Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mark Ethridge Week 110: Everything’s The Same

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: One

Title: Everything’s The Same

Everything’s the same.
Every time I take my walk,
The houses I see
In the neighborhood
All look the same.

They’re mass produced, I know.
So there’s only a few models
In the first place.
But.

They’re all the same few colors.
They all have the same fence.
They all have the same flower beds.
The same lawn.
The same cars.
The same porch.
The same curtains.

It’s as if
The same person
Owns everything.
Everywhere.

I know.
I know.
People tell me,
A Ford is not a Chevy.
That’s not my point.
That’s not what I’m saying.
Not at all.

How many copies of that Ford
Are out there?
How many?
And how many of that Chevy?

Why do so many people
Who never haul anything
In their trucks
Have such stupidly big trucks?

Is it some kind of status thing?
Some social symbol I can’t understand?
A “My truck’s bigger than your’s” thing?
I don’t know.

But I can’t help but ponder
What it means
When I see one, or two,
Or sometimes three or more
Trucks in one driveway.

All of them full size.
With eight foot beds.
Half of them with four wheel drive
That never finds a use.

And there’s not a scratch on a single one
Of any of those trucks.
Not one scratch.
What do they use those trucks for anyway?
Driving to and from work each day?
‘Cause they sure don’t use them
As trucks.

Look.
Look.
Another perfect yard.
With a zillion blades of grass.
That can’t survive on their own
In the local climate.
No.
A zillion blades of grass.
All a perfect shade of green.
All the exact same shape.
And size.
Cut like a putting green
On a golf course.
Kept alive by consuming
Countless gallons of fresh water
And piles of fertilizer,
To give them what they need
To survive in the wrong place,
At the wrong temperature,
With far too little rain,
And dirt that would choke them dead
If it wasn’t chemically transformed
And enhanced,
To include the nutrients they need.
Nutrients that just aren’t in the dirt
Around here.
Anywhere.

Don’t you love it how,
Every Saturday,
You can listen to the sound
Of a thousand Briggs and Stratton
Internal Combustion Engines
Running for hours on end,
While everyone’s outside,
Mowing their lawn.
So it looks just like their neighbors does.

Have you ever noticed
How almost everyone these days
Has a smartphone of some kind?
And always has it out,
Scrolling around the screen,
Keeping up on Facebook,
Or Twitter,
Tumbler,
Google+,
Instagram,
Pintrest,
And half a million others?

I can’t help but wonder.
Does any of them notice
How they’re all the same?

How everyone,
And everything,
Everywhere,
Is the same?

And people wonder
Why it is
My soul cries tears of pain.


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

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Samantha Lee Week 110: Survival

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Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Survival

It is a miserable, wet, gray day, the sort of day meant for the great indoors, possibly with hot chocolate and snuggling tossed in for good measure, and maybe with a surprise visit from the Cat in the Hat for kiddies left in the care of talking goldfish. Naturally, however, I am nowhere near the great indoors. Nope, while others (and by "others" I mean pretty much every other sane person) are snug, cozy, and dry behind walls and under roofs, I am out in the cold, wet, windy open traipsing about ruins so old they were ancient in ancient times. I'm not entirely sure what the ruins are supposed to have been, time has worn the original structure down to a series of scattered stone steps and walls swallowed up by grass and weeds and moss. A single curved wall rises up maybe fifty feet, rectangular holes near its top had no doubt once served as windows with two rows of arched entry ways below. It isn't exactly my idea of a fun day outing.

Which pretty much tells you right there that this little excursion is neither my whim nor my will. Nope, this is completely, entirely, absolutely Fi's fault.

"There's something I need to do," she'd said that morning, giving me one of those looks I really need to build some resistance against, the kind that was all big eyes and hidden depths. Curse those hidden depths - they always got the better of my curiosity. Which, by the way, I also curse. Regularly.

"What's that?" I'd asked her, mentally bracing myself. Fi was an important lady, a Queen if we want to be specific, and that led to a lot of errands and missions and little jobs. The ones she chose to do herself were a mixed bag, sometimes as simple as picking up mascara (she claimed no one else ever got the right kind - who even knew there were different kinds?! It's MASCARA, for crying out loud) at other times as complex as negotiating treaties with dragons (which she did mostly because no one else would do it, not even Keeley or Khardeen who would have walked through fire on her command, or Dumitru, Wolf, or Fiachra who had all literally died for her - it was that unpleasant of a job). She always brought someone with her, sometimes multiple someones (Khardeen, Keeley, Wolf, London, and Sparrow all went on the dragon missions and more probably would have tagged along if given the choice; they may not have been willing to carry out the endeavour themselves but, like the old saying goes, you must protect your Queen). Who she chose to go with her tended to reflect the sort of task it would be; Khardeen and Keeley tend to go on the Indiana Jones adventures, Dumitru, as her mate, got the ones with a potential for romance, London and Wolf were usually for protection details, Fiachra and Fang got the political messes. Me? I got the random ones, the ones that took Tolkien, dashed in some James Bond, added a pinch of Alice in Wonderland, and shook them all up until suitably wacky.

Twas the cross I bore. Lucky me.

"It's a small errand," she'd told me, with a small smile that was almost apologetic and scared me right to the marrow. "A friend left something for me in an old hiding spot; I just need to go pick it up."

Note to self: next time, get definition of "old hiding spot" before agreeing to tag along.

Hindsight. What a bitch.

Now, Fi walks along the stone wall and runs the fingers of her left hand over the stones. She's humming something; I recognize it as one of the melodies she favours when playing her violin but I cannot think of its name nor its composer and I doubt either one is common knowledge anymore. She hasn't said much since leaving home, but then she'd been getting more and more introspective of late, withdrawing more and more into her thoughts and own counsel. She makes the effort to seem like she's present, like she's aware of the world and what's happening around her, but more and more I've noticed her leaving Dumitru, Khardeen, Keeley, and Fiachra to do her talking for her. I think she's been worrying about something, carrying some burden she refuses to share, stubbornly sacrificing her own peace of mind rather than bother anyone else. I blame her father; he'd been big on whole heavy-is-head-that-wears-the-crown philosophy.

"You were wrong," she says suddenly, her voice clear in spite of the pattering rain and roar of wind.

I've been standing with my back against one of the taller stone piles, taking what shelter I could from the rain while remaining close enough to Fi that I could hear and defend her as needed. Now, I walk across the short distance separating us and join her where she's paused in her walking. "Want to narrow that down a bit?" I ask.

"About ruins. Do you remember? Not these, not now, but before, long ago, when we went to the old Coliseum."

I did remember that. We'd been in Rome for Siobhan because apparently even when Fi curses you to endure a less than happy eternity, she still cares enough to slay your monsters for you. As she'd said at the time, she was the only one alone to punish those who were hers, thanks very much. Once the matter had been handled, she and I had gone to the Coliseum since neither of us had ever been, hard as that was to believe.

"I don't like ruins," I'd told her. "Mortals go out of their way to build these monuments with the intention that they stand for eternity, silently reminding all the future generations of the cultures and kingdoms that come before. Long after mortal memory forgets, these buildings remain in testimony of the past. Except they don't; time makes a mockery of them, reducing them to skeletal remains and mere shadows of their former glory."

Fi had look around at the crumbling stone and shrugged. "We remember though, don't we? Mortal memory might fail, but not ours; we remember when the shouts of dying men and the roars of spectating crowds filled this air. We remember when blood and sand covered this ground, warmed by a younger sun. We remember when emperors ruled here with laurel wreaths and togas while senates seethed and the populace cheered. Maybe that's enough?"

"Death still comes to their would-be immortality," I'd pointed out and Fi hadn't said anything more.

Until now, centuries later, when she'd suddenly thought of a reply.

"Scatterbrained much?" I tease, tugging gently on a loose tendril of her hair and earning myself a glare.

"Just because you don't understand the destination doesn't mean the journey was a maze," she tells me.

I quirk an eyebrow, my expression turning skeptical. "That doesn't make any...You know what? Never mind. How was I wrong about ruins?"

She's looking at her hand, at where her fingers touch the cold, wet stone. Her expression is thoughtful but there is something else mixed in, something I can't quite identify. "You said they die, that time wears them down to dust, but that's not right. It's not dying, not really, only changing, becoming something else, something that shows its age and stands out in a world that's moved on while it remains in spite of time's efforts. That's not death, is it? That's survival."

"I suppose," I concede, "but I'm not sure what are you saying. Fi, why are we here?"

Sighing, she shakes her head, clearing it, and looks around. "I only meant that change isn't necessarily a sort of death; even the Fae change and transform as the centuries pass so we're hardly immune. We do what we have to in order to survive and that's okay...isn't it?"

I'm not sure where these thoughts are coming from or where they're heading. Usually, Fi worries about her loved ones, her people, and her rule and tends to avoid the deeper abstracts. Or maybe she talks about them with her other Wraiths, or with her mate, or with her brother, and I'm spared. Still, I'm not sure how to respond, what the right words are or even where to find them.

Fi smiles and pats my cheek. "It's okay, honey; you don't need to answer. It's not really one of those questions. What I'm looking for...it's not here after all but I found something else instead. Are you ready to go?"

I pretend to pout. "And miss out on enjoying this glorious weather?!"

Rolling her eyes, Fi loops her arm through mine and leans her head against my shoulder. "Let's go home," she says and I nod.

I had the disturbing feeling something significant had just happened, as though if I could understand what Fi had been trying to say, I'd be able to foresee some impending disaster and divert it, save the day. It's a ludicrous idea and yet...

And yet I can't help but wish I understood what had just happened.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Lizzie Koch Week 110: Dark Souls

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Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Dark Souls

Leo stands alone, casting no shadow under the moon’s watchful gaze. Slowly, he walks along the path, his footsteps silent. Trees whisper as he passes; their canopies swaying away from him. If they could run, they would. They have already witnessed Leo’s raw, destructive power that chills bones and curdles blood. Maybe tonight, they will see it again, if his mood changes.

A deep melancholy lingers within, not easily satisfied by the wanton vandalism of unsuspecting souls. Leo wants more than roaming this earth alone for eternity. He wants companionship, to touch the silky smooth flesh of a human without them trembling in fear. Is that possible? A human companion for a vampire?

Or any companion.

I can’t be alone. I refuse to believe I am the last of my kind, destined to remain alone.
Deep in thought, Leo passes the bench he usually sits at. He stops. Nostrils flare and the scent of warm, sweet blood fills him. He turns slowly and sitting on his bench is a woman. She looks up to him. She smiles. Leo smells no fear. Excitement surges through him, mixed with confusion.

She stands, keeping her gaze on him. He doesn’t want her to leave and is filled with surprise as she walks towards him, keeping her eyes locked onto his.

“Leo.” Her voice flows soft and smooth; if it were food, it would be cream, enveloping every inch of him like silk. “I knew you’d come.”

He has so many questions but is mesmerised by her. After all these hundreds of years, Leo finally encounters someone worthy to be his companion, as the melancholy lifts, bringing a new ravishing hunger.

“I see you’re hungry,” she says in her creamy voice. “It burns inside of you, raging deep.”
“You are not afraid of me. Who are you?” His guard is up, senses on alert.
“Well, not your next meal that’s for sure.” She flashes a smile. He half expects to see sharp, glistening fangs but doesn’t, and is aroused.
“Are you here to kill me?” Leo asks with a wry smile
“That depends on you, Leo.”

Leo watches as she lights a cigarette, inhaling deeply. Wafts of smoke swirl in the night air and fade. She’s so cool, so calm, so confident. In the blink of an eye, he’s standing right before her, feeling her warm breath against his cold skin. Her eyes are dark but inviting. Leo crushes her body against his, pressing his lips against hers. There is no fight, no fear. He pulls away slowly and opens his eyes. Jumping back, Leo’s eyes widen, his fangs flash.

“Where are we? What have you done?” He moves swiftly across the windowless room.
“I just used a little magic, I have powers too you know.”
“What do you want from me?”
“A job. You see, I work for him, downstairs and we’ve been admiring your handy work over time. We want you to work for us.”
“I don’t work for anyone. And why would you want me when you’re powerful enough?” he spat.
“Because you can get into places we can’t. You can pass as human to a point. We can’t.”
“You fooled me,” Leo admitted.
“I have limited powers. You are what we need. Work for us, you’re already on the darkside no matter how you convince yourself otherwise with your selected killings. We’ll just select victims for you.”
Leo considered her, his eyes searching deep within, trying to pass the beauty that trapped him.
“You don’t want to see my true form Leo. Now, you have until morning to give me an answer.”
“And then what?”

She waves her hands up at the ceiling and Leo watches as it disappears revealing the star pricked night sky. “I don’t need to have to tell you what will happen if you’re still in here come sunrise.” She strokes his firm, chiseled cheek, the heat of her hand warming his entire body. “I’ll come back in an hour or two. That should give you enough time to consider.” The ceiling reappears. He studies her but doesn’t give an answer. If she can play games then so can I. He smiles and she vanishes leaving a smouldering ring on the floor.

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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, July 27, 2014

Ruth Long Week 109: Condemned

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Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Condemned

A farmhouse or country store
hard to tell any more
Planted along a wandering highway
once upright with pride
now cowering in shambles
rotting within and without

Splintered and bowed
by time and circumstance

Crumbling away beneath
the unrepentant sun
and overcome with weeds
that choke out even the
ghost of hope.


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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, July 26, 2014

Aleea Davidson Week 109: Wither Part 7

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Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice:

Title: Wither Part 7

It was a beautiful old church. Built in the early 1800’s it boasted large doors hand crafted and ornately carved out of wood turned chocolate and caramel coloured with age. Stained glass windows that had been painstakingly restored when Mara was a young girl glowed eerily in the dark, cracks marring their once pristine surfaces.

Glen led her around the side to a back door hidden by overgrown bushes teeming with hungry mosquitoes. The smell of damp cement and mold growing in crevasses and corners of a tiny alcove tickled her nose, creating an urge to sneeze. Dried tear tracks on her face left her skin stiff and sticky. She felt brittle, fragile and cold all over, but Glen’s arm around her was a warm anchor, grounding her to the earth as he ushered them inside.

The moldy scent deepened, layered with the faint scents of candle wax and the lemon oil used to clean the simple wooden pews for decades. It was dark and chilly inside, empty and stale. She couldn’t remember the last time services were held here, and the echo of their shuffling footsteps made her suspect anything of value or use had been stripped away long ago.

Glen led her across the room and through yet another doorway. Dim light from a small window weakly illuminated a skinny cot with a blanket folded neatly at its end. Two milk crates stacked one atop the other sat to the right, serving as a bedside table with several candles and what appeared to be books resting on the surface.

He let go of her and immediately the shivers struck, making her teeth chatter alarmingly loud in the otherwise thick silence. The scratch of a match was followed by a burst of sulphur stink and the flare of warm, golden light that he set to one of the candles. The flame hissed and sputtered, as if the wick had absorbed the damp that hung in the air.

Running a hand through his hair, looking around the room, Glen spoke, his voice a quiet rasp that betrayed his uncertainty. “It’s not much, but we can stay here for a little while until the craziness settles down out there.” He gestured vaguely, and Mara wondered if he was speaking about the rioting or about what might be happening surrounding the butcher’s suicide. Had anyone even heard the gunshot over all the other noise? Would anyone even care?

He cleared his throat and shifted in place, stuffing his hands deep into his pockets and hunching his shoulders inward. He looked as uncertain and wary as she felt. Waves of sickness twisted her stomach into a knot.

“Is this your...place? I mean, do you live here?”

He shook his head. “It’s just a place I stumbled across one day. No one comes here anymore. I’ve used it a few times to stay out of sight when the government men were on the lookout for UV Tolerant guinea pigs.”

“Why did he do it?” Her abrupt topic change didn’t seem to surprise or confuse Glen. He crossed the small distance he’d put between them and instantly reached for her, rubbing the tops of her arms briskly yet gently as she began to babble. “He just shot himself, right in the head. No warning, no explanation, no...nothing. Who does that?”

“Someone who’s given up, who thinks there’s nothing left, that’s who.”

“I don’t even...” Mara choked, shaking her head, her words cumbersome and inadequate. She couldn’t find an articulate way to express her confusion or her revulsion.

“Don’t,” Glen said, his hands curving around her biceps, giving her a sharp, jarring shake. “Don’t think about it. Push it out of your mind, Mara. He was sick. He was dying. Do you understand? Desperate people at the end of their emotional rope do desperate things.”

She managed to nod though it came with a stuttered sob. “It’s all so...fucked up.”

In the dim light, she watched the corner of Glen’s mouth lift in a humourless, wry curve. “Welcome to the world we live in, nymph. We are without a doubt smack dab in the middle of epically fucked up.” He drew her close, and she fell into him, pressing tight to the warmth he offered, starved for the comfort. She heard him whisper hush, but he didn’t need to. Her tears fell hot and silent, soaking his shirt where his heart beat a steady, reassuring rhythm against her cheek.

In a few minutes she would rally, get her backbone back, stand up and face the music. She was stronger than this—she had to be stronger than this.

In a few minutes, she told herself, giving Glen more of her weight, burrowing closer. In just a few minutes…

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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)

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Jeff Tsuruoka Week 109: Bad Day at the Boat House - Part One

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Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Bad Day at the Boat House - Part One

11:44AM

Sheriff Clarkson swore as he set the receiver back into the cradle.

Deputy Walsh, a fresh coffee-- untasted-- in her hand, watched as he unfolded his gangly six foot, eight inch frame and got out of his chair.

The sheriff rubbed his upper lip and shook his head. A single lock of thin brown hair fell down across his forehead.

Walsh suppressed a smile. If she looked closely enough she could still make out the shape and breadth of the mustache that, until the week before, lived beneath his nose.

“What is it, boss?” she asked.

After a dozen years with the department, she’d thought she’d seen every face the sheriff had-- anger, disgust, fatigue, frustration, empathetic. Outright bafflement was a new one.

He stared down at his telephone like it was some strange alien device.

“It’s the damnedest thing,” he muttered. “Just got a call. Said there was gonna be a shooting. And a fire.”

“A shooting and a fire? Where? When?”

“Didn’t say. Did say I was gonna need five body bags.”

Walsh set her coffee mug down, then ran her fingers through her close-cropped blonde hair. She pulled off the crew-cut look through sheer force of will, the same will she used to survive breast cancer four years earlier.

“Crank is all,” she replied. “Some guy phoning in some vague threat.”

“That’s the thing, Walsh. Wasn’t not some guy.”

She raised one eyebrow at him.

“It’s a woman.”



5:52PM

The wiry, balding man eyed the pier in each direction before turning toward the boat house.

The fresh coat of white paint didn’t quite mask the passage of seven decades of life on the river. The place looked good from a distance. Up close it was impossible to not see how many boards were cracked or warped beyond repair.

The river itself was as clean and blue as he remembered it. Sixteen years away from town had not dampened his love for that particular body of water.

He reached into his back pocket and pulled out the letter he’d received the previous day.

The simple, typewritten note had come in the mail, without a return address and without any postal markings on the envelope. In it, its writer had instructed him to appear, alone, at the boat house by six the next evening. Failure to do so-- or contacting police-- would result in the carrying out of several specific, terrifying threats. An accurate description of his morning routine helped him to understand the gravity of the situation.

He’d done everything he’d been instructed to do. He’d told no one where he was going, parked his car at the old quarry site outside of town, and walked down Main Street to the pier.

Now that he was there, the .45 he had stuffed in his pocket provided far less comfort than he’d hoped it would.

“Hey Billy! Billy James!”

He spun in the direction of the voice, identifying its owner it as he did so.

Buck Hoskins. A pal from the old days in town, one he hadn’t seen in almost sixteen years.

The voice, huskier and more damaged by cigarettes and cheap whiskey than Billy remembered, matched the man who stepped around from the far side of the boat house.

Where Billy, with his full head of red hair and still spare frame, had aged with a measure of grace, Buck Hoskins had crumbled.

Buck’s leathered and pock-marked face and receding hairline made him look sixty-two rather than thirty-two. His gut and shoulders tested the elastic qualities of his shabby clothes.

“You too, huh?” he croaked.

Billy shrugged.

“Seems that way.” He looked around the dock again. “Anyone else?”

“Murph and Vin,” replied Buck, nodding toward the boat house. “They’re already inside.”

“You, me, Murph, and Vin,” murmured Billy.

His mind tumbled back sixteen years, to the last time the four friends had been together. He thought about the letter again.

Buck read his thoughts.

“It’s gotta be,” he said.

Billy nodded. “Nothing else makes sense. But how?”

“Don’t you mean who?”

“I’m not sure it’s such a smoking hot idea to bunch up in there,” he said.

“Yeah? Well I don’t think it’s such a smoking hot idea to piss off whoever this is. Least not ‘til we know what the fuck we’re dealing with.”

Billy chuckled.

“You’re smarter than you look, Buck. Always were.”

“Good to see you too, Billy James.” He opened and held the boat house door. “After you, pal.”

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

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Michela Walters Week 109: The Foreign Devil

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Michela Walters’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: The Foreign Devil

She awoke on the dusty floor, trying to sort out where she was and how she’d ended up here. Examining herself, she was dressed in a dingy blue smock-like dress, shoeless and absolutely filthy. Running her fingers through her grimy hair, she wondered what had happened to the shoes she vaguely remembered having worn. Vivian thought back, trying to focus amid her throbbing head to recall what she’d last been doing.

A creak coming from the low planked ceiling made the hairs on her neck and arms stand at alert in fear. Dust fluttered down with every footstep above. Hobbling over to the barred windows, she could make out a dry, dusty field, but little else. She tried tugging on the bars, to no avail, when a quiet voice rang from a darkened corner of the room, startling her.

“Tis no use.”

Vivian spun and walked slowly to where the masculine voice had come from, trembling with every step -- not knowing what she would encounter. “Hhu - how do you know? Who are you?” She couldn’t even try to control the waver in her voice.

The figure in the shadow stood, slowly as if doing so was painful. Coming forward into the dim light being cast from the single window, a man appeared before her, hunched so as not to bang his head on the ceiling. His hair was mangy and long, hanging past his shoulders, a greying beard fell unkempt, hiding what might have been a handsome face.

“I’m John. Been here a long time, if you couldn’t tell.” He chose to sit back down, leaning against the wall. “Have a seat. Not like we’re going anywhere fast and standing in here’s killin’ my back.” he muttered, pointing over towards the cement slab near the window. “Have they told you why you’re here yet?”

Vivian glanced over her shoulder as she walked towards the window to sit. John appeared feeble and emaciated, not a real threat to her at all. “I’m Vivian, and I don’t even know where we are, let alone why I’m here.” She fought hard with her memory, trying to make sense of her current predicament when an image of a small tan car and a bearded man jumping out to snatch her off the dirt road popped into her mind. She’d been walking towards her hotel, needing a shower and a change of clothes with just enough time before her news team was set to go on air to discuss the newest airstrikes. The flood of memories streamed through her thoughts, causing her to reel back, grabbing the window bars for support. She always knew being on the fringes of war, kidnapping was possible, but she never thought it could happen to her. She was careful, blended in as best as she could, sticking with the customs of the country she was in. She was so lost in thoughts, she startled when he finally spoke again.

“You look familiar?” He stared quizzically at her face, trying to place where he might know her from.

“If you’ve ever watched CNN International, I’m one of their correspondents for their Middle East desk.”

Gently resting his head back against the wall, John felt uneasy with the thought of an actual television personality being captured. This would bring this extremist group more notoriety than ever before, and usually there weren’t any survivors when the dust settled.

“Unfortunately seems like these guys have it out for us reporting types. I work for the London TImes. I’m guessing you’ll be forced to make a statement soon. They’re probably waiting until you’re so hungry you’ll do anything they ask for a scrap of bread. Just read what they want you to and don’t try to send any signals about your whereabouts. You and I both know how easily this can end with a sword to our necks.”

“Do you think the military will try to rescue us?”

“The motherland doesn’t negotiate with terrorists and I’m beginning to think I’ll be stuck here forever.” His dejected tone left her little doubt about his optimism level.

“But you’re a Yank, right? Maybe they will. Your Seals are pretty heroic when they want to be.”

Their conversation ended when the clomping of boots down a set of rickety old stairs caused them both to cower in their respective corners. The man looming over us was covered from head to toe, only his dark beady eyes were visible through the black and white head dress he wore. Vivian knew enough of the language to understand his rants at both John and herself as being the devils causing ruin to their country. When he waved his gun at them both, her heart dropped into her stomach. She leaned over and wretched what was left from her last meal onto the floor beside her.

The kidnapper grabbed her by the hair, forcing her to look in her eyes. “One hour.” Thrusting her head back toward the vomit on the floor, he kicked her leg, reminding her to clean herself up.

She stared through the hair hanging in her face at his retreating form and wondered exactly what was going to happen in one hour. As much as she wanted to believe John, she’d seen what they’d done to other female journalists, and it wasn’t just talking sweetly into the camera.

And that thought absolutely horrified her.

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Like what you just read? Have a question or concern? Leave a note for the author! We appreciate your feedback!

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

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sarah Aisling Week 109: A Measure of Grace (Part 10): Road Trip

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 10): Road Trip

Grabbing the towel, I wrap it around my body and tuck the end in, leaving me hands-free and safe from prying eyes. Grace shakes off, sending droplets of water into the air, then runs around in circles, barking.

Next to my drying laundry is a pair of blue board shorts, a gray tank, and a pair of worn, black combat boots.

Max hasn't said anything since I got out of the water, so I turn to see what he's up to and almost mash my face into his pecs.

“Whoa!” He laughs and steadies me by the arms, meeting my eyes briefly before his gaze focuses on my chest. “I wasn't done.” He runs a playful finger along the edge of the towel.

“Done with . . . ?” I shoot him a glare, but he doesn't see because his attention is still lost in my cleavage somewhere.

Max tugs on the end of the towel, leaving it to fall and pool at my feet. His roving finger changes direction, sliding along the edge of my halter until it hits the lowest point and follows the other side up to my opposite clavicle.

My breaths are shallow, traitor heart slamming against my ribcage. Adrenaline courses through my bloodstream; for the first time in months, it's not from fear. I can't deny the attention is flattering as hell—especially from a man as handsome as Max.

But he's such an ass! An ass who thought you weren't good enough.

“Stop it!” I slap his hand off and bend to retrieve my towel. “I'm out of here as soon as I gather my shit.” Stalking away, I start grabbing my half-dry clothes and stuffing them in a bag.

Grace lies at the edge of the water, watching stoically. How much of our interaction does she understand?

“Don't go,” Max says softly, almost as if he gives a damn.

When I turn, he gives me a hot rendition of puppy eyes, his lips pouting.

My temper flares, and I drop the bag on the ground and close my eyes, letting out a frustrated sound. I take two deep breaths before stalking up to Max. “Wipe that ridiculous pleading look off your face!”

He salutes, attempting to hold back a grin. “Yes, ma'am!”

“This isn't funny, Max! You can't abandon me then show up and act as if you never left!”

“I didn't abandon you.”

“Uh, yeah, you did.”

His eyes harden subtly. “You seem to be doing okay.”

“No thanks to you!” I throw my hands up in exasperation. “What do you want?”

“It's time for a supply run. Told you I'd see if you wanted to come.” He hesitates then runs the pads of his fingers lightly over my bicep. “Look, I'm sorry.”

The anger starts dissipating, but I try to hold onto it. Max seems torn, and I wonder for the thousandth time what his story is. “Damn it, Max.” I stamp my bare foot in the gritty dirt.

“What?” There's a ghost of a smile on his face, but his eyes are tight.

“You are so frustrating.”

“But I'm cute.” He traces the edge of my jaw with a finger, and my heart beats faster.

“This isn't about cuteness,” I snap. “You left me alone in this fucked up town with no explanation! Those . . . people came around in the middle of the night. I slept on the floor under the window.” Tears sting my eyes.

Max’s brows draw together. “Yeah, I know. They seem agitated lately, unpredictable.” He scratches his jaw. “You, um . . . you’ve done good, Marie.”

“Like I have a choice? And how would you know if I’m doing well, deserter?” I move to turn, but Max grabs my hand.

“I’ve been watching.”

“You’ve been watching me?” My head droops, fatigue sucking the energy out of me.

Max’s fingers still tangle with mine. “There are things you don’t know that I can’t tell you.”

“Why can’t you tell me?” My stomach rolls. “Oh my God! Are you one of them?”

“No!”

I pull away from his touch and turn my back to him, hugging my body. A shiver runs through me despite the oppressive heat. “Then how do you know so much, and why can’t we stick together?”

Max cups my shoulders with his calloused palms, pressing his face into my hair. “There are some secrets that aren’t mine to tell. I’d be putting you and others at risk.”

“There are others . . . besides them?”

He sighs. “Please don’t ask for answers I can’t give. I’ve already said too much, and you have no reason to protect me if they catch you.”

“You think I’d rat you out?” I can’t keep the hurt from my voice. Then I remember something. “You worried Gary would give you up.”

“He could have, and I wouldn’t blame him—or you.”

Max’s touch is intimate, his breath a gentle breeze in my hair. Conflict arises within. He might be full of shit, but I don’t think so. He’s protecting someone. I fight against the sob bubbling up my throat. God, how I wish I had someone to protect.

“Marie?” Max lets go of my shoulders and moves in front of me, bending his knees so we’re at eye level. “Please don’t cry.” He wipes away my tears with the pads of his thumbs.

I suck in a breath and curse my leaking eyes. “I’m s-sorry. You just—what you said caught me off guard. I’ve been so alone . . . I never thought you might be looking out for someone else.”

“Hey . . . Hey.”

I blink rapidly and look into Max’s concerned eyes. “I’ll be okay.”

He smiles crookedly. “I know you will. Listen, now that you know why I’ve been such a jerk, maybe we can come to an agreement.”

I sniffle and wipe my nose. “I’m listening.”

“Sometimes I can hang out with you, keep you company. I’ll even help with stuff—like planting that garden, wherever it is that you’re planning on putting it.” He snags my fingers and tugs me toward the rock where my clothes were drying earlier, and we sit. “How does that sound?”

“How do you know about the garden?” I look for Grace and spot her snuffling around on the other side of the pond.

“I didn’t completely abandon you.” He slings an arm over my shoulders, pulling me close, but I remain stiff. “I saw the seeds you laid out to dry. I’ve seen you eating on the back porch with Grace. I got curious about where you go every afternoon, so I followed you here a few times.”

“Why didn’t you say something?” I try to look into his eyes, but the glare of the sun blinds me.

“I was trying to keep my distance, but . . . I find myself seeking you out more and more.”

My heart speeds. Because Max is drawn to me? Because I’m scared of being alone? Maybe both. I finally relax against his side, craving the contact and terrified of it at the same time. We remain seated that way, silent, until the brilliant red orb of the sun dips behind the trees, and the shadows lengthen.

Max walks me home. We stroll side by side, a comfortable silence and distance between us. Grace runs ahead, sometimes doubling back almost as if to make sure we’re still following. When we reach the back yard, Max leans on the gate.

“I’m leaving at dawn for a supply run. You in, China?”

“Yeah.”

“We’ll be gone overnight, so bring whatever you need.”

“You want some chow before you go?”

“Nah. You’ll have more of me than you can stand starting tomorrow.” He winks then saunters away, giving me a guilt-free, unobstructed view of his broad-shouldered physique.

“See you.”

He doesn’t look back, just raises a hand in the air.

My gaze roves down his back and over his ass. I'm not seeing the gray T-shirt and board shorts, though—I'm totally picturing him shirtless and tattooed in skintight boxer briefs.

Part of me is tempted to follow him, but beginning our new friendship by breaking Max’s trust doesn’t seem wise.

* * *

A soft murmur jolts me awake. The left side of the bed is cold, which means Grace has been gone for a while. I sit up and strain to hear, but the voice isn’t repeated. Maybe the sound was the remnant of a dream.

I fumble with the dog whistle and call for Grace. She lopes up the steps and into the bedroom, jumping up to lick my face. My heart rate slows. If anything were wrong, she would have alerted me.

I brush my teeth and get dressed. My rucksack is already packed, so I grab it and head downstairs.

Max is sprawled on the back porch, one leg blocking the top stair, eating a protein bar. “Morning, China.”

A stained paper plate rests at the bottom step, and Grace bounds over his leg to finish licking it.

“Hey.” I rub my eyes.

“I would’ve made you breakfast in bed, but I wasn’t sure what you wanted.” He digs in a plastic bag. “Beans, protein bar, or hash?”

“Protein bar works for me.”

“Good choice. Best to eat light before hiking.”

“How far away are we going?”

“Several miles.”

“And how do we carry the supplies? I’m assuming we can’t take a car—to avoid noise and all.”

“Right you are. I have it down to a science. You’ll see.”

The day is cooler than yesterday but still hot. As Max instructed, I’ve packed long pants and long sleeve shirts in addition to summery clothes because nights can get quite chilly and in case the need arises to enter tick-infested areas of the woods.

Max hefts a huge, navy rucksack over his shoulders, and we enter the woods at the edge of town. We hike a path that runs alongside the road but offers cover. The number of houses thins until there are only fields and the occasional abandoned barn.

“We need to take a short detour,” Max says.

I follow him down a narrow path that eventually leads to a thicket. He pulls branches away to reveal green tarps covering two green plastic shopping carts.

“So that’s how we carry supplies!”

“Am I a genius or what?” He flashes me a smile.

I laugh. “All this and modest, too!”

“Hey, these aren’t any old carts.” He pulls one out and sets it on the path, walking around it to point out all the features. “Green to blend in, tricked-out wheels—compliments of a few hacked-up wheelbarrows—patch kit in case of a flat, portable air pump, rope, and a tarp in case it rains. These babies are fast and quiet, and they can carry our shit on the way there.”

“Awesome! I love the monster truck wheels.”

“Pop your stuff in there.” Max folds the tarps and stores them inside the carts under our rucksacks.

Grace puts her paws up on one of the carts and looks at Max expectantly. “All right.” He grins at me. “She expects a ride on the way there. I’ve really spoiled her.”

He pushes my bag to the back of the cart and lifts Grace inside. She sits facing forward proudly, like the figurehead of a ship.

We push our carts along a dirt path with Max in the lead. When it’s wide enough, he waves me up to walk next to him.

“What’s the piece of rope on the front of the cart for?”

“In case the cart needs to be pulled out of a hole or up an incline. It happens.”

For the most part, travel is easy going. The big wheels roll over rocks and branches with no problem. The leaves on the trees take the brunt of the sun, allowing the filtered rays to create dappled patterns over the road without intense heat.

“So, who are you?” I ask after an hour or two of occasional small talk.

“Huh?”

“Tell me about BV Max.”

“BV?” Max side eyes me and raises a brow.

I grin. “Before Virus.”

“Ah.” He nods his head and swallows, an obvious silence following. Just when I think he’s not going to say anything, he clears his throat. “I wasn’t very interesting.”

I raise a speculative eyebrow.

“I’ve done a lot of jobs: mechanic, carpenter, maintenance man, valet. For a while I worked at a tattoo and piercing joint—got a great discount.” He smirks. “Played baseball and football in high school. Never went to college. And I entered the system at fourteen because my father was an abusive asshole. No mother—she left when I was two.”

“I’m sorry.”

“About what? My sucky job prospects due to lack of college degree, no mother, abusive father, or getting lost in the system?” He nudges my shoulder. “At least now, I don’t have to worry about any of that, right? Slate wiped clean.”

“I’m sorry for reminding you of it. I was just looking for a safe topic of conversation.”

Max laughs bitterly. “My life, past and present, is probably off the table as far as safe goes. My favorite job had to be mechanic, though. I love to tinker and have a gift for figuring out how things work.”

“That’s cool. I’ve never been good with mechanical things.” I wrack my brain for a safe subject to bring up in the ensuing silence. “Grace wasn’t your dog BV. How did you train her with the dog whistle?”

“She followed me after they captured Gary, and I figured any dog that had enough sense to save me from those bastards deserved a place by my side. I quickly realized the need to be quiet, so I found a dog whistle and spent a few afternoons training her. She’s a quick study.” He leans over and pats her on the head. “Aren’t you, girl?”

Grace licks his hand, and I glimpse the edge of the tattoo on the underside of his wrist again. We’ve already covered some uncomfortable subjects, so I don’t ask about it even though curiosity burns inside me.

Over the handle of his cart, Max spreads a map with several routes marked in different colors and shows it to me, following the red one with his finger. “We’re going to cross a valley with no real cover from here to here. This shaves a few miles off our trip as opposed to going this way.” His finger switches to the blue route, which skirts around what appears to be a large area avoiding the valley. “I’ve never come across any trouble going this way, but there’s always the potential. We need to move quickly, stay quiet, and be ready to hit the deck. The best we can do is hide under the tarps if we hear someone coming and pray that we blend in.”

Up until now, this trip seemed less dangerous than town. The realization that other dangers—like the guys who took over my uncle’s cabin—exist out here causes a churning in the pit of my stomach. There is no single enemy to combat and overcome.

I realize I stopped walking when Max halts a few feet in front of me and looks back. “You all right?”

“I—yeah. I will be.”

“Let’s take a break. Have some water, maybe a snack?” He waves Grace out of the cart to do her business then digs in his rucksack, coming up with a canteen of water and two protein bars. “Haute cuisine. Get ‛em before they’re gone!”

We perch on a log and munch on the bars, passing the canteen back and forth. Grace returns, and Max pulls a collapsible dog bowl out of his bag and pours some of the water into it. She laps it up with gusto.

“Thank you.” I place a hand on Max’s knee.

“For what?”

“I started panicking, and you distracted me.” I look down at my lap and tears blur my vision. “This isn’t a bad dream or some temporary situation. Life as we know it is o-over.”

Max’s hand covers mine. “Life’s always been hard on me. Ironically, that fact probably made the transition to this new world easier to accept. See, now I rely on myself. If I fuck things up, it’s all on me.” He cups my jaw, coaxing me to look his way, blue-green eyes earnest. “It will be all right, Marie. I’m not going to let this new world eat you alive.”

I blink away the film of tears and smile bravely. I don’t ask how Max is going to keep the world from eating me alive or how he expects me to place my trust in him after the way he treated me when I first arrived.

* * *

We traverse the valley without incident. On the other end, we pick up a trail that requires single-file travel until it spills out onto train tracks. Max steers us to the left, and the rails eventually cross several roads.

The occasional house and some broken-down cars are visible in the distance.

Max stops and pulls two masks and a tub of Vick’s from his bag. “You might want to use these.”

“Why?”

His expression is grim. “This place isn’t like our town. It reeks of death in places.”

Slathering Vick’s under my nose, I pull on the mask and attempt to quell the panic threatening to consume me. I remember the many times a horrid stench of rot and decay layered over a sickening sweet component left me retching somewhere. When I left the city behind and reached rural areas, it was such a relief to breathe clean air.

“Why didn’t you warn me?” The mask muffles my voice.

“Sorry. I’m used to doing this by myself, and I’ve gotten used to the routine.”

“How do you get used to death and decay?”

Max touches my arm, and I look into his eyes—their haunted intensity highlighted over the top of the white mask. “The routine, not the death. I deal with it because I have no other choice, but I'll never get used to it.”

We continue following the tracks, and a gradual transformation takes place. More houses, a small train station with a ticket booth, abandoned vehicles scattered along the cross streets.

And then we reach a much wider street, lined on both sides by businesses and parked cars. Some of the store windows are shattered, busted doors swinging open, while others appear untouched. Debris litters the sidewalks and the street.

We pass a small post office. There’s still a sign hanging on the door: “Closed. Will reopen at 9 a.m.”

I stand in the middle of the street and turn slowly. Joyce’s Hair and Nail Boutique, The Brew Apothecary, Bee’s Café, Mulgrew Electronics. Most of these businesses have apartments above them. People lived here, shared gossip, and loved and fought and died here. Outside a shop called Sella’s, a tilted metal rack still holds the tattered remains of high-end clothing from a sidewalk sale.

I sink to my knees with a sob. Grace leans in and licks my face. A child’s doll lies on the double yellow line dividing the road. Her blond hair is tangled and dirty, the stained pink pajamas threadbare in spots. A few feet beyond that is a hardcover book, pages swelled, ripped, and moldy from the elements.

A tangle of blankets and sheets lumped into a ball.

An empty and broken laundry basket.

Tools spilling out of a rusted and dented metal box.

Broken TVs and radios that appear to have been tossed out of apartment windows.

I hug Grace around the neck and bury my face in her fur. The mask traps hot, moist breath against my face and absorbs the tears as they fall. I pull it down around my neck so I can drag in more air.

Max crouches on the asphalt and wraps himself around me, chest pressed to my back, arms banding my front, his chin resting on one shoulder. “Breathe, Marie.” He rocks us gently. “You can do this.”

Air whistles as I gasp for breath. I look around wildly, knowing my cell phone is out of reach. My fingers dig into Max’s arm hard enough to draw blood. Grace whimpers and licks the back of my hand.

I let go and do what hasn’t been done since everyone I love in the world was taken from me. Throwing my head back, I bay at the sky, allowing the tears and anger and bitterness to rise to the surface. I’m too pissed-off to be afraid someone will hear me or that Max might judge me.

Through the entire onslaught—the purging of poison from my system, the final realization and acceptance that all I knew and loved is gone forever—Max holds on and rides it out with me.

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Like what you just read? Have a question or concern? Leave a note for the author! We appreciate your feedback!

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, July 22, 2014

Kimberly Gould Week 109: Ripley Van Winkle

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Ripley Van Winkle

Ripley blinked away sleep like grains of sand, scratching across his eye and sticking in the corner. He looked up to the same summer sky he’d fallen asleep under, blue with fluffy white clouds passing periodically in front of the baking sun. It wasn’t baking now. It wasn’t cold, either, just not as warm as he remembered. It had probably gotten late and the heat of the day was waning.

Stretching, he arched his belly toward the sky, his shirt splitting from his trousers like lips parting over teeth. Ripley shivered slightly. It was a lot colder than when he’d taken his siesta. He dug in his pocket for car keys while rubbing the remaining grit out of his eyes. They watered, the grit rubbing in more than out. Ripley stumbled to his feet, heels of both palms against his eyelids. Finally, he managed to blink the painful obstructions away and squinted to find his car.

“What in the hell?”

His car was still there, but it was a rusted shell, like the one next to it. How long had he been asleep?

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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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Monday, July 21, 2014

SJ Maylee Week 109: One Thing

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SJ Maylee’s’ Choice: Both

Title: One Thing

Jonathon walked across the bridge at a snail’s pace. His world was empty without his Roxanne lighting the way. Lost in memories from one of their afternoons together, he was unaware of the cars speedy by to his right, the great drop to the river below on his left, or the woman in front of him.

“Hello, Jonathon.”

He stopped and brought up his fits, searching for the fight. The only thing he found was the woman in front of him. He looked back quickly, found nothing, and turned back to her.

“Why are you not doing your research?”

“You know why.” He took a step closer to her and continued to search around as he was unconvinced they were alone. “You didn’t have to take Roxanne.”

“You gave us no choice. Your kind serves one purpose and you were no longer doing it. She had to go home.”

His heart beat unevenly as what she said became clear.

“You heard me right. We took her back to her home. You know where that is, but I promise you will never be back in that place or that time.”

He didn’t care if she was right. There was a way he could use this information to his advantage and he’d figure it out. He’d find her again. It was true. His heart beat swiftly with the hope it once again had.

He stood proud, power surging through him. “There’s only one thing for me to do now and your research is not it.”

“Your fight is a waste.”

“Your life is a waste. I only started living once I met my Roxanne. As smart she you think you are, you know nothing about life. My love for Roxanne remains and I will find her.”

Goons in black suits, similar to those at the camp, came up behind him.

“Cooperate please. You know we’ll get our way, besides I can make your life very unpleasant.”

“Do what you will. I only care about one thing. Roxanne!”

The woman raised her hand. A ball of light grew from the center of her palm until it flashed out all the darkness. His feet were swept up from underneath him and he landed on his back in the middle of a hovel.

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Like what you just read? Have a question or concern? Leave a note for the author! We appreciate your feedback!

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, July 20, 2014

Miranda Kate Week 108: Interdimensioning - Part 7 - Home at last

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Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Interdimensioning - Part 7 - Home at last

The silence from the trees remained.

Elise whispered, “What happened with Reginald, what spooked you?”

He whispered back, “The codes I was programming into him should have changed the set up, but they kept returning to those that brought us here. It’s like he wanted us to remain here or something.”

“What do you think it means?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe he’s a device or something they’re using to communicate with us.”

“They?”

“The Trees. But I’m trying to work out what those holograms were about, and that flower. You said it took you to another place?”

“Yes, just for a moment. When I hit my head I came back though.”

Logan looked around at the ground around them. The sunflower was still lying where Elise had thrown it. He moved away from her to pick it up.

“Logan what are you doing?” Elise hissed at him, glancing at his hand. The flower was face down. She could see his mind working. “What are you thinking?”

“Well let’s assume that Reginald and the holograms were their way of communicating with us, and the flower did indeed lead us out of here.”

“Okay. But why would they do that?”

“We are working on the assumption that the trees are bad and they want to hurt us, but are they?”

“I don’t follow.” Elise was confused. “Reginald told us about how the other humans had perished here.”

“Yes, but he also told us that the trees gave them food, but just not enough. And how the noise they made caused them to pass out each time – as it did with us when we arrived.”

“Okay.” Elise was beginning to see what he was getting at.

“So maybe they have devised another way to communicate with any unsuspecting humans that arrive here.”

“What, by using a device that they left here?”

“Yes.” Logan walked over to Reginald and tapped his shoulder. There was no movement; he remained in the same stance. “He’s real enough, not like the others.”

Logan was still holding the flower. Elise pointed at it. “So what are you going to do with that?”

“Well maybe it’s our way out of here. Maybe that’s why they gave it to you. If we both go through to another place, maybe my box will work there to get us home?”

Elise gave Logan a dubious look.

“Elise, we’ve got nothing to lose at this point. Staying here really isn’t an option.”

Elise pulled a face, and said, “Okay. But we might be better off going lying down. I leant down to hear something, that’s what made me fall.”

“Let’s give it a try.” Logan lay down on the ground next to her and she joined him. He held her hand on one side and held up the flower with the other, making sure it was over both of them so they could see it at the same time.

Within seconds of looking at the centre Elise could feel herself spinning again. She didn’t resist it this time and before long she found herself in the field, this time with Logan at her side. He put the flower down and they both lay there for a few seconds as though waiting to see if they would stay. Nothing changed.

Slowly Logan sat up and pulled Elise up with him. They looked round at the long grass waving in the breeze. There were no trees on any horizon. Logan stood up. Elise remained where she was.

“Aren’t you coming?”

“Can you hear anything Logan?”

He frowned at her, cocking his head slightly. “Only the breeze through the grass.”

“No whispering?”

“What are you talking about?”

She listened, but he was right, there was only the breeze in the grass. She wondered if it was what she had heard the last time. She hoped so.

Logan pulled out the box from his pocket and looked at it. He punched in some numbers, and his face lit up. “We’re back in business.”

Elise had never felt so overjoyed. She leapt to her feet. “We get to go home?”

“Yes. I’m not taking us anywhere else. I think we’ve had enough for a while.”

Elise nodded.

Logan spent a few minutes punching in the numbers and then he took Elise’s hand. “Ready?”

“Never been more so.”

Logan pointed the box at the air next to them, and drew a rectangular shape. The air within it shifted, going a shade darker, and they stepped through together.

It was like climbing into a cupboard. When they stepped out the other side, they were in Logan’s apartment. Relief filled Elise’s heart, while Logan walked across the room and opened the French windows, stepping out onto the balcony. She joined him.

They looked out over the city, breathing in the late afternoon air.

“Nothing looks any different, I think we’re home.”

Logan stepped back inside and picked up a clock. “Yep, we’ve only been away about two hours.”

Elise shook her head. “That always amazes me. It feels like we’ve been gone for days.”

“This time round, definitely.” They heard a scratching and a whine at the door. Logan opened it and his dog, Sunny, came bounding into the room, jumping up at them both, overjoyed to see them.

“Fancy coming with me to take Sunny for a walk?”

Elise took another breath of the evening air, and said, “Sure. It’ll be a good way to wind down after all the stress.”

Logan put a lead on Sunny and they exited the apartment, taking the road down to the beach. He kept glancing up and Elise followed his gaze.

“What you looking at?”

“The Trees. I don’t think I’ll ever look at them the same

again!” Elise laughed.

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You can read more of my writing on my blog - Finding Clarity - at http://purplequeennl.blogspot.nl/ or join me on Twitter @PurpleQueenNL

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mark Ethridge Week 108: The Whole World Went Insane - Part 12

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: The Whole World Went Insane - Part 12

It had been a good two weeks. Valerie and I laughed a lot, swam a lot, took a lot of walks, and spent a lot of time together. But, all good things eventually end, and so did our vacation. The three-day trip back to the camp was quiet. I enjoyed walking with my love, holding her hand, the times she decided to kiss me.

Near sunset on the third day, we reached the camp. I’d expected Jessica to greet us, but she didn’t. Instead, Kelly met us. We both knew from Kelly’s appearance, something was horribly wrong.

“Frank!”

“Kelly?”

She grabbed me, her arms wrapped around my neck, and her head found my shoulder, and she came apart. I’d say her tears fell like rain, but that’s an old cliché. Disturbed and distraught described her well.

“What? What’s wrong?”

She looked up, and tried to speak, but broke back down, and buried her face on my shoulder again. Not knowing what else to do, I let her cry a bit, then asked again, “What’s wrong?”

Kelly still couldn’t talk about it. But, Kelly wasn’t waiting for us by herself. Gina was with her. “It’s Beth.”

I felt like I’d walked off a cliff, and was watching the ground racing toward me.

“Beth’s missing. We can’t find her.” She took a half step toward me. “Frank. She left a note.”

I didn’t need to hear what the note said. “Damn.”

Kelly finally found her voice, “We’ve searched everywhere. We can’t find her.”

“Jessica?”

“Jessica’s busy.”

“The gangs?” Valerie asked, even though she knew the answer.

Gina nodded, “The wolves howl every night.”

I grabbed Valerie’s hand, “I’ll need my pack.”

We raced to our home, and put a few necessities in my backpack. All I could do was hope I found her in time.

“How long’s she been gone?”

“Two days.”

Damn. Two days. That was too long. I knew that. I knew what I’d find when I found Beth.

I started with the standard search I’d learned from books. Go in a circle until you find what you’re looking for. I needed to find the path Beth had taken when she left. I’d told Valerie, “She didn’t take a normal path. They’d have found her.”

“I know. Frank. Find her. However long it takes.”

The rest of that day, into that night, I searched in expanding circle around the camp, looking for any signs of where Beth had gone. Disturbed brush, footprints in the dirt, broken twigs. Anything I could find.

I was numb, and terrified. How do you find a person in a forest that covers hundreds of square miles? Especially when you don’t know what direction they went. When you don’t know which way they , and when they’ve got at least a two-day lead on you.

That night, I tried to sleep in my little tent. I failed. I kept thinking about Beth. Wondering where she’d gone. Why she’d gone. I had nightmares with my eyes open. I saw an endless string of ways for Beth to escape our world. To escape her agony. To be free.

Yeah. I knew why she’d left. I knew what was in the note she’d written.

She wanted to die.

I couldn’t blame her for that. Life hadn’t been kind to her. Hell, I had no idea how many times she’d been raped, or how many men had used her. No idea what they’d done to her, or made her do. No idea how long they’d had her staked to those posts at the stables. No idea how she’d been treated while tied to those posts. “Hi. Here’s a free sample. Try this one out, and if you want, we’ll talk about the others.”

I wondered if any of the girls could sleep at night.

I pushed myself into the search at dawn. I kept expanding the circle. I kept wondering if it was useless, like trying to find a blade of grass in a field of weeds that covered everything you could see in all directions. It would be a miracle if I found any sign of her.

But, I couldn’t give up. I just couldn’t.

On the third day of my search I found a broken limb on a bush in the undergrowth. And that led to another broken limb, and another.

I followed them. One led to another. I found some disturbed leaves and twigs on the ground. I found a smoothed bit of ground, like someone had laid down for a while. I followed the signs. Few, and far apart. They made a fairly straight line, headed north. I picked up my pace.

I didn’t want to stop at night, but I had no choice. I couldn’t follow Beth’s trail in the dark. I’d miss something. I’d get lost. I couldn’t afford that. I had to wait until sunrise.

The fourth day, I found a footprint. I knew it was hers. “God, let me get there in time!”

I knew I wouldn’t.

I found her on day five. An hour after sunrise. She was ghostly white, her eyes glazed, and empty. Her body rested on red ground. The greens, browns, yellows and golds of the ground were all red. I saw the cuts on her wrists.

I saw the note she’d left. “I’m sorry.”

I sagged to my knees, and tried to feel anything. Everything was numb. Nothing was real. I couldn’t ask, “Why?” I knew why.

The whole world had gone insane.

Beth had found a way to escape the insanity.

When I could breathe again, I carefully pulled her body from the ocean of blood surrounding her. I cleaned her up, using water from my canteen to wash off any dried blood. I wrapped her in my bedding.

I carried her home.

It took two days. I didn’t care.

Gina and Kelly were waiting when I got home. I placed Beth on the bench beside the main fire.

“We’ll have a funeral.”

Kelly and Gina spent the night cleaning up Beth’s body.

Valerie and I spent the night digging a hole in the ground, and making a wooden cross.

Hannah found flowers. I never asked where Hannah found anything. She always did. That was enough to know.

The others made a blue gown for Beth. “It was her favorite color.”

At sunrise, we gathered. No one spoke. Each of us hugged Beth. I kissed her cheek. She looked so calm, in that blue gown, with nail polish, and lipstick, and her hair done up, holding those flowers.

Then, we lowered her into the ground. The others left, Valerie and I buried her.

I hammered the wooden cross in place in the ground at the head of her grave. Valerie squeezed my hand, then nodded, and left me alone. I stood at the foot of Beth’s grave.

“I’m sorry.” What else was there to say?

“You’re free now.” I looked at the sky above. “You take care of her.”

Then I cried.

I watched over Beth until the sun set.

The whole world had gone insane.

And now, maybe so had I.

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

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pablo Michael' Week 108: Tending the Garden

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Pablo Michael’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Tending the Garden

Standing on the twelve inch width of the pressure treated, wooden walkway, Clark, Turner as Todd, his partner, nicknamed him, clicked his retro shoes together, hoping this jaunt through their untended Japanese garden would bring him the peaceful resolution he had sought for nearly fifty years. His throat gurgled as a controlled laugh burst out at the sight of his skinny, crippled feet, covered in a pair of trendy, striped, colored socks. Todd had given them to him on his sixtieth birthday a week ago. Withered leaves danced on the cobble beside the path from a hot summer wispy breeze, reminding him of the day he made his choice, objecting to his draft status to serve in the army during the Viet Nam War. He had no grounds for CO status, like his straight friends had sought, especially since his draft board was comprised of the most narrow-minded, war-mongering men in the city, who had always denied that status. Every other teenager and young man he knew had served in at least one branch of the military. Even Todd fulfilled his stint in the Air Force, but he was stationed in Europe tracking flights of the Soviet Union’s airplanes, ships and submarines. He had fought in the Cold War, making observations vital to the decision if the Button should be pressed.

Turner walked, carefully, down the plank between the plantings of overgrown deciduous shrubs, conifers and Japanese maple trees. He had chosen to adapt to the underground lifestyle of gay men who claimed their sexual preference to love a man, entirely, rather than kill, which prevented them from being drafted. His decision, the life he led, and the deeds he practiced since that day were him; he and no one else could deny that. He fought for many causes as alternatives to all the wars that kept erupting since Viet Nam. But had he lost his self-identity? Before Todd, Turner kept starting the pages of a new chapter of his gay lifestyle after relationship after another ended just as the wars drug on. Whenever Turner was about to stop everything he was doing, Todd had reminded Turner he was turning the pages of his life much too fast. His partner taught him to look a little deeper, even laugh at what he couldn’t control.

Over coffee in the morning, Turner agreed to put on the shoes and socks and walk in the garden when he started complaining, wanting to start his life from the beginning again. He remembered when Todd helped him plant the garden, the symbolic reminder of their initial attraction.

Stepping over a rickety bridge, Turner stopped and gazed in the deep blue hue of the pond’s water, the pattern of ominous stratus clouds reflecting the eclipsed sun on the surface. Suddenly, he saw the brilliance of the sun’s image. His life’s journey became clear again. Objecting to too many wars, emerging since Viet Nam, and dedicating his work for improving life, he decided to tend to the garden, bringing its aging appearance more reverence. After all, Todd had given him the love he never counted on when he started his journey many years ago.

Clark stopped turning the pages, content with his life with Todd as their lives merged into one, the process of peace and their fulfilling love. He leaned over, pulled a weed, and sighed.

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Pablo Michaels writes LGBT fiction and has published with Naughty Nights Press, http://naughtynightspress.blogspot.com You can follow him at @bell2mike

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Lizzie Koch Week 108: Doggy Haiku

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Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Doggy Tails Haiku

Dark, shiny orbs beg and stare
Panting patiently
Raising a paw for a treat

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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, July 13, 2014

Ruth Long Week 107: Sail Away

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Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: One

Title: Sail Away

Taking a seat on a bench overlooking the dock, he opens his cooler and offers one of the sandwiches to the woman on the far end of the bench.

She shakes her head. “Don’t feel much like eating.”

“Been a while, hasn’t it?”

“What are you? My mother?”

He chuckles. “Nope. Just an interested party.”

“Go home, Sam. Forget about me. Live your life.”

“Well now, that’s where things get a little bumpy,” he says, taking a bite of his sandwich.

She fidgets on the bench until her patience snaps. “Did you come to eat or talk?”

“A little of both. Was hoping it would be more of a cooperative thing. Eating together. Talking together. You sure you don’t want a sandwich?”

“Fine. Give me a sandwich. Damn, you’re annoyingly persistent!”

He takes a swig of ice tea and wipes his mouth on the back of his hand. “You can’t take much more of this, Alexis. Let me help you. I talked to my brother this week. He offered to buy me out and I accepted.”

She hurls the sandwich into the water. “We agreed not to do that. That’s your family history, Sam. And now that my dad forfeited mine, it’s all we had left.”

“I know, Lexy, but I got to thinking that in order to hold into the present, I needed to let go of the past. I mean, you have to start from scratch, right, so why not do it together, on a level playing field.”

“Even with what you just gave up, it’s hardly level. My father was charged with bilking billions of dollars out of people’s investment funds and singlehandedly tanking the country’s economy. And then there’s the six figure sum you just deposited in your savings account after opting out on your family’s business.”

He looks out past the park to the inlet. “About that. I didn’t deposit the money. I bought us a little going away present.”

“Going away?”

“I remembered how much you loved the sailing excursion we took while we were in Tahiti last year, so I bought a sailboat.”

She stares at him. “You’ve lost your mind.”

“Nope,” he says with a grin. “I got it to get you out from under all the court and media scrutiny and hate mail and death threats. The courts and investigators don’t want you. Just your worldly possessions. We can get on that boat right now and sail away. End of story far as the world is concerned.”

“Just get on the boat?”

He stands and holds his hand out to her. “That’s right. Walk to the end of the dock, jump into the water, and swim out to the boat. Last one on deck makes dinner.”

She drops his hand and races for the water.

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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, July 12, 2014

Aleea Davidson Week 107: Wither Part 6

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Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: Wither Part 6

Warning – The following submission contains scenes depicting non-graphic violence and mild sexuality. Reader discretion is advised.

. . . . . .


They made their way back through the alley, gulping chilly, fetid air and holding it seconds before re-encountering the slumped mass of bodies. With the shock factor eliminated, Glen doubted he or Mara would have been able to resist puking at the stench otherwise. They kept their eyes averted, though Glen couldn’t deny a perverse, morbid curiosity.

Who were they? Why were they there?

When he’d looked before, one of the shapes had seemed smaller, child-like. The thought made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end, and he battled a ludicrous urge to check and make sure the nameless, faceless people were truly dead. He didn’t need to breathe in the stink of decomposition; it settled on his skin with an oily, rancid residue he doubted he’d ever completely wash away. Nothing with that particular reek harboured a pulse, and he was no damn hero.

He kept moving.

By rote memory, he managed to avoid the worst of the slime leaking from the garbage containers, keeping a firm grip on Mara’s hand. Despite the cold air that turned their exhalations into a foggy vapour, both their palms were slick with nervous sweat.

They passed a soggy, tattered poster floating in a murky puddle. It offered a glimpse of pristine blue sky dotted with marshmallow clouds, something so far removed from their surroundings it seemed to mock them. It was a glaring reminder that carefree days basking in sunlight would be few and far between in their future. What little could be had would occur in snatch-and-grab fragments of stolen time. UV Tolerance should have been a blessing, but in this world it put a target on their chests.

Mara gripped his fingers tighter as they stepped over the image, and his resolve to help her grew. In the foulness of the alley, he found a purpose and clung to it tenaciously.

When they reached the end, he turned and laid a finger across his mouth, asking for silence. He could barely see her face under the hood of her jacket, but he caught her nod of agreement.

Cautiously, Glen peered around the corners. Noise came from the riot area; the din of angry yells interspersed with shrieks of dismay or glee—probably both. The residual smoke lingering in the air stank of smouldering wood, telling Glen disaster had been averted, maybe from the rain, maybe from someone with a fire extinguisher and half a brain.

With the way clear, he gestured Mara should follow, sticking close to the building fronts where thicker shadows clung like midnight-coloured drapes. The area ahead looked deserted, though he could see some lights coming from the building they were headed for. He hoped that was a good sign.

They passed no one, only slowing a few times to avoid scattered obstacles. The odd, abandoned stand and stacks of crates heaped without order across the cracked and weed-pitted pavement were more annoyance than hindrance.

Nearly there, beginning to feel a sense of elation combined with fear that it was too easy, Glen almost froze at the sound of an engine and the glare of headlights cutting a wide swath through the night. The slight hesitation caused Mara to collide with his back, jarring him into action. He spun and pushed her into the nearest deep-set doorway, cursing when his fumbled grasp encountered a knob that wouldn’t turn.

Trapped, doubting the scant coverage would keep them from being seen, Glen used his body to pin Mara to the locked door, his mind scrambling.

“Put your arms around me,” he ordered. She hesitated for a second then complied. Glen heard the military jeep he’d passed earlier shift gears and slow. He couldn’t see Mara’s face, it was so dark, but his hands found her hips like they were drawn there magnetically.

“I’m going to lift you. Wrap your legs around my waist.”

“What...?”

They didn’t have time for her confusion. “Trust me, Mara. Do it. Right now!” Combined with the burst of adrenaline rushing through his system, her slight weight was shockingly easy to heft. She gasped, the sound muffled yet distinct. Thankfully, her legs encircled his waist right as the slight squeal of rusting brakes reached their ears.

“I’m sorry,” Glen told her, rushing the words out fast. “Just follow my lead. Pretend with me.” His lips hit hers using the pretense of a kiss to mutter explanations into her surprised mouth. “I won’t hurt you. Don’t be scared. We need them to think we’re just two lovers taking advantage of a quiet place. Maybe they’ll move on.”

Pretending to be oblivious to scrutiny, Glen anchored Mara’s back firmly to the door, pushing her long skirt up her thighs. His heart pounded in his chest as the beam of a flashlight hit the wall beside them, and still, he couldn’t help noticing how silky and warm her skin was under his hands, how lithe her muscles were as they twitched in surprise. His conscience labelled him a lecher for every pleasurable itch in his traitorous fingertips.

“Don’t freak out. We’re acting, that’s all. I have to make it look real. Christ, I’m so sorry, just...”

The beam found them, spotlighting their forms in a weak luminescent haze, batteries running low on juice.

Still, it was enough light Glen could finally see Mara’s face clearly. Her eyes were wide with fear.

“Remember your book?” he asked, still speaking almost directly against her lips, a frantic, fast whisper. “We’re Rex and Samantha, okay?”

She nodded, startling when someone in the jeep emitted a raucous snort that was half laugh, half bark of surprise.

“Well, what have we here?” The voice carried despite the distance between the doorway and the road.

Glen grit his teeth and flexed his hips, moving them lightly against her, wanting to give the impression of sex without actually molesting her and pretty much failing. He kept waiting for her to slap him or scream, but she followed his lead the way he’d asked. His admiration for her went up another notch.

Another bark of laughter, this time from a different source, caused Mara to cringe.

“Man, ain’t you ever seen two people getting romantic?”

“Easy, “ Glen whispered. “I have to...” He pushed his hips into her again, his scattered nerves fighting the action even as a part of him thrilled to it. His mind repeated a litany of go away, you fuckers, hoping they weren’t planning to stay and watch like perverts getting their own free soft-core porn show. Regardless, he needed to make this look believable, and he knew they weren’t doing a great job of it.

“Help me, nymph. Pretend with me, and they might leave.” He felt her suck in a deep breath, and one of her hands moved from around his shoulders to the back of his neck. Her fingers trembled as she threaded them through his hair, hanging on. Glen found a rhythm with his movements, adding a little more speed the way a man would if he was really lost in the moment.

Mara made another gasping noise, and though he knew it was involuntarily, Glen urged her to do it again. “That’s it. That’s the right sound. Keep it up.” Her eyelids lowered, and he watched as she bit the inside of her cheek.

“Should we break them up?”

Mara made another little noise, louder this time as Glen circled his hips. It was impossible to avoid contact with her, pressed as tight as they were. Every flex brought inevitable intimacy. Her pupils dilated slightly, and Glen had to fight his body interpreting that sign as a sexual one. It was a losing battle, and her eyes widened again when she felt the proof. He wanted to apologize but didn’t, couldn’t. He was a man. She was a woman. As fucked up as this was, he couldn’t control the erection that pressed against her. He didn’t even want to.

“Nah. Leave them alone. In this screwed up world, you gotta get whatever good you can, anyway you can. Besides, we got more important stuff to do. Daylight’s only a few hours away. I want to get this meat back to base before it goes bad and before my lily-white ass gets fried by the sun.”

The engine revved, tires making that distinct purr over wet road as they crept forward.

Someone let out a catcall whistle of approval before yelling, “Give her a good thrust for me, dude!”

And then, amidst a lot of raunchy laughing, they drove off, leaving Mara and Glen once more in the dark.

They both went still, panting for air as if they were running. The adrenaline continued, lending a sharper edge to his arousal, something desperate and hungry and not in the least fake. Mara licked her dry lips, and it damn near made him groan. It was all he could do not to start moving again, to ignore everything rational and make them both feel good for a while. The way she was breathing and still clinging made him consider she might want the same.

Slowly, sanity returned.

Easing his body away, he helped Mara stand, feeling a mix of shame and lust hit him as he watched her skirt slither back down her thighs, covering her nearly to the ankles. He hadn’t really kissed her, yet he could swear her taste was in his mouth—something sweet and fresh and nothing he had any right to.

“Are you okay?” he asked. “Can you make it the rest of the way?”

A flash of irritation turned her mouth down at the corners. “I’m fine,” she snapped, moving around him, her spine ramrod straight. Glen bet her cheeks were red and regretted he couldn’t see her clearly. He liked attitude and strength, and he was beginning to believe Mara had both in spades. He wanted to smile.

“Let’s go,” he said, instead.

They travelled a few blocks in silence to where the meat was supposedly being sold. Mara seemed to withdraw into herself with each step they took. Glen wasn’t sure if she was upset with him over what had happened or if she was simply anxious to get what they came for.

As they stepped up to what was once a thriving business, Glen saw her shoulders droop. Defeat washed over her, and he found it painful to witness.

The store was empty, save for a few lamps hooked up to a small generator that sounded like it was keening its final death knell. The raw, metallic smell of freshly butchered meat hung in the air, but the steel meat hooks hanging from a homemade rigging were empty. In the center of it all, a man sat on an upturned bucket. His hands rested on the smock of his apron, rust coloured stains creating a gory Rorschach test of blotches painted in blood instead of ink. He looked up at their arrival, his eyes shiny wet and smudged with exhaustion. Under a thick smattering of arm hair, Glen spotted familiar blisters; another UV Intolerant soul doomed.

“I got nothing left,” he said, his voice a dry croak imbibed with dual meaning, dripping despondence. “Military cocksuckers cleaned me out. Promised me gas. Enough to keep my genny running for three months, they said.” He laughed then erupted into a fit of coughing. Mara took a step closer, and Glen stopped her. What the butcher had wasn’t contagious, but it could make him dangerous in other ways. His mental stability certainly wasn’t good.

When he stopped coughing, he spat a gelatinous glob of blood, adding to the crimson-smeared floor. One of the lights winked out, the other dimming slowly.

“We can trade,” Mara told him, pleadingly. She reached for the bag Glen still carried. “I have batteries and...”

“I told you, there’s nothing left.” The man waved his arm around and choked out another phlegm-filled laugh. “If I did, I’d give it to you for free. As you can see, I don’t have any use for it.” His smile was slightly deranged and rueful. He got up and walked to a battered butchers block counter, swept aside a heap of dirty rags and picked up an old Colt M1911 Pistol.

Glen caught Mara around the waist just as the butcher raised the gun to his temple. She screamed as Glen shoved her back out the door, using his body to shield hers even though he knew the sharp retort of a bullet leaving the chamber wasn’t meant for them.

Neither registered the thud of a body hitting the floor, but Glen instinctively protected Mara from the sight.

Meat begets meat, he thought unkindly as his gorge rose in a sour, hot wave up his throat. He held Mara close, keeping himself between her and the door as he walked them away, just a post-amorous couple on a midnight stroll through crazy town.

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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)

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