On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.

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As far as she was concerned, she was a god.

Sandi didn’t believe in diminutive, gender-specific terms like actress, so she sure as hell didn’t like adding the suffix to the word for a deity. She was a woman, and she was a god.

A topic she regularly pondered was whether there were others like her. It was impossible to tell, because… well, because it was impossible to tell. Her ability wasn’t visible, unless you were an especially keen and paranoid observer, and even then you’d have no proof whatsoever. She’d certainly never heard of anyone else who could do anything unusual, at least beyond the realm of fiction.

In fact, she was pretty sure that even if she told someone about what she could do, and then immediately demonstrated it for them, they still wouldn’t believe her. That was fine. It worked to her advantage, just as it always had. Sandi wouldn’t say no to invisibility, or flight, or any of the comic book stuff, but she wouldn’t trade her own skill for any of it.

She was wealthy enough. Not excessively so, because that would draw attention, but she could come up with almost any sum of money within a reasonably short space of time if she needed to. She lived modestly nonetheless. She was well-liked amongst her friends, but not to an extreme degree. Her social circle wasn’t too wide, and she chose to work a couple of days per week, partly for appearance’s sake and partly just for interest. An instinctive desire to keep a low profile was probably her real superpower, and it certainly facilitated her continued freedom to use her actual ability.

There was a man ahead of her on the street, coming in her direction. He wore a suit, and he had that look about him, the way men did when they were the sort to leer openly and without shame. Something in the face.

I’m not very attractive, she thought.

The man’s eyes flicked towards her as soon as his brain registered the female form in his peripheral vision. His pupils dilated for a fraction of a second.

She’s not very attractive, he thought. Then his attention moved elsewhere, and he walked past her without paying her any further heed.

Sandi couldn’t make someone walk out in front of a bus, or change their belief system, or rob a bank — unless they already wanted to. But she could finesse what was already there, and she could affect the thousands of tiny, subjective interpretations that humans make every hour of every day. She had the power of bias; of hinting, or tweaking, how people saw things. It was the same power that advertising used, or music, or poetry, but she could do it directly within the minds of others.

She could push prejudice, or preference, or a gut feeling, right into the head of anyone she focused on, adding her chosen colour and slant to what they mistakenly believed were their own unfiltered senses. Sandi knew the truth: nothing was unfiltered. Everyone leaned in a certain direction on every possible thing, and it was those subtle leanings which caused people to make decisions; to do things or not do them. And having power over that tiny gap between experiences and judgements was truly the power of a god.

The world always hung upon the next little incidental choice, and to influence it didn’t require a hammer-blow. It only took a nudge.

There was care and skill required, of course. The trick was to find — or engineer — situations where the largest outcomes depended on the smallest differences in perception. Walking into a shop and taking something would carry every bit as much risk for her as it would for anyone else, but making a cashier think a price was much lower than it really was… that was much easier, and much less dangerous. The transposition of two digits was the best way to do it. A weaponised and transient dyslexia could be the basis of a comfortable lifestyle.

Political views were an interesting one. Most people would think that politics were a matter of deep-seated belief, almost as inflexible as religious affiliation, and that might be true for a few — but most people were so damned uninformed that it took very little intervention to swing their stance on almost any issue. It was surprising just how close people’s opinions were to each other, even when they seemed to be far away.

Sandi’s existence was much like the performance of an athlete; it was a sequence of moves, one blending into the next, governed mostly by a well-honed instinct. She could feel the opportunities for manoeuvring, and the directions to push towards, and if she did it well then she could move in an organic flow from one situation to another, encountering so little resistance that it all took on a balletic quality. More than anything, she prided herself on the grace and style of her private dance, and how unknowing the people all around her always remained.

She heard the distorted music only a moment after she heard the car’s exaggerated exhaust. It was the usual scenario; boy racers in their late teens, driving a cheap and underpowered vehicle, enhanced cosmetically using money better spent on a more powerful car. It would always be this way, for as long as there were vehicles. They were going too fast, and their music was deafening, and their laughter was braying. They could easily kill someone. Better than they be the victims instead.

I’m incredibly attractive, she thought.

The pimply, awkward face of the young driver turned towards her, attention captivated, and he never even saw the narrowed lane markers which bordered the crossing. The car caught the stanchion on its nearside, stopping it dead even as its offside spun inwards. It was too old to have airbags. A screech of metal and a crunch of glass. Sandi, wearing headphones which weren’t playing anything but which offered plausible deniability, walked on without faltering.

Maybe they would survive. Sometimes they did. It didn’t matter to her, because as far as anyone knew, she was just an innocent bystander, too engrossed in her own world to even notice the mundane tragedy of an accident that she herself had set in motion.

She would never be questioned, and she would never be charged, because they had no law to fit her crime — because crimes were for ordinary people. Sandi, on the other hand, was a god.

And she worked in mysterious ways.

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