#AtoZChallenge: Peacekeepers

Pavel tapped his staff against the ground. He had already been waiting for fifteen minutes and old age hadn’t build up his patience much. He scanned the sky again, but it was still clear. He was on the outskirts of the city, standing outside a makeshift hut in the ruins that existed at the edge of the desert. It was a good place to think and to discuss matters of importance, away from the prying eyes and ears of the faction leaders.

It also gave him a good view of the city skyline and the low surrounding buildings made it easy to spot anyone, or anything, coming by air. So far, he hadn’t seen anything other than a few scout drones. Then a dot appeared on the horizon. Pavel drove his staff into the ground and stood up on shaky knees. Pallas had arrived.

She swooped low over the half-demolished buildings, circling one before landing a few feet away from the old man. She was tall, towering over his hunched form easily. Her golden armor had a dull sheen to it, and the gilded wings on her back were wide enough to shade him completely. As she strode toward him, the wings retracted into a small pack on her back. The visor of her flight helmet pulled back to reveal an angular face with skin the color of burnished bronze, a few strands of silvery hair peeking out from under the helmet’s rim.

“Pallas,” he said, standing as tall as he could but still having to look up at her. “What tidings do you bring? Has a decision been reached?”

“They’ve agreed to a truce.”

Pallas had been sent to negotiate peace between the Monduti and the Revain, two of the most powerful clans in the city. They each controlled several territories and had alliances with many of the other factions, but it was never enough. They were ready to rip the entire place apart if neither of them could control it. Pavel and his Peacekeepers had to step in to prevent that from happening. They were the official arbitrators of the city, tasked with keeping it in harmony by masters who had long been forgotten.

It hadn’t been easy getting the Monduti and the Revain into the same room without causing a bloodbath, but Pallas had a knack for persuasion. She wasn’t the Captain of the Peace for nothing. She had managed to broker an agreement between them.

“But there are conditions,” she said,  “And if even one is not met, the whole thing collapses into chaos again.”

“I see.” Pavel turned away from her, his shoulders drooping. “It can never be easy, can it?” He ran a hand through his matted gray beard. “But it’s a start, at least.”

“Yes. It is.”

Maintaining the peace between warring factions was an uphill task, and as more factions splintered, forming their own groups and coming into conflict with each other, it was only going to become more of a challenge. Pavel couldn’t afford to lose control of any of them.

“What are the conditions of the truce?”

Pallas pressed a plate on one of her gauntlets, causing it to project a small holographic screen. “The Monduti had a spy in the ranks of the Revain. The Revain want the spy executed in public to discourage any such betrayals in the future.”

“And what do the Monduti want?”

“Control of one of the Revain’s smaller territories.”

“Sounds simple enough.”

“The Revain are willing to hand over control, but the territory chief isn’t being cooperative. He’s prepared to fight. That could upend everything we’ve done so far.”

Pavel considered that for a moment. “And if he surrenders, will that satisfy them? Will it put an end to this war?”

Pallas inclined her head. “For now.”

“It will have to do. Very well. Convince the chief to surrender. If he’s still feeling stubborn, kill him swiftly.” He locked eyes with Pallas. “Do not give him any opportunity to fight.”

“Understood. And the execution?”

“Yes, that’s fine. Just ask them not to turn it into a celebration. We’re satisfying basic conditions, nothing more.”

Pallas nodded. Her wings extended themselves again and flapped once, sending up a cloud of dust. She took off, headed back to the city.

Pavel shuffled over to his hut and sat down on a wooden crate, feeling it creak under his weight. The factions enjoyed testing the limits of his tolerance. But if it helped him maintain the peace, he could live with it. The occasional bloodshed was a small price to pay for the larger goal.

WEP Valentine’s Challenge: Forever

Yolanda and Renee of Write, Edit, Publish have put forth their first writing challenge for this year, based around Valentine’s Day. The challenge is to write a fiction or non-fiction piece in 1000 words or less. So without further ado, let’s get right into it.


John couldn’t believe it was Valentine’s Day already. How time flew.

It was one of the most important days of his life. The day when he and Marnie had decided to take the next step in their relationship.

John adjusted his hat and walked along the same street where he had taken so many moonlit strolls over the years, hand in hand with Marnie. He smiled. The city had changed so much over the years, but it was still beautiful at night, pulsing with life and vitality. The both of them had had many wild nights together, painting the town red.

They were inseparable, always with their arms around each other. Her sing song laughter echoed in the evening air, replaced by ecstatic moans as the night went on. His thick, stubby fingers would comb through her dark tresses, caress her pearlescent skin, trace the contours of her sanguine lips. She in turn would let her spidery fingers roam over his rough form, from his scruffy brown hair to the slight bulge of his gut. The passion they shared could scorch the world, but that wasn’t all that they had.

Marnie was one of the few people, perhaps the only one, that truly understood John. The both of them could spend hours engaged in the most idle conversation, or simply watching the world go by in complete silence. They were content to simply exist together, two bodies and minds joined as one.

John’s footsteps grew a little heavier as he walked away from the city, towards the small hill that lay on its outskirts. He paused before the iron gates at the foot of the hill and took out a small package from his coat’s inner pocket. He opened the package carefully, removing the wrappings to reveal a single, blood-red rose. With a sigh, John walked through the gates.

He hadn’t expected his romance with Marnie to end as abruptly as it had. Though perhaps he should have. They had become too reckless, drawn too much attention to themselves. With the number of people that had gone missing in the wake of their nightly escapades, it was only a matter of time before a hunter showed up in town. John and Marnie hadn’t been concerned. They thought they could handle things. But they were wrong. The hunter was cleverer than they had anticipated. He laid the perfect trap, and they fell for it.

John knelt down and placed the rose on top of an unmarked gravestone. Marnie had made the ultimate sacrifice so that John could escape. This was where she rested now, though he wondered if she’d found any peace. He patted the stone and started to walk away. All good things came to an end, he thought.

His jaw clenched.

But this wasn’t supposed to.

John walked out of the cemetery and back to the city, running a finger along the bite marks on his neck, still as fresh as they were 150 years ago. Eternity was too long a time to be spent alone.

Word Count: 509

WEP Halloween Challenge – Childhood Fears

I had a lot of fun participating in my first WEP Challenge a few months ago, and I was eagerly looking forward to their Halloween Challenge, which is here at last! As with the previous challenge, this one is split into two parts. The first part asks us to describe a childhood fear or phobia that haunts us to this day. For the second part, we have to write an original piece of horror fiction in 1,000 words or less. That fits perfectly into my own horror-themed plan for the month!

When talking about childhood fears, I don’t even know where to begin. I was scared of a lot of things as a child. There were, of course, the ghosts, ghouls and other assorted monsters that make the hearts of children go thump in the night. For example, after watching The Witches (based on the Roald Dahl book) for the first time, I was worried that my mother might actually be a witch in disguise. For a few short weeks, I got nervous whenever I was left alone with my mother, expecting her to transform into her true self and turn me into a rat. And catching even a glimpse of a horror film would leave me convinced that our house was haunted and whatever spirit inhabited it would only make its presence known to me.

But there were also the slightly more abstract fears. I’ve always been a bit afraid of the ocean. It’s a bit odd, because I like swimming and beaches just fine, and I’ve always wanted to live in a coastal town. But the ocean as a whole, a vast fathomless body whose depths we haven’t fully explored, frightens me. The idea of being in the middle of it, with no land in sight, is horrifying. Just an unending, infinite stretch of water, teeming with life that’s fairly alien. Add some sharks or other aquatic predators into the mix, and it’s a perfect recipe for a sleepless night.

In fact, the ocean was the subject of a short story I wrote a couple of days ago, as part of my 20 Tales of Terror series.

And now for my WEP submission, a variation on a classic ghost story.

The Stranger on the Path

Jeremy raised his lantern a bit higher and quickened his pace. He hated the idea of walking home in the dark, but it couldn’t be helped. Kara would be waiting and he didn’t want to worry her. Jeremy was the village school teacher, occasionally tutoring some of the boys in the neighboring villages. His tutoring session had longer than expected this evening, and it was well past sundown when he left.

The path between the villages was straight, with open fields on either side. On this night, the moon chose to lay hidden behind a thick curtain of clouds, and Jeremy’s lantern was the sole beacon of light in the darkness. Forbidding silhouettes loomed in the distance, but Jeremy knew they were just the trees and the hills. His heart still thudded in his chest. He had never walked the path so late before, and he didn’t know who or what he might encounter. He found himself thinking about the stories he’d heard as a child. Stories of spirits that terrorized unsuspecting travelers, leaving only petrified corpses behind.

His eyes darted around, searching for movement in the shadows. He was bathed in sweat in spite of the chill in the night air and was breathing in short gasps. He took a few moments to calm himself, swinging his lantern around as he did so. All he had to do was get home. There was no point worrying himself to death.

Presently, he approached the river that ran halfway between both villages. He didn’t have much further to go. As he stepped onto the wooden bridge that spanned the river, a voice rang out from the darkness.

“Hello, friend!”

Every muscle in Jeremy’s body froze. Outlined against the indigo sky was the silhouette of a man standing on the bridge. He stepped forward into the halo of light created by the lantern, smiling. He had a gaunt face, his hair was streaked with gray, and he carried a small trunk.

“Sorry if I startled you, friend. It’s just that I was headed to Felheim and I appear to have gotten a bit lost. Would you be able to point me in the right direction?”

Jeremy stayed rooted in place, unsure of what to say or do. Almost instinctively, he looked down.


The man held out his hands in a placating gesture.

“I understand.  It’s late at night and no doubt, you’re wary of meeting a stranger on the road. Forgive my intrusion.”

With that, he stepped aside to let Jeremy pass. Feeling like a fool for letting childish fears overtake him, Jeremy stammered out an apology.

“I, uh, I was actually going to Felheim myself,” he said, his voice growing stronger. “And I suppose I could use some company. I must warn you, I have no money, though.”

He added the last sentence clumsily, still feeling cautious.

“No worries, friend,” the man smiled. “I will to my utmost to not rob you.”

Jeremy couldn’t help laughing, and resumed his journey.

“So what is it that takes you to Felheim at this hour?” he asked.

“I was to meet Dr. Fallon tomorrow”. Jeremy nodded in recognition of the name. “He and I were to discuss some business regarding his clinic. As it happened, I was able to come a bit earlier. But not quite early enough, it seems.”

The man indicated the blackness around them with a broad sweep of his hand.

“And yourself?”

“Well, I’m the local school teacher. I was tutoring at one of the neighboring villages and ran a bit late.”

“Ah, we are both victims of time, it seems.”

Jeremy smiled. As they walked on, he felt all the more foolish than ever for his previous doubts.

“This seems an unsafe place to be walking alone,” the man said, peering ahead.

“It’s safe enough I suppose, if you don’t let your imagination get carried away by ghost stories.”

The man laughed. “And what stories preyed on your mind?”

Jeremy cleared his throat loudly. “When I was a boy, I had heard tales of spirits that haunted the pathways. How people would often meet strangers on the road, who would request their help or pose a question. As the poor travelers stopped to talk to them, they would notice that the strangers’ feet were backwards. That’s when the strangers would shed their human disguise and reveal their true forms.”

“A gruesome tale indeed. Well, as you can see, my feet are quite normal.”

Jeremy smiled sheepishly. “Yes, it would appear so.”

At length, they approached the village, which was shrouded in darkness. It couldn’t possibly be that late. Surely someone had to be awake. Jeremy walked up to his house. Not a single light was on. He took out his key and started opening the door.

“How odd. It seems everyone’s gone to bed early tonight. Alas, I cannot introduce you to my wife, but I don’t think she would mind you staying the night. You can meet Dr. Fallon tomorrow. “

“Don’t worry about it, friend.”

Jeremy continued to fumble with the door, which refused to open.

“I can’t understand it. What’s going on here?”

“You really shouldn’t believe every story you hear, friend,” the man said, his voice seeming to blend with the wind. “Not all of us have our feet backwards.”

Jeremy turned around with a start. There was no one behind him. He raised his lantern high and looked around but there was no trace of the stranger. He also realized, on closer inspection, that not a single building around him looked familiar. He turned back to the house, which also looked alien, and which seemed to be disappearing into the darkness. The whole village was being consumed by the night.

Jeremy screamed for help, but it was no use. He was no longer in the world he knew. He had fallen into the realm of stories and legends, just another petrified corpse for parents to tell their children about on cold, moonless nights.

Word Count: 1,000 even! FCA