Thursday, February 28, 2013

Jasmine Henry Week 36: Sugar Crash

A newcomer to the flash fiction scene, Jasmine Henry is graciously stepping in today. Jenn Baker will be back on her regularly scheduled Thursday on March 14th. Now that Jasmine has drank the kool-aid, perhaps we will see her more often.

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Jasmine Henry’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Sugar Crash

I’d never seen anyone wearing so many clothes for an August afternoon at the shore. Her shimmering silver pants were even more distracting than the way the sun played off the waves. Even though she probably didn’t weigh more than 110, maybe 115, her black platform boots sunk nearly up to her ankles as she walked across the sand towards me. She squinted at me, and her eyes slid toward my surfboard. The vibes she sent were stronger than the wave that had knocked me on my ass 15 minutes ago. Ten days remained until I left my high school life for college in Nashville, and all I knew was that I had to ask this girl out. I was so busy being intrigued that her words knocked the wind out of me.

“Nice board.”

I snorted. “Do you always greet guys that way?”

Her eyes took in my long hair, faded board shorts and the flesh-colored band that covered the insulin pump on my arm. I braced myself for the inevitable concern, but it never came.

“Only the ones carrying a surfboard. What is there to do in this town, anyway?”

She had a trace of an Eastern European accent. Like a cute, teenaged Dracula wearing shiny pants on the beach. The day just kept getting weirder.

“Ice cream. Oh, I’m Declan. Are you in?”

She didn’t hesitate for even a second, and I threw my shirt on.

I offered her my arm as we walked across the sand, and toward the boardwalk. She ignored me at first, and then accepted as her boots kept sinking into the sand. I still didn’t know her name, but I didn’t need to. I was hooked.

She ordered the largest cone on the menu, we took a seat, and she threw her legs across two chairs. I’d never seen anyone eat an ice cream cone like she did. I wasn’t sure it would be legal to watch this girl eat an ice cream cone if I hadn’t turned 18 back in July.

I reached for my insulin pump, knowing the sugar high would be crazy, and I’d never ridden a wave yet that would prepare me for the inevitable crash.


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Jasmine Henry is a copywriter by day, and fledgling fiction writer by night. A new resident of Nashville, she always Tweets back: @JasmineHenry10


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kimberly Gould Week 36: Dreams Return

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Dreams Return

It was a foggy morning. He pulled down his shotgun and loaded it, just as he had done every foggy morning for twenty years. Lifting the loaded rifle to his shoulder, he took a sight. Yep, that should do it. Dressed in warm flannel, he should only need his hat to be ready for his morning constitutional.

Constitutional, he sounded like an old fart. He wasn’t that old, only forty, but meeting that pixie had aged him more than his face could tell. His hair was thinner on top, but still dark. It was in his eyes, if anyone bothered to look. A cold steel hardness that came from being taken across and then dropped back on his doorstep when the fog melted away.

He’d loved that little thing. Her hair hanging in ringlets, all snowy white. She looked like dew. Little did he know she was also as ephemeral as it. She’d left him with more than the scars on his heart and the steel in his eyes. She’d taken his dreams. He slept, but never more than an hour or two. No dreams. It was a horrible thing to lose. He could remember his dog that had passed, but never run with him again. He could imagine the girl in his senior class he hadn’t had the courage to ask to the prom, but he’d never get to dance with her.

Shifting the rifle’s weight, he marched out into the trees along the same well-worn path he’d taken all those years ago. And there she was, little pixie bitch.

He lifted his gun, planning to shoot fast. He’d missed the last time he’d seen her.

“Wait!” she cried. “Alfie! I can fix it.”

“I can fix it,” he said, pulling the trigger.

He closed his eyes and felt himself walking with her out of the mist. Dreams may not come true, but they were more precious than gold. With a smile, he turned his back on the minute corpse, planning to take a late morning nap.


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


Monday, February 25, 2013

J. Whitworth Hazzard Week 36: Born From the Center of a Storm

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J Whitworth Hazzard’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Born From the Center of a Storm

The blades of tall grass whipped her bare legs as she ran from him. Her wedges and sundress weren’t helping the escape, but she’d dressed for a nice picnic in the park.

A muscled arm snaked around Alice’s waist from behind and lifted her from her feet. One sandal flew off into the grass and Alice screamed.

“Gotcha!” He growled in her ear. “I’ll teach you to run from me.”

Alice snaked her fingers into the man’s silken ebony hair and tugged him close to her ear. Her legs melted under her as his hot breath filled her ear and his lips caressed the exposed skin of her neck.

”Is that a promise?”

The tall man dropped her into the grass and she squealed in surprise. She rolled onto her back and he trapped her between chiseled arms; a lion eyeing a piece of tasty meat.

She wrapped her legs around his waist, betraying the modesty of her sundress, and tried to pull him down to her. She alternated between a nervous smile and biting her lip in anticipation. His eyes bathed in her youthful beauty, until she thought her face would burn from blushing.

“Please? Come on…” Alice begged.

He grinned, a bright toothy affair that lit up his gorgeous face. “Not yet. I have something to ask you, first.”

Her breath caught in her throat. Had he finally made up his mind?

“Alice Piercy, will you…” Zach paused. “Eat with me?”

Alice groaned and punched him feebly in the chest.

“You meanie. Fine. We better eat quickly though,” Alice said. Her eyes scanned over the darkening skies. “It looks like rain.”

Zach helped her up from the grass and turned her around before scooping her up with one arm. He threw her over his broad shoulder and retrieved the picnic basket with the other.

Alice squawked when his shoulder cut into her soft belly, but she loved the way he took charge. She loved being with him, even if he was difficult.

Zach walked to the clearing at the top of the hill and set her down with a gentleness that belied his size and rough appearance. The five o’clock shadow, wild hair, and tattoos were an act, a rebellious dig at his overbearing parents. Alice sat in silence as Zach laid out the blanket, poured her a glass of wine and made a plate of food for her.

The first tiny raindrop fell on her plate and Zach swore. “Dammit. This was supposed to be perfect. Sunny skies, my ass.”

“Forget about the rain. What were you going to ask me?” Alice couldn’t contain her excitement any longer. In her head, they were already running back to the car, smiling, drenched, and hot, for an afternoon spent steaming up the car windows.

Zach pulled her to her feet—all 5’ 2” of it, and kneeled. She covered her mouth as he pulled a little black box from his pocket and opened it.

“Alice…” Tears welled up in Alice’s eyes. She was nodding her head before he even finished. “Will you marry me?”

“Yes!” Alice launched herself at Zach and wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing him fiercely between exclamations. “Yes! Yes!”

Thunder rolled behind them in the valley and the drops of rain picked up speed. Zach slipped the ring onto Alice’s finger and gently pushed her back.

“There’s more, Alice. I’ve made a lot of big decisions this week. I want us to be together, but I have to tell you…”

“Just tell me,” Alice said. “Whatever it is. We’ll deal with it.”

“I decided on Harvard. My parents are going to pay for Med school, but only if I move back.” Alice’s tears of joy vanished, replaced by the drops of rain from the freak storm. “What about Stanford? You promised…”

“I know what I said, but that was before. It’s hundreds of thousands of dollars, Alice. If I went to Stanford, we’d be in a deep hole that would take years to dig out of. There’d be no money for a wedding, and barely enough to make ends meet.”

“I don’t care!” Alice barked. “Jessica is going to Harvard. She’d be in your class. I’m not stupid. Your parents are still trying…”

“Jesus, not this again. Jessica isn’t going to be…”

“What? What, Zach? She’s not going to be fucking you? Again?”

Zach grabbed Alice with both hands and shook her, a little harder than he meant to. “Listen to me. I just proposed to you for Christ sake.”

Alice shook herself free from his grip and ran. She felt like an idiot for saying yes so blindly.

There was always a catch with Zach.

“Alice!” Zach yelled after her but she was gone.

The skies opened up as the swirling black clouds reached their picnic, pouring cold rain down on Alice. She kicked off her sandals and sprinted through the grass, panicked that she screwed up. Between the tears and the rain, Alice was blind. She didn’t slow until she felt the slap of bare feet on the pavement .

The wind rose to a howl and Alice’s flimsy dress plastered itself against her body. She tried to pull the ring off her finger when the pickup truck’s lights froze her in place.

The Ford slammed on its brakes, but the slick road overwhelmed friction. Somewhere behind her, Alice heard Zach scream, “No!”

All 110 pounds of Alice’s petite frame was lifted into the air with a sickening crunch. The air sizzled around her and a giant flash of light exploded, enveloping Alice in a lightning bolt that ripped through the concrete and sent the truck skittering like a matchbox.

When the concussive waves of thunder quieted, Alice’s body lay utterly still in the wet grass. Zach sprinted to Alice and slid to the ground. The roiling clouds above receded and a tiny ray of sunlight covered her body, almost as an apology for the storm.

“Alice! Please be alive. Please!” Zach turned her over expecting the worst.

Alice’s body was untouched. No blood, no broken bones, not a single mark on her unblemished skin. She lay staring at the brightening sky, like a china doll newly unwrapped. She was alive… but Alice was gone.


The beeping of the heart monitor was the only sign of passing time in Alice’s hospital room. Zach and Alice’s Aunt sat in silence while the Doctors performed the GCS test for the fourth time, whispering over the results.

“Mrs. Piercy, I’m afraid there’s been no improvement. Her brain function is minimal. There must be some trauma that we can’t see in the PET and MRI scans.” The Doctor said. “It’s not a normal vegetative state, but it’s close.”

“Will she? I mean…” Alice’s Aunt exhausted her tears hours ago. “There’s got to be a chance, right? Some hope.”

The Doctor folded her arms over the tablet. “It’s possible, but she’d need massive rehabilitation. It’s like her brain was erased; shocked into some kind reset mode by the lightning. Honestly, it’s a miracle she’s alive.”

Zach got up from his chair and walked out, with a disgusted look on his face. When he got to the coffee machine in the lobby, the cop was still there waiting. “Mr. Hawthorne, I’d like to go over your statement again if you don’t mind.”

“What do you want to know?” Zach could barely contain his bubbling anger.

“You had a picnic, you asked her to marry you, the rain started, she ran to the car and got struck. Is that accurate?”

“That’s what happened.”

“The driver said she was crying. Just want to make sure everything adds up here.”

“He’s mistaken.”

“Okay. Well, I’m glad she’s alive. I’m sure when she heals, you two will have a great wedding.” The cop patted Zach on the shoulder.

Zach turned and headed for the exit, “There’s not going to be any wedding. As far as I’m concerned, Alice died today.”


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Trained in science and critical thinking, J. Whitworth spends his leisure time writing fiction that would make his former professors cringe. Dr. Hazzard’s PhD in molecular biophysics is used to figure out how to scientifically justify the existence of mythical creatures. Follow him at Twitter @Zombiemechanics Facebook Blog Zombie Mechanics


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Ruth Long Week 35: Little Miss Notorious

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Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Little Miss Notorious

NEW YORK - 1940

Corky Gallagher’s legacy filled the shelves in his office with trophies and covered his office walls with news clippings that had long since yellowed, cracked and curled at the coroners.

Conversely, his only child’s legacy had been swept under the rug and they endeavored to keep it there. But the morning she picked up the newspaper and saw one of her father’s rookies in the headlines, she knew her days of anonymity were at an end.

No way was Jimmy Spires the criminal mastermind behind the Chinatown deaths. The kid was looking to make a name for himself in the boxing ring, not the opium market. She needed two things to prove he was innocent and they’d be easy enough to get. Five minutes at her father’s office ought to do it.

However, when the cab dropped her in front of Gallagher’s Gym, there were precious few autos in the lot and when she poked her head through the door, the only mug on the floor was Sheamus O’Mara, reigning welterweight champ.

The man was all lithe motion and muscle. Not someone she was comfortable being alone with. But the mingled scents of stale sweat, recycled air and weathered leather were familiar enough to levy her trepidation.

Smoothing her hair and steeling her nerves, she approached him. “O’Mara, a moment of your time, please.”

That was rule number one in Corky’s playbook, the one he’d developed to help his daughter safely navigate the world inside the gym walls. Never call them by their first name. Keep things impersonal and maintain the upper hand.

Sheamus stopped mid-punch, turned from the bag and let his eyes take a leisurely trip up the lovely curves unconventionally dressed in slacks and a button-down shirt before lifting them to the face that was almost flawless, save for an odd scar on her chin. “I got all the time in the world for you, Gallagher.”

She held her ground. “That’s ‘Miss Gallagher to you’, O’Mara.”

He smiled, appreciating the flash of temper in her usually cool eyes. He liked that she’d reprimanded his manners, while breaking them herself. Every other dame was in such a hot hurry to call him by his given name but Gallagher’s girl had never directly addressed him, carefully staying out of his way and effectively keeping him at bay.

Squaring her shoulders, she said, “I need your professional opinion of Spires. Could he lift a grown woman’s dead weight and push her over a ledge?”

He snorted, the motion sending rivulets of sweat racing down his thick neck and into the convex shallows of his collarbones. “Kid couldn’t bench press a postage stamp. Why you asking?”

“The story that ran on today’s front page says he was booked for the death of Li-liang Chin,” she said, tossing him the newspaper. “She took a swan-dive off the roof of Hartwell’s Mortgage wearing nothing but red ink tattoos and a ceremonial headdress.”

He skimmed the article and tossed the paper back to her. “The kid doesn’t fully apply himself because he’s young, not because he’s a bad seed. He wouldn’t know where the opium dens are much less have the kind of money that gets you into a suite like Chin’s.”

She steadied herself against the cold brick wall. “How much does something like that cost, O’Mara?”

He kept the grin under wraps, giving her a nonchalant shrug instead. “A man hears things. Doesn’t mean he knows firsthand.”

“You happen to know where Spires was on Wednesday night?”

He came off the mat, dropping to the floor beside her. “Here with me, in front of a crowd of about five hundred. Shouldn’t be too hard to scrounge up a couple dozen witnesses. Especially if folks hear I’m speaking up on Jimmy’s behalf.”

“You’d do that? Speak up for Jimmy?”

“You have my word.”

She drew herself up, straight and tall, and looked him in the eye. “I’d sure appreciate that. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to stop by the Herald. I have a friend over there that might be able to get Jimmy’s name cleared.”

“Why would you go to the newspaper instead of the cops?”

Rule number seven in Corky’s playbook was ‘don’t tell ‘em you can hold your own unless you got no other option.’ Long as they think you’re a lady, they’ll treat you like one. Moment they learn otherwise, or think otherwise, you lose credibility – and worse, any pretense of safety.

She held his gaze. “Seeing how my father trusts you enough to invest his future in you, you may as well hear how he nearly lost it all on my account. I’m going to the paper instead of the cops because three years ago I nearly beat a man to death.”

He stood there waiting for the rest of the story, feet planted, chest open, chin steady.

“That I happened to be married to him at the time didn’t lessen the gravity of the situation. It took the bulk of my father’s reputation and a good chunk of his fortune to keep me out of jail and secure a bill of divorcement.”

His pulse stuttered like a syncopated tango trapped inside his veins. What was that delicious sensation? The thought of her in danger? No, it was the thought of her fighting - fists primed, back sweaty, muscles fluid - that ratcheted up his already precipitous interest in her.

His eyes wandered to the scar on her chin. “Did he deserve it?”

“Yes, but that’s not the point. I knew the risk of raising my fist to him, but in that moment, I didn’t care. I just wanted to hurt him, and hurt him I did.”

“I’m surprised you were able to avoid sentencing, considering that with your father’s training, your hands should have been registered.”

She stepped into his personal space. “I only walked free because I agreed not to talk about the drugs or women that started the fight with my husband, a bargain I regretted five seconds after signing it. Someday, O’Mara, I’ll burn those dens down. They ruined my life. They almost ruined my father’s life. And I will die before I let them ruin an honest man like Jimmy Spires.”

He leaned in, stinking of testosterone and sincerity, and said, “When you’re ready, I’ll be right there with you. I don’t need a reason to get involved beyond your righteous indignation any more than I need to use my lethal hands to quench your thirst for justice.”

She stared at him, taking in the lean thighs, trim waist and broad chest that filled out the snug khakis slacks and white t-shirt.

He smiled, that slowly enchanting and slightly invasive smile of a snake-charmer waiting for his victim to realize the venom has hit their bloodstream. “You know it’s true, don’t you, Little Miss Notorious? I know how to make men suffer without using my hands just like I know how to use my hands with finesse a woman would never expect from meat hooks.”

Good heavens, he was silver-tongued trouble in a muscle suit. Best to rein him in here and now, if not for his sake, than simply to tamp down her impulse to shut him up with a kiss or an uppercut. The two were somehow tangled up in her head right now.

Rule Number four in Corky’s playbook was ‘refrain from fraternization’ … but Eileen Gallagher was seriously considering making her own rules from now on, beginning with ‘stop running away from who and what you want.’


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, joining my creative community or participating in the madcap twitter fun @bullishink.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

R L Ames Week 35: Cigarettes and Aftershave

The lovely R L Ames graces the Daily Picspiration blog today. J B Lacaden will be back in action for Week 37.

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R L Ames’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Cigarettes and Aftershave

Sometimes, when I catch even the faintest of whiffs of that smell, I think of him. I can’t help the way my mind is drawn back to those precious few days we spent together. Before him, I’d found the smell repulsive, but when I met him, suddenly it didn’t seem so bad anymore. I liked the way it clung to him, mingling with his aftershave and soap until it became a smell that was distinctly him.

Sometimes when it hits me unexpectedly, like on a bus or when someone who’s smoking walks past me in the park, I close my eyes and let myself remember. Memories wash over me like waves cresting at high tide, and I can’t help losing myself for a few moments.

I remember the first time I saw him. I’d snuck into a crowded bar with some of my friends after the concert. I was underage, but somehow managed to get my hands on a fake ID. The lights pulsed relentlessly, and the music was so loud I could feel it deep in my chest. I was riding the high of having successfully gotten past the bouncer when I saw him. I couldn’t believe he was there. We’d just spent two hours watching him on stage, and there he was.

He was sitting at the far end of the room, his cigarette dangling loosely from his fingers and adding to the haze that clung to the air like a purple fog. He was flanked on all sides by others who were already just as enamored with him as I would quickly become.

He sat there, taking it all in as if this was his normal everyday scene--and I suppose for him, it was. I’d stared at him, like so many others unable to tear my eyes from his face. But unlike so many others, after a moment, he returned my gaze, his eyes intense and somehow searching, even in the dim light of the bar.

He crooked his finger at me, and from that moment on, I was his. Without another thought, I’d moved closer to him, drawn to his side like a moth to a flame. He’d smiled and my heart had skipped several beats. Somehow he’d managed to make room for me next to him, and it wasn’t long before we were chatting like old friends. As cool and confident as he was, when we spoke, he turned out to be surprisingly grounded and rather unassuming. He told me his name, and we both pretended like I didn’t already know who he was.

That night flew by, and amazingly, he seemed to never want to let me be further than arm’s reach from him. All the other adoring girls who’d surrounded him all night seemed to slowly disappear, until it was just the two of us.

For that weekend, we were inseparable. He was my first in so many ways, and part of me had hoped it would never end. But the other part of me knew that I was living a fairytale that was destined to draw to a close. It was with sadness that he gathered me in his arms that last night and whispered his goodbyes. The tour was pulling out, heading to a new location, and our time together was over.

I closed my eyes and buried my head in his chest, breathing deeply. It was as if I thought that I could take a piece of him with me if I tried hard enough. And in a way, I did. Whenever I catch the smell of cigarettes, I’m reminded of him. And whenever I see him, either on television, or even just pictures of him, that heady mix of soap and aftershave and cigarettes touches my nose, and it feels like a part of him is there with me still.


R L has always had a love of writing. As a teenager, she dabbled in writing, but found herself sidetracked by many other pursuits. Life happened. She graduated with a Master’s degree in Elementary Education, got married, and taught school for several years before her spark for writing was rekindled.

Now, she spends her time chasing after her almost two year old son and sneaks in time for writing whenever she can. She dreams one day of earning a living from the words she puts on paper, but in the meantime, she’s just having fun stretching her creative muscles in whatever ways she can.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Jeff Tsuruoka Week 35: Lawyers, Guns, and Money - Part Three

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Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Lawyers, Guns, and Money - Part Three

Part Three

The cantina was deserted.

Scratchy, rapid-fire Spanish from the soccer match on Antonio's television bounced off the shabby walls. The announcer sounded angry. The home team must have been sucking wind.

I didn't like it.

There should have been eight to ten customers lounging around the bar by then. For the first time I was happy to feel the weight of Antonio's revolver in my pocket.


Silence, followed by a crash and grunt coming from somewhere in the back.

I vaulted the bar-- and almost collapsed the whole thing-- and found Antonio trying to wrestle a card table out of his junk-filled pantry.

The two of us muscled it out of there and set it up in the corner furthest from the bar.

I didn't ask him what was going on and he didn't offer to explain.

He also didn't have any chairs so I snagged the four least-moldy crates from the dock out back and placed them around the table.

Antonio called me over to the end of the bar when I was done.

“We should talk, cabron,” he said.

“Que pasa? What do you want to talk about?”

He took off his glasses and wiped them on the tail of his shirt.

“You are from New York City?” he asked. “The city among cities?”

I sighed, sick of the conversation before it even began.

“Yeah, Antonio. Manhattan born and bred.”

“And what did you do in New York City?”

I tried to ignore him.

He raised an eyebrow and glared at me over the tops of his glasses.

“I ran a restaurant, Antonio. All right? I ran a fucking restaurant. Why are you asking questions you already know the answers to?”

He dropped a crooked grin on me and fished a folded sheet of paper from his shirt pocket.

I snatched it out of his hand and opened it up.

There was a slight dampness to it from time spent in Antonio's sweaty shirt pocket but it was still the cleanest piece of paper I'd held in some time.

My own eyes stared back at me from the paper. My mug shot took up the top left corner with the right profile shot next to it. A photo of me from the winter I tried to grow a beard graced the top right.

Big text filled the middle of the sheet, all in Spanish. I didn't get it all but words like, 'fugitivo', 'Americano', and, 'homicida con premeditacion', weren't hard to translate.

The number of zeros in the reward made me glad I hadn't eaten anything yet.

“Where did you get this?”

Antonio took the paper from me and put it back in his pocket.

“A man came through town this morning. He had some mail and a handful of these papers with him.”

I reached over the bar and took a plug of tequila straight from the bottle.

He smirked at me.

I took another gulp of tequila and replaced the bottle under the bar.

“Thanks for everything, amigo,” I said. “Gotta go.”

“You are making a mistake, Matthew. A big mistake.”

I stopped at the door and turned around.

“You see the size of that reward? I gotta get the hell out of here before someone other than your coyotes recognize me.”

“They already know who you are.”

I needed another shot of tequila.

“We people of Abandonados are poor. Not blind. Or stupid.”

Antonio ducked behind the bar and put the bottle of tequila out in front of him. He un-stoppered the bottle and put it back down.

I resisted the urge to lunge for it.

“So why aren't they in here hauling my gringo ass to the nearest police station?”

The answer to my question came from the doorway.

It went, “Because, Senor Hammond, the reward offered for your capture is not worth the cost of turning you in.”

Antonio and I both turned to look.

The man standing just inside the cantina wore a good white linen suit. His white Stetson was the finest piece of headgear I'd seen in country.

He was short and slight and approaching the back end of middle-age, but what he lacked in stature he more than made up for with presence.

The eyes peering at us from beneath his hat brim missed nothing. The power in them made one less apt to notice the deep crags in his cheeks. He had a good mustache and a strong chin.

His English was almost without discernible accent.

“Don Gerardo,” said Antonio. “Bienvenidos. Sientase, por favor.” He indicated the card table with a wave of his hand.

Don Gerardo nodded and walked all the way into the cantina. He stopped at the bar to eyeball me up close before he continued on to the table and sat down on a crate without apparent concern for his clothing.

“Stay here,” murmured Antonio. He retrieved one of those earthenware jugs from under the bar and scooped up two glasses on his way to join Don Gerardo at the table.

I watched from the bar as the two men talked. Every so often one or the other of them would look my way but their conversation got lost beneath the soccer announcer's histrionic patter.

A shadow moving on the far wall snatched my attention from the table.

Somebody was behind me.

I knocked over the bottle of tequila when I spun around. My hand floated near the pocket containing Antonio's revolver.

Both men at the table jumped up at my sudden noisy movement.

Antonio smirked at me and resumed his position testing the tensile strength of the crate.

Don Gerardo remained on his feet for an extra few seconds. His eyes found and held mine. He looked at me as if re-evaluating a decision he'd made and then sat back down at the table.

The woman standing in front of me in a man's canvas shirt and a pair of hip-hugging blue jeans looked nothing like Don Gerardo. Her light tan skin looked ivory compared to his deep brown and her blue eyes had neither the shape nor color of her father's eyes. Her dark brown hair lay unrestrained about her shoulders. She didn't have Don Gerardo's features but she had his aura.

She righted the tequila bottle I'd knocked over and gave me half a smile.

The conversation at the card table resumed, or rather, Don Gerardo talked while Antonio listened in silence. I knew he was talking about me but he no longer had my attention.

“You don't look like a killer,” said the woman by the bar.

Her English was nowhere near as clean as her father's.

“There's a good reason for that,” I replied.

She accepted that without comment and gave me the once-over while I tried to remember where I'd seen her before.

“What does your father want with me?”

“You'll have to ask him.”

The sun caught her profile as she looked toward the open door.

I remembered. I saw her the Sunday before I started working for Antonio. There had been some kind of street festival after church that day. She was among a group of young women in brightly colored dresses. They walked and sang, accompanied by men with guitars, and she was right in the middle of it all, smiling and dancing with flowers in her hair.

“If you didn't do it why did you run?” she asked me.

“No choice. They were gonna convict me no matter what. It was run or face the death penalty. Or worse.”


“My wife's family are... dangerous people.”

She raised an eyebrow at me and took a drink of tequila from the bottle.

“Mr. Hammond,” called out Don Gerardo from the card table. “Please join us. You as well, Pilar.”

“Bring some more glasses with you,” said Antonio.

I reached behind the bar to grab the glasses and followed Pilar to the table. A guy could get used to that view.

“What is that stuff in the jug anyway?” I asked her.

“Chicha,” she said. “Fermented maize and fruit juice. Very strong.”

Pilar sat down next to her father. I took the crate across the table from her.

Antonio filled all four glasses with chicha.

“What do you think of Matthew Hammond, Pilar? Can he be trusted?”

She took a long look at me over her glass of chicha.

“Creo que si,” she said. Another half smile.

Don Gerardo nodded and settled back on his crate.

“You are under my protection, Senor Hammond, because I would like you to do something for me.”

I risked a taste of chicha. Pilar was absolutely right. It was strong.

“I don't seem to be in a position to refuse,” I said.

He acknowledged the point with a nod and sipped some chicha.

“There is another gringo nearby, Senor Hammond.”

“Please, call me Matthew.”

“This gringo has money, Matthew. People tell me he is headed for Abandonados. Why? I do not know. I would very much like to know.”

“And you think I can find out for you.”

“You have eluded detection in my country for some time now. You must be a resourceful man. Yes. I believe you can get the information I seek for me.”

He finished his chicha.

“And, Matthew, as you said, you are in no position to refuse me this favor.”

I looked to Antonio but there was nothing to be read into his stony, bespectacled stare. I looked to Pilar but she was even less helpful than Antonio.

I put the glass down and folded my hands in front of me on the card table.

“Okay,” I said. “Give me the lowdown.”


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.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Michela Walters Week 35: Should’ve Picked Truth

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Michela Walters’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Should’ve Picked Truth

Looming and historically majestic, the old manor stands at the end of the drive, silently taunting me to enter her gates. My hands shake while the hairs on my neck rise in warning.

I now wish I’d asked for a truth instead of the dare to enter the supposedly haunted house. Gulping down the bile that rises in my throat, I inch slowly down the lane, hoping my courage will grow as the estate gets closer, but knowing realistically that isn’t going to happen.

I glance over my shoulder, trying to see if my friends are still standing by the main road to ensure I follow through on my side of the dare. If I fail, it isn’t just my reputation for reneging, but I am also going to have to carpool everyone to school for the next three months. And while I enjoy driving, having to get up an extra hour early to do the pick up rounds isn’t my idea of fun.

“Katlyn, hurry up! We don’t have all night. Jamie’s curfew is in forty minutes. If you want to wuss out, then just say so. Quit pussyfooting around,” I hear faintly shouted from Allison, my best friend.

I turn to shout back, but before I have a chance, I’m yanked back behind a bush that’s standing beside the front door. A hand is wrapped over my mouth, shielding me from the scream wavering to get out. Struggling against the unknown foe, I can feel the other arm wrap completely around me, trying to contain my overwhelming urge to fight back.

“Shhh... Katelyn. Its me.” Austin’s hand slowly backs away and is quickly replaced by his lips. “I overheard you guys at the diner and figured I’d help you win the dare.” he whispers, pulling me back onto my feet to examine the boarded up house. “I didn’t want you to have to go in by yourself.”

The terror that had been coursing through my veins mere moments ago, seems to dissipate into just an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach with my boyfriend's presence.

Taking his hand, we wander the perimeter of the house, trying to find a way in. The moon is almost full, enabling us to see without having to rummage around in the dark. In the very back of the house we find a broken window, appearing like someone had thrown a rock through the glass. Tentatively reaching in, Austin gropes for the lock on the window while trying to avoid being cut by the razor sharp edges of glass. He finally succeeds and carefully backs his hand out and muscles the window open.

Before climbing through the window, I kiss him earnestly, thanking him again for his help. “I’m not sure I could do this without you.”

“I’d be a pretty shitty boyfriend if I knew about it and didn’t try. I know you hate scary movies, and can only imagine how you’re feeling right about now.”

He boosts me through the window and clamors in behind me. We both turn our cellphones on to use like a flashlight, trying to get a good look around the decrepit place. The Inside is mostly empty, aside from a few pieces of furniture draped in white cloths. The smell of dust tickles my nose and the chill of the night feels more prominent for some reason. I squint through the darkness trying to find where the stairs are. The dare is quite specific, I have to take a photo of myself on the second floor as proof that I’m actually inside. Even though my body wants to get the hell out of here, I’m determined to win the stupid dare now that I’m in here.

“Let’s go upstairs. I need one picture of me from the top of the stairs and then we can get out of here,” I explain, but when I turn around Austin isn’t behind me. “Austin, don’t fuck with me. Where are you?” I shout, spinning in wide circles with my phone’s screen illuminated at arm’s length.


My heart is hammering loudly in my chest, my skin is prickly with fright. I know deep in my bones that he wouldn’t have left me standing here alone, not after ensuring I didn’t have to come into the house alone. Would he? Images of serial killer ghosts run rampant through my thoughts and I don’t waste a single moment. I bolt. Jumping out of the window I catch my sleeve on the window, but don’t care. My breath is coming out in heaving pants when I reach my friends at the end of the lane, with one extra person.

“Austin, you fucking dick.” I shout, seeing them all standing in guilty silence. “You scared the crap out of me. I beat my hands on his chest, exclaiming that I’d never forgive him for this.

“Sorry, Hon, but you’re the only one with a car,” he admits. “Besides, the look on your face when you came charging up here was priceless.”

Hearing his traitorous words, I storm off down the lane, not waiting for the group to follow. I go back inside the house and march up the steps, pulling my phone out to take the damn picture. I’d be damned if I was going to lose this fucking bet.

Snapping the photo with the stairs trailing behind me, I turn to leave when I see a wisp of smoke out of the corner of my eye. Pivoting my head slowly, I see the image of a woman floating three feet over the staircase. She doesn’t say anything, just stares. I imagine wondering what the hell I’m doing in her house. Her body appears to be wearing a white robe, her hair pulled up into a tight chignon. Her face is classically pretty, and I wonder when she’d been alive.

Coming to my senses, I whisper that I am sorry to have disturbed her and creep away from her presence, surprised that my fear is now gone completely, replaced by sheer will and determination. I only make it down two steps before I’m stopped by an unseeing force. I’m literally frozen in my tracks.

“How dare you disturb my home?” a menacing voice shouts, seemingly from inside my own head.

A tear streaks down my face and I know this isn’t a joke. “I-- I’m sorry,” I repeat, knowing it would be my last words. I had one thought flit through my head just as the inky blackness consumed my consciousness.

I should have picked truth.


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


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sarah Aisling Week 35: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep it? (Part Nine)

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep it? (Part Nine)

Ciel stared at her mother in disbelief. “You did what?”

Susan pursed her lips and propped a hand on one hip. “I don't see the problem, honey.”

Ciel hovered by her place at the kitchen table where a fragrant bowl of maple and brown sugar oatmeal and a tall glass of milk awaited. Her stomach rumbled at the sight, but she traced her fingers over the design carved into the oak chair, refusing to sit down yet.

Susan huffed in annoyance and turned back to attend to the eggs sizzling in the frying pan. Ciel knew that meant her dad hadn't left for work yet. He was the only one in the house that had to have eggs for breakfast every day. Brett Cavanaugh also had a “low tolerance for bullshit” as he liked to say, and Ciel knew there would be no arguing with her mom once he arrived at the breakfast table.

“Mom, I can't believe you invited the Strohms and the Greenes over to play cards without talking to me! For God's sake—Janice is still missing.” Ciel glared at the back of Susan's head.

“Young lady, sit down and eat your oatmeal.” Susan turned off the burner, grabbed the plate she had waiting on the counter, and transferred the eggs onto it. She placed the dish on the table and locked eyes with Ciel. “Brett! Your eggs are ready!”

It was Ciel's turn to huff. “You called him on purpose! You know he won't let me talk about it when he comes down.” She made a show of yanking her chair out, making a horrific noise as it scraped across the linoleum, and plopped down on it. She snatched up her spoon and started eating.

“I did no such thing. Would you like me to let your dad's eggs get cold while you throw a tantrum because we invited some people over? First, I know very well Janice is still missing, but her poor parents can't stop living altogether. And, second, you should be happy—you'll get to hang out with Jason.”

Ciel's eyes bugged out, and she choked on a glob of oatmeal. “What does Jason have to do with this?”

“He's coming over with his parents.” Susan grabbed the box of Shredded Wheat and poured a serving into her bowl. “See . . . I thought of you.”

Ciel's mouth gaped. Just as she was about to go ballistic, Brett Cavanaugh breezed into the kitchen, hair still damp from the shower, dressed for work in a sharp navy suit. “How are my two favorite girls this fine morning?” He smiled, unaware of the current tension between his wife and daughter.

“Morning, Dad.” Ciel smiled at her dad, then glowered at her mother. Worst Friday ever.

Saturday night arrived no matter how much Ciel wished it away. No amount of arguing swayed Susan even a little bit. Warnings that Ciel might die of shame simply caused Susan to chuckle and reminisce about her own childhood.

After an awkward hour at the dining room table eating pizza and salad with their parents and the Strohms, Ciel grabbed Jason's hand and led him up to her room.

“Door open, young lady!” Susan called after them.

“Oh my God.” Ciel rubbed at her forehead. “I'm so sorry, Jason.”

“For what?” He sat on the bed and grinned at her.

“For having to come here tonight and for my mother's stupid remarks—as if we're going to get busy up here with all of them down there!”

Jason grabbed her hand and tugged her over until she stood between his knees. “Don't stress, Ciel. I hate seeing you like that. You handled those bitches at the dance, but you're freaking out because your mom invited us over? I don't mind.”

“You don't?”

“Nah. It means I get to see more of my girlfriend.” Jason smiled up at Ciel and gave her hip a squeeze.

“I'm also kinda freaked she invited Janice's parents. They seem so nice—I just don't know how they can smile and laugh when . . . you know.”

“C'mere.” Jason pulled Ciel sideways onto his lap. “They have to keep going somehow. Maybe your mom helped them put it aside for a few minutes.” He nuzzled his nose in the crook of her neck.

“She's dead, isn't she?” Ciel's voice trembled.

“I don't know. It's been like six weeks.”

Tears sprang to Ciel's eyes, and then she became angry about it. She didn't want to hide away in her room, but she didn't want to be down there with all of them either. Hopping off Jason's lap, she led him out of her room, putting a finger up to her lips. They crept along the thickly carpeted hall and crouched by the railing at the top of the stairs. Ciel sat with her back against the thick oak balusters and her arms wrapped around her knees. Jason sat beside her with an arm slung over her narrow shoulders.

The sounds of the adults laughing and talking drifted up from the dining room. They did seem to be having a great time—even Janice's parents. After their current game was over, Susan got up to put coffee on. Lara Strohm and Anita Greene joined her in the kitchen.

Once the ladies were gone, the conversation changed to more somber topics.

"Anything new?” Brett asked.

“Nothing,” Mark Strohm answered. “It's as if she just disappeared off the face of the earth. Do you believe the police asked if she could be a runaway?”

“Bastards,” Nate Greene muttered. “Is that the excuse they use for not doing their damn jobs?”

“Is that why you hired that Hoffstra guy?” Brett asked.

“Yeah. He's a little rough around the edges, but he used to be a cop. Shit, if we hadn't found one of Janice's poetry books lying on the path in Jacoby Park, it might have seemed as if she'd run off.” He lowered his voice. “Janice and Lara don't always see eye to eye. Guess it's a teenager versus stepmom thing. It's hard for a young girl to lose her mother.”

“How old was Janice when her mother died?” Nate asked.

“Only ten.”

“That sucks. Does she have other family on her mother's side?”

“Nope. Madeline had a sister, but MJ was being treated for some kind of mental disorder. She showed up to the funeral high as a kite and started a huge scene. I—it was a really bad time, and I threatened to get a restraining order if she didn't leave immediately. We never saw her again. Until fairly recently, she did send Christmas and birthday cards. It's a shame because Janice could have used some stability. Then again, MJ looked so much like Madeline . . . it might have been confusing for Janice.”

“Were they twins?” Brett asked.

“No, they just looked a lot alike. Hell—Janice, Madeline, and MJ even had the same oddball birthmark. Janice's is on her left arm. Madeline and her sister had it on the right.”

Jason and Ciel looked at each other with wide eyes. The picture in Janice's trinket box must be of her mother or aunt.

“Have you told MJ about Janice?”

“I don't even know where she's living. It's been about two years since she's contacted us. I thought when she saw it on the news she might call, but she hasn't.”

There was a short lull in the conversation.

“What kind of problems do Janice and Lara have?” Nate asked.

“Well, it's probably just the typical teenage—”

Laughter erupted from the direction of the kitchen, drawing closer, interrupting the conversation the men were having.

Ciel and Jason returned to her room and watched a movie on her laptop until it was time for him to leave. They didn't speak much, both of them feeling the strain of Janice's absence pressing down on them.

That night, Ciel dreamed of a dark-haired beauty traversing a stone bridge over churning water. The hulking, craggy stone appeared solid except in the center of the arch, where the bridge thinned precariously. Ciel's heart pounded hard in her chest as the girl turned to look at her. It was Janice, holding a hand out, her face begging for help . . . and then there were three versions of her, spinning, spinning, spinning until the trio tumbled over the edge, swallowed by the unrelenting waves.


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: Website:


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

J M Blackman Week 35: Handle with Care/Mr. Tuesday

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J.M. Blackman’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Handle with Care/Mr. Tuesday

He came nearly every Tuesday.

He looked at the same bin of discount records around 5:13PM. The bins were updated every week, but only by a few discs. There was no reason to come every week. And he hardly ever bought anything. But he was always there.

Yolanda could count on that more readily than her paycheck. Her manager (Ron the Rat) paid her under the counter, often trying to grab a handful of her leg when he slid her the money.

If she had gotten paid in sexual advances, she could retire already. But she wasn’t. Instead it was in crumpled, warm bills that had been handled way too many times--stuffed in bras, inside boots, jean pockets that didn’t give an inch.

She was alright with that. The money, like her, had character, could handle a rough squeeze or two and still be just as valuable. At least, she liked to think of it that way. And she liked to think Mr. Tuesday was the same way, though he never scurried around her like Ron the Rat.

No, he treated her even more gently than the records he finally decided to buy, hands touching the least amount of space possible. With the barest touches, he inspected her the way he scrutinized a purchase, soft pressure added from firm hands, held to the light for any imperfections and then cherished for the scratches that time had inevitably made.

“It comes with the territory,” he’d say, a small smile on his face. “It doesn’t make the record worth me,” he’d add on, catching her eye as she carefully placed his finds into a loud, black bag, unable to quite stop the shaking of her hands.

“Yeah, I totally get it,” she’d reply, though she hardly ever knew what he was referring to, really referring to.

But it didn’t matter. Those pockets of time kept her afloat throughout the week, fed her oxygen when the dusty air became too much, when reshuffling records became too tedious. And though Mr. Tuesday never asked for more than a receipt in the bag (not in his hand—he’d lose it), it was enough.

Yeah, their weekly exchange was worth more to her than the possibility of fucking up their vibe by pushing for more. She didn’t date well—Yolanda. There were far too often hot and hard nights, pallid excuses for a lack of commitment and limp resolves to do better. She liked to drive her lovers to drink. Only then did she really feel like they cared.

But Mr. Tuesday … she wanted him to stay just the same for as long as he could.

She’d take his ready smiles and clockwork record addiction (perhaps affliction) anytime.

Especially those days when he made it a point to catch her eye, when he would flip a record around in his hands, his long fingers deft, and whisper, “handle with care.”

“Right,” she’d breathe, leaning on the counter for support, lest she fall to the floor, boneless and weightless and free from…herself.

Always with care.

She could trust him to always handle with care.


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


Monday, February 18, 2013

Jen DeSantis Week 35: Surprise Guest

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Jen DeSantis’ Choice: 2

Title: Surprise Guest

Tad stood in the door of the hotel room, his bag held awkwardly at his side as he beheld the beautiful woman lying on the bed. She looked as though she’d been cast in porcelain. Or draped in white satin. Every curve of her body, every tiny crease, had been perfectly formed. Black hair framed her sleeping face and her lips were berry red. Strangely, she held a rose in her hand as though she’d been posed.

Or had posed herself.

He shook his head slowly, trying to clear it from the cobwebs of what must have been a sleep-deprived daydream. She was still there, her eyes closed peacefully in repose. Tad checked his plastic room key stupidly, and matched the numbers to the still open door. Of course they did, he chided himself. The door had opened, after all.

A door opened down the hallway and his heart sped. What if someone saw her? What if the noise woke her and she screamed?

Tad shuffled into the room, nearly tripping over his suitcase in the process and shut the door. Sweat dripped uncomfortably down his back as he wondered what he ought to do. The front desk. He thought about walking out of the room and telling the front desk about the woman lying on the bed in his room. They’d have a laugh about how the manager had messed up the room numbers and give Tad a different room.

And he would never see the dark beauty again.

Tad licked his suddenly dry lips and stepped forward, away from the door. He didn’t want to walk away from her. He couldn’t walk away from her.

He felt a pull, toward the bed. Away from the common sense of the front desk. Tad lived his entire life safe, free of clutter. He always followed common sense.

Until he laid eyes on the porcelain woman.

Tad dropped his bags and walked over to the bed. Her breathing was silent, almost unnoticeable. She didn’t stir as he knelt beside the bed. His fingers hovered inches above her forearm. He knew he shouldn’t touch her. She’d wake and she’d scream. Tad might have a key, but the woman probably thought this was her room.

Still, he wanted to know what her pale skin felt like. Up close, she was still drawn in perfection. There wasn’t a blemish or freckle to be found on any part of her arm. Would her flesh be as warm as he imagined? Or would she be cool like perfection?

A vice-like force clamped around his wrist and he whimpered in pain. The woman’s eyes flashed open and Tad tried to pull away from the dark, soulless circles that stared back at him.

“What do you think, Tad?” an inhuman voice snarled from the bed. “You like what you see?”

A scream gurgled in Tad’s throat as the woman’s mouth opened, revealing razor sharp teeth. She didn’t allow him time to give the scream a voice.


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


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Corina Fiore Week 34: Blood for the Innocents

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Corina Fiore’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Blood for the Innocents

Enyo surveyed the village from her perch high in the Carpathian Mountains. The town bustled with a flurry of activity, but there was an undercurrent of fear. The villagers scuttled about with their heads down and held their children close to their sides.

“This is where they took her,” she thought. “This is where they took them all.”

A van squealed around the corner and came to an abrupt halt in front of a yellow stucco house. Pillow cases stained with specks of blood hung from the line. Those in the street hurried to their homes and nearby businesses, doors slamming behind them, windows drawn. The driver hopped out of the van. His skin was weathered, his clothes dirty. Smoke curled from his nose as he took a long drag of his hand-rolled cigarette as he approached the back of the van, dust kicking up behind his feet. He paused at the back of the van, his hand resting on the door handle. Dropping his cigarette on the ground, he stomped it out with his boot and swung open the back door. Harsh light filled the rear of the van. The girls, some as young as nine, squinted against the blinding light.

Upon seeing the girls file out of the van, Enyo shifted in her perch and gripped the steel of her gun tighter. She swallowed hard. A fire burned in her belly. They had unloaded another batch of fresh “recruits.” In a few days, these girls would be trafficked across globe, sold into slavery. Her own sister, her friends, were rounded up just like this. They had been taken from the streets, from their homes, from their families too burdened to care for them. Enyo? She was considered too damaged to be sold, hardened by circumstance of living as a Serbian orphan.

But Enyo made a promise. A promise to keep her sister safe from the harsh realities of the world. She had done just that. Her sister had been shielded from the very circumstances that hardened Enyo. Until now.

She intended to right that wrong.

She shifted again and awaited nightfall.


Corina Fiore is passionate about learning and considers herself an education advocate. She currently writes textbooks and voice-overs for science software. When not blogging to evoke change in educational policies and women’s rights issues, she trains for her black belt.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cara Michaels Week 34: Queen of Nothing

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Cara Michaels’ Picture Choice: Both

Title: Queen of Nothing

He slept deep and easy, no nightmares or hard-learned reflexes keeping his body on alert. I watched him from the corner of the room, silent and envious. I wanted to sleep like him. He shifted in his crib with a cooing sigh, little hands kneading a thin blanket. Dreaming of mama’s breast? The comfort and warmth of a full belly? A soft voice and loving touch?

Lucky little man.

Would that my worries could be so simple.

A monitor on his changing station stood at the ready to alert Mom and Dad to his moods and needs. I had to get a move on before a wailing cry for milk or a clean diaper trapped me here to face questions I couldn’t answer. I passed by the crib, close enough to touch his plump cheek. Close enough to catch the sweet scent of innocence and wish…

Not the life for you, girl.

I moved through the house, noting the closed doors, marking potential exits. Down the stairs, into the basement, away from any easy way out.

The unfinished room held box hills as tall as a basketball player, obscuring a clear overview. But the clutter was magician’s flare—the show to distract the eye from the real trick. I wended my way along a barely-there path among the storage debacle to the back where a large safe sat in the corner farthest from the stairs. Scarred concrete flooring around it showed the heavy strongbox had been moved recently, and with no small amount of effort.

This final theft—this stripping of the very last piece of my heritage—no, they hadn’t planned their heist well, I thought. They’d been lucky to have the manpower to move it at all.

The safe had not been opened yet that I could tell. A brief paranoia rolled through me. Would they think to put on this spectacle if they already had the contents? Or did they believed me too broken to retaliate?

With my gloved left hand, I spun the simple combination dial—right, left, right again. As the notched cams aligned inside, the lock clicked and I pulled the door open. Inside, a slightly smaller safe lay, this one with a security keypad. I punched in the code, opened the safe, and revealed one last layer of protection. Combination, code, and key.

“Tah-dah,” I said softly as I pulled a key from my hip pocket.

Something bright flashed, blinding me long enough—too long. When my eyes adjusted, they stood before me. Father with a gun in his trembling hand, mother holding a wee babe with a felt crown sitting lopsided on his head. They didn’t look like people who would steal. They looked like a family frightened by an intruder.

“I’m only here for what belongs to me,” I said.

“This is our home,” the man said. “Nothing here is yours.”

“You’re wrong.” With any luck, he wouldn’t pull the trigger. I could tell he didn’t want to, but right now his fear outweighed his sense. “I promise. I’m not here to hurt anyone. I only want what’s mine.”

The baby watched me with wide, steady eyes.

“They said you would come.” The man’s throat worked to get the words out. “Told me to keep it safe. Or—or—”

He couldn’t finish whatever dire threat they’d made to gain his cooperation.

“And did they happen to mention what it is?”

“Something—something sacred,” he said.

“Yes.” I drew the crown out of the safe. The only tie remaining to my heritage. To my destiny. “Sacred to me.”

“A crown?” He started to lower the gun, confusion twisting his features. “I don’t understand. All this secrecy over the crown of—what?”

“Nothing,” I said. And I didn’t even lie. “I’m the queen of nothing.”

They’d made certain of it.

“This is just a memory,” I said, holding up the slender twists of metal adorned with jewels. The baby smiled and adjust his crown. “Of a life that used to be.”

“If I let you take it, they’ll come for us,” he said.

“No.” I shook my head. There would be no more death on my hands unless it belonged to the ones who had taken everything from me. “I won’t let them.”

“You’re going to kill them.”

“Believe it or not, I’ve had crazier plans.”

He seemed startled then cocked his head at me. “You haven’t threatened us. And if we hadn’t heard you, you’d have taken your crown and left, yes?”

I nodded.

He turned to his family. “Let’s go back to bed, honey. We must have been dreaming.” He glanced over his shoulder at me. “Good luck.”

“Sleep well,” I said. When their steps had receded beyond hearing, I whispered, “I’ll keep the monsters at bay.”


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


Friday, February 15, 2013

M L Gammella Week 34: Wrong Direction

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M L Gammella’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Wrong Direction

“I think we are headed in the wrong direction,” David said, his flashlight swinging from side to side through the trees.

“I’m telling you, we are fine. I know these woods like the back of my hand,” Colton insisted.

“Dude, you could get lost in a wet paper bag.” He sighed. “I don’t know why agreed to this.”

“Because you love adventure.”

David sighed again and stopped, moving his flashlight around the small clearing. Colton stopped a few feet in front of him, his flashlight hanging limp in his hand.

“I love a warm bed and a hot meal too, and at this rate I’m going to have either.”

“Ye of little faith,” Colton chided as he consulted his compass.

David remained silent as he looked around. All the trees looked the same. They had been in the woods for over an hour, on a hike that Colton claimed wouldn’t take any longer than 45 minutes. He wasn’t a real big outdoorsman. Sure, he liked going on ‘adventures’ as Colton called it, but he preferred the urban kind. Being this far from a city --at least it felt like he was far from a city-- made him nervous.

Colton turned around, using his flashlight to examine a few of the trees. His brow was furrowed and didn’t look happy about something. A bad feeling weighed on David’s shoulders. He really wished he had told Colton he didn’t want to go when he still had the chance.

A twig snapped nearby. David whirled around and shined his flashlight in the direction of the noise. Nothing was there, just more trees melting into the darkness. His heart began to pound.


“Yeah?” his friend replied, as he continued to look at a particular tree with interest.

“What exactly were we out here for again?”

“There is supposed to be an old Indian burial site around here. I’ve been searching for it for years.”

“What makes you think we can find it now, and in the dark no less?”

“I got a tip from someone to help me refine my search.”

This idea was sounding worse and worse. “Who gave you the tip?”

“I’m not actually sure. It was from someone on an site I go to for stuff like this. He responded to a thread I posted.”

“Oh, great,” David spat, turning to face his friend. “We are out here in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night based on some asshole’s random tip? Who knows what is really out here or who? This could just be a ploy to get two dumb schmucks out here to do who knows what to us.”

Colton raised his arms in a peaceful gesture. “Relax, David. I’ve gotten lots of tips like this over the years from that site and they have never been wrong.”


“Pessimist,” Colton countered.

“Maybe, but it beats being a dead optimist.”

Colton shrugged and looked at his compass one final time. “We’re off track slightly. We need to continue to the north-west about 500 yards.”

David swallowed his apprehension and followed his friend. He kept a sharp eye out for anything unusual while they walked, his ears perked for the slightest noise. The only thing he heard were their footfalls through the brush. It still didn’t help him feel any more comfortable.

“Aha! It’s here! It’s really here!” Colton crowed ahead of him. “David, come here! Quickly! We found it!”

David trotted to where Colton was standing, shifting his weight eagerly from side to side. Colton’s flashlight illuminated another small clearing, the ground covered with mounds. The mounds weren’t in orderly rows like in normal cemeteries. The mounds were in some kind of pattern not visible by the ground.

“Wow,” David whispered. There weren’t any animals chittering or insects buzzing. There was an odd hush to the air, like someone or something was waiting.

Colton moved to step into the clearing and David grabbed his arm to stop him. “Wait, are you sure we should go out there?”

“Are you kidding? This is a gold mine!”

“But, aren’t these burial grounds considered sacred?”

“Maybe to the Indians, but they are all gone. The only thing left is their bones.” Colton pulled his arm from David’s grasp and walked into the clearing, stopping at the first mound.

David felt a very strong sense of wrongness in entering the burial ground. The Indians may be dead, but something was out there.

“David, come on. I need your help,” Colton called as he knelt on the ground.

Reluctantly, David joined his friend in the clearing. The wrongness he felt did not go away, but increased. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. This was such a bad idea.

“Can you hold your flashlight on the mound here?” Colton asked, as he pulled out a camp shovel out of his pack.

David complied and watched in horror as Colton began to dig at the base of the mound.

“Colton!” David hissed. “What are you doing?”

“Making us very rich!” Colton replied, a huge smile on his face.

David desperately wanted to get out of there but didn’t want to leave his friend. He felt very exposed and his gut was screaming for him to get out of dodge, that danger was very, very near.

“Colton, I don’t think this is a good idea. Let’s come back during the day,” David offered.

“I’ll never find this place again if I try.”

David shook his head and fought against everything that was telling him to leave. Colton had dug about two feet down when David began to hear drums.

“Colt, do you hear that?” David asked.

“Hear what?”

“Drums, like Indian drums?”

Colton laughed, the barking sound obscene in the quiet of the clearing. “David, you are hearing things.”

“I’m not hearing things. You really don’t hear that?” The drums slowly increased in volume.

“No, the only thing I hear is you, acting like a scared little girl.”

“Asshole,” David muttered. Something was out there, he knew it, and they weren’t happy about his and Colton’s presence.

“Man up, David. No one is out here except us.”

Another twig snapped behind David. He turned to the sound and his flashlight hit the ground.

“David, what are you do-” Colton froze mid-speech as he watched the body of his friend crumble, his head a bloody mess and hairless. He had been scalped. An Indian stood behind him, a bloody tomahawk in his hand.

Colton dropped his shovel and wiped his eyes, trying to make sense of what he was seeing. The Indian was still there, except Colt could see the trees and brush right behind him, right through him.

“Hey man, I- I, uh, I’m sorry. I’ll just leave …” Colton stuttered as he slowly stood.

The Indian held up his hand, his face dark and full of fury. As he stepped toward Colton, Colt bolted for the safety of the trees.

He barely heard the sound of a tomahawk whistling through the air before it thumped into his back, cutting his spinal cord, and knocking him to the ground.

The last thing Colton saw was the moccasin covered feet of an Indian long dead, seeking revenge for the desecration of his tribe’s burial lands.


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


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Jenn Baker Week 34: Lover Wanted

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Picture 2

Jenn Baker’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Lover Wanted

Cecelia sat at her desk looking at her jar of colored pencils. The flat ends with their spots of color called to her. But she didn’t know where to start. She pushed away from the desk and walked over to the window. Did she really want to do this? What would Marcus think when he read it? Taking a deep breath she went back to her desk and grabbed a regular number two pencil and a ruler.

She carefully drew lines across the page, spacing them apart just enough for the calligraphy she was planning on writing. The act of moving the pencil on the paper helped her relax. Cecelia needed to do this. But she was unsure of how to write a sexy secret admirer letter. Her inspiration came from a favorite Harlequin book she read in high school. But she didn’t know if she had the imagination or the guts to write anything nearly as erotic as the woman in the book. She pushed aside her doubts and grabbed her calligraphy pen.

Dear Marcus,

We have worked together for two years and you are one of my best friends. But in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to share with you my true feelings about you. When you smile at me, my heart skips a beat and I find it hard to breath. When you touch me, even if it was on accident, my nerves start dancing and I want you to touch me again. Sometimes it takes my complete control not to reach out and touch you. But this time, I will touch you back.

When you place your large warm hand on my lower back as you move behind me, I turn around and face you. I reach my hand up to touch your face, my fingertips lightly caressing your cheek. I continue to move my fingers over your face until I’m touching your lips. I can feel your hands tighten their grip where they rest on my waist. I can see the passion in your eyes. I move my hand down to rest on your chest. You lower your head towards mine and take my lips in a heated devouring kiss. You slide your hands up my body, barely brushing my breasts, to cup my face as you rub your tongue against mine. You break the kiss and move your hands down the sides of my neck to rest on my shoulders.

My hands are in fists, grasping your shirt. I watch your face as I release your shirt and start to slowly undo the buttons. Your eyes are burning with lust. After a few are open, I slide my hands over your chest, feeling the hair that lightly covers you. My eyes follow my fingers as they lightly roam over your nipples causing them to harden. I move my hands back to your shirt. I want to see and feel your whole chest. I look up and our eyes meet. You grasp my hands to stop their motion. Keeping on hand captive, you turn away and lead me toward the barn office….

Marcus, I want to know what happens in that office. If you want to know as well, I will be waiting for you in the barn office on Valentine ’s Day after the barn hands leave for the day. If you don’t come, I will know you don’t have the same feelings as I do. But I’m hoping you do come.

Taking a deep breath, Cecelia put down the pen and stared at the letter. Before she could lose her courage, she quickly folded the letter and put in an envelope. She pushed away from her desk, walked to the back door of her house and grabbed her boots and coat. Bundled up against the cold, she walked quickly across the yard to the barn. She could hear the barn hands yelling at each other as they cleaned stalls. Smiling, she went in to the barn office. Marcus was sitting behind the desk working on the computer.

“Hey, Marcus.” She said as she sat on the couch across from the desk. He jerked his head toward her. She realized he didn’t hear her come in.

“Is something up?” He pushed the keyboard away and turned toward her. “It’s your day off.”

“Can’t I come to my barn on my day off?”

“Yes, but if I catch you working, I’ll cart you back to house like a sack of potatoes.” He smiled at her. She felt her stomach flip at the smile.

“I just wanted to come down and give you this.” She leaned forward and placed the envelope on the desk.

“Did I do something wrong?” He eyed the envelope suspiciously. “Are you firing me?”

“No, nothing like that. But you will want to read that when you are alone.” She watched him slowly pick up the envelope. He handled it as if it was poisonous snake that would bite him at any moment. He slid it in to the top drawer of the desk. “How did the appointment with the farrier go?”

“I’m not going to talk shop with you on your day off.” He leaned back in the chair, crossing his arms across his chest. “You haven’t taken a day off in months. You work too hard. We can discuss operational stuff when you are back on the clock.”

Cecelia stuck her tongue out at him. “Fine be that way. I’m going back to the house and I’m going to make cookies. But I don’t think I’ll share them with you.” She tried to be grumpy with him, but she ended up smiling at him. She stood and went to the door. She turned and looked back at Marcus. She had butterflies in her stomach about how he would react to her letter.

“Go back to the house. I’ll come by after everyone leaves to make sure you don’t need anything.”

“Thanks Marcus.” Cecelia smiled at him and left the barn. She really hoped she did the right thing.


Marcus watched as Cecelia left. Running a hand through his short hair, he thought about her visit. She seemed nervous and worried about something. But he couldn’t think of anything that would cause her worry. He slowly opened the drawer and pulled out the envelope. Maybe it had something do with the letter she brought him. He opened the envelope and pulled out the letter. The calligraphy took him by surprise. He knew that Cecelia was a crafty person but he never would have guessed she could write like that. Leaning back in the chair, he read her note.

By the time he finished the letter, he was so aroused that his pants were uncomfortably tight. He reached down and tried to relieve the pressure on his erection. He had to re-read the note to make sure he wasn’t mistaking what Cecelia was telling him. He refolded the letter and slipped it back in to the envelope. After turning off the computer, Marcus pushed away from the desk and left the office. His path lead him straight to Cecelia’s house.

He didn’t want to wait twenty-four hours to find out what she tasted like or to feel her small hands running over his chest. Smiling he walked to the back door and walked in to the house.

Jenn lives in central Florida with her best friend and husband, Andy. When not reviewing books on her book blog, PonyTails Book Reviews, she writes her own Contemporary Western Romance and Scottish Historicals. Jenn is hoping to have her first novel, The Prodigal Cowboy, published in the fall of 2013.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Kimberly Gould Week 34: The Night Before

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: The Night Before

“I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon,” she said, kissing Jared’s lips.

“Have fun tonight,” he said, tucking in his polo shirt. He was headed out with his friends right after Lily and Lacy picked her up. They could have been sisters with same dark hair and eyes, the same creamy tan skin, but they weren’t. They’d met in High School when Lacy’s dad had moved to town. Lily and Meredith had been friends since kindergarten, utterly inseparable and Lacy had rounded their duo to a trio.

“Move it, slow poke!” Lily shouted, sticking her head out the window of the car.

“I’m coming!” she complained, trotting down the front lawn and pulling open the back door. She had to kick a few fast food containers aside. “Geez, Lace, do you ever clean this can?”

Lacy looked over her shoulder. “No. I never sit back there.”

Meredith rolled her eyes. “So what’s the plan?”

“Get you drunk, see what stupid things we can get you to do. Take home a guy. The usual.” Lily waved a hand as she said it.

“I am not taking home anyone,” Meredith informed them.

“Not you,” Lacy complained. “One of us. You have Jar-ed.” She drew the name out, teasing her.

She’d been completely wrapped up in Jared, as far as guys went, since they’d met in a lab at college. He’d been shy and tripped on his tongue a lot, which was the cutest thing she’d seen aside from her newborn niece. It had only taken two dates to know she wanted to make her own babies with him. She was certain he was as dedicated to her. It was obvious in the way he looked at her, shunning every other girl in the room, his willingness to shed plans with friends to spend extra time with her. He was her dream man, so naturally, she was marrying him tomorrow.

“Okay, then. Let’s get drunk.” She punched a fist toward the front seat and it was met with Lacy and Lily’s knuckles, Lacy’s a bit awkwardly while she drove.

They started at a country club where Lacy’s parents were members. It was one of the prettiest places to get wasted and the girls had spent sunny afternoons there before. Why sit on a scungy stool or walk across sticky floors when you could sit in a comfy armchair surrounded by white tile? They weren’t in the armchairs now, the golfers had claimed those already. Instead they sat at a table looking out over the greens in the setting sun. Lacy ordered a round of Long Island Iced Teas to get them started.

After three, Meredith needed the bathroom. “Who’s coming with me?” she asked, hiccuping. Both brunettes shook their heads and Meredith eyed them oddly. They’d drank just as much as she had. Had their bladders grown unexpectedly?

“There’s a couple guys over there,” Lily explained. “We’re making eyes.” She grinned and then leaned a little to the side, winking.

Meredith fought laughter and stumbled off to the washroom. When she came back, their table still only had two ladies, to her surprise. “What are you two waiting for? Go over there or bring them over here.”

Lacy sighed. “Just because the direct approach worked for you, doesn’t mean it is the best way, Mer. Let us work.” A round of drinks arrived, or rather two thirds of a round.

“Can you sit on this side?” Lily asked, pointing at the chair beside her. “You’re blocking the view.”

Meredith snorted. “Why don’t I just leave you to it?” She wandered away, circling back to the table the pair of guys were sitting at. She plopped down in an empty chair, feeling her friends evil glares directed her way.

“Hey. What’s up?” she asked, sipping the bottom of her drink.

“Uh, nothing. Just having beers.” One sipped from a bottle.

“Good idea. I’ll have one of those,” she told the waiter passing by, who nodded. “Hard day?”

“Um.” The one looked over his shoulder at the girls. Meredith didn’t look at her friends at all.

“Yeah. We had a really nasty back nine.”

Meredith nodded pretending she knew anything about golf. “I was decorating a hall an hour ago. Before that a meeting with a caterer, before that...Weddings are a pain in the ass.” She hiccuped.

“You’re getting married?” the one with darker hair said. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks.” She could feel how warm her face was with the alcohol. This was probably the last ‘stupid thing’ her friends had expected, but well, she was drunk. “My friends wanted to make sure I had a good fling of a last night.”

“They did?” The men both looked over to the table. Meredith spared her friends a glance now, and both were smiling broadly, obviously still making eyes. They didn’t meet hers. “How wild a fling were you thinking?” The one with lighter brown hair put a hand on her knee.

Meredith didn’t move it. She didn’t get a zing of electricity through her leg. She wasn’t tempted at all. Instead she laughed loudly. “Not that wild! Of course, I’m sure my friends are looking for something crazy like that. Get both of you in a room. I’ll stick with my fiance,” she said, tipping back the newly arrived beer. “He has more than enough of what I need.

The men didn’t look uncomfortable at her response, both laughed as well. “Couldn’t convince you that five is a nice round number?” The hand was still on her knee and crept up her thigh.

“Why? You have a thing for blonds?” she asked. “Because those two will give you more than a handful if you let them.”

The guys laughed again and the hand was removed. “I’m Mark,” he said, lifting it to shake hers.

“Meredith,” she said.

“Tony. Anything else you can tell us about your friends?” He looked over his shoulder at Lacy and Lily.

“Yeah, they’ll never make the first move. Get your asses over there and they’re yours for the night.”

They looked at each other for the briefest second before rising. Meredith continued to sip her beer, watching the exchange at the next table.

“This seat taken?” someone asked. Rather than plop in one of the two vacated, the man scooped her up and put her in his lap. She started to struggle to pull herself free, but the man just laughed and tickled her ribs in the one spot she was ticklish. How did he know?

“Jared!” she shouted, punching him lightly in the shoulders. “You scared the shit out of me. What are you doing here?”

“Kevin bought a membership. They have the biggest screens around,” he said pointing to the baseball game on the monitor.

“Oh. Take me home?” she asked, nuzzling into his chest. “My friends have abandoned me.”

“You’re kidding! How dare they? A lovely thing like you, all alone.”

“Yes, with guys wanting a threesome.”

“And you turned them down?” he said in surprise.

She punched him again. “Seriously. I’ve had enough. I can’t walk straight.”

“Bad news, girlfriend. I can’t either. You can sit with us until Barry drives us home.”

“I’ll just get a cab,” she moaned, rising slowly. She stumbled and grabbed the back of the chair.

“Make sure you put on your sleep mask. That way I won’t wake you up when I get in.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she said, flapping a hand.

Morning came too early. Both Meredith and Jared were glad for the goofy glasses to cut the glare while they watched flash after flash.

“Aren’t we supposed to feel different?” Meredith asked. “This feels exactly the same as every hangover.”

Jared chuckled. “Yes, but now you have someone legally obligated to bring you Tylenol,” he said, pulling the tiny bottle from his pocket.

“I love you,” she said, taking two.


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


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Samantha Lee Week 34: Thunderbird Eggs

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Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Thunderbird Eggs

Normal people exercise a certain degree of caution when dealing with thunderbirds. What's a thunderbird you ask? Well, first, let me just lament the fact that clearly your education has been sorely neglected. Second, a thunderbird is a type of Low Fae able to shift between two forms; a giant bird of prey and a more human one. I say "more" human because while their faces are lovely enough, their physiques shapely enough, they still tend to have peacock-like tails and beaked masks, sometimes tipped back to sit atop their heads, but ever present nonetheless. Not exactly subtle. I know what you're thinking; bird people don't sound all that scary. Did I mention these are bird people that feed off the electrical energy generated by storms? And that they can actually use that energy to generate lightning of their own, every bit as powerful as Mother Nature's? Oh, how about the little matter of their having vindictive and wrathful natures? Yeah, they're not exactly of the Big Bird or Happy Feet persuasion.

My cousin, Fi, is not normal; I'm not even sure she's sane. Thunderbirds give even Noble Fae pause and what does my cousin do? She provokes them. For fun. Regularly.

Take last week. The Thunderbirds were all up in arms over one of their eggs being stolen. They live in flocks, you understand, and once every five centuries the females lay their eggs and, if they're very lucky, seven decades later the clutch will hatch. Needless to say the flock's more than a little protective of their impending brood and the loss of even a single egg does not go over well. Last time someone was dumb enough to steal a Thunderbird egg, the flock razed large parts of Egypt into oblivion. I did say they were wrathful, didn't I? Stealing from Thunderbirds is not something to be undertaken lightly.

On the positive side, Thunderbirds are a very honourable breed, almost devoutly so. Consequently, before going out and essentially declaring war on the whole of humanity, they have to first pay a courtesy call to their Court and ceremoniously petition for the Queen's support. It also helps that the Queen's response to her subjects going out and making messes she'll eventually need to clean up is...proportionately violent and twice as absolute. When dealing with the Fae Royals, normal people don't just exercise caution, they actively work to avoid it at all costs.

Which brings us to my cousin and the Thunderbirds. Allow me to set the scene. My cousin is a small, slim woman. Her straight, carefully layered hair is blood red except for its snow white bangs and her eyes change colour to reflect the sky. She wears emo glasses. On this particular day, she was wearing a dark red gown with scenes from The Princess Bride embroidered in silver on the bodice and skirt hem. She sat curled up on her throne, this one a tangle of black thorns cupping a giant white cushion in a style similar to a moon chair, set up on a dais. The Court was unusually empty when the Thunderbirds made their entrance, a large contingent of them bursting through the double doors and dramatically marching up to stand only a few feet from the dais.

Fi, who'd been reading The Chronicles of Narnia, didn't even glance up. "No. The Thunderbirds are not going to go on the hunt. You're going to return to your roost and if so much as a feather leaves your territory, I really destroy your clutch myself."

The leader, a female with blonde hair and white feathers, hissed. "We are not like you, your majesty," she spat. "We do not abandon our kin."

Fi turned her page. "For an egg, not a life but merely its potential, you would have me tear this country apart, jeopardizing our already uneasy relationship with the mortals. You would have me divert energy and resources away from the war, possibly playing into your thief's plans to distract us from our goals there. For one egg, one potential life, you would have me risk however many immortal lives it takes to retrieve it. Am I to abandon others, others to whom my aide is already actively pledged, in order to keep the faith with you?"

"You made Vows," the Thunderbird reminded. "You made promises."

"Yes, I did. As did you. None of mine, however, condemn me to the whims of my people. I do not take orders from you, little bird, nor do I jump at your command. Far from it. The shape and timing of the help I give you is mine to choose, not yours, and do you know why?"

When the Thunderbird said nothing, Fi finally looked up, her eyes blazing with a maelstrom of stars. "It is because it is I, not you, who sees the bigger picture, who knows what else is going on, who knows who else is seeking help. Shall I find your egg, the basilisk's chick, or the djinn's bottle? Who takes priority? Who waits? Will what I decide today effect tomorrow? A year from now? Ah, but then you forget, just like everyone else, you forget what we are."

The Thunderbirds took a collective step back, a rare sight that I'm certain cost their pride much. Their leader cleared her throat. "And what are we?"

Fi closed her book and rose to her feet. "You are one. From pixie to giant, Noble to serf, you are all connected, all bound, linked together like the strands of a spider web, and I, little bird, am the spider. You belong to me. All of you. Including your egg, the basilisk's chick, or the djinn's bottle. My Seeker's already been dispatched to retrieve them. Your egg will be returned to you in due course so, I repeat, go back to your roost. Next time, knock and show me the respect due my station. Otherwise, we'll be having roast Thunderbird that night."

The Thunderbirds bowed and left. The next day the flock flew over the Court, each bird letting loose a dead rodent of one kind or another to land in the Court's front yard. Fi thought it amusing. Not normal, as I said.


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