They gathered, each overcoming their own challenges to stand side by side. Different people from different backgrounds and different opinions united by the same goal. It was an inspiring sight.
It made her blood boil.
In these people who stood against her, she saw shadows of her former comrades. They, too, had stood united like this once, only to break away, one by one, through choice or circumstance, until she stood alone.
She pulled the flames of of anger from within her into the outside world.
Friendship. It built her up. It tore her down. But if she was going down, she would drag the whole world down with her.
They outnumbered her, but when she looked at them she was too angry to feel fear.
Genre: slice of life, humour
She watched with wide eyes as the kitchen hand pummeled the dough to within an inch of its life.
A few paces away, in the laundry room, another man savagely beat the dirt out of the soapy clothes.
“Don’t mind them. We’re all here for one reason, that is to punch things. It’s easier to get everyone to chip in with chores if they can punch their way through it,” the owner said as he led her deeper into the compound, “But bills are one of those things you can’t just punch the lights out and hope it pays itself. And that’s where you come in.”
She nodded, even as she kept a weary eye on the calloused fists and enlarged knuckles.
The owner led her to the office, the only empty space in the compound. Papers and envelopes sat in stacks on the table and chairs.
“If anyone threatens you, just call for help. Everyone else will be more than happy to beat up the idiot who bullies the new help,” the owner said with his eyes on the men around them, with a particularly long look at one of the men who still had a cast on one arm.
“Yes, boss,” the chorused, and it sounded like a clap of too-close thunder.
If that was supposed to help her feel safer… the owner should try to help her less.
“Let me know if you need any help with the bills and documents,” the owner said with a clap on her shoulder that almost sent her to her knees.
“Noted,” she said.
The owner left, and she turned her attention to the controlled chaos before her. She reminded herself about the good pay, the flexible hours, and the short distance between work and home, and buckled down to begin her work.
It was a nice, balmy weather. A little on the chilly side, but just enough to make the world feel refreshing.
No one else seemed to agree.
“It’s freezing,” her companions complained as they huddled together. She could barely see their faces under the scarves they had wrapped all the way up to their nose.
“It’s not that bad,” she said, showing them her bare arms.
“That’s because you’re not human,” they pointed out.
“That’s true.” Where she came from, it was so cold that everything was frozen solid. Where here there were large bodies of water called lakes and oceans, all she had back home was glaciers and ice fields. “Shall we come back next time when the weather is warmer?”
The humans turned their attention to the leader of the expedition.
“There’s no need for that. We’ve already come this far, and this is the time when the artefact will be the least defended. We’ll be quick. Just collect the artefact and get out,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” they said.
They continued to trudge through the knee-high snow. She strolled easily alongside them.
Better enjoy the nice weather while she could.
They called them the hazmat angels, because the team of volunteers came an hour every day, with food and supplies when everyone else would rather forget that they existed.
All they had been told was that the lab accident had turned their suburb radioactive, and that they were all quarantined for public safety.
If the place truly was radioactive, they would all be evacuated for medical attention. Only then would the area be walled off to isolate the lingering radiation from the rest of the world.
No, if they were trapped inside, it would not be because of a simple nuclear radiation but something more sinister that had been brewing inside the lab. They could only watch in despair as the lead walls went up, with them still on the wrong side and uncertain if they would ever be free.
The team of volunteers, dressed in their protective hazmat suits, were their only contact with the outside world. They didn’t just bring with them physical necessities during their brief visits, but news and messages from the outside world. They were their brief rays of light in a bleak world.
So when unknown assailants attacked their hazmat angels, there was no way they could have just stood by.
United by their protective anger, they armed themselves with anything they could get their hands on. It was nothing compared to the weapons the assailants had, but they had the advantage of numbers on their side.
For these hazmat angels who reached out to them when the world would rather hide them away, to protect them in turn was the least they could do.
The man slammed his knife on the table with so much strength that it sunk all the way to its hilt.
“Anyone looking for trouble?” the man said with deceptive calm as he eyed each troublemaker in turn.
The group of young men, who crowded around a frightened waitress, shifted with muttered grumbles.
“Oh my. This poor thing looks little bent out of shape,” the man’s companion said and lifted a bent poker by the fireplace. Casually, she pulled the bent metal body straight.
The young men paled and finally backed away.
“Finished with you meal?” the man said and bared his teeth in a smile, “Remember to clear the bill before you go.”
The young men threw their money at their table and stomped towards the exit. The man and his companion watched the group leave with unconcerned, half-lidded eyes. Unhappy but unwilling to challenge the double threat, the group left.
“Well then,” the woman said and folded the poker into a ball, “That resolved itself nicely.”
“Excellent work,” the man said as he pulled out his knife. There wasn’t even a scratch on the table surface.
With easy smiles on their faces, the pair took their seats once more at their empty table. The rest of the patrons looked away, though they still kept their attention on the pair. Still trembling, the waitress approached the table.
“H-Hi. Thank you,” the waitress said, fingers tight around her notepad.
“You’re welcome,” the man said.
“A-are you r-ready to order?” the waitress stammered.
The smiles on the pair’s face softened.
“You don’t need to be afraid of us. We’re just travelling performers,” the woman said.
The man presented the knife he had stabbed into the table. He pressed a finger against the point, letting it bend a little under the pressure before springing back into place. Up close, it was easier to see the differences the knife had to a usual knife. Its edge was more rounded and its surface was less reflective.
“A trick knife for one of our usual performances, and doubles nicely as a good warning against people who are looking for trouble. Here. Give it a try,” the man said and presented the knife to the waitress.
The waitress pressed the tip of the knife into the table. Her eyes widened when the blade retracted as she pushed until the hilt touched the table, just as the man had done just moments before. She looked at the pair.
“Shh,” the man said with a finger pressed against his smiling lips, “It’s a secret.”
The waitress finally broke into a small smile. She copied the man and pressed a finger against her lips.
“Now, what would you recommend for a meal?”
And everything returned back to normal, the threat of the group of young men and the show of strength from the pair just a memory of the past.
Genre: slice of life
Every day, on the way to school, he passed an open window that always framed an elderly lady. It was the highlight of his walk to share wordless greetings as he passed.
One day, he only saw a closed window.
Well, it was only natural to want to sleep in, right?
The window remained closed the next day.
Maybe the lady was away on holiday?
On the third day, the window was open, but empty. By the time he returned from school, he couldn’t pass by without doing something. He marched up the pathway to knock on the door.
It was only after an unfamiliar face opened the door that he had second thoughts.
“Hi. Err… I pass by your house every day to school. There’s usually a lady by that window,” he said and pointed at the window on the second floor, “I haven’t seen her the past few days. Is she alright?”
The stranger jumped in surprise, then something seemed to click in her mind.
“I’ve heard about you. Mother caught a cold, but she’s getting better. Please come in. I’m sure she’ll love to meet you.”
After seeing each other for years, this would be the first time they actually met each other.
“Hello, dear. Sorry to worry you.”
This was going to be exciting!
Genre: slice of life, background fantasy
He knew only two things about her.
One, she was quiet.
Two, she was always injured.
The first was understandable. It was normal to be quiet in the library. But the second worried him. Not even he, at his clumsiest when his body seemed to double in length every few days, had a new injury every day.
He had two theories.
First, someone was abusing her.
Second, she was one of those superheroes that started appearing late last year.
If it was the former, he had to report it.
If it was the latter, he… shouldn’t?
He scratched his head in frustration. It was the same mental debate, again and again. He couldn’t like this. He needed to find out more. He needed to talk to the girl.
Decision made, he looked up.
But the girl was gone.
Sweat ran in rivulets down his back.
“Hotter!” the mage said.
“Any hotter and we’re all going to burn too,” he grumbled but still cranked up the heat. The mage leaned forward in anticipation. Not for the first time, he pulled the mage back before she did something stupid, like try to touch the glowing hot ore with her bare hands.
A crack split the surface of the ore. It pulsed. Once. Twice.
The mage stepped forward. He pulled her back again.
“It’s fine. It’s ready for the next step.”
She brushed his hand off and stepped towards the ore into the heat. She positioned her fingertips over the glowing ore, took a steadying breath, and touched it.
Like a chef pulling dough, the mage pulled the ore into a long rod. With just her fingers, she prodded the rod into her desired form as if it was just clay.
He watched from a distance, sweat still running in rivulets down his back.
Magic was crazy.
Genre: general, fantasy
The king first met the girl in his own private garden. The palace staff held their breath, for he was a cruel king who was quick to repress any disobedience, and trespassing his private garden was definitely an act of disobedience.
Unsurprisingly, the king had the girl thrown into the dungeon, never mind that she was unconscious and young enough that they could easily count her age with the fingers on their hands. They tended to her as they did the other prisoners and stepped back when the king visited the dungeon, as was his routine.
The girl had no memory, not of how she ended up in the garden, not of herself. No matter what the king threatened, she could not give any answers. For the king, whose paranoia demanded that he knew everything, it was unacceptable, and he visited again and again, hoping to pry out her secret.
At some point, the visits became less hostile and more peaceful. The cruel king and the amnesiac girl spoke for minutes to hours at a time. Interrogation turned to exploration to conversation.
The palace staff kept watching and waiting for the day the girl made a wrong move and attracted the king’s infamous cruelty, but the day never came. Instead, it was the king, their stubborn, set in his ways, don’t-tell-me-what-to-do king, who changed. He became more willing to listen, more open to alternate opinions, more merciful in his actions.
Over the years, the king continued to change, but the girl remained the same.
Exactly the same.
Before, they wondered about her safety. Now, they wondered about her.
The girl, as young as the day they mysteriously found her in the king’s private garden, merely smiled at their questioning glances and skipped with childish glee through the palace.
Genre: general, angst
On the TV screen, the main character sat in the corner of his room, not even bothering to turn on the lights so he could brood in darkness.
“He needs to stop angsting and just get over it,” her friend said.
She looked down to her friend’s clenched fists on the hospital bed, next to the stumps that used to be his legs.
“Are you saying that to him, or yourself?” she asked.
Her friend looked away, shoulders quivering. Shame rose in her.
“I’m sorry. It’s too early,” she said.
“I’m sorry it happened at all,” he said, voice thick.
On TV, the scene shifted to a light-hearted baking session in a home kitchen.
“It’s ok to ‘angst’. You have the right to react to what has happened to you,” she said.
“No one likes a downer,” he said, still looking away.
“No one likes a bomb either, and that’s what you’ll become if you don’t let yourself grieve.” Her hands tightened into a fist against her thighs. “It’s not fair that you lost your legs saving someone else. Get angry, get upset, complain, cry, just let it out. Give yourself permission to angst.”
Her friend shuddered and he pressed his fists to his mouth to muffle his sobs. Tears prickled at the corner of her eyes as her heart broke for him.
She spoke through the lump in her throat. “Pour yourself out until there’s nothing left to pour out, then you start putting yourself back together again.”
What happened to him wasn’t fair, but this was his new reality, and he needed this space to face his own feelings head on before he could move forward.
The TV continued to play, its content long forgotten as they grieved for what they had lost.