Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Journal 002

Yes. I'm bored. No, I've got nothing to talk about. Should I be doing something useful with my time? Definitely. Like...writing more chapters to my ridiculously long list of novels-in-progress that I never seem to gave time for these days? I would definitely agree, but its hard doing that when you're mind is on Pretty Little Liars and your body is too tired to get out of bed at 9:08 PM because I've spent my day sitting at a desk endlessly talking for eight hours. But sitting here like this gets me thinking. Thinking about a lot of things, I say! Like my past, my present, and more definitely my future. Pretty soon I'll be 30 years old and mentally ready to settle down and  start a family and all that jazz. I wonder how I'll view my current self now. Scatterbrained, curious, will, crazy. It's both fun and sad to see where all the time goes when you're getting older and getting even more caught up in the different obstacles you face in life. So many of us want to go back to those times again. When you're do young, innocent, and ignorant of the burdens you carry on your shoulders as you grow older and wiser. I'm grateful to gave grown up to the age I'm currently in right now. So many die before they truly get to live, not seeing to hearing the many beautiful things the world has to offer because of misfortune. All on all, at least I can say now that I'm grateful for another day that I got to live. I'm grateful for the bed I sleep it, the food I eat, the clothing o wear, the water I drink and bath with. Who knows? Maybe its because Christmas and the end of yet another year is fast approaching that I just feel like counting my blessings. So...to all the souls who inhabit the Earth, I wish you sweep dreams and a bright and very long future. Goodnight to the stars, the moon, and to you! -IceWinifredd

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Journal 001

Hello everybody,
I hope everyone is doing well these days. It's been a very long while since I've been on this blog. Heck, the whole reason I'm even writing this is because my lyft driver today, Anna, was interested in reading some of my work on Instagram this blog and is looking forward to seeing me participate in my first NanoWriMo (I think I spelled that the right). Anyways, I'm seriously need to keep up with this blog, you know? So stay tuned because I'll be posting two new reviews on ASYLUM and SANCTUM, both books written by the lovely Madeline Roux. Until then everyone!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Call of the Zodiac: Chapter Two- The Mysterious Door

“Aspen!” The sounds of footsteps plodding up the stairs followed her mother’s frightened exclamation.
Caw! Another howl of anguish escaped Aspen’s mouth as the bird circled around in the air and made a dive for her one last time. It bore its sharpened talons and the red in its eyes brightened with a new found hunger. With a murderous intent on drawing her blood. Aspen threw her arms up defensively. She was crying, her body shuddering with terrified, hiccuping sobs. Her eyes widened as the bird swooped down, its black wings flapping vigorously, and aimed a claw at her exposed throat. She let out a final whimper and squeezed her eyes shut.
“Aspen!” her mother cried as she reached the top of the steps and bounded down the hall towards her. “Honey! Oh my goodness! What’s wrong with you?”
Aspen didn’t speak. She cautiously lowered her arms and looked around. The evil bird was nowhere in sight. She spun around on the floor, expecting the mysterious door to still be behind her, its golden key jammed into the lock. A startled gasp escaped her lips. The door had suddenly vanished. She gawked in disbelief. But how? How is that even possible? She wrapped her arms around herself and willed her body to stop trembling. She stared at the blank wall with unblinking eyes.
“Aspen!” Mrs. Fischer cried. She dropped to her knees and threw her arms around her, dragging her into her chest. “Oh lord! What happened to you? You nearly gave me a heart attack with your screaming!”
But Aspen didn’t respond. She could barely hear her mother’s voice over the wild pounding of her own heart. Her eyes darted back and forth, searching for the winged assailant. But the bird was gone, vanished into thin air, and the door with it. She closed her eyes and sucked in a breath through her mouth. She suddenly felt cold all over. There’s no way I imagined that, she thought. Where did it go? How could the bird and the door just disappear like that? She took in another gulp of air.
“Aspen? Honey, can you hear me?” Mrs. Fischer asked. “Please say something to me!”
Aspen opened her eyes and turned to her mother. “It was the bird!” she bawled. “The black bird was here! It-It tried to kill me mom! It was here I swear!”
She collapsed into her arms and burst into a jag of fresh tears.
Mrs. Fischer smoothed her hair down as she spoke. “What bird honey? I didn’t see any birds in here. Mr. Blackwell told me that animals can’t get in the house—”
Aspen pulled away from her. “I saw it!” she insisted. “I swear I saw it! It was here! It really was! It was standing over there—” she pointed at the end of the hall “—where the door was! The bird wouldn’t let me touch it so it attacked me!”
Mrs. Fischer shifted her stare to where Aspen had pointed. “What door honey? There’s no door there. It’s just a wall.”
Aspen let out a moan of despair. “You have to believe me! I’m not lying! I promise!”
Mrs. Fischer sighed heavily. “Aspen,” she started, “If this is true, then where is the bird now? You said that it attacked you, but I don’t see a single scratch on you!”
Aspen’s weeping came to a rapid stop. She looked down at her rumpled clothing. The previous rips in them were gone. She shook her head in dismay. No rips, no blood. Nothing. Mrs. Fischer sighed and helped her to her feet. What’s happening? I know it was here! I know it! Aspen opened her mouth to argue, to plead with her mother, but was stopped by the sound of another set of footsteps tramping up the stairs.
Aspen went perfectly still. A new kick of adrenaline surged through her newly quivering body. The footsteps slowed as they neared the top of the stairs. Aspen clung to her mother’s side, dread hardening into a cold and hard ball at the pit of her stomach. The footsteps stopped and a man appeared at the top of the stairs. Aspen took an automatic step backward.
He was the biggest man she had ever seen: large and burly, like an overgrown bear, with massively muscled arms and a dark pin-stripe suit that seemed to stretch too tightly every time he moved. It was his face, however, that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She took another small step back. His eyes were dark and small, two black slits against a darkly tanned complexion. But on the side of his face was a violently jagged scar that ran from the left corner of his mouth to his temple, savagely tugging his face to the side in a permanently lopsided leer.
Mrs. Fischer cleared her throat and shot her daughter a warning look before speaking. “I apologize for the commotion, Mr. Blackwell,” she said and forcibly unhitched Aspen from her side. “My daughter was playing up here and managed to scare herself in the process. Says an animal attacked her.”
“An animal?” He inquired in a deep and throaty voice. “That’s highly unusual.”
“I thought the very same thing,” Mrs. Fischer replied. “She said it was a black bird. It was standing over there, apparently guarding some mysterious door. “
“May I?” He trudged forward, his stride slow and careful, and entered one of the rooms.
“Stop staring,” Mrs. Fischer hissed under her breath. “You know better than that.”
Aspen didn’t respond. She followed closely behind as Mr. Blackwell knelt down and examined the bedroom window.
“Strange,” he muttered. “The window screen is still on. I made sure that all the windows had these before you moved in so no bugs or animals could get in.”
He rose to his feet and turned his dark eyes to Aspen. “And you said it was a bird that attacked you?”
Aspen nodded mutely, no longer trusting herself to speak. Her eyes followed the landlord’s lazy gait out into the hallway. He moved into the next room, checking to make sure the screen was secure before returning with a shrug. Mrs. Fischer sighed and followed after him, leaving Aspen alone with her thoughts. I know what I saw! The bird was there! The door was too! Why don’t they believe me? Where did that stupid bird go off to now? She turned her attention to the window, searching the skies with narrowed eyes for the cryptic fowl.
“Aspen! Come downstairs! We have a lot of unpacking to do!” Mrs. Fischer called.
“Coming!” Aspen shouted. With a heavy sigh, she sauntered out of the room and descended down the stairs and through the kitchen toward the living room.
“I’ll be over later today to make sure that no animals got into the house through other means. But it’s unlikely that a bird would come in here and suddenly vanish without a trace,” Mr. Blackwell said. “Oh and I’ll send some movers over as well to assist you with rearranging the heavy stuff. No need for a lady to do such heavy lifting right?”
Mrs. Fischer beamed. “You’re too kind Mr. Blackwell,” she replied with a light laugh. “That help would be much appreciated. Thank you so much for your time.”
“It’s no trouble at all. I’m just glad nobody is hurt—”
“The bird was there!” Aspen injected. She scowled at her landlord. “It’s possible because that’s what happened! The bird attacked me! It really did!”
“But I don’t see any scratches on you, my dear,” Mr. Blackwell insisted. He shot her mother a concerned look. “You seem to be in great condition to me.”
Heat colored her cheeks red. “I’m not lying!” she shouted. “Why don’t you want to believe me? I saw the bird! The door was there too—”
“Stop it Aspen!” Mrs. Fischer said sharply. “You know better than to interrupt and talk back to an adult like that! Where are your manners, young lady?”
“Why don’t you guys believe me?” Aspen whined. “I never lie! I would never make it up! I don’t know where the bird and the door went, but they were there! I saw them...”
Mrs. Fischer scowled at her. “Why don’t you go outside and play? I have a lot of unpacking to do.”
Aspen frowned. “But mom—”
“Go.” Mrs. Fischer turned her attention back to Mr. Blackwell. “I apologize for my daughter’s rude behavior. She’s normally better behaved than this. I don’t know what’s gotten into her.”
Mr. Blackwell smiled, the scar tugging the smile even more to the left. “As I’ve said, it’s no trouble at all. Kids will be kids after all. Agreed?”
Mrs. Fischer nodded enthusiastically. “Agreed. Have a nice day, Mr. Blackwell.” With a final nod at his new tenants, he left the house, closing the door gently behind him.
Mrs. Fischer turned to glare at her daughter. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you Aspen Lee Fischer, but that behavior better not happen again. Do you hear me, young lady?”
Aspen sighed and nodded her head. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I won’t do it again.”
“The movers will be here soon to help me unpack everything so why don’t you go outside and look around the neighborhood? I’m sure you’ll find someone your age around here to play with,” Mrs. Fischer suggested. “Go and get some air.”
With an exasperated cry, Aspen turned away and yanked the door open. She didn’t look back as she slammed it shut behind her and stomped down the front steps towards the street. Her mind buzzed with unanswered questions. Where did that bird even come from? Why did it disappear all of a sudden? More importantly, why was it guarding that creepy door? This can’t all be in my head… right? She reached the door and reached inside for her coat. She sighed and shook her head, attempting to clear it.
Maybe I just let my imagination run wild after all. She frowned as she began her stroll through the neighborhood. I mean, what else could it be? Everything was gone when the grownups came anyway. Maybe I just imagined everything without meaning to. With a final sigh, Aspen dismissed the morning’s events from her mind. She glanced around, drinking in the leafless trees, nicely cut lawns, and flat gray sky. A chilly breeze blew past, whipping lengths of her long scarlet hair into her eyes. Aspen groaned. Stupid wind! She spit a few strands of hair as she reached up to pull it out of her eyes. I knew I should’ve—
“Oof!” Came an outraged cry, followed by an angry bark of a dog. “Ow!”
Aspen puffed and jumped backward, blinking the rest of her hair from her eyes. She glanced down at the sidewalk where a boy lay on the ground, rubbing the pain from his elbow. The dog beside him, a golden retriever, barked as it positioned itself it front of its owner. The contents of his bag were scattered about on the sidewalk.
“I’m so sorry!” Aspen gasped. “Really! I didn’t see you there!”
She dropped to her knees and began to scoop up the book items into the bag.
The boy sat up and shook his head. “Don’t worry about it,” he replied. “It was my fault. I was looking through my stuff and I didn’t realize someone was headed my way.”
The dog barked once more, but moved aside as the boy leaned forward and took the bag from her. Aspen smiled sheepishly.
The boy narrowed his bright green eyes at her. “Are you new in town? I don’t remember seeing you around the neighborhood.”
Aspen nodded eagerly. “Yes! I just moved here today with my mom from New York. She told me to go out and take a look around. See if I can make any friends before I start school.”
The boy grinned. Aspen flushed. “We don’t start school for another two days I’m afraid. Not that it’s a bad thing anyways.”
They both stood up. “My name’s Garrett. Garrett Krebs. I live on Devlin Road. Its two blocks from here. My hairy companion is Keeva.” He jabbed a finger over Aspen’s shoulder in the opposite direction before lightly nudging the dog’s side with his foot.
“My name is Aspen,” she said and timidly brushed her hair out of her eyes. “I live on… well I live over there where the moving truck is.”
She pointed across the street. Garrett nodded. “This is Sydcott Boulevard. Just so you know.”
Neither one said anything for several moments. Aspen dropped her gaze to her sneakers, suddenly interested in the improperly tied laces and scuff marks on the toes. Keeva barked and bristled in impatience. Well this is awkward, she thought. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other in discomfort. Garrett readjusted the weight of his shopping bag in his hand. Another gust of wind blew, tousling her hair yet again in the process.
Garrett broke the silence. “I can, um, show you around if you want. You know, so you don’t, um, get lost.”
Aspen nodded eagerly. “Sure!” she said. “I would love to.”
Keeva barked and pulled against her leash, anxious to resume her walk. Garrett rolled his eyes. “Okay, okay. Jeez. Let’s get on move on then.”
They started walking. “So… what made you leave a place like New York to come to a small town like Chagrin Heights?”
Aspen opened her mouth to speak, but quickly shut it. Why was she here in the first place? Instead, she just opted to shrug. Her parents had never fully discussed the reasons behind their sudden move. And she never bothered to question them after days of walking in on hushed conversations that abruptly ended when she was noticed or the sudden interrogations about her play dates with her friends and who she ran into on the way to their homes.
“And you? Were you born here?” Aspen asked.
Garrett shook his head. “Nah,” he said with a small smile. “I moved here about a year ago from Whispering Falls in North Dakota. My parents got divorced so my mom ended up taking a nursing job here. My sisters and I chose to come along. You know, new places have new faces.”
Aspen nodded her head in agreement. “What’s it like here then? I don’t really know what to expect here.”
“Most of the time it’s quiet,” Garrett explained. “Not quite like today. I assume everybody’s staying in since its Sunday. Possibly mourning the end of Winter Break.”
Aspen giggled. “And yet there’s no snow anywhere? Why is that?”
Garrett shrugged. “That’s the weird thing. Among many more weird things that happen around here. It’s the first day of January but there hasn’t been any snow since the middle of December. Christmas, New Year’s Eve—nothing. The warmest holiday season in the history of this town. Strange huh?”
Aspen nodded. She remembered the endless cascade of snowfall back in Manhattan and how it buried everything in a soft, thin blanket of white. Her heart squeezed with a tingle of homesickness.
“Speaking of Winter Break, what grade are you in? You look very…little.” Garrett scrunched his face up as he studied her appearance.
Aspen blushed. “I’m twelve in seventh grade. And you? You look like a kid too.”
Surprisingly, everything about Garrett was small: his round head, his hands and feet, his forehead, and his teeth. He seemed to be swimming in his black cargo pants, oversized, bright green sweatshirt, and dark blue sneakers. His hair was swallowed up by a gray beanie save for a few tufts of light brown hair that peeked out from beneath and into his bright, trusting eyes.
Garrett shrugged. “I’m in eighth grade. I’m thirteen. Doomed to go to the Big House soon too.”
Aspen furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. “The Big House? Where’s that?”
Garrett grinned. “You know. High school. Where you’re sentenced to four years of nothing but pain and suffering—”
“Well, well, well. If it isn’t Gay-rett Krebs,” a high, nasally voice sneered. “You babysitting or what?”
Both teens halted in place. Garrett narrowed his eyes. “Leave me alone, Natalie. I have things to do. Go away.”
A high, shrill laugh was offered as a response. Aspen frowned and regarded the girl in front of her with a glare. A bully huh? She was tall and blonde with ice blue eyes and golden freckles dusting her smooth, pale skin. A pink stud glistened on the side of her nose and her mouth was pained a bright cherry red to match the body-hugging sweater she wore over white leggings. A small white purse strap crossed her body and ended at her left hip. Her hoop earrings were brown like her high-heeled boots.
“Awe, what’s the rush Gay-rett? Off to go see your boyfriend somewhere?”
Garrett scowled. Keeva growled in warning. “I’m not gay,” he hissed through clenched teeth. “Why don’t you go lie in a ditch somewhere? Not like anybody around here would miss you anyway.”
Natalie grinned mischievously. “Is that so?” she said in a falsely innocent voice. “Hmm. I don’t know about that one, Krebs. I think my family and my many, many friends would beg to differ.”
Keeva barked, baring her sharp teeth menacingly. Natalie rolled her eyes. “What about you Krebs? Would any of your friends miss you if you disappeared? Would Kyle or Sam?”
Her eyes suddenly flashed with a dangerous glint. Aspen’s heart skipped a beat. “Would Kara Summers?”
Garrett balled his hands into fists. “Shut up, Natalie. I mean it. You’re going too far.”
Aspen placed a restraining hand on his shoulder. Garrett shook her off. Natalie laughed. “Oh, come on. Can’t you take a joke?”
“You know what she did to me!” Garrett howled. “You think that’s funny? I nearly died that day!”
“That’s not my problem, loser!” Natalie retorted. “It’s not my fault you’re nothing but a desperate little slime ball in need of a good—”
“Argh!” Garrett cried. “Get out of my way!”
He shoved Natalie aside and sped off, ducking his head down in shame. Aspen gasped as Keeva took off after them, barking frenziedly, her yellow leash flying behind her like a rope.
“Garrett!” Aspen cried. “Garrett! Please come back!”
“Don’t mix yourself up with that loser,” Natalie warned. “He’ll get you killed before you even know it.”
“Go away!” Aspen snapped. “Why do you have to be so mean?”
She ran off in the direction Garrett had gone, calling out his name repeatedly through the silent neighborhood.
She was completely unaware of the single black bird soaring in the sky above her.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Call Of The Zodiac: Chapter One-Welcome To Chagrin Heights

January 1, 2012
Chagrin Heights, Washington

            “They have arrived, Father.” The woman put the binoculars down and turned to face the larger of her two companions.
            He trudged forward, his large, massive frame towering over her as he approached the window of the vacant property. The material of his attire stretched tightly over the thick band of muscles of his arms as he plucked the device from his daughter’s hand and leaned out the window. He brought the binoculars to his eyes and squinted.
           He could see them, just crossing into the city limits from the east in a small, dark gray mustang. The driver, a woman in her early or mid-thirties, twisted her face in irritation as she maneuvered her way through the empty streets. She was slender, slight like a feather, with a tangle of dark curls tied messily at the nape of her neck, and skin the color of wheat bread. She was sporting a bright green windbreaker and a dab of lip gloss on her thin, pale mouth. But she wasn’t the one that had his full attention.
            A lopsided smile spread across his face. He was more intrigued by the girl.
            She was small, possibly eleven or twelve, and pale with a mane of frizzy scarlet hair and large blue eyes that stared wondrously through the backseat window. Her fingers fiddled nervously in her lap and she seemed to be questioning her mother on the conditions of her surroundings. Her attire consisted of a white turtleneck sweater, a blue sweater vest, dark jeans, and plain white sneakers. A red winter coat laid on the seat aside her.
            She was exactly as the old woman had described her. Excellent.
            “So she’s the one we’ve been waiting for?” the woman asked. “The one that miserable witch spoke of?”
            “Indeed she is,” the large man replied with a nod of approval. “They couldn’t have come at a more pleasurable time, dear daughter.”
            The woman smiled gleefully. “At last we may begin. After so long, our dream will finally be realized.”
            The bulky man held up a hand as he retreated back into the room. He handed her the binoculars and turned to the third companion. The young man stepped forward, his tall and lean body strutting with the haughtiness of a fox. He tossed his head contemptuously, sending lengths of his dark, wavy hair swirling around broad shoulders. His dark eyes flashed with a dangerous excitement.
            “So what do you want me to do?” he asked with a deep chuckle. “You name it and I’ll take care of it.”
            “Nothing as of this moment. You will leave this all to me for the time being.”
            The siblings looked at each other and frowned. They watched at their father pulled the window shut and reached into the hidden pocket of his robe. He pulled out a ring of golden keys. They jangled noisily as he shuffled through them busily. The woman spared her brother another glance to which he shrugged in response.
            “Ah,” the man sighed as he plucked a key off its ring and held it out in his hand.
            The siblings quickly gathered around and gaped in fascination. The golden key had a strange symbol etched onto its circular bow: a symbol of two fish, both chasing after the fin of the other. A small message was engraved on the key, the words twisting around the slender shank in elegant, cursive script and ending abruptly at the tip.
            “The Gate of the Two Fish,” the young man breathed. “Does this mean that the girl…”
            “Correct, my son,” the man answered. “This means that the Guardian of the Two Fish has been chosen.”
            As if on cue, the golden key began to hum as it spun wildly in the man’s palm. The siblings gasped and lurched back in surprise. The larger man slipped the key back onto the key ring before dropping it back into his pocket.
            “They will be here soon,” he declared. “You are both dismissed.”
            “Yes father,” the siblings replied in unison. They bowed deeply before crossing the threshold and disappearing into the hall.

Every town had its secrets, its haunting urban legends. Tales that sent shivers down one’s spine. This town was no exception. At least, not for its newest residents: The Fischer family. Buried deep in the Olympic Western-most Peninsula and the Cascades of Washington State, a small town named Chagrin Heights resided within its boundaries. The town was made up of one thousand four-hundred people with a mixture of farmlands, mountains, islands, and the big cities not too far away.
            It was in this town, this gloomy settlement, where Aspen Fischer was to start her new life. The place where her sentence was to begin. She sighed and leaned back against the leather upholstery of her seat and let her gaze wander out the window. Green. Everything was green. The ground, the sky, and even the air had a lingering lime fog that hung like a curtain, obscuring most things in sight. There were no more skyscrapers or bustling city traffic here. No longer would she enjoy the familiar sounds of irritated shouts and car horns blasting through the air or the smells of roasted peanuts and fried rice tickling her nostrils. No more gazing out at the brightly lit city every night before bed.
            Instead, she was trapped in a town drowning in trees where the houses were small and square and built out of brick or wood. The air smelled crisp and musty, like it did before it was about to rain, and the population was nowhere in sight. The streets were abandoned, the sidewalks emptied of people and animals. Not a sound could be heard. Just like a ghost town. A shiver ran down her spine. She had never felt so alone in her life. Where were the people? Why was everything so quiet? Surely they couldn’t be the only ones living in such a scary place.
            “Where is everybody?” Mrs. Fischer murmured. “It’s like this whole place is empty.”
            She reached up and tucked a dark, curly lock of hair behind her ear. She frowned and narrowed her eyes against the thick fog.
            Mrs. Fischer sighed heavily. The way she always did when she was irritated or stressed about something. Aspen turned her attention back to the window. The green had fallen away and was now replaced with a number of sagging houses that looked like they would fall over any minute. They were clearly old: outdated paint jobs were faded and chipped, glasses fragments from shattered windows decorating the old rotted porches like snow. The yards were unkempt: patches of dead grass yellowed with age and neglect, overgrown weeds sprouting from the crevices in the cracked concrete of the sidewalks and driveways, vines climbing the sides like leafy fingers.
            What happened here? Her mouth hung open in awe as Aspen gaped.
            Through the tall, anorexic trees that leaned askew across the properties, the windows seemed to glare back at her like angry, black eyes. Aspen turned away quickly. Surely where they were going to live was much prettier than this. She knitted her small fingers in her lap nervously. Was this really a ghost town? Did people once live in those horrible houses? Why did her mom bring them here in the first place?
            “Mom,” Aspen whispered. “I don’t like this place. I think it’s scary.”
            Ms. Fischer met her eyes in the rearview mirror. Dark brown and pale blue, earth and sky. She frowned at her.
            “You haven’t even seen where we’re going to live, honey,” she replied. “I’m sure you’ll change your mind when we get there.”
            Aspen returned the frown. “Where are we going? Where is everybody? Why are those houses like that? What happened to the people in them? When are you going to—”
            “Aspen,” Ms. Fischer said and sighed heavily. She was irritated. “Hon, I’ll answer all your questions when we get to the house. There are a lot of things to do and my mind is really busy right now okay? I mean, I have to go in and unpack, find myself a part or full time job, get you ready for school…”
            With a sigh of her own, Aspen returned her attention to the window. Yes. Her new home in a new town with a new life. A life she hadn’t asked for in the first place. She remembered when she first heard the news of the move: She had just come home from school that day, having just walked the way with Callie and Brenda, her friends. The weather had been fair, warm but windy, and Aspen had agreed to go to Callie’s house to learn how to fly a kite. She had been excited. She remembered saying goodbye to Brenda, who had refused to join them and had thrown a fit. She slipped inside her house. The TV was on, showing one of her mother’s DVR recorded Seinfeld re-runs, her mother shuffling around the living room with papers in her hands.
            “Aspen? Is that you sweetie?” Her mother called from the living room.
            “Yes!” Aspen replied. She quickly kicked off her shoes at the door and sauntered down the long corridor into the living room.
            She smiled gleefully. Mr. Fischer, however, did not the return the gesture. He turned away and shifted his glare out the front window, holding the silk curtain out to let the watery sunlight in. Aspen’s smile faltered. Mrs. Fischer sighed and turned to look at her. Aspen’s heart skipped a beat. She took a tentative step forward.
            “Aspen, honey, can you sit down for a second?” Ms. Fisher motioned for her to sit on the couch next to her. “There’s something we need to tell you.”
            Aspen nodded and made her way over. She sat down and drew her knees up to her chest on the couch. She waited patiently.
            “Hon, I don’t know what other way I can tell you this, but… we’ll be going away for a little while. Kind of like a fieldtrip or a vacation—”
            “A vacation?” Aspen perked up. “Cool! Where are we going? Hawaii? Florida? California?” A broad smile broke out on her face.
             Mrs. Fischer shook her head. “No, honey. You see… you and I will be moving away for a bit while Dad works on a special project.”
            Aspen cocked her head to the side in confusion. “You and me? Moving? Where?”
            Mr. Fischer pulled away from the window. “Washington,” he said before her mother could answer. “You two are going to Washington for a bit until we can… figure things out.”
            Aspen frowned. “I don’t want to go to Washington. I want to stay here. I don’t want to move away from my friends.”
            “We’ll be back,” Mrs. Fischer replied, but her smile didn’t touch her eyes. “I promise. You’ll be back to see your friends again.”
            “But why do we have to go away now? And what things do you need to figure out?”
            Both parents looked at each other. “That doesn’t matter right now,” Mrs. Fischer responded. “What matters is that we pack as soon as we can so we can leave earlier. Okay?”
            Aspen shot up to her feet. “I don’t want to go!” she argued. “I want to stay here with my friends and go to school here! I don’t want—”
            “Aspen!” Mr. Fischer barked. “Go upstairs and pack your things. Your mother and I need to talk some more about the move. Don’t… don’t make this harder than it has to be.”
            With a final huff, Aspen stormed up the steps to her room where she busied herself with packing the rest of the day.
            What things did they talk about? They never said anything to me, she thought. She let the memory fade away into the back corners of her mind as the car began to slow down. She turned and her mother’s eyes in the rearview mirror. They had arrived. Mrs. Fischer cut the engine and stepped out of the car, stretching and yawning loudly. Aspen hesitated and leaned forward for a better look at their new home.
            Surprisingly, the new house was a lot nicer than she had expected. It was tall, three-stories, and painted a perky buttercup yellow. The yard was wide, boxed in with a newly painted red fence, and a single maple tree standing in the middle. The driveway was on the right with a moving truck already parked, and bunches of well-kept rose bushes sat on either side of the front steps that led to the porch where a wicker porch swing swung gently in the wind. Aspen smiled in satisfaction. Maybe the move wouldn’t be so bad after all. 
            She quickly exited the car and ran across the yard to the front door.
            “Aspen!” Mrs. Fischer cried, holding her cellphone in one hand. “Wait a minute! I don’t think the door is open!”
            Aspen paused and admired the bright red paint of her new front door. This is so cool! She thought gleefully. She reached for the doorknob.
            The door swung open with a small whine. Aspen giggled with delight. “Mom!” she cried. “It’s okay! The door is already open!”
            But Mrs. Fischer didn’t hear her. She made her way over to the moving truck, keys in hand, as she talked away on the phone. Aspen shrugged and entered the house. She wandered down the front hall and into the vast living room to her right. The room was empty except for a red brick chimney and a large window looking out at the front yard where the car was parked against the curb by the mailbox.
            Aspen squealed with delight. Such a pretty house! She twirled as she left the room and moved on to the kitchen. She stopped and stared astoundingly. This room was empty too save for the small dinner table sitting by the back door with missing chairs, a metallic refrigerator, and empty white cabinets. Their doors were all hanging open like the gaping jaws of a shark. Weird, she thought. She moved on further into the house.  She ducked her head in what looked like a laundry room, frowned, and walked out again.
            “Aspen?” Mrs. Fischer called. “Honey, where are you? We need to meet the landlord soon. He’ll be here in a few minutes.”
            “Okay,” Aspen responded. “Be there in a second—”
            She stopped short and scampered up the stairs, giggling jubilantly. She was met with a long hallway of doors, four in total and each with its door wide open, baring view of the empty rooms. Aspen frowned. Isn’t there anything interesting about this house at all? She sighed and sauntered past the four doors to another set of stairs. She began to climb. Maybe it’s more rooms, she thought despairingly. How many rooms does a house need anyway?
             She let out a startled gasp. The hall had three more rooms, two with their doors pushed wide open, and at the end of the hall was a bird. Its black feathers seemed to shine in the pale light of the day as if made of polished glass. Its head was turned, its dark eyes fixed on the view of the backyard down below. Its obscure feet sunk deep in the plush beige carpeting. The bird turned its head to look at her. A cold shiver ran down Aspen’s spine. Creepy bird! She took a step forward.
            The bird didn’t move. Instead, it kept its unblinking stare trained on her.
            “Shoo!” Aspen cried and made a ‘go away’ motion with her hands. “You can’t be in here! No animals allowed!”
            Still, the bird did not move. Aspen frowned and placed her hands on her hips. “How am I going to get rid of you?”
            She made another ‘go away’ motion with her hands. “Shoo! Shoo!” she cried. “Go away you creepy bird! You’re not allowed up here!”
            The bird didn’t flinch. Aspen sighed in defeat.
            “Fine,” she said and curled her bottom lip out in a pout. “Stay here then! I’ll just go and explore without you!”
            She marched forward in the bird’s direction and kept her eyes trained at the door. Another shiver ran down her spine. Stop scaring yourself, she berated. It’s just a stupid bird. It probably got in through an open window or something. But the goose bumps on her arms suggested otherwise. She glanced away from the eerie bird and fixed her attention at the final door. Unlike the others, this door had not been painted or opened in a while. The red paint was faded and chipped several places and it remained shut with a large, golden key in the lock.
            “What in the world…?” Aspen carefully sidestepped the ogling bird and cautiously moved forward. “Why is this door locked—?”
            Caw! Aspen whirled around, startled by the sudden outburst, and tumbled to the ground. The bird suddenly took flight, flapping its long, black wings maddeningly, and its eyes glowing with a deep red light. A scream tore out of Aspen’s throat as the bird circled through the air and dove directly at her, its pointed beak shining like a glossy blade of a knife. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Call of The Zodiac (Prologue)

October 30, 2011
Chagrin Heights, Washington

The sun was a mere stain on a golden horizon, leaving behind faint remnants of its red-orange fingers to kiss a blue-purple sky like a feeble goodbye. The winds picked up, howling restlessly and scattering a cluster of dead autumn leaves around the feet of an anxious old woman and her much younger companion. They trudged through the darkening town with much haste, keeping their hooded heads bent low, hugging their belongings tightly to their chests. Time was running out. The streets were eerily empty; sidewalks cleared of any living beings except the occasional bird perched high on a crooked branch, peering down unblinkingly at them with gleaming, dark eyes. 
For any normal pedestrian this wouldn’t have been much of a sight. For most, this would’ve gone unnoticed. But both Madam Dulca and her granddaughter, Gitana, knew better than to let their guard down. Not when it was the very same bird that so persistently pursued them. Gitana tucked a lock of her glossy black hair behind an ear. Her heart seemed to swell in anxiety, her mind teeming with unanswered questions. She quickened her pace, keeping her eyes fixed on the narrow road that vanished into the thick foliage of trees a few yards ahead of them. The sounds of their heavy breathing and the clanking jewelry echoed through the unusually still air. 
“Grandmother,” Gitana whispered. “They are closing in. How much farther must we journey until we've reached the caves?"
Madam Dulca frowned. “Hush child!” she snapped. “I am aware of their presence. We shall not travel far.” 
The buildings of the town fell away behind them as they quickly dove into the greenery of trees. They broke into a run. The trail was vague and seemed to twist sharply at odd angles, vanishing into random shrubbery and clusters of old, gnawed trees leaning askew to the sides. Gitana glanced back over her shoulder at her hobbling grandmother. The old woman shot her a warning look. Run. Do not waste time fussing over me. She spared herself a brief look at the sky. The last of the sun’s rays were dipping over the horizon, submerging the forest into a rapidly growing darkness. 
Nightfall would soon be upon them. 
Caw! A single bird cried out into the approaching night. Gitana’s heartbeat sped up. She glanced back at her grandmother again. Where were the caves? She reached into the pocket of her blouse and pulled out a string of twelve beads. Her footsteps thudded nosily through the woods, twigs snapping feebly beneath her boots, bushes rustling as she passed through them. Time was running out. They would soon find them.
“How far must we go?” Gitana cried out. She peeked once more over her shoulder. 
The old woman was gone. Gitana stopped short with a startled cry. She spun around. Her grandmother was nowhere in sight. Indecision slammed into her like a tidal wave. Should I continue to the caves with the others? Should I fetch her? Where could she have gone? She tightened her grip on the black beads. She moved slowly, gripping her knapsack tightly in one hand, and lowered herself to the ground. She placed the beads to her forehead with a trembling hand and closed her eyes. 
“Fac apel pentru elementul Luminii Sacre,” she whispered and sucked in a breath of air. “Ajutor pentru mine în căutarea mea de a căuta adevărul. Spune- mi, unde se găsesc bunica mea iubita?”
She waited in silence for several moments. Then she felt it. 
It was warm and pleasant. Slow at first, but growing steadily as a familiar heat emitted from the beads and pricked at her forehead with a persistent, prickling sensation. Gitana bit down on her lip to keep from shouting out. She willed the memory of her grandmother to appear in her mind: her scraggly black hair, large protruding ears, and small, gaunt neck. The heat intensified, spreading from her forehead to the sides of her head, jabbing ruthlessly at her temples. 
Her eyes came into focus, dark and large like marbles, followed by a large, bulbous nose, thin lips, and russet skin creased with age like worn leather. She saw her necklace, its golden coins glittering brightly in the light that penetrated her mind. Her shawl, flowered calf-length skirt, and bare feet came last. Her hands now shook violently as the light dove deeper into her mind, pushing past her emotions, viciously pulling at the back corners of her mind. 
“Ahh!” Gitana cried. “Arata-mi, mare Lumina sacră! Mi dezvaluie locul bunicii mele!”
She let out a long, helpless scream as her forehead began to burn, the light expanding in her mind. She saw trees and within those trees, lying on the dirt floor of the woods, was Madam Dulca. She was clutching a golden talisman in her hands, the contents of her knapsack scattered all around her. Her eyes remained closed, but her lips moved, quietly reciting an incantation Gitana knew all too well. High above her, perched calmly on a single blackened branch was the bird. 
Gitana’s body shuddered violently as the light finally exploded in her mind. The beads fell to the ground as she was thrown a few feet away, coughing and sputtering in pain. Her eyes watered, her head and body ached, but she managed a sigh of relief. Her grandmother was still alive, but at the mercy of their dreaded feathered fiend. She touched her scalding forehead gingerly with her fingertips and winced. 
With great difficulty, she climbed to her feet and quickly gathered her things. She sped off in the direction of her grandmother. 
“You foul beast,” Madam Dulca grunted as she struggled to sit up. 
Her bones ached from having been thrown to the ground, the bird having repelled her last spell. 
The bird said nothing. Instead, he met its victim’s glare with one of its own. Its inky feathers shown brilliantly in the silver light of the moon, like smooth obsidian, but its eyes remained shadowed by the surrounding darkness. The old woman clung to the golden talisman with her remaining strength. Surely Gitana might have reached the caves by now. The sealing ceremony was to be performed before the midnight hour struck. A small grin played on Madam Dulca’s lips. She could not banish the creature to where it came, but she could definitely lock away its abilities. 
“Begone, you filthy creature!” she cried. “For you befoul these hallowed grounds!” 
“I will not ask again,” the bird responded. “You know what I want from you. And I will have it.” 
“Elementul de foc! Vin în ajutorul meu!” The old woman held the talisman out. 
A jetstream of yellow-orange fire spouted from the center of the talisman, bathing her surroundings in bright light. 
Caw! The bird leaped into the air, its dark wings flapping vigorously as the flame shot past like a comet. Madam Dulca grinned and flicked her wrist. The beam curved and made another attempt at the bird.
“Now for the last attack!” Madam Dulca pulled out a final a final object: a golden coin, the last from her necklace. She held it out towards the bird.
“Elementul Luminii Sacre! Vin în ajutorul meu!” 
With the last of her strength, Madam Dulca tossed both of the amulets toward the flapping bird. 
“No!” The bird howled in despair. “Sacred Fire? This cannot be!” 
The two objects collided head on with the winged animal before they concurrently burst. Madam Dulca dove for the ground and flung her arms over her head as the explosion shook the earth. 
“Grandmother!” Gitana shouted as she broke into the clearing and stared at the sizzling pile of ash before her. 
Madam Dulca groaned as she rolled over onto her back. She wheezed and waves of pain slammed into her at all ends relentlessly. Gitana hurried over and dropped down to her side, beads in her hand. She scooped the frail woman’s body into her arms and placed the beads onto her chest. 
“Take me to the caves, Gitana!” Madam Dulca demanded. “Now.” 
Gitana knew better than to argue with her. She tossed the beads into the sky. “Elementul de vânt! Vin în ajutorul meu! Ne transporta la destinație dorit!”
A sudden gust of wind wrapped around them and hurled them into the air. Gitana clung to her wounded grandmother as they sailed atop the trees. Madam Dulca sighed and let her eyes flutter shut. 
Gitana gasped. “Grandmother?” she screamed. She shook her by the shoulders. “Grandmother? Are you gravely injured? Please stay with me! We’re almost there!”
“Reunite with the others,” Madam Dulca whispered. “Hurry… before the midnight hour!”
Gitana’s eyes welled up with tears. “Please don’t die,” she whispered. “Please.”
A series of caves came into view and the winds dropped them at the edge of another clearing, this one better and brightly lit with a large bonfire. Gitana quickly hoisted her grandmother into her arms and stalked forward, stumbling and sobbing as she went. 
They broke into the clearing. The caves were silent like the night. 
“Tamás!” Gitana shrieked. She staggered forward and placed the unconscious Madam Dulca on the ground near the fire. 
“János! Katarzyna! Dunja!” Gitana let out aloud wail. “Anyone here? Grandmother is injured! She needs help! We have dealt with the bird!”
Still no answer. She ran to the first cave and stepped inside. Her shadow danced along the wall as she moved. 
She stopped and sniffed. The smell wafted towards her, sickly sweet and acidic, assaulted her nostrils. Gitana staggered back, clutching her churning stomach, and struggled to remain upright. Her eyes swam and she heaved the contents of her stomach over the cave floor. And that’s when she noticed it. The charred remains of human bodies scattered all around her. 
“Oh Doamne,” she breathed as another wave of nausea washed over her.
She dropped to her knees then, shaking her head back and forth so hard that her scarf fell off her head. And with the last of her strength, she let out a final scream of anguish.