Short Stories

Canaries in a coal mine

A tribute to the fallen students of gun violence

Are you listening? A caged bird is crying,

Not in a the trees or serene skies,

Do you hear the cries?

No, you don’t.

Don’t worry though, no one hears the canaries in the coal mines,

Not even on the quietest nights,

Crickets take an oath of silence because…

Underneath the rubble, underneath the dust, underneath the pain,

A canary sings about it’s bane,

For centuries they have been screeching but not a soul has yet to start believing,

You send a canary one by one,

But none will return,

none,

You watch and see,

The flutter of gold will be no more,

Only because you chose to ignore,

Again and again you hear the caged bird sing,

Only to realize that it isn’t beautiful music but cries riddled with melancholy,

They aren’t songs of beauty but,

The songs of its fallen brethren,

Time after time,

Day after day,

The canary is bound to chains of death,

Because no one stands at the gates of the dead to demand justice,

Only to bow down and beg for mercy,

The canary in the underworld looks to the heavens to see if any of her siblings avoided her fate,

Only to see thoughts and prayers and even more hate,

She sees bright yellow feathers struggling against oppression,

But no one joining in solidarity,

She begs for mercy while looking into heaven,

Only to see her more of her kind fall,

Her tears fall but her pain is unheard,

She looks around to see that she is not the only canary crying,

Cry as they might,

Struggle as they fight,

Innocent blood is spilled again that night,

But no one will understand why the caged canary sings.

The Quest in Atlantis (Part 1)

I hate people.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a human myself but Monday mornings and trying to navigate a street in one of the busiest cities in the world doesn’t exactly add to the love for humanity.

Go live in New York, they said. It will be fun, they said. It makes me wonder – is walking around in the freezing cold surrounded by thousands of people shoving and screaming to get to work at 7 in the morning fun, not exactly. But here I am shoving through hoards of people just to get to the end of the sidewalk. Then again, I haven’t had my morning coffee so that might explain my new found hatred for everything and everyone.

As I managed – just barely- to get past the sea of people I noticed myself in the window of a small boutique that sat quaintly in the corner of the avenue. My hair was all over the place. I normally adored my dark chocolate brown hair but today it looked like it had gone through battle.

“Move it!” An angry man in a suit and tie on his cellphone screamed as he shoved me to the side. City people are nice, I promise, but when someone like me is standing in the middle of the sidewalk blocking just about everyone it’s hard to be nice. Quickly adjusting my scarf I crossed the road while shivering. Winter is war. It means every man and woman for themselves and against the howling and biting winds. I ran the last couple of yards to my favorite coffee shop reaching for the door with my crimson gloved hand when someone opened it for me.

Peering into the shop I saw that it was an elderly man, probably in his early seventies. “Gracias.” I said. Walking into the shop was like being hugged by your grandmother while she offered you a plate of freshly baked cookies. I guess today was going to start off with Spanish.

“Ana Asef.” I apologized in Arabic to the little boy. The mother of the boy smiled and responded that it was okay.

I should probably backtrack a little bit. Ever since I was born I had this…ability – let’s call it that – I was able to speak to a person in their native language. I never pursued these languages but I had the ability to understand as well as speak them but only if it was the native language of whom I was speaking with. Horrifying. Awesome. Intriguing. A blessing and a curse, really. But I would be lying if I said it didn’t get me out of some sticky situations.

Of course, it caused problems when I was younger since I spoke to everyone in their native language and teachers thought I was an ESL student even though I was born and brought up in America. Needless to say, I gained control over it but every once in a while – like today morning I would slip because I liked seeing people smile when I spoke their language.

But now for the most important part of my day – coffee. But that goal wouldn’t be achieved unless I stood in line and awaited my turn. The tantalizing aromas of latte’s, mocha’s, and frappe’s made me even more grumpy that I wasn’t sipping my own coffee and treasuring the few moments of peace I received before running off to work.

Come on! Come on! I’m going to be late! 

Peering over the snake-like line I saw the cashier who was taking orders and instantly I had a nagging feeling. It was a cross between pits forming in my stomach and butterflies. I guess butterflies now flew around in pits.

What was more alarming however was his hair and eyes. His hair was darker than black coffee but his eyes were the color of a topaz.

I wonder what language he speaks.

With that lingering thought I stood in line as patiently as possible and tried distracting myself – which obviously didn’t work. The feeling of anticipation was worse than standing in the worlds longest line to use the bathroom when you really have to go. Finally, I arrived.

“Hello, ma’am. what would you like today?” the mysterious looking cashier asked.

“Estree lel eri mocha,” as I spoke cold beads of sweat poured down my back. I had never heard anything like this before. The look on the cashiers face was pure horror.

Maybe I completely butchered the pronunciation? Say something, you idiot. Ask him what language that was before you never see him again. 

“Yef huut ter spoli ke?” I asked softly. Never have words felt so foreign in my mouth. The words felt like kisses from snowflakes as they rolled off my tongue. I wanted to know what language I was speaking.

“Sure thing ma’am.” the cashier piped back, his voice barely audible. “Wait for me at that corner table, I’ll be out in a minute.” He said in what sounded like fear but his facial expressions gave away nothing as he pointed to the table in the furthest corner from the cashier counter. I nodded as I turned pale.

What language was that? I should run away and get as far away as possible? What if he’s the Russian mafia? Wait, but that wasn’t Russian. What if he’s an alien. Run! Why are you still standing here. 

I made my way to the table and twiddled my thumbs. My instincts told me to run but my curiosity begged me to stay. With that I took out my phone and called my boss – clearly I wasn’t going to work today.

I knew it was possible to have black hair and blue eyes. Rare, but possible. After seeing the cashier, though, his hair was too black and his eyes too blue to be the phenomenon that books spoke of.

Lost in my thoughts I didn’t even notice the cup of coffee that was placed in front of me and the person who sat across from me.

“Hello.” Spoke a familiar voice. I looked up to see the black haired and blue eyed cashier again.

Not wanting to waste another moment I spoke the language that felt like snowflake kisses, “Yef huut ter spoli ke?”

“No one has spoken that language in a thousand years,” He marveled, looking at me with wonder. I felt like an art exhibit that couldn’t escape prying eyes even if I wanted to. “How do you know it?” He asked this time in fear that showed too clearly in his topaz eyes.

I remained silent. How could I explain my ability. I would sound like a lunatic.

“How do you know how to speak it?” He pressed speaking in English. “And if you can speak it, how do you not know what language it is?” he asked and his voice sounded ice cold the marvel disappearing.

“Wis tul ban tee hijj?” I shot back.

Why does he keep responding in English? 

“Listen, if you can speak this language, I need to know why. This language hasn’t been spoken in public for thousands of years. You’re putting yourself in danger. You’re playing with a fire that you don’t know how you started.” He whispered so softly that I thought I was hallucinating.

What the heck. I might as well just tell him. He speaks a language that has gone unspoken for a thousand years, what I can do is probably at the bottom of the crazy scale.

“Ever since I was born I have had this….ability to speak to a person in their native language. No matter what it is.” I spewed. The cashiers face turned from fear to wonder.

“Ow!” I yelped. The coffee cup that my mocha was in shattered to smithereens and one of those shards attacked my palm. Blood was oozing from the wound. When I peered into the mess of mocha and cup I saw a golden bullet. It’s not every day you see a bullet, much less a gold one.But that wasn’t what made this bullet peculiar. Etched on it were words that made my heart stop.

We are coming for you.

Before I could wrap my scarf around the wound the cashier tugged my hand and we were fleeing.  But not before I grabbed the bullet of course. We were dodging people making frantic calls to 911 and children wailing. I wanted to stop and process that I had almost died but the cashier showed no signs of stopping. And that’s when hit me, I didn’t know the guys name.

“What’s your name?” I panted.

“Really! That’s what you’re interested in? We almost died!” He yelled back. Unlike me, he wasn’t gasping for air. My lungs burned and my thighs felt as though they were on fire. Before I could come up with a witty comeback he yanked me into an alleyway.

It was the kind of alley way that made your skin crawl. There was no light and it was small. In such a small space my hard breathing and pounding heart felt like it could be heard for miles. I have been scared before but now I was terrified out of my mind. This wasn’t a horror movie jump scare, I could have died today and now I’m blindly following some crazy guy that I’ve never even seen in my life.

I yanked my hand back and stood there like a statue. The cashier’s head whipped around, he looked furious.

“I’m not coming anywhere with you until you te-” I was about to demand.

“You don’t have a choice. Either you follow me or you’ll die.” the cashier yelled.

“I’ll take my chances.” I said stubbornly. I stood there with my arms folded. I wouldn’t go anywhere till I got answers. I trusted my curiosity and stayed, now I would listen to my instincts that told me nothing that would happen in the following moments would be safe.

Clearly out of luck the cashier finally said, “My name is Riaan. Please, you have to trust me.” He begged.

The trash can in front of me toppled over, with that action I heard the loudest bang in my entire life. Inside the can was another bullet. I didn’t trust Riaan- if that was even his name but I wasn’t stupid enough to stay and be killed. Riaan and I took off once again. Venturing deeper and deeper into the alleyway.

I was yanked to the side barely dodging a bullet. We continued running for who knows how long before we saw a smaller alley branching off from the one we were running through and took a sharp left into that one. At the very end was a black door with runes and designs etched all over it. As my ability only stretched far enough to speak and not to read I was at a loss as to what they said.

We reached the door and Riaan spoke an incantation. “Eld ferre tise nuv deka.” Following the incantation he pricked his palm on a needle that protruded from the center of the door. Then Riaan turned to me and nudged me towards the door. I was mortified.

“First, you tell me that I speak a language that hasn’t been spoken in a thousand years. Then, we almost get killed and run all over New York. Now, you want me to participate in some satanic ritual? Are you out of your mind? I want no part in your cult!” I hissed clutching my palm in pain. More and more blood was coming from the wound which the shard was stuck in. The pain was too much. I screamed.

“Ruby you have to come with me.” Riaan said with the kind of urgency that turns blood into ice.

“How-How do you know my name?” I stuttered.

“you mentioned it to me.” Riaan looked at me in confusion.

“No I didn’t. Who are you and how do you know me?” I stammered.

How does he know me? I have to be dreaming – no it’s a nightmare!

Ruby we don’t have time. I’ll explain but there are assassins after us.” Riaan said in a very cool headed manner. Just as he finished his sentence another golden bullet flew past us and hit the door. Nothing happened to the door but this time the bullet said something else. Something that made me want to scream and curl up into a ball and cry.

I will not miss again.

My heart pounded so fast that I thought it would burst. I scanned the alleyway. Something dawned on me and I knew that there was more to this story than Riaan was letting on. Stepping out of the shadows was a woman. She was dressed in a loose, blood red jumpsuit. Her skin was pale which contrasted her coal black hair with golden streaks in it. Her pupils narrowed into slits and she looked at me dead in the eye. But the most terrifying thing of all was the gun she held in her hand. It was small and sleek. It practically radiated an eerie light.

“Step away from that impure Atlantian Ruby. ” she ordered, her lips barely moved at all. “I will kill you if you don’t follow my orders Ruby. I will not repeat myself.” she said in a voice that sounded like a song, an evil song.

Maybe she’s a siren. After everything I’ve been through I wouldn’t even doubt if she was. 

Before I knew what I was doing I pricked my left palm against the needle on the door behind me and yanked at the handle, forcing it open. I dragged Riaan behind me and slammed the door shut as hard as I could.

There was silence for a long time. I winced, my right palm was covered in my blood and the pain was unbearable. What was surprising was that I had thought fast enough to pull off what I had just done.

The floor is probably dirty but I’m clearly dying so I might as well lay down.

My heart was still pounding and only now I was able to notice the pain in my lower abdomen. I didn’t pay it much attention since I thought it was just because of the running and trying to escape our doom but I was about to be proved very wrong.  I peeked down and saw blood soaked my t-shirt as well as my jacket. Slowly I placed my hand where I felt the pain in my abdomen and instantly regretted it. I doubled over and groaned. There was a coffee glass shard that had dug pretty deep into my skin. I clearly underestimated the power of the bullet that hit my mug. Acknowledging the pain almost made the pain feel worse. Even groaning about pain was painful so I stopped making noise all together.

With every last once of strength left – which wasn’t much, I propped myself up on my elbows. Not that it made it any better. The room was spinning but I was able to tell that Riaan wasn’t there.

I’m literally bleeding to my death and he left! I’ll make sure to haunt him especially. 

Then, I blacked out.

———————————— This marks the end of part one —————————————

Saving Lives

The teleporter shone blue indicating that access had been granted to the Biotronic Incorations HQ. Rian stood on the teleporter, checked his hair, took a deep breath, and pressed the button. He stepped off the (TLD) Teleportation Landing Device with grace and confidence; inside he felt as though Pandora’s Box had been opened. He was fresh out college and only a few billion dollars in debt, faring decently well. He listened to the comforting noise of the hovers and requested to the Escort Droid near him for one. Standing inside the world’s most prestigious companies HQ made him tremble.

“Please choose your destination.” a robotic voice said, listing several choices. He stared helplessly at the hoverboard and tried to figure out where he needed to go. Feeling a tap on his shoulder, he jerked surprised by the sudden touch.

“May I help you?” A man dressed in a crisp black suit, with his cropped brown hair neatly combed to the side addressed him. Rian did a double take. Standing in front of him was the man that was to interview him, the CEO of Biotronic Incorporations, Cyrus Griffins.

“I am Rian Charming, I believe that you are to interview me today.” Rian carried himself with a calm collected attitude, even though he felt nowhere near as confident as he seemed.

“Hello Rian, your interview will commence once we reach my office,” giving a small warm smile, that sent a sense of calmness through Rian. When the two walked into his office Rian felt as though the wind had been knocked out of him. The office was huge, it was as though his whole living room, bedroom, and kitchen made the size of this man’s office. Then Rian remembered he was in the office of the worlds most well-known tech giant. After inconspicuously looking around he was in awe of the color scheme a monotonous grey and white with the biggest windows Rian had ever laid eyes on as accents. The colors all complemented each other and the space of the room well and really. The colors accented the black chair that sat neatly tucked behind the black desk which both were hovering a couple inches above the ground. Lined up next to the desk for ten hologram monitors side by side displaying a range of faces and people all speaking with passion and vigor. But the most iconic thing in the office was the onyx black work table that Cyrus Griffins used to build the world’s first successful teleporter. Rian had been under the impression that the interview would be conducted by someone else and in one of the thousands of rooms in the HQ he could never have fathomed that it would be the CEO of the worlds most prestigious company and in his office.  

“The interview will not be a traditional interview. It is going to be a test, to see if a bright man like you can do what he promised.” Cyrus looked at Rian dead in the eye and this time he saw a mix of inquisitive and hope. Rian just nodded his head, but in reality, it was spinning in anticipation as well as fear.

“When I was looking through your job application, I saw your artificial heart design. If you desire a job at this company you will have to construct your heart and prove it works. All the labs in the building, along with the materials are at your disposal.” Cyrus finished, and Rian was elated. He knew that his plans would work, he had spent most of his life perfecting them.   

“Your deadline is next week, the end of the day,” Cyrus said. Rian felt the slap on his face as he had realized what had happened. Rian was going to protest but an Escort Droid was already there to show him out the door. His face was scrunched up and his eyebrows angled sharply. Having the most advanced labs in the world at your disposal is wonderful, but to built an artificial beating heart in one week was insane. That time constraint that had been presented to him was the most absurd thing he had ever heard. No wonder Cyrus Griffins is considered the most intelligent as well as borderline psycho.

The next day Rian was in the lab, staring blankly at his Digi Prints. Rian took a sharp breath, sending a pain down his throat. He had the basic plans, design, and materials. All that remained was the age-old question; how was the heart going to beat all on its own? He had a weeks time and he was staring at the wall wasting the precious moments he had.

he had to start somewhere, and unless he did all he would have to show would be his ruffled hair and beads of sweat that pooled around his face. So naturally not really having a choice he started somewhere. Rian carefully controlled the Extendilizer, a tool used to perform intricate tasks that the clumsy human hands would not be capable of. Rian was finally putting together his creation, at that moment; the thrill of being nearly complete reminded him of an old tale from eons ago, Dr. Frankenstein. All Rian needed now was streaks of white running down his hair and a crazy doctors coat. Suddenly he heard the click of the door opening and flinched, the worlds biggest mistake. That one event led to the destruction of his dreams and the one chance that he had received. He flinched and lost fo0cus but the horror didn’t end there he sent the laser he was using flying in the wrong direction hitting the only thing that mattered – his heart. The heart was incinerated and the only thing he would have to show to the person that walked into the room were ashes of a prototype and the anger, sadness, and shock that sat dueling on Rians face for dominance as the alpha emotion.  

Three days of brain-wracking work all thrown aside all because someone had entered the room without knocking – basic courtesy. Rian whipped around ready to blow up on the person who destroyed all of his meticulous work only to realize he couldn’t. The person who had destroyed everything was Cyrus. Rian just stared in absolute disbelief, with his mouth wide and agape.

“I came to inform you about the press conference, and the meeting with the rest of the Board about your invention, should it work out. Clearly, you did not remember to put in your Sound Stabilizer,” Cyrus scolded. The Sound Stabilizer had not been necessary, considering that Rian had not received any visitors nor had he been expecting any.

“Sir, I was not anticipating that you or anyone else would come into this room,” Rian said, anger evident in his voice. Rian acknowledged rather fully knew that it was also his fault for forgetting to use his Sound Stabilizer, a device used to keep useless sounds out and process the sounds around him – the ones most important. Had his invention not have been destroyed Rian could swear he heard a faint whirring of the heart.  

Cyrus concluded the conversation by reminding Rian that he had four more days to restart and finish the project, which meant that even his weekend would be allotted to the project. This company wanted him, therefore he should be calling the shots, but his lack of experience was an obstacle. Originally he thought one week was the most ridiculous thing and prayed that it had been merely a joke but now faced with four days, a press conference, and a presentation to the board Rian was seriously considering running away to another country and sign himself up for experimentally testing. Any fate was better than the one that Rian had planned for him. Either Cyrus was extremely confident in his idea or he had set up Rian to become the laughingstock of the tech industry.  So he groaned and started the project again every so often taking a sleeping supplement and energy supplement to keep him going through the days without needing to sleep or eat. Had it been half a century ago he might have depended on coffee before research revealed the world’s addiction had been cutting down life spans and doing horrendous damage to the body.

There was one remaining day before the due date and Rian had no clue what to do. Was his project finished, yes? Was it going to work, only God could possibly know. The exhaustion and dehydration were eating Rian up alive but he continued to work mercilessly.

The moment Rian gave his ID blood sample, he made sure that he had his Sound Stabilizer. Today he was scheduled to have reached the point where his work was previously wrecked, and the rest was a grey area that he had to conquer by tomorrow.

The next day dragged on mercilessly, each moment the pressure sinking in. By the end, his clothes were drenched in perspiration, and under his eyes, he had bags so deep that his usually refreshed face looked multiple years older. He was given encouraging smiles from the many in the HQ. Tomorrow was the day where history would be made, either by failure or success.  If his mom were here he was sure that she would have his head for the negligence of his appearance but Rian could care less. He was the first person in all of the cosmos to even attempt to create a beating heart. Rian somehow slipped past the crowds of people and their excited chattering to quickly shower and fix his appearance, when Rian looked in the mirror he didn’t feel like Dr. Frankenstein anymore but his creation instead. He looked like a corpse had come back to life.  The HQ was crowded with heads of multiple departments and multiple VIP inventors. Rian was feeling the pressure that was being put on him. If he failed, the whole world would make fun of him for his mediocre work. If he got through with this he would be the world’s most renowned inventor. But to Rian, the probability of the latter wasn’t looking very likely to him.

It was becoming hard to breathe as the reality set in for Rian. His entire future was on the line and Rian didn’t even have a percent of confidence that his prototype would work. Rian had heard the mechanical whirring but that wouldn’t be enough to convince Cyrus, or anyone really. Even a kid could produce something that made a whirring noise.

The next day, Rian checked his hair just as he had the day of his interview a week ago. As he walked into the HQ, it was flooded with people, actual humans. This was the first time in countless years that he had seen actual reporters, most news coverage was done by Droids. Rian felt a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach, all he could hope for was that his work had been worth it or he would have to go underground and never show his face again.

As he was ushered by Droids, he saw Cyrus and the rest of the department heads. He felt as the whole world was spinning in the wrong direction – the worst direction really. His breathing was shallow and he wanted to ball up and sob. He felt as though he was walking towards his death but what could he do there were Droids ushering him, it was too late to run away.

Along with the doctors, Cyrus, and others he was shoved into an operating room. Rian was not informed until recently that the test would involve someone’s life in Rian’s hands. Another living, breathing humans life would be Rian’s responsibility. The patient’s heart was weak and would give in the upcoming hours of the operation.  Rian’s heart would either save this patient, or it would be an effort where a life was lost. Rian couldn’t even begin to imagine what would happen if he failed, he would have human blood on his hands, he would have to face a family and explain that he had failed. Rian was starting to think that Cyrus was doing everything in his power to ensure that Rian would never find a job again.

In the operation room, Rian was hyperventilating and steadying his dizzy self but it wasn’t working. He laid his eyes on the patient and almost choked, it was a boy who looked about the age of ten. He had the life of a child in his hand, and tears came flooding. The boy looked at him and smiled, a smile he didn’t deserve. The boy should be playing with hoverboards and irritated the droids that were set up in his house not lying deathly pale waiting for Rian to end his life. Somehow numbness spread across Rian and he couldn’t feel anything anymore. He just mechanically put on a surgical gown and fitted mask as though he was a programmed bot.

The operation took place, and the head doctor carefully cuts out the child’s heart out and had the Micro Dreads hold Rian’s artificial heart there. The doctor motioned Rian over to make sure that there would be no complications with the surgery. Rian’s heart pounded, and the only thing he could hear was the thumping of his own heart. Rian’s eyes were flushing out streams of tears under stress and concentration. He gazed at the innocent face of the child and prayed wholeheartedly for the first time in his life.

The whole world came to a standstill as the heart was inserted into the child’s chest. Everyone drew a breath as multiple small electrical shocks were sent through the child’s chest. Nothing happened, and Rian felt the whole world crumbling. He had just done surgical murder on a child. He looked pleadingly at the doctor and could guarantee that he looked like a crazed maniac. He couldn’t be the one to kill this child, he just couldn’t and looking at the desperation on his face the doctor gave the child on the last shock. which led the child to give a weak cough, and he saw the blood flowing through the veins. Rian did not react, he rushed the doctor into speed growing the rest of the skin back on the chest of the child, and did not care about the blood on his suit, or the perspiration that stank in the room. He had just played the role of God and successfully poured life into a child. The kick he felt was never going to be matched. He saved a little boy. Tears flowed down his face faster and he hugged the doctor and the other support staff in the room. They had saved a child’s life. The little boy coughed and weakly pushed himself into a sitting stance and looked at Rian in the eye and started weeping. Rian embraced him, what more could he do. He felt as a mother would feel after giving birth. The sweat, the panic attacks, every stab of a self-doubting thought had been worth it.

The rest of the day was a blur of interviews, being given a job, signing of patents, and the most heartfelt moment when he saw the child run up to him and thank him and his parents sobbing as they hugged their precious child. Rian acknowledged that Cyrus gambled most of the company’s fate in him, and saw that Cyrus looked very happy taking the huge leap of fate that he did. Rian was confident and satisfied with the work he had pulled off in the last week.  It was a satisfying step for Rian and a huge step for the rest of the rest of mankind. But it would be the first of such events for Rian.

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