finally come to a decision with a single nod of the Queen’s head and I found myself once again shocked at their relationship. The fact that the King even counseled with his Queen was one thing, but to also concede to her request, was simply unprecedented. I quickly lowered my eyes as they turned back to address me.
“It seems I am over ruled by my Queen. You shall not only keep your head, but you have also been permitted to speak. You may thank my lovely wife for both favors, but be careful how you do so; I am a very jealous man,” The Red King said in a deadly tone.
I swallowed hard, saying a silent prayer for my life and then slowly rose to my feet. I dared not take a step forward as I felt I had already used up every bit of luck in the world by being here now, still alive.
The task ahead was daunting, but for the first time since setting out on this mission, I felt a tiny glimmer of hope, thanks to the new-found mystery that was The Red Queen.
“Your Majesties, I pray you will accept my humble gratitude for my life and for the chance to plead my case before you, despite belonging to a different Kingdom,” I said with a slight tremor to my voice. They were still, after all, the two most intimidating people I had ever met in my entire life.
The Queen nodded her acceptance and the King waved for me to continue. I took another deep breath and went on.
“I come before you, asking for help that only the two of you could possibly give me. You may have heard of the struggle the Green Kingdom recently went through when princess Shea returned to her homeland to reclaim her title,” I spoke it more like a question than a statement.
“We’re aware of the princess’s quest to return home,” The Red King told me with amusement. I wondered at his tone, but now was not the time to get off track.
“Then you’re also aware that the Green Queen had her thrown in prison for impersonating, well, herself?”
“That’s ridiculous. How can someone impersonate themselves?”
“When the princess was sent here, the Green King had a decoy step in for her to keep up appearances at the palace. Her cousin, similar in looks and mannerisms, was that decoy. Now it seems the Queen prefers the fake princess to the real one.”
“And what is it you want our help with?” he asked, cutting right to the chase.
“I want you to come to my Kingdom and help set things straight, your Highness. Put the real princess back on the thrown she deserves as her birthright.”
He let out a small, humorless chuckle and shook his head. I felt my heart drop, but I didn’t let it show, nor did I back down. I was nobody to these royals, but she was everything to me and I had to try.
“I know you have every reason to loath my Kingdom right now, but the princess is not her father. She’s been living among her people for several months and only wants a chance to try and undo the damage that was done. Your Kingdom is not the only one who suffered losses because of his selfish greed for power.” My chest rose faster at the mention of my family’s suffering and I willed my heart to beat normally again. “Your Majesty,” I added politely.
“You seem to know a lot about the affairs of the princess, as well as information about the Kingdom you now stand in. I wonder how a man in your position came by such sensitive information?” There was that same deadly tone he used with me earlier. I knew I walked a fine line with him, but I’ve come too far to turn back now.
“I’m not a spy, your highness, if that’s what you’re implying.”
“Then pray tell, how you seem to know so much about two Kingdoms as a simple stable hand.”
“I helped the princess when she was tossed out of the palace the first time. The day she returned home and the Queen turned her back on her own daughter, she sought shelter in the stable I oversee and I cared for her there until she was ready to face her mother again. But things clearly did not go as planned or I wouldn’t be here before you now,” I bowed my head in acknowledgement for sparing my life once more.
“Why should you care which princess is on the thrown? And how can you be so sure that the woman you took care of is the real princess?” he asked.
“I had the same thoughts when I first met her, but trust me, my Lord, she’s the real princess,” I laughed. The memory of her trying to order me around in my own home was not one I would soon forget.
The fire in her eyes and the longing I heard in her voice when she talked of her place on the thrown was real and true. Yes, she was most definitely the rightful heir.
“As for your first question, I care because the princess that currently resides in the palace is little more than a puppet on a string, manipulated by the very woman who agreed to all her husband’s plans of war against your Kingdom. She is the reason I came to ask for help, and to also warn you against her unfulfilled plot to take over the most powerful Kingdom in the land. Your Kingdom, your Highness.”
It was quite for several moments while The Red King contemplated the information I had given him. I could tell he was sharp, cunning. Perhaps not The Red King everyone feared, but still just as clever and perhaps just as hungry for domination as the previous King. Which meant he was just as dangerous.
And yet, the woman sitting next to him radiated kindness and love. It was that woman’s eyes that I now felt studying me, scrutinizing everything about me that she could read from watching my behavior. It was nerve racking. More so than the King’s penetrating stare.
The Red King let out a small sigh and I knew the decision he had just made would not be in my favor.
“You made quite the speech. But you’re asking me to interfere in a Kingdom’s affairs, based on one stable hand’s account of what happened. How am I to know you’re not sent here to lure me out of my own Kingdom, just to be betrayed and killed when I’m less protected?”
I was already shaking my head before he finished. I could feel myself losing this battle, but I pressed on anyway, unable to accept the fate of princess Shea.
“Please, your majesty,” I begged. “I swear, I would never---”
“Your word means nothing to me. I don’t know you, nor do I trust you. You’ve had your chance to speak, now be gone before I change my mind about sparing your life.” He flicked his hand and suddenly there were guards on either side of me, grabbing me under the arms and forcing me toward the entryway.
“I care not for my life, you can have it! But please, please help the princess!” I yelled over my shoulder, praying he would somehow see reason.
We were almost to the entryway when I heard a woman’s voice cry out.
“Wait!” The men on either side of me froze, as if not quite sure what to do. Then I was forced to turn around and kneel, as The Red Queen approached us.
“Let him up,” she ordered. When the men didn’t immediately release me, she said more loudly, “Now!” They finally complied and left to stand a few feet away, but I dared not stand up, nor look at her for fear of The Red King’s wrath.
“You may rise,” she said to me. I noticed there was none of the entitled tone she used with the guards, only kindness. I did as she asked and rose to my feet, but kept my eyes on the floor. My heart raced as I tried to foresee the outcome of this strange turn of events.
“What is your name, sir?” she asked. Sharp breaths were drawn at both her question and her use of a title that did not belong to the likes of me. What royal Queen would care to know the name of a peasant?
I looked up at The Red King for permission to answer, but the Queen was not to be over looked.
I asked you a question, not my husband. Look at me and answer it,” she said. The Red King raised an amused eyebrow at his wife and I knew her life was not in danger, despite her blatant implication that she was the one to seek permission from, not her King.
I did as she asked again and was met with big, beautiful hazel eyes full of kindness and sympathy. Something I did not expect.
“My name is Theron, your Grace,” I told her quietly. She folded her hands together and smiled, as if we were old acquaintances, now that she had a name for my face.
“Well, Theron, I don’t think you’re telling us the whole story. In fact, I think you’ve left out a very important detail.”
I felt my hopes plummet once more. She thought I was lying too. And worse, that I was purposely holding back information from them.
“I assure you, your highness, I’ve not left anything out---”
“You’re in love with her,” she stated simply. I felt my mouth open, but no words came out.
“You not only cared for Shea, but you somehow ended up falling in love with her, didn’t you?” I felt the heat on my neck, but managed a stiff nod.
There was no use in denying it to her. She could see right through me. See the desperation in my eyes, and hear it in my voice as I plead for their help and offered up my life in return.
“Forgive me, your majesty, but I fail to see how this has any relevance to my earlier request.”
“Oh, but it has every relevance, Theron,” she said too quietly for anyone else to overhear. “Love can be the strongest of arguments and the most heavily used weapons for persuasion.” She gave me a sly smile, then turned back to The Red King and approached his thrown without asking for permission.
It seemed this woman was breaking every rule ever made and I respected her greatly for her courage. What was even more shocking, however, was that The Red King let her get away with it, was even amused by it at times.
I watched as she sauntered up to the front of his chair, with all the lithe of a cat, and bowed herself low before him.
“Rise my love, you need never bow yourself before me,” he told her gently. She did rise and gracefully put her hands in his awaiting outstretched ones. I couldn’t remember ever seeing the royal family of the Green Kingdom ever touch in public. Not so much as a hand on the back to guide from room to room.
And the way they held hands in such a tender manner. As if they were just two people in love and couldn’t help themselves from touching.
“My King, may I present to you, Theron of the Green Kingdom, who has come here asking for our help.”
“What are you doing, Thaila?” The Red King asked, lowering his voice. He stood up and pulled her closer so he wouldn’t be overheard. I had to strain my ears, but years of hunting in the forest, listening for animals that would make a good meal, assisted in my ability and I heard every word.
“I want to help him. I know it could be dangerous, but he makes a good point. If The Green Queen is still plotting against our Kingdom then I want to do something about it. I don’t need to remind you what sort of creatures the King was creating in secret. If she has access to them, I want her off the thrown,” Thaila whispered.
“Our Kingdom,” The Red King said smiling. The Queen smiled back and I felt like I should look away and give them some privacy. But I was enraptured.
The Queen was trying to convince him to help! And from the look in his eyes, she was getting a lot farther with him than I ever could have.
“Yes, our Kingdom,” she said. “I want to keep it, and you, safe.”
“I am immortal. I’m as safe as I can possibly be. But what about you? What’s going to keep you safe? I’m assuming if I agree to help, you’ll want to come along.”
“I go where you go,” she stated simply.
“You go where danger goes,” he sighed heavily.
“Is that why you don’t want to help them? Because you’re worried for my safety if I come along?”
“Yes.”
“Then you do believe him?” she asked hopefully.
“I’ll need convincing that he really does love that selfish, royal brat. But otherwise, yes. I can easily imagine the wife of that pig being conniving enough to throw her own daughter in prison. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out she can’t control Shea. Why wouldn’t she keep the one who listens to her?”
“So, will you help them?” The Red Queen urged him. I dared not breath for fear I would not be able to hear his answer. But instead of replying to his wife, The Red King turned toward me. I quickly lowered my eyes, as if I hadn’t been watching them the entire time.
“Theron of The Green Kingdom. My Queen has convinced me to help your cause. I will go back to your land with you and vouch for your princess, on one condition,” he said, facing his wife once more. Anything. I would promise him anything if he would just agree to help Shea.
“My Queen is not to come along,” he said, staring into her eyes. I also looked at her and watched her face go from elation to anger. Before arriving here, I would have agreed without a moment’s hesitation, but I wasn’t even sure how to answer his request. In fact, I was positive the request wasn’t really meant for me.
If The Red Queen wanted him to help, she would have to stay behind. The fact that he gave her a choice was astounding, but I remembered Shea telling me she was a good fighter, as shocking as that seemed.
They were still holding hands when he spoke, but now she ripped hers out of his grasp. He didn’t flinch at her reaction, as if he expected such a response from her, but there was still a flash of hurt across his face.
It was nothing compared to her look though. Again, I felt uncomfortable being witness to their disagreement, but I couldn’t just leave. The Queen finally turned around stormed out of the large room, leaving her husband to stare after her.
It took him several moments to look away from the doorway she had gone through, but when he did look back and found me still standing there, he seemed surprised.
“We have an understanding, then?” he asked me as he went back to his thrown to sit down. I gave him the only answer I could.
“I believe so, your Grace.” He nodded his head and rubbed absently at his close-shaven goatee.
“Then my servants will see that a room is made up for you, and we’ll make preparations for our journey on the morrow.” The moment the words left his lips, the guards that had almost dragged me from the room earlier were back, this time waiting to show me the way.
“Thank you, my Lord,” I said sincerely and bowed myself to the ground. When I stood up again I saw that he had barely registered my words. His mind was still on the fiery Queen.
I told my feet to move, but they would not listen to me yet. I knew the look on The Red King’s face and I thought for the first time in my life, maybe royals are not so different from me.
We were raised differently, and surely the weight of an entire kingdom on one’s shoulders was a lot to bare. But here was a man so desperately in love that he was willing to do anything to keep her safe. Even hurt her if necessary.
“Someone wise once told me, ‘Love can be the strongest of arguments and the most heavily used weapons for persuasion,’” I spoke quietly so as not to alert him to my disrespect for still being here when he had clearly dismissed me. “I believe that weapon can be used to remind your wife how much you care for her and for her safety, your Highness.”
He looked at me as if I may have revealed all the deepest secrets in the world. For just a moment, I saw him not as the King of the greatest Kingdom in the land, but as a young man, still navigating the rocky waters of love. It was that side of him that I knew must have attracted the fair Queen to him in the first place.
He blinked and just like that, the young man was gone and The Red King sat before me once again.
“Make sure you remember the agreement and I’ll stop by later to discuss the strategy.” He stood up and followed the route his wife had taken without so much as a backward glance at anyone else in the room.
The two guards let me to a modest, but comfortable room on the fourth level, where the servant’s quarters were. Considering I thought I would spend the night in the prisons below, or worse, I was never so grateful to be in a small room with a roof over my head.
I lay back on the little bed tucked in the corner and wondered at everything that had transpired today. The Red King was still the most dangerous person I had ever encountered, but he was not a ruthless killer as most people had suspected.
And The Red Queen. What had possessed her to defy her husband for requesting that she stay behind for her own safety? Though I meant what I said to The Red King about our agreement, my money, if I’d had any, would be on the Queen. I didn’t feel bad about this revelation because it would be the King’s decision to have her come along, not mine. Stubborn woman…
 Shea immediately sprung to my mind as she had so many times since leaving. I knew she would not want to stay behind either, but she was not a skilled fighter. And I was certainly not her husband, nor would I ever be, so I couldn’t talk any sense into her. I only hoped the man she did marry would try to keep her safe, even from herself, if necessary.
I rolled over on my side and tried not to let the bitter thought ruin my elation at having found a way to help her. That was all that mattered. She would be where she belonged again and we would both live out our lives separately.

Ignoring the jarring pain in my heart, I closed my eyes and prayed sleep would find me quickly. I needed to be ready when The Red King came by. If this didn’t work, I didn’t know what else would. This had to work. 

                                *Copyright Jayne L. Bowden*

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Bragi

“I’m what your people once were.”
“You mean you were human?”
“No.” She looks at me, her eyes older than her twenty something face. “I am more than that. Humans used to be like I am, but they chose to live in this world, to give up their special ‘traits.’ There were some who wanted to live in a world without the monsters we live with. In order to be granted that desire, they had to give up their immortality.
I blow out a breath. “Can I choose to go back to being immortal?”
“You’d want to live forever in that form?”
Bitch. I want to claw her eyes out, but the twin swords gleaming in the moonlight over her shoulder give me pause. “Why should your race be immortal while the rest of us constantly live with death hovering over us? What makes you more special than us?”
Before I can even blink, she’s pushed her face into mine. “You don’t think I live with the threat of death? You don’t think I know what it is to lose someone I love?” Just as quickly, she pulls away from me and stiffens. “You humans are too small-minded to see beyond yourselves. All you can think to do is whine that we have a unique makeup that allows us to survive for years beyond your abilities. At least, we have the potential to live longer. When there’s peace. But I haven’t lived long enough to see peace. And I’ve lived a long time.” She lifts her eyes to the darkened sky. And breathes. “Of course we can die. It just takes more than a human to kill us.” Her eyes find mine. “You should be asking me why we live? What purpose do Bragi serve? Why would The Creator make us stronger than humans, faster, and more durable? What are we here to fight?”
I swallow, trying to ignore my stupidity and pettiness. A scream pierces the night. She turns her head, listening. I hear nothing. But she does. Her eyes narrow. “Run,” she whispers as she pulls two knives from her boots. Moving without a sound, she presses her back into the slimy brick wall and turns toward the howl that follows more screams.
I turn to run. And turn again. And again. We’re at the end of an alley. There’s nowhere to go. She looks at me standing there like a fool. “At least hide yourself,” she hisses.
Scrambling, I leap into a pile of garbage. The heat from the decomposition is suffocating. Black plastic sticks to my skin, wrapping me in and pulling me down farther and farther. My head starts pounding. My chest constricts so tight I feel my heart hitting my ribs. To hell with hiding. I claw wildly at the refuse. Out, I have to get out. Cold, smooth metal skims my cheek. I freeze.
“Stop moving.” Her  voice is barely more than the blowing wind. Petit arms reach around me, lifting me out of my feculent grave. She puts her finger to her lips. Low growling moves closer. The stink of the garbage is nothing compared to the whiff of…of what? A wet something lands on my shoulder and slides down my arm. I don’t want to look. I shouldn’t look. I know I won’t like what I find. But I look anyway. Slowly, I raise my eyes. The night sky is gone. In its stead, a gaping maw hovers three stories above. Jagged, black teeth, as long as my entire body, point down at me. It covers the expanse of the small alley we’re standing in. I don’t even scream. I can’t.
She seems grateful for my silence. Her firm hand on my shoulder tells me to stay. Two silent steps away from me, she launches herself at the crumbling building to our left.  She lands two stories up, striking the vertical surface with her powerful legs, propelling herself higher. The thing above swivels its head. Too slow. Her blades reach its throat, sinking deep. As she begins to fall, she pulls her arms apart, severing the monster’s neck. I jump behind a wooden pallet, the only protection I can find from the falling head. A billow of dirt and dust from the roofs above are all I know about the body. There is a lot of dirt and dust. With a head as large as the alley, the body must be even more enormous.
Through the fear, I manage to feel idiotic for my earlier petulance about her immortality. Of course there’s a reason the Bragi are build the way they are. I want to crawl back into the garbage and die when she looks at me as she lands on her feet beside me. “Now we really need to run.” Pulling me up, she leads us down the open alleyway and emerge on an abandoned street. Well, abandoned of all living things. Only a few scattered bodies litter the street, some torn to pieces.
“Why are you helping me?”
“Shut up and run.”
A howl reverberates off the buildings tightly packed together on the old cobblestone street. It is drawn out and moves closer with each second it lasts. Another creature picks up the call and answers back, closer than the first. Both are converging on…us.
I pick up my feet and try to run, but I’m too slow. I’ve never been much of a runner, but I’m pathetic next to her. She is two blocks ahead of me before she realizes how far behind I am. Backtracking, she comes and looks at me bent over, hands on my knees. She scans the area around us as the ground starts to shake. The creatures are coming. A few feet away, she lifts a sewer grate. “Get in,” she says, shoving me down the dark hole.
She follows and closes the cover just as the shaking stops. A silence ensues. Then I hear puffs of air. The monsters are up there, sniffing, smelling for us. The Bragi woman stands so still on the ladder rungs that she looks like a statue. I will myself not to move. I try to continue sucking wind as silently as I can. The streets above us bounce with the footsteps of the departing creatures. She lets out a breath, more of relief than of actual fatigue or fear.
Then she looks at me. I feel even smaller than before. Jumping down the ladder, she lands next to me and waits. I guess I should say something, even though anything that comes out of my mouth will prove I’m just as petty as she accused me of being. “What are those?” I decide to say.
“Watakseys.”
Silence.
I try again. “Why haven’t I ever seen them before?”
Ripping the hem of her shirt, she starts cleaning the stinking blood from her knives. “They’re only freed from the darkness of the forests when someone, Bragi or human, summons them by reading out of that.” She thrusts her chin toward the book I’d stuffed in my backpack earlier. Actually, she showed up as I was trying to sound out the rest of that page.
Yep. I’m an idiot. She stops the meticulous slide along the knife edge and holds out her hand. There’s no reason for me to pretend like I can keep it from her. As I set it in her palm, I see her face change. The stone set warrior look now shows something like remorse or regret or pain…
“I have spent my entire mature life trying to destroy this thing.” She weighs it in her hand. And laughs humorlessly. “It can’t be destroyed.”
When I found it hidden in a hollow of the tree I’d been perched in while waiting for the boars to wander away, I felt something come from it. A power or a presence. Did that stop me from trying to learn what the symbols meant or from reading out loud from it when I’d learned? No. Because I’m stupid. I was Indiana Jones and I’d come across the Holy Grail. The only thing others see when they look at me is a misshapen, tiny girl who will never blossom into womanhood. That book was my chance to prove I’m worth more than what people see.
“I thought I hid it well.”
While I’d been berating myself, she’d turned her gaze to me. “You weren’t the threat I was hiding it from. That’s why I hid it in your world.”
My world? I guess that makes sense since Bragi are nothing more than stories. Yet, here I am, talking to one. Maybe I should tug on her pointed ear, just to make sure she is what she says she is. I see her free hand clench into a fist. Can she read my thoughts? Best to stay away from her ears. It’s all I can do not to break into hysterical nervous, terrified giggling. I replay the way she jumped up the walls of that apartment complex, reaching the roof in two leaps. I see her swords gleaming with that Watakseys blood as she glides to the ground again. No, there’s no doubt she’s Bragi or at least something not found in my world. “Who were you hiding it from?”
“ There are some in my world who think that summoning the creatures these words do would allow us to fully eradicate the…No one wanders in those woods anymore. What were you, of all people, doing there?”
“How do you and your kind get into this world?”
“How old are you?”

I stop questioning her. It’s not like we were actually answering each other anyway. I hate when people ask my age. They ask when I’m at the store by myself buying groceries. Whenever I get on the bus, someone asks where my parents are. I’d already been humiliated by my mouth. No reason to be humiliated by this Bragi woman too. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Isilys-Will POV From Chapter 7

This started out as a writing exercise to get to know my hero's POV better and I ended up writing an entire chapter. I'm not going to post the whole chapter and some of the references might not make sense, but I thought I would post it just for fun. It's been a while after all.


Will’s POV on Chapter 7
A sort of nervous excitement coursed through me as I walked to Victoria’s room to get her for our little family outing today. I was right about my parents insisting she come with us, just as I was right about her needing to get out of her hotel room. Seriously, the girl could use a little fun. And I was nothing if not fun.
Except things never seemed to go right with her. She thwarted every attempt I made at flirting, called me out on my crap, and would never, under normal circumstances, go out with me. I could admit I was intrigued. Okay, fine, I was a little more than intrigued.
I knocked loudly on her door and listened as she scrambled to answer it. Already amused, I leaned as casually as I could against the doorframe, willing my face to a neutral expression. Several moments passed and I found it harder and harder to wait to see her.
Trying not to examine why that was, I finally heard her footsteps coming toward the door. I pushed off the frame and stood up straight just as she opened it. There was no way to prepare myself for seeing her again.
Her long, brown hair was loose around her shoulders and I knew from experience it was soft and silky. She didn’t wear a lot of makeup, but her beautiful, big brown eyes were as striking as ever and her full lips had a hint of red.
She had on a simple t-shirt with skinny jeans, but somehow she managed not to look casual. She looked radiant and alive.
“Hey,” she said breathlessly, almost knocking me to the floor.
“Hey,” I replied a bit more steadily, despite my pounding heart. She seemed flustered by her reaction to me and I found myself trying not to smile at the thought. I like her flustered, and I liked it even more when I was the one that caused it.
She quickly spun around and ran to her room, but not before I caught the attractive blush creeping onto her face. I followed her inside and closed the door behind me, already completely comfortable in her space.
I watched her as inconspicuously as I could as she rushed to gather her things. Disappearing into her room again, I heard her call out, “I’m sorry, I’m almost ready.” I smiled to myself already knowing she would be late and not caring a bit.
I sat down on the couch, but was back on my feet in seconds when I spotted a box with a card next to it. Luke.
Jealousy, strong and irrational, spread through my body and I had to swallow down the bitter accusations I wanted to throw out. It wasn’t Victoria’s fault Luke was a pushy, arrogant rat, and getting mad at her didn’t work.
I carefully opened the box of chocolates and pulled one out. I could hear her behind me now and decided I was okay with being obnoxious this morning.
“Where did you get these?” I asked. She stopped moving around and looked at me.
“Lucas sent them yesterday afternoon,” she said with as much attitude and sass as I expected. I couldn’t help but smirk at her predicted reaction to my question.
I took a bite and mumbled, “Pretty good.” She continued to watch me so I decided to give in to my curiosity. “What?”
“That’s it? No, ‘Luke is a bad person who runs over squirrels on purpose’ talk?” she demanded. I half choked, half laughed. She never failed to surprise me.
I couldn’t contain the laughter bubbling out of me. Part of it was her ridiculous comment, but an even bigger part of it was just being around her. I felt lighter, happier. It was addicting.
The next thing I knew, she had grabbed my hand and was pulling me out of the room. I didn’t even try to stop my laughter as we rode down the elevator and my good mood stayed with me as we crossed the lobby.
Seeing my family was a relief because it meant I got to pretend to be infatuated with this girl. Not that I wasn’t interested in her, I could admit that. But she was a mystery and as soon as I solved it, I would get bored and move on. For now though, the chase was thrilling.
I slung my arm over her shoulders and felt her relax as we approached my parents.  Last night’s conversation, first with Victoria, and then with my parents, played through my mind and I was curious to see how they would reassure her, as promised, of their good opinion.
“Victoria!” Sam shouted and ran over to meet us. As he usually did when he was around us, he went for Victoria’s unoccupied hand. I possessively kept my arm around her shoulders and felt her grip tighten around my waist as we arrived in front of my mom and dad. I don’t think she even noticed she was doing it.
“Hello, Victoria,” my dad said to her in a friendly tone. My mom was less inconspicuous and went right in for a hug, which seemed to startle the ever living daylights out of Victoria.
Her earlier words rang through my mind. People won’t remember me, why should I remember them? It had been obvious from the start that Victoria didn’t see herself very clearly, but hearing her words sent a sharp pang through my chest.
I decided I would just have to hold her more often if I could get away with it. She needed to learn that she was wanted, loved, even if this was just pretend. She should know how it could be with someone if she ever opened up.
I knew I was playing a dangerous game with this whole charade, and while I didn’t want to hurt her, I needed to prove her own worth to her. Then she could find someone who actually deserved her. I didn’t want to dwell on that thought, we’d cross that bridge when it came. As long as it wasn’t Luke Thompson…
“I’m so glad you’re coming with us today,” mom said to Victoria, snapping me out of my thoughts. The talk with my parents had gone rather well and I couldn’t help but be a little smug about the fact. Unsurprisingly, Victoria noticed.
 Ducking out from under my arm, she pulled on my hand until I obliged and leaned down. Her warm breath tickled my ear and I had to stop myself from turning my head and stealing a kiss right then and there.
“What did you do?” she hissed at me. I smiled.
“What makes you think I did something?” I whispered back, enjoying the feel of her silky hair against my cheek. Seriously, hair shouldn’t be that sexy.
“Because you’re you. What did you say to them?” I was enjoying her fret over this too much to give up my secret just yet. Instead, I opened the door of the hotel for everyone, using it as an excuse to avoid her question for a moment.
            Our car was pulled around and I made sure she was sitting in the middle so both Sam and I would be satisfied. We started on our journey in comfortable silence, but I found myself unsettled by her nearness.
            Not that we hadn’t been this near before, but there was something boiling under the surface of my skin and it came to life every time her body brushed up against mine. It was maddening and the long ride I had so looked forward to, now seemed like endless torture.
            Oblivious to my struggle, Victoria leaned toward me and I caught a whiff of her perfume. Having her this close to me and smelling like the most tempting of forbidden fruits was a dangerous combination. I reminded myself of her rule over and over again.
            “Tell me,” she said in a quiet voice that dissolved any reason why I should follow that stupid rule. I mean, we were supposed to be in love right? People in love always kissed. And this girl needed to be kissed. Desperately. And I was only too happy to oblige.
            Unable to help it any longer, I reached over and tucked her into the side of me. Immediately the volcano under my skin came to life, but it was easier somehow than the teasing brush of her arm or leg against mine.
“I just told them you were upset about the way I made you seem at dinner and you were reluctant to come because of what they might think of you.”
            “Oh,” she said sounding surprised. I let the moment drag on as long as I dared and then raised my arm to give her the choice of staying where she was or leaving. She quickly scooted back to her seat and I let the disappointment sober me.
            We were both pretending, not just me, and it wouldn’t do any good to forget that now. I needed to focus on playing the part without confusing any of the emotions that normally accompany such a relationship.
I heard her talking with Sam, but I was too distracted to really hear their conversation until Victoria asked where we were going. Needing a reason to get out of my thoughts, I volunteered the answer before Sam could reply.
"Aquarium of the Bay. It's like this huge underwater exhibit where you can watch animals swim around."
"And there's lots of sharks!" Sam piped up excitedly. I was about to remind him that he couldn’t swim with them when Victoria spoke up.
“What?” she squeaked out. Thoroughly intrigued at her tone I couldn’t resist the temptation to goad her.
"Not afraid of sharks, are you, Victoria?" I asked.
"They're my favorite animals,” Sam inserted cheerily. As if we were talking about flavors of soda instead of the powerful, deadly creatures that ruled the ocean.
"Too bad you can't go swimming with them today," I told Sam, remembering my earlier thought. I leaned over to playfully mess up his hair, something that drove him crazy, but that was a mistake. I caught the scent of Victoria again and was immediately pulled into her force field like a magnet.
"Why not?" Sam sulked and swatted my hand away. I barely registered his words or his actions. Victoria was still looking at Sam with a horrified expression or she would have caught me staring at her.
I heard soft voices from the front of the car and the spell was momentarily broken. I looked over to see my parents talking too quietly for us to hear.
I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, but then my father glanced at me in the rear view mirror. My curiosity was peaked, but I decided to let it drop for now and answer Sam’s question.
"For starters, I'm pretty sure you have to be at least eighteen. Sam's big dream in life is to go swimming with sharks," I told Victoria who had her mouth hanging open as she continued to stare at Sam.
"What? They're cool!" he protested under her incredulous look, which made me laugh out loud. As if I couldn’t stop myself from touching her, I reached over and lightly raised her jaw until her mouth was once again closed.
Drop your hand, I commanded my body. But it wouldn’t listen to me. Instead I found myself turning her head to face me. Her scared expression at the mention of sharks had me rushing to reassure her, like a good pretend boyfriend would.
"Don't worry, I won't let you fall in the shark tank.” It was meant to lighten the mood, but instead I found myself lost in her beauty. Not just her outward appearance, she was absolutely gorgeous after all, but her inside beauty as well.
She was witty, funny, kind, forgiving, and as much as she tried to hide it, she was hurting for some reason. I wanted to make her pain go away, I wanted to ease all her worries, but most of all I wanted to make her happy.
That last thought hit me hard. How could I make her happy? Having apparently reached our destination I felt the rumble of the car come to a stop. She was still looking up into my eyes, as confused and conflicted about our pretend relationship as I was.
The realization that I was making this harder on her than it needed to be was enough to make me drop my hand and hop out of the car as quickly as possible. Distance, space. That was what I needed right now.
I’d never been so grateful for Sam’s insistence that she hold his hand than I was in that moment. I needed to think outside of her bewitching presence, so when mom groaned that she had forgotten the sunscreen, I immediately volunteered to buy some while they went to get the tickets.
I shopped in a daze and grabbed the first bottle of sunscreen from the way too expensive gift shop outside the park entrance. I approached the counter and set the bottle down in a hurry, knocking over a little stand of chapstick.
Sighing, I started picking up the tubes and hopelessly stacking them on the counter again. I heard a small giggle and looked up to see a beautiful blonde girl, the cashier, watching me.
“In a hurry?” she asked with a wide smile on her face. I knew that kind of smile and told myself to smile back. I think it came out more of a grimace.
“Sort of. Sorry about the mess,” I said still trying, and failing, to stack the annoying things the way they were before. Another throaty laugh and a small hand shot out to stop me from doing any more damage. I froze at her touch.
“It’s fine, I’ll stack them later. I think you’re making it worse by trying to fix them,” she giggled again. This time I did smile, but it wasn’t the normal, inviting smile I usually pulled with a girl like her. It was tight and polite and instead of flirting back, I gently slipped my hand from under hers wondering if I was broken. This wasn’t like me. I loved to flirt and I was good at it.
She batted her eyelashes at me before picking up the sunscreen and turning to the register. I looked at her closer as she worked, trying to figure out why I didn’t seem to be in the mood to receive her flirtations or return any of my own.
She was pretty. But her short blonde hair was too short for my taste and her eyes a little too dull to hold me captive. She was tall and lean, but I wanted someone I could tuck under my arm.
            That was it, I decided. She was too tall for me, despite the obvious several inches I still had on her. She handed me the now bagged sunscreen and smiled hugely once more.
“Got fun plans today?” she asked, still trying to get a reaction from me. Dozens of comments streamed through my head, all leading to her giving me her phone number. And from the smile still plastered on her face, it would be all too easy.
            But the only smile I wanted to see was waiting with my family.
            “I do, yes. My girlfriend and I are walking around the Aquarium. She just loves watching the sharks,” I laughed at my own private joke.
            The girl smiled indulgently, effectively taking the hint and my dismissal. I grabbed the bag and rushed out of there, more confused than before.

                                                   *Copyright Jayne L. Bowden*

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Fate of a Prince

Just playing around and I wrote this short scene. Hope you enjoy it!

Prince Phillip always loved the sound of the trumpet that signaled his arrival to those in the courtyard of the castle. But today he barely heard them. He only had a few precious moments until he changed the fate of the entire kingdom, and more importantly, his own fate.
Letting his horse, Samson, guide the way toward the stables, Phillip closed his eyes and allowed the images of her to flood his already overloaded mind. She was the most beautiful creature he’d ever laid eyes on. In fact, he was quite certain he would never behold anyone or anything else that came even close to her beauty.
With hair the shade of gold and lips as red as the rose, she was absolutely striking. And he was certain he’d imagined the sound of her voice when he heard it earlier in the forest, because nothing could sound that angelic and be real. But when he found her dancing barefoot in the forest and singing that hauntingly beautiful song, he was immediately enraptured.
Clearly a peasant girl, Philip knew he should leave and forget about her. He was already engaged to the Princess Aurora and their wedding day was just around the corner. But the need to know this incredible young woman was overwhelming and he found himself stepping from the cover of the trees to join in her daydream of finding her true love. Except it wasn’t a daydream for him; he knew he was in love. Phillip had always been like that. He knew what he wanted and he went for it.
All thoughts of his betrothal and disappointing his father to the point of disownment disappeared when he took her hand and placed his other one on her waist.  She was so caught up in her own mind that it took her several moments to realize that he was truly there and not a figment of her imagination.
“Oh,” she murmured surprised. “Oh!” She stepped out of his arms but he immediately took her hand in his.
“I’m awfully sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he told her as she pulled her hand away once more. Philip knew he should take a hint, but the loss of contact was already too much for him and he once again snatched it in his own.
“It’s not that, it’s just that...that—”
“That I’m a stranger?” he supplied for her.
She nodded her head. “Mmmhmm.”
“But don’t you remember? We’ve met before.” She had started to pull her hand away again, but stopped at his words and looked up at him.
“We have?” Heavens, that voice. Looking deep into her eyes, confusion plain on her face, Philip knew he was lost forever.
“You said so yourself. Once upon a dream,” he replied coyly. She gave him half a smile before slipping her hand free and backing away. Philip couldn’t help himself though and he followed her through the woods, undeterred by her continued rejection.
Suddenly an idea came to him and he began to sing the same song she had been singing before he interrupted her fantasy.
“I know you, I’ve walked with you once upon a dream,” he sang. The girl had ducked behind a tree and was peering around the side, but Philip surprised her when he took her hand on the other side of the tree.
This time she didn’t pull away and Philip decided to push his luck when he once again put his arms around her and led her in a dance that only two people, truly in love, could share.
After a while Philip worried she would get dizzy so he stopped dancing and pulled her close to his side, leaning against a tree and looking out over the forest valley. He could have stayed in that blissful peace until the earth ended and everything around them turned to ash.
“What’s your name?” he asked her softly. Unable to resist, he pressed a light kiss to the top of her head and was pleased when she sighed deeply. Perhaps she was just as taken with him as he was with her.
“Hmm? My name?” she murmured absently. Philip chuckled and was about to inquire again when she spoke. “Oh, it’s…it’s…oh no, no, no. I can’t!” She pulled out of his arms so quickly that he had to catch his balance before he fell.
“I’m sorry, goodbye!” She called over her shoulder as she scurried through the trees. Desperate, Philip ran after her, heart pounding loudly in his ears.
“Wait, when will I see you again?”
“Oh never, never!”
“Never?” Philip chocked on the word. She must have recognized the plea in his voice because she paused in her flight and thought for a moment.
“Well, maybe someday.” She threw over her shoulder before she started her escape once more.
But Philip was not satisfied with that answer. He picked up his pace, but she was navigating the woods as if she were a part of them. He couldn’t help but picture a small girl chasing animals around the giant redwoods on a summer day.
“When?” he called out.
“Tonight! At the cottage. In the glen.” Her voice came floating through the trees as her form disappeared completely.
Philip would have continued after her had she not promised a time and location he could see her again. He almost followed her anyway but decided that tonight would be soon enough. He turned back in search of his horse, grinning like a fool the entire way.
“Philip! Oh, Philip!” His father’s voice brought him back to the present and he slowed his horse before turning around and heading back the way he’d come. Still feeling as though he were floating on air he jumped lightly to his feet and greeted his father.
“Hurry, boy! You must change into something presentable to meet your future wife!” Philip smiled at his father like only a man in love could.
“But I have met her!”
“What? When? Where?” his father sputtered in shock.
“Once upon a dream,” he sighed happily as he began to sing once more. Caught up in the moment he picked his father, who was quite a bit smaller than Philip, up and began dancing around. The King was so shocked, it took him a moment to form his next words.
“Princess Aurora! Quick, we must tell King Stephan!” The King was already rushing away when Philips next words froze him in place.
“I never said it was Princess Aurora.” His father spun around, face pale as death as he searched Philips eyes.
“You most certainly did, you said—”
“I said I had met the girl I was going to marry.”
“But…but…” he sputtered. “Who is she?” This was the moment Philip thought he would dread the most, but to his surprise he felt no shame at relaying his beloved’s upbringing. What did it really matter where she was born when he knew he was in love?  
“I don’t know, some peasant girl I suppose.” Now instead of a white color his father’s face turned an alarming shade of red.
“P-p-peasant girl? You must be joking!” The King searched his face for any signs that he was joking, but Philip simply shook his head. “Isn’t he?” his father asked his horse as if he would have the answers.
“But, but, you can’t do this! You have to marry a princess!”
“Come now, father, it’s the 16th century!”
“I order you to come to your senses!”
“And marry the woman I love.” Philip stated adamantly.
“Yes, and marry the woman you love.” Philip laughed and his father quickly recanted. “Wait, no!”
But it was too late. Philip had already wasted too much time and he was desperate to see her again. Mounting his horse again Philip said, “Goodbye Father.”
Philip heard his father call after him, but he was already racing away toward a new future. He understood why his father was so desperate for him to change his mind. Philip knew what he was giving up for this woman he’d barely met, and yet he’d never felt more right about a decision in all his life. And there was something else, a sort of freedom that came with knowing he was taking charge of his own destiny.
His entire life he’d been told what to do, where to go, how to dress and act. He’d even been told whom he was going to marry and where they would live as King and Queen. But with one dance all that changed. He would no longer be King, no longer rule a kingdom and marry a princess.
             The weight of that decision should be heavier than it felt, but it was lighter than air when he saw her face in his mind’s eye. She had changed everything. She had changed his fate.


*Copyright Jayne L. Bowden*

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Animas - Part 3

       Charlyt and I look at each other. “It’s either our virus or theirs,” we whisper together. The decision’s easy once we see it that way. Between releasing our virus to make our bodies incompatible with the Animas and the aliens killing off the rest of the humans who aren’t able to be manipulated and inhabited by their kind, then it’s obvious we’ll infect everyone with the Hepatitis B virus. We both know what our answer is. So do Sy-Nu and Mai-Li.
          
          “How are they going to release their virus?” Charlyt asks.
          
          “We can just switch the viruses, right?” I ask, following as best I can.

          “That’s the idea. The Animas are planning to—“

          “Wait,” Charlyt interrupts Sy-Nu. “What virus are they going to use?”

        I can see the anxiety in her eyes. She’s one of the best researchers at the Disease Control Office. She knows what viruses we should be worried about.

         “Our species has a natural immunity to the ebola virus. Since the bodies we occupy actually acquire our protection, they will be unharmed. Humans without an Animas inside them, well…”

          Charlyt covers her mouth. There’s horror, revulsion on her face. Whatever this ebola virus is, it must be monstrous. I wrap my arms around her tight. She’s shaking. “Don’t worry Char. They’re not going to release it. We’ll send out this Hepatitis B before they get the chance to kill any of us.”

        The Animas inside us are quiet. It’s almost like I can forget they’re here. Almost. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to feel like I have any privacy, even when they’re gone. “What’ll happen to you guys when we get Hepatitis B? Do you just fall out of our bodies? Do you die?”

          Mai-Li answers. “We don’t die. Our connection with your bodies will dissolve. We’ll leave the same way we came.”

         “How’s that?” I just found out the aliens occupied the Corda bodies. Who knows how they got inside in the first place?

          “Air is the essence of your life. Without it, you’ll die within a minute or two. It is everything to you. We are inhaled into your bodies, becoming your essence. So we’ll be exhaled and return to our previous bodies.”

        “What do those look like?” Charlyt pulls her face away from my shoulder, composed again.

         “You’ll see soon enough.” Sy-Nu is less empathetic than Mai-Li. At least his voice sounds more brusque than hers. “As I was saying before, the Animas are planning to infect the water supply. That would quickly spread the illness and those who don’t drink from the system will catch it from the carriers.”

          “Do you have enough of the virus for it to travel the same way?” I ask.

          Charlyt stares over my shoulder, working through some calculations I couldn’t ever hope to understand. She nods. “Yes, it’ll work.”

          “We thought so too,” says Mai-Li.

        “So, how exactly are we going to get past whatever security measures you aliens have taken to switch out the viruses that we’re all plotting to use on the population?” And why am I involved in this? I’m not smart. I don’t have access to any of these kinds of places. The only things I’m good for are my physical measurements and the way I use those to perform whatever menial obstacle courses the Office of Male Fitness for Race Preservation creates for me.

         Sy-Nu answers my supposedly private thoughts. Charlyt needs your support. And there might be some skulls to knock together before this is all over and done.

          I scowl. Charlyt raises her eyebrow.

          “I can’t wait to have real privacy,” I say.

*****

I walk Charlyt to work like I do every morning. We hug longer than normal. If something goes wrong, if even one person suspects her, she may never come out of that building again.

“I can do this,” she says as she rests her forehead on mine.

“I’ll be right here waiting for you.” I kiss her. I don’t want to let her go. For once, Sy-Nu knows to keep quiet. This is our moment, even if we’re not really alone.

Keep her safe, Mai-Li, I think.

I will, she answers.

I know she’ll do everything she can, whether she has to take control of Charlyt’s body and use it to get them out or not. Charlyt walks through the revolving doors and I pray to whatever higher power exists that I’ll see her in four hours.

This morning, I conserve my energy and strength, only pushing my workout to the point where my stats will be satisfactory. It’s hard to rein myself in. Right now, I want to beat the punching bag to death and jump rope until my body is stinging from the whip of the rope. My mind is at the Disease Control Office.

While I’m throwing weights around with my training group, I know Charlyt is searching for every vial of Hepatitis B she can find. Once she’s sure there aren’t any left in the building, she’ll let Mai-Li take her over. Assuring those around her that an Animas uses that body, Mai-Li will order a transportation unit for the virus. If it’s not stored at a specific temperature, it’ll die and our plan will fail. If the vials break, there won’t be anything to throw into the water supply.

Finally my exercise is finished. I shower and wait outside Charlyt’s work. I’m over forty five minutes early, but I don’t dare risk missing our window. Once the Department of Medical Transports files their routine report of who requested hazardous materials containers for the day, we only have three hours before the Animas track her down and kill her. Yes, they’ll kill her, even before they understand what the virus could mean for them. The simple fact that she took viruses out into the public is a death sentence. It doesn’t matter to them that Mai-Li will lose her body. According to Sy-Nu, the leaders may kill Mai-Li too for not being in control of her human. At the very least, they’ll banish her from the planet.
      
       I’m sweating in the sixty degree weather. That shower seems like a wasted effort at this point. My eyes never leave that revolving door. Not once in those forty five minutes. A few people leave with transport containers, but none of them are Charlyt. Another one comes through the door before I can see who’s carrying it. Then I see her. She looks like she’s aged twenty years. I must look just as worn. Stress like this could send anyone to an early death. I jump from the bench and hurry to her.
    
     Calm down and act natural. You’ll give us away if you two don’t stop looking so terrified. It must have taken a mountain of self-control for Sy-Nu to keep quiet all morning. But then again, he’s been silent all my life. What’s another day? He’s right though. I slow down my harried walk and Charlyt takes the hint. She stops and puts on a smile for me. As soon as I get to her, I hug her and then take her hand as if we are on our way to lunch like we are every day at this time.

          “How did it go?” I ask.

          Her hand is freezing in mine. “I found another store of the virus. We’re going to have more than we need, but I took it all anyway. I didn’t want anyone to find out what we’d taken and what it can do.” She speaks in barely a whisper.

          I direct us toward the taco stand on the outskirts of the city. We order just because we need to play our part. Hovering near the cart, we are caught in the middle of the lunch rush. Men pour out of the Water Supply and Treatment Plant building to our right. I swipe the scan card of an employee who practically asked me to take it from him by butting in front of us. Charlyt sees and pushes through the crowd toward the door. We get through as fast as we can. Who knows how many people saw us? It doesn’t matter much. Our time is ticking away.

        Twisting through the corridors, we avoid eye contact with anyone we encounter. Our key card gets us deeper in the building. We went over the floor plan for hours last night. I know we’re getting close to the testing site. It’s the only open access to the city’s water supply. And it’s the most heavily guarded.

          Two men turn into the hallway coming toward us. We look away, but they stare at us and stop right in our path, blocking the way.

          “I thought the final phase didn’t begin for another five days,” one of them says, looking at the container in Charlyt’s hand.

          “Word got out of our plans. We don’t want any incompatibles to escape while we sit back waiting for some arbitrary date. There’s no reason to wait. So the time is now.”

          I don’t think Charlyt said that. It didn’t sound like her. It must have been Mai-Li.

          “I wondered why we were waiting around once the decision had been made,” the other guy says.

          “Where are your security badges?”

         I start to hand over the one I’d swiped from outside, but my arm stops. “We’ve been instructed to have you take us the rest of the way,” I say, but not really. Sy-Nu has taken over. I’m still here, but I’m not in control of any part of my body. I feel my muscles tighten. He’s ready for a fight.

         “We weren’t given any instructions about this. Let me call—“

       My fist connects with his head and his eyes roll back as he topples to the ground. Then my hands grab the other guy’s face and twist. A crunch follows as he collapses in a heap on his friend. I killed him. No, Sy-Nu killed him. I didn’t have anything to do with it. I’m on my knees rummaging through their pockets. I’m just watching at this point, awed at the sensation of watching Sy-Nu control me. We find their security badges. Sy-Nu takes the transport container from Charlyt in one hand and grabs her hand in the other.

We sprint down the hall and scan our way into the access room. Charlyt pulls vials and starts dumping them in the running water visible in the transparent pipe. She’s not hesitating. It can’t be her. Mai-Li must be as present as Sy-Nu is in my body. They’re doing this. Are we doing the right thing? Did we just sign the death warrant of the human race?

No, you didn’t. You just granted them freedom from our kind.

I don’t know if I believe Sy-Nu.

The last of the vials are emptied. Feeling returns to my limbs. Sy-Nu has given me the reins again. Charlyt reaches for a sample cup. Dipping it in the water, she looks at me.

“Are you ready for some real privacy?”

I take the cup from her and she fills one for herself. “Will we be able to see you when you leave our bodies?” I ask the Animas who have been with us since we were three years old.

No, our essences aren’t visible to your eyes, Mai-Li says.

“So this is goodbye?” Charlyt sounds upset. How can she be? These things kept us from having children. Once they’re gone, they can’t interfere with our happiness ever again.

And neither can other Animas. You’ll have more freedom than you could have ever dreamed of. Sy-Nu sounds a little offended.

I didn’t mean it that way…I mean--

I understand. Your love for that girl is the only good thing about you. Never take it for granted.


I never will. I'd do anything for her. And I always will. Raising my cup, I watch Charlyt drink deep. I tip the tainted water into my own mouth and swallow.