There was always something off about the house. Phantom noises and slamming doors. Creaks and groans rattled the walls and sometimes, just sometimes, there were voices in those terrible sounds. A shadow would pass if you looked in time and, if you didn’t, a bony caress would travel along your spine.

Susan had gotten used to the oddities over the years she’d lived in the old townhome. It wasn’t pleasant, but she couldn’t afford to move. There simply wasn’t any opportunity to leave the place.

The quick tip-type of the keyboard as Susan wrote her latest novel was the only noise currently present. It was a calming one. Much better, she thought, than the footsteps and thumps that came with nightfall. She was so near to completing the book. So close. A few more chapters and maybe she could finally afford to leave.

A rapping on the wall startled her from her harmony—a sound that made the hollow wood thrum even after the force was gone. She sighed. It had been almost peaceful without the noises.

“I don’t have time for this,” she grumbled and closed the laptop with a huff. Her fingers twitched as she realized she had put a little too much force into it. She couldn’t afford another one.

Maybe a cup of tea would help take her mind off the noises. Yes, a nice warm cup of tea always helped her relax.

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A.E. Rhose

It’d always been cold in this room, lonely.

I couldn’t shake it no matter how many clothes I piled on. No matter how much wood I stoked the fire with. No matter how many pictures I took. No matter how much love I poured into it.

Lifeless. That’s how it felt.

I couldn’t help but mutter to myself as I paced the room.

I had shopping to do. Cooking, and cleaning.

The house was a mess. It was as if she’d not even tried to take care of the place while I’d been away.

So much that had to be done. That needed to be done. Once more it fell to me to do it.

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There wasn’t much warning. Not much time to prepare. For what, I can’t remember… Cold. Hard. Sharp. Lots of noise and pain. An urgency.

Then I woke up. On a normal street, no people in sight, with a small corner store before me.

It was quaint. A real mom and pop kind of place with the small wooden sign and a jumble of old looking children’s toys outside. There was… a warmth here. Something that pulled me, that made me want to go inside.

I chance a glance around and find the landscape around me isn’t familiar. Not really. It was an old country road, more dirt path than anything. Warm, happy and with a brilliant sun that bore down even though the air was pleasantly tepid. I couldn’t recall how I’d arrived, but my presence felt right. This is where I belonged, where I was meant to be.

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Carpool - Thriller/suspense - First from 'A Gathering of Tales' Collection

It was dark by the time I finished up my work for the day. I locked the vault and was making my way to the lobby when Gary, another clerk, waved me down.

“You look like shit,” I joked as he jogged up to me. His face was flushed, and he looked like he’d just run a marathon.

“Sorry.” He heaved, his large frame shaking as he sucked in a ragged breath and held his side. “Wanted to catch you before you headed out.”

“Any particular reason why?” I didn’t dislike Gary, but I wasn’t exactly on friendly terms with him.

“New policy,” he said after another inhale of air. “Have to leave in pairs after dark.”

“Since when?”

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It was a warm spring day. The sun shone through my window and the breeze blew my curtains about. I couldn’t enjoy it though, as I was in my room at the guild hall with Kian and Orri working on some spell work. Ferros had wanted me to practice summoning, something I’d never tried, so I’d be ready for when we called upon Ilien to ask for passage north.

I found out quickly that I was not particularly good at it. Even with the notes Wesley had left for me in my spellbook. They were supposed to help me through the steps. I’d been at it for hours and, with the instructions from my mentor, had managed to summon only a small wisp into my room. It had unfortunately promptly darted out the open balcony window. Cheered on by Orri as it fled to freedom.

Thankfully the startled screams had died down a few moments after it had vanished, so I was hoping that the wisp had dissipated. With Orri’s encouragement, I had tried a few other summoning spells from the book but only a gust of wind had resulted. A gross smelling gust of wind. Orri swore it was from the nether end of a demon. I had to agree with her. It was a bit discouraging.

“Kian thinks Tiris needs break,” Kian informed me from her small nest in the corner. Her tiny snout was covered by a cloth. “Kian thinks the room needs fresh air yes?”

“By the holy stones of my mother, yes.” Orri was the first to dart out of the door, a small hand covering her nose while the other flailed uselessly to fan away the smell.

I’d long lost my sense of smell to the horrid summon but I nodded anyway. I was developing a massive headache and even if I was used to it the smell wasn’t helping.

Kian, Orri, and I split up after leaving the room. Kian said something about roses and went off towards the gardens. Orri said something of nausea and went for the outhouse. I was hungry, so I headed towards the cantina.

The residential hallway that everyone’s rooms were off, was empty. I found it strange as I calmly exited my room behind my friends. Most times at least one member of the guild would be active. Ferros never gave everyone assignments at the same time. Just in case there was an emergency. Figuring everyone was off getting ready for the summoning I didn’t pay much mind to the oddity. Though it did make me a little nervous.

I made it to the end of the hall, where Sir Breken’s room was before I saw anyone. Breken had his door open and was leaning over his desk with a very rapt expression on his face. His cheeks looked flushed and he was tight knuckled while holding the edges of his desk.

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The Game

This was ridiculous. Of all the people, why in the hell had they had to send her? There were dozens of Silencers. Plenty Arthur knew that were capable of chasing down and dealing with his client. There was no need to send one of their best. Especially not her. This was a test. He knew it. And he knew he was going to fail.

Glancing over at the cowering politician Arthur sighed. The man wasn’t anything special. A fool who’d inadvertently gotten himself embroiled in the wrong and right sides of a power play. The Guardians, like Arthur, needed him to go forward with the take over of the Bastion that had once been Richmond long before the world fell apart. It just so happened he was also needed dead by the Silencers who’s sponsor wanted the city for their own.

“Where are you? All your safe houses are dark. Your mom didn’t know, and your dad thought you were still in Reno.” The soft voice that came from a viper’s mouth drew his attention back to the small monitor on the wall. “You can’t hide forever Arthur.”

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