The Cardboard Castle

Finally, finally, finally you had discovered a workable compromise.

Or at least, you hoped it was workable. You thought it would be, anyway. It had to be, right? This made sense, didn’t it? They were going to agree, weren’t they?

Sweat pooled in your palms and under your arms, making your sweater stick uncomfortably. You let go of the wrinkled sleeves and shook your hands out, then wiped them on your jeans.

This was going to work.

Knocking on his door sounded like the tolling of your own death bells. Or something. It was ominous, okay? Your tiny knuckles made a surprisingly deep sound on the flimsy wood.

There was the muffled sound of a grumbling voice, then a shuffle and a thud, like he was just now rolling out of bed. A spike of panic pierced through your heart. Had you woken him up? Was he going to yell at you? You shrank into your sweaty sweater and willed yourself not to run away and hide. Your feet stayed rooted only with the knowledge that waking him up for a ding dong ditch instead of a legitimate reason would probably make him angrier. So you huddled into yourself and felt each of his shuffling steps towards the door as a flip of your stomach.

Then the door was yanked open and there he was. Taller than you by nearly a foot, even if you were actually a year older. Dark, coiled hair and round features made his face almost cherubic, were it not for the thick eyebrows constantly down-turned in a scowl. Big brown eyes under those brows were a reflection of your own even when everything else, even skin tone, was completely different. Those eyes were the only indication that the two of you were siblings, even if only by half. Even if you hadn’t known he existed until a few months ago.

“What?” Ezekiel-call-me-Zeke-or-suffer-the-consequences growled at me through the crack of door he’d pulled open. I couldn’t see much of his room through that inch of clearance, but knew from prior glimpses that it would be a disaster zone. Clothes scattered, walls full of holes from stray punches or kicks, mattress punctured and the hole clumsily sewn back together to keep stuffing from spilling out. Ripped and tattered bits of things all over the place.

“You like to break things.” I burst out in a single exhale, and then squeaked when I realized I’d started talking. Zeke looked like he was weighing the pros and cons of punching me. “I know something you can break!” I forced the rest out before my throat could close up.

Zeke actually looked baffled.

“…what?” he asked, his scowl angling slightly into more of a confused then angry (but still scowl-y) expression. I took a deep breath, prepared to calmly and concisely explain the situation.

“I know you like to break things and I don’t know why but that’s okay because there’s stuff I don’t want to tell people either and I know that sometimes the stuff we don’t want to talk about is actually the most important so I thought that maybe you actually need stuff to break and there’s just not enough stuff and that’s why you break my things sometimes too and h-hit me that time; but I like to build things so I thought maybe I could build you some stuff to break and then you could just break that stuff and when it’s all broken I can just build or find you some more stuff to break and anyway there’s a thing I want to show you so come with me please?”

There. That was totally concise, right? …Concise did mean to explain everything as quickly as possible, right? I was pretty sure I hadn’t taken a single breath through all of that, and I’d talked as quickly as I could. So that was good, right? People talked about concise like it was a good thing.

Zeke looked at me like he wanted to punch me. I flinched back in preparation. He’d only hit me once before, and I was pretty sure it had been sort-of an accident. He’d been avoiding me since then, anyway, so I didn’t think he’d meant to, and I thought he probably didn’t want to again, but I’d come and bothered him on my own this time so maybe I’d triggered some kind of “free hit” rule or something… oh no…

“You made me something?” he asked, his growly voice almost softening. Hm. Maybe he didn’t want to punch me. Maybe that was just his face.

“Yeah! I can show you, if you want?” I pulled my head a little bit out of my shoulders, like a turtle (hah, I was totally a turtle-person; not a ninja though, unfortunately. And not a teen yet, think god. I was probably a mutant, though, and I was definitely a turtle.)

“… Sure.” Zeke said, and then slammed his door shut.

I was not sure what I was supposed to do with that. He’d said yes, so that meant he was going to let me show him, but then he shut the door? Did he expect me to bring it to him? That would be… hard. Really hard. Probably not possible, actually. I doubted it would fit in the house.

Then his door yanked open again and I realized he’d just been getting dressed. He glared at me, scowl-y expression still completely unreadable. But I tried anyway and decided he looked like he was waiting for me to get a move on. Impatiently. I squeaked and darted for the stairs. Zeke followed with stomping steps that seemed to shake the whole house and may have actually knocked some pictures off-balance. Geez. Big nine-year-old.

“It’s this way!” I called, hopping over half the steps to land on the carpet with my knees bent and my palms braced for impact. “The back door!” I shouted, skidding down the hall to wait by the door in question. Zeke followed slower than I would have liked, but maybe it was good he wasn’t going as fast as I was. That would have felt too much like getting charged by a bull. I would lose all my nerve for sure if I felt like that was happening.

When he was in sight I pushed through the door and jogged halfway across the yard, then hopped from foot to foot nervously as Zeke kept to his own pace.

“In the woods!” I yelled. “This way, this way!” He growled a little like a dog when I started to run off again, but I decided I’d rather be scared and out of reach than scared and otherwise, so I kept darting ahead and waiting, then doing the same thing over again whenever he managed to catch up. Eventually I’d frustrated him enough that he was half-jogging himself, and I was reminded of that bull scenario I’d feared earlier.

Oh well.

We made our way around the garden, climbed the fence behind the barn and trudged through a corner of the pasture. I said “hi” to my favorite cow, Auntie Cruella (she was half black and half white, just like the Dalmatian’s lady!) as we passed. She kind of grunted at me, and I took it as a good sign. Then, we entered the woods.

“How much farther?” Zeke growled, yanking away from a bramble vine that had caught him and ripping his shirt in the process.

“Real close, promise!” I chirped, afraid that he’d leave before I could even show it to him. And I’d worked so hard on it… if he didn’t even see it, after all that… I shook the thought off. It wasn’t helpful, and Zeke was still following me. He’d see it and he’d love it. I hoped.

We really were close. As I had the thought, I hopped over the trickle of a stream that was the last landmark before the clearing, and then we were there.

Nerves jumping under my skin, sweater still a little sticky, I didn’t dare look as I thrust out one arm and stepped to the side,

“Presenting, The Cardboard Castle!” I announced, capitalizing each word in my head. “Made from all those boxes dad left in the barn, and lots of duct tape! Probably too much duct tape!” I’d used like three rolls. Definitely too much duct tape. The Cardboard Castle itself was pretty darn cool, actually. All I’d really done was tape a bunch of boxes together into a castle, and cut the bottoms or sides out of some of them to make tunnels. There were even four towers! It was great, really. I’d spent an hour just crawling around in it and playing like I was a dragon the day before.

Zeke stood next to me, and I shuffled my feet, trying to edge away without being too obvious. I was sweaty and gross; he probably didn’t want to get too close to me anyway. But he wasn’t saying anything about the castle. He was just staring; and he was still scowl-y. Maybe a little less scowl-y? But still scowl-y. Maybe he didn’t love it. I wilted, and then stammered, desperate to explain and maybe salvage something of the situation.

“It-uh-um, it’s for you, to break.” I winced, wondering if I sounded as stupid to him as I did to me. Probably. ” I just thought- maybe you- I mean- oh…” I gave up and buried my face in my sweater sleeves, trying not to cry. I’d tried so hard, but maybe it wasn’t enough. Maybe Zeke really couldn’t be happy here. Probably he would actually be happier in the city, like he kept shouting. Maybe he’d never want me as his sister. It was hard not to flinch at the thought. I’d just been so happy when they told me I had a brother. I guess he really hadn’t felt the same.

“…for me?” Zeke’s voice was weird. I peeked out of my sleeves, and saw his face less scowl-y then I’d ever seen it, staring at the castle in… wonder? Then he glanced at me and back to the castle again, and I choked. He looked so confused and almost happy.

Maybe… there was hope after all.

“Yeah!” I chirped, wincing at my own volume. “To break! Go crazy!” I grinned, throwing my arm out at the castle again.

“You… want me to break it?” Zeke looked at me like I was crazy. Fair enough.

“Absolutely! OH, I even got you a bat!” I remembered, diving for the tree on the other side of the clearing and bringing back the dented metal thing that I’d filched from the barn along with the cardboard and duct tape. The black tape around the handle had peeled off, so I’d wrapped it in yet more duct tape. Honestly, by the end of that third roll, I’d been considering wrapping myself in duct tape. I may have gone a little duct tape crazy (as my ninja-wrapped pants can tell you).

Zeke’s hand closed hesitantly around the silver-wrapped handle, his scowl still more confused than angry, and I dared to hope. Then his scowl deepened, and he stared up at me, eyes more intense than I’d ever seen on anybody.

“You’re sure?” he asked, growly voice quiet and something close to soft.

I grinned, almost vibrating in excitement, and in lieu of an answer, simply stepped aside and gestured at the castle again. Zeke smiled. It was kind of a scary smile, and still scowl-y, somehow, but it was a smile all the same.

Then he went to town. He screamed and yelled and growled and even yelled curse words that I was sure mom would wash his mouth out for if she heard, but he was still smiling a little through it all as he bashed The Cardboard Castle to smithereens. I sat down, kept grinning, and made sure to memorize the curse words.

Near the end of it the castle was unrecognizable. Zeke had abandoned the bat in favor of sitting down and methodically ripping each piece into even smaller pieces. I had long since abandoned watching in favor of tree-climbing, and was nearing the top of the biggest tree around the clearing when one word from a growly voice caught my attention.

“Tami?”

That was my name. My heart just about stopped. He knew my name! I thought he hadn’t even bothered to learn it, cause he only ever called me “hey you” or “go away” or “loudmouth” or a word that mom actually had made him wash his mouth out for and that I wasn’t allowed to repeat and kind of didn’t want to anyway.

I scrambled down the tree so fast I could swear I turned into an actual squirrel for a second, like dad was always saying I’d do some day. Maybe that day was today. It seemed like a day for impossible things.

“Yeah?” I asked, breathless as I hopped down a few feet from him. He looked at me a little startled, like he hadn’t realized I’d been up there. Then he shook the actual expression off his face and went back to scowl-y-town. I decided I should surprise him more often if that was what it took to get expressions on his face.

He glared at the ground, then glared up at me, just as intense as he’d been when he asked if I was sure he could destroy the thing I’d built specifically for him to destroy. It was so intense it was almost uncomfortable, but I kept smiling, and only fidgeted a little bit.

“…thanks.” he said, and I grinned so wide my cheeks hurt. I held back from leaping at him in a hug, remembering how badly that had gone down the first time, and just vibrated a little instead.

“You’re welcome!” I screamed, putting all the energy I would have put into the hug into my voice instead. “I can make you another one anytime! Whenever you want to break stuff! Just ask me! I can do it! I can totally do it! Anytime, all the time, whenever!”

Zeke snorted a little as I shouted, and I gasped.

“Was that a laugh?” I squealed, too excited to keep the realization inside. Zeke stiffened up immediately, but I thought maybe it was an embarrassed kind of stiff instead of the I-will-punch-you kind. “It was a laugh, wasn’t it? That’s great!” I cheered, and suddenly realized I was hungry. “Do you want pop-tarts? I think dad bought pop-tarts when mom wasn’t looking. We have some in the pantry – two flavors, even! Come on!”

I started back to the house, and saw Zeke out of the corner of my eye as he slowly loosened up, glanced one more time back at the remains of The Cardboard Castle, and then followed me home.

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Imagine Introducing Music to the Universe

[AN: I reference a particular song in this story – here’s where you can find it on YouTube – “Hey Ya” by EDEN. Hope you enjoy the story!]

~

When first humanity joined us among the stars, we were unimpressed. They were an adaptive and stubborn species, true, often both hailed and cursed for their unrelenting determination. But they were light-years behind the rest of the universe in terms of technology, knowledge and understanding. It was difficult sometimes not to feel as if we were dealing with children – at times wonderful and overall a lovable people, but often and continually frustrating. Still, they learned quickly and soon enough were just another species roaming the universe.

I met Hera Dunston when the technician was assigned to learn from and assist me in the engine room on the starship Bachal. She was on the shorter spectrum of the human race, barely four feet tall. Before meeting her, I hadn’t even been aware humans came in such small sizes. With my own head brushing the underside of most of the Bachal‘s doorways at a respectable nine feet, I towered over her. I would have forgiven her for being intimidated, as many species take a wary step back when first introduced to one of my kind.

Hera didn’t even blink. She simply stuck out her hand in what she informed me was a customary greeting for her species, then asked how my people greeted one another. I flared my shoulder-crests to show her, then told her not to worry about it, as her species didn’t have the appropriate appendage. She frowned, then did a curious thing where she pinched the shoulders of her shirt, pulled them up, and let them drop again. It was the closest thing to a proper greeting I’d ever received from someone not of my own species, make-shift as it was.

We became close friends during our posting together. She was an excellent student, but more than that, she was an excellent friend. Blunt, innovative, curious, and intelligent, she was a pleasure to work with, despite her more stubborn moments. We learned much from each other. She always had questions about my home and my people, and in turn did her best to answer my questions about her own. One of the questions that came up early on was about the noises she often made while working.

“What is that sound?” I asked when first I noticed. It was a sound that rose and fell at inconsistent intervals, and reminded me a little of the humming sounds the engine sometimes made, only much more complex.

“What sound?” Hera asked, the noise cutting off just before she spoke.

“It’s gone now.”

Hm. Tell me if it comes back.” She turned back to her work, but I stared at her. The sound had made a split-second appearance just before she spoke, and her chest had seemed to move a little with it. Had… had the sound come from her?

I turned back to my work, but kept one eye on Hera. Hardly a minute later, I was rewarded with the return of the sound, and now that I was paying attention, it was clear that it was, indeed, coming from her.

“What is that?” I asked. The sound cut off as Hera once more turned to look at me, frowning. I gestured back to her. “The noise. You are making it. What is it?”

Her expression lit up with understanding. “Oh. You mean my humming.” she made a few of the sounds again, and I nodded in confirmation, glad to be able to give it a name, but wondering at my own moment of stupidity for not having thought to call the sound simply what it sounded like. “Do other species not do that?”

“Not like that, with all the… changing. Rising and falling. What is it for? It’s not a pain response, is it?” The thought had struck me suddenly, and I stepped closer, worried that she might have gotten hurt and simply been too stubborn to say anything, as I had noticed her do before. To my surprise, however, Hera chuckled.

“No, no, it’s not a pain response. It’s, uh, it’s music, kind of.”

The word she used there did not translate. I frowned. It was rare that words had no equivalent that the translator could find, but occasionally when dealing with a newly introduced species, it could happen. Entirely new concepts weren’t exactly the most common thing, though.

“That new word, it did not translate.” I announced, now even more curious than I had been about her humming. “That music.” I did my best to recreate the sound she had made for the word, but human sounds were difficult for my mouth to create. It came out more like a grunt and a click. Thankfully, Hera understood me anyway.

“Oh. Uh. Wow. That’s… never happened to me before. Huh.” She scratched at her hair and hummed shortly. “How to explain music…” she pondered. I waited patiently. “Music is… uh, I guess in the technical sense it’s just a lot of different sounds at differing frequencies coming together to form pleasant noise?”

“How curious.”

“So your species doesn’t have music? That’s… that’s really a shame.”

And that was that, or so I thought. The noise had been explained, and the concept of music, though a curious one, was not exactly a groundbreaking discovery. It was just a little quirk of humanity. We went back to work, and Hera went back to humming. After a short time listening, I decided that it was indeed a pleasant noise, and began to look forward to hearing it. I didn’t think much more of the concept until some months later.

There was a knock on my cabin door during one of my off-shifts, waking me in the middle of my sleep cycle. My irritation mostly drained away at the sight of Hera standing there, her usual frown deepened by confusion.

“Hera? What’s wrong?”

“No one knows what music is, Hacha!” she exclaimed suddenly, brushing past me to pace the floor of my cabin. “I thought maybe it was just your species, but I was talking to Majolu from communications, and she had never heard the word either!” she turned to glare at me. “I asked her about bands and she thought I was talking about pirates!” Hera all but growled in frustration then, and I was struck once more by the variety of noises humans are capable of making. “I got curious, so I went to ask Burh, and I had to explain it to her, too! I had to talk to Glarom about the way translators even work before I finally figured it out, and it turns out that music is just straight-up an entirely foreign concept to everyone but humans? How is that even possible? I mean, how hard is it to grasp the idea of a beat and a melody?”

I had retreated back to my bunk by the time Hera finished ranting, her chest heaving up and down with the force of her breath.

“What does beating have to do with anything?” I asked. “And what is melody?” The grunt and grumble I used to try and reproduce the word was near indecipherable.

“That’s it,” Hera groaned. “I need to fix this.” she pulled something from her pockets – a length of thin rubber cord that split on one side to end in two oddly shaped bulbs that mirrored each other, and ended on the other side in a rounded stump of metal – and a thin, flat piece of technology that looked like a data reader, but had a distinct human touch to the design. She stuck the bit of metal on the end of the cord into a hole on the device, and approached me. “Where are your ears?” she asked.

Curious, and knowing Hera did not do things without reason, I pointed to my various hearing orifices. Hera placed the bulbs on the ends of the cord into my hands.

“Hold the sides that stick out to your ears,” she said, “and turn off your translator for a moment. I’m not sure it’ll sound right with it on. We’ll try that next.” She then turned to the device in her hand. I did as she instructed, and waited. Her thumb flicked the primitive touchscreen through a list of what appeared to be titles. “Here we go,” she murmured, and how had I never noticed how pleasant her voice was to listen to? Without the translator distorting the sound, it was a sudden and quiet revelation. “This is one of my favorites. ‘Hey Ya’ cover by EDEN. Should be a gentle start.” But I was given no time to dwell on it said revelation, as she quickly tapped the title her thumb had been hovering over.

Sound filtered through the little bulbs, soft at first. A breath, a rising hum, a click of some kind, and then… I froze. This was… what was this? A human voice, accompanied by that steady, rising hum, and more of those clicks at different frequencies. A different hum joined, and then… more voices. The clicks synced up with the voices and the hum in a way that was… it was magical. Indescribable. A bubbly noise joined in, and then something like a gentle, steady growl. All shifting and swaying and rising and falling and it was like the whole universe fell away and I was part of something enormous I could barely catch a glimpse of… and then all too soon, it was gone.

I came back to myself slowly, a feeling like sinking overcoming me, as if I had been floating in the sounds. A shiver ran through me as the fog of bliss cleared from my mind. I distantly became aware of Hera sounding steadily more and more worried as she tried to get a response from me. Hand shaking, I flipped my translator back on.

“-wrong? Hacha!”

“It’s fine,” I trembled, not certain that it was. “What… was that?” I whispered, reminded suddenly of the day I’d asked that about Hera’s humming, and she’d responded…

Music.”

The Magnificent Mordu

The scene takes place in a dinghy old pub on the poor side of town. A blackboard sign nailed up beside the door declares in colorful chalk letters that every Tuesday is “Talent Night.” The chalk drips in fading streaks as scattered droplets of long-threatened rain fall from gray skies.

Inside, the atmosphere is just as gloomy as out. Blinking neon signs around the bar advertise alcohol brands, and frames on the walls hold pictures half-obscured by cracked glass. A muted TV on one wall has a head-shaped, spiderwebbing crack in one corner, the football game fizzing in and out on that side.

The pub’s customers are a gray and gloomy lot, hunched over their drinks and keeping mostly to themselves. No one pays any attention at all to the dark little stage in the corner. No one continues to pay attention when the little stage is not so dark anymore, when the string of hanging lights along the wall and over the raised platform light up with a flicker and a buzz.

“Good evening, ladies and gents, good evening.” A disembodied voice speaks through a crackling sound system, hisses and pops interrupting every few syllables. The voice is smooth, and slips like butter in a frying pan from one word to the next. Also like butter, but that left too long over the heat, the voice has a few bubbles and pops that can’t be attributed to faulty sound equipment.

“I know it’s been a rough couple of months for everyone,” the voice continues as a few heads deign to turn toward the stage, “but tonight I’m here to help you forget all that. If you’ll lend me your eyes, your ears, and your imaginations for a night, then I’ll take you along on a journey you shan’t soon forget.” A few patrons roll their eyes, but glance towards the stage anyway. Any distraction is better than being left to their memories, after all.

“So, without further ado; welcome one, welcome all, to the most magnificent display of magical mastery you’ll ever set eyes upon! Presenting, The Marvelous Mordu!”

There’s a small flash, a bang, and a cloud of smoke. The astute observer – or perhaps anyone sober – would have noticed the hanful of pellets that were thrown onto the stage a moment before the smoke cloud appeared. As the cloud of smoke wasn’t actually all that big, even more people (and some who weren’t entirely sober, besides) would have noticed the stocky man who dashed out from backstage and then struck a pose in the middle of the smoke cloud, as if he’d been there all along.

There is a scattering of sparse, unenthusiastic clapping as the smoke clears, but the stocky man smiles behind his beard as if an entire stadium has roared his name.

“Thank you, thank you; you’re all too kind!” he shushes them with his arms, and doesn’t even look offended when anyone who had been doing so immediately took the excuse to stop clapping. The Magnificent Mordu keeps a cheerful grin on his face as he nods the tophat off of his head and begins spinning it over his hands. “Now, before we begin,” he says, tophat spinning in elaborate patterns over his arms and shoulders and hands, “I’m going to let you all in on a little secret.” On one pass of the hat between his hands, a thin, knotted stick slips out of it, and he is left with the stick in one hand while he rolls his hat up his arm and back onto his head with the other. “The truth is,” he states, twirling the stick between his fingers, “I only have one trick up my sleeves. Oh, but it’s a very special trick!” he assures. “I don’t believe there’s any other magician in the world who performs it.”

A few pub-goers have become drawn in by the literal hat-trick that The Magnificent Mordu had been performing a moment before, but now stare at him in confusion. The drunkest among them probably didn’t even completely realize that he was there, and had just been distracted by all the movement. A few people still hunched over their drinks are stoutly ignoring the magician, as they really aren’t quite ready to be reminded that the world isn’t a completely horrible place.

The Magnificent Mordu looks over his audience, and smiles. If the smile slips a little into weariness at the edges, well, who can blame him? Everyone knows what sorts of things have been going on recently, and there are none among the pub’s customers who can’t sympathize.

“My trick, you see,” The Magnificent Mordu says, voice catching with a little pop in the middle, “is that I can make my audience disappear.”

~

It’s a miserable gray day as a stocky, bearded man in a tophat and tattered coat slips quietly out the back entrance of a quiet pub. There is no color left on the blackboard sign out front. Neon letters overhead flicker on, and off. The sky opens up, and the light drizzle becomes a downpour.

———

———

AN: so yeah, not sure what this is. I found an old drabble I’d done, and decided to expand on it. Tell me what you think?

Ink Lace

There are stories that breathe
They make my blood sing
They lift me up
But when they’re gone I drop
Cause I was just borrowing their wings

If I ever want to roam
Outside the bounds of this old home
Then I gotta find my own

I search for what will make me fly
Bring me to the sky
Make my heart soar high

Creations of impossibility
Stories and adventures
Things I’ll never see
Are what this mind treasures

Sewing ink lace
Going at my own pace
Not caught in anybody’s race

What will be the face of me
And everything I hope to be
When nobody is pressuring me
And finally I have room to breathe

The wings on my back have been molting for years
Caught in so many fears
They’ve been rotting in tears

No more
I’m done

No more tears
And no more fears

Can I be honest
If I make you this promise
That come morning light
I’ll have won

Don’t let it be a lie
I promise I will try
Someday soon
I’ll fly

Scratches and Stitches – Scratches Monologue

Authors Note: Hello all! This is a comic I wrote/drew. It probably won’t make much sense to anyone who doesn’t know about my 7F story, but I put a lot of work into it, so I’m posting it anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever posted a pic-post on this site before, so I’m not sure how that’ll be, but I guess we’ll see how it goes … In any case, enjoy!

Comic Scratches and Stitches 1Comic Scratches and Stitches 2Comic Scratches and Stitches 3Comic Scratches and Stitches 4Comic Scratches and Stitches 5

Mediums used were a regular #2 pencil, a mechanical pencil, a china marker, and crayons. Can you see how totally professional I am. I’m so pro I used crayons. Eeyup