James was a normal student until his best friend told his fortune using an old book...
| Mitchell yawned and watched his breath dissipate in front of him. They were passing through the clouds and the blue moon was above them, still a week away. About 40 feet beneath him, the wooden deck creaked. Most of the crew was below deck, but there were a few blanketed huddles. . .it seemed like they never slept.
"Boring shift?" Someone held a steaming mug of water in front of his face, and he turned and smiled up to Alison, the youngest person on the crew, only fourteen. He nodded and took the mug as she sat down next to him.
"Thank you." He held the mug up to his face, letting the hot air come off the water and warm his face, "Look-out is just a formality. At least, for another few days. The Immortals don't even know we're coming."
They sat silently for a few moments, until the girl suddenly stood up, "Still sounds like an important job to me! Who knows, if everyone is wrong, you might even be a hero!"
He closed his tired eyes and took a drink, "Yeah. . .likely. I just sit here and freeze all night, lady."
He didn't see the glimmer of white above him.
"You know, it's only going to get colder, the higher we go. This airship is hundreds of years old. It's amazing it still flies."
The glimmer turned into a speck, then dozens of white specks across the blue background.
"I don't think they..." he gestured vaguely towards the men on deck, in the robes, who never slept. "...even really know how it works. But what do I know, is that I'm just a n.."
"Mitchell. . .what's that?"
Mitchell opened his eyes and looked up, and then spilled his water all over himself. He opened his mouth to scream out the alarm, but the fireball engulfed him before he could speak. The light surrounded him, and he discovered that the stories about the dying were true: he could see the sleeping face of a beautiful woman with golden hair, and the last thing he saw was her blue eyes opening and she started to whisper....
"You're bitchin' and I just want you to hold me, though I know we'll leave here lonely, 'cause in the end, it's meant to be that way anyway!"
"You're bitchin' and I just want you to hold me, though I know we'll leave here lonely, 'cause in the end, it's meant to be that way anyway. . . . . .And that was The Matches on the Bill and Marty Show! He's Bill...” “...and he's Marty...”
James pushed the alarm clock button and stretched, rubbing his eyes. Seven was way too early to wake up for school. For that matter, one was much too late to go to sleep. At least it's Friday. he thought, as he lay in bed, thinking about the dream and hoping everything else would go away and he could resume his rest.
Of course, it didn't. It never does, for some reason. He groaned and reached across the desk for his glasses. Most of the dream was already fading. Something about a flying ship. . .spilled water. . .a bright blue full moon. . .and that blonde woman.
She was still clear in his mind. She was wearing a tiara with a sapphire in it and she had blue eyes. She was wearing a white and green dress, like something at the Ren Faire. And she had a nice rack. He considered this for a moment as the last of the dream's details faded away.
James put on his glasses and pushed himself out of bed. It's Friday. Another week in hell is almost over. Just eight more hours. He stumbled blindly towards the bathroom to begin the ritual. Water then paste on the brush, scrub, rinse, and spit. Nothing very impressive about the fifteen-year-old in the mirror. Boxers, glasses, why-bother untidy hair, no physique to mention, the slightest beginning of flesh colored chest hair and peach stubble on his chin.
In the kitchen, James poured himself a bowl of Cheerios and his mother came into the room, dressed in a nice suit and putting on earrings while she walked.
“Why the nice clothes?”
“I have to sign some papers at your grandmother's nursing home.”
“In Austin? Today?”
“Yeah. . .I'm dreading the 6 hour drive, but it's a day away from the office, at least. I'm just going to get a hotel room. There's $30 on the counter for dinner.”
“I can come!”
“No. School.” She smiled at him. “And don't throw a party. I know what teenagers do with cash, a free house, and no supervision.”
Party. Yeah right.
She looked at him for a moment, “You could try? Maybe I wouldn't know?”
James looked into his bowl of Cheerios and watched the little O's float around, “I'm not a party type of person.”
“. . .Okay.” She walked over and kissed him on his forehead. “Brush your hair before you go to school.” She started for the door.
“Just do it.” And she was out the door.
He finished his bowl and grabbed his backpack. Fifteen and still riding the school bus, what could be more pathetic? She could've at least dropped me off, since she was going to be out anyway.
The brilliant administrator of the Geraldine County Independent School District, Dr. Joseph Halestine, was a kook for efficiency, meaning that the buses didn't stop between stops. The buses did not stop for crosswalks; they did not stop for stray cats; they certainly did not for students late to the bus stop. So James chased the bus down to the next stop, a quarter of a mile down the road.
“Hey James, check this out.” William indicated the cards laid out in a star pattern around the lunch table as James sat down, “Last week, I got this book on fortune telling, and, now that I've got everything down, I've been telling 'em all day. And now it's your turn. Pick three cards.”
James shook his head, “I'm not superstitious.”
William looked exasperated, “Like anyone is? It's for fun. C'mon! Lisa's going to be rich...”
“I'll open my own engineering and efficiency consulting company and...”
William tapped his fingers impatiently and interrupted, “...whatever. Jerry will marry a model.”
“And none of its going to come true! It's all a bunch of nonsense and you all know it!” Sarah interrupted, suddenly standing up.
William grinned, “Oh yeah. One of us is superstitious. And she's going to die in a year.”
“I'm not,” Sarah said, “superstitious.”
“We don't know yet if it'll be car crash or a serial killer,” William shuffled the cards, a look of intense and serious concentration on his face. “My money says she dies in some really embarrassing way. Like this video I saw on the Internet. This one chick...”
“I'm not doing to DIE!” She turned to James. “Don't take any cards.”
“Sure you're not.” William said dismissively, already getting bored with this line of questioning and turning on James with the cards fanned out. “Draw three.”
James looked back and forth between William and Sarah, “I don't think I should....”
“Oh don't be pathetic, just take three freaking cards.”
He hesitantly reached, grabbed three cards, and handed them back to William, who slapped them down on the table and blinked. Sarah sat down with her arms crossed and listened.
“Hey, three of a kind,” someone further down the table said, looking at the Queen of Hearts, Diamonds, and Spades sitting in the center of the triangle.
William looked at it for a second, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
“Well?” Lisa said after a few seconds.
“Hmmm,” William replied.
“Well...” Jerry said, leaning forward again with interest.
William looked up at James, a distant look in his eyes.
“Um. . .” James leaned back uncomfortably, “William...?”
“This is very strange.” William looked down at the cards again slowly, “Very strange indeed.”
James felt the hair stand on the back of his neck. Why am I so nervous? I don't believe in this crap. But. . .what could it mean?
“James,” William whispered.
“Yes.” James whispered back.
“Yes.” everyone at the table except Sarah whispered along with him.
“James...” William repeated in a whisper, and then, louder, twisting around behind him looking for something, “I'm sorry man, I have no clue what three queens means, let me get out my book.”
James collapsed. Sarah muttered something like “Oh, please,” in an exasperated tone.
“Here it is!” William sat back up, holding a worn looking paperback with a torn cover and an old library tag across the spine. The cover was a picture of a card pyramid with a photo of a glowing blue eye that seemed familiar at the top. There was a red sun and a blue full moon in the background, “'The three Queens of Fate is a very rare and mysterious deal blah blah name is Stella blah blah.' Here it is. You get a wish, but no matter what you wish for, it'll end in riches, love, and/or premature death.” William snapped the book closed loudly and dropped it on the table, “So what is it?”
James jumped at the bang, “Huh?”
“What. . .is. . .your. . .wish?”
He looked around. Lisa and Jerry were leaning forward in their seats, listening eagerly. William was tapping his fingers on the lunch table, waiting impatiently for his turn to talk, and Sarah was turned slightly away, pretending to read her Kurt Vonnegut book.
James thought carefully for a long time. He didn't want to die, he didn't care that much about being rich, and. . .love? Suddenly, for no reason, the blonde girl from his dream flashed into his mind, and before he had a chance to stop himself, he blurted it out.
“I want a beautiful girl! The woman I dreamed of last night!”
Sarah's eye-roll was so exaggerated James could see it from directly behind her and she mumbled “Boys are pathetic,” just loud enough, he was sure, to make sure he heard her. Jerry and Lisa's jaws dropped.
William stared at him for a few seconds, and then started to laugh loudly, leaning over the table and banging his fist on it.
Why did I say that!?
James felt his entire body burning red, and quietly ate his mashed potatoes while William laughed for the rest of the half hour and made constructive comments, such as “We have to get this guy a girlfriend.”
Why did I say that? James thought, staring out the window as the bus seat lurched back and forth underneath him. He was one of the four people of his grade on the bus. The rest were freshmen and eighth graders who all left him alone. It was probably really noisy, but he had his MP3 player on and couldn't hear a thing except for a generic emo band with one good song and two CDs of trash (“Why. . .was I. . .the one you called that night he left you alone. . .and why. . .was I. . .the one you left when he called you up on the phone...”).
It's not like it's going to come true or anything. The blonde girl, her eyes just opening, popped into his mind again. By now, he remembered nothing about the rest of the dream. Just her face. What was that look in her eyes? It looked like she was just waking up, but that's not what her eyes looked like. She didn't look happy, but sad wasn't quite right either. A loud voice broke through the music, distracting him, and James looked up at the bus driver. For a second, he caught the fortyish woman's eyes in the mirror and instantly recognized it as the look in the blonde girl's eyes. Disappointment and regret. She's disappointed because every time she opens those eyes, she really thinks she's going to see something (someone?). But, whatever (whoever?) that is, she doesn't see it.
(“When I look in the mirror. . .I want to see your face. . .but you're. . .not there. . .and I. . .”)
And, of course, in the dream, she saw me and I wasn't who she wanted.
“Story of my life.”
Waves and torrents of fire moved over the wooden decks as the flying ship lurched back and forth. Swooshing through the air around it were dozens of white figures, stopping in midair every few seconds to blow a wave of fire towards the ship.
They were beautiful but stone-like, their marble white faces were locked in emotionless and disinterested gazes as they went about destroying the airship with the words Golden Sun written across its hull.
“Get the javelins! Get the spears! Get on the deck!”
Marthus was screaming. This was too soon. The mages, who were standing on the deck watching the chaos with the same disinterest that was evident on the faces of their attackers, had promised they would be undiscovered as they approached the Blue Moon. Marthus squeezed tightly on the guardrail at the forecastle of the ship, looking down on them with growing rage.
“You said we had more time!”
The leader, Yi, turned and looked calmly up at the enraged Marthus, and her calm voice carried over the madness, “There is a spy among your men.”
“Tell your men to go below deck. We will handle this ourselves. You won't defeat Halen's Children with spears and arrows.”
“I won't send my men below decks to die like helpless - ” Yi held up her hand as if to say 'Hush', and he suddenly lost his voice, and couldn't speak more than a whisper.
“As pleases you, Captain.”
She turned back and joined hands with the two robed figures nearest her and began to softly chant.
The ship lurched violently downward, the mysterious forces propelling it into the sky suddenly disappearing. Marthus realized what was happening immediately and grabbed onto the railing, hoarsely whispering “Traitors! Traitors!”.
It had taken nearly a week to rise this high into the air, but the ocean below was rushing towards them in a matter of minutes.
Islands were visible.
Then the trees on the islands.
The breaking of the waves.
And just before the plummeting ship collided with the ocean, the twelve mages on deck calmly holding hands and chanting, Marthus saw a flash of light, and the sleeping face of a red-headed woman opening her eyes, and then there was nothing but a melodic ringing.
Ding a ling a ling dong dong dong dong!
Ding a ling a ling dong dong dong dong!
Ding a ling a ling dong dong dong dong!
James pushed himself out of bed, the world still spinning around him. “God. I hate that doorbell.”
Ding a ling a ling dong dong dong dong!
“I'm coming!” he shouted, grabbing his glasses and stumbling out of his room and towards the door. “What is...”
“Where the hell have you been?” William demanded, holding a piece of yellow paper in front of James' face, “The tournament is tomorrow! We've been trying to call you all day!” By now, William was in the living room, pacing up and down the floor, “We have to plan our strategy! We don't even have a team name yet.”
Behind him, still standing on the porch with a book held in front of her face, was Sarah, who finally glanced up, then down, then up again and said, “Nice look. It suits you.”
James looked down. He was standing, with the door wide open, in nothing but black boxers and a pair of white crew socks with a blue stripe around the calf. His entire body turned red. He slammed the door and rushed into his room to throw on clothes, William calling after him, “James? James! Where's your beer!?”
James snatched a shirt quickly out of the closet, sending the hanger springing out onto the floor, and yanked it over his head, knocking his glasses off, which meant he couldn't see clearly enough to tell the jeans from the shirts in his closets.
All the while, he could hear William's voice in the other room, going on about the paint ball match of 1999 when he, an innocent lad of twelve who'd never so much as seen a paint ball gun, had risen to the top of the greatest tournament in the history of the southeast side of the city of Arlington and how people there...
“...still talk about how I had climbed on top of the cardboard barn, bravely ignoring the warnings of the referees and the signs saying it wasn't stable enough to support my weight, and brought down the holy fire of death from above on my competitors. It was like nothing they'd ever seen, and when they gave me the trophy, they told me never to come back.” William thought for a moment, “They clearly felt a person of my talents would ruin the fun of the 'casual' audience they usually received.”
James finally came stumbling into the room, “There isn't any beer.”
“I don't have any beer.” He explained. “I'm underage.”
William stared, started to say, “So am I but...”, but stopped and, while James opened the door, collapsed onto the couch mumbling something about something he couldn't believe and their (still unnamed) team being doomed in the death match to come because of 'malnutrition'.
Sarah was sitting on the porch, her nose back in the book, when the door opened and she looked up, “Oh, don't mind me. I like sitting on your porch. The more walls between him,” she motioned through the door towards William, who was still dramatically speaking about their imminent death in the paint ball tournament, “and me, the better.”
She stood up, and James stuttered, “I. . .I'm really sorry.”
“I know.” She smiled, brushing past him to walk inside, “Still, socks in bed. That's really, really weird.”
“No it isn't.” James said, very uncertain.
Sarah sat down in the recliner and crossed her legs Indian-style, holding the book (which she had never closed for an instant) in her lap and reading while she spoke, “William,” he stopped ranting mid-sentence upon hearing his name spoken, “do you sleep in your socks?”
“I sleep nude.” Sarah looked up at him in surprise at his candor, and he continued without missing a beat, “What does this have to do with the paint ball tournament?”
Sarah stared at William, and finally, forcefully, looked down at her book, “I don't know why I asked. I shouldn't have asked. I know better than to ask, but I did it anyway.”
“We need focus.” William ignored her. “And for focus, we need beer. James?”
“I don't have any beer, William.”
“This is bad. Very, very bad. Do we at least have Dew?”
“Mountain Dew? Yeah.”
“Then three Dews it is!” William exclaimed, relieved that their doom was somewhat abated. James was already headed for the kitchen.
“None for me James. I'll take hot water if you have it.” Sarah called after him, “Thank you!”
William looked at her. “Hot. . .water?”
Sarah looked up at him, guarded, “Yes.”
“No Mountain Dew. . .no beer. . .hot. . .water?” William asked again in disbelief.
“Yes.” She repeated, and before she had even gotten it out.
“What's wrong with you!”
Sarah narrowed her eyes, “I'm actually intelligent.” She held her book up a little more and looked down into it while she continued, “Caffeine is a stimulant that gives the body a brief rush, but stays in the system interfering with sleep for days. I want to be in my best shape tomorrow. Water is the perfect beverage.” She smiled up at James as he handed her a mug. “Thank you James.”
William continued to stare at her, jaw slack in complete disbelief, as he caught the can of Mountain Dew James had tossed him in mid-air. He opened it and took his first drink. “You're crazy.” He changed moods instantly, looking at James, “What's our team name? And if you say 'a beautiful girl', you're off the team.”
James blushed and choked, almost spilled Mountain Dew all over the sofa.
“Cause I'm hot - ” William explained.
“Oh please.” Sarah injected.
“ - but,” William ignored her, “I'm not a beautiful girl, so that can't be the team name.”
James gulped down his soda to evade answering.
“We should name the team 'Slaughterhouse Three'.” Sarah said, flipping the page of her book, and then dropped the book in surprise when William jumped up.
“That's brilliant! That's the most intelligent and wonderful idea I've ever heard from you.”
Sarah looked genuinely pleased, “Wow, thanks! It's the name of a Kurt Vonnegut novel about a. . .”
“Oh God!” William howled immediately and fell onto the couch to James' left, “I should've known. The greatest name in history, and we can't use it because it's the title of some pretentious artsy-fartsy book.”
Tears started to form in the corners of Sarah's eyes, and James thought I've never seen her cry before. Get angry, yes, lots of times. Cry, never.
“Maybe you should *read* it before you say things like that, you illiterate jerk!”
“Fine.” William groaned. “Tell us what it's about, and we'll decide.”
“Well,” Sarah thought carefully, taken completely aback by this chance to explain her passion, “the book is really called Slaughterhouse Five, and it's about this man, who is a soldier in World War Two and is being held prisoner by the Germans inside a slaughterhouse. There is a huge bombing run and everyone in this town is killed.” William looks up slightly interested. “But really, that's not what it's about.”
William motioned 'Of course.'
“Really, its about how he gets abducted by aliens and becomes 'unstuck in time'. That's what they call it when you realize that all of your life is really happening at one instant.”
William stared at her, shaking his head incredulously. “You see, they can see our time just like we can see something like depth so when they look at us, they see us as children and as adults and as old people all at once, because our entire lives are really one inst....” Sarah finally noticed William, and stopped, her face hardening.
“Are you sure...” William said, after a few minutes of silence, “...absolutely sure. . .that you know how to play paint ball?”
“Do you mean,” Sarah responded slowly, her voice full of venom, “am I too frail to squeeze the trigger on a paint ball gun because I'm a girl?”
William smiled, “Exactly.”
“I think I can handle it, Bill.”
“Don't call me that.”
“I thought it sounded like an interesting story. . .and a good name.” James spoke suddenly, and was instantly turned on by William.
“It's gay. Kurt Vonnwhatzs, or whatever, is gay. The name “Slaughterhouse Three” isn't gay, but now it's gay by association, and...”
Sarah started to respond, but the explosion interrupted her. There was a flash, and all three of them were thrown to the floor.
James was the first one awake, and the first one to see the creature in his living room, sitting next to the fireplace. It was crouched over on all fours, its hind legs pumping slowly back and forth like a cat preparing to pounce. It stood about two feet tall, the size of a large dog. On each foot were three long claws which it was flexing carefully, leaving deep gouges in the stone hearth. It didn't have a nose or a mouth, just one, red eye, its socket consuming most of the mass of its head.
It was watching James, unblinking.
It wants me to make the first move. And as soon as I do, it'll pounce. . .and I'll be dead. He looked around.
William and Sarah were both lying on the carpet, and they weren't moving. The family portrait had fallen from the fireplace mantel and shards of broken glass were all over the carpet.
Between him and the beast, just a foot or so away, was a large antique revolver with an elaborately engraved handle. James had never seen it before in his life. Maybe it's Mom's? That doesn't make sense, the way she goes on about gun cont -
His thoughts were interrupted when two flaps, like gills, on the creature's throat opened, and it emitted a low, feline growl that sounded very dangerous. Is it loaded? Only one way to find out.
Slowly, his eyes locked with the staring, gargoyle-like beast, James pushed himself an inch closer to the pistol and extended his arm.
The gargoyle growled louder and moved back, jumping once in place and clawing at the stone in fury, causing James to pull back his hand. His heart felt like a jackhammer in his chest as he watched the stone masonry of the fireplace crumble under the creature's claws, and then met eyes with the it once again, staring at him, not blinking.
I'm going to die. The next time I move, that. . .thing will pounce and rip me to shreds. I can't...
The eye of the staring gargoyle shifted instantly to William, to the left, and James' pushed himself towards the gun, getting his hand around the handle by the time the creature looked back and pounced.
There was no recoil. There was nothing. It was like firing the toy gun in the old Nintendo game “Hogan's Alley”. A loud boom, a flash, and the gargoyle disappeared.
Jame's hand squeezed air. The ancient revolver was gone. The entire experience suddenly felt like a dream, the details of the staring gargoyle fading out of his mind as he laid on his belly on the floor, his right arm outstretched into the air and his hand squeezing nothing where an instant ago their seemed to be a wooden pistol grip.
“James?” A man's voice.
There was a pain in his left hand. He had all his weight on it, and it was sitting on a small shard of broken glass.
“James!” A woman's voice. Sarah's voice.
He rolled over onto his back and looked up at his two friends, clutching his bleeding left hand.
“Oh my god.” Sarah. “You're bleeding! Why are you bleeding?”
Sarah ran out of the room, calling out, “Where are your bandages?”
James felt himself coming around, his vision clearing again, “I think I cut my hand on the broken glass.”
William looked around, “What broken glass?”
“From the picture! God, my mom is going to kill,” He pointed up towards the mantle of the fireplace, and stopped when he looked. The family picture of him, his mother, and his grandparents, was still there, unbroken. The stone fireplace was in perfect condition. There wasn't any glass in the carpet.
“That doesn't make any sense,” James thought out loud.
“I couldn't find anything else. Who is that?” Sarah stopped, coming back into the room holding a towel, when she saw her.
James and William looked.
Looking out from behind the sofa was a familiar looking girl with red hair and hostile, angry green eyes.
To Be Continued