Monday, September 30, 2013

SJ Maylee Week 67: Lucy’s Great Escape

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SJ Maylee’s’ Choice: Both

Title: Lucy’s Great Escape

Lucy’s need to erupt drove her to get out of the wretched building. The ugly red tile floor blurred as she pushed her feet faster to get out of the place that once held the sweet promise of a happy ever after with Alan. Now, all she could see was the cruel blond they met at the club last night. She hadn’t expected to see her here and in nothing more than the t-shirt Lucy bought Alan last year to celebrate their anniversary.

“Lucy, wait up,” Alan called from behind her.

She increased her pace. Just a few more feet and she’d be out the door.

His hand landed above hers on the handle. “Don’t leave. Let me explain.”

She turned and looked at Alan only this time her love blinders had disappeared. “What did I ever see in you?”

“Maybe we should talk tomorrow after you’ve had the chance to calm down.” He backed away.

“It wasn’t a coincidence that we ran into that skank last night.” She didn’t even need to ask. The reality of his heartless cruelty was evident in his pathetic expression. “How about if you promise to never call me again and I’ll promise not to rip you limb from limb.” When he didn’t respond, she took a quick step towards him.

His flinch was so satisfying that she laughed as she opened the door and left the asshole behind.

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SJ Maylee believes hearts are meant to come together and find love. As a writer she has a tendency to break hearts, but she always glues them back together. You can follow her at @SJMaylee,

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Miranda Kate Week 66: Introduction

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Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Introduction

When Rob grabbed the Jester with Michael, his mind swooned and everything went dark. It felt like his body was spinning in a void, his limbs flailing in all directions until something solid arrived under him, followed by the crunch of leaves.

He began to shiver, the air around him cold and damp, and unable to see anything in the darkness he curled up into a ball. He could hear the sound of own breathing and it resonated through the air around him. There were faint shuffling and fluttering sounds all around him, but nothing distinctive - only enough to indicate he was outside and no longer in a city.

He had an idea he was in a wood or forested area, but he couldn’t be sure, and he rocked himself to keep warm while he waited for daylight to break. When it did, it was slow, and muted; a low mist hung in the air muffling any sounds.

Rob stood up and looked around, confirming that it was a wood, but the question was, how big? And was he alone?

He cupped his hands and shouted “Michael?” But it didn’t reach far in the moist air, so he started walking and calling at intervals.

It was hard to discern a path among the trees and thick foliage underfoot, but Rob continued in the direction the strongest light came from, with the sun obscured by the trees.

Rob continued on for what could have been minutes or hours. He would pause every so often and call out for Michael and wait for any sound to come back, but there was nothing, besides the odd bird call, or scurrying animal.

The trees started to thin about and Rob sped up, eventually rewarded with an open expanse of land, ringed by the forest of trees. The grass was waist high, but he thought he could make out something in the middle, something pointed, like a hat. He ran out into the grass hoping it might be somebody, calling as he went. But when he reached it he found it was only a stuffed effigy that might have once been a scarecrow.

In his frustration and exhaustion he kicked out, intending to send it flying in the air, but as his foot touched it, it came alive, the head turning and a loud cackle emitting from it.

Rob let out a yell and leapt back in fright, the cackle ringing in his ears as it echoed off the surrounding trees. As it died down Rob saw the Jester appear through the manmade body and took yet more steps back.

“Don’t be afraid, Rob, I won’t hurt you.”

“How do you know who I am?”

“There’s no time for pleasantries, Rob, you need to get with the game. Time’s running out.” The Jester let loose another of his cackles. “Or should I be more accurate and say this time is running out and you need to play catch up.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Of course you don’t, that’s why I’m here, but aren’t we missing someone?”

Rob frowned. “Do you mean Michael?”

The Jester’s laugh was heartier this time. “Oh you’re so quick Rob, it astounds me. Yes, Michael, where is he indeed.”

Rob’s scowl increased and his hands clenched. “Tell me whatever it is I need to know so I can get out of here.”

“Oh Rob don’t be so impatient. There’s nothing for me to tell, you’re the one that has to find him. Is he here? Or will he be there? You need to use your intuition. But chop, chop, there’s not much time left.”

Before Rob could speak again the Jester clapped his hands and Rob felt his mind spin as the ground shifted beneath him.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Jenn Monty Week 66: Fire and Wind

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Jenn Monty’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Fire and Wind

Kat and Olivia sat in the back of a dark bar. Kat was there to drink herself into a stupor; Olivia was there to drive the resulting mess home. Kat felt the alcohol mingling with the fire in her veins. It was all she could do to keep the flames from popping up on her fingertips. There were days when being an Elemental sucked, Kat thought.

“Kat, I think you’ve had enough.” Olivia said sternly.

“I don’t. I can still feel the pain.” Kat downed the seventh shot glass on the table. Straight vodka no longer held a taste but Kat still felt the betrayal of Gavin’s kiss, which meant she wasn’t as drunk as she wanted.

“Awe damn,” Olivia mumbled under her breath.

“What?” Kat asked, not truly interested but trying to be a descent friend. Kat followed Olivia’s gaze through the crowded bar. She saw the issue and immediately sucked in a painful breath.

“Awe damn.” Kat repeated the original sentiment. She picked up the beer she’d been using to chase the shots and quickly looked in the opposite direction.

“What are you doing here, Gavin?” Olivia asked. Kat continued to watch the people sitting at the bar-proper.

“I was looking for Kat.” His voice was honey and it stabbed at Kat’s heart.

“I don’t think she wants to be found.” Olivia replied.

“Especially not by him,” Kat added without turning around.

“I think you should just leave.” Olivia said.

“Kat, would you please just look at me?” Gavin asked. “It was just one kiss.”

“Gavin – just leave. Please.” Olivia’s voice had a warning edge.

“And in my defense, I wasn’t really in control of myself; the whole vampire draw and everything…”

Kat’s head swung around and her eyes narrowed with an angry gleam, causing Gavin to stop talking mid-sentence. She glared at him then stood up and began walking toward the bar. She wobbled slightly, the seven shots of vodka taking a toll on her balance.

“Kat?” Gavin and Olivia both said her name with slight alarm. A guy looked over at the sound and Kat made eye contact, flashing her best smile. He smiled back and then shifted his eyes over her shoulder. The man swiveled in his bar stool so Kat could squeeze in next to him. He smelled awful, like cheap cologne and cigarettes.

“Hey there.” Kat playfully touched his knee.

“Hello.” He replied.

Gavin stood between the table and the bar, watching with a jealous vibe.

“Do you think I could bum a smoke?” Kat literally purred at the guy.

“Sure.” His smile widened a little more.

His eyes shot back over to Gavin as he pulled out a cigarette and handed it over. Kat licked her lips slightly and leaned over so the man could light the end. He lit the cigarette, his eyes moving between the woman in front of him and the man a few steps away.

“So, is that your boyfriend?” The guy titled his head toward Gavin.

“Nope.” Kat popped the ‘p’ for emphasis and stood up on the railing of his bar stool.

Shock registered on the man’s face as Kat leaned in and kissed him. Kat pushed all of her anger and pain into the kiss. She wanted Gavin to hurt as bad as she did. She pulled back and the man shot a victorious smile over her shoulder at Gavin.

“Thanks for the cigarette,” Kat smiled and stepped away.

“Can I get your number?” The man asked but Kat was already headed straight toward Gavin.

She knew it was a total bitch move but she just couldn’t seem to stop herself; an eye for an eye, afterall. Or at least a heart. Kat took a long drag off the cigarette and blew the smoke directly into Gavin’s face. Then she grabbed the front of his tee-shirt and pulled his face close. He wrinkled his nose at the sick smell floating off her breath.

“It was just one kiss,” Kat whispered the words.

And then she saw it – her pain in his eyes. She thought it would make her feel better but it just made her feel like a bitch; a very nauseated, drunk bitch. She let go of his shirt and stumbled back to Olivia. She fell into her seat and began flagging down the waitress.

“Gavin, she’s really drunk,” Olivia said apologetically.

“That’s obvious.” His voice was angry.

“And she’s really hurt.” Olivia shot back

“I know,” he sighed. “And I don’t know how to fix that.”

Kat tried to ignore the fact that Gavin sat down at the table. The waitress walked up to aid in Kat’s distraction.

“A shot of vodka and a fresh beer, please.” Kat saw heads shaking out of the corner of her blurry eyes.

“I think your friends are cutting you off,” the waitress said.

“Screw my friends; I’m the one paying.”

Kat pulled a twenty out of her pocket and thrust it at the uncomfortable waitress, who eyed the others before snatching the twenty and darting away. The cigarette Kat hadn’t really wanted was just ash now. She stared absently at her empty hands and started pulling up little shoots of flame, watching the flames dance as she moved my fingers.

“Kat, put the fire out.” Olivia’s voice was kind but urgent.

Kat moved my fingers again, and the flames licked the alcohol off the edge of the table.

“Kat, there’s being self destructive and then there’s just being stupid.” Gavin said as he reached for her hands. She closed them into a fists and extinguished the flames before his fingers could touch hers.

“Gavin, just leave me alone.” All of her anger was gone.

“Would you at least look at me?”

“No.”

“Why not?” She could hear his anger flaring up.

“Because when I look at you all I see is her.” Her statement lingered on the air between them.

Kat watched the bar grow darker and heard the voices fade. Finally, she thought. Finally she was drunk enough.

“Kat,” Gavin’s voice was soft in her ear. “I’m so very sorry. Please forgive me.”

Damn him. Kat’s pain flared up in a dull throb. She sat back in her chair and watched the room begin to spin. She pictured her heart wrapped in titanium and tin but it was no use; her heart melted and she slipped willingly into his arms as her friends took her home.

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Jenn Monty, also known as Brewed Bohemian, is a lover of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror and anything with "Punk" in the name. She is an avid reader and writes flash fiction at www.BrewedBohemian.blogspot.com

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Samantha Redstreake Geary Week 66: Grimm Consequence

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Samantha Redstreake Geary’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Grimm Consequence

Most fairy tales end with, “and they lived happily ever after”...

This is not one of those stories.

When my brother and I returned home, sacks bursting with food and jewels, we imagined our lives from then on would be perfect.

Our happily ever after didn’t last long.

Han’s bite from the wicked old witch never healed. He took sick, not eating, not sleeping, and the stench surrounding him grew into a choking haze, as if he was rotting away from the inside. Distraught, Papa called the doctor to come visit. The doctor said he was cursed...there was nothing he could do.

On the third day, he broke into fits of violence, forcing me to bind him to the heavy banister. He still refused to eat, and lunged towards Papa and I whenever we came near.

On the fourth day, he broke free of his bonds and his madness drove him deep into the night.

On the fifth day, the Polizei came to our home.

“What business do you have, barging into my house at this hour?” Father demands.

"Frau Bose has implicated the boy in the murder of Frau Hexe, from the Grimm woods!" the Polizei bark.

Our conniving stepmother

"That evil woman is not my wife,” Father spat as the Polizei push past him, stomping across our hearth and scattering like ants searching for sugar.

"The deceased was the grandmother of your, err...ex-wife. She found the body in the oven. Nothing was recovered from the ash,” the Polizei remarks, shaking his head in disgust. “It was a sickening sight.” He unfurls a scroll and offers it to Father. “Frau Bose has provided a description of the jewels that were stolen from the house.”

“We’ve found this, Sir, hidden under a loose floorboard.” The guard is holding our stolen velvet purse.

The Polizei inspects its contents, comparing it to the drawings. “These jewels are a match!" he says, triumph burning behind his eyes. “Seize the boy!”

“You’ll not find him here.” I tell them.

Father grabs ahold of my arms and searches my eyes for answers I cannot give. “Greta…what have you done?”

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My world is populated with all manner of speculative fiction, novel excerpts and groundbreaking collaborations with artists and composers. Unlock your imagination and step into a realm of possibility at WriterlySam.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Kimberly Gould Week 66: Fallout

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Fallout

She knew better, but put on the goggles anyway. Instantly the burned out shell of a room was furnished in leather with thick drapes hanging at the window. A man sat behind a large oak desk, writing a cheque.

“Dad?” she whispered, careful not to break the illusion the goggles had created. It was her father, as he had sat at his desk two month ago, days before the end. His secretary came in and leaned over the desk. Her father looked up, and Lori recognized the gleam in his eye, the one her mother had said meant only one thing. She didn’t want to stick around to see what they did next.

She grabbed the brass handle on the door, but her hand kept passing through it. Panic rose, until she remembered there was no handle, no door. The building was barely a shell in reality, but the goggles made everything look as it once had. That was the danger in wearing them. Anyone, anything could sneak up on her, kill her, while she lived in a fantasy. She didn’t care. She’d been the last in this cell to succomb to the elements or the radiation. Each one had worn the goggles to escape the pain of reality for a few precious minutes. They had had someone else to watch their back. Lori was alone.

Walking through the open door, Lori blinked several times. The sun was so bright! When was the last time she’d seen it without a mask of haze, fine particles swirling through the air and never settling. The sky wasn’t dusky, wasn’t grey, it was blue, crisp and clear. She laughed, unable to hold back her glee. There was the canal, the park. There were even people in it, joggers, picnics, mothers with babies. Lori sat down in the grass next to one, watching the little boy as he stumbled and staggered and laughed. Although the goggles had no sound, Lori could hear him laugh and the happiness in it filled her chest.

“Fool girl! Take those off.”

The goggles were torn from Lori’s head and she scuttled back over gravel and grit, away from the hand that held her moment’s reprieve. The goggles were still on, a soft light coming from them.

A woman stood over her. Her face bore scars and pocks, the former from an animal and the later a sign of the radiation. She had a rifle slung over her shoulder but squatted, which made Lori a little less frightened. It put the woman off balance, made them a little more equal.

“Where are your friends, girl?”

“Gone,” Lori whispered. “All gone.”

The woman nodded. “So are mine. We need to get out of here. It isn’t safe this close to the center.” She dropped the goggles in the dust. “Let’s go.” Her hand took Lori’s elbow, warm and real. Lori almost cried to feel the touch of another person again. Standing with the woman, she turned her back on the dream, on the past, and hoped to find something real worth living for.

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Kimberly Gould is the author of Cargon: Honour and Privilege, and it's sequel Duty and Sacrifice. She can be found most places as Kimmydonn, including Kimmydonn.com

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Samantha Lee Week 66: Empty Beds

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Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Empty Beds

The bed is empty. Outside snow falls relentlessly in thick fluffy clumps and frost creeps up the window's glass, silent reminders of winter's dominion. I sit in the window seat, surrounded by a mountain of cushions and buried beneath several layers of thick blankets. I'm warm and cosy, a cup of hot cocoa grasped in my hands, but the bed is empty. I'm having a hard time getting over that.

Keeley walks in. I leave my bedroom door open unless I'm in bed. Everyone I care about will walk right in regardless and everyone else knows better than to come anywhere near my room unless it's an emergency. Did that sound conceited? It's not as if I encourage that mindset; I don't punish those who dare to tread too close or have a dragon on guard or anything like that. I don't think of myself as particularly imposing. From what I gather, it's a cross between the company I keep (vampires, werewolves, and wraiths, oh my!) and what I am (Fae Queen, half-mortal, necromancer - I am a woman of many, apparently scary hats). It would be isolating, I suppose, if I didn't have so many friends and relatives both willing and able to barge in whenever they please.

Keeley, case and point.

"What's got you glum?" he asks, flopping onto the couch across the room. He's brought his own mug of something hot along with him - I learned a long time ago not to ask about his choices of drink and food - and he takes a sip, watching me over the rim as he does so.

"Did you take lessons in how to be so disconcerting?" I ask, cocking my head to one side.

He grins. "No, it's all natural. Now, you were saying about your glumness?"

"Is that a word?"

"Fi."

I sigh. "My bed is empty."

Glancing at the bed in question, Keeley nods. "So it is. I've been meaning to ask you, Fi; what's with all the white?"

I glance around at my room. It's like all the others I have and have had; white walls, white carpet, white pillows, white comforter, white furniture, piles of jungle animal plushies and lots of windows. When I was growing up, my room was a chaotic mess of jewel tones. I used to have a patchwork quilt my mother had made on my bed and my walls were mosaics depicting scenes from ancient Egyptian. After killing my father, stealing my throne, and placing me in captivity, my stepmother burned the quilt and took a hammer to mosaics, ruining them all. When I was freed, I'd woken in a room that was a close replica to that of my childhood. I couldn't take it; I'd destroyed it myself, shredding the quilt, smashing the walls, tearing up the carpet. It would have been impressive if it hadn't been so sad, not to mention psychologically telling.

"White is clean," I tell Keeley. "It's blank, it's sterile, and, most importantly of all, it reflects light like nobody's business. "

Keeley raises one eyebrow and casts a suspicious look my way. "Your mate is a vampire," he points out.

I shrug and counter, "I'm a sun elf," just barely keeping the irony out of my voice.

Keeley shrugs. "It's also very...white. A little on the asylum side, don't you think?"

"Hence the plushies," I point out defensively, plucking up a white elephant with red polka dots from the nearest pile. It's name is Misfit and, two centuries ago, it was a Christmas gift from Keeley. "They balance things out some, no?"

Keeley just shakes his head.

"Not that it's not nice to see you," I say, "but is there a reason for your visit or were you just missing me?"

"Yes and yes," he answers. "I've come to solve your empty bed dilemma."

It's my turn for raised eyebrows and skeptical looks. "Keeley, I love you but I'm mated."

Keeley rolls his eyes. "Fi, I love you too, but you're not my type. Or my species, for that matter. I was actually referring to the fact that Tru called."

"Called? On the phone you mean?"

He nods. "Anti-climatic, isn't it? Makes me almost miss the days of magic mirrors and crystal balls and such. Anyway, he's suffering from empty bed syndrome just the same as you are so he's told the mortals he misses mate and they'll just have to postpone their meeting indefinitely. He's on his way home. Should be here by tomorrow night, travel and portals permitting."

On the inside, I do a little happy dance and cheer. On the outside, I grin and fist pump like a total dweeb, but at least it's not the full happy dance of pure embarrassment. Lucky for me, Keeley just chuckles.

"Will you keep me company tonight?" I ask him.

With a shrug, he shifts himself from the couch to the bed, sprawling out dramatically despite the tangled mess I've left it in since morning. "Your wish is my command, your majesty. Besides," he adds, waggling his eyebrows for effect, "you know how I love to cuddle."

I roll my eyes and chuck Misfit at him. "No one likes to be alone, you cornball."

"No," he agrees, "we don't."

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Lizzie Koch Week 66: The Dare

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Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice:

Title: The Dare

This is exactly what Karen didn’t want to happen but knew it would after an entire night of watching horror movies; the dare to enter the old abandoned building on the outskirts of town. And of course, laughing hard at the unimaginable horrors of the victims in the movies didn’t do Karen any favours. She was first to get the dare. It was so banal too, them choosing midnight, with a full moon. But Karen shrugged it all off; movies were movies, full of clich├ęs, made to entertain even from behind the cushion.

The wired fence was easy to clamber over and Karen, with only the moon’s light, waved to her friends with a beaming smile before skipping towards the imposing building. The wooden steps creaked under her weight, breaking the silent night. Her bravado slipped away like a veil as much to her dismay, the door opened slowly. She could hear the jeers and laughter from her friends but didn’t turn to face them. Instead she walked into darkness.

Patches of light forced its way through the dusty windows, revealing avocado and cream walls, peeling in places. Long forgotten pictures hung, the subject obscured by a thick layer of dust and grime. A trolley left in the hallway completed the image of sudden abandonment. If this was a movie, she would expect zombies outside, maybe even behind the large white door. She walked along the corridor towards the door, her gentle footsteps echoing softly, spying the crucifix above.

A shrill scream pierced the silence. Karen jumped, a small scream coming from her as she spun around. She was alone. Again, the shattering scream seemed to fill the whole building. Karen looked towards the white door, reaching out, touching the handle. The screaming stopped. The door wouldn’t budge. Pressing her ear against the door, Karen strained to hear behind it. Silence met her.

“I know it’s you Adrian,” she whispered to herself, “I know you’re trying to spook me! Well it’s not working!” she shouted to the whole building. “Idiot,” she uttered to herself, turning her attention back to the door, fiddling with the handle, wanting to see the other side.

Footsteps, clipped against the tiles, steady down the corridor. Her grip on the handle froze. Gingerly, Karen turned her head. The moon cast odd shaped shadows against the walls but darkness loomed at the end of the corridor. The footsteps continued and Karen waited, holding her breath for the owner to appear in the strips of moonlight. Closer they came. But there was no one. The steps were right in front of her. The hairs on her arms and back of her neck stood on end and a chill shivered down her spine. The screaming started again. The footsteps quickened. A door opened then closed. The screaming stopped. Shaking with fear, Karen realised the only door along the corridor was the white one she was crouched in front of. It hadn’t opened.

She was alone.

Without hesitation, Karen ran, following the corridor round, looking for a way out. Frantically, she tried a door but it stood fast. Continuing to run, she didn’t stop even when she bumped into discarded trolleys that once carried patients. She flew round the corner and stopped suddenly. There in front of her was the white door. It couldn’t be the same one! She hadn’t run full circle. But the crucifix above the door stared down. Footsteps echoed behind her, the steady, clipping against the tiles as before. She spun round but no one was there. Wailing came from behind the door. The lights above her began to flicker on and off. The footsteps grew louder. Karen ran. She followed the corridor again but this time noticing a stairway. She flew up the stairs, turned, ran and stopped.

The same white door.

Footsteps. Wailing.

Flickering lights.

Even the pictures were now askew. Karen screamed, her heart pounding heavily against her chest, her eyes wide as she hysterically looked for another way, whimpering like a child. She ran towards the white door, shoulder first but she bounced off, hitting the floor, sliding backwards.

She was plunged into darkness as the clouds became her enemy, blanketing her ally. Footsteps started to tap against the tiles as she scrambled up against the door. Closer they came. Slowly, the moon appeared, chasing shadows away. Standing at the end of a corridor stood a suited figure. He began to walk; clipped steps against the tiles. Karen held her breath as the figure approached. A waxen face stared through her. His hand reached out towards the handle, passing through Karen. A silent scream left her lips as he walked right through her, disappearing through the other side. She froze to the spot as the wailing started again, accompanied by a staccato of fearful words . . .no . . . .no . . . leave me. . .

Trembling, Karen slid to the floor, still grasping the handle to a solid, steadfast door. Even the padding of footsteps didn’t make her move; her energy spent, her fear evaporated along with hope.

“Karen!” The voice shouted. Adrian yelled again and again. A torch beam shone down the corridor, falling on Karen. Adrian ran. “Hey, we’ve been looking for you and you’re sitting on your arse as usual. Hey? What’s wrong?” He knelt down beside her, touching her hands. They were stone cold. Unaware that she had been crying, Adrian wiped away a tear from her ice cold cheeks. “What happened?”

“I . . . . I . . . got lost,” was all she could muster. She wasn’t sure what had happened. But she knew Adrian would find out when they tried to leave.

“Lost? Come on. I think you did your dare. You know this used to be a psychiatric hospital. No one ever left so the story goes, unless in a box. But it was closed down as they were using illegal treatments, resulting in death. Some say patients can still be heard screaming.” Karen felt her body collapse under her. “Steady,” Adrian joked as he held her up, guiding her along the corridor. But she knew they would be back right here and then he would understand, his words etched in her mind . . . . . . no one ever left. . .

But the front door was ahead of them, ajar where their friends huddled, waiting. With urgency and self preservation, Karen ran towards the door, afraid it would close on her, falling into her friends. She carried on to the fence, scrambling over where she landing with a thud, staring up at the building. She felt herself warming up by the second but didn’t feel settled, even as they walked away, Karen had a feeling she was being watched, a feeling she wasn’t meant to have escaped. She reluctantly turned her head and at the window, the suited man stood.

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I dream of sharing my work with the big wide world one day as a published author. Right now, I share flash fiction with a wonderful community of writers and friends. If you liked this story, then why not visit my blog at http://40somethingundomesticateddevil.blogspot.co.uk/ for more. Thank you. Love Lizzie x

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ruth Long Week 65: Blue Jean Regime - Part Three

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Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: Blue Jean Regime - Part Three

The skeletal fingers of daybreak pried his eyelids open. Best sleep he'd had since the world went to hell. Maybe because of the secure room. Maybe due to having his girls within arm's reach. Maybe thanks to the celebratory champagne. Whatever the reason, sleep was precious and he was mighty thankful for it.

Over on the bed, Haley and Eden were snuggled up and snoring. Cute. Noisy, but cute. Hadn't had time last night for chit-chat or goodnight kisses. Soon as he'd secured the room and the baby had nursed, they'd popped the champagne, taken a swig right from the bottle, and collapsed in a tired heap - Haley on the bed and him in the reclining chair, because he'd had this strange, maybe misguided, notion that it was a grand gesture.

Lots to do today, so he hustled through the shower, packed the baby supplies in mesh laundry bags he'd found in the closet, and did a quick inventory of his gear. He was putting a fresh clip in the little bully when he heard the baby stirring.

He scooped her up, popped her on his shoulder, and carried her to the window. "See that out there, darlin'? That's the world. It's got a great big warm sun, fluffy floating clouds, and flowers almost as pretty as you. Now, there's some bad stuff out there too, but don't you worry none. Me and your Uncle Donovan are making a nice safe place for you."

"Uncle Donovan, is he?" Haley's sleepy voice drifted across the room.

He turned and grinned at her. "Yeah, I figure he deserves an honorary title for putting up with me all these years. Plus, he really put his shoulder to the plow when all this crap went down."

"Well then, I guess 'Uncle Donovan' it is. Come on you two," she said, patting the bed. "Time for a fresh diaper. Here. I'll show you how to --"

"I got this, girl! My sis had me running diaper drills and practicing infant cpr."

Her forehead wrinkled. "Did she think I was going to be totally incompetent?"

He unwrapped Eden's blanket and unfastened her pjs. "No. She just wanted me to have some practical knowledge in case we had to prove my competence in court. You know, if I ended up having to fight for custody and visitation rights. I'm trying real hard not to say anything hurtful or disrespectful about your mom but I want you to know the kind of stuff I've been dealing with the last few months."

Without responding, she got up and headed for the restroom, closing the door behind her.
He looked down at Eden. "Okay, kiddo. Let's do this. Wet diaper off. Wipe you down. Clean diaper on. Tape you up. Snap you up. And 'tada' we are back in business! Soon as mama gets dressed, we're gonna go check out the great outdoors."

Took some patience to wait for her, feeling anxious because of what he'd said and restless because the day was getting away from them. Anytime her mama came up in conversation, things were gonna get dicey. He'd have to find a way to be honest about his experiences and yet conscious and respectful of hers too.

Soon as she came back into the room, wet hair coiled up on her head, dressed in fresh clothes and smelling of peaches, he smiled at her, mouth gentle, anxiety in check, and temper tamped down. "Come on. Help me get Eden taped to my chest and we'll head out. Want to do a bit of shopping before we land at base camp."

She moved past him and lifted Eden off the bed. "So, stores are still operating?"

The question echoed inside his head but he didn't answer. He was somewhere else at the moment.  All those months missing her, not knowing whether he'd ever see her or their child. And here she was, sweet and hesitant as ever, smelling like she had that night. Damn it. He wanted her beneath him, beside him, astride him. Now.

Her hand brushed his arm. "Jonas? Are you okay?"

He shook off the memory and ache. She'd just had a baby and the world they'd known was shattered. Now was not the time to remember those lean thighs and throaty sighs."Yeah. Sure. About the stores, we don't shop so much as loot. Go in, take what we need."

She handed him Eden and made the first pass of duct tape around his ribs. "Maybe we could leave an IOU. Like that time we took apples from Mr. Frazier's fruit stand."

Her proximity was intoxicating. Made it hard to think. With the right head, anyway. "No. See, things are different now. Stores aren't going to be back in business anytime soon. Life isn't going back to normal. Hell, there is no more normal. We need to think about Eden, about what she needs now and in the coming months, and get it while we can."

She paused, hands resting just above his waistline. "I wasn't sure whether or not I should call you, whether you'd want to come down here to help, whether you'd want to see our baby. But I was wrong, wasn't I? All this, being apart, feeling lost and alone, it was my fault wasn't it? For listening to my mom, for letting her control the situation."

"She's your mama," he said, belly clenched but voice calm. "It's only natural that you -"
She interrupted him, eyes narrowed, hands biting into his torso. "Why do you keep making excuses for me?"

How could she ask that? He hauled her close, hipbone to hipbone, and kissed her. Not sloppy like a dime store romeo but not tender like a gentleman either. When he drew back, her mouth was plump and plum colored.

He stepped back, took the roll of duct tape out her hand and said, "We better get going."

He shrugged into his coat, buttoned it up over Eden, and reached for his gear. A few moments later, they were moving down the empty hall, slow and quiet. Made it down the stairwell, through the door into the foyer. Area was clear but in the next breath, a zombie was coming across the tile, heading for them and closing fast.

Not enough time or room for the rifle. Just as he raised the bully, the rotting skull struck the metal barrel. He pulled the trigger and pushed against the body with his elbow, trying to shift the dead weight to one side so it wouldn't pin him as it fell.

Haley was sandwiched between him and the stairwell door. "Why was it moving so fast? That was fast right?"

He was trying to catch his breath and scanning the area for more hostiles. "Must have just eaten. They're faster and stronger right after they eat."

She pushed him out of her way, roughly. "Okay, for reference, that's one of those things that should be at the top of the 'Need To Know' list!"

He eyed her."You're pissed at me?"

"No. Well, yeah. I hate not knowing how to take care of myself. And what if that thing had bitten you? I'd have had to kill it and you. Do you know what that would do to me? Don't you dare get bit, Jonas!"

"And we're right back to rule number one. Don't get bit. And immediately following that, I should have mentioned the cautionary 'beware the freshly fed zed.' My apologies."

Her scowl relaxed and she turned to observe the foyer and beyond, to the sidewalk and his truck. "You got your grandpa's truck running?"

He smiled and his pulse sped up for a moment. "Yep. Good thing too. Been pretty handy having a beast like that this week. See how Bobby welded screens over the windows? Saved me and Donvan a dozen times already. Still looking for a new fuel cell, but otherwise, it's a champ. Let's get inside while the coast is clear."

Outside, it was one of those early fall days where the sun was high and the breeze playing hide-and-seek. Hot and a little humid. It was quiet though, that kind of strange still silence that rings in your ears.

They got the truck loaded up and headed out of the parking lot without any hindrances and a short time later, they were crossing town, headed for Bradleys, the local department store.

With the exception of her surprise over the babyseat he'd had waiting in the truck, Haley didn't say much. He let her take it in the horror of seeing the devastation without coloring her observations with his opinions.

Only time she made mention of something was when they passed the ornate church where her father's funeral had been held nearly a year ago.  

When they arrived at the shopping center and found the front doors smashed through, his belly knotted up. No telling how many zeds were inside. Add that to the danger of other looters and they could be in real trouble.

He didn't like the idea of getting trapped somewhere. Still, they needed some things the girls couldn't do without right now. Damn it. Rock or hard place.

He'd have to take the hard place. Who knew if this building would be standing tomorrow, or next week? And nobody was going to be restocking the shelves any time soon so there really wasn't any choice.

He said, "Remember how you had to opt out of driver's ed?"

She nodded, mouth turned down. "Yes. Another fine memory of senior year."

"Well, you're about to get your first lesson. We need to get inside the store, get what we need, and get back out, quick and easy. Only way to do it with any hope of being successful and safe as possible, is if you drive and I play stock boy."

"No," she said, voice high and tight, mouth a grim line. "I don't know how to - "

"Stop right there. Aren't you the girl who just bitched me out because she didn't know how to take care of herself? Well this is where we start changing that. It's simple as mud pies, sugar. Big pedal means go. Little pedal means stop."

Her hand absently patted Eden's cheek. "Okay. Let me go around the parking lot once and then we'll go inside."

He considered it. Might be good to let her get a feel for things. Course, the noise and motion might attract zeds. "Once around the parking lot, then we'll make a go of Operation Diaper Swipe."

They traded seats and took two turns around the lot because her confidence might mean the difference between getting away and getting dead or worse.

When they were lined up at the far end of the lot, he got out of the truck, came round to her side and said, "Leave this window rolled down just enough that you can hear me. You drive through the big outer square of the store and I'll ride on the bed, grab what's on the list, and pitch stuff in as we go past it. Don't honk unless you see something serious. Got it."

"We can do this, right? I mean, we're going to be okay, aren't we?"

He put his fingers through the small squares of the window's protective screen to meet hers. "You bet. But if something happens, Haley, you need to know two things. First of all, anything happens to me, you go right to the gym. Donovan is waiting for us there. You show up alone, he knows what to do. Trust him, okay?"

She blinked away tears. "Okay. What's the second thing?"

He swung up into the truck bed, heart racing. "You know what it is."

She caught his gaze in the side mirror, held it a long moment, and then headed down the blacktop toward the store.

Somebody must have come in the same way, because the opening was large enough for them to fit through easily, the two checkout lanes directly ahead of them were mowed down, and the center aisles were fairly clear.

He didn't need to look at his list. Knew the items by heart. Knew where they were located. Felt optimistic they could get in and out in under ten minutes. Had a rifle on his back and a pair of guns on his hip.

She took the first turn a little wide, shoving a shelf about three feet over but the noise wasn't too bad and he signaled her to keep going. First location was just ahead. Personal supplies.

He hopped off the truck and began tossing stuff into the truck bed. Feminine supplies. Soap. Deodorant. Toothpaste. Condoms.

Next turn and he was scooping up what dried foods and fresh water were left on the shelves. Felt bad about taking the last of the water but better to feel that regret now than later when Eden might need it.

Third turn and he headed for infant items. Diapers. Wipes. Formula. Baby food. Clothes. Blankets. This was less organized. Couldn't take the time to consult with Haley so went by mental braille.

Baby swing? Yes. Potty Chair? No. Wait, yes. Stroller? No. Yes? Damn it. Teething rings? Probably yes.

Finally decided to call it good when he checked his watch and saw they'd been inside fifteen minutes. Five longer than he'd wanted to be.

He hopped in the bed and told her to head to the front. As they took that last corner, his eye caught the 'women's apparel' sign. He thumped on the back window. "Hold up a minute."

He swung over the tailgate, hit the floor, and went to the back wall of the dressing room. His hand was on the item he wanted when he heard the truck backing up, knocking down clothing racks and then, to his horror, hitting the dressing room wall.

He came around the corner at a full run, worried that looters had overtaken Haley and the truck, and nearly collided with a group of zeds. His feet hit the bumper, skidded across the contents of the truckbed, and landed on the floor opposite the zeds.

Hopping up into the truck, he slammed the door and shouted, "Let's go!"

She hit the gas and they shot through a display of underwear and pajamas. "I can't do this! You need to get over here and drive!"

Much as he wanted to, he couldn't let her off that easy. She had to know, by experience, that she could hold her own. That's what she'd asked for and he wasn't going to let her down. "Those zeds are still close enough to be a threat. Specially if another group comes stumbling over. You're about lined up with the front door now so hit the gas and go! You got this!"

She floored it and the truck lurched forward, slamming through a row of jeans and a rack of candy before hurtling through the front door opening and across the parking lot to the street. Once there, she put it in park, leaned over the steering wheel, and burst into tears.

Gut in knots, he got out and went around to her door. "Hey. Baby. We're okay. Look at us! Looting Barleys in the broad daylight. But why the hell did you back up in there?"

She opened the door, dropped from the seat, and stepped into his open arms. "Got scared. You disappeared around that corner and I couldn't see you."

As he pulled her close, something fell out of his pocket. The noise caught her attention and she looked down.

Next thing he knew, she was swinging at him, her fist glancing off his jaw, eyes wild and mouth full of swear words. "You bastard!"

He backed up out of range of her arms. "What the hell are you talking about?"

She bent, snatched up the fallen item and held it up. "Condoms?! You risked our lives, and the life of our child, for condoms?! Stupid son-of-a-bitch!"

Heart hammering like a freight train going uphill, he ran for her, pinned her hands behind her back and shoved her up against the side of the truck, holding her there with one hand and reaching into his coat with the other.

"No, babydoll," he said, mouth close to her ear. "Those condoms were the first thing I put in the truck. I'm eighteen. I'm in love. There's not a moment of the day I'm not thinking about sex. With you. Only you. Always you. And that's why I went back for these ..."

He stepped back, freeing her and holding up a pair of bunny slippers, as white and clean as new fallen snow.

There wasn't much in this screwed up world he could do to make life feel good or safe. The best he could do was try his damndest to make his girls feel loved and secure in his arms and in his heart. And if that meant getting his hands on a pair of furry animal slippers, then zeds be damned, that’s was what he was going to do.  

As he stood there under the sweltering autumn sun, the girl he loved hugging him as though life was an ocean and he was a life preserver, he knew that as long as he drew breath, he would  chase down every last pair of bunny slippers, pink satin ballet shoes, and whatever-the-hell-else the strong beautiful vexing women in his life needed.

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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, September 21, 2013

JB Lacaden Week 65: Longing

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JB Lacaden’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Longing

I open my eyes and I wake up to a brand new day. In an instant, the pain washes over me like a huge tidal wave. My head feels like it's being split open by a vodka flavored butcher knife. I close my eyes but all it does is bring me to darkness and in the darkness I see her face swimming. The pain's coming from all over and I'm not sure if I'm just imagining some of them or not. It scares me. I scare me.

I feel like throwing up and crying and screaming all at the same time. Everything's wrong. Her not being here is wrong. It hurts. The strong feeling of longing floods my chest and they pour out of my eyes. My cheeks burn with tears and I do nothing to wipe them away. Her side of the bed's untouched. It has been for five months now. Five fucking months and the pain's as strong as it was during day one.

At around this time, the smell of pancakes should be drifting all around. My small studio apartment is supposed to be filled with the sound of The Beatles. At around this time, she's supposed to be waking me up with a kiss on the cheek. And if that didn't work, she'd try kissing me on the lips. And if that didn't work, she'd just lie on the bed with me - her arms wrapped around me. Most of the times, I just pretended to be asleep still just so I'd be able to be with her for a few more minutes.

Funny how life turns everything upside down. It dangles a shiny object in front of you and you get attracted to it. You chase after it and when you have finally caught up, life pulls it up and takes you with it. You’re flying! But in a blink of an eye you’re no longer holding on to anything. You’re flying but you’re falling. You know? Falling starts off just like that. You thought you’re flying at first but you’re actually plummeting down at the speed of gravity. Then splat! You’re pancake on the pavement. One minute you’re at cloud nine, the next you’re getting drunk every night and crying or throwing up or both the next morning.

I force myself up. Today’s a Wednesday. I drag myself out of bed and I walk towards the bathroom. I feel myself crumbling away - pieces of me cracking and falling to the ground. Five months and nothing's changing. They say time fixes everything but I feel like the hands of time right now has arthritis. Sometimes, I wish for the brand new days to never come. But I’m scared to off myself. I’ve been thinking about it. God knows how much I’ve been considering the idea. But I guess I just don’t have the balls to do it and I wake up to another god forsaken brand new day.

I turn off the shower and I dry myself with a white towel. Inside my bedroom I start putting on my work clothes. At around this time, she's supposed to be tying my tie around my neck. This time, I do it myself. I tighten the knot and I take an aspirin for my headache. I walk to a small drawer sitting at the foot of my bed. I strike a match and I light a big fat candle sitting on top the drawer. I place the candle beside her photograph. Her smile’s been the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It always will be.

At around this time, she's supposed to be giving a kiss goodbye before I leave for work. But not this time.

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JB Lacaden dreams of someday being a published writer. He currently resides in Manila, Philippines. He's a lover of comic books, science fiction, and high fantasy. Check out some of his works at http://www.jblearnstowrite.com/ and follow him at @jblearnstowrite.

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