Year One — a reflection on blogging

Wow.

One year. Eighty-one blog posts. That’s like, more than one and a half blog posts a week. And with each blog post averaging a thousand words or so…

It’s been an interesting year. And a busy one. Between starting college and all the activities in my life, I’ve been learning a lot.

I’ve learned about priorities. It’s almost a blessing no one can see the exact times when my stories were posted, since they kept me up late about as often as my homework. Most were, needless to say, quite last minute.

I’ve learned about creativity. A creative mind is a full mind, a satiated mind – one gorged on literature and sleep. There was a long stretch during the middle of this year when I honestly ran out of ideas of things to write. I’m pretty sure if anyone cares to review my posts, they could probably find where that started happening. It was part of the reason I stopped posting twice a week, opting for once every five days.

I’ve learned about writing. It’s been fascinating to see how fast a page of writing can fill out. How easy, or difficult, it can be to finish a word quota. And to see just how many of my posts actually went longer than I intended them to go.

So that’s been this year.

I started this blog with two series: one as a sort of spin-off or introduction to a book I’ve been writing, the other my Twilight review.

The book’s third draft has been completed, and is due for a major overhaul in the planning stages for draft four. I’ve started some of the planning, but I have a couple other projects (including a different novel) to finish before I continue.

Although I feel the Twilight craze has finally died down after the release of the last film, I will continue to review the rest of the series. The other books, though, will only have one post each, as opposed to Twilight’s six.

After my current series (“Eight”), I’ll begin posting once a week. This series has about five more parts, so expect me to return to random shorts about mid-July.

Hopefully, this will be a year even better than this last one.

I’d like to thank you all for your support and for following my blog!

Haze

“How is he?” whispered Aurus, peeping into Giovani’s room.

“Sh!” Cheng hissed at him to quiet. “We still have some of that medicine that we got from Antonio awhile back, so he should be fine. Vi’s taking care of him.”

Violet stood beside Giovani’s bed, dabbing a wet cloth on his fevered forehead, her lips pursed with concentration. Aurus and Cheng stood behind her, watching as Giovani’s unconscious form breathed softly on his bed.

“Have you mentioned the keys to Nero yet?” Cheng asked quietly.

“It’s slipped my mind,” Aurus replied. “Especially after Giovani got sick. Right after Nero showed us the room, too.”

“Imagine something like that happening in little, ol’ Tacita Town.”

“Yeah…”

“Could you move your conversation elsewhere?” snapped Violet. “I don’t need Gio waking.”

“Sorry!” Aurus apologized. He and Cheng turned, tiptoeing out of the room and into the hallway, shutting the door silently behind them. As they did, Giovani stirred just a little – a reaction to something in his dreams.

* *

There were screams all around him. He wanted to get out, he wanted to silence all the screaming, all the terror. He didn’t know what was going on, but he didn’t like it at all. Mother had run outside to find Father, but Giovani almost certainly heard her screaming join the chorus around him. He walked through the room, his hands over his ears in a desperate attempt to block it all out. Someone raced past in the hall outside, his face and shirt all red.

Giovani came out into the hall, deciding to go the same way as the man with the red all over him. He arrived at the back door of the apartment complex, to the alley between the buildings. He looked out at the street, which was full of people, all fighting each other. Many had deranged looks on their faces, which were becoming distorted, malevolent, nightmarish. Giovani turned away, racing deeper into the alley. Coming to a quieter street, he looked as far as he could. A forest in the distance, beyond the city. They’d never find him there.

* *

Giovani sat in the living room, lost in thought. As he looked around the room, he caught sight of movement. It was Cheng, racing over to him.

“Hey,” she said. “I thought your parents were coming over today.”

Of course! How could he forget? He grimaced with his forgetfulness, but he quickly stood. He should check the front door.

“Hey, darling!” said his mother, beaming at him when he opened the door. His father joined the grin, and Giovani smiled back at them.

He let his parents in, following them as they walked through the facility to the living room. There, they heartily greeted Cheng, who in turn greeted them warmly. Giovani could see them talking, but he wasn’t listening. He went into the kitchen to see if he could find something that his parents might want to eat or drink.

* *

What disaster? The forest tweeted and rustled as though nothing in the world was wrong. The trees whispered peacefully in the breeze, great mothers comforting the little ones below them, singing old lullabies with the birds.

Not that Giovani was stopping to listen. He was wandering through the forest, but his mind was back home, pushing his body as far away as possible. There was a vague growling in his stomach, but he ignored it in his flight.

Night descended and still he walked. The sun rose again, and he went on. The growling increased to a roar, and at last it brought Giovani to pause. But he didn’t know what to do about the matter, so he continued on.

* *

“Giovani has some…special traits.”

That got his attention. He looked up finally at Mrs. Foster, the lady who ran the orphanage, and the man in the dark suit talking to her.

“What do you mean?” Mrs. Foster asked.

“Ma’am, I’m afraid that’s confidential. But be sure, he’ll be safe in our hands.”

“Where are you taking him? Will I be able to visit?”

“We’ll be in Tacita Town, but I’m not sure you will visit. Surely you’ve been listening to the news.”

* *

It was raining again, which was just as well. It fit the mood perfectly. Giovani raced through the street, maneuvering around abandoned cars, avoiding potholes filled with water. Behind him, the screams of his pursuers reached up to high heaven, challenging the distant lightning for their position as “loudest noise.” Giovani briefly glanced behind him, to see one of the necroids clambering over a truck, its mouth wide in hunger.

There. He could see a doorway off to the right – he might be able to duck in there and escape the necroids. Inside, he found a gymnasium, which seemed oddly familiar. He raced across the court, the sounds of his pursuers not far behind him. He opened the double doors on the other side, and stopped.

He stood on a hill in the middle of a wide plain, all covered in dust and dirt and brown grass. He frowned, briefly wondering how he had got there. He turned around to get a better view of his surroundings. There stood a wide building, almost as brown as the dust. He opened the doors to a comfortable lobby. It seemed like some kind of office, or rather something pretending to be an office.

Giovani wandered around. None of the doors were locked, but there was no one in sight – the building was utterly empty. Near the back of the facility, though, he found one that gave a bit of resistance.

“Come on,” he growled.

It clicked open. He pushed it open, to find a small room where, at the far end, stood an enormous silver vault. But rather than the giant wheel, there was just a combination and a little wheel. He touched the combination, spinning it. Eight. Forty. The numbers just felt right. But he couldn’t think of the last number.

As he stood there thinking, he was distracted by a sound – lightning. He turned around. A cathedral.

* *

Giovani blinked open his eyes. He was lying in his bed. He groaned, still feeling terrible. He turned over in bed, so that he could see the door, though only vaguely in the moonlight. He frowned. There were a pair of dark eyes glinting from the doorway. The door opened, revealing Cheng. She held a glass of water and some medicine in her hands.

“Vi told me to give you this when you woke up,” she said, coming over toward him.

“Thanks.”

He sat up, taking both of them. Returning the glass of water, he stared into her eyes intently, fiercely.

“Tell the others I need to talk to them. We all need to go somewhere.”

Search and Rescue

“How did you even find this place?” Adrina asked as she wheeled around the white room, completely bare save for the doorway on the far wall and a cube suspended in the very center of the room.

“I just tried putting this key into various locks,” replied Nero, standing by the cube. “It’ll unlock anything – but it only allows access to this room.” He looked at the doorway, which they had entered from the boys’ hallway.

“So what’s in the cube, then? I remember that in the dream there was a podium with a green crystal. But now there’s a black cube.”

“I’m not entirely sure. However, there’s a keyhole on each side of the cube, so I think we need to find more keys to unlock whatever is inside. I’ve tried this key, though, and it doesn’t work.”

“Like yours is the one to get you to this room, but more must be collected to get you beyond.”

“Precisely.”

“I wonder what’s in the cube…” Adrina leaned in close to the object, touching with her index finger, lost in the possibilities.

* * *

Aurus and Red raced down the hill, weapons at the ready. Below them, Cheng, Giovani, Violet, Albus, and Antonio were trapped in the school, surrounded by a swarm of necroids. Even now they could see the school, and several necroids wandering about outside.

“Do you think they’re still alive?” asked Red. “They must have a window to see if it’s raining or not, and the necroids might try to get in through that.”

“They’re fine,” replied Aurus. “We’ll all come out of this. You’ll see.”

The two approached the building, blasting away any necroids who got close. They entered through a side door, now at last among the hallways lit by the orange morning sun. They were largely empty, with little sign that the necroids had ever been there.

“Why is it so quiet?” Red wondered aloud.

“Maybe they went away, since they couldn’t get Vi and the rest,” Aurus suggested.

“Right, because if there’s one thing we know about necroids, it’s that they’re easily discouraged,” said Red sarcastically.

“I’m just being optimistic!”

As they raced past the science wing, however, they found that Aurus’s hopes were also unrealistic. The wing was torn apart, and saw several necroids searching the science classrooms. Aurus paused, moving toward the doorway of one classroom.

“Come on! We’re losing time!” Red insisted.

“A couple minutes won’t hurt them,” Aurus replied. He leapt into the room, firing his shotgun at the first necroids to turn to face him. The rest charged, but by then Red had also come inside and helped Aurus clean up.

A glint caught Aurus’s eye as the last one fell. He went over to the counter where he had seen it. One of the necroids had been standing right there when he had entered, and it had smashed open a box of dangerous chemicals. But amidst the acids and metals was a single yellow key. Aurus leaned in, enraptured by it, reaching forward and plucking it from its peg. Then he pocketed it and turned around.

“What was that all about?” asked Red.

“Something interesting.”

They continued through the halls, which, the farther they went, showed a slightly larger concentration of necroids patrolling about. But these were not searching necroids, or really even patrolling ones. It was like they were on break and just wandering the halls because they had nothing better to do. Aurus and Red frowned: the necroids’ movements were so divergent from their usual behavior.

Furthermore, when they at last came up to the classroom containing Cheng and the rest, there were only three necroids at the entrance. Where were the dozens and dozens that Violet had spoken of?

As the last guard collapsed to the ground, Aurus knocked on the door, trying to peek in the window, through the barricade at his friends within. A pair of dark eyes – Cheng – briefly returned his gaze, before the barricade started vanishing. A moment later, the door opened.

“You’re late,” Cheng growled.

“Sorry, slight detour,” Aurus replied cheerfully. “Ready to go?”

“Yes!”

After handing off some guns, the party hurried down the hall toward the main entrance, where Antonio’s stuff was still deposited.

“Wow, you guys did really good,” said Red, admiring the necroid bodies littering the hallways.

Meanwhile, the main lobby was very much alive. A large number of necroids wandered around there, upsetting Antonio’s wares and breaking into the school offices. It was in this latter section that the greater number of the creatures wandered. Or, as Aurus was quickly noticing, not wander, but search.

“Alright, Antonio, let’s get your stuff and get out of here,” said Red.

“Actually,” interjected Aurus. “Red, you do that with him. The rest of you, I need you to help me clear out the offices over there.”

“Why? That’d be just a waste of ammo,” replied Violet.

“Besides,” added Cheng. “They’re completely ignoring us.”

“Yes, I can see that,” Aurus said impatiently. “Which is why I want to go into the offices. I think they’re looking for something.”

“Necroids? Searching?”

Aurus didn’t reply, and instead charged toward the offices as Red and Antonio went toward Antonio’s things. Behind him, he vaguely heard the others sigh and chase after him.

He reached the office doorway without any trouble, whereupon he blasted the closest four necroids in the face with his shotgun. Only now did the necroids take any notice of him, screaming and screeching as they turned toward him and attacked. By then, though, the other three entered, and the tight quarters allowed the shotgun to work wonders. In a matter of moments, the four of them had blasted their way through the necroids, all the way to the principal’s office.

There, Aurus at last seemed to get some kind of answer. The principal’s desk had been ripped apart, papers torn, drawers opened and cast across the room. But this destruction revealed some kind of hidden compartment that now lay on the ground, hidden no more, as a necroid lifted its one-time contents into the air: an orange key.

It was precisely the shape of the yellow key, which Aurus now briefly fingered in his pocket, and he immediately wondered what kind of connection, if any, they could possibly have. The others paused at the sight too, save for Violet and Albus, the former of whom stepped forward and killed the necroid where it stood; Albus merely turned, making sure they weren’t flanked.

Cheng stepped into the room, bending over the fallen necroid. The key transfixed her, in seemingly the same way the yellow one had transfixed Aurus. She picked it up and pocketed it, and then she turned around toward Aurus.

“What?”

They hurried out to the main lobby, where Red and Antonio were busy packing the latter’s wares.

“Man, I owe you all big for this one,” Antonio said as he worked. “If you hadn’t been here, I think I might’ve been finished.”

They helped him take his things out to his vehicle and assisted in loading everything up. Then he got in the driver’s seat and waved, before driving off. When he disappeared into the horizon, they turned back up the hill. Aurus’s eyes lingered on the school, wondering about their encounter. It was only then that he realized just what had felt off about the whole thing: there had been an intelligence behind the necroids.

An Aborted Errand

Part 0

Part 1

Part 2

“Nero!” Cheng called into the boys’ wing. “You there?”

“I think he’s in his room,” said Red, peaking out of his own room. “Why?”

“I was talking with Antonio, and he has that book Nero was asking about.” Cheng walked over to Nero’s door, which was utterly plain save for the simple marking for his name. She knocked. Hearing no response, she went ahead and opened the door.

“Where is he?” she wondered as she returned to the common room. There, Giovani, Albus, and Violet stood waiting for her, each carrying a backpack.

“Not there?” asked Giovani.

“No.”

“Well, we need to get going,” said Violet. “Storm’s coming in, and we need to be back before it hits.”

“Right.”

“Now, remember what we’re going there for?”

“Yes, Vi.” Cheng rolled her eyes. “You want jewelry, Albus wants a book, Gio wants food, and I want Space Marines 3.”

“Look, I’m just making sure we can get in and get out – nice and quick.”

They walked out of the common room, through the kitchen, and then outside. There was a high wind that blew through the girls’ hair, and the sky was grey with the approaching clouds.

The four of them raced down the hill, following the well-worn path they had made after living so long in the facility and so many visits from Antonio. As they hurried, they kept a wary eye about them; ever since the Peregrines had visited, the numbers of necroids had vastly increased in the area, as well as the numbers of a whole bunch of other nasties and monsters. This really perplexed some of the group, like Violet and Red, since they had killed most of the necroids in the area during the first year at the facility. Personally, though, Cheng didn’t worry herself with such things – she had her games to distract her.

They could see Antonio’s vehicle parked in the school parking lot, where he always stopped when he visited them. He was probably already inside, waiting for them. They reached the bottom of the hill and entered through one of the side doors on their side of the building, making their way through the halls to the main lobby. There was Antonio with his merchandise, half-unpacked around the lobby in display.

“No time to look around,” Violet told him. “We’re in a hurry.”

“The storm? Yeah. You kids might want to look out for necroids, too. Pretty sure I saw some on the way here.”

“Right,” said Cheng. “Do you have the goods?”

Antonio opened his mouth to respond, but a loud, seething, moan drowned out whatever he had been planning to say. They all turned around, only to see about a dozen necroids wandering toward them from the lobby entrance, having broken through the doors already – thanks to a particularly large specimen, about seven feet tall, marching rather quickly toward them.

“Hey, look, it’s Mr. Ugly,” Cheng taunted as she pulled down her backpack to take out the pistol she always kept with her. Around her, the other four were doing the same thing. She shot the big one in the head once, twice, three times. Three more shots and he was down.

The others began shooting the smaller necroids. These died much more quickly than Mr. Ugly – unfortunately, just as they were about finished with them, they heard more moans. Cheng looked around; the necroids were coming from all around them now. They must have broken in through several other entrances.

“Let’s go,” Violet commanded. “Antonio, come on. We need a better position.”

They left the lobby, racing down the halls while stopping occasionally to shoot down the necroids. But it seemed for every one they took down, another appeared in its place – and in a convenient spot blocking their escape. The worst part was, though, that they didn’t have extra clips with them, so they were quickly running out of bullets.

“Quick! In here,” said Violet, opening a classroom door. They dashed inside, where they began blocking the door with anything and everything they could find.

“Shoot,” groaned Cheng as they finished, looking out the window. It was raining. Now they were really stuck here. Trapped between necroids and radioactive rain. “I guess we’re stuck here.”

“Well, until the rain goes away,” replied Albus.

“And the necroids – which is more unlikely,” added Antonio. “But the rest of your group could rescue us, right?”

“Yeah, they could. We’d just need to radio them. Violet?”

“On it.” Violet pulled out a small radio from her backpack. “Now get comfortable – we’ll be here a while.”

They were indeed. The five of them scattered across the classroom: Violet at the teacher’s desk, speaking quietly to the radio; Antonio patient in a corner; Giovani furiously chewing a piece of gum; Albus napping against the wall; Cheng sat by the barricade, jumping a little every time the door rattled a bit, or when it shook, or when the handle turned. She curled herself up into a ball, arms around her legs and chin on her knees.

She stayed that way for hours, as the sun set and the rain continued through the dark. Her mind filled itself with the memories of her childhood and her terrors – her mother gnawing her father’s leg, her kindergarten teacher under half a dozen pint-sized necroids – memories she tried to suppress. As the night wore on, they changed ever so slightly. She was running with all her might from the necroids, but there was laughter somewhere in the distance, or all around her. She passed a cathedral illuminated by lightning; there was a building ahead of her, filled with candlelight, all orange and yellow …

Violet shook her awake. “The rain’s stopped. They’re coming.”

* * *

Red and Aurus strapped a whole assortment of weapons to themselves in the common room as Adrina watched them. Guns, swords, axes – you name it, they had it.

“I still don’t see why I can’t come with you,” Adrina complained.

“Because you’d slow us down,” Red replied. “Besides, someone has to watch the facility.”

“Just because I’m in a wheelchair doesn’t mean I can’t help.”

“Anyway,” said Red, pumping his shotgun. “We’ll be back soon. Don’t destroy everything!”

He and Aurus hurried out of the facility, weapons at the ready, leaving Adrina by herself.

“Rina!”

Adrina turned around slowly, perplexed, only to see Nero standing in front of the boy’s wing.

“Where have you been?” she asked.

“I’ll show you,” he said. He walked over to her and helped push her into the boys’ wing, down to his room. They stopped right in front of his closed door. From there, he produced the black key and slid it into the lock. A click. Then he opened the door, and the hall was bathed in white light.

“Wait,” said Adrina, mouth wide in shock. “Is this…”

“Yes, it is. But unlike last time, it’s not a dream. Let me show you.”

Game Day

Part 0

Part 1

“Come on! Pick up the pace!” shouted Adrina. “Run like you’ve got an army of necroids chasing you!”

“That’s easy for you to say!” Cheng puffed back, her orange tanktop soaked with sweat. “You haven’t been the one exercising for the last two hours!”

“You’ve got a game tomorrow. You need to be ready for it!”

“Yeah, yeah…”

“Come on, Cheng,” said Red, running beside his friend on the basketball court. “She’s just doing her job.”

“Alright, break!” Adrina declared as they finished their laps across the court.

There were five mutual sighs as five pairs of feet wandered away from the court, most of them toward the water cooler they had brought with them. Red, on the other hand, went over to stand next to Adrina.

“You’re doing good,” he told her, holding his hand to his eyes to shield out the sun.

“You think so?” she asked. “It feels difficult, yelling at you all like that. Wasn’t there anyone else you could have chosen as coach?”

“Well, Giovani doesn’t do sports, and Nero’s locked himself away in his room for a long while. And even when he’s not in his room, he’s taken to pouring over old books and ancient texts. I wonder what he’s up to.”

“Well, maybe we’ll figure it out after you all beat Team Peregrine again.”

“Do you think it’ll be as close as last year?”

“If they’ve trained as much as you have, perhaps.” Adrina directed her attention to the other players: Cheng, Aurus, Albus, and Violet. “Break’s over!”

* * *

Seven hours later, as the group reclined in the kitchen of their facility, the doorbell rang. The seven present raced to the atrium, where Red opened the door to welcome their guests: Team Peregrine and their associates.

“Hey, everybody!” greeted Martin, the eldest of the group. “Where’s Nero got to?”

“He’s turned reclusive,” Red replied. “We think he may be up to something. How was the trip? You got here a couple hours late.”

“Some necroids attacked us near the bottom of the hill.” Martin’s brow furrowed. “We hadn’t known they’d got that far.”

Adrina frowned. “Neither did we.”

“Well, at least you’re safe!” said Aurus. “Nothing damaged, I hope?”

“We’ll see after twenty four hours,” replied Ava, a blonde girl that was probably the best on Team Peregrine. She grinned wickedly. “I hope your skills are up to par.”

“Oh, they broke par a long time ago,” Red yawned. “I know you all like to be the birdies, but honestly, you’re more like bogeys.”

“Now, now,” said Albus. “Let’s not trash talk before the match as well as during it. Now come on back to the kitchen so we can have some dinner.”

They had brought out a special table for this occasion, seeing as they were serving seven extra guests that night: Martin, Ava, Robin, Jay, Raven, Wren, and Pip. Of these, Raven and Wren were the only ones not participating in the game. They would, along with Giovani and, hopefully, Nero, serve as the support, audience, and commentators of the match.

However, as the meal began, the conversation quickly turned away from the coming match, as the two groups exchanged stories of their long year apart. While Red and his friends stayed in their facility, or very close to it at least, the Peregrines were nomadic, traveling across the land and getting into far more interesting adventures than what their hosts had to speak of.

Not that they begrudged the Peregrines of their amazing stories. They knew as well as the Peregrines that those adventures, while entertaining and perhaps hilarious in hindsight, had been terrifying during the experience.

So they laughed and listened and talked, eating whenever they found time between their parts in the conversation, which lasted for hours, late into the night.

* * *

Red crouched in front of Ava, dribbling the ball, for perhaps the fiftieth time that day. Both their faces glistened with sweat as they glared at each other, their eyes darting to each side and up and down each other, waiting for the other to make a move. From the sidelines, the group members not playing, plus about two dozen others from the surrounding area, screamed and yelled at the players, cheering on their favorite team. The score was tied and they were in the second half of the game, so tensions were running a bit high.

For the actual game they had moved down to an abandoned school at the bottom of the hill – a court that wasn’t filled with cracks and weeds, and where the rims weren’t half-broken with rust. Plus, the atmosphere was much better here, even if they didn’t have enough spectators to fill a row of the bleachers.

Around them, the other eight players fought and pushed for their positions, as the two coaches shouted at the players. Red had never seen Adrina so worked up – she would have been jumping up and down if she could have stood.

Seeing an opening, he passed the ball to Cheng, who nearly elbowed Robin as she escaped toward the basket. She passed back to Violet, who took a shot, sending it straight through. The audience cheered. Pip took the rebound, and the players dashed over to the other side of the court as Albus tried to take the ball from Pip. A couple of passes later and it went through the basket, tying the game again. But something had changed – it wasn’t the same cheering as it had been. There was something in the air, and it was sapping the attention of the audience.

Red just ignored the feeling. His vision only extended as far as the court as he grabbed the ball and raced toward his opponents’ basket. He could hear pounding feet behind him, but he only barely registered most of those feet stopping about halfway down the court. But he soon saw why.

There, right in front of the basket, stood a necroid, seething at him viciously. He wasn’t going to be able to stop in time. There was only one thing to do.

He tossed the ball up, up into the air. Then, as he approached the necroid, he reached out his hands, taking the fiend by the shoulders. He leapt, hoisting himself over the creature’s shoulders and clearing its head. He landed nimbly just as the ball hit the floor in front of him. Then, as he crouched down from the impact, he leapt again, this time carrying the ball with him, until it touched the rim and slid into the basket.

He turned around after he landed again. About a dozen necroids had entered the gym, and were busy attacking the spectators and players alike. However, the two dozen people in the gym were more than a match for them – even Adrina, who once again surprised Red with the things she carried on her wheelchair. But to sum up, after a short while and a lot of noise, a deadly silence fell over the gym as the last necroid crumpled to the ground.

“Rina, are you okay?” asked Violet, hurrying over to Adrina.

“I’m fine. I’m just surprised they were here – they’ve never come this close before.”

“Yes, that’s what worries me the most,” said Giovani.

But Red was only half listening. Of the necroids, eleven had attacked the nearby spectators, while only one had gone after the players. That last one lay on the court, having been killed by Ava, who had been close behind Red the entire time. Red examined this one, bending down in wonder to why it’s attack pattern had differed from the others so much. As he put his foot down next to the creature’s torso, it pressed against something. Lifting his foot, he picked up the disturbance: a red key.

The Dream

This is a continuation (of sorts) of my last post. This is the first of ten planned stories featuring these eight characters. Feel free to leave comments; hope you enjoy!

It was raining again, which was just as well. It fit the mood perfectly. Nero, Red, Albus, and Adrina raced through the street, maneuvering around abandoned cars, avoiding potholes filled with water. Behind them, the screams of their pursuers reached up to high heaven, challenging the distant lightning for the position of “Loudest Noise.” Nero briefly looked behind him, to see one of the creatures, little more than a skeleton, clambering over a truck, its mouth wide in hunger. He could also see Adrina racing behind him.

“Hurry up, Adrina!” he shouted. He turned forward again, but something felt suddenly very wrong with their situation. Not a this-is-bad-and-we’re-going-to-die wrong, but more of a this-doesn’t-mesh-with-reality-as-I-know-it wrong.

“Into here!” Red called from the front of the group. He ducked into a building off the side of the streets, Albus quickly following him. Nero and Adrina brought up the rear, and they entered what looked like a gymnasium – a basketball court, dark and unused. Nero looked behind him, but the way they had come in through had vanished, replaced by large, wooden double doors. Ah.

“This is just a dream,” he said aloud.

Red gave him a strange look. “No it’s not. Look.” He pinched himself. No reaction.

“Okay, so maybe it is.”

Albus and Adrina also pinched themselves, and neither reacted.

“Wait…” said Red. “Are we all dreaming the same dream, then?”

“I guess so,” replied Albus.

“How could you tell it was a dream?” Adrina asked Nero.

“You’re not in a wheelchair.”

“Oh, right.”

“I suppose we could have also guessed that because of the number of necroids,” added Albus.

“Well, there are some cities with that many,” Nero contradicted.

“Well, how did we get here?” Red said.

“I think it was that tentacle monster we were fighting,” Adrina mused.

“So how do we get out?”

“We don’t,” answered Nero.

“Oh, don’t be so cynical.”

“I’m not being cynical – I’m being realistic. If we aren’t waking up upon realizing that we’re asleep, then it’ll take a long, long time before our bodies wake us up for real.”

“Unless Vi, Giovani, Aurus, or Cheng wake us up,” Albus pointed out.

“True, but it may still be a while before they finish off the monster. Or it may finish off them.”

Albus and Red frowned.

“Well, we might as well do something while we wait,” suggested Adrina. “Is conjuring basketballs a thing in…oh.”

They were no longer in the basketball court. Instead, they were back in their home. The only thing giving them any light was the distant moon shining through the window.

“How did we…” Red started.

“It’s a dream,” Nero interrupted. “Don’t question the logic. Like, what’s that doing over there?”

There was a fourth door, this one in the middle of the window. It was almost imperceptible, save for the dim outline and the black keyhole. Adrina ran over to it, running her fingers over the keyhole and its outline. Nero frowned and stuffed his hands in his pockets.

His eyes widened in surprise, however, when he felt an odd shape in his pocket. Removing it, he found that it was a key, thin and black.

“Now the question is if we want to find where this door leads,” he muttered.

“What was that, Nero?” asked Red. “Wait, is that a key?”

He snatched it from Nero’s hand and hurried over to the new door, putting it in the keyhole and twisting. A click. Red pushed, and the door swung open.

“Come on!”

They all hurried through the door, only to find themselves in a long, concrete corridor. It felt like they were somewhere underground. Ahead, the corridor took a sharp turn to the left. As they followed the corridor, they passed several discarded boxes. They rounded the corner – and there were the boxes again. Nero frowned and turned around, only to find a door behind them.

“Let’s keep going,” he suggested.

So they did. Each time they turned the corner, they found themselves in the same place as before. Nero estimated that this happened about ten times. However, at last, for no reason he could think of, they suddenly rounded the corner and ended up in a white room – with no doors or windows, nothing, save for a pedestal in the center holding a green gem.

“Have we ever been here before?” Albus asked, walking toward the pedestal, his eyes fixated on the gem.

“I don’t think so,” replied Adrina. “Does it feel familiar?”

“Yeah…”

He picked up the gem. All at once, the four of them felt as if a great force had taken hold of their bodies and pulled them somewhere new. The white room vanished.

They stood in the middle of a huge cathedral, lit only by candles near the altar and on the sides. Outside it was storming, with lightning and thunder rocking the sky more frequently than should be possible. But over all the thunder, they heard one solitary scream shaking the walls.

“That sounds like the tentacle monster!” exclaimed Red.

The cathedral door shuddered. They twisted toward it, their hearts racing from the atmosphere. Nero checked to see they were all there, but Albus was missing. Well, not missing, just walking toward the altar.

“Albus! What are you doing!” Nero called after him.

There was no answer, and the door shuddered again, taking all of Nero’s attention. He made another check on the others, but now Adrina was gone. And so was Red. Nero turned toward the altar, running over to Albus.

“Adrina and Red are gone!”

Albus didn’t respond. Instead, he collapsed to the floor.

“Nero, help me…” he muttered.

“Right. How do I do that?”

“Gem…altar…”

Nero took the gem from Albus’s hand, quickly dashing to the altar and placing it down. Again he heard the monster’s screams echoing around the cathedral. He blinked. Everything was fading. His vision grew blurry, darkening, until it was all black.

He opened his eyes. Giovani was standing over him, a worried look on his face.

“You’re awake,” he sighed. “Good.”

Nero raised his head, taking in the room he was in. He remembered where he was: they had been fighting the tentacle monster here, though it was far messier than he last recalled. The four that had stayed awake had trashed it quite a lot.

“Where’s the monster?” he asked.

“It ran,” replied Giovani, standing up. “For some reason, in the middle of the fight, it let go of Red and Rina, and just put half its tentacles on Al. Then, a couple seconds later, it just turned and fled.”

“Well, at least it’s gone.”

Around him, the other three who had been trapped in the dream were waking up. Violet was attending Adrina, who was back in her wheelchair; Cheng helped Red to his feet; Aurus sat next to Albus, who was blinking his eyes open. Nero stood up; but as he did so, he felt something clinking in his pocket. He reached in and pulled out the object, raising his eyebrows in surprise.

It was the black key.

Rainy Day

This is going to be a bit longer than what most of my posts have been the past couple months. This month I’ll be doing a series of stories following a group of characters on their adventures. Today’s piece focuses on introducing everyone. The whole concept needs some fleshing out, so feel free to comment. Hope you enjoy!

“Why does it have to be raining?” groaned Red, running a hand through his ginger hair as he stared out of the window at the grey and black storm that had consumed the entirety of the outside world. Meanwhile, his own soul felt just as stormy as the world outside, unable as it was to partake in its desired activities.

“Hey, can you stop storming in here? I’d like to keep the rain outside,” said Nero, one of his friends.

Red turned toward the rest of the living room, the heart of the facility that he called home. There were three doors, one for each of the walls not made out of floor-to-ceiling glass windows, each leading off to a separate part of the facility: the boys’ rooms, the girls’ rooms, and then the common rooms, like the kitchen. Midmorning though it was, only some of the facility’s inhabitants were awake at this time; Red himself had only risen recently, but the other three in the room – cheerful Aurus, dark-haired Nero, and blond Albus – had been awake for a while.

“Anyway, plants gotta drink some time,” replied Aurus from the large couch in the center of the living room.

“Yeah,” Red persisted. “But why can’t it be during the night, when everyone’s asleep?”

“It’s a conspiracy, Red,” Nero answered from one of the chairs scattered across the wall. His dark eyes glanced up from the book he had been reading as he continued. “The world’s trying to deprive you of your fun.”

Red frowned. He could almost imagine some government operative looking out at them from behind the trees, through the rain. But maybe it was just a trick of the light. He turned around, just as the door to the girls’ side opened.

“Is it seriously raining?” said Cheng, the shortest member of the group, stopping abruptly when she saw the window. “This ruins all my plans!”

“Oo, what did you have in mind?” asked Albus, looking over the back of the couch.

“Yes,” added Nero. “Please inform us what new obsession you’ve gotten yourself into.”

“It’s not an obsession!” Cheng insisted. “It’s just that Antonio said that he had Warspear 4…”

“That again? You’ve been playing the first three so much this last week, you’ve hardly stepped out of your room.”

Cheng rolled her eyes. “Well, I guess I have to take a break, thanks to this stupid rain.”

“Tell me about it,” sighed Red.

“Is there something we could do inside?” asked Albus. “As a group, maybe?”

“We could watch some TV,” Aurus suggested, picking up the remote from the coffee table and causing the screen to lower in front of the window.

“Oh! Go to the Spacecraft channel!” Cheng said, running up to the couch.

“What about the sports channel?” asked Red.

“Spacecraft is a sport,” Cheng insisted.

“Not really,” Nero contradicted. “Anyway, there was a movie I’ve been waiting for a rainy day to watch.”

“That horror film?” exclaimed Aurus. “I think it would be better to watch a comedy or a drama.”

“Well, we play a board game if we can’t decide on something to watch,” said Albus.

Red’s eyes lit up. “I’ll go get some!”

He rushed out into the common wing, off to the library where they kept all their games.

Cheng sighed. “Why can’t we ever play video games?”

“We don’t have enough controllers,” Aurus pointed out.

“Anyway, they end up really boring, because you and Red always win,” added Nero. “The only reason board games are any fun are because everyone can play at once, and because everyone else has a fair chance. Especially Vi or Rina or I, since we do really well at the whole tactics thing. Come to think of it, though, I’m not entirely sure I even want to participate in any games unless they play too.”

“Oh, come on! Do you have to be so difficult?” exclaimed Cheng.

“Well, as they say, the more the merrier,” said Albus. “I’ll go wake Giovani too, see if he wants to join us.”

“I’ll join you.” Aurus jumped off the couch and hurried over to the girls’ door with Albus.

There were nine doors in the main hallway: one at the end that led outside, and was barred shut with wood planks and metal bars; one other led to the common bathroom; the other seven were bedrooms, though only two were occupied. On the immediate right of Aurus and Albus was Cheng’s room, which displayed her name in about two dozen different languages. On the other side, in a very flowery script, were the names Violet and Adrina.

Of all the rooms in the house, this was by far the cleanest – with good reason. Violet’s head would explode if she found even a scrap on the floor, and no one wanted that to happen again – especially after how long it took to put her head back together last time.

As Aurus and Albus entered the room, two pairs of blue eyes peered out at them from the bunk bed against the far wall.

“Oh, hello, Aurus, Al,” said Adrina on the bottom bunk, closing the book she had been reading.

“What do you want?” Violet snapped from the top bunk. Her rings clattered against the low wall as she gripped it and glared over it

“We were hoping you might want to join us for some board games,” Albus informed them.

“Sure,” Adrina answered calmly. “Why not?”

“Red and Cheng are playing, right?” Violet asked. “Right, I guess I’ll have to put them in their place.”

She climbed out of her bed and slid down the ladder to the floor. She was wearing a thin nightie, and she quickly shooed the boys out of the room. “We’ll be out soon.”

The door clicked behind them as they hurried out of the girls’ wing. In the living room, Red had returned with a couple armfuls of games, which the three present were sorting through.

“The girls will join us,” Albus told them.

He and Aurus continued over to the boys’ wing. This was set up like the girls’ wing, only with more rooms occupied. There were no bunk beds on this side.

Violet and Adrina’s room was the cleanest, but Giovani’s was by far the messiest. Finished food packages were scattered all over the floor, along with dirty clothes, so that it was impossible to cross over to the bed at the far side without stepping on something. Giovani was asleep, or at least pretending to be so – his green eyes blinked open rather quickly when Aurus shook him.

“Whutimizit?” he groaned.

“We were wondering if you wanted to join us for some board games, seeing as we can’t go outside today due to the rain.”

“Oh.” Giovani sat up, showing off his bare chest. Although he ate a lot, he was still one of the skinnier members of the group (his ribs were quite visible); some of the group thought he ate so much to make up for the first ten years of his life. “Well, I’d like to get some breakfast first, but I guess I’ll join you afterward. Who else is playing?”

“Everyone.”

“Ah.”

Aurus and Albus hurried back into the living room as Giovani got dressed. It seemed that the three here had almost decided on a game to play. As Aurus and Albus approached the coffee table, the door to the girls’ wing opened. Adrina wheeled into the room, quickly followed by Violet.

Violet’s gold necklaces glittered briefly from the lightning as she bent down to push Adrina over to the coffee table, the wheelchair gliding smoothly across the floor. Red looked up briefly at the two girls, smiling at Adrina, who returned the gesture.

“So what are we playing?” asked Violet.

“We’re trying to decide between Monopoly and Oranges to Oranges,” Cheng replied.

“I vote for the last one,” called Giovani, who had just entered the room.

“Everyone else alright with that?” said Red.

A communal affirmation told him they were.

“Alright, then,” he continued, grinning. “If you’ll just prepare yourselves for losing…”