‘A BLACK CAT AND A BAD DREAM, PART 2’

The sensation of sinking is always unsettling. Gone are the little round windows of the quaint cottage. The two children and their sick mother have vanished from my sight, but not from my thoughts. I know what I need to do here, in the dream world.

That is what this place is: a world of dreams inside of the mother’s imagination. Almost everyone has dreams. Every dreamer stands on the doorstep of the infinite. That said, not all dreams are equal. Some are more in touch with their dreams than others. Some have big dreams while others have little dreams. All these things are reflected in the world that manifests itself inside the mind. Most have no control over their dreams and wander aimlessly.

I am an exception. Dreams are my domain. Nothing here is outside of my influence.

I am not the only exception though. There is another being here with power. The ignorant refer to something like this as a nightmare, but Morosia is more than that: it is a curse. Those afflicted are doomed to be consumed by a cunning parasite that preys upon their inner turmoil. When left unchecked, the victim will suffer and sleep until thirst or starvation claim their due. Any attempts to intervene through material means are hopeless. The only way to cure Morosia is to remove the parasite. That is what I am here for. My prize.

The sinking sensation stops, and I open my eyes to a cold world devoid of any sort of color. Surrounded by dismal houses and buildings, obscured by thick mist – could this be Hithe? It is hard for me to tell; after all, while in the waking world, my eyes can only see magic. The earth rumbles beneath me, signaling that the game is about to begin.

“Athos!” I call out and snap my fingers. A handful of falling feathers announce the arrival of my familiar: The Three-Eyed Raven, Athos. The vibrant violet sheen of his rich plumage provides a stark contrast against the dream world’s ubiquitous grayscale. I can feel three sets of talons dig into my skin, but I do not wince or cry out because I am familiar with pain and its purpose.

“At your service, my Queen.” Athos responds with his trademark orotund, gentlemanly tone as he settles onto my shoulder. Colors mix with the scarlet ink drawn from his talons before sweeping down to dye my clothes back to their original sky blue and cloud gray hues. The cobblestone street beneath my feet remains ashen and flat. Again, the earth grumbles impatiently and I infer that the mother has little time left alive.

“Keep your eyes peeled. I can feel it nearby.” I punctuate my statement by drawing my katana. The weapon introduces itself to the world with its telltale chime. The steel blade glistens and begins to pulsate iridescence as I tuck the scabbard into my sash. Holding my sword with both hands, I begin to walk down the street one careful step at a time, ready for the resident of this realm to reveal itself and attack. All is silent save for the soft plodding of my sandals against the road as building after non-descript building pass us by.

A cat meows. I stop walking and sweep the empty streets with an attentive gaze. I see nothing. Athos ruffles his feathers and remains silent. We stand and wait. Another meow, faint and yet still distinct, beckons us towards a tall building in front of us. The building is in the center of a square and looms head and shoulders above the others. Judging by its size, I guess it to be the town hall, or perhaps a court of law, if they were not one in the same. The cat call sounds again, more urgent this time. I glance at Athos out of the corner of my eye.


“What do you think?” I ask him. He ruffles his feathers and makes a clicking sound with his beak.

“I believe it is inside, my Queen.” He responds, then adds. “Be careful.” I nod in response and we slowly approach the massive wooden double doors of the town hall. I swipe my sword to the side and the doors swing inward as a sudden squall nearly rips them off their hinges. There is no hesitation on my part as I stride past the threshold with quiet confidence. We are greeted by a large, empty room filled with vacant benches facing a central altar. Perched atop the podium is a black cat leisurely flicking its tail, with its back turned towards us.  

“It is as you think, my Queen.” Athos identifies the unassuming feline as the source of the corruption. I point my sword at the parasite.

“There are two ways we can go about this, but they both end up with you as my pet.” As I speak, my voice begins to swell in volume until it reverberates throughout the entire hall. The feline seems unperturbed and does not respond. I march forward, staring the parasite down behind the length of my weapon. The earth begins to shake again and this time it does not stop.

“Submit to my power!” My shout rips through the hall and the windowpanes crack. The cat cocks its head back to stare at me with eyes that smolder like burning coal. Its lips peel back nonsensically wide and reveal not one, but four rows of stained black teeth.

“What power?” The cat’s fiendish smile remains fixed in place as a rasping, guttural voice booms throughout the hall. It hisses at us now, and as it does, it undergoes a monstrous growth spurt. The grinding of bone against bone fills my ears as the cat’s limbs elongate and contort one after another, then its chest swells like a balloon. The wooden altar soon collapses under the weight of the now enormous feline fiend. The demon turns to face me and its eyes ignite into a pair of bright orange flames. Stripes of fire send smoke signals up from its black pelt and its teeth click together as it chomps the empty air with its maw. My eyes narrow as I tilt my head back to meet the fiend’s gaze with a glare of my own, unperturbed.

“Goblin Cat.” I murmur to myself in a matter-of-fact tone. I recalled the name from a story Trent had read to me once about a wandering medicine vendor. Athos clicks his beak twice to signal his agreement: it is a Goblin Cat.

“My master told me you would come… too bad you and that squawking retch are barely a meal!” The parasite growls and the faintly perceptible tremors of the earth grow into a steady quaking. The roof of the town hall vanishes, revealing an inky, starless sky overhead. Next, the walls melt away, replaced by sheets of flame. I now find myself standing inside a towering ring of fire: a fitting arena. The tip of my katana points towards the floor as I assume a low guard.

“You’re about to have a new master, furball.” I challenge back with a smirk. That sets it off; it begins to hiss, enraged, and I can see a light glowing from inside of its open maw. I recognize it as fire just before a massive tongue of flame erupts from behind its rows of razor-sharp fangs. My sword carves a semi-circle in the air before me and a shimmering sheet of ice springs up from the ground below, shielding us from the burst of fire without issue. The tip of my blade dances high over my head before it falls in a graceful stroke, shattering the wall of ice into little knives and propelling them towards the Goblin Cat.


“Pathetic!” The Goblin Cat leers back and swipes one massive paw through the air, leaving a lingering trail of fire in its wake. The ice fragments melt before they reach their target. Now the fiend plants both of its front paws against the ground and the circle of fire surrounding us flares up. A bead of sweat drips down my brow as the temperature climbs and I recognize that the walls of the arena are constricting. This is turning out to be a fun game.

“My Queen, the ground!” Athos cries out in warning. Lava. The ground beneath the Goblin Cat’s paws melts into molten lava and begins to creeps towards my feet. Time is running out.  I raise my sword overhead now, assuming a high guard, ready to bring it down with all of my strength. The Goblin Cat does not try to close the gap but instead maintains the distance between us, eyeing the iridescent blade wearily. Interesting. It must know the secret of my sword. Fortunately, I have many more.

“Ascend, Athos!” My command is issued. With a burst of purple feathers, Athos and his wings expand outwards, suddenly reaching several arm’s lengths away on each side. Warmth envelopes me as his talons fuse into my shoulder. I crouch down, and as the molten cobblestone is about to entrap us, we take off into the air with several powerful gusts from Athos’ wings. We’re not out of the clear yet – as we soar higher and higher with each flap, the wall of flames surrounding us seems to grow taller. I continue to ascend straight up into the sky, piercing the ink’s dim veil. Higher and higher still, until finally…

“The Moon.” There it is. A full moon, glowing boldly above the parasite’s miasma. I outstretch my hand and it begins to grow larger, not because we are continuing to fly higher, but because I am pulling the moon towards us. The Goblin Cat’s howls grow faint, blotted out by a new sound: the rush of flowing water. I look down from our lofty perch in the sky, glaring at the dot of fire burning in the darkness below. Dreams are my domain, you worm.

“Drown.” My lips part to utter a single word that shakes the entire world. The moonlight illuminates an amorphous mass surging far beneath us: a tidal wave sweeping the land below, large enough to be seen from thousands of feet above. The waters dwarf the pitiful ring of fire and the Goblin Cat’s frightened yowls are dashed asunder as the tsunami breaks and crashes. The water spreads and soon there is no earth beneath us; only calm waters reflecting the light of the moon back into the sky. I remove my scabbard from my belt and hold it with one hand as I hold my katana in the other.

“Release.” I issue my order to Athos. My wings disappear and I so I plummet. I let gravity pull me down, headfirst towards the water’s surface. The wind whips about me and as I fall, I shed my clothes like a snake shedding old skin. I press my legs together as they fuse into a tail complete with two iridescent fins and matching scales. My lungs grow gills. Not a moment after my transformation is complete, I pierce the water’s surface with the tip of my katana and slide into the icy depths, now a mermaid with sword and scabbard in hand.

“Find it.” I issue my command to Athos by speaking directly to his mind. Moments later, a pillar of illumination penetrates the deeps. Propelled by my powerful new tail and fins, I dart through the water towards the light like a shark approaching prey. Then I see it come into view – the Goblin Cat, floundering helplessly in the depths of this all-encompassing ocean. Gone are its stripes of fire and its eyes, once burning with malice, are now wide and fearful.


“It’ll be over soon.” I taunt the terrified parasite. Its head snaps towards me as it frantically claws at the water, trying desperately to mount a defense. A futile gesture; as I hurdle past the parasite, I cleave its outstretched paw clean from its forearm. Crimson blossoms from the wound, dissipating into the water, and a mass of bubbles erupt from the Goblin Cat’s maw as it cries out in pain. No longer able to hold its breath, it begins to inhale the icy water and drown. The blade of my katana, once iridescent, now begins to turn blood red. I turn, facing the Goblin Cat once more and pointing the opening of my empty scabbard towards it, concentrating. The blade of my katana is now a bright, burning crimson color. It enjoys the taste of magic.

“You’re mine now.” With those words, the Goblin Cat begins to shrink as it is pulled towards me by the undeniable force that is my will. It continues to paw the water helplessly until its silhouette deteriorates into a dark, shapeless cloud of malevolent intent. The spirit is drawn into the sheath of my sword much like a helpless ship caught in an epic whirlpool. Once the Goblin Cat is inside, I slam my sword back into its sheath.

A blinding light causes me to squint and glare: the setting sun. I’m back in the cottage now, staring down at the golden mirror resting on my lap. I blink twice before I look up to meet the gaze of the little boy and the little girl who had implored me for help. I take a deep breath and taste the crisp, autumn air. A pang of regret as I realize I no longer have gills, scales, or a tail. This is quickly washed away by the sight of the mother, now sitting upright in bed, gasping for air. The two children immediately rush the bedside and throw themselves on top of her, smothering her with affection. I allow myself a small smile as I look upon the reunited family with a melancholic gaze.

“So that is what a happy family looks like…” I murmur to myself.

“Yes, my Queen. Your magnificence is unlimited.” I can hear the voice of Athos addressing me using our mental link now and I chuckle inwardly. While a bit corny at times, Athos is certainly a marvelous retainer fit for a queen. I look down at the mirror in my lap and nod. For a brief moment, I see the shape of a bird as the light catches upon its surface. Then, I see the shape of a small cat beside it. That’s right. I have a new pet. A new pet needs a name, too. After all, Goblin Cat is not very catchy.

“You as well, Athos. Please introduce yourself to our new companion, Aramis.” I think, then stifle a yawn. I look up at the reunited family with tired eyes.

“Do you mind if I take a nap?” I ask, my eyes growing heavier by the second. Without realizing it, I find myself drifting off into a deep slumber of my own. Perhaps I will have a better dream this time.

A BLACK CAT AND A BAD DREAM, PT. II
Written by Jungle.
© 2021, all rights reserved.

‘DAYBREAK’

If you would let me hold your hand,
I promise not to let you fall. 
I'll do my best to understand,
I'll be the pillow where you land.

If you let me into your heart,
I will always answer your call.
If I see it begin to part,
I'll glue it back before it starts.

If you reveal to me your mind,
I will wander its many halls.
I can get lost in your designs.
I can learn your ways over time.

‘DAYBREAK’
Written by Jungle.
(C) 2021, all rights reserved.

‘THE DREAMER OF THE DEEPS’


[Chorus]
It's all in the games that we choose to play
and the words and phrases that we say. 
It's the way you chase the night into day
with all of your magic spells and swordplay. 

[Verse]
The tempo is gentle with cymbals that tremble.
Harmony that resembles distant solar halos.
Words that float like summer clouds over rainbows
And a melody from a forgotten memory. 
Do you remember me? 

[Bridge]
You're the Dreamer, lone gatekeeper
Holding the key to the lost sea.
Golden mirror, will you show me
what lies beneath the frozen deeps?
Three-eyed raven flapping its wings,
a stony gaze that unmakes kings.
Hissing black cat sharpens its claws,
a fire burns inside its paws.
Ancient old toad, guardian of the road
Counting every debt you owe. 

[Verse]
Day by day and step by step,
Sleep until there's nothing left.
Your eyes seek and receive
these secrets that you keep. 

[Chorus]
It's all in the games that we choose to play
and the words and phrases that we say. 
It's the way you chase the night into day
with all of your magic spells and swordplay. 

‘THE DREAMER OF THE DEEPS’
Written by Jungle.
(C) 2021, all rights reserved.

‘THE HUNTRESS OF IVY CITY’

[Chorus]
You are the Huntress, they are the hunted. 
Shunned and mistrusted, you stand triumphant.
They are the hunted, you are the Huntress.
They are corrupted; bring them to justice. 

[Verse]
Ivy City, home of the beasts.
Dawn draws near now, Moon takes its rest.
Raiders appear, Wild Ones give chase.
Unfed have fled back to their nest. 

[Bridge]
You are the Huntress, they are the hunted.
Flee through the forest, this place is haunted. 

[Verse]
The laws of nature dictate your fate now.
Try to escape but you cannot shake us.
This is our city, we have no pity.
There's no mistake and your life is taken.  

[Bridge]
You are the Huntress, they are the hunted.
Flee through the fields; dead eyes are watching.

[Chorus]
You are the Huntress, they are the hunted.
Shunned and mistrusted, you stand triumphant.
They are the hunted, you are the Huntress.
They are corrupted; bring them to justice.

‘THE HUNTRESS OF IVY CITY’
Written by Jungle.
(C) 2021 all rights reserved.

‘A BLACK CAT AND A BAD DREAM, PART 1’

I can’t fight it anymore. It’s too much.

“Oh… !” I let out a quiet gasp and pull my arm across my chest, hugging myself tightly. My toes curl as the muscles in my thighs and stomach tighten involuntarily. I bite down on my lip hard enough to draw blood. No! I won’t lose! I never lose! But… it feels so good. Why can’t this go on forever?  

“Fuck you and your-“ My partner cuts me off with his tongue’s expertise: he knows I’m close and he’s playing to win. Another gasp escapes my lips and I can feel his long, soft hair brushing against the inside of my thighs as they clamp down on him. Wave after wave of golden euphoria ripples up from where my lover quietly prays to me, his goddess. I try to squirm away, but his hands weigh like iron on my hips, holding me steady, pressing me down against our shared bed: a bale of hay in a dusty old barn. He continues unabated, even as my soft sighs quickly climb to a climax. Everything in sight explodes into a rainbow of psychedelic ecstasy before everything goes quiet save for the sound of my exasperated breathing.

“I win.” His tone is smug and why shouldn’t it be? I can’t see his face, but I can imagine his cocky smirk, his flashing slate eyes, and his long, flowing locks of gold. His merciless assault continues before I can catch my breath: I can feel his lips, soft and full, planting wet little kisses on my shoulder and slowly traveling up the side of my neck, towards my earlobe. Now I can feel his hand cup the bottom of my thigh and scoop me up onto my side, holding my leg aloft. I grind my chest against his, reveling in his warmth as one of my hands finds a firm hold in his hair. I pull down hard enough to lift his chin towards me.

“You are like… a fucking rabbit… you know that?” I manage to chide him as I continue to catch my breath. My heart is still racing. It’s not enough. I want more! He chuckles knowingly: my lover is teasing me now.

“Bastard…” I whisper. Now he stops and tenses up.

“Did you hear that?” He seems serious now.

“Stop teasing me, Trent!” I growl at him. My entire body is still throbbing with excitement and anticipation. That’s when I hear it, too. It sounds like a faint whisper at first, but the voice is somehow… familiar.

“Seles…” I sit upright now. That wasn’t Trent’s voice. Is someone else here?

“Celestria… Celestria…” I feel the blood drain from my face when I recognize that name. Suddenly, I can’t feel him next to me anymore. I’m alone now. Where did he go? The voice grows louder and more discernable as it continues to chant.

“Celestria!” The barn doors burst open and then she barges in, announced by her shrill shriek. This presence, this voice… I know them, alright.

They belong to my mother.

I wake with a start and sit bolt upright in my borrowed bed. My heart is still pounding away and my cold sweat feels like an icy frost in the cool morning air.

Knock, knock, knock. Before I can decide whether I’m too terrified to be horny, somebody quietly knocks at the door. Could it be the old pervert I borrowed this shack from? No, not likely – it will take at least another day for him to break my spell and return here. That is, if he even returns. Who knows what sort of horrors he will find out on the road? Fuck it, he deserves it.

My eyes are still ‘waking up’, so to speak, and so everything around me remains shadowed and blurry even though I can feel the sunlight’s warmth tattooing my face. I sit up and grope around blindly for a few moments before my fingers close around something smooth: I instantly recognize it as the handle of my sword. I scoot out of my bed and plant the end of the scabbard firmly against the ground; it is a sword, yes, and it is also my walking stick.

Knock, knock, knock. The rapping at my door is persistent, but somehow polite. No, this wasn’t the old perv. Who could it be then?

“Who’s there?” I call out to the stranger without a hint of fear.

“Are you the Witch?” A frail and timid voice responds. I take a deep breath and push aside the lingering thoughts evoked by my dream. Focus. A familiar sensation envelopes me, like facing a winter wind with eyes open wide. Colors creep into the void. The outlines of all living things slowly become visible; the tufts of grass peeking up through the broken floorboards, the spider weaving its web in the rafters, and even the two children standing on the other side of the door. Two children?

“Open the door and come inside. Close the door behind you.” As I speak, I impart a little bit of my power into my words. Only a little magic is needed here. The two children do as I say and they shut the door behind them without a sound. Once they enter the shack, I can see their essences clearly: one boy and one girl. Both of their silhouettes are drenched in a deep Lapis blue – the color of grief, tinged with a bit of fern green, the color of apprehension, bordering on fear. The puzzle pieces have been set upon the table now.

“Give me your hand, little girl.” I speak out loud and extend one hand out towards her. She hesitates at first. I shake my head.

“Give me your hand, little girl.” This time I speak to her mind directly. She gasps. I inject a little bit of magic into my command and so she steps forward and places her hand in mine. No hesitation this time. I place my other hand on top, sandwiching her tiny little hand between mine.

“Now relax.” I can feel the girl’s trepidation begin to melt away, leaving only the color of grief behind. As she does so, a flood of images and sounds begins to pour into my head, impossibly fast at first: I am watching the girl’s short life unfold before my eyes. As we approach the present time, things begin to slow down until I am left watching a short scene with the two children standing at the bedside of a middle-aged woman: their mother.

“Your mother is sick?” I turn to the boy, knowing the girl will not be able to answer while entranced. The little boy’s essence pulses green with fear before returning to lapis blue and then he nods his head a few times. I release the little girl’s hands. When I do, I can’t help but marvel as her essence radiates a sky-blue hue, the color of amazement, followed by an emerald green: the color of admiration. I smile at the two now.

“Take me to her.” I speak my command aloud to the children. They look at each other and for a moment, their shades begin to lighten in color: no longer grief, but sadness tinged with a hint of hope.  

It takes us just over an hour to reach Hithe, one of the larger settlements I’d come across. As we approach the town, I am quick to draw my hood. We don’t need any unwanted attention today. The little boy leads me by the hand through the town and I find myself gritting my teeth. So noisy… an angry maelstrom of thoughts warbles about inside my head like a buzzing beehive. As much as I loathe the boredom that accompanies solitude, I would not be able to live in a place like this without losing my mind. Thankfully, the children’s home is tucked away on the edge of the town, far enough from the idle thoughts and wants of its citizens for me to regain my bearings.

We come to a stop in front of a dark mass – a house, maybe? I borrow the boy’s sight for a moment and see a quaint little cottage with symmetrical round glass windows on each side of a simple wooden door. I wouldn’t mind staying in a place like this. The little girl opens the door and the boy guides me inside before his sister shuts the door behind us.

“Morosia.” My quiet murmur fills the room as I cast my gaze upon their bedridden mother. Sure, I was already certain of the diagnosis when I’d read the little girl’s mind, but seeing it in person, through my eyes revealed that this was not a typical case. Her essence is dim, but I can make out its color: a mixture of violet tinged with sapphire blue and ruby red. Remorse, contempt, and hatred. I had my work cut out for me this time, but with risk comes a reward. The boy releases my hand and I approach the bedside.

That’s when I notice it.

“Do you have any pets? Like… a cat?” I turn my gaze towards the children. They both shake their head in unison. I look back at their mother, lying in her bed, barely breathing. I can see the imprint of a cat’s paw on her cheek. The fact that I can see it this clearly means it is bleeding. A fresh wound. I doubt that a cat could have gotten in while they were gone.

“Have you noticed any cats hanging around the house?” My question remains unanswered for a moment as the children think about it. Both of them shake their heads again and this time the little girl speaks up.

“Mommy hates cats.” She says timidly. The boy nods his head. Another puzzle piece falling into place. Turning away from the bedside, I take a deep breath and prepare to address the children.

“Your mother is being haunted by a ghost from her past. If she cannot come to peace with it, she will sleep here, in this bed, until she dies.” Even though I am trying to soften the news, I can see the children’s silhouettes fading back to the deep blue associated with grief and sadness. Fuck. I was never any good at this. As I speak, I reach into the satchel hanging at my side.

“I can save your mother, but only if you follow my instructions.” My fingertip slides across the smooth surface of polished glass – the face of my golden mirror. I pull the little mirror from my satchel. Although its golden frame remains dark and shadowed to my eyes, the reflecting surface of the mirror appears as a brilliant sheet of iridescent pearl. The children don’t respond but I know they would do anything for their mother, even seek out a scary witch miles away from their home.

“Lock the door. Don’t open it. Close the windows and draw the blinds. Keep them closed. Last – no matter what happens, you must not touch your mother and you must not touch me.” I rattle off my instructions to the children and they are already moving to follow them before I finish. Good. These children love their mother. That means she’s been a good mother then. That may end up being enough to save her.

“Now bring me a chair.” As soon as the words leave my lips, I can hear the boy sliding an old chair across the wooden floorboards. I sit down in the chair and rest the golden mirror, face up, on my lap. Before I begin, I look up at the children one more time.

“Do not forget what I said. If you do, not only will your mother die, but it’s likely that the three of us will die as well.” I can hear the little boy gulp audibly and the two children shake their head in unison once again.

“Well then. Let’s begin.” My final words before beginning the dive.

A BLACK CAT AND A BAD DREAM, PT. I
Written by Jungle.
© 2021, all rights reserved.


Click to continue dreaming of SELES.

‘A BLACK CAT AND A BAD DREAM, PART 2’

The sensation of sinking is always unsettling. Gone are the little round windows of the quaint cottage. The two children and their sick mother have vanished from my sight, but not from my thoughts. I know what I need to do here, in the dream world. That is what this place is: a world of dreams inside of the mother’s imagination. Almost everyone has dreams. Every dreamer stands on the doorstep of the infinite….

‘A PILE OF DEAD RATS AND THE HUMAN MOUSETRAP’

One, two, one, two, one, two…!

“How long have I been here?” My thoughts wander for a moment. No. Don’t break the flow. I need to keep moving: if I stand still, they will surround me.

Footsteps closing in behind me now. One pair is near, the others lag behind by more than a few seconds – that’s long enough. Adrenaline seems to bind the hands of time as I drop my shoulder and tuck into a low roll. My pursuer can’t slam the brakes on in time. He tries to skip a step and to hop over me. When he does, my knife lashes out like a whip and I can feel its razor edge tear through his groin from below. A startled yelp preludes a crash followed by horrible wailing.

I’m already up and running again before I can check my handiwork. Barely lost a step against my other pursuers, from the sound of it. They’re still after me though. The Covetous. Fortunately for me, this museum is massive and full of dark corners, catwalks, and balconies. If not for that, I might be dead already.

 “One less rat!” I look over my shoulder as I shout back to my pursuers. When I do, I see one of them plant his feet and raise his pipe shotgun. Shit. I swerve suddenly and not a second later I hear the crack of a lead slug rip the air where my head had just been. Time to disappear again.

“Get out of the fuckin’ way!” I can hear him berating his comrades so that he can get a clear shot. No, I don’t think so. I round a corner suddenly to break his line of sight. There are walkways above that are still adorned with ancient, rotting cloth tapestries. Excellent interior decoration idea. I jump, kick my way up the wall to the tapestry and grab it. It barely supports my weight as I use it to quickly scale the wall and ascend to the second level.

Crack! Just as I clear the railing and disappear from sight, another slug flies by me and ricochets off of the stone wall.

“Who taught you rats how to shoot?” My voice drifts down towards them, accompanied by my mocking laughter. I need that one dead. His shotgun is dangerous, even if it is just a steel pipe rigged up to a piece of wood and a few scrap bits. Crouched low and out of sight now, I quickly make my way across the walkway and create some more distance between myself and my pursuers.

“Split up and find that fucker!” I recognize the man with the shotgun’s voice again. He’s the leader. That means he’s probably the only one with a gun, too. Well, you know what they say… strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter. I force myself to take deep, full breaths and slow down my heart’s thunderous percussion.

“How long until you slip up, Trent?” I feel the hair on my forearms quiver with goosebumps as the voice inside my head takes this break in the action as an opportunity to taunt me. The shadows dance across the ground in front of me again. I look up and see a ceiling above me. Great. I vigorously shake my head to dispel the specter. Focus! You need to survive this. You have to see Seles again.

“It’s not time for me to die yet.” I murmur. Just like that, the doubt and hesitation fade away like a morning mist melting in a midday sun. My vision sharpens. My knuckles crack as I try to crush the steel handle of my hunting knife in my palm. I can feel the electricity starting to crackle and course through me now. That’s right. It’s not time for me to die just yet, not without speaking to her one more time.

Back to business. The man with the shotgun is, predictably, surrounding himself with cannon fodder now. I don’t need to peek over the balcony to know what they’re doing because I can hear the pairs of cautious footsteps beneath me.

“That’s right. Two at a time so your buddy can watch your back for the boogeyman…” I think to myself as I smirk. Predictable behavior. I continue to crouch in a dark corner on the second floor, listening, waiting for them to spread out more. After all, I’ll take the odds when it’s only two against one. Looking up, something interesting catches my eye; all along the second floor, between the balconies, there are steel cables. Some of them still suspend strange, foreign objects and structures in the air above my pursuers on the first floor. That could be helpful.

I continue to work my way along the walkway, staying low and out of sight. My pursuers have spread out now, but I’ve lost track of where the leader is. Another quick scan of my surroundings reveals a nearby staircase. More cautious footsteps now, echoing up the corridor. My lips part slightly and I force myself to keep breathing deep even as the adrenaline continues to flood my system.

The first pursuer steps up onto the landing. Silence. He doesn’t see me crouching behind the pillar adjacent to the landing. The trudge of quiet footsteps continues as he begins moving in the opposite direction from my hiding place. I hear the second set of footsteps clear the landing and continue off in the same direction.

One, two, three, one, two, three…

Heel to toe, heel to toe, gradually rolling my weight across my foot with each step to remain quiet as I creep up behind the two. They’re close now. Crack. I inadvertently step on a piece of broken glass.The man in back snaps around and turns to face me. Too slow: I’ve already blasted my knife through his oily, black beard and into his throat. His eyes bulge in shock and horror as I raise my knee and snap my leg into a front kick. The weight behind my boot is enough to send him staggering backwards into his confused partner. I’m already following up, charging at the tangled duo.

The survivor stumbles forward as his partner slides off of him and tumbles to the ground, clutching at the hole in his windpipe. The one still standing turns towards me and swings with a steel pipe as he does so; I lean back just far enough to avoid it and I can feel his swing push the air past my nose. As he recovers, I rip one of my knives across the back of his arm, tearing through the muscles. He howls and tries to swing with his free hand. I raise my left hand to block the haymaker, step inside to reduce its power, and drive my knife through his solar plexus with my full weight behind it. He gasps as I wrench the knife free and then he doubles over. I grab him by his mop of unruly blonde hair to hold his head down with one hand. A quick flourish to re-grip and now I’ve slammed my knife down into the back of his neck, through his spine.

“Two more dead rats…” I call out in a mocking, sing-song voice as I skip over to the one that I stabbed in the throat and finish him with a brutal round kick that connects squarely with the tip of his chin. Crack. Silence again. Knowing damn well not to stick around in the same spot, I duck around another corner and distance myself from the scene. How many have I killed already? I can’t remember. I had more important things to think about anyways, like how to kill the rest of them. How many are left? I steal a glance at my wristwatch next – and then I realize I do not have much longer to play around here. Shit. Focus. Don’t break the flow.

“He’s over there!” I hear a distant voice call out. I turn my head and see the man with the shotgun clear the landing of the second set of stairs. He levels the shotgun in my direction and I don’t think, I just react, planting one foot on the railing and launching myself off of it towards one of the artifacts suspended by steel cables: an ancient airplane, something Moria had often spoke of. Crack. Another slug rips the air where I’d just been standing a second ago. Thud. I land squarely on the center of the plane’s wings and throw my hands out into the air to steady myself as it sways under the impact. The steel cables supporting the sculpture groan but I ignore it as I make my way across it with quick, careful steps.

“Don’t let that fucker get away!” I can hear the leader’s voice getting louder now. He’s trying to get a better shot. I look down below me for a second. Three have gathered below me, looking up at my perch like hungry sharks eyeing a fresh slaughter. I’m already two steps ahead of them though. I take a deep breath and harness the lightning coursing through my veins. My right eye begins to crackle and itch as I drop into a crouch, my legs coiling like powerful springs ready to explode. A burning blue silhouette encapsulates the man with the shotgun as he raises it towards me in slow motion.

Nothing escapes my eye now. I can see the electrical impulse travel from his brain down to his trigger finger. Right before it reaches its destination, I explode up and off of the suspended airplane and into a soaring backflip. He fires and his slug ends up blasting off the tip of the airplane’s wing, where one of the steel cables had been attached. A deafening groan fills the museum hall as the old airplane, no longer balanced, careens sideways, straining the remaining connections. Pop. Another connection point comes loose, followed by another, and then the entire plane ends up slamming to the ground with a deafening crash. I hear a pair of startled screams as at least one of the men are crushed beneath the massive artifact. The impact of the plane slamming against the ground kicks up all of the dust and soot that had gathered in the museum over time and fills the hall with a cloud of dirt and deafening reverberations.

My poncho flutters around me as I complete my flip and begin to fall towards the ground. I twist my torso, reaching back with my hand to grab onto another one of the rotting cloth tapestries hanging from the balcony. My fingers close around the fabric and I squeeze, trying to break my fall. The cloth begins to tear almost immediately, but it’s still enough to slow my fall to a manageable pace. As I approach the ground, I stomp my feet to absorb the impact and allow the momentum to carry me forward into another roll. Now I find myself on the first floor once more, concealed within the cloud of dust that the impromptu plane crash had kicked up.

No time to spare. I start to make my way towards the stairs, before I can do so, a hand grabs my shoulder and spins me around. Thud. A fist slams into my jaw, but I turn my chin with it to break the impact. My head snaps back and I can feel the fury in my eyes. He goes to swing again, but I grab the inside of his bicep to stop the swing, gripping his jacket sleeve like my dirt bike’s clutch. Taking his trapped arm with me, I pivot to the side and drop to my knees, pulling him over the top of me and throwing him through the air head over heels. His back slaps against the tiled floor and as soon as it does, my other hand is ready to plunge my knife into his eye socket. Another dead rat. I slink away into the shadows once more before his comrades can spot me.

The dust from the crash settles, the reverberations echo away, and silence returns to the museum. My right eye is still itching, crackling with electricity, and a quick scan reveals two fading silhouettes beneath the crashed plane. Two more dead rats. There can’t be that many left. I had counted maybe a dozen at the start. I look down at my wristwatch again and see that the timer I set continuing to tick down, unabated.  Two of the electric blue silhouettes peer cautiously over the railing and down at the crashed plane. I don’t see any others remaining. Time to finish this.

One, two, three… one, two, three…

I slip through the first floor of the museum without making a sound and then I swiftly ascend the staircase. The hair on the back of my neck is standing at attention now – that means the storm is going to be here soon. I have to finish this and get out of here. My remaining pursuers are scared now; I can tell because they are sticking to each other like glue, moving very slowly, constantly glancing around. Pressing my back to the wall still, I pause to think how I can separate them, or at least close the distance and kill the leader before he can blast me with his shotgun.

Then it dawns on me. I clear my throat.

“He’s over here!” I call from the stairwell, cupping my hands over my mouth to try and disguise my voice. It seems to work. I can hear the footsteps coming towards me now. Closer still. Three seconds, two seconds…

“I don’t see—” The first man who rounds the corner starts to respond, but he’s suddenly interrupted as my bayonet pierces the soft flesh beneath his jaw and drives upwards into the roof of his mouth. He looks at me with big, bulging eyes, like a minnow on a fishhook. I’m not done with him though. Using my knife to control his head, I turn him and put him between me and the leader. BOOM! The crude, improvised shotgun’s rapport is deafening as it is fired at point blank range. The slug thuds into a scrap armor backplate, pierces it, and burrows through the man’s chest before it is stopped by his chest plate. I’m already pumping my legs to drive him forward, towards the man with the shotgun. One step, two steps, and then on the third, I shove my human shield into the leader.

“Motherfucker!” He screams at me in rage, realizing he’s just killed one of his own men. He bodies the wounded man away to get a clear shot on me. Click goes the breach of the shotgun as it opens and he hastily stuffs another shell inside the barrel. As he snaps the breach shut and raises the shotgun to fire, the tip of my boot finds the bottom of the barrel as I bend backwards and kick it out of his grip. The shotgun sails high overhead, spinning circles in the air. In one practiced movement, I draw one of my other knives with my left hand and tear it across his throat before he can react. Hot blood sprays my face and I squint to see. The shotgun gradually descends and lands in my waiting right hand.

“You lose, pig.” I smirk before I pull the trigger on the shotgun. The slug takes the man’s head clean off of his shoulders from this range and a geyser of crimson erupts from his torn neck. Strangely, he manages to stand on his feet for a few more seconds before he drops to his knees, then slumps over backwards. An awkward looking corpse, to be sure. I wipe the blood off of my face with my poncho and collect my knife. Deep breaths, Trent. Deep breaths. You did it. My shoulders slump as the collective exhaustion from this encounter hits me all at once.

I begin to make my way towards the exit now. As I do, something interesting catches my eye. A porcelain figurine of sorts, life-sized, illuminated by a single ray of sunlight beaming through the window above. The statue is wearing a long coat of sorts, very heavy and made out of thick leather. I can tell that this coat is much older than I am, but it seems to be in good condition. More interesting than that is the short blade belted to the statue’s side. I grasp the handle and draw the blade. My ears are quick to appreciate the bell-like chime the blade makes as it is removed from its sheath. I look it over for a minute – the blade looks to be about twenty inches long, much longer than any of my knives, but still manageable. I swipe the blade through the air a few times to test it. I like this.

A few minutes later, I am back on my dirt bike and speeding through the city streets, careful to swerve around the many breaks and obstructions littering the old roads. My leather duster flaps behind me as my new blade rests in its sheath by my side. I glance over my shoulder and see the telltale indigo hue of my lonesome only friend gradually growing more and more distant. I’ll need to take a bit of a roundabout route to get to my next stop, and so I rip the accelerator and speed off towards the setting sun.

A PILE OF DEAD RATS AND THE HUMAN MOUSETRAP
Written by Jungle.
© 2021, all rights reserved.

‘STILL DREAMING’

And when   the     sunrise       sneaks into my room
What am I to do? 
When I wake my first thought is    you. 
Go and grab my pen,
Time for me to write something    new. 

And when     I        see you      float across the screen
I know that this is still a   dream. 
So now   I   sit here   try to blow off steam,
I'm still drifting on the jet stream.
I'm still dreaming.  

So now    the    moonlight     is fending off the night
I know that you'll be   alright. 
The neon lights  are your   birthright.
Pick a couple strings,
Time for me to play a   tune. 

And when     I        see you      float across the screen
I know that this is still a   dream. 
So now   I   sit here   try to blow off steam,
I'm still drifting on the jet stream.
I'm still dreaming.  

STILL DREAMING
Written by Jungle.
(C) 2021 all rights reserved

‘THE STRANGER’



Stay away!

“Well met, traveler.” Meaningless words accompanied by a shallow smile from some blonde meat puppet. I look him over: mid-twenties, strong, scrap armor, metal blade, and a revolver on his hip. Another dumb adventurer. He’s also alone. Guns make people so confident…  

“Hello.” I wait a moment before I offer a hollow reply, then bow my head for a moment.

“Are you here for the bounty too?” The man flashes me a toothy grin. Bounty? That’s news. He looks me up and down, sizing me up for a moment, then looks away dismissively. Yeah, I probably would too.

“Bounty?” My ears hear my own voice and I barely recognize it under the feigned naivety. The bounty hunter nods in response. I’m already watching his hands.

“They village to the south is convinced that there is a – fuck, what did they call it – a dargon? Yeah, something called a dargon keeps burning their livestock.” The man’s gaze drifts away from me and towards the distant horizon. There are no clouds in the sky today, just a sneering sun leering down at us from its perch.

“Not familiar with that word. Maybe you mean… a dragon?” My eyes inadvertently drift towards the revolver on his hip and away from his hands. Craftsmanship seems alright; it might be reliable. Best not to take chances then.

“Dragon? Yeah, that might have been it. A dragon. Do you know anything about it?” Now the man’s leaning in towards me, making frequent eye contact. He wants something from me. Everyone wants something from me. Sometimes they are polite, but more often they are not. What do they offer in return, though? Nothing. Nothing at all.

“My throat is parched… do you have any water?” A fake cough here as I act like I’m clearing my throat. I already know he has water. Nobody travels without water. Whether he wants to give me any is a different story. Let’s see if he passes my test.

“None to spare, I’m afraid.” His response is quick and now he turns away, like he’s hiding something. Failure.

“Might be hard for me to talk then…” Continuing to feign naivety here but he’s not buying it. I’m watching his hand drift towards his revolver now. Definitely a bounty hunter. Not a hero.


“Listen… the people in that village will starve if this thing is allowed to run free. Why don’t you just tell me what you know?” Now he’s starting to show his real colors. I know he doesn’t care about those people. Why should he? He just wants to get paid, after all. Just another selfish prick. I remain silent and fake another weak cough, then steal a quick glance at the man. Furrowed brows, pursed lips, flaring nostrils. He’s not buying it. He’s impatient, too. Now I’m the one scowling.

“Tell me what you know.” Just like that, he’s drawn the revolver. As I hear the click of the hammer being cocked back, something inside of me stirs. Disgusting… fucking disgusting! I’ve seen enough. Now my eyes lock onto the gray gun metal of the revolver like the jaws of a mad dog and I picture it in my head for a moment. In my mind I can see how the pistol grip is beginning to glow a scorching red, the sizzle and smell of burning flesh… all of the things I crave. The man’s eyes grow wide and he suddenly drops the revolver in the sand. He doesn’t seem to understand why his hand has a giant red skid mark across it now: he’s shocked.   

“What’s wrong… ?” I can’t hide my grin or confidence anymore so I snicker. Sweat beads down my forehead. I feel little needle pricks all over my scalp. I’m thinking about that scrap armor now. My eyes widen as I picture it melting onto his skin, mingling with it, and dripping down the front of his torso, taking all of the flesh with it, revealing what lies beneath the skin. My chest feels warm. The man starts to scream as my thoughts manifest themselves into reality. He tries to take off the armor, but how could he take it off when the buckles are too hot to touch?

A roaring flame, now. That’s what I’m imagining. A towering inferno swaying uneasily, billowing black clouds. Right on cue, the man’s screams intensify as he bursts into flame and begins to flail around before falling to the ground, screaming his guts out the entire time. I’m sure it would be enough to make anyone else’s blood curdle, but not mine. I’m not like other people, after all. I’m the Stranger… and you are just another log for my fire.


THE STRANGER’
Written by Jungle.

(C) 2021 All Rights Reserved.

‘THE HUNTRESS’

‘ANDANTE’