Monday, June 30, 2014

Lizzie Koch Week 106: Crazy Bitch

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Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Crazy Bitch

“What do you think about this crazy bitch in the news?” Josh asked.

“You just said it. Crazy,” Brandon replied.

“She could be in this bar.” He glanced around nervously.

“Yeah right. The only thing dangerous in here is the food . . . and me.” Brandon laughed, picking up the empties and made his way to the bar. “Same again,” he said, leaning on the sticky bar top. “I wouldn’t eat here if you value your life,” he said as the woman next to him browsed the menu.

“It can’t be that bad,” she replied, turning towards him with a smile.

“Bad? Even the cockroaches stay away.” He watched her close the menu then tipping her head back revealing a long, slender neck as her lips just touched the tip of the bottle. He suppressed the urge rising in him as he gazed upon her, the beer he drank not touching his thirst.

“Looks like you could do with another. Monica.” She held out a slender out.

He took it, her warm, soft flesh tingling against his cool cool skin. “Brandon. Join us.”

“You’re either brave or stupid, asking a strange woman to join you,” Monica said as she sat.

“We’re neither.”

The table was littered with empty beer bottles and Monica was giggling at nothing and everything. Josh slumped against the wall. Only Brandon was composed and unaffected by the alcohol. He helped Monica up, linking his arm into hers as she stumbled across the floor towards the door. The cold night air rolled over her, relieving the faint nausea within.

The streets were deserted. Their footsteps echoed through the night but Brandon’s ears were filled with the surge of hunger as the blood pumped with anticipation, coursing through his entire body, urging him on to feed. He eyed Monica.




Since the news was full of the woman on her vengeful, murderous quest, hunting had become easier for Brandon, more spontaneous.

The park lay before them. A dark, open space of silence. Brandon could see as clear as day and lead Monica near the lake in the heart of the park. She giggled as he tried to kiss her. She was like a rag doll; he could do as he wanted. But this displeased him. He wanted to smell fear.

See fear.

Feed on her fear.

He smiled, his eyes glinting in the dark like a cat’s eyes. White teeth glistened, fangs as sharp as a blade, ready to feast. He saw the fear. Her eyes glazed over. Her smile faded. Her heart beat louder and quicker, thudding hard against her chest like a drum calling him. She could feel his hot breath on her face, her neck, the tight grip of his bony fingers on her arm.

Blood poured from the throat wound as Monica stood and watched Brandon clutch his throat, his cream silk shirt saturated in crimson, his eyes bewildered, seeing the flash of the knife too late. He bared his fangs in defiance, possessing all his strength despite the loss of blood. He lunged forward but was met by the swift, sharp blade slashing his chest. He stumbled back, his chest burning.

“I’d say you were stupid,” Monica spat. “Inviting a strange woman to drink with you. I knew what you were. I was hunting you all this time and you thought you were the hunter!” Brandon slumped to the floor, clasping his chest as his skin hissed and sizzled. “Holy water on a silver blade. Not compatible with vampires,” she said, her lips curling in a smirk. “I am that crazy bitch you and your friend were talking about in the bar. Not so crazy now am I?” She straddled him, looking deep into his cold, dark eyes. “And just for the record, I’m not crazy. I’m a hero.” She raised the knife with one hand and kissed her hand with other, placing it on his cold, thin lips as the knife plunged into his black heart up to the hilt. A shallow rattled left his lips and he was still.

Reaching into her pocket, Monica pulled out her lipstick. She expertly coated her lips in the rich, glossy candy floss pink and kissed Brandon’s cheek before leaving the park and disappearing into the shadows.


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I dream of sharing my work with the big wide world one day as a published author. Right now, I share flash fiction with a wonderful community of writers and friends. If you liked this story, then why not visit my blog at for more. Thank you. Love Lizzie x


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ruth Long Week 105: California Dreaming

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Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: One

Title: California Dreaming

First week in the Golden State.

First day of summer.

First date with a sufer boy.

A whole day together at the beach. It’s too soon for that, isn't’ it?

What will we talk about? What will we do? What was I thinking when I said ‘yes?’

I don’t have anything to wear? Haven’t ever owned flipflops. Haven’t shaved my legs in months. Haven’t been in a swimsuit in … forever.

Days tick by. Clock ticks down. Tick. Tick. Tick.

T minus fifteen minutes. Sunscreened. Flipflopped. Ponytailed.

Too fairskinned. Too uptight. Too late to change.

Hello. Flutters of happiness. A hug worth shaving for.

Windows down. Pulse skipping.

Music. Chatter. Laughter.

Ocean. Sun. Wind.

You are calm water, clear skies, and breezy smiles.

Next weekend? That would be lovely.

Just like today, here in the wide blue open with you.

I think I’m going to enjoy West Coast living.


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A reader by birth, paper-pusher by trade and novelist by design, story-telling in my passion. If you enjoyed reading today's story, please consider checking out my blog, joining my creative community or participating in the madcap twitter fun @bullishink.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Aleea Davidson Week 105: Wither, Part 5

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Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice: One

Title: Wither, Part 5

Smoke hung in the air, its acrid taint seeping into Mara and Glen’s lungs as they ran. Their pace was frustratingly slow, the path Glen had chosen clogged with people milling about, gawking and restless as they tried to discern what was happening. Glen felt an almost palpable air of violence descend as he watched their faces. Ripples of unease and irritation creased brows and tightened jaws, expressions reflecting a burgeoning malice. A viscous, steaming stew of resentment and frustration brewed under the surface of their curiosity. If it boiled over, it could potentially be deadlier than the coming daybreak.

Glen tightened his grip on Mara who was moving with a sluggish gait that worried him. He didn’t think she was badly hurt, but it was possible she was in shock. Until he could get them away from the mayhem, he couldn’t risk stopping to check on her. All he could do was hope she could keep up long enough to reach some kind of haven.

They made it another half a block, the air clearing, though Glen doubted that would last. Behind them, amid the shouting and bedlam, he heard the distinct whoosh of flames licking at the clusters of wooden stands. A few stray sparks and the entire street could be on fire by morning, especially with the rain tapering off.

Drawing Mara closer, Glen slid an arm around her waist as glass from broken streetlights crackled under their feet. He welcomed the thickening dark that fell like a blanket around them, offering anonymity that was sorely needed.

They rounded a corner, slipping into a narrow alley and past overflowing commercial garbage containers that hadn’t been emptied in months. The stench was ripe, making their eyes water, and trickles of slime-laced rainwater turned the cement under their feet slick and treacherous.

Mara’s thin-soled shoes skidded, forcing Glen to tighten his hold to keep her upright. She jolted against him and let out a small whimper of distress when they came upon the shadowy shapes of several bodies hunched together against a worn brick wall. Somehow he kept her moving, his stomach lurching at the smell of death as they passed the eerily still forms. He couldn’t tell how many there were, and he was grateful for small mercies.

He turned Mara’s face into his shoulder, shushing her softly with inconsequential nonsense words. When she shivered but managed to keep going, Glen found himself dropping a kiss on the top of her head. Her hair was wet and cold, yet he could feel the warmth underneath and smell her shampoo—something fresh and vibrant tinged with vanilla. He dragged the scent in and held it, trying to drown out the stink of decomposing flesh.

Mara gagged, coughing, and still he kept them moving. “Breathe through your mouth, nymph. We’ll be out of here in a second.”

She didn’t respond, but he felt the moist exhalation of her breath hit his chest and knew she was taking his advice. A moment later, they made it to the end, slipping out onto a residential street.

Glen didn’t relax. His senses on high alert, he kept to the darkest sections despite the signs of desertion everywhere. Discarded, broken furniture and wrecked, vandalized cars—many reduced to shells—cluttered the sidewalks and roads. He detected slivers of flickering candlelight at the edges of boarded up windows in only a few houses. The rest were in a state similar to the cars and clearly abandoned.

This wasn’t an area of town where many people remained. The electric company, in a bid to conserve and manage the resources they had left, shut down power to the north and west ends. The able-bodied packed items they were able to carry and claimed whatever abandoned properties could be found within the new electrical grid. Those too sick or weak or old, well... Glen supposed they were the source of those slivers of light, choosing to stay in their homes rather than move to the jam-packed warehouses designated as housing facilities by so-called officials.

Last he heard, those buildings teemed with crime, filth, and neglect. Many people had chosen to take their chances, leaving town on foot in the dead of night, headed places unknown in the foolish search for something better. With nothing except tents between them and lethal UV rays, Glen suspected the sides of the highways were littered with nylon and canvas tombs.

Mara jerked him from his morose thoughts by pulling away and stopping abruptly. He turned to her, frowning. In the gloom, her brown eyes looked bruised and huge. Her honey blonde hair hung wet and slightly tangled around her face, and she panted slightly from the exertion of their fast exit. The jacket she wore swallowed her up, and Glen experienced a tug of protective emotions conflict with his desire to put more space between them and the town square.

“We have to keep moving,” he told her.

“We have to go back,” she said at the same time.


“I heard there’s a butcher selling fresh venison. There might still be some left.” Mara grabbed her bag. The sound of broken glass had her groaning and then kneeling to dig through the contents, heedless of the wet ground.

Glen cursed under his breath. He’d forgotten about the meat. “We need to keep going, Mara. The fires, the people fighting, it’s not safe.”

She ignored him, sorting through whatever she carried, tossing pieces of shattered jars covered with sweet smelling jam onto the road. She cried out suddenly, lifting her fingers to her mouth. Glen caught the sight of blood on her palm, but she was already ignoring the wound in favour of continuing her rooting.

Squatting, Glen caught the bag and her hand, pulling the latter away from her. She tried to retrieve it, glaring at him.

“I have batteries in there. I need to get the glass out. There are preserves on everything...”

“You need to get up and come with me.”

“I need to go back,” she said, arguing and fierce. “Do you have any idea how rare fresh meat is right now? It could be weeks before another hunting party is organized, and by then I might not have anything of value to trade.”

She sniffled, sitting back on her heels, and though he couldn’t see it, Glen was sure she was starting to cry. It hit him like a blow to the solar plexus, turning into a double sucker punch when she looked at him pleadingly.

“The rationing is getting extreme, Glen. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed. It’s only a matter of time before store shelves are bare. There hasn’t been a delivery truck with food in almost a month. Not one. I need to try and stock up as much as I can. You saw what was happening. And that was all because of apples, goddamned...apples!”

She made a choking noise on the curse word, something he suspected she rarely used, and Glen reached out to her. He stopped, inches from contact, feeling useless and inept. He’d never been good with crying women, and the sad, helpless sound of her quiet sobs tore him apart. She made a move to put her hands over her face and hissed instead when her cut palm came in contact with the salt from her tears.

Spotting a clear purpose, Glen tore a strip off the bottom of his shirt, grateful the material was thin and easily ripped. He caught her wrist, ignoring the way she tried to jerk away, and wrapped the material snugly across the worst of the wound. It needed to be cleaned, but for now his makeshift band-aid would have to suffice.

He tried one last time to reason with her, gentling his tone to match his touch. “Listen to me, nymph. I heard about the meat, too. I was headed there myself. I doubt to high hell what they have is venison...”

“What?” She tried again to free her hand, but Glen held firm, working to make sure the strip of fabric was tied securely and wouldn’t slip loose. “What else would it be?”

“It’s probably horse meat, sweetheart.” Glen felt more than saw her flinch. He stroked his fingers against her wrist, wanting to ease her if possible, though in truth, the contact was as much for him as for her. He missed the warmth and softness inherent in female skin, the way their bones felt delicate yet resilient all at the same time. Fuck, he missed human contact period.

Glen made himself let go. She was ten years younger than him. He had no right to touch her. He pressed his girl-warmed fingers against the cold denim encasing his thighs, hating the way they leached her precious imparted heat away, and stared at the scrapes and bruises on his knuckles from the blow he’d dealt her attacker.

“The nearest area of forest big enough to have deer is eight hours from here on foot. The nearest stable is an hour. Do the math, Mara.”

She exhaled roughly, her shoulders slumping. “I don’t care. Meat is meat, Glen.”

When he looked up, he found her staring back, willing him to understand, to help. The rain had quit entirely sometime in those last few minutes, and weak moonlight from the parting clouds offered a glow that highlighted the dark circles under her eyes and the pinched whiteness of her full lips.

She was beautiful, even soaking wet with her nose running. More than that, she was determined. It radiated off her shivering form, blazing in those lovely eyes. If she’d once been a girl who fawned over pictures of gorgeous thoroughbreds galloping in grassy fields, there was no trace now. Practicality ruled, and he admired the hell out of her for it.

Getting to his feet, Glen slung her bag over his shoulder with his own and held out his hand. He was an idiot. A complete and utter idiot. If he had half a brain, he’d leave her here to fend for herself. He barely knew her. He owed her nothing.

When she slipped her fingers into his hold, letting him pull her up, he knew he didn’t give a shit about doing the smart thing. He was going to devote whatever he had in his arsenal to helping this brave girl. Even if it got him killed, which as he turned to lead her back to the stinking alley and the unknown, he realized was an all-too-believable possibility.

With his free arm, he reached to the waistband of his jeans for the reassuring weight of his gun, his stride never breaking.

If the world was going to hell, and he strongly suspected it was, he might as well go with it.


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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)


Jeff Tsuruoka Week 105: Night Train Part Thirteen

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Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice:

Title: Night Train Part Thirteen

Madeline and I slipped into the dark woods just as the first of the vehicles-- a sheriff’s department car-- rolled to a stop by the cabin. Four deputies piled out and gathered in light of the headlamps, waiting for everyone else to arrive.
We stopped a little outside of point-blank range. I crouched down low, then drew my Colt and one of the revolvers. I put the revolver down on the ground in front of me.

   She rested her hand on my shoulder. I felt her breath, warm against the side of my face. The scent of her sweat surrounded me, strong but clean. I loved Madeline’s sweat.

   “What now, chouette?” she whispered.

   “If anyone we don’t know gets out of those cars we take them out, then shoot out every tire that isn’t on your breezer.”

   The headlamps on the sheriff’s car made the red paint of her convertible glow in the half light.

   “Suppose it’s someone we do know?” she asked.

   “I’m working on it,” I growled through clenched teeth.

   Two more cars pulled up and parked in front of the cabin. Three guys got out of each.

   “Work faster,” said Madeline.

   I spotted Tynan O’Shaughnessy’s big head by silhouette. I’d know that homburg and those big ears anywhere. He cleared the door, then stretched as he unwound to his full height. Hersch Lerner got out next. The top of his fedora barely reached the big Irishman’s shoulder. His light colored suit glowed even brighter when seen against the other man’s dark attire.

   I recognized some of the four men who came with Hersch and O’Shaughnessy. I didn’t know any of them well. Hersch brought his own boys, not Jack’s.

   He waddled over toward Madeline’s breezer. He ran his fingers over the shiny red paint.

   “It’s hers, all right,” he said.

   O’Shaughnessy kept his trap shut.

   “So we’re here already,” groused Hersch, his voice shredding what remained of the quiet. “The sheriff too busy to come out and greet his guests?”

   Unintelligible bellowing came from deep within the cabin.

   The deputies all clambered up onto the porch and forced their way inside.

   Hersch’s guys reached into the cars and came out with tommy guns.

   He pointed at the man nearest to him.

   “Go in after ‘em.” He looked to his right. “You two, go around back. It’s like we planned.” He nodded at the one remaining hood, then patted the convertible. “Stay by this car.”

   O’Shaughnessy wandered toward the tree line, stopping to light a cigarette about three yards out. He turned his back to the cabin and peered into the woods.

   Madeline’s grip on my shoulder tightened. I held my breath.

   Hersch came over and stood beside O’Shaughnessy.

   More hollering came from inside the cabin. The shooting started a moment later. The tommy guns provided the overture, blasting out a rhythm in deadly bursts. The reports of police revolvers chimed in as the machine gun fire slackened.

   I pictured the sheriff and Tobacco Man, still cuffed to their chairs, shot to pieces in the back room, while deputies and hoods worked to kill each other. I felt bad for a couple of seconds, then shook it off.

   “You made a bad decision, sheriff,” I said under my breath. “You messed with the bull.”

   Hersch spun and growled at the man he’d posted by Madeline’s car.

   “Get in there!”

   The man raised an eyebrow and looked to O’Shaughnessy, who nodded and touched his hand to the brim of his hat. The gunman nodded in return and made his way inside the cabin.

   A fresh round of chopper fire silenced the sheriff’s deputies’ revolvers.

   When it was all over, silence rang in our ears.

   Hersch and O’Shaughnessy turned toward the cabin.

   The last man to go in was the only one who walked out.

   “What’s the story?” croaked Hersch.

   O’Shaughnessy turned back around, resuming his contemplation of the darkened woods.

   “It’s a mess in there, boss,” reported the gunman.

   “You see what we came to see?”

   He shook his head. “Bunch of locals is all. They put up a hell of a scrap.”

   Hersch glowered at O’Shaughnessy.

   “Moe and what’s her name are probably halfway to New Orleans by now,” he spat.

   The Irishman never took his eyes off the woods.

   “Oh, I doubt that very much, Herschel,” he replied. “I’d wager that our friend Moe Shabansky is through running, if that’s what he’s been doing at all.”

   He scanned the woods some more.

   I took a quick breath, then raised the Colt. Madeline’s gun appeared in her hand. She aimed over my shoulder.

   “Take it easy,” I whispered.

   She smacked me in the back of the head.

   Hersch stepped closer to the tree line.

   “You think so, Ty?” he asked.

   “Moe may be many things, but he is not a coward.” He smiled. “Are you, Moe?”

   I sensed, more than saw, Madeline’s finger move against the trigger.

   “Not yet,” I hissed at her, forcing her gun toward the ground. “I won’t kill O’Shaughnessy unless I have to.”

   She wanted to answer that but swallowed her retort. Just as well. I didn’t need to hear the words to know what she was going to say.

   “You know me,” I shouted. “I’m too dumb to be a coward!”

   I grabbed Madeline by the hand and moved back a few yards, looking for a thick tree to get behind. She made sure we didn’t run into anything on the way there.

   “You shot my brother, Shabansky!” barked Hersch . “What the hell’d you do that for?”

   “It was his turn! Jack came gunning for me first.”

   He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a gun.

   “What did you think was going to happen when you sent me over there to see him?” I

   “He was still my brother.”

   “He was trying to bump you off too, you sap.”

   “Hokum! Jack might’ve gone a little screwy. A lot screwy, even. But he’d never kill his own blood.”

   “Go on thinking that if it helps you sleep at night.”

   Madeline leaned close to my ear.

   “What are you waiting for, chouette? Do you want to get shot again?"

   “I got a theory.”

   “A theory. I hope it’s better than your escape plan.”

   I ignored her and Hersch both and concentrated on O’Shaughnessy. The big man hadn’t moved. He also hadn’t pulled a gun.

   “You got three seconds to come out of there, Moe,” said Hersch. “Then I’m comin’ in after you.”


   “Hold on,” I grunted.

   “Hold on? What on earth for?”

   “You’re going to have to trust me, Madeline.”

   He took another step forward. O’Shaughnessy stayed where he was.

   “You’re digging your own grave, Hersch!” I hollered.

   “One!” called out Hersch as he stepped into the woods.

   I leveled the Colt, taking aim at his great big belly. Madeline did the same with her pistol.

   O’Shaughnessy reached into his pocket.

   Hersch kept walking.


   He never got to three.

   O’Shaughnessy shot him in the head before he could get it out.

   Hersch shuddered and bounced off a tree before he hit the ground.

   Madeline released the breath she’d been holding. She did not lower her gun.

   I stepped out from behind the tree and stared at O’Shaughnessy as the last of the gunshot’s echoes faded away.

   He stashed his piece back in his pocket, then lit another cigarette.

   “Come out of there, Moe,” he said, “and bring the lady with you. We’ve had enough theatrics for one night, boyo, wouldn’t you say?”


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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, June 26, 2014

Michela Walters Week 105: Sunset of Our Lives

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Michela Walters’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Sunset of Our Lives

The sun was setting behind a thin string of clouds hovering on the horizon, appearing as if they were hanging on for dear life, fighting the weight of gravity pulling them into the great beyond. I glanced over at Mabel, my long time love, bathed in the salmon hue the sky was showing off for us. “What are you thinking about?” I asked, feeling the pensive emotions rolling off of her like the coming tide.

Turning to face me, she caressed my cheek, running her fingers along my jaw and dropping it to her lap. “I just can’t believe it’s been sixty years.”

She didn’t even need to continue. I knew exactly what she was referring to. Our time as water skiing acrobats at Cyprus Gardens so many years ago. “What’s not to believe? That we were actually nimble enough to do those tricks or that we fell in love and are still together?” I teased, knowing she was feeling the slow creep of death coming for her. She only had a few weeks left to live and I was trying to stay positive for her. I didn’t want my last memories to be ones where we sat crying and reminiscing about things we couldn’t change. I’d taken her out of the hospital and we’d decided on hospice at home. Although our perceived privacy was only that. Even laying on the blanket out here on the beach near our home, we weren’t out of her nurse’s hawk-like stare. If I’d been twenty years younger I could have picked up my love and carefully set her on the sand, instead I had to rely on Cathy, our home aide to help make what might be her last beach sunset, a reality.

Her voice was fragile, words said on the whisp of a breath, “I don’t know-- Maybe both?” The turquoise sky reflected in the tear streaking down her face. “I’ve had a good life, Johan…” She paused to succumb to a coughing fit, but continued once she was able to rest and take a sip of the water Cathy had hurried over to provide. “No-- We’ve had a good life.” The pointed gaze she threw my way was one I knew so well.

I tried not to show her the constant ache my heart felt knowing its other half would soon be gone from this life, yet I couldn’t hide my emotions from her when she spoke such truth. “I know, May--”

She held up her bony hand to pause my comment. “But you’ll be fine without me. You’re strong and will carry on to see Janey graduate from college and to see Mary-anne get married.”

“For the third time,” I grumbled, despite of myself.

Resting her hand on my chest, I could feel the chill of them through my thin shirt. She smiled indulgently up at me, no doubt humoring my disgruntled remark. “Yes, for the third time, and you know what? It’ll all be okay. Life will continue to go on and I want you to promise me you won’t give up on your own when I’m gone?”

It had been so long since I’d lived without her. We’d gotten married after that first year of working together and had only slept apart a handful of times when I’d had to travel for work or when she went up to help out when Janey and Michael were born. Even though the despair I knew was coming, I smiled gently down at my beloved, affirming her statement. “Promise.”

She passed on a rainy Florida afternoon, holding my hand and resting her cheek on my chest. I won’t be whole again, but for my children and grandchildren, I’m all they had left now. It was this truth that would need to be enough to pull me out of bed every morning. Knowing I didn’t have to get up to make May coffee or put my socks in the hamper or… The thought of everything else I was no longer required to do shocked me, leaving me standing in the hallway clutching my socks like a long lost love. I rested my weary body against the wall, my head banging a soothing beat against it as I gathered my emotions. Allowing the tears to fall, I released everything I’d held in for the last month like a tidal wave of emotions crashing through my body.

“She’s gone.”

I whispered this over and over until I had the strength to pull myself off the wall. Walking into the bedroom, I slamdunked my dirty socks into the hamper and glanced up at the ceiling.

“Promise, May-be-baby.”


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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, June 25, 2014

Sarah Aisling Week 105: A Measure of Grace (Part 8): A Man with Secrets

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 8): A Man with Secrets

He cups my jaw in his palm and brings our faces close together, his eyes the most intense I've seen them yet. "If you never listen to another word I say, hear this: Desperation can make kind people cruel, and the threat of extinction changes the rules of acceptability. This isn't the world you're familiar with. We're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy."

Quaking begins deep inside me. I lean away from Max, my back pressing against the headboard. There's nowhere to escape to, but he releases my chin and drops his hand into his lap.

Lightheadedness overtakes me. My lids flutter closed to fend off the spinning sensation. Grace whimpers nearby, and her long, wet tongue bathes my cheek. I reach out and sling my arm around her warm, furry neck, hugging her so tight I worry it might be uncomfortable. She nudges her cool nose into my neck and licks me again.

“You all right?” Max asks, something akin to regret in his tone.

I nod, hugging Grace even tighter as I fight the sting of tears.

Max's hand lands on my shoulder, his fingers rubbing lightly. “Sorry if I've been harsh with you. The old world and all its rules are gone. The only way to survive now is to understand how things are and stay a step ahead of everyone else.”

I open my eyes, blinking rapidly. Tears cling to my lashes, but none fall. It's a small victory and gives me the courage to press on. Leaning my head against the side of Grace's, I look at Max. He drops his hand from my shoulder and turns so I'm left staring at his profile and bulging right bicep with its vine of tattoos.

“How do we keep ahead of them?” I ask in a low voice.

“Stay hidden. You certainly shouldn't light fires or sing and dance or disturb the coating of dust in the houses.” His tone is laced with the barest hint of amusement, which makes listing my transgressions less accusatory.

“All right, all right—I get it. When I came into town, I did everything wrong.”

Max looks at me and grins. “Like a bull in a china shop.” My face heats, and he ghosts a finger over my cheek. “Right . . . China?”

My mouth drops open quite unattractively, I'm sure. “That's where that annoying nickname came from!”

Max shrugs, his impish grin widening. “If the hoof fits.”

“You really should smile more,” I say before I can clamp my mouth shut. And . . . cue massive blushing.

He frowns. “Why?”

Because you're always handsome, but you're spectacular when the emo tension releases.

I flounder. “Well . . . I've heard people who smile and laugh live longer?” It ends up framed like a question. I'd crawl under the bed, but I'm hemmed in by Max to the right and Grace to the left.

His frown deepens to a scowl. “Who the fuck would want to extend life now?” Max passes a hand over his face as he tends to when confused. “Absurd,” he mutters, rising to pace at the foot of the bed.

There go his hands, clasping the nape of his neck, another tell regarding his state of mind.

Grace adjusts her position to lie next to me with her muzzle resting on her paws and watches him stoically.

I pull my knees in and rest my chin on them. “What else can we do to foil their evil plans?”

Max keeps pacing. He's really agitated for some reason. “Stay away from other survivors—especially noisy ones.” He shoots me a pointed look. “Keep your head down. Learn their patterns and realize they sometimes change—be ready to roll with it.”

“Uh huh.”

Max finally stills. Golden light from the candle flickers along the sharp planes of his face, leaving his eyes in shadow. “Whatever you do . . . don't let them catch you.”

“Have they ever caught you?”

He turns away from me and glances outside through a crack between the curtain and the window. “No.” That one word carries an immense amount of guilt.


He sighs. “They got somebody before I understood how things work here.” One hand balls into a white-knuckled fist, and he exhales sharply. “Gary and I rolled into town about the same time. I knew something wasn't right in this place, but he kept saying I was paranoid and had to trust that we'd found a little slice of heaven.” Max brings his fist to the wall, stopping just short of slamming it.

“What happened?” Part of me doesn't want to know, but anything I learn about this place can only help me survive.

“Grace happened.” Max snickers, shaking his head. “We were grilling some squirrel over a campfire, and this little minx darts out from nowhere and snatches our lunch! I took off running after her. Not sure what we could do with a half-roasted squirrel loaded with dog slobber, but I wasn't feeling reasonable.” He hesitates and walks to the end of the bed, kneeling in front of Grace to ruffle her fur. The expression on his face is a mixture of awe and confusion.

“And then?” I prompt, impatient to know the rest.

Max grows somber. “I chased her into the woods. Grace was sitting in a clearing with the squirrel in her mouth. When I got there, she dropped it at my feet, never even took a bite. About that time, I heard that awful horn. Then the message started playing.” Max keeps petting Grace, and she leans forward to lick his scruffy chin. “I started to go back, but Grace snagged the leg of my pants in her teeth and wouldn't let go. I heard Gary calling to them. I also heard the loud protests when he realized they weren't really there to give out free clothing and shelter.”

I cover my mouth as a cold wash of fear rushes over me. “Did you ever see him again?”

Max's haunted expression isn’t reassuring. “Wish I hadn't.” He looks into Grace's eyes and scratches her behind the ears. “When I did, it was through barbed wire. He was shuffling around, wearing baggy green surgical scrubs with an IV pole tethered to his arm. He'd lost most of his hair, a shit-ton of weight, and his skin was . . . gray. Gary looked right at me. For a moment, I saw hope flare in his faded eyes, but it died quickly. Some guy came out to get him, said something about recess being over.”

“Did you know Gary before all this happened?”


“And he never called you out?”

Max stares down at the comforter, following the paisley design with a fingertip. “Nope.”

“Don’t you find that a bit strange?”

“What is this, an inquisition?” Max glares at me for a second before standing up. “Since you’re awake, I think we should get back to the other house. Use this one for some of your needs, seeing as it’s already been disturbed. Maybe try to let the dust build up downstairs again. They do checks sometimes, but I doubt they’ll come up here.”

“Sorry if you thought I was questioning you.”

“Weren’t you?” Max busies himself, packing clothes and tidying the room.

“I’m just trying to understand.”

He pauses and glances at me. “Good luck with that.” Then he blows out the candle, plunging the room into darkness.

* * *

Before we leave the blue house, Max digs out a Dustbuster and removes the lint filter. Then he taps dust onto the kitchen table and counters. When he finishes, the place appears uninhabited again. I want to ask where the idea came from, but the set of his jaw warns me off. Once, when he doesn’t realize I’m watching, guilt contorts his features and bows his shoulders. I duck through the door and wait on the porch so he won’t see me.

The walk to The Ellers’ house is quiet and awkward. Max walks stiffly beside me, carrying a bag of canned goods.

Grace trots alongside us. Her playfulness from earlier is gone, replaced by caution. Her erect ears twitch every so often, and sometimes she slows to sniff the ground.

The opalescent moon casts ghostly beams that paint the world silvery-blue. A concerto of crickets, the tick of Grace’s nails, and the occasional scuff of our boots on the sidewalk accompany us on the otherwise silent trek.

Max leads us around the block, rather than taking a shortcut and climbing the fence. At least I did something right when moving my supplies the other day.

Once we reach our destination, I exhale, feeling even better when the deadbolt clicks home.

“Don’t lock this one.” Max flips the lock open. “The fronts are all locked, the back ones left open. If one of them comes across a locked back door, you can bet your ass they’ll search the whole house.” He lights a candle and goes about making sure the blinds and curtains seal in any light.

Grace pads past us and jumps on the couch, slipping around on the smooth leather until she finds a comfortable position. She rests her muzzle on both paws, eyebrows raising and lowering as her gaze bounces between Max and me.

Is it bizarre that I have the urge to ask advice from a dog? How I wish Grace could talk.

“Don’t leave things out-of-place outside. Basically, they shouldn’t find any reason to come looking. Grace is a great watchdog—she’ll wake you if there’s something to worry about, and she’s as stealthy as a ninja.”

“That’s good because it’ll be hard for me to sleep with the door unlocked now.” I shoot a worried glance at the unprotected entrance.

“You’ll get used to it. There’s no other choice—unless you take my advice and leave.”

“No.” I shudder at the thought.

Max leans in the archway to the living room with his arms crossed. His jaw is tight, posture stiff, and he’s not making much eye contact. That, coupled with his clipped words, reminds me of the Max who greeted me when I arrived here, not the one who nursed me back to health and made sure I didn’t get captured but the colossal, rude jerk who tried to run me out of town.

“Any other questions, Inspector, or do you think we can get some sleep?” He looks at me now, and his burning gaze is on the hostile side.

“No, let’s get sleep.”

Max is in a foul mood anyway, which doesn’t bode well for information-gathering. Best to wait until tomorrow.

“You take whatever room you want, and I’ll sleep on the couch.” Max grabs a blanket off the ottoman, kicks his boots off, and plops beside Grace, nudging her with an elbow. “Go sleep with your mama, girl.”

I stand awkwardly for a moment while Max completely ignores me, shifting on the plump cushions and covering himself. Straining to see in the semi-darkness, I take note of his closed eyes—clearly a dismissal.

I grab the candle and cup my hand around it as I head for the stairs. “Goodnight, Max.”


Grace follows me upstairs, and we settle in the master bedroom. I sleep in my clothes, and I shiver even though there’s a thick comforter and Grace’s warm body pressed along mine to cover me.

* * *

A shaft of light streaming in through the window wakes me from a dreamless sleep. I shift slightly, and Grace’s bushy tail swishes to and fro, tickling my neck, but she doesn’t raise her head.

Katie and I always kept the blinds in our room shut tight because we were both prone to waking with the dawn.

A pang sears through my chest. I miss her so much.

She was more than just my sister. Aside from looking alike, and despite our many differences, we finished each other’s sentences, had an almost telepathic way of communicating, and were best friends. Katie was willing to sacrifice anything for me, and I would have done the same in return.

There was no need to confirm her death when it happened; at the exact moment of her last breath, a stabbing pain, deep and raw ripped at my heart, flaying it to pieces.

Between the two of us, Katie was more. More of everything, and I feel like a dim substitute, a shadow.

We went to a Kings of Leon concert a few months before the world came apart. My sister fit in with everyone, always comfortable in her own skin. I kept tugging on the short skirt Katie made me wear and wiping at my burning eyes, which weren't used to dark slashes of kohl.

Leaning back in Tim’s arms, she side-eyed me with that signature half-smirk tugging at her wine-stained lips. “Relax, Ro.” She reached over and pinched Mike's waist hard enough to make him yelp. “Nature Boy, you need to loosen up your girl.”

Mike gave Katie a dirty look. He hated her nickname for him, and they didn't get along that well in general. “My girl is fine.” He threw an arm over my shoulders and kissed the top of my head. “Right, babe?”

“Yeah, I'm good.”

Katie rolled her eyes.

She was right about me. I felt the music, but Katie let it move through her. When parts affected her, she would step away from Tim and sway her hips with her arms in the air, eyes closed. Though we both had great singing voices, she would belt out her favorite parts while I sang low, almost embarrassed someone might hear.

My twin never said much about Mike. She antagonized him at times but never discouraged the relationship and was first in line to congratulate us when Mike asked me to be his wife.

The night of the engagement party, Katie pulled me aside to sit on the glider in the yard even though it was freezing cold.

“You're happy for us, right?”

Katie linked fingers with me. “Of course I'm happy for you.”

“And?” Call it twin telepathy, but I knew that wasn't all she had to say on the subject.

“The love of your life should take your breath away. Aside from challenging you to grow, his touch should burn your skin. When you're together, there should be no rational thoughts in your mind—” Katie winked salaciously “—other than how he can bring you higher.”

Heat flooded my cheeks. “Does Tim do that for you?”

“Nope, not all of it, but I'm not marrying Tim.” She stared straight ahead for a while, the creaking of the swing filling the silence. Eventually, Katie let go of my hand and patted it. “You see what I'm getting at.”

Katie had a unique way of seeing the world and making statements that others usually posed as questions.

She returned to the house, leaving me to think.

A torrent of tears spill down my cheeks when I realize Katie will never meet the love of her life.

The house is silent around me. I move to the window and peek outside. The day is cloudy, but it doesn't look like rain. I mop my tear-stained face with my sleeve and take a deep breath.

Grace yawns and rolls over, hinting for a belly rub. I scratch her soft pink tummy for a few minutes before pulling my boots on and lacing them.

Certain stairs creak as I descend them, something to keep in mind. In the living room, the afghan is folded neatly on the ottoman, the couch vacant.

My heart trips a little when I open the back door and find Max sitting on the stoop, a bag of cans beside him.

Grace rushes past me, and I join him on the porch. “Hi.”

“Hey.” Max doesn't look my way; he watches Grace run around the yard. There's tension in his jaw, and the vibe he's giving off isn't much better than last night.

I lean against the railing post, hugging my knees, and watch my carefree dog. My dog. Grace is mine. She decided, and Max has said so a number of times.

I don't have to be alone.

I glance down at the bag of canned goods. “You're leaving.”

“Didn't want you to wake up and wonder, so I waited to tell you.”

“Where will you go?”

Max laughs, but it's not a pleasant sound. “Back to where I was before. Where I live, keep my head down, and try to avoid becoming a shrinking, gray pincushion.”

I gasp. His words burrow into me, bringing some horrible visuals with them. Unexpected tears burn my eyes. “Must you be such a jerk, Max? Is it really necessary?”

And why is it easier for tears to start falling when I've already shed so many?

Max grabs my wrist, squeezing hard enough that I wince. “Must you insist on living in la la land? Wake the fuck up, sweetheart!” He finally turns to look at me, and his stormy eyes widen. “You're crying? Shit.” Dropping my wrist, he shoots to his feet and scrubs both hands over his face.

I pull my arms in, hugging myself. Grace stops what she's doing and perks up with her head tilted but remains where she is.

Crouching in front of me, Max places his hands on my knees. I refuse to look at him, instead staring down at his long fingers. Scars crisscross his knuckles, ones that say he's spent time fighting. The edge of a tattoo is visible on the underside of his wrist. The style doesn’t match his others, but I can’t see what it is without flipping his arm over.


I ignore him.

The elusive tattoo blurs as tears flood my vision. I'm horrified when I blink and a few drops hit the back of his hand. My jaw clenches. I want to yell at him to get away, but if I open my mouth, a dam will burst.

Max hisses and yanks his arms back.

And then the cursing and pacing and can-kicking starts.

Hugging myself tighter, I curl inward, staring at the ground. Every so often, Max's boots flash by or a can flies past my peripheral vision on its way across the yard. Grace appears at my side, whining. Once, when Max gets too close to us, a low, warning growl rumbles in her throat.

Eventually, Max runs out of cans. His swearing dries up, and so do my tears.

With a loud huff, he stands with his back to me, hands on hips, facing the fields we walked through last night.

“Damn it all to hell,” he mutters. “Look, I didn't count on you, okay?”

I sit silently.

“You swept into town, making all kinds of racket. I just wanted to keep you from getting picked up. I doused the fire one night—the next, you're strumming that damn guitar and singing!” He shakes his head and huffs again, his shoulders going rigid. “Helping you could have exposed me and risked—fuck!”

“Risked what?”

Now he has my attention.

“Nothing. Everything.” Max stalks around the yard, picking up cans and shoving them in the bag.

It reminds me of an Easter egg hunt.

I watch from my perch on the steps. Grace eventually relaxes enough to leave my side and chase him across the yard. He pats her side absently but doesn't interact otherwise.

When Max is finished, he walks over and stands in front of me while I stare down at his boots. They shuffle slightly, reminding me of a kid standing before someone in authority when he knows he's done wrong.

I almost smile, but my stomach is roiling so hard, I'm afraid I'll puke on his boots.

“I'm sorry.” Max's voice is a raspy whisper. When I don't answer, he sighs. “I've been an asshole to you. I want you to know it's not personal. And I know you don't understand a lot of this—me—but you’re a resourceful girl. You'll be okay.”

He's really leaving. The only human I've had any real contact with since this nightmare started. My stomach lurches, and I pray I can wait until he leaves before I throw up.

“I'm not staying that far away. I'll keep an eye out for you when I can. Next time I go for a supply run, I'll stop by and see if you want to come, okay?”

Pressing my lips together, I manage to lift my gaze to the level of his knees and nod my head.

Max stands there, the seconds piling up and heading toward a minute before he puts the bag down and crouches beside Grace. “You be a good girl, Nudge. Take care of Marie, 'kay? I'm counting on you.” Plastic rustles as he wraps the bag around his fist. He clears his throat, and his voice is low and hoarse when he says, “Take care.”

I nod and wave a hand in his direction, refusing to make eye contact.

The gate closes with the faintest of clanks, and I count to twenty before looking in his direction. Max saunters away with a defeated curve to his neck and shoulders. He probably thinks I'm angry. I just didn't want him to see the panic in my eyes.

I move to the corner of the house and watch. When Max reaches the end of the block, he breaks into a jog, the can-laden bag swinging against his hip.

The bile bubbling in my stomach finally subsides as panic gives way to intense curiosity.

Solving mysteries is in my blood, and Max is a man with secrets.


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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, June 24, 2014

Kimberly Gould Week 105: Firsts

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Firsts

Virginia, or Gina as everyone called her, put on her bravest face.

“It’s okay, dear. This is a still part of the lake. You’ll have lots of time to figure the kayak out before you even need a paddle.”

Her friends needed paddles. They were all turning circles and stroking away while James, the other councillor, kept watch. Tina tried again. “You have your life vest on,” she said, pulling on one of the buckles. “That will keep your head out of the water no matter what happens.”

Gina closed her eyes and slid her legs into the plastic boat. A small puddle of water soaked her legs and made her shiver. The day was so warm, though, that the little cool was nice. Tina still held the edge of the kayak, keeping Gina steady.

“Don’t let go,” Gina whimpered.

“Not until you’re ready,” Tina promised.

Gina didn’t believe her, just like she didn’t believe Dad when he said he’d keep a hold on her bike. Just like then, as soon as the adult thought it safe, they let go. She’d needed stitches when her pedal and gouged into her leg. Today, she gulped water as her kayak rolled, just as she’d seen almost every other kayak do at least once today.

Her lungs screamed and she tried to echo them, tried to push the water out, but no sound came, only a few bubbles. She was wrenched with the kayak, upright. She coughed and spluttered and tried not to cry. Her tears were lost in the water running down her face.

James was in the water, holding her kayak. “It’s okay, Gina. Everything is okay.”

Gina reached for him, pulling herself half out into the water. Weeping into his neck, she refused to let go even after he managed to get her on land again.

James stroked her back and murmured soothingly while Tina joined the rest of the class in the water, demonstrating how to control their kayaks and even how to right themselves when they did go over.

“I-I’m sorry,” Gina whined.

“Shh. It’s okay. You’re okay.”

“I can’t. I can’t do it. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, Gina. You don’t have to do it. You just had to try. We’re proud of you.”

Her heart doubled, tripled in her still pained chest. They were proud of her. They weren’t going to berate her for falling the first time. They weren’t going to mock her for not trying to get back on. They weren’t going to push her. They were happy with what she had done, what she could do.

“Thank you,” she breathed, relaxing at last.

“Want to swim instead?” James suggested, rising to his feet and taking her with him.



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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, June 23, 2014

SJ Maylee Week 105: Known Risk

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SJ Maylee’s’ Choice: Both

Title: Known Risk

“Damn.” Anwen scrolled through her new messages, but each one displayed the same words.

“Assignment incomplete.”

How could two people be so impossible to capture? She even had her best teams tracking the insolent ones. Cormac would have her head if she didn’t take care of this problem soon. She didn’t understand how Jonathon and his pair could actually be a risk, but her assignment was clear. She would see it done.

The promise of another trip to the sunflower farm on her next vacation dangled just out of her reach. Those cheery yellow flowers brought her back to center like nothing she’d come across. Besides, she owed the farmer another game of chess. There would be no time off until the threat was neutralized. It would be her motivation to take care of this known risk once and for all.


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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, June 22, 2014

Miranda Kate Week 104: Interdimensioning Part 5 - Greeting

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Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: Interdimensioning Part 5 - Greeting

Title: 1

Elise frowned at Logan’s suggestion. “What? And get us out of here?”

“That’s the plan. Why? Did you want to stay?” Logan half laughed at the idea.

“I’m just curious that’s all. Why have the Trees put us here, and why are they feeding us?”

Reginald interjected, “Madam, I don’t think they intend harm, but I don’t think they have encountered our species before. The food they supplied for my two humans was woefully small.”

“But isn’t there a way to communicate with them?”

“I’m not a communication droid, so I have never tried.”

“Did your humans try?”

“My humans just kept trying to escape. One of them had an extremely low tolerance for small spaces, so they would scrabble out. Then those noises would occur and knock them out and they would be returned.”

“But maybe those noises are their speech?”

“Elise, that doesn’t help if it knocks us out every time.” Logan snorted, as he continued to press buttons on Reginald’s keypad in a sequence.

They all heard a scraping sound from the other wall, and then the roots around them vibrated. Elise reached out and touched one - then snapped her hand back seconds later. “It’s like an electric shock.”

Logan touched another one, and did the same. “Yes, like a static shock. Interesting.”

“What do you think it means?” Elise said while rubbing her fingers.

“I really don’t know, but I can’t imagine we will ever find out.”

Then they heard a rumbling sound and the earth started to move. Everyone covered their heads and huddled together as pieces of mud and rocks started falling about them. They remained this way for some time, until there was one final shudder and everything stopped.

They slowly raised their heads - Elise spitting out bits of dirt that had landed on her lips - and looked around. The fireflies were still with them and still working, so they could just make out something dark at the other end of the cave. Logan picked up one of the firefly balls and crawled over towards it.

“It’s a hole, a big hole, big enough for us. And I can feel a breeze, I’m sure of it.”

Elise joined him. “Do you think it’s their way of inviting us out?” She looked over her shoulder, “Reginald has this happened before?”

“No miss, although there was always a hole, just not really big enough for my humans. Maybe they are learning you need more space.”

Elise looked at Logan. “Shall we go?”

“They seem to want us to. Come on Reginald.”

“No Mr Logan, I think I’ll stay.”

“I’m not going without you Reginald, you’re our ticket out of this dimension.”

They heard a couple of blooping sounds before he spoke again. “I would always stay here; the human’s didn’t want to risk me getting broken on the climb out.”

Logan looked at the size of the hole and at Reginald. “I think you’ll fit alright, it depends if it narrows or not. Come on.”

Reginald shuffled over to them and Logan led the way out of the tunnel. It raised slightly as they wait, but eventually the light grew and they could see the opening at the end.

They all sped up, but when they climbed out, they didn’t expect what greeted them: other humans. Although these ones looked like the cast of an old Star Wars movie, all dressed ready for shooting. Among them were a couple of other species, and it was one of these that stepped forward.


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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Mark Ethridge Week 104: The Whole World Went Insane - Part 10

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: The Whole World Went Insane - Part 10

That night, in our home, Valerie noticed the airline brochure, like I knew she would. I’d picked it up on the trip, but I didn’t really know way. Maybe I wanted to talk with her about taking a trip. Maybe I wanted to tell her about how I’d always wanted to fly on a plane.

Maybe I wanted to let her know about the dreams I’d had and how I felt when they all died.

She’d dumped the contents of my bag on the table. Our table. The one we’d made together. We’d found a tree that had fallen over in the woods. We’d cut a diagonal slice through it, and taken it back to the camp, proclaiming we could make tables. Unvarnished, unpainted, rough cut wood, you can get splinters from them tables.

It took us days to figure out how to put legs on it. And it took weeks to get it anywhere near level. It still wasn’t level. But it didn’t rock around. It was solid. And it was mostly flat. And it was ours. I’d had to make more since then. Hannah had one. Jessica had one. It was kind of expected, when someone joined our group, I showed them how to make a table, and helped them make it.

When she’d dumped everything on our table, the brochure wound up on top. I’d buried it in the bag. Kelly and the others never found it. But there it was, on top of everything. An airport runway, going to the horizon, and a jet in the sky at sunset. All it said was, “Take Me Away”.

Her hand shook as she reached for it. At first, she didn’t pick it up, instead, she touched it. Her fingers shook, and she seemed afraid of it. She stared it at, and didn’t move. “Val? You OK?”

She nodded and picked it up, as she started to cry. Silent tears fell from her eyes, and I couldn’t stand by and watch. I wrapped my arms around her, “I used to have a dream. I wanted to fly on a plane.”

She clung to me, and I felt every tear as I held her.

When her tears stopped, she didn’t let me go. “We lost everything.”

“The whole world when insane, didn’t it?” I ran my fingers through her hair. I wished there were a way to fix things. To make everything alright. “I lost Mom, Sis, Dad. My home. My friends. I’m not going to lose you.”

That night, we sat on the log outside our home, beneath the canopy of leaves, and the stars. I held her and she snuggled into me. Eventually, she fell asleep, her head on my lap. “I lost everything that was. But I found you.” I brushed the hair from her face, and let my eyes drink in every line, every curve, every texture. “And that makes it OK.”

I watched the stars, visible through the leaves, until the sun rose. I’d have to talk with Jessica about the trip, and the others I’d found along the way. Kelly, and the girls felt relieved, free, granted new lives. They didn’t know.

In rescuing them, Kelly and I’d started a war.

I watched Valerie sleeping. “If they come, they come.” I let my fingers lightly touch her lips. “I’m not losing you.” As the sun rose, I promised her, and God, “I’m not losing you.”

Then, I waited for the first of the battles to begin.


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