“Each and Every Phantom” sampler

Short story anthology “Each and Every Phantom” available for purchase on Amazon in both e-book and paperback.

“The Priestess”

Even in this dark, Reed could feel the approach and descent of night. The cold always found a way inside, and as it made itself comfortable, Reed nursed his angers. His wrath against his father, that leathery ulcer of human discontent. His sister who did not support him, even when he protected her. This house, this village, and everything which dared to exist.

He clutched at the metal star in his hand and curled upon it—the center of his world. For the first time, he wondered who might have kept it before his mother. It was an old piece of iron, so she was unlikely the first. Perhaps she found it on the side of the road, or received it as payment for services rendered. Perhaps it was a gift from family. Reed knew little of his mother’s family, only that she too, had once had a sister of her own. He hoped there was love between them, greater than the love he knew. He wished his mother was there with him.

Reed pinched at the rise of warm salt in his eyes.

He did not want to be hateful. His mother would not have wanted that of him.

Still, the night clawed forward and Reed saw no release from the gray room, even after the lamplights of the home went out. He would be cold and alone tonight. He tapped his teeth with shaking fingers.

Then the shanty returned. It was in his head all the day long, and suddenly was not. The cadence of it was faint and distant, but absolute and real.

The beast had come again upon the waters.

“Dream Brigade”

As she’d predicted, a large figure lifted itself up from a chasm in the chocolate landscape. It had an arched back, a blood-red bonky nose, wild green hair and skin white as the moon. Shadows retreated down the narrow lengths of its body.

“Aw man, I hate clowns,” Cadence shivered. “Why can’t they ever be pandas or something? Maybe next time,” still, she was a brave balloon girl, so she drew upon the power of her REM balloon sword. If she struck it enough times, she could cure this nightmare.

Tumble took an involuntary step back and swallowed through a hard throat. His chest felt heavy and mixed up, like he’d loosed a tornado of marbles inside. Breathing came in difficult waves. Breathing was not supposed to be difficult.

When finally the clown nightmare pulled itself entirely to the surface, it stood at an amazing height and girth, like a bulldozer. Red and yellow pinstripe overalls covered its body and made its Mickey Mouse shoes seem extra bright and puffy.

The clown bonked its nose with closed eyes. It seemed innocent. Then it smiled, baring a wreath of blackened fangs and eyes that flashed open to veins of red and cold white.

Tumble stepped back a little further and docked an arrow. Kerflooey moved in with the others, head down, his boxing gloves crackling with electric-blue REM.

With a wet crack of its neck, the nightmare charged. Too-long arms dragged along the ground as it lumbered forward, a circus titan from the belly of hell. Its laugh was a demented *hick-hickaw*.

“The Stardust Mirror”

In the kitchen where his mother was usually found slicing bread or baking something sweet, a giant of a man was busy going back-and-forth instead. He was the tallest and broadest creature Tennyson had ever seen outside of the zoo, with everything about him suggesting he might be a distant relative to the rhinoceros. Despite his size, this man, who Tennyson assumed to be the aforementioned Braum, was deft and moved with agility throughout the kitchen, stirring spiced eggs with dexterous fingers, preparing the crust of a cobbler, and flipping strips of sizzling meat on the stove.

“It smells lovely, Braum,” Old Missus Freyja said and retrieved a cane from against a bookshelf in the dining area. Had that cane always been there?

Braum, for all his physical bravado, seemed to blush at this. “You flatter Braum, but he accepts. It will be done soon, we are hoping. Who is this?”

“That’s Tennyson,” Old Missus Freyja leaned in further, if it were even possible with the shape of her back. “I’m introducing him to the family.” She said as if she were passing along a secret.

“Well, Braum hopes we do not spook him. But yes, yes, now we are busy,” Braum attended to a snap of meat which sat on the oven, cooking in burning oil. “We shall talk more later? When Braum is ah, ah, not so busy, ya?” He ran one blocky hand over his blond beard and pink lips. “Lily I think would make for a better introduction, maybe? She is out teaching the chickens how to fly.”

To this, Tennyson’s brow screwed to a point. He looked out the window. “We don’t have chickens,” a pause. “And chickens can’t fly.”

“Ah, but they can,” Braum raised a defiant finger. “You just need to help them believe in themselves.”

“Each and Every Phantom” Now Available in Paperback!

Checking in really quick just to say that my short story anthology, “Each and Every Phantom” finally had its paperback version go live on Amazon. Below is a synopsis and link. 🙂


“From the classic ghost story to a team of toys that defend the dreams of children, “Each and Every Phantom” explores tales rotating around different kinds of spirits. Within these narratives can be found the dreams of the dead, a haunted ship, the echo of a suicide, a family who struggles to stay together even after death, and more.This debut anthology is perfect for a little kick of Halloween in Winter, with pockets of adventurous whimsy and emotional turbulence woven throughout.”

Featured stories include:

“The Priestess”
“Dream Brigade”
“The Fangs of March”
“Brother, My Brother”
“The Stardust Mirror”


https://www.amazon.com/Each-Every-Phantom-Short-Anthology/dp/1797681400/ref=sr_1_2?crid=2GFYT0CJNY1S1&keywords=each+and+every+phantom&qid=1553859761&s=gateway&sprefix=each+and+every%2Caps%2C165&sr=8-2

“Brother, My Brother” – Original Horror Short Story

Mama-2013Willa was born to Andrew and Annie Foreman in the winter of ‘93, only months before they’d put a down payment on their first house.  She was a spirited thing.  Annie always jested their daughter was to be the second coming of Karen Carpenter, for she had a humble, stirring voice and was never short of hitting everything in arm’s reach. Willa was prone to smiling, carrying herself with the firstfruits of a southern belle, and laughing at everything in the childlike freedom that came with not needing to worry about whether it was appropriate.

‘99 was not a good year.  Andrew found himself downsized from his position at the laundering press where he’d just begun to think he’d made enough leeway to begin an ascent up the ladder.  The couple grimly entertained the idea of foreclosing on their home of six years, when fate made the decision in their stead.  Andrew and Annie were on a date when they’d received a call from the baby sitter about a smell of gas.  Nothing major, so Andrew dismissed it.  She was likely mistaking the smell for electric burn, since the heaters were just turning on for the first time since autumn.  He instructed her to close up whichever room was the culprit, and decided he’d take a look when he got home.

An hour later half the house went up.  The babysitter was cursed with winding, third-degree burns.  They held Willa’s funeral procession four days after the accident.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” well-meaning family would console, “She’s in a better place now.”

It was an exercise in tolerance mostly, for Andrew to refrain from rolling his eyes at their ignorant sentiments.  ‘A better place’ was not here.  ‘It’s okay’ was not I’m sorry you lost your daughter.

Of course, they would try again for a child, eventually.  If not before Andrew and Annie shared some bouts against some new, fledgling demons.

“Hon,” Annie came home from work one day, “Why is there alcohol in the basement fridge?”

“I dunno,” Andrew shrugged, head already half-inebriated from the second bottle of scotch.  “Just felt like something worth getting.”

Her expression was equal parts understanding, and kindling fear, though it was hard to tell if something else might be hiding beneath the miserable, grey swathes under her eyes.  “You haven’t had a drink since college.”

Andrew shrugged again.  That was his response for the first few months, before he started getting violent.  To his grace, he’d managed to pull back from the habit before doing any irreparable damage to his world.  He almost hit Annie.  Almost.  The sober part of his pride drew a line in the sand, and he killed the vice where it stood.  The following week of cold turkey was an affliction unlike any he’d endured in years, but he made it through on his mind’s recycled fiction where his daughter kept asking him why he hit mommy.  That illusion, that salvation, was convicting enough to recover from the brink.

Annie’s demon was a bit more stubborn, as it was fond of being a quiet, personal apocalypse.

In the beginning, Annie wept a lot.  Then not at all.  Hours of sleep would be sacrificed to restlessness, only to be answered by days of bed-ridden apathy and slumber.  Andrew hadn’t thought much of this, as his behaviors were much the same, albeit less extreme.  Annie was saddened by the loss of Willa, but of course she would be.  It was her daughter.  Perfect, perky Willa stolen away in one fiery blast.  But ‘saddened,’ Andrew eventually decided, was a pitiful and inadequate term.  Annie was not saddened, she was obliterated.

Andrew thought he’d been grieving hard over the loss, but in comparison to his wife, he was merely inconvenienced.

It didn’t really strike home until Annie tried to kill herself.

Andrew returned from a day of job searching to find his wife seizing on the bathroom floor, a bottle of Tramadol empty of its guts in the sink.  Through her gasps, convulsions, and implosive spasms, Andrew eventually managed to shove his hand down Annie’s throat, upending the drug in one ugly, caustic purge.

After a trip to the hospital to make sure she would be able to filter out what of the substance her body had already broken down, Annie and Andrew both promptly went to recovery therapy, Annie for her depressive grief, Andrew to figure out how he might better help his wife.  It was a slow crawl, but over a year, they saw progress.

Around that same time, Annie became pregnant again.

It had no reason to be a surprise, but the shock met them anyways.  Nonetheless, the months traveled by in relative tranquility.  As Annie’s belly swelled and grew taut, Andrew finally found a substantial source of income and they were able to trade their one bedroom apartment for a condominium on the far side of town, closer to Andrew’s place of work.

Appointments came and went like the tide.  The baby was healthy.  The baby was a boy.  They named the baby Shae.

Little Willa thought Shae was a wonderful name.

Shae was born to Andrew and Annie Foreman in the summer of ‘01.  He was a quiet thing.  Andrew would have remarked how his son might have been the second coming of a great athlete, or perhaps something academic, like a surgeon or attorney.  But Drew had far too much on his mind to concern himself over something like that.

Nowadays, it was all the couple could do to make sure Willa did not take their son away.

In the delivery room, Annie’s life had nearly gone forfeit.  Shae was hard on her body, exacting more than one technical complication during the procedure.  It was a hideous eight hours spent in that room, a seemingly timeless miasma of physical and emotional strife for everybody present.  You’d think a complicated delivery would be the worst of it.

Minutes after Shae had finally been evacuated and placed in the doctor’s hands for sanitation and all other medical protocol, Annie shrieked in terror, stiff-arming one finger towards the foot of her bed, eyes peeled back in an alertness uncommon to those who’ve just delivered.

Everybody turned, but only Andrew saw.  A nine-tailed hook caught his stomach at the sight of his daughter. It struck with such vigor that his subsequent throttle backwards into the wall nearly brought a nurse down with him.

Willa stood idly at the foot of Annie’s bed, watching her mother, seemingly undeterred by the aghast drain of color in her mother’s face.

Their daughter wore the same outfit as the day she died.  Black overalls on top of a baby-blue longsleeve shirt, embroidered with stars and whorls of white.  The skin beneath was mangled and bloodless, her complexion so ashen you might actually mistake it for the namesake of the word.  Burn scars clawed against her face and arms like brambles, skin ripped up and then melted down into a new geometry.  One eye had been sealed shut by the skin around it, which had dripped in its molten state and apparently cooled into a mask afterwards.  The hair, the beautiful hair Willa got from her mother, was inexplicably perfect in shape, albeit grey as a chimney pyre.

“What’s the matter?”  The lead doctor asked Annie, who was still stricken with terror for the undead girl at her feet.  He followed her finger again, back and forth, looking for the subject of her attention.  It was evident he saw nothing.

Annie began to babble, scream, and cry.  She kicked and drew her feet back despite the pain parading through her legs, core, everything.

Andrew, on the other hand, was a little more composed.  He simply recycled the same handful of choice words until they’d become something of an obsessive chant.

As could be expected, the doctors didn’t know how to handle this sudden onset of insanity among the new parents.  They exchanged glances with one another, fear, confusion, and helplessness thick in the way their brows furrowed and hands trapezed through the open air.

Willa turned to face her father.  The marring of her scars pulled down on the lips a little, making a subtle, perpetual frown.  Her one good eye was the same lattice of gold and brown she’d always had, which felt more like an insult to her absent mortality than a grace.  She cocked her head to the side, burned skin straining against her jaw and neck.  Without flourish, she looked up.

A nurse walked into the room, Shae in hand, blood having been swabbed and cleaned from his newborn body.  He was a ripe pink, with a peacefulness on his face to betray the journey he’d endured only moments before.

“Brother, my brother.”  Willa said through a filtered voice as though her throat was full of sediment and moss.

The panicking continued.  The swearing continued.  The confusion continued.  When they tried to explain the apparition by their bedside, even when it was both parents united under one front, their words fell upon ears of ignorance.  To their relief and perplexity, the phantom girl left shortly after, flickering out of existence with just as much haste as she’d come.

If not for their mutual experience of the event, both mother and father might have thought the other mentally unsound.

They left the hospital a couple days later with Shae, and a stark recommendation to wring out their nerves.  For a period, Willa did not return.

No, when she did decide to make visits, they were frequent and without pattern.  One night, Annie might walk in on Willa standing over Shae’s crib, watching her brother.  Possessing over him, you could argue, as one might when they were watching something very intently, observing change.  Watching an hourglass.  Then she’d depart for days, weeks, months without trace or mark upon the world.  That is, other than the deep wounds of confusion she left on her parents’ hearts.

Never in the first four years of Shae’s life were Andrew and Annie able to figure out why their daughter plagued them, let alone how.  She was a walking denial of most philosophies and theologies, so seeking advice from therapists and clergymen was as fruitful as the parents could have expected.  Time and again they were met with scoffing, gentle skepticism, and invitations to find help (with someone else).  A considerate ear, even a humorous ear would have been a great relief, but all were in woefully short supply.

Willa did not speak much.  Only a handful of phrases, each sounding as though the girl had just finished drowning only a moment earlier.  “Brother, my brother” seemed to be her favorite, but there were others.  “I’m here for you,” and “You have such a pretty name, Shae,” and “Shh, shh” whenever he would cry.  Once, when Annie was breastfeeding, Willa appeared and asked “why did you never do that for me?”

That was the first time Annie screamed, not because of Willa, but instead, at her.  “What do you want from us?”  Then, having already found her brave anger, “Leave us alone!”

If this bothered the spirit girl at all, she betrayed nothing.  Instead Willa walked forward until face-to-face with her mother.

“I’m lonely here.”  Willa said.  She looked at Shae, then back to her mother.

Willa did not return for months after that, but she didn’t need to.  The unspoken ultimatum lingered behind with Annie, who, being unable to shoulder the burden alone, spilled it onto her husband as well.  Their daughter—no, they could no longer think of it as their daughter.  This creature, whatever crooked thing it might be, was not Willa.  It was a spectral perversion of something beautiful.  Their shining, smiling little girl, now cold, lips frozen into a melted frown.

It was not Willa.  But it did want to take their son away.

The day Shae turned six, the same age Willa was when she passed, the demon appeared again.  It had been so long since they last saw the corruption of their daughter, both Andrew and Annie thought she might have been gone forever.  They knew in their bellies that she was not, but they’d hoped.  They hoped in vain.

At the park, amongst his friends, Shae was made conscious of a strange girl.  He’d never met this girl, but somehow recognized her all the same.  She was funny-looking, at didn’t take her eyes off him for a very long time.

Andrew certainly recognized Willa, because he hated the masquerade that she was.  As every time before, she was a ghost among the rest, incorporeal and imperceptible to the ignorant passersby.

“Willa!” Andrew yelled, more to distract her than anything.  Willa did not acknowledge her father, and Shae seemed so enraptured by the girl with the burns to even notice he’d said anything.

“Brother, my brother,” Willa said, sadly peaceful.  “Want to come and play with me?”

She reached out a hand to be taken.  It was wrinkled and grey, with singed fingernails, black at the bases.

Shae seemed to regard the hand as something with a mysterious, curious quality.  Andrew saw in his son’s eyes the desire to take hold, if only to know what it felt like.  Andrew sprinted at them from his place among the other parents, and managed to intervene just as Shae started reaching for the hand.  He pulled his son up off the ground and spun him away from Willa.  There was a crowd watching, uncomfortable and written with concern, witnessing the father and son’s game of charade.

“Get the hell away from my son!” Andrew snapped at the girl, her one open eye irritated and unimpressed.

Gasps filled the air around them, onlookers aghast.  Andrew blinked and Willa was gone, replaced by another little girl, one of Shae’s friends from the party.

It was not a simple task convincing the parents that he was right of mind, and frankly, Andrew did not care if they believed him.  No, his concern was that Shae was now aware of Willa’s existence, even if he did not fully understand who she was, or what she was supposed to be.

Andrew and Annie did not even understand what she was supposed to be.  But still, they took his questions in stride, mostly to gloss over the mounting curiosity with each successive prompt.

“Who was that, dad?” and “Why did she call me her brother?” and “She looked hurt, why didn’t we help her?” and “Why shouldn’t I touch her?”

“Because she’s a stranger, honey,” Annie would cup Shae’s face, “We don’t talk to strangers, remember?”

“But you know her,” Shae would rebuff, “I’ve heard you and dad talk about her.  You said her name is Willa.”

To make things worse, he started to learn.  Annie remembered catching her son watching a movie on television, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride.  In it, he saw dead people, their skin a similar complexion as the ghost girl from the park. They didn’t talk about it, but Annie knew her son was putting pieces together in his mind, threading a large, supernatural tapestry.  That girl he saw in the park on his birthday was dead.  His dead sister, maybe?  That’s why nobody else could see her.  That’s why mom and dad were scared of her, because she’s a ghost and ghosts are supposed to be scary.  But Willa seemed nice.  She only wanted to play.  I like to play.

Willa showed up again only a week or two later.  Shae was sitting in the back seat of the car on their return trip from the grocery store.  In his hands, he fumbled with a toy replica of Sully from Monsters Inc.  Willa materialized in the open back seat, hands folded neatly in her lap, regarding her brother.

Annie jolted for a moment when she saw the apparition in the rearview mirror, but managed to compose herself.  She reached over to Andrew in the driver’s seat, tapped him on the arm, and gave him a look of deliberate intensity.  Her eyes cut to Willa.  Andrew followed them.  He looked back at his wife and nodded.

“Good afternoon, Willa,” Andrew smiled.  “How are you?”

The specter turned its attention on the parents, face placid and wreathed in old wounds.

“I’m lonely,” Willa said.  She turned back to Shae.  “Would you like to play?”

“Willa,” Annie said, “I’d like to play.”

Again, the Willa spirit faced her mother.  Her one eyebrow knotted.

“I would like to play,” Annie’s voice shook, but she managed.  They’d practiced.  She could do this, she knew.  “What do you want to play?”

Willa blinked with her one eye.  It was a slow, consuming blink.  “I…don’t know.”

Shae watched on with that same morbid curiosity that followed everything involving Willa.

“You always liked to sing,” Annie pressed play on a CD in the car.  Journey began to invade the airspace.  It was something Andrew and Annie would often play during car rides, and so Willa had grown accustomed to it while she was alive.  She enjoyed singing along, especially to the tune “Don’t stop believin’.”

If ever Willa had seemed staggered, it was now.  There seemed to be an unsettling conflict within her, a typhoon of the child she had been versus the monster she’d inexplicably become in death.  Her mouth opened with a word, she closed it, that word lost to the void.

“Why?” She said after a lull.

Annie looked over at Andrew.  The bump of the car as it crossed between roads and the existence of a world outside the vehicle was all but forgotten, sacrificed for the sake of focus.

“Why what, sweetie?”  Andrew said.

Willa shook her head and made a low tumble in her chest.  “Why would I like to sing?”

Annie smiled, and was surprised by the genuineness of it.  “Because,” she said, “you’ve always had a beautiful voice.”

Shae’s means of staring at Willa was so severe it was borderline frightening.  But his parents had talked about this, too.  They talked to him, told him about his sister.  “Hi, Willa,” he said, not smiling, but not frowning, “I want to hear you sing.”  He turned to his parents.  “Can I hear her sing?”

Andrew nodded.  “Only if she wants to, bud.”

Willa’s lips pursed, her one eye darting around the car seat in front of her, as though looking for an instruction on how she should behave.  “But,” she garbled, “How?”

“Like this,” Andrew said, picking up the lyrics, lifting the timbre and cadence of his throat.  “Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world…”

She took the midnight train,” Annie rested a hand to her chest, projecting her voice, “Going anywhere.”

They began to sing together.  Eventually Shae joined with them.  Willa cast suspicious, but hopeful glances among everyone in the car.  Then finally, when the chorus arrived, she joined.  It was a creaking, skidding ensemble, but she sang.  Her throat rattled as though filled with lead bubbles, but she found the enthusiasm.  The skin outlining her mouth was taut when she drew it wide to sing, but it did not rip like one might suspect it would by appearance.

“You sing really well,” Shae said, “I think you have a pretty voice.”

Sad admiration, or perhaps longing for appreciation, filled the girl’s dead face.  “You think so?”

“Yes,” Shae smiled.  It was not a smile on the hinge of bravery, or clambering to satisfy.  It was a wide, I want you to believe this because it’s true sort of smile.

Willa did not smile.  She looked back to the front, Annie waiting to meet her gaze.

“I’m lonely,” she said.

Annie shook her head.  “You can’t take Shae-”

Willa’s attention grew sharp and cold.

“-but you can come and play with him whenever you want.  You are still our daughter,” Annie said.  “We want to love you again.  We want you with us.”

“Can I,” Willa chewed her lip, a film of black around her gums, “Just stay?”

Annie blanked and screwed her eyes onto Andrew.  He hesitated, attention fiercely locked on the road, mind a million miles away.

“Of course you can,” Andrew said after a few beats.  “If you give us a few days, we’ll put together a room for you.  We can have dinner as a family again, all four of us.”

A satisfactory script of trust deployed across Willa’s face, her scars fighting against the upturned curl in her lips.  “Okay.”  She nodded, a small vein of moisture in one eye.

Then she was gone.

As promised, Andrew and Annie started making up the spare bedroom to be Willa’s.  They weren’t sure what they were doing, or how, but they’d figure out a way to make it work.  Maybe she wasn’t as she used to be, but it was still their Willa, and they would love her the best they could.  They ought to consider themselves fortunate.  Not every family gets their daughter back.

Even if she couldn’t eat.  Even if she couldn’t sing.  Even if sometimes Andrew would wake up to her, standing at his bedside, watching him sleep.  Even if she still reached out to Shae sometimes, as though some demon controlled her fingers, demanding that she try to steal him away, her expression estranged and like steel.  Shae knew not to take Willa’s hand when she became like this, but the curiosity in his eyes could not be dodged.  It was all his parent’s could do to alleviate his interest.  Willa was good, they would say, but she was not entirely herself.  Something wanted to drag them to a dark place where nobody returned.

Willa and Shae were happy with their parents, Andrew and Annie Foreman, in the winter of ‘07.

Only God knows how long that was going to last.

Update: 01/06/15

Working on the third chapter of my most recent project: “The Wisdom of Demons.”

It’s tricky not falling into the idea that I have a deadline.  I want to nourish and cherish this story, so it may grow into its skin, but I also want it to be presentable by WorldCon later this year.  That means completing the full first draft, with preferably three or four upgrades to it thereafter.  It did not seem so intimidating at first, when I’d only planned on creating a novella, but since the story has graduated a few times and character arcs have been fleshed out, I have no idea what the endgame is going to look like in terms of length.  I just have to keep on plugging.

Still waiting to hear back on my submission for “Maori.”  The anthology made no promises on any response up through February, but the angst in my chest is bouncing around so much that I’d be relieved simply to have an answer.  Alas, another test of patience unfolds.

In terms of recent media, I’m about to finish up my first playthrough of the Tomb Raider reboot, in light of its sequel’s recent release.  The narrative lore in that game is splendid, congealing elements of ancient Japanese mythology and culture with the glorified ‘Indiana Jones’ idyllicism one should expect from a Tomb Raider game.

I’ve also been plugging through the first two seasons of Tokyo Ghoul.  Its been on my list of to-do’s for some time, and after a recent stunt pulled by Grimmie, its priority shot up to the top of the list.  My favorite character is Juuzou, because I love psychotic characters, especially light-hearted psychotic characters.

Thanks for reading.  See you later, Space Cowboy.

(Here’s a picture of Pikachu and Stitch dressed in reversed onesies, for your entertainment.  Compliments of @itsbirdy)

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“The Interview” – Short Story

“As I’m sure you’ve suspected, this isn’t normal protocol.”

I nod as I take my seat, “If we were normal, we’d be out of a job.”

If the overlord was amused, he didn’t show it. My answer seemed to satisfy him enough, but I can’t say the same for the triad of his peers, my interviewers. Then again, I knew they were a tough crowd. Any supervillain worth their mettle always was.

“Jericho here has to level a Mediterranean island this evening, so forgive us if we are attentive to time. It couldn’t be helped.” A burly oaf with skin fair enough to challenge The White Witch gave a stunted nod. I’d heard of Jericho. He was probably the least imposing of the titans before me, but still had enough experience and power under his belt to give A-class heroes a modest challenge.

As for the piece of work that had been breaking me in, that was Malachi, more notoriously known by-and-large as Utter Doom. I’d trained myself to look at his forehead when speaking with him, so as to avoid direct contact with the “Lucifer Eyes” that brought him to the top of his field. They were blank, cleaner than white, and only an accessory to his esteemed fury. Utter Doom had been around since the dawn of the supervillain, and was the standard that defines many supervillain tropes. Ironic, because nearly all of those came from his younger days and most of them are a reflection of inexperience. Nowadays it’s a rule of thumb you don’t make your ventilation ducts large enough to crawl through, and you never monologue for more than two lines.

“That’s understandable,” I said, “Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.”

Utter Doom gave a curt nod, “Of course. Let’s begin. Why are you interested in becoming a supervillain?”

I did my best to shed a practiced smile and passed my eyes along each of my interviewers, steering clear of their gazes, “As a former superhero,” I paused for an instant to take in their expressions. Good, none of them seemed surprised by this, “I have always admired the resilience of your side. You make greater sacrifices than most of the supposed ‘heroes’, and are very action-oriented. Supervillains are creative, meticulous, and have tremendous resolve. Superheroes do not do much for themselves. They simply respond to your presence. If not for you, there would be no need for the hero. I am fascinated by that instrumental importance and influence you carry.”

Doom scrawled things on the clipboard in his lap. He sat straight-backed in a black throne chair, fitted with leather. It was daunting how his expression remained. Absolutely deadpan, without the slightest tremble or fidget. “You clearly weren’t a superhero for very long.”

This caught me unprepared, “Might I ask why you think so?”

“In my experience, heroes often sacrifice just as much, if not more than the supervillains. We might be lonely, or in perpetual financial ruin, or thought monsters, but like you said: it is by our own devices. We are the proactive ones. Maybe some of us have better reasons for our actions than others, but ultimately it is still our decision to behave and act against standardized morality. We are sinister and underhanded, and many heroes are felled by our cunning and deceptiveness. Some even come to our side because of how much we have cost them. Do not underestimate the sacrifices of your enemy.”

I found myself closing peeled lips. I hadn’t expected such class and respect from a supervillain, especially towards his adversaries.

“Our records show that you were a superhero for only five years?” A new voice broke the conversation. Miranda, the only female in the office. The Queen. I nod my affirmations, “What was your region and what are your powers?”

The Queen was entirely different from Utter Doom. She weaved her words with enough restraint, but the tears of blood forever spinning from her eyes made me wary, like she would happily drive twelve blades into my heart at the drop of a hat.

Keeping your voice straight in front of a woman of this caliber was no simple task, “My first few years were largely based in central Europe, but the latter half was spent on the Eastern American shore. As for powers, I can manipulate gravity.”

This seemed to please her. “Always formidable if utilized properly,” she said.

I couldn’t stop my grin.

“Show me,” Jericho spoke. They weren’t words. They were bombs, and they blew apart both my knees and my conviction. Steeling myself, I thrust one palm forward and unleashed a hideous shockwave, one strong enough to snap pillars of stone like chicken legs. The table we gathered around blew into dust and shards, and the room was filled with a low-bass ringing like we were inside a troll’s war drum. While the hair on his flesh might have flittered, the giant was a full four-hundred pounds of not-moving. Only now did I realize that any one of my interviewers were enough to topple a nation. I had nothing before them. They were each at least ten times deadlier to the world than I was. Doom didn’t even blink. Jericho grunted, “Pretty good.”

Pretty good? Oh, man.

Until now, the last interviewer hadn’t yet graced me with a word from his unholy tongue. Honestly, I would have preferred it stayed that way. The final of the four was Famine, one of the infamous Horsemen of Apocalypse. A demon among supervillains and probably the only inquisitor present with enough spine and cruelty to stand up to the devil. “If you were accepted for the position, what methods would you take to ensure optimal damage output? What are some of your operational preferences?”

Swallowing through my heart, I persevered, “Until now I’ve been familiar with working alone or in small groups, but I feel the next best step for my career is to join an organization. Power in numbers and all of that. This will give me the first-hand experience I need for the long-term ambition of leading my own dark organization. A sort of anti-hero unit, I suppose. We will have no other purpose but to destroy those who defy us,” I paused for a moment to study Utter Doom, who seemed to be clenching his jaw quite tightly. I continued, “As for specific methods, I would abide by the guidebook of Doom’s apprentice ‘Black Stroke’. Absolutely brilliant methodology and technique, with humor and wit to boot.”

“It’s a shame he didn’t take his own advice,” Doom said off-handedly, in a slow drone, “Rule twelve: ‘Never let the hero have a last request.’ That one mistake was all he needed.”

“Nevertheless, they are quality guidelines for any contemporary supervillain,” I defended, “And as for ‘optimal damage output’ I would probably start by convincing my former companions that I was still interested in being a superhero. Manipulation and deceit are wonderful tools, even for ordinary men.”

Famine was a dirty red color in his skin, like desert sands at sunset. His skull was lined with jagged black protrusions and I wondered how he ever slept. Or if he ever slept. He pursed his lips and tipped his head, jotting down notes.

Utter Doom cleared his throat and readjusted himself, “Answer the following with as much speed and precision as possible.”

I readied myself. I’d been studying for this part.

“As a supervillain, is it better to have a son or a daughter for your progeny?”

“Neither,” I shoot out, almost forgetting the rest of my answer, “Sons are proud, and their inevitable plans to usurp me might fail, but it will almost certainly be at a critical point in time. The distraction could result in my downfall. Daughters are easily tricked into falling for the hero’s swashbuckling charm and skill, thus leading to ultimate betrayal. Though if I had to choose, I’d rather have a son. I could use his evil strength until he came of age, and then I would kill him in what looked like an accident. If he had friends, they would be disposed of preemptively, so as to waylay their possible vengeance.”

Doom was quick with the next question, “When is an enemy considered defeated?”

“When they are either cremated, or at the very least, mutilated to the point that they wouldn’t want to live. And absolutely no assumptions. If they fell down a cliff, I would personally go down with a strike team to retrieve the body and finish up a proper disposal.”

“If you had a platoon or army under your command, what sort of aesthetics would you employ in the design of their uniform?”

This one was disappointingly easy. Only the stupid villains missed this question anymore. “Grant them individuality. They might all wear one suit, but make it unique and open to slight variety and character. If helmets are included, and they should be, then they ought to reveal the identity of the soldier underneath. At the very least, the eyes should be visible. Such a simple device does tremendous things to the hero’s psyche and makes your underling more likely to survive in battle.”

Utter Doom sighed and penned his thoughts onto the board, “Straight from Black Stroke’s lessons. I can’t say they were poor answers…just rehearsed.”

“I prefer to use the word ‘practiced’. Makes me feel more disciplined and malleable.”

The Queen licked her lips, “One last question. If there were any one villain you could follow for a day, who would it be?”

“Whipgun,” I answer, aware that I might be making a poor decision.

“Whipgun?” The Queen grimaced, “The speed beast? Why him? He has fulfilled nothing but minor-league contracts, heists, and burglaries. Any hero worth their power can defeat Whipgun.”

“Because if I could follow Whipgun, that would mean I was really, really fast.”

Jericho made a tumbling noise in his chest that I hoped was laughter.

The Queen curled her fingers around the pen in her hand and looked at me hard. For a second, I thought I’d made a mistake. But my concerns melted when she smiled. An evil smile, but a smile all the same, “At the end of it, he cracks a joke. I like how you play this game.”

Doom and Famine were profoundly unaffected by the humor, but it wasn’t for them anyways. “That’s all I have,” Doom said, “Does anyone else have something they’d like to add?”

Unanimous shrugs and head-swaying across the board.

“Very good,” Utter Doom directed himself towards me, “Before we go, do you have any last questions?” He’d already begun to leave his seat, so I took that as a cue I could as well.

I wore that practiced smile like a mask of hope, “Only one. When can I start?”

“Daughter of the Rain” – Short Story

A chord of aching compassion sifted behind Ira’s chest. He unfurled one hand slowly, reaching out towards the lonely creature under the wagon. With a pout and limp, it fell back over itself. Ira drew his arms to his core for warmth and sighed.

“How long have you been here?” He cast a half-attended glance to his side, maybe looking for somebody. An owner possibly, or someone that might be able to help. They were alone, so he returned his attention to the young beast. It was longer than his arm and slender like a crystal river, smooth tufts of hair gathering where scales were absent. Ira stirred. Between its dainty paws and the mercury glow of its eyes, the fledgling creature gathered old thoughts of a runt hound from his youth.

But this was hardly a hound or even a mutt. Something in its build reminded Ira of a gargoyle, or one of those spirits from his father’s library.

It whimpered something low and rolling, scratching its broken claws into wet earth. Ira pursed his lips and settled both knees into the mud. Whatever it might be, it was hurt and made the distinct cry of having been betrayed. A sound shared by men and beast alike.

Fumbling in his coat pocket, Ira broke off a chunk of stale butter-bread. The rain reached down and made it soft. He extended the supplement until the whole of his arm was beneath the wagon, his cheek against its hardwood carapace. For a long minute there was nothing, but soon after, something nuzzled his fingers and lapped the food from his hand. It tickled. Ira dipped his head under the carriage to watch his new friend lick up the last of the bread. “I don’t want to leave you here,” Ira fell back on his haunches and cast his head low, “But I don’t know where to take you.”

Curious silver rings peered back at him, now suddenly interested, but resilient in wariness.

“I would never hurt you,” Ira said. He did all he could to keep his tone soft and distinctly motherly. “But words are fickle, aren’t they? Like water.”

To his surprise, the young creature moved closer, one leg damaged enough that it could only drag. Ira eased back into the rain, providing a space for it to join him. The gargoyle’s eyelids flittered as the rain came against them. Several deep lacerations crept along its sides, staining the surrounding fur in a blood darker than oil. A swell above one eye seemed to be in advanced stages of healing, but that was the best of it.

Reciting the importance of caution to himself, Ira made clear for the beast that he was a friend, and then reached out until they were touching. It purred meagerly and let him run fingers along the scales of its crown. “I’m sorry.”

The gargoyle rustled its jaw and came closer.

“I’m so sorry. Please forgive us. I forget how cruel we can be.”

If the creature acknowledged or understood any of Ira’s words– which it may, he couldn’t be sure it didn’t– then it would be a hideous deed of him to abandon or send it away. Ira was dirty and unwanted even among his own kin. What could he offer? If it came with him, it would die before the week closed. There was no home with warm hearth-fire to greet them. No quiet place that was safe from the rain.

Perhaps sensing his own conflict, the gargoyle slid its head onto Ira’s lap and closed its eyes. Ira heaved a single dry sob and clenched both fists before laying his head atop the beast’s own. “What is your name, I wonder?” A rhythmic, throaty tremble came from the beast. A noise and feeling like a great cat’s purr. The rain bid forth with greater fury, crushing the wagon’s steeple. The collapse startled them both, and the creature looked back to Ira with a gaze of mixed pity and comfort. An idle wind tossed the rain slantways.

“I think I have something,” Ira grinned with a trace smile like honey, “Ysuna. Hmm? A Southern word. I think it’s religious. ‘Daughter of the rain’. How does that sound?”

As woefully inadequate as Ira felt most his decisions were, this one seemed right. Seemed strong and pure. The creature must have agreed, because it licked a frothy pink tongue against the flat of his arm.

Gathering the injured creature into a cradle, Ira made a point to avoid hurting Ysuna any more than she already had been. “Come on, let’s get out of the rain,” Ira laid Ysuna on her better side, back against the inside of the wagon’s wheel. There was just enough room for him to crawl underneath the carriage and rest beside her. “We will rest here, and when the rain stops we will find someone who can help,” Ira stroked the beast’s brow, “Hold on until then, okay?”