An Interview with Dinga Fatman

NOVELTY FICTION – Your recently published book “Memoir from a Visit to Pretoria” describes your experiences as a young economist at the early stages of his career. What type of economist are you, and what work have you done as such? What are your core beliefs as an economist?

DINGA FATMAN – I would say I am a Development Economist leaning more to the Microeconomics research side.

For my Masters thesis, I worked on the impact of labour regulations on labour performance. My professional work has comprised involvement in two not-for-profit organisations in Pretoria, where I did much work on surveys. Sometimes using primary surveys, where I and some colleagues would be tasked with drawing up the surveys, and other times using secondary surveys – that is, work that had already been done. Mainly to study how various economic factors influence others. I worked on projects from differing sectors such as the automobile industry and agriculture. These projects were mainly funded by national government departments such as the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) or the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC).

My belief as an economist is that the government should be very open about the path it aims to take, given the tax-funded government spending that is available to a nation over a specific period of time. That is, so that the government and the private sector might be able to achieve the desired goals of the state, putting it on the correct path.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – What motivated or prompted you to write the memoir? Was it difficult, considering how honest and transparent you apparently chose to be about your accomplishments, setbacks and failures?

DINGA FATMAN – It was a book I had been collecting as a diary since I began breaking down in Pretoria from work-related stress. So, I always wanted to get such a diary published to assist other young professionals going through a similar experience. Although experiences will always be different depending on the situation at hand.

No, it wasn’t difficult writing the book with the setbacks, given that I had been collecting material for a very long time.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – Does the memoir contain anything of value for other young professionals, academics and economists in particular? If so, please explain what they are.

DINGA FATMAN – Absolutely. Firstly, it teaches them that no matter how smart they were in school, the labor market – in South Africa, especially – has a different set of rules, which unfortunately are still unfair to the young professionals, as they get very little say in the direction taken by the institutions they work for. Hence, such professionals will often experience unpleasant future careers as a result of being blinded by the high salaries they earn immediately after finishing university.

Secondly, especially in times such as 2024 where the growth rate is close to recession levels, those young economists who missed out on COVID recession periods should learn to be patient about how quickly or slowly things tend to move at such times.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – Personal wealth generation is a prominent feature of the book. Is it fair to say that this concept is something fairly unique created by you? Have your views on how to generate personal wealth evolved further since the book was published?

DINGA FATMAN – Certainly not. Wealth generation has been there for a long time. I grew up being educated by my parents on how important it was to create wealth through buying property so that my children wouldn’t be dependent on a job for a source of income. I learnt about investing in the stock market whilst I was still earning a salary; and the exceptional benefits that came along with it go beyond the compound interest offered by banks.

I guess my views have changed by being in that space in my life where I am seeing my parents become older, and learning about better ways to save money for death and funeral purposes.

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NOVELTY FICTION – Would it be fair to say that you have a distinct sense of humor? If so, please describe what you see as funny that the average person may overlook. Do you sometimes experience that your jokes are misunderstood and mistaken for something else?

DINGA FATMAN – I don’t know if you would call it a ‘distinct’ sense of humour. More academic than anything. Yes, I think that people who don’t really understand or appreciate the subject I am talking about are misled by my jokes because they are so deeply involved in the subject matter that they tend to interpret them according to their own understanding; for academic purposes.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – With your recent short story manuscript submitted to our editor, you included a photo of a grossly overweight white, middle-aged woman sitting on the steps of a tiny house that appeared to be in shambles. Were you trying to convey the message of “white trash”? If not, why did you include it? Do you consider yourself racist or racially opinionated?

DINGA FATMAN – I certainly wouldn’t consider myself to be racist. The picture was just to portray how white people have come to live in shacks as well in South Africa. A land that used to favour them more because of the economic advantages it used to give them under the Apartheid system.

 

© 2024 by Novelty Fiction.

 

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An Interview with Abigail George

NOVELTY FICTION – Your forthcoming book “When Bad Mothers Happened” seemingly reflects – sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically – your own experiences as a child and young woman. What motivated you to write it? What was the process like?

ABIGAIL GEORGE – I began work on this book in the beginning of 2014. I was in my early thirties. I had reached a point in my life where I was thinking about what my legacy would be as a storyteller. It's how I was raised. That it is important to leave a legacy. I felt I had an overwhelming responsibility to share a part of my history with other like-minded individuals. I wanted to help someone who found themselves in the same situation as me, and tell that person they weren't alone. If not now, then when was I going to do this? That was my reasoning. That was the initial motivation behind the book.

The process wasn't easy. There were some days I felt prepared and other days I felt ill prepared to tell my story. But I put the work in. I was determined to share my story. Every day, I would sit down at my computer and put in the effort. I wrote a few pages on a daily basis, and it soon began to add up. It was poetic prose all the way and not in a linear arrangement. Most, not all though, of my prose is written in this style and technique.

I wanted to write about mothers and daughters. The strained mother-and-daughter relationship. I had so much despair over this. Could people out there relate to my experience, my struggle, rage, and sadness? Did I put enough energy and variety into this? I had a lot of questions, and answers were not quick to come by; but I persevered, and this book is a testament to my inner strength. It is also a testimony of sorts. I want other women out there to know that they are not alone. I am an adult survivor of childhood abandonment issues. The adverse childhood experience. There are others just like me out there.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – Was writing this manuscript difficult, considering that it deals with mental disease, family dysfunction, and other sensitive issues?

ABIGAIL GEORGE – Of course it was difficult. Every day was an intense personal struggle, but I managed to get through it. Every day was a day in recovery, an uphill battle, but I did it and am proud of what I have achieved, which is this book. It was a hopeful enterprise, and the journey eventually reached its destination. I was committed and determined from the beginning.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – Now that the work has been completed and accepted for publication by Novelty Fiction, are you happy with it? Does it benefit you personally? If there are any negative sides to having written this, what are they, and do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks?

ABIGAIL GEORGE – I am glad that it is out in the world. There's a release and massive relief. I want this book to be of benefit to others, first and foremost. It's a difficult question to answer. The negative? I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. One, publication of a book is an achievement. Two, when an individual shares their life story, something which they have overcome, I think that's rather exceptional and brave. Three, to be a storyteller is to leave your footprint in the world, and others can perhaps relate to the circumstances I have found myself in.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – It seems that your depressive mood disorder is something you inherited from your father, Dr. Ambrose Cato George, as described in his recently published memoir “Against All Odds.” Knowing this, you are still pointing fingers at your own mother. Do you believed that she caused your illness or made it worse? Please elaborate.

ABIGAIL GEORGE – For a very long time, I blamed my mother for my fractured sense of identity, poor self-concept and low self-esteem, but I try not to do that anymore. There were definite feelings and issues of abandonment and a sense of neglect growing up. This has not changed. I have good days; certainly, I have bad days, but the good days outweigh the bad ones. In childhood, adolescence and even as an adult I have felt deeply unloved, even unwanted, and I have always been deeply ashamed of this. I have always been searching for the impact and steadfast influence of “second mothers.” Women who had the maternal instinct and who would take my mother's place, who would show concern for me, offer a nurturing relationship, tenderness, acceptance and unconditional love.

I am older and wiser now. It is a choice whether or not to live with regret in your life, about the past. I really do believe that. I carry this illusion of my mother wherever I go with me, I love her from a safe distance, I admire her, the sacrifices she made. She stayed with my manic depressive father. She made sacrifices for myself and my siblings, but the fact remains that I don't know what motivated her to do those things for me. I will never know; and in my case, I don't think it was love. I do believe that if she had loved me unconditionally, I would have been a different person.

I have forgiven her. I had to for my own sense of self and emotional well-being. My sister is this magnificent being. Financially independent, emotionally secure. She made something of herself and lives in Europe. I do think it is because she had a different relationship with my mother. I will always love my mother, always. It hurts. The adverse childhood experience hurts as well as the unpredictable nature of the relationship. She has never said that she loves me, never said that she's proud of me. I have had to accept and live with every negative repercussion. It's really changed who I am at every level of my own humanity.

The mental, emotional and verbal negativity, abuse and suffering was noted by family members, and eventually they began to stay away and reject me. That's what it looked and felt like to me. I was just a child. I experienced poor social skills, isolation and loneliness early on in my life. In circumstances such as this, I learned to rely on myself; I discovered creative writing, I would read, and I did read everything I could get my hands on. This saved me. At eight years old, I was writing. I realised, whether subconsciously or consciously, that outsiders looking in on my relationship with my mother weren't going to save me. Forgiveness freed me. Learning self-love and self-care is an exquisite act of liberation, which leads you onward to personal freedom.

-

NOVELTY FICTION – If the message behind “When Bad Mothers Happen” could be compressed into one or two short sentences, what would that be?

ABIGAIL GEORGE – You can find personal happiness even if you felt deeply unloved and rejected by your own mother or father as a child, even if you experienced isolation and loneliness, despair and hardship in childhood. If you work hard, your dreams will come true, and it's also a message of hope.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – Here in early 2024, what is life and writing like for you?

ABIGAIL GEORGE – I have chosen the writing life, or it has rather chosen me. At the moment, I am writing screenplays. I have a film I collaborated on in pre-production. Filming will start sometime in 2024. I started a new novel in September of last year, have three unpublished poetry manuscripts. I am constantly looking at submitting literary work to online journals and am in the midst of applying for a grant. I like to be busy. I also handle author relations for Abigail George Books, and write content for the National Writers Association of South Africa's newsletter.

 

© 2024 by Novelty Fiction.

 

Abigail George’s website: www.abigailgeorge.org

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An Interview with Dr. Ambrose Cato George

NOVELTY FICTION – Your recently published book “Against All Odds: A Memoir” describes how, during your university studies, you became a young political activist against the apartheid regime. Did your family know about this at the time, and how would they react to their son getting involved in something so dangerous and controversial?

AMBROSE CATO GEORGE – My family didn't know about it. I never discussed this kind of political involvement with my parents. I was basically afraid that they would not agree with my involvement in subversive politics. So deep were my political convictions that I was prepared to offer my life for the liberation struggle. When the organisation was infiltrated by the Special Branch, I consoled myself that whatever happened, I would be prepared even if necessary to spend a long time in prison.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – Do you view your activism as being compatible or incompatible with your Christian values and beliefs?

AMBROSE CATO GEORGE – No, it wasn't compatible with my inherent Christian beliefs. I took an about-turn and became an ardent exponent of atheism, which lasted for a long time.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – As described in the book, you received substantial support from friends, family and professionals to cope with your depressive mental disorder. At some point, you chose to help others who suffer from mental health issues. By helping them, did you also help yourself? Would life have been easier for you if you had focused solely on your own mental health problems?

AMBROSE CATO GEORGE – Certainly not. From a very early age, twenty, although I suffered from severe bouts of suicidal depression, it only made me more aware of committing my life in whatever way possible to help other depression sufferers. It was the prime motivator for establishing a Depression and Stress Support Group in my area of residence. This enabled me to prepare a wide-ranging package into all aspects of what came to me as the devastating effect of an illness like depression.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – As described in your book, you have covered much ground – political activist, scholar, teacher, headmaster, mental health volunteer, religious thinker, family man. How did you manage to fulfill all these responsibilities? How could you deal with the pressure?

AMBROSE CATO GEORGE – Throughout my sixty years of suffering from depression, I managed to overcome the negative aspects of the illness by introducing a regular routine of physical exercise such as walking, swimming and other such physical exercise. As soon as I was diagnosed with suicidal depression, I was placed on a wide range of medication which included anti-depressants, mood stabilisers, tranquilisers and sleeping medication. From the onset of the diagnosis of my illness at age twenty in 1965, I took the medication religiously from Day One up to the present day. This was very difficult. However, I was so disciplined to stick to a religious routine of taking my medication at regular intervals.

I have had to live with the side effects of taking psychotropic medication over a period of sixty years. I must point out that this was one of the main factors which enabled me to cope with my illness over such a long period.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – Your memoir briefly describes how you traveled around Western Europe while studying in Great Britain as a young man. What were your impressions of these European countries and their people?

AMBROSE CATO GEORGE – As a young man throughout my periods of education, I was deeply impressed with the advancement made in science and technology in the European countries. I was deeply touched by the impressive mode of preservation in the large number of museums and places of interest that I visited in cities like Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt, Cologne, Florence, the Vatican and Rome. Central to my experiences over a period of almost a year, I was immensely touched and moved by the historical, cosmopolitan and cultural aspects in London. I was deeply influenced by my relationships with students from all parts of the globe. I visited a number of special schools, colleges and universities, which made a deep imprint on my mind. I was touched by my visits to special schools that were attended by brain damaged or spastic pupils. I became deeply aware of how damage to the brain through drugs and alcohol affects a very high level of persons all over the world.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – Here in early 2024, what is life and writing like for you?

AMBROSE CATO GEORGE – It is very, very encouraging at this stage of my life, looking back over a period of eighty years, that there are many gaps in my knowledge which I now feel free to write about.

 

© 2024 by Novelty Fiction.

 

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Nathaniel Hawnthor – Sacred Fire

Deep in a dark and ancient chamber gathered three figures who wore fine robes of silk the colors of violet and sapphire. Glittering stars and crescent moons were stitched into the fine fabric, hoods were drawn over their heads, and each one wore a unique exotic mask. The chamber was massive, and ancient glyphs and symbols had been carved into the very stone itself, forming a line pointing toward the center, where a massive circle was located. High above the floor, built into the dome ceiling, was an opening that allowed a clear view of the night sky above. Dawn was fast approaching, and they were eager to begin with their task at hand. They silently gathered at the circle, where they would perform an ancient rite of passage as they had done centuries before. Little did they know that it would be their last.

“Once in another age and another time, the world was filled with an eternal wonder that would never be seen again. A great power beyond imagination kept watch over the world and all its inhabitants.”

The three wizards lifted their arms high into the air, and a secret door opened within the floor circle, causing a huge crystal to rise out of the air shaft.

“For well over a thousand years, the ancient Wizards of Camlon would gather in sacred chambers, where they would embrace the great power of the Fire Crystals so the world may remain free and plentiful. The greatest among these wizards were Astaron the Great, Lonkaro the Bold, and Anamara the Brave. Together, they formed a tribulation of strength unmatched by any force in the world.”

The crystal levitated above the shaft of air and fire, and began to glow a deep shade of orange and red. All three wizards then lowered their arms, took each other’s hands, and began chanting in a secret language that only they understood. The massive crystal between them continued to glow and pulse with pure power.

“It was their sacred duty to safeguard the world from all dangers and protect the Sacred Fire from those who would use it for their selfish desires. For the fire was the very life-giving blood of the earth, bringing life and death. To protect the Sacred Fire was to protect life itself, a task that had been passed down from generation to generation. Through the power of the Fire Crystals, the world continued to remain magical, and people lived in a simple yet flourishing way of life.”

The wizards continued to chant their ancient rite of passage, and the crystal suddenly spewed a beam of light that exited through the wide opening in the ceiling. After awhile, the middle one, who stood taller than the other two, began to slow down. His movements became stiff, and he had trouble keeping up with the others.

“As a millennium passed, much of the world grew to resent the old ways and embraced more modern ways of life, completely abandoning the traditions of old. As years passed and the world modernized, the magic began to slip away. People soon forgot the great wonders that had once been common knowledge, and it all transformed into myth and legend. The almighty power that governed the old world grew feeble over time. As the traditions dwindled, so did the number of wizards, and their powers began to fade. Once, there were many wizards in the world, and now only three remain. The ritual they had once performed many times before to give the world and themselves life now dwindles and brings no comfort to them today.”

The tallest wizard in the circle suddenly let go of the other wizards’ hands and stumbled back while clutching his chest. He collapsed onto the ground, and the other two wizards stopped the ritual and rushed over to him.

“Now, the greatest of the remaining three wizards lay dying, unable to continue with the ritual and death circling above him. Without his strength, the ritual cannot continue, and the world will no longer be able to receive the power of the Sacred Fire.”

The huge fire crystal stopped emitting light and darkened in color until it turned a deep shade of black. It then slipped back into the shaft of air and fire, and the massive circular door sealed the shaft shut.

“With the eldest of the wizards dying, it was only a matter of time before the magic of the world would be snuffed out forever and pass onto myth. It was something that the wizards were unable to accept.”

Astaron began to convulse and moan in agony while Anamara clutched his hand tight, attempting to bring comfort to her dying mentor. Meanwhile, Lonkaro stood by watching, then stepped closer to Astaron and looked down upon him.

“He will die tonight, Anamara,” he stated bluntly in their native language.

“No,” Anamara replied with denial in her voice. “He must live! The power of the Fire Crystals will extinguish without him!”

As Astaron continued to gasp for air, Lonkaro’s rage became apparent as he clenched his left hand into a fist.

“It’s all their fault! The mortals have driven him to his grave!”

“He will live,” Anamara said with sadness in her voice. “He’s going to live!”

Lonkaro continued to seethe, and Astaron took Anamara’s hand and spoke in a very weak voice.

“Listen to me, Anamara,” he demanded with raspy breath. “Before the sun sets, I will pass on. Before I do, you must promise me that you will look after Lonkaro. He is not himself. Soon, he will surrender to darker forces, and you must promise to never give up on him. Promise me this!”

Anamara lowered her gaze and replied, “I will, Master!”

Astaron gasped for air and clutched at his chest.

“As the wizard drew his final breath, he spoke one final testament to both of his disciples, leaving them with one last legacy.”

“In another age, in another life, in another land, my spirit shall endure,” Astaron gasped. “At the pinnacle of that time, the three of us shall be reunited once more! On that day, we shall know battle and we shall know peace.”

Astaron suddenly stopped gasping, and soon his heart quit beating. His hand slid from Anamara’s, and he grew as silent as a tomb. As Anamara held him in her arms, Lonkaro took a deep breath before speaking bluntly.

“Astaron the Great is no more.”

Anamara said nothing, and Lonkaro departed from the chamber never to return.

 

“Years soon passed since the death of Astaron the Great. Despite what Anamara promised her old friend and mentor, she was unable to keep her word. She could not cope with the loss of such a mentor, and retreated far from the world of magic and light. Anamara chose to become part of the new modern world, and decided to live among its inhabitants, forsaking all ties to the Sacred Fire.”

A cloaked woman with her hood drawn climbed into the back of a turnip cart and adjusted herself. Her face was hidden from view and she tapped the side of the cart, signaling the driver that she was ready. As the cart moved, Anamara drew a small flagon from her worn garments and took a sip of its contents. They traveled north down an old pathway toward the world of men, while Anamara sulked over the life she was leaving behind.

“While Anamara turned her back on the world of magic, Lonkaro retreated even deeper into his despair and gave himself fully to the unholy teachings of the Black Arts.”

Lonkaro sat at a desk with several tables around him covered with old parchment, alchemy instruments, and other strange devices made of glass and brass. He was down deep in a cavern with a great fissure in the earth that exposed a river of magma. Lonkaro was dressed in dark-colored robes of black and silver, and was reading through the pages of a very old book.

“With the power of the Sacred Fire, Lonkaro sought to forge Fire Crystals of his own so he could use them to increase his unnatural power. With only one place remaining that had access to the fire, he spent the next few years attempting to manipulate the fire to obey his commands and bring forth a power so great he could wipe out the race of mortal men with one strike. With his powers growing, Anamara could no longer turn her back. She challenged her old friend and ally Lonkaro to single combat, and the winner would decide the fate of all mankind.”

Up on an ancient mountain, the two wizards stood across from each other locked in an epic duel. Around them were old white stone ruins and pillars of marble that had once been part of a sacred gathering place for all wizards. Clouds of thunder and lightning raged above them, and parts of the ruins were on fire. Lonkaro was enveloped with violet-colored light and was thrashing his arms forward, causing whips of light to strike repeatedly at Anamara. In her defense, Anamara continuously created circles of sky-blue light and repeatedly blocked the attacking whips of light. Both wizards had physical injuries and were bleeding in several places.

“Upon the hall of the White Peak, they dueled for dominance over the greater wizarding world. Lonkaro was older and stronger than Anamara and far more experienced. He was without a doubt the greater wizard.”

The attack became too much for Anamara, and her rings shattered like glass when Lonkaro thrust his fist through the air. She collapsed down, shouting in pain; and before Lonkaro could make the killing stroke, he too shouted in pain and fell to his knees. The whips of light faded, and the violet aura around him began to flicker.

“Yet he underestimated the physical cost the Black Arts would have on him, and it made him vulnerable.”

Anamara wasted no time in making short work of her opponent. She used the last of her strength to summon a bolt of lighting from the sky above. As she held up her arms, the lightning came down hard and struck Lonkaro, causing him to howl in anguish. When Anamara stopped the attack, she gasped for air and weakly made her way over to Lonkaro’s now smoldering body. He was burned and was barely clinging to life. Then in the span of a single moment, Anamara chose to spare Lonkaro’s life and turned her back on him. She remembered the words of her master, and decided she would not forsake his memory by killing her old friend.

“You are a fool to allow me to live, Anamara,” Lonkaro choked while spitting a glob of blood. “You should kill me now while you have the chance!”

“Not today, Lonkaro,” Anamara replied.

“On that day, Anamara chose to walk away from her fallen enemy for the sake of her master’s final wish.” ​​ 

 

* * *

 

“Victor! Victor, where are you?”

“I’m here!”

Victor closed the book he had been reading, got up off the ground, and dusted his apron off. He tucked his book under his arm and opened the door of the broom cupboard, then switched off the dangling bulb above him.

“Victor Javier Calixto Varagas! I swear if you’re in the broom cupboard again...”

“Mama, I’m not in the cupboard. I was on break! I’ll be there in a second!”

As he exited the cupboard, he closed it behind him and quickly hid his book inside a locker located in the break room. The only other person in there was one of his co-workers, Bryan. He was an old man with saggy fair skin and startling blue eyes. Bryan didn’t seem to notice Victor coming out of his reading spot, and was eating his lunch at a snail’s pace. No one knew exactly how old he was, but one sure thing was that he looked and moved like a sloth. Victor closed his locker, checked his wristwatch, and muttered a swear.

“¡Juro que ya no tengo tiempo! (I swear I don't have time for this!)”

He walked out of the break room and back into the store. Marko, his father and boss, was scribbling down information on a clipboard. Without even looking up, the man with a thick black mustachio and a balding head scolded his son.

“I needed you to sort out the inventory so we will be ready to file for the next order from the vendors,” Marko said with a frown on his face. “I need you to take more responsibility, Victor!”

“I am, Papa!” he protested while stepping up to the employee switchboard. After typing in his employee number, he clocked back in. “I took care of the inventory this morning. Besides, I was only five minutes past my break.”

Marko looked up from his clipboard and held up a spreadsheet. “Then why is the form for next year’s inventory filled out and not the one for this year?”

Victor realized his mistake, covered his face, and replied, “I’m so sorry, Papa! I’ll fix it up!”

“Just go help Julio unload the truck. We just got a shipment in, and he can’t operate the lift with his cast.”

Marko went back to scribbling on his clipboard. Victor wanted to say something but could tell his dad wasn’t listening, so he sighed and nodded his head.

“Yes, Dad.”

 

He softly jogged toward the back of the store, where he passed by several customers and other employees. In reference to their Guatemalan heritage, the store was designed to look like the village from which Hector’s family originated. The shelves and isles were themed a certain way with exotic statues posted at the front of every rack. Colorful buildings and ancient murals of past centuries from Central America had been painted on the store walls along with a great volcano towering above the village of Victor’s family. The back of the store featured a special Mayan pyramid, which towered above the shelves stacked with Victor’s grandmother’s specially made hot sauce.

At the back loading dock, he found a massive truck already parked with the back open. Julio, his cousin, was attempting to lift objects from it despite only having one operational arm. Once he spotted Victor, he grinned and set a box of produce down.

“Victor, my man! I could sure use some help with this.”

Looking around, Victor noticed the forklift was missing.

“Where is the forklift?”

“The transmitter blew, so Uncle Marko had a part ordered in. Won’t be here till tomorrow. Everything’s gotta be moved with the pallet jack.”

Upon seeing the size of the produce on the pallets, Victor rolled his eyes and went back inside to get the jack. Thankfully, it wasn’t a huge load, so he only had to move a few pallets out of the truck. It was still heavy duty, and his back and shoulders ached by the time he was done. Julio, on the other hand, wasn’t sore at all. He had spent the whole time watching. Victor dropped a pallet off, and Julio got to work cutting the plastic wrap free. By the time it was all done, Victor needed to take a seat on a nearby chair and stretch his muscles.

“You okay, cuz?” Julio asked with a smile.

Victor sighed. “I am fine! I just need a rest.”

Julio chuckled and took a seat beside his cousin. In Victor’s opinion, he was not cut out for retail work. Everything about him just put off a different vibe, from his constantly gelled hair to his fancy jewelry and classic sports car. Victor shared some resemblance with his cousin in terms of dark skin and thin, tall body builds – except Julio’s hair was cut and gelled back, while Victor had shoulder-length wavy locks. They were both seventeen and quite handsome. Julio was the better-looking of them and undoubtedly more successful with girls.

Julio got up from his chair, opened for them two glass bottles of Kola, and took two trips to carry the drinks over to where they were sitting. After Victor thanked him and took a sip, Julio sat down and replied, “I heard Aunt Lola complaining about you earlier. What was that all about?”

Victor took a sip of his drink before he explained. “I was five minutes past my break time.”

Julio looked confused. “Why, what were you doing?”

“Reading in the broom cupboard.”

Julio suddenly grinned, leaned toward Victor, and made a bad joke.

“Uh oh! Better watch out! You don’t want Aunt Lola and Uncle Marko to see you coming out of the closet!”

Victor was unable to help chuckling and softly punched Julio in the arm. He was careful to avoid hitting his cast. “Shut up!”

After Julio laughed some more and took another sip of his drink, he leaned back in his chair. “What were you reading, anyway?”

Victor lifted his brow and was a bit hesitant to answer. “Just an old book.”

“Duh, I knew that. Well, come on, man, what book was it?”

“Sacred Fire,” Victor answered, then took a sip of his drink. “It’s an ancient manuscript first written by a forgotten author nearly a millennium ago.”

Julio nodded. “Nice! I remember reading that book in Ms. Romay’s class; we had to read it for our AP Study Assignment. So, did you just snatch up an old copy or something?”

“Not exactly,” Victor replied. “It was sort of a present.”

“From whom?”

Victor took a sip of his drink and didn’t answer. The intercom came online, and Victor’s mother, Lola, came on the speaker.

“Victor, you are needed on register five! Victor on register five!”

After setting his drink down, Victor straightened out his apron and said, “Make sure you remember to file all the new inventory. Papa will blow a gasket if I screw up a second time today.”

Julio saluted him and continued sitting around drinking his Kola. Victor rushed back into the store and stepped up to register five. All the other registers were busy, and the moment Victor switched on the light, a flood of customers approached his line. The sudden influx of customers forced him to work at a higher-than-usual speed. Thankfully, he had a bagger to help him this time, so all he had to do was check out the produce. By the time the line started to die down, Victor felt a relaxing wave of relief. He got to the final customers in line, one of whom was a girl around his age with a thin, angular face and light blonde hair all tied up and a cap on her head. She had enticing dark eyes the color of night, and smiled at the sight of him.

“They keeping you busy?”

“You have no idea! I screwed up an inventory form, so my dad is quite upset with me.”

“Oh no!” the girl replied. “Hopefully, it all got fixed.”

“My dad took care of it,” Victor replied with defeat in his voice. “I’m going to pay for it later.”

The girl smiled. “Well, if you need some company, I’m not doing anything later. I’ll be down at the hill.”

Victor smiled. “Thanks, Ava!”

She grinned, then gathered her bagged grocery items and departed from the store. Victor watched her leave and went back to bagging groceries with a smirk on his face.

 

Afterward, when his shift ended, Victor clocked out, put away his apron, and grabbed his bag. He rushed out to his car and drove a few miles from town until he reached the county park and made his way up to a small hill in the center of the area. Ava was already waiting and sitting down, watching the stars above.

“Sorry I’m late,” Victor said while taking a seat beside Ava. “I had to squelch the dairy aisle again!”

“It’s fine, Victor,” Ava assured him with a smile. “I’m just glad you’re here.”

Victor adjusted himself, relaxed, and watched the stars alongside Ava, as they had been doing since their first day of high school. They liked to use this spot as an escape from their troubles back home. Victor brought his bag around and pulled out the book he had been reading earlier, bound in old red leather and with gold glossy designs on the cover.

“I never got a chance to thank you for this.”

Ava smiled again. “You’re welcome, Victor! I know how much you love old fairy tales, so I thought it would be perfect. Plus, I needed to make up for missing your birthday last week.”

“I wouldn’t worry,” he assured her while slipping the book back into his bag. “It wasn’t as if I had an army of friends over or anything. My mom just made a cake, and I had some cousins over.”

“What did you think of the book?” Ava asked while turning toward him.

Victor sighed and replied, “Honestly, I discovered it to be quite intriguing, especially because it is a story about magic, dwarves, fair folk, and even wizards.”

Ava smiled and seemed pleased. “The man at the shop told me it would be a great read.”

“The shop? Oh, you mean Mr. Korlak’s store down on 32nd?”

“That’s the one! You know how he has all sorts of strange and unique items in there. He told me this one would make a great gift.”

Victor nodded and folded his hands together. “It kind of reminded me of that time when we were kids, and we all were playing in my abuela’s backyard.”

Ava smiled. “You mean when we found the Fairy Circle? Yeah, I remember that well! You and Julio were making mudpies, and I found that weird mushroom circle.”

“Well, it just so happens that is what a Fairy Circle is,” Julio explained. “It’s an old British term for when a line of mushrooms grows in a perfect circle. That, plus fairies are sometimes present at the circle.”

Ava laughed. “Well, we saw something that day at the circle, and it wasn’t hummingbirds or butterflies like your mom said.”

Victor smiled and messed with his fingernails. “I guess that’s part of the reason why I have developed a fascination for this kind of stuff.”

“It’s not just stuff, Victor,” Ava assured him with a serious tone. “We saw fairies that day just like how Julio saw gnomes at that place down in Mexico ya'll call the Midnight Meadows.”

Victor laughed, not having thought about Julio’s gnomes in a while.

“You know, I still wonder sometimes if he’s messing with me or if he believes he saw gnomes during that trip.”

“I guess we’ll never know,” Ava admitted.

“You know, I was thinking, Ava, and…

She looked at him again. “Yes, Victor?”

For whatever reason, he found it impossible to articulate the words he wanted to. They choked him up, and Ava continued to patiently wait for him to speak. Eventually, Victor was forced to give up.

“Nothing! It is nothing!”

Ava appeared confused but ended up shaking her head and leaning against him. “You’re simply hopeless sometimes, Victor! I swear, simply hopeless!”

Victor smiled and leaned back against her. “I know, Ava! I know!”

 

Days had passed. Things were exceptionally busy at the store, and Victor was trying to get a handle on the apple and pear produce, scribbling down notes on a clipboard. While working, he was suddenly approached by a middle-aged woman with chin-length blonde hair, a power suit, and a big pair of shades.

“Hey kid,” she said while tapping him softly on the shoulder. “Have you got any fresh prunes in stock?”

Victor looked up from his clipboard and thought about it for a moment. “We should have some back on aisle seventeen.”

The woman nodded. “Thanks a lot.”

She was about to leave but stopped and looked at him. “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”

Victor was initially confused but suddenly recognized the woman after getting a better look at her. “You’re Rhonda Roth, aren’t you? The realtor? Your signs are everywhere.”

Rhonda lifted her brow and removed her sunglasses, revealing startling blue eyes. “Smokin', huh? Yeah, you’re the kid who cleaned out my chimney last month.”

Victor chuckled as he thought back on that time. “You had a dead raccoon stuck in the shaft. It took me an hour to dig the carcass out.”

Rhonda smiled and replied, “You were quite resourceful, I’ll give you that! Your father is Marko Varagas, isn’t he?”

Victor nodded.

“That’s right; I handled his purchase agreement when he bought the land to build this store! How is your father, by the way?”

“He’s doing well. Business is going great, so he’s talked about buying another lot to open a second location.”

Rhonda nodded and put her shades back on. “Well, if he ever needs help with anything, send him my way.” She reached into her pocket, pulled out a business card, and handed it to Victor. “Here’s my card.”

After he accepted it with thanks, Rhonda walked away. Julio hauled a crate full of pears to the aisle and flipped it over, filling up the pear section. He shook his head upon seeing Rhonda near the exit.

“Damn! That is one fine woman, considering her age!”

Victor smiled and went back to work. “She is an attractive woman,” he admitted as he continued writing. “She also owns half the empty lots in the county.”

Julio folded his crate. “I was talking to Griffon, who told me she just sold a 7,000 square-foot mansion to some celebrity in Brenwood.”

“That doesn’t surprise me in the slightest! I only know her because I was walking down the street, and she needed someone to clean the chimney for an open house. She paid me a hundred dollars to climb onto the roof and clear it out.”

Julio shook his head. “Didn’t realize you were that hard up for cash.”

A boy no older than eleven walked toward Victor, and leaned against the orange stand. He had a headful of bright red hair, a pointy nose, and sea-green eyes.

“Hey, Victor!”

“Rowan,” Victor said in a surprised tone, “aren’t you supposed to be in school?”

“What are you talking about?” Rowan replied with a confused look. “It’s Saturday!”

Victor thought about it for a moment. “Right! I had forgotten. What’s up?”

Rowan stuck his hands into his hoodie pockets. “I want to get a gift for my mom’s birthday, but the shop I want to go to is on the other side of town. I’m not allowed to go that far by myself, so I thought...”

“Yeah,” Victor said before Rowan could finish, “I’ll take you there myself as soon as my shift ends.”

Rowan smiled. “Thanks, Victor!”

Victor nodded. “Anything for my best friend.”

He kicked at the floor before rushing off. Julio lifted a brow and shook his head, then returned to work.

 

Later, after his shift, Victor put his things away and met outside with Rowan, who was waiting in the parking lot. When Victor got out, he held out his hand and fist-bumped Rowan before they climbed into Victor’s car. They pulled out of the parking lot and into the main street that led further out of town. Brenshire was a quiet, peaceful area without a lot of action or excitement. Crime wasn’t a big issue, and they only lived about an hour away from L.A. Despite being a peaceful town, it was a dying one. Aside from a few convenience stores and maybe the odd old mini-mall, there wasn’t a lot to do in Brenshire. Most people went to Burbank or to L.A. itself if they were looking for something to do in their spare time.

The roads themselves were cracked with age, and there were a few fast-food locations along with a used car lot when they drove down 14th Street. Victor even spotted, to his surprise, a mime performing for a crowd of spectators. Once they turned a corner and got closer to 29th Street, he asked what shop Rowan wanted to visit, and the answer was Korlak.

“Nice,” Victor replied. “My mom’s a huge collector of antiques, and she’s often bought an item or two from him.”

“So is my mom,” Rowan replied while swinging his feet. “That’s why I’m getting a gift for her from that place.”

His feet accidentally kicked an object under his seat, and when Rowan reached under to pull out whatever it was, he found a large book. It was bound in faded red leather and had an impressive display of gold designs on the cover. He immediately opened it up and started to browse through it.

“What’s this?”

Victor took a glance and replied, “Just a gift Ava gave me. She also acquired it from Wilmor Korlak’s shop.”

Rowan continued browsing the pages and took a legitimate interest. “What’s it about?”

“The story of three wizards who harness the power of the Sacred Fire, the life-giving element of the world, and attempt to use it to keep the world magical and free. The oldest of them dies, and the remaining two go their own way. One seeks out everlasting life and power and becomes an evil dark wizard. The other turns her back on magic and tries to live life without power.”

Rowan looked up at Victor and replied, “That’s cool!”

Victor nodded in agreement. “I’ve read that book twice now, and it still amazes me every time.”

Rowan closed the book up and had one more question. “Do you think any of it really happened?”

“It’s just a story, Rowan,” Victor assured him.

“Yeah, I know, but do you think any of it might be real? My teacher, Mr. Veron, says most stories are based on real-life events and either tell us everything that happened or is a work of fiction based on real things.”

Victor sighed and had to think of an answer. “Well, he’s not wrong. Myths are usually based on legends, which are based on stories told by people who have seen things in their life.”

When Victor glanced at Rowan, he saw the boy was being serious and expected a sincere answer. “Honestly, I don’t know, Rowan! I wasn’t there when all those events might have taken place. Maybe magic is just a fantasy, maybe it is not. I have no idea!”

Rowan sighed and appeared disappointed. That was the last thing Victor wanted, so he continued speaking.

“I do know that miracles happen in this world all the time. People might call them coincidences, but I have seen a lot of things in my life that science could not explain. My family is Catholic, so they believe everything happens for a reason. I say anything is possible, and to answer your question: yes, I believe there is a chance there might have once been a great power in this world, and I believe it would have been so long ago that everyone forgot.”

Rowan’s face lit up. “You believe that?”

Victor nodded. “Without question.”

 

When they arrived at their destination, Victor pulled up to an ancient antique shop with a rotting sign hanging above the entrance. There were gold letters painted on the sign that spelled Korlak’s Antiques, but the paint was so faded and chipped it was hard to tell. The building itself was about three stories tall with a rotting shingle roof. Two large glass pane windows on either side of the door had items in view that gave Victor the creeps. There was a headless mannequin doll in the left window and what looked like a real human skull in the right window. It was almost too creepy for Victor to go in, but Rowan walked right up and tried the door. It opened easily, and a bell rang.

“Hello!” Victor said as he walked inside.

No one answered initially, and when they looked around, Rowan made a face at ​​ the sight of a shriveled doll. It had a plume of feathers on its head and button-stitched eyes.

“What is it?”

“That is an early nineteenth-century Zanzu doll from the bayous of Louisiana,” a voice said from nearby. “I acquired it from a wise shaman from the swamps, who sold it for a very decent price.”

When Rowan and Victor both turned their heads, they saw a man who appeared to be well past his youth, featuring a balding head with a few tufts of hair clinging to the sides. He wore a green vest over a button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a pair of spectacles on his nose. A long wooden pipe was in his hand, and he was smoking.

“Is there anything I can help you boys with?”

​​ “Um,” Rowan began while sticking his hands into his pockets. He looked nervous and kept glancing up at Victor for help. “Well, we, uh...”

“We’re looking for a birthday present for his mother,” Victor explained while placing his hands on Rowan’s shoulders. He glanced down and nodded at Rowan, then continued to speak for him. “She likes stuff like fine china or old Victorian-age lamps.”

The man lifted his thick, bushy brow. “Is that so? Well, I have a fine collection of china specially imported from war-torn Germany. Perhaps she would enjoy something like that.”

“Yeah,” Rowan nervously replied, “I think she would.”

After he released another puff of smoke, the corners of Wilmar’s mouth moved, creating a chilling smile. “If you have any other questions, be sure to let me know.” He walked away to the other side of his shop, leaving Rowan and Victor alone.

When he was out of range, Rowan shivered and acted as if he had just suffered a horrible ordeal. “Man, that was creepy!”

“What are you talking about?”

Rowan turned toward Victor and gestured with his hands. “Oh, come on Victor, you weren’t creeped out? This is just like that time I saw Old Maron in her house eating crickets!”

Victor was perplexed and tried to figure out what Rowan was talking about. “You mean Maron Collin from down the street?”

Rowan nodded.

“Oh, come on Rowan! I know eating crickets is weird, but a lot of outside cultures do this. The Chinese eat chicken feet for breakfast.”

“Gross,” Rowan commented.

“Yeah, I know it’s disgusting, but I hardly think that makes Ms. Collin a witch like everyone is saying.”

Rowan shook his head and waved his hand. “Believe what you want, but I know what I saw that day, and spiders were crawling through her hair when I went to look. Plus, the freaky weird lights that come out of her basement windows sometimes. It’s why I quit my paper route.”

“Look, I know she’s strange but that hardly makes her Baba Yaga!”

This time, Rowan was at a loss. “Who?”

“You know, Baba Yaga, the creepy old witch from Slavic Folklore? She chases children in a giant walking house?”

“Oh! Right, right, I remember that one! Well, I’m gonna look at the china sets. I’ll meet you after.”

“Great!”

When Rowan left to search for a present, Victor sighed and took some time to look around. The store was a bit creepy, but still had some interesting items in it. Most of the room was illuminated by weak fluorescent lights, and the shelves were old and dusty. There were rows of books from every decade, and what caught Victor’s attention was a small lamp-like object resting atop a crystal plate. It was a strange metallic object with a collection of glass slides painted like a mosaic.

“That is an Illumigraph created by a French Inventor Pierre Monventell from 1892,” Wilmar explained from behind. He continued to puff his pipe and had an intrigued expression. “It was the world’s very first form of movie projection and animation! Sadly, this is not the original, it is merely a replica created in 1910. I acquired it long ago during my journey through the Mediterranean.”

Victor nodded. Wilmar reached out and turned a knob on the device; once it was cranked up, it came to life and began to rotate the glass panels. The center of the device opened, and a small light bulb came out, illuminating the glass. Colorful images and a short animation of a dancing jester were projected on the wall through a small focusing lens, and Victor was hardly able to believe his eyes. He could never have imagined something so extraordinary would have existed back then.

“It’s like magic!” Victor said with amazement in his voice.

His remark caused Wilmar to chuckle as he took his pipe from his mouth and blew out a few more smoke rings.

“Indeed, it is! Forgive me, but when you told me your name, I seem to recall a young lady visiting my shop earlier this month inquiring after a gift for a young man named Victor. Would that by any chance be yourself?”

“Of course,” Victor replied smilingly. “You must have spoken with Ava!”

“That’s the one,” Wilmar replied while sticking his pipe back into his mouth. “She told me you have a fascination for old folklore and fairy tale legends, so I recommended the book...”

“Sacred Fire,” Victor finished.

Wilmar nodded. “It is most definitely a story unlike any other. One of fellowship, betrayal, the end of an era – and more importantly, a reflection on what this world would look like without the persistent meddling of men.”

When he stuck his pipe back into his mouth, he blew out a few smoke rings, and Victor was unsure of how to respond. He agreed with most of what Wilmar said, but wasn’t so sure about the comment about humans.

“I don’t know! I thought it was a great story, better than most other stories I've ever read.”

“Is that so?” Wilmar asked while releasing a puff of smoke. “Well, I am certainly glad that you enjoyed it. So few people have faith in anything anymore, magic included! I find it ironic because many people want a magical solution to their problems, and yet none believe in the phenomenon.”

“Do you?” Victor asked.

Wilmar smiled, then puffed one last drag. “I think there is a little magic in all of us if we are willing to acknowledge it. I’ve traveled many places in my time on earth and seen more wonders than any man living. In all that time, I’ve never seen anything to disprove that a greater power governs us all!”

With those words, Wilmar departed and moved to another part of the store. Victor was left wondering what the shopkeeper had meant, but quickly returned to the task of finding a present for Rowan’s mother. Then he suddenly got a feeling that he had never experienced before. It was a tingling sensation in the back of his neck. When he turned toward one of the hallways, the tingling got stronger. Victor walked into that hallway, and the tingling intensified. He entered another room filled with old-timey clocks and odd-looking instruments. A podium set up with a massive book was at the back of the room. It was bound in fine leather and had silver glossy lines.

Victor felt like fire was running down his neck, and strangely, the sensation went away when he got close to the stand. He reached out, touched the cover and opened the book, which was filled with various symbols, charts, lines of text, and some of the best medieval-style comics he had ever seen.

“Wow!” He browsed through some pages. The further into the book he got, the more intriguing the contents became, so he began to read some of the lines of the text, attempting to find more context.

“Through the power of the Sacred Fire came seven Fire Crystals and seven wizards to guard each crystal. The greatest of this holy alliance was Astaron the Great, whose power will remain forever eternal through the ravages of time.”

Victor turned another page and saw what looked like a symbol in the shape of a crescent moon with a burst of stars around it. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt some connection with the symbol, and when he placed his fingertips against it, he suddenly felt a jolt shoot through his fingers. It was quickly followed by visions of far-off places and people he had never seen or known before. He saw a robed figure waving around a staff and a great burning fire that was blinding. When everything returned to normal, Victor stumbled back and was nearly out of breath.

“You okay, Victor?” Rowan asked while entering the room.

“Rowan,” he replied while gesturing for him to come closer, “come check it out! You’ll never guess what happened!”

“What?” the boy asked with confusion.

“Check out this book! It’s almost like it's magical or something!”

Rowan approached the podium and took a look but shook his head. “What are you talking about? It’s just a blank book!”

“Well, it actually…wait, what?”

Rowan sighed. “Is this some kind of joke?”

This time, Victor was quite confused. “Rowan, what are you talking about? There’s writing and comics all over the pages! See?”

He flipped through a few pages; but for some reason, Rowan acted as if there was nothing there.

“Victor, are you okay? My teacher said something about having a mental breakdown. Are you sure you’re not having one?”

“No, I swear I’m not; it’s just...”

“Have you boys found what you’re looking for?”

Rowan and Victor turned around, and Wilmar stood at the doorway with a gift bag in his hand.

“Oh, we were just browsing,” Victor assured him while tapping Rowan.

“Yeah, what he said,” Rowan added.

Wilmar smiled and replied, “Very well! Don’t forget your purchase, Rowan. We wouldn’t want your mother to be without a gift for her birthday, now would we?”

Rowan nervously laughed. As soon as he had accepted the gift bag, the two friends hurried out of the store with Rowan breathing a sigh of relief.

 

* * *

 

Later that week, Victor was on his break and attempting to make himself some tea. For whatever reason, the burner wasn’t working and when he tried to fix it, nothing seemed to help. After muttering a few swears, he switched off the gas, then turned it back on and lit a match in the hope of igniting the flames. Without warning, the burner spewed a jet of flames, causing Victor to shout and wave his hand about.

Instead of getting burned like one would expect, his hand waved across the flames, causing them to subside and form into a ball above his palm. Victor’s eyes widened with shock as he held the fireball and remained unharmed.

“Awesome!”

He carefully closed his fingers into a fist, and the fire subsided when his hand was shut. When he opened his hand again, there were no more flames; and when Victor turned around, his heart nearly leaped out of his chest. Bryan was sitting at one of the break room tables and had been watching the entire time. His eyes were blank, but he blinked and asked a basic question.

“Kevin, do we have doc review today?”

Victor breathed a sigh of relief. Bryan unfortunately had a case of dementia and was always getting people’s names wrong. The chances of him remembering what he had just seen or telling anyone were very slim. Plus who was going to believe him? Victor continued to stare at his hand and began to wonder what else he was capable of doing.

When he wasn’t at school or working, Victor decided to test the limits of his abilities. Late at night, he would sit in his room attempting to do certain things. Once he placed a candle on his desk and soon realized that if he concentrated hard enough, the wick would suddenly ignite, meaning he could create fire.

On another occasion when he was busy doing the dishes alone, he tried using his powers again. He concentrated until he felt the odd buzzing sensation in his skull; and when he focused his sight on the sink, the dishes began to move and wash themselves. The sponge would scrub, and the dishes would float into the side with water and rinse themselves off before dropping into the drying rack. Victor felt an odd tingling sensation in his head and his fingers, and was hardly able to believe what he was seeing.

“This is something else!”

Over time, he became more efficient with his abilities and was able to do many more basic tasks without having to put in much effort. When it came to finishing chores, doing a parlor trick or two was quite easy. Eventually, he got to the point where he wanted to try something much harder. He sat in his room, and after he was sure everyone else was asleep, he placed both his hands together. When he pulled them apart, he created an orb of white colored wind that was very small in the beginning. He knitted his brow in concentration and attempted to make the orb larger. Papers on his desk began to flutter and stuff started moving around as the wind grew stronger.

Eventually, he created an orb the size of a grapefruit, and his whole room was filled with a gust of bursting wind. Victor laughed and when he slammed his palms together, a massive gust of wind exploded outward, knocking a lot of his things over and sending Victor onto his back. When several of his items fell onto the floor, his mother’s voice suddenly called to him from outside.

“Victor, what the hell are you doing in there?”

“Nothing, mama,” he assured her as he sat up in his bed. Victor glanced at his hands and was unable to help smiling. “Nothing at all!”

When Monday came, he had a very important job to take care of. He went straight to Rhonda’s office to pick up some paperwork his father needed to sign so he could buy the lot he wanted for his new store location.

Rhonda was sitting at her desk working on a computer, and when Victor knocked, she looked up at him and smiled, saying, “Hey kid, you here for the paperwork?”

Victor nodded, and Rhonda got up from her chair to pick up a manila envelope. She walked around her desk, handed it to Victor, and gave him a few last-minute instructions.

“Make sure your father files things directly through my office. If he has any questions, he shouldn’t hesitate to call me. This is quite a business leap, and there’s no telling what the future may hold.”

“Yeah, but the future isn’t always bad, is it?”

Rhonda sighed and replied, “I don’t know. I’m not a sibyl. I don’t have a magic deck of cards that can tell your fate or anything like that. Your future is whatever you decide it is. Always remember that, kid!”

Victor nodded, and Rhonda smiled while placing a hand on his shoulder. Her cold, startling eyes pierced his soul, and she gave a final message that almost sounded like a warning.

“Take great care with your prospects, Victor! Not everything is as it seems.”

Victor felt a chill run down his spine, and he smiled, promising Rhonda he would do as she said.

He left the office, returned to his car, and was just about to drive off when he heard a ringing in his ears. It was very faint at first, but grew louder when he started to drive. Soon, it became irritating, but he noticed that when he took a turn, it grew fainter. Victor had his car take him in whichever direction would make the sound quieter until he arrived back at Wilmar Korlak’s shop. Victor swallowed a lump in his throat and decided to enter the shop again without knowing why.

The door was wide open this time, and he walked right in. At this point, the ringing in his ears got significantly lower, and he found himself drawn into a backroom.

He entered an expansive, dark room with fine tile floors and a medium-sized tower in the center. It had a large glass ball mounted on top with a cloud of colors inside. Victor approached the tower, and when he reached out and touched the glass ball, the ringing in his ears immediately disappeared. The second his fingers made contact, the cloud burst apart, revealing swirling violet, blue, white, black, and gold lights.

“Magnificent, isn’t it, boy?”

Victor whipped around and saw Wilmar Korlak standing at the room's entranceway. He was garbed in fine silk robes of violet and black with stars and crescent moons. When he entered the room, it was almost like he was floating rather than walking.

“The Eye of All Seeing! It allows me to view any part of the world anytime I desire!”

Victor was overwhelmed and found himself unable to move. Wilmar smiled, placed his hands together, and started to encircle Victor and the tower.

“When you first entered my shop, I took you for a mere mortal boy and nothing more. However, when you could access the Book of Incantations, I knew then that you were special. For only a wizard can access the pages and learn its secrets.”

“Who are you?” Victor managed to get out.

“I have gone by many names,” Wilmar said as he continued to walk in a circle. “In a time lost long ago, I was Lonkaro the Wise. The first and greatest disciple of Astaron the Great.”

Victor swallowed a lump in his throat as he suddenly felt a dark and haunting presence from Wilmar.

“Why did you allow me to come here?”

Wilmar smiled. “To fulfill my desire for everlasting life, of course! I have become quite powerful in the ways of the Black Arts, but it extracts a heavy price when one wields it. I am close to reigniting the embers of the once-sacred Fire Crystals that will restore life to our once-magical world, but I have had difficulty enduring due to my progression in power. Others born with the power have occasionally been born capable of being wizards, and the Eye has allowed me to locate a few of them. They all lacked potential in the end to be wizards, except for you.”

He suddenly stopped walking and caused Victor to panic as he approached him and seized hold of his chin. Victor found it impossible to move, and felt like his legs were made of cement.

“Never have I sensed a power as great as yours, boy! No doubt, you will replenish my life force, but you will also help fulfill my purpose in restoring the world to what it once was!”

Before anything else could be said, a voice spoke to both of them from the door, and Victor recognized it as Rhonda.

“You never miss a trick, do you, Lonkaro?”

Wilmar’s face soured, and he released Victor. Rhonda was standing at the doorway with both hands clenched into fists.

“If you harm the boy, you will answer to me!”

“Anamara!” Wilmar replied with delight. “I should have known you would return someday. After a thousand years, our long-awaited duel has come at last!”

“The boy is innocent,” Rhonda said with a scowl. “Do him no harm!”

“There is no need now that you are here,” Wilmar said while holding out his palms. An orb of magic appeared, and he hurled his hands, casting a bolt of violet-colored lightning. “You will suffice and carry out my plan!”

Rhonda responded by throwing her hands up, causing her to disappear in a funnel of smoke. The lightning missed, and Rhonda reappeared on the other side of the room.

“And what plan is that?” Rhonda asked while waving her hands about. “Wiping out the mortal population of this world?”

Seven orbs of blue light appeared, and Rhonda swiped her left arm, causing all the orbs to sail toward Wilmar like bullets.

“And all for what? So a world long dead can be resurrected?”

Wilmar bared his teeth as he held his arms and crossed them before him, creating a magic shield of violet-colored lines. The orbs barraged his shield until it shattered, and Wilmar held up his left arm. Three giant black snakes shot out from his hand and began to strike at Rhonda with fury as she kept them at bay by slapping them with her hands, causing blue sparks to burst each time.

“Our master entrusted us with guarding the Sacred Fire,” Wilmar protested. “When I am at full power, I can awaken the sleeping Fire Crystals, and the world will be restored. The mortals who stand in my way are a mere obstacle that must be removed!”

While they continued to duel, Victor felt a wave of power build up within him, and he suddenly felt another force take control. He held his hands apart, his eyes and mouth glowed bright orange, and a voice that was not his own spoke from within.

“Stop this madness at once!” he shouted like thunder.

Both wizards stopped battling and looked at Victor in shock. Victor had no control over what was happening, but he had no fear.

“I have returned from beyond and been reborn again in this vessel,” he said through another voice. “You both have a destiny to fulfill and must do it together!”

He turned his head toward Wilmar, his eyes flashing. “The Black Arts have corrupted your soul. Forsake it now or be forever cursed to damnation!”

He turned toward Rhonda. “Your negligence for our way of life has left us open to ruin. Return to the old ways or be forever desolate! Forget not the purpose of the Sacred Fire! It stands to bring life to this world, not to take it. To be a beacon of hope to others, not as a means for selfish gain. The time of the wizards will come again, but not through bloodshed and death. Heed what I told you today, my old disciples, and peace will finally be restored!”

Then the power faded away, and Victor stumbled while holding his head. He was aware of what had happened but had difficulty believing it. Both wizards immediately bowed their heads to him in respect.

“Forgive us, O great one,” Wilmar said with utter humbleness. “I did not know you were harboring the power of Astaron the Great!”

“He used the last of his magic to ensure some of his power would endure over the centuries,” Rhonda explained to Victor. “It appears you were chosen to harbor this power. We solemnly vow to stand by what he wished for and to show you the ways of our world, if you will allow us!”

Victor sighed and finally understood then and there what was his destiny, namely to protect the power of the Sacred Fire and keep it from harm. Astaron’s power had been reborn again through him.

 

Later, when things had settled down, he met up with Ava at their special spot, and this time he approached her with new confidence. She looked at him with confusion, and when she asked what had happened, Victor didn’t hesitate. He kissed her softly, and Ava put her arms around his neck. When they broke apart, he told her everything. After he had finished his story, they sat together and watched the sunset, Ava smiling.

“Wow! I mean just…wow! It’s a lot to take in!”

“You have no idea,” Victor replied with a grin. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier. I just wasn’t sure how.”

“Better late than never!” Ava smiled again and interlaced her fingers with Victor’s.

 

 

 

 

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Eminent Desire – Introduction video

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An Interview with Vivienne Kapkarich

On September 8, 2023, Vivienne Kapkarich submitted an unpublished poetry collection to Novelty Fiction. Proofreading and light editing ensued. The work, “Eminent Desire,” was published in paperback format the following week via our imprint Abigail George Books and in Kindle e-book format about 3 weeks later.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – ​​ Your love poems are written in the first person, and you address someone else – a current or former lover – who is unnamed. Are the poems rooted in your personal experiences, or does the collection include some imaginary scenarios?

VIVIENNE KAPKARICH – Eminent Desire is a semi-fictional work comprising a collection of poems, including love poems, that are rooted in personal experiences, acquaintances, environment, and surroundings. The profound emotions evoked during instances of desire enabled me to harness my creativity and compose from a distinctive perspective. My literary offerings encapsulate my deepest yearnings and the activities I envisioned engaging in with my beloved, expertly blending memories and fantasies into an alluring concoction. These desires transported us to an imaginary realm, where we could escape reality and experience it vicariously. Whether reciprocated or not, my compositions remain a bold expression of my imagination and experiences. My love poems are derived from a place of assurance, drawing inspiration from both personal encounters and hypothetical circumstances borne from my surroundings.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – ​​ Is it likely that someone out there among the readers will believe that a poem was written about them? If so, how do you feel about that situation?

VIVIENNE KAPKARICH – I strongly believe that one of my admirers, who I happen to have a crush on, will stumble upon these poems and interpret them as if they were written for them. The experiences we shared have been the foundation of my work. It would bring me immense joy to know that they felt the emotions conveyed in my words, independent of other factors. Such recognition would make me feel valued and appreciated.

Connectivity does not end there. As I wrote, I envisioned my reader connecting deeply with the message in these poems. I am confident that my work will evoke powerful emotions in my readers, leading them toward a better understanding of their inner selves. Though I may not know my readers personally, I feel a deep sense of appreciation when my art resonates with them. Creating a connection with my reader was my top priority, and I am certain that my work will help them visualize and embrace their emotions. I am confident that my evocative poetry will leave a lasting impact on my readers, as it helps them become more familiar with their emotions and themselves.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – ​​ The chosen title “Eminent Desire” and your description on the back cover indicate that this work is a compilation of poems about different kinds of desire. How many poems had you written before this theme emerged, and did the concept inspire you to write additional poems?

VIVIENNE KAPKARICH – Earlier this year, I had over 80 poems, each with a title. However, I did not title all of them at the time. When my colleague and an author approached me to publish my work, I had no title for the book. I had to read my work again to find a suitable title. I wanted to make sure the title accurately represented what my work was about. Amidst this, as I was writing "Week twenty-eight," I had lost two people in the same week over a span of 6 years.

Later, I began to imagine a conversation with "Death," as I had a lot of burning questions about it. Then it became clear to me that passion is what drives things forward, even in the case of death. That's how the title of my book came to me – "Even Death Has an Eminent Desire." I believe that death's desires are fulfilled when we suffer, hence the title. By that time, I was confidently writing one of the last poems among the published ones, titled "Death."

The concept Eminent Desire has truly inspired me, and I am excited to have created something that resonates with my readers. I have received a lot of curious questions from my fans about why I chose this title, which has further motivated me to continue writing. I believe that desires, whether real or imagined, have a significant impact on our emotional experiences, and I am confident in my ability to explore this theme in my future work. In fact, I have been considering doing a spin-off of Eminent Desire, and am eager to see where this creative journey takes me.

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NOVELTY FICTION – ​​ For you personally, what makes poetry the most effective and suitable means of expression when writing about this theme?

VIVIENNE KAPKARICH – As an ambivert, I have come to embrace the power of my alone time when words flow effortlessly through my mind. I used to question why these words were present in my thoughts, but one day during my solitude, I decided to put pen to paper and began to write. As I wrote, I discovered a sense of ease and comfort that came with expressing my thoughts on paper. Over time, writing became a therapeutic outlet for me, allowing me to present my imagination poetically and share my mind without fear of judgment. I now confidently use poetry as my preferred medium of expression, not only because it is enjoyable but also because it serves as a valuable tool for self-discovery and personal growth.

 

NOVELTY FICTION – ​​ Your style tends to be straightforward. Do any of your poems contain subtle hints and hidden meanings? Do you think readers will come closer to understanding you by reading the collection more than once?

VIVIENNE KAPKARICH – My poems are masterpieces crafted with intricate subtlety and profound meaning. For those who appreciate poetry, each line contains a wealth of intriguing interpretations waiting to be discovered. Even if the initial read only captures the surface meaning, multiple readings will reveal the true depth and significance of the words.

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NOVELTY FICTION – ​​ Anything else you would like our readers to know about you or your work?

VIVIENNE KAPKARICH – I was raised in an environment where education was greatly valued, but I felt that its scope was limited. Despite my strong passion for art, it seemed like there was no room for it. However, I didn't give up; instead, I turned inward and channeled my energy into reading. Among the novels I read, my favorite was "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe. What fascinated me the most was the part where Eneke the bird says, "Men have learned to shoot without missing their mark, and I have learned to fly without perching on a twig." Although I had never written poems, I was always drawn to the art of poetry.

Five years ago, I reread the book and searched for the meaning behind the title "Things Fall Apart." This led me to the poem "The Second Coming" by W.B. Yeats, which evoked something in me. Then I came across "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost, which was used to explain a situation in another book. These two poems sparked a passion in me for poetry, and I wanted to learn more. That's when I stumbled upon Emily Dickinson's work, which fascinated me even more. With all three authors, I wrote my first poem, "Scars of Change." It was then I realized that I had found my destiny through their books, and the future had me in store as a poet. This journey led me to write two more poems inspired by my life in relation to one of the mentioned authors.

I am confident that my readers can recognize the inspiration from these authors in my poems. My journey in poetry was not something I pursued consciously, but I was connected to it through different authors. They evoked some poetic art in me, and I believe that my success is just as much theirs. I urge my readers to make reading a habit, and they will find their path in this world, just like I did. I'm sure they will be able to connect to my work and find their own path as well.

 

© 2023 by Novelty Fiction.

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Chereze Salome Booysen – My True Story: Prose & Poetry

236 pages. Published by Novelty Fiction in August, 2023.

 

Reviews

Denise Grootboom: Very good and interesting book.

Norma: The book is beautiful, but she is not finished yet.

Oom Tommy Gerwel: “My True Story” What a story to tell! A book to read. I was reading and thinking at the same time. I couldn’t stop. It was worth reading and need to be read it again. The message touched me so deeply, but one thing is clear: the authors was not born to go under, but to rise above all. Go well.

Abigail George: You show great promise as a writer. You write with a great depth and insight, imagination and skill, and you still have so many years ahead of you. Just think of what you are going to pack and unpack into little tiny words in your lifetime… God blessed you. God spoke through you. There is spirit and spirituality, sense and sensibility on these pages. There is prayer meeting redemption and sacrifice on these pages. The book is prophecy that will keep you captivated and spellbound from beginning to the middle of the book right up until the end. Thank you for sharing “your true story” with the world. God discovered you and planted this gem inside of you, this treasure of a book, and it is about to be launched worldwide.

Dalene Hitzeroth: This writer is powerful.

Joey Jansen: Good Afternoon. Firstly I would like to make use of this opportunity to thank our HEAVENLY FATHER for the grace he manifested upon your life for you to pen down your message in book form. I read the book and could easily relate to it. Meaning I come from a community where the saying was: “You will reap the fruits of your hard labour,” and that’s what I feel in reading the book. The language is easy to read and understand. I therefore will recommend that the book be made easily available in bookstores, libraries and so on. Congratulations, and I look forward to the next publication. I BLESS YOU.

Belinda: Very good words rhyme, beautiful, and there is a story through it al. Well done, girl!

Gabriella Van Der Walt: It was beautiful.

Tanya Havenga: This was amazing, Chereze!!!! A talent like yours should be litterely shared with the world. My husband even read some of it. It is so inspiring. Please never stop writing. You’re a true author at heart.

Danvor Andrews: It makes me happy to read your book, from the lows right up to the highs. Your way of explaining things makes me think a little further than what I could have imagined.

Freddie Robberts: Chereze Booysen’s “My True Story” is a captivating poem book that delves into the depths of human emotions and experiences. Through her eloquent verses, Booysen paints a vivid and relatable picture of life’s joys, sorrows, and everything in between. The poems are imbued with raw honesty and heartfelt vulnerability, which allows readers to connect with the author on a profound level.

Each poem in the collection is a window into Booysen’s soul, as she fearlessly explores themes of love, loss, resilience, and self-discovery. Her use of imagery and metaphor evokes powerful emotions, leaving a lasting impact on the reader’s mind. The language is both accessible and evocative, making it a delightful read for poetry enthusiasts of all levels.

“My True Story” is a true gem in contemporary poetry, and Chereze Booysen’s talent shines brightly throughout its pages. Whether you are a seasoned poetry lover or new to the genre, this collection will undoubtedly leave you moved, inspired, and yearning for more. A must-read for anyone seeking genuine and profound poetic expression.

Jemaine Moos: An Emotional Journey: A Review of “My True Story ” by Chereze Booysen

Chereze Booysen’s poetry is a testament to the power of emotions and human experiences. In her book, she uses words that not only captures the essence of her own journey but also invites readers to connect with their own emotions on a profound level.

One of the most striking aspects of Booysen’s poetry is its emotional depth. Her poetry resonates with raw feelings, allowing me to travel through different emotions. Her words have the unique ability to enable me to connect with her poetry on a personal level, drawing me into the experience of her difficulties, insecurities, happiness and growth as if they were my own.

The book serves as a portal through which our minds wander and drift back and forth through different phases of life, immersing us in the nostalgia of the past, while simultaneously drawing us into the hope of the future. Her poetry allows me to reflect on my own life’s journey, evoking memories and experiences that may have been buried deep inside me.

Throughout her book, Booysen takes the time to acknowledge and appreciate the people who have played significant roles in her life. Her gratitude shines through her words of the impact these individuals had on her personal growth and creative journey. Her acknowledgment reminds me of the importance of cherishing the relationships we encounter along our own paths.

In conclusion, Chereze Booysen’s poetry collection is a masterpiece of emotional exploration and profound reflection. The verses guide us through a range of feelings, allowing us to connect with her experiences while exploring our own. Her ability to make our minds wander through time and emotions is a testament to her poetic talent. This book is an invitation to embark on a personal journey, delving into the depths of the human experience and emerging with a newfound appreciation for the beauty of emotions.

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Saadatu Ibrahim – Zahira

 

At the age of five, Zahira died.

 

* * *

 

‘‘Zahira, Zahira, open your eyes, my love.’’

His voice, like a morning bird, has become a frequent occurrence for her lately; he’s always had that kind of effect on her, it's like she’s possessed by his very being.

“You and I, we are one, there can't be one without the other,” he always said.

She drags her lids up against their will, praying to catch a glimpse of the face that has seared itself in her very being, only to see the familiar patterns of her walls.

She struggles to walk to the bathroom, her mind on the dream she was pulled out of, when she stumbles upon her luggage lurking by the door. She had forgotten. No wonder she is dreaming of him today. She is going back to Rowwa city, and there is no running from the myriad of memories that chased her away in the first place. After Hamida’s message, she knew the siren call of her former home will not be left unheard anymore.

She is going home, and is absolutely terrified.

 

* * *

 

From a young age, Zahira knew she was special. She was born on a Friday at midnight, and her mama had gotten two days to gaze on the fruit of her agonizing labor. Then she smiled and finally slept as she couldn’t since giving birth. She never woke up. Papa had never forgiven her for it, and the same went for the daughter she left behind. Zahira had never blamed him. She found it hard to forgive as well. She swore to love him as Mama wasn’t able to; even when the hatred in his eyes burned a path down her spine, she would love him always. At least, that’s what she thought. Hindsight, they say, is 20/20.

Adam Lambert’s song Ghost Town is playing on the stereo, “Now I know my heart is a ghost town’’ – how ironic, she thinks. She has often wondered how her driver, Daniel, always seemed to know the right songs to play. In the three years he’s been driving her, his songs have always matched her mood for the day. Coincidence maybe, but she has a firm belief that he may be psychic. For some reason, she doesn’t feel her spirit being lifted at all by the rhythm of the music, everything seems numb to her, soulless. She sets her head on the headrest, closing her eyes, expecting some closure, but the sudden darkness evokes past memories, memories she doesn’t want to accept as hers, her inner demons coming to light.

 

* * *

 

When she was a child, she wished people could see that she loved her papa just the way he was. She wouldn't show that kind of affection even to her grandmother Inna, the woman who raised her and the only person who saved her from his wrath every time.

At the age of 8, Papa almost sent her to Mama.

She remembers the scorching sound of her grandmother’s cries. She could faintly hear her papa’s voice, Inna was crying and pleading with him. It had been two days already, two days of being locked up in a small storage room, deprived of food and water. “It is all for the good of the family,” he had said. “If not punished, she'll end up loose and bring shame on her family.”

Zahira had always been given an hour for her visits to her friend Hamida’s house. Two days earlier, had she known how serious he was about her punishment, she would not have stuck around for that extra plate of delicious bottom pot jollof rice Hamida’s mother made, or made her way to the hillside to enjoy the serene view of her favorite place in town. She definitely would not have followed the allure of Alhaji Abu’s ripe mangoes swaying from their perch like a particularly succulent temptress.

He grabbed her right hand as she stepped into the compound. For a moment, her heart stopped, fear racing through her blood. Kidnapped in my own papa’s house, she thought. She had opened her mouth to let out her characteristic scream that never failed to have Inna teleporting to her when he hit the back of her head. “Shut up, you useless girl!” he growled. Papa, it's just Papa, she thought as she sagged back like a puppet with cut strings. Her heart was still pounding inside her head. For a moment, she relished the feel of him, strong and rigid against her back. It was like a hug. Then his wide palms descended on her, and she knew nothing but pain.

It was her nonstop screaming that brought Inna out of her room; but that day, even Inna could not save her from him. “You will not feed her or open this door without my permission,” he stated; and just as he said, it was done.

By dusk, all her tears had dried up. She dozed off wondering whether Inna had picked up her remaining mangoes that were left scattered on the ground.

After 48 hours, he finally decided to end her punishment, but only when Inna threatened to take her own life. “You might be heartless, but I am still the woman that gave birth to you, so let her out. If not, I die, and I will make sure you are cursed forever before I go!” Those words were what saved Zahira that day.

But she couldn’t hold on any longer. Before Inna came to her rescue, she was already on the verge of passing out. The door was finally opened, her grandmother rushing in. She could feel the old woman's shaking hands on her frail body, trying to pick her up. Her papa’s retreating figure was the last thing she saw before the world went blank.

After a week of Inna’s care and treatment, she finally recuperated and was able to stand on her feet again. That day she swore to never, ever make her papa cross again. Had she only known that it would anger him that much, she would have left Sani and Ali alone when they snatched her mangoes and ran. She learnt a valuable lesson that day, justice had come at a steep price.

 

* * *

 

“Move out of the way, child!” The driver's voice echoes and brings her back to reality.

The long journey has finally come to an end. Upon entering the city, she tells Daniel to take her to her favorite spot. The route to the hilltop has been engraved in her memory since the last time she stopped to say goodbye. With her assistance, they reach their destination in little time.

The view from up the hill never seizes to amaze her. Every time she feels like crumbling. The flowing stream below washes all her worries away, then suddenly she feels like everything is going to be alright.

She closes her eyes whilst enjoying the sensation that brushes against her body like a breeze. Everything feels nostalgic, the scent of fresh green grass, the cool breeze, and Tahir. She can see him calling out to her, his wide smile reaching her eyes, and can't help but smile as she makes her way to him. It is just like the game of tag they used to play; their hands were merely inches apart, and then he was gone. She never once caught him, always wound up being the prey.

 

Zahira had been 18 when he came into her life. She had always dreamt that one day, her prince in shining armor would come for her. What she got instead was not a prince but Tahir, the man who taught her the meaning of true love at a time when she didn’t even know what love was. He was not at all what she imagined the love of her life to be like. He was so much more, too good for her.

It was a Saturday evening, and she was on her way home from the hillside, as usual. There was no indication that her life was about to change.

“Excuse me, I desperately need your help,” the stranger said while looking at her with an apologetic smile on his face. “It seems I’ve been walking in circles these past thirty minutes.”

He needed her? She couldn’t help but smile. “It’s okay, where are you looking for? I can help you,” she replied.

Based upon his description, she directed him to the house she understood belonged to Alhaji Abu, their neighbor. The stranger turned out to be very talkative. In just a few minutes, he had told her almost everything about himself – his name, where he came from, the reason for his visit, and who he was visiting. It turned out that Alhaji Abu was his uncle.

He just kept on talking as if he didn't know when to stop, but she didn't want him to, she liked his voice. It was deep and melodious, so she just kept on smiling as he talked. But she also knew she had better get going, or she would end up being late.

The way he looked at her made her at loss for words.

“I need to go home now,” she said while looking down, not wanting their eyes to meet. She'd never seen anything like it, they where brown but almost golden, complementing his golden-brown skin. She had always been complimented for her fair skin, but looking at his skin color made her jealous. He looked perfect.

“What’s your name?” he finally asked her. She looked up and answered him, and he repeated after her, “Zahira!” Then he added, “Let me drop you off at home, as a way of showing my gratitude.”

She couldn’t let him drop her off, considering her papa was home. She knew better than that.

The same evening, she told her grandmother all about their meeting. Later, she tossed and turned in bed wishing she had at least gotten his name.

The next day, her wish came true. It was “Tahir Buratai,” as he was named. Apparently, after meeting his uncle, all he could talk about was the kind girl that had helped him out. His uncle had then told him that the girl was definitely Malam Isa’s daughter Zahira. Suddenly, he stood in front of Zahira’s house, waiting to see her again. He did not care for propriety or culture, just wanted to talk to her, to hear her laugh again.

He was deep in thoughts when Zahira came out. She didn't want to come outside when a boy came to tell her of the stranger's arrival, but her grandmother insisted she come and hear him out. Not that she didn't want to see him, it simply made her feel uncomfortable.

She didn't know what to say to him. His eyes rendered her speechless, which she dreaded. To anyone who knew her, speechless was not a word typically used to describe her in any way. She disliked the effect he was having upon her, it was all so new and unfamiliar. But as soon as she stepped outside and saw him, he smiled, and for a moment the world stopped.

 

Tahir lived in the city but would come by every week just to see Zahira, whom he doted and adored. These talks always happened while her father was out, and Tahir’s uncle did not interfere. She’d never had anyone treat her the way he did, but she came to terms with it eventually, and started believing that even she deserved to be loved. Tahir gradually changed her perception of love itself.

With the amount of time they spent outside her house, she would come to learn a lot of things about him. He had the perfect life with a perfect family. He was the only son; his father had been a university professor until he retired, his mother a head nurse at a major hospital. His father wanted him to take up a job at the university, but Tahir liked the business world better, so he had ended up running his own real estate agency. The most important thing she learned though was that he liked her, genuinely liked her. That was a scarier thought than she had anticipated. Love can be brutal, that much she knew – like her father's love for his deceased wife, or her own love for her father. Tahir's love was just as intense, but sweet.

 

* * *

 

At the age of 10, she had solved the mystery of her papa’s hatred. She didn’t want to believe it, but deep down she always knew. The way he saw it, she had taken the love of his life away from him. Zahira would recall the tales Inna used to tell her of the love Papa and Mama used to share, a love so beautiful that people still whispered about it when faced with Papa’s unsmiling appearance.

She was just like her mama, they said: feisty, bold, and beautiful. Those qualities made all the men in town chase after her mother, including Papa. She had ignored him at first, but he was persistent, proving that he would always be around even if she kept pushing him away.

Zahira learnt from her parents' relationship that love is unpredictable. Someone or something always comes in between, similar to the monster in the bedtime stories Inna used to tell her every night; a monster that tore anything in its path. She had come to believe that in her papa’s eyes, she was that monster, the despicable evil monster, the one who snatched Papa’s love from him.

 

* * *

 

At 20, she was a beautiful bride, ready to start a new life away from home. She thought she had found a love like Papa’s – someone to live for, to die for.

Even today, Zahira cannot remember what really happened in those last precious seconds. It all happened so fast; one moment he was there, the next he was gone. She couldn’t believe it, things weren’t suppose to happen that way; they were supposed to live happily ever after as husband and wife. No, she was not supposed to lose him like Papa did his wife. This time was supposed to be different.

They had been wed that day. Tahir came to take his bride away, just as her papa had instructed him to do. But she couldn’t leave without saying goodbye to her favorite spot, so they headed to the hillside. They looked exactly like a perfectly painted portrait of a happy couple, hands entwined, the wonderful view, and smiles that could last forever.

If only he hadn’t let go of her hand that day, he would still be with her.

“Where are you running off to?” Zahira asked. “Come back!”

“Come catch me if you can!” The sound of his laughter echoed all over, and he had his usual boyish grin on his face.

It was their wedding day, after all. Passion was overflowing, and no one would back down from a challenge. She was close to winning, merely inches away from victory. Then suddenly, the roles were reversed, he tried to grab on to her hand instead. “Don’t try to fool me, I will not let you win today!” she said, oblivious to what was happening. And just like that, the earth gave way, and Tahir was gone.

 

* * *

 

Heads turned as she stepped into the open courtyard of her childhood home. Whispers rose in a cacophony, falling with the sighs of her name.

“What is the cursed child doing here, hasn’t she done enough already?”

For those who didn’t know her story, curiosity would keep eating them up until they finally gave in. “Who is the girl?” they whispered.

If she was lucky, the responder would answer by naming her as the ‘daughter and granddaughter of the household.’ Otherwise, she would be known as the unlucky cursed child and husband killer, the unfortunate girl that became a widow the same day she became a bride.

It had been three days since Tahir’s demise, but a very small part of her was hoping that it was all a ruse, just a big ruse planned by her grandmother to get her back home. After the incident on her wedding day, she couldn’t stay at her house any longer. Her papa didn’t take her in. Even when Inna insisted, he never allowed it, and Zahira was left stranded. She thought she hated him, believed herself capable of that.

We’ve both lost. Let's mourn now, and let the weapons fall, Zahira thought. But her papa’s heart was like burned coal, he refused to listen.

 

* * *

 

Tahir's parents had been the only thing that kept her afloat afterwards. They had reached out to her and dragged her out of the well of grief and fear that she had buried herself into without having Inna to pull her up.

All she ever had to do was make one phone call, and they had Daniel come and pick her up. They gave her a room and everything she might ever need, without her having to ask for anything. The three of them mourned together, sang sad songs together, held hands, and sometimes laughed tearfully about what a wonderful young man Tahir had been. Jovial, playful, adventurous, interested in other people, and yes – talkative.

She has managed to hold out for approximately five years. She always keeps to herself, busy with schoolwork. She is only two years away from completing her residency, and people have taken to calling her Dr Zahira already. The only problem is that her achievements and all the kindness and affection in the world cannot fill the void from having lost her love.

 

* * *

 

It has been seven days since Inna’s death. Everything seemingly has gone back to normal, her papa treating her like she doesn’t exist. But one thing that stands out is that he never tells her to leave, so maybe he has started seeing the good in her.

​​ She awakes with a resolve, she is going to make everything right. She dresses up in her best clothes and makes her way to the hillside. Just as she expected, Tahir is waiting for her, but this time around she doesn’t let go of his hand; instead, they leave this world together hand in hand. It is just like killing two birds with one stone. In the end, everyone gets what they want.

This downfall has been going on since she was five. “I wish Zahira had died instead, I wish she had never been born,” said her papa while she was hiding under Inna’s dark and scary bed as a means to escape him after she had broken his phone.

She must have fallen asleep while hiding, but woke up lying on Inna’s bed. The next day, her grandmother asked whether Zahira overheard anything the previous night while hiding, and she answered no. Well, if the girl didn’t remember it, then it never happened. ​​ But it did happen! She died a long time ago, namely that night when she was killed by her papa.

At the age of 25, she has granted her papa his greatest wish: a life without his wife’s murderer.

 

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Phoebe A. Xavier – Silver Lining

 

 

2458 Terran Standard Time

Our Lady of Impeccable Diagnosis Publik

Hospital Olympus City, IKP Sector, Mars

 

Dr. Beatrice Konevi approached the Mortal Care Ward with somber steps. She was in good shape for her forty-two years, though her gait and shoulders sagged with sadness. Her dark skin and sweeping mahogany hair contrasted sharply with icy blue eyes – orbs reflecting the artificial lighting of the long, low, white hallway.

The hospital had been constructed centuries ago, before the terraforming of the planet was complete, so it did not feature windows directly bordering on the developing atmosphere.

Rather, Our Lady of Impeccable Diagnosis was ensconced in a ten foot thick shell comprised of two layers of composite metal sandwiched on either side of a thirty billion cubic foot concave sea of water. The solid part of the radiation shield was a nano-rendered amalgamation of tin, antimony, tungsten, bismuth and lead. There was a single surface level entry point in the original construction, though eventually breathable atmosphere made underground access logistically possible and subway ingresses were built.

As a whole, the complex was a testament to early colonial Martian hardiness. Yet for all the hope the faculty managed to muster over time, an undercurrent of anxiety pervaded it like a colorless airborne pathogen.

Doctor Konevi, breathing the same air as everyone else in the hospital, plodded along. The tiny bit of news she had to share with her patient’s mother this morning was not very promising, and the situation was already dismal. Padding a train wreck with a silver lining – presenting the horrors of loved ones dying in torment as something less than a grating barrage of despondency – was a nuanced bullshitter skill she had not yet mastered as a physician, but you go through the motions:

Slake till you make.

You finish the work day.

Earn the bloody paycheck.

Save who you can. Eat your own food.

Defecate. Vomit. Sleep. Repeat.

Die on your own time.

 

She sighed as she entered the room. The only other audible sonic register was a low volume chorus of beeping life support systems assuring concerned parties, at least for now, that the various denizens of the Mortal Care Ward were still legally alive. With its symmetric rows, twelve-by-twelve, the large room was a bivouac base camp on the path to death partitioned into one hundred forty-four relatively small squares. Each square contained a bed, which in turn contained a patient.

Dr. Konevi surveilled the room, which had a ceiling lower than the hallway’s. Most of the care here was automated, and no other staff members were present.

Shuffling quietly past the visual cloak provided by the ghostfield that the Fuselage family was spending an extra 1700 credits a day to keep in place, Dr. Konevi saw the sad mother and her broken son once again. The forcefield could screen out anyone not authorized to be within his care space; but grudgingly mayhaps, Dr. Konevi was cleared to treat and appraise Tomp Fuselage.

It was growing to be a traumatic thing for her, however.

“Like stick a fork in it already, OK? He’s not just in a coma, ma’am. Mrs. Fuselage, he’s suffering from unwakable depths of Krienhoffer’s Syndrome and is showing brain activity that indicates he is also looping in Glacken’s Quandary. Virtual Reality Constriction is real. The particular badcase, niche affliction which your son has is horrific. So please, for fucksake, can we just pull the plug on the poor sod before it costs you another 18 million credits in medical bills you can’t afford?

“Please, ma’am? Please?!?”

She must have been staring with that look of disbelief mixed with bridled rage on her face long enough to disturb Mrs. Fuselage, who broke her surly trance state with a timid-yet-agitated greeting. “Dr. Konev... Konevi, are you alright?”

“Oh,” the doctor stammered. “Oh yes, I’m sorry Mrs. Fuselage, I have had a long day.”

Her long day was dwarfed by the visceral eternity that was eating this poor woman’s son. Krienhoffer’s Syndrome was one of the most exquisitely horrid maladies contracted exclusively through use of advanced human technology. Cancers of the distantly memorable Age of Information paled next to this 25th century bio-tech med concern. Fatal Radiation Saturation (FRS) would be a cool relief compared to the simmering agony Tomp Fuselage was stuck inside.

For it was mostly suspense and searing emotional pain he suffered from in his comatose state. He was beyond the realm of meaningful physical pain, Tomp was looped in Krienhoffer Space. She pushed the negativity out of her head and completed her Mortal Care Ward rounds.

On her way out of the room, she encountered one of her medtechs, an intern named Jona Aureliano, who was on his way in.

“Hello Dr. Konevi,” the young man greeted her. “Anything urgent to address in here today?”

She shook her head. “Hi Jona. Nothing urgent, just the usual diagnostic readings. Also, Mrs. Fuselage is here. Please don’t disturb her.”

“No ma’am.” He nodded, and they passed each other.

 

* * *

 

That night, Jona again found himself on the internet reading about Tomp’s condition, obsessing over the available data modern science had accrued on Krienhoffer’s. The glowing holosoft pages scrolled in front of his face slowly.

 

Krienhoffer’s Syndrome:

 

A physiologic/cyberneuro condition defined by a person's

consciousness being locked in, or prone to being stuck inside,

distressing loops in Virt space. The condition is understood to be

caused by immersion into grossly miscalibrated Virt, whether by

glitch or sabotage. Through testimony and analysis, it is known

to be a hellish torture wherein the anxiety of being trapped and

the simulated/insinuated pain create an escalating feedback loop

that forever maximize your psychological suffering.

 

Treatment has had limited success at best. Many victims of the

syndrome remain effectively vegetables until contractually

absolved of living; others only fall into the state occasionally at

first, but it is an escalating condition.

 

The increasing incidences of this tech-based misfortune has led

to a number of legislative initiatives that better prepare the

families of coders who work in capricious and theoretical Virt

space.

 

 

Glacken’s Quandary:

 

A hypothetical paradox defined by hyper-serendipity that builds

into reality failure. It is presumed/projected to occur in Virt

circumstances wherein a person does not realize they are

trapped in the Virt but their subconsciousness is trying to alert

them to their condition. One resolution produced by the

fragmentation of sensation that the Quandary creates could be

waking from a Krienhoffer Loop, while the other could be a

reset of the same Loop.

 

Clinical assessment of over four thousand Krienhoffer’s victims

has shown a common, recurring incidence of Glacken’s

Quandary which exacerbates the primary condition. Further

studies show that the longer a person is afflicted with Glacken’s,

the more frequently the sensation leads to a reset of their

Krienhoffer loop rather than an awakening from it.

 

Contemporary physicians & SOLCorps Judges who have

overseen long-term Glacken’s patients locked in Krienhoffer

Loops advocate removal from life support as an ethical

response. While numerous courts have upheld this to be legal,

families of victims are often hesitant to pull the plug.

 

- SOLCorps Medical Database

 

Exiting the webspace that hosted the official, scientific consensus on the matter, Jona dug deeper. He came across a quote from one of the Solar System’s most elusive and infamous hackers.

 

“Call it a script. A written algo. Some wizard’s virus or hack. You’d be wrong, but if that helps you visualize it, then use those terms. Whatever you see it as, just know that Krienhoffer’s is consistent. It is real. It is a Virt math that has held up against a million human minds that didn’t know how to out-think it. Minds that eventually sunk into it forever – trapped in a VR dead end that is excruciating. I’ve watched it happen too many times to not speak out.”

-Tank Turing (attributed {bevəl})

 

 

“It's the unreasonableness of it that gets to me the most,” Jona Aureliano would say to his girlfriend, Marisol, on a holosoft call the next day.

“You’re still adjusting to our gravity,” she replied teasingly. It was a subtle attempt to change the subject, but she was correct to a degree.

Jona wasn’t fully attenuated to the planet just yet. The twenty-seven-year-old was born on Earth and had moved to Mars for his education. Jona was blessed to have come from an influential politically plugged in family, or he would have never secured the visa. Now, wasn't he lucky to have gotten off Earth, which was ravaged with radiation and disease? Travel from Earth was very restricted because of the virus, Umbra, an airborne mutation of Ebola with a 87% fatality rate among Earthlings. The affliction occurred elsewhere, in the Asteroid Belt and on the outer moon colonies, but not on such a prodigious scale.

“It's so pointless,” he complained further. “You should see his face, always frozen in a grim frown. The closer I look at various anecdotal cases, the more sickening it feels being the natural born optimist that I am.”

His experience on Mars had all occurred so far in the IKP Sector, Incorporated Kitsucom Protectorate, a corporate province overseen by interplanetary science and ballistics company Kitsucom. Through his education at MKU and his current internship at Our Lady of Impeccable Diagnosis Publik Hospital, he was earning citizenship on Mars in general, but that would only become available after graduation, which was two years off.

Jona was further disheartened by the fact that Mrs. Fuselage seemed to spend all of her waking hours next to her son. He saw how suffering is contagious even when the primary affliction isn’t. As often as he could, he began to bring her the fanciest food available in the hospital, or sweets that Marisol baked when she was in town.

Internship, empathy and cookies had brought him closer to this beleaguered family than anybody else around the hospital, and he well understood the basics by now.

 

In the actual accursed Krienhoffer Loop, Tomp was always stuck in the vicious Hell of it. That’s the way the glitch works. It pits you in a cyberspace that is infinitely and exponentially aimed at your phobias and triggers.

Tomp had been a good student albeit socially timid in school. He was also a gamer, ever eager to load up his consciousness into some Virt video game once his studies were done for the day. Being the only child his parents could afford, he felt blessed with constant emotional support where financial support sometimes lacked. His dad drove a recycling truck, and his mom worked part-time at a daycare center.

Ideally, they’d be a happy lower class family. He didn’t deserve his virtual torment, not in an ethical world. He had come unstuck from time and was evermore in a Krienhoffer Loop.

To be clear, Sagan Krienhoffer was not the person who invented the code that ate people’s awareness in a K-Loop, he just happened to be the one who got his name attached to it. The code's origins are not truly known, could be AI-generated. His tragic life as a digital cod kicker and widower paid off in immortalization of the name, mostly because of his dead wife, who got logged as the first confirmed case of the syndrome. Krienhoffer did put in a good deal of morose work to earn his footnote on the medical databases, however. He personally clocked & compiled enough of the data surrounding his wife’s unbound disintegration to make sense of her torturous final chapters, giving the syndrome a list of symptoms and a timeline of progression that would be used to classify it.

It had been occurring before her, just never got a name tag until then. Paired perfectly with her toe tag, refracted through a dark lens.

Most people wouldn’t know who she was, even amongst the victims of the condition and the neophytes in pursuit of conquering it. Tomp knew who she was, though; he’d done his homework like he always did. In fact, she was such a fixation of his that he used her name as a starting point he always reset to. His re-spawn thoughts in the stab-you-in-your-worst-fears Virt he had grown to see as his final home were always routed through thoughts of Adelaide Krienhoffer.

Common to the plurality of people who fall victim to the syndrome, Adelaide had been attempting to fight a phobia using Virt Immersion, or VI. She had almost drowned once, while in university. It had been a transformative event, the worst experience of her young life. It shattered her being in a way she’d never recover from. For years, the moment would resurface at the worst possible times, making her an anxiety-ridden mess at the mere mention of large bodies of water.

Years of conventional therapy had softened her to the idea of attempting a foray into reliving the conditions of her trauma in controlled, safer environs. Virt Immersion as a therapeutic practice was not new, nor widely practiced. More commonly, troublesome memories would be surgically removed. Adelaide had lost a loved one in the incident in which she’d nearly drowned, as her childhood friend Marisa was in the car with her. When the small automated vehicle short circuited and careened off the road into a man-made lake, the girls hugged each other, screaming in terror. The windshield cracked, and both their lungs filled with water. Adelaide woke in the hospital a few days later, but Marisa was not as lucky. Despite how harrowing the tragedy was, there was no way she was willing to deprive herself of that last devastating moment with her friend, so memory editing was not an option.

Inside monitored Virt, she would be presumably safe. Regrettably, marketing and consulting firms don’t prioritize safety, but quietly pay their way out of any damage they’ve done. The process read as a completely innocuous and therapeutic one when viewing the superficial skin that stretched across the bony face of the reporting & research on VI therapy, which made up the top 5% ranking on search engines at the time.

Up to that point, these firms had kept the lawsuits buried, and no one had yet correlated the symptoms shared between the various deaths and hospitalizations that VI clinics were being sued for. The Solar System is a vast space. In hindsight, there were glaring data points, but it took poor Sagan Krienhoffer and his cursed wife Adelaide’s sacrifice to shed scientific light on the spreading condition.

Even with their contribution and all the subsequent research that would churn up a broader understanding of the digital plague, there were still more questions than answers. No one really knew what the victims experienced once they sunk into that final permanent dormancy. For better or worse, no technology had plunged its litigation of metrics into the actual consciousness of a Glacken’s victim.

Most Krienhoffer patients passed on when the plug was pulled on them, but 0.047% of the victims that passed into the Glacken’s phase died naturally, impromptu.

There was no glimpse into that marginal set’s minds to offer any explanation for their particular exit from the K-Loop. It was a mysterious subset of escapees who somehow shorted out of the nightmare space either by accident or autonomy.

But to hear those last thoughts they had... to see the last things they saw. What would that mean for science and posterity?

 

Jona Aureliano wasn't too sure. He was very committed to his studies and his eventual ascension to becoming a doctor, but he was also a serious gamer inside the Virt. Marisol spent as much time on VI games as he did, actually that was how they met, and he had come to view their hobby as potential exposure to Krienhoffer’s.

Working under Dr. Konevi, he had learned about Krienhoffer’s Syndrome and Tomp Fuselage’s condition, which made him worry for the first time about a medical condition that might be even worse than Umbra. The vegetative and comatose patients he spent his days caring for didn’t usually depress him, but Tomp’s condition in particular threatened him with its mysterious and random onset and the enigma of its origins.

At least Umbra made sense: research and development in a bio-warfare division somewhere on Earth had weaponized an already virulent virus, making it easier to direct and spread. From there, it was a simple application of Murphy’s Law, and it spread across the globe in a few decades.

 

* * *

 

“Adelaide Krienhoffer. Textbook example of the Eternally Suffering. Aeterno tacitus pati.

That’s my mantra I chant under my breath upon reset. Sometimes, I’ll say it six thousand times before I move any other muscles, before I dare to even open my eyelids. It’s a soft murmur that gets drowned out by the howling winds that course around me on this virtual pinnacle, the highest attainable point in a CG rendering of the ancient city of New York.

On Earth. After World World II but before the third. A biplane trailing a Yankees banner flits off to my left flank below, and I ignore it this time, even though my neck ticks. That plane has jerked my attention towards it over seventy-eight thousand times. Every time I fell. I’d rather die than fall, and in this custom rendered meta- Hell, that’s a tandem ticket either way.

I’m on the Empire State Building. I’m always here. Like some Gothic, death-defying superhero, perched over the territory I’m supposed to protect. Only I’m fucking terrified of heights, and none of this is close to OK.

I knew what this was the moment it started happening to me. A lethal fear of heights. It was inside a video game, “Cloudstalkers X-Nein.” It’s a VR immersion game you play as part of a mercenary squad that specializes in aerial attacks. I was getting queasy from the simulated heights. It was far too real, and the balance wasn’t automated; so unless you had a background in gymnastics, you’d fall a lot.

When you fell, they wouldn’t put you through a full on groundsplatter, but they’d make you go through a quarter mile drop before you timed out, to drive home how high up you’d been – you could feel the sandbag punctuated, simulated gravity pulling you down, somersaulting your guts through a blender. It felt smothering to me.

I would get caught in rapid-fire loops of that pitfall while other players on my squad went about the mission, glitch free. It was a startling shipwreck-on-reef introduction to my paralyzing acrophobia. I simply was not wired to handle heights.

Heights kill me. Far too much.

But back while I was still IRL-alive and stupid, my mom talked me into trying the VI treatment because it was cheaper on her insurance than the memory wipe. So I went along with it. I don’t wanna tax anybody, especially not my mom and pop. We knew about Krienhoffer from a buncha online scares, but poor people don’t always get the best information.

You know, we can’t always afford to pay attention, monthly payments on the jumpcar or ​​ even for groceries subsidized by the city...

Not a splendiferously pretty picture, but still it’s mine.

So yeah, I went to Tactile Cerebral Laboratories to level up on my destruction, because of course.

Affordable healthcare alternatives, that’s what they call those places. Very affordable psychological maiming, just plug your skull full of fears right into this jack right here – and Presto! Get stuck in your first diagnosed twelve-hour Krienhoffer loop, clinging for sanity on a thousand story building’s roof.

“AaaahhHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

That first time locked in the loop, I think I screamed every time I fell. I never held on for more than two minutes. My sweat always ruined my hands’ chances eventually. I held on for fucking fear of death, and got a harrowing plunge and startling reset instead.

 

 

Over

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

over

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

over

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

over

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

over

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

over,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

again.

 

 

* * *

 

The day had come, Tomp was getting his upgrade. It was the best Dr. Konevi could do, and would suffice to absolve her of her own guilt even if it stood no chance of improving his condition in any way. At least, his family’s financial suffering would be lessened considerably. She’d arranged for Tomp to be brought under the hospital’s financial umbrella; the Fuselage family would accrue no additional debt.

Maybe there was no way to save the poor boy stuck in the machine, but she’d stopped the slow bleeding of credits that would have eventually bled them bankrupt – already, they must be hundreds of thousands of credits in debt. An additional clause stated that if Tomp died of natural causes while plugged in, the family would receive a forty million credit life insurance payout. 0.047% is such a small number, nearly naught.

She didn’t want to think about it much more than she wanted to contemplate the hell that Tomp remained relegated to.

“You sure he’s going to be OK in this new room? It seems like less space, even if it is his own private place now,” Mrs. Fuselage asked with concern, although she seemed to approve of the move overall.

“Yes Ma’am. Tomp will be fully monitored and attended to in this wing of the building,”

Dr. Konevi assured her. “Under the SOLCare coverage that he qualified for this year, he gets his own room and is on the route of a dedicated team of medtechs that monitor the Hamasaki Wing. Each room is personally checked upon 4 times daily. This really is a step up from where he’s been the last twelve years.”

Mrs. Fuselage’s face cinched up in a sad trembly pout, and she brought her knobby fist to her chin to itch a pain that could not be relieved. “Oh... okay.” She accepted that explanation for now.

Dr. Konevi looked at the depths of pain in the older woman’s eyes, and did her best not to wince at the grim reality that is existence. “I have to make rounds now Ma’am, but you are welcome to stay at any hour. Food can be brought to you from the café as well when the medtechs make their quarterly rounds. Everything is a bit better now Mrs. Fuselage, I promise you.”

“Thank you Dr. Konevi,” Mrs. Fuselage managed as she found her way into the comfortable seat next to her unmoving, ever frowning son. “I think I’ll sit with him a bit now, yes.”

Dr. Konevi nodded, then left without further comment. Things were a bit a better, but she was sad all the same.

 

* * *

 

I got out of that first deep K-loop after twelve hours, which had for me in the Virt stretched to uncountable years of time-dilated panic attack and a fragmenting, abused mind. I couldn’t even talk for a few days. I never once played video games after that, didn’t dare to get on the net and port up into the Virt. I couldn’t muster the gusto to so much as leave my bedroom for almost a month. I just lay in bed and watched holosoft movies. I must have binged every teevee show that came out in the Solar System that summer.

My mom and pop didn’t pressure me to get back to school, or work, or even to go out and socialize. I think Mom always held a guilt about me since she took me to Tactile Cerebral, so they were content to let me quietly turn into a human bedsore if I was comfortable doing so. And I was, at first. Because I didn’t understand yet that staying off the web was not enough. I had full-blown Krienhoffer Syndrome, and that sets in no matter what you do once it’s begun.

It was after a little over a month of living in my bed, scared to move, that I sank into another Krienhoffer Loop without being online in any way. I spontaneously found myself back in the Virt space they had placed me in at the VI clinic, where you start hanging off the top floor of a mega skyscraper. No matter how strong my grip was, the metal rail would be lubed with my sweat in a minute and a half, and then not much longer till the drop.

I don’t know how long I was in there that time. I actually thought I’d stroked out in my bed and that I was really dead and in Hell. But when I woke up in Our Lady of Impeccable Diagnosis Publik Hospital, where they told me that Krienhoffer was for life and you couldn’t hide from it by playing Luddite. They wanted to plug me into a less jarring VI space. I would still enter K-loops randomly – that was never going to go away – but the new Virt space would allegedly be less abrasive then the Tactile Cerebral program my brain was currently resetting into.

So now I live on top of 20 West 34th Street, New York, New York, circa 500 years ago.

And I have to admit, Her Lady of Diagnosis does have a nicer VI space by far. This old New York Virt space was not originally coded for this specific use, it had actually been made for academic purposes in archaeological research. The year and the season would change randomly over long periods of immersion, but it was set in the span of years when the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world, from 1931 to 1970.

Weather patterns would also change. Human patterns. Bird patterns.

Six billion ways to die, and the Krienhoffer Syndrome had checked off ‘all of the above’ for me. The resolution was off the charts. This was real. I mean, if real was real, then this was too. Real horror, pitched against the truest blue sky; true and real, pealing my being to a bloody core one fall at a time.

I’m not perched up on the antenna, I re-spawn to this ludicrous platform that was built for disembarking from a dirigible. You know a zeppelin? Those ancient airships most famous for the one named the Hindenburg, which exploded and ended their popularity? Interesting fact, the unpredictable and volatile wind made it nearly impossible to dock up here. Me, on the other hand, whenever I’m not falling, I’m always docked here.

After what’s felt like centuries of simulated Hell, I’ve eventually reached for new definitions of comfort. Any relatability I can cling to.

I’d try to anchor to the flashes of silver-cutting veins of lightening around the tall cumulonimbus tufts which often lined this world of vertigo and panic. I could tell the lines of those clouds were beautiful, but my brain was not allowing me the peace of mind that caliber of beauty used to instill in me. In my prior life outside this Hell. Elation was blocked by a wall of the sheer terror the simulated circumstance drove into me.

I fucking hate heights. Sickening, till-I-puke-my-lungs-out heights.

I’ve actually vomited while falling off a skyscraper a thousand times. Nosediving into the flotsam of my own projectile bile, because I hadn’t made it to terminal velocity and the projection was lighter than the mass of my body. It’s even less fun than it sounds, stinging sinuses from puke pushing up my nostrils and into my eyes.

Then splattering death, usually before I hit the ground – intensely painful, but so instantaneous as to be negligible.

A paralyzed kicking in the womb of Nothing charged by the humming terror of reboot.

I’d never heard anything as thunderingly loud as Silence till I experienced the Void between death and life in Virt. And here. In this Glacken’s Krienhoffer mishmash of my own personal Gehenna. It’s a mindfuck too, everything here is. Sometimes, the passage through the underworld is a blink, your return to your fears is immediate.

And then you’re back, thinking how’re you gonna die this time?

Let’s see, highlights of my unending deaths include: a B-25 Mitchell bomber crashing into the building, a dozen times that the VI glitched to a construction phase of the building – I usually get impaled on iron girders then, rainstorms are a definite death sentence, that time I was attacked by Russian jets, a few times I was attacked by hawks, and the absurd number of times I fell asleep and tipped over the edge. I don’t even need sleep, I’m in a coma for fucksake.

Un-fucking-fortunately, I have to do this forever, eating the shit of this fate every few minutes into infinitude. And it’s a way fucking more forever forever than people think forever really is. Hate becomes this monumental whetstone that shears off the rage response.

I dull myself to all emotions. Slowly. Death after death. Impaled infinitely in my perfectly articulated, Escher-esque inferno of wind and falling. I’m not familiar with this feeling I have now.

This is new. Or restored.

I don’t care anymore. The fall doesn’t scare me. I’m gonna make this fun, I’m ready to fly. This time, I don’t fall, I jump.

 

* * *

 

Mrs. Fuselage was sitting with him when he passed away. She knew about the outrageous amount of money the family was set to inherit because of his unexpected passing, but that meant nothing to her. What mattered to her was that as he flatlined, Tomp was smiling. Finally, the VI had worked, he was truly free.

 

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“Tucked Inn” by Nadine AuCoin – A review

"Tucked Inn" by Nadine AuCoin is a chilling novella that grips the reader with its suspenseful plot and evocative portrayal of a family known as ‘The Banishers’’ fighting against malevolent entities.

The story follows the eighteen-year-old Lucy, who for reasons unbeknownst to her is held hostage by Madame Dominique and her minions: the perverted Darko and Drake, the handsome Allister. As she settles in, she begins to experience strange occurrences that suggest a dark force is lurking, and the unraveling of her own superpowers, which ultimately aid in her fight against the evil Henry!

Perhaps the greatest strength of "Tucked Inn" is Nadine’s ability to create a vivid depiction of the characters. From Lucy’s heroic but yet naive fortitude, to Madame Dominique’s regality and even Henry's own fierce persistence, each character is fully fleshed out and believable.

One must also commend Nadine for her work’s sweet ability to keep the reader in a constant search for the truth. The pacing is perfectly calibrated, with moments of quiet reflection punctuated by sudden bursts of terror and confusion and sometimes even disgust. Her descriptions of the supernatural, which are instrumental in propelling the story forward, are vivid and unsettling, and the final confrontation between Lucy and the evil entity that is Henry, and every malice he represents, is truly harrowing.

Nadine AuCoin’s "Tucked Inn" is a gripping and well-crafted mystery novella that is sure to satisfy fans of the genre. With its vivid characters, skilled use of literary devices, and heart-stopping suspense, it is a testament to the power of well-crafted storytelling.

I would suggest it to anyone, except for my mother.

 

 

Reviewed by Lucille Sambo

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