Cold water lapped at her toes while warm sand cradled her back. Although her body was lax, her keen eyes read the stars in the night sky.
Every family had their traditions. Hers was an oral story passed from one generation to the next.
Once a century, a gateway appeared which allowed land dwellers to join an annual bazaar under the sea. For generations, her family had traded at this obscure event, exchanging common items that can only be found on land for rare treasures that were in abundance underwater. Through this centenary transaction, they accumulated the wealth that built up their family.
But of her generation, she was the only one left who believed the gateway was true.
Dismissing the bazaar as a fable, none of her cousins even bothered to turn up. It was just her and her immediate family at the empty beach, and they only came to keep her company.
Even if she was wrong, all she would lose was just one night. But if she was right, she wouldn’t need to work for the rest of her life. She was more than happy to take that chance.
Among the ocean of stars, she found three purple sparks, lined in an arc over the horizon. Their mirror image in the sea completed the circle.
It was the gateway.
She jumped to her feet. Just like in the stories, she stretched her right hand out towards the circle, fingers curved as if she was digging her tips into a sponge wall. She turned her hand clockwise, using her fingers like a key to open a passageway into the heart of the sea.
She turned back to her stunned family, teeth flashing in the dark as she smiled.
On the steps leading up to his office, raindrops danced like the fingertips of a pianist on a deep red umbrella with cat ears.
His eyes narrowed in fondness. He would recognise that umbrella anywhere.
Sure enough, when he crouched down for a better view under the waterproof fabric, he found his daughter, drowsily wrapped around another deep blue umbrella.
“If you’re tired you should have stayed home,” he said.
She startled at his voice. The plump cat ears bobbled as she moved.
“Dad!” She untangled her skinny limbs to offer him the second umbrella, a blue twin to her. “For you.”
“What a coincidence. I left my umbrella at home today,” he lied.
With some careful juggling, he gripped his briefcase and umbrella handle in one hand, leaving the other free for his daughter.
Hand in hand, they stepped into the rain, dry under their mobile canopy while matching cat ears danced above them.
Genre: slice of life, family
If she was an animal, she would be a house cat. Content to laze her whole life, draped bonelessly over things while watching the world pass.
Her brother was cut from an altogether different cloth. He was more like a dog, always on his feet, ready to do something. He faced life with a determination not to waste a single moment, which meant that when he actually needed to stop and rest, he didn’t know how.
Fortunately for him, she, expert on doing nothing, was willing to help him out.
They lay side by side on his bed, her easily stretched out on her back like a cat basking in the sun, her brother doing a very good impersonation of a stick insect. The only time he broke the straight line his tense body made was to cough or grab a tissue, and the occasional attempt to escape.
The blanket shifted. She reached out to press her brother back down without even opening her eyes.
“What do you want? I’ll get it for you,” she said.
“Just want to stretch my legs,” her brother said in a hoarse whisper.
“Nope. Walking is still work.”
“You just went.”
“I want to go again.”
She opened one eye. “If you need to go every ten minutes, you need to see a doctor. So? Do I need to make the call?”
Her brother’s gaze slipped away from hers. “… No. I’ll stay.”
“That’s what I thought.” She shifted onto her side so that she had a better view of her brother’s face, especially the deep lines etched onto his brow. She couldn’t help but press a finger to the furrowed skin and try to smooth it out. Her brother gently nudged her hand away.
“Don’t come too close. You don’t want to get sick.”
“I do, actually. Then I can laze in bed all day.” She grinned.
Her brother’s lips twitched. “Let’s trade.”
She released an exaggerated sigh. “Sadly, fatigue isn’t contagious.”
Her brother replied with a smile as tense as the rest of him. She shook her head in exasperation.
“How are we related?”
“We both like pineapple in savoury dishes,” her brother said immediately.
“And we like honey in our coffee.”
She smacked her lips. “Yum.”
Her brother continued, listing all kinds of delicious food combinations that made her want to make a trip to…
She frowned and pushed herself up on her elbows to give herself the extra height to loom over her brother, which didn’t really work because the bed sunk beneath her but that wasn’t important.
“I know what you’re doing. I’m not going anywhere. Not even for food. My job today is to teach you to be lazy, and I’m going to make sure you learn it. Go to sleep!”
She dropped back onto her side and ran her fingers through her brother’s hair, the way her parents used to do when she was younger. Just enough pressure to be felt, unhurried and regular, drawing rhythmic patterns into his scalp as if she could pull the tension in his body out with her fingertips.
In the end, they couldn’t remember who fell asleep first, but the important thing was that her brother finally gave his body the rest it deserved.
She rewarded herself with another nap.
Genre: slice of life, family
Follows after Going Up. You’ll want to read that first.
He loved hiking. Together with other people, on his own, it didn’t matter, as long as he could feel the breeze on his skin and smell the earth in the air.
He took a deep breath and let it sink into his bones, still tired from the intense three three month case his team just closed. He hoped his little sister didn’t mind his reticence this hiking trip. It had been so long since he could relax outside like this. He just wanted to be outside.
It wasn’t until after their lunch break at the lookout point, as he watched his younger sister try and fail to stand, that worry and fear replaced his contentment.
He crouched to find his sister’s skin hot against his palm. His mind helpfully pulled up the memory of her laboured breathing behind him while they walked up the mountain trail. He had thought then that they were just normal exertions of a typical hike.
His sister was reluctant, but he interrogated criminals and witnesses for a living. Eventually, he coaxed the truth out of her.
The culprit behind his sister’s condition: fever.
“You could have told me. We can hike another day.”
She shook her head. “What if you get a new case?”
There was nothing he could say to that, not when the exact same thought was the reason he planned this hike even though lingering exhaustion still pulled at his body.
With a sigh, he shifted his backpack so that it sat on his chest and turned around to present his now free back to his sister.
First silence, then a rustle of fabric as too-warm arms wrapped tentatively over his shoulders. He hooked his arms under his sister’s legs and pushed himself to his feet. His legs wobbled traitorously beneath him.
“Am I heavy?” his sister asked.
At peak condition, he could carry his little sister with one arm. He wasn’t at peak condition now, but he was still more than able to bear her slight weight down the trail back to their car.
His lips curled in a grin his sister couldn’t see. He hopped and made her bounce at his back, startling a laugh out of her.
“Nope. Not at all.”
Genre: slice of life, family
“Let’s go hiking together, just you and me,” her older brother had said… three months ago.
It wasn’t his fault. For the past three months, a group of serial arsonists had demanded all of her brother’s time at work. The only times she saw him was when he was asleep, curled just inside their door, too tired to even drag himself the extra few steps to the couch.
So she slipped pillows under his head, draped blankets over his prone body, refilled his bag with fresh food and clothes, everything but wake him to bug him about the promised hiking trip.
But nothing lasted forever, even crime, and the day came when her brother and his team’s hard work paid off and they caught the arsonist group. Even then, she waited. She didn’t have the heart to bother her brother when his greatest achievement was dragging himself all the way to his bed before falling asleep.
Finally, her brother recovered enough to bring up the hiking trip. Her mind was ready.
Her body wasn’t.
Hiding her trembling limbs under a poncho blanket and a steady headache behind a smile, they confirmed the details of their hike. She had a few days. She thought she would recover her health by then.
It didn’t matter. Another case could steal her brother from her at any moment. If he said they were hiking, they were hiking.
Walking up a mountain trail had never been this difficult. It took all of her attention to put one feet in front of the other and not slide off the path like runaway jelly. It left her with no brainspace for anything else, let alone an actual conversation. Fortunately, her brother was still recovering from his intense three months, so he wasn’t in a chatty mood either.
Her stubbornness carried her all the way to the lookout point, and no further.
Her brother’s eyes narrowed as she smiled nervously up at him, unable to stand on her unresponsive legs. Without a word, he crouched down to meet her eyes.
~To be continued in Coming Down~
Genre: slice of life, family
In teams of two, their challenge was to balance their eggs on their spoons from the starting line to the goal at the opposite side of the small park.
Three steps in, her little teammate dropped his egg.
“Don’t cry. Look, we still have my egg,” she said as she rubbed her baby cousin’s back while he sobbed into her shoulder. “As long as we don’t give up, it’s not over.”
With red eyes, her cousin accepted her spoon. She wrapped herself around the small body. Her steadying hand easily swallowed his tiny one, and she had to waddle on her knees so that she didn’t tower over him. It wasn’t easy, but together, they made it to the end, their final egg still intact.
* * *
She stared up at her little cousin, who was now a head taller than her and still growing.
“Hang in there.”
Her blood flowed hot over his long fingers, taking with it more and more of herself. She fought to keep her gaze on her big little cousin as everything else dimmed.
“As long as you don’t give up, it’s not over.”
In the distance, sirens called.
It’s a lovely, sunny day. The kind of day that songs sing about, where birds trill as they fly across the clear blue sky on screen.
That’s the backdrop for their bouncing castle.
Correction. That’s the backdrop for the shambles of what used to be their bouncing castle.
No one knows what happened or how the industrial strength bouncing castle was destroyed, but they have theories, and those theories all point to the same person.
I look down at my grandmother, who laughs from where she sits in the middle of the carnage. Her killer heels swim among the thick fabric.
“What a disaster,” she says.
I think of the growing circle of curious passerbys gathering around us. Some phone cameras click in the distance.
I sigh and hold my hand out to her.
“Take my hand.”
“Your father will be sorry he missed this,” my grandmother jokes, unrepentant.
“You can tell him all about it when he gets back.”
It’s just another day in the life of a grandmother with the most unusual life stories.
Genre: slice of life, family
The bed on the right is his. Always has been, always will be until he gets his own room. It’s the one thing in their shared room that he does not share with his sister.
But something that isn’t his is on his bed.
“Is this yours?” he asks his sister.
She scrambles onto his bed. “No. What is it?”
They lean in for a closer look. It looks like a maple leaf, but deep blue instead of the iconic fiery red.
“What’s that?” his sister asks as her hand reaches out. She presses her fingers to the unusual leaf.
And that’s when the problem begins.
In the blink of an eye, two things happen.
One, his sister vanishes.
Two, so does all traces of her existance.
Gone is the other bed. Gone are the puzzle erasers she collects on her side of the table. Gone is his sister from all the photographs in the room. It’s just him, in a too big room that looks like it has always belonged to only one person.
The blue maple leaf remains, deceptively innocent on his bed. He doesn’t know what it has done, or where his sister has disappeared to, but the leaf is all he has.
He looks at the blue leaf for a long time. Can he accept what just happened? Can he just let things be?
No. Where his sister goes, he follows. That’s what little brothers do.
He picks up a pen and leaves a note for their parents, just in case he doesn’t make it back in time.
(What if they don’t make it back at all?)
Sis went missing. I’m going after her.
He sets the note in plain sight and reaches for the leaf.
No turning back.
Genre: fantasy, family
For decades, he had taught his lessons in classrooms big and small, from private lessons of one to large seminars of hundreds. He had powered through all kinds of technical difficulties, even ran a workshop during an hour-long blackout.
But he had never needed to teach remotely before.
No matter. In all his years of teaching, technology always evolved. To adapt was to survive, and he wasn’t the kind to go down without a fight.
“If this icon has a slash on it, it means you’re muted. Muted means people can’t hear you. You don’t want that when you’re talking,” his granddaughter said as she pointed at the computer screen.
He didn’t fully understand it, but he noted it down and stuck it to the frame of the screen, under the button. His granddaughter giggled.
“Just making sure I know what to do when I…” He consulted his notes. “… stream my lecture.”
“Can you even find your notes in time?” his granddaughter teased and waved at the mane of sticky notes that framed his screen, each note bearing words of advice and caution.
He gave his granddaughter his most confident of-course-I-know-everything-I’m-a-professor look.
“I’m a fast reader.”
Genre: family, slice of life
His daughter pouted. “I just want to hold hands.”
He reached over to press a finger against the old magazine left on the bedside table. Where skin touched paper, the magazine disintegrated.
“Is this what you want your hand to become?” he asked.
“But you can control it, right?” she said.
“Not always. And all it takes is one slip up. So the answer is still the same. No.”
His daughter pulled her blanket up over her nose, leaving only her expressive eyes visible.
“But my friends get to hold their daddy’s hands,” she complained.
“Your friends don’t have daddies with hands that can destroy anything they touch.”
His daughter fell silent, and he thought that was the end of the conversation.
“Mummy says when there’s a will there’s a way,” his daughter declared.
“There’s another saying. Prevention is better than cure,” he countered the familiar statement.
His daughter’s eyebrows quivered as she fought back tears, and it made him feel terrible, even though his caution was for her own good.
“You can hold my hand,” he said.
His daughter perked up.
“But you can’t touch my palm or my fingers. And if I tell you to let go, you let go immediately. Understand?”
His daughter nodded excitedly, throwing the blanket off her face.
Carefully, he offered one arm to her, resting the back of his hand on the blanket. He pointed out the safe spots on his hand, quizzing his daughter multiple times to make sure she had them memorised before he let her place her small hand anywhere near his own.
Little fingers rested lightly on his skin. It wasn’t quite handholding, but it was enough for his daughter. She beamed at him, and he couldn’t help but smile back.
“Are you ready to sleep now?” he asked.
“Yes, Daddy,” she said and wriggled back into her blanket cocoon.
He kissed her on the forehead, keeping track of where his hands were at all times.
“Goodnight,” he said.
With the back of his hand, he flicked the lights off and nudged the door closed behind him.
Genre: family, fantasy
Part of Hands of Destruction.