There will never be a better time, a more perfect moment than this, so I muster up all the courage I possess and move in, angling my head for a kiss. The expression on her face is beatific. Wisps of hair fall loose from her ponytail and dance across her features and the morning light seems to make her glow. And hidden within her lips is the promise of sweetness and passion that I have been searching for my entire life.
This is the fantasy I’m in love with, of a woman I absolutely despise in real life.
You come to me with a face like thunder, your mind a hornets nest of uncertainty, questioning our relationship, where we stand, where things are headed, because our reality does not quite match up with the fairytale romance you envisioned for yourself since childhood.
You bombard me with questions: do I really love you or am I just infatuated with the notion of being in love, and how can I be certain that love actually exists, what evidence do I possess? I sigh, because in truth I can offer you no proof, but I know that love exists in the way you smile, the way your eyes just beam, in your breath every time you say my name, for that is where I always find true love.
I never meant to end up being what I was. I would wake up each morning with the best of intentions, recite positive affirmations, and set off in the world determined to leave society better than I found it. But somewhere along the way, something or someone always fell onto my path and upset the apple cart.
My life became an obstacle course of misfortune, a series of choosing the lesser of two evils as I made split second pivots which strayed me farther and farther off track, until I could no longer see the way back to road of righteousness. Eventually, the accounts for all those lesser evils came due and I paid with the only currency I owned.
And as I lay in the gutter with my life slowly ebbing, I saw the beautiful face of a woman who could only be described as my one true love. It was little more than a flash of pale skin and raven hair that appeared in front of my dying eyes before vanishing, and I knew it was a brainsick reverie disguising Death, but I longed to allow myself to fall into her loving final embrace.
When people spoke of our marriage, they often used terms like kismet, destiny, serendipity, and soulmates, and there has yet to be an occasion when someone hadn’t asked the question that my husband and I dreaded the most:
“What is the secret to your relationship?”
As if we could bestow upon them some magical bit of information that could save their failing partnerships. The answer that no one wanted to hear, our truth, was that neither of us was particularly smart or possessed some life-altering dream within our hearts, we were simply two ignorant people playing with emotional matches which wasn’t a real problem because we loved the way each other burned.
We also pledged our immortal souls to the demon god of love, Jespurait, but surely that played no part in our enduring affection for one another.
Everyone who ever met her, knew there was something wrong with the little girl, but not one single solitary soul could tell you what it was that set her apart from the rest of humanity.
She loved her parents dearly, was respectful to adults, kind to animals and everyone she met, and never spoke a bad word against anyone or anything, never threw a tantrum, and was never angry or upset with anyone over any matter, not even when people were unkind to her.
But each time Susa’s head touched the pillow, the young girl would spend her sleeping hours traipsing through the dreams of the unkind others, pulling them into a phantasmagorical landscape which showcased the death of everything, their loved ones, hopes, ideas, memories, and every other type of death both real and imagined.
Not as revenge or punishment, mind you, but as an example of the rewards that awaited those determined to remain on the wrong side of her good temperament.
As trite as it sounds, I wholeheartedly believe that certain individuals are born for a life of servitude. That was our Qara. Cursed with a helper gene inherited from her father’s side of the family, she was raised on the principles of being steadfast always and to carry honor and glory everywhere and at all times. These disciplines were non-negotiable. And when she became old enough to properly comprehend their importance, Qara was taught how to be strong alone as well as stronger as part of a unit.
Many of you have asked what was she like as a child and the one moment that stands out in my mind was the time I found her watching the streams of her father charging into battle. The soundless images of war looped over and again and Qara sat transfixed studying his actions, mimicking his motions. When she finally noticed me in the room, she turned and said, “I know what I want to be.”
I had my own dreams for my daughter. What parent doesn’t? I envisioned her as a diplomat because she always had such a gifted way with words, so convincing, so compelling, and able to see other’s points of view while gently persuading them to see hers as well. I pictured her initiating the peace talks that would finally put an end to this decades-old war with a relentless extraterrestrial enemy hellbent on our total annihilation. But seldom do the dreams of parents and that of their children align themselves. So, instead of voicing my objections, I simply answered, “Fine.”
I pulled her father’s old, battered, unloaded service weapon from storage and laid it on a table before Qara.
“Dismantle it.” I said, offering no instruction on where and how to begin. “If you plan to use a weapon, you should know how it operates.” I secretly hoped she would have become frustrated, abandon the effort and move on to other interests.
But there was a spark in her young eyes as she turned the weapon over in her hands, searching for connection points, latches, catches and switches. She only managed to get a third of the way before being unable to proceed any further, but it was a mighty fine effort for her first attempt.
I then sat Qara with her brother, elder by three years, who showed her the correct way to field strip the weapon and reassemble it. He only needed to perform the act once. The weapon had become a puzzle game and Qara memorized the moves to solve it. She practiced stripping and reassembling the weapon each morning before the family rose and each night before she went to sleep. She became so proficient at it that she performed the act blindfolded, and in a head to head competition with her brother was able to beat his fastest time.
In her free time, Qara rummaged through her father’s possessions, sent home to us after he lost his life on the battlefield while trying to defend the moon. She devoured material on military strategy, ran herself through a homemade obstacle course, practiced combat techniques with her brother, and though I still was not happy with her choice, I had to admit I was proud at how quickly she progressed.
Then the day came when I received the letter. Behind my back, Qara had registered for armed service. More precisely, she sought placement in the same unit her father had served in. When she returned home, I held the letter out, a mixture of anger and pride in my voice as I announced, “Drafted.” Her squeal was the last remnant of the daughter on whom I had fashioned my dreams.
Qara began studying and idolizing the veterans of the unit, most of them fought alongside her father. It was like a dream for her that came true. More than that, it was another link to her father’s past, another piece of the puzzle that completed the image of him in her mind.
The next two weeks went by too swiftly for me to properly show Qara how much I loved her. When she left, the following four months went by too slowly before I could see her again at the ceremony that marked the completion of her training. In less than a week, my daughter would be protecting our world from alien invaders, as her father did before her.
The ceremony ended with a complex weapon exhibition that was more for show and less for survival and during the maneuver, Qara’s weapon misfired. I couldn’t have been happier. I know how that sounds and how it makes me look but let me reassure you, I am far from being a cold-hearted parent and an unpatriotic civilian. I care for my daughter more than words can express and would never want any harm to befall her, but the injuries she suffered from the misfire explosion put her on inactive status, and to me it was a blessing in disguise.
When I was allowed to see Qara, the only thing she repeated was how devastated she felt at having something that was within her reach suddenly snatched away. It was the only time since her father’s funeral that I recalled seeing her cry. It hurt to see her tears, but I believed the disappointment would fade over time, even if it vanished slower than the scars on her arms. Selfish, I know, but I didn’t care. She was alive, which meant she was with me, and I wasn’t ready to relinquish custody to her late father.
To my surprise, Qara was nearly in agreement, and what I mean by that is she told me of her plans to contact the academy and inform them that she would be withdrawing from the program altogether. If she couldn’t fight, the least she could do was to make her spot in the unit available to some other able-bodied applicant.
She did it the following day, without hesitation, without a crack in her voice, but neither of us were prepared for the response she received from the commander of her father’s former unit. “You petitioned us, not the other way around. We kept a spot open for you, in memory of your father. The spot belongs to you. Be the warrior your father was and fill it.”
Qara gained a new sense of determination while I was sinking in a quagmire of dread.
She attacked her therapy to improve mobility in her weapon arm and retested for qualification. It was her dream and her passion to fight for her planet. Qara had done well before the accident, but now, driven to not only live up to her father’s example but surpass it and make him proud, she beat her previous personal best and made the top ten percentile in the academy.
Qara joined her father’s unit and fought well. She was shorter than average height and thin but few could rival her inner strength. For saving the lives of her unit during the Atmospheric Offensive, and Operation Orbital Push, she received honors, but none higher than when she sacrificed her own life during the campaign to retake the moon. The same mission that killed her father.
Qara saved the lives of the five soldiers riding with her on a reconnaissance mission in orbit around the moon. She was piloting the ship when a satellite mine attached itself to the hull.
I have been told that the satellite was one of ours that had been rigged by the enemy with enough military grade explosives to wipe out an armada. Once close enough to activate the magnetic clamp, the device began an automated countdown upon impact. Qara instructed the soldiers to evacuate to the escape pods. She could have left herself, but the propulsion units on the pods wouldn’t have escaped the blast radius. She stayed behind and piloted the craft away from the soldiers, away from the moon and away from her home.
One of the soldiers once said to me quietly, “We promised to sacrifice the one for the good of the whole. Your daughter delivered on that promise.”
Her unit paid their final respects at a private ceremony for the family. Each soldier had nothing but praise for Qara. She was professional. Dedicated. A morale booster. Quick to cut the tension by making you laugh. In line for a promotion. A hero. The compliments went on throughout the service.
Standing here in front of you all on the one-year anniversary of my daughter’s death, I tell you this story not to dissuade you from joining the military but instead to join the fight and do your part. Qara was wiser than I gave her credit for. She somehow knew that peace was not the answer, that these barbarians must not only be pushed back but crushed so that they never again think to visit our world.
If you take nothing else from his speech, embrace my family’s principles. Be steadfast in the defense of our planet always and to carry honor and glory into battle. These disciplines are not negotiable. Train yourself to be strong alone, but never forget that we are stronger as a unit.
For the sake of our homeworld and in memory of all those who have fallen, including my husband and my daughter, the humans must die!
Yes, she could have died, given up her ghost, her human soul, to the universe, because death was easy. Life itself, the act of living, was the tricky bit, the thing that was always practiced but never mastered.
But there, balanced on the fulcrum of existence, Bernice was in the rare position of having an option, and as she had never been a quitter, she chose to take one last roll of the dice. She opted to live simply, love generously and speak truthfully yet not insensitively.
Fingers crossed that on this occasion, the second time’s the charm.
On the twenty-first year of his birth, after proving his bravery and skill at battle, Eldred the squire was called to the dubbing ceremony, where he knelt before the King, who tapped the squire on the shoulder with a ceremonial sword, making Eldred a knight.
Once his oath was taken to honor and protect his king and the church, he was presented with a pair of riding spurs and his very own sword, and given a quest.
The new knight traveled the desolate road through the forbidden forest for three moons, until he crossed paths with a maiden fair. Eldred’s eyes feasted upon her–the aureate waterfall of her hair, the glimmering emerald of her eyes, flawless diaphanous skin, elegant, and her fawn-like neck.
It wasn’t until he laid his sword down that he discovered that she was the dragon he had been hired to slay.
“She’s a straight up, dyed in the wool, city witch.”
“Oh, come on. You’re kidding me, right?”
“Okay, then how do you reckon she’s a witch?”
“Are you blind? She routinely walks a mutated hellhound after midnight, Ubers dragons to get her witchy ass around town, that penthouse suite of hers is made entirely of gingerbread, and all the children in her apartment complex have mysteriously gone missing since she moved in.”
“Sounds more like wild speculation and coincidence than actual proof. You wouldn’t happen to be jealous, would you?”
“Jealous of what? Her unhealthy appetite for our future generation?”
“That perhaps people find her a little more interesting than you?”
“Just because she bathes in the blood of innocents and bakes her bread with human bones, does not make her more interesting than me! Wait, please tell me you’re not thinking about hooking up with her.”
“Would it really be all that bad?”
“Um, did you miss the bit about the missing kids?”
“Well, were they good kids, or, you know…like…the other kind?”
“That shouldn’t matter! Children are sacrosanct!”
“More like sacrificed, if your suspicions are correct.”
“I give up. Do what you want. On your head be it.”
It had been a long and uneventful life, and when the daily drudgery of existence reached a level that threatened to drown her, Amber spent all the bitcoin she had amassed to book a ticket well in advance in order to give her family, friends, and employer ample notice of her departure.
Impatiently, she waited at a forest rail station, which was hidden from all transit maps and only locatable via the dark web, for the train that traveled the timeless roads from the birth of imagination to the apex of dreams.
She knew in her heart of hearts that she would not ever return to this reality in her lifetime.