“Body Neutral” Dark Science Fiction by DL Shirey

He looked 18 or 19, well within the desired age range Avril was hired to target. His sparse scruff of wannabe beard was the same sandy color as his hair. There was no subtlety in the way he stared at Avril. He pushed off from the wall he had been leaning against and gave a playful shove to two of his half-dozen cronies, parting them to get a better look.

          “Da-amn,” he said, elongating the word into two syllables, adding, “Look at this chiquita.”

          For Avril, a male/dominant like this was golden. His reaction would have a greater influence on the marketing statistics than these other six teenagers combined. Yet it was Avril’s job to treat the m/dom like any other consumer: forget he was cute, don’t add twitch to her hips or throw back shoulders to thrust out her chest. Just be a normal girl walking the mall, don’t even think about the stats.

          The outfit she wore today was stylish, yet bland: a long-sleeve cashmere turtleneck that showed just a hint of tummy, vintage Levi’s that fit well, but not too tight, and scruffy Chuck Taylor’s. People were to see Avril as a fashionable young woman in her early twenties, but not linger on her clothes or the shape of her body.

          Avril loved modeling. She enjoyed being the focus of attention, turning heads and feeling eyes upon her. It was exciting. Yet, thanks to some training in disciplined anatomics, Avril kept color from flushing her cheeks. Any change to her body could skew the results for this job.

          She glanced at the m/dom and made sure he was looking, then shook back her shoulder-length purple hair. Avril’s earpiece registered his eyetrace.

          “I’d die to get with that,” the m/dom said and followed with a mime. He pulled the trigger of his finger pistol and mouthed POW as the mock bullet exited his opposite temple. A head snap completed the improv until the laughter of his fellows brought the m/dom back to life.

          Avril ignored the performance.

          A chime from her earpiece indicated that the requisite amount of consumer impressions had been reached. It had taken three laps around the mall to achieve the numbers. Now Avril could relax a bit and let go a few of her anatomizations.

          Mall walks were hard work, even for someone trained as a Variegate. Well, partially trained. Avril had cut short her apprenticeship to model full time. She felt she had mastered her craft enough and it seemed like a good decision. Her career was progressing nicely. The agency had booked her for more runway jobs and even paid for Avril’s travel to better-paying mall gigs, like this one. If she could maintain her numbers, Avril’s future would be filled with the glamour and attention she craved.

          She stretched her neck to pull out stress. Twenty minutes of forced anatomics took its toll. Tremendous muscle control was needed for a Variegate to configure specific body features, such as lifting the cheekbones or elongating the neck. She’d been told that a few more years of apprenticeship would train her to modify properly, without the stress that novices endured.

          But Avril knew better and her status proved it. She was still a rising star at the agency, though that one job had gone terribly wrong. Every model had a bad day now and then, even full-fledged Variegates. Avril pushed the incident from her mind.

          She trudged up carpeted stairs to the nondescript offices on the third floor of the mall and her skin darkened with each step. Coloration was one of the easier things to turn on and off, and reverting to her normal skintone saved energy. This assignment called for a specific look, so until the job was done, Avril could not totally unbuild her present augmentation. It took hours to construct the required anatomy and only minutes to lose it, should Avril’s concentration slip.

          What she wouldn’t give to let the strong hands of a masseuse soothe her aches and stiffness. Avril often scheduled a massage following a job, not only to relax, but also to luxuriate in the feel of strong hands on her skin. Being touched was something she did her best to avoid while working.

          She opened an anonymous door to a very small room. There was one desk on the far wall behind twin monoliths of frosted glass. The panels were four-feet wide, parallel to one another, and stretched floor to ceiling. They did not resemble a toaster, but that was the appliance Avril thought about each time she stepped between the opaque partitions. She couldn’t move for two minutes and by the time the download was complete, her skin color would be its normal, cinnamon brown. Cinnamon toast, she thought.

          But the colors most important to Avril were the ones appearing on both slabs of glass; silhouettes of her body, front and back, rendered in reds and greens and blues. This was a visual aggregate of everyone who had fixed eyes on her; the colors translated to hot, medium or cold depending on which body parts had been gawked at the longest and those ignored:

hair

face

neck

shoulders

arms

hands

chest

stomach

waist

hips

butt

thighs

calves

feet

The colors mixed and pooled into a body-cloud of subtle color variations: reddish browns and rosy yellows on all the popular parts, violets for areas receiving mixed assessments and shades of blue for least viewed regions. Finally, streams of numbers tallied themselves next to each body part. These were viewer stats based on audience type, categorized by dom, subgroup, age and sex.

          Avril’s earpiece chimed again and she sidestepped from the toaster. The colorful outline of her body remained on glass. Avril studied the numbers and smiled. Round Three had registered neutral viewer stats on most body parts, except hair— those numbers exploded. Which was the whole reason for today’s job, to see which hair color attracted the most attention.

          Avril felt a small pang of conflicting emotions; virtually no eyeballs had lingered on her tummy. Totally blue, for the third time today. She was pleased to a point because it meant she had remained body-neutral and wouldn’t have to re-do the session. But it could also mean that the poof of belly fat was viewed as unattractive. Avril didn’t like that. Neither would the agency.

          Back to business, Avril thought.

          She walked over to the desk, referred to the assignment board and typed Purple #122-3479-3 on the console. Thumbing the ENTER key made the anatomic heat-map disappear from the twin towers of glass.

          Avril removed the purple wig from her scalp and placed it on the plastic headform. She raked her manicured nails where it itched most, just above her ears. Her stubbly sidewalls were growing out and would soon need another buzzcut. Avril rubbed, but did not scratch, between the five tight rows of crocheted braids, pulled back from her wide forehead. She checked to see that the tiny ring of elastic at the nape of her neck was still doing the job of holding the braids taut.

          On to Round Four; twenty minutes with the jet-black wig and she would be done for the day.

          Avril pulled on the hairpiece, aligning the mop-cut bangs above the arc of her eyebrows. She rarely wore make up, but this job stipulated lipstick. She reapplied the designated shade. One final check in the full-length mirror and she was ready for Round Four. There was only a moment’s hesitation as she pulled down the sweater to try and hide her belly. Avril was capable of redistributing her body fat, as she did for runway jobs, but there were only so many anatomical balls she could juggle at one time.

          This was the one regret Avril had for leaving training; not being able to render all those fine details that a certified Variegate can do to perfection.

          By the time she reached the mall’s first floor, Avril had repigmentized her skin and double-checked that all configurations were in place.

          She recognized many of the people she had passed in previous rounds. Repeat eyeballs were an important metric. The eyetraces of those who had noticed her before would be compared, the differences measured, and any reactions to Avril’s hair analyzed in micro-impressions. Avril tried to walk the same path, at the same speed, with the same posture, to gather as many Repeaters as possible.

          “Wasn’t her hair purple before?” The f/dom said it, a robust black lady, pack leader for six mall-walking seniors, all women. They were clad in colorful workout clothes, stretching in preparation for their walk, adjusting socks and sweatbands.

          Avril had seen them before, gathering like a flock of hens, the f/dom headmost in the pecking order. She and Avril had locked eyes before. Now, the woman was really giving Avril the once-over.

          “Kids these days.” The f/dom was talking to her group, obviously speaking loud enough for Avril to hear. “I mean, she struts around here with clothes tight enough to show everything God gave her.” The gaggle clucked and muttered in agreement.

          Avril assumed the comment was about her breasts. Had she not been on a job, Avril could have shocked the women by increasing her cup size. It would require her to release the hold on the other body parts she was governing and rechannel fluids to her chest. Avril could only imagine the looks on their faces as her bust enlarged.

          Avril caught herself smiling, then realized how the last few seconds might affect the results of Round Four. She needed to concentrate on maintaining the required configuration and keep walking or she might have to abort this black-wig session and start it all over again. One thing the agency did not like was a re-do.

          Avril elongated her stride slightly, intending to put distance between her and the seniors.

          “Step lively now, ladies,” came the voice from behind.

          Avril needed to tamp down her emotions, or at least keep them from affecting her appearance. Others watching her might see a thrusted chin, knitted brow or a narrowing of eyes. Any body differential could adversely affect the numbers.

          Dealing with Instigants, like these women, was the worst part of mall jobs. Avril wanted to stand up for herself, but that would negate an entire day’s work. Sure, the data-collection system would weed out stats from anyone who instigated verbal contact with Avril, hostile or otherwise. But if a confrontation escalated to a certain level, it could nullify a whole job’s worth of data gathering. Especially if an Instigant touched Avril.

          “I’d rethink that outfit if I was you. That top is too short,” the woman said from behind, between breaths, “And those jeans, a little snug in the crotch, don’t you think?” The mall-walkers chittered with laughter.

          Avril realized she was clenching her teeth and the first taste of panic made her mouth go dry. What if the woman caught up and put a hand on Avril’s shoulder? Any unexpected physical contact and Avril could lose control of her body. It had happened in the past; that sudden gush of adrenaline would undo everything Avril was holding together.

          Avril couldn’t afford another invalidation, the agency wouldn’t stand for it. She decided to make a hard right, go up the stairs to the second floor, hoping the women would not follow. But her escape was cut short by a familiar pack of teenagers.

          “Chiquita,” the m/dom said as his posse blocked the stairs, “Long time no see.”

          He angled his scruffy beard into a smirk, then reached out and grabbed one of Avril’s hands. He whispered something close to her ear.

          It wasn’t the disgusting words that made Avril repulse and push away, it was ebbing of her restraint. She could feel all those little dams of muscle control start to give way. As hard as Avril tried to resist, the backslide progressed. And with it came fear.

          The older woman changed instantly from antagonist to ally. She stepped up beside Avril. “Keep your paws off of her, young man. Who do you think you are?”

          Avril held up her hand to keep the woman from intruding.

          The m/com laughed and grabbed Avril again, this time by both her shoulders. Rage coursed through Avril’s body and she could no longer maintain the tenuous hold she had on her anatomy.

          Avril shoved the m/dom. Hard.

          “No, I got this,” she said to the woman. Avril’s voice lowered to a growl.

          “That’s right. You go girl. Show ’em what you’re made of,” sang the chorus of mall-walkers.

          Avril snatched off the black wig and threw it to the ground. She swallowed hard, letting loose an Adam’s apple that wasn’t there before. Fists clenched in anger, Avril took one threatening lunge toward the m/dom.

          “I ain’t fighting no girl,” the teenager said as he backed off. “Or whatever you are.”

          The flimsy sweater tightened around Avril’s bulking shoulder and arm muscles as they returned to normal girth. Avril took another step toward the teenagers and felt his penis and testicles descend, pressing on the inseam of his jeans.

          “What in God’s name,” the old woman exclaimed when she saw the coarse stubble shadow Avril’s cheeks and chin. “Time to move on, ladies.”

          It took every bit of restraint Avril had to keep from taking a swing at the scruffy teenager. The m/dom stood his ground for one long moment, then pushed past his six sidekicks and retreated up the stairs. They all followed.

          Avril felt the heat leave his cheeks. He could have sped up the process, but didn’t have the strength. All he could think about was how the agency would react. His budding career was in jeopardy now that it had happened twice.

          Picking up the wig, Avril walked back toward the office. He tried not to make eye contact with the shoppers who stopped and stared. Avril knew many of them had seen him before, as his earpiece chimed over and over again, still registering their eyetraces.   Everyone was looking at Avril.


DL Shirey lives in Portland, Oregon under skies the color of bruises. Occasionally he lightens up, but his dark fiction can be found in Confingo, Zetetic, Liquid Imagination and in anthologies from Truth Serum Press and Literary Hatchet. Find more of his writing at www.dlshirey.com and @dlshirey on Twitter.


“The Sea of Purple” A Tale of a Terrifying Future by Ethan Maiden

Welcome to Evergreen.
	Tis a place known to no map in the old world. Its beauty lies rich and vibrant; endless green farmland and vast woodland surround it, protect it, this village of endless spring. 
	As residents we know not of winter, of snow or rain, we only know of warmth and the eternal youth the fruit shall bring. 
	We are not allocated a traditional name one associates with people of a similar appearance in the old world. Instead, we are given a letter from birth by our Elders. 
	I am K. Along with me, there are three other K’s in the village, all born on the same cycle.
	Teachings of the old world cite that offspring come from the womb of a woman, in Evergreen we come from the womb of the earth. We are chosen by a greater power to come to this place and mask in the beauty, forever young until the time comes for us to return from which we came.  
	We’re assigned chores by the Elders.
	Some of us are assigned washing duties, others prepare the meals.
	And some pick – the fruit.
	The fruit grows in the spanning fields, spawned from some ancient and otherworldly force known only to us as - The Sea of Purple. 
	I pick the fruit, it’s no bigger than my palm. The round squidgy texture glows with an orange shimmer. The basking colour inside makes it hard to resist, it’s inviting to just take it into your mouth and bite down. The juices would flow through our veins, making us ripe once again. 
	However, we’re forbidden to eat the fruit by the Elders during the picking; we eat when they tell us to eat. 
	I usually pick three baskets of fruit a day, although I can tell the quantity is dwindling as I’m struggling to now fill one. The fruit is becoming harder to find and that means a summoning by the Elders is imminent.
	The fields are flanked by fruit trees on either side, most of which are just shy of my height. Approaching is a familiar face. It’s one of two J’s of the village. She has pale flesh, blonde hair in a ponytail hidden behind a white veil. J’s dress is red, flowing above her tight white tunic and flaring from the waist.
	J and I had always been close. We’d attended the teachings of the Elders together, learning about the old world. When J was assigned picking duty I was ecstatic, spending time in this field searching for the orange glimmer all day, one can become quite lonely.
	‘Good day,’ I said as we met. I looked in her basket and saw a dozen pieces of fruit, not nearly enough for this time of day. ‘The fruit runs scarce for us it would seem.’
	She nodded looking down at her basket, ‘Madam Elder will be announcing a summoning any day now.’
	I concurred, ‘aye, I believe it would be your time to bless the earth.’			
	J crouched down to the hard dirt and ran her hand over the loose gravel. ‘Tis a great honour to become one with the earth again,’ she said standing, her face falling distant. ‘I have to say that I would have enjoyed more time with you before I leave.’
	Tis true; the feeling was mutual. 
	As residents of Evergreen, we are forbidden to have any physical contact with another. Physical relations result in rotten fruit, and that could bring an end to our beautiful society. But it would be a lie to say that I didn’t feel the warmth flare in my body when I laid eyes on J.
	‘Aye, it’s a shame our friendship will be over prematurely,’ I said, feeling a small ache in my chest. 
	When we returned to the village, we placed our half-filled baskets in the temple hall ready for collection. 
	W, who is one of the food preparers came and looked what we had managed to scrape together. He was a bullish boy with a few strands of hair mopped over his shiny head.  
	‘Is that it?’ he sniggered. ‘With what the others brought, I will barely be able to feed the village.’
	‘The fruit is hard to come by at the moment,’ I said.
	W looked up at J, ‘it shall be you who redeems the fields then, huh?’
	‘And with great honour,’ she replied without hesitation.
	As I made my way back to my shed I wondered about J’s words. She would have liked to spend more time with me? This sounds foreign, I’d never heard of any member of the community with a distaste of giving themselves to The Sea of Purple. 
	A peculiar notion. Since birth from the ground I have always looked forward to when my time comes to nourish the fields. It’s our purpose to serve the Elders and give ourselves to The Sea of Purple. 
	There was tightening in my chest, a prodding burden. I couldn’t get J out of my head, her pretty face refusing to leave my vision. 
	I entered my shed and bolted the door.
	The community sheds were identical. They were made from the wood of the forest, sculptured from thick trunks. It was a haven, a place to recuperate before the next day’s hard work.
	We had a wooden block to lay on and rest and at the moment - think. 
	When the dark came, we would stare out to the night sky and prey to the Great Ones, as Madam Elder taught us. 
	They have given us a sanctuary to live until we are called back to the gut of the world, she had said on many a teaching. 
	Yet tonight, I couldn’t forget J. 
	Dinner was served in the temple as nightfall fell upon the village. 
	The temple was a vast structure, towering above all else. It was where the Elder’s resided and seated the entire village, twenty-three of us on either side of the long table. At the head was another table that faced us seating the seven Elders, with Madam Elder at the center. She was tall, thin, with a mop of blonde hair to her bony shoulders. Madam Elder had small piercing eyes, hazel in colour and dressed in a long white robe with blue collar. The other Elders were matched in the same clothing. Three male and three female, all with the same stern and piercing expression as they watched us. 
	Along the middle of the table were bowls of fruit, shining under the candlelight.
	Across from me sat J, the glow in her face from earlier had become absent.
	With a twang of the drum, Madam Elder rose, towering like a goddess.
	‘As you all can see, the fruit is falling in numbers by the day,’ Madam said, her voice
echoing off all the walls. ‘The time has come for a summoning, where we will grace the earth and
be rewarded with new life. It is tomorrow, under the night sky where we shall present our gift to
the great Sea of Purple.’
	Madam Elder looked over to J and smiled, ‘do you accept this honour, child?’ she asked.
	‘I do,’ J replied.
	Madam Elder then turned to the other J sitting further down the table, ‘and you, child?’
	‘Yes, Madam,’ the burly boy replied.
	‘Then it shall be tomorrow where you shall arrive in your purest forms. Tonight, you will
feast,’ Madam Elder said holding out her hands. ‘But first we pray.’
	Madam Elder sat and we all placed our palms on the table in tandem. 
	It was Papa Elder sitting to Madam’s right who spoke the words:

Thank you for the fruit, 
It shall fill our veins and replace our blood.
We shall remain young, faithful and ready at your will,
when the time comes, we shall bow in all your grandeur.
There is no death in Evergreen, only rebirth.
It is under your guidance and grace,
that we continue to live free and in paradise.
	Amen.

	‘Amen,’ we all said together.
	‘Feast, children,’ Madam Elder instructed.
	Then we ate and ate well. The aches in our bones vanished. The lines under the elder’s
eyes reversed and youthfulness flourished across their brows.
	My eyes locked with J’s, a sadness laid between us that I’d never felt before.
	After dinner, I went back and laid in my shed, staring at nothing. J’s face, that’s all I could
picture as the darkness drew in.
	When the knock came on my door, I sprang up, thankful for the distraction. It was J stood
outside, her eyes glistening in the light of the burning torches planted around
the village.  
	‘J, are you all right?’ I asked.
	She nodded and took my hand within hers. ‘It’s my last night in Evergreen, I was
wondering if you’d accompany me to the place where this world falters and the next begins?’
	My head told me to stay and decline the offer, if Madam Elder found out that we’d been
out together then the repercussions would be dastardly. Yet, my heart pushed me out the door, my
hand gripping J’s tightly.
	To the north of the village sat Eden hill, the tallest point that looked out over the village
and endless woodland. It was forbidden to venture there, only the Elders were permitted to look
beyond Evergreen. Planted in the middle of the hill was the tall oak, the tree full of bloom which
held the ripest of fruit. Again, it was the Elder’s privilege to taste the fruit that fell from the tall
oak.
	‘I don’t think we should be up here, J,’ I said as she dragged me up the final steps of the
incline.
	‘I am giving myself to Evergreen,’ she replied. ‘To gaze upon where the sky ends is
something I have to see.’
	We reached the top of Eden and fell to the ground exhausted. 
	Nothing could have prepared me for what flowed beneath the other side. A terrain of
colour swirled in a pool of purple where the night sky ended. The greens and oranges
mingled and caressed one another back and forth.
	The Sea of Purple. 
	It was glorious. 
	‘And there it is,’ J said. ‘The place where Evergreen ends and another world begins. The
Sea of Purple, the great one that comes alive when summoned.’
	‘What do you think is beyond this great sea?’ I asked fixated on the sparkling pool.
	‘The book of Evergreen speak of a place not like ours.’
	‘You read Madam Elder’s transcript?’ I asked aghast.
	J didn’t directly answer me, she just said: ‘The book speaks of a world where people like
us grow old … together. A place where the night sky is alive with twinkling light and a white sun.
Tis a place where people like me and you hold one another, where we give life to offspring.’
	I frowned, ‘the fruit?’
	J smiled, ‘the fruit does not exist in this other place.’
	‘Then how do the Elder’s stay young?’
	‘There are no Elder’s,’ J replied. ‘In this other world, you grow old until the time is right.’
	It almost killed me but I managed to pull my eyes away from the purple vortex and stared
into J’s eyes. 
	‘I think we need to be heading back,’ I said.
	J smiled and nodded, ‘you know, I would enter this void now to see this other world, if
only you’d come with me.’
	I reclined in fear as J grabbed my hands.
	‘We could be more,’ she continued. ‘Evergreen isn’t the end, there is so much more, it’s
just Madam Elder is reluctant to share her knowledge. We could leave and grow old together, K. I
have read the transcript and know this to be true. My heart aches as I know yours does too, we
could be together in another life.’
	‘Tis true that I feel something odd whenever I think of you. Yet leaving Evergreen is not
something any of us should consider. We are a family and the family needs the fruit.’
	J peered down solemnly. ‘I know you’re right,’ she whispered. ‘It was unfair of me to
bring you here.’
	‘No, I’m glad I saw such beauty.’
	‘It is beautiful,’ she replied staring at the void of purple.
	‘I wasn’t talking about the sea,’ I said, my eyes now firmly on her.
	J stared back and bloomed.
	Back at the village I walked J back to her shed and bid her goodnight. As I strolled down
the path back to my dwelling, I saw the tall imposing figure of Madam Elder stood outside the
temple.
	‘K, come forth,’ she said.
	The tone in her voice made my chest pump.
	‘Yes, Madam.’
	‘What are you doing out of your shed at such a time?’ she asked.
	I declined to answer, one does not tell lies to Madam Elder.
	‘You’ve been somewhere you shouldn’t have?’ she probed.
	She knows … she knows I have seen where the world bounds with another … the Sea of Purple.
	‘Aye, Madam,’ I replied. ‘There is no excuse for my treason. I shall serve with any debt
you deem adequate.’
	Madam Elder placed her long finger against my lips and stared into my soul with those
bright eyes. ‘Shushh, child,’ she whispered. ‘In Evergreen, thou shall be tested by many a thing.
Tis how you come through those tests which determine what kind of Evergreen resident you are.’
	I nodded.
	Madam said: ‘Tomorrow is the summoning, where we bring forth the great one, the one
who will cherish us with life, I would like you to stand beside me, child.’
	My eyes studied her, ‘that would truly be an honour, Madam,’ I said.
	‘Then go and rest,’ she replied.
	As the warmth of day returned, I felt different. The words of Madam Elder had placed me
at ease, even though she knew of my treachery.
	At breakfast and lunch, I kept my head down. I felt two sets of eyes staring at me as I ate:
J’s and Madam Elders. They were both watching me, I could feel it, both for different reasons.
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a flicker of sorrow losing my lifelong friend at the
summoning. But that is what we have to sacrifice to live here in Evergreen, the eternal beauty and
life comes with a price. I had to shun away those warm feelings in the pit of my stomach.
	I locked myself away the shed for the rest of day, surprised that there were no knocks at
the door. I thought that J would give it one last attempt to run away to this so-called other “old
world”. 
	Yet, J did not come forth. Instead I was left with nothing but my thoughts and they were
consumed with the Sea of Purple.
	The drums boomed out as darkness fell on the village.
	It was time.
	In my small wooden cabinet was the summoning attire. It consisted of a long flowing
white robe, blue collar and the mask carved from the woodland trees. I placed it on the front of my
face and tied the rope behind my head. The mask was heavy with thick slits chipped out where my
eyes fell. The masks of the villagers matched with one another, the Sea demanded we appear equal
during a summoning.
	Once ready I exited the shed. Many of the other residents were already stood outside with
their masks on and flaming torches in hand. I grabbed my burning torch and waited patiently. 
	The whole village fell silent. No sound other than the flickering flames.
	The Elder’s walked down the road, Madam’s flowing dress made her appear as though
floating like some goddess. She wore the huge Elder wicker mask that matched her grandeur. Papa
walked next to her followed by the other Elder’s; they strode straight ahead with purpose. Behind
the Elder’s: the two J’s. Both of which were absent of clothes, their pale flesh looking as pure as
when they came into this world.
	The village followed behind them in tandem.
	When the head of the group reached me, I waited to see if J would give me one last glance
… she didn’t.
	I studied her naked body and felt that warmth enter me again. J’s long blonde
 hair now
dropped to her bare shoulders. She was true beauty to behold, only matched by that of Evergreen
and the Sea of Purple.
	I joined the group as the Elder’s marched us to the bottom of Eden hill. There we stopped
and Madam Elder took off her mask turning to face the group. 
	‘Tonight, we summon the one that shall bring us fresh and eternal life,’ Madam said. ‘The
great one shall take their prize and bless us with the fruit that binds us together, maybe even create
us new lives to cherish.’
	Madam Elder held out her arms to bring forth the two J’s. They walked up and stood
beside her, one on either side. 
	Madam bellowed: ‘The chosen ones must now leave us to rejoin with the earth from which
they spawned.’ Madam Elder looked at me, a shot of cold eyes, ‘K, join me,’ she said.
	The group all turned and when I stepped forward, they parted without hesitation.
	Reaching out I took Madam Elder’s hand. She placed me next to J and I felt my heart beat
faster, a longing to hold her one last time. 
	Madam Elder continued, this time her voice louder – unworldly: ‘Great one, the one who
resides in the Sea of Purple and wonder. Come forth and take these offerings we give to you. Bless
us with your beauty and wonder.
	Silence.
	Followed by rumbling beneath my feet. 
	Madam’s eyes grew bigger, ‘the great one has heard our plea, now all must shield your
eyes, we are too inferior to gaze upon the great ones wonder,’ Madam said picking up her mask
and placing it back upon her crown.
	The rumbling was followed by an almighty growl that made my ears yelp.
	The ground shook harder as I clenched my eyes as tight as I could.
	There were shrieks, whistles and gusts of wind as the darkness came alive. 
	I twitched my hand with contemplation to reach over and take J’s.
	The sound boomed and was thunderous before slowly subsiding and fading away back to
silence.
	Instinctively I reached out and grabbed nothing but thin air.
	‘You are now free to open your eyes,’ Madam Elder said.
	Quickly, I snapped my hand back by my side before anyone had the chance to see my
conflict.
	J was gone.
	‘The great one has taken the offering, be gone now and prey that they bless us with fresh
life,’ Madam ordered.
	The residents of Evergreen took their leave back to the village.
	As I went to walk, Madam grabbed my arm.
	‘Tis with great bravery that you shunned your desires,’ Madam whispered. ‘You have
proven yourself to be a noble resident. Perhaps there is potential to be an Elder in you,’ Madam
said.
	‘Really? An Elder, me?’ I asked aghast. 
	‘Many a more challenge shall come forth, my child. It is how you deal with those
challenges which determine Elder status.’
	‘But Madam, I’m K, next in line for the summoning.’
	Madam took off her mask and smiled. ‘If there is Elder status in you then the great one
shall spare you, child, just as it did with me. The Sea of Purple and wonder are more than we
could ever imagine. If you are chosen, there are secrets that you shall learn. Until then, rest.’
	The following day I headed out to pick the fruit. 
	Specks of crimson sprayed the fruit trees with chunks of pale flesh scattering the fields and
on the floor. Crouching down I ran my hand over the remains of J, now seeding the earth.
	‘Your beauty will endure,’ I said.  
	As I stood, I peered into the distance, gazing at the shimmer of light.
	Flashes and sparkles of orange.
	Fresh fruit had begun to grow.
	The Sea of Purple had given us our blessing.

Ethan works for a utilities company in South Yorkshire. Currently he is editing his first novel that he hopes to be completed this year. The works of Stephen King and H.P Lovecraft are influences behind his fiction.