The Cloak of Stolen Shadows hung in the hall closet, sandwiched between a threadbare windbreaker and a pea-coat used on the rare cold days offered up by the seasons. Due to the warm climate there was no umbrella holder, because when even the most tumultuous storm’s droppings were quickly dried away, one found little need for an umbrella. Had there been an umbrella holder, though, that is the place The God’s Blood Sword would have found itself, at least initially. Over the years it likely would have migrated to the same place it ended up anyway, a glass case in the hobby room along with some unimpressive attempts at homemade pottery.

The same room also contained a framed degree on the wall, as well as drawings the children had scrawled. There was a mahogany desk with a computer that was out of date, but of course any computer older than three weeks fits that qualification. When visitors would come into the room they would compliment the desk and the pictures, pointedly refrain from mentioning the computer, and politely inquire about the six foot tall sword with the blade colored a crimson so deep it flirted on black. Sometimes they would ask about the pottery too, though the subject was quickly changed after it became clear the pieces were displayed less out of pride and more as a gentle self-reminder that no one was good at everything. By that point there were usually better things to do or children to usher out of the adults’ room, so conversation rarely continued on these focal pieces.

The Unforgivable Armor and Gauntlet of Howling Demons weren’t in the house at all, having been moved to a climate controlled storage facility across town after the first time their oldest son, Dylan, had nearly pulled the whole set down on top of his head. Marie was glad to have them out of the house. The cloak and sword weren’t so bad, but the armor would have required nearly religious polishing to be kept presentable.

It wasn’t like Devin needed them anyway. He’d long ago traded in his aggressive attack style for a degree and a job in human resources. He was quite apt at the latter, nearly as good as he’d been with the former. He was renowned for his ability to resolve interoffice conflict without having to resort to the filing of discipline reports. Whether it was his cheerful demeanor, aptitude for really listening to how an employee felt, or the way his blood red irises would bore into one’s soul, that made him so effective was anyone's guess. The effectiveness was there, and Devin had the positive yearly reviews and subsequent promotions to prove it.

He was a devoted father as well, cheering at Dylan’s baseball games and making a point to attend every one of Kasey’s dance recitals. It was important to Devin and Marie that the children always have at least one parent at their events, and with the hours Marie kept at the law firm it defaulted to Devin to make that presence felt. It meant having to finagle his work hours more than he liked, but Devin’s bosses never brought it against him. People seemed to have trouble telling Devin ‘No.”

The marriage was maintained as well. Once a month Devin and Marie would hire a sitter for the children and dress themselves in fine clothing. They’d go out to a quiet bistro, then to a bar specialized in wine and soft dancing. Devin would gaze into his wife’s green eyes as he twirled her about and remember the steely gaze she’d given him when they first met so long ago. Though her body had rounded and softened thanks to the twin daggers of childbirth and time, Devin was of the opinion that age had improved her in many ways, and Marie’s spirit still remained as stalwart and fiery as ever. It was that spark of life that had initially drawn him to her, and every time he saw it flash a wave of happiness washed over him that he’d held this woman’s charm for so many years.

Though, of course, one’s past never stayed entirely behind them. From time to time, beings wearing great black armors who tainted the air as they walked would come to call on Devin. Other times it was people with shaved heads in golden clothing on a pilgrimage to see Marie. In both cases the couple would invite them in, serve some tea or coffee, and politely yet firmly inform them that neither participated in their former line of work. If they were particularly insistent Devin would pull out his secret weapon, a homemade tiramisu cake that could settle even the greatest temper. If they were cordial Devin would even wrap up a few pieces for them to take back with them. The ones who brought up the prophecy rarely were given such a parting gift.

In all his years, Devin had only twice removed his sword from the case in the hobby room. Once had been for a particularly stubborn jar of spaghetti sauce, and the other had been when he discovered Dylan’s baseball coach had been secretly beating his players if they lost games. Marie had stopped him from using it on the sauce, though she was conspicuously silent on the second occasion, which only goes to show no matter how kind hearted a woman might be there is a level of savage protectiveness that only a mother can understand.

Beyond those rare occasions, however, it was a cheerful life. Imperfect, but with an honest joy that can only be appreciated when one has lived without it. They grilled out with the neighbors on holidays, vacationed in the mountains near Christmas, and talked one day of retiring on a sunny tropical beach once the children had started their own lives.

Sometimes, at night, Marie would wake up and look out at the stars from their bedroom window. She would lovingly rub her husband’s still muscular back as she did so, fully aware nothing short of war would rouse him from his sleep. On occasion her eyes would leave the stars and settle on the man she married, on the midnight hair that jutted from his scalp and the crescent scar that curved beneath his left shoulder blade. She could still remember the High Priest’s voice echoing through the hall, telling her that she was the one of prophesy, that it was her task to stop The Great Demon’s reincarnation. Marie would chuckle to herself, thinking of how furiously she’d gripped her sword and loudly vowed nothing could defeat her pure spirit. She’d been such a naive little thing in those days. Eventually she would grow sleepy again and kiss Devin on the cheek before laying against her own pillow. The people in the golden clothing still complained that this didn’t count, but Marie knew better. There were many ways to stop a warrior, and happiness was far less messy than decapitation.

Scrawled in Crayon, Abandoned on a Park Bench

Woe unto the pitiful mortal who created Algebra.

I can transmute matter with but a thought, I can alter the properties of the very elements, I can even happily defy the laws of physics, but I cannot seem to make these miserable x’s and y’s become something equationally cohesive. What’s worse is that I can’t even pretend to buy into the myth that this will once day be important. It might be to all of 1% of this class, but even when I was human I wasn’t part of that percentage. Still, I keep plugging along because frustration and hatred of a class are all normal things for someone my age, and I am desperately trying to hold onto as much normalcy as I can.

My name is Joel and I am twelve years old. If my writing seems a bit intelligent for my age, that could be because I Am a bit intelligent for my age. It’s the reason why my advanced placement class is already looking over algebraic equations despite my youth, though admittedly only the barest bones of the material. Of course, it could also be because a year ago I woke up as an altered being. Most of my kind calls themselves gods, and while it functions as a unifying term I can’t help but feel a bit presumptuous at using it. Altered being works fine for me.

I don’t have to deal with the others very often anyway, since I’ve been charged with the governing of magic, a domain that everyone is convinced went extinct. The truth is it didn’t, but I feel overall it’s better if I’m the only who knows that for now. I’m still new at this I’ll admit, but it seems to me that these misperceptions tend to happen for a reason.

The teacher calls on me to write an answer on the blackboard. I have no idea what it is, but there’s no reason for that to stop me. As I walk up to the board I look through the teacher’s mind. She’s quite a sight, sixty and wrinkly with a slouch already manifesting in her posture. Her hair is nearing full grey a bit more each day, and her face gives me the impression she just bit down on several lemons. She’s a hateful one, and she dislikes me especially because I’m always right. She chose this problem for me specifically so that I wouldn’t be able to answer it. She did a good job, I’ll give her that. I couldn’t solve this thing if she gave me all day. I picked up the chalk and quickly scrawl out the correct formula and answer. I might not know the answer, however she certainly does and plucking things like that from a mind is child’s play. No pun intended.

I return to my seat, savoring for a brief moment the frustration she feels at her impotent attempts to stop me. I know it’s petty for me to engage in this feud, but in my defense she started it. Besides, I am only a child after all. I’ve often speculated if that is why I was chosen to be responsible for my domain. The majority of the others believe the choice is a random occurrence when a preceding “god” exits the world, however I think there is more at work than the fickle workings of fortune. I believe I was chosen because while magic is not gone, it is hidden deeply in the world. Children can still see it because they have the faith enough to look. A child with an advanced intellect would be capable of dealing with such things in a more rational capacity, yet still be youthfully ignorant enough to interact with it. These are the qualities needed to govern the domain of magic, and they just so happen to be the ones that I possess, though admittedly the past year has spurred on my mental advancements beyond their previous pace. I can still see magic though. That’s the trick to it, you only have to see it once to believe, and you only need to believe to keep seeing it.

My first time was about nine months ago. I was finally settling into my new role as a non-human. Oh sure I did all the things you would expect at first. Mountains of ice cream, toys and games enough to overflow a landfill (something which I am ashamed to admit I did), and of course revenge against all of those who had tormented me. I grew tired of it all quickly though. Ice cream simply tastes better where there is an aura of the forbidden to it, toys become cumbersome when you begin categorizing their weight in tons, and when seeking vengeance for petty wrongs it becomes far too easy to turn oneself into a bully. So I was past that new phase and had committed myself to keeping my lifestyle as normal as possible. By this point I had met another “god”, Albert who found me in my dreams, and had explained the basic rules and responsibilities to me. Since my domain seemed to no longer exist, I assumed keeping a normal life would be easier for me than the others, as I would have virtually no responsibilities. If only.

I was walking home on that day, enjoying the freedom that comes from appearing to be utterly defenseless yet knowing with absolute certainty that nothing can harm you, when I felt an odd tug. It wasn’t a physical one; rather it was like my tummy was tugging me in a direction of its own volition. Of course now I know that this was my domain asserting its need for me, however at the time I was fearful my stomach had developed sentience and powers of its own. If you think this is silly, please keep in mind that only three months prior I had woken up with more power than your average super hero and uncovered no plausible explanation.

I followed the tug anyway, and it led me to a back alley tucked between an antiques shop and a Chinese take-out place. Lying there, presumably discarded from the antique shop, were a pair of small pink ballet slippers. Without understanding why, I picked them up and slipped them into my backpack.

I kept expecting something to happen, for the shoes to spring to life or surge with power, but all through the afternoon and night they stayed just as they were: small, pink, and somewhat ugly shoes designed for a dancer. I could feel a strange hum coming from them, like the crackle of power lines if that sound could be somehow tweaked to be relaxing. I realize my descriptive skills are failing in this attempt, but I can no more explain this to you than you could describe the color green to a blind man. All one can do is create a general sense and hope the impression gets through.

I kept the shoes in my backpack the next day at school. The old me would have been petrified someone would find him with girl’s shoes, girl’s dancing shoes at that, but one of the fringe benefits of these powers is that I don’t really to worry about what normal people will or won’t see. I spent the day hoping something would happen, something would tug at me and reveal what I was supposed to do next. It wasn’t until recess that my anticipation paid off. I was standing on the playground, looking a little ridiculous holding my backpack to be truthful, when I felt another tug. This one was from the shoes themselves. I followed the pulling direction, and as I did I could hear the crackling sound getting louder. I traversed all across the grounds, past the kickball court and the monkey bars, all the way to the jungle gym.

Sitting alone inside the half-sphere cage was a girl my age. She was wearing large pink glasses and her thick dirty blonde hair in pigtails. Add in a horrendous pink set of overalls and she was pretty difficult to miss. I’d seen her around the school, but she wasn’t in the advanced placement classes so I’d never gotten to know her. The shoes apparently did though, as they roared with sound when my eyes settled on her. She looked sad in a resigned sort of way. Given that she was all by herself during recess it wasn’t hard to figure out why. Of course in fairness the same could have been said for me, but at least I had an excuse. Being a whole different species from those around me made relations a bit strained on my end.

Contrary to what the shoes clearly wanted, I wandered away from the sad girl in the jungle gym and joined in a game of kickball. Visually I ignored her while tracking her with my other senses. The whole rest of my day was spent watching her through the walls and keeping tabs on her activities. When school let out I dashed into the bathroom, closed a grey stall door and slipped myself out of the spectrum of visible light. With no one able to see me, I quickly passed through the walls of the school and began following my apparent charge.

She was walking home, dragging her feet in the process, eyes kept steadily on the ground. It was no wonder I didn’t know her name, this girl had all the confidence and outgoingness of a garden slug. With time to kill on the walk, I rifled through her head. Her name was Tiffany and she lived five minutes away from the school. She was an only child and both her parents worked most of the time. Her mother was constantly worried about her child’s lack of social skills so she was frequently subjected to the newest in self-help techniques and being forced into sociable activities. She was absolutely terrified of that night because she had to be in a recital with the dance troupe her mother had made her join. Ah, well that seemed to explain the shoes at least. My only dilemma was how to get them to her. I could leave them on her doorstep, but there was always the chance she would think they were from a parent and reject them out of spite. I could become visible and give them to her, but I somehow didn’t think a boy she might only barely recognize giving her some slippers would go over to well. That would be assuming she even could bring herself to talk to me when I appeared, which given her shyness was a bit of a stretch.

I decided on a method that needed no explanation, because it was too bizarre to require one. I flew up about thirty feet above her, pulled out the shoes and let them drop. They reappeared as soon as they left my grip and landed inches in front of her, the wind of their descent ruffling the front of her bad haircut. She jumped when they struck, then craned her neck around so furiously I was afraid I’d wind up having to heal a pinched nerve on her before she gave up. She couldn’t see me or anyone else around to account for their appearance though, so she bent over and carefully picked them up.

As soon as her hands closed around my former pink burdens, it was evident she could feel the same hum in them that I could. I don’t know if she felt it in the same way, but it was clear she knew there was something special about these shoes. She darted her eyes around one last time then bolted for home. I noted with a dash of pride that her she definitely not moving with the same sullen gait she had used previously.

I slipped into her recital that night, eager to see what a pair of magical ballet shoes could do for a girl like Tiffany. I learned two very important lessons that night. One was that magic doesn’t always work in the way you expect it will, and two was that doesn’t mean it won’t make for an enjoyable show. The stage was set in a lush cardboard and crepe paper forest. The cast consisted of a variety of wild animals, though I can’t say they were striving for geographic accuracy. At least not unless penguins have become deep tropic animals. Tiffany was dressed as what I believed was a koala, but her pink slippers were unmistakable on her untrained feet. I thought she was sure to wow us all.

After watching Tiffany slip, trip, and fall her way through the first half of the show, my new thought was that the only thing more mortifying for her than her stumbles must have been her mother in the front row chattering on a cell phone amidst the glares from the other parents. Apparently she had some pressing business regarding a court case, but since every book she read had advised her to support her insecure daughter’s forced activities there was no way she could take the call outside. I knew this not from looking into her mind; rather it was from the several belligerent explanations she loudly thrust at the poor attendees who asked her to keep it down.

The show took a delightful turn in the final hour though, when another girl was startled by the ringer from Tiffany’s mother’s phone and fell to the floor. I suppose that must have been the last straw. Tiffany’s retaliation for her mother’s noise terrorism was marching to the center of the stage, peeling off one of her magic slippers, curling back her tiny arm and letting fly. The shoe moved like a pink missile and deposited itself directly in her mother’s open mouth, silencing the woman for virtually the first time all evening.

Tiffany the koala received a standing ovation.

I slid out at that point, but I still kept watch on her over the next few months. She’s grown up a lot in that time. She plays with the other kids now, changed out her huge pink frames for ones that fit her face, and most importantly she gained some confidence in herself after that recital. I’d assumed she needed those shoes to make her feel beautiful for a night. It turned out all she really needed was a chance to make her mother shut the hell up. That’s the thing about my domain. I get all the same instincts and tugs as the others, but I can never really predict the outcome my actions will have.

Truth be told, I think I prefer it that way. It’s a bit more exciting to not know how things will work out. I mean, I won’t be twelve forever, I might as well blame as much as I can on the foolishness of youth. On that note, I think today my tormenting teacher will find one of her tires has been replaced with bread dough. Oh she’ll suspect me off the bat I’m sure, things like this always happen when she tries to pick on me. She’ll never be able to prove anything though. After all, I’m just a normal twelve year boy.


Life Lessons

“But Mommyyyy! The Boogeyman will get me!” Billy whined as his mother tucked him into bed. She sighed heavily. At six years old she couldn’t help feeling that her son was a little too old for such ridiculous fears.

“For the hundredth time Billy, there is no such thing as the boogeyman. You’re just having nightmares.” Nightmares that would, hopefully, soon subside and allow her an evening of peaceful rest. Billy’s mother was a headstrong, no nonsense kind of woman. When Billy’s father ran off with his personal trainer, she had taken to parenting advice books for how single mothers could fill both the mother’s and father’s roles. She had consulted with them on the subject of boogeymen and the consensus was solid. She couldn’t afford to humor her son’s frivolous behavior. The sooner he learned to face his fears, the better off he would be when he grew up. All the books said so.

“Yes there is yes there is yes there is. He’s dark and scary and has glowy eyes. Leave the hall light on mommy. Please.” Billy stared up at her from the center of his bed, brown eyes dilated, on the verge of tears. She felt her maternal instincts quicken; she unexpectedly wanted to pull her son close and tell him of course she believed him, and that she would always keep him safe.

Instead she set his alarm clock for the following morning, kissed him on the forehead, and turned out his lights.

“The boogeyman is just in your imagination dear. You have to be a big boy and face your fears. It’s part of growing up.” She shut the door firmly behind her. While she might want to coddle him, the books all said it would be doing him a disservice in the long run. Without a father around he would need a strong hand to shape him. She stepped briskly to her bedroom, confident the books would be proud of her if they could see how she handled the situation. As she exited the corridor, she made sure to turn off the hall light.

Inside his own room, Billy lay in his bed, covers pulled up to his chin. Many of the children his age would have pulled them over their heads, hoping to hide from their demons in the darkness. Billy was smart enough to know that wouldn’t work. His mother’s so sought after strong hand had succeeded in teaching him that problems won’t vanish by hiding from them. So Billy lay there, wishing it was in him to fall asleep, and knowing it wasn’t.

At first nothing happened. It took a full ten minutes after his mother left before Billy caught the first movements in his peripheral vision. Darkness was seeping out from the crack in his closet door and from under his bed. More of it seemed to be coming from the drawers of his little wooden desk, and still more dripping down from the ceiling. This wasn’t darkness like the absence of light that now filled Billy’s room; this was Darkness in the oldest, most visceral sense of the word. It devoured light wherever it moved, like a fluid swathe of blackest midnight. The Darkness began to pool in the middle of Billy’s room, just beside the foot of his bed. It convalesced upward, shifting until it took a humanoid form. The Boogeyman appeared as a faceless, sexless, predominantly featureless hooded figure. The figure was amorphous in a sense; while the general shape of the hooded person stayed constant, its edges were subtlety moving and rippling. A red glow emanated from within the figure, two pinpricks of smoldering fire where a real person’s eyes would be. The voice that creaked from the hooded figure was deep and willowy; it sounded like angry whispers being carried on the wind from far away.

“She didn’t believe you Billy.”

Billy nodded; there seemed no point in lying when The Boogeyman had clearly been listening.

“Three nights. Three chances. Tonight was your last chance Billy.”

Billy began tearing up. He blinked them back, willing himself not to cry. He desperately wanted to leap from his bed, hurtle through the door and dash into his mother’s room where it would be safe. He had tried that the first night of course, when The Boogeyman first appeared. He had made it halfway there before a claw of Darkness had whipped him back into his superhero themed bed sheets. He knew he couldn’t outrun The Boogeyman, he was aware enough to know he couldn’t overpower him, so he had had no choice but to accept the challenge that The Boogeyman presented to him. If in three nights he could make his mother believe The Boogeyman was real, then Billy won and was free from his nightmare. That was all there was to it. But Billy had not won. Billy had lost.

“You belong to me now Billy,” The Boogeyman croaked as it glided toward him. Billy’s stomach convulsed, but he willed himself to stay strong. He was determined to be brave, just as his mother was always teaching him. As Darkness began flowing over him though, a tremor rippled through his resolve and a choked scream broke free from his throat. His mother couldn’t hear him of course, that was a part of The Boogeyman’s magic. With no one save for the monster to see him, Billy’s long promised tears finally began splashing down his cheeks. Muted sobs echoed from his throat, and Billy hunched his shoulders and closed his eyes. Hiding wouldn’t make it go away, but he still didn’t want to see it coming. He would do what his mother wanted and face his fears, but she had never said he had to do it with his eyes open.

As Darkness swallowed more of his body, enveloping him like a cocoon, Billy heard The Boogeyman’s voice once more. It had changed though. Here, surrounded by Darkness, it was no longer deep and distant; instead it bore the same soft tinkling melody of the voices in girls his age. There was sadness in it now too, full and rich with the unknowable years it had had to flourish.

“If it makes you feel better, my mommy didn’t believe me either.”

* * *

Billy’s mother awoke in a cold sweat. All the dim lights in her small room were turned on. There was music coming from a hotel room below, Latin and loud through the cheap building materials. She had been here for only three days, and already she knew it had found her. She couldn’t see it yet, but she could feel It. Waiting for the lights to go off. When It grew tired of waiting, there would be a power failure, or a breaker would short, or the bulbs would all break. She didn’t understand, and she didn’t care anymore. All that mattered now was getting away. She threw her meager belongings into her suitcase, a sleeve and a pant leg waving from a zipper gap in the top. She bolted out the door and down to the well lit bus stop. She would go to a hospital this time, a place with backup generators and safety measures to make sure the lights never went out.

As she scurried down the sidewalk, harried and thin from her last year’s ordeal, a hooded figure watched on. It stood one room over from hers, with nary a speck of light in the entire dwelling. You could never have told it was there, save for the dull orange glow pulsing where its eyes should have been. It watched her carefully, and some measure of pity might have swollen within the ungulating shadows of its form. If that pity did try to rise, it was quickly swatted down. One could not be comforting and still teach strength. The hooded shadow knew that lesson very well, and it was determined to repay its teacher with the same knowledge.

After all, It’s mother couldn’t run from the Dark forever. Sooner or later the lights would go out. And she would face her fears.

Found on a Bartop, In Winter

They’ve never come up with a name for me. For us. For my kind, I guess is how I should say it. I’m not sure who “They” are. If I knew, maybe I could have a talk with them, explain my problem. It’s hard to know what you are when there isn’t a word for you. It messes with your identity, screws up your head. I wish I knew who “They” are. The anonymous “They” that bestows names and dictates our perceptions. A name defines a thing, you know. Names have power; they give things a shape and a course to follow. Maybe that’s my problem, no name means no shape. Maybe that’s my magic.

My name is Dorian, and I suppose you could call me a god. Lower case “g” there friend. I was raised Catholic and I’m not looking to blaspheme. I chose god because it’s the best fit for what I am. What we are. Not you and I, me and my people. We don’t age, we don’t die, we don’t get hurt, we don’t even feel pain. Well, we don’t feel physical pain anyway. As I write this I am sitting in a bar, trying not to weep into my bottle of whiskey. We do feel some pain, we feel it very well.

The bar is a shithole. It’s my shithole, literally and figuratively. I own it, not that anyone here would know, and more importantly I own it. This bar has born the brunt of my madness and frustrations for the past twenty years. I never get older, but no one looks close enough at my face to know me. I can’t come here all the time, sometimes I have to wander. Perhaps I just can’t handle seeing things change in front of me while I stay the same.

Point is: I come when I have time, drink all I can hold, and then vanish back into the night. If I happen to look like someone who used to come in here, a few years ago, exactly like them in fact, no one says anything. No one cares. I’m not like them, and they can tell. Not visually, only viscerally. I can look like anything I want, take any form, and you’d still know me. Not in your upper mind, where you do your thinking and justifying and pondering, but in your deep mind, the part of you that exists only in impulse and gut feeling. All animals, humans included, have a fight or flight impulse when a predator is nearby. I’m not a predator, but I still set it off. Lemme tell you friend, when I’m nearby the answer is flight. The answer is always flight. That’s one I learned all too well. Some lessons come harder than others.

Damnit, there go the tears into my whiskey. I could will them away, but I’ll still know they had been there. All the power in the world can’t take the taste of your own tears out of cheap whiskey, because it isn’t the salt you taste. It’s the emptiness.

Today is the 16th of December, so I’m drinking in my bar. If you’re looking through a calendar to see what makes today so damn special I can save you the time. Nothing, at least nothing you’ll find on a calendar. No matter what other shenanigans I might get drawn into, I always come here to get drunk on the 16th of December. It’s caused me quite a few problems lemme tell you; especially back when I tried to get political and deal with the others. Nothing pisses off other gods quite like when you (and when I say you, I of course mean me) blow off one of their grand boring ass treaty meetings to get drunk at a shithole downtown bar. Have to do it though, this is where we met. When we met.

I order a fresh bottle of whiskey. Bartender doesn’t know it, but I’m the best customer he’ll have his whole life through. I don’t tip money. No point. A tip is supposed to be a thank-you for a well done job. I don’t say my thank-you’s with cash. My bartender brings me over a new bottle, dark circles under his eyes but a warm smile on his lips. I peruse his mind, flipping through his life and coming up to the recent chapters. He’s basically a decent man, recovered alcoholic ironically, loving husband, and his wife is sick. Cancer. She’s being brave, but the diagnosis is bleak and they both know it. Hence the dark circles. He’s worried about her, worried about how he’ll make enough money to buy another year with her. Medicine buys life, but life can’t be bought on the cheap. Not life worth having anyway. I take the bottle and pour two glasses of cheap brown whiskey. I make a silent toast and down the first glass. That one was for me. I close my eyes and focus for a moment. When I open them, my bartender’s wife is cured. The doctors will call it a miracle; the lawyers will call it a misdiagnosis. She has about thirty more years now. I down the second glass. That one was for her. I don’t tip money. I tip life.

I pour two more glasses. I guess if anyone was watching they might think I am airing this stuff out in the second glass, pretending it’s a better vintage. No point. I could change this stuff into any liquor in the world, from the most decadent of wines to scotches that would make Napoleon himself sing like a schoolgirl. Instead I drink this shit. Because it’s what we drank, that night. There would be other nights of course, nights when I made it rain diamonds, when we picnicked in the clouds, or when I filled a pool with champagne and we swam naked among the bubbles. But that night, that night we drank the house swill. Now it’s the only taste I can still smile at.

Two men come in from the outside. As if there is somewhere else to come in from. The snow is falling off their shoulders and slush is caked to their boots. I remember cold. I wasn’t born like this you know. No sir, I came into this world human as anyone else. Problem is that things don’t always stay the way they were. Like the snow falling off that fellow’s shoulder, melting as it touches the ground. Some of us get to stay snowflakes our whole lives through; some of us get pulled indoors and melt. A few of us do something different entirely.

I wish I could tell you what happened. If I knew, maybe I could fix it, turn it back. I don’t though. One night I went to bed a regular guy with a full heart and an empty belly, the next day I woke up this. A god. A monster. A something. The full heart was because I met her that night; the empty belly was because I spent what little money I had on this horsepiss whiskey. I wonder most days, was that why it happened? Is God, big “G” this time, so cruel or bored that he waited until I was finally happy with my life before he gave me everything I thought I wanted? Maybe the sight of a guy like me being happy just pissed off the wrong people. At least my parents were dead, thank the saints. They can’t see me now. They would have loved it at first, seeing their little hay-seed of a boy with more money and power than their simple country minds could have dreamed. They would have loved her too, and seeing us together.

The beginning was, as all beginnings are, the idiotically good times. Good precisely because of how idiotic we both were, thinking something that wonderful could just happen. Nothing good in this life just happens. Even my bartender earned his miracle with excellent service; he just won’t ever put two and two together and realize it.

When I found out the specifics, I tried to get rid of it, tired to make myself human again. Didn’t work. Like a dagger, I can cut anything but myself. Well, and other daggers I suppose, since I can’t really do shit to the other god’s either. Bunch of fuckin morons they are. Mucking up their specialties, trying to fix what ain’t even broken. See this power isn’t a free ride. We each got a responsibility that comes with it. Each of us has our area of specialty, and it’s our job to make sure that a part of reality keeps running smoothly. No need for it though. Maybe there was once upon a time, when there were more than a few specks of magic floating around this empty world, but now things pretty much maintain themselves.

Caretakers, that’d be a good term for us. Nah, care is something we lack too much of. Hells bells, every “problem” we’ve had to fix so far was caused by another one of us screwing around trying to change things. The ones responsible for love and nature were the worst. They always wanted more, more romances, more land, more everything. The rest of us spent more times fixing their schemes than anyone else’s. I tried to work with them all for a little while, after I lost her, just to get my mind off things. I still wound up here every December 16th, getting drunk on this brown filmy firewater. One year I didn’t go back the next day. Politics don’t suit me, morons suit me even less.

The problem with giving someone almost limitless power is that there is still the “almost” in the sentence. It’s human nature to buck against our limits. I’m not human anymore, but I was, once. Some habits stick with you when you change. Love for one. Desire for another. When you have almost no walls to stop you, the few you find can drive you mad. They didn’t at first, until after she was gone her. They bothered me a little, sure, but I had anything I could want. What did it bother me if the power came with a little duty, or if I couldn’t change myself back?

The duty turned out to be the bastard of it all. I can change fate with people who don’t matter, like my bartender’s wife. She’ll grow old with him; they’ll have another kid or two, and then she’ll die. Nothing grand. Nothing that will stand out among the six billion others of their kind. She doesn’t matter, so I can save her. I can save anyone. Except when I can’t.

I’m halfway through my new bottle of whiskey. I’m crying freely now, but I’ve set the glass aside so the tears won’t fall in it. I can still remember that day. Not the date, save for that it was winter, but the day. I remember being in our house, a fire roaring and a glass of my favorite bourbon freshly conjured. I remember the scream that didn’t come to my ears, but to my heart. I remember how suddenly the house was gone, and I was standing in the snow. I remember my confusion, because I hadn’t consciously changed my location. I remember my terror as I realized why I was there.

The place isn’t far from here; I’ll go by when I stagger out of this bar after midnight, when it isn’t our day anymore. The scene was horrific, her grey Mercedes shredded by the telephone pole. She was lying in the snow, a few yards away from her car. The blood was pooling around her, a stark and bitter red defiling the purity of fresh fallen snow. From my vantage, I could almost pretend it wasn’t blood. That she had miraculously landed in a pile of roses that had doggedly decide to bloom, weather be damned. I knew better though, there was nothing miraculous there. Nothing besides me.

I crunched through the snow to her side. Later I would find out she had a stroke and lost control of the wheel. The doctors would say at her age the chances were one in a million. The ice exaggerated the problem, spinning her further out of control and directly into the telephone pole. Later I would care, going over every detail, determined to know why this had happened. Determined not to accept the truth that was laid so plainly before me that day. That would all come later though; right then I took her hand and brushed the glass from her beautiful face. Her eyes fluttered open, focusing on me after a moment’s confusion.

I kneeled next her, keeping her hand wrapped in mine. We stayed like that for as long as I could bear it. I stole away her pain of course; I made sure she knew only peace in her final moments. That was all I could do though. It was in my power to tear the moon from the heavens, to make the seas rise in the desert, to affect the very fabric of reality, but I couldn’t save her. Because she mattered. We all have our areas of responsibility, and this was mine. I tried with all I had, I prayed to every saint I could remember my dear dead mother making me memorize, and when that failed I prayed straight to God and my parents. There was nothing I could do. She was a lynchpin in the fabric of the world. I couldn’t see how, and it didn’t matter afterward. Her life, and even more her death, mattered. Somehow this would play into a series of events that had to happen. This was her destiny, and I couldn’t change it.

I laid down next to her, pulling her gently into my arms. I took it all in. The smell of her hair, the feel of her body against mine, the weight of her head resting against my collarbone. I told her I was sorry, that I wished I could change things. I told her I loved her, and that I always would. I always will. I placed her back onto the road, kissing her goodbye. Then I did my duty. That damned, terrible duty we had discovered years before, when the other gods told me the price of my change. I wept for months afterward, let my financial empire fall away, salvaging only a few key things. The home where we had lived, this shithole bar where we met, the restaurant where I proposed.

I did my duty of course; I couldn’t avoid that if I tried. And I searched. I dug through every piece of mythology and religious text, searching for a way to be human again. So I could die. So I could join her in whatever comes next. I’ve spoken to the others, and it’s happened before. In fact, that’s how I woke up this way. The sonofabitch before me found his way out. I got picked to be his replacement. Her death was ten years ago, and I’m still searching. I’ll always be searching.

It’s past midnight now. The whiskey is gone. My bartender is hoping to get home early tonight, wanting to savor every moment he can with his wife. Good for him. He doesn’t know she’s better yet, when he does he’ll start working late again. But right now, just for these next few days, their world will be full of love, and loyalty, and the shock of gaining a whole new lease on life. This will be the best week they ever have.

In a few minutes I’m going to get up from this stool and pay my tab. I’ll walk out onto the cold streets, not feeling it, but recognizing it. My dirty clothes will be tussled in the wind as I walk through this city, slipping my way through the streets until I find a telephone pole that has been heavily repaired. And there, on that dirty patch of pavement a few feet from it, will be a small circle of roses. A puddle of red against the pale snow’s marble glow. It blooms in December, inexplicable to those who walk by. It serves as the headstone for a beautiful young woman whose presence made this world something worth protecting.

My name is Dorian, but there is no name for what I am. I have a duty, and I have power. Humans need a name to think of things though; they need a name to give shape to them in their minds. A shape makes something more real, gives them the power to deal with it. A name gives a thing definition.

My name is Dorian, and you can think of me as the god of death. If it helps.

Drew's Hurricane Survival Guide

In honor of the Gulf of Mexico's first tropical storm I've decided to share my patented Drew's Hurricane Survival Guide. It is a step by step process for making sure you survive even the deadliest storms. Enjoy:

Step #1: Is the storm strong enough to require evacuation? If yes, Run. If no proceed to Step #2.

Step #2: Is the storm strong enough to use as an excuse to ditch work and "evacuate"? If so, Travel, if not, proceed to Step #3.

Step #3: Getting around will be difficult, so stock up on essentials. Food, water, beer, liquor, mixers, movies, toilet paper, batteries...look do I have to spoon-feed you this? Hoard you bastard, hoard before someone else gets it all!

Step #4: Gather friends in safe, central location with supplies.

Step #5: Fucking Party.

Step #6: Tell everyone how you're totally not drunk, you're just so happy to be alive you're slurring. Mention to Jim/Stacey how they have always been your best friend and you like, totally love them, man.

Step #7: Puke.

Step #8: Rally.

Step #9: Order a pizza. Sure it's  50 mph winds and raining like hell, but the delivery boy knew the risks when he made the poor life decisions that led him to this job. Besides, pepperoni just sounds Fucking Amazing Right Now.

Step #10: Punch Jim/Stacey right in his/her smug fucking face. You've always secretly hated that asshole/asshole.

Step #11: Pass out. (Company is optional).

Step #12: Wake up and check if it's still raining. No? Still muggy out? Nope? Is that a cloud? Yeah, that's totally a cloud. Good enough. Repeat Steps #5 - #11 until no longer viable.

Support Group

“Hi. My name is Jacob, and I’m Powered,” said Jacob.

“Hi Jacob,” chorused the other attendants.

“My power is teleportation. It activates every time I sneeze.” Jacob stood at the podium inside the school gymnasium; metal folding chairs were spread out before him, filled by about twenty other people. They ranged in age, sex, and dress greatly. For his part, Jacob was middle height, middle aged, and greater than middle weight. He adjusted his glasses as he continued.

“This is my first meeting, but I’ve been Powered since I hit puberty. I remember my sixteenth birthday party, enjoying a nice barbeque with my friends and family. My uncle, a big clumsy man with too much body hair, spilled the pepper shaker in front of me. I let out a gigantic sneeze, and suddenly I was standing in the middle of the street, five miles away.”

The crowd made appropriate “ooo” sounds, remembering their own origin stories and sympathizing with him. One man in the front row with white hair nodded forlornly, a sprinkle of snow falling from nowhere and settling around his feet.

“I tried to get help of course. No one knew much about Powereds in those days though, not that they know a lot now, so the countless doctors my family took me to were unable to help.”

A slight grumble swept through the other attendants, the sounds of an old unhappiness rising from its hiding place. The inability of doctors to offer any aid was an old wound, one that had still not died away in the first generation of Powereds.

“As I got older, my ability grew stronger. At first I would only go a few miles, then one day, in my senior year of high school, I sneezed myself halfway across the state. It took me three days and cost me my shoes to hitch a ride back. This was before credit cards and cell phones of course”

Jacob paused for a moment to clear his throat. The audience tensed momentarily, fearful he would sneeze himself out of the meeting. He did not though; as it turned out there was merely a chunk of emotion in his throat, and not a threat in his sinuses.

“What made it really hard was a year later when I was seventeen, and my best friend since kindergarten found out he was a Super.”

The other attendants hissed under their breath, so that it sounded as though the entire room was leaking air. A gigantic woman in the back accidently hissed so hard she blew a few people in front of her forward. There was a flurry of apology and forgiveness as chairs were reset, and then Jacob continued.

“Steven Seismer was his name, but he went by Seismic Steve once he got his powers. He could manipulate the earth, using it as a weapon or an armor, or even to form giant shapes like hands and hammers. Unlike me though, he could actually control his ability, which I guess is why he wound up a Super and I’m just a Powered. He started wearing a garish costume with bright green and brown tones, topped off with a stupid pair of sunglasses.”

Jacob’s tone had grown harsher; he took a moment to drink from the glass of water provided on the podium.

“Oh sure, he tried to stay friends at first. It was always ‘Next time we’ll stop the robbers together Jacob’, or ‘I can always earth surf us both to the crime scene Jacob.’ Eventually he made a few important busts though, and the media got a hold of him. He went big time, and left me behind like nothing more than a forgotten memory…which I suppose I was.”

Jacob’s smoldering anger died out with the last sentence, his shoulders slumping in acceptance of what was past.

“I tried to go to college once Steve moved off to guard a bigger city; I figured I could at least have a normal life if not a super one. I made it work for two years, but finally I had to give up. I couldn’t tell when I would make it to class or not, because I didn’t know if I’d even be in the same time zone. By this point my powers could send me across several states and I lived in tremendous fear of pepper, onions, or any other nasal agitators. I finally let it go when I sneezed myself into Mexico on the day of my final exams. College wasn’t all bad though, I did meet a girl.”

The others perked up.

“It didn’t last long of course, no woman wants a man who can’t promise he’ll be there for her, emotionally or geographically. It was beautiful while it lasted though. She had long dark hair and a smile that could make a man in hell feel happy, if only for a moment. She’d always wanted to travel, and so hearing about the places I had been, albeit unintentionally, excited and interested her. She left me for another student in one of our classes who was going to be an anthropologist and visit other cultures. It was…it was for the best.”

Jacob’s voice had thickened as he related the tale of his short lived romance. He cleared his throat once more to wash the emotion back down. The mood was little better among the others, as they all thought of the ones they had lost along their way. An old man in the middle began to cry gently, his tears turning into butterflies before they touched the ground.

“Anyway, when I gave up on college I decided to try and find a real job. The trouble was that none of them wanted to hire a Powered, especially one that couldn’t predict when he would be in the same town as his office.”

Metal chairs scraped the floor as backs straightened and legs crossed in echoed frustration. The other attendants knew all to well about how hard it was to get work as a Powered.

“Eventually I made my disability work for me though. I got a job with a sales company that was nationwide. Now I work wherever I end up, and they handle hotel rooms for me. Once I sneeze myself to a new locale, I give them a call and set up shop all over again. It’s an ideal arrangement for both of us.”

Jacob smiled at this point, proud of his success in finding a niche where his ability was an asset instead of vulnerability. The others clapped lightly, not wanting to trample over his time to speak, but glad to share in the joy that one of their own had managed to attain. Large multicolored balloons began to manifest on the ceiling, though whoever was responsible for them opted to keep silent.

“So that’s how I- ACHOO!” Jacob let out a blistering sneeze and vanished from sight. There was a stunned silence, followed by awkward shuffling as a few people got up to get coffee and donuts from the table set up in the rear. A young woman in a pink dress with hair that was shifting through the colors of the rainbow walked briskly up to the podium.

“Let’s take a five minute break for bathroom and refills, then when we come back we’ll hear from another first timer, Terrence the Torrential. Those of you who have already met Terrence may use the towels set up near the entrance,” she said in a bubbly and high pitched voice.