No one thought the Fields of Shantara would be the decisive battle against the tyranny of the Verbeni. For a dozen generations, the invaders of the colony world of Grazoria had ruled the human race with cruel efficiency, and although the resistance fighters were outgunned and out manned, they were courageous. Their harassment of the enemy gave the populace hope, until their exploits became legends for their children and their grandchildren.
“Well, it’s about damn time.” She was more provocative than beautiful, though her piercing brown eyes, dark chestnut-colored hair, and burgundy-painted lips were definitely alluring. She was leaning over her tucked in legs, the skirt of her short, deep, Prussian blue dress hiked up, revealing ample, pale-skinned thighs and just a little more besides…and she was barefoot. Her expression was expectant with a dash of mischievousness.
Since my divorce, I’d been living in a flat on the third floor of a converted Victorian in Boise’s counter-culture North End. Having parked my car around back, I was walking up the front steps, a sack of groceries from the Co-Op balanced in my right arm, while thumbing through my keys with my left.
“I beg your pardon?” I paused on the ancient concrete steps, a cold January breeze blowing from the north chilling me. I thought I wouldn’t be out very long and so only put on a light jacket, and now I was shivering.
William Blake knew he was in trouble when he saw the zebra unraveling like a ball of twine, especially since there shouldn’t be any free roaming zebras in the high desert southeast of Boise.
“Get a grip, get a grip, get a grip,” he muttered to himself, pressing his hands on each side of his head. The vision wouldn’t go away, but neither did the zebra seem to mind its condition.
“Of all days, why did it have to happen today?” Every New Year’s morning, the forty-eight-year-old electrical designer took a walk in the open fields south of his home, symbolically welcoming a year of new hope. “But I have to be at Edna’s in an hour for breakfast. I can’t go like this.”
The zebra moved on but then the clouds started turning themselves inside out, swirling and shifting from white to silver, then to magenta and turquoise. The grass around his ankles and then all across the field. writhed like serpents and rubbed against his legs like affectionate house cats, while the trees in the distance grew and expanded to Pellucidar-like proportions. Then the sky became granite and the ground turned to vapor, but neither did the atmosphere collapse upon him, nor did he fall through the mist.
Aging widower Shannon Hart remembered the sound of the crackling of burning logs in the fireplace at home in the middle of a dark, quiet night as he stared across the low, rolling hills, watching fog freeze onto the widely spaced pine trees, a faint, unending dawn resting on the eastern horizon. Three weeks ago, his youngest grandson Drew came up here to perform the solitary winter solstice ceremony at the family’s wilderness wickiup. He was due back late last week but never returned.
The twelve clans all sent volunteers ready to search for him, but Shannon respectfully declined, and as a clan head, it was his prerogative. The secrets of the wickiup had been jealously guarded for untold generations. Even his own clan, the Tromsø, didn’t know what was hidden in the sacred acres owned by the Harts.
The eighty-year-old had been worried, and even tried to dissuade Drew from performing the ritual that the old man normally observed, but the twenty-eight year old had become a father earlier in the month. He claimed the right of a single boon from the clan elder as a birth gift, and Shannon had no choice but to grant it.
Today was the day that Stefan Günther determined he would finally speak to his own personal Mona Lisa. Everyday for weeks, she sat across from him on the S-train as he made his evening commute home to his one-bedroom apartment outside of Wiesbaden and she went to who knew where.
“Hi. My name’s Stefan.” The twenty-seven-year-old accountant leaned into the aisle hoping she could hear him over the train noise and all the other conversations around them. “Since you smile at me every time I see you, I thought I should introduce myself.”
“Ludovica. Pleased to meet you, Stefan.” Her accent was unmistakably Italian and the same, subtle smile she had been wearing throughout all of their silent encounters never left her lips.
“Pleased to meet you.” He took her hand and remembered not to apply too much pressure. Her skin was warm and smooth, and her scent was slightly earthy speaking, he hoped, of seduction.
“I don’t mean to be too forward, Ludovica, but why do you always smile at me?”
“I like to smile. Besides, you remind me of someone.”
He chuckled nervously. “Anyone in particular.”
“If I like you, I might tell you someday.”
“Why did you want me to try to paint Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ on your back? No one will see it unless your shirt is off, and I told you, I can’t make a perfect duplicate of it anyway.” Nineteen-year-old Danny Cross was waiting for his most recent touches to the painting on Marta’s back to dry. The white glare from the snow-covered college quad streamed in through the window of his second-floor dorm room, as she casually lay upon an old down blanket on the floor between the two beds. His slender left hand, looking so much like a girl’s, poised over the waistband of her stretch pants, and he felt a persistent urge and swelling in his own, while wondering if his rail-thin frame was pressing down too hard on her.
“I told you, it didn’t have to be perfect. I just want you to capture the style. Inspiration will do the rest.”
To the sophomore, her voice sounded like a young Lauren Bacall from the old movie “To Have or Have Not,” which he’d just watched in his American film classics class. He watched his pianist thin fingers, slip slowly under her waist band, and felt a sexual thrill at the warmth of her skin and the roundness at the top of her ass.
“Hey, get your hand out of there.” In mid-sentence, Marta’s tone shifted from annoyed to playful, but he jerked his hand away suddenly. “Not that I don’t think you’re cute, but we don’t have time for that right now.”
Christina rubbed her soft, feline fur against Gwendolyn’s face as the ten-year-old girl looked into the distance at nothing and everything.
“Yes, I can see it now, too, dearest.” The child was entranced at the interplay between energies from four of the ten dimensions.
“Silly little one, Christina chided. I detected the intermix ages ago.” In mid-sentence, the white cat’s tone changed from one of annoyance to affection, for she dearly loved the girl, and she always would.
“That’s because you are wise.” To anyone looking at the scene, the fifth grader was lying on her bed on a lazy Wednesday afternoon after school, contemplating gray clouds which threatened rain later in the evening. Yet gazing into her eyes, it would have been easy to tell that they might as well have been blind, at least to anything in the so-called “real world.”
“It’s best not to get too lost in the vision, my sweet, lest you lose your way and be forever swept into other spaces.”
“Why are you doing this to me?” Charlotte was terrified as she felt herself slowly dissolving. Where was she? How had she gotten here?
“I promise, it’s for the best.” His voice was soothing, melodic, and sensual. His touch…she could feel hands, but not hands, caressing her body, touching her everywhere, probing every part of her.
He didn’t stop. She hated him, hated what he was doing to her, but it was so much more intense than any sex she’d ever had, even with her husband. How could she hate it and it still felt so exciting?
“Stop it! Don’t! Please! She climaxed three times, wailing and writhing, and then what she felt became more intense, but in a completely different way.
“Hey, Death. How’s it hanging?”
“Same old, same old. You know how it goes.”
“Not me. What do I know about being Death?”
“Yeah. Guess you’ve got a point. Want a smoke?”
“Nah. I got what I want right here.” The twenty-two year old lifted a gallon jug of Jack Daniels to his lips and gulped down a couple of swallows.
“Mind if I?” The spectral figure in black held out his left hand while his cigarette still smoldered in his right.
“Go ahead.” A lot of people thought Sam was goth because of his clothes and make up, but it was all to honor his BFF.
Natalie had calculated the exact number of images and other objects suspended on the wall at a glance. She filed away that value, along with item categorizations, for later use. She did the same for the books, opened and closed, the number of light sources, active and inactive, brushes, pencils, liquid, semi-liquid, and solids containers. In less time than it would have taken her to brush her long, thick, brunette hair, she had learned everything she considered relevant about the room’s interior.
However, she had yet to discover what it all meant, at least beyond the literal understanding.
“Noel Gray is an artist.” She uttered the words like a holy revelation, even though she had been provided with that information before arriving here. She correlated what she knew of art in general, then of graphic design, types, media, notable examples of artists and their works, and then compared that data to everything in the room and what she knew of Noel Gray so she could construct the necessary context.
George had related to her what he believed was necessary for her to know about her assignment, and then had the Uber deliver her to the address just past noon. The front door was open, which she expected, and her instructions only said to go to Noel’s studio and wait.