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Child's Play

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June 25th, 2019




Gender: Female
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Age: 29
Country: United States

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August 25, 2018


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06/14/2019 08:33 PM 

VOODOO PREGNANCY

“Hurry back,”


Claire’s words still rang in the back of Andy’s head. She had to hurry and be safe all at the same time. That was easier said than done under normal circumstances. Circumstances were not normal. She got out of her truck, slammed the door behind her, and grabbed the double barrel shotgun out of her pickup’s bed. She wore a strap on her back that fit the gun nicely and she eased the boomstick into the leather holster back there as she walked off from her truck that she was leaving off on the side of the road that cut through the cemetery. The squat stone mausoleum she was looking for was down a cobblestone path about twelve yards away. It was old and mossy and had no windows. Whatever name had been carved over the entrance to the mausoleum had been lost to time, ground away by weather and years. The only thing of note about the structure was the statue of the hooded figure standing guard in front of it. Charon — the Ferryman — held out a great stone fist in warning. Andy bypassed the warning and pushed open the squeaky metal door to the mausoleum so she could disappear into the shadows inside.


Hurry back.


Be safe.


Ha. She was going to do her best.


The inside of the mausoleum smelled of dust and cob-webs. Andy closed the loud metal door behind her and stepped in. Light seeped in through cracks in the ceiling but Andy could see exactly where it was spilling out of when she looked up. All in all, the mausoleum wasn’t very big. There was a stone floor that had grass poking out of it and a concrete casket sat firmly planted in the center of the room. A second statue of Charon stood above the casket, this one’s hand was open, waiting for an offering.


This was the way to Necropolis, a city of magic and monsters, a city hiding between the cracks of reality. Andy and Claire needed help, they were desperate, and help could be found in Necropolis. Days earlier — moved by love and a choice to expand their family — Andy used a voodoo ritual that channeled the power of the Loa Ayida-Weddo. Through her power, Andy and Claire were able to conceive a child that was their own, but voodoo pregnancies had consequences. Claire was pregnant almost immediately and after only a day she was already swelling up and showing signs that shouldn’t have been showing for at least three months. The magic of the Loa was speeding things up and the Stoddard-Barclays were in over their heads. They needed a witch doctor, so Andy was going to find one.


Digging into her pocket, Andy pulled out a strange looking silver coin — an obol. She turned it over in her hand. One side showed a skull, and the other showed a boat. She sat it in the open stone palm of the Charon statue and muttered the words, “Epitrepste mou to thanato,” and the walls began to rumble. Andy took a step back and the statue’s hand closed around the coin just as the room sank down, and down, the walls stretching. Andy was on her way.


The room sank and sank and sank until there was no more wall left around it, just darkness, but even the darkness didn’t last. Soon, the room wasn’t falling anymore but lowering, and light flickered through the darkness. The room was more of a lift now, hovering down through dark sky and clouds as a strange city took shape below. Necropolis was a twist of stone and steel — tall buildings and massive structures complete with cars, and railroads, and even a few winged creatures fluttering about. It was modern. It was ancient. It was insanity made reality. Andy took a deep breath as her ride eventually lowered to the ground on the outskirts of the city limits. Necropolis was like any city — dangerous if you weren’t careful — but Andy was always careful. That’s why she brought the shotgun.


It was a long walk into the city, but Andy walked it without complaining all while doing her damndest to look like she fit in. She lit up a cigarette as she made the long walk into town among skeletons, and zombies, and ghosts. Vampires and ghouls of all sorts were there, too, but Andy kept her head down, she kept moving. She thought of Claire and the answers she needed to find and that made it easy.


A train ride came next, a bumpy jaunt across town on a track that reminded her of the L back in Chicago. She stood up, holding onto a pole for support. Andy avoided eye contact the whole way, but there was a goblin sitting two seats down who kept giving her the eye. She stared at the floor. She kept quiet. When her stop came, she got off without trouble and made her way down Bone Street. What she was looking she was sure to find there.


Bright neon signs flashed down Bone Street. Pink! Green! Blue! Flash-flash-flash! There were boutiques, and diners, and strip clubs with women dancing in the windows. Each sign was brighter and flashier than the rest. Like all the people, Andy ignored them too. She found what she needed at the end of the block. There was no flashy sign or color drawing her in. In fact, there was no sign at all. An African mask hung over a door at the bottom of some steps. It was a witch doctor’s office tucked away in a cellar. Andy took a deep breath and walked down the steps. If this didn’t work, she didn’t know what would.


The inside of the nameless office looked like any doctor’s office Andy had ever been in, though maybe a little more dimly lit. She stepped into an empty waiting room that had six chairs lined up against the wall. It smelled like sage in there. Andy went up to the receptionist desk and found the chair behind it to be empty, too. A little bell sat on the desk so she dinged it. It rang and echoed in the air before it died into silence.


“We’re closed,” a deep voice spoke out from behind Andy. She spun on her heel and saw she wasn’t alone, even though the space where the man was standing had been empty a second ago. He was an older black man, maybe in his late sixties, and he lit a match to spark up a cigarette when Andy turned toward him. He shook the match out, puffed on the cigarette and squinted at the redhead who walked into his office.


“Are you the doctor?” Andy asked.


“I said,” he ashed his cigarette. “We’re closed.”


“My wife is pregnant,” she went on anyway. “It’s a voodoo pregnancy and… she’s only been pregnant for a day and she’s already showing signs. We need someone to help us walk through all this. We need your help.”


“I don’t see no wife,” he looked around.


“I wasn’t going to bring her here,” Andy said. “I can bring you to her. We can pay you. We can pay you a lot.”


“Do I look like I need money?”

“Well,” Andy looked around the empty waiting room. “It doesn’t look like you’re doing a lot of business at the moment.”


The doctor laughed. “Voodoo pregnancies are different for everyone. No one human handles it the same.”


“She’s a wolf,” Andy said.


His eyes lit up. He took a long drag of his cigarette and crossed the distance between them. He blew smoke from his nose before extending a hand to shake. “Name’s Fig,” he said. “Doctor Fig.”


“Andy Stoddard-Barclay,” Andy shook his hand. “Are you going to come and help me? What’s happening to my wife?”


“Child,” he smiled. “Let’s go find out.”



06/11/2019 12:40 PM 

I GOT SOUL, BUT I'M NOT A SOLDIER

FORWARD OPERATING BASE GHAZNI

CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN

2002


The caravan kicked up dust along the perimeter rode on the outskirts of Ghazni. Three Humvee deep, it was a shallow show of power — a mechanical chode serpent slinking along the horizon — a reminder who had control. They were liberators, conquerors, invaders; they were in charge. Private First Class Andrew Barclay bounced from his seat inside the back of the truck pulling up the rear, squinting to keep the sand out of his eyes, M4 Carbine strapped to his chest. It didn’t matter how they dressed him up or made him look strong. He didn’t feel powerful. He was a cog in the war machine, a piece, decoration. Andy was a tool.


Children begged on the side of the road. Maybe they weren’t begging, maybe they had some other reason for being there, but Andy didn’t see them until the caravan was already driving on. There were a dozen of ‘em, maybe more. They shouted and waved at the trucks rolling by. Andy made eye contact with a little boy they passed. He couldn’t have been older than six or seven.  Their eyes locked for a fleeting second that felt like an hour. He was a piece of the machine, too. They were just boys from opposite sides of the world playing a part in someone else’s game.


Then the caravan moved on and the boy stayed by the road. Andy did his best to not think of that boy again, but it was impossible to not take a piece of him with him.


***


“This whole god-damn sh*t hole only needs one thing. BLA-OW! BLA-OW! BLA-OW! Hahahahaha,”


There was no such thing as quiet chow time in the United States Army. It didn’t matter if Andy sat alone at the end of his table, or if the only company he kept while eating his evening meal was the book he liked to read when he was done patrol, the noise always seeped in. Most of the time, that noise came from one source. Gould was a first-class sonofabitch from some town in Missouri that Andy had never heard of. He was always the one going off on some tangent or another during chow, performing for his boys — Finch, Johnson, and Ramirez — standing and pacing around the head of his table while he ate, gesturing with wide, sweeping swipes of his hand under the big blue sky, and spouting his sh*t loud enough for the whole damn region to hear.


“Seriously, these f***ers should be thanking us,” Gould continued. “They living their lives backwards. They lucky we’re generous enough to come over here and fix it for ‘em.”


There was only so much bullsh*t that could be shared before Andy was forced to look up from his book to acknowledge the nonsense around him. He was surprised to see that Xanders was among Gould’s tribe, sitting there and nodding along with a half-smile on his face like the a**hole was speaking truth to power. Xanders was a good guy, about Andy’s age, nineteen or so — handsome with these sharp green eyes — but he was the sort of guy who would follow a bad crowd into badder times if it meant fitting in. He was as desperate for friends as Andy was desperate to avoid them. It was sad but understandable. Today it was Gould’s crew, tomorrow he’d be sucking up to the C.O.’s. Yeah, it was sad, but Andy didn’t blame him much. For most, it was hard to get through all this without friends — especially during down time — but maybe Xanders would get lucky. Maybe he’d catch on quick and learn that Gould was a no-good friend and he’d find someone else. If he needed someone, he deserved someone.


Things got cold when the sun went down. It didn’t stop some of the other off-duty officers from enjoying some of the festivities on the base. A new crop of local trainees had come in to help form what would, in theory, one day be the Afghan National Army, and in the spirit of solidarity some fun was being had, or, at least as much fun that could be had without alcohol. Andy chose to sit it out; the fun, the cold, all of it. He sat on his bunk in the barracks reading his book in the dim overhead light that shone down on him. The noise was muffled in the barracks, it made it easier to focus. But his focus was determined to not last long that night.


“Whatchya reading, Barclay?”


Looking up from his book, Andy saw Xanders standing in the threshold of the barracks, back-lit by the moonlight. Even in the dark, Andy could see that he wasn’t wearing his camo. Dog Tags dangled down over his sweat stained sleeveless undershirt. Andy wondered what pulled someone like Xanders away from a social event like tonight, something that you’d imagine he’d be pretty into given his proclivity to try and make friends.



“It’s uh… Childhood’s End,” he said, holding up the paperback. “Arthur C. Clarke. It’s about aliens and stuff.”


“Aliens and stuff, huh?” Xanders took a few steps into the room. In the light Andy could see the sunburn on his cheeks. “We talking like UFOs?”


“Sort of,” Andy shrugged. “At first, but, it’s more about the bigger questions. Our place in the universe, that sort of thing.” Andy scooted over when Xanders sat down on the bed beside him. His jaw tightened and his heartbeat quickened.


“So what’s our place in the universe?” he asked.


“I don’t know,” Andy shrugged. “Haven’t gotten that far yet.”


“What about your place?”


“I’m not sure I have a place,” Andy said.


“That’s why we’re here, right?” Xanders said it like it was the most obvious f***ing thing. “Purpose. The army gives us purpose.”


Andy set his book down. “It gives us structure. I’m not so sure that’s the same thing as purpose.”


“You’ve seen the sh*t already, haven’t you?” Xanders eyes lit up a bit. “You got that look in you, Barclay.”


“I’ve had that look since I was six, Xanders,” he said. “I’m not sure if it has anything to do with this place.”


“But you have seen the sh*t, right?” Xanders pushed. “You were there for the ambush last month. That’s what the others said.”


“The others talk too much.”


“Maybe you don’t talk enough,” Xanders shrugged. “Talking is important. My uncle, he went through ‘Nam, he said talking about the sh*t to people who have lived through the sh*t, it’s the only thing that kept his mind from eating itself. He said, if you’re not careful you come home with that look in your eye, the one you already got.” He waved a finger in his face.


“I didn’t see the sh*t,” Andy swatted Xanders’ hand down. “I heard it, though. I… experienced it. We were in town, I was clearing a house with Finch when we heard gunfire. I’m not really sure what happened but we got separated. The insurgents they, they were everywhere or it felt like they were everywhere but I never saw them, not one, they were like ghosts.”


“Sh*t,”


“I got pinned down in the back bedroom of the house I was clearing,” Andy went on. “Some debris fell in front of the door, so I couldn’t get out that way and the windowsills, they were being peppered with blind fire every now and then so I didn’t have a choice but to keep my head low, radio in my position, and wait to either fight my way through whatever was coming, wait to die, or wait to be rescued. It all ended up being just a lot of waiting. The gunfire was still there but eventually it was sort of easy to drown it out, to disassociate, you know. I was low, on the ground, there for hours.


“It’s weird, like… I almost forgot where I was. I almost forgot that this was a war. The noise and radio chatter and gun fire, it was all there but it was like I wasn’t. I looked around that room and it was like it was mine. It belonged to some kid, some girl, probably our age, I don’t know. The whole thing was very dissociative. It’s like it wasn’t me. It was like I wasn’t a soldier but just some kid caught up in this, like it was my room, like I was hiding in my own room.


“There was this dress hanging from the door. It wasn’t like anything I had seen over here, you know, it was like western. It wasn’t flashy or showy or anything like that, but it came down to the ankle and had this pretty little flower pattern. It wasn’t something that could be worn outside, not something the Taliban would’ve approved but this girl — whoever lived in that room — she held onto this dress like a dream, like it was something she had for hope, a ‘one day this’ll be mine’ sort of thing. It was hanging from the door but in the chaos it fell down. I’m not sure why I grabbed it but I did and I held it tight. It was my room, my dress, I wasn’t me, remember. The dress felt like a second skin and I just held it close until the bullets stopped. I protected it, I saved it, that precious ‘one day’ sort of thing.”


Andy forgot that he was talking. He stared at the canvas wall of the barracks and blinked for the first time in he wasn’t sure how long. He hadn’t planned on opening up. That was a story he never told anyone. In his report from the ambush he left it simple, explained that he had just been pinned down, nothing else.


“You kept the dress, didn’t you?” Xanders was staring at him with this look in his eyes like he finally found a friend that made sense to him out there.


“I—” Andy turned toward him just in time for Xanders to lean in and press his sun chapped lips up against his. It was a rough and crooked kiss, one that lasted for a little over ten seconds before Andy’s hand pushed lightly on Xanders’ shoulder, nudging him away softly. “I… I don’t…”


The thought didn’t have to be completed. Xanders stood up, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and left the barracks like he had never even been there. Andy sighed, exhaling a breath he forgot he was holding, and leaned back against his bunk, staring up at the light.


***


Andy and a few other members of his company were out fixing the perimeter fence before dawn. It was cold out there that early but the soldier still managed to work up a sweat doing the hard work. He hit the showers mid-morning and was coming back to the barracks to change before getting into his standard duties for the day when he heard some laughing and rough housing going on in there. He stepped inside to find Gould, Finch, Johnson, Ramirez, and Xanders all standing in front of his bunk, red faced and laughing. The trunk at the foot of his cot was crooked and opened, and Gould held a floral print dress up to his shoulders.


Bones turned to ice. Andy’s heart slipped into his gut.


“Well look who’s here,” Gould pointed. “The lady of the house.”


Andy’s jaw tightened.


“What’s the matter, Barclay? A man’s talking to ya, be a proper lady and show some respect.”


Xanders was smiling with the others, but he avoided looking at Andy. The gang moved closer. Andy was a statue.


“Cat got your tongue, fag?” Gould’s face was purple with vicious hate. Andy could see it boiling behind his eyes. “Wanna say it ain’t yours?”


Fist balling up, body tensing with righteous anger. Andy didn’t remember throwing the first punch, or knocking Gould to the ground. He didn’t remember the second punch either, or the third, or the fourth, or the flurry to follow. He only remembered the hatred coming from his fellow soldier, the pain and sadness that it stirred in himself, and the relief that came when they finally pulled him off.


***


A single car drove him back through the desert road. It wasn’t a caravan, or even an armored Humvee, it was just a car. He had no power before — no real power anyway — so how was this different. He sat in the back of that empty sedan, C.O. driving him to the airfield, having nothing of value to say so choosing to drive in silence, and he just stared at his bruised purple knuckles. He must’ve hit Gould so hard that he knocked the hate right off his face. Andy never had power, he was just a piece of the machine and like any piece he was replaceable; plucked from the machine and tossed aside for another.


They said his discharge papers would be there waiting for him at the airfield before he even saw the plane, said the rest would be done when he got back to the States. Children stood by the edge of the road as the car drove by. They weren’t begging or working, they were just children. Andy’s eyes met a boy as they passed. The boy looked away first.


06/05/2019 04:30 PM 

I MADE DADDY AN ANGEL

A RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE (PART ONE): https://tinyurl.com/y4f3w739


[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a continuation of an older drabble I wrote a short while back. This is the story of the death of Andy’s father, but from the perspective of the killer. The first section is pulled from Discord banter. All of Claire’s dialogue, actions, and choices were written by her writer]

********************


Things started normal, as often was the case just before everything went to sh*t. Claire had spent a chunk of the day napping while Andy did some work on the house. Things were quiet, nice, peaceful. The thing about calms before storms was that at least people usually knew storms were coming. They had a chance to prepare. Andy and Claire Stoddard-Barclay were not so lucky. They were in the middle of a normal conversation, discussing where in the house they were going to hang their wedding photographs, and then everything went to sh*t.


“I’m surprised I didn’t wake you up. I was hammering a few studs into—” Andy’s button nose twitched. “Is that cigar smoke?”


Claire sniffed the air. “That or pot.”


“No,” Andy said, her face going pale as she looked around. “I know that smell anywhere. It only means one thing. The Baron, he’s—” Andy turned and there he was, Baron Samedi, the voodoo god of the dead. He was sat on their bed — having appeared out of thin air — smiling and smoking his cigar.


“Hello, Stoddard-Barclays.”


“Oh fun,” Claire crossed her arms over her chest. This wasn’t the first time this particular deity appeared out of nowhere in their bedroom.


“What are you doing here, Baron?” Andy asked calmly. She was sweating under her arms as if she somehow knew the answer.


“It’s time,” the Baron shrugged and took a puff of his cigar. “It’s time for my debt to be paid.”


“I got a dollar, will that cover it?” Claire shot back.


The Baron smiled a big bright smile that he directed to Claire. “You’re funny,” he looked back to Andy. I like her. She’s a good match for you, An-Dee. I’m sorry, my wolf friend, it is not that sort of debt, I’m afraid.”


“What is it?” Andy asked, not blinking. “What do I have to do?”


The Baron held his cigar in his mouth and reached into his jacket, pulling out a revolver. “I need you to kill a man.”


“Nope. Nope,” Claire held her hand out for the gun. “I’ll do that.”


“Tsk-tsk-tsk,” the Baron clicked his tongue and shook his head. “My debt is with her, not you, woofie. An-Dee is the only one who can do what it is I am asking. It is so.”


Andy forgot how to breathe for a second. She sucked in a breath of air and asked, “Who?”


The smile left Baron Samedi’s face. “William Barclay.”


Andy almost fell over.


“I take it that’s someone we know?” Claire asked.


Andy didn’t blink. Her eyes turned red, filling with tears. “That’s impossible,” she said flatly. “He’s already dead.”


“He is,” the Baron nodded. “So says time, but if he is to remain so da killer must take her gun and go do the deed.”



“The killer?” Andy tightened up. “I can’t… it’s not… I’m not the one who… You want to send me back in time to kill my father?”


“Wait, so you want her to go back in time and kill her father?” Claire wrapped her arms around Andy’s waist. “That’s pretty f***ed up.”


Andy was numb and quiet. Whenever she tried to speak only silence came out. She wasn’t sure how long she was standing there, staring, empty, blank. Her head shook from side to side. “No. No. F*** that, no way, I’m not killing my dad.”


“You owe me a debt,” the Baron sat up and swung his legs off the bed. “Dis is the price.”


“I don’t owe you sh*t. What I asked for you didn’t give me. You gave me some bullsh*t about Mia coming here, which I don’t f***ing understand. I’m not f***ing killing my dad for you!”


“Not for me,” he stood up. “For… the cosmos. It is done. So it has to be done.”


“F*** you,” Andy said. “F*** all of this. I say no. That’s my f***ing answer. No. If I don’t play your god-games my dad gets to be alive? That’s the easiest choice in my life.”


“How does your life change if William Barclay lives?” the Baron asked. “Are you willing to lose the life you have for the life you’ve already lost?” He pointed to Claire.


“Why does the cosmos need her father dead?” Claire asked.


“Some things are beyond knowing,” The Baron answered. “Answers may come later. They may never come at all. It doesn’t change the fact that William Barclay was gunned down some time ago on his way home from buying a pack of cigarettes and the shooter is standing just before me.” He gestured to Andy.


“I’ve… I’ve already done this?” Andy’s face wrinkled in confusion.


“Time is... fluid. Nonsensical. Deviate and it all changes course. Deviate and you as you exist now disappear. No Chucky. No new body. You can live a semi-happy life in poverty, always feeling off, always feeling like you’re in the wrong skin, never knowing true love.” He nodded to Claire. “Or you can do what is already done.”


Claire started pacing, the way Claire always paced in situations like this. “This sounds like crap.”


“I… I… I can’t do this,” Andy was frozen. She couldn’t move, she tried but she couldn’t. Her heart beat in her throat.


The Baron looked to Claire. “You know her best, woofie. Is she strong enough to do ‘dis?”


“Yes,” Claire said without hesitating, “But she shouldn't have to. I’ll take her debt, let me. If it has to be done let me do it.”


“Her debt is not the only debt in play here,” the Baron said softly. “Through it, I pay off a debt of my own. If I could send anyone else, I would. You may not believe that, but it’s true. An-Dee is the only one who can pull the trigger.”


Andy looked to Claire, tears running down her face. “H-How? How can I do this?”


Claire put a hand on Andy’s shoulder and gave a light squeeze. “I’ll go with you.”


Again, the Baron shook his head. “I’m afraid she can’t.”


“Well, that’s bullsh*t,” Claire protested before falling into a series of angry grumbles.


Andy shook. She was physically trembling, but when she looked into Claire’s green eyes she knew what she had to do, and she knew that if she waited too long or spent too long thinking about it that she wouldn’t make the right call. Stepping forward, she cupped Claire’s face in her hands and kissed her. “I love you,” she said softly. “Put me back together when I come back.” She turned toward the Baron, and he offered her the gun. Her jaw tightened and she reached out to take it, and when she did, she disappeared.




WHOOSH!


Everything was cold. A breeze rolled by that hadn’t been there a second ago. Gone was the bedroom she had been standing in a moment before. Gone. Gone. Gone. Everything was gone. No, no not gone, not yet. That’s… that’s what this was about. That’s why she was there, why she had to do the unspeakable, why it had always been her and why it would be her when the time came. If she didn’t do this… if Andy turned her back on the favor she owed the Baron then everything she loved, and held dear, all of her life — the good and the bad combined — would be gone. That, that was not something she could risk. Her wet, red eyes blinked and she thought of her wife. Andy had always said that she would do anything for Claire. Now was her chance to prove it. She looked down at the .45 in her hand — the gun Baron Samedi handed her — the weapon that was meant to set history up to play out how it always had been, and she started to weep.


The bedroom had given way to an alley — a dark and cold place where Andy was truly alone. She had her back toward the street and was facing the deeper shadows of that alley, but her eyes were fixed on the gun. A part of her thought that if she avoided looking away that it wouldn’t all have to start. It was a certain type of hell to stand in one place for eternity staring at a single object, but a part of Andy believed that it was a hell she would endure if it meant she didn’t have to ever turn around and slay her father.


A second ago she had been standing in her bedroom in Texas, laughing with her wife in the year 2019. Now she was in Chicago, she could smell it in the air and taste it in the cold. November 23, 1982. She didn’t need a calendar. Andy had always known the day her father died, the day her mother became a widow. Would knowing that she had been responsible all along have changed the way she grieved growing up — missing the father she never knew? Who was to say? Would she ever be able to look her mother in the eye again when she came back from this? Could she come back from this? The revolver in her hand was a thousand pounds. The weight of it felt as though it would drag her to the center of the earth. Standing there staring was hell, but maybe a worse hell waited for her if she looked away.


Free will. What a f***ing a joke. Andy’s choices didn’t lead her here if she was going to end up here all along. She made a deal with Baron Samedi; find her a way to stop the Vision — the bastards that tortured Claire — and in exchange  she would owe him a favor, but this… this causality time travel nonsense, it was a bullsh*t. Andy’s father had been dead for thirty-six years before Andy made that deal, which meant Andy was always going to make that deal. She was always going to end up here standing in a dark alley, an adult in 1982, holding the gun that would kill her father. What would happen, she wondered, if she turned the gun on herself. If she pressed the muzzle of the revolver under her chin and pulled the trigger would the universe tear itself in two? Was she even capable of playing chicken with fate and the cosmos? Anyway she squared it, she was f***ed. She either lost her life — her family, wife; her reasons to live — or she lost her father, a man who had been lost to her since she was two weeks old.


All she could do was weep in the dark.


“You okay?” a deep voice called out to her, stretching from the street and into the shadows where she wept.


Andy had never heard her father’s voice before, not in a way she could remember, but those two words were enough to know it was him. It struck her down in her core and split in two. Fingers tightened around the grip of the pistol. Breath trembled in her throat, panic setting in. She was panting, losing sight of why she was there, how she was there, what this all meant. Closing her eyes, Andy thought of Claire. She pictured her wife’s smile and spun around on her heels without opening her eyes again. Her arm extended and a forefinger curled around a cold trigger. The revolver shouted and reverberated back through her arm.


Numbness set in. Andy opened her bleary eyes and looked past the smoking gun to the man at the mouth of the alley, standing there with a bleeding hole in his abdomen. He looked so scared, hand moving down to his wound and coming up wet and red with blood. Andy had never stared her father in the eye before but there she was, the last person he would ever see, and she cried, and trembled, and shook the gun that she was still aiming at him because she didn’t understand why it had to be her.



“Please…” he begged, his voice soft and haunting.


Andy closed her eyes again and pulled the trigger until the barrel was empty.


BANG-BANG-BANGBANGBANG


There was shuffling, and tires screeching, and horns blaring before the loud crash and the sound of a body being tossed over a car. Andy didn’t open her eyes. She knew her father’s fate, she knew it from the stories her mother told her when she was old enough — how her father was murdered in a random act of violence, shot six times in an alley before stumbling back into traffic and being struck by a car. It wasn’t so random anymore. It was close. It was too close, and Andy felt every inch of the pain she had been too young to feel at the time.


Panic flooded the streets beyond the alley. Andy remained in the shadows, trapped by the panic attack that was setting in. She opened her eyes and hyperventilated. There was no way to maintain control of her breathing. The world spun in the wrong direction and when she looked down at the gun in her hand she could see blood under her nails, even though she had been too far away to get bloody. The world was just noise, and light, and cold, and Andy’s knees buckled with pain, grief, guilt — it was enough to choke on. Then she smelled the cigar smoke.


Finding the strength to turn around, Andy spun back on her heel and looked into the dark pit at the end of the alley. Baron Samedi stood, leaning on a cane, a fat cigar dangling from his chapped, painted lips. Her eyes were red and blinded by tears but it didn’t stop her from glaring at him.


“I hate you!” she yelled, the words almost inaudible through the shrill call of her cry.


“The debt is paid,” The Baron waved a hand.


Andy cried and dropped to her knees, but she fell out of the cold. She landed on the carpet at the foot of the bed, weeping openly, the empty gun still in her hand. She was back. She was home. But all she could do was cry.


05/19/2019 03:35 PM 

A RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

NOVEMBER 23, 1982


Daytime never felt too far away in the city. Bright lights buzzing atop lamp posts, and spilling off of tall buildings and out of the headlights of suffocating traffic made it so the night could never feel too dark. The sun had long set by the time William Barclay stepped out of the front door of his apartment building and into the chilly late autumn night, but he wasn’t left in the shadows. Will buttoned up his jacket, scratched his beard, and stepped out into the glowing yellows, oranges, and reds of a night in the city, as he ventured out to the corner store.


Will — by all accounts — was a good man. When he was young he was a good son, someone who took care of his mom when his dad had too much to drink and got a little rough. He was a good brother who set an example for his younger sisters to follow. He was a good soldier when his country needed him, even if he was fighting for a war he didn’t believe in. The only time he had ever left Chicago was when Uncle Sam shipped him off to Vietnam to put together trucks that took his friends off to get killed. Will Barclay was a good worker, boss, friend, and husband, but now he had to figure out how to be more. Now, Will had to figure out how to be something new. It was time for him to learn how to be a good father.


Being a new father was something that took a lot of getting used to, but Will knew he was up to the challenge. Andrew Barclay was only two weeks old, but already Will knew that there wasn’t a goddamn thing he wouldn’t do for that kid. His wedding day had always been the highlight of Will’s life, the one special moment he could take for himself, but the day Andy was born Will found that these moments didn’t have to be one offs. That baby filled Will and his wife Karen with so much joy and love they didn’t know what to do with it. The sleepless nights, the normal worries that came along with being a new parent, none of that mattered. Their son was everything.


HONK-HONK!


“Hey! Watch where you’re goin’, pal!” a driver yelled out of his window with an accompanying hand gesture as Will jaywalked in front of his Ford Pinto.


Will waved apologetically back at the driver and hustled across the street the rest of the way. He dug his hands into his pockets to keep them from getting cold and made it to the corner store where he stepped out of the artificial light of Chicago’s night into the blinding, artificial fluorescent light of the convenience store.


“Hey, William, how’s it going, man!”


“Hey, Samuel,” Will smiled and nodded toward the Haitian man who worked behind the counter.


“Long time no see, my friend.”


“Yeah… yeah, life’s been crazy,”


Will walked down one of the long aisles, eyes glancing left and right for what he was looking for, but he soon realized he had gone the wrong way. He doubled back, plucking some chips from a rack on his way, and then worked his way over to the back freezer display where he found the ice cream. Karen didn’t have any cravings all throughout her pregnancy but now that the baby was here she had been craving up a storm. Tonight, her cravings came in the form of Double Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. She had been a champ through all of this, and there was nothing Will wouldn’t do to make sure the mother of his child was happy. She felt bad sending him out so late, but he promised her that he would always make sure she had everything she needed. She sent him out to get a carton. He picked up two.


Stacking the ice cream, Will set the chips down on top of the stack and was coming back around for the counter, but he stopped when something caught his eye. There was a pile of chachkies sitting on a rack to his left. Most of it was dumb — useless trash — but among the nonsense was a tiny stuffed bear, white with little black eyes, and it wore a blue Cubs hat on its head. It was the perfect size to set in a crib. He thought for a minute, trying to figure out if he had enough cash on hand to cover it. He put the chips down and picked up the little bear.


“Wanna add the usual?” Samuel asked as Will set his stuff down on the counter.


Will nodded. Samuel dipped back to get a pack of cigarettes and Will gave the little black and white cat sitting on the counter a scratch behind the ear, “Hey, Brigitte. Good girl.” Samuel came back around and set the cigarettes down beside the stuffed bear. “It’s not gonna be my usual anymore though,” Will told him. He held up the cigarettes. “This is my last pack. I’m quitting.”


“Good for you,” Samuel said cheerily, almost as if he was just playing along and didn’t believe it.


“Karen had the baby,” Will beamed. “I gotta start being a good influence now.”


“Congratulations, man, boy or girl?”


“I was praying for a girl,” he shrugged, “but I think Karen might’ve been praying harder. We got a son. Andrew, little Andy. Two weeks old.”


“That’s beautiful, man, really beautiful. A future Cubs fan in the making.” Samuel gestured to the bear before packing it away in a plastic bag with the rest of Will’s purchases.


Will nodded and paid in cash “Have a good night, Sam.”


“You too, William, you too, and best of luck with fatherhood, man. Give my love to Karen.”


The night felt colder, even though it had only been a few minutes since Will had last been out there. The wind picked up and it nipped at him a little. He hustled, eager to get home to his family — his wife and child — but also wanting to get warm again. He looked both ways and crossed the street on an angle, cutting through the reds, and oranges, and yellows, of the night, expecting to make the two blocks between the corner store and his apartment in no time at all.


When Will reached the other side of the street he dug through the plastic bag in his hands and fished out the pack of cigarettes he bought. He wasn’t joking when he told Samuel that it was his last. His vice had one last hurrah before it went away for good. Will was a man who gave up drinking at twenty-two, after seeing how it shriveled and morphed his old man. He walked into a bar, ordered one last beer, and enjoyed the hell out of it, but hadn’t touched the stuff since. It was going to be the same way with the smokes. He was doing it for himself, for his future, for his kid, and that made the hard stuff easy.


Will tucked the cigarettes into the pocket of his jacket and carried the rest in the bag. He was a block away now, almost home, when the skin on the back of his neck prickled up. He didn’t know what it was or what it meant, but he felt off — strange. Things felt, dangerous. He stopped, as if acting on some sort of instinct, and he noticed that things were kind of dark. Will was at the lip of an alley, where shadows spilled out, in one of the few small pockets where the stretching glow of streetlights, business signs, and the rest of the light pollution of a city didn’t reach, and it was cold in the dark.


A soft whimpering cry leaked out of the shadowy alley. Will had to squint into the darkness to make out the shape of a small person standing just out of visual range with their back to him. It was a woman, maybe, but it was hard to tell. They were just standing there, crying to themselves, alone.


“You okay?” Will called out to the stranger. It was the sort of man he was.


The person in the shadows didn’t respond, but the crying continued. Will was a half dozen yards away, maybe, and he just stood there. He wanted to help a stranger who looked like they were in need, that was who he was, but he didn’t know how to help this person. He wasn’t sure if he could. He was seconds away from starting on back down the street, seconds from heading home to his wife and son — to his life — when the person in the alley turned around.


There was a flash. There was a bang. There was a biting pain in the lower left side of Will’s abdomen.


Will reached for the pocket where he had tucked away his last pack of cigarettes. He put pressure on a fiery pain that hadn’t been there a second ago, and when he lifted his hand again it came back red and slick with blood. His eyes were wide. His heartbeat was somehow steady. The person down the alley stared at him, tears in their eyes, and he could see the smoking six-shooter still aimed in his direction.



“Please…”


BANG-BANG-BANGBANGBANG


The plastic bag filled with Karen’s ice cream and Andy’s bear dropped to the concrete as five more bullets ripped Will apart. Lead bullets tore into his chest, gut, shoulder and throat, and he stepped back into the artificial light of the city. He stumbled off the curb, into the street and managed to hear the car horn but not see the car itself. He was hit on the side and the world flipped over, though his vision was already blurry and stained with blood from where his head hit the windshield of the car that struck him. He flipped and rolled across a pot hole in the street. Everything was sounds, and shapes, and smells, but nothing made sense. He choked on the fumes coming out of the tailpipe of the car that hit him, and his body shook a little as he lay face down in the street. People were scattering, rushing in a panic — voices, noise, voices — it was all blood, chaos, and nonsense to a dying man.



“Karen,” he choked out, spitting out blood. “Andy…”


Shadows moved above him, people coming to see if he was okay. He wasn’t.


William Barclay choked on blood, but when his dying eyes looked up, he could see something cutting through the shadowy shapes of the onlookers and washing out the artificial lights of the city with a bright, sunny white light that made everything else melt away. There was a person in that light, swooping down from above, drifting on big and beautiful wings.


The last thing he smelled was cigar smoke and rum before the light took him away to become an angel.


05/14/2019 04:52 PM 

NUMBER PROMPTS III

death dealer (003) “You look absolutely terrible.”



Andy had known that Mollie’s girlfriend Aurelia was something of a hot head, which was saying something for wolves who were usually fairly hot blooded to begin with, but this was the first time she had come head to head with the young wolf after one of her… skirmishes. She was dirty, and covered in blood, but didn’t look as though she had any bruises or cuts or wounds of her own. It was a classic ‘you should see the other guy’ situation, though Andy was pretty confident that she didn’t want to see the other guy. Aurelia looked like a kid who just got caught with their hand in the cookie jar, and a long silence lingered between them for a moment.


“You look absolutely terrible,” Andy said, breaking the silence to state the obvious.


Again, silence came back. Aurelia probably didn’t have anything good to say about any of this so she played it smart. She chose not to say anything at all. Andy let the moment stew. It was a thing some of her foster parents would do every now and then whenever a kid did something wrong and knew it was wrong right away. Stewing was a parent’s greatest weapon. Andy wasn’t Aurelia’s mother, but the kid didn’t have much in the way of parents these days so Andy stepped in however she could.


“Okay, let’s get you cleaned up and changed. You can tell me what you did in the morning and you can stay here tonight. I’m sure Mollie will be happy to have you.”



Boozyaunt (010) “Are you out of your f***ing alcoholic mind?”



Desperation bred the most difficult of conversations. Those conversations tended to be even more of a challenge if only one of the parties involved was desperate. Andy had come all the way to Greendale looking for help from a witch. She didn’t like coming to Zelda, she didn’t particularly like or trust Zelda, but it didn’t change the fact that Zelda had a good track record with this sort of stuff. And, well, desperation and all that.


What Andy needed was fairly simple. She had a very powerful teenage witch back home and she needed Zelda to whip together a potion of some sort that would help said teenage witch manage her powers. Despite coming with plenty of goodies that she thought Zelda would appreciate in exchange for her service, the old witch seemed more interested in giving Andy the work around and drinking than anything else. It wasn’t until Zelda sarcastically suggest arsenic as an appropriate potion-substitute for dealing with teenagers that Andy lost her patience and had a bit of an outburst.


“Are you out of your f***ing alcoholic mind!?”


A drawn out quiet followed. Zelda only sipped at the booze in her flute.


This was going to be a long night...



Claire (009) “I set the car on fire.”



Vicious orange flames licked at the night sky as the inferno consumed the Mini Coop in the middle of the long gravel driveway. Andy came marching out of the house, her Sumerian spellbook tucked under her arm. Avery, the teenage witch that Claire had rescued from an evil vampire queen, and a recent ward in the Stoddard-Barclay household, stood in front of the blaze, staring at it. Andy stood shoulder to shoulder, trying to process what she was looking at. She had been unpacking some things in the house when she heard all the ruckus.


“I set the car on fire,” Avery said matter-of-factly.


“I see that,” Andy replied with the same level of sardonic wisp to her voice.


She opened her book and flipped through to the page connected to the magicks of the Euphrates. The bottom of the book had a small but sharp pin prick sticking out of the spine. Andy pushed her thumb into it—enough to draw some blood—and she drew a symbol across the page and muttered a few words in ancient Sumerian. The page glowed, spilling golden light out into the dark night, and Andy tilted it, having the open pages face the flames. “You may want to stand back,” she told Avery, and a moment later there was a great rushing of water. Andy struggled to hold the book as rapids gushed out from a portal within the page, drenching the inflamed car with the cold waters of the Euphrates River. The fire went out quickly, but it took Andy a second to get the strength it took to close the book and break the spell to stop the water. When she did so, and everything was calm, she caught her breath and looked back to the trouble making witch.


“Alright,” she said. “Wanna tell me why you set the car on fire? Also… wanna tell me whose car it is?”


05/01/2019 05:18 PM 

NOT WHO YOU ARE

May 01, 1995

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS


211 Edgehill Road had green tiles on the walls of the bathroom, all lined up in a neat little row. Every other tile was a shade lighter, which created the most boring pattern in the world. The last bathroom had speckled wallpaper, the one before that was painted the color of puke. 211 Edgehill was the third foster home of the year already. Twelve year old Andy Barclay wondered what the next bathroom was going to look like. There surely would be another.


The kid was tall enough now to look into the mirror above the porcelain sink without needing a step-stool or even the benefit of the balls of his feet. A recent growth spurt saw to that. Long, dark-blond hair that came down to his shoulders covered his face and hung over one eye. Unlike other kids in the system who let their hair wrap up into knots and tangles, Andy’s was smooth and cared for. He could smell the sweet scent of the conditioner on the strands that dangled in front of his nose. Sloppy kids went unnoticed. Sloppy kids didn’t get adopted. The last thing a potential parent wanted to see when shopping for a new tax exemption was a reminder of the trauma and sloppiness that led the kid into the system in the first place. So Andy cared; he cared because no one else could or would. Andy wasn’t sloppy.


Sliding a rubber band off of his wrist, Andy pulled his hair back and used the rubber band to tie it off in a messy ponytail. It helped keep the hair out of his face, but it also made it harder to hide the black and blue ring around his left eye. The kid at school who gave it to him was almost a foot taller—it wasn’t a fair fight—but at least he had the courtesy to not call Andy names before cold clocking him across the face. He got right to the point, so that was something.


The black eye was tender and sensitive, it hurt when he blinked, but the swelling had gone down. Andy didn’t really care about the pain. He cared because it made him sloppy; it made the worst parts of him on the inside apparent on the outside, and he couldn’t let that happen. He opened up the mirror above the sink and searched for something in the medicine cabinet hidden back there. It took him a second but eventually he found some of his foster mom’s old foundation. He didn’t know enough to realize that it was a few shades away from his naturally pale complexion or that it wasn’t advisable to cover up a black eye with makeup, but it was something that made sense in the moment. It was a way to not be sloppy.


It stung a little as he rubbed it on, smearing it around the top of his cheekbone with his fingers. It was clumpy, and discolored, and maybe doing more harm than good but Andy kept going. To him, the ineffectiveness and uneven distribution of the makeup didn’t matter. It was like warpaint, covering up the weakest part of himself that was leaking out, concealing the patchwork kid hiding underneath. It made it okay to hide, hide long enough for him to figure out how to put himself back together.

An attempt was made to sneak out of the house and get to school before either the new foster mom of 211 Edgewood or the new foster dad of 211 Edgewood, noticed him. An attempt was made, but it was a total and complete failure. Andy tried to sneak past the kitchen—where a foster brother was getting his hair buzzed by foster mom and a foster sister was eating a bowl of cereal by foster dad, who buried his face in a paper. He didn’t even get halfway to the door.


“Eh, not so fast, young man,” Foster Mom 211 called out before Andy could make it past the kitchen’s threshold. “You put it off long enough. Haircut time, then school.” She pulled the smock off of Andy’s foster brother and let him run off. She dusted off the chair as Andy sighed and slumped into the kitchen.


“I don’t want to,” he complained.


“Well, I don’t want to either,” Foster Mom 211 shook her head, “but you don’t see me complaining.”


Foster Dad 211 chimed in with a well-timed, “Are you wearing makeup?” as he peered over his paper.


“Andy,” Foster Mom 211 patted the chair. “Sit.”


“I like my hair how it is,” Andy pushed back. “My hair’s nice.”


“You look like a girl,” his foster sister jumped into the mix, milk dribbling through the gaps in her baby teeth.


“Come now, son,” Foster Dad 211 set his paper down and stood up. He was dressed in beige and burgundy, with a pencil necktie dandling over his protruding belly. “The faster you sit, the sooner you can be off to school. Your hair will be nice when it’s short, too, trust me.” He smiled and ran his hand over his neatly buzzed hair. When he made his point, he licked his thumb and wiped the foundation off from around Andy’s eye. “Hair that long, it’s sloppy, parents looking for a little boy want to see a little boy, now don’t you think?” Andy was sitting now. He didn’t remember when he sat. Foster Mom 211 put a cape around his neck and Foster Dad 211 finished his spiel. “Easy peasy, Andy, trust me. We’ll find the fine young man in you under all that mess. This,” he pulled at the rubber band and Andy’s hair fall down over his shoulders, “it’s not who you are.”


***
OUTSIDE OF CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

EARLY OCTOBER, 2018


Andy’s new, small hands shook as they lit a cigarette. The new body Andy found in that morgue may have saved them from certain death, but it came with a nicotine addiction that Andy still had to get used to. Though, if everything went right, that wouldn’t be something that they’d have to get used to for long. If everything went right, this cigarette might be the last. Andy smoked that cigarette in the back of an open hearse behind the funeral home they had just broken into, taking a moment to acknowledge the new body that had gotten them this far before they moved on to something new, something more like the old. Chapped lips suckled the cigarette. The body—this body—had been in rough shape when Andy found it, though options were limited at the time. Whoever this woman used to be, she had bruised knees, and tension in her shoulders. There was a constant pain in the left breast which was a totally new experience for Andy on several levels, and her long red hair was constantly getting into Andy’s eyes and mouth. Though, maybe that part wasn’t so bad. Andy forgot how much they liked long hair.


It had been a week since Andy Barclay nearly died and managed to find a new body. But this body was transitional body, the only one Andy had access to that night. Tonight, the transition was going to come to an end. Andy found a newer body, one that would be easier for their mother, or step-father, or friends to recognize as Andy. They told themselves that it was a something that had to be done, but Andy had a hard time understanding why—as they sat out there enjoying one last cigarette—they felt  bad about giving this new, achy, broken body away. Why was it so hard to say goodbye?


When the cigarette was done, Andy stomped it out and headed inside. The funeral home was dark and quiet, pretty much what one would expect a funeral home to be like when everyone was gone. It was eerie in there. It was the sort of place where it felt like a funeral was going on even when no one else was around. There was the smell of flowers and freshly vacuumed carpet. The people there worked hard to hide that it was a place of death. They did a good job, but Andy knew where to find death.


The dressing station was in the basement. It was where the funeral director prepared the corpses and readied them for their viewing. It was down there that Andy found the body that they figured would be suitable to live out the rest of Andy’s second chance at life. The corpse was a man once, a man with a name, and a family—a family that would be heartbroken to learn that their loved one disappeared before his own funeral—but Andy couldn’t think of a way around that. They weren’t going to take a body from a soul that was still using it, not like what Chucky had done to Nica, but it wasn’t like there were a ton of nameless bodies out there volunteering to be used. Andy had to make the most of what they got.


The dressing station was dark. Andy only turned on some of the lights, enough to show the corpse they’d be taking—stiff and splayed out on a cold metal table, waiting to be dressed. The corpse had short blond hair, not unlike what Andy was used to in the original body, and he had a rigid jaw line and a handsome face. Andy ran their hand over the corpse’s cheek but pulled back. They had smeared some of the makeup on the cheek, and Andy’s fingers came back slightly pink.


“Sorry,” Andy apologized, unsure of what they were actually apologizing for, or even who they were apologizing too. Andy wiped their fingers on their pants and sighed, turning back to the backpack they brought with them to pull out the Heart of Damballa amulet they would need for the spell. “Let’s get the show on the road, I guess.”


The sting of regret pulsed under Andy’s skin, a sting they couldn’t explain or make sense of. Andy believed that this had to be done, but as they prepped everything, it felt like shears cutting away long locks, exposing a naked scalp underneath. It felt wrong.


Andy took up a position at the head of the metal table. They were wearing the heart of damballa around their neck.


“Ade… due… damballa…” Andy chanted. “Ade! Due! Damballa! Give me the power, I beg of you!” Even though they were in the basement, Andy could hear the swirling wind racing outside, competing with the crack of lightning that made the lights flicker. Andy continued the chant, careful to get all the words right, pronouncing them exactly as they were meant to be pronounced. The lights hissed above her, flashing on and off, filling the dressing room with sharp shadows and pulsating light, but Andy didn’t stop. They put their small hands on the shoulders of the body that they felt obligated to jump to. “ADE! DUE! DAMBALLA! GIVE ME THE POWER, I BEG OF YOU!”


POP!


One of the lights above snapped and exploded into a shower of sparks. Everything calmed down after that, but the room was even darker than it had been, with just a single fluorescent light shining down on Andy and the corpse on the table. The corpse. Andy opened their eyes and realized that they were the same eyes they closed a second ago. They looked down at their hands, and touched the Heart of Damballa around their neck. Nothing happened. It… it didn’t work. The corpse on the table was still a corpse.


“What…”


The quiet didn’t last long. A metal cabinet across the room, the size of a dresser, began to shake. Andy watched as their reflection in the foggy metal shifted and blurred and changed into something else. Andy was still, but the reflection was moving. The cabinet moaned like it was being squeezed and then the metal started to dent. The reflection opened its eyes and Andy saw they were yellow, streaked with bits of red. The reflection was unclear and foggy but the eyes, the eyes were perfectly focused. Andy wanted to scream but nothing came out of their mouth. The reflection smiled at them and a loud BANG followed as the cabinet scrunched in at the side. The cabinet door opened slowly with a loud squeak, taking the reflection with it, and something else was standing in the darkness inside. Andy held their breath as that something stepped out, and they saw a duplicate of the body they were currently in, only paler and with darker hair.


Again, everything went quiet.


“Who… who are you?” Andy asked.


“I have a couple of names now,” the girl replied with the same voice Andy used. “You can call me Mia though. That’s probably easiest. Mia Allen.”


“Mia Allen,” Andy repeated in a whisper. “You’re… you’re who this body belongs to…?”


“Belonged to,” Mia corrected. “Past tense. Other things belong to me now. That body’s yours.”


“Mine?” Andy squinted and shook their head. “No, no I was trying to move on, to find something like before.” Andy gestured to the unmoving corpse on the table between them. “When I do you can have your body back. I’m sorry I took it I only—”


Mia raised a hand. “Don’t be sorry, Andy Barclay. You needed it. I was done with it. Our circles aren’t dependent on one another, they’re complimentary.”


“I don’t understand,” Andy said. “You just… you just like crawled out of Hell and you’re telling me you don’t want this body back.”


“To me this world is the hell now,” Mia shrugged.


Andy took a second to process this. It wasn’t clear if they were talking to a ghost, or a demon, or some combination of the two, but one thing was certain; Andy knew that this was real. Now what it meant, that was a whole different story, and Andy wasn’t sure that story had an ending.


“The spell didn’t work,” Andy said. “I said it right but… it didn’t work. I’m still in the wrong body.”


“In the wrong body?” Mia smiled. “Is that what we’re thinking now?”


A cough interrupted the conversation. Both Andy and Mia looked down as the corpse in the middle twitched and coughed, life slowly coming to him. Andy’s face twisted in confusing. “I… I don’t understand.”


“You tried to move consciousness,” Mia explained. “But you merely copied it. Like your enemy, you duplicated your soul and found it a new vessel.”


“No… no, I didn’t mean to… this wasn’t what I was trying to…”


Mia raised a calming hand. “I know your intentions, Andy Barclay. But that doesn’t change the facts of the situation. The man waking up right now is as much you as you are. It upsets the balance of things, and I can’t oblige it.”


“What are you going to do?” Andy’s eyes teared up.


“I’m going to even things out,” Mia said. “I’ll take one of you with me.”


“With you where?”


Mia blinked and her eyes turned yellow, peppered with daggers of crimson red. A crown of fire ignited above her head, floating inches over her hair and giving more light to the room. Andy took a cautious step back and watched in amazement, eyes wide.


“You want to take one of us to hell?” Andy asked.


“It’s not as horrible as they would lead you to believe,” Mia’s voice sounded different now, like two voices in one. “But yes. I can take care of one of you down there. You’ll know no pain, you’ll have no strife, but I cannot allow two of you to roam the earth at the same time.”


Andy looked down at the body on the table. His eyes were still close but he was rolling his head, like a person on the verge of waking up from a dream. “I have to choose?”


“The original?” Mia pointed to Andy, and then pointed to the waking corpse. “Or the copy.”



“I… I didn’t mean to do this,” tears streamed down Andy’s cheeks now. It took every bit of strength they had to keep from falling into a panic attack. “I was just trying to set things right, not be sloppy… I’m the copy, not him…” They shook their head and put their hand on the waking corpse’s shoulder. “I’m the copy… aren’t I supposed to look how I’m supposed to look?” Andy looked to Mia with tearful, pleading eyes as if it made sense to cry for help to a Hell queen.


Mia came around the table and put a warm hand on Andy’s cheek.


“You are…” she said, and then looked down to the waking corpse as he opened his eyes. “This is not who you are…”


Relief washed over Andy for the first time maybe ever. It was like hearing a truth that was always there somewhere deep down, but it didn’t make sense until it was spoken by someone else. Andy smiled and hell broke loose in the dressing room. There was a blinding red light and a heat that was all consuming. Something opened up in the floor—a pit, or portal, or door—something, and a giant hand reached up, clutched the copy of Andy lying on the table, and dragged it down into the fire. Andy stepped back, holding their hands over their face as objects flew across the room. Andy managed one last look to Mia before she disappeared. The Hell Queen smiled at her and vanished in another flash, taking the portal with her.


A small metal trash can zipped across the room on a dying wind and clocked Andy in the left eye, sending them to the ground into a dark state of unconsciousness.


It was hard to say how long Andy was out, but when she blinked back into the waking world everything was sort of quiet and calm. She could feel the pulse in her left eye and when she reached up and touched it she winced from the sting. Andy sat up and looked around the trashed dressing room. The floor was littered, the table and the corpse were gone, and half of the lights dangled from broken sockets. It took a little while for her to manage to get up to her feet, but eventually she did. Every part of her hurt, and ached, but at the same time… those things really didn’t bother her much.


By the time Andy limped out of that basement, morning sunlight was coming in through the windows and she realized that she had to get out of there quick before trouble came down on her. She passed a mirror on her way toward the back door, and stopped for a second to take note of her reflection. Sloppy red hair covered most of her face, but when she pushed it out of the way she saw the new black and blue shiner she got right over her left eye. She touched it again, winced again, but smiled. It hurt, it hurt like a bitch, but the pain felt different.


Nothing from before went away, none of the trauma, or the guilt—new or old—or regrets that Andy had accumulated over a long life, but everything felt different now. It made sense, like the first time putting on a pair of glasses after a lifetime of seeing everything blurry. Andy… Andy was the original, and maybe she was who he always had been.


Smiling made the bruise hurt more, but it didn’t stop her. She smiled on the way out the back door and went off to find another cigarette to smoke.


04/29/2019 03:50 PM 

COPY

The ground around the new house was strong but soft. It helped that it was late Spring. Andy managed to dig a hole—big enough for a corpse—in half the time it would’ve taken her up in the hard compacted cold earth of Illinois. Texas dirt pushed smoothly under the spade strokes of Andy’s shovel. It was enough work to build up a sweat, but nothing too stressful. Andy dug her hole far enough away from the house to be safe, but not too close to the woods that she’d have to deal with roots or animals. She was burying something she didn’t think she’d need any more, but it was important to make sure that it was all safe.


When the hole was dug, Andy jabbed her shovel into the soft mound beside it. She wiped sweat from her brow with the back of her forearm and she turned around to the collection of guns, baseball bats, and other objects of destruction that were splayed out across a dirty tarp, waiting to be buried. Andy lowered herself to her knees and ran her hand across the weapon she enjoyed most; her chainsaw. Her fingers—dark green polish chipping from the nails--ran over the cherry red case of the motor, trailing across the long toothless blade. It was hard to say goodbye to things, specifically inanimate things that had saved her life more times than she could count, but she made a promise and promises meant something, they had to, especially when she made them to her.


It had only been a few days since Claire asked Andy to marry her. It was an easy question to answer, even if it brought change along with it. The two promised each other that they would try something different going forward. They were going to make their upcoming marriage mean something. The two agreed to try and live a normal life, to set all the dangers of a supernatural world behind them. They had a house of their own, a found family of blood and strangers they met along the way. They had a reason to want to build something new together. It was a promise. It was a promise, and Andy was going to take it seriously. What was the point of starting over, of having a second chance at life if you didn’t stop and take the time to actually live?


Andy sighed and prepared herself to wrap up her weapons and bury them in the ground, but she only managed to flip over one end of the tarp they were splayed out on when a rumbling engine disrupted her quiet and demanded her attention. Andy looked up as an old jeep was pulling up their driveway. This house was on private property, specifically picked out for the privacy part. It wasn’t the sort of driveway that people got lost down. Grabbing a hatchet, Andy used it to help herself up to her feet, and she marched off toward her driveway to meet the jeep as it pulled up, grip tight around the handle of her small ax.


The jeep stopped at the edge of the driveway, and Andy stopped a dozen or so yards away. It wasn’t until the engine cut off and the driver stepped out that she recognized who it was.


“This is private property, Tyler, and we’re in Texas,” Andy called out to him. “That’s a sure fire way to get yourself shot.”


“That’s an ax you got there, Barclay” he said, “You gonna shoot me with an ax?”


“I can do more damage with this than I could with all the bullets in the world.” Andy smirked, which prompted her guest to smirk back.




Ronald Tyler was thin and lanky. He was a black man in his late twenties with a scruffy beard on his chin and a stone amulet around his neck. The two of them went way back, all the way to military school, back when Andy was a moody teenager and Ronald was a scrappy young kid. Their paths first crossed back in the late 90s when Chucky paid a visit to the Kent Academy, and Ronald’s been mixed up in the fight ever since, helping Andy when he can. Most recently that help came with moving a vampire that had attacked people Andy cared about, which explained how he knew where the house was. It didn’t explain why he was there though.


“What are you doing with all that?” Ronald pointed behind her at all the weapons she was burying.


“Feels safer than keeping it all under the bed.” Andy gave him a shrug, but never bothered looking back at the hole she dug. “I don’t need it anymore. I’m turning it all in, Tyler. I’m done. Walking away. I made a promise. I’m getting married.”


Ronald smiled, “No sh*t? Congratulations, Barclay. It’s that wolf lady you were telling me about? Damn, your luck never ceases to amaze me.”


“Yeah. I’m pretty f***ing lucky,” she smiled. “Are you going to tell me what you’re doing here?”


“I came for your help,” He said. “Last week I got a weird text message, wanted to look into it.”


“You can handle it yourself, Tyler, you’re more than qualified. You don’t need me, and like I said, I’m done.”


“This one specifically has your name all over it,” Ronald said. He pulled out his phone and read the text message in question. “Quote: ‘Andy Barclay. Please help. They have hellfire.’ End quote.”


Andy raised an eyebrow. “The text was asking for me but it was sent to you?”


“I know, weird, right?” Ronald laughed. “I got no reply back, but I tracked the signal on the phone that it was sent from. It’s coming from a warehouse a county over from here. I was thinking that maybe you and me, we could check it out. Old time’s sake, you know? But I get it… retiring… marriage. I get it. I can go on my own if—”


“One county?” Andy asked. “Which way?”


***


ONE COUNTY OVER, ONE HOUR LATER


Dusk turned the sky purple and made everything feel both cold and uncomfortable at the same time. Ronald parked his jeep just past the gate at the abandoned warehouse and the two went by foot the rest of the way. Andy pulled her red hair back before grabbing her hatchet, making sure it was out of her eyes. Ronald was armed with a shotgun that he held low as the two closed in on the warehouse in question. There didn’t seem to be anyone around, but they talked in whispers anyway.


“You really should’ve brought a gun,” Ronald said.


“I really don’t need one,” Andy replied.


There was some quiet walking that the two of them shared before Ronald broke that silence and asked, “You really think you can walk away from all of this? I’ve known you a long time, Barclay, not even death could make you a quitter.”


“I’m not quitting,” Andy explained. “I’m just… starting a different game. Look… that what we’re looking for?” Andy pointed with her hatchet. Ahead, two skeletons—armed with swords and animated by glowing red hellfire—stood guard in front of the entrance to the warehouse. Ronald pumped his shotgun and looked down the barrel as he moved in closer.


“Looks like our sort of weird.”


“Hold up,” Andy pushed his gun down with the flat side of her ax-head. “There could be more. They’ll hear you.” She moved in on her own, leaving Ronald behind looking mighty perplexed.


“They don’t have ears…”


The glowing skeleton guards saw Andy coming, but she didn’t need the element of surprise. The first guard that she reached swung his clumsy, rusted sword down at her and she blocked it with the top blade of her hatchet. She pushed the sword out of her way and spun the hatchet around, splitting the skull in two, flying off into the air in two directions. When the skull was destroyed the hell flames went away, and the rest of the bones collapsed into a pile. The second guard was even easier. It didn’t even have a chance to attack before Andy knocks its skull from its neck. In seconds, they were both piles of useless bones.


“I could’ve done that,” Ronald said as he caught up.


“It’s not a competition, pal.” She gave him a pat on the back and stepped out of the way, giving him the courtesy of opening the door at least.


It was darker on the inside of the warehouse than the outside, but that was to be expected. It was a large open space where light could only get in through narrow windows at the very top of the towering walls. Whatever light did get in was distorted by the tall empty shelves lined up all throughout the space, making tricks out of the light and causing shadows to dance. Andy and Ronald marched in, shoulder to shoulder, unsure of what they were looking for but confident that something was there. Regular buildings didn’t have skeleton guards.


They were careful, slow, and mindful of every footstep. Andy was fairly confident that this was the last supernatural adventure she’d be going on, but she wanted that to be true because of the promise she made her fiance, not because of a stupid mistake that would end her up dead. She knew Ronald Tyler would be respectful of that too, which was maybe why he was a half step ahead of her by the time they got halfway through the warehouse. They didn’t have to go much farther to find some strange. Around a corner, some weirdo was on his knees—back to them—praying in some strange language to a glowing marking on the ground. He was hooded and gloved and hellfire swirled around him.


“Ever fight a warlock before?” Ronald asked.


“Hey, look,” Andy nodded. There were two more skeleton guards, just like the ones outside. They spotted them and were marching forward, swords raised. “I got—”


BOOM!


BOOM!


“—them,” Andy sighed. Ronald took them out without moving, one shot each. They turned to dust, but it also got the warlock’s attention. The warlock got off his knees, floating up and spinning around, powered by the red magic and hellfire that danced around him. His eyes were glowing and he smiled when he saw them.



“You arrived,” The warlock’s voice sounded like many voices in one, echoing in his own mouth. “The Source. It was foretold that you would come. It was foretold that it would be I, Number Four, would be the one to find you and bring you back to—”


SCHLITCK!


It didn’t take much of a throw to bury the hatchet in the warlock’s face. Andy wound back, gave it a toss, let it fly head over end through the air, and watched as it sank into the shadowed skull of the warlock, silencing his bad guy speech before he could really get started. The hellfire and magic circle went away and the warlock fell to his knees, falling down to the ground; dead. There was a sort of windy sound as the magic left that place and then the warehouse was quiet, like a normal warehouse.


“Damn,” Ronald nodded his head up and down.


“I told you I didn’t need a gun.”


Andy moved forward, passing the dead warlock on the ground and going to a table full of stuff that was a few feet behind. Ronald went over to the warlock and gave his body a kick to make sure he was dead.


“You want your hatchet back?” Ronald asked, nudging the ax in the dead warlock’s face with his foot.


“He can keep it,” Andy said. “I don’t need it anymore.”


Andy’s hands trailed over all the crap cluttering the table. There were spellbooks—but they were written in Hell languages Andy didn’t recognize—but there was a bunch of other garbage there, too. Like, literal garbage. Old newspapers, hamburger wrappers, empty beer bottles. The dead warlock liked to play dress up and Dungeons and Dragons with his skeleton army and what not, but under all that hellfire and magic he was still just some schlub. Mixed in with all the trash, Andy found a flip phone.


“I think I found what we’re looking for,” Andy waved it in the direction of Ronald, who came and met her. He took it, flipped it open, and found the one message that had been sent to him. “It’s a burner,” she said. “I used to use phones like this back in the day when I needed to contact you or Kyle or any of the old team.”


“So…” the wheels in Ronald’s head were turning, “Maybe the message wasn’t for you… maybe it was for me.”


“Andy Barclay. Please help. They have hellfire,” Andy said the text out loud.


BANG. BANG-BANG.


Metal thudding made both Andy and Ronald turn their heads. Ronald has his shotgun ready before either of them took a step in the direction of the noise. Andy didn’t bother getting a new weapon, but she stayed close to Ronald. Her gut was telling her that something was off, but she didn’t feel in danger, and she normally trusted her own gut.


The banging continued. They followed the noise down a dark aisle until they sourced it at a sliding metal door. They took a second to listen to the noise more carefully, and Andy quickly realized that it was the sound of a ball bouncing up against the metal. She shared a look with Ronald and he nodded back, getting his gun ready. Andy grabbed hold of the door’s handle and the bouncing on the other side stopped. She sucked in a quick breath and yanked the heavy door open. It slid down the tracks with a clutter and light spilled into the dark room on the other side. A man sat in the corner, like a prisoner. He turned and looked at his rescuers, who stood blocking the light, ready for whatever happened next.



“Tyler?” the man said, as his eyes adjusted to the light. His face lit up and he stood up. “Oh my god, you came! You came!” The guy lurched himself toward Ronald, which was not the safest move considering that the ex-marine was armed and aiming his shotgun at him, but he managed to get in a hug without gaining a hole in his chest. “I knew you’d come, I knew it.”


“You sent the text,” Andy nodded.


“Do I know you, man?” Ronald asked.


The stranger from the dark room took a step back. “Yeah… oh right, you wouldn’t recognize this face, but you got my message, right? I told you who I am in the message. You found me, god damnit, I knew you’d find me. You’re a world class friend, Ronnie, you know that. Kyle was up there but…” he whistled. “You just jumped, top of the charts.”


“I’m sorry, who are you?” Ronald looked confused as hell. Andy squinted, putting it together.


“Get the f*** out here…”


The stranger looked over at Andy, as if noticing her for the first time and his eyes went wide too. “Holy crap, it’s you… he brought you. Of course he did, that makes so much sense. You bring in the source to rescue the copy. Duh.”


“Someone wanna fill me in here?” Ronald threw a hand up.


Andy stepped forward, looking up at the stranger. “It’s me.”


“Come again?”


“Yes, well sort of, almost yes,” fake Andy corrected.


“Are you from a parallel dimension?” Andy asked.


“Parallel dimen… what? There’s parallel dimensions?” Copy Andy asked.  “No. No I’m from this dimension, I think. You’re the real deal, but I’m a soul copy. New body, I think his name used to be Tommy, or something. Something Doyle. But I’m Andy Barclay. You can call me Copy, if it’s easier. The others called me Copy Six, or sometimes just Number Six, but you’re the source so… you can call me anything you want.”


“Others?” Ronald asked. “What is this?”


“I didn’t make you,” Andy said, still squinting. “There aren’t any living copies of my soul out there.”


“You didn’t make me,” Copy said. “But that last part is not true… unfortunately. It’s a long story. I’m happy to tell it. Maybe I can shower first?”


04/28/2019 02:35 PM 

AN EASY ANSWER

[This drabble is adapted from a Discord story and is co-written by Claire. All of Claire’s dialogue, action, and choices have been written by her: http://www.roleplayer.me/1427501]


“Why do you love me so much?”


Claire’s question came out of the ether. She had been out back talking to the teenage werewolves she felt responsible for before coming in, finding Andy on the couch reading a book, and resting her head in her lap. Andy wasn’t one to care where the question came from. She’d answer anything Claire asked her. She tucked some golden hair behind Claire’s ear and brushed her cheek with a gentle stroke of her thumb. “Because you’re a good person, even when you pretend not to be.”


“That’s it?” Claire said, looking up at her with curious green eyes. “Because I’m a grumpy werewolf with a heart of gold?”


“I mean, that’s not it. There’s like a thousand reasons why.” Andy shrugged. “You okay? What’s going on?”


“Yeah, I’m just curious.”


“Okay.” Andy accepted that. She smiled gently, thought for a moment, and then amended her answer. “The simplest answer might also be that I think you’re my best friend. You get me like no one else does, and I think I get you, too, mostly. What’s that if not the foundation of love?”


Claire smiled up at Andy, their eyes locked for a little while before Claire reached up and caressed Andy’s chin with two fingers and pulled her down into a kiss. When the kiss broke she whispered, “Luckiest sneeze ever.”


It was impossible not to smile when thinking about how they met, and how far they came. It started with a sneeze, a simple sneeze into enchanted moondust that happened to drift onto the right stranger. It was an act of chance, or fate, or luck, but that sneeze down near Jupiter, Florida changed everything for Andy. She had been drifting before that, lost at sea, trying to figure out her new lease on life, trying to find a purpose. She didn’t know it that day, but there was hidden purpose in that sneeze, in the ray of sunshine that caused it, in the enchanted moondust… in everything.


The two lovebirds took a brief stroll down memory lane, recalling that day they met and how it all started. It was the sort of drifting conversation that Andy adored most with Claire. They could just talk, find something—anything—to talk about and there was pure, one-hundred percent love in everything they had to say. That conversation drifted into another, and another, somehow leading to the topic of body switching, as it sometimes did around Andy, who was the only one of the two of them who had ever had a different body.


“Would you still love me if I was human?” Claire asked, still looking up from Andy’s lap.


“Claire, I’d love you if I woke up the next morning and you were suddenly a talking can of cat food,” Andy smiled.


“That… wait… how would we… you know?” Claire made a V with her fingers on both hands and sort of bashed them together, simulating sex like a sixth grader would. It only made Andy laugh more.


“My love isn’t dependent on our ability to have sex, that’s just a bonus,” Andy said. “But, if we really wanted to I’m sure we could find a way.”


“I suppose can-openers become a kink in that case,” Claire laughed a little. She smiled up at Andy and took the redhead’s hand into her own, bringing it to her lips to plant small kisses along her knuckles. In the most casual—and Claire—way ever, the blonde nonchalantly asked, “Wanna get married?”


It was so casual that Andy had a hard time realizing if it was serious or not. Her smile melted into a slight squint. “Are you teasing me?”


“No. I mean, I don’t know how we’d do it legally, since, ya know, both of us are legally dead and all. But no, I’m not teasing. We don’t need a piece of paper, do we?” It was obvious that despite it coming out in a lackadaisical way, Claire had been thinking about this. She looked up at Andy, like she was searching for something in her eyes.


“You’re serious,” Andy’s voice was a whisper. She got lost looking down at Claire. “You want to marry me?”


“Well, yeah, I wouldn’t have brought it up if I didn’t,” Claire said. “Why, is that a bad thing?”


Andy answered Claire with a kiss, leaning down and pressing her lips against hers, unsure of why her stomach was aflutter or why she could feel her heart beating in her throat. “I can’t think of anything that makes more sense than marrying you.”


“Peanut butter and jelly. Cheeseburger and fries. Cake and ice cream.” Okay, now she was teasing.


“That’s fine if that’s your list but all I want is you.” Andy beamed.


“No, I mean those are things that make more sense than us getting married,” Claire said. Her face was flat for a second before she allowed herself to grin. “Now I’m teasing.”


Andy didn’t care if she was being teased, she couldn’t stop smiling. “We’re really going to do this?”


“Yeah,” Claire nodded, looking up at Andy. “Andy Barclay, will you marry me?”


Andy didn’t realize she was tearing up until she felt a tear roll down her cheek when she nodded. “Yes, yes please, yes.”


The two pulled each other into another kiss, making a new sort of promise to one another. In that moment, like the moment before, during, and after the sneeze that started it all, things were different. It didn’t matter that they had only been doing this for four fast months. Andy was lost before she found Claire, unsure of what she was meant to do, or how she was meant to be now that she had this second lease on life. Claire was her tether, her anchor, her support, and Claire’s question had an easy answer.


04/26/2019 02:27 PM 

CANDY SHOP

The tape ripped off the cardboard packing box with a satisfying tearing sound that Andy didn’t realize she liked until after she heard it. Moving in the new house was slow going, but that was just fine by everyone because there wasn’t a real reason to rush. Furniture was still needed to fill the bigger space and there was a lot that simply needed to be bought, since some of the people moving in didn’t have much to move. Andy and Claire were used to living light, the teenage witch Avery that Claire was protecting from Vampires had a fair number of belongings but not a ton considering she had to flee her home quickly, and Mia—their sixteen year old daughter from a parallel dimension—escaped her dying world with nothing more than the clothes on her back and whatever was in her pockets, so she had to get everything new. So yeah, it was slow going, but that was okay. When you lived a life that was full of violence and chaos, a little slowness was nice every now and then.


Andy sat in the empty living room tearing open boxes that her mother shipped her from her cabin in Illinois. Some of it was useful, like clothes and such, but others were things she just didn’t trust out of her sight for too long. Andy was cross legged on the floor, and the house was quiet, but outside she could hear the muffled screams of AC/DC turned up to eleven but garbled by the thick walls. Claire was out in front of the garage working on her car with Mia and her daughter Mollie. The quiet was nice, but quiet was sort of a relative thing when dating a werewolf.


The top of the box Andy just opened had a layer of folded flannel shirts. When she moved that out of the way there was a layer of newspaper cushioning what was below. Andy went to reach for an old clock that sat in the corner, wrapped up in more newspaper, but something else caught her eye first and she ended up pulling it out of the packing box instead. The object in question was an old looking cigar box. On the outside it didn’t look like anything special but that was sort of the idea. She opened it up and found the Nocul Amulet inside; a solid gold circular talisman allegedly made from the golden blood of a god. It was the artifact that brought Andy and Claire together in the first place, and even though it packed some crazy power and was dangerous in the wrong hands—like end of the world dangerous—it made Andy smile. That one, dumb piece of gold changed her life forever.


“Stahp!” The giggle of a couple of teenagers pulled Andy’s attention away from the amulet. She stood up, leaving the cigar box behind but holding the Nocul Amulet in her hand, and she went to the window and peeked through the nice curtains that Claire’s sister Erin helped hang for them. Apparently, they had moved from working under the hood of Claire’s car to washing it. It was hard to tell who started it, but Mollie was chasing Mia around the car with a hose, spraying her on low, and Claire was already covered in suds. They were giggling and laughing, and even Claire was smiling. It was hard to believe that this was really their life. It was hard for Andy to believe that she could actually be attached to something so… nice.


It was extra comforting seeing Mia feel at home here. She lost everything, her entire universe was destroyed, including her version of her parents who’d she never see again. Andy and Claire could do their best for the girl but they’d probably never be able to replace what Mia lost. Andy’s thoughts drifted a bit, now thinking about the ever infinite multiverse and all the other versions of her that were out there. She wondered if those other versions of her had it this good, and her curiosity got the better of her. As if it was listening to her thoughts, the Nocul Amulet started to glow in her hand. She looked down at it and the magic pouring out of the gold disc surged through her fingertips and across her body.


Andy’s eyes rolled to the back of her head and the amulet gifted her a glimpse of a different world… of a different Andy.


***

DIMENSION 4-2-HB



Glimpses and images rushed to Andy’s mind, though it was hard to really qualify what that meant. Andy could sort of see bits and pieces of everything like some sort of omnipotent cloud. The Nocul Amulet showed her a world that was not totally unlike her own up to a point, but diverted off significantly after a while. In this world, Claire’s daughter Mollie was able to convince Claire to have Andy and the witch Avery help them move their souls into new bodies, bodies that weren’t werewolves.


So that’s just what happened. In this world, both mother and daughter soul-hopped into new vessels where they could live a life that resembled something normal. It worked for a while… but once you lived a life that was abnormal you really couldn’t go back to normal. Not fully, anyway. Eventually, Claire’s past came up to bite her. The vampire queen that Claire stole Avery the witch from returned with a bloody vengeance, and with no werewolf powers to easily defend herself, there was no stopping the slaughter that followed. Mollie was killed first, then her friends, then Claire’s sister Erin, and the vampire queen saved Andy for last. The vampire queen ripped Andy’s throat out and let her bleed out in Claire’s arms. Andy tried to mutter her spell, she tried to summon the power of Damballa in order to find a new vessel and live on so she could always be there for Claire, but it was hard to mutter anything without a throat. Her soul escaped but it was unguided and for a while Andy was just dead.


It wasn’t until months later that Andy found a third life, this time in the form of a distant Barclay cousin. His name was Bert and he passed away in his sleep on a lazy-boy in front of a TV after drinking so much that his heart gave out. When Bert’s soul slipped out Andy’s was able to slip in, and just like that Andy Barclay was back. Andy and Claire reunited and used their grief to motivate them. They only had each other, but in this world that was all they needed. They left Texas, hit the road, and killed every vampire they came across. It was never enough to bring back what they lost, or to fix the broken relationship between the two of them, but it was better than nothing.


***


A coughing fit knocked Andy out of her vision, and she had to lean up against the window for a minute to support herself. She blinked slowly and looked around, she was back in the living room of her new house. Outside the window, Claire, Mollie, and Mia were still having their water fight around the car, but instead of basking in that moment, instead of smiling at those she loved having fun, Andy looked back down to the Nocul Amulet in her hand and gave it a squeeze.


“Show me more,” she whispered.


The amulet glowed again, as if in response, and another vision overtook Andy Barclay.


***

DIMENSION 9-9-NO



In this vision, Andy didn’t see things from above. She wasn’t a cloud, but a shadow, a transparent fog that drifted around everything, haunting each corner of that reality like a stuck and angry spirit. In this universe, Andy Barclay was dead, and he was dead because Mia Allen was still alive. In this world, when Andy was stabbed half to death and managed to make his way to the morgue where he was meant to find a new body—a second chance—the morgue was empty, and he bled out on the floor all alone. Mia Allen never died in that world, but that didn’t mean her time in hell didn’t change her. The drugs that she took to help cope with her experience in hell didn’t kill her, but they did force her into a life of crime to help her afford them.


Andy watched as Mia fell darker and darker into her life. The longer she lived, the more corrupted and broken she became. This was the woman who allowed Andy a second chance at life, the woman Andy and Claire named their daughter after in another world, but here she was shattered and destructive, and there was no fixing her.


Though it seemed that destiny had a strange sense of humor in every universe. Andy saw as Mia Allen eventually found a way to die. She robbed the wrong house, trying to rip off a couple of werewolves. It didn’t end well. It was Claire—the burglary victim, in this case—who ended Mia Allen’s life. She slashed her throat open with her claws and gutted her in the living room of her sister’s house.


***


A tear ran down Andy’s cheek as she came out of the second vision. The amulet in her hand was quiet, almost mockingly so, and she hated it for it. “No,” she said harshly at the piece of gold in her hand, as if it could respond. “No, show me happiness. Show me this,” she pointed out to the window where Claire, Mollie, and kid Mia were having fun. “This can’t be the only one.”


The amulet glowed again, and Andy closed her eyes, preparing herself for what she was going to see next.


***

DIMENSION 2-2-3-RG



This world, Andy saw as the sun saw. She was rays of light shining down on the new house. It was like she was seeing this day, this very day, but in another world where things were slightly different. The Andy of this world sat on the porch reading a book. She seemed more or less the same except for the fact that her hair was blonde. Claire was out in front of the garage working alone under the hood of her car. She seemed the same, too—was even listening to the same AC/DC song, only her hair was red.


Avery the witch came up the porch from around the side of the house. She was carrying some of her stuff and taking it up to her new room. She waved to blonde Andy and went inside. There was no Mollie. There was no Mia. Mollie existed in this world, sure, but without a Mia popping in from another dimension there was less of a push for her to connect with her mother, and less reason to be around.


Things were quiet and nice in this universe, and people were happy, but something was missing.


***


The sound of a hose spraying up against a car and Claire yelling for them to watch the paint job brought Andy back into the moment of her own reality. She was quiet when she came back, blinking slow blinks and thinking about everything she just saw. She looked down at the Nocul Amulet in her hand. It didn’t do anything—didn’t glow, or make noise, or do anything at all—but it still felt like it was trying to say something to her.


Andy sighed and turned back to her moving boxes. She put the amulet back in the cigar box, folded it all up back under the newspaper, and retreated to the kitchen where she found a mop bucket that she could fill up in the sink. Andy went out through the back and circled the house. It was hard to sneak up on people when two of them were werewolves, but she figured she might be quick enough to get Mia. She joined in on the water fight before Claire could get bored of it and get grumpy again.


How things were in other worlds… it didn’t matter. It couldn’t.


Andy had her world, and it was up to her to make the best of it while she could, and that water fight was a moment she didn’t just want to watch. She wanted to live it.


04/05/2019 02:48 PM 

MIA STODDARD-BARCLAY OF DIMENSION 1-1-QT



The mother f***ing world was ending.


We’re talking red skies, lightning shooting upside down, blood rain, the whole shebang. Wind whipped in every direction like it didn’t even care anymore. Little whirlwinds picked up houses, carried them away, and tossed them wherever, but it wasn’t like any of that damage was going to mean anything. The sky cracked, the earth cracked, space itself was starting to crack; it was Armageddon, no one was going to be left behind to worry about a downward spike in property value. All 18 year-old Mia Stoddard-Barclay could do was run, haul ass down the path as fast as she could go and hope that she could make it to the cabin in time. She was the last girl on earth, or at least she was pretty sure she was, but that title wasn’t going to last long if she didn’t make it to her mother’s cabin at the end of the trail. Tears stung her eyes as the blood-rain splattered against the umbrella she held up over her head as she ran. The tears stung more than any tears she had ever cried before. It wasn’t because it was the end of the world, or because all of her family was dead… it was because it was all her fault.


The hinges to the front door nearly peeled off the wood when Mia kicked the door in. She tossed her still-open umbrella onto the floor and threw herself up against the door, struggling to close it against the rushing death-winds that blew so hard it sounded like the world was laughing at her. The door clicked and she let out a breath, a sigh of relief. The inside of the cabin was quiet compared to the world beyond the walls that was tearing itself apart. Mia wiped some blood-rain off of her hand onto her AC/DC t-shirt. She peeked out the window just in time to see the blood-rain turn into fire-rain, and a bunch of bat creatures drop down out of the crack in the sky to go around picking up all the trees. She didn’t stay by the window long enough to watch where they were taking them. She had some sh*t to figure out.


“F***, f***, f***ity, f*** f***,” she nervously hummed to herself as she crossed her mother’s old cabin—a place she hadn’t been to since she was a kid—and subconsciously rubbed the buckthorn wood ring necklace she wore around her neck.


Saying that all of this was her fault was not an understatement or some sort of half-truth. The world ending had a direct connection to Mia Stoddard-Barclay and, well, she had no time to process it, though she figured that if she somehow survived all this noise she would have to deal with that baggage eventually. The true story of how Mia single-handedly destroyed the world was far too long, and far too complicated to go over, but the important takeaways from it are: she didn’t mean to, she was only trying to stop another problem—which she kind-of-sort-of did considering all problems were stopped with the destruction of an entire universe—and she was really sorry about it. The sorry part was probably the truest of it all. The universe ending, that was a bummer, but it was the cosmically small stuff that was being taken away from her that hurt the most. Mia had to watch both of her mothers die in front of her, she saw her sister Mollie get swallowed up by a wormhole. It all made Mia ache with grief and guilt, but it wasn’t enough to get her to stop, or stand-still, or give-up. She wasn’t raised to give up. She’d beat this, survive this somehow, and live to hate herself another day.


“Come on, think, think, think, you got this,” Mia paced back and forth as the apocalypse shook the walls of the cabin. Her thumb anxiously rubbed circles around her necklace, a gift from her mother Andy.


If anyone was going to think of a way to survive the end of everything, it was Mia. She was clever, always had been, sometimes too clever for her own good. When she was five she had the hypothesis that her mother Claire and sister Mollie were werewolves, but she knew they wouldn’t admit it if she asked, so she had to test the hypothesis herself. At least, to a five year old little girl it was just a test, but her sister Mollie made the argument that sneaking flakes of silver into the breakfast cereal was more of a poisoning than a test. Mollie was never one for science. She didn’t get it. The following year was when she was pretty sure she figured out that she was adopted, though the truth of her origin was far stranger than anything a six year-old girl would be able to make up. Her moms explained that Andy was both her biological mother AND father—though it wouldn’t be until years later that she figured out it all had to do with frozen sperm from mama-Andy’s old body and eggs from the new one. The point was, Mia was smart; she was a problem solver. The world was ending and time was limited, that was the problem. So all she had to do was figure out what to do about it.


Some sort of monstrous death god screamed outside and all the chairs inside of the cabin melted into soup.


It was the end of days… things didn’t need to make sense anymore.


“Stop being stupid!” Mia chastised herself as she burned a hole in the carpet, pacing small circles in the middle of the living room, keeping far from the walls. “You killed everyone because you’re so stupid and now you’re going to die, too, because you can’t figure out how not to. GAH! Are you this big an idiot in every universe?”


Light bulb.


Mia froze mid-pace. Other universes… she could escape into another universe. All she would need is… Mia looked down into her hand that had been clutching her necklace, a personal object that she had a strong connection to. The wheels in her mind were spinning too fast to keep up with herself. She didn’t have time to let the cement dry on her plan anyway, so she darted off to the basement, hoped that there still was a basement, and did the only thing she could think of to not die.


In theory, the quantum mechanics of magic were straight forward if you knew what you were looking for. The universe was eating itself, Mia’s universe, but in the multiverse there was an infinite number of universes out there where things weren’t going tits up. But Mia had to be careful. She had to find a parallel universe where she didn’t exist, otherwise she’d be dooming that universe to the same fate, if two identical doppelgangers touched it was so-long sailor to whatever universe was unlucky enough to be hosting that connection. But in a multiverse of infinite possibilities she figured it wouldn’t be too hard to find some place where she was never born. But the hop couldn’t be completely random either, she needed a tether, something to direct her some place relatively safe otherwise there was no saying where she would end up, and plopping down in a universe where the earth was still run by dinosaurs didn’t sound much better than however she was going to die here.


The calculations were already running through Mia’s head as she took the stairs down to the basement two at a time. The house above her wept and cracked as doomsday pulled at its foundations. There wasn’t much time left. The earth was going to be gone soon, so she had to work fast. She jumped down into the dirt floor of the cellar and bolted to her mother’s chest sitting in the brick corner. Thank the gods it was still there.


The plan was incredibly complicated, but also sort of simple in a way. She searched through the chest full of old books and found the necronomicon buried at the bottom. Relief washed over her when she saw it was still there and she yanked off the buckthorn necklace around her neck. She knew a spell that would work, the necklace would be her tether, and the necronomicon would be the energy source. In theory, she had everything she needed, er, almost everything. The energy would come from destroying the old, cursed book, so she still needed something to get that done. She dug around in the chest again and found one of her other mother’s old knives.


“Good enough.”


The house ripped free from the foundation, disappearing above Mia and leaving her alone in a house-less basement. She had seconds at best. It was now or never.


“Ade, due, Samedi,” she chanted, clutching the buckthorn necklace in one hand while the other raised the knife high up above her head. “Give me the power, I beg of you!” She brought the knife down over and over again, stabbing into the face of the skin-bound book. Death moans of the dying planet screamed around her and the book she stabbed started to bleed and leak out blinding white light as its energy eked around the oozing blood. “Ade, due, Samedi!” She chanted again, still stabbing, “GIVE ME THE POWER, I BEG OF YOU!”


Mia looked up as the crack in the sky spread to the space above her. She watched as two behemoth hands stretched their tree-length fingers through the crack and the face of a massive monster poked through from the other side, whatever the other-side was. It had a face of bone and stone, and only had sunken cavities where its eyes should be. The creature opened its beaked mouth and cried out, stretching its neck through the crack and into the dying universe. It came to eat what was left. It was unmeasurable in size, yet Mia felt like it was staring right at her. All the while, the damaged necronomicon burned hot in her hand, pulsing with light like it was getting ready to explode.


“Not today, f***er,” Mia smirked.


BOOM!


The book exploded in a contained ball of bright white light that expanded over the basement before collapsing in on itself. The light evaporated as quickly as it appeared and when it was gone, so was Mia and the necklace. All that was left behind was the knife and the tattered pages of a now useless book. At the end of the world, all books were useless. The pages floated around the air, wafting down to the dirt floor, and the hell-beast in the sky came down and swallowed the earth as the universe continued to shrivel up and die.


DIMENSION 6969 -- YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED UNIVERSE


Andy Barclay was out of town. She never really had a town, not anymore, but sometimes it was just easier to say she was out of town. By out of town we mean, Andy Barclay was not currently wherever Claire Stoddard was. Recent events had made it so that they tended to congregate around Claire’s sister’s home in Texas, which was all great and positive news since it meant Claire was finally able to spend more time with her daughter Mollie. Andy didn’t mind Texas, she loved spending time there, she loved Claire’s family, but she wasn’t there 24/7. Sometimes… she was out of town.


A day or two earlier, Andy had left Erin’s house to go get something important done. It involved werewolves, and a cult, and some sort of moon juice thing, the details of all of that weren’t terribly important, but Andy said she would get it done for them, so she went off to get it done. She didn’t leave much behind—a bag of clothes maybe, a toothbrush—but there wasn’t a ton of Andy Barclay hanging around in Claire’s bedroom there at the house when she wasn’t there. There was one thing, though, something deliberately left behind, something she left for Claire so that she would think of her when she went away. It was a small buckthorn wood necklace. The wood was nice, carved in a circle and strung on a simple string. It had belonged to Mia Allen, the body Andy currently inhabited, and it was something Andy had grown kind of attached to in the time since she got the new flesh. Because it meant something to her, she wanted to leave it behind for Claire to hold on to, so she could give it back when she returned. So, before she left, Andy hung the buckthorn necklace on the knob of the top drawer of the dresser drawers in Claire’s bedroom. She didn’t know how long it would take Claire to find it there, or if she even would, but for now there it hung.


All in the house was quiet.


The buckthorn necklace started to shake, rattling up against the dresser. It was subtle at first, a simple shimmy, but eventually the wooden circle vibrated with an unearthly energy and glowed white-hot.


BOOM!


The middle of the circle filled with that white light and blasted its energy into the floor at the foot of the bed. It created a portal that burned through the ground, tearing up wood and pipes and wires, and something dropped down through that portal and landed in the living room below with an awkward thud, and just like that… BOOP, it stopped, and the necklace went back to being a necklace.


The redheaded kid that dropped down from the hole in the ceiling let out a groan as her bones cracked when she moved. Everything felt… well, it felt like she just fell through dimensions. She looked down in her hand. She was still holding her end of the buckthorn necklace. She pressed her other hand to her chest to make sure her heart was still beating under her AC/DC t-shirt, and once she was sure she wasn’t dead she let out a sigh of relief and chuckled.


There was a hole in the ceiling above her, which was not ideal, but she was alive. Mia Stoddard-Barclay was mother f***ing alive! She threw her hands up to cheer and celebrate, but that’s when she noticed that she wasn’t alone in the room. Mia turned around and saw that she had a crowd, some faces familiar, some not, though her eyes immediately fell to the face she recognized most of all. Claire was front and center, her arms crossed over her chest.


Mia’s eyes darted around the room. This was going to take some explaining.


“Ummmm… hi?”



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