Thursday, October 30, 2014

Michela Walters Week 123: Two Lives

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Michela Walters’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Two Lives

“We can’t keep doing this, Ramón.” Claudia mumbled, her discouraged voice barely carrying across the windswept patio.

His thick Catalan accent replied tersely from across their table. “Of course we can. Once you get rid of that-- how do you say-- idiot of a husband, you could come be with me all the time in Barcelona.”

Once again, her lover had oversimplified their situation. It was one thing to causally hook up at conferences, like the first time they’d met four years ago and an entirely other thing to actually plan to meet in Turkey when she alone was here for business. The guilt of her subversive actions had been taking its toll on her ever since Ramón had stepped up his courting from monthly to weekly. Her husband was beginning to wonder why her work was dragging her away from dinner and their movie nights. Claudia couldn’t tell him “oh that’s just the tall, dark and handsome man I met at a conference. The one who I’ve been fucking all over the globe for the last four years.” Yeah, she didn’t think that would go over well. Things had been so casual for years. It was merely a discreet tryst when they’d both happen to be in the same city for trade shows or conferences they regularly attended. The situation had oddly ramped up in the last six months with Ramón seeking her out more often, culminating in the trip to Turkey where he had no business being.

“Claudia, look at me.”

She finally turned away from the sea to look into his expressive eyes. “You know why I can’t. I have a life in Miami, my family, friends. You’re a great lover, but I vowed to never move for a man, and I refuse to do that now.” Claudia winced at the utter shock littering Ramón’s face. It was as if she wielded a sword and sliced him in two.

Standing, he withdrew from her touch as she tried to reach out to soothe him. “If that is all I am to you, then I think you’re right. We shouldn’t keep doing this, as my heart is invested far too much.

The wind picked up, blowing her hair in front of her eyes, shielding her from having to witness this man. This amazing specimen of sexy machismo that drew her in like no one ever had. Blinding her from having to see him be vulnerable and depressed. It was more than she could bear, yet she also knew it had to end. She loved her life in Miami, her job running the global marketing division of Beleza Cosmetics. Her fling with Ramón added a splash of adventure that had been missing in her, ships passing in the night, marriage. It was never meant to last as long as it did and the guilt was consuming her. When Mario and her had finally had a week straight of being home at the same time, they’d talked, reconnected and even spoke about starting a family. Something she couldn’t do without cutting the cord of her relationship with her lover.

“I’m married.” She exhaled as if admitting it was hard work. “You’ve always known that, and I never offered anything more than what we have.”

Ramón took two steps towards the door, before pausing as if carefully considering his last words. “That is your choice, love. But once I’m done, I’m done -- so be confident in your decision before I leave -- for I won’t look back.” He started for the exit and Claudia let him walk out of her life, hoping she wouldn’t someday regret it.


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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:


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sarah Aisling Week 123: A Measure of Grace (Part 17): My Girl

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 17): My Girl

Eric doesn’t believe you’re immune.

My mind seems incapable of comprehending five simple words. As the resulting void expands, echoes ping back.

The dream I had of Mike reminding me I left him alone, that we belonged together until death, and his repeated lament of “She cheated.”

Mom sobbing because Katie didn’t come with me to Florida.

The bee sting dream I had when I visited Mom just before the virus broke out.

My mother behind the fence with the enemy.

Finding out Garth Kasabian is the lead scientist for the alliance.

It all swirls into a tornado, moving faster and faster, until the picture suddenly freezes and comes into painful focus.

My mother knew the virus was coming.

She called Katie and me to visit her in an attempt to protect us. When I woke from the bee sting dream, Mom was sitting on the edge of my bed. She must have injected me with the vaccine. That’s why I got to watch my entire family fall to pieces around me, why I had to bury my twin, why I was left alone to navigate this new reality.

The impact of this revelation breaks me.


Max grabs for me, but I slip away, leaping off the bed.

“Marie . . .”

“Don’t! Oh my God! Oh . . . God.” I tear at my hair and stumble across the room, curling into a ball facing a corner.

Max crouches beside me but keeps his hands to himself. “Please don’t worry. I’ll fix this.”

“Fix it?” My voice is shrill. “Nobody can do that.” Wrapping my arms tighter around myself, I rock slowly.

Grace whimpers from across the room.

“I can. I will.”

It dawns on me that Max isn’t talking about the same thing I am. “You can’t bring my sissy back!” I yell. Part of me knows I’m being unfair to him, but I’m too destroyed inside to care.

“What?” The surprise shows on his face. When I continue to cry, he tentatively touches my arm. “Talk to me. Please.”

“The bee wasn’t a bee at all. She saved me and condemned Katie! Mike said I belonged with him, that she cheated, and now I know what he was referring to!” I babble on.

“Come here.” Max tugs me toward him gently, wrapping his arms around me. Part of me wants to push away, but I can’t. He feels too good, his affection doled out so selectively. I allow my body to lean into his. “You’re scaring the shit out of me. Tell me what you mean.”

I take a few deep breaths to calm myself enough to talk. “My mom knew the virus was coming—I don’t know how. That’s why she wanted me to visit her in Florida. I’m pretty sure the bee sting dream was her vaccinating me. Max, my God . . . she let Katie die! I should have died, too. Instead, I had to bury my family, one by one, until I was the lone survivor.”

Max lets out a string of curses that would make a truck driver do a double-take. Still swearing, he stands us up and pulls me so close, it’s difficult to draw a full breath. His fingers tangle in my hair. We’re so entwined, I’m not sure where I end and he begins.

“So sorry I misunderstood you. I can’t bring Katie back, but I am going to save you. After you came along and broke through my defenses, I’ll be damned if anything will get in our way.” His voice breaks. “You’re my girl.”

Hearing those words from Max is like sunbeams breaking through a tempest. Despite my grief, warmth blooms inside me.

“Say it again.”

“Which part?”

“That I’m your girl.”

Max loosens his hold and cups my face, his eyes afire with tenderness. “You’re my girl.” He rubs a thumb over my bottom lip. “My girl . . . and I won’t let anything happen to you.”

I gaze up at him, my bereaved heart filling with a joy that repels the loneliness and sense of betrayal weighing on me. And I believe him when he says he’s going to save me even though logic suggests otherwise.

“I believe you.”

An indescribable change takes place in his sea-glass eyes just before his lips touch mine, one that says he’s not used to hearing declarations such as this. Max wraps his arm around my shoulders, his large palm cradling the back of my head. His kiss is both gentle and possessive, passionate and hungry. I melt into his embrace, slipping my arms around his waist, and give myself over to whatever is happening between us—because something vital is taking place even if I can’t give a name to it in this moment.

Max turns us, backing me slowly toward the bed until I sit down. He leans over me, keeping our lips connected, and braces his arms on the mattress on either side of me. His tongue teases against mine then delves deeper, sending a blinding burst of desire through me. I claw at his bare skin, finding purchase on his broad shoulders, and kiss him back, pouring everything I feel for him into it.

Releasing my lips, he licks and sucks along my jaw and down the side of my neck. My mouth opens wordlessly, and I dig my nails deeper into his shoulders. Max groans and nips my sensitive skin between his teeth.

“Oh . . .” I gasp.

He pulls away and kneels on the floor, looking up at me. The pads of his fingers draw a line of fire where his lips and teeth just traveled, ending along the ridge of my clavicle. He takes my hand and flips it, bending his head to place a kiss in the heart of my palm, then holds it against his cheek.

“Nobody’s ever believed in me before. I’ve never had . . . someone special.” His fingers trail over my breastbone to play with the filmy ribbon along the neckline of my shirt. Our eyes meet, and he deliberately tugs an end, never looking down as the loosened laces spread apart, baring cleavage.

My heart beats wildly as he slips his hand underneath, dragging his fingers along the scalloped edge of my bra.

Max cups the nape of my neck, tugging me forward for a kiss. “You’re so damn beautiful.” He rests his forehead against mine. “I want to touch you . . . everywhere.”

I swallow hard, unable to speak. There’s nothing I want more than to have Max’s hands all over me.

He must see something in my eyes. “We won’t do anything you don’t want, China. Say the word, and I’ll back off.”

I nod.

Max fingers the edge of my shirt then lifts it slowly, giving me plenty of time to protest. I raise my arms, allowing him to remove it. He presses soft kisses over my bare shoulder as he slips an arm behind me and works my bra open. The straps slip down my arms, and the sharpness of the cool air teases my sensitive nipples, causing me to gasp.

Max’s lids flutter closed as he explores my skin with his lips and tongue and fingertips. He pays attention to every inch of my upper body—lips wandering, tongue tasting, hands roaming.

“Lie back.”

As I inch up the bed, Max kneels on the mattress, moving with me. He palms my breasts, kneading gently before sliding down to skim the curve of my waist. His fingers toy with the button of my jeans. When I don’t protest, he undoes it and tugs the denim down my legs. My shoes are already missing, and the jeans slip off easily.

Max’s gaze roams slowly up my form, taking in my mostly naked body. My face heats, and I resist the urge to cross my arms. Instead, I take the opportunity to examine him.

The flickering candlelight creates undulating shadows over his muscular arms and chest, bringing the vine of roses winding over his skin to life. His flat stomach has ridges of muscle leading to a trail of downy hair. My gaze halts below his leather belt and flashes up to his face. He watches me with a faint smirk.

Max stretches out next to me on his side, running an index finger along the top of my shoulder, eliciting a small shiver. I trace the vine leading from his shoulder over his left pec then lean in to press a kiss over his heart. A shiver works through his body, and Max strokes my hair gently. Urging me onto my side, he kisses me deeply, pressing the bare skin of our chests together. The feel of him against me is intoxicating. His palm slides down my back to rest over my silky panties, applying gentle pressure as his hips rock forward. The rough denim against my sensitive skin causes a delicious tingle to start at the apex of my thighs, spreading warmth into my belly.

Max reaches between us and unbuckles his belt, pushing his jeans down and wiggling out of them. He flexes his hips again, and there's no mistaking how hard he is. I wind my leg around Max's, bringing us closer, and revel in the harsh breath he releases.

We roll until I’m on my back with Max hovering above me. Our lips meet in a searing kiss, and I gasp softly when Max tugs at my panties. I know it’s irrational, but this is my last scrap of fabric, and I suddenly feel shy.

He presses tender kisses along my jaw, pausing at the sensitive spot beneath my ear. “You can tell me to stop.” His breath is hot against my neck.

When I don’t protest, Max shimmies the panties down my legs, using his foot to push them completely off.

Tingles prickle all over, my breaths growing shallow.

I’m naked. With Max.

He slides down to my feet and begins with nibbling kisses along the arches. He explores every expanse, dip, and curve with his lips, tongue, and fingers as he makes his way slowly up my body. I stiffen as his warm breath ghosts the tops of my thighs, and he continues past the place where I both want him to go and fear that he will. He flicks his tongue against my hipbone and nestles his lips against my navel.

I curl my fingers in his soft hair and wish it were longer. I’d love to see him as he was before and to know what prompted him to cut it off.

Max’s eyes are closed as he travels higher, and I watch his face while he samples my skin, touching and tasting. It’s like he’s memorizing me.

“Turn over.” His voice is low and gravelly.

My pulse throbs in my temples and throat, and I wonder what he’s planning but silently obey. He repeats his exploration up the backs of my legs, palming my ass with a soft chuckle when I wiggle around. The combination of his rough hands and velvety tongue dragging slowly along each vertebrae of my spine and the prominence of my scapula liquefies my insides. When he reaches the nape of my neck and sucks the tender skin between his lips, I writhe beneath him.

“Beautiful,” he whispers. “I want to look at you now.”

“But you just—“

“Did all that with my eyes closed, to learn your body. Now I want to explore you with my eyes.”

“Max . . .” A blush blooms over my neck and face.

He presses his body against mine, and I feel every hard inch of him. “I just licked and fondled every part of you—well, almost every part. Don't get shy on me.”

When he puts it that way . . . He lifts off me, and I flip over.

“You did have your eyes closed.” I point out.

Max straddles my legs and gazes at me with a mixture of heat and amusement. He’s still wearing black boxer briefs, and it’s quite apparent how much he wants me. “Don’t be embarrassed.” He traces a finger along my flaming cheek. “You’re exquisite. It’s been a long, long time since I wanted anyone.”

Max’s eyes are darker than usual, more green than blue, and he uses the intensity of his gaze the same way as his touch—caressing and exploring my body, eliciting heat and tingling without laying a finger on me. Somehow, I end up feeling more exposed than before.

He reaches for my hands and places them on his abs. I trace the contours of his muscles, rising higher to his pecs, and end up following the vines tattooed over the skin of his shoulder and arm with my index finger.

Max’s breath shudders, and his lids flutter closed. “Your touch is like heaven.” When he opens his eyes again, pure desire emanates from his darkened irises. He slides the boxers off and covers me with his muscled body, peppering kisses along my jaw. “Tell me if you want to stop.”

Max nudges my legs apart with his knee and fits himself into the cradle of my thighs. I long to say something profound, but words escape me. I only know that I want him. He doesn’t give his heart easily, and I’m honored he feels so close to me, to know I’ve become part of his world.

Max kisses me, his tongue playing against mine. His hips shift forward—a little more and he’ll be inside me. “Tell me.” His voice is hoarse, the muscles of his shoulders going rigid under my fingers.


“It’s okay if you’re not ready.”

I grip his waist, digging my nails in lightly. “I want you, Max. Don’t stop.”

“China . . .” My nickname is a low rumble in his throat.

Max presses forward, melding us together. His movements are slow and deep, and so are his kisses. He touches all the spots that make me squirm, paying special attention to the place our bodies are joined.

“God . . .” So much sensation flows through me, I can’t manage coherent thoughts or words.

“Look at me.”

Our eyes meet, adding yet another layer to the desire burning inside me. His gaze is so intense as he watches me with unabashed lust and bites his lip.

“Hold on to me.”

I do as he says, my fingers roaming over the hot skin of his shoulders to grip his sweat-damp hair. We find our own special rhythm, gazes locked, until the very end when we both fall. The sensations are too intense, and I lose control, crying out to him, my eyes scrunching closed.

In the aftermath, I’m left limp and exhausted in Max’s embrace. This shouldn’t surprise me because Max does everything with intensity. He doesn’t trust or give his heart easily; it stands to reason he’d make love the same way. The knowledge makes me feel incredibly special.

On the heels of this thought, I experience a small epiphany. Kissing Mike never elicited such passion. Mike’s touch didn’t burn my skin. Making love to him was pleasurable but could never compare to what Max and I just shared.

This line of thought feels disloyal, and a tear slides over my cheek. Max notices immediately, capturing it with the pad of his thumb. “Hey . . . are you okay?”

I nod.

“Talk to me.” He kisses my forehead.

“It’s just—I realized Katie was right, and I feel disloyal even thinking it.”

“O-kay . . .” Max nudges my leg with his foot. “Is this some kind of chick-speak? I have no idea what that meant.”

His reaction brings a faint smile to my face. “Mike wasn’t 'the one.' I never felt the things with him that I just did . . . with you. I had no idea it could be so . . . all-consuming and intense and special.” I turn my face away, scared to death he doesn’t feel the same.

Max blows out a breath, hugging me close. “I’m so damn glad you feel it too, China.”

Elation washes over me. There’s no deeper discussion of feelings, and I’m okay with that. We simply fall asleep, wrapped in each other’s arms.


When Max shakes me awake, blinding sunlight pries at the edges of the blinds. I blink a few times then yank the covers over my head. “Tired. You wore me out.”

Max chuckles. “That was me in first gear, China.” He slips under the comforter and kisses my neck.

Tingles zip along the surface of my naked skin. Reaching out, I realize he’s fully dressed, and I’m abruptly awake. “What time is it?”

“Almost eleven. I’d let you sleep longer, but we have a meeting with Eric in an hour.”

I yawn, stretching my arms upward. “We were gone all night. Won’t the others be worried?”

Max slips off the bed and lays a pile of clothes on my lap. “Taken care of. I snuck away while you were sleeping—filled Ali and Tek in on what’s happening and set up the meeting. Why don’t you get dressed? I’ll rustle up something to eat.”


He abruptly leaves the room, and I wonder if something is wrong—other than the fact I might die from this insidious virus.

Grace pads into the room and hops on the bed, giving me one of her full face-licks. I sputter and laugh, hugging her warm, furry body close. “Good morning, Grace. Is everything all right? I sure hope so.”

Her answer is another sloppy lick.

I freshen up and dress, then wander downstairs. A protein bar and bottle of water sits on the kitchen counter, and Max paces, his bulk dwarfing the small space.

“You call this breakfast?” I joke.

Max rakes his hands over his short hair. “Sorry. I thought it was best in case we have to hoof it.”

My heart skips a beat. “Are you expecting trouble?”

“No.” His answer is clipped.

“Max, what’s going on?” I step in his restless path, placing a hand on his chest.

“We’re going to fix this.”

“Fix what?”

Heavy footsteps clomp up the porch steps, and a knock sounds at the door. “Anybody home?” Eric’s usual jovial tone is subdued.

“Come in.” Max grabs me and kisses me hard. “This is going to work.”

Whenever Max is nervous or scared, so am I. Our track record speaks for itself.

Eric hovers in the doorway. “You sure about this, Max?”

“Do it.”

The reason for Max’s anxiety is apparent when Eric ducks through the doorway with my mother following closely behind.

Max steps in front of me, shoulders squared, blocking my view of Mom and hers of me.

Eric introduces them. “Nina Kasabian, this is Max.”

“Hello, Max. Eric insisted we come here in secret, and I’ve agreed because I trust him. He said you need help.”

Mom's voice up close is like a punch to the chest. The familiarity of her voice steals my breath and incites resentment at the same time.

“I need doses of vaccine.” Max's tone is emotionless and matter-of-fact.

“Oh, I can't help with that. It’s kept under lock and key.”

“You’ve done it before.”

Mom hesitates. “No, I haven’t. It’s not possible.”

I grab the back of Max’s shirt, twisting the thermal knit in my fists, and fight not to break down.

“Lady, you’re going to do as I ask.”

“Are you threatening me?” Out comes haughty Nina. My mother would probably sass a gunman in a hold-up.

“I’m doing whatever it takes.” Max lunges forward, pinning my mother against the kitchen wall by her neck. The impact jolts a clock loose, and it falls to the floor with a crash. He turns his head until our eyes meet; his are icy. “You might want to leave the room for this.”

“Man, what the hell are you doing?” Eric strides forward, but Max presses harder against my mother’s windpipe, cutting off her air. Eric holds his hands up. “Calm down. We can work something out. Maybe there’s another way?” He inclines his head in my direction.

“Give me what I want or die.” Max’s voice is colder than I’ve ever heard it. “You deserve to die, but we can put that aside if you provide what I need.” He lets up the pressure but continues holding her in place.

She coughs and sputters, taking in gulps of air. Only the bottom of her leg and the edge of her shoulder are visible to me from behind Max’s large frame.

I sense he means it. If my mother doesn’t turn over the vaccine, he’ll find another way to get it, maybe hurting her in the process. Max is all about protecting those he cares about—I’ve seen it with Ali, and he's alluded to a violent past more than once. Even though she's a pathetic excuse for a mother, I can't allow him to harm her.

“Stop! Max, please.” I step forward on wobbly legs and grab his arm.

Marie?” Mom’s hazel eyes widen in disbelief. Her auburn hair is disheveled from tussling with Max. Up close, the dark circles beneath her eyes are prominent. “Is it really you, baby girl?” She reaches out.

“Did you do it, Mom?” I tilt my head, fresh tears threatening to fall. “Did you know the virus was coming?”

Her skin pales beneath her carefully applied makeup. It must be nice to have the luxury of using cosmetics, to lead a leisurely life without the threat of being captured and experimented on.

“Sweetie . . .”

“Did you vaccinate me when I came to Florida?” I bite the edge of my tongue in an attempt to hold the tears at bay.

She nods. “I snuck a few doses from Garth’s laboratory.”

“You let Kiki die!” I accuse.

“No! I tried to get her to visit!” Two red patches stain her cheeks.

“You could have told me the truth, sent a shot home for her. What about Dad?”

“I took a huge risk giving you the vaccination.”

Rage rips through me, and I slap her traitorous face. “When you love someone, you’ll risk anything! She was your child, you cold-hearted bitch!” The tears spill over in a torrent, and I’m angry she gets to see me cry. “I buried my family! My twin! What horrors did you go through—deciding what designer clothes and makeup to bring with you to the compound? How do you live with yourself?”

I lunge for her again, and Max bands one muscled arm around my waist to stop me from striking her while keeping his other forearm pressed to her chest. “Easy, China.”

Mom’s expression changes as she glances between us, recognition settling in. “You care for my daughter. You’re doing this for her, aren’t you?”

Max’s jaw tightens. “You going to help this daughter?” His tone is mocking, the meaning clear.

“Of course I will.” Her voice is a strangled whisper. Fat tears roll down her face, her mascara creating sooty streaks.

When I look at my mom this way, it brings to mind a crisp, fall day when I was six. An array of colorful fallen leaves carpeted the lush grass in the park. Katie and I took turns burying each other in piles of damp leaves then got bored and started playing hide-and-seek. We went too deep into the woods and ended up lost. When Mom finally found us, she was crying so hard she could barely speak. She flung her arms wide and gathered us up. “My precious girls!”

She loved us so much back then. What changed?

I scoff. “Because you’re a top candidate for mother of the year, right?”

“I did the best I could, baby.”

“No, you didn’t,” Max interrupts, “but one way or another, I’m going to.”


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Sarah Aisling hails from the East Coast of the US and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and precocious daughter. She’s currently editing 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, obsessing over nail polish or anything leopard, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Kimberly Gould Week 123: Howl

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Howl

Moonlight through mist
Crunch and snap, haunting silence
Yellow eyes glowing


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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


Monday, October 27, 2014

SJ Maylee Week 123: The Sweet Life

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SJ Maylee’s’ Choice: Both

Title: The Sweet Life

“When can we eat them?” Jonathon licked his lips. He figured if the pretty snowflake cookies tasted even half as good as they smelled they’d be the best he’d ever had.

“Let me fill the tins first and then we can eat some.” Roxanne bumped him with her hip. “We need to leave for the party in about an hour.”

He stepped back and watched her work. Her silky dark hair flowed down her back. She really was the most enticing creature. When he was around her, he forgot every worry he had.

“I can’t believe they’ve been married a year already.” She turned around to face him. “I wish I’d known you then. Their wedding was like a fairy tale.” She wrapped her arms around his neck.

“Would you like a winter wedding?” The need to give her anything she wanted was growing faster than he could control. A tick of concern chipped away at his blissful mood.

“I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it.” She caressed the nape of his neck.

“I thought all girls grew up dreaming about their wedding.” He pulled her closer.

“My childhood was different.”

“Someday I hope you’ll tell me about your childhood.”

“And I have the same hope.” She reached behind her and then brought a cookie to his lips.

He took a bite of her offering and an explosion of sweet spices warmed him all over. “You make me want to give you everything you’ve ever wanted.”

“Right now, all I want is you.”


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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,


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Miranda Kate Week 122: Which Witch

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Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Which Witch

Mildred watched them come as they always did around this time of year. The name drew them. They were looking for any chance to spot Vampires or find some correlation to the tale by that famous American novelist – Mildred had forgotten his name - and the towns folk liked to play up to it. There were tales aplenty about ghosts and ghouls too, all for the tourists delight – Jack up at the Inn had a particular penchant for scaring them on dark nights.

Mildred chuckled to herself as she stepped away from the window. She’d managed to scare Jack a few times too, not that he’d admit it – or known that it was her. He used to love hanging out at the cemetery when he was a teenager, thinking it was cool, and she was a regular, visiting family, not that he would’ve seen her.

Everyone had thought the town was named after the writers book, but she knew better. She remembered fleeing with the rest of them all those years ago, after watching her sisters dangle from rope for all the world to see – and jeer at. Once over the border into Canada they had been free at last, and they could rebuild.

She chuckled again as she remembered the look of horror on his face the night the bats had taken flight and danced round his head. A neat trick she’s been working on for the visitors that year. He’d been a good guinea pig. And then the night he’d spotted the midnight feast she’d been hosting. Her sisters dancing in the full moon that All Hallow’s eve - that had set him running. Ah, they hadn’t had much to show off anymore but their bones.

Most of the residence of the town didn’t know the half of it – and Jack wasn’t about to tell them, not as truth at any rate. They all knew she’d been around a while. And just as some of them would trigger she’d never aged during their entire lifetime (some of them quite long, thanks to her), they’re turn up their heels and go join her sisters in the cemetery.

Mildred chuckled some more. Oh there were dark goings on in Salem alright, but not of the Vampire variety.


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Friday, October 24, 2014

J M Blackman Week 122: I’m Not Batman

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J.M. Blackman’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: I’m Not Batman

It's not that I don't understand why Batman doesn't kill people. It's just that some people need to be killed. You can't actually think that people like the Joker need to be in existence. People like the joker will never reform. They will never add anything to society. They will only ever take things away, take people away.

I get that it's a slippery slope. That the grey may grow and eat the black and white, leaving nothing but the monochrome of everything being the same.

A punch might not be enough for now. Maybe a broken jaw. But why stop there? The criminal should not be able to break the law anymore. They should not be able anymore.

Perhaps even the daily mugger starts to look like the Scarecrow. Maybe they all become Poison Ivy. And maybe they all should no longer exist.

But you know, I can see how that would avalanche. But I'm not Batman. And I suppose that's for the best.

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J.M. Blackman is a Language Arts teacheri 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.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mark Ethridge Week 122: She Cried In The Rain

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: One

Title: She Cried In The Rain

When I saw the Angel, I stopped and stared. I knew she was a statue. Cold, unfeeling stone. I’d walked past her every day for years, sometimes pausing and taking a long look. I loved her long hair, her fully spread wings, the way she held her sword. “If angels are real, I like to think they look like you.” Yeah. I told her that one day.

I stared because the Angel cried. Yes, it was raining, so I know you will say the tears were only rain running down her face. A coincidence, nothing more. But you weren’t there. You didn’t stop. You didn’t stand in the rain. You didn’t watch her tears fall. So you do not know. You were not there as I brushed the tears from her eyes and asked her, “Tell me, my angel, why do you cry today, in the rain?” You were not there when she answered me.

“My dear friend, I know you see me. I know you believe. I know to you we are real,” her voice was light, fleeting as the breeze, the music of the leaves of the trees as they rustled in the breeze.

“Of course you’re real. You’re an angel.”

I heard the sorrow in her voice, the sadness in the whisper of the wind, “Not everyone.”

“Then tell me, my angel. Who does not know?” I closed my eyes, felt the cold of the rain, and listened to the music of the rain, and the gentle breeze, as she spoke with me.

“A little boy and his mother visited the park today. It was a joy to watch him run, and jump, and play.” As she shared her tale, it came to life for me, and I saw what she’d seen. I felt what she’d felt.

I saw the little boy, pull his mother’s hand, “Mom! Mom! It’s a statue! I want to play near the statue!” His mother sat on a nearby bench, and he played. He hid behind the Angel, “Gotta be careful. Can’t let them see me.” He pulled a make-believe pistol from an invisible holster on his belt. He carefully checked the number of bullets left in it, then checked for extra clips on his belt. He nodded. “I’ll wait here. They’ll be here soon.”

His mother sat on the bench, holding her phone, tapping at the screen, oblivious to the game he played.

The boy licked his lips, wiped his brow, nodded his head, and whispered, “Now!” He leaped from behind the Angel, holding his imaginary gun out, pointing it at people as they passed by, pulling the trigger, and thinking, “Die! Die! Die! You’ll never take me alive!”

The angel could not believe what she saw. A child, playing imaginary games with guns. Shooting. Killing. Fighting. She cried out, “Stop!”

The boy stopped. He stared at the Angel. “What do you want, statue?”

“Don’t you know it’s wrong to kill?”

The boy laughed. “I’m not really killing anyone. I’m just playing a game.”

“Don’t you have any other games to play?”

“Nah. Only sissy games. I don’t play those. I play better games.”

“How are they better?”

“They’re more like life."

“Tell me how. How are they more like life?”

“It’s on TV every night. On the news. People shooting people with guns.” The boy sighed, “Like the big kids in the neighborhood.”

The angel closed her eyes and reached out to the boy. She saw the violence in him. The way his brother died; shot one night as he walked home from work. The way the other children he knew behaved. How they fought. “The strongest survive.” She realized, the boy was learning violence was the answer to everything. Taught by the people in his life. By the news each night, the songs he sang, and the games he played. Everything was teaching him to fight.

He knew no other way.

The boy looked at the angel. “You’re not real anyway. Everybody knows that. Angels aren’t real. They don’t exist. Like fairies. And unicorns. And all the rest. Make believe things. Not real.” The boy giggled. “Just a statue I can hide behind, as I try to escape the bad guys chasing me in my game.”

As the angel’s story reached its end, I stood beside her in the rain and wiped away her tears again.

There was nothing I could say. All I could do was kiss her cheek and whisper to her, “Little boys grow into men like me. And I believe.” Then, I slowly walked away. The Angel wasn’t the only one who cried in the rain that day.


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Mark woke up in 2010, and has been exploring life since then. All his doctors agree. He needs to write.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pablo Michaels Week 122: The Secret Not Shared

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Pablo Michael’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: The Secret Not Shared

Benjamin assembled the celluloid movie in the antiquated projector. When he turned on the light, the first frame of the movie illuminated the wall his sister, Edith, standing a hundred feet before their safe house. Nicholas, his older brother posed in the doorframe in his night shirt, still infected with the feared disease that isolated their family from their neighbors and the outside world. This home movie was the only evidence of the bigger secret their family kept. The content of this film wasn’t to be viewed until the possibility of hope emerged for everyone. After Nicolas and Edith bequeathed the documentation contained in the movie to Benjamin, as the youngest and the most vulnerable, he had a premonition morning would be the time his sister and brother would arrive. Then they would discover the truth, about the deadly vigilante gang wars, leaving the deadly disease to rage on like it had, killing hundreds of thousands of people every year. When Ebola spread uncontrolled, gangs from every part of the population attempted to take power, causing the former elected government collapsed. A stillness in the room caught his attention. The threat of more drenching rain from the storm had vanished. Weeks of heavy rain had filled the cracks in the parched landscape, filling the earth’s water table and ending years of drought.

Unlatching the door, he ventured outdoors, curiously. Above him in the darkened sky, the wind separated the storm clouds, exposing the brilliant clear glow of a full moon.

Shivering with hope, Benjamin asked with the sound of wind howling far overhead, “Is this a sign for end of the drought? The pandemic? And the war? How long have they gone on?”

“Too many years, baby brother?” Nicholas answered.

“Nick!” Benjamin wheeled around in his bare, muddy feet and bear hugged his brother.

“Yeah, I’m here. Isn’t Edith here yet?”

“No. She’s coming, isn’t she?”

“Yeah, she and I talked two weeks ago. We decided to find you. We think it’s the right time.” Nicholas’ right hand brushed Benjamin’s hair out of his eyes, getting a better look of his younger brother. “How long has it been? You look like you have recovered from the pain of losing Tim.”

“Yeah. I had to move on. He was the last painful reminder of how it began. I had to forgive them for what they did and wait for the day it ended. Do you really think this is the time?”

“Yes. When I talked with Edith, she suggested I find you, She believed the time was coming soon and we should all be together to make the decision.”

“And then it wasn’t just me. I felt it a couple of weeks ago, when the threats stopped. A few even spoke to me as an equal, offering me food.”

“Edith said a faction of the old government brokered a ceasefire a month ago among the major city gangs, offering them the temporary serum and promising the permanent one, if the violence stopped. Rumors spread to the outlying areas, a week later. The violence stopped where I was living. I contacted Edith. Then we started tracking you down.”

“It’s taken this long series of powerful storms to build my self-confidence that the drought might end, too.” Benjamin glanced at the full moon again.

“Yes, brother. You did say it would take something like this to bring peace. Have you kept the movie preserved?”

“Funny. I set up the film projector, just a while ago. The movie is ready to watch. It’s still in great condition. It starts at our first house with Mom and Dad when we were just kids. You’re in your nightshirt. Edith is standing in front of the house where Mom and Dad were shot.”

“Yeah, I remember it well. I was recovering with an injection of the temporary serum and you were very sick.”

“If it hadn’t been for the serum Mom and Dad left us, we’d all be dead like many of the others. What’s keeping Edith? She should have been here before you. She was always the one to act faster than you and me.” As Benjamin wiped his long hair, his icy blue eyes shone brightly on Nicholas’s face, reflecting the glow of the moon, in the darkness of the waning night.

“She’ll be here. You know how she is. Always making sure everything’s right.”

“She’s still that way?”

With a nod of the affirmative, Nicolas wrapped his arm around his brother, guiding him back into the house.

“Surprsie!” Edith spoke loudly, as if there was nothing to whisper about anymore. “I saw you both out looking at the full moon. Isn’t it fabulous? Peace is in the works. The temporary serum is going to be made available for everyone now.” She hugged Nicolas first, and then her right arm motioned for Benjamin to join in for a group hug. “Why did you start the movie without me? I hope you haven’t gone further than this frame.”

The picture of Edith and Nicolas and their parent’s hideout house from many years before reflected on the wall, as they entered through the door.

“No, I didn’t watch it. It’s just the first frame. I remember what you told me, not to watch it until we all are back together, when the time was right. I knew both of you were coming. That’s why I prepared it.” ” Benjamin answered, irritated with the insinuation he broke his family’s trust

“That’s what Mom and Dad told us if anything happened to them,” Edith confirmed their parent’s wishes. “I can’t believe how clear the picture is. You’ve kept the movie intact.” Edith attempted to wash over any indignant sarcasm she may have made. “We have the promises for permanent peace, once we find out the secret Mom and Dad reveal in the movie about a permanent serum.”

“I still don’t understand why we had to keep it a secret until now. There have been so many times I wanted to find out,… but I waited for both of you, even lost Timothy who we may been able to save.” Benjamin anxiously waited for his siblings to subside with the small talk and get down to business, the movie.

“I know how you felt about Tim, but it was Mom and Dad’s decision to proceed like we are.” Edith asserted the directions spoken to them when the deadly threats began.

“Benjamin, there’s no one to blame but the circumstances,” Nicolas interrupted. “When you became very sick with the disease, Mom and Dad devised this plan. They gave you the last dose of the lifetime serum. Edith and I know the formula for the temporary one, which has kept us and a few others alive until the permanent one can be duplicated again. You are the only one on the entire planet who had it this way.”

“So that’s why I never came down with it again. I haven’t needed another dose of the temporary serum, like you and Edith?”

“Yes, that’s why we’re relying on your judgment to agree with us to watch the movie through to its conclusion?” Edith begged for his answer.

“I’m not hesitating. I was simply waiting for both of you. Let’s turn it on.”

Benjamin flicked the start button on the movie projector. Sitting Indian style in front of the wall they watched each frame of their life stories from the beginning of their lives play out to the end, when their parents were murdered, gathering the ingredients for the serum.

After they had watched the entire home movie, there was a silence in the house, only the sound of water dripping outside from the eaves of the house from a passing shower whispered through the room.

“But why did they give me the only dose of the permanent serum?” Benjamin broke the silence with the question that wasn’t answered in the movie.

“You were too sick. They ran out of the temporary serum.” Edith and Nicholas were old enough for their parent’s to explain the reason.

“Now, do we proceed with Mom and Dad’s wishes, Benjamin?” Nicholas asked, knowing the ultimate answer was Benjamin’s decision. “Edith will take the movie to the government officials. If they notify the CDC to prepare making the formula with you, Benjamin, I will take you to Atlanta, making sure you arrive safely. Your blood will give them what they need them to start.”

“If Mom and Dad believed this was the only way we can find peace, what else can I do? I’m ready to share my blood, on the condition you both get the first doses. I don’t want to lose you like I lost Timothy.”


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Pablo Michaels writes LGBT fiction and has published with Naughty Nights Press, You can follow him at @bell2mike


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Samantha Lee Week 122: Take Me Out To The Ball Game

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Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: One

Title: Take Me Out To The Ball Game

"Explain it to me again."

Dumitru sighed and stole another handful of popcorn from my bag. "There is a diamond, do you see? With the little padded squares at the corners and the white lines?"

Nodding, Fi frowned and hugged her popcorn tighter.

"Bine, the pitcher - the one with the ball, da? - he stands in middle and throws ball to one with the stick, the bat."

"And he...the batter...he tries to hit the ball with his stick."

"Da, tocmai, lumina mea, tocmai. If he hits the ball, he then must run to as many of the corner squares as possible before the players of the other team throw back the ball and tag him with it."

"And so long as the batter is standing on one of those corner squares, he's safe right? He can't be tagged with the ball."

"Da, the goal is to get back to the first corner once more, preferably in a single try but the batter may break it down and run corner-by-corner each time the ball is hit by a batter on his team."

Fi was quiet, munching on her popcorn and watching as one team finished out their inning. As the teams began to trade places, she stood and made her way to the end of the bleachers, Dumitru hurrying in her wake to keep up. I straightened from where I leaned against the fence and followed, keeping my distance to allow them the illusion of privacy.

"Where are we going, lumina mea?" Dumitru asked when he'd caught up to Fi.

"To the car. Then we'll drive to an empty...what do you call that field?"

"A baseball diamond."

"Yes, we'll drive until we find an empty baseball diamond and then you'll teach me to play."

One of Dumitru's brow rose and he gave Fi a look that was a mix of skepticism, disbelief, and mild concern. Incidentally, she got that look a lot. " wish to play?" he asked, his tone perfectly matching his expression.

Fi grinned and spun around, snatching up one of Dumitru's hand and playfully tugging him along. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" she cried, laughing as she suddenly took to skipping backwards, facing Dumitru rather than her path. "It's so boring to watch, don't you think? Those batters - they miss the ball more often than not and it's's so boring! I want to see if it's more fun first hand."

Dumitru stopped walking and tugged on Fi's hand. She tumbled forward into his waiting arms and he looped his arms around her back, pulling her close. It was always so odd seeing them stand like that. Dumitru was a tall man, over six and half feet, and while his build was lithe, he was muscular in a way that made his physical strength evident. Fi, meanwhile, was small, her Fae heritage showing up with a height that was below five feet and if she was ninety pounds soaking wet I'd want her pockets checked for lead weights. The only thing more absurd was when Fi stood with Khardeen, one of her Wraiths. A djinn in life, Khardeen was eight feet, three hundred pounds of pure muscle. It was ridiculous. Utterly, ridiculous.

But I digress.

Fi stood on tiptoe to loop her arms around Dumitru's neck. Grinning, she lifted herself up to wrap her legs around his waist and briefly nuzzled her nose against his. "Yes?"

"Do you remember cricket?"

"Yes, it was ridiculous. I still don't understand what the heck a wicket is."

"Do you remember football?"

"It made no sense, Tru! You CARRY and THROW the ball - if not for the very random kick-off now and then there'd be almost no foot-ball interaction at all!"

"And soccer?"

"They willingly enslave themselves to a ball!"


"It's soccer with skates and sticks!"


Fi winced. "...I see your point."

Dumitru's grin took on a certain edge, one I recognized from past experience. Fi recognized it too and laughed.

"I suppose," she said slowly. "There are better games we could play than baseball."

"Da, I was thinking the same thing, lumina mea," Dumitru agreed with a chuckle. "The best games, after all, are the ones we make up ourselves."

"I couldn't agree more."

It was going to be a long night.


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Monday, October 20, 2014

Lizzie Koch Week 122: The Night Horror Came To Play

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Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice:

Title: The Night Horror Came To Play

It wasn’t much of a grand opening. But then it wasn’t much of a town. And that’s what attracted Lucille. Sleepy town news tended not to travel. She set about decorating her shop, ready for Halloween, and waited.

With the offer of free hot chocolate, Lucille didn’t have to wait long. Bustling with life, it was just how Lucille had imagined it until she saw a familiar face in the crowd. He smiled as he approached, flashing his badge.

“And how many masks have you sold this time?” Detective Steve Carson asked, taking one from the hands of one young boy who was about to protest until he saw the gun tucked under his jacket.

“Not as many as I’d like,” Lucille snapped. “It’s not against the law!”

“No, but murder is!” He said it loud enough for the shop to become still. “If I were you, ladies and gentlemen, I would put the masks back and go back to your homes.” Steve looked at the bewildered faces, motionless, masks in hands. “If you don’t want to die a horrible death that is. These masks aren’t as innocent as they look.”

A snigger broke the silence. “Let me guess, you put the mask on and it takes you over,” a teenager said.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. These masks are made from skin. Now I wonder where she gets that from.”

The shop emptied as masks lay strewn across the floor. With a smug look, Steve began to leave, turning to Lucille: “Wherever you are, I will be there, stopping you, getting the proof I need to lock you away forever.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about and you’re ruining my business.”

Steve smiled, shrugging. “Just doing my job.” He opened the door, letting the cold night air in. His shrug turned to a shiver. “Think I’ll take one of these to go.” He picked up a hot chocolate, inhaling the sweet aroma before sipping the thick, creamy goodness, letting the door close behind him.

It was a busy dawn. The streets were deserted apart from Lucille in her truck. She looked at her watch before making the final call of the night. The motel was also deserted; another reason for liking small towns. She looked at the register before making her way to one of the chalets.

The door creaked as Lucille gently pushed it open. Darkness met her. Once her eyes adjusted, she saw the unmistakable heap on the bed, and the empty hot chocolate cup sitting on the side.

Breaking a smile, Lucille couldn’t resist turning on the light, to see her handy work, to see what she had created. Yes, Steve had been right, of sorts. The masks were her creation, her way at keeping costs down. Her way at making realistic masks for Halloween.

She looked at Steve’s empty eyes staring back from a grotesque face, contorted in pain as life seeped out of him leaving a shell, suitable for a mask. Yes, Steve was right about the mask; a face once human now nothing more than leathery skin and all because of her special brew, given away free. The masks were her best sellers. And she loved seeing small towns wear them for Halloween. A sigh escaped her lips. She would miss Steve chasing her across country. Maybe she wouldn’t sell his mask but keep it for herself. She bundled him in the back of her truck along with the others, a faint smell of hot chocolate still lingering on the victims.


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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 for more. Thank you. Love Lizzie x


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Laura James Week 121: Stormy Weather

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Laura James’s Picture Choice: 1


Woken by the storm Randy stood at his bedroom window, duvet wrapped close around his body. Rain gathered in the road turning the tarmac into a river of fast flowing water, no cars, no people, no movement but the rush of water.

He normally enjoyed watching rain storms, cozy and safe in his room, but tonight there was something different in the air and his six year old mind couldn't quite put in to words. Lighting flashed overhead followed immediately by a huge clap of thunder causing him to jump backwards from the window. Cautiously he moved back to his position.

Flashes of lightening, both forked and sheet, lit up the sky with increasing regularity. If it wasn't for the fact there was no colour he could easily have convinced himself that Bonfire night had come early and he was watching the village display. Despite the one clap of thunder that had caused him to jump the only noise was the constant drumming of rain on the ground and roof.

Without warning the rain stopped and all was calm. Within a few minutes the drains had done there work and the streets were clear of water. Just the periodic drip drip of water from leaves giving any indication that there had been a storm. Shivering to himself Randy left the window, a feeling of dread settling within his tiny frame. Snuggling back into his bed he tried to forget about the storm and what he thought he seen slithering along the street during the last flash of lightening.

The next morning the sun shone brightly banishing all shadows and Randy should have been happy. He was meeting his friends at the park and his mum had packed a small picnic. He didn't want to go but he didn't know how to explain it and he didn't want to upset his mum. Putting on a brave face and his jacket he let his mum take him out the front door.

"Why don't you take your tric?"

Sighing Randy got on the tric and started to peddle down the street. Remnants of the storm could be seen all around; branches lay on the pavement, flowers were smashed into the earth. Randy began to feel better with every puddle he splashed through, the darkness he had felt since he got up began to leave him, he was unstoppable. Soon he was flying down the road screaming with laughter, his mother shouting and running after him. "Slow down Randy!" He screeched round the corner at the end of the road turning the tric onto the tree lined path to the park, his legs barreling up and down increasing his speed.

Halfway up the path Randy screeched to a halt in front of a large black mass. Panting he watched with interest as the mass unfurled itself and large claws reached out plucking him from his tric.

By the time his mother reached the path there was no sign of Randy or of the black mass. Just a red tric surrounded by leaves.


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Based in Dunfermline, Scotland, Laura is obsessed with all things horror and spends her time writing flash fiction which she hopes, on occasion, really scares her readers. Feel free to stalk her on twitter, @lejamez


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Aleea Davidson Week 121: Wither Part 12

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Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: Wither Part 12

Glen stood at the kitchen sink watching a thin trickle of water sluice away the dirt from his hands. A little blood from a nick at the base of his thumb added a rust coloured hue to the swirl of liquid being sucked down into the drain’s slurping maw. His shoulders and arms ached, muscles unused to swinging an axe already protesting the abuse. He flexed them gently, testing for sensitivity, wondering just how sore he’d be tomorrow. He decided he’d do; no real harm done.

A good thing, too, considering the other worries taking precedent in his thoughts. He added a touch of soap to his ministrations, ignoring the burn it ignited in his cut, and focused on the concern most present in his mind. Water. Right now the toilets still flushed. Turn the taps on and a healthy gush of the stuff readily flowed. It was clear and clean, but he knew, like the electricity that grew more sporadic and unreliable by the day, that couldn’t last.

He glanced around the tidy kitchen with its homely collection of mismatched oven mitts and a tea-pot comically shaped like a rooster, and mentally ran through everything he knew about the town’s water treatment plant. It didn’t take long. His knowledge was sadly basic; not that it mattered. It wasn’t as if he could drive out and run the filtration systems all by himself…

“Are you okay?”

Glen looked up, startled from his thoughts. Mara had a tendency to move silently, and it wasn’t the first time she’d caught him unaware. She stood in the doorway, a vivid red apron covering her gray sweater and faded jeans. Her hair was twisted up into a messy ponytail, flyaway tendrils skimming her high cheekbones and gracing the arch of her elegant neck. An animalistic, all-too-male urge to dig his fingers under the elastic, yank it free and inhale the scent of her shampoo while he laid her down on the linoleum, hit him like a sucker punch.

He cleared his throat unnecessarily and averted his gaze to the kettle, taking note of the absurd way a small puff of steam escaped the beak.

“We should start boiling all the water we use for cooking and drinking,” he said, tipping his chin in the direction of the rooster. “I think it’s free from contaminants right now, but who knows if anyone is still working at the treatment plant? Or how long the system will hold up...”

“Glen, you’re bleeding.” Mara came to him, reaching for the hand he was drying with the dish towel she’d left out. He looked down, surprised to see splotches nearly the same colour as her apron soaking the striped cotton.

“Shit,” he muttered, pulling the towel away and inspecting the slice in the meaty pad of his thumb. The process of washing had evidently opened the wound. “I wrecked your towel, Mara, sorry.”

She made a fizzing, snorting kind of noise, oddly delicate and endearing considering the emotion of impatience and disdain it clearly meant to convey. “It’s only an old cloth, Glen. Here.” She picked the towel back up and took his hand in hers. Her fingers were too cool and smooth to account for the warmth he felt where her skin touched his. Pressing the fabric tightly to the wound, she looked up at him, pretty eyes tired in appearance.

“I’ve been boiling the water for a while now,” she admitted, jerking her chin toward the large plastic jug with the side spigot she filled daily and kept on the counter within easy reach for the boys. She shrugged. “I figured better safe than sorry, you know?”

Glen nodded, not surprised by her admission, only surprised by the lack of attention on his part that caused him to miss the fact. In the six weeks he’d been here, he’d learned Mara was resilient and smart. And when it came to her brothers, she was protective and determined. It made sense she’d err on the side of caution.

The electricity flickered, went out, then came back on. They both stared at the overhead light fixture, as if they could keep it on by sheer force of will. Daylight was only an hour away, but with the windows covered in thick sheets of plywood, the interior of the house became oppressive and claustrophobic. Sparse candlelight and the weak glow of oil lamps turned low did little to push back darkness that thick.

When it appeared they were going to be granted a temporary respite, Glen gently pulled his hand away. He thought he caught a flicker of longing in Mara’s expression as she watched him tend to the cut on his own, as if she liked touching him as much as he liked it.

“I have some Band-Aids and a first aid kit upstairs,” she said.

“It’s fine. It’s stopped bleeding.”

She rolled her eyes. “Don’t be a hero. I might even have a few superman ones left.” Her lips quirked in a smile that made his chest hurt. The humour was forced, but the way it lit her somber expression crept right under his diaphragm and made it difficult to breathe. When she turned, he caught her arm.

“Stay. We need to talk.”

She went still, yet didn’t turn around to face him. Her sweater was soft, her arm and back stiff.

“Are you leaving?” she asked.


She spun, whirling on him, apron flaring, eyes seeming to spark. Paler than before, he realized she seemed angry.

“Leaving,” she reiterated sharply. “Are you leaving?”

He frowned. “Who said anything about leaving?”

“It’s been six weeks. No one has come looking for you. Neither of us have seen anything suspicious during our trips out. If the government men were looking for you, they’ve probably given up by now. Nothing is holding you here.” She waved a hand around, agitated. He noticed a smattering of dried black and orange paint on her wrist, cracking and flaking off with every jerk.

“Do you want me to leave?” he asked. Between her sudden mood change and disconcerting question, he was having a hard time grasping the thread of her meaning. It didn’t help that he was suddenly wondering what the hell she could’ve been painting with orange and black paint.

“Of course not!” she snapped. “I’m not going to stop you though. If you want to go, go.” She crossed her arms beneath her breasts. Breasts he tried valiantly not to notice and failed.


“You don’t owe us anything. We’ll be just fine without you. I can take care of myself and the boys just fine, in case you haven’t noticed. I was doing it before you came into the picture. I’ll keep doing it after you leave, too.”

Frowning, Glen felt a sudden jolt of irrational irritation because everything she said was true. Since he’d been here, he’d witnessed how strong she was. The shelves crammed with non-perishable food and necessities she’d scavenged for and stockpiled were proof if he needed. Not to mention the blankets, and firewood, and even a small supply of medicines—antibiotics, pain-killers, first aid supplies.

In truth, he felt nearly useless in the face of her self sufficiency, resorting to acting out the position of handyman in order to feel like he was earning his keep.

“I don’t get where this is coming from,” he said, and it was the truth. “I’m not here because I think I owe you anything, Mara. I’m here as your friend, and because you asked me to stay. I don’t think the government men are still looking for me, at least not actively, there aren’t enough of them left to hang around for long, but I’m not exactly eager to go back to where I was staying before and possibly put myself back on their radar, either.”

Mara dropped her arms and rubbed at her face.

Aware of Jeremy and Teddy in the other room arguing amicably over a board game, Glen lowered his voice and took a step closer to her. “Hey,” he said gently. “If you want me to go, I will. But I don’t think that’s what this is about. Talk to me.” He dared to reach out and pry her hands away from her face. He half expected tears, instead, she stared at him crossly.

“I’m sorry,” she finally said with a sigh. “I’m scared. The fires. I’ve been trying to think all day about what I can do, where I can take the boys if those fires burn this way. How I cant take them. It’s made me realize that I’ve invested all this time believing we could...I don’t know...hunker down here. Wait this out. Like a cure is around the corner. Only, I’m beginning to realize how naive and stupid that is.”

“There’s nothing stupid about you, Mara.”

She shook her head. “The Grant’s are all dead.” At his blank expression, she explained. “Remember? I told you about them when you first came here with me. They live one block over. I grew up with their daughters.”

“The white house with the big porch.”

She nodded, relaxing a bit, like the fact he remembered mattered to her on some fundamental level he hadn’t yet grasped.

“You said the daughter’s were gone, but they still had a son,” he prompted.


He noticed her hands felt colder. He let go of them and turned to grab the rooster kettle, grateful the water inside remained hot, though he felt kind of silly holding it. She had a mug on the counter with a tea bag inside. He doubted there was much tea left in the soggy little satchel of leaves, but he poured water over it anyway, then lead her to the table, urging her to sit. She wrapped her fingers around the cup, thanking him.

The way her shoulders hunched in made him feel helpless. If Mara was his wife, he would have filled her head with platitudes and outright lies that everything would be fine. She wasn’t though. She didn’t want or need him to sugar coat the situation they found themselves in. It didn’t hurt him to admit Mara was stronger than Jen, a whole different breed of woman.

He watched Mara suck in a deep breath, girding herself perhaps. “I went there yesterday. When you were sleeping.” She took a sip of her tea, no hint of apology in her tone or demeanour. She was independent to a fault. He scowled, prepared to point out the error of her actions. She didn’t let him. “Let me finish, then you can tell me I shouldn’t have.”

He didn’t want to find her cute, so he bit his tongue to stave off a smile and nodded.

“They have several apple trees in their yard. I thought maybe they wouldn’t mind if I took some, if there were any left. They don’t know I’m UV Tolerant so I was being careful.” She closed her eyes momentarily and swallowed. He thought she appeared paler.

“I walked around the house, and when I got to the back I found them in the garden, under one of the trees. All three of them.” She picked up her mug, and her hands shook, sloshing weak tea over the rim. “They’d set out a blanket and a picnic basket. A bottle of wine and a bottle of Pepsi. There were G.I. Joe action figures and a package of Hostess cupcakes.” She set the mug down and covered her mouth. She didn’t cry, but he could see the horror and sadness she was trying to repress.

“They did it on purpose,” he said for her, knowing the truth of it before she nodded weakly. “They went outside, set up a picnic, and let the sun poison them.”

Mara stood up, shoving back her chair, and carried her mug to the sink to dump the tea she couldn’t stomach. Glen watched her lean against the counter, like her knees were weak. His didn’t feel any better, and he was grateful for the chair under his ass.

“I’m sorry you saw that,” he said, hating that was the best he could think to say. He’d seen it himself more times than he wanted to think about. A lot of people were giving up.

“I’ve thought about it,” she said, her voice pitched so low he barely heard her. He rose from the table and moved behind her, reaching out for to take her shoulders, torn between shaking her and holding her.

“Don’t do that.”

“I can’t help it. I’ve thought about it, even before I saw them. How easy it would be to give up. To take the boys outside and let them play and how it might be better, easier than this. I thought about it again today. I was painting pictures of jack-o-lanterns with the boys because they probably won’t have pumpkins to carve this Halloween, and I thought about it!” She turned around and stared at him. “I’m terrified, Glen. I don’t know what to do.”

“We’ll figure it out,” he said.

She shook her head.

Something in Glen gave in at that moment. He allowed himself to cup her face. “Look at me,” he told her. “You’re not alone in this, Mara. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”

She blinked, and he could see the weariness she fought, the loneliness.

“Why?” she asked.

He grinned and dropped his forehead to hers. “Haven’t you figured it out yet?” he asked. She shook her head. “I have a thing for brave, strong women with ridiculous rooster kettles.”

Then he kissed her. For real this time.


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Aleea lives in her imagination most of the time. It's an interesting place to be... Occasionally she can be coaxed out to chat on Twitter, though she finds it akin to torture to stick to that absurd 140 character limit. (@Aleeab4u)


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sarah Aisling Week 122: A Measure of Grace (Part 16): Chimera

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 16): Chimera

Eric’s words fade into the background when a lone figure strolls around the corner of the building. The way she holds herself is unmistakable, her silhouette poised and aristocratic, waves of reddish-brown hair twisted into an elegant chignon at her nape.

My fingers curl tightly around the metal links of the fence, and my body goes rigid.

In this moment, the world hasn’t ended, and I’m not standing on the shores of a faceless enemy who would use me as a lab rat if given the chance.

I’m ten years old.

Katie and I are hot and sweaty, racing home from a basketball game at the park, each determined to get the last watermelon ice pop. We reach the front door at the same time and jam in the doorway, laughing so hard we can barely move.

The laughter dies on our lips when we see the suitcases sitting by the love seat.

Mom?” My voice is a mere whisper, an endearment I never expected to speak again, lodging in my throat.

A few things happen simultaneously.

Eric stops talking mid-sentence and spins to face the woman heading our way. Max yanks me by the arm and runs for cover, hunkering behind a bush. Grace shadows us closely. My mouth keeps opening and closing while I point in the direction of my mother. Max is too focused on the fence to notice my panic.

I drag in a few deep breaths, my voice still faint as the first tears start to fall. “My mother. Max, she's my mother!”


I claw at his shirt. “Did you hear me? That's my mom!” I lurch forward, intent on getting back to the fence.

Max loops a muscled arm around my waist and tugs me against his chest, covering my mouth. “Be still. Don't move or speak. If they find us, we're dead.”

Tears stream from my eyes. Inside, I'm conflicted. My mom abandoned us when I was ten. I essentially grew up without a mother figure. Mamie filled in, but she was taciturn and old-fashioned with no understanding of the pressures of being a modern teenage girl. To her, everything was as simple as “grin and bear it” or “bite your tongue.” She loved us but wasn't the typical warm and nurturing grandmother.

On the other side of that fence is the woman who gave birth to me. During our last visit, before the virus broke out, Mom seemed so remorseful. When she found out Katie wasn't coming, she cried. It's the only time I've ever seen her cry. She didn’t even shed tears the day she left us.

Max and Grace are my family now. They've taken me in, cared for me, provided shelter. It wouldn't be fair to risk their lives.

“Can I take my hand away?” Max’s chest heaves against my back. I nod and he does. “You really think she's your mother?” he whispers.

“It's her.”

“You didn't know she was alive?”

“Mom lived in Florida. I assumed she perished with everyone else. Why didn't . . .” My throat barely works, aching with more unshed tears. “She never came to look for us, and now she’s here—with them.”

“I’m sorry.”

Eric’s voice rings out, confirming what I already know. “What are you doing all the way out here, Mrs. Kasabian?”

“I needed a break.” The soft cadence of her words is harder to hear, but the voice is unmistakably hers.

“Does the doc know where you are?” His tone is mildly chiding.

“How about we keep this our little secret?”

“I really shouldn’t . . . but maybe just this once.”

“Thank you, Eric. I knew I could count on you.”

My mother could charm honey from a bear.

“Is it her?” Max whispers.

I nod my head, a fresh round of tears streaming down my cheeks. “I need to see her.”

“You can’t. Not until we know what the fuck is going on.”

“I just need to see her with my own eyes.”

“All right.” He loosens his hold on me. “Be careful. She can’t know we’re here.”

I inch forward in the soft grass, avoiding any twigs that might snap under my feet. The drone of her conversation with Eric is farther away. I lean forward until I can peer between two bushes.

Eric leads my mom away from the fence, head bent toward hers, his hand grazing her lower back. He says something, and her laughter carries in the still air.

I hold back a sob; I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard my mom laugh so free and easy. How can she laugh when the world has ended? Then again, she’s with the enemy camp. How entrenched is she?

Mom laughs again, and I stand up, clawing my fingers against the fence. Anger burns inside me, and I open my mouth though I’m not sure what to say. How can you be so callous? What the fuck is there to laugh about when people are dying to save the elite?

“Marie, no!” Max whisper-shouts, grabbing for my arm.

When I reach my full height and look through the fence, my mom and Eric are already out of sight.

A jolt of rage explodes inside me, and I shake the fence, the metal links clanking. “You bitch! You stupid, selfish bitch!” Sorrow closes my throat, causing my shouted words to come out as a choked rasp.

“China . . .”

“What kind of mother abandons her children twice? She didn’t even try . . .” My legs give out, and I slide down the fence into a heap on the ground. I finally give in to the sense of despair and rejection that’s been building up since the day Mom left. My hands claw into fists, and I cry out, a plaintive sob that sounds so sad and pathetic even to my own ears.

A strong embrace surrounds me. “You’re not alone anymore. You’ll never be alone or unwanted.” Max scoops me up and starts walking. “Grace, come.”

I loop my arms around Max’s neck and rest my head on his chest, allowing my lids to flutter closed. Our movement through the woods lulls me into a state of sleepy exhaustion. Occasionally, branches slap at my arms, and bugs sting me, but I hardly notice. I no longer have the desire to see what’s ahead, behind, above, or below. Each moment that goes by, every step farther from my mother we get, I sink deeper into a cocoon woven of disappointment and a growing sense of apathy.

Heavy footfalls pound behind us, the branches rustling. My heart speeds until I hear a familiar birdcall. Max answers in kind and slows his pace. He stops moving but holds me closer instead of putting me down.

My lids flutter open just as Eric catches up to us, breathing hard. The tan fabric of his Alliance shirt is darkened with sweat, and he bends, hands resting on his knees. More sweat soaks his cap of dark curls and trickles along his hairline.

“Shit! How can you move so fast . . . carrying her . . . and I can’t . . . breathe?”

Max laughs. “I’m in much better shape than you are.” He doesn’t even seem out of breath.

“What the hell happened back there?”

“You tell me, Eric! Thought you said the coast was clear.”

“It was! She decided to go against orders and come out there.” His concerned blue eyes shift to me. “You called her mom.”

Max speaks before I have a chance to. “Who is she?”

“Nina Kasabian, wife of our lead scientist—”

“Dr. Garth Kasabian,” I finish, my voice dripping with disgust.

Eric’s face registers surprise. “How’d you know that?”

Garth’s cold face with its crooked nose and vulture-like black eyes floats through my mind. He was tall and thin with dusky skin and cropped black hair and always dressed in the finest fabrics. I can’t recall seeing him in anything other than a dress shirt and slacks even on weekends, and he often worked in his lab late into the night and on days off. He was always serious, rarely smiled, and I could never figure out what my mom saw in him. She mooned over Garth as if he were the Second Coming.

“She’s my mother.” Saying the words hurts in a way private thoughts don’t, and I realize I’m ashamed to claim her as mine. The tears fall again, and I bury my head in Max’s shirt.

“Whoa. How come she’s not immune, then?”

My head snaps up. “What do you mean?”

“Your mother’s getting the vaccine. She’s not immune.”

“Oh.” In a split second, my anger deflates. My mom is still a selfish bitch who abandoned us, but knowing she might die from the virus leaves me feeling empty and sad.

“Marie, do you have any siblings or other immune family?”

“No. I had a twin, n-not living.”

Eric stares at me, a sudden knowledge dawning in his eyes. “You were sick the time I came to find Max. Has it happened before?”

“That was the third time.”

Eric swallows hard. “Max . . .” His usually booming voice is soft and pained.

“No!” Max’s yell reverberates right through me.

“It makes sense.”

“How?” Max’s hold tightens, his breaths heavy now.

“Wait, what are you guys talking about?” I glance at Eric because I can’t easily see Max’s face.

“Marie, what happened to your twin?” Eric asks gently.

“The v-virus.”

“That shouldn’t be possible.”

“But it is, Eric! We’re done here.” Max stalks away.

“I’m sorry, man. Let me know if you need anything.”

Max halts for a moment. “Thanks for your concern. I’ll get back to you about the other thing after I talk to the others.”

And then we’re moving again.

I try to ask Max what Eric was getting at, but he keeps avoiding my questions. My lids grow heavy, and the sway of Max’s footfalls lulls me to sleep.

My dream picks up where my memory left off.

Katie and I jam in the doorway, laughing so hard, our knees go weak. The moist heat of our skin abrades painfully.

“The watermelon pop is mine!” Katie jabs me in the ribs.


A set of battered green suitcases sitting next to the love seat halts my laughter. Katie is still giggling and trying to give me a noogie, but when I don’t scream, she stops.

Muffled voices come from the kitchen, ending abruptly, and Mom walks into the living room. Her hazel eyes widen when she sees us slumped together in the doorway. Something ugly passes across her face, a hatred of unpleasant scenes.

“Mom?” My gaze flits between her and the suitcases. “Are we going somewhere?”

Katie scoffs. “No, stupid. Mom is running away from us.”

“Girls . . .” Mom starts.

“No, it’s true, isn’t it? You don’t want us.” Katie pushes the rest of the way through the door, leaving me to fall on my duff. She kicks one of the suitcases as hard as she can, banging it into the others so they all tip noisily. “You’re a shitty mother!”

Katie kicks Mom in the shin and races up the stairs.

Dad steps through the archway, his eyes bloodshot. “Katie Linda! Don’t talk to your mother that way!”

“What mother?” Katie yells back.

I can’t stop looking at my mom or the way she flinches at Katie’s words.

“Mom? It’s not true, right? You would never leave us!” I’m begging her not to tell me what my heart already knows.

Mom’s face goes blank as she bends down to pick up the suitcases. My father, the most gallant man I know, doesn’t move to help her. He just watches her struggle with a suitcase in each hand and a duffel under one arm. For a moment, I fear she will simply step over me, but she turns and walks through the kitchen.

The gentle closing of the back door shatters my heart.

Almost as if on cue, a luxury car with dark tinted windows pulls up out front. The trunk pops open automatically, and Mom shoves the suitcases in. As she walks around to the passenger side, her face is visible for a horrifying moment.

Her eyes are dry, and I recognize her expression—she can’t get away fast enough.

“Mom, no! Please don’t go!” I scream and cry.

Long after the sleek black car pulls smoothly away from the curb, my mother’s expression haunts me. I know she’s gone, but I keep calling for her. My innocent little heart doesn’t understand.

Dad finally scoops me off the floor and carries me to my bed. He swipes a few tears from his cheeks after he pulls the covers up to my chin. “Sorry, kid. This shouldn’t have happened to you girls.”

Katie leans over the top bunk, long hair swinging. “We don’t need her, Dad. It’s not your fault she’s a crap mother.”

Dad hugs me to his chest and grabs Katie’s hand. This time, he doesn’t correct her language.

The memory fades.

Now I'm alone, lying in a bed of flowers. Plump bees buzz happily along, sipping pollen. A smaller, sleeker bee moves among the blooms with purpose, ignoring their sweet fragrance and coming straight for me. Its stinger sinks deeply into my flesh.

The pain jolts me into the memory of waking up from the bee sting dream.

Mom perches on the edge of my bed.

“Mom? What are you doing?”

“Shh . . . sorry I woke you, honey.”

“It’s okay.” I rub my arm. “I dreamed a bee stung me.”

“You did? How strange.” She brushes the hair back from my forehead. “Mind if I lie next to you?”

I scooch over, making room for Mom.

“Why didn’t Katie come with you?” she asks quietly.

“She’s not ready.”

“For what?”

“To forgive.”

“Are you?”

“I’m willing to try.” I rub at my arm again, still feeling an echo of the bee sting from my dream.

“Is there any way you can convince Katie to see me?”

I hesitate, reluctant to burst Mom’s bubble. Even though my mother is the one who’s done all the disappointing, I’ve always felt an irrational guilt about hurting her. “No way. Not right now. Maybe next time I come?” I say this only to soften the blow—I’m pretty sure Katie would rather drink Drano than visit our mom.

For the first time ever, my mother pulls me into her arms and sobs like her heart is breaking.

The scene morphs to a girl underwater who reminds me of Alice in Wonderland. She swims through a golden picture frame, coming out the other side dry. She doesn’t look anything like me, but when she opens her eyes, they’re mine.

My body shudders awake, expecting darkness. Instead, the soft glow of candlelight bathes the vaguely familiar room. Clouds of softness surround me, and a wet nose nudges my chin.

I blink, focusing on the ceiling. This isn’t the power plant.

Max sits on the end of the bed, knees pulled in to his chest, bare back laced with tension. When I shift, his body curls into a tighter ball.


“Hey.” He doesn’t turn around.

Lifting up on my elbows, I glance around. We’re in the master bedroom of the blue house, the place we first met. “What are we doing here?”

“He must be wrong.”


“You’re fine.”

I sit up, reaching out to trace my fingers along each vertebrae of Max’s spine. He shivers. “Max, you’re scaring me.”

“No, no.” He uncoils, facing me as he nudges Grace aside and crawls up the bed, taking me in his arms. “Don’t be scared.”

I am scared, though, because when I look into Max's eyes, barely concealed dread resides in the blue-green pools. His body is rigid, the hold he has on me a little too tight.

Max groans. “I'm scaring you.” He loosens his grip, sliding one hand up my arm to cup my neck, fingers massaging lightly. He rests his head on the pillow beside mine, our noses almost touching. “Everything's going to be okay.”

“Did something happen? Well, other than seeing my mother on the other side of the fence?”

“Tell me what you were dreaming.”

“I—just about the day my mom left us. Katie and I were ten. We rushed home from the park and . . . Mom's suitcases were in the living room.” I choke up telling him about the day Mom walked out on us, but I manage to get the words out.

“Jesus. She didn't have a reason?”

“We found out later she left for some rich scientist so she could lead a luxurious life without the complication of raising kids. I didn't see her often after she left. Katie refused to see her at all. A few weeks before the virus broke out, she begged us to visit her. Katie wouldn't go, so I ended up going alone. I've never seen my mother show much emotion, but when I told her Katie wasn't coming, she was devastated.”

“I'm sorry, China.” Max runs the pads of his fingers over my cheek. “My mother died when I was twelve. My pathetic father was always abusive, but she held him at bay. Once she was gone, it was like open season for the bastard. I ended up in the system at fourteen. Ali was only twelve. She was always so tiny and fragile, afraid to speak up. She wasn't always such an annoying loud mouth.”

“I'm so sorry. Were the two of you placed together?”

Max grins. “Not at first. I kept running away or getting myself kicked out of homes. Finally the social worker asked me what she had to do in order for me to settle down. I told her Ali had to be with me. She managed to find a family to take us both.”

“Thank God.”

Max's eyes darken thunderously. “They were good people. We had a chance at a decent life until they had a car accident. Lainey was killed, and Jim was left a paraplegic. The social worker couldn't place us together again, but we were only a few blocks apart. It was tolerable until shit got ugly in the house where Ali was staying.” He looks away. “She was all I had left.”

I stroke the side of his face. “You're together now.”

He doesn't answer. “What else did you dream before? You were agitated and kept mumbling.”

“More memories. I dreamed of visiting Mom before the virus and had this dream about a bee stinging me. When I woke up, my mom was in the room. That's when she asked me about Katie and cried when I told her Katie wasn't coming.”

“So these dreams were actually memories? Did they happen the same as in waking life?”

“Yeah. I dreamed about the bee stinging me when I was there. It was like a dream inside a dream. My arm even hurt when I woke up.”

Max stares back at me, and an unsettling feeling coils deep inside. “I'm not going to lie to you. Eric came here while you were asleep.”

“About my mom?”

“No. He said the way the virus works is if one sibling is immune, the others usually will be, too—especially with twins. He also said the immunity would likely be on one side of the family, mother or father.” He strokes my hair, tucking some of it behind one ear. “Nobody else in your family was immune?”

“No.” The pit of my stomach churns, and my heart races. “What are you saying?”

“Eric doesn't believe you're immune.”


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Sarah Aisling hails from the East Coast of the US and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and precocious daughter. She’s currently editing 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, obsessing over nail polish or anything leopard, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Kimberly Gould Week 121: Submergent

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Submergent

The great tide washed in, farther than even before, immersing houses, yards and schools beneath it’s sea green waves. The tide was not violent, not a tsunami, pushing vehicles and dumpsters. It just kept rising. Some cars floated away, but most filled with water and stayed where they were. Ships and boats moored on the roofs of houses and other buildings.

The people had been astonished when the tide rose without end. They had plenty of time to move inland, to save precious possessions. There had been no deaths and the only injuries came to those who recklessly swam in the rising waters.

Science had no answers, and prayers gave no insight. Would the waters continue to rise until the entire earth was covered? Would only the mountains be left as islands? Many began pilgrimages to the Rockies, the Himalayas, anywhere with a peak.

Jessica didn’t run. This was her home, and whether it was underwater or not, she wasn’t leaving it. Letting herself sink below the surface, she sat and watched the tide roll in, bringing more water, more debris. She learned to hold her breath for longer and longer, taking heart in the familiar which was at the same time strange. She wasn’t alone. Many others sought to adapt rather than migrate. Together, they would persevere. Humanity could not be washed away so easily.


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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