The real and imaginative adventures of Dennis Spielman

Tag: Raven

Make America Magic Free

A Question for the Writers

The writing group Janet is a part of takes a turn for the weird when two strangers interrupt with peculiar questions and challenges Janet’s curiosity to walk through a mysterious golden door.

There was no time nor day that Janet Nguyen looked forward to the most then Sunday from 2 to 4 pm–even more than her sixteenth birthday tomorrow. She exclusively reserved the weekly two-hour block for the library’s teen girl writers’ meet-up. The eight girls were eclectic in numerous aspects, which Janet loved the diverse voices, genre fans, and writing styles. Fantasy and alternative realties sparked Janet’s passion the most. Even though everyone was different, they were all united by their passion for sharing stories.

Making the group jibe smoothly together was their leader (or coach as she preferred), Brigit. Janet would find herself enthralled whenever Brigit talked about home in Egypt and Egyptian history. While as fascinating as Brigit was, about once a month, she bought in a special guest. A few months ago, their coach brought in an international travel writer to talk about her profession. Then last month she was able to bring a famous YouTube science teacher to discuss proper science in fiction. Janet was able to learn and be inspired by every guest.

Today, they weren’t expecting a special guest, but two busted into the room with energetic enthusiasm. Everyone stared at the newcomers. The first was a man in a white suit with pink outline accents and a woman in a cotton red dress–the kind one would wear to work–holding a tablet. Both had raven-black hair, with man’s short and messy and the woman’s long and free-flowing.

“Hello, everybody!” the man greeted with a booming flair. He slapped both hands on the table, looked everyone in the eye, and asked, “What does it feel like to write?”

Something about their appearance and accent made Janet think they were Norwegian. They were quite peculiar, Janet thought. Who asks a room full of authors what it feels like to write? Janet looked to her coach for her reaction. Brigit had her arms crossed with her back leaning against the wall, making Janet suspect Brigit planned for these guests. 

Janet half expected Ashley to jump up with an answer. When she didn’t, Janet looked over at her. A dreamy adoring gaze covered Ashley’s face. With no one jumping in, Janet stood up, as custom when speaking in the group. “It’s beautiful.”

The women in the red dress typed on the tablet while the man focused on Janet. He grinned. “What’s beautiful about it?”

“The impact the stories have on people,” Janet explained, firm in her conviction. “Like, how you can change the world, or simply bring joy to one person.”

The man copied Brigit’s crossed arms and posture against the wall as he stood next to the coach. He turned to her. “You got a smart group here, Brigit.”

Brigit nodded. “Thank you, Loki.”

Loki turned to the woman in the red dress. “What do you say, Raven? Do you like her?”

“Janet Nguyen appears to be a suitable test candidate,” Raven commented, looking up from her tablet at Brigit and Loki. “I’ve already placed the attachment on your door, Brigit.”

Brigit stood forward. “Excellent.” She snapped her fingers. “Janet, would you go through that door?”

The group of girls turned around. A lavish golden door with a round top and encased in a matching metal frame stood tall in the back of the room. Attached to the side by the door handle was a red box the size of a brick. The door wasn’t there earlier, and none of the girls had ever seen their coach bring it before.

Janet turned to her coach. “Where did that door come from?”

“You’re a writer,” Brigit told her. “Use that curiosity of yours and open it.”

Janet took a deep breath and walked toward the door. The whole room had their eyes glued on her, which Janet could feel them watching her like a lab rat. She gripped the glistening golden lever, pushed it down, and carefully open the door. A bright golden light washed over her.

Bridget woke up in her bed with a hazy head. The morning sun broke through her purple silk curtains, slashing across her face and adding to her disorientation.

She grabbed her black, cat-eye plastic-framed glasses from her nightstand and put them on. Her vision got worse. She took them off and could clearly see her various figurines of fairies and dragons on the black bookcase across the room. She did a double-take and put the glasses back on. Again, she couldn’t see. Everything was in focus when she wasn’t wearing them.

“That’s weird,” Janet mumbled.

She tossed off the purple blankets covering her, revealing her black jeans, dolphin t-shirt, and red sneakers. She even had her bra on, which no matter how tired she was, she would’ve taken it off, along with her shoes. Then it dawned on her. It was the same outfit she was wearing yesterday at the writer’s club.

“That was a dream, right?” she questioned.

Before she could answer, her parents burst into the room with a breakfast tray with a plate of French toast, scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, and a chocolate cupcake decorated with a flaming candle. Janet smiled at the sight of her favorite foods.

“Happy Sixteenth Birthday!” her mom and dad shouted in unison.

Janet’s dad brought the tray to her. “Blow out out your candle.”

Janet blew out the candle, her breath releasing an icy wind that sprinkled snowflakes on her father’s arm. Janet slapped her hand over the mouth when she saw what she did. Her mother began to cry.

“She has magic powers,” her mother cried in Korean to her husband. “I thought she would turn 16 and not reveal any magic. Now they’re going to take my baby away.”

“Who’s going to take me away?” Janet demanded in English. “What’s going on?”

“You know what’s going to happen,” her father chastised as if she should know. “Magic is illegal. The government is going to detect your magic and arrest you.”

“What?” Janet snapped. “You can’t be serious?”

A massive bang of wood breaking erupted from downstairs. All three of them jumped from the sound of the intrusion. 

“Magic is active on the second floor!” a voice commanded from below. “Apprehend the caster!”

Boots pounded on the wooden steps. Her father sat the tray on the nightstand, ushering his wife to the side of the room, providing a clear path for the squad of army troops that stormed into the room. Janet stared, dumbfounded and anxious, at the four armed men and women as they raised their guns her. Janet’s parents embraced each other, turning their heads away from the scene. Janet’s jaw dropped in confusion as to why her parents would uncharacteristic be so willing to give her away. Why aren’t they doing anything?

The soldiers exchanged confirming glances before tasing Janet unconscious.

The harsh cold from the concrete floor woke Janet up this time. She found herself alone, behind bars, in an abandoned prison. From the lack of modern amenities, she bet the government decommissioned the place decades ago. The only light entering the cell was from the yellow, flickering fluorescent light in the hallway and the glow of the full moon behind her barred window. 

With a grasp of her surroundings, she inspected herself. She wasn’t bleeding, so that was good. Nothing felt broken either. She hadn’t been forced into a different outfit, but a stiff metal collar was now around her neck.

Janet desperately wanted to call out to confirm if she was alone or not, but she didn’t want to alert the wrong people. Part of her wanted to be alone to process how she had ice breath, why her parents betrayed her, and what was going to happen to her next. She got an answer to latter, though, when someone tapped on the window bars. She let out a tiny screech before she noticed the cute teenage boy. His green eyes twinkled with a sparkle of kindness. 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he apologized in a hushed voice. 

“Who are you?” Janet whispered back.

“I’m here to break you out.”


With his bare hands, he ripped off the window bars like a person opening a tight jar and gently tossed them on the pavement outside. “Like so. Now come on before the patrol checks in,” he said still keeping his voice quiet. 

“How did you do that?” Janet asked astounded.

“Vampire super strength. I’ll explain more later, but we need to get you to safety.”

Janet grabbed his outreached hand. He whisked her into her arms and flew into the sky. Down below, a pair of soldiers arrived examining the damage. The vampire put a hand around her neck, crushing the collar and letting it fall onto the Arizona desert.

“They won’t be able to track you now, and you’ll be able to use your magic again,” he explained. “But don’t the moment you do use any magic, they’ll be able to track it, so don’t cast anything unless absolutely necessary.”

“Okay, I won’t,” Janet assured. “I don’t even know how anyway.”

“If the council is right, it should come naturally for you since you’re the chosen one. The one whose sixteenth birthday falls on a full moon. The one destined to overthrow the fascist anti-magic government.”

“What the fuck?” Janet cussed, confused. She wasn’t one to swear, but the transgression felt justified. “I’m what?”

“It will all make sense when you meet with the Council of Casters.”

The name hit Janet like a crashing car of familiarity. She took a hard look at her savor.

“Is your name Zadicus?”

“Why, yes,” he replied, impressed. “How did you know?”

“Because I created you! I create this whole world where magic is normal but illegal. This all happens in a story I’m writing. But how is this possible?”

Zadicus shrugged. “Perhaps the council will have the answers you seek.”

“Brigit…” Janet uttered. “Zadicus, take me to the downtown library.”

“At this hour? They’re closed. I should get you to–”

“No, take me to the library,” Janet insisted. “I have the feeling someone will be there waiting for me.”

“As you wish.”

Zadicus changed course, flying toward the city, out of the desert. Along the journey, Janet noticed all the public art in her town was gone, and anti-magic propaganda replaced the billboard advertisements. “Protect Our Children: Root Out the Casters.” “See Magic? Say Something!” “Make America Magic Free.” Janet wanted to barf.

See Magic? Say Something!

As requested, Zadicus slowly landed Janet by the downtown library. As she suspected (and secretly prayed), the golden door stood outside by the main entrance of the modern design building. Loki, Raven, and Brigit played a game of cards from a patio table beside the door.

Brigit sat her cards on the table. “Looks like we all lost. She came back much sooner than excepted.”

“Perhaps another time, her path will take a detour,” Raven chimed in as Janet marched up to the table with her fits balled up.

“How the hell did you make my book come to life?” Janet demanded.

“Science you wouldn’t understand,” Loki responded with smug superiority.

“Whatever…Just get me home.”

“Go through the door and pretend nothing happened,” Brigit explained with a seductive calmness that made Janet relax her hands. “Emphasis on the latter.”

Janet huffed in relief and opened the door. Like before, a golden light swept over her as she stepped through. Janet found herself back in the library, walking through the door as if she had been plucked out of time and space to visit another world and returned precisely where and how she had left. She turned around, looking through the doorframe back at the writers’ club.

“Is something supposed to happen?” Ashely snidely remarked.

“And that’s the power of using distraction to create intrigue,” Bridget proclaimed. “While Loki and Raven had your attention, none of you noticed the librarian wheeling in my door. You all thought it was magic. Now, I want you all to remember this lesson for your own stories. You can set up plot elements without revealing them right when they happen. Distracting your characters will distract your readers too. That’s all for this week. I hope to see you girls again next week.”

As the girls gathered their belongings, Janet closed the door, making sure not to cross through the frame. Loki and Raven left the room with the group, making Janet the last one to go with Brigit holding the door open.

As Janet left, clinging tightly to her backpack, her coach whispered, “I hope you were especially inspired, Janet.”

Extending past 2,100 words, this is my longest short story so far this year. This story was inspired by two different writing prompts. The first was, “‘Hello, everyone! What does it feel like to write?’ Everyone in the room looked at the newcomer who had just burst in. They were quite peculiar, after all, who asks a room full of authors what it feels like to write? But you were willing to humor them, so you stood up to answer the question.”

Using the first prompt, I got to the point of the golden door, but over the week, I couldn’t decide happened to Janet on the other side until I got inspired by another prompt: “In a world where magic is real but illegal, you’re being hunted down for showing magical prowess on your birthday.”

With that second bit of inspiration, I had the other side be one of Janet’s stories. As long as this story turned out, there is room to make it longer. I make a joke at the end with everyone being surprised Janet got back so fast.

Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this week’s short story. 

The Oak Tree Box

After months of dreaming about a mysterious figure burying a box in front of a gnarled oak tree, Sydney stumbles upon the same oak tree during a jog. 

Ripped away from the loving embrace of the comforter, Sydney fought to hold onto the dream as she tried to get a clear look at the mysterious person who had been regularly haunting her. She thought this would be the grand reveal. The faceless stranger would develop a face. This time she would succeed! But when that cover came off, Sydney drifted out of the dream, dragged backward by a giant invisible hand from her answer.

For the past few months, her dreams would start randomly (or be inspired to replay something stressful or embarrassing like dreams tend to do), but inevitably, the plot would shift toward her witnessing a small box being buried under a gnarled oak tree by a hooded figure, wrapped in red. Whenever they noticed her, it was dream over. 

Sydney groaned, and she opened her eyes to her girlfriend, Chloe, standing beside her. Chloe sported a pair of bright, purple leggings (with the most enormous pockets she’s ever found on workout pants) and a tank-top with a creepy purple eye from some weird podcast she loved.

“Adventure!” Chloe declared as she tossed Sydney’s running pants in her face.

“I was so close,” Sydney mumbled with the pants on her face.

“To beating me in a race?”

Sydney tossed the pants on the floor as she sat up. “To getting a good look at the stranger burying that box.”

Chloe pitched a tank-top that read, “Adulting is Hard,” at Sydney, which she caught.

“That’s what you said last time.”

“And you woke me up early then too,” Sydney stated with a yawn. “Perhaps I should solve the mystery of how you can function this early without any coffee.”

“I’m freak like that,” Chloe winked. “Now, come on, adventure!”

Sydney did enjoy her morning jogs (and cycling on the weekends) with Chloe. They had been running together before they started dating. It was during one of their jogs when Sydney confessed her feelings for Chloe. She peered over at Chloe, who was wandering around in her imagination. She smiled, thinking of how happy she was with her.

Chloe tended to take random routes while jogging, cycling, car drives–it didn’t matter–she would get lost on purpose. “Adventure!” she would often proclaim as her excuse and defense. Today was no exception when she took an unannounced sharp right through a prairie grass field.

Sydney followed, making a mental note to check for ticks when they returned home as Chloe plowed forward. Shortly through the field, the ground dipped down to reveal a creek.

“A creek,” Chloe cheered. “This is so picturesque. Syd, you want to follow it up?”

Sydney shrugged. “Sure.”

Had Sydney known the path would lead them up a steep hill, she would’ve said no. Had Sydney known that the top of the secluded hill had an abandoned cemetery, she would’ve said hell no.

“Let’s see who can find the oldest tombstone,” Chloe challenged and raced to the nearest one.

There weren’t that many tombstones to inspect. Sydney’s best guest was 20. None of the grave markers stood out, but the gnarled oak tree off in the corner made Sydney freeze. Chloe shouted some date as she moved to inspect another, but Sydney drowned it out as she focused on the tree from her dream.

“No fucking way,” Sydney mumbled.

Chloe popped her head up. “What? What did you say?”

Sydney pointed. “It’s the same tree from my dreams.”

As Chloe turned to look, a person wrapped in a red cloak stood from the tree, coming into their view.

“No fucking way,” Sydney mumbled, again, louder this time for Chloe to hear. The stranger noticed them and ran off. Sydney bolted after them, shouting. “Hey! Stop! Who are you?”

Sydney chased them into a patch of prairie grass. A windowless, metal red door stood in the middle. The stranger was fast, faster than Chloe even. The stranger opened the red door and went through. When the door closed, it blinked out of existence.

Sydney stopped where the door once stood, with Chloe caught up. 

“You saw that, right?” Sydney asked.

“Yeah, I saw that. That was the person from your dreams, right?”

“I think so.”

“Do you think they left that box behind too?”

Sydney paused. “You know what, we should go check.”

At the base of the gnarled oak tree was a patch of freshly moved soil. Sydney dropped to knees, declaring, “Fuck it,” as she started to dig with her bare hands. Without hesitation, Chloe kneed down and joined in.

After digging a foot deep, they unearthed a rustic wooden red box the size of a person’s head. Sydney lifted the lid off. Inside were a pair of red fabric facemasks and an index card. Sydney grabbed the note while Chloe took out a facemask.

“This handwriting looks like mine,” Sydney commented.

“What does it say?”

“You’ll both need these in three years for 2020.”

The red metal door opened. The stranger ran through, closed the door behind themselves, and took off their hood. It was an older version of Sydney by about five years. Together, under the night sky in an empty field, was a tall, slender man in a pink suit she knew as Loki and a woman named Raven with a similar slim build, but a little shorter and in a red dress. Behind those two was a door the same color as Loki’s suit.

“It’s done,” Sydney stated before she rapidly deteriorated into ash.

Raven tossed Loki a gold coin, which he ceremoniously caught. She tapped notes into her tablet.

“You won that round,” Raven graciously conceded. “She was willing to alter time, knowing it would cause her death, just to create a future with Chloe.”

“Don’t worry,” Loki teased as made the coin disappear from a sleight of hand trick. “You’ll get more opportunities, especially since those two live longer now.”

Inspired by the writing prompt, “Every night, you have the same dream. A small box being buried under a knarled oak tree, by someone you don’t recognize. The dream always ends when they notice you there. You don’t think too much of it, until one day, you spot the tree from your dreams, in the centre of a local graveyard.”

For this story, I decided to feature Sydney and Chloe from The Spiral Staircase in the Woods, to see them together as a couple. I struggled to decide what to put in the box. One of my first ideas was one of those personality cards from the Little Shop of Personalities, but then the whole face masks and 2020 warning came into my mind and I couldn’t think of anything else. I re-read their first story to make sure I didn’t anchor it at any time and then I ran with the idea. Originally I was trying not to feature Loki and Raven (and perhaps a new end-timer), but I liked that nice callback twist at the end I came up.

Thank you for reading!

Little Shop of Personalities

During her morning jog, Janelle comes across a mysterious new boutique selling personalities. 

Janelle halted her morning jog when she came across an intriguing new boutique as yesterday, the retail space was empty. Through the glass windows, Janelle would’ve for sure seen people installing the drawers that covered the walls from the floor to ceiling. The shop was part of her apartment complex in Film Row, and she couldn’t recall reading about it in the Oklahoma Gazette or her neighbors talking about it. As Janelle thought back, she could’ve sworn when she passed by during the start of her daily run there was a “For Lease” notice on the door instead of a cheerful “Open” sign.

With time to spare and her curiosity piqued, Janelle went inside. All three walls were covered in drawers of varying shapes and sizes but had a matching white, rustic farmhouse esthetic. The beach lavender aroma put her in a relaxed state of mind. Janelle walked over and inspected a label on a drawer. It read, “Brave.”

“Good morning!” a cheerful female voice called out, catching Janelle off guard. 

Standing in the center of the room was a young woman in a red satin dress holding a transparent tablet device. Next to her was a taller, slim man in a pink suit with bold, black outlines. Both had black hair and lanyards holding placards with their names, Raven and Loki, respectively.

“Welcome to Little Shop of Personalities,” Loki greeted with what Janelle thought was more energy than any average retail worker would have this early in the morning.

“Shop of Personalities?” Janelle repeated, confused.

“Yes. We sell a wide assortment of personalities that you can give yourself to change your life,” Raven explained. “If you want to be more likable, we can help.”

Janelle kept her skeptic tongue to herself. She figured this whole ordeal was some pop-up artistic expression or experience. She scanned the drawers and noticed they were all labeled with various personality traits, including negative ones.

“Why would anyone want something like an ‘obsessive’ or ‘creep’ personality?” Janelle inquired.

“You can give them to others,” Loki revealed.

“Including your enemies,” Raven added with a wink and a wave of her finger.

“Weaponize them to get rid of unpleasant coworkers,” Loki commented, and Raven nodded in agreement.

“Buy as many as you like.” Raven smiled. “But no returns.”

Janelle turned her attention to the drawer that caught her initial focus, the one labeled, “Brave.” She opened it up and pulled out a white index-sized card with the word written in a bold font fitting of the name. Even if the card didn’t magically give the trait, she thought it would make for a cute decoration for her desk.

Janelle showed the shopkeepers the card. “How much for this one?”

“Since you’re our first customer,” Loki started.

“Your first personality is free,” Raven finished.

Janelle closed the drawer. “So, how does this work?”

“Simply put the card on the forehead of the person you wish to give the personality trait,” Loki explained.

“I’ll take this one and try it out,” Janelle said, still skeptical. “Thank you.”

To keep the card from getting bent, Janelle held it until she returned to her apartment. Once inside, she tossed her keys on the kitchen counter. She looked at herself in her hallway mirror and put the card up to her forehead. The card faded like her body had fused with it. Instead causing her to freak out, the new personality had filled her with excitement.

Janelle went about her morning routine with vigor as she arrived, first as usual, to the law firm. She took one look at her desk, marched to the break room for a box, and pushed all of her belongings inside. Her boss, whose name was on the sign outside, found Janelle packing up.

“Everything okay?” Janelle’s boss asked her with concern.

“Never better. I’m going to start the yoga studio that I’ve always been too afraid to do.”

“Good for you, Janelle! If you ever do a beginner’s class, I’ll sign up.”

“Thank you. That means so much. Everyone here has been so great to me, but I must move forward.”

Janelle left the law firm with her box, her mind racing with a business plan. In the cleanup process, she decided to open her yoga studio in her apartment complex. There were several vacant spots. She knew one of them would be perfect.

As she walked back to her place, a dog ran across the street, chasing a squirrel. Janelle could see the bus hitting the dog. Without hesitation, she dropped her box and pushed the dog to safety and the bus hit her.

A few hours later, Janelle woke up in a hospital bed. Every part of her felt numb. She rolled her head and saw Raven and Loki standing over her.

While Raven wrote notes in her tablet, Loki held out a bouquet of spring flowers. “All sales are final.”

This short story was first published on the Oklahoma Gazette for their Writers of the Quarantine series. The Loki and Raven story was inspired by the following writing prompt: “A new shop shows up in town. Upon entering the walls are made entirely of drawers, each with a different personality trait written on them. The shopkeeper smiles – ‘Buy as many as you like, but no returns.'”

If you enjoy my story, please share it! I would love to have more readers. If you want to help me more, join me on Patreon and you’ll get beta access to my novella, Intertwined by Cracks. The urban sci-fi story follows Amber Way who can make doors lead to other doors as she deals with cracks leaking monsters from other planets in a plan from a stranded time traveler to harness her powers. 

One Hour Future Photo

A couple buys an antique camera from another planet that they realize takes photos one hour into the future.

Ixan examined the foreign “L” shaped purple device. The bottom had a slot to insert something, what that was, Ixan had no clue, other than it had to be thin. On the front was a circle that seemed like an old-fashioned lens, and the top had a tiny red button on the right corner. There was a worn black leather strap attached to it. From the looks it, the gadget was small and light enough to hold, but it had an antique quality to it, and Ixan didn’t want to invoke the wrath of the kind shopkeeper. 

“Hey, Adriyel,” Ixan called out in a hushed tone to his girlfriend. “Come, look at this thing.”

Adriyel walked over with her arms folded. “What did you find now?”

“I don’t know. I thought you might know.”

“I don’t know either,” Adriyel said as the snakes in her hair moved with unease. “This shop is giving me the creeps. Let’s get out of here.”

“I see you found an Insta Photo Camera,” the shopkeeper said with glee as she strolled over to the couple. She was a young human woman with black hair in a bun and wore a red dress more fitting for date night than an antique shop clerk. She had introduced herself to the couple earlier as Raven.

“Never seen a camera like that,” Ixan confessed to Raven.

“That’s because I acquired it from Earth.”


“I wonder what the pictures look like,” Adriyel said, her interest peaked. 

Raven pulled out a small, white piece of paper from behind the rustic wooden counter. “Would you like to test it?”

“Yes!” Ixan exclaimed.

Raven handed him the paper. “Simply put this in the slot in the button, point the camera, and press the red button on top.”

Ixan followed the instructions, taking a selfie. The camera buzzed and whirled for a few seconds before it printed out a photo. The picture developed before them showing Ixan at a different location with a red smudge on his purple cheek.

“That was unexpected,” Adriyel commented, confused.

Ixan’s feelings were the opposite. “This is so rad. It’s like the camera remixes the image. How much?”

“It’s 5,000 shinnies and comes with a pack of 13 photos.”

“Sounds like you’re trying to get rid of it,” Adriyel accused. “Especially something that’s supposedly from Earth.”

“Once you use all 13 photos, that’s it,” Raven explained.

“I’ll take it,” Ixan said. “This will be fun to use throughout our date today.”

Adriyel agreed, and so Ixan paid for the camera. The two carried about their romantic outing in downtown Helvetica, wandering through a few other boutiques before they stopped for a snack at Pi’s Pie Time.

The smell of freshly baked goods greeted them along with warm welcomes from a ragtag trio of workers behind the glass cabinets. The largest of the three was a chrisom minotaur, who, despite having the build of a wrestler, had the smoothness of a ballerina. He carefully placed tiny adorable pies inside a display case from a massive tray he held with one hand. A dark-skinned human woman near in size with the minotaur approached them from behind the counter.

“What can we make for you today?” the woman asked as an animated tattoo of a white bear performed tricks on a unicycle around her sleeveless arms.

“A small cherry pie for me,” Adriyel politely requested.

“Same for me,” Ixan added.

They paid for their order and took a seat on a soft, flora pattern couch. The cozy, intimate coffee shop bakery had about a dozen tables, and several sofas scattered about as mellow rock tune filled the air.

A moment later, the women who took their order bought out their cherry pies. As she walked over to them, she didn’t notice the bag someone had left behind a chair and tripped over it. She managed to keep a grip on one pie, but Ixan’s face caught the other. Adriyel laughed.

“I am so sorry,” the woman profusely apologized.

“It’s okay,” Ixan admitted. “It’s just pie.”

“I’ll get you another one.”

The woman left, and Adriyel stopped laughing. Disbelief covered her face as she stared at her boyfriend.

“What’s wrong? Is there something in my teeth?” Ixan joked.

“Pull out that selfie you took with that Insta camera.”

Ixan pulled out the photo from his hoodie and handed it to her.

Adriyel held the photo up side by side to his face. “This is a perfect match. It’s like the camera took a photo of you an hour into the future.”

“Let’s test it out.” Ixan filled the camera and took a picture of Adriyel. In the photograph, Adriyel was smiling, covered in bubbles. “I don’t see you getting covered in bubbles in the next hour.”

“Me neither.”

The woman returned with another pie and a gift. “If you’re interested, I got a pair of tickets to a concert tonight. A promoter dropped off a few earlier today for us to giveaway.”

Adriyel enthusiastically took the tickets. “I love Valiance Refuges! I’ve always wanted to see them live. Thank you!”

The woman smiled. “You’re welcome. Enjoy the show, and so sorry about the pie.”

With the show starting soon, the couple finished their meal and leisurely made their way to the concert venue. The lights dimmed in the historic building as the stage curtains opened to a mellow guitar solo, followed by a thunderous drum beat and cannons spraying foam bubbles, covering the audience.

The crowd cheered while Adriyel and Ixan looked at each other, unsettled.

“That’s two for two,” Adriyel stated with worry.

“Let’s take a photo of us together,” Ixan said, still skeptical.

They huddled together for a selfie. In the printed photo was only Adriyel. She was crying. Thinking he frame themselves wrong, he took two more shots, each solo. Adriyel’s photo had her still crying while Ixan’s was blank.

“Okay, this thing is just messing with us,” Ixan grumbled. “Let’s just enjoy the show and go home afterward.”

It took a few songs and some alcoholic drinks, but their mood improved. In the end, they rated the show as one of their favorite concert experiences. They left the venue in cheerful spirits, discussing their favorite moments.

“Next time that band’s in town, we should see them,” Ixan said to Adriyel.

“I’ll keep tabs on their schedule. Hold on. What’s that noise?”

Adriyel looked up while Ixan shrugged. A dragon twice their size was falling from the sky with damaged wings. It was headed straight at them. 

“Watch out!” Adriyel screamed as she ran to the side.

Confused, and a little intoxicated, Ixan sluggishly looked around for the danger, only to see the dragon too late. The dragon crashed into him. Adriyel cried out. Strangers nearby rushed over to help. 

The next day, Adriyel returned to the antique curiosities shop with the camera strapped around her. The retail space was empty, with only a “For Lease” sign on the door.

This story was inspired by a simple writing prompt about an old camera that photos one hour into the future. Since the last few of my stories have taken place on Earth, I decided to give this concept a sci-fi setting and place it on The Black Planet. I also worked in a pie shop that I have featured in one of my books I’m writing currently.

If you want to help support me, join me on Patreon and one of the rewards is early access to my short stories. I’ll also post locked/exclusive stories that I’ve submitted to publications, like this one here, about a shop that sells personalities.

Thank you for reading!

Hashtag Cult Problems

A cult’s ritual goes wrong when their sacrifice doesn’t die. 

When the sack came off Gia’s head, she found herself strapped upright on a spinning wheel in a dimly lit circus tent. Her curiosity had gotten the best of her. After seeing the performers’ mind-blowing act, she had to know how they did it for her shows. While she was sneaking around after the show, someone snuck up behind her with a sack over her head. Now, she hung before cult-like gathering.

Using her crowd scanning skill, Gia counted 30 people in bright clown nose red robes with white plastic masks of a cartoonishly broad smile. The outfit vaguely reminded Gia of a production she put on with some friends, but what that was was a hazy memory.

“We are gathered together here under the first full moon of the new decade for our sacrifice,” the cult leader announced. Gai recognized the voice belonged to the ringleader. 

The crowd cheered. The only thing Gia could spot on the cult leader that made him stand out from the others was the golden inverted pyramid necklace.

“Sacrifice, huh?” Gia said with excited curiosity. “If I may make a suggestion, the lighting is awful. How are people going to see me die? Do you have anything else other than the torchlights like some portable LED stage lights? Surely you got some of those.”

“We can see well enough,” the cult leader grumbled.

“If you say so,” Gia snarked. “By the way, what’s your cult or organization or whatever’s name? Or is this some tradition with your circus.”

“We are the Cult of Mischief,” the leader proclaimed. 

Gia remembered the show she was trying to pin down earlier. She giggled like she was part of an inside joke.

The leader picked up the jewel-encrusted ceremonial dagger from a pedestal and pointed it at Gia. “What’s so funny?”

“Oh, you’ll find out. Carry on.”

The leader faced the crowd. “Let the ceremony commence!”

With the crowd cheering, the leader stabbed Gia in the chest. Silence fell. 

“Oh, what cruel world,” Gia cried out. “There was so much I wanted to do. There’s so much in this world I wanted to see. But now, my time has come. Farewell.”

Gia’s body went limp. The cultists chanted in unison, “Our sacrifice is yours. Take this soul and bless us.”

Per cult order, the youngest member pulled out the knife from the sacrifice.

Gia raised her head, unharmed, and smiled. The cult gasped. “Okay, I thought that was a rather stirring death performance.”

“How are you not dead?” the young cultist asked with a quiver in her voice. 

“You picked the wrong kind of person for a sacrifice. Hashtag cult problems, am I right?”

“We cannot stand for this,” the leader said. “Our god will not be pleased with us.”

“You mean, Loki?” Gia said. “I’m sure he’s getting a good chuckle right now.”

The leader got in Gia’s face. “How do you know of our god?”

“Oh, we go way back,” Gia explained and then thought about the chronological order of time. “Or forward technically. He casted me as the first leader of the Cult of Mischief centuries ago to fool some traveling act for him to study their reactions. I’m surprised the cult is still around, to be honest, but knowing him and his partner, I bet they’re watching, studying.”

There was a hushed discussion amongst the members when two people revealed themselves from a stack of cargo containers. One was a slender man in a pink suit with bold, black outlines and a young woman in a red satin dress holding a transparent tablet device. Both had black hair and flowed in sync with each other.

“It’s them!” one of the members shouted. “From the painting of the first ritual.”

All the cult members dropped to their knees.

“Loki, Raven, how are you two doing?” Gia cheerfully greeted.

“I must admit, I find it humorous they tried to sacrifice you,” Loki dryly said while adjusting his cufflinks as they approached Gia.

Raven worked on freeing Gia. “It’s been fascinating studying the cult’s evolution throughout the centuries.”

“But I am growing bored of it,” Loki confessed.

“Shall we end?” Raven asked him.

“Yes, let’s go out on top.” Loki turned to address the cultists, who were still bowing down. “Since you tried to kill my friend, I will now forsake you and no longer give you my blessings – ever. Begone!”

The cultists scattered away as Raven undid the last strap around Gia.

“Thanks,” Gia said. “What’s next for two?”

Loki and Raven exchanged glances and spoke in unison. “More mischief.”

This week’s short story was inspired by the following writing prompt: “You have been kidnapped by a cult preparing to sacrifice you to their god. Problems? You’re immortal, the god they worship is a close friend of yours and the entire cult was the result of a prank you forgot you pulled centuries ago.”

I got inspired by this prompt to write a story with my end-timer characters. Thank you for reading!

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