Flash: X is for Xanthic

Photo 159761726 © Darius Bau�ys | Dreamstime.com
The rotunda in the Central city Park of Odessa on Deribasivska Street. Ukraine
(photo paid for through Dreamstime.com – please purchase from them so that the artist may be paid)

Flash: X is for Xanthic

A weight bounced on my bed. “I’m ready.”

“Ready for what?” I shoved up my sleeping mask and opened one bleary eye to focus on my special American fully dressed for the day, laying across half my bed, sunlight streaming in behind them bathing them in yellow.

“For the slide show, let’s go, chingu.” They slapped the covers gently, rolled over, and headed down the steps from my loft.

I don’t have a door. Xanadu got the one room in our open space as their bedroom, other than the bathroom, with the door. I might need to rethink that. Especially when obviously they had a conversation in the shower without filling me on my side of whatever happened. Maybe a dream. Likely a dream. Maybe this was one now.

“Coffee’s ready!” They shouted below. “Morning is awasting!”

Not a dream. I groaned and roll out of bed. Stripping out of my pajamas, I replaced them with slacks and a button-down short-sleeve peach shirt. I pick up the linen jacket from where I laid out my clothes for today’s afternoon interviews last night and circle the staircase to our kitchenette below my loft. When they opened their mouth to dive into whatever part of reality I missed, I held up a finger. “Juda coffee.”

They passed me a mug. I smelled the sweetened bitter brew. Enough sugar to give the caffeine of the French press jitters, and a spoonful of matcha powder with a pinch of cinnamon to give caffeine a leg up on the sugar. I leaned on the counter and sipped the steamy mug down to half. While I did that, Xanadu finished making us both Korean street toast, dropping the ketchup bottle on our island. They added cabbage to our grocery list before sitting down with their green tea opposite me.

We gave proper consideration to their cooking skills and ate the egg and vegetable sandwiches in silence. Tomorrow starts my three days cooking and I would need to do the grocery run tonight. So far alternating three days cooking each with one day off for Saturday hijinks has worked, but we were only on the second week of living together.

Pushing the plate to their side of the island with the empty mug, I asked them, “Alright, what slide show?”

“The one you keep putting off, of course.” Xanadu slipped off the stool and took our dishes to the dishwasher.

“Oh, that one.” I pinched the top of my nose and rubbed. “Don’t you have to do prep work for your commission on the Manyard columns?”

“Got it done this morning waiting for you to wake up. I got them scanned and off to Georgio before I started the coffee.” Xanadu walked around the island and pressed a finger to my chest while looking into my eyes. It wasn’t often they were at my height, but the stool made us equal eye level. “I am clear of all projects. This won’t impact anything I am making.”

I looked over their shoulder at the open space behind them. A corner of the room was sectioned off behind privacy screens where my photography computers lived. The rest of the space included a long table, a pottery wheel, a curtained section near a window to work wood, and a stack of boxes where a stained-glass dragon fighting a tiger resided until the greenhouse the contracted buyer finished being adjusted for the art piece. We grabbed the space recommended by one of my father’s friends once we realized we did not actually want to live in New York City, and Georgio, the art agent Xanadu had lucked into getting before graduation, let them know he had galleries on both coasts. Everything in their studio was cleaned up and packed away. “Don’t you need to make examples of the columns?”

“Not until the initial sketches are approved.”

“Okay.” I pushed up from the chair and walked over to my office area. Xanadu grabbed one of the folding chairs left behind by the last renters we will use for guests once we started having them, and added it to the cordoned off space, flipping it around to side in to astride, leaning their head on their arms across the back. I fired up my desktop and waited the few seconds for the three monitors to load everything, then activated the sixty-inch screen. “Are you sure?”

Xanadu switched to Korean. “Seok, you see my work every step of the way. I want to see yours too.”

“Your work uplifts, mine reveals.” I paused, to concentrate on clicking until I got to the curated pictures I had taken during my senior exchange student time. The group I put together for my final project. “These are unpleasant.”

“But their yours. Stop protecting me.” Xanadu firmly ordered. “If these are things that need to be revealed, reveal them.”

I looked at the clock on the computer and set an alarm for 1:00 so I wouldn’t miss my interview, then opened the first picture. I debated describing it in English, but ended up choosing French since that was mostly what I spoke while I was there. “You know how I love art everywhere. This hospital’s stonework is from where it served as an abbey in the 1300s. I spent a full day there just filling my camera USB.” I clicked through a dozen of the best pictures, until the last showed rubble and a wing of gargoyle. “It was bombed during the ‘softening’ exercises. They didn’t have time to evacuate the bedridden.” The next picture was a mangled bed, the obviously used bedsheets still on what was left of the mattress.

Xanadu gasped softly beside me, but I didn’t look over.

“This was the city park, about five blocks from where the university students stayed. I spent a lot of time there taking photos as winter switched to spring. The landscaping included hundreds of unique plants gathered over the centuries…”

(992 words, first published 6/9/2024)

Capturing the Tiger and Dragon Series

  1. X is for Xenophile (4/28/2024)
  2. X is for Xylotomous (5/19/2024)
  3. X is for Xanthic (6/9/2024)
  4. Exhibit (7/14/24)
  5. Exit Strategy (9/1/2024)

Flash: X is for Xylotomous

Photo 47572273 © Outcast85 | Dreamstime.com

(paid for – if you wish a copy, please go to dreamtime and pay the artist, thanks!)

I dropped my bags and dug out my key. The light leaking under the door indicated that Xanadu was in their studio even though the sun hadn’t edged above the mountains enough to highlight the bell tower. They were more likely still there from yesterday although they sometimes woke before dawn with an idea that couldn’t wait for breakfast, but either way I wanted to see them now that I was back in the States. Everything else could wait. Unless they were carving.

“Who’s there?” Xanadu asked as they walked from behind one of the many curtains in the large room. “Seok!” They ran and threw themselves at me.

I barely caught the ball of energy that was my favorite American. Managing the momentum by spinning in a circle, I returned the hug preventing me from breathing as soon I was confident we weren’t going to fall over.

“What are you doing back? I thought you were gone to the end of the semester? Graduation, right? It’s not June fourteen, is it? Did I miss a day? A week? No the fourteenth is next month. Right? Oh my god you are back, I’m so glad to have you back.”

After they unwrapped their legs from around me, they slid down my body until they had both feet on the floor, giving me time to catch my breath so I could answer a question. “I missed you too, chingu-choo.” My Korean endearment switched to a sneeze mid-word.

“Oh, sorry, sorry. I’m covered in sawdust.” Xanadu started brushing their apron, jeans and shirt, and then started slapping my wrinkled traveling shirt clear of the material transferred during the hug, setting off several more sneezes for me.

“It’s okay, it’s okay.” I tried grabbing their calloused hands as I switch to Korean, telling them to calm down. Xanadu always understood me better in my native language, they followed my language switch, taking on the more restricted body mannerisms as well as changing the verbal tongue.

They let me grasp their hands between us, before they said, “My best friend, I have missed you like the mountains miss the snow, climbing ever higher to find it, and never lose it again.”

I was rather proud of the sijo poetry moment and smiled down at them as I tucked a loose curl under the handkerchief they used to keep sculpting debris out of their hair. They were asexual and aromantic, but they had learned Korean poetry for me. I lifted up their chin and studied the dark circles under their eyes and the sharpness of their cheekbones. “I believe I had received promises you would eat well and sleep soundly.”

“You did, but I see you have done less well on that task than I.” They reached up their rough strong hands, pulling mine away from their sharp unplucked chin. “May a friend ask what happened?”

“War.” I frown, reliving the tense moments I lived through with the three other exchange students getting smuggled off campus and on a plane two days ago. “It’s spreading.”

Xanadu closed their dark eyes and reopened them. “There are many pictures in your camera.”

“There are.”

“Will you let me see them?”

“Only after we have slept and eaten. Maybe twice.”

They gave me a half smile, then shook, throwing off the emotion and switching to French, the third language we have in common. After that we diverge, me with Mandarin, Arabic, and Urdu, plus Russian in a pinch. They with German and a spattering of Spanish. Children of politicians assigned to foreign posts gave us a unique bond freshman year during the “get to know you” mixer. “Want to see what I have been doing for my senior project?”

Oui bien sur.”

A mischievous smile lit their face. “Excellent. It’s variations on a theme.”

“The dragon and the tiger.” I responded. Variations on a theme was expected; their advisor loved having students explore different mediums.

“How did you guess?” Their face mock fell.

I nodded to the huge scrap metal sculpture in the area closest to the outer double-wide door tall enough to get cars through. Some disassembly would be required to get the tiger leaping at the dragon out of the building. Inside the steel bodies two spiral hunks of metal spun, the dragon in red and the tiger in yellow, like internal flames found in the lanterns which inspired the sculpture. “That gave it away, mon ami.”

“Yeah, it kind-of does, doesn’t it?” They scratched the side of their head, setting some of the dust still clinging to the handkerchief lose. “Would you like to see the rest?” They waved to the smaller statue next to it. “I tried it to do driftwood next after the scrap metal assignment. Professor Altschwager kept harping on scrap metal and using found materials. Not all of us want to be welders, but it made her happy.”

We walked over to the driftwood, and I circle the sculpture. A mask descended on my face. Where the scrap metal had life and unexpected twists like the cutlery used for the tiger’s and dragon’s claws – forks and spoons – the driftwood looked, well, dead. I would never take a picture of it unless I needed it specifically for an article.

“Yeah,” Xanadu switched to English, “you can say it’s shit.”

“It is very well done shit,” I replied. “One might even classify it as manure.”

“She gave me an A for it because, and I quote, ‘you are showing your true skills as an artist now that you have left playdough behind.’”

I wince. “Why is she still your advisor, again?”

“Have you met, Graspy Gallagher?”

The fine arts department only had three professors at any time, Gallagher, the chair, and known for being an equal opportunity ‘hands-on’ instructor so long as you were small and young, Altschwager, an instructor in love with being cutting edge and advent-garde, so long as you did things her way, and a random grad-student cycling in from a nearby sister University, picking up their teaching requirements toward a masters or doctorate.

“If I burn it, will you be heartbroken?”

“This is why you are my best friend.” They hugged me from the side. “Absolutely, we shall make the biggest bonfire the day after my exhibition is over.” Stepping away, they circled the monstrosity again. They tapped two fingers against their lips. “Only maybe not, because the way the wood came together at the bottom gave me the final idea for the bronze.”

I dropped my eyes from the soaring battle originally inspired by the Winter Seoul Lantern Festival we had gone to before I packed off to my political science program in Europe. “Oh, yeah, that is…” I turned my head sideways before dropping to a knee. The support of the dragon and tiger to leap at each other had removed their lower legs, yet the substitute structure flowed… I reached behind me for my camera and grasped nothing. It was still packed in the bags outside the studio door.

Their eyes twinkled as I blushed and stood up. “Ready to see the bronzes?”


Xanadu guided me to a curtained area. Two sizes of dragon-tiger pairing shined on the shelves besides her pottery and clay sculptures.

“No clay variation?”

“Not where Altschwager will ever see,” my friend growled. “But there are four of them. I shipped them to New York. One’s a pot, one is a relief, and the other two are more traditional. The one I was finally happy with became,” they walked to where the bronzes sat on the shelves and waved at them like a game show host. The lower group of five stood nearly three feet tall while the upper, smaller ten casted pieces were about a foot each. Among the metal pieces were the casts used to create them looking the worse for wear. “I have to give the school five to auction off over the next few years in fundraisers. They are getting the small ones. But…” They picked up a wadded ball of cloth with care and brought it over to me. “This is for you.”

I accepted the cloth and unwrapped it. It was a sixteenth bronze, the bottom inscribed with the year and her name as the maker, and mine as the inspiration in Korean letters. I turned it, seeing the driftwood had became clouds and waves lifting the dragon and tiger into the eternal battle in the sky. I ran my fingers over the imperfections, gaps between the dragon scales, a missing claw on the tiger.

“Sorry it isn’t perfect. I couldn’t justify ordering more bronze. That shit is expensive. So I gathered the scraps from cleaning the others, then assembled the most intact parts of the molds and snuck this in under the wire for me using the smelting lab.”

“No, it is perfect.” I choked and swallowed hard. “A true original.” I smiled through the tears. “A Xanadu Georgladis original.”

“That is for sure, no one else’s will look like that one.”

I coughed to clear my voice before asking, “Anything else?”

“There is the stained glass next.”

“How did you afford that?” I frowned as we ducked between curtains, the tiger-dragon statue weighing heavily in my hands.

“You remember how we had that woman next to us on the plane ride back to the states?”

“The … editor?” Was that only six months ago?

“Yeah, well, she got stuck at a table at a gala with an art critic or gallery owner or both.” Xanadu stopped outside of another curtained off area. “It’s a New York thing, going to galas I think. Anyway.” They quieted, smiling up at me, waiting.

“Anyway?” And I gave them the answer they sought. I missed them.

“Anyway. She had gotten my name because she had been completely thrilled to meet a sculpturer. Remember how she said she had edited a few fantasy books but hadn’t been able to fact check the art descriptions. Well, she friended me as soon as we landed, and I did it right back.”

“You can’t have too many friends,” we said together. An important adage we both learned in diapers thanks to our parents.

“And at the gala, she broke out her phone and showed the art critic the new person she met flying back the day before. Showed him my website.” Xanadu paused, laid a hand on my wrist. “Thank you for setting that up for me, taking all the pictures, everything.”

“He loved Mothra didn’t he?” Mothra was a concrete statue in the student art garden from her sophomore year. Around the medallion bottom were hundreds of caterpillars, all species native to our state. Above them were an opened cocoon, the outside filled with Greek letters giving all the traditional subjects of knowledge, and above that rising out of the cocoon flew a West Coast Lady butterfly. They had given it a big long intellectual name which appeared on the plaque in front of the sculpture, but its nickname on campus was Mothra.

“Offered to find me a buyer, said he wouldn’t accept less than a quarter million for it. And he would only go that low because I was an unknown, but the school owns Mothra since they paid for the concrete and gave me a grant to make it.  I sent him some of my clay work instead, including the test piece for the bronzes.”

“Which he, having the heart of a goblin instead of an artist promptly sold,” I guessed.

“God bless globin patronage.”

“May we all be so blessed.”

They chuckled as we finished our exchange. That had been the result of several very long arguments about the heart of art and the stomach needing food being the way to an artist’s heart. “I was really blessed. Two of the large bronzes and one of the small bronzes which I am allowed to keep are already under contract.”

“How much?”

They gave me a number which would pay for the apartment we had been looking at in New York City to kick start our careers, for the two years we guestimated it would take to become established. Not the apartment with the amount of money we thought we could beg off our parents without feeling like total losers; no, our wishlist one with space for their studio and my photography computers. “And I still have three large bronzes and four small bronzes to sell, plus the stained glass and word carving ones the clays paid the materials for so the school doesn’t get a dime from them either.”

I grip the bronze in my hand and reevaluate its worth. I hope I never need to sell it. But it could get me out of some real tight scrapes like the one I just escaped. Art gets you further than cash in some circles.

“Ready to see the glass.”

I nodded and they pulled aside the curtain, leading to a shadowed area.

“It’s complete, except for the internal lights on the tiger.” They moved over to a metal cart and pushed some buttons.

The memory of the driftwood was gone and only waves becoming clouds remained. The dragon’s moustache and beard tangled with the tiger’s jowled mane. Blue, green, and red crash with orange, brown, and luminous black. The tiger glass at this time only reflecting the bright dragon.

How is that hundreds of glass pieces soldered together?

I forgot to breathe.

“Well, what do you think?” Xanadu returned to my side. “Seok? Anything? It’s horrible isn’t it? Don’t spare my feelings, come on. You are my best critic. You are always honest. I know. I stink. I don’t know why I quit my political major for this.”

“Xanadu.” I managed to creak out. I clear my throat and try again, my voice still only a whisper. “Xan, Xan. It’s amazing.”

“I am just a glorified potter. Professor Altschwager is right. I should just throw mud in politics because I am not worthy of throwing mud on the wheel.”


They stop, stunned. I don’t shout much.

“It is the most amazing thing I have seen in my life and it kills me there is no way I can capture it on film.”

“I … really?” They stare up at me.


A smile creeped up their face.

I repeat myself. “Really.”


I nod at them. “Okay.”

“You are the first person, other than Jordan who helped with the soldering and Christo with the electrical, to see this.”

“Not even the advisor from hell?”

“No, not even her. She stopped visiting with the bronzes. Said the statues showed I could make a living recreating casts of famous statues for the mass market. Said she would give me a final passing grade so long as I didn’t screw up the senior exhibit.”

My eyes drift back to the lit stained glass. I couldn’t not look. “Mi-chin nyeon.”

Xanadu bit back a laugh. “Rude.”

I had gone a little far with that profanity, but I wasn’t taking it back. There was no way Professor Altschwager was that tone-deaf with the real talent Xandadu represented. “You said you had some woodwork?”

“Yes, I was getting that ready now. I finally found the perfect wood to finish.” They bounced over to the electrical controls and turned off the stained-glass statue. My heart fell, then resumed its normal beating in my chest. “I couldn’t find the right wood for the dragon scale. I went through everything and then I picked up some padauk from the imports over in the city.” They went over to the other side of the curtain and hit it a few times until two parts separated and they held them open. I looked over my shoulder one last time before the curtain closed.

The final curtain opened to the smell of linseed oil. The smell of cooked glass and drying clay which permeated the rest of the studio became overpowered by the smell of wood and oil.

The statue was unfinished. Clearly so.

But the thing is, Xanadu is first and foremost a sculpturer. Assembly of scrap metal or driftwood, working with casts, and putting together the complicated jigsaw of stained glass. That they can do, but it isn’t their strength. Give them clay to build a face, cement to shape a butterfly, marble to create a thought of a storm, and the world will stand still. Wood can be carved, sculptured.

The other stuff wasn’t three-D to start with. It was never alive.

I turned away and hit the walls until I found an exit and strode to the front door in the bright light of morning shining through the windows. I popped open my carryon and pulled out my camera and ran back into the room.

We didn’t make breakfast at the student union, but we did make lunch.

(2,814 words, first published 5/19/2024)

Capturing the Tiger and Dragon Series

  1. X is for Xenophile (4/28/2024)
  2. X is for Xylotomous (5/19/2024)
  3. X is for Xanthic (6/9/2024)
  4. Exhibit (7/14/24)
  5. Exit Strategy (9/1/2024)

Flash: Endlessly Creative

Image acquired from the internet hivemind

“I will only speak of Professor Pelphrey in glowing terms, describe Truth and Consequences as an easy course, and keep all secrets shared within these walls dear and quiet. This I, Gael Dubhlainn Raisie McFadden, swear. By my will.” Gael stood in the back row, legs braced apart, arms crossed. Braxton had swirled his chair to face his friend and listen as Gale, the oldest and therefore the last of the eighteen students, swore the oath the instructor required. Each classmate had ended the oath differently; she had said whatever felt right. The results ranged from “amen” to “so mote it be.”

The petite woman in her black linen trousers over matching sensible leather shoes, houndstooth oversize jacket, and white silk blouse plus about her body weight in jewelry, nodded her acceptance of the last oath, her shoulder-length hair swinging forward.

At her nod, he sat down beside his best friend. “Did you feel—”

“The snap, like when I shoved your shoulder into place after you dislocated it playing freebie, yeah.”

“What are we getting into?” Gael whispered as they watched the professor walk over to the lectern stand for the first time she entered the class twenty minutes ago, carrying the small stack of books and paperwork she brought with her.

Braxton gave his half smile. “Don’t know but worth it.”

“I hope so.”

After tucking the materials in the pedestal, except for one folder she placed on top, Professor Pelphrey mounted a small step stool to bring her head level with the classroom microphone. “Miss Faukner, you had a question I asked you to hold until everyone finished their oaths. You may ask it now.”

Being the youngest of the group and the only Freshman of the lot, Wren stumbled over her question after holding it for so long. “Umn, well, you had the others, I mean people left after you said … How did the … You told us how tough the course was and then let people leave. How come they don’t tell everyone that this isn’t an easy ‘A’?”

“They egressed through the Oubliette Doors.” The teacher pointed at the double doors to her left. “They are charmed with forgetfulness. Do not use them now that you have sworn into the class, unless you have decided to permanently walk away from what we will be learning here. When you leave today, use the back door. The bathroom is right outside the upper door, if you need to go. If one of your fellow students exits through the Oubliette, you have two hours to get them to me and get the charm removed before the memory of what occurred in this room is gone forever. The students that left before the oath will be transferred to Dr. Torbett’s class and only reminisce about not clicking with my course when I described it if anyone asks. I will keep the doors locked while class is in session, to be on the safe side, but during open study labs, you will need to master yourselves.”

“Oh,” Wren looked confused. This had to be tough as her first university course ever. Gael struggled, and he was a senior. “Okay. Charmed you say … what is oblique mean?”

“Oubliette, means ‘I forgot’.” The professor turned on the projector and showed a picture of a hole in the ground with a grate over it, the surroundings looked like a medieval castle, but not in the good part of the castle. “It’s a type of dungeon, the name is French but they weren’t the only ones who used them. You drop a person down into the hole and forgot about them.” She flipped through a few other photos. Braxton shivered. “A horrible punishment, maybe rain water will fall in and keep you hydrated, maybe the jailors would come through and drop moldy bread or rotten fruits down. You could hear other people screaming in nearby holes, which provided some relief to know you weren’t alone in the world until the voices stopped. If you were lucky, the pit would be wide enough you could sit. Sometimes you would get pulled out if they remembered you before you died.” Pensively, the teacher studied the last frame where nearly a dozen holes covered in rough iron grates had been dug into a brick-and-mortar path. Turning to face the class, she deadpanned, “I don’t recommend it.”

The teacher closed her eyes and inhaled through her nose deeply.

“First truth, whatever you think is the worse that humans can do, is wrong.” The light clicked off, hiding the horrible image. “They are endlessly creative. You,” the teacher pointed to the class, her bracelets jingling musically, “are endlessly creative. Do not consider this,” she waved at the blank screen behind her and her bracelets clanged harsh, “a competition. You will lose, either yourself or your purpose and I cannot tell you which is worse.” Pausing, she looked out at the classroom. “Next question.”

Braxton raised his hand. Gael hit him under the desk, which the professor could easily see being at a lower level.

“Yes, Mr. Huffel.”

“How old are you?”

The teacher’s eyebrows raised into her hairline, “Why do you ask?”

“You said you taught Wren’s mom, or at least remembered her.” The bio-chem senior shook his head in disbelief. “There is no way you are in your late forties.”

“I’ve been teaching at this institution since it was established.” The teacher tilted her head waiting for her students to do the math.

LeeAnn, a junior in the front row spoke first. “No, no way. The university started in 1747. That is over 200 years ago.”

“Two hundred seventy-seven, to be exact,” Shanda said after typing in numbers into her laptop. “If you were twenty-three when you started teaching, you would be three hundred years old.”

“I’m a little older than that.” The teacher moved her file folder to touch the screen built into the lectern, then relit the wall. The painting hanging in the university’s main hall of the founding scientists appeared behind her. Ten people dressed in black robes with white wigs, two women and one very old man sitting in front, and the other seven standing around them. Around their necks were stoles in various jeweled colors. According to legend, three women and seven men started the college. The woman in the back, Caroline stood with her husband Jim Fangman, and both wore red for chemistry. The unmarried women in front sat either side of the old man, with his daughter Rachel on his left. Elias Spelman and his offspring wore green for agriculture and environmental science. The university also used it for biology. Braxton would be wearing a stole with red and green when he graduated.

The female on the right in the picture, rumored to be a mistress of one of the scientists, though which one changed every year, had a small stool to prop up her feet. The hands clasped in her lap were covered in a dozen rings, and the woman’s heart-shaped face bore a striking resemblance to Professor Pelphrey. Her stole was the clear gold the school used for governmental science.

“Fuck, her name is Madden Pelphrey. She said it right up front.” Gael wrote the professor’s name on the sheet of paper and underlined it hard. “We eat at Pelphrey Hall every day, and I thought she was just related. Got in at a young age because of who she knew.”

The class roared as each person talked to the others. Only Wren, who hadn’t been soaking up the university legends for years, remained silent, but her head spun around as the seniors behind her debated the authenticity of the teacher’s claim.

While they were arguing, the Professor Pelphrey took the folder to the front of the table and removed a stack of white printed paper from the folder, placing them on the table. Then she walked over to a cabinet beside the door she entered through and unlocked it. Inside were seven shelves of books. She pulled out a board built into the side and turned it sideway, upon which four steps unfolded from the board, becoming stairs for her to reach the top shelf. Once at the top, she unlocked the glass front of the shelf and slid it out and then up so it slid into the cabinet above the newly accessible shelf.

Students were beginning to raise hands when the teacher turned sideways on the steps and clicked the control, changing the image to a syllabus. “Ready to start learning?” her voice carried in the room, the carpet absorbing some of it, but the cement walls bouncing the rest.

“How old are you?” “You can’t be that old.” “You knew Spelman?” “Did you really do the wild thing with the Fangmans? “Can you tell us…” Everyone’s voices was speaking over the other.

The teacher raised her right hand, the houndstooth jacket sliding down to her elbow, and lifted her other hand to her lips placing two fingers there until the students started following suit. Some did it automatically, clearly familiar with the routine from their primary school days, while others looked side-to-side and started mimicking the rest of the class.

When everyone was quiet, Pelphrey spoke. “One off-topic question per day. You can decide among yourselves what you want that to be. The class will get an extra 10 points each if it is not one I have heard recently, 25 points if completely new.” When hands remained raised, she added, “and negative ten point for everyone for each question asked out of turn.” Hands dropped.

“Miss Faukner, could you hand out the syllabus to everyone? Don’t worry, I won’t make you do everything. Each person, in order of age, will help with the tasks. Mr. Quillon, could you come over here and hand out today’s texts? We got an hour left and a lot to cover today to get you ready for your self-study on Tuesday.”

(words 1,665; first published 5/12/2024)

Madden Series

  1. Truth and Consequences (3/17/2024)
  2. Endlessly Creative (5/12/2024)

Flash 2000: Someone who cares if you come home

Image from the Internet Hive Mind (original art pointed to an Amazon product, but it has been discontinued)

“Are you sure you don’t want stitches Cage?” Miracle Worker waved the large bandage over the wound, fanning the disinfectant she just sprayed to get it dry enough the adhesive would stick around the abrasion larger than both of her hands side by side, the dark circles under her eyes a testament to why she had switched from her superpowers to her medical training. The Gray Gremlin hadn’t come quietly, and the acquisition team had received a beating during the retrieval.

No civilians injured and minimal property damage, all of which had been owned by the unregistered Rarus, so a successful mission as far as their government bean counters were concerned.

Cage’s dark half rose up from behind the hero to examine the lacerations clawed into his host’s shoulders by the Gremlin’s mech suit, then shook his head before returning to his normal position attached to Cage opposite the light. “No, I should be good to heal them in a few days. But cover them up to prevent infection doc.”

“Don’t do anything to pull at them until they have closed.” She removed the protection off the adhesive and applied the bandage to the left arm Cage had skidded on after being tossed across the icy parking lot. “Two days at least, three would be better.”

“If you can get the universe to agree not to have any more Emergents and the admin keep me benched, I won’t have any problems.”

She laughed bitterly at the joke. “I might be able to order around the universe, but the board still hadn’t created the medical leave forms I have requested six zillion times.”

Cage knew it was on her Outlook program to send a request for all the medical needs once every four days, and it looks like she was wearing down before the governing board of normals. They must figure since Miracle Worker was available, actual planning for the medical needs of the supers in the Mid-Atlantic Region, or, really, anywhere since healer variations seemed to be the second most common form of super after basic physical enhancements like strength and agility and so all the regions had some healer coverage, was unnecessary. But the truth was the healers still hadn’t recovered for the COVID death watches. So many Emerged during the height of the pandemic to watch patient after patient die in cytokine storms. Physical trauma healers like Miracle Workers never stood a chance, and micro-specialists leaned more toward bacterial than viral invaders. People like GreenBread can stop pneumonia, but not the flu and certainly not COVID.

If the Rarus Asset Oversight Department and related Regional Boards didn’t get their heads out of their asses, the healers would figure out a way to leave America in droves despite Rarus travel restrictions. Doctor and nurses couldn’t keep up, even after a personal choice and years of training, how did they expect random adults who won the genetic lottery do any better?

“Well, if you can put a word in with the universe, I would appreciate it.”  Cage reached for his bright orange Malhalt armor jacket, but the healer jerked it away.

“No. Nothing tonight. Sleep sitting up, a soft blanket is you must have something cover you, and let your back, shoulders, and arm heal. Your uniform is half torn to shreds, you can get a new one in the morning.”

“Come on, Miracle.” He managed to keep the whine out of his voice but it was a near thing. “Don’t make me go through headquarters without a shirt.”

“Mighty Dude is already in bed. You should be fine.” She eyed his chest. “Besides under all the other bandages your scar is barely visible. And some girls like scars.”

“It’s the South.”

“Southern belles really like scars.” Red Chains injected from his elevated position in a hospital bed, with his newly healed rib cage and reinflated lung thanks to Miracle’s magic hands. He would be staying the night for observation since his primary and secondary powers didn’t include any healing abilities of his own.

“You should know Chain.” Cage responded.

“And you shouldn’t collect any more. You are hot enough.” Miracle walked over to the acquisition’s team restraint specialist, before glancing one last time to where Cage filled the doorway for her small nursing ward. “You too. Get yourself someone to distract you from all this. Someone who cares if you come home.”


Once back in their quarters, Shadow detached fully, gaining a glowing mouth and eyes while remaining silent. Sound only traveled from him while on the Dark Side; most of the time Cage and he were limited to a combination of charades and lip reading. He could hear just fine, just not speak. But he always had plenty to say.

Sliding around the room, he settled on the bed, gaining substance in the deeper shadows of the poorly lit room, while Cage dragged himself to his gaming recliner. His glowing smirk made Cage bark, “What?”

Shadow tapped his left inner arm, where a gray symbol showed up slightly lighter than the surrounding dark flesh.

“Shit, that’s still there?” Cage twisted his bandaged arm to look at the inner flat area. A matching symbol glowed on his arm, about the same level of gray, but against his Caucasian skin looking dark. “How did Miracle not notice?”

Shadow rolled his eyes and stood up. He had spent most of the fight inside Cage, so had received no injuries of his own and his host had opted not to transfer any. Going over, he touched Cage, attaching himself to his host as a true shadow and the symbol disappeared from the both of them.

“That’s impressive.” Shadow became his own being again, and Cage frowned at his arm as the symbol reappeared. “How the fuck did Pa-ah-Vector do that?”

Shadow shrugged, then held his left hand to his head with his thumb extended to his ear and his pinky extended to his bright mouth.

“I am not going to call her, it’s after three in the morning.”

Shadow shifted, throwing out a hip and putting his fists on the edges of his form, his glowing mouth downturned with sass, head tilted at an angle like he was leaning forward if he wasn’t basically two dimensional on the Light Side.

“You’re kidding me.”

Shadow crossed his arms.

“Dude, she has to be an unregistered.” Another body motion on his superpower-with-agency’s part gave a very definite if rather vulgar answer. “I know you don’t care. You don’t ever give a shit about rules and regulations. But–”

Cage’s dark half waved his arms around, his hands become undefined, making Cage stop talking, before the shadow form slid across to where their backup equipment was stored and pulled out their secondary, or was it tertiary phone, Cage didn’t remember replacing it after helping the North Atlantic Region squash Ringmaster. Shadow drew the device to the Dark Side, turning the orange trimmed phone grayscale, and threw it at him.

Only Cage’s increased reflexes kept it from hitting him in the face when it popped back to his present reality. “Fuck.” The hero leaned back in his chair, after dropping the phone in his lap, he shifted his Taco Cat fuzzy blanket higher, moaning a soft, “Ouch. Moved too fast.”

Fisting his right hand, Shadow held it high on his chest and brought it around in a circle twice.

“Yeah, well, don’t do that shit.”

The dark creature slinked to reattached to Cage, settling inside the host body. Cage felt the apology sink into his bones, but also the determination. His other half was intrigued by the woman who had helped them at the party. Her deep blue pupils shading to green centers looking up at them saying “Call me tonight, I want to know you are safe.” left an impression. Shadow retrieved another memory, this one of Miracle saying find someone who cares if you come home.

Loneliness dragged Cage toward depression. Yes, he had someone who shared his body, but Shadow wasn’t really another person. He was a manifestation of Cage’s power, a strange, unique manifestation capable of independent action which drove the scientists completely nuts because no theory of how powers worked when adding id-driven aspects like Shadow. Cage wasn’t the only one with a power-with-agency, but they were rare and his was the strongest on record.

“I’m in a lonely for one person kind-of mood,” he picked up the cell phone with his left hand and held the button down until the boot-up screen lit. “Think she will forgive me for calling her at four o’clock on a Saturday morning?”

His self-center id-driven Shadow sent calming emotions forward, smoothing the tatter hurts of injury and having no one but a few coworkers in his life who tolerated him and several who didn’t. Tears leaked as he waited for the chimes of the cell phone activation to cycle through.

“Lights night. Wake-up at eight.” The room darken to pure blackness, which he could still see in, especially with the glowing screen where logo after logo appeared. He was so tired and his eyes drifted close. An image of a clawed mech hand slashed at his face, startling Cage awake with a rush of adrenaline. “Fuck Shadow, can you not?” A blacker than the darkness arm separated from his right arm to pull his chin toward his chest. Cage blinked looking down as the symbol he had seen on his arm appeared on the screen. “What do I do now? Hit send?” Getting no answer from the asshole who shared his brain, Cage hit the green button, then, because of the bandages wrapping his arm making it impossible to lift the phone to his ear, he hit speaker phone.

“Hello?” came a sleepy moan.

“Sorry, did I wake you?” Cage asked the device, her voice doing strange things to his heart rate. Or maybe it was Shadow’s heart rate.

“No, well, yes,” He heard bedsheet move, then her voice became much louder, like she had tucked the phone beside her head. “But no. When you transferred the symbol to your phone I woke up. I lost track of your vitals.”

“You were, you were monitoring me?” Shadow took over control of Cage’s right arm to lift the device and place it in a secure spot higher up on the host’s body, and for once Cage didn’t fight for control.

“Hmm.” Came the sleepy reply. “Just making sure you stayed alive, nothing big.”


“Why what?”

“Why would you do that?”

“I could.” Vector didn’t continue right away but her sentence ended with a heaviness indicating more words would follow.

He pictured her moving, snuggling deeper in the covers. Cage wondered if she slept in a long nightgown or pajamas or maybe some ex-boyfriend’s oversized t-shirt against the cold December night air.

“After, you know, meeting, I felt responsible for how we… And I wanted to … I’m glad you called. Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” He lied.

“Good. Doc Peterson looked really tough in that robot suit.”

“You saw that?”

“Um, remember that big wide window overlooking the parking lot? Everyone at the party got a front row seat. It wasn’t like anyone was leaving until you guys were done.”

He chuckled. “So you saw him wipe the floor with me.”

“Your face did not make the best snow plow, but it did help us when we left. Most of the lot was cleared of snow.” Her voice softened and deepened, making his toes curl in a pleasant way. “Really, are you okay?”

“Not really, but I will be.” He rotated the gaming chair controls to move it back until gravity put pressure on the back wounds, then he edged it up. It was as comfortable as he was going to get tonight. “One aspect of my quirks allow for quick healing. Give me a few days and I will be right as rain.”

“Quirks? So you are a My Hero Academia fan?”

“Oh my god, you actually know the anime?”

“Not really, but one set of niblings – nieces and nephews – adore them, so I, as a dutiful aunt, have listened to them talk endlessly, and even read their fanfic of their favorite heroes.”

“You, you have read fanfic?”

She laughed sleepily. “Wrote some too, but the My Hero stuff has only been what twelve- and thirteen- year-olds will write so nothing really spectacular.”

“So what fanfic have you written?”

A mumbled word come over the phone.


“Supernatural. Specifically Dean-Castiel. Some Les Miserable and Avengers, but I started with the Wheel of Time.”

“What’s your tag?”

“Oh no you don’t. Don’t you dare!” Vector sounded much more awake.

“Ah, so you write THAT type of fanfic.”

“I do not, and even if I did, which I don’t—”

“You so do.”

“Ugh, alright. I do.” She inhaled deeply, “but I suck at it.”

“Because you don’t have much experience writing or,” Cage smiled and dropped his voice, “you don’t have much inspiration.”

“Oh god, you can talk to me in that voice forever. Just to let you know.”

“Anddddd… Vector my sweet?”

“I um, right, what was the question? Inspiration. I haven’t had much in the way of lovers but I read a lot. Which means I can fake a lot of things. Still choreography is tough.”

“What does dancing have to do with it?”

“Choreography is about writing fight scenes and love scene. Keeping track of the characters, the number of characters, where they are, what they are doing, what they are … armed … with.”

Cage chuckled, and the new lower position placed pressure below the shoulder blades. “Ow, don’t do that.”

“Sorry, sorry. Should we be even talking?”

“Yes, absolutely we should. But now that you know I’m safe, do I get a real number this time so I can call you back tomorrow after we both get the sleep we need?”

Vector sighed. “No, but you should be able to call me on that phone whenever you want. I should be the first programmed name. This way the tracers you have on the phone can’t backtrack to me.”

“The what now?”

(words 2,360, first published 1/14/2024)


Hold Me Against the Dark series

  1. I want you beside me… (12/31/2023)
  2. Someone who cares if you come home (3/31/2024)
  3. F is for First and Foremost (4/7/2024)


  1. Bridesmaid (6/30/2024)

Flash: Against the Sky

Photo by Hassan Sherif on Unsplash

Rufus Orion Zerafshan showed up on time the day after Skyfall went black. As a middle manager in the recruitment and training department for Vella Utilities, his job wasn’t essential to the emergency but his particular job hadn’t been exempted from the blanket order of everyone report. He figured a day of shuffling paper in a heated office wouldn’t be a bad way to celebrate the success of his rebel cell group while everyone else ran around trying to get the power back on that they had taken down.

He had pulled it off. Nearly five years work to create the network needed. The big break happened sixteen months ago when the Home-at-Last terrorist attack showed the weakness in the grid. Then grooming and recruiting Taurus and Virga took another five months. With them in hand, the rest had fallen like dominoes.

Now he had proven himself. Make an impact, Scorpio had ordered. Have the city feel the grip of terror. Mission accomplished. Promotion within the organization should follow. Establishing a group raised him out of the general pool to middle management. Maybe next he could get an office with a window.

Rufus pressed the sensor under his name, smiling again at having his name with a permanent desk, and the door to his office slid open. “Scorp—” he cut himself off.

The man sitting at his desk said, “Close the door.”

Rufus slapped the inside sensor, then set it to private. “Is it…” he dropped his voice to a whisper, “safe for you to be here?”

Scorpio sat forward, his black Vella security uniform collar displaying two pips of a low-level patrolman. “Today no one is asking any questions of where security can and cannot be, thanks to you.” He gestured to the singular chair Rufus had in front of his desk for supplicants wanting to be hired into utilities.

The plastic molded seat had no comfort to its form deliberately, but Rufus sat quickly.

“No one will hear anything.” Scorpio touched a small box in the center of the desk. “Report.”

“Sir, it went off exactly as planned. What I submitted on Second-Day is exactly what happened.”

“I believe I told you to back off the Avery, compromising only one of their substations.”

“I’m sorry sir, but Taurus had infiltrated them first. Those devices have been in place since the summer, and the cell would have questioned if I told them not to attack Avery. The only way Vella remained untouched is by me lying about improvements being made to our internal security systems.”

Scorpio leaned back. “I didn’t realize the devices had been in place so long. You hadn’t indicated that. Weren’t you worried about them being found?”

“Virga is an artist, no one would suspect anything. And, sir, you did say to keep my reports to a bare minimum.” Rufus rocked back and forth to keep his butt from numbing. “Cell security. ‘You are an essential ingredient in our ongoing effort to reduce Security Risk.’ – Kirsten Manthrone. You said, the less people know the better.”

“I did say that, didn’t I?” Scorpio squeezed his fist tight enough the mysu-leather crackled. “Well, you did amazingly well and we will need to throw a couple of sacrifices to the Christians newsies before the hunt gets too deep. Where are Virga and Taurus and how soon can you arrange another meeting?”

Rufus jerked, a light flush rising against his skin. “Sir, I followed the plan. If successful, I dissolved the cell.”

“But you still have a way to get in contact with them?” Scorpio leaned forward. “Don’t you?”

“I mean, I still have Virga’s contact information somewhere in the … no, she helped me delete all connections between me and the others.” The ex-cell leader shook his head. “I think I remember where she lives, maybe. Somewhere in the New Hope Projects. She had scored exceptional during the vo-tech testing in third grade and became a gifted-potential.”

“And Taurus?”

“Leo hired him to move something and suggested I tap him for delivery connections.” Wiggling in the steadily more uncomfortable chair he had plucked out from the catalog for just this feeling, but never thinking he would be one in the seat, Rufus continued, “He was a dayworker for the Greens organic foods. I never learned where he lived. Perfect for cell security.”

“How about their names?”

“Virga and Taurus.”

Scorpio scoffed. “No, their real names.”

“I don’t remember.”

The security’s officer fist pounded the table, making everything on it jump. “You’ve been working with them for a year, and you don’t know their real names?”

“No sir, cell security.” Rufus leaned forward. “You said to keep everything as isolated as possible and I did. I did everything you told me to. No names, not ever.” Rufus actually knew both their names, where they lived, and their family connections, but rules were rules and Scorpio didn’t need to know he could reassemble the cell if he needed to. Because if he betrayed his people, Scorpio would think he would also be willing to betray him and Rufus didn’t think he would survive that. Better to appear to be an idiot that follows the procedures than a potential leak.

“Fuck.” Scorpio stood, circling the desk.

Rufus rose to meet him. The office barely had space for two men standing.

Gripping the rebel by the shoulder, the security officer asked, “You sure? The dogs are yelping for blood and tossing them some bones could save a lot of trouble.”

“Sir, I’m loyal. I do what I’m told.” Rufus looked as earnest as possible. “I did everything asked. We did a great work. ‘Individuals do not create rebellions; conditions do.’ – H. Rap Brown. These are the perfect conditions. The FirstLanders have to listen to our needs.”

“A rebel to the end.” Scorpio frowned. “We really could use more like you in this world Rufus.”

The manager stood a little taller under the grip of the other. “Thank you sir.”

“Too bad you died resisting arrest.”

A blast blew through Rufus’ belly and traveled part-way into the next office. The Vella security officer sent a second blast through the other man’s head, destroying the brain casing to keep any Pisces psychics from looking for evidence where they shouldn’t.

(words 1,045; first published 1/7/2024)

When the Stars Align series

  1. When the Stars Align (12/24/2023)
  2. Against the Sky (1/7/2024)