Friday, August 31, 2012

M L Gammella Week 10: Everyone Loves a Parade

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M L Gammella’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Everyone Loves a Parade

Author's Note: This is more from the world of Guardians, a WIP

The townsfolk of Wardville gathered along the streets, waiting for the start of the Fall Festival Parade. Alana peered watched them from the safety of her living room window. She used to love parades, but not since moving to Wardville. The only place she felt safe now was within the walls of her home.

Even being out with David only brought a minimum of comfort. He couldn’t keep the feeling that she was being watched at bay or keep the voices silent.

Nervously, she fingered her pendant and closed the curtains. She was tired of being couped up in her house but hated how she felt when she left. Some days she would be in town for hours before it started, sometimes it was only a matter of minutes. Regardless, it always happened. If she ignored the paranoia, bad things usually occured.

The police still didn’t know who broke into her car. It was as if it was a ghost. There weren’t any fingerprints or any evidence at all. They were quite puzzled by it. Alana wasn’t puzzled, she was scared. It took David weeks to talk her into leaving her house afterward.

Even now, she knew he was on his way over to try to talk her into venturing outside again. A year ago she would’ve laughed at someone if they told her she would be agraphobic. It just wasn’t like her.

True to form, David knocked on her front door before slipping quietly inside. He smiled at her and joined her by the window.

“Everyone loves a parade,” he said as he brushed a few stray hairs from her face.

“Sure, everyone but people who hear voices,” she scoffed.

“Maybe today will be a good day.”

Alana shrugged. “All I know is that I need to get out of this house before I really do go crazy.”

...


David found the perfect spot to view the parade a block down from her house. Children were laughing, people were smiling. It was all rather idylic. Alana figdeted as they waited, her fingers never far from her pendant. Even though everything was fine at the moment, she was expecting the worst.

As the parade went by, Alana was lulled by the positive energy surrounding her. She didn’t hear the whispers until after the Wardville High School Marching Band passed by. As the din of the band faded, the voices got louder.

Alana…

We will find you.

Nothing will protect you.

She covered her ears and whimpered, but it did nothing to quiet the words in her head.

“Alana, what is it?” David asked.

The voices continued, indistinguishable from one another, but all speaking of her death in detail.

With an anguished cry, Alana wrapped her hand around her pendant and pulled away from David’s grasp. She ran blindly, terrified, until she was out of breath. When she finally opened her eyes, she was standing near some stone stairs. Eager to get away from prying eyes, she crept down the steps to what appeared to be a breezeway under a building.

Gratefully, she leaned against the cold stone, closed her eyes, and tried to relax. Her hand kept the death grip on her pendant the entire time.

“Alana? Alana, where are you?”

She opened her eyes and peeked around the corner to see David standing on the sidewalk looking for her.

“David, I’m down here.”

He turned, and relief was written across his face. “Thank god!” he said as he joined her in the breezeway. “What happened, Al?”

Alana toed a loose brick. “The voices again.” She sighed, resigned and frustrated. “I wasn’t out of the house a half hour before they started. I can’t keep clutching at my neck all day.”

“Maybe just keep the pendant in your hand instead of around your neck?” David offered.

“Possibly,” Alana considered. “I’ve never taken it off. I suppose I have nothing to lose.”

Carefully, she pulled the pendant over her head, the chain catching on a few stray hairs on the way. Once it was completely free of her head, Alana felt even more anxious. Something felt very wrong.

“I think this was a mistake-“

Thunderous booms cut her off and the room filled with swirling blackness. The voices cackled and surrounded her.

You make it too easy, Creator

Nothing to protect you now…

“Alana!”

David’s voice was the last thing she heard before the darkness overcame her.

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M L Gammella lives in Ohio with her husband and their three pets. She is currently working on her first novel, a paranormal suspense based in Maine. Please follow her at @MLGammella and visit her website at Onward to the Written Word.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sydney Logan Week 10: Childhood Memories

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Sydney Logan’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Childhood Memories

When I was a kid, my grandfather owned a country store. It was one of those old-fashioned mom-and-pop places where you could buy just about anything. As a young girl, I can remember stocking the shelves with everything from loaves of bread to quarts of oil. It was the only store for twenty miles, and my grandfather prided himself on offering our little mountain community a place to shop.

Now, it’s thirty years later. My grandfather has long since passed away. The store is still here--owned and operated by a sweet couple who’d retired to the country nearly a decade ago. Of course, the store looks a little different now, but as I step onto the wooden porch, I can’t help but smile, because I see that they’ve kept my favorite little piece of the store.

The Coke cooler.

My grandpa used to joke that I was going to fall in head-first as I struggled to reach into the freezer for a bottle, but I’d been a stubborn child and refused anyone’s help. With my legs dangling in the air, I’d grab a bottle and open it with the can opener carved into the front of the freezer.

Today, that same cooler is being used as nothing more than a prop.

But, as it sits proudly on the porch, I can’t help but be consumed with memories and thankfulness.

I learned so much in this store.

I learned to be kind.

I learned to be helpful.

I learned to enjoy the little things...like drinking an ice-cold Coke from a freezer.

And today, I’m still learning.

I’m learning that the simplest of childhood memories can still make you cry.

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Sydney Logan lives in Tennessee with her wonderful husband and their very spoiled cat. Her debut novel, Lessons Learned, will be released in September. Please visit her website at www.sydneylogan.com.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Kimberly Gould Week 10: Working

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Working

Taking his hand, Lisa lead Ford through the fake graveyard. Grips and other hands were around the set, but most people had already left. Lisa was still in makeup but out of costume, a simple robe covering her instead. She watched him from the corner of her eye, unsure what to expect.

This was new. It had never occurred to her that her friend and bodyguard might be interested her. There had never been any awkwardness when she was naked on set or she stumbled into him when drunk. He had never said a bad word about any of her choices in companions, even though the majority were deplorable and he should have said and done something.

His brown eye caught hers for a second and he stopped in his tracks, pulling his hand free.

Lisa stepped around to stand facing him. She took both his hands and looked up at Ford. “So. What do we do now?”

He deflated slightly, head drooping. His dark sandy hair fell into his eyes. “You find another body guard.”

Lisa frowned. “Why?”

Ford sighed loudly. “Rules. Training. They all say that if you start getting too close, I don’t do a good job.”

Lisa crossed her arms. “Well, does this have to be an all or nothing? Do or die?” She snickered a little looking at the headstones around them.

Ford glanced at them and laughed too. He sighed again. “I just...I can’t be both, y’know?”

Lisa nodded in understanding. “You realize you’re talking to someone who spends most of her life being more than one person, right? Can we compartmentalize?” Ford looked confused. “When I’m at work, when I’m moving from one place to another, I’m at work, and so are you. We treat each other the way we always have.”

Ford nodding, agreeing with her so far.

“When we are checked in, or in my trailer, or elsewhere we can be ourselves...”

Ford gulped when she took his hands again. Lisa stepped closer, pulling them behind her back. She didn’t stop looking up into his eyes as she did.

“We can be ourselves,” she said again. Standing on tiptoe, she still didn’t reach Ford’s lips, but kissed his chin instead.

His hands twitched on her back and his head swayed side to side. She watched him fight himself.

“We’re safe here. Most everyone is gone. We can be ourselves.”

Ford’s jaw clenched and the tendons rose toward his temple. Lisa reached up to touch his face, to smooth the frown creases.

It was a surprise when one of his hands slid down and cupped her bottom, lifting her slightly as his face turned further down. Ford’s lips crushed her own, seeming to devour her. His kiss was hungry, needy, almost desperate. Lisa let him continue that way for a few moments before pushing him back.

“Slow down,” she said, gasping for air. “I’m not going to disappear or anything.”

“But you are. You or I will be gone.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way.”

“You are a great actress,” Ford told her. “You could pretend we mean nothing to each other, but I can’t.”

“Doesn’t caring about me just make you better at your job?”

He shook his head. “I can swap with someone. We might still be on the same jobs.” He was grasping at straws and it showed.

“Clifford.” His head came up abruptly at the use of his full name. “Did you or did you not promise my father you would take care of me?”

“You’ll be taken care-”

“Didn’t you promise you would be the one taking care of me. I’m pretty sure my dad only wanted you.”

“Lisa, don’t make this harder than it already is.”

“You have felt this way for a while, right? It didn’t just happen overnight?”

Ford nodded.

“Then why can’t you do what you’ve been doing? Nothing has changed.”

“One thing has.” He tipped her chin up and kissed her lightly this time. “I’ve kissed you.”

Lisa smiled. “And it won’t be our last. I want your trainer’s number. There must be someway this can work.” Determined, Lisa started striding off set. She was going to find a way.

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Kimberly Gould is the author of Cargon: Honour and Privilege and the upcoming Thickness of Blood. She can be found most places as Kimmydonn, including Kimmydonn.com

#DailyPicspiration

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Samantha Lee Week 10: Shepherds and Alphas

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Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice:

Title: Shepherds and Alphas

Sheep. I do not get the appeal. They are undoubtedly the freakiest creatures I have ever seen and this from a man whose profession is most easily summed up as “monster hunter.” I can’t even tell you what it is exactly that freaks me out about the oversized cotton balls. Well, other than their being the barnyard’s take on the poodle that is, though that alone should be justification enough.

My cousin finds my distaste for sheep hilarious. Our mutual grandfather and several great-grandfathers before him were shepherds. The last birthday I had before she vanished, she got me a fluffy little ball of energy she laughingly informed me was some sort of sheepdog. To keep the sheep at bay, she told me.

My cousin was – is – a brat.

Okay, you know what? I figured it out. My problem with sheep is that they are an entire species of followers. I have nothing against following orders, but following orders just because someone more powerful than you – either actually or merely seemingly – commands it is the height of ridiculousness. Despite what many think, loyalty is not a measure of one’s obedience. It’s not about how high you jump when told to or how well you’re able to suppress your own emotions and opinions for the sake of someone else’s. It drives me up the wall when people actually use “I was following orders” as an excuse for doing horrible things. Am I supposed to believe that being put in a subordinate position fried your brain cells? Seriously? Get a clue.

Do you want to know what a good leader, a good ruler is like? Once upon a time, people would have said Alexander the Great was the bee’s knees of rulers but they forget; good old Alex died before he ever actually had to deal with the political aspects of the empire he’d built. He conquered and conquered until he ran out of world and then he died, leaving behind the legacy of a great warrior and general and a political mess it took decades to untangle. Julius Caesar, on the other hand, had the politics down to an art form. He knew how to play the system and manipulate the masses to bypass his naysayers and achieve what he wanted. He was not a ruler, however; general, politician, kingmaker, yes, yes, yes, but not a ruler. His hate club alone proves that. Oh, and of course there’s everyone’s favourite: Louis XIV. The man was a master of distraction. Traumatized at a young age, he was a man who could never fully trust his noble class but knew he couldn’t just dismiss the lot of them either. Instead, he relocated them to Versailles, well away from the power hub that was Paris, and instituted so much etiquette and ritual, all with the focus of gaining his favour, that not a one of his nobles would ever have the time to so much as think the word “rebellion,” let alone plan one out. Louis boy managed to bankrupt an entire nation with nary a boo. Always a coup that.

A good ruler, meanwhile, is like a chameleon, adopting and abandoning traits as needs rise and fall. A good ruler is a strategist and conqueror, capable of balancing court intrigue and etiquette with the needs of the lower castes. A good ruler resorts to instilling fear in her subjects only when love has failed and the need is dire. A good ruler accepts the council of her subjects with grace and attentiveness, even if she never plans to implement their suggestions, she still hears and respects them. A good ruler has control of her emotions and never lets emotion or reason guide her actions unchecked. A good ruler sets the example for her subjects to follow. A good ruler is not a glorified shepherd; she is an alpha among wolves.

It’s as simple as that; good rulers might inherit their crowns through a quirk of fate, but they earn their kingdoms through compassion, attentiveness and intelligence. They work to gain the loyalty and recognition of their subjects through more than pomp and circumstance, violence and fear.

Which is why sheep freak me out; they’d accept leadership from a lemming if the suicidal rodent could generate enough oomph. Wolves, lions, deer – it’s all about the strongest. Sheep it’s about whoever makes the most noise, generates the most fear, to get them moving. It’s an entire species of followers and that’s just freaky.

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You can read my blog - Calliope's Domain - over at calliopedomain.blogspot.ca

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Jen DeSantis Week 10: The Night of the Dragon

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Jen DeSantis’ Choice: 2

Title: The Night of the Dragon

They’d gathered, as their ancestors had done before, in the town square. It was just before midnight on the eve of Samhain. Many came in their plain clothes, but for some it was a badge of honor to wear the garb of their forefathers.

They milled around, murmuring quiet hellos and muted welcomes to their neighbors. In the center, the elders erected the wooden idol, raising the hand-crafted wings in a reverent salute. Even the quiet murmurs faded as the dragon took shape. Children cowered beneath their mother’s shawls, husbands reached out absently for their wives -- touch providing the reassurance that all was well.

As the hands of the clock drew closer to midnight, the congregation drew together around the effigy. A single man with hair of pale silver approached the wooden form. With trembling hands, he raised the match stick to light the dragon and dispel the monsters for another year.

It was only a single puff of air, but it blew the match out just before it touched the fuse. The crowd held its breath as the man fumbled in his pocket for another match. Three wooden sticks fell to the ground from his robes. He clutched one between his fingers, triumphant, and moved to strike it.

From the East, a screeching sound like giant nails being raked across a sheet of metal split the night’s silence. The group turned as one toward the noise, eyes wide with terror. Leathery wings flapped noiselessly in the distance, sending an ancient, sour stink toward the center of town. The old man holding the match swallowed hard, his fingers clutching the wooden stick tightly as the creature drew near.

Another shriek brought most of the crowd to its knees, hands clutched tightly over their ears. Still the elder stood his ground. He drew the match over body of the dragon effigy, igniting it. The dragon snapped its red eyes in the man’s direction, a thin trail of smoke billowing out of its nose.

“No.” The elder moved quickly, reaching his match toward the fuse.

A curling plume of blue flame erupted from the dragon’s mouth, engulfing both the effigy and the elder in fire.

Human screams mingled with the furious screeching of the dragons. The great beasts had returned to set the night aflame.

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Jennifer DeSantis is a Horror and Paranormal Author and host of the #FridayPictureShow. She lives near Philly with her family. In her spare time is an aspiring ninja.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ruth Long Week 9: Bait Most Beautiful

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Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: One

Title: Bait Most Beautiful

They say fate is a bitch. I say it’s a six-and-a-quarter foot vampire holding a grudge the size of a third-world continent, but hey, I’m just a fifth-rate federal employee, so what do I know?

Anyway, I’m just about to find out whether my theory regarding fate proves true, so if you’re going to stick around, you might want to grab a hardhat, because this could go sideways real fast.

See, I pulled Disinterment Detail tonight, which is every bit as bad as it sounds. Worse still, the name on the toe-tag is attached to a set of bones the likes of which is tantamount to my own personal apocalypse.

They say you never forget your first, and they have that one right. The toe-tag in my hand was my first but it was my training partner’s last. You should take that into consideration before judging me too harshly. The enthusiasm of youth is often corrupted by the indifference of a partner’s last week on the job.

I never agreed with the way Sizemore put Giancarlo down but at the time, I didn’t have a real good grasp of the job. Plus, who the hell was I going to tell about my misgivings? Nobody – and I mean nobody – cares what goes on in the basement ranks.

So, I kept my mouth shut, my neck metal clamped tight and my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t all come around and bite me in the arse. Which it just did. And that brings us back to the six-and-a-quarter foot vampire holding a grudge. Now that you’re up to speed, I’m going to open the casket and we’ll see what happens from there. Hopefully three years in containment has given him time to cool down.

They say time heals all wounds, but the jury is still out and I’m not holding my breath on this one.

. . . . .


His eyes snap open and focus on me. “You’re looking particularly disheveled this evening, cara mia.”

Avoiding his gaze, I kick the shovel out of my way and step back. “Plenty of time to bicker after we get the situation under control.”

He rises from the grave, the motion fluid and graceful, without a trace of the emaciation or atrophy so common in the long confined dead. Setting down beside me, he shrugs out of his suit jacket and stretches, his sleek power a terrible beauty and untamed menace. “By ‘situation’, I imagine you are referencing the trouble for which you wrongfully buried me three years ago.”

Finding myself confronted with this reanimated leviathan, I become acutely conscious of the blood sloshing through my fragile human veins and the noisy echo of my quickened heartbeat thumping in the cage of my ribs. To deflect my apprehension, I respond with some good old misplaced sarcasm. “You get that update from your underground network of worms?”

He smiles at that, the tips of his fangs grazing his lush lower lip. “You’d be surprised by the things I know, thanks to my underground channels.”

“Worms? Really? That seems beneath you.”

“You’ve grown skeptical since last I saw you, Officer. No longer the naïve trainee, but a jaded peace officer, hmmm?”

I grunt. “Nothing peaceful about my line of work. But this isn’t about me. Let’s skip to the part where you introduce a fail-proof plan to get the clan violence under control. So, where do we start?”

“Retribution Rites.”

I shake my head. “Retribution falls on Sizemore, not me, and since he’s dead, your request is negated. Besides, you hardly look hungry.”

“Not hungry in the least but I’m still going to insist on Rites. Per Section IV, Article II of the Controller’s Manual, the duty falls to an attending officer if the commander is neither present nor living.”

“I know what the damn manual says!” Most of it anyway. Okay, not the bit about not disinterring your own tags. And not the bit about having to assume the fallout of a superior’s screw-up, but that little bitch-slap somehow feels pretty much in line with the whole ‘having a shitty day, thanks for asking’ vibe I have going on.

I reach for the touchpad on my neck metal, my fingers hovering over the buttons but not depressing them. Acting big and bad for the sake of trying to intimidate a probable aggressor is one thing, but baring your throat to a vampire adept – one that you’ve wrongfully interred and then disinterred to ask an itty-bitty favor, as in ‘please come back to life to save a world that despises you’ – takes kamikaze-crazy nerves, and mine were momentarily on hiatus.

He surprises me by saying, “Leave the collar intact, Bianca. What I require can come from your wrist.”

I offer my arm and he takes it, using his thumbnail to slice my wrist just deep enough that blood drips into my upturned palm. He slices his own wrist, and slides his fingers into the groves of mine, clasping our hands, and holding me still while our blood mingles in our joined palms and drips into the ground at our feet.

I know I owe him blood, but I don’t know what he’s doing with it and my stomach churns as my imagination goes into overdrive. Before I can formulate a question, the earth beneath us begins to rumble and he lets go of my hand.

“They’ll take five minutes to incubate and another five to acclimate,” he says, watching the dirt tremble, “but I’m not sure we have that much time.”

“What are you talking about?!”

He tears the cuff off his sleeve and presses it to my wrist to staunch the blood flow. “Trouble is on its way. Didn’t you wonder why you were assigned my toe tag? Section III, Article 1.13 of the Controller’s Manual states an officer shall not be permitted to disinter one of her own tags.”

“We’re shorthanded lately, because of the budget cuts and --”

“Government rhetoric! He reunited us to finish us off.”

“He who?”

“Sizemore!”

“He’s dead!”

“No, Bianca, he went dark.”

It was too much to believe. My training officer, the one person I had ever really trusted in this pathetic world, was not only not dead, but had become a corpse and set me up, and the only man – correction, corpse – who could possibly save me is the one man – correction, corpse – whom I wronged for no reason other than to go-along-to-get-along.

Giancarlo grabs me by the shoulder. “Listen to me. Sizemore wrongfully contained me, to prevent me from interfering with his plan to transform himself and take over Ricardo’s racquet. He’s the reason the clans are warring. I’ve been disinterred for ten minutes, which means he should be arriving any time, if he ‘s not already here.”

The ground stops rumbling and everything becomes eerily silent. He grabs me around the waist and pulls me close as dozens of bodies thrust up through the soil, slick with ooze and mutating as soon as their odd gray skin comes in contact with the air so that they look human. “Behold our offspring, Bianca, born of our blood union. Your blood gave them life, mine gave them power.”

I struggle against his hold. “What have you done?”

His mouth brushes my temple. “What was necessary to save us. Now, hold still while I put that fail-proof plan you asked for into action.”

He grabs my wrists and uses his belt to lash them in front of me. I thrash against him but it’s futile, of course. When I resort to screaming, he gently binds my mouth shut. Lifting me over his shoulder as if I weigh nothing at all, he carries me to the pine trees that edge the north border of the cemetery.

As the wormpires bind me to the tree, he cups my chin in his hand and says, “You left me to rot in that box, Bianca. Three long dark years I lay cramped and confined. And do you know what I was thinking about every moment? You. And do you know what I realized? The only way to draw out Sizemore was by offering him bait most beautiful - you.”

It’s true what they about your life flashing before your eyes. What they don’t tell you is all the things you wish you had said or could say, and I had a million things to say to the rat bastard who’d just betrayed me six ways from Saturday, but since he’d shut me up so effectively, there wasn’t a damn thing I could do but curse him at the top of my lungs in my head.

Soon as I am tied in place, the wormpires disappear into the earth and I am left alone with my enemy. He leans in close, so that he words caress my face. “Sizemore is here. I can feel him. He and his clan. What do you think, Bianca? Will he kill you? Will I? I’ll leave you to wonder. After all, that’s what you did to me. Justice above all else, right?! Isn’t that the Corpse Controller motto?”

He leaves me there, bound and gagged and riddled with disbelief. But moments later, his voice purrs into my ear: “You will think me weak, Officer, that I cannot leave you here drowning in terror, but that is the way of it. He is coming for us, you and me, but I and our offspring will rescue you. Do not doubt it. And we will exact slow justice from every dark heart. You have my word as an adept and as the sire of your offspring, cara mia.”

. . . . .


They say all is fair in love and war. I don’t know much about war, and even less about love, but I have a pretty good grasp on the advantages of allies, so even though the thought of a controller getting into bed with a corpse defies common sense, logic, and every last vestige of decency, I can’t help but think that a liaison with Giancarlo would be good for my health. Doesn’t hurt that he’s smart, sexy and has sarcasm down to a fine science.

They say live and let live. I say a plague take them. Better yet, Giancarlo’s incisors. This morning I was a single, childless, county corpse controller. Tonight, I’m the jobless mother and consort of the city’s most powerful corpse, and I will do whatever it takes to protect my family, even if that means losing my humanity to do it.

They say revenge is a dish best served cold but as I watch Giancarlo teach our spawn how to feed off the entrails of our enemies, I say revenge is a dish best served bloody as hell.

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A reader by birth, paper-pusher by trade and novelist by design, story-telling in my passion. If you enjoyed reading today's story, please consider checking out my blog bullishink.com, joining my creative community sweetbananaink.com or participating in the madcap twitter fun @bullishink.

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Cara Michaels Week 9: Miss Me, -Kait, Part Four

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Cara Michaels’ Picture Choice:

Title: Miss Me, -Kait

Part Four: Zipped


By noon, we’d made the lake, walked the campground, and I’d watched Riley touch, absorb, discard, and move on. I knew how the woman worked, but as usual, I hated it. She internalized everything, and told me what she thought pertinent. Okay, so she got it right, most of the time, but just once I’d like to see it all with her.

The thought reminded me of the hulking shadow in Riley’s window.

Maybe I didn’t want to see more.

I looked to the water, where screaming adolescents rode ziplines from somewhere above the shore down into the water.

“Zzziiiip,” Riley said, the word a long buzz ending in a hard p-sound.

I turned my head, but Riley’s attention still played around in Neverland or wherever she went. She said it again though, and this time I noticed it preceded another trip down the line. I waited and sure enough, seconds before the next rider, she made the sound again.

I touched her shoulder, thinking to shake her out of it—

Hoooollllyyyyy Sssshhhhiiiiiittttt!

Hannah, you’re such a girl! I bet Kait won’t make a peep when we get her up there. She’s tough.

Dude, Kait has brass balls in her shorts. That’s why she never takes ‘em off.

Shut your mouth, Chad. You’re such a dick.

Zzziiiip.


I jerked back, forgetting to let go of Riley. She dropped the D-clip in her hand and stared at me.

“Murray?”

“My name is Adam.” I ground the words out through my teeth. “I’m not calling you Black, am I?”

Riley watched me, her eyes guarded.

“You used to,” she said. “Though I noticed you didn’t this time. Why the change?”

Because I can’t keep pretending you don’t matter to me.

“Because I’ve known you for half a decade, Riley. Because shit on this case is seriously fucking weird. Because I touch you and I—see—things.”

“What things?”

“Hannah on the zipline. Chad being an A-class douchebag.”

Riley paled. I reached for her and she nearly fell over in her haste to pull away. I didn’t expect it to hurt, but damn.

“You never told me,” she said.

“Told you what?”

“You’re—an empath?”

“The hell you say.” I backpedaled now. “I don’t even know what that is.”

“You feel the emotions of others.”

“That’s human compassion, Riley, nothing more.”

“Well you’re sure as fuck something more, Murray,” she said.

“My name—is Adam.”

Riley crossed her arms across her ample chest. “You’re certainly touchy enough to be an empath.”

I waved away the concept with an irritated hand. “We have more issues right now. What’s so important about the zipline?”

Riley gave me a look like I rode the crazy train.

“What are you talking about?”

“You’re the one who keeps saying ziiippp like it’s a matter of national security.”

“I do?” Her brow dug deep lines in her forehead. “Maybe it is.”

The world reshaped in Riley’s eyes as she thought back over whatever she’d seen.

“It isn’t the zipline,” she said. “There’s information. On a portable drive, a zip drive. Kait had something important, and it totally occupied her thoughts. She kept thinking about it. Obsessing, even. It’s important. We find the drive, I say we get a hard line on what led to Kait’s disappearance.”

A portable drive. It made sense, in a way. Kait had incriminating information on someone, something big, maybe even on one of her vacation buddies. Shit deteriorated—

“Kait didn’t care about the people here,” Riley said. “Her attention was on someone outside this inner circle. Someone—I think he’s who she had dirt on.”

“The guy we saw in the window?”

“Maybe, yeah. Her concern is definitely focused on someone… not here. I don’t have a name yet, just an impression. You got anything?”

I reared back. “Ah…”

Riley nodded. “I’ll take that as a no.”

“Even if I assume you’re right,” I said.

“I am, Adam,” she said. Trust her to go for a sucker punch with my first name. “You’re part of this, as much as I am. Kait has information and she means us to find it.”

I inhaled slowly. “Then I guess we should get on with business.”

“You’re with me, then?”

Bucking the protocols of our relationship, I dragged her close, until our lips just touched.

“I’m with you until the end, got it?”

“I got it,” she whispered.

Our lips met and for a few precious moments I forgot everything but Riley and the feel and taste of her. The real world would intrude soon enough. For now, I absorbed every taste and sensation she shared with me, and I knew I wouldn’t walk away from this case untouched.

She moaned and pressed closer.

As though I’d ever had a chance.

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Cara Michaels is the author of the Gaea’s Chosen sci-fi romance series and host of the #MenageMonday flash fiction challenge.

#DailyPicspiration

Friday, August 24, 2012

Jeff Tsuruoka Week 9: Redemption or Bust - We Ain't Partners, We Ain't Brothers, and We Ain't Friends

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Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Redemption or Bust - We Ain’t Partners, We Ain’t Brothers, and We Ain’t Friends

Part 4


Our arrival back at the pier was one of those classic, 'I got good news and I got bad news', scenarios.

The good news? We found Vern's big red SUV. The bad news? It was parked in the spot I'd left my Olds in.

I should have seen it coming. An American car with some age on it is a whole lot less conspicuous than Big Red. And their taking it seemed a little like a breadcrumb left for me to find.

Vern went ahead and checked out his ride while I stood there and fumed. My fists opened and closed on their own and the veins in my temples pounded out a hard bop beat.

“She got my phone,” said Vern. I hadn't noticed him coming over to stand next to me.

“She got my car,” I replied.

“Can I use yours?”

“My what?”

“Phone, Jake. Can I use your phone?”

“Don't have one.”

“You don't have one?”

“Those were three simple words I just used. Which one's messing you up?”

He looked at me the way dogs look at helicopters.

“I... don't... have... a... cell phone. Never have. I don't ever want to be that accessible.”

“All right. All right.”

He made to put a paw on my shoulder but thought better of it and started rummaging around in his back seat. He pulled a thin metal strongbox from under the driver's seat and unlocked it.

When he emerged he had a Glock in one hand and a thick file folder in the other. He slipped the gun into his waistband and shut the door. He opened the driver's side front door.

“Hop in, Jake.”

I didn't move.

He turned with one foot in the car. “You coming?” he asked.

I stayed where I was and gave him the stink eye.

“Tell me what's going on,” I growled. I raised my fists. “Tell me or we're going again. Right here. This minute.”

It was bluster. One hundred percent bluster. I had nothing left. If he chose to fight I'd let him hit me and thank him for the nap.

Vern walked to where I was and thought it over. He was rubbing the swollen bruise my elbow left on his jaw.

“I'll cut you a deal,” he said. “Get in the fucking car and I'll fill you in.”

I held my ground for about thirty seconds, just long enough for machismo to be satisfied, and then went to the passenger side and climbed into Vern's SUV. A little ass-in-seat time and a long drive sounded pretty good.

He got it started up and we sped away from the pier.

Vern drove in silence for a few minutes and then glanced over at me.

“What's your angle here, Jake?”

“Nix,” I said. “You're supposed to be doing the filling in. We had a deal.” I hit him with the smile I reserved for meter maids and bill collectors.

“Oh I'll fill you in,” he replied, “but I need to know what side of the case you're working.”

“I'm not working the case.”

“What do you mean you're not working the case?”

“You always have this much trouble with small words? Look, man, it's simple. I'm on vacation. I met Marisa on the beach and we hit it off. Then you happened. She left me a note telling me where she thought you were taking her. It's just kinda gone downhill from there.”

“You're telling me you came to and hauled ass after a guy like me, out into a completely unknown situation over a woman you just met?”

“She passed the dead arm test.” I pantomimed a woman's head resting against my shoulder. “For me that's almost as good as hitched.”

He stared at me for a second and then burst out laughing.

I didn't have the energy to laugh but I smiled and leaned my head against the window.

Vern took the file folder out of the well on the door and dropped it in my lap. The name ,'Reubens', was written in marker on the tab.

“Read it. Then we'll talk.”

“Give me the highlights.”

“Read the fucking file, Jake.”

“You want a bunch of vomit all over your dashboard? Give me the highlights. I'll read it when we stop.”

He stared at me again and shrugged. “The cabin out on the Island belongs to one Jedediah Reubens. Jed's a very bad man. Drugs. Extortion. Loan sharking. Armed robbery. He was into it all.”

“Was?”

“Yeah. Until we took him down. We got him on a bank heist. The Feds got him on racketeering charges. He's currently serving twenty-five to life in Leavenworth.”

“So he's locked up right now?”

“That he is, Jake.”

I chewed on that for a while and I found I didn't like the taste.

Vern was driving fast. The corn and wheat was nothing but a yellow and brown blur. The tractors were nowhere to be seen.

“Rosario told me you work for Reubens.”

“A lot of people around here think that 'cause I'm good at my job.”

“Undercover,” I muttered.

“Two years, Jake. Two years spent working my way up in the Reubens organization. I was his best boy when we took him down.”

“How long ago did this happen?”

“What, the arrest? It'll be three years just after Christmas.”

I opened up the folder and looked for pictures.

Reubens' mugshots were near the top. They must have dragged him out of bed. He had dark hair and a lot of it and it was sticking out in every direction atop his very large head.

He had one long eyebrow and good cheekbones. The whiskers on his chin were dark but not thick enough to suggest a more permanent beard. The eyes were small and stared at the camera with detachment and unconcern.

I looked hard but there wasn't a lot I could read into those mugshots.

The second photo in the file didn't make me work so hard. It was a picture of Marisa, a studio portrait job complete with makeup, great lighting, and a provocative pose. Her long hair was up and off her face and though her eyes were focused somewhere to her left her breasts were pointing straight out at the camera. There was a hint of a black and pink bra visible and a heart-shaped pendant sat nestled in her cleavage.

“Yeah,” said Vern. “That's a nice shot. You'll like the back even more.”

I turned it over and read the words written along the bottom edge in blue pen. I read them again.

“Marisa Reubens,” I said. They didn't sound any better out loud.

“Don't get your balls in a bunch, Jake. We're talking ex here. Ex-wife. They were on the outs even before he got sent up.”

I shut the file folder and closed my eyes.

“She doesn't know about you?”

“I was gonna clue her in when we got to the cabin.”

“Why?”

“I didn't want to freak her out any more than I already had. I didn't want her thinking her ex was making a move on her.”

I felt stirrings of the headache I'd forgotten about and rubbed my temple.

“Maybe I didn't phrase that clearly enough,” I said. “Why? Big 'W'.”

His grip tightened on the steering wheel and he looked at me sideways.

“You're as much of a pain in the ass as McGinty said,” he muttered.

“Who did you say?”

McGinty could only be Russel McGinty, a cop who worked my home beat. I helped him out on the case that got him to the detectives table and ever since he's been as much of a pal on the force as any private investigator can get. He greased wheels for me, got me access to properties and paperwork I'd have had a hard time getting on my own. McGinty got me what I needed when he could and got me out of trouble when he had to.

McGinty and I hadn't spoken in a while, since the last big case I worked, a case that ended badly for both of us.

“I ran your plates, Jake.”

“All right,” I said. “You ran my plates. What of it?”

“He's not too pleased with you, Jake.”

“McGinty? As a rule he's not too pleased with anyone.”

“Funny thing. He wanted to badmouth you, rip you a new one. I could hear it in his voice. But he dialed it back. Very terse.”

I nodded and looked out at the wheatfields.

“Sounded bad,” he said.

“It was.” I might have said that aloud.

“He doesn't blame you though. That came through pretty clear. He as much said he'd have done the same thing.”

“That's not what he said at the station that night.”

I shut my eyes but opened them right back up as the memories started to roll.

“If it helps any,” he said, “it's what I'd have done too.”

“People died. Because of me.”

“From what I heard people had a fighting chance to make it because of you. If you didn't go in they were dead for sure.”

I didn't answer him. He wasn't saying anything I hadn't thought myself but I couldn't get away from it. People died and it was my fault.

“I asked you a question,” I said.

“And I'm trying to decide if I can answer it. Okey, Jake. You're not working the case. This is about Marisa for you?”

“That's what I said. Is it me or is this conversation moving backwards?”

“Okey. Okey. I get it. You want to find Marisa. I want to find her too. Why don't we just leave it at that and find her? Together.”

“I know why I want to find her,” I said. “What's your story?”

He didn't say anything. His eyes were focused out in front of us.

I raised the file folder. “Is it in here?”

“No, Jake. What you've got in your hands there? That's the past. I'm only interested in the future.”

He said that last bit with a little smile on his face, like he'd put a stamp of finality on the subject.

I sat back in my seat and let him have his moment in the sun. The pain in my head had become an insistent hammering inside my skull and the longer I sat on my ass the more the fatigue set in. Every last bump and bruise screamed for attention.

I let my head fall back and closed my eyes. I hoped I didn't snore.

...


We weren't moving when I shook myself awake.

I could smell salt in the air and hear the surf as it rolled in. The bright, shining sun suggested that it was late in the morning and the heat was starting to set in.

The SUV was parked by the curb in a big, empty lot. Vern was standing next to it talking on a pay phone.

“It's nothing I can't handle,” he said. “A complication, but I'm on it. Don't worry.”

He listened for a few seconds and then jumped back in.

“No. I told you, I can handle it. She won't be a problem. Trust me on that.”

I flipped through the pages in the file folder while he talked. It all looked legit. If these were faked someone did a damned good job of it. I looked some info on or a photo of Rosario. Nothing doing on both scores.

Vern turned his back when he noticed I was awake and listening.

“Gotta run,” he said. “I'll be in touch.”

He climbed back into the SUV after hanging up.

“I'm no expert,” I began, “but that didn't sound like you were calling it in.”

Vern stared straight ahead and started the engine.

“I wonder why that is,” I continued.

He put the SUV in gear and peeled away from the curb.

“You ask a lot of questions for someone who's not working the case, Jake.”

“You hold a lot back for someone who's mission is to protect and serve the public, Vern. Is your name even Vern?”

He gave me the silent treatment while he drove so I quit riding him.

“Where are we anyway?” I piped up after he'd gone a few blocks.

“Danforth. About fifteen miles north of Caravan Bay.”

Danforth. “Reubens had a warehouse in Danforth,” I said.

He glared at me and I showed him the file folder. “You told me to read it, remember?”

“They weren't there, were they?” I asked.

He made a great show of sighing and grumbling before he said, “No.”

“How hard could you have looked? I wasn't out for that long.”

“Long enough,” he growled. “They weren't there. Your car wasn't there. No signs anyone's been near the place in weeks.”

“Speaking of the girls, I couldn't help but notice the absence of any information on Rosario in this file here.”

Vern gunned it as we hit the edge of town and made a hard left onto what looked a lot like the road to Bog Island. It was long and straight and there were cornfields on one side, wheatfields on the other.

“What do you want to know?”

“What's her story?”

“She's ex-Bureau. Worked the organized crime unit.”

“Let me guess. Her sister's marriage to a known crime boss got her canned?”

“It's all about appearances, man. She's strictly private security these days. I have no idea what the hell she was doing out there this morning.”

“Evangeline called her,” I said.

He mulled that over and let it pass without comment.

A black Mustang convertible containing two men in sunglasses and aloha shirts tore past us in the opposite direction.

“I do believe those men were speeding, officer.”

He let that one go too.

“So what's your next move?”

Vern shrugged and looked straight ahead. “I'm taking you back to the Nightshade. I can't have you with me on this. Look, I'll get a BOLO out on your car and I will find Marisa. I know it's not what you want to hear but I need you to sit tight and stay the fuck out of this. Read me?”

“No.”

He slammed on the brakes and whirled around in the driver's seat with his teeth bared and a mean, hard look on his mug.

“You're going to have to repeat that,” he spat.

Harsh language and manly epithets climbed over themselves to be first out of my mouth but I held my fire.

I was seconds from finding myself standing on the side of the road. Going back to the Nightshade wasn't what I wanted but it wasn't the worst thing either. I knew I could get Evangeline to find a car for me to use and I'd be right back on the job, without having to follow Vern's lead. The Nightshade was sounding better and better, but only if I didn't have to walk there.

“All right,” I said. “Fine. I'm not really in any shape for this shit anyway.”

Vern jammed it back into gear and grinned at me.

“That's what I like about you, Jake,” he said. “You're a reasonable guy.”

He hit the gas pedal and away we went.

Then his head exploded.

I didn't hear the shot. Vern had just gotten his head turned when there was a tinkle of breaking glass and then his head came apart. Blood, bone, and brains hit the windshield.

I felt the warm spray on my face and shucked the seat belt as the SUV continued to speed straight ahead.

Vern slumped against his door but his big foot still had the gas floored.

I reached over and grabbed the wheel and risked a look through the gore-covered rear view mirror. A black Mustang was coming up fast behind us.

We were on a slight downgrade in the road and picking up even more speed.

Moving Vern's legs out of the way just wasn't happening so I took a look out each side of the SUV. Corn on one side, wheat on the other.

I chose corn.

I turned the wheel all the way to the left and the SUV veered off the road and into the cornfield. The SUV sliced a wide, straight path through the late summer stalks and I held on as we rumbled and rattled along.

The SUV began to smoke and it sounded like things were falling out of the bottom of it with every yard plowed. All four tires burst one after the other.

When the cornstalks slowed the SUV down enough I took one hand off of the wheel and snatched Vern's Glock from his waistband.

Then I reached for the emergency break and gave it a pull.

The SUV heaved and almost rolled over but it stayed upright long enough for me to leap back to the passenger seat and launch myself out into the corn.

I hit the ground hard and watched the SUV roll to a stop ten yards further on.

There wasn't much time to watch. Where I'd gone wasn't exactly a secret and the fact that I wasn't hearing a big American engine roaring towards me meant I was going to have to do this the hard way.

I managed to get to my knees but had to take a minute to breathe and dry heave before I was able to stand. If there'd been anything in my gut I'd have puked it up right there.

There wasn't a part of me that didn't ache or sting. I could feel the adrenaline eating a hole in my stomach and my hands shook like I was holding a couple of those joke buzzers instead of handguns.

A stand-up fight was out of the question.

If the guys who killed Vern had any brains they'd be beating the cornstalks looking for me, coming at the SUV in wide, sweeping arcs, so I went with the stupid option, the one thing they wouldn't expect me to do.

I clicked the guns' safeties off and marched straight down the middle of the fresh path of destruction back toward the road.

I was too damned tired for anything else.

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Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.

#DailyPicspiration

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Michela Walters Week 9: Run

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Michela Walters’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Run

Chaos.

The streets were filled with the acrid smell of tear gas and the sound of screams from the protesters I was here to support. Police had descended upon our group like a swarm of killer bees, looking menacing in riot gear and armed with shields and nightsticks. It was supposed to be a peaceful rally. We only wanted the world to hear our side of the story. Unfortunately, one trigger-happy cop forcefully nudged an easily riled-up protester, which led to our streets now being overrun with terror.

I could hear my heart thumping wildly in my ears as I darted down alleys, trying to avoid the masses and the police, and doing my best to not get trampled in the process. When my legs could run no more, I rested wearily against the wall of an old warehouse on the outskirts of town. I had no idea where I was standing, but needing to get my bearings came a distant second to catching my breath.

Leaning over, I let my hands rest on my knees, sucking in ragged gasps of air while keeping my ears trained on the street I’d come from--hoping I’d found some solace, even if it was only momentary. From my hidden position, I could hear the whimpers and cries for help from my friends and fellow supporters. How would I be able to look at myself in the mirror if I stayed cowered here in the shelter of this dingy alley? My mind was conflicted, though: going out there was to sign my own arrest warrant, but staying here felt like a cowardly act of self-preservation.

Deciding it was better to keep myself safe, I pushed off the wall, intending on going home to call the police station to see if I could bail out as many friends as possible. I had only taken two steps toward the mouth of the alleyway when I heard a deafening war cry.

“Thought you’d come steal my spot, did ya?” sneered a homeless man charging at me.

I had no time to react before the man’s dull knife pierced my chest. He gazed vacantly down at me through his piercing blue eyes, only made more striking by his grimy appearance. He scowled, yanking the silver object out before turning back to his shopping cart of belongings, leaving me to bleed out on the street where I thought I’d be safe.

As my eyes drifted shut for what would be the last time in my life, I heard the man rolling his cart away, softly singing, “I did a bad, bad thing…”

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Michela Walters is a wife, mother and book enthusiast. She is currently attempting her hand at writing her first romantic fiction novella. You can read her other stories on her blog: michelawalters.wordpress.com

#DailyPicspiration

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sarah Aisling Week 9: The Day of Wishes

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: One

Title: The Day of Wishes

Every year during the first full moon of the season, the people of Caelan celebrate “The Day of Wishes.” It’s rumored that magic happens on that day. Unlikely babies are conceived, wars are averted, poor harvests come back from the brink, and love is in the air. If one is truly open, almost any fervent wish might be granted—as long as it is honest and true.

A huge festival commences to celebrate “The Day of Wishes.” Townspeople dress in their Sunday best, even when money is tight. Women spend days cooking, baking, and weaving in the hope they can attract favor.

This year is no different. The festivities go on all day in the fields surrounding King Fergal’s castle. Poor and rich alike mingle, tethered by a common bond—the desire for a wish to be realized. Children’s games are organized, and men gather to compete at archery. As the afternoon wanes, immense tables are brought forth from the castle walls and loaded with rich food and wine where the people dine together. For this single day, all are equal.

At dusk, everyone gathers for the lighting ceremony. Hundreds of delicate wooden lantern frames covered by fragile white paper are set alight and released into the night sky. The wind is still tonight, and the soft sound of the warmed air fluttering the lantern coverings is all that can be heard. It’s rare that a group this size can remain silent, but their collective reverence for this tradition unites them.

The clear night sky fills with paper lanterns casting golden honey light lifted by the prayers and wishes from all below.

My name is Chay, and I am a wish. Wishes can discern the quests of each lantern’s owner; a part of the essence of their soul rises with their light, and we can see the auras. There are a finite number of wishes at each festival. Tonight, I look out over the glowing offerings. So many choices, most of them worthy. I can only choose one, though.

I float through the sea of light, allowing the requests to flow through me. There is one that grabs and holds me, a request from a golden-haired maiden from a poor family. Her days are long and arduous as she works tirelessly to help her family, always with a smile. Her mother is often ill, and her father left years ago. She’s a dreamer and a painter, but has put aside her own dreams to help others. Her wish isn’t for herself—it’s for her mother, her sisters.

The selfless ones are rare. As a wish, I’m allowed to grant their requests for others in addition to ferreting out the dream they would never dare ask for themselves. With my special sight, I sense a dark-haired man she often admires from afar. When I locate his lantern, his wishes are for her, that she wouldn’t have to toil so hard, that she would allow herself to partake of happiness.

There are gasps from the crowd as I become visible, a glowing white specter in the sky. Fingers point at the strange light as the townspeople wonder what it could be.

I draw together the lanterns that belong to the couple below, and entwine them with threads of light. My magic is strong tonight, and the other wishes around me sigh with such longing as it blossoms.

We don’t have the honor of staying and watching the favors we bestow. It’s time to move on to our next task. We answer wishes that are offered up to the stars in the sky. We’re in the dandelion fluff that floats on the breeze. Wherever a wish exists, we can be found.

We’re not supposed to follow up, but perhaps next year, I’ll peek in on my special couple. After all, we sometimes get to make wishes, too.

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Sarah Aisling hails from New Jersey and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and awesomely precocious daughter. She’s currently putting the finishing touches on her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SarahAislingAuthor

#DailyPicspiration

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

J M Blackman Week 9: Heart & Soul/ Rock & Roll

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J.M. Blackman’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Heart & Soul/ Rock & Roll

She’d watched him since she was five--the lean strength in his fingers, the thousand-league stare that saw nothing and everything, the quirk of his mouth when he was creating. He was god, little “g,” rock royalty in the making, idol-ready. No, a sex symbol in training, Zeus-lite, ready to dribble his magical gold across any Danae that was worth it. And he was her step-brother.

He’d tolerated her all her life, since their parents had married. But she’d always been on the fringes, trying to sneak past the penumbra of his glow, to let it cast upon her just once. She was always looked past.

She thought it would change as she got older, as she gained talent. She could sing. She could sing even better than he could, but the flutter of her wings was too light, a sweet breeze versus the blast of his thunderstorms and lightning bolts. So, she sank further into herself, further into the walls in their house: her paisley dresses an exact match for their wallpaper. She continued her Shadowcat act into her room, into the couch in the den. She loved it there the most, where the sunlight streamed through the big windows and cast her in the spotlight the way she could never could achieve, in the way he would never allow. She never knew if it was on purpose, or just a rhinestoned leftover that couldn’t help but peel off from the denim of their dynamic.

But either way he was the rock and roll, the heart and soul of their family and she was...a lovely wallflower.

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J.M. Blackman is a Language Arts teacher, author rep'd by Gina Panettieri and a feminist. She endeavors to review nearly everything she reads and is a happy wife. She's a SFF enthusiast, loves dark humor, and has an unhealthy need to protect the image of Batman.

#DailyPicspiration

Monday, August 20, 2012

Jen DeSantis Week 9: A Warehouse of Memories

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Jen DeSantis’ Choice: 1

Title: A Warehouse of Memories

The memories washed over me as I stood in the abandoned building. Over by the broken window, I could still make out the faint outline of where his desk had been. Images from the past played over the dismal scene in front of me like a washed out recording. From the recesses of my mind, I heard his voice.

“Come here often?” he asks smoothly.

“Every day.” I don’t look up from my paperwork. I know his voice well enough to know who’s speaking and I’m not falling for his coy little smirks. “I work here, just like you, Drake.”

“No need to be testy,” he insists.

He places a tanned hand on top of the paper I’m reading from. I notice the whites of his cuticles, neatly manicured, and the thin, silvery lines of scars that crisscross his knuckles. I wonder what a man like Drake had ever done to scar himself. He didn’t strike me as the type to get his hands dirty.

“There are probably a lot of things about me that would shock you, Carolina.”

“Doubtful,” I murmur, but I make the mistake of looking up.

His ice-blue eyes, almost white in their brilliance, pull me in. I’m gone in that instant, lost in his eyes and to his magnetism.


Drake had been right, there were many things about him that shocked and surprised me, though never the things he expected. The fact that he was not human didn’t give me a moment’s pause, but the knowledge that he wasn’t immortal had left me reeling with shock.

I dropped to the cold concrete, pulling my knees into my chest and holding myself together the only way I knew how.

“How could you leave me?” I whispered, a tear slipping down my cheek.

I’m right here, the wind whispered as a shiver danced down my back.

Drake had surprised me again.

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Jennifer DeSantis is a Horror and Paranormal Author and host of the #FridayPictureShow. She lives near Philly with her family. In her spare time is an aspiring ninja.

#DailyPicspiration

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Jeff Hollar week 8: Magical Princess Dreams

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Jeffrey Hollar’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Magical Princess Dreams

Angelica was having a good day in comparison to what she’d experienced of late. Though the drugs she’d been taking were reported to have a “low incidence of side effects”, it was unfortunate for her to have experienced the worst of them. Her joints were so painfully swollen most days that she could only lie or sit, as still as possible, and try to wait it out. She tried so very hard to be brave, but it was not so easy sometimes.

She’d grown terribly weak and thin since, it seemed, nearly anything she tried to eat did not agree with her. If it wasn’t a stomach ache or intense waves of nausea, she couldn’t keep the food down at all. They tried to keep a civil tone about themselves in front of her, but she knew it was a source of friction to her parents. “Damn it, Francince, if she wants a Happy Meal, I think the poor thing deserves one. Lord knows she’s got precious little to be happy about.”

“But you know as well as I do, if she tries to eat that much salt and grease she’ll be up all night with the runs and, likely, vomit until she has to spend a night at the hospital getting re-hydrated.”

They didn’t know she heard them but she did. It wasn’t easy for a five-year old little girl to cope with being so very ill, but the unhappiness it caused her mommy and daddy threatened to break her little heart. She promised herself she would do better. She promised herself she would get strong and well and then she would be just like every other girl and her parents wouldn’t have to argue and worry and try to find the money for her pills and…and…well, she would try.

Today was all about trying. Dr. Meliankos was sending her to see, what he called, “a very special specialist” who would be trying new ways to make her healthy. Dr. Reed had his own hospital! He must be a very, very good doctor if he had his own hospital, right? She just knew he would be the one to make all the pain and the bleeding and the sick tummy and make it all go away once and for all.

Since she was in such a fine mood and seemed free of the worst of her persistent issues, mommy and daddy had said it was alright for the pretty nurse to take her on a tour of the wonderful gardens and let her get a little sunshine while they spoke to the doctor. Angelica thought it a grand idea and scarce noticed when her parents went into the office. She was too busy listening to the nurse describe all of the very colorful flowers and things the gardens had.

She had hardly gotten to see even the smallest part of them when a man who looked like her Uncle David, kinda, came over to speak to the nurse. With little explanation given, she found herself back inside and wheeled straight to Dr. Reed’s office. The nurse knocked and, upon being told, wheeled Angelica into the room.

Angelica knew,instantly, that she must have done something very bad or wrong. Were her test results not good? She had been concentrating so very, very hard on getting better,. Was she not trying hard enough? She knew that something wasn’t right because she could see that mommy had been crying. Daddy’s face was so very stern and he barely smiled at her when she was brought in. So concerned was she with her parent’s distress that she’d not even noticed the doctor.

He was the tallest man she had ever seen and he was quite old…old like her grandpa. He had almost no hair and the top of his head was so shiny she nearly giggled at it. He had the bluest eyes she had ever seen and a smile that was so warm and friendly she could see why he had his own hospital. Why, he must be the most fantastic doctor ever with a smile like that and such big hands and…her thoughts were all awhirl.

His voice was deep and rumbly like a big old bear’s must be. “Well and you must be Angelica. I’ve heard an awful lot about you, young lady. Your parents have been telling me about all the nasty symptoms you’ve been experiencing and how you have done such a fine, fine job of dealing with them. I am very proud of you, young miss…very proud indeed.”

Angelica smiled. He had a funny way of talking and she knew he was probably from some other place than America. She didn’t mind. He was the special specialist and he would make everything all better. She barely noticed he’d been speaking again.

“…mommy and daddy have asked me to speak to you about something, Angelica and so I need you to listen very carefully to what I’m going to tell you. If there is anything you don’t understand, why you just pipe up and tell me just what it might be, okay?” She nodded happily.

“Alright then. I know you have been very sick for what seems like a very long time and that you have done everything you have been told will make it easier for us. But, my dear little one, I am afraid that I have some news for you that is not so good. Can you try to listen to what that is before you ask me questions, yes?” Again, Angelica nodded.

“Excellent. Now you have been told what your illness is and what it means, I know, long ago. I, also, know that my fine colleague Dr. Meliankos has used every trick in his bag to help you but not had as much luck as we wished for. That is why he sent you to see me. Well, you know we had to take more of your blood and we look at it and we check how it looks, yes? Good. I am most sorry to have to tell you this, little angel, but it is not getting better…will not be getting better. Though it is not common, medicine does not always have the answers to questions. What I am trying to say…what you need to know is…”, he faltered before continuing, “You are going to be getting much, much more sick very soon Angelica. But this time, there will be….nothing…we can do to help you very much. When the pain gets to be bad, then we can give you magical medicine that will let you sleep most peacefully. But, this time when you go to sleep, little one, you will not be waking up from it.” His blue, blue eyes were moist with tears.

“Then…then…will I be like Sleeping Beauty and sleep and sleep and sleep and dream beautiful princess dreams until a brave, handsome prince comes to rescue me?”

She heard her mommy sobbing and Dr. Reed turned away from her for a moment. She thought she must have, perhaps, asked the wrong question. When he turned back, his eyes were less and his smile was as wide as could be. “Yes, Angelica, you will be just like Sleeping Beauty…a magical princess in a land without pills or pain or any of that. Just like Sleeping Beauty.”

Angelica was so happy to think she would be just like one of the princesses in her big storybook that mommy read to her from, that she never noticed how quiet her parents were during the long ride home. She was very tired when they got home and barely managed to swallow a few spoonfuls of soup before she fell soundly asleep. It was the most peaceful night’s rest she’d had in quite some time.

Daddy made much more noise than usual when he came home the next day. He came straight to her room, his arms loaded down with books and pictures.

“Hey, sweetie. How’s my girl, today? Boy, has Daddy got a surprise for you. Look at these!” He spread a bunch of photos on her bed and began pointing. “It’s a place called Fairytale Fun Park. Would you like to go to someplace called Fairytale Fun Park? See the castle? It’s a real, honest-to-gosh castle they moved stone by stone all the way across the ocean. It’s a motel now and you get a room in the castle just like in the stories. And they have musical shows and games to play and see…see? They have lots and lots of really cool rides. Roller coasters and spinning tea cups and well…just look at it all. Wouldn’t it be grand if we just took a couple of days or wait…wait…we can go for a whole darned week. Would you like that Princess Angelica? Would you?”

She was so awestruck by, not only the pictures but Daddy’s excitement, that all she could do was nod her head so hard it started to make her headache return. She settled back on her pillows and gave him a wan smile. “That sounds wonderful Daddy. But I think I need to take a nap. Is that okay Daddy? I’m very tired.”

“Well, of course it is sweetie. You get some rest and Daddy will go talk to mommy about our adventure.”

She knew she hadn’t been asleep for very long when she heard her parents voices talking very loudly.

“Oh for God’s sake, Stewart! What the hell were you thinking? You know Dr. Reed said she’s hanging on by a thread right now and you bring this up to her? It’s out of the question and you damned well know it. I know you’ve been doing your own version of medicating lately…a lot…but have you seen our freaking bills? If we don’t find some kind of program to help us out and I mean fast, we’re gonna be living in a cardboard box under the overpass. Where the hell did you think we were gonna get the damned money for something like this? As usual, you didn’t think. I’m tired of being the one that has to do all the hard stuff while you drink yourself silly every night. I can’t take this anymore.”

“For God’s sake, yourself, Francine! Our daughter is laying upstairs dying. Dying! She’s not gonna get any better. I get that. But, do you? Whether it’s today or tomorrow or next-the-hell friggin’ week, our only child is going to die! If I have to sell crack on the street corner, give blowjobs to Eskimos or sell my soul to the fiery-assed demons of the Pit, my daughter is gonna die with a smile on her face and one last good memory in her heart. So, no, I didn’t think this to infinity and beyond like you do, Francine. All I thought about is my daughter and making her happy. It’s all I think about. It’s all I’ve ever thought about is making you two happy. Excuse the beejezus out of me for even trying!”

“Oh don’t make this my fault, too, you pathetic drunk! You know I spend 16…20 hours a DAY doing everything I can for her. Christ, I quit my job and walked out on my pension plan to stay home with her, so don’t you..”

Angelica squirmed down under the covers and pulled a pillow as tightly around her head as her frail, little arms would manage. She cried and she cried and she cried, wishing only that she had the magical medicine right then and there so that she could be like just like Sleeping Beauty and never have to wake up ever, ever again but only surrender to the irresistible pull of magical princess dreams.

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Jeffrey Hollar is half Klingon, half Ferengi, visiting Earth in an attempt to negotiate a merger. He is currently working on a novella and a collection of zombie stories with his wife, Lisa McCourt Hollar. Jeff writes almost daily for his blog, The Latinum Vault, found at http://www.jeffreyhollar.com.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Cara Michaels Week 8: Miss Me, -Kait Part Three

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Cara Michaels’ Picture Choice:

Title: Miss Me, -Kait

Part Three: Masks


Riley Black and her psychic voodoo creeped me out. Hell on a man who liked her, thought he could maybe even love her, but… I didn’t know if I’d ever get used to her brand of hocus pocus. What if she saw beneath the calm surface I always showed her?

When I first met her some five years ago, she made me a promise.

I never look where I’m not invited, Detective Murray. It’s better for everyone’s peace of mind.

She could be lying, but after what I’d just seen I found myself more convinced than ever of her honesty. I didn’t doubt for a second that the peace she worked for most was her own.

I knew from our work together particularly strong psychic experiences could fray her control. Channeling someone’s emotional distress left her extra sensitive and more than once she’d warned people away.

I braved the danger—to my privacy, to my heart—and held her in my arms. She felt so good, strong and warm and real. I needed the contact as much as she seemed to. I focused on breathing normally, on projecting comfort. And as she trembled like she might fall to pieces, I made promises.

“I won’t let go,” I whispered, terrified twice over that I might mean it and that she might pick up on it.

Her hold on me tightened and she tucked her face against my throat, the shivers of her warm breath dampening my skin.

I’d always been so careful around her. Even though I found her crazy beautiful with her no nonsense, sarcastic attitude and sleepy bedroom eyes, I’d maintained a hands-off policy. Cops and psychics blended like oil and water; shake us up enough and we cooperate. But once things settle, we go our separate ways.

She let me go and pushed free.

Riley and me—we always went our separate ways.

“We need to get going,” she said.

Riley didn’t do damsel in distress.

I didn’t argue. I followed her to the front door where she slipped her key ring from a hook thing that invited order and organization. It reminded me I’d never been to her home before. She usually came to us when we called. Looking around, I saw the same neatness carried through the tidy living area and remembered the man I’d seen in the window and the way the emotions surrounding Kait Quinn seemed to supersede Riley Black. If that was the kind of shit Riley lived with in her mind—if her mind was never entirely hers—I understood the need to establish control here.

I stuffed down the need to grab her close again, to tell her I’d take it from here and to go back to bed.

She didn’t offer to let me drive, so I plucked the keys from her fingers.

“Let me,” I said.

“I got it, Murray.”

Another space she wedge between us. I liked it better when she called me Adam, but I didn’t tell her.

“You’re in no shape to drive, Riley.” I emphasized her name slightly, feeling the edge in my tone. My professional armor cracked under the weight of a man’s basic need to protect, and I’d chosen to protect Riley. Fuck me if she ever looked beneath the façade. “You’ll end up in a ditch the first time you see Kait or Mr. Obsessive in your windows.”

She paled. “Okay, yeah. You should drive.”

I locked the front door to her patio home. On the other side of the wall Riley shared with a neighbor, the curtains of the front window twitched.

“Nosy neighbors,” I said.

“Is she spying again?” Riley made a growling sound of frustration and I grinned. “The woman is a menace. You should flash your badge.”

“She’ll think I’m arresting you.”

“I know, it’ll be great. You’ll totally make her night.”

“And reaffirm her peeping Tom tendencies.”

Riley laughed. “Okay, you may have a point there.”

I made a gentlemanly show of opening the passenger door of my standard issue sedan for Riley and seeing her settled. I could practically feel the neighbor’s steady gaze.

“Is she taking notes?”

“She’ll probably tell the HOA all about my late night assignations.”

“Remind me to bring you home with a police escort,” I said.

“Really?” Riley’s delight made the inside of the car brighter, I swore.

“I wish we could acknowledge you more,” I said softly. “You should have the key to the city by now.” We both knew it was better for the department, and safer for her, to keep our working relationship hushed.

“Your department is—nicer,” she said after a pause. “Even the ones who don’t really believe.”

“Are there any left?” I asked. “I’m pretty sure we’re convinced.”

“Your sheriff?”

“Please.” I snorted. “She’s a politician, not an investigator.

I felt her smile like a touch. Then her fingers breached the distance between us and drifted over mine as I put the car in reverse.

Breathe, man. Just breathe.

“Where am I headed, boss?”

I cursed myself six ways to Sunday as she withdrew, physically and emotionally. I wanted to stop her. Instead, I dug a file folder and some other personal effects of Kait’s from the backseat and handed them to Riley. She accepted them with a heavy sigh.

“Head toward the lake,” she said.

Once more, we wore the masks that protected us.

“I’ll let you know more when I have it.”

“Thank you.”

I drove northeast, sunrise just starting to lighten the sky.

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Cara Michaels is the author of the Gaea’s Chosen sci-fi romance series and host of the #MenageMonday flash fiction challenge.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

M L Gammella Week 8: Candle in the Wind

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M L Gammella’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Candle in the Wind

Author's Note: This is an snippet from my current WIP, tentatively called 'Guardians'

Alana stared at the flame from the candle in front of her as she thought, the papers on the table forgotten. She and David had learned so much over the past few weeks, it was mindboggling.

Was she really the last Creator? Did she really have the power of life within her? Was there really a group or entity out to stop her? To finish off her family line completely? It seemed so completely unbelievable, like something she’d read in a fantasy novel. This certainly coudn’t be her life.

Yet, something about it felt right, like she was finally discovering who she was at long last. It certainly made all the things that had been happening to her make sense. A part of her was greatly relieved that perhaps she wasn’t going crazy at all but all the voices and visions were a part of her coming into her legacy.

Which brought her to her present situation. A vicious storm had blown through the area and knocked out the power to the city ... except it seemed to be a very localized storm. Very. The neighboring towns didn’t seem to be affected. Perhaps it was the city’s proximity to the ocean, but Alana didn’t think so. There was something unnatural about the storm. Sure the meterologists didn’t say that, but they didn’t have to. People within the city, who had been here the longest, they knew. There was something strange afoot.

However, Alana wasn’t going to allow a mere power outage to keep her from the truth. The Destroyers were going to try a little harder to keep her back. They were out to get her, eh? She would make sure she was the one walking away.

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M L Gammella lives in Ohio with her husband and their three pets. She is currently working on her first novel, a paranormal suspense based in Maine. Please follow her at @MLGammella and visit her website at Onward to the Written Word.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sydney Logan Week 8: Waiting

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Sydney Logan’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Waiting

Nobody tells you how hard it is to wait.

It takes patience, determination, and willingness.

Even surrounded by the beauty of the water, I can’t focus on anything but the time.

It ticks and ticks.

I wait and wait.

Patience.

The sun is blinding as it reflects against the sea. It’s beautiful and blue. The prettiest blue I’ve ever seen. Almost as pretty as his eyes.

But not quite.

I glance down at my watch.

And I wait.

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Sydney Logan lives in Tennessee with her wonderful husband and their very spoiled cat. Her debut novel, Lessons Learned, will be released in September. Please visit her website at www.sydneylogan.com.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kimbery Gould Week 8: Unveiling

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Unveiling

No one knew who I was. Perfect anonymity. And still, I was nervous. How couldn’t I be? They were all here to see my work, my art. They were going to tear it apart within earshot. They were going to pick out every simplistic detail, every poor color choice, every theme unexploited.

I pulled down the hem of my short black dress. It wasn’t unlike what most of the ladies in the room wore, a cocktail frock, but my thick thighs made me self-conscious. Like I needed anything else tonight.

“A drink?” a female voice asked. I squeaked as I jumped into the air. Cringing as every eye suddenly turned to me, I snatched a flute from her tray and took a gulp. The white wine burned down my throat and my face flushed, but at least I had an excuse with the alcohol.

“Excuse me. Are you here with anyone?” The male voice was much softer than the female and I didn’t jump as badly, though my wine did bounce in the glass.

“Pardon me,” I said, steadying myself on his arm. Taking a deep breath, I reminded myself that I was no one. I was just another guest at the unveiling. “No, I’m free.” I frowned at the expression. Did I sound too eager?

“Good, so am I. I know several people here and know exactly what they are going to say. You, I don’t know. Walk with me?” The longer he talked, the more I picked up on his accent. Although his English was very good, I had the impression it wasn’t his first language.

“Uh, I...I’m not much of an art critic.”

“Bah,” he scoffed. “Everyone has some taste, even if it is very poor.”

My back straightened, thinking he was commenting on my paintings.

“For instance, do you like that one?” He pointed to Autumn. The leaves shone and the tree was reduced and bare.

“Yes. It makes me think of independence, standing alone.”

The man, who I still didn’t have a name for, nodded. “Indeed, and a certain disrespect for the parent. Leaving them to the crows.”

My mouth hung open. I hadn’t meant to imply that. “I-I thought the parent was stepping back for the sake of the child.”

He held his chin for a moment. “I didn’t see that. I do see a solid separation of the two.”

I nodded, feeling a little less off-kilter. “Yes. The child isn’t content in the shadow of the parent.”

“Ah, and so the parent is reduced, casting less of a shadow. A shame Evans didn’t include a shadow to emphasize that. I appreciate your inside, Miss.”

“Toni,” I answered, giving my first name. “And you are?”

“The artist is Toni.” He narrowed blue eyes, watching me closely. “I am Bernard,” he answered, not giving his second name either.

I gasped all the same. “Minsk? Bernard Minsk?” He had been known to launch many artists through his purchases and endorsements.

“Yes, Miss Evans, but I think we’ll just be Toni and Bernie a bit longer, yes?” He took my hand and laid it on my arm, leading me to the next painting. While he regarded it, I heard the comments from others, wincing when someone was particularly acerbic in their critique.

“You mustn’t listen.” I turned my head and my nose nearly touched Bernard’s. “They will only discourage you. This isn’t your best work, but I can see it, just beyond. In another year, maybe two, you will be producing even finer.” He patted my hand on his arm. “Don’t listen. Only look with me. See the beauty in what you have created.”

Looking at my art through Bernard’s eyes, I could see more, beyond. His praise and constructive criticisms inspired me. So much so, that I couldn’t wait.

“Will you excuse me?” I asked, pulling away to head for the door.

“Wait! You can’t leave your own unveiling!” His voice carried through the room and all eyes turned to me.

“I have to get started on the next one,” I explained with a smile.

Bernard’s wink was just one more thing to send me running to the canvas.

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Kimberly Gould is the author of Cargon: Honour and Privilege and the upcoming Thickness of Blood. She can be found most places as Kimmydonn, including Kimmydonn.com

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Samantha Lee Week 8: Out With the Old

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Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Out With the Old

Forget what anyone else might tell you; balls are not fun. Balls are in fact quite loathsome and tedious, like going to the doctor’s office or household chores. In short, they are a necessary evil. I’ll admit that balls have their functions. Balls provide a theatre for the drama and scandal of the upper classes and promote the exchange of knowledge and rumour alike. The etiquette and sensuality of the ball is a great distraction, not to mention the whole romantic factor. I mean, can you name a single Disney princess who didn’t find herself whisked about a dance floor sooner or later? Provided, of course, she actually live in a time and place where said whisking was actually possible.

The other side of this, of course, is that balls are a bloody pain in the arse. That tonight’s: an autumn themed masquerade held in celebration of, um, I think a lord’s vineyard purchase. Or maybe it’s some sort of mating anniversary – I can never keep track of these things.

I’m a sun elf of the Royal caste. This means I have a particular and distinctive colouring; deeply tanned skin, blood red hair with snow white bangs and sky-reflecting eyes. It makes assembling a complimentary outfit something of a challenge. Not a hardship, mind you, because I adore fashion, but a challenge nonetheless.

For this occasion, I opted for a chocolate brown strapless cocktail dress with a feathery detachable train. There are orange, red, and yellow silk leaves caught up in the train, matching the harvest themed hairpiece adorning my up-styled hairdo. Long, fingerless gloves, the same brown silk as my dress, are slipped over my forearms. A gold charm bracelet dangles from one wrist, chandelier earrings shaped like falling leaves hang from each of my lobes, and an amber encrusted bust of Bastet is held against the hollow of my throat by a brown ribbon encircling my neck. For my mask, I use makeup to paint charcoal hued elm leaves over my eyes.

It takes me just over two and half hours to get ready.

I then slip on my four inch stiletto heels and move to my parlour to wait for my entourage to join me. Yes, that’s right, I have an entourage. Two, technically. The first is my security detail; six Fae warriors who tag along with me wherever I go. The second is comprised of my companions and tends to be much more varied. Basically, it’s whoever among my friends and family I can coax into suffering alongside me. This night it happens to be my cousin, Donovan, my brother, Fiachra, my best friend, Lizzie, and their mates.

Once together, provided the ball is not being held at Court, we leave and travel by carriage to our destination. Depending on the where, why, what, and who of the event there are a whole slew of possible choices for my carriage and its beasts. My current one, for instance, was an elegant pumpkin-shaped mahogany carriage pulled by four giant grey mice.

When we arrive at the host’s estate I am helped from the carriage by Ryver, my Silver Knight and leader of my bodyguards. Normally my mate would assist me but he is, shall we say, temporarily unavailable. My entourage follows in my wake as I walk into the house and am guided by the steward of the house to the ballroom. What follows is several hours of conversation and dancing, both of which tend to lean heavily on the stiff and formal side of things, before the host finally breaks out his grand finale – usually, as in this case, a complex and stunning display of magic – and I can depart.

I have been restored to my throne for four months now – that’s roughly one hundred and twenty days - and in that time I have attended roughly a hundred or so balls. I have made the decision that it’s time to reform concept of a ball before my boredom and redundancy liquefies my brain and it slips right out of my head through my ears. I think it would be interesting to see what music the Fae have composed over the centuries – what bands and musicians and singers we have produced. I think it would be interesting if our dancing was less Pride and Prejudice and more Step Up, or perhaps, better yet, a blending of the two with a distinctly Fae twist thrown in. The world has moved out of Marie Antoinette’s era and I, for one, would love to join it.

That being said, if I see so much as a single disco ball I will make like the Hulk and smash.

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You can read my blog - Calliope's Domain - over at calliopedomain.blogspot.ca

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