Elsa’s Toddler

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Eduardo Suré; Elsa, 2018; Watercolor

The sun is reflecting off the large pet store’s windows on Sunday morning. In addition to pet supplies; the store sells bathing services, adoption services, and kenneling. There are training classes on Sunday, which is why Elsa and Jeffrey have come.

Elsa is a border collie with long flowing black and white fur. Jeffrey is a human toddler with blonde hair and freckled skin. Elsa is gently leading Jeffrey into the store. Since he pulls when they walk together, she uses a harness that fits around his torso. If she were using a collar, she would be strangling him: he does not want to go into the store.

Elsa patiently guides Jeffrey through the front door as other dogs walk out. Strangers give Elsa and Jeffrey impolite looks which she ignores. She is aware he is not well trained, and for that reason brings him to this class.

The two of them walk past store aisles to a round pen where the class will be held. Jeffrey looks down the aisles of toys and food with interest and is walking distractedly. Elsa has to stop him before he runs into the wall of the round pen where the training will be given. She opens the small door and coaxes him in. They find room on the floor to sit and wait for the class to begin.

“Good morning, everyone,” a German shepherd says. “Welcome to Toddler Training 101. My name is Sawyer, and I will be teaching this class for the next six weeks. Let’s take a few minutes to get to know each other. Please tell us your name, your toddler’s name, and what you would like to get out of this class.” There are a total of seven dogs in the class and each brought one toddler. Elsa is the fourth dog to respond.

“Hi. I’m Elsa and this is Jeffrey,” she says. “I guess I want Jeffrey to learn good manners, but I would also like him to bite me by the end of the class. Or at least fight with me in some way. He’s really shy.” Some of the other dogs agree that they would like that from their own toddlers as well.

After the remaining three dogs finish introducing themselves, Sawyer says, “Let’s take some time to loosen up. Play with your toddler for ten minutes. Let’s help them relieve the tension of being somewhere new and get really comfortable with this space.” The dogs glance around the pen at each other. They’re not sure how to respond to the instructor’s request. Some of them give their toddlers’ leashes slack so that they may roam near. Others try to get their toddlers to play with their neighbor’s.

Elsa takes a toy out of her bag. It is a stuffed banana with big wobbly eyes and floppy arms and puffy feet. She wiggles the toy in front of Jeffrey. He looks at her and then at the toy, but does not take it. She rubs the stuffed banana over his face hoping he will bite it, but he turns away. She then grabs his face, shakes it, and growls. He does not respond. When she tussles his hair, he moves away as far as his leash will allow.

Sawyer approaches Elsa and Jeffrey. “Elsa, right?” he asks. “Is he usually this easy-going?”

“Yeah, mostly,” she replies. “There’s maybe one or two toys he plays with. I keep trying to make him more aggressive, but he’s just too chill.”

“Is that banana one of the toys he likes?” Sawyer asks.

“No, he likes a ball that’s squishy and lights up when you hit it against the ground,” Elsa replies. “I think I brought it.” Elsa stuffs the banana back into her bag. She rummages through until she finds the ball. She rolls it to Jeffrey, his eyes light up, and he picks it up. He bumps it against the ground and it beings blinking wildly. A smile erupts on his face as he admires it and squeezes it in his small hands.

“What does he do when you take the ball away?” Sawyer asks.

“I don’t know,” Elsa replies. “I never tried that.”

“Go ahead. Take the ball away from him and let’s see what he does,” Sawyer says. Elsa reaches over and snatches the ball out of Jeffrey’s hands. His face turns red with rage. He walks up to Elsa, draws his arm back, and swings an open hand at her face. It connects with her snout and makes a hollow smacking sound.

“Oh, my Dog!” Elsa shouts. “I can’t believe he just did that! Thank you, Sawyer!”

Sawyer nods at Elsa with a smile. “You just have to think about what motivates them. Some toddlers like food, others like toys, and some just want attention. Take it away or give it to them depending on what you’re trying to get out of them.”

“How do I get him to attack other dogs?” Elsa asks. “I want him to get really territorial with my friends when they come over.”

“Whatever his favorite toy is, give it to him to play with before your friends arrive,” Sawyer says. “As soon as your guests come through the front door, take the toy away from him and give it to them. He’ll learn to hate them.”

“That makes sense,” Elsa says.

“Do you have a water bottle?” Sawyer asks. Elsa nods. “Ask your guests to spray him in the face a few times when they come over.”

After a few more minutes of play, Sawyer asks everyone to form a circle. He hands out a calendar that outlines each week’s lesson. He explains how the training course was developed. He shows them by example how to teach their toddler to come to them. He tells them to try to train their toddler to come to them before the next class and then dismisses them.



Software Update 2.19

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Eduardo Suré; Laura in Wheelchair, 2018; Watercolor

Laura opened her wheelchair’s drive management system and selected the customer service counter at her nearest MobilHuman store. The wheelchair’s automation transported her from her living room to her garage, loaded her into her car, and took her to a strip mall. After parking in a handicap space, the car door opened automatically and the chair conveyed her up the entrance ramp to the door. The chair then took her through the building to her destination.

The MobilHuman customer service department was minimalist, bright, and modern. The technology running everything was well hidden to avoid blemishes on the architect’s creation. A handsome young man in his early 20s greeted her with a smile.

“Good morning, Laura,” he said. “My name is Jason. How can MobilHuman enhance your personal transportation experience?”

“I would like a different wheelchair,” Laura replied.

Jason turned to the counter behind him and looked down at the display surface. “I see that you own the Stallion model with the Zippy 2.19 operating system,” Jason replied. “Which of the following best describes the component for which you need assistance: color, seat, wheels and tires, controls, propulsion, battery, applications, or would you like to hear more options?”

“The whole thing,” Laura replied. “I’d like a completely different wheelchair.”

“Sorry, I don’t understand,” Jason said. “Would you like me to repeat the components?”

“Please don’t,” Laura replied. “Look: the chair wanders off, so I want a replacement.”

“I see,” Jason replied. “Has the chair taken you to a wrong location?”

“No, it just leaves when I’m not in it,” Laura replied.

“I understand,” said Jason. “Please give me a moment to look over your service plan and the chair’s diagnostics.” He smiled at her before turning away to face the counter. He maniacally operated the countertop interface like a pianist reaching the climax of a dramatic piece of music. Laura watched him stop to read for a minute.

“Will you be able to replace my chair?” Laura asked losing patience.

Jason looked at her and smiled, “Well, Laura, there’s nothing wrong with the chair. It looks like…”

“But there is something wrong with the chair,” Laura interrupted. “It wanders off.”

“It looks like the chair’s performance is in accordance with Zippy 2.19’s terms of use,” Jason said.

“Listen to me, Jason. While I was at the gym last week, I got out of the chair to use a weight machine. When I was done with my first set, I looked over and my chair was gone. Gone, Jason. Do you know where it went? It was on the other side of the room with some stranger’s phone plugged into it!”

“Uh huh,” Jason replied.

“Three days ago, I went to a bathroom at the mall. I took a little longer than usual. I had a big steak dinner the night before and no roughage: don’t judge me. After I was off the chair for a few minutes, it unlocked the stall door and left the bathroom. It left me in the bathroom, Jason. And it left the stall door open!”

“Did it come back?” Jason asked.

“Well, yes – but where did my wheel chair go, Jason? I am disabled. I can’t walk. I don’t carry a grappling hook to close bathroom stall doors.”

“I apologize for the inconvenience,” Jason said.

Inconvenience?” Laura asked. “It wasn’t an inconvenience. It was cruelty.”

“You may need to adjust your settings, Laura,” Jason said.

“I don’t want to adjust my setting,” Laura replied. “I had to go to work earlier than usual this morning, and the chair wasn’t even in my house. I had to call in sick. I want a different chair.”

“Laura, I can help you change your settings,” Jason said. “They’re all within the boundaries of the terms of use. Would you like me to guide you through your options?”

“What are these terms of use you keep referring to?” Laura asked. “I don’t remember agreeing to anything.”

“You couldn’t update the chair’s software without entering your digital signature which acknowledged that you read and understood the terms of use,” Jason said. “There was a helpful summary in a bulleted list just above the button you clicked to accept the terms.”

“What did the summary say?” Laura asked.

“I can help you with that,” Jason replied. He went to the counter and tapped through the menus until he found the text. “It says that the user agrees to allow MobilHuman and third party affiliates to use the chair while it is idle as a voice and data switch, a vehicle for deliveries weighing less than 75 pounds, as a recharging station, and other services detailed in the agreement above.”

“What the unsalted crackers does that mean?” asked Laura.

“I appreciate your patience while I assist you, Laura. Would you like to change your settings to increase your chairs availability of service to you?” asked Jason.

“No, I do not. I want a different chair,” Laura answered. “And I don’t want it to have any software updates. This chair was actually fine until the software update.”

“I’m sorry, Laura, but MobilHuman only sells chairs with automation,” Jason said.

“Can I go back to Zippy 2.18?” Laura asked.

“I’m sorry, but Zippy 2.19 had critical software patches to eliminate known security vulnerabilities.”

“You know what, Jason,” Laura said, “Just forget it. Thanks for your help. You’re doing a great job.”

“You’re welcome, Laura,” Jason sincerely said.

Laura left MobilHuman in the same chair she went to exchange. When she got home; she took her old manually operated wheelchair out of storage, cleaned it up, and got into it. She parked her automated chair out of the way and chained it to a column in her house so it could not leave.

At first, Laura was happy to use her old wheelchair. Then, she noted that the seat could not be adjusted when it became uncomfortable. She also found it highly inconvenient that she had to reach for her phone to control devices that had all been connected to her automated chair. It was also difficult and time consuming to get in and out of her car. A couple of days later, Laura went back to using her MobilHuman chair.



Down the Mountain

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Eduardo Suré; Timothy, 2018; Watercolor

On the side of a snow covered mountain that villagers who lived nearby called Denali, there was a cave. The cave was in a place where no practical person would come across it unintentionally. It was deep and it branched off into other deep caves. Whatever light was in the cave or whatever activity occurred within, it was obscured by its depth.

And so it was possible that the creature, Timothy, could have lived in the cave peacefully and undisturbed his entire life. The creature was five feet tall, and his entire body appeared composed of stone. He walked on two legs like a human. His eye sockets were hollow, except for blue flames that burned where one would expect his eyes to be. He lived alone and followed the same routine every day: eating nutrients he found in the rocks, thinking deeply, and resting. He had parents once, but they died along with all the other creatures like himself. He was the last of his kind.

All of Timothy’s basic needs were met within the cave; however, he was lonely. He wanted a friend. He wanted someone to show how big he’d gotten, tell about a clever thing he’d done, and he wanted someone to interact with.

Timothy knew that there was a village located about 2,000 feet below the entrance to his cave. The villagers could not see him, but he could move to a spot on the mountain where he could see them. They appeared to him to get along well with each other, so he thought they might be friendly toward a stranger like himself. He decided to climb down to the village and see if he could make a friend.

Timothy did not mind the darkness of the cave, but he frequently looked outside. He liked to watch the sun rise and set, the stars twinkle in the sky at night, and the different ways the moon looked on different nights as it traveled across the sky. He was also familiar with the snow that covered the outside of the mountain, but he did not have much experience walking through it as he hardly had any need to travel far from the cave. As he hiked down, he found the snow was slippery. He fell several times. It was a long climb down.

When Timothy arrived at the edge of the village, he saw a woman gathering wood from a pile outside of her house. He walked over to her and stopped beside her where she might see him. When she looked up from her wood pile to see who stood beside her, she froze and stared at him. When she realized that she was looking at a living thing she had never seen before, she dropped the bundle of wood she had held in her hands and ran into her house screaming. Not knowing how to respond to the fleeing screaming woman, he hiked quickly back to his cave.

Timothy thought for a long time about the woman’s reaction. He asked himself why she had become afraid after just seeing him. He had stood very still. He concluded that she had never seen a creature that looked as he did. He had not realized ahead of the encounter that he looked very different from the villagers.

A few days later, Timothy decided he would try to find a friend in the village again. He had seen villagers completely covered in clothing during the winter months, and he could do the same to look more like them. He covered himself in clothing his kind had collected in the cave in the past. He made sure he covered everything. He even found some dark goggles with which to cover his eyes.

As Timothy hiked down to the village, he worried that people would be able to see that he was different anyway. He was afraid they would scream and run away like the woman had. He did not consider that they might attack him because he had never seen his kind exhibit violence. Although he was afraid, he continued to hike down the mountain hoping to make a friend.

When Timothy arrived at the outskirts of the village, he came across a man returning from a hunt. Timothy stood still on the path as the man walked by. The man looked at him and waved. Timothy copied the gesture and, in that way, had his first positive interaction with a human. He felt encouraged.

Timothy cautiously walked into and through the village. In an open area, he came across a group of children. They were playing with a ball. They were throwing it and kicking it to each other. At one point; a boy failed to catch a pass, the ball flew past him, and landed by Timothy. He picked it up and threw it to one of the boys closest to him. The boy caught it. He thought they were finished when the boy chose another child to toss the ball to, but then one of the other boys threw the ball back to Timothy.

The kids thought Timothy was just another child and they included him in their game of catch. When they got tired of passing the ball to each other, they played other games. He was clever enough to learn the rules of each game right away. The time passed quickly and he could not remember if he’d ever had so much fun. He happily did whatever the children did. If they played with the ball, he played with the ball. If they chased each other, he ran around with them.

Then, the children started stealing each other’s hats. Timothy became nervous when he first observed that. Instead of running and dodging the attempts to steal his hat, he froze. One of the children easily pulled his hat off his head and saw his stone skull. The child stopped and stared. Slowly, the other children noticed that his head was very different from their own.

Almost all of the kids ran away shortly after that. However, one child did not run. The child was more interested in the creature’s appearance than she was scared of what might happen if someone was really different from you.

“Why are you completely covered up?” she asked. Timothy did not reply. “Are you trying to fit in?” Again, he said nothing. “You might fit in for a while if you hide under all that clothing; but if you want real friends, you need to show them who you are right away. Some kids might not be your friend; but the ones that are nice to you will probably be good friends.” They stood quietly for a few moments looking at each other. Then, he began hiking back to his cave. “My name is Stephanie, by the way!”

Timothy thought about the advice Stephanie had given him. The advice did not make sense to him. He thought if people saw him, they would always run. However, he also considered that he did not have much of a choice but to take her advice because everyone would know that he might visit the village wearing a disguise. They would be on the lookout for him.

A few days later, Timothy worked up the courage to visit the village. He did not wear clothing as he hiked down the mountain. He did not hide any part of himself.

When Timothy arrived at the village, he saw the same group of kids playing in the village square. Stephanie was among them, and he went directly to her. The other children ran away, but she did not. She was frightened after seeing all of him. She had not seen his flaming blue eyes before. Because she was the one who told him to come as himself, she felt she could not run. Instead, she invited him to play catch.

The children who had run away watched Stephanie play with Timothy. When they saw that he only wanted to play, they came back. They were very interested in being around this creature who was so different from themselves.


Ronald’s Birthday

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Eduardo Suré; Baby Triceratops, 2018; Watercolor

Sixty-six million years ago, there was a nest in the middle of a prairie with a single egg in it the size of a melon. The nest appeared as if someone had started to dig a hole for a kiddie pool, but had changed their mind. It also appeared they had decided the shallow hole and the dirt scattered around were unsightly. Instead of refilling the hole, they threw some grass over it to hide it. It was not the tidy bird’s nest one would imagine.

A single female triceratops, named Deborah, grazed about the nest. Deborah was very tall and long and extremely heavy. In fact, she was enormous. She had a large round horn on her nose. She also had two very long horns that grew out of her head just above her eyes. She used her size and her horns to defend the nest and the large expanse of land around it that made up her territory.

One bright and beautiful morning, the egg cracked. A creature small enough to fit inside the cantaloupe sized egg broke pieces out. When it removed enough of the shell so that the size of the exit was large enough, the little baby triceratops stumbled slowly out of the egg.

The baby triceratops, named Ronald, looked like a sweaty sloppy mess on the ground. He was a miniature version of his mother, but without horns. Ronald was exhausted from his effort to break out of the egg. He sat on the bare ground to rest. While he did, his skin dried off a bit and his muscles loosened up.

When Ronald felt rested, he began to wrestle with gravity to get on his feet. Although it was very difficult and required him to use all of his strength, he was determined to get up. He grunted and whined, but he eventually succeeded and stood up.

Standing had indeed been a challenge for Ronald. The hard work brought him some satisfaction, but also pointed his attention to a feeling that gave him some distress. So, he whined very loudly. The sound of his cry was like someone was letting the air out of a balloon while pinching apart the opening. However, crying did not help him feel better.

Ronald did not intend to just stand around and wait for help to arrive. He took a few steps forward and stumbled as he did. Walking was additionally challenging for him because he was in the nest. No matter what direction he went, he had to go uphill to get out. Again, he was determined to beat gravity. Step by step, he walked up a side of the hole until he arrived at the upper rim. He paused there for a moment and scanned the prairie around him wondering what to do next.

Deborah, Ronald’s mother, had been watching him. She needed him to begin learning to be independent right away, but she also knew she would need to do many things to take care of him until he was ready to be on his own. She walked over to him and placed herself where he could see her. Ronald wailed at its mother, but she did not move any closer to him. His instincts told him that mom had what he needed and he would need to go to her. The distress he had felt was hunger and mom would help it go away. So, he walked to her with a little less difficulty than he’d had inside of the nest.

Ronald easily figured out how to get milk. Although he was Deborah’s first baby, she appeared to know how to feed him too. She even appeared to feel better herself as he ate.

After a few minutes, it was Deborah’s turn to eat. After all, she needed nutrition to make good milk for Ronald. So, she left him and went out to the prairie to find some green vegetation to eat. He was no longer hungry, but he was also not full. He would have happily continued to eat, so he made a lot of unpleasant noise that Deborah ignored while she grazed.

As Ronald digested his food, he became cold. He stood alone in the middle of the field and shivered. Deborah grazed near enough to him that he could see her. With less graceful movement than he had shown when he went to her for food, he walked to her across the grass. The longer walk gave his clumsiness an opportunity to show. He stumbled and nearly fell a few times as he walked across the uneven prairie. He was grateful that she had grazed in one spot while he traveled. Eventually, he reached her. Under the bright sun, upon the quiet prairie, with a light breeze making the grass dance in the distance; he stood by his mother feeling warm and happy.


Judging Linda

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Eduardo Suré; Linda, 2018; Watercolor

Donald sat at the end of the family’s kitchen table that faced his wife, Elizabeth, as she cooked. She moved from cutting vegetables at her worn out counter to stirring broth and meatballs in her dented pot on her old stove. He did not watch her; he was looking at his hardened hands. He used his thumb to scrape off his fingernails the semi-gloss he used at work that day. He frowned when he saw paint he had not completely washed off his skin.

“Did you have a bad day, Papa Bear?” asked Elizabeth. Her nickname for him made sense to anyone who knew Donald.

“No,” replied Donald. “I just can never get the paint off my hands all the way.” He showed her his hands. He was able to tell by the way she was stirring his dinner that something was wrong. “How was your day, Honey Badger?” Donald and Elizabeth did not know what honey badgers were.

“It was alright,” answered Elizabeth, “until I found a pair of pants in Linda’s drawer. When I was putting away the laundry…”

“A pair of what?” asked Donald.

“Pants,” answered Elizabeth.

“Women’s pants or men’s pants?” asked Donald.

“All pants are for men,” answered Elizabeth.

“I mean, were they the kind of pants sold to women?” asked Donald.

“Women who aren’t saved,” said Elizabeth.

“You know what I mean,” said Donald.

“Well, yes,” answered Elizabeth. “They look small, but they stretch. They must look painted on – showing everyone her behind. Can you believe she has been wearing pants behind our backs?”

“Have you talked to Linda about it?” asked Donald.

“She knows Deuteronomy chapter 22 verse 5 as well as you and I,” answered Elizabeth.

“Well, is she actually wearing them?” asked Donald.

“Not now, she’s not,” answered Elizabeth.

“I don’t mean now,” said Donald, “but does she put them on at school or when she goes out with friends?”

“I bet you it’s that Barbara,” said Elizabeth. “Did you know she’s Catholic? Only goes to church on Sundays for an hour. They let their children do whatever they want. Catholics. Just confess and you get a clean slate on which you can go right back out and write filth like it’s the bathroom wall at the bus station. ‘For a good time, call Barbara 555-244-2888’. That’s what her slate says.”

“We knew she was going to meet all kinds of people in high school,” said Donald.

“We should have put her in private school,” said Elizabeth.

“You know we can’t afford that,” said Donald.

“And they worship idols! Catholics,” said Elizabeth. “Imagine: praying to a statue you bought from some sinner at a flea market.”

“Why don’t we just call Linda in here and talk to her?” asked Donald.

“Oh, I just want to spank her right now,” said Elizabeth. “Just make her wear those tight jeans and spank her bottom!”

“Now that just sounded a little weird, Honey Badger,” said Donald. “Why don’t you calm yourself and let’s talk to her?”

“I’m always calm,” said Elizabeth. “Always at peace. You know that. LINDA! LIN-DAH!” Donald and Elizabeth heard a door squeak on its hinges as it opened. A moment later, their teenage daughter appeared at the entrance to the kitchen. She wore a modest long sleeved shirt and a long matching skirt, but she was barefooted. She was a sophomore in high school, but looked like a little girl to Donald and Elizabeth.

“Yes, Mom?” answered Linda. “Hi, Dad.”

“Have a seat, Linda,” said Donald.

Dad, I’m in the middle of my pre-calculus homework,” said Linda. “I’m going to forget something I just figured out.”

“Listen to you father,” said Elizabeth. “We need to talk.” Linda pulled the seat closest to her away from the table and plopped herself down in it. She sat slouching with her arms crossed in front of her chest.

Donald began to say, “In a letter to Timothy, Paul said…”

“I found a pair of pants in your drawer!” interrupted Elizabeth. “Why have you been wearing pants?”

Mom,” Linda began to protest.

Donald began to say, “The bible tells us…”

“To dress modestly,” interrupted Linda. “Those pants are Barbara’s, Mom.”

“I knew it!” exclaimed Elizabeth.

“I spilled my school lunch all over her,” said Linda. “I felt really bad about it. It looked like she peed herself. I lent her my spare skirt and promised I would wash them for her.”

“Oh,” said Elizabeth.

“Anything else?” asked Linda.

“We’re sorry we jumped to conclusions,” said Donald.

“Can I go finish my homework with Barbara?” asked Linda. “I can take her evil pants back to her. They reek of the Devil.”

“Don’t be smart,” said Elizabeth. Linda’s mentioning the Devil gave Elizabeth goosebumps. “Be back by eight.”

“Thanks, Mom,” said Linda. Elizabeth watched her daughter rush out of the room. Donald looked disapprovingly at his nails. The meatball soup boiled over. He sighed.

“Let me serve you your dinner so I can go pray for forgiveness,” said Elizabeth. Her voice broke at the end of her sentence.

“I don’t think you did anything wrong,” said Donald. “You’re just making sure Linda gets into Heaven.”

“I said by my reaction that I don’t trust her,” said Elizabeth. She tried to swallow a lump in her throat. Donald did not want her emotions to escalate to crying. He did not want to be hungry while he consoled his wife.

“Why don’t you go on ahead, Honey Badger,” said Donald. “I’ll serve myself. It’s OK.” Elizabeth hesitated and then nodded her head in agreement. Donald watched her walk out of the kitchen with her apron on. He sighed with relief. He found some sour cream in the refrigerator he was not supposed to eat because of his health, and he took from the bread box a baguette also forbidden to him. “Take your time, Honey Badger!”

As Donald soaked up the last of his soup with his baguette, Linda arrived safely at Barbara’s house. She returned the jeans she had borrowed and worn twice that week at school. Barbara lent her a pair of shorts Barbara’s mother only allowed her to wear over her swimsuit at the beach.


Unspoken Pledge

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Eduardo Suré; Gardener, 2018; Watercolor

Daniel is eating dinner with Matthew in the office space of the city’s abandoned minor league baseball stadium. The men are not talkative. They are recovering from tense moments that occurred during the last mission. Daniel is a good spotter, but he made some mistakes. He watches Matthew, the shooter in their sniper team, open a meal packet. He opens one too. Daniel knows Matthew will not say anything when he is unhappy. To fix things, he has to get him talking.

“Do you think we can rely on them to keep watch?” asks Daniel.

“Why?” asks Matthew, “Because they are civilians?”

“Yeah,” says Daniel.

“Sure,” says Matthew.

“Do you know any of them?” asks Daniel. He looks down and spreads peanut butter on bread that feels like slightly damp particle board. It does not fall apart as he expects it to. He finds a packet of grape jelly and looks up at Matthew to coax an answer.

“No,” says Matthew. He is working hard to chew his food. “Just stories.”

“What stories?” asks Daniel.

“Like the guy with the face,” says Matthew. “He’s a born grenadier. He used to make his own explosives before they started taking supplies from Grumpies. You still won’t catch him using a grenade launcher. He wants to run into trenches and Dead zones and whatever. You’d think he’s crazy, but he keeps walking away with the same number of holes in his body.”

“What about the two little Mexican girls he was talking to?” asks Daniel.

“They sell burritos,” says Matthew.

“No, really,” says Daniel.

“They’re illegals,” says Matthew.

“Illegals?” asks Daniel. “Why are they hanging around with this bunch?”

“I asked Maria the same question,” says Matthew. “She’s the older one. She speaks OK English, but it was obvious she wasn’t born here.”

“What did she say?” asks Daniel.

“Short or long version?” asks Matthew. Daniel thinks about it. He feels the tension easing.

“Long,” says Daniel.

“Alright. So, Maria and Juana crossed over a couple of years before the Grumpies invaded,” says Matthew. “They had to work off what they owed the coyote in a sweat shop. They were basically slaves. The living and working conditions were crap. They weren’t allowed to go anywhere. The work was backbreaking, but maybe less so than it was back home. At least they got to eat every day, she said. In the end, they let them go after they paid off their debt.”

“That’s actually shocking,” says Daniel.

“Yeah,” says Matthew, “They didn’t believe it either. So after that, their cousin set them up to work in this crazy mansion. The owners were absurdly rich – huge place. There were a lot of workers to keep the place looking perfect, but it was this set up where the owners didn’t want to see them. So when the owners left, everyone would come out of their holes and work their butts off doing their job. When the owners came around, everyone would disappear. It was weird, but the girls loved it. The work was light compared to anything they’d ever done. They had their own clean beds, air conditioning, showers – they had to wear uniforms, but it was new clothing for them.”

“You’re making me sad,” says Daniel.

“Sucks, right?” says Matthew. “But she said they were happy. The other workers were like family. Well, she said some were actually extended family. Maria worked in the gardens. Juana worked in the kitchens. Life was good.”

“Then the EMPs hit,” says Daniel.

“Maria said she didn’t even know it happened,” says Matthew. “She said she was outside repairing garden boxes with a hammer. Then, she heard some people yelling to each other – just asking each other questions. She thought the owners were back, so she stood up to hear. She had an unobstructed view west from the garden she was working at. She said that she saw them coming like a swarm of ants across the field.”

“Sounds like the mansion was perfect for a base,” says Daniel.

“That’s what they were going to use it for,” says Matthew. “Maria said she just stood there watching them come. She didn’t know what to make of it. Then, she heard some taps. Workers just fell. She snapped out of it when someone close to her caught a bullet and she saw what that does to a head.” Matthew puts food in his mouth and chews slowly.

Daniel imagines the scene. It was probably a beautiful day. Everyone was just doing their job before it happened.

“Maria said she ran to get her sister,” says Matthew. “She just ran. When she got to the door, she couldn’t turn the doorknob because she still had the hammer she was using in her hand. When she got to the kitchen, everyone was standing around the appliances trying to get them to work. Everyone’s focus changed real quick once Maria told them what was happening outside. They all ran out, except Juana. She would have run out too if Maria hadn’t grabbed her in a panic and asked her what they were going to do. Lucky for her because no one else made it wherever they were going.”

“Shot?” asks Daniel.

“Yeah,” says Matthew. “So Juana said they needed to run through the mansion to the stables. Farm girls. Maria didn’t want to run outside, but Juana said they wouldn’t need to. The owners connected the stables to the house so they could show off their horses to guests without having to go outside. Sweet little Juanita took a kitchen knife to go.”

“Since you mentioned it, I think she’s going to use it,” says Daniel.

“Well, that’s where Maria’s eyes watered when she was telling me the story,” says Matthew. “When they got to the stable, there were two Grumpies from a fire and maneuver team lingering after securing the stables. The girls had to make a choice quickly: go back or move forward.” Matthew puts food in his mouth and chews it slowly as Daniel looks at him with anticipation.

“How did they take out two Grumpies with one kitchen knife?” asks Daniel.

“A kitchen knife and a hammer,” says Matthew. “The girls were raised on a farm or whatever they call them over there. They slaughtered their own pigs. Fast. Quiet. Physically, she said it wasn’t hard.”

“Yeah, but with a hammer?” says Daniel.

“They probably don’t use .22s to stun pigs before killing them in Mexico,” says Matthew. “Not poor people. Look, I really don’t know. Anyway, the girls rode off bareback on racehorses into the backcountry.”

“So why didn’t they go back to Mexico?” asks Daniel.

“Maria said they were mad as hornets,” says Matthew.

“She said hornets?” asks Daniel.

“No, I said hornets,” says Matthew. “They were angry, OK? They had nothing most of their lives. When they got something, it was a big deal. Then, someone just took it.”

“Does it make them happy killing Grumpies?” asks Daniel.

“I don’t know,” says Matthew. “But they feel like they need to.”


Kenneth’s Snack Shield

kenneth with vending machine - 2017 - 3x2
Eduardo Suré; Kenneth Carrying Vending Machine, 2017; Graphite

Kenneth waited in the Emergency Room with his grandmother. It was a brightly lit area kept clean on the surface, but his young nose picked up traces of every sickness in the room. He was unprepared for the sick people and he was unprepared for the wait. His grandmother’s symptoms had been frightening to him, and he had rushed her to the hospital. However, the Emergency Room staff had not even considered excusing her from filling out forms – much less from sitting for a long while among other miscellaneous sufferers. The department’s remedies for boredom included a television that only played health infotainment, untouchable magazines because of the number of sick people who’d deposited their germs on them, and an improvised game of guess-what-ails-him.

“The tall one by the desk just hit his head with the doorframe on his way in,” his grandmother joked.

Kenneth felt responsible for his grandmother’s symptoms. She had gone to work without the yellow jewel whose power had kept her healthy for so many years. Her regular job tasks had worn her out. She had been feeling tired most days. She had not been able to sleep. She had forgotten things and had not been able to concentrate. If she had not given him the jewel to have on his person, she would have still been healthier than women one tenth her age. But she had refused to take it back insisting that her body had to learn to take care of itself.

Kenneth stood up and walked over to the vending machines that were along the back wall of the room. One machine sold sodas and water. The other sold snacks. He laughed that a hospital would offer such unhealthy choices. As he looked through the assortment of chips, chocolates, and candies; he heard a commotion in the distance. Then, the sounds grew louder. The still sick air in the waiting room was shattered by the distant, but undeniable, sounds of screaming and the baritone bang of a shotgun.

Kenneth went where the ends of two halls met at the Emergency Room entrance. One hall led to the ambulance bay and the other, much longer hall, led to a receptionist’s desk at the front of the hospital. He heard another low bang. It came from the end of the much longer hall. As he looked down it, he saw a man turn the corner and walk down the hall toward him. He held a shotgun. Kenneth was out of range, so he watched the shooter for a moment to see what he was up to. The shooter checked doors as he walked down the hall. He did not bother trying to open locked doors and the few that were unlocked led to broom closets and supply rooms. He was looking for anyone to shoot.

Kenneth walked back into the Emergency Room. He looked around to assess the people’s awareness of the danger. They did not know the man was coming. The sounds of screaming and shots fired seconds ago were absorbed by the walls and drowned out by the television. The people by the Ambulance bay doors probably evacuated promptly.

Even if the people in the Emergency Room knew the danger that was coming, many of them would not be able to flee. Kenneth looked around the room and lamented the number of disabled people. Most of them would not outrun the shooter. They would be easy targets. He thought about just alerting everyone as he carried his grandmother out to safety, but immediately felt badly about having considered leaving disabled people to fend for themselves.

Kenneth decided to take action himself. The jewel made him very fast and very strong, but not faster than bullets and not strong enough to keep them from harming him. He needed a shield. He grabbed the sides of the vending machine he had shopped at earlier and picked it up. He realized that may have appeared very unusual to anyone who had seen him and quickly looked over his shoulder at the people in the waiting room. No one had noticed. He carried the machine a couple of steps and almost dropped it when the power cord, which was still plugged in, went taught. He tugged on the machine a few times until the plug came out of the socket. Then, he looked around again to see if anyone had noticed him. No one had; so, he carried the machine across the room and to the hall.

The shooter was much closer to the entrance of the Emergency Room. He paused for a moment when he saw Kenneth carrying the vending machine, but he quickly snapped out of his surprise and his defenses kicked in. He fired his shotgun at Kenneth who then used the vending machine as a shield. The sound of the gun firing was startling and frightening. Kenneth felt the bumps of the shot as they struck the back of the machine. He shielded as much of his body as he could while still being able to see the shooter.

“Put the gun down, er, Mister,” Kenneth said. Kenneth’s original plan was to throw the vending machine at the shooter. Having seen him up close and as just another person, Kenneth feared he might crush or kill him. If it could be done, Kenneth would find a nonlethal way to stop the shooter. “You don’t need to do this.”

“Yes, I do,” the shooter said. “This is the only voice this country hears.”

Kenneth continued to advance slowly toward the shooter using the vending machine as a shield. Then, shots pierced the back of the machine. Food bags were shredded and the metal flew through the inside. The plastic cracked. The next shot would likely come through.

“I’m not old enough to vote yet, but I think I can reply to you for my country,” Kenneth said as he felt adrenaline explode from his core and rush out to his extremities. His fear crossed a threshold and thrust him to action. He rushed forward and quickly closed the gap between him and the shooter. The shooter held his ground, so Kenneth rammed him with the vending machine and sent him flying. The shooter fell hard on his back, slammed his head on the ground, and released the shotgun as his arms struck the ground. It slid spinning away from where he laid.

Kenneth heard the footsteps of people running down the hall. He looked up and saw that they belonged to two security guards and two hospital staff. They spotted the shooter on the ground. As the shooter reached for his shotgun, the two security guards pounced on him. One staff member helped them restrain the man and another picked up the shotgun to make sure its owner would not be able to retrieve it. The shooter was finished.

Kenneth saw everyone’s attention focused on the bad guy, so he slipped away. He walked quietly back into the waiting room to sit with his grandmother. The room was nearly empty. The only people left were his grandmother and a few others who could not move themselves and had been left behind.

“Why are you still here?” Kenneth asked his grandmother. “Didn’t you hear the gunshots?”

“Yes, but I didn’t want to lose my place in line,” she replied.


A Silent Community

ashley shot - 2017 - 3x2
Eduardo Suré; Ashley Shot, 2017; Watercolor

“No, you cannot go outside of our jurisdiction,” the police lieutenant answered. Ashley observed that the lieutenant was leaning back on his chair. He always leaned back when his mind was made up. Perhaps he felt physically relaxed after making a decision. “That case is closed. Good job. Don’t ask me about it again, Detective.” The lieutenant leaned forward and picked up a file. He tossed it so it slid across his desk and stopped in front of Ashley.

“What is this, Lieutenant?” Ashley asked. She picked up the thick file folder, opened it, and scanned the contents.

“It’s your next assignment,” the lieutenant answered. “You and Detective Jackson have a look at that. If you have any questions, come see me. Now go out there and get me another win. And play nice with the SWAT Team this time if you call them in.”

Ashley studied the contents of the file at her desk. Someone had been killing drug dealers. The locations and patterns suggested that someone was taking territory held by another gang. It seemed to her that the case should have been solved a long time ago.

Turf wars were not new to Ashley; but as she looked through the file, she saw this case was different. There were no leads from people. In most cases, someone in the neighborhood said something to the police. The reasons for saying something ranged from simply wanting the violence to end to having a preference for which gang held the territory in the end. According to the documents, no one was willing to talk to the police. People were afraid.

Ashley and Kimberly went to investigate the territory where the murders had been committed. There were no clues, so they went door to door to talk to residents. Some people answered the door, but refused to talk. Others who were obviously home did not answer.

“No one’s talking,” Kimberly said. She and Ashley stood on the sidewalk across from one of the many apartment buildings. “Let’s go back to our desks and go over the murder books again.”

“Maybe we should stick around a little longer,” Ashley suggested. “The dealers might talk if we can find them.”

“They might,” Kimberly said.

“They get killed eithe’ way,” a woman said behind them. Ashley and Kimberly turned around and saw an old woman who appeared homeless. She had a shopping cart full of blankets, a tent, cardboard, a jug of water and cans of food. “That boy is takin’ ‘em out.”

“What boy?” Ashley asked.

“Boy in 137,” the woman answered. “Seen ‘im do it. Get out the way.”

“You saw a man kill another man?” Kimberly asked.

“Get out the way,” the woman repeated.

“Just a moment, please,” Ashley said. “You know who killed the dealers?”

“Yep. Boy in 137. That buildin’,” the woman answered. She pointed to a building in the next block. “Kill me too, but I look like the trash in the dark. It’s my camo. Get out the way.”

Ashley and Kimberly had to follow the lead. They walked to the building the woman had pointed to and found apartment 137. Once outside of it, they listened through the front door for a few moments. They heard music coming from the inside of the apartment, but that was all. They rang the doorbell and waited, but no one answered. Then, they knocked and waited.

A short and muscular man answered the door. He had a butch haircut, a weary face, and cold eyes. He wore a white tank top, jeans, and black steel toed shoes. He looked at the two women as if he was trying to guess the intent of their visit before they announced it. Ashley pretended to scratch just below her clavicle. She did not have an itch: she only made sure she wore an orange jewel that gave her the power to replicate herself.

“Sir, I am Detective Smith and this is Detective Jackson,” Ashley said. The man looked at their shoes as he scratched his head as if he tried to understand what she had just said. Ashley glanced at Kimberly to read her thoughts. In the second she looked away, the man had pulled a gun out of his back. There was a loud bang, and Kimberly fell to the ground.

Ashley drew her firearm as she moved behind the wall for cover. The man moved to shoot Kimberly again, but Ashley fired her gun at him. She missed, and the man retreated into the dark apartment.

Ashley was focused on getting through the situation. That focus allowed her to replicate effortlessly. She left a copy of herself, Ashley 2, to protect her partner and then moved into the apartment in pursuit of the suspect.

When Ashley walked into the first room, she noticed the apartment was bigger than she had expected. The layout was a problem because there were rooms in both directions. If she went the wrong way, he could surprise her or escape. It was too risky to pursue the suspect alone. She replicated again. She and Ashley 3 moved through the apartment room by room. The rooms were meticulously clean and organized, so they were easy to search. Still, she expected to be shot every time she looked through a doorway.

Ashley 3 noticed a back door in the laundry room at the back of the apartment. Ashley moved into a position to cover Ashley 3 as she opened the door. When Ashley 3 turned the doorknob, multiple shots were fired through the door from outside. Ashley 3 dropped to the ground. She yelped when a bullet hit the front of her shoulder and went out the back. Both Ashleys remained completely still until the gunfire stopped.

Ashley heard footsteps pounding the pavement outside. She looked carefully out the doorway, saw the suspect running away, and ran after him. Ashley 3 chased him too, but the pain from the bullet wound slowed her down. As Ashley began to tire, she replicated. Ashley 4 sprinted, caught up to the suspect, and tackled him to the ground. She tried to restrain him, but the man resisted. He was too strong for her. He knocked her to the ground and pinned her there by climbing on top of her. He pulled his arm back to punch her, but Ashley and Ashley 3 arrived just in time to grab his arm. The three women wrestled the man to the ground and cuffed him.

Once Ashley was certain that the suspect was restrained, she absorbed Ashleys 3 and 4. She felt exhausted. She also felt the pain of a wound in her left shoulder. The man was armed, dangerous, and impulsive; but that did not justify the communities fear. The case did not feel closed to her.

After police officers arrived to pick up the suspect, the Lieutenant called Ashley. He told her to go to the same hospital where they had taken Kimberly and get her bullet wound treated. After treatment, she was to report to his office. He was concerned that the reports and facts of the events were not lining up.

She took the orange jewel out of her shirt and clenched it in her fist as she took a deep breath. Before going to see the Lieutenant, she needed to find and absorb Ashley 2. After doing that, she would know everything that had happened and be ready to say anything she will need to say.


Doctor Moore’s Drive

rearview mirror - 2017 - 3x2
Eduardo Suré; Rearview Mirror, 2017; Watercolor

Doctor Andrew Moore clenched the steering wheel and squinted as he scanned the horizon of the desert landscape for civilization. After seeing none, he checked the truck’s rearview mirrors for any signs that he was being followed. He had known the risk he had accepted when he had remained at the site of the dig after the government lost control of the area to criminals. He had not expected the risk to be realized and to find himself fleeing in a truck filled with whatever he could hastily gather.

Andrew reminded himself frequently to slow down. He pressed the gas pedal down when he thought about getting caught and taken prisoner. However, he slowed down when he remembered why he had stayed in the first place. In the back of the truck, he transported a mummified chief and a few artifacts that provided clues to his identity. He had carefully, but hurriedly, prepared the precious cargo for the trip by truck and plane. However, the desert road he traveled upon was bumpier than he remembered it and he was afraid he would break something.

As Andrew scanned the rearview mirrors again, he saw a cloud of dust behind him. Not from his own truck, but from another vehicle. It grew in size as it closed in on him like a ravenous and monstrous grub. At the mouth of this threatening worm he saw a black sport utility vehicle. People who lived and worked in the area did not drive such expensive and polished vehicles. Such vehicles were usually employed in nefarious business.

The SUV was close enough for Andrew to see four men inside. The driver and the passenger sat normally in their seats, but two men in the second row leaned toward the center. They obviously studied his truck. They noticed him looking at them through his rearview.

The driver flashed his lights as he motioned with his right hand to Andrew to either move over or pull over. Andrew could not tell which of the two options the driver wanted to communicate, so he slowed down and drove as far to the right as the road allowed. That must not have been the response the driver wanted because the front passenger leaned out the window and fired an assault rifle at him. Each pop of the rifle was followed by thump or something breaking in the truck. One round hit the rearview mirror and made him unable to keep track of the SUV. Then, he saw the SUV pull up beside him. He saw the front passenger’s brown and bearded face stare coldly at him. He saw the assault rifle’s muzzle raised and pointed at him. The muzzle flashed.

Andrew felt the worse headache he’d ever felt. It felt like someone had put a screwdriver against his head and hit it with a hammer. He allowed the truck to slow to a stop and lay his head on the steering wheel to let the pain pass. The spot where the bullet hit his head felt hot. Then, it developed its own tiny heartbeat. The bullet had struck his head and he had felt the pain, but it did not break his skin. He did not feel swelling either.

Andrew heard two sets of feet grinding desert stones beneath them as they approached the truck. He could tell that one walked up on his side and the other walked up the passenger side. He was an Archeologist and had only ever fought other people with words at conferences. He did not know how to physically defend himself. He had no idea what to do.

Andrew held his breath as a man opened the door. He felt the man’s eyes on him. The cold muzzle of a gun was placed against his temple. Andrew grabbed the gun and simultaneously thrust his head back and pushed the gun forward. The man pulled the trigger and fired the gun as he tried to keep hold of it. The bullet hit the second man as he looked through the passenger side window. Andrew bit the man’s hand without restraint. The intense pain caused the man to pull back his hand. As he did, he dropped his gun and fled.

Andrew was driven by impulse. He knew one man was down, but did not realize what that actually meant. He straightened out the gun in his hand, pointed it in the general direction of the fleeing man, and fired multiple shots. He did not know how to properly use a gun, so the bullets whizzed away safely into the desert. When the gun clicked and no longer fired, he regretted his reaction.

As the man approached the SUV, the driver and front passenger stepped out. They both went to a place behind the truck where Andrew could not see them. He heard one of the men move quickly up the side of the truck. The man tossed something that looked like a black aerobics dumbbell into the cab. As he looked at it, the dumbbell burst into a blinding light and made a deafening sound.

Andrew was disoriented. He felt himself dragged out of the truck. As he lay on the desert floor, the men kicked and stomped on him. He felt some discomfort, but they were unable to do him harm. His sight and hearing returned as the men grew tired of kicking him.

Out of frustration, one of the men pulled out his gun and shot Andrew’s head. He felt severe pain again, but the bullet bounced off. The men were shocked. They looked at each other and an argument broke out about the gun. Andrew took advantage of their distraction and tackled one of the men. He knocked the man to the ground, but did not know what to do with him after that. He tried to restrain the man’s arms, but his attempt was so awkward that the man did not fight back. As he withdrew the hug he was giving the man, he felt a pin like the one he had seen on the device the man had thrown in the cab. He pulled it, got up, and ran.

Andrew’s plan was to run in one direction until the device flashed and banged. Then, he would change directions and find somewhere to hide. He did not expect to see the flash, but he would know when to change directions when he heard the bang.

Instead of hearing a bang, he heard a loud explosion. He dove to the ground and did not look up until everything was quiet and debris stopped raining down. He peeked back to where he had left the men. They were no longer standing. Based on what he saw, the pin he had pulled belonged to a grenade.

Andrew picked himself up and dusted himself off. As he walked back to his truck, he pulled out the necklace he was wearing and kissed a red jewel set in it before tucking the necklace back into his shirt. The red jewel he had found at another dig had made him bullet proof. He got into the driver’s seat and just stared at the road ahead as he felt the weight on his heart of what he had done.


Finding the White Living Jewel

caliginous - 2017 - 3x2
Eduardo Suré; Caliginous, 2017; Watercolor

Melissa Taylor walked purposefully down Washington’s 14th Street North West wearing business attire to blend in with early morning commuters. Once she was across the street from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, she stopped walking and pretended to type out a message on her phone. Her true purpose for stopping was to become more familiar with the public facing security of the facility.

Melissa planned to steal items from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for a foreign collector. She planned to go in through a back door either exploiting a weakness in their physical security or personnel or both. She also planned to pick up some things for herself along the way to help maintain her very high standard of living.

As Melissa observed the building, she noticed a person staring at her from across the street. The person wore plain casual clothing: sneakers, jeans, and a hoodie that concealed a face in shadow. Yesterday’s word of the day, caliginous, came to her mind. Her best guess from the overall look of the person’s body was that the person was a male.

In Melissa’s mind, her only option was to confront him. She had a natural tendency to want to dominate others. She put her phone down and glared at him. His response was to raise his right arm from his side to bring forward his gloved hand with the palm up.

Melissa interpreted his gesture as a challenge. She made her posture even more defiant and exaggerated so he could see it from across the wide street. She placed her left hand on her hip, positioned her head above her right shoulder, and with her right hand extended dared him with her own gesture to go to her and get her.

He immediately began to walk toward Melissa. Without looking in either direction, he stepped off of the sidewalk and into the street. Automobile tires screeched to avoid hitting him. A van stopped too late. It rammed him and sent him flying forward onto the asphalt. He hit it with a thud and his body rolled to a stop. Melissa watched the accident in astonishment.

The driver of the van checked on his passengers. Then, he opened his door and stepped out to check on the man. The man stood up and began walking toward Melissa.

“Are you OK, sir?” the driver called out to him. “Don’t try to walk, sir. You may fall.” The man ignored the driver of the van.

Melissa realized she was not being threatened by an ordinary man. She pulled herself out of her shock and walked briskly up the street. She looked for options to get away. There were not enough pedestrians out for her to disappear into a crowd. She could run, try to catch a passing cab, or lose him in the subway.

Melissa looked behind her. The man continued to follow. There was no cab in sight. Around a corner about fifty yards ahead of her was a subway entrance. She was far enough ahead of him that she could turn the corner and descend into the subway without him seeing her do it. He would need to guess whether she went down the street and into an alley, into a building, or into the subway.

Melissa walked faster. She turned the corner and then walked quickly down the escalator to the subway tunnel. She had a monthly pass, so she went through the gate quickly as she heard a train approaching the platform. She had to travel another 25 yards and go down another set of escalators to catch that train. She took off her heels and began to run. At the top of the escalator, she heard the train’s warning chime that the doors were about to close. She descended as fast as she could; but, as she reached the bottom step, the doors closed and it departed.

Melissa looked back. The man was walking down the escalator and would surely intercept her if she tried to leave the station. The other end of the platform was a dead end for subway passengers, but she thought she might find a way to escape through the maintenance corridors.

Melissa looked back again as she ran. The man extended his gloved hand with its palm up. He asked her to give it to him. She realized what he wanted. The only thing that would interest such a creature was the white jewel. She was not going to give it to him.

When Melissa looked forward again, she ran into a pole that displayed subway maps. She hit it so hard she bounced back and fell to the ground. When she looked up, he stood over her. She could not see his face. ‘Caliginous,’ she thought. That is what she decided to name him.

Caliginous extended his gloved hand, and Melissa slapped it away. A black blade shot out from his wrist. He stabbed her with it. She had been stabbed before and had adapted to it. She screamed both from the pain and as a battle cry. She kicked Caliginous’ feet out from under him. The blade exited her as he fell to the ground face down. She moved quickly onto him as he was in a vulnerable position. Then, she placed him in a chokehold.

Instead of Caliginous, Melissa was the one who began to choke. There was no air in the tunnel. She let him go as she gasped for air. While he got up, her body adapted to the lack of oxygen, and she functioned as a facultative anaerobe. He attacked her as she recovered, but she was able to fight back. She dodged his blade and struck him. Her body burned from the buildup of lactic acid, but she defended herself as he assaulted her.

Caliginous stepped back and out of Melissa’s reach. She watched him to anticipate his next move, but her head began to hurt. It felt just like the first time she had been stabbed, lost a lot of blood, and her brain began to die. She felt the desperation of it again trying to keep itself alive. The pain intensified as she felt like the fluids were being squeezed out of her head.

Melissa could not stand what she felt. She grabbed a chain around her neck and pulled it until it broke. It was the necklace she used to keep the white jewel close. She threw it to Caliginous’ feet.

The pain stopped. Melissa gasped as the air returning to the tunnel filled her lungs. She kneeled on the floor as Caliginous walked away. She looked at her hands and watched as they aged. Her eyesight became blurry. She felt her lower back spasm.

Melissa was intelligent. She always figured out a way to get what she wanted. That time, Caliginous had caught her by surprise. In the future, she would be prepared for him. In fact; she planned to hunt him, get her jewel back, and make him pay for the pain she had felt.