The real and imaginative adventures of Dennis Spielman

Tag: short-story Page 1 of 14

A drawing of a young adult woman waking up in a fancy train high that's in outer space as two people on a TV screen explain that she is on a game show.

Resurrection on the Oriental Express

People from various worlds wake up on a train where they have to solve who is reviving people from the dead in this reverse murder mystery game show.


Elle snuggled tight on her comforter while forcing her eyes to stay close so she could continue to soak in her luxurious sleepy state. Her bed felt unnaturally comfortable like she was staying at a premium resort. Then a voice in her head asked, “Is this even your bed?”

Elle opened her eyes.

The bed was not hers. For starters, Elle’s room did not resemble a royal suite on a train. Waking up in unknown places was not something that happened to her unless one counted all the times she fell asleep in the car during a road trip. However, this was not a road trip, and she wasn’t on vacation either. She vividly recalled going to bed at her apartment, dressed in different clothes. Nothing was out of the ordinary about that night.

Elle spun around and looked at the window behind her. The vastness of endless galaxies shimmered outside. Her heart began to race as she looked up and down through the window.

“I’m in space, but there’s gravity,” she whispered. “This doesn’t make sense.”

As she settled back into the bed, the flatscreen TV across the wall turned on with two siblings standing next to each other in a bright white room.

“Good morning, Elle,” the man in the pinkish suit said with a sly smile and the high energy of a game show host.

“We hope you slept well,” the woman in the red dress said like a scientist conducting a study as she made a note on her tablet device. “I’m Raven, and this is Loki.”

“Where am I?” Elle asked, unsure if they could hear her.

“You’re on the Oriental Express,” Raven said. “That we put in space with some modifications.”

Loki spun in a circle. “And we have you here for a game. It’s like a murder mystery, but in reverse, as everyone tries to solve who is bringing people back from the dead.”

All Elle could blurt out in response was, “What?”

“The door to your suite will unlock in 10 minutes, giving you time to use the bathroom and enjoy the breakfast we’ve prepared.” Raven pointed below where a feta cheese and egg white spinach wrap raised from a compartment on the dresser. “Figure out who among you is raising the dead, and you get to go back home.”

“However.” Loki waved his finger. “If they revive all seven people first, you will be stuck here forever.”

The image of the siblings transitioned away to a logo of a magnifying glass over a dead body. Elle sat there for a moment, processing everything. She was positive this was not a dream. With no other options, Elle followed their suggestion to eat and freshen up. She didn’t find another set of clothes, but she woke up in attire she would’ve worn to a bunch with friends.

When 10 minutes passed, the doors on each side of the train car automatically opened. Elle looked in the mirror and said to herself, “You are going to embrace the weirdness.”

Elle picked the exit closest to her. A row of yellow fluorescent lights flickered on above as she stepped into a room that felt like one where police would watch an interrogation. File cabinets that seemed to be over a hundred years old lined the dark green concrete walls. Elle scratched her nose at the faint smell of cigarettes. 

“Is someone there?”

Elle turned her attention to the room on the other side of the one-way mirror, where a tall man in a black suit with purple pinstripes paced around the room. His skin color was burgundy, while his hair consisted of a blue flame, making Elle think of Hades from the Disney movie Hercules. With a grumble, the strange man adjusted his red tie as he sat down on the steal chair.

The man spoke to the camera like somebody making comments on a reality show. “Which one of you is behind this?”

The man paused, waiting for a response. None came. Elle didn’t dare respond herself. The stranger leaned forward, keeping eye contact with the camera. “What would my wife suggest I do? She would play along.”

The man cleared his throat and sat up straight. He put on a smile. “My name is Hades, a.k.a the God of the Underworlds, and I’m excited to be here to play this game.”

A green light above the door in his room turned on. “Huh. That worked.”

Hades left the room, entering the one with Elle. She took a step back as he looked down at her. 

“Hello, there,” Hades said as he studied Elle like a bargain bin book. “I presume you’re stuck here too, mortal. Do you know what’s going on?”

Elle thought for a moment about how to explain. “Well…I woke up in this train car where these two people on the TV said I was on a game show. There is someone on this train bringing people back to life, and we have to solve the mystery of who’s doing it if we want to get back home. We’ll be stuck here if they resurrect all seven dead people.”

“Interesting,” Hades said as he crossed his arms. “I didn’t get that introduction. What did these two look like?”

“One wore this pinkish suit, and the girl had this red dress.”

Hades groaned. “Loki and Raven.”

The way Hades spoke their names made Elle think that that’s how Commissioner Gordon felt when hearing the news that yet another villain was running amok in Gotham. Elle was even more intrigued about these two individuals. “Yeah, that’s who they said they were. Who are they?”

“They are a pain. That’s who they are.”

“Is this Loki like the Norse god?”

“No. Far from it. They are end-timers, eternal beings that can travel throughout time. Only the universe itself is above them.”

Elle’s jaw hung in confusion. “But you’re like a god, right?”

“Yes, but they can go back into time and erase me from existence.”

“Woah.”

“That’s one word for it, kid.” Hades started walking to the next train car. “Come on, let’s solve this mystery.”

“You seem…different from what I’ve read,” Elle said as she followed.

“People wrote those accounts of us over 2,000 years ago, so they’re missing a ton of character development and not to mention all the inaccuracies.”

“Oh. That’s a good point.” Elle held out her hand for a shake. “I’m Elle, by the way.”

Hades shook her hand like a professional. “Hades, which I assume you knew from watching me.”

Elle rubbed the side of her arm as her eyes drifted to her white sneakers. “Yeah.”

The show’s hosts decorated the following room in a vintage royalty style similar to Elle’s car, but as a dining room with several square tables with a chair on each side. Elle rushed to the dead body of a human male lying in the middle of the floor while Hades looked out the window into the space.

“That explains why I’m so weak,” Hades said as he stared outside. He turned to Elle and asked, “Is he one of the dead?”

Elle checked for a pulse on the neck. “Yeah, he’s dead. Wait a second. How do I know you’re not the one who can resurrect people?”

Hades waved his hand and rolled his eyes. “Please. I manage the dead. I don’t bring them back to life. Also, deities receive some powers from those that believe in them, and no one is around.”

“Oh,” Elle said as she stood up. “I guess we should try to find the others.”

“Agreed. Let’s check out the next room.”

***

Ildikó awoke to a golden retriever licking her face. While some people would’ve found being licked by a dog in the morning funny or cute, Ildikó was terrified. Nilnorians did not have dogs on their planet. She shoved the animal and stood up against the wall. The room was like a forest, covered in grass and plants, but with windows to outer space. 

“What are you?” Ildikó asked as she searched her tactical vest for a knife, only to find none equipped. “Where are my weapons?”

The dog wagged his tail and ran off. Ildikó recalled a tree branch hitting her across her head. She thought she had died, but her attacker must’ve rendered her unconscious instead and brought her here. She was thankful she wasn’t chained but confused about why not. As she surveyed her foreign surroundings, a TV mounted to a tree switched to a broadcast of Loki and Raven.

“Hello, Ildikó,” Raven greeted warmly. “Are you ready to join the game?”

“Who are you?” Ildikó demand. Loki and Raven looked similar to her, but they had beige skin and black hair, while Ildikó’s was purple, prompting her to ask, “What are you?”

“None of that matters,” Loki said, waving her off. “What matters is that six people on this train are dead, and someone among you is bringing them back to life. To get home, you must solve the mystery of who’s resurrecting everyone.”

Ildikó clenched her fists. “You dare challenge me.”

Loki and Raven cracked half a smile together before the screen transitioned to the logo of a magnifying glass over a dead body.

“Hello, there!”

Ildikó faced the friendly voice, ready to fight.

“You must be another player,” said the dry, scaly blue skin person in a white robe. “I’m Tate and this Gnarl.”

The red furry beast on two legs with a body of a bull wearing jeans, a black t-shirt with an illustration of a cinnamon roll, and an apron bowed. “Greetings.”

Ildikó relaxed. “My name is Ildikó. I have never seen any people like you on my planet. How are we able to understand each other?”

Tate shrugged. “We figured it has to be something to do with this place.”

Gnarl took a step forward. “We are trying to account for everyone on this train, both alive and dead. We found two of the seven dead.”

“Seven dead?” Ildikó repeated. “I was told there were six.”

Tate and Gnarl exchanged glances.

“The person must already be reviving people,” Tate said.

Gnarl nodded. “We should make haste.”

***

Elle’s eyes lit up like a child visiting a theme park as she and Hades entered a room filled with colorful plastic balls in a pool. Elle immediately jumped in upon the sight of the ball pit. When she emerged, the balls were up to her chest. With caution, Hades stepped in. He picked up a ball for inspection as Elle swam around. 

“There might be a dead body here,” Hades said as he tossed the ball back down.

Elle stopped. Her heart sank. “Right. That’s a good point.”

From the opposite end of the pool, the golden retriever barked.

“There’s a dog!” Elle shouted with joy.

Elle wadded through the balls, carefully feeling each step for fear of stepping on someone. Hades followed with the same reserve. The dog waved his tail as they approached the other side to greet him.

“Hey, there,” Elle said in a playful voice devoted to speaking to dogs. “What’s your name?”

The dog barked.

Hades groaned. “He said his name is Zeus. But don’t get him confused with my brother. This dog is not my brother.”

Elle began to pet Zeus as Gnarl, Ildikó, and Tate entered.

“Greetings,” Gnarl bowed. “I am Gnarl and this is Tate and Ildikó.”

“Hi, I’m Elle, and that’s Hades, and this good boy is Zeus.”

Ildikó scoffed. “Didn’t realize that yellow beast had a name.”

“We have quite the ensemble here,” Hades said, summarizing. “Were you all informed that we must find out who is bringing the seven dead people back to life?”

“We’re at six now, according to the latest broadcast Ildikó saw,” Tate kindly corrected. “Gnarl and I did find two dead individuals on our end.”

“We’ve only found one dead body so far in the previous room,” Elle added. “Though, there might be some in this ball pit. Did you all reach the end on your side?”

“Yes, I came from the end,” Gnarl said. “How about you?”

“The room I woke up in had two exits,” Elle said. “Perhaps we should head that way? Maybe this person is on the opposite end.”

Tate kneed down by the ball pit. “Is this substance you’re swimming in safe?”

Elle held up a ball in her hand. “It’s just plastic balls. They’re safe.”

Gnarl, Ildikó, and Tate slowly lowered themselves like people easing into a cold pool. Once inside, they began to shuffle through to the other side. 

Elle looked back and saw the dog sitting by the edge, waiting. “Hold up! We should take Zeus with us.”

“Very well,” Hades said as he doubled back. He scooped up the golden retriever. The dog licked his face. “My dogs will be so jealous when I get home.”

About halfway through the pool, Gnarl fell into the balls. Everyone paused. Gnarl emerged a moment later. “Found another body. Looks to be the same species as you, Tate.”

Tate dived under to see for himself.

“No one I know,” he said when he resurfaced. “Let’s move along.”

Everyone continued, being a bit more cautious with their steps, but they didn’t trip on any more bodies. Hades sat Zeus down, and the dog bolted into the next room, wagging his tail. Everyone climbed out, helping each other out as needed. A crackle followed by a hum filled the room.

“Five people are remaining,” Raven announced over the intercom system.

There was another crackle and then silence.

Ildikó stormed into the next room. “We need to hurry.”

Everyone followed after her. The dining room was as Hades and Elle last saw, but with the dead person now alive, petting the dog.

“That person was dead when we were here,” Hades explained to the rest of the group.

“Then our healer must be near,” Ildikó as she ran to the next room.

Everyone rushed to the next room while Elle joined Zeus in greeting the previously dead guy.

Elle sat on the ground next to the guy, pleased to see another fellow human. “Hey, I’m Elle.”

“I’m Nathan. So I’m on a game show, huh? Weird cast of characters.”

Elle laughed. “Yeah. You wouldn’t by any chance remember seeing anyone when you woke up?”

Nathan shook his head. “No, just this dog licking me awake.”

A funny thought popped into Elle’s head. She scratched the dog under his chin. “I bet Zeus here brought you back to life, huh?”

The train car blacked out.

Elle woke up in her bed, dressed in an oversized tank top and underwear. She leaped out of bed, touching everything to ensure this was real. Satisfied, Elle plopped back down on her bed. She looked at her phone. The time was only 6 am.

“That was a weird dream,” Elle said.

Three knocks tapped on her front door. Confused, she tossed on her fluffy white robe to see who was there. On her front porch was a golden retriever who resembled the one in her dream. Elle kneed down, giving the dog scratches as she read the note attached to the collar.

“Dear, Elle,” she read aloud. “As a bonus for being the first person to guess correctly, you get to keep Zeus. Don’t worry. We took away his power to revive the dead. Congratulations!”


A drawing of a young adult woman waking up in a fancy train high that's in outer space as two people on a TV screen explain that she is on a game show.

This short story was written for a challenge on Vocal. The prompt was: “Write a story about someone who wakes up on a train. They have no ticket and no memory of how they got there. Oh, and one more thing: the train shows no signs of slowing down.”

Thank you for reading!

Five young adults are gathered around a campfire on a full moon night as one of them stands up holding up a card with a skull as they tell a horror story

The Horror Prompt Card

A writer is gifted with a mysterious card that will inspire them if they toss the card in a fire while sharing a scary story.


“The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window.” I stepped back from the campfire, falling deeper into the shadows and waving my hands for dramatic flair. Plus, I was already hot, no thanks to the Oklahoma heat wave.

I placed a hand on my heart to check if the strange card I was gifted was still in my overalls. Good. I still have it. Let’s do this.

High school students from all over the state will arrive tomorrow at the Quartz Mountain resort for the intensive two-week residential school for professional training in the visual, literary, and performing arts. As an alumnus of the creative writing class, this place meant so much to me. I made new friends during a time in my life when that was a struggle. Being around other writers my age motivated me like nothing else, especially since I was the only one in my English classes who enjoyed writing stories. I’ve heard many others make this statement, but there was something magical about being surrounded by mountains, far from civilization, and high-speed Internet.

Because of my experience, I returned as an adult to work as a counselor as this was something I could do to give back. I would love to eventually become an instructor, lifting others how I was inspired. But first, I would have to be a successful writer, which required me to stop hitting blank pages.

With tonight being the last student-free night, I had no trouble gathering a few people under the pretense of sharing scary stories in the courtyard. I first sought after my friend, Hannah. We attended the summer program together in high school as cabin roommates while she took the film and video course. This year, she was part of the public relations team as a documentary videographer. She got her boss, Wren, to join us. Wren was down for a good scary story. Then a couple of guys, Danny and Nathan, who happened to be hanging out in the lodge lobby when I met up with Hannah and Wren, accepted my invitation to join. I squealed with glee, with an audience eager to hear my story.

The line about the abandoned cabin was fictional as this happened where my kids would be staying. I took some creative liberties with the beginning, fabricating details about finding dead bugs, unfamiliar howling in the distance, and the moonless night, but the rest of the story I was about to tell them wouldn’t veer from the truth of what happened a few hours ago.

I closed my eyes, centering myself as I continued the story. “My gut told me something was amiss, and I knew I had to investigate.”

“Well, you’re still here, so we know it wasn’t a serial killer,” Danny said.

Wren, the public relations manager, threw a marshmallow at her fellow staff member. “Let Burnie finish their story.”

“Yeah, maybe Burnie died and was replaced by a doppelgänger,” Hannah said, teasing me, too.

“Or maybe we are the ones that died,” Nathan added with some spooky hollering at the end.

I cleared my throat. “So, I walk up to the cabin. As I pulled open the door, I was hit with this aroma, like I was about to enter–” I paused to build suspense, “a coffee shop.”

The staff exchanged confused looks and giggles.

I carried on with my story. “With my phone flashlight on, I scanned the room. There was no one there. As I treaded deeper inside, the cabin door slammed shut.” I smashed my hands together to represent the noise. “The candle blew out, and my phone – with a full battery, mind you – died. My heart began to race as I tried to open the door. Then suddenly, I saw this light illuminating behind me. I turned around, and there was this spotlight on a woman beside a golden freestanding door. She wore this purple maxi dress fashioned for a greek goddess, and her luxurious silver hair danced in the windless cabin. I asked this woman who she was, but she only responded with the question, ‘Do you seek inspiration?’ I told her yes. I’ve been at an impasse on a new horror story.”

I whipped out the card like a salesperson who was an expert at handing out business cards. “The mysterious muse gave me this card. She told me that if I shared this tale, and then I tossed this card into a fire, we would experience a real horror story.”

I held up the card, showing the group. The dark purple card depicted a golden skull that shimmered in the fire’s light. The audience humored me with a few “oohs” and “ahhs.” Wren clasped her hands on her face in awe.

“Shall I toss it in the fire?” I asked.

“Do it!” Danny taunted. “Do it! Toss that bad boy in the fire.”

“That card looks too pretty to burn,” Hannah said. “But I don’t want your story to end, so go for it.”

Nathan and Wren gave approving nods. With everyone’s consent, I tossed the card in the fire. The stranger never revealed what would happen other than I would be inspired to write. After I took the card from her, she opened her golden door, which led to a coffee shop. The door disappeared like she was never there, but the card was my proof. When the card hit the fire, the fire turned bright purple like a firework, soliciting wows from the entire group.

The flames collapsed in on themselves and burst to life a five-foot giant scorpion, like the striped bark kind found around the area. The scorpion stung Danny, knocking him out of his chair. Hannah jumped out of her seat, utilizing the chair as a shield. Thankfully, there was no one else around in the courtyard. Nathan and Wren ran together to the hotel guestrooms while I stood frozen in shock.

“What the fuck is going on, Burnie?” Hannah said as she used the chair like a lion tamer in a circus act.

“I-I don’t know,” I cried. “I didn’t expect this to happen!”

The scorpion’s stinger pierced through the chair, missing Hannah and getting the chair stuck on the tail in the process.

Hannah retreated to my side. “Got any ideas on how to kill it?”

A spotlight beamed down on the impossible monster I brought to life. We looked at a firetruck flying like a drone or alien spaceship. The firetruck hovered in the starry sky, silent as a ghost. How long has that ship been there? Is it part of the card or something else? The scorpion smashed the chair against the ground, freeing the creature as two more emerged from the fire pit.

I couldn’t make out the details, but a person with dark skin–definitely human–aimed a white sci-fi-looking rifle at the scorpions. The sniper opened fire, emitting a low-frequency screech. One by one, the monsters collapsed as we took refuge under the artistic metal gazebos designed to mirror the Twin Peaks mountains seen from the courtyard. 

A photograph taken by Dennis Spielman of artistic metal gazebos in a courtyard designed to mirror the twin peaks mountains seen in the background.

A team of three people jumped off the firetruck, landing on the ground like superheroes without getting hurt. They wore bright white and orange uniforms, making them easy to spot. Why are they wearing such bold outfits?

“Get this human healed,” ordered the short black woman. “Then find everyone here and wipe their memories of tonight.”

Their commander answered my question. No need for secrecy when you could erase the unnatural like the event never happened. I cursed under my breath, but Hannah heard.

“You should run and hide,” she told me. “I’ll distract them.”

“Wait,” I whispered, but she gave me no choice as she ran toward them, flaying her arms in the sky. “Hannah…” 

With the strangers distracted, I bolted for the nearby cave. I figured they wouldn’t expect anyone to be out on any of the trails, hiding in the cave.

I took the route behind the hotel guestrooms, hoping the building would shield me from the action in the courtyard and the lake to my right would keep me anonymous. As I passed the classroom pavilions, I prayed to the universe that the beams of flashlights scanning the area would miss me. I hoped the trees on the cave trail would cover me as more flying firetrucks flew overhead, landing in the parking lot on the other side. I begged my ankles not to give and my heart not to jump out of my throat. 

A photograph taken by Dennis Spielman of inside a small cave during the day at Quartz Mountain.

I arrived in the cave alone and unharmed. Some force of the universe must’ve heard my wishes. Thank you. Then my brain warned me of possible snakes and normal-sized scorpions in the cave. With my phone still dead and no source of light on me, I decided to take my chance. I did my best to steady my breath to listen to any slithering or scurrying of desert creatures. I heard nothing. Perhaps my presence scared them. I did make a bunch of noise getting up the hill. The inside of the cave was about the size of my apartment, leaving little room to hide. Feeling a bit safe, I took a seat.

I woke up as the sunlight stretched into the cave, poking my face with sizzling kisses. I have no idea how, but my body collapsed into a deep slumber. I thought I would stay awake all night, but waiting around while nothing happened and being in darkness must’ve put my body to rest. Strange how the body works.

I didn’t know the time, so I returned to the courtyard. I brushed myself off to not appear as I slept in the woods–not that anyone would judge. To my relief–I think that’s the correct word–I saw some staff and faculty members walking out of their rooms and across the courtyard to the main lodge for breakfast as if today were a regular morning. I did notice one less chair around the fire pit where I tossed the card.

Hannah came jogging up to me. “Where were you last night?” I could tell by her scrunched face she was a bit annoyed.

“What do you mean?” I asked, dumbfounded. 

“You told me you wanted to share a ghost story by the fire, but you never came.”

“Hold on. Do you not remember the giant scorpions?” Hannah shook her no. There was nothing on her facial expression to indicate she was messing with me. “Do you remember the flying firetrucks?” 

Hannah shook her head. “Was this part of your story?”

“No, this is what happened last night. Wait! Where is Danny? Is he okay?”

“Oh, he’s fine.” Hannah pulled out her phone and showed me a photo of a normal-sized scorpion. “He had a bad reaction to this scorpion in his room. He should be back tomorrow.”

I sighed like a person freed from a boulder. The strangers cleaned up well, but I had so many questions. Who was the woman with the golden door? What was this organization that saved the day? Was someone watching out for me? The truth of what happened would be left for my creative imagination to determine, just as the mysterious muse planned.


Five young adults are gathered around a campfire on a full moon night as one of them stands up holding up a card with a skull as they tell a horror story
A photographic reference of five young adults gathered around a fire pit as one of them holds up a black card

A new short story to kick off summer! This was written for a horror story contest to use this line as the first sentence: “The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window.” Since I was at Quartz Mountain for the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute, I got some friends there to pose and slightly base the characters on them. The mysterious muse was the end-timer, Brigit, who was featured in The Winged Letter and A Question for the Writers.

Hope you enjoyed this campfire horror story!

The Dragon with the Time-Traveler Tattoo

The Dragon with the Time-Traveler Tattoo

When a herd of dragons visits the small town of Valley, the mayor decides it’s his civic duty to greet them only to get caught in a mystery. 


There weren’t always dragons in the Valley. Mayor Axepen was dead set on giving the unfamiliar herd of dragons a friendly welcome as part of his civic duty. In his 42 years of living on the Black Planet, Brutüs occasionally saw dragons fly throughout the skies, wait in line at the drive-through of a coffee shop, or deliver kegs of beer from a local brewery. Seeing over two dozen together was a rare sight.

Upon hearing of the arrival of dragons, Brutüs skimmed through Hugging Dragons: A Cultural Etiquette Guide to Befriending Flying Serpentines by Peigi MacLeòir. After all, Brutüs won the democratic mayoral race based on his platform of owning and reading the most books in the Valley. During his campaign, he also decorated his horns to appear less threatening, invited constituents to tea parties to listen to their concerns, and held ice cream soirées at the library while reading children’s stories. He successfully proved to the citizens of the Valley that he wasn’t some dumb, mean, brawny minotaur but a well-educated, compassionate, brawny minotaur.

Brutüs minded his steps up the hill of rainbow-colored flowers to not ruin the plants. He made a mental note to discuss adding gravel trails to the hill at the next town planning meeting as he thought all should enjoy the calming scents, colorful sights, and overall relaxing walk.

As he reached the top, he recalled MacLeòir’s advice on figuring out the leader. The book warned not to judge based on the size as sometimes the leader is the smallest one, or sometimes the leader was the largest, or the one with the most heads, or somewhere in the middle. The book said not to ask because if you happen to ask who the leader was and that was their leader, a fight would break out. Instead, the best course of action was to study the dragons to see who they watched the most. Everyone tended to keep an eye on the leader. However, with current technology, MacLeòir advised scanning the herd with a networker to find the answer.

Brutüs’ owned a networker designed to look like an ax, which he wore as a necklace. He lifted his networker and asked, “Networker would you tell me who is the leader here?”

“Scanning!” the networker replied in a cheerful tune as a holographic spinning rainbow ball projected out. “No information found. This appears to be an unregistered group. Sending out a request for more information.”

“Uhm,” Brutüs said, letting the network fall to his muscular chest. The holographic display faded off. “I’m glad I read that book first.”

Following the author’s advice, Brutüs watched the dragons, studying who they watched the most. Everyone seemed focused on a white, single-headed dragon, who was small by dragon standards but was still twice as big as himself, a 7-foot tall minotaur. He straightened his blue suit and decided to take a shot at welcoming the leader.

“Greetings,” Brutüs said with a big wave. “I am Mayor Axepen, and I welcome you to the Valley.”

The white dragon lowered her head in a bow, her spikes glistening in the morning sun. “Hello, Mayor Axepen. My name is Swift. We mean you no burden or trouble as we merely pass through to visit The Black Dragon.”

Brutüs nodded. The Black Dragon was the oldest and most influential living being on the planet. Although officially, The Black Dragon wasn’t the planet’s ruler – unofficially was a different matter. As a town leader, Brutüs was in charge of the yearly tribute in which the most talented artists competed to send their works of art to The Black Dragon. Fame often followed the winners as only the best would win. With The Black Dragon being practically immortal, the dragon would often auction or donate the works in the future for a significant profit. Brutüs viewed the tribute as a win-win and held neither a positive nor negative opinion of The Black Dragon. Although writing about The Black Dragon in his journals was a tiny bit of an inconvenience as The Black Dragon had no pronouns or titles. However, such an “inconvenience” was a nonissue matter for respecting one’s personal preferences.

“Very well,” Brutüs said, straightening his red and black striped tie. “If you are interested in obtaining coffee before your long journey, the drive-through at Gratitude Coffee can accommodate you.”

Fun fact about dragons: dragons are caffeine sensitive, and what would be a large coffee for a human would often be the perfect size for a dragon.

“Thank you, Mayor,” Swift said. “We may consider that.”

As Brutüs was about to leave, he caught sight of a tattoo of a human woman in a green dress with a green door on Swift’s arm. “If you don’t mind me asking, Swift, what is the story behind that tattoo?”

“Why do you think there’s a story?”

“I’ve never seen a tattoo of a human on a dragon before, that’s all.”

Swift brought up her arm to see the tattoo in question. “This…This was someone special to me. She saved my life. It’s a long story.”

“I do enjoy a long story if you enjoy sharing one.” Brutüs sat on a clean patch of ground. “I do have the time.”

Swift laid in a rested state. “Well, a long time ago, when I was about your size, I was an actress, and she was a director. She had a fiery spirit like the mightiest dragons – for a human. I later learned she was a time-traveler, but that’s getting ahead of myself.”

“A time-traveler?” Brutüs repeated, trying not to scoff in disbelief. In the entirety of Brutüs’ library, he only owned one book about time-travelers. In How to Survive an Encounter with a Time-Traveller by Filip Webb, the 150-page book only consisted of the word “Avoid” written on each page in different languages, font styles, and graphical representations.

“I sense your skepticism,” Swift said, “as I was a skeptic myself. To this day, she was the only time-traveler I met.”

“My apologizes,” Brutüs said. “I mean no disrespect. Please, do continue.”

Swift nodded. “This happened around when people believed rumors that a dragon’s spikes were potent aphrodisiacs. As I was leaving a solo act one night, I got mobbed by a gang. They had me chained and in a cage before I knew what was happening. They were professionals.”

A red tear ripped the clouds above Brutüs and the dragons. A ginormous spaceship–larger than the field of dragons–flew out from the portal. The sudden, looming shadow and the engine’s raging hum gave away the ship’s presence. Swift stood up, fully alert, while Brutüs sat in confusion.

“Gods,” Swift cursed. “Did you scan us by any chance?”

“I was trying to figure out who the group leader was,” Brutüs said.

Swift groaned and faced her fellow dragons. “Everyone, Evacuation Formation Beta. Rally together at point 13. Go!”

The dragons flew away, splitting into eight groups and going in separate directions. Without saying another word to the mayor, Swift left, joining up with one of the groups. Brutüs watched them leave as the ship opened fire on the dragons. He felt like someone had given him a prologue to a book while keeping the rest of the story for themselves.


The Dragon with the Time-Traveler Tattoo

I wrote this story for a short story contest at Vocal. The challenge was to write the first chapter of a fantasy novel with the following first sentence as a prompt: “There weren’t always dragons in the Valley.”

Thanks to Janine De Guzman for bringing the scene of Brutus and Swift meeting at the Valley.

I know this story has a total jerk ending, which I was playing to this being like a prologue. I may continue this saga if the story is well received. 😉

Missing Memories - art by Mikey Marchan at Design Pickle

Missing Memories

Rumors are floating around of children having memory loss while playing on their own in the new Star Light District. After solving two mysteries, Haley “The Sounds” Riot and Robin Bee venture to the Underground Zone of Aequus to uncover the truth.

This story is number 3 in The Sounds’ serial, with Body Drop and Testing Predictions on an Abandoned Village being the first two. Be sure to visit the new Serials section to catch up on continuing stories.


Haley and Robin stepped off the elevator as a sasquatch, a minotaur, and bipedal humanoid mechanical got inside. While the sun was shining above ground from where they came, an artificial starry night sky illuminated the Star Light District of Aequus’ Underground Zone.

“Now that we’re here, how do you suppose we find some parents willing to talk to us?” Robin asked her human girlfriend.

Haley pulled out her music player from her pink hoodie. The small, rectangular device had only physical buttons and no holographic interface. There wasn’t a speaker or way for her to listen to the music, but the song titles provided her hints about the future and revealed hidden truths. She felt confident after solving a murder at a concert and a mystery surrounding an abandoned village. Now she wanted to discover why children in the district reported memory loss.

“How do we find affected parents?” Haley said to her music player and then pressed the shuffle button. “‘Guided by Angels.’”

The two scanned the lobby for any artistic interpretation of the mystical and religious winged creature. Haley started with the ceiling, searching for any angel consultations. With no luck, she looked lower at the golden flora walls for any angels but only saw 12-foot tall statues of notable vampires.

“Found one!” Robin said, pointing to a fountain with three statues of angels.

“Great work,” Haley thanked Robin as they walked over to the fountain.

A ghaukvoi mother and her child watched streams of water and flames perform a coordinated dance around the towering angel statues. Haley was dating a ghaukvoi, so she was familiar with their biology and customs. She could tell them apart from tutelagions as ghaukvoi had pointy ears and varying shades of blue skin and hair. In contrast, tutelagions lacked hair and genetic diversity.

“Excuse me, but has your child complained of memory loss?” Haley asked. 

“Yes, but so has practically every child here has lately,” the mother answered.

“You don’t seem concerned,” Robin said.

“We’re pretty sure it’s all some sort of prank or trend the kids are into these days.”

“I think there might be more going on,” Haley expressed politely. “I’m investigating this mystery. You can call me The Sounds, and this is my partner, Robin.”

Robin waved hello.

The mother crossed her arms. “What will this cost me?”

“Nothing,” Haley said, talking with her hands. “I’m technically not an officially licensed detective, so this is more of a hobby right now.”

The mother checked on her child, still enjoying the water show. She sat on the black granite bench with Haley and Robin doing the same.

“My name is Aura,” the mother said. “What would you like to know?”

“Have you noticed when your child’s memory is missing?” Haley asked and quickly added, “Or other children from parents, you know.”

Aura sighed and thought for a moment. “Sometimes, when I would let Uris here go play with his friends, I would ask him what they did, and he would blank out on me.”

“Is there a spot they tend to play?”

“They run all over the district.”

“Have you tracked Uris’ movement with his networker by any chance?”

“I have, but there was no data,” Aura said. “It was like wherever he went when he claimed he didn’t know, his networker wasn’t working.”

“That is weird,” Robin commented.

“As I said earlier, I’m not too worried about it. Uris hasn’t come home injured, and neither have any of the other kids from the parents I’ve spoken with.”

Haley bowed her head. “Thank you for sharing.”

Aura returned the bow. “May the Goddess guide you in your quest.”

The water show ended after a finale involving a large burst of fire and water. Uris clapped. His mother chuckled at his enthusiasm.

“Wait, I just remembered something,” Aura said. “I don’t know if it’s relevant, but the first time I remember this happening to Uris, he came home with a new hat. I asked him where he got it, and he said he didn’t remember.”

Haley nodded. “Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”

Uris ran up to his mother, and together they left the angel fountain.

Robin turned to Haley. “So, what’s next?”

Haley held up the music player and asked, “Where should we go next?” She pressed shuffle. “It says, ‘Put Your Records On.’”

Robin paused for a second. “What does it mean by ‘record?’”

Haley shrugged. “I swear, some of these songs are not from our solar system.” She held up her purple networker hanging around her neck in the shape of two beamed eighth notes. “Hey, networker, what are some things considered a record besides information?”

A spinning rainbow holographic ball projected from her networker. It then morphed into a vinyl record with a text box beside the artwork.

“This is the closest match based on your conversation,” the networker answered. “On Earth, they have round black discs called records that contain music.”

“That’s our answer!” Haley exclaimed, putting her devices away as she stood up. “There must be a music lounge nearby.”

Haley grabbed Robin’s hand and rushed over to the nearby information kiosk – a full-body holographic virtual intelligence of the district’s founder. From Haley’s preliminary research, Iris Ironglass built the community seemingly overnight, while Iris reported the project was years in the making. Iris wore a two-piece sparkling white dress with a long trail for the interactive kiosk.

“Wow, look at her dress,” Robin said, admiring how the silky smooth the dress looked against Iris’ dark skin.

Haley stroked the side of Robin’s arm. “That would look good on you too.”

Robin’s cheeks brighten. “Please. I prefer my leggings and sweaters.”

Haley beamed with love and faced the kiosk. “Back to the task, could you tell us where we can enjoy some music?”

“The Star Light District has 16 music venues,” the virtual Iris replied. 

Haley scratched her short rainbow-colored hair. “Hum. Any of them play records from Earth?”

“There is one venue – Celebration – specializing in playing records from Earth.”

“That’s our place!” Haley said. “Send the directions to my networker, please.”

“Directions sent,” the kiosk replied. “Thank you for visiting the Start Light District.”

Haley led the way, taking them down a corridor. While Haley focused on getting to the destination, Robin darted her head from statue to statue. There were no shops or homes in the passage – just the starry ceiling and giant sculptures. Although, she did spot a few static posters featuring Iris advertising affordable homes coming soon. The advertisements lessened her worry, but not completely.

“All of these statues are kind of creepy,” Robin said, walking closer to Haley’s side.

“At least they’re too tall to be real people.”

“Real people?” Robin repeated, shocked.

“Yeah, I read this protector report about a detective who caught a gorgon turning people into stone for an artistic statement.”

“That’s wild,” Robin mumbled. “Never going to look at a statue the same way again.”

The corridor opened up into a hub of small shops of homes. Purple streaks of light dominated the hub, making the area feel more youthful to Haley than the previous hub’s golden motifs. Across the central playground, Haley spotted the wooden sign for Celebrations, between a salon called Sister Golden Hair and the hoverboard shop, Landslide. 

“Found it,” Haley proclaimed. “Let’s go.”

Children of various species ran around, playing tag, climbing over the replica spaceships, and making noise with the neon flower musical lights. As the couple crossed through the playground, Haley hopped on a series of light-up tiles while Robin walked by her side. Each tile flashed and color and played a musical note, bringing a smile to Haley’s face.

“Perhaps we should keep an eye on these kids?” Robin asked.

While still moving forward, Haley consulted her music player. “‘Left Alone’ is the answer I get. Steady the course!”

Upon entering Celebration, the venue positioned itself like a bygone era with wooden walls, seating, and tables. Despite the choice of materials, the calming fire-glow lights glistened against the wood. In one corner, two couples spoke with each other while their kids played games on their networkers. Haley and Robin took a seat at the bar. Haley ran her finger against the countertop.

“Smooth,” Haley whispered, then she spotted the record player on a shelf. “Excuse me. Is that a record player?”

The tutelagion mixologist finished squeezing a lime and handed the drink to a customer. “Yes, it is. The song is Last Friday Night by Katy Perry. But, before you ask, I have no clue what she is singing about. When is Friday and what’s so special about it? I just love collecting records from Earth, even though they are insanely expensive. Anyway, can I get you two anything to eat or drink?”

“I was hoping to get some information.” Haley paused, searching for a name tag. “Aspen. What do you know of the missing memories of the children in the Starlight District?”

“I used to think it was a rumor until some parents nonchalantly brought it up,” Aspen replied. “No one seems worried about it. Maybe kind of annoyed, if anything. Why do you ask?”

“I think there’s something bigger going on,” Haley explained, keeping her voice down. “I just can’t figure out what. Does the phrase, ‘Cowboys Don’t Cry’ mean anything to you?”

Before Haley ventured to the Star Light District, she directly asked her music player who was responsible for the missing memories. The device responded with the song title, Cowboys Don’t Cry. She nearly threw her device across her home in frustration from the cryptic answer. She asked for motivation and got the answer, Mad World. 

Aspen chuckled. “You know, we had Iris Ironglass personally stop by last week for one of our Bloody Orangeritas, and there was this kid. The kid scraped his knee and was crying pretty loudly. She kneed down by that kid, kissed his wound, put some healing gel on it, and then pulled out this weird hat from her purse. She put it on the kid and said, ‘Cowboys don’t cry.’ The kid calmed down.”

Robin awed. “That was nice of her.”

“Yeah, Iris is more approachable than people assume,” Aspen said. “Speaking of which, there’s that kid. He’s still wearing that hat.”

Haley and Robin watched the human child in the tan cowboy hat run past Celebration and out of sight.

Haley stood up. “Thanks. We should go.”

“Enjoy the day,” Aspen said and walked over to a group of customers.

Haley and Robin followed the child. The child ran down the corridor from where they originated. The child disappeared behind a statue. They waited a moment to see if the child would reappear, but when he didn’t, they went to investigate. Behind the stone figure was a large grate for a ventilation system.

“Well, I’ll be,” Robin said. “I knew there was something creepy about this area.”

Haley scanned the area to ensure no one was watching them and then pulled the cover off. She stuck her head and looked down the shaft.

“This looks big enough for us to crawl through,” Haley said as she started to crawl inside.

“Wait. Are you serious?”

“If kids are crawling through this, then this has to be safe.”

Robin grumbled and got down on her hands and knees. “I guess you have a point.”

Haley gently pushed open the grate, crawling out into a construction zone. The two crawled 30 feet before reaching the end. They took cover behind a pile of wood boards and peeked over.

Dozens of children were all wearing various hats and were building homes and businesses. The children operated with the professionalism and skill of adults. Haley looked around for any adults but didn’t spot any, so she checked her networker.

Haley groaned. “My signal is blocked.”

Robin checked hers. “Well, I guess we know why tracking was lost.”

The grate behind them slammed open. Haley and Robin turned around, their hearts racing. Exiting the ventilation was Uris, wearing a black top hat.

“Uris?” Haley asked. “What are you doing here?”

Uris did not respond. His eyes were steady as he stood up, ignoring the couple. As he stepped away, Haley grabbed for the hat. As she pulled the hat off, a pair of shadowy hands from inside reached for Uris’ head and pulled themselves back onto his head.

Haley let go. “What was that?”

“You should leave,” Uris spoke, with an echo like two people speaking simultaneously.

Haley pulled on the child, turning him around. “Not until I get some answers like who are you and what have you done to Uris?”

“My identity was forgotten ages ago, but I mean no harm to this child.”

Haley tightened her grim and raised her voice. “Then why are you possessing this child?”

“We are repenting for mistakes in a past life. We were in the Underworld when we found ourselves floating upward one day where we got caught in these hats at Ironglass’ boutique. We told her our stories, and she came up with this idea to make this area better. We only wish to help.”

Robin placed a hand on Haley’s shoulder. “This whole topic sounds like a wild ethics debate.”

Haley loosened her grip on Uris. “Yeah, but why children?”

Another voice behind them spoke. “Children have a strong sense of good and innocence which keeps the spirits in check.”

Haley and Robin turned around and looked up to Iris Ironglass towering over them. Although she wasn’t wearing her trademark dress, she sported a cropped white hoodie and black leggings with the same class.

“The children are perfectly safe, and I ensure that happens,” Iris continued. “Granted, I did have one rouge spirit temporarily possess me, but they’re gone. Adults with these spirits are not a good mix, but as they help, they find themselves freed. Call it karma, balance, justice, whatever, but everyone gets a happy ending. Take a look.”

Haley and Robin stood up, looking over the construction.

Iris pointed to a large building. “We’re about to have the first school in the Underground Zone. I know it’s a mad world out there, but this whole area is going to be more than just entertainment.” She turned to Haley. “So, how about you let this whole mystery drop, Haley Riot?”

“How did you know—”

“I had an identification scanner installed in the vent,” Iris interrupted. 

Haley took a deep breath. She pressed the shuffle button on her music player. “‘You’ve got a friend.’”


Missing Memories - art by Mikey Marchan at Design Pickle

For this short story, I knew I wanted to write another mystery with The Sounds. The concept of children missing their memories was inspired by the writing prompt: “Mysteriously, children are starting to lose memories. You’re a detective assigned to this case, and you just found out what is causing them to forget.”

As with past stories featuring The Sounds, I asked people to submit songs for me to incorporate into the story. Some of the songs were used as messages given from the music player while others were worked in other ways. The songs were: Cowboys Don’t Cry by Oliver Tree, Put Your Records On by Ritt Momney, Mad World by Tears for Fears, Left Alone by Fiona Apple, Last Friday Night by Katy Perry, Sister Golden Hair by America, Landslide by Stevie Nicks, You’ve Got a Friend by James Taylor, Celebration by Kool & the Gang, and Guided By Angels by Amyl and The Sniffers.

Thanks to Mikey Marchan for the story artwork!

Thank you for reading!

Bleeding Fear - The Blue Hotel - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

Bleeding Fear

In a fantasy world where everyone gains a power of light on their 17th birthday, a group of adventurers searches for a place to rest for the night after destroying a laboratory performing harmful experiments on people. The boutique treehouse-style hotel they do find has some secrets of its own. 


“For the advancement of Light!”

The guard thrust his spear at Kilyn. The glowing yellow tip glazed against Kilyn’s bare purple arm. She screamed from the searing pain, losing her concentration and making the five-foot spider she created out of light disappear. She wanted to rip off the guard’s head for making her lose her familiar, for hurting her, for all of the innocent youth they killed. She bit her lower lip, pushing away the pain in preparation to summon another.

“Foxbeam, get down!” Div shouted.

Kilyn dropped to the ground, and then an arrow pierced through the guard. The guard collapsed, and the arrow Div fired reappeared in his bow. 

Kilyn stood back up with a hand covering the wound. “Thanks, Div.”

“It’s time to leave, team,” Finnea Brightwish ordered as she and Ash raced into the laboratory.

“Leave now?” Kilyn asked. “Didn’t you find any of the missing people?”

“They’re all dead….” Ash answered in somber. “I couldn’t save any of them.”

“And I’ve set explosives to make sure whatever experiments they were doing won’t continue,” Finnea added. “So, we need to leave, now. Div, take point.”

Div nodded and led the way out of the laboratory into the underground cave hallway. Chucks of blue rocks broke away from the impact of the explosives detonating in the distance. The group picked up their pace, leaping over the guards they killed earlier as they ran up the rocky stairs to the outside. The explosions concluded. 

Kilyn took a deep breath of the night air as she looked back. She thought the cave entrance was obscure when they first found the location, but with the rumble covering the way, no one would even think there was once a tunnel system there.

Ash Glowspring collapsed to her knees, exhausted.

“Woah, there.” Div rushed to her side and helped her to her feet. Ash was the shortest of the group while Div was the second tallest, so Div bent his knees to allow Ash to put an arm around his shoulders. “Let’s get you to the wagon.”

“What now, boss?” Kilyn asked.

“Take a moment to rest,” Finnea replied. “I’ll send out a guide bug to search for someplace to rest for the night.” Kilyn nodded and started to walk toward the grassy field when Finnea added, “Good job.”

“Doesn’t feel like a good job,” Kilyn mumbled to herself.

As Finnea, Ash, and Div returned to the wagon they hid, Kilyn wondered deep into the field. Satisfied with the spot, Kilyn put her hands behind her head for a makeshift pillow as she gazed upon Nilnora’s two moons. Since a guard burned her jacket during the quest, she made do with the wild grass ticking against her purple skin.

With the nearest village being a day’s ride away, there was zero light pollution to obscure her view of the night sky. She focused on the sky, pushing out the flashbacks of people drained of their lives, chained against the clean white porcelain diamond tiled walls. Combined with the relaxing scent from the shade-lamp flowers, she finally allowed herself a deep, unwinding sigh of relief after several minutes.

“We did everything we could,” Kilyn told herself. 

A glowing yellow arrow whizzed in front of her face, exploding into a tiny sparkle of crackling lights upon hitting a tree.

Not in any hurry, Kilyn sat up and glared at Div. “Was that really necessary?”

Div flicked his bow made of light, causing his weapon to collapse into nothing.

“Of course,” Div Ironfire winked. “The team’s found a hotel to stay for the night.”

Kilyn stood up, brushing off her pants along the way. Div walked back to the main road, with Kilyn jogging to catch up. I will kill for a bed, Kilyn thought.

“I have killed for a bed,” she corrected.

Finnea fidgeted with the rope connecting to the lizard responsible for pulling their caravan as Kilyn and Div jumped aboard. Their arrival prompted a golden bug to fly out of Finnea’s long red hair, hovering over the lizards. 

“Please tell me the guide bug found a proper hotel and not a tavern with some beds,” Kilyn asked as she sat next to Finnea.

Finnea smiled. “Count yourself lucky then. They found a boutique hotel, built into trees.”

“Fancy, fancy,” Div repeated. “I think we deserve some pampering.”

“Yes, you all worked hard, and it’s only best for us to get some proper rest,” Finnea said.

“Thank you.” Kilyn lifted the curtain into the caravan then closed it. “I take it Ash is asleep.”

“Healing all of our sorry asses took a lot out of her,” Finnea said as she whipped the ropes for the lizard to start. The guide bug flew in front of them, leading the way to the hotel. “I can’t remember the last time we drained her that badly.”

“What happened in that laboratory was rough,” Div mumbled while watching the sides of the dirt road.

Finnea slouched into the padded seat. “Still, the village elders will be pleased no one else is getting kidnapped.”

“Yeah, about that,” Kilyn said, sitting up. “I noticed some of the victims didn’t look like they belonged to the village.”

“I noticed that too,” Finnea said. 

“What do you think was going on there?” Kilyn asked the group.

“Don’t know. Don’t care,” Div answered first, still keeping watch. “They didn’t leave anyone alive, and we didn’t leave any of the guards alive.”

Finnea shrugged. “Most of the people there were around 17-years-old. I wonder if they were experimenting on them in connection with the Ritual of Emerging Light. Maybe finding rare abilities, forcing new ones, or changing the process with chemicals? I don’t know. I just burned everything.”

Kilyn reflected on her Ritual of Emerging Light. Before the sunrise of one’s 17th birthday, Nilnorians would bask in the light from their favorite spot or a place of personal significance. They would stay there without food or drink until nightfall. Upon completion, the sun would bestow a power of light to aid them in adulthood. Some would discover their gift in a few days while others–albeit extremely few–never learned.

“Say, where did you all bask for your Ritual of Emerging Light?” Kilyn asked.

“My favorite boulder that I would play around at when I was a kid,” Finnea answered. “What about you, Div?”

“On a tree stomp that my great-grandparents first cut to build their house,” Div replied without breaking his guard.

“Mine was a patch of flowers,” Kilyn said. “Anyone know Ash’s spot?”

“I think she mentioned she basked in a river,” Finnea said as the lizard turned down a side road. The guide bug flew a circle around Finnea’s head and went back to work. “We’re almost there.”

The Blue Motel was more grandiose than Kilyn expected. Dozens of small cabins were built into a colossal tree, forming a network of treehouses. Blue crystals covered each building, enhancing the lights from the lamps.

Kilyn’s jaw dropped. “Remind me never to doubt your guide bug.”

Finnea parked their vehicle. She stepped down to hitch the wagon to a post while Div opened the curtain to caravan and fired one of his arrow’s inside. Ash bolted awake, cursing at Div as he laughed and hopped off.

Kilyn opened the curtain for Ash to see. “Ash, you got to check out this hotel.”

Ash grumbled as she crawled up to the curtain. “Wow. Okay, I will only half kill you, Div, for that stunt.”

“Got to catch me first, little one.” Div twirled his bow around his arm before making his weapon disappear.

Finnea threw a sack of coins at Div’s head. “Pay for the room.”

Div rubbed his face as he picked up the sack. “Got it, boss.”

Kilyn helped Ash with everyone’s bags while Finnea cooed the lizard goodnight. The freelancers were within a year of each, with their leader, Finnea, the oldest and tallest of the four. 

As Kilyn pulled out the last trunk, Div returned with spinning the room key around his finger.

“Got us a cabin where we each get our own room.” Div tossed the key to Finnea, which she caught. “Our cabin’s name is Dawn, which we can find on the third level.”

“Any issues?” Finnea asked.

Div shrugged. “I may have bragged to the owner–John Bluelight was his name–that we were famous adventurers. Also, I may have entertained his kid for a moment as he was running around the lobby pretending to be a monster. He seemed to be quite the prankster.”

“So you two are best friends?” Kilyn teased.

Div chuckled as a reply and picked up their weapons crate. He led the way to their cabin on the third level. Upon entering, they dropped their luggage in the entryway and then checked out their place.

Ash picked the first room and collapsed on the bed. “This is the softest bed I have ever touched.”

The rest claimed their rooms. Kilyn sat on the bed, feeling the same sentiments as Ash. 

A hand gripped her ankle. She screamed. She kicked, flinging a small beast with a green scrunched face toward the door. Before the monster could move, Kilyn used her fingers to conjure one of her constellation creatures. A four-legged familiar with a body outline of stars, like a constellation in the night sky, sprouted from her fingers. The starry wolf pinned the monster down.

The rest of the team appeared in the doorway in response.

Div laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Kilyn shouted angrily.

Div kneed down and removed the mask, revealing the same child who played with him in the lobby. “I see you all met Mark.”

“It was only a prank,” the child defended. 

Kilyn disappeared her familiar. “You’re lucky you’re alive. Now, beat it.”

Finnea walked with Mark Bluelight to ensure he left while the others returned to their rooms. She returned to Kilyn’s room, knocking as she entered. 

“Everything okay, Kilyn?”

“Yeah, everything is fine.” Kilyn removed her socks. “That last job just got me all twisted.”

Finnea sat next to Kilyn on the bed. “It’s over. They won’t be hurting anyone else.”

Ash screamed and yelled for help.

Finnea bolted up as Ash’s cries were quickly muted. She paused for a moment, waiting for more or a never mind. “Something is wrong.”

“You don’t think it’s just that kid again?” Kilyn asked.

“I feel like we’re supposed to think it was the kid to make us ignore it.”

Kilyn put back on her shoes and followed Finnea to Ash’s room. Both Ash and her bed were gone.

Div popped in from behind and stood where the bed once was. “There was a bed here, right?”

“Definitely,” Finnea replied. She started to feel along the wall. “There must be some sort of rotation mechanism here.”

Div and Kilyn joined in the search for the trigger. Div pressed a plank on the floorboard that was a shade darker than the rest. The wall and floor spun around, putting them behind. The hidden room was a mirrored copy of their cabin, with three additional mechanical rotations, one for each bedroom.

Div armed his bow and arrow and approached the metal chute in the center. “I’m going in after her.”

“I should go get my guide bug and send it first,” Finnea said.

“No time,” Div said as he jumped.

Finnea grumbled and followed him. Kilyn scanned the room one last time and joined them. Her hair flew behind her as she slid down faster than any fun slide. A few seconds later, her descent ended on a comfortable foam block. A robust and chlorine-like smell overwhelmed her nostrils for a moment. Div and Finnea had their weapons pointed at a man in a black robe on the other end of the room next to Ash. Beside the man was the child who scared her earlier, Mark. Ash was unconscious with her arms chained above her head.

“Shadow of a chance you took with that chute,” the stranger commented.

“I knew it had to be safe enough to move people around without them getting hurt,” Div said. “Now, John, since you’re in the hospitality industry, I think you’ll let our friend go. After all, you don’t want us to leave a bad review of your hotel. Besides, it’s three against one.”

“Hey, what about me?” the kid cried.

“You don’t count, Mark,” Div said. “You’re not even of age yet.”

Mark scoffed and pulled out a pair of dangers from behind. “We’ll see about that.”

The daggers pulsed with light, but the kid wasn’t old enough to have been gifted with the power of light. 

“How the…” Finnea mumbled. 

“Hey, team,” Kilyn interrupted, but only loud enough for them to hear. “This place looks exactly like the laboratory we destroyed.”

Finnea glanced around at the white diamond-tiled walls. “By the light, you’re right.”

“What kind of operation do you got here?” Div shouted.

“There is so much about the Ritual of Emerging Light that we don’t know,” John explained. “We take the process and powers for granted, never wondering why or how. Did you know you can take someone’s power by bleeding it out of them under a moment of extreme fear? I call the process Bleeding Fear, and Mark here. Let’s just say you should count him as at least seven people.”

Mark leaped forward at the trio. Div fired an arrow, but Mark vanished, and the arrow hit the wall. Div fell to his knees in a scream as a dagger pierced him in the back. Mark revealed himself long enough to stick his tongue out at Finnea.

“So much for being friends,” Div grumbled as he stood.

Kilyn pushed everyone down, dodging a whip of yellow lightning from John. Finnea flung one of her special fire grenades as a counter-attack, but Mark appeared in time to create a bat of light and returned the grenade. Div fired an arrow at the grenade, destroying it before hurting them.

“Time for our special clean-out move,” Finnea ordered.

“But what about Ash?” Kilyn asked.

“She’ll survive,” Finnea said as she pulled out several grenades.

Kilyn nodded to go ahead. Finnea rolled a dozen grenades on the floor in every direction, filling the room. Div pointed an arrow directly above them and fired at the ceiling. Just as the bolt left, Kilyn finished conjuring a spider creature that covered them as they all huddled down together. Upon hitting the ceiling, Div’s arrow split into dozens as the grenades exploded. 

As the smoke dissipated, Kilyn vanished her conjuring. She rushed to Ash’s aid while Div aimed his arrow around the room, searching for John and Mark Bluelight. Except for some tattered and chard clothes, Ash was uninjured as Finnea promised.

Div lowered his bow. “Where in the shadows are they?”

Kilyn lifted a fallen bookcase. “Found John, but no sign of the kid.”

“What did I miss?” Ash’s eyes fluttered open.

“Just that this hotel is a getting a negative review,” Div said as he searched through the cabinets.

In a more serious tone, Kilyn explained as she searched for a way to unlock the chains, “You were kidnapped by the person leading the experiments of the lab we destroyed earlier.”

“I thought we cleared that place of anyone responsible,” Ash said.

“Me too.” Kilyn summoned a giant crab that used its pinchers to cut the chains and then made the conjuring disappear. “Can you walk?”

“Yes, I’m good.”

“What will we tell the client about John and Mark?” Div asked everyone.

Finnea stopped her search. “I don’t think anyone will believe us about Mark, but we’ll tell them about The Blue Hotel and John. This does explain the other victims we were talking about earlier. They must’ve been guests.”

Div nodded. “Sounds good to me. Let’s finish our search, blow this place up, and sleep for days.”

Finnea chuckled. “Agreed.”


Bleeding Fear - The Blue Hotel - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

Bleeding Fear is a complete overhaul of a short story that I wrote in my teenage days where the characters were based on some of my high school friends. Similar to this story, the original followed a group who destroyed an evil lab and unknowingly stay a hotel connected to that lab. I took the retelling in a hard fantasy direction. For my supporters on Patreon, I shared the original there (amateur and all).

I think one could consider Bleeding Fear my first strict fantasy story if fantasy is defined as having magic, lack of technology, and connection to other planets. This was a fun world to write! I spent a few days brainstorming how the world works.

Although the planet Nilnora and this story is part of my 16th Phoenix Universe, the world isn’t connected to Earth or the Five Following Planets, but the end-timers have visited Nilnora. You may have noticed the Nilnorians do look like Modva.

Huge thanks to Janine De Guzman for bringing the Blue Hotel building to life! She said this was one of her favorite pieces as she loves to draw fantasy scenes.

Thank you for reading and happy adventures!

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