Soldiers of the Sun

Written by Addie Barnett
Art by Alex Konstad


The Soldiers of the Sun are a legendary battalion. Stories talk of beings clothed in shining armour of gold, their stallions neighing softly…but they do not have any heads. There are rumours that the Soldiers ride in the company of golden giants wielding swords that can touch the sky. The Soldiers of the Sun were immortal, said to have delivered the land from ghouls that would feast on every creature brave enough to step out into the sun. Their only weakness – gold. That’s why everything the soldier’s carried, from their weapons to their gear, and even their headless horses, were made of gold.

Or at least that’s what my grandfather told me.

I swore under my breath when the giant leaned over me, its pointed helmet so close I could almost touch it. They weren’t real. They couldn’t be real. My grandfather had been speaking of them for years, but I had dismissed every story as the fantastical tales of a wandering mind.

After all, there were days when he barely remembered my name.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” I grabbed the horn with trembling hands, looking at the village behind me.

There was no way the farmers hadn’t seen the giant soldiers making their way towards them, but it was my duty to alert them against any possible threat. I pressed the horn to my lips, but didn’t  get to blow. A golden soldier dropped from the sky, landing beside me with a soft thud. My breath froze inside my chest. His armor clinked softly as he moved to grab my horn. He pressed an armored finger to the place his lips would have been, had they not been hidden behind his crested helmet.

I dropped to my knees in front of him. “Please.” Tears streamed down my cheeks. “Please don’t kill us. We did nothing wrong.”

Except for the fact that the farmers were skimming on the taxes, but that was hardly a crime that would have beckoned a legendary battalion to come. I shook my head, taking my thoughts off all the tiny transgressions that had accumulated over the years.

“We’re not here to impart judgement.”

My head swiveled up so fast, the back of my neck crunched.

“You’re not?”

He shook his head and grabbed my arm, pulling me up.

“Then why are you here?”

“We have been made aware one of our own is in your midst.”

I stared at him, unsure if I had heard him correctly. “That’s impossible.”

The soldier crossed his arms on his broad chest. The gold chafed with his very movement, reminding me that I had no armour of myself. He could cut me down at any moment if he wanted to.

“His name is Ygor.”

“Ygor?” I scratched the back of my neck, thinking of all the people in the village and comparing them against him.

There was no way any of them were a legendary warrior in hiding.

“I have no idea who you’re talking about.”

The soldier shifted from one foot or the other; even without seeing the eyes, I could feel the weight of his gaze.

“Do not lie to me, human. I know he is here.”

I gaped at him. “I am not lying to you-”

“Bertan. You may call me Bertan.”

“I am not lying to you, Bertan.”

The soldier unsheathed a dagger and placed it in my hands. “This belonged to him. He was my captain, but was wounded badly in the last fight; the war against the ghouls.”

Ghouls? He couldn’t not be-

I started. Of course he could be. 

“He might be using another name.” Bertan tapped the hilt of the blade.

Letters formed underneath his touch, but I couldn’t recognize the alphabet.

“It’s our language – you cannot read it. But this,” Bertan pointed to one of the words, “is the name he is hiding under. It means gold.”

“How do you read it?” I asked, my blood stilling in my veins.

I already knew the answer. How could I not?

“Vos.”

Grandpa Vos had told me all about his friends.

But it couldn’t be.

He was crazy.

That’s what every doctor who had seen my grandpa had said. Lost his mind, he has. No hope for him.

“You know him?” Bertan asked, sensing my hesitation.

I nodded. “He’s my grandfather.”

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Kaari Kalu

Written by Addie Barnett
Art by Bobkehl


The light of the candle flickers in the soft breeze of the sea and I have to stop myself from running my finger through it. Too many times have I burned myself this way; I should stop before making any real damage. A pirate with no arm is like a ship with no helm–sooner or later they will sink, and they will drag everyone else alongside them.

I stare at the stump which used to be my leg, even now feeling a dull pain as if it had just been cut off. The Royal Navy had finally found our secret hiding spot and we barely made it out with our lives. Some of us lost a limb, others left good friends behind. I exhale slowly, grateful none of my “friends” had been taken in. Ours is a lonely venture, despite all the talk of camaraderie. It wasn’t only once that I woke up to a comrade trying to slit my throat at midnight, thinking I was fast asleep. My stump pulses as I remember the day I lost my leg, as if it were searching for the missing piece. Sometimes walking hurt more than I cared to admit, sometimes I could barely get out of bed. I also had good days when I almost forgot I had a wooden leg. If my comrades wouldn’t constantly remind me and if it wouldn’t thump as I walked, maybe I would feel whole.

The slender figure of Kaari Kalu, the matriarch of pirates, glares at me from behind the candle. I spit inside the spit-pot, smiling at the clink my phlegm makes when it hits copper. Sometimes I wonder what the Matriarch would do if she were in my position. Would she flaunt her sword left and right, challenge an ignorant man to attempt to overthrow her and laugh as he died? Would she show them her scars, cleverly hidden behind a hallucinating pattern of tattoos etched into her bronze skin? Kaari could kill with one blow; she wouldn’t even need to drop her bottle of rum or spit out her cigar. She watches me with the same arrogance, her amber eyes alight with a fire which can never be mine. I tried being Kaari and I failed. She was one of a kind.

How dare you taint the name of Kaari Kalu? She seemed to ask me. You’re pathetic.

I stand up from my bed and peer at Kaari. A plume of some rises from her ever-burning cigar and in the dimness of my chamber, her golden earring-hoops shimmer and seem to morph into human skulls. My hand reaches towards the candle and I hesitate–there is only one path for me to take and it hasn’t worked before. There is no reason for it to work now. But in a world of men, a woman must learn to hold her own; Kaari herself had taught me that. Fortuna favors only the bold.

So, I strap on my wooden prosthetic and cradle the candle against my chest as I trudge around in circles around the room, listening to my wooden leg thump rhythmically against the floorboards, matching the tempo of my chant to it.

“Kaari Kalu,” I hiss, glancing at her scowl, “mother of pirates, thieves and cutthroats. I ask you to guide my path and protect me in my plunders. Where I go, your sword shall cut through my enemies like the morning sun pierces the darkness of the night; wherever I step, wait for me with a bottle of rum and a cigar. Kaari Kalu, I call upon you, so that you may lend me your strength. In this dark hour, you are my only ally.”

The soft breeze picks up and snuffs out my candle. I swear as my wooden leg snags on one of my discarded jackets–I can never be bothered to clean up after myself and I tumble to the floor, yelping. The portrait falls to the floor with me and it’s crystal window shatters into a million pieces, some of them crawling under my skin. I bite my tongue, lest I scream again and stay on the floor, struggling to breathe the pain away. When my blurry vision begins to return, the candle flickers back to light, illuminating the figure of a hunched woman. Two studded boots lead to a pair of tight-fitting pants and above them, a tattooed arm picks up the portrait. I crane my neck further and stare at two amber eyes glaring at me.

Kaari Kalu is scowling as if this is the last place she wants to be.

“You’re pathetic.”

Thick as Thieves

Written by Addie Barnett


As a small child, you get used to hearing your parents tell everyone about how you are going to be a doctor, a lawyer or, better yet, an astronaut.

My parents were a different breed.

They had no expectations for me, but when I came home and announced I would be a pool cleaner, they wrinkled their noses and turned away. The rift only grew bigger when my boss turned out to be the rich guy from across the street, who had made his fortune from the stock market.

I vowed never to do that to my own.

All that mattered was that, in the end, I had my dream job.

When the boss was away, the pool was all mine.

*

My first day at Mr. Jackson’s mansion entailed a cloudless baby-blue sky, a towering building which sent shivers down my spine and palm trees whooshing in the wind as limber as the lap dancers I had seen frequenting this house. Cigarette between lips and cap in hand, I had followed the penguin-suited butler through endless corridors adorned with family portraits, through rooms three times larger than my apartment, and through a kitchen so massive I had thought this was where they filmed Gordon Ramsey’s shows. Two slick dobermans, saliva frothing from their coffee-brown mouths, had glared at me as I approached the chaise longue Mr. Jackson sprawled into every morning to read his daily newspapers.

My eyes had glanced at his ringed fingers before they were quickly stolen away by something far more tempting. The pool had filled my ears with its shy splashes and had tickled my nostrils with its chlorine scent until my veins thrummed with its every whirlpool and my muscles beckoned me to jump.

“Harvey,” a voice had called out to me and I had shook my head.

The butler was gaping at me as if I was a circus monkey.

“Let’s leave Mr. Jackson to his business,” a skeletal hand touched me on the arm, and I refrained from recoiling at its coldness.

That’s all I remember from that day.

As for my second, that’s when the chaos began.

*

My favorite hour of the day has always been dawn. It is the moment when all is silent, when even the birds have not begun to rise and chirp, let alone the exhausted humans, too stressed and overworked to fathom awaking at such an hour.

Except for me, Mr. Jackson was the only person awake.

I was cleaning the pool, listening with intent as the friction of my net made upon the water, which had turned dark blue as the night shadowed it. All my senses were, quite naturally, relaxed. My eyelids watched a fixed point before me, my ears heard only the shy gurgle of water, my nose tasted chlorine and Cuban cigars, my arms moved by default.

Mr. Jackson offered me a cocktail, a Sex on the Beach if I recall correctly. I refused. He insisted. We drank. He told me a joke. I laughed. He watched the sunrise. I watched his pool.

It all began when he went back inside to get his laptop.

A shriek so loud I had to cover my ears, lest they explode, made the windows groan under its weight, goading my heart into fluttering like a terrified rabbit hunted by his arch nemesis, the fox. I crouched and waited for what seemed like ages, eyelids shut tight, every muscle locking so no sound could penetrate my being.

When it stopped I unlocked myself and made my way inside, trembling with every step like a feeble old man who had only one day more to live and clung to it with all his might.

Mr. Jackson lay in a pool of his own blood, in the middle of his white living room. His eyes were plastered on a wall where, just the other day, the Mona Lisa had been hanging, bought from the Louvre itself.

How my master had accomplished such a feat I never learned. I did suspect something was amiss. But these silly questions never escaped my lips.

The white plush carpet was turning pink with every second, as the blood trickled towards me. I took a step back and wheezed, my mind bracing itself for the upcoming shock.

Someone had stolen the Mona Lisa and had killed my master.

And the police would suspect me, their fingers lingering on my bloodstained files. My eyes flashed to the telephone and my hand reached out to it instinctively. I had to call someone.

What was the butler going to think when he came down to inspect the origins of that mad shriek?

I dialed the only number I thought could help me and fled with the telephone in hand. When the police would get here, it was best if they found no trace of me.

*

The next two days were also a blur. I recall running until my feet ached, sleeping in bushes, eating from garbage cans, and flinching at every siren.

I remember when Mike answered and relief flooded my grief-stricken body before feeling jarred when he admitted he was the one who had taken the painting.

*

“What got into you?” I seethed as my fingers brushed the face of the painted lady, ignoring Mike out of spite more than actual anger. “With my records, the cops are surely going to catch us.”

“It was the perfect moment, Mortimer. The bastard was on his own and you weren’t even near him. No one was.”

“I ran away. That’s reason enough for the cops to come after me. An innocent person doesn’t run, Mike,” I whirled around, feeling for the knife I always had on me. “I told you to wait.”

“If I had, you would have fallen in love with the pool and never left. You always do that, Mo. It’s like the pools have some sort of weird power on you that turns your brain into complete mush, and you stare at it for hours and hours on end. Remember when one spoke to you and you jumped in it and almost died?”

It was true. That only made me angrier.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t feel the urge to jump in this one, either. I had to do it. For both of us. Now we can fence this damn thing and go to the Caribbean. This was the last job, right?” Mike rested one of his calloused hands on my shoulder and his chocolate eyes caught mine. “Right?”

“Right,” I forced the word through gritted teeth, refusing to stare at the painting. “You could have let Jackson live. That way the police wouldn’t come for us for first-degree murder.”

“That bastard made his fortune off the backs of the poor. He didn’t deserve to live.”

Mike’s family had been the first to fall in one of Jackson’s stock schemes and even after killing off the man responsible, I could see his thirst had not been quenched.

It never would. Revenge is a fickle lover.

“It was not your decision to make,” I sighed and removed his hand off my shoulder. “You’re alone in this, Mike. I’m done.”

I have no idea what came over me. Really. Maybe I had seen too much bloodshed over the past five years me and Mike had worked together.

Maybe I was just tired and wanted a normal life.

That all ended when Mike stuck a knife in my back and left me to die on a deserted street.

I even saw it coming too.

*

The good thing about being a wanted felon was that the police were always watching. They found me before I bled out and took me to the hospital.

I gave Mike up with no remorse whatsoever and took increasing pleasure when we faced each other in court, and he went to jail, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt he had been meaning to wear on his flight to the Caribbean.

The Mona Lisa returned to the Louvre, as it should.

*

I watched as my son digested the story, his eyes flickering to the real Mona Lisa, hidden in our basement.

“So this is the real one?”

I nodded and pointed to her face. “This lady has seen a lot of blood in her days. Be careful with her.”

Louie grabbed my hand and shook it with tears in his eyes. “Thank you, Pop. I’ll take care of her, don’t you worry.”

“I know you will.”

“Family comes first.”

“Blood is thicker than water,” I hugged my son as he went to buy himself a new house.

He needed a big one, if it were to fit a wife and three children.

*

As for me, I returned to where it all began. Under the warm sun, on a mattress floating in Mr. Jackson’s pool.

Only now, it wasn’t his anymore.

It was my son’s.

Until Death…does not us part

Written by Addie Barnett


My hand floated above the dining room table, confusion and temptation dancing between my shivering fingers. 

Should I take the money? I asked myself as I gazed at the wad of cash that had taken the place of my breakfast and morning coffee. It was at that moment I recalled, with a cinematic unfurling, of an ad I posted on Craigslist after I lost a bet.

Wanted – Roommate. Requirements: Must be able to cover 600£ rent (utilities included); the apartment is small, nothing overly fancy, located on the third floor of a condominium in Harvard Boulevard, NR7TX. No loud humans allowed. Silent ghosts only.

But this was impossible… wasn’t it? Ghosts don’t exist, they’re just a creative result of sleep deprivation and a lack of well-needed alone time. They dwell in fictional stories—not in reality. Not in my reality.

But a part of me  I fought to subside cheered at the possibility of ghosts and urged me to explore it.

I lived a boring life. I did not care for adventure.

Adventure, it seemed, didn’t give a damn about what I thought.

I clutched the money with a frown, noticing someone – hopefully not a ghost – had left a note under the bills as well. My legs turned to rubber as I stuffed the monthly rent inside my hoodie’s kangaroo pouch. I unfurled the piece of paper while my eyes searched for a lighter to burn the note into ashes.

Neat handwriting tap-danced before me in ink swirls so beautiful that calligraphy seemed to be the work of an unschooled farmer.

Dear Mac, I read, frowning at my favorite nickname, I saw your ad on Craigslist and jumped at the offer!

To answer the question floating around in your mind: yes, I am, in fact, a ghost.

My knees wobbled underneath me, and my chest tightened. For a few seconds I fought for air the same way a drowning man struggles to breach the surface of the water, a fire ablaze in my gasping lungs. Temples pulsing, I grasped the back of my chair and stepped away, dropping the note back on the table while wishing I had set it on fire before curiosity had gotten the better of me.

This was a prank. It had to be.

Ghosts do not exist.

My fingers found the paper again and my eyes drifted back to the last words I had read.

I am, in fact, a ghost.

The person who wrote this must have been laughing their arse off.

My name is Kane. I died about thirty years ago, but that’s a story for another day. Humans can’t see ghosts unless we want to be seen.

I gulped, unsure of what terrified me more – the thought that the ghost might actually be real, or the very serious debate on whether I wanted to meet it or not going on in my head.

I’m sorry if I startled you last night. I hit my pinkie toe on the corner of the table and even ghosts can feel that pain. It transcends time and space, doesn’t it?

My mind whirred back into focus as it strained to remember the events from last night. It did so unwillingly, having suppressed most of them already.Darkness. My heavy eyelids struggled to open, allowing my eyes to adjust to the thick shadows that engulfed the entirety of my room despite my small night light, a remnant of my childhood terrors. The apartment would have been enveloped in silence were it not for the ticking of the clock on the fridge, the buzzing of the freezer, or the snapping of wooden furniture.

My ears perked up at what I thought were steps, quickly belied by a half-asleep brain.

Then, of course, had come the anguished scream which had sent me yelping into the bathroom, my fingers fumbling to lock the door and turn on the lights while they clutched the soft blanket I always slept with. I was terrified of imaginary demons hiding under my bed, waiting to grab my uncovered feet.

Adults blush when they reveal their fears, as if it is a thing to be embarrassed about.

Most of the night was spent with a fluttering heart, pounding faster each time my ears recorded another sound that should not have been there. Come morning, I had fallen asleep in the tub, blanket wrapped tightly around me until I had transformed into a burrito.

Anyway, I hope you can forgive me for that, and I hope you will give me a chance to make it up to you.

Fat chance, buddy.

Tomorrow at midnight maybe? I heard House M.D is back on TV.

Did he spy on me?

Many apologies,

K.

The ghost – Kane – had signed the paper in a formal fashion as if it weren’t just a note but an official act. Maybe in his former life he had been a politician?

My nose wrinkled at the thought and my stomach turned upside-down, coaxing me into throwing up.  So, like any normal person would when facing hard decisions, I stood up, dusted myself off, opened the freezer, chose the largest bucket of chocolate ice-cream I could find, and dug my spoon into it.

I had one day to decide whether meeting a ghost was a good idea, or if it would end like the horror movies my friends raved about. It would be best if I kept my phone close just in case knives began flying towards me.

My decision was made by the time my head hit the pillow.

*

I entered my home reluctantly that night, expecting flickering lights, manic laughter, and a generally eerie atmosphere as proof a ghost haunted my apartment. My muscles tensed as I glared at a fly buzzing on the ceiling, and my keys jingled on the peg I hung them on each time I returned home.

However, all of my senses were soothed once my nostrils picked up the sweet scent of red wine, steak—prepared in the oven – and golden potatoes—slick with sour cream and cheese. The smell beckoned me to inspect its origins, so I made my way to the kitchen and threw  off my coat and my shoes in an automatic gesture.

The kitchen was empty and no food was in sight. The only proof someone had indeed prepared something were the  potato peels in the garbage can, along with the crumbling remains of a yellow onion.

It appeared I was being lured to my death with the promise of food.

A game. How posh.

“TV,” a deep voice bellowed from the dining room, and the smell of food tickled my nose once more.

My legs froze as my brain caught up with what was happening.

A ghost had cooked for me. He had waited until I got home. Until midnight.

My stomach churned as I cast aside all paranoia, phone forgotten behind. If I was going to die, I would do so with a full stomach and a glass of wine in my hand.

I should have told him I preferred vodka.

The lights were on and so was the TV. On the dining table rested two of my flowery plates, and a fork and knife waiting to be used. A candle flickered between them, next to a pot which made my mouth water.

“I hope you like it. I’m not much of a cook these days, as I don’t really need to eat anymore.” A translucent silhouette obscured my view of the food and caught life before me.

Kane was shorter than what I had expected, not the typical university jock with a killer smile and a sexual appetite fit for a teenager. He was tall, yes, but he was lanky in a gruff way which sent me on my guard, searching for hidden weapons. His skin, once the brown of truffles, was now a pale chocolate, caused by death and thirty years spent in a casket  with no light, artificial or otherwise.

His eyes betrayed his unusual situation, the icy blue of a glacier heading, with a mind of its own, towards an unsuspecting ship and reveling in the impact. Kane was bald, allowing me to gaze at a crisscross of scars on an egg-shaped head, thin and weary from years he should have spent sleeping the eternal sleep.

“Hi, Mac,” he extended a hand and frowned when, in my befuddlement, I forgot to grab it. “Not a fan of ghosts I see.”

My jaw dropped slightly, and I could feel the blood surging and subsiding in my cheeks.

“Are you hungry?”

I nodded, unable to give a proper answer and let his hand guide me to my chair, my trembling fingers clutching the knife as I wondered if ghosts could be killed.

“Don’t worry, I’m harmless,” he stated as he slid into the chair in front of me and tapped on the pot, his finger disappearing inside it. “Oops.”

He took it out and smiled.

“We have chicken tonight. I noticed you are a fan of light-eating, so I tried not to go too overboard and skipped the dessert. It’s chicken parmesan, with garlic potatoes. I hope I cut them small enough, my fingers tend to vanish as I cook since…you know… I’m a ghost,” he laughed and, just for a moment, I could see him blushing. “Would you like to taste?”

“Yeah,” I croaked and waited for him to open the lid so I could balk at what was inside.

“Um, you’re going to have to open it yourself, I’m…well…” he waved a hand in front of me and I squealed.

It was not my proudest of moments. I covered my mouth with both of my hands as tears wetted my eyes.

“Are you okay?”

In an instant he was there, trying to goad me into looking at him, his hands waving frantically near my chin as he tried to pick it up.

“Why are you crying?”

My eyes found his, and I noticed they were not as cold as I thought. Warmth spread through me like a wildfire as his gaze softened.

“Sorry. I’ve never…I’ve never met a ghost before,” I stammered, hiding away the fact that I’d never even been on a date either.

“Not many have. It’s completely normal to be afraid of me, but you shouldn’t be. I have no intention of hurting you, I promise. Now, shall we eat?”

*

Kane soon proved to be one of the best roommates I have ever had. Steadfast, funny, and sometimes invisible, he was always there to help me out with anything I needed, always paying rent on time, or making a fool of himself when he tried to fix something and couldn’t.

He had lied that day, about hitting his toe on the corner of the bed, as a sign of good faith.

Kane remained my first and only roommate when we went to France and there, on the sandy beaches of the Atlantic, we pledged our love to one another, buying a small cottage in the middle of the woods.

The best thing of all? Death could never part us.

Foe…or friend?

Written by Addie Barnett


I run through the darkness. My shoulders hurt; the armor is way too big for me, but that’s what you get with a universal size. Some time ago, I stubbed my toe on a corner, so now I’m careening through the maze, fleeing the mayhem behind me. Our enemies found a way to take advantage of the many weaknesses in our strategy and ambushed us near the entrance of the maze, cutting off our only exit.

I take a sharp corner and clutch my gun, wheezing. Without my eyes, I cannot anticipate what is to come if I do not listen. The muffled screams of my teammates and the thudding of my enemies pierce the silent maze; they are searching for another target, all the while covering their retreat. Their hideout isn’t far; I spotted it by mistake half an hour ago and decided a surprise attack would be the best. We have a mole in our midst. It’s the only way The Reds could have known we were coming and retaliated so thoroughly.

I stand up, sweat pooling on my forehead and dripping down to my nose. My legs tremble underneath me, but I have to push on. We have to win this battle, or else we’ll never hear the end of it. I walk out, my finger ready to pull the trigger as I make my way slowly, listening keenly to what is happening around me. Music blares from a speaker, making my job harder.

This is so unfair, I find myself thinking. How am I supposed to find anyone in this maze, let alone kill them? Since a year ago, my accuracy has greatly improved, and yet I am still no match for him. After all, he is the leader of The Reds. I know he’s coming; the only question is where he will come from.

 I whirl around, never letting my guard drop. He could be behind me, or somewhere above, spying on my movements. In this darkness, there’s no way to tell if you’re being followed, and he steps as lightly as a feather. That much, I had learned from him. One, two, then turn around. Cover all possible directions and keep a wall as close to you as possible so your enemy won’t be able to jump you.

My armor chafes against my skin and I drop my gun slightly to wipe the sweat off my brow. In the instant my eyes are covered by my sleeve, a hand pushes me against a wall, and his scent – he always wears the sharpest deodorant – engulfs me and makes my eyes water.

“There you are. Nice escape job you pulled on us.”

His teeth flash white in the pitch black, and his breath warms my cheek. His gun is pressed to my ribs while mine is glued to the wall. I fight against his grip, but to no avail; he is much bigger and stronger than me.

“Who told you we were coming?” I ask.

If I go down, at least I’ll know who not to trust again.

“It was Sherry, wasn’t it?”

He chuckles and softens his grip, pulling away so we can make eye contact. His irises are as blue as the Mediterranean on a summer day, and they shimmer with amusement at my accusation.

“Actually, it was Jerome.”

The asshole.

“Fuck.”

“He’s quite good at this, isn’t he?”

“He changes sides every game.”

“You’re jealous?” He leans closer once again, pressing his forehead on mine. “Envy doesn’t suit you, Nat.”

“Arrogance doesn’t suit you either, Cam.”

His lips press onto mine, searching hungrily for something he knows is there. Something I hide from everyone because it’s just not proper–or I was taught it isn’t, anyway. And yet it feels so right when our mouths open and I bite his lower lip, his body pushing into my own.

“Ouch,” I groan when his gun digs into my ribs.

“Sorry.” He grins and draws back, breathing heavily. “Oh, by the way, Nat.”

“Yeah?”

A part of me hopes he’s going to do it again. But we’re close to the end of the game and my teammates are searching for me, drawing closer with each passing second.

“Fuck you.”

If only.

He points the gun and shoots straight at my torso. My armor flares up and dies just as the alarm blares. See, this is why I never liked laser tag.

Cameron smiles at me and walks away, happy he managed to kill me again. It’s always the same damn trick, but I will never stop falling for it and he knows it. This is the only place I don’t have to be afraid my family is going to see us and make me stop.

“See you on Friday, Cam,” I mutter to myself, smiling.

Next time, I’m going to win.

When the winds stop

Written by Addie Barnett


There are those who pride themselves in being down-to-earth. They look at the sky and all they see are rolling clouds and, if they are lucky enough, they perceive the universe beyond.

There are those who don’t even dare to look up, afraid to leave the bubble that has been protecting them ever since they were children.

There are those who crawl every day, glued to the ground that has become their prison.

And then…there was Mahala.

Mahala was none of those people. Mahala did not look at the sky with contempt. She was never afraid to go out of her way, nor did she ever crawl. From the first day, Mahala stood up and walked, albeit unsteadily, into her father’s arms. All her father could do was stare in wonder at his daughter and shed tears.

Mahala would never lean on them for support–from her first day, she was independent, a strong personality that filled any room she chanced to walk inside.

I paled in comparison, but this story isn’t about me. It is about a girl, much thinner and shorter than I, who towered above us all with a boisterous laugh and a mischievous smile. With two eyes as black as night, twinkling like stars, with cheeks as pink as cotton candy and hair as electric as a storm, Mahala looked down upon us and cackled. How she loved to cackle. It did not matter if anyone had said a joke or made a rude comment–Mahala always found something to cackle at.

Her mother was a janitor and her father…in full honesty, I have no idea what job her father had, but he was away for weeks, if not months. Mahala had no brothers or sisters, for her parents feared that, should they have another child, it would not rise up to Mahala and would forever live in her shadow and they did not wish to doom an innocent child to a life of frustration.

But Mahala had me. We weren’t friends, but we weren’t enemies either. I would tag after her like a puppy, curious to see what mischief she was up. Day in and day out, she would find new ways of entertaining herself. She would run around after crickets, try to catch butterflies, play hopscotch, or throw tiny pebbles at old men sleeping on the benches of the park, hiding in the bushes when they woke up and looked around groggily. She would challenge the boys in upper classes to arm wrestling matches which, somehow, she would always win.

When we graduated secondary school, I followed Mahala to high school, afraid that once she was gone my life would become meaningless. I felt attached to Mahala like a dog chained to a fence post–wherever she went, I, inadvertently, followed. In high school, Mahala flirted with all the boys but as soon as they tried to put a hand under her purple skirts, she would slap them and leave. Once, a boy tried forcing himself upon her. I stared in shock and horror as he lifted her up and slammed her into a locker. Just as I decided to turn around and get help, Mahala drove her knee into his crotch and when he fell down, yowling, drove another into his face.

Mahala kicked him three times in the stomach then glanced up at me and smiled.

No one ever tried to touch her after that. Not even her boyfriend who ended up following her the same way I did. His name was Daniel, and he was head over heels for her. But no one got close to Mahala. So, despite Mahala saying Daniel was her boyfriend, I was the one making out with him. We never went further than a few kisses and smooches in intimate places. Not when Mahala had tagged him; I knew better than to cross her.

We went to college. Law. I barely made it through while she graduated summa cum laude. I didn’t manage to get a job at the same firm she did, but I still watched her from afar, befriending her on Facebook and hanging out with her co-workers. She never complained about me and she even defended me when one of them accused me of being a stalker.

Mahala shined at whatever she did. She had a great job, and a great husband who loved, respected, and feared her, sometimes all three at the same time.

The world wept when Mahala died.

I wept when she died in my arms. A hit-and-run. We were walking home–just me and her, after grabbing a bite to eat. Hand-in-hand; peculiar of her to take my hand or acknowledge my presence in such a way.

Before crossing the street, she looked at me and smiled. “Why have you been here all this time?” she asked me.

“I don’t know. I guess, in a way, I saw something in you that resembled me. Something no one else seemed to have.”

Mahala sighed. “The winds have stopped.”

“Winds?”

Mahala nodded. “Ever since I was a child, I could feel a gentle wind lapping at my feet. Sometimes, everyone felt it too. Other times, I was the only one who could feel it.” She turned and hugged me. “Farewell.”

“Farewell? Whatever do you mean?”

Mahala stepped on the zebra walkway. The car hit her with full force, a car none of us had seen.

In a world where everyone walked, Mahala soared through the clouds.

Fawn

Written by Addie Barnett
Art by Yao Yao Ma Van As


There is a girl,
deep in the forest.
Her laughter the chirping of birds.

There is a girl,
deep in the forest.
Her smile a string of white pearls.

She pays no heed to the water flying in the air,
A moment too fleeting to notice or fret over.
Her brown doe-eyes close
and her cheeks flush
while her arms
reach for the endless sky.

“Oh, to be alive,” she says,
“On this day of sun and breeze.
It’s the most beautiful gift,
Someone like me could have received.
Am I not right, Theo?”
she asks the baby deer splashing lazily in the water.
Theo nods in silence.

The deer knows days like these come seldom,
Before being overtaken by the crisp winter winds,
And he awaits the day his master
is finally going to set him free.

But the girl pays no attention,
Too caught up in her reverie,
As Theo turns a bit away
To look at the canopy of trees.
“Father, mother?” He calls out,
but no answer ever comes.

The humans took Theo upon one dark night,
and the girl raised it as her pet.
The trees, rustling in the wind,
offer a promise Theo has learned to heed.
“This winter when the humans go to sleep
Run, Theo – and you will be free.”

Days and weeks roll by
And in the dark of night, Theo awaits.
Until the girl and her parents fall fast asleep,
And out into the forest Theo leaps.

“Mother! Father! Here I come,”
the fawn desperately bleats.
“Oh, my child, they are long gone,”
the trees reply with mournful cries.
But Theo is relentless,
it knows its flock is close.
And when the brown coats shine like stars,
It knows it has found home.

Brahma’s Arrow

Written by Addie Barnett


 Taron limped on the barren highway, glancing over his left shoulder every time he took five steps. One…two… The concrete chafed against his foot, a scalding sensation sneaking into his skin. Heavy beads of sweat, three times the average size of a marble, rolled down his neck, tracing the curve of his spine. Five. He looked back, panting.

Tick-tock, chimes the clock. Tick-tock.

He shook his head, ignoring the voices. They had always been there, but they had gotten stronger in the last month, commenting on his every decision.

Wind played with the dehydrated bushes along the road, their branches frozen like a dead body locked in rigor mortis.

Tick-tock, do not gawk. Tick-tock.

He ambled away, wiping the perspiration off his forehead. He licked his fingers desperate for any liquid to bless his raw throat. Salt and dust were all his taste buds savored. Better than nothing. Salt meant life. Life was good.

Tick-tock, tick-tock. Come on, hurry up, we’re bored.

Five. His foot smarted on the scalding concrete and he glanced behind him once more. Despite his exhaustion, he was certain his eyes were not playing tricks on him. He was already insane – it would be impossible to start seeing more things. Even so, the puddle of mud appeared to be following him.

One.

A figure waited in the middle of the road, sunglasses refracting light into Taron’s eyes. He squinted and shielded his eyes with one hand, struggling to get his breathing under control.

Two high cheekbones protruded out of a white face, carved from the pristine marble of an ancient Greek temple. A trimmed beard resembled that of a Viking and his hair—a writhing mass of dark braids—stretched to the back of his head and held in a man bun, reminded Taron of the Afro-American teller in his native town; Michael used to dunk his hand into his brown jacket and extract a smattering of colorful candies, divvying them between a gaggle of boisterous kids.

The figure was a cultural mess, a kitsch who thought of itself as the hotshot of the art gallery. He had nothing on a Dubois or a Van Gogh.

Tick-tock, he could knock you to the ground. Tick-tock, he need only move a finger, and you would be history.

“Would you stop your yapping already? I made it in time,” he grumbled, watching the man frown.

He might have heard you. Uh-oh.

A mischievous laugh, simulating that of a cartoon demon, filled his aching head. He squeezed his temples with his hands, groaning, but still he walked, the man in front getting bigger as Taron approached.

“Where’s your shoe?” a high-pitched voice inquired, shattering the violent view its owner was trying to project by using a scowl and his larger than average height. Kitsch.

“The giant mud puddle behind me demanded a sacrifice.”

“What puddle?”

Taron pointed behind him, but when he turned to look, the puddle was gone—its non-presence betraying Taron’s insanity.

“They did tell me you were mad, but I took it as a practical joke.” The scowl deepened, and his pale lips curled in disgust.

All Taron could do was rub his eyes, sigh, and shrug. He had resigned himself to his fate a long time ago; every new acquaintance he met treated him with so much distaste that after a while, its effects had started to dim. He’d had many sleepless nights in the beginning, back when the voices had been a faint whisper, a fleeting promise of a life spent unshackled, and he had tossed left and right on his creaky bed. It was amazing what a human could get used to.

You had us to help you.

“I know you don’t believe me, but there is a giant mud puddle following me and in it there’s this earth demon who has caught a taste for dirty trainers.” He gestured to his shoes, aware of how decrepit they looked.

Cash had stopped flowing for quite a while, about the time when rumors started to speak of him going mad. Unearthing a mass grave could do that to a person.

“Did you bring it?”

Taron nodded, opening his jacket to reveal a stained cloth in which the legendary arrow rested, protected from the dust and litter which accompanied every major city.

“It was not easy to acquire this. I expect full payment, no strings attached.” He extended the cloth and watched as the man unraveled it, removing his sunglasses to ponder the relic.

“You actually did it. You found the Arrow of Brahma.”

Grey eyes met his own, sparks of pure dazzlement and joy lighting the dry atmosphere, infusing it with new life.

“The seventh avatar of Vishnu used this arrow to kill the demon king Ravana.” Awe filled the man’s voice as he made sure the relic wouldn’t prick his clothes or nick his skin.

If it made any direct contact with mortal flesh, it would obliterate the human altogether. A fate worse than death. When you died people remembered you. When you died you had a chance at rebirth. The Arrow of Brahma left no room for such mortal ideals.

“How did you do it?” Something more than awe and disgust made its way on the man’s face. A flicker of…respect?

It was gone so fast Taron couldn’t make out if he was being tricked into a feeling of security, only so he would let his guard down to get murdered in cold blood. The Arrow was not the cheapest of relics – its mere location, in the heart of Srirangam, the largest temple of India, shielded by seven concentric walls, had been harder to enter than Fort Knox.

Thousands of people had flooded the temple day and night, making it impossible for him to squeeze between them. And when he did manage it, various waiters clung onto him like stubborn seaweed, their words tinged with honey, inviting him to taste the food of the best restaurants nestled in the first three walls.

If he hadn’t been already mad when he went inside, he would have lost his mind on the way out. Probably the reason so many had failed to retrieve the Arrow of Brahma, clutched by a statuesque hand, its master none other than Lord Vishnu himself.

Or so he had heard from a priest draped in orange, in search of a companion he could drink with.

“Can I have the honor of knowing your name?” Taron inquired, one hand searching for his knife.

Its bone-hilt chafed at his back and he curled his fingers against it, hiding the relief which flooded him at its familiar presence.

He had to lean in to hear the man whisper and he hissed when his shoeless foot pressed hard against the scorching concrete, “Caesar.”

Roman it is, after all. Huh. His nose is not the standard roman nose, though.

Does it matter? he finally replied to the voices, grunting when they cackled.

We knew you couldn’t ignore us, they said, sarcasm dripping from their words, sizzling as it made contact with his mind, its venom making his head spin. Little human, so lost. Let us coddle you in our warm embrace, let us free you from this cursed world.

“Caesar, you say?” He frowned, ignoring the chanting of hundreds of dead people, now residing inside him. “A very unusual name. You don’t look like a Caesar.”

Caesar’s bland eyes stared at him from under his milk-white eyebrows. He had always interacted with odd folk who hated personal questions, but Caesar had been the cherry on top of the cake.

“You don’t look like a Taron either. What’s with the leg?”

“Quid pro quo.”

A trade. How quaint. Caesar tucked the arrow into his black coat and his hand drew out a wallet. He appeared to have lost interest in Taron’s leg, not wanting to give away personal information. Smart man.

Taron flinched and almost pulled his knife out – a dire mistake. Quite the scaredy-cat, aren’t you? Afraid of a wallet? A long arm extended a pasty card and he took it, golden letters glimmering under the light of the sun.

“What is this?”

“For future reference. You may be insane, but you’ve proven more useful than the rest of the clowns I’ve met. And there were many.” The sunglasses had returned, casting long shadows on Caesar’s face and making the man seem even paler.

If on their first encounter Taron had been told this man was James Bond, he would not have been surprised. He’d have asked for an autograph and a picture.

“Give me a call, sometime. My boss is transferring the first down payment as we speak. The rest will come after the arrow has been vetted as the real deal. Check your bank account. I trust you will not be disappointed.”

The ground shook and Taron fell on his knees, crying out both in shock and in pain. A gaping hole had opened at Caesar’s feet and the man smiled as he tapped the right edge of the glasses in a last goodbye before he allowed himself to be swollen by the dark maw which closed diligently after him.

He shivered on the scorching road, angry blisters covering his calloused hands. He removed a shabby phone from his jacket, hurling his coat away, and watching it land with a thud. It had been torture to keep it on his shoulders in such heat and he looked at it with greedy satisfaction as it lay crumpled on the highway.

When he checked his bank account he found Caesar had spoken true – he was now a wealthy man. Or rather, wealthier. The upgrade made him smile. He would have pranced around were it not for the searing pain in his left leg.

Inside his mind, a hundred voices cheered.

He had little time before Caesar’s boss, a man whose reputation preceded him, would find out that he had been sold a normal arrow and not the legendary Arrow of Brahma. He now had enough money to pull off an escape even if it would not be in style.

Well played. We did not believe you would make it.

What’s next?

Excalibur.

Scarlet red

Written by Addie Barnett


Everything went wrong that day. The day our little community was robbed of its freedom. 

They came upon us in groups of a dozen–suddenly seeing twelve guns trained on you makes a person want to do crazy things. Even if that person has never done something like that before. 

It’s been ten years since my brother died to protect me from the pasty faces of the Frenchmen and their pallid hands clutching at their firearms. My brother jumped in front of me. This is the only reason I am still here. Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t. Sometimes, I wish I were with him, not alone, working my hands until they blister and the skin flakes off. 

It’s 1879, and they are still here looking at me, waiting for me to slip up and fall so they can get rid of me without a fuss. Escape from this coconut plantation is impossible. I have seen more than a dozen shot while trying to run–no one has succeeded. So, you can be certain that when one of them came to me telling me that I can be free, I waited for the other boot to fall. 

“I know you don’t believe me,” he said, “but I have found a way.”

“Why would someone like you help someone like me? Out of the goodness of your heart?” I snorted. “Get lost.”

Hope is a strange thing. Just when you thought you lost it forever, it creeps back into your soul and makes you do stupid things. 

He came back, again and again, no matter how many times I turned him away.  

He said his name was Pierre and he wanted to help me. He did not believe in his country’s cause; he had never agreed to enslave innocents, let alone kill them for no reason and be rewarded with a medal for it. 

“Merde.” He muttered with a tiny smile playing at the corner of his lips. “I know you have no reason to trust me.” He handed me a piece of paper with a few words scribbled on it. “But, please, read what is written on this paper. I think you will not regret giving me the benefit of the doubt.” 

I should not have trusted him–he was one of my captors after all–but hope had lingered in my soul and exploded when he left. I’ll be damned if they would take me without a fight, I had thought to myself after seeing Pierre give other pieces of paper to other slaves like me. 

Docks. 30th. 8pm. 

So, on the 30th, I decided to give hope one last shot and make a run for it. Even now I do not know where I mustered the courage to sneak out of the barracks we slept in, bunched up like a stack of leaves, and run between the coconut trees, my eyes searching frantically for the shimmer that accompanied the metal of a gun. The guards were grouped together at a campfire, laughing and talking in their strange language. I could distinguish a few words–esclave, bébé, blasphème–disgust dripping from their voices like the venom from a snake’s teeth. They did not see or hear me and I did not want to be seen or heard. 

Only when I reached the docks and saw him standing beside a boat in which another woman coddled a baby, did I understand what was happening. Blasphème. 

“You came.” The lantern swaying from his hand illuminated his face, casting an eerie glow on his lopsided smile. “I didn’t think you would.” 

“Why are you taking me?” I asked, peering at the bébé. 

“Please–we need help.” 

“Why me?” 

I could see the pity in his eyes. 

“They told me you had experience with children. He…he has been running a fever. If we do not leave this wretched island, he won’t survive.” 

“What is his name?” I rest my hands on my hips, my decision already made. 

“Rabelais.” 

“Good French name.” I pointed out, taking delight in the shame flaming his cheeks. 

“I know.”

My delight faded away as tears started slipping from his green eyes. 

“She-she is my life. I love her with all my heart, but they will never allow me to marry her. Not now, nor in a hundred years. We have to leave. But we don’t know what to do with Rabelais. He is sick. It’s a miracle he has stopped crying. Please, I beg of you.”

“What’s her name?” 

“Nguyễn Huyền Thư.” 

I jumped in the boat and touched the forehead of the baby, wincing at the heat flaming out. 

“He needs a doctor.”

“We know.” His mother handed me her child. “Please. I do not know what is wrong.” 

I undressed the baby, motioning to Pierre to shine his lantern so that I could check the condition of the baby. When I freed one of his arms, I noticed a red rash spreading all over his skin. 

“Your son has scarlet fever. If we hasten, he should be fine. He doesn’t seem to be in a grave condition yet.” 

Both exhaled loudly. Pierre undid the rope of the boat and jumped in. 

“Thank you.” He said, hugging me. 

“You’re my ticket out.” I muttered, hiding away the joy I felt that I was able to help someone out.

That my misfortune–of losing my brother and the child I had out of wedlock–had turned out to be helpful for someone in need. 

Made or Born

Written by Addie Barnett
Art by Sophie Campbell

tw: murder, mentions of abuse


At what point do we become bad people? Is it when we are forced to do something that gives us no pleasure, but we do it anyway. Then we repeat the process simply for the adrenaline and we become so hooked we simply can’t let go. Are we born with the seed of malice rooted inside of us?

 Is evil made or born?

These are the kinds of things I never thought I’d ask myself. I have always been an upstanding citizen, always abiding by the rule of law, even when it doesn’t do me any good. That was the way I was raised, and I never questioned it. 

This all changed that day; the day I had to do something, or I thought I would crack. The irony is, I still took no pleasure in it. Maybe there really is something wrong with me. 

I am pretty sure a person isn’t supposed to kill someone else, but, in my defense, he had it coming. When I saw Yusuf take our baby girl and put her in a corner after a tantrum, I felt I had chosen right. I thought I could trust him. But then he slapped her. The slap was so hard, her poor neck snapped to the right, and my baby started wailing.

And it wasn’t the first time he had done it either. I don’t trust the bad mouth of my always complaining neighbour, but Mr. Ahuja was telling the truth. And when even Mr. Ahuja, the man who comes to your apartment at 3 am and tells you that you are “a person with a loud walk”, you tend to listen. When someone has such a keen sense of observation (or a poor sleep schedule but this is a discussion for another time), you have to pay attention. So, that’s what I did.

 I saw him hit Kiara three times in just as many days. And something in me snapped. 

 ***

I don’t know how I got here. The path is bathed in blood, Even the trees, usually a beautiful shade of green, have turned crimson. I am clutching a hatchet in my right hand as if my life depended on it. I don’t know where I got it from.

 “Yusuf.” I shout, knowing he is out there, hoping I would give up the chase.

 We had gone camping, I remember. And he had hit my baby again. 

 “Yusuf.” I chirp, trudging up the bloody path. “I know you’re here. Come out, come out, wherever you are.” 

Something crackles just in front of me, and I lift my hatchet, ready to strike. But it isn’t Yusuf; it’s a bird who decided that now would be the best time to scram. Smart bird, I smile to myself. Yusuf won’t be so lucky. Not after he has left bruises on my baby’s ribs.

 “Yusuf.” My voice echoes off the trees and sends him scampering.

I can see him now, running for his life as if he hasn’t done anything wrong and doesn’t deserve to be treated like this. No, I think to myself. He knows exactly what he’s done. That’s why he’s running. I bolt after him, the weight of my hatchet slowing me down. I just need a clear shot—then I can throw it right between those broad shoulder blades of his.

It doesn’t take me long to catch up to him; we had both been athletes once, though Yusuf has been out of the game longer than I have. His injury is taking its toll even now, and I can see his limp coming out. A torn meniscus can do that even to the most accomplished runners. One moment you’re sprinting and the next…bam. You’re done.

Gotcha.

In his desire to evade, he doesn’t notice that we are out of the woods and sprinting through an open plain. I skid to a halt, take aim, and watch the hatchet fly like a hunting airplane into enemy territory. Just before it sinks into his back, I realize that I am what society would call a bad person. A murderer. Normal people don’t react this way. They go to the police, the voice of my father hits me like a train. He loved watching the news and imparting judgment on every criminal they broadcasted while mother, thin-lipped, wondered how she had ended up marrying such an opinionated person. At least my father has never hit anyone, I muse as the hatchet slams into Yusuf and takes him down. He falls with a shriek and lays there unmoving for a few moments before he starts to squirm.

I take my time in getting there, wanting him to suffer as much as possible. The chase is over, but I still take no pleasure when I see him crawling on the ground, still trying to get away. I grab the hatchet and tug. Yusuf screams – a loud, guttural scream that reminds me more of the squealing of a piglet.

As I push the hatchet deeper, his movements grow weaker. He can’t even scream anymore. At some point, he loses consciousness, and his head falls into a puddle of blood. So much expended energy, and for what? To die like a dog. Worse than a dog.

I turn him on his side as far as the hatchet allows me to and slap him back to consciousness.

 “Please.” He wheezes, pink foam gurgling out of his mouth.

 “Why did you do it?” I have to know.

 “Do what?”

I slap him. “Why did you do it?”

Yusuf smiles. “Why would I tell you? You already killed me.”

“Why?” I slap him again as the foam pools on the grass, painting my boots pink. “Why, you motherfucker, why?”

 “Because she couldn’t defend herself.” A deep laugh bubbled out of him, making his whole body convulse. “Because I knew it would hurt you more than her.”

 His eyes roll in his sockets, so he doesn’t get to hear my last words. “I hope you rot in hell.”