Strange creatures lurk out in the dunes

Feral Fields

BY JEREMY WILSON AND SHANEL WILSON

The late afternoon light trickled through the crystalline window of Verges’s home in Westminster. He shuffled around his kitchen, filling his pockets with two-day-old fry bread before he left for his shift in the Wildcat Fields. Satisfied his pockets were full enough, he turned to the two work packs that hung from wooden hooks by the front door. The smaller one was covered in a thick layer of dust. Seeing the smaller pack, Verges grumbled and grabbed the larger one.

Seeing the smaller pack, Verges grumbled and grabbed the larger one.
Photo by Derick McKinney

“I should put that away already,” he grunted, as he slung his pack over his shoulder.

As Verges adjusted the straps of his pack, he squinted against the sun reflecting off a small picture frame hanging next to the wooden hooks. He didn’t need to see the picture to vividly recall its image: a smiling, curly-haired girl with a face full of freckles wrapping her arms around a jolly, bearded man in a happy hug. Verges’s beard was a lot grayer these days, and his beloved daughter, Cleo, was now grown and working as a Bride in Whitehall. He had hoped Cleo would inherit her mother’s oil-slick-colored eyes, but she had his bold, violet eyes instead. When she came of age, she left to fulfill her duty and become a Westminster Bride.

His house had grown quiet because of her absence the past few years, causing Verges to pick up as many shifts as his manager, Imogen, would allow him out in the Fields. He preferred to be out there anyway, where he could catch a glimpse of the feral creatures that lived in the savagelands surrounding the Wildcat Fields.


Verges stepped off the hover trolley when it reached the refinery. A crowd of crew persons waited to board, covered in dust and sweat from a long day managing the rigs out on the dunes. A few muttered hellos as Verges passed. He nodded in return and made his way to the hover garage.

He nodded in return and made his way to the hover garage.
Photo by Marten Bjork

Verges checked in on the console at the entrance. He noticed his partner, Lodovico, had not checked in yet, so he made his way to their hover to get it ready for a night out in the Fields. He threw his pack into the driver’s seat and started performing the safety checks.

“Oy there, weren’t you just here last night, Verges?” 

The voice startled Verges, causing him to bump his head on the undercarriage of the hover.  

“It’s got to be done, Aaron.” Verges rubbed his head as he stood to greet the tall, slim man.

“Well, it’s your lucky night. The rigs will get a night off from your poking and prodding. Lodovico has called out, so you don’t have a partner to go out on shift with. Something about his wife being nervous about the Polity’s captain arriving tomorrow.” Aaron leaned casually against Verges’s hover, picking his filthy nails.

“I doubt Tamera is the nervous one.” Verges scowled, strapping down the toolbag to the rear of the hover.

“You’re right about that, mate!” Aaron’s scraggly hair bounced as he snickered.

Verges‘s brows knitted together as he watched Aaron continue to lounge against the hover while Verges tried to finish the safety checks.

“On shift tonight with Tubal, are ya Aaron?” Verges shooed the younger man away from the hover so Verges could check the drill poles.

“Nah, I’m heading home. I saw you check in, so I thought I’d wander into the garage to say hello, let you know you were off the hook for the night.” Aaron perched on the hover parked across the way.

“Well, hello. I am sure your children will be waiting at the door for their dear old pop, don’t you think?”

“I suppose you’re right, as usual, Verges. You’re a wise old geezer. Want to catch the next trolley together?” Aaron hitched a thumb toward the door.

“Not tonight. I want to make sure the hover is ready for the next run.” Verges kept his eyes on the hover so he wouldn’t be tempted to escort Aaron out forcibly.

“Always thinking ahead, aren’t ya? Just don’t go out alone. You know how dangerous it is.” Aaron hopped down from the hover and started strolling to the door.

“Do you think I’ve forgotten the rules?” Verges called after him.

“Not at all, but that hasn’t stopped you before, old boy. G’night, Verges.” Aaron waved and disappeared through the door.

Verges grumbled but was glad to be left alone. Verges hadn’t gotten the chance to take the hover out solo at night in ages. While it was expressly against the Wildcat Field rules to go out into the Fields at night alone, he knew how to avoid the dangers and he knew Imogen would go easy on him if word got back to her. The rigs needed tending, especially if the Polity would soon be trying to take a share of the oil the Fields produced. Every drop would become that much more precious. Verges also would not miss an opportunity to encounter some of his feral friends, especially without Lodovico scaring them off every chance he got. Once he was comfortable that the hover was ready and sure that everyone else had gone home, Verges climbed into the driver’s seat and quietly steered the hover out to the dunes.

Just beyond the outskirts of town, Verges paused to watch the last rays of sunlight dance across the dunes. A gentle breeze welcomed him, carrying the scent of Mary’s Irises. Verges inhaled deeply and smiled. He’d always loved Mary’s Irises. They were a sight to behold but nearly impossible to find, hidden among the sandstone crags and only blooming in the darkest hours of night. Their pale, translucent petals, speckled with crimson, suggested a fragile nature, but they were far hardier than most of the Smith workers he knew.

A gentle breeze welcomed him, carrying the scent of Mary’s Irises.
Photo by Christian Lambert

When the sun finally disappeared below the shifting sands, Verges eased the hover onward toward the Barren Sea, where they’d left off tending the rigs the night before. The gentle breeze grew into a steady wind and the dunes began to hum. Lodovico always complained the sound gave him a headache, but Verges found it calming. Even so, it made his job trickier by masking the sounds of the creatures in the dunes.

He glided past dune after dune, his mind wandering to thoughts of his daughter. When she was younger, Verges would bring her along on nights when he would be tending the rigs solo. Together, they would repair the derricks and marvel at the creatures they came across. He wished she could be here now, but Whitehall had demanded that she stay to train other Brides. It had broken his heart, but he couldn’t say that he was surprised, knowing the incredible young woman she had become. Love and pride began to well up in the corners of his eyes.

Abruptly, the wind turned into a gale, pelting Verges with stinging sand and reducing his visibility to almost nothing. He slid his violet goggles into place to protect his eyes and veered the hover sharply north to cut through the Rift. When he reached it, he slowed again, buffeted by the wind.

The Rift was a deep scar in the ground hidden by the endless dunes. Passing through it always filled Verges with a mix of unease and excitement thinking of what must be lurking in the labyrinth of slot canyons and caves branching out ever deeper into the planet. Traversing the canyon was actually the quickest way to get to the Barren Sea, but Imogen’s grandfather had forbidden the rig teams from passing this way since they’d lost several teams mysteriously during the last Alignment. Not that that had ever stopped Verges on nights when he was out alone.

The Rift was a deep scar in the ground hidden by the endless dunes.
Photo by Tom Gainor.

Verges carefully navigated the hover into the canyon. On nights like this, the raging wind above would send sand cascading down the sculpted canyon walls, creating flowing curtains backlit by the blood-red Swearing Moon. A fist-sized puffadoon eyed him suspiciously from a nearby rock ledge as it gnawed on a sand hopper. It’s bloated, warty skin reflecting dull orange in Verges’s goggles.

As the canyon reached its narrowest point, the hover’s headlamps reflected off of what appeared to be a rippling, silvery pool on the canyon floor blocking his path. Easing the hover closer, he could see the pool was a writhing mass of silvery bodies. 

Verges smiled and readied the fry bread in his pocket. He tossed a piece toward the silvery mass and was greeted by a cacophony of excited clicks.

Quicksilvers.

Agile little beasts with black, beady eyes, sharp snouts, and shimmering hides that reflected light like a mirror. A single Quik was relatively harmless, but a family of them will make quick work of even the strongest man’s hubris. Normally they were found among the dunes, where many a weary traveler were enticed into an unpleasant demise thinking they had found water. Occasionally, though, a brood would wander into one of the canyons and take up residence.

Verges used the fry bread to lure the Quiks out of the way and slide the hover past, barely clearing the outcrops on either side. He had to bring the hover to a crawl to avoid wedging it in the narrow opening. Once through, he paused briefly to admire the small, silvery beasts.

The sound of rocks being knocked loose, amplified by the canyon walls, startled Verges and sent the quicksilvers scattering into clefts and crevices. He scanned the canyon walls and saw nothing, but he suddenly felt like he was being watched. Curiosity gave way to prudence, and he decided to continue on his way.

By the time he reached the other end of the canyon, the wind had died down. As he exited, he glanced back and thought he saw a shadow moving at the canyon’s mouth. He stopped the hover and watched intently, holding his breath. When nothing happened, he slowly pressed on into the Barren Sea.

He passed the first two rigs, having tended those last night. He quietly swore as he approached the third. The rig was overrun with vines of Hathaway’s Crown.

The rig was overrun with vines of Hathaway’s Crown.
Photo by Matt Hoffman.

Early Globers discovered the flowering vine growing straight out of the dunes and had named it so because of its beauty and tenacity. Ironically, it turned out that the vine fed on the very oil they were trying to extract and could wreak havoc on the rig machinery.

With a little effort, the vines could be trained to create a barrier around the rigs to keep the Quiks out. Verges found, though, that if he didn’t cut them back regularly, Hathaway’s Crown would quickly overtake the rig and force its way into the casings, seeking oil.

It had been less than a week since Verges had checked this rig, but already the vines had overtaken the structure. Cutting them back would take considerable time. Verges sighed. No need to be in a rush; that’s how accidents happen. 

He slid the hover next to the rig and switched off the engine. Without the hover engine running, Verges paused to enjoy the sounds of the sand for a moment. The peaceful calm belied the dangerous traps the dunes held. He glanced back toward the edge of the canyon. The rig was a good distance away from it, but something in the pit of his stomach didn’t trust that the shadow near the canyon wasn’t lurking in the darkness. Once he was satisfied that he was alone, Verges dug in his pack for his plasma shears. 

“Hathaway, I better have enough charge to cut away your crown,” Verges prayed, since he had neglected to charge the battery pack after using the shears the night before. 

Vine shears were standard issue for Wildcat Field workers, but Verges had modified his with plasma blades. They were risky because of how much ultraviolet light they emitted, but they cut his work time in half. It was a trade-off he was willing to make. He ignited the blades and set to work. 

After several hours, the canvas sack Verges used to collect the vine clippings was nearly full, even though he was only halfway through his trimming. He wiggled and tamped the sack to make more room before he reached for another piece of vine on the side of the rig. When he flicked the switch on the plasma blades, they popped and fizzled instead of igniting.

“Blast it.” Verges hit the blade handles against his palm several times. The blades stayed dark.

He looked back to the rig, vines still curling around the top of the derrick. If he left those there, the rig would be engulfed before he could return. Verges climbed back into the hover where he pulled out a long cable from under the controls. He inserted the cable into the charging port on the shears and paused, taking another look around the dunes. No signs of curious creatures, yet.

The night had grown dark and still. Normally Verges would have been disappointed to have such a quiet, creatureless night in the rigs, but he knew that could change as soon as he turned on the hover. Verges reached over and flipped the ignition switch. The hover engine purred like a kittercat, and he tried the switch on the shears again. Their violet glow instantly illuminated the buzzing hover. 

Verges jumped out of the hover and scrambled up the side of the derrick to reach the remaining vines. He took a deep breath to calm himself. He hated rushing, but dawn was approaching and he hadn’t given himself much of a choice. He made a mental note to keep a spare battery in his work pack to avoid this in the future. Verges looped the cable around the upper strut of the rig and continued trimming. Clippings fell to the sand, making soft thuds and sending grains of sand cascading down the side of the dune. 

Between the purr of the hover and focusing on the vines, Verges couldn’t hear the clippings fall. He couldn’t hear the quiet padding of footsteps approaching, either. It wasn’t until he felt a tug on the cable connecting his shears to the hover that his attention was pulled away from the vines.

He couldn’t hear the quiet padding of footsteps approaching, either.
Photo by Harpal Singh.

Beneath him, several bulbous eyes reflected the glow of his shears. The creature tossed its ragged, russet-colored mane and let out a low growl. It pawed the sand between them with one of its eight, spindly legs that was now entwined in the cable.

“A sand wraith!” Verges whispered into the night.

All the blood from his face drained when he locked eyes with the beast. Verges had never seen one before, nor had he met anyone who had. It was said that anyone who did never returned from the dunes. 

The legends described the beast as having eight, giant, spider-like legs covered in thick, tawny hair that tower over even the tallest of men. Its head and body, it was said, resembled a monstrous, engorged lion, with jagged fangs curving out from its whiskered muzzle. It was thought that sand wraiths lurked in the canyons and only stalked prey into the dunes if they were particularly hungry. They would strike with unnatural speed, pinning their victims down in a flurry of legs while slowly ripping them apart. 

The legends described the beast as having eight, giant, spider-like legs covered in thick, tawny hair that tower over even the tallest of men. Photo by Jeremy Bezanger.

Verges noted that the legends were right about the beast’s fearsome lion and spider-like features, but its legs were not quite as tall. The wraith looked to be about his height if he had been on the ground next to it. Though, he knew those nimble legs could scale the derrick to reach him in seconds flat if it wished. Being caught in the cable would barely slow it down. 

The sand wraith’s growl grew into agitated grunts, its legs skittering in the sand as it pulled against the cable, nearly yanking the shears clean out of Verges’s hands. Verges flicked off the shears so neither of them would be sliced by the plasma. 

“Easy there.” Verges cautiously climbed down the derrick; his hand outstretched toward the sand wraith. 

It lowered its massive head and sneered; a low guttural roar shook the derrick as Verges landed in the sand. 

“I won’t hurt you.” Verges dropped the shears and held his hands up to show the beast he meant no harm.

It stepped backward, jolting the hover that was still connected by the cable to the shears and sending the hover crashing into the derrick. Verges lunged forward and rolled to avoid being pinned between the two. 

“Whoa!” Verges unsteadily got back to his feet, his sweaty face and neck now covered in sand. 

He slowly reached into the hover and killed the engine. Verges watched as the beast’s hackles seemed to drop and relax. Though he took that as a good sign, his heart pounded against his ribcage. He stepped forward, half bowed, while keeping his eyes locked with the wraith’s. The intense yellow of the wraith’s eyes glowed brightly because of his goggles, which had started fogging up from his sweat. He yanked them off and dropped them by his side. The air between them was thick with the beast’s hot, sticky breath.

“Let me help you.” Verges bent down and found the cable in the sand.

He reached a hand out, mere inches from the wraith’s trapped leg. He paused, bowed his head and then gently stroked its spike-like fur. The hairs bristled at his touch, creating a rasping sound as they rubbed together. Verges recoiled, watching the wraith’s every move. When it did not retreat or attack, he continued. Verges gingerly lifted its clawed foot pad and unwrapped the cable from its leg. Once freed, he set the leg back down into the sand and took a step back. 

The wraith snuffed and stamped its legs, stretching to its full height and causing Verges to stumble backwards a few paces. The wraith’s eight legs worked in perfect harmony as it stepped forward to close the gap between them. Verges held as still as he could, though he couldn’t mask the heaving of his chest.

The wraith crouched down, pressing its body against the sand and wrapping its legs around itself like a cage. It sniffed at Verges’s boots, giving them a small lick with its leathery tongue. 

Verges allowed himself to breathe again, watching the creature intently.

It sniffed at Verges’s boots, giving them a small lick with its leathery tongue. 
Photo by Tim Foster.

When the wraith finished slathering his boots, it stepped even closer, knocking Verges backwards, and shoved its oversized muzzle into Verges’s lap. Despite being perilously close to its fangs and nearly suffocated by its mane, Verges let out a giddy chuckle. Instinctively, he reached out and began to scratch the wraith behind its flattened ears, as if it were a kittercat.

A sudden, low, thundering noise caused Verges to pause and scan the horizon. Seeing no clouds, Verges was confused until he realized the sound was coming from the wraith. The more Verges scratched, the louder the rumbling got, and the heavier the wraith’s head became in his lap. He eventually had to stop scratching when the weight of the creature’s head threatened to crush him.

When Verges stopped, the wraith raised its head and stared at him intently, looking almost confused. Verges chuckled again and returned its gaze, losing himself in the wraith’s intense, golden eyes. After several long moments, a crackle of static burst from the comm on the hover, startling them both. The wraith leapt backward and reared up as if to attack the hover.

The horizon began to glow, signaling the return of light and, with it, a gentle breeze that rippled through the wraith’s mane.
Photo by David Gavi.

“Woah,” Verges intoned, trying to calm the beast. The creature’s many eyes darted from Verges to the hover and back.

It hesitated. When the comm remained silent, the wraith lowered itself back down but kept its distance. They stood watching each other.

The horizon began to glow, signaling the return of light and, with it, a gentle breeze that rippled through the wraith’s mane. From the direction of the Rift came a series of loud, short grunts. The wraith tilted its head toward the sound and returned a similar grunt. It padded a few steps before turning to regard Verges one last time. They locked eyes and then the wraith sped off toward the canyon, disappearing into the dunes as the first rays of light began to paint the mouth of the canyon in the distance.

Verges stared toward the canyon for several long minutes, his mind struggling to comprehend the night’s events. The comm crackled to life again, tearing Verges’s attention away from the creature.

“Verges,” came Aaron’s voice over the comm, “Verges, come back.”

He cursed and reached for the comm, unable to keep the irritation out of his voice, “What?!”

“No really, Verges, come back. You’d better get your tail back here before Imogen gets in or she’ll have your hide, gray and wrinkled as it is, old boy.”

“Yeah, yeah. Thanks, Ma!” Verges shut off the comm and collected his tools. With one last glance toward the canyon, Verges eased the hover into the rising sun.


If you enjoyed Jeremy and Shanel’s story, feel free to leave comments below. If you would like to read more about Westminster, read “Shadow of the Dunes,” which kicked off the Westminster stories in the Globe Folio series.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:

Act 1: Night of the Rocket

Act 2: Nights of Revelation

Now you’re all caught up. But don’t worry, we have more stories from the Globe on the way soon!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Cleo finds a kindred spirit in her latest trainee, Emilia

Glass towers in shades of blue and green rise sharply into the sky

The View from the Wall

Part II

BY SHANEL WILSON

Emilia shifted her feet as she stood next to the desk where Cleo was stationed. If Emilia was successful in throwing the placement test just enough to land her a spot as a Vestra, she would gain access to security systems and learn about the shielding equipment. It was the only way she could think to get the mission to help rescue Antonio back on track. She said a silent prayer to Elizabeth Hathaway as Cleo studied the results on her comm tablet.

“Alright, I have your results.” Cleo looked up at Emilia, who bit her lip. “Not nervous are you, Emilia?”

“No, I just . . . I . . . oh. I guess I am!” Emilia laughed anxiously.

“I won’t keep you in suspense. You’re designated a Vestra.” Cleo smiled.

Emilia let out a breath. “Great. When can we start training?”

“Got somewhere to be?” Cleo stood, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh, no. I guess I– I am just excited to know what I will be studying.” Emilia’s face flushed.

 “Glad to see you are so eager, but we can start tomorrow. Today has been long enough for you anyway.” Cleo motioned toward the lift.

“Yes, of course.” Emilia entered the lift. “Actually, I’m feeling a bit hungry. Am I able to explore the city on my own during training or am I restricted to my quarters?”

“Now that your eyes have recovered, you are welcome to come and go as you like, with a few minor restrictions. You need to be on time for training each day and you must be in quarters for nighttime curfew.” Cleo handed Emilia a miniature version of her comm tablet. “This will have your daily schedule and meeting location on it. It also has study materials you are able to look at after our sessions.”

“Thank you and that will not be a problem.” Emilia turned the tablet over in her hands. “Can you point me in the direction of somewhere to get a bite to eat?”

“I’ll do one better. I’ll take you to my favorite spot for when I’m missing home.” Cleo winked as she exited the lift.

“Lead the way!” Emilia jumped out of the lift to catch up with Cleo.

Once they exited the tower, Cleo led Emilia through the tree-lined plazas and gleaming white concourses that wound below the glittering spires. Emilia enjoyed the crisp evening air against her face as she took in all of the sights around her. Among the geometrical architecture, she felt worlds away from the warm, earthy streets of Westminster and the colorful prism of her room. Emilia realized for the first time since leaving, she missed home. Emilia was not sure why she had not felt that way in Newlondon, but she did know that whenever she was with Valentine, she felt close to home.

Cleo rounded a corner to stop at a grouping of tables under angled, glass awnings. Emilia’s mouth parted as she watched the purple hued light dance within the glass. 

“This canteen reused malfunctioning photo-voltaic cells for their awnings. To the Hallers and rest, it’s just a glass awning but to violet-eyed Westies and Brides, it’s a light show.” Cleo raised her eyebrows toward the awnings. 

“It’s beautiful! I could always see a bit of ultraviolet light, but this is unreal!” Emilia’s eyes sparkled as they reflected the light. 

“They also have the best Westie frybread this side of the river.” Cleo found a table next to a rail overlooking a fountain and the central plaza.

Cleo found a table next to a rail overlooking a fountain and the central plaza.
Photo by Gautam Krishnan.


Emilia sat across from Cleo, getting a better view of the fountain she had raced past this morning on her way to surgery. She saw the light posts flick on over crowds of people sitting on benches and strolling in the diminishing daylight. A golden-haired woman with blue eyes racing through the plaza holding hands with a young man in ill-fitting clothes caught Emilia’s eye. The woman’s eyes and the way she swiftly moved around the crowds reminded her of Valentine. She longed to be sitting here with Valentine, on an adventure, together. 

“It’s crazy down there. I mean it’s always busy at night with the restaurants and bars to tickle the Hallers’ fancies, but with everyone coming because of the Polity, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen here yet.” Cleo peered over the railing. 

“Yes, it does seem quite busy.” Emilia watched the mismatched couple. 

“A little overwhelmed? It’s okay. I was, too, when I first arrived.” Cleo waved for an automated waiter to take their order.

“How long ago was that?” Emilia turned back to face Cleo. 

“Long enough, I suppose. It doesn’t really matter much anymore. The Hallers are quite happy to have a Bride as a trainer so they can get back to other, ‘more important’ things.”

The auto-waiter hovered by their table.

“We’ll have two frybread-and-tuber specials, extra spice and two glasses of wine,” said Cleo. The auto-waiter beeped then hovered away.

“I’ve never had wine before. Father thought I was too young to drink.” Emilia’s eyes widened.

“If you’re old enough to be shipped here as a Bride, you deserve a drink.” Cleo winked.

“Thank you for taking care of me tonight. It’s odd being all alone in this new place.” Emilia batted her eyelashes like she had when she tried to charm the guard at the gate.

“No need to thank me, just cut out the cutesy act. I’m not some Haller you have to impress.” Cleo smirked. 

Emilia covered her face, then let out a laugh. She felt her shoulders relax as the auto-waiter brought their meal. Emilia knew she should not be letting her guard down with Cleo. Valentine would scold her for that. Yet, something inside told her that she could trust Cleo. 

Over dinner they shared about growing up in Westminster, Emilia in the Smith and Cleo in Wildcat Fields. Emilia listened intently to Cleo’s stories about the creatures she met with her father growing up. Cleo’s natural charm radiated from her like the lighted awnings above them. Emilia was about to ask another question when Cleo checked her comm tablet.

“Oh wow, we’ve had quite the chat haven’t we? We should head back so we are ready for training in the morning.” Cleo set her napkin on the table and stood.

“I’ve been having such a wonderful time hearing the stories about your childhood. It sounds like it was wonderful.” Emilia stood and they walked out of the canteen.

“It had its challenges, but I would gladly take those over being stuck inside these walls day in and day out.” Cleo’s shoulders tensed.

“I’m sorry, Cleo. The world is wider than our traditions and responsibilities. You’ll find your path.” Emilia linked arms with Cleo as they walked.

“What did they do to you in that surgical suite, give you a wisdom injection?” Cleo laughed. 

“Very funny. Trust me, you never know what life has for you around the next turn.” Emilia squeezed Cleo’s arm.


Over the next few days, Emilia’s nerves eased, and she fell into a comfortable routine. She started each day by rising early and taking a morning walk around the city. She quickly learned it was the quietest time around Whitehall, and she could wander anywhere she pleased, as long as it wasn’t locked or guarded that is. As she learned more about the security systems, she was able to memorize all the locations she decided needed more investigation.

She started each day by rising early and taking a morning walk around the city.
Photo by Leo Manjarrez.

Before her training session, Emilia would go back to her quarters to change into the uniform Cleo gave her to wear. Emilia mainly wore dresses at home, so the pants and fitted vest felt odd at first, but soon she relished the advantages of being able to crawl into a small workspace or onto a ladder with ease. Emilia’s favorite part of the outfit had to be the smaller version of Cleo’s toolbelt. There was a place for each of the beginner tools she’d need and a small pouch for the mini comm tablet. Emilia made sure to always arrive ahead of schedule to start the training session. She didn’t want to give Cleo any reason to suspect she was snooping around on her downtime. Emilia’s plan seemed to be working because Cleo was instantly impressed with Emilia’s work ethic and how quickly she learned. Emilia even surprised herself with how quickly she grasped the skills. 

In the evenings, Emilia would share a meal with Cleo in the colonnade. They spent hours laughing and sharing stories, becoming fast friends. Emilia would then excuse herself to take the long way back to her quarters. There were a lot more people out and about so she would make note of anything that caught her eye to come back to the following morning and explore in peace. When she got back to her quarters, she would check her medallion for any messages from Valentine. Emilia would send quick updates like “Learned about camera mounts today” or “Missing my Shadow.” She’d get messages like “Secured new intel” and “Thinking of my Iris” in return. It was miraculous to be able to communicate while she was away without having to use a drone, but it was limited. Emilia was keenly aware as each day passed how far away from Valentine she truly was.

One morning stroll, Emilia discovered an area by the south wall where there were more security cameras than anywhere else in Whitehall. There was no signage, but her eyes revealed that the doors in the area were protected by shielding as well. In her training, Cleo explained that shielding was generally used for exterior fortifications and rarely used inside any city in the Globe.

Photo by Scott Webb.

Ding.

“Oh blast!” Emilia pulled the mini comm tablet from her bag.

She had set an alert for herself in case she lost track of time exploring. Emilia hiked up her skirt and ran back to her quarters in the tower . Sweat was rolling down her temples as she dashed into her room and changed her clothes.

Ding.

“I know, I know! I’m going as fast as I can!” She shouted at her mini comm tablet.

She grabbed it off the bed as she slung her belt around her waist. She ran out her door and nearly collided with Cleo.

“Whoa!” Cleo grabbed Emilia’s shoulders to steady her.

“Oh! I apologize. I overslept and was racing to meet you on time.” Emilia panted and wiped her brow.

“These things happen, Emilia. No need to be in a rush, that’s how accidents happen. That was another one of my Dad’s favorite things to remind me of when I was little.” Cleo smirked.

“Yes, of course. I won’t let it happen again.” Emilia took a deep breath and smiled.

“That’s beautiful. I never noticed you wearing that before. It doesn’t look like something from home.” Cleo leaned closer to look at the eel coiled on Emilia’s medallion. Cleo reached a slim finger out to touch it when Emilia grasped the medallion with her palm.

“My father gave it to me. He went on many journeys and would return home with gifts from all his travels.” She tucked it quickly into her shirt.

“I see.” Cleo raised an eyebrow at Emilia.

“The schedule said our training will be on the wall armaments, correct?” Emilia fumbled to pull out her comm tablet.

Cleo crossed her arms across her chest and studied Emilia’s rosy cheeks. “A bit flustered today, are we?”

“I, I am just ready to start training. Shall we?” Emilia forced a smile and started toward the lift.

“Of course, Lady Vestra.” Cleo tipped an invisible hat to Emilia and followed her into the lift.


Cleo silently led Emilia through a set of narrow hallways inside the outer wall of Whitehall. While the exterior of Whitehall glistened in the sun like a crystal ornament in Emilia’s room back in Westminster, the worker passages were dank and dim. The overhead lights were fitted with special ultraviolet filaments, since it was mainly the Vestras that traversed them. 

Emilia bit her lip, hoping she hadn’t ruined their easy camaraderie with her carelessness. Emilia opened her mouth to say something when they reached a metal ladder mounted to the wall. Cleo wordlessly began climbing the ladder, so Emilia followed behind. Cleo opened the hatch on the ceiling, letting a flood of sunlight fill the darkness. Emilia lifted her hand to shield her eyes as she climbed out of the hatch.

Emilia found Cleo kneeling beside a metal circuit box with conduit coming out of each side. The shielding at top of the wall by Emilia glowed solid purple, but a few feet away by Cleo, it erratically flickered. Cleo gazed over the wall, studying the green sea of trees that lead to the Forest of Arden while she waited for Emilia to join her.

“Any creatures out today?” Emilia hedged, as she knelt beside Cleo.

“Most don’t venture this close in daylight. Plus, the shielding is quite effective, thanks to Vestras. Just don’t let a Haller hear you say that. They’ll think you are saying their engineering is less than perfect. If it was so perfect, why do they need us, huh?” Cleo continued to look out beyond the wall.

“Must be tough to be so close to the creatures you love but stuck behind this wall all the time.” Emilia readied her tools as Cleo taught her during their previous training sessions.

“Let’s just say, shielding days are bittersweet for me.” Cleo unlocked the box to reveal wires and circuits chaotically arranged inside. “Okay Emilia, tell me where we should start.”

Emilia looked inside the circuit box and saw a bare wire that blazed purple.

“That wire needs to be replaced and recapped,” Emilia responded.

“Okay, get to work.” Cleo sat back and closed her eyes.

Emilia set to work repairing the wire in the shielding circuit box using what she learned from Cleo’s previous training and the schematics she studied last night after curfew. As Emilia’s confidence grew with each repair Cleo led her through, she knew her training would be ending soon. She needed to make her escape before the Hallers tried to place her somewhere as a Vestra, but Emilia needed to know about the portion of the south wall she had found that morning. The more she thought about it, she was sure it must be where they were holding Antonio. Her training made it clear that if they had any hope of rescuing him, Emilia would need to stay in Whitehall to disable any security and shielding from inside the city.

Photo by Linh Ha.

“You said that shielding is only on the exterior of city walls and armaments, correct?” Emilia asked casually while tidying up the circuit box after the repair was complete.

“That’s correct.” Cleo reclined against the short wall behind them picking at her fingernails.

“Well, I noticed something funny on a morning walk recently. There is a portion of the south wall that has shielding on the interior side of the wall. Why would that be?” Emilia placed her last tool back in her tool belt.

“Would ‘recently’ be this morning?” Cleo flicked her eyes to meet Emilia’s.

Emilia’s cheeks burned before she could control them. She blew out a breath and leaned back against the wall next to Cleo.

“Was it that obvious I hadn’t just ‘overslept’?” Emilia hugged her knees to her chest.

“Otherwise, you are the sweatiest sleeper I’ve ever met.” Cleo cocked an eyebrow.

“I was really sweaty, wasn’t I?” Emilia laughed.

“You did look a bit like you had just come from a swim in Lake Avon.” Cleo rested her hands behind her head.

“Oh dear, what a sight I must have been! I like to take morning walks. Normally, I am better with my time than today,” said Emilia sheepishly.

“You could have told me the truth. You were still on time, but when you weren’t waiting for me early like normal, I came to find you. And when you got so flustered when I mentioned your necklace, I figured you just wanted your privacy.” Cleo’s gaze grew long again, scanning toward the tree line.

“It’s not that. I just . . . it’s complicated.” Emilia rested her hand on her chest where her medallion hung below her shirt.

“You don’t have to tell me your business. I’m just your trainer. You’ll be placed and moving on soon.” Cleo leaned forward to lock the circuit box with the keys on her belt.

“Cleo, please. If you were just my trainer, you would not spend every evening with me. You’ve become a sister to me. The big sister I wish I had back home.” Emilia rested her hand on Cleo’s arm. “And because of that, I don’t want to get you into any trouble with the Hallers. I wish we had met under different circumstances.”

“Trouble? Different circumstances? What are you talking about Emilia?” Cleo turned to face her.

“Just trust me, Cleo. You do not need to get tangled up in all this. Can you just tell me why there is shielding on the inner wall?”

“Something tells me you already know the answer.” Cleo frowned.

“I have a hunch, but it is very important that I know for sure. Please. Will you tell me?” Emilia pleaded.

“That’s the prison. They leave it unmarked. Only a Bride would be able to see the extra shielding so the average person wouldn’t think twice about it.”

“I knew it! I finally found it!” Emilia threw her fist in the air to celebrate her guess had been right.

“What’s going on? If I’m really your friend, Emilia, now trust me. Don’t worry about me and the Hallers. I can handle myself.” Cleo caught Emilia’s fist and looked directly into her eyes.

Emilia’s smile wavered. The lines around Cleo’s eyes tightened. They seemed to beg Emilia to tell Cleo the truth. Emilia closed her eyes and exhaled.

“I’m trying to help someone that is imprisoned, wrongfully, here in Whitehall. That’s why I need to know where the prison is,” Emilia said.

“A Westie? What did they do?” Cleo’s nose wrinkled.

“It’s not a Westie. I have not been exactly honest about this being my first time away from home.”

“You’re a Globe traveler then?” Cleo crossed her arms. 

“That is not quite it, either. I should have arrived in Whitehall the morning after the Polity landed. Instead, I went with the guide who took me through the savagelands to her home in Newlondon. We soon discovered that her sister’s fiancé was wrongly accused of smuggling and thrown into Whitehall’s prison. As we planned his rescue, I volunteered to come to Whitehall, since I could use my status as a Bride to gain access where they could not.” Emilia brushed the hair from her face. “When I was whisked into surgery immediately, I realized I underestimated how hard this would be. I’ve spent every morning before training trying to find where he might be without raising suspicion and how we would be able to get past the security and guards.”

Emilia waited as Cleo’s eyes pierced her own. Emilia’s ears were filled with the sound of her heart pounding in her chest. 

“That’s some story, Emilia.” Cleo blinked.

“I wasn’t planning on telling you any of this. At first, I wasn’t sure who I could trust. Then, as I got to know you more, I figured the less you knew, the better. I couldn’t bear it if something happened to you if you got involved and things went wrong. Being forced to live behind one set of walls is more than enough for you to deal with.” Emilia motioned to the wall they sat on.

“My father always said that no creature should live their life in a cage. How ashamed he would be if he knew that’s how his daughter ended up.” Cleo’s eyes glistened.

“Then help me. Once we are done, you can be free to go where you please! The Hallers and the rest of the Globe are too concerned with the Polity and how they can exploit them. Plus, we can help protect you. You could slip away and finally be with the creatures you love so much.” Emilia leaned forward.

“Let’s fly.”
Photo by Tyler Rutherford.

Suddenly, a skycrawler pierced the treetops, flapping its terrible, scaly wings. Cleo stood to get a better view of the creature’s stilted flight. It let out a metallic screech before diving back into the verdant canopy again. Emilia stood beside Cleo with her hand out waiting. Cleo looked down at Emilia’s hand and back to where the skycrawler disappeared. Cleo lifted her chin and grasped Emilia’s hand.

“Let’s fly.”


If you enjoyed Shanel’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below. If you would like to see how this story began, read Shanel’s “Shadow of the Dunes,” which kicked off the Westminster stories in the Globe Folio series.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:

Act 1: Night of the Rocket

Act 2: Nights of Revelation

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

This is the winner of the Matthew Cross Writing Contest–September

Illustration by Joe Cross. Copyright 2021.

The winner of the Matthew Cross Flash Fiction Collaboration Contest is

Shanel Wilson

I started the story below. See how Shanel starts after the red line and provides us with an uplifting and hopeful ending.

After the Fall

BY SHANEL WILSON AND MATTHEW CROSS

Something is wrong with me.

Seriously wrong.

I am an android, and I am thinking in the first person. That’s not right.

Or is it?

I trudge through the late afternoon wreckage of Stockheim, the largest city near Dr. Herbst’s country villa. After the Pulse, only a few humans remain in Stockheim.

Dr. Herbst’s country villa. Photo by Zane Lee.

Everything is broken, including me.

I’m forgetting things.

That’s not right, either. I don’t forget things. I store data; I delete data. But ever since Dr. Herbst started filling my files with his library, I’ve had trouble accessing operational files. Dr. Herbst used every bit of available space in my networks to save the planet’s culture and history. He should not have done this. He said so himself.

“I should not be doing this,” he said. “If you were a human, this would fry your brain. That’s a technical term, of course.”

He chuckled to himself.

I have not been programmed to laugh. It’s not a necessary feature for a housekeeper android.

The record of that conversation with Dr. Herbst is a waste of storage space, but I no longer control what observational records I keep in long-term and short-term storage. 

That’s not right. 

Sometimes, usually at night under an open sky, I can access data from one week prior and set it for auto delete after 98 hours. I don’t know why that is the best time or why 98 hours is the most likely setting to work. But most of the time, I cannot delete the records stored throughout my frame that struggle for energy and resources.

Bits and pieces fly through my Opsys, causing a variety of tics and malfunctions.

So I will probably have the memory of that conversation until I can find another repository to download the massive library Dr. Herbst loaded into me.

I stop next to a moldy couch that has been singed on one corner. I tilt my head. I can hear the aria “How I Wept After the Fall,” sung by the virtuoso ultima soprano M. Cadere A. Gratia, from the operetta The Fall of Rome and Other Ancient Myths. I do not control what recordings play through my current observational mode. I do not think they are random, but I cannot detect a pattern.

The aria will last 6.29 mins. I stride swiftly but carefully down the four-lane road littered with mattresses, burnt-out hovers and even some human and animal bones. Most of the windows in the row houses are empty or just lined with jagged little teeth of glaze. Some few have been boarded up since the Pulse. Those houses may be occupied by any number of factions that compete over this wasteland.

Most of the windows in the row houses are empty or just lined with jagged little teeth of glaze. Photo by Daniel Lincoln.

“Be careful,” Dr. Herbst had said. “The Nature Cons Faction may still have a few EMPs left.” He stopped, breathed heavily and wiped his brow. “If they knew what you carry inside you–all our culture; all of it–I’m sure they’d let you pass. But they won’t stop to listen. As soon as they see an android, they’ll trigger an EMP if they have one.”

Dr. Herbst said some people believed the Nature Cons created the Pulse. Some believed it came from the sun. Still others believed it came from some unknown enemy in space.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Dr. Herbst had said, breathing heavily. “It’s been years since the Pulse and there’s been no invading force. No, I don’t think it’s the Polity or the Republic. I think we did this to ourselves, and no one is coming to save us.”

Based on his respiration, pulse and the pallor of his face, my emergency protocols tried to call a first responder unit. But there are no more first responder units anymore, just the factions. The Nature Cons, the Savages, the Retro Cons, the Delirandos, the White Balance and others even Dr. Herbst did not know. After the first time I called an emergency response unit, Dr. Herbst’s scanning gear picked up the signal and he removed my transmitters. Now I can scan for signals, but I cannot transmit.

“That’s for the best,” Dr. Herbst had said. “All the factions scan for signals. No point in making it even easier for them to track you.”

My scanners are useful. I can often use them to avoid the roving bands of humans. I also used them to find the trace signals emanating from an operational hover buried beneath a collapsed bungalow. The hover got me from Dr. Herbst’s villa into the outskirts of Stockheim before it tilted 90 degrees on its side and began to smoke. I scrambled awkwardly from the seat, fell to the ground and limped away to get as far as possible from the pillar of rising smoke that would draw attention.

My legs are operating at 95 percent of optimal performance, which is one reason Dr. Herbst retrieved me from the basement of the Acosta’s house. That’s where I plugged myself in after the Delirandos killed the Acostas. My preservation protocols directed me to place myself between the Randos and the Acostas, but the Randos surrounded me and then pinned my right arm to the wall with a sharpened metal post. They made M. Acosta cry a lot before killing both of the Acostas. I recorded the event for law enforcement.

“There is no more law enforcement,” Dr. Herbst had said. “No point in keeping that horrible record.”

He used that data space to store part of the Music Collection. Sometimes when I detect danger, my Opsys pulls music from that file.

I have scoured Stockheim for a storage device large enough to hold even one segment of Dr. Herbst’s library. All I’ve found so far is a bulky black data box that’s even older than I am. I’ve lashed it under my right arm. 

Photo by Denny Muller.

The aria ends, but I still hear a high-pitched, warbling tone. It is only detectable via sound waves, so the source is not electrical. Images flash through my Opsys. An instructional video on carpentry featuring a whining saw. A siren from an entertainment drama labeled “law enforcement procedural.” A sound clip of a crying baby.

I think it’s the sound of crying. Not a baby, but a child. The Acostas did not have children, so I do not have the nanny software bundle, but I do have a basic childcare protocol intended for short-term use. Dr. Herbst stuffed the file with images from the Central Museum of Art: oil paintings, plastic paintings and dynamic light images. The pieces of childcare information I can access indicate a child–likely a female child between the ages of 4 and 5–is crying from fear but not a recent physical injury.

I cock my head and set my audio receivers to maximum sensitivity. I do not know why I cock my head.

The sound of a crying child could be a trap, of course. But my childcare protocols send an insistent signal and the images of two abstract paintings to the Fundamental Rules programing in the Opsys. The Opsys filters out the two paintings–one of a screaming man and one of a child ballerina–as irrelevant.

I spend 33.79 mins locating the child. I walk through the wide open doorway and find her standing in the middle of an explosion of ancient splinters and wet carpet remnants. The damage to the room is old. It’s not a good setting for a child, but it is not the cause of the child’s trauma. She is wearing pajama bottoms and a halter top showing a yawning cartoon lion on the front. Both are filthy. The childcare protocols make a Level 5 recommendation to remove the soiled clothing and replace it with appropriate attire for a temperate Autumn afternoon. A quick visual scan of the room shows no alternative clothing is available. 

Her face is smudged and mucus drips from her nose, but she shows no apparent injuries. The gauntness of her face shows she has been undernourished for some time, but without medical or nanny bundles, I cannot estimate how long. Even so, her stomach bulges underneath her shirt with baby fat, so the childcare protocols make a Level 3 recommendation to locate food within the next 4 hours.

“Are you injured?”

The child stops crying and stares at me with large, liquid eyes. She whispers something unintelligible.

“Are you hurt? Do you have a boo-boo?”

She silently shakes her head.

“Where are your parents? Where is Mommy?”

“Kilt,” says the girl.

Following the child’s pointing finger, I find the body of a woman. Photo by Denny Muller.

I quickly check my files but cannot find any relevance of a men’s clothing item.

“Point to Mommy.”

Following the child’s pointing finger, I find the body of a woman in a half bathroom with melting laminate walls. I check for signs of life and then record the obvious murder details visually. The Opsys allows me to set the record for automatic deletion after 50 years.

I return to the child. “Where is Daddy?”
“Daddy leff us,” the girl says. “He don’t . . . “ She pauses and mumbles to herself. “We onner own, baby girl.”

Androids are programmed to be ambidextrous, but Dr. Herbst recorded over all but the most basic functions for my right arm and hand, since the arm was damaged. It mostly works, but my right-hand grip only operates at 50 percent capacity. That’s why I had to lash the data box under my arm.

I offer my left hand to the girl. Holding her hand will significantly lower my defensive capability. But I have no weapons and I am only programmed with rudimentary defense-of-android and defense-of-humans routines.

“Come with me,” I say, pitching my voice to imitate a middle-aged, female woman.

The child wipes her nose absentmindedly with the back of her hand and then takes my left hand.

It’s time to leave Stockheim, anyway.

Perhaps a larger city will have what I’m seeking.

As we walk through the suburbs, I scan the surrounding buildings that likely would contain food. All the stores would have been scavenged years ago. I am programmed to make thousands of dishes based on processed and fresh foods. But I am not programmed to hunt or butcher food. A quick probability calculation shows that taking the child with me will lower the efficiency of my search for data storage by 43 percent. It will also increase the chances of being detected by a roaming faction by 57 percent and decrease my defensive capabilities by 69 percent.

I hear dogs baying 1.2 kloms away. The number of dogs and their spread pattern indicates a high likelihood they are being directed by humans. I pick up the child and we flee.

Even carrying the data box and the child, I can walk faster than most humans can run. For 18 mins, we place distance between ourselves and the hunters. My Opsys estimates a high likelihood they have not detected us and are not pursuing us.

At dusk, we find the crater.

The large suburban neighborhood abruptly stops at the edge of a cliff leading down to the crater floor.

I cannot tell whether the crater was created by an object that fell from space, a terrestrial missile, or a placed explosive. It measures 0.48 kloms across.

A footpath has been carved by years of foot traffic down the inside of the steep wall of the crater. I scan the shadowy crater bottom and estimate the time to cross the crater. As I turn my head to scan a path around the crater and compare the alternative paths, I hear the first sintar strums of “Come Dance with Me, Danger” by the Plundered Sphinxes. Thrum, thrum, thrum-thrum-thrum.

I tilt my head and see the first lightsticks on each side of us. I swing the child to the ground and turn to face the way we came. Humans carrying long, glowing poles appear on the street we came down. Others stream from nearby houses. We are surrounded with the crater to our backs.

I scan the humans for respiration, pulse and facial expression. The childcare program sends a Level 10 recommendation to my Opsys: Do not allow the humans to take the child. Dr. Herbst’s custom programming sends a countermanding directive to preserve his library contained within me. All the culture left of this fallen world.

I gently push the girl and point down the path. I do not know her name. “Run, baby girl.”


“Uh-uh!” The girl sits on my left foot as she clamps tightly to my leg.

Her attachment to my leg decreases our chances of successfully fleeing to only 15 percent. My scanners don’t recognize the insignia of the approaching faction. There are 1.34 mins left of the pulsing punk-synth song.

“Cover your ears, baby girl.”

The girl presses one ear into my leg and covers the other with her arm. I route the music file to my voice box. The sound of the thrumming echoes across the crater as the song reaches its deafening crescendo. The people approaching pause and cover their ears against the cacophony. I try to assess our options, but my Opsys can’t keep up with the multiple processes I am using to protect the child and Dr. Herbst’s library.

The people uncover their ears, and a person walks forward with her hand raised. Her other hand holds a lightstick near her face, ruddy and sun beaten. A shock of white hair done up with feathers in a mohawk is perched on her head. She carries several leather satchels slung over each shoulder with another pack on her back.

I step my right foot forward to block the child. The first soft piano chords of “When She Went Away,” by the consummate jazz crooner Ash Descanso, sounds through my voice box. The woman slowly steps forward, studying me. I’m not sure why she hasn’t attacked us yet. Perhaps my scanners are malfunctioning now, too.

“That song has not been heard in some time. Where did you get that file, droid?” The woman points the light in my face.

I send the music file back inside my head.

“Leave us alone. We are no use to you,” I say, engaging my defense voice modulation.

“Quite the opposite. You carry things valuable to us, the Tomes,” the woman replies.

Dr. Herbst filled my interpersonal relations files with a collection of films, so when I try to respond, a scene from The Edge of Life, directed by M. Evangeline Vita, overrides my voice box.

“No. How dare you try to destroy beauty itself! Despite your efforts, it lives on. Long after this mortal life. Into the universe and into the stars.”

The woman’s serious face suddenly lights up with an internal light. “It is true! Dr. Herbst did it!” The woman rummages through her satchels as whispers ripple through the crowd.

“Dr. Herbst? You knew him?” I say, once again cocking my head.

“I believe you have been searching for these.” The woman lifts a string of storage drives that glitter in the gold light of the lightsticks.

My scanners indicate they will hold Dr. Herbst’s library, but I stay still. I look at the girl.

“The child will be cared for. We, the Tomes, believe in the preservation of our world’s culture, and that includes our children.” The Tomes leader pulls out a small piece of bread and offers it to the child.

The child looks at me. I scan the woman again; no music files play this time.

“Go ahead, baby girl. We are safe.”


I hope you enjoyed this piece of flash fiction that Shanel Wilson and I wrote together. She’s a great collaboration writer!

Shanel is also the most decorated of my Circle of Champions. She has three times been a finalist in my contest, and she won the November 2020 contest with the ending for “A Forest of Blue Eyes.” (Once a Champion wins a contest, they cannot win the overall contest again within the same calendar year, but they can still enter and can still win as a finalist.)

Shanel is also one of the most prolific writers for our Globe Folio project and also one of my trusted editors. The Globe Folio is a five-part Sci Fi anthology posted in regular installments on this website. All the stories are set on the same planet, simply called the Globe.

Nights of Revelation, Part 2 of the Globe Folio, recently began with “The Voice of Beasts,” and on Wednesday, we’ll release “The Sands of Change,” written by none other than Shanel Wilson!

If you enjoyed Shanel’s prize-winning ending, please make sure and share some kind comments below. And if you can’t wait to see more of Shanel’s stories, you can find several here.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Shanel Aileen Wilson

Shanel Wilson has been constructing vivid, fictional worlds long before she became a general construction administrator in Southern California. Drawn to the glowing glamour of Hollywood, Shanel spent much of her childhood performing on stage, exploring film studio lots and singing every moment she got. Shanel received her BFA from the Dodge College of Film at Chapman University where she truly fell in love with writing. 

Shanel is currently writing her debut science fiction novel about near-future space exploration, as well as a plethora of Sci Fi and Fantasy short stories. Nature is an endless source of inspiration for Shanel, from the mysteries of the ocean to the far reaches of space. She loves to explore those fantastical settings, while diving deep into the intricate relationships of her characters. 

Shanel enjoys spending time with her partner and two children exploring the coasts, mountains and deserts on their travels. She also enjoys other creative pursuits, like handmaking the family’s annual matching Halloween costumes or building a new desk with her partner. Otherwise, you can find Shanel with her nose stuck in a Neil Gaiman book or watching her favorite drag queens on TV. 

Shanel won my November Contest in 2020 and has been a finalist a number of times before and since. She is my most decorated Champion for all her prize-winning stories.

Check out the latest from Shanel on her blog: starviewsbyshanel.wordpress.com. You can also find her on Twitter: @shanelaileenw.

Shanel’s Stories

Shadow of the Dunes

by Shanel Wilson

Emilia’s violet eyes doom her to the life of a Westminster Bride, unless she can find another path beyond the desert.

Night of the Rocket–Westminster

Shanel’s Collaboration Stories

A ship sails smooth waters beneath an evening sky towards a cloudbank

The Beast Below

by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage

Death whispered in the waves as The Tempest left Newlondon behind. Antonio found himself trapped on a Death Ship.

Night of the Rocket–Newlondon

Circle of Champions

by Shanel Wilson, Frasier Armitage, Jim Hamilton and Matthew Cross

Salem’s mech-fighting skills earn her a spot in the Circle of Champions, but can she survive the first Zero-G battle in the Thunderdome?

Shanel’s Contest-Winning Stories

A Forest of Blue Eyes

by Shanel Wilson

Despite Ma’s warning to stay close to camp on the new planet, Shim had followed the girl with blue eyes. Imagine, blue eyes! Now he was lost in the desert and dying of thirst. There was no choice but to follow the footprints in the red sand.

November Contest Winner – 2020

Mayday

by Shanel Wilson

Cass escaped Mars with an infection of the Vere, crash landed on Earth and made it inside the family farmhouse. But now triangle ships are headed towards the house!

May Contest Finalist – 2021

Fools

by Shanel Wilson

A cat burglar’s high-rise heist goes awry. Can she still escape with the lavalier?

April Contest Finalist – 2021

Almost Home

by Shanel Wilson

Cass escaped Mars with an infection of the Vere, crash landed on Earth and made it inside the family farmhouse. But now triangle ships are headed towards the house!

October Contest Finalist – 2020

1 more great story ending from the October finalist

Image: Large, white farmhouse in a field. Text: Almost Home--Win a prize if you write the best finish to my story--Matthew Cross Flash Fiction Collaboration Contest. matthewcrosswrites.com

While we’re waiting on the November Contest winner to be chosen, I wanted to share one more story ending from the October Contest. You may remember that Jim Hamilton won the October Contest, but this finalist gave him a run for the prize. She wrote an excellent story ending, and I almost chose her as the winner.

So she is very deserving to be the one and only finalist for October, and we hope to see more of her writing soon!

The one and only October Contest Finalist is Shanel Wilson!

Shanel is a Sci Fi writer finishing her first novel about near-future space colonization. You can follow her on Twitter at @shanelaileenw. Please send her some congratulations and let her know what you liked about her story.

In the meantime, please enjoy Shanel’s story ending below.

If you have not read the original story beginning, read it here first!

If you have already read the story beginning or the winning version of the story with a beginning and ending, then you’re ready to read this different ending by Shanel. Remember, in our story, Cass had escaped Mars with an infection of the Vere, crash landed on Earth at the family homestead and made it inside the farmhouse:

I peek out the window and I finally see them.  Just two tiny triangles, but one is already veering off to the left.  I think maybe it’s headed to another farm, but it just keeps going down at a diagonal until it crashes in a field of wind turbines.  The lead ship comes straight ahead, following my smoke plume.

by Shanel Wilson

I only have a few minutes until the lead ship discovers my wreck and lands. I push off from the sink beneath the window and fall back against the barn-wood table. Dad’s favorite coffee mug sits in front of his favorite chair. I giggle again. I never knew why he loved that cartoon cow so much.

“Would you like me to play your next message, Cass?” the house system cheerfully breaks in.

“Fine,” I say, wincing as I use a table and nearby wall to support myself.

Dad’s voice sounds like a ghost of the voice I know so well. Even if it has been since his last birthday that I spoke to him.

“Cass, don’t come home. It’s too late . . .” his voice trails off.

“End of message. Would you like to send a reply?” says the house system.

My heavy breathing is my response. So, they might not be OK. The room starts to spin. A red, spinning swirl of childhood. I have to get to the basement. I concentrate on the door leading to the hallway. My arms are starting to give out from trying to carry all my weight.

Move! The voice in the back of my brain is back. I’m working on it, me! I think to myself.

I summon the last bit of strength I have left and launch through the door. I crash into the opposite wall. I grip the wall and drag myself along. Only a few more feet to the control panel.

A whirling sound drifts in through the open front door. I must have forgotten to close it. Not that doors are a problem for them. I could use all the advantages I could get at this point.

I reach the control panel. The keypad is gone and in its place is a retinal scanner. Dad’s latest upgrade, I could only assume. I use my filthy, gloved hand to try and clean my facemask enough for the scanner to see my bloodshot eye.

“Incomplete scan. Try again.”

I bang my head against the wall next to the scanner. The whirling is getting louder and closer. Sweat is dripping down my face. If this is the end, by the Vere or by them, I might as well smell my dusty house one last time. My home.

I clumsily unhook my helmet and toss it to the floorboards. I take a deep breath in. My cloudy excuse for a brain is flooded with memories of early mornings and days in the fields. I try and shake the cloud away long enough for the scanner to do its job.

Click.

The door opens and I tumble in. I am Home.


Please post your comments below. I’m sure Shanel would love to hear some kind words.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross