She wandered again, her body tugged among the universe like a marionette. Exhaustion had long begun setting in her bones and rattling her consciousness. The liminal space carved between realities propelled her down, down, down. She landed, a fog stuffed with nightmare visions of monsters and magic clouding her brain. Yet, another notion sliced through the thoughts tumbling. Writhing through her mind like snakes. She wondered if the last time was approaching.
Emilia’s Journal: I am tired. So utterly spent. Did I land in Erica’s world again for the…third time now? I can’t keep track of time anymore. This feels like a test no one can win. Write down everything that happens? Collect objects for this “Higher Power” entity? Meanwhile, I — someone who hadn’t left their house in years — have been sent to worlds with magic lacing the bones of the earth and giant creatures who want to consume everything in its path. The last time I was here, Erica was almost eaten alive by that grotesque beast emanating from her stuffed octopus. Now, I lay hidden on the side of the house again. Gary Slaughter, that ghastly man who sends children to possible death, talks to Erica’s mentor, Jessica. How can she speak so openly with a man whose morals are utterly compromised by his dedication to an “order” or existence? Or maybe I don’t understand. I don’t understand when Jessica talks about children being eaten by monsters and her duty to make the surviving kids into warriors. Their values align somewhat, but there’s a sense of…sinister intentions lurking around when they talk in hushed tones and unspoken codes. Is there conflict within this “House of Slaughter”? Could betrayal be at hand? Betrayal…I’ve been thinking about betrayal recently. Why? I can’t say. I feel like a monster is slowly consuming me too.
Aaron and the woman in white approached the drunk woman and the master monster slayer. They debated Erica’s fate, some with anger in their voices and some taking a neary passive stance. Emilia listened to grown adults discussing which children are selected to eradicate the beasts plaguing the land. They spoke of which children survive and the old ways of the selection process. She gleaned that this House of Slaughter truly lived up to its name. Monsters and initiates were forced to bond in symbiosis or be killed. Slaughtered.
Emilia’s Journal: Erica arrives safely, just as these adults seem to be ready to slaughter one another! Erica hugs Gary and Jessica. Their embrace makes me remember my parent’s embrace and how desperately lonely I am here. If only I could find Aimée again. The last time we were here, their presence comforted me. I was not alone in this amalgam of realities. I need to find that object and get out of here before these people try to initiate me into this horrifying place.
She followed the group inside the house, her footsteps like a creeping shadow along the ground. Gary Slaughter created a tattoo for Erica since she passed her initiation ritual. Emilia’s emotions overwhelmed her again as she watched the tattoo ink seeping into the small child while Gary spoke of more monster hunting, gaining a mask with teeth emblazoned onto black cloth, and forcing Erica to undergo a rite that would allow her to keep seeing monsters in adulthood. They wanted her to be a hunter. Erica would become Erica Slaughter. She would be one of the greatest monster hunters in the Order of St. George.
Emilia’s Journal: Erica is different. They tell her she has traits that make her…lack empathy. The order relies on recruiting children with these traits, and Erica’s conglomerate characteristics have not been seen by anyone in the Order for a long time. How can an adult tell a child she is a monster? “Only a monster can kill monsters”, I heard, as Erica vehemently denied the words spilling out of this leaders’ mouth. Isn’t Erica more than a monster, though? She has a dragon tattoo now. Erica isn’t a monster. She’s a dragon. She’s a dragon who will someday protect her treasure: Children who monsters want to kill.
An object shimmered next to Emilia. She peered at the totem, visible only as if it was shining through a prism of light. Carved from stone, obsidian black coloring rippled from the dragon totem.
Emilia: I found the item here for the Higher Power! But…wait…Aimée…she already found one when I was here…the last time.
Her head pounded as understanding built up like bricks inside her skull. There wasn’t merely one object per world. There were multiple objects. Lies had infiltrated her malleable sense of comprehension. To correct the cognitive dissonance she faced, Emilia had to find the entity. She closed her eyes until the universe transported her back into the empty space of the universe. The Higher Power towered above her, but Emilia’s timidity had vanished. The confrontation was inevitable. Words of dismay and hurt at betrayal poured out from her once weak voice.
Emilia: You’ve manipulated me! You betrayed me from the moment you sent me here! Why are you doing this? What have I done to deserve this torture?
Higher Being: I notice your anger. I do not take pleasure in being the one that ignited it, nor is it something I planned to make happen. It was not all lies, even if you might suspect otherwise now.
Emilia: Not all lies? How am I supposed to believe anything you say now?
Higher Being: I did not lie when I explained to you the objective and significance of your task. What I said about the poor being who chased you and who I am, or was, it was all true. But you are not mistaken either. Although I do regret it, I did point you in a wrong and pointless direction that would have led to nothing at all.
The truth is, when you fell onto that world, I sensed the soul of the world was there. Something overcame me, unlike anything I have felt in more time than even I can remember. I think…I think I was scared. Scared for me, scared for what little is left of the people I once belonged with. I am not sure I was ready to put an end to our existence.
Emilia: I…I understand being scared. But I’m scared too. I’ve been scared of everything, the known and the unknown, for years. I thought this was a chance to change myself, but now…it doesn’t matter anyway, right? What’s the point of all this if life is going to end? I’m terrified.
Higher Being: I did not take into account that even something like me, an old, frail being forgotten by time and space itself, would be afraid of something so mundane as that. I tricked you for enough time so that I could come up with a better plan. But it was a useless attempt.
I can’t do that anymore. There’s no more time. Now that we have moved the world’s soul, they’ll know where to find us. I suppose it is somewhat funny I was not able to move past that fear in thousands of years…I know I wronged you, but…will you remember me? I lost my body. I lost my world. The only thing I have left is the little parts of me I managed to maintain over time. Will you remember that? That I tried to do good?
Emilia: I guess I understand. Trying to do good for other people is a blessing and a curse I know well.
Higher Being: Well, it’s time now…everything seems to be a matter of time. Goodbye.
With hands that were not exactly hands, or anything too distinguishable for the human eye, they held the object and flew around it in the most delicate of manners. The delicacy was not only a sign of carefulness but of sadness and fear. With this touch, the object shone, and just some of the light transported outside, mixing with the ancient being. It was consuming itself and everything it ever knew. A blaze of light illuminated the space that had been dark for so long, and for a split second, Emilia felt satisfaction coming from it. It dissipated quickly as everything does, and the journey she and who knows how many others were put into was finally over.
Emilia: The universe contains so much more than any story ever theorized. I want my home to be more than a self-isolating cell: I want to live life out there….wherever “there” takes me.
Flung to another world, she opened her eyes. A dream or a memory projected around her in a circle. She looked from frame to frame, her head on a swivel. Avery, she recognized from her previous time in this dimension, knelt on the ground in a twilight forest. A woman named Emma wore a blue dress, caressing Avery’s face as his eyes adjusted from her ethereal glow. Emma begged Avery not to leave her, but fate twisted their promises. The woman watched the universe burst into flames around them all while Avery dreamt of crash landing from a plane.
Then, the two woke simultaneously. She swan-dove into Avery’s existence again, a feeling akin to parachuting from an aircraft carrier. From behind the corner inside Avery’s house, she heard him. Avery talked with his loving family. His reading-obsessed daughter begged to read an edition of “Astounding Adventures”, and his pregnant, independent wife reminded the two about more pertinent priorities. The woman took out her journal and began writing.
Emilia’s Journal: I am revisiting universes! I’m here in Alabama again, this time watching Avery interact with his family instead of witnessing him experience racially motivated altercations. It’s nice to see he has a family unit. Love and care amid darkness can help propel anyone back into the light. Having someone to return to at the end of the day is an inspiring motivator…one I wish I had back home.
She blinked, and the images in front of her winked out like a star. She found herself now hidden behind a tree beside a dirt-carved road.
Emilia’s Journal: I can’t explain what just happened, but…I seem to have moved slightly forward in time? I was listening to the Aldridge family discuss school and responsibility, and now I see children eagerly chasing their sky-blue painted van. Oh, it’s a bookmobile! They offer free books to the kids here. It brings me so much joy to know they are igniting a love of reading in these children at such a young age. Books have been my companions for as long as I can remember. Hardships in life can be circumvented just for a few hours, lost within the earthy pages of a novel. Could they have any poetry books in there? Any Emily Dickinson? I miss my books, but it feels like I’m living in one as well!
Running at implausible speeds, she kept up with the blue van. Avery’s wife dropped him off in town. Everywhere, signs of racial injustice and segregation physically and literally cast a shadowy pall on the well-lit town. Avery’s service as a WWII veteran equated to very little in an era where even separate waiting rooms reduce Avery from a human to a skin color fraught with oppression.
Emilia’s Journal: I’ve been sitting here for hours — or is it days? Time moves strangely here like it’s racing by to show me what is significant. Avery works in a restaurant. His incredible commitment to labor and perfection are overlooked. The customers — all white — find fault with every damn thing he does. They call him a liar, using derogatory tones and words. His manager reminds Avery how lucky he is to merely be employed at the disgusting establishment. My heart ached the last time I was here. Again, I feel repulsed at these men, knowing I can do nothing but wait in the shadows in fear of interrupting the natural cycle of events in this strange time-traveling existence I’m experiencing.
Late that night, three white boys physically assault Avery after closing hours. A stranger, a white man in a bowler hat and round spectacles, berates the boys and aids Avery. The woman perfected the art of soundlessly existing a long time ago. She trailed the two men, curious why the white man bandaged Avery’s wounds and offered sympathy toward Avery’s pain as a Black man.
Emilia’s Journal: I don’t trust this guy…he appeared out of nowhere. Usually, men like this have a god complex or some sort of white savior ulterior motive. Now he’s telling Avery about his services at his clinic outside of town. He wants Avery to return if the pain ensues, almost aggressively demanding rather than suggesting the statement. I don’t trust anyone, but especially not white men with medical leeway.
She felt time bypassing. Careened forward a week into this universe’s future, she peered into a room in her line of sight.
Emilia: Woah, did I just skip more days again? There’s Avery with…that man! The doctor! Wait, what is this?
Next to her, she found a book laying on the ground. It was not a book from the Aldridge bookmobile but a novel she had never seen before. The title, glowing dark red against a black background, said “Medical Apartheid.”
Emilia: What is this? Is this a clue? I can’t see enough to read!
She fumbled with her journal pen, hoping the words written under the desolate shadows transferred legibly onto the page.
Emilia’s Journal:Time is too chaotic here. Unpredictability terrifies me. These time jumps are throwing wrenches in my ability to cope with this situation. On top of everything, I found this eerie book about apartheid, and…the title looks like dark blood. I know it has some meaning or a code locked inside, but it’s far too dark in here to see any words. I’m now at the doctor’s clinic. Avery is laying on a table, backside up. He had talked about intense back pains before to his wife, I think…my memories are murky here. God no, he’s letting that doctor administer a shot right into his back! The doctor said this shot was like a magic bullet. I don’t think this is the type of magic that will help alleviate Avery’s pain, though! Damn this world for making me watch people suffer!
Sorrow weighing on her chest, she closed her eyes — or something closed her eyes for her — and blacked out. She clutched both the journal and medical research book she discovered close to her chest before slipping back into the great unknown.
Martin scratched his head. He thought he recognized this place. The brick walls, the newspaper stand lying nearby…yes, this was the same location he had fallen asleep once before. He got up, his back smarting from lying against the wall.
Martin’s journal: I’m back. The place with the kids in those astronaut suits. I’m a bit scared to check, to see what happened to them. But I suppose I should.
Martin glanced around the corner. There was an impact crater where the explosion of energy had happened the last time he had been here. Otherwise, there was nobody around. He tentatively called out, “Hello?”
Martin’s journal: They’re gone. Place is empty. Looks like it’s been a while.
“Oh hey,” came a voice from above him. Looking up, Martin spotted a figure in yellow with long blond hair staring down. “Didn’t expect to see you here.”
Martin blinked. “Are you… the one who wrote in my journal?”
The figure chuckled. “Oh, no. To be frank, I don’t know who you are or how you got here. I’m just here waiting for the kids to come back.”
“Oh, you know them?” Martin asked, raising his pen to write.
“Not really, but I’m going to get to know one of them pretty well soon,” the figure said, taking a step through the air. “I’m Ursa Major, you see, and he’s Ursa Minor. Or, well, he will be.”
Martin’s journal: Found somebody here, saying they’re Ursa Major. Maybe they’re connected to the giant I saw last time? Still unsure what’s going on.
“You writing about me?” the figure asked, peering down onto Martin’s journal. “Not going to report to the Secretary of Luck, are you?”
Martin laughed. “Honestly, I have no clue who that is.”
“Alright, I believe you. Anyways, I must be going. Kids are set to emerge from their new lives in a minute. See you.” The figure floated away, leaving Martin starting after him. Martin laid back down, sighing. Looking up into the sky, he found the constellation Ursa Major in the skies. It looked beautiful, twinkling up in the skies, the Big Dipper and its surrounding stars.
Martin’s journal: How can a person be a constellation? I don’t quite get it. You know, this world’s actually kind of nice. Nobody trying to actively kill me or anybody else, just the buildings. That guy was actually pretty nice, too. Anyways, I can kind of see how Ursa Major fits that being and this world. The stars are pretty nice here. They feel like… more than the stars that I’m used to. Though I can’t even remember those ones, I admit. At least the constellations here are the same.
Staring up at the stars, Martin reached into his pocket. Feeling around, he found a tiny version of the constellation. Pulling it out, he stared at it for a bit, before stuffing it back into his pocket. Across the street, he saw a flash of yellow light as four figures emerged from the air.
Martin’s journal: Looks like the kids are back now, and they’re safe. Guess Ursa Major slipped me that constellation, huh? It’ll be nice to have, in any case.
Tucking the journal away, he fell asleep once again.
Something is Killing the Children
A new universe shaped itself around her, slowly coming into sharpened focus. She saw two identical boys with red-tinged hair terrorizing a young man in bed with a knife until he cried. Before she could assess the scene, a person intervened. Cecilia’s hazardous crimson-colored eyes bore into the assailants. She assuaged the situation using only carefully strict commands, words flying like knives into the boys’ ears through the white bandana draped over her mouth.
The world spun on its axis, flipping her into another scene. Instantaneously, she recalled the lightless barn room. She was a penumbra in the room hosting a monstrous leviathan, a shadow surrounding a cataclysmic evil in the rooms’ core. Fingers flexing, the woman wrote, although the pages were captured by the darkness.
Emilia’s Journal: Erica’s world is teeming with monsters, both human and supernatural. I’m inside with her this time. I might as well be a participant in the evil the adults have thrust this little girl into. She talks to her purple stuffed octopus, Octo, as if he is real. I know Octo is more than a toy — he is a harbinger of the greatest terrors Erica has ever endured. She talks about a day in the past. Her entire family was slaughtered by the creature now inhabiting Octo, the toy. Death and destruction follow all these people I visit bouncing from realities. Death follows me in ways I never wanted to think about after…maybe seeing how others handle the aftermath of loss and grief is on purpose? Can I learn how to handle my own turbulent grasp on life after my dad’s passing?
Erica screamed at Octo. The monster killed her mother, her father, and her sister. Blood spilling out of their bodies and leeching happiness from her soul. Angered, Erica reminds the monster of his own slaying. She retrieved a knife. Instead of fleeing, she used her outpouring sorrow and misery to thrust her into the belly of the beast.
Emilia’s Journal: Wow, Erica isn’t a timid little girl at all. She is strong, stronger than I’ve ever been. Not once does she back down from this looming creature in front of her. She shouts, the memory expunged from her mind onto the surface of this untamed reality. Her arms make a stabbing motion as she relays the simple facts: She killed the monster, and the monster did not kill her.
Faltering, Erica stepped back for a moment. Memories can be redistributed, temporary pieces of information reformed into an amalgam of objectivity by their narrator. The woman retreated further away from the confused young girl. Then, a nascent silhouette flickered into view. She gripped her eyes, forcing them to adjust to the weighted blackness. If anything was real, it was the person sitting only footsteps away from her. Another human. Another traveler. She never talked to people. Somehow, the compulsion to speak outweighed her social anxiety. Another person meant she was not alone any longer.
Emilia: You…you’re real.
Aimée rubbed their eyes as their body automatically sat in a position appropriate for running away as easily as possible if needed. Their eyes explored the room with weariness, but all of their muscles tightened when they realized they had obliviously skipped the person just in front of them. After crawling in urgency a few meters back, it came to their attention that Emilia wasn’t trying to do anything. She was excited, even. Should Aimée run, or was this truly the first person they ever met with who they could properly interact with? However, time for questioning was short, as every ounce of focus was directed at their hands. Specifically, the journal they were holding. Now, it was no longer a matter of some docile person finding out about them. She was the person they were looking for.
Aimée: Holy…It’s you! I can’t believe it worked. It’s so…Here, look!
Aimée took their journal out of their pocket and flowed all the pages before Emilia’s eyes.
Aimée: Who are you? Do you have any idea what is happening to us? Are you taking any part in it?
Timidly, Emilia pushed her own journal forward.
Emilia: I don’t know what’s happening, but…I’ve been writing it all down. Something said to write it all, so here it is. Every event and every person I’ve been watching is all documented inside. Have you been…here before?
She gestured to them in the dark. Beside them, Erica verbally tussled about altered memories with a glowing, enormous yellow sequid creature dwarfing all the humans in the room. To the left of Aimée, Emilia sees the faint outline of an object.
Aimée: Nothing I can recognize here, so I guess not. But I’ve been to other places, and the only thing they had in common was how fucked up they were. I managed to stay out of harm’s way though so that’s been nice…So, what’s her deal?
Aimée said as she nodded in direction to the sleeping girl. If it weren’t for the fact that she was talking, Aimée would’ve thought Erica was only a corpse. The whole imagery found in that room unsettled them, even though there was nothing overtly creepy about it, which concerned them more. Emilia explained everything needed about Erica as well as she could with help from her diary, which Aimée translated into their own.
Aimée: Listen! I think she’s saying something important.
Both of them mirrored each other as they started writing. Erica was fighting with Octo directly now. He was manipulating the events, corrupting her memory like it meant nothing. However, Erica demonstrated her strength, realizing the cruel game she was put into, and went through the real murder of her whole family all over again. Her mother wasn’t alive, and she never escaped. She was rescued by another person, someone from the order just like her, who also captured the monster inside Octo.
Erica’s still body suddenly moved. Her fingers grasped the table she was on and started reacting to something in some kind of limbo between her subconscious and reality. Emilia noticed it right away and alarmed her new acquaintance of the danger.
The travelers ran outside the barn and hid in the shadows, soon to be conquered by the sunset. Erica’s silhouette walked out slowly with Octo in her hands, almost as a sign of power. They waited for her to be far enough to reunite and keep talking, which was hard to know given Erica’s background and skills to not let things like that go unnoticed. When the circumstances finally allowed them to feel secure and free to conversate, Aimée noticed something beside them. An old butcher’s knife with the blade covered in blood, resting in the grass.
Aimée: Hey, take a look at this! I guess it makes sense to find something like it here, but it feels…off, in a weird way. I can’t explain it. Do you understand?
Emilia explains how she just found the book, which produced her the same feeling, and prompted Aimée to keep it as she did with her object.
Aimée: When will we finally be free of all this? I thought it might have been a horrible joke from the universe, and we’re just fucked, but…there’s something, maybe even someone actively making us look for all this shit. If there’s a purpose to all this, why choose us? Me?
Emilia: I don’t know, but I…I’ve never liked change. And there’s so much sadness in these places, and we can’t do anything about it. I don’t know why it would pick us. I’m not a person who can handle…other people…very well. Someone is controlling our lives! How do we escape an invisible enemy?
Aimée: I guess if anything, it means we have to keep looking. It may not be a joke, but it sure does feel like it…I could find you before. I have to be able to find you if needed. You too! We could even find others if there’s any.
Emilia: I agree. Something has changed, and now these strange objects are appearing! If we can work together again, I think we can figure out more than we would on our own.
Aimée: Well, it was surprisingly nice knowing I’m not alone in this. Thank you. I hope this is not the last time we see each other.
Emilia: I haven’t talked to anyone in so long…I never thought I’d miss human interaction. We’ll be reunited again, I’m sure. It’s the only way…
Both lay down in the cold grass; the sun was about to reach them as the mountains were letting it reveal itself. Sleep came quickly as always for them, but this time was different. There was someone there who, even if a stranger, meant they were not totally alone in these worlds.
Writers: Katie Liggera, Simon Zuccherato, Gabrielle Cazeaux.
Martin opened his eyes on a park bench. Standing up, he looked around. It wasn’t the diner where he had fallen asleep; that was near a forest. He was in the middle of what appeared to be a small town. Something was wrong, though, and it took him a few seconds to put his finger on it.
Martin: No people…
Pulling out his notebook, he flipped to a new page and began to write.
Martin’s notebook: I’m in what looks like a midwestern American town. Maybe Kansas. But it’s empty, and I have the dreadful feeling that something’s gone wrong here. Or is about to go wrong. Or maybe even both. At least I’m away from that diner, but I can’t help but feel that I’ve just landed myself in a situation that could be just as bad.
Hearing a noise, Martin spun around to see four children slowly making their way down the street, wearing strange suits that covered their bodies. Martin hid behind a pillar as he continued to take notes.
Martin’s notebook: There are some kids here, in what look like spacesuits. Should I have one? It seems like I’ve been sent here without one, so it’ll have to do. And I seem to be breathing fine, in any case. One of the kids is throwing a rock at stuff for… some reason. I should get closer to try and hear what they’re saying. Maybe it’ll help me figure out exactly why I’m here.
He tried to edge himself closer to the children, staying close to the side of a nearby building to avoid getting spotted. As he did, though, he paused; one of them was walking in his direction. Backtracking, Martin wrote furiously.
Martin’s notebook: I think one of them might have noticed me. I’m going to pull back and see what happens.
As he slipped away, he noticed a figure in the lot across from where he had woken up. He hadn’t noticed the figure when he had first arrived, but now he could see there was a child there who looked nearly identical to the one who had gone away from the rest of the group.
Martin’s notebook: He’s found what looks to be his doppelganger, but it’s surrounded by this red glow. I don’t think it’s-
Looking up from his writing to check the scene, Martin noticed a giant form looming above the doppelganger. It was taller than the buildings surrounding them, taking the form of a bald person in a black outfit.
Martin’s notebook: There’s some figure controlling the doppelganger, and they’ve captured the kid, just picking him straight up off the ground! There’s this red energy coming off of the two of them, I don’t know how to describe it, but it feels… like some sort of jinx. I’m just glad I’m not caught up in the centre of it. The giant’s staring at the kid intensely… but she’s thrown him down now, right through the pavement! That must hurt.
A burst of light, seemingly from near the epicentre of the red energy, lanced out and started heading directly towards Martin. Glancing back, he knew that he couldn’t let it reach him. There was a reason the kids were wearing protective suits, after all. Getting up, he started to run, jostling to write as he did.
Martin’s notebook: The kids’ friends have come to help him, I think, but I can’t see what’s happening next. I just need to go away.
Diving into an alley, he watched the light zip past him. Breathing a sigh of relief, he noticed a newspaper stand, abandoned for what looked like years, with only one newspaper left. Picking it up, Martin shook the dust on it and read the headline:
“Stay on the move. Don’t let them catch you.”
Shivering, he turned back to look towards the giant. Just as he did, he saw it make contact with a new golden apparition that had appeared, blowing him backward. He fell back against the ground, knocking him out.
Something Is KillingThe Children
There are truths, and there are lies. And then, there are monsters waiting in the shadows. They wait to twist and bend reality, leaving nothing but decimation trailing behind it. She did not know who controlled the marginal space between perception and authenticity, fact and fiction. All she understood was a lack of control. She had allowed wayward circumstances to mold her destiny long before she spun out of existence. Shadow realms whispered secrets without candor. The beasts came out to play. Monsters not unlike the ravagers of unknowability rampaged in her mind as she hurtled down through the chasm past the liminal space again.
Contorting shapes disintegrated until she saw a vast white mansion. The houses’ enormity looked daunting in the forefront of a forest stretching far beyond her eye line. She watched as a red car pulled up, staking a claim on the dirt territory. Her location felt removed from urbanity. The woman sensed an unsettled atmosphere in the landscape, purporting a rural utopian exterior. A hippie-looking man sporting a black bun piled atop his head emerged from the house. Accompanied by a pack of black dogs, he approached the vehicle.
Emilia: I am so far away, but…are those dogs in the distance? Why do people own animals with all their slobber and fur matted with diseases? Why couldn’t I have landed in, I don’t know, a hospital or something? I’m tired of this outside world and unclean environment. Wait, a young girl just exited the car with a woman. Is this man friendly? He’s giving me a horrible feeling…Where’s that journal?
The beer-bellied man introduces himself to the girl, Erica, as Gary Slaughter. The trio entered his house. The woman cursed as she fumbled to write in her ever-present journal.
Emilia’s Journal: I looked away to find this damn thing, and now they’ve disappeared. I’ve crept up to the side of the house, now. Gary Slaughter’s voice pulses with authority, carrying through this cracked open window I’m peeking through. I hear him talking to Erica, the shy girl masking her emotions behind that swatch of hair covering her eye. Although, I recognize grief when I see it. She is grieving, possibly from a loss. I know loss. I relate to that feeling — wanting to retreat into yourself but knowing you must adapt to circumstances to survive. Erica’s visible eye doesn’t quite focus on Gary. I admit, he is a formidable presence. Gary sounds jovial, but now he’s talking about monsters. I’m unsure whether he means metaphorical monsters or…real ones. I’ve seen enough in my travels beyond my world now to anticipate the supernatural. For Erica’s sake, god, I hope the monsters aren’t real. The only monster I’ve seen so far is Gary. I’m making deductions through intuition, but I haven’t interacted with people in so long, I hardly know anything beyond the pages of my books. Still, I sense something sinister here.
They ate and spoke of monsters present on the premises. Words about training to fight and warfare against primordial beasts startled the woman listening outside. Daylight waned as stars began pockmarking the dust-colored sky. Erica, the adult woman, the horde of dogs, and Gary exited the house. They trudged from the looming mansion across a field of grass. Unbeknownst to them, the woman followed behind discreetly. Thoughts of shuffling dimensions and cosmic fields she has traversed suppressed her emotions. She felt connected to young Erica in ways she wished she could jettison into the darkness, swallowing their grief whole.
Emilia’s Journal: The blonde woman places a mask over Erica’s face after Gary enters a hulking red barn. I think of blood when I see it, and I feel an impetus to stop this strange ritual from occurring. But of course, I cannot intervene. I wait in monolithic silence as the woman tells Erica she has to enter the barn with Gary alone. My god…are they sacrificing this poor child? Hasn’t she been through enough? This reminds me why people frighten me. Evil courses through my own world. Evil people. Evil diseases. Cancer…and the good people, as hard as they try, can’t save everyone. No one could save my dad. And now I am alone, like poor Erica. They are sending her off to slaughter in some sadistic ceremony after terrifying her with tales of monsters. The woman tells Erica how Gary will ask Erica questions like her name and something about a totem named Octo? Is this a cult? Is Gary a monster — something about to kill this child?
Horror flirted with her premonitions of violence as Erica entered the barn. The woman gasped when visions pummeled her. Extraordinary sight allowed her to watch a man in a blue mask interrogate Erica. From afar, she recoiled. She saw everything Erica saw, experiencing the depth of Erica’s memories as if they belonged to the woman too. Erica’s family is murdered while Erica is spared. The purple octopus toy Erica clutched close to her chest in the barn protected her from death. A plush toy absorbed a black, spider-limbed monster. The womans’ body convulsed along with Erica when the monster was summoned from Octo in the lightless dark of the barn.
Emilia: Why are they doing this to a child? That’s a demon! How can she possibly survive?
A waterfall of red light gushed from Erica’s small frame. Blood rivulets flooded her nostrils, and then Erica crumpled to the ground. Gary and the masked man observed in abject consternation but stood fettered in place. Erica passed out, Octo sprawled on her chest like a shrine. The barbary ended before the womans’ trepidation nearly forced her to scream.
Again, a distorted light flared. It sizzled into view, defecting to whatever held it back previously.
Emilia: That light! The sun! It’s come back for me. It’s not stopping!
The light oscillated and advanced upon her. Her heart galloped along with her pounding feet as she ran from her faceless pursuer. She ran across the field until her feet no longer tread on tepid grass. Losing the light, a shadowy figure suddenly uncoiled in a mass of blood and teeth. The crimson-stained canines spelled out a message: “Stay on the move. Don’t let them catch you.” Then, she felt the celestial sphere pluck her out of reality.
BloodOf The Sardaukar
Aimée was now in a room. It was the same cold room they lived in for two years before they disappeared. It gave a feeling of desensitization, with white walls turning grey, a table that shared one single chair with an unstable desk, an old kitchen. It was the same as always, except now some small things were missing, and some added. It didn’t feel great to be in that room, but it felt normal, at least.
With their eyes open, they started witnessing a series of flashing events. They saw a kid from a noble family, which was slaughtered because of a diplomatic fraud. He was captured by the killers and trained through life and death situations he had to endure for years, to become one of the Sardaukar, the empire’s army. He had to live inside a prison for two months, where his little brother died beaten up by the inmates. Then was released in a desert for years where his other brother was poisoned by a lizard. He was the last member of his exterminated family, and Aimée was his witness. They appear on these memories flashes conveniently positioned on safe places among all the destruction and tragedy, as if it was premeditated.
Aimée’s Journal: What kind of hell is this? They just tortured that kid. This is all so fucked up. This is not like the other places I’ve been in. I have to be extra careful here; it feels like everyone would kill me on sight.
Before Aimée could adjust to the place, they appeared on a giant corridor, supported by imposing columns where they could hide behind. A conversation could be overhead flowing through the air. The tone that bordered on whispers functioned as a seal that let them know it was a pressing matter. It was a duke and his bodyguard talking about the ramifications that the duke’s actions could have. He freed a territory that the empire took over, administered before by the Kolona family. Aimée’s mind took a moment to process that information, as they were simultaneously trying to hide as well as possible, but soon it clicked; Kolona was the kid’s surname.
Aimée’s journal: Is it possible that the kid might get his family’s position again? I mean, the duke said he was giving it to the extended family, but he can step up. Would he want to? After seeing what that system’s capable of, maybe he wouldn’t even dream about it.
In less than a heartbeats time, the sound of explosions entered Aimée’s eardrums as a nail enters a piece of wood. Then screamings followed. Everyone started to panic, and the corridor was rapidly full of people running, that didn’t bother to think twice about Aimée’s presence. After running to a balcony, they saw what was happening: they were being attacked. If they were to trust the people running through the corridors, some faction called the Harkonnen was behind the attack. They had no reason to think otherwise, especially because they were foreign to this world and its divisions.
Aimée’s journal: They’re killing everyone! This seemed like a peaceful place. It’s part of the empire! How is it suddenly being attacked? Who are these Harkonnen they keep mentioning?
Things became clearer when they distinguished someone running on the roof that was just in the front. It was the kid, or who was a kid, and now a man. He was one of the attackers. This made Aimée understand the Sardaukar were sent by the empire to stop the duke, disguised as Harkonnen, to avoid connections.
Aimée’s journal: He’s about to fire a missile to a spaceship! That must be where the duke is. Why would they bother then? Oh my god, he just missed! The duke may survive. Maybe he missed on purpose?
Still, with the diary and pen in hand, they saw a light beam floating in space, just like the one they saw before. This time it was close and visible enough to make sure they weren’t just seeing things. They couldn’t even focus on it when it started floating threateningly against them. Almost dropping the diary, they started running down the nearest stairs. There was no time to look back, and it was already hard to avoid all the murderers present in the place. The screams, blood jumping out of stabbed bodies, and the deafening explosions almost made them just throw themselves against the floor and cry for help. They jumped a wall, went into two alleys, and hid behind a spaceship before they finally looked back to realize the light was gone. At Aimée’s side was a corpse; it had been stabbed with such strength that its guts were visible. But that’s not what caught their attention. There was the blood coming out of it slowly formed words before them: Stay on the move. Don’t let them catch you.
Aimée’s journal: I’ll have to think about what I just saw another day. I’m tired to even do that, and the sooner I get out of this fucking place, the better I’ll be.