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Under a New Pink Sky

Chapter One

By Claudia NeavesPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 13 min read
Under a New Pink Sky
Photo by Nader Abushhab on Unsplash

Every night at midnight, the purple clouds came out to dance with the blushing sky. Every night for the past several nights, at least. When there was time, Erina could linger and watch. She’d tuck her chin to her knees and wrap her arms around herself, letting the balmy wind lift the hair from her neck and tickle her. She’d watch as the purple clouds waltzed dreamily against that too bright sky, watch them pick up tempo and play peek-a-boo with the moon.

But more often, there wasn’t time to watch, and Erina found herself missing the black, cloudless nights. It was easier to hide in the dark. Erina tucked her curls deeper into her black hood, hands shoved into pockets, and made her way down the street. It could have been twilight, as bright as the night was, and so Erina walked quickly and silently in effort to maintain her conspicuity. The spectacle of pinks and purples demanded an audience, and people moved past her in big crowds, talking about the sky in curious whispers. The past two weeks had turned the night into a perpetual summer. Even children were out with their parents, toting ice creams shaped like the moon and big fluffy mounds of pink and purple cotton candy. The strangest astronomical anomaly in over one hundred years, the news was calling it, and still businesses found ways to capitalize on it. Erina approached a crosswalk and was forced to stop when the neon indicator flashed red. She looked down at her shoes and pretended not to notice the people talking around her.

“It’s the Fair Folk. Remember last year? Probably another of their rituals.”

“No, it’s the witches. Listen, I’ve heard talk--”

It was hard for Erina not to smile when she heard the rumors. Iverness had been mainly occupied by Fae for the last few decades and the introduction of a new coven of witches in the east village had sparked quite the controversy. They’d been passing blame back and forth for every manner of inconvenience—thunderstorms, sports teams winning and losing, disloyal spouses—although the pink sky was arguably the largest and most peculiar event.

They were all wrong, of course. But Erina couldn’t exactly tell them how she knew.

“That’s fake news,” blurted a tall man to Erina’s left. “It’s obviously bigger than anything a witch could conjure. Especially the witches around here.” He said the word like a slur. Erina peered up at him quickly from beneath her lashes. A flash of green hair identified him as Fae. Erina went back to admiring the laces on her boots so she wouldn’t be caught looking at him. He was buffered by a few friends, equally tall and with those same elfin features.

“I’ve met the girls in that so called coven,” he continued loudly, although not even his friends seemed to be paying him much attention. “They couldn’t conjure a rabbit out of a hat.”

“What is it then?” someone protested then. It was a female voice, and again Erina sneaked a glance at the figure elbowing her way up through the group to confront the louder Fae. There was a spark of recognition, and then the sinking feeling of unease. She knew this voice, knew the face, knew the very irate girl approaching the man to Erina’s left. Time to go. Erina thought about stepping into the street, but the fear of being flattened by the Iverness bus dropping of more spectators kept her rooted to the spot. Hurry up, she thought to the crosswalk light. It flashed red twice back. A warning.

“Seriously,” said the familiar girl, edging up to the Fae and jutting her chin at him. “Obviously you have a lot of opinions on it.” She gestured to the pink sky. A cloud, deeply rich violet chased a smaller second cloud. The second cloud was the color of fresh lavender in springtime. “What is it then?”

The green haired Fae regarded her coolly. It was clear he hadn’t expected someone to buck up to his tirade, let alone this smaller girl. She had dark chestnut hair, hanging in long waves to her waist, and silver bangles glittering up and down her arms. The bangles jingled when she placed her hands on her hips and glared up at him. Erina was having trouble placing just where she knew the girl from but didn’t want to stay long enough to find out.

“It’s a prophecy,” said the Fae, and he too pointed up to the sky.

“Of?” demanded the girl.

This time the Fae couldn’t answer. He shrugged and answered simply, “of things yet to come.”

Three things happened at once.

One. Erina snorted. Loudly. Too loud. The girl to her left turned to look her way.

Two. The light turned green. Erina stepped into the black asphalt, attempting to flee before the girl or the obnoxious Fae could take notice, when suddenly,

Three. Erina tripped. The Fae and his justling group of friends rushed past, but the girl, the girl who wasn’t supposed to be here and see her, reached out to grab her by the elbow.

“Are you ok?” she said, pulling Erina back onto the sidewalk. Erina wanted to be grateful the girl had saved her from smacking her face on the asphalt, but every second she stood there was another second she might be recognized. Too late. The girl’s face cracked into a wide smile, and her name spilled from her lips in gleeful surprise.

“Erina,” she gushed, placing too much emphasis on the I so that it came out like Er-eeeee-na! “From high school? How are you, girly?”

Ah, high school. Memories flooded back and Erina realized finally from where she knew this girl, this witch with the long chestnut hair. She used to wear her hair in long braids, Erina remembered. And big coke bottle glasses. Now, through magic or more likely contacts, the girl was bare faced, save a little mascara smudged under her big green eyes.

“Kate Bennet,” Erina said as her greetings. “Of course, from high school. Yes, I’m great but I really need to—” She tried a third time to walk into the street, but Kate still had a grip on her elbow. She smiled at her and Erina felt a pang of guilt. Kate had always been nice.

“Really need to go?” guessed Kate with a laugh. “Oh, I know. I remember you. Always sneaking off to…well to do whatever sneaky thing you were going to do.”

Sneaking off? So maybe Kate was more observant than what Erina would have given her credit. Erina felt the need to defend herself, even though the street was clear, and she knew she ought to slip away instead.

“Probably just studying for the SATs,” she said lamely. Kate rolled her eyes.

“Oh sure sure, obviously I didn’t mean sneaking,” she laughed, mostly to herself. “It’s just well, you were awfully busy for someone without Court or Coven.”

Without Court or Coven. Erina paused. She wondered if that was Kate’s nice way of guessing that she was Human. It wasn’t far off. It was true that Erina didn’t have the traditional brightly colored Fae hair or skin, nor did she wear the little half moon necklace that most witches adorned. Kate’s own jeweled moon gave a little wink at her throat at the mention of the coven. Erina just nodded along, still trying to make her escape without being rude or by drawing more attention to herself.

The truth was, Erina didn’t really know if she was court or coven, to use Kate’s words. The absence of green hair wasn’t an automatic disqualification to be Fae. She had small, pointed features, and for many years, had considered just telling people she was part-Fae. But she could lie, easily, and she couldn’t keep her house plants alive, so that seemed less likely. Her spells were clumsy and rarely worked, so she really never considered herself a witch either. Did that mean she was Human? Erina didn’t think so. She didn’t think much about it ever, if she could help it.

She tried to offer a vague explanation and a goodbye, but Kate’s eyes sparked happily, and her grip tightened.

“I know it’s late, but would you like to come to a party?”

Erina could hardly believe her ears. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been invited to a party. Part of that whole “sneaking around” thing she supposed. But Kate continued.

“It’s just a small gathering, really. It’s to celebrate my new podcast. The big reveal is tonight. Have you heard about it?” Erina shook her head.

“Oh, it’s all over Twitter. Do you follow me? No? Anyway, I’ve been really hard at work the past few days. It’s called Under the New Pink Sky. What do you think? Relevant, obviously,” she continued proudly, even though Erina had not said a single word in what now seemed like several minutes. “Basically, it’s a bunch of people coming onto the show to talk about their theories regarding the phenomenon we’ve been experiencing. None like that loudmouth though” she said, glaring at the back of the green haired Fae, who was now several yards in front of them. She stopped talking, and Erina realized she was waiting for a response.

“Oh,” Erina said. “Um. Sounds cool.” She didn’t know what else to say. She wanted to leave, needed to leave. But Kate was so nice, even when they were in high school together. Erina didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

“Sure,” she said finally, to avoid any more confrontation. “But I have to go home first.” Lie lie lie. “I can meet you there if you text me the address.”

“I’ll just come with you!” said Kate brightly, looping her arm through Erina’s. Absolutely not. Erina instantly regretting being nice. She should have left minutes ago, left sweet Kate hanging at the crosswalk wondering if that girl in the dark sweats was her old high school buddy or not.

“No,” said Erina flatly. She tried to amend it, to sound more friendly. “I mean, ha, no thanks. My apartment is a mess right now. Seriously, I can just meet you there.”

Kate pushed out her bottom lip but didn’t argue the point further. She held out her hand, indicating that Erina drop her phone into her open palm. Finally, finally, with the address typed into her Maps app, Erina was free to walk away. She felt Kate’s eyes on her back. Was she just reminiscing about the past? Or was that budding suspicion in her gaze. She remembered Kate being nice, but wouldn’t exactly call them great friends. Does she know something?

Erina hugged the buildings for the remainder of her walk. She couldn’t shake the feeling that Kate knew something, that she had seen something in her eyes that made her use that word sneaking. She had always been so careful, even in high school. Surely if she was that transparent, if Kate and her coke bottle glasses could see through her that she would have been caught by now. Erina shivered, tucking deeper into her hoodie, and dipped into a back alley.

The clouds trembled with energy. A big purple bowling ball shaped cloud rolled across the sky, slamming into pins and sending them careening in all directions. Erina pressed her body close to the door, using her frame to block the keypad under the knob. She typed in the passcode and let herself in.

Inside the building, away from colored sky, it did truly look like midnight. Erina tiptoed further into the dark silence, letting her eyes and ears adjust to the sudden change. It wasn’t far now. Down the hall, through the second door, and down the stairs, Erina took her time getting to this secret space, the space that had been on her brain since her last visit.

Erina reached the final door. Her skin prickled with gooseflesh, anticipation bubbling inside her. She opened the door.

The beast greeted her with an annoyed hrrmph and stomped her clawed feet. Erina felt a swell of emotions rising up to the surface at the sight of the bird-like creature. Admiration for its strange beauty. Fear of the great talons, the enormous ruby feathered wings, the pointed beak. The beast rose, her full height nearly touching the ceiling, and dragged an iron chain, inching closer to Erina. The last emotion surfaced, and Erina could have drowned in it. Guilt.

Erina raised her palms, making a shushing noise that the beast seemed to respond well too. “Pretty birdie,” Erina crooned, shifting her backpack to her front and fishing for the beast’s prize. “Look what I brought you.”

She pulled the raw steaks out of their container and tossed them to the monster, who snatched them out of the air with preternatural precision. Her red eyes flashed to Erina, demanding more. Erina threw her two more, and her gut flipped each time she heard the snap of her massive beak. She imagined that jaw closing over her own hand, or her neck, should the monster be loosed and seek her revenge.

“Good birdie,” Erina kept crooning. “Just a few more days and you’ll be out of the basement. I promise.” The lilt of her voice made it sound like a lie. The beast cocked her head to one side, breathing deeply.

It wasn’t a lie. But it certainly wasn’t the whole truth. She was wondering if the beast could tell the difference when Erina heard a footfall behind her. The beast beat her wings, cawing loudly, at the same time Erina heard a voice behind her say,

“Dear Gods, is that a phoenix?”

Erina’s heart bobbed in her throat. She spun wildly, trying to shield the trespasser from what they had clearly already seen.

“Damn it, Kate,” Erina cursed, pushing the girl away. “Get out of here!” She tried to make herself sound tougher than she was, but the phoenix was squawking loudly, stomping her feet and yanking at her chains.

“What is this? What are you doing to this poor creature?” Kate shoved past her, reaching her hands out to soothe the phoenix, as if it were a horse that had been spooked. Erina yanked her back by the wrist.

“Are you trying to get yourself killed?” she demanded. Even on a chain, she knew the beast to be deadly. Kate shook her off, trying again to get close to the phoenix. Erina nearly threw her to the ground. “Stop,” she shouted. “Stop.”

Kate whipped around, throwing off Erina’s hands. Her eyes were wide and filled with fury.

“You’re torturing animals? Poor innocent creatures? That’s what you’ve been sneaking off to do? All these years?”

That word again. Sneaking. It was starting to make Erina feel dirty. Poor, strange, loner Erina. Without court or coven. Sneaking off again. She brushed off the insult and crossed her arms.

“I’m not torturing it.”

“Then what are you doing?”

This time Erina couldn’t answer. What could she tell her, what would she believe?

Sorry, but the mother I never met left me indebted to a madman. I obtain magical creatures and he sells him to...well I really don't know that part either.

Sometimes truth was stranger than fiction after all.

Kate turned, appraising the phoenix, who had visibly calmed, and the manacles at her feet.

“This is it, isn’t it? The lights in the sky? The clouds? Erina, don’t you see what this is?”

It’s an SOS. One that my employer is banking on.

“No,” Erina lied. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. The sky has nothing to do with”—she gestured—"this.” Lie lie lie.

“It’s a signal,” Kate insisted. “It’ll bring more phoenix, angry, vengeful phoenix. Erina…don’t you realize what you’ve gotten yourself into?”

She did know. But she couldn’t tell Kate that.

Erina took a deep breath. “Kate,” she held up her hands. Placating her like they had both done with the phoenix. “I need you to listen to me.”

And then it happened. Three things happened at once. Like the snort, the green light, and the trip that brought Kate Bennet back into her life. Three things happened at once.

One. Kate said one word, something in Latin. The space filled with light, brighter than the pink sky for whom Erina was to blame.

Two. The beast roared. And then came three. The third sound that made Erina’s blood run cold.

Three. The metallic clang of manacles being shattered to bits. Erina was screaming, pushing Kate once more, this time out of her way as she thundered down the hall, up the stairs, chasing after the mythical creature that swept past the two of them in a hateful ball of flames. She had to catch it, had to bring it back before he returned for it. She didn’t know what she would do if she did catch up to it. She could hear the rush of flames and feathers as the beast flew further and further out of her grasp. Kate was running behind her, shouting, some thing in English, most in Latin, encouraging the phoenix to fly swifter, out of the building, to free itself from Erina and the basement and the manacles.

Kate had no idea, no clue what she was doing, what havoc she was wrecking by freeing the creature. Erina wanted to stop to turn and shake her, to beg her to help her get it back. But she couldn’t stop running. There had to be a chance, a sliver of hope that she could return the beast to its prison and avoid the wrath of her employer.

Erina opened the door, stepping back out into the night and stopped in her tracks. Kate nearly toppled her over, panting. The two of them stood in silence for a long moment. Gone was the errant flapping of wings, the roar of the fire. They stood, catching their breath and letting their heart rates slow. They didn’t dare say a word, just paused, listening for any sign that the monster was near.

It took Erina nearly a full minute to realize that they were standing in complete darkness. Gone was the blush sky, the violet hued clouds, the sign of the Phoenix in turmoil. It was gone.

Erina sank to her knees.


About the Creator

Claudia Neaves

Mother, Soldier, Physician, Reader, and Writer

If you like me on the page, you may enjoy a more immersive listening experience. Catch my episodes, Destinations and Beyond a Shadow on Full Body Chillls by Audiochuck

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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    Creative use of language & vocab

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    Writing reflected the title & theme

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (2)

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  • Naomi Goldabout a year ago

    This was wonderful. I especially liked this: “The past two weeks had turned the night into a perpetual summer. Even children were out with their parents, toting ice creams shaped like the moon and big fluffy mounds of pink and purple cotton candy. The strangest astronomical anomaly in over one hundred years, the news was calling it, and still businesses found ways to capitalize on it.” It was cool to read fantasy that referenced Twitter, fake news, and… Under the Pink? I love that album.

  • Bryan Buffkinabout a year ago

    I really liked it. You nailed the concept of "magical realism"; definitely a real world surrounded by a surreal supernatural magic. And you've got a real grasp on dialogue. That's something that's very difficult to make it sound natural, and yet, even in this very unnatural setting, it does. Very well done.

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