Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, January 28, 2008

The Surprisingly Essential First Page Challenge

UPDATE: TIME'S UP!!! THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO ENTERED!

It's that time. I'm pleased to announce the opening of THE SURPRISINGLY ESSENTIAL FIRST PAGE CHALLENGE!

Before I get to the guidelines, I'm also pleased to introduce the contest's co-judge, my very good friend Holly Burns, author of the wonderful and hilarious blog Nothing But Bonfires. I conned, er, persuaded Holly to participate because: 1) she's British (I mean, they invented the darn language), 2) she's an extremely talented writer (did I mention her wonderful and hilarious blog that you should already be reading?), and 3) I thought it would be helpful to have a judge from outside the publishing industry, the type of person who might pick up your book in the bookstore after reading the first page -- in other words, THIS IS YOUR READER.

So a massive thank you in advance to Holly for agreeing to participate.

And now for the contest guidelines:

1) All may participate. First pages may be from your work in progress or one you invented solely for the SEFPC. I've learned my lesson from contests past, and am limiting entries to one (1) per person.

b) Leave your first page in the comments section of this post. People who subscribe to the blog via e-mail: please click through to the site and leave your pages on the actual blog. Entries that are e-mailed to me will not be counted.

4.6) First pages are limited to 500 words. Use them wisely. Paragraphs should be single-spaced with double-spaces between paragraphs (like how this blog post is formatted). Please do not get crazy with your formatting.

+) The preliminary deadline for entries is Wednesday at 5:00 PM Pacific time although for some reason I always end up changing my mind about these deadlines, so please keep checking back. Nominees will be announced whenever Holly and I have had a chance to decide upon them, and you will have a chance to vote on the ultimate winner.

£) Spreading word about the contest on the Internet is encouraged. I am ready to judge this contest. No matter what. Even a million entries will not faze me. My voice only quivered a little when I said that.

X) And the prizes! The ultimate grand prize deluxe winner will receive the satisfaction of knowing they have a seriously awesome first page, and will have a choice of a query critique, partial critique, 10 minute phone conversation, or one of my clients' books. Runners-up will receive a query critique or other agreed-upon prize.

And that is it! Keep checking back for updates because these guidelines may be changed on a whim. Thank you again to Holly (here's her blog one more time) and good luck!

Who has the most surprisingly essential first page? Let's find out.






664 comments:

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Chris said...

The Chaser-Fantasy-80,000 words

Simmatra, Estonia-Present Day

The smell of humans swirled over the village of Simmatra, teasing Rane’s nose with anticipation. The streets below were vacant, as if the villagers knew someone was going to die. The soul chaser needed a human spirit to revitalize his ancient body, and this evening Rane wanted the perfect soul.

He flew through the doorway of a warmly lit house and found a witch’s brew simmering on the stove. A faint, yet lovely scent was lurking beneath the stink of the witch; it was the scent of his perfect soul. Rane’s hunger grew; the need to kill was building inside him as he closed in on his prey. The witch slid out from under the bed and scrambled to her feet, alone and unprotected. She was not the one.

The haggard woman held a small inverted cross out toward him and sneered, “You are not welcome here, soul chaser!”

Rane grinned and stifled a snicker. “Ah Drahmia, how long will you try to use the cross against us? It has no effect on chasers. We are not vampires, you senile old woman.” He folded his arms casually across his trim chest.

“Get out, you hateful beast!” she spat, shoving the cross toward him again, feigning courage.

“You know,” he said, pausing, “we could be powerful allies.” There was a spiteful air of playfulness in his tone.

“Never! The day you sucked my mother’s soul was the day you sealed your fate.”

“Oh that,” Rane said, pretending to toss this information around in his head as if he had never considered that she would be angry about her mother’s untimely death.

Words In, Words Out said...

Water Lilies-63,000 words

She’s missing. It’s what the papers say. ‘Mother Still Missing After First Week’ declares the bold letters of Sunday’s headline. Below them, in smaller type, are the words ‘family holds onto hope’. There’s a picture of me holding our daughter, Lily. The space next to her where Emily should have been is empty. Lily’s mouth is pulled up at the corners, looking strange. Like she hadn’t been sure whether to smile or not. In the picture I’m behind her, my face blurry and unimportant. Only missing, not dead.

Even before the article, there were bodies trampling down the tall grass in the field of the back lot. Behind the pond, shiny black shoes were smudged with mud. Badges glinted with the last day of August sun.

Now, a day later, everyone from town has guilted themselves into volunteering to search. Their minutes are lottery tickets, each one a separate chance to say they are there when the body is found. Today there are fifty-seven people. I watch them from the attic window, willing them to find something, anything. A shoe, a scrap of clothing to prove she’s been there. They walk in arrogantly blissful lines, unaware the area has already been searched.

When a familiar man dares to knock on my door bearing a gift of casserole, he tells me he’s sure we’ll find her alive. We. But the neighbor’s eyes betray him. His voice too, in the way he asks me about Lily while peeking past my shoulder to catch a glance of the motherless five-year-old. He has no hope of finding Emily alive. In this we are alike.

I fill my afternoons with ‘ifs’ that burn behind the things I do to pass the time. ‘What if she had never planned that trip?’ sandwiches itself between the slices of bread I use to make Lily her lunch. ‘What if I had found out sooner?’ is there when I pour her a glass of milk. ‘Why didn’t I see the ending?’ pops in the soap bubbles as I wash the dishes. The bubbles slide in ever tightening circles until the drain takes them away. There are no answers.

I try not to think of her. Of how her cream skin looked warmed by the sun. The way her lips were rough in the winter, until I made them soft with my kisses. They’re outdated memories from ten years ago, when we first met. In the newer memories, there’s the blue green flash of startled eyes when she found me in the dark with his letters to her in my hand. The mahogany wake of hair that trailed her face as she turned from me. Even those are a year old. Pins driven into the map of my heart to prove we’ve been there and moved on.

Josephine Damian said...

What's not surprising is that all of Nathan's clients headed for the hills the minute they saw the poll results, or they all suddenly got tickets for the Super Bowl. Kudos to Holly for being picked as helper. I will head over to her blog if only to get her address to know where to send a case of booze of her choice - she will need it!

Best of luck to all the contestants!

What I'm curious to see is just how skinny that scroll bar on the computer screen is going to get, and just how many minutes it'll take just to refresh this page!

Eric said...

Tweed & Scissors

There’s this girl I’ve never met that I know everything in the world about. Well, most everything. Not the big stuff, I guess. Like what she prayed about when she would cry at her bedside or whether she really believed those prayers might get answered. And I never knew all of the reasons for the crazy shit she did, but hey, who really does? I did know other stuff though. The real freaky-deaky shit. Like how she would crack open her father’s disposable razors with a pair of pliers she kept stashed behind her dresser and how she’d slice herself up. Sometimes I think she left her window blinds open that way just so somebody, anybody, me--a guy she never met--would know. Not that she was some kind of attention whore. Just about everybody is some kind of attention whore. Not Scissors, though. And I could testify in court to that, since, I’m like, some kind of authority on the girl.

Yeah, I’m pretty much the only person who even knew for the longest time, so I’m pretty certain it wasn’t for attention. And Scissors wasn’t her real name. I didn’t even know her real name for the longest. That don’t matter for shit though. Like somebody once said, what’s in a name? Okay, it was Shakespeare. So we all did tenth grade, big whoop. But he made a good point that time. I mean, ninety-nine point nine of all people in the world go by whatever name they were given when they were born. And ninety-nine point nine of them had that name picked out while their mother was still smuggling a watermelon. So how’s that work? What’s the chance that anybody’s given name has any hope of really pegging them? Who they really are. None, I’d say. No, the real names, the best names, the names that really and truly say something about a person, those are the names that come to them over time, from experience, for a reason.

So I called her Scissors. I could have gone with Razor I guess, but that didn’t really fit. She was too pretty to be a Razor. Sounded too harsh. And besides, I already knew this dumb ass who wanted everybody to call him Razor. Except, he spelled it wrong. Razer. See, told you he was a dumb ass.

But, so anyway, I knew this girl. Probably--no, not probably--definitely, better than even her own family. And so what if a lot of it was because I watched her through her window. Hell, I’m no perv. At least, no more than the next guy. My name’s Tweed. You’ve seen it around, no doubt.

Loren said...

1. The White Rock

Ruet was running faster than he had ever run before. He burst out from the edge of the woods that concealed the river that flowed through the valley. He picked up speed in the flat grassland. He fairly flew as he covered the short distance to where the hill began to rise. His simple robe, dirty and worn, flapped behind and clung above his pumping knees. He skidded and nearly fell as his bare feet met the dust of the dirt path that led up the hill. He began to labor up the hill, still running, and drew alongside a short rock enclosure. As he approached a rock building, grasping at his side, he ran into a man just rounding the wall. The boy stumbled and fell to the ground.

"Careful now," Enoch said, stooping down to lift Ruet to his feet, "Where do you go in such haste?"

Ruet stumbled back to his knees, panting, still grasping his side. He looked up at Enoch, terror in his eyes, "Cain," he said, "It's Cain... He's returned!"

Enoch straightened and stepped back and his hand went to his face. He cast about for a moment as if unsure what to do. He again took Ruet's arm and pulled him to his feet. "Come," he said and led him through a heavy wool curtain into the gray rock house.

In the main room of the house Jared seemed to be meditating while seated on a plain wool cushion. Other cushions were strewn around the low table beside him. Enoch stepped before him and bowed slightly, "Father, Ruet has seen something. He came running so fast he's hurt himself. He says he's seen Cain."

Jared looked sharply at the boy, "You saw him? You saw the marked one?"

"I saw," he paused, obviously upset, "a man, dead... and blood."

Jared's brow furrowed and his eyes sharpened with concern; he stood and said, "Come, Ruet, show us where you saw this thing."

The three walked down the dirt path. At the foot of the hill they did not proceed through the grass, as Ruet had done earlier, but continued on the path as it curved around to their left and entered the woods further to the east. Enoch broke their silence, "Cain would be very old now -- if he lives. Could he kill again?"

"Perhaps he has sons," Jared said.

They were quiet again until the path led them to a bend in the river. Ruet stopped. "There." He pointed toward a large white rock on the bank. His hand trembled, "There... see?"

They saw a clump of something -- gray cloth, perhaps -- protruding from the other side of the rock. "Yes," Jared replied, "Now listen, Ruet, you must return to your house now. Tell your father what you saw. Send him to me. Do you understand?" Ruet bowed his head in a sign of acceptance. "And don't run so fast this time!" Jared yelled as the boy disappeared down the trail.

Heidi the Hick said...

KATIE

Jenny is totally wasted, sprawled on the hood of the Caprice, blinking at the big black sparkling sky spinning above her. She started off the evening by referring to my ex-boyfriend Marty as a big fucking goof, which didn’t stop her from taking a beer from him. Once she got going she picked up a few more beers, and her mouth got bigger, and she’s pretty damn lucky that she’s a girl, and guys still have enough respect to not hit a girl.

I’m sitting on the edge of the hood, with my feet on the bumper, slowly smoking a cigarette and marveling at the crappy time I’m having. Marty is following me around, practically stalking me, my best friend is out of control, and this party sucks the big one.

Brent’s parents would have a heart attack if they knew that their good, well behaved little Mennonite church going son is having a party on their perfectly groomed dairy farm. He’s so good and so normal. He probably called all the bigtime badasses just to make sure he looks like more of a badass. These guys have a lot of beer and I’m pretty sure I saw a bottle of something stronger making its rounds. I saw them passing some joints around. I got that cold feeling on the back of my neck that I always get when I realize things are too big for me. I still have a pretty healthy respect for the law.

I glance over my shoulder at Jenny, lying there on the hood, blinking at the sky. Her dark hair is fanned out like a black halo against the grey steel. She looks completely stunned.

I take another deep suck of the cigarette, picturing the smoke curl down my throat and back up into my nose, like the pinstriping on the fenders of a big truck, curvy lines and sharp angles. What the hell is up with Jenny? She practically accused Piggy of never bathing. Well who could argue with that but really, to call him out on it? And then, badmouthing a couple of the other girls who were standing around the fire…it’s one thing to slag somebody, but shit, not in front of them! Not in that voice!

I got really freaked out when I turned around and saw her taking a hit off a joint, with that fucking guy MacFarlane behind her with his arms around her waist. He scares the shit out of me. My hands are still shaking just thinking about it.

suzelle said...

No Ghosts Are Out Tonight
Some things in this story are Absolutely True; some things are Wildly Exaggerated, and some things are Just Plain Made Up. So there.

Chapter One
I don’t believe in ghosts. I want to tell you that straight out. I do not believe in ghosts. I’ve lived my whole life next to the cemetery and I have never seen one. Not a wisp, not an eerie light. I’ve never seen anything out there but dark rows of graves. Never heard anything, either. No moaning, no clanking, no nothing. Well, some birds and the neighbor’s dog, but nothing unnatural. Not that I didn’t look and listen trying to catch one. Once I even stood in the middle of the cemetery at midnight and-

But I’ll get to that later. So, I don’t believe in ghosts, got it? Good. So there I was, smack dab in the middle of the cemetery, straddling Princetta Blakely’s black tombstone. My best friend, Kim Baker, and I had dug through our pockets until we unearthed a handful of pennies. We had ten cents between us, enough money to buy one orange twin pop from the ice cream truck. So we bought one and broke it in two. Kim popped her half into her mouth and gave the other to me. And then we climbed up on that tombstone and began to plot our next adventure.

I kicked my foot up and down against the side of the tombstone. My big toe poked out of a hole in my too-dirty-to-be-white sneakers. The sunshine made all the sparkly spots in the granite tombstone shine like sequins on a party dress. It was just so pretty. I loved that tombstone. And that name Princetta, don’t you just love it? Suppose I had a name like hers, a special name, one nobody else at school had. Ooh, thinking about it gave me tingles.

Can you imagine what it would be like if you were named after someone famous? Suppose your parents’ last name was Ross and they named you Betsy or their last name was Washington and they named you George. Well, my parents’ last name was Anthony and they named me Susan B. Susan B. Anthony. You know, after the lady who spent her whole life trying to get women the right to vote, that Susan B. Anthony. The one who wore scary black dresses in old pictures.

Why would anyone do such a thing? Some of those people in the Bible who gave their kids funny names had an excuse. God told them to do it. Not my parents, they had no excuse. They probably thought it was cute. So they think they’re being cute and I have to walk around with some scary dead lady’s name.

original bran fan said...

Rhonda Pareti sat across from her clients, wondering how long they planned on maintaining this charade. After all, a practical joke is only funny the first time. It wasn't fair to block out a time slot that could go to a legitimate client.

The Suttons, a couple of new-age flakes who owned the crunchy-granola bookstore downtown, had come in last week with a story about animals showing up at their house. What was the word they'd used? Manifest, that was it. They said they'd manifested their totem animals. Whatever that was.

Of course, the Suttons wouldn't be the first mentally ill people to seek a marriage counselor, but Rhonda knew from the start she was being put on. This couple were as united as Siamese twins, completely supporting each other's assertion that animals had suddenly winked into existence in their home. It had only grown more bizarre when they said they'd manifested the wrong animals.

Barry Sutton looked exactly the same as he had the week before. Skye, however, had changed herself from a peaceful hippie into something predatory. Gone were the flowing skirt and leather sandals. Her tailored suit and pointy pumps wouldn't look out of place on Wall Street. The Suttons each held a plastic crate, the kind used to take pets to the vet. The crate on Skye's lap was snarling.

Rhonda put on her therapist face and peered into the crates. "What do we have here?" Barry's cage held a white rabbit, of the magician-and-top-hat variety. Skye's cage bucked in her hands as the animal inside fought to get out. Rhonda sat back. It wasn't a skunk, was it?

No, she remembered what the Suttons had said at their last appointment. It was a badger. They'd really gone all-out for this. Anyone could buy a rabbit at a pet shop, but where in the world did someone get a badger?

Nadine said...

Love Undelivered - 68,000 words

The wrecking ball slammed into the frail building as bricks and debris tumbled to the ground and a large cloud of dust moved towards the sky. The crowd surrounding the site gasped as the ball swung back and revealed the gaping hole, resembling a puzzle missing more than a few pieces.

“Again!” The pear shaped ball swung at the post office for a second time as portions of the structure collapsed without a fight. The second floor offices were now visible without a front wall, ironically looking like mail slots.

Preservationists and historians had tried desperately to stop the destruction of the Tolt Post Office, built in 1935 and crafted beautifully with red and black brick. For years it had lacked modern conveniences but the small community in rural Washington never seemed to mind as it was a constant they could depend on.

During its operation it handled love letters, holiday wishes and in war time safely delivered letters and packages to and from soldiers overseas. It was a place of comfort that always had a familiar and friendly face waiting at the counter as each member of the staff had worked there for many years. But the building had fallen into disrepair long ago and no one had been able to come up with enough money for the restoration. It was decided the land was more valuable to investors and eventually the go ahead was given for the wrecking ball to move in.

Mark Newman lifted up his hardhat and wiped the sweat that had formed on his forehead from the heat of the mid-day sun. Even though he was the foreman in charge of the demolition, with every swing of the wrecking ball he felt he was destroying his family’s heritage.

beth said...

THE READ THREAD--YA fantasy, about 65k words.


The last thing Heath expected to see on the day he started his quest to save the Princess of Baloria was a teenaged girl sitting in the middle of the street, covered in mud, crying, and naked.

Of course, it's not as if Chloe had expected a knight in shining armor. Then again, she'd never expected to be sucked out of her world and plopped naked into another one, either.

Heath stared.

Chloe attempted to stand in the mud, slipped, and fell on her thigh. "Are you going to stand there all day or are you going to help me?" she asked, glaring at him. She tried to stand again, and actually succeeded in remaining upright, but she swayed on her feet as if she may pass out at any moment.

Heath rolled his eyes. He had no time for this. He grunted in irritation as he clambered off his horse, his armor clunking. He jerked his bedroll from the strap that tied it to the saddle, unrolled it with one sharp flick of his wrist, and draped it unceremoniously around Chloe's shoulders. She clutched it, trying to make the small wool blanket cover everything that needed covering. She felt sick, and her eyes were itchy with crying, and her heart was racing in fear and worry, and there was panic throttling her throat, but if the only thing between her and this stranger was a dirty blanket, she certainly wasn't going to let him see any of that.

"Where am I? Who are you?" Chloe demanded.

"Who are you?" Heath shot back. He was of the opinion that naked girls should be a bit more respectful and reserved in the presence of Balorian Knights. Balorian Knights were, after all, brave and honorable, noble and... his eyes drifted down to the top of the blanket, where Chloe was having rather a hard time of covering up her chest.

Heath cleared his throat and raised his eyes back up to a decent level. "Why are you naked, anywa--"

Chloe threw up.

For a moment, they both stared at Heath's soiled boots. A wet drop of mud dripped from Chloe's hair.

Lisa Dovichi said...

Prophecy’s Child
By Lisa Dovichi

Chapter 1

“The Prophets were right, the child bears the mark,” the dark-robed Drow priest said, pointing to the silver shooting star branding the girl child’s skin around her belly button. “Woman, ready the infant for the ritual. I’ll inform King Tarin that the Child of Doom has been born.” The priest ran from the room.

‘Now?’

‘Almost.’

The midwife bowed her head and took the howling infant across the cell to a table that held a basin, various potions and herbs, a basket, and some swaddling blankets.

“No!” Illeana reached weakly for her newborn baby.

‘She’s dying.’

‘I know. There is nothing we can do for her.’

Illeana got off the dirty blood-soaked cot and took a step toward the midwife before she collapsed to the floor. The midwife, startled by the noise, glanced over her shoulder and then turned back to her task at hand, unconcerned.

‘Now?’

‘Yes. Now!’

Illeana’s vision was fading as she watched two rats scamper from the cell door past her. The rats shimmered, changing and growing, until two cloaked and hooded figures stood behind the midwife. The taller of the two figures tapped the midwife on the shoulder and when she spun around grabbed the baby out of her arms. The smaller figure chanted a few low words, and waved a hand in front of her face. Soundlessly, the midwife crumpled to the ground, knocked out.

The smaller figure took the baby, turned, and pushed back her hood with one hand. Her silver eyes were filled with compassion as she carried the still crying baby back to Illeana and knelt on the floor beside her. The man removed his hood as well and followed her. He gently rolled Illeana over and propped her up in his arms. The woman lowered the baby to Illeana’s cheek.

Rand smoothed back the mother’s hair. “Rest easy, Illeana, mother of The Child of Promise, we will protect your child with our lives. She will not fall under the ritual knife.” He watched Illeana close her eyes, smile and then exhale her last breath.

He picked Illeana up, wishing he didn’t have to leave her in the depths of Castle Réalta’s dungeons, and laid her on the cot and crossed her arms. Aren knelt again with the baby beside the cot and spoke a whispered prayer, blessing Illeana for her ultimate sacrifice. She stood and bowed her head, observing a moment of silence -- a lone tear slipped down her cheek.

“Traitor or not, Rand, she didn’t deserve this,” she said, gesturing around the filthy cell.

Rand touched her shoulder. “She’s free now, Aren,” he said, softly. “And beyond the Mist in the hands of the Gods.” He walked to the table that held the basin and gathered the swaddling blankets and basket the midwife had intended transporting the baby in. “Here, they’ll make our escape easier,” he said, handing them to her. He pulled his black hood back on, and shimmered, taking the shape of a massive black wolf.

Maya Reynolds said...

Nathan: Just because I love to see your knees tremble, I've posted notice of your challenge on Mike's Writing Workshop, the most popular writers' loop online.

At last count 8,743 members.

Don't bother to thank me [grin].

Maya

Scott said...

Even The Smallest Creature

Kids with normal lives were probably too excited to sleep three days before their thirteenth birthdays, thinking about presents and parties and all that stuff I never got, no matter how many chores they'd done that day. It was hard for me to sleep all right, but not for any of those reasons. I was just cold.

I pulled my tattered blanket around my chin and curled up to try to soak up my own body warmth, but it didn't really help. I shivered and tried not to think about Miss Stern in her big warm farm house with all those empty bedrooms while I froze in the old cook house out back.

"Christopher Byrde! Get in here right now! And hurry!" Whether she yelled or just talked never made any difference. Miss Stern always shrieked. "Get your butt in here right now! It's an emergency!"

If I had thought she was really in any danger, I might have moved faster. Then again, maybe I wouldn't have. But I knew I'd better get up and see what she needed or she'd come knocking and then I'd really hear about it. Sometimes it's easier to give in and avoid the fight. So I pulled on the remains of my ragged coat and ran out into the rain.

In the dark, with the moon behind it, the big farmhouse--Alexander called it a Victorian and he usually knew about that kind of thing--loomed over Eucalyptus Cove like a demon. Muck oozed through the holes in my shoes as I plashed across the mostly dead back lawn. The cold rain bit into me so I didn't slow down that much to push my feet into the mud and enjoy that slimy feeling.

I went around to the front of the house and took the steps to the porch two at a time. She always yelled if I walked in, even if she'd called me, so I lifted the heavy iron knocker and let it fall. I waited on the porch, listening to my teeth chatter while streams of water ran from my hair into my eyes. She didn't answer my knock, but I could hear her yelling inside so I wasn't too worried, or hopeful. I knocked harder.

"Don't just stand there in the rain like a stupid little boy!" Although muffled by the door, her voice sounded as shrill and unpleasant as it would if I had to watch her face say it.

I opened the door.

Miss Stern stood on a stool in the hall outside her sitting room. Her face was as pale as it could look behind all that makeup. In her yellow bathrobe with lacy fringe, she looked like a moldy grapefruit.

"What took you so long, you little wretch?" Her head twitched and her wide eyes scanned the ground around her.

I stayed in the doorway. I didn't want to get any closer to her than I had to. "I heard you scream."

Nathan Bransford said...

Maya-

Um, wow. My knees are definitely a-trembling at the moment.

Josephine Damian said...

Not only am I happy to promote this contest, I'm happy to weigh in on the entries over on my blog, with a running list of names of the writers of the first pages that worked for me, the pages that I read to the end.

So stop on by to see if your first page rates with one very tough critic:

http://josephinedamian.blogspot.com/2008/01/surprisingly-essential-first-page.html

theartgirl said...

Soul Jar - paranormal YA 34,000 words

The road was as black and smooth as silk ribbon. Light snow began to fall and powdered the asphalt.

Bristling from the frosty air, I cranked up the heater in my car.

I turned my head and froze when I saw the grille of a truck rushing towards me like a high-speed train. I held my breath and my hands shot up and covered my face. My scream stuck in my throat like a rock. I had no time to let the terror-wail escape through my lips.

* * *

From the darkness I was flung into a world of bright, fluorescent lights that leaked into my open eye and made it ache. Every ragged breath I gasped in sent an agonizing shot of pain to my ribs. My entire body trembled. I was gagging on the blood that
pooled in my mouth. I tried to spit it out, but it only dribbled out of the corner of my lips. My nose felt odd---crunchy. I couldn’t open my left eye---it was swollen tightly shut.

Like hot lava, aches poured slow and heavy over my body. A molten burn screamed in my head.

My good eye flicked back and forth from face to face. I begged for help. My mouth couldn’t form these words, but I tried to yell them anyway. I sensed movement, clattering, and rapid talking following me. Frenzied commotion swarmed around me like gnats to a sweaty body.

The sharp smell of blood and urine combined with bleach and a musty pine scent clogged my nostrils and I felt my stomach heave. I struggled to turn my head to the side but it was clamped in some sort of brace. I felt my teeth shift.

“Drivers license says her name’s Marta Carlitos. Looks like she just turned seventeen,” someone said.

The cold steel of scissors traced up my leg like an ice cube being drawn from my ankles to my thighs and the expensive jeans I wore were cut free from my body. Words washed and receded as I struggled in the waters of consciousness.

“Stay with us, Marta.”

But I didn’t stay. I had already left my body and was drifting away from the mind-numbing pain. Floating up. I felt no pain outside of my ravaged form. Just relief.

I hovered over the hospital people and watched them from above as they frantically inserted tubes into the bloody mouth and stuck needles into the bruised skin of my body. They had ripped open my shirt in the wailing ambulance ride to the emergency room. My top had been vintage Pucci. My breasts were bared on my battered body. Normally, I would have been totally mortified, but now nothing mattered.

Below, my figure was still as stone.

Dave F. said...

The Donegal Manuscript

"Um Professor, so glad you're still in office. We were cataloging papers from old man Donegal's estate and we found a 200 year old journal." Keith's boyish face slid off the screen as he refocused the webcam onto the frontispiece of a leather-bound journal. He read the faded handwriting out loud.

"The Travels and Discoveries of the Brothers Barnaby and Tag Canley in the Jungles of Savage and Unmapped Africa.

A Written Account of the Years 1829 to 1935 by Tag Canley

We Share Our Fate as Brothers and Equals Must Share Life. We Grew up as Turlough Ua-Tuathail of Caisleán Uí-Domhnaill and Aodh Mac-An-Airchinnigh in Graignamanagh, Contae Chill-Chainnigh; Master and Manservant, But We Were Born Equals and We Will Die Equals.


"Um, it's half Portuguese, half English and half Gaelic."

"Um, Um, Um, the inscrutable three halves of Um," Professor Cameron said. Keith could see him studying the screen on his laptop. "There's no record of any successful or official safari to Africa before Speke and Burton or Stanley and Livingston. This must be one that ended in failure."

"It wasn't an official safari. They ran away, renounced their familial responsibilities in academia or trade school, cashed in their family money, changed their names and took off for Africa. I haven't figured out what fate Barnaby suffered, but Tug returns nearly destitute several years later and guess what, goes to the Tiergarten Schonbrunn Zoo in Vienna where he takes a job as a caretaker for a few months and vanishes."
"Quite a vision quest, what happened?"

"I haven't read that far yet."

"Have Simon post the pages and your translations to our private server. And I'll ask Rory to start annotating the text. He's good at checking the historical records to see if these two young men left a trail. Do you need help with the Portuguese," Cameron said.

"Nah, I can handle it. My Dad was attaché in Lisbon for four years. I'm good."

"Anything interesting you want to reveal?"

"No, Tug is garrulous. He's still at sea and talking about avoiding slave-traders, how to pay off African chieftains with trinkets, learning how to live with mosquitoes and sand flies. These are two sheltered boys. The Captain had to tell them about olive oil preventing sunburn. Worse, the first mate told them all seamen slept naked and did naughty things to each other."

"Innocents abroad. Keep me posted, I've got students waiting," Professor Cameron turned his laptop away from the desk. Keith shut down the webcam.

November 1829
Our plain and unvarnished story begins in England, as both our fathers were determined that we enter university and study. They determined that Barnaby become a banker and I, being lowborn, would remain his manservant despite our proclivity for science and adventure. Our fathers demanded this and declare that sons must follow in their fathers footsteps. They do this even in the face of two revolutions -- one in the new world and the other in France.

celticqueen said...

Minuette Sinclair hurried down the busy village road, painfully aware that she was going to be late. The recent downpour had left the wide lanes of Fairgate dotted with puddles that she tried in vain to avoid. She stopped short and grimaced at the feel of mud oozing up her ankle.

“Oh very good, Minuette. Nothing says ‘I’m a perfect lady’ like mud-covered boots.” Cursing under her breath, she extracted her foot from the miry clay and moved off the main road onto the narrow, wooden walkway that lined the storefronts.

She had only gone a few feet when several heavily corseted matrons exited the hat shop in front of her. The aisle was not wide enough for them to pass and the lane beyond the planks swelled with water. Min eyed the shallow pools nervously and moved to the edge of the pathway. While there had not been any reports of new cholera outbreaks, she would rather not take her chances with the ripe breeding ground the puddle represented.

Turning sideways to allow the women more room, she stood on her toes at the edge of the large puddle as they squeezed by. A distant roll of thunder drew her attention skyward, and the sudden change in her equilibrium shifted her precarious balance.

Min threw her hands out in desperation as she toppled into the icy puddle. She clamped her lips around her horrified shriek to prevent the murky water from entering her mouth. She could not, however, prevent it from seeping into her clothing, chilling her clammy skin as it soaked through the many layers she wore.

The women on the walkway fluttered their useless lace handkerchiefs before their faces, exclaiming in dismay at her predicament, although none of them made a move to help. She exhaled slowly and looked up at the sky, wondering how she managed to get herself into these situations.

This certainly wasn’t the first humiliating tumble Min had taken, and she doubted it would be the last. Still, she did wish there weren’t quite so many witnesses to her latest fall from grace. She found her footing and stood, only to feel the sludge beneath her give way. She sank into the mud once more, her skirts billowing in the filthy water.

Her cheeks burned in outraged mortification at the sound of nearby laughter. She raised a trembling hand to wipe the moisture from her eyes, gritting her teeth when she heard Katherine’s voice behind her.

“My, my, Minuette has gone and made a spectacle of herself yet again.” A chorus of delighted giggles followed Katherine’s snide remark, announcing the presence of her usual gaggle of loyal followers.

“You know, dear,” Katherine continued, her perfect ringlets bouncing as she shook her head at Min, “you’ll never catch a husband crawling around in the mud. Hardly a pastime for a truly refined lady, but maybe you’ll do for the local pig farmer. I hear he’s looking for a wife.”

Jan said...

Noises from the Quiet House

I sat near the shore at Alki Beach Park watching the Seattle skyline peek out of the murky fog…the sand was warm between my toes. One-by-one the skyscrapers appeared before my eyes as the fog cleared. I love running along beaches and the Seattle area is a great place for my favorite pastime. As I quickly glanced at my watch I realized it was time to head to the spa. There is no mystery about the power of massage...I subscribe to them regularly. The quick jog home seemed to take forever. Seemed silly really, but I needed time to shower before my massage therapist spreads oils all over my skin – oil that will need to be washed off later...

Lying there as he kneaded, stroked, and rubbed my back – the stresses of the week were unleashed. Too bad for me that Michael is gay...I’ve proposed to him many times over the year we have been seeing each other. He has amazing hands. It’s pretty unreal when I think about it – he is my longest relationship. But he has a husband – why are the good ones always taken or not in my league? And why can’t I find my Mr. Right? Surely there has to be someone for me.

For better or for worse I’ve remained single for over thirty two years now. Not that I haven’t been on a quest to find my perfect man – I’ve tried many times. I just seem to always pick losers – or as my best friend Alice always says, “Sandy, your picker is broken”. Am I a nut magnet? My life is a little messy – I never thought I’d still be single in my thirties.

Just yesterday, I received the notification for my fifteenth high school reunion. Flipping through the brochure I noticed most of my classmates are married, there are many doctors or lawyers, and one person is even a world renowned motivational speaker. Boy did I feel inept. I couldn’t go to this reunion – what have I got to brag about? There is no husband, no children, and no great job to speak of... What it all boils down to is I’m just an ordinary girl trying to figure out what life and love are all about. I have a simple job as an insurance adjuster – even though I graduated from college. I was suddenly very depressed – I don’t have much to be proud of. Am I an underachiever?

My parents’ relationship was the only one I knew – so relationship 101 for me had been a disaster. I’ve dreamed of a fantasy wedding that lots of little girls want. Would I ever have one? Not as long as there wasn’t a potential groom.

I’ve made my home in Seattle – I’m just not sure if it’s a happy home yet. My apartment is a catastrophe ... throwing things around to find a towel for a shower, I feel like a dung beetle moving its large mound along.

mardott said...

From my current WIP. Fantasy novel, no name yet:

Tessa Montgomery settled into her chair to read the letter her father’s solicitor handed her. She enjoyed visiting Mr. Hancock in his office. Robert Hancock was a calm, unassuming man and his clean, organized office reflected his quiet dignity. If he had strong emotions, he hid them with skill, allowing her too-strong empathic sense to find a refuge from the storm of emotion at home.

A moot point, today, as the second paragraph of the letter caused her to sit up in astonishment, her alarm strengthened by the surprised concern she felt from her maid, who sat knitting in a chair by the door.

“Buy my land? A… a…” she glanced back at the paper, “a business entity wants to buy my land?” The next look she gave Mr. Hancock was outraged. “You’re not suggesting I sell, are you?”

True to form, Robert Hancock did not react to her outburst. “I am merely passing on the message, my dear Miss Montgomery. If you wish to consider selling, I would certainly discuss the pros and cons with you. But if you have no desire to sell, I will so respond to the solicitor.”

Her elegant, dark eyebrows twitched once as she placed the letter on the desk. “I don’t wish to sell.”

He nodded in return. “I assumed as much.” He reached to pick up the letter. “I will send your answer by return post immediately.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hancock.” She sat straight, forcing herself to calm down. “Please make it very clear.”

“I will, I assure you.” The light glinted off his glasses as he nodded at her, the lenses and gold rims scrupulously clean.

She leaned forward, one hand holding the edge of his desk. “Are they concerned that we’ve left the land fallow for so long? Perhaps it is too neglected.”

He glanced at the letter. “They don’t state a reason for wanting to buy, but they do mention that it has been several years. I believe they assume your father bought the land as an investment. They are offering a very good price.”

Tessa bit her lower lip, unable to hide her anxiety. “I still want to live there. My father has been so ill…”

“Of course, dear,” Mr. Hancock said, trying to sooth her. “Don’t let them pressure you. You can leave the land as it is for your entire life, if that is your wish. You don’t need the money, you know.”

Madison said...

This Brief Freedom, 81k

The city of Boston is as quiet as my brother’s study. Horses’ hooves no longer ring on the cobblestone; ladies’ skirts do not rustle in the breeze. Voices do not weave in and out of the hub of the port city, crying prices, products, protests of treacherous seas.

No, all is waxy, frozen under a creamy moon like a monstrous statue from Madame Tussaud’s museum. Midnight looms and swirls with the soft, sea-scented breeze, though the clock has not yet struck twelve.

I fix my eyes on the mantle clock’s ivory face. If I can count the seconds until the rude bongs of the hour slice the air, I will not scream in fright. Still, I may scream, bong or no.

The heavy cloth of my skirt wrinkles under the pressure of my clenched fingers as I peer out the window into the garden. Not a crunch sounds on gravel, but I know inherently, and with the sudden urge to scream, that He is there, hiding and watching. Perhaps staring at me now. Shuddering, I pull the curtains across the window, which is as blank and black as an evil face. I cannot contain the maddening tendrils of worry that prick my mind like sewing needle pricks cloth. Deep in my consciousness, I know that if I were to step back and examine what pattern the needle’s thread is tracing, I would see the word disaster stitched in the cloth. But I cannot step back.

I eye the clock. Desperately, I want Brandon to return and thus put an end to my worries. To His presence in the garden. But the possibility that the news is not as I hope hangs in the room. If so, my worries will only be beginning.

The clock tolls the hour. I choke back a startled cry; my hand flies to my stomach in a futile attempt to ease its flopping.

Ears ringing after the abrupt switch from silence to sharp noise, my feet skim the floor of the study, the hallway, the sweeping stairs leading to the ill-lit entryway of the empty mansion. All the while the clock cries, “Hurry!”

Eager questions hover on my lips like the drips of an icicle in early spring as my feet carry me to the door. My hands free the bolt, let in a rush of night air, always damp with the promise of the nearby ocean. But my brother’s face catches my words in a late freeze. I press a hand to my sinking stomach. Head bent, Brandon steps past me. He brushes off his hood with an impatient hand, brown eyes narrowed.

“It is as we feared, Rosalie.” His syllables linger with finality in the painted dome above our heads, and I slowly let out my pent-up breath.

“Nothing?”

“Not a single cent.” Brandon’s eyes sweep the grim portraits lining the room before resting on me. “We are bankrupt, sister.”

Laurel Amberdine said...

The Length of Shadows - WIP

Detries entered the founding chamber as if it was the most natural thing for him to do. As if he hadn’t spent his whole life despising the empire, and most especially its laws and government. As if he hadn’t personally tried to kill the empress. Several times.

“Please rise,” Detries said to the kneeling House Regents and other nobles. The men and women barely filled half the benches. Their clothes were tattered, and their eyes haunted.

“Emperor Vornafall,” the seneschal said, dignified and lifeless, but maybe that was his usual tone. Detries picked lint off his sleeve, smoothed his trousers, and stepped to the podium.

The founding chamber was largely intact with only two broken windows. Through them the breeze blew, scented with the damp charcoal of extinguished fires, and the underlying rot of corpses too numerous for the survivors to bury. This was where the second empire began, hundreds of years ago. The blocks of the room were dusty orange, an exotic mineral only found in the far east. Transporting these massive blocks through several hostile territories had demonstrated the first emperor’s power and influence better than any assemblage of soldiers.

As a child, Detries had visited here. Back then, his father was emperor, and the ugly blocks had been hidden behind ornate decor. Tapestries, fine rugs, and chandeliers so large that they made the room hot. Better to make them sweat than let them natter on, his father had said. Detries remembered that. He’d wondered why for years. Now it seemed obvious.

Empress Layne had removed all distraction. Now the walls were bare, the benches varnished plain wood. Not even a cheap factory-made carpet softened the tile floor. Layne always wanted all the attention. Now Detries was the focus of more attention than Layne had ever received, magic or not.

Detries was more comfortable fighting monsters. Fighting anyone. Right now he wanted to stride up and down the aisle and slap all the regents across their slack, stupid, irresponsible faces. These were the nobles, the leaders of the Great Houses? Sitting here like frightened children after a nightmare.
Perhaps the brave ones had died in the battle. Certainly the contrary ones had been eliminated by their beloved former empress. Maybe they were what the empire had made them.

“Fellow nobles. I fear we face the greatest challenge since our ancestors gathered in this room to create the Imperial Tenets. But, let me assure you, the physical danger has passed, and we have prevailed. I know the situation remains unclear to most of you, but I will explain what I know.”

Detries had debated this for days. Should he tell them the truth? Lying would be nothing. But right now, despite what he’d told them, the empire was in greater peril than it ever had been while monsters rampaged through the streets. Right now, he needed their aid, as pathetic as they all were. Diplomacy was not Detries’s forte. He had no allies. His own house despised him.

superwench83 said...

Sean O’Rahilly watched the train cut across the moonlit desert. Even at a distance, the railcars’ rumble hurt his ears. The noise, however, wasn’t the reason he wanted to stay away. Once the train came, Sean would have to say goodbye.

He turned to Su Ni, who lingered near some sagebrush, hair pulled over her shoulder. Despite her sorrow, she sat the horse with shoulders straight, eyes dry.

“Ready?” he asked, to break the silence between them. Sean and Su Ni needed few words. And since she spoke no English and he no Cantonese, this was a fortunate thing.

Su Ni answered by reaching into her sleeve. She pulled out a Chinese dragon.

Removed from Su Ni’s warmth, the dragon shivered. As it hunched its shoulders and stared at him mournfully, Sean’s heart sank even more. The dragon had been almost as lovely as Su Ni the first time Sean saw it. With red, shiny scales and a thin moustache, it looked as he’d imagined a Chinese dragon would. But America had not been kind to the beast. Nor had it smiled on Sean’s own tiny friend.

As Su Ni cooed to the dragon in Cantonese, Sean reached onto his shoulder, and a wee body struggled into his palm. Raising his hand to his eyes, he let a tear slide down his cheek as he looked at the sickly leprechaun who once had been so strong.

Su Ni and the dragon waited, the latter on the saddle’s front. Wiping his tear away, Sean approached. He set the leprechaun on the dragon’s back, then swung up behind Su Ni. His arm circled her waist as they neared the track to wait for the midnight train.

MadTheodore said...

The beginning of my life, at least until my first foray Outside, was so typical of my species as to hardly be worth mentioning. After that point, however, nothing about it would be typical. The World itself was soon to change, forever.

Like all of my kind, I started life by hatching out of a cluster of eggs at the bottom of a large pit full of ripe goomi fruits and other edible fungi from our Inside world, as well as some leaves and other vegetable matter from Outside. My pit-siblings and I mindlessly consumed all the food in the pit, while Murmo Grubwatcher spoke softly to us. We understood nothing, at first. We just ate. When all the food in the pit was gone, Murmo led us to another pit of food by laying a trail of food. We ate and grew, and began to understand the Grubwatcher. The next time we changed pits, Murmo just spoke, and we followed.

As we grew, Murmo told us about life Inside, and the different occupations we might choose for ourselves, such as Cultivators, who tend the goomi fruits and the other fungi crops in the farm tunnels. Engineers tunnel to expand the Inside. Artists eat old, spent bioluminescent fungi from the walls and ceilings, mixed with other food, then spew their waste on the ceilings and walls. New fronds of glowing fungi grow from this, varying in color depending on the type of food eaten with the fungi. Intricate patterns of colored light brighten our Inside world.

“Artists are very highly regarded in our society,” Murmo told us, “but not nearly as highly as Gatherers. Gatherers get more privileges than other occupations, such as unlimited breeding rights and more mating offers from better potential mates. Of course, going Outside as a Gatherer is a bit risky compared with the total safety Inside.” Naturally, most of us decided right then that we wanted to be Gatherers. We didn’t really understand risk or danger, yet.

We began receiving daily lessons from teachers of each of the various occupations. Gront Gatherer-Teacher came often to our pit to teach us about Outside and the duties of a Gatherer. Gront also told us about the pilgrimage to the Citadel of Gatherers that all Gatherer-Grubs must make before they can be considered Gatherers. It sounded like a great adventure.

Then, Gront started telling us about some of the things Outside that would want to eat us. If it moves, it wants to eat us. If it isn’t moving, it’s probably waiting for a chance to eat us. Some of my pit-siblings changed their minds about being Gatherers and decided they would never go outside. But most Grubs are not too strong on forethought, and the dangers did not seem that real, yet. Also, curiosity is strong among Gatherers, so only eight out of my forty-nine pit-sibs decided to stay Insiders. The rest of us would go Out to see the other world.

Tahni said...

The Interrogator’s Child

She stared down at the bodies lying on the pavement while the detective repeated his questions. Silence was her only response. Eventually, the police had no choice. They relied on the evidence – Lex’s refusal to speak, her torn clothes, and neck injuries; all of these saved her from jail time. Only a lunatic would believe the bizarre truth.

Now the three dead men drifted around her, their forms faded in and out of focus as their monotone voices taunted, “Slayer… assassin… killer… Slayer… assassin… killer!”

Gradually their bodies dissolved, leaving behind six unblinking opalescent eyes and the never-ending chant. These six blind orbs scrutinized Lex, evaluating her crime – murder.

Lex bolted upright, falling out of bed. It was a dream, the same dream. She lay on the floor shivering and soaked in sweat. Blackness greeted her open eyes a moment before the pain announced her location, Buck’s Boot Camp for Troubled Teens.

The space she currently occupied was the punishment room. However, out of all the teens, she spent the most time here, so the guards had dubbed it ‘Lex’s Lair’. The small square cell had a bed, sink, and toilet, but lacked a light and windows. The solitary darkness was her reward for winning a fight against a girl three years older and fifty pounds heavier.

With trembling fingers, she felt her split lip and bruised ribs. The argument had been one-sided. Lex refused to speak, so the other girl attempted to beat words out of her. It didn’t work. The instigator now occupied a cot in the hospital wing of the camp. Lex felt no remorse.

She found it difficult to sympathize with others. No one gave a damn what happened to her, why should she care? Besides, the teens in this horrible place constantly whined, blaming others for their misdeeds – never taking responsibility for their actions. Lex never denied her crimes. Officially, she was here for theft, but she truly deserved to be here for murder.

In the years after her mother’s death Lex cultivated a talent for acquiring others’ possessions without their knowledge. She spent more time on the streets than in her stepfather’s house. She avoided the stingy man. He treated her like an expensive nuisance. The other children of the streets taught Lex to steal. In fact, she was such an expert thief that the staff at Buck’s didn’t bother locking her room at night. They knew she would pilfer the keys and be free before the lights went out. They simply stationed a guard outside her door.

As she hoisted her injured body back into bed and crawled under the scratchy wool blanket, a noise out in the hall made her pause. Lex held her breath, listening for the sound.

There it was, squeak… thump… squeak… thump.

Mary said...

Emergence of the Fey - Fantasy

The Dome of Intrigue loomed on the tallest hill in Valadilene, spinning its web over the city. Jex was one of many caught in its strands.

The door guard let him in, already informed that Zalandar had summoned his dasa. Jex stopped just within the council chamber and glanced around the circular room as his eyes adjusted from the torch-lit corridor. He thanked the earth mother for the moonlight coming through the glass roof, as he cursed the enchanter for his preference to meet at night. Benches along the walls sat empty, as well as seven of the eight high-backed chairs on the curved dais.

Zalandar's wide frame filled the right end chair, his silver hair immaculately combed back. He curved his fingers, beckoning Jex forward. "I have a mission for you, dasa. I felt a disturbance in the Rift located at Mount Monderay. I sense the wretched Fey are massing against us, but I need proof to present to the rest of the council."

Jex scowled. "And where do I come in?"

"I need you to spy on the Fey and determine the situation. You're the only one I can trust."

Jex cursed and mumbled about forced loyalty.

Zalandar narrowed his eyes at the thief, but his voice remained calm. "Monderay is in Eranon, my home region. It's a six-day ride from here. I expect you to be there in four. Once you've assessed the threat, contact me in our usual manner." He went on to explain what the dasa would need to look for.

Jex rubbed the mark of the spider on the back of his left hand. He looked forward to the day he no longer had to take orders from the enchanter. "Valadilene has become too stifling. I'll leave first thing in the morning."

***

As Jex left the assembly hall, he realized he had no idea where Monderay was in Dashevona. However, on no account would he turn around and ask Zalandar. He may be a thief, but that didn't mean he had no pride.

He could always travel to Eranon and ask for directions, but why bother when he knew where to find a map. He turned left at the end of the entrance hall and circled around the outer hallway, inspecting each door. At the fourth portal, he ran his fingers over the engraved image of a book. Depicted on the cover were eight stars formed in a circle. He pressed the three middle fingers of his left hand on the upper three stars. With his free hand, he pulled a lock pick out of his pocket and inserted it into the keyhole. With a gentle click, the door slid open.

He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows as he entered the dim room. The waxing gibbous moon shone through the skylight, illuminating numerous shelves of books and documents.

r.c. said...

Jacob, Underwater. 421 words so far.

Nicky plunged down the muddy path fighting to control a body that was at odds with itself. His legs ached to go faster, urged on by the pealing of the island’s alarm bell, but cautious feet slowed them down, searching for purchase with each landing and quick lift-off. Without realizing it Nicky whispered, “they’re-coming, they’re-coming,” in perfect time with his hesitant steps.

His focus never left his bare feet; hoping that his careful attention would keep them from slipping in the inch-deep mud or from tripping over the mangrove roots that crisscrossed the path in an effort to make him stumble. He held his arms up to swat away any intruding vines and kept his eyes down. He cut through thick wisps of fog drifting through the mangrove trees like a herd of phantoms on the hunt. His lungs gulped down damp air with each frantic breath.

He pushed all thought from his mind as he struggled to stay upright. He couldn’t think about being too late, or about the gators that filled the river next to him, or about how much his legs ached and his lungs screamed at him to stop. But mostly, he couldn’t think about what would happen if the Waverleys took Jacob, his ten year-old-brother.

At last he reached his safety spot – a ten-foot ledge that rose straight up from the river. He bent over, hands on his knees as he struggled for breath while scanning the water below. There, as expected, was Jacob, underwater.

Nicky threw a few rocks to get Jacob’s attention. The still water was so clear he could see to the bottom where Jacob’s eyes found him through the gentle ripples on the river’s surface. He watched Jacob’s face twist into a scowl of hatred.

Nicky flashed the warning sign at him. In happier times Nicky and his little brother had developed their own sign language for when Jacob was underwater. Nicky grabbed his chest with both hands, then hugged himself, then pointed to Jacob. “Mom wants you.” Then he slashed his hand across his throat. “Urgent.”

Jacob sprang out of the water, pushing off the bottom like a frog, leaving little clouds of silt behind him. He glided to the bottom of the cliff, scaled the mangrove roots to the top, and swung his body up to the ledge with more grace than his older brother could ever hope to manage.

“They’re coming,” Nicky whispered, but Jacob had already raced by him on the trail, disappearing into the mist.

AmandaKMorgan said...

From ROADIE

I have been trapped in this port-a-potty for about two hours.

I came in here to check my hair in one of those blurry little mirrors on the door, and now I can’t get out. I think the plastic has swollen or something, or maybe my ex-boyfriend Liam snuck backstage and is outside holding the door while simultaneously high-fiving his buddies.

Three flies buzz happily around the toilet. I’m tired, but I don’t want to A) sit on the throne of nastiness or B) lean against anything, because port-a-potties are used for a lot more than just going to the bathroom. So I’m sort of slumping awkwardly, trying not to gag or touch anything.

I step carefully on the toilet seat to see if I can see outside. “Is anyone out there?” I call through the tiny holes near the top. I feel a tiny trickle of fresh air, and close my eyes.

No one answers.

Sweat drips down my nose. It has to be like a hundred degrees today. Go figure that the weather had to go and increase the suck-o-meter reading. My vision feels slow, and the light is hot and gray, like the plastic walls. I feel wobbly and drunk.

I groan. Go figure that I had to just beg the concert security guards to use the slightly more private (AKA not overflowing) port-a-potties backstage. The guard just looked me up and down, checking for appropriate hotness levels, and let me back without even arguing.

Speaking of which, where was he? “Hey!” I yell. I kick at the door. “Let me out!” My nose starts to tingle from the smell, and I sneeze.

Silence. I am so going to be stuck in here. Forever.

I give up and lean against the hot plastic wall.

Allen B. Ogey said...

OVERBOARD

The morning started like any other on our farm outside St Joseph, Missouri . Dawn lightened the gloom in our cabin, cocks restless to leave the roost began to crow, and the smell of my sister’s cooking wafted from below. I lay on our corn shuck bed in the loft hoping for another few minutes of drowsiness, but I could hear my father clumping down the ladder to the kitchen. He would soon be calling for my brother and I to bestir ourselves.

Drowsiness was fast evaporating anyway as I became conscious of an uncomfortable chill. My kid brother Caleb, scrappy even while sleeping, had managed as usual to hog all of the old quilt that constituted our bedding. To pay him back I rolled off the bed, grasped the edge of the quilt with both hands, and gave it a vicious jerk. The results were better than average as he shot clean off the bed and landed with a satisfying thump. Before he had time to untangle the quilt or his wits I had thrown my shirt and britches to the floor of the cabin and was down the ladder.

My sister Angeline turned from stirring eggs at the stove. “You know that Caleb’s just going to lay for you all day to get you back, so why do you do that to him?”

“Because the little bastard steals the covers every night, you know that.”

“Yes, I know that. I also know that if he was your size you wouldn’t dare, just as you wouldn’t dare exercise your filthy mouth like that if Pa were here.”

“Pa’s out sitting on the family throne so I’ll use my mouth as I see fit and Caleb will just have to look out for himself - as will you.”

As I said the last words I pinched her rear with one hand one hand and a piece of bacon with the other . I was pivoting to make my escape when suddenly my breath left my body in a whoosh and I found myself doubled over and wondering why it was so difficult to breathe all of a sudden. Painfully turning my head to the right I perceived a pair of dirty bare feet.

“I ain’t so little anymore, brother, and I figure I just might as well get you back now as wait for later,” said the darling little red haired Caleb, just 15 years old but already approaching six feet tall and well muscled from farm work. He was delighted with my gasping attempts to get air back in my lungs and his eyes were shining in anticipation of a fight. “How’s your day going so far, Silas?”

June said...

YA Romantic comedy

“To be cool you either need to be pregnant or smoke.” –
Student Life, Fact or Fiction
South Adams High newspaper
-By: Francine Louise Randall


“How can you print such crap?” Abby asks.

“It’s not crap,” I say, even though I know it is. I mean anyone who actually believed that statement had to be completely insane. But, since I’m on the South Adams High School Newspaper, and it’s my responsibility to report things kids say, well, I couldn’t be biased. Well at least not in the newspaper anyway.

“So, you believe this?” Abby asks, sounding a little skeptical.

“Well, no, but someone believes it, which is why I wrote it,” I say and poke at my cheese fries. I’m also silently sending her ‘you can back off anytime now’ vibes.
“Then shouldn’t you set them straight?”

This was a question I’d asked myself over and over. I mean, who am I to tell other kids what they should believe? Who’s to say I’m not nuts? And of course there is that line I’m not sure I should cross, you know, the fact versus opinion line, which is what Abby was asking me to do. You know, cross that line.

“Well, not actually,” I say. “I’m just supposed to report things, not comment on them. That would be editorializing and I don’t do that. Anyway, people need to form their own opinions not just agree with mine.”

“Humph,” she says and gives me a whatever shrug, and I know what that means. It means that she doesn’t agree with me, but isn’t going to push me which was good. My vibes must have reached her.

I stare down at the quote topping my Fact or Fiction article about student life and shake my head. It was garbage. I was a major joke. My parents insisted that junior year was supposed to be challenging, not superfluous. I was supposed to be preparing for college, you know, taking the PSAT’s, the SAT’s, and the ACT’s, (good thing my mom is a kindergarten teacher so I already know my ABC’s!)

Last year when my parents pulled out a bunch of college brochures for me to look through, I come to one conclusion. I need an extra curricular activity. I mean, I’m not academically fortunate enough for my grades to carry me into college. I’m not a bad student, but I’m far from the top of my class. And since I’m way too uncoordinated, athletics were out. The paper seemed like the best choice. It also helped that I learned if you took the required classes, and wanted to be on it, they had to let you on the paper.

“Ya know Abby, I could always interview you for the paper, then you could set them straight,” I offer.

Her one eyebrow shoots up.

“I’m just say’in,” I shrug.

“Oh, like it really matters. All you ever write is fluff. You never get any real stories to write.”

Mon Chéri said...

FATEFUL
Danielle put her hand on the cool airplane window as she looked down at the huge city sprawling across the ground below her. To her it looked like a frightening gray maze peaking up at her through interspersed cumulus clouds. Somehow menacing, threatening even. As if it were sending up a mental promise…You shall surely lose your way here, and then fall victim to the mysteries that lurk within the shadows of a city as old as this. Her stomach twisted into nervous knots at the sight of it.

London, England.

A feeling of dread was settling around her shoulders, like the choking London fog that has plagued this city. It was the perfect place for someone like her to be swallowed up into the maze that it was. She had a notorious knack for getting herself utterly and quite miserably lost.

Her jaw was clenched tightly in distress. The knots inside her stomach churned nervously again. This was the oldest city she had ever dreamed of visiting. With a population of seven million, or some absurd number like that, it was also the largest. Her home of Glenwood Springs, Colorado was dwarfed in comparison with a population of only nine thousand, and she still managed to get lost there far too frequently.

Danielle let out an audible groan startling the woman seated next to her. After managing a weak smile to convince the woman she was okay, she thought to herself, I’m going to get so lost here.

In most areas, she felt fairly self-confident. She had earned a scholarship to Central St. Martin’s College of Art in London. She had earned a black belt in American Kenpo Karate about a year ago. She would like to think she could defend herself pretty well, yet just trying to find her way around an unknown place has always been one of her biggest fears.

CDR said...

SUNSHINE KIDS MAKE MONAY

The 21A Takes Me Home From Work

The 21A Westbound is always four to seven minutes late on Tuesdays. I find that this route generally runs on time during the other six days of the week; but, on Tuesdays, this is not the case.

Today is a Tuesday. Tuesdays anger me. Tuesdays anger me in the same way twisty straws anger me – the inevitability of their existence beyond tomorrow is always guaranteed.

I notice that there is an unusually large amount of people waiting for the 21A Westbound today. It’s exceptionally large for a Tuesday.

“Suckers!” I think to myself.

I scan the crowd, looking for one of the unsuspecting commuters to angrily check their watch, and then glance at the posted route schedule with a dissatisfied squint.

Come on, fishes. Bite my hooked worm. You know you want to.

“Aha! Got one!”

I accidentally say that part aloud. Some old lady looks at me. What a bitch. Don’t look at me old lady. Look at your floral designed purse that is probably filled with pills and pictures of children and grandchildren who consistently disappoint you.

Now, where was I? Ah, yes. My fishie. He’s a young one. Early twenties: a yuppie guppy. He is pissed off, and the bus is only two-minutes late thus far.

He probably doesn’t ride the bus that much. Probably drives a Volkswagen Golf. Foreign. Semi-chic. Good gas mileage. Business in the front, sensible storage space in the back for weekend warrior gear.

This guppy is really mad! Stupid fishie. The 21A is always four to seven minutes late on Tuesday. You don’t know that though, do you? That’s cause you’re a fish.

The old lady is still glancing at me. What’s her deal? So I accidentally said one of my thoughts aloud. Big deal? Hasn’t she ever thought aloud? Maybe I should ask her. No, she’s old and stupid.

I have to pee. I should have peed before I left work. Stupid pee. I hate peeing. I wish people didn’t pee. I wish they could just be. No eating, no peeing, no pooping, no sweating, no nose blowing. Just being. Like that Beatle said.

Maybe I should pee on that old lady. No, then she would never stop looking at me. I’ve only peed on someone in public three times. It never ends well.

I look at the fish again. He is really pissed off now. A vein bulges in his neck like a worm trying to escape a fishing hook. Fitting. I wonder if I could catch a pike with his vein? I bet I could.

Except, maybe I don’t want to, they’re so bony and hard to filet. Damn it I hate pike, they—-

The bus is here. Five minutes and thirteen seconds late. I get on the bus. The bus driver has loose and floppy jowls that jiggle when he talks. I always have to resist the urge to play with his skin like it’s fresh, fluffy bread dough.

CDR said...

Oops, the tile should be SUNSHINE KIDS MAKE MONEY

CB said...

2004
It was a year I ran away and did not. It was as though my heart, hiding in the bushes, hiding in my house, hiding out as best it could, but unable to go undetected,
got cornered, and a bigger than life demolition truck pulled up and said, Ok, out with the rest of it.

I would have gladly taken off for the woods then, but I had to roll up my inclination for flight a little while longer, plunge it into my back pocket, and take care of things I had not caused, nor earned, because I could.

Then, afterwards, it left, carrying all its newness and I was alone again, wanting what I could not want, with empty arms, feeling as though I had committed the crime.

It wasn’t really the year I ran away. I was so stricken. I just stood there in shock,
looking at the hole that had once held my sweetest identity.

Sometimes you have to look long and hard at the holes in your life.

It was two years later that I actually ran away. It was a glorious time too. I was wicked and free and never coming back.

Oh but I did. Eventually my dancing shoes relaxed and I came home again. I came home so I could be free and not run, and home embraced me. The hole, like a scar, where my old heart had been excavated, was covered over. Sometimes a glowing light, like a ghost murmuring in its sleep, turned and moaned, but mostly it stayed silent in its grave.

Not all things we love have to come to an end. But some, that do, are too awful to look in the face. These we leave behind or in holes. Eventually, no one sees where the earth
around us has been disturbed. Only we know.

I like to think something beautiful danced in that heart. It turned into what and who I am today and I have gone on. But in 2004, really before my heart or soul or body could escape, I watched as it was swallowed in ragged mouthfuls by something I had once loved inconsolably.

Christopher Ryan said...

From The Ishmael Blade

Christopher Ryan


The girl’s exhalations appear on the passenger-side window but when she reaches to spell her name it disappears. She tries again hotter this time but only half of her name is caught before the air erases it. She instead turns her attention to what lies beyond the car, peering into the jagged and grievous space between the roadside gulch and last season’s crops in the hopes of spotting life – a bat, a wolf, or perhaps a giant white owl – but nothing. Only the rotting gray carcasses of diseased corn, like a mass grave filled with collapsed, arrow-shaped lungs.

Cutting through the plains near sundown it as if the land has laid down to sleep under a blanket of blood-red wheat. The girl holds her hand out the window and lets a few outlying stalks slap against her palm. She grasps a few bits and breaks open the stiff and dry grain in her small, strong hands, then blows it toward the boy.

The seeds catch in his clothes and stick to his face.

Hey, he says, digging his fingers into his short-cropped hair and briefly but violently massaging his scalp until it is hot and pulsing, as if it were his heart thudding against the top of his skull. Satisfied, he slides his hand beneath the hem of the girl’s dress and moves it slowly upward, exposing the intricately tattooed canvas of her legs. He stops when he reaches the scars of the self-imposed brands that circumscribe her upper thigh, the textured skin like Braille for a person lost upon the surface of her body.

The girl appears to be smiling, the corners of her mouth turned upward like tiny scythes, but isn’t – her mouth’s expressions are an afterthought, inconclusive and autonomous. She turns up the music only to realize she hates this song. It’s nearly twenty minutes long and sounds like a thunderstorm splitting open the a train full of horses.

Do you mind if I – the girl says, already searching for a new track.

Yes.

Please?

No. It’s not –

The girl intercepts the boy’s hand from the radio and places it on her breast. Please? she repeats.

Whatever, the boy says, but she is already on another disc entirely, searching for the right song. She chooses a snotty anarchist anthem with a simple chord progression and poor sound engineering, and while the boy pretends to hate it, the girl looks happier, if only for a moment, and he says nothing.

lesleylsmith said...

"I feel like I have to be in two places at once," I said to my cousin Ryan as we stood on the corner, waiting for the light to change. We'd just come from Boulder Brews where we bought coffee and cinnamon rolls on our way to work.

"That would be a good trick. Why do you have to be two places at once?" He peered down at me from his six-foot-plus height.

The sun was exceptionally bright and I squinted up at Ryan, wishing I'd worn sunglasses. "I need to be in St. Louis with my boyfriend and I need to be here in Boulder for my new job." I sighed. It was going to be tough not living with Ted anymore, not seeing him first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

"What happened when you told him you were moving?" Ryan asked.

Debating what to say, I took a sip of coffee. "We didn't break up, but it wasn't pretty. At first he seemed supportive," I said. "He said congratulations and everything. Then he asked me if I took the job-as if there was some question about it. Obviously I took it, anybody would take it. Then he got whiny, asking what it meant for me and him. He actually brought up that we had talked about talking about getting married." Some coffee slopped out of my cup as I gestured with it.

Ryan emitted a combination snort-laugh. "Lame."

"I know." The crowd waiting to cross the street was getting very big. "Jeez, this is a long light."

"Don't change the subject," Ryan said.

"I knew he was just upset because he loves me and he thought I was leaving him, but I started getting a little torqued at his selfishness. So..."

"So, let me guess, you blew up at him?" Ryan asked.

"Yeah, there was some yelling." I grinned. "But later we made up, and let me tell you, the make-up sex was great."

"Ugh." Ryan frowned. "Too much information."

I laughed. "You're such a guy, Ryan."

I took another sip of coffee and thought about Ted. It was wonderful being with a guy like Ted who actually understood what I did for a living. Mentioning elementary particles like quarks and neutrinos to most folks made their eyes glaze over.

I was still thinking about him when the walk sign lit up and I absentmindedly stepped off the curb into the crosswalk.

Something slammed into me. My coffee and cinnamon roll flew out of my hands in slow-motion and my book bag thumped against my back before taking its own trajectory. My left-leg and hip crumpled just before I hit the pavement with a splat. As my fingertips dug into the gravel and asphalt, I struggled to lift my head up off the ground, to decipher what was happening. What was going on and why didn't it hurt?

Mark Terry said...

HOT MONEY
By
Mark Terry

I stepped up to the security checkpoint in the Russell Senate Office Building and presented my ID and turned over my laptop.

The Capitol Police cop studied my creds and checked my name against her computer. “Dr. Davis,” she said. “You’re expected. You know the way?”

“I do.”

She waved me through the metal detector and I picked up my computer and proceeded through the rotunda of the building with its white marble statue of Senator Richard Russell. The statue stood in what the sculptor probably thought of as a leadership posture, but I’ve always noted that the right hand is low and palm up—like he was waiting for some lobbyist to lay some green in his palm.

Senator Stephen McGarrity, Republican from Oklahoma, had his suite of offices at the far end of the hallway on the fourth floor. The Russell Senate Building actually has five floors, but due to Capitol Hill and the requirement that the building not be taller than the Capitol, only three of those floors are above the ground.

Staffers in the hallways didn’t seem to recognize me, or at least pretended not to. As I walked along the hallway, though, a female Democratic Senator from New York saw me and nodded. We knew each other. They call me when they need me, but rarely wish to acknowledge the necessity of our relationship.

My business card read:
Austin Davis, PhD
Political Consultant

It should have a skull and crossed bones beneath my name with the line: I know where the bones are buried.

Sometimes I’m the one who buries them.

* * *

Senator McGarrity ushered me into his private office almost immediately. That was the perfect barometer of his problem that required my skills. Senators keep you warming your ass as standard operating procedure unless your campaign donations are into six figures. When they need to partake of my particular brand of spin-doctoring, politicians try to give the impression they’re doing me some sort of favor by hiring me--even if they’re practically soiling themselves in their urgency to acquire my services.

McGarrity gripped my hand in a well-practiced fashion, but I noticed it was a little damp. There were also no staffers in the office. Interesting.

“Have a seat, Austin. How have you been?” There was just enough Okie twang in his voice to be charming.

I took a chair in front of McGarrity’s red cherry desk, crossed my left leg over my right and carefully adjusted the crease of my Armani suit. It’s charcoal with a faint gray pinstripe. I have all my suits tailored because it’s a bitch getting them to fit my shoulders. Also, I find it presents the right image to politicians to look better than they do. Politics is about power and favors and impressions and image. And part of my image is that I have more money and power than they do.

Because I do.

Miss Java said...

Nameless fantasy short story

Panno entered the cave and he felt the earth’s pulse leave him; the dead deer on his shoulders now weighed more that he had thought possible. He shifted, thanking the good earth that he was not one of the pulseless ones. He couldn’t even imagine having to bare burdens such as this all of the time.

After a few steps, he stopped, gagging on the stench. Whether it was the filth of the captives inside the cave’s depths or the rankness of the Atkolat, their wards, it was hard to tell. The pulseless creatures didn’t care about the smell; all they seemed to be concerned about was being fed.

He dropped the carcass to the ground and waited, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dimness of his surroundings. Then in the recess ahead, he could see them, the Atkolat, moving towards him. Their pale skin and black eyes emerged from the darkness as they crept towards him, stalking Panno like prey.

Panno dug his bare heels into the stone floor. He wasn’t certain if he could outrun them, but if necessary, he would try.

A male Atkolat, only wearing a soiled loin cloth, came forward first. He was a chieftain perhaps, if they had any such thing. He smiled, displaying his filthy, pointed teeth. “Ahhh,” he said, “You have brought flesh.”

irishwop said...

1. The Standout

“I guess, in the end, nothing we do really matters.”

Mrs. White pulled the scarf from her bite. Before she could speak the room erupted.
I was dry-mouthed, but the applause made me smile. She made her way to the front, quieting the students with suppressing arm gestures.

“Is that how you really feel? Or is this just how you’re interpreting Nietzsche?”

I set my folder down and took a drink of water. I did not like standing in front of the class any longer than was required. A tremor made it difficult to steady the styrofoam cup.

“I think it’s how we all feel.”

A loud FUCK YEAH from Boris, the kid in the Iron Maiden shirt who’d been in the special education class the prior semester. Once the laughter subsided, front-row Suzanne shot her rigid arm towards the acoustical ceiling tile. Mrs. White’s eyes were still on me, mouth agape, but she pointed at Suzanne.

“I certainly don’t feel that way, Mrs. White.”

Mrs. White nodded her head ‘yes’ as the bell rang. The classroom was unusually hot for a San Francisco March. Public school meant no air conditioning and the students cleared the room within seconds. I wasn’t surprised when Mrs. White asked me to stay, ushering me into her office.

Mrs. White was in her late forties. You could tell she was hot when she was younger, a slender, curvaceous form with high cheekbones and dark eyes. I even heard that she was a model back in the sixties. I’d fantasized about her asking me into her office a dozen times. I think I jacked off to her within the past couple of weeks. But suddenly I didn’t feel turned on. I felt bad for her.

“You know how upset I was, Damon, when you dropped my honors class, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“And although I attempted to dissuade your request to be demoted to ‘average’ classes, I went along with it, didn’t I? Even though this move will drastically affect your ability to get into a good university. You said I’d understand, that I’d see, but I still don’t.”

Glasses slid down her nose as she rummaged through a file.

“The reason you gave being, uh, okay here… I quote: ‘In all honesty, I’d rather spend time with my friends than do homework’. We can’t force you to excel, but once again, I

Miss Sharp said...

MON AMI L'ENNEMI

“De la misère,” Marcelle muttered under her breath. She cast her needle and thread aside. “I confess, I hate sewing.”

Sophie blinked. “Are you going to leave again?”

“I really should be at the trading post.” Marcelle looked with longing at the bright sunshine pouring through the open door. “Louis gets the accounts into such a snarl.”

“Don’t blame your brother that you’d rather keep a ledger than a husband,” said Yvette.

Marcelle rolled her eyes, picked up her needle and jabbed it into a piece of cloth. “He probably needs help. It’s been so busy. New soldiers arrive every day, it seems.”

“Soldiers? Bah!” Yvette yanked on her own thread with a vengeance. “Really, Marcelle, when are you going to --”

A shadow moving across the doorway caught Marcelle’s attention. She stood, handed her quilting squares to Sophie, and untied her apron.

“Where are you going?” Sophie asked.

“Louis just went by,” Marcelle answered. “I didn’t realize it was getting so late.” She tossed her thimble into her pocket, aware of the disdainful looks Yvette and Sophie were exchanging behind her back. “Au revoir!”

As she emerged from Sophie’s cottage, Marcelle heard the familiar sound of her brother’s handcart creaking over the rocky path.

“Marcelle!” he called, waving.

“Louis!” She motioned for him to stop. As she approached, she saw that the cart was filled with packs of maple sugar. “I can help you with that,” she offered. “It will go faster with two.”

Louis tilted his straw hat and scratched his head. “If you’re done sewing, I’m sure Maman has plenty for you to do at home.” He gave a push and the cart wheels creaked.

“I won’t stay, I’ll just help you unload and go right home,” she cajoled, already walking with him.

“Chuési prend pire, Marcelle. You’ll never learn to cook properly,” he said, only half joking.

Soon they came in sight of the trading post, a small, thatch-roofed structure, where a group of soldiers waited for Louis’ arrival. Marcelle was used to seeing soldiers walking about in their red coats and black tri-corn hats; the military garrisons scattered throughout Acadia had become a part of everyday life for many Acadians. Since the redcoats were very good patrons, Marcelle smiled politely as she helped Louis finish their transactions.

After the soldiers departed, a group of Acadian men from a neighboring village entered the post. “Have you heard the latest?” one of them asked.

Louis shook his head. “Nothing since yesterday, Stefan.”

“It’s not good news.” Stefan gestured to Marcelle to close the window shutters, craning his neck toward the door to make sure no one was there before he continued. “All Acadians are ordered to take a new oath,” he said grimly. “This time we must promise to take up arms against the King of France. We can remain neutral no longer, they say.”

“Those English bastards!” added one of the men, pounding the table, his face red.

calendula said...

DEMONHEAD – urban fantasy, 80,000 words


Most of the chaos in my life has started with a phone call from my mother, and today was no exception.

My cell phone was crooning the special ring tone I’d come up with for her--Chopin’s “Funeral March.” I sighed, leaving it in my pocket as I worked my way down the crowded sidewalk. It was a bright sunny day on Telegraph Avenue, and I was headed to the Caffe Med for a double-shot mocha, and to meet up with my friends Scott and Gia. I was late, but not by much.

"It’s your mother," Cleone said, an intimate whisper in my inner ear.

“I know.” I still didn’t answer it.

"She’s going to have your hide if you don’t answer..."

“Aren’t you supposed to be on my side?” I asked. He didn’t answer, and the music continued. Finally, it stopped, then restarted almost immediately.

I dug the phone out of my jeans pocket before Cleone could nag at me again. “Hi, Mom.”

“Sybil,” she breathed into the phone, stretching out the ess. “You must come home right away. Something horrible has happened.”

"Red light," Cleone murmured. I stopped short on the sidewalk, narrowly avoiding stepping into traffic. Caffe Med was a half a block away now. I could see the sign, and could already smell the coffee.

“I can’t,” I said. The light turned green and all us pedestrians surged into the street, causing the red-light runners to screech to a halt, honking and swearing. Now the intersection was jammed in both directions, and people were walking every which way, weaving around the trapped cars. Cleone kept whispering directions, which my mind obeyed almost without listening any more, keeping me from running into too many people or tripping over my own feet. “I’m heading to an appointment,” I said into the phone. “I’m late already. I’ll be home in an hour, okay?”

“No!” The urgency in her voice was nothing new. Maybe I did hear something else underneath it, but I immediately discounted that. My mother was quite the drama queen, but then again, most queens are. “You have to come home right now! I need your help!”

I arrived at the front door of the cafe. As I had expected, Scott and Gia were already there. It was only four blocks from campus, and class had ended half an hour ago. They’d snagged a small round table near the front door--not our favorite, but maybe our second or third favorite. “Strong work,” I whispered, holding the phone between shoulder and ear as I grabbed the chair they’d left me. It left me with my back facing the room, which I used to hate a lot more before I got Cleone. Which of course was foolish, since he needed my eyes to see out of just as I did, but, whatever. Maybe I was just growing up.

jaredtamarkin said...

From ACTS OF JUNIA -

Whatever it was, I didn’t see it.

Out on the road, where stopping betrays weakness the thieves can smell, Junia stood facing the side of the road even though she knew better. Her foot lay in a tremendous pile of horse filth and a furious blur of dislocated flies throbbed around her head. We weren’t yet the seasoned travelers we’d become, but we had gone over the rules before we left Tarsus. I saw through her veil that her expression was incongruously blank. She trembled as if crippled with the same fear that wafted from my gut with each passing minute.

I tried her name, then a gentle nudge, and pulled away when I felt lightning coursing through her body. I walked around to intercept her stare but her eyes remained fixed on some point behind me. “We need to move.” No response. “Don't you realize you’re standing in a pile of . . .?”

Finally, she focused on my face. “Alph, it was the strangest thing . . .” It didn’t matter what she said after that, the strangest thing in that instant was that she was speaking Hebrew.

I’m fluent in ten languages and could’ve easily answered her in the tongue she’d chosen. I had only used Hebrew in the Synagogue, and then only with the Rabbis and Pharisees. “What in Hell?” was the best I could muster in our own vulgar Aramaic.

“You didn’t see him?”

“What’s with the Hebrew? How. . .” Junia wasn’t listening as I darted my glance back and forth between the horizon and her befouled sandals.

“He was right here.” She pointed at nothing in the sand and scrub.

“Junia, enough. I’m impressed with the Hebrew but we need to keep the triniculum tricks to the privacy of our own triniculum. If they see us standing here like this yammering in Hebrew, a woman . . .”

“We need to go to Damascus,” she declared in Aramaic, giving no other indication she’d heard what I said. “What’s that smell?”

“Look at your feet. We are going to Damascus. As we speak. In tongues.”

Junia stepped out from the dung pile and uselessly shook her feet, still oblivious to the flies careening off her clothes. “We don’t have much time.”

Anonymous said...

Hearing other people's thoughts was a curse Tristan never wished for.

A predawn windstorm left the sidewalks covered with a layer of white flower blossoms, destroying the display of spring. It had been a relief when the radio announced the possibility of school-closures, due to power outages; his appointment with the guidance counselor would've been canceled. Now that everything was back on schedule, Tristan kicked snowball-sized clumps of flower wreckage to relieve festering aggressions on his way to school. Ordinarily, these meetings were avoided at all costs, and they had been, every time.

He heard the thoughts of the girl ahead of him as she stuffed her gum into the roaring mouth of the school's mascot: a large cement lion perched at the base of the stairs. She was calculating how many pieces it would take to cover the entire statue, protesting the latest 'no gum in school' law, and whether or not she could spread the word without being caught as the instigator.

Tristan turned his back on her and the imposing building that looked more like a prison with windows, needing more time to gather his nerve. If his favorite teacher hadn't gotten involved, there wouldn't be any obligation. He headed back toward the school entrance, ignoring the mental buzz of early arrivers.

This isn't a real shrink, he reminded himself, stopping at the lion to let a rush from the school bus pass ahead of him. Just a counselor who isn't good enough to be a shrink. But he couldn't fool himself. Even bad counselors could get him thinking about psychological disorders, along with other subjects he avoided. One more year of school, his pep talk continued, you won't have to fake being normal for anyone. He took a deep breath and merged with the student traffic, herded up the stairs and into the building like a lamb to the slaughter.

Ms. Larson's office must have been a closet at one point. There were no windows and her desk barely fit, pulled away from the wall and facing the door. There'd be no way he could sneak in without her noticing.

"I wasn't sure I would actually see you today," Ms. Larson said, distributing colored folders to specific piles on her desk. She adjusted rhinestone-reading glasses to the tip of her flat nose, and slid a stack of files to the side before settling back in her chair. "I assume you're Tristan?"

He already regretted showing up and dropped his backpack as an answer to the question.

She motioned toward a chair, transferred a stack of files to the floor, and then took off her glasses to look at him. "How do you like school in Michigan?"

Tristan shrugged. He liked it enough to hope his mother wouldn't pick up and move before summer break, but that wasn't any of Ms. Larson's business.

"And your parents? I assume you get along with them okay?"

She obviously hadn't read his file.

MJ said...

Just for fun! (WIP: Young Adult Fantasy)

With every lurch of the wagon, Lyna was reminded of her father's words: "You are not my daughter." Every time the horse neighed, the distance between her and her past grew. The rhythmic beating of the horses' hooves against the dirt road, the winding scenery of trees and houses, the cloud of dust surrounding the wagon – all these were proof that she was not dreaming. She was not who she thought she was.

Lyna wanted to sleep, but when she closed her eyes, she saw herself standing in her house – but it wasn't her house. Her father's damning words had made that clear. No, she was a pariah. Her past was not hers, and whatever future she had envisioned – that too was erased.

How could her life change in one moment? How had she not seen the truth? Suddenly all the clues were there. She chuckled, but it was only cruel. Her father would not let her touch her mother's recipes. No. Gabriel would not let her touch Russeah's recipes. Of course he wouldn't. He knew she was not his daughter – no, she was a brief houseguest, a paying houseguest. Gabriel made a lot of money because of her.

The bitterness and the pain choked Lyna. She pressed her face against the cool glass of the window. A man – he said his name was General Basot – was in the hackney with her. She didn't want him to see her tears again. He had seen enough in the house. She felt cloaked in shame – her desperation, her tears, her pleading voice – it would all haunt her forever.

She didn't know where they were going. She remembered General Basot telling her as she was climbing into the hackney…but she felt like she was living in a world of thundering cold rain. What he said, what she said, what anyone said – nothing was clear.

Lyna sighed against the window and her breath cooled a circle of perspiration on the glass. She looked through the circle at the brown houses they passed. They must be headed, eventually, for the Royal City. Where else would she go? But, perhaps, she would be a paying guest for another family, another world, another life. It didn't matter. Lyna couldn't get herself to care. They could take her to the Nazeed River in Antisse. She wouldn't know the difference.

"Princess." Lyna didn't move or answer, but he seemed to know she was not asleep. "We are in Canvas now. There's food, if you are hungry." Lyna nodded. She didn't know if he saw.

Luc2 said...

The River of Youth is a misnomer, Larynd thought. It’s more like a wadi. Full in the spring of life, dry and empty before fall. She held her hand before her face, and studied the bluish veins, the loose yellow skin and the deepening wrinkles with a horrid fascination in the light of the setting sun. She chuckled without mirth, and wondered if she feared physical decomposition more than the afterlife.

The sound of horseshoes ringing through the courtyard woke Larynd from her musings. Horseshoes, but not the familiar rumbling of their cart.

She leaned forward over her desk, but not to peer out the window. Curios as she was, age had learned her two things: patience, and the knowledge that bad news always came too soon. Instead, she took a small box of reddish, polished wood and lifted a little bone statuette from the blue velvet lining. She smiled at the delicately carved face of the bust, with large eyes, a high forehead and a long, straight nose. “The world is changing, Aulrich, and you’re letting me face it alone. Well, not alone. I have Jerum, the Moon be praised. You’d be proud of him.”

The bone face didn’t answer. It never did. Larynd didn’t mind. Aulrich traveled the spirit world now. His communication was without words. She kissed the figurine, and returned it to its box.

Someone knocked on the door, the usual three short raps. Her son entered without waiting for a reply.

“Mother! A messenger from the Assembly. For you. He rode here straight from Kheld. There will be a conclave, just as I thought.”

She feigned surprise. “Oh, he told you about the conclave?”

Jerum shook his head. “What else could it be?”

Nothing else, Larynd conceded silently. As infectious as Jerum’s enthusiasm often was, she didn’t share it this time. Change was upon the world, and although change often meant progress, she wondered which path this progress would lead them down. Magic was a wonderful thing, yes, but dangerous as well. Its dynamics went well beyond the visible, the understandable, even beyond the imaginable.

She suppressed a shiver, and smiled at Jerum. “If there’ll be a conclave you will come. I’ll need your help. Now, bring the man.” She may have learned patience, but that didn’t mean she had to waste time.

Jerum returned a minute later, followed by a tall, graying man. The man bowed. Then Jerum left, closing the door behind him.

Larynd had trouble breathing. “Peridon? What brings you here?”

The man straightened, smirking. “Evidently, I didn’t come for your kind welcome words and warm embrace, Mistress.”

Heat rose to her face. He had always made her uncomfortable.

As Peridon settled himself, the smirk disappeared. “I was sent to protect you. There’s a rift at the Council, and this new breed of wizards is growing. Even some at the Council have these new abilities.”

Larynd clapped a hand to her mouth. Bad news always came too soon.

pjd said...

Gold Miner's Daughter - YA - 56,000 words

Andie watched the doctor as he dabbed her father's forehead with a damp cloth. The fever had been sudden; even just that afternoon her father had returned from the river, boots caked and hair matted with red-brown dust, smiling to beat the sun for the two twenty-dollar nuggets he'd found. Some salted pork and old bread for dinner, and by nightfall the burning sweat was dripping from his shaking body, his dusty clothes soaked through.

Andie had seen this before, in other men, weaker men. In the jungle in Panama, one man went to bed well and woke up dead. That man's traveling companion, a shoe maker from Philadelphia, took the fever that evening, and Andie sat up with him all night tending to him, giving him water, talking softly to him. For him, the fever broke enough so they got him to a building that someone called a "hospital" in Panama City, and there they left him.

The doctor glanced at her, worry in his wrinkled brow and a scowl hidden by his scraggled mining camp beard. He had thrown his doctoring coat over his pajamas and yanked on his boots to run from his own canvas tent to hers. Stumbled, more like. Even before they crammed themselves in beside her father's shivering figure she could smell the whiskey seeping through the doctor's skin. Whiskey mingled with stale sweat and the tart scent of evening pine and the smell of a canvas shirt that had gone too long without a washing, like a moldy sail.

"So..." The doctor's voice had a wavering quality to it like the flickering candlelight dodging around the inside of the little tent. "Have you and your father been here long?"

"Just over a month, sir." Andie marveled that he didn't already know that.

Turning in place where he squatted next to her father, he faced her and let his gaze rove slowly up and down. His beard cracked with a wide grin, and his dull eyes seemed not to sparkle at all in the flickering candlelight. He sniffed one long sniff and wiped his hand across the front of his mouth. "How old are you?"

Andie knew of only two kinds of boys that asked that question: young ones who wanted to know if you were too old to play make-believe, and grown men wanting to know if you were too young to get married. "I turned fourteen the day we left Sacramento," Andie replied, trying not to sound any particular way.

"You're a fine young woman," the doctor said with a wink. Then he stood, or stooped rather, even though her father had built them a tent tall enough for a man to stand straight up in. The doctor was tall, taller than most men, but he was lanky and awkward and had a difficult time panning in the river with all that bending over and stooping low.

G.G. said...

DEATH DEFYING

Turns out some things in life are impossible to prepare for and if you're smart, lucky, or blessed, you'll stay away from them. But then sometimes you don't get to choose.

I am not sure I'm ready for this. I see the doctor's mouth opening, see it in slow motion, and I want to jump at him, clapping my hand over his lips so the words soak into my palm where I can scrub them off later.

Deep mahogany panels deaden the voices that try to seep under the door from the busy front desk. Contrasting with the cold fluorescent light everywhere else, a brass lamp's warm yellow glow softens the features of the white-coated man sitting across the desk from me. Reclining comfortably in a hobnailed leather chair, he is dropping a grenade into my life.

I really don't think I'm ready for this. Why had I thought my scheme so clever? To take whatever happens like a warrior and heroically manage the fallout. Now, trapped in this civilized room, the faintest curl of cigar smoke lingering illicitly in the same air gulped by people dying of lung diseases, remembering Michael and my little Elle slumbering unknowingly in their beds, doubt dawns darkly. Maybe I am neither warrior nor hero.

But I am a good girl, and so I let him say his words, and while the doctor tells me I'm dying he stares straight into my eyes. I look away first, a pleasant expression frozen on my face, and I glance briefly past him out the window where the Rocky Mountain sky hangs just as crisply blue as when I walked across the parking lot a few moments, a lifetime, before. I focus back on his eyes, and try to force my thick throat to swallow. My body goes hot then cold. A strange rush of relief at finally knowing washes over me but quickly drains away, leaving me frozen in terror.

I have come alone. And right now only I hold the knowledge.

What does it feel like, what do you do, when you are told you’re dying? My brain tries to explode but it can’t because all the blood is draining out of it. My hearing and vision have become acutely sharp, odd, now that I know for sure that they will shut down, have always known, of course, and just like all of us have lived so far convincing myself daily that it won't ever really happen.

Every sound that was there all along crescendos; the clock on the wall hammers away what’s left of my life; the low throaty murmur of the receptionist, responding to her lover’s voice on the phone, crawls under my skin; the gentlest creaking of the office door explodes in my ears as the next appointment enters; to be told, I am sure, that their tests are negative.

brian_ohio said...

YA Urban Fantasy - The Haunting Department

It had all started with an 8-track tape player. Oh, not just any old player, but a 1973 Panasonic “Dynamite 8” still in the box with limited warranty card, service announcement and instruction booklet. Sure, it’s not the typical form of musical entertainment used by eighteen year olds these days, but I couldn’t afford an I-Pod or even a used Sony walkman. Besides, when my grandmother willed me the vintage ‘Portable Plunger’ when I was eleven, she’d also included three cardboard boxes filled with tapes. All in pristine condition.

Everything from Steve Miller’s Greatest Hits to Frampton Comes Alive. The best music, at least in my opinion. When I walked around the trailer park with my ‘detonator red’ 8-track player jamming Life in the Fast Lane, people stared. People were jealous. Besides the quality of the nostalgic sound, it was an antique. It would fetch quite a chunk of change on that Internet Auction thing or at the Crow Annual Flea Market.

So for eight years I enjoyed my Dynamite 8. Then, after returning from a camping trip with my mother and her latest boyfriend, I noticed the window of the front door was broken. The only thing missing from our trailer… yep, my 8-track Plunger. And all of my tapes. The cops showed up but it was a joke to them.

That’s when I, Jaggar Fray, turned detective. The responsible party had to be a resident of Featherstone Trailer Park. Had to be. I had my suspicions. Annis Cattel, this fourteen year old punk who spent most of his time in Meyer’s Pond catching frogs… to eat, always eyed my player. Then there was Harley Fudger, the king of fixing junk so it worked perfectly… until he sold it.

So, each night, I took my oversized self out and began my investigation. It started with Annis’s and Harley’s trailers only. But after finding no sign of my 8-track player, I began to spread myself around.

I knew most of the folks in Featherstone, or thought I did. As it turned out, these fine people had a whole other life within their trailers. The fighting over family matters; a daughter sneaking out at night, a mother-in-law refusing to move because she had to take care of her cats, all fifty eight of them. I became addicted to watching these folks. Better then any TV show, that’s for sure. Better then just sitting around the trailer. Especially during the summer. And eventually I forgot all about my 8-track tape player.

My clandestine observations grew. And grew. To the point where I had a targeted path I took nearly every night. It was like watching a multitude of soap operas. Reality Operas, I called them.

I made certain I was never discovered. And even though I was nearly six foot weighing in at two hundred and sixty, I was able to remain invisible. For almost three months. I got really good at it. Really good.

Until that day in early June.

Natalie said...

"Quick and Dead"

I’m a zombie. Actually I prefer “undead,” but people don’t care about political correctness when it comes to those in my particular situation. Now I didn’t ask to be a zombie; I was just driving my car and hit a patch of black ice. Next thing I knew Dark Lord Golkor was telling me that I was his newest minion and gave me a name—Linea. I can’t remember my living name, so I accepted it. Could have been worse, the girl after me got Geraldine. Yikes.

Living as a zombie for some time now, I’ve found there are advantages to being undead. I know what you’re thinking—huh? Sure, you smell, your hair is pretty much a mess, and anyone who sees you screams. But really, there are pros.

The first pro, and the biggest I think, you can get shot like a thousand times and not die. It doesn’t even hurt! Say you’re coming at someone and they have their silver bullets—who cares? As long as they don’t decapitate you, you’re good to go.

Now two—and my personal favorite—you can change parts anytime you want. Not loving your thighs? Find some new, thin, non-cellulite ones and get some good strong thread. Bam, hot legs. Need a new pair of boobs to impress that nearly non-decayed man zombie? Enough said.

Three, no sleep needed. You can just go non-stop. This is especially helpful when out running living humans bent on killing you. Sure, zombies have to be decapitated, but sending a whole village for one zombie is still overkill. Play fair, living people.

There are more, but I think you get my point. It’s not all that bad.

Besides the benefits of zombiehood, I have also learned there are rules to be followed in my years of slow rotting. Rules I’ve learned the hard way, honestly. I don’t know if trouble haunted me while living, but I get the sense that I’ve always had a knack for it.

It started the moment I came into this world. When the Dark Lord gave me my name apparently I was supposed to nod and bow. What did I do?

“So how’d you get to be the Dark Lord? Is that something you earn or something you just kind of inherit?” I heard a lot of gasping in the large catacomb that is Lordane—Dark Lord Golkor’s grand hall. Thankfully, the Master just laughed.

Apparently you’re not supposed to ask the guy questions, and from what I hear I was lucky. Last poor soul who talked to him got eaten. I haven’t been in his actual presence since that day, which I’m thinking is good because my mouth hasn’t gotten any better.

Well, this off-color question immediately got me “Zombie Education.” You know how in school they have a special class for the kids who don’t catch on as quick? Yeah—Zombie Education.

Anonymous said...

Psychological thriller/horror

First Born

PERCY KILBOURNE studied the girl’s soulless eyes.
“Stupid Heather!”
Only a few seconds before, they had been pale blue, and filled with rage that was swept away by a terror so sweet he could still savor it. Finally they had dulled into listless resignation as the machete sliced flesh.
He visualized blazing sparks flying from the child’s inner core, and into his throbbing psyche. It was a fiery sunburst flushing his bulky frame with its raw power. Kilbourne’s violet eyes blazed as the girl’s head came free to dangle in his greasy hand.
“You die--ed?” The smirk escaped bloated lips that dribbled brown tobacco spittle over yellowed teeth, and into a red beard.
Heather did not answer.
Kilbourne poked the head with his bloody machete, and sliced opened a fresh cut across the cheek.
“Talk, girl!” He grinned at the command, then shook her head so violently that the blonde curls danced around it. “You puppet.”
No Mercy Percy shrugged. He was tired of this game. His groin hurt. His 10-year-old niece had brought blood when he shoved her head below his navel.
“Be good,” he said, shaking his finger under her nose. “No bite. No more.”
With his free hand, he opened her tiny fist, one finger at a time, to retrieve a silver dollar, the price of pleasure. Kilbourne slipped it into his shirt pocket. He shoved her body to one side, then walked to the refrigerator, and opened the freezer door.
Kilbourne examined the head. The eyes wide open. The mouth agape in silent agony. Golden curls a bloody mess. Just like he had seen in the movies, he used two fingers to close the eyes before putting the grisly remains into the freezer.
The trailer house was a mess. Blood splattered the wall by the bed. A thin red line traced his journey with the head.
There would be hell to pay. He was late to work.
He started to clean the trailer, but stopped after a few half-hearted swipes with a towel. From deep within his illiterate psyche came one thought. He was not sure where it came from, but it was perfectly clear, infallible.
They would never convict the village idiot.
Exhausted, he decided to take a nap. He was already late for work, anyway.

Emily said...

The Woes of Edward Allen


It was a bad day to be a grim reaper.

Firstly, it was raining. And not in that beautiful mist-on-the-mountains or giving-water-of life, sort of way. This rain was heavy, gray, sapping all the color from the world. Worst of all — it had sunk into Aegis’s shoes. Now every step he took was accompanied by a squelching noise. The trees overhead did little to protect him. The leaves would collect water and then dump it on him. But the weather was merely an afterthought. There was something direr at hand.

He was being hunted.

The hunter was a professional — there was no sound to betray his coming. Actually, that was what had given him away. The deer were gone and even the chirpers had stopped singing. An unnatural silence slithered through the trees like a noxious gas. Aegis kept his gaze forward, despite his every muscle screaming at him to turn and see what kind of enemy approached. But he did not move. Survival instincts be damned, he had to know who was going to pummel before he did. He could always turn and attack, but anyone could do that. Aegis was not just anyone. He would judge the enemy’s worth, and then take them out with a precision strike. No additional energy lost.

Even as he made the decision to stay still, unease churned in his stomach. Perhaps he should have brought in reinforcements. No one would have dared laugh. This was a bizarre assignment.

A loud crack made Aegis flinch. He ducked and looked up. But there was no one there, only a weak branch overhead that had snapped under its own damp weight. Mentally chastising himself for being so weak, Aegis went still.

And a hand grabbed his shoulder.

Aegis reacted instantly, throwing his weight forward and kicking out with a leg. But whoever had him was not letting go.

Aegis slammed his elbow backwards, putting force behind the sharp blow. There was a gasp close to Aegis’s ear — the warm breath tickled, contrasting with the stringing rain. But the attacker loosened his grip and that was all Aegis needed. He whirled and shoved the other man into a tree, digging his forearm into the soft flesh of his attacker’s throat.

Aegis’s eyes widened.

It was just Skiver.

“You!” Aegis’s fingers dug into Skiver’s collar, rending the fabric. “What are you doing here?!”

Skiver blinked slowly. His dark eyes were half-lidded as if he was tired, unconcerned or under the influence of some narcotic.

It was probably all three.

“’Ello!” Skiver said. “Loverly morning,’ isn’t it?” They could have been meeting for breakfast — Skiver’s tone was just that friendly and casual.

A growl ripped from Aegis’s throat. He had just spent five minutes working himself up for nothing. The sudden heat of his anger swelled in his chest, warming his numb fingers, extending outward and drowning out the sound of the rain. His body itched to attack, to draw a weapon and hack at Skiver until that lunatic stopped grinning.

Ann Regentin said...

The Devil's Footstep - contemporary erotica - 140,000 words

Prologue

If it weren’t for the weeks I spent in an Italian hospital, I don’t think Chris would have understood how serious Anika’s condition really was, but with me nursing both a head injury and a baby, he was left to care for the older kids on his own. This brought him face to face with his daughter’s calorie intake, which was disturbingly low.

“You need to eat,” he said to her at every meal.

“I don’t like it,” Anika said, bristling with teenaged sulk.

“What would you like?”

“Nothing. I’m not hungry.”

“You need to eat something.”

“No, I don’t.”

And Chris, unsure how to force the issue, let it slide for another meal.

“Kitty, is Anika all right?” he asked me one night as I was nursing the baby to sleep.

He was relying on me for the truth, and I knew it. “No,” I said. “She’s too thin and she’s not eating enough to sustain what little weight she has.”

“What can we do?”

He wasn't going to like this. “Nothing. She needs medical treatment, possibly inpatient care. She’s not going to get better by herself.”

His mouth hardened. “You did.”

“No, I didn’t,” I said. “I had a breakdown, remember? I was hospitalized. They gave me medication and made me eat.”

He sighed, pacing the bedroom. “I don’t want to send her to another therapist. The last one did enough damage.”

“One bad apple isn’t the whole barrel,” I said. “I found an excellent therapist in the end.”

“I don’t want to risk her getting worse.”

“I’ll help you interview people,” I said. “I know what to look for.”

“Her mother is going to blame me.”

Anika’s mother blamed Chris for everything. So did Anika, when she didn’t blame me. She was going to be furious. “You want to do the best thing or the comfortable thing?” I asked.

“The best thing,” he said, sitting down on the bed and leaning his head against mine.

“How long before someone can see her?” I didn’t know how this worked in Germany.

“As soon as she can see a doctor,” he said. “I’ll take her tomorrow. It might be all day, though. Will you be okay?”

“With my boys? Of course.” Unfortunately, that brought me to our other problem child, my son.

I wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines. “Joe’s doing fine,” Chris said gently.

I started to cry, not sobs, just slow tears that dripped onto the baby’s head. “I’m not so sure.”

“Kitty, he’ll be fine. He seems all right.”

“That’s because Joe withdraws under stress. He’s spending too much time on the Wii or in his room, and I don’t know what’s going on in his head. He isn’t talking to me.”

Chris looked guilty. “I told him to let you rest.”

“Please tell him he doesn’t need to anymore,” I said. “He needs to talk to someone, and that someone is usually me.”

mlh said...

I'm de-lurking now. Heck, I'm not letting an opportunity like this pass by. (Oh, in case you're wondering, I picked Prompt for the contest.)

Olive Frame -fiction-work in progress. Enjoy!

623 Brenner Lane

The blue sedan pulled up to the stop sign at the intersection. As he shifted the gear out of drive, Marlon lifted his foot and pushed down on the black lever to set his parking brake into place. His seat vibrated while the engine idled, he’ll have to take the car to the mechanic on Saturday to get that checked out. Against the steering wheel, his thumbs beat to the music that poured out the back speakers while his eyes counted the row of homes until the farthest disappeared behind the lowered car visor.

At an apartment high-rise two properties from the intersection, a van driver lowered a mechanical ramp out for an older woman confined to a wheelchair and her inattentive caregiver who gabbed on a cell phone. Marlon watched the caregiver’s shoulders that kept shrugging as whoever talked to her on the line appeared to control the entire conversation. Meanwhile, long breaths huffed from the older woman as she showed her impatience for the driver who fumbled at the gear controls. The man was obviously new at the job since everyone in the area, Marlon included, knew that there was an access way to pick up the disabled behind the apartments. A few feet down from the trio, a timid cat started to cross the street. The Stanson’s calico headed toward an inviting flowerbed to do his business for the day at the house numbered 623.

Marlon savagely struck both palms against the steering wheel. The car horn blared down the length of the street sending the feline jumping into the air. The calico darted back to his side of the curb and crashed into the low bushes under the Stanson’s front window.

Up the street from the frightened cat, the van driver glanced hurriedly toward the car. He waved apologetically at the sedan, perhaps believing that Marlon wanted to park by the high-rise. The driver’s hands rushed to operate the controls to lift his soon-to-be passenger into the creaking vehicle so they could be on their way. Neither of the two women cared enough about the horn’s noise to look.

Marlon relaxed back in the seat and laced fingers behind his head. He checked his rearview mirror to see if any vehicles waited behind him while not the least bit sorry for his actions. He had spent too much time planting those flowers to have some fleabag use the beds as their personal litter box. After a long yawn and a good scratch at his scalp, he stared back down the street appraising his house.

LurkerMonkey said...

TOY MAKER (YA, 52,000 words)

Murph had ten minutes, maybe, to hide everything in his room. He knew he was in trouble, he just didn't know how serious it was. It might be pretty bad.

He pushed aside a tottering stack of books on the floor and removed a sleeve of wrenches from underneath. He stuck the wrenches into his black backpack, the one with the specially modified panel in the back. When he zipped it up, the backpack looked just like a normal, empty backpack. As long as his dad didn't lift it up, he should be OK.

Racing to his bed, Murph kicked aside a few broken toys and old stuffed animals, then dropped to the floor. He shook his long brown hair away from his eyes. Quickly, he retrieved a pack of screwdrivers, including the tiny ones that watch makers used. These also went into the backpack, along with a set of needle-nosed pliers, a metal file and three sheets of sandpaper.

Then he lifted up the lamp on his desk and flipped it over. From inside its hollow base, Murph removed a set of X-acto knives and a carefully wrapped packet of fresh blades.

He glanced at his door. Nothing yet, but he was sure it wouldn't be long before he'd hear his dad on the creaky spiral stairs. Murph had to stay cool and make sure he didn't forget anything.

The bottom drawer of his desk yielded a soldering iron and a small container of clear plastic pellets for melting. He grabbed duct tape and electrical tape from the top drawer.

Finally, he lifted up his mattress and whistled softly to himself. "This is going to be a problem."

There was a wide selection of bouncy, springy and elastic items carefully laid out on the box springs. Heavy-duty bungee cords. Large springs he had salvaged from old pogo sticks. Hundreds of smaller springs he had collected over the years. Coils of surgical tubing.

"Oh well," he muttered, scooping it all up and shoving it into his bag.

When he was done, there was no hiding that his bag was stuffed, secret compartment or no. It was so full of springs that if he dropped it, the bag would probably bounce.

Still holding the backpack, Murph ducked out of his room into the hallway and opened the hall closet. His dad kept his scuba gear in here, but he hadn't been diving for years so it was probably safe.

Murph finally heard footsteps on the spiral staircase that led from the main living level up to the second floor. The staircase emerged into the hallway. Working quickly, he unzipped his dad's big dive bag and shoved his backpack in with the fins, mask and snorkel. He zipped it shut and jumped back, pulling the closet door close just as his dad's head poked up on the landing, level with the floor.

"C'mon, Murph," he said. "He just pulled into the parking lot. He's coming up."

"OK, Harry," Murph said, trying to sound casual.

Harry Wolfson gave Murph a strange look, then sighed and disappeared down the steps again.

julcree said...

WIP, contemporary/mainstream with a bit of thriller:

I let the smoke out of my mouth in bursts, so it looked like clouds as it diffused into the space in front of me. I ignored the dirty looks of a few pedestrians, who were offended by my public smoking, and remained tucked into my own thoughts. I absently pulled the cigarette back to the thin seam of my mouth and inhaled deeply, enjoying the feel of my nostrils expanding as much as the taste of the cigarette in the back of my mouth. I wished I could smoke something else, something that might lead me to a happier state of mind. On the nicotine, all I got was unwelcome reality. Which meant that I couldn’t keep Allie out of my head.

I was seven before I realized that my little sister Allie was perfect. In retrospect, I don’t know why it took me so long. All the signs were there all along. I was just too stupid to see it. Now, I couldn’t seem to get away from her perfection; it was suffocating.

I twisted my lips bitterly at the thought and tossed my cigarette, burned almost to the filter now, into the trashcan next to the bus stop bench. People walked in front of me; most didn’t give me a second glance now that I wasn’t engaging in some minor social taboo. I did that a lot, became just another face. There was nothing about me to stand out; I was plain and exceedingly average looking. I was just another loiterer in a city with more than its fair share. I ran a finger on the side of my mouth to check for smudged lipstick and pushed my limp hair off my forehead before pushing away from the bus stop pole.

The metal from the street sign across the street caught the light and struck my eyes, a beacon. I put up my hand to block it while I contemplated which direction to turn. I knew I was going to eventually begin walking to the left, but enjoyed the few seconds of imagining that I could walk to the right.

The right led back to my studio apartment. It was a several block walk, almost unbearable in the heat of summer, from my apartment to the bus stop on Louisiana Ave., but I liked the feel of the sun on my almost bare shoulders. I liked the hard concrete under my shoes and the annoyance of people and cars and cab drivers leaning on their horns. I liked the young boys in their basketball jerseys and caps gesturing to each other as they spoke, and the bitter smell of cars mixed with the sweet scent of oak trees. I liked knowing that I was venturing towards somewhere made for me, twisted to my desires and my body. I liked the idea of what turning right meant. The left led to the one place I really didn’t want to be.

I turned left and began walking.

Jennifer L. Griffith said...

Gumbo Ya Ya - General Fiction-90,000 words

Death stirs up all kinds of gumbo ya ya—most I’d rather forget.

This fact became all too real for me at age seventeen, the start of summer break, 1982.

I barely noticed the moisture from the grass of the cemetery lawn seeping through my black slacks to my knees. Mama had purchased the pants for a different occasion. Not this. Not death. Tears stained the silk shirt borrowed from my older sister, Bet. Mud from yesterday’s rain clung to the high-heeled shoes I’d worn only twice before. Earlier this morning, my cries had mixed with others who wept among the oaks. By noon, I mourned alone.

Shovels struck against a pile of dirt meant to cover what death took away. In time, I too would go back to the earth as dust. Yet I still pondered the purpose of human existence—my existence. Life seemed so futile.

Did I, Sauny Louisa Lefort, only live to die?

Hiding death beneath life’s soil just brought more questions.

Did I love just to grieve? Did it really matter that I lived at all?
The shovels worked against the soil in a random cadence to finish what the backhoe didn’t do earlier. Each strike pounded my already raw heart. Though I wanted to scream, “Stop!” my voice had quit working days before, consumed by the pit that death had thrown me into. The men probably wouldn’t listen, anyway. They had a clear purpose—to cover the casket forever. To leave no evidence this body had ever lived and loved.

Could a headstone say it all?

People liked to blame death for all the wrongs and ills of life. But in truth, “rue” sizzles long before death stirs up any kind of gumbo ya ya. When did mine begin? Probably the day Mama birthed me on the flatbed of Papa’s truck. I can’t answer to that memory. But I do remember the events of a mid-July day in 1974, down on Bayou LaFourche, Louisiana when life played predictable. I was barely ten years old.

***

A steady clank rang out from the kitchen, down the length of the hall, and through the crack along my bedroom door. I stirred awake to Mama’s cowbell. The house wake-up call that required no memory to set, never rang late, and didn’t have a snooze button to hit.

Bet twisted between her sheets. She moaned from the twin bed a few feet from mine. Her wake-up response had gained more attitude like why did she have to get up so early when she turned into a teenager back in November. (My grandmere said whine-ager served her age group better.) You’d think my sister would get it. Summer never let us sleep past sunup on the farm. No season ever did between school, livestock, and crops.

Larisa said...

Cora is married to Mark, a guy she met in Miami. She thought he was italian and gay, he turned out to be jewish and straight. They met in a bar, while Corason was dancing on a table. She was wearing a skimpy black dress with a huge metal ring connecting the bottom with the top. Mark put his hand through the ring and got stuck. They had to drive home with his hand in her dress.

They have been together ever since, until the phone call.

Corason is a "princessa" from Argentina. A daughter of a very wealthy family with endless money. She hadn't made a bed or poured a glass of water until she was eighteen.

When she was forced to fill out a form at preschool or make a restaurant reservation, she'd smile and sweetly say: "You do it honey-bunch, you are so much better at these things!"

We got along swell: our kids were the same age, we lived near by, we were foreigners, both into fashion and loved having fun.

Cora always had servants. The imported maid did all the cleaning, cooking, child raising and image maintenance. Cora called the maids "stupid women from the mountains" who "know nothing".

It always surprised me: if they were so "Illiterate, ugly and lazy", why would you put them in charge of your children?

Cora was always having some heavy duty fun. The people in our little comatose suburb were simmering in their own sauce, so they really enjoyed this new, spicy South American flavor when it came along. They ate it up.

In the summer time Corason literally used to live on the beach. The beach ran through her blood. She tanned excessively and by the end of the season looked like brown shoe leather.

In the middle of winter she would go back to Argentina for a tan booster. The beach wasn't the only thing Corason went to Argentina for. Plastic surgery was the other.

"Honey bunch, you need to come with me! Look at those eye lids! They are getting a little tired, darling! Doctor Modo can freshen them up in a second! It doesn't even hurt! He is the best! He used to treat burn victims!"

I went home and stared in the mirror for a good hour. Are my eye lids really that bad? I had no idea. I imagined all the burn victims without a doctor.

I didn't go. I would have loved to see Argentina, just not though the band aids of my eye lid surgery.




50.000 words in my first suburban housewife novel


Larisa

scottiel99 said...

(The Refugee--Historical Fiction)

Wickwythe Hall, England; May 1939

So many years later, when I would think about all that had happened, all the pain that I had caused, I would picture myself on that beautiful day in May, hurrying down Wickwythe’s long hall, my heels clipping loudly against the marble floor. How could I have been 34 years old and have known so little about myself? There were definite things I knew: I was terribly impatient, educated (to the extent girls from wealth were educated then), good looking (though not a beauty), opinionated, fond of clothes, shoes, horses, the outdoors and activity in general, and, my most recent discovery, unable to bear children. But these attributes, I would come to find out, were just the middle ground. The outer territories of myself I had yet to experience. I thought of explorers, Christopher Columbus or Vasco de Gama, but instead of discovering one coast and working my way to the other in a sort of Manifest Destiny, I was plopped down in the dead center. I had no idea, on that lovely May afternoon, that already I was beginning to work my way out, a journey to the outer edges of myself that would be helped along by a world war, a love affair, a French refugee and a confrontation between two navies in the heat-hazed waters off the North African coast.

My foremost thought as I rushed down that hallway to the front door was that it was tea time, and it wouldn’t do to be late to my own party. A few people had already arrived for our usual weekend gathering, and I’d had the staff set tea out on the lawn. The weather was too nice for tea anywhere else. With the sun shining and the Dogwoods in bloom and everything green and growing as far as the eye could see, I could have been back home in Virginia. Almost. In England, there was another thing growing and that was war, or at least the threat of it, though these thick-headed Brits, my husband Tony included, refused to admit it.

When at last I reached the front entrance, I watched from the doorway, unnoticed, taking in the picture of country life, the tableau of guests arranged circularly in upholstered arm chairs pulled from the drawing room. How idyllic it all looked, like an Impressionist painting or a fond memory. Our guests were settling in, their spoons ringing against delicate porcelain, their noses basking in the earthy steam rising from the cups. Colonel March-Pemberton lit a cigarette for Dorothy Santiago. Lady Cooley examined the hallmark on her spoon. Lord Cooley turned to Tony and slapped him on the back.

“I heard the strangest thing at the club last week,” Lord Cooley said.

Tony turned to Lord Cooley, his interest piqued.

“They say you’ve invited Winston to Wickwythe this weekend,” Lady Cooley said.

Colonel March-Pemberton bolted upright. “Really, man, how could you?”

Josephine Damian said...

Uh-oh.

Newsflash!

Blogger Status
Monday, January 28, 2008

Blogger will be unavailable Monday (1/28) at 4:00PM PST for about 10 minutes for maintenance.

Posted by John at 12:21 PST

Anonymous said...

A Place Of Whispers


The End


“Every man's memory is his private literature.” Aldous Huxley



I stood above the water on bare feet socketed to the reef while the noon sun pushed viciously down in sweltering heat. My shadow arched out low over the water like some filthy footed avatar that became as vague and brittle as its owner.

The hum of the boat’s motor came as broken spats with every wave tossing the sound to needy ears then hiding it again within the breaking folds of water. I couldn’t see him but it had to be Po. He should have been here by now. Didn’t I think that a day or two ago? I was slipping away in my fast, the lack of food sent thoughts as rag-tattered sparks of ecliptic whispers.

I saw the hat break into view first, bobbing as the waves seemed to take turns pitching it closer to the shore. It was him. I leapt from the pumiced reef and trotted to the tamped walkway to help moor the boat.

The rough flag I’d woven from leaves hung rancid from the sand planted bamboo pole. Ink from a pen brushed a blue-black canvas under coconut pulp rendered upon the green leaves in caking white stars. Blood from my self-carved stigmata’s left the once red stripes, a stagnate fecal brown now flaking in the day-cooked sun. The garish crust roiled like some ancient American battle flag there staked on the snake-roped pole.

The motor throttled in that choppy whine of high-pitched spins followed by the smacking of aluminum to water in deep gurgled thrusts. He came in riding slow with vague features sluggishly magnified like a zoomed lens, small like that in the distance of sullied recognition before the frame came to focus. Anticipation.

Ecclesiastes 7:8 flashed caution: “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” I shook off the verse and snapped to parade rest.

Just another day in paradise.

Exiled in DC said...

The Hollow Crown -- 100,000 words

The Testament and Chronicle of Gwyn ap Eynon

I remember the day when My Lord decided that we should kill the English. It was in the year of Our Lord 1400 in the time after the harvest. It is always difficult to decide when a killing day has arrived. At first the day seems like any other. You wake up, say your prayers, eat your breakfast and talk to your family as though nothing is different. But in your mind you wonder if the time has come. You pray or take council and it eventually grows in your mind that today is the day to kill the strangers. Finally, you pick up your weapon, tell your kinsmen what must be done, do what needs to be done to bless your endeavor, and begin to kill.

My Lord told me the day had arrived on the evening of the feast of Saint Cynfarch. He was praying in his chapel, and I went to tell him that the visitors had arrived for his ascension. He turned to me.

“Tomorrow we will begin to kill the English” he said. “The Prophet and the Blessed Saints have confirmed by decision.”

zhadi said...

THE DOLLAR CLUB

The Dollar Club formed during the filming of a truly bad low budget movie called Steel Legions. I'm talking MST3K bad. The title conjures visions of robot armies, but the movie was actually about illegal gladiatorial games held in a secret compound for the amusement of decadent rich people. The hero, a budding all American basketball star named Johnny (you can tell he's all American with a name like that) is kidnapped along with his girlfriend, who will be killed if he doesn't fight. Johnny juggles a busy schedule of boffing Vixenia, the beautiful evil genius behind the games, while fomenting rebellion among the fighters and saving his virginal girlfriend from the sweaty clutches of Axegard, undefeated gladiator champion and all around bad guy. Wacky hijinks ensue, punctuated by such dialogue as "I'll kill you, you scum!" (Johnny) "Hahahahah!" (reply from Axegard) "You don't have the guts to kill me. But soon I'll have your guts skewered on the end of my sword while your pretty girlfriend watches! And then I'll skewer her with my other sword! Hahahahah!"

Axel, the actor -- and I use the term loosely -- who played Axegard, actually said 'Hahahahah' when he laughed. But what else do you expect from a guy who insisted that his character's name be changed to reflect his own name so he could "get into the character quicker." I suspected it was so he could remember his character's name without writing it on his hand. Axel wasn't the brightest watt in the bulb selection. He had a thick Germanic accent, one of numerous muscle-bound imports hoping to fill Ah-nold’s Teutonic -- okay, Austrian -- shoes. Axel was the kind of walking, talking cliché that nobody outside of Hollywood believes exists. But, like the truth, they're out there.

My role in all this fun? Well, according to the credits I was Concubine #2. On set, however, I was referred to as Concubine in the Black Leather Corset. This title was usually hollered across the set by Aaron, the 2nd A.D., as in "Okay, we need the brunette concubine in the black leather corset and the blonde in the pink lace teddy in this shot!"

No doubt I was out of my element. I'd just moved from San Diego a month ago. The only person I knew in LA was Donna, an old high school drama pal who helped me find a cheap studio apartment in Glendale. I hadn't even begun to look for an agent. I didn't even have new headshots and resumes together. I only got the job on Steel Legions because Donna was dating the casting director, who asked me if I wanted to make 25 bucks a day plus mileage to act. Shit for pay, I know, but I had some savings and besides, it would be my first taste of low budget Hollywood glamour. The fact that Donna had turned it down should've clued me in.

C.J. said...

FLAKES BLOOM - Lit. Fic. Novella

She loved the snow. For the tiny pieces of white brought a handle, or rather thousands of tiny handles. Each flake gave presence to the invisible that was already there, but could not be sensed. Riding on her motorcycle in the summer, she could, with effort, believe that she was cutting through the world, everything blurry and unnatural. But this snow, the first of the year, let her see the air separating before her. It allowed her eyes, rather than her mind, to tell her that she was riding in that delicate seam of inexistence. Like tracers hinted at the deadly stream of fellow bullets, so the snow uncloaked the air which was not merely the space between everything, but was comprised of very real and tangible substances: nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, and here, in Kiev, Strontium-90 and Cesium-137.

The ground had not yet frozen so the snow melted as it hit the pavement instead of turning to ice. This allowed her to ride without having to cut back, save at the turns. She was on her winter bike - an old Voskhod 175. Unlike her Dnepr, she could feel and hear each pop of combustion, even with the wind rushing past her ears. To the passengers of the cars she was passing, her Vosk and cap-style helmet gave the impression that she was from a generation past.

When she pulled up to the Bolnitsa, she cut her engine and coasted onto the sidewalk. She leaned the bike on the kickstand and stood next to her for a moment, spying on its underbelly to see if it was leaking oil. She thought she had smelled some when she pulled in. Not seeing any drops forming, she pulled her plastic Lukoil bottle out from the side pouch and checked to be sure the cap was cinched tightly. Though she made this same trip regularly, it always seemed to be this time, right before entering, that she felt like turning back. She thought of what she would see inside: her mother lying with Aleksandr at her side; Papa would be sitting in the chair across the room, and would likely have a magazine splayed across his lap with his head leaned back against the white concrete wall and his eyes half open. It was not that she didn’t want to be there…she did. It was just that this was her only moment of freedom, because once she entered the Bolnitsa, she could not turn back. She felt the same way when there was a movie at the cinema that she had been waiting to see for months – the day it came she would suddenly feel like not going. But she always went, just as she never got back on her bike in the hospital parking lot.

**Thanks Holly and Nathan.

Welshcake said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M. Alexander Austin said...

THE THIRD S1N

Robyn Croix sat silently, gazing at the quarters about her. The diplomat sat on the body-moulding couch, skimming a holo-text from one of the projectors that jutted from the coffee table while toying with the chain that attached his suitcase to his wrist. Why a Diplomat would need such a thing, Robyn wasn’t sure. Important treaty documents? A pardon? A bomb? Anything was possible with the state of the Echelon these days.

The diplomat was young looking, inoffensive to the point of being bland, and always wore the same slight, semi-amused smile. His eye patch, bearing the Echelon Sigil, was the only thing about him that really stood out. He hadn’t shown any more interest in Robyn than he had in any of the rest of his companions; listening to whatever they had to say with the flat pseudo-interest of a psychiatrist, asking a few questions, and never, ever taking that smile off. Robyn wondered if he was gay, but then again, she had a way of turning men off before they even knew they were on, so it was tough to judge.

She shifted her attention to his two bodyguards; one a nervous looking, slight black man who spoke rarely and rubbed one of his eyes often, the other a tall, straight-edged individual with a sharp black neo-oriental style suit and stylish brown hair – short but fashionable. He seemed as wary as the other one, but in an I-can-see-you-try-it-and-I’ll-fuck-you-up type of wary instead of the other’s where-can-I-hide look. If Robyn was of a mind to go Diplomat killing, she’d be sure to kill that bodyguard first. His look just screamed ex-military, maybe Echelon merc, maybe just retired spec-ops looking for cushy protection jobs off-the-books to supplement his retirement. He wasn’t too bad looking either, for a military sort.

The Nomad was more her speed though, if she had one. He was the distracted, head-in-the-hologrid type of guy, but with a hint of something tougher underneath. As to be expected, he wore a Nomad bodysuit that was part overalls, part jumpsuit, and all pockets and tools. With the door to his bunk half-open, she could just see his face, his Nomad ethnic-melting-pot features bathed in the blue glow of some holographic psuedo-kinetic engineering programs. Leaning against his bunk was the strangest bit – a sword, a real, hack-em-up, run-em-through style sword, sheathed in a patchwork scabbard that fit perfectly with the patchwork look of his Nomad bodysuit. Even from here and in its dim light, she could see the weld marks on the hilt where scraps of metal had been molded, welded, and re-welded, like he’d pieced the thing together out of scraps from some junkyard. Knowing Nomads, he probably had.

Add one Echelon Courier to the mix and you had a bunch that really stood out in a crowd, not that you were likely to find many crowds on this freighter turned diplomatic transport.

Walter said...

Alexandria, VA
October 19, this year


Seated inside the jet black Lamborghini LM002 was a man unlike any the good citizens of Alexandria had ever seen. If they had paused on the street long enough to look in the vehicle they’d have noticed a man behind the wheel dressed like Saddam Hussein’s stunt double. The man known only as the Generalissimo owned only one set of clothes: a green dress uniform covered in ribbons and gold braids hanging from the epaulets, a matching service cap, and a pair of gold aviator sunglasses with mirrored lenses. He vaguely remembered a period in his life when he wore something else, but that had been a long time ago. Before the incident.

He peered through his sunglasses and out into the world. Two men approached one another across the street among the crush of early morning commuters. The brush pass was professional. If the Generalissimo wasn’t a skilled observer, he might have missed it. He stroked the push broom under his nose that did double duty as a mustache.

“The time has come!” he cried. There was no one else in the big Italian SUV to hear him. Like that was going to keep him from shouting.

He stepped out and closed the door. He didn’t bother looking both ways as he crossed the street; he never had before. He followed the HÖL operative who’d received the item. The man who originally transferred it to him was one of the Generalissimo’s people, an ARDVARC working deep cover as a double agent. He’d been planning this particular sting for months. All he had to do was change HÖL’s focus to a new target and his plan would be back in the groove.

He followed the man he’d nicknamed “DeVito.” It wasn’t the man’s reduced stature or his male pattern baldness that produced the moniker; the Generalissimo simply liked the movie Romancing the Stone. He’d seen it a hundred times. He also enjoyed the television show Taxi, but mistakenly believed it was a drama based on real life cab drivers. He often cried during reruns.

DeVito never turned around. The Generalissimo picked up the pace, but his feet made nary a sound. DeVito was four feet in front of him. Then three. Two. One. The Generalissimo chopped him on the nape of the neck with a move he could have done in his sleep. I wonder if I have? he mused.

Rae L. said...

A Kiss of Ashen Twilight-80,000 words

Jace Archane dug his fingernails into the pillow beneath the woman under him. He braced his body to slam violently from the oncoming orgasm rising from his feet and slithering up his legs. The girl moaned with excitement and writhed under his hard body. He reveled in the feel of himself throbbing inside of her as he filled her with all the essence he could muster. At the same time, his teeth dug deeper into her neck, his mouth opening wider to receive the warm liquid trickling into his throat from her neck. She was young, nubile and warm. And on this particular night, he needed to drink until he was knocked out silly. His Uncle Julian called him in earlier, but he couldn’t go in for business just yet. The old man would be all over his case for missing the meeting tonight.

But he didn’t care.

No matter what the blood lines said, he wasn’t ready to be patriarch of the house just yet. He was already getting used to settling into his duties as Regent despite having the title for centuries. He was still a young, strapping man of 600 years of age and this was the perfect time for their kind to roam freely under mortal eyes. Representations of vampires served as entertainment for the mortals and hot, heaving women with a weakness for bad boys. They weren’t hunted down and tortured like in the old days of the witch hunt. Now they were revered and worshiped.

It was a perfect setting for a beautifully satisfying meal.

The thought sent him over the edge. His torso lurched as he jutted his hips into her with one last thrust. A deep primal groan emitted from the back of his throat into the quiet candlelit bedroom. He closed his eyes allowing the calm waves of pleasure to wash over him.

Then he remembered the silence.

Idea Man said...

From RIDE-ALONG, Suspense, 78K words


Never killed a cop before. Never had to.

But I was on a mission now that Jimmy had been murdered by a cop. A dirty one. Framed with a throw-down piece and a baggie of drugs. Internal Affairs conducted an investigation, clearing the officer in the shooting. What did I expect? Cops covering for cops, protecting their own. I knew it didn’t happen like they said. My cousin Jimmy would never draw a gun on a cop. No way. He was set up. And I was going to get even.

I waited inside the squad car for my quarry to return. The door was unlocked, daring me to run and forget about my quest for revenge. Forget about death and hate and killing cops. I could bolt from the car, dash across the parking lot, vault the low fence, and disappear through the nearby townhouse development. Be home on the couch in twenty minutes, bag of Cheetos in my lap. I eased the door open a crack.

A tattered piece of newspaper and a few cigarette butts tumbled across the asphalt, the breeze stirring the sticky air. A front was blowing in, thunderstorms possible, a typical Northern Virginia summer evening. Hot, hazy, humid.

The back door of the police station swung open, pushing the pneumatic piston to its limit. Officer Karla Cheng skip-jogged down the ramp, holding her belt, trying to keep her gun from jostling. Couldn’t run now, had to go along for the ride. I shut the car door and faced her as she climbed in.

“Okay. Sorry about that. Got everything I need now.” Cheng smiled, her soft features belying her bitchy, hard-ass reputation. “Thanks for waiting. Didn’t mess with anything, did you?”

I’d been tempted to touch the barrel of the shotgun strapped next to my ear, but refrained. Ditto for the computer terminal mounted on the console between the two front seats. “Nope. Kept my hands to myself.”

“Good. Wouldn’t want you getting hurt now, would we?” Cheng was petite, with slim wrists. A smooth, olive-colored complexion. “Powell, is it?” Her smile flashed again, two rows of perfect little tombstones.

“Powers. Trey Powers.”

“Powers. Right. You like being a CAT…member?”

You mean a CAT pussy? That’s how the *real* cops referred to the members of Hafton’s Citizen Action Team, a group whose charge was assisting the police department with mundane chores like filing and traffic control. “Yeah, it’s great.” I tried to pump as much enthusiasm into my answer as I could. My nerves jangled.

“This your first ride-along?”

“Yep, first one. Looking forward to it.” I propped up my smile, not wanting to tip my hand. The ride-alongs were part of the CAT training I’d started a few weeks ago. You were supposed to have three of them—with three different officers during three different shifts. If things worked out tonight, I’d pass on the others.

joey said...

Billy & Betsy (WIP Inspirational Romance)

HATE was too strong a word – but only by a little. Loathing; that was better. Maybe even extreme dislike would come close to describing the reason my mind was seething on the first day of music class.

Billy Bransford would be the name of the particular reason for my intense bitterness on what should have been a very pleasant day. Billy Bransford was the bane of my existence, for almost my entire existence. And Billy was back.

If it were merely a little teasing here and there, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. Young people tend to overreact, especially when they are the one in the middle of it all. But Billy didn’t just tease me – he tortured me.

We grew up together, literally - right across the street from each other. What’s worse, we even have the same last name, with no relation – thank heavens, so I could never get away from him in school. We were always at the same table or our desks were right next each other. I don’t think there was ever a time where we really got along.

Our parents were good friends - the kind that take vacations together and do weekend movies and family outings on a regular basis. So Billy and I were always, always together. We were the same age and both of us were the only children in our prospective families so we didn’t even have siblings to distract us. Being thrown together so often gave Billy the arsenal he needed. With all that time – he knew which buttons to push for the greatest reactions.

When did he get back? The two years he was gone serving a mission in Ecuador had flown by. I’d have to say they were the most peaceful two years of my life aside from the random letter he would send just to ruin my day. But why was he here - in my class? Billy knew a lot about me, but I knew just as much about him and aside from the trumpet he played in high school, he didn’t have musical aspirations.

I’m already seated in class, in the middle center – where I usually sit in any class where seating isn’t assigned. Thankfully a larger guy is in front of me and I crouch down to hide as Billy saunters into the room. I don’t know why I hide - he will know I’m here when the professor calls roll. Even though he appears to not to be paying attention, he will hear my name called.

I could change classes, couldn’t I? I could switch – just put this one off for a semester and go from there. I would need to tweak things but… No. It just wasn’t going to work. I needed this class before I could take the others. It was a prerequisite and if I changed it would mess up my whole schedule. I was going to have to endure.

ilyakogan said...

Tetrahedron

Tom's face was already covered in troll's vomit and brain matter when his hammer decimated the goblin's rib cage splashing him with cold greenish blood. Tom was aiming for the thorax but the creature managed a loud screech before it collapsed into a green pile at Tom's feet.

“Fuck!” - Tom barked. He checked that the hearing enhancement was still affecting the entire party, raised his hand to signal others to be still, and listened.

Tom learned not to trust the quiet. There were goblins about – thousands of them. “Raise up the invisibility spell. We wait.” - he whispered to the mage.

He glanced at his hammer. It didn't sense any goblins either. Tom made the hammer himself out of a living steel worm. It took him weeks to hunt it down. He then forged the hammer by heating the worm in lava and cooling it in his own flesh.

It seemed that the hammer got over the funk it had been in lately. Tom made a mistake of hitting a dragon with it. It turned out that the worm regarded dragons as distant relatives. Ever since it was moody and. Tom was still upset with himself. He should have done more research and known about the dragons.

A red light started blinking in the corner of his right eye. Once, then twice, and then went solid red. That was odd.

“Be right back.” - he whispered to the others and activated the main menu.

Superimposed over the dark cave where his companions were resting he saw the source of the red light. The mailbox connected to his citizen identification number had new mail. Tom squinted at the number. It said that he had ten thousand messages. Tom blinked and the number changed to over twelve thousands.

Something was definitely wrong. This account only had a message or two from his parents, HR messages on the beginning of each month, and an occasional message from the condominium management office.

Tom activated the mailbox. His view got filled with message subject lines. It was all from different people. He stared without comprehension for a moment and then he got it.

“Holy fuck!” - he said loudly. His companions stirred in confusion. He dismissed their concerns with a gesture.

He glanced at the date in the top right corner and it was as he suspected the National Selection Day.

“Holy fuck!” - he whispered again.

He closed his mailbox without reading any of the messages as if by not reading them he could make the problem go away. Back in his room his real hands and his forehead were getting sweaty.

He opened the news and his heart skipped a couple of beats. His smiling face was staring back at him. “The youngest president of the Republic in its five hundred years of history.” - one article screamed. “An eighteen year old employee of the Thunderbird Entertainment was selected as the 123 president of the North American Republic.” - said another.

Gracie Chase said...

Love & Oreos - 90,000 Words

I couldn't take my eyes off the surgically-enhanced bubblehead hawking her herbal supplements. But let's face it. It was really hard to look away. Either all that silicone was going to fall out of her teeny-tiny tank top, or the balding, slightly paunchy guy in front of her was going to do a face plant right into the center of her highly expensive assets.

Whichever way it went, I didn't want to miss it.

"What about you? You look like you work out," Plastic Surgery Barbie said to a different guy in the front row.

I snorted. I couldn't help myself. I elbowed Will who was still humoring me by hanging out in the throng of people at the convention center. I curled one hand around Will's bicep and stroked my way up to his chest with the other. "Wow. You look like you've been working out too," I said, channeling Melanie Griffith the same way Plastic Surgery Barbie had.

Batting my lashes exaggeratedly, I looked up and lost my breath as I locked onto a pair of eyes that most assuredly did not belong to Will. These eyes were only a little lighter than the color of Oreos—easily my biggest personal vice. I'd never seen eyes that dark on a guy with hair that light. It was a rich, warm blond with honey highlights¬ that could only have come from Mother Nature and the sun, and it was just a fraction of an inch too long, causing it to curl a bit at the ends. It begged to have fingers run though it.

My fingers, in particular were itching to do just that.

"Sorry—I thought you were someone else," I said, belatedly realizing I still had my hands all over this perfect stranger—emphasis on perfect. I yanked them back. How did I miss that Will—my colleague and very gay best friend—was no longer standing next to me? I really should have noticed the first second I touched all those muscles. Will kept in shape, but not like this.

"What? You don't think she got that body with diet, exercise and herbal supplements?" Mr. Oreo Eyes asked in a smooth baritone voice that would do any "love-songs-nothing-but-love-songs" radio show proud.

I raised an eyebrow. "Only her plastic surgeon knows for certain."

"That's harsh."

I shrugged. "The truth hurts. And so does her back, I’m sure."

"Hey, watch it," he said. "That's my sister."

Dimitry Papkov said...

The Gathering Clouds -- 80,000 words

MORTAL FRIENDS

Hayden wrenched the blade out of the body and the last enemy fell at his feet. Sweat and blood stung Hayden’s eyes. He tore off his helm and threw it on the ground. The steel gauntlets and the greatsword followed. He stooped, breath leaving his chest with a wheeze, and flexed the numb fingers of his sword hand.

The thick mist drenched his hair. Water droplets rolled down his face. Hayden straightened, opened his mouth and savored the cold prickling on his tongue, but the sweetness of the water mingled with the metallic taste of blood. He breathed in the odors of blood, burnt wood and the nearby river. They will have to rename the river after this battle.

The battle still raged somewhere to the right, concealed by mist and dust. Distant cries of pain, neighing of horses and clunk of metal meant that all was not lost, yet. He looked around. The mist lifted a little and revealed parts of the clearing. Heaps of tear-shaped shields and conical helms littered the ground amidst the boulders. Bodies of his soldiers lay together with the Ostlanders, distinguishable only by the blackness of their armors among the sea of red in this vision of death.

Nothing stirred in the clearing -- he was left alone like in the eye of the storm. The battle rage subsided and the aches of his battered body crept back. His thigh burned like molten metal. There was an arrow. I broke it off, he remembered. Every move of his left arm sent waves of pain through his body. Hayden lowered his eyes and saw another arrow under his collar bone. It went right through the armor and stuck deep in his flesh. When did this happen?

His knees trembled and Hayden leaned on a boulder. His strength faded, like the surrounding mist, with every gush of blood from his wounds. Despite all my powers, I can’t even stop my own blood loss. He chuckled and shook his head. The Maze is calling for me and the Gatekeeper awaits to pass his judgment.

“I looked for you everywhere on the field, Hayden,” a tired voice said. Hayden turned his head to see Martin’s familiar figure that appeared from the mist.

“I thought only the Gatekeeper would find me here, old friend. Where is my son?”

Dust covered the wizard’s cloak, which concealed a faint gleam of chain-mail. Dust and blood of his enemies. Martin’s face remained calm. Blue sparks danced in the depths of his eyes. The wizard carried his favorite mace on his shoulder as if it was a toy.

Hayden gritted his teeth, took hold of the arrow shaft and broke it off. A shiver ran through his body and a violent cough bent him in two. Hayden swayed, fighting to keep his balance and spat out rosy phlegm, spasms still shaking him.

Anonymous said...

Ravishing Ravenna

By Loretta Ross (www.lorettasueross.com)

Once upon a time there was a lovely princess who was so beautiful that any man who saw her died of ecstasy, which made for a lousy social life. For the Princess Ravenna it was doubly a tragedy that her beauty should be so deadly as her desire for, ah, companionship was healthy to say the least.

Not that she was without suitors, mind. For one thing it took a while to sink in that when people said Ravenna was drop-dead gorgeous they meant Ravenna was drop-dead gorgeous. Then too, she was the only child of a wealthy and powerful monarch and that sort of thing can bring out a lot of optimism.

Still, the constant presence of death is bound to take its toll, and after thirty or forty promising young men had gasped in delight and expired at her feet, the quality of her would-be paramours began a slow decline, from knights and paladins to fops and dilettantes and the occasional gibbering idiot prince of a royal house whose members had guarded the purity of its bloodlines a bit too well.

One bright summer morning Ravenna sat alone in her darkened study and considered her predicament. A clever young count had come up with a brilliant idea. For the honor of marrying the princess (he said) he would gladly go through the rest of his life wearing a blindfold. When the king expressed doubts about the plan the count had opted to demonstrate his “cat-like grace” by donning said blindfold and tripping lightly around the princess’ study. In the process he tripped over an ottoman and fell out the third-floor window.

He didn’t land like a cat.

Julianne Douglas said...

Still Life with Flowers (Women's fiction)

The afternoon sun sliced the room like scissors through cellophane and exploded against the laminated flipchart in a blast of white light. Elaine shielded her face with an out-turned palm. "The slats," she interrupted. "Excuse me, Mr. Severson. The slats." She jerked herself to her feet. Wadded tissues tumbled from her purse like confused sheep. She herded them under the chair with her toe and navigated around the artificial ficus to the window. The room smelled fusty, like last week’s forgotten bagel. She muted the glare with a twist of the dowel, then reached beneath the blinds to raise the sash. Cool air rushed in; she forced a deep breath. The slats clattered into place as she dragged herself back to her chair. "I couldn't see, Peter." Over by the door, her husband grunted.

Cars whisked by on Trindle Road. The noise was louder now with the window open. Flashes from passing fenders raked the fuzzy dimness of the ceiling. A steady stream of commuters rushed home to let out their dogs. Defrost pork chops. Hug their kids. Elaine swallowed hard and tried to concentrate on the reedy voice of the man behind the mahogany desk.

"These are our most popular arrangements." Mr. Severson propped the spiral-bound catalogue upright against his forearm. "Typically, in a closed-casket service, a large floral spray covers the lid. Two matching wreaths flank the casket. An urn decorates the foot of the altar." His free hand tapped the mock-up with a pen as he listed each element.

She focused on the picture with puzzled fascination. "Lilies."

"Yes, Mrs. McArdle." Mr. Severson lowered the book to flip a page. He raised it again, this time displaying a checkerboard of smaller shots. "As you can see, all of our arrangements feature white lilies. Lilies symbolize purity, eternal life. People expect to see them at Christian funerals." He scratched the side of his nose with the pen.

"I did a painting of lilies once. I'm a painter, you know." She fumbled for a tissue. "Five white lilies in a golden vase. One for each of Christ’s wounds, though I doubt many people understood the symbolism. Hardly anyone does anymore." Mr. Severson smiled blandly and glanced at Peter, who, arms crossed in front of his chest, leaned against the wall and examined the weave of the carpet.

Severson sighed. "Of course they do, Mrs. McArdle. Of course they do." His voice caressed her with well-practiced compassion. "Especially in the case of lilies." He cleared his throat gently. "Now, there are other options to choose from besides the standard four-piece package. For example, the front pews can be draped with garlands. . ." He ruffled the book, searching for an example.

"It was a difficult painting. Especially the reflections.” Elaine frowned, recalling how hard it had been to capture white on gold. “I never did get it quite right."

Kaige said...

Revealed (50,000 words)
London, 1816.

Miss Marcia Elizabeth Drummond dreaded masquerades.

She snatched the ivory invitation from the salver and perused the elegant handwriting. The words blurred before her eyes. Her hand trembled as she crossed the room and cast the horrid thing into the fireplace. She wrapped her arms around her body and anticipated the destruction of her offering by the grasping flames.

Almost six years had gone by, and yet, her self-confidence and pride remained tattered. Her first masquerade ball had begun with a magical quality. The ballroom had sparkled with the light of a thousand candles suspended in the crystal chandeliers. The range of costumes had traversed the spectrum of tastes – from extravagant and intricate to the unimaginative. Most gentlemen elected to wear dominoes – a simple cloak and half mask – over their evening clothes.

The dashing Lord Barrington had plucked Marcia from the vine of wallflowers and swept her off her feet. She had been intrigued by his grace and charm and not a little dazzled by the mystery of why he had singled her out and rescued her from the fringes.

Her first sense of freedom had come that night. Unfettered by society's strict bounds for a change, the experience had enlivened, and refreshed her. Marcia Drummond had truly vanished during the masquerade, not merely dressed up in different clothing. For the first time, she had been able to relax and enjoy conversing with a gentleman. Lord Barrington had even coaxed her into a playful flirtation while they waltzed.

She stared into the flames, mesmerized by the flickering shadows until a sudden chill sent shivers racing up her spine. Crossing to the windows, she pulled the heavy velvet draperies closed, leaving the library enshrouded in darkness, except for the muted glow before the hearth.

What a stupid and naïve girl she had been! A handsome gentleman's notice implied certain expectations. She'd been brought up to behave like a lady and had assumed men of the ton behaved as gentleman. Gossip about ruined girls frequently made the rounds, but she had always doubted the true civility of everyone involved.

Marcia rubbed her hands along her arms as she returned to the fireplace. Unforgiving flames crowded closer as they wavered back and forth, darting in and out around the helpless parchment.

The congested ballroom had proven quite warm after their waltz and he had led her outside to the terrace for a breath of cool night air. She had allowed him the liberty of stealing a kiss.

The quick brush of his lips against hers had deepened, surprising them both. She had been breathless by the time he lifted his head to stare back at her.

Unsettled by the feelings his kiss had awoken, she'd asked him to bring her a drink, mostly to have something to do with her hands. Kissing him again would not satisfy her thirst for more.

Niki said...

Samurai Secrets--Urban Fantasy

CHAPTER 1

Rotten frozen eggs melting on my tongue--that was what fear tasted like. I never gave much thought to it before, but then again, I never had a reason to.

“This is ridiculous,” I muttered to myself. I had been standing on the steps outside the food court for nearly a minute scanning the empty parking lot. For what, I couldn’t say, but the moment I stepped outside my bones began to prickle as if wanting to break free from my skin.

“What is wrong with you?” I whispered again, shifting my shopping bag to my left hand so I could dig my car keys out of my pocket. Ever the procrastinator, I had waited until the last minute to go searching for one of the last gifts on my cousin’s wedding registry. I ended up with a toaster, but not just any toaster, it could toast four bagels at once, calculate long division, and clean up after the dog. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but for the price I paid for it, it should be able to do all that. And now, thanks to my addiction to crime dramas combined with my overactive imagination, I was stuck on the mall steps certain that something sinister waited for me out in the dark.

“Honey, are you alright?”
Spinning around to face the threat, I managed to swallow the scream that almost greeted the white-haired couple now in front of me. It was embarrassing enough they probably heard me talking to myself. All I could do to compose myself was smile sheepishly at their surprised expressions, giving myself a good mental shake for almost letting somebody’s grandparents give me a heart attack.

I glanced over my shoulder at the parking lot, certain that the threat had appeared now that I had turned my back. But there was nothing there. I couldn’t help but let out the breath I hadn’t even realized I was holding.

“Honey?” Thanks to my heightened senses I could feel the elderly woman’s hand on my shoulder even before she touched me. “You look a little pale. Hank doesn’t she look pale?” Her round face was squished in lines of concern.

“Yes,” Hank agreed. “Do you need us to call somebody?”

“No!” I said a little too fast. And then composing myself, “Thank you.” I gave them my best smile, which at the moment was pretty weak. “I think I might have eaten something funny at the food court.” That was the best I could come up with at the moment considering I felt like I had just stepped off the world’s most perilous roller coaster.

Adaora A. said...

It Burns

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Okwem;

I would like to first thank you in advance for your continued support to St. John the Evangelist Catholic Elementary School. We are always so grateful for the support of the parents.

Here at St John’s we greatly value the physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of our students. We take every student to heart here and do not hesitate to express concerns made by any teacher or class mate on his or her behalf. This is the reason why I have decided to contact you. As her parents, we want you to be informed.

Concerns have been expressed by Fumnanya’s teacher regarding your daughter’s emotional wellbeing. Fumnanya’s teacher has noticed she seems to have a deep rooted insecurity. She has trouble speaking to her peers and rarely participates in class as a result of this. We are eager to speak in person about this after you have taken the time to read our plan of action attached underneath this covering letter.

Fumnanya is a very dear, sweet girl. Her trouble is that she is unable to communicate with her peers. Fumnanya sits by herself in every class (by herself), at every lunch hour, and during every free period. It is imperative that she make more of an effort in relating to her peers. We worry about her progress. Without these very necessary social skills she may find that she will have a very difficult time ahead of her.

Fumnanya would greatly benefit from having a more meaningful relationship with her peers. We hope you feel the same way. In advance we would like to thank you for your time and patience and for your reply as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Marla Newton
Principal
St John’s the Evangelist Catholic School.

Roxan said...

Just something I wrote awhile back.

I know other mothers cried when they got the news, but I didn't. I'm not an emotional person, except when it comes to anger. I suppose you could say it has to do with having Irish in me or just the fact it seems to run in our family. It never occurred to me to be sad or upset. It was like, "Okay, my child is Autistic. Now what?" Maybe it was because I knew something was not right from the moment we brought her home from the hospital. She was perfect, too perfect with unblemished skin and a face that reminded people of a china doll. Delicate fingers that were so thin it took two of them to match the size of most other babies fingers. She weighed over eight pounds, but she was tiny. She had no baby fat to speak of and even as much as she ate, there was never much gain.

At the age of 6 months she spoke. When she turned 1 year she didn't. There was no eye contact, no recognition, no response. She was happy in her own world and would only let me in because I was her provider. I dealt with criticism from others. I was told I was a bad mother because I did things that were outside of the norm of parenting. I propped bottles. It was the only way she would eat. I set her high chair behind everyone at holiday functions. Not because I wanted her to be separate from others, but because I knew the presence of others would upset her. She ate solids far sooner than most babies and it wasn't until I received her diagnosis that I knew it was because of issues with texture.

Do I know what caused her condition? I have my suspicions, but I'm told it can't be that way. My labor and delivery was, for lack of a better word and to give you some understanding of the severity, violent. She suffered bradycardia several times during labor, was a vacuum extraction and have been turned from a transverse lie position by a physician while still in the womb. Could any of these things have made a impact? I don't know; I can only suspect they did.

Autism forever changes. You settle into one pattern of behavior and it ceases abruptly, only to be replaced by another. One day she is twisting her hair until it begins to break off at the roots. The next day she is taking yarn, putting it into a plastic bag and sleeping with it like a stuffed animal. Obsession is a major part of her life. Hours upon hours spent looking for four leaf clovers, doing things in a pattern. If she thinks something should be done a certain way, then that is the only way she will do it.
Never ending, always the same.

Chro said...

Blades of the Fallen -- Fantasy

In the back alleys of Spelin, between the city’s finest orphanage and a bowyer’s workshop, a ten-year-old boy stared, entranced, at the knife in his hands. He ran a quivering finger along the blade’s edge to test its sharpness, and hissed when the knife proved its worth by opening a gash in his skin. Blood oozed from the wound, and he shoved his finger into his mouth. He could hear his father now. ‘Nice, Jak. Now you’ll be bleeding all over yourself the whole time.’

Jak winced and watched his blood trickle down the blade. Unlike most knives, the kukri’s sharp edge ran along the inner curve. It was designed for wide, slashing cuts, and easily sliced through both foliage and flesh. With enough force, it could decapitate a man. Jak wasn’t strong enough for that, but he could do other things with such a blade – dangerous things.

A light rain began to fall, and a few stray raindrops trickled onto Jak's head. He stared up at the night sky, and let his bleeding finger slide out of his mouth. Raindrops sprinkled onto his cheeks like tears.

Voice cracked, Jak whispered to the sky. “Just a few more hours, dad…”

His gaze fell to the orphanage window, and his deadened eyes stared back at him from beneath a mat of dirty-blond hair. Jak grimaced at his reflection, and after a moment’s hesitation, attacked.

Shattering shards of glass broke the silence of the night, followed by the whistling of wind over the hole he had created. He eased his tiny hand through, flipped the latch, opened the window, and crept inside. As he closed it behind him, he left speckles of blood on the sill, abandoned and forgotten like crimson droplets of rain.

The sun rose hours later, hiding behind overcast clouds and doing little to bring light to the world. The rain had stopped pattering against the roof, for now. Jak sat behind an armchair, silently waiting. One by one, children arose from their slumber. They ran about, played, and screamed excitedly at the most trivial of things, with little concern for those who still slept.

There was a time when Jak would’ve jumped at the chance to play with other kids and have fun. Not anymore.

clara bow said...

Raquel frowned, rubbing her eye patch to alleviate a phantom itch. It was a bothersome reminder of who she was, and what she had to do. Without fail, it always struck at the most grueling, stressful moments—times when she had to take on the mantle of Atlas bearing his backbreaking planetary load.

The dull thrum of the ship’s well-oiled systems underscored her heavy thoughts. A landscape of sleek gray lines, gleaming consoles, and spacious, well-lit bridge stations surrounded her—the newest, best in technology and design that the military dollar could buy. The revolting display stood for everything she didn’t: power and greed and suppression. She hated the smell and the look of it. The sensory assault made each passing minute increasingly suffocating.

Her good eye narrowed to a slit; a stream of warm sweat trickled down her neck. That damned itch was driving her mad. But she knew better than to pause for additional relief. She had her reputation to guard. This operation had to succeed, for both her crew’s sake…and especially hers.

It was time for her star performance to begin.

Raquel glanced down from her perch behind the command station, where the Torrent’s captain sat trussed and shackled to his chair. His dress hat lay to one side, knocked off unceremoniously during the earlier scuffle. A lock of gray hair eschewed its confines.

And yet, there was something blatantly false about all of it—a ridiculous façade just begging to be crushed. The man sat so stiffly, so completely unnatural. A lie…and Raquel could think of nothing worse. Even in his current, pitiful state, he too apparently felt the need to maintain protocol and give the appearance of unwavering control. Ha! As if it mattered!

The pirate queen sauntered over to her prisoner, a panther to its prey. With the Torrent’s bridge devoid of her crew, there was no one left to rescue him. Leaning down, she briefly pressed her cheek to Captain Jacobs’ sweaty temple, bearing herself ever so still, ever so calmly. Her nostrils flared. She could smell his exhaustion and outrage. Blood trickled from a gash on his forehead, framing his left eye. The blue and gray uniform he wore, formerly crisp and smooth, was now soaked with wrinkles and tears. Jagged breaths sliced through the air, a counterpoint to the idle chatter of forsaken consoles.

This man Jacobs had taken a lot for someone his age, but so had Raquel and at half his years. She adjusted her red ascot, tugging it more from nervous habit than the need for a pristine appearance. She and her crew had chased this lead for over a month. When would he break?

Raquel flicked out her tongue and tasted a drop of blood. Beneath his stalwart resistance, she detected a shiver of fear. Good. Voice low and measured, her lips brushed against his ear as she whispered in a dulcet, beguiling voice. “The pain will stop when you tell me what I need to know.”

Colorado Writer said...

MEAT MARKET--YA (in progress)

I had six zits. Big, old oozy ones. I was also chomping on a wad of Original Bazooka like a cow and freezing my ass off. I was thinking about quitting for like the millionth time. Seriously. My fingers were so numb I could barely hang on to the flimsy cardboard box full of pork chops.

I was also wearing one of those god-awful black hairnet thingies, which I totally despise.

My dad is such a hard ass when it comes to the meat. I absolutely hate, hate, hate moving meat around every Saturday, but the chops weren’t selling. Dad wanted them back in the freezer for the weekend, to make room for the fresh bacon he had cut for the front case.

He had yelled at me twice and hacked up chicken parts while he did it.

He even pointed the cleaver at me, if you must know, but I'm used to it.

“People work hard all week and they look forward to a leisurely breakfast,” he growled.

And I said, “And what good is a leisurely breakfast if it doesn’t include a side of greasy pig meat?”

The other time he yelled, it was because I wasn’t wearing a hairnet.

I said, “No one will know except you, me and the meat. And the dead meat is definitely not talking!”

To which he said, “Put on a damn hairnet and get the bacon into the walk-in before we open up.”

Anyway, like I said, I was stuck in the freezer, stacking pork chops, like the dutiful daughter I am, blowing a colossal bubble—practically a contest-winner—when someone tapped me on the shoulder.

I jumped, smacked my head on the rack and sucked the bubble in so fast I nearly choked on the wad of gum.

The remaining frozen chops tumbled from the box and skated across the icy floor.

“Dammit!” I yelled.

A seriously sexy male voice whispered, “Psst. Do you know where I can get an extra apron?”

Sam Hranac said...

Peter Kocruda felt the weight of the parcel in his trembling hands. Much lighter than he had expected. Smaller too. The familiar vet’s reception room disappeared. All he could see was that box in his hands. It was too small. It did not seem right. Nothing about this seemed right.

When last he saw his dog, Cassie, she had been a thirteen-year old, forgetful, incontinent, and somewhat blind blue heeler; a herding dog that had lost the ability to walk very far, let alone charge after wayward sheep. Peter doubted that Cassie had ever seen a sheep in her life. She had been good at herding kids in the park, however. Long ago, at any rate. Not in the last few years.

She also loved to play ball. And Frisbee. Cassie had loved games. She was very smart. She understood me, thought Peter. He felt oddly alone, holding that box in that busy room.

Peter turned the small box over. It sounded a little like a rain stick, one of those long tubes that makes a sound like rain when you turn them. But this box was just a brown, cardboard cube. The sticker on the top said, "Cassie Kocruda." On the next line of the label it said "No-Cost Container." There was no more to be said.

Not exactly a grand epitaph.

Peter was thirteen himself, the same age as Cassie. They had come home on the same day, as a matter of fact. Getting a puppy for the new baby had been a whim of his father’s, and one Peter suspected that his father had regretted for many years. Peter didn’t buy his parents’ claim that it was for Cassie’s own good, being sent to the vet to be "put to sleep."

They told him she had reached a point that living was too difficult for her. For her? For them, they meant. Am I supposed to ship them off to an incinerator once they start taking too long to get up out of a chair? He would be sure to suggest it to his dad the next time he claimed to be too tired to play a little ball after work.

The girl behind the counter had moved on to the next customer, an older lady with a little pug dog. The pug dog sniffed at Cassie’s box. Cassie had always been sociable. Peter let him sniff until the lady pulled her dog away by his skimpy leash. That leash would never have held Cassie, Peter thought.

Still standing at the counter but now to one side, Peter pulled up the lid to the box, half expecting to see ashes. What he saw was two concentric circles on a larger, shiny silver circle. It looked strangely familiar. Peter couldn’t help but think of spaghetti sauce.

Winter Snow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Travis Erwin said...

Plundered Booty - 80,000 word humor/mainstream


My tale is one that should not be told. For years, I have protected my secrets the way fathers protect adolescent daughters. But some urges simply cannot be held back. Not those of horny teenage boys, and not my desire to tell this story.

Sure there are risks, but there are times when the reward is worth the gamble. Funny thing is, I've never been much of a gambler. Fear of losing always kept me away from the betting window. Only after it was too late, did I learn how much could be lost without ever playing the game.

What game you ask? Patience, I'll get there.

But first, let me explain a couple of things since a few of you are probably getting squeamish. Here you are holding a book titled Plundered Booty, and I'm rambling on about underage girls and teenage boys. That's enough to make most anybody uneasy.

Don't worry. It ain’t that kind of book. Reading my story will not land you on the F.B.I.’s watch list. A Dateline camera crew isn't lurking in your bushes ready to demand answers for your shoddy morals. Your neighbors will not receive a postcard from Barnes and Noble telling them you have recently bought this book.

In other words, you will not be labeled a pervert for reading this. As I said, it ain't that kind of story.

No children were exploited, no animals were hurt, and no harmful greenhouse gases were released in the creation of these words. Unless you count the vapors emitting from Junior's bullshit, but neither you nor I can be blamed for that.

Now that we’ve covered what this story isn't, let me tell you what it is. Like all good tales, this one is about love ... with a healthy dose of lust thrown in for good measure.

Love and lust. Caribbean rum and brand new automobiles. Blatant lies and plundered dreams. That's the foundation. Yeah, I'm leaving out a few things, but you’d stop reading right now if I told you everything up front.

Here’s what I can tell you. My name is Hank Petty Zybeck. Hank, after the greatest country and western singer of all time. My dear departed daddy's description, not mine. Petty, for the king of all racecar drivers. Again, my daddy's opinion, but one I happen to share. And Zybeck, because I'm my father's son. Least that was my momma's claim to her dying day.

Who knows, it might even be true, but neither of my parents stood taller than five-nine, whereas I’m a good five inches better than six foot. My dad's hair was the color of axle grease and my momma's was a couple of shades darker if anything -- my hair has always been fender rust red.

But this story isn't about my questionable heritage, and it has been a long while since I went by Hank. Now days, most folks simply call me Captain.

Why?

Well, that happens to be where this story begins.

Winter Snow said...

"A Wish to Rule" (37,000 words)

“Can you believe it, Saipa?” Hemi shrieked. “We’re finally going to meet her! What do think she’s like?”
I rolled my eyes. “Honestly, I don’t see why you want to meet her after all these years.”
“Saipa!” Hemi scorned. “Amnesia or not, she’s still our sister!” She looked at the portal that I, being the only one in our family with magical powers, had created.
I peered at the dagger that I held behind my back, about to strike just before she turned to me.
It’s now or never… I reminded myself. I set my teeth and promised to complete the deed the next time she glanced away. Hemi was a bit slow, but she had fast reflexes. I could not risk her catching me in the act.
“Are you well, Sister?” she asked. “You look really pale.”
I took a deep breath and relaxed my expression into a smile. “Of course I am. I’m just anxious about the portal. This is my first one, after all.”
“Thank you,” Hemi said suddenly. “I know you don’t care for our sister, but still… thank you for helping me find the portal.”
I felt a traitorous twinge of guilt. “No problem…”
She spun round to look upon our vast metropolis. “I wonder if she knows—” she stopped mid-sentence during the final words of her life.
I watched her expression change from a heart-broken stare to a complete look of nothingness as she slid down onto the ground.

Lafreya said...

ACT OF GRACE-

Here is the question the people in my hometown of Vigilant, Michigan want answered: Why did I, Grace Johnson, an African-American high school senior, an honor student, take two bullets to protect the life of the white supremacist jackass, Jonathan Gilmore? I haven’t really ventured to explain why I saved Mr. Gilmore’s life. Those who love me already understand, for them it is enough for me to say the ancestors made me do it. However, other folks, especially other folks of color, feel I need to testify to them and God, in that order, about why I have committed racial treason.

Mr. Gilmore was supposed to have died the day at the Racial Justice Rally, instead I got in the way and now people are either calling me an ignorant hero or hissing that I’m a double -stuffed Oreo bitch. Actually I’m neither, but I realize now that one of the reasons why people’s attitudes about me are as thick and nasty as dried snot is because there is a critical lack of information about my motives. Only trivial and bizarre evidence of my mission of justice exists. If it were up to me I wouldn’t say anything, I would just leave everyone in the dark and go on about my business. However, the voices of the ancestors tell me I do owe others an account of my story as an example of the true meaning of my name. Now, I can blow people off, I can tell folks what part of hell to go to and give them detailed directions on how to get there. The ancestors, however, cannot be ignored. They can’t be told to mind their own ethereal business because we, the living, are their business.

This morning they made Dr. Davies, my hospital appointed psychiatrist, tell me that if I write in a journal about my experiences and observations as if I’m talking to others, especially to Mr. Gilmore, it will speed up the process of my mental and physical healing.

“Writing a journal,” he said, his blue eyes reflecting some other soul besides his, “will stop the fires of anxiety and anger from blackening your dreams and moods.”

If Dr. Davies had been himself he would have been appalled at the New Age dreamy psychobabble poetry coming out of his mouth, but of course he wasn’t himself. Their words on his pale-dry lips were a direct order to press my pen to notebook paper. Pain and suffering have made my hindsight telescopic, so let’s begin at the true beginning, a breath to prime my memory, “Rise, story, rise.”

Conduit said...

Nathan, I'm sure you're sick of this opening line by now, but thanks for hosting another contest. Here goes:

SUICIDE CLUB (a work in progress)

His hands just looked dirty to casual eyes, a slight darkening on the knuckles, a shadow on his palm. Bip pretended not to notice the policeman glance down at his fingers. He wanted to curl them inside his sleeves, but he left them on the table, the bruises like blood-blossoms beneath his skin.

"Have you ever been on the BezzieMates website?" asked the officer.

"Yeah," said Bip. The word leaked out of him, a thin hiss. He tried not to look scared. He failed.

"Have you an account there?"

"Yeah." Graffiti covered every inch of the desk between him and the cop. He looked for Dale's name among the scrawls, maybe one of the bands they loved. Had loved. Somebody had etched Iron Maiden into the wood. They'd got the logo wrong. Dale hadn't done it.

"Do you use it much?"

Bip let his eyes rise from the desktop. The cop's face was an earnest mask. "Sometimes. Not much."

"But you have an account. A password."

"Yeah." Bip's arse hurt. The plastic seat seemed to grate against his buttocks, even when he sat still. He pressed a finger against the bruise on his palm. The pain distracted him.

"And what's your account name? Philip something? Phil?"

"My nickname. And the year I was born."

The cop sighed. His Police Service of Northern Ireland uniform rustled as he leaned forward. "And what's that?"

"Bip1991."

The policeman's mask slipped, revealing the greyness of him. Bip wondered how old he was. Thirty something, maybe forty. Old, anyway. The cop scanned the papers in front of him. He found something and the grey spread even to his lips. He turned the pages face down on the desk.

"Do you want to tell me about Dale?" he asked.

Bip looked across the classroom to where his mother and Miss Livingstone sat. His mother pressed a tissue to her nose. Miss Livingstone had been crying. Her cheeks were red and still carried traces of mascara. Dale fancied -- had fancied -- Miss Livingstone. When she leaned over your desk you could see her cleavage. Dale swore blind she didn't wear a bra one day, and he saw the pale sphere of her breast. Bip didn't believe him. The image lingered, though, and Bip visited it often. Even over the last few days, when such things shouldn't stir him.

"Philip?"

Bip startled. "What?"

"Do you want to tell me about Dale?"

"Suppose. Like what?"

"Had he been down, lately? Under pressure? Worried about his exams?"

"Don't think so. No more than usual."

"And what's the usual?"

"He got depressed sometimes. So does everybody."

The cop stepped delicately over his words. "Not everybody does what Dale did."

"Some do," said Bip. The cop knew what he meant. So did his mother and Miss Livingstone.

hannah said...

These Humans All Suck--YA--45,000 words.

“It’s raining.”

He ignores me and changes lanes, his arms draped over the steering wheel. His cuticles are bloody rags. Boy.

“Only children bite their nails, Noel.”

No answer.

“It’s raining.”

His eyes flicker behind his sunglasses. “I’m aware.” He doesn’t close the sunroof.

The radio hisses soft static. We can’t agree on music. Drops of water bounce in and slide down the dashboard.

“Consequently, I’m getting wet.”

Noel finally cracks a smile. “Quiet now,” he says, but he turns the knob and the sunroof slides shut.

About half an hour ago we left the Baltimore Beltway and changed to softer suburban roads. Now we wait for the stoplights and make dozens of left turns. The rain against the hood sounds like a typewriter. Noel’s ruined fingertips tap the steering wheel while I stare at a red light. The message is clear: we’re almost there.

“I’m thinking we don’t go tonight,” he says.

I look at him.

It’s not like I don’t understand his position. It’s just that my entire life is not going places.

“I mean, it’s getting sort of late.” He indicates the 7:03 flashing beside the speedometer. “Maybe we just check into the hotel tonight. Call Mom and let her know we arrived all safe and sound. And worry about, you know, the family. Tomorrow.”

He’s freaking out. Unbelievable. Noel tends to cycle—-he goes from dormant to hyperactive, like a bipolar toddler. Freaking out, however, is not part of either of these stages.

“You’re freaking out.”

“I’m not. I just don’t think it’s right to emotionally tax ourselves tonight.”

Forget Noel. My fingers crawl into my pocket and I withdraw the two creased photographs. There’s Mariah, striking against the old electric factory I used as a backdrop. There’s Josh, trying to be serious for the camera, and I can see right into his mind...loyal my ass...how could I have been so stupid...all he wanted to do was touch her. Always.

Noel snatches the picture out of my hands. “Especially considering how close you are to some kind of dementia.”

I cross my arms. “Shut up.”

“Look, you’re grieving,” he continues, and our green arrow lights up. We turn left. Noel makes his pretentious voice. “You’re grieving for a seemingly timeless relationship with the seemingly perfect best friend that disintegrated as you walked in on him undressing your girlfriend. Oh, Josh, how could you? Thirteen years of near-brotherhood washed down the drain. The shock, the anguish. Oh, to be sixteen and backstabbed again. These are the happiest days of your life, Ian. Lavish.”

“Have I mentioned shut up?”

He smiles.

“And you’re just trying to change the subject,” I say. “You’re seriously chickening out?”

He is no longer smiling. “Fuck off,” he says, the predictable shut-out. “We’re going tomorrow.”

I pull my knees up and stare out the window. I would do well to remember that Noel and I are not close. Sometimes we get along so well that I forget.

dorciha said...

Mother Trucker- (WF) -92, 000 words

This morning I woke up craving Chinese food and my smoking hot neighbor Vladimir. Curious to find out if my Ukrainian neighbor was a boxer or brief man I lay still trying to recapture the mood. The dream ceased but the ringing phone next to my bed didn’t.

“… ello?” My voice cracked from lack of use.

“What the hell you still doing in bed?” The caller accused.

How’d the caller know I was in bed? Instinctively I sat up squinting around the dark room for somebody that didn’t belong. Wondering about the time I checked my watch, hmmm, blur-o-clock.

“You know what time it is?” The caller asked.

Holy crap this is freaky. I rolled off the bed sneaking a peek under it. Didn’t see any swamp monsters using a cell phone but I did find the ice cream scoop.

The caller didn’t waste time on pleasantries. “It’s your lucky day, got a damn driver that developed a nasty ass case of pink eye… the bastard.”

“Vic?” I asked recognizing the slang. “Did you say ‘pink eye’? As in… as in crusty eye disease?” I popped off the floor wide-awake and full of energy.

“As in I need a flippin’ driver that can see outta both flippin’ eyes.”

“That’s fantastic!” I yipped waving the ice cream scoop like it was the Olympic torch. “Because I can see out of both eyes. Okay! When do I start and where am I going?”

“Hold your engines Maria Andretti.” Vic barked. “My office, two o’clock.” Click.

“I’ll be there!” I assured dead air and hung up. Survival instincts reared to life when the phone shrilled unexpectedly in my hand. I chucked the ice cream scoop and heard glass shatter somewhere behind me. The phone reminded me it was still in my hand.

It was my sister Charlotte. “Still planning to pick Ricky up this morning?” She asks.

“What I’m planning sister is to arrive at my grave skidding in sideways, totally worn out, margarita in one hand, chocolate in the other and screaming “YEE HA, what a ride!”

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Nothing, that’s a new life motto I’m testing out. By the way, I’m gonna be a trucker for real this time!”

Brigid said...

Wicked Sensibility // Urban Fantasy

Rebecca flung herself into the car in a vain attempt to escape the nighttime November cold. Damp gym clothes glued the chill to her body, and she fumbled with the key to start the engine and get some heat going. Cursing the mercurial Maryland weather—the day before it had been in the sixties—she glanced at the rear view mirror.

There was a man in her car.

Rebecca shrieked and spun in her seat.

“Don’t be frightened.” His voice shook a little. “I’m just hiding.”

His fear was like something alive in the car, pressing heavily against her skin, forcing her still. Her hand clutched at the door handle, but she couldn’t look away from him. She knew she should be grabbing for the cell phone. Hell, she should be jumping out of the car, screaming like a woman possessed.

Anything except just sitting there staring.

Move, stupid! She dug her fingers into the upholstery. “What are you doing?” Damn it, her voice was squeaking. She ground the words out. “Get out! Now!”

He hesitated, and she was sure he was going to refuse or take some action borne of desperation. But he just looked past her, at the parking lot, dark eyes searching.

Then he nodded, bringing his eyes back to hers. “Just—” His voice caught, and he winced. “It’s okay. I’ll get out.” He reached for the door handle.

Rebecca watched him. He was young, maybe her age, with dark hair in stylish disarray. He looked clean cut and together, wearing a casual button down shirt in some dark color, and a leather jacket. Even in the near dark, she could tell that the clothes were sharp, fashionable, more Abercrombie than J.C. Penney.

Something about the sluggishness of his movement puzzled her, forcing her gaze lower. One hand pressed against his stomach, and she saw something dark on his skin, something that gleamed in the light from a distant streetlamp.

Something wet.

The adrenaline shot back with full force. “Holy crap. You’re bleeding.” That damn squeak was back. “A lot.”

Chasing Miss Amy said...

Anatomy of a Girl

She had everything that she needed to take her own life. She had contemplated suicide for two months and had spent a great deal of time researching her method of self-deliverance. She had never even fired a gun before, so death by gun shot was unrealistic. Her little, one bedroom apartment didn’t offer the capabilities of pulling off a hanging. She thought about using the door like Michael Hutchence, but remembered he only wanted a better orgasm - not death. Accidents will happy, she supposed. She couldn’t even stand water running on her face during a shower, so lying naked in the tub and drowning was kind of out the of the question.

She thought about going out like a rock star and doping herself dead, but she wanted to remember the last moments of her life. She was afraid of heights so she wouldn’t be able to plummet to her death and she didn’t have a garage so letting the car run while she listened to the radio and slowly passing from living to dead wouldn’t work either.

Drinking Liquid Drano would have been too painful and she didn’t like the sight of blood so slitting her wrists was also denied. She briefly considered running head on with a semi, but knew then it wasn’t only her life she was playing with, but some innocent bystander. It would probably be a soccer mom with three kids in her car and a truck driver who just became a father for the first time. When she fucked up, she usually fucked up big.

No, none of these would work, which is why she decided to kill herself in a more traditional way. She would pop pills - a lot of pills. She would wash the pills down with a lot of Vodka.

It had actually been quite easy getting everything she needed to kill herself. Two months of doctor visits to six different doctors at six different clinics in four different towns produced all the pills she would need and more. Dr. Franks prescribed Zyban to help her quit smoking and Dr. Smith prescribed Zoloft to help her with seasonal depression. The ER doctor prescribed Vicodin for a back injury and Dr. Sampson prescribed Xanax for anxiety. She got Valium from Dr. White to help her deal with the death of her make believe fiancé and Dr. Richman prescribed Adderall for her ADHD.

She was surprised at how easy it was, getting this buffet of drugs. All it took was a little research into symptoms, some bullshit sob story, and the money to buy the drugs from the pharmacy. Dr. Smith actually gave her enough samples to last her for three months. It was almost as easy to get the prescriptions as it was getting the vodka she would be washing them down with. Yes, she had everything she needed to kill herself. Now, she just needed to do it.

Aimless Writer said...

EYES OF MY KILLER
He loved elevators. In an elevator you could stand in a woman’s space, inhale her essence and no one cared. The more crowded the better. The wood feel of the small box, four walls closing in, a moving crypt of pleasure. Women close enough to eat. He could close his eyes and imagine being in a coffin with them. A glimpse of how they would be in death.

He walked the mall. Weaving in and out of stores, prowling the food court, and now loitering outside of the ladies room. They always smelled best when they left the ladies room. Wafting scents of hairspray and perfume traveling in their wake. A shudder of excitement ran through him. Their smells were the ultimate aphrodisiac. When he could no longer stand it, he headed over to the elevators. Ready to choose his next lover.

Two frazzled looking women with strollers stepped in and they shifted their burdens into the far corner. One gave him a halfhearted smile before she turned and faced the doors. A larger woman came next and squeezed into the space between him and the strollers. He didn’t like her eyes. Too flat and boring. Then a blond got in next to him and he took that deep breath. Her gaze stopped before she met his eyes and she turned to face the door like the other good little corpses. The doors closed and he couldn’t help but look over his prey.

Lavender and vanilla.

He swayed closer feeling the heat radiating off her body as he breathed her in again. The movement made the woman glance over her shoulder and when he caught her eye she jerked away and turned to face him. Her stare was immediately one of fear and she pressed into the front corner of the box. He couldn’t help but stare back.

“Hello.”

His voice echoed in the elevator and everyone looked at him. He smiled at the blond. One of the stroller women nudged the other and grinned.

“You have the most unusual eyes.”
They almost glowed as they bore into his and he felt them reach deep inside and touch the darkness he carried there, caressing the very core of his being.

The blond sidled around the woman with the stroller and began to frantically press the open door button with one thumb.

“Do I know you?” He felt he did. He could see it in her eyes, recognition. A gentle, pale blue gaze dancing with his life force. “You know me, don’t you?” He stepped closer.

Her mouth opened and closed, but no words came out and the man felt a thrill of excitement run through him. She balled a fist and started to hammer the buttons.

I could drown in those eyes. Soul mates, he thought as she continued to worry the buttons.

“What are you doing?” Stroller Woman asked, “We’re between floors.”

Without answering, the woman began slapping at the buttons, trying to get the elevator stopped. The others were staring at her, but she kept those amazing eyes locked on his and he smiled. He could believe they were joined now, souls coupled in an embrace and he fingered the red satin ribbons in his coat pocket.

“I will have you.” He mouthed silently and as the elevator door opened, she ran.
(Psychic meets serial killer-70,000words)

Spartezda said...

From The Crime-Fighting Zookeeper Chronicles


This was the last time I let a wyvern talk me into anything.

"Kitty," whispered a voice in the darkness. "Come down, little kitty, come play . . . "

I huddled atop a spray-drenched rock, shivering. Salt crusted my fur and stung on my lacerated paw pads, and the sea boomed and crashed in the cave around me. Why had I agreed to this? I was a zookeeper, not a bounty-hunter.

"Little kitty, pretty kitty," sang the voice. Scales rasped on stone, and I spun at a flash of translucent fin. Both moons shone, bright and mocking, through a fissure overhead.

Another wave surged past my perch, showering me with foam and bits of kelp. I bared my fangs, though even the toughest werejaguar couldn't fight off a rogue sea serpent. The plan had seemed so simple: I'dd stroll along, luring the serpent onto shore, while Alaine dived from above and zapped it with a stunner. Then we'd haul the creature to the nearest watch station and collect our rewards: for me, enough money to pay my recent court costs; for Alaine, being the first reporter with the story--the capture of the Man-Eater of Djera, terror of innocent beachgoers and fishermen everywhere, or at least everywhere along the coast of Coribar.

"I have never eaten a shapechanger before," murmured the voice. "I wonder what you will taste like."

Right. Events had certainly worked out as planned.

The dark waters swirled and began to recede. I tensed, watching the tops of rocks emerge from the lowering sea, algae-slick stepping stones to the cave's mouth. A clear path to freedom--but if I saw it, so did the sea serpent.

Behind me, the drips and echoes hid any sound of the creature. I lashed my tail. In moments the ocean would rush back, like some great beast exhaling, and trap me again. So far the sea serpent had found me more amusing alive than dead--obviously its mother had never taught it not to play with its food--but as soon as it tired of the game, I'd be a crunchy midnight snack. Yet I would not die waiting like a hen meant for Tiaday dinner.

I gathered myself and sprang. I hit the closest rock, my claws scrabbling for purchase, and leaped again, eyes fixed on the open sky.

The sea serpent's head darted out. It slammed into my side, sending me plunging into the water. I gasped for breath, nearly drowning myself before I bobbed to the surface, my ribs throwing out sharp splinters of pain. I tried to take shallow breaths. Moonlight glittered on the serpent's ruby-dark scales as it wove its horse-like head back and forth above me. Long, muscular coils of its body slid from the shadows.

The shifting current washed me against the serpent's side. Its head swung, jaws agape . . .

E. Lynd said...

Kick Punch Breathe--Women's Fiction

I actually met Mac at the supermarket, so there goes any justification for disdain at my mother picking up men there. Still. This is hardly the same thing. For one, we weren’t lingering over a dish of chana masala, but in the regular, non-fragrant American supermarket, looking at boxes of blueberry muffin mix, which is about as un-Indian as you can get if you think about it. I had my hand on a box of Jiffy—it was cheap—and heard this deep, lilting voice warn, “I wouldn’t.”

I turned, and was face-to-face with a decent substitute for a salt and pepper version of Mel Gibson, except this guy was taller and his eyes were even bluer than Mel’s. I raised my eyebrows. “Really?”

“Fake berries.” God, he sounded cute. Four words, and already irresistible. He pulled down a different box, put it in my hands. It was heavy for its size. “There’s a can of the real thing in here. Much better, if you have to use a mix.”

In fact, I don’t even like blueberries, and normally I bake exclusively from scratch, but we were having a potluck breakfast at work in the morning, I didn’t want to be tempted by something fattening I’d want to eat, plus I had a kickboxing class in just over an hour and Reggie would slam me if I was late. All fairly interesting things to say to a handsome man in aisle seven at five-forty-five on a Thursday night. So what did I say?

“Really?”

“Aye.”

I couldn’t help it, I laughed. “Did you just say, ‘aye’?”

He smiled, and his grin blew Mel’s away. “Aye.”

“As in, ‘aye, aye, Captain?’” I said it in a gruff, faux-pirate voice, saluting with one hand and snapping my spine and heels into line.

“As in, will you have a drink with me, and the answer is, aye.”

Oh my. Aye indeed.

I put the Jiffy back on the shelf, dropped the box he’d given me into my cart, and stuck out my right hand. “I’m Maya Sen, and I can’t tonight, but I’d love to tomorrow, if the offer stands.”

He took my hand in both of his, and smiled again, bigger this time. “Tavish MacKinnon—Mac. And I’m afraid the offer expires tonight. Tomorrow, you’ll have to have dinner with me instead. The store resets its specials on Friday.”

Laughing, I pumped my hand in his, and said the first thing that came to mind. “Aye.”

DeadlyAccurate said...

This is the start of a story based on the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale, Jorinda and Joringel.

----------

The squirrel scampered along the ground, keeping up with me in fits and starts. “Why didn’t you go to the sheriff?” he said. He stopped, his tail twitching, and sniffed the air. “I smell fox.” He sniffed again. “Never mind, she’s moving away. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, the sheriff?”

“I did,” I said. “He laughed at me.” Something pinched my finger, and I loosened my grip on the rose I carried and stared at the drop of blood glistening off the thorn.

“Let me get this straight,” the sheriff had said, his braying laughter turning his cheeks red. “A witch,” snort, “turned your girlfriend,” snerk, “into a bird.”

“But it’s true,” I said. “Everyone knows there's a witch living in the castle in the forest. Haven’t you noticed all the fair maidens who’ve gone missing?”

He stopped laughing and furrowed his bushy brows. “Come to think of it, my sister disappeared on round three seasons ago.”

“Disappeared? And you didn’t wonder where she went?”

He lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “I just thought she’d gone shopping.”

“For nine months?”

Again that half-hearted shrug. “She likes to shop.”

“So you decided to rescue her yourself,” the squirrel said, bringing my thoughts back to the present.

A loud chittering overhead caught his attention. He answered back. A pine cone came hurtling down at him, followed by a second and then a third.

He dodged the projectiles and leaped onto a tree, clinging sideways to the trunk. “Hurry. I stole his food stash last winter, and he still hasn’t gotten over it.”

I jogged after him. “I knew if my precious Jorinda was to be saved, I must be the one to do it.”

“The flower's a nice touch. I'm sure she'll appreciate the gesture. Personally, I have more luck with a good sunflower seed stash. The ladies go wild for sunflower seeds.”

I held up the brilliant red rose. A dew drop, beautiful and shimmering in the dawn light, clung to the inner petals as it had since the day I discovered it. “This is the flower that will free my beloved.”

The squirrel scurried up a tree. When I walked by, he hopped onto my shoulder, his claws digging into my skin. He balanced there and leaned forward. “It’s a nice rose, but I think it’s going to take more than that to bribe the witch.”

“I’m not going to bribe her. It’s a magic flower. I dreamed about it.”

“Your entire rescue scenario hinges on a flower you dreamed about?”

“A magic flower.” I climbed over a fallen log, and he jumped off. “It made perfect sense in my dream.”

“Uh huh. How’d your girlfriend—what’d you say her name was again?”

“Jorinda.”

“Right,” he drawled. “And you’re Joringel. You’re not siblings, are you?”

Christy said...

VIVA!

Music pounded from the room next door. Each low bass throb found a nerve deep inside Athena Hamilton’s head and struck relentlessly. Five more seconds and the pulsating chord vibrated throughout her body.

The numbers on the bedside clock glowed crimson in the darkness. Eight minutes past midnight.

Fifty-two minutes to go.

A strong hand pushed her into a pillow and she took a bite of musty bedding. Stale cigarettes settled on her tongue. This was not her favorite hotel. The housekeeping staff needed a complete overhaul and from what she remembered, the décor could do with the same. Of course in the dark no one noticed.

She turned her head and inhaled deeply. Vodka and sweat fumes assaulted her lungs - only slightly better than suffocating on cigarettes.

Someone turned the music up.

She closed her eyes. In her mind she left the hotel and went back to her childhood home of Natchez, Mississippi. For a brief minute she wasn’t surrounded by the flashing lights of Las Vegas, but sweet jasmine and sunshine. Isaiah stood under Granny Mertie’s lavish magnolia. His beautiful brown eyes sparkled with a hint of laughter-

“Sleep on your own time.” A sharp slap stung her thigh. Darkness returned. “I’m not paying you to relax.”

The Belle in Blue said...

SYMMETRY-Women's Fiction-66,000 words

Jess always woke a second before she could complete the castration. Curses, foiled again.

She blinked at the red numbers projected onto her ceiling by the clock on her night stand—4:23 a.m. Plenty of time to go back to sleep and finish the job, but she knew it was useless. She’d just end up dreaming about giving birth to a canned ham or grocery shopping in her pajamas, and Lee’s manhood would escape the knife again.

She snuggled against the body pillow occupying his place beside her in bed and got an indignant rowl from the Siamese cat curled up there. Jess smiled at the thought of what Lee would say about letting Ming sleep with her and thought maybe she’d tell him he’d been replaced by his feline nemesis when she saw him at the meeting later that morning.

She fell asleep reminding herself of how much better off she was without her two-timing, cat-hating, conceited jerk of a husband, and she dreamed he made love to her on the conference table at work, castration the furthest thing from her mind.

God, she hated him.


Five hours later, she sat across from Lee in the conference room at the Espanola Times and tried to focus on Thad Crandall’s weekly lecture about deadlines. If she hadn’t known better, she would have thought Lee knew what she’d dreamed about him from the way he kept nudging her with his foot under the table and flashing that damn blond-Adonis smile at her.

She tried to suppress the dream images of his face over hers, but every time she looked at him, her mind became a private movie screen featuring the world premiere of Position: Impossible. Shackled as she was with a redhead’s proclivity for blushing, she knew he noticed her agitation and probably thought it was from simply being near him.

As soon as the meeting adjourned, she fled down the hall toward the copyediting room, but he waylaid her just before she reached her desk.

“Wait, Jess. Did you get my message about coming over Friday? We need to talk.”

She took a step back and tried to walk around him. “Talk to my lawyer. I don’t have anything to say to you.”

He held on to her arm. “We both know you don’t hate me, so quit trying to act like you do.”

She smiled, but her eyes were an angry green. “As I’ve pointed out to you countless times in your copy, Lee, it’s act as if you do. And you lost all claim to giving me orders when you decided to trade your marriage for a night in Silicone Heaven. Remember?” She freed her arm and pushed past him to sit at her desk.

He leaned over and lowered his voice. “You can’t divorce me over one night of drunken stupidity.”

“Just watch me. And the stupidity is chronic.”

~grace~ said...

Untitled WIP

It was raining and Alec was late. Again. Jane killed time by trying to smoke a cigarette but the end kept fizzling out. Finally she flicked it aside and reached for her phone to text Alec. Again.

She texted cryptically in case his father was in the process of lecturing him, which was why Alec was usually late. Asking him why he wasn’t in the park at midnight like he was supposed to be probably wouldn’t help things, so Jane texted a simple “hello? you awake?” And went back to waiting.

Except she wasn’t alone anymore. Three large teenage boys in hooded sweatshirts had just sauntered into the park. Looked like they were looking for something to do. Trouble. Jane saw them see her but pretended not to, just pulled her raincoat tighter around her face and tried to appear nonchalant.

Nope. They were coming towards her. She recognized them, or at least one of them. He had stopped coming to school about four months earlier. Rumor had it he’d been suspended for drug possession and never come back. Or he’d just been kicked out. Or something. Whatever it was, Jane didn’t really want to talk to him in a deserted park at midnight. Him or his buddies.

Jane began walking, trying not to look like she was running from them. She headed for the convenience store that was at one corner of the park. She wasn’t going to make it.

“Looking for someone?”

Jane ignored the boy and walked faster.

“Hey, I’m talking to you, Goldilocks.”

Should she start running? They were close and would probably catch her. Running would just make them angrier. Where the hell was Alec?

One of the boys she didn’t recognize had run ahead and cut off her path. He was grinning in a sneering sort of way. Jane looked for an alternate route but it was too late anyway, one of them had her arm. The one she recognized from school.

“Let go!”

“You deaf? Jane, isn’t it?”

Jane tried to remember his name but couldn’t. She decided to play it as coolly as she could. “I didn’t realize you were talking to me. I’m not blond.”

“You look blond,” said one of the boys.

“Do you see anyone else I could have been talking to?” said the boy with her arm. He gestured around the park and he used her arm to do it.

“Ow! Let go of me.”

“What are you doing here in the park by yourself? Meeting someone?”

“Meeting us!”

“My secret lover,” Jane said. She yanked at her arm but he wasn’t letting it go. “He’s an enormous football player and very jealous.”

The boys thought this was hilarious. Jane was going to have to start kicking them in delicate places. If she could just run to the convenience store she’d be ok.

The crash of breaking glass startled all of them.

Anonymous said...

Chapter One- SINCERELY, ME
By Emily Rose

My mother always said my big mouth would get me in trouble. It’s too bad she isn’t here to tell me “I told you so!” She would enjoy that so much.


The man in front of me is large, both vertically and horizontally, but somehow, he’s got to have muscle under all that body. Because it takes a lot more than just a slap to send me sprawling to the ground. He’s staring at me like a piece of meat, and I must say, I’m quite good at returning the favor. So he grunts, and kicks me. Nice. I’m glad to meet you to. Pleased we’re getting along so well.


My head snaps back and hits the pavement. When I move it, my hair feels sticky. What is it about alleys that make people spit out their gum? I mean, really. I don’t need your pink sticky chew stuck in my hair. Groaning, I think about just how long it'll take to get out. He smirks, misinterpreting the sound.


“There’s this new invention,” I tell him, looking directly into his face. You’ll need to do a lot worse than that to scare me. “Oh, you’ll be so excited to hear about this. It’s called a shower. And water comes out of the spout, and then you use soap, and-,” I don’t get a chance to say more. His boot is in my face, the rancid smell from the hole in the toe only emphasizing my point. Oh the irony!


I’m not really worried at all until he unsheathes the knife. It’s a hell of a knife. Long, and so sharp, like a hunting knife. And guess who’s on the menu. This has officially stopped being funny.


“Okay,” I say, propping myself up on my arms. “Put that away now. You don’t want to hurt yourself.” He ignores me. Perfect. Well, the perfect excuse anyway. I can defend myself now.


I’m up on my feet before he can blink. He looks at me and then back at the ground as though confused. Yeah, that’s right buddy. I’m not the innocent, mouthy teenage girl you thought I was. Time to meet the real Kristen.

jen16166 said...

Fighting For Tyler - WIP

“What!” Cassie’s face noticeably paled as she regarded the elderly solicitor sitting across the antique desk in front of her.

“It’s true, Miss Matthews. Your late friend, Angela Canton named you as her son’s guardian in the event of her death.” Cassie felt as if the world was caving in around her. She knew nothing about kids. Especially little ones! Panic started to rise in her gut. She couldn’t look after a kid for one afternoon never mind about the next fifteen years.

“I take it Miss Canton didn’t discuss this with you?” Cassie thought of her friend and colleague, now lying cold in a grave not two miles from the office where she now sat. She swallowed trying to get the words past the lump in her throat.

“No,” she croaked. “No, she didn’t.” Because Angie would have known what Cassie’s reaction would be. Complete fear. No correction - blind terror. Cassie was hopeless with children. The one time Angie had left her three year old son in Cassie’s care for a couple of hours, all hell had broken loose.

On Angie’s return the house looked like a bomb had hit it. Tyler had a bump on his head and was screaming at the top of his lungs. Food that he’d flung across the kitchen covered the floor creating a slippery minefield. Cassie had been chasing him around the house trying to catch him and calm him to no avail – the squirming, screaming banshee was not having any of it. It was that moment that she knew she didn’t have a maternal bone in her body. Needless to say, Angie hadn’t asked Cassie to baby-sit again and Cassie hadn’t offered. She wouldn’t put herself through that hell again for any amount of money. So what had Angie been thinking making her Tyler’s guardian?

“Isn’t there anyone else?” Cassie asked desperately. “What about his father?”

“A copy of Tyler’s birth certificate was enclosed with her will. According to the document the father is not known and there’s no other information relating to who he might be. Did she ever talk to you about the father?”

“No.” It was the only thing that Angie had never talked about. Despite being pushed she had kept that rather important detail to herself.

“I’m afraid that if you feel you are unable to take care of him, the boy will have to remain in care until a suitable foster home can be found.”

“No!” Cassie said vehemently. She took a deep breathe to try and steady her shaking hands. “No, I’ll take him.”

The solicitor raised his eyebrows. “You do realize the responsibilities this will entail Miss Matthews? Taking care of a three year old is no easy task, especially in your line of work.”

“I don’t have a choice,” Cassie replied reluctantly. She sighed trying to figure out how she was going to cope. One thing she knew was that she couldn’t let little Tyler go into a home.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

All right, I'll play. Can't resist.

From SENTINEL, urban fantasy, 108K words:


This is stress relief, Aidan told himself as he stepped into the pub, ignoring the guilt pinging his conscience. One more night wasn’t going to make a difference in finding their mom—not after so many months. Besides, he’d wanted to skip this term and keep looking; Kaelin had insisted they come back to school. Their mom would want them to, he’d said. Aidan didn’t know about that. He had no idea what she wanted any more.

Aidan spotted a slender brunette and his preoccupation over his missing mother vanished. Her jeans clung to her in all the right ways. Where had she been all term?

“Hey, I’m Aidan,” he said to the girl, once he’d maneuvered his way through the crowd and greeted some friends.

Her gaze traveled up his forearm as she took his hand. “What’s that on your wrist?”

“My armguard--for archery.” He grinned because she just asked to make conversation; she knew about his archery. He could tell she knew all about him.

“Staying here for the holidays?” he asked.


“Yes, you?”

“I’m going home,” he said. The tangle of conversations and energy made him sweat. Someone opened the door and the scent of sleet wafted toward him. He shook his head, trying to focus back on her. Maybe she was it--the something, or someone--that would happen at this pub tonight. He’d known about it for a few days now.

She frowned and glanced away. Her pause for deliberation piqued his interest. He pushed a little harder. “My flight doesn’t leave until tomorrow, though,” he added. “So I’ve got tonight to hang out.”

She relaxed. “Where’s home? You sound Canadian.”

Aidan edged closer to her. “American, actually. I’m from Colorado.”

“Oh, the mountains,” she said. His close proximity made her tip her head to look up at him, leaving her mouth at the perfect angle for kissing. “I’ve always wanted to go.”

“That’s so weird,” he said, smiling, “because I’ve always wanted to take you.”

He didn’t catch her reply because his anticipation caught up with him. Her colors flared into a brilliant blue halo. She was just happy and excited, that was all. He’d been wrong. Maybe he confused a premonition with a dream. That happened sometimes. He shrugged to himself. The night was young, the girl was hot, and he was free until his flight the next morning. That was the plan anyway, until he saw his brother step through the doorway, shaking the rain from his jacket.

Kaelin ran his hand through his blond bangs. His smile accentuated the sharp angle of his cheekbones and made a dimple in his left cheek. He scanned the room casually, but a sick feeling edged into Aidan’s stomach. When was the last time he’d seen his brother in the pub? A year ago? Hell, forget that. When was the last time he’d seen Kaelin smile?

E.M.Alexander said...

Strawberries for Susannah - MG, WIP

The jailor’s key turned in the lock, releasing the ancient bolt with a dull clunk that I felt with each thick beat of my heart. In the silence that followed, I told myself I was ready. Yet, all this time waiting could not make that true. How can you be ready to meet death when you are a girl of twelve and you’ve never really lived?

The rusty hinge squealed as the door swung open. The jailor was a large man with an imposing face, but he had a soft spot for the prisoners in his care. He’d been kind to me, these past weeks. Not once had he beat me or deprived me of meals. One night, when the temperature had dipped low, he brought me an extra blanket. His wife had sewn it and it smelled of sage. I knew about his three children, girls full of mischief and grace. He spoke of them often. I let him, though it pained me to hear of their adventures. Mr. Totten could not know how it pained me to think of his girls giggling together, sharing secrets until caught under their mother’s chastising glare. I saw clearly their exaggerated seriousness, the struggles not to smile as they bent their heads, yet again, to their studies.

I licked my lips, dry and cracked. They would not form questions I wanted to ask Mr. Totten. Did his daughters ever throw apple peels over their shoulders to discover their true love’s initials spelled out behind them? Had they seen the trick shooters in the Wild West Show that came noisily to town last summer? What was it like to ride down the streets of New London on a bicycle? I wanted to know these things. I wanted to know I’d have more time to figure them out for myself. I wanted.

Mr. Totten stooped to step through into the low door frame. “It’s time, Susannah.”

I rose on aching legs. With the oak door open, the vile air in the cell gave way to a new scent. The crisp chill of snow was in the air. It was three days past Christmas, the year of our Lord, 1786. I had never met my father. I was three months from my thirteenth birthday. Still, I thought: Not so bad. Not such a bad day for it to end.

“Thank you, Mr. Totten.” I put my dirty hand out and the middle-aged jailor folded my small hand into the warmth of his large, calloused hand. One side of his face was scarred by a bad burn, but his eyes held a benevolence that belied his deformed face. He tried to smile, but the smooth planes of the left side of his countenance where always in conflict with the twisted flesh of the other. Some might call him a monster, but I knew different. “Thank you for your kindness to me. I shan’t forget it.”

~grace~ said...

My page has been up for like 20 minutes and I already see something I want to fix. Just two words. Darn it all...

vermillion said...

Thursday, Rocktober 5, 1978

Some days you’re the dog and some days you’re the fire hydrant. That’s what my Uncle Casey used to say. Considering I was in the bathroom at the top FM radio in San Francisco, trying to pry a birth control device out of my cervix, I figured it was one of those fire hydrant days.

Jill took a deep hit off the joint as she crouched between my legs. She wore a long purple skirt and matching top with black cowboy boots. The ribbons in her flaming red hair were completely matted and hung limply to one side. Her thin wire glasses bent slightly to the right, but looked balanced with the freckles sprinkled across her face.

We were crammed together in a stall. I was holding a makeup mirror out in front of me while she pointed the flashlight at my vagina or as Jill referred to it - my pookie.

Jill went to the University of San Francisco, while I went to Stanford. We both worked at our university radio stations and majored in Broadcasting. A week earlier at Stanford, I had seen a flyer about being part of an FDA experiment for a new kind of birth control. A couple of students had talked me into going with them and being part of a test group for a new device called a cervical cap, a small rubber thimble that went over your cervix. When I signed up for a cervical cap, I felt I was contributing to women’s liberation in a small way. The problem was, I had inserted it two days earlier and now I couldn’t get it out. It supposedly worked on the suction principle, but it felt as though it was glued inside of me. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to go to the school OB/GYN and have them lecture me about birth control. I called Jill about it yesterday and she assured me that we would figure out a way to get it out.

“I don’t get it, how do you pee?” Jill asked.

“It’s a cap for my cervix, I don’t pee from there.” She decided to go into the adjoining stall and shine the flashlight down at me while I held the mirror between my legs. She handed me the joint and banged into the next bathroom stall.

B.J. Anderson said...

Roeh burrowed his hands beneath his armpits and tried to ignore the shards of cold needling his naked body. Shuddering, he shifted his bare feet on the icy rocks and hugged himself tighter. Hemming, a diminutive man with hands the size of rump roasts, pillaged Roeh's clothes, quickly finding the lock-picking tools and dagger. One more shake of Roeh's linen tunic produced the bag of pale silvers he'd stolen to limp him through the summer. Now, if Roeh managed to escape, he'd need a miracle to survive in this gods-forsaken dung-heap.

"You're a crazy bastard," Hemming said.

Roeh lunged for the clothes as Hemming tossed them on the rocks. With frozen fingers Roeh eased his woolen breeches over stiffening legs. It had only been a day since the Rannen raiders had deposited him on this shore, they themselves refusing to set foot on a dot of land that barely sustained the lives of those desperate enough to brave it.

"Why did you choose the most desolate, thankless land in Mayar to run to?" Hemming pocketed the dagger and tools.

Roeh glanced at thick sable scars pitting a glacier that nestled in the shadow of two snow-hooded peaks to the north. A misty canyon cut through black mountains to the east that gradually descended to fields of frozen tundra. The only bright spot was the blinding-white underbelly of an immense gyrfalcon floating atop an updraft to the west. Roeh watched as the falcon attained pitch and hovered in the air, searching for fodder in the grasses below. God, he wished he could be that bird. What would it be like to be free?

Anne Bradshaw said...

Zack Novak was rattled. It took a lot to stress him out, but last night in the barn was the worst ever. He thought he was going to die.

Getting locked out of Dad’s house again was bad enough, but hiding in itchy straw while a strange man talked Brit words to a box, and prowled across the loft, gave Zack the creeps. The memory brought back the suffocating feeling of being trapped like a bee in a bottle.

He shook away the picture in his mind and nearly tripped over something lying on the roadside. Whatever was that?

He skidded to a stop and glanced around, fanning his suntanned body with his damp, baggy shirt. No one in sight.

Sunshine flickered through oak trees that bent over the narrow lane. In a puddle of light sat a lime green object. It was a copy of the strange box from last night in his friend, Erin Tate’s barn, but loaded with extras, and looking very much like a fat, cube-shaped cactus.

The box was made of something resembling skin. What kind of sickie thing was it? From five of its six sides poked two bendy metal spikes, each about three inches long, and a half-inch in diameter. Between the two spikes in the top surface was one little black eyeball with an eyelid but no lashes. It winked twice, then shut. Freaky!

The nearer Zack came toward the thing, the faster the little spikes bent around, pointing at him, following his moves. His heart raced and he glanced over his shoulder. Did that man in the barn man dump a box here, too? And if so, why?

He reached out to touch the thing then changed his mind, and crouched low to see better; ready to jump away if anything went wrong. The spikes were formed in sections, like pointed fingers—joints and all. At the top end of each spike was a tiny lens like those on the brown box at Erin's place. At the bottom of every spike was a small round silver button.

Zack smoothed the hairs standing up at the back of his neck. Maybe it was a bomb, though why anyone would plant one out here in the boondocks, he couldn't imagine.

He folded his arms, twisting one heel on the black tarmac, and tried to guess how his friends would handle this.

He imagined Joel, puffing and panting along the lane, chunky belly bouncing under his T, not stopping to think. He'd take one mighty kick, send the box sky high, and fall about, hooting his squeaky, hoot owl laugh.

Erin . . . she'd stand there, relaxed, shaking her ponytail at him. “Lost your nerve, Zack? Tábana! Grab the thing by its horns and check it out.”

And Erin’s cousin, Lib? She'd be open mouthed, imagining the worst.

Should he pick the thing up? If he ran back for Joel and the others first, by the time they arrived the thing might have gone and then he'd look like an idiot.

He moved closer, imitating Joel's throaty voice. “It's okay, man. Nothing scary will happen. This is real life, not the movies.”

fabulousfrock said...

MY DEAR LESLIE, contemporary YA WIP

Leslie couldn’t believe anyone lived here. Paintings hung in heavy gold frames. Marble statues stood on pedestals. Everything was so fancy and perfect… She knew she should get back to work, but a girl could dream.

She poked her nose in a bedroom. Canopy bed, huge TV, enough room to dance around in…she’d die for a room like that.

“Hey there.”

Oop. Caught slacking. She yanked her head from the doorframe of the bedroom and pulled her arms behind her back. A middle-aged man, obviously a party guest in his tailored suit and shiny shoes, had rounded the corner. “Nice house, isn’t it?”

She smiled. Okay, he wasn’t mad. Maybe she could just chit-chat for a second and get back to work. “Well…yeah. It’s awesome. Like Versailles.” She dredged up a history class tidbit, hoping to impress him.

“Ver-sails? You’re cute. I think you mean Ver-sigh.” He came up next to her, peering in the bedroom. “How’d you get all the way down here? Pretty far from the food, aren’t you?”

“They told us to use the servants bathroom.” His closeness creeped her out a little.

“Right.” His eyes roved her body. “I like your little catering uniform.”

Uh-oh. “Thanks, yeah, I’d better get back to work.”

“Wait.” He caught her wrist. “You’re too cute to let go of.”

“Um…no…I really need to get back to work.” She tried to twist her wrist away. Ew, the back of his hand was so hairy.

He took out his wallet. He let her go so he could whip out a hundred dollar bill. His eyes jerked to the bedroom. “How about it? Just a quickie.”

She didn’t want to cause a stir, get in trouble, lose the job. Would he take no for an answer? He was bringing out more money. Now he waved two hundred dollars in front of her face. “Come on. Real quick. Two hundred bucks.” His fingers closed around her arm.

“No!” She tried to shove him away. She’d rather touch worms than his hairy hands.

“What’s wrong? I think I’m being pretty fair. Look, how much a week you make at this job here?”

“No. Let go, I mean it, let go.” Leslie tugged her arm away, but his grip tightened and his body drew close enough to share heat.

Footsteps approached. He flung her away, his threatening glare lancing through her, like he’d make her sorry if she told anyone what he’d tried. Leslie sucked in her breath as another man turned the corner.

She knew that face.

Not personally, of course. She’d seen it in Caress of Phantom Fingers, the one hit movie Det Arianni starred in before he used his earnings to open the first Arianni’s department store.

She’d never realized Det Arianni was kinda short in person.

“Stefan,” Det said, his invisibly fair eyebrows lifting.

Margaret said...

From the Sea - 120,000 words

The waves crashed against the rocks as Gwenhyvar made her way to the beach. Her woven seaweed basket hung over one arm, but she paid it little attention. Instead, she stared out into the distance. Though she knew it would be many sunrises before her father returned from his latest trip, she strained for signs of the fishing boat. She paused, her gaze caught by a pod of dolphins leaping in the sun-warmed waters.

"I wish you luck," she told them. Time and time again those noble beasts had saved poor fishermen like her father when the storm-tossed sea proved their better.

A smile pulled at her face when she started forward, but she felt the twinge of bitterness within it. The days stretched before her, barren. It hadn't always seemed this way. She remembered exploring the beaches, clambering over the rocks, and barking to the seals that sunned on tiny islands a short distance from shore.

Gwenhyvar kicked the sand that slid its way between her bare toes and clung to the damp edges of her wave-splashed skirt. "I'm grown now," she told the sea. "No longer my father's surprise, no longer just Steffan's daughter, but a woman in my own right."

Not even seagulls came to laugh at her.

Sighing, she walked to the very edge where the waves washed over the beach and revealed the bubbles of hidden clams. With swift and sure hands, Gwenhyvar dug deep, scooping out the clams and dropping them into her basket. The salted fish her father left her soon became monotonous if she didn't vary it with what she could gather on her own. And yet, she'd suffer it gladly for someone to speak with while she ate.

She abandoned the pocket of clams she'd found and moved further down the beach, her gaze toward the freedom of the sea. Her father had everything he needed, though he worked hard for it all. He went out in the boat for many days, enjoying the thrust of the wind, the sway of the waves, and even the stench of his catch. He came home to spiced meals and conversation before going off to market.

Gwenhyvar missed the days when he'd taken her with him everywhere, wearing castoffs of his clothing so no one could tell she was a girl. Now though, he said she'd become a woman and should turn her mind to womanly things.

The waves rippled over her feet, soaking higher on her skirt as punishment for her inattention. Gwenhyvar laughed as she kicked sand at the encroaching waters. The desire to strip off her clothes and swim in the waves as she had when just a child pulled at her, but she pushed it back, reminding herself of her father's wisdom. If any sailors came upon her, they'd think her a mermaid transformed to have legs. They'd display her naked body for others of their ilk to gawk at. She'd never see home again.

Loquacious Me said...

Third Strike - Urban Fantasy

Chapter 1

There’s a certain sound the human head makes when it hits the trunk of a tree. Meatier than a “crack”, not quite as hollow as a “thunk”. It’s unmistakable. And when it’s my head, I tend to take offense.

I leaned against said tree and glared at my opponent until my double vision returned to single again, the world swimming back into focus. “That one’s gonna cost you, Crabby.” If looks could kill…well first off, my life would be a lot easier.

On the other side of the clearing, what looked to be a large mutant crab rattled and hissed at me in annoyance, the silver light gleaming off its black, knobby shell. Its right pincer, large enough to neatly sever my thigh, clicked and clacked loudly. A drop of venom hovered at the tip of its thick segmented tail, the dangerous appendage arched high over its back and weaving like a snake in thrall. The creature sidestepped, looking for an opening.

I took a deep breath and tossed my thick braid back over my shoulder, out of reach of grasping nasty things, and adjusted my grip on my sword. Now, I’m a believer in the power of positive thinking, but you ever just have a sneaking suspicion you’re not winning?

My breath and the cold night air combined to create frost in my beard. The distant whump-whump-whump of a helicopter broke the silence, patrolling the camp’s perimeter and keeping the paparazzi and innocent bystanders at bay. Any sane person or animal had long since fled, which just left me and a definitely questionable grip on reality. The full moon was up in the sky somewhere, casting the world in blue-white serenity, while down here under the tree canopy, I did the tango with…that.

What I had here was a class two Scuttle demon, so named (by me) for the way they…well…scuttled. Only one rung up from primordial ooze on the demonic ladder, most times they were easily confused and taunted into carelessness. None of them would ever be a candidate for MENSA.

Lack of intelligence didn’t mean lack of speed, however, or lack of endurance. I pushed off the pine and slipped once more into a ready stance, katana held defensively. I was having a helluva time getting past that thick carapace. My blade already held quite a few nasty nicks from the attempts. Marty was going to kill me for hurting one of his precious swords.

Still, the crab demon had a few wounds. Intangible dark energy, what passed for blood among demonkind, slithered across the forest floor with eerie sentience, coalescing into a ball of black nothingness behind the creature. I’d heard that essence called voidblood, nether-essence, some other poetic sounding crap. To me, it was just blight, and it would suck the life out of whatever it touched.

Nanette said...

Untitled - 138,000 words

Nanette Rayman Rivera


It is not every day that he throws a television at me and later says he saw dead people around me. They would kill you, baby, had to get them away from you.

I kneel before the desk, as if in prayer. What prayer can I offer up? What words to soothe the restricted bone, the corrugated liver, my ribs? The gutting of me, maybe, a love of flesh so stupid it portions the belly open. What does this love let slip? A rabbit-hole girl. A goosed-girl that loves this man, this crack head so hard she ignores those eyes, colder than a river in January.

His eyes, the color of water; the eyes of a soaked mummy. And the House Manager screaming, Do you want me to call the police?

Jose breaks free of the two ogre men.

He walks slowly without moving his arms, his legs are barely touching the floor. I don’t know if he came from the doorway; I do not look back or to the sides. He’ll get kicked out, and then out I go too, I’d have only forty-eight hours, and then off to a domestic violence shelter. That’s how it is. This is a “couples” shelter. Single people don’t get on this “fast-track” to an apartment; they can’t go to EAU. Single people are cockroaches. A single woman will wait until the last drop of blood leaves her pussy to get an apartment.

And here, at least, a door keeps him away. Am I ready to give him up even though his mind is feathers, even though he’s trying to kill me? Suddenly he nails his eyes on me, as if seeing me for the first time, very slowly, as if identifying me breast by breast. The waters of his eyes are deep, like a night of mist and storm. He freezes a few feet from me, a glimmer of love in his water-eyes, and then-

Give me money – Go to the ATM Gimme gimme gimme cem- on gimme, I owe the guy.
He owes the guy. And the television? Why isn’t the house manager doing anything?
In this fugue it’s a hot spring day. I am eleven, my hair shines and one tiny piece strays out of my barrette. I walk far away and there, on the other side of the lake is my father, ready to take me home. It’s a new home with daffodils and roses on either side of the steps, and my mother is pretty, so she’s not jealous anymore. It’s just re-inflicting the wounds, this time, to keep my brain supple.

A way-back machine where I can write the details. A time warp where I can change all this.

Liar liar liar.

He shoves me, he screams the only words he seems to know:

You better give me money.

Jose, remember you said: You are my inspiration for not doing drugs?

If he doused me in kerosene I could not have burned badder.

KingM said...

The Devil’s Deep
Suspense Thriller: 85,000 words

Chapter One:

It was ten minutes to midnight when Rosa Solorio entered the darkened room to kidnap the retarded man.

She found Chad Lett twitching in his bed, his arms curled into clubs, biceps stretched like cords. His hands formed claws. Muscles strained on his neck and his eyes fluttered. No sound came from his mouth, but it grimaced as if in pain.

“Dios mio,” Rosa whispered under her breath.

She knew Chad’s every spasm and moan. Three other beds lined the room. They held the other residents of Team Smile and after five years she could recognize each of their cries, moans, or screams from the other side of the facility.

But eighty minutes had passed since night meds. Team Smile took theirs ground into applesauce and spooned back until reflex made them swallow, and one of Chad’s pills was a muscle relaxant. He should have been asleep by now. Instead, that grimace, the right eye rolling, but the left staring straight ahead.

Rosa hesitated, doubting everything. Every question she’d asked herself, every time she’d studied Chad on nights like this, his face in shadows cast by the sterile, fluorescent light coming from the hallway. Maybe she was wrong.

She couldn’t pull her gaze from Chad’s eye. Not the rolled-back right eye—the evil eye, she thought—but the left. The living eye.

It had begun as a fantasy, spun in her own head. She’d dreamed about Chad Lett, not the profoundly retarded man warehoused at Riverwood, but a man who had walked by her side along the beach.

“Are you sure?” the man in her dreams had asked. “Absolutely sure? Look me in the eye, Rosa. Look! Then tell me that you’re sure I’m gone.”

And she found herself watching his eyes while she bathed him or fed him. The right showed only the glassy stare so typical of the lowest-functioning residents. But she couldn’t help but watch the left, wondering and afraid, as it blinked.

She stood over his bed one shift after Riverwood sank into its nighttime slumber. “Are you alive? Blink if you can understand me.”
And the left eye had answered.

Blink.

He was alive. Not just a body that breathed and a heart that beat while the brain sat cold and still. But a man, alive inside that body. A man who had just blinked his answer. As if to say, Yes, I’m alive. I’m alive and trapped in this hell. For God’s sake, help me

Elmore Hammes said...

Sam breathed noisily, pulling in the oxygen from the respirator that made up for his failing lungs. He was old, damn old, and the once strong body was falling apart. In his youth, nothing seemed impossible. He could scale mountains, bring mighty rivers to bay, even lasso the moon. But now disease had crept in, and bit by bit in unceasing assault the legendary fortitude had been weakened.

His bride was in the next bed over. Liberty lay sleeping, weary from battling the cancer that had ravaged her body. A thick white bandage covered her chest where once her left breast had heaved with spirit rarely seen. Her right arm, previously tireless in upright salute, could no longer rise above her shoulder, hampered by severe arthritis. Sam gazed at her and the fire kindled anew in his blue-turned-grey eyes. His love for her was still bright, his faith in her unwavering. No matter how battered they became, they would be together. Together until the end, however soon that now appeared to be.

Two nurses entered the room. Sam was too groggy from the drugs they forced into him to acknowledge their presence. They acted, as most did, as if he couldn’t hear their chatter. As if it didn’t matter what they said.

“Can you believe the protests downtown?” the thin blonde asked.

The pudgy brunette shook her head. “It’s a shame when people think they can just come here and take over.”

“They aren’t even here legally,” the blonde said. “Why can’t they just stay in their own country?”

The alarms sounded shrilly on Liberty’s monitor station. The nurses rushed over and silenced them. The brunette fiddled with the buttons. “Just a little rise in blood pressure,” she noted. “She’s settling back down.”

Rain beat down on a bronze plaque held in the arms of an eighty-foot statue. The words faded as the toxic chemicals carried from the smoke of the factories returned in the precipitation.

Abi said...

“We are almost there Midgley,” announced Percival Parichlock to his grungy cat. Midgley jumped up onto the rough wooden table and blinked his bright yellow eyes at Percival. “A few more turns of the paddle, and the mixture should be ready.” He gave the cat a pat on the head and turned back to the hot, bubbling cauldron. “After nine years of failure, success is nearly mine.” Midgley made himself comfortable on the table.

Percival’s stomach growled, he moved to the table, clunked the paddle down, and looked in the breadbasket. “There’s not even a crust of stale bread.” His hunger, the beads of sweat upon his brow and his dirty straggled hair were just a few signs of his perseverance and determination. The tall, older man with dark beady eyes and a grizzled goatee picked up the wysiwyg wood paddle and scuffed back to the fireplace.

Squinting into the cauldron illuminated only by torches mounted on the walls and the great fire below, Percival turned the large paddle through the melting metals, potent potions, and calculated spells. Once to the right, twice to the left, slowly, very slowly, he stirred.

BOOM! Percival flew backwards against the table. “MEOW!” Midgley jumped, arched his back, and hissed fiercely with his long hair standing straight up. The scorching steam reddened Percival’s face and singed his eyebrows. “Blessed be!” Percival gasped as he righted himself, timidly evaluating his face with his rough fingertips. “Midgley, our concoction never exploded before.” The cat rubbed its body against Percival’s arm and he gave Midgley a good rubbing behind the ears to reassure them both. “Cross you paws Midgley, our dream of making history, is at hand. The mixture is ready.” Pouring the molten metal into the mold, Percival visualized being the greatest wizard of all time, even more powerful than the Great Gradric. Percival’s finger touched the side of the scorching hot cauldron, shocking him out of his reverie and back to his task.

Once the mold was filled, the waiting began. The cooling process was one of the most crucial steps in the magic. It was also one of the hardest steps to endure. Percival was meticulous, but this waiting strained his fortitude. Anxiously, he paced. Even Midgley paced. Yet, despite his eagerness, Percival knew he could not rush things; everything must be done with precision to achieve the desired result. Patience was imperative.

“This waiting will drive me barking mad Midgley. Let’s prepare our test potion. Maybe that will help the time pass more quickly.” Percival moved to the crooked cabinet perched against the wall of the dungeon. The door scraped the hard-packed dirt floor when it opened, cutting a deep groove. “A few drops of wygmire, hair of a wildebeest, unguiculus root, nail shavings from a wood hag, fermented auctus juice…” He cocked his head at the cat, raising a singed eyebrow painfully, “Perhaps an antidote would be a good idea too.” Percival continued to gather his ingredients. Midgley was beating a circle…

Michele Lee said...

Rot
by Michele Lee

When I met Amy she'd been dead for four days. She'd been at the facility for three of those days. At that point I'd only been there two. Not that anyone needed more than a few moments to get the gist of the place.

She was more bitter about being at the facility, than about the being dead part, and quite honestly I didn't blame her.

She had a scowl on her face as I walked into the office at Silver Springs Retirement Facility. She was pretty, pale skin graced with freckles, chin length soft-looking brown hair and the palest hazel eyes I had ever seen set into the mildly chubby body of an early twenty-something.

“You're dead.” I couldn't stop it once I'd though it. Her scowl deepened and I felt bad immediately.

“You know I hadn't noticed. Thanks for telling me.”

“I didn't mean... Look, all of the zombies I've seen so far have been...”

“Like them?” She pointed out the window to the grounds where I could see a keeper leading a train of dessicated corpses on their daily walk.

The facility employed people with enough skill at raising the dead to keep the zombies' urge to chew on people at bay. Me, I didn't have a talent for commanding the dead. What I had was twenty plus years of military experience and the ability to look someone's ninety year old grandmother in the eyes and shoot her.

The job called for all sorts of skills.

“Some of us still retain our own thoughts and personalities. I'm Amy.”

I nodded. “I'm Dean.”

“Which would you prefer, Dean? Being one of those thing out there, rotting and mindless? Or being locked in a body that's already dead and knowing that's the future you'll face?”

Personally, I thought both options sucked.

* * *

It used to be that death, maybe even a long or violent death would be the worst thing you'd ever have to face. In the few skirmishes I'd served in other soldiers had taken some comfort in knowing that. But the, that was before they started raising people from the dead.

My nephew, not that long ago, used to play a video game where the point was to just wander around shooting zombies. There was more to it than that, a bit of mystery, a touch of evil corporation or government conspiracy. The games said that zombies were the result of a disease.

When they started showing up in real life people assumed the same thing. And there was Black Wednesday too. Forty five civilians dead. They never did confirm how many employees of that soda company burned in that building. Then the truth came out. Creating zombies, it turned out, was just a matter of will. The first few we caught in public had likely raised themselves. A few assholes too stubborn to die.

The problem came when people started to make zombies for fun and profit.

Candace Phillips said...

Death Has No Dominion--80,000 words

Molly spotted the pack of ghosts before I did. Her low growl alerted me we’d found them
. . . or they’d found us.

We’d waited until midnight to visit the quiet residential street in East Dallas--but not because it was the witching hour--I'm not a practitioner of the black arts.

No, we’d come at midnight because that was the time when the ghost pack had been spotted most often.

Two cops sat in a patrol car near the corner, probably to discourage the press. I pulled up behind them and parked my Explorer. They watched while I circled the car, opened the passenger door and signaled Molly to jump out.

With a cattle dog’s natural grace, she matched her gait to mine as we walked past the patrol car toward the site of the attack.

The dark-haired cop behind the wheel had the courtesy to nod in my direction; his partner just glared at me from behind his glasses.

That was okay. In my line of work, I’m used to disdain.

One of the cops switched on a spotlight, but whether to help me find my way, or to get a better look at my butt, I didn’t know. Either way, I was confident my backside, tightened by endless workouts, would have them eating their hearts out.

The light illuminated Magnolia Avenue, part of the Dallas neighborhood known as the “M Streets.” The block wore the smug cloak of affluence. Wide, manicured lawns alternated with driveways occupied by Porsche Boxsters and Mercedes SLKs.

I took a deep breath to purge the cops from my thoughts. The taste of the last wisteria blossoms of spring settled on my tongue and made me homesick for my garden in Sylvan.

Molly and I were on our way home from Oklahoma when Robbi, my secretary, called about the problem on Magnolia Avenue. Although I was tired and edgy after ten days on another job, Dallas was on the highway to Sylvan. And, when Robbi said a kid had already been hurt, I couldn’t turn this job down.

Molly growled her warning. I glanced down and followed the direction of her gaze. The pack had materialized ahead of us on a grassy median dividing the wide boulevard.

Beneath a crescent moon and a flickering streetlamp, I identified two toy poodles, a chihuahua, and a Jack Russell terrier along with a German shepherd, a couple of pit bulls and at least four cats.

It was unnerving to see so many ghosts in one place--the felines mingling with the canines--but not nearly as creepy as the sight of animals with broken limbs and dented skulls.

That explained the hauntings.

What didn’t make sense was why there were so many of them, and why they were traveling in a pack.

Or, most important of all, why they’d begun attacking humans.

Sam Emerson said...

The Chronicles of Laura—YA Urban Fantasy—105,000 words


Have you ever had one of those days when Murphy’s Law kicks into overdrive and you think to yourself, I should’ve stayed in bed? I have, and today felt like one of those days. Not yet eight-thirty in the morning, which in my time translated to half-past two cups of coffee, a nagging voice inside my head told me it wasn’t going to be a good day.

My name is Laura Chase, and I’m a slightly neurotic nineteen-year-old female: average height, average build, short, shit-brown hair and big, doe eyes that turn into big, bug eyes when I’m angry or scared. I hate that I’m often described as an athletic Playboy bunny. It makes me feel cheap. What I hate even more is if people don’t tell me I’m attractive, I feel ugly. Did I mention I’m neurotic? Well, I am, but I’m not crazy. So, when a hushed voice sounded in my head, saying, “They’re coming,” I did what any sane person would do. I ignored it.

“They’re coming,” it warned again.

I took a deep breath and glanced around the classroom. Almost done, Laura. Just forty-nine more minutes. Sitting in a freshman level English course is enough to make any biology major start hearing voices, especially one beginning their senior year. At least that’s what I told myself.

I hated English and therefore avoided it at all costs, which was why I found myself taking creative writing during the fall semester of my fourth year at Smith College. Inevitably, my procrastination caught up with me, and I was forced to either take an English course or not graduate. Life is full of tough choices. For most people this wouldn’t be one of them, but I despised English--especially when a haunting voice kept whispering in my head.

“They’re coming.”

Did I mention it’s a really persistent voice with a limited vocabulary?

I glanced around the classroom. Where was the voice coming from? No one else seemed anxious, lending to the fact that only I, the seemingly crazy girl sitting in the back of the room, was hearing the stupid voice. I took a deep breath and tried to relax. Focus on something other than the voice. Ignore it and it will go away.

In an attempt to take my advice, I concentrated on our professor’s blonde, frizz-capped head and round body. Although physically she resembled a small elephant, she spoke with a munchkin-like voice that grated on my last nerve.

“They’re coming.”

So much for diverting my attention. I decided to change my strategy and do something productive, like figure out who ‘they’ were. I leaned over and peered out the third floor window, looking for an indication of something. Anything. The morning was brisk, and the sun shined through wispy clouds. A gentle breeze blew through the trees, rustling their leaves. It was a great day for a run--except for the nagging voice that warned of impending doom lurking around the corner.

AJ Chase said...

Awaken The Devil, romantic suspense, 87K

Thirteen years ago

In the almost blanket-thick darkness of the room it was possible for Chandler Bentley to see very little. A thin spray of moonlight from a break in his curtains offered him a limited view of his bedroom. He could barely see the Queen Anne chair next to the bed and the Persian rug on the floor. He could make out just a hint of the head board. Finely carved mahogany, it had once belonged to his great-grandfather. Generations of Bentley’s had been born in its shadow.
Most of the time the only thing he could hear was silence, as loud and jarring as a scream in its own way, and his own labored breathing. It wasn’t a far stretch for him to believe he was the last person in the world. Of course he knew that wasn’t true. Just down the hall in the nursery his six-year-old daughter Anne lay sleeping. It was, after all, after midnight. Her nurse would be in the next room.
That brought to mind all the other servants in the house. No, he certainly wasn’t alone in the world. Indeed, he wasn’t even alone in the room. There was always his useless, heartless bride Helena. She was in the room as well.
If he moved just the right way the moonlight would barely illuminate one dainty white hand hanging off the edge of the bed they were supposed to share, but rarely did. Of course he could not hear the breathing of his elegant, beautiful wife because she was dead.
Murdered.
The same shaft of light that had shown him her hand also hinted at a dark puddle forming on the floor next to the bed. Every few seconds another drop would fall with a nauseating splashing sound.
He sat down in the chair, his favorite in the house, and stared sightlessly around him again. He wanted to remember every detail of this place that had been his prison for seven years. Helena must have screamed and someone would have heard those screams. Soon enough someone would ring the authorities and he would move on to another kind of prison. The kind that would hold him in with metal bars rather than a gold ring and empty promises.

LindaBudz said...

The Potato Baby Dare

Why didn’t I pick Truth? It would have been so easy. Everyone knows Ricky Myers has the cutest butt in the eighth grade. No one at Melissa’s sleepover would have thought twice if I’d just answered the stupid question.

Instead, I took Dare. I’m an idiot.

* * *

I pull a potato out of Mrs. Harrison’s sack and slink back to my desk. Flipping to the calendar at the back of my notebook, I draw a red circle around November 21. Twelve days from today, and the last day of the Potato Baby Project. On that day, Melissa, Annie and Jamika will owe me major props for finishing the worst dare ever.

“Now that you have your babies, it’s time to name them.” Mrs. Harrison holds up a potato and points to the pink smiley face painted on it. “If your potato has a pink face like this one, it’s a girl. The boys have blue faces.”

I peek down at my potato. Blue.

“Well, what is it?” Milford Godwin turns around and I hold it up for him. He smiles. “A boy. Our baby boy.”

Oh, jeez. I sink down into my seat. I’d been looking forward to this project for a long time, ever since my older brother, Colin, did it when he was in the eighth grade. He was a terrible father, and I knew I’d do a better job. I thought it would be so much fun to have a potato baby of my own. Not like this.

Milford pushes his thick brown glasses up on his nose. “What if we name him Milford Godwin II?”

“Huh?” Is he kidding? After having kids call him Mildew and Milkweed all his life, he still wants to name his kid Milford?

I shrug and hand it to him. “Whatever.” What do I care? It’s a potato, for crying out loud.

Annie leans forward in her desk and sings in my ear, “First comes love. Next comes marriage. Next comes Emmie pushing a baby carriage.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Jamika and Ricky fussing over their potato. I can’t believe Jamika got paired up with him. She is quite possibly the luckiest person I know.

* * *

“Emmie, you are one brave soul.” My best friend, Claire, catches up with me on our way out of health class, talking a mile a minute, as always. “Why in the world did you ask to be paired up with Milford? Nevermind, I’m glad you did. He seemed so surprised. And happy. That was really nice. I....”

“Thanks.” I interrupt her and take off down the hall. “Gotta run. I need to get to Spanish early.”

Another lie. But I don’t feel like facing Claire right now. What did she call me? A brave soul. Hah! So why am I stuck raising a potato with the biggest geek in Sterling Middle?

Anonymous said...

The Last Watchman

One day you will awaken and find the thing that is going to kill you crouching at the door.
–Anonymous-

Chapter 1

Dr. Eric Brandt slipped quietly into the small, secluded room at the north end of Berlin’s Vorderasiatischen Museum. A few hours alone with the cuneiform tablet were all he required. By special permission he would be examining it without its glass covering. Its origins were with the group of Tell-el-Amarna letters, 350 clay tablets found at el Amarna, the site of Akhenaton’s capital Akhetaten. Eighty of them were housed in Berlin. The tablet before him had the peculiar status of being found in Palestine, a distinction not shared by the other 349.

Dr. Brandt closed the door behind him and tried to quell his excitement at having before him the Pabi letter, clay 14. The windows were darkened and the computer and scanner were in place. Justine had seen to that. His hope was that this tablet, scanned from several angles, would give him the pieces of information he needed. He believed that this letter alone, among thousands of other ancient war correspondences, was the key to finding and eliminating the last of the Notser, careful watchman, of which, over the last five thousand years, there had been twelve.

He gazed at the wedge shaped marks made by the writer’s stylus and read from the translation he’d brought along.

Letter from Pabi, Prince of Lachish, to Akhenaton
To the Great One, thus speaks Pabi, at your feet do I fall.
You must know that Shipti-Ba'al and Zimrida are conspiring, and Shipti-Ba'al has said to Zimrida

"My father of the city Yarami has written to me: give me six bows, three daggers and three swords. If I take the field against the land of the king and you march at my side, I shall surely conquer. He who makes this plan is Pabi. Send him before me."

Now have I sent you Rapha-el. He will bring to the Great Man intelligence concerning the matter.

The first thing Dr. Brandt would look for was a cylinder seal signature.

AJ Chase said...

Arg, I didn't follow the rules. Let's try this again.

Thirteen years ago

In the almost blanket-thick darkness of the room it was possible for Chandler Bentley to see very little. A thin spray of moonlight from a break in his curtains offered him a limited view of his bedroom.

He could barely see the Queen Anne chair next to the bed and the Persian rug on the floor. He could make out just a hint of the head board. Finely carved mahogany, it had once belonged to his great-grandfather. Generations of Bentley’s had been born in its shadow.

Most of the time the only thing he could hear was silence, as loud and jarring as a scream in its own way, and his own labored breathing. It wasn’t a far stretch for him to believe he was the last person in the world.

Of course he knew that wasn’t true. Just down the hall in the nursery his six-year-old daughter Kadrianne lay sleeping. It was, after all, after midnight. Her nurse would be in the next room. That brought to mind all the other servants in the house.

No, he certainly wasn’t alone in the world. Indeed, he wasn’t even alone in the room. There was always his useless, heartless bride Helena. She was in the room as well.

If he moved just the right way the moonlight would barely illuminate one dainty white hand hanging off the edge of the bed they were supposed to share, but rarely did. Of course he could not hear the breathing of his elegant, beautiful wife because she was dead.

Murdered.

The same shaft of light that had shown him her hand also hinted at a dark puddle forming on the floor next to the bed. Every few seconds another drop would fall with a nauseating splashing sound.

He sat down in the chair, his favorite in the house, and stared sightlessly around him again. He wanted to remember every detail of this place that had been his prison for seven years. Helena must have screamed and someone would have heard those screams.

Soon enough someone would ring the authorities and he would move on to another kind of prison. The kind that would hold him in with metal bars rather than a gold ring and empty promises.

cc said...

LINKS -- YA (WIP)

Before I met Alon Bishop I never thought I'd fall in love with a blond. Lust, maybe; an ill-contirved fantasy later remembered with embarrassment -- like a poster of a move-star on a thirteen-year-old's bedroom wall. Desire, sure; the type that crossed my mom's face when window shopping at exclusive jewelry stores she never dared enter. As a diversion, most definitely; a brief pleasurable gander at a line of golf carts before placing my tee into the ground. But a blond as an object of affection; for love given and returned with depth, meaning? Implausible.

If I'd been in my right mind I'd have bolted in the opposite direction when I spotted Alon Bishop, fair and freckeld, screaming at Dylan Gracin, at his party last Novemeber. Instead, I stood, a damn fool, squinting with disbelief as she beckoned for my presence with one nod of her round little head.

In part, my notion of blond as insignificant was formed by both nature and nurture. Nature, because -- my mom's red highlights not withstanding -- I sprung from the most basic of brown-haired persons. My mom, my biological dad, my stepdad, my half-brother and half-sister all had heads of one shade of chocolate or another. Nurture, because the only encounters I'd had with blonds involved some manner of pain.

Anonymous said...

I’d heard stories about Highway 101 all my life. It had built up a reputation, similar to Area 51 or Route 66, at least as far as local legends go. People said it stole one life after another in the fall. Then winter came and people expected it to be more dangerous than ever. But, of course, that’s when they’d pay attention. So, it might surprise you to learn that there are more deaths in the summer, when you let your guard down - because it’s sunny and warm outside - and you think you’re safe.
But you are wrong.
The old coastal highway is sneaky and sly. It twists and turns, coiling around the side of the mountain, like a rattlesnake but twice as deadly – especially in the dark. That’s why Mom wanted to get going.
“We need to get an early start,” she said tucking one more last thing into a kitchen box. She had to cut it open then reseal it with the masking tape that kept popping open. “Let’s load up.” She nodded toward Dad then over at me, “get in the van. We’ll let the movers lead the way.”
“I’m not going,” I mumbled - almost under my breath. But it didn’t matter any way; no one cared what I thought about moving.
Mom turned and snapped at me, “We don’t have a choice.” Then she sighed and a weak smile moved over her mouth. Her thick hips shook as she came up beside me, “We can’t stay here. Besides, I’m sure Simon will show up before it’s time to leave.”
“Dad could get another job!” For an instant, my voice lost the sharp edge that cut through so many conversations ever since Mom told me we were moving. “He doesn’t have to work for Myron’s Machines all his life. There are plenty of companies that could use a good salesman.”
Mom shrugged but didn’t say a word.
“It’s an omen; Simon probably senses something bad, that’s why he’s missing. Cats have a sixth sense about things, that’s what keeps them alive. He knows something we don’t know about this move – otherwise he wouldn’t be missing.”
“Nine lives – maybe - but I’ve never heard anything about cats having six senses, besides, I don’t really believe in omens.” Mom pulled out a chair. She had a sad look in her eyes, one I’d never seen before. “There aren’t a lot of companies willing to hire a 50-year old salesman, sweetie. I know this is hard for you but it’s harder on your father. He’s been with Myron’s for more than 30 years. It’s not so easy to switch jobs after that long.”
“But why do we have to move to such a miserable place like Myst?” I sighed but it was no use; we’d been over this time and time again. “There’s nothing in that stupid little town. I looked it up on-line and they don’t even have a library.

austexgrl said...

True Fiction
One of the first things that occurred to me upon seeing the dead body was that this man truly looked at peace. Except of course, for the large bullet hole over his left eye. I had seen a lot of dead bodies in my lifetime as a nurse, and they do not usually look peaceful. I wondered what this guy was thinking right before he was shot.

I stood in the quiet of the wooded area off the trail and looked around. There was no one in sight. Just moments before, I had been engulfed by a deep emptiness. Over the past few days I had felt a deep yearning, a profound longing; today it had seemed worse. I thought maybe a run in the park would perk me up, and now I wondered if this guy had thought the same thing. I looked at him closely.

A small trickle of blood had dripped down the side of his head and become congealed. Large black flies were attending to the job of clearing the debris. Across his forehead and on the bridge of his nose were spatters of blood and brain tissue. The dark brown curly hair was completely undisturbed. He wore a blue short-sleeved shirt with a sterling silver Cross Pen in the left breast pocket. His pants were loose-fit designer jeans and the shiny, tasseled brown loafers fit his bare feet well. On his left wrist he wore a gold Rolex, the second hand moving as though nothing had happened. As I looked at his fingernails, I could tell that this was a man who believed in pampering himself. They were freshly manicured. All in all, aside from his current state, the dead man looked as though he had enjoyed life.

From my years of reading mystery novels, I knew better than to touch the body. I had no doubt he was dead, but out of habit I reached down and checked for a carotid pulse. There was none, and he wasn’t breathing. He felt cold to touch; his skin was ashen blue and his lips were beginning to turn purple. These were all signs pointing to death. I knew the next step was to call the police and wait for them but, I had left my newly purchased cell phone under the front seat of my car, so I turned and headed back down toward the path.

The day was clear and the Central Texas sun felt good, but it was still a little cool. There was a slight breeze, otherwise the woods were still, save for an occasional bird chirping. As I walked toward the hike-and-bike trail, I wondered if the man had come to the park for a reason. It seemed odd that he would be here on this day, the day of the annual Capitol 10K Fun Run. He wasn't exactly dressed for running.

I was almost to the trail and stumbling through the brush when I saw it.

Hope Clark said...

Tomato-Stewed, a Carolina Slade Mystery

As I placed the last dish in the box, the magic marker slid out of my hand, decorating my knee black on the way to a tell-tale stain on the carpet. The phone rang from somewhere behind heavy, taped cartons. My time-off was about to be blown to hell.

“Carolina Slade,” I said, puffing from moving aside six boxes.

"It’s Monroe. Got a problem. Or rather your old pal Savannah Conroy has a problem."

His drawled conversations normally started with "Hey. How ya' doing?" but this time it didn't.

Monroe Prevatte worked with me in Columbia for a federal agency that processed farm loans for rural America, but this week he was in Beaufort County performing what was supposed to be a routine audit.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“I have a bad feeling.”

"You could win the lottery and have a bad feeling. You've been auditing those files for four days. You're Senior Loan Director and have called me five . . . no, six times about one catastrophe or another that didn’t pan out. Why is this thing with Savvy is any different?"

He cleared his throat, making me think of the cold tickling the back of mine. "It’s fraud – clear as good moonshine."

Cell phone balanced on my shoulder, I went back to stuffing towels into a box. "Oh, please, Monroe. Savvy's one of the sharpest loan managers we have. She's been around forever." I mentally ran down the list of employees in her office. Hers were young and green. "Think it's one of her staff?"

"No," he said.

"You're overlooking something, dude."

"The signatures don't match…in three different places in the loan file. And the farmer hasn't paid a dime." The silence meant more to come. “Oh, and the farmer just blew up on his shrimp boat.”

I stood, a lump rising in my throat. “Say what?”

“The local news said his boat exploded, killing him and a couple others. I’ll have to report this to the director, you know. I’m just giving you a heads up,” he said. “I know y’all are close, Slade.”

I sat down. No damn way Savannah Conroy had involvement in anything criminal. She was a first-class smart-ass but honest as a South Carolina summer was sticky hot. But I was the state’s internal investigator, and she was my friend of a dozen years.

I rummaged through my purse, found a notepad and flipped past my pending grocery list. Not finding a pen, I grabbed my marker. "Talk to me."

"She's nervous. Can't focus. She's forgotten appointments, blaming it on customers. Don't know whether it's because I'm checking files or she's got a problem, but something ain't right."

I scribbled her name, feeling ashamed as I did. Savvy'd taught me how to function as a female in charge while dealing with farmers who hated bankers with bras. No way on God’s green earth was she guilty of fraud. What I couldn’t understand was why she hadn’t called me.

HannaJill said...

Jillian Stabler kissed me, right smack in front of our entire science class. It happened right after some gunk, from the frog we were dissecting, squirted up into her face. I used the corner of my t-shirt to wipe the frog guts off the freckles on her upturned nose and before I knew it, she shoved me up against the lab table and put her perfect lips on mine.

Even though it wasn’t a tongue tangling, spit-swapping kind of kiss, it still caused my brain to freeze the way it did when I ate ice cream too fast. I knew the second I was alone, I’d dissect the kiss with even more precision than the frog.

Applause rang out just as the bell signaling the end of 3rd period, sounded. I felt my face heat up like a hot air balloon.

“What the heck just happened here?”

I didn’t need to turn to know that my best friend, Eddie Van Fleet was behind me.

Still dazed, all I could do was shrug.

“Dude, that was Jillian Stabler. Did someone dare her or something?”

At that, I turned and faced Eddie.

“What’s that supposed to mean? You think someone at hot as Jillian Stabler couldn’t possibly be into me?”

He blinked a couple of times. “You are Quint Laramie, right? Same kid who ate a handful of Doritos before a game of Two in the Closet, remember that?”

“I wish you’d forget.”

He snickered. “Just keepin’ it real.”

I narrowed my eyes. “It doesn’t get any more real than the time you stole your mother’s bra and put it on a teddy bear so you could practice unhooking it.”

He shoved his Spanish book up against my just-kissed mouth.

“Not so loud,” he gestured toward the science lab. “Now, what really happened back there?”

“Mmmmff.”

He moved the book away from my face.

“Got me. One minute frog guts are shooting out like Old Faithful, the next; Jillian’s planting a hot wet one on me.”

Jordyn said...

So I'm fairly positive not to win (I know, what a great attitude, right?) but I'm trying anyways. This is from a completely unfinished YA novel but here goes...

Until I was fourteen or so, I always wondered how it got decided that one sister was the pretty one while the other was stuck being labeled 'smart' or 'responsible'. Because as far back as I could remember, Caris had always been adorable. She's been a beautiful baby, an irrisitably cute kid, and then, when I was fourteen and she was twelve, suddenly a beautiful adolescent. There was just no escaping the fact that she was the pretty one. And it stopped mattering how those things got decided because obviously it was out of my hands.

I was the smart one. She was the pretty one. There was nothing I could do about it.

Not like I wanted to do anything about it anyways. I mean, given the choice between being "pretty" or being "smart", I always thought your best choice was to go with the latter. But still, there was something about being Caris Hadley's big sister that made me wish I could have been the pretty one and she could have been the smart one.

But then something happened. The one incident that spawned a thousand others and immediately alerted me to the fact that there was a reason I was the smart, responsible one. It happened like this:

Our school had too many students and not enough classes, so the first semester of my eighth grade year I wound up being a teacher's aide for Mrs. Lepew, the sixth grade Language Arts teacher. Basically what this meant was I would spend second period in her classroom grading papers and handing out homework assignments and doing all sorts of other meaningless, useless tasks that she had been doing fine with on her own. I would have complained except that in eighth grade I was still very mousey and shy and besides that my science teacher gave so much homework that I thought I might have collapsed under the weight of it all if I didn't have that time during school to work on it. So anyways, I guess the whole teacher's aide thing wasn't completely useless.

And also, it was the Language Arts class Caris happened to have. She was in sixth grade that year and had taken to curling her hair every morning before school so she looked completely marvelous and at least two years older than she was with those cascading curls falling around her face and shoulders. What I didn't know, and what she didn't know, though, was that those curls and her beautifulness and the school's decision to make me Mrs. Lepew's teaching aide that semester would all come together to show me something very important but, in hindsight, fairly obvious. I mean, I should have seen it coming miles away:

Guys love Caris.

Ally said...

The Brown Shoe Diaries-YA Contemporary-75k words

On the day after, Aiden sat on Surfer’s Beach and stared at the ocean until dusk fell and the fog rolled in and nothing was visible but her own memories. She couldn’t see Maverick’s from where she sat, bruised legs crossed, elbows on her knees, careful not to put undue pressure on her splinted shoulder. Just the waves in front of her: building, cresting, breaking, building again. Each one the same, each totally different. And every wave capable of giving life, sustaining life, taking life.

Late in the afternoon, just as the sun broke through the high clouds, Jesse showed up to sit beside her, silent; the soles of his tattered green Chucks touching the bottoms of her even more thrashed brown ones. Abby, Jesse’s Jack Russell terrier pup, lay with her head on her leg whining and licking her hand, confused by Finn’s absence, until Jesse distracted her with a piece of driftwood. She raced up and down the beach between Aiden and Jesse and the water, yapping, kicking up sand puffs then shaking surf-spray all over them.

Aiden smiled, but any laughter she owned was bottled tightly inside of her, corked away with Finn’s name and memories written upon it. Jesse took her hand, pressed it to his lips, and sat holding it, lost in his own thoughts, until the banks of fog began rolling in and he and Abby were gone. And Aiden was alone again.

Somehow with darkness came the courage to end the vigil. Aiden trekked up the beach, staying just out of reach of the tide, the screams of gulls and the calls of pelicans soundtracking her decision. The Surf ‘n Turf was dark. Thad had long since shooed away the last of the Maverick’s-watchers and vicarious thrill-seekers; sharing a cold one with the old-timers before they, too, headed off to hearth and home.

Aiden unlocked the weathered wooden door and flipped the light switch. Like a magnet, first her eyes, then her feet, were drawn to the back wall where her surfboard now hung under a massive photo her dad had blown up. Her board. Was it really only yesterday?

One hand sneaked up to her neck, to the place where the brown shoe diaries used to hang. They were gone now, lost to her forever, along with Finn and all the pages of used-to-be’s that marked her life before Maverick’s. Aiden slipped off her worn brown Converse. The brown shoes had seen it all.

Without them her feet looked smaller, vulnerable. But Aiden knew the truth. And now it was time to let go of the past with its painful memories. The days of the brown shoe diaries were over.

And whether it was the tang from her board, or the shoes, or the salt streaking itself down her cheeks, Aiden smelled surf, and sand, and death, and good-byes. She stroked the wax-pitted surface of the board—Thad’s gift—ran her finger over the canvas of the shoes, then for a second buried her face in them, sure she could still smell Finn there.

jamiethornton said...

Rhinoceros Summer - Women's Adventure Fiction, about 90,000 words


The two men knew it was dangerous, driving into the crater in full daylight, a hunter’s gun and camera resting on the backseat.

Barry sat in the passenger seat, mopping his forehead with a red handkerchief. “Hey, maybe we should wait till it gets dark.”

Paul didn’t say anything at first. His sweaty hands gripped the steering wheel as the Landcruiser snaked its way down. He kept the speed slow. One wrong move and they’d plummet over the edge of the switchback, a three thousand foot drop.

The volcano’s sides had collapsed to shape the crater millions of years ago, but he liked to think this bowl of tropical vegetation and wild animals was his personal African snow globe—he would shake it till he found what he was looking for.

He threw a quick look at the trembling cameraman. “How you gonna get video in the dark? Don’t fuck out on me now.”

They reached the crater floor and continued past the soda lake ringed with pink flamingoes and tourists, then through the lion and tourist infested grasslands. Not until they approached the edge of a wooded thicket did Paul find what he was looking for.

Rhino spoor.

The men left the tourist road miles behind. Biting flies landed on their bare arms and face, and buzzed in their ears. They marched through thick swamp grass, let mud soak their legs, allowed flies to bite them, wiped sweat from their foreheads, made sure to keep their equipment clean. Both men knew getting caught would destroy their careers. Getting caught meant jail.

They saw the six gray bulks feeding on swamp grass near a small grove of acacias. The bark from the trees seemed to glow in the slanting sunlight. Paul broke a three hour silence. “I’m gonna make one of these big shits charge us.”

Barry seemed about to faint from heat, fear, exhaustion. Paul wished he had brought someone else instead of this coward.

They crept into thicker bush, moving near a rhino sleeping separate from the group.

Paul gripped his rifle, careful to not let the sweat of his hands make the gun slippery. “You keep ready.”

“Yeah.”

Paul yelled. “Hiyaa fucker!”

The rhino’s ears perked up.

Paul stood his ground. Less than a thousand left in the whole world. It was enough to make a man weep for the glory coming his way. This was going to fix everything.

They heard the chuff-chuff of the rhino’s angry breath as it swung around.

Paul almost lost his grip on the barrel. “That’s a fucking square-lip!”

The rhino charged from twenty yards. Paul fired, plugging the animal with a huge tranq dart near the spine. But the rhino kept flying through the air, its head lowered, its horn ready to put a softball-sized hole in a man so his intestines had nowhere to go but the ankle-deep dirt.

The man with the gun got out of the way.

The man with the camera did not.

J.K. Mahal said...

Walking in the Dark - 70,000 words

The kitchen felt cold, with a dry chill that made Cassie Davis think her husband had been fiddling with the air conditioning again. The blasted thing was probably stuck. Twisting a knob, she put the tea kettle up to boil.

“Mommy.”

Her little girl’s legs scissored through the air as she lay on her stomach on the white tile. A torn piece of butcher paper served as the canvas for another Crayola masterpiece.

“What, honey.”

The six-year-old carefully peeled the paper coating from a crayon. “I think you’ll like this picture.”

Cassie studied the black scrawls interlaced with red and gray. Years of training in child psychology and she still had no idea what was going on in her own kid’s drawings. Of course with patients she had an edge. An extra skill passed down through generations. Too bad her sixth sense didn’t extend to family. Luke was spending a lot of hours in the lab these days.

"Mommy." The voice whined high, jolting Cassie from her thoughts.

“Sorry, honey.” She looked at the drawing again. Nope. No clue. “Do you want to tell Mommy what it is?”

The crayon slashed black streaks, hard and messy, on the white swatch of paper.

“No,” the voice was singsong. “It’s much more fun this way.”

“Okay.” The sworls and swirls vaguely resembled a mammal of some kind. Maybe a gorilla. Or a flattened cat. “Is it an animal?”

“Nope.”

“How about a vegetable?”

“You’re silly,” the voice giggled.

“That I am.”

Tiny smears of wax migrated onto the tile as the crayon colored in an empty space, turning it to darkness.

Cassie suppressed a shiver. She really should talk with Luke about fixing the AC. If he made it home in time for dinner tonight. It wasn’t as if they fought. They never fought. They just had “disagreements.” Maybe she should just go out for pizza with the kid and screw the Betty Crocker image.

"I want you to see the picture, Mommy." Her little girl looked so serious, holding out the white paper. "You should see the picture now."

"Okay. If you're sure." Cassie smiled. Her daughter was the best gift Luke ever gave her. She reached for the drawing, trying not to wrinkle it.

The keening of tea kettle broke the silence, spewing a white puff of moisture into the air.

"It's time." Mirth flirted across the girl's face, a flash of lightning in the darkness of her countenance.

It took Cassie a minute to recognize what she was seeing in the heavy black scrawls and red smears. Once she found the tombstone, the image decoded. Anna Davis. Beloved daughter. 1990-1996. R.I.P.

"No." The denial came out as a whisper. "No. Please."

She reached out to touch her daughter, to hold her again as reality crashed against the sides of the dream.

"You can't run away forever, Mommy."

With that, the girl crumbled to dust, choking Cassie with the taste of ash.

Surly Jason said...

From "Heirs to Earth" - SciFi & Fantasy WIP

* * *

Mikel’s breath stunk of old, rancid meat as he leaned over Simeon. He smiled to show jagged, broken teeth, "Your father isn’t a trusting man. I wonder which finger will convince him that we actually have you to ransom." His feral eyes darted down.

They’d come for him while he slept. He slept too deeply from too much beer and the exertions Diana had put his through; his dreams never need stray from from the pale breast on which he slept. He hadn’t woken until Mikel’s men had nearly smashed through the cottage’s wooden door. He sprang from the sheets, grabbing blindly for the sword that he’d abandoned in the dark. Almost too late, Simeon’s fingers found the dry leather grip, and his curved sword leapt from the scabbard. Despite their seemingly endless number, and the cramped quarters of the single-roomed cabin, he held his own. Until he’d met Diana, swordplay was his one true love. He parried their crude maces and dirks, and managed to cut through their boiled leathers and hodge-podge armor several times, killing and maiming more than one. It was the slick blood on the floor that slowed him, and Diana’s shriek that had ended him. He turned to see a huge, hairy-shouldered man climbing atop her; he didn’t see the mace that struck the back of his head.

Addled, the next thing he knew was being dragged by his arms out of Diana’s cottage, fighting weakly to return to her and kill the men attacking her. He was thrown to the ground, and his head bounced off the cobbles. Through his tears, Simeon could see a wavering echo of the cottage only a few paces away. The glass in the widows reflected the orange light of fire that was taking hold of houses and thatch roofs all around. Mikel’s men were wild, firing rifles into the air, and setting the village alight, but none of them saw a woman clad in black step out of the shadows--none but Simeon. She was tall, and dressed in a strange black coat and trousers with silver ornaments around her arms, thighs, waist. Somehow he could see her eyes glinting blue then green in the light. She hunkered low to the ground, and looked left then right before she darted into the street, and into Diana’s open door.

Mikel sauntered to Simeon’s side, and kicked him over with a toe. The smug expression on his dark, dirty face told Simeon everything before he even spoke. Even when Mikel promised to unman him, Simeon couldn’t much care. All he could think of was that man on top of Diana. Mikel was laughing over his shoulder, sharing his victory with him troop when a flash of violet lightning burst from Diana’s small cottage, and crack of thunder shook the ground.

Michael Reynolds said...

(not sure a Word cut and paste will work)

Time Remaining: 299 hours, 54 minutes.

One minute the teacher was talking about the Civil War. And the next minute he was gone.

There.

Gone.

No “poof.” No flash of light. No explosion.

Sam Temple was sitting in third period history class staring blankly at the blackboard, but far away in his head. In his head he was down at the beach, him and Quinn. Down at the beach with their boards, yelling, bracing for that first plunge into cold Pacific water.

For a moment he thought he had imagined it, the teacher disappearing. For a moment he thought he’d slipped into a daydream.

Sam turned to Mary Terrafino, who sat just to his left. “You saw that, right?”

Mary was staring hard at the place where the teacher had been.

“Um, where’s Mr. Trentlake?” It was Quinn, Sam’s best, maybe only, friend. Quinn sat right behind Sam. The two of them favored window seats because sometimes if you caught just the right angle, you could actually see a tiny sliver of sparkling water between the school buildings and the homes beyond.

“He must have left,” Mary said, not sounding like she believed it.

Edilio, a new kid Sam found potentially interesting, said, “No, man. Poof.” He did a thing with his fingers that was a pretty good illustration of the concept.

Kids were staring at each other, craning necks this way and that, giggling nervously. No one was scared. No one was crying. The whole thing seemed kind of funny.

Andrew Carmichael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shauna Roberts said...

Ice Magic, Fire Magic
(fantasy with romantic elements)

To weave the world was a woman’s highest calling. So it was said, and so Fila believed. On a day like today, with the scent of honeysuckle and lavender wafting through the open windows of the needleroom on warm breezes, it was also a woman’s highest joy. Fila stuck her tongue out in concentration as she and the other young women stitched under the watchful eyes of their teachers. In and out, in and out, Fila’s needle wove the twisted threads through the canvas. Green cotton, to make the newly planted fields fertile. Red wool, to make the ewes bear twins. Hair pulled from her own head as the sacrifice to set the Magick.

Fila delighted in this part of their training. In the evenings, some students complained of the boredom of the needleroom. Others, such as her Cousin Kassia, stood with their mirrors in the fading light by the windows, searching their scalps for bald spots.

But not Fila. For her, the ancient designs and techniques were a link to the original Guardians, who had joined forces with the living land to usher in a thousand years of prosperity. The rhythm of the needle lulled her into a blissful state in which the world compressed to a few sensations: the trills and calls of birds in the surrounding woods, the soft-prickly yarn against her calloused fingers, and the distinctive scents of the turning year--fresh-turned earth in the sowing season, flowers and herbs in the growing season, sweet hay in the harvest season, and burning wood in the fallow season. She spent her evenings thinking of the unknown Toilers whose work in the fields that day had been eased by her needle.

Fila pulled more hairs from her scalp and threaded two through her needle. She glanced up to make sure none of the older Guardians had noticed. They would scold her and tell her to make her stitches more precise and even, like Kassia’s, because then she would not need extra Magick to bolster their power. She sighed. She did try, but her clumsy fingers did not always cooperate.

A vibration tickled the back of neck. She ignored it. Odd sensations were common in this room, where so much Magick had been woven over the centuries, and she was particularly sensitive to it because of her strong powers.

Then, as if a curtain had been pulled across the sun, the room plunged into twilight. The tingle at Fila’s neck raced down her spine, an agony of torturous pleasure. Her back arched of its own accord as her body rebelled against the pain. She gripped her frame, waiting. Powerful Magick was building. To what end, she did not know and could not guess.

Michael Reynolds said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathan Bransford said...

Please remember, only one entry per person!

Andrhia said...

MIDSUMMER, Contemporary Fantasy, 85,000 words.

"Something important happened today," said Robin. The leather of the couch pressed against the back of his neck, cool and reassuring. "Every flower in my garden burst into bloom at once, and every clock stopped at the same time."

Iniko leaned forward and steepled his fingertips together. "And this matter of clocks and flowers, what do you think this signifies, beyond a skilled gardener and a power failure?"

His faint West African accent, as always, made Robin think of the therapist dancing around a fire on the savannah, wearing nothing but paint and a few stitched-together animal hides. The image was typically an amusing counterpoint to Iniko's actual appearance: A plump man, balding and graying both, wearing a shapeless cardigan. Today, though, the thought held little diversion.

Robin stared up at the ceiling, considering Iniko's question. Silence stretched out like toffee, broken by the muffled ticking of the grandfather clock in the far corner. "Why have you never written me a prescription?" he asked.

"Ah, Robbie, you are changing the subject." Iniko shook his head, chuckling.

Robin turned his head toward the other man. Iniko tapped his fingers to his lips in a steady beat. He returned the gaze evenly.

"You first," said Robin. "Humor me."

Iniko inhaled deeply through his nostrils. "You have said you chose me became my mind was open to possibilities beyond science. I am not a typical practitioner of psychiatry."

"Right."

"It is true, as well, that you are far from a typical patient." Iniko leaned forward and patted Robin's arm with something akin to affection. The gold ring on his hand gleamed in the dim light. "Among my people, we might have considered you a man who had been touched by spirits, and not one suffering a sickness of the mind."

Robin rolled his eyes and allowed his head to fall back with a soft thump. A wooden mask that scowled down from the wall, disapproving of his disheveled clothing and unkempt hair. He wriggled his toes, trying to squeeze the tension out of his muscles. "Without the sugar-coating, doctor."

"I could not fit a diagnosis to you with any certainty, and there was no urgency," Iniko said. "You are not a danger to yourself, nor to the people around you."

"Apathy," Robin said.

Rachel said...

Final Approach, Suspense, 66,000 words

“There you are,” Jeannie said, when she found me in the ladies room. “Jesus, Emily. Look at you.”

I glanced at the mirror above the sink—swollen eyes, smeared mascara, snot, and all.

“Richard’s here,” I said. “In the lobby, waiting to see me.”

She looked over her shoulder to check that the door had closed and then ripped off a paper towel and passed it to me. “Want me to say you’re in a meeting?”

She tilted her head and watched me think about it. Jeannie was a forty-year-old version of Dolly Parton, toned down about ten percent. That day, a silk pantsuit was tightly wrapped around a knock-out figure that Jeannie owed to her plastic surgeon. The elaborate make-up she wore would make anyone else look trashy, but somehow made her look refined and chic. For a girl like me, who’s dressed up if my hair’s not in a ponytail, Jeannie’s composure is irritating.

I turned to the mirror to wipe smudges from my eyes. “He came all the way from Austin. I should see what he wants.”

She moved beside me and put a hand on my shoulder. “Then you need work, baby. Let’s do a quick fixer-up before you go out there.”

She gave what was meant to be a reassuring smile and pulled open the bathroom door. “Be right back.”

I listened to her Guccis tap down the hallway and realized what her smile actually said: “sucks to be you.”

Fifteen minutes later, I emerged, re-created, thanks to her cosmetic wizardry. I walked to the lobby to meet Richard and knew immediately that four years hadn’t been enough.

The receptionist looked up from her monitor and nodded. Beside her, breakfast pastries were neatly arranged around a coffee pot on a credenza. Richard had helped himself. A half-eaten croissant waited on a napkin in the chair beside him.

He turned a page of The Plain Dealer and sipped from a Styrofoam cup that looked small in his hand. Gray streaks near his temple caught my attention because I didn’t remember them. His suit was navy blue, the jacket unbuttoned. White shirt, silver tie. It was easier to look at the clothes than the man. I didn’t like that.

“Been a long time,” I said.

He looked up and stood, dropping the paper into the vacated seat behind him. When he extended his hand, I hesitated, but I couldn’t be as rude as I wanted so I shook it. His hand was warm and strong.

“Good to see you, Emily. Doing okay?”

His eyes searched my face and I wondered if he’d found the remnants of my eye puffiness. I couldn’t very well answer him honestly, so I lied.

“Yep. Good. You?”

“Busy on a case,” he said. “You know how it goes.” He nodded like a salesman trying to make me agree with him. “That’s why I’m here, actually.”

Sage said...

AFTRLYF - Urban fantasy

As the cold steel of the knife slipped between my ribs, I had only one thought. Oh, gods, this is going to create so much paperwork.

The knife's owner stared with wide, frightened eyes. No doubt he hadn't actually planned on using the knife in his mugging attempt, but I had been in too much of a hurry to find my own victim to pay attention to which way his weapon was pointing.

Note to self: Pushing past your mugger proves to be fatal. Next time be more careful.

"Relax, kid." With one tug on the wooden handle, I pried the blade from my gut and dropped it to the ground. A carving knife. Obviously, there hadn't been much foresight on this mugging attempt. "Don't have a heart attack. You haven't killed anyone tonight."

The scrawny teen stared at the wound--even in the dim light of this downtown San Diego alley, we could both see the lack of blood--then at the knife on the ground. He hugged his quivering body and clutched his arm. "Wha--"

I ignored him, sifting through my options. I could let him go. Even if he told someone, who would believe him? But if he told the wrong someone, there'd be Hell to pay.

Then again, if I reported him to the Waiting Room for memory modification, I'd have that paperwork and another mark on my record. While erasing his memory was clearly the right choice, plenty of my colleagues would sidestep the rules for such a minor blunder. It was more than jealousy that led me to suspect some of those perfect records were obtained by ignoring the cases that could blemish them. Since he was the only one around, what harm could there be in letting him go? What was he going to say? "I'd like to report this non-murder I committed a block away from Broad."

Not until I looked back at him did I realize I had another option. The punk's shivering had become more pronounced, and he had fittingly turned as white as a ghost. But the glowing, black symbol that had appeared on his forehead caught my attention more than his body language. The sun cross, a cross inscribed in a circle. Like the passing of the seasons the symbol represents in the human world, it informed me that this human was due to pass. It's The Symbol--or my symbol, I wasn't sure what others saw--of Death.

"W-w-what are you?" he finally managed.

I removed one of my black gloves and touched him on the shoulder, making sure my finger glanced his bare skin through the hole in his sweatshirt. "Don't worry. Everything's going to be fine."

His body fell to the ground, but his spirit stayed behind. "I told you to relax," I said.

Dad Gone Mad said...

I could tell you very little about what my mother did for a living other than to say it was special. It said so on the door.

She worked in a hospital. She wore a stethoscope around her neck and blue linen scrubs. Sometimes after school I called her to ask if I could have a Pop Tart or some Milk Duds and the person who answered the phone invariably said, “Good afternoon. Special Procedures.”

See? Special. But one Saturday at the hospital’s open house I discovered a catastrophic gap in my understanding of nursing – and a new definition of “special.”

To celebrate its recent remodeling and thank the public for its patience during construction, Los Robles Regional Medical Center held an open house. The community at large was invited to walk on the new floor tiles, appreciate the precious paintings of earth-toned nothingness that adorned the hallways, and have a glass of fruit punch. Despite the repeated attempts my sister Debbie and I made to elicit compassion, my mother wouldn’t dare let us escape a tailor-made opportunity to show us off and pinch our cheeks in front of her work friends. In fact, we were hardly two steps inside the “Special Procedures” room when my mom cleared her throat to get her friends’ attention and introduced us to her colleagues. Speaking at me but not really to me, my mom reminded me that one of the women, her friend Erlinda, was the nice lady who’d knitted me a sweater for my birthday. I hated that sweater. It was itchy and ugly and it felt like an angry Brillo pad.

While the adults tried to one-up each other with tales of their children’s accomplishments, I snuck away from the scrum and set off on a safari around the room. I wanted to see the machines they used to save lives and treat people so “specially.” There wasn’t much I could identify until I came to a row of glass jars, each housing a different household item: a yellow toothbrush, a Ford For President campaign button, some loose change, a light bulb, a screwdriver, and so on.

“Mom!” I shouted across the room, straining to be heard over the hum of two-dozen fluorescent light bulbs. “What’s all this stuff for?”

The question seemed to catch her unprepared. She looked stone-faced at Erlinda, then at my dad, then at Erlinda again. “Those, Danny, are…ahem…objects we’ve…extracted…during colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies.”

“What are those?”

“Those are the ‘special’ procedures.”

My dad and Debbie joined me at the jars. We stood there together, looking perplexedly into the glass and trying to translate what my mother had said. I could tell my dad knew what she’d meant.

“Did you understand what mommy said, dad?”

“Yeah,” he said, resigned to the fact that he was about to destroy my entire perspective on life and human behavior. “These are things mommy and her friends have pulled out of people’s tushies.”

Jameson said...

Seconds From Death

About that damn bull ....

He wasn't called the Woolly Bully at first. His real name was Doodlebug ... a rather silly name, not at all a name you'd expect for the psycho-killer bull he was bred to be. But as things turned out, it was a name that struck fear in the hearts of every cowboy that drew him.

As for me, the first time I tangled with the Woolly Bully was at the Travis County Livestock Show in Austin, Texas.

I'm Frank Haycock. I used to be a bull rider ... once upon a time ... back when I was twenty, back when I was full of piss and vinegar.

But all this Woolly Bully stuff happened ten years later when I was thirty, just a poor dumb cowboy drifting from rodeo to rodeo, drinking too much on occasion, trying to forget that one really bad mistake in my life ....

It was a hot Saturday night in March and the air smelled of dry heat, dust, and the heavy aroma of fresh manure. Behind me, applause rose from the rodeo stands. I walked on, my scruffy boots crunching against the crusty soil.

A few feet ahead, a holding pen was filled with seven slobbering bulls snorting grumpily from glistening nostrils. Leaning against the top metal pole railing watching the animals was the man I desperately needed to see.

Hearing my approach, Big Bob Ligon turned and rose up to his full six-four height, his lanky bow-legs supporting two hundred fifty pounds of satisfied belly. Almost hidden underneath was a huge twenty-year-old belt buckle that proclaimed him a former World Champion steer wrestler. He wore a pearl-buttoned, long-sleeved white shirt, tight Wrangler jeans at least one size too small for him, and a tan Resistol hat over his balding head. An oval-shaped fifty-ish face offered a naturally friendly smile.

Big Bob was the stock contractor for the rodeo, and the owner of this misfit collection of wild bucking bulls. Squinty brown eyes traversed me up and down, then he thrust a meaty palm forward. "Howdo, Frank. What can I do you for?"

Just in time I remembered his crushing, vice-like strength and gripped his hand as hard as I could, trying to protect my fingers, but still feeling my cartilage cracking. I grinned, hiding the pain. "You need any more hands?"

Big Bob shook his head. "Full up right now. Sorry."

It was then I first noticed the over-sized Brahma behind him, twenty feet away, strolling closer to us. The back of my neck prickled.

But I was desperate. My wallet was thinner than a credit card, of which I had none, and I hadn't eaten a thing since yesterday. "I'm down to my last dollar. I'll do anything."

A frown crossed his face. "Can't do it, Frank. I hear tell you're ... a drunk."

"That's not--."

Inside the pen, something exploded. The giant bull had burst into a full run, headed straight for us.

John Quirk said...

In Shadows We Walk (approx 120,000 words)


Two weeks ago

Full Sutton High Security Prison, eleven miles east of York


‘Do you know how old I was when I first thought about killing myself?’

His eyes sparked, a sly grin itching at the edges of his thin mouth. ‘Thirty-one. The same age as your father, when he shot himself.’ I looked away, unable to fulfill the one promise I’d made to myself, to not be intimidated. ‘And if I’m right, the same age as you turn next week. I am right, aren’t I?’

I nodded, trying to focus on something; the chair beside me, the glass of water on the table, the two guards stood either side of the room. Anything.

He wasn’t what I had expected. There was no guilt there, no remorse. Yet there was also no anger, nor any satisfaction in watching me crumble before his eyes. There was some amusement, but it didn’t seem cynical. I swallowed hard and looked at him.

'Do you think that is why you want to go back?’ he asked. ‘After all these years?’

‘You tell me.’

‘I am. You want to return now because you’re feeling the same way.’

‘The same way?’

‘You want to kill yourself.’

‘No, I….’

‘You’ve thought about it. You’ve got that look in your eyes. Trust me, I know.’

There was little to be gained in denying him. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I’ve thought about it, on several occasions over the years. But I’m still here.’

‘So you are.’ He considered me for a moment. ‘It’s not easy, is it? I think you’re like me, Samuel, not strong enough to carry it through. Not like your father.’

‘I’m not here about my father,’ I said, a slight tremor creeping into my voice.

‘No, of course not.’ He ran his tongue around his upper teeth, probably clearing the remains of his lunch, the middle finger on his left hand coming up to finish the job. ‘So what do you want to talk about?’

I forced myself to look him straight in the eye. ‘Did you kill my mother?’

He shrugged. ‘The courts said I did. As did the media. Who’s to argue with them.’

‘You denied it. You pleaded not guilty.’ I studied his face, but it was as blank as I could remember it in the dock, on the day he’d been sentenced. ‘For two years. Then nothing. Why?’

He sat forward, the fingers of each hand coming together, his lips pursed. ‘I had nothing to gain from it. When they finally did something right and pinned the death of lovely Anna on me, well, denying the murder of your sweet mother hardly seemed worth it. They had me.’

‘I need to know. Did you kill her?'

He laughed then. Joseph Barker, convicted killer. The man who had haunted my dreams for the last twenty years was laughing in my face.

Mary Anne said...

The Thirteenth of Never - Contemporary Romance


She rounded the corner and plowed into him, colliding with the left side of his chest and losing her tentative hold on the too-full plastic tumbler. A cascade of Milwaukee’s finest christened a navy tee shirt tight enough to ripple with the muscles it covered. The golden brew dripped down to the crotch of comfortably faded jeans at the same instant his large hands gripped her shoulders.

Straightening the napkin she still held, she mumbled apologies while she swabbed the quickly drenched paper over the navy blue waves. A low rumble uncoiled from the chest she patted. It startled her into following his backwards lurch onto the brick casement. His seated position put her at face level, so she stood between his legs when her mouth fell open. This was either the other side of the looking glass or a bizarre new faculty test to figure out how far they had to go to destroy the sanity of the One L’s.

“Since Jerry Falwell's ghost just poured me a beer it only makes sense that I’d christen McDreamy with it, doesn’t it?” She snarled the question as her patting hand ventured to the lower region of his chest. It rumbled again, startling her into meeting navy eyes as they went black.

“You do know the dean of the law school is manning the tap, right?"

“I thought the good Reverend would be haunting his law school in Virginia, but if you say so.”

He reached into the pouch of the computer case perched beside him, withdrew a handkerchief embroidered with a G and handed it to her. “You doused my pants too.”

The pull of those lapis lazuli eyes sparkling intermittently with dark gold flashes so mesmerized her that she took the handkerchief and lowered it within an inch of the lap that grew as her hand approached. What was she doing? This guy could be a serial killer stalking the first year's, intent on saving one from joining the dark side. He could be a mind-melding rapist, fully aware that her whore button starting vibrating when her mouth fell open. She had to get out of here and dive into the mountain of reading she had one day to accomplish.

He must have read her return to sanity in the clarity returning to her emerald eyes because she hadn’t yet moved when he shook his head no and folded her close. It felt like running to the ocean on her first day home. He felt it too because his chest puffed with his breaths and his pupils nearly swallowed his eyes.

He said, “Damn, this is so not smart.”

She nodded. “I should go. I have some work to….”

He shook his head no again, even slower this time. “It's too late for that.” He scooted forward on the casement and pulled her face to his. “Don’t close your lips, baby. We greet never with open mouths, like this."

Poppyj said...

TakeAway - Thriller - 78,000 words

Jan Marsh woke to the rock of the bed and listened to the rain beat a rhythm on the window. She lay still as her husband kicked off the sheet, swung his legs over the side and sat up. Shawn hadn’t been sleeping well and denied her an explanation. Three weeks she bided her time, hoping he’d come forward, but he hadn’t and she wasn’t waiting any longer. She combed her hand through her tangled blonde hair. “You okay?”

Shawn turned and grinned. “Can’t sleep. I’m going to put coffee on.”

She’d fallen in love with the paramedics’ boyish smile and sharp wit when he transported her to the hospital after she broke her leg in a water-skiing accident three and a half years ago. She had finished a six-year stint in Special Forces prior to their chance meeting. Three months later, they were married. The thought she might lose him gnarled in her stomach. He wasn’t the type to cheat, but something had built between them and she couldn’t figure it out. Maybe he’s burnt-out from the job. It happens in his line of work. If he wasn’t going to tell her, she’d find out her own way. She reached up and rubbed his back. “It’s five in the morning. Stay and hold me.”

He leaned over and kissed her forehead. “I’ll be back, Baby.”

She hummed an approval and pretended to drift back to sleep.

He ambled into the kitchen, prepared the coffee as she lie awake listening. His empty cup clattered in the sink. Footsteps came up the hallway and she closed her eyes. He dressed quietly, stood next to the bed for a moment, and left the house through the side door.

She pulled on her sweat suit and grabbed her green rain shawl. She watched out the doors peephole until his five-year-old red Mustang pulled out of the driveway. Dime-sized raindrops pelted the van as she slid behind the steering wheel and slammed the door of her white Windstar. She followed him up Windsor’s main artery, Ouellette Avenue, usually occupied by city workers and the homeless this time of day, but the rain had chased even the hardiest of them off the street. The Renaissance Center loomed majestic from across the Detroit River, four mammoth glass towers, a remarkable contrast to the balance of the stark American skyline. He crossed Riverside Drive, down to the turnaround by the water and eased to the curb behind a black Cadillac. Jan pulled into a parking lot a block away and jogged to a spot she could watch his car without detection. Rain blurred the horizon and humidity fogged the mini binoculars she’d brought for such an occasion. She wiped them clean.

Shawn opened the Caddy’s door and paused before getting in. She moved to a position she could see the license plate and wrote the number in her day timer. Three minutes later, the door opened.

wheelrider said...

Last Teardown

Sallie Rae Mynahan was on the Ferris Wheel again, her curly blonde head barely visible as she rolled up and over the top. It was Sunday morning so she was the only one on the Wheel. Her skinny legs stuck straight out from the seat. She wore white sneakers, yellow shorts and yellow ankle socks; a tiny yellow bird perched in a maze of braces and cables.

Below, the sun glared off the metal tops of the teacups and little train. Heavy black braids of cable ran from the power truck, between the bumper cars and baby boats and under game booths with unwinable prizes. Five little striped tents stood along the fence. Flo the Fortune Teller, Encyclopedia Man, Amazing Snake Lady, The Fattest Woman in the World and The Strongest Man. The parking lot of Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted, transformed once again, for one week only, into 3-STAR Amusements. And except for the people, thought Sallie Rae as she drifted down past, every single bit of it fits in three tractor trucks and a trailer.

The carnival wasn't allowed to open before noon, people might be tempted to skip Mass, but Our Lady's trusted Joe Mynahan, let him set the Ferris Wheel turning early. It was Sallie Rae’s favorite time to ride, no stopping for new riders.

The man at the controls wore overalls and a sleeveless undershirt. He held the lever forward with his foot while he drank coffee from a styrofoam cup and studied the Sunday comics. Sallie Rae didn’t know him. He was a temp. Her father hired temps at every stop along 3-STAR's urban circuit. Carneys disappear between towns sometimes. Or quit. You don’t have to give notice in a carnival; that's one of the rules.

Sallie Rae explained to him that her father was Joe Mynahan and that she was allowed to ride alone even though 3-STAR wasn’t open yet and she was much shorter than the sign said you had to be to ride alone. He just shrugged and let her on, what did he care. Sallie Rae had four orange tickets in the pocket of her shorts earned from chores and watching her sisters. No one should think she was riding for free. There were rules about that, too.

The man didn't look up when she floated down around past him again and up the back side of the Wheel. As she rose, 3-STAR Amusements got smaller and smaller and the rest of the world spread wider and wider through the struts and spokes, miles of cities and towns and patches of green until for one flash of a moment she was on top of it all again and could see all the way to the horizon. Rolling down over the front side of the Wheel through an uninterrupted landscape of trees and tiny houses and rooftops, Sallie Rae caught a glimpse of her own house just as she dropped past three o’clock because she knew exactly where to look. This stop was her own neighborhood.

K.C. Shaw said...

"You'll never get anywhere, Pepper, if you don't advertise." Jack set his leather bag down in the grass and rummaged inside it, taking out a hammer, a jar of nails, and a square of cardboard. He glanced down at Pepper, who watched him without comprehension but with her usual boundless good humor. "When I say you, of course I mean me."

He laughed, and Pepper opened her remarkable jaws wide in a doglike grin. She looked a little like an oversized bulldog, except that she was bright red and had a long tail. Her smoothly-scaled hide gleamed in the morning sunshine.

Jack turned to the wooden fence beside him. It was sturdy, and while it wasn't in a particularly busy location, the same could be said of the entire town. He and Pepper stood on the edge of Tolchester's main thoroughfare, a neatly kept dirt road. It was entirely deserted.

Jack nailed the cardboard to the fence with four swift strokes, handling the hammer with the ease of long use. When he was done he stepped back to examine his handiwork.

The card was cheaply printed, but drew the eye. It read:

Jack of All Trades
Jack Bywater, 17 Lonas Lane
Carpenter * Plumber * Cook * Wizard * Smith
Coach Driver * Beastmaster * Scribe * Musician
I can turn my hand to anything

"That's sure to get us some trade," Jack said. He rubbed his beard absently with his knuckles. He had only grown the beard recently and wasn't certain he liked it; it was short and tidy, dark brown like his hair. Jack himself was not very tall and was a little stout, but he looked strong as well. If people are said to grow to look like their dogs, Jack had grown to look like his dragon: friendly, open, and perhaps just a bit stupid.

Elyssa Papa said...

Take a Chance on Me---Romantic Comedy---92,000 words

She’d never expected to face a camera crew when she opened her front door. If she had, she would have cleaned up, especially since she was covered in chocolate cake batter.

“Hello,” a man said, in a low timbre.

His voice was sinfully rich, like hot chocolate sauce sliding down her throat. And to make it even better, the voice was British. There were three things Kate knew about herself: she was doomed to failure, she couldn’t cook, and the British accent was her kryptonite. She had a thing for a man with an accent. Blame it on Colin Firth, Jude Law, and Hugh Grant. Even Snape was sexy, thanks to Alan Rickman. Any time she heard a British man speaking, she sank into this dream-state and little ricochets of endorphins zipped through her body.

But, she never had a reaction quite like this.

His accent made her stomach pitch as a lone rowboat in a tumultuous sea. His accent had her pulse quickening and fire racing in her veins. His accent made her knees all weak and gooey, like the chocolate cake batter dripping off her hands. She searched through the crowd, knowing she had heard his voice before today.

He continued, “We’re looking for––”

“If you’re looking for Lulu, she lives next door,” she interrupted, pointing to her right. Chocolate sailed along with her movement, managing to hit a member of the camera crew. Kate could barely make out the man thanks to the small group littered around her stoop. She pasted an apologetic smile on her face. “I’m so sorry.” Thank God they weren’t here for her. She’d never live this down.

“Actually, we’re looking for Katharine Templar.”

Her heart pounded against her chest, and she placed a hand against the door to steady herself. She blinked dumbly at the camera crew as a bee flew past her. The cameras were here for her? Why? Craning her neck to see past the camera crew crowding her, Kate stepped forward. The film crew moved away, filming her every step and avoiding her chocolate encrusted clothes. Looking at the parking lot with the two SUVs and the stretch limo, she pinched her back… hard.

She wasn’t dreaming.

The man asked impatiently, “Are you she?”

“Yes, but it’s Kate. No one calls me Katharine unless you count my mother and that’s only––” She snapped her mouth shut, lips pressed firmly together. This day could not get any worse.

“Kate.” The man stepped forward, parting the crowd like Moses did with the Red Sea.

And her day just got worse.

It was Sam Brody, the much media hyped “Golden Prince of Hollywood”. The same man she’d struck with her accidentally-discharged chocolate bullet. Unfortunately for her, she’d scored a direct hit. A smear of chocolate streaked his straight, aquiline nose and slanted down his face, stopping at his clenched jaw. He was holding a ruined handkerchief covered in sticky batter, his deep blue eyes glittering in disgust.

Lauren said...

Super Bear (31,000 word MG sci-fi)

“Save me, save me!” ten-year-old Toby shouted in a high-pitched voice. He perched an army man at the top of the toy box, wobbling, wobbling.

“Whoosh!” his little brother, Keith, said, zooming his stuffed bear over his head and swooping down to the ledge where the green figurine balanced.

“Supah Beah is heah to wescue you!” Keith made Super Bear say as he touched down.

“Oh, thank you, Super Bear,” said the army man.

“Boys,” Mom called from the kitchen. “Time to wash up for dinner!”

“Aw, Mommy!” Keith moaned. “Five moah minutes!”

“Come on, Keith,” Toby said, dropping his army man in the toy box before going to the bathroom.

Toby helped Keith wash his hands. At only three years old, he didn’t do a very good job by himself.

“Oops,” Toby said as he splashed a bit of soap on Super Bear’s shoe. He didn’t even bother trying to wash it off.

Super Bear was old, worn, and dirty. His blue jumpsuit and red cape were no longer so bright. A safety pin held on his black power belt together. His faded cape had a tear in the bottom from when it had once caught on a staple in Mom's work. There was also a yucky green stain from where Keith accidentally got Super Bear too close to his new art project. Super Bear's ear was torn and his crooked nose hung by a thread. The fur near his mouth was all crusty because no one told Keith stuffed bears couldn't actually eat until it was too late. Mom tried to patch the hole in his pants, but Toby could still see the brown fur through her stitches.

It wasn't that Keith had the bear for such a long time. It was just that he took it everywhere he went. To preschool, to stores with Mom, to the dinner table, and even in the bathroom.

Toby finished drying his hands as he heard the doorbell ring.

“I’ll get it!” he shouted. He raced to the door and pulled it open.

No one was there. He looked out into the apartment hallway, but it was empty. Shrugging, Toby shut the door and made his way to the kitchen table.

“Who was that?” Mom asked, dishing three bowls of macaroni and cheese.

“Nobody,” said Toby.

Mom’s eyebrows tilted down. “Probably just a prankster,” she said. “Keith, are you coming?”

Keith emerged from the bathroom, crying his eyes out, as only a toddler could.

“Keith, what’s wrong?” Mom said, rushing to him and scooping him up.

“I – can’t – find – Supah Beah!” Keith said between sobs.

Mom bounced him up and down. “Where did you have him last?”

“In the bathwoom. We wah washing ah hands.”

“Let’s go look.”

Toby turned in his chair and watched Mom go into the bathroom. She came out shaking her head.

Toby’s face scrunched up as he clearly remembered seeing Super Bear on the chipped ceramic sink. This didn’t make any sense.

Susan Bradley said...

Untitled-YA

No question about it, I was about to get my ass kicked. I considered the expression on the Amazon woman’s face and knew I had made a potentially fatal mistake. All six feet of her stood only three feet across from me, definitely within easy striking distance for her python length arms. She tightened her black sash and prepared to inflict some serious damage to my inexperienced body. I stared at her unpolished, size 11 feet, then stole another glance at her face and was shaken to see that she was looking at me like a lion stalking a gazelle. I had no doubt that she was going to relish the experience.

This was my introductory kung-fu class and wouldn’t you know I had the misfortune of joining on Sparring Wednesdays. Judging from the anticipation in the Amazon’s eyes, they should rename it to “Beat-up the White Sash” Wednesday.

During the past hour, I learned some basic animal imitating stances, kicks, and punches, but I was nowhere near skilled enough to be sparring this freak of nature. I hadn’t thought it was possible to sweat even more than I already was, but I was wrong. Between my drum-tight hamstrings and new tight uniform pants I could only manage to kick a couple of inches off the ground. If I was in a fight to the death with a Chihuahua, I’d be golden. It’s not like I’m in denial about my lack of natural athletic ability, but getting into shape was only one of the reasons I enrolled in kung fu classes.

I nervously glanced around to see if any other white sashes were going to spar a mutant like I was about to. All of their opponents looked normal-sized, but they looked equally uneasy. I guess mine drank all of her milk as a kid.

I caught my reflection in the dojo’s wall-to-wall mirrors. All thirty versions of me looked terrified. Deciding that it wasn’t a good idea to look like a frightened target, I mentally started reviewing my lesson: the bear stance, the spider crouch, the monkey block, and the snake strike. I wasn’t going down without trying to defend myself. After all, that was one of the other reasons I was here.

Just as Sifu Soo was about to call out ‘Begin’, I saw one of Sifu Soo’s senior student walk up to the Amazon girl and tap her on the shoulder. She turned around and was surprised by who it was. She looked disappointed and relented out of respect. I hadn’t seen him during class, so he must have just arrived.

I knew exactly who he was. You would have thought that at this point I would have breathed a sigh of relief, but now I was more nervous than before. I felt like puking. He now stood across from me and gave me a smile that could charm me out of my lunch money.

Keeper of the Ash Trees said...

Paris & Petra - 48,000


Love is like the earth: random, ruthless, bountiful and backbreaking.

It was a balmy August morning and the sun pushed down through the trees making patterns on Emily’s dark head. She hurried along the residential road with her chubby bag clapping at her side like the lungs of a pneumatic old woman. Papers were wheezing inside and something had come loose and was rattling around. Spare change?

This morning the block was wild with bikes without brakes and she zigzagged back and forth across the street like a drunk, trying not to get run over. More than once she was forced into the bushes, evading some beastly child on its bike. All the same, it didn’t take her too long to reach the familiar stretch of road where the houses were more spread out and rundown. They smiled at her in cheerful dilapidation like a band of Norman Rockwell’s happy hobos huddled on a bench.

The neighborhood’s affliction was debtor’s disease. It kept her mother’s family here in the poorer section of the town. In all the time that Emily had known her, the woman had never had any money and this was unlikely to change. Thinking on this, Emily pulled her handbag closer. One never knew where thieves lurked.

But the groups of children receded and she soon found the road quiet. She took her time skirting along the lawns of these properties with their chipped siding, missing window screens and ailing vegetable gardens. On her left, a flag that had lost both color and hope waved drowsily to her in the heat.

Her mother’s house erupted into view and she stopped, she had reached her destination. The house was the last on the street; it sat alone in the cul-de-sac and was as she remembered from all those years ago.

She sighed heavily and took stock. Her armpits were bleeding sweat down her dress in the unseasonable heat. God, she hated the South. She pulled out her handkerchief and dabbed at them ineffectually. She felt like a second-rate suitor coming to pay a call (complete with the bad haircut and ill-fitting shoes). She felt all of the nerves and inadequacies of someone who knows they aren’t quite going to be up to snuff.

But she was here, and she was here because the twins—her sisters—Paris and Petra, were inside.

Gerri said...

Going Ballistic, My Way - YA novel

It's one of those crazy days again, cutting school and getting down to business with Jojo and Stretch. I'm not looking forward to it but no way can I tell them what's really on my mind. Well, unless I'm totally ready to take a few slams. Yeah, makes me wonder if I'll ever have the guts to face up to them. So my stomach twists into a knot, thanks to the stirred up atmosphere. Doesn't matter that it's a calm warm afternoon in San Francisco, for once. With all that's been going on with us lately it's been like a daily storm for me. Wish I were kidding.

As usual, Jojo's mighty furious. I swear the guy was born kicking and cussing, like he couldn't wait to pounce on anybody who crossed him. The funny thing is, at first glance, he doesn't look like he can do any damage. Here he is, stomping alongside me on the Embarcadero waterfront. His loppy strut and swinging arms make him look like a gorilla on a warpath. Only difference is he's actually the size of an orangutan. No one would ever tell him that though. Yeah, even me, although we've been buddies since preschool. Well, I figure Jojo's genes has something to do with all of that fury, especially because his dad enjoys knocking him around every now and then.

Actually he's always been antsy to bring someone down, like the time when he got pissed off at our second grade teacher for no particular reason. He didn't think twice about setting a fire on her desk when everyone else was at recess. Yeah, almost burned down the whole classroom but no one, except me, had a clue he was behind it. I never dared to snitch on him though, not only because I knew too well he'd kick my ass but especially because he was the only friend I had. Nothing's changed between us and, up to this day, I'm not the kind of guy who can find other friends easily.

All of these thoughts are making my temples throb but I'm staying as cool as I can, pretending that what we're about to do is no big deal. My feet have a hard time matching Jojo's quick steps on the crowded sidewalk so I bump into a few people who give me annoyed glances. I sigh, checking out my so-called buddy again.

Seems like I'm up in the sky looking down at him. His pale side hairline is surrounded by spiky black hair and the puffy cheeks on his angry face match his paunch. Although he'll never admit it, he's a fashion freak. His regular outfit always consists of an ironed shirt with one of hundreds of vests he's stolen or bought over the years. For today his vest of choice is a black suede number, matching the rest of his clothes and clomping boots.

"Hey, you okay, Jojo?" Stretch asks from behind us in his singsong voice.

Chumplet said...

Okay, here goes:

Señior Cabrera took great pride in his hotel. A mixture of old world charm and modern convenience, it stood on La Rambla, one of the most famous streets in Europe. It wasn't a five star hotel. It didn’t possess an elevator, had no room service and the suites were small, but he served the best coffee in his charming sitting room.

If it wasn't for his old friend Zigor, he wouldn't have this hotel at all.

"Don't frighten my patrons unnecessarily, Zigor." He scowled at the man across the front desk, then thoughtfully tapped his pen against his widely spaced teeth. "I could explain to them that this is a staged hostage taking – an audition for a movie or something." He slid the guest book across the desk and opened it. "Here are the few that will likely be in their rooms after the tour bus leaves." His mood lightened. "At least they'll have an adventure to tell their families."

Zigor grinned, his scarred face stretched across high cheekbones. "I wouldn't recommend it. We must convince that bastard O'Connell that we are holding hostages. When he gives us the location of the painting, we need to be well on our way before your guests start babbling." He took the ledger. "I'll need this to find the room numbers of the remaining tourists."

"Will you be escorting them to the courtyard?"

"I'll let my colleague Sendoa do it. They'll prefer to look at his face, not this monstrous visage." He absently stroked his cheek, ravaged from a lengthy stay at a Spanish prison. "Thank you, my friend." He tucked the ledger under his arm and pushed away from the desk.

After Zigor left, Señor Cabrera glanced at the large clock on the wall. He had one more guest to check in, but she was terribly late. He shrugged and crossed the lobby with key in hand when the front door burst open.

A woman stumbled in, dragging a blue suitcase behind her. A large tapestry shoulder bag slipped from her shoulder, and she let it drop to the floor. The suitcase followed with a dull clunk.

She straightened and pushed back her dark hair, revealing large brown eyes and a furrowed brow.

"I'm sorry I'm so late – my flight was delayed and finding a taxi was harder than rush hour in New York." She held her long fingers to her mouth. "Oh! You speak English, don’t you?"

"Of course I do. You must be Señorita Patrone. Please, let me take those for you." He glanced at the front desk, remembering too late that the guest ledger was no longer there. "It's late. I'll get your key and you can check in properly in the morning." Her luminous beauty and voluptuous figure chased any thoughts of hostage takers and stolen Picassos from his befuddled mind. He picked up her bags and led her up the curved wrought iron staircase to the fourth floor, where the last remaining room waited.

jjdebenedictis said...

The driver stood on his tilted cart, his body coiled as if he were about to leap, but he didn't move. His face shone almost as white as that of the screaming woman. He whirled his head once to look at his shrieking, tangled horses, then turned back to the woman he had just run down. He still didn't move.

As instinctively as other people on the street had frozen, Wykham began to run. The woman would be a cripple, but if they could get her to his barber-surgery in time, she might live. Wykham darted around two girls in pink and a woman with white curls showing beneath her bonnet. He slapped his palm against a velvet-cloaked shoulder to move a man no older than himself aside.

The injured woman lay on the cobbles at the edge of an alley. A red streak marked the pale bricks where she had hit her head and been dragged down. Both her legs were crushed, and a thread of blood fired out of a rip in her skirts, breaking into droplets in midair. As he knelt, Wykham fumbled to get his belt off.

He whipped the torn dress out of his way and wrapped his belt around the spurting stump. Behind him, someone gagged at the sight of meat that was a person, not food.

The injured woman's eyes snapped open. Horror warped the pain on her face. Her howl stopped and she gargled for breath, then jammed both hands against Wykham's chest. "Don't touch it! Get away!"

"Quiet. I'm trying to help you." Wykham yanked his belt as tight as he could manage. The stream of red droplets dipped, then vanished.

"No! Get away!"

"God's mercy." The white-haired woman's voice shook and broke. "Someone help him. She's not in her mind."

The cart driver fell to the street in a stumble. He clutched his cart as he crept toward Wykham. The driver's eyes swam under tears and his mouth wavered between almost closed and almost wide open.

The pitch of the injured woman's voice spiked, and she thrashed her fists against Wykham's chest and throat. "Don't touch it! Blooddrinker! I'm a blooddrinker!"

Wykham saw his hands freeze. His mind sang a high note, and he bolted to his feet and scrambled back. His skin seemed to flood with ice-water.

The cart driver stopped moving also. His eyes widened. The crowd went silent, except for one of the pink-frocked girls, who was gasping for breath so violently it sounded like she was trying to bray. Wykham's heartbeat rattled in his temples.

Horror hollowed the voice of someone in one of the now-open windows above the street. "God's mercy. Somebody kill it."

Wykham looked down at his hands, coated red to the wrist. He began to tremble. The image of his son's face swam into his mind, and he wondered if he might be sick on the street.

Phoenix said...

Historical Fantasy

"They've come!"

The strangled cry jarred Trenus's attention from his studies. He looked up to see Father Flavius clinging to the library door, gasping for breath.

"We must flee! Hurry!"

Students around the room craned their necks to discover the commotion. "Come? Who's come? Father, speak sense."

"The praetorian guard!" With a whimper, the priest swept his hand toward the fragile scrolls that lined the high walls.

"Sweet Jesu, no! The edict!"

One quick-minded student sprinted for the shelves, shoving manuscripts beneath his cloak. Two other students followed his lead. Others forsook the books to race out, empty-handed, past the priest at the door.

Trajan, Ulpia, Tier ... A litany of basilicas torched by Diocletian in the last few months flashed across Trenus's thoughts. Why had he believed St. Justin might be spared? He spread his arms over the books strewn across the table. Were these the ones to save? A student's texts? Or should he try to reach the rarer manuscripts before fleeing with the others?

"Trenus! We need you, boy!" Bishop Eusebius gestured frantically from the doorway, nearly hitting the priest beside him.

"But the books ..."

"Others will see to them. You must stop the guards before they burn the church -- or make martyrs of us all."

Church elders pushed in through the crowded doorway, carrying small trunks and empty sacks. The panicked priest suddenly found himself with a sack in hand, pressed into service, emptying the library.

Trenus scrambled to his feet. "Stop the guards? How?"

"Only one way, boy. There's not enough steel in the whole of the basilica to counter what the guards bring. And they have torches."

Fire. "But that means ..." Using craft. Risking exposure. Instinct and training screamed against it. All Trenus wanted was to gather an armload of books and be gone before the guards arrived.

A student, panting, ran in through the door. "They're in the arcade! We're trapped!"

Two priests pushed their way in. "We're being herded like sheep. Everyone's being driven this way. If they start a fire --"

By ones and twos more men stumbled, breathless, into the room.

The Bishop's gaze drilled into Trenus as he crossed the short distance between them and pulled the boy to his feet. "It's too late to run. If it were just the books, Trenus, I wouldn't ask this of you. But lives are at stake. This isn't some philosophical debate. Prove to us what you really are!" He shook the boy, hard, as more men rushed into the crowded room.

"Bar the door! They're right behind me!" the last priest in shouted. The massive doors swung together.

"Wait!" The word sounded small and weak even in Trenus's ears. He looked up at Eusebius and the Bishop, face creased with concern, nodded encouragement. "Let me out first."

"Out? Didn't you hear what the priest said? The guards are coming! Out is suicide."

Stacy said...

MAIL ORDER CHEF

“I’m engaged, Eva. I’m getting married.”

I start laughing, confident my brother is joking. Like the time he forged a Harvard acceptance letter using real letter head to convince me he’d gotten in. Only this time, he doesn’t look mischievous. He looks . . . well, rather silly. His face is split into this dopey grin, and he’s clinging to Olivia’s hand as if he might never let go.

Oh no. I back up against the kitchen sink, feeling dizzy. They can’t really be engaged. He’s only known her a few months. And besides, I’m older. Isn’t there some law, some religious creed about the oldest child being married first? He should be standing in line at my wedding, looking exceptionally handsome in his tux and very, very single. My mouth feels full of cotton balls, so I grab a glass from the kitchen cupboard and fill it at the sink. I wait for Mom to start complaining about the evils of unfiltered water, but she’s squealing as if her lottery ticket was just picked.

Gulping down half the water, I pivot slowly to face the inevitable.

“Olivia, it’s so gorgeous,” Mom says, lifting Olivia’s manicured hand to her face. “Look, Eva, did you see the ring?”

Olivia delicately whips her hand free of Mom’s and starts towards me, the giant rock on her hand vying for brilliance against the fluorescent lights. I take another sip of water and tip my head to acknowledge I’ve seen the ring. She keeps coming, though, her arm outstretched like a cruise missile. SS Olivia is going to slice me open with her jagged diamond. Panicking, I drain my glass and accidentally snort the water up my nose. I grip the kitchen counter and start coughing. I can’t seem to get air into my lungs.

Sax said...

Just Like in the Movies

The worst year of Michael Gersh’s life started with a morning of easy victories and good omens. There were bad omens too, but like most people, he chose to ignore them. The good stuff was just too distracting. At dawn, he finally managed to get a tube ride on a ten foot wave; at breakfast, he sold a screenplay about the Intifada to a pair of Egyptian bankers; and at lunch he closed a deal with the biggest star of the late twentieth century to make his best friend’s movie.
He could hardly wait for dinner.
Mike didn’t much care for irony, especially when it happened to him, but looking back at that sun-splashed March morning, he would have to admit it made perfect sense: he was riding high.
And a downfall is just a stumble, without altitude.

He woke up that day to the sound of the ocean. He lay on his back for a few minutes, listening to hiss of water receding over a million pebbles, the thump and thunder of the breaking waves. There was a swell running. The house vibrated with it and Mike felt himself vibrating inside the house. They were nesting tuning forks, tuned perfectly to the tide.
He glanced over at Janet. She was still asleep. According to the clock on her bedside table, it was 5:35 in the morning. He felt Sally’s breath on his shoulder. At some point in the night she had climbed into bed with them and she was sleeping in the crook of his arm. He had just under an hour and a half before he had to wake her up.
Mike closed his eyes for a second or two, listening to the syncopated breathing of his two girls. The boom of a big wave jostled their sleep for a moment.
Time to get moving.
He eased his arm out from under Sally’s shoulders, took a long look at her sleeping face, pushed up on his arms and rolled over her and out of bed. His feet hit the floor and he stood to straighten up the covers. No one stirred. He released a long quiet breath and slipped out of the room.
He checked the guestroom on the way to the stairs. There was a low rustle of conversation coming from inside that turned to music as he reached the door. He paused to listen, then pushed inside. His half-sister Ellie was sprawled on the bed, snoring quietly, dressed in jeans and a UCLA sweatshirt. The TV was on: the early news. A building was burning down in Compton. He turned it off and looked around. There was no drug paraphernalia, no sign of booze or cigarettes. TV was her new addiction. Asleep, with the tension released from her face, Ellie looked twelve years old. She was actually twenty five, but she looked older when a day’s worth of frustration tightened her features. Mike reached down with one finger to stroke the hair off her forehead.

Linda Bleser said...

HOUSE OF CRY

On October 31, 1986, Marjorie Parker Hall died of sadness.

To the rest of the world she was an award-winning poet. To me she was simply Mom. Her suicide left its thumbprint on the rest of my life, but the damage had been done long before she swallowed a fistful of pills.

I can see her now — hair spilling from low-slung ribbons, long tanned legs crossed one over the other with one kitten-heeled sandal dangling like a mesmerist’s charm from the tip of her toe. Her cigarette served as punctuation, pointing and circling and jabbing the air as she recited lines of verse, words and smoke slipping fluidly from her lips.

I ate corn chips for breakfast while my mother wrote about her life draining away like bloody mother's milk. I lost myself in television fantasies, yearning for chocolate-chip mommies while my own mother butchered tyrants on erasable bond. I think I knew, long before I could put the feeling into words, that I was nothing more than a misplaced modifier on the journal of her life.

A twenty-year old memory floats to the surface. "Mom? Mom?" I tugged on her sleeve trying to get her attention. "Mom, I can't find my black crayon. Do you know where it is?"

She patted my hand, but there was no comfort in her touch. She stared at a spot over my shoulder. Even when she spoke to me, it was like I wasn't really there. "It's in the graveyard, honey. That's where all the black crayons go."

No matter how many boxes I opened, the black crayons always disappeared.

Like other neurotic poets before her, my mother was obsessed with death. She danced with it, seduced it like a lover, blanketed it with metaphor and reeled it in like slippery coils of bloody rope. Death was a seedy playground littered with her own words. While my mother constantly courted death, I don't think she ever expected it to be so final.

After she killed herself for the last time, I found a handful of black crayons scattered in her dresser drawer. I wrapped them in a rubber band and hid them in my room. For nine months I colored with nothing but black crayons until they were worn down to paperless nubs too small to grip in my ten-year old hands.

I sat at my desk and ripped the pages from my journal. After tearing them into confetti-sized pieces, I flushed them down the toilet. I'm not a writer.

My mother was the writer, producing a waterfall of words that danced and sang and breathed. She rewrote her life as it unfolded, and never finished editing until she was sure her audience was completely satisfied with the final result. I’m nothing like her. I felt no compulsion to leave a trail of thoughts behind for strangers to follow. My thoughts were mine and mine alone.

I’m nothing like my mother.

If I say that often enough, perhaps I’ll begin to believe it.

A Paperback Writer said...

A Brit as a judge? Well, good luck with the small town western US dialect. And thanks.

"Up" (a short story) -- the first 508 words (so I'm 8 over the limit. Deal with it.)

I swear I didn’t do nothin to make this happen! Nothin. An ya can’t tell me it didn’t happen cuz I know it did. I used ta believe in them fairytales an magic stuff even when I wuz a kid. Heck if I know what ta believe now. But I feel different. Real different. An I kinda like that.

I been real down fer bout a year now -- since Dad died real sudden a some weird disease with a real long name, an then Mom started datin Ron fore we even got the marker put on Dad’s grave. I didn’t git it then an I don’t git it now. I mean, Mom an Dad wuz married like twenty-five years, an then she’s datin again three months after he dies? That ain’t right. So that wuz when I stopped believin all that crapload a happily ever after Disney DVD stuff. I just figured that people don’t really care bout nobody but theirselves in real life. So I kinda shut down my feelings. Walked around all spring an summer like I wuz in a big lead box or somethin. Maybe like the big cement ones that went in the ground fore Dad’s coffin.

Oh, I wuzn’t depressed or nothin. I didn’t halfta take none a that Prozac stuff. Life sucked, but I still made myself cowboy up an git ta the Gas-n-Go by 8:00 every mornin ta sell gas an cigarettes. Then I’d go home an eat pizza an watch cable. Fer months I didn’t do nothin else, I swear. The house looked like crap cuz I didn’t clean nothin an Mom wuz too busy with Ron. An I got fat. Musta gained ten pounds. But I didn’t care, cuz I only’d stayed skinny so guys’d look at me, but if love wuz all a big lie anyways, then I didn’t care if no guys ever looked at me again or not.

So I wuz fat, sloppy, an lookin at the dirt all the time until bout two weeks ago. That’s when I started findin the feathers.

The first one wuz a little grey thing -- all fluffy an soft. It wuz on the floor a my room one morning. But it wuzn’t from my pillow cuz I got one a them fiberfill kinds. An the screen in my window ain’t got no holes or nothin. So I didn’t know where it come from.

The next day I found a big ol white feather -- like come off them turkeys they raise down in Ephraim -- but it wuz inside my car. How the heck a turkey got inside my car with all the windows rolled up, I couldn’t figure out.

The next coupla days I just kept findin more feathers: a black-an’-white one -- magpie, I think -- in the bathtub, a small, dirty-lookin’ one -- prob’ly sparrow -- in the cash register at work, a long, skinny, speckled one -- had ta be pheasant -- on the TV remote. I asked Mom an Ron bout the feathers, but they didn’t know no more than me.

Sundari said...

Jack’s room was a cauldron and I floated on the surface like an iridescent pool of oil. My eyes were still closed as I threw my hand over the side of his mattress and peeled away from the floor: a shirt, three socks, and an empty bag of potato chips. I grasped my phone just as it stopped vibrating.

My phone glowed a neon green 6:00 AM. Of course, Michael had called. He probably wanted to know why I wasn’t frantically running around our apartment searching for a clean shirt and my missing shoe. I rolled over; a cool moistness soaked into my t-shirt. My inebriated bedfellow had fallen asleep with a half empty can of beer in his hand. Two thoughts came to mind. First, I would have rather faced my loud-mouthed-borderline-personality-disordered-boss than ended up in this cesspool. Second, Michael would have a field day with this one.

I didn’t know Jack well enough to wake him and share this discovery. We wouldn’t have laughed it off. We wouldn’t be sharing a pot of coffee and doing the New York Times crossword puzzle in bed this morning. He probably wouldn’t even remember what we talked about last night. So, I slid onto the floor and lay on my dry side. All I wanted was my bed and my toothbrush, but instead I was half-naked, lying on Jack’s drafty floor.

I crawled in the darkness to locate my pants, shirt, purse, and shoes. The floorboards dug into my bare, bony knees. My tank top was missing, but at least my pants were easy to find; although they were inside out and reeked of cigarette smoke. I pulled out a crinkled undershirt from the top drawer of Jack’s dresser. Michael’s shirts were always folded neatly in color coordinated stacks inside his closet. He was tidy and responsible like Dad. Unfortunately, I took after our Mom.

After slipping on my jeans and grabbing my purse, I glanced at Jack. He was face down in his drunken mess. I hoped it would be the last time I saw him, but I was seldom that lucky. Now wide awake, I walked to the front door of Jack’s apartment, carrying my high heels.

I was halfway down the main hallway when Jack stepped out of his apartment.

“You forgot your phone,” he said, jogging down the hall, and holding the phone toward me.

“Some guy named Michael just called, it woke me up. I let it go to voicemail.”

Damn you, Michael.

“Thanks, I had to get to work and I didn’t want to wake you up.”

Jack handed me the phone and jammed his hands into his pockets. He had red dents on his left cheek from his pillow and he was still wearing his damp, beer-stained shirt.

lizr said...

Finders Keepers - YA

A discordant vibration hung for an instant in the steamy garage, and by the time it faded off I think we were all holding our breath.

Cray, looking like he was trying hard not to kick something, let his Fender Stratocaster dangle from its strap and raked a hand through his damp hair. He took a single deep breath, let it out, and turned to glare at me. If I didn’t know my oldest brother almost as well as I know myself, I might have cringed. “This is the fourth time we’ve been through this,” he said, “and we’re playing it in two days. Now get it freaking right already.”

I smiled. “Gimme’ a sec.” Making a dramatic show of adjusting my instruments, pushing up the nonexistent sleeves of my sleeveless shirt, and giving one drumstick a twirl for good measure, I closed my eyes for a couple of seconds before tapping out a soft and steady heartbeat rhythm. Within moments, the heartbeat became the racing thunder of a buffalo stampede that echoed off its own sound waves and vibrated the rickety old windows into a nervous clanking. The stampede slowed down, tapered off, and ended with the same steady heartbeat that once made Cray ask me if I had gone and breathed life into his garage-sale drum set. I pinched off the light ring of the crash symbol, sinking the garage once more into silence, gave a curt nod, and waved a stick at Cray. “I’m good now.”

Clearly biting back a smile, Cray shook his head and turned to the remaining band members--our brother Marcus on bass, and our cousin Kyle on keyboards. “Anybody else need to get the wiseass out of their system, or can we move on?”

“Maybe we should just get the wiseass out of the garage,” Marcus said, and winked at me.

“Craigie ain’t a wiseass,” I said, “he just needs to pull that big ol’ stick out of his butt.”

Kyle snorted back a laugh, and I wondered for a second if I’d pushed just a little too hard. Should’ve worked out an escape plan before I opened my big mouth.

“He was talking about you, you little bastard,” Cray said, scooping an empty oil canister off the floor and hurling it over the drums, narrowly missing my forehead. He scanned the others’ faces. “Anyone else having a problem with me, or is it just Tyson?”

Angela said...

The Sibylline Prophecies-Historical Fiction

Reaching to cradle her cheek, as if he were allowed to touch her, Apollo whispered, “My fair Sibylla, choose to love me and I will bestow to you, whatever it is you wish.”

Sibylla smiled at Apollo feigning her thoughts. You would want nothing more in life, than for me to lose my powers so that you, a false God of men, could lay claim to the people. Touting your false prophecies to lead them astray from the truth. Winking at Apollo to keep his impatience at bay, You must remember that the feminine immortal speaks to me. Not you; therefore, I know what future it is you seek, before you, yourself, even think it.

The seagull’s shrieks echoed through the stone corridor. Sibylla arose, knowing Apollo, foolish with youth, would follow like an errand boy. If only the pilgrims could see their all knowing and powerful God as he appeared in private, drivelling upon himself, begging for her affections.

Instead of her usual trek to the cave’s entrance, Sibylla ascended a narrow path that led to a precipice overlooking the Isle. No pilgrims gathered here for the climb was too steep, allowing her the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular scenery, in solitude, year after year. How many years? She did not know. For time was irrelevant when you had nowhere else to go.

Interrupting the cadence of the ocean’s waves, Apollo spoke, “Surely there is something that you long for. Just because you’re an all knowing sibyl endowed with the language of Gods, doesn’t mean that all is yours for the taking.”

Infuriated by his condescending ramblings and persistent interruptions, Sibylla snapped, “I have endured many years of loneliness, as you’ve held me here against my will. Why must you always want more of me?” Her outburst caused the puffins perched below to scatter as they waited for the morning sun’s warmth.

Apollo smiled, for it was few and far between the times, when a sibyl allowed her feelings to show. She felt like crying, which would have surely led Apollo to cast echoes of laughter across the sea. Biting her lip to keep it from quivering, she pushed away her sorrow and allowed the wind to cease.

Sibylla, now alone and old of heart, had repressed her longings for escape when she was but a young girl on the brink of womanhood. Not wanting the people to fall victim to the jealous gods and fearful of the outcome had led her to this.

How odd it was, to be able to tell the destiny of others, yet know nothing of your own. A paradox she was sure that gave immense pleasure to the jealous Gods. To leave this cave and go against the Gods. What would this lead to? The demise of the earth or the rising up of the jealous Gods as they waited in the wings? If only she knew.

mbstelli said...

There was a man. When he died, he found himself outside the gates of heaven. There was a line to get in. He waited. People went in. They embraced friends and loved ones and lost dogs. He got to the gate.

“Name, sir.”

“Ted Livingston.”

“You’re not on the list.”

“Not on the list? There must be a mistake. I never killed or raped anyone. I got in a fight or two, but I was just a boy, no more than ten or twelve. I drank, but it never really hurt anyone. If it did it’s only because they were too sensitive. What could I have possibly done?”

“It says here you don’t believe in God.”

“I do now!”

“Now is too late. That’s not good enough. You never went to church or prayed. That’s just not good enough. We let some people slide, but God got tired of your unthankful demeanor and wisecracks about him. Now, please, you’re holding up the line.”

Ted stepped out of the line. He was outside the gates, watching people inside. They looked so happy. Heaven seemed great. He thought: “Well, this is typical! And they wonder why I drank!”

He had nothing to do there now so he began to walk. It was a long, steady blankness. He walked for what seemed like thousands of miles. As he walked, he couldn’t help but think: “If only I had gone to church, or kept my mouth shut, done things a little differently. Maybe I’d be in there now. Oh, but who needs them! I’ve got all of this to myself.” He embraced the huge nothingness.

He smelled smoke in the distance. The air got hotter. He realized he was nearing hell. He could sense it. He could feel it. He stopped. He looked back at the blankness, thought about how dull and lonely that was, and decided to keep moving.

He was at the gates of hell. There was a line there too. He waited. This line was rowdy, people fighting and cursing and trying to shove their way in. This irritated him, but at least it was something. Then he was up.

“Name, sir.”

“Ted Livingston.”

“Not on the list.”

“What? But I drank. I never went to church and never prayed, didn’t believe in God.”

“Yeah, but you do now.”

“I made wisecracks about him, got into fights.”

“You were only a boy, no older than ten or twelve.”

“I knew what I was doing. I knew it was wrong!”

“You didn’t kill or rape anyone, didn’t really hurt anyone, and if you did it was just because they were too sensitive.”

“I had an unthankful demeanor!”

“None of that is bad enough. Now, please, you’re holding up the line.”

“Well God damn it!” he screamed.

“Us, not you!” people said, laughing and shoving him out of the way.

Not good enough for heaven, not bad enough for hell, he thought. Well that's just perfect! Now what?

AstonWest said...

Friends in Deed- 55K-word space opera


Even in the depth of my nightmares, Lycus IV was a formidable hell. The scenery misled one to think of mighty grandeur. Lush green trees lined the banks. Sporadic cloud cover offered broken views of a pale blue mountain range.

This prison planet’s terror was not found in its natural surroundings, but from its unwilling inhabitants.

A wide, slow-moving river flowed in front of me over a deep bed of rocks. My filthy clothing was ripped and shredded, and left bloody skin exposed. I gazed back across the clear, inviting water.

A bellow filled the air and I turned to look. A pale, naked giant rumbled through the brush, still yelling at the top of his lungs. High above his head, he gripped his makeshift mallet, a boulder strapped into a forked tree branch. I jumped to the side as the weapon crashed down.

He stared with one wide eye and the other glazed over. Saliva dribbled from his lips.

“I am King of the wooded realm! You dare invade my territory?”

This wasn’t a fight I planned to stick around for. Psychotics were the worst type of violent.

He hoisted his club and swung it at me. I stumbled back and it came so close I felt the breeze. I turned toward the opposite bank and sprinted across the riverbed.

“Your punishment is death! Vengeance is demanded!”

I high-stepped through calf-deep water while the beast screamed bloody murder behind me. I dared not look back, because there was no doubt he gained on me with every step.

My foot caught a cluster of rocks under the surface and I splashed down, drenched by the cool, clear water. I flipped over and faced my attacker as he left me in a cold, dark shadow. Milky-white foam oozed over his lower lip.

“Prepare to meet your maker!”

He raised the mallet high above his head. At least death would be quick, but I couldn’t say much for painless. I closed my eyes and waited for the crushing blow.

A whistle filled the air and the giant beast gasped and choked. My eyes flashed open and the beast dropped his weapon into the river behind him.

Only one object stood between me and oblivion, a homemade arrow buried in his neck. He couldn’t pull it from the front, so reached back. His mind gave up hope as soon as his fingers probed the stone tip. The monster’s eyes rolled up into his head, then fell backwards.

The corpse splashed down and huge waves rolled past me. I scrambled around and gazed at the opposite bank. There, a bow in his left hand and more arrows strapped to his back, stood the man who’d just saved my life.

Elijah Cassus.

ennubi said...

Pilgrimage-WIP

I still don’t know what made me bother. He wasn’t the only one I’d found since the first Rift Scars opened five years ago. They were less common now, but the pattern was still familiar enough. Knots of people hunched together like rabbits in a warren, pretending that help and rescue were coming, and then…

It was almost as though the ‘Huns’ knew just where to open the damn things to inflict the most carnage.

I’d been en route to San Mores, a bit of nothing town which was still on my map. Unlike many, its inhabitants were smart enough to hide themselves early on and then stay hidden. My tattered California map was covered with scribbled-out major cities and notes on the new Hun encampments replacing them.

My dried foodstuffs were running low, and I’d had a bit of luck, finding a cache of books and medicines with reasonable expiration dates in the remains of a crumbling CVS. The San Moresans would make a good trade for that. They were crazy that way. The meds I could follow…but the Harlequin paperbacks? This was a new world-obsessing over the past was good way to die. Memories confused, distracted…speed, intuition, and ruthlessness were the key to survival. That was all that mattered.

Smoke on the horizon drew me away from the mountains’ gentle foothills. I tasted a hint of chemical stink in the distance. If it was that close-and the Huns were gone-I might be able to add to my trading stock.

Never thought I’d see the day when I might kill for a set of boots that fit.

When I finally made my way to the place, I was just in time to see the jagged light slash in the air narrow and darken into the aerial scar which marked a Hun entrance into this world.

There was a house, a big fine house which must’ve cost a pretty penny in the days before. These days it was just a pretty target for the Huns and their bloodlust.

I’d expected the flames slowly reducing another relic into ashes, sending the cremated remains of the past up as particles to dance in the sunset air.

The boy was a surprise.

He was sitting between the bodies of his parents, torn to shreds and bled out into the silt. The flies were already swarming. Under his hands, he tried to hold in a life long fled. An older girl-sister, maybe?-had emptied her life like a pig from both ends and the middle. That didn’t surprise me. Huns were renowned for playing with their toys, even taking some on the inter-dimensional road with them to enjoy later.

Nobody in their right mind ever chose surrender.

So why was this boy-who was so young that he could be my son-alive and seemingly untouched in the midst of the carnage?

Anonymous said...

Let the desperation begin!

ManiacScribbler said...

Of the few things that she knew were true in her life, he had died because of her. He had suffered wounds from arrows and other weapons because he had been with her. They were what made him sputter his words as he was now; what made him stain the ground with his blood. They were what caused his face to be pale and his eyes to be glassy. He was dying because he had protected her, had fought with her. The one who had aggravated him, teased him, and pushed him to the edge of the world. It was not even her fault that this stupid war had been started; what had caused it was her being born as herself, and the High King's need for her to be out of the way.

And now Brant was dying because of it.

Alita's hand covered one of Brant's, laying it across his heart and one of the worst wounds. Tears were welling up in her eyes now, turning them from grey to green. The shock was just now penetrating her listless mind. She did not want to believe that this was happening. Her brain did not want to contemplate that he was dying.

“Alita...” He sighed, a slight smile playing across his lips before a grimace replaced it. He was panting; an arrow had pierced a lung. His midnight blue hair clung to his forehead, matted with blood and grime. Alita was sure that she was not in a much better state; she could feel blood caked against her neck and into the braid of light brown hair that was hanging around her face.

“You shouldn’t speak,” Alita admonished. “Just concentrate on breathing.”

She pulled Brant’s hand out from underneath hers, pressing the palm of it to his chest. She summoned up the healing magic that lay in her very bones, wishing it through her hand and to the worst of Brant’s wounds. She felt the drain on her body as the muscles and flesh began to stitch itself back together.

She knew the danger, the possibility that she could die herself, but she knew that she had to do this. There was still a chance that she would be able to save him. Because, if he did not survive...Well, she did not want to think of that. She could not even start to think about that, because if she did, she would begin dying of a broken heart. That would be worse than having the possibility of dying from trying to save him.

“No...Alita, you can’t do this. You...you know what will happen if you use up...all of your power. My wounds are too many...and too bad...for you to heal...” Brant pushed her hand away, and the magic released.

“But...” She began to protest, fight against the order that he had just given her. She should have been able to disobey; it was not as though he had cast a spell on her.

rojabra said...

Something Came Down

“The world’s a perfect machine.” This is Petra. She’s explaining something to me about the world.
I say, “Is that New or Old Testament?”
“Shut up and listen,” she says. “It took the Universe only trillionths of a second to expand from something billions of times smaller than an atom to about how big it is now.”
“That’s fast,” I say. She’s fond of the math. I know this about her. Math, she’s said, has a powerful erotic aspect. And so I have her arms pinned over her head and I’m working her over pretty good, pelvis to pelvis.
“Creation: it rings like a bell and ripples outward,” she says.
“I know,” I hear myself say; “I can hear it.”
“Harder,” she says. “Fuck me, harder.”
“It’s traveling…at a constant…speed,” she pants, “the value…of which…is named after…Edwin, huh, huh, huh, Hubble.”
I vary my pace.
She says something about weather balloons in the Andes recording low noise, all-sky maps of the early universe. When she stops talking I slide my tongue inside her mouth; upon reflection, a highly coordinated activity, all told. But the problem remains: the freckles across her chest are more familiar to me than I am to myself. I’ve lost the thread of the dream I was dreaming. There’s no plot, no story, no reason, no beginning, no end. She wraps her legs around me and squeezes. I’m not sure how she thought this would help, but she insisted we try. I stop moving and look into her eyes. But it’s too late. She says that time began with almost no information. My body contracts and releases all kinds of coded material into her.
“Don’t worry,” she says, full of understanding, “all you have to do in life is learn the difference between yes and no.”
I appreciate her concern, but sometimes I wish she wouldn’t talk so much.
When I come I forget for a moment that I don’t remember who I am. The thing is I’m aware of the overarching facts of my life up to this point I just don’t identify them with me anymore.
“The Great Forgetting,” she calls it.
“You like to name things,” I tell her.
“I know who I am,” she says, without rancor.
Here, I begin to doubt her.

epunkins said...

Humorous Middle Grade ~36,000 words

On the night of Jackson’s eleventh birthday, her mother found a bloody finger in her plate of beef stroganoff.

Halfway around the world, Demetri Rashinsky was one finger shy of a full set, and desperately wanted his back.

After Jackson’s mother fainted, the news of the finger was broadcasted around the world. A week later, Demetri’s Rashinsky, who recognized that small piece of himself on a television in Moscow, was reunited with his missing digit.

“It was meant to be,” Jackson’s mother said, showing off the diamond ring shimmering on her hand.

“Will…you…marry…me?” Demetri said in his broken English. That was his one hundredth time asking since he’d stepped off the airplane. It was clearly the only English phrase he’d mastered. A cigarette dangled off his bottom lip and Jackson could smell the years ticking off his life one puff at a time.

“Don’t you think it’s a bit sudden?” Jackson asked counting her mother’s fingers.

“Will…you…marry…me?”

The two were married the next day and Jackson, who knew the marriage
would never last, waved from the doorstep of their home as her mother and Demetri drove off on their honeymoon.

Demetri called out the window one last time before letting the cigarette fall on the pavement. “Will…you…marry…me?”

Jackson shook her head. She’d warned her mother just minutes before about how dangerous second hand smoke was for her health.

“I know dear, I’ll talk to him. But it’s fine. I’ll be fine. You’ll have a wonderful time with Poppy and Marmi. I’ll see you in two weeks, healthier than ever.” She started humming Jackson by Johnny Cash, the song that she’d been singing to Jackson ever since she was born.

“Stop Mom.”

Her mother kissed her on the cheek. “And remember, sometimes magic does happen, Jackson.”

Jackson had her doubts.

When the car disappeared around the corner, she sat down on the step and pulled out a small notebook. Inside were pages and pages of lists. Lists that helped her manage her life in the midst of her mother’s crazy decisions.

She flipped to the last section of pages marked “Poetry” but they were all blank. For all she cared, they could stay that way. Miss Wimick, her summer school English teacher, told her she could bring up her grade by writing ten poems over the summer. Now, with only two weeks to finish, none of the “inspiration and magic” her teacher described had come yet.

Oh well, it didn’t matter. She never understood poetry, and frankly she didn’t care to. Jackson sighed. Her grandparents would arrive any moment and since she hadn’t seen them in a few years, she’d worked hard that morning to make everything perfect for the two weeks they’d be staying with her. The house was clean and in order (no thanks to her mother or Demetri). Everything was properly sanitized and the refrigerator was stocked with three healthy vegetarian meals per day. She’d even written a list of “Things To Do With My Grandparents For Two Whole Weeks.”

Nicole Lorenz said...

Sixth - fantasy - 160k words


Last hour.

My fingers fidgeted at the strap of my backpack once more, relaxed, and let it rest in my lap. I readjusted my seat on the battered clothing trunk, leaning my shoulders into the wall. Behind me, the main office staff filed my expulsion forms. In front of me, students milled through hallways I didn’t belong in anymore. No one looked my way while they scurried to class.

I yawned away the previous night’s weariness, glancing over my shoulder as one of the administrators stepped out the office door. She lowered her gaze on me, then blinked away as if no one was there. Typical. Nobody pay attention to him, and he’ll just disappear. I watched her walk until she turned around the corner. An artificial chime sounded through the speaker system, and the stream of students parted and rushed into open doors. My eyes wandered the length of the empty hallway, over a straggling gossip circle by the windows to the locker on the end of the long strip of tile and brick.

A custodian had been working on the locker for almost an hour now. He had emptied its rusted depths of ignored hate notes, scrubbed out the unbearable stink caused by someone’s spilled milk on a hot day, and scraped away the layer of marker messages scrawled across the shiny red paint of the door. As late students crept into their classrooms, the custodian sprayed a chemical solution over the largest anonymous message – one word, written in black paint.

SILVERBLOOD

The first three letters had already begun to dissolve. I guessed the word would be entirely gone in twenty minutes. In a day or so someone would paint over the graffiti on the brick wall in front of the building, effectively cleansing the school of all evidence that I had lived there.

I added this place to the list in my head. Six boarding schools in five years. Three expulsions by vandalism, two by violence. And one I wasn’t about to repeat. Sunbrook Primary - Jaym’s school. I saw Jaym’s face behind my eyes, and the familiar taste of guilt prickled in my throat. I shook my head and the image faded.

Len Joy said...

The Girl from Yesterday

My boob job cost me three thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine dollars at Dr. Gupta’s New You Clinic in Rolla. It was worth every penny. These boobs changed everything. I was a gawky six-footer with mousy brown hair and no tits. The only guy who ever paid me any mind was Wayne, and turned out Wayne was an asshole.

He got me pregnant when we were in high school. Check that. Trudy, my best friend, says, Anita, you shouldn’t say he got you pregnant, like you were some kind of spectator. So okay, Trudy, WE got pregnant. Wayne didn’t want to marry me (I think he always dreamed that one day he’d wake up handsome and find himself a prettier girl) but his father made him. His daddy’s a good man - crankgrinder over at the Cat plant in Rolla, same place I work.

We got married just before my eighteenth birthday. Little Wayne came along and then Ariel two years later. My mom was sixteen when she had me. She never talked about my father, except to say he wasn’t from around here. She’s been a cashier at the Foodliner for twenty-five years. She says you can tell a lot about a person from their groceries.

Said she had her doubts about Wayne even before he knocked me up. He’d come in the store every day to buy a two-pack of Little Debbie chocolate cupcakes. Never switched, even when the Foodliner was practically giving away their Twinkies. Boy had no sense she said. I had to admit that was Wayne through and through. He’d find something he liked - TV show, beer, sexual position and that was that. Imagination wasn’t his strong suit.

After Ariel was born, Wayne joined the National Guard. Said it was to make some extra money, but that wasn’t true. He thought it was a great gig - every month a weekend out of town, beer money from the government for driving a truck around with a bunch of other hillbillies, and a chance to try his luck with those girls that hung around Fort Leonard Wood. Didn’t work out like he planned. They called up the Guard, and he got his ass sent to Iraq.

Right after he shipped out, my granny died and left me five thousand dollars. I didn’t tell Wayne. After the funeral, I’m over at my mom’s and she has a copy of the West Plains Bugle. On the back page right there with the ads for liposuction and how to lose ten pounds in ten days I see “Dr. Gupta’s Breast Enhancement Special.” I was a B cup, so I enhanced myself up to a double D.

Jennifer Walker said...

Flying Leaps (Chick Lit, 63k words)

Kathryn sat on the bed and cried. She cried for the end of an era and the beginning of the unknown. She cried for the daughter who was on her way to her new life, a life where she didn’t need her mother to take care of her anymore. She cried for her own life, which would now be empty without a daughter to take care of. She cried because she was out of both Kleenex and donuts.

On the floor, a beagle lay sleeping, seemingly unconcerned as to the noise going on above her. She had been an active participant in the proceedings at first, howling along and sharing in the donuts, but soon became bored (about the time that the donuts ran out) and fell asleep. “Thanks for the support, Maggie,” Kathryn sobbed. Another reason to cry: unsympathetic beagles.

It was only that morning that Jessica had skipped down the aisle in her cap and gown and collected her high school diploma. Already eighteen, she had been anxious to move out of the house and out from under her mother’s thumb for months. She had been making arrangements and packing for weeks, having saved money from her part-time job to get an apartment with her friends. Kathryn had forbidden her to move out until she graduated from high school, and Jessica complied for not one minute longer than she had to. As soon as the graduation ceremony was over and the obligatory family hugs and kisses and graduation presents were exchanged, she got in her ancient Toyota and hit the road.

Kathryn knew, intellectually, that Jessica was just across town and she could visit her any time. Any time, that is, that Jessica would actually be home, rather than out working, taking college classes, or doing God-knows-what with her friends. Still, the house felt so empty without her. Grant was out playing golf, having little sympathy for Kathryn’s distress. What good was he, anyway?

The phone rang and she ignored it. How could anyone expect her to talk on the phone when she was in this state? It was a crisis, and you just can’t talk on the phone when you’re in the middle of a crisis. Ring, ring, ring. All the ringing was starting to get distracting and she was having a hard time concentrating on her grief. Ring, ring, ring. Why wasn’t the answering machine picking up? Ring, ring, ring. “Oh for Christ’s sake!” She picked up the phone. “Hello?” she answered in her best trying-not-to-sound-like-she’s-crying voice.

“Are you done yet?”

She sniffed. “Done with what?”

“Crying. Are you done crying? I want to go out for coffee, but I’m not going to do it if you’re just going to drip snot all over your latte. It’s embarrassing.” It was Fran, Kathryn’s life-long best friend.

cosimod said...

Metafiction/Satire WIP, about 80,000 words

When I was a young idiot of nineteen– I’m twenty now and much more mature– I fancied myself a fiction writer. Naturally, I only wrote classy stuff, deep musings in the vein of Virginia Woolf (if she had a pinched vein or something). To tell you the truth, I don’t know what I wrote; I never finished.

But I do believe that if I’d stuck with it, I might have won a Nobel Prize. The way I described tight bodices and the sweet smell of hunky-man sweat, not to mention my sumptuously lyrical portrayals of cotton-candy clouds and lemon-drop moons, was at least worthy of a Pulitzer.

But I never stuck with anything. So imagine my surprise one fine NaNoWri month, during my only semester of college, when I dusted off a strangely familiar ten-cent notebook with the words “Psychology 101” on the cover– and finished writing a whole novel.

That would have been great, except I made one fatal mistake: I chose the wrong main character. And when I say “chose,” I mean it. (When I say “fatal,” I might mean that too; you’ll have to read on to find out).

Anyway, on the first day of November, long after getting kicked out of the dormitories for undisclosed reasons, I stumbled out of the shack I shared with three dweeby Mathematics majors. Hungry for character inspiration and food that didn’t taste like cardboard, and seeking refuge from the endless Pythagorean Theorem debates, I drove around in my usual daze.

Though my mind was on buffets and cream puffs, my eyes drifted off the road. I spotted the high school kids piling into the school and got an idea. I swerved into the parking lot, conjured my best angst-ridden glare and slipped inside.

There were so many choices. Character possibilities of every shape and personality trudged past, rummaging through lockers, gathering into groups and mocking each other. I looked and looked, ducking in and out of classrooms, invading the teachers’ lounge, stealing petrified tater tots from the lunchroom. But I left feeling disappointed and absurd (and sick to my stomach for some reason).

Fictional characters are supposed to come from your head– or at least from a mixture of people so they won’t recognize themselves. I went back outside and slouched on the curb for a couple hours, the notebook in my lap, wondering what I should do.

But while I was sitting there, thinking about the odd coincidence that it was ten o’clock on a Thursday and the “Psychology 101” notebook cover said “Thursday at 10,” I heard a car door slam. I looked up, and there she was, lurching out of her mother’s minivan: my character.

Amy Nathan said...

From Scratch

Chapter 1 - Living alone is different from being alone

I got dressed for my first date in 16 years at the same time that my ex-husband across town was passing a kidney stone. It was a day to believe in God.

For the first time I could remember, a pleasurable selfishness washed over me. It wasn’t about Richard’s pain; it was about Richard’s pain not interfering with my plans. I wanted to go on this date, but I didn’t realize how much until the moment I thought the evening could be in jeopardy. What if Richard had to be taken to the hospital? Who then would watch the kids? What if the dog ran away during the confusion? Then I’d have to cancel the date, get in the car, pick up the kids and the dog and the rabbit–and maybe even have to take the kids to visit Richard in the hospital.

Worse, I will have shaved my legs for nothing.

I blasted Jo Dee Messina from the old boom box I’d dug out and dusted off. The bathroom wall vibrated like my car when a teenager pulled alongside at a red light.

"Someone will call if there is an emergency," I reasoned. Because that was the deal -- every other weekend was mine.

I sang into my hair brush as I let the music rip. After all, no one was sleeping or had a tummy ache or homework to finish, and though the house was empty, it was neither not silent nor sad.

Just one night before, the house had been silent. My kids, ten-year-old Nate, seven-year-old Zoë and four year old Max and Mason, along with our Black Lab, Einstein, and Zoë’s rabbit, Peter, carried out bewildered in his cage -- had left home to embark on their first weekend at "Dad's house.” When I leaned my back against the closed door, the way a leading lady does after meeting the guy of her dreams, I waited for the world to collapse. I thought I would dissolve. But instead, I looked around and listened, and I smiled. No pitter patter of paws, no muffled music, no TV blaring. No one wanted a drink or snack or a walk or a pat. I ran up the stairs and then took baby steps down the long hallway toward my recently redecorated bedroom. The throw pillows were still in place and the new Liz Claiborne pastel floral quilt looked as if it’d just been smoothed – but I’d made the bed that morning. My king sized bed looked huge without the kids and dogs. I lay on my side, careful to leave everything in its place, and clicked on the TV which was set to Nickelodeon. I changed the channel.

Like a morning stretch, I extended my arms and legs as far as they’d go. To hell with throw pillows.

I had never lived alone. So far, I liked it.

krista-daggers said...

Stuck in Limbo - WIP

Morgan knew something was wrong when her grandmother’s cranky voice woke her in the middle of the night. She knew this not because it was the middle of the night, but because she was very, completely, one hundred percent certain that her grandmother was recently deceased, as of the very same morning.

Being a medium, Morgan could say ghosts in general did not bother her. Her grandmother’s ghost was a whole other matter.

“Grannie? What are you doing here?” she spluttered, staring at the vaguely human-shaped light standing at the foot of her bed. “You don’t have unfinished business and you didn’t have a violent death, so why haven’t you moved on?”

The blurry shape flickered and gained details, its upper half seemingly solidifying. Her grandmother’s face became recognizable, thin and leathery and obviously displeased by her predicament. “If I knew, I would be taking care of it. This is outrageous,” she muttered. “I led a good life devoted to helping others and I still end up as a lost soul? Ridiculous.”

Morgan rubbed her eyes and pushed the covers off herself, renouncing the idea of a good night’s sleep. She would have liked to think she was dreaming, but her dreams usually made sense, and this didn’t. Her grandmother had died peacefully less than twenty-four hours ago: she could NOT be here.

After reaching to turn on the lamp by her bed, Morgan moved to sit cross-legged over the covers and examine her grandmother, repressing a shudder as she realized she could see through her. It was admittedly impressive that her grandmother was able to show herself at all--most ghosts could make themselves heard but not seen--but impressive didn’t negate disturbing.

“Well, what happened?” she prompted. “Wasn’t there a light?”

“No, there wasn’t,” her grandmother said crankily. “My soul left my body and that was it. I’ve been wandering aimlessly all day, watching my own dead body. It’s not a pleasant experience, I assure you.”

“I imagine…” Morgan drifted off, at a complete loss. “Are you sure you don’t have unfinished business of some sort?”

“Of course not! I know better than that! I taught you everything you know, didn’t I?” The lamp’s light flickered, reacting to the ghostly presence and its ire.

Death visibly hadn’t improved Grannie Rose’s temper. As always, Morgan only barely kept herself from talking back: why had her grandmother come to her if she didn’t want her help?

The phone rang. It was a fact that no phone call coming in at three am could bear good news and it was with a touch of dread that Morgan reached for it, wondering how many things could go wrong in one night.

Kevin said...

The Dance of the Jayhawkers


Chapter 1 – State of the Union

When I heard the familiar squawk of a Blue Jay, I looked up to see it perform its arial ballet. It was circling a raven, sometimes in front – sometimes above, below or beside – but never far away. About that time, a chicken hawk swooped toward the raven. The collision caused the raven to tumble from the sky. Before the Hawk could regroup and go in for the kill, the Blue Jay pulled up sharp, positioned itself and dove in quick at the Hawk’s back. The small, agile, Blue Jay would quickly reposition itself, and strike again and again. The lumbering low flying Hawk was out of its environment – and soon decided to seek its prey elsewhere.

It reminded me of the one time in my life when I wished Texas had remained an independent Republic – the Civil War. A group of us men, all against the poorly conceived conflict, decided to take a lesson from nature and side with The Raven. They called us the Jayhawkers.

My name is Captain Thaxton Epperson. My brother, Ben, and I entered the plains state of Texas during the war for independence. Shortly after my arrival in the heart of the Pineywoods at a little river-port town, called Swartout, I rode to the capital. It was there I met General Sam Houston, and he commissioned me, a runty little 20 year-old boy, as the Captain of Colonel F. Hardin’s 2nd regiment of Texas Rangers. That was nearly sixty-five years ago, and we remained friends until his death.

Of course t’wasn‘t our dream to come here but fate, much like the biblical harlot, sometimes imposes her own intentions.

In our case, it seems we followed the same mistress – that ever-moving western frontier – to this land that spreads from the Garden of Eden to the depths of hell, with the gates closing around her middle. Here we frequently have to dance with the devil to keep the whole of the state from being consumed into an abyss of cutthroat politicians.

In the early years it was a hard row to hoe leading my 175 men in defense of our nation’s frontier. After San Jacinto, we helped put down the Cordova Rebellion in ’38 and skirmished with scores of Indians during Texas’ 10 years as an independent republic. In ’46, after moving to nearby Livingston, Texas, I joined the U.S. Army, as a lieutenant in the Mexican-American War. At the Battle of Monterey I served under Col. Jeff Davis, where I commanded a company of sharpshooters when I was shot in the leg. Still it was a simple task - just defend our soil from an outside enemy.

This time, though, the enemy is within our own ranks, and we may loose our fair Yellow Rose forever.

Chris said...

Good King Wendell: MG Fantasy, 54,000 words

The kings of Altania usually earned their nicknames. There was King Larry the Large, for example, who had once eaten four entire turkeys, seven scoops of mashed potatoes, and three helpings of cranberry sauce during a birthday feast before burping and asking for the second course. King Stephen the Swift could outrun the kingdom’s fastest horse in short races. The oldest living members of the kingdom could remember King Timothy the Tiny, a man so small he needed to sit on six fluffed pillows so people could see him from across the room. Even the latest king, King Larry the Not-so Large, lived up to his nickname by not being quite as large as his father, although in reality “Not-so Large” was the best title his friends and family could come up with for the otherwise unremarkable king.


The tradition of kings living up to their given titles was broken by the current king of Altania, who was known as Good King Wendell. Good King Wendell was different from all the other kings who had earned their nicknames. You see, Good King Wendell was not a good king.


In fact, although it was only thirty days into his reign, Wendell was quickly carving out a place as one of the worst kings in the history of Altania. The title of “worst king” means something in a realm that had once been ruled by King Igor the Illiterate, who, because he couldn’t read the messages delivered to him, had ignored a warning about an attack by ransacking invaders. There had also been King William the Winded, who took deep breaths between each word and often bored visiting diplomats to sleep. And let us not forget King Alvin the Animal, who earned his nickname not as a result of a cute and cuddly nature, but because of a tendency to growl at those he didn’t like and lick those he trusted.

What made Good King Wendell worse than all of the other kings was how ill-prepared he was for ruling a kingdom. For all their faults, Igor the Illiterate, William the Winded, and even Alvin the Animal had at least been raised and groomed to be king, grooming that included how to make difficult decisions, how to install a cabinet of trusted individuals, how to react to traitors and friends, how to treat other men and women of power (other than Alvin, who suffered in this department), and all sorts of other abilities that make a king a king. Wendell didn’t have any of the required training. Up until one month before, in fact, he had never trained to do anything other than wash dishes, training that hardly prepares a man to rule an entire kingdom.

crosswor said...

My day had begun with a sense of excitement, the kind of anticipation a child might experience when some event--small in the scope of the world but big in her eyes--was drawing near. Tomorrow my aunt Damini and her two daughters would arrive from America. I had never met them, which made my imagination run wild.

Papa, Ma, and my sister Vinita were of the opinion that while East and West might meet, sometimes they shouldn’t. Since Damini had run off with an American musician without benefit of marriage and had been banished forever by Pravin, my recently deceased maternal grandfather, this was one of those times. But the house belonged to Naani, my grandmother, so they had little say in the matter. Her daughter was returning, and that was that.

This situation heightened the quality of unpleasantness that normally permeated the household. So, on this particular morning I decided to put some distance between myself and my family by going for a walk around Mahatma Society, as the compound that housed Naani's bungalow was called. I opened the front door and stood in the entrance, inhaling deeply and admiring a dawn complete with a lingering pale moon. And minus at least some of the ghastly pollution I suspected the Indian government was using as a means of population control.

"The door!" shrieked Vinita from inside.

I hastily stepped out and closed the door behind me. Vinita was paranoid about the door being left open, fearful that a lizard would sneak in. I never understood how I came to have such a delicate sister. Both of us had attended Gujarat University, where snakes sometimes invaded the library and lizards sought to better themselves in the classrooms. Vinita had never learned that we have to share the planet with God’s lesser creatures, possibly because she was the most recent addition to the family. I realized early on that younger siblings are given to us for practice.

Pushing both lizards and sister from my mind, I set out on my walk. I didn’t get far before I heard my name called. Gita, a middle-aged woman with hard-edged features, came out of her house.

"Aunty," I responded. Custom dictated I address her that way, although there were other things I would rather have called her.

"I heard your aunt from America is coming to visit."

"Yes, that’s true." Gita was always the first to know what was happening in her neighbors’ lives. Vinita suspected she paid the neighborhood maids to keep her updated on what was going on in every home.

"After so long. She left the year before you were born. Twenty-six years ago, no?”

“What a good memory you have.”

“It’s like yesterday to me.”

I didn’t doubt that. Gita had chosen gossip as her life’s work at an early age. Damini’s shameful departure and my grandfather’s ban on any further contact with her had all been grist for Gita’s gossip mill.

wordmolder said...

THE HIDDEN GARDEN
By Blas E. Padrino
wordmolder@mindspring.com

One cannot change another’s life, but one can change a moment in that life, and a moment can change a life.


PROLOGUE

Hube rested the handle of the rake against his shoulder and pushed back the rim of his hat. He wiped the beads of sweat that formed across his forehead with his sleeve and paused a moment to catch his breath. The sun hung red and hot above him, and hid his shadow under his boots.

Trooper, his dog, had taken refuge at the foot of the stone bench, under the magnolia tree, since mid-morning, and lay asleep, unconcerned that his thunderous snores could be heard beyond Hube’s garden and, perhaps even to the St. John’s River.

Hube trudged to the bench and sat on the edge. He drank a mouthful of water from a thermos jug and cooled his hands on the moist metal surface of the container, then held them against his face. He gazed through his fingers at the cream-colored blooms that burst through the leaves of the gardenia bush and wished his wife was seated next to him, instead of being ashes inside the urn above a plaque on the ground. A plaque with one word on it: Christine.

She had loved this spot. The child who died inside her surely would have, too, if she’d had the chance to be born. How old would she be now? Ten years, three months and sixteen days. Those could have been years of joy, busy times spent playing, teaching and learning. And loving.

An unexplained dose of morphine injected into Christine’s veins as she gave birth changed everything. In an instant, she and the baby were dead. Soon after, he was blamed. There was a trial, unsuccessful appeals, the loss of his medical practice, and a jail sentence: five years for negligent homicide. Since then, he’s had nothing to come home to but his grief.

Julie Weathers said...

Paladin's Pride-Fantasy-140,000 words kind of.

"I don't think this is necessary," Gaeryn said as he watched his daughter, petting a kitten in her arms.

Amanda stood at his side, her hand tightly clutching his. "The Aegis is dead, husband. If the king's personal guard isn't safe, how will we keep her from harm? The sisterhood will be protected no matter how this war goes. It's our best chance."

He shook his head. "She's just a girl. She's not a threat to anyone."

"Your sister is the leader of the Horse Guards. We'll be targets and you know it."

She smiled at her daughter, who looked up as they approached. "Don’t stain your hands, dear," she said when Gentyl followed her father to the barn to help.

"I know, Mother."

"And don’t let her handle hay," she said to her husband. "She might scratch herself."

"Yes, Amanda." He waved his hand as if shooing away a gnat, while she continued calling out warnings.

Papa leaned his head into the milk cow's flank, while squirting streams of warm milk into the bucket. He shifted slightly on the one-legged milking stool and nodded to the half barrel, resting upside-down by the water trough. "Best just sit and wait for me to do the chores, Punkin."

The edge of the barrel bit into the back of her legs and she wondered briefly if it might somehow mar her perfect skin. "I can at least feed the chickens and gather eggs," she said hopefully.

"No. Gods forbid one of those hens peck your hands." He looked over at the cats patiently waiting beside her and shot some milk to each of them, who sat up on their haunches to catch it in midair. They then contented themselves with cleaning the milk off their faces and waited for him to come fill their pan.

Gentyl stared at the hands in her lap and wondered why they had become so important after almost sixteen years. Her mother had been slathering on creams to soften them for the past two weeks.

"Papa, is Mother…well? I mean has she suffered some illness you’re not telling me about?"

Papa sighed and patted her head as he walked past. "It’ll be fine, Punkin."

She had the distinct feeling it would never be fine again. If human sacrifices weren’t just a story told to frighten misbehaving children, she would have believed her lot had been drawn and she was the perfect virgin chosen to grace a pagan altar. At least her hands were perfect.

Gentyl fantasized about being the chosen one, offered up to some ancient god, who had taken a fancy to her. She looked in the trough next to her for a distinguishing mark, branding her as the god’s own. There was none. Only perfectly smooth skin the color of cream with a smattering of freckles. Perhaps it was the freckles that had doomed her. If so, nearly all of Papa’s family with their red hair and freckles was slated for destruction.

NicoleMD said...

Laughter from outside tore through the walls of the tin shanty nestled under Grissom’s Overpass. Amber cursed her friends as she picked at her fingernails. While she’d been waiting, she’d come up with a list of exactly sixty-four ways she’d rather spend her birthday, none of which reeked half as badly as this place did.

Madam Zomorra appeared from behind a beaded curtain, her face stoic though somehow reassuring, like a stone carving of someone’s beloved great-grandmother. She grinned, and brisk words beckoned Amber in, “Come here, my child.”

Amber clasped her fingers around the rolled-up fifty-dollar bill, drew on a short burst of inner-strength, and followed the woman into her sitting room. The smell was even stronger here, like rotting burlap, making it difficult for Amber to catch her breath. She sat down at the cramped table, then added root canal to the list. “Sixty-five,” Amber mumbled to herself.

The madam hobbled around to the other side of the table, her bones creaking in unison with the planks of the floor. She bore her burden with a smile, and took some relief in the worn seat cushion. “So what brings ye here today, dear?” Madam Zomorra said, though the glimmer in her eye boasted that this question was only being asked for the sake of being cordial.

“I wanted to find out about where my career is taking me, mostly. And I could use some insight into love, I guess.” Of course, then there was the real reason Amber had let her friends drag her here. “And, if I’ll ever become a successful writer…” she added with a bashful smile. Amber, in her thirty-eight years on this earth, was never one to let the lack of talent get in her way of success.

“Of course, dear. But I’ll be needing you to relax. I never seen a body so rigid, and I’ve been doin’ this a long, long time.” Madam Zomorra shook her head and stretched out her arms. Her skin was worn thin like a favorite pair of jeans, almost translucent in some places.

Amber reluctantly dropped her shoulders and loosened her neck before bringing her hands to meet the withered pair before her. Madam Zomorra twisted them so that their palms faced downward. “I don’t need no lines to see what I see, dear. Thems are for amateurs.” She took three labored breaths before going into a motionless trance. Madam Zamorra’s eyes ground themselves into a squint, and her neutral smile was weighted down by an outside force.

A gust whipped around the room, strong enough to ruffle Amber’s hair. She felt a foreign sensation rummaging through her deepest secrets and desires. Paranormal? Supernatural? Unnatural, for sure.

Anne said...

Try-outs for the varsity lacrosse team were on Friday. They promised the roster would be posted today by noon. I’m sitting here, pretending to eat my lunch, waiting for the results. It’s rare that a freshman makes the varsity team. I know that. Still, I have hope. My friend, Aki, and I are both freshers this year. I bet he’ll make it. He’s one of the top underage attackers in the state.

“Don’t worry, Alex” Aki says, shoving almost a full sandwich into his mouth. He talks around the bread and meat. “Even if you don’t make varsity this year, you have three more, yeah?”

“I guess.”

It’s hard to argue with a guy when he’s spitting his lunch on you.

He drinks a long swig of chocolate milk. “Plus, we’ve got athletic scholarships. They already think we’re pretty hot shit. Why would they hold back on us now?”

“Alright. Alright,” I say, throwing up my hands. As if to prove my defeat, I take a tiny bite out of my chicken quesadilla. The lunch ladies really didn’t out-do themselves today. It’s hard to swallow, but I manage it with half a bottle of apple juice.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see one of the teachers approaching the announcement board. A wave of heads turns expectantly towards him. As if on command, he looks at us and shakes his head from side to side. Then he pins the announcement up for the spring formal.

“Hey,” Aki says, done with his sandwich and having nothing better to do with his mouth than talk my ear off, “are you going to that?”

“Nah.”

“Why not?” he asks, as if I’ve already disappointed him. “I’m not going by myself to the school’s last dance of the year.”

I sigh. We’ve been over this a hundred times this week. It’s only Monday. “I don’t have the money to buy a ticket-” Aki tries to interrupt me with an offer to pay, but I continue over him, “-because I’m saving for summer lacrosse camp. Remember? They need the second half of the deposit on the 30th.”

“Fine,” he says. I turn back to see his shoulders sag a little bit. “Be that way. I’ll go by myself and score a hot senior’s number. Then I’ll hang out with the Minties and you’ll be begging to be my friend again.”

I laugh at this. “Why would I ever want to hang out with a Minty?”

“Don’t lie to me,” he smiles. “Every Skints’ dream is to be discovered by a group of Minties and taken into the secret fold.”

“Urgh,” is the best thing I can say in response. Mostly because I know he’s right. Being a scholarship student, a Skint, is bad enough, but we’re completely ostracized from the rest of the school because of it. We know we’re only here because of our academic or athletic prowess. For some of us, like Aki and me, we’re here for both.

kol said...

Shift - YA

I had six weeks to come up with a plan for getting to California. It took me six days. And here I was, landing in Crescent City. Oh God, I was really doing this.

With a deep breath and a half-hearted prayer, I made my way through the airport terminal. It had seemed so simple when I first saw the flier for the sophomore summer research trip—a perfect cover. Unfortunately, my internal alarm hadn’t blared until I stepped off the plane that brought me from St. Louis to Crescent City. Not good.

Outside the airport, a grungy looking guy in a dark coat knocked into me and mumbled an apology as he passed. Jerking my bag onto my shoulder, I scanned the area to wave down a taxi and tried to ignore the overwhelming sensation of impending doom. Alone and cursing myself, I hesitated when a taxi pulled up to the curb.

“Hey! You getting in, or what?” The cab driver’s voice jolted me out of my panic. I nodded and cranked up the volume on my iPod.

In the car, I let my head fall against the seat and shut my eyes—tried to shut out my thoughts. This was, without a doubt, the stupidest thing I had ever done in my life. When something went wrong—which was completely inevitable—I was going to be in more trouble than I could possibly imagine. My throat closed at that thought and I forced myself to breathe.

After what felt like hours, the crunch of gravel beneath the taxi sent my heart racing. What if she wasn’t home? What if she refused to see me? What if she called my dad? The taxi rolled to a stop, but there was no house in sight. We were parked in front of a gated dirt road at the top of a cliff.

“You sure about this?” the driver asked.

I nodded.

As the taxi drove away, I took another deep breath and turned in a circle. Long shadows overtook the daylight and shrouded the surrounding forests. In the distance, I heard waves, but the ocean was on the other side of the dense woods. I shivered and turned to the gate. It was taller than me, but not by much.

“Alright, genius,” I muttered. “Now what?” I bit my lip and absently grasped the inhaler that always hung around my neck—my talisman.

With a grimace, I heaved my bags over the fence and scaled it. On the other side of the gate, there was still no house in sight. The forest swallowed the road’s entrance, leaving me with the uneasy sensation of night suddenly falling. A tremor crawled up my spine and my shoulders tensed. I stepped into the darkness ahead.

ebenstone said...

Winter's Discord, YA Epic Fantasy, 97,000 words


The morning started wet and dark when the three sets of riders set out for a hunt: one to the south, one to the west and one to the east. The sun was little more than a dull glint behind leaden clouds and a blanket of fog covered the land surrounding the castle, filling Ben Grange with the promise of mystery and excitement as he headed east with the third group, led by his older brother James. But by mid-morning, he hadn’t seen one werewolf, bogey or slinder and was quickly growing bored with the whole hunt. Pulling his hood over his head as rain starting falling from the sky, Ben almost wished it were snow falling instead.


Winter was late coming to the Galidani Heartlands. In the villages and manor towns common folk spoke of bad omens while their nobles scoffed at the suggestion while consulting countless sages about the reports of flocks of sheep gone missing, stillborn children and strange, alien symbols carved into the fields in the dead of night with no damage to the valuable crops. The sun had not been seen since the Harvest Festival and more often than not it rained.


If not for the rain, Ben did not see a problem with Winter’s late arrival; he hated the cold and snow, always longing for the warm days of Spring and Summer to return. But his father had been concerned, that much even fifteen-year-old Ben could see. When Duke Robert Grange held council or monthly court, he would read each report and listen to every account with a grim countenance that Ben was not familiar with seeing. But rumors of bad omens were going to stop the annual Yuletide visit of Prince Vincent to Grange Manor.


“Whoa,” a rider ahead of him called out and the column came to a stop. Looking up from under his hood, Ben tried to see what was holding them up. Rain tapped against his hood, dripping down in front of him. Dogs whimpered and horses whickered. The trail had broadened slightly so that three or four horses could stand abreast. Ben tried to move up the column to see what was going on. He couldn’t find his brother among the clusters of gray-green cloaks and suddenly found himself blocked by two guards from moving forward. As he tried to nudge past, one turned and said, “His lordship wants you to stay back here.”


“What?” Ben said, feeling a heat rise up his soaked neck. Realizing he had no choice, he eased back into his saddle, looking skyward.


Barren, stripped branches reached into the air all around them like grasping fingers reaching for something unseen in the sky. Ben had been in the forests thousands and times and felt like he knew every tree, log, bump, boulder, stump and shrub in them. But something was different this time. He shook his head, trying not to think of the wild tales of the travelers in he heard in the manor town taverns as he settled in to wait for his brother’s decision to move again.

Lisa A. said...

All I had left was the thunder.
But I remembered lightning, its white prongs streaking across a purple sky. It used to scare the shit out of me when I was little, before I went blind.

My scalp tingled above a dull headache. Branches scraped against the window. Thunder rumbled beyond the edge of hearing, shook the floor and erupted in explosive cracks. I felt the storm's force enveloping the house.

The storm had a message for me.
I wasn't listening. I needed a cigarette.

Slipping my hand under the mattress, I groped for my emergency stash. Gone. Maybe the maid’s way of telling me I was busted again.
Jazz snuffled. Too bad he wasn't like those bomb-sniffer dogs so he could track down all the crap I’m always losing. My stuff was where I'd tossed it, scattered on the desk. Phone, keys, matches. No cigarettes.

The dresser top was bare, but I thought I heard a rustling motion just above it. My skin prickled. Probing the air, the backs of my hands bumped against soft cylinders hanging in the empty space. The cigarettes fanned out like spokes on a wheel, spun in a free-floating circle. Heart racing, I felt around for suspension wires. At my touch, the cigarettes fell to the dresser with a soft patter.

Suddenly, I didn't want a cigarette anymore. The headache fired a warning shot through my skull. Stumbling to the bed, I pulled Jazz close and buried my face in his fur, shuddering with each resounding boom.

There had to be some scientific explanation.

Could a charge of static electricity have caused the cigarettes to levitate?

Okay. Probably not.
If I couldn't explain it, I wasn't going to think about it.
Or the dreams that woke me in the first place.
Outside, the wind was howling my name.

rosee said...

1

“I hear screaming,” Annie said as she sat up and jabbed Jake in the ribs.

Again, there was an unearthly howl followed by “No! No! No!”

“You hear that screaming?” She shoved him. Jake sat up in bed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and head. “Listen.”

“I-I don’t hear anything.”

“Shhhh….listen,” Annie said again. The sound of the grandfather’s clock ticking downstairs was all she heard. “Shhh.”

“Annie, could you have been dreaming?” Jake put his arm around her. “It’s quiet. We’re in the middle of a forest surrounded by 1000 acres of trees. Our nearest neighbor is Mrs. Sheffield and we can’t ever hear her. She is too far.”

“No, I heard screaming.”

“Go back to sleep. You were dreaming.” Jake pulled her back onto the pillow and pulled the quilt over her.

Annie curled against his chest and wondered. She thought she heard screaming, but Jake had to be right. There was no one out there. She closed her eyes and inhaled. He always smelled so good, like leather and horses, and a sort of warm smoky scent that she couldn’t place. She drifted off to a cloud of sleep.

Annie sat upright. “I heard it. That was screaming,” she said as she jumped from the bed and ran to the window. She pulled up the window. A clump of powdery snow fell onto her feet. She did a little dance and pushed the snow on the sill back out. Annie looked out. Everything was still. The light dusting of early season snow lit up the ground. The trees were bare. You could see through the forest all around. There was nothing there.

Jake was sitting in bed watching her. “Annie, you were dreaming. There is nothing. The dogs would be kicking up a fuss if they heard something. Come back to bed before you catch a chill.” He pulled back the covers so she could get in. “What is stressing you that much that you wake up thinking you hear screaming?”

”But…but it seemed so real.” Annie looked at him. Jake ran his fingers along the side of her face, brushing her lips. He kissed her slowly.

“I love you. You’re safe in my arms,” he whispered as he stroked her back and kissed her hair. “Try to sleep.”

Annie pushed further into his chest and sighed. In the four years she had been living on the mountain with Jake, she had always felt secure. But now there was a gnawing inside her; she heard something. Jake jumped.

“God, your feet are freezing!” he yelled as he covered them with his own.

“Snow fell on them,” she laughed. She rubbed her feet against his as he held her close. The both drifted off to sleep.

This time it was Jake that sat up in bed. “What’s that screaming?” Jake went to the window.

“You heard it?” Annie asked.

Jake looked at her. Outside the bedroom door, the dogs were whining and scratching to come in.

Diana said...

Opening Bids - 75,000 words

My great-aunt Maggie is one devious woman.

That’s what I was thinking as I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, staring at my hair. After three solid days on the road with nothing but my brother and the summer heat for company, I was exhausted and cranky. Even my hair looked exhausted and cranky. Yet I was about to go downstairs and try to act like an approachable, even likeable, human being because, despite having just been on the road for three straight days, Aunt Maggie wanted to throw a party.

In my honor.

My name is Claire Matson. My life is currently in a holding pattern because after accomplishing my goals of going to college, getting a good job and getting married, my life took a nosedive and the wings haven’t leveled out yet. I’m now gainfully unemployed, divorced, and squatting at my great-aunt Maggie’s house until I figure out what to do with myself. I don’t even own a cell phone anymore. I suppose I could have stayed with my parents or my brother in Los Angeles, but since I know that I love them a lot more when I don’t have to see them every day, I jumped when my dad said he’d heard from Aunt Maggie and, as he put it, “she was getting on in years and really needed some help around the house,” and would I like to spend a month or two of my summer visiting her?

Imagine my surprise when Aunt Maggie practically danced out to my car, her eyes full of mischief, to welcome me to Running Water.

My great-aunt Maggie was even more vibrant than I remembered her.

I took a deep breath and stepped into the hallway, where I nearly ran into a tall Latino guy carrying folding chairs. He took one look at me and smiled.

“You must be Claire,” he said in a smooth Kansas accent. He set down a chair and offered his hand. “Fred Gonzalez.” Fred was the tallest Latino man I’ve ever met.

“Can I help?”

“Nah, I got ‘em, thanks,” he said. He handed the chairs off to someone I didn’t know on the patio and made his way over to my aunt.

Aunt Maggie’s house on Maple Street was built in the 1920s, when people flaunted Prohibition and celebrated life. The cute one-and-a-half-story bungalow was filled with people who spilled out onto Aunt Maggie’s back porch and patio. I made my way to the patio where my aunt was holding court with what seemed like four dozen men. I might add that there were only a handful of women in sight.

“Claire! Get over here!” Aunt Maggie shouted.

Margaret “Maggie” Greenberger was dressed in faded jeans and a pink button-down short-sleeved shirt. She wore her trademark Keds and a pink fishing hat. Her hair, now completely white, was a riot of curls, and, as I was quickly learning was the norm, she looked like she was up to something.

Monica said...

Growing up, I would fantasize about being the last person on earth, after World War III, succeeding nuclear fallout. I imagined myself living in a deserted shopping mall, the one by my family’s apartment complex — with all of the toys and candy I could ever want — never really bothered by the fact that everyone else on the planet was gone.

I relayed these thoughts to my mother one morning at breakfast. She slapped me so hard on the mouth that my bottom lip split open and blood dribbled down my chin into my bowl of Cheerios, turning the milk pink. She then roared at me, in her faded European accent, “you shouldn’t say such things. You shouldn’t even think them.”

I have similar fantasies now, fantasies I cannot shake, of being a lone survivor, more detailed and elaborate than ever before.

Plane crashes are my favorite.

I imagine that the plane has had to make an emergency landing on water, in the middle of the ocean. There’s been a twin engine flameout. I’m wearing my yellow life vest and pull the strings to inflate it, as advised in the safety demonstration. Floating next to me are the bodies of dead and incapacitated passengers. I hear a lot of groaning. Everyone looks like they’ve been pretty badly burned from the crash. I am, remarkably, unmarred because during landing an obese man collapsed on top of my body just as the plane hit the water. The body of the plane is cracked open like an egg. I drift out and tread over to a piece of fuselage floating far away from the smoke and fire. I climb into it and it acts as a steel cradle, protecting me and my organs from the water’s icy temperature.

With each passing hour, the groans of the other half-live passengers get quieter. I time the seconds between groans on my wristwatch the way husbands time the seconds between their pregnant wives’ contractions; except the time gets longer between each one rather than shorter. It gets down to one sporadic groan per hour until, eventually, none at all. And now I’m completely alone, afraid for my life but terribly stoic about it, floating and looking up at the sky. The sound of a helicopter’s thumping approaches the scene. I am rescued, I know it. It hovers above the planes’ ruins and coast guards are dangling out on a spindly rope ladder. I wave my arms until I know that they can see me. Briskly, I’m scooped up by two strong arms. The coast guard then shouts in my ear, “You shouldn’t be alive.”

Eyes shining, I reply, “I know.”

jmp said...

Adventures of InvisaBoy - MG - 35k

The snake-like creature struck, baring fangs so large they’d easily have sunk straight through his arm if InvisaBoy hadn’t leapt out of the way. The Viper backed away and grinned, looking for a new way to strike.

“You’re a tasssty looking morsel. Why haven’t I ssseen you around before?” The Viper’s forked tongue flicked out as he spoke.

Those eyes. InvisaBoy tried to shield himself from their red glow as The Viper began swaying. InvisaBoy wouldn’t fall victim to this twisted charm. He had too much to lose. A family huddled together, caught between The Viper and the alley’s exit.

InvisaBoy squinted his eyes in concentration, and to block out the glowing eyes. Time to go invisible and defeat this villain, once and for all.


Clunk! The neighbor’s stinky cat landed behind Max on the wooden porch. He didn’t bother to turn around. The Pearson’s cat had been hunting bugs all morning and Max had no desire to see its matted orange fur and smell its buggy breath again.

He needed to focus on getting InvisaBoy out of this jam. It’s easy to become invisible—on paper. Max sketched a few short dashes with a blue colored pencil and dissolved InvisaBoy into the background of his comic book creation. He glanced up when he was finished and saw Logan and Christopher making their way up the street toward him. He suddenly wished he could disappear along with his character.

Max balanced the notebook on his knees and tried to keep his head down. He peeked as they got closer, blowing his bangs out of his eyes. It appeared Christopher was too busy trying to stomp on Logan’s dragging shoelaces to see Max on his front porch.

As they walked toward Logan’s house, Christopher stuck a hand under his shirt and pumped his arm up and down, creating pit farts audible even from two houses away. Max tried for months, but only squeaks resulted from his own efforts.

Last year, when Logan and Max were still best friends, they’d wondered why they were stuck on Blossom Tree Lane and couldn’t live on Pit Place instead.

Max watched his ex-best-friend elbow Christopher in the ribs. Apparently Logan only shared pit jokes with Christopher The Farting Friend Thief now.

Christopher snatched a handful of leaves from old Mrs. Bugglewitz’s rose bushes next door and scattered them along the sidewalk. He laughed at Logan’s stumble and didn’t notice Mrs. Bugglewitz’s disgusted expression, but Max did. Too bad the jerk didn’t get a handful of thorns instead of leaves.

Max shoved his Superman pencil case out of sight under a wicker chair. He wasn’t allowed in the house until his parents finished tiling the kitchen. It was too late to do anything about his t-shirt. The bat signal was like a giant target across Max’s chest, inviting Christopher’s pointed comments to pierce him. Almost-fifth-graders weren’t supposed to wear Batman t-shirts.

Bobbie said...

Angel Girl: YA Urban Fantasy

“So it's war then,” Luke said.

I looked from Father to Luke, back to Father, then to Jess. “Please, no, Father,” I said over and over again, so softly I knew no one could hear me. I was standing just a few feet away from them, but I may as well have been worlds away for the notice they took of me. I'd made my decision. We all had. I knew this was coming but kept thinking we'd find a way out of it. I glanced over at Mother. She was crying, big heaving sobs, and she looked so completely hopeless. I closed my eyes when what I knew I should have been doing was going over to her and putting my arms around her. But I couldn't. I just couldn't. If I moved I was sure I would collapse and then who would pick me up? Not Luke. Not this time. Maybe not ever again. I bit hard on my cheeks and let a few tears slip out.

"Only if you want it to be,” Father said calmly, but when I opened my eyes again I could see his hands shaking. I saw the tremor in his chin. He wasn't calm. Not at all. He was mad, the maddest I'd ever seen him. But he was also only a moment or two away from losing it like Mother already had.

“Is this you being generous?” Luke laughed and I wished he wouldn't do that. He didn't think this was funny. He was hurt. Couldn't they see that, too?

“It's your choice,” Father said.

“Lucky me,” Luke answered, the smile gone from his face. “The first to get to choose.”

“Don't,” I said too loudly. Everyone looked at me. “Don't,” I said again, more quietly, but too late to escape notice. “Please don't.” And then I realized more than a few tears had escaped. My face was wet and I wiped it with the arm of my robe.

Luke grinned at me and shook his head. “Too late, Addie. Besides, you know better than to beg. I only asked you once, didn't I? That's all we're allowed. Father said no. You said no. Mother said no. So here we are.” He tilted his head toward Jess. “The Golden Child wins. Again.”

“It wasn't like that, Luke.” I struggled to compose myself. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jess shrug and turn away.

“It was exactly like that, Little Sister. I had the perfect idea but for some unfathomable reason you went with Jess's idea instead.” He gestured toward the crowd gathered behind Father and Jess. “Leaving us,” he turned around to nod toward the smaller crowd behind him, “to fend for ourselves. Isn't that right, Father?”

“Cut it out,” I begged, ignoring his warning not to. “It's not too late, Luke. Just change your mind. Just let it go. You don't want to do this.” I was shaking now, caught between anger, fear, and exhaustion.

Lindsey L. said...

Princess 4 Hire

Groundhog costumes are not designed for Amazon women. They are made for petite, bubbly gymnasts like Celeste Juniper. My three inches of exposed ankle was proof of that.

Even in Hicktown, Idaho (that is really the name. Let’s not touch that now), there are certain rules that, if broken, promise social suicide. Dressing as a rodent on steroids would make the list. So would taking a job that involved passing out goldfish coupons in front of a mall pet store. And so would staring at the popular kids while costume odor oozed into my clothes. I was currently doing all three.

Celeste giggled as Hayden Grant rifled through her shopping bag. Girls like Celeste, empress of the High Maintenance girls, always had shopping bags full of expensive girly junk. Like T-shirts that say “Daddy’s Princess” or the latest heiress-turned-model-turned-actress-turned-singer’s CD. Hayden laughed when he dug out a feathered pink purse that no doubt had cost a flamingo its life. Celeste’s perfectly glossed lips settled into a pout. Hayden apologized and told her she could pull it off because she was tenth grade royalty. Well, that’s probably what he said. It’s hard to hear while wearing a groundhog head.

At least I was wearing this costume. I would die if Hayden saw me right now. I mean, really saw me. But that would require him actually noticing me. That hadn’t happened since he moved here from California five years ago, so it’d be a modern miracle if it happened now.

Celeste bounced over to the puppy display window. Hayden followed and wrapped his arms around her non-existent waist. She leaned into him and sighed. “Aren’t those puppies sooooooooo cute?”

“Not as cute as you.” Hayden grinned. Sick. If he had said those words to me, it would have been sweet. I closed my eyes and pretended he did.

“No you’re cute,” I would whisper.

“No you are,” Hayden would say.

Then I would toss my hair, which mystically became blonde, and tilt my head at just the right angle. “We’re perfect, aren’t we?” I’d ask.

“Yes we are.”

“Ex-cuse me?” Celeste snapped her fingers in my face. Well, in Gladys the Groundhog’s face. “Are these puppies for rent?”

Man, her voice was so syrupy I had to suppress the urge to vomit—I couldn’t afford the dry cleaning. I raised my voice so it was just high enough to be unrecognizable but low enough that I didn’t sound like an actual groundhog.

“Don’t you mean for sale?”

Celeste rolled her heavily made-up eyes. “No, I mean for rent. For like a month. Until they turn into drooly dogs," She smiled at Hayden. “I hate when puppies turn into dogs. If I had it my way, all puppies would stay cuddly puppies and all kittens would forever be fluffy ittle bitty kittens.”

I opened my mouth to explain how dumb her idea was. It was like saying we should all stay teenagers forever and never overcome puberty.

I’d rather eat dog chow.

leesmiley said...

Micah lay atop a large slab of rock, his eyes closed. Heat radiated upward into his limbs and the sunlight raining through the canopy of leaves created dancing shadows on his eyelids. He could hear the birds, the occasional gust of wind whispering through the leaves, and the gurgling creek below him. The air he breathed smelled fresh and earthy, like on the baseball field he had so recently departed at season's end.

Footsteps approached, trying to sneak up on him. Micah did not look up, instead clinging a moment longer to the quiet peace that had settled upon him as he rested beneath the trees.

"You know," said a deep voice, "I'm very tempted to piss on your face."

"Go ahead," Micah answered without moving, "if you want your dick ripped off."

John laughed, the sound rumbling in his broad chest. "You think you could do that? My dick's thicker than your arms."

Micah sat up and blinked as his eyes adjusted to being open again. "That's one of your legs, dumb ass. Your dick is that little thing in between them."

John looked down at him. "Oh, that would be you then."

Micah looked up at him, still squinting, and they both burst into laughter. Micah stood up and brushed the dust off his backside. Then, they set off together along the trail through the woods.

"They ready?" Micah asked.

"Almost. Lauren's fixing her hair or some shit."

Like many teenage boys, John had an affinity for swearing, one that he could only indulge when no parents were around to hear. Micah knew that one of the main reasons he enjoyed their camping trips so much was the freedom to use those taboo words without fear of punishment. John used them often and well.

They rounded a boulder and found themselves back at their campground. A large tent of green canvas dominated the flat, sandy patch where they had camped for the past three summers. To either side, smaller tents--one black and another purple--stood forming a semicircle before a limestone wall that extended high above them, overhanging the site enough to shield them from the occasional summer showers that often ran through Kentucky like streakers. At the base of the wall, a shallow pool marked the spring they used for all the liquid needs that could not be met by the cans of Mountain Dew and Pepsi in its cold waters.

"They ready?" John directed the question at Brandon, stacking an armful of wood near the fire pit, but it was Seth that answered.

"No," he raised his voice so that it carried across the camp, "but if they don't come out soon, I'm going in there after them."

The door flap of the purple tent opened and two girls came out. The first, a tall, lean girl wearing full camouflage, shot Seth an unconcerned look.

"You try it," Mindy said, "and I'll kick your ass in front of God and everybody."

Don said...

“So you’re my son?”

***

“You’re a wicked one.”

***

As I walk off the plane into the airport in Prague...

***

Emil climbed out of the window of the orphanage into the moonlit night.

***

Each opening seems lifeless to me. I aspire to something much better than what I’ve put on the screen. This is more “And ten low words oft creep in one dull line” than “Call me Ishmael.” And there’s far worse consigned to oblivion from the computer screen.

It all began with a dream, half-remembered shadows of recollection. I could piece together only part of the story, where I played the role of my great-grandfather, a man I know only from a handful of stories, mostly exaggerations and fabrications. But it seemed the germ of a good story and now I’m sitting in a hotel room in Old Town Prague with The Rough Guide to Prague and Teach Yourself Czech which sits on the bed, scolding me for not making it past chapter two.

Maybe being in Prague will help me get this story down on paper, turn me from someone who talks about writing into someone who writes. I turn on my laptop.

***

At the age of fourteen, Emil faced his mother for the first time. He felt that he must have been directed by the hand of God to find her. He had little more than a hope that he had correctly pieced together the clues. A name, an address in the margin, a connection between the name of the street and prostitutes.

In the sheltered world of the orphanage, Emil knew little about prostitutes. The word was only used in reference to the orphanage’s patron saint and protectress, Saint Mary Magdalene. There was a statue of her in the chapel, wearing a green dress which had slipped down one arm which always left Emil feeling strangely excited. One bare foot was visible at the hem of the skirt. In the days leading up to this meeting, Emil had studied the statue, hoping that it might give him some clue about his mother.

There had been the boasts of Josef who claimed to have snuck out of the orphanage at night to visit a prostitute, but he was vague in his account of what happened. Emil wasn’t even sure that he had really gone anywhere.

None of this prepared Emil for the reality of his mother. Her long red hair fell in curls upon her bare shoulders. If he hadn’t met another prostitute who had helped him find his mother, the make-up on her face would have shocked him, but he realized that it was as much a part of the uniform of the prostitutes as the wimple and habit were part of the uniform of the nuns who ran the orphanage.

espy said...

I found him in the exact spot I expected he’d be. He sat on one of the green iron benches in the park, oblivious to everything around him, including the dramatic temperature drop during the last few minutes. He wore a black wool pea coat and sat hunched over a paperback, unaware of his imminent peril. His sandy hair curtained his face, but I recognized him despite this disguise. I didn’t have to get his name or glimpse his face to grasp the need for speed.

I stepped off the sidewalk and over the two-foot iron fence, crossing the lawn to the bench where Mystery Boy sat reading. I rehearsed my speech as I walked. Deciding on the right words shouldn’t be difficult, but even after my recent practice at this sort of thing I still had misgivings. Because no matter what I said, I would get the usual response; a moment of silence, followed by an amused cough, then a widening of the eyes and physical pulling away from ‘The Crazy Girl’. No biggie, I’m used to it, or I should be by now.

“Hey.” I collapsed into the seat next to him. He glanced at me and returned to his book. “Whatcha reading?” I lifted the edge of the book to peek. He sighed, and held it up for me. Good Lord, he was worse off than I thought. I read the title aloud. “Collective Responsibility: Five Decades of Debate in Theoretical and Applied Ethics”.

“Studies in Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy,” he finished for me. “Written by professors of philosophy at Perdue and Washington Universities. Satisfied?” He returned to his tome.

Prince Charming’s personality was as bereft of entertainment as his choice of reading material. I would need to shock him out of his pompousness because, frankly, there just wasn’t time for idle conversation.

“I dreamt about you last night.”

“Really?” he said, “Did I hit you over the head with my book? If so, you had a prophetic dream.”

Not quite the response I imagined. I sighed, trying to conjure a rude comeback. I debated whether to leave him to his fate—God knew he probably deserved it—but ours is not to question why, etceteras, and I nudged him instead. I’d been given a mission I intended to complete, despite his lack of social skills.

“You were sitting here reading, then a bunch of guys showed up to beat the crap out of you.” I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I reached for his arm and sprang to my feet. “As a matter of fact, there they are now. Let’s roll.” I dragged him up and he yanked his arm out of my grasp.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said, “I came to this park to read in peace. Since you’re no doubt short a few neurons, I’ll politely ask you to take your mental hallucinations to another bench.”

Jordan said...

The Incredible Blanco Brothers


Once Ansel tried dyeing his hair. On the way home from school he stopped at Penny’s Drug and bought a box of the cheapest, reddest stuff he could find. He went home and climbed the stairs to the attic and locked the bathroom door. He poured the contents of one bottle into the other, shook, parted his hair, and applied.

He had faith it would work. In some aspects, it did.

His intention, of course, was to end up something like Johnny Rotten, lead singer of the Sex Pistols. Three times now someone had mentioned it, and he supposed they were right. They had that same snotty look--one person called it bug-eyed strange. But his teeth were better, his overbite not quite so pronounced. A handsome Johnny Rotten, if you will. It was going to work.

But it turned out that what Ansel thought was Johnny-Rotten Red was actually Carrot-Top Orange, and suddenly, it didn’t matter how good his teeth were. And it didn’t matter that now everyone would be able to tell them apart, that there would be no confusion as to which one he was (he was Ansel, of course), because if that had been his goal there were other ways to achieve it. Gel, for instance. A little gel to the front, some comb action, and voila. Instant recognition.

This was a little extreme.

He wore a hat the next day to school, the brown Stetson left over from Comic-Con. (Monty had offered his Incredible Blanco Brothers one-of-a-kind one-year-anniversary cap--he politely declined.) By second period it was gone, and that’s only because Ansel spent first period holed up in the storage room with the unwanted textbooks. Second period was Algebra, and Mr. Cromwell. Mr. Cromwell plucked it from Ansel’s head as he came through the door, put it on his own bald, shiny pate, and declared it his sole and special property for the rest of eternity.

When his father saw him that night, and saw the bottle of black dye he was preparing to squirt onto his scalp, a new rule was declared in the White household: anyone whosoever dares to dye his hair a color not naturally occurring in nature must hereby suffer the consequences and bare his shame until it either washes out, or otherwise reverts to its natural state.

The dye took approximately two and a half months to grow out completely. The ridicule, however, continues to come.

“Yeah, but you once dyed your hair orange,” one of them would say.

And Ansel, after explaining that it was red and not orange, would go on to say that really, whatever color he decided to dye his hair, it was beside the point.

“Yeah, but it took a long time to grow out.”

And it did. That’s beside the point as well. Because, you see, for those two and a half months, no one confused him with anyone else.

He wasn’t Monty. He wasn’t Reno. He was thoroughly, inimitably, Ansel Adams White.

aden said...

“I started it tonight,” he says, facing the broken window. “Nine of them.”

“Why?” Her dress white, shimmering and almost sheer. Around her the scent of pine. Fresh forest smell. Autumn wind passes over her slim bare feet but she does not shiver.

“You wouldn't understand, Red.” Sits against the windowsill. His bed tonight a pallet of cardboard scattered with newspaper. The rip in the roof over shines starlight on the makeshift mattress. Warehouse a tenement but not as cold as the frost out of doors.

“I'm not coming back.”

Rotten wood of the windowsill creaks. Gabriel opens his eyes. “I know.”

“Better than most,” Red offers, melancholy smile. Pale skin luminous, and in the moonless midnight the hair that is her namesake is no darker. She reaches to stroke his cheek.

“Don't.”

“Come now.” The touch of her soft. Fingers wrapped in silk and lace. He shuts his eyes again. “Always killing.”

“People and time.”

“It's all useless. We broke. You aren't bringing me back.” Fingers run through his hair. With his eyes shut, it is like the old days. But thick turpentine roams the breezes between in the wreck of the room. Smell of sap, sticky. “Am I ugly now?”

“No. You are beautiful.”

“So sweet, Gabriel.” Her hand leaves him. “Do you really remember me?” He nods. “Me, shade. Do you really.”

Eyes open he studies her. Diaphanous. The dress hangs limply on her, thin but now thinner. Ivory skin soft. Tinged with blue. Eyes glassy. Smelling of pine and the frozen earth. Looks at the real her. “You are the most beautiful girl I ever saw.”

She smiles, a little lopsided. Right hand reaches to his face but halts, hangs in the space before. “You don't want to remember me. Not really.”

His eyes gleaming wetly are on her fingertips. “I don't want to remember anything else,” he whispers. Swallows past the clench in his throat. “Please, Red. I don't want to.”

She leans forward. Radiant but fading. “That's why you have to,” she says. Strokes her fingers across his face. Through the mop of hair. Over broad chest. Stingers wrapped in silk. Red brushes his forehead and something hot comes down his face. Blood maybe. Closes his eyes but they leak through. Chest is tight. He gasps for breath and the air is cold and hard.

Kate Buchanan said...

“What do you mean, kicked the bucket?”

“Passed away, gone to a better place, no longer on this earthly plane. He is dead.” Ben’s tone reeked of exasperation.

“But the wedding is in a week. Damn it!” I ran to my desk and grabbed a copy of my standard contract from the top drawer. “I knew I’d missed something. Payment in case of jilting, yes; but sudden death…”

Ben looked concerned. “Try not to stress, Shelby. Chalk it up to experience.”

“Experience? Experience doesn’t cut it. Right now 400 tulips are winging their way from Holland in all their refrigerated glory.” I made my way to the coffee machine and blasted out a latte, catching Ben’s eye to see if he wanted one. The slight nod was an affirmative. I carried his cup over to him and then knocked back my cup like I was an alcoholic with a bottle of meths. “This is all Liz Hurley’s fault.”

“For Herb’s death? She’s made some average movies but I’ve yet to hear of them killing anyone.”

“I mean for setting the precedent for extravagant over-the-top weddings. A year and a half planning for nothing.” I sunk back onto my chair and put my head in my hands. “I need to work out what to cancel.”

“Maybe you should be thinking about Tanya’s loss instead of your own,” Ben said calmly.

“Tanya!” I snorted. “What sympathy does she need? The woman’s in the dictionary as the definition for ‘gold-digger’.”

“Her fiancé is dead, Shelby. Despite what we both think of her, she’s just lost someone key in her life. She’ll be upset. Traumatized.” He pushed over a piece of paper with a phone number scrawled on it in felt-pen. “This is where she’ll be. She asked you to call as soon as you got back.”

I gave the paper a cursory glance. “Yeah, she will be traumatized… about the fact they weren’t married before he died. She’ll be hot-footing it to the lawyer to check if his will includes her before she wastes time crying.”

“Sometimes I wonder if someone so cynical should be in the wedding business.” Ben came over and rubbed my shoulders. Between that and the latte, my blood pressure lowered. A little.

“It’s hard to believe in love when Herb could’ve doubled for Donald Trump and the Tanya is barely out of nappies.”

“Well, I love you.” He kissed the back of my neck and then curled his arms around me.

I let my head rest on his shoulder. “Do you have to go back to work?”
“Yes. Should be the last day on this job. See you tonight?”

“If I can cancel everything before tomorrow.” I looked at the neat pile of ‘to do’ lists on my desk and wondered what I would entitle this new one. To Do for Death? Maybe a little melodramatic.

Dr K said...

Boodsy Woo, 80.000 words, fantasy/romance in the vein of Somewhere In Time.

By Gregory Kennedy

To tell the truth, Dora Faye didn’t know whether she was about to kill herself or not. All her life she’d wanted to be spontaneous and creative, open to all the sweetly surprising spin-on-the-head-of-a-pin possibilities of life — especially now with regards to the ending of it — and tonight she figured she’d just go with the flow. Live or die, oh me oh my. Maybe yes, maybe no. Easy come, easy go. Tra la la la la. But one thing was for damn sure. She wanted a corndog. The carnival was in town.

On this sticky June night her mind played tricks on her. Snowflakes danced over the Ferris wheel. Since snowflakes don’t have a mind of their own to zig and zag, flit and flap independently, this made no sense at all to Dora Faye. Snow in June?

Her nostrils flared as a frypit breeze of onions and peppers — greasy with diesel fumes — teased her brunette hair. She’d chopped it to try for a more youthful image before they snipped her American Express; suddenly lacking the plastic cash for the nip ‘n’ tucks to firm up the face, the pageboy thing just wasn’t working at all for her.

As she drove her Delta 88 ragtop into the parking lot and killed the ignition, her ears caught a muddy wave of pop tunes, punched out by worn-out carny speakers, as they washed through her mind.

11:57. Almost midnight. Magic freebie hour. She sat in her car to kill a few minutes. She knew at 12 bells they would throw open the turnstiles to let her and other lost souls in for free, counting on the midway to make one last dirty cash grab before the carnival went dark. Soon it would abandon its water-hose and asphalt, steel-staked neon avenues to blackness and the blowing garbage of the night.

How I love this place. It is what it is and doesn’t pretend.

Then it hit her. The snowflakes weren’t snowflakes at all, but mayflies. Swarms of them. As thick as poplar fluff. Dora Faye clicked on her high-beams, to laugh, as they darted like airborne minnows into the beams of her headlights that burned through the gravel dust like spots at a Hollywood premiere.

Mayflies. So beautiful. Born without mouths to feed. Unable to crawl or walk. One night to fly and mate. Dead by dawn. I like that . . . dead by dawn.

-400 words-

Anonymous said...

Taken from my untitles WIP

Maureen Boswell. Reader of tea leaves extraordinaire.

I never liked standing before an unfamiliar doorstep, especially when I didn’t know who might be found behind it or what kind of greeting to expect. This particular one was no exception and I was relieved when a warm smile welcomed me.
Aside from an array of rings across each of her fingers similar to a knuckleduster Al Capone would have been proud of, Maureen Boswell tea leaf reader extraordinaire looked like a harmless Librarian in a beige suit. Skeletal and middle-aged, she had none of the eccentricities of her fellow fortune tellers on Blackpool sea-front. Her only quirk was a ghastly West Country drawl. No headscarf fringed with gold coins covering a tangled mop of brown hair. No oversized gold hoops dangling from each ear, not even a crystal ball.
She offered her hand. “Maureen. Pleased to meet ya.” I shook it and was surprised by her firm grip.
“Allison.”
“Cuppa tea?” she asked as I stepped over her threshold.
“No, thank you.” I replied to the dismay of my growling stomach.
Maureen arched an eyebrow, “Has someone missed breakfast?”
“I was in a hurry to get over here.”
Maureen smiled and offered up a large tin decorated with Romany caravans.
“Biscuit then?”
It was crammed to the brim, ranging from chocolate digestives to Garibaldi's. My stomach made another peculiar sound at the smell and I cleared my throat in embarrassment. “No, thanks.”
“Come, sit. Sit.” She waved a hand, inviting me to park my bottom on a wooden chair at a small table draped with a thick, cream lace cloth. Dried hops had been thoughtfully placed along the top of a wooden dresser and large bunches of dried flowers arranged in baskets were positioned around the room. Sprigs of holly had been added as an afterthought. ‘Twas the season to be jolly after all. The aroma of sweet orange and lavender irritated my nostrils and a small water fountain bubbling away in the middle of the table seemed out of place, but added a tranquil mood.
“It helps channel the thought,” Maureen told me as if reading my mind. “Good place to be if you want a natter with the departed is in the shower or bath. Water is a good spiritual conductor you know.”
The room was quite a contrast to the unkempt front garden with discarded beer bottles lined up on the outside wall. It was my kind of space, homely and welcoming. Unlike me, my sister Teresa would vomit at the thought of a single dried flower anywhere in her home. Her aesthetic was pale walls and wood floors; glass vases filled with artistically arranged willow and twinkle lights. My aesthetic was an assault course of school bags and stray shoes strewn across the floor.

LF said...

Francesca sat on the sofa and watched all the people from work looking uncomfortable in her house. Her own house, now. Own. Alone. The sofa seemed to pitch and toss. She held onto the cushions with both hands as the people blurred into a dark fog.

‘Fran!’ A hand curved firmly around the back of her neck. ‘Put your head down between your knees. That’s right. Deep breaths. You’ll feel better in a minute.’

Don’t take your hand away, please, she thought. It’s so real and warm.

‘Clear out, people, give her some space.’ His voice was solid in her ears, blowing away the fog. ‘How are you doing now?’

‘OK.’ Her voice caught in her throat.

‘Take your time.’ He moved his hand down to her shoulder. ‘There’s no rush.’

Adrenaline kicked at her heart and she sat up. ‘What time – ‘

‘Quarter to. Fifteen minutes. Plenty.’ He scanned her face with his deep blue eyes. ‘You’ve got a bit of colour back. When did you last eat?’

‘I don’t know, I think yesterday.’

‘Can I get you a snack?’

Her stomach twisted. ‘Max, I can't.’

‘Afterwards, then.’

A red curly head appeared round the door. ‘Am I interrupting?’

‘Hazel, I’m so glad to see you.’ Francesca stretched out a hand.
Hazel perched on the arm of the sofa and hugged Francesca’s head. ‘How’s it going?’

‘Getting there,’ she said. ‘Thanks to Max. And you. I don’t know how I’d have got through the last weeks if it hadn’t been for you two.' And she couldn't see more than a few minutes ahead. 'Could you move in and live here?’ She had thought of many ways to put the question. That hadn’t been one of them.

‘Both of us?’ Hazel asked.

‘Maybe you think it’s a silly idea. But I’ve got room for you now. And I’ll need some company. You wouldn’t have to pay rent – ‘

‘Francesca, that’s enough,’ Max said. ‘This is not the time. We’ll talk about it later, OK? First we have to get you through your mum’s funeral.’

Anonymous said...

"Fugitive From Grace"

She could kill him if she had to.

T.K. Valentine eyed the folds of flesh padding Amyrio’s body. He had enough blubber around his miserable neck to act as a life preserver in the event of a water landing. Soft, he was, used to a trade minister’s life of ease. Val could whip out the little Pharizen number hidden in her boot and zap his brains to goo in a second. Except then she’d never get off this accursed planet.

A shaft of late afternoon sun knifed through the hearing room like a spotlight. Amyrio sat right in the middle of it, an actor sucking up the glory. He shifted in his seat to better see the flex-pad set in the table. His robes rustled and Val caught the scent of some musty fragrance. Or maybe it was the smell of his wormy guts.

As far as she was concerned, he might as well have been wearing a black hood. He’d drop the ax and whoosh, her business would go down the sonic toilet chute.

“I have fully reviewed your case and the reports of Planetary Ops,” Amyrio said, addressing Harry Arliss, her business agent. “At the time Captain Valentine disobeyed Planetary Ops, forty ships were in orbit about Elysia. Twenty were in a holding pattern around the large moon and fifty more about the small. How many people from how many worlds were endangered-- because of one rogue ship?”

“The disruption of trade,” offered a second lowly trade ministry flunky, “imperiled the very stability of societies dependent upon imports of Elysia’s food and grain.”

“Captain Valentine did not 'disobey' P-Ops. Her comm system crashed,” said Harry, Val's best hope to get out of this. The long series of hearings had worn him down. The five o’clock shadow of his beard had hit half-past nine. “She was delayed leaving orbit by only twenty minutes." His lip twitched. "That’s hardly enough time to destroy any world's economy or enable a coup.”

bep said...
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