On a Dark, Desert Highway

The thump of rock music blared out of the speakers as the old rusted chevy navigated an s curve then took a right onto a white rock road. Melissa navigated the old clunker down the back roads as the Eagles belted tunes from the ancient cassette player.

The road came up to meet the undercarriage as she took a turn a bit too fast, white rock giving way to hard packed dirt. The faint glow of street lights had faded behind her as soon as she left the county pavement. Now the dark coalesced around, suffocating in its intensity. She clicked on the high beams making a mental note to herself to purchase some new headlamps.

Flying down the dirt road reminded her of those wild teenage nights she had spent out here, drinking, laughing and singing along loudly with the very same cassette tape that now spilled out Hotel California as the car shimmed and swayed down the country lane.

Suddenly a shape appeared in the dull glow of her high beams and the tires squealed in protest as she slammed the brake pedal to the floor and twisted the wheel sharply to the right. Throwing dust everywhere the car skidded off the road, fishtailing as it went. Melissa twisted the wheel again, trying to regain control of the vehicle.

The car thudded to a stop and she sat for a moment, heart pounding in her chest. The Eagles suddenly gone as she switched the radio off and pulled a flashlight from the glove compartment. The door creaked like gunshot in the sudden silence of the night as she opened it and stepped out to inspect the damage.

Please, she prayed silently, please, please, please tell me I didn’t hit her! She glanced wildly around the road and the field she had stopped in but there was no sign of the child she had just clearly seen standing in the middle of the road.

She stood still for a long minute, her breath coming in ragged gulps, eyes closed, as she fought down the hysteria trying to rise in her chest. When she was sure she could breathe without screaming, she opened her eyes and slowly lowered her body to the ground. Stomach flat on the ground she stared under the car. Relief flooded over her like a warm welcoming waterfall when she saw no limp body under her car. Tears of relief coursed down her cheeks as she regained her footing and dusted herself off.

Taking another deep breath, she turned back to stare at the empty road. If she hadn’t hit her, where had the child gone? It was dark, but not so dark that she doubted what she had seen. There had been a little girl in the road. She took in her surroundings. No houses within sight, no structures at all within sight, in fact. Not that she could see very far. It was so dark that it felt it ought to have substance, texture, like if she reached her arm out, she would feel the solidness of it. She fought back to urge to do just that as the hair on the back of her neck stood up.

The light swung in an arc as she searched the area around her car thoroughly. No girl. She started to second guess herself. Maybe she was seeing things. It was so dark! Maybe she had hallucinated the little girl. People hallucinated sometimes she told herself.

The light in her hand blinked out. Shaking her head, she lowered herself back into the driver’s seat and pulled the door closed. She said another silent prayer that the car wasn’t damaged as she put it in gear and pulled back onto the road.

The car had come to rest facing the opposite direction she had been heading, so she had to maneuver it back to the correct position. As she passed the spot she had originally seen the little girl, the engine sputtered and died. She coasted to a stop cursing out loud.

There was a soft clunk as the hood popped. She opened door but hesitated to get out. She had driven these back roads hundreds of times in her life, she reflected, so why was a sense of dread crawling up her spine this time? As she listened she realized it was the silence, deep and solid as the darkness. Where were the crickets? The frogs?  The normal night sounds of country living?

The only sound she heard was a soft rustling of fabric from the backseat as her eyes lifted in horror to the rearview mirror, a scream stuck in her throat as she made eye contact with the little girl from the road.

The last thing she ever saw was that small, pale arm reaching toward her as a dry, brittle voice whispered, “Stay with me.”

 

 

The Mirror

She studied her face in the mirror. It was a narrow face, with angels she felt were too sharp. Tipping her head forward, her dark blonde shoulder length bob fell across that face, blue eyes staring intently out at her.

It was a familiar face, yet still she felt out of place. Like she was someone else. Like she belonged somewhere else.

The mirror glimmered in the light. It was so clean, that it looked clear, like it wasn’t even there, like she could just step through it. She knew it was a silly thought, but she couldn’t quite push it away. Reaching out, her fingertips gently probed the mirrors surface. It gave a little.

Startled, she yanked her hand away. Her heart started pounding in her chest, pounding as if it were trying to break right through her rib cage. Taking in big gulps of air, she tried to calm herself.

Staring intensely at her reflection now, she reached out again. Her hand was shaking this time as it made contact with the smooth, cool surface of the mirror. Her fingers brushed the glass and she felt the give again. Summoning all her courage, she pressed down harder this time and her fingers slipped right through the glass!

A gasp rushed out of her as her hand disappeared, up to the wrist, in the mirror. It felt cool on the other side, pleasant. She pushed her arm further in, just to see if she could. She could.

She began to withdraw her arm when something seized it from the other side. She let out a panicked yelp as whatever it was pulled her through the portal.

Darkness engulfed her at first, then a blinding light shattered the darkness as she turned to look behind her. Behind her was a mirror.

She studied her face in the mirror. It was the same face that she’d always had. But somehow, it seemed to fit her now. She reached out to touch the mirror, her fingers finding nothing but solid glass. She watched as her reflection smiled, gave her a wave and turned and walked away.

 

 

The Vessel: Forward

Here is the first part: The Vessel

As she stepped on board, the steps she had just climbed disappeared and the opening in the side of the vessel vanished. She spared only a moment to glance at the wall where a second ago a door had been, a door opening onto Earth, onto the only home she had ever known, opening onto a field where a boy stood, begging her not to go.

That was all behind her now. The past could go hang itself for all she cared. The entire planet could go fuck itself. She was done. Done with men who were careless with her heart, done with society telling her what to do, how to act. She was just done.

Turning back toward the room she was now standing in, she took in the gleaming sterility. Chrome winked at her from everywhere, a large cushy black leather chair dominated the center of the room. The shivering stopped as warmth penetrated her skin, warming her down to her very bones. The cool, autumn chill was gone now. Replaced by a warmth that wrapped comfortingly around her. The sounds of the ships engines were faint, but oddly soothing. Soothing like the rumbling of her father’s car when, as a child, she slept away early morning trips in the backseat.

Catherine looked around the room as sleepiness washed over her. It had been a long day.

Another door slide open in the middle of another wall, a dark hole in a vast sea of gleaming chrome and whiteness. She stumbled unquestioningly through it to find a small bedroom awaiting her. Without an ounce of hesitation, she stripped down to her skin and fell onto the waiting bed, sleep pulling her under before she could even question how the ship knew she was sleepy.

 

Dragon Hunter

The city had burned; there was nothing left but ash. A shadow swept across the landscape as a dragon soared overhead. Ari looked up as it disappeared out of sight over the mountain range. He heaved a great sigh, he had been too late, again. He sheathed his sword and started out to survey the damages.

 

The charred remains of a building scattered when he made contact with the toe of his boot. Bending down he gathered the ashes in his hands, the grittiness coating his fingers, a sharp, tangy smell hit him, flooding his senses. Northern Grey backs probably, judging from the amount of destruction and the size of the one he had just glimpsed.

 

Contrary to popular belief, not all dragons breathed fire. Among those that did, heat was a relative thing. A diamond tailed horned dragon, for example, was all bluster, lots of smoke and fury, very little flame. Northern Greys, on the other hand, were fairly deadly. Very little smoke, a cry as innocent as the bleating of a doe. But their fire burned almost as hot as the sun. Which begged the question, what were Northern Greys doing this far south?

 

Everness had been a large city, a bustling center of trade and commerce. Dragons usually kept a lower profile than this. It was the third city of this size burned to the ground that he had come across in as many months. Something was very, very wrong. Dragons had been hunted almost to extinction centuries ago. Most places he went, they were regarded as fairy tales. The creatures had a vested interest in keeping it that way. So why the unprovoked and frequent attacks on high profile cities all of a sudden? Three large, well known cities, in three months all within the same region. That was definitely going to be noticed.

 

Ari gazed out over the landscape as smoke curled up and climbed into the sky, insects and birds eerily silent. He closed his eyes and brought up his other senses, focusing on the mountain the Grey had disappeared over. He stood in silence as the sun sank down behind the mountains, shadows stretching out across the remains of the city. He was unaware of the passage of time as he used his extra senses to survey the mountain range and what it was hiding. A soft breeze danced through the ruins and night had fully fallen when he finally opened his eyes. He knew what he had to do. It was time for the people to know the truth.