Fire and Ice: Part 4

Everything hurt. My back, my head, all ribs and muscles were as much on fire as he was. My own blood dripped slowly to the ground, a small gory puddle below me. From where, take your pick. The cut on my eyebrow, the slash at my arm, the multitude of other wounds on my body. All from him.

This is my fault, this is all my fault. I let my guard down, a wall I had built up to almost two decades crumbled from his touch, from his smile, those damn soul crushing eyes. I convinced myself we were friends. That he would actually come to like me, maybe fall for me as much as I did that first battle. I was an idiot. I still am an idiot. And now here I was about to die.

“Get up!” He yelled, fire flickering up his arms and legs. The anger in his eyes was like brimstone. Every step he took forward singed footprints that trailed behind him, black and smoldering.

“I said get up and fight me!” My brain was telling my whole being to just lay down, accept my fate. I’m a stubborn son of bitch though, and with shaking legs I faced him, nails digging into my palms. Liam was just as banged up as I am. Covered in blood and bruises already turning purple, he snarled.

“Come on, fight me! Fight me you bastard, take the first shot!” He pelted fire balls at my feet. I just stepped back at each one, soon hitting the wall. I bit back a groan, eyes shut tight. Finding my voice with a raw throat, it just came out.

“Just kill me…” I whispered. I opened my eyes again. Some of the flames covering him were gone, his eyes softening.

“What?” He asked almost as quiet as me. All the rage in me finally surfaced.

“Don’t give me that. Don’t try to act sympathetic all of damn sudden. I know what you are! We both do! You’re a ticking time bomb finding excuses to kill me, well here you go! I’m all yours! Just kill me and get it over with!” I spread my arms staring him dead in the eyes. They were still a warm brown, and I hated I still melted under them. I wanted him gone. I wanted him out of my life. He was never going to see me as nothing but a bad guy. He was the hero. I was the villain. And I was going to let him vanquish his villain.

Liam didn’t move, snuffing everything out on his body. I stepped forward and shoved him hard in the center of the chest where I know it would hurt.

“Stop being so noble for one fucking second! Kill me! Just fucking kill me! You wanted a fight so just bash my head in, roast me alive, do something! Just-!” I pushed him again and again, weaker than the last, not even bothering to bite back the soft sob I let out. He grabbed my arms, keeping me in place. I stopped fidgeting, seeing spots from how much pain I was in through blurry eyes.

“Justin…” He stared at me, one hand sliding over my cheek, wiping a tear away. I furrowed my brows at him.

And then I felt warm. I felt heat radiate my skin, ricocheting inside my bones, soothe my muscles. Because he was kissing me. Liam the fucking Scorch Mark was kissing me.

The cut on my lip stung from the pressure, but I didn’t care. I could barely feel it. There were only a few things I was focusing on. His lips on mine, hand on my cheek, the curvature of his body against my own, his busted nose running blood across my jaw and down my neck. I raked my hands through his hair, tugging at it. It was smooth against my fingertips, covered in ash and cinders.

This wasn’t a kiss anymore. This was support. We clung to each other because both of us understood, admitting it or not, that the other was the only one that kept us grounded. He was my anchor, so I didn’t soar off. I was his life raft, so he didn’t sink to the bottom.

I had to breath, but I didn’t want to pull away. The moment we do, then the kiss is over. We are back to being enemies. We are back to fighting and putting up appearances. Just a second longer. That’s all I needed, a second longer.

Liam had different plans. He pulled away for air. The only sounds I could hear was our panting. I felt his racing heartbeat against my chest. I wondered if he could feel my own, just as fast as his. We looked at each other, a mix of confusion, want, anger, sadness, affection was dancing across his irises, and probably in mine too. He realized the same conclusion I did. This can only be one kiss. One moment that had to be forgotten.

And then we heard sirens. Neon red and blue flashed onto our clothes from the windows. Liam turned his gaze to the cop cars. No, no, please, not yet. He looked back at me.

“I…” He didn’t even get a chance. Policemen busted in, weapons raised. Their screamed orders came deaf over my ears. I just raised my hands, no attempt at using my powers. Soon, I sat in the back of an armored car. The chains chaffed against my wrist, but I was numb to it. All I noticed was the muffled praise Liam was getting from the commissioner a few yards away. He caught my eyes, face still and hard despite the damage. I looked away as hot tears threatened to fall.

And then the doors slammed me into darkness.

Love and Magic

Dating a witch is much harder than I expected. Being with Amelia is normal enough. Replace living in an apartment together with a shack at the edge of town, and it’s pretty much the same. We eat together, sleep together, kiss and hug and all that fun stuff dating such an amazing girl comes with.

But there are some…intriguing quirks that I didn’t realize would be in a relationship with magic.

I never expected having to clean up salt sprinkled on the living room floor. I never thought I would wake up to a spirit from a psychedelic dream realm hovering over my face. I never thought I would have an argument about not filling the tub with some sparkling purple concoction when I need to shower.

And then there are her customers. I don’t like the human populace as it is but watching her deal with the cliental of a witch is not helping sway my opinion. Most are normal enough. A good luck charm for a job interview, an enchanted barrette to make their hair shiny for a date, a potion to help with alertness to help cram for a final (because let’s be honest magic is way safer than overdosing on Adderall), reasonable stuff.

Then there are the…special people. Like the pack of wannabe Kardashians demanding for charmed skinny jeans to make their butts bigger as they tortured their purse sized chihuahuas. The dude so plastered on tequila shots he somehow confused a small shack near the woods as a McDonalds, only to realize where he was and slurred out for a what he called “An Infinity Egg McMuffin”. To this day I don’t know what he meant by that. The countless, COUNTLESS number of people asking for love potions, or as I call it date rape with more steps. And my personal favorite, the woman who came at three a.m. with a screaming son devastated about his dead goldfish. She pleaded to revive the croaked little bugger, to which the kid proceeded to barf right onto my pajama bottoms. That was a fun night.

Amelia was always patient though, mixed with a pinch of beautiful sadism. When it was clear the buyer was at her home for selfish or even dangerous purposes, she gave them what they asked for. But as my darling always warned, “magic can be unpredictable, the results may vary”, and that variance came from her. Amelia would never want to kill anyone, just hand over a swift bitch slap of karma. She can’t change them but hopefully they come out a little more humble or wiser after the experience.

They still paid her, anyway. She made good money helping the people in town, and despite the few bad customers she loved doing it. It made her feel rewarded in many ways. About a year ago a family from a county over came for her help. Their daughter was sick, and the desperation was evident on their face. I watched her pour over that brew for a whole week, barely sleeping. She could never get it full proof and suggested to the parents a spoonful a day with whatever medication she had. About a month later she got a letter. The daughter was finally given a clean bill of health, and by the afternoon Amelia had it hung in the living room.

Working with her isn’t that bad either. I don’t have any magic of my own, but I’m the best little partner a witch could ask for. I helped her draw protective runes on the walls, picked herbs and ingredients she needed, keep her potion brews and mythical zoology books in place. I cleaned the dishes while she cleaned up the cauldrons. I dusted the shelves as she dusted her bottles of frog legs and goat tongues. It was nice being domestic with her. And living with magic doesn’t make it less fun seeing it again! I get to watch fire appear out of nowhere and small chimeras that wander nearby, as well get to have sex with her? Who wouldn’t want that!?

There are ups and downs with dating a witch. But magic with benefits is something I wouldn’t trade for the world.

 

Fire and Ice: Part 3

I was once again somewhere I hated to be. Cooped up in a high-end prison cell, with technology to stifle my powers. But since the first mutated freak every prison has a system like this. A quick pickpocket for a guard’s key card and a couple roundhouse kicks I could escape without breaking a sweat. But this was a good place to rest for a moment. The latest fight between the daring flamethrower and myself ended…rough.

I sat up from my bed, feeling every joint and muscle scream I should sit back down. I hobbled over to my mirror, leaning hard on the sink underneath it to hold myself up, checking to see if the damage faded.

It did not.

A black eye was still present, along with a bruised and slightly swollen nose. Scratches ran across my cheekbone, scabbed over and red. I brushed some fingers over a busted lip, wincing at impact. I was in no shape to try and bust out, powers or not. I needed to rest, for a week or so.

“Does it hurt?” I turned quickly, regretting the fast movement immediately as my neck was pulsating in anguish. Liam stood there on the other side of the plexi glass. I chuckled through the pain, standing up fully and walking away from the sink. I couldn’t let him see me so weak. If he could hold himself up, then so could I.

“Oh don’t fuss over me. I’m just worried if it’ll leave a scar. This is the money maker you know.” I made a gesture to my face. Liam’s wasn’t any better, similar cuts and purple bruises littered that masterpiece. Ignoring the sudden regret in my chest at hurting him, I pointed to them.

“And you should pray that you get healed up good as well. Won’t be on that many tween magazines with a crooked nose,” I said, sitting down again when I couldn’t continue to stand.

“I never thought I would wish for a permanent facial disfigurement until now…” I laughed as much as my ribs would let me. He cracked a smile. A real one. Not one for photos or news reports, a genuine smile. I ignored the skip in my heartbeat, saving that image in my head. When I close my eyes I wanted it plastered across my dreams.

“Why are you here anyway? You don’t seem to be the one to gloat about beating his arch nemesis.” I crossed my legs, leaning back with my arms propping me up.

“Well I couldn’t gloat even if I wanted to, considering how you almost killed me…”

“Oh I almost killed you? I’m sorry I guess I just imagined in my dastardly haze where you used the force of your fire to hurtle a billboard at me!”

“That was self-defense! You were about to rain down the might of Mt. Everest on top of my head!”

“Only after you sent what I can only describe as the rushing wave of an erupting volcano towards my ass!” I could see him seizing up, about to yell at me more. There was a flicker of something in his eyes. Sparks danced in the corners. Literal sparks. I sat up more. No powers were supposed to be working in here. Not in a single corner, especially not anywhere near me. He stopped himself, pinching the bridge of his nose, rubbing his temples.

“Damn,” I mumbled. Liam looked up at me again, clearly forgetting I was there for a moment.

“You tell no one about that.” He pointed a finger at me.

“As if anyone would believe me. Now, answer my question. Why are you here?” I asked again. He sighed, raking a hand through his hair.

“I’ve never…met someone like me. Sure I’ve fought the occasional mad scientist or evil billionaires but, not another person with powers. I want…” He sighed again. I widened my eyes, realizing what he’s trying to say. At least what I hoped he was saying.

“Is Scorch Mark lonely?” I let out a quick snicker, but my pain seemed to fade from those words. Liam liked my company. He liked my company. He scowled at me.

“After talking with you in my house I realized I never could really relate with anyone else. I’m just asking for some back and forth. You do this, I might be able to reduce your sentence. Deal?” He asked. I couldn’t believe it. Here I thought I would have to convince him, kidnap him, hell even brainwash him if I got desperate (not for that long, only a couple days) just for him to look my way as something more than a threat. Yet here he was wanting to gossip and hang out with me. I blinked and let out a wide, excited smile meant to be a smirk.

“Deal.”

 

Broken Toys

I never understood how children could be so rough. When I was younger I knew the delicacy and permanence of my toys. But in parks or playgrounds or daycare, kids around me would smash and stomp and even chew on whatever poor unsuspecting train or teddy bear that was around. It horrified me, and I will neither confirm nor deny the multitude of fights I had started with classmates. And won. Easily.

I’m much older now, with my temper mostly at bay, in my own little toy shop. Well, it’s my mother’s shop, but I am tasked with the most important job: fixing them. I pound away in the back room of the store, mending together broken toys found in dumps and cheap thrift stores. My workshop consisted of miles of technicolor thread on posts, two or three sewing machines, and a dozen or so bags of tan and white stuffing. The most abundant thing, however, was a full wall packed with boxes of toy parts. Mismatched wheels, robot arms, legs of felt dolls, cabooses of trains, and button eyes popped off.

My mother was out one day, leaving me in my spot as usual, sewing into a stuffed bunny’s tail, keeping the door open so I don’t get high off fumes from my collection of Krazy Glue. I didn’t hear the front door chime. But as someone knocked on the workshop door I jumped out of my seat.

“Sorry! Sorry! I thought you-you heard me uh…sorry.” I turned around to face my favorite dumpster diver, Toby. He found most of the toys I needed to fix, along with any parts or pieces. I chuckled.

“It’s fine. My perception of reality is so clouded I’m surprised I haven’t hurt myself already.” I stood and leaned on my desk.

“What’s up?” I asked. He gave me the goofiest, dumb grin his face could stretch.

“Who is your favorite person in the whole wide world?” I furrowed my brows.

“My mom,” I replied without hesitation.

“You sure?” He stepped closer.

“Yes, I am sure.”

“No, she’s not.” He stepped even closer. Before I could snap at how annoying he was he beat me to it.

“Close your eyes.” I crossed my arms.

“Why?” I pressed myself more into the desk, trying to get away from him. He smelled like garbage.

“Just close your eyes.”

“I don’t trust you.”

“Will you just close them?” He kept his smile which made me hesitant. But I sighed and shut them, arms still crossed. I heard him pull something small from his pocket.

“Ok…open,” He said in a quiet tone.

“I swear to all that is holy if this is like a dead bug…” I opened my eyes and to my surprise, relief, and overwhelming joy what sat in his hand was a small piece of jagged porcelain, a bright blue eye painted with orange faded cheek. I gasped.

“You found it!?” I screeched making him flinch. A part of a doll I had long giving up on trying to complete. I pulled him into a deep hug, not caring about the scuffs of dirt and grime on his shirt and sneakers.

“Thank you thank you thank you!” I practically pushed him away, snatching the porcelain face. I plopped down at my seat, grabbing the busted doll from a drawer. After a few minutes, the glue set, and the doll was once again whole after so many years. I dabbed paint onto a brush, blending the crack.

“How did you even manage to find it?” I asked as I brushed small strokes onto her.

“It took a lot of digging at centuries old landfills, but it was nothing, really.” He put on his grin again.

“So, am I your favorite person now?” He asked. I side eyed him.

“Not a chance.”

Fire and Ice: Part 2

Liam Chester, aka The Scorch Mark. Scorch Mark was a bit much, but I liked the name Liam. It fit him, sweet with some air of authority. I was planning to use his name to find out more about him through the black market, but a quick Google search revealed everything for me. No secret identity and with a movie star smile he was more of a celebrity than a superhero. Something for this city to fanboy over. I thought this defeated the purpose of the anonymity of people like us but it’s not like I’m any better.

The information I found didn’t surprise me. Born and raised in Haven City. Two loving parents. Cute little upbringing. A bit happier for an origin, but if one of us had to have the tragic backstory I fill that spot perfectly. But that’s for another time. All I wanted was his address, which also wasn’t hard to find. The biggest house with a security like Fort Knox made sense for someone like him.

I kicked my feet up onto the coffee table, flipping through another sleazy magazine with him on the cover. ‘Red Hot Star!’ in bold letters under an obviously posed photo of him. As goofy as it is, seeing him full body in an-we’ll call interesting-version of his suit was doing something for me.

The front door opened, the sounds of girls screaming, and camera flashes follow suit. The door shut again, and a heavy exhausted sigh. My chest clamped tight. I knew that sigh. I peeked my head up, gazing at him from behind the couch. He hadn’t notice me, just ran slender fingers through his hair, slinging his jacket off. I quickly tried to gather every new detail about him and store it away permanently. Moles speckled onto his arms like beautifully messy paint splatter. A scar running across his shoulder, faded from time, too small to be from a fight or battle. I wanted to run my lips down it, nibble at every mole. I wanted to see more.

I kept my eyes locked on his figure, but as I heard a zipper being undone, I panicked. My wish was coming true WAY too soon. I wasn’t above being a peeping tom or some weird pervert, I welcomed new titles, but with my pounding heart and my nerves and the fact that it was not going to happen like this, I just straight up panicked.

“What are you doing!?” I practically screamed, shot up more, revealing my torso. Liam snapped his body to me, holding his pants up with a fraction of a second left. His eyes bulged. My eyes bulged. I was about to see him in his boxers.

Holllly hell I almost saw him naked.

“What are you doing!?” His yelling broke through my wandering dirty thoughts. I looked up at him, putting on my usual scowl.

“Waiting for you!”

“You’re supposed to be in jail you creep!” He buckled his pants up again. I stood up.

“Well I’m out, supposed to be or not.” He eyed me up and down angrily.

“Were you trying to see me nude?!”

“Who gets undressed in their living room!?” I saw the flare in his irises right before the larger flare in his hands. He stepped towards me.

Well this didn’t go how I planned.

I raised my hands in defense, getting ice ready just in case.

“Woah woah Sparky! You said you don’t come to fight, right?” He paused, lowering his attack stance slightly.

“Well this time, neither am I. I just wanted to um…say uh…”

“You just wanted to say what?” He flamed out, crossing his arms. He has dropped his act for the most part, a goody two shoes who’s too tired to act all smiley. He wasn’t as simple as I thought he was before. He was sarcastic with a snide to his voice. And I might be the only one he shows this to. I wanted to be the person came home to after a long day with that voice. Someone to rub his knotted shoulders and tell him everything is ok as he ranted. I wanted to be the one he showed his real side to.

Lost in my daydream I realized I still hadn’t given him an answer. And once again, because my perfect spontaneity just killed itself apparently, I went to the first thing I thought of.

“Hi?” Hi. Hi. I broke out of jail into his house with hours of waiting for him and what came out is fucking HI!?

“Hi. You’re under arrest.” He stepped closer to me again.

“Wait! Wait! Wait! We’ve both fought and talked so much, we don’t even know any names, either of them. Shouldn’t mortal enemies at least know something about each other?” Liam turned his head down, forehead creased in thought. I blinked nervously. This could go either way. He could give me ten minutes. He could kick me out. He could kick my ass. He could give me a chance and have a heartfelt moment to moment that lasts all night. In my dreams maybe.

As I tried to swallow my heart Liam turned his gaze towards me. I quickly placed a cocky smirk on to shield my anxiety. He sighed and stuck his hand out reluctantly.

“Scorch Mark. You aren’t getting my real name.” Too late honey, but I won’t burst his bubble just yet. I grabbed it, warmth beating against my chilled skin.

“Freezer Burn.”

The Library

Past the county’s rushing river, a hop and skip away from a painted forest, and a leap from mountain range covered in herding goats, there sat a large, worn library. It stood short and stout, a sinking roof with peeling yellow paint chipped away from the harsh weather. The only thing that would catch a wandering man or a woman heading to work was the windows. Tall stained-glass drowning in violets and greens and dripping reds and blues. Pictures of Lancelot and Dracula and great storybook battles with dragons sketched in a burning orange, or a grand pirate ship crashing against glass colored like rushing waves and stormy gray skies. There wasn’t one wall that didn’t have these windows pulsating with hues and adventure. On a warm summer day or a frosty winter morning, right at the peak of dawn, the light pours through these windows, cascading speckled beauty and life across the landscape or the interior. I used to sneak out of my home before the sun would come up and dance and do cartwheels in the colors of the library, before heading inside and reading until I passed out on the carpeted floor. I wanted to spend my life there.

Older, old enough to get a job, I stacked books and swept floors. I spent my childhood here, but never realized the secrets this place held. I would stay late nights helping Mrs. Crater ready the fading library for tomorrow. She mismatched the building, a tall lean woman with sharp pointy cheekbones and a chin that jutted out just a bit too far. The only thing that the two soulmates have in common was worn wrinkled skin and sinking dark gray ceilings. She was quiet, sweet and almost too good with children, and better with adults. Mrs. Crater let me check out whatever book I wanted, if I brought them back how they were, maybe even in greater condition. But only after I do a check and chat with each section of the library. I didn’t misspeak, I meant to say chat. The library was jumping to life with stories and ideas and books. Each section wasn’t just that, it was a country. And each country had a guardian.

I pushed the wheeled metal cart full of books needing to find home again, first heading to the romance division. Immediately I heard unabashed sobbing coming from the back. I sighed and made my way over to Amelia, hunched over on her knees crying into her hands. The walls were carved with different sweethearts, some scratched out angrily. Tissues and rose petals littered the carpet.

“Heart troubles again?” I asked, placing all the Sparks’ books back into the shelf.

“Am I ugly? Why doesn’t he even look at me? I know he likes me! Am I ugly!?” I looked over at the snotty and makeup smeared face, trying to find the right words.

“…No?” This caused a larger crying fit. I quickly got back to the cart and power walked away. As her sniffles faded they were replaced with the sounds of a gun’s trigger. I picked up some books, passing Billy, large cowboy hat tipped down. Sand and dirt crunched under my feet, a tumbleweed skittering past us and the buffalo skulls that decorated the brackets. I could feel his cold steel eyes on my back, but I haven’t felt a chill since my first week here. He cocks his pistol over and over to intimidate me. It didn’t work.

“You going to say something or are you going to be the strong and silent outlaw?” I asked, putting on a painfully bad southern accent. A husky chuckle came from his throat.

“I can’t git anythang pas’ you, can I?” He flicked his hat up, sending a stubble covered smile my way. I shrugged.

“You’re going to have to try harder than that,” I replied, back to my cart and leaving him and his Western section alone. I picked through the next bundle of books when a cannon ball whizzed above my head. I felt hairs tickle the bottom of it. I dropped to my knees, the loud cackle of a dumb adventure boy hovering over me.

“Finn! We’ve talked about this!” I stood snatching the stack of books I needed to return. Finn hopped onto one of the shelves, the one marked adventure, as he continued to laugh.

You talked to me. I just pretended to listen and chose to ignore it.”

“You could hurt someone or worse, one of the literal thousand-year-old books in the back!”

“Oh lighten up, I know where to aim so that doesn’t happen. And Crater lets me express myself.” He bent backwards, standing up on his hands, walking down the shelf. He avoided the rope and swords he laid haphazardly around his unit of books. The only neat thing in that place was the large model ship sat at the end of rows of books. I tossed a book at him. He tumbled down onto the carpeted floor with an ‘oof!’ I slammed the stack needed to be returned there into his chest.

“Then be useful while you’re at it.” I headed back to the cart, pushing to the next section.

“You can’t subject me to stacking duty!” Finn yelled, but I ignored it. Soon I couldn’t hear his whining anymore. But the farther I pushed the darker it got. I was getting to the worst division in the library.

Horror wasn’t a bad genre, but it wasn’t fun to be around it so much. The tall shelves almost reached the sky, a slight fog creeping out between the dark abyss in the middle. Cobwebs and thorn covered vines stuck to the walls, slithering in between the few spines I could see. Pressing the to be returned books to the edge, I never even thought of setting foot in the there. I swallowed hard and tugged the gates around both sides, closed, locking them in place. This was the only section that needed to be secured each night. I never met the guardian of this one. On occasion I swear I could see a silhouette of something, but only for a brief moment. Sometimes I caught long boney fingers, other times I thought I saw horns the size of tree trunks. Whatever large creature lurked inside it never made a sound. I felt a sudden cold gust on my back and booked it to my cart, almost running to the next part of the library.

My dread was soon replaced with the sound of a bouncing ball. I smiled, looking down at the tiny girl in dark pigtails and red overalls occupying the children’s section. She played with a large purple kickball, amongst the other toys covering the entire place. A slide and swing set mingled with the wood shelving.

“Hey there Joselyn.” She turned to me and grinned ear to ear.

“More books!” She ran over to me, reaching for the stack in my hands.

“Can I put them back! Please please pleaaaase!” I chuckled and handed her them.

“Ok just be careful.” She didn’t stick around to heed my warning, hopping between shelves with the books around her chest. I shook my head, kicking the ball over to the corner before she could stumble over it.

My next trip was to sci-fi, which was honestly the easiest one of my rounds. I stepped inside, placing everything that was checked back in onto hard steel racks, blinking with multicolored lights. My eyes would glance at the guardian floating at the end of the division. An alien, no name, hovered legs crossed, four arms folded into his lap. Large orange eyes, a few dozen on either side, contrasted with sky blue skin. I slipped the last book back in place, much closer to him, or her, or it I wasn’t sure. I looked up at it. It looked back, nodding in some mutual respect. I nodded back and once more headed to my cart.

The last section was honestly my favorite to read. I had always loved fantasy books, ever since I was a child pouring over fairytales to myself. Flowers bloomed between cracks, along with shimmery ribbons of gold and silver. A cobblestone strip was set under my feet. I made my way in-between shelves, placing stories back in their home once more. Suddenly glittery little droplets rained down and tickled my nose. I sneezed.

“Hey Petunia.” I sniffed and turned around facing the fairy no bigger than my pinky. She twirled around my head in an excited flurry.

“Pleasure to see you again. Thought I would send a little magic along your way!” Her squeaky voice filled my ears softly. More glitter rained down onto me.

“Thank you, Petunia. But again, I think I’m allergic.” I sneezed again, much harder. Petunia went sailing back landing into one of the lilies.

“It’s too similar to pollen…” I finished, picking her up in my hand. She gathered herself, shaking off dust and possibly snot.

“Sorry,” I mumbled, wiping my nose with my sleeve.

“Oh, it’s alright dear. Thank you for the books.” She flew out of my palm and  sat herself on the spine of one of the books.

“No problem. Stay safe.”

“You stay safer!” She twinkled, a slight chime of bells following. With an empty metal cart, I made my way to the circled check out desk. Mrs. Crater sent a toothy smile my way.

“Hope everything went alright for you,” She said. I shrugged.

“As good as it could be,” I replied, parking the cart with the others.

“Guardians are a bit intense.”

“It’s all fine, really. I’m just glad to be here.”

“Well that’s good. So what books are picking up?” I paused at her question, twisting my lips.

“I think I might wait until I finish the ones I have at home,” I said. She raised a pencil thin eyebrow.

“Really?”

“No not really. I already grabbed a new one.”

I stepped out into the brisk dusk air, my jacket clinging to my skin, book tucked in my side. I looked back at the decaying structure, walls and roof worrying my mind that it might collapse one day. But as I looked at the gleaming windows, that all dissipated. The library will always be here.

No matter what.

Who Are You?

The classic question of The Caterpillar. Blue as his blood, shades of indigo and robin’s egg swirl in mismatching spots up his back. His haughty nose turned up to the sky is the color of ink, nostrils flared. The only think cutting through the sweet-smelling smog he wafts through the forest is his piercing eyes. He asks it with a sneer.

“Who. Are. You?”

It’s hard to stand tall when you’re only nine inches high. And with his throne of fungus and weeds towering above you feel even smaller. Speaking only comes out in coughs as your lungs burn. His hookah sits firmly next to him, puffing perforated sludge into him, billowing from the corners of his lips. He looks like a dragon.

Are you deaf girl!?” He snaps “I said Who. Are. You?”

There is so much noise in each silence he takes between words. A paragraph of insults and spite loaded in each period, drenching in disgust. Finally, you just snap.

“I’m me dammit!” The Caterpillar is taken aback. You also surprise yourself. It’s never sounded so confident. So much control into two words you’ve said over and over to try and appease the storm in your head. You repeat yourself.

“I’m me! I’m nobody else and I’m certainly not you! So, deal with it! I. Am. Me.” Despite them watering, your eyes stare back at his in a new defiance. His demeanor has changed. A once puffed chest was now deflated, pushing smoke out in much larger doses. His multitude of wriggling feet twitch and scurry against the harsh top of the mushroom.

He’s scared.

It was now you who turned up your nose.

“Now it’s my turn to ask: Who. Are. You?” He stumbles, words tripping on his tongue. He inhales more of the hookah, the air becoming thicker and thicker in a cloud of purple and blue. It dissipates, and what’s left in your wake is a hollow skin and empty shoes.

You jut out your chin, hold your head high, and smile. Nine inches feels a lot taller now.