Black Market Phoenix

by Michael Gunter

“Fifty million.”

The buyer shrugged uncomfortably, sweating under his business suit. What was sharp and stylish in a New York investment firm was just excess insulation under the jungle sun. “It’s a lot.”

“You’re kiddin’, right?” The dirty cowboy hat bobbed as the man in the truck stared at the businessman in disbelief. “You wanna haggle over this? Ya know what? I’m gone.” He threw the gearshift into drive, one hand touching his hat brim in a sarcastic salute, but a wrinkled hand grabbed his sleeve before he could hit the gas.

“Wait!” Panic flared in the businessman’s eyes. “I didn’t say that!” The driver didn’t put the truck back into park, but he did step on the brake, just in time to grab the spotless leather briefcase thrust through the window. He eyed the businessman suspiciously, but popped the latches on the case and opened it, revealing a built-in computer. The display showed a symbol he recognized as the logo for an international bank.

“What’s the password?”

The businessman’s shoulders slumped in relief. “There isn’t one. It’s a one way link to a holding account with fifty million dollars in it. Transfer it, keep it there, do whatever you want with it; they won’t ask questions.”

Shoving his hat back out of his eyes, the driver tapped the keyboard and smiled as the screen changed to show a five and seven zeros under a row of account buttons. “Okay.” He reached into the cup holder on the dash, fishing through the gum wrappers and loose change until he found the little glass bottle. It was slippery, as if the rubber stopper had leaked. His eyes widened in panic, until he remembered the cheap soda he’d spilled over the dash.

“Here ya go.” With a careless flick, he tossed the vial to the businessman, who gasped and snagged it out of the air with trembling hands. “One hundred percent pure phoenix blood. Only bottle in the world, until this fifty mil runs out, anyway.” He let off the brake and rumbled away, the hole in the truck’s muffler making the engine noise seem unnaturally loud in the still jungle air.

The businessman watched him go, a mixture of hope and desperation on his face that disappeared in a slight grimace of pain. He turned back to his dust-covered limousine, pawing at the inner pocket of his jacket for his arthritis medicine, before remembering he had just bought something far better. His chauffeur opened the car door and helped him into the seat. “Is this stuff really worth fifty million, sir?”

He grabbed a bottle of water from the little refrigerator between the seats and popped the lid off the vial. It was an ugly, dirty red against the dome light of the limousine and the stench of old blood filled the car. The driver jerked back, his disgust evident, but his employer only winced. “It’s worth much, much more.”

Before he could change his mind, he lifted the little bottle to his lips and downed the foul liquid. With a choking gasp, he dropped the vial and drained the water bottle. “That was… horrendous.” He gagged again.

“Uh… sir?” The look on the driver’s face changed, going from sick to puzzled. “You’re… you’re….”

The old man shrugged his coat off; he was hot, enough that the taste in his mouth was forgotten. “I’m what?”

Something glinted off the chauffeur’s wide eyes. It was red, the wrong color for a car’s dome light. “On fire!!” One boot caught on a fallen log and he toppled over into the grass, just as a wave of flame billowed out of the open door. In the falling dusk, the orange sparks and rippling tongues of flame looked like ghostly feathers rising into the night sky.

The Phoenix’s Death

By Claire Banschbach

The griffin hovered in the air, turning lazily on the currents as its rider peered down at the advancing infantry. Only a few miles away from the citadel now. He tugged on the reins and the griffin wheeled around, racing above the road that twisted through the mountains to the last free city of the Elvarin.

The griffin alighted on the wide turret, and he slid from the saddle, sending it back to roost with a quick signal. He didn’t bother untacking the animal. They’d be seeing battle before the day was done. He made his report to the grim faced officers.

“Have you seen anything else?” one asked. They didn’t mean with his mortal eyes. He shook his head. The spirit that resided inside had not shown him any glimpses of the future yet. He hadn’t had a vision for days, something that worried them all. It wasn’t like the phoenix to go so silent.

He left and went back to the walls, climbing up to his favorite perch upon the north tower that spired almost as high as the mountain top behind. Almost all sounds faded away and he could imagine that he was just there for a visit, not preparing for an inevitable last stand. They just needed to give their people enough time to drive deeper into the safety of the mountains. The whetstone growled over the edges of his two swords, eager to help in the preparations for war.

As he stared down at the blades, a sheen of red flicked over his vision and he saw fragments of the upcoming battle play before his eyes. He would not tell anyone. They needed what little hope they still clung to. He dug a hand through his fiery red hair, a greater sense of foreboding clinging to him. This would be his last day on the earth.

He remained up there until the horns called every soldier to the walls. Many looked to him, hoping for some sort of reassurance in their future. He gave them a nod and went to find the general. He at least needed to know so that perhaps some men could be saved.

The commander accepted the news with slumped shoulders.

“We’ll hold them as long as we can and then sound the retreat. We’ll get as many as we can out through the back gates before we collapse them,” he said.

It was the best plan. Or they could all leave now and everyone would live. Red flicked over his eyes. They would live, only to die in the next three days. This was one of the few moments in his life where he truly hated what he had been born with. He simply saluted and made his way from the hall to take his place with the other griffin riders.


The citadel fell at dusk. Liquid fire ate at the stones and soldiers from both sides littered the walls and courtyard. He was the last to leave, the griffin carrying his bleeding body away as the sound of the gates collapsing ricocheted off the mountains. The griffin touched down on a green sward overlooking the city. He crumpled to the ground, looking down at the smoking walls. Their banner was torn down and replaced with a new one.

Then through a haze of red, the smoke cleared, laughter rang, and children roamed the walls – the pointed tips of their ears marking them as his people. He smiled until the vision faded and he was faced again with reality.

Blood was staining the grass around him, and he hastily reached for the paper and charcoal ever present in his pocket. Survivors were beginning to reach him. The general still survived and he pressed the paper into his hands.

“We take it back. We take it all back,” the man read, tears glistening in his eyes.

He lay back on the stained grass. His time was coming. The phoenix was leaving him. Sometime tonight or the next morning, a child would be born, the phoenix dormant inside until the future needed to be seen.

Men gathered around, mourning the loss of their city and the man who had carried the phoenix.

He caught one last glimpse before the red that ringed his dark iris faded forever. A girl. A leader. The flaming red of his hair returned to the natural black he had been born with. As the last traces of the spirit left he uttered his first words.

“Find her.”

The general clutched his hand, promising that he would.

His eyes slid closed. No regrets. No anger. It was the way of life. He had to die so the phoenix could live.

Discover the inspiration behind the story HERE.



By S. C. Gregory

Grant’s fingers pinched the edge of the paper packet clamped in the grip of the man looming over the other side of the wooden counter of the cramped spice shop.

Henry wasn’t about to let go of the prize so easily. Not without that rheumy-eyed glare he used like a warrior might use a battered, old sword that’d lost its edge decades ago.

‘You sure?’ Henry asked. His wheezing filled the shop with the overwhelming odour of stale tobacco and whiskey.

Grant swallowed the urge to gag and nodded. ‘Course I’m sure.’ He snatched the packet from Henry’s yellow stained fingers and shoved the paper in his trouser pocket.

Stepping back, Henry narrowed his eyes. Even the whites were discoloured by whatever disease was slowly eating him alive. ‘Phoenix feather and peacock in that mix.’

Moving towards the door, Grant fumbled for the handle. ‘Good. Need all the help I can get.’ He cackled a laugh, but clamped his mouth shut when Henry fixed him with a dark look. ‘Anyway, I needed it, ok. Folks out there don’t like weaklings, we’re just easy targets.’

Henry planted his hands on the counter and the wood creaked under the man’s weight. ‘That powder is a potent mix. Not to be taken lightly or by fools looking for a quick fix.’

Finding the door handle, Grant pushed down and stumbled outside. His breath steaming in the frigid air. He lost whatever other warnings Henry wanted to impart as he hurried down the street, hunched down into his jacket, the collar brushing against his cheeks.

He’d been truthful with Henry, insofar that he needed the special powder the old shopkeeper could conjure out of ingredients like rare phoenix feather and crushed cobalt.

Turning a sharp left, Grant stumbled and almost fell into the hulking shadow waiting for him. Falling back against the wall of the alley, Grant eyed the two men glaring back at him. The matching blue eyes of the twins were cold and empty and Justin was brandishing a jagged steel blade, his brother, James shrugged, a slight, thin smile that said, ‘What can I do?’

Grant stuttered, tore the paper packet from his pocket and ripped it open with his teeth. He poured the powder onto his tongue, grimacing at the bitter ashen taste coating his mouth. He swallowed, coughing on the dry flavour, almost puking at the aftertaste of grit.

Justin walked close and tilted his head. ‘Been to see Henry?’ he asked, grinning as he turned to his brother, probably so they could share a joke.

Grant swiped out a hand, intending to make the first blow. Get in there quick and make a run for it and hide out until Henry’s powder took effect.

Justin’s smile died as a red line opened up across his neck. He turned, frowning as if he wanted to ask a serious question, but all that came out his mouth was a gush of blood.
‘What the Hell have you done?’ James’ stoic expression darkened and his eyes narrowed.

‘You’ll pay for this-’ He took a step toward Grant and stopped mid-stride. James choked as his knees buckled, and dark blood soaked through his crisp, white shirt, melting through the gashes in the fabric.

Grant sucked in a sharp breath. Hands shaking…Except, they were no longer his hands, but rather the sharp talons of a bird, dripping gore from the two men he’d just killed.

He hadn’t even felt the change happen, but the elation of finally standing up to the bullies faded as cramps knotted his stomach and he gagged on the vomit touching the back of his throat. The tang of blood had filled the alley and the sight of the twisted corpses was too much for his delicate sensibilities. Turning, Grant retched, but nothing came up.

Clutching at his middle, Grant groaned and collapsed as the cramps worsened and he fell over on his side, not really thinking about where the wetness soaking through his clothes was coming from. The pain took over. A dark haze that clouding his vision and thoughts…
The dull sound of two voices sliced through his agony. ‘Seems another muppet has been sampling Henry’s magic powder,’ said a gruff masculine tone.

A softer, but still male voice answered, ‘You say these things like I should know what you’re talking about.’

‘Frank,’ replied the first voice with a distinct pained edge. ‘Why must you always put a dampener on my enthusiasm?’

The one called Frank snorted. ‘Well, Bob, I really can’t think why I’m such a pessimist.’
Grant gaped as a pair of giant-sized hands reached down and scooped him up off the ground. Twisting his head, Grant opened his mouth, but all that came out was a squawk of distress. He struggled, but the figure holding stroked his back and made odd soothing noises.

‘Poor thing, probably hasn’t realised the real cost of doing business with an amateur sorcerer.’

‘Yeah,’ the familiar voice of Frank said, ‘I still haven’t counted the price of hanging around with you.’

‘Funny,’ Bob said, placing Grant under his arm. ‘At least you got that pet bird you always wanted.’

‘What? Is this supposed to replace my twenty-year old parrot, you flung into that void to seal it?’

‘It was closest to hand.’


‘And he is quite pretty.’ Bob pointed out.

He’s a blue phoenix,’ Frank snapped. ‘Not like I’ll be letting anyone catch a look.’
‘Yes, appears Henry put in a little peacock feather. He’s still handsome, though.’ ‘I suppose.’ Frank said. ‘We’d better keep him safe from over-zealous taxidermists.’

‘That’s the spirit.’ Bob said.

Sheltered in the crook of Bob’s arm, Grant’s eyes slid shut as the warmth of the man’s body soothed his mind. It wasn’t so bad being a bird…If he didn’t end up like the other one…And maybe, just maybe this was the meaning behind Henry’s Famous Rebirth Powder?

Fresh Breath of Life

By Nathalie S. London


Mom’s favorite crystal vase exploded into a million tiny pieces that glistened in the light like droplets of water before raining down the sitting room carpet.

My head snapped, mouth gaping, eyes wide to look at Violet.

Smirking, she slowly lifted a finger to her pale lips. This was a game to her.

I debated my options. Running wouldn’t help and telling the truth would only make things worse, but what choice did I have? I was out of time; footsteps were already rushing across the second floor’s corridor, clearing the grand staircase in record time.

The maid stopped dead in the sitting room entrance. Mom, on her heels, burst past her. They both stared in turn at the shattered vase and at me. Alexa, my maid, wore that look on her face that assured me she wouldn’t want to be in my shoes for anything in the world at that very moment. Mom’s face confirmed it wouldn’t be a fun afternoon.

Mom flew across the room and knelt by the shards of crystal, holding them like delicate dead baby birds. This was bad. Very bad. Back on her feet, she grabbed me by the arm. Her pearls swished around her neck as she shouted: “Adelaide, what have you done? What have you done?! This vase has been in the family for generations!”

I knew that. Alexa knew that. And Violet knew that . . .

“It wasn’t me, I swear. It was . . .” I tried to explain in vain.

“Oh, not that again. You’re too old for this. You need to learn to take responsibility for your own actions. I have had enough of your childish fantasies. Dr. Holt says you should be over all that by now.”

By the window, Violet shook her head, amused. Would I never learn? She knew full well what was going to happen. She enjoyed getting me into trouble from the moment she came into my life. She said she’d been watching over me as a baby, and I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t around, playing with me as a big sister would. I never took much notice of the fact that she never seemed to grow older.

“But I . . .”

“I don’t want to hear another word about naughty imaginary friends, you understand? Just you wait ‘til your father gets home, young lady.”

I knew this meant a spanking the likes of which I had never seen before.

“Go to your room,” she finally roared.

She didn’t have to tell me twice. Eyes on the carpet, I marched out of the sitting room. Alexa whispered, “I’ll come see you,” as I passed by. I didn’t look up as I climbed the stairs two at a time to reach my bedroom before letting the tears spill over.

Sobbing in my pillow, I never heard Violet enter, though I wasn’t surprised she hadn’t used the door. “Are you alright?” she asked, settling on the bed without so much as making a dent in the mattress.

I shrugged, sniffing. “Why did you do it?” I asked after a time.

“To show you I’m right. They’ll never understand you like I do.”

“Alexa does.”

“Alexa pities you, the ‘poor insane girl’.”

That stung.

“If you come with me, you won’t have to deal with them anymore.”

Lifting my face from my wet pillow, my eyes found her by the carved mirror in the opposite corner. She stroked the wood, casting no reflection in the glass.

“For the hundredth time, no.” But it was a week refusal. Was my broken heart actually considering her offer? Maybe.

“You wouldn’t get old, wrinkly and mean like Mother.”

“What would we do there, on the other side?” I found myself asking.

“Play. There’s no bedtime there. And no spankings,” she reminded me of my punishment still to come, as if the humiliation wasn’t enough.

She stepped behind the mirror, instantly appearing on the other side. With a motion of the hand, she beckoned me over. “Wouldn’t it be great to answer to no one but yourself, Adelaide?”

“Yes . . .” I conceded, sliding off the bed and coming to stand in front of Violet’s reflection. “Will it, you know, hurt?”

“Not at all. All you have to do is touch the glass, Addy.” She placed her hand against her side of the glass, encouraging me to do the same.”

An invisible force was pressuring me to touch the mirror. “I don’t know . . .” I was starting to feel uncomfortable and cold. Had it gotten dark outside?

“Don’t you want to be free, Addy?”

“I do.” Hypnotized, I raised my fingers to the cool glass.

In the dimly lit room, I could have sworn that Violet’s eyes had turned black, like two deep inkwells.

“Touch it,” she commanded.

As our fingers met, something strange happened. I felt weak and my legs wobbled, then I blacked out for a moment. When I came to, it was no longer Violet I was staring at in the mirror, but myself.

“Violet, what’s happening?” I banged on the glass, but it didn’t yield nor break. Was I trapped?

In my bedroom, wearing my dress and brushing my hair, Violet stared back serenely. “Thank you for setting me free, Addy. Or should I call you Violet, now?” Tilting her head to the side, she studied her – my body. “You have no idea how good it is to feel the air fill my lungs again and not be numb.” She touched the fabric of her dress, awed.

There was a knock at the door. Alexa.

“Alexa! Alexa!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.

“Don’t waste your breath,” Violet whispered. “You don’t have any. Besides, she can’t hear you. No one can.”

“Are you okay, sweetheart? Are you coming down to dinner?” Alexa enquired through the door.

“I think I’m going to enjoy being you, Addy.” Violet blew me a kiss. “Coming!” she called before disappearing from view.

“Violet! VIOLET!”