A Call Like Castanets


I shuddered, reliving the horror of the black-and-white bird waiting for my death. At sea, he’d spread wings, at least twelve feet wide, a threat of attack. I would’ve appreciated the shade but had been too terrified of his horrid hooked beak about to gouge out my eyes. I’m sure Rick saw me like that—a monster who stalks humans.

Soon, a second albatross descended on the rocky shore to join the other, its head tilted and black wings spread in a head-bobbing dance. They rubbed beaks, brayed, and weaved their heads from side to side in a mating ritual. I laughed but it sounded oddly frail. I almost let Alani’s tears escape before Rick sidled up. Thank Sha he came back.

“Some say they’re bad omens,” he said with a gentler, calmer voice, “but that’s only if you kill one. Actually, they’re good luck.”

“I swear Alby’s stalking me.”


carrier camp2

Then without notice, sirens wailed. The Cides came to life. Terror gripped the Carriers. Fathers stuffed belongings into tents, and children scampered to their mothers’ cries, as over the chaos, a loudspeaker broadcasted a female’s looped message, “Be proud of the men and women who volunteer to be Cides, to serve the Allied Cities of North America.” Even after the sirens stopped, her mantra continued while the monsters pursued stragglers. A Cide caught a woman sprinting for her captured husband and stuffed them both into a bus. Two Cides scooped the elderly to mouths, taking their lives as they had done with Al. But after a Cide deposited a child in a blue trash bin, I knew I had to act.


bloody hands

Dazed for a moment, I coughed out water. But I realized I had to act fast. I rose from the tide and charged, grasping the neck of the Cide pummeling Rick. Instead of paralyzing him, though, my hands sunk deep into its glyph. Gripping bones with both hands, I yanked and out came his entire vertebrae. Cide blood, glowing with what looked like shimmery microscopic creatures, dripped down my arm then turned tarry black.

That wasn’t blood. Were the wraiths dead or alive?

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