Saturday, May 31, 2014

Aleea Davidson Week 101; Wither Part 3

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Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: Wither Part 3

Sour yellow light from the few remaining working street lights cast distorted shadows in the puddles as Mara headed downtown. Rain fell in a relentless drizzle and recently fallen leaves clung wetly to her shoes. She hunched her shoulders in her damp jacket, feeling abject in her misery. As a young girl she’d loved rain. Playing outside with friends, splashing and spinning till the skirts of their school uniforms flared out and their knee-high socks were soaked through. These days the rain felt like a personal insult. One more reason she couldn’t feel the sun on her skin.

She sighed. It was hard to believe only a couple of days ago she’d sat in the park with Glen and thought her life was looking up.

She supposed it was in some ways. She felt like she’d made a tentative kind of friend, and he’d given her more of the vitamin D tablets. A two month’s supply this time—more than she’d dared wish for. His generosity unnerved her at first, until he shared that the supplements were purchased before the remaining pharmaceutical company began capitalizing on suffering for obscene profit. Leftovers from the treatment of his UV Intolerant wife and son, he said, those stunning blue eyes of his sad yet steady as he held out the bottle in offering.

She took them of course. She wasn’t in a position to refuse kindness. Still, crushing them into powder each morning to add to Teddy and Jeremy’s watered-down juice brought with it a strange set of conflicting emotions. Gratefulness rose to the top, while underneath she couldn’t miss the niggling unease that came with knowing she benefitted from Glen’s tragic loss.

He showed her a picture after they sat in the grass under a tree for a while, talking about nothing of importance. By some silent yet mutual agreement, they veered far from serious topics, searching for trust and common ground. He talked about his newly acquired photography hobby, and she told him a bit about Teddy and Jeremy, sticking to lighthearted tales of the mischief they got up to. That’s when he removed the photo from his wallet. Battered around the edges, it was clear he’d carried it with him for a long time.

Mara stared at the images of the pretty brunette and the boy who looked like a miniaturized Glen. She wanted to feel sadness on his behalf, anger perhaps that he had lost so much. Instead, she felt only a deep apathy that left her oddly weary. She’d managed a weak smile, unable to formulate comforting or sympathetic words appropriate to the situation. Then she’d chewed on the inside of her cheek, a nervous habit she’d carried with her from childhood, and they’d fallen into silence.

Strangely, it hadn’t been the least bit uncomfortable.

Pulling her hood up to shroud her face and hide the evidence the sun had recently kissed her skin, Mara entered the town square. The value of money had plummeted steadily with the growing crisis, forcing trade to crop up as the new currency. Makeshift stands cluttered her path, offering a variety of goods in exchange for valued items. An older woman stood under an umbrella, the cart beside her piled high with overripe cabbages and turnips. A handwritten sign, its ink bleeding in dark rivulets from the moisture dotting its surface, read - Trade Only. Batteries, candles, lighter fluid, propane, matches, tinned meat, milk, eggs…

Mara stopped reading, looking away quickly when she made the mistake of glancing up and meeting the woman’s pleading expression. She was asking too much for too little, and she no doubt knew it.

Clutching the bag she carried tightly, Mara worried the raw, bitten inside of her cheek with her tongue. She had several dozen precious batteries stashed under the jars of strawberry preserves she was hoping to trade for some powdered milk or eggs. She could offer a few and make a soup with the cabbage and turnips, something warm and nutritious for the boys. Her stomach growled softly at the thought, but she moved on. The batteries were the most valuable item she had at the moment, and there was rumoured to be a butcher bartering venison the next block over. If she had any chance at procuring fresh meat, she couldn’t afford to let pity dwindle her small cache.

Mara hurried on her way, trying not to think of the spark of hope that had grown in the woman’s eyes when she’d paused.

Ahead, a restless crowd of people clustered near a rickety stall stocked with apples. The sweet smell spawned a wave of nostalgia, filling her thoughts with memories of crisp fall days before UV light became the enemy for so many.

A burly man stepped back, almost trampling her feet, and the memories burst like a fragile soap bubble. He cursed at the man beside him, shaking an angry fist. Someone in the group pushed someone else, and the vendor yelled as one of the barrels tipped, spilling apples onto the ground. Mara barely escaped the crush of people scurrying to grab for the rolling fruit. A woman shrieked as another woman clawed at her, fighting for a battered apple in the gutter.

Mara turned from the sudden chaos that threatened to turn violent. The large man, who nearly stomped on her toes, loomed in front of her. With nowhere to go, she was trapped as he reached out and wrapped a big, dirty hand around the strap of her bag. She’d looped it across her body to prevent anyone from easily stealing it from her, but as he yanked hard she found herself pitching forward, practically careening into his wall-like chest.

She cried out when the man let go abruptly and grabbed her arm instead.

“Give it here, girlie,” he said, his demand a gruff mix of gravelly consonants and slurry vowels.

Attempting to retreat, her heels hit the curb, and she started to trip. Her arms pin-wheeled, and the man lost his hold. As Mara regained her balance, his hood dropped to the back of his head, making her flinch involuntarily as she saw his face clearly for the first time. Familiar blisters dotted his cheeks and jaw, raw and weeping, denoting his UV Intolerant status and recent exposure to the sun. His eyes were yellowed, indicating the rapid speed of the illness, his liver toxic, kidneys failing. He took another step toward her, and she noticed the bloodiness of his gums as his sour breath sawed in and out of his open mouth.

She managed to get back up the curb, but the crowd was in full riot mode, battling for the apples and preventing her from going farther. Someone crashed into her back, making her lose the ground she’d gained. The sick man caught her by her upper arms as she stumbled once more into his grasp. He shook her, a humourless grin cracking the skin of his dry lips.

“Pretty little thing, ain’t you? Give me the bag, sweetheart, and I won’t take you into that alley over there and have my wicked way with you.” He leered and jerked her closer, his meaty fingers glomming onto her right breast. Her jacket was thin, and she felt the heat of him radiating through the material. He was burning with a fever that would only compel him to be more dangerous.

Pushing her hands against his chest proved to be as futile as the yell for help she choked out in her panic. She couldn’t budge him an inch, and the sound of her distress was swallowed up by the growing melee surrounding her.

Mara twisted and strove to raise her knee, hoping to connect with the man’s groin. He evaded her easily, ridiculously strong and agile given how sick he was.

“Let me go. I don’t have anything you want,” she lied. Her voice quavered, and she hated herself in that moment for her inferior strength and fear. She wondered why it never occurred to her that she should be carrying some kind of weapon—a bottle of pepper spray, a knife, something. Desperate times created desperate people.

Tears blurred her vision as the man gave her breast one more vicious squeeze before he latched onto her bag again, snapping her entire body forward with a jarring tug. He tried to lift it over her head, but his angle was awkward and his clasp slipped.

A part of her knew she should let him have it then run before he decided to make his sickening threat a reality. Another part of her rebelled, thinking of the items she couldn’t afford to part with. The batteries and preserves were the only things she had with her that might garner needed protein for the boys.

The boys... Thank God she didn’t bring them with her tonight.

Reaching down, Mara grabbed the bottom of the bag where her hands found the outline of several jars. Adrenaline and terror made her feel clumsy and hyper-focused in equal measures. As her fingers sought purchase on the damp hemp fabric, her eyes zeroed in on the man’s face. Every oozing blister and the sticky scruff of whiskers on his chin stood out in stark relief against his sweaty, pale skin. She got a good grip and hefted the weight. She was going to bash it into his ugly mug as hard and as repetitively as she could—smash his nose into a flat mess, splinter his teeth out of his bleeding gums. The blood-thirsty urge rippled through her, decimating her fear. Renewed energy coursed into previously limp muscles, and she managed to wrench the bag upward, intent on her goal. Her first try connected weakly with the fleshy underside of his chin, startling him and causing his neck to arch. Mara took advantage and slammed the bag into his exposed throat, the gagging noise he emitted satisfying something dark inside her. She wanted more.

Before she could get her chance, he clumsily struck out at her, his fist glancing off her left shoulder. She miraculously kept her grip on the bag, but as she lifted it again he stepped out of range, spitting a glob of blood at her shoes.

“Bitch, you’re going to pay for that,” he said wetly.

Mara quickly tugged the strap free of her body and swung the sack and its contents in a fluid arc. The man attempted to duck, grunting with the effort and too slow. She heard glass crack as it thudded into the side of his head.

Mara swung a second time, putting all her power into the action. Unfortunately, he wasn’t as stunned from the first blow as she’d hoped. He blocked the impact with his forearm, and one of the straps, weakened by the forced game of tug of war, broke. The sudden redistribution of weight threw Mara’s aim off, and she stumbled again. The man took advantage, reaching out and catching her hair in his fist.

The pain was brilliant. A starburst of colours exploded in her head as her jaw clenched against the agony. He gave a brutal pull, and she came forward so fast it brought her to her knees. The bite of the drenched road laid teeth made of asphalt and tiny stones through her pants and into her flesh.

She lost her grip on the bag.

Helplessly she watched him pick it up, and the fight went out of her. All she had left was the hope he’d take it and walk away.

As she lifted her head, ignoring the white-hot pain in her scalp where he still fisted her hair, hope died a quick death. He sneered as he rose to his feet, taking her with him.

“Oh, I’m going to enjoy making you hurt, girlie. I’m going to enjoy it a lot.”


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


Friday, May 30, 2014

Jeff Tsuruoka Week 101 Night Train Part Eleven

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Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice:

Title: Night Train Part Eleven

   They let us stew for two hours.
   Madeline leaned. I paced. The two sheriff’s deputies parked themselves in the chairs they’d brought in for us.
   The blond with the lazy eye crossed his arms and glared at me. I felt his eyes burning into my back and shoulders as I traipsed around the room. The other deputy-- a slight man with close-cropped dark hair and a vulture-like adam’s apple-- worried a chunk of tobacco between his teeth. He produced a cheap flask from his shirt pocket to spit in.
   Madeline ignored us. She stared through the glass, eyes fixated on some point off in the distance.
   I stopped by her side, getting an eyeful of her profile in the half light.
   “Planning our escape?” I murmured.
   “One of us has to,” she whispered.    
   She gave me one of her looks-- the one with the wrinkle in the middle of her forehead that meant she was up to something.
   “Just try to get my attention before you pull it.”
   I didn’t wait around for a reply.
   I worked up a good sweat marching around that little room.
   “Hot in here,” I remarked.
   Tobacco Man shrugged.
   “Not so you’d notice.”
   Lazy Eye continued to stare at me.
   “What’s yours?” I asked him.
   “Why can’t you just stay still,” he replied. “Like the lady there.”
   I paced some more.
   “It’s makin’ me antsy,” he continued. “You don’t want I should get ansty, pal.”
   I stopped, just outside his arms reach.
   “Why not? You’re not gonna touch me.”
   He glanced at his companion, then picked up his stare where he left off.
   “You keep tellin’ yourself that.”
   “You’re not going to touch us and I’ll tell you why.”
   Tobacco Man smirked.
   “This oughta be good.”
   “You’re not going to touch us,” I went on, “because your boss has a plan. Your boss is a bright boy. At least that’s what he tells you, and you’re too dumb to know the difference.”
   The guy was good.
   The vein in his left temple started beating a quick tattoo and his eyes went a little nutty but other than that the man sat there and took the guff.
   “That so?” he said.
   “You’d have already split my skull with the butt of that revolver if it wasn’t.”
   He exhaled, treating me to a gentle whiff of meatloaf and onion breath.
   “All good things, pal,” he growled with a smile that reminded me of a flesh wound.
   I smiled back, letting a sliver of who and what I was show through.
   He raised his eyebrow. Singular.
   I risked a glance behind me. Madeline hadn’t turned to watch the shenanigans. I caught the reflection of her face in the glass door. That wrinkle in the middle of her forehead looked deep enough to hide a Model A.
   Tobacco Man chuckled around his chaw.
   “Hard case, eh?” he wheezed.
   I nodded.
   “Not so you’d notice.”
   “I don’t like you,” he said.
   “You mean you don’t like my kind?”
   “Nope. Just you.”
   “There goes my plan to get you boys on my side.”
   Both deputies hit me with the cold fish eyes.
   I did cold fish eyes as well as anyone else. We hung around like that for a while, nobody blinking. The only sounds were the crickets outside and a bunch of tough guy respiration.
   We all turned to look when we heard the cars pull up in front of the cabin.
   Tobacco Man stood.
   “Now you’re gonna get yours,” grumbled Lazy Eye.
   I smirked.
   “What makes you think I haven’t already had it?”
   He hauled himself out of the chair.
   “Have a seat,” he ordered.
   “I’d rather stand.”
   He grabbed me by the shoulder. The bad one. I held in the wince. Didn’t do as well with the cursing.
   “What do we have here?” he mugged, his whole face lit up with delight.
   Tobacco Man tried to get behind me. I shifted to cut him off.
   Madeline stayed where she was, frowning at us.
   Lazy Eye let go of my shoulder long enough to grab me by the front of my shirt, high up near the neck.
   Buttons flew as he yanked down. The shirt came apart at the seams.
   I jumped back, leaving half of the garment in his hand. I shrugged out of what was left of it, then closed my fists.
   My white undershirt glowed in the low light. So did the bandage on my shoulder.
   We had Madeline’s full attention. She moved a few steps away from the window, hands at her sides, knees slightly bent. Her body shook with coiled menace.
   I wanted to introduce my fist to the big deputy’s chin.
   The sound of a revolver being cocked put the kibosh on the brawl.
   Tobacco Man waved the gun in my general direction.
   “I think you ought to park it, mister,” he said. He moved the revolver toward Madeline. “And you, you stay where you are.”
   Lazy Eye stepped aside so I could get to the chair.
   Light filled the room. I recognized the sheriff’s silhouette in the flare of his flashlight.
   “If the man wants to stand,” he croaked, “let him stand. Ain’t gonna change anything.”
   Tobacco Man held the gun on me while Lazy Eye grabbed my arms and pulled them behind my back. My sore shoulder’s protests garnered no sympathy.
   “This guy’s been sayin’ we couldn’t touch him,” said Lazy Eye. His breath felt hot against the back of my neck.
   The sheriff stepped into the room, then set his flashlight down on the other chair.
   “Well, Bill, the man’s right,” he replied. He reached out and peeled the bandage off of my shoulder. “That’s my job.”
   “Just leave her out of this,” I said. I could feel Madeline rolling her eyes as I said it.
   The sheriff fed me a hard, back-handed slap.
   “What sort of man do you take me for?” he hissed.
   I didn’t think he’d have appreciated my answer, so I swallowed it.
   The sheriff leaned in and inspected the bullet wound in my shoulder.
   “Jesus,” he said, “that looks like it hurts.”
   He socked me, dead on the spot.
   White hot pain shot through my arm. I clenched my teeth and tried to wriggle free from Lazy Eye’s grasp. I may as well have been trying to climb out of a tar pit.
   He gave me two more, and then another set of three. I expected my arm to fall off at any second.
   I might have been hollering. The pounding of my heartbeat in my ears drowned out everything else.
   Tobacco Man kept his revolver on Madeline. She watched the sheriff work me over, her face not quite as impassive as I imagined she would have liked it.
   The sheriff gave my shoulder a rest, punching me in the mug instead. Whenever his arm got tired he asked me questions.
   “Who are you? What’s your real name? What are you doing in my county?”
   I refused to answer him. I still hadn’t when he was forced to stop out of sheer exhaustion.
   Blood ran from my nose and mouth. Two teeth felt loose. It wasn’t bravery that had kept me quiet. It was numbness.
   Didn’t mean I wasn’t angry.
   The sheriff stuck his face in close to mine. The breaths came hard to him but he could still talk.
   “I know you’re someone. Someone folks in New York might want to find. Got a couple of heavy hitters on their way down to take a look at you.” He cuffed me on the chin. “Got anything to say to me now?” he gasped.
   I nodded. He grinned.
   “If you touch me again,” I rasped, “you’d better kill me.”
   The grin faded.
   Madeline said my name, then followed it with a stream of dirty Cajun.
   “That so?” asked the sheriff.
   I let my stare do the talking.
   “That sounded a little like a threat,” he said.
   He jammed his thumb into my bullet wound.
   I got as much of my weight as I could into a head butt. His nose exploded under my forehead and his hands went to his face as he dropped to one wobbly knee.
   Tobacco Man cursed and headed for the sheriff.
   Madeline got in his way. I couldn’t see the action. The stomping of feet on the hard cabin floor and Tobacco Man’s language told me what I needed to know.
   The revolver hit the floor.
   I took a quick look to locate her, then drove Lazy Eye straight back.
   The glass door held for half a second. Shards flew everywhere as we crashed through.
   I landed on top. I struggled to stand, ready for a fight.
   Lazy Eye stayed where he was-- lying on the deck in a pool of blood and glass.
   “You all right, chouette?”
   I limped back into the cabin.
   Madeline had both the sheriff and Tobacco Man at gunpoint. I didn’t recognize the piece she had in her hand. It wasn’t a police revolver.
   “Been better,” I answered.
   I sought and found Tobacco Man’s dropped gun.
   “Have a seat, fellas,” I said.
   I made them position the chairs back-to-back before they sat.
   Madeline kept her gun on them while I secured them with their own handcuffs.
   I took another look at Madeline’s gun.
   It was a snub-nosed job, small but not dainty.
   I grinned at her.
   “Where were you hiding that?”
   “Is that really the most pressing question here, chouette?”
   “I suppose not.” I walked over to the sheriff, then squatted down in front of him.

   “‘A couple of heavy hitters on their way down to take a look at me’, you said. Care to tell me who they are?”


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


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Michela Walters Week 101: Gone

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Michela Walters’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Gone

All that was left of my beautiful house by the sea was the staircase leading from what was my deck down to the sandy shore below.

It was all gone.

Memories of my life floated out with the tide, swept away by a category five hurricane with little regard for my history.

I searched the coastline, hoping to find some kind of trinket to remind me of all I’d lost, but aside from a moldy hoody trapped between plywood and lots of trash swirling around in the sludge, there was little left of my coastal retreat.

Carefully ascending the stairs, I crossed my fingers hoping they wouldn’t crumble beneath my feet. It was then when I spotted some fabric flapping around one of the spindles on the deck. I knew better than to stand on the ramshackle structure, but I lunged as far as my fingers could reach to see what it might be. The wood creaked under my weight, yet I persisted, until the damp silky fabric finally was trapped between my fingers.

The muted pink bunny was stained and rain soaked, but of everything that could have been left behind, this one felt like a sign. My late-term loss of my baby almost a year ago was still an acute agony I felt every day. Shelby’s stuffed toy was the only reminder I allowed myself to keep, giving away all the clothes, furniture and toys I’d accumulated prior to her birth. It felt as if God had delivered me a message from my daughter. Clutching the bunny to my chest, I focused on descending the rickety steps to make my way back to the hotel I was staying in. After everything that I’d been through this year, maybe it was time to move forward, one step at a time with my angel baby watching over me.


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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, May 28, 2014

Sarah Aisling Week 101: A Measure of Grace (Part 6): The Rules of Engagement

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 6): The Rules of Engagement

Terror rages in my veins, a wild tempest of fear fueled by the unknown. Who are these people offering shelter, and what is their ulterior motive? There must be one. Max is a jerk, but he doesn't strike me as a liar. If he's afraid, I'm terrified.

The message begins again.

“Attention, survivors! You don't have to be out on your own anymore. We have food, clothing, supplies, power, and best of all—other survivors. All are welcome.”

It's closer. They're closer.

Grace lies down by the front door with her back to us and growls.

Max's large form is frozen in place, surrounding me like a human cage. His heart thumps against my back, and the stubble on the side of his face pinches mine. This man is a stranger, holding me in an intimate embrace, yet I fear if he lets me go, I'll scream or fall to pieces.

“Shh . . . Marie, it's going to be okay.” Max rocks lightly, taking me with him. “Breathe for me.”

I nod in understanding even as I feel the telltale panic constrict my lungs. It takes great effort to pull air in and out, but I keep doing it. I long for my cell phone, to let Katie's voice talk me down, but my bag is too far away. Besides, Max is here, and I'm not sharing the Panic Opus with him.

Soft mewling sounds escape me when the Welcome Wagon reaches Fortune Street. They're probably visible from the upstairs windows now, but the thought of leaving Max's strong arms or putting a face to the enemy liquefies my insides and turns my legs to rubber.

Max presses his hand over my mouth gently and continues to rock. “They'll be gone soon. I promise.”

Grace gets to her feet, the hackles rising on the back of her neck. She angles her head and sniffs at the crack along the bottom of the door.

Max is right. They don't come any closer, and the recording becomes a garbled drone fading into the distance. Now that I know they aren't friendly, the message is no less creepy even from afar, and my heart still pounds uncomfortably behind my ribs.

At some point, I realize Max's hand is no longer over my mouth but rests on my shoulder, a few fingers curled over my collarbone, rubbing lightly.

“Max?” I whisper. “What the hell was that?”

“That was society's worst nightmare.” His voice is strained and hoarse. “The worst of the worst, doing shit in the name of what's right.”

“You're not making any sense.”

“The world doesn't make sense. If you expect it to, you're going to be sorely disappointed.”

Max shudders around me. I shake.

We remain that way for a long time, me wrapped inside this sometimes gentle, more often gruff man who has become my sudden lifeline.


When Max finally deems it safe to move, my body is stiff and slightly sweaty in the places we were connected. I hobble across the room and turn, watching him unfurl from chocolate leather and stretch his arms, huge biceps bunching and flexing. His size surprises me all over again. The man takes up so much space in the room, and it's not all mass. It's just him.

Cool air hits my right clavicle and shoulder, both arms, back, and the backs of my thighs—all the areas touched by Max—and gooseflesh tingles across my skin, up my spine, and over the back of my neck. I hold my breath for a few beats and let it go slowly. My heart thumps faster.

Max cracks his neck and shakes out his hands. “Shit, that was close.” He gazes down at me, completely unaffected.

Apparently, I'm the only one who reacted to “cocooning.” Then again, maybe Max doesn't have the personal boundaries I do, and he probably doesn't suffer from panic disorder, either. He doesn't have much in the way of social graces, but I doubt it's affected his ability to attract female company.

“Was it?” I ask, raising my eyebrows.

“What?” Max continues stretching, pulling one arm across his broad chest.

“Close. Was it close?”

He raises his own brows now, staring back quizzically. “What do you think, Einstein?”

Anger sears my veins, closing off the last bit of awkwardness I feel. Annoyance is something familiar, especially when it comes to Max. “I don't know what to think.” I eradicate his signature smirk with my next comment. “You're too busy trying to kick me out of town to tell me what the hell is going on! Here's a scenario for you, Max—what if you hadn't been here when they came around?”

Max's mouth drops open.

I ball both fists on my hips, getting into this. “Let me enlighten you. I would have run into the middle of the street waving my arms, you jerk!”

Max's mouth stays open, and his eyes widen. He even looks a bit repentant.

I cross the living room and tap a hand under his jaw as I pass him, smacking his mouth shut. “You're catching flies, Jack.”

Grace whines uncertainly and follows me out to the back porch. She stands still, sniffing the air for a few seconds, then trots into the yard to do her business. Grace doesn't seem to sense danger, so I lean on the railing and suck in deep breaths. My heart is racing, both from the way I just treated Max and because the reality of what I accused him of is settling deep in my gut. His games could have cost me my life. I'm too angry to cry right now, but I'd love to use his head as target practice.

I watch Grace romp around the yard, rolling on the ground to scratch her back or racing from one end to the other. The danger must be past if she's so carefree. I join her, sitting cross-legged in the whisper-soft blades.

The leaves of a huge oak flutter in the breeze, creating a lacy pattern over the brilliant green grass. Birds sing back and forth between the trees. The orangey orb of the sun hangs low in the sky, emitting a burnished gold wash that amplifies everything in its path. I raise a hand to shade my eyes and squint into the light.

This has always been my favorite time of day. Things seem quieter, more peaceful. The world hasn't succumbed to darkness yet, and a sense of hope and possibility fills the air. My thoughts drift to the sunflower field, where I sat among a thousand fragrant suns. A tiny frog hopping along the ground alights on my finger when I hold it out, and I'm fascinated by the little guy looking back at me.

A scuff on the porch behind me announces Max's presence and disturbs my preoccupation with Kermit. My arm shakes, and the frog takes off, disappearing into the grass. I don't turn Max's way but continue looking into the sun.

He folds himself down beside me. From the corner of my eye, I watch him wrap those muscular, tattooed arms around his folded up knees. “You shouldn't stare into the sun,” he says.

“Why not? I might blind myself and miss out on this crap world?”

Max laughs and nudges his arm into my shoulder. I'm not ready to be pleasant just yet, so I move to stand.

“Hold up.” Max grabs my arm, pulling me off-balance, and I land on my duff.

I glare at the tanned fingers encircling my bicep. “Get your hands off me.”

Max pulls away. “Sorry. I just . . . want to talk.” His voice is low and repentant.

“Now you want to talk?” I glance up at him. The fire of the sun lights his angular face and reflects back at me from his transparent eyes. The gleaming rays deepen his buzz-cut hair and the stubble on his face to a deep, reddish-gold. Stupid, pretty boy.

My traitorous heart beats a bit wildly. Katie's voice fills my head. A fine specimen is a fine specimen is a fine specimen, Ro.

“Listen, I'm sorry.” Max makes that nervous hand motion again, the one that indicates he's used to have longer hair. “I didn't mean any harm. I just wanted you gone.”

I stare at him incredulously. “Why?”

“It's not safe here.”

“It's not safe out there.” I fling my arm in the air.

Grace meanders over and insinuates herself between Max and me, lying down.

“Guess she thinks we need a referee.” He snickers.

“She's not far off.” My tone is acerbic.

I run my fingers absently through Grace's fur and end up bumping into Max's hand doing the same. I pull back awkwardly and look away.

“At least out there, you have a chance to blend in, to hide.”

I turn his way, but Max stares straight ahead now, and I end up looking at his cheek. His jaw is so tight, a muscle twitches.

My stomach churns. “When I left home, I traveled to my Uncle Jack's. He was a conspiracy theorist who lived off the grid and had a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Know what I found there?” I take a deep breath and fight off the guilt. “Two men were shacked up. They were keeping a woman prisoner in the cabin. I . . . wanted to save her, but they came back, and I hid in a tree. The next day, I heard them talking about how the woman drowned in the creek when she tried to escape. If they found me, I knew I would have been her replacement.”

Max stares at the ground, shredding bits of grass between his fingers. “You couldn't save her, Marie. Even if you had time to free her, they would have hunted both of you down.”

“We could have split up and gone our separate ways.”

Max finally looks at me. The molten rays of the sun light his eyes with the warm gold and blue-green of the beach and sea. “First, I don't believe you would leave a possibly injured woman out on her own.” He reaches over Grace and grabs my hand, exerting firm but gentle pressure. “And what if those men had gone searching in your direction?”

I turn away from his earnest expression. Max is an enigma. On the one hand, he's worried about my welfare, and on the other, he wants to toss me into the fray of the unknown.

“It might have made your life easier, huh?”

Max's hand tightens almost painfully over mine. “What? Why would you even say such a thing?” His tone is laced with the utmost disgust. “You're just absurd.”

I laugh. “Oh, I'm absurd? You've been working so hard to throw me to the wolves, and you won't tell me what the hell is going on around here!” I snatch my hand away. “And don't touch me!”

“You didn't seem to mind it earlier.” His mutter is almost too low to catch.

Anger sizzles, a boiling brew below the surface, and I leap to my feet and stalk to the other side of the yard and rest my arms on the top of the fence. Gently sloping fields carpeted with bright green grass dotted with a rainbow of wildflowers sweep away from the edge of the neighborhood in this direction. Two sides of the fields end with trees, while a third segues into scrubby land that leads to the sea.

What Max said rankles, maybe because it's true. I didn't mind being wrapped in his arms, the arms of a strange man who's demanded I leave here. Determined to get some answers, I push away from the fence and . . . smack directly into Max.

I raise my hands in self-defense, and one ends up planted on his six-pack—no, make that a ten spot—and the other smacks against a hard pec. My cheeks warm when a low chuckle rumbles under my fingertips.

“Can't keep your hands off, can you?”

I glare up at him and hate the amusement on his face. Grabbing both of his arms to steady myself, I haul my booted foot back and pretend the camouflage-covered shin is Max's face.

His arrogant expression contorts into a pain-filled grimace, and I eat up his agony, enjoying it even more when he howls.

“Yep, can't seem to keep my hands to myself.” I smirk, giving his cheeks a double slap before turning back to the view over the fence.

Max moves in close behind me, placing a hand on either side of me, effectively trapping me between the fence and his body.

“I donkey-kick pretty good, too.”

“Thanks for the warning.” Max makes a vise out of his feet, trapping my boots between his.

“That won't save you.”

He barks out a laugh. “I need saving? Seems you're in a bit of a pickle at the moment.”

“My father taught me lots of things, including the many ways to take a man down.”

“Oh, I'll bet you can get down, China.”

Loosening my fingers on the top of the fence, I bend my knees and bring one elbow back at the same time.


I'm able to slip a foot from between his and pivot my body, bringing the palm of my hand up until it's a hair's breadth from his nose. “Another centimeter, and you'd be toast. Or I could have crushed your windpipe.” I slip past a shocked Max and head toward Grace, who watches from her resting place with curiosity.

A black boot hooks my ankle, sending me face first into the grass. Max sits on top of me, pinning my arms at my sides. I turn my face, blowing grass out of my nostrils.

Moist breath ghosts along my cheek. “Lessons of the new world, China. Don't turn your back on the enemy unless you know they're down for the count. Never underestimate the enemy. Most important rule of all—no mercy.” Max kisses my cheek and releases me.

My face burns with indignation, and my insides quiver. I turn over and shoot my dirtiest look his way. “That was a dick move.”

Max rubs a hand over his jaw and offers me a hard look. “No, it wasn't. You may have picked up some tricks along the way, but the rules of engagement have changed. No mercy. No second chances. You put down rabid dogs so they can't bite again.” He takes a few steps closer and holds a hand out. “Come on.”

I reach out and take his hand, but instead of allowing him to pull me up, I yank him off-balance. As he comes toward me, I pull in my knees and use my feet to propel him over my head. Max hits the ground with a solid thump. I hop up and wipe my hands on my pants.

“You just broke your own rules.”

Max groans and rolls to a sitting position, shaking his head. “Damn, girl. I definitely wasn't expecting that.” He rubs his sore shin and smiles up at me, the first genuine smile ever meant for me. The smile lights up his face, and my heart thumps in answer. It slips away almost as quickly, and Max's brows draw down. “I don't think of you as the enemy. I was just trying to save you from . . .”

I fall to my knees in the grass next to him. “What? For fuck's sake, what are you trying to save me from? Who are those people, and why are they worse than what's out there?”

“They're collecting survivors, Marie. They have clothes and food and power, just as promised, but the part they aren't saying is why they'd offer to share with total strangers.”

I stare into Max's eyes, trying to discern if there's any deception in the oceanic depths. There isn't. “Go on.”

“They want to know what many of us do—why did some people survive while most of the world perished? They take in survivors and use them, run tests on them, in an attempt to find a cure.”

“What's wrong with looking for a cure?”

“Nothing. Unless you keep taking blood and running tests until the survivor becomes a casualty.”


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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, May 27, 2014

Kimberly Gould Week 101: Rebirth

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Rebirth

“Not too close,” she called to the little boy. He grinned back at her and slapped the soles of his feet in the water letting out a tiny shriek. He had just turned two. Two years. Where had the time gone. It seemed only yesterday she was praying for conception, trying every wive’s tale and making appointments with fertility specialists. She worked through the mythic methods first, and some modern ones.

She still remembered the magical day she discovered she was pregnant. It had been the beginning of spring and she was walking, enjoying the freedom from winter. Life was emerging around her, including the robins. She never found out which rotten child had shaken the nest free of the tree, but she lifted it with care and precision, not touching the eggs. Hopefully the mother wouldn’t reject the poor chicks.

She couldn’t imagine rejecting a child. She would be so relieved to have one, so fulfilled, so satisfied. Her heart swelled at the thought and she breathed deeply, filling herself with the life being born around her. From there she entered the house and took that beautiful, prescient, evangelical test. The word was good, living.

Daniel had been born in the winter and they were spending this one somewhere warm and sunny.

A hat plopped onto her head and she looked over her shoulder at the man who had helped bring Daniel into the world. The hat rubbed on her scalp, straws scratching. “You’ll burn that bald head,” he warned.

She sighed. Life, so tumultuous. One day she gave birth to new life and the next she was informed that her own would be extinguished in only a few years. She didn’t let the tears reach her eyes. She ran into the surf and picked up her baby, giggling with him while ticking and kissing his belly.


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Kimberly Gould is the author of Cargon: Honour and Privilege, and it's sequel Duty and Sacrifice. She can be found most places as Kimmydonn, including


Monday, May 26, 2014

SJ Maylee Week 101: Love Me Now

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SJ Maylee’s’ Choice: 2

Title: Love Me Now

They’d been running for weeks, never staying more than a night in one place. The stress of the schedule had worn her out. Jonathon was once again packing their bags. Tonight they’d start traveling east.

Roxanne looked out the hotel window. The streets were filled with folks enjoying the sunny spring day. A group had gathered around the fountain. They seemed not to have a care in the world.

“Can’t we stay for one more night? We only got to Scotland yesterday.” She ran her finger along the dew on the window.

“It’s too much of a risk. They’ll find us if we linger.”

“Jonathon.” She waited a heartbeat, letting him finish folding one more shirt. Waiting for his attention burned a hole straight through her heart. She wanted to rip the shirt in two. “Jonathon,” she cried out.

He carefully set the shirt in the bag and sat on the edge of the bed. “I’m sorry, honey. I don’t know what else to do. I won’t lose you.”

“If all we do is run, then they’ve already won.” She knelt at his feet and took hold of his hands. “I love you. I want to live my life with you. I want us to live.”

“You’re right.” He stood, took hold of her nape, and pulled her to him.

“Oh.” She pressed her body against him as heat rushed over her.

“Even if we only have one more day together, I want to fill it by looking into your eyes, kissing your sweet lips.” He claimed her mouth, tangled his tongue with hers, and then kissed a trail to her ear. “And feeling your sweet heat gripping me.”

“Oh, Jonathon.” She clung to him.

“Thank you for reminding me our love is now.”


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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, May 25, 2014

Miranda Kate Week 100: Interdimensioning Part 3 - Final Destination

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Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Interdimensioning Part 3 - Final Destination

When they stepped out onto the densely packed pine needles that made up the floor of what appeared to be a forest, Elise was confused.

“This isn’t home.”

Logan was busy studying the box in his hand, his brow furrowed as though working something out.

“No, it’s not. I couldn’t bring us straight there because it doesn’t exist as we know it yet, because there are too many risks.” He looked up at the trees around them. “But this wasn’t the plan either; I didn’t envisage a forest being here.”

They heard a crunching sound deep among the trees. Elise stepped closer to Logan. They peered round waiting. Then another noise came from the other side of the forest, higher pitched, like metal being cut. Their heads spun round in that direction. Logan clasped Elise’s hand ready to run, but it stopped as abruptly as it started.

“Logan, where are we?” Elise whispered.

“I don’t know.” He hissed back through clenched teeth. “I’m trying to work it out.”

His fingers stabbed at the buttons on the box following a rhythm. Then they stopped.

“Oh God.”

Logan’s tone prompted a sinking feeling in Elise’s stomach. “What?”

“Shit.” Logan’s face looked pale as he started to frantically jab at the buttons again.

“What? What is it Logan?” Elise struggled to control the rising panic she felt.

“I thought I’d programmed the portal to take us back into our dimension and I did, but…” He stared at the LED panel on the box for a second before punching the buttons again.

“But what?” Elise hissed urgently.

“I made a miscalculation.”

“So where are we?”

He looked at her, the beads of sweat on his forehead highlighting the fear in his eyes. The hairs on her forearms prickled.

“You know they say each dimension has a parallel where things run on a different premise to ours?” Elise nodded. “It’s seems I’ve landed us right in one.”

A crease fluttered across Elise’s forehead, but it was broken by another crunching sound that was closer. She grabbed for Logan, and he grabbed back.

“I don’t understand Logan, what does that mean?”

Logan pocketed the box and brought his arm round Elise’s shoulder drawing her in, not taking his eyes off the imposing pine trees circling them.

“It means that in this dimension Humans aren’t the top of the food chain. This world is run by another species.”

Elise studied his face, which was busy studying the trees surrounding them. She followed his gaze. “What species Logan?”

She saw the tops of the conifers move as though swaying to a breeze she couldn’t feel. Then the crunching sound came again and this time she noticed more tree trunks appear between those that were already there.

“The trees.” He breathed.

“So let’s get out of here!” Her eyes were wide with terror at the thought of what the trees could do.

“We can’t.”

Elise froze, she looked at Logan. “What? Why not?”

“I can’t open a portal from a parallel.”

“Why not?”

“It doesn’t work the same way, I need a different machine.”

“So what are you saying Logan, that we’re stuck here?” Elise struggled to get her mind round the idea.

He swallowed, nodding at her. “I’m sorry I got you into this Elise.”

“So am I.”

They clutched each other as the trees moved closer, the crunching sound escalating until their minds were full of it. Then the high pitched noise started up again and they gritted their teeth, burying their faces in each others necks until they didn’t know anything anymore.


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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mark Ethridge Week 100: The Whole World Went Insane - Part 8

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: The Whole World Went Insane - Part 8

The days, at times, seemed endless. We walked. We found water. We found food. We walked. We slept. Yes, we slept. Never enough. I slept alone. I stayed outside the small clearing where the girls stayed. Kelly had nights she still woke screaming. I know those would last for years, perhaps forever.

The first day I’d carried Beth as far as I could. My ribs ached, each breath burned. But I carried her. She was so hurt, so wounded. When I couldn’t carry her any further, Kelly and Jenny carried her.

She slept. Mile after mile. She slept. Her breath short and ragged. The wounds on her wrists and ankles, where she’d been hung from those posts haunted every step I took. I wanted to find all the men who’d abused her. Tie them to posts in the sun. Let them roast. Without water. Naked, under the burning sun. And every time I walked past them, I’d kick them. Right where it hurts. As we walked, sometimes Beth woke up. Screaming. Sheer terror in her eyes. I always set her down, and let the other take care of her, comfort her, while I hid, off to the side somewhere, among the trees. I don’t know what they said to her, what they did, how they helped her.

Kelly always fetched me when Beth was calmer. She understood I wasn’t dangerous to her. All I could think of to say was, “We’re getting closer to the village. Closer to the camp. Jessica, Hannah and the other will help. You’ll see.”

Kelly walked beside me. Jenny walked a bit behind us. Sally, Mary, Gina and Suzanne held back. They kept us in sight. It bothered Kelly, the way they stayed away from me. “It’s OK. I understand. I’m a male. Like the ones that hurt them.”

We walked. Through the endless trees. Up and down, as the hills grew into mountains. Day after endless day. Night after sleepless night.

Until the fourth day. That day, we stopped. We came upon a small town, in the mountains. I recognized it. I knew every home, every street, every block, every farm. It was my home town. I stood at the edge of the clearing, looking at the remains of my home. A ghost town.

I remembered the night the men came. The gunfire. The screams. My parents, ordering me to run into the woods. Standing there, I still heard the screams of my sister, my mother. The neighbors. I saw my father die again.


I didn’t speak at first. I stood there. Afraid to breathe. I’d never returned. I’d ran, into the woods. My world was gone. Destroyed. My family, my friends, murdered. I’d run. I didn’t know where. I didn’t care where. I’d escaped. I’d run all night. Then all the next day. I’d slept the second night, too exhausted to keep moving. When I woke, I ran again. I don’t remember how many days. I don’t remember what direction.

I’d never returned.

Until that moment.

“Frank?” Kelly took my hand. I could see the concern in her eyes, hear it in her voice.

“I know this place.”

She looked around, “Is it safe?”

“I know this place.” I started walking. Straight toward the house I’d grown up in. “This is my home.”

The girls held back, but followed. They kept a safe distance from me. They watched. Kelly walked with me. Wood splinters were all that remained of the front door to my home. I walked inside. Through each room. What was left of my mother, and my sister, remained on their beds. Skeletal remains, any odors long gone. Many bones gone too.

“My sister. My Mother.”

Kelly didn’t speak.

I walked outside, through the back door. My father’s remains were long gone. “Dad. I came home.”

I don’t know what I felt. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run. I wanted to stay. I wanted to die. I wanted to live. I wished my heart was stone, so I’d never feel anything again.

We went from house to house. We found clothes for everyone. Real clothes. Pants. Shirts. Even underwear. We found water from several pumps. I hid inside my home while they all bathed, and dressed. And used brushes on their hair.

I walked past all the places I knew. I felt empty, alone. I’d survived. Perhaps I was the only one who’d survived. Sometime later, I don’t know how long, Kelly found me. “Frank?”

“They killed them all.”

She held my hands.

“All of them.” Men don't cry. My father always said that. Men don't cry. “My mother, my sister. They screamed. They screamed, and screamed.” Kelly held me. I cried. Me. The hero. The big, tough guy. I wasn't the man my father taught me to be. I was weak. Tired Hurting. I cried. For my father. My mother. My sister. Ripped from my life. For a world gone insane.

Kelly let me. She never said anything. She held me, and let me cry.

We stayed in my home town that night. The girls slept in the house next to my home. I took hours for sleep to find me. When it finally did, I dreamed of my family. Still living in my home.

“Good to see you again, son. It’s been a while.”

“I’m sorry. I never came back. I’m sorry.”

My mother hugged me. “Frank. It’s OK. You did what we asked. You ran. You escaped. You lived.”

My sister plunked down on the sofa, next to me. “Hey, big brother! You need to get moving again. Valerie’s waiting for you. She’s worried.”

“You know about her?”

“Yes, silly. We know about her.”


They’d all laughed, and Dad told me, “I’m proud of you, son.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “You’ve grown into a good man. A man to make his father proud.”

Mom kissed my cheek, though she knew I’d never liked it when she did. “You’ve made us all proud.”

“You and Dad. You taught me well.”

We all walked outside, and watched the stars in the sky. While I watched the stars, my sister floated into the sky, and turned into a ray of light, drawing a pale blue pattern in the sky as she rose, becoming another star in the night. Then, Mom did the same. Then Dad.

And they were gone.

When I woke, Beth was standing across the room from me. Watching me. She didn’t speak. She almost smiled. She quickly slipped away.

I got up, started moving. It was past sunrise. It was time to we were on our way. The girls were waiting for me outside. Beth almost smiled. Sally, Gina, Mary and Suzanne did smile. “Good morning,” Jenny greeted me.

Once again, we started west. And I wondered if the walk would ever end.


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