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Seven Lifetimes

by Sara Raasch


Lust

Some lifetimes, the Angel doesn’t come at all.

Those let me have my ignorance, for however short a time. I trick myself into believing the damage will be minimal. I haul up in some forgotten corner of the world where weapons haven’t progressed beyond bows and stones and pray that I’m contained.

(Which is absurd—none of us prays anymore.)

But each of those lifetimes ends the same: with ignorance cracking, and war being there all along. I wake up one morning to the sensation of having forgotten something vital, and I’ll yawn and stretch and roll over to my constant companion, a bedmate that knows every lifetime I’ve tried to escape but it sticks with me all the same: hatred. It trails me like streams of smoke from those disgusting cigarettes Lust puffed on when smoking was sexy, choking the world around me until all the humans can inhale is fury.

(I admitted to being jealous of Lust once, that his curse wasn’t destructive. He smiled, slow, seductive, because he’s incapable of anything else, and told me he’d show me one day just how destructive he could be.)

And though the Angel doesn’t show up for those lifetimes, I can feel her there, watching, taking stock of my destruction with all the adoration of a mother appraising her child.

(Not that I’ve ever experienced the love between a mother and child. But I’ve killed enough of them.)

Pride

The Angel is there one day, after too many lifetimes of solitude. Six to be exact—Pride told me he keeps a calendar of when she’ll appear. Every seventh lifetime, perfect clockwork designed for an imperfect system.

“I like to be prepared,” Pride explained, snapping shut his pocket calendar and leaning back with a satisfied smirk.

(He’s been a Caucasian male his past fourteen lifetimes. It’s a little predictable, and a lot sad, which I told him, because it makes him so incensed that I can tell myself the destruction caused is from him, not me.)

Preparation has nothing to do with it, though. The only thing it has to do with is need.

Pride is desperate to see her. Lust never visits for long should the Angel be unable to find him in whatever forgotten corner of the world I haul up in. And all the others—they pace, and they count, and they wait for her to show up, because they need to win.

I’m the only one who hides from her. Who pretends I don’t see her when she appears—a reflection in the window of a store, then in the yard outside my house, then standing over my bed with a soft, ethereal smile made for rapture.

So when she shows up this time, my instinct is to ignore her. I twitch to keep my head bowed, shoulders hunched against the scorching summer sun as I make my weekly supply trek from my shack to the nearest village.

But this time, she isn’t standing at a distance. She’s right on the road, two feet in front of me.

And she isn’t smiling.

Gluttony

Gluttony won the last game.

“Shit, he’s never gonna let us live this down,” Pride had complained just after. “He’s almost as insufferable as Sloth.”

(Because of course the real problem is our egos, not the abuse the world will suffer under Gluttony’s reign.)

I was relieved, though, because Gluttony’s curse could almost be a blessing, if he used it right.

But these things aren’t made to be used right. They aren’t made to be ignored, as I try to ignore mine, or shirked, as I do every game.

And so when the Angel appears this time, in front of me on the dusty road, I know all those years of me intentionally throwing the game have finally caught up to me.

Greed

The Angel is standing there, cradling part of a bloodied corpse against her stomach like an infant. In her other hand, a gore-drenched knife glints sunlight, and she rakes the back of her hand across her bloodied lips.

(She’s appealing to the parts of me she misses. The Warmonger, the Conqueror, the Murderer.)

She’s hungry. You’d think seven years of Gluttony would have satisfied her, but the need in her eyes is primal, and I wonder for half a second if she’s here because she’s looking for Greed, because she wants her to win, but no.

(Greed wins often enough—it’s her nature to win, and to hate it anyway.)

The bloodied corpse falls from the Angel’s hands with a wet thunk. Her lips move only to lift in a smile, but her words are in my mind, as inescapable as the destruction I wrought simply by existing.

“It’s time,” she tells me. “It’s time.”

Envy

“You lucky little shit,” Envy tells me when we’re there, all of us, gathered like every seven years. “She’s rigged the game for you, you know that? God Almighty, you better not mess this up.”

(What god is she talking about?)

The look on Envy’s face is an echo of what all the others are feeling. They won’t show it, of course, but they’re fumingly envious, so much so it’d be easy to foster that emotion and help Envy win.

The Angel will have prepared for that, though. The Angel is prepared for everything.

Sloth

I threw the game so Gluttony would win last time. It was easy—play against the others, use their curses to my advantage. I could do it again. If not to help Envy win, then to help Sloth, maybe—she’s harmless. Mostly.

Yes, Sloth. The world would much rather have seven years of lazy resting than …

The Angel’s voice resounds in my head, a thousand trumpets, a hundred screaming voices.

“You know how this will end.”

Wrath

I know how this will end, because I’ve won before. When I was newer, and stupid, and all of them combined.

They hated me then, as they should have, because I was better at being them than they were. I was far too slick for someone made of destruction, and invented words like dominance so Lust trailed behind me, picking up ideas in my wake. I was boastful, so resplendent as I desecrated entire countries with one well-placed livid ruler that Pride had only murder in his eyes when he looked at me. My appetite was the epitome of insatiable, and while the world turned itself inside out trying to feed me, Gluttony picked at his teeth and wondered how I could crave things like blood and bodies when there were far more delectable treats. Greed hated me, and that hatred fueled me, and her constant leech, Envy, did the same. Sloth was the only one who didn’t care, because she can’t care, and so she became a tool I used to make some nations pliable while others slaughtered them.

(The humans gave me names like War and Death. They made me gods and worshipped me, and made me demons and feared me. I was Everything, and I knew it.)

I won the game so many times the world became unrecognizable as a habitable planet. And by the time my hatred caught up to me, it was too late. There were scars in the very earth that would never heal.

As the Angel smiles, moments away from signaling the start of the game, her eyes stay on me, and I relive every lifetime I won. Every death. Every war. Every surge of groundless fury that destroyed homelands and crippled lives.

(I’m sorry, it’s all I can say, I’m sorry.)

She wants me to win, because it’s been too long since the world suffered under my particular brand of horror.

It’s been too long.

And I don’t know if I can stop it this time.


Sara Raasch has known she was destined for bookish things since the age of five, when her friends had a lemonade stand and she tagged along to sell her hand-drawn picture books too. Not much has changed since then — her friends still cock concerned eyebrows when she attempts to draw things and her enthusiasm for the written word still drives her to extreme measures. FROST LIKE NIGHT, the final book in her debut YA fantasy trilogy SNOW LIKE ASHES, comes out September 20, 2016. It does not feature her hand-drawn pictures.

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Aisle 13

by Justina Ireland


It’s two days before the last day of school, and I’m sitting in my Combatives class ready to die of boredom.  Mr. Vaughn is showing a demonstration video on how to slay a basilisk. Again. It was the last question on our final. Only half of us got it right.

I was not one of the lucky few.

No one is paying attention as the warrior in the party uses her reflective shield to distract the basilisk while a mage makes a big deal about putting the creature down with a sleep spell.  We’re all talking and thinking about the summer.

“What did you get in here?” Jeb asks from across the row.

“C,” I say.  “What about you?”

“D minus,” he says, waving his test at me.  His ears droop a little like a chastised puppy. Demons are so sensitive.

I shrug.  “At least you dodged a bullet. No summer school.”

“Yeah,” Jeb looks down at his test morosely.  “But still, you can’t kill a basilisk?  Who knew they were an endangered species?”

Mr. Vaughn is clip-clopping across the front of the room now, arms crossed as he gives one of his “these are skills for the real world” lectures once again. As fun as it is to watch a centaur go off on a tear, I’m over Mr. Vaughn and I’m over this school year.  

I don’t really care about the test, but I do hate when Jeb gets all emo.  “Look, we’re never going to use this anyway.  No one goes adventuring anymore.”

He nods and incinerates his test with a simple fire spell.  No one even glances at him.

“What are you doing this summer?” he asks after a long while, his voice low. He’s still bummed about his bad grade. Maybe I’ll take him out for frozen yogurt after school.  Cheer him up. Sprinkles would cheer anyone up.

I slouch down in my desk, stretching with a yawn.  Mr. Vaughn has given up on his lecture and has retreated to his desk to eat an apple someone brought him.  He’s much calmer now.  It’s probably the apple.  Centaurs freaking love apples.

“Nothing dude,” I say, finally answering Jeb’s question.  “Absolutely nothing.”

*****

The second day of summer vacation my mom tells me I need to get a job.

We’re sitting at dinner eating Mom’s famous tavern stew, which is really just a bunch of random things boiled down to mush.  She’s still dressed in her work clothes: low cut white gown and flower crown.  I asked her once why the clinic makes her wear such a ridiculous outfit, and she just shrugged and said “It’s tradition. This is how healers dress.”  The men have an outfit that is just as stupid, tight white breeches and a flowy tunic, but I still think it sucks that my mom has to dress like a sex object to help people. Like, where is the self-respect in that?

“So, Caitlyn, what are your plans for summer?” Mom asks as I’m about to shovel in some of her stew.  My mouth is full so I just shrug and say “Uhnano.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? No big plans?” Mom is giving me this tight smile that means she wants a specific answer, but I have no idea what she’s looking for here.  It’s summer.  It’s two and a half months of not thinking about magic spells or chemistry or monster identification or algebra or anything, really.  So why is she hassling me?

“I was thinking of maybe taking my mage’s test or something,” I say, hoping it’s enough to distract Mom from whatever she’s about.  Dad isn’t even paying attention to the conversation. As usual he’s nose deep in Berserker Weekly.  Dad used to be this big time adventurer, walking through forests and bashing in heads for fun and profit.  That’s where he met Mom.  I think he saved her from an evil wizard or a druidic cult or something. It was a long time ago, though, and now he mainly consults for a living.

“Oh, that’s a good idea.  After you get your license maybe you could call Marcus and see if he’ll let you work in the Hex shop.  I mean, you should really get a job this summer.  Don’t you agree, Brock?”

A frown creases Dad’s dark face but he grunts in assent.

I take another bite of stew and look down at the bowl to avoid answering. There’s no way I’m going to work in my Uncle Marcus’s Hex shop. The thought of untangling curses all summer makes me want to turn myself into a frog and hide out in the forest.  Not to mention that my Uncle Marcus is the cheapest man alive.  I’d be lucky if he even paid me.

Mom pushes her bowl of stew away and jumps to her feet.  “Good! Caitlyn, I’ll send Marcus a note letting him know you’ll be there tomorrow bright and early—”

“I don’t want to work in the Hex shop. It’s gross.”

Mom stops and turns to me slowly.  Her skin is pale as usual but two spots of color have appeared high on her cheeks.  She is pissed.  “Removing hexes is not gross.  Your uncle gives those people their lives back.”

“A woman with boils all over her face is pretty gross, Mom.”  Last year when I had to pick a concentration Mom took me to see Marcus to convince me to pick cursework because it pays pretty well.  I chose spellweaving instead.  I’d rather work in a factory making love charms or fire spells than to have to turn frogs back into snotty princes all day.

Mom purses her lips and turns to my Dad.  “Brock, will you please talk some sense into your daughter?”

“Cursework is disgusting, Mel,” Dad says, lowering his paper.  “Why can’t the girl go adventuring like everyone else her age?”

“No one goes adventuring anymore, Dad,” I say.  Because it’s true. Adventuring is something your parents make you do because they don’t understand that it isn’t cool to slay dragons anymore or that maidens can rescue themselves.

I mean, adventuring is just so lame. Walking around, looking for a prophecy to fulfill, and then working really hard for something that may or may not come true? Yawn. I have better things to do.

“No one goes adventuring, huh?” Dad and Mom exchange a look, like they’re about to laugh at some inside joke.  Then Dad raises his paper again.  “Either way, you’re not going to sit around the house all summer and play video games.  Get a job, Caity-Bird, and if you can’t find one then your mother will call Marcus and you can spend all summer waking princesses.”

And that’s how I end up working at the Shop Quick.

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8

Did you have a nightmare? I have nightmares too. Someday I’ll explain it to you. Why they came, why they won’t ever go away. But I’ll tell you how I survive it. I make a list in my head… of all the good things I’ve seen someone do. Every little thing I can remember. It’s like a game. I do it over and over. Gets a little tedious after all these years, but… there are much worse games to play.