writing · poetry · conlang

Tag: fiction

Death Was a Lifeguard (Death Was #5)

Death was a lifeguard. In the most ironic sense, Death sat atop a raised wooden bench. Their tortoiseshell sunglasses perched on the bridge of their nose obscuring the scanning path of their eyes. Their box braids were swept back in a ponytail that rested on their shoulders.

Sauriel sat beside the lifeguard tower with her legs drifting in the pool currents. She watched Parish and Beckette, her niece and nephew, splash in the pool. To the humans sharing the space, they appeared as two normal, albeit rambunctious, children. From Death’s perspective, their chaotic energy manifested in their demonic horns as clear as Sauriel’s angelic halo.

  “Who are you wearing?” Sauriel asked.

“Jadah Jamison,” Death said. “She had a seizure unexpectedly and no one caught her fall on this day three years ago. She was seventeen.”

“Tragic.”

“They all are,” Death didn’t flinch as a seagull swooped down to sit on the armrest of their chair. Sauriel recognized the bird as one of Death’s reapers; however, she frowned at the hamburger the reaper was choking down.

“The seagull died of a ruptured stomach. Old hubris dies hard,” Death said.

“Why are you here?” Sauriel asked.

“Someone here is about to die,” Death replied in the same, even tone.

  “Would you tell me if it was Parish or Beckette?” Sauriel balled her fist on her thigh. It would be pointless to fight Death if something were to happen, but Sauriel couldn’t help herself.

“It wouldn’t change anything regardless of if I told you or not.” Death said, “but if it will ease your mind, no. I’m not here for the demon-children.”

Sauriel relaxed her shoulders and turned back to watch the children play. She chose this spot for its seclusion. The country club was located in the middle of the mountainous wilderness of upstate New York. The birds in the surrounding woods spoke to her. They promised their mother a warning if any other cosmic forces approached.

A shift in air pressure alerted her to the cloud formation off in the distance. In a panic, she reached out with her mind to the birds; however, her fears of demonic foes were assuaged as the birds assured her it was a simple storm approaching.

A sharp whistle sounded behind her, “storm alert! Please exit the water!” Death yelled behind her. The lifeguard working on the other side of the pool yelled a similar warning.

Most of the patrons heeded the warning, and Sauriel slipped into the water to herd Parish and Beckette out of the pool to maintain anonymity. Just as Sauriel was bundling the pair up in their own towels, she heard a commotion over her shoulder.

“I’m not leaving! It’s just a little storm!” One woman complained from her pool float as she waved her fruity cocktail in the air. “I will not be bossed around by some teenager!”

“Ma’am, I must insist,” Death tried to usher her towards the steps, but it was too late. Sauriel pulled the towels over the children’s eyes just as a bolt of lightning arced from the sky to the outstretched arm of the woman in the water. Sauriel watched as the shock vaporized her drink umbrella first, then made its way through her body.

Death hadn’t moved from their spot, and once the strike had dissipated, they pulled the woman from the water as the other lifeguards attempted CPR. Death offered their arm to the confused, ghostly figure that emerged from the woman’s body.

“Until next time,” Death tipped their head to Sauriel, and walked into the locker room. When Sauriel led the children into the same room, Death and the figure were gone.

Death Was a Nurse (Death Was #4)

Death was a nurse. Not in the official sense with a handful of patients waiting for their morning pills. Death walked through the halls of Elm Street Cancer Treatment Center dressed in navy scrubs and dark trainers. Death stopped before a patient’s room: 283, Mary Colling. Death could feel it in the air, that pressure between the veils of this universe and the plane of comfort and eternity. 

Death slipped into room 283, opened the window, and approached Mary’s hospital bed. On the side table sat a plethora of cards and fresh flowers. Mary had just celebrated her eighth birthday the day prior, but all the cheer in the world could not hide the fact that her eyes were sunken and her skin was close to translucent. Mary was a strong girl, and Death could feel that her fight was close to over. On the bed, her mother slept next to her.

“Don’t you get tired of this,” a man crossed the room and joined Death in observation of the sleeping pair. Death looked beneath the man’s shell to confirm what they already knew. The cloudy charge of purple haze that writhed just under the layers of visible reality was unique to one being—Lucifer.

“Many things in the state you call reality change. You are not one of them,” Death returned their gaze to Mary. Her breath grew ragged. 

“Where’s Marcin.” Lucifer demanded. 

“How should I know?” Death said. 

“You were the last to see him,” Lucifer snapped.

“I do not control Marcin. Regardless of if I’ve perceived him or not, I do not know where he is now.” Mary shifted on the bed. Death reached for the plush teddy bear that had fallen to the ground some time ago and tucked it under Mary’s arm.

“Are you being deliberately obtuse?”

“Are you deliberately wasting your time?” Death smiled as Mary curled into her teddy bear and settled once more.

“I have eons left still to waste. Who knows, maybe you’ll never remove me from my ambitions,” he said.

Death looked to the window just as two crows perched on the sill. The birds leaned forward and melted into the vinyl floor, slowly oozing forward and lightening into a golden shimmer. After a few feet of shapelessness, the crows built themselves up again into the form of an elderly golden retriever. The hound was clad in a harness that read Therapy Dog

“Across all realities and all beings, even among those like you, that’s one thing that remains constant in some form,” Death beckoned the dog to Mary’s bedside and scratched behind his ears. “You always think you’re the exception.”

Death looked Lucifer in the eye and held up a hand to ward off the next useless thought that was to come out of his mouth. “All things living may do as they please with their time, but keep this in mind Morning Star, the only place where time has no meaning is the plane of comfort and eternity. You will meet me there one day. Then, maybe, we could talk freely.”

Death held out their hand over Mary’s body, and slowly, glowing fingers intertwined with Death’s own. Mary’s soul stepped off the bed and enveloped Death’s reaper, still in the form of a therapy dog. Death spared Lucifer one last pitying glance before leading both Mary and their reaper through the layers of the worlds just as the machines still hooked to Mary’s body started ringing.

It’s Not Just Mary Sues: A Case for Derivative Works (Sci-Bi Inspiration #3)

A few months ago, I went on the Podcast VJ Talks. The host, V.J. Harris, is a TikTok mutual of mine, and I was excited that they invited me on to talk about worldbuilding, conlanging, and Obligate—the mini-series I was best known for at the time. I had a great time talking with V.J., but there was one admission that I made on that podcast that I’ve been hesitant to talk about on TikTok, that the universe I write in started as a derivative work. 

Yes, the universe that my conlangs, my novel in progress, my short stories, Obligate, and most recently The Boston Androids exist in was originally a Star Trek original series that I called Star Trek: Apgar. The Apgar portion was taken from the name of the galaxy-class starship where the series would take place (I named the ship in honor of the scientist Virginia Apgar whose creation of the Apgar score has saved the lives of many newborns).

Star Trek: Apgar was a quarantine project. In the year 2020, I had just started my third year of college, my mom had just had major brain surgery, and we had just had one of the most contentious elections in US history. Emotionally, I wasn’t doing too hot. My answer to emotional instability was to start watching Star Trek: The Next Generation

I fell in love with the series. The characters, the setting, and the story spoke to me. I took the world building, and I ran with it. I started wondering what the show could look like free from the constraints of 80s technology and TV budgets. I imagined complex life support equipment and languages that didn’t translate. I developed a new alien species, the Beskarans, who were amphibious, quadrupedal, and clear-blooded.

I soon remembered that Beskarans sounded a bit too much like Beskar (a fictional material from Star Wars). As a consequence, Beskarans became Lacerti, based on the Latin word for lizard. Beskaran also became the basis for Beshan, the family name of my new protagonist, Ehno Beshan.

I wrote Star Trek: Apgar as an episode concept. In it, Lt. Cmdr. Beshan’s homeplanet is considering joining the Federation, and the USS Apgar is ordered to oversee talks. It dealt with Beshan’s conflicting feelings on her family, her home, and her decision to leave it all behind to join Starfleet. 

A drawing of a frog-like humanoid wearing a modified Starfleet uniform

I wrote somewhere around 12,000 words before I realized that Star Trek was being used as window dressing. I wanted to write a character-driven story that felt like Star Trek, but that didn’t mean that I had to write within the confines of Star Trek. I think that’s the beauty of derivative works; they give you a familiar space to process what kind of story you want to tell. 

There are a lot of stories that could be told in the sand box that is Star Trek, and I needed that sand box to assure me that I had the capability to write a compelling story. As soon as I felt confined by the preexisting worldbuilding of Star Trek, I realized that I could write compelling original content.

This was the push that got me to rewrite Star Trek: Apgar as my own original work, and I realized that once I took away the titles and transporters, there was very little Star Trek worldbuilding left behind. Now, my worldbuilding includes android societies, morally ambiguous parasites, and glassmaking physics that probably wouldn’t work out in the real world, but most importantly, it’s a universe of my own design. 

Though I still worry that the echoes of Star Trek could one day cause some overzealous fanboy to call Major Ehnno Beshan an OP OC or Mary Sue, I have the self-confidence to know that this isn’t the case. I’m grateful to Star Trek for inspiring me to write complex characters that go on compelling adventures, but Star Trek doesn’t have a monopoly on this concept. 
When we write derivative works, we write out of love for the franchises that give us creative insight. I’m not ashamed that The Astroauroran Chronicles is reminiscent of Star Trek. The nature of existence, the draw to the unknown, and the complexity of the human experience are universal themes, and there’s more than enough room for one more franchise that explores them.

Death Was a Babysitter (Death Was #3)

Death was a babysitter. Not in the regular sense with homework to do and sock hops to attend after their employers returned from their monthly reprieve but in the temporary sense with two demon children chasing geese in a cemetery park. Death sat on a bench, their brown hair pulled into a neat ponytail and bangs framing their round face. They crossed one ankle over the other, and aside from the occasional chewing-gum bubble, they sat perfectly still, a sentinel watching over the children.

A man approached the bench, his nerves dissipating as he sunk down in the free seat next to Death. He looked at the kids, his eyes welling with relief.

“Who are you wearing today?” He asked, voice wavering.

Death took in his appearance without taking their eyes away from their wards. Marcin usually kept his shell in immaculate condition, but today, his black hair hung loose and limp from the half bun he normally kept it in, his pea coat was unbuttoned, and his white button up was untucked. 

“Betty Lis, she died on the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle,” they said. Betty’s poodle skirt caught in the wind, and Death turned her head to look at Marcin. “But that’s not what you want to talk about.”

“No, sorry. I just…” He looked out at his two children, Parish and Beckette, gleefully playing a game of chase with the geese by the pond. “Thank you for watching them.”

“Thank your sister. She was the one who chased off Mephistopheles Henriette and Mephistopheles Adisa. I was here to take them.”

Angels and demons didn’t need to breathe; despite this, Marcin felt as though Death had taken all of the air from his surroundings. “Are you still,” He began before Death cut his thought short.

“No,” they said. “They don’t belong with me yet, but they still appear as two children alone in the park. I didn’t want any humans to bother them.”

“Where’s Sauriel?” He asked, realizing that if she chased off Henriette and Adisa, she could be in danger.

“I’m unsure,” Death said. “But I know I’m not needed by her side at the moment.” Death popped another bubble of chewing gum. “Perhaps, you should ask your other sister. Abiah keeps a close watch on you all.”

Death stood from the bench and held out Betty’s arm. All at once, the geese stood at attention, making the children stop and watch in bewilderment as they flew and morphed mid-air into one, giant golden eagle.

Marcin looked back to Death, now a Kazakh eagle hunter with warm, fur clothing wrapped in intricate, red patterns and a padded glove that strained under the grip of the talons.  

“Consider leaving your children with someone, maybe Gabriel. I heard she’s been rather bored lately.” Marcin glanced at his children, and though he felt nothing, he knew that Death had left his side.

Death Was a Shepherd (Death Was #2)

Death was a shepherd. Not in the religious sense with a flock of devoted worshipers but neither in the literal sense with a homestead and worries of icy winters. Death stood in ankle high, wet grass wearing wool pants, a study cap, and a border tartan wrap overlooking hills dotted with sheep. They whistled and four border collies bolted from Death’s side and made quick work of the scattered flock. 

Sauriel stood behind and off to the side, marveling at the dogs’ agility. “Who are you wearing today?” She asked. 

“William Barker but he preferred to be called Will,” they said. Death whistled again, changing the direction of the flock towards a fence off to the right. “He died this day, 1905.”

“And your reapers?” She saw the traces of mist that followed the dogs’ paths.

“Duncan, Malcolm, Lady Macbeth, and Banquo. They were Will’s herding dogs. They died the same day.” Death turned to face Sauriel, trusting their reapers to handle the rest of the sheep. “You seldom seek me out.”

“I came to ask a question,” she said. “You said that Lucifer sent the Mephistopheles after Marcin, but the things that attacked him, those weren’t demons.”

Death hummed. From their tartan wrap, a lamb popped its head out and gave a single, offended bleat. “You’ve upset Lamb-bert.”

“It…it has a name?”

“Yes, the farmer down the road was a single father with two young children caring for his weary parents,” Death ran Will’s hand across Lamb-bert’s head. “He died two hours ago. His last wish was for his flock to be returned. Lamb-bert was named by his children.”

Sauriel placed a hand on her hip and ran the other one through her hair. The light from her halo reflected off the gathering mist and gave Lamb-bert’s eyes an eerie glow. “Death, I need you to be honest with me. I’m begging here, what else is after Marcin and his kids?”

“There are things larger than you and I, Sauriel.” They pulled off their tartan and swaddled Lamb-bert, rocking him softly until his eyes closed. “All things dead are my domain, and all things living will eventually be my domain, but while they live, their choices, their definitions, are their own. I am not as omnipotent as most would like to believe.”

Before Sauriel could interrupt to ask another question, Death closed the gap between them and handed her the bundle of tartan-wrapped lamb. “Do me a favor and return Lamb-bert.”

The sheep corralled, Death called their reapers with a sharp whistle. As the mist settled on the group, William Barker blew away on the wind, and in his place stood a tall woman with sleek, black hair and bold, red lipstick wearing pointy stiletto shoes, a knee-length fur coat over a form-hugging, decadent silk dress, and oversized sunglasses. 

“I am needed elsewhere,” Death and their reapers, now borzois with thick, diamond-studded golden collars dissolved into the mist leaving Sauriel in the field, holding a cozy, sleeping lamb.

Death Was a Housewife (Death Was #1)

Death was a housewife. Not in the literal sense with a husband, 2.5 kids, a house in suburbia, and a dog (can’t forget the dog). Death liked humans and their assorted aesthetics, so in that moment, Death was a housewife with dark brown hair swept into an updo, a stiff, pink dress, and a wool cardigan tied around their shoulders. Last time Sauriel saw them, Death was a punk kid with a studded, leather jacket and dyed hair—it all depended on their mood that day.

“Who are you wearing today?” Sauriel asked, sipping orange pekoe tea from an ornate porcelain cup.

“Mary-Debra Jones, she died this day 1952. Heart attack.” Death stirred three sugar cubes into their earl grey tea, clacking Mary-Debra’s French-tipped nails against the cup. “She was a very stressed woman, but her taste in fashion was exquisite.” 

“Who doesn’t love the new look?” She took a sip of her tea. “Not that I don’t enjoy speaking with you, but you’re usually not one to seek out the living.”

The sugar cubes finally dissolved, Death took a long sip of their tea. “Don’t worry, I’m not here to scatter you to the stars just yet, but you are correct, I’m not here for pleasant conversation. I’m here to give you a warning.”

Sauriel stopped mid-sip, “a warning? Hopefully I’ve caused no offense.”

“None at all,” Death scrutinized the cup, running their finger across a miniscule chip. “Your sibling though, the one with the two demon-children—”

“Marcin,” Sauriel supplied.

“Yes, Marcin and his two curtain climbers have caused offense to some powerful people. I won’t lie to you. There are many beings gunning for his demise, for the demise of all of them.”

Sauriel set her cup in its saucer; for a brief moment before it seated properly, the cup rattled, spilling over. “Who sent out the order?”

Mary-Debra’s eyelashes weighed down her eyelids. “The order came from Lucifer. I heard he’s sent Mephistopheles Henriette and Mephistopheles Adisa.”

Nothing good could come from a Mephistopheles; Hell’s most loyal, the first to fall. She had crossed paths with Henriette and Adisa—both before and after they fell. When they were angels, Henriette had created thylacosmilus. Adisa had created pikaia. When their creations were wiped from existence, their screams tore into Sauriel’s soul. Now that they’re demons, they’re the last to be reasoned with.

“Are you sure you can’t just give them their pet projects back?” Sauriel asked.

“No,” Death didn’t even entertain the joke. “My reapers quite like them. I could never give them up.” Sauriel could count on one hand the number of times Death willingly let someone or something slip from their grasp. It was a special occurrence with special rules for special individuals. She stirred her tea and sent a silent apology to all thylacosmilus and pikaia.  

Sauriel looked back up and Death was a college student sipping an energy drink wearing cargo shorts and a garish, dinosaur-print button up. 

“Fashion is overrated these days,” they said. Sauriel blinked and Death was gone.

© 2024 ASTROAURORAN

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑