Earlier this year I received a prompt by email and, within 5 days, had to write and deliver a three-page short story in response. The prompt was: “These human children are adorable… Let’s keep ‘em!” and the occasion was the Otherworld Theatre’s Gateways reading series, which takes sci-fi and fantasy short stories and has actors read them aloud on stage at the amazing Otherworld Theatre in Chicago.
Below you can listen to the reading of the short story I wrote, “Thunder From a Clear Sky”!
I hope you enjoy (or enjoyed) the reading and the story! If you did, please share it and check out more of the Gateways shorts for awesome sci-fi and fantasy storytelling!
TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Jeremy Melloul. He’s written for as long as he can remember. Since deciding to pursue writing professionally, he has been focusing on writing fantasy and science fiction across media, mainly comics for the last few years. Jeremy tells us that growing up, stories were his escape from a difficult childhood. Today he works to create stories of his own that not only allow people that same sort of escape into imaginary worlds, but also allows them to return to their lives better off for the time they spent away. This is “Thunder from a Clear Sky”.
The sudden explosion takes me by surprise. A trap? They’ll have to do better than that. I already have what I came here for. The treasured scroll is mine, the dry parchment held securely in my clawed grip.
After the blast, the scroll chamber is in worse condition than I am. Part of the wall is now rubble and the ancient carvings upon it have been shattered, profaned in a desperate defense.
From somewhere behind me a loud yell reverberates through the room. I turn around, but can’t make out anything through the dust. The explosion was just a set-up for this! Through the cloud a heavy spear thrusts forward, aimed low, towards my stomach – the only part of my body bereft of scales.
My hand lunges for the spear. It pierces my armor, but I stop it before it reaches flesh. The cold metal struggles to inch forward, but despite the attacker’s effort, I keep it bay,
As the dust settles, the spear begins to shake. The human must be realizing who I am. A shame. My years of conquests were supposed to give rise to greater resistance, but instead only broke the will of those who might fight me. Now cities surrender at the sight of my army’s banners. And even the most valiant warriors fear dying upon my horns, or seeing their blades break upon my scales. An unfortunate consequence of my victories.
The dust clears, revealing the figure still desperately pushing the spear forward. It’s a child. A boy, by the look of him. Small with short blonde hair and dressed in a temple attendant’s robes, which is now covered in dust. Though I stand more than twice his size he still attacked. He even went as far as to plan a trap to increase his chances… which means he thought he stood a chance to begin with. Foolish.
Though he shakes, he does not shake with fear. Well, not just fear. There is also rage there. And I can’t help but smile. A hatchling attempting what its parents will not…
But he is still human, unfortunately. And these soft-skinned beings are easily broken.
“Now!” the child screams, his eyes darting up. I follow his gaze up to the rafters, where two slightly younger children, also dressed in dirty attendant’s clothes, step out of the darkness and empty a large sack of rocks over my head. My arms instinctively rise to protect myself, and the rocks crash harmlessly against my scales. There’s more to his plan? Surprising, I-
A sharp pain in my gut shatters my line of thought. I look down and see the spear I had been holding has pierced my skin. Slowly, blood seeps from the wound, green and blue, running along the weapon’s edge.
A shallow injury, but how long has it been since I last bled…
With a roar I slam my scaled arm down against the wood of the spear, snapping it in half. The child’s hold on the weapon broken, he steps back, frightened. Years of conquest and a hatchling is the first to make me bleed. I should be offended, but instead, my interest is piqued. Why does this one still struggle when the warriors of his kind surrender?
I pull out the broken spear from my body, throw it aside, and turn my attention overhead, to the other children hiding in the rafters. Are they the same?
Still holding the scroll in one claw, I call on my Way of Fire and will a flame into existence in my other palm. Its glow covers the room in an unnatural green light and fills me with warmth – a reflection of my power, which turns all obstacles before me into fuel for my growth, like wildfire in a verdant forest.
Without a worthy foe, my fire is not what it once was, but it is more than enough to deal with a few whelps. With a thought, the flame stretches from my hand in an instant – a ray of flames surging overhead, consuming the wooden rafters the children above are hiding in.
Disappointing. The fear is obvious on their faces as they scramble away from the flames.
“Leave them alone! Screams the other child, running straight for me, undeterred. Perhaps it’s just him, then. The other two are just like their craven progenitors.
He throws himself at me, grabbing onto my arm and trying to pull away the fire from his kin. But his weight is negligible. Despite his weakness he pulls harder and harder, desperate to save them. Good. Anger can motivate.
Having seen enough, I withdraw the ray, but keep the flame circling in my hand and grab the little hellion by the shoulder, his clothing catching fire as my grip tightens around him. I wrench him off of me and lift him up to eye level.
“You are a credit to your kind, hatchling. What is your name?”
The boy just glares me, silent, his blue eyes tinted green by my flame. I tighten my grip as the fire twists the skin beneath his clothes, and his face contorts in pain. “Speak. Or your kin will burn.”
Despite the pain he must feel his glare does not falter. I can see it in his eyes… A desire to fight. How long has it been since anyone’s looked at my like that?
Then he opens his mouth and answers. Not with words, but with a wet glob of spit that splatters on my face…
Insolent! Using my full strength I throw him aside, sending him careening towards the wall. He slams against it hard, and falls to the ground, crumpled.
Another blast of fire to the rafters overhead and the wood rips loudly as the structure falls apart, crashing to the ground, the terrified whelps falling along with it. Step by step I approach, my flame continually spinning around my hand. The other child has merit, but they are useless. So I will give them purpose as fuel for my flames.
“Wait…” the other child croaks.
I stop, mostly out of curiosity, and look back over my shoulder as he pushes himself up, blood staining the corners of his mouth, his scorched clothes now in tatters. He holds a piece of burning wood fallen from the rafters in one hand, and a scroll in the other. My scroll!
I was just holding it. How did he-
He lets it unroll, the fire almost licking the edge of the aged parchment. “Let them go or it burns…”
“Watch. Your. Tone.” I say through gritted fangs.
“Let them go!” he demands.
The other two children cower in fear, holding each other tight. Am I really going to allow myself to be humiliated by a human hatchling? Ridiculous… But I want that scroll.
I clench my fist and smother the fire in my grip.
The unruly child calls to the other whelps. “Teo. Sora. Go! Run! Get out of here!”
“But, brother…” answers one.
“Just go! I’ll catch up!”
Quickly, the two small children run out of the chamber. Their footfalls grow distant. When all is silent again I extend out my hand, expectantly.
“The scroll,” I say, a growl underscoring my words.
And then, the child just smirks.
“Watch your tone,” he mocks as he touches the burning wood to the scroll. And in a single moment the dry old parchment catches, consumed all at once.
“NO!” I charge forward, knocking the little demon aside. He slams into a pillar and falls to the ground, limp. But the scroll is already gone.
My rage surges and the fire comes, unbridled, billowing out from me, scorching the remains of the chamber walls.
How dare he! The little bastard!
I turn my attention to his unconscious body. It would feel so good to turn him to ash…
But as he lies there, already defeated, a question takes hold of my mind. Why? He fought in spite of his fear. Made me bleed. Robbed me of what I wanted. Why was he able when no adult of his kind was? The answer comes, a whisper at the edge of my consciousness. Limits. The child has yet to learn his. To him, anything remains possible. And perhaps, he’s not wrong. Though he is weak right now, all the right pieces are there. What could he become with the proper training? The proper resources…
My temper subsides and the fire dies down. On the Way of Fire, I can only grow with an obstacle in my path… And I have long lacked a proper foe. Perhaps it is time I raise one of my own.
I grab the boy by the neck, careful not to squeeze too tight. He smells like burnt meat. His skin scorched to the bone from where I gripped him. But he still breaths.
Outside the temple, the Jade City has been broken. Fires consume the ships that hoped to escape and the waterways run thick with the blood and bodies of the fallen. Near the docks I catch sight of a trio of my ravagers, looking hungrily at their next meal… the two young ones from earlier.
“Stop,” I order.
“I want them alive.” The burned one went to great lengths to save them. They must be important to him. Weak though they might be, they will make excellent motivation for my new protégé…
Thank you, Kim. Kim Fukawa has been seen all around Chicago. Most recently she has worked with The House Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, and Babes With Blades Theatre Company. She is an artistic affiliate and occasional fight choreographer with Babes With Blades.