Take a Deep Breath

DeShaun reluctantly climbed into the raft. He unnecessarily tightened the straps on his life jacket as he settled into his seat. He hooked his feet under the seat in front of him and grit his teeth. A skinny white guy in long black Bermudas, black long sleeve tee, black aviators and a black life jack hopped in next to him. He flashed DeShaun a smile. “Wow, we are like total opposites,” the kid said waving between them awkwardly, “What with your skin tone and your white clothing. Like you’re a photograph and I’m your negative.” The kid chuckled.

“Yeah, not with your hair,” he argued and touched his gravity-defying natural hair.

The kid looked away and self consciously ruffled his dark brown hair to make it poofier. “Well, yeah this isn’t a photograph anyhow, this is real life. And, real life has real consequences.” He pointed a bony thumb at the people loading into the raft behind them. “For them. Not you. You’ll be alright. Just when it happens, take a deep breath. Okay, DeShaun? Big breath.”

The kid mimed several deep breaths. DeShaun rolled his eyes even as a cold shiver ran down his spine. The idea to get off the raft and go home was growing. Not that he could, Talia Elkin had suggested the white water rafting trip. He couldn’t let her see he was nervous. He offered her his best smile. She caught his gaze and winked. A spray of water hit her. Everyone laughed, except the goth kid. He just stared at DeShaun. His eyes could barely be seen behind his sunglasses and DeShaun was glad of it. Kid was weird.

Goth kid leaned back and said, “Hey guys, why don’t we skip the class five rapids today? I ate a big lunch. Might puke.”

Giggles erupted. A chorus of ‘no’s escaped the group.

“I tried,” Goth kid said with a shrug, “Remember that…after, yeah?”

DeShaun thought he might puke.

The guide ran through safety measures. “Grip with your feet. We are going to hit some gnarly rapids. If you are thrown out of the boat, get into the ‘down river swimmer’s position.’”

“Hey man, you should pay attention,” the Goth kid said as he put on his helmet.

The guide explained the commands. DeShaun found himself intently listening. The guide said the waters were rough but not terrible. He schooled them in how to hold the paddles. The kids behind him, Talia, Ram, and Alison were shoving each other and knocking helmets. The Goth kid ignored them, gripping his paddle.

And they were off. Paddles dropped with hard smacks into the water. The water was calm-ish. The sun was shining. The air smelled like water, plastic, and sunscreen with a hint of fish. DeShaun began to relax. The Goth kid was whistling merrily as he paddled. It sounded like a pirate song DeShaun had heard in a video online. Ten minutes in, and he had relaxed enough to enjoy himself. The water spray kept him cold. He looked cool in front of Talia. The weird kid was keeping his weird to himself. It was all good. He was one with Nature or some crap.

“We’re going to his some class two rapids. Should be a little bumpy. Nothing to worry about,” the guide shouted. “Remember to listen to me.”

The Goth kid sang out, “Fight, flee or surrender!”

Talia tittered.

“Dude, shut up.” DeShaun hissed.

“Defeat you can’t deny,” he warbled, “Better give up in the first place…”

“Sing it, Goth kid,” Talia shouted.

DeShaun’s eyes flipped to the guide as the boat hit the rapids. It was bouncy but bearable. He gritted his teeth against the spray. He choked on it, half blinded. The boat started to list then tip heavily to the left.

“High-side!” the guide shouted.

DeShaun through his weight right. The Goth kid didn’t. He reached out to grab him but the movement knocked the aviators off his face. His black eyes glowed red. DeShaun recoiled. The guide shouted instructions. The raft dissolved into chaos. The kids behind them were screaming.

“Or drown in the blink of an eye,” the Goth kid sang calmly as the boat capsized.

DeShaun took a deep breath.

 

The End.

Lyrics from Running Wild – Pirate Song

Fudge Pop

Death sat on a rock in the middle of the Delaware River. Inky black robes shed in favor of a black tee, blacker swim trunks and bare feet the color of slightly spoiled milk. Running a hand through his shaggy gray locks, he put a foot in the water and frowned when a school of fish bobbed to the surface, going belly up just for him. He huffed and removed his foot.

A pretty Living Girl sat on the rock beside him. She hadn’t noticed him yet. She was too busy changing the playlist on her phone to something summery and light much like the camisole and short jean shorts she had chosen for the summer heat. Once the light pop sounds matched her tapping toes, she leaned back on her elbows and noticed him. He smiled, showing straight white teeth. She raised dark eyebrows and cautiously smiled back.

Death mimicked the girl’s pose, careful to keep his feet free of the water. He didn’t want to kill everything that lived in the water, drank it, or flew over it by accident. That would be rude. It was frustrating however because it was a nice day with a soft breeze bringing a little relief from the heat but not as much as the cold water would do. Still, a day off was a day off, even if it wasn’t strictly allowed.

Glancing back at his company, he saw the girl holding up a fudge pop. He blinked. She mimed tossing it to him. Nodding eagerly, he reached out his elegantly long and decidedly not too skeletal hands to catch the confection and frowned when he accidentally touched a bird. The bird, a bluejay, dropped stone dead into the water. Distracted, he missed the softball lob and the fudge pop plopped into the water and drifted away lazily in the current. He huffed.

When he turned back to the girl, her eyes were sad. She pulled an earbud loose and called out, “Sorry, that was my last one. Bad luck with that bird. That was weird, right?” she asked.

“Not really,” he murmured and when she frowns he said, “I mean, thanks for trying and all but my life isn’t exactly made for fudge pops if you get my meaning.” He frowned. That was the longest sentence he has ever said to a Living Being.

“I do have a few cookies? Want one? They’re not cold but they are chocolate. I could even hop on over there. Your rock is big enough for two to sunbathe.”

“No!” he shouted. Visions of her warm body turning cold and dropping into the water because she accidentally bumped him, rushed through him, chilling him more effectively than the river could. But now he’s done it because her big eyes flashed with hurt. “No,” he said softly. “I mean that’s fine. I’m fine. Thank you for being kind,” he told her and gave her a brittle smile.

She turned her back and he vanished. It was a stupid idea anyhow. He pulled his list and headed up to Manayunk to take out a few musicians who thought it would be a great idea to play a set in a thunderstorm. Moody, he didn’t bother to loom or menace, he just clapped slowly when one by one the electrocuted idiots dropped to the tarmac, splashing down forever. It was fine. Their music was derivative.

Work continued unabated for twenty years. He didn’t try to take another sunny day off. His milky skin had no melanin to tan and he wasn’t human so he got no benefits from extra vitamin D, and it wasn’t exactly a beneficial thing to do. Still, killing day in and day out got to him. Especially when he had to take out a young kid, or an old dog. Those were the bad ones. Today he had a twofer; Four-year-old boy chasing a fourteen-year-old dog into oncoming traffic. Bummer.

He turned up at Grant and Academy. It was one of the best spots to die in the United States. There were forests in other countries and huge icy patches where he picked off loads of people and sometimes this big ol’ intersection seemed so mundane but it was no less deadly.

He spotted the dog first. It was a Siberian husky with one bright blue eye. His leash was an expandable number that Death was incredibly familiar with and it rubbed on an old wooden telephone pole. The snap startled the dog into the street. Death sighed. Now would come the boy, right on time. The scamp was in jeans and a rainbow tee. Behind the child, came the mother.

Death grimaced and huffed. This was not going to be a fun day. The light changed. The dog barked. The kid yelled. The mother shouted and Death whipped around to see the mother, really see her. He waved a hand and everything froze. Lifting his thick heavy robes up, he approached her.

He unfroze the woman and she stumbled forward. Death did not steady her. She glanced up at him.

“What kind of an idiot gets an extendable leash?” Death shouted.

She raced into the street and tried to grab her frozen scion. Death snorted.

“Everything is frozen. I’ve stopped time.”

“To call me an idiot?” the woman asked.

“No,” he told her firmly.

Something like hope crossed her face. “Are you going to save my Jamie? And Tanner?”

“No,” he repeated. “I’m Death. I can’t just stop killing people because you tried to give me a fudge pop once. That’s not how this works.”

“I gave you-” the woman stared hard at him. “You’re the ‘cute goth’ kid from the river?” she asked and glanced off into the past. “Wait, the ‘cute goth kid from the river’ is DEATH? I don’t believe this.”

Death sputtered and if he had blood in his veins instead of murder, he might have blushed. “Goth? Cute?”

The mother sat down in the street with her child and hugged the frozen thing. Death sighed and went as close as he could without killing her too. She reached out a hand to him. “Do it. I want to die with them.”

“So run out into the street with them,” Death said, indignant, crossing his arms over his chest.

She stares at him with her wide, sad eyes, and he remembers how her smile had felt when directed at him. No one ever loved Death. She hadn’t either, not really, but she had offered him normal human affection. Glancing up at the sky, he lets out a breath and scans the street. There are too many cars for the child to avoid death without intervention, not to mention the dog because if he was saving one the other had to live too, he supposed.

“Please,” the mother said, begging for her own death, unaware that for the moment she had it. That woman had Death as her own. “Please.”

“Fine, but when this is over, I get my fudge pop,” Death grumbled. “And you never, ever, never, ever, ever, tell a single living soul about this.”

“Deal? I’d shake your hand-” she began.

He rolled his eyes. “-and you would drop stone dead,” he reminded her.

Death stretched, cracked his neck, his knuckles, and his back as he surveyed the glowing souls all around him. He would have to trade one for one for the child but the dog…well he could fudge the records on the dog and find some roadkill to make up the deficit.

“Get out of the street,” he advised the mother. She hesitated, of course, she did and he tried not to regret this before he was even done doing it. “Seriously, get out of the street. I’m not going back on our deal.”

She climbed out of the street and stood beside him, careful not to touch. He waved his hand and time moved. The child ran forward after the dog. He closed his eyes and controlled the souls. A biker went left instead of right. A sedan slammed on its brakes just in time to become a barricade as the kid made it to the median where a brave uncontrolled soul stopped the dog and grabbed the kid around the waist. One last thing to do, the swap. Death sighed, reached out and tossed a rock. The rock smashed into the hood of a Kia Soul and that car hopped onto the median and killed a man in a suit, Jericho Sampson who had murdered his first wife. He was probably accidentally saving the second wife but since she wasn’t on today’s list, he wasn’t bothered.

The entire nightmare was over in less than ten seconds. He stepped to the side to avoid any accidental hugs by the grateful mother. But she was clever and had just dropped to the ground in a dead faint. He huffed and vanished.

Twenty-five years later, he approached a grandmother at an ice cream truck. Death tapped her on the shoulder. As her aneurysm burst, he caught the fudge pop before it hit the ground. He grinned down at his friend from the river and winked.

Fin.

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Green Eyes

Eli’s eyes popped open. A skittering sound had dragged him up from the darkness to peer at the leftover glow-in-the-dark stars on his ceiling in confusion. Blinking sleep out of his eyes, he struggled to free himself from tangled bed sheets and ended up slipping off the bed to crash into hardwood floors. Stilling, he listened to the quiet house and the comforting snores of his grandmother down the hall. The woman was a terror. Waking her from her well earned ‘beauty sleep’ would have earned him a tirade. The skittering sound repeated as his phone lit up.

Crawling to the nightstand, kicking his way loose, he snatched his phone off of it and spotted Isaiah’s name. He answered, “Izzy, my grandma is sleeping. Are you trying to get me murdered?”

“Come with me to the beach,” Isaiah said, his rich baritone shaking and breathy in Eli’s ear.

Eli ran a hand over his face. “I’m already grounded for going to the movie with you. Izzy, I get in trouble again and we’ll never see each other again.”

“Eli, we’re never going to see each other again, anyway. Not after tonight,” Isaiah replied.

Eli’s blood ran cold. In seconds he was hopping back into last night’s jeans, stumbling to the window and popping it open. Cool salt-laden air hit him in the face. Isaiah stood in the spotlight created by the street light. He had a rucksack and his posture was unnaturally stiff as he waved. Eli pulled on a light jacket while jamming his wallet into the jeans and stepping into his flip flops. He couldn’t risk the stairs, so he shimmied down the oak tree. It wasn’t something he hadn’t done a million times before to spend extra time with Isaiah.

Isaiah caught him when he slipped. Eli reveled in the comfort of Isaiah’s hands on him. He spun in his arms to make it a real hug. Isaiah’s hands gripped him tightly in return. The rich scent of Isaiah’s cologne surrounded him. It was woodsy but also grassy. He took a deep breath but all too soon Isaiah let go. He grabbed Eli’s hand. Eli let Isaiah lead and it reminded him of the first time they had met. Eli had been the leader then because Isaiah had been new in town and so adorably lost. Eli had been lost too. He just hadn’t known it yet.

For several minutes they didn’t speak. Isaiah was quiet by nature, more thoughtful and observant. Eli constantly teased him, calling him a space cadet. Isaiah said he was observing the world and learning its secrets. They raced down the street and crossed over to the sand dunes. Once they were passed the playground and running on open sand, Eli stopped. It was too much. He felt too out of the loop, too surreal, and too alien.

Isaiah tugged but Eli dug his heels. Isaiah’s wide green eyes pleaded with him to move. Unable to resist him, Eli kicked off the flip flops, they weren’t helping his anyhow, and bare feet were faster on sand. He sank into the cold sand and kicked it up as he moved. Isaiah’s hand was sweaty in his. Eli wished he would speak. He trusted Isaiah with his life but Isaiah was the calm, steady one. If he was upset, there was a good reason, and his mind was going a million miles a second trying to figure it all out.

In a large empty stretch of sand where large rocks blocked the view of the town, Isaiah stopped. Eli was in good shape, Isaiah was in better but both boys were out of breath. Panting, they leaned over to catch their breaths. Isaiah stood slowly, scanning the sky, and turning to face Eli. His gaze was intense, full of emotions Eli couldn’t untangle.

“Izzy, please tell me what’s going on,” he begged.

“Last week Mr. Parker noticed. I thought I was okay but then Emma started following me around. She accidentally cut me in class. I knew. Eli, I am so, so sorry but I had to send the signal. I didn’t want to but some people dropped by my house.”

“Noticed what?” Eli asked.

Isaiah gave Eli a fond complicated look and murmured, “What you refuse to see, Eli. When I came to town I couldn’t even figure out clothes. I was so confused. I was… I am… I’m not normal.”

“Yeah right, you’re not normal,” Eli scoffed even as a weird chill raced up his spine. An image of Isaiah needing help with buttons bobbed to the surface and he has tied a tie around his arm, thinking it was a decorative band. Dozens of other memories bobbed up and Eli swayed.

“How not normal?” he asked, “Emma said the same thing to me. She said…”

Izzy puffed out a breath and asked, “What did Emma ask you?”

Eli stood up and regarded the purple black of the night sky. Stars decorated it all like diamond dust. There was no moon to obscure the view. Eli was an astronomy major. The sight calmed him as he cast his mind back to yesterday. Emma Parker from math class had grabbed him in the gym and asked him, “What’s wrong with Isaiah’s eyes?”

Eli tilted his head to stare into Isaiah’s eyes. The same vibrant, grassy green that he loved seemed to glow slightly in the low light. Isaiah turned his head a bit and it was as if they had a sheen. “She said your eyes were like a cat or a dog’s the way they reflect light. She said it wasn’t normal. But she was high. She’s always high.”

“Dilated pupils, Eli,” Isaiah told him. “She could see it. Why can’t you?”

They regarded each other. Eli was chilled by the ocean, the wind, and by the fear, he saw in Isaiah’s eyes.

“When you look at me, what do you see?” he asked and his eyes swirled again with intensity.

Eli frowned. He saw a lean boy, taller than him with muscled arms, natural hair, great big hands good for holding and his lovely green eyes. “I see you, Isaiah.”

Isaiah laughed, a choked and bitter thing dying halfway through. “You do, you really do, don’t you, Elijah?”

“Are you mad at me?” Eli asked.

Isaiah smiled and his eyes glowed a bit brighter. “No, I’m just surprised at how much I love you.”

“That’s stupid. You can’t love me half as much as I love you,” Eli teased.

“No, I bet I can’t,” Isaiah said with a grin. “I just wanted to try.”

His eyes watered. Eli pulled him into a hug. Isaiah’s breath hitched. Eli squeezed, even as icy fear slipped down his spine. Isaiah had just admitted he loved Eli for the first time and it didn’t feel like a happy romantic moment. It felt like an ending. Eli wasn’t sure he could go on like everything was okay if Isaiah left him. Isaiah made his living situation bearable. Isaiah made school tolerable. Isaiah made life better because Isaiah kind of was his life.

“C’mon stop being cryptic. Why are you leaving? Where are you going?” Eli asked, trying to be brave.

“Home,” he whispered.

Isaiah stepped away from Eli and pointed up. Eli was confused. “North?”

“I’m not… I’m,” Isaiah began and trailed off. He took a deep breath and murmured, “human. I’m not human, Elijah. Parker found out. That guy is retired FBI. He knows about all of it, Area 51, the visits, the stuff in Canada. He knows. So he knew who to call and he knew who would believe him. I’m in danger. I can’t stay.”

“Can’t stay? Alien? You’re not serious,” Eli said, denying all the memories that were congealing into a very strange mess with Isaiah at the center with eyestalks.

“El, my eyes glow. My blood is a bit pink…” Isaiah said flatly.

“I thought you were anemic.”

Isaiah grinned. “My skin is cooler than yours. When I got here last year I had no idea what basketball was and I thought baseball was the one with the paddles.”

“I thought you were homeschooled,” Eli said, feeling stupid and fighting against what felt true.

Isaiah touched Eli’s face. “You’re an idiot, sometimes.”

Eli felt heat flood his face. “I just, you were hot,” he replied with a shrug.

Isaiah looked up and grinned. “Well, I thought you were hot, so we’re even. I just, I didn’t want to leave without telling you goodbye,” he choked on the word ‘goodbye’ and Eli felt his heart cracking.

“No,” he protested.

“No?” Izzy replied.

“No goodbyes. I don’t want to be left behind.” Eli knew what he was suggesting.

Isaiah’s eyes were blazing a beautiful, unearthly green now. “What do you want?”

“To be with you,” Eli replied. His glowing eyes were strange and different and Isaiah’s. Who cared if he wasn’t human if he was still Isaiah?

“Who’s being dumb now? We belong together.” Eli told him.

“You can never come back.”

“Don’t care,” Eli told him. “We belong together. Unless,” he trailed off, doubt coursing through him.

“Unless?” Isaiah asked looking nervous.

It had been a really great year. Eli had always been a fringe character with his telescope and lack of friends. He had spent the three summers previous to Isaiah alone, reading. With Isaiah, he had still read but out loud to his new and only friend. Eli wasn’t sure who was more surprised when he was brave enough to kiss Isaiah. He should know Eli couldn’t give him up. But maybe Isaiah didn’t feel the same?

“You don’t want me to go,” Eli responded.

“Oh,” Isaiah breathed, grinning. “I didn’t think you’d want to come. It’s different.”

“Different can be good,” Eli replied. “Besides, I love aliens.”

“All aliens,” Isaiah teased.

Wind raced across the beach and the sky filled with lights. The two boys glanced up as a blueish beam lit up Isaiah. His eyes widened in panic and his hand reached out for Elijah. He took it. Eli was pulled into the circle of light.

“Are you sure?” Isaiah asked.

Eli pressed his lips to Isaiah’s. Isaiah’s arms slipped comfortingly around him, to hold Eli in place as they were taken into the air. It was going to be one hell of an adventure. He just wished he had kept his flip flops on. He couldn’t imagine spaceship floors were any more comfortable than wet cold sand. Not that it mattered as long as they were together, nothing did.

the end.

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