On Jennifer Archer

She forever had her arms stretched upward toward the clouds overhead, eyes on the sky and questions on her lips. It was clear she was meant to be born with wings, because were it not for gravity, she would have taken flight and never landed again, soaring through storm and sunshine. An outline surrounded her ground-bound form, one of a mythical, multi-hued bird that you could only see through a magical lens. This bird swooped and circled the top of the highest snowclad peak, bright eyes watching you watching her.

If you could flap about a bit yourself, you might travel to her mountaintop to take a crack at her riddles. Fear not, there were no penalties for answering wrong. Her pleasure was in the asking, not the knowing—for seeking is like flying, finding like landing. But if you provided satisfactory answers, she rewarded you with a gust of wind all to yourself.

Because, you see, she wanted everyone else to fly, too.

On Micah Baker

A mysterious figure walked a wild forest path ahead of me; she had for as long as I could remember. Sedate patience was in her step, quiet, so quiet upon soft dirt. She did not forge her way forward so much as request safe passage; before her feet, the foliage shifted aside to let her through. As she passed fragile plants and skittish creatures, she disturbed neither. When she found things that did not belong—garbage, traps, pollution—her delicate touch righted the wrong and restored life to the earth. She whispered kind words to flowers and whistled to the twittering birds above.

I walked the path she had already created, admiring her handiwork in her wake. How brave she was to traverse this deep wilderness alone. Sometimes darkness loomed in the shadows all around us, but as I groped along in the night, the green light of a lantern bobbing ahead kept my feet from straying into danger. At times, she became so distant that I could no longer see her. But when I began to endanger the forest around with my clumsy ways, I recalled her serenity. She may not have known I was back there, following her footsteps, but she was my reminder: to be gentle and brave, just like her.

On Deborah Elliott-Upton

This is a true story of an almost-assassination: mine. When I was just setting out on my journey, I apprenticed myself to a professional king-killer. For someone purported to move unseen in the shadows, she had a glamorous air about her. But since she used the same black ink for a weapon that I did, we got along rather well and I learned much about the trade from her.

Early on in my apprenticeship, I (perhaps foolishly) revealed to her my weakness: a nut allergy. I’m not sure if it was before or after that when she regaled me with a story of how she had impersonated a king’s wife—hired because the queen in question wanted to be freed of her dreadful husband. He too had a nut allergy and the assassin proceeded to poison him with airline peanuts in his chocolate cake.

It was a clever execution, I thought, and a fate which I took steps to avoid.

But time passed after I completed my training with her. Many years later, she invited me back to her home kingdom, to attend her second wedding to the only king who could ever hold her heart (and remain alive). I was standing right next to her as I munched on the wedding cake after the ceremony and it was only when my teeth crunched down on a tree nut that I realized my mistake.

I spluttered and choked in surprise. With a single raised eyebrow, she slipped me the antidote to her poison, one she had taught me how to make. One I should have been carrying with me all along.

As I took a swallow of the life-saving liquid, I asked, “Was this a test?”

Smiling, she leaned close to me and whispered, “You still have a lot to learn.

On Nydia Brandstatt

Before I met her, she was something of a ghost. I would sometimes get mail to my department at work addressed to her, but I, in my position as the center of the company’s neural network, knew that no one by her name worked there. So I shrugged and disposed of it. But then one day, my co-workers kept telling me, “she’s back. She’s come back.” Not only did my ghost come to work with me, she transferred right into my department.

Here are the ways in which she was a spook: Often muttered just outside of my hearing range and when I said “what” she said “nothing” or nothing at all. Had an addiction to warmth- and life-giving substances like coffee. (That’s where the list ends. With coffee.) Was fascinated with horror stories, which I think must have reminded her of her home circle of hell, where everyone bleeds coffee when you cut them open. Took precisely no crap from terrible customers, because, as an ephemeral being, she was immune to threats of physical harm on this mortal plane. Also, because our boss liked her.

Eventually, she grew tired of haunting my department and floated on to someplace else. Sometimes I still get her mail.

When I grew up, I turned out just like her.

On Valerie Hendon

I met a wizard on the corner of an unassuming street in the middle of a bustling city. It was right in front of her glass-paned studio—what passed for her wizard’s tower—as I exited a trolley, one that had turned in a direction I didn’t wish to take. I should say, rather, that I met a blinding flash of light and, just after, my past self.

Let me fast forward.

Glancing over my shoulder, I witnessed a frozen moment in time. It was a black and white version of the second I had stepped off that trolley, my foot just touching the sidewalk, my expression thoughtful. All had gone quiet. When I turned back, she was just lowering a sleek camera from in front of her face, revealing a rosy grin and keen eyes.

“*There* you are,” she said to me. Or, maybe, to the snapshot behind me.

Blinking, I asked, “Have we met?”

“We will,” she replied.

Through the windows behind her, I could see many such moments of stopped time, all lovingly arranged in cute frames along the studio walls. Shadowy patrons stood about admiring them. Somehow there was mine, too, though I had missed the moment of its appearance.

When I focused back on the present, the mysterious photographer had gone, as had her studio. Traffic roared by the empty corner, forever leaving me behind. Scratching my head, I made my way alongside the street, recalling then that I had a future appointment with a time wizard.

On Laci McGee

The quiet life was not for her. She had a seeking, searching quality about her, a desire to forge ahead farther and farther. In a bygone era, she might have been an intrepid explorer—leading an expedition to chart vast seas and map hidden lands. In this time, she was a traveler. Every time I turned around, she was off on another trip or returning from a distant planet, happy to bring friends along or to go on alone. Just because others had already discovered the unknown didn’t mean she wouldn’t see the world with her own eyes.

If you witness her passing on your way to somewhere else, her receding back might be your only view of her. She has places to be, my friend. But should she pause to talk to you, know that you have drawn the attention of someone only captivated by the most stunning of vistas. It’s possible, even, that she was looking for you to join her all along.

Don’t miss your chance to follow her on her next grand adventure.

On Heath McLaughlin

In him I found a quiet attentiveness. Within a group setting, he was the one with his head cocked to the side, paying attention to everyone. An observational creature myself, I recognized him as one of my own, though of a different variety. He had a way of ascertaining a situation—listening, discussing, considering—then placing himself where he concluded himself needed most. A steady, rhythmic beat, one to count upon.

No need to give him direction—he knew what he was doing.

He spoke up fearlessly to challenge foolish orders, protecting those in his care with his voice. Both his dissent and his agreement had merit, because he made sure his opinion was not only heard, but worth hearing. However, if you were proud enough to ignore his input, he didn’t take it personally. He would just adjust his position to catch you if you fell.