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Sonjia watches the black ropes unfurling from the baskets of the hot air balloons like tentacles and knows in her bones this is an invasion. Her sister Mari can’t contain her excitement and is bouncing on the balls of her feet while reaching with fearless fingers for the nearest rope. Sonjia grabs her wrist and wrenches her back to her side.

“Stop it. These people are not our friends!” Sonjia hisses.

Mari looks at her sister and flickers between wounded and defiant.

“We don’t know that,” insists Mari.

“Assume the worst, sort the rest out later…” Sonjia trails off as legs are thrown over baskets looking for the world like spiders reaching from dark corners. Each of the descending wear short capes that flare as they slide from sky to diseased earth and underneath it all is still sung:

Gently, gently in the above,
Come the reapers for all you love.
Lucky for you and your town,
We come bidden by the crown,
To gather you in and keep you close,
Protecting you from all that goes.

“I told you,” says Mari.

But Sonjia doesn’t hear her. She stands still as death as a young man glides towards her. He slowly raises his arm reaching for her hand as if to hold it. His skin is perfect, supple and smooth, not a single scar, and his jet black hair brushed back from his face reveals a widows peak and is struggling against whatever product is holding it in place. His blue eyes are clear and he’s well fed, in fact he looks like he has been someplace else for the last 12 years. He is as improbable as an alien.

“Come with me,” he says, voice soft and tinged with a plea.

The affinity that Sonjia feels for this young man sings loudly in her heart, but her mind knows that the unexplained is dangerous, especially in this world. Even so, it takes almost all of her will not to place her hand in his, to let his warm fingers encircle her own, to believe no matter how briefly in love and crushes.

“All people of this town report to the square for sorting and branding. All citizens must report. You are all now subjects of the crown. Please organize yourselves by family. Report to the square,” blares the mechanized voice of a megaphone grasped in a clean unblemished hand of one of the invaders.

Sonjia blinks and the moment shatters. Clearing her mind, she dares not even glance at the raven haired boy again.

“Crap,” mutters Sonjia pulling Mari not towards the towns square but towards their home.
“What?” asks Mari.
“The only people who wear crowns are dictators, usually sadistic. We need to find mom.”
“And princesses,” insists Mari.
“And princesses,” agrees Sonjia knowing that it’s time to run.

Inspired by the mass up of Gossamer Wings and Affinity. Though I hope these pieces stand alone, the previous ones are: When We Miss (1), Grin and Grind (2), Industrial Blue (3), Sugar Plum Fairies (4), Gently, Gently (5). Who knew there were so many!