Triple Distilled Heartache

Hey, guys, I’m back! So sorry for the long time away. Been super busy with school (senior year is a bit of a bitch in university, but I got this!). Anyway, here is Chapter Eight. This is my personal favorite chapter as it gives you a glimpse of how Alma, Momma, and Kansy were trying to fix things as best they could for Manny; you also get a bit of glimpse into Manny’s emotions and mindset about what happened to him and Kansy. This was such an emotional chapter to get through and bring to life. I’m very proud of it. Also, things make much more sense if you read Chapters One through Seven first before tackling this bad boy. WARNING: this chapter has some very offensive language and violent crimes directed toward Manny, Kansy, and Alma. Just a heads up. As always, comments are welcome! Give it a like if you want. Neophyte Punk, over and out!

Chapter Eight

They had found out. One of them found out about them and blabbed to the rest of the team. They waited until after baseball practice, until after coach had supposedly gone home. But Kansy remembered seeing his car in the parking lot when they knocked him down and kicked him in the stomach, back, crotch, ass, legs. They avoided kicking in their faces, though. They had their fists for that. They wanted to hurt them and get their message across (“No fudge packers on the team!” “Dirty little faggots!” “Cocksuckers, you freaks!”), but they weren’t willing to kill them over it. Not yet, at least.

Manny and Kansy put up a good fight. Got in a number of good licks to most of them, but there were just too many. Manny got the worst of it. They hit him in the stomach with a bat. Over and over and over. He spent a week-and-a-half in the hospital for fractured ribs and a concussion. (Doctors couldn’t believe that he didn’t have any internal bleeding. “It’s a miracle,” one of them said. “That’s all I can see it as. A pure miracle.”) Both of their faces were bruised and swollen to hell.

When Manny came home, he wasn’t the same. He stayed in his room and stopped going to school, stopped running. It was even a challenge to get him to go to the front porch for a talk.

“We have to go, man,” said Kansy, after managing to drag Manny outside. The setting sun dove behind the river birch trees and twilight danced above them. “We don’t and those fuckers will know they got to us.”

“Wake the fuck up, Kans!” Manny threw his cigarette at him. “They already go to us. We both got the shit beat out of us! I’m not going back there. Besides, I quit the team this morning. Called coach and he accepted without any hesitation.”

“Oh, what the hell? You’re doing exactly what they want!” Kansy pushed Manny, forgetting that his ribs were still sore. Manny grabbed at his right side and winced in pain. “They want this. This whole fucking town wants to see us give up and give in. We can’t do that. We aren’t doing anything wrong! Goddamnit, Manny, they have no right to tell us how we should feel about each other! I fucking love you and nobody’s gonna tell me that’s wrong!”

“There’s no place for people like us in this town, Kansy.”

“Two options, then. We go to school and walk down those hallways beaten up but holding hands or we hold out for graduation then pack our shit and get the fuck out of here and never look back. We’re both going to UT anyway. We can move to San Marcos and find a place to call our own.”

“How is everything so easy for you?”

“Because I know we have something good here. Something pure. We just have to hold onto that until we can leave this fucking town in our rear-view mirror.”

“I’m still not going to school.”

“You don’t have to. I’ll bring your work home. I’m going back because I’m done hiding. I want the whole school to see what they did to us, Man. I don’t want to keep who I am a secret anymore.”

Manny reached over and caressed Kansy’s cheek. He leaned in and placed their foreheads together. “That’s what I love most about you,” he whispered softly. “You’re so strong…like Alma. Stronger and braver than me.”

“You make me brave, Man,” whispered Kansy.

Manny smiled a little (the first in days) and closed his eyes. “You’re both so tough. Tough like I could never be.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I’m scared, Kans. I jump whenever there’s noise outside. I mean, I can’t even go get the fucking mail without turning over my shoulder.” Manny pulled away from Kansy, biting his thumb nail and fighting back tears. He stood up and paced around, breathing rapidly. “I’m scared. I have fucking nightmares, Kansy. Only it’s not a baseball team, it’s complete strangers that are beating me to death. I mean, that’s a real fucking possibility, isn’t it? If guys that we’ve known since we were in diapers, guys we’ve had over for dinner God knows how many times, can put all that aside and beat the shit out of us, what’s stopping strangers from doing the same damn thing? I’m fucking scared shitless, and I don’t know what to do to make it stop!”

“Make what stop?” Kansy tried to grab Manny, but he pushed him away.

“Everything! I just want everything to stop! I just want everything to be still and quiet so I can breathe! I feel like I’m drowning!” Manny turned away from Kansy and sobbed quietly. “I want…I want to stop feeling like such a piece of shit. I want to go into fucking town and not have eyes on me all the time. I just…I just want to stop being scared. I feel so alone.”

Kansy wrapped his arms around Manny and held him, planting small kisses on his neck. “Those fuckers have no right to make you feel this way. I’m sorry, Manny. I tried to stop it, but there were too many of them. I tried to protect you. But nobody is ever going to hurt you again like they did that night. And you’re not alone. I’m right here.” He held Manny tighter, afraid he would fade away into his nightmares if he let go. “I’m holding onto you. We’re all right here holding onto you.”

“You, Momma, and Alma. The Divine Comedy.” Manny choked out a little laugh on Kansy’s shoulder.

“Yeah, it’s us against the world.”

They heard Alma’s truck driving up the gravel driveway. Kansy placed a small, chaste kiss on Manny’s lips before letting him go. Manny wiped his face and winced at the bruises there. “They’re worried enough as it is. Don’t tell them what I said. I just wanted to let some steam out.”

Kansy nodded.

They could tell by the way Alma drove that she was pissed. Even in the dim light, they could see Momma bouncing up and down on the bumpy road. The truck jerked to a stop next to them and Momma jumped out as the engine’s rumbling stopped.

Nina rebelde! Que casi nos matas!

“I’m guessing things at the sheriff’s office didn’t go so well,” said Kansy.

“No, they fucking didn’t,” said Alma, jumping out of the truck. She walked around to them, still red-cheeked from anger. “He wouldn’t even consider arresting the team because he can’t arrest boys for being boys. Never you mind that it was assault. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Just boys being boys. They can settle it themselves.’ Pinche culero. You know, I wonder if I were to kick his daughter’s ass, would he feel the same? Oh, sorry Sheriff, you can’t arrest me. It’s that time of the month. You know, just girls being girls. Imbecil.”

“Violence is not going to solve anything, mija. You’re just going to make this worse. We have to show them that we are better than they are,” said Momma.

“Well, it’d make me feel a hell of a lot better.”

“We’re not giving up that easy. We’re sending letters to the district attorney and asking for help. They are not going to get away with this. Not this. I don’t care how many letters I have to send to people or how many news stations I have to talk to, they are not getting away with this.” Momma looked at Manny with heavy eyes that screamed a silent apology (I’m sorry for not being there. I’m sorry for letting you down. I’m sorry for being a shit mother. Perdoname, forgive me, I’m sorry.) before plastering on her everything’s-going-to-be-okay smile. “Mijo, it’s so good you’re out of your room. Como te sientes?” Momma touched his forehead with the back of her hand to check if he had a fever. She always did that even if whatever they had had nothing to do with a fever.

“I’m fine, Momma. Just getting some air.” Manny smiled but Alma caught his eyes. Something was wrong.

“Good. I’m gonna fix dinner. Kansy, will you be staying?”

“Yes, ma’am, if that’s alright?”

Esta bien. You’re more than welcome. You like enchiladas, verda?”

“Yes, ma’am, I do when you’re making them.”

“Well, we may be eating a bit later than usual, okay,” said Momma walking into the house.

Caute,” smiled Alma.

Cauta,” smiled Manny.

They opened arms and hugged. It was the silent-voluble hug that only siblings can understand. Soft and strong in embrace, but thunderous in emotion. Each knew what the other was feeling. Panic and anger. Fear and loneliness.

“You’re okay now, alright. You’re here and you’re okay now.”

“Yeah, I know.” Manny let her go and smiled. “I’m gonna go help Momma with dinner. I haven’t helped her in a while. I want to do that with her.”

“Yeah, that’ll be nice,” encouraged Kansy.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Alma’s voice sounded more frantic than she meant it to.

“I’m fine. I’m better. See you guys inside.”

They waited for him to disappear into the house before talking.

“Did you tell the sheriff what they did to our food at school?” asked Kansy, lighting two cigarettes. He passed one to Alma.

“Yep. But apparently somebody cumming inside our school lunches isn’t that big of a problem. Especially since there’s no evidence. Some asshole threw everything away while you and I were throwing up in the bathroom.”

“They don’t give a shit. This whole fucking town is becoming one giant shit of a bully and there is no one to stop it.”

Alma exhaled smoke. “Did he say if he was going back to school?”

“He said he’s not. He’s scared.”

“He’s been having really bad nightmares.”

“Yeah, he said that too.”

“It’s better that he doesn’t go to school, though. Things are way too out of control there. We can’t be with him every second at school. We can’t protect him. At least here at home I know he’s safe. Nobody can hurt him.” They stayed quiet for a moment and listened. Cardinals chirped and grasshoppers began their nightly serenade. The cool wind moved through the trees, a rushing waterfall sound danced around them. “He feels lonely…and I don’t know how to make it stop for him.”

“How did you know?”

“He’s my twin. I know. I always know.” She looked at Kansy, panic in her eyes. “Same way I know something’s coming. I don’t know why but I feel that…death is coming for him. Kansy, I’m afraid some fucker is gonna try and kill him soon.”

Triple Distilled Heartache

Hey, guys! Chapters Six and Seven are below. (Things are really starting to get to Alma, huh?) Well, these chapters are nice and short, but the Chapter Eight will be a long and intense one so enjoy the calm before the storm of revelation. As always, comments are welcome. Give the story a like, as well, if you feel up to it. Neophyte Punk, over and out!

Chapter Six

Alma ran outside and took refuge in the heat. She went to the hose and rinsed off her hands and feet then spread out on the hot glass, eyes closed, letting the sun burn and prickle her skin. Sweat quickly formed on her forehead and at the top of her lip. She dug her heels into the cool dirt and wanted to dig in deeper, wondering what it would feel like to have six feet of dirt above her. Cool? Empty?

“Scary,” answered Manny, sitting beside her. “And dark.”

“Now you’re invading my mind?”

“I’m invading your heart.” He wanted to push her, get her to start moving, but he knew he would only go through her. “You can’t stop feeling, Alma. That’s not gonna save you.”

“Why?” She opened her eyes and squinted at Manny. “Why do I have to feel everything and you don’t get to? Why do you get to take the easy way out? Por que al minuto que yo no quiero sentir todo el mundo hace una drama?

“Because you’re the strong one.”

“Oh, fuck you! Enough with this strong one, quiet one, twin bullshit, Manny. Why? That’s all I want to know. Why?”

“Talk to him and you’ll get your answer.”

She sat up, crossed-legged, and pulled handfuls of grass out of the ground. “I really fucked up. I yelled at Momma. She doesn’t deserve that. It’s not her fault, it’s yours.”

“You’re right.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing, Manny.” She tossed grass his way and watched it go through him.

“Yeah, you kinda do. You’re running. As soon as you stop, you’ll know what you really have to do. For you and me both.”

“You suck.”

“Yeah, I do. Just as Kansy.”

She didn’t want to, but she laughed out loud. “Shit, I haven’t thought about that night in about a year. You should have seen Kansy’s face when I caught you guys! I’ve never seen a face go from pure pleasure to pure horror in seconds flat. Poor thing, tripping and falling over himself to hide in your closet.”

“You were laughing your ass off! How could he not be embarrassed. He was blushing crimson, pobrecito. He wanted to run out of there, but he didn’t want you to see him.”

“Oh, that’s right! He wanted me to close my eyes before he even stepped out of the closet.”

“Which lead up to you infamously saying…”

“I thought you were already out of the closet!” They finished together, laughing like those faded nights out on the porch.

They fell back and gasped for air. It almost felt like he was really there. It almost felt better.

“Kansy was so cute,” chuckled Alma. “That was the most awkward moment of my life, I think.”

“It was the scariest of mine. I nearly shit myself, I thought you were Momma.”

On the cusp of feeling, she turned somber. “Hmm, you want to know the scariest moment of my life?”

Manny rubbed his hands over his face, exasperated. He stood up and walked toward the house. “Alma, please, stop trying to ruin everything.”

“I didn’t ruin a damn thing.” She followed him up the porch steps and stopped in front of him. “You did. Do you want to know the scariest moment of my life?”

“I’m in your soul, Alma. I know what it is.”

“Then say it.”

“Fuck you.”

“Say it! What’s the scariest moment of my life? Say it!”

“Finding me,” he uttered quietly.

She slammed the screen door shut behind her and left him out there with his sad eyes.

Chapter Seven

Momma told Kansy that Alma had been talking to herself for the past week, but he didn’t believe it until he saw it. Crouching by Momma’s open window, he saw everything. Alma was outside, sitting on the grass, talking to herself. She even laughed like she used to. Then she chased something up the stairs, arguing along the way, before running inside.

“She’s talking to Manny. I think she sees him,” said Momma from the bed. She was under the covers, surrounded by photos. In her hand were two small pills. They were Manny’s pills, the ones that doctor had given him for his anxiety. “Hand me that glass of orange juice.”

“Are you sure you should be taking so many of those, ma’am?” Kansy stood up and grabbed the glass from on top of the dresser, sniffing it. “Is there vodka in this?”

“Yes,” she reached her hand out and Kansy gave it to her. “No te preocupes. I’m not gonna die. Hell, I buried my only son next to my husband and I survived. A couple pills and some diluted vodka are a walk in the park.”

They heard noise from the hallway bathroom. The pipes creaked and groaned and then the sound of running water vibrated in the walls.

“Finally, progress. She hasn’t taken a shower all week.”

“Do you really think she sees him?” Kansy sat at the end of the bed, looking out the window.

“I do. I think he’s still here. At first, I thought she was going crazy, but no. Elle lo ve.

“Well, what the hell? If she can see him, why can’t we?”

Momma downed the pills with one huge gulp of spiked juice. “I don’t think that we’re meant to.”

“Don’t you want to see him again?” Kansy voice cracked.

Con toda mi alma, but I…I have to let him go. I will never be whole again. Not a day will go by that I won’t think of my son. That I won’t die to hold him again, but I have to let him go.” Momma didn’t bother wiping away her tears anymore. Only more would fall. She just let them stream down her face, hang off her chin, and fall to the bed sheets. “A part of me went with him. I will always be broken. But I would rather be broken than damn him to stay here around us because I couldn’t let him go.”

“What, you think he could stay stuck here with us?” Kansy tried wrapping his head around what he was hearing. Manny had said their mother was very Mexican–religious and superstitious, all in one. She believed in a place after death and she believed the soul never died but simply moved onto a different place and a new journey. She also believed the soul could stay stuck in place and suffer more in death than it ever could in life. Kansy believed in what he could see and all he saw was Alma having a mental breakdown and her mother was too drugged up or too broken to notice.

“Yes. He doesn’t belong here anymore. He belongs to a different world now. If we don’t let him go, he will stay here and become a haunted memory. El no se merece eso. He deserves to find peace. She has to let him go to find peace on the other side.”

“Go on to where? Heaven? Hell?” Kansy felt like throwing something again, but Momma’s room was already in enough of a mess. He didn’t need to add to it.

“To a city by the sea.”

“What?”

Momma sank into her pillows and closed her puffy eyes. “I was the only one in the room when my abuela died. She kept…mumbling about una ciudad a orillas del mar. She said it was beautiful. I think…I think he wants to go there. To the city by the sea.”

“But what is that? Where is that? And why the hell couldn’t he just have stayed here?”

Momma replied with a snore. She was deep in a self-medicated induced sleep. He took the glass from her hand and put it back on the dresser. He went downstairs to the kitchen (through the outside, of course) for the broom and dustpan. He thought about it and decided he may as well take the mop and try to clean up Momma’s room as best he could. He was careful not to step on any of the food spread out on the kitchen floor.

The quiet lurked in every corner and crevice of their world.

He did the best he could. He didn’t mop up very well but there were no more pieces of glass. Momma could walk barefoot and not worry about cutting her feet anymore. The room still carried a mixture of smells that would take days to waft out, though.

He lifted the end of the bed cover and checked Momma’s feet for any cuts or scraps. There were a few. Nothing big or dramatic. A few cuts had dried blood on them that he cleaned with some hydrogen peroxide he found in her bathroom. He tucked her feet back in and walked around the room, unsure of what to do next. He didn’t want to be alone in a house so still. Instead, he sat back down on the bed and drifted away in thought. He thought about that night with the baseball team, the night that changed all their lives.

Triple Distilled Heartache

Hey, guys! So here are Chapters Four and Five of TDH. It’s a bit long because it has two chapters, but they are two really good chapters. Things are going to start getting a bit heavy in these chapters, so be ready. Also, there is some strong language about Manny and the things done to him, so read with care. I hope you enjoy them! As always, comments are welcome. Neophyte Punk, over and out!

Chapter Four

After a few minutes, Alma pulled herself together and asked for a cigarette. They sat down on the porch next to each other.

“How many of these have you had?” asked Kansy, lighting it for her.

“I smoked a whole pack last night. Couldn’t sleep.”

Kansy nodded and lit one for himself, as well. “Me too. Been looking like a chimney for the past week.”

They stared out at the front yard and expected to see a rabbit shoot out from the woods and hop across the gravel road but there was nothing. All was quiet and still; no wind, no birds, no rabbits.

“It’s crazy. Been this way all week.”

Alma looked at the river birch trees and wished for some movement or noise from the cardinals, but they stayed in their nests. “It started when he did it.”

Kansy coughed and turned to face her, lament in this eyes. “Have you talked to your momma about that day?”

Ignoring his question, she asked him one of her own. “What else did you hear about the funeral?”

Kansy nodded his head and didn’t press her about it. “Dad said that you turned the hose on those bitching outside the cemetery. That true?”

Alma smiled and exhaled smoke. “It wasn’t me. It was Bufford.”

“The groundskeeper?”

“Yep. I said it was me because I didn’t want him to lose his job. Whole town already thinks I’m crazy so it doesn’t matter what I do.” She puffed out smoke. “He saw how much they were upsetting Momma. And Momma’s always been really good to him. She sews his clothers, cooks for him sometimes and gets him stuff to do around here when he’s short on cash. He did it for her.”

Manny sat next to Kansy, longing centered in his eyes. “You should get him some food. He hasn’t eaten either.”

Alma nodded. “You hungry? We’ve got enough food to feed a small army for a month.”

“Yeah, I haven’t eaten breakfast.”

She stood up and headed toward the back of the house.

“Where are you going?” asked Kansy, confused.

“To the kitchen. You can go in through there. I’m taking the long way.”

“I’ll take it with you,” Kansy smiled, following her. He understood.

In the kitchen, she pulled out the deli slices from the refrigerator to make Kansy a sandwich while he threw out the warm deli meats and empty jars from the sink along with the rest of the trash bags.

“Jesus, there must have been a sea of people here yesterday,” said Kansy, washing his hands in the sink.

“Oh, yeah. And all of them were quick to say how sorry they were and how regrettable everything was. ‘He had such a bright future.’ ‘If there’s anything I can do for you and your mother.’ Or my personal favorite, ‘I feel so guilty. I feel like I could have helped him if he just asked me for help.’ Yeah, right. Where the hell was that while he was getting the shit kicked out of him by the entire baseball team? Where the hell was that when the coach, the principle, and the sheriff ignored the ass-beating that put you two in the hospital? Where the hell was that when they vandalized his locker, his car, our house? Yeah, now that he’s gone people in town are suddenly becoming these bleeding hearts for anti-bullying and gay rights.”

“Have news crews showed up here yet? They have at mine. Even the sheriff and principle wanted to invite me over to have a televised conference about what changes they’re going to make to keep gay student, all students, safe.”

“Yeah, they’ve shown up, but I told them que se fueran a chingar sus madres. And, yeah, I heard the whole school board was going to be there too. Bastards, all of them. They just want to save their own asses. Do you want tomatoes on your sandwich? I might have to dig in a little bit, but I’m sure we have some.”

“No, I’m fine.” Kansy stood by the screen door and lit another cigarette. “Anybody come down?”

“You mean to fuck around and hurl brick messages through the windows and shit? No. I don’t think they’ll come today. Maybe tomorrow or the next day. Do you want mayo?”

“Yeah.”

“Then get it out of the fridge. We have, however, been receiving phone calls.”

“What do they say?” Kansy scanned for the mayonnaise jar.

“Oh, what’s expected: my brother’s in hell, rotting and screaming in agonizing pain as the devil sodomizes him.”

Manny jumped on the kitchen counter and smiled. “Think I should go and poltergeist their ass?”

Alma licked her finger and stifled a chuckle.

“What?” smiled Kansy, tossing her the jar.

“Nothing. You want a lot or a little?” she asked, opening it.

“Lots.” He noticed she was only making one sandwich. “You’re not having any?”

“I”m not hungry.”

“Have you eaten at all?”

“Yeah, enough to keep me going. It’s all enough to keep me going, Kansy.”

“Hey, Alma?” Kansy looked her up and down.

“Mmm? What do you want for sides? I’ve go chips, fancy crackers, jello, fruit, fruit with jello. You name it and I’ve probably got it in the fridge or on the table somewhere.”

“No, I’ll just have the sandwich.” He took the sandwich from the counter and bit into it. “Are you gonna spend all day in nothing but your underwear?”

“I’ve got a tank top on. Hey, man,” she pulled out more bread and started making another sandwich. Kansy always ate two of everything. “Nobody was suppose to be here today. Nobody shows up the day after a funeral.”

“Says who?” He was already done with half the sandwich.

“I don’t fucking know who, but it’s an understood rule. Showing up the day after a funeral is embarrassing because it means that person’s loved one was not important enough for you to take the day off and haul ass just to come and offer a I’m-so-fucking-sorry-life-is-a-real-bitch-sometimes handshake. I mean, you show up a few days later or not at all, but not the next day. Things are still too fresh. You weren’t suppose to come here, so deal with it.”

“Talk to him, Alma,” said Manny, jumping down from the counter.

“Could I have tomato this time?”

“Look for them in the fridge. In the bottom drawer. Hey, give me your lighter. I’m going outside really quick.”

Outside, Alma and Manny paced around each other, whispering quietly and keeping an eye out for Kansy.

“You need to talk to him.”

“What the hell am I doing in there?”

“Small talk and a sandwich. You need to open up to him like you did back on the front porch.”

“No. That was one time.”

“Talk to him.”

Alma took a long drag, looking at Manny. “Are you in my head or are you real?”

“Is there a difference?”

“Yeah, one means I’m bat-shit crazy and the other just means I’m broken.”

“Talk to him. That’s the only way you’ll find out.”

Something shattered inside the kitchen. “Puta vida.” Alma put her cigarette out and ran in.

Kansy stood by the fridge door, holding it open with his back. Across the room on the yellow wall behind the kitchen table, a seaweed-green stain dripped gradually down to the wooden floor. Kansy breathed heavily and slammed the fridge door shut, moving to the lean on the counter. Alma moved around him to the side of the fridge and picked up the broom and dust pan when she stepped on something that nearly made her slip. She looked down and saw  large blue shard of glass with white letters that spelled out POLICE BOX. It was the coffee mug he’d given Manny last year on his birthday. It was Manny’s favorite show, about a madman in a blue box.

Manny stood behind him and looked at Alma, pleading. She nodded, put the broom down and awkwardly put a hand on Kansy’s shoulder. He was trembling.

With both hands, she tilted his head to look at her, and she smiled sadly. Fat pear-shaped tears rolled down his face, but he made no sound, only stuck out his bottom lip a bit.

“Come here,” she said.

He dropped his head on her shoulder and cried. He hugged her as she caressed the back of his head. “I wouldn’t have let them hurt you, you know. If you had come yesterday, I wouldn’t have let them hurt you like they did that night.”

“I tried to stop them, Alma, but it was the whole fucking team. I tried, but I couldn’t fight them all off.”

“I know…you nearly fucked up your pitching hand trying. You tried to protect him.”

“But it wasn’t enough.”

“Welcome to the club.”

“Why couldn’t you guys get along like this before?” asked Manny, pacing beside them.

“Jesus, we’re not gonna start bonding, are we?”

“Would that be such a bad thing?” sniffed Kansy, lifting his shirt to wipe his face. “Lord knows we’ve been through enough, you and I. We’re companions now, you know. We always get left behind…and he always leaves and doesn’t come back for a long, long time.”

“Yeah, I never understand when you speak geek to me. And I don’t want love, Kansy.” She rubbed his shoulders and then picked up the broom and dustpan. Kansy picked up a dishcloth from the sink.

“You don’t want love or you don’t want my love?”

“Both. I don’t need love, except maybe for my momma’s.”

“You don’t believe that.” Alma ignored him and swept the floor. “You can’t believe that. That’s all we have to hold onto right now. It’s the only thing that can keep us going.”

“Fuck you.”

“Thanks,” smiled Kansy. “But I’m gay.”

They laughed like they used to, but the quiet crept in and silenced them. They looked at each other awkwardly like they shouldn’t have laughed so freely. Alma went back to sweeping and Kansy wiped the wall of the dripping green stain.

Manny stood outside, pacing and biting at his thumb. Kansy was right; they were companions now. Left alone and left behind. And he would not come back to them in a very long time.

Chapter Five

The day dragged on, slow and sticky. Kansy went upstairs to Manny’s room and Alma walked around the house, smoking and pushing all feeling away. Momma woke up around three, groggy and forgetful. She remembered, of course, and flipped through photo albums, working her way through another box of tissue.

Manny drifted from place to place. Sometimes he would lie down with Kansy or linger outside of Momma’s door, but mostly he walked outside with Alma.

“Momma’s awake.” Manny did a headstand in front of her to make her stop walking. “You should try and get her to eat something.”

“I never understood how you could do that.” She watched him balance. She flicked the cigarette in her hand his way and watched it fire out as it went through him. “I never could.”

“You just have to let go and not worry about balancing everything out.” Manny flipped right side up, smiling. “Remember you broke the wall with your ass the one time you actually tried.”

“That was your fault. You let me go.” She wanted to push him, but she would only go through him. “You always let go, don’t you?”

“I don’t want to fight, Alma.”

“No, I know you don’t. If you did, you’d still be here, wouldn’t you?”

Manny was gone. He yelled down from his open window. “You should get Momma to eat something.”

“Why don’t you go in there and do it yourself!”

She heard a thump from his room. Kansy appeared in the window, rubbing his head. “Did you call me? I fell asleep.”

“I asked if you want to help me with Momma?”

“Yeah.”

They helped her down the stairs. Kansy took her into the kitchen through the hallway while Alma ran around to the back of the house.

“You want a sandwich, Momma?” Alma was already getting the bread out.

“No, mija,” she smiled. “I’ll just have coffee.”

“Kansy poured her and himself a cup. Momma glanced up and saw the dried green liquid caked to the wall. “What happened there?”

“That was me, ma’am.” Kansy picked up the dishcloth from the table and wiped at it again. “I, uh…”

“He lost his shit and broke the cup he gave Manny for his birthday,” finished Alma. She was sitting on the counter, Manny next to her, both dangling their feet in rhythmic twin time.

“It was a beautiful cup. He always drank out of it every night before bed.”

“Are you sure you don’t want anything to eat, ma’am?” asked Kansy, scrubbing at the wall. The green muck was stuck on pretty good. “I saw Mrs. Munoz made that famous stuffing of hers. I could heat some up for you. Or some soup? There’s about five different kinds of soup in there.”

“I only counted three,” said Alma, lighting up another cigarette.

“Five. I found two near the back.”

“Coffee is better,” said Momma, taking a sip and looking at Alma smoking. “Dame.” Alma tossed her the pack of smokes and the lighter. Momma light one up and took a deep drag. Everything was quiet. “I think I’ll go back up now.”

“Momma, you have to eat something,” said Alma, jumping down from the counter. “Please, at least fruit or some jello. Or both.”

“No, mija, really.” Momma got up to her feet and wobbled. Kansy dropped the dishcloth and wrapped his arms around her waist to steady her. “I just want to lie down. Look at some photos of him. Do you want to look at them with me?”

“No fucking way. Looking at those photos isn’t going to change a damn thing, Momma. He’s gone. It’s not gonna bring him back. El no va a volver. Nothing will ever bring him back to you.”

Momma flinched like Alma had hit her. She hadn’t meant for her voice to sound so loud, so anger.

“I’ll look at them with you, ma’am,” said Kansy, shaking his head at Alma.

Mi hija,” Momma handed Kansy her cigarette and opened her arms for Alma to come to her.  He let her go when Alma embraced her. “You sure are running, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m not. I could, but I’m not. I’m just…not feeling.”

Momma pulled Alma back and petted her hair away from her face. “Aye, mija, you may not know it, but you’re running as far and as fast as you can.”

Alma shrugged her shoulders and puffed on her cigarette.

“No matter what you do, he’s still there every time you look back, verda?”

Alma stepped back and let go of Momma, not knowing what to say. She thought of the hallway and the light fixture where he…

(his face was so pale and he had those marks on his neck)

Momma reached for her and said, “Maybe you should stop running.”

“Maybe you should start feeling,” said Kansy.

She backed further away and threw Kansy the finger. “Both of you need to stop it. Basta ya! If you two idiotas want to cry for him, ta bueno. Cry you brains out, but I’m not going to. He made his choice.” She looked behind Momma where Manny stood biting his thumb. “He chose to give up. He chose to leave. I’m not gonna cry for him. No lo merece. He doesn’t deserve it.”

“You want to talk about choices, vale. What are you going to do, Alma? Que vas a hacer? Linger on him or let him go? Are you going to close yourself off for the rest of you life?” Momma stood on her own for the first time in a week. She radiated strength, acceptance, and heartache. She was Momma again.

“What the hell is that suppose to mean?” Alma didn’t mean to shout, but Momma wasn’t making any sense. She, not her, had done everything. Everything! If anybody had a right to linger (not that she was lingering), it was her. She had done everything.

“It means you have to deal with this. Acepata lo que paso. You can’t run.”

“What the hell do you think I’ve been doing this past week?” Alma grabbed the first thing she could reach for on the table and threw it to the floor. Potato chips flew across wooden grooves. She reached for whatever was on the table and threw it to the ground and across the room. Food jetted in every direction. “I planned the funeral! I picked out his clothes! I called our relatives and let them know! I have been taking care of you! I have been telling reporters to piss off! I cleaned his car when they sprayed fag bastard and ass licker on it! I taped all the windows up in the family room and the dining room the night those fuckers threw bricks at us! I have been answering the phone filled with fuckers saying disgusting things about Manny! I dealt with the whole baseball team and the school belittling him! I found him! I cut him down! I have always been the one to take care of everything!”

Alma’s voice echoed through their silent world. She looked down at her hands. They were covered with bits of cake frosting, cookie crumbs and pieces of ham and turkey. Her breathing was labored and quick. The floor and walls were decorated in food. Deli meats and cake chunks clung to the walls. Bread, cookies, chips and crackers littered their feet.

“Momma, I’m sor–”

Momma raised her hand to silence her. “You haven’t accepted what happened yet. Let’s go upstairs, Kansy.”

Triple Distilled Heartache

Hey, guys! So Chapters Two and Three of Triple Distilled Heartache are below. These should be fairly shorter than Chapter One. Also, there is some strong language in the chapters ahead, so watch out. I hope you guys enjoy! Comments are always welcome. Neophytepunk, over and out!

Chapter Two

It took a while to find two pills that weren’t soaked in perfume or lying in pieces of broken glass, but Alma found two of them on the bed right where Manny had been sitting. Momma kept yelling out Manny’s name until the pills made her sleep.

“Sleep now, Momma,” hushed Alma, running a hand through Momma’s matted hair. “Just sleep.”

Mijo,” cried Momma drowsily.

“I know, Momma. Solo trata de dormir. Sleep.”

Mija, you have to cry.”

“Momma, sleep.”

“Alma…” Momma opened her eyes wide. “Dime…tell me what you see.”

“Momma,” she looked at the doorway and saw Manny hovering there, biting at his thumb. “Momma, I see Ma–”

But Momma was already breathing heavy, eyes closed. Alma kissed her forehead and walked out into the hallway. She stopped in front of the hallway bathroom and covered her mouth before sound could escape it. It was like a wave. A wave so strong it knocked the air right out of her. She leaned her forehead on the cool bathroom door and gasped for air.

“Okay. Relax. Okay.” She fought every feeling wanting to rise up, closing her eyes against it. “You’re fine.” She felt him hovering next to him. She opened her eyes and grimaced at him. “I hate you.”

“You love me, Alma.”

She pushed herself off the bathroom door and walked past him to her room. “I hate you! Don’t you see what you’ve done to our mother? She is losing her shit because of you.”

“No, she’s grieving,” said Manny seriously. “You are the one losing her shit. You have to cry, Alma.”

“Fuck you,” she spat out, stumbling over herself as she kicked her boots off. Sinking into bed, she wrapped the heavy covers around her again. The wave kept dragging her down, tumbling her around as every emotion swipe above her. Manny sat at the end of the bed, biting his thumb. “I’m not gonna cry. Not over you. And get the fuck off my bed.”

“Alma, cry.”

“Didn’t you get enough of that yesterday? Huh?” Alma hugged the covers and gasped heavy, short breaths. Pressure built inside her head and her heart beat in her ears. “What do you want? For everybody to fucking cry and say ‘Pobrecito, what a horrible fucking life he had! Nobody understood what he was going through. He was all alone!’ Is that what you want?”

“I want you to cry, Alma.”

“Go away, Manny.”

“Then cry.”

Desaparecete. Go away!”

“Then cry!”

“Leave me alone!”

“Then let me go!”

“Then fucking go, Manny,” she sat up and threw a pillow to the end of the bed, but he was pacing by the window now. “I hate you! Te odio! Don’t you get that? I don’t want you here. I hate you!” She curled up into a ball again and felt her eyes sting. She fought with her whole body, trembling, to keep from breaking. Tidal wave or not, she was not going to break. “I’m not gonna to cry.”

“You love me, Alma,” he said apologetically. “You love me…and that’s the problem.”

“I’m not gonna cry.” A few dozen or so tears came out, and she let them. She felt she would explode if she didn’t. “I’m not gonna cry. I’m not gonna cry.” She took quick gulps of air through her mouth now, her nose stuffy and runny. “I’m not gonna cry. I’m not gonna cry.” She opened her eyes and saw Manny lying down next to her. Those same sad eyes. “I’m not gonna cry. I’m not gonna cry.”

“Talk to him,” whispered Manny. “Please, don’t push him away. Let him help you. Talk to him.”

“I hate you,” she said, half-heartedly, on the verge of sobbing now. “I really do.”

He wished he could touch her, hug her. “You love me,” his voice shuddered. “But don’t worry. Talk to him and then maybe you can get what you’re looking for. You can get what you want.”

“I want you back,” said Alma, but Manny was already gone.

There was a knock at the front door.

Chapter Three

Alma checked in on Momma. She stirred in bed but still slept.

“You better go answer the door,” he said from behind her.

She closed Momma’s door and walked quietly down the stairs, making sure not to look behind her at the hallway. She went to the right, to the family room, and looked out its large windows. No car.

Puta vida.”

She slipped past the front door and went to the dining room. From the windows there she could see who it was without having to look through the long, slender windows on either side of the front door. She couldn’t see anybody. Whoever it was was too close to the front door to see. “Fuck.”

She tip-toed to the front door and held her ear against it. The knock came again, making her jump. She leaned back in and heard a lighter flick on.

“You’ve got to be shitting me,” she said, not bothering to hide her voice. Manny stood next to her and gave her a small smile. “How the hell is he suppose to help me?” But Manny was gone again.

The knock came again, only more forceful–a I’m-not-going-away-because-I-heard-you-creeping-behind-the-door knock. Alma sighed and opened the front door.

He stood in the gray shirt Manny had given him for Christmas two years ago. It had some sci-fi show on it that he and Manny geeked out over every Friday night on Netflix. (It was the one about a doctor who travels through space in a phone booth or something.) The bottom of his jeans and the tops of his boots were encased in mud and grass, like he had walked through the woods to get here. Sweat shined from his short black hair and dripped down the side of his temples. His well-built face, like Manny’s, hinted at a black eye and busted lip. The cuts on his cheeks and nose had healed and were almost faded, but there was still some yellow bruising around his stout jaw line and cheek bones.

He lifted his right hand to his mouth to take a puff of the cigarette he held. The top of his hand was also yellowed with red-black scabs over the knuckles.

“What the fuck are you doing here, Kansy?”

“I came to pay my respects,” he said. His green eyes were red and puffy.

“You’re late. Funeral was yesterday.”

“I know. My dad was watching me like a hawk all day. Didn’t let me out. Said it was better if I didn’t go because he didn’t want my ass handed to me again. Didn’t want things to start up if I showed.”

“Well, things got started without your help.”

“I know. My dad told me. Said some people were bitching at Father Domingo because he let Manny into St. Mary’s cemetery. Said you kicked out a few people from the church too.”

“Baseball team showed up…so did the coach. Can you believe that? They can kiss my ass if they thought they were going to stay there.”

“They just wanted to pay their respects, Al.”

“Too little too fucking late, Kansy. How can you say that after what they did to you? To Manny. They don’t know a goddamn thing about respect.”

“You’re right.” Kansy took another long drag. “How’s your Momma?”

“She’s finally asleep. I’m not gonna wake her for you.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Invite him in,” said Manny from behind him. “Cauta, please, invite him in.”

She shot him a mean look and shook her head in protest. Kansy glanced back and shivered a bit. When he looked forward, Alma was already closing the door. He stuck his foot out to stop the door and pushed firmly against it with both hands. “Alma, please! I need to talk to someone. I can’t…I can’t stand it anymore. It hurts…my heart. I can’t do this alone anymore. I need to talk to you.”

She closed her eyes and felt Manny pacing behind her. “Isn’t that what the school counselor has those grief meetings for? Go talk to her.”

“Alma, it has to be you.” He controlled his voice from quivering. “You’re the only one who loved him like I did. You’re the only one walking around empty like me.”

The door flew open and Alma roughly pushed him back. Her eyes brimmed with salty pain, but she wasn’t going to break. “Loved him like you did? Fuck you! If you could feel how much my heart aches, you would die right where you stand. It would eat you up from the inside out! And walking around empty like you? Well, fuck you twice because you have no idea what walking around empty feels like!”

“I hurt too, Alma!” Kansy threw the cigarette at her. “You think you’re the only one with a broken heart? Fuck you! You’re not the only one who’s breaking!”

She grabbed him by his shirt and pushed him against the porch railing. A few tears spilled down her cheeks and into her mouth. “You have a broken heart. But me? I buried my soul yesterday! Do you know what it feels like to walk around without a soul? Without your twin?”

Kansy grabbed at the clenched fist on his chest and gently held them.

“Do you?!”

“No.” He reached to caress her hair and tell her he was here for her, but she pushed him further into the rail.

“It’s a shit feeling, Kansy! Mu soul died, and I couldn’t do a goddamn thing to stop it. Like everything in my life, I tried but it wasn’t enough.”

Kansy pulled her to him, and they swayed gently. She didn’t know why but she put her arms around him too. She let him comfort her. She let herself be comforted and it felt good. It felt less lonesome.

But this would only be a moment. One quick moment then she would have to stop feeling. She had to if she wanted to keeping go. She calmed herself and fought for air and the will to not feel everything.

Kansy looked up at the open door and saw the hallway. He held his breath and looked away quickly, but before he did, he could have sworn he saw brown boots pacing up and down the upstairs hallway.

Triple Distilled Heartache

This is the first story off of the City by the Sea series I am planning on dishing out here. Since this story is a bit too long to publish all in one go, I will be releasing it in small chapters so y’all can enjoy the story without having to scroll a whole lot. This is one of the longest chapters in the story, so don’t worry, they shouldn’t be any longer than this. Anyway, I hope y’all enjoy it. Comments are always welcome. Neophytepunk, over and out!

This story begins in sunlight and ends in twilight. You have been warned. -N.P.

CHAPTER ONE

It wasn’t like any other day.

The cardinals didn’t chirp or leap from tree to tree, dusting off the nightly doldrums from their red wings. The spring wind, usually soft and cool, stood still and let humidity settle in, wrapping its sticky fingers around everything. The sun was slow to rise over the dull river birch trees surrounding the dewy lawn and gravel driveway. The backyard was empty of curious brown rabbits eager to stretch out their legs after a long night. Even the battered two-story house, haughty and close to 80 years old, always anxious to creak and groan in the morning light, remained silent.

Not a single sound was heard.

The kitchen didn’t reek of bacon and eggs or that green juice he liked to drink every morning. Momma’s humming didn’t echo through the halls. Shouts about who used up all the hot water didn’t run down the stairs either. Idle talk of weird dreams and whose turn it was to wash dishes weren’t huddled by the breakfast counter. The screen door in the kitchen didn’t slam shut and car engines didn’t rev up, racing to see who would make it out the driveway first. There would be no lunch or dinner. No late night chatter outside on the porch filled with stifled laughter and clouds of cigarette smoke. No doing it all over again tomorrow.

There was nothing now.

Nothing.

Nothing.

Curled in bed, the silence was consuming. Alma couldn’t stay there anymore, though she knew she’d only get up and scuffle around for a while before crawling right back in.

The sun finally found its way over the top of the trees and into her room. It spilled through her window, falling on her hand, coloring it gold. But its rays felt flat and opaque like it was only doing what it had to do–get up, give light, then go away to somewhere else. Like her for the past week–get up, look after Momma, then try to sleep. She was only doing what she had to do to get by.

If she had it her way, she would run forever, then sleep forever.

But she couldn’t leave Momma. Leaving was what Manny did, and she was not Manny. She wasn’t going to leave her Momma like everybody else had.

And sleep?

Well, sleep wasn’t good. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw…

(his pale face and the marks from the rope on his neck)

Well, it was easier to not sleep. She would just do what she had to do to get by.

The covers felt heavy like bricks, but she threw them off and got out of bed. Tiptoeing to the window pane by her bed, she glanced at the huge willow tree that rested outside her bedroom. It was soulless, without giddy squirrels running up and down its wooden limbs, without wind shaking life into its wispy leaves. Swinging softly from one of its branches were two mental chains, red with rust, connected down to a withered swing chair. It looked about ready to break apart if anybody even thought of sitting down on it. She inched closer to the window and, through the curtain of leaves, saw him down below. He sat on the swing chair, pushing himself lightly with his feet, staring out at the dense woods that marked the end of their backyard. She couldn’t see his eyes, but she knew they were sad like they so often had been lately. He looked up and waved at her, but she thew him the finger and back away.

She walked to her dresser, pulled out a purple tank top and changed out of the black dress she slept in. She didn’t bother putting pants on, plain underwear was fine for the day. She caught of glance of herself in the mirror above the dresser. Her brown, wavy hair was still pulled back in the half ponytail she wore yesterday, but bits of it spilled out around her face. She ran her hands through the rest of it and stopped when she couldn’t get the knots out. She didn’t feel like combing her hair, so she just left it and walked out into the hallway.

She tip-toed down the hall, past closed bedrooms doors and stopped in front of Momma’s room. She held her ear against the closed door. It sounded deaden like everything else. She must have finally fallen asleep after the fit she had earlier. It was better not to wake her.

Sensing movement behind her, she turned and saw him walk into her room. She closed her eyes and sighed, leaning on the door.

“You should get back in bed and get some sleep,” he said from her room.

She ignored him and headed downstairs.

“You should at least try and get some sleep, cuata.”

She stopped midway down the stairs and sighed again. It annoyed her when he was right, and he was right. She already spent half the night in the family room watching late-night exercise shows and old cop dramas and the other half outside on the front porch, smoking the last of her cigarettes. She could go sulk in the dining room or the living room but both places were clustered with flowers and wreaths. Their scent drowned the downstairs area like some saccharine-saturated swamp lurked nearby. Even from the stairs, she could already pick up their sickening sweet smell. She could clean the three guest bedrooms up stairs again, but they already reeked of bitter cleaning products and weak air fresher. She could rearrange the two closets upstairs, but she had done that two nights ago, and there were only so many ways to fold old bed sheets and covers and towels. She wasn’t about to go inside Momma’s room. There was the kitchen, though. She hadn’t gone in there.

But the kitchen meant going through the hallway to the left of the stairs. That goddamned hallway with that goddamned light fixture where…

(where I cut him down, but his face was so pale and he had those marks on his neck)

If she went through the hallway, he would be there. Just like he had been for the last week. She didn’t want to see him. Not like that. Not again. Not ever.

Puta vida.” She reached the bottom of the stairs and went for the front door. Stepping outside, the humidity was stifling but it still felt better than being near that hallway. She sat down in the same rocking chair she had during the night. A small mound of cigarettes stood by her right leg. She rocked gently, staring out at the front yard, at the driveway. She could get up and run. Run down the driveway and take a right to the road that lead into town then hook a left turn out of town, out of all of this. She could feel the concrete and rocks beneath her flying feet. She could see the town and that stupid high school long behind her. Long forgotten.

But there was Momma. She wouldn’t leave Momma. And no matter what type of running she did, it was like running on a track. Sooner or later, she would end up back at the beginning, full circle.

Alma stepped off the front porch and walked around to the back of the house. The grass felt cool and damp under her feet. She wanted to lie down on it. Maybe then she’d get some sleep, but the mosquitoes quickly ruined her dream. She smacked a few of them from her thighs and walked faster.

He walked quietly behind her wearing what she had found him in–faded blue jeans, brown boots, and his high school baseball shirt that had a growling bulldog on it with the words “We Take A Mean Bite Out Of The Competition” below it.

“You gonna walk outside every time you need to go into the kitchen now?” he asked.

She threw him the finger again, walked up the back porch steps and opened the screen door to the kitchen. He was already sitting on the kitchen counter, biting at his right thumbnail (a habit of his when he was worried) and flipping through some of the “our deepest sympathy” cards that lay scattered there.

Vas a salir por todas partes que vaya a partir de ahoro, o que?” she asked annoyed, catching the screen door before it slammed shit and woke Momma.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “You tell me.”

She closed her eyes and sighed again. When she opened them he was gone. She pulled back the curtains of the windows on the right side of the kitchen and morning light lit the place up, highlighting yesterday’s event.

The circular kitchen table in the middle of the room had every square inch covered in food–half-empty sandwich trays, cakes and cupcakes, bags of bread, gourmet crackers, bags of chips, and a few cookie trays. The L-shaped counter to the left of the screen door had consolation cards stacked in several large piles, but when the counter met up with the sink, things really got messy. The inside of the sink had empty, watery jars of condiments with knife handles sticking out of them, and in the other side of the sink was the semi-empty bowl of  yesterday’s spiked punch. The end of the counter had stale bread and warm deli slices spread out, ready to be assembled and eaten. The stove a few feet across the sink was clean and bare because Momma hadn’t cooked in a week. And to the right of the screen door, the refrigerator hummed quietly while five large trash bags leaned against its side, stinking up the kitchen with its rancid stench.

She walked over to the table and grabbed a cake that was melting off its chocolate icing, but when she opened the fridge to place it inside, there was no room. It was also full to the brim with deli meats, more condiment jars, red, green and yellow jello cakes, three different kinds of casseroles (that she could see of so far), three giant bowls of soups, two lasagnas, fruit cocktails, potato salads, and even more food jammed in the back. She sighed, closed the fridge door and put the cake back on the table.

She went to one of the cupboards above the counter, pulled out a small coffee cup and poured herself some punch. It was warm going down her throat, but she didn’t mind. She poured herself another cup and sat down in front of the cake. She picked at it with her fingers, not really wanting to eat it. She licked a few pieces from her fingers just to have something to do. He sat down in a chair oppose to her and told her to eat something more than bits of cake and spiked punch.

“I’m not hungry.”

“Just to keep going, then. Come algo.”

“I doubt eating is going to help me do that.”

“Just try, please.”

She looked up at his brown eyes, always sad, even when he laughed. She was almost tempted to smile, just to make him feel better, but then she remembered.

“What do you care if I keep going? You didn’t.”

“That’s different. Muy diferente.”

Movement came from the second floor. Small noises at first. Somebody rummaging around, looking for something. Drawers slammed. Frustrated grunts. Then it sounded like small beads falling and bouncing off the floor. Finally a thud shook the light fixture above the table slightly, making it swing back and forth gently.

He was gone again.

“Momma’s up,” he shouted from upstairs, worry in his voice. He was hovering by the door, not daring to go in. “She sounds upset.”

“Why don’t you go in and check on her?” she scoffed bitterly.

“You know I can’t,” he said, appearing behind her. “Go check on her.”

“Don’t tell me what to do. I have been! That’s all I’ve been doing since you puss–”

Soft sobs came from Momma’s room.

Alma looked up, closed her eyes and ran her hand over her forehead. The wrinkles from the past week felt etched on there. And she hadn’t even cried. They were worry wrinkles. Worry over Momma who hadn’t stopped crying. Worry over him. Worry over everything.

She found a clean glass and searched through the fridge until she found the orange juice. Momma always gave them orange juice to calm them down. Something about the sugar helped to not let nerves settle in. She thought about it for a moment then pulled the vodka out of the freezer. She poured a hefty amount into the glass and took a huge swig from the bottle. Triple distilled. She took another swig, put it back, then grabbed the glass and headed outside to the front of the house, stirring the drink with her finger.

In the hallway, Alma saw him pacing in her room. She felt like telling him to get out, but Momma was up. She might hear her talking and worry. A tumbling came from behind her. He had tossed her her boots.

“Trust me, wear them,” he said. Alma reluctantly slipped them on and hoped he would be gone when she looked up. He was.

Curled fingers knocked lightly on the door. “Momma?”

Knock-knock.

“Momma?”

Knock-knock.

“Momma, I’m coming in.”

The room reeked of perfumes, overly scented and bittersweet. The usually bright and sunny room had a dark and gloomy tint to it. The maroon-colored curtains to the left of the bed only let in a thin horizontal line of low-spirited light. It grazed softly over in the middle of the bed and across a single wall, not daring to go any further.

Alma stepped in and felt something crunch beneath her foot. Broken perfumes bottles. She broke all of them, all five liquids mixed and soaked into the rug their grandmother had left them. What wasn’t in the rug, pooled in puddles on the wooden floor. The lamps that rested on the bedside table and dresser were shattered on the floor with light-bulb dust sprinkled all around them. The top of the dresser–home to Momma’s make-up, facial creams and jewelry– was also bare. Everything was on the floor. To the right, the closet was in disarray. Her entire wardrobe was thrown about on the floor, creating small hill-like bundles. All the shoe boxes that rested on the closet’s top shelf were spread out around the room, their contents spilled across the floor as if they had been thrown. Tax returns soaked up most the perfume puddles. Their father’s will and old business contracts soaked up the rest.

Moving around the biggest pieces of glass, Alma searched for Momma. She wasn’t in bed. Only tossed-around-in blue bed covers and tissues scattered like snowflakes lay there.

“Momma?”

There were things underneath the tissues. Flicking them aside, Alma saw their old report cards, school photos, finger paintings from their elementary years, and family photo albums.

“Momma?”

“Watch you feet, mija.” Momma’s voice was weak and watery and came from below the window. “I might have broken some stuff last night. I can’t remember.”

Alma set the glass down on the dresser in front of her and walked around to the left side of the bed. Momma lay there on the floor, between the bed and the wall, staring up at the ceiling.

Mija, have you ever stared at light coming in through a window?”

“No. I brought you some orange juice.”

“It’s beautiful,” Momma said. Her face was blotchy with puffy, crimson-strained eyes. Her brown hair was tattered and frizzed. She was staring at the thin light coming in through the window. “You almost feel like you can slip in there and not have a care in the world.”

“It’s got vodka in it.”

Damelo.

She handed it to her and then sat down in front her. She grabbed a strand of Momma’s dirty hair and combed it with her fingers. Alma looked up at the light. Momma was right. It was beautiful, but Momma couldn’t slip into the light anymore than she could run away. “There’s a shitload of food downstairs. We’re gonna have to eat about ten times a day if we don’t want anything to spoil.”

“You eat, mija. I’m not hungry.”

“Me neither.”

“You know, I got up and I was about to go down stairs and make him his juice for when he came back from his run. De verda, I got up and was about to open the door when I…I remembered…it was like a wave.” Momma’s voice quivered. “It’s too strong. Remembering everything, it’s too strong.”

Alma balled her hands into fists and dug her nails into her palms to keep from crying. She wasn’t going to cry, not for him. Momma could cry for him, but not her.

“I tried to get this thing open.” Momma held up an empty orange pill bottle. “Dr. San Miguel said I should take one or two if I really needed to, but I couldn’t get it open. And everything is so goddamn strong. I spilled them all when I finally clawed it open. And now I can’t find…I can’t find any of them. And it’s so strong. I feel…oh, Alma, me estoy ahogando. I’m drowning. I can’t breathe.”

Momma sobbed into her hands. Alma caressed Momma’s hair and kissed her forehead. Momma controlled herself and grabbed Alma’s hands and kissed them over and over again. “My baby girl, my beautiful baby girl, how are you holding up?”

Alma looked into her mother’s eyes and lied. “I’m fine. I’m fine, Momma.”

“Have you cried yet?”

“No,” she sighed. “Please, don’t make a big deal about it. Estoy bien. I don’t need to cry.”

Momma kissed her hands again. Alma bit the inside of her lip to keep from losing it. “My Alma, you’ve been so brave with everything. Helping me plan everything and picking out his clothes. You’ve been so brave.”

“Whatever. Don’t make a big deal about it.”

“So brave, but you can’t keep it inside, mija. What you saw, what you feel, you can’t keep that inside.”

“But that’s the thing…I don’t feel anything inside.”

De verda?”

Alma looked up at the light again and swallowed hard to get rid of the knot in her throat. “Really.”

“You can’t run from feeling, Alma. You can try, but it catches up on you and it becomes tenfold. That’s what happened with your dad. I never cried for your dad until one day I was driving and it couldn’t hold it in anymore.”

“Momma, please, don’t make a big deal about this.”

Momma stared at her very closely like she noticed something and felt guilty about it. “You know, I always knew you two were so different from each other. Even in my womb I could feel you two were so different. Desde ese momento…from that moment, I knew you were the strong one, Alma. Emmanuel…he was…even inside of me…el era tan callado. He was so quiet. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I didn’t know how to carry twins.  Tal vez yo no sabia como darle a los dos la fuerza. Maybe I didn’t know how to give you both strength.”

“No, Momma, no digas eso. No fue to culpa.

“No?”

Alma saw movement out of the corner of her eye. Manny was sitting on the bed, looking at Momma with those sad brown eyes. When he caught Alma’s eye, he disappeared.

“No, Momma, it’s not. What Manny did was not your fault. It was his.”

Momma looked up at the light again, sobbing. “Mi hijo, mi Manny. Mi Emmanuel. I don’t know how to survive this. No puedo soportarlo! I can’t…maybe if I call his name he’ll come to me again. Emmanuel! Emmanuel! Emmanuel!”

A Message for Abysse

Here’s my new story, folks! Sorry for the long time away, but hopefully this short story will make up for my absence. It’s a Young Adult literature story about my favorite mythical creature: mermaids. As always, comments are welcome. Enjoy! Neophytepunk, over and out! P.S. This was not edited by anybody, so all and any mistakes are my bad!

 

Luna pulled her old, maroon jeep to a stop at the top of a moon-lit cliff overlooking the ocean. Turning the engine off, she stayed in comfort of her jeep and sighed heavily. She could hear the ocean…no, she could feel the ocean and its calming waves echoing through her shell heart. Every wave ignited the drowned hurt she had fought for so long to put away. She sighed again, touched the sea shell necklace hanging from her rear-view mirror, and then hesitantly stepped out of her jeep.

Cool, salty air greeted her and wrapped around her. She smiled and let herself feel the sea wind, forgetting for a moment that such indulgence was dangerous. She opened her eyes and saw the wind had pulled her to the very edge of the cliff. The ocean reacted to her presence. The dark waves stirred and crashed up against the cliff side with eagerness, struggling to climb the rigid rock face, wanting to reach her, wanting to surround her and full her with power.

“Enough,” said Luna to the wind and ocean. The wind lessened its grip on her but it refused to let go. Her shell heart ached within her. She pushed back tears as she watched the ocean collide with the mountain. She wanted to reach out and feel her home for just a quick moment, but she was afraid she would break from the memories of that night. “I said enough, Viento, please.”

Mi eminencia said enough, Viento,” said a voice from behind her.

The wind gave her one last hug and died away. She breathed slowly and stepped away from the view of the ocean, bumping into the voice.

“I beg your pardon, mi eminencia,” said Bastian, holding her steady. She shrugged off his hand from her shoulders and wiped her eyes dry.

“Bastian, don’t bow,” sighed Luna as she concentrated on pushing the ocean out of her shell heart. Once she was sure she was composed, she turned to face Bastian. Sure enough he was still bowing. “Oh, get up. Where’s Cori?”

“His text said he should arrive in a few minutes, mi eminencia.”

“I hate it when you call me that,” grimaced Luna, wiping away loose strands of long, wavy hair from her face. Her black hair, pulled back in ponytail, shone sapphire under the moon light. She always held it back in the ponytail because it constantly flowed like the waves, shimmering with the power of the ocean within her.

“Old habits die hard, mi eminencia,” said Bastian weakly.

“You’re darker than the last time I saw you,” said Luna, trying to lighten the mood.

“Uh, yes, mi emine…milady. Tans are very popular here in land. No matter how much of that sun cream I put on I seem to tan.” He pulled up down his shirt and revealed his neck and face were dark olive while the part that was covered by his t-shirt was still porcelain white.

“As do I,” laughed Luna. She raised the sleeve of her t-shirt and showed him her porcelain-smooth skin cut off by dark olive skin kissed by the sun. She smiled at Bastian, and he marveled at her sea-green eyes. It had been so long since she had seen her.

The rumble of Cori’s motorcycle roared behind them. He rolled his low rider next to her jeep and shut the bike’s thunderous voice off. It was dusty from the road but the dark blue paint gleamed bright in the moonlight and two brown seahorses were painted on the sides, gliding through waves.

He took his helmet off and stared at the edge of the cliff.

“A motorcycle, huh,” said Luna. “I always took you more for a horse guy.”

“The horses here are nothing compared to the horses back ho…well, they don’t compare. This,” he tapped his bike lovingly. “is as close to my old horses as I am going to get.”

He turned to them and smiled weakly. His shoulder length hair was also pulled back in a ponytail and shone with the same sapphire strength as his twin. His face was more wind-bitten and had a more pronounce chin, but he had the exact same face and sea-green eyes as Luna.

“You look darker than the last we saw each other,” said Cori, getting off his bike and placed his helmet on his seat.

Luna and Bastian glanced at each other and smiled.

“I think we look the same,” said Luna. She winked at Bastian and marveled at his dark blue eyes. He had his mother’s eyes and his father’s curly, dark brown hair. She remembers them yelling at them to run, to flee from home. She remembers them fighting to protect them. She pushed the memories away before they broke her.

“Your Eminence, welcome,” bowed Bastian.

“Hello, Bastian. Please don’t bow.”

“Old habits die hard, apparently,” said Luna, opening her arms to hug her brother. Cori hugged her and lifted her off the ground for a moment. “Hermano mio, I’ve missed you so. How have your journeys been?”

“Lonesome. But better now, hermana mia,” sighed Cori, lowering his sister to the ground, letting her go. “Your hair is terribly dry.”

“You’re one to talk. Your hair looks mangled from air toxicity. No doubt from that bike of yours. Have you not been taking salt baths?”

“It’s hard to find proper sea salt, Luna. The sea salt the humans sell in their stores is not as refreshing as real sea water.”

“That’s because they evaporation all the ocean water from the sea salt. Humans don’t know any better. They don’t need the ocean water like we do. Perhaps a place closer to the ocean instead of riding up and down Highway 66 would do you some good, huh?”

“Now whose talking, huh? You want me to move closer when you live, what, 150 miles from any form of water.”

“154, thank you very much. And I can afford to live that far from water because I take salt baths every three days. Something you might want to consider doing.”

“Oh, stealing salt from that quaint diner you work in, are we?”

“I have my own ways of getting what I need, hermano mio, don’t worry.”

Cori raised his eyebrows in suspicion and was about to ask what she meant when Bastian cleared his throat to get their attention.

Mis majestades, I hate to interrupt your much missed voices, but I requested your presence in order to discuss something of great importance.”

Bastian cast a quick glance at the ocean before them and then looked at the watch on his right wrist. As of now, the oceans and seas were calm but that did not mean his majesties were safe.Trouble was stirring and malicious plans were being plotted in the deep dark depths of the Atlantic Ocean.

The watch Bastian wore was not a regular watch that kept track of time. No, his watch was far much older. Instead of time, it kept track of sea tides and ocean currents. It was crafted of ancient sea shells from the Mediterranean Sea back when it was known as Mare Nostrum by the Romans. Bastian’s watch came from a long line of stately Protectors sworn to guard and protect the royal family, monarchs of the seas and oceans. It had been handed down to every member of this prestigious company by the King himself, and a royal celebration was held for a week to rejoice the addition of brave new souls and to commence the retirement of those who has served valiantly. Thousands of men and women, a glorious and proud army, reduced to one young man named Bastian who carried on his right arm the only sea shell watch left in the entire aquatic world.

“Whoa, no, no, no, wait. I know that look, Luna. What have you been doing?”

Su eminencia, please. It really is of great importance that we discu-”

“Stop calling me that. Luna, what have you been doing? You haven’t been going into the ocean, have you?”

“Like I could stand that pain. I’m not some fool, hermano mio. I would never put you and Bastian in danger by going into the ocean.”

“Then what are you…Luna, no. Please tell me that you haven’t told a human about who you are?”

“Cori, Bastian has a point,” said Luna, pushing the hair away from her face again. “We need to talk about whatever he brought us here to talk about. We don’t have much time. Coming out of hiding and being this close to the ocean is not good for any of us. We need to listen to what he has to say.”

“Thank you, mi eminencia.” Bastian locked eyes with Luna and she gave him a small smile. The waves in his blood stirred. Like the regal grace that she is, she ignited the dormant ocean within him with one single look.

“And we will, after you answer my question. Does a human know who you are?”

“It’s nothing bad, Cori.” Luna frowned and paced up and down in front of him. Bastian continued to look from his watch to the ocean. “I didn’t even ask him. He showed up one day and offered me the water.”

“What, was he selling it door to door? What do you mean he just showed up with ocean water? Who the hell is he?”

“He’s a fisherman. He lives next door to me. Well, his daughter lives next door to me. He visits her on occasion and he must have figured out who I am.”

“Do you have any idea the danger you put us in?” yelled Cori, staring at Luna in disbelief.

“He’s not going to hurt us. He believes in the old ways. He bows down when he brings me the water…and he gives me a necklaces made of seashells.”

“Oh, big deal. He gives you se-”

“Wait, he gives you seashell necklaces?” said Bastian, grabbing at her shoulder to stop her pacing.

“Yes, why?” said Luna, shrugging his hand away.

Now it was Bastian’s turn to pace and frown. He mumbled their ancient dialect under his breath.

“Bast, come on, don’t curse.”

“Is anybody else here considered that a human knows who she is?”

“Oh, both of you need to relax. And you, have all those bumpy roads made you forget the stories of our ancestors?” asked Luna, waving her finger at Cori. He crossed his arms across his chest and raised his eyebrows, waiting for her to explain. “Fisherman, when we first started working together, would bring us necklaces made of the finest seashells they collected while they were off fishing in the deep ocean. It was a token of respect and admiration. My fisherman, he leaves me these breathtakingly beautiful necklaces, Cori. The craftsmanship, I’ve not seen anything like it since we left our home.  His ancestors must have made jewelry for our family at some point because they feel like home. That’s why I didn’t ask him to stop, Cori. They reminded me of our home. He shapes the shells into these different sea creatures. It’s amazing. It’s like home isn’t gone when I look the shells. And he really means no harm, Cori. I promise you. Look, here, I’ll show you both one of the necklaces. I have one hanging from my rear-view mirr-”

“I’m sorry, mis majestades, but you have been discovered.” Bastian’s voice was barely a whisper over Luna’s trembling voice.

“Discovered?” the twins echoed together.

“Yes…Lord Abysse has discovered you, milady.” Bastian turned his face away from them in shame. He felt he failed them. “It is only a matter of time before they discover you as well, my lord.”

“And you were concerned about an old fisherman,” sighed Luna. She felt dizzy and needed to sit down. She walked to the hood of her jeep, hopped on and sat down, resting her elbows on her knees. She buried her face in her hands to keep from crying.

“How do you know they’ve found us, Bastian?” asked Cori.

“My spy in King Aby-”

“Do not call him King!” Luna’s offended face rose from behind her trembling hands. “That leech is not worthy of such a noble title. He is not king, he is sea foam. No, I take it back! It is an insult to sea foam to compare him to it. The ocean could not have created such a repulsive impurity. Abysse, that hideous usurper, must have come from a river or a lake! He is not from our home…not from our world. The might force of the ocean does not run through his bio-”

“Peace, hermana mia, peace. Let Bastian speak.” Cori walked over to Luna and leaned beside her. Her shoulders went limp and low as she rested her head on her brother’s shoulder. He nodded at Bastian to continue speaking.

“My emissary has long been infiltrated deep within Abysse’s army and he was finally able to send word to me. Mis majestades, he writes that Abysse’s powers have grown stronger.”

“Define stronger, Bastian,” requested Luna roughly. “Or did your emissary fail to mention those deti-”

Cori raised her hand to bar Luna from speaking any further. “Luna, enough. Be at peace. What can he do, Bastian?”

Bastian looked at them bleakly and told them all his emissary had relayed to him. Abysse could now invoke the ancient sea storms of the Cambrian age and the winds, waters, and waves unwillingly bowed before him. He had invaded and now controlled every city, township, and seascape from the far ends of the northern and southern Atlantic Ocean to the whole of the India Ocean. Bastian told them of the rebellion, made up mostly of merpeople who has lost their families and no longer has a home to return to. The rebellion fought against Abysse’s algae soldiers, but the battles were always bloody and always lost. Their people had little to eat and no allowance into divine temples to pray. Families were forced to surrender every merchild below two hundred and fifty years of age to Abysse and his dark priests, the Voids. “He can even control the waters when the moon is full. Not successfully, but he grows better with each passing moon cycle.”

“This is why I’ve been falling ill at the end of every month.” Luna raised her head from Cori’s shoulders. She stared at Bastian, not hiding her tear-gleamed eyes from him. “He is trying to control the power that is rightfully mine.”

“Why haven’t you told me, Luna?” asked Cori. He put the back of his hand against her forehead to feel for a temperature.

“Cori, please, merfolk don’t get fevers,” said Luna, brushing away his hand from her face. “There are far more dire things to worry about. Children taken away from their families…and all the while we hide here on land…like cowards.”

“How certain is you emissary that all of this is happening, Bastian? Can he be trusted? Is it possible that this is all a trap to scare up out of hiding?” asked Cori.

“He is a humble servant to you and your family, my lord. He would not lie. He would first turn to sea foam before betraying you and your sister.”

Cori was about to argue with Bastian but Luna hopped off the hood and walked to the edge of the cliff. Sea air whipping around her and waves roaring beneath her, she stared at her moon-draped home, her ocean, and felt her heart heavy with a threatening emptiness. It was no longer the home she knew and loved. The water were now a dark place filled with greed, hate, confusion, and pain.

“He’s not lying, Cori. We can all feel it. The earthquakes and tsunamis in India and Japan, that horrible hurricane in New Orleans and New York. The oceans and seas are out of balance with land. We’ve all known it for some time now, but we have chosen to make ourselves blind. We’ve chosen to stay hidden. We’ve turned out backs to our people, our kingdom.”

They stood in quietly for a moment, east lost in their own memory of the night Abysse took over, with only the rushing sound of waves below to keep them from drowning in silence. Finally Cori broke their loneliness by asking how Abysse was able to find them.

“The seashells, my lord. Abysse has taken to the old ways. He sends his  Voids to scour the sea and ocean floors for missing seashells. Luna was right about the fisherman. His ancestors must have made jewelry for your family because this man only takes the shells that have the soul of the ocean in them. The Voids sensed these small missing fragments of the ocean and have tracked the absent seashells to this region. They know one of you is near here.”

“Any you said the old man was nothing to worry about,” remarked Cori under his breathe.

“Oh, Cori, humans don’t know what’s going on,” retorted Luna, refusing to turn away from the ocean. She had done that enough. She wanted to listen to it. She wanted it to speak to her. She slowly tugged at the piece of elastic holding back her hair. “He meant no harm. He was just trying to show me respect. If he knew any harm would come to me, he wouldn’t have given me the necklaces. And it’s my fault, anyway. I should have told him to st-”

“Peace, hermana mia, peace. It doesn’t matter no, Luna,” sighed Cori. “What is done is done. It was only a matter of time. It was only by the graces of Mother Ocean and Sister Moon that we weren’t discovered sooner.” He turned to Bastian who stared at his watch impatiently. “Is there anything else you have to tell us?”

“No,  my lord…well…the people fight daily in your name and honor and hope for your return soon. They still believe in your father and you, mis majestades. My emissary writes that they wish for you to send them some form of validation that all their sacrifices, all their bloodshed has not been in vain. They want to know when you will retur-”

“We can worry about that after we are safe,” said Cori quickly. “We’ll have to go further inland. What are our options, Bastian? What must we do now?”

Disappointed in Cori’s dismissal, Bastian sighed and turned away from him to look at the ocean. He would never get to go home again and his people were dying in useless battles. “I’ve already taken the liberty of placing seashells up and down the coast. That should throw them off your scent for a while. You’ll both be able to escape with enough time, but you must leave tonight. Another day and they’ll know exactly where the seashells are. Luna, you’ll have to leave them all behind. That should buy you extra time to get away and hide.”

“Tonight?” asked Cori. He turned to Luna and saw her hair was blowing free in the wind, twisting and turning like waves before a storm. “We’ve yet to have our seat baths. We wouldn’t last fifty miles away from the ocean. We’ll dry up, Bastian. Can’t you come up with a better solution?”

“There is only one solution, hermano mio,” answered Luna, turning to face them. Cori gasped and Bastian grinned when they both saw he shell heart glowing bright gold through her shirt.

“Luna, are you insane?” shouted Cori. “They’ll spot us! Stop calling the ocean!”

“I didn’t call the ocean, she called me. She hasn’t forgotten us,” smiled Luna through water eyes. She reached for her twin’s hand. He flinched away from her as if she’d burnt him. “Stop being afraid and listen to our home, hermano, she call us. We must listen, Cori.”

Luna grabbed for him again, but Cori stepped back in fear. Suddenly he felt Bastian grip his left arm and Luna lunged for his right. They dragged him to the edge of the cliff.

“Stop it, both of you! Stop it! Let go of me! Stop,” yelled Cori, flinging his arms and legs, kicking up dirt.

Hermano, please, don’t be afraid! Our home is calling us. Hear her pain, hear her fear, Cori. She needs us,” pleaded Luna, holding onto him tightly.

As Cori gazed into the ocean, he felt her power running through his veins. The warm tingle of heat rose in his shell heart. “Please, stop. He’ll find us, Luna! Abysse will know where we are!”

“Then let him! Let him find us! Why are you such a coward, Cori? Why?” sobbed Luna, letting go of his arm. Bastian and Cori fell to the ground and began fighting each other. Cloud of dirt whirled around them while the ocean cried below. “Stop it, both of you! Our people are fighting for us, dying for us, and what do we do? We hide like cowards! We hide on land with humans to mask our scent. We move from town to town, never even daring to glance at the ocean. We hide and run like frighten children. ”

“We are children!” said Cori from underneath Bastian who had him pinned to the ground. “We are only 18 years old. We’re just kids.”

“We are not human! We are 1,542 years old, hermano. We are king and queen.” Luna laughed sadly. “The last king and queen of the mighty kingdom Devonia reduced to sea baths to keep from drying up.”

“What would you have me do, Luna?” asked Cori, pushing Bastian off of him and getting up off the floor. “Our father’s dying wish was for me to protect you. That’s all I and Bastian have been trying to do these last thousand years! Protect you!”

“You’re hiding yourself, Cori, you’re not protecting me. Bastian is protecting us. That is his job. He goes into ocean and hides our scent while you ride around on land. Your job, our job, is not the safety of ourselves but that of our people! It is our job to stop being afraid of a leech like Abysse and return home to fight with our people. To stand our ground and take back the throne that is rightfully ours.”

“What would you have me do?”

“Go back,” replied Luna, wiping her hair away from the wet cheeks.

“To the ocean? Are you insane? We wouldn’t last a day.” Cori helped Bastian up from the ground and brushed dirt off of his shirt.

“We would if we went to Atlantis.”

“Atlantis?” repeated Cori and Bastian.

“Yes. We could go back to the ocean…to Atlantis and ask them to train us,” urged Luna.

“Luna, we stole the throne from Atlantis. They are not going to want to help us,” said Cori. “They’re probably happy this happen to us.”

“Atlanteans are our cousins, hermano, the closest thing we have to any living relative now. They must help us. They are just as threaten as we are, if Abysse is growing stronger as Bastian’s man says. They must let us in. And with the First Elders departed into sea foam, they are the only ones left who know the true names of the winds, waters, and waves. They must train us for the sake of our world. It’s the last thing Abysse would expect from us. He knows we fear him. He would never think to look for us right under his nose.”

Bastian jumped in. “She speaks the truth, mi eminencia. Atlantis lies in the Mediterranean Sea. Abysse has yet to master controlling waters of the seas, but it is only a matter of time before he learns the proper spell for it. Atlantis will fall again if we continue to do nothing.”

“Atlanteans owe us that much,” pointed our Luna. “We gave them a new home. We took pity on them and spared them a cruel death. We even let them have their own small kingdom with a king and queen.”

Cori thought for a moment then slowly walked to the edge of the cliff, trembling. For the first time in a thousand years, he let the ocean overcome him. The waves crashed beneath him, pounding in his veins and the strength of his home filled his shell heart. The warm tingle grew into gold fire. And he heard her…the ocean. Her voice called to him, filled him. Begging him to come back, pleading him to take away this creature that was corrupting her force with greed and hate. As images of bloodstained battles and water raging with disgrace filled his shell heart, he felt the anguishing pain for the ones lost every day. He felt the distressing fear for the power the ocean unwillingly had to turn over to Abysse. Cori’s knees buckled under him, but Luna and Bastian caught him before he hit the ground. Just like they always did. Just like they always would. He was afraid, but he was not alone.

Cori clung to his twin and to his best friend and realized that all three were sobbing as their shell hearts glowed bright gold on top of the moon-lit cliff. They had seen and felt everything he had. As King, Queen, and Protector, they were all connected and together they would raise to fight.

“For a millennium, we have hidden ourselves in fear…we have denied ourselves the abilities given to us by birthright, given up our throne. For a millennium, we have turned our backs to our people and Mother Ocean.” Cori stood up carefully with Luna and Bastian at his side, helping him.

“We all witnessed our kingdom fall in a matter of hours. I witnessed my father murdered and turned to sea foam in front of me. Bastian, you witnessed the slaughter of your entire family and the annihilation of all the Protectors of our kingdom.”

Bastian closed his eyes and prayed in their ancient dialect.

“Luna, you witness-”

“I witnessed everything I had ever known and loved taken from me by the hands of that leech, Abysse,” finished Luna.

“I am done. We are done with being afraid. Luna, Bastian, the time has come to turn this battle into WAR!”

Cori, now standing on his own, raised his right arm over the trashing waters. The rouge waves readily climbed the rigid rock face and towered before them, dark and blue. “We travel to Atlantis to train, but first a message for Abysse. The time has come for us to be King, Queen,and Protector.”

Luna and Bastian raised their right arms and the shell hearts inside them poured fiery gold into the monstrous wave them. Together, they uttered in their ancient dialect, familiar and sweet on their tongue, “Abysse, we are coming.”

They sent the intense fiery wave rolling into the ocean with their message.

Laughing and hugging both of her boys, Luna asked, “You think that’s the message our people were looking for?”

Grinning, Cori answered, “I don’t know, but I hope it’ll do.”

“Believe me,” chuckled Bastian. “It’ll do.”

“Come on, we should get going before Voids spring in on this place,” said Luna walking to her jeep. Cori walked with Bastian behind her. “What about your bike?”

“Oh, leave the damn bike,” said Cori. “I don’t need it anymore. My only concern is how we are going to get to Atlantis. We can’t just jump in the water. Voids would be on us in seconds.”

Bastian looked at Luna and winked. “Milady, I believe you can help what that.”

“Yes, I believe I can. I happen to know this very nice old fisherman with a big boat who makes these beautiful seashell necklaces…”

And with that Cori, Luna, and Bastian drove away from the moon-lit cliff with their shell hears glowing and the embers of their fears dimming.