Sunday, January 31, 2016

Laura James Week 186: Everything Has Changed

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Laura James’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Everything Has Changed

Stella sat looking at the three walls surrounding her. How did she get here? What was she supposed to do now? The desk in front of her had a computer, phone, a notebook, several pens and quite a few post-it notes scrawled with random words.

Jeff Stacey high rise
SSSC & PVG forms to HR
20.00, 12,43, 0.15
Don't forget the Sm11 at month end.

None of it made sense, her brain hurt with every new note she picked up and tried to decipher. Pushing her chair back from the desk she found herself escaping her small room and entering another. Looking around this room made even less sense to her. Kitten and puppy pictures covered every available space, there was even a small stuffed unicorn on top of the computer.

Gagging into her hands Stella leapt from the chair and ran down past lots of other small rooms, each filled with their owners peculiar tastes. Trolls of every size and shape filled one, plastic dancing flowers another, yet another contained beanie babies. On and on she ran turning left then right in an endless fight to escape other people's personalities.

Finally her legs gave out and she stumbled to the floor. Stella lay, face pressed into the carpet trying to control her breathing and clear her mind of the images that had assaulted her. Carefully she started to drag herself forward and glanced into the room on her left. With relief she saw that it contained a desk, a chair and nothing else. Once Stella was in the room she pulled her legs to her chin, resting her head on her knees and sat as still as she could trying to work out what was going on.

The sound of soft whisperings sneaked into her mind and Stella turned her head to the opening of the cubicle she was in. Four legs swam into focus and she watched as one set crouched into a kneeling position, a large bearded face looming in front of her.

"Stella honey, what's wrong?"

She watched the mouth move but there was no sound.

"The doctors are on there way."

Who was this person and what was he wanting? Fear gripped her stomach as the man in front of her raised his hand. Slapping it out of the way Stella screamed long and loud whilst she scrambled deeper into the room. She continued screaming even when blood started to drip from her nostrils and her throat began to burn.

She was still screaming when the paramedics arrived.


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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


KendallJaye Collard Week 185: George and Martin

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KendallJaye Collard’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: George and Martin

“George. George. George. It’s adoption day. I can feel it. George.”

I had been sleeping so soundly that it took a few minutes of nudging to get me rousted. I did a large yawn and rested my head back down between my paws. “Awww lemme sleep, Martin. It’s good here, yeah? Warmth. Food. Humans with soft hands.”

“Life is more than this, George. Sally in Block Three went home yesterday. SALLY. You remember Sally, right George?”

“Yeah Martin. I remember Sally.” In fact, Sally was a large part of my melancholy. I’d gotten to be pretty good friends with the senior canine. Sally would tell me stories of adventure and of heartbreak. She’s spin tales of heroic street capers and darkened alleys. My brother Martin and I were born in the shelter, and Sally’s masterful storytelling always made me feel like I was outside living her stories.

“George. George. There’s a girl coming. I can smell her. She’s the one George.”

“She’s not the one, Martin.”

She rounded the corner. Her parents were chatting away with the shelter volunteer. She was looking at the big dogs. We were completely ignored.

Martin carried on in the way that Martin always would. Barking and jumping and trying to get her attention any way he knew how. I just sighed heavily and ignored my brother. But something felt wrong. Something was off. Something very bad was about to happen.

I got to my feet and took a deep breath in. The air was heavy with metallic scent. I shoved Martin and his antics aside. I bit into the wire of the cage and started to pull as hard as I could. I had to get to her.

“Now that’s odd,” said the volunteer. “George is usually such a timid boy.”

I continued to tug at the cage door.

“Can we see George?” the mother asked.

“These two have to be adopted together. They’ve never been separated.”

The mother hesitated.

The volunteer opened the cage anyway.

I bounded out.

The girl bent down to pet me.

I tackled her flat to the ground and laid on her.

The mother screamed.

The father yelled.

The volunteered looked shocked.

Martin was stock still.

And the girl started to seize.

I lay as hard as I could on her with my tiny body, wanting to protect her. Only then did everyone realize what was going on. I was trying to save her life.

After her seizure subsided and order was restored, the paperwork was filled out to take me and Martin to their home with Martin as her forever playmate and me as her steadfast protector.

And as fate would have it, we moved in next door to my friend Sally.

Life was good.


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KendallJaye Collard gets her kicks above the waistline, Sunshine. Wine drinker, Cancer Survivor, and protected by rocksalt. Spread the love with her at @KJCollard.


Friday, January 29, 2016

Sarah Aisling Week 185: A Measure of Grace (Part 45): Let Them Come

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 45): Let Them Come

Chaos breaks out. Between the gasps and raised voices, I have the urge to cover my ears.

Panic wells in my chest. My first instinct is to object to his plan, just the way everyone else is, until Max's plea comes to mind.

Back me up.

I suck in a deep breath and stand. “Wait, wait. Everyone, hold up a minute!”

The room falls silent. All eyes are on me.

“Before we protest, how about we give Max a chance to share his plan. He's kept us safe so far—do we have any reason not to trust him now?” I stare at the faces of my new family, looking each of them in the eye. I stop before reaching Max, who squeezes my thigh under the table.

Ali nods with a healthy dose of pride. “My brother can do anything he puts his mind to. Let's hear him out.”

Tek agrees. Eric agrees. Next to my chair, Grace tilts her head, aware of the tension in the room. Andrea is now the center of attention and obviously uncomfortable about it.

“Um, I don't know any of you that well . . .” Andrea blushes and bows her head. “I don't trust easily—never have—but the way all of you come together and support one another . . .” Choked up, she takes a sobbing breath.

Eric pulls her close. “We.”


“The way we come together. You're part of this crazy family, too, baby.”

A tear slides over Andrea's cheek. “Thank you for accepting me, all of you. I wasn't very nice when I first got here.” She sniffles, leaning into Eric. “Let's hear your plan, Max.”

Max claps his hands. “All right, then! Let's get down to business.” He hops up and grabs a thin stack of papers off the counter.

Once the sandwiches Ali prepared are divvied up, she removes the platter so Max can spread the papers on the table. He takes a huge bite of his ham and cheese, washing it down with a mouthful of beer.

“Okay, the Alliance assholes are coming. The VP allowed Gibbs to go AWOL, working with him on the side. To me, that makes him as bad as Gibbs and twice as dangerous. Wesley is hand-picking a team to come here. Clearly, the left hand didn't know what the right one was doing with regard to power, and I'm sure heads will roll, but their mistake gives us an advantage.”

“How so?” Eric asks.

“This has to be a stealth mission for Wesley. He basically lied to everyone and allowed the Alliance to waste precious manpower searching for Gibbs when he knew where the bastard was the whole time. Worse, I'm sure he's well aware what a sick fuck his nephew is and didn't give a shit who Gibbs might be terrorizing. The good news is he can't bring a large crew—more witnesses to his deception. You saw the way he waited until most of the men were out of earshot before sharing his intel with Axle and Pruit.”

Tek leans forward. “Even if he does bring a small group, if they disappear, others will come.”

“That's the beauty of it. We're going to discourage them from coming back without harming anyone.” A satisfied smile spreads over Max's face.

Andrea breaks in. “I'm okay with hurting those bastards.”

Max looks at her with a mix of admiration and warning. “We do whatever's necessary. I have no problem dishing out some pain, but it's in our best interest to avoid that. Gibbs was a piece of shit and deserved to die—no argument there. We do need to resurrect him, so to speak, for my plan to work.” He separates the papers, unfolding a hand-drawn blueprint, and points to the entrance closest to the tunnel. “They'll come in this way. I expect them to shoot the camera out and bust the lock. Don't forget what a maze this place is. They would have to find the correct elevator—which requires a key, by the way—and descend the correct number of floors in order to find us. Everything we need is below ground . . . our quarters, the control room, food and supplies. They won't get far, and I propose we give them a reason not to try.”

“I love your plan already!” Ali wiggles in her seat.

Max grins and shakes his head. “Gibbs left some gear in the industrial complex. I say we gather some of his shit and set something up inside the plant, like a little base camp. Make it look like he's staying here. Wesley won't be sending troops in if he thinks Gibbs is holed up here. His desire to protect the secret will keep him from exploring too deeply. I think it's worth it to set a booby trap early on—let Wesley think Gibbs has the place rigged.”

We finish our food and gather around the coffee table in the living room. Everyone is enthusiastic about Max's plan, especially the part where we relax in comfort with plentiful food and spirits while the vice president's crew bumbles around in the maze.

The guys start tossing around ideas of how to discourage Wesley and his crew. Max and Eric will gather some of Gibbs' gear from the industrial complex while Tek works on cameras and reprograms elevators and entrances with keypads.

Max stresses the need to let Wesley’s men in without making it seem too easy. He chooses an alcove close to the entrance, but not too close, to make it seem Gibbs is using the plant as his new base of operations. Tek offers to help Eric rig a trip wire with a charge that will blow a keypad that's already broken.

We discuss other details, such as making sure the Alliance won't be able to detect our presence, setting up a laptop with remote access to the control room monitors, stocking our quarters with necessities in case we can't get to the stock room, and deciding where Grace will relieve herself while we're sequestered.

Tek mentions the need for around-the-clock surveillance, and we set up a rotating schedule.

We talk late into the night until my mind is numb, and my lids heavy. Max finally takes my hand and leads me to our room. Grace follows at our heels, yawning widely, and paws at her blanket until satisfied. She then circles around and around, plopping down with a contented sigh.

Max takes me in his arms and sways us gently. “Thank you.” He plants a kiss on my forehead.

“For what?”

“Backing me up.”

I smile into his shirt. “It's a brilliant plan.”

“Maybe yes, maybe no, but you paved the way. Your trust means everything to me. I'm not—” his voice breaks, thick with emotion “—used to having that.”

“Ali believes in you.”

Max tips my face up until our eyes meet; his shine and are as intense as I've ever seen them. “China . . . though that also means the world to me, I'm not talking about my sister's trust. You've turned me upside down and inside out since the moment I knocked you on your ass that first day.” A slight smirk tugs at the corner of his mouth.

I smack his chest. “Really? You're going to ruin the moment by mentioning that?”

“It was an attention-getting moment for both of us and, I'm sure you'll agree, a pivotal one.” Max grins. “You were so adorable and fierce in your indignation. I admit to underestimating you at the beginning, but your inner tigress showed her claws and corrected my misconception right quick.”

My cheeks flush with embarrassment and pleasure. “You thought I was adorable?”

“I'd have to be dead not to.” He kisses the tip of my nose. “At least when your mouth wasn't running. Then I found you to be the most frustrating female—next to Ali, of course. She has the capacity to drive me to drink.”

Max holds me closer then lets go. He strips his clothes off, quickly getting down to the bare essentials, offering me a full view of his tight behind and sculpted back and shoulders as he searches the dresser for a pair of sweats and pulls them on. My gaze traces the intricate vines adorning his skin. I'm still hovering beside the bed watching him when he turns around, giving me an eyeful of his bare chest.

“Are you in pain? Do you need help getting undressed?”

I am in pain, but my hesitation had everything to do with ogling. “Um . . . sure.”

Max roots through the dresser and tosses a T-shirt and yoga pants on the end of the bed. Then his hands encircle my waist. “Let me know if I hurt you.” He lifts the shirt slowly and allows it to fall to the floor. Hooking the waistband of my pants with his thumbs, he pulls them down and waits for me to toe my boots off before continuing.

I shiver when the air hits my exposed skin.

Warm, calloused hands ghost over my shoulders and arms and move to my hips, inching their way up my curves. I wince when he reaches a tender spot, and Max hisses between his teeth, eyes growing stormy.

“I wish that fuck could die again. I hate what he did to you while I was off on a wild goose chase.”

“It's not your fault. I should have listened to you and stayed put.”

Max's fingers brush lightly over the black and blues littering my torso. He bends his head to feather kisses across the mottled bruising that wreathes my neck. Sparks of pleasure spread a tingle of desire through my body, and I suck in a breath.

Max's lips lay a path up the side of my neck and across the edge of my jaw, finally meeting mine, softly probing. Strong hands slip around me to cradle my shoulder blades, pressing me closer.

I slide my fingers up his arms and over his broad shoulders until they sink into the soft hair at his nape. “God, Max.”

Here we stand, skin to skin, with only my bra and panties and his sweats between us.

“I want you, China. More than I've ever wanted anything.”

“Me, too.”

Max scoops me up in his arms and lays me carefully on the bed, stretching over me, propped on elbow and knees. “You mean so much to me. I don't know what I'd do if . . .” He chokes, shaking his head.

I caress his face and rub the pad of my thumb across his full bottom lip. “I'm fine, thanks to you—safe and loved.”

Max pushes my hand away, capturing my wrist and pressing it to the bed. He kisses me hard, his tongue seeking mine.

Gentle touches, deep kisses. Max's fresh clothes join the dirty ones on the floor. He unhooks my bra and shimmies the panties down my legs, swirling his tongue across my hip bone on the way back.

He hovers above me for a moment, vulnerable. “Stop me if I hurt you?”

“You won't.”

Past the point of talking, Max enters me, worshiping my body, skin to skin, our sweat mingling, sounds of pleasure filling our room.

There is no pain, only love.


I dream of a perfect day by the ocean. Sand warmed by the sun sifts between my toes, and a strong breeze whips hair across my face, obscuring my vision. I tuck the wayward strands behind my ears and survey the beach. The intensity of the clear blue sky is only rivaled by the turquoise of the sea. The foaming surf surges in, crashing against rocks and rushing up the open sand.

I close my eyes and tip my face toward the sun, soaking up the warmth.

“Great day for tanning.” The voice belongs to Gibbs.

A chill runs up my spine, and a sick feeling pools in my gut. I don’t turn but instead continue facing the water. “You’re not really here.”

“That’s right. I’m rotting away in the abyss.” He’s closer. I can almost feel his breath on my neck. “Perhaps you’ll join me in the dark. If my uncle finds out what you’ve done, I can see him reuniting us for eternity.” A cold finger traces my arm, and I slap it away.

“Leave me alone.”

“I would, but you called me.”

“What? I did not!”

“It’s your dream. You put me here, princess. Miss me?”

The sky darkens rapidly, storm clouds swelling on the horizon, and the ocean morphs to an angry blue-black, the waves crashing violently. The wind ceases, leaving the air still and eerie. Foreboding swells inside me, and the hair along the back of my neck prickles. I whip around, and nobody’s there.

A distant voice wakes me.

Max is off the bed and grabbing for the walkie-talkie before my eyes are fully open. “Yeah?”

Eric’s voice answers back. “We need to step up our plans, pull an all-nighter. Wesley gathered a team quicker than expected.”


“We have enough time—just barely. Tek and I rigged some traps already. We need to get Gibbs’ gear to make it realistic. Up for it?”

Max rubs his eyes. “Meet you in five.” He puts the walkie-talkie on the nightstand and stretches.

I’m still naked, but Max has sweats and a T-shirt on. Always ready. He cups the back of my head and leans in for a kiss, pressing his forehead to mine.

“I love you, China. Be back soon.”

“I love you, too. I could help . . .”

“You can help by staying here. Don’t make me worry about you. We’ll be back in a flash and ready for those fuckers. Why don’t you go over the list with Ali and Andrea again, make sure we haven’t overlooked anything.”


He kisses me again, and then he’s gone.


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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

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mark Ethridge Week 185: I See Angry People (Part 10)

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: One

Title: I See Angry People (Part 10)

With the sunrise, I headed north. It was time to try something different. I started west, but the longer I walked west, the more I became certain I was not meant to head west. I wasn’t meant to head east, back the way I’d come. South and I didn’t like each other. So, I stopped, and headed north.

I found nothing the first day, other than the feeling I was closing in on something important. An answer to a question. I suppose it would have been best if I knew the question. I didn’t. I wondered if I would recognize the answer, if the answer would tell me the question.

The second day I came to another town, like the one I’d found, the one with Christopher’s journal. Like the first town, it was empty, except for one house. Inside I found the skeleton of a long dead person. Next to the remains I found a digital camera, the battery had drained long ago. I wondered what I might find if I could turn the camera on, but I knew I had no way to do that. I pulled the battery from the camera, it was a small, thin rectangle, rechargeable. I had no way to charge it. I looked around, found a charger, the kind you plug into the wall.

I put the battery in the charger, plugged the charger into a wall outlet, and was surprised when the red light came on, saying it was charging. Somehow, there was power, electricity, in the house. I stared at the charger for a while, wondering how it was working.

The only answer was solar power. I dashed outside, looked at the roof of the house, found an array of solar panels. There was power, electric power, still flowing into the house. As long as there was sunlight, as long as the panels worked, as long as the rechargeable batteries inside the the house somewhere kept working, the power would continue, filling in the batteries, flowing through the house.

After the camera battery charged a while, I decided to see if the camera turned on. It did, and I checked the pictures on its memory card. There were not that many of them. A picture of an old woman. A picture of a dog, one of a litter of puppies, one of a puppy in a pink toy car, another of a puppy in a blue toy truck’s bed.

The pictures changed. A dead, naked girl, bruised and broken. A second one, then a third one, followed by pictures of old men, with guns. Then pictures of women and girls in the house. I couldn’t really tell how many. Pictures of dead men in the streets of the town, blood pooled everywhere, stains on the walls.

There’s been a war in that little town, between the old men, and the men who went crazy. I wondered how many on both sides had died. Fathers had protected their daughters, and died doing so.

There were more pictures, of women and girls, leaving the town, a few men with them. They headed north, I could tell by the shadows, and the buildings I could see in the pictures. It was the north edge of the town.

They’d headed north.

I had something to look for. A reason to go north.

I spent the night in that house. The next day I explored the roof, studied the solar panels, found the batteries, studied how they were hooked to the panels, where the power inverters and regulators were placed in the wiring. I didn’t know how it all worked, but I drew some sketches, and figured I’d have to play with solar power eventually. There would be much to learn. How to build an inverter, how to build a battery, how to make wire. Maybe it was something we could use. Maybe we could use a simpler form of solar power.

When I was ready, I headed north, along the same path I’d seen the women walk in the pictures. I didn’t know what I’d find, but I knew it was north.

So that’s where I went.


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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, January 27, 2016

Kinberly Gould Week 185: Dreams

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice:

Title: Dreams

Saline mist filled her nose. Her breath echoed the waves, inhale, exhale.

It wasn’t the first time she’d dreamed of the sea. It wasn’t even the tenth.

Cold water tickled her toes, white foam feeling almost like fur. Everything was crisp, tangible. Something cold buzzed her ear. She swatted at the insect.

“Oh, Misty,” she murmured, when her fingers connected with real fur, with her cotton pillow case. She’d been dreaming, again.

Now Misty dreamed and she couldn’t help but wonder what the kitten dreamed about. Scooping the tiny furry body in her paired hands, she set the kitten atop the piano and made breakfast before returning to the piece she was composing. Although she only had a piano, she could hear the timpani, the horns, mimicking the waves crashing. The strings played to the foam and salt. The woodwind a cold breeze.

No one would guess she’d never actually been there.


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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, January 25, 2016

Jen DeSantis Week 185: Prey

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Jen DeSantis’ Picture Choice: 1

Title: Prey

“That one,” she says, nuzzling against his shoulder.

Her catlike eyes flit across the room and settle on a young thing, no more than twenty.

“Too easy,” he huffs.

“I want it,” she croons.

He sighs. Petulant as always, Kerrigan would not be thwarted tonight. She’s eager for a hunt, but Aldo suspects she wants to play with their quarry more than actually finish the deed. No worry. He is more than happy to seal the deal at the end of the night. He feels a moment of pity for the young niblet they are about to pursue, but then smiles coldly. Her night, he muses, will not be nearly as entertaining as his and Kerrigan’s.

The couple rises in unison, Kerrigan slipping her hand into Aldo’s as they move fluidly out onto the open air dance floor. All around them, bodies pulsate to the electronic beat, but they walk without any sense of rush or urgency.

Together, Aldo and Kerrigan make an impressive pair. Couples stop gyrating to turn and look at them. Kerrigan’s eyes are half-closed and a small smile plays on her lips. Her anticipation glows on her face. Though they do not dance, they seem to move as one across the dance floor.

Their prey hasn’t noticed them moving toward her. The crowd parts for them naturally, wanting to watch them move but unconsciously pulling away from them. They are ethereal and hypnotic, but they are dangerous in a way the human mind cannot fathom. There is a natural need to stare, and an equally undeniable urge to back away.

When they reach her, the girl with the long orange hair and delicate freckles strewn like a dusting of snow on her arms, they surround her silently. As if part of the dance, they sway and encircle her with their arms, holding tight to each other’s hands. Their bodies form a net around her, but she is too stunned to even move. She stands, frozen, ensnared though she has not yet understood her situation.

Aldo and Kerrigan move to the beat, stepping in closer to the girl. She is cut off from those she came with, but she doesn’t make a move. She stares, wide-eyed, at the beautiful couple who have chosen her to dance with. She doesn’t know whether to move with them or simply let them have their dance. To move might disrupt their careful rhythm, and so she stays still as they press ever closer to her.

Kerrigan puts her hands on the girl’s hips. She gasps at the sensation. The hands are ice cold, almost burning her skin beneath the silk of her dress. But there’s more than the cold. She feels a vibration of energy flowing through the woman’s hands. Kerrigan gently pulls the girl back against her body and she begins to move in sync with them. Aldo snakes his arms in and around both women and they are all moving together as one.

Kerrigan and Aldo smile serenely, but the girl is clearly in ecstasy. Her eyes are closed and her face it tilted up toward the sky. She moves with them, feeling their strange bodies move with hers. In the back of her mind, she feels a flurry of panic: that natural urge to run from the strange creatures surrounding her. But the feel of their bodies and the energy flowing through their touch send those weak thoughts scurrying from her mind.

Over her shoulder, Kerrigan smiles at Aldo. It is time.

“Come with us,” Kerrigan whispers, her lips inches from the girl’s ear.

She nods wordlessly, and the three move as one toward the exit. The crowd parts for them again. Some even stop and stare at the young girl walking between the couple, so out of place and plain compared to the two strange creatures. A moment of worry for her may even cross some of their minds, but it is fleeting and the energy of the music sweep them up again.

Out of the club, the quiet of the night envelops them quickly. They are moving faster now than they should be, but the girl is still completely docile. A few quick turns and they are in a dark, wooded corner of a parking lot. No lights shine on them and they turn in unison toward the helpless girl.

As their eyes shine unnaturally in the dark, the panic returns tenfold. She looks around, dazed, and realizes she is far away from the club and her friends.

“How? Why?”

She struggles to form words and the pair cock their heads in unison, smiling wider at their confused prey.

“You came with us,” Kerrigan croons. “Always. They always come with us, don’t they, Aldo?”

“Well, you are very convincing, my love,” he replies.

“Who are you?”

“Wrong question,” Aldo says, his smile growing wider and his eyes glowing unnaturally.

“W-what?” the girl asks.

“He said wrong question. You don’t care who we are. Not really. You want to know what we are.”

The girl looks from Kerrigan to Aldo and then back again. She opens her mouth to scream, but Aldo puts a finger on her lips. Suddenly, she knows that no sound can escape her throat. She backs up, but there are too many trees behind her.

As Aldo and Kerrigan move in for their feast, the girl lets out a strangled cry that barely cuts through the night air. It is over before it starts, but the pair linger with their prey for most of the night. In the morning, she will be found and they will be long gone, off to find another happy hunting ground for their strange, macabre dance.


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Jennifer DeSantis is a Horror and Paranormal Author. She lives near Philly with her family. Tweet her at @JenD_Author


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Laura James Week 184: The Retreat (part 2)

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Laura James’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: The Retreat (part 2)

They made it to the first marker with no trouble but then walking across a flat surface was never going to be challenging. Mary snatched the next instructions from their red coloured post. "We have to walk north west through the woods until we find railway line." She turned and surveyed the group, noting with disgust that Frank had taken the opportunity to have a cigarette and Joan was trying to hide the fact she had managed to fit a large bar of chocolate in her mouth. Todd was hovering near her like an annoying wasp that needed to be swatted, how she hated his smug young face.

When Mary had been informed that he was to be joining her department her heart had sank. There was no need for fresh blood, the department was running smoothly, everyone knew their place and that she was at the top. Her fear that he would come in and change things was proved correct. The staff were mumbling behind her back and some had even dared question her authority. This trip was her chance to show all of them that she was still the one making the decisions.

"Todd I need the compass, unless of course you're so smart you know how to tell direction from the trees." She watched with some satisfaction as Todd struggled with the catches on the backpack, snapping her fingers at him she held out her hand for the compass. Once it was in her hand she turned back to the woods holding it out in front of her watching at the small arrow flickering back and forth. She had been so impatient to stamp her authority that she had forgotten she had no clue how to read a compass.

Tapping the side of the compass with a manicured nail she made a decision. "This exercise is supposed to bring us together as a team and that will never happen if I do all the work." Sighing dramatically she held the compass out to Frank, "You were Boy Scout once upon a time weren't you?"

"Yes well, I was. Em let's see if I can remember how this all works." Frank held the compass and turned till he was facing north, "What direction should we head?"

"No.." Mary started to say.

"North west." Todd replied cutting her off, looking at her with a slight smile. In that moment Mary realised that he knew she couldn't read the compass, in fact he knew everything about her. That behind all the blustering and shouting she was a failure at her work and her life. The day ahead was going to be a living hell but she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of breaking. She would stay in control and by the end of the weekend he would be the one broken and running away with his tail between his legs.

Frank interrupted her thoughts, "I've got it. We head this way."

"Right, let's go." Mary started walking in the direction Frank had pointed, setting a strong pace she knew the others would struggle with. This weekend was her chance to cement her standing as boss and no one would prevent her achieving her goals. As they moved through the trees the beginnings of an idea formed in Mary's mind, a way to ensure that she would be the hero of the weekend. One of her group would have to have an accident and she would save the day.


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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


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Mark Ethridge Week 184: I See Angry People (Part 9)

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: One

Title: I See Angry People (Part 9)

Always, I walked west, parallel to the fence. I wondered how big the fence was, how long. I walked for hours, and never reached its end, or a corner. I knew from the size of the fence, there were a lot of people inside it. People who believed they were safe.

As the sun set, I found a place to camp for the night. Water, some carefully selected mushrooms, tree leaves, and weeds, and I was ready to sleep. The night was peaceful, quiet. I felt safe. I hadn’t seen anyone inside the fence when I checked, and I was several miles north of it. So, I went to sleep when the sun set, and didn’t wake until the sun was up.

I walked west all day again, before I reached the corner of the fence. East to West, the fence was over a two day walk in length. There could be several small towns inside it, hidden where I couldn’t see them. I figured I’d study it some more, on my way back. And I’d figured out I would head back. Something inside me said my journey west was nearing its end.

The next day was another day of endless walking to the west. Until the sun was low to the horizon. That’s when I came to a small place. A ghost town. Most were anymore. This one felt different, though, as if it were hiding something. Something I was supposed to find.

I skirted it’s edge, peered down the streets, between the buildings. Most were one or two stories, though a couple reached three. The streets were old. The place felt old, like it had seen a lot of lifetimes, and had a lot of stories to tell.

I moved away from it, to the north, and settled for the night. I hadn’t seen anyone since I’d demonstrated to the fence people their guns did not make them invincible. As I rested for the night, I considered what to do the next day.

I rose before the sun and returned to the old place. I finished my circuit around its exterior. Several of the streets were brick. Old brick that had separated as the ground moved, as people walked on them, so weeds and grass had taken hold between them. I saw no one, no sign anyone had been there recently.

I was always nervous heading into a town of any kind, there was no way to tell what was inside, who was inside, who might be waiting, ready to attack me. I drew my bow, set an arrow, and cautiously headed in. I picked one of the old brick streets, figured if I couldn’t see any disturbances in the grass and weeds, no one had been there.

“Could this be a place where people once worked?” I’d heard old stories about companies setting up places for people who worked for them. Boom towns that grew, then went bust when the work ran out. Usually some kind of mining. Maybe oil, or gas. When that ran out, the work would have gone away.

I inched along, checking each doorway, each window. I wasn’t being watched, I could tell that. I headed toward the closest three story building. Its doors were open, like someone, in a rush to leave, forgot to close them, or didn’t bother to close them.

The inside of the building was empty. All the chairs, tables, any kind of furniture, was gone. Nothing but bare walls, and some paintings and pictures hanging on them. I figured out the building wasn’t a place where people lived. There were no bathrooms, no laundry rooms. Everything was like an office. I found public restrooms. The kind with lots of stalls.

There was nothing inside.

I checked several of the two story structures. Apartments. Small places, with separate baths, separate kitchens. All of them were stripped, like the three story place was.

All of them, except one. That one was on a corner, where two brick streets crossed. It’s door was still shut. I tested it, and it opened with no problem. The first floor had a kitchen, and a room that reminded me of my family’s living room. A sofa, a couple of chairs. A useless TV on one wall. I followed the stairs to the second floor. A bathroom, and two rooms. One a bedroom, with a bed, still made. Dusty, but otherwise, well cared for.

The second room was a study. There were pictures piled in boxes, several books on cartography, several on photography, and something I hadn’t seen in years. A Holy Bible. Those were rare since the world went nuts. Used to find them everywhere. In book stores, churches, hotel rooms, people’s houses. They’d all vanished.

This was a small one, well worn, well read. I checked inside, found a bookplate, said the book belonged to someone named Christopher, as if that mattered.

Beneath the Bible were maps. Hand drawn maps. They showed the fence, and the area outside the fence. There were several empty towns on the maps. One map was different. It had a black hole in its center, and a label next to the black that said, “The Cave”.

I found a journal, a diary. I didn’t care for them, I’d seen plenty of them. Someone’s ramblings about life. But something made me pick the journal up, and turn to the last couple of pages. I read the crisp hand printed letters, the same letters from the maps. Christopher, it seemed, was the last. Everyone else had gone to the cave, or to the fence. He’d lost count of the bodies at the fence where not everyone was accepted. He didn’t know what was in the cave. His last words were how he was tired. He was alone. And he was going west. To see what he could see. He was out of food. Out of everything. He had no choice but to leave.

Christopher, it seemed, decided to head west, to see if he could find help, a place to live, with others. The last two pages of the journal showed a sketch of an old highway, headed west, into the Rocky Mountains. Christopher’s notes said that’s where he would head. To see if there was anywhere he could live. If there was anything left.

I checked the photographs. Pictures of women, victims of the insanity that destroyed everything. Pictures of children, nothing but skin and bones, their stomachs bloated, they’d died of hunger. Pictures of people, carrying nothing but what was on their backs, heading anywhere. Pictures of men, lots of men, with guns, raiding all the buildings, taking everything. Pictures of the end of the town Christopher lived in.

Christopher’s last words in his journal, “Time to start over.”

I spent the night outside the town. When the sun set, so did I. But I knew, I was close to finding something. If I only knew what.


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


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Kimberly Gould Week 184: Survivor

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Survivor

Her grandmother had walked on land. She had worked to excavate the surface and open more ocean. Lily swam easily through the light blue water near the surface with long gliding strokes. She didn’t surface for air, but breathed normally. She had chosen to follow her grandmother, Pita, into the water, as had a third of the human population on Weedo. That wasn’t really what the planet was called. It was a whistle followed by a low click, but the humans on the surface called it that.

Lily’s thick throat included an installation, a small plankton engineered to separate dissolved oxygen from the water. She didn’t have to surface, ever, and had only walked on two legs a handful of times. She liked to sit near the beach, watching her remaining human relatives dig at the shore. They were earning their way off Weedo, but Lily couldn’t imagine leaving.

“Lily! Lily!”

She turned from her perch on a rope of algae to her foster-sister, Jean. It was a play on jaune, or yellow. Pita had taken to naming her piscan friends after their colour. The amorphous creature was preceded by a flood of whistles and clicks.

“Mother is looking for you. We need your hands.”

Lily looked at her digits, so less agile than Jean’s many tentacles. Their thick ones were as strong as her arms. Why would they need her hand?

“Coming,” she said, pushing off and gliding toward her sister, toward home.

Author Note: I’m working on a novel, Pita’s story, and the picture made me think of it.


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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, January 18, 2016

Lizzie Koch Week 184: This Life

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Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: This Life

“Mum, can we get a dog?” asked Aidan

“No.” It was the usual short sharp response after giving up on explaining why not the first thousand times.

“Is that a dating agency?”

Jess slammed shut the laptop. “No! Go and tidy your room!” She turned back to her friend, Lisa. “It’s pointless. What was I thinking? I can’t possibly go on dates or meet anyone. I’m too cranky and tired.”

“You need to start thinking about you. When was the last time you dated anyone?”

“I don’t know. Six months after Ian left and that was a complete disaster.”

“And how long since Ian left?”

“Two years.”

Lisa opened the laptop.

Jess received a flurry of interest but nothing clicked. Except one guy. Gavin. He was everything Jess wanted which made her sceptical as why would anyone like that be on a dating website? Tall, handsome, intelligent, chatty, good sense of humour. Single, But there had to be baggage. Approaching forty and on a dating website? Something had to lurk in his past. Everyone had a past. She closed the laptop.

Forgetting her dalliance with dating websites, Jess continued as usual; school run, work, no to a dog. Days became weeks and nothing changed other than the odd night out with Lisa. But Jess resigned herself to this life. If she was meant to meet someone, she would. She worked in a coffee shop where she met people all the time so it wasn’t impossible. Other than people barely had time to make eye contact with their order let alone chat.

It was a dreary afternoon. Having to stand in the cold and wet, watching Aidan play football wasn’t the ideal Saturday afternoon. Infact this life sucked. But it was Jess’ life. However, she watched with amusement as a small black and white dog ran onto the field, chasing the ball. It wasn’t funny when the dog caught the ball and ran from the field. Aidan ran after with one or two others, thinking it was the best thing to happen in their goalless game.

Jess could do nothing else but follow especially as the dog wasn’t giving up and running further from the pitch, towards the edge of the park. Traffic noise filtered into her head and Jess ran faster.

A screeching of tires punctured the air. She ran, passing two boys who had given up on the chase, seeing a crowd gathered.

“I’m so sorry. They just ran out in front of me,” sobbed a middle aged woman on the side of the road. “Are they OK?”

Pushing through the crowd, Jess choked back tears when she saw Aidan standing, looking unharmed. She raced to him and hugged him hard. The dog barked, sitting next to him as a man appeared to be examining him.

“You need to take care of your dog!” Jess shouted as the crowd dispersed.

“He’s not mine,” the man said, standing, meeting Jess’s angry stare. “Jess?”

She looked at him, knowing she’d seen him somewhere before but couldn’t think. It couldn’t have been the coffee shop as she’d have remembered those piercing blue eyes especially as no one even gave her a glance.

“The dating site?” Gavin said.

“Oh,” Jess blushed a deep crimson.

They moved to the pavement, the dog running back into the park. Aidan followed.

“I’d better get going,” Jess said.

“Sure.” He watched her walk away. “Hey,” he said, running after her. “I know this is quick, silly even but do you fancy going for a drink sometime?”

“As long as it’s not coffee, or in a park or where there’s dogs, that would be lovely.”

Jess walked back through the park, a date secured, Gavin’s number in her phone, Aidan running around with a dog. She smiled. This life wasn’t so bad after all.


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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, January 17, 2016

Laura James Week 183: I’m Sorry

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Laura James’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: I’m Sorry

“You left me!”

Brian heard the accusation in her tone, yet he knew it was his imagination or a waking dream, it couldn’t be her; she was dead. He had come to the crypt to look at her final resting place, to see if he could finally forgive himself, she maybe hadn’t said these words but it was true. He had left her. Simply driven away after they had fought, by the time he realised he was being silly it was too late. She had gone; taken by persons unknown; found three days later in the church crypt. Her body before death had been defiled and brutalised; only her face remained unmarked and as beautiful as when she was alive.

Sitting alone on the spot where they had found Mary, Brian closed his eyes and prayed for forgiveness. Breathing in the stale air, listening to the sounds of water dripping down the walls, he relaxed, his body became like lead; unmovable.

“I said you left me! Don’t you care that it’s all your fault!” There was no mistaking that voice and tone. Brian opened his eyes and saw what was left of her but did not recoil. He knew now that this was his penance, he had to sit and face her spirit; beg her for forgiveness.

“I’m sorry Mary, can you forgive me?”

“Forgiveness is asking a lot.”

Brian watched as she stretched out what was left of her hand and caressed his face, like the lovers they once were. He smiled, she would forgive him, he could move on.

He was still smiling as her two fingers punctured his eye and burrowed through to his brain.


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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, January 16, 2016

KendallJaye Collard Week 183: Kid Harper - San Bartolomé

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KendallJaye Collard’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Kid Harper - San Bartolomé

I knew this was the place. The sign by the door made me laugh. Hilarious since I knew the kind of clientele “Sister” Maria Corona Cavazos serviced. Stuccoed and decorated with painted ceramic tile, I could only imagine how old the structure was. The rural church in its day must have been beautiful. Of course, all things are beautiful when they’re new. Clean. Shiny. Unspoiled.

Now, the Iglesia de las Flores de luna served as little more than an overpriced whorehouse. The only spiritual healing done here was between sheets. Of course, the discretion that Sister Maria exercised was impeccable. High end visitors paying top dollar for beautiful people to use. Or be used. Whichever their flavor was. This is why I was dubious when word came down that my latest bounty was spending the week here. News like that just didn’t come for free.

Sister Maria met me at the beautifully carved hardwood doors. She immediately began to yammer in Spanish until I pushed the brim of my hat high enough for her to meet my eyes.

“Kid Harper,” she said in a rush of breath.

I was used to the reaction.

“The señora is here.” She grabbed my hand seductively and lowered her voice. “Perez said you would bring coin for this information. This is true?”

Perez. That lying sack of crap.

I grumbled as I jammed my fist into satchel and produced a handful of pesos for her. “Don’t spend it all in one place.”

Sister Maria smiled, blew me a kiss, and extended a graceful arm inviting me into her church of ill-repute. Truth was I hated these places. They always smelled of incense, or sweat, or opium, or whatever else people used to dull their senses. I liked to be sharp.

I followed Sister Maria to a closed door down a crooked hallway. She lowered her eyes and nodded. I used the knuckle of my first finger to tap the brim of my hat. With barely a whisper of breeze, the Headmistress disappeared down the hallway.

The door was unlocked, so I barged in.

There she was. Ginger-haired and lilly-assed. Surrounded by a harem of dark-skinned, black-eyed beauties.

“Effie Wallner. Your husband very much wants you to come home. Now, we can do this the hard way or the easy way.” I took my hat off and tossed it on the side table by the door. “I suggest you clean yourself up and we be on our way.”

Fifteen minutes later, we were on my mare headed back to New Mexico.


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KendallJaye Collard gets her kicks above the waistline, Sunshine. Wine drinker, Cancer Survivor, and protected by rocksalt. Spread the love with her at @KJCollard.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sarah Aisling Week 183: A Measure of Grace (Part 44): Back Me Up

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 44): Back Me Up

Grace sits erect at the end of the bed, a continuous low rumble vibrating her chest. I sit up, pushing the covers off, and swing my legs over the side of the mattress. The soft glow of the alarm clock reads 4:42 am.

The pounding of feet and buzz of voices fade. The footsteps, coupled with Grace’s response, seem alarming, but the snatch of conversation I caught didn’t seem that urgent.

I pat Max’s side of the mattress, and it’s cold. He never returned.

My body is stiff and sore. Pain jolts along my spine as my feet touch the floor. I manage to shuffle over to the dresser and turn on the lamp. Grace jumps down and heads for the door, lowering her head to sniff along the bottom. She looks at me and whines softly, scratching at the wood.

“Okay, girl. Give me a second.” With difficulty, I pull my boots on, deciding to remain in the sweats and T-shirt I’m wearing. Max said it’s wise to be able to move at a moment’s notice, and this is a good example.

I make my way to the door and press my ear to the crack, straining to hear any sound. Nothing.

I open the door slowly. Grace pushes past me and trots up the hall. I poke my head out, find both directions deserted, and decide to trust her instincts. Grace sniffs along the floor and leads me to the elevator, looking up expectantly.

Taking an educated guess, I choose to head for the control room. The elevator hums to life, jerking slightly as it starts moving. When we come to a stop and the doors glide open, Grace hurries up the halls, hovering impatiently at each corner to wait for me.

Voices spill from the control room, overlapping each other. By the sound, everyone is there.

Grace rushes into the room, interrupting the conversation.

“What the—” Max pokes his head out the door, his blazing eyes pinning me. “What are you doing out of bed?”

“A better question is why everyone convened without me. I heard chaos in the hall by our room. What’s going on?”

Max shakes his head. “Nothing, really.”

“Didn’t sound like nothing.” I stalk toward him and wince internally, determined not to show how much pain I’m in.

Max catches me around the waist and pulls me against him, looking down at me with amused concern. “Hey, hey.” He brushes my hair back, warm fingers lingering on my cheek. “We decided to tell you in the morning.”

“We?” I lift a brow.

Max rolls his eyes. “Okay, I decided. And I stand by it.”

I shift my eyes to the left. Tek sits at the helm of the control panel, arm in a sling, with a smirking Ali perched on one thigh. Eric and Andrea lean on the table of manuals. Eric has an arm around Andrea, who looks comfortable in her own skin for the first time.

“Hey.” I smile sheepishly.

Ali’s smirk widens. “You know I’m the first one to razz Connor, but he’s right this time.”

This time?” Max laughs, and his familiar, comforting scent washes over me.

My eyes slip closed for a moment to savor him.

Grace dances around us, nails a-click, begging for attention. Max releases me, holding my hand while he pets Grace with his other.

Tek rolls his eyes. “Now that Marie is here, why don’t we just fill her in? Then we can come up with a plan.”

Max’s eyes narrow, and he looks me over. “Are you feeling all right? If you’re in pain, we can do this later.”

I ignore his query about pain. “I want to know what’s going on.”

He nods to Tek. “Roll the footage.”

My heart beats faster, and I grasp Max’s hand tightly. “Please tell me it’s not . . . him again.”

“It’s not.”

I breathe out. “Thank God. Carry on, Tek.” My heart continues to drum against my ribs anyway.

Ali stands, and Tek turns the chair to face the bank of monitors. He lifts the lid of the laptop and brings up a video file. The rest of us crowd around to watch.

The scene is from the camera at the entrance to the plant nearest the mouth of the tunnel. A golden wash of sunlight accentuates rocks stained with flecks of blood from the fight between Tek and Gibbs. Deep shadows mask the entrance of the tunnel, but the echo of voices amplified by stone issues from inside.

I suck in a breath as the barrel of a rifle precedes a lone soldier. He leans forward cautiously, panning the area through the scope.


A group of Alliance soldiers morph out of the darkness, fanning to either side of the entrance. Two more rifle-toting men sporting earpieces emerge and step in front of the group, making room for another man.

The Vice President of the United States strides forward confidently, the barrel of a rifle resting casually against one shoulder. Unlike the rest of the men, who wear Alliance issued uniforms, Aaron Wesley looks ready for a fox hunt in a tailored coat and sturdy boots. He has a cap of close-cropped silver hair and keen blue eyes.

One of the men beside him salutes. “Sir?”

Vice President Wesley scans the area with narrowed eyes. “Axle and Pruit with me—the rest of you explore and report.”

The men salute and bark “Yes, sir!” in unison. Some of them spread out to explore the shallow grotto while others discover the trail curling along the side of the cliff.

The vice president waits until the rest of the men are out of earshot before speaking to the two who stayed behind. “We’re running out of time.” He pauses, looking skyward, and sighs deeply. “My nephew has gone rogue, off-grid. He hasn't reported in for the past two weeks, and his tracker stopped responding yesterday.”

“I thought he agreed to work with us.”

Wesley's expression is inscrutable. “He did, Pruit.”

Pruit nods slowly and eyes the vice president as if choosing his words carefully. “I see. Why are we here, sir?”

“Kyle's tracker quit transmitting in this general vicinity.”

A strange, indefinable feeling comes over me. Until this moment, I didn't know Gibbs' first name, and I'm not sure if the intimacy of knowing it makes me feel better or worse.

The third man, presumably Axle, tilts his head. “What are you thinking, sir?”

“Kyle either dug the tracker out and crushed it, or we're looking for a body.” Wesley's expression is grim, but it's unclear which scenario displeases him more.

Pruit weighs in. “My money's on electronics. The likelihood of the tracker dying with him is minimal, sir.”

“I agree, but something in here” —Wesley jams a fist against his solar plexus— “tells me different.”

“Should we inform the men?”

“No, let's continue to keep this between us.” Wesley looks toward the entrance to the plant, his gaze coming to rest on the camera. “What is this place? And find out if that camera is active.”

Pruit says, “This is the back door to the area power plant.”

Axle aims his rifle at the lens and peers through the scope. “It's a live infrared camera, sir.”

“Find whoever is in charge of power, and get me in there.”

Tek pauses the video. “The rest is inconsequential.”

A lump forms in my throat. “This isn't an emergency? When is this from?”

“Late yesterday.”

Max massages my shoulders. “They're not getting in here.” Before I can protest, he turns my face toward his gently. “And even if they do, we can keep them out of vital areas. This place is a maze. We have the benefit of diagrams, keys, and codes—they've got nothing.”

My stomach rolls unpleasantly, and as I gaze around the room, the rest of the group seems uneasy, too.


We don't have the luxury of waiting for the optimal time of day to meet with Garth, so Max has Eric get in touch to reschedule.

The sun is a muted yellow disc hovering in a sea of grayish white as Max leads me along a circuitous route to the house where Garth waits. The trip takes twenty-five minutes rather than the usual ten, because of both Max’s caution and my pain and stiffness.

The strap of a portable cooler rests on my shoulder; test tubes of Grace's blood lie nestled within. I insisted on carrying this most precious cargo, much to Max's annoyance. Somewhere deep inside, handing samples over to the Alliance feels like a betrayal of Grace, and I see it as my duty to see this through.

Max watches the house for several minutes, scoping the area with binoculars before signaling to Eric, who is concealed in a copse of trees with an advantageous view of the house and both main points of access.

We enter through the back door and find Garth pacing around the kitchen, looking as nervous as I've ever seen him. When I place the cooler in the middle of the table, he nods and relaxes a bit. He's still jittery, his body in perpetual motion, gaze shifting around the room. Garth is one of the calmest people I've ever met—his unflappable demeanor has often been an annoyance—so to see him this way is profoundly disturbing and increases my own anxiety.

Max strides over to the table to grab a chair, turns it around, and straddles it, resting his forearms across the top. His assessing gaze follows Garth for a few moments. “Have a seat, Doc.” His words are neutral with a commanding undertone.

I hover next to Max and place a hand on his broad shoulder, taking comfort in the strength of his presence.

Garth falters, sighs, takes a closer look at Max, and decides not to argue. He takes the chair directly across and sits with his folded hands resting on the table. “You brought the samples.”

A ripple of fear runs through me. “Yes, and you made promises—”

Garth holds a hand up. “That I intend to keep.” He caresses the side of the cooler, eyes gleaming. “If I'm right about this, we're extremely close to a cure.”

Max reaches up, the gentle pressure of his fingers joining mine on his shoulder. “Assuming you're right, have you thought about how to mass produce the cure? When's the last time you saw a healthy dog?”

“As far as I know, none have been sighted, but there's no point searching them out until I'm sure this will work. If my calculations are correct, one tube of canine blood will effect thirty to forty vaccines.”

“How many members of the Alliance need the cure?”

Garth seems to deflate. “Too many.”

Max nods calmly, but his stiffening fingers telegraph tension. “Remember our deal. If you betray us, I'll gut you without mercy before enacting Plan B.”

“What's Plan B?”

“Only I know, but trust me when I say the Alliance never wants to find out.”

Garth can't conceal his alarm but is quick to reassure us of his loyalty. Afterward, he stares into space for a few moments, an apparent war raging within. Finally, his eyes seek mine. “I shouldn't be telling you this, but my conscience won't allow me not to. The vice president is hand-picking a trusted team to break into the power plant.”

Flutters like a hummingbird's wings beat in my chest, my breath quickening.

Max hooks an arm around my waist, pulling me close. “How is it a research scientist is privy to military strategy?” A shadow of suspicion colors his tone.

“Nina is close with Dahlia Wesley. The two of them bonded over the many lonely hours women who are married to government officials and scientists often suffer through. Nina has become somewhat of a fixture in the Wesleys' quarters and overheard a heated conversation the vice president had with members of his staff. Apparently, the wall between the vice president's office and living room is thin, the acoustics ripe for the picking. Mrs. Wesley greatly enjoys martinis and listening to private discussions.” Garth coughs. “Anyway, Wes was raving quite loudly about trackers and a soldier gone rogue. The trail led him to the plant, and he was enraged to find out everyone thought some other department was in charge of our power. Obviously, he doesn't want that news getting around and seems to be promoting his own agenda as well. My guess is the rogue soldier he's referring to is Gibbs.”


“Any idea where Gibbs is?”

“Hell,” Max says simply.

If our situation weren't so dire, I'd find Garth's shock amusing, but all I can focus on is the fact that Alliance soldiers will soon seek entry into our no-longer-secret hideaway.

Garth's expression turns grim. “You should get your people out of there.”

“I'm working out a plan.”

“You don't have long.”

“I realize that.” Max rises abruptly but keeps his arm around me. He points at Garth. “Keep your part of the bargain.”

“I will.”

“And don't talk about any of this in front of your wife or her friends.”

Garth's dusky skin flushes. “I've been nothing but discreet so far, haven't I?” He stands and walks around the table to plant a kiss on my cheek. “Godspeed, Marie.”

I grasp his hand tightly. “Don't let Grace's blood go to waste.”

“I won't.”

Max slips a walkie-talkie from his jacket and presses the button. “Are we clear?”

After several seconds, the speaker crackles to life. “Clear.”

“See you back there.” Max shakes hands with Garth. “Take care, Garth. I'm counting on you.” Though the words and gesture seem affable, an implied threat lies within.

The trip back is just as lengthy as our arrival. We move slowly through the woods, which gives me time to assess our surroundings. The trees, so recently draped in the mosaic of fall, stand naked, their bare arms reaching skyward. The path underfoot is carpeted with dead and dying leaves, ranging from mottled yellow to brittle brown and curled. A sense of sadness pervades my being, a feeling that visits at the beginning of each winter.

We don't speak on the way back. I follow Max's lead, stopping when he stops, moving when he moves, trying to ignore jolts of pain. Though I shudder as we step over Gibbs' grave, I don't try to talk Max out of taking the tunnel.

When we arrive, the kitchen table is set for lunch even though it’s only eleven. Ali brings a platter of sandwiches to the table and flits around, filling glasses and fussing with napkins.

“Tek is in the control room. Once Eric gets here, we can eat. Andrea’s taking a nap. Grace is watching over her.” Ali’s eyes are wide and concerned, but she doesn’t ask the questions that are clearly on her mind.

Max collapses into a chair with a grunt. “Beer, please.”

I sit next him and sip from the glass of water next to my plate.

Ali grabs a bottle from the fridge and hands it to Max. “I thought you might need a cold one today.”

Eric bounds into the room with a wide smile and a twinkle in his eye. “Brewskies? Don’t mind if I do!”

“What are you so joyful about?” Max twists the cap off the bottle and takes a long swig.

“Any day there’s no trouble is a good day. Am I right?”

“Who said there’s no trouble?”

Eric accepts a beer from Ali, draining half of it in several long pulls. He slams the bottle down on the table and smacks his lips. “Okay, hit me.”

“Let’s wait until everyone is here.”

Ali offers to fetch Tek and tasks Eric with waking Andrea from her nap.

When we’re alone, I look to Max. He stares straight ahead. I examine his profile, noting the set of his jaw.

“What’s wrong?”

He huffs moodily and lets a few seconds go by before answering. “You kidding? That Wesley asshole and his band of trusted goons is coming.” He takes another slug of beer and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.

“We could leave for a while, hide out in one of the houses in town. Or maybe—”

“Stop.” The command is not said unkindly. He sighs, staring down at his lap, and grasps my hand. “China, do you trust me?”

“With my life.” I squeeze back, secure in the knowledge of how deep our trust goes.

“Then back me up.”

“What are you talking about?”

The kitchen door opens, admitting Andrea, Eric, and a happy, wiggly ball of fur.

Max tightens his hold and stares meaningfully into my eyes. “Back me up.”

I nod, and he lets go.

Grace jumps up and rests her paws on my thigh, licking my face. I scratch her behind the ears. A nervous Andrea says hello and takes a seat next to Eric. Tek and Ali come in a moment later, and then we’re all sitting, looking around the table, wondering what’s going on.

Max rubs both palms on his jeans and clears his throat. “We met with Garth this morning. He has samples of Grace’s blood for his research and has given us his word that no harm will come to her. For what it’s worth, I believe him. His wife—Marie’s mother—overheard the vice president planning to gather a few trusted men to break into the plant.” The others talk at once, gesturing and exclaiming, but Max raises his hands. “Please, I have a plan.”

“When do we leave?” Andrea asks.

“This is the safest place for us.”

Eric nods. “Yup. Better question is how do we keep them out?”

“We don’t.”

The room falls silent, and everyone looks to Max with differing degrees of shock.

“We’re going to let them in.”


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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