One By One. Short Story.

Mark sat on the bed, knees pulled tight to his chest. Someone knocked on his door.
“Go away.”
“It isn’t safe for you to be alone.”
“What does it matter? It isn’t safe with people either.”
“Just let me in.”
“Go away.”
They thumped on the door twice more, Mark sighed, “Fine. I’ll be out in a few minutes, ok?”
“Don’t take too long.”
Mark shook his head slightly. Samantha was always so pushy, why couldn’t she just leave things alone sometimes? He didn’t want to be around people, he just wanted to be left alone, to deal with things by himself. Of course she wouldn’t give him that luxury. Everyone else had the decency to let him grieve in peace, but not Samantha. He lowered his head onto his legs. He wanted to yell at her, to scream and shout, but he wouldn’t. He knew she meant well and in a way, that kind of made him feel a little bit better. It was nice to know that someone cared about him. He rubbed at his eyes to make sure there were no tears there, then he stood and stretched. Samantha was right, even if she could be annoying. He shouldn’t really be alone. That would make things more dangerous. He took a few deep breaths then unlocked the door and stepped into the hallway. Everyone would be in the hall no doubt. Most people had moved in there. Mark had never been a huge fan of the place. It always seemed just a little too big, just a little too clean.

He stepped into the hall and froze. He knew there weren’t many left, but seeing everyone here together, huddled in a circle really drove home how many were gone. He quickly counted, twenty four people left of seventy five. He felt his cheeks redden slightly as he saw Danny crying. It was selfish of him to lock himself away. He wasn’t the only one to lose someone. Even if they hadn’t lost family, everyone had lost friends. As he entered the room everyone looked up sharply, Samantha was there, she gave him a small smile. Her parents were holding onto her tightly. He was surprised they let her go to his room alone. People in the circle bunched up and made a little space for him, Mark grabbed his own sleeping bag and folded it over, using it as a makeshift cushion. Everyone was quiet. No one was talking. A few people were sniffing, holding back tears, while one or two were openly crying. “Any news?” everyone shook their heads, there were a few muted no’s. It was another two weeks before they were supposed to arrive, and another week before anyone would be able to get to them. It seemed like it had been longer than a week since the first noted disappearance. Three others had gone missing before that, but everyone just assumed they were somewhere else. In the week since the emergency beacon had been activated, fifty one people had disappeared. No one knew what happened to them, or where they had gone. The only thing they knew was that they were not on the ship anymore. On the second day search parties went out, checking over the ship, scans were performed, everything anyone could think of. There was no sign of any of the missing. The ship helpfully reported the number of living beings on board, it was never more than the passengers and crew and it counted down with each disappearance. What ever, or who ever was making everyone vanish still hadn’t been found. The last person to go, Jeremiah, had been by himself, everyone else had been in the hall. No one bothered searching for him. The ship reported him as gone, like it had with the others. Not that it would have helped Jeremiah if he had stayed with the group, plenty of others had simply vanished while in the presence of others too. One moment they would be there and everything was fine, the next they were gone without anyone seeing them leave or being taken.

Mark suspected that who ever was doing it had planned it. After all the communications failed about a week and a half into the voyage. Not a huge deal as they’re usually not used for anything too important, but it prevented them from reporting exactly what was happening on the ship. The only thing they could do was activate the emergency beacon. Who ever had stopped communications didn’t want anyone knowing what was going on on the ship. Maybe it was just some fucked up experiment and once you were disappeared you joined the others and at the end of it all you’d be let go. He had heard rumors of things like that before. Stories about how they ran experiments on ships, testing and prodding. Sometimes it was governments behind it, other times it was corporations. Mark hadn’t really believed them when he heard them, even if he did get a nervous tingle in his stomach every time he went on a long voyage.

That night Mark found it difficult to sleep. He kept tossing and turning. Every time he closed his eyes he saw his parents, smiling at him. It was hard, but he managed to stop the tears. He needed to be strong, everyone needed to be strong and work together to figure out a way to keep themselves safe. At some point Mark passed out.

He was woken by people shouting. He sat up and looked around, there were less people in the room, “They’re just gone, how could no one have heard it?”
Mark looked around the room, looking for who was missing. Samantha and her parents were gone, so was Danny and two others. His heart was thudding heavily in his chest, drowning out the sound of shouting. They were all going to vanish, there was no way they could stop it and no way they could hold out for another six days.

“Ok everyone, be prepared, we don’t know the nature of the emergency, once we find out what’s wrong, we’re going to have to work quickly. Are you all ready?”
“Yes, sir!”
“Good.”
He stepped through the airlock and waited for the door to open. When it did the captain was standing on the other side, smiling. “Welcome, please come aboard. I’m sorry for any panic that was caused, it was only a false alarm.”
“False alarm?”
“Yes, our communications failed a week and a half in, someone accidently set off the emergency beacon while trying to get them back online.”
“I see. We’re going to have to a full sweep of the ship to make sure everything is in order.”
“That’s perfectly all right, you’re welcome to take a look around.” The captain grinned, “it’ll be nice for everyone to see some fresh faces.”

They filed out of the ship and split into teams to conduct the search. They did a quick headcount in the hall, seventy five people, “and is this everyone present on the ship?”
“It is indeed.”
“Good. Stay here. Any people found outside that room will be dealt with with lethal force.”
The captain nodded, “I understand.”

The teams started to move through the ship, unaware that they were already missing three people.

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Containment. Short Story.

Mary could feel it, moving its way through her veins, spreading through her body. It was an odd feeling, a hot burning that was strangely pleasant. She was afraid, of course she was, it was burning away herself, burning away everything she had ever known, would ever know. When it was over, it would leave her as an empty husk, a deformed and reviled person, primitive and violent. Her hand rested on the phone. She needed to call the number on the news. Not that she needed that reminder. Most people had it memorized before they knew their home number. She felt a burst of anger, why was this happening to her? What had she ever done to deserve it? Nothing. That was what. She was a good person, she volunteered, she gave to charities. She wasn’t unkind or evil, or bad. But she would be soon. It wasn’t just taking away her life, it was taking away everything that made her, her. Taking all the good and removing it, amplifying the bad until there was nothing left. The news continued on, the number scrolling across the screen. Mary closed her eyes and took a deep breath, she picked up the phone, then lay it down again. She would ring them, of course she would, she had to. She couldn’t risk hurting other people either through her actions or by spreading the disease, but that didn’t mean she had to call them straight away. She still had time. Mary shuddered as the heat moved up slightly.

It had been in the food, the goddamned food. Terrorists had tainted it. There were different kinds of food being listed, Mary stopped listening about after she heard the first one she had eaten. Numbly she had stood and went to the kitchen, digging through the rubbish until she found the empty bag. She had eaten it last night for dinner. She had returned to the sitting room and sat on the couch, bag clutched in her hand, not listening as the anchors prattled on, what did it matter at that point? It was already too late for her. She had been feeling the burning since she woke this morning, but she had managed to dismiss it. She had a long day yesterday and her feet were just a little sore, that was all. Mary knew she should have known better. That was part of the process. Hiding itself in plain sight, making the victim think of reasonable excuses as to why they had symptoms. She picked up her glass and took a drink of water, then, with a frustrated yell she threw the glass across the room, it shattered against the wall, sending water and shards glass everywhere. She put her head into her hands and sobbed.

The terrorists had been getting bolder the last few months, making a greater effort to attack, no one really knew what it was they wanted and Mary didn’t really care, she just didn’t want to be a part of it. She wanted a nice, quiet life. A normal life. She sobbed again, then sat up, her heart beating wildly. She looked at the remains of the glass and the puddle of water and felt a stab of fear, she had never done anything like that before. She had never felt anger so bright and intense, she had always been a calm person. That wasn’t her, it was the disease. She looked down at her palms, at the thin layer of tears that coated them and cried out, she moved her hands away from her body, it was there, in those tears. Oh god, it was on her skin. She got up and ran to the kitchen, clipping the table with her hip as she went passed, she ignored the sudden flare of pain and stumbled to the counter. At the sink she turned on the hot water and started to scrub at her hands, scrubbing and scrubbing until they were bright red and the water was too hot for her to keep her hands under it anymore. She stepped back from the sink, hands still dripping. This wasn’t right. She wasn’t supposed to be like this. She was supposed to be calm, rational. Not an emotional wreck. Her feelings took on a new intensity, a new sharpness. No. That wasn’t right. It wasn’t how things were supposed to be.

In the sitting room Mary cradled the phone in her sore hands. There was no cure, everyone knew that, but there were holding facilities, where you would be kept until such time a treatment could be found. Maybe they weren’t all that bad. Anyway, she wouldn’t really know, would she? After all, she wouldn’t be herself anymore. She laughed, once, sudden and high. The noise was brittle and it frightened her. She gave a hiccupping cough, sniffed, then she finally started to dial.

She lowered the phone gently. They were on their way. She stood and went to her front door and opened it, then she returned to her sitting room and sat down on the couch, hands carefully in view. Mary didn’t want any misunderstandings to occur. As she waited fear and anger rolled through her, occasionally her body would start jerking uncontrollably.

The people who came into her house were not what she expected at all. She had pictured them dressed all in black, with guns drawn. They were dressed in white lab coats, wearing gloves and thick masks with goggles. After confirming who she was, they gently lifted her from the couch and guided her to a van. The back of it was separate from the front, but the seats were comfortable, two of the people sat either side of her. Another closed over her front door and joined them. Mary didn’t talk, she didn’t think she would be able to without throwing up. One of them patted her knee, causing her to jump “It will be okay Mary, you’ll see.” She smiled at them briefly. A brittle, harsh smile. It was all very well and good for them to say that, they weren’t the ones who had their entire lives destroyed. Condescending asshole. She could reach out and pull off those stupid goggles and spit in their fucking face before they’d even be able to react. Mary jerked her hands close to her body, afraid that they might just start moving on their own. That wasn’t nice, that wasn’t right. She shouldn’t be thinking things like that. She was a good person, someone who would never, ever do something like that.

The van finally stopped. Those around her stood up and gestured for her to do the same. Mary stood and was lead out of the van. They were in a wide, open area, in the distance Mary could see fences and walls, all lined with barbed wire. People walked along the top of one of the walls, she couldn’t quite see it from here but she suspected they all held guns.

They brought her to a low, squat building. There they moved into an elevator and waited. When it finally opened again a few moments later, they lead her down a large hallway. “You will be placed with the new arrivals, as the disease progresses you will be moved to a long term cell where you will be kept safe and will be well looked after. Once the change occurs we will provide you with more information.”
“More information? I thought when the change happens I’d have no higher functions.”
There was no response. There was noise ahead of them, steadily getting louder. They stopped at a door and then it opened, Mary gasped and stepped back. She didn’t want to go in there. She didn’t belong in this hell.

There were cages set up, none were touching and all had thick bars. As they lead her through them Mary had a good look at those in the cells. Some were sitting quietly, others were begging to be let out, tears streaming down their faces. Others were laughing uncontrollably, while still others beat at the bars and screamed. They stopped at an empty cell and gestured for Mary to enter. She hesitated for a moment. Could she run? They’d shoot her down sure, but wouldn’t that be better than all of this? Someone nudged her gently and she started to move forward. The cell door closed with a loud clang. She was stuck here.

They came by with food and water regularly. Mary didn’t care, she just wanted to sleep. She was so tired. The burning feeling made her feel warm, reminded her of something as a child. Some kind of illness she had had. She slept and woke seemingly at random. Then finally it happened, the disease reached its end stage, Mary started to scream as it flooded over her, she could feel them all, everything. All the emotions that had been dulled and repressed came to the forefront. Her mind replaying everything that should have made her angry, happy sad, making her feel them all.

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The Snow Storm. Short Story.

Snow fell heavily on the village, coating everything thickly. Sarah glanced out the window, then back at the fire. There was no sign of her brothers, they were supposed to be back hours ago. Her father had already left the house to search for them, Sarah had been left behind to keep the fire lit. The food was cooked and ready to be eaten once everyone arrived home. She glanced out again, hoping to see the shapes of her brothers trudging through the snow, but there was only the flickering static of snowfall.

Sarah’s mother died when she was three, she had been caught out in a freak storm and had caught an illness. Since then it had just been Sarah, her father and her two brothers. She had suggested a few times that her father remarry, but he had sidestepped those conversations each time. She let out a little frustrated noise, stood and went to the window. Where were they? They all should have been back long before now. She was tempted to grab her thick heavy coat and go out looking for them herself. No. That would be foolish. She tore herself away from the window and forced herself to check over the food. Nothing else needed to be done with it, but checking it all gave her something to do. The snow was falling heavily and it could turn into a blizzard at any moment. As it was she would probably get lost once she stepped outside the village. Already the paths were hidden, the only guiding lights would be those from the other houses and she could barely make out the lights of the houses closest to theirs.

Despite the warmth of the fire, Sarah started to feel a chill in her bones. She moved closer, trying to warm herself up. They’d seen plenty of blizzards and storms, but this one seemed different, felt different. She had stopped going to the window to look out, each time she did it felt as though someone was staring back at her. She sat with her back resolutely facing it. Her brothers and father would return, or else they would find somewhere to wait out the storm. They were good outdoorsmen, they would know what they were doing.

Someone knocked on the door, three rapid taps. Sarah jumped to her feet and pulled it open, not stopping to think that her brothers and father wouldn’t have knocked, they would have just walked right in. Cold air blasted through the door carrying snowflakes, Sarah started to shiver immediately as the cold robbed her of her warmth. An old, hunch woman was standing at the door, almost falling over. Sarah reached out and grabbed the old woman’s arm to steady her, “I’m sorry, I got lost in the storm, yours was the first house that I saw”
Sarah helped the old woman into the house and closed the door behind them. She guided the woman to a chair beside the fire.
“Here, sit down and warm yourself, I have some food waiting. It’s still hot and you are more than welcome to have some.”
Sarah put some soup into a bowl and some bread beside it, then she filled another plate with bits of everything she had cooked and placed it on a small table which she moved in front of the woman.
“Oh thank you, thank you so much.”
The woman was shivering violently, but as the time had passed she began to still.
“Were you out there long?”
“I’m not sure, it felt like hours. I was caught outside and I was all turned around.”
The woman began to eat slowly and carefully, Sarah frowned at her. She didn’t recognise the woman and she knew almost everyone in the village.
“Did you come from one of the other villages?”
“I’m not sure, nothing looked familiar, where is this?”
“Barton.”
“Oh my, I’m way off course, I was in the woods near Clarkson.”
Sarah shook her head, that was at least an hour and a half walk at a good clip.
Sarah bit her lip slightly, “You didn’t happen to see any men did you? One who is quite tall, in a dark brown coat, the other two are a little taller than me and wearing light brown ones?”
“No, I’m sorry, I didn’t see anyone out there. Oh my, but I did get all confused. My son must be so worried about me. I was only visiting a friend in the woods, I should have stayed there until the storm passed” She shook her head, “I was foolish to venture out in it. Those men you asked about, are they your family?”
Sarah nodded, “My father and brothers. He went out to look for them when the storm started. They should have been back by now.”
“Well, maybe they found someone to take them in like I did” She took another spoonful of the soup. “The food is delicious, thank you so much.”
“It’s no bother at all, anyone would have done the same. I’m Sarah by the way.”
“Most people call me Mother Maggie, but you can call me just Maggie if you like.”
“Why Mother Maggie?”
Maggie grinned at Sarah, her face showing a thousand wrinkles, “I’m the oldest in the village. I live with my son and his wife and I helped them look after their children and now I help look after my great-grandchildren.”

Sarah had gathered some food for herself and started to eat. The conversation was helping to distract her from her thoughts of her brothers and father and in doing so had returned her appetite.

After the plates had been cleared away, Maggie looked out the window at the snow, “It’s going to be a long storm I’m afraid, it won’t break until late tomorrow at the earliest.”
“Are you sure?”
“Quite sure, when you get to my age you get a sense about these things.”
“Well, you can stay as long as you need. I’m sure your family is worried about you, but it’s too dangerous to travel.”
Maggie smiled, “you’re a good girl, thank you.”

Sarah stayed up late into the night as Maggie slept in her bed. She was too old to be sleeping in a chair or on the floor. Sarah didn’t mind too much as she couldn’t sleep anyway. She had begun to stare out the window again, hoping that she would see some sign of her family, or if not that, at least find some hope that they were ok. At some point she dozed off, head resting on her arms.

A loud bang woke her, something hit against the door again causing it to shudder in the frame. Sarah jumped up and ran over, as her hand touched the handle, Maggie cried out, “Don’t child!” Sarah froze, her hand resting on the doorknob. Something slammed into the door again, this time Sarah jumped back.
“Don’t let it in, it means to do us harm.”
“But what if it’s my father or my brothers?”
“It isn’t Sarah, can’t you sense it? The evil that has filed the air? No. It is no one you know.”
A voice cried out on the other side, chattering and cold, “Sarah, it’s us, please, please let us in. It’s so cold out here. So dreadfully cold.” It sounded like her brother.
“Don’t listen to it!”
“Please Sarah, we’ll die out here.” It was the voice of her other brother
There was the low mournful howl of a wolf, “Please, we’ve been attacked by animals, they’ll kill us if we don’t get inside.” Sarah began to shiver at the last voice, the voice of her father.
the door shuddered again as another blow stuck it.

Maggie grabbed Sarah and pulled her into a tight hug, “Don’t listen child, it’s lying to trick you. Oh, the lord has guided me here tonight to protect you I think.”

She hugged Sarah tighter as outside began to fill with the sound of screams, snarls and ripping. Sarah cried as Maggie gripped her tight, shuddering with each new noise.

Sarah didn’t know at what point the noise had finally stopped, nor did she know when Maggie had tucked her into bed. She moved into the sitting room and found it empty. Maggie had already left. There was no sign of the old woman. Sarah moved towards the door slowly. She took a deep breath, then pulled it open. Cold air flooded into the house. There were thick gouges in the wood of the door, and the snow in front of it was all churned up, but there was no blood, no sign of her brothers or father. She closed it over again slowly.

The storm had finally stopped, breaking in the late evening as Maggie had predicted. Sarah had spent the day fretting until finally, her father entered the house, her two brothers trailing behind. Sarah ran up and hugged them all tightly.
“What happened to you all? I was so worried!”
Her father frowned at her, “What do you mean? Nothing happened to us love, I just went out to get your brothers not half an hour ago. Is dinner ready? We’re all starving.”

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Heroes. Short Story.

John watched as the Seven walked out of the building, leading a group of released hostages. The image cut back to a news anchor “this was the scene today as the Seven pulled off a heroic rescue operation. Death Mask had taken seventy people hostage and demanded a large ransom be paid for their release.”
The screen cut to an interview, showing Paragon standing before microphones, “during the battle, Death Mask was killed. It was unavoidable. I apologise to those who seek rightful justice as it was not served today. We have failed both the public and ourselves and we can only promise to try and do better.” Paragon held up a white mask, splattered with blood, a thin crack going down the centre of it. John shivered slightly, he had seen that mask plenty of times before, everyone had, but never empty. He wondered if this meant they would reveal who Death Mask truly was. They usually didn’t for fallen heroes, should any villains seek revenge on those left behind, but they occasionally revealed the identity of fallen villains. John wasn’t sure how he felt about the practice. He always felt bad for the families, for the most part none of them ever knew what their loved one was doing and despite their ignorance, they were ostracized from the communities they lived in. Even moving didn’t help sometimes. Still, it would be nice to know, people had been debating over the identity of Death Mask ever since he had exploded onto the scene twenty years ago. He had a high death count and despite the best efforts of multiple heroes he had never been caught. John wondered how Death Mask had been killed. He knew the Seven didn’t kill unless it was absolutely necessary. They preferred that the courts decide the fates of those they caught. Most of the other groups followed their lead as the Seven were the strongest heroes out there. Of course there were a few unofficial vigilante type groups, but they mostly took out small time crooks, leaving them near police stations or tied up at the scene of the crime. They used to take matters into their own hands, occasionally killing a few here and there until the Seven put a stop to it, declaring any unofficial group found to be killing suspects would be considered villains.

John had always loved the heroes, and to a lesser extent the villains, ever since he was a boy. His room was plastered in posters of his favourite ones. Some of the villains weren’t really proper villains, they were just acting, playing a role. Everyone seemed to like them. They never did anything outrageous or dangerous, they’d do something to thumb their nose at the heroes, something that reminded everyone that the heroes were not infallible.

The camera cut back to the studio and the anchor started to talk again, there was nothing too interesting in the rest of the news. A natural disaster somewhere, natural, not villain caused, some kind of political thing and then the weather. John waited until it ended, then changed the channel. Later he’d go online and check out the hero and villain websites for any updates or real news. He enjoyed seeing the footage on the TV news, but the rest of it was just so boring.

Up in his room John checked the various websites, then he turned off the computer and spun his chair around so he was facing his favourite poster. It was the Life Centre, the place where they trained all the heroes. One day he’d get there, even if it was just working as a janitor. He didn’t care, he just wanted to see them all in action and up close. Someday he’d get there. He knew it, he could feel it in his very core.

The next morning John woke up slowly, it was a Saturday, so he was free of the usual weekday rush. Both his parents worked on Saturdays, so he had the house to himself too. After a while he got out of bed and stumbled down to the kitchen. He was on his own for breakfast today and decided he’d make himself some French toast. He grabbed out the bread, then two eggs, as he was walking to the counter he stumbled, one of the eggs slid from his grasp and fell. John gasped and reached out with his hand to catch it, the egg froze mid air. Stunned, John slowly wrapped his hand around it. He walked to the kitchen table and sat down heavily, dumping everything he was carrying onto the table. He could feel a bubble in his chest growing bigger. He wanted to laugh, shout, whoop, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t seem to even catch his breath. He gasped once, twice then let out a shaky laugh. The laugh deepened, and after a moment he let out a triumphant cry and started to jump around the kitchen. It was real, really real! He had powers, actual real life powers! He could go to the Life Centre, he’d be a student, he’d be taught by all the heroes, he’d get to meet everyone single one! He punched into the air and let out another cackle. The laughter began to slow, then it died. What would he tell his parents? Could he even tell them? What was the protocol for heroes and telling their family? They’d want to know what he was doing if he started sneaking off. And what about his friends? How would he protect everyone? He took a deep breath. He needed to stay calm, rational. First things first, he would need to figure out exactly what he could do and how strong he was. Training would make him stronger of course, but it would be a good idea to get a kind of a baseline, to help him figure out where he landed on the scale of powers. Some only had small stuff, useful in their own way but not exactly practical for crime fighting. They lived regular lives, occasionally doing something heroic. Would that be him? After all it was only one small egg. Then of course there were the others, the ones like Paragon, ones so strong they might as well be gods. Paragon himself had been a hero for the last seventy years, he aged, but did so incredibly slowly, he still looked and sounded like he was maybe 26 at the oldest. John took up a small fork and threw it in the air, he held out his hand and concentrated, trying to stop it. It clattered as it landed on the ground. Sighing he picked it up and tried again. And again. And again.

It was his thirty fifth try that he managed to stop the fork falling. After that it seemed easy enough. By the time the hour was up he was able to hold a kitchen chair in the air, seemingly indefinitely. Grinning and sweating slightly, John wondered what else he could do. Stopping gravity was all well and good, but could he move things around too? He practiced for a short while, moving small things at first, moving on to bigger as he had done before. It all seemed so easy. Soon he had multiple items in the air, zipping around the kitchen. He let them all slow and gently placed them back where they belonged. He sat down, the kitchen chair moving to underneath him, and grinned. It was truly happening to him.

John walked quickly, trying not to look furtive. He had a backpack with some things in it and a heavy jacket, the collar pulled up around his neck, he was also wearing a pair of large sunglasses. He didn’t expect to run into anyone he knew, but it was always a danger. What if they saw him going in and put two and two together? Sure regular people visited all the time, but why risk it? The Life Centre was a large and imposing building, the front façade was made of glass and metal, it gleamed in the morning sunlight. He entered behind a family with two young children, the mother paused as she held the door open for him, then continued on her way, frowning slightly. John felt his cheeks redden as he saw those around him. They were dressed like everyday people. He took off the sunglasses and caught the eyes of one of the secretaries, who smirked at him. He adjusted his clothes slightly, then marched up to the desk, trying to look confident, he chose a woman sitting a few feet down from the smirking girl.
“Welcome to the Life Centre, how may I help you?”
“Um, yes, hi, I uh, want to, need to talk to, um. Mr. um.”
“Mr. Jacobs?”
“Uh, yeah. Him.”
The secretary nodded and smiled, “It’s ok, everyone’s nervous their first time. Go into the elevator and press number 6, he has an office on that floor. They’ll tell you what to do.”
John let out a small sigh of relief “Thank you.” He hadn’t realise before how worried he had been that they would simply turn him away, tell him that there was some kind of mistake, that he didn’t belong here. He approached the lifts and waited patiently for one to arrive When it did he was the only one to get on it. He pressed six and tried to quell the nerves in his stomach as the elevator started to rise.

The doors opened revealing a large and brightly lit hall. There was another help desk up here. John stepped out and approached, “Hello, how may I help you?”
“I was told Mr. Jacobs office was up here?”
“It is.”
“Um, where is it?”
The secretary pressed a button in front of her, “And what, may I ask is the purpose of your visit?”
“um. I don’t think I should say.”
“Look kid, this button here prevents anyone from overhearing or seeing what we’re doing. He’s a busy man, I have to screen people.”
“I Uh, I have powers.”
“Ok, can you show me? It doesn’t have to be big and flashy or anything, just something to prove your legit.”
“Is…is it safe?”
“Yes. My memory of this will be erased once you’ve confirmed your powers.”
“What?”
“Look, kid do it or don’t, I haven’t got all day.”
“Oh, um of course. Yeah.” John picked up a pencil from the desk with shaking hands and threw it in the air. He froze it midway and started making it do a figure eight mid-air.
“Ok, you can stop now, perfect. His office is down the hall, the sixth on the left. Have a good day.”
The pencil clattered to the floor, John picked it up and hastily put it back.
“Thanks, you too.” Then he hurried down the hall.

He knocked on the door and waited, “Yes. Come in.”
John opened the door and stepped into a large office. A desk faced the door, to the left was a large window providing a beautiful view of the city.
“Mr. Jacobs?”
“Yes, that’s me, and you are?”
“Um, John.”
“John, it’s nice to meet you.” Mr. Jacobs stuck out his hand, John crossed the office and gripped it, they shook and Mr. Jacobs gestured for John to sit down.
“Now John, Tell me, what can you do?”
“Well, I can make stuff float, I can stop it falling and move it around.”
“Anything else?”
“Maybe. I’m not sure. I only found out this morning.”
“Wow, you don’t waste any time, do you?”
John blushed.

“Don’t worry, we’ve seen many eager young people come through these doors. I commend you for coming here so quickly. It’s better for everyone if you’re trained in a safe and secure environment. I assume you live at home, yes?”
“Yes.”
“Do your parents know you’re here?”
“No, they’re at work. They don’t know I have powers.”
“Good, we’ll keep it that way. We’ll give you a cover story for where you’re going for training in the meantime. Don’t worry, it’s only to keep them safe. When you’re older you may tell them if you like. First things first through, we need to figure out what kind of powers you have and how strong you are.”
Mr. Jacobs pressed a small button on his keyboard, then typed something, his fingers moving so quickly they were just a blur. There was a faint beep and behind him the wall parted to reveal an elevator. Mr. Jacobs stood, “C’mon John, lets find out what you can do.”

They rode the elevator down for what seemed like hours. Mr. Jacobs didn’t say anything and John didn’t want to break the silence. Finally the elevator doors opened and they stepped out into a wide open space. It looked like a gym, but there were no people in it. “We hold classes here and in those rooms over there, everyone has Saturday and Sunday mornings off, they’ll come in in another hour or two for their lessons. I’ve contacted the necessary staff, they’re already in the testing rooms. Now, it will be scary and dangerous, it’s designed to startle and scare you into using your powers, out of pure instinct and reflex. If anything goes wrong at all it will be shut down and if needed you will be given immediate medical attention. Don’t worry though, it’s been a decade since that happened, and two since anyone has died.”
They stopped at a door, “right, if you will please step through there we can get stared, afterwards you will meet the techs and a few of the heroes that are here today, they’ll give you some advice, all that good stuff.”
John took a deep breath and stepped through the door into a white room.

Mr. Jacobs stood behind two techs as they typed away at their computers. “How is it going?”
“It’s absolutely astounding, he’s an all rounder. I’ve only ever seen test results like this from Paragon and that was when he was already thirty years in the business. You say this kid only developed his powers today?”
“Yeah, this morning. Came straight to us.”
One of the techs whistled, “Incredible.”
Mr. Jacobs took out his phone and dialed, “We have something.”

John sagged against the wall, panting. It had been a tough hour, but he had managed to counter everything they had thrown at him. He felt weak and a little light headed, he had skipped breakfast in his excitement. He could barely believe the things he could do, he looked at his palms, remembered how fire and ice had jetted from them. It seemed impossible that he had powers, after all, he was a nobody. The door to his right slid open and John stood up straighter as he saw who it was. Paragon entered the room, smiling at John.
“They tell me you’re the new guy?”
“Oh my god. It’s you, it’s really you. I mean Mr. Jacobs said I’d be meeting heroes but I didn’t think I’d be meeting THE hero!”
Paragon smiled, “I take it you’re a fan?”

“Yes sir, a huge, huge fan.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you John.”
Paragon stuck out his hand and John grabbed it excitedly, pumping up and down.

“C’mon, lets get lunch and we can talk about your new powers.”
“That would be amazing!”
Paragon gestured for John to go first, John walked passed him smiling. Paragon reached out and grabbed John, snapping his neck instantly. Johns limp body fell to the ground. Paragon looked at the body without emotion.

Mr. Jacobs walked into the room, “Good. I’ve wiped the minds of the techs and anyone who saw him come in. We’ll dump the body somewhere, blame one of the villains. We’re lucky we caught him so early, another day or two and the kid would have been invincible.”

Paragon glowered and Mr. Jacobs, “Thankfully that was not the case. I have things to do.” Paragon swept out of the room, leaving Mr. Jacobs behind. Mr. Jacobs rolled his eyes, “what a dick.” Then he turned and looked at John, “Sorry kid. House rules.” He took out his phone and stared dialing.

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Natural Cycle. Short Story.

Sandra was wearing a long skirt and a light blouse, despite the chill of the day. She stood near a large, old oak tree, waiting. She was meeting someone today, and though she knew they would be exactly on time, she liked to be a little early herself. It gave her time to watch the people in the park. The woman with the stroller, walking along the path, the old man sitting on the bench, a flock of birds eating the seeds he was throwing out for them. A young jogger, running in a steady rhythm. She took a deep breath of the cool, crisp air. It was coming into spring time, flowers were starting to raise their heads, getting ready to bloom. The trees, naked and exposed would soon be coated in leaves once more. It was always such a lovely time of year. She placed one had against the oak and closed her eyes, the bark held a faint chill but beneath that there was a warmth, a promise of life yet to come.

Sandra started to walk towards the centre of the clearing, ahead of her she could see Polly doing the same thing. A small smile appeared as Polly waved at her, Sally returned the wave, just as enthusiastically. They met in the exact centre and stood apart form each other, not hugging, not touching.
“How have you been?”
“Quite well, the break was much needed, I feel refreshed and rested.”
“Good, I’m glad. I’m looking forward to it myself. It has been a long few months. When we first started I never realised how much of a burden this would be on both of us.”
Sandra shrugged, “It must be done though. We made our choice.”
Polly nodded, “True. But don’t you wish we had made a different one sometimes?”
Sandra looked away for a moment, “Honestly? Yes. Sometimes I do. But we cannot change it now. Is there anything I should be aware of?”
“No, everything has been completed and handled.”
Sandra nodded, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.”
A cool wind blew over them both. Sandra shivered slightly.
Polly, who was dressed in a pair of jeans and a light jacket smiled at her, “You never one who would dress with the weather.”

Sandra smiled and nodded slightly, “It used to drive mother mad.”
“I remember well.” Polly smiled.

To anyone observing they would look like sisters at best, their hair was different, Sandra’s was long and red, Polly’s was short and a white blonde. They held themselves differently, Sandra was relaxed, Polly was upright and tense. Few people would realise they were identical twins.
“How has mother been?”
“She misses you.” Polly sighed, “she has been…off these last few weeks. I don’t know what is wrong with her. Her mind seems slower, her body weaker. She insists she’s fine, but I can see she is not.”

Sandra nodded, “I feared something like this might happen soon. Do you think there is anything we can do?”
“I don’t know. I have been looking into it, but people have not been very helpful.”
Sandra smiled sadly, “Have they ever?”
“True. I just thought that perhaps, for mother they might do something.”
“No. I’m afraid you were too optimistic.”
Polly laughed, high and clear, “That is something I’ve never been accused of being before.”
“Well, it had to happen eventually, didn’t it?”
“We will find a way to help her. We always have before.”
“This time could be different.”
“It always is. It’s almost time.”
Sandra nodded, they each took a deep breath and took the final step, wrapping their arms around each other in a hug. As noon struck they kissed each other lightly on the cheek. When they stepped back from one another, they looked different. Sandra was holding herself tightly, Polly had relaxed a little.
“I don’t envy you Sandra. I look forward to my time of freedom.”
“Six months until we will meet again.”
Polly nodded, “Thank you for taking the burden. I love you.”
“I take it willingly, just as I will give it willingly when it is time again. I love you too, sister.”

Polly turned and walked from the clearing. Sandra stayed where she was standing, feeling the power thrum through her body. She could feel it, singing in her veins, the power and gifts of summer. She turned and looked at the old oak tree, as she watched a few small green buds began to grow. The chill seemed to fade from the air. Already the power felt like too much, but she would get used to it, she always did. The power would grow with summer and wane as winter approached. Then, it would be passed back to Polly, the only way to ensure balance between the two. They had agreed, long ago to this life. There was no was no real choice in the matter. They would continue as they always had or all things would end. Someday, perhaps soon, perhaps a long way off, something would change, it always did, and someone new would take their place. Sandra didn’t know when it would happen, but she hoped it would happen soon. She missed her sister, she missed her mother. She wanted to spend time with both of them again, even if it was only for a few short weeks as their bodies aged and died. Others of their kind could not die, would not understand the wish for death, the wish for release, but it was part of the natural cycle. The others had no burdens, they could frolic and plot and play at war. A few of their kind might recognise the desire, even if they themselves couldn’t understand it. The oldest of them, the ancient, the ones who were old when Sandra and Polly took up the power they now controlled. They had great power, and they had endless tasks, but they would never be free. Sandra and Polly would welcome death as they welcomed the gift of power and with that they would finally be free of the cycle.

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Neighbourhood Barbeque. Short Story.

Charlotte started the grill and closed it over. It was a while before anyone would arrive but she wanted everything to be ready for when they did. She looked around the garden quickly, everything out here was done. The long table was set up, as were all the chairs, the canopy was over the table, providing shade. Another table, the kids one, was set up with an umbrella. All the pool toys were floating in the water, waiting to be played with. Perfect. She turned and went into the kitchen. The plates were stacked in here and ready to be brought outside. She’d have someone else do that. The cooler was ready to go, it just needed to be filled with ice and beers from the fridge. She opened the fridge, a few side dishes were in large bowls and covered in cling film. There were several jugs of lemonade waiting to be set out. In the fridge outside there was plenty of beer and of course, she already had the adult punch bowl set up for anyone who wanted a drink to take the edge off. She opened the freezer, making sure there was plenty of ice. The glasses were set out and ready to go, the meat was resting on the table. Everything was ready, everything was perfect. Charlotte went to the radio and turned it on, keeping it low enough for chatting, but loud enough so that there would be no awkward silences. Gentle music drifted over the back garden. Charlotte smiled to herself, this barbeque was going to be one of the best.

Her husband had started the tradition fifteen or so years back, inviting the whole neighbourhood over. It was really quite fun. Everyone brought something, food or booze, and it would all be laid out. Everyone got to chat and catch up and have a little fun. Ted, her husband, had died five years before and Charlotte couldn’t bear the thought of stopping the barbeque. A few people had been surprised when she told them she wanted to continue with it, but they were more than happy to dig in and give a hand. The first time had been tough, she had to excuse herself several times to wipe away a few discrete tears, but everyone had fun, despite the slightly sombre atmosphere. The second year was easier, the third even better. She knew that Ted would have wanted her to continue with the tradition, so she did.

Charlotte was still young, and despite going on many, many dates, she hadn’t found anyone that could even come close to her Ted. She knew she wasn’t replacing him, she would never be able to, but she wanted someone that met her standards. Standards which, in her own opinion, weren’t ridiculous. A nice man, a kind man, one who could share in some of her hobbies while having his own. She wanted someone she was attracted to and someone who was attracted to her in turn. She was still young after all, and she could still turn men’s heads, but as time passed she found herself jaded with the dating scene. The same old guys, equally unsuitable for her. Even if she couldn’t find a man, she still had plenty of friends and as she became older she began to think that that was enough. Sure she would have liked a child or two, but it never really seemed to happen for her and Ted. She was after all older now, perhaps too old to have a child herself.

Charlotte went into the downstairs bathroom and examined her make up, it wasn’t much, she always wore only a small amount, just enough to hide blemishes and smooth out the edges of wrinkles. Charlotte pursed her lips and applied her lipstick. The she stepped back to see the whole thing in the mirror. Her dress was a bright yellow, thin and hugging at the top, with a slowly widening base. It reminded her of the sixties, of the American dream and summer time catalogues. It definitely portrayed a light and sunny attitude in her opinion. She smiled at her reflection, then checked there was enough soap and toilet paper. Charlotte glanced at her small, gold watch. It wouldn’t be too long now.

The first guests arrived ten minutes later and the stream continued for a good thirty minutes. As people arrived she divided up small tasks for everyone to do. Someone to put out the lemonade, someone else to bring out plates. It all went very well, she even managed to rope the children into giving her a hand before they stripped to their swimming gear and dove into the pool.

As everyone gathered outside, Charlotte started cooking the meat, sausages, pork steaks and burgers. Everyone always did say she was a good cook, and a few even said she was better than Ted, which was quite a compliment indeed.

Everyone ate, and most ate seconds with a few even going for thirds. After the food had been eaten, dessert was brought out and people exclaimed they couldn’t eat another bite, but by the end most of the desserts had been cleared away too. Charlotte lit the lights in the back garden as darkness fell. They were soft lights, gentle, creating a warm and intimate atmosphere. People helped her bring things inside and tidy up and one by one people began to leave, thanking her for the food and the wonderful party, assuring her that they enjoyed themselves very much and they couldn’t wait until next year and that, as always, the food was absolutely delicious.

Charlotte walked through the back garden, picking up bits and pieces that needed to be cleared away. She could always do it tomorrow, but she liked to get it done sooner, rather than later. When she had cleared away a good deal of the remaining mess, Charlotte went inside. It was starting to get chilly, and her dress was not designed for cold weather. The party had been a complete and utter success and she was very, very pleased with herself. Smiling, Charlotte went down to the basement and opened the freezer, there she placed the meat that hadn’t been used. She could always eat it herself later. The meat had been fresh and would last a while in the freezer. She looked at her stock and silently worked out how much she had. She was going to run low in a few weeks. She’d have to do something about that. It had been a while since she had last gone hunting. The last man she had caught had been quite tasty. She was even asked a few times where she got the meat and when she told them a local butcher, they complained that they never seemed to get meat that good from him. It wasn’t a lie really, she did get meat from him, but it was not the meat that they were eating. Humming to herself, Charlotte closed over the freezer and made her way upstairs. It had been a long day after all and she would need her rest for tomorrow. Once the house had been properly cleaned, she would head out again and find someone tasty for dinner.

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Eternal Slumber. Short Story.

Sally lay on the bed, motionless. Everything in the room was still, then, as if it were a giant taking a great breath, everything shuddered, once, twice, three times. Despite the force of the shaking nothing fell from the shelves, nothing was moved from its rightful place. Sally shifted slightly, turning her body over, then she was still again.

Every hour the tremors returned and after everything became still. Sally wasn’t aware of them, she wasn’t aware of anything in the outside world. Sally only dreamed. It was what she had been born to do.

The room was the same as it had always been, designed to be identical to the room of the real Sally, a woman who had died long, long ago. No one was quite sure when it had happened, but this Sally endured. She did so without food and without water. She never woke. Occasionally she would shift slightly, or turn over, but they was the only movements she ever made. Cameras were hidden about the room, giving a full view of the goings on. Sally was constantly monitored by a team of twelve people, their job was to ensure she didn’t wake. It was an easy job for the most part. They just watched over her, occasionally they flooded the room with sleeping gas to make sure her slumber stayed deep. They knew Sally couldn’t be allowed to wake up, that was their one job and they did it well. Since the creation of the room and the placement of Sally there had only been three close calls. Each time she would make a groaning noise, roll over, and her eyelids would start to open. She had never managed to open her eyes. There was no fear in them that she would wake.

The room was fitted with only one safety feature. It was hoped that should she wake, she’d see the room, be comforted and roll over, going back to sleep. Should that not happen lethal gas was to be pumped into the room, killing Sally instantly. She couldn’t be allowed to leave the room, she couldn’t be allowed to wander the earth.

Sally shifted and the room shuddered again, Frank frowned at the monitor, “I think we might have a problem here.”
“What?”
“The shaking occurred early.”
“It happens sometimes. Keep an eye on it. She should return to her regular schedule shortly.”
Frank studied the screen intently, he didn’t think it was just the regular problem. Something seemed different, off, though he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what that was. He took a sip of his coffee, he needed to stay alert. His fingers were resting near the emergency buttons, just in case.

Sally turned over, moaning slightly under her breath, then she rolled back. Frank hit the button, releasing the sleeping gas. “Something is wrong, she’s becoming more active. Room flooded with sleeping agents, please advise.”
“Monitor the situation, be prepared.”
“Do we have a replacement ready?”
“No.”
Frank let out a slow breath. The last replacement had died several years ago, there should have been another Sally by now. He had lobbied for a storage unit, where several could be kept at all times, but he had been shot down. Apparently it was too expensive. Perhaps this would be the close call they needed to wake them up about how dangerous it was to not have a back up.

Sally adjusted her shoulders, getting more comfortable.
“Room has been flooded, there is still movement, advise.”
“Hold steady. Be prepared.”
Frank felt beads of sweat forming on his brow. He didn’t want to be the one to kill her. Sure she wasn’t really human, but he didn’t want to be the reason she was gone. He glanced at the clock, his shift wouldn’t end for another hour. He released a shaky breath, hoping his replacement would arrive on time.

Sally stretched out her body, easing the tension from the muscles. One hand moved lazily to her face and rubbed her eyes. Frank couldn’t hear anything over the thudding of his heart in his chest, he felt sick, she was going to wake up. He knew it. His hand hovered over the button. “Please. Please don’t wake up. Just go back to sleep. Please.”

Sally yawned and began to sit up. Franks hand slammed down on the button, a faint hissing noise filled the room. Frank let out the breath he didn’t know he was holding. He had done it. He had followed procedure. He couldn’t be blamed, could he? He was just doing his job.

Sally yawned, and scratched at her cheek. Frank froze.
“Gas deployed, Sally is still waking up, I repeat the toxins had no effect.”
“Press it again!”
“I did press it again” Franks hand slammed down repeatedly on the button to fill the room with poison while his other desperately pressed the button that filled the room with sleeping gas. “Neither is having any effect, I repeat, there is no effect.”
Sally stretched again and stood, she rubbed her eyes and smiled slightly.
Franks hands began to slow their frantic pressing, his eyes began to glaze over. There were voices coming from somewhere, but they were far away, so very, very far. His body slumped forward, his eyes still open, his pupils racing back and forth but seeing nothing.

Sally walked towards the door, it had been a long, long time since she had been awake, she wondered what the world was like now. The door opened for her, slowly and with shrill, protesting shrieks. Sally stepped into the corridor. There were people lying against the walls. Some wore long, white coats. Others were dressed in black with shiny guns. She stepped over the limp forms. Somewhere a siren started and the hallway began to flash red. She could hear people as they ran and fell. She calmly moved over their sleeping bodies. Occasionally her foot would graze against the skin of someone who had fallen and she would get a flash of their dreams.

At the door out, she pressed buttons on the keypad at random, the door slid open and she stepped into the lift. It began to rise, its doors still open. They would be waiting for her on the surface. Everyone would be so happy to see her, it had been a long, long time since she had roamed the earth. So many people to put to sleep, so many dreams to harvest.

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