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Critic Me Please
Damsels in Distress No MoreIf there's one thing that I find problematic, it's how some people are portrayed as stereotypes, regardless of their race or gender. In the world of literature, there are many stereotypes about fantasy characters, like wizards and knights, that are still around today. But I'm not going to talk about those people. I'm going to talk about the way some people perceive princesses, and how unfair I think it is.Some people say that that a princess should be kidnapped by an evil villain who locks her away somewhere, and then a hero (usually a handsome prince or a knight in shining armor) has to come and rescue her, and then the princess must reward the hero with a kiss afterwards. They think some princesses should be weak, helpless damsels in distress who have to be protected from harm all the time. All. The. Time.I've heard this sort of thing from books about damsels in distress who are put in danger by an evil villain and get saved by young men who, nine times out of ten, mostly want power, expecting the princess to marry them afterwards. And do you know what I think about that?I think it's trash! Complete, pure trash! If I were a princess and I ever got kidnapped or enslaved, I would have no intention of staying and waiting, because I'd get better results if I act. Fortunately, princesses in modern fantasy stories have become more active, and they don't serve as damsels in distress anymore. Take a look at some of the some of the Disney Princesses, for example, especially the more recent ones (such as Mulan, Moana, Merida, Anna, Pocahontas, etc.). Nobody has ever locked them up in dungeon cells or cages, or tied them to railroad tracks or sawmill conveyor belts, or offered them as a sacrifice to a dragon until a knight in shining armor arrives to save them in the nick of time. They don't always need to be protected from danger or have people keep them safe from harm. Not only do some people stereotype princesses as damsels in distress that are in need of rescuing, but they tend to stick other stereotypes about princesses into them, too. Some of them talk to animals, and some animals talk to them. They're supposed to have magic powers. They have to be poisoned, cursed, kidnapped, or enslaved. And people assume all of their problems got solved because a big, strong man showed up.Some of the princesses from Disney movies (and non-Disney movies) have experienced quite a few of those things, but it does not happen all the time. They've all evolved since the first Disney Princess movie came out in the late 1930s. For a while now, Disney has created the stereotype that women are helpless and are always saved by big, strong men. In princess movies, such as Cinderella, Snow White, and The Little Mermaid, all of the women are dependent on a man to help them solve their conflict. Even Tiana in Princess and the Frog, who seems like an independent woman, relied on the prince to help her become human again. However, the times could be changing. Newer Disney movies, like Brave, Wreck-It Ralph, Moana, and Frozen, don't revolve as much around the "damsel in distress" theme.For an example of a princess who was portrayed as a damsel in distress, take a look at Snow White. She is known as dainty, innocent and a motherly figure in the first Disney princess film ever released in 1937, which are all conventions of a vulnerable, young girl. Snow is only fourteen years old, which, in modern society, is pretty outrageous, seeing as her stepmother wanted to kill her, and she was living alone with seven strangers. The worst part, however, is the fact that in the end, the Prince had to save her. Not the dwarfs, not the singing songbirds and not even herself. To put it plainly, Snow White is a traditional damsel in distress.The Little Mermaid, released a few years later in 1989, also presented the same message as Snow White's movie; but this time, instead of falling for Ariel's personality like in Snow White, Eric literally fell for only her looks. She couldn't even speak or express her views, thoughts and emotions as she had not been given that power, and the only person to give it back was, of course, the prince. It seems that Disney shames the fact that women are powerful, have a voice and have more than just a pretty face. Moreover, slowly but surely Disney has gone from the main female being weak and naive to powerful and independent.Mulan was released in 1998, and if you haven't seen it, the movie's leading lady literally saved the entirety of China. Not alone, but with her passion to defend her family’s honor and her sick father's life, Mulan disguised her gender by cutting her hair and wearing a full suit of body armor to fight in the war against the Huns. If that isn't awesome, then I don't know what is! Mulan was strong — physically and emotionally — fighting in the war, while being independent enough to save and defend her country. There is a male protagonist, however, and he gave full credit to Mulan and her self-determination. Her movie could be considered the first Disney film that shows the true independence and decision of a woman and emphasizes her courage by doing this within a male dominated activity and cast. Mulan could actually be the first Disney princess who is brave, strong and stands up for what is important to her.Disney followed the dismissal of damsels in distress in 2012, 2013, and 2016 with Brave, Frozen, and Moana. Frozen focused on sisterly love and is the first Disney film that doesn’t require a man in order to save the day. Sure, there were some people who were rooting for the conventional good guy, Kristoff, to kiss and save Anna, but they were pretty surprised to find out that Elsa was the cure instead. Anna and Elsa are sisters, and instead of having to fall in love, they are already in love. This fact saved Arendelle from being frozen over and allowed Disney to introduce a new way to have a happily ever after. It showed that a man is not needed, nor is a true love's kiss, and this emphasizes the power and strength that women have within a Disney film. Moana's movie recognized her as an unconventional princess by look and objectives, specifically when she was given the chance to be called a princess, yet she turned it down and said that she was not a princess, but the daughter of a chief. Not through her actions or feelings, but through her actual words, she proved that she is not labelled as pretty, emotionless and dependent, but as someone with power and status. Moana is a daughter, a friend, and a human being before she's a "princess", which shows how far Disney has come regarding the power of women within its films.Many princesses don't need their Prince Charmings anymore. One of the trademark attributes of film is its ability to appeal to different age groups, but no media company has mastered the art of appealing to both young and old audiences in the way Disney has with their colorful adventures, and some animation studios have tried to copy it, like some of Don Bluth's films. However, the vast majority of princess movies, especially Disney Princess movies, hold to an unspoken stereotype — that women are the weaker sex. For older audiences, the implications probably won't appear to be so significant; however, for younger, impressionable audiences, even such subtle messages can affect the way their psychologies develop.If you want evidence that some princess movies struggle with presenting strong female characters, look no further than some of the most popular productions. Take "Sleeping Beauty" for instance; a princess in distress is saved from eternal slumber by a handsome prince, and they fall in love and live "happily ever after." Sound familiar? It should. Many stories about princesses, particularly the ones Disney used to make, follow the familiar blueprint of a heroic prince coming to the rescue. Sure, some princesses are more proactive than others, but ultimately, the phrase "rescue the princess" springs up more often than not, and typically, romance blossoms between the princess and her rescuer. The romantic elements of old princess films enchant, and subsequently lure in, susceptible youth, who are then subconsciously assaulted with the idea that women need to be rescued by men, and then owe them more than just gratitude.Interestingly, in one of the Disney network's original movies, "The Cheetah Girls," the band sings a number titled "Cinderella" in which they criticize the idea of a woman waiting around to be saved. The song alludes to one of Disney's first princesses, representing an ongoing critique of Disney in that the film it refers to, "Cinderella," essentially focuses on a damsel in distress and how a prince delivers her from a life of degrading servitude and then marries her, making her a happy princess. In recent years, Disney has responded to this critique, and has begun to offer fans a new blueprint. In 2012, they dropped 3D computer-animated "Brave," which introduced the courageous, headstrong Merida, who became one of the few outliers in the Disney tapestry. Set in Medieval Scotland, the story follows Princess Merida, the only daughter of King Fergus and Queen Elinor, and she's definitely more outspoken than her mother considers proper for a lady, leading the two to fight constantly over Merida’s lack of decorum as a princess. The red-headed heroine has confidence in forging her own destiny, while her mother believes that her daughter should embrace her predetermined fate as a royal figure. When it comes time for Merida to marry, the struggle boils over and a selfish wish, granted by a silly witch, sets Merida and her mother on a journey that later leads the two to develop a deeper understanding of one another. Merida isn't alone in forging her own path, as another adventurer soon followed in her footsteps: In 2016, "Moana" sailed into the hearts of Disney fans with the story of a spirited, spunky and daring princess. Daughter and only child of the island of Motunui's chief, Moana loves the ocean and finds herself attracted to it, even at a young age, and despite her father's objection. Her grandmother, Tala, the island's "crazy lady," breathes life into the stories of the island goddess, Te Fiti, who brought life to the ocean before her heart was stolen and lost. Moana's love of the ocean only grows stronger as she listens to her grandmother's stories, but her life has already been mapped out for her, and the ocean is forbidden territory. Yet, when her island is in danger, nothing stops Moana from setting sail and becoming the hero that her people need.Why are movies like "Brave" and "Moana" important movies to show children? Well, because the theme of being who you are, despite who society believes you should be, emerges from both films, bringing with them guidance and a new worldview for girls to explore. Times have changed since Disney released "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" back in 1937. No longer should the adjectives "demure" and "submissive" describe women's behavior or personalities. Merida and Moana break the mold of traditional expectations that their predecessors slowly reshaped over time. Parents should rush toward movies like "Brave", "Frozen", and "Moana" because they promote inner strength and healthy, platonic relationships instead of pouring a cup of romantic juice to entice girls into believing that they are not good enough on their own. Sure, many Disney films held important messages for children, but without the rose-colored glasses, there are many fallacies plaguing cherished and classic Disney films. "Brave" and "Moana" shred some of the falsehoods and offer new adventures, encouraging audiences to be brave, to be willing to stand apart from the crowd and to listen to the quiet voice inside.In my opinion, princesses shouldn't be portrayed as damsels in distress anymore. Instead, they should be like Merida and Moana — able to believe in who they are and lead their lives as they see fit. As the Cheetah Girls sang, "My knight in shining armor is me." Princesses deserve to believe that they can rescue themselves as well as any prince could, they can slay their own dragons and vanquish any evil they face, and they don't need to fall in love to be happy. Just let the prince stay at home, because the ladies have it covered. No matter how you depict them, many princesses are not traditional damsels in distress anymore. They've changed since 1937, and they've changed a lot. They don't sit around and wait for their Prince Charmings to come and rescue them anymore. They're no longer prizes to be won, because real princesses should be able to save themselves.A real princess deserves to be a hero, and she doesn't need a guy saving her day in and day out. I mean, sure, every now and then she could let him beat up the villain, but that's not going to happen every time. In this modern era, princesses are strong, independent women, and the more recent Disney Princess movies show it. Rapunzel never deserved to be locked up in a tower. All she deserved was to explore the world. Merida is a really courageous princess, and she doesn't need a prince to prove herself. Mulan is very selfless and will do anything to prove her bravery to anyone. Moana deserves a lot for bringing the heart back to Te Fiti. All of these girls have strength and power, and they deserve to defeat bad guys, because they know how to come prepared to fight.To quote Princess Diaries author Meg Cabot: "It's only in fairy tales that princesses can afford to wait for the handsome prince to save them. In real life, they have to bust out of their own coffins and do the saving themselves." I feel like princesses need to be depicted like that more often than not.To be honest, I just don't get why some people think Disney Princess movies are misanthropic and a bad influence on children, especially little girls. Tiana is exceptionally independent worked hard to accomplish her dreams. Pocahontas and Mulan fought for their countries. Ariel, Belle, Rapunzel, and Jasmine all desired to have new experiences and meet people. They are far more than boy-obsessed damsels in distress. They are heroines. Being a princess means being smart, focused, confident, resourceful, strong, and all that good stuff. You know what I mean?When it comes to being a princess, there are plenty of characteristics they all have in common: kindness, bravery, and the ability to stand up for others. Not all princesses are created equal, however, as some are most undoubtedly stronger. Strength doesn't always have to come from physical attributes, but also from a princess's intelligence, her ability to lead, her creativity, and her active role in her own story. Part of the differences in the way princesses are portrayed is a product of the time in which their movies were created. The first three princesses, Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora, are caring and pleasant to a fault, allowing other characters to take on most of the action. Princesses of the 1980s, like Ariel and Eilonwy, are rulebreakers following their own paths. Princesses of the 1990s and the Disney renaissance, like Belle, Jasmine, and Mulan are more independent and fleshed-out characters than any of the women that came before them. As a result of these different eras, there's a varying degree of strength among the Disney Princesses. This doesn't really mean you might be wondering which princess could lift a car over her head, but who has the strongest character and most aptly portrays the role of her story's hero. There are eleven princesses who would be ranked from the most worthless to the most powerful.Aurora is ranked the most worthless princess, and here's why. As a member of the original trilogy of Disney princesses, she debuted in Sleeping Beauty. Her legacy has endured for decades. She still lands in the most worthless of princess spots because she's not even the main player in her own story. In her movie, Aurora spent her life guarded closely by her royal family and their attendants because of the possibility of the curse from Maleficent coming to pass. She's so gullible that it didn't occur to her to be careful when she met a strange man in the middle of the woods, though a trio of fairies were meant to be keeping her safe. It was also her own mistake that got her pricking her finger and sending the entire kingdom into a deep sleep. Because she spent the majority of the movie’s action asleep, Aurora is the typical damsel in distress. She didn't help save herself or her kingdom. Instead, she relied on the fairies to help her, and they are largely the protagonists of the movie instead of her. Ultimately, the kingdom was saved by the prince that came after Aurora. The prince was the same man she met in the woods, and they got their happily ever after, but Aurora didn't actually do anything to help get herself there.Snow White has the honor of being the first Disney Princess. Her movie was also the first time Disney merchandising really took hold of audiences around the world. The movie was translated into dozens of languages and Snow White herself appeared on lunch boxes, posters, and children's toys everywhere. Her popularity over the decades has only grown. A few live action adaptations have given new twists on her story, and the TV show Once Upon A Time featured Snow as a main character. Those updates have gone a long way into turning Snow into a three dimensional person, but in her first Disney venture, I guess you can say she wasn't exactly the best of princesses. Although she's considered "the fairest one of all", she was chased out of her own home by her wicked stepmother, getting lost in the woods. Her solace came in the form of a home for the seven dwarfs where she took care of them, cooking and cleaning while they worked, to create a place for herself far away from the hostile castle. The strength here that prevented Snow from being named completely worthless is that she figured out how to adapt to the worst of situations. She was homeless with not many skills, but she managed to make what she could do work for her. Yes, she ended up falling prey to an old peddler woman, a poisoned apple, and a sleeping curse, but she tried to make the best of a bad situation.Cinderella is perhaps the most famous of Disney princesses, but while she has the icon status, in the Disney version of her story, she's not exactly the strongest of princesses. Left with only her stepmother and stepsisters for family, Cinderella was more of a maid than a family member. Instead of treating her like one of her daughters, Lady Tremaine depended on Cinderella to cook and clean for her and her daughters, mend their clothing, and take care of their every whim. As a result, Cinderella had no time to herself except when everyone else in the house went to sleep. To her credit, she was able to keep up with all of their demands, work on her own dress, and keep her kind heart. Her generosity also inspired loyalty from the animals around her. Even the mice that hid in the house loved her, and she seemed to be able to understand them, an extraordinary gift for a princess to have. That kindness and understanding didn't exactly lead Cinderella to the throne, though it did get her noticed by her fairy godmother and get her a little help. Ultimately, it wasn't Cinderella who saved herself from a life of servitude, but her animal friends and the magic of her glass slipper. In short, her story just boils down to a lot of magical luck instead of her own strength.Disney's Renaissance gave audiences Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, and The Lion King, but it really kicked off with The Little Mermaid in the late 1980s. Despite centering on Ariel, the mermaid in the title, the movie spent a whole lot of time above the water as she learned about human life. Ariel is clearly adventurous, which earns her some points, as she pushed the boundaries of what her father allowed her to do. She swam to the limits of human territory, entered the domain of a known sea witch, and regularly refused to listen to the more conservative voice of Sebastian the crab, the guardian appointed to her by King Triton. Ariel's adventurous spirit is great for a potential leader, but she also went a bit too far, which got her into trouble. Despite having a huge ocean to roam, she's one of the more naive princesses. For some reason, even knowing Ursula's reputation, Ariel trusted her enough to exchange her voice for some temporary legs. It's that trust that backfired on her and put her in a perilous position later in the movie. Yes, she did save Prince Eric from drowning at the top of the movie, and she attempted to hold her own against Ursula in human form, so she's not a princess who goes down without a fight. She's also a much stronger young woman than the original Disney princesses were in their day.Pocahontas was the first of the Disney princesses to be inspired by a real person instead of a fairy tale, though the differences between animation and history are vast. She's also, technically, not a princess. The Powhatan people didn't have royal lineage. Instead, chiefs were elected by the people. As the daughter of a chief, like Moana in her later movie, Pocahontas is more of a symbolic princess. The strength of character in her stems from two places: her connection to nature and her role as a peacemaker. Her song "Colors of the Wind" might be one of the most renowned Disney songs, but it's not the only time Pocahontas placed the focus on the natural world. Throughout her movie, she communed with nature. She called upon the spirits of the elements to help her stop John Smith's punishment, and frequently spent her time on cliff faces and in waterfalls. She also got most of her advice from a wise willow tree. It's as a peacemaker that she truly shone. Despite being pulled in different directions by the traditions of her people and the dreams she held, Pocahontas managed to find a way to bring the English settlers and the Powhatans to common ground. In her movie's sequel, she also acted as a representative for her people in England. She was constantly striving to find connection between people instead of pulling them apart, making her a true leader.As Elsa's little sister, Anna has a lot of things going for her: a plucky spirit, a belief in the good of people, and immense courage. Despite all of that, she ranks far below her sister when it comes to simple things - like understanding when she's being deceived. If Elsa is wiser and more cynical, Anna is surely more innocent. Some might also call her naive. She believed in the old Disney style of a princess falling in love at first sight at the start of her movie, but the story quickly moved in a new direction as the audience discovered her supposed perfect match was the real villain of the story. Of course, Anna's innocence is buoyed by her optimism and an enduring faith in her sister. What she might lack in power and skill, she more than made up for in her commitment to get to her sister and bring her back to their kingdom. Anna saw it as her own personal quest to get Elsa to fix the long winter she created. Ultimately, it was the bond between the two sisters that helped Elsa learn to control her powers. Without Anna, Elsa wouldn't be nearly as strong as her sister is.Some people might think a movie about video game characters might seem like a strange place to find a Disney princess, but Wreck-It Ralph is full of surprises. The movie focuses on Ralph, the villain of his game who didn't want to be a bad guy anymore, but along the way, he also met a princess: Vanellope Von Schweetz. Vanellope kind of seems like the opposite of a princess. She's a kid who takes sassy to the extreme, not caring if she offends anyone, and putting her own wants and needs ahead of others. Of course, all of that is a result of years of bullying from other characters in her game when all she wanted was to be allowed to live her life. Treated as the villain, Vanellope wanted to compete in a race in the candy-covered carts of Sugar Rush. Because everyone believed she was a glitch in the system, they also believed she could destroy the game. It was eventually revealed that she wasn't actually a glitch and her need to race is actually part of her character. Instead of being a glitch, she's the rightful princess of the game. Despite her snarky attitude, Vanellope is a forgiving character and an eternal optimist. She is also incredibly creative, thinking of new ideas for solutions to her problems. With the help of Ralph, Vanellope was able to end up back where she belonged, though she decided that she didn't want to hold the title of Princess. Instead, she preferred to be President.With two sequels and a television series after Aladdin, plus plenty of guest appearances in other Disney projects, Jasmine one of the most productive Disney characters to come out of the 1990s. One of her biggest strengths was her belief in speaking her mind. Despite being born into a family that dictated her every move, she wasn't afraid to say everything she thought about her situation. When Jasmine was set for an arranged marriage without any say in the matter, she made sure to point out she wasn't "a prize to be won." She not only stood up to her father, but also to the movie’s villain, Jafar. Yes, she might have been frightened of him, and even made his prisoner at one point, but she never backed down. She also proved herself to be more observant than others around her. Not only did she know that something was off with Prince Ali, but she also knew that Jafar wasn't the best advisor for her father before anyone else did. If Jasmine hadn't led such a sheltered life for so long, her observation skills and intuition might have been put to good use for the kingdom. The only reason she doesn't rank as stronger is because most of her skills -- hand-to-hand combat, political negotiation, and so on -- aren't seen in her movie appearances, but in the television series that came after. Many movie watchers might not even be aware they exist, painting a more shallow picture of Jasmine.Eilonwy is one of Disney's "lost princesses". There are quite a few Disney fans who forget that she even exists. Even though she was one of the main characters in 1985’s The Black Cauldron, she hasn't been part of Disney's merchandising or theme parks since the early '90s. If the 1980s had been kinder to Eilonwy, she might have been credited for the beginning of the Disney renaissance. Instead, the PG-rated animated movie in which she starred, a first for Disney, was deemed too dark by most - even after extensive edits. It didn't contain the sweet and happy-go-lucky characters audiences were used to, and The Black Cauldron failed to make more than half of its budget back in the United States, leaving Eilonwy largely hidden in the history of the Mouse House. It's a shame because, although she's not the toughest princess out there, she's certainly stronger than the ones who preceded her. When audiences first met Eilonwy, she was frightened and confused following being kidnapped and imprisoned, but she wasn't sitting by and waiting to be rescued. Instead, she was actively searching for a way out from the dungeon where she was held and even found a way for Taran, the hero of the story, to escape as well. Eilonwy might have been comparatively radical when it comes to Disney princesses as well, asserting her independence and reminding Taran that she was no damsel in distress, that being a girl didn't make her a lesser hero.As an outsider in a small French village in Beauty and the Beast, Belle always rubbed her fellow villagers the wrong way. She spent the bulk of her free time reading and dreaming of adventure while many of the illiterate villagers in her town were too busy working to learn to read. Belle's love of knowledge and literature isn't her only strength, though. She is also a determined and brave woman. She journeyed into the woods in the middle of winter to find out just what happened to her father when he vanished. When she discovered the Beast, she might have been terrified, but she didn't back down. While Belle remained as a prisoner in the Beast's castle, she didn't allow herself to be treated as a prisoner. She had her run of the castle, conversing with the enchanted furniture and changing the everyday operations. She was able to teach the Beast the error of his ways, and even save his life - twice. If we're talking about sheer physical strength, it's long been acknowledged by fans that Belle must have some super strength up her sleeves as well. She was, after all, able to lift the Beast onto her horse and take him back to the castle after he was attacked by wolves in the woods!While there are quite a few Disney Princesses in the list ranking them from the weakest to the strongest, I believe a few non-Disney princesses should be on that list, too, like Anastasia Romanov. FOX was responsible for her movie, and with the deal between Disney and FOX still being worked out, it's only a matter of time before Anastasia joins the lineup of Disney Princesses. Anyway, in the '90s animated movie, she was an orphan called Anya with no memory of her childhood. Instead of taking that lying down, she set out on an adventure of her own, looking to build a life and figure out just who she was. Along the way, she happened to cross paths with a pair of con artists who intended to use her to claim a prize. While she went along with their plan initially, to pretend to be the Princess Anastasia, she did it while not knowing they didn't believe she was the real deal. She denounced their plan when she found her family, but she didn't completely turn her back on them either, still rescuing her former traveling companion from a dark wizard. She also made an unusual choice in the movie. Unlike the many of the princesses in Disney's movies, Anastasia didn't continue as a ruler of a kingdom by the end of her story. Because her story was inspired by the real life royal Romanov family who were overthrown and executed in a revolution, if she took back the country, it would have changed history. Instead, she got to make her own choices and live her own life.Tiana has the honor of being the first - and so far, only - African-American princess in Disney's lineup. She left a mark on the world by not only being the first in their animated slate, but also the first black character to do meet and greets at Disney's theme parks. The achievements in Disney princesses didn't stop there for her. She was also the first princess to have a real job working toward a goal of owning her own business. Tiana began to develop her love for cooking as a child, and it stayed with her into adulthood. Her passion for food made her one of the hardest working princesses there is. She also showed a remarkable ability to adapt to difficult situations, figuring out just how to use her strengths as a frog relatively quickly after being transformed into one. The frog version of Tiana managed to escape with powerful kicks and snap up objects with her elongated tongue, saving herself and the frog version of Naveen on numerous occasions. Her determination and adaptability were also matched by her resourcefulness. She was able to cook while in frog form and build a raft, which is no simple accomplishment. She also exhibited a trait necessary for many royals: benevolence. Tiana's benevolence wasn't shown by her ruling over a kingdom, but by her willingness to step aside to allow her best friend satisfaction and a happy marriage. Ultimately, all of these combinations and Tiana's strength of character got her the happy ending: her own restaurant and a former prince to share it with.Kida is the oldest of Disney princesses (she's over 8,000 years old during the events of Atlantis: The Lost Empire) and one of Disney's "forgotten" princesses. She doesn't appear in any of Disney's official princess merchandise and her movie is generally forgotten by audiences. It's become more of a cult favorite, but Kida deserves to be upgraded from cult status. Like many on the list, she doesn't marry into royalty; She was born into it. She was also born into a magical kingdom full of ancient secrets that was hidden underwater, which makes her pretty cool in the first place. Like the modern animated movie Moana, Kida is also a voice of difference among her people, trying to unlock the past in order to give them a future. In addition to saving her people, she's also a fierce fighter, able to take on people twice her size, and other characters make reference to her ability to slay her enemies easily. She has a magical healing crystal to help those who are injured as well. The same crystal linked Kida to her kingdom, allowing her to use enormous magic when her kingdom is threatened. She is also the first Disney princess to officially become a queen by the end of her movie as she takes over the duties of ruling Atlantis.On the younger end of the Disney princess spectrum, Moana is not technically a princess. Instead, she's the daughter of the chief of her people. She might not live in a castle, but her family still commands respect. While her people appear content in their village, Moana spent her childhood looking to the sea and wistfully wishing for adventure. Her parents drilled into her that they needed to be content where they were, but that didn't stop her from trying to find a solution to the problem of their home being endangered. She took on an almost impossible task. She decided to sail across the ocean, though her people had forgotten their old seafaring ways, to find a demigod that could help her save the island. She took on that task with no real training in the art of sailing, but with a special relationship with the ocean, which afforded her a certain amount of help as she made her way to the demigod. With a lot of hard work and ingenuity, not only did she learn about her peoples' true history, but she reclaimed it and saved them. She was the one who realized the "villain" and the goddess she needed to save were one in the same, simply a reflection of how someone who has had their happiness stolen from them would behave. Moana proved herself as a formidable chief for the future of her village.Sheer power alone means that Elsa had to nab one of the strongest spots on the list. Not only did her magical ability to freeze things create her own ice palace, but she froze her entire country, causing winter in the middle of summer! If a magical ability was all it took to create a strong princess though, the list would be very short. Not every Disney princess is able to wield magic. That magic can also be unpredictable, just like Elsa's when she accidentally froze her own sister. Her strength came from realizing when to turn her magic off and when to let someone else have the spotlight. When Elsa's parents perished in a shipwreck, the kingdom of Arendelle technically became hers. Knowing how risky her abilities were, she locked herself away and learned to control them. Initially, she was ruled by fear, but she learned to control that as well. She briefly ran away from her kingdom and her out of control powers before learning that she didn't have to rely on just herself to be, not only a princess but, a queen. By the end of her movie, Elsa not only got rid of the deep freeze on her country and controlled her powers, but she helped Anna figure out her love life.Being one of the few Disney princesses to not have a love interest, Merida thought outside the box in a lot of ways - including not playing damsel in distress very well. One of the biggest Disney tropes is for the princess to find themselves in hot water and need their prince to bail them out. However, in Brave, Merida's journey didn't involve finding herself a husband; instead, her journey was one of self-discovery and understanding the importance of family. She set out to save her family herself. As one of the strongest wills of any of the Disney princesses, she learned to fight and to use a bow and arrow since the beginning. Though her mother disliked those skills, it was those same abilities that allowed Merida to save her mother in the end. Of course, despite her saving the day, she missed out on the "strongest" spot on the list because she's not adept at getting a kingdom to rally around her yet, and it was herself who actually started the whole mess in her movie to begin with. It was her wish that turned her mother into a bear and put her family in danger. It's a good thing she learned from her mistakes.As one of the newer princesses in the Disney lineup, Rapunzel might seem like a naive damsel in distress at first. After all, she had spent her entire life locked in a tower, cut off from the rest of the world. She quickly proved herself capable of taking care of herself, though. Her innocence can be excused thanks to her isolation. She didn't really understand that people can't be trusted. Mother Gothel might have told Rapunzel that she couldn't trust the outside world, but she only really applied that to not telling people about her magic hair, which turned out to be a smart choice on her part. Also as a result of her isolation, she developed one of the most impressive skill sets of the Disney princesses. In addition to the usual singing skills, she's an artist, a climber, and she's figured out numerous uses for her extra long hair. She's also pretty adept at using a frying pan as a weapon. More than her ability to swing a mean pan though is her ability to charm people and get them to follow her, something a real leader needs if they're going to run a kingdom. Rapunzel was able to charm a tavern full of the more traditional Disney thugs to get them to help her out and partner with her traveling companion later in the movie. She's got the royal goods.Anyone can argue over which of the modern princesses are the strongest, but undoubtedly, Mulan might be on top of the list. Technically speaking, she's not a princess. She wasn't born into a royal bloodline and audiences never see her marry into one. She is, however, granted grace by the Emperor of China and she features prominently in Disney's official princess line of merchandise, so she's basically an honorary princess, and she certainly earns the strongest spot. Being the only child in a traditional Chinese family, Mulan was expected to marry well and bring honor to her parents. Instead, she ran away, taking her father's place in the Chinese army to fight the Huns. Lots of people say it was one of the most courageous acts any Disney princess has ever attempted, and it could have seriously backfired on her. She put in the effort to train with a group of men, never revealing that she was a woman, earning their respect over time. She is, as the song "I'll Make a Man Out of You" goes, "as fierce as a coursing river, with all the strength of a great typhoon." She singlehandedly caused an avalanche to destroy the approaching army of Huns, holding her own against more experienced military men. She also continued onto the Emperor's palace, despite being shut out once her femininity was discovered, and made it her own personal mission to save the country. With the help of a few friends, Mulan saved her Emperor and her people, bringing honor to her family in a way they didn't expect.Not only did Disney's older movies portray girls as weak and helpless, but they also created unrealistic and false beauty standards to the point where girls thought they weren't pretty unless they resembled a Disney princess. Snow White was given her name because of her fair skin tone, and in the movie it makes it seem like a girl is only pretty if she has fair skin. For example, the evil queen always asked the magic mirror, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?" When the mirror said Snow White, the queen was upset that Snow White was "prettier" than her, as if people can only be attractive if they have fair skin. This trend of pale skin kept going until 1992 when "Aladdin" was released with the first non-white princess. Princess Jasmine has a tan skin tone but is still portrayed as beautiful. When Aladdin was talking to Genie about Jasmine, he said she is "smart and fun" and "beautiful." This was also around the time when they started including diversity in their movies. Three years later, "Pocahontas" was released and is the first female heroine who is Native American.In the late 1980s, a different shift happened in Disney movies with "The Little Mermaid". According to the Disney Wiki, she was the first princess to show any emotion and facial expressions. Before her, all the princesses looked and acted like porcelain dolls with little emotion, facial expressions or movements other than the basic happy, sad, angry or scared. The Disney Wiki describes Snow White, the very first Disney princess, as "gentle", "polite", and "sweet" while Ariel is described as "free-spirited, confident, [and] curious."They started creating stronger protagonists and personalities. Ariel saved the prince from having to get married to the other girl. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle was the first Disney princess to be recognized for her intelligence and unique personality because the then Disney CEO, Jeffrey Katzenberg, wanted to add a "feminist twist" to it and did not want "another insipid princess." Then, a year later "Aladdin" came out where Jasmine was not only the first non-white princess, but also the first princess who didn't wear a dress. She is described as "feisty", "rebellious" and "sassy". Then in 1998, Disney's "Mulan" brought a legendary Chinese warrior to life, showing a woman dressed as a man to save an entire nation. Merida from "Brave" is an outlier from all the other Disney princesses and also a symbol of feminism and women empowerment. She is the first Scottish princess, the first tomboy princess, the first princess to be recognized for her talent and personality and not beauty, and the first princess without a love interest. Unlike all the other princesses, she doesn't wear makeup and has unkempt hair. Just as remarkable, "Frozen" was the first Disney movie where a female saved another female and the males didn't have any heroic roles. However, an overwhelming majority of the princesses have perfectly skinny bodies to the point where it's unrealistic. Young girls who have grown up watching Disney movies might feel as if that's how they are supposed to look; like they aren't beautiful unless they look like an unrealistic Disney princess. And with all the merchandise and the model-like girls they hire to be a princess at Disneyland or Disney World, they are being bombarded with images of Disney princesses everywhere. This gives girls a limited perception of what's beautiful. It wasn't until 2016 when "Moana" came out where they had the first non-slender or tall princess. Moana is short and has muscular build.As feminism becomes more popular in western countries, Hollywood is trying to keep up by making females more dominant and capable. In many recent superhero movies, sexism has been fading away, and both male and female superheroes are doing equally as well. However, while most woman superheroes are capable fighters, they are profoundly sexualized and wear revealing or tight-fitting outfits, mostly to lure in the male audience. It's quite surprising that those said heroines are often portrayed as both strong, independent role models for girls and sex symbols for guys. Clearly, there is still more room for improvement. In many movies and TV shows, women are still less prevailing than men and are predominantly white women. It is evident that a change is trying to be made, but there's still a long way to go.It's not just princesses in movies and TV shows that are slowly shedding the damsel in distress stereotype and becoming more heroic as the years go by. Princesses from video games have become brave, strong heroes, too. Take Princess Peach, for instance, as well as Princess Daisy and Princess Rosalina. Yes, in most games in the Super Mario Bros. franchise, Peach ends up getting kidnapped by the evil Bowser and then she has to be rescued by the main hero, but there are other games in the series where she doesn't need to wait for Mario to rescue her. Instead, she tries to figure out some ways to escape before Mario can find her. In games like the Mario Kart series, the Mario Party series, and the Mario Sports series, Peach and the other princesses actively join in on Mario and Luigi's adventures instead of sitting around and waiting to be rescued. Believe it or not, there's actually a game in the series where the roles of Mario and Peach are reversed, and she has to rescue him from Bowser instead of the other way around. Even though her only role was damsel in distress in most of the early games, Peach has evolved to become a more active, heroic princess, and she's never afraid to show players that she, like Mario, can go on great adventures and battle any villain that crosses her path. It's not just the Mario Princesses that have become more heroic than damsel in distress. Princesses like Zelda have become more heroic as well. In the Legend of Zelda series, the titular princess usually gets kidnapped and then Link has to come and rescue her. However, in some adventures in the games, Zelda doesn't wait to be rescued, rather, she joins in on the quest to save the world.I believe the reason some people think that the princesses from Disney movies are bad role models for girls is because they've never bothered to see the princesses' positive qualities. Many of them have done things to prove that they can be heroines, no matter how brave or strong they are. Though Snow White isn't extraordinarily smart or brave, she has taught others that all of us have redeeming traits with her love of wildlife, her unconditional acceptance of those with physical disabilities, and her perseverant optimism. She devoted her time and energy to helping others. In the midst of the appalling abuse and neglect of her stepmother and stepsisters, Cinderella became the epicenter of the function of her family. She loved her abusers not because of, but despite their abuse, and she sought friendships in the smallest and most meek of companions. She had courage and a strong sense of self so that she was able to go to a royal ball and woo the prince despite an entire life of bullying. Because Aurora was the victim of political turmoil, she was forced into exile. She embodied hope in a hopeless situation, and her patroness of lost causes was so in tune with the family she was forced to leave behind that her greatest dream was unknowingly shared with her estranged parents. Ariel was lost in an understandable childhood rebellion, and her mistakes led her on a frightening path of transformation, betrayal, and near-death. Her initial superficiality gave way to a deep and self-giving love for her paramour and for her own family. She had the courage to pursue her life that went against what society dictated. Belle was criticized by her envious peers for her remarkable intelligence and unassuming beauty, and she longed for a life filled with meaning. Embracing sacrifice for the only family she had, she befriended a hideous monster and a variety of unbelievable servants, relying on an open mind and a genuine heart. Despite Jasmine's disdain for the life that her country's traditions would make for her, she loved her father deeply, and she managed to see through an impoverished street boy's rough exterior and find a king inside. She challenged chauvinistic values, stood up against a law she didn't agree with and made her own determination about someone's character whether it was popular or not. Even though Pocahontas's story was far from a historic portrayal, she gave viewers the opportunity to explore faith, tradition, and great inner strength. Inspired by the memory of her late mother and her trust in the spirits, she singlehandedly stopped a war before sacrificing a great love for the sake of peace and unity. Mulan values duty, honor, and family above all, and she sacrificed her chances at a normal life to save her father from a certain death on the battlefield. Despite her initial rejection as a beauty, she showed viewers that true glamor is found in strength.Princesses have evolved since the late 1930s, and today, many of them are no longer helpless damsels in need of rescuing, but beautiful, strong, and independent princesses. If their Prince Charmings are taking too long, they will get on our high horses and find those princes themselves. They worry less about fitting into glass slippers and more about shattering glass ceilings.Let's hear it for girl power.
Geoproteanthrope, Ecology of the life bringerEcology of the Life Bringer, Great Seeding of Many Terrestrial and Oceanic Worlds The fission pods are many fathoms deep under the gulf. Ecologically adept, each pod has thecapacity of spawning a plethora of highly advanced flora and fauna. Poised for delivering a copious assortment of rapidly integrative mimicries, all the while offering to advance and enrich a host of natural selection along with an interdependence among similar species akin to its nature. With a vast microcosm of explicitly correlative symbioses, these microecologies, are introductive of many species capable of metamorphic convergence between the matrixes of animal, vegetable, and even the dramatic transmutation of minerals utilizing highly adaptive synergistic microbes to transmute the prevalent soil compositions. Microbialization of the soil begins with the rapid reproduction and dispersion of organisms ideally purposed for the rapid deconstruction of a specific range of material, establishing a foundation, then dramatically mutating into cellular diversities, in preparation of enzymatic and chemical breakdown, while introducing an elemental, mineral, and nutrient diversity formerly unavailable. Furthermore, once a microhabitat is introduced, and becomes established, these life-forms will continuously evolve throughout the adaptive establishment, and rebirthing cycles. It is here at great depths, in the cold and oily murk, where they span the majority of the gestation period of an approximately 11-year solar propagation cycle. This lengthy spawning cycle is necessary to develop these specially advanced offspring, selectively engineered for the potentially rich and complex interdevelopmental blueprinting as greatly adaptive biodiversification, spawning many forms capable of advancing within and throughout an extensive myriad of astrobiological and terrestrial biomes. Purposely protecting them at great lengths from the depleting solar energy, serves to facilitate a unique characteristic within the gravitational and magnetic independence, sensitizing pods to solar, lunar, and terrestrial orbital, gravitational, geomagnetic, and tidal energies. Until charged with abysmal dark matter, these pods' enhanced structural densities have become navigationally honed to attract the farthest-reaching and most fecund itinerary thus derivate of the cosmos. The radiographic insignia of an abundance of life-forms, captivates of these informed systems, where surges of radon energy may emit as a pulse acting as a telemeter, gradually informing instincts most active, as informed Instinct, determining a course of seeding and migratory imprinting ideal for the offspring in developmentally transmutative phase determination and removed from the inhibitions of radiological interference due to solar disruption. Whilst all microbial particle affiliates rest in gestation, learning a heightened capacity for longevities and sustaining remarkable feats of regeneration from oxidation, and solar deterioration, they prepare to travel inland, eventually to rise at the swampy bog. Surfacing to solarize, and spawn via micro-sporing, whilst creating a dry energy field to repel the forces of internal humidity.Next, the heliotropic pods rotate several times throughout the circadian rhythmostasis, drawn toward the azimuth of the solar and lunar convexion. Then, after a complete lunar cycle, the collective pods, in a vast watery dispersion, while the parental units; zooidal medusoid hydra, as they become statically charged, begin expelling all fluids from the internal structure of their suspensoid bodies.Asteroidal in mass, these pods are possessed of an independence from normal gravity. As such, they are capable of interstellar travel. This happens when the lunar orbit pulls them into outer space. Then, they will exist in planetary orbit until bearing a new heading toward afertile and life inhabited planetary ocean, within the same galaxy, or as they have progressed, the flight path is clear to extend anywhere beyond their known existence, folding space/time as if by echolocation by the idyllic destinations pulling these sound objects (pods) toward their new homes. Multiple polyps within each pod endure such intense pressure ranges from within as their potential offspring (gametes) enigmatically forge, and are consciously arranging perceptual telemetries of awareness and influence. These biostructural relationships between the living polyps and the skeletal asteroidal masses are capable of great flexibilities of their relative dimensions of projective perspectives that transmute space and time, penetrating greater distances than ever before to fix onto a body of superior cosmic awareness within the desired destination. This Supreme Being, when lured by the perceiving probe, will move swimmingly so as to position themselves beneath each indaptive orb. Each will be drawn to its location. These orbs represent indaptive data from beyond, imprinted of positive systems. And the Supreme Being who responds to such prescience is being read by the dimensional probing. This reading is crucial to develop the empathic form that opens in deep space in the pathway of a wormhole. Now, a clear path has been chosen.Drawn inward from the life emanations of external origin, cosmic radiation transfers neutrinos synaptically. Living matter transfers freely through the ethereal plane materializing in a sort of ectoplasm. This ectoplasm subsists as a dense fog and accumulates around the indaptive orbs, which hover above the Quasindaptimuths. The ectoplasmic storm thickens and intensifies until achieving a pressurized well around each of the seven indaptive orbs.Reaching a pressure that is greater than water, the surface of the water beneath each swell becomes displaced by the greater pressure expanse. At the exact moment that the surface tension yields, the envelopments surge with circumvolutions of galactic light waves. The enveloped orbs are now ignited and primed to begin immersion. These are now calledPosimorphs. Now it is time for the Quasindaptimuths and the Posimorphs to converge as one. The immersion of the Posimorphs and the suspended Quasindaptimuths, must make aconnection at halfway between the water’s surface and the seafloor (approximately 7000 ft.). The baroclinicity between the partially hollow Quasindaptimuth and the super dense posimorphic fluids immediately create an exchange, filling completely the frontal lobe of theQuasindaptimuths and simultaneously expelling internal gasses through their anterior nodes. The Quasindaptimuths are soon completely fluidized. The next transformation comes to bear as the indaptive nebulae at the centers of the Posimorphs make contact with the statically charged Quasindaptimuths. The two must now undergo their “Vorpal Communion”. The indaptive orbs upon contact begin to enter and nucleate the Quasindaptimuths, pulsating throughout the pod’s asteroidal mass, until at last they have become as one. Now it is born as The Geoproteanthrope.

Mature Content

Short Stories
Sugar and Spice: BFFs (Chapter 2- It Takes Talent)It had been a few days since Nona and Ginger met for the first time and became friends, and ever since Ginger promised Nona she would be her best friend forever, they both knew that it was a promise they would hold on to for life. Not only did Nona and Ginger live on the same neighborhood block in different houses across the street, but they also went to the same school. Ginger even shared her homeroom class with Nona and sat right next to her. Nona was glad that she and Ginger had the same class and were seated right next to each other. For a while, they only knew each other as normal classmates that they hardly ever talked to, but now that had changed completely. Now that Nona and Ginger were best friends, they always looked forward to seeing each other at homeroom class every day. Nona was always willing to help Ginger out with her homework and study for tests with her. Before Ginger became friends with Nona, she wasn't really the best at studying. She had a tendency to slack off when doing homework and got distracted easily, which was why her grades were very poor. But after she started having tutoring sessions with Nona, her grades were starting to improve. While Ginger was grateful to have someone help her with her homework, Nona was more than glad to have a friend who would study with her, because she thought it was a lot more fun than studying alone. She called Ginger her "study buddy", which Ginger really liked. Nona and Ginger enjoyed being homeroom classmates and study buddies, and there was no one else they ever wanted to study with. One day in class, Ginger and Nona's teacher, Mrs. Keller, had some big news to share with her students. "Class, if you haven't heard yet, the school is going to be holding its annual talent show next week on Friday night," she said. "Tryouts are going to be held this week after school from Tuesday to Friday. If you're interested in trying out for the show, make sure to figure out a talent that you're good at and talk to Miss King at the auditorium. She will be one of the judges for the talent competition. Good luck."This news intrigued some of the students, especially Ginger and Nona. The girls thought it would be fun to try out for the talent show to see if they could get in and compete in the talent contest. But they weren't sure what they wanted to do. They decided to think over it during class, and then meet up at Nona's house to talk about it together. By the time school was over for the day, the girls finally had an idea. Ginger went over to Nona's house to discuss what their talents were going to be. "Hey, Sugar, you know how Mrs. Keller talked about that talent show coming up next week?" said the redhead tomboy. "Well, I decided that I want to try out for it.""So did I," said Nona. "What's your talent going to be, Spice?""Well, I'm a pretty good singer," said Ginger. "So I'm going to sing one of my favorite rock and roll songs in the show.""Okay," said Nona. "Can I hear it?""Absolutely!" said Ginger. Then she took out a portable music player and played a loud, upbeat rock and roll song. Using a hairbrush as a microphone, she belted out the lyrics as she swayed to and fro to the beat. Surprisingly, she was pretty good, and not once did she sound off-key or forget the lyrics. "That was excellent, Spice!" said Nona, clapping her hands with approval after Ginger finished her song. "Thank you!" said Ginger as she took a bow. "Now what's your talent going to be, Sugar?""Well, I can't sing as well as you can," said Nona. "But I'm a really good dancer. I'm thinking of doing a ballet dance in the show. Would you like to see it?""Sure," said Ginger. "Go right ahead."Nona put a tape into her little cassette player and danced to some ballet music. She was very graceful and knew all sorts of moves, from standing en pointe to doing a pirouette. Once she was finished, Ginger smiled and clapped. "That was nice, man!" she said. "Why, thank you very much," said Nona as she did a little curtsy. "I'm sure we can make the tryouts tomorrow.""Me too," said Ginger. "I bet we'll do great!"And so, on Tuesday afternoon, Ginger and Nona went to the auditorium to try out for the talent show. Ginger went first, singing a rock and roll song while the music blasted from her portable music player. When she finished, she turned off the music player and asked, "So what do you think, Miss King?""That was good," said Miss King. "Your voice was quite nice, but I think your performance was missing something. Don't worry, though. You can try again later.""Aw, nuts," said Ginger as she walked off the stage in a huff. "Don't you know how long it took me to perfect my voice?"Then it was Nona's turn. She brought out her cassette player and danced gracefully to the ballet music. After she finished her dance, she pressed the pause button and said, "Did you like it, Miss King?""Yes, it was very nice," said Miss King. "Those were some lovely moves, but your performance seems to be missing something. You can try again if you want to."Nona sighed as she walked off the stage. She didn't know what her act was missing, but she knew for sure that she and Ginger were not going to make it into the show, despite their best efforts. Later that day, the girls met at Ginger's house, where they expressed their disappointment for not making the tryouts. "Dang," said Ginger. "Miss King didn't think our acts were good enough to get us into the show. Do you think we should try out again?""Why should we?" asked Nona. "I don't think we'll ever get Miss King's approval. She told us that our acts are missing something. But what could it be?"Ginger thought about it for a moment, wondering what Miss King meant when she said that Ginger and Nona lacked something in their acts. Suddenly, she got an idea, having figured it out. "That's it!" she said. "Teamwork! That's what our acts were missing!""Teamwork?" said Nona. "You mean, if we try out together, we'll have a better chance at making it to the show?""Exactly!" said Ginger. "We could combine our acts and audition as a team. If we work together, I'm positive that Miss King will let us into the show!""That sounds like an excellent idea!" exclaimed Nona. "I wish I had thought of that myself!""Well, what are you waiting for?" asked Ginger. "Let's get practicing!"For the rest of the week, the girls worked on their new act together every afternoon. Ginger sang rock and roll while Nona did her ballet dance. Nobody ever thought of combining ballet with rock and roll before, but for some reason, it seemed to work quite nicely…In Ginger and Nona's case, anyway. Finally, on Friday afternoon, the girls were ready to try out for the show again. This time, they were going to work as a team. As they arrived at the auditorium and got up onto the stage, they told Miss King their new act, which they called "Ballet Rock". The girls then proceeded to perform their act. Ginger sang to her rock and roll music while Nona danced alongside her. The combination of Ginger's strong, powerful voice and Nona's graceful, elegant ballet moves greatly impressed Miss King. "That was absolutely wonderful!" she said, clapping her hands to show her approval. "I have never seen anyone put such team effort into their performances as you girls. You're in.""We did it! Yay!" cheered the girls as they gave each other a high five. All the practice they had really paid off, and they couldn't wait to compete in the big show. They knew they would do great. All they had to do was practice a little more, and once the show arrived, they would blow the audience away. The next week, Ginger and Nona rehearsed every day after school, working hard and making sure they wouldn't mess up. They wanted to win the competition, so they worked together to make sure they would impress the judges on the big night. Soon, Friday night had finally arrived. Nona and Ginger were very excited because they had practiced all week. They knew for sure they would win an award for their outstanding act. The show kicked off at 6:00, and the acts ranged from magic tricks and tap dancers to poets and unicycle riders. Nona and Ginger were the last act to take the stage. As the girls performed their Ballet Rock routine, the audience was astonished by Nona's dancing skills and Ginger's singing voice, as well as the fact that they were able to put two different musical styles together. Even though it seemed very unlikely to some people, these talented girls managed to make it work. After Nona and Ginger performed, the judges handed out the awards. Much to the girls' surprise, they won both the "Best Musical Act" award and the "Grand Prize Winner" award. It was twice the victory for them. "Woohoo! We won!" cried Ginger. "I never thought we'd get two awards at once!" said Nona. "And that's exactly what you girls got!" said Miss King with a chuckle. "Your Ballet Rock performance was absolutely wholesome. I have never seen anyone use such amazing teamwork like that before.""Thanks, Miss King!" said Ginger. "When you said our acts were missing something, we realized that the 'something' we were missing was each other!""Exactly!" said Nona. "We all have a special talent, and even though winning is important, friendship is more important than anything else. That's why Ginger and I used teamwork to bring our talents together and combine them into an amazing duet act.""Well, I'm proud of you girls," said Miss King. "I hope you'll enjoy sharing the awards you won tonight."After the show, Nona and Ginger headed home, proudly presenting the awards they win to their families. It felt like a huge accomplishment to them for performing a dynamic duet and winning two awards at once. Since everyone loved Nona and Ginger's Ballet Rock act, the girls decided they would do it again at next year's talent show. They knew they could accomplish anything if they worked together. They were Sugar and Spice: Musical Superstars....
Sugar and Spice: BFFs (Chapter 1 - The Beginning)In a small suburban neighborhood in the town of Lenwood, there were two houses that looked identical to each other, but in those houses lived two girls with completely different personalities and interests. One of those girls was named Nona Zuckerberg, but her parents mostly called her "Sugar" because she was a very sweet, friendly, and kind person. She knew a lot of people very well, and her friends and family liked her a lot. She was also a girly girl. She liked the colors pink and purple, reading books, drinking tea, and doing ballet. She had a cat named Bell, whom she loved very much. Every day, Bell would curl up onto Nona's lap while she was reading a good book. Sometimes, Nona would read her books out loud to her cat, which made Bell purr with joy, because she loved hearing the sound of her owner's sweet, gentle voice. Across the street from Nona lived a girl named Ginger Caraway, but her friends called her "Spice" because she was spirited, fiery, and sometimes a little snappy. She was also a tomboy. That meant she hated traditional girly things, and preferred doing boyish things instead. She liked the colors green and blue, engaging in sports, riding her bike, and playing video games and board games. She also had a dog named Jack whom she absolutely adored. Every day, she would take Jack out for a walk around the neighborhood block and teach him some new tricks like playing fetch-the-stick. But while Nona and Ginger lived across the street from each other and went to the same school, they didn't know very much about each other and never talked to one another before. That is, until one very peculiar day when their usual routines took a sudden turn.One fine Sunday morning, Nona had finished her delicious pancake breakfast and decided to sit on a comfy chair in the living room and read a good book. Unfortunately, she forgot to close one of the windows, which she had opened earlier to let some fresh air into the room. When Bell saw that the window was open, she decided to sneak out. As Bell jumped out of the window, Nona gasped and immediately leaped up from her chair. "Bell! No!" she cried as she ran out to chase after her naughty cat. Meanwhile, Ginger had finished her hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs and decided to take her dog out for a walk. "Come on, boy!" she called out to Jack as she grabbed his leash. Being the obedient dog he was, Jack was quick to respond to Ginger and came trotting over to her. Ginger put Jack's leash on the dog and they set out for their daily walk. Suddenly, as they passed by the house across the street, Jack spotted a white cat jumping out one of the windows and trying to run away. "Bell, come back!" cried a girl, who seemed to be the cat's owner. The girl had dark skin, long, curly black hair, and was wearing a green sweater and a purple skirt. Being a dog, Jack knew he had to chase after the cat, so he broke free from Ginger's grasp and took off running. "Jack! No!" shouted Ginger as her dog started chasing the cat around in circles, barking like crazy. After a few seconds, the cat decided to escape by climbing up a big tree and clinging onto the highest branch she could find."My cat!" cried Nona as she saw Bell holding on for dear life on the branch while the dog just stood there, barking like a maniac. Just then, a fair-skinned girl with freckles, green eyes, red hair in braids, and wearing a red shirt and black sweatpants came running over. "Jack! You know it's not okay to run off and chase after cats, don't you?" said the girl, pulling her dog away from the tree. "You are such a naughty boy.""Oh, Bell, you poor thing," said Nona as she tried to reach for her cat, but was unable to because the branch was too high. "How will I ever get you down from that tree?""Don't worry," said the red-haired girl. "I'm a really good tree-climber, so I'll get your cat down from there in no time!"The girl climbed up the tree and was able to reach the branch that Bell was on. Then she gently picked up the cat and carefully held her in her arm, making sure not to drop the little furball as she climbed down. "Here you go!" said the girl as she gave Nona her cat back. "Your little kitty-cat is safe now.""Oh, thank you!" said Nona as Bell curled up into her arms and purred happily. "I think I've seen you across the street, but I don't think we've ever talked to each other before. What's your name?""My name's Ginger," said the girl. "But you can call me Spice.""Pleased to meet you, Spice!" said Nona. "My name is Nona, but my family calls me Sugar.""Sugar? That sounds like a pretty sweet nickname if you ask me," said Ginger, holding her dog in her arms and allowing him to gently lick her face."Why, yes, it is!" giggled Nona. "Would you like to come over to my house? I think it would be great if we got to know each other more.""Sure!" said Ginger. "That sounds like a cool idea!"So, Nona led Ginger and Jack to her house and invited them in. When Ginger entered the living room, she could hardly believe her eyes. "Wow, man," she said. "You sure have a lot of pink and purple furniture in this house.""I know," said Nona with a cute smile. "Pink and purple are my favorite colors.""That's weird," said Ginger. "So, would you like me to get you some tea from the kitchen?" asked Nona. "It'll help you get comfortable here in my cozy abode.""Gee, thanks, but no thanks," said Ginger. "I don't like drinking tea, because I think it's kinda disgusting. I prefer soda.""Oh, well, that's okay," said Nona. "How about we go find something to do in my room instead?""Okay," said Ginger. "What kind of stuff do you have there?""Follow me and I'll show you!" said Nona. She led Ginger to her bedroom while Bell and Jack followed the girls. "So, what have you got?" asked Ginger, looking around the room."Well, I have some books in my bookshelf that you could read if you want," said Nona."Books? Blech, no thanks," said Ginger. "Reading is boring. I'd rather play video games. Got any of those, by any chance?""No, sorry, I don't have any video games," said Nona. "I don't like them because I sometimes get migraines from staring at all those pixels on the screen.""How about board games?" asked Ginger. "Those are pretty fun, too.""I don't have board games, either," said Nona. "The rules of some of those games are a little too confusing for me to follow." "So you don't have games of any kind, just books to keep you entertained?" asked Ginger."I'm afraid so," said Nona."What else do you do besides read books?" asked Ginger. "Well, sometimes I like to ballet dance," said Nona, holding up a pair of ballet slippers. "Would you like to try it?""No way," said Ginger. "I'm not a good dancer, and I don't think I'll ever try doing it in those tippy-toe slippers. I prefer to play sports, because they're way cooler. My favorite sport is soccer. What's your favorite sport?""Umm, I don't really like sports, to be honest," said Nona. "They're just not for me, because I'm not really good at them. They're also kind of dangerous. That's why I prefer to curl up with a good book or dance in my free time.""So let me get this straight," said Ginger. "You like pink, drinking tea, reading books, and ballet, but I prefer green, drinking soda, playing games, and soccer. That means our interests are completely different from each other's, and we're different from each other ourselves. You're a girly girl, because you like girly things. I'm a tomboy, because I prefer things that mostly boys like.""Goodness, I guess we really are different," said Nona. "Neither one of us like any of the same things.""I guess not," said Ginger. "I can't think of anything that we have in common.""Me neither," said Nona. "I wonder if there's anything we might actually do together…"Fortunately, Bell and Jack had discovered the answer. Out of curiosity, they lifted up the lid of Nona's clothing trunk and peeked inside, but suddenly fell in. The girls gasped when they heard their pets' muffled meows and barks coming from inside the trunk. Nona rushed over and opened the lid, and Bell and Jack immediately jumped out. Jack was wearing one of Nona's fancy hats and Bell was wearing a blue scarf on her head. The girls giggled when they saw how funny their pets looked. "Jack, you naughty boy!" said Ginger. "What the heck were you doing in there?""That's okay," said Nona. "Bell likes to sneak into my trunk and dress up in silly clothes sometimes."Suddenly, Ginger had an idea, and she could tell Nona was thinking the same thing. "Hey, I like dressing up and trying new outfits, too!" said Ginger. "Well, so do I!" said Nona. "I guess we do have something in common. Would you like to try on some of my fancy costumes, Spice?""Sure, Sugar!" said Ginger. "I would love to!"And so, Ginger and Nona spent some time together trying on fancy outfits. Even though Nona was a girly girl and Ginger was a tomboy, they still liked some of the same things after all. This seemed like the start of a great friendship, one that would last forever. From this day onward, Nona and Ginger would be known as Sugar and Spice, BFFs (Best Friends Forever)....
Date Night by Jon-Wood
Explanations: Candi, Cherry, Heather, Cindy, Sadie“I am sure that everyone here knows why I’ve asked you to show up today.” The game master asked as he looked at the crowd. “One of us is the murderer and no one is allowed to leave until we figure out who it is?” Cindy asked. “Don’t we normally get together on Sunday mornings for your weekly games, oh terrifying werewolf?” Candi replied. “There’s that,” he replied. “I prefer to be called William. I also doubt that I’m all that frightening to everyone that’s here.” He handed over a sheaf of papers to Cherry, who was seated to his right. “Can you take one and pass the rest around?” After doing what she was asked, Cherry asked, “Blank character sheets? Why don’t we use the ones that we already had?” “A lot has happened since the initial write-ups, so it’s time to do updated ones,” He replied. “I don’t think it’s the most fair way to run the game to have each of us play characters with our own abilities,” Candi said. “A few of us have much higher power levels than others do.” Kat sat one hand on Candi’s bicep as she talked. “Why not have that kind of diversity in the game? It makes those of us who are at low-tier have to think our way through situations while hyper-muscular goddesses like yourself can just power through things.”Sadie leaned back against Ivey’s chest as she sat on the girls’ lap. “Relying on raw power to solve things also makes the stories dull. Us sidekicks need a chance to shine as well.”Alex, Cindy’s sister, faked a cough as she said, “Thirty strength…” “Are you feeling well?” Sadie asked. “Oh, nothing’s wrong,” Alex replied. “I feel so bad for someone who’s damage bonus exceeds my health.” “Will everyone who knows someone else at the table whose damage bonus exceeds their own health please point to that person?” Sadie asked, her cheeks flushing pink. William pointed to Nikita, while Alex and Heather’s younger brother, Lucas, held up their hands and said, “Everyone.” Nikita moved his extended arm to point one at a time to nearly everyone in attendance. Kat held her hands up and looked to the ceiling, asking, “Really? I might be the easiest to squish or crunch here.” “You’re definitely squishable,” Candi teased. Sadie held her hand up and pointed her finger back to Ivey, While Cindy and Cherry both pointed one finger at Ivey and one at Heather. Heather got up and reached to take hold of Cindy’s and Cherry’s hands and pointed them towards Candi. “I’m confused,” Candi said as she saw Heather point people’s fingers to her. “Do you want to explain?” “I called William yesterday and asked him to do this today,” Heather answered. “So much has been going on that we haven’t had a chance to catch up with it.” Kat raised her free hand, “Today’s my first session, so I don’t know how things are done here.” She looked at Candi, “I came because I like role-playing games and because I can’t really say ‘no’ to... a goddess.” Candi thought, My biceps just tingled as she said that. Wow. “You just touched on part of the subject,” Heather said. “We each know who here’s a superheroine and who isn’t.” Just as Alex was about to talk, she interrupted, “Yes, it’s pretty obvious. How about if we each talk about what we know has changed?” “I’m still the same as I have been,” Cherry said. “My abilities seem to remain constant.” “The same thing counts for me,” Nikita added. “I’m still a non-intimidating plush toy.” “You’re saying that like it’s a bad thing,” Cindy said. “I wouldn’t call being a regenerating, lightning-quick, buff and hung model a bad thing. Most guys would gladly give their lives to spend one day as you.” She looked over to the others. “I think that our goddesses have come up with some kind of disguise spells to make them look a little less intimidating, while mouse-girl now deserves the title of ‘Biceps Queen’. Of course, she’s still diabetes-inducingly cute.” “You haven’t said anything about yourself,” Cherry said. “I’d taken a bit of a break from superheroine stuff,” Cindy replied. “I had lost my powers for a while. It seems that they depend a lot on my own confidence. I also haven't come across anything that needs my input. I can’t force situations to show up that need me to do things.” “I’m not under a glamour,” Ivey said. “I’ve just, um, changed. It’s like I’m not being perma-boosted. I hope you don’t mind me not being hyper-built, demon-girl.” “I can tell that you’re doing the pinkie and pointer-finger devil horns thing behind my head.” Sadie said. “I’m getting too predictable.” Ivey replied. “I’ll have to somehow be satisfied with you being a divine, fitness type dryad, even if you’re not ready to win bodybuilding titles without even trying.” Sadie replied. “Do you like me for ‘me’, or for my divine stuff?” Ivey asked. “I just like you for your hot bod,” Sadie replied. “That’s supposed to be my line,” Ivey spread her thumb and forefinger over Sadie’s bicep. “Maybe you should do the heavy lifting now.” Ivey said. Sadie chuckled and flexed, lifting Ivey’s hand as the striated peak filled out. “Okay, now I’m really impressed. That matches Cherry’s.” “Make that fifty strength for buffness girl,” Alex stage whispered. “I’ll guess seventy-five,” Lucas added. Heather spoke an incantation, then said, “You’re both off by a geometric amount… or maybe a quadratic amount…” Kat asked, “What’s that mean, in English?” Cindy answered, “She’s got enough damage bonus to splatter me.” Heather nodded, “Absent-mindedly…” “Are you sure that you’ve worked your divination correctly?” Sadie’s cheeks flushed pink. “I admit that I’ve got a bit of muscle, but I’m not one of the hyper-tier strength types.” “If you’ll let me work some magic on you…” Heather summoned her staff and continued her spell-casting for a few seconds. “That makes sense. It really does.” Sadie cocked her head, “Are you being cryptic on purpose?” “Your abilities have you adapt to be in opposition to the divine presence around you,” Heather replied. “Not just in snarkiness, but in your powers. Being around Candi is triggering your ‘equal and opposite’ effect.” “I’ll have you know that my snarkiness is the genuine article,” Sadie said. “It’s like how Champaigne has to come from that specific region...” “If it’s not from the ‘snark’ region of France, it’s just bad-mouthing,” Heather replied. “You’re deflecting. I know that you’re shy about it, but you’re matching Cherry 'chiseled from’ Stone in muscularity right now.” “Do I really need to be used as the measurement standard…” Cherry asked. “Yes.” Several voices replied. “Are you going to go over your changes, Heather?” Cherry asked. “I’m going last, on purpose,” Heather said. “It’s Candi’s turn.” “There’s not much to say that isn’t obvious,” Candi said. “I’ve filled out while gaining a lot of strength and toughness.” “There’s got to be more than that, Goddess.” Cindy said. “You look to have changed more than anyone else.” Candi took in a sharp breath as she again felt her biceps react. “I don’t really know what my new powers are because I don’t know the full limits of them.” “You’ve suddenly gained modesty?” Kat squeezed her hand onto Candi’s bicep. “Showing off is as important to you as breathing.” She looked across the table. “The Goddess of demureness is nearly indestructible and probably has more strength than anyone else here, with the possible exception of Heather or Ivey. Oh... and she can hyperflex.” “I didn’t feel like overtly showing anyone up,” Candi said. “The bikini bottoms and painted-on halter top do an excellent job of hiding your measurements,” Cherry said. “You could probably fill out my costume to stand in for me if I can’t make it to a crisis.” “Wow… That’s a really good compliment,” Candi replied, “I just need a blonde wig, right?” “And maybe about eight extra cup sizes,” Sadie said, raising an eyebrow. “Pecs aren’t the same as boobs, you know.” “I’m at most only three short,” Candi looked over to Sadie. “Do you think anyone would really notice?” “I suspect they’d be distracted by other details,” Sadie conceded, “but most guys have factory-standard boob-o-meters.” “You can try on one of my spare costumes if you like,” Cherry blushed. “Yeah,” Sadie grinned. “That ought to clear up any lingering doubts.” Kat reached over with her free hand to lightly smack Sadie in the back of the head. “Behave,” she said. Sadie impishly stuck out her tongue. “That brings us to your turn, Heather,” Cindy said. “What juicy gossip are you going to reveal?” “I wanted everyone to be comfortable talking about their secrets first,” Heather said. “It means that we’re all comfortable with and trust each other.” “Delay of gossip, five yards, repeat of down,” Sadie interrupted. “I was getting to it,” Heather replied. “Aren’t you supposed to sit on my shoulder when you tell me to do questionable things?” “I probably could if you hyperflexed,” Sadie said. “Want me to? It’s usually more effective if I just stand back and kibitz from the sidelines, though.” “Sure… Now you offer to do that,” Heather said. “That is the ultimate tease.” “I don’t get it,” Kat said. “What’d she say?” Candi shrugged, “I kinda feel like I’ve just missed something, too.” Heather sighed, “I can’t hyperflex anymore. No causing earthquakes. No creating mountain ranges. No flattening cities and no destroying civilizations.” She looked upward, “Zeus, you knew she was going to offer and… You really are a prick.” “Woah!” Cherry waved her hands in a motion indicating ‘stop’. “Back it up a bit. What do you mean you can’t do that anymore?” Cherry got up and walked behind Heather to rest her hands on the girl’s shoulders. “This has something to do with how you were becoming afraid of yourself, doesn’t it?” “I was going to get to that,” Heather replied. “I just wasn’t sure how to do it. I was using my abilities more and more and felt that I was losing control over them. One hyperflex at the wrong time, either when startled or maybe while asleep could have had me kill millions or even billions of people…” “Oh-kay! That’s very comforting,” Cindy said. “You could have gone all ‘Goddess of destruction.’” “Wait,” Kat said, “I’m trying to wrap my head around this. So… you can’t hyperflex, anymore, which means the earth is safe from you inadvertently ending all life as we know it, right?” “Um, yes,” Heather allowed. “Where are you going with this?” “Does the loss of your hyperflexing correlate in a causative manner to Ms. Show-N-Tell’s newfound divinity?” Kat asked. “You’re getting ahead of me again,” Heather replied. “I was pushing a lot of my abilities off onto Candi. She seemed to be happy with them and was unlikely to use them to hurt people. Candi has had heightened strength pretty much her whole life, so she was used to it.” “Does that mean I’m not some kind of ‘chosen one’ heroine?” Candi asked. “Not exactly,” Heather said. “I probably should have asked you first, but I didn’t see any good way to do so. Then, Nyx showed up and said that it was Saturnalia, and that Zeus was granting requests, so I didn’t have any time.” “If anyone other than you had just said that, it would be grounds to send them for psychiatric evaluation,” Nikita said. “Who would believe that you had Gods on speed-dial?” “Technically, Nyx and I are titans…” “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Cindy said, “Yeah! I got to use a Shakespeare quote in everyday conversation. That one needs to go onto the bingo card of weird occurrences.” “What else is on that bingo card?” Sadie asked. “Alien invasions, dimensional travel, ancient magic. You know, the usual,” Cindy replied. “I’m pretty close to filling it.” Heather stepped forward, letting Cherry’s supportive grip slip away. “There’s some more to what happened. In addition to losing that ability, I also gave up my high-tier strength. I really don’t know how much I have now. I’m going to have to test it.” Heather paused to think for a second, “From what I see, I still have my aspects of earth and fertility, with Ivey retaining nature.” She looked around the room, “I can see several of you feel like you’re going to burst if you don’t say something snarky about ‘fertility’.” “Too easy,” Kat said, waving it away. “Where do I fit into this?” Candi asked. “Extreme physical enhancement,” Heather said, “Strength, speed, durability. That kind of stuff. I suggest you be very careful when you hyperflex. I don’t know its limits for you.” “That’s not at all disconcerting.” Candi replied. “There’s one last ability that I found out about,” Heather said. “It's one of the basic divine traits. It goes along with immunity to sickness and heightened strength and attractiveness.” “Those are such minor abilities that no one would ever notice them,” Alex said. “I don’t know,” Kat demurred, “I might notice if I lost my allergies all of a sudden, although probably no one else would.” “You know that you’re high powered when you think of becoming a fitness supermodel as a minor change.” Alex replied. “I get it,” Heather said. “But please let me finish.” She pursed her lips, then said, “There’s also a domination ability. It’s always active, even if you don’t know about it. Goddesses attract followers. I hope that you’re mentally prepared for that responsibility.” “Oh…” Kat blinked and pulled her hand away from Candi’s arm, blushing. “Uh… that’s a little disconcerting.” “What is?” Candi asked? “I’m not used to not controlling my own actions,” Kat admitted. “Don’t you notice it?” “I thought that people just liked holding onto my bicep’s peak,” Candi replied. “It’s a convenient place, and it’s something that wouldn’t be threatening to me. I saw it as a friendly gesture. Does it feel good to hold onto me there?” Kat pursed her lips. “It does, actually,” she admitted. “Um… safe, I guess.” “Then I’m the kind of Goddess that people want to be around, sort of a protector.” Candi said. “I like that. Holding onto it means that you feel comforted by it. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to keep things like this a secret, but they tingle when people call me a Goddess or... “ She took a few seconds to continue, “pray to them… like Shayna and Lady Neufchatel do.” “Pity divinity doesn’t come with a written guide,” Sadie snorted. “Unless… Heather? Have you been holding out on us? Is there a players’ handbook for deities and demigods?” “If there is, it’s out of print,” Heather replied. “Does this mean that Candi can’t enter bodybuilding competitions anymore?” Kat asked, setting her hand back onto Candi’s peak. “I mean, isn’t being the goddess of muscles sort of an unfair advantage?” “I…” Candi held up a pointer finger. “That makes sense.” “Maybe you could be a guest poser and a judge,” Sadie suggested. “I thought that the aspects were always something abstract, like strength or protection, rather than specific, like being the goddess of muscles.” Candi said. “I’ve got a bit of studying to do.” “Being able to flex the roof off a building is kind of the opposite of abstract, I think,” Kat drawled. Candi looked at Heather, “Is there anything else you want to say?” “Um…” Heather tapped her chin with her forefinger. “That’s it about my trip to Olympus. I don’t have the winning lottery numbers. There’s no hidden secrets about the werewolf or weremink, not that he’s able to hide anything. I know the spoilers to some old movies… Oh,” she looked to Sadie, “I don’t think you really thought through what I told you before, have you?” “That I’m stronger when I’m around the goddesses? Not really,” Sadie admitted. “I mean… isn’t everybody?” Kat raised her hand, “Can I sign up for that?” “You already did,” Candi said smugly. “Keep hanging out with me and you’re going to get stronger, I promise.” “You mean you’re going to keep badgering me to go to the gym, don’t you?” Candi grinned unrepentantly. “Getting off track, here,” Sadie growled. “So it’s just me, then? Why? What does it mean?” “You are the Devil’s Advocate. That means that you are the personification of opposition to the divine,” Heather said. “It’s your job to keep people humble. It also means that being around multiple avatars of holy power is making you our equal and opposite. Think of how much strength that must be giving you right now.” Sadie paled slightly under her tan. “I wish I was drunk so that thought could just be sobering and not terrifying,” she said. “It could be scarier,” Ivey said. “What if our aspects all had the use of cold-based magic?” Sadie blinked. “Okay, that would be worse. Explain this to me, though,” she said as she pulled her arm up into a tight flex and bore down on it, “I’m flexing as hard as I can, now. Why is this as big as I can get?” Kat sat the fingertip of her free hand onto the inside of Sadie’s elbow. She slid it upward, along the leading edge of Sadie’s flexed bicep. It bumped along the deeply grooved striations and over a couple of protruding veins until it reached the peak. “You’re comparing yourself to their hyperflexed size, aren’t you?” She had her hand raised above her head as she settled it on top of the vein that pulsed over Sadie’s peak. “You could be Cherry’s slightly evil twin. Your biceps is the size of my head.” Kat closed her hand onto the vein and shivered, her hair standing on ends. She could feel Sadie’s pulse echoing through her body, taxing her joints. Her heartbeat was forced to match Sadie’s as her heart struggled not to burst. Kat let go and staggered back, shaken. She gasped for breath and tightened her other hand onto Candi’s peak, blanching her fingertips with the pressure. “Sadie, that’s never going to be a fun ride at an amusement park.” Sadie’s eyes were wide with surprise. “I… felt when my strength overwhelmed you,” she said. “How you felt.” She paused and swallowed. “I’m sorry.” It felt really good to me, she added in her head, and that makes it worse. Alex looked over to Lucas, “That brings the membership of the ‘normal’s club’ down to just us two.” “I’ll… I’ll recover. You can add that to your character sheet as a special attack,” Kat said. “It’ll work against grapples.” “I’ll keep that in mind,” Sadie gave a slight smile. “Candi?” Cherry said. “That was a real offer.” “Huh?” Candi tilted her head. “I can’t be active doing superheroine stuff twenty-four hours every day,” Cherry replied. “Since you haven’t gone out and done it on your own, I’d guess that you’re not looking to be publicly known for it. This would let you be anonymous.” “That’s…” Candi stammered, “I can’t say no to that offer. It’s a real honor. Wow!” “You’re going all fan-girl.” Kat said. “Who wouldn’t?” Candi replied. “I don’t know…” Kat said. Candi used a low voice to say, “Don’t worry about what was brought up before. I’m not planning on hyperflexing through the earth. Killing off one’s followers isn’t a good way to gain their favor.” “What about evil cults?” Kat asked. “We could put on hats with big mouse ears and offer sacrifices to appease you.” She paused for a second, “Whispering in a small room isn’t preventing everyone here from hearing what you just said.” “It makes me more comfortable saying that,” Candi replied. “There’s something that seems so wrong about people doing what you’ve suggested.” “Would you rather we wore hooded robes and held meetings inside of caves or abandoned mansions?” Kat asked. “Do I have to expressly forbid people from holding horrifying rituals in my name?” Candi asked. “How about mildly disturbing ones?” Kat gave a squeeze to Candi’s peak. “Really?” “I’m just trying to feel you up… out.” Kat’s cheeks tinged pink. “Just imagine if you’d spent equal time weightlifting to how much you practice your puns,” Candi said. “I’d be a member of the ‘big guns’ club,” Kat answered. “But I’d have to be the silent type, as I’d have little to say.” “You could grunt and nod,” Candi said. She looked over to Cherry. “Do you mean that I get to put on the costume now? Should there be some kind of ceremony?” “I’ll let you know if I ever come up with any kind of embarrassing initiation,” Cherry picked up her backpack and pulled out a brown paper bag. “I should have had something more impressive looking than this.” Cindy interrupted, “I could have put in some lights to make it cinematic if you’d have let me work on it.” “I’ll keep that in mind for the future,” Cherry answered. Candi took hold of the bag, “I guess I’ll change in the hall.” “There’s no mirror for you to see that everything’s lined up straight,” Cherry replied. “I’ll give you a hand with that.” “You’re all but naked, now,” Sadie pointed out. “Why are you stepping into the hall?” “I have clothes on!” Candi protested. “Sort of,” Kat smirked. “This is what I usually wear,” Candi replied. “You’re the reason that 75% of guys who hang out with musclegirls have hair on their chests,” Cindy added. “That’s because that percentage here is therianthropes,” Candi replied. “Two werewolves and a hypersexual mink. They don’t really count.” “My not counting here really hurts,” Nikita said. “Bite me!” Candi answered. “Stop grinning. That wasn’t an invitation.” “To give you credit, your outfit does cover a good 95% of your skin,” Kat said. “Whoops, I meant five percent. I had it reversed. It must be the awe factor affecting my thinking.” She took a few seconds to leer at Candi. “The upward revision of percentage covered by your top pretending to hide increased boobage is more than counteracted by the increased bicepocity.” “Thank you for putting it into precise mathematical terms,” Candi replied. “That makes it official. Anyways, I’m trying to keep from having a R rating.” “The viewership on the Blazing Trails site would go up if we livestreamed it,” Sadie said. “There’s anyone who doesn’t log in?” Candi asked. “You can do it for when I come in with the costume on.” She left the room, accompanying Cherry. Once the door closed, Candi looked up to Cherry, “We should both change, that way we’ll look like identical twins.” “It’ll be close,” Cherry chuckled. She opened her backpack and pulled out a pair of ankle-high shoes and a domino mask. “Where’s the rest of your costume?” Candi asked. “I have it on under my outfit,” Cherry replied. “I’ve got to be ready in case of an emergency.” She used one foot to push off one shoe, then repeated the action with her other one. After placing them into her bag, she lifted her babydoll shirt off, revealing a painted-on yellow halter top with her blazing comet logo.” “Wow…” Candi said. “The costumes are very form fitting,” Cherry replied. “It just isn’t as noticeable from a distance.” “It’s a good thing that you don’t have an ounce of body fat except for your…” “I know,” Cherry replied. “Everyone reminds me, though you could probably match me in the ‘uncanny valley’ level of flawlessness. That’s probably due to you having regeneration and being a Goddess.” She slid her jogging shorts off, leaving on the yellow and red bikini. She held onto one of Candi’s biceps to balance herself as she slipped on each shoe. “Aren’t you going to change?” She asked as she put her clothes away and pulled on a pair or wrist-length gloves. “Yeah,” Candi blinked a couple of times. “I really should.” She slipped her own shoes off and looked into the paper bag. She peeled off her halter top and slid down the bikini sized cut-offs she had on. “I feel like a rising musical fanfare should accompany putting this on.” “That’s going a bit overboard,” Cherry replied. “You’re not leaving on an epic quest.” “I need to enjoy the moment,” Candi said. “Let me have my fun.” “Yes, Goddess…” Cherry said and looked down. “Um… That wasn’t an order or anything,” Candi replied. “I’d never force you to do anything petty like that.” She thought for a second, This Goddess stuff isn’t easy. She continued, “If I were to require anything of you, it would be to keep being the world’s most admired superheroine. I need someone who's an example I can follow.” Candi picked up the halter top and pulled it on, adjusting the cups of it so that they’d hug beneath her breasts. She smirked, “I fill these out pretty well.” She then flexed her pectorals some, deepening their grooved striations as they raised her breasts. “That does nothing for cup size.” She looked at Cherry, “It looks like you’ve got a slight advantage over me there.” “Thanks,” Cherry replied. “I guess that is my trademark.” “That and the perfect, shiny blonde bob.” Candi said as she pulled out the bikini bottoms and straps. “Could you help with these?” Cherry attached the parts of the costume after Candi pulled on the bottoms. “They’re supposed to frame and draw attention to your abs. They’re supposed to be the obvious target for the bad guys to shoot at.” She tapped her fingers on one of Candi’s swells. “These are invulnerable. The costume isn’t.” Candi flexed her abdominals in response, increasing their definition while causing their veins to show more prominently. “That’s a good idea. It probably keeps down the number of times you need to replace the costume.” Cherry nodded and put on her mask. “The rest should be easy to do.” Candi slipped her feet into each of the rolled-down boots and smoothed them up her legs. As she did so, the material pulled tight enough to show each vein and striation. It also showed lines running along it where the fabric was splitting over her heart-shaped calves and wide quadriceps. “We’re not exactly the same size.” “I didn’t expect us to be,” Comet Girl said. “Don’t worry, we can get you new boots that are made to handle your superior buffness.” “That’s a very nice way to say that,” Candi took out the rolled-up gloves and slid her hands into them. “Can you get these smoothed out onto me?” The superheroine smoothed them over Candi’s forearms as she held her arms straight up and down. “The fabric has a lot of springiness to let it stretch to hug every feature. It looks like your forearms aren’t too wide for it.” She unrolled the sleeves up over the swell of one of Candi’s biceps, with the material gaining several runs in it and nearly giving way. “I kind of expected it not to fit here. You are the Goddess of muscles, after all.” She smoothed the fabric over the prominently grooved striations and thick veins. “Let me get the mask to complete the ensemble.” “How do I look?” Candi asked as her hair was straightened. “Perfect!” The blonde superheroine opened the door to the gaming room and went inside. “I think I found someone who can help fill in for me in an emergency. What do all of you think?” Candi’s cheeks flushed pink as she walked inside, “Posing in front of people is easier than this. Um, how do I look?” She walked halfway across the room , causing the material on the boots to separate and pull away from her calves, while that over her quadriceps split and hung down over her knees. As she raised one hand to slide her fingers through her hair, the action caused her bicep to swell, raising her peak to wrist height. There was a loud ‘Shrip!’ as the fabric from the glove split. “Oops…” “If you’re gonna be going through one of those every other week,” Kat drawled, “I think we’re gonna have to give Throg a lot more labor.” “I could have a more ‘extreme version’, sort of ‘90s looking, with inch-thick steel arm and leg bands.” Candi suggested. “Which would solve the problem of you ‘accidentally’ flexing through them… how, exactly?” Sadie asked sweetly. “I’m not flexing…” Candi said “Exactly,” Sadie replied, “Unless your goal is bankruptcy, I don’t see the steel-bands version as a solution to anything, really.” She thought for a second, “It would work if your goal was to… I can’t think of a term for ‘emasculating’ Cherry.” “That’s probably a good thing, given that I don’t think Cherry wants to be seen as masculine,” Kat noted. “Dominate,” Heather suggested. “Though that’s more fun to do in private.” Comet Girl’s cheeks reddened, “Since there’s no material on earth that’ll survive, we’ll go with you using the costume version I’m using and me using yours.” Sadie pursed her lips. “No material…” she made finger quotes, “‘on earth.’ I remember Ivey saying something about an indestructible suit of cursed armor, once upon a time. I wonder if that would work?” “I heard about it in one of the taverns in Queen Gouda’s capitol city,” Ivey said. “At least it sounds like it’s cursed. The bard’s poem talked about the armor being invulnerable and unbendable. It’s every size, or, more accurately, shrinks to size, invariably crushing its wearer.” “How am I supposed to get it, and won’t that defeat the purpose of having an indistinguishable stand-in for Comet Girl?” Candi gestured toward the superheroine. “Last question, first,” Sadie said. “It totally would. Is that an excuse not to get it, then? Have you decided you don’t like showing off after all?” “I’d be more like a tag-team partner,” Candi replied. “But isn’t that Heather’s job?” “I think there’s enough room for more than one person to be active at a time,” Heather said. “That’s like saying there’s too many healers in an adventuring party.” “Thanks for putting it into gaming terms,” William said. “It makes me almost relevant.” Candi looked at Comet Girl, “What do you think? This was your idea.” “Maybe if you wore it under your Comet Girl costume? It might keep you from flexing out of your income bracket,” Kat suggested. “That would be kind of uncomfortable, and would hide an unacceptable amount of skin,” Candi replied. The costumed superheroine had been holding the corner of her lower lip in-between her teeth, staring at Candi as she talked with Kat. “I sort of knew you were going to tear through the costume. I just wanted to see it happen.” “Sister,” Sadie chuckled, “you’re weird. Cute, but weird.” Candi turned to look at Sadie, “Isn’t that obvious?” “I wasn’t referring to you,” Sadie pointed at Comet Girl. “I meant the submissive supermodel.” Kat cleared her throat. “Regardless,” she said, looking pointedly at the therianthropic mousegirl, “I think throwing out the indestructible costume idea before we even acquire it may be a bit like tossing the infant with the tubwater. I think we should make it a point to get the thing before we discount it, yeah?” “I sense an adventure about to happen,” Candi said. “You’re the one with the gate key, so I’ll leave it up to you when we go.” She looked at Comet Girl, “Will you be disappointed if I’m not wearing one of your costumes?” “I think I’ll be able to handle it, Goddess.” She took hold of the fabric that was drooping from the torn sleeve, and leaned in to give a kiss to the bicep’s peak. Candi’s eyes widened as she felt her biceps tingle. Her muscles tightened, swelling slightly. She thought, I can’t think of anything to say. I’m feeling kinda dizzy. Alex blinked, then held up her hand. “I’d like to put five bucks to a ‘that was sexy, do it again,’ fund. Moneybags McKat can be the exchequer.” “I thought you were hetero-,” Kat asked. “So did I…” Alex replied. “I don’t think preference has anything to do with it,” William said. “I’d bet Ivey and Heather can sense this, too. Gods have a divine aura, fifteen-foot radius. Or something.” “I’m not immune, either,” Nikita said. “You’ve been in perpetual awe of them since you first saw them,” Cindy said. “There’s no real way to notice any difference.” “Also,” Sadie noted, “your flagpole has been at full-mast since before we sat down. I don’t think it has anything to do with projected divinity in your case.” “Is it that obvious?” He asked. Sadie tilted her head forward and looked up at him, “I’d been considering climbing it, to get a little extra triceps work in this afternoon,” she remarked. “That would be the safest way to use it,” Kat agreed. “True,” Sadie agreed. “Cute as they might be, I don’t need a half-dozen fuzzy minklets running around my bedroom, no matter how tasty Gary thinks they would be. Sorry, Nikita.” “I’d be curious to try using it, but I definitely wouldn’t survive,” Kat added. “Tasty?” Nikita asked. “Some free advice: never tell Gary to ‘eat me:’ he is a demon, after all,” Sadie explained. “He’d take you literally.” “I think we’ve all got an idea of what changes have happened now,” Heather said. “It’s good that we’ve got a flexible game master who can adapt adventures ‘on the fly’.” “We still don’t know Heather’s and Ivey’s strength stats,” William said. “How about putting them at thirty until next session?” Lucas asked. “Sounds good to me,” Ivey replied. “So, you were all at the entrance to the publicly known, yet somehow lost caverns…” William continued....
First and Zeroes

Mature Content

Not exactly a wishing well 1. Jump the rope"You think this is some sort of game? Do you remember what happened last time you didn’t listen to me when I told you something?" Manuel hollered with a balled fist held threateningly near the nose of Roger. Roger himself stood helplessly beside Noah, waiting for the punch to come. However, behind the veil of squeezed eyelids, nothing came. As Roger peeked, he thought the dread to be in the past, yet the nightmare wasn’t over. In fact, it was only beginning. "Put the hair ties in your hair, you little faggot! Make ‘em nice and pretty, like all the faggots like their little bitch boys!" Manuel kept on going, with the mouth of a tempered sailor. Noah, taller and lankier, with a general demeanour even more defenceless than that of Roger, had already gone about putting the hair ties in his hair, just as Manuel instructed. Two different hair ties were used to create pigtails atop his head, the kind which was often seen on young girls. Sobbing and helpless as he was surrounded by Manuel and his gang of eighth graders, Roger carefully maneuvered the hair ties into his own hair, creating two embarrassing pigtails the same as his best friend had. The bullies began to laugh aloud, one of them holding out his phone and snapping pictures of the two. One of the boys from Manuel’s gang shouted in delight, he was the one Roger called "Crater" because his face was terribly ridden with acne. Of course, Roger would never call him such to his face, unless he cared for a crater in his own head through a swift beating. "Oh, this is too good!" Steve, the guy with the phone laughed. "Let me post this online, so you two lovebirds get all the attention you deserve!" And his laughing ensued. Another one, probably the most intelligent of the group, but never enough so to keep the horrendous bullying from happening, was Jasper, or 'Carrot' as Roger and Noah had silently dubbed him, not unexpectedly due to his hair colour. Carrot spoke up, slapping Steve one good time to the arm. "Load it up on the other account, jackass, or they’ll know who did this! I don’t want to end up with a detention." The last of the vile fivesome was Wal. Wal was a renowned pyromaniac. The extent of his damages from the public perspective resided in a gruesome burning of a neighbourhood tool shed on a Halloween night, something he'd blamed on secretive smoking and a dropped fag when they were discovered by the tool shed's owner. Nevertheless there had been quite some drama involving the fire brigade and the social authorities threatening to take Will away from his single mother and a Presbyterian preacher intervening, promising to take the lad under his wings if he was only allowed to remain at home. It had gone so-so at its best.The truth, or from what Roger had been told in the myriad of scare tactics used to keep the younger kids under control, was that Wal was responsible for a house fire that happened two years prior when they were all in the sixth grade. Wal still smiled when the news came on during anniversaries, those that were designed to pay respect to the single mother and her daughter that were lost in the home. To Wal, it seemed like a sickening homage to his success. He got away with it, if the tale was in fact, true. This afternoon, Wal stayed mostly out of the verbal exchange, striking up a match or two on the outskirts of the closed circle around Noah and Roger, saying nothing. Manuel suddenly reached back toward Carrot. "Did you get it?" he asked impatiently. "Yeah. Pink, too," Carrot snorted. Manuel snatched the object away from Carrot, revealing it to be a jump rope, like those used in gym class. It was mostly white, except for the bright pink handles. "Time to have a little fun, faggots," a dark grin came over Manuel’s face. "Get to movin’!" By that, he shoved Roger in the back, sending him toward the more open part of the school’s quad, a social square for lunch breaks. Walking like prodded, helpless slaves, bound by fear instead of ropes, Noah and Roger proceeded with the group to one of the smaller trees in the quad, the most open and obvious one to other students. Manuel tied one end of the long jump rope to the narrow trunk of the tree and put the other end in Noah’s hand. "Time to play jump rope, like the little girls you two are, huh?" Manuel simpered. "Why don’t you show the whole school what little faggots you are and play jump rope, huh?" The tagline 'huh' was less of a question and more of a demand, a conclusory statement, like 'there’s no going back now unless you want to be beat to a bloody pulp or worse'. Roger had enough terrible beatings to know there was no chance to stop what was happening. Without faculty intervention, or divine intervention, if such a thing existed, Roger was doomed to do exactly what he was told. No great beam of light parted the clouds this time either and Noah stood staring hopelessly at Roger, as an audience of curious school children began turning their heads their way, looking at the spectacle and already beginning to giggle at the ridiculous pigtails at Roger's and Noah's heads. In dread, Roger returned his gaze to Noah, as if administering a silent, 'Let’s get this over with'. With a sigh, Noah began to swing the rope and Roger jumped over it, occasionally getting tripped up. The other school children closed in, beginning to laugh aloud. Yet, Roger had finally stopped crying. He saved those tears for the realization that his day would be spoiled by the brats, not for the resolve of getting through whatever would happen. The fortunate thing about all of the attention was that it wouldn’t take long before a teacher or supervisor moved in and broke up the act. Until then, it continued. Crater shoved at Manuel’s arm. "Hey, how ‘bout we say that every time the shit bag trips, we punch him in the gut." Then he laughed his high-pitched, nails-to-the-chalkboard laugh, bringing Roger to cringe. He tripped again. "Sounds like a good idea. Better jump a little better, faggot." Manuel laughed himself. Carrot watched the events in silence, having donned his normal, amused smirk, while Steve looked half-bored by the spectacle and Wal kept an eye out for any adults. Roger focused on Noah for a minute as he swung the jump rope around and around with a simple, rhythmic pattern. Noah was different from Roger in the way he seemed to just 'disconnect' when these events came about. His eyes glazed over. He never cried, he just seemed to step out of his body and turn into a robot that did whatever it was programmed to do. Today the program was to swing the rope, humiliate yourself and your friend to prevent physical violence and having to explain bruises, bloodied noses and black eyes to his parents that always said they would do something, but never actually did. In the end, they were a lot like Noah. The kids continued to laugh, some of them recording the event with their phones, destined to send the act into cyberspace where it would undoubtedly travel virally from one person to the next. The video would land in the hands of objectors that would use it to push an otherwise pointless agenda from behind their desks to end bullying, without actually having to make any other personal contribution. It would go off to other kids that would make music videos out of it, dubbing in sounds and editing the footage. It would land in the hands of paedophiles that would love to get a look at an eighth grade boy with pigtails in his hair, jumping a rope. Roger and Noah just hoped that it would end here and tomorrow would be another day with another program. The intervention eventually came in the form of Sarah Bancroft. "Hey! What’s going on here?" As the tall, slender woman with spiky blonde hair made her way through the crowd of children, they moved to the side like the waves for Moses. When she finally got to the centre of the group, she brought a slender hand quickly over her mouth. "Roger! Noah! What are you two doing?" she asked, almost as if they were jumping rope in pigtails because they wanted to. Noah stopped, looking over his shoulder to Sarah Bancroft. He stared at her from behind those large glasses he wore, not answering the question immediately. Then he looked toward the five boys surrounding him and Roger, all of which were rapidly making their way from the group, toward the doors and towards the school’s halls. But not too fast, all to avoid being associated with what had been going on. Then, Noah looked at Roger, hoping he’d provide a logical answer for the absurdity they’d been damned to carry out. Roger, in turn, sought for an answer - anything that didn’t rat out the bullies. If he dared to do that, which he’d done before, he would have faced a wrath much worse than anything he’d normally experienced. "We were..." Roger began, with an obvious pause that denoted the immediate guilt of lying, "...just playing a new game." Sarah Bancroft watched the two quietly in disbelief before challenging Roger’s suggestion. "You two put pigtails in your hair and decided to jump rope as a game?" Her question prompted additional laughter from the children. "Yeah. We saw it on the internet." Roger knew that was the thing that would get him out of it. In a weird world where 'planking', the 'Harlem Shake' and other ridiculous pop-culture trends rose and vanished, the internet always was a decent scapegoat for the unexplainable. Sarah Bancroft shook her head in puzzlement. "I just don’t understand you kids these days. Take those out of your hair and get on to class. The bell’s about to ring. Does that rope belong to the school?" "Don't know," Roger replied with a shrug. "It wasn’t I who got it in the first place." With a superior scoff, Sarah Bancroft gestured to the doors of the school building. "Get on. No more of this, you hear?" she said. Saying nothing, Roger and Noah began their slow trudge toward the building, tugging the hair ties from their head. Noah looked back Sarah Bancroft’s way and nodded, before continuing his slow march beside Roger."We should have done something." Roger said, as he always said after it was all over with. "Like what? Say something and get beat up?" Noah replied, running his arm across his nose. "I don’t know! We can’t keep taking this all the time, Noah! How long is it going to be before these guys do something really bad, huh? You think all of this is bad? This is nothing compared to what they can do. Noah, some people say Wal actually killed some people! Killed them!" Roger shouted as they neared the door. He shook his head in defeat as they arrived. As the two stopped in front of the door, Roger looked back to Sarah Bancroft, who was still eyeing the rope and the tree it was tied to, with scepticism. Eventually, Roger’s eyes settled on Noah, who still wore a tall spire of hair atop his head, one that formed with the hair ties they were forced to wear. "Well?" Roger asked. "I just don’t know what to do, Roger. If I knew, I would’ve done it," Noah sighed, pushing the door open. The second the door came open, hands flew from the opening, viciously snagging a hold of the two boys. They were slammed against the walls, Roger left to face Carrot, Noah in front of Wal. Terror came over the eyes of the two, hoping the gang hadn’t overheard their conversation. "How many times did he trip? Manuel asked with a sickly grin."Four," Crater replied. Toothy, satisfied smile at his face. Manuel nodded. "Well, two for you!" And as Carrot held Roger still, Manuel slammed a clenched fist into Roger’s gut twice. Noah’s eyes went wide as he realized what was happening. Their attempts at going along with the humiliating act in the quad didn’t save them from what was coming - it just delayed it. Manuel stepped over toward Noah as Roger doubled over when Carrot let him go, allowing him to slide down the wall and to the floor, gasping for air. Manuel stopped in front of Noah. "Willing to take two for your girlfriend, Noah, or should we give him the other two?" Noah began to slip into his normal ritual, where he disconnected, and he didn’t give an answer. "Answer me, fucktard, before I do it anyway! No objection means you’re alright with him getting beat a little more, huh?" Manuel grabbed Noah’s chin, staring him in the eyes. "Don’t care about your girlfriend, huh? Noah?" Manuel asked in a mock-sweet voice that didn’t seem compassionate in the least, despite the pitiful act. Manuel pat Noah’s chin softly and gestured for Carrot to lift Roger up again. Still barely able to breath, Roger was lifted and pushed against the wall again. "Get this over with quick. We have to get out of here." Carrot said, keeping with his normal level of awareness. Manuel nodded with a smile. "Oh, this won’t take long." He paused in front of Roger. "Seems your boyfriend here isn’t willing to take your shots. Ain’t a very good friend you got, Jake. Well..." And Manuel shrugged, almost as if he really had no choice in his own actions. He slammed another fist into Roger’s stomach, causing him to reel forward. "Night, night, sucker," were the last words Roger heard, before the last swing sailed violently into his head, bringing on the darkness of unconsciousness....
Out there and back 1. Off the island
Trevor Duke yawned as he watched the colours of the sunrise inching down the mountains, standing at the edge of a palm-fringed white sand beach, listening to the ocean lapping at the shore. Neil Miles, Sarah Toreau, and Lee Goldman were sitting around a small campfire. Sarah making a brew of tea while Lee shared out the rations. It was a meagre fare – they had been on half-rations for the first ten days they’d been stranded on the beach and they were now so short of food that they had reduced it to one-quarter rations for the last two days. Throughout that time, Trevor had been reporting in to base every morning, asking for a helicopter lift out. And every morning had he received the same reply, "Negative, no air resources available. You’ll have to stay where you are until resources can be spared."."We’re short of rations," Trevor had complained for the tenth time. "We need to be lifted out.""Nothing available," the voice over the radio had said. "You’ll have to wait.".That morning Trevor had been determined not to be brushed off again. "Base, we need a lift-out," he had repeated himself as soon as he made contact. "I don’t think you realise the seriousness of our situation.".The same mantra had been repeated. "Nothing available. You’ll have to wait."."Patch Super Sunray into this," he’d said, using the NATO signals designation for the most senior officer involved in the operation. Super Sunray denoted the Commanding Officer of 22 SAS, the most powerful Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army. Trevor had no means of knowing where the CO was - he might well be on the other side of the planet, running the overall operation from where he'd support it best or he could be on the ground in Mupar medal hunting. Until the advent of satellite communications it was understood the CO would be in the base in Hereford fighting the political battles, but there are few medals to be won there..As soon as he had confirmation that the CO was part of the conversation, Trevor outlined his situation. "Boss, we’re very short of rations and we’re short of ammunition." He knew that while he had to explain how precarious their situation was he mustn’t overstate his case. He had no way of knowing if other patrols were in graver situations and being truthful in operational situations was the very essence of SAS soldiering. "If we get into a contact with the rebels there’s every chance they’ll over-run us. If that happens, you’ll be one patrol short because we gave them the good news ten days ago and if they get a chance at us, they won’t be slow to take revenge. So if you can’t find a helicopter anywhere in Mupar for a lift-out, you’d better order up four body bags instead.".There was a long silence after that, air sparkling with statics. "Wait out," the disembodied voice had said. Trevor sipped his tea as he waited for the Head Shed to come back on the line. The CO’s voice had been impassive. Then the connection had been broken."Yay," Neil said, as Trevor told them the news. "I was beginning to think I’d never see a pint of beer again.".Neil was a hard man who delighted in playing up to every working class stereotype there was, but Trevor knew that despite the lack of a formal education, Neil was one of the most intelligent men he’d ever met. Only a short fuse and a reluctance to suffer fools gladly had prevented him from reaching high rank. He’d risen as high as Sergeant twice but both times had been busted back down to the ranks after settling disagreements - first with an Admin Warrant Officer, and then a Squadron Sergeant Major - with his fists. Had he not been such a good soldier or had either of the men he flattened been commissioned officers rather than NCOs, Neil would almost certainly have been RTU’d - sent back to his former unit. But even the SAS was not so well off for good men that they could dispense with somebody of Neil’s qualities..Neil was older than the other three, who'd all gone through Selection together. The patrol medic, Sarah Toreau, the only woman on the team had the body of a swimmer and the language to make sailors blush. She was a genuine blond and both her full lips and full breast were genuine, still she was as tough as an old army boot and a very gifted medic. She'd joined the Regiment because it offered the best opportunity to practise his skills in her chosen field - battlefield trauma. Lee was a stout, barrel chested man with a aquiline nose and receding black curls and the only smoker on the team, however the lack of cigarettes had made him informing them that he now was quitting. The hard way..As soon as Trevor passed on the news, they packed up their kit and began making their way along the coast towards the Landing Zone. Their route took them close to an inhabited village, evidently one that the rebels had so far not targeted and destroyed. They skirted it at some distance. A couple of gaunt figures appeared at the edge of the settlement, watching them pass by, but there was no attempt to intercept them..Something didn’t seem right to Trevor and it took him a while to figure out what it was. Then he realized that there were no dogs. He realised almost immediately why that was – Mupar was a land where everyone was on the brink of starvation and pets and guard dogs had become just another food source. Wedged in between India and Pakistan, the small post-islamic nation had been bleeding through several civil wars until it finally ended up beneath the fist of a military regime lead by the relentless and mysterious former general Ervatamia..Three miles beyond the village they reached a broad stretch of sand bordered by low scrub, an area the Head Shed had designated as the Landing Zone. They carried out a drone to make sure the area was secure and then readied the air marker panels. The panels were reflective plastic, virtually invisible from ground level but which showed up vividly from the air. Job done, they settled down to wait for the helicopter to arrive..Just before noon, they heard the sound of rotors and saw a black speck in the sky, growing rapidly larger as it flew towards them. They were astonished to see that it was not one of the usual Special Forces choppers - a Puma or Chinook - but a Russian Mi-2 helicopter, known by its NATO nickname of Grasshopper. It looked clumsy and ungainly in flight with the bulge above the cab that housed its engines and air intakes was almost as large as the cab itself. "Will you look at that?" Lee said. "It looks like two helicopters mating.""I don’t care what it looks like," Sarah huffed, "just as long as it gets us the hell out of here.""Keep your fingers crossed about that then," Neil growled. "From what I remember, it’s got about the same load-carrying capacity and range as a Mini.".They laid out the air marker panels and went into all round defence mode as the vessel came into land. The downdraught from the rotors lashed the palm fronds and whipped up flurries of sand, almost blinding them. To their amazement, the pilot then shut down the engines, something that went against every SF and RAF rulebook. Trevor dashed to the pilot’s door and could immediately see the reason for the error. Instead of a fresh faced RAF SF pilot, he saw a middle-aged man in a Russian flying suit with Belarus badges on both sleeves. Trevor pointed at the rotors and made a whirling sign with his hand but the pilot simply shrugged. When the dust and noise had finally settled, they discovered that the nationality of the pilot was as surprising as his aircraft. Michail was a stocky Belarus who looked more like a nightclub bouncer than a pilot.."This is the only chopper available?" Lee asked."This is all there is," Michail said in his heavily accented English. "You don’t want to fly in it, that’s fine by me. I get paid either way." He shrugged carelessly. "Anyone who doesn’t want to fly with me can stay here.""No, no, we’ll fly in it," Trevor insisted, "providing you think you can get it airborne with all of us and our kit on board."."We have a lot of fuel on board which we need to get us to Kalipar but the only way to find out is try, yes?" Michail grinned. "Shall we make a wager?""I don’t suppose you brought any food with you?" Sarah said. Michail just shook his head. "No, I didn’t think you would have." She gave a theatrical sigh as she threw her bergen into the chopper and clambered aboard. "Come on then guys, chop chop. If we get a move on we might just be in time for an all-day breakfast at a Kalipar greasy spoon.""I can see that being a recipe for disaster," Lee said. "I think I’ll stick with ration packs."."What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger," Neil laughed, slapping him on the back. The two men followed Sarah into the back of the helicopter. Trevor sat up front with the pilot and the initial frost between them soon thawed as Michail went through his preflight checks.."What brings you to Mupar?" Trevor asked."When the Cold War ended, there wasn’t much demand for ex-military helicopter pilots back home so I thought I’d try my luck further out in in Asia," Michail said. "And I ended up in this little corner of the world just by a coincidence. And a woman named Cynthia. Until recently, I was earning a reasonable living ferrying airline passengers between the airport and Kalipar. The airport’s at the north side of the Mupar River, Kalipar’s on the opposite bank. There’s no bridge anymore, not since the last war. So passengers heading for the city either have to take a ferry or a very long road detour - about 180 kilometres - and the roads are far from secure. Talibans and similar crooks still in the mountains. The unrest and the Civil Wars here has cut the number of civilian flights - and the number of people on them - so I’m lucky to see one or two passengers a month these days. So until the NATO Army arrived, I’d been whiling my time away in Kalipar, making a dollar where I could, but mostly drinking too much vodka and watching satellite TV whenever there wasn’t a power cut. But now I’m - how do you say it? - back on Easy Street because I have a contract with the British Army. They don’t have enough helicopters to support their operations, so I fill in for them where I can."."So you’re a mercenary?""A mercenary?""A soldier for hire.""That’s what I am," Michail laughed and slapped his leg. "A soldier for hire.".There was a whining sound from the turbines as he pressed the starter, then the engines coughed like a heavy smoker clearing his lungs and rumbled into life, belching out diesel fumes. Michail shifted the lever into flight idle and the rotors began to turn, slowly at first then accelerating rapidly into a blur of motion as the downwash whipped up such a storm of sand and dust that the landscape disappeared from view. Michail's gaze flickered across the gauges, then he gave a thumbs up to Trevor and raised the collective. The helicopter lifted on its springs with an almost human groaning sound. Even though they’d been carrying minimum kit, the four passengers on board were stretching the vessel to its limits. The helicopter rose painfully slowly, struggling to break free of gravity. It juddered in the downwash, its engines screaming and its airframe vibrating so hard it sounded as if it was shaking itself apart.."Bloody hell!" Trevor said. "Good thing we’ve been on starvation rations for a fortnight. If we hadn’t lost a few pounds, I don’t think we’d have got airborne at all.""Lee’s just shat himself if that’s any help," Sarah said..The rotors eventually bit into cleaner air and the noise and juddering decreased as the helicopter rose sluggishly from the beach and wheeled away towards Kalipar. Looking down, Trevor could see the scorch marks and devastation as they flew over the ruined village he and his patrol had found when they carried out a recce on their first day in Mupar. It was a reminder, if any was needed, that the orphaned and brutalised children they had freed from the rebels were not yet safe, and he made a private vow to himself to do whatever he could to help them..Trevor was grateful the flight to Kalipar was a short one because the fuel gauge had been falling like a stone throughout the flight. It was showing close to empty as the helicopter breasted a ridge and approached the capital in the foothills of Mount Celeia. A small cluster of scintillating high-rise buildings at its centre rapidly giving way to ranks of ugly concrete buildings and then palm-roofed shacks. Michail overflew the civilian heliport and brought the chopper in to land at the Mupar Air Force Headquarters near the head of Corabad..As the rotors wound down and the dust settled, Trevor and the others shook hands with their pilot and strolled across the cracked and weed-strewn concrete hard-standing towards the barbed wire compound where the SAS Operational Squadron had set up its headquarters. The first thing they did was to find something to eat and then went to report to Mart East, the Operational Squadron commanding officer. The man kept them waiting for twenty minutes and when he did see them, his body language and the way his gaze kept straying to the papers on his desk suggested he already had his hands full running his own squadron and the additional presence of Trevor’s patrol was a distraction he could do well without..East nodded distractedly as Trevor completed his report on the task that had brought them to Mupar in the first place, a beach landing the patrol had organised by what had turned out to be a troop of Iranian mercenaries. East spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness."I’ve nothing for you at the moment and you’ve earned a bit of downtime, so why don’t you check in at the Hotel Palais at Silagu Street?" He scribbled a signature on a printed form and handed it to Trevor. "It’s one of the few hotels still operating. Just hand that to the owner. We have an arrangement with him, so just relax and take it easy and if I need you for anything, I’ll give you a call.".Trevor knew when he was being given the bum’s rush, but it was pointless arguing about it so he just nodded. "No problem, Boss. And do you mind if I raise the plight of those children with some of the aid agencies here?""Children?" East scratched his stubbled chin."The only survivors of the massacre of an entire village. I told you about it and gave you the map coordinates.""Ah yes, yes, a tragic business," the officer looked pained, "but all too common here, I’m afraid.".Trevor waited for East to say something more, but when he didn’t, Trevor didn’t pursue the matter. Since he hadn’t been ordered not to contact the aid agencies, he kept his mouth shut and chose to take East's silence as acquiescence."And is there transport to get us to this hotel?" Neil asked. "Or are vehicles like choppers around here - as rare as rocking horse shit?".East flashed Neil a tight smile. "There are a few vehicles the mechanics have been working on. They’re beaten-up but driveable, you can take one of those.".Leaving East, the team went outside into the blistering sunshine. At parked row at the side of the compound, they chose the least battered and bullet-holed Jeep, helped themselves to some ammunition from the armoury and replenished their rations, then drove out of the base. The road on either side of the gates was lined by the ragged stalls of traders and craftsmen who'd set up a sort of informal market in the hope of attracting trade. The poverty of the country was shown in the limited range of goods on offer, with men and women sitting cross-legged in the dirt selling a handful of plantain bananas, sandals made from recycled car tyres, a couple of battered paperbacks or a few empty tins and bottles or scraps of fabric they must have reclaimed from the city dump. There was also a metal worker there, his hammers beating out a tinny rhythm as he pounded pieces of scrap metal and flattened tin to make cooking pots and water carriers, while a sweating boy, perhaps his son, pumped the bellows of his primitive forge. Trevor had never seen such abject poverty. The road was a wasteland of potholes and crisscrossed by tank tracks that had torn up the surface. The Jeep bounced and jolted over the ruts as they drove on. Every mile or so they passed the rusting wrecks of vehicles, crashed or ambushed, then bulldozed off the road..As they rounded the head of Corabad and turned onto the Beach Road, the views improved dramatically. The palm-fringed, pristine white sands stretched away from them for miles, towards the lighthouse at Cape Mupar. The beaches looked as beautiful as anywhere in the world, but in this war-torn country there were no tourists to enjoy them and they saw not a soul as they drove along..They passed a few mud-and-thatch huts and an occasional concrete building on the beach side of the road, many of them with sun-faded signs advertising beer and Coke, though they looked more like jails than bars with steel shutters covering the doors and iron bars across the windows. Almost all were closed and shuttered, vandalised or derelict, many pitted with the marks of gunfire and with smoke-blackened windows. Several were completely burnt out..Hotel Palais proved to be an ugly two-storey concrete block with a flat roof and the familiar bullet-marks on its stained facade."Bloody hell," Neil said as he caught sight of it. "I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a building anywhere in Mupar that hasn’t been shot up.""At least this one’s open for business," Trevor said. "Though I’m guessing there won’t be much in the way of room service.""Mate, I’ll be happy if the bed’s got sheets and a pillow," Lee chimed in."Looking on the bright side, no one’s going to be hogging the sunbeds around the pool," Sarah added."If there is a pool, which I seriously doubt," Neil said..The owner of the hotel, a paunchy man on his forties with a thick, black moustache and slicked-back hair, eased himself out of a cane chair in the lobby, beneath a ceiling fan that turned with a slow, rusty squeak. As they watched him fumble behind the counter for the room keys, they could hear a steady dripping sound from down the corridor. "At least we know the water supply’s working," Lee said with a wink."Even better than that," Neil added. "There’s a bar as well, and I can definitely see e a bottle of whisky on the shelf. They've must thrown out Muhammed's faith with the last upheaval.".Trevor ordered a twenty minutes break for showers and such and then they were to meet down in said bar.
Twos and Onwards
Not exactly a wishing well 2. Run, run awayRoger woke up in the school nurse’s office. Noah was sitting in a waiting chair a short distance away from him, with his head hung low in shame. As Roger’s eyes adjusted to the bright and florescent light, the images of a few worried faces came into focus. Roger’s mothers looked him over speculatively, trying to see all of the damage. A question was sent from Noah's mother: "So, another kid did this?" she asked. The sound came as if through a distorted filter as consciousness flooded back into Roger. The group looked down to him. "Roger! Baby, are you alright?" his mother leaned down to him, kissing him softly on the forehead. "Did someone do this to you?" Noah's mother filled in, "did someone hurt you?" Not replying immediately, Roger looked at Noah, who obviously hadn’t said much about the incident. It was 'policy' for the two friends to keep the scuffles to themselves. There was a time when they brought the bullying up to the faculty and it managed to intensify the situation tenfold. Since then, the two reacted by maintaining the secret of their abuse in confidence. "No," Roger shook his head. "I tripped." Short and without much detail. It allowed him to survey the potential questions better, without having to fabricate a difficult lie. The nurse smirked, seeming to know better however she didn’t say anything to interfere with Roger’s mother's questions. "You fell on your eye?" his mother didn’t seem very convinced. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen Roger like this but she never did have to come to the school to respond to a situation like this. "You need to tell me if someone did this to you, Roger, so we can fix it." Roger sat up instantly, causing the small audience to take a step back in unison. "I told you I tripped!" he snarled, unwilling to fold. His mother looked at Noah's mother and a long sigh left her. "Come on, I’m taking you home," she put a hand to Roger’s shoulder as he hopped down from the stretcher. As the three of them walked toward the door, Roger looked toward Noah, who glanced back quickly before returning his gaze to the ground. "See ya, Rog," he managed but Roger didn’t respond. He continued to watch his friend as he was ushered out of the door. ***That evening, Roger's parents ensured that he was in attendance for dinner. The meal began quiet, with the small group feeling one another out, Roger's baby sister Clara not doing much more than pladdering her innocent playschool gossip which no one really was listening to. His parents gave each other the occasional looks, unsure if any of them wanted to start the conversation or not, and Roger wondered what his mother had told his father upon his return from work earlier. Eventually, Roger's father spoke up. "Roger, we really want to talk to you about what happened today. Do you understand how important this is?" Roger shuffled a stripe of sweet potatoes from one side of his plate to the other, like a hockey puck in an ice rink. He let out a long, begrudged sigh but he didn’t answer. He knew the attempt at talking was coming. His mother nodded softly, as if understanding, nonverbally, that it was her turn to speak. "Roger, we’re going to take care of this situation whether you tell us or not. I’ve already spoken with Principal Shoemacher and he says he knows what happened. Some kids were bullying you in the quad today, weren’t they? He said he spoke with Sarah Bancroft. What were their names, Rog?" Roger continued to be reluctant. Instead of feeling good about his parent's efforts to change things, he felt concerned that they were probing at all, for fear that any effort of theirs to stop the kids was going to infuriate them into even more violent action. "I don’t want to talk about it," Roger whispered. "You don’t have a choice, Rog," his father returned firmly, putting down his cutlery. "I don’t want to talk about it, I said!" Roger yelled, slamming his fork down onto his plate. Both his mom and dad shot back in their seats, surprised. Prior to that moment, Roger had never acted so brashly. He stood, turned on his heel and stomped his way toward his room, abandoning the conflict but for a call out from the table. "Roger! We’re not done!" his father shouted angrily. It didn’t make a difference. A second later, Roger entered his room, slammed the door and ended the conversation forcefully. His parents made no further effort to get through to him that evening. They decided that the best thing to do was to try to resolve the issue through their own channels, unaware of the potential danger in doing just that. The communication block between Roger and his parents made it impossible to prevent the worst.And the worst manifested itself a couple of days later. ***"Why didn’t you say anything?" Roger asked, walking beside Noah. He’d lifted a small stone from the ground and sent it sailing off into the trees at their right. Noah, still beating himself up over the incident, shrugged. "I'm sorry, I just froze. You know I didn’t want him to hit you again! I would have taken the punches for you, but..." and he fell quiet. "But? You didn’t," Roger returned. "And he knocked me out. And now my parents are on my case about ‘who did it’ and ‘how they’re going to get everything fixed’ and stuff. We’re in trouble, Noah. When they find out..." "If they find out, huh?" a voice from behind them came through, horribly familiar. Slowly, Noah and Roger looked over their shoulder to find the source. The gang walked up beside them, three of them followed by a more distracted Wal. Roger swallowed hard, feeling the 'fight or flight' instincts within himself kicking in, adrenaline starting to hum in his ears. Noah glanced to Roger with a deep frown, knowing the situation wasn’t good. "Did you tell on us, asshats?" Manuel began circling the two boys, watching as they became completely paralyzed by fear, unsure of how much was heard. "Seems a little weird old Shoemacher called us into his office for a chat today. Seems..." Manuel leaned into the ear of Roger, "...suspicious." He rounded toward Noah. "Your mom and dad aren’t trying to save you from the ‘big bad wolf,’ aren't they?" Manuel sounded a prompt to laughter with his own, causing a stir in the rest of the gang. "Maybe Wal needs to pay that baby sister of yours a little visit when they’re sleeping at night, huh?" A terrible threat. "You stay away from Clara." Roger said hastily and with little confidence, but with one of the few expressions of defiance against the intimidation. "Or what?" Manuel barked. "You gonna tell on me, faggot?" Standing between the street and Noah. "Or I’ll kick your ass!" Noah shouted, suddenly shoving Manuel toward the road. A car came flying directly for him, only barely swerving out of the way to avoid hitting him. Honks of rage rang down the road as the vehicle continued off. Noah didn’t wait to see the result of having nearly killed Manuel with the sudden outburst. "Run!" he shouted instead.Roger wasted no time, splitting from Noah and speeding up the hill and into the thick forest on the side of the highway, hoping he’d be able to lose the group if he was chased. Chances, of course, were slim. Noah, in turn spun around and crossed the street, to even more honks of cars, and he managed to disappear in an adjacent alley as a large truck rolled by.The group, surprised and stunned by the response, stood puzzled and confused for a moment, waiting for Manuel’s orders before doing anything, which gave the boys some time to get on their way, Noah along the road and Roger into the trees. "After him!" Manuel, shouted furiously and pointed towards where Noah had disappeared. The three others began quickly after Noah. Manuel, instead, turned his sights on the trees and to Roger, still in view."I’m gonna kill you!" And there was a good possibility he would do just that, in the woods, and leave the body there where no one would find it; except for perhaps a pack of animals, that would systematically tear it to shreds, leaving nothing but a rotting bone memorial of what Roger once was. In that moment, Roger ran faster than ever. He avoided potholes, roots, snagging vines, all the things he’d seen in horror movies causing the poor, fleeing souls to get tripped up, allowing the chasing evil to get closer, even to reach them. Manuel pursued Roger, avoiding the same obstacles, though a little bigger and a little less agile than the smaller boy he chased, his strength and speed allowed Manuel to keep up. Roger scrambled through the repetitive scenery in front of his eyes, trees, limbs, leaves, brush, nowhere seemed a reliable place to play it safe - until he found the well. There in a small ravine, sat an old abandoned stone well, a sharp contrast to the rest of the forest. A wooden hinged top closed the opening of the well off to sunlight and obstruction. Knowing Manuel was getting closer, Roger got a sudden idea of how to get away. He ran over to the well and opened the heavy wooden lid, swung his legs over the edge of the wooden surface and stared down into the abysmal pit. Slowly, he lowered himself down into the well, keeping his hands and fingers firmly gripped to the mortared stone, allowing him to hang into the well. Falling was potentially deadly, the possibility only further pronounced as a small stone went sailing down from the top of the well into it, not offering affirmation of a bottom with the splashing of water or a tap to a hard surface. Holding on to the stone, he hoped the well would hide him. Then he heard footsteps near the ravine, rustling the forest brush. It stopped. More brush moved, then silence again."You can’t run forever, you know," Manuel called out. "You have to come back to civilisation sometime. And even if you don’t come back, we’ll come after you!" These words reminded Roger of the threat Manuel had made to his little sister, however the frustration heard in Manuel’s voice and the aimlessness of his remark felt to Roger like a sign of hope. He tightened his grip on the stone, continuing to dangle from the edge of the well. One slip and he was doomed to fall to what was likely his death. One peep or audible movement and he'd be at the mercy of Manuel’s fury. There, hanging at the peak of the dark, unforgiving pit, Roger was in the only medium of survival. Life somewhere within death. Earthly purgatory. The brush of the forest floor was rustled again, becoming less and less audible, suggesting that Manuel had finally made his way on. But Roger hadn’t yet breathed a sigh of relief. After assuring the coast was clear, he had to muster himself up and out of the well. Slowly and carefully, he pulled himself up to peek over the shelf, looking for any sign of Manuel. There was none. He had made it. Unfortunately, it was then that the stone he gripped with his right hand gave completely and shot down into the well as Roger struggled to hold himself steady. His bare palm thrashed outward in fear, trying to grab any available surface that would support him in the well’s innards, but none offered a hand. He swung like a broken pendulum, supported by a single hand gripping a mortared stone that was now his only line between life and death. Sweat began to bead at his head as he whimpered at the direness of the situation he was in. His eyes shot up to opening of the well - his refuge. "Not... like this," he murmured before taking a quick breath. He held it as he mustered every bit of strength he could to swing his body to the right to allow for his loose hand to reach up for the shelf of the well. With his desperate exertion, he snatched the shelf of the well where the stone he’d held before had slipped and fell into the blackness. Feeling the urgency of his situation and knowing he hadn’t much strength to hold on, he pulled himself desperately up from the well and then thrust himself over the edge and onto the forest floor. The piled, fallen leaves cushioned the impact of his fall and were perhaps the first thing that day to aid him and not attempt to contribute to his demise. There he laid, sweat-stung eyes staring up to the canopy of the dense forest, looking through a small opening between the trees leaves as though he were still inside a well, only one of tall trees instead mortared stone. He sat up and glanced back toward the direction of the road. He thought of Noah, who was probably in a much worse situation than himself. Noah'd had three of the goons following him after all. However, Roger's friend was fast and could certainly outrun the others if he had to. Roger could only hope he was alright. Carefully, Roger stood from the ground and went about brushing the twigs and leaves from his arms and rear. He watched the odd well intensely, mystified by it, since it seemed to him as though it bore some sort of unusual cloaking power. A wishing well of some sort perhaps, although he had not uttered any wish. Not aloud at least. With reverence, he approached the stone cylinder, treating it as a sort of monument to his salvation, despite its earlier effort to swallow him entirely. "I guess wells are good luck after all," he said as his hands went to the stone shelf of the well. He smiled, looking down into the black pit once again. He wanted to shout down into it, to test how deep it was, but he didn't really dare, taking into account the potential that Manuel was still wandering the forest. Roger assumed he wasn’t - Manuel wasn’t exactly known for his patience and determination. Instead, Roger shoved his hands into his pockets, sorting through gum wrappers, some pencils, chestnuts and finally finding a small coin. He pulled the coin from his pocket, giving it a look over. It was an old penny, the sort that had been through hell and back, green and white with corrosion but still worth an uncherished, single cent. He shrugged. "Well, I hope good luck isn’t judged on what’s spent..." With that, he flung the penny down the well, making his wish. He wasn't able to make out if the penny hit water or stone down there, maybe it just fell in wet mud, not making a sound. Still, he wished that he and Noah wouldn’t be bullied anymore. That they would live out their lives in peace. He simply wished he'd survive this most recent ordeal. For a while he sat there looking down the well, listening to the birdsong before he with a sigh began to head back home. That was when something unexpected occurred....

Mature Content

Book Covers so far by MollyShine
Wish FulfillmentThe following is a censored version of the original text. All strong language or curse words have been blanked out. Part 1 Another Night Another Dream Prologue: A Pendant"So I thought for sure with my weak stomach that I would absolutely hate the cruise, but you know what, Margaret and I actually ended up having a wonderful time together. It was so beautiful to be just sailing around the Caribbean, and then we got the chance to try all sorts of fun activities...."Jake Meier's uncle Thomas went on for quite a while telling him all about his adventures in the Caribbean. The young man in his late 20s did his best to politely listen as the older man rambled on and on about all the exploits he and his wife had on their recent cruise. With his own wife, Clarice, busy engaging in girl talk with the other ladies at the party, Jake felt he had little other choice than to humor his uncle.As he listened to his uncle he took the opportunity to look around the house. Jake's Uncle and Aunt lived in one of the many residential subdivisions that dotted the countryside of Lebanon, Illinois. While the couple would never ever use the loaded words rich or wealthy to describe themselves, one look at their home with its high ceilings and classy furnishings certainly gave off the impression they were people who were well-off and more than proud to make it known to the world. His uncle, for example, never missed an opportunity to show off the gargantuan ultra high definition TV they kept in the living room."Have you and Clarice ever been on a cruise," asked the uncle after he finally exhausted his recollections of the trip."Me and her have probably floated the possibility at least once, but no we've never done it," answered Jake, snapping back to full attention now that his uncle was finally done reminiscing. He took a moment to smooth over his short blonde hair which had become rustled over the course of the evening."You two should really consider it. You guys are still a young couple. I'm sure you guys will get way more out of it than me and Margaret did.""Yeah I definitely think it's something me and her will consider. We've talked about going on a trip sooner rather than later..."Before Jake could continue, his uncle's wife Margaret walked over to their corner of the room."Tom, could you come here for a sec? Jeremy wants to know more about that position you said just opened up at your job.""Oh, of course. Coming dear. Well, I'll talk to you later Jake," said the uncle as he hurried along with his wife. Leaning his thin frame on the wall behind him, Jake took a moment to just relax. Despite being large enough to be considered a small mansion, the home of his Aunt and Uncle was still jam packed with people. It was his younger cousin Nadia's high school graduation party, and he'd spent the evening talking to this person then that person in what felt like a never ending conveyor belt of small talk. As an introvert, he was exhausted.Looking across the room, he could see Nadia talking with some other relatives. While he couldn't make out what they were saying he assumed like so many others at the party they were congratulating her on a job well done. He, for one, was proud of her; genuinely proud of her. All throughout her school years she had studied, worked hard, and he figured would do much the same in college. With confidence, he foresaw a bright future for her."What'cha looking at cuz," asked a voice close to his left side.When he turned to look he saw none other than Nadia's older sister, Kate, suddenly at his side. Around the same age as him, she was also of thin frame but a few inches shorter than him. Her lengthy black hair appeared more disheveled than usual as if she'd just gotten out of bed."The lady of the hour. Who else," he replied.She looked over in the direction where his gaze had been fixed."Ah yes, the honor student and graduate."Looking back at Jake, she flashed him a grin."Now you know right now she's all yes Mom yes Dad I'll study and behave myself, but when she goes off to college and experiences all that independence and freedom she's gonna change. She's not gonna be so obedient and innocent. That's the same way it was with me."Jake took a second to seriously ponder Kate's prediction. Having grown up alongside the sisters, he felt more than qualified to make his own assessment. After all, he understood well enough the pressures the sisters faced growing up. While Nadia and Kate's parents never failed to lavish them with all the material goods an upper middle class lifestyle could provide, they also had high expectations for their performance in school and other areas of life. They were strict. Their parents, particularly the father, strove to keep them walking on the straight and narrow. They succeeded to a certain extent in doing this with Kate until she went through a rebellious phase in her college years. Ultimately, while she did eventually find her way in life it was through a path much longer and winding than the one her parents insisted she take. Nadia, he predicted, wouldn't be like her sister. Although he was much closer to Kate due to their similar age, he still felt he knew enough about Nadia to know she was fundamentally different from her sister. Specifically, she possessed a temperament and personality inherently more reserved than that of her more daring older sibling. He thus felt confident in disagreeing with Kate's assessment.Playfully rolling his eyes, he replied, "Yeah, but Nadia isn't you. She's got her head on straight unlike a certain someone."Shrugging her shoulders, Kate mused,"Hmmm, I don't know. She is my sister so she's bound to be like me in more ways than one.""In any case, " he said, eager to change the subject to something less controversial, "Where have you been? I swear this is the first time I've seen you all night.""That's because it is the first time you've seen me all night," she replied as she tried to smooth over her unruly hair, "I've been up in my room taking a nap. I flew in yesterday, but I'm still so tired. I swear traveling from Qatar to here then back again never gets easier. It's bad enough I can't manage to fall asleep on the flights, but the time zone change is always a real ----- too."Several years ago, eager to get out of Southern Illinois and away from her parents for a change, Kate took a job working as a government contractor in Qatar of all places. By all accounts she enjoyed her career and the opportunity to experience things beyond what her hometown had to offer. On the surface, Jake was happy for her. Deep down, however, he regretted the fact that one of his favorite people in the world now lived almost half a world away. Although they video chatted regularly and she made sure to fly in at least once a year, nothing could replace the time when a quick ten or fifteen minute drive was all it took to be physically in her company. Gone were the days when he, Kate, and Nadia hung out together almost daily."Oh actually speaking of Qatar I got you something," said Kate as she proceeded to pull an item out of her front pocket.Living abroad, Kate was always bringing back home various trinkets and souvenirs. Some were of great delight to Jake. Others were barely above garbage."What is it," Jake asked, staring at the trinket she pulled out of her pocket and dangled before him."It's a pendant," she exclaimed, " A very special pendant."For a few seconds, Jake looked at the pendant. He examined it for any signs of the specialness Kate confidently stated it possessed. To his disappointment he saw little evidence which would back up her claim. The piece of jewelry dangling before him was nothing more than a silver chain from which a small round crystal hung. It was pretty, to be sure, but not extraordinary by his reckoning."What's so special about it," he asked at last, having given up trying to find the answer for himself."So this pendant was actually a gift someone gave me for helping them out. Now, it may not look like much, but according to them there's a bit of folklore about it.""Really," Jake asked, now a little curious as to where this could be going."Yes, according to the person who gave it to me this pendant houses a spirit who every one hundred years grants a wish."Kate said all this with a delightful smile which only aggravated his incredulity. He laughed at her."Wow, some gift this person gave you. They basically handed down a cheap piece of jewelry to you and told you it was magical. I mean where to begin? Did you actually try to make a wish with it?"Having anticipated his disbelief, Kate took no offense at his mockery, but simply replied, "I did actually. I tried to wish for a new boss but it didn't work." She giggled a bit then continued, "It didn't work, but then again maybe it hasn't been a hundred years since it last granted a wish."Continuing to hold up the pendant in front of Jake's face, she then asked, " I know you don't believe in folklore or magic. Neither do I, but there's something just something about it. I can't put my finger on it. I don't know what it is, but it's there. I mean just look at it. Do you really not sense anything?"Taking up her offer to reexamine the pendant, Jake found himself undergoing a subtle, yet significant change in judgement. Somehow on second glance, he did indeed perceive something uncanny about it. A force attracted him, but like Kate he was at a loss to describe it."Just take it, Jake. At the very least it's a nice piece of jewelry you can give Clarice."He stopped looking at the pendant so he could turn his gaze back on her."But if it really is magic don't you want it? Aren't there things you want to wish for? Like a new boss maybe?"With a good humored smile she said, "Yeah, there are I guess, but there'll always be something."Her tone and facial expression became more contemplative as she continued, "Honestly, I think you need something like this more than me. You're always so uptight Jake and since I'm usually not here to lighten things up I figured maybe you could use a bit of magic."Jake sensed a subtle note of guilt in the way she spoke. Although they never talked about it directly, she was well aware of how her moving abroad had affected the loved ones she'd left behind, especially her favorite cousin, Jake. She was constantly in ways little and big, trying her best to minimize the void she'd left behind. Not wanting to risk hurting her feelings, Jake accepted the gift without further protest.The two spent the rest of the night talking and catching up together. When speaking to Kate, Jake held little back. He told her almost everything going on in his life. Certain key things, however, he opted not to divulge to her not because he felt she wouldn't understand or appreciate, but because he didn't want to disturb the fun, light atmosphere between them. It wasn't everyday he got to enjoy her company again. As when they were kids, he wished to be happy and carefree with her.On the drive home from the graduation party, Jake couldn't resist asking his wife the question, "Honey, have you ever considered taking a cruise?"Sitting shotgun to her husband as he drove, Clarice turned her head to look at him. The young couple had been married for six years now, but still a warm sensation came over Jake whenever he knew her hazel eyes were upon him.He continued, "You know we're always taking trips to see family or friends but I think it would be nice if we took a trip just the two of us and I know neither one of us has been on a cruise so I thought maybe it would be something worthwhile."After thinking it over for a few seconds, Clarice replied, "Yeah I would actually love to. Where would you want to go?"For a good ten minutes as they made their way to their home in Swansea, Illinois, the couple discussed various places they could take a cruise to. In merely discussing the possibility of a cruise with his wife, Jake felt a certain exhilaration come over him. He was already imagining this future adventure, and taking delight in thinking of the numerous possibilities before them. It was wonderful to contemplate a future which seemed so clear and wide open. Section 1: O’Fallon, ILChapter 1: Charlie and Co. Arrive"Just miles and miles of cornfields and pure nothing ," said Jackson Clarke commenting on the Southern Illinois landscape which zipped past him as he and his friend made their way down the highway. Seated in the passenger seat of his friend's ride, the young Australian opened the window allowing a rush of air to both cool him down and tussle his smooth, brown hair. Beads of sweat poured down his smooth face and dripped from his hairless chin. As much as he liked his friend Andrew, Jackson already found himself wondering if it was really worth it to travel all the way from Australia just to visit him in some town called O'Fallon."Well this is about exactly what Andrew told us to expect," replied Charlie White as he sped his car toward their destination. He'd been driving all day. Jackson arrived in America three days earlier landing in Florida where the two took about a day and a half to just hangout before finally making their way towards Illinois where their friends Andrew and Kaya awaited them. Like Jackson, he couldn't say he was thrilled by the idea of visiting some random town in Southern Illinois. His expectations for this trip were low. Nonetheless, since Andrew had taken the time to visit him in Florida he felt obligated to do the same.The oppressive summer heat didn't help the mood of either man. For whatever reason, the car AC unit which he trusted to get him through the Florida summers broke down on the way to Illinois. This left him hot and eager for the long drive to end. Sweat soaked into his ample facial hair. Moreover, it made a mess of his otherwise flowing locks of silky, black hair which rested on his shoulders. Whatever this week away from his home in Florida had in store for him, Charlie didn't care. He just wanted to get out of this ---- car. ***Until two years ago, Andrew Wagenheim had never heard of the MidWestern suburb of O'Fallon, IL. A career opportunity opened up, however, and before he knew it he found himself getting acquainted with the sight of soy fields, corn fields, and all the other peculiarities of the Southern Illinois region he now called home. He didn't hate life in the area, but he couldn't imagine staying for more than perhaps two more years. For a young man who desired variety, excitement, and an abundance of interesting things to do, the region was too tranquil for his taste. Life in the suburbs struck him as comfortable, quiet, but rarely much more. Eventually he hoped to go to someplace less Midwestern, less Middle America, but for now he was alright.In the weeks prior to his friends visiting, Andrew naturally worried himself over how best to entertain them while they were here. They would be coming long distances to visit, so he felt extra pressured to make their journey worthwhile. He had a few activities lined up. Ultimately, however, he hoped the opportunity to hang out in real life instead of online would prove enough."---- , what happened to you guys? Is that sweat or did you guys get caught in the rain or something," said Andrew the moment Charlie and Jackson showed up on his doorsteps. Lying on the sofa in the living room, Kaya Orsan, the fourth member of the group turned his head to see the two sweat soaked men make their way into the house. Having only arrived the day before from Germany, Kaya was still struggling to adjust to the time change. In spite of this, he couldn't help but laugh a little at the expense of his two friends. With their arrival, the gang was all there.For the four friends, doing something together usually meant doing something on the internet. All four men were active internet personalities. Among other things they did a podcast together called, "The Official Podcast". Charlie was perhaps the most active of the four. Going by the moniker MoistCritikal, he regularly streamed on Twitch and posted videos on YouTube. The plan for the coming week, however, didn't involve any of that. Instead it involved the four young men enjoying what they hoped would be a relaxing vacation spent in each other's immediate company. Chapter 2: Best Friend JakeThe first thing Rolo Baez did when he got home from work around 5pm was change out of his stiff work clothes, and into some shorts and a loose t-shirt. As an office worker at one of the government offices located in the Southern Illinois region, he was required to wear business casual clothes which were stifling in the summer heat. Sweat coated his brown skin. Just putting on less restrictive clothing made him feel more relaxed after a long day. He couldn't relax for too long, however. His best friend, Jake, would be over in a short while, and he was eager to clean up the house a bit before he arrived.Located near the center of O'Fallon, IL, Rolo's house was nothing special, but it was probably as nice a place as a white collar professional with a middle income job in his late 20's could afford. It had a garage, two stories, a basement, and more than enough living space for one person. The day he moved out of his parents' house and into his own was one of the proudest days of his life. His parents were overjoyed at his having reached this milestone and so was he. Eventually, Jake arrived.Rolo and Jake had been friends for over ten years. They met in college and stuck with each other through the at times awkward, difficult transition into full-blown adulthood. Meeting together on a random weekday served as a chance for the two to chat and hangout. They would watch some TV, occasionally play video games, and generally enjoy each other's company.Rolo anticipated his friend staying for at least a while. As the hours ticked by, however, he became concerned. It was a Tuesday night. They both had work in the morning and it was getting late. Eventually he had to say something."Jake, aren't you going home soon?"Seated on one of Rolo's couches, Jake suddenly sat up. They'd been watching Netflix all night and it was clear Jake was growing sleepy, but he didn't go home."Oh yeah sorry, I guess I just lost track of time. Yeah, I should definitely be going."Groggily, Jake stood up, gathered his things and prepared to head out the door. To Rolo's amusement, he'd been laying on the couch for so long his usually well-kept short blond hair looked more like a bird's nest. This would usually be the part of the evening where the friends called it a night without much fuss. Jake, though, still seemed reluctant to go."Is everything alright? You don't really seem like yourself," asked a concerned Rolo."No, I'm fine man thanks. Just a little off today that's all."Jake thought hard about admitting to his friend the true reason behind his reluctance to go home, but at the last minute he settled on something much easier to talk about."I, uh, I was gonna ask you what you wanted for your birthday."Rolo gave his friend a somewhat puzzled look. While it was true that his birthday was coming up later this month, it still surprised him that Jake of all people would ask him what he wanted for it since on more than one occasion he'd made clear his general apathy towards birthdays, specifically his own. Some time ago he'd even admitted, "I don't know what it is, but things like birthdays just don't seem to matter to me anymore. As a kid I used to love them and really look forward to them, but now as an adult they just seem like another day.""I don't know. If you really want you can just get me something. I don't care too much.""It's your thirtieth birthday, though, don't you want something special?""No,no, honestly you don't have to get me anything at all, or if you really feel you have to just get me something that's not too much trouble. ""Okay, if you change your mind just let me know man.""I will," he replied as he ushered his friend out the door. The two said goodnight and finally parted ways.Just about any other night, Jake would have been eager to head home to his house in Swansea, IL where his wife no doubt awaited him. Tonight, though, was not any other night. Driving away from Rolo's house, he didn't take the usual turn to get to his house. Instead he took the turn to get to the Super 8 Motel nearby. Section 2: Just a WishChapter 3: SleeplessOnce Jake left, Rolo wasted little time getting ready for bed and another day's work. He went upstairs to his bedroom where after going through his nightly regimen settled down on his bed to sleep. Sleep, however, didn't come. Instead a restlessness took hold of him.This restlessness confounded him. It seemed that after all he did throughout the day ,specifically at work, he was worthy of a good night's sleep. Regardless of his opinion on the matter, he continued to lay in bed awake unable to fall asleep.With little better to do, he made his way back downstairs and turned on the TV. He resolved to wait out his bout of restlessness. As he waited for sleep to finally overtake him, he decided to watch some YouTube videos. *** To his friends and family, Jake was a happily married man who lived with his wife in a fine one story house in Swansea, Illinois. None of them knew that for the past few nights he hadn't once been with his wife or even gone to the house. Instead he'd been staying at a cheap motel on the outskirts of O'Fallon.Time spent outside his motel room could distract him; help him not to think about why he was sleeping here instead of at home with his wife. This was why he endeavored to spend as much time outside the motel room as he could. However, the moment he walked into the room his mind couldn't stop. He had to think about it.As it had for the past few nights, his mind cycled through the same thoughts without ceasing. Every thought and emotion held at bay by the day's activities now resurfaced. This included all the ones he wished would stay down. Once more he was seized with the desire to make sense of a ten year relationship in the span of an evening; to figure out when and how it had all gone wrong.With his mind running on all cylinders it was difficult for him to get to sleep. In fact for the past few nights he had struggled to fall asleep. This night seemed like it would be much of the same. Instead of letting his thoughts continue to torment him, Jake began rummaging through his stuff in an attempt to organize it. He had a few boxes of clothes and other items to sort through. While his motel room didn't exactly have oodles of space to work with, he did as best he could. It was in going through one of his boxes that he stumbled upon it."Wait a minute this is..." he pulled out a pendant; the very same pendant Kate had given him about a year ago."Of all the things to keep," He thought as he examined it.Chapter 4: Favorite YouTuber Meanwhile at his house, Rolo possessed no idea of what his friend Jake was up to. Instead lounging on the couch, he was focused on deciding which YouTube video to watch next. The YouTube algorithm threw up an assortment of videos as potential candidates. At first none really piqued his interest. Then he saw it. It was a new upload from his favorite YouTuber, MoistCritikal.Rolo's enjoyment of MoistCrtitikal's content began innocently enough. One day while passively watching YouTube videos while he worked, he stumbled upon a video parodying the latest internet punching bag; the Juicero. He found the video so hilariously enjoyable that he spent the rest of the workday binge watching MoistCritikal's videos as he completed his work. By the end of the day, he was a fan.At first, Rolo's interest in MoistCritikal was purely for his content. Although it varied from day to day, in general his content consisted of reaction videos, gameplay clips, and commentary videos on various topics. Rolo enjoyed his brand of vulgar, off-kilter humor. None of the initial videos he saw actually showed MoistCritikal's face. One day, though, he did happen upon a video which showed his face, and from that day forward things changed.In the age of the internet and globalized media, it is not uncommon for the person one finds the most attractive to be a celebrity, movie star, singer, or social media personality one has little chance of ever actually being in close proximity to. The biological mechanisms which govern human attraction are the result of evolutionary developments which could have never predicted the internet or any other sort of technology which allows humans to view the appearance of someone who physically may be thousands of miles away. Consequently, modern man is more than liable to find him or herself powerfully drawn to people they have little realistic possibility of ever seeing in real life. Such was the case with Rolo when it came to MoistCritikal. ***Jake did not believe in magic. He did not believe it when first given the pendant, and a year later he still did not believe it. As a child he used to love pretending magic existed, but as a grown man he felt it was more than a little unbecoming to even entertain such fanciful notions. Nonetheless, the more he stared at the pendant the more something stirred within him."It's just like she said. Even if it's not magic there's still something about this pendant," he thought.In his bored, sleep deprived state he genuinely pondered trying to make a wish with it. "I know for a fact it won't work, but still what could be the harm in just playing along for a bit?" *** Still lounging on his couch waiting for sleep to come, Rolo began watching MoistCritikal's latest video. As usual, MoistCritikal was looking into the camera, reacting to the most recent trending internet controversy. One YouTuber had done some bull---- which led another YouTuber to do some more bull---- until they both lost millions of subscribers. It was nothing Rolo frankly cared about at least at this time of night. Staring intently at his TV screen, what most interested Rolo was not the words coming out of MoistCritikal's face, but his actual face.In plain terms, he thought of MoistCritikal as the most unbelievably gorgeous human being he'd ever seen. Every time he saw those silky black locks of hair which flowed down his neck before finally resting on his shoulders combined with that rugged beard, Rolo's mind was blown. He often found himself asking, " is it possible for that much sexiness to be crammed into one person?" It was a genuine mystery to him. Whatever the answer, it likely would do nothing to diminish the enjoyment he gained from simply admiring his appearance.From watching his videos, Rolo knew he and MoistCritikal lived not only hundreds of miles away from each other, but also lived their lives amongst very different social circles doing very different things. The quiet government bureaucrat could never imagine broadcasting his thoughts and opinions to thousands possibly millions of people on a regular basis. Furthermore living in Southern Illinois whilst MoistCritikal lived in Southern Florida, Rolo held no expectation of somehow even bumping into him while going about his day to day life. None of these realities, though, presented any obstacle to his occasional daydreaming and fantasizing of the incredibly gorgeous man he knew only through videos posted on the web. One of the benefits of the human mind, after all, is precisely its ability to enjoy possibilities it acknowledges as far out of physical reach. In this sense, Rolo entertained an idle fascination with MoistCritikal.Eventually the sleepiness he'd been seeking slowly crept up on him. Not even the promise of seeing more of MoistCritikal's face could prevent his eyelids from drooping. He started drifting off to sleep. Chapter 5: The Wish and the FantasyAs Rolo dozed off, back at his motel room Jake continued pondering what to do with the pendant. Having thoroughly convinced himself that there could be no harm in using it, he preoccupied himself with the issue of what he was going to wish for. He put little thought into this."Eh, how about Rolo's birthday? I'll wish something for Rolo," recalling the conversation he had not too long ago with his friend.Pendant in hand he uttered the words, "Hey spirit of the pendant or whatever please give my friend Rolo something that he wants."Jake waited for a second. Having uttered the wish, he fully expected his skepticism to be confirmed. As second after second passed with nothing happening, a proud sense of vindication came over him."See I knew nothing would happen. Eh, I guess it passed the time at least."Just as he was preparing to set the pendant down and forget about it once more, a bright light began emanating from the pendant's crystal. Its light filled the entire room in an instant. Jake dropped it and in shock tried to crawl to a corner of the room. After a few seconds of this, the light dimmed and a figure suddenly appeared in the room."Oh ----. Oh ----," was all Jake could think as the apparition loomed over him. ***With the TV still on, Rolo dozed off on his couch. He could never spend an entire night there. Usually, when the urge to sleep grew too overwhelming he would spend a few minutes there lingering between wakefulness and full blown sleep before finally rousing himself and formally heading to bed for the night. It was in precisely this state that his mind unshackled itself from the chains of conscious thought that held it firmly in place during the day. For a little while at least, he was able to escape the forces and constraints of reality which hemmed him in throughout the day and enter a world where the only limit was his imagination. He started dreaming.In an instant, his mind transported him from the couch he knew so well to a fantastical world so different from the one he was used to. For one, he was standing not on dirt and soil, but on white, fluffy clouds. They easily supported his weight, and were so very soft to stand on. Up above, the stars twinkled across the night sky with a breathtaking vividness. A full moon gently illuminated all around him. As it was, the whole world he now resided in was beautiful and wonderful. Then he heard a voice behind him.He turned to look and to his shock it was him. It was MoistCritikal standing there in his familiar white t-shirt and shorts. Before Rolo could so much as say his name in surprise, he took him by the hands and swept him away. The two danced amidst the clouds of this wondrous scene. Chapter 6: Wish Granted All was chaos for Jake back at his motel room. His mind struggled to make sense of everything that had just occurred."Okay, okay so there was this flash like from a flashbang or something. And then and then that entity came out of the pendant. Then it said that the wish would be granted....Then it disappeared. Yes, it's gone now. It's over?"Still huddled in a corner of the room, Jake could recall every detail of what had transpired only a minute or two ago. Remembering wasn't the problem. The problem was in comprehending the unbelievable. In an instant, so much of what he knew about reality was shattered and left lying on the cold hard ground. The room itself bore little evidence of the extraordinary events that had taken place. Perhaps the only hard evidence was the pendant. When he went to pick it up he instantly noticed the once glimmering crystal jewel was now dull; its shine unmistakably diminished."It, it was real...In which case, what have I done?" *** Charlie White went to sleep soundly that night. After a whole day of driving, sleep came easy for him. The modest one story house Andrew owned in the center of town didn't have a separate room for each of his three guests, so Jackson and Charlie had to share a spare bedroom. The small portable mattresses Andrew provided weren't particularly comfy, but they sufficed. For a good hour or so he was finally able to close his eyes and rest. Then he was awoken.In the middle of the night, something compelled him to open his eyes. When he did he saw a strange figure floating above him. He instinctively tried to cry out, but before he could the entity seemed to steal his voice away. Try as he may he could say nothing. Staring up at the apparition, he felt paralyzed powerless to do anything. Terror filled him as his mind raced to figure out what this being had in store for him.To his bewilderment, the apparition reached a hand down towards his head. He shuddered as he saw the hand approach. Then the moment the hand touched his forehead he saw something. The image of a brown skinned man with short black hair flashed across his mind's eye. Moreover he heard a name. Both the man and the name were things he did not recognize, but the apparition forced them into his mind. Having implanted these two things in Charlie's mind, the entity vanished as quickly as it had appeared. As its final act it induced him to return to sleep the moment it left. ***In his dream, Rolo was still dancing amidst the clouds. It was just him and MoistCritikal alone together. He was able to gaze into his eyes as he gazed back. At some point their faces started inching closer together. Just when they were close enough to kiss, the dream abruptly ended.By the time Rolo snapped out of the light sleep he'd enjoyed on the couch, it was late. One moment he was up in the clouds with MoistCritikal, the next he woke up alone back in his own home. It took him a second or two to readjust.Although like most dreams it left no discernible mark on his life beyond memories, that did not prevent Rolo from appreciating it for precisely what it was; a pleasurable, wonderful escape from reality. He sat on the couch for a minute or two indulging in recollections of the fantasy his mind had conjured up. Eventually, however, he recalled the busy day he had tomorrow.He finally turned off the TV, lifted himself off the couch, and started preparing to actually go to bed for the night. Fortunately, the afterglow from the dream helped put him in a better mood for sleep. All the while he was blissfully unaware of all that had transpired that night with Jake, Charlie a.k.a MoistCritikal, and the Pendant. Section 3: The Day AfterChapter 7: The Next MorningThe next morning Charlie woke up with only the faintest remembrance of last night's visitation by the apparition. He could recall being disturbed in the middle of the night, but that was all. Any actual details were either blurry or forgotten. It was thus easy for him to explain away the entire incident as some sort of vivid nightmare or sleep paralysis episode. He reassured himself that whatever happened it was all in his head.Abetting his certainty that it was merely a figment of his imagination was the fact he could detect no discernible evidence of anything unusual having occurred. All his and Jackson's stuff was exactly where it was when they went to bed. Further, the room bore no signs of forced entry ,or any indication something entering the room that didn't belong. Altogether the world around him seemed normal."Morning," said Jackson as he entered the room. Jackson had awoken extra early, and so wasted no time hitting the showers to start preparing for the day."Hey, morning," Charlie replied, still groggy from having just woken up.A part of Charlie wanted to ask Jackson about last night, but ultimately he decided not to. He had settled on the night's extraordinary events being some random creation of his mind, and did not wish to disturb this comfortable explanation. Nonetheless, he did notice Jackson giving him a pensive look."Charlie, did you sleep well last night," Jackson finally asked as he finished dressing himself."Yeah, I slept well enough. Why?"As if trying to figure out the best way to put things, Jackson hesitated a moment before responding."Well, last night I heard you say something in your sleep.""Wait, what? When and what did I say," asked Charlie now, fearful that his easy, simple explanation of the previous night's events would be taken from him."It was in the middle of the night. I woke up to go to the bathroom and when I came back I caught you mumbling something in your sleep. You said it out of nowhere. Honestly, it sounded like a name. I think it was... Rolo Baez?"For a moment, it seemed as if mentioning the name sparked something within Charlie. His eyes widened as if in sudden recognition. Then, however, the spark quickly faded."Is that someone you know," asked Jackson, noticing his friend's immediate reaction."No, no it isn't. I...I honestly don't know why I would say something like that. It must have just been something random I said in my sleep that just sounded like a name. I slept fine last night."Jackson didn't know what to make of Charlie's reply. Although not entirely convinced by his explanation, he ultimately decided not to make a big deal out of something that may very well be nothing at all. With little else to add he dropped the matter and the two friends resumed going about their morning. ***Rolo woke up to the sound of his alarm blaring at him. At first he dutifully pulled his blanket off him then tried rousing himself out of bed. He couldn't do it. Instead, after a long night where he stayed up way past his usual bedtime he was overwhelmed by the desire to stay in bed and sleep more. Hitting the snooze button he fell back into bed."I need just like two more hours. Two more hours, that's all I'm asking," he thought to himself as he hugged his pillow and nestled his head on it.Unfortunately, he didn't have two hours. In fact, he didn't even have thirty minutes. The clock read 6:15 A.M. and he needed to be at work at 7:00 A.M. Since the commute to his job took him about fifteen minutes and he needed at least five minutes to adequately dress himself, he had at absolute best twenty five minutes to catch some more Zs. He knew all this. Nonetheless, he remained in his bed hoping on hope that the inevitable would somehow not come.Thinking about what the workday would likely have in store for him made him even more reluctant to get out of bed. Some people fear automation taking away their jobs. Rolo didn't. On the contrary, every time he read a futurist blog he found himself secretly longing for the day when some advanced A.I. system would free him from his office job. This state of the art system would liberate him from the burden of redoing a report over and over and over again to make sure the minorest detail of font, indentation, or page margin was correct before handing it in to his superiors. Since this machine, if designed properly at least, would be incapable of boredom, it could process the mountains of invoices that showed up regularly on Rolo's desk without the existential dread of watching its life slip away doing menial work. If the coming A.I. overlords were intent on taking his job they could have it."Do I really have to get up? Do I," he asked himself. Clinging to his pillow, he wanted to stay in bed forever and never go to work again."Rolo," came a voice from deep within his psyche as he was just about to once more shut his eyes, "You can't do this. You can't just skip out on work. You can't!"This voice, which one could call his sense of responsibility, did not let either the coziness of his bed or the discomfort of his sleep deprived state dissuade it from reminding Rolo of the necessity of his going to work. It reminded him of bills which needed to be paid, and a comfortable standard of living that required a steady stream of income in order to be maintained. In other words, it forced him to remember the overarching truth that like a railcar his life had to stay on track lest it become derailed. Deviations had consequences."Fine, fine, fine" thought Rolo as he finally got himself out of bed.Once out of bed, he promptly dressed himself. Then he went downstairs, brewed some coffee to go, and eventually headed out the door. *** Jake could barely sleep at all that night. His mind raced with images of things and events which couldn't possibly be."That couldn't have actually happened," he thought to himself looking once more at the pendant. Even as he tried to dismiss whatever happened last night, the dullness of the once glimmering crystal jewel suggested something had indeed occurred.His processing of the previous night's events occurred in stages. First came the initial shock when so much of what he knew about the world was blown away in an instant. Then came the denial phase."No, that couldn't have happened. Things like that don't happen. I live in the real world where things like that just don't happen."He spent the entire night in the denial phase and was still very much deep into it by the time he had to get dressed and prepare for work."But what if what happened last night was real. Then what," a stray thought flashed through his mind as he began the commute to work, "What did I just do then? That spirit or thing said the wish would be granted, but what exactly does that mean..." Such speculations dogged him as he pulled into work. Unable to stop himself from thinking over the potential ramifications of last night, he came into work that morning in a thoroughly distracted frame of mind he could hardly afford to maintain if he was to make it through the day.As he settled into his office, he thought of something. Being a therapist, Jake was knowledgeable in the science of human psychology. Desperate to make some sense of the previous night's occurrences, he used what he knew about psychology and reality in general to arrive at an explanation that seemed to offer him a way to explain the experiences he so vividly remembered while also denying any unsettling ramifications. "Okay, maybe something did happen last night, but, but, it was all in my head. Yes, I was sleep-deprived and emotionally distraught so it's possible, just possible that I had a temporary, very temporary, break with reality."This explanation gave him much satisfaction in the way it took the prior night's extraordinary incident and subsumed it into a mundane understanding of the world; one he was far more used to dealing with. It easily settled something which otherwise would have troubled him so greatly he wouldn't be able to focus on his work. Drinking his early morning coffee he felt even more certain of his explanation.Just as he felt prepared to start the workday, his phone beeped. It was a text message. He looked to see who it was from and what it said. To his chagrin he found himself faced with a new problem; one that couldn't be so glibly explained away. Chapter 8: Maybe Something’s WrongOn their second day in the Greater St. Louis region, the four friends Charlie, Jackson, Andrew, and Kaya decided to take a day trip to visit the city of St. Louis. They were determined to spend the whole day trying all sorts of activities and eating at the various restaurants the Midwestern city had to offer. Few would call St. Louis the greatest city in the world. It was a city caught in a slow, steady spiral of decline stretching out decades. Signs of urban blight and decay marred its visage. Nonetheless , Andrew hoped it would offer some amusement for his friends."Oh wow guys, look. The St. Louis Arch is a big metal arch! Who knew," remarked Kaya as the group walked towards the city's most famous landmark. He was clearly unimpressed. Walking beside him, Andrew took no personal offense at this comment but simply rolled his eyes.Despite the occasional and expected sarcastic remark from Kaya, Andrew was enjoying himself. As his friends saw sights and places he'd already been to, Andrew's joy was precisely in experiencing these places anew. His friends gave him new perspectives even on locales he'd long gotten used to. Exploring the city with them was as much an adventure for him as it was for them."Charlie, are you okay," asked Jackson as he walked beside him."Yeah man, I'm fine. What's up," Charlie reflexively responded."I...I don't know. You just seem really off today. Is something on your mind? Are you sure you slept okay last night?""Yeah, yeah...well, maybe not. I mean those beds weren't too comfortable."Jackson laughed a bit."Yeah, they definitely weren't."As the four friends continued their journey within the city, Jackson kept his eyes on Charlie. Something about his friend's behavior troubled him. Observing his friend he noticed every now and then at seemingly random points in the day he seemed lost in thought about something. Charlie remained physically present with them, but his attention seemed divided between being mentally present with them and thinking about whatever was now preoccupying his mind. Although he consistently denied anything was amiss, Jackson increasingly suspected such was not actually the case. He had no clear evidence to back up his suspicions, but he couldn't let them go either. ***Jake worked as a therapist. His day consisted of perfect strangers pouring their hearts out to him and he doing his best to assist them through the thicket of their own emotions. On a regular basis people came to him with issues they've dealt with for years or intransigent problems which their support systems found difficult to handle. Most sessions were a difficult slog. Therapy is a marathon not a race he would often tell his clients during their initial session. Occasionally, however, the fog within someone's life would clear, and with some justification he could claim a role in improving the life of another human being."You were right. You were absolutely right," said Sally Wates, beginning to recount her recent emotional epiphany to Jake as she sat in his office. Sally was a pretty woman in her thirties with kids. What brought her into therapy was a tumultuous childhood characterized by traumas she had difficulty expressing to others, especially her Mom. Over almost a year's worth of therapy, Jake had counseled her on ways she could effectively communicate her feelings to loved ones. Over several months he assured her of the need to be honest with those close to her about the struggles she was facing. He preached to her the value of expressing herself to those who cared for her instead of choosing to face life's difficulties alone."It was scary. I was so nervous talking to my Mom about things she had no idea about, but it was worth it. It was worth it, because I feel like the moment I stopped pretending things were okay, and just admitted how much I was hurting was the moment that we were able to talk at a level that I don't think we've been able to do for years," tears began flowing down her face, "And I just gotta say thank you...for everything thank you."With professional modesty and coolness he replied, "You're welcome Sally, but just remember this is more your doing than mine."For the rest of their session, Jake talked with Sally about her other remaining issues. Her recent breakthrough didn't magically solve all her problems, but it did represent an undeniable milestone. Leaving his office, she thanked him profusely yet again.With her gone, he had about half an hour to himself. Sally's appointment ended earlier than scheduled so in a rare occurrence he actually had time to spare between now and his next client. Sitting at his desk, he started thinking over things.Normally a session like the one he just had would have left him with a feeling of deep vindication. After all, helping people in impactful ways was the whole reason he became a therapist. Sometimes it was easy to forget that. Not all clients successfully went through therapy or experienced a true genuine breakthrough catalyzed by his therapeutic guidance. He should have felt accomplished.Instead he couldn't stop thinking about the problem which had arisen earlier this morning. His cousin Kate had sent him a text message confirming that she would be coming back to Southern Illinois on Friday. Normally, this would be cause for celebration. His current domestic situation, however, made this a cause for anxiety.Over the last few days he'd managed to keep the true state of his personal life hidden from those around him including loved ones, but Kate's arrival would complicate things."She'll find out. She'll figure it out, because she'll want to see Clarice or she'll want to come to the house and then... She'll find out. I know she will," he thought to himself, "Why can't you just tell her? Just talk to her, she'll understand. Heck, you can probably do the same with your parents or with Rolo. These people care about you. You know they do."He tried to imagine the relief he would feel upon sharing his recent struggles with Kate or any of his other loved ones; attempting to use the very psychological techniques he’d so effectively utilized on Sally to help himself. It didn't work. Instead it only made him more painfully aware of what held him back. He grew agitated."I need a drink," he thought to himself, at last settling on a quick, easy way of temporarily relieving his agitation that, at least in a professional capacity, he would almost certainly never recommend to one of his clients. He decided, at that moment, to go to a bar after work so he could relax for a change. Especially after whatever happened the night before he felt he needed a drink. ***Arriving home from work at around 5pm, the first thing Rolo did after changing out of his stiff work clothes was turn on the AC then collapse into bed for a nap. After a little over an hour he woke up. He felt rested yet disappointed.While his primary purpose in taking a nap was to dispel the sleep deprivation which had dogged him all day, a small bit of him closed his eyes in the hopes of having a dream as vivid and alive as the one he had last night. It didn't need to be about MoistCritikal; it just needed to be something which would wash away the drudgery of the day. To his chagrin it didn't happen. In a most mundane fashion he went to sleep and then sometime later woke up.Whatever disappointment he felt wasn't enough to distract him from the fact that he had plans to meet his friend Alex at a bar soon. Without skipping a beat he roused himself out of bed, put on casual clothes, got into his car and started heading towards his destination. Chapter 9: The Hut That evening the four friends returned to O'Fallon, IL. Having spent the day exploring the city, their feet were paying a heavy toll. If they weren't outright exhausted their feet at the very least were definitely hurting. They decided to take it easy that night."So what do you guys want to do now? Do you guys want to just go home or do you want to maybe stop at a bar or something," Andrew asked."Eh, I vote for just going home," said Kaya."We should stop at a bar," answered Jackson.With Andrew not caring what they did, the deciding vote was Charlie's. Initially he was inclined to side with Kaya, but just when he was about to utter his opinion something within him made him want to go to the bar instead. He had this sudden feeling that he needed to be there."Let's go to the bar.""Okay bar it is. If it's okay with you, Kaya, we won't be there long.""Sure, it's fine."The bar the group ended up going to was called The Hut. Sitting on the outskirts of O'Fallon's downtown, The Hut was an unassuming little bar that offered, among other things, cheap drinks and food. Settling down near the bar's pool tables, the group ordered some drinks and proceeded to lounge around. Everyone was enjoying themselves except for Charlie.He kept thinking about Rolo Baez. That name, if it was in fact a name, sounded so strangely familiar to him. Recalling it again and again throughout the day, he could've sworn he'd heard it somewhere before."Was it last night," he asked himself more than once today.At times he tried remembering what happened last night, but his memories were vague and only growing more so as the day proceeded. Moreover, despite the sense of familiarity the name elicited, he was still certain he didn't know anyone by that name. He had no clue regarding who this Rolo Baez could possibly be or if he even existed at all. More importantly, he couldn't explain why this name stuck out so much to him. No matter what he did on his first full day in the Southern Illinois region, it was never too far from the forefront of his mind. Ultimately, all he could do was try to act normal and hope whatever was up with him would simply blow over of its own accord. ***After his long day at work, Jake arrived at The Hut ready to have a couple drinks and take it easy for a little while. Although he usually didn't drink alone at the bar on a weekday, he was going through some special circumstances and he certainly didn't want to drink alone at his motel room. He ordered a beer which he took casual sips from as he slumped in his chair. It didn't take long for the comfortable, chill atmosphere of the bar to seep into him. A mellowness came over his mood."It's been too long since I felt this relaxed," it dawned on him.For the past few weeks and even months he hadn't been able to have a moment of tranquility like this. Some worry or concern always festered in the back of his mind. No matter where he went or who he was with, his personal troubles seemed inescapable. Now, though, sitting in this bar he finally had it. It was a feeling so greatly missed that he couldn't resist surrendering to it.A killjoy piece of him, however, still felt uneasy about how he was avoiding his problems instead of dealing with them. It wasn't just the fact that he was deliberately not telling any of his loved ones about the momentous changes occurring in his life. More than that, it was his general reluctance to even think about the future or how he was going to live in light of things already in motion. He had no good answers for these issues. For now he just wanted to finish his beer in peace. ***"Why am I even friends with this guy," asked Rolo of himself as he sat in his car. Literally, right as he pulled up into the The Hut parking lot, Alex texted him saying he couldn't make it. Yet again he had canceled.Alex was someone Rolo met at an office party about two years ago. Since they were the closest in age at the party, they somewhat hit it off. Eventually they made it a habit to meet up with each other every now and again. While usually reliable, Alex did on occasion irk Rolo by canceling at the very last minute. In frustration, Rolo would sometimes question the value of continuing his friendship with him, but invariably he chose to maintain it. After all, besides Jake he didn't have many other people he could hangout with after work."Well, I'm here now. I might as well go in and get a burger or something." With that Rolo made his way into the bar where he quickly encountered someone he was not expecting to meet."Hey Jake, surprised to see you here," said Rolo as he approached his friend who was seated in a fairly secluded corner of the bar."Oh ----," thought Jake the moment he saw Rolo walk in. Like virtually anyone keeping a big secret, he was paranoid about even the slightest possibility of discovery. In his mind, he scrambled for a reasonable excuse as to why he was here."Hey man, what are you doing here," Jake managed to ask first.With an annoyed sigh Rolo responded, "Well I was supposed to meet my friend Alex, but he had to cancel so I decided to come in anyhow and get something to eat or drink. How about you?""Oh, I got a phone call today, and it turns out I got that job I applied for a while back. It's a big raise, and just such a huge step forward for me that I uhh wanted to celebrate."No one would mistake Jake for an actor. Regardless, he did his best to sell his cover-up. It wasn't entirely untrue after all. Some time ago he did apply for a position which he was recently interviewed for, and he felt the interview went well enough that he was somewhat confident he'd get the job. He studied Rolo's facial expression to see if his excuse stuck."Jake, that's so great to hear. Congratulations. Happy for you man," said Rolo with genuine joy at his friend's good news. Since he had no reason to doubt the word of his best friend, Rolo wholeheartedly believed him.Sensing his ploy had worked, Jake continued, "Yeah you know I'm just so relieved that it worked out and I'm moving forward with my career it seems like."Having dodged a bullet, Jake felt relief coursing through him. Without any further hesitation, he invited Rolo to join him at his table. It wasn't a bother to have Rolo sitting with him now. If anything it was a boon since he would no longer be drinking alone. Feeling the same, Rolo sat down at the table and the two began hanging out.The only immediate concern still bothering Jake was the issue of the pendant and the wish. He couldn't quite fully dismiss it from his mind. At some point as he sat with his friend, it occurred to him that if anyone would know if a wish had in fact been granted it would be Rolo. After all, he made the wish on behalf of him.The urge to pee afflicted Rolo before he even stepped into the bar. Before long, he got up to head for the restroom. As he prepared to leave, Jake suddenly asked him a question."Hey wait. Before you go, can I ask you a real quick question?"Although Rolo's bladder was near bursting he politely waited for his friend to ask him his question."Sure, what's up?""Have you seen or experienced anything weird or out of the ordinary since last night?"Bladder on the edge of capacity, Rolo still took a moment to genuinely ponder. Besides Jake's strange behavior at his house, he could recall little to nothing out of the ordinary occurring since last night. If anything for him the day went along a perfectly predictable course."No, not that I can think of. Why?"" I...It's nothing. It's just I've heard from coworkers, clients, and others that ummm certain things have been happening recently but it's really nothing," replied Jake trying to cobble together an explanation as to why he asked in the first place. In a rush to leave, Rolo barely paid any mind to his hastily constructed reply and sped off to the restroom. ***At some point during the evening at The Hut, Charlie made his way to the bathroom. While there he not only used the restroom, but also took a moment to reflect on things."Seriously who is this Rolo Baez," he asked himself as he looked into the bathroom mirror. He proceeded to splash his face with cold water."Ya know, maybe this Rolo Baez person is just someone or something I randomly dreamed up in my sleep. I know something weird happened last night, but I just can't remember."Still unable to make heads or tails of his situation, he walked out the restroom without giving the matter another thought. As he walked out, however, he received a text from Andrew letting him know the guys were headed out and were already waiting in the car for him so they could leave. With his focus momentarily distracted, he naturally ended up bumping into someone. Looking to see who it was so he could properly apologize, he couldn't believe his eyes. It was him."Rolo Baez," he involuntarily uttered. Part 2: A Wish GrantedSection 1: Run-In Chapter 1: Bumped Into "Rolo Baez," said an all too familiar voice to Rolo. He heard the words and saw the person who uttered them, but he still couldn't believe it. No way was it real."MoistCritikal," he replied back in a tone of disbelief. For a moment, he no longer felt the urge to use the restroom as strongly as he had before. The lights, sounds, and view of the Midwestern bar around him receded far into the background. In the foreground was the immediate image of the man who stood before him, and a recollection of that dream he experienced only a night prior.Charlie's reaction upon bumping into Rolo was no less intense. In fact the moment he laid eyes on the short, unassuming man he'd just run into, something incredibly weird happened to him. Somehow, someway he immediately recognized the man standing before him as the Rolo Baez he'd inadvertently been thinking about all day. He was inexplicably sure of it. The strangeness did not end there.Finding himself suddenly face to face with this mystery man, he felt his face breakout in an unmistakable blush. His heart raced. Moreover, he suddenly had butterflies in his stomach. He couldn't even look away.It was like time stopped as the two stared at each other in shock that the other was there; physically present right in front of them. They would have stayed stuck in place for a while if not for the assistance of a kind stranger."GET THE ---- OUT THE WAY. YOU'RE BLOCKING THE RESTROOM AND I HAVE TO TAKE A ----," whispered the kind, friendly voice of someone standing behind Rolo.They both stopped looking at each other so they could turn their attention to a clearly drunk man yelling at them."MOVE ------," he once more whispered in an even more polite, calm and friendly voice when the two didn't step aside. They both finally did. In a huff, the drunken man walked past them. There was nothing quite like the harsh shouting of some middle aged drunk to send both men back to an awareness of their present surroundings."Wait, do you know who I am," asked Charlie, still trying to get his bearings. He'd heard Rolo say his screenname, and so suspected this mystery person might be a fan. After a whole day of speculating as to who this man could be, this was the only lead he had."Ummm, yes," uttered a bewildered Rolo.The experience of bumping into anyone would have flummoxed the shy Rolo. It certainly didn't help that the person he bumped into was someone so unexpected who, at least in his view of the world, seemed so out of place here in his everyday Southern Illinois life. Added to this he still very much had to pee. With the restroom so tantalizingly close, he could feel the floodgates of his bladder about to give way at any moment. Under these circumstances, it was not only difficult to think straight but impossible. He stared his favorite YouTuber in the eyes, but lacked the presence of mind to even appreciate it.In this situation, Charlie faced a choice. On the one hand, his friends were already in the car waiting for him. The normal and sensible thing would have been to quickly apologize to the mysterious short man in front of him then promptly join them. On the other hand, he had finally encountered the man who'd inexplicably been on his mind all day and who ,for whatever reason, he felt powerfully drawn to. He wanted to know who this person was. Phone still in his hand he took the only course of action he felt he could. ***"Well at the very least, I was able to confirm that nothing came of the wish I made for Rolo. I mean I'm sure if something way out of the ordinary happened, if his wish, whatever it could possibly be, was actually granted then I would have heard about it by now. In any case, I should probably throw away or sell that ---- pendant when I get back," thought Jake to himself when Rolo left. He tried to resume sipping his beer and enjoying the chillness of the moment.Just then his phone beeped. Almost instinctively, he pulled it out to see what it was. It was a text message. Whatever inner peace he enjoyed sitting at the bar, flew out the window the moment he saw who the text was from and what it said."When are you coming by the house to pick up the rest of your stuff," read the text from his wife, Clarice.Jake slumped in his chair. Just when he thought the reality of his ordeal could be delayed a little while longer there it was again. There really was no escaping it.When it rains it pours. Before he could even begin processing his wife's text, Rolo came back. One glance at his face and Jake could discern he had something extraordinary to tell."So," began Rolo settling back down into his chair, "you remember how you were just asking me if anything out of the ordinary happened today?"Trying his best not to seem too fazed, Jake answered back, "Yeah, well did something happen?"Barely able, himself, to believe what had occurred only a few minutes prior, Rolo finally said, "On the way to the restroom, I not only literally bumped into my favorite YouTuber, but he asked me for my number and," he paused for a moment as he tried to absorb the magnitude of what he was about to say, "I gave it to him. I gave him my number.""," said Jake as he took a big gulp of his beer. Chapter 2: Later That NightAfter returning from the bar, the group of four stayed up a while longer. Eventually, however, exhaustion overtook them and so the four friends readied themselves for bed. It was in the midst of these preparations that Charlie stepped outside. He wanted to be alone for a bit. Taking out his phone, he looked at the unfamiliar number he had only recently acquired."I asked for his number," he thought as he recalled the incident at the bar, "But what for? What am I going to do with this?"As had been the case throughout the day, his own thoughts, actions, and reactions continued to baffle him. Remembering the image of the man he bumped into earlier, he was more certain than ever he'd never seen him before in his life. It didn't make any sense then that he not only knew his name beforehand, but was able to somehow instantly recognize him upon first laying eyes on him. Perhaps more importantly, he couldn't explain the intensity of his reaction to the mere sight of this mystery person. With some embarrassment, he remembered how his heart leapt and his face became flush. Virtually everything involving this Rolo Baez perplexed him.More than ever he wanted to unravel the mystery about this person who over the last twenty four hours had somehow become his obsession. Although he had his number, he didn't know what pretense or excuse to come up with to meet him again. He didn't feel he could just break away from his friends without arousing unwanted notice. Vexed by the issue he resigned himself to going back inside."Hey Charlie, do you mind helping me with the dishes for a sec," asked Andrew as he prepared to load the dishwasher. While the other two members of their group were in their respective rooms, Charlie and Andrew were alone in the kitchen."Sure," said Charlie."So, what did you think of St. Louis," asked Andrew as the two put the dishes away in efficient coordination."It was fine," replied Charlie, still in a somewhat troubled state of mind.The flat tone of Charlie's response left Andrew more than a little frustrated. Like Jackson, he also noticed Charlie's distracted behavior and overall lack of interest during their time in St. Louis. Unlike Jackson, however, he suspected boredom lay at the root of it all. He feared his worries were coming to pass; his friends weren't enjoying their time visiting him."So, I was thinking," began Andrew again, "That after the long day we had today that tomorrow we would just chill out around here for a little while. Ya know, just relax. I was also thinking of inviting some people over for a little house party later in the day. What do you think?"Andrew did not expect much of a reaction out of Charlie. In fact, he fully anticipated another muted response from him. To his surprise, though, the moment he mentioned the house party something seemed to click within his friend."Hey, so about this house party tomorrow is it okay if I invite someone to it," asked a now alert and interested Charlie.Charlie's reaction to his suggestion of a house party startled Andrew on at least two levels. First, it constituted an instant yet dramatic break from the muted, flat tone he exhibited only a minute or so ago. Instead his voice was filled with an unexpected excitement. Second, he wondered as to who this person could be who Charlie was so interested in inviting over. "Did he meet someone here already," thought Andrew to himself."Ummm, well I mean who is this person exactly," Andrew asked, staring at Charlie in plain bewilderment."It's...It's uhhh ya know, someone I met online who happens to live here and uhhh yeah I was just thinking this would be a great opportunity to finally meet them," said Charlie doing his best to come up with a plausible story.Normally, Andrew would have pressed further. He would have asked more questions about this mystery person Charlie insisted on inviting into his house. In this case, however, his eagerness for his friend's happiness exceeded any lingering concerns he possessed. If his friend trusted this person then he was keen to consider that good enough for him."Uhhh, sure yeah go ahead and invite them over," said Andrew after only a few moments of deliberation. He imagined not too much trouble could possibly come of this. ***For the last few days, Jake avoided grappling with the big long term questions which arose from his current domestic situation with his wife. He tried not to think of where he was going to stay, how he was going to break the news to his loved ones, or even what his life would look like in the near future. Even beginning to think about these things struck him as overwhelming and exhausting. Delay and denial of the inevitable were much easier. One text from his wife, though, reminded him of the impossibility of indefinite procrastination.Returning from the bar, Jake looked around his motel room. As it stood, the dinky, dingy room could barely store all the stuff he'd initially brought with him from the house. If his wife was insistent on him taking the remainder of the things he'd left behind then there was no way it could all fit in his motel room. Unless he wanted to pay for both a storage unit and a motel room, the reality was he would have to think of some place to live with himself and his stuff. He would have to think of the future which was coming regardless of his preparedness for it; would have to ponder all the new circumstances which would undergird his life shortly."-----, why is she in such a rush? Why can't she just let me be? Just give me time." An image came to his mind of his wife overjoyed to finally be rid of him while he struggled to come to terms with the cascade of changes which were now making themselves increasingly evident in his life. This only incensed his anger and frustration.A part of him wanted to think over the surprising incident Rolo told him about while they were at the bar; to ponder whether there was a connection between it and the wish he granted on Rolo's behalf yesterday. In his current state, however, he lacked the focus of mind to spare it a thought. His focus was almost entirely on the mess of his personal life. Going over to sort some of his stuff, however, he once more stumbled on the pendant still dull and lacking its usual glimmer. Exasperated, he tossed it towards a corner of the room.Chapter 3: Disbelief The first thing Rolo did when he got back home was check MoistCritikal's YouTube page to confirm the man he saw at the bar was indeed the MoistCritikal he saw on the screen almost everyday. To his eyes and remembrance it clearly was him. Nonetheless, the more he thought about it the more he doubted how it could have possibly happened the way he remembered it."I mean, how would he even know my name," thought Rolo recalling how the first thing MoistCritikal said was his full name, "I know his face and his name because I see him on YouTube all the time, but he wouldn't know mine. And c'mon it all happened so fast. One moment I bumped into this guy who looked so much like MoistCritikal, and then the next he asked me for my number, and in the heat of the moment I blurted it out to him. Afterwards, I went to the restroom and when I came out he was gone. It happened so fast that it's almost a blur to me. Maybe...maybe. I don't know."On top of the noted incongruities of MoistCritikal somehow knowing who he was, another impediment for Rolo was the general feeling he possessed that an event as extraordinary and unusual as the one he thought he'd experienced simply couldn't happen in his everyday life. To be clear, life in O'Fallon had its surprises. Occasionally, for example, he would bump into an old acquaintance, someone he hadn't seen in years, and they would talk for a few minutes before once more going about their now separate lives. To give another example, every now and then he would go to the grocery store and discover to his delight that they weren't sold out of that local brand of chips he liked. As a final example, typically once or even twice a year a winter storm would come along that left the roads so unsuitable for travel that work would call a snow day leaving Rolo to spend the day in the comfort of his own home as opposed to slaving away at the office. Such occurrences constituted about the extent of fortuitous, unforeseen things he believed daily life capable of offering him. It simply didn't seem likely or even possible that something as out of the ordinary as running into one's favorite YouTuber at some random bar in the Midwest could actually happen to him. More than anything else it was this ingrained sense of disbelief which prevented him from accepting what his own memories of recent events attested to be true.As it got closer to his bedtime, he attempted to drop thinking about the incident at the bar and instead give into thoughts about more practical concerns. In three weeks, his cousin had a wedding so he needed to order a wedding gift for her. Checking the fridge, he realized he was short on groceries and so would need to plan a trip to the grocery store sometime soon. On and on he went about making mental notes and taking care of little things around the house before he went to bed.Try as he may, however, to resume his life and move past the run-in at the bar, he couldn't entirely dismiss it from his thoughts. Amidst the mundane concerns which now preoccupied his attention, the idea he'd actually bumped into MoistCritikal was a delightful little thought he kept alive in the back of his mind. Even as he denied the possibility that it was MoistCritikal, something within Rolo was still excited by the idea of the unexpected and unlikely entering into his life even if only for a brief time. A small part of him continued to push back against the disbelief which otherwise held sway over him.Eventually, his bedtime arrived. He brushed his teeth, made his lunch for work, changed his clothes then got into bed. Just as he stood on the precipice of falling asleep, his phone beeped. Picking up his phone in annoyance, Rolo wondered, "Who is texting me this late? God, I hope it's not an emergency." It was a text from a number he did not recognize. As it turned out the day held one more surprise in store for him.Section 2: The House PartyChapter 4: An Unexpected Invite"I just want my life back," exclaimed Jorge Ramirez in the middle of his emotional outburst. The middle aged burly Latino and father of three kids wasn't the type for emotional outpourings. A macho man, he normally kept all the pains and frustrations of his inner world tucked away in a place which even his dearest loved ones had trouble reaching. Sitting in Jake's office, however, he let it all out.Jorge was going through a divorce. The mere process of severing a decades-long relationship would be traumatic enough for most men. Added to this was the wife's insistence on taking custody of their children. From all Jake could gather it was an absolute mess; more than enough to send this man's man into tears.As a therapist, Jake was trained to be an empathetic yet stoic listener to the emotional woes of clients. His clients could vent their hearts out, but as a true professional he was to remain calm and composed throughout the session. He had a responsibility to disconnect personal emotions from the performance of his work-related duties. It usually wasn't a problem for him. In fact, his stalwart professionalism was a source of pride; a secret badge of honor he held deep within his heart. Over the years he'd become practiced in maintaining his professional veneer even when dealing with the most disagreeable or troubled client. He fully expected to do much the same when listening to Jorge."It's not fair she gets to stay in the house we bought together while I have to sleep at some AirBnB," Jorge bitterly complained at one point during the session. Hearing these words, Jake thought of his motel room. His own bitterness coursed through him just thinking about how awful it was in comparison to the home he and his wife used to share."Sometimes it feels like she doesn't even care how I feel. She just wants to get rid of me. To throw me and our marriage away," Jorge continued. Listening to him, Jake felt a discomfort akin to what one feels when looking at one's own reflection and not liking it. For the sake of maintaining a professional appearance, he attempted to hide this growing unease."And the worst part of it all. The absolute worst part is that to be honest," Jorge's eyes looked downward at the floor as he prepared to admit something he felt abashed about saying aloud, "I don't know what to do. I just don't know. And I'm not used to that. I'm not." Jake bristled at these words. Flashing glances at the clock, he could no longer hide his eagerness for the session to end; to stop the torture of being so relentlessly subjected to words and emotions that struck so close to home."Are you okay,'' said Jorge, finally noticing Jake's discomfort."Yes, yes I'm fine Mr. Ramirez please continue," Jake replied, wishing to be a good therapist and urge his client on. Jorge did just that. As he did, Jake tried to not let slip again the degree to which Jorge's remarks struck a nerve with him. Eventually, the session ended.Jorge left the office and Jake breathed a sigh of relief. Sitting in his office, he checked his schedule to see what was next.Fortunately for him, his next appointment canceled which meant he had at least a good thirty minutes to do whatever he needed to do. Part of the time he spent productively writing out case notes and other paperwork. Finishing that early, he spent the rest in quiet contemplation."Maybe tonight I'll try to relax again for a change," he thought leaning back in his chair and recalling the fleeting tranquility he experienced yesterday at The Hut, "I told Clarice I'd be over tomorrow to pick up more of my stuff so for tonight at least I'll make an effort to take it easy." Just when he was about to think about things he could do tonight to relax, he remembered something."Oh, that's right. Rolo invited me to that house party today."Suddenly, he remembered Rolo's surprising late night texts. In those texts, Rolo described how that YouTuber he supposedly bumped into at the bar had out-of-nowhere invited him to a house party later today. Naturally, Rolo asked if Jake could come with him. Knowing how shy Rolo could be Jake surmised his presence would be much appreciated. Further, it was an opportunity to get out of his motel room."I mean it is quite the coincidence Rolo just so happened to bump into his favorite YouTuber at some random bar. Yes, it is also very unusual that said YouTuber out of the blue asked for his number. And yes it is even weirder that this YouTuber then invited him to a house party. Those are all very unusual things to happen in one night but...but...but none of those things are technically outside the realm of what's possible. Just because something's unusual doesn't mean it's due to magic. The pendant and the wish I made may still have nothing to do with all this."Last night after receiving the surprise text from his wife, Jake was too mentally exhausted to ponder the significance of the events Rolo described. Now, though, he had time. He continued trying to reason away the extraordinary significance of all these events happening to Rolo in one night, but try as he may he couldn't quite quell the concern growing in the back of his mind. Memories of Tuesday night's events swirled through his head. ***It had been several weeks since Rolo's boss stopped by his cubicle and asked with pleading eyes, "Now I know you have a lot on your plate as is, but do you think you'll be able to train and mentor the new summer intern when he comes? If you really can't that's fine I'll ask someone else, but I would really love it if it was you. You're such a diligent worker and model employee that I literally can't think of anyone more qualified."For the briefest of seconds, Rolo thought about rejecting his boss's request. As she correctly pointed out, he was already swamped with work as is. Like many people who are good at their jobs, his frequent reward for his hard work was more work. Extra tasks and special assignments seemed to gravitate to him in a way they didn't for his less capable coworkers. He pondered how it would not be entirely unreasonable for him to just this once say no."Yeah sure, absolutely. No problem," he ultimately replied. The power of habit made him unable to reply otherwise.A few days later the new summer intern arrived. Over the course of the ensuing weeks, the seventeen year old high schooler, who because of his schedule as an intern only came in three times a week, shadowed Rolo as he went about doing his job. With a clear eagerness to learn, the young man would pay attention to Rolo's every action, and ask all sorts of questions about the hows and whys of what he was doing. At first he didn't mind the addition of the intern into his typical workday. Having an intern follow him around all day was as innocuous as having an extra shadow. Then one day something dawned on him."I'm this kid's role model," it suddenly occurred to him as he noticed the intern paying particularly close attention to how he was going about his work, "I'm helping this kid learn how to be a responsible, mature, working adult." That insight alone wouldn't have been so bad if it wasn't for the question that almost inevitably flowed from it. "But am I worthy of that? Am I worthy of being a role model to him or to anyone? If I was his age again, would I want me as a role model?"Initially, it seemed obvious that the answer to all those questions was a definite yes. After all, as his boss pointed out he was regularly regarded as a model employee. Furthermore, when thinking of his life on a broader scale outside of work he considered the fact that he had his own house, maintained an independent life no longer reliant on his parents, and among other things managed his budget well enough to have a sizable amount of savings. From a certain conventional perspective, one he was particularly beholden to, he had done most if not all of the things expected of a mature adult and should be proud of his accomplishments. Somehow, however, thinking about his life didn't elicit the sense of self-satisfaction he thought it should.Instead the more he pondered the current state and direction of his life the more an unfamiliar and vexing unease took hold of him. This unease didn't take the form of some neatly defined objection to the way things in his life were going. On the contrary, it took the form of a sinking feeling resistant to any efforts to put it into a box and label it. Its indefinable nature frustrated him. An insight was missing to give it shape. All he could currently say of it was that it prevented him from giving the expected yes to the questions he now inwardly asked himself every time he caught the intern paying close attention to him.The day after the run-in at the bar, Rolo took the intern, Zach, with him to lunch. Although he usually ate his lunch alone sitting at his desk, lately he'd gotten used to taking the intern out with him. It was a chance to learn more about someone who at least until the summer ended would be under his care and guidance at the office. Over the preceding weeks, he'd grown to enjoy Zach's company. Common interests bridged the generational gap between them, so that outside of work they had things to talk about.Walking with him to a nearby fast food joint, Rolo fully expected Zach to launch off into a series of probing questions concerning work. To his relief, he didn't. Instead he brought up a topic much closer to both their hearts."Hey Rolo, guess what,""What?""Final Phantasy XX came out last night!""What?! For real? I thought that was next week.""No, it was this week. I downloaded it last night and it was so cool.""Oh really?""Yeah it was!"For the rest of the walk, Rolo allowed the intern to geek out about the latest installment of the video game series Final Phantasy. He listened as the intern talked with unbridled excitement about all the cutting edge graphics, game mechanics, and story elements which made it so awesome. Although it'd been a while since he last played a Final Phantasy game, he knew enough about the series to at least somewhat share in the teenager's enthusiasm. The Final Phantasy games had been an integral part of his own childhood. It lightened his mood to hear how much it was now a part of Zach's.As they sat down to eat, Zach explained how his plan for tonight was to stay up all night finishing the game with a couple of his friends. Being an intern who didn't work full time, he could very well do this without consequence."So what are you doing tonight," he asked, momentarily forgetting that Rolo wasn't on summer vacation like he was."Well I,uh, might be going to a party later today."The intern's eyes widened. "What? Really? You're going to a party?"Giving the intern a puzzled look, Rolo replied, "Yes, I'm going to a party. Why do you sound so shocked and surprised about it?""I mean, usually whenever I ask you what you're doing after work or on the weekends you usually say something lame like you're staying at home or working extra overtime. I never hear you doing anything fun or exciting."Flabbergasted by what he was hearing, Rolo swiftly responded, "That's not true. I do things." Rolo quickly scoured his memories in search of the last time he had done something which the average seventeen year old would describe as fun or exciting. It took more effort and time than he was willing to admit to the intern."Okay, if you say so," seeing he'd struck a nerve the intern decided to relent a little bit. "So anyhow, what's this party going to be all about? Like any special occasion?""No, not that I'm aware of. It's just a house party. Although, there's a bit of a story to it.""Oh" said the intern, his curiosity now piqued.Rolo proceeded to tell the intern about yesterday's run-in at the bar. The only critical detail he left out was the strangeness surrounding how the person he ran into, whether it was MoistCritikal or not, somehow knew his name and recognized him. He thought it too mysterious a detail to include in his casual retelling."Woah," replied the intern in astonishment after Rolo finished this section of his story, "So you bumped into your favorite YouTuber?""I...I guess I did," said Rolo, still harboring some residual disbelief."So then what happened?""Well, later that night just before I went to bed, I received some text messages from the guy who I bumped into at the bar. He confirmed that he was MoistCritikal then ,uhhh, then he invited me to a house party later today at the house of a friend he's staying with while he's in the area."Retelling the story of last night's events allowed Rolo to reexperience the surprise even shock they caused him. An otherwise ordinary day for him took an incredibly unanticipated turn."He asked if you wanted to go to a house party," asked the intern, maintaining the tone of amused astonishment he'd kept through most of the conversation."Yeah, he said he wanted to apologize for bumping into me earlier but mostly because he liked to meet his fans in-person. At least that's what he said.""Wow, that is quite a story. So are you excited about going to this party and meeting him? I know I would be."Like many people his age, Zach spent much of his free time following various social media personalities on Twitch, YouTube, and other social media websites. On video or in images posted to Instagram these people seemed so fun, interesting, and personable that he couldn't imagine time spent with one of them in-person wouldn't be worthwhile. The young teenager even occasionally entertained dreams of becoming a famous internet star. He imagined it would almost certainly beat some boring office job; a future his father but not he was insistent on him taking."I guess I am," replied Rolo after a moment of hesitation.Unlike the intern he did not take it for granted that the public persona of these people always matched up with who they were in-person. Over the years, he'd seen enough shocking exposés of YouTubers who seemed so put together online but were awful in their personal lives. Their supposed authenticity was manufactured and the displays of virtue were little more than red herrings."How much do I actually know about MoistCritikal," he asked himself as the intern paused the conversation to take a big bite out of his burger.A fresh appreciation of the uncertainty even risk of the coming meeting took hold of him."At least Jake will be there," he reassured himself. ***Not sure where he'd been transported to, Charlie looked all around him. Wherever he'd been taken to, it was a place where the stars twinkled across the night sky and the light of a full moon illuminated everything. He looked down at his feet and was shocked by what he saw. Instead of solid ground he stood on white, fluffy clouds. Somehow they supported his weight. Taking a few steps made him quickly realize just how soft they were to walk on. Everything about this strange new world took his breath away.Suddenly, he heard a voice behind him. When he turned to look his jaw dropped. It was the same man he'd bumped into at the bar last night, Rolo Baez. Before he could say anything, Rolo took him by the hands and swept him away. They danced amidst the clouds. At some point their faces started inching closer together. Just when they were close enough to kiss, the dream ended.Charlie awoke in a state of confusion and bewilderment. He looked around the room as if he was surprised to find himself there."Morning, Charlie," said the voice of someone entering the room.Recognizing the voice as Jackson's, Charlie turned his head towards him and groggily returned his greeting, "Morning.""Did you uhh, have a good night's sleep," asked Jackson, noticing how out of sorts his friend seemed."Uhhh yeah, yeah, I just had a really weird dream is all," said Charlie as he still tried to gain his bearings."Oh yeah, what did you dream," Jackson asked as he casually put on deodorant and socks.Charlie hesitated to answer. All the weirdness surrounding Tuesday night's events, Rolo Baez, the run-in at the bar, and now this dream were all things he wasn't ready to talk about with Jackson or anyone else for that matter. As little sense as they made to him, he imagined they would make even less sense to other people. He worried about alarming his friends over something that may still turn out to be nothing at all. They were supposed to be relaxing on this trip together, after all. Although it somewhat pained him not to be forthright with his friend, he ultimately decided a level of discretion was necessary."I don't remember much about it. I just remember it was weird.""Okay...," said Jackson, sensing Charlie was being less than forthcoming but unsure of the value of pressing further, "Well there should be breakfast out in the kitchen." With that he left the room.Alone again, Charlie thought about all the strange occurrences of the last few days. Try as he may, he could still make no rational sense of it all."Maybe I met Rolo Baez some time ago, but just don't remember. And maybe something about being here in Illinois where apparently he lives is reminding me of him. Is why I can't get him off my mind."Such speculations were the best he had to explain everything."Anyhow, I'll see him later today and I'll ask him. Just ask him if we've met before."A sense of calm came over him at the simplicity of this course of action. It gave him hope.Getting out of bed made him realize just how sore his feet were from yesterday. He was glad Andrew said they would be taking it easy today. Without further ado, he got dressed then joined up with his friends in the living room. Chapter 5: “Small” TalkThe two friends agreed to meet at Rolo's house first then drive together to the party. As the two drove along, they noticed dark storm clouds moving in. It had been a pleasant summer's day a mere two hours before with clear skies and radiant sunshine. Now, a thunderstorm appeared imminent."Well, that's an ominous sign," said Jake with a bit of a chuckle."Oh shut up, it's just Midwest weather," Rolo responded as he continued driving. Despite his dismissal, the sight of storm clouds didn't exactly calm his nerves."I just hope this goes well," he thought as they pulled up to the driveway of the address they'd been given. ***Andrew was in the living room when he heard a knock at the door."Hmm, did someone order something," he wondered as he went towards the front door.The moment he opened the door he saw two unfamiliar men standing there."Uhhh, hey," said the shorter of the two men with obvious nervousness."Can I help you with something," replied Andrew.For several seconds which felt like consecutive eternities, the short man in front of Andrew didn't answer. He simply looked up at him like a deer in headlights.Sensing his friend's loss of nerve, the taller of the two opened his mouth and responded, "Umm, we're here because we were invited to a house party or what not by a uhhh, Charlie I believe."Finally, realizing who they were, Andrew said, "Oh right, yeah, yeah, yeah."He stood aside and opened the door wider for them, "Well, come in. The name's Andrew by the way.""I'm Jake and this is Rolo," said the taller man once more speaking for himself and his shy companion as they stepped through the front door and into Andrew's kitchen."Okay cool, I'm gonna go see if I can get Charlie."Andrew had only taken a single step when suddenly someone exclaimed loudly, "It's Rolo!" ***Rolo was surprised to see Andrew answer the door. Although of the four members of the Official Podcast, he was only particularly enamored of Charlie he nonetheless recognized the other three."Does he actually live here," thought Rolo to himself as if it was somehow unfathomable that Andrew should abide in the same Southern Illinois milieu as him. Before his feelings of surprise had a chance to fade away, the voice of someone entering the kitchen exclaimed, "It's Rolo.""Steve, hey man," said Rolo with some relief when he saw it was Steve Dunham who yelled out his name."Oh, you two know each other," asked Andrew, now himself somewhat surprised.Approaching Rolo, Steve replied, "That we do. What's up man? Didn't expect to see you here."Steve's arrival made everyone else in the room feel relieved albeit for different reasons. For Andrew, the fact that his friend Steve knew Rolo made him feel even more confident about his decision to allow Charlie to invite him and his friend over. Jake was reassured he wouldn't need to babysit his friend the whole time since he at least already knew one person at the party. Finally, Rolo was just glad to see such a familiar face.That said, it still struck Rolo as jarring to see his former best friend Steve and his current best friend Jake standing side by side. While Jake was the image of the non-confrontational, non-threatening white bread suburban male, Steve with his piercings, tattoos, and dyed hair still seemed like someone eager to communicate his ongoing rebellion against suburban norms. He hadn't changed a bit.Steve and Rolo used to be best friends back in high school. They stopped being best friends not because of some dramatic fallout, but because as adults they lived separate lives now. Every few months or so they would bump into each other at the grocery store, a restaurant, or some other place, and attempt to catch up. In such instances, a mutually shared desire to hangout some time would be expressed along with cursory plans to do so. Their lives, however, proceeded on such different tracks that those plans pretty much never happened. It had been about a year since the two had last seen each other.As the two former best friends began making small talk with one another, Andrew went back to finding Charlie. Jake, not wanting to interrupt the two, found himself wandering into the living room."So, how do you know Andrew," asked Rolo once Jake and Andrew had left the room."Oh, I met him just one day at a party like this actually. We started hanging out and the rest is history. But, uh, what the heck's been up with you? It's been forever since I last saw you.""Not much," Rolo reassured him, "Just the usual. Work and everything else. How about you?"The second after he said it Rolo immediately regretted asking Steve the seemingly casual question, "How about you?" He already had an inkling of what Steve's reply would be.Steve shook his head before answering, "Oh man, let me tell you..."That statement began a tirade in which Steve listed all the woes and supposed hardships life had thrown his way in the year since they last saw each other. Rolo could barely stand it. It lasted only a few minutes, but felt like an eternity as he listened to Steve whine and complain.While Rolo didn't know every detail of the torrid tale, he knew a significant part of Steve's life since high school had consisted of a failed attempt at stardom. He tried to be an actor. People at their high school theater program had told him year after year how great he was, and so the idea grew in his head that the universe had destined him for such a profession. The long and short of it was that he moved to L.A. where the universe informed him the hard way of how very wrong he was. Whatever alignment of stars and chance circumstances separates successful actors from failed ones, apparently never happened to him. Eventually, he beat a hasty retreat back to Southern Illinois, and became a plumber.A plumber is by all means a respectable profession. Most people will need the services of a decent plumber at some point in their lives. Nonetheless, ever since his return to Southern Illinois it seemed every conversation with Steve made some direct or indirect allusion to the bitterness he felt about dashed hopes and dreams. His bitching didn't just annoy Rolo; it struck him as immature."Get over it. Just shut the ---- up and get over it. Most of the rest of us aren't living the dream either. Geez," Rolo wanted to say to Steve every time he went on one of these tangents.By the phrase 'most of the rest of us' Rolo was of course referring to the cohort of peers who'd graduated high school along with him and Steve. While Rolo didn't know the exact fate of every single person they went to high school with, he imagined their lives with few exceptions had all turned out basically the same way. Whatever dreams stemming from youthful inexperience they possessed coming out of high school were eventually tempered by the realities of adulthood into something far less grand, but at least much more realistic. Many of his former classmates had likely attempted to reach for the stars as Steve had, but had managed to quietly settle for whatever piece of comfortable mediocrity on Earth life had ultimately given them. Unlike Steve, they had done the sensible thing and moved on.Fortunately, Rolo didn't have to break out of his habitual politeness in order to get Steve to stop. Instead Andrew inadvertently came to the rescue when he shouted from the garage, "Hey, Steve get over here. Wanna show you something.""Coming," bellowed Steve in response, "Well, it was nice catching up with you man. Are you planning to stay awhile?""Yeah, I might. You know me. I never was one for parties or social gatherings in general.""I know. In any case, I'm hoping maybe we can hangout sometime soon.""Yeah man for sure. I'll let you know," replied Rolo more out of reflex than anything else.With that Steve went to go into the garage. This left Rolo alone in the kitchen. For some moments after his conversation with Steve, he was lost in thought. Despite the annoyance a run-in with Steve could cause him, it did have the distinct benefit of serving as an invitation to reminisce on days that even as they receded further and further into the past became more precious to him with each passing year. On most days Rolo simply had no good reason to bring up these memories. He usually kept them tucked away in some corner of his mind as things of immense sentimental value, but little practical use. Standing in Andrew's kitchen, he indulged in them like a guilty pleasure one was finally at peace to enjoy. It was the sound of footsteps behind him which broke him out of his reveries. ***Initially, Andrew tried to keep everyone in the party together. He wanted his local friends who he invited to meet and mingle with his visiting ones for at least a little bit so they could get to know each other. After basic introductions and small talk, he was pleased to find everyone getting along nicely. Eventually, the party reached a point where the various people assembled drifted off into separate groups. In the garage, Andrew, Steve, and Jackson formed a conversational trio. Greg, another local friend Andrew had invited, meanwhile chatted with Kaya. They too were in the garage, but were separate from the trio. Back inside the house, Rolo was of course in the kitchen. This left Jake alone on the living room couch with the only woman at the party."Wow, so tell me what happened next," exclaimed Bree, a third local friend Andrew invited, as she responded to a story Jake had just told her. Her fascination was genuine.Jake usually didn't care much for social gatherings in general. Although he didn't suffer from the social anxiety which afflicted his friend, he nonetheless possessed an introvert's prejudice against the sort of superficial small talk which was almost always a necessity at such occasions. So much could be said and to so many people, but all or most of it was of such little value that it felt like a waste to him. It was with some weariness that he ultimately agreed to go to the party with Rolo.To his good fortune, however, when he stepped into Andrew's living room, the first person he met was Bree. She was on her phone when he sat down at one end of the couch next to her. The moment he sat down, she stopped what she was doing to look up at him. An inadvertent blush came over him when she smiled at him and said, "Hey." She seemed nice enough. What occurred next was something Jake did not anticipate. After that initial "Hey" the two continued talking and an engrossing conversation developed between the two.He couldn't believe his luck. Exceeding his expectations, the discussion between them felt natural. It was less like forcing a boulder up a hill, and more like simply allowing it to roll downhill. He encountered none of the anticipated effort he dreaded. She had a genuine interest and affinity for what he was saying, and he reciprocated not because he felt obliged to, but because he wanted to. It was refreshing. As was typical, they started with easy, superficial topics, but at some point, neither could demarcate exactly when, they began broaching deeper subjects."So, if you don't mind me asking, are you seeing anyone right now," she asked hoping she wasn't being too forward.Jake paused. Up until that point, he'd been thoughtlessly enjoying himself. Whatever worries or anxieties he suffered in his personal life he was able to put into suspended animation. Now, though, they awoke in him once more. He also remembered that since at least last Sunday he'd stopped wearing his marriage ring which was undoubtedly why Bree felt she could ask him about his relationship status."Yes and no," he finally managed to say.When he said this he looked at Bree to gauge her reaction. Seeing her confused look made him realize how cryptic he sounded. It took a lot for him to say those words. He was admitting to a perfect stranger something he hadn't revealed to his closest loved ones. Somehow, though, it was easier to say this to someone who wasn't yet part of his life than it was to say to them. Unlike Kate or Rolo, Bree could hardly be disappointed or saddened by the news of what had happened.After another pause he continued, "I'm technically married right now, but my wife and I are separating. Separating permanently, so I won't be married for much longer."Jake admitted all this in a somber tone with a stilted delivery. He waited with some anxiety for her response."Oh okay, I get it," she said after making sure he had said all he wanted to say, "I actually went through a divorce myself two years ago, so I know what it's like."He looked at her stunned. It never occurred to him that this charming woman around his age could possibly have gone through what he was currently going through." did," he asked with much hesitation."Yeah," she reaffirmed without hesitation."Oh wow, I uhhh I..." he struggled with what to say next. For some time now, he'd wanted a suitable person to talk to about his situation. He wanted someone to relieve him of the loneliness. Although she'd admitted to being divorced, he didn't know how much she wanted to talk about the experience."We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to. I didn't mean to bring up the subject," she said, noticing his reluctance to speak."No, no, no it's fine. It's fine. I just. I'm just not totally used to talking about it," said Jake trying to match her casual demeanor and tone. In doing so, he understated the degree of discomfort he felt discussing the subject."I get that," she said with a warm smile, "It took me a while too."The warmth in her smile charmed him, but also reminded him of a truth which only deepened his present angst."She's smiling. She can smile while talking about her divorce because it was a while ago," it inwardly occurred to him, "But how long will it take for me to be like that?" Imagining the weeks, months, and perhaps even years it would take to reach that point, Jake grew disheartened. Chapter 6: The Mustard StainThe first thing Charlie did when Andrew told him Rolo and his friend had arrived was go to the bathroom. He didn't have to relieve himself. Instead he went to the bathroom, because he felt it was the only place he could be alone with his racing heart and sweaty palms."Get it together Charlie. Come on," he told himself as he splashed cold water on his face.As with just about everything involving Rolo, Charlie couldn't explain why he felt so worked up and anxious about meeting him. A sense of anticipation had been building all day. In an effort to calm himself, he closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing. When he opened his eyes he felt more relaxed. Then he looked at the mirror and saw it.On the lower half of his shirt was a mustard stain. It was a massive blob of yellow that stood out on his white t-shirt. He didn't know how he missed it. Wetting a towel and dabbing the affected area he tried to remove it, but he only managed to turn the bright yellow stain into a muted yellow one."Hey can whoever's in the bathroom get done quick please," said someone waiting outside the bathroom door.Wrapping up his clean-up effort, Charlie quickly headed out the door. He could have stopped by his room and gotten a new shirt, but in the heat of the moment opted not to. Instead, wanting to get this over with he headed straight for the kitchen. ***When he first heard footsteps approaching him from behind, Rolo initially thought it was Jake. Upon turning around, however, he was quickly proven wrong."It's him," he exclaimed to himself when he saw Charlie stepping into the kitchen. Any lingering doubt or disbelief was blown away by the reality of his standing there in front of him. Standing in the middle of the kitchen, Rolo stared at him dumbfounded.Having taken only a few steps into the kitchen, Charlie stopped and stared at Rolo. He returned Rolo's dumbfounded look with his own. The pent-up nerves he spent so long in the bathroom trying to alleviate returned to him with a vengeance. Somehow the short, rather unremarkable looking man in front of him caused his heart to race and his face to break out in a blush.They stared at each other. Neither could look away, but neither could say anything either. Instead they continued gawking at each other thus allowing a mutually shared feeling of discomfort to grow. Fortunately, nature intervened to break the deadlock.The developing thunderstorm Jake noticed on the way finally made its presence heard. A loud cracking of thunder nearby caused a rumble to course through the house. Glasses and plates clattered. Even the ground shook a little."Wow, storms in Illinois are really loud," said Charlie with a nervous chuckle. The second after he said it he had to resist the urge to facepalm himself. Out of all the things to say to break the silence he didn't know why he chose to say that.Rolo didn't immediately respond. At first he hesitated to speak to someone he was so accustomed to passively listening to. Someone he was used to seeing as pixels on a flat screen was now a three dimensional person standing in front of him. He became tongue tied. Then he saw it.Out of the corner of his eye, he spied the giant blob of a mustard stain on Charlie's otherwise white t-shirt. Covering his mouth, he stifled a laugh. Far from repulsing him, though, the sight of the stain eased his nerves. It allowed him to speak to Charlie as he would a normal person."I guess they are pretty loud," he finally managed to reply. He was still stifling a laugh when he spoke.At once remembering his manners, Charlie said, " Hey thanks for coming. I'm glad you could make it.""Oh umm, thanks for inviting me," Rolo replied, still a bit uncertain as to what to say or do next. He waited for Charlie's lead.Charlie took a seat at the kitchen counter which gave Rolo the motivation to take a seat as well. Although Charlie initially had thought of working his way up to the big question, he decided to broach the subject first thing and get it over with."So Rolo," he began, " Have we met before? Like at any point in time or any place? Because I saw you at the bar and I had a strange feeling that I've met you somewhere before. I just don't know where or when."Scouring his memory banks, Rolo searched for even the slightest possibility they'd ever met before."No, no I'm sure yesterday at the bar was our first time ever meeting. Yeah, I'm sure of it."Immediately, Charlie's expression became noticeably downcast. That was not the answer he was hoping for.Seeing the change in his expression, Rolo thought, "So that's it. It was a case of mistaken identity. He mistook me for someone he knew."It occurred to him that this was a better explanation for Charlie's sudden interest in some random fan he bumped into at a bar than any he'd come up with himself."Well it'd be too awkward to just leave now. I'm here now. I have to make something out of this," continued his thoughts."So yesterday was the first time I've met you in person, but I see you all the time on YouTube. I really like your videos," he said, hoping to change the topic of conversation to something that would not only improve the mood, but also carry them through the rest of the evening.While it disappointed Charlie to hear Rolo dash his earlier speculations by confirming they'd never met before yesterday, he didn't lose all hope. Instead he fell back on the idea that in continuing to talk to Rolo he might come across something which would explain the mystery of the last few days."Oh really," Charlie replied with a fresh smile.It was not a complete lie when he said he enjoyed meeting his fans. The reality of being a social media personality was that his career depended on people, at least a sizable number, liking his content. He enjoyed his work, but he was ever anxious of losing his audience and thus his livelihood. A YouTuber's audience could be fickle and prone to offense. Every time he uploaded a video he worried about people's reactions to it. It was thus almost always reassuring to meet a fan and be reminded of how much at least a few people on the face of the Earth liked his work."Yeah, I mean the first video I ever watched of yours was the one you did about the Juicero. That one was really funny," Rolo continued, glad to see Charlie's expression become more upbeat. For some time afterwards, the two talked about Charlie's videos, YouTube, and internet culture in general.As the conversation proceeded, Rolo became more relaxed. It started to become harder to remember why he had so much trouble speaking to Charlie in the first place. The more they talked the easier it was for him to continue doing so. Gradually, he started genuinely enjoying himself.Never the best at picking up on non-verbal social cues, subtle or overt, Rolo didn't notice or at least didn't sense the significance of the way Charlie was reacting to their ongoing interaction. He didn't quite catch Charlie's unwavering gaze filled with longing, the way he wouldn't stop blushing, or how he seemed to lean closer and closer to Rolo. Instead he continued to prattle on with blissful unawareness. The conversation would have continued if it wasn't for Rolo's phone suddenly ringing. It was his sister calling. Excusing himself, he stepped outside to take the call. *** In the living room, the conversation between Jake and Bree was abruptly interrupted by Rolo who walked in and said, "Hey Jake, sorry to interrupt but we gotta go. My sister just called and she needs help with something.""Okay, I'll meet you outside," Jake replied.At this, Rolo left the room.Turning towards Bree, he said, "It was...It was really nice talking to you."Although he felt this was a gross understatement, it was difficult for him to succinctly put into words how much their brief talk affected him."Likewise," she replied with a charming smile that made him blush.Jake got up to go, but as he did Bree stopped him by saying, "Wait, hold on."She then quickly pulled out her phone."I want to give you my number," she finished saying.Standing there looking at her, Jake didn't know what to say or do. Despite his marriage with his wife being all but legally finished, the idea of taking another woman's phone number still filled him with hesitation."Isn't this too early? Am I ready for this? Should I just take it," he wondered to himself.Perceiving his reluctance, she added, "It's just a phone number. I had a good time with you tonight, and if you want to I'd like to see you again. That's all."The relaxed tone with which she said this broke through his hesitation. They exchanged phone numbers. Then he left. Section 3: The Spirit Once Jake was in the car, Rolo explained the emergency which necessitated them leaving. His sister was out of town visiting in-laws, and she would be out much later than expected. The family dog had been left home alone. Her request was thus for Rolo to stop by her house as soon as he could and check up on the dog. Wanting to stay away from his motel room as much as possible, Jake agreed to go along with his friend. Since his sister lived in Troy, IL which was a bit of a drive to get to from O'Fallon, the two friends had the opportunity to not only talk about their respective experiences at the party but also to inwardly reflect on them.Thinking about the party, what struck Rolo the most was how uneventful his meeting with Charlie had been. He recalled their conversation in its entirety. Although the beginning was awkward the rest of their time together consisted of them talking about subjects they were mutually interested in and then once he got the call from his sister he thanked him again for inviting him over, and then left. That was it. While it was pleasant and enjoyable, Rolo couldn't help but feel somewhat disappointed.Over the course of the evening, he experienced something akin to watching a giant slowly but surely shrink down to the size of an ordinary human. The subconscious expectation he held that Charlie in-person would be as funny and amusing as the Charlie he saw on the YouTube videos hadn't held up. To be sure, in-person Charlie still displayed traces of the chill, entertaining personality Rolo had grown to become a fan of, but those qualities were less concentrated than in the videos. In all honesty, he didn't seem all that more hilarious than other people he'd encountered in his daily life. Even Charlie's appearance, which was Rolo's chief attraction to him, seemed less impressive up close. Although he still looked gorgeous, facial blemishes that weren't apparent on camera were more noticeable. With a suppressed chuckle, he recalled the mustard stain. At the very least, he was glad his fears of Charlie turning out to be an asshole weren't realized.Eventually the two friends arrived at the house of Rolo's sister. It was a modest one story house nestled amidst the residential subdivisions of the Southern Illinois landscape. Walking into the house, the first thing they noticed was that they were too late. The dog had already pooped and peed on the carpet."Hey man. I have pets too so I'll help you clean up," said Jake.With that the two friends let the dog outside, then proceeded to clean up its mess. Rolo took care of the urine stain while Jake cleaned up the feces.Even picking up dog crap couldn't stop Jake from thinking about Bree. Memories of his brief time with her left an inchoate glow in his heart."I got her number. I actually got her number," he thought to himself like a sixteen year old boy who'd just managed to score his first date. He didn't know what to do with it just yet but the fact that he managed to procure it at all was what mattered. Against the backdrop of the last week, it stood out as a much needed bright spot. It encouraged him.The two friends were in a good mood, and would have remained as such until Rolo remembered something."Ya know, I still never figured out how Charlie knew my name back at the bar," it suddenly occurred to Rolo. He had been so nervous speaking to Charlie that the issue had slipped his mind, but now he couldn't stop thinking about it. At first it continued to confound him. Then he recalled an important detail from yesterday's events at the bar. He remembered something that happened right before he bumped into Charlie"Hey Jake," Rolo began."Yeah," Jake answered as he finished cleaning up the poop stain."Yesterday at The Hut, why did you ask if I'd seen anything weird or out of the ordinary lately?"Jake grew noticeably apprehensive. "Oh nothing, nothing. I'm not totally sure why I said it. I uhh must have been a little tipsy when I asked. Why are you asking about it now?""Well, it's just that after you asked me that is when I ran into MoistCritikal so I was wondering. I just...I was curious if..." Rolo struggled with his words. He didn't want what he said next to sound like he was accusing his friend of anything."I was just wondering," he finally stammered out, "If somehow, someway there was a connection between the two."Stopping what he was doing, Jake promptly answered, "No, no, not that I could possibly think of."Even as he said this, however, memories of Tuesday night's events raced through his mind."Are you sure?" Even the usually aloof Rolo, observed his friend's growing agitation as he continued his questioning."Yes, I'm sure. I don't see how the two could possibly be connected."Jake's steadfast denial would have been the end of the matter if not for the intervention of something or rather someone. Unbeknownst to either Rolo or Jake, a being had been watching them from a realm imperceptible to human senses. This being, at once possessed of its own will and desires but as a wish-granting spirit bound to fulfill the whims of mankind, usually tried to resist the urge to overtly interfere in the very events its magic put into motion. Overhearing the conversation between Rolo and Jake, however, it sensed a prime opportunity to indulge in a bit of mischief by revealing what was really going on. It could no longer resist its ever present urge to cause a bit of chaos and thus sate its boredom. It decided to make an appearance.Instantly, a spectacular flash of light appeared in the middle of the living room. Rolo and Jake instinctively covered their eyes and cowered when it did. The light dimmed. When they opened their eyes, the two friends saw an apparition surrounded by a cloud of what appeared to be smoke. Fear paralyzed them. Eventually, the smoke cleared revealing a small three foot tall green imp now standing in the living room of Rolo's sister."Why hello there," said the being.The two friends uttered no reply. Although they had never encountered a supernatural being before, they hardly expected its first words to be "Why hello there." They stood there in shock."For real? You don't recognize me," it said, speaking directly to Jake.After rubbing his eyes, Jake managed to recognize the creature."Wait, it's you! You're that thing that came out of the pendant after I made the wish.""Yes, there ya go. I'm the Spirit of the Pendant. At your service," it said with a bow, " It seems there's a bit of confusion regarding recent events but not to worry I am here to alleviate that."A grin crept up on its face as it spoke.Still terrified, Rolo turned to Jake and asked, "Jake, what's going on?"Before Jake could even begin to respond, the Spirit of the Pendant piped up, "Well, it's really very simple. Your friend came into possession of a magical pendant which housed me a wish-granting spirit, and on Tuesday night he made a wish with it."The Spirit explained all this in a plain, matter-of-fact tone."What do you mean a wish? What wish," Rolo replied almost in a state of panic over what it would possibly reveal."Oh, nothing much," the Spirit continued, "Your friend made a really very broad, lazily worded wish on your behalf. I believe it was, 'Hey spirit of the pendant or whatever please give my friend Rolo something that he wants.' With a wish as vague as that I naturally had to do some interpretation. I had to peer into your mind to see what you might want. When I did I saw you were having that dream about MoistCritikal or whatever his name is, and so I came up with the idea that I would fulfill the wish by making him fall madly, irresistibly in love with you. So that's what's been going on these past few days."The Spirit's explanation of the events of the last couple of days floored Rolo and Jake. Their jaws metaphorically hit the ground. Both men reflected in alarm about recent occurrences. Observing their reaction, the Spirit took delight in the confusion and mayhem it had just caused. In its millennia of existence, the sight of stunned mortals never got old."You what?!" Rolo managed to say after almost a minute of being speechless.In response, the Spirit simply repeated what it had already said."But can't do that.""Yeah, what he said," Jake added, feeling he shouldn't stay silent but should contribute to the conversation in some way."No," the Spirit began, " I'm pretty sure I'm a magical being and therefore can do all sorts of things and grant all sorts of wishes.""I mean I'm guessing that you can, but like you shouldn't!" Rolo retorted, feeling disturbed about having to explain such a basic tenet of conventional morality."Well, I did so that's that.""Well, can you take it back," asked Rolo with some boldness.The Spirit gave the question a second's thought before answering, "Yeah, I guess.""Then please do so," said Rolo trying to strike a balance between firmness and politeness."Yeah do it," added Jake.The Spirit of the Pendant thought for a bit about their request."No, I don't think I will.""And why not?""Because I used perfectly good magic to fulfill that wish. How would you like it if you did a hard day's work and when it was all done someone told you to undo all you did? C'mon.""Not comparable. Not comparable at all," said Jake finally getting a word in before his friend.Looking at the faces of the two men, the Spirit could see they were adamant in their rejection of the wish. The being at once found itself caught between its obligation to obey the desires of the humans who'd summoned it and its own desire to continue sowing more disorder for the sake of entertaining itself. It thought about what to do next. Finally, it decided on a course of action."Alright, alright I'll rescind the wish.""On what condition," Jake asked, not entirely trusting the Spirit's intentions."On no condition. I'll just take it away and bring everything back to normal. That's all. It's clear you don't like the way I granted the wish, and as a spirit whose job it is to grant wishes every one hundred years I feel obliged to give you guys a refund. Free of conditions!""So just like that you'll bring everything back to normal?""Yup, just like that. Sorry to bother you."Rolo looked at Jake for confirmation as to whether they should trust the being. Jake shrugged. He had about as much experience dealing with magical wish-granting spirits as Rolo did."Okay, fine. Then do it."The Spirit chuckled. "Will do, good sir. Will do. Have a nice evening." With that the Spirit left in a flash of light no less spectacular than the one it originally appeared in.Just like that the whole supernatural ordeal was over or so it seemed. Rolo and Jake looked around the room then at each other. Both wanted to speak but in their state of stupefaction the words did not come. The sound of the dog barking to be let back in broke them out of their state of paralyzed shock. Part 3: MisadventureSection 1: Daily Life ResumesThe morning after the house party Rolo woke up and the first thing he did was look all around him. After last night's supernatural encounter, he was relieved to find everything in his room in its proper place; to find nothing amiss in his immediate vicinity at least. He grabbed his phone."Maybe it was all a dream," he thought to himself.The idea that the incredible events he so recently witnessed could be little more than a dream greatly comforted him. As a man unaccustomed to magical pendants, wish-granting spirits, and the trouble they could cause, he found it preferable to regard yesterday's events as some sort of implausibly vivid dream rather than face up to the reality of what he'd experienced. Thinking about the coming workday made Rolo even more reluctant to accept that his encounter with the spirit of the pendant actually happened. He had a busy day filled with important meetings and deadlines, and he did not need concerns about the supernatural hanging over his head.At first he believed his own lie. Then he looked through his phone. When he did, he found the texts from MoistCritikal. They provided direct evidence that contrary to his hopes it was not all just a dream. He threw his head back and groaned."Now wait just wait," he thought to himself as an insight hit him, "That spirit thing or whatever the hell it was said he brought everything back to normal. Yes, he promised to bring things back to normal," Growing more hopeful by the second, he continued reasoning with himself, "If that's the case then all I need to do is just go about my life as if nothing happened. Nothing at all." With that reassurance, he deleted the texts then proceeded to go about his morning as usual. In the back of his mind, he brushed aside any concern he held about the Spirit's trustworthiness. He got dressed then went to work. ***That Friday, the day after the encounter with the Spirit of the Pendant, Jake went to his and his wife's house in Swansea, IL. He had promised her that he would stop by after work to collect more of his things. Along with some boxes he also brought along the pendant that had been the source of so much trouble this week. He brought it along only for the purpose of finding a good place to dispose of it so no one could find it. After apologizing to Rolo and explaining that the entire thing had been an accident, Jake agreed to get rid of it if not outright destroy it. One of the boxes he transported along with him to the house was explicitly labeled, "Stuff To Get Rid Of." He'd placed the pendant in there and later that night planned to determine the best way to discard it.A sigh escaped him as his car entered the house's driveway. It hit him that this house was no longer his home. In fact, it struck him that as of last week he no longer had one."Don't think about that," he inwardly chastised himself, "Just get in and get out. That's all. You''ll think about that later."The house was empty when he walked in. His wife was out of town for the weekend, so he had the place to himself. Turning off his phone, Jake wanted to be truly alone. Whatever inchoate glow lit up his heart after his talk with Bree yesterday, dimmed when he walked into his former home, and was reminded of the difficult work ahead of him.He and his wife bought the house together six years ago. This meant Jake had to wade through six years of accumulated stuff. The difficulty of this task forced him to be methodical. Thinking it over, he decided a slow and thorough room to room approach would be best. Although he didn't have enough boxes or space in his motel room to take everything with him, he decided to take what he could. Starting with the living room, he made his way through the house collecting his things.Despite wanting to stay focused on the task at hand, the inconvenient nature of memory made this impossible for Jake. As he entered the kitchen to collect some silverware, he picked up the scent of half-eaten Chinese leftovers wafting from the trash can. It brought forth recollections of him and his wife's first post honeymoon dinner at the house.They'd just gotten back from their honeymoon so neither one wanted to cook. Instead they ordered Chinese takeout. Sitting at the kitchen table munching on Lo Mein, Jake occasionally glanced up at Clarice."She. She really is my wife now," it suddenly struck him. This truth hit him like a revelation. Yes, he remembered their wedding day when the officiate declared them husband and wife, but only now did he feel the implications and significance of that declaration. For the first time, it dawned on him that the woman before him was someone who would not only share big, grand moments like his wedding day, but also little insignificant ones like eating Chinese takeout on a random Thursday night. Yes, they would share their life. He had a wife now. With this realization came a vision of days, weeks, months, and even decades to come.For Jake, the day he became an adult was the day he looked at his new wife and for the first time fully recognized her as such. Viewing his then state in life through the familiar perspective of his middle class, suburban upbringing, made him proud at how well he'd done in checking off the standard checklist for adulthood. He had a job, a house, and now a wife. The only thing left was children, but that could wait. For the immediate future, he foresaw enjoying his new status in life. Now that he was officially an adult, life would of course go on. It would vary every now and again, but he felt certain that life as a mature adult would have a level of stability and reliability it did not have before. The turbulence inherent in the process of growing up could be left behind. With his new wife he envisaged himself settling down. Sitting at the dinner table eating dry, poorly seasoned Lo Mein, Jake saw his future rolling out before him like a paved road he need only continue strolling along on. He was happy.Brushing aside that memory and all the now vexing emotions it aroused in him, he tried to continue on with his task. In a house full of potential reminders, it wasn't long till he came across something else. A pair of hiking boots in one of the hallway closets brought forth the memory of that time he and his wife went hiking through the Grand Canyon.It was about two years ago. On the way back home from a visit to Jake's grandmother, the couple decided to stop by the Grand Canyon. They made a day of hiking and exploring. Jake loved it. Born and raised in Southern Illinois, he was used to plains whose flatness stretched out as far as the eye could see. Witnessing the heights and depths of the Grand Canyon filled him with the sort of transcendent wonder he didn't know nature could inspire in him.On the drive back home, he tried to talk about this experience with the one person he felt most appropriate to share it with; his wife. Clarice listened to him. To his surprise, however, the same trip which aroused such a feeling of awe in him didn't have anywhere near the same effect on her. In fact, she hated it. Reflecting on her own experience, she found the heat unbearable, the insects bothersome, and her feet ached from the hike. Whatever wonder and amazement Jake experienced, she did not share in. In those feelings, he found himself unexpectedly alone.This unfortunate disagreement between husband and wife would have amounted to little within the broader scheme of Jake's life. It disappointed him back then, but in the time since he'd almost forgotten about the incident. Remembering it now, however, caused him to color that experience with new significance. With the power of hindsight to connect disparate moments of one's life into a coherent story of the past, he now viewed this singular episode at the Grand Canyon as symptomatic of a larger phenomenon which ultimately led to the undoing of something he had admittedly hoped and expected so much from. Somehow two people who once wholeheartedly agreed to join their lives together found themselves drifting apart; diverging in outlook and opinion with greater frequency despite shared time and space. This occurred first at a pace too slow for either one to notice and become alarmed at. Then by the time it caught their attention it was too late. A gulf had formed between them. They tiptoed around this fact for as long as they could, but eventually that day came, only about a week ago, when she told him that she wanted a divorce , and he in a flustered panic left the house. ***It didn't take much for Rolo to fall back into the well-worn patterns of his life. By the time he got home from work, he was already thinking about how he needed to buy groceries and pick up some other items from the store. He quickly changed out of his stuffy work clothes and into his usual summer outfit of a T-shirt, sandals, and shorts. Then he headed out to take care of his errands. About an hour later he came back. Once he put his stuff away, he plopped down on the couch. After a long day at work and then errands, he felt he should be tired; ready to relax. Instead he found himself restless. He felt the urge to do something. The only question was what.Several times he thought about turning on the TV or getting a book to read. These activities were usually enough to assuage his occasional bouts of boredom."But I don't want to do any of those things," he thought to himself, "I want to do something. Like really do something. Maybe go out somewhere. I don't know."He lacked a well-formed conception of what he meant by 'really do something'. Nonetheless, this idea of wanting to really do something drove him to reject all the things he often did on a Friday evening. Pacing around the house he owned, he thought of what else he could do."Jake said he was busy today, Steve is usually unavailable. I could try Todd, but he's always so busy with his kids these days that he never has time for much else. Alex is out of the question too," thought Rolo as he ran down the list of people most of whom at one point in his life belonged to the reliable cohort he once regularly made plans with.Continuing to contemplate his current state of boredom caused a thought to jump into his mind."It's a Friday night," it suddenly occurred to him, "Was it always so hard for me to find something to do on a Friday night?"In some corner of his psyche arose the suspicion that indeed it had not always been the case that it was this difficult to find something to do on a Friday night or any other night for that matter; that years ago before he was an adult with a mortgage and career it had in fact been somehow easier.This suspicion in turn led to another realization which caught him even more off guard; one that came into his mind accompanied by that same sinking feeling he experienced whenever reflecting on his life in relation to his mentorship of the intern."I'm almost thirty."He didn't know why his mind chose now of all times to bring up that fact, but whatever the case it did. Somehow the weight of that truth made his boredom all the more palpable and insufferable to bear."I just wish that...," but before Rolo could finish that fanciful thought he remembered yesterday's events and considered it best not to go around casually making wishes."Maybe I should just watch some TV after all," he finally concluded. He turned on the TV. Not long after he did, though, he heard frantic knocking at his front door. "Who the hell is it," he asked himself. Getting up from the couch he imagined the mystery knocker to be some neighborhood kid causing mischief or something. He didn't expect much when he opened the door. Consequently, when he did finally open it he was stunned to find Charlie standing there.Section 2: Now WhatChapter 3: An Issue UnresolvedAs it turns out, after the house party things did not go back to normal for Charlie. In fact, they only worsened. The day after the house party he and his friends went to Carlyle Lake where they got to spend much of their time out on the lake courtesy of one of Andrew's local friends who owned a boat. While his friends enjoyed the lake, Charlie continued to struggle with his intensifying yet still inexplicable obsession with Rolo. Memories of the brief time he spent with the diminutive local caused his heart to race and inspired his passions. It built up over the course of the day. Eventually, his longing to again see Rolo and be in his presence overwhelmed any semblance of good sense he'd tried to retain since Tuesday night. He got in his car and drove to the one place his heart had been drawing him to all day; that place being wherever Rolo was."I love you Rolo Baez!" declared Charlie not long after Rolo opened the front door, " I don't know why but I do."Rolo had to take a moment to let the full effect and implications of Charlie's words settle on him. Under ordinary circumstances, a handsome man making an impromptu confession of love to him would have left him surprised but flattered. He may have even considered entertaining such a sudden declaration. These, however, were clearly not ordinary circumstances."How the hell did you find my house," exclaimed Rolo."I...I followed my heart I guess," Charlie replied, unaware of the force which since Tuesday night had in ways subtle and overt guided his actions, thoughts, and feelings"Yeah, that's not how hearts work," said Rolo who was starting to regain his bearings after the initial shock of Charlie's arrival. Thinking about the current predicament, it didn't take long for him to guess what could have caused it."---- it," thought Rolo as Charlie continued to stand in front of him, "That ---- Spirit thing lied. It didn't fix ----. ---- it. ---- it."In vexation, he facepalmed then thought of what he could possibly do about this situation. Looking at the very troubled man in front of him, Rolo concluded that perhaps the first step towards a solution would be an explanation."So Charlie," Rolo began with as much calm and clarity of tone as he could muster under the current circumstances, "I think there's been a bit of a mix-up..."With that he invited Charlie inside where he proceeded to explain to him the extraordinary details undergirding their unusual predicament. It's not everyday one is told they are under the influence of a magical pendant and an ill begotten wish. To Charlie's credit, Rolo believed he took it as best he could. After passing through the expected stages of shock, then initial disbelief, followed by more shock, Charlie finally managed to approach something resembling acceptance. He felt he had little choice. As fantastical as Rolo's explanation was, it did have the advantage of explaining the equally fantastical things he'd been experiencing lately."So what now," asked Charlie, "Isn't there a way to fix this?"Rolo feared he would ask that question."Well uhhhh," Rolo replied, as he rattled his brain in search of a possible solution, " Oh yes, my friend Jake. He should have the pendant and he'll probably know what to do."In truth, Rolo had no idea whether Jake would know what to do, but he didn't want to admit that to Charlie. He tried several times to call Jake."C'mon Jake, pick up," he thought to himself as call after call went to voicemail."Okay okay that's fine. That's fine. It's a Friday evening. I think he and his wife are usually home on Fridays. If I leave now I might be able to catch him at home."With this thought in mind, Rolo grabbed his car keys and prepared to make a trip to Jake's house. Lacking any other viable alternative course of action, Charlie agreed to go along with him in the hopes of being cured of his present affliction. Together they made their way to Jake's house. ***Expecting pure solitude as he rummaged through the remains of his married life, Jake jumped when he heard knocking at the door."Who the hell," he thought to himself as he approached the front door."Rolo?" Jake exclaimed when he opened the door and saw who'd been knocking."Oh thank goodness you're home," said Rolo as he stepped into the house, "I kept calling and calling but you didn't answer your phone.""Well my phone was off but," he was about to ask Rolo what he was doing here when Rolo interrupted him."Your wife isn't here is she? Like, we're alone right?""Well yeah she's not here," replied Jake, hoping his friend wouldn't notice the boxes haphazardly strewn about the house or that the wedding pictures of him and his wife had been taken down, "But what the hell are you doing here?"Normally, Rolo would have noticed all the aspects of his best friend's house which were out of place, but given the urgency of the situation they were facing he didn't bother."I'm here, because that ---- spirit lied to us. It didn't bring anything back to normal.""Wait what," asked Jake, more than a little taken aback by what Rolo said. Like his friend, he had also been quick to believe the magical mess of the last few days had been comfortably resolved."Well, how do you know it didn't bring things back to normal?"Rolo informed Jake of how Charlie showed up at his door, and Jake quickly understood the gravity of the situation."So what do we do now," asked Jake.It disheartened Rolo to hear him ask the very same question he'd driven all this way to ask."Honestly, I was hoping you'd be better at answering that," admitted Rolo."Well, I have the pendant with me. Maybe we can try summoning its spirit again. Maybe this is all a misunderstanding we can work out," said Jake, speaking like a true suburbanite more used to dealing with polite misunderstandings than cases of supernatural mischief.Quickly retrieving the pendant from the box he'd put it in, Jake along with Rolo tried to summon the spirit. Nothing happened."----, what else can we do? Do you know anything about the pendant that might help us," asked Rolo in exasperation."No, I even tried researching it after what happened on Tuesday night, but I wasn't able to find anything."The wheels of Rolo's mind turned double time as he thought of a way out of their predicament."Wait, who did you get the pendant from?"A spark lit in Jake's mind."My cousin Kate," He exclaimed, "She's in the area. We can talk to her. I got the pendant from her so she might know something."He tried calling her, but she didn't pick up.In frustration, Rolo fumed, "Ugh, first you now her. I swear what is up with people not answering their phones.""Okay, she's not answering, but like I said she's in the area. We might be able to go see her and ask where she got the pendant or if she knows anything else about it.""Oy, alright. I guess that's better than nothing," said Rolo as he hurriedly prepared to leave, "Get in my car then."The two left without delay. Charlie, who'd been waiting in the car this entire time, reluctantly agreed to go along with them. Once more given the circumstances, he felt he had little other viable alternative course of action. Chapter 4: So A Therapist And A YouTuber Get in the Same Car…In terms of the objective criteria of time and distance, the drive to the house of Jake's cousin Kate wasn't a particularly long one. Whenever she returned home from Qatar she always stayed at her parent's house located among the residential subdivisions of Lebanon, IL. At most it was only about a twenty minute drive. In terms of other more subjective criteria, however, the journey was one of the longest ones the three men had taken in their lives."Oh my God, what do I even say to him," thought Jake as he looked at Charlie, the man he'd inadvertently had a spell cast on. While Rolo drove, Charlie sat in the passenger seat with Jake seated in the seat right behind him. This placement gave Jake ample opportunity to stare at Charlie and wonder what was going through his mind. As a therapist, Jake was practiced in the art of putting himself in the shoes of other people. What was once a mere requirement of his job had over the years become a compulsive habit of his."Just think about it," continued Jake's thoughts, "He was on some trip with his friends until I had to go and use that pendant. I mean, sure it technically wasn't my fault. How was I supposed to know magic existed or that wishes can come true? For Christ's sake, I'm an adult going through a divorce! Still, this must be so terrible for him. I feel like I should say something at least. This silence among the three of us is unbearable. But what to say?"The more he contemplated it the more his heart sank and the more he fretted.While this was occurring in Jake's head, a different train of thought was at play in Charlie's."You know what, maybe this isn't so bad," thought Charlie who, having accepted the reality of his situation a while ago, was already trying to look on the brighter side of things.The idea of using his current affliction as a source of content for his YouTube channel didn't entirely relieve his distress, but it did comfort him somewhat. Yet another unfortunate reality of being a YouTuber was the never ending search for new content to feed not only the insatiable appetites of bored viewers but also to placate the YouTube algorithm. It could be a massively stress inducing endeavor. Charlie, like anyone, only had so many interesting stories and anecdotes from his own life that he could relay to his audience. He had to get new material somehow. Consequently, the magical predicament he found himself in seemed to be as good a fount of new material as anything."Yeah, I'm pretty sure I can get a couple videos out of this. Maybe even three if I really stretch it out," Charlie continued thinking to himself."So Charlie," Jake began nervously and with much hesitation, "What do you think of the weather here in Southern Illinois?"Conversations about the weather were Jake's go to when he didn't know what else to talk about. It was a safe and inoffensive topic; two qualities he very much appreciated."Uhh, it's good. It's hot I guess," replied Charlie doing his best to handle this impromptu conversation about the local weather."Yeah, summers here are really hot. They can be real scorchers," said Jake, feeling better already since at least the silence was broken.While that enlightening conversation carried on, Rolo kept his eyes on the road and his mind on things besides the weather. Remembering how bored he'd been only a short while ago at home he mused to himself, "Ugh this is what I get."Section 3: UnexpectedChapter 5: ArrivalPer her text message earlier in the week, Jake knew Kate was back in town. Furthermore since it was summer, Kate's younger sister Nadia was also back from college. Even with both of their children in town, Jake still expected to find his Aunt and Uncle's house quiet when the three arrived. Nearing retirement, the couple didn't go out much on the weekends. They certainly weren't the partying type. Jake was thus very shocked to find partying going on at their house as the three men neared it."Oh God, I know this is Kate's doing," he thought to himself.Although the night was young by the time they arrived, the raucous party already looked like it was in full swing. A long row of cars was already parked near the house and it was clear a large group of people had gathered. With the driveway and the curb near the house packed with cars, the three men had no choice but to park a fairly inconvenient distance from the house."Just stay here for now. We should be back soon," Rolo instructed Charlie as he and Jake made their way towards the house.The loud thumping of music which could be heard from well outside only became much louder the moment they stepped in. A throng of people, most of them college aged, were dancing, drinking, and generally engaging in the sort of debauchery and moral degeneracy their demographic tends to get up to when trying to have a good time on a Friday night. It was chaos."Jake! Jake," yelled a familiar voice just when Jake was about to despair of finding Kate amidst the crowd. Pushing her way through the thick mass of people, Kate embraced Jake the moment she reached him."Thank goodness. I'm so glad to see you. You don't even know.""Kate, what the hell is going on? What's with this party?"She scowled and rolled her eyes, "Oh it's Nadia's. She's the mastermind behind all this.""Nadia," Jake uttered in shock."Yes her, but before I tell you about that bit of drama let's go somewhere a little more private."Taking hold of Jake's hand she was about to lead him off to her room when out of the corner of her eye she finally noticed Rolo who'd been standing next to Jake the entire time. Over the years of Jake and Rolo's friendship, she had met him on more than one occasion, and so was well aware who he was. In fact, this wasn't even his first time in the house of Jake's Aunt and Uncle."Oh hey Rolo, do you mind if I borrow Jake for just a bit."Knowing how insistent Kate could be, Rolo judged it best to just go along with her request. With a reluctant sigh, he replied, "Sure, far be it from me to get in the way of family," turning to Jake he continued, "I'll be around so just text me."Fully entrusting things to Jake, Rolo went off in search of a tranquil spot to chill out for a bit. Meanwhile the two cousins went upstairs to Kate's room in order to get away from the crowd.Chapter 6: A Summer’s Night in Southern IllinoisIn search of some semblance of peace and quiet, Rolo pushed his way through the dense gathering of people in their late teens and early 20s. He felt more than a little out of place amidst their company. Although at 29 he was only at most barely a decade older than many at the party, it nonetheless felt as if something greater than mere years separated him from the seemingly carefree partiers.Eventually, he was able to find some limited solace in the backyard where a comparatively fewer number of people were lounging and loitering about. Within the spacious backyard, Rolo chose a relatively isolated spot to sit down and think on things."Yes, I guess this is what I get," he thought to himself as he once more ruminated on the fact that only earlier this evening he'd been bored out of his mind wishing for something to do, "What a mess."The longer he sat there the more his worries mounted."I just hope we're able to figure something out. Otherwise....I don't know."Within his mind, the wheels were turning but like car tires stuck in slick mud they went nowhere. His frustration grew. In the midst of his frustration, a cool breeze came and caressed his skin. On this warm night, the coolness of the breeze elicited a spontaneous break in his train of thought."It's summer," he thought to himself as if amidst the recent tumult he had somehow forgotten the fact that it was currently summer; his favorite season.Momentarily distracted from his immediate concerns, he looked out at the back half of the backyard and noticed fireflies twinkling amidst the grass. Even the background noise of the party couldn't diminish the serenity he felt watching the dancing glow of those little insects. It entranced him.Southern Illinois is not a land of ostentatious beauty. Its flat plains aren't home to sky piercing mountains, magnificent glaciers, or other natural wonders of such awe-inspiring scale that they regularly attract tourists. On the contrary, what beauty it does possess is mainly of a more private nature. It consists of small unassuming moments that at the right time, in the right place, or with the right person can suddenly manifest themselves. Admittedly, it had been a while since Rolo had experienced such a moment. Somehow in the midst of the misadventure he found himself in, he watched the fireflies dancing in the grass and felt his spirits lifted. For a moment he became like a child again; unaware of the need to always be mindful of one's responsibilities. His worries slipped from his mind. Suddenly, he heard footsteps approaching from behind him. Turning his head, he saw it was Charlie.Seeing the startled look on Rolo's face, Charlie was quick to state, "Relax, I just came here because I was tired of waiting in the car."In saying this, Charlie glossed over the fact that without consciously intending to, his footsteps had somehow guided him to Rolo's exact location. Choosing to remain standing, he fixed his gaze in the same general direction as Rolo's."That's fine. That's fine," replied Rolo as he tried to resume looking out at the fireflies. The fireflies were still there. In Charlie's presence, however, it became difficult to reenter that private moment of serenity he'd been experiencing only seconds before. He'd returned to the mindset of an adult marked as it often is by the relentless awareness of one's responsibilities. The worries returned."Sooo," began Charlie after almost a minute of silence, "Any news."With a sigh Rolo answered, "No, not yet I'm afraid."Another minute of silence passed."Sooo Rolo," began Charlie once more, "There's something I've been meaning to ask you."Hearing Charlie speak up again, caused Rolo to fret a little."I hope he doesn't ask me anything about the pendant or the wish. I don't know anything more," he thought to himself."Just go ahead and ask it," Rolo responded.With a bit of a chuckle Charlie asked, "How tall are you?"Immediately, Rolo turned his head to face Charlie. He glared at him.One trope of Charlie's videos was his occasional self-deprecating references to his height. At 5'6 he wasn't particularly tall for a guy. Consequently, he was used to being the short man in the group. It was rare that he found himself in the presence of a guy noticeably shorter than him hence his question."If you must know," answered Rolo, feigning more reluctance than he actually felt, "I'm 5'0.""Really? You're exactly five feet tall.""Yes, I'm exactly five feet tall. You can use me as a measuring stick if you need something measured out in five feet intervals."Charlie laughed a bit."Okay, cool. I was just curious."Regardless of whether or not he had intended to do so, the effect of Charlie's question about Rolo's height was to lighten the mood of both men. They resumed staring out at the field with its fireflies still flickering.For the first time in his entire trip to Southern Illinois, Charlie found himself enraptured by the landscape before him. A significant part of this state of rapture was unfortunately due to the spell cast over him that made every second he spent in the mere presence of Rolo irresistibly worthwhile. Not all of it, however, could be credited to that. Eventually, Charlie sat down."Look," said Rolo, deciding to break the silence after yet another minute had passed, "We'll figure out a way to get you back to normal. I promise."The impetus for these words stemmed mostly from Rolo's growing concern over how long it was taking for Jake to contact him with any news. It'd felt like it'd been ages.Absorbed in his own thoughts, Charlie was taken by surprise when Rolo spoke.A somewhat confused, "Hmm," was all he managed to say in response."I said we'll get you back to normal. We'll find a way," Rolo affirmed with even greater conviction this time."Oh yeah, right," said Charlie, still snapping out of the state of reverie he'd been in, "I'm sure you guys will."A few seconds after he finished speaking a thought occurred to him; one he ultimately decided to share."You know honestly, it's not all bad.""What isn't all bad," asked Rolo, a bit curious about what he could mean."I mean this situation we're in with the pendant and magic and ----. It's not all bad."Charlie would have stopped there, but noticing the slight confusion on Rolo's face he decided to elaborate."It's an experience. It's something way out of the ordinary I didn't expect to find during my trip here. I mean, who knew magic existed and things like this could happen. In that sense, it's kinda cool, and I imagine once we get it all figured out it'll be something we can look back on. Ya know?""I...I guess you're right," Rolo replied as he turned his head back towards the field of fireflies. This reply understated the degree to which Charlie's statement resonated with inner sentiments he'd been otherwise reluctant to acknowledge.They sat for a short while longer. During this time, the influence of the spell Charlie was under seemed to intensify. He could feel its sway over him growing stronger and stronger with each passing moment. It was only a matter of time before it led him to do something.Unaware of Charlie's internal struggle, Rolo continued looking out at the field and checking his phone with increasing frequency."Seriously, what is taking Jake so long," he thought to himself.Only a few seconds later he finally decided he'd done enough waiting and would instead see what his friend was up to. Wanting to inform Charlie of what he was going to do, Rolo turned his head to speak to him. When he did something rather unexpected happened. Charlie kissed Rolo. Chapter 7: ReassuranceWhen Kate brought Jake up to her room, the first thing she did was close the door in an attempt to muffle the sound of the throbbing party music. It worked to some extent. The walls of her room couldn't completely block out the cacophony outside, but they worked well enough that the two felt able to talk without shouting at one another.As was her habit, Kate wasted no time explaining to Jake the latest drama unfolding in her life. In breathless fashion, she described the origin of the party raging outside. It all started when Nadia returned home from her first year at college. Although she hadn't flunked out by any means, her parents still judged her academic performance as falling far short of their expectations. They made their disappointment clear. With unprecedented defiance, Nadia denied their claims that she was becoming unfocused, lazy, and irresponsible. From there, tensions only escalated. Trying to keep up with the breakneck speed at which Kate spoke, Jake gathered things had become so bad that when the parents left for a two week trip Nadia didn't think twice about deciding to throw a party in their absence.Taking a seat on her bed, Jake allowed his cousin to prattle on and on. He never forgot the urgency of the reason he'd come here in the first place. Nonetheless in the midst of a week characterized by disruptions in his life both natural and supernatural in origin, Jake couldn't resist the urge to indulge in this moment of normalcy. In any case, he was genuinely taken aback by the idea of sweet, little Nadia being anything other than the reserved young lady he'd known her to be. Minutes passed, but he didn't interrupt Kate. Eventually, however, his sense of responsibility caught up to his enjoyment of hearing his cousin gossip."Umm, Kate," Jake managed to interject."Oh, yes," she said, finally pausing her chatter."As much as I want to hear more about what's been going on, I actually came here for something. I, uhh, have to ask you about something."Her face broke out in an embarrassed blush at the idea she'd been in such a rush to vent about her own problems she forgot to consider Jake may have his own."Of course, yeah, ask away. What is it," she said as she sat down next to him on the bed."Well," began Jake as he pulled out the pendant which he'd been keeping in his front pocket, "Do you remember giving me this pendant about a year ago at Nadia's graduation party?"She examined the dangling piece of jewelry."Not really," she said at first then upon thinking about it more she changed her answer to, "Okay, yeah I think I do, but why are you bringing it up now?"Pausing for a few seconds, Jake thought how best to put things. He didn't want to tell her the whole truth of what he was currently dealing with."Well, I was wondering, just wondering, if you knew anything more about this pendant beyond what you told me that night? Like, just tell me what you know about this. Do you remember anything?"Eager not to disappoint her cousin, Kate did her best to recall all she knew about the pendant. Unlike Jake, however, Kate was quick to forget things; especially things she deemed no longer relevant to her life."No, I can't say I know much more than whatever I told you about it. To be honest, I don't even remember where I got it from. Sorry."Disheartened, Jake sighed and looked at the floor."Are you okay? Really, what's going on," she asked as she observed his dejected state."It's nothing. Forget I even asked anything. If you don't remember then don't worry about it," said Jake as a sense of despair settled in him.With concerned eyes, Kate continued staring at her cousin. She pursed her lips. Aside from the gossip about her family drama, there'd been something else she wanted to bring up to him. It was a matter even the usually uninhibited Kate found difficult to talk about. Seeing him look so downcast, gave her the motivation to finally say it."You know," she began with uncharacteristic hesitation, "I didn't want to say anything. I wanted to let you say it when you were ready, but I feel like I should bring it up now.""Bring up what," asked Jake as he raised his head to look at her.Kate got up from the bed and began pacing the room while she fidgeted with her fingers."You know how I said I just got to Illinois today? Well, that wasn't entirely true. I actually flew in yesterday," the uneasy expression that appeared on Jake's face made her apprehensive about continuing, but she pushed through this feeling, "I said I was arriving today because I thought it would be fun to surprise you at your house. So, yesterday I stopped by your house after I got settled here and when I did your wife answered."The uneasy expression on Jake's face turned into one of dread as sweat broke out on his forehead."When Clarice answered the door I asked if you were home. She said you weren't. So I asked when you would be back, but she just gave me an uncomfortable look and told me to talk to you. She," at this point Kate found herself choking on her words a bit, "She told me not to come back. Then she closed the door on me. I swear I stood outside that door for a good minute trying to make sense of what just happened."Having come to the crux of her story, she stopped pacing around the room so she could look directly at Jake as she asked, "Jake, is something going on? Are you and Clarice doing okay?"At once, Jake's mindset switched from worrying about the pendant to the old familiar subject of his divorce. He smacked his forehead."Of course this would happen," he thought.In a week where so much had gone awry, Jake reasoned that it only made some twisted sense that Kate would arrive early and by doing so uncover the truth about the state of his marriage before he was able to muster the resolve to tell her. He was cornered. It took him a few seconds to accept this reality."No, we're not doing well. Actually, we're getting divorced so that house isn't my house anymore."Like yesterday with Bree, he was surprised how easily the dreaded words slipped out of his mouth; this moment he'd been worried about for almost a week came and went, leaving him waiting on Kate's response.An entire lifetime of knowing his cousin should have made it effortless for him to anticipate her reaction to the news. Only the recently acquired fear of once again discovering something solid and reliable in his life was actually none of those things made the wait for her response unbearable to him. Like a criminal awaiting a verdict, he sat up perfectly straight and stiff.Acting on instinct, Kate immediately made her way to Jake and embraced him. Caught in the unfamiliar position of being the comforter instead of the comforted, Kate didn't know yet what to say or do next. Nonetheless, she hoped a hug would be a good start. Sure enough, the warmth and feel of her embrace relieved Jake's tension. It reassured him of something he felt guilty about ever doubting.Feeling that she should say something, Kate asked the only question she felt was worth asking, "Are you okay?"Unable to erect that façade of self-assuredness he habitually maintained at most times and with most people, Jake answered honestly, "No, not really."The sounds of the party combined with the feel of the pendant in his hand served to remind him of that night about one year ago when he drove away from Nadia's graduation party reveling in a future which seemed so clear and wide open to him."I don't know what to do," he admitted. Those simple words were the best he could come up with at the moment to express how the disappointment in one aspect of his life had dashed the firm sense of direction he once possessed regarding the whole of his life."Sure you do," she responded, hoping she was saying the right thing, "There's always a way forward. There's always a new path. You just have to be brave enough to take those first steps and you are Jake you are."While the cousins embraced and spoke to one another, something was afoot downstairs. A growing din could be heard. At first, the two cousins were too absorbed in the moment to pay it much attention. Eventually, however, whatever commotion was going on downstairs couldn't be ignored. They both got up and hurriedly walked outside the bedroom door to see what was going on.Chapter 8: The Fight Charlie kissed Rolo. It was the worst. In his zealousness to kiss Rolo, Charlie had forgotten to implement the very basic elements of a half-way decent kiss. For example, he didn't aim well. In fact, he almost missed Rolo's lips entirely. Moreover, he jutted his head towards Rolo with such force that it was in many ways less a kiss and more a lips-first headbutt. By virtually all objective standards and most subjective ones, it was an awful kiss. Nonetheless, it left Rolo thoroughly flummoxed."I'm sorry. I'm sorry," said Charlie moments after the kiss; once he'd started somewhat coming to his senses, "Are you okay?"Rolo didn't respond to his question. Instead he stood up, and like a drunk man seemed to sway from side to side as he walked towards the house."I'm...I'm gonna go find Jake," he said, as he proceeded to make his way back to the house.Afflicted with guilt, Charlie initially hesitated to follow him. Eventually, however, he gathered up the wherewithal to pursue him in the hopes of making clear his apology. ***Like many people who grew up surrounded by surplus wealth, Nadia and to a lesser degree Kate both suffered from affluenza. Affluenza being a condition principally characterized by an inability to properly consider the consequences of one's actions. The nineteen year old wasn't always cognizant of the ways in which the responsible adults around her, namely her parents, had shielded her from any negative repercussions stemming from her own willful choices. Instead it seemed to her that a sort of omnipresent serendipity reigned throughout her life. Moreover, like many her age, Nadia was prone to confusing the mere defiance of parental authority with actual maturity.What all this amounted to was that in conceiving the party, Nadia had given little thought to the actual logistics of who to invite or how to set up the party so it went on without a hitch. Her only concern was having a good time and of course getting back at her parents. She didn't think twice about posting the invite to her party on social media. Guided by the subconscious notion that things would just work themselves out, she gave little thought to the possibility of something going awry."Nadia," said Alicia, one of her friends, as the two lounged around in the kitchen, "There are a lot of people here. It's, uh, kinda getting crowded."With growing alarm, Alicia couldn't help but notice that a lot more people than expected had arrived at the party. Nadia's house was big. Nevertheless, it was already showing tell-tale signs of becoming overcrowded. She saw entire rooms of the house packed with people from wall to wall, intoxicated people bumping into each other with ever greater frequency, and an overabundance of the sort of people good suburban girls like herself tended to get really nervous around.Paying no heed to her friend's well founded concerns, Nadia continued to engage in the far more pressing task of trying to make her boyfriend jealous by flirting with the cute guy she just met. She was able to do this right up until the time a female scream from some corner of the house split the air followed by the unmistakable sound of a scuffle breaking out. Instantly, the party's carefree mood changed.No one knew quite what caused the fight to break out. Somewhere within the unruly crowd, an argument, undoubtedly over something petty and stupid, escalated from harsh words to fisticuffs. Messier still was the chain of events unleashed by the first punches. Once the original combatants started fighting their friends joined in and then their friends joined in and then people who weren't even involved in the original situation found themselves swept in. It quickly spiraled.In the midst of the very beginnings of this melee, a still somewhat disoriented Rolo continued trying to make his way through the crowd in order to get to Jake. Following not too far behind was Charlie. Unaware of how bad the situation would soon become, the two men continued pushing deeper and deeper into the mass of people; using their diminutive size to squeeze through.The chaos which began in one part of the house soon spread like an inexorable chain reaction. Poor decisions and actions taken on impulse compounded on top of one another till the entire house was caught up in the ongoing melee. Some made a futile effort to quell the brawl. Others tried to flee. The result was people screaming, running, and throwing punches in a maelstrom of violence that Rolo and Charlie managed to find themselves right in the middle of.Realizing the danger both he and Rolo were in, Charlie tried to grab Rolo by the arm and pull him out from the crowd. Before he could, though, someone was shoved into Charlie. The force of the impact slammed him against the wall of the hallway he was walking through. It hurt, but fortunately it didn't injure him. When he looked to see who'd been shoved into him he saw an imposing guy at least a foot taller than him and built like a football player. Instinctively, Charlie pushed him off. Upon doing so, however, the man turned and glared at him in a blind rage. He then raised his fist in preparation to punch Charlie's lights out."Stop it Tom, Stop," pleaded a young woman, who Charlie assumed was the man's girlfriend. Before the punch could land, she got in between Charlie and the man. Grabbing his raised fist, she continued pleading with him to calm down. Charlie used this opportunity to slip away.Meanwhile, Rolo found himself in the eye of the storm. His back was to the wall as a mess of people on all sides of him fought in a wild frenzy. Grasping the peril of his position, Rolo panicked. His breath became rapid and shallow while his eyes widened as he searched for any way to extricate himself from the midst of the combatants around him."Jake. Jake. He should still be upstairs. If I can just get to him. I'm so close," he thought to himself.Despite the thick crowds and now the ensuing chaos of a brawl, Rolo had managed to make it all the way to the front of the house where the staircase upstairs was located. If he could just make it through, he could go upstairs and get to Jake.Mustering up what courage he had in him, Rolo braved himself to try to make a push to get to the staircase. A second before he could, however, someone grabbed his arm and attempted to pull him away. Turning his head to see who it was, he saw Charlie."What are you doing? Let go of me!" Rolo shouted."Rolo, we have to..." Charlie started to say before something caught his eye.Immediately, he pushed Rolo down as a vase flew overhead and smashed into the back wall. Startled by what had just happened, Rolo stopped struggling to free himself from Charlie's grip. The two men huddled together in the relative safety of the corner they were in. Neither one could figure out a good way out."Oh my God, I think we need to call the police," said a panic stricken Alicia to Nadia. Nadia said nothing in response. Fear paralyzed her as she saw the once immaculate floors of her parent's house stained with blood. A growing dread came over her at the realization of how badly things had in fact gone wrong. The overcrowded conditions of the party made even the act of trying to get out of the house a dangerous one. A crush of people made their way towards the exits which were unable to accommodate so many people wanting to leave all at once. Horrified, Nadia felt herself becoming faint.Rolo, a man more used to spending Friday nights at home on the couch than in the midst of a raucous party, became more and more distressed with each passing moment. Yes, Charlie/ MoistCritikal was with him, but this was in no way any kind of wish fulfillment. This was a nightmare. He wanted to wake up. He wanted it to stop. He wanted out. A feeling of frustration welled up inside him until he couldn't contain it anymore. Closing his eyes, he proceeded to let it all out."STOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP!"Rolo couldn't remember the last time he'd shouted like that; the last time he'd given such unrestrained expression to his emotions. It was an atomic yell that took him by surprise. He didn't know he had it in him. From a rational perspective, Rolo hardly expected a mere yell to solve his problems or get him out of this situation. Nonetheless, the moment after he shouted something strange and unexpected occurred.Chapter 9: Status Quo RestoredA blinding flash of light appeared in the center of the room. It saturated everything in light so when Rolo finally opened his eyes he couldn't see anything but the light. He closed his eyes again; scared to even contemplate what was happening now. Eventually, the light dimmed. As the light faded, Rolo noticed something.Up until that point, Charlie had been gripping his arm. When the light dimmed, however, he felt his grip suddenly disappear. Opening his eyes again, he discovered Charlie was gone. This alone would have been enough of a shock for him. Even more startling, however, was what he saw when he looked around him.The fighting had stopped. In fact, everything had stopped. Everywhere he looked people and things were frozen in place. Nothing was moving except Rolo. It was as if time itself had stopped. Observing all this, he felt a terrible feeling in his gut."Rolo, Rolo," shouted a familiar voice coming from upstairs. When he looked up he saw Jake yelling at him. He'd just come out of Kate's room and was just as confused, perplexed, and concerned as Rolo was about what could possibly be happening."Jake," he yelled back.Now that the fighting had ceased, he had no concerns about making his way towards the stairs and up towards Jake."What's going on," asked Jake as he met Rolo at the top of the stairs, "Everyone's frozen and the pendant; the pendant was in my hand just a moment ago, but now it's gone.""I have no idea. I have absolutely no idea. Charlie's gone too. He was just with me, but now he's gone and I don't know what the hell's going on."Unable to do anything else, they both gave each other the same bewildered expression. They would have likely remained stuck staring at one another if not for the assistance of a familiar non-human entity."What's up guys," said the Spirit of the Pendant as it appeared right behind Rolo. Watching everything from its own realm, the spirit finally determined that now was the appropriate, climactic point for it to intervene and make good on its earlier commitment. It had its fill of fun."Oh my ------- god it's you!" exclaimed Jake when he spotted the being grinning from ear to ear as it stood on the staircase."You're welcome. You're welcome," the spirit said with a polite bow."You're welcome?" said Rolo, becoming enraged, "What did you do? Where's Charlie?""You stupid thing. You lied to us," declared Jake as he moved towards the spirit with a level of anger even Rolo had never witnessed from him before, "You said you were gonna bring everything back to normal and you didn't. You..."Before Jake could complete his harangue, the spirit raised its hand and stated, "Relax, relax."As it stifled a chuckle, the being continued, "I said I was going to do all those things and behold I have! Maybe I took my time about it, but done is done."These words hardly comforted either Jake or Rolo."What do you mean? What have you done," Rolo asked as all sorts of terrifying possibilities came to his mind."Again, relax. I mean what I mean. I sent Charlie back to his friends, wiped his memory so he'll have no recollection of this little incident, and basically brought him back to normal as promised. I even took the pendant off your hands so you guys won't even have to worry about that. See? Everything back to the status quo."The Spirit of the Pendant said all this with a beaming grin and a glee it could barely conceal."And how are we supposed to believe you," Jake yelled even though he was at once cognizant of the fact that he and Rolo as two mere mortals were very much at the mercy of this being who apparently had the power to stop time itself.Aware of its position of power, the spirit answered, "Because you must, because I'm telling the truth, and because to make it all up to you I'll perform one last magic trick for you. Free of charge!""No for god's sake!" shouted Rolo upon hearing the spirit declare it was going to perform one more magic act, "Don't do anything, just..."He wasn't able to finish his sentence. Instead another blinding flash of light appeared right where the spirit stood. Once again the room was bathed in so much brightness that neither Rolo nor Jake could keep their eyes open. They could only shut their eyes and hope for the best. After a few seconds, the light dimmed. Warily, they opened their eyes. The spirit was gone."What happened," asked the voice of someone who'd recently been suspended in place but was no longer. A chorus of equally confused voices followed soon after; all wondering the same thing. Even people who only a little while ago had been striving to beat the crap out of each other, now found themselves too disoriented to do much of anything except ask themselves the same question everyone else was asking. The entire house came to life once more as time resumed its onward march. Looking around them, the resumption of time wasn't what most startled Rolo and Jake.In its wake, the spirit had not only restored time but also the damage caused by the brawl. Wounds were miraculously healed, broken furniture and décor was repaired good as new, and the house looked much like it did before the fight broke out. Even more extraordinary, no one except Rolo and Jake appeared to remember anything about the fight. The spirit had erased all memory of the recent melee so people were confused as to why they were, for example, lying on the floor or standing in a particular spot they didn't remember moving to. Where once there was fighting and panic now there was confusion and bewilderment over what had just happened. Rolo and Jake stared at one another, not sure just yet what to make of things. ***Back at Andrew's house, none of the three friends knew exactly what to do. Without any other contextual information, all they knew was that their friend Charlie, who'd been acting strange all day, suddenly got into his car and drove off to a destination he didn't bother telling them about. Since his abrupt departure, the gang had scratched their collective heads thinking about what they should do about it. At first they hoped he would be gone only a little while. As time passed, however, their worries grew. They tried calling and texting him, but he didn't respond. Collectively, they grew even more worried."Should we go out looking for him," suggested Kaya as night settled in."Maybe if he doesn't come back by tomorrow morning we should report him missing," said Jackson, unsure of what other viable options they had.They continued waiting for their friend's return. Just when they were reaching the ends of their wits, they heard loud, frantic knocking at the front door.Andrew raced towards the door followed closely behind by his other two friends. When he opened the door he found an unconscious Charlie lying outside the front door. The group was stupefied as to how he got there, and became even more surprised when they saw Charlie's car parked in the same spot it was when he left.Despite their bewilderment, the group immediately made an effort to rouse their unconscious friend. The moment they reached their hands out to try to shake him awake, though, a force like electricity went through their bodies. This force didn't harm them in any way, but it did do something rather peculiar to them. It wiped clean any memory they had of Charlie's weird behavior over the last few days, any memory of Rolo and Jake from yesterday's house party, and even their memories of the recent few hours they'd spent waiting for Charlie to return. In other words, they could recall no incident which had its origins in the chain of events unleashed by the wish."Guys," said Kaya looking to and fro as if trying to figure out where he was, "What are we all doing out here at the front door?""More important question. What the hell is Charlie doing lying on the ground? Charlie, are you okay," asked Jackson as he reached out his hand to Charlie who was now starting to wake up."I...I think so," replied Charlie as he took hold of Jackson's hand and used it to help himself up.With no memory of most of what had happened over the last few days, no one was as confused or baffled as Charlie. It took the four men more than a little while to reorient themselves. Once they did, however, their lives resumed their normal course.Epilogue-Status Quo ReconsideredBack at Kate and Nadia's house, the party started winding down soon after the Spirit of the Pendant unpaused time. The disorientation which stemmed from the magical being's actions turned out to be a major buzzkill. Many people decided it was best to just go home instead of trying to make sense out of whatever happened to them. This created a death spiral for the party. When one group of people left this inspired another group of people to leave until slowly, but surely the party died down. The once overcrowded house became emptier and emptier. At the tail end of this process, the only people left in the house were the two sisters Kate and Nadia, a few of their close friends, and the two best friends Rolo and Jake.Although the spirit's restoration of the status quo made it no longer necessary for Rolo and Jake to stay at Kate's house, they both found themselves in no rush to return home. Hours passed by as the remaining group of people played games and talked. To her delightful surprise, Nadia realized time spent in the company of a few choice loved ones was even more pleasurable than time spent in the midst of a rowdy crowd of loose acquaintances and outright strangers. While she possessed no memories of either the pendant or the brawl, Kate still recalled Jake's earlier admission of his divorce. Consequently, she was even more eager than usual for Jake to stay and enjoy himself. The group stayed up late into the night.At around 1 a.m. Rolo stepped outside. He'd stepped out on a whim, and had no plans to stay outside for more than a minute. Unable to resist the refreshing cool of a summer night, though, he lingered outside longer than he intended to.Standing alone on the front porch absorbed in his own thoughts, he couldn't help but recall the entirety of the evening's events. In fact, he brought to mind all the unexpected and unlikely events which had occurred to him over the last few days. Remembering them all at once, turning disparate incidents into a coherent story in his mind, he felt an emotion he rarely experienced or at least one which had become scarce in his life. He felt exhilaration. Even the otherwise harrowing experience of the brawl now seemed thrilling from the safety of hindsight. It was all part and parcel of the fascinating story he replayed in his head over and over again. More than that, however, he felt the beginnings of a renewed awareness of a wider world and variety of experiences than those he'd limited himself to as he matured into a conscientious adulthood."Hey man," said Jake upon opening the front door and discovering his friend Rolo outside, "I was just looking for you."Jake stepped outside and proceeded to join his friend as he stood out on the front porch."Are you ready to head back," asked Jake.The thought of going back home and officially putting an end to their little misadventure appealed to Rolo much less than he was willing to admit. At the mere mention of going back home, he felt that afterglow of exhilaration degrade into a sense of dejection that dragged his spirits down. The more he realized the inevitability and necessity of a return home the more this feeling of dejection settled in him."Yeah, I guess we can start to get going here soon," Rolo replied.Although he didn't admit it to his friend, Jake felt much the same way. The wish and all the trouble which resulted from it had been a distraction from the concerns, worries, and anxieties which otherwise would have dominated his life these past few days. Since everything regarding the wish now seemed resolved, he had no other choice but to refocus on the still unresolved difficulties in his personal life. He had asked Rolo if he was ready to head back more out of obligation and recognition of the inevitability of needing to go home than out of actual desire to do so. Despite both agreeing they needed to go home, neither man moved an inch. They persisted in lounging on the front porch. The longer they did so the more Jake felt the urge to blurt out something he knew he would have to say eventually."Rolo," Jake began in a voice plain and matter of fact, "I'm getting a divorce."At this, Rolo whipped his head around and looked at Jake. From his perspective these words seemed to pop out of nowhere apropos of nothing. One moment they were both enjoying the summer night. The next he was coming to terms with the news of his best friend's divorce. This could hardly be more different from Jake's perspective to whom the uttering of this statement came only after much internal debate and angst.Just as with Kate, Jake awaited Rolo's response with a not inconsiderable amount of anxiety. Fortunately, just as with Kate his fears turned out to be unfounded. As he should have anticipated, Rolo's primary reaction to the news of the divorce was concern for Jake."So, where are you staying at then," Rolo asked after Jake mentioned he was no longer living at the house in Swansea."I'm at a motel currently," Jake replied."How long are you planning on staying there? Do you have any other place to go long term?"A somewhat embarrassed Jake shrugged his shoulders and responded, "No, I don't. Not right now at least. I've gotta figure that out. I've gotta figure a lot of things out."In saying this, Jake reminded himself of all the ways his future was now unclear and undefined.For a few seconds, Rolo went silent while he inwardly pondered something."Hey," Rolo finally said, "You know, if you want to you could move in with me. I have plenty of space."This suggestion took Jake by surprise."Really, are you sure?"With even more confidence Rolo reaffirmed, "Yes, of course I'm sure.""Yeah, I mean but are you really sure," Jake asked again, "Are you sure I won't be a bother or that I won't be interrupting your life with what's going on in my life?"Rolo smiled before once more reaffirming, "Yes, I'm one hundred percent sure. Not a doubt in my mind. You can live with me until you get things figured out. Yeah, it'll be a change from living alone, but to be honest..."At this point, he paused as his mind caught hold of a realization newly happened upon."I could use a little more of that."A once dormant sense of curiosity inspired this reply. Although he did not know where it would lead him or even if its motivating power would last beyond a few days before the forces maintaining the status quo in his life overwhelmed it, that night in the afterglow of his recent supernatural misadventure he committed himself to following it.With this offer of a place to stay, the future which before seemed so murky to Jake now came more into focus. Like the first step in a long journey, it wouldn't take him all the way to where he needed to go, but it did nonetheless constitute definitive movement towards his destination whatever that would ultimately turn out to be."That's right. I do have incredible friends and family; people around me," he thought to himself as if this fact was somehow worthy of being called an epiphany.After he accepted Rolo's offer, the two lingered outside for a few minutes longer. Then they went back inside the house and said goodbye to Kate and Nadia. Finally, they went home.

Mature Content

Mature Content

Mature Content

Character BIO Sheets
(new) Venus Lanying (Mistress of Psychic) by MollyShine
Sandra Tremblay (Blessed Skating Soul) by MollyShine
Lily Tremblay: Gone, but not forgotten by MollyShine
(OLD) Venus Lanying by MollyShine
Tutorials and Templates
The Templar Corps (Project A)A private militia unbound to the military of the United Sovereignty of Nations, the Templars of the Catholic church are an elite force of ancient warriors who fight alongside their empire; they serve to inspire and empower the breadth of Humanity. Their forces are quite small compared to the vastness of the USN’s military, with numbers mirroring only 1.5% of the Sovereignty's total enlisted population. However, they possess both planetside and space Navy forces outfitted with advanced technologies, and secured by a foundation thousands of years older than the Sovereignty itself. Their warriors are well educated and sharp, restlessly working to serve their families, their brotherhood, and their United Sovereignty. Their faith is strong, their devotion secure, and they are the passionate foundations which will hold fast against any who dare assault the ranks of the Human species. Training/Combat Doctrine: Each and every member of the Templar Corp are selected from physically and mentally healthy members of the Human population anywhere between the ages of 20-40, specifically those adherent to the ancient Catholic faith; this is a religious organization, afterall. Once a recruit has joined, they will be sent to highly sophisticated academies where they will be educated in the art of war and honor for a total of two standard years. Their training is rigorous and incremental, building strength, endurance, agility, class, and character; they are made out to be among the most elite; greater in skill than even their counterparts in the Sovereignty's military. Though there is some variation in what each academy will teach, there are great number of subjects that each and every Templar will be mandated to learn, including the knowledge of how to field virtually any firearm, wield a numerous melee weapons, operate several land, air, sea, or even space vehicles, and become adept in several chosen and several mandatory martial-arts: while specific styles can depend on the institutions themselves, most focus on highly efficient counterattack and defensive tactics. Advanced first aid is also mandatory, for both Humans and every sapient species within the known Universe. Beyond this, the Templars are given a much more formal, college-like education, with an emphasis in the fields of science, language, philosophy, biology/medicine, and Human nature, with enough flexibility for individuals to focus on other areas of study as well. This additional training, especially for those wishing to fill a more specific niche within the Templar Corp, can have their time within the academies extended to a maximum of one extra year. Equipment: The standard issue combat kit for the Templars includes the Corianimum Armum, Corianimus Combat-Uniform, and the Auxilium Exo-Frame. While fairly simple in external appearance, the Corianimum Armum is a highly advanced set of armor plates shaped to deflect projectiles and disperse kinetic energy away from the wearer, while also providing a decent amount of overall coverage; this armor sacrifices total coverage (like the knight armor of old), for added flexibility. The armor is composed of an advanced carbon-titanium alloy very similar to the formula used by the Sovereignty's own soldiers, albeit with slightly greater micro-structural integrity. The Corianimum Armum set includes a full coverage helmet, large shoulder guards, elbow plates, gauntlets, chest plate, segmented abdominal plate, tassets, thigh guards, knee guards, greaves, and finally an armored rucksack; all of these components can also project a mild energy barrier to further protect the wearer from attack. The next part of a Templar’s standard kit is the Auxilium Exo-Frame, which is a full body powered exoskeleton to which the armored components attach to. This full body suit grants the wearer significantly increased strength, speed, and agility, while also acting as a secondary layer of armor, being highly shock absorbent and mildly heat resistant; multi-directional microthrusters add to the wearer’s mobility, allowing them to vault great distances, evade side-to-side, maneuver while falling, etc. The last part of a Templar’s standard kit is the simple Corianimus Combat-Uniform, which is a semi-form fitting jumpsuit composed of synthetic spider silk and carbon nanotubing infused with flame retardant, heat resistant, and electrically insulative compounds. The Corianimus jumpsuit may also be combined with a long, sleeved surcoat as the Templar’s non-combat uniform. For standard issue colors, the armored plates of the Corianimum Armum come in a plain white with a red visor for the helmet, while the Auxilium frame is a light grey. A Templar’s chestplate will always feature a red cross, the specific design of which can vary based on an individual’s rite, cultural upbringing, or merely personal preference. In combat, Templars typically carry a primary weapon, some kind of secondary, a sidearm, and a melee weapon, most often a sword. These scholar-warriors are well equipped and well trained, with a visage designed to be both functional and inspire others on the battlefield.
Codex: SpiritsORIGIN AND ENVIRONMENTSpirits come from the spirit realm, an area of space existing within our universe. For those with a physical view, it's a pocket dimension spread out over our universe in the form of a web, grand in size and scope despite its outside appearance. No one knows the exact starting point of the spirit realm, only that it lives around or near where Birkeland currents and the Ether originate and extends along their path because, of its energy state and connection, it's not detectable via ordinary senses. When the spirit realm can be seen (either through instruments enhanced senses or transported there), it's a sight to behold, an area full of dazzling colors, non-euclidian geometry, and exotic lifeforms, including spirits, while it resembles lines of magenta to those outside the spirit realm. Additionally, it contains pockets of artificial habitats. As the spirit realm follows and connects to the universe's basic materials (Ether electric currents U-matter) in high concentrations, numerous high-energy reactions bring forth exotic materials and life with exotic biologies and abilities. Morphic Beings also reside here, using their connection with the spirit realm to perform their abilities more effectively. The souls of the dead also travel through here; when a person dies, they come here, either moving into vast cylinder-like objects of exotic energy, some of which are artificial or modified by their Morphic Beings providing an afterlife of riches and happiness for their flock or a soul wonders the spirit realm, a dangerous venture for those without assistance. On a rare occasion, a soul may wander out of the spirit realm and back into the living world, becoming a ghost. As the soul goes to and through the spirit realm upon death, it shares a connection with it, both while the person is alive and dead. It's theorized that the spirit realm assists in developing the soul and may provide resources for the growth of a person or species; this does make them a prime target for spirits to possess or a conduit to travel into our universe. However, despite this connection, even while alive, a living person can't enter the spirit realm unless under extreme fluctuating energy states or through advanced technologies; any other method allows only the soul (either through astral projection or death) to enter. As to the purpose and existence of the spirit realm, it's uncertain. The generally accepted theory posits that alongside providing growth and development for living things, it acts as the primary transportation network for everything from all possible aspects of the universe, acts as the primary conductor for cosmic currents and Ether, and acts as a travel point for the dead. BIOLOGYThe general biology of all spirits is a type of exotic matter that composes the spirit realm, either in the form of an amorphous mass or part of their skeletal structure and nervous system, used to gather Ether and other materials used in their powers and biological growth. Next is the Ether itself used in their metabolism and handling electromagnetic effects. Beyond that is the body and organs themselves, composed of anything ranging from heavy mundane elements to exotic materials; the type and amount of said materials and the structures made from them largely depend on the spirit type. TYPESWhile all spirits originated from the spirit realm, they come in several forms, whether individuals or whole species, categorized into types based on general similarities and environment. (Note: most types have similarities and overlap with ghost types) MORPHIC FIELD TYPESMorphic Field spirits are those who had traveled into our world to live here via a living thing's Morphic network and compose the majority of spirits encountered by the living. They are half organic/bound to a baryonic avatar to survive in our world, which they keep intact by manipulating matter or maintaining it much in the same way as us by feeding it with nutrients. Morphic Field spirits still have their powers (albeit on a weaker scale) thanks to their exotic architecture, with said powers dependant on the entity but require a source of material to keep that part of their biology alive, either by finding fissures from the spirit realm or by eating the energy from other spirits or living things. The baryonic structure, behavior, and how they live are influenced by the Morphogenetic Fields of living entities, resulting in appearing as mutated or supernatural beings, chimeric beasts, or exotic creatures. OBJECT AND ELEMENTAL TYPESObject and Elemental types are spirits living within inanimate objects (such as vehicles or heirlooms) or attached and associated with environments (like oceans or winds), which manipulate or control them, may overlap with Phantom types. ENTITY TYPESEntity types are like Morphic Field types in that they have a baryonic form and live and interact in the living's environment, but their behavior and body have evolved on their own rather than through Morphic Fields. PHANTOM TYPESPhantom types refer to any spirit that's nearly intangible or invisible to any lifeform or those without physical shape or form. PURE TYPESPure types are spirits that exist and evolve entirely within the spirit realm (but can potentially come into our world); very rarely seen by the living. DETECTION AND PERCEPTIONAs spirits exist in high-energy frequencies, they are undetectable to normal organic senses; even those with baryonic avatars are nearly unseeable due to the energies flowing through them. However, there are a few ways of detecting them, the first of which is observing any changes in the environment through normal means but not from a natural source; the second is looking for Vermiunt radiation or light up to the ultraviolet range, and the third is looking for residual spirit energy or mana. Some groups also use certain species and people for finding spirits as well. DEALING WITH SPIRITSRarely do spirits' and mortals interact with each other as both parties wish to keep to themselves or have some distance, but there are times when the living must interact with a spirit, and one must need the correct response for the right moment. Some have formed relationships by giving what the spirit wants (this varies) in exchange the living receive goods, new abilities, and protection. With spirits of a harmful nature, methods include using their quirks and behaviors against them, using weapons that interact with their body to kill them (Ether high energy reactions spirit energy), or banishing them through rituals and runes. A spirit's presence and interaction in our realm can be reduced as well, either through technology or high electrical infrastructure or through reduced sensitivity and increased Morphic shielding from spiritual forces....
Codex: MagicORIGIN AND MEANINGA form of Thaumaturgy practiced by select individuals. Magic is a powerful tool utilized by both people and in technology. Magic has its connections in the spirit realm, a dimension located within our universe best theorized to act as the transportation network for multiple esoteric phenomena. Living things draw upon this realm for their powers via the substance known as mana. The exact method that causes living beings to gather mana involves a mutation in the spacial conduit (or soul), done via the soul core that holds the materials necessary for developing living things, undergoing structural changes, resulting in a flow of excess energy. Such a change is caused through random chance, a Morphic or supernatural entity, and through limited soul engineering, which can even be a hereditary trait as well. MANABefore we get into the abilities of magic, we must look into the material that drives that power known as mana. Mana is a substance originating from the spirit realm, a variant of the material composing most of the realm's structure. Its unique property lies in the ability to receive and channel multiple forces and phenomena, thanks to its connection with the spirit realm; by manipulating mana through various methods, one can draw upon many abilities from the universe's network. Additionally, mana is a phenomenal conductor and manipulator of forces such as the Ether and Morphogenetic Fields. How this process works is by the mana converting itself into a portal-like beam through which magic moves through. The first method for magic is by shaping the mana into the required configuration for the intended effect or spell via the use of the user's body; information on how to make these spells come from spell books, made from trial and error, or by probing the info from the spirit realm. This method is simple, quick, and effective but prone to user error, resulting in the spell fizzling out at best or releasing a violent burst of energy at worst. The second method involves runic and summoning symbols and rituals; to shape the mana into a spell. Using runes and rituals guarantees a successful casting with little to no failure; however, it requires material preparation and time. The third method uses technology in place of a user to cast a magical ability. Technological-based magic devices are robust and don't have the limitations and inefficiencies of organic users but require advanced engineering and maintenance and can't generate a mana pool requiring a separate source for the substance. Some magicians have use technology to assist in casting abilities. Depending on the spell or magical ability, a user or technological device will require a significant amount of mana to generate the effect; the amount affects what can be cast, the charge time of the spell, and the ability to control and manipulate it. The more mana a person generates or obtains, the greater the magical power one uses; this does cause side effects and health problems, such as possible spirit incursions, Morphic Field disruption, mutations, and mental problems. Mana, like most other exotic materials within galactic society, breakdown after varied uses; upon its use to cast a spell, the mana will consume itself to generate the beam for the intended effect, which will turn into decaying free-floating particles soon after. Mana can also be shaped into different matter states like baryonic matter (such as solids) or bound to materials; to increase its durability or enhance its properties. As mana is a transportation medium and tool, harnessing powers from elsewhere, little to no energy is used in the process, except in the harnessing, control, emission, and manipulation of mana and the ability by the user. ABILITIESFor as long as magic has existed, Mages have developed many talents from mana and the spirit realm throughout the centuries; these are but a few of their extraordinary capabilities. Electrical Magic: The most versatile of the powers, electrical magic uses electricity to produce several effects, from lightning, the production and manipulation of magnetic fields, and the manipulation of matter and light. Fire Magic: Using fire or heat-based abilities to heat or burn objects, whether by conjuring flames using air (both from and outside the user) or controlling the kinetic motion of molecules. Ice Magic: using cold-based abilities, either molecular motion or cryo materials. Light Magic: The emission and control of electromagnetic radiation, such as producing lasers, cloaking, and creating holograms. Life Facsimile Magic: Also known as life imitation magic, this ability produces short-lived controllable entities, with appearance and capabilities matching existing species. Matter Conjuring Magic: Summoning any form of material, whether baryonic or exotic, into existence, such as water or radioactive elements. Molecular Manipulation Magic: Manipulating materials into various shapes and matter-states, such as producing rain or deadly gases or shaping metal into armor. Organic Manipulation Magic: The healing, altering, or adding of living organic entities. Transmutation Magic: The conversion and transformation of elements and materials. U-Matter Magic: The conjuring and manipulation of U-matter. Antimatter Magic: The conjuring and control of antimatter, a dangerous form of magic. Necromancy: Summoning the dead, whether a ghost or reanimating a dead body. Sophont Summoning Magic: Summoning a living entity, either partially via a portal or fully summoned into the area. Spirit Magic: Controlling or creating a spirit. Life Magic: Creation of life, existing or new....
Sublight Propulsion Systems of the Sovereignty Propulsion, and the methods to achieve sustained, controlled, efficient movement in the open void has been a great driving factor for any spacefaring civilization. While Riftwell technology is absolutely essential for interstellar and even intergalactic expansion, creating reliable methods of travel within star systems is always the first step. Though a fair number of modern vessels have the capability to make short ranged Riftwell jumps between distant planets within the same system, this isn’t always practical. As such, numerous sublight propulsion systems have been created to facilitate interplanetary travel, as well as a number of other basic locomotive purposes.Most civilian-made vessels utilize a powerful, but fairly basic form of propulsion, coming in the form of fusion-based plasma engines. While an ancient concept, it’s only been in the last few thousand years that the technology and its application/execution has been fine tuned enough for regular, safe usage within an ever growing empire. In the simplest, most basic sense, these engines work by creating a sustained and controlled nuclear fusion reaction that's magnetically compressed, funneled, and expelled out the vessel as a powerful jet of high energy plasma and radiation. This provides significantly greater thrust and acceleration when compared to the ion-engines of old, while remaining extremely fuel efficient; although, it’s not without caveats. For one, maintaining this reaction in a totally controlled way requires exceptionally fine tuned systems, highly resilient alloys, and constant maintenance, among many other nuances. Vessels with these types of engines must also give each other a wide berth when accelerating, especially from behind; while an obvious precaution, this is especially prevalent due to the highly energetic and volatile wake they leave behind. This can limit the effectiveness of intra-system traffic, though the exceptional emptiness of space is often quite forgiving. There is no denying the raw power these systems can provide.Even still, these types of engines are considered somewhat crude by today’s standards, especially for the fact that a newer and much safer form of propulsion now exists. Made possible by the wondrous and surprisingly versatile material “aethrellite”, the fittingly named “aether drives” have slowly but surely outperformed fusion drives within the modern market. Aether drives are a far more exotic form of propulsion, utilizing malleable anti-gravity fields and the very fabric of the Universe itself to provide thrust. Essentially, these engines use successive rings of aethrellite to create a powerful, tube-like field anti-gravity down the length of the engine. As the ambient space-time continuum passes through this anti-gravity tube, it’s forcefully compressed, not unlike the crushing effects of natural gravity. When this compressed ‘jet’ of space-time exits the engine, it rapidly re-expands to its former density, providing thrust. Undoubtedly confusing, this concept is best compared to an atmospheric jet-engine; though instead of compressing air to provide thrust, these engines use the invisible flesh of the Universe itself. As with most things, these types of engines are not perfect, and come with a few downsides. The most obvious caveat is the fact that aethrellite, the ultimate ingredient of anti-gravity technology, is extremely expensive to make. Requiring exotic artificial elements and the perfect conditions provided by advanced laboratories, this material is not easy to afford, despite its relative commonality. Ships capable of Riftwell navigation need aethrellite for their own systems as well, and even without FTL capabilities, aethrellite is still an absolute requirement for inertial suppression. The simple fact is that the more aethrellite-based technologies a ship has on board, the more expensive and difficult to maintain it becomes. Beyond this, most modern aether drives simply can’t provide the same level of acceleration that a traditional fusion engine can.Either of these two systems are a common choice amongst civilian vessels, however, the USN’s military relies on yet another form of propulsion, one which joins both fusion and aether based engines to create a product that’s greater than the sum of its parts. These conjoined systems, referred to as “quintessence drives”, work by creating the same space-time compression ‘jets’ as an aether engine, while also injecting super-heated plasma down the chamber as a kind of afterburner. The pressure created by the aethrellite’s space-time warping significantly magnifies the thrust provided by the high energy plasma, allowing these vessels to engage in high acceleration maneuvers that are currently impossible for aether drives, and far too risky for fusion engines. Additionally, these types of engines allow for more minute changes in acceleration, giving vessels a greater degree of fine-tuned control. This simple combination so far represents the best Humanity has to offer in terms of sublight propulsion, with the only major downside being production cost and maintenance… however, the Navy of the United Sovereignty has plenty of funds to spare. Humanity may be a little far behind in certain technologies, but ship-building is not one of them.Another important aspect of propulsion is directional control and speed modulation. Maneuvers requiring great care, such as ship-to-ship docking, cargo transferences, asteroid or debris hauling, and construction in space are usually handled by much older and simpler technologies. Ship thrusters come in three main forms, those being traditional chemical thrusters, ion thrusters, or more powerful fusion thrusters. Ion thrusters are most often the weakest, providing minimal impulse and very low acceleration, but this makes them great for exceptionally high-finesse maneuvers. Ion engines work simply by firing electrically charged, low mass particles with high velocity. The most common form of thrusters are undoubtedly chemical based. Though usually a lot less fuel efficient, they are exceptionally cheap to produce and provide significantly greater impulse than ion thrusters, making them great for quick maneuvers, especially on larger vessels with greater mass. Now, fusion thrusters are, unsurprisingly, scaled down versions of a typical fusion-based engine. These thrusters undoubtedly produce the most acceleration and are very fuel efficient, but are generally more dangerous to use when other vessels are nearby; they’re also the most expensive. Ion and chemical-based thrusters are most commonly found on civilian ships, with fusion thrusters seen almost exclusively on warships. A vessel’s aethrellite grid can also act as a kind of anti-gravity thruster, essentially by pushing against the space-time medium to initiate thrust; however, this is very rarely performed, so as to reduce wear-and-tear on these expensive systems. All in all, Humanity has a lot to offer in the amount of options available for sub-light propulsion; a testament to this species’ adaptation and willingness to create.
I Sniff Books by MademoiselleGrief
Character Drawings
Alien Faces: Nethetch'e (Project A) by AngelOfNope
Translation Wanted


How to Write a Female Character
How to write a female character
Most female characters we see in TV and movies* are not fully fleshed out, 3D characters, but accessories for the plot or a prize for the hero.  They may have high powered jobs, or they may have mechanical knowledge, they may even find a clever way to help the plot or hero along, but by the time the credits roll they have been saved by the hero or have ended up standing just a little behind him for the glory shot.
While stories have come a long way from the hero untying his future 'bedroom toy' from the railroad tracks female characters still lack that special something that would give them equal standing with the hero. (Or possibly surpass them, depending on how good the writing is.)
So what can we do so that we can make 'it' into a spectacular 'her'?
It's very simple, we give her four basic characteristic traits.  And I am not talking physical ones.
The fist two traits are the ones Hollywood and most male writers use, and might just be the on
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MechWarrior: Living Legends: The Novel I by S7alker117 MechWarrior: Living Legends: The Novel I :icons7alker117:S7alker117 22 13 MechWarrior: Living Legends: The Novel II by S7alker117 MechWarrior: Living Legends: The Novel II :icons7alker117:S7alker117 13 0 The Three Beds by The-Red-Lass
Mature content
The Three Beds :iconthe-red-lass:The-Red-Lass 1 0
Listen To The Whisper
Listen To The Whisper Of The Eternal Wind
As It Gently Touches Your Ear;
Guiding You Through The Forest Of Life
Your Friend; Your Companion; Your Seer.
Listen To The Whisper Of Verdant Leaves
Adorning The Sentinels Of Earth;
Silently Watching The Passing Of Time
Its Beauty The Blessing Of Birth.
Listen To The Whisper Within The Heart
Where Soft Emotions Caress Its Beat;
Let Its Wisdom Flow Right Over Your Soul
And Dormant Love It Will Entreat.
Listen To The Whisper, All Three Of Them
Embrace And  Entwine Deep Within;
And When They Merge Within Your Soul
A New Pathway You Will Begin
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Emotions Flowed Like A Raging Fire
As I watched The Birth Of Dawn
Softness And Beauty Of Stars Had Past
My Heart Still Heavy And Forlorn
My Spirit Was Ebbing I was About To Go
When Something Caught My Eye
A Solitary Cloud So Pure And White
Appeared From Way Up High
My Eyes Now Ember With Rising Sun
Saw An Amazing Sight
Within Its Fleece A Golden Glow
And A Butterfly Took Flight
Such Beauty I Had Never Seen
It Sat Upon My Hand
And Said To Me In A Voice So Soft
I Was A Spirit Of The Lamb
My Soul Was Open My Heart Poured Forth
It Listened With Silent Embrace
And When I Had Finished It Smiled At Me
With Serenity, Peace And Grace
Moments Of Silence As We Shared The Dawn
Then It Whispered It Was Time To Part
And As It Began To Fly Away
A Sudden Lightness Filled My Heart
I Watched In Joy As My Newfound Friend
Returned From Whence It Came
My Fears And Sorrows All Had Been Taken
By The Butterfly With No Name
Had I Seen The Truth Within The Cloud
I Would Have Witnessed A Wondrous Sight
For The B
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If There's Someone You Love, Someone You've Wronged
And You Don't Know What To Say -
Don't Shrug Your Shoulders, Giving Up Hope
Leaving It For Another Day
For Life's Wake Is Short, Don't You Know
There May Be No Words To Hear -
As You Place The Flowers, Shed Your Tears
Upon The Earth Holding Someone So Dear
Your Mind In A Daze, Emotions On Fire
Wishing You Could Turn Back Time -
As You Gaze Upon A Loved Ones Grave
Memories Of When Everything Was Fine
If There's Someone You Love, Someone You've Wronged
Don't Leave It For Another Day -
With Love In Your Heart, Hug Them Close
It's All The Words You'll Need To Say
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If We Would Only Love
If We Would Only Love As HE Wants Us To
Our Spirits Would Soar Our Souls Renew
Then Mankind Would See A Better Life
Void Of Evil Greed And Strife
The World Would Be A Beautiful Place To Live
If We Would Only Learn To Give
Instead We Take And Desire Of Things
Not Blessed By HIM Who Love Did Bring
HE Came And Said My Brother Man
Accept This Gift From The Golden Lamb
Some Did Listen To The Words HE Said
Others Did Laugh And Turned Their Head
As They Nailed HIM To A Cross Of Wood
Still HE Blessed Them As Only HE Could
The Years Have Passed Since That Holy Day
When HE Walked The Earth Taking Sin Away
If We Would Only Love As HE Wants Us To
Then Our Spirits Would Soar Our Souls Renew
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Once There Was Love; Once There Was Joy
Emotions Now Shattered Like An Old Broken Toy
Confused And Dazed, Wondering Why
Soul In A Turmoil Just Wishing To Die
The Brightest Day Now Shadows Of Night
Infecting The Heart So It Sees No Light
Thoughts Entombed By What's Been Said
A Loved One Lost At Twilights Ebb
Guided By One Whose Words They Believe
Not Seeing The Venom That Flowed To Deceive
The Only Hope Now Is To Pray To The Light
To Guide Them Back To All That Is Right.
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Natures Tears Splash To The Earth
To Flowers And Trees They Offer Birth
Soil Caress The Warmth Of The Sun
Life's Mysteries Which Gaia Has Won
Creation Stirs Behind The Veil Of Time
Bringing Forth A New Era That Of Mankind
Though But An Ember In Natures Fires
None Has Such Strange Whims And Desires
The Candle Flickers, The Flame Dies
The Innocent Child Softly Sighs
Knowing No Shadows In Life's Light
Free From The Darkness Of Human Plight
Delicate In Thought Like Threads Of Silk
Weaved And Adorned With Gaia's Milk
Purity Of Spirit Is What Was Meant To Be
And Such A Child Shall Live For Eternity
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Journal of Rydel Park-Anime
The Journal of Rydel Park
Written and edited by K.N.S./Nursal1060
Walking in school with a patched-up arm and a bruised chin…
Isn't it about time that gang fighting stopped for good? Innocent bystanders get hurt all the time. Sometimes you just want to stop. But, sometimes, you're like me…you just can't stop. Zeal and fighting are in your body; from your blood down to your DNA…plus, I've gone much too far to repent for my wrong…
"Rydel! RYDEL! Wait up bro! We're not racing here!"
I'm grinning like mad, "Well now we're racing! Come on Spider! You and Wolf better pick up the slack or you'll buy your own cigarettes today!" The name' Rydel Park; and don't you forget it. My two younger brothers and I are all high-schoolers. I'm the oldest, at 17 years and 2 months; Spider is second oldest at 15 years and 5 months; and lastly, Wolf is youngest at 14 years and 3 months. We all have dark brunette hair with deep green eyes. As the oldest, I'm the "bad-example"; the only one
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Hotel's Vampire-Gothic Anime
The Hotel's Vampire
By: K.N.S./nursal1060
Aniki: Main character and narrator (even if "Aniki" means "older brother", this is a girl) She is 13 years old.
Sai: The oldest of Aniki's cousins. Mysterious; even a jerk at times. 19 years old.
Yahiko: The second oldest of Aniki's cousins. He is shy, but helpful, 14 years old.
Negima: the youngest of the cousins. He is a crybaby and a actor, his face is irresistible! Only 10 years old.
Kimi: Aniki's only known friend. She doesn't know the "secret" of Aniki's family. She's 13, 25 ½ days older than Aniki.
Yuu, Nyami, and Mashiro: The triplets in the cousins. Yuu has long brown hair, she is overconfident. Nyami is the one with the short orange hair, she is reserved to herself. Mashiro has a black ponytail; she is a sword-fighter. They all are 12.
Sai took Aniki, Negima and Yahiko to a fancy hotel. They would stay there for the night before the Cosplay-Con in Tokyo, Japan. As it was, Yuu, Nyami, Mashiro, and Kimi were stil
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Samurai Kaede's Story-Anime
Kaede's life from
The start
Over 1,560 years ago, the original Kaede lived. But in the start, she was a middle-eastern princess from England. Her name was Felicaria…this is her story…
Felicaria was an extremely bright child…at age of 6 she knew 8th grade math. At age of 8, she was more intelligent than anyone in the local university.  With her back-long orange hair and green eyes, she was totally adored by everyone. But…the palace life was just not for her. She longed to be a fighter, of course!
Felicaria finally stood up to her mother and asked her to let her fight. Of course her mother was insulted and refused to agree. After that, Felicaria had to stay in the castle. She was never allowed to leave. But Felicaria was headstrong and escaped with a sword in her hand. The whole week, every night, Felicaria snuck out to practice in the woods 3 miles away.
One day, she met an older boy named Nuralam there. Nuralam had short brown hair and black eyes…He h
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Mature content
Vampire Killer Ch 1-5 Anime :iconnursal1060:nursal1060 14 4
Star Queen Yuuki's Story-Anime
Yuuki's story
From the start…
Yuuki's real name was Yumi. She came from ancient China…she was teased for being English…this is her story…
Yumi was born in China, all her descendants were European. She was sold, the very day she was born, to the Chinese dynasty. Yumi never knew her parents; frankly…she never wanted to find out. She lived in an artist's home…even though he loved her greatly, she was never happy with her life…
Yumi was a very talented girl, able to do anything she put her mind to. Though not intelligent, she loved her caregiver. But she was always teased left and right because of her blonde hair and blue eyes. That was Yumi's life for 8 years and she was very happy with it.
But one autumn day, Yumi ran home to find out that her caregiver had collapsed. He died the next morning, and Yumi was so heartbroken. With that, she was immediately sold to the Japanese and put to work as a servant. Here, people threw stuff at her and openly abused h
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Fundelstein Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2019  Hobbyist Writer
I mistakenly submitted Chapter 5 (part 2) and chapter 6 of Cyber Black into the Critic Me folder instead of Twos and Onwards. Can you please move them to where they belong?
Predaliena Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2019  Hobbyist Writer
Hi, I'm new here. I accidentally submitted Chapter 3 of my multi-chapter story into Critic Me folder instead of Fanfic folder. It was a mistake. Could you please move to the Fanfic folder? Thanks in advance.
UltimateCluckinbell Featured By Owner Sep 22, 2017   General Artist
Uh... I have a question, Does anyone know where I can find someone to help me with my writing?, I just want them to be pretty good at it, And give good criticism
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The-Math-Hatter Featured By Owner May 31, 2017
I have submitted a story to the "Critic Me" folder, and although I have gotten several views, no one has commented, which is why I put it there. Would anybody please be willing to write a comment?
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UltimateCluckinbell Featured By Owner May 30, 2016   General Artist
I have a question do you expect writing that is in the journals because I don't know ware else to put it
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UltimateCluckinbell Featured By Owner May 28, 2016   General Artist
Um I have a question is it possible to join a group on your phone? Because I really want to join
ChloexBowie Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks for the request! :heart:
Big-Uncle-V Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2015
Good thing I found you guys! I'm gonna need all the help I can get If I need a leg-up in the literary game.
KittyNocturna Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
My book is published at last! The Raven's War by Patricia LeAne Owens, published by Dark Oaks Press. It's available on their website,, and Barnes and Nobles.
Deus-Lux Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I have recently just self-published my novella, the Train, for Kindle and I would like to know if it's okay to submit the cover with a link to the page on Amazon? I am a member of this group and I will be submitting other pieces.
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