Author Topic: Three Million Empty Words - 02x06: Little Brother  (Read 14619 times)

Offline ApplesApplesApples

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Re: Three Million Empty Words
« Reply #25 on: April 22, 2012, 06:38:21 PM »
Episode 4: Blue Children and Fire

Good things about today:

Bad things about today:




My father knocked me out.

He must have blacked out at some point, because other than a few feverish recollections of the blue girl continuing to ask for his help and blurry, undulating images of the park, Liam had no consciousness of the day that had passed. He blinked, his eyelids heavy and hot, at the man with the cowboy hat who stood over him, apparently saying something to him, and realized vaguely that dark had fallen, and that the blue girl had gone.

"Are you all right?" the man repeated.

"My head hurts," mumbled Liam, holding himself upright by leaning on the table behind him.

"What happened to you?"

"Mm... 'm sick," he got out.

"Do you live near here?"

"Eight blocks that way," said Liam, pointing.

Somehow, the man got him to his feet and helped him walk. Liam could hardly stand, and putting one foot in front of the other felt like lifting a car over his head with his bare hands, so it was lucky the man who'd come to his rescue was strong enough to hold him up. Although looking around he noticed a few onlookers caught in that inconvenient state between concern and actually doing something, and he thought it might not have been a coincidence that only this man had helped him.

Climbing the four flights of stairs up to his apartment... misery. He couldn't tell if his head still rested on the end of his neck or if it had rolled off onto the landing below, and he retched more than once, but he hadn't eaten for so long that nothing came up.

They finally reached Liam's floor. He remembered Foxtrot and Fleet Fingers had taken his wallet and ID card, so chances were they'd taken his keys as well. It didn't matter; it wasn't as if he'd locked the door or anything, but he wouldn't feel tremendously safe in an unlocked apartment that two superpowered criminals knew the location of.

Someone must have heard their footsteps, because the door to his apartment opened. Liam braced himself, expecting an attack from his two new best friends, and feeling stupid for coming here in the first place, but his head hurt so much and all his thoughts were muddled and he thought he might retch again...

But instead of his captors, Liam's father appeared in the doorway. Liam nearly collapsed with relief.

"Liam," said his father blankly. "I've been looking for you. Where were you?"

"I found him in a park a few blocks from here. He's sick; he can barely move," said the man with the cowboy hat.

"Thank you for bringing him."

"Don't think about it," said the man, waving off his thanks. "Poor kid."

"Was there anyone else?" Liam's father asked, perhaps realizing Liam was in no state to answer.

"Well, yes. Several people watching."

"Dad," said Liam. "I'm going to pass out."

After thanking the man again, his father put Liam's arm around his shoulder and hauled him into the apartment. It stank, and all the electronics seemed to have shorted out. The sink sprouted water in a constant cascade through a shattered pipe. Foxtrot's work, doubtlessly.

"There's a woman," said Liam as his father set him on the bed and took out a pair of clean pants he used to sleep in. "And a man. They broke into the bank."

"You saw them?" asked his father, without pausing in his task of stripping off Liam's clothes and dressing him in his sleepwear. Liam let him, since he was pretty helpless and his clothes had stuck to his skin with sweat.

"They kidnapped me and took me back to their... apartment. I don't know where it was. I went down stairs." Confused, he tried to remember. "It's all blurry. She called herself Foxtrot, and him Fleet Fingers. They knew you, and knew I had power. They have power, too. He can... move fast, or teleport, or something. She... I don't know. She can do anything. She can manipulate energy and matter, and block my power, and she's strong."

His father pushed him back onto the pillows. "Take some rest, Liam. You've been through a lot."

But he needed to tell him. "They asked me to help them. I told them I would, so I could see what they were doing and stop them, and maybe keep them from hurting people."

"What?" said his father.

"They kidnapped a woman. They had me dissolve the car she was riding in, and then took her back to their apartment. I tried to save her, but they caught me and locked me in the bathroom. Then I made a car that burst through the wall, because I couldn't change the wall, since..." He closed his eyes. It was dark in his apartment, but even the streetlight coming through the windows felt like a knife into his brain. "Foxtrot had blocked my power. And then I made it to the park."

"That was a stupid idea. You could have gotten killed."

"I know."

"You could have gotten their victim killed, too. You could have made it worse with your involvement."

"I know."

"You know, you know. I'm assuming you knew that when you made your choice, too. And you did it anyway. Well..." He sighed. "The right thing to do isn't always the smart thing."

"You're saying I did the right thing?" asked Liam, opening his eyes a sliver, trying to read his father's expression. He wouldn't come into focus.

"No. But it's hard to think under those circumstances, and you did the best you could."

"Dad..." he began, and stopped, pressing his hands to his head, trying to drive the migraine out. Should he tell him? Would he think he was crazy? Should he just assume the girl was a side-effect of the fever and wait for her to go away? "I've been seeing something strange," he said finally. "Ever since we went out to dinner... last night? I saw a blue girl in the mirror, and then she disappeared. In Foxtrot's apartment, she kept asking me to help her. Then she said I wasn't real." That part had scared him. For a moment he'd even believed it. It's the fever, he thought then, and he thought now, desperately.

His father put a hand to his forehead, obviously drawing the same conclusion. "It could be your brain struggling to adjust to this new ability. You seem to have used it a lot."

"That's it?"

"Maybe." He touched the side of his neck. "Your pulse is in the clouds, Liam. Either it's from using your power too much all of a sudden after years of blocking it off, or it's a withdrawal symptom from the drugs. I did cut you off rather abruptly. In either case, I think the best thing would be to take it again."

"No!" said Liam. His eyes snapped open and he grabbed his father's arm. "I'll be helpless if you take my power away. Foxtrot will come to get me, and I won't..."

"There's not much you could do in this state anyway," said his father. "I should have taken it slower with your training. Smaller things at first. And never let you come with me to the bank." He pulled his arm out of Liam's grasp and went to the bathroom to get the pills.

Liam tried to get up, but his heart pounded so hard he was afraid he'd knock himself out, so he lay back down again. "You're going to have to train me. It's not safe for me anymore. They know where I live. They could be coming right now."

His father came back in with the pills and a glass of water. "I'm going to find them and take them down. You'll be safe then. Meanwhile, one of my friends will watch over you. Her name's Shayala. You don't have to worry with her around."

"I've never heard that name before," said Liam suspiciously as his father forced the pills into his mouth and the cup into his hands.

"There are things I don't talk about around my family. I kept you, Theo, and your mother separate from this life."

He swallowed the pill, and something for the fever. His whole head was on fire. He wanted nothing better than to go to sleep, and if his father trusted this Shayala, he would have to, too. He didn't have much of a choice.

His father questioned him for a while on the whereabouts of Foxtrot's lair, but Liam didn't remember much. He though he gave accurate descriptions of them, though. After his father left he barely had time to write up his list of good and bad things. Good: he didn't die. Bad: everything else. And then he conked out.

He woke sometime during the night. The fever hadn't abated, or it had come back up after the effects of the medicine had worn off. He'd sweated through the sheets, and he desperately needed water.

He dragged himself up, swinging his legs off the side of the bed, and there she was. Standing there, staring at him. The blue girl.

"You need to rescue us," she said urgently.

Liam decided that answering his hallucination would only drive him to madness, so he stood and walked past her. The sink had stopped spouting water, but when he turned the knobs nothing came out. He thought he had some bottled water in the fridge.

From behind him came a new voice, similar to the girl's, but unmistakably a new one. "It's burning."

Liam turned. Beside the girl stood a boy, almost identical in features, probably around the same age, with the same blue hair and clothes. They could have been twins. Except they weren't anything, because they weren't there.

He got a bottle of water from the fridge and went to sit on the couch. Someone had cleaned up the table, although they hadn't cleaned the floor. What did you do with a wet carpet, other than let it dry by itself? Liam didn't know.

The blue children sat to either side of him, the girl on the couch with him. He drank all his water, which wasn't as cold as he would have liked it to, since the fridge had stopped working along with everything else, took another pill for the fever, and reached for the remote control for the TV.

"It doesn't work," said the boy.

He pressed the button to turn it on. All he got was static.

"I told you so," said the boy, somewhat smugly.

"For pieces of my own mind, you're annoying," said Liam.

"We're not pieces of your mind," said the girl.

"What are you, then? Ghosts?"

"Shadows," said the boy.

"I didn't know shadows were blue."

"It depends on what they're cast upon," said the boy.

"That's nice and mysterious." He looked at the girl, wondering for a moment if his fingers would meet anything if he reached out and tried to touch her shoulder. He decided not to try. He was pretty sure the hallucination would be perfectly capable of supplying solidity, and it would only confuse him more.

"You have to help us," said the girl.


"Because that's what you do," said the boy. "Isn't it? Or are you a bad guy?"

"No. But I don't help little blue children who no one else can see."

"That no one else can see us doesn't mean we're not real. We need your help. We're in danger. Are you going to let us burn?"

Obviously, the fever wasn't going away. In an attempt to bring down his temperature, Liam took a lukewarm shower. He tried cold water first, but that hurt too much. He almost expected the droplets to sizzle on his skin and turn to vapor.

The only thing the shower did was bring down his blood sugar. He stepped out, woozy and about ready to pass out again. A pulsing, pounding vertigo attacked his skull and he struggled to keep his head on.

He went back into the main room. Fortunately, the creepy blue kids hadn't followed him into the bathroom. They were waiting for him, though. Watching him. Waiting for him to... what? Save them? They would have to wait a long time. How long could he have a fever this high? Wouldn't it have to go down eventually?

He rooted around in the fridge for something to eat. There wasn't much, but he needed to eat something. He hadn't had anything for a whole day. Maybe more. He didn't know what time it was. He found a couple of tomatoes. They would have to do, since he didn't want to eat anything perishable that had been out of the cold for hours. He sat on the edge of his bed to eat.

But when he lifted one of the salted tomatoes to take a bite out of it, his stomach churned uncomfortably and he realized he wouldn't be able to keep it down. He put them back in the fridge and drank another bottle of water before crawling into bed again.

He didn't remember his dreams. An image woke him, but it wasn't a dream. He saw--no, not just saw, but felt and smelled--a fire. He stood in a room he'd never seen before, and an oven had caught fire and flames licked the counter beside it, the floor, and the wall.

He didn't recognize the place, but when he opened his eyes he realized he did know the building he'd seen out the window of the apartment on fire. It was just a block or so away from his building.

Somehow, he knew it had to be real. It hadn't been a dream. Dreams and nightmares were old friends of his, even vivid ones. This was something more. Maybe some sort of manifestation of his power. But he had to do something about it.

The blue children still sat in the living area. He ignored them and went to the door of the apartment, pulling it open and peering out.

"Shayala?" he asked tentatively. It was still dark, and no lights were on. No answer came.

Apparently his father's friend wasn't as infallible as he'd thought. She must have gone out for dinner or breakfast or something. He still had no idea what time it was. The night seemed to drag on forever. In any case, he was alone and defenseless, especially if his powers didn't work. He didn't want to test them, in case it brought on even worse symptoms. His forehead felt cooler than it had before, but evidently his fever hadn't gone down too much, because the hallucinations were still there.

"Your father left a cell phone on the bedside table," said the blue girl, as if she'd heard him thinking about her.

He went back inside and, sure enough, cell phone on the table. He glared at her and took the phone over next to the window, where he could see the numbers. The lights still didn't work.

The phone rang five times before his father answered.

"Dad, I had a vision of a fire."

"A vision? Have you been taking your medicine?" His father sounded tired, but not as though the phone had woken him up. He must have been looking for Foxtrot and Fleet Fingers all night.

"Yes. This wasn't a hallucination. It was real. It's that building a block... no, two blocks... maybe one and a half from mine. That big brick one, remember? It's on fire."

"It's not, Liam. I would have heard."

"Trust me, dad. I'm not stupid, okay? I can tell the difference between a hallucination and something real."

"If you could, they wouldn't be hallucinations. They'd just be pretty little pictures your mind feels like sending you."

"What if I'm right, and people die?"

His father pondered this for a moment. "I have friends at the fire department. I'll call and ask them, all right? Don't go yourself or anything insane like that, okay? Wait for me to call you back."

Liam waited, twisting his fingers together in agitation. The blue children watched.

"We're going to burn if you don't help us," said the little girl.

"What are you talking about?" he snapped.

"The fire. It's going to burn us."

He stared at her for a moment, then shook his head. Had the fire been a hallucination after all? He remembered now that they'd mentioned something about burning before. Maybe it was all part of the same thing. He'd wait for confirmation from his father, though.

A few moments later, the phone rang. "No fires tonight, Liam," said his father.

"They'll keep a watch out for them, though?"

"It's the fire department. That's what they do."

"Okay, thanks."

"Get some sleep, son. You've got a fever. It's no wonder you're dreaming about fire."

Liam hung up, angry with himself for believing it. He shot nasty looks at both children and went back to sleep.

He woke again a while later, certain he was on fire. The vision had come again, only this time the flames had reached him and he'd felt them burning. He rushed to the window to get some fresh air, but before he could open the latch he saw a fire truck passing on the street below, headed in the direction of the building he'd seen in his vision/hallucination/whatever it was.

"Trust yourself," said the blue girl beside him.

Liam couldn't doubt her anymore. Without bothering to change, he rushed downstairs, out of the building, and down the sidewalk toward the fire. He knew people would stare at a half-naked man running through the city in the early morning, but he didn't care. He could smell the smoke now.

He approached the building and could see the fire had started on the second floor and spread rapidly in all directions.

He increased his speed, even though his vertigo still made him doubt the distance of his feet from the ground, and nearly ran smack into Fleet Fingers, who appeared out of nowhere.

"There you are," he said. "You ran out on us."

Liam caught himself on a trash bin before he fell over and did Fleet Fingers' work for him. At least it was him and not Foxtrot. He might have a chance against Fleet, but that building...

"There's a fire," said Liam, pleading.

"They're fine," said Fleet dismissively. "I've got to take you back to Foxtrot, though." He rubbed his neck, almost bored with the situation. "Where is your father? Nearby?"

"Yes, he's coming."

Fleet smiled thinly. "I don't think he is. He's off looking for us, isn't he? Come on, then." He reached for his arm, and Liam knew he could do little to stop him, but he was about to try anyway when something took form behind Fleet Fingers.

At first it seemed like thick smoke, but it became human-shaped and gained color and solidity as it approached. At first Liam thought it was Foxtrot, that she had some sort of power he hadn't seen yet. But the person approaching had dark skin and hair streaked with white, and she strode forward with a determination and ferocity that lithe, sneaky Foxtrot didn't have.

Fleet had followed Liam's gaze as soon as it became apparent that he was looking at something real, and now stood his ground as the woman approached.

"Who are you?" he asked. Liam thought he heard a note of fear in his voice.

"Come," said the woman. Her rough, deep, resounding voice was strangely compelling, but Liam didn't know who she was talking to, or what she meant.

Fleet seemed to know, though. "Where are we going?" he asked, all fear gone from his voice, which sounded almost peaceful.

"Home," said the woman. "To beauty and peace, love and acceptance." She reached out and took Fleet's hands in hers. He didn't resist. It all seemed surreal against the backdrop of the burning building.

"Take me there," said Fleet. "Please, take me home."

The woman pulled him forward a step, and she took a step back. Fleet began to blur, and melt into the same sort of smoke the woman appeared to have come from. Another step, and he was gone. The woman looked at Liam, who staggered back, afraid she would do the same to him.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"Shayala, a friend of your father's. Be careful, Liam. I can't protect you from fire."

"I can," said Liam with determination, looking to the building once more. Shayala sighed and faded into smoke that blew away as if on a breeze he couldn't feel. It had gotten hot and stuffy, which on top of his fever made him especially uncomfortable. But he made for the door, which stood open. The firemen must have left it that way to clear out the smoke.

"Liam!" came his father's voice from behind him. He heard footsteps but didn't stop.

A hand closed around his arm and yanked him back, nearly pulling him into the garbage bin. "They've got it, Liam! Look! The reinforcements have gotten here. It's all under control, and the civilians are out. There's no reason to go in."

"I have to save them," said Liam, fighting his father's grip. But even when he wasn't weak from hunger and sickness he couldn't beat his father for strength. His father got a firm grasp on his arm and started heading away from the building, half-dragging Liam after him. Liam struggled to recover his feet and battle his father's pull at the same time, and failed at both. "They need my help!" he screamed. "They're burning!"

His father hauled him almost to the door of his building, kicking, throwing wild punches and yelling his head off, but there he dumped him on the grass, and Liam scrambled to his feet.

"Let me go back there. They need my help."

"There's no one to save, Liam. They're all out. No babies or old women or cats trapped in there. The fire's contained, and there are professionals dealing with it." Liam threw a punch at his father, who deflected it. "Don't be an idiot! You have to get back to bed. You've got a fever."

"I'm not going back until I get them out!"

"Oh," said his father, sighing. "Okay. I've got no choice then." And he nailed Liam on the chin with his fist, making the world go black.

Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this last episode as much as I enjoyed writing and playing it. Thank you so much for your support. The blue children want me to tell you that you'll have to wait a while longer to know who they are. ;)

Offline Sugarnibble

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Re: Three Million Empty Words
« Reply #26 on: April 22, 2012, 07:08:22 PM »
Wow,that was a great update!
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Re: Three Million Empty Words
« Reply #27 on: April 23, 2012, 04:20:47 AM »
Amazing update! Can't wait to find out about the blue children. ;D

Offline Spork-tastic

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Re: Three Million Empty Words
« Reply #28 on: April 23, 2012, 04:17:55 PM »
Great update. The blue children being shadows was really interesting. Can't wait for more!

Offline alex51299

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Re: Three Million Empty Words
« Reply #29 on: April 23, 2012, 05:20:39 PM »
Great update! As usual, I can't wait to see what happens next.   :D
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Offline ApplesApplesApples

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Re: Three Million Empty Words
« Reply #30 on: April 30, 2012, 10:37:09 AM »
Hello all. Due to health problems I won't be able to post any updates for a while; I don't know how long it will be. I'm really sorry to keep you waiting! Thank you for supporting my story, I'm so grateful to you all. ;D


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Re: Three Million Empty Words
« Reply #31 on: April 30, 2012, 10:51:56 AM »
Like I said on the other thread Apples look after yourself and get well. I don't mind to wait for a story you write!

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Offline ApplesApplesApples

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Re: Three Million Empty Words
« Reply #32 on: May 20, 2012, 02:59:45 PM »
Episode 5: Recovery

Liam could never remember much about the next few days. He spent most of them in bed, sweating out a fever that wouldn't let go. It never climbed dangerously high, though, and apart from a continuing sense of vertigo and occasional nausea, he didn't have any other symptoms that would indicate a serious disease.

The blue children whispered to him sometimes, but he couldn't understand what they were saying, and the day after he'd tried to charge into the burning building they disappeared. This convinced his father that they'd been nothing more than a hallucination, and his vision about the fire nothing more than a coincidence, an understandable reaction he could have to the fever.

The times Liam was lucid enough to see what went on around him, he noticed that his father had appropriated the couch, using a few old sheets and the comforter his grandmother had knit for him, which he kept in a drawer and hardly ever took out. 

"How's mom?" he asked, shivering as he tried to hold his head up. It must have been nighttime, because it seemed dark outside--although Liam couldn't tell very well in his state--and his father was tucked in with the comforter, reading a book. He didn't look up.

"She's fine."

"You're not fighting or anything?"


"Why aren't you at your house, then?"

His father idly turned a page. "With the new factories in town, there's mountains of traffic. It takes at least an hour to drive there. I don't want to be that far away. You're in no condition to protect yourself, and a duo of insane super-villains know your address."

"I haven't seen them," said Liam, letting his head fall back on the pillow. The ceiling light pulsed painfully, sending jolts through his eyes into his brain.

"That's because I'm here. You're not six, Liam. I shouldn't have to explain this."

"Anything new on Foxtrot and Fleet Fingers?"

"No. Go to sleep."

He didn't want to. He'd slept enough in the past two days for an entire week. But his burning eyelids closed of their own accord, and he went back to dreaming crazy things where his childhood mixed with superhero fights from the movies and a little girl called to him: "Save me, Liam."

Late that Sunday afternoon his fever broke. His father fixed him a decent but bland meal, his first in... he didn't remember how long. He sat watching TV for half an hour or so, the longest he'd sat up in twenty-four hours, while his father made a long string of phone calls that Liam didn't even bother trying to overhear.

At some point the TV lost his interest and his eyes fell on the computer on his desk. That reminded him of the computer he'd vaporized at work, and that reminded him of work. His boss wouldn't be too happy with him. He'd missed Friday, and the computer had mysteriously vanished. He had no doubt the blame would fall on him.

He heaved himself off the couch and went to sit in front of the computer. Whatever Foxtrot had done when she'd kidnapped him, she'd left the computer in a pretty sorry state. Still, it hadn't melted or turned to dust, so he might as well poke around it and see if he could do something to fix it.

It looked like a few connections had shorted here and there, but it was nothing irreparable. He'd ask his father to get him a few replacements when he went out next; he knew a store that sold computer parts just a few blocks away.

The next morning he woke up feeling much better. He was still taking a full dose of the drug that suppressed his powers, and despite the slight annoyance of that wall that had sprung up in his mind again, which he could ignore, he was feeling refreshed.

"What are you doing?" asked his father when he emerged from the bathroom fully dressed.

"Going to work," said Liam, surprised at his own cheeriness.

"Work?" said his father, as if he'd never heard of such a thing.

"It's only... you know how far away it is. Less than a block, dad. I feel fine."

His father frowned as though considering ordering him to stay put. Finally he shrugged and indicated the door. "Go ahead. Have fun, and be careful. Remember you can't use your powers, so don't..."

"Get into any life-or-death situations," completed Liam.

"No, I was going to say don't do anything heroic. I don't trust your judgment of what's a life-or-death situation."

Liam rolled his eyes. "Okay, dad. I'll see you later."

"Shayala will be within reach, but don't depend on her. I'll be off doing errands."

Liam considered asking his father about Shayala, because he hadn't had a chance to talk with him about the unnerving way she'd taken care of Fleet Fingers, or why his father continued to search for the man when Shayala had apparently already captured him, or something... but he was running late, and if he was being entirely truthful, he didn't want to think about that sort of thing now.

He carried the computer with him, wavering under the heavy load, and set it up on the empty desk.

The most urgent thing, obviously, was the inventory. He'd kept it on the computer, but fortunately he had a few backups. Unfortunately, he hadn't updated them last week. He usually did that on Fridays. So he could anticipate that he'd spend most of the morning trying to manually update the inventory. They'd done it once before when the power was out because of tornadoes, and it had been a nightmare. He could expect nothing less this time.

He'd been there less than an hour when the bell jingled, announcing someone coming through the door. He looked up and smiled at the sight of Winter. It seemed like ages since he'd seen her.

"Hey, Grumpy-Pants," she said. "I missed you on Friday."

"So did everyone else."

She went around his desk and looked down at him critically. "You look wiped out."

"Flu," said Liam automatically.

"Right. You're lucky it didn't last too long, I guess."

He shrugged. "I don't feel too lucky. How was your weekend?"

"Actually," she said, her face coming alight even though she tried to contain her happiness, "there's going to be a showing at one of the local galleries this Friday, and they asked for some of my paintings to put on display. They told me yesterday."

Liam's head was elsewhere; not anywhere specific, but for sure not entirely there. It took him a moment to register what Winter had said.

"Yay?" said Winter.

"I'm sorry. I was..."

"Thinking about something completely different?"

He grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, sorry. That's great, Winter. You deserve it."

"How do you know that? You haven't ever seen any of my paintings."

"Well... I know you're... dedicated and passionate about your work..."

She laughed. "All right, halt the praise, it's overwhelming. You know, you should come."

"Come where?" The daunting task of the inventory awaited him, and even though he wanted to talk to Winter, he didn't want to put it off.

"To the gallery showing. This Friday? We could meet there, and I could show you around, give you a guided tour."

"Um..." He stared at her blankly. She snapped her fingers in front of his face, startling him.

"Hello? You do know what this is, don't you?"

"A... date?"

She grinned. "And the winner is..."

"Oh." A thousand things went through his head. Four hundred and ninety-nine of them were about the events of the past few days, and how they changed his life forever from the guy who'd been trying to gather up the courage to ask her out last Wednesday to someone with supernatural powers who had the responsibility of fighting criminals and wrongdoers in the city, but five hundred and one of the thoughts were about the year and a half he'd known Winter, and how much of his time he'd spent trying to figure her out, and find out if she liked him back the way he liked her and all those stupid things he thought he'd left behind in high school. So even though he wasn't the same man, and even though there was now a secret between them just waiting to come out and ruin everything, he only had one answer to give. "Okay."

"That's great! Five thirty on Friday, outside of that little gallery over there, what's it called? Carlson Art Gallery. Do you know where it is?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Okay. So do you have anything new for me to read? I ran out of re-reads over the weekend. I'd like a mystery. For some reason I've got a taste for that. I'd take urban fantasy too, if you have anything interesting." She seemed thoughtful for a moment. "What was that book I heard about? Something by... what's her name..."

Liam, who still couldn't believe Winter had finally asked him out, felt more confused than ever.

That afternoon, just before closing time, his father showed up. There were no more customers to attend to, so Liam agreed to sit down at one of the little reading tables to talk.

"Still nothing?" asked Liam.

"No. They must be lying low. I did find out who that woman you helped them kidnap was." He pulled out a sheet of paper.

"I was trying to save her life!" said Liam angrily. "I wasn't trying to kidnap her. I was going along with them so that..."

His father waved his words away. "This is her, right?" He held up the paper, that had a picture of her printed out at the top, and a few short paragraphs of text below that he didn't get a chance to read before his father turned it back toward him. "Her name is Catherine Pavell. Want to guess what she works in?"

"A bank?"

"Nope. Antiquing."

"What's that?"

"Buying, restoring, and selling antiques. She's part of a small local company, one of the three main partners."

"Why did she need a bodyguard, then?" Liam reached for the paper, but his father snatched it away.

"She was probably transporting something valuable. This place where you said you and your friends met her, it's en route to her business."

"It was kind of late to be driving antiques around."

"Of course it is. You want the light of day, witnesses, and cops around to protect you, right? Normally, that is. I can think of two reasons she could be transporting something valuable that late. Either their seller called them in the middle of the night, in which case he was fishy, or they wanted the cover of night, in which case they were fishy."

"You're so cynical. There are other options."

"Right. They were both fishy."

Liam snorted. "No one says that anymore, anyway."

His father folded up the paper and slipped it back in his pocket. "So why did your friends kidnap her? That's the more important question. Was she dealing in some black-market goods they wanted to get their hands on?"

"Or was she a perfectly innocent woman who happens to work with valuables that they want?"

His father stared at him for a moment, then sighed. "I'd forgotten what idealistic youth was like. You want a tip that'll keep you alive, kid? Everyone's up to something. Everyone's got hidden agendas. Everyone wants something they can't have within the confines of the law." Liam rolled his eyes, but his father grabbed his arm and gave him a sharp shake. "This isn't a joke, Liam. Some of the people you save, you'll regret saving at some point. You have to accept that now, or you'll burn out, fast."

Liam jerked his arm out of his father's grasp. "Fine." He thought for a moment. "But if there was a valuable antique in the car, why did they have me disintegrate it? Why didn't they steal it, if that's what they're after?"

"Their modus operandi is full of contradictions." His father shook his head. "Why leave the earring at the bank? Why not steal this antique, but kidnap the antique dealer? They're obviously after something specific. But the answer is almost never the obvious one. Their crimes are all carefully planned and expertly executed, but there are a few pretty stupid slip-ups."

"Well, it could have something to do with their personalities."

His father raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to continue.

"Fleet Fingers is careful and quiet, never flashy. He didn't want to leave that man in the park..." Liam stopped, distracted for a moment by the memory of that powerful shove that had sent the well-muscled bodyguard flying across the road. They still didn't know what had happened to him. He hadn't shown up on the news, and his father's police friends didn't know anything about it. If he'd died they could have moved the body... he didn't want to think about that. He'd been so close, and if he could have prevented it... he remembered Foxtrot had left the apartment for awhile to do something; he'd never wondered what she'd been doing, he'd just taken the opportunity to try to escape...

"Liam," said his father, making him start.

"Sorry. Fleet didn't want to hurt that man. But Foxtrot did it without a second thought. Without a first one, probably. She's impulsive and showy."

"Based on what you've told me about her power, I've no doubt about it. Power like that makes people think they're immortal." He gave him a stern look, as if to suggest that Liam believed he was immortal.

Liam ignored him. "So it could be Fleet planned everything, but Foxtrot messed things up. Right?"

"It's possible. There are a few things about that that confuse me. First, why Fleet Fingers needs her in the first place. His power, whatever it is, clearly makes him an ideal robber. If he can move without being seen... that might be how he got past the cameras. It seems like she's a bit superfluous to this job. Like it's overkill. Of course she could have found out, and be threatening him to get in on the action... but it's all speculation at this point."

"Shayala..." began Liam.

"What?" His father gave him a look that would freeze water, and Liam rethought his question.

"Well, maybe I was hallucinating at that point, but it seemed to me like she'd caught Fleet."

"No. She simply shifted him somewhere else. For Shayala it would have been next to impossible to hold anyone. She doesn't exist here, entirely."

"No chance you'd explain that?"

"No need to," said his father, getting up. "Go back to the apartment. Get some rest. Tomorrow, after work, we're going to do some training."


The next dose Liam took, on Monday night, was three quarters of the full one. Tuesday morning, likewise, as well as Tuesday at midday. By midafternoon he had pins and needles in his fingers and toes, and the wall in his head felt wobbly, but the headache and the fever didn't come back, nor did the nausea, so he had more confidence in this method of quitting than the cold-turkey one.

His father took him out to an open green area, blocked off from most prying eyes by a tall grey stone wall. He told him to stay put. Liam sat on the grass and waited, enjoying the fresh air.

First his father brought a chair. Second he brought a little wooden end table and a stuffed giraffe. Then he sat in the chair, quite placidly, as if he did this every day.

"Is there something I'm missing?" asked Liam.

"The giraffe is of an easy material. You won't do yourself any damage working on it, so long as you don't overextend yourself. If you feel the wall blocking you, ease up. Just try to change a few small details about it. Focus on dexterity and delicacy, not your usual turning things to dust."

Liam sighed and got up, dragging himself over to the end table. "Am I supposed to feel ridiculous?"

"Yes. It's good for your ego."

He placed both hands on the giraffe and, after a moment struggling to find how far the weakened wall would let him reach, he began to guide the plushie in slight changes. A different shape for the feet, a different color for the glass eyes, and just to experiment, shifting the spots around a bit.

"How does it feel?" asked his father.

"Okay. A bit dumb, but no headache or difficulty."

"That's good. Take a rest. Sit down." His father stared out over the greenery, his expression abstract.

"You missed Theo's birthday party, too," said Liam.


"It was last Wednesday, the day you came to see me."

"Oh, yes. It's okay. It's mostly for that crowd he hangs out with. All those socialists and idealists, with their heads the size of a watermelon full of ideas to change the world, get rid of poverty and corruption, and all that. The academic take on heroism. We don't have much to talk about." But he seemed sad, and suddenly much older than usual. More like his father, which he didn't often act the part of.

They sat in silence for a moment. Then, in a low, tired voice, his father said, "It's the price we pay."

Thanks for reading! And waiting! :o Sorry about the long delay. I'll see you next Sunday with another episode!


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Re: Three Million Empty Words
« Reply #33 on: May 20, 2012, 03:22:50 PM »
Love your story so much that there should be a topic with all your stories in it...

Offline MoonsAreBlue

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Re: Three Million Empty Words
« Reply #34 on: May 20, 2012, 03:48:31 PM »
That was great! I really like the mystery about Shayala. Will we be learning any more about her?

Offline ApplesApplesApples

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Re: Three Million Empty Words
« Reply #35 on: May 20, 2012, 04:04:03 PM »
Love your story so much that there should be a topic with all your stories in it...

Thanks! ;D I'm nearly running out of characters in my signature to link to all of my stories, they're so many! I just have so much fun writing them.

That was great! I really like the mystery about Shayala. Will we be learning any more about her?

Yep! There are many mysteries to be unraveled in this story. ;) Some of them still need unraveling by me! Haha.


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Re: Three Million Empty Words
« Reply #36 on: May 20, 2012, 05:41:14 PM »
There is so much mystery! I love it. Awesome update. ;D

Offline alex51299

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Re: Three Million Empty Words
« Reply #37 on: May 20, 2012, 07:55:38 PM »
Great update! You are such a good writer.  :D
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Offline Spork-tastic

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Re: Three Million Empty Words
« Reply #38 on: May 21, 2012, 06:35:25 PM »
Super good story!

Offline ApplesApplesApples

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Re: Three Million Empty Words - Episode 6: Winter's Bird
« Reply #39 on: May 27, 2012, 06:31:49 PM »
Episode 6: Winter's Bird

The week rolled over Liam like a large truck. He reached Friday exhausted, ill-tempered, and positively terrified of his own father.

When it had become apparent Liam was getting better, his father had quickly imposed a training schedule. It consisted not only of training to use his powers, which came back little by little as the week wore on, but also physical training, which Liam had given up after high school. Since it was no longer mandatory, he'd found he didn't have time for it. He could always find something else in which to employ his time.

His father quickly informed him that his physical state was unacceptable.

"Even if you had Foxtrot's powers, and I were a regular human, I could beat you so easily it would hardly count as a victory," he pronounced on Wednesday morning, after waking him up an hour earlier than he was accustomed to. "We're going to the gym."

Of course it happened on a Wednesday. He lasted a full half hour against his father's treadmills and weights, which he considered pretty acceptable, but his father chewed his lip, surveying his sweat-soaked body critically, and told him they'd come twice a day.

So after he'd dragged his exhausted, not-yet-fully-recovered self through his shift at work, he had fifteen minutes to kick back and relax in front of the TV and wonder vaguely if he should be working on his dissertation before his father barged in, dangerously cheerful, and took him off to a secluded spot where they could practice using his power.

When that was over, his father set a balanced meal in front of him--grilled chicken, raw carrots, whole grain rice, and serving of lentils and chopped hard-boiled eggs. He also set a pitcher of water in front of him and told him he needed to drink the whole thing before the end of the meal. Then he went off without explanation, only to come back forty minutes later to make him drink another glass of water and finish his carrots.

"I'm going over to the campus," Liam said, trying to forestall any attempt of his father's to drag him off somewhere else.

"No," said his father. "You're coming to the gym for another half-hour workout."

"My heart is going to give up. Jumping back into physical activities like this isn't good for me."

"We'll go easier this evening. Some stretching and yoga to keep you limber."

"I need to go to the campus," said Liam, as firmly as he could, as if he could convince his father that he was in charge.

Of course he wasn't. Halfway through the second workout of the day, as his muscles gave one twinge too many, stiff after the morning's exertions despite his stretches, he threatened to leave. His father said, "Go ahead." And then Liam realized he couldn't. It wasn't his father that held him here. He'd already gotten involved, already made his decision. His father was only trying to help. He continued doing the stretches for a few minutes longer and his muscles loosened up, making the rest of the workout much more bearable.

But his understanding of his father's motives only carried him so far. When he woke up sore the next morning and had to go through a workout that was ten times more difficult than the one on the day before, he forgot that his father had his best interests at heart--in one way or another--and had to restrain himself from punching him in the face as he shouted encouragement, because there were people watching.

On Friday morning he dragged himself out of bed through an exercise of will alone. He'd had nightmares, and one of them--he couldn't remember much about it except for something about a bird--unnerved him and motivated him to put up with the workout even though his muscles felt like they would fall off.

While he certainly ached, he was pleased that nothing hurt in a serious sense, which was the main thing that had worried him about jumping back into a physical routine. Tearing a muscle would set him back for months, and physical therapy would hurt more than getting pummeled by Foxtrot, as he knew from experience. (There was a particular bunch of weeks in his memory of his early adolescence following his attempt to try out a dumb stunt while playing basketball that he would never forget.) But it seemed that his father actually knew what he was doing with the exercises he prescribed.

Winter hadn't shown up at the bookstore since Monday, so on Friday evening Liam received a start when he checked the calendar, where he'd marked his date with her. He had a hard time convincing his father to let him go.

"Skipping stretching is not a good idea," said his father. "And we still have some more exercises to do with your powers. Some electronics, I think. You can work on repairing things you know how to repair with your hands, but only using your powers. That'll be good prac--"

"Dad," interrupted Liam. "I've wanted to go out with Winter ever since I've known her. A year and a half. It's only one evening, and I'll stretch when I get back."

His father seemed about to say something else, but he sighed and waved him off. "Don't come home late."

Liam didn't even bother hiding the fact that he rolled his eyes. His father would know anyway.

He took a taxi to Carlson Art Gallery. Winter was waiting outside the door, smiling, so he couldn't have been too late. He couldn't remember if they'd set a time.

He walked over to her, suddenly nervous. Something seemed different about her, although he couldn't tell what.

"Hi," he said.

She looked at him strangely. "Hi. Did you find the place fine?"

"Sure. I'm not late, am I? I can't remember..." He stopped, because he couldn't ignore the expression on her face any longer. "What's the matter?"

"Liam, you're wearing a suit."

"Yeah. So?" He looked down, wondering if it had wrinkles. He did his own ironing, so it was possible.

Winter burst out laughing. Bewildered, he waited for her to finish and explain. "This is a local art gallery," she said, wiping her eyes. "No one wears a suit. The only people here art students from the college."

"Oh. Well, I didn't know. You didn't say. In movies people dress up to go to... art showings and things." He joined in Winter's laughter and picked at his sleeves.

"Tell you what. You pretend to be important, and no one will notice. Maybe you're a buyer interested in low-profile artists."

"Okay, wait." Liam worked his facial muscles for a moment before arranging them into a serious, snobbish expression he'd gotten from a few of the privileged students on campus. Winter laughed and punched him in the arm.

"I used to have money. That's not a very flattering interpretation."

"I'm not just any rich person. I'm someone who's so self-important he has to show off his suits in the most inane situations. I turn up my nose at paint-splattered overalls."

Winter laughed. "What's up with you? What did you do with Grumpy-Pants?"

"Put him in a closet." He grinned. It must be the relief at escaping his father. But on the other occasions he'd sneaked in a bit of rest he'd felt numb and exhausted, not at all in a joking mood.

"You'd better not be mistreating my grumpy," said Winter. "He's a good friend of mine."

"Oh, he's got plenty to keep him entertained. He has to brood, mope, practice his scowl... he's got his schedule full."

Winter's glowing smile made him certain he'd started to glow, too. "Okay, Mr. Not-Grumpy-Pants. Let's go in, shall we?"

He followed her through the double glass doors, looking around. She'd been right about the dress code. There were only three or four people there, though. It must be early.

Winter briefly showed him the sculpture of a rusted old car.

"My interpretation is that it broke down in someone's driveway and they brought it here to the exhibit," he said.

"My interpretation is that it represents the ideals of the previous generations, being overrun by modern culture. Those values were left to rust, and now cars go two hundred miles an hour down superfast freeways."

"Okay, that makes more sense."

Clearly, though, Winter wanted to show him her work. They rounded a partition and she gestured at a long row of paintings in different sizes and styles. "These are mine."

"All of them?"

"Just the ones on this wall, and that one over there. I got an entire section of the exhibit to myself." The pride in her voice was as evident as the fact that she tried to contain it. "What do you think?"

Liam inspected them each in turn. They were all done in bold strokes, with striking shapes and eye-catching colors. Some were abstract, but they all suggested something similar. Conflict, emotions, tumult--she'd poured out her mind and her own experiences onto the canvases. The more he looked at them, the more he couldn't look away.

"They're excellent."

"Well, you're not an expert," she said in a way that suggested it was an automatic response.

"Why'd you ask me then?" He grinned over his shoulder at her. She shrugged and laughed.

"Sorry, I didn't mean it like that."

"I know. Modesty, right?"

"I have to work hard to keep it up." She scratched her chin. "If I don't, I'd be beating you over the head with my brilliance."

"I just hope you don't beat me over the head with your canvases. They look heavy."

She giggled, then glanced at her feet before saying, "Thanks. I'm glad you like them." Then, even more hesitantly, she indicated a small painting at the end of the corridor. "That one's mine too."

Liam got closer to look. It depicted a bird in flight against the backdrop of the sky. Compared to the others, it was simple and unassuming; even the colors were more subdued. But something about it tugged at some subconscious memory in him, and the painting intrigued him.

"You actually inspired that one," said Winter.

"Really? Was it my beak or my feathers?"

"Your wings."

He looked at her, wondering what she meant. He didn't feel much like a bird. The freedom depicted in the painting didn't remind him of his current situation in the least.

"When I speak to you most of the time, you seem like... a bird in a cage. It's as though you think your wings have been clipped because you haven't used them in so long, but they're not. If you just got out of the cage, you would be able to fly."

That triggered the realization that he'd dreamed about a bird the night before. It had been a bird of prey, the kind that used to perch on the cliff behind the house where he'd grown up. He didn't know what else he'd dreamed about, or what the bird had symbolized in his dream, but the coincidence struck him as odd, especially since she'd just so aptly described the way he'd blocked off his powers for years. She had obviously picked up on some of that. And he'd seemed different to her. Had he changed since he'd come to accept his powers again?

"Aren't you going to say anything?" asked Winter, rather nervously. This painting had a completely different style from all the others; he realized it must have been hard for her to present it along with the others.


She gave a funky, lopsided smile. "That's just great. Exactly the response I was looking for."

"You're very perceptive."

"I always see things other people overlook. Sometimes it makes it harder to see the whole picture, when I only focus on the details, but they're the most interesting things to me. It even affects how I see people. I obsess over one little detail of their faces and half the time I can't even hear what they're saying."

"So how do you get invited to so many parties?"

She shrugged. "My cheery disposition, I guess." She still had on the smile, so it wasn't hard for him to believe.

"What do you notice most about me?"

Winter drew close and touched his cheek, at the height of his mouth but a little off to the side. "The lines."


"Worry lines. I can tell you keep a lot of things locked up. Things you don't even think about, they're hidden so deep. You're simple on the outside. A geophysics grad student trying to finish his doctorate, working in a bookstore to pay the bills, with only a couple of close friends and a closet full of grumpy pants. Someone who likes to keep to himself, a bit gruff on the outside but nice to know nevertheless. It seems like that should define you, but it doesn't. Something's missing, something I can't define. I see the worry lines and I read the answer to my first question--yes, there is something I'm not getting. But I don't get the what."

"So you think I'm mysterious?"

"A tiny bit."

He stared at her for a moment, realizing it was the closest he'd even been to her in the year and a half he'd known her. "Most people notice my eyes."

"Those are just for show. They're pretty, but they don't say anything about you. Your secrets are too well-hidden."

"Okay, you have the advantage now," he said. "It's your turn to tell me something about you."

"You have to promise not to tell."

"Who would I tell?"

She put a hand to her mouth and whispered dramatically, "I cut my hair."

He drew back, surprised, and realized it was true. That was the change he'd noticed. He laughed. "Sorry. It's very nice."

"It had grown out too long. I like it shorter."

It took him a moment to realize that she'd purposefully drawn the conversation away from her "secrets," breaking the brief connection they'd had in the process. He couldn't blame her if she wanted to hide something. His entire life starting from last Wednesday now revolved around something he couldn't reveal to her. But even if that secret were out of the way, they wouldn't even have scratched the surface.

He didn't feel very mysterious. He'd never played that angle, even in college when he'd dated more often. He preferred to be as open as he could, and girls considered him an average, dependable sort. He hadn't gotten close to anyone, so he hadn't questioned the reason all his relationships dissolved or fizzled out. Maybe they'd eventually seen what Winter had seen, and they hadn't liked the impenetrable barrier they came up against.

Winter was explaining one of her other paintings to him, but he hadn't listened. He blinked and she stopped mid-sentence.

"Are you bored?"


She giggled. "You're completely bored. Come on, let's go somewhere else. You've already seen all there is to see, anyway. This evening isn't just about me. Let's go to your habitat."

She took him to a little public library a few blocks away, full of the wonderful smell of books and comfortably-aged wood. They had coffee machines against one of the walls, and Liam tried to fix some for them, but Winter complained first that he had too little coffee-to-water ratio, then too much, and finally he just let her do it.

They sat at one of the tables with their steaming cups, their eyes wandering about the nearly-deserted library. Liam enjoyed the silence while they sipped their coffee--a little strong for him, but then he didn't usually drink it, especially at this time of night; but with the temperature dropping the closer they got to the end of fall, he welcomed the warmth.

"I gave up on you," said Winter after a while.


"A year and a half, and you never even got close to asking me out."

"Well, I was..." He noticed her smirk and stopped. "So you knew the whole time that I liked you, but you wanted me to ask you out?"

"There's a lot to learn about a person in how they go about that."

"I tried to, but I... I guess I put things off. I always thought another time would be better."

"That's what I figured. I realized you weren't going to get around to it--at least not for another few years, and I didn't want to wait that long."

"Sorry." He gave a sheepish grin. "Thanks for taking the initiative. You're right; I probably wouldn't have gotten around to it for another few years, and who knows what would have happened by then."

"It doesn't matter. We're here now, aren't we?"

She fell silent and he noticed someone else had walked into the library. The kid looked familiar--khaki shorts and black hair with purple highlights that defied gravity. Then he realized he'd seen him at the gallery. This must be one of the libraries frequented by art students.

"You know him?" asked Liam. Winter didn't answer; she was staring intently at him. "What?" he asked warily.

"I was just thinking I'd like to make a portrait. I don't usually go for that sort of thing, but I can just see this painting in my head. Turn your face a little to the left, won't you?" She did it for him with the back of her hand against his face, using the other hand to draw a shape in the air. "Golden sunlight pouring down on your back, but you're crouched on the ground, facing down, with a bird on your hand... the bird's in the light, but your face isn't."

"Because I'm a Grouchy-Pants who turns away from joy and light?"

Winter didn't answer, lost in thought. He noticed her hand was warm against his chin. Winter leaned closer to him; apparently imagining the portrait required a close perspective. Then he realized what she was doing, and leaned toward her to return the kiss as she wrapped her arm around his shoulders, drawing him close, almost protectively.

When he looked back, the kid in the khaki shorts had left.

They talked for a while about insignificant things--her friends on campus, his dissertation, professors they both knew, where they'd grown up. It seemed to Liam that they were both just trying to bring some sense of closure to the evening, to get back to where they'd been before, so they could be comfortable with what had happened.

He offered to walk her home. She didn't live far, but it had gotten dark and he might as well put his powers and training to some use. What kind of superhero would let his girlfriend get attacked after their first date? He chided himself mentally. They weren't going out yet.

They left the library, immediately feeling the chill of the outdoors on their coffee-warmed skin. Liam at least had a jacket that went with his suit. He offered it to her, but she just laughed.

"It doesn't go with my ensemble," she said. "And I can't do the face."

Just then someone walked past them on the sidewalk. Liam only saw him briefly, but something made him turn and take a better look.

The kid with the purple highlights.

Liam dropped Winter off at her house. She seemed about to give him another kiss, but he must have looked distracted, because she changed objectives mid-motion, and by the time he realized it was too late.

"Good night, Liam. I had a great time."

"So did I." He hesitated. "Would you let me ask you on the next date, to make up for a year and a half?"

She smiled and waved. "See you on Monday," she said as she closed the door.

Liam waited until she'd disappeared from behind the window in the door and set off at a quick pace in the direction he'd come from. He didn't have to go far, as he stumbled over the kid just around the corner.

"Come with me," he said furiously, and grabbed him by the shirt, dragging him into a narrow space between two buildings. No windows faced them, so he didn't think they'd be overheard or watched. Just in case he checked both exits before releasing the kid and addressing him. "Who are you?"

"I'm in school with Winter," he said.

"You may well be, but you were still following us." He realized he sounded like his father.

The kid got angry fast. Liam recognized the attempt to hide his fear. "I live around here. You're paranoid, man. I wasn't following anyone."

"I'm not an idiot. Stop acting offended; I'm the one who should be offended here. Did someone pay you? Offer you something in exchange for keeping tabs on people? You know, I'm pretty sure that's illegal. The police department isn't too far from here."

The kid's anger evaporated, replaced by the terror he'd been trying to cover up. "Please don't turn me in. He said he'd... he threatened to tell people..."

"This guy who blackmailed you, did he have long orange hair and blue eyes?"

"No. He..." The kid looked around as if he expected someone to be watching. "It'll destroy me if it gets out, please..."

Who would blackmail someone into following me if it's not Fleet Fingers and Foxtrot? wondered Liam. Then he guessed he should have known; Fleet could follow him himself, undetected. He didn't need a middleman. Maybe one of his father's enemies, then? He didn't think he'd made any of his own yet, apart from the two obvious ones.

"Did he say anything about me?"

"No. He just said, 'Follow her. Tell me everything she does, everywhere she goes, everyone she sees.'"

"Winter?" Liam was even more nonplussed than before, but the kid seemed about to attempt an escape, so he grabbed him by the front of the shirt. "You were following Winter?"

"What'd you think? I don't even know who you are."

"Who was it? Who told you to do it?" Liam gave him a shake.

"I can't tell you."

Liam shook him again in frustration, but the kid didn't budge. He knew the threat to turn him into the police was empty; he had no proof, and he'd just dragged him into a dark alleyway to question him, so the kid could just as well accuse him. "Fine. Keep it to yourself. But don't tell him about our conversation."

"Okay," said the kid, obviously planning to tell "him" everything.

"You think he'll be happy you botched up the job?"

That set fear into him again. "I won't tell him anything."

Liam let him go in disgust, and he stumbled back into the wall before scrambling off. He considered going after him, but what were the chances he'd report right away? Besides, all the fight had gone out of him. It was Winter's business, he realized. He could tell her, but he still hadn't earned the right to do anything about it without her consent. She should decide whether to tell the police, or, if she knew who had blackmailed himself a stalker, she could confront him herself.

Perfect. Had the world always been so full of complications and mysterious criminals, and he just hadn't noticed? Or was the world out to get him now that he could--and would--do something about it?

Wow! A thousand views already! Thanks for the comments, it's so inspiring to see how well-received the story is! Thanks also to everyone who reads but doesn't comment; I hope you enjoy it!

I may try to post an episode this Wednesday (Liam's least favorite day of the week, but not necessarily mine!) Otherwise, I'll see you next Sunday!

Offline Spork-tastic

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Re: Three Million Empty Words - Episode 6: Winter's Bird
« Reply #40 on: May 27, 2012, 07:14:25 PM »
Happy 1,000 view!!! Such a great story! It feels like there has been more than 6 episodes, it's probably because each one is so packed and rich. It's like when you eat a really good piece of cake, you don't need much to feel like you had a lot.


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Re: Three Million Empty Words - Episode 6: Winter's Bird
« Reply #41 on: May 28, 2012, 06:07:14 PM »
I wonder who have Winter followed? Awesome update! :)

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Re: Three Million Empty Words - Episode 6: Winter's Bird
« Reply #42 on: May 28, 2012, 08:32:14 PM »
Lol, I was actually born on a Wednesday and it's my favorite day of the week!  ;D Great update.
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Offline ErinIsNice

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Re: Three Million Empty Words - Episode 6: Winter's Bird
« Reply #43 on: May 30, 2012, 03:30:09 PM »
I didn't think you could top All the Good Girls go to Heaven, or Kitee Bones, but you did!

Offline ApplesApplesApples

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Re: Three Million Empty Words - Episode 6: Winter's Bird
« Reply #44 on: May 30, 2012, 07:01:43 PM »
Episode 7: The Cat Lady's Hoard

Liam hadn't expected his father to go easy on him on the weekend, and he wasn't disappointed. Since he didn't have to work he decided to try to work a little on his dissertation between workouts and practice. His father looked at him strangely when he announced his intention, but let him.

He didn't get much done--his thoughts were elsewhere--but at least he felt like he'd made some progress, and that maybe he wouldn't be stuck with day jobs on the side to support his crime-fighting, but he might actually have a professional career like he'd wanted to before all this happened.

Workouts got harder with each passing day, until he seemed to hit rock bottom about halfway through the following week. After that it came easier a little at a time, until he actually started to enjoy it.

Of course, that's when his father started increasing the length of each workout. Still, he did it a little at a time, and it wasn't as hard as starting out.

Winter didn't show up on Monday. He called her to ask if they were still on for their date.

"Of course we are. It's just that something's come up. I have another showing at a bigger gallery this weekend, and I have to get everything ready for then."

"That's great!" said Liam. "Is there anything I can help with?"

"No, thanks. I'm okay. I'll call you when I'm not so busy."

She hung up before he could ask more. She seemed a little irritable, and Liam wondered if she knew about the man blackmailing people into following her. He wished he knew what to do about it.

Next Saturday afternoon his father got called away from the gym by one of his cop friends to deal with some big crime somewhere in the city (he seldom explained things to Liam, not since he'd followed him to the bank that first Thursday and things had gotten so out of hand). Liam finished his workout and walked home at a quick pace. They'd passed the shortest day of the year, and the cold was getting more severe every day. He hadn't taken a coat.

As he stood in front of his door, searching for his keys--he knew he'd put them in the back pocket of his pants, but they weren't there now--he heard a meow from behind him.

He turned and saw a full-grown black cat staring up at him with astonishing turquoise eyes. He or she was a beautiful animal with a glossy coat; certainly someone's pet, not a stray.

He crouched in front of it, and as it didn't attack him or run away, he grabbed it and hoisted it up to get a better look at it. It even had a collar with a name tag, he saw. The tag said EVIANNA, but it didn't have the owner's name or address.

Liam didn't have time or room for a pet, but he couldn't leave the poor cat out here in the cold. Besides, she seemed well-behaved, and was probably housebroken. He'd put an ad in the paper for her owners to be able to track her down.

He scratched the cat's head as he located his key in his pants' other back pocket and remembered the old family dog he'd had growing up. His name was Indiana, like Indiana Jones' namesake, and he was a big, ferocious mutt as loyal to his family as he was terrifying to intruders. He'd once caught a would-be robber by the ankle. This had caused the robber to fall over and drop the expensive vase he'd been trying to steal, which shattered into pieces too tiny to recover, but still, no one had held it against old Indiana.

It wouldn't be so bad having a companion, Liam decided. He hadn't realized it, but he actually missed that mule-headed old mutt. He'd never had a cat because his mother and sister were allergic, but they couldn't be too different.

Liam carried the cat up to his apartment. The door was unlocked, so his father must have beat him there. He walked inside.

When his father saw him, he wrinkled his nose. "What's that?"

"What do you mean, what is it? It's a cat."

"You can't take care of a cat. You can't even take care of yourself. Look, you haven't even made your bed."

"I'm an adult and I can decide whether or not to have a cat. You're a guest in my house, remember."

His father shook his head but didn't argue further. Instead he watched as Liam set the cat down and went to the fridge to search for some leftovers. He didn't have anything he considered appetizing for a cat, so he poured a bowl full of milk. That didn't seem nutritious enough, so he added some cereal.

"It looks like it belongs to someone," said his father.

Liam set the bowl of cereal on the floor in front of Evianna.

She sniffed at it and daintily began to lap up the milk. When she accidentally got a cereal flake in her mouth she seemed to decide they weren't so bad after all and ate everything up, licking the bowl clean afterwards.

"You see?" said Liam, pleased. "She's not so hard to take care of."

"We'll see after a week or so."

"Why don't you think I can have a cat? You don't know. I've never had one."

"No, but you always forgot to feed Indiana."

"I was a kid. Besides, this is only temporary."

That evening he called the local paper and put in an announcement about a lost cat. The owners would probably recognize the name, so it shouldn't take too long. It made him a little sad. She was warm, and her purring calmed him down.

The next day he called Winter again, since he hadn't heard back from her since Monday. She sounded exhausted, but happy.

"You should've seen the crowd, Liam! So many people wanted to see my paintings!"

"That's great, Winter." He wondered why she hadn't asked him to come to this gallery showing. Did she just think he'd be bored?

"There was this one guy wearing a suit. He made me think of you."

Liam laughed. "Did he make my face?"

"No. He couldn't do your face." She chuckled. "I wish you'd been there... I'm sorry I didn't invite you, but I was just too busy and I forgot. You would've liked it, I think. I had a couple of new paintings."

"Any of them based on me?"

"Well, maybe," she said mysteriously.

Liam noticed his father was watching. For some reason, he didn't want him to know his date had gone well and that he planned to see Winter again. Maybe it was because he was pretty sure he wouldn't approve. He could just hear him saying something along the lines of "relationships get in the way." He sped through the goodbyes with a hushed promise to call her on Monday to arrange another date and hung up.

During practice his phone rang. His father didn't let him answer it. When he released him, he checked the missed calls and found it was an unknown number. It might be about the cat, so he should call back, but at that very moment Evianna was purring in his lap as he scratched her ears, and he didn't want to let her go just yet, so he waited for them to call back.

They did, not long after lunch. This time Liam had no excuse, so he answered.


"Hello," said a young woman on the other end. "I'm calling about a lost cat?"

"Oh, yes. Evianna?"

"Yes, that's her. My name is Danielle Miranda. Would you mind bringing her over? My mobility's pretty reduced."

"Sure. What's your address?"

His father gave him permission to go drop off the cat, "To ensure the cat's survival," he said. Liam sighed and left with Evianna in his arms, regretting that he would have to say goodbye so soon. Maybe he could get another cat. Or a small dog, one that could live in his apartment.

The cat's owner lived in an apartment building, near the top floor. He'd forgotten to write down the apartment number, so he wandered around the floor for a while before deciding to try one of the doors.

An old man opened the door. He asked for Danielle Miranda and he scowled at him for a moment before pointing him to what was hopefully the correct apartment.

Liam knocked and was surprised to see a grey-haired woman who looked to be in her sixties or seventies. She'd sounded so young over the phone. She dressed young, too, and had a sort of youthful energy about her, even though she moved slowly and deliberately.

The corridor was dark, so she invited him to come in. She had a small, cozy room with lots of cat toys and a fancy cat bed. Liam felt bad he'd fed the cat cereal and let her sleep on the bed. Danielle had probably trained her not to get on the furniture.

But she wasn't reaching out for the cat, or showing any signs of happiness at the return of her pet. She was just staring at her.

"Um... ma'am?"

"Please call me Danielle," she said, smiling.

"This is your cat, right?"

"No, I'm afraid to say it's not."


"I had a black cat called Evianna. She got lost last week. But this isn't her. My Evianna had green eyes, not turquoise, and she had white mittens."

"Oh." He felt a little relieved, but it was strange. "How common is the name Evianna, for a cat?"

"I have no idea. It's a coincidence."

Another cat with her name and basic description got lost within the same week? That doesn't sound very likely, he thought. But still, it meant he got to keep her for a few more days, or until the real owners found her.

"You can let her play here a little if you like. The toys miss cat paws."

He set Evianna on the carpet and let her stalk over to investigate. She seemed confident and not at all frightened by the new environment.

Following her with his eyes, Liam noticed the glint of something in the sunlight coming through the window. He looked up and saw a surveillance camera in the corner.

"Do you... have many break-ins?" he asked uncertainly.

"Yes, actually." She became serious. "I'd saved up quite a bit of money over the years. I never trusted banks, though, so I kept it here, in a safety deposit box. Last month I had a robbery. They took all my petty cash and antique china, so I installed a camera and marked all my bills. I had another robbery last week, at the same time Evianna disappeared. I thought the robbers had taken her until I saw your ad." She sighed. "Now it might be that it's what happened after all."

"You marked... all your bills?" asked Liam, nonplussed. "What for?"

"To see if they turned up, of course." She laughed. "I read a lot of Agatha Christie when I was younger. I considered myself something of an amateur sleuth. Not that I get to move around a lot in my current state."

"And they took your money?"

"Yes. And my nephew found some of the bills, actually."


"It's crazy. I didn't think it would happen. I suppose this is a small city, and the robber must have been from nearby. My nephew works at a casino. He found some bills with my marks in them. He doesn't know who used them, though."

"Didn't your robber show up in the security camera?"

"No. And that's the funny thing. They didn't disable it. They just got past it somehow, and the camera didn't see them. I looked through all the tapes and there's nothing."

Liam felt a chill on his spine. "What kind of marks did you put on your bills?"

"Come over here, I'll show you."

She led him over to a desk. Liam glanced at Evianna, who was playing with a wall-mounted bird, slapping it around and yowling happily. Then he turned his attention back to Danielle.

She picked up a wallet from the desk and fished out a dollar bill with shaking hands, holding it up for him to see.

"May I?" he asked. She nodded and he took it. It was a very distinctive mark. She'd actually drawn a little flower in pink ink in one of the corners. "All of the bills have the same mark?"

Danielle nodded. "You don't happen to work with the police, do you?"

"As a matter of fact, I do," said Liam, wondering how long it had taken Danielle to draw on every single one of her bills. "Which casino did your nephew find those marked bills in?"


During that evening's workout, Liam pondered what to do with his new-found knowledge. He could go on his own to see if he could find something out... That would help his father see he could take care of himself, and maybe trust him a little more on things.

But if he went and got himself killed, he reasoned, his father wouldn't be very impressed. He decided to tell him.

He actually had to physically stop his father to have a word with him. His father hopped off the exercise machine and bustled off toward the water bottles they'd left in the corner, calling back, "Come on, Liam! It's important to get hydrated!"

Liam grabbed his arm. "Just a second, dad."

"Nope. Hydration comes first."

"I think I might have a lead on Foxtrot and Fleet Fingers."

His father didn't go off for the water bottles, so Liam took it as an indication that he should continue. He told his father everything he'd learned from Danielle. Frustratingly, his father seemed unimpressed.

"What does that have to do with Foxtrot and Fleet Fingers?"

"Fleet obviously stole that money! The camera was on the whole time, but it wasn't able to film him. Just like at the bank."

"There are other ways to get a camera not to show people," said his father calmly. "Besides, they don't seem to be after cash."

"You don't know what they're after! Maybe they're just looking for a profit!"

His father went over to the water bottles. Liam followed. His father handed him a bottle, uncapped his, and took a swallow. "It's a paranoid old lady who's missing some money, Liam. I don't think it's connected."

"Her bills showed up at...! Never mind." He sighed and took a swig of water. "I'm not going to convince you anyway."

"No." His father took another sip, watching him. "But you're going to go and investigate, aren't you?"

"Yeah," said Liam defiantly. "I think it's worth it."

"Good. I'm glad you don't blindly follow orders."

"But all you've done is give me orders!"

"Not because I wanted you to live your life by them." His father gave him an exasperated look and capped the bottle. "I'll see you later."

Liam had thought of going to the casino that very evening, but he decided that he should check in on Winter first. Maybe if he went in person and told her about the man following her she'd tell him what it was about and ask for his help, and he could do something about it. Foxtrot and Fleet Fingers could wait.

He'd never been to her apartment before, but he knew where it was. He'd told her about Evianna and she'd told him to bring her if he came by to visit, so he tucked the cat under his arm as well. Her ears perked up, trying to capture every sound around her as they rode in the taxi, but she didn't try to escape Liam's hold when they got out, not even to chase another cat that showed an interest.

"Come in!" said Winter when he knocked at her door. He stepped inside. It was light an airy and smelled of paint. She had pretty decorations and nice furniture, and the whole place had so much life that it made him ashamed of his dreary apartment.

"Just a second," said Winter, and painted a few more strokes before setting down the paintbrush and turning to face him, beaming. "I'm getting more work than ever! Several people who were at the gallery showing commissioned paintings from me. Oh, hello, pretty," she said, scratching Evianna under the chin. "You still haven't found her owner?"

"No. She's obviously well-cared for, so it shouldn't be too long before they show up. Winter, there's something I have to talk to you about."

"Sure. What?"

"During our date last Friday I noticed..." He wondered how to say it. He hated to tell her when she looked so happy, but she had to know. "There was a man following us."

"Yeah? Who?"

"I think he was actually following us. Seeing where we went." He didn't know how to say that he'd grabbed the man and dragged him into an alley to question him. He didn't know if normal people who'd been on just one date did that. "Stalking us."

"Oh?" He noticed her smile faltered, but she hitched it back up. She must know. If this was news to her she'd be scared or freaked out or angry or something, thought Liam.

"Do you know who it could have been?"

"No idea."

"Not even a suspicion?" he asked, a little annoyed that she was trying to pretend it was all right.

Evianna meowed in protest and he realized he was squeezing her. He set her down.

"It was probably one of the guys from school. I think they had a bet going as to who I was going out with, and they probably just wanted to find out who you were."

"Winter, I talked to him."

"You what?" Her smile disappeared.

"I asked him what he was doing and he said he was following you because someone had told him to do it, and said that if he didn't he'd reveal some secret of his or something."

"He was just being dumb, Liam. You know what, it was probably Benjamin or Toby. They both mentioned they saw me on Friday."

"This is serious, Winter!" he shouted.

She drew back, angry now. "Well, it's none of your business! I'm handling it, okay? You don't even know who I am."

"Because you won't let me know you!"

"You should leave now, Liam. I've got work to do." She returned to her easel, picked up her paint brush again, and resumed painting with ferocious strokes.

Liam thought about apologizing, but he was too angry right now, so he didn't think it would sound sincere. He collected Evianna in his arms and left the apartment. He didn't know what to do.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this episode.

Happy 1,000 view!!! Such a great story! It feels like there has been more than 6 episodes, it's probably because each one is so packed and rich. It's like when you eat a really good piece of cake, you don't need much to feel like you had a lot.

That's hilarious! ;D And flattering! Thank you!

I wonder who have Winter followed? Awesome update! :)

You will see! ;) Thanks!

Lol, I was actually born on a Wednesday and it's my favorite day of the week!  ;D Great update.

;D I was born on a Monday, but that doesn't make me like Mondays much!

I didn't think you could top All the Good Girls go to Heaven, or Kitee Bones, but you did!

Thanks! I always try to learn from previous stories to make the next one better.

Do you think it's best if I post episodes on Saturday or Sunday? Either one is fine by me, but I'd like to know what everyone prefers.

Offline MoonsAreBlue

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Re: Three Million Empty Words - Episode 7: The Cat-Lady's Hoard
« Reply #45 on: May 30, 2012, 07:38:37 PM »
Do you think it's best if I post episodes on Saturday or Sunday? Either one is fine by me, but I'd like to know what everyone prefers.

I think you should post them as soon as they're ready! :) I'm just loving this story.


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Re: Three Million Empty Words - Episode 7: The Cat-Lady's Hoard
« Reply #46 on: May 30, 2012, 07:51:33 PM »
I agree with MoonsAreBlue. I really like your stories and have been reading them (and others) after I am done with the morning paper  ;D


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Re: Three Million Empty Words - Episode 7: The Cat-Lady's Hoard
« Reply #47 on: May 31, 2012, 10:19:48 AM »
Another awesome update! Post the update when it is ready ;D

Offline warr2098

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Re: Three Million Empty Words - Episode 7: The Cat-Lady's Hoard
« Reply #48 on: May 31, 2012, 10:41:04 AM »
i think an update once every day would be nice! But probably every 2 days! Great so far!  :)

Offline Spork-tastic

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Re: Three Million Empty Words - Episode 7: The Cat-Lady's Hoard
« Reply #49 on: May 31, 2012, 04:53:04 PM »
Great update. Things got tense near the end ::).