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Flash: Used to Think

A dark city below a jagged crack in the sky.

“I used to think that everyone was unique, and then I used to think that we were all the same.” Fin chuckles. “And then I grew up, and went out, and saw everything die, and so I stopped thinking.”

He meanders as he climbs the wall. His hands grab at brick while his mind picks out new topics with a foothold. Sometimes he eases to one side. Sometimes he reaches and doubles his height. A few times, he hesitates, edges down a foot, and then springs to another handhold.

It’s an old bank, I think, the place we’ve chosen for tonight’s break. For a place to get some sleep. Someone added fortifications, the extra height to an already high wall. Blocking in the drive-thru until it became a perimeter.

“Just get over the damned wall. We gotta get inside before the water rises.”

That makes him laugh, of all things. He hoists himself to the edge, climbs out of view, and then leans out. Looks down at me. “But ain’t it such a shit show? How the whole world has turned into Venice?”

I roll my eyes and toss our pack of food. “Catch!” He plucks it out of the air as I start clambering after him. I’m much more direct, more quiet, as I scramble from broken mortar to broken mortar. My fingers hurt, from the cold, from malnutrition, but I wedge them into each crack. I do not want to be outside when the boatmen begin to roam.

“I guess so much has changed, not much of what I used to think matters. So now I don’t think at all. Just moving forward, following you.”

“I’m following you right now.”

“Yeah, but what would I do without you? Wander to some treehouse and starve. The sunsets would be pretty. The trees are nice, but I wouldn’t be surviving. Not like you make happen.”

I stop at near the edge of the rooftop, foot wedged comfortably beneath me. “You sure do talk a lot for someone that doesn’t think.”

“Hm, but you’re making the common mistake. That speaking has thought behind it. Especially when we’re talking about me. About me talking. Trust me, it’s easier not to think, and it’s easier to let everything wash away. Let it be the high waters or rain or let it be alcohol, washing away thoughts is easier than gathering them.”

I shake my head and climb the last bit onto the roof. It is in decent condition, though a decent roof doesn’t keep you dry anymore. Not when the water comes from below.

And the walls don’t look like they can hold back all the water. They’ve got too many cracks. They look like they were shoddy work. Built to the tempo of terror.

“You see,” says Fin, and he’s staring off toward the rising mist. “Mist used to be prettier. When it wasn’t telling me something I didn’t want to know. And that’s why thoughts aren’t worth keeping. Because, letting them gather, they start clinging and combining into something new. And that new is not always good. Most of the time it’s like the stuff that clings together in your trash can when it’s smelling ripe with sweet rot.”

“Fin, there’s a skylight.” I stoop by his side and pull on his arm. “Exit plan one, alright?”

He gets to his feet, but I don’t have his attention. Not quite. “Just like that trash, you wrinkle your nose when you pass by those bits of sticking gunk. The gunk is not inspiring. Nobody’s gonna dig through that gunk.”

“Come on, get back up.” I haul him to his feet and we head toward the other side of the building. The structure is better, tighter, as we reach its original walls. It was a bank. I can see the ruins of an ATM on the other side of the shoddy barrier. It used to be in the middle of one of those roundabout islands to the side of the main parking lot.

The ATM is an island, now. The tides spill over sometimes, as if they got an extra urgent beckoning from the moon. Even torn apart, I can feel the curiosity in me. That slight interest of wondering if there’s still money inside. Useless as it would be.

Fin follows me. He’s rubbing his chin. “You know, some people dig through the trash, and it’s not even always about finding treasure. Some people aren’t looking for treasure. Some are looking for trash.” He smiles, and it’s so bright and gorgeous. Like he’s never changed. “Like me. I’m the trash.”

I want to hit him. I want to punch him. Bust my knuckles on his face. I kiss his cheek instead. “No, honey. You aren’t trash. You’re anything but.” I scrub tears away and give him a soft grin. “Now let’s find a door to this place. Climb down there, see the ladder? Someone must’ve pulled guard.”

He accepts my hand to help him onto the ladder. It’s rusted and rickety, but what isn’t these days? What wasn’t years ago, at this point? I feel my mood spiraling. Everything feels like it was too long ago. What am I heading toward?

“When it comes down to it,” rattles Fin, back on the same tangent. That’s a good sign. A single tangent is better than eight. “It’s not that someone’s trash is another’s treasure, it’s that sometimes we don’t want a treasure. Sometimes we want something beat up and broken and halfway complete. Sometimes we want something that doesn’t have the right colored panels or perfectly polished teeth.”

He smirks up at me. “That must be the truth, because it feels like truth.”

There’s a hope in his eyes that I wish I felt, but it does help. Even with all his ranting, all his random turns of phrase, I still feel better because he’s near.

The ladder drops us in a narrow hallway made from the same shoddy brickwork. Fin runs his hands over the walls, humming, as I pull out a flashlight. I wind it while watching the cracks in the brick. There’s enough structure there to hold back the water, and I half-hope for a dry floor. A dry table. Maybe tonight will give me proper sleep.

Fin kisses my forehead while I’m distracted. He rubs his hand on the side of my cheek, fingers scraping through the stubble of my beard. I still try to shave, when I can, but there are usually long breaks between.

“What is it, baby?”

He smiles. “I don’t even care about all this. About all this.” He nods. “Why would I care, when I’ve got you?”

I sigh and return his smile. “You’re sweet.” I flick the switch for the flashlight and turn to examine the door. It was glass, once, but now it’s plated with steel. Someone left it, who knows how long ago, so that it’s still ajar.

“I can’t wait till we get to the hills. Tomorrow, you think? Except when you think about it, isn’t it always tomorrow? Because really, the day only ends because we say it does. So, we’re always in today.”

I lead Fin into the fortified bank. “Sure, sounds good to me. I’d rather it’s always today though.”

He pauses at that, frowning. “But why?”

“Well,” I smile at the dark rooms around us. “Because then I can look forward to tomorrow. I can hope the next day brings us something better.” I walk across a floor that was stripped of carpet. Concrete echoes my footsteps. “This looks like we’ll be okay.”

Fin hugs me from behind. “You’re silly, Dean.” He leans into the embrace as he mumbles. “Nothing else to look forward to. I already found you.”

Flash: Shifting Priorities

Sometimes rain could feel good, could feel right, even during the wildest storms. Yet, that was when everything was at its best. When Jess was at her best. When there weren’t salty tears mixing on her cheek.

She wiped her face with the back of an arm to clear stray hair, rain, and tears. The rain wasn’t just unwelcome, it was a symbol of every obstruction in her life. Every drop was another flash of annoyance and discomfort. She hurried down the sidewalk wishing for an umbrella or an overhang or something to shield her from the deluge.

Cars splashed by with whirring engines and mirrored-in passengers. Overflowing gutters turned streets into rising rivers. Clouds were getting darker, and noon would be darker than dawn.

She glared at her phone as she walked. Her unanswered stream of messages stared back at her.

‘Has Gloria contacted you about my time off?
‘Did you tie up the boat?’
‘Is anyone going to check on the boat before the storm?’
‘Damien? What the hell. Answer your phone!’

She was halfway through a new message, ‘Do you know if-‘ when the phone went dead. The battery had been hanging on, but it finally gave up its battle. “Jesus. Fucking. Christ.” She growled each word while smacking the side of her phone. “One thing, and then everything.”

She stuffed her hands, phone too, in her jacket pockets and hunched against a sudden gust. The winds were picking up as she neared the bay. It probably wasn’t the best of times to head to the marina, but she had no choice. She had signed for the boat before taking time off, and she would be responsible if anything got damaged.

The water was ankle-deep as she jogged through the crosswalk. The cold wet soaked through her shoes and the bottoms of her jeans went soggy. A few cautious cars slid to a stop as she ran in front of their headlights. The AI systems beeped, or flashed warning lights, but she paid them no mind. She was too irritated to wait for permission from the intersection’s bright
green man.

Her feet thumped on the boardwalk as she continued at a slow jog. She slid on the slick wood several times, but managed to steady herself with the railing. A voice in her head urged caution, told her to be safe, but she ignored that too. It sounded too much like Emma to want to listen.

She wished she could kill that voice, wished she could forget its tone and subtle moments of gravel. Jess hated that there was a grieving period. She hated that relationships lingered, even if it had hardly been hours since saying goodbye.

Beneath her, the water sloshed and frothed at the edges of the boardwalk. It was higher than ever, had been rising for years, and it wouldn’t be long before the marina’s locks failed to control that rise.

Or, as they had before, they would drive away more property owners to accept more of the sea’s expansion. Even now, there were shadowy ghosts of buildings from ten years prior. They sat, preserved bits of old lives, right below the waves.

Some still glowed with light, tourist-trap underwater hotels or dive destinations that used to be dive bars. It seemed that the past always lingered after all.

Jess rushed overhead that sunken past, glad of the grip of her sturdy boots. It was hard enough to stay upright in the wet and weariness, even with good shoes. But then she arrived at the marina entrance and pulled on the gate. Its handle didn’t budge.

“Fuck!” Her frustration vented out in the vulgar screech. Locked. She hadn’t been scheduled to work today, hadn’t been at work the whole week past, so she didn’t have the key. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

This is exactly what Emma had warned would happen. Emma hadn’t wanted her to leave, even after the fight. She cared, despite everything. Despite everything Jess had done.

The cold steel of the gate seemed to stick to Jess’ fingertips. She shivered. Her clothes were getting more soaked with every moment of hesitation. Looking up, she eyed barbed-wire lining the top of the fence. She wedged a foot in the gap between hinge and post and hiked herself onto the handle.

Worry of getting caught was non-existent. The docks were empty. Marina workers were gone. Security was gone. Everyone else had gone home after the first surge warnings. They were smart, not like her. She clenched her eyes shut as her fingers slipped on the gate’s ironwork. She felt stupid for so many things, and her mistake with the boat was just more proof.

She inched her way up the gate. Her feet, wedged just so, held enough to push her way to the top. Getting over the barbed wire was another problem. She hooked her hands over the top of the gate and glanced at the rows of rusted deterrent. There were three rows of the wire, angled out to prevent climbers like her, but the barbs weren’t perfectly offset.

Trusting her jacket for protection, she reached up and wrapped an arm over a bare patch of the steel wire. Rocking her hips back, she kicked one leg up and swung the lower-half of her body toward the top. Her foot cleared the wire, and then she managed to hook on with her heel.

A pinch of pain buried into her ankle. Her sock, and her jeans, were keeping anything from breaking skin so far, but it still hurt. Cursing everything under her breath, she strained her way to the top of the gate. Her whole body felt like it was shaking at the end, but she managed to claw her way to the other side.

Then Jess scraped her wrist on one of the barbs. She yelped, lost her grip, and tumbled the last way over the gate.

She landed on the slick wooden dock with a thump.

The rain hadn’t paused for a moment in its deluge, and lying in a heap chased away Jess’ last reserves of dry clothing. Her chest heaved as she fought back the panicked adrenaline surge from her fall. Her joints hurt. She’d fallen on her shoulder, and it was terribly sore. Blood trickled from the shallow gash on her wrist. “Fuck,” she grumbled.

Despite the weather, despite the twisted heap she’d landed in, lying there for hours momentarily felt like a viable decision. She considered the idea while closing her eyes. She felt the gradual dampness along her back seep toward being completely soaked.

Someone banged on the gate with a rapid urgency. “Jess!? Jess, is that you!? Are you okay!?”

She rolled onto her back and raised her head with a raised brow. “Ugh?” She blinked several times. “Emma, what?”

Her girlfriend, ex-girlfriend, clenched a fist around one of the gate’s bars. “Oh, thank goodness! Holy shit, Jess, what are you doing out here?”

Jess sat up with a wince. She really hoped she hadn’t dislocated her shoulder. “Uh, trying to secure the boat.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, really? This whole marina is gonna get washed out to sea!”

“Did you-” Jess guffawed at the absurdity of the moment. “Did you drive all the way down? For that? To scold me about this stupid boat?”

“Really, that’s what you think? Do you-” Emma tried the gate’s handle before shaking it with frustration. “Damnit, would you just open this thing? I’ll help you with the fucking boat.”

Jess bit her lip. “Shit,” she whispered. She pushed herself off the ground. Walking to the gate, she pushed it open with a hiss of pain. Yeah, her shoulder felt wrong. Maybe it was dislocated. “You were that worried about me?”

“Oh, fuck you, Jess.” Emma pulled the gate the rest of the way open and slammed into a hug with Jess. “Fucking hell, fuck you.”

They kissed, but only for a moment, because Jess’ knees started to give. “Shoulder,” she murmured. “Maybe dislocated.” She fought for consciousness. “Ugh, fuck the stupid boat.”

She wasn’t sure if it was the pain, Emma’s presence, or the rain, but maybe she could be okay with some shifting priorities.

Flash: Twilight Spider

Talking to Shadows
Issue No. 25231

1 January 1923

Archivists Note:
This letter was published within the last known issue of the infamous “Talking to Shadows” semi-annual magazine. There are numerous accounts from newspaper editorials and, later, news reports themselves, that speak of the Delossi Process, but this has been identified as the earliest credible presentation that someone had identified a rising change of the status quo. Of particular interest is the mention of a group of elders, and their intent to perform some manner of negotiations, but the results of this meeting are so far left to our imaginations. It is, as of yet, unknown whether the writer had a personal acquaintanceship with Madame Delossi, but both were certainly prominent figures in the ensuing period of unrest. They demonstrably knew of each other, but it is inconclusive as to where they obtained such knowledge. Wherever they knew one another from, it is intriguing to discover the initiation of what later became a vicious rivalry that spanned throughout centuries.

Editor’s Letter

A happiest of New Years to the readership. Hopefully, you are waking with a rather minimized hangover. Hopefully, you recall a rather clever use of muffling mentioned in issue 1528. The world should be a tad more tolerable after proper application. Otherwise, let us look forward to these next weeks, these next months, as a time to strike boldly toward the goals that sustain us. Bring in those that deserve our knowledge, build the interconnections of our communication webs, and seek out new applications of those core abilities brought to us by the mastery of talking to shadows. And, most of all, use our capability to strengthen the world and its foundations.

Now, having made mention of the core abilities, it may indeed be time to reiterate those with an emphasis on usage and intent. Surely, the proper use of shadows never strays from our minds, but knowing recent events it is worth an additional moment of thought.

Firstly, it is well documented that some specialists are able to glean combined knowledge from what lingering dead populate all that is cast between light. Importantly, none do this without serious cross-referencing with both the Books of Shadowspeak and public resources. We must all be very aware of the responsibility weighing our shoulders at the possibility of illumination from the past. Even seemingly innocent drivel, from the furthest reaches of time, may have far-reaching affects that are not easily seen by those of us lost in the present.

Secondly, others among us hone that fine ability to pass whispers at the speed of light, or rather as is more apropos, shadow. This tremendous ability has been a most fine aid throughout the millennia. It is no idle boast to claim that our group has saved whole countries, whole continents with the lightning-quick spread of alerts and warning. However, we also spread such information with the care required to allow for misdirection and negate suspicions. It would hardly be of use if we ourselves were not kept safe by our own techniques. Gladly, the rise of radio, of that frightful electron, has made some requirements of this particular skill easier than ever.

Thirdly, though certainly not minimized by the ordering, there are also those upon us with success at visual illusion and misdirection. Notorious for its difficulty to perform, let alone master, it is nonetheless amazingly useful on levels personal, regional, and global. I myself have struggled to build relationships with our departed required for such tasks, but alas those dead to me seem rather reluctant to convince their fellows. Yet, such is the danger of shadow optics. It is beyond reprehensible to lie to those from the beyond in order to convince them of your importance or familial ties. Those bonds we form with the undying must be true and solidly based on reality. Let us never forget the complete loss caused by a simple lie in Rome. There is still little guarantee that the truth of Christianity will ever surface now that the rumors have spread into the hearts of those long passed. Of lesser gravity, but still terribly important, we must never use illusion for such folly as is attempted in mass-hypnotism expositions. Our talents are not those of simple tricks, and the misuse only lessens us and those who follow our creed.

All combined, these are valid and trusted methods of shadowmancy that have been carried forward through generations upon generations. These are the foundations of work that we carry out from day to day. These are the tenants that we nail to doors and uphold with both hands. These are the pillars that build our church.

However, recently it has come to my attention that an elder among our group has claimed a new technique. Please, disregard this dangerous work if you find yourself in possession of Madame Delossi’s essay. Her theories on transportation through shadow have only ever been but wishful glimmers of fancy. Even if possible, though it has been stubbornly disproved time and time again, it is a horrid menacing desire. Entrusting one’s mind and body to such danger, liaising with netherfolk so that life wanders among death, would be calamitous at best. Souls must not breach from one plane to the next, and no protective companionship with the dead will prevent this from attracting the attention of every wraith ever clinging to the edges of Earth’s veils.

Already, I have heard and read of reports from those that have acted on this spurious knowledge. Lives are being lost, friends. A concussive force of darkness obliterated the light in Dallas just last month. Dawn finally broke through just yesterday, but a gloom has set upon the city. Dust storms were engineered to account for such an oddity, but losses of productivity and peace have been unaccountable. Earlier this year, two boys, brothers attending the illustrious Shadow Sept in Eugene, barely escaped with their lives after a nigh-hour attempt that collapsed a butte on itself. Specialists have managed a fine reenactment of mudslides to diminish the abruptness, but several projects have been set aside for months to prevent chaos.

Please, I beg of you, refrain from attending to Madame Delossi’s claims. The rest of the elders are discussing matters of publication standards with her as we speak, and we will surely find a happy medium to settle the unease caused by this tumultuous miscommunication.

As an extra precaution, this issue will have a focus with topics on defensive shadowplay and muffling techniques. As always, take every chance to develop a prowess of mind that does wonders at refining the separation between shadow and light.

Until next issue, may the whispers find you.
– T.S. Canthry

Traffic Control

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
505 Words

I fingertip nudge my glasses. “Hey, Greg, check this out.”

He spins in his chair and wheels across the hall. The door squeaks wider as he uses it to boost to my desk. “What’s up?”

“Fifth and Jackson. Monitor four.” I point at the television wall.

His head swivels up and left to find the point of interest. His eyes widen. “The hell? That’s quite the crowd.”

“They’ve been showing up for half an hour. Been a pretty steady stream of people.” I tap my keyboard and take control. “Maybe just a party? ”

The screen flickers with static as I pan and zoom. Amplified-light colors streak as the camera struggles to refocus. Then splotchy red and white become the crisp outline of an expensive car. Its exhaust curls up thick into the cool night air.

Greg leans back and kicks his feet up on the control panel. His black boots narrowly miss a flashing switch.

“Hey, man! Careful. You almost hit the alarm!” I slap his shoulder. “Off!”

He relents with rolling eyes and heels snapping to the floor. “At least let me enjoy the show.”

“Well-” I start, but then I get distracted.

There’s commotion from the crowd milling about on screen. They split and part like a staff-directed sea. Another car, sleek, red, creeps into view. I imagine rumbling from the engine as it pushes through.

“Ooh, sweet! They’re totally gonna play chicken!”

“Not good.” I shake my head and reach for the phone. “We should probably call the cops.”

“What harm’s it gonna do? Let them have their fun.”

My eyes shift to meet his. “We’re traffic controllers. Not traffic watchers. And someone could get hurt.”

“Yeah?” He winks. “Means we could totally sell the vid.”

“You’re terrible,” I mutter, but my hand slips from the receiver’s handle.

“I know, but what’s it matter? These are rich punks doing stupid things. They wouldn’t get in trouble if someone caught them anyway.” He leans forward and puts his hand on my knee. “How much did we make off that potato gun incident?”

The screen fills with the fog of showoffs spinning tires. Both drivers are busy making donuts of a rubber variety.

I push his hand off my knee. “That guy was out on highway twenty. This is different. There are houses on Jackson Street. What if they wake someone up?”

“Then it’s even better! How cool would it be if some grandpa storms out in his bathrobe?”

My head sweeps from Greg, to the screen, and then to the phone. “They could hurt someone in that crowd too.” The cars have stopped spinning. Now they’re lining up.

“Hey! Come on…”

I pick up and listen to the dial tone. A laminated sheet of numbers hangs on the wall. The black and white list goes blurry as my glasses are yanked away. “Greg!”

He jumps up with a barking laugh and his chair shimmy-wobbles.

I resist the urge to give chase and dial a nine and two ones.