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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

feedback welcome.

message 2: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 28, 2018 05:13AM) (new)

to post:
-Shattered Embers
-Green Gardens
-Sunrise, if anyone here is in the SU fandom
-Draconian Skies
-The Bell-Maker's Apprentice

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Shattered Embers
Chapter One: Cove
2644 words

As the lock on the basement door turns loudly, I huddle against the wall, bracing myself for the inevitable. Father knows what I did, and he’s sure to be furious at me. I rehearse my defense in my head: I was starving. If I died, you wouldn’t have a slave anymore. And it’s not like I took that much food…
Who am I kidding? He won’t listen to a freak like me.
The door creaks open, and a shadowed figure begins to descend the steps. I hope my punishment isn’t too severe this time. He’s been busy with work—he might not have time to beat me much.
The figure stops at the bottom of the staircase and turns on the light. Breathing a sigh of relief, I recognize that it isn’t the esteemed Governor Hartford—it’s his perfect son, my older brother Samuel.
“Did I frighten you?” Sam asks.
“No,” I lie.
“All right,” he says doubtfully. “I just came down here to tell you that he knows you took that stale bread a few days ago. And he’s not happy.” I don’t answer. After a moment, he kicks at one of the red and black feathers that litter the floor. “You should really try to keep this place cleaner, by the way. You know he hates your mutation more than he hates you as a person. These just remind him of it…” His eyes travel to my wings, which are large, fluffy, and clearly visible through the holes I’ve cut in the back of my shirt. Maybe that wasn’t a good idea, in hindsight. Father certainly wasn’t happy when he noticed what I’d done. I shudder at the painful memory, but I don’t let myself focus on it.
“Listen,” I tell Samuel. “I’m n-not responsible for what happened before I was born. Do you really think I want to be like this?”
Before he can answer, Father’s voice sounds from the floor above us. “Samuel, are you down there? What have I told you about talking to that creature?”
Samuel scowls and turns away. “I have to go. Please try not to cause any trouble…”
“I can’t make any promises,” I mutter.
He turns off the light and goes back upstairs without locking the door again, leaving me alone with my thoughts. No one knows I exist, except the governor’s immediate family. And, really, it’s better this way. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Sometimes, I want to escape so badly that I feel like I might scream if I have to spend one more minute in this forsaken house. I don’t, though. I learned a long time ago that reacting in any way only makes the punishments worse.
I shift positions slightly, hoping to lessen the discomfort in my right leg. The pain is especially bad on cold winter days like this. As if I wasn’t different enough, with my wings, I was unfortunate enough to be born with cerebral palsy, as well...
I’m jarred out of my thoughts by Father’s voice. I didn’t even notice him coming—a major mistake. I’ll have to be more vigilant next time.
“Didn’t I tell you a while ago to bring those potatoes up to the kitchen?” he demands, gesturing at a large burlap bag. “But here you are, refusing to obey me. Not that I’m surprised! You’ve always been lazy and stupid. I don’t know why I keep you around, anyway.”
I avoid his eyes. No matter how hard I try to keep my voice steady, I still trip over my words slightly, another effect of my condition. My fear doesn’t help matters, either. “I’m sorry, s-sir. It w-won’t happen again.”
“S-stop st-stuttering!” Father sneers, mocking me. “It makes you sound like even more of an idiot than you are—not that that’s saying much.”
I look down, trying to hide what I feel. But my wings rustle and twitch, giving away my anger. Father takes a few quick steps towards me, his face reddening. His fist strikes my face, and I stumble backwards. I can already feel the skin around my eye beginning to bruise and swell.
“Let that be a lesson,” he snarls, his voice low, rough, and deadly. If his supporters could hear him speak like this, they’d run the other way and never vote for him again. With that, he leaves, giving me one more order before he slams the door shut. “Tonight, you’ll be clearing the snow from the yard. I’ll fetch you once there’s no risk of anyone seeing you.”
He may be a tyrant, but he keeps his word. I wake up at midnight to a flashlight shining in my eyes. Once the governor sees that I’m awake, he kicks me in the side. I stand up slowly, looking around at the place I call home.
My bed consists of a wooden pallet covered by a threadbare sheet—Father didn’t want to give me even that, but Samuel managed to convince him eventually. It’s not very large; even though I’m extremely small for my age, I can barely lie down on it comfortably.
The one window is stuck open, letting the cold air find me. To prevent me from flying away, Father installed bars on it a few years ago.
“Hurry up,” he says, interrupting my thoughts. We ascend the stairs as quickly as possible; he walks behind me, making sure I don’t stop. I head for the front door, but he stops me. “That entryway is for humans only. Use the back door.”
I have no choice but to obey him.
Outside, the freezing air takes my breath away. The snow falls quickly, thrown through the air by harsh winds. My old t-shirt and shorts are definitely not appropriate for this weather, but they’re the only clothes I own. I wrap my wings around my body in a desperate attempt to stay warm, and then I begin to clear away the drifts, digging into the snow with a heavy shovel. It’s strenuous work; soon my leg hurts worse than ever, and a burning sensation travels up my arms. But I keep telling myself: I won’t complain. This is my punishment for what I am.
If only I could leave! It would be easy—I could fly over the fence, and no one would ever know what happened to me. But I have to protect Samuel. If I were to disappear, Father would start to take his anger out on my brother. And Sam isn’t used to that; he’s always been this family’s golden child. Being mistreated in any way would destroy him.
Forty-five minutes later, my task is complete. So I return to the basement for the rest of the night. I briefly consider stealing more scraps, to stave off the weakness that comes with starvation, but it’s not worth the risk.
My life has always been like this. And, as far as I can tell, it always will be. I’ll stay here, the governor’s shameful secret, until the day he finally goes too far, until he finally kills me.
That day can’t come soon enough.
Just before dawn, I wake up again to the sound of my parents arguing. This is happening more and more as time passes.
“Why not increase school taxes?” Father asks. “It would be a good way to generate more income.”
My mother replies, “It wouldn’t please the townspeople. You need to stay on their good side. Anyway, we’d have a lot more money if we didn’t have to care for your little secret in the basement.”
He considers this. “I agree with you there. But we can’t kill it. How would we hide the body?”
They keep discussing the matter, but they begin to talk more quietly, so I can’t hear them. These exchanges are normal at this point; the two of them have gone back and forth about what to do with me for a long time. I don’t understand why my life is apparently so expensive, though. They’ve let me have one set of clothes in three years, and the only reason that I’m still able to wear it is because I stopped growing a while ago. Malnutrition has taken its toll, I guess.
Speaking of which, I hate that I’m this small and weak. Even more than I hate my wings. If I could change anything about myself, it would be that.
I fall asleep again, lying on my side with one wing draped over my body as meager protection against the cold. But before long, Mother’s voice wakes me.
“He wants you upstairs immediately. Don’t delay.”
I open my eyes and look at Mother. She’s not as frail as I am, but she’s naturally short and slender; and I inherited her large eyes, though I got the light grey color from Father’s side of the family.
I notice that there’s a large bandage on her wrist, mostly hidden by the sleeve of her dark green blouse. Let’s just say I’m not Father’s only target.
“Did he hurt you?” I ask, sitting up and staring at her intently.
“That doesn’t matter. He wants you now,” she repeats.
“Mom, listen to me,” I say. “I really think we could escape and get help. Can’t we try it?”
She glances over her shoulder. “Lower your voice. I can’t escape. And neither can you. Think about it—even if we did get away from the house and into town without him noticing, no one would believe me, with or without evidence. The governor is this town’s figurehead, remember? And as for you? People with wings aren’t exactly commonplace. The authorities would ship you off to some lab. Trust me, your life may be miserable right now, but it’s the best possible outcome.”
I stand up wordlessly and limp towards the staircase. She’s right, I guess. But I still think that there has to be a way out of this. For both of us.
As I near the governor’s office, I tell myself how lucky I was yesterday. I’m pretty sure I have a black eye from when Father punched me, but I can still see, despite the swelling. And nothing is seriously damaged this time; when I was nine, three years ago, he broke my nose, and it’s still a little crooked. As if I needed to be any uglier.
I reach the office and see that the door is slightly open. Maybe this is a good sign. I honestly can’t tell with Father. Trying to ignore my racing heart, I enter. My bare feet sink into the soft carpet. The sensation is a little uncomfortable, since I’m used to standing on cold stone or the hard ground outside.
Father is standing in front of his desk chair. I instinctively look down as he approaches me, but he grabs my chin and forces my head upwards, so that I have to look him in the eye.
“I’ve been very kind to you over these sixteen years,” he says. “I haven’t killed you. I’ve given you a decent life. Aren’t you grateful for that?”
Resisting the urge to wrap my wings around my body, a nervous habit that I know Father hates, I reply, “Is this what you call ‘decent’? Because I don’t think it counts as a life at all.”
His grip tightens on my face. “I didn’t call you here to argue about semantics,” he says, his anger evident in his carefully-controlled tone, and in the dangerous gleam of his eyes. “I’ve decided that it’s time for you to become normal—at least somewhat. I can’t do anything about most of your abnormalities, but I can get rid of those wings. Samuel, would you like to do the honors?”
I didn’t even notice that my brother was in the room. His face is as pale as mine always is, and at first, he doesn’t move from the corner he’s been standing in.
“We agreed to this,” Father tells him, an edge of impatience in his voice.
Samuel draws a shuddering breath and steps forward. A chill of fear runs down my spine as I notice what my brother is holding—a butcher knife, the light reflecting off of its serrated blade. I want to protest, to ask him how he could possibly be okay with this, but the words stick in my throat.
No matter how much I dislike my wings, I don’t want to get rid of them. At least, not like this.
Sam moves closer to me; I notice that he’s clutching the knife for all it’s worth, and his entire body is shaking. Maybe there’s still a chance to stop him…
Before I can manage to say anything, his expression hardens, as though someone flipped a switch in his mind. “I need you to remove your shirt,” he says dully.
I obey him after a moment. The air in this room is cold on my bare skin, but at least now I can spread my wings fully. They don’t weigh much, but now that they’re completely extended, the span is as wide as the desk on the other side of the room. I haven’t been able to do this in so long, and it’s an exhilarating feeling!
My smile fades as I remember why I’m here. This will be the last time.

(see next comment for the rest)

message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

As Samuel raises the knife, something—I don’t know exactly what—comes over me. I feel too warm, as though I have a fever. But otherwise, I’m not sick at all. Whatever might be wrong with me, it won’t matter in a few seconds; I’ll have much worse problems to worry about.
Samuel stops and looks at me strangely, then adjusts his grip on the knife with new resolve. “Don’t struggle,” he tells me quietly. To himself, he mutters, “It’s just a trick of the light.” I don’t know what he means.
I panic and raise my hands to push my brother away. I’m not going to let him do this.
Suddenly, the room lights up as white-hot flames appear out of nowhere around me. Samuel backs away to avoid the heat, but I’m not burning, even as the fire travels across my arms and chest. It's actually pleasant, in a strange way. Or it would be, if I knew where this came from, or how to turn it off.
“You didn’t tell me you were an elemental!” Father yells. I don’t say anything, but I’m just as confused as he is. He continues, “I knew you were a mutated freak, but I never expected you to be dangerous!”
The flames burn higher as a mixture of anger and fear builds inside me. “I’m—I’m not dangerous,” I insist. “I can control this, I swear. Just give me a few minutes…”
But everyone in the room knows that I’m lying. An idea strikes Samuel. ”I know how to fix this!” he says, reaching for the fire extinguisher on the wall. There’s one in every room of the house; I can’t say whether that’s for safety, or just to keep up the family’s reputation.
He aims it at me, pulls the pin, and squeezes the trigger. A blast of foam extinguishes the flames; as soon as they disappear, I begin to feel exhausted and weak.
I lean against the wall, but my knees are buckling, and my head is spinning. There’s no way I can stay standing for much longer.
The governor grabs a small mirror and shoves it into my hands. “You’re a monster,” he says. “Look at your eyes!”
My vision is blurring rapidly, but I can still see what my father is talking about. The reflection staring back at me is the same terrified, gaunt creature that I’ve always been—but its eyes have changed from a silver color to a glowing amber.
I finally collapse. As the world goes black, one last thought runs through my head:
At least I didn’t hurt anyone.

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Shattered Embers
Chapter Two: Samuel
2556 words

My brother slumps against the wall, which now has several scorch marks on it. For the first time, I realize how thin he is—since he’s not wearing a shirt, all of his ribs are clearly visible. And his limbs are like twigs. What did I expect, considering the way Father treats him?
“I’m proud of you,” Father says, clapping me on the back. I look back down at the extinguisher in my hands, horrified. If I had known it would affect Cove this badly, I wouldn’t have used it. Would I?
Finding my voice, I say, “We can’t just leave him there.”
Father takes this the wrong way. “You’re right. It’s far too dangerous to have in the house. There are some fields outside of town where we can take it.”
“Wait,” I protest. “That’s not what I—“
But it’s too late. Father has already made up his mind. He crosses the room in a few strides and roughly picks Cove up. “Still breathing. Unfortunately. Come on, then.”
We leave the house. Mother is outside, working in the garden. Her eyes dart to the limp figure in the governor’s arms, but she knows better than to ask questions.
Cove is only five years younger than I am, but I still think of him as a child. That notion is only reinforced now; he looks even smaller than usual, next to the tall, muscular governor.
Father glances at the houses around ours, which are all identical, from the small flowers growing out front to the types of shingles on the roofs. “Don’t tell anyone about this,” he warns us in a low voice.
Mother and I nod rapidly as we follow the governor to our sleek red car. He opens the trunk with his free hand, then drops Cove inside it, causing a flurry of feathers to scatter onto the carpeting.
After the trunk is closed, the three of us all pile into the car—Father is driving, with Mother in the passenger seat. I’m relegated to the back, but I don’t mind. This way, I’ll be the first to know when, or if, my brother wakes up.
Father backs the car carefully out of the driveway and begins to drive slowly southward, out of the suburbs. He’s always a careful driver, the model of good citizenship. But today, obeying the speed limit is even more important than usual. If we were pulled over, there’s no way we could explain why there’s a half-starved, unconscious person in the trunk. Especially one who’s supposed to have died at birth…
Mother must be thinking about the same thing, because she speaks up for once. “Do you remember what we told the press all those years ago, Samuel, dear?”
I shrug. “I was only a baby, so I don’t actually have any memories of it, of course…”
Father’s hands clench the steering wheel. Wrong answer. Sighing, I correct myself. “I had a brother, but when you gave birth at home, he was stillborn. You and Father didn’t want an official funeral, so you buried him without any ceremony.”
She nods, relieved. “Yes. As far as everyone knows, that’s exactly what happened.”
“Besides, it’s not exactly a lie,” I rationalize. “The part about being at home when it happened is true. And even though he’s physically alive, he doesn’t have a soul, right? So, in a way, he is dead.”
“Correct,” Father says suddenly. “I was beginning to think you had some soft spot for the little mutant, but I’m glad to see how you’ve come around.”
“Yeah…” I say, feeling uncomfortable. A long-repressed memory enters my thoughts.
I was nine years old when I realized the true horror of my father’s actions. Until that point, I’d been blissfully ignorant of the abuse that went on. I knew that Cove was my brother; and more importantly, I knew that my parents said he was a freak.
“We’re so lucky that you turned out normal,” Mother said, as she trimmed my curly, sun-blonde hair. “You’re smart, and kind, and handsome. And you’re not a monster, unlike your brother.”
I smiled as a sense of pride filled me. “Thank you.”
But later, in the dead of night, her words began to bother me immensely. I didn’t often visit the basement, but from the few times I had done so, I didn’t see what was so bad about Cove. Yes, he was awfully small and pale, and he didn’t talk much. But he always listened to me, and he never pressured me to get good grades, like my parents did. Besides, I thought his wings were cool…
On impulse, I left my room and headed down the two flights of stairs leading to the basement. The door wasn’t locked at this point, but some moderately-heavy boxes had been shoved in front of it. Luckily, I was an athletic kid, so I could push them out of the way.
That was when I heard Mother’s voice. Why was she down here, visiting the child she obviously wanted to forget?
“I have tolerated you for so long,” she said. “I’ve kept you hidden for four years, knowing that my reputation would be ruined if you ever escaped.” Her voice hardened. “Now it’s finally time to take action.”
I opened the door—luckily, it didn’t creak.
At first, I didn’t believe what I saw. Mother held a pillow above my brother’s face; he slept peacefully, not knowing that he was about to be smothered.
“Get away from him!” I yelled, hurrying down the stairs. I grabbed her arm and tried to pull her away; the pillow fell harmlessly to the floor.
She turned towards me, and I saw madness in her eyes. “No! I can’t! You don’t know what it’s like,” she hissed. Did she even recognize who I was in that moment? There was no way to tell.
“He’s my brother!” I said heatedly. “And your son!”
Suddenly, Mother raised her hand and slapped me. I stepped back, shocked. Her long nails had dug into my face, drawing blood, which I could feel running down my cheek.
She pushed past me and left, but I stayed. Cove was beginning to wake up, and I couldn’t just leave him. Besides, I was afraid to go back upstairs alone.

Back in the present, the car stops. I look out the window and see that we’re parked on a dirt road next to an empty field. My parents are looking at me expectantly.
“Well?” Father asks. “Aren’t you going to take out the trash, so to speak? I’m certainly not touching it more than I have to.”
My heart pounds as I get out and open the trunk. I can’t leave my brother. But if I were to stay out here with him...what about the rest of my family? What about my scholarships? My advanced placement classes? My place on the high school football team?
I pick him up and gently push a dark strand of hair away from his heart-shaped face. He looks so sad, even when he’s unconscious…
“Hurry up and close the trunk,” Father calls from the front of the car. “You’re letting the cold air in. We’ll freeze.”
Suddenly, I make up my mind. “You’re not concerned about him freezing, are you?” I demand. “You’ve always said he’s a monster, but I’m staying with him because he’s the only human one here.” And, before I can stop myself, I slam the trunk closed before turning and running away with Cove still in my arms. The car turns on, and the engine revs to life; for a moment, I fear that they might drive after me. But the sound gradually moves into the distance, and I realize that I’ve really done it. I’ve left my perfect life behind. For what? To try and save a mutant, one of the symbols of the tragedy that rocked our town a little over a decade ago?
After a while, I stop running, out of breath; despite my athletic lifestyle, I don’t think I’ve ever tried to run this fast for this long.
I sit down in an area where the sun has melted most of the snow. My arms are getting sore, even though my brother is pretty light. So I lay him down next to me. The grass is still damp here, but it’s the only decent place to rest.
Cove begins to wake up; as he opens his eyes, I notice that the left one is still bright orange. It makes me uneasy, but I remind myself that it’s not his fault.
“Wh-what happened?” he asks quietly, raising his head and trying to look around. I feel another pang of guilt; after all, it was my efforts that weakened him this much.
“They abandoned you,” I explain. “And I couldn’t take it. So…” I raise my hands, at a loss for words.
“I th-thought you loved Father.”
His words hit me like a ton of bricks. Do I love Father? Have I ever loved either of my parents, after that long-ago night in the basement? It takes me a while to answer. “He doesn’t have the capacity for love,” I finally say. “So why should I waste my emotions on him?”
We’re both silent for a minute or two. I watch the clouds drifting above us. Then Cove speaks again. “Sam?”
I look at him. “What is it?”
He hesitates. “Why am I l-like this?”
Averting my eyes, I answer, “You know exactly why. There was a nuclear accident in this town. Mother worked directly at the site of the reactor while she was expecting you. It affected your DNA…”
“Y-you’re avoiding the question,” he insists. “I know how it h-happened—I want to know why. What kind of higher power chose this life for me, and not for someone else?”
I try to change the subject; I’ve always been uncomfortable with matters of religion. “Let’s not talk about that. Hey, I’ve always meant to ask you—why did you change your name a few years ago? You were named Carson, after the governor. Remember that? But when you were nine, you told me to call you Cove. I never asked you why, but I really don’t get it.”
He doesn’t answer, and after a moment, I realize that the answer is obvious. Of course he wouldn’t want to share a name with the man who’s beaten him down, physically and emotionally, for his entire life.
It’s getting dark; a few stars are visible in the sky, shadows are falling across the field, and the temperature is dropping rapidly. I speak up again. “We need to find shelter.”
Cove laughs, but without a trace of humor. His voice is bitter when he speaks. “I only wish we could…”
“What are you talking about?” I ask, annoyed. “Of course we can. We’re not that far away from town. We could find a garage to stay in for the night. Or maybe the homeless shelter would take us.”
He doesn’t stutter at all when he answers. “Someone would recognize you—everyone loves you in this town. Or they’d see my wings and send us to a lab. Then what? We’d end up back where we started, or worse.”
I feel bad for him, but at the same time, he’s being so pessimistic about the whole thing. I mean, we haven’t even tried, and he’s giving up. “Well, then, do you have any other ideas? Or are we just going to freeze to death? And before you suggest it, no, I don’t think you should use your weird new power. You don’t even know how to control it—you’d burn the entire city down.”
Silence. I look over and see that he’s already asleep, curled on his side with his wings draped over his body in a bleak attempt at preserving warmth.
I should also try to rest. But I’m not used to being so cold. And besides, my thoughts would keep me awake even if this field was perfectly comfortable.
All of a sudden, I realize that he’s nothing like me. Appearance, personality...everything about us seems to contrast. His hair is long enough to cover his face; it’s a dark blue color, like spilled ink, but it looks jet black in the darkness.
I’ve always been athletic and dexterous, but he’s the opposite—his crooked leg makes it nearly impossible for him to run, and his hands are sort of stiff. He didn’t learn to walk until he was two and a half years old; he didn’t speak until he was five.
Despite all this, I have no doubts that my brother is reasonably smart. Average, at the very least. Our parents always said otherwise—they told both of us that he was an idiot with no capacity for either emotion or higher thinking. I know better, though; it’s true that he’s a little slower at reading than most people, but that’s not for lack of trying. He’s learned a lot from the books that I sometimes smuggle into the basement. Even when they take him a week or more to finish.
The sound of a car slowing down in the distance brings me back to the present. I jump to my feet, prepared to run—until it speeds up again and continues on.
I finally fall into a dreamless sleep, despite my discomfort and fear.

(cont in next comment)

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

When I open my eyes, the first thing I see is the sunrise, streaked through with red and purple. A layer of rounded clouds hovers grey above it. The air is chilled, but clear. At first, I’m confused--why am I in this field, and not safe at home?
But then I glance over and see Cove, silently watching the horizon a few feet away from me. In a flash, I remember everything that happened yesterday--the terrible order from the governor. The unnatural fire. And my choice to leave perfection behind…
For a moment--just a fraction of a second--I feel no love for my brother. Only resentment. If he was normal, this wouldn’t be an issue. We would both be happy, loved, and secure…
I shake my head fiercely. Cove’s powers are strange, volatile, but he never asked for them; they’re merely a tragic accident.
He speaks without turning to face me. I notice that he’s holding his wings close to his body, rather than spreading them fully. “If--if you want to go back, I won’t blame you. I know he treated you well.”
Do I consider the possibility? Of course I do. I had a good life, and there might still be a chance to reclaim it.
But...he’d probably die out here, without me around to protect him. And besides, I doubt that the governor will take me back now.
So I walk over to him and nudge his arm gently. “I’m staying with you, kid.”
Cove flinches at my touch, which surprises me. “What’s wrong with you?” I ask, annoyed. “You don’t have to be afraid of me, you know.”
He stares past me, not seeming to see me for a few seconds. Finally, he blinks and looks at me. “What? Nothing's wrong. I guess I just got distracted f-for a few seconds there.”
But there’s a haunted look in my brother’s mismatched eyes. A look that makes me wonder just how much he’s learned to keep hidden.

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