The Merchant and the Toad King

A fairy tale inspired by the video game OFF, by Mortis Ghost.

~

Once upon a time…

~

He was a merchant by trade, and so was inclined to wander. This, he knew, was merely a story; it didn’t matter what brought him here or what had led up to this moment. The fact was that he was here, and that there must be some reason for it, or else he wouldn’t have wandered this way.

So the merchant cheerfully made his way down the road. There was a city ahead, and where there was a city, there were customers. And where there were customers, there were credits to be had. Beneath a smiling paper mask, he whistled. True, he had no say in where he was going, but there was hardly any sense being morose about it.

“My ears, I suspect, have caught some sort of melody. I must say, it has been an inordinate amount of time since I have heard such an optimistic sound, particularly in a place inhabited only by the despondent.”

The merchant looked around as he heard the voice, but there was no one around him. His gaze abruptly shot down as he felt something brush his legs, and he tilted his head in amusement as he saw the white cat.

“Was it you who said that, my friend?” he asked, leaning down to scratch its ears. Its head pushed against his hand with a purr, revealing a mouth stretched out into a hideous grin. The merchant didn’t mind; he had seen worse in his travels.

“Indeed,” the cat replied, moving to rub the merchant’s leg again. “While I am, for all intents and purposes, your average feline, I do have the occasional tendency to voice my thoughts.” He sat and absently washed an ear with a chuckle. “I have been told I have an inclination to loquaciousness, though.”

The merchant, well-traveled though he was, had never seen a talking cat. So that was a bit exciting, wasn’t it? Perhaps this story would be a fun one. He smiled beneath his mask and set his pack on the ground, digging inside.

“I think I might have something for you.” He dug for a few moments more, then pulled out a tin can. “Aha! Here we are.” He opened the top, then set the can down. “A bit of food for you. I’ve always been fond of cats, so consider this a gift.”

The cat’s purring grew louder, and he eagerly dug into the food. The merchant sat back on his heels as the cat ate, chancing the occasional stroke of his soft fur; the cat did not object to the attention. Eventually, food finished, the cat sat back and took a few moments to groom himself before looking to the merchant.

“Well, my masked friend, it seems we are at a crucial junction. You have shown me kindness, and now it is time for recompense on my part.”

Aha. He knew what kind of story this was. “You’re sending me on my quest, then,” the merchant said.

“I see my new friend is of an intuitive nature.”

“Naturally. We’re in a story. We do each other a good turn here, and now the strange creature—no offense—gives me the direction to either ruin or fortune.”

The cat’s tail flicked, though more out of curiosity than annoyance. “Well-spotted, merchant.” He stretched, then walked back over to sit beside the merchant. “In that case, allow me to enlighten you as to what you will be encountering posthaste.”

~

lived an evil king. His face was so repulsive that he was nicknamed the Toad King.

~

“The city you see before us is gripped by a vicious monarch. This king has stepped beyond his role, enforcing an iron reign so vindictive and paranoid that any who dare question him is executed with exceptional swiftness. None may leave, few may enter, and the denizens of this miserable husk of a kingdom live in constant fear.

“Indeed, the very wickedness of his actions have rendered his visage horrifically similar to a frog. Outside of his dominion, he is referred to as the “Toad King,” a moniker that will send his majesty into a fit of rage so chimeric that any that dare encounter him are instantly annihilated, without regard for their station or innocence.”

The cat peered up at the merchant, whose eyes, the only visible part of his face, had drifted to the city. He set a paw on the merchant’s knee.

“You may, of course, avoid this city. There are roads that lead elsewhere.”

“Yes…but that would make for an awful story, wouldn’t it?” The merchant stood up and picked up his pack. “Besides, I don’t like the sound of this king. Someone ought to speak with him.”

The cat purred again. “Ah, so I have indeed found an intrepid hero.”

“No. You’ve found a merchant.”

The cat chuckled. “Of course.” He began to walk, the merchant following. “I can take you up to the city gates. After that, I’m afraid, the path you take will be a solitary one.”

“That’s quite all right. I’m used to travelling alone.”

The pair walked in amiable silence for quite some time and it was, unsurprisingly, the cat who spoke first.

“It is, of course, in my species’ nature to pry, so I must ask if your mask is necessary. I’m concerned that it may impede your progress once you enter the desolate city.”

The merchant smiled, though the cat couldn’t see it. “I disagree. Provided you wear the right one, a mask is a wonderful thing for making friends. For instance…” He once again set his pack down, digging out some supplies. A few scribbles on a piece of paper, a few snips off the top, a string expertly threaded through the sides…he knelt his head down and quickly swapped out the masks, allowing no time for his face to be seen. He looked up at the cat, a paper feline face matching his permanent grin. “Now look, I could pass for your brother. Miaou.

The cat blinked in surprise, ears pressed back, but he relaxed after a moment. “How clever! I’m afraid that position is already occupied, but I am nonetheless impressed. Perhaps your masks will serve you well—though perhaps not that one. After all, there is reason as to why I may only accompany you to the gates.” As the merchant changed masks again, he continued, “Again, my inquisitive nature yearns for answers. Why is it, my mercantile companion, that you wear a mask to begin with?”

The merchant chuckled as he picked up his bag. “That’s not relevant to the story yet. Be patient.”

The cat looked at him with amusement. “And here I thought I was alone in my penchant for mystery.” He sat down as they reached the city gates, tail flicking at even intervals. “And this is as far as I may take you, my friend. You have my most earnest support in your progression, and I do hope to see you at the other side of the city.”

The merchant gave the cat a nod, somewhat sad to see him go, but turned and entered the city gates. He peered around the city. The cat hadn’t been lying; it looked as though a war had been fought in here, with people peeking out suspiciously from ruined houses. So, not many credits to be had here. But it wasn’t like he could leave at this point.

~

One day, a masked man…

~

He set his bag down, and with rubble and wood, he constructed a makeshift stall. He leaned against it, smiling mask greeting the one or two people who walked past him. One person, gray and haggard as the surrounding buildings, stopped.

“What are you doing here?” the man asked, eyes darting about. The merchant gestured to the knick-knacks on his stall.

“I’m selling things. If you have some credits, I’d be willing to work something out.”

The man scoffed. “We’ve no use for swindlers like you here.” He left.

The merchant waited.

Next came a woman. She might have been pretty if, like the man, she wasn’t so gray and haggard. She looked at him with fearful eyes.

“What kind of useless mess is this?” she asked.

“I’m actually quite necessary. Every city needs a shop,” the merchant replied serenely.

“You’ll be arrested!” she cried, and quickly hurried away.

The merchant waited.

Finally, another man walked by. This one wore a badge, and he looked at the merchant with hateful eyes. “Outsiders are not allowed to bring their business inside the city,” he said harshly.

The merchant snapped his fingers. “Oh, of course. One second, officer.” He knelt down and dug in his pack. After a few moments, he popped up again, now with a mask as gray and haggard as the citizen’s faces. “But as you can see, I’m no outsider.”

The officer blinked and stepped back, but seeing the merchant’s face, of course there was no crime. He huffed. “Even so, be sure you get your proper registration. All new businesses must go through the king.” He walked away quickly.

So. Here was his chance.

~

…met the king during an audience.

~

It happened that the king was holding an audience with the people today. That, of course, was frightfully good luck, but the merchant remembered that he was in a story. With his pack secured on his back, he made his way to the town square.

The king was, indeed, hideous. His girth barely fit on the ornate throne—the only thing in the square that was not gray and broken—and his cruel mouth stretched across his bloated face. Beady eyes that couldn’t quite focus glared out at the sea of people ahead.

Really, he did look a lot like a toad.

The merchant made his way through the crowd; no easy task with the massive bag on his back. He stopped as the king began to speak.

“My loyal subjects,” he called, voice wet and mushy as it boomed against ruined walls, “bound to me by patriotism and love, I fear that I have found a traitor amongst you. This is why this audience has been called; like a father, a good and loving king must remind his people that goodness is rewarded, but wickedness is punished. And so, I bring out this wicked rebel, who had planned my own death in order to launch our wonderful city into anarchy!”

Behind his mask, the merchant’s eyes widened as a person, as gray and haggard as all the others, was brought onto the stage. She looked very small compared to the Toad King, but her face was blank. The king heaved himself up.

“And now you all shall see what the wicked reap! The just punishment of those who conspire against me!”

He opened his mouth wide, far wider than he should have been able to, and the two guards on either side of the woman lifted her up. She was set easily in the king’s gaping maw. He shut his mouth with a sickening crunch and a slurping swallow.

Now, then, that was quite enough.

The merchant, naturally, had something in his bag for a situation like this.

~

He said the following words to him: “Greetings, wretched monarch…”

~

The merchant pushed his way forward, pack left behind him and a gleaming sword in one hand. He couldn’t tell you why he had it, but convenience in a story was far better than reason. In his other hand, he held paper, string, and a marker.

“Greetings, wretched monarch!” he called above the people. “I have need for an audience with you!”

The king, mopping his mouth after a burp, looked around with wild eyes. “Who is saying that? Who speaks out of turn in my kingdom?”

“None but a humble merchant!” the merchant replied, pushing his way past the last row of people. He held his sword in front of him.

~

“…leave this land at once, or perish by the tip of my blade.”

~

The king sputtered at the sight of the sword. “You…you…”

“I have seen enough to know that you are anything but a noble and loving king,” the merchant said. “So leave this land at once, or perish by the tip of my blade!”

“Guards! Seize this…this assassin!

Soon enough, the merchant was surrounded by guards. Not wanting to spill innocent blood, he didn’t slay them. It wasn’t as though that would help the story. Instead, he willingly let himself be brought up to the stage.

“Drop your weapon,” the king spat as the merchant was brought forward. He obliged; the sword fell with a clatter.

~

The King replied: “I am the king, and you are my subjects. You are not to go against my will.”

~

The king turned to look at the people crowded in the square. “As you all can see, another one of you has risen up against me! This one has gone beyond the scope of mere speculation, and has actively threatened my life. Again, I remind you, my people, that I am the king and you are my subjects! What I have in mind is the best for you and your home! You are not to go against my will!”

As the king spoke, the merchant freed his arms from the guards—they weren’t holding him very tightly; if the poor woman earlier was any indication, most citizens met their fate without a fight. He scribbled on the paper, threaded the string through it, then knelt his head down as he swapped out his masks. He stood up straight.

“But I am no citizen!” he called to the king. “Rather, I am the king himself!”

Indeed, the merchant’s mask now resembled a frog. The guards stepped back in fear; to think, they had apprehended the king! The king sputtered in shock.

“That’s not me, you idiots! That is the assassin!” he screeched to his guards, but none replied. How were they able to tell who the real king was? Both looked like toads! They didn’t want to take the risk.

The merchant picked up his sword and stepped forward. He tilted his head at the Toad King, who continued crying for help.

“You and I really aren’t all that different,” he said, cutting the king’s pleas short. “We’re both repulsive to look at. But I have the decency to wear a mask.” He lifted up his sword. “That’s why I’m the hero of this story.”

~

And so the Masked Man slew the King with his mighty sword.

~

The blade sank deep into the king, too deep for the merchant to be able to pull it out. He stepped back as the king flailed, blood seeping into his spit and spraying at the horrified crowd. The merchant quickly jumped off the stage and grabbed his pack. A wanderer like himself knew when it was time to leave.

He debated pulling off the mask and showing the town his own hideous face, to give some lesson about how the hero can be just as ugly as the villain. But the story was over, and his role was complete. It was time to wander somewhere else.

Amidst the pandemonium, he slipped out of the town gates. The cries of horror from the town faded as he walked, and a white cat soon bumped up against his leg.

“I see your visage has once again transformed,” the cat said, grinning up at the merchant. “It looks to me that it is a token of your success, hero.”

The merchant adjusted the bag on his back. “It was a means to an end. But I do think it suits me.”

The cat sat down, prompting him to stop. “And where is it that your story guides you now?”

The merchant shrugged. “Nowhere. My time as the protagonist is finished. I think that now I’ll just be a necessary merchant somewhere else.”

The cat’s tail flicked. “Well, if the offer sounds tempting, my usual residence is, in fact, in need of a merchant before the next protagonist arrives. It’s a far walk from here, unfortunately. Cats, you know, enjoy wandering far from home, but I am quite exhausted and ready to see my brother.”

The merchant smiled beneath his mask and knelt down to scratch the cat’s ears. “I don’t see why I shouldn’t. Where do you live?”

“The wide world I live in has no real name, but my pocket of dominion is referred to as Zone 0.”

The merchant’s head tilted. “I’ve heard of it. Someone I know lives there.”

“Ah? May I inquire as to whom?”

“It’s not relevant to this story.” Carefully, he picked up the cat, setting him on his shoulder. “And what should I call you?” he asked as the cat climbed up to the top of his pack.

“I am commonly referred to as The Judge. You will certainly need a similar moniker should you decide to stay with me.” The cat—the Judge—purred as he kneaded the top of the bag. “Perhaps the Hero?”

The merchant laughed. “Definitely not.”

“The Merchant, then?”

“I’ve been that for far too long.” The merchant began to walk along the road, looking up at the Judge. “I think it’s high time I’m referred to by my name. Call me Zacharie.”

The Judge looked down at him curiously. “If we are completely shedding formality and tradition, then I suppose it is only fair that I return the gesture willingly.” He stretched and yawned, maintaining perfect balance as only cats can, and curled up on the pack. “My name is Pablo. Since it is clear that we have progressed from mere amiable companionship to what would appear to be friendship, it is only natural that you refer to me as such.”

Zacharie smiled beneath his mask, and he reached up and behind him to scratch Pablo’s ears before following the road ahead.

Well, that had been fun. Now on to the next work of fiction.

He’d always thought it’d be interesting to be in a video game.

~

The End.

Oswald

There are days where the weather seems rife with magic. Days where the air sinks into your bones with something heavier than rain and cold, or where the sun turns a rain shower into sheets of gold. My grandmother, a child of an earlier time, called this fairy weather. The air is full of change, she told me, and change is what draws spirits in.

So it should be no surprise that it was in such weather that I met Oswald.

It was after my wedding, and the misty, dark weather suited my gloomy mood. The marriage was for convenience, not love, and though I did not hate my husband, I resented him for bringing me to this place. Instead of London’s smoke, which burned my lungs but reminded me of the people surrounding me, our home was surrounded by fog from the grey sea not far away. There seemed to be no people near us; the dark, twisted shadows of trees were the closest we had to neighbours.

Oswald found me in the midst of my loneliness, on a day where the air, heavy with change, clung to my skin. I had wandered away from the house, ignoring the chiding and warnings of ague from the old housemaid, to search for some form of life beyond the trees. I was rewarded with Oswald.

He was a curious thing, made from what seemed to be the same mist that surrounded us, and his face formed by wisps of smoke, never quite formed, constantly undulating. However, his expression never changed, not even as he greeted me, and yet I found comfort in it. I knew he was a friend to be had, and I was right.

He became the contact I craved; he was not human, I knew, but he spoke to me in the lightest whispers, comforting me and making me laugh. He knew what it was like to be in a strange place far from home. His face never moved, and his voice never changed from the gentlest whisper. Yet I understood him just the same as he understood me. Indeed, I drew more warmth from the static smoke of his features than I ever did from my husband’s smiles.

We spent the grey spring and faded yellow summer together. As my husband turned to work, I turned to exploration. Oswald guided me through the fields and forests around us, told me secrets of his world—the world beyond, as he called it.

“Where I am from is very different than here,” he whispered as we walked along the moor. The sun was out today, and his misty body had taken a golden hue. “For instance, we do not know charity. Everything has a price.”

“I do not understand.”

Oswald was silent for a long moment. “I do not give something for nothing. Even now, I would need payment for giving you my time.”

I frowned. “You’re saying I owe you for your friendship?”

Oswald turned his face to look at me, and he did not speak for a long time. Finally, I could almost imagine his still line of a mouth curving up.

“Do not worry. Your presence is payment enough for this.” He looked away. “Come, this way. I will show you where the nettles grow.”

One day, as we dallied by a river deep in the nearby forest, I asked how a being like him came to be called Oswald; it was a friendly name, one that I trusted, and yet I could not imagine it belonging to someone from another world. He found this funny; his laughter scratched in my ears. Oswald, he explained patiently, was not his true name, but one he used for my convenience. His true name was not easily understood by those like me.

I mulled this over, looking at his still, ethereal form as my toes dipped into the cool water.

“Are you an angel?” I finally asked. “Or a fairy?”

He contemplated this for a long time. “Both are close,” he finally said, voice soft as the leaves rustling above us. “But not quite.”

Even without knowing precisely what he was, I never wanted to leave him. Like a child, I routinely had to endure boiling-hot baths and scoldings about muddy shoes from the housemaid for staying out so long. She didn’t understand that Oswald couldn’t come inside.

For months I lived in this dream, talking, leaning, finding the charms of this cold, grey landscape with Oswald. But this all changed when I was with child.

I was not allowed to spend time outside, for both my health and the child’s. I felt I was going mad, cooped up in this stuffy house without my Oswald to talk to, to sympathize with me as I endured the sickness of pregnancy. When I could escape the housekeeper and my husband’s watch, I would steal off to the fields and forests and search for my friend, calling his name until my throat was raw. He never came.

More lonesome months passed; eventually I was too weighted down from the child to move much at all, and my confinement was increased to where I was completely bound to my bed. The child, a little girl, finally did come, but only after hours of agony. After causing me so much pain, I did not want to even look at her, but as a dutiful wife, I had no choice but to take her to my breast, caring for her as mothers are expected to.

My daughter was a sickly thing. I suspect this is in part because of my resentment toward her, which did not lessen. Regardless of the reason, she did not grow much in the weeks after her birth. The doctor was called in, and he insisted on caring for her outside when possible. The country air, he told my husband, was made for strengthening the weak. With a few months of sunlight and grass, she would be just as hearty as the children in town. So I sat with her in the sweet spring air, still playing the charade and whispering lies of how Mother loved her.

One day, the air was heavy despite the golden sunlight breaking through the clouds. I felt it with each breath, sinking in my lungs like a weight. This was when Oswald returned.

He came to me as I rocked the child to sleep, just as silently as he had met me. I began to weep when I noticed his gold-tinged mist. He looked just the same, face as static as ever. I was certain he was glad for the reunion as well, but he would not let me greet him.

“Your child is sickly,” he said to me, voice as soft as a light rain. He floated closer, his barely formed hand drifting toward the cradle, and yet he did not touch the porch. “She will not last the year.” His face tilted up to look at me, and then he drifted away.

“Oswald!” I leapt from the porch, hurrying after him. My feet sank in the soft earth, still slick from earlier rain. He stopped as I reached him, and I whispered, “Why did you not come to me? I looked for you! I was so alone.

He did not turn around. “I told you how my world works. I do not give something for nothing; you could not give me your full attention, so I could not give you mine.”

Again I found tears stinging my eyes. “Because of the child? I don’t want her!”

Oswald was silent, but he turned to look at me. For the first time, I saw his features flicker with the most subtle change, but only for a moment. Finally, he floated back to me.

“Please, Oswald,” I whispered, breathless as my fear and hatred of the child bubbled in my chest. “Please, help me. I will do anything.

The silence that passed was all-consuming; all I could hear was blood ringing in my ears. Finally, his head tilted forward. “Do you trust me?” he finally asked.

“Of course, I do.”

He was silent again for a long stretch, then his arms, nearly invisible against the fog that rose from the grass, reached out to me.

“I will help. For you,” he whispered, “I will do something for nothing.”

I do not recall what happened next, only that I awoke as I heard my husband call my name. My hands felt like ice; the wetness of the mud had seeped through my silk dress. I realized I was by the stream where Oswald explained his name; it was gorged and swift with water from the winter’s rain. My daughter was in my arms—cold, wet, still. Her wan face was tinged blue.

Oswald was not here.

I had not moved by the time my husband found me, with the housemaid and two officers following. The maid wailed over the baby, tearing her from my arms. The officers grabbed me roughly, hoisted me to my feet with mutters of “infanticide” and “hysteria”. I broke from my trance, began to scream and twist myself in the officers’ grip. Oswald could explain, Oswald would tell them that I hadn’t done this, even if I did hate the child. I screamed for him, calling his name over and over and hearing it echo through the trees.

There was no answer.

I was dragged away; there was no way for me to get out of the two men’s hold. As we crossed the field in front of the house, I saw a ghostly shape nearby, almost invisible as rain began to fall.

“Oswald!” I screamed, twisting again. “Oswald, help me!”

The shape turned to look at me. His whisper carried across the field.

“I have already done something for nothing. My end of the deal is complete.”

I went limp in the policemen’s arms, and for the first time, his smoke-like features shifted into a new expression. As I was pulled past him, all I could see was the grin split across his face, too big and full of pointed teeth.

Study in Blue, No. 1

In a class a few weeks ago, our professor mentioned that fanfiction is a viable way to get your work seen. As may or may not be known, I was quite the fanfic writer back in the day. I cringe at about 98% of those fanfics, of course, because I was between 12 and 15 when I wrote them and they were objectively terrible. However, there’s 2% that were written when I was older, and this is one I’m still exceptionally proud of.

I’ll get right to it, or else I’ll go into too much teary detail about how fanfic writing shaped me into the writer I am today. This one was written for the Lucifer Box series by Mark Gatiss, which about 14 people have heard of, and hopefully it reads well enough without context.


If anyone were to ask Lucifer Box if he was a sentimental man, the most they would get would be a light scoff, a toss of his long, dark hair, or possibly a simple raise of the eyebrows that (very obviously) showed his doubt in his questioner’s intelligence.

In Lucifer’s eyes (and they were very fine eyes, he would tell you so himself), sentiment was only useful in situations where one was to be won over. Need to get some information out of the man working at the bank? Ask him about the family and tell him (or make up stories) about your own. Running a bit low on cash? Keep chatting up the old bird at that charity luncheon who mentioned you look like her deceased husband; nine times out of ten, they agree to sit for at least one portrait to help keep you fed, you poor dear.

As for Lucifer himself, he had no need for real sentiment. He could fake it beautifully, of course; the RA had made sure he could, and there was something romantic in playing the sympathetic artist. But really, if he allowed himself to be sentimental, then he opened himself for attack.

Which is precisely why Charlie-and anyone else, for that matter–never knew about the time Lucifer painted his eyes.

It started, of course, by pure accident. When customers were low and Lucifer ached to paint something, Charles Jackpot, valet (and secret lover, to some degree) to Lucifer Box, was often trussed up in period costume or, as he preferred, draped nude around some curtains and sheets, and Lucifer would paint to his heart’s delight. Young Jackpot really was a delightful study, save for when he grew bored and began fidgeting. Then, he would fix those impossibly blue eyes on his boss with every ounce of impudence he could manage, and more often than not the painting was left unfinished, and the sheets would end up in the wash.

It was one such day, when Lucifer’s fingers were practically twitching for want of a brush, that he decided to do a study in blue. Blue drapes in the background, blue jacket on Charlie, and Charlie’s arse in blue velvet and set in a blue chair. Lucifer took a moment, making sure everything was adjusted just so and giving Charlie a light box to his ear to get him to hush, and then he began to paint. He sighed in relief, the feel of oils gliding from brush to canvas as good a release as any drug, illicit or otherwise, and very nearly as good as other illicit acts. And it certainly helped that blue was a wonderfully flattering color on young Charles. The contrast between his dark hair and brows vs. the brilliant blue vs. his pale skin was superb and his eyes…

At this, Lucifer did something he did not often do. He stopped painting, and he simply stared at his subject. He didn’t notice the smug smile his valet gave him, no doubt assuming his employer was ready to forgo the piece and have a tumble in these blue sheets. He didn’t notice when Charlie’s charcoal-dark brows drew together curiously, or when his face softened into a look of somewhat hopeful confusion. And what Lucifer Box definitely didn’t notice was the fact that his own expression had become soft as well, and he simply took in the boy’s beauty (and yes, even on his most callous days, he would assert that Charlie was indeed beautiful in a wonderfully impudent way.) and pondered over those impossibly blue eyes. How long would they be here? Manservants, Lucifer learned, were frightfully fragile. How long before a bullet brought this one down? Before a knife slashed that lily-white neck, or a bomb blew the whole man to pieces? Would he even get a chance to see those blue eyes before they shut forever? Something unpleasant twisted in Lucifer, but before he could address it, he was broken out of his reverie by an uncharacteristically soft, “Mr. Box?” and his vision in blue starting to get to his feet.

“Sit down,” said Lucifer briskly, pulling the canvas off his easel and going to find another. “And sit up straight. Your slouching’s thrown off the whole piece.”

Grumbling in his usual manner and none the wiser to Lucifer’s thoughts, Charlie acquiesced and sat up straight as he could, blue eyes fixed in a glower and full lips in a petulant moue. Lucifer sent him a smirk and a “Good boy,” then ducked behind his easel to mix his colors, then, with more care than he’d ever taken, painted Charlie’s eyes, making sure there was just enough blue, white, and that touch of green only seen in bright sunlight. This, he was determined, was going to be his best painting yet.

And it was, though no one ever saw it. Once finished, Lucifer threw a tarp over it to make sure Charlie didn’t see, citing the piece was a failure and he’d throw it out in the morning. No need for the boy to get a big head, he was already too confident. And, young thing that he was, he might take it as something more than artistic interest. Which, of course, it was not. It was so incredibly not that that Lucifer couldn’t help but remind himself of it over and over as he shut the painting away.

It was fifteen years later when he next looked at it. The Great War was won, the boys were back home, and Lucifer was recovering after the terrible affair at Lit-de-Diable that stole something dear from everyone involved. For Christopher Miracle, it was his good looks and peace of mind. For Lucifer, it was the boy with the impossibly blue eyes. They hadn’t even found Charlie’s body; now he was nothing more than a name on a granite stone a hundred miles away.

Lucifer Box was not sentimental. He would defend that to the end of his days. And yet…in those quiet days after coming home, and several more over the course of his life, he found himself stealing to that little cupboard where he kept the best piece he’d ever painted. And, for a few moments, those beautiful eyes fixed their impudent gaze on him, brilliant blue under coal-black brows, and perhaps Lucifer’s met them with something that was more than artistic interest.

Wax Wings

Last week we were challenged to re-write the myth of Icarus and give our reasoning as to why we chose our method. I ended up going with a WWII pilot to explore not only the fairly new concept of flying, but also to examine the effect that two wars being fought within 20 years of each other had on fathers and sons. It’s not very long, but I think I managed to get what I wanted to say across.


It was awful to admit, but when he heard that England had declared war on Germany, Artie Sheridan couldn’t help but be excited. After all, if there was a war, there would need to be pilots, and at just eighteen years old, he was eligible to be a pilot. Not just a pilot, even, but an ace, just like his old man.

For as long as he could remember, Artie had been told story after story of his father’s time in the Great War. By the time the war ended, Capt. Albert Sheridan had over twenty confirmed kills under his belt, making him by far the most impressive man in the village. He was modest, of course, and really only told the barest details of his service to company. But, with Artie begging night after night for more stories of how his daddy had shot down all those nasty Germans, he opened up more, showing his boy how he would sit in the plane, lowering his voice as he played up the tension right before firing, reliving the terror of having an engine blow out and the relief of reaching ground safely. The men in his company, he would tell Artie, always said he had a knack for flying.

Then the war came, and it was like a prayer had been answered. Artie was first in line at Town Hall to sign up, and before long he was shipped off to Warwickshire with many tears from his mother and proud pats on the back from his father, assuring that he would, no doubt, be the best ace England had ever seen. Feeling his destiny was sealed by his father’s words, Artie set forth to his training.

The seventeen weeks of earthbound training dragged by, full of endless books and safety lessons, until finally, it was time to move on to operational training. Artie was suited up and warned to remember his training, but he was entirely too focused on the beautiful plane in front of him. It felt like years of doing checks and assuring that he remembered his training, but he was here. He settled into his seat, feeling years of preparation guide him through the motions of starting. He knew every bit of this plane, and, though his takeoff was a little shaky, it wasn’t long until he was up in the air. God, he knew flying would be grand, but he hadn’t expected this…this freedom. He pulled himself higher up, ignoring the radio calls to come back down. He knew had a knack for this, just like his father had; why, he could probably go out and fight right now if he wanted! And how would they stop him? Beneath his oxygen mask, he smiled. Up in the air was where he was meant to be.

He got a mention in the newspaper the next day; nothing fancy, just a little corner on the fifth page. “Pvt. Artemus Sheridan killed in airplane crash after engine stalled mid-flight.”

Miss Palisades, Second Runner Up

Our second assignment in our course was to write a monologue following the Hero’s Journey formula. This was actually my second attempt at it; my first just wasn’t gelling at all, and I’m much happier with how this one turned out.


[Robin’s room. He is young, around sixteen years old. He sits on the bed and speaks quietly to the viewer.]

Okay, I’m gonna be honest. This whole thing started as a joke. It was just meant to be funny. See, James’ sister Emma does this pageant thing every year, and every year she loses and throws the biggest fit. So this year, when she signed up, James said that any one of us was more likely to win the pageant than she was. That pissed her off, so she told him to put his money where his mouth is. Up until this point, he was bullshitting. We all knew it, but then Liam looked up the pageant. You can get $10,000 if you win first place! Do you even know how much money that is? Do you know how much shit that would buy? I can’t even imagine it! So at this point, we’re like, what the hell, let’s do it. So we took a vote, right, and I was picked as the face of our campaign. Robin’s usually a girl’s name, and, let’s be real, I have the best legs out of all the guys in the group. [knock on the door] That’s Chuck’s girlfriend, she’s loaning me some of her clothes for our photoshoot. If nothing else, this should be pretty funny.

[cut to later that night]

Holy crap, you should have SEEN Emma’s face when we did that photoshoot! She was PISSED! Hoo, god, well, it went well enough. I really don’t want to talk about how well the clothes fit, but they were pretty comfortable—I’m still wearing the leggings, don’t tell anyone—Makeup is terrible, though. It feels like it never comes off! Anyway, we sent in the application, so now it’s just sitting back and waiting to hear back. I’m not holding my breath, obviously, but the sight of me in some frilly hippie skirts should at least give them a laugh. Maybe they’ll give us a hundred bucks for that?

[cut to a few days later]

Holy. Shit. I was accepted. I was accepted into the beauty pageant. Jesus Christ, I didn’t think they would! I thought they’d laugh and toss it out! Shit, I didn’t plan for this. I don’t really want to parade around in a dress and makeup for six hours! I’d need, like, a prom dress! I saw how much it cost Emma, I don’t have that kind of money! That’s why we applied in the first place! Aw, man, and I’m pretty sure there’s a swimsuit portion. What would I even do with my penis, man? I can’t just…shove it in or whatever! [stands up, starts pacing] No, I can’t do this. I’ll call the guys and we’ll have a good laugh and then I’ll call and drop out. It’s not worth all the shit I’ll have to do to actually do the pageant. [beat] Then again…$10,000 is a lot of money…and if they accepted me, that means I could win all that money. Huh. Is it worth parading in a dress and taping back my balls? I think it might be…I’ll think on it.

[cut to Robin in his room, leg propped up with ice on the ankle.]

I can’t do this, I cannot do this. I nearly broke my ankle just now trying to walk in some goddamn heels, and I had to try and explain to Mom how it happened without mentioning that it was heels. Because, y’know, every mom wants to hear about how her son is running around in pumps. Man, though, what’s the point, even? I mean, yeah, they make girls’ asses look good—hell, they made my ass look good—but if you’re just gonna fall over, then why? And then there are drag queens—they make it look easier than most girls do. Man, though, let me tell you, they do some tough shit. I was watching videos, right, trying to figure out what all to do to make myself look like a girl for six hours. I mean, I’ve seen things done with duct-tape that literally made me scream at my screen. [sigh] But I can’t drop out. We already picked out some dresses at a charity shop; Chuck’s girlfriend’s into “upcycling”, whatever that is, and so she’s already fixed them all up and made them look really good on me. At this point, it’s a waste for me not to go just because my ankles can’t manage heels. [huff and a wince as he moves his ankle] I really don’t think this is for me, though. All this makeup and dresses and heels business. I mean, at the end of the day, I’m just good ol’ Rob. I’m a normal guy who just really wants the money. That’s it.

[cut to a few nights later, Robin’s room]

I have to finish this—all the girls are required to write a little five-hundred blurb about themselves. I’m not lying—girls can do track and really like baseball, right?—but there’s also stuff about being passionate about animals and humanity and all that stuff that sounds good. [bites pen] Y’know, it’s really weird. Like, we’re really just doing this for shits and giggles, but…well, we did a test today, with my dress and makeup and hair and everything. And…there’s just something really satisfying when I saw myself properly dressed up. I just…I felt kind of…sexy. Which is a really weird thing to be feeling, because, y’know, I’m still a dude. I’m still Rob, I still really like girls, and there’s no way in hell I’m dressing like that all the time. Still, seeing myself in all the soft, sparkly fabric…it’s really something, y’know? I felt…I felt so…[laugh] I felt so pretty.

[cut to Robin’s room, daytime. He’s in full makeup and a curly brown wig, wearing a silky robe.]

Oh my god, it’s almost time to go. Can you believe this is actually happening? It’s so freakin’ weird. Like, I was telling myself “Aw, you know what, you won’t make it past introductions before they kick you out” but now I’m like, well, why can’t I win? I mean, if they couldn’t tell I was a dude in my photos, then how would they know if I just keep my voice soft? Girls have deep voices sometimes! And let’s be real, I look as good as any of those girls I’ll be competing with. I have just as much chance of going home with $10,000 as they do. [car horn outside] Ah, damn, that’s James. He’s driving me to the hotel. Wish me luck!

[cut to hotel bathroom. Robin is trying to clean the mascara running down his face]

God, this is so stupid. I never cry. Seriously, I haven’t cried since my dog died when I was six. But—[voice breaks] Fuck. This is so stupid. Some…[takes a breath] These two asshole girls made fun of my dress. Called it ‘Goodwill Couture’ and told me…told me to enter Miss Homeless 2015. And this is so FUCKING stupid because I’m just some asshole playing dress up because I wanted some money. But I…god, throughout all of this…like, it’s been weird, but I’ve felt so good and I was actually really happy with how I looked and then these stupid goddamn bitches come along and…fuck it. I’m not pretty, I’m just a stupid guy in a stupid thrift store dress. [Over the speakers: “Contestant number 86 to the main ballroom, please.”] Shit, that’s me. I…I need to tell them I’m dropping out. I can’t do this. [exits the bathroom]

[cut to Robin in the bathroom again, this time pulling off his false lashes]

It was too late for me to drop; the lady backstage pretty much shoved me on stage the minute I got there. I almost rolled my ankle again. I didn’t end up winning, but, really? It’s all right. I’m still really glad I went through with it, even with those girls making fun of me. No, y’know what, because those bitches made fun of me. Because fuck them for what they said. I was sexy and confident and I did just as well as they did with my Goodwill Couture, and they can suck my taped-up dick for all I care. [starts unpinning hair, laughs] Gonna be honest, I was really tempted to tear off my wig and announce I was a guy. That’d happen in a movie—guy announces that it doesn’t matter he’s a dude, he gives a long speech on acceptance and how he deserves to feel as pretty as the girls or whatever, then the whole crowd cheers and he wins. But that’s not me. [takes off wig, ruffles his hair] I’m still just Rob, y’know? I’m just a guy who looks really freakin’ fantastic in a dress and heels. I don’t need to shout it out to everyone, even if it costs me a chance for 10k. Although…[looks down at wig] Liam said something about another pageant in the next town over next month. You think I could get away with wearing this twice?

Spellbound

Here’s the piece that got me where I am today (meaning it’s the one I submitted to Falmouth so I could get in.) It’s been almost a year since I’ve written it, and I’m still rather proud of it.


For Emma, order was the closest thing to divinity she could imagine. Her bag and locker were always meticulously organized; her notes were color-coded, with tabs to denote her cross-references. And, naturally, she always dressed neatly: her long, brown hair was always up in a neat ballerina bun, and her clothes were never wrinkled and always fit her perfectly. She was the picture of organization. So she had no idea how she ended up here, at the edge of the woods beside the school with her hair in tangles down her back and a boy with a wide grin and unearthly eyes beckoning her to him.

Well…she had some idea.

This whole mess began a little over six months ago, when Robin Goode spoke to her in math class. She had no idea where Robin had come from. No one did; there was sort of a vague, general recollection of him appearing at the school one day in October, and everyone somehow knew who he was, but there was a big, group blank on how that happened. It was generally accepted that the teachers decided it’d be cruel to introduce a new student who had come two months after school started, so Robin just seamlessly and quietly inserted himself into the school’s community, and about a week after he arrived, he was the most talked about kid on campus. Something about him promised something…different, and no one could pinpoint what it was. His tumbled golden curls and bright green eyes? His wide grin and loud laugh? There were quite a few things there that could be considered charming, but Emma thought it was just because he had a guitar and looked carefully rumpled all the time.

Personally, she thought the whole thing was a bit of a joke. Obviously his whole persona was fake, and she wasn’t about to let herself get sucked in like her friends. So when Robin had asked her for a pencil in math class, she was genuinely surprised at how affected she was at his broad smile of thanks. Her heart raced, her skin prickled; it honestly felt like she was frightened, but in a nice way (if there was such a thing). She scowled back at him in response and resumed her work.

“You’re smart, aren’t you?”

Emma jumped at the quiet voice, looking up only to catch that smile again. She frowned and held a finger to her lips, then resumed her work. Robin merely turned in his seat to look at her paper, eyebrows raising at her neat writing.

“Very smart. How’d you get through the questions so fast?”

“Why did you ask for a pencil if you’re not going to work?” Emma hissed back. Robin blinked, then smiled, a more muted one this time as his green eyes looked over her curiously. He nodded approvingly–though approving of what, Emma wondered–then turned back around to get to work.


“And he just gives me this weird smile and nods and acts like nothing happened.” Emma huffed as she finished telling Lizzy what happened in Math. “Tell me that’s not weird.”

“It’s not weird,” Lizzy replied through a mouthful of sandwich. “It’s cute and I’d kill for him to do that to me. Any girl would.”

Emma rolled her eyes. Of course Lizzy would want that. Five years of friendship had made it clear that Lizzy would chase after anything with a cute face and a pulse.

“For real, though, you could have been a little nicer,” Lizzy added as she took a sip of soda. “He’s the new kid. He’s probably trying to make friends.”

“He has friends,” Emma argued. “Everyone loves him.”

God, you’re dumb!” Lizzy rolled her own eyes with such exaggeration that she tossed her hair in the motion. “He has admirers. He’s like a rock star.” She sighed lightly, resting her chin in her hand. “A lonely rock star who has all the fans in the world but not a single friend.”

Emma had given up on listening by this point, so Lizzy’s sudden whack to her arm came as a shock. “Ow!” she cried. “What the hell, Liz?”

“He just came out! Go apologize for being so rude,” Lizzy demanded, pointing out the window. Emma looked up to see Robin walk out of the main building to one of the trees on the quad, guitar slung on his back.

Emma scowled at her as she rubbed her arm, but thought over Lizzy’s words for a moment as she looked at Robin, who had sat down and begun plucking at his guitar. Douche, she automatically thought, but even so, she did feel a little bad for being so mean. He was new. She huffed, then grabbed her bag and headed out, shooting Lizzy a glare before she exited the cafeteria. She buried her nose down in her scarf as she marched, shielding it from the cold autumn wind. She stopped as Robin looked up from his guitar. He automatically gave her another wide smile. “Ah, Miss Math! Come to tutor me? I’d appreciate it, you know.”

Emma frowned behind her scarf, looking over him. Her brow furrowed, though, as she noticed something missing. “Where’s your lunch?”

Robin looked beside him, as if to search for the missing lunch, then shrugged. “No time to pack one.”

“You could get one inside.”

Robin smiled. “If you buy it.”

Emma pressed her lips together tightly, about to argue, but the obvious answer hit her. Oh. He likely didn’t have money on him. She glanced down at her bag, then held it out to him brusquely. Robin looked at it, then back up to her. She huffed in response.

“Take it. I wanted to buy something anyway,” she said gruffly, making sure not to make eye contact with him. “It’s just a honey sandwich, nothing special.”

She hazarded a look down, and Robin looked genuinely surprised.

“What do you want in return?” he asked, his eyes meeting hers steadily. Emma, surprised at his sudden gravity, shook her head. The last thing they needed was some sort of agreement.

“Just take it, all right?”

Robin blinked, and once again a broad, bright smile lit up his face, almost brightening the gloom of the day. Again Emma was transfixed, the spell not breaking until Robin took a bite of the sandwich.

“You’re very kind. Thank you, Miss Math.”

“Emma.” The name felt loose as it left her lips, as if her mouth had gone slack. Robin looked up, eyes nearly glowing green in the cloudy light.

“Emma,” he repeated. “Short for Emily?”

Emma awoke as he said her name, and she scowled again. “Just Emma,” she replied, then gave a quick goodbye and hurried back into the safety of the warm cafeteria. He was weird. She didn’t like him one whit.

Well. Maybe one whit.


A few weeks passed and an understanding silently formed between them, earning smiles from Robin and awkward waves from Emma as they passed each other in the halls. Robin quietly asked her questions in math, and Emma found herself willing to help rather than simply focusing on herself. She wouldn’t call them friends, no, still acquaintances, but…better acquaintances, if that made sense.

Even so, nothing happened outside of school, and that was fine. So it was understandable that Emma, slightly nervous already from the thunder that shook her windows, nearly jumped out of her skin when she glanced up to see Robin’s amused expression visible through her second-story window with the lightning flash. She took a moment, recovering from her fright, then frowned as she marched over to the window. With a little bit of effort, she managed to push it open, and was greeted by the cool, clean scent of rain, a wet leaf blowing into her hair, and Robin’s bright laugh.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Emma demanded before he could say anything. “How do you even know where I live?”

Robin’s eyes shone merrily from beneath his soaked bangs, sitting as easily on the big oak’s branch as a bird. “We don’t live in a big town, Miss Math; I live right down the street, not that you’ve noticed.” He gave her an entreating smile. “Invite me in?”

She huffed, crossing her arms as she frowned at him. After a moment, she gave a short nod. “What…what were you even doing outside? It’s awful out there!”

Robin gracefully stepped inside, pushing back his soaked hair and tracking in mud and tree bark. “I don’t mind it. And I didn’t have much choice; my parents kicked me out,” he said breezily. He noticed Emma’s hand go to her mouth, and he quickly added, “Oh, not forever! Just for now. They’re fighting and I mouthed off at the wrong time.”

Emma pressed her lips together, unsure what to do with that information. Should she be sympathetic? He didn’t look that upset, though. Why did he even tell her all of that in the first place? A sharp, cold breeze blew in from the window, and she moved to shut it.

“Why’d you even come here?” she asked, turning her head to see Robin wander around her room, nose wrinkling as he left a trail of filth on the clean wood. He shrugged.

“Well, you gave me a sandwich and helped with my math. I figured you were naturally a kind soul,” he said with a half-smile. Emma huffed. “No, really. You’ve talked to me more than anyone else. You must be nice.”

Emma frowned. “Really?”

Robin nodded, green eyes sincere and steady. He looked up as he heard a woman’s voice call up  Emma’s name from downstairs, face sharpening in alarm.

Emma pressed her lips together before going to the door and calling back, “I’ll be down in a sec! I’m finishing my homework!” She looked back up at Robin with an apologetic shrug. “Sorry.”

“Is that your mom?”

“Yeah.” Emma’s eyebrows rose as Robin quickly made his way back to the window.  “I-it’s fine, though! She won’t mind; I mean, she’ll probably—” She stopped as Robin held up his hands. His face relaxed, and he gave her a reassuring smile.

“I’ll leave. Your mom’s probably not anymore fond of intruders than you are.” He opened the window again. Emma squinted against the hard breeze that blew in, mussing up her bun and sending a wave of rain over her now-dirty floor. She watched as Robin carefully exited and perched himself upon the branch. Did he really find her that trustworthy from a sandwich? And what was that reaction when her mom called her? Something was going on with him, something that needed help. She bit her lip, then said, “Emmeline.”

Robin, steady on his branch now, looked up at her. “What?”

Emma shifted her weight, moving an escaped strand of hair behind her ear. “That’s what Emma’s short for. Emmeline.”

Robin looked up at her, face serious for a moment before a bright smile lit up his face. “That’s a pretty name. Emmeline.”

Something stirred in her as his warm voice glided over her name. Something that felt…out of her control. Should she like it? It felt like she should, and yet her chest tightened as she felt it. She played with another loose strand of hair.

“Um…erm, is there…how did you…” She shook her head, getting herself together. “Can you show me how to get on there? From the window?” she asked.

Robin raised his eyebrows. “You’ll get wet. Your hair might even come down,” he teased.

“That’s…” Emma glanced back into her room. The shelves and bed were just as neat as they were before, but the floor still covered in earth and leaves. She took a breath and turned back to him. “That’s okay.”

Robin smiled, and that seemed like enough to settle her nerves. “Here,” he said, holding out his hand for her. “It’s really not that hard.”

Emma hesitated, but she forced herself to take it. It was warm from the few minutes he’d spent inside, and she could feel the strength in his fingers as he wrapped them around hers. Carefully, he pulled her out onto the branch. She fought against it for a moment. However, all it took was one quiet phrase, just loud enough to be heard over the rain, to convince her to come out and join Robin in the tree, regardless of whether she became soaked and dirty.

“I’ve got you.”


That phrase ended up being truer than Emma had expected. Something about that day prompted a change in her. In the weeks that followed, she found them to have moved from better acquaintances to friends, and maybe then some, and as a result, she began to relax. Notes weren’t color-coded, outfits weren’t planned two days in advance, and she even began wearing her hair loose, even though it meant enduring joke after joke about “letting her hair down.” However, everyone–her friends, classmates, even her parents–encouraged her change, saying how nice it was to see her finally stop being so uptight.

As winter passed and edged toward spring, things began to change. Robin’s focus on her seemed laser-pointed. Lizzy assured that this was prompting a declaration of love, but Emma…wasn’t sure. It seemed like a natural progression, but would it change her even more if they actually went somewhere with this…thing they had?

At lunch a few days later, Robin, in a voice breezy as the day, whispered for her to come with him to the wooded area beside the school. Emma bit her lip at the suggestion, glancing up at the clock over the gymnasium. She would have to skip class, something that was complete heresy in Emma’s eyes. Well, it had been. She wasn’t sure if it still was.

Robin’s laugh, still bright as the sun, broke through her thoughts. “Don’t tell me you’d rather sit through history, Miss Math.”

Emma bit her lip. Would she really go against one of her most sacred rules for Robin? She looked up at him, all golden curls and bright green eyes that she’d never been able to read. That first feeling she’d had around him, the pleasantly frightened one, returned to her, though it didn’t feel quite as pleasant this time around. However, there was no malice in Robin’s eyes. She could trust him. He had her. So she offered her hand to him. He grinned as he pulled her up and led her toward the edge of campus. He couldn’t hear the way her heart rattled in her chest as they reached the forest. Emma slipped her hand out from his and stood back. He turned to look at her curiously.

“Emma?”

She was someone she hardly recognized. She didn’t care about schoolwork, her hair hung wildly down her back, that neatness she had so loved laid by the wayside in light of this earthy, carefree boy, who for all his mystery and charm she knew next to nothing about, and she hated it. This wasn’t what she wanted.

“Emmeline?” How nicely her name sounded with his voice, how it made the vowels crisp and the consonants glide. Was that why she was here? Because he said her name nicely?

Finally, Emma broke from her six month trance and shook her head. “No.”

Robin frowned, and, as if on cue, a hard wind blasted through the trees. “No?”

Emma shook her head. “I don’t…I don’t want this anymore. I’m not me.” She backed away from him, and to her surprise, Robin remained still, as if rooted to the spot.

Emmeline!” was all he cried. Was he shocked, or did he know that her name was what drew her to him? She shook her head, gathering her windblown hair and attempting to tame it with a hairtie.

“My name is Emma!” she cried back, then turned and ran back to the school. To safety, to warmth, to order.