Thursday, October 31, 2013

Michela Walters Week 71: Compromise

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Michela Walters’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Compromise

“Why’s Jack dressed like a hipster?”

My wife set her newspaper down, shooting me a sly grin as she did it. “Isn’t he adorable? I found that fedora at that consignment store down on Main. I couldn’t resist.”

Her face was alight with excitement at the costume she’d created for our three year old. I, on the other hand, was hoping for more of a manly choice of Captain America or a fireman, shoot -- even an astronaut or clown would have been preferable. This was touching on a metrosexual side I wasn’t really comfortable with. “Huh-- I kind of thought he was going to be a superhero or something. Where’d you get this idea?”

Shelby rolled her eyes and reminded me that I’d given up my veto rights when I told her I didn’t care what he was going to wear for Halloween.

“Next time, you can choose his outfit. Since you didn’t, he’s going as Justin Timberlake.”

I muffled the groan deep in my throat knowing my brothers were going to have a good go at me when the saw my son dressed like a pop star. But alas, I had told my wife she could do as she pleased, and I was the one who now had to pay the price. And besides, he did look pretty cute.


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


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sarah Aisling Week 71: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep it? (Part Twenty-two)

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep it? Part Twenty-two

As the headlights drew closer, the rumble of the engine made it apparent the vehicle was accelerating. Ciel closed her eyes and prayed it was the police.

“We have to get out of here now!” Melinda's voice held an edge of desperation to go with her usual helping of crazy.

“No! I'm not leaving Ciel here!”

“Oh, shit.” Melinda's latest expulsion was one of defeat.

Ciel didn't dare turn over but could swear the drone of another engine was headed their way from the opposite direction. If she hadn't felt like Beauty had thrown her down and stomped on her, she'd have jumped up and done a fist-pump.

A struggle ensued behind her, along with muffled cursing, and then Janice's concerned face floated before Ciel, blocking her view of the road. “Ciel? Are you all right?” Janice's eyes were owlish and haunted, the sockets sunken—a testament to how much weight the already thin girl had lost.

“I—I don't know. It hurts everywhere . . .” Ciel's voice was a raspy whisper.

Janice swept the hair back from Ciel's forehead. “You'll be okay. I promise.” Her eyes shifted to look past Ciel and she gasped, her movements stilling.

“What . . . is it?”

The roar of the vehicle behind Ciel gave way to squealing tires and the patter of dirt raining through the air as the car spun out. The other car was still coming.

“Paul!” Melinda cried out.

Ciel gazed up at Janice's shocked face, then made a monumental effort to turn over. Ciel landed on her back and screamed as rockets of pain shot off like roman candles everywhere at once. She managed to turn her head and watched with equal parts horror and fascination as Paul Jeffries emerged from the passenger side of his SUV. Detective Hoffstra appeared on the driver's side, keeping the door between himself and Melinda, eyes narrowed.

Paul Jeffries had bruise-like shadows beneath his eyes, the dark waves of his hair in disarray, and his clothes were rumpled as if he'd slept in them. He raked a hand through his hair, his gaze shifting from Melinda to Janice and back again. He tilted his head back and let out an agonized groan.

Melinda slung her free arm across her middle as if holding herself together, the gun dangling from the other hand and pointed at the ground.

The other car arrived, and a well-built man in a plaid shirt and jeans leaped out. He didn't attempt to conceal the gun in his hand but pointed it at Melinda. “Drop your weapon!”

Melinda glared at him full-on, and he never even flinched when he saw the twisted network of scars on the side of her face. He started edging forward, his aim never wavering.

Paul Jeffries grew agitated. “Don't you hurt her!”

The man in plaid smiled grimly. “If she drops the gun, there'll be no need. Why don't you go on and do that now, sweetheart?”

“Like hell!” Melinda yelled.

“Mindy . . .” Paul called to her in a soft voice.

Melinda turned, raising her gun and pointing it at Paul's chest. “Don't you dare! How can you call me that after what you've done?”

“Ma'am, drop the gun!” The man in plaid stalked closer, using Melinda's car as cover.

“We can talk about things.” Paul's eyes shone with tears, and the hand he held out to her trembled. “Please.”

Melinda looked around wildly, her gaze shifting between Paul and her plaid stalker. She aimed the gun toward the man, then at Paul, then back again. “Stop trying to corral me! Don't come any closer!”

Detective Hoffstra worked his way over to Ciel and Janice while Melinda was distracted. He urged Janice toward the SUV, then lifted Ciel into his arms. Pain shot through her body, and she bit down on her lip, holding back a scream. Hoffstra staggered over to the SUV and laid Ciel on the ground behind it as gently as he could. “Stay here,” he instructed before moving around the side of the car and out of their sight.

Agitated voices filled the night, everyone trying to talk over one another.

A shot rang out.


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Sarah Aisling hails from the East Coast of the US and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and precocious daughter. She’s currently editing her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, obsessing over nail polish or anything leopard, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

J.M. Blackman Week 71: Herrick Taught

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J.M. Blackman’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Herrick Taught

Your general disarray is something
I’ve come to adore; it’s something Herrick
has taught me. It’s your reckless moods,
no more faithful than a blooming daisy
That light me up so easily. Your passionate
fits that address my slipping continuity so tirelessly.


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


Monday, October 28, 2013

SJ Maylee Week 71: A Beautiful Day

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SJ Maylee’s’ Choice: 1

Title: A Beautiful Day

Charlie pushed past the swings. He was done waiting for Susan. He couldn’t believe he’d agreed to her request and come to this forsaken place. The kids ran around with not a care in the world. Their giggles grated across his nerves like sandpaper. The cloudless sky pissed him off too.

This day was an exact replica of the day Susan broke his heart and refused his proposal.

“I’m not ready.”

Those three words were on a constant repeat today. He couldn’t get them out of his head. It didn’t matter that he still loved her or that she might have been right. He could find nothing redeeming in being here again.

His phone rang with a new text. “Look up.”

Amongst all the blue, he spotted a plane with a sign dragging out the back.

He was wrong. This day could be fixed by letting go of just one word. The three words repeating in his mind were now replaced with a new message and it made a drastic change to the path of their future.

It was a beautiful day.


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


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Miranda Kate Week 70: Outcome

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Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Outcome

When Michael walked down the identical corridors of the hospital, all gleaming and brightly lit, he was reminded of the asylum. The only thing to displace this memory was the smell of disinfectant covering the faint undertones of sickness. Having searched for Rob’s room in this blind maze several times now, it was beginning to get easier; unfortunately Michael couldn’t say the same for the reminders it brought with it.

Rob was doing well; everything was healing as it should. He had deep second degree burs on several parts of his body, but despite extensive scarring the doctors thought he would make a full recover. Michael was relieved that he hadn’t lost any limbs and still had his eyesight, which had been touch and go at the beginning.

No one had asked any questions about who Rob was or where he was from; they only cared about his survival. Any attempt to explain, and to put words to what they’d gone through was met with a wave of the hand – they knew all too well how bad it was in the parallels.

Many people hadn’t expected to see him again. A lump still came to Michael’s throat when he thought of his mother and her tears of joy. The shock on his Uncle’s face would be forever imprinted on his mind, and even though he had never been an emotional man, Michael was sure the shine in his eyes had been caused by tears.

John had experienced the same reaction, although his own state of mind was still shaky after what he had been put through in Rob’s time, seeming to not fully comprehend what had happened. They had been together every day together since their return, and it felt like they’d returned to their childhood days; hanging out in the local diner, enjoying each others company and reassured by each others presence, feeling like siblings again, even though they weren’t blood relatives. They both needed that to remind themselves of what life used to be like.

When Michael reached Rob’s room, he found him asleep. He sat quietly on the sofa provided in the room and let the noise in his head filter through his mind like movie credits while he waited for Rob to wake.

The exhaustion he felt was palpable and people kept telling him to rest and take it easy, but Michael couldn’t. He had to keep busy while he tried to process everything he’d gone through. He had to focus on something to try and stop the rage that built whenever he thought of the Jester. He had to try and quell the constant questions that popped up in his mind about Isabella’s connection to him. He had to stop feeling so stupid and so damn foolish for not having understood what had triggered it all sooner.

Michael focused on Rob and getting him registered as a citizen. It wasn’t often that people came from other times into this one, but it was not unheard of and everyone so far had been nothing but supportive.

Michael looked at Rob’s sleeping figure, his face all wrapped up and thought about all he had been put through all thanks to meeting Michael. If it hadn’t been for Michael he might still be in his own time, out at a nightclub or hanging out at Frank’s restaurant where they met.

The pain Rob was in and the exhaustion from the constant treatments to his skin, showed in his face whenever he was awake. Michael hated it and fought not to be paralysed by guilt, instead trying to do whatever it took to support him and be there for him.

In the end it had been John who had summed up how he felt about Rob’s outcome.

“It seems that the Jester made him pay for just being a friend and helping you. How can you reconcile a man with that kind of sick intent?”

Michael knew he never could, but part of him itched for a chance to try.


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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Jenn Monty Week 70: Fireworks

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Jenn Monty’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Fireworks

Sam looked across the table into the most beautiful green eyes he’d ever seen. He smiled and sipped, hoping she liked mocha. He ordered before she got there in an effort to be more romantic and now they sat forehead to forehead trying not to get a brain freeze. He felt like some rock-a-billy throw back in a Norman Rockwell painting. But she looked happy and that was all he really cared about.

It had taken Sam three weeks to work up the nerve to ask Stacy out. Her dark flowing hair and petite frame drove him wild but his shy nature meant weeks of smiling across hallways and classrooms before he could even say hello, much less ask her on a date. To his amazement, she’d said yes and they now had three more weeks and two dates under their belts. This was date number four and Sam decided it was time to make his move. What was that saying everyone was using, YOLO? Yeah, no time like the present.

Sam reached up and gently pulled the straw from Stacy’s lips then cupped his hand behind her ear like he’d seen in a thousand movies. His nerves jangled like the chain on his wallet as he pulled her face closer and closed his eyes. His lips touched hers and Sam’s world changed in an instant. A kaleidoscope of colors exploded all around him, spilling across the shake glass, the table, everything. Her taste and scent enveloped him as the electricity from her lips sparked goose bumps across his body. He slowly pulled back, his cheeks flush with excitement and worry. Stacy smiled and reached to wipe the lipstick from his mouth and the worry melted away with the last of the ice cream.

He’d never kissed a girl before but it was just as he’d imagined - earth shattering; brilliant; beautiful. Just like Stacy.


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


Friday, October 25, 2013

Samantha Redstreake Geary Week 70: Kore

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Samantha Redstreake Geary’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Kore

The biting wind tore through her, pushing and pulling, like a living thing. Kore knew Hades himself had sent it from the depths of hell to fetch her.

The sudden drop in temperature was a warning. Should she fail to return--all hell would break loose.

But this time, Kore had a reason to defy the possessive, thieving tyrant.

A charming youth, who stole her heart without resorting to brute force.

She was meeting him in Nashville, near the Parthenon entrance. The massive replica of her past towered over his slender form. He was pacing in the shadows of the illuminated archway, the candle flames flickering with his restlessness.

For the first time in a millennia, she felt reckless. Elated. Free!

And Kore was willing to fight whatever hell unleashed to keep it.

Flakes of snow drift between them, swooping down to snatch her happiness. The ice melts into pools of reflective light--defying the relentless forces that would tear them apart.

Where there is love...there is warmth.

We will from the grip of winter until it can no longer reach us.


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


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Jenn Baker Week 70: Time To Refocus

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Jenn Baker’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Time To Refocus

She spent her time taking care of everyone else. Making sure her husband was happy, and not stressed when he was home. Trying to make her parents were proud of her. She worked hard at her job every day. She wanted to make everything perfect for everyone. But she never took care of herself. It took her getting sick, very sick, to realize that she worked too hard to make everyone else happy or proud. It took that one illness for her to refocus on what is important.


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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, October 23, 2013

Kimberly Gould Week 70: Sakura

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Sakura

Striding down the street, I hit a patch of ice and skidded, nearly slipping and falling. Stopping to catch my breath and my balance, I looked behind me at the streak through the dusting of snow on top of the ice. It made everything worse. Not enough to give traction and too much to see what lay beneath. A death trap.

Why had I come here? The cherry blossoms would be in their prime at home right now. Home, where snow never accumulated much and when it did, it melted away leaving puddles, not refreezing over and over.

A rumbling shakes me from my memories and I run, hoping not to hit another hidden patch of ice. I’m in luck and get to the bus stop just as the driver closes the door on the last passenger waiting at my stop. He opens them again for me and I step inside, hanging my head as I brace on one of the poles. All the seats are taken, as usual. It’s not a long ride, though.

Home invades my thoughts again. The train was rarely this packed and infinitely faster, taking me across town and city in minutes. It takes nearly an hour on this beast. Pulling off my hat, I try to smooth my straight black hair. It is easy to pick up static in this dry environment and my hair is quick to stand on end. I’m only partially successful and shove the toque in my bag. It’s too warm on the bus and as soon as we arrive at the university, I’ll be in and out of buildings, not needing it.

Classes are everything I hope they will be. Quiet but interesting. It’s a perfect mix of excitement at learning something new, and relaxing because for this hour, nothing is expected of me. The professor asks questions, but there are more than enough others willing to answer them. I never speak up, a shadow in the room. I know it makes some of my classmates uneasy, but it’s what comes naturally to me.

On the way home I get off the bus a stop earlier. The weather is nicer than this morning and the sun is shining. The ice I had tripped on is now wet patches on the concrete. When will spring come to this desolate land? When will my namesake appear here? It’s April already.

I stop in front of an unfamiliar house. This isn’t one of the side streets I usually take, but there are many that lead to my apartment. They have a cherry tree. I had noticed buds on all the trees, a sign of spring ahead, but this one is open. I feel tears in my eyes at the beauty of it, pink petals sparkling with sunlight.



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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


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Samantha Lee Week 70: All Work and No Play

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Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: All Work and No Play


Someone pokes my shoulder.

"Cat, wake up."

I open one eye. Fiachra is leaning over me from behind, his poison green eyes full of mischief and fun. I glare to no effect; Fiachra just smiles and flops himself down beside me.

"Come on, Cat. I have plans and you play a totally vital part, so up you get."

I groan and turn my face into my pillow. "Rav, the sun's not even up yet!" I pause a minute and think about what he just said. What's your plan?" I ask.

Fiachra grins. "I knew you couldn't resist! Now will you get up? We don't have much time before the guards get back and you know we won't be allowed to do this if anyone adult hears about it first."

"What exactly is this? Rav, I refuse to budge until you explain!"

Fiachra shakes his head. "No way. This is going to be a surprise. Do you know what a surprise is, Cat? Telling you defeats the whole point!"

Groaning again, I try to ignore him but he steals my pillow and smacks me with it. Sighing, I admit defeat; there's no dealing with Fiachra when he's like this. Or at least no arguing. I vanish from the bed and get a perverse sort of glee hearing Fiachra squawk as he falls into the empty space I formerly occupied. That will teach him to wake me up before sunrise.

"Can you at least tell me what I need to wear for this surprise?"

"I already picked your outfit out. It's on the back of your bathroom door. Even made sure it matches your furball's collar."

I give Fiachra the look that comment deserves and disappear into the bathroom. I am marching back out seconds later, furious. He's apparently gone to visit the pixies because the dress is not only sleeveless, its skirt is so short it's practically a shirt!

"Have you completely lost your mind? I can't wear this! Da will kill me! And you! And the pixie you borrowed this from!"

Fiachra rolls his eyes. "Cat," he whines, drawing my name out to more syllables than three letters could ever possibly deliver. "Would you just get dressed and hurry up? This is important to me, okay? Really important. And I want to share it with you, okay? So come on!"

"If Da finds out and I get in trouble, you are totally suffering with me," I inform him primly, then dash off to change and fix my hair before he has the chance to respond.


He takes me to the beach. I don't know what to say. I stand there and watch the surf come in, crashing against the sandy shore. There are cliffs at my back and black rocks jut out like old bones from the water's surface. Overhead, seagulls shriek and caw and there's a heavy scent of salt and fish in the air.There were no mermaids, no sirens, no krakens, no kelpies, no hippocampae, no water nymphs, no sea monsters, nothing. It was the most rare and magical of all places - somewhere completely devoid of Fae.

Well, besides us, of course.

"Do you like it?" Fiachra asks. He almost sounds nervous.

I look around again and can't speak. This...this is more than just a surprise, more than just a gift. I have no words for what this is, what this means to me. I walk around with a cacophony of others' thoughts and emotions in my head. As Queen, I'll be connected to the whole of my Court, their every experience shared with me. As Princess, it's only with Fae that are physically close to me that I form a bond. My range has grown as I've gotten older, expanding until recently when I hit the ten mile mark. Da was very proud. I've been miserable ever since.

The Fae are a beautiful people. There's something about them, all of them, that allows them to stand apart, and I don't mean their power. The Fae are nature touched, imbued with her fury, her wrath, her passion, her brilliance. We have fangs and horns and claws and tails and tusks and fur and spikes and scales and wings and hooves. We have two heads, four legs, six arms. We combine together the attributes of lions, eagles, horses, wolves, fish, serpents, goats, bears, spiders, scorpions, foxes, peacocks, and ravens. We can be graceful and lovely, grotesque and terrible, greedy and brutal, giving and compassionate, but always, always we are beautiful.

I love my people, love watching them, experiencing them. Their minds are...they're like Wonderland. C.S. Lewis wrote that in Wonderland "everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would." Imagine that times a couple hundred and stuffed inside your head. It's fun, it's interesting, it's complex, it's a perpetual migraine that's usually worth it.


I've never been to the beach before, never been so far removed from the Fae. I live at Court and whenever I go out I travel with a host of bodyguards and companions. Their voices are a constant roar in the back of my head. I...I've never been really alone before.

I can't help it; I start to cry.


She's crying. That's not the reaction I was going for. I pause, reconsider, and ultimately decide that, nope, definitely not the reaction I was going for.

Cat's never been to the beach before and recently, with her powers expanding, I thought a day away from it all would be a nice treat. It wasn't easy finding somewhere the Fae are sparse. We're like insects; we're everywhere in some form or another. In the end, it was a draw between this little cove - which, FYI, I've warded up the wazoo to keep Fae-free - a chunk of desert in Egypt and a corner of rainforest in Brazil that's been avoided for good reason. The beach won for the fun factor. Which apparently I completely misjudged, given the sobbing.

I sigh, running one through my hair. It's not easy being a princess, I know that. Her Da dotes on her, would give her the moon if she asked for it, but he expects a lot from her. Her uncle teaches her how to fight. He spends hours training her with all sorts of weapons, in a half dozen different fighting styles, for any possible physical confrontation and several impossible ones to boot. Her Da teaches her about politics, about strategy, about ruling. He sends her to the Summer Court for a season every year; he says she needs to understand all Fae even if she's only to rule half of them. She has so many tutors it's surreal. She has to learn to dress, dance, and act accordingly for for any and all occasions, to speak and read and write in as many languages as her brain can possibly hold, and to understand, appreciate, and respect the customs and cultures of any sentient being she may come across. She has to know the answer to every what, every who, everywhere, everywhen, every how. Just thinking of it makes my head hurt; I have no idea how she can hold all that information without her brain bleeding out her ears.

Like I said, her Da loves her but he expects a lot and sometimes...sometimes he forgets that she's still just a child. I wanted to give her one day where she didn't have to be the Princess of the Winter Court, where she didn't have to be Lyr's daughter, where she didn't need to be the girl who saw ghosts or knew what you were thinking or was surrounded by cats. The other Fae, they don't really like Cat much. The Fae are beautiful, that's what Cat tells me. She says that Fae are nature's pretty poison, that we're reflections of nature's myriad forms and emotions. She says that to love something, you have to understand it, you have to accept it, and you have to appreciate it as a whole. She loves the Fae; they're her whole world. They don't love her; they couldn't care less about her.

We're a greedy, selfish, arrogant species. Immortal and powerful, we live as spoiled children, content in the knowledge our Royal will always be there to protect us. So long as Lyr lives, Cat is just back-up, unimportant and inconsequential until her ascension, still a millennium away. Even seated on the throne with the crown on her head, Cat is little more than the battery pack for our magic and a shield against any possible threats. It's ridiculous.

All of which is to explain that, with all her future days already dedicated to serving her people, I wanted to give Cat one day that was just hers, all hers, only hers.

"Cat? Kitty Cat, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. I...we can go home and I'll get you a cat instead. A female Sith Cat to give Oz company. You name her Isis and have the matched pair. I'll even commission matching coll-oomph!"

She tackles me, her arms wrapping tightly around my midsection, her face buried in my shirt. It takes me a minute to realize she's chanting "thank you" over and over again and another minute after that to realize she wasn't upset at all. So I may have miscalculated my miscalculation. Happens to the best of us, I suppose.

I should say something.

"Cat, you haven't even gone in the water yet! That's the best part, you know."

She pulls back, her eyes going wide, and I laugh. "Oh, Kitty Cat, you didn't think I brought you all the way out here just to look around, did you? We have about an hour until your Da notices we've run away. We'd best make the most of it, no? And a beach isn't a beach without swimming."

Against all possibility, Cat's eyes grow rounder, a happy sparkle coming to light in their depths. "Do you mean, big brother, that I'm going to...that we're going to...PLAY?!"

I laugh again and grab her by her wrists, tugging her towards the water as she screeches gleefully and halfheartedly resists. "Little sister mine," I say over my shoulder, "we're going to stuff so much play into today that you'll have to work the next five centuries straight through to balance it out!"


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Monday, October 21, 2013

Lizzie Koch Week 70: An Uninvited Guest

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Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: An Uninvited Guest

Lorna’s Halloween party was ready. She was ready and with broom in hand, she walked down the cobwebbed stairs to greet her guests.

“You look very bewitching,” Mason said, exposing his fangs.

“Not so bad yourself, even if modern.” She untied his tie, letting it hang loose before unbuttoning a button or two, ruffling his black hair. “Much better.” A kiss left him with crimson smudged lips giving him that just fed look as he greeted the guests.

The weather was kind for October, unusually mild and dry and the moon came out to play in all her glory as the clouds shied away, knowing they were uninvited. Candles flickered, bringing to life carved pumpkins dotted around the garden as the party spilled out from the house.

A rousing cheer stopped all conversation and Lorna looked over to the apple bobbing where Mason stood, his black hair dripping, with a shiny red apple locked in his mouth.

“He’s such a good sport,” Tracey cooed, “a few more beers are well and truly needed before Dan even thinks about it.”

“Mason’s a show off,” Lorna joked.

“Totally agree,” said a woman’s voice who had sidled up next to Lorna unnoticed. Both Lorna and Tracey looked at her. She was captivating. Her long, flowing raven coloured hair framed a pale face where eyes as black as coal sparked like diamonds. She licked her ruby lips, before looking at the two women. “I work with Mason,” she said with a smile bearing the whitest teeth before wandering off to mingle.

Both Lorna and Tracey followed her with their eyes, watching how she entered conversions with ease.

“Who the hell was that?” Tracey asked.

“I have absolutely no idea.” Lorna couldn’t take her eyes off the woman as she sauntered from group to group; she seemed to know everyone and going by the response, they knew her. Funny how Mason hadn’t said he had a new colleague at the office; something he usually never failed to mention. She coiled around the men in their little group, laughing as Mason cracked yet another punch line. Envy rose in Lorna. She wanted to go over, stamp her scent all over Mason but her pride stopped her being so foolish. It was a party. People flirted. A bit rude flirting with the host right in front of the hostess but flirting was harmless as far as Mason was concerned.

“Who’s the girl?” Lorna finally managed to ask Dan as he helped himself to cold chicken. He shrugged.

“You don’t know her?”

“Nope, never seen her before. Thought she was one of your friends.”

“Why do you say that?”

“She said.” He finished the drumstick, picking up another with his zombie made up hand. “Great spread. Better than braaaains,” he laughed as he dragged himself away.

“Looks like you’ve seen a ghost,” Mason said, taking Lorna in his arms when he finally decided to spend time with her, “although I suspect Dan was telling another awful zombie joke.”

“Do you know that woman, the one standing with Tracey and Dan.”

“No, she said she works with you.”

Lorna shook her head. “No one knows who she is. She makes me uncomfortable. Can you ask her to leave?” From Mason’s expression, Lorna could tell he was about to protest. It was nearing midnight and the party would soon be over save for a few close friends. The woman approached. Lorna wanted to avoid her stare but couldn’t and felt her black eyes penetrate deep within her. She seemed to glide effortlessly, her long, black cloak wrapped around her.

“Great party,” she purred. “I love Halloween. It’s usually my busiest night of the year.”

“Really? Are you in the trade?” Mason asked.

“Yes. But I’ve been suspended from the Council of Witches.” Mason laughed. His laugh was contagious, filled with warmth but Lorna clutched him tight, her face as straight as a poker, hard as stone.

“Who are you?” Lorna finally asked; her voice strong belying a fear creeping through her bones.

“Clarissa is my name. I am a witch of course.” By now a small group of people had gathered around to hear. Some laughed at her response, others stared, the same feeling as Lorna deep within them. “You know this is true Lorna; which is why you fear me. I can smell your fear. A witch can smell a human’s fear just as she can smell the lust in a man.” She looked directly at Mason. “Those who mock me will want proof.”

“Yeah,” Dan shouted drunkenly along with a few others.

“Very well.”

“No, just leave,” cried Lorna, panic rising in her voice, “just leave.” But Clarissa closed her eyes, raising her arms to the full moon. Her sleeves fell, revealing transparent white skin as she chanted words with no meaning, words with no sense. With one hand, she reached out, touching Mason’s bare chest. He didn’t flinch, didn’t hear Lorna’s pleas to move away, didn’t feel Clarissa’s nails dig into his flesh, didn’t hear the terrified gasp from Lorna. His eyes closed.

Clarissa opened her eyes, wide sparkling, filled with mischief. She let her grasp go and trickles of blood ran down Mason’s chest. He couldn’t move despite Lorna’s touch, trying to pull him away.

“Mason?” Lorna shook him. His eyes opened. Lorna let out a shrill cry as black eyes of a stranger stared back; his beautiful green eyes and their memories gone. The blood on his chest started to run back into his body and the nail marks healed. He grinned. Fangs glinted against thin bluish lips, his tanned glow gone. But white wasn’t a word Lorna would use. Her fear was replaced by awe as the beauty of Mason’s skin captivated her; smooth, lucent, soft to the touch, cold. “Mason?” she whispered. He looked down into Lorna’s wide eyes, tracing her features, down to her neck where he could see her pulse beating a rhythmic, inviting tune.

“Leave her, for now, she won’t be going anywhere.” Mason obeyed Clarissa despite the hunger and desire overwhelming him. “There is more for you to hunt.” A thin smile formed as Mason eyed the guests, hearing every beat of every heart. Screaming filled the night as they ran like ants scurrying out of the rain. “It’s Halloween! Let the fun begin!” Clarissa sang as Mason quenched his thirst in a frenzied blur as Lorna could only watch in a terror filled trance.


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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ruth Long Week 69: Blue Jean Regime - Part Five

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Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: Blue Jean Regime - Part Five

Leaving the gym to combat more zeds wasn’t something Jonas wanted to do but not even Haley or Mason could disagree with the necessity, though they were looking mighty hostile about the situation.

By the time he and Donovan pulled out of the parking lot he was feeling downright relieved about ducking out on this little road trip.

Thing about being team leader was you had to make some tough calls on the fly and there was always somebody ready to disagree with you or your strategy. Hell, he didn’t necessarily want to be a leader. Wasn’t even sure how he’d come by the position except that he’d been pretty damn surefooted when the world went sideways. Probably on account of instincts and skills picked up in that damn video game.

One of those instincts was sticking your neck out for your teammates and that’s what he was doing now. Couple of SOS calls had come in while he was in the shower and required immediate response.

His older brother, Eli, was stranded at the airport. He’d flown in under his own power this afternoon, after the military refused to grant him transport, but couldn’t navigate past a significantly sized horde safely enough to commandeer a vehicle to get to the high school.

And they’d finally heard back from Georgia too. About time. That stubborn ass had been so sure she could get herself to the gym without any help. Trapped in her grandmother’s basement, her great plan had been to chop the zeds down to size by sticking a chainsaw out the small high windows. The flaw in that plan only became evident after the fact when the stacked up bodies prevented her from opening the door and making her escape.

They had about ninety minutes to drive forty miles and gather two lost sheep before sundown. Not that they'd have to call off the rescue after dark but their efforts would be seriously disadvantaged once they ran out of light. Besides visibility going to shit, something about nighttime seemed to agitate the zeds.

As they headed for Georgia’s subdivision, Donovan said, “So, how’s the fatherhood thing working out for you? Haven’t had a chance to ask in all the commotion.”

A grin spread across his face, lit up his eyes. “Damn good. I’ve only been at it for twenty-four hours but it’s like I’ve been doing it my whole life. Seems right, natural, normal. What's scary is how normal it seems to be fighting zeds, rescuing survivors, and scavenging for supplies.”

“Yeah, I hear you, bud. I mean, it's crazy but I was just sitting here thinking about suggesting we go get a damn milkshake after we pick up Georgia. That's what we'd have done last week but this week is a whole new ballgame. What I wouldn’t give for a chocolate shake, whip cream, and a maraschino cherry. Loved that cute little blonde who worked the window on Friday nights.”

“Damn it! How many times do I have to tell you to stop with the food daydreams? Totally ruins my appreciation for the cafeteria slop we exist on at the moment. And you didn’t love the blonde. You loved how she didn’t charge you for the extra whip cream.”

Donovan laughed. “You got me. It was the whip cream. But hey, if a girl has any chance with me, at least it’s obvious how to get my attention, right?! What’s that? You barbequed me some spare ribs, sweetheart? Well come on over here and tell me all about your great grandpa’s marinade while I rub your cute little feet.”

He took a left onto Georgia’s street. “Okay. Let’s make this quick. Grab George and make a run for the airport. Don’t want to waste any daylight here. I’d rather have it to spend at the airport if we need to.”

“Sounds good. One little problem. She’s dead set on bringing her dirt bike.”

Of course she was. Damn it. Could just one thing go smoothly today? “No way. I’m not letting her ride it back on her own. She’s got no defense on that thing. And we’re not going to bring it with us either. I’m not going to jeopardize our chance of retrieving Eli because we’re hauling extra weight we’re not equipped to handle.”

Donovan shrugged. “Well you have fun telling her that because I’m not going to be the one to sacrifice myself.”

“Not even for a chocolate milkshake?”

“Dude. That’s wrong. Bringing it back around to food like that. Oh. Wow. Look at that. She really does have them piled up around the house.”

They pulled into the driveway and took a minute to look at Georgia’s ill-fated handiwork. Bodies were stacked around and against the house, still thrashing about, but unable to get very far without their legs. After scouting for and not finding any mobile zeds, they got out and headed for the garage.

Jonas grabbed a couple shovels from the rack and tossed one to Donovan. “Let’s dig out the numbskull and rush her into the truck before she starts in about the bike.”

“Damn the smell is disgusting,” Donovan said, as they cleared a path to the basement door. “You know, hacking them down to keep them from chasing you seems like a great idea but now their mouths are down by your feet and ankles. Makes it hella easy for them to grab your leg and chomp you. Especially when they’re heaped up like this.”

He struggled to move a particularly heavy body out of the way. “No kidding. And now we have to decide whether to take the time to bash every skull or leave them here in a pile and assume some dumbass won’t bumble into them and get bit.”

Donovan hucked a leg across the yard. “You know those dumbasses. Always bumbling into something.”

“Yeah, but what are there? About fifty skulls? That’s a lot of daylight,” he said, hauling off the last body that blocked the way.

Donovan hammered on the door and hollered for Georgia. “We’re not going to wait all day, George. Put down the eyeliner and get your fine ass out here.”

They hardly recognized her when she emerged because her long blonde hair had been chopped off two or three inches from her scalp.

She grinned at them and shrugged. “Think of it as being proactive. If we’re gonna run out of hot water and shampoo, I may as well be prepared for it.”

Jonas gave her a quick hug. “Looks good on you but don't you dare give Haley any ideas –“

She grabbed his arm. “Haley? The baby?”

“They’re fine. Haley’s waiting at the gym to scold you for going all gonzo and getting yourself penned in. Come on now. We need to get moving. Gotta pick up Eli at the airport before sundown.”

She nodded. “No sweat. I’m ready. Won’t take any time to get the bike in the –“

Donovan surprised Jonas by interrupting her. “No. No time. No manpower. No room.”

A commotion erupted around the corner and then a middle aged man appeared rifle in hand. “Georgia. You okay? Got worried these peckerheads were bothering you. Thought you might need my help.”

She smiled at him. “I’m good, Mr. Taylor. Go on back to your house. We’re just trying to figure how to load up the bike and then we’ll be gone.”

“That’s good. Couldn’t have lived with myself if I’d let something happen to you. Bitch of it is, I ain’t got much living left now.”

Jonas brought up his rifle. “Georgia, move back away from him.”

She stayed where she was. “What do you mean, Mr. Taylor?”

“No good intention goes unpunished. Not in the old world or in this new one,” he said, lifting his pant leg to reveal a bite on his calf.

Donovan glanced at Jonas, cursed under his breath, and headed for the truck, returning with a box of ammo. “That ought to be enough to finish them off or near as you can get. Be sure and save one for yourself.”

Jonas lowered his rifle, nodded to Mr. Taylor, and grabbed Georgia’s wrist. “Come on. We got to go. Pronto.”

Mr. Taylor winked at her, lifted the rifle to his shoulder and began to empty the clip into the zeds, methodically piercing skulls one by one.

Donovan grabbed Georgia around the waist, lifted her off her feet, and carried her to the truck, dumping her into the cab and hopping in beside her.

As Jonas headed out of the subdivision, the sound of repeat gunfire trailed behind them until there was momentary lull followed by a single shot and then only an echoing quiet.

They rode in silence for several miles before Georgia opened the backpack she’d brought with her and pulled out a yellow notebook. “Grabbed this off the bookshelf when I headed for the basement. All the stupid shit you think of to take with you and what did I choose? My notebook from that computer science class Jay and I took over the summer. Guess it seemed important because it has all our video game stats and strategies in the back of it."

Donovan leaned into her. “Sorry about your neighbor back there. I know my bedside manner sucks but the reality of it is, the clock doesn't stop. We’re racing sundown to get Eli. Mr. Taylor was racing biology to send as many of those suckers to hell as he could before his time was up. I'm sorry I couldn’t stop that second hand and give you time for the kind of goodbye you wanted.”

Jonas looked over at her. “If we're a little keyed up or off our game it's because we lost Jay today and we're not going to let the bastards take anyone else. Haley needs your friendship, we need your companionship, and the crew, the few of us left are anyway, needs your brains, no pun intended."

She leaned back and rested her head on the seat. “Tell me about Jay.”

Donovan took up the narrative. “Got taken out by an unknown. One ran for the ladder and turned the whole thing into a shitstorm. We need to figure out a way to contain and screen them before integrating them into the population.”

She jabbed her chin towards the back window. “Is that what that cage in the back of the truck is for?”

“No,” said Jonas, glancing in the rearview. “That’s an offensive strategy we're working on for road trips like this. We welded up a heavy duty barred square so it fits into the truck bed, can be secured with bolts and keep a gunner safe inside a mobile unit.”

She nodded approvingly. “Nice work. You tried it out yet?”

“Not in any serious capacity. Haven't had the time or opportunity. Been a little busy delivering babies and raiding department stores.”

“Well, I got some recently acquire aggression issues and I might be just the girl to give it a whirl. I’d say the airport would be a real good proving ground. How many are we looking at?”

Donovan shook his head. “Three or four dozen. And if you think I’m going to let you get killed in that thing after all the trouble we went to saving your sorry behind, you’re crazier than you look with that weed eater hair.”

“No,” said Jonas, pulling into the airport. “I’m not risking someone else’s life on my idea. If anyone is going to try it out, I will.”

Georgia snorted. “Oh, hell no. Besides, I am not going to spend what’s left of our pathetic lives listening to Haley bitch about how I let her baby daddy get chomped by zeds.”

He braked and pulled the truck to the side of the road. “You know what I just remembered? That arguing with you is pointless. You want in the cage, my amazon friend? You got it. Come on.”

Took the better part of five minutes to get the cage properly tightened down, rifles loaded and passed through the bars to her.

Donovan racked the steel. "You don't make it out of here alive, you should know I'm gonna lay claim to that dirt bike Course, out of respect, I’ll wait a couple days to go get it. But hey, to soften the blow, you can go to your grave knowing I said short hair doesn’t look too bad on you.”

Jonas reached through the bars and handed her a single bullet. "You know the rules. Always keep one for yourself."

She closed her fingers around it and nodded. “I’ll give it back to you before the night is over.”

Donovan put a fresh clip in his rifle, one in his handgun, and got back into the cab. "Let's roll. Sun's going to drop in fifteen."

Jonas got behind the wheel. “Hanger B, here we come.”

They saw the zeds soon they cleared the mechanic bay. Four dozen was a fair estimate. Ought to be able to take down half that before closing in. Donovan was already working the trigger, making his bullets count. Cowboys and gunslingers in the Wild West counted bullets so as to know when their opponent was vulnerable but they counted bullets to gage clip changes and accuracy and every wasted bullet was considered a sin.

They were close enough now that he could see Eli, perched on the wing of a plane. Donovan had them down to about a dozen zeds by the time Jonas got under the wing. He could hear Georgia hollering at Eli, telling him to hold tight, let her pick off a couple more before he climbed down. But Eli wasn't waiting around for some bossy girl to save him. He reached into his jacket, drew out a 9 mm and knocked down five of the remaining zeds.

While Georgia took out the other two, Eli dropped a set of duffle bags on the cage, followed them, and rapped on the roof with his boot. They took off out of the hangar and airport, the setting sun on their backs, stopping at the gate, where it was clear, to let Eli into the cab, and then they headed for the gym, Georgia still out back in the cage and enjoying the ride.

Eli looked over at Jonas. “Good to see you, kid. Guess I can’t call you that now. You’ve grown up while I was gone. You have to appreciate the irony that you just saved your big brother, in spite of me being fresh off four years in the army.”

He looked out the window to hide the tears. “Only thing I appreciate is you coming home, Eli. Missed you something fierce.”

Eli ruffled Jonas’ hair. “We’re going to get through this. That’s what Kiddricks do, right? We take care of each other. That’s what families are all about.”

Donovan cleared his throat. “That family thing includes me too, right? Because I got a lot of time invested in you Kiddricks and if I don’t start seeing a return …”

Eli chuckled. “Don’t get your boxers in a twist, Donny. You know we look after our wiseacre friends and kamikaze sidekicks too.”

“Yeah, I just didn’t want the two of you having a reunion snot fest without me. Now somebody hand me a tissue, will ya?”

The ride to the gym was filled with more drama and laughter. Their arrival went smoothly, without ladder mishaps, and soon as they got downstairs Jonas felt the weight of his leadership mantle slide off. Simple things like welcoming hugs, bowls of warm chili beans, and the noise of happy voices were the best welcome home he could have wished for - for his family, for his friends, and for himself.

Room assignments were given but in the end, when it was lights out, all seven of them ended up in one room, cots side by side and end to end. Friends. Family. Together. He lay on his side, arm curled around Eden, other hand laced with Haley’s. This here, with intertwined lives under one roof - this felt good, right. Haley and Eden snoring. Mason humming. Donovan's feet hanging off his cot. Georgia curled up as near to Haley as she could get. Eli stirring restlessly.

He'd do anything to keep these people safe. Losing Jay was a pockmark on his heart and while he couldn't beat himself up about it for too long, he wasn't going to let that lesson go unremarked. Sacrifices were made every day. Mr. Taylor sacrificed himself for Georgia. Eli sacrificed his oath to the military to come home and be with them, look after them, shepherd them, as he had since their parents died.

What sacrifices would he make when the time came? Everything. Everything he was or had aspirations of being. All his hopes and dreams were right here in this room, under this roof. He would give his heart, his broad shoulders, his blood. Whatever they needed to survive, he would give it and gladly.

Snuggling Eden closer, he lifted her little hand out of the blanket and counted her fingers. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. God, she was beautiful. Precious. His. Here in his arms. Two shell ears, two luminous eyes, one button nose, one rosebud mouth, and five fingers. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Who needed sheep when they had pudgy baby digits? One. Two. Thr …. zzzzzzz.


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