Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kimberly Gould Week 119: Tiny Worlds

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: Tiny Worlds

Taking the wand out, she waved it. The soap dripped and nothing else happened. Dipping it again, she held it to her lips and blew. Too hard, the breath tore through the delicate film, leaving only more soapy splatters. She was starting to get upset. This wasn’t supposed to be this hard. She’d done it before, true it was eons ago, but it should still work. Leaving the wand in the jar, she remembered the last time she’d done this, blowing a world out of nothing. A world full of small creatures scurrying and wondering who she was and what she would do to or for them. She didn’t nothing, of course, and was very sad to watch her green and blue bubble turn brown and red until it popped.

She needed another, needed the beauty and ugliness, the pristine and the marred. They’d kept her occupied for their entire existence. With a tiny sigh, feeling the sting of losing that first world, she pulled the wand out one last time, her life-giving breath caught by the sphere of water and soap. A new world, green and glittering. The first people were just appearing and she smiled, praying this one lasted longer.


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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 Kimmydonn.com


Monday, September 29, 2014

SJ Maylee Week 119: Finding Their Happy

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SJ Maylee’s’ Choice: Both

Title: Finding Their Happy

“Jared, slow down.” Sara braced herself as he swung the car around the almost empty parking lot. She had a dozen things to do before the moving trucks arrived tomorrow.

“Oh, come on.” He put the car in reverse and turned around. “For old time’s sake.”

“The kids are waiting for us to get back. Besides, are you sure our car can handle it?”

“I thought you were trying to talk me out of it?” He picked up speed and headed for the hill. “Tomorrow we’re moving away from all of this.”

“Yes, finally we’ll be out of this town.” They may have grown up here, but the small town and all its gossip had been a nightmare the last few months.

“We both deserve to move on, but let’s not forget how much fun we’ve had here.”

“Okay. Sounds good. Let’s get out and roll down the hill over there like we did when we were six.”

“I remember that. I thought you were the prettiest thing I’d ever seen.” He reached out and caressed her cheek and then increased their speed, heading for the hill.

“Jared.” She screamed as the car raced up the hill. With her eyes closed, she felt the moment when the car crested the hill and the tires lifted from the ground. Her stomach flipped, everything seemed lighter than air until it all crashed to the ground. “Oh my gosh. I can’t believe you just did that.”

Jared was hollering at the top of his lungs. It was probably one of their best landings. She shook her head and started laughing. A fit of giggles hit her hard, lifting the stress from the past several months.

“There. That’s what I needed to see. When we leave tomorrow, we’re going to leave all this ugliness behind.” He pulled the car to a stop. “I promised to take care of you and love you.”

“You’ve always done that.”

“Not if I’m not seeing that smile.” He leaned in and kissed her. “You deserve to be happy.”


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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, September 28, 2014

Miranda Kate Week 118: Liberation

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Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Liberation

Her dress glowed red as the sun beat down
The fabric shimmering in a twirl
Her feet sank into the soft warm sand
As she danced liked a little girl

Her heart leap high to reach the sky
Her soul revelling in the moment
A silent release from all the pain
While others sought for atonement

She never thought the day would come
For her dreams she’d always kept hidden
And as she played in the twinkling light
All previous trials were forgiven

For the journey had taught her so very much
And those lessons would never be discarded
But now in the calm of the aftermath
She could live a life unguarded.


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You can read more of my writing on my blog - Finding Clarity - at http://purplequeennl.blogspot.nl/ or join me on Twitter @PurpleQueenNL


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Samantha Lee Week 118: Just Another Day Trapped in a Hole

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Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Just Another Day Trapped in a Hole

"I don't see why we can't just Magic ourselves out of here," Darien grumped, looking up at the ravine's sheer cliff face. "Preferably before I get any hungrier."

Kostya spared him a sharp, angry glare but kept his focus on the rock surrounding them, studying it as though the secrets of the universe were hidden therein.

In contrast, Fi laughed, taking one his hands in hers and twirling herself around him like a prima ballerina. "C'mon, D, where's your sense of adventure? Let loose your reckless streak, wolf - this is FUN!"

Darien nearly choked as a laugh, a sob, and a growl all tried to force themselves out of his throat at the same time and Fi laughed again. "There is nothing 'fun' about being trapped in a ravine, Fi," he told her cooly. "Not a single little thing. I'd think you of all people would literally be climbing the walls to get out of here."

Fi snorted and shook her head, flinging her arms wide as she turned her face up towards the sun. "Are you kidding? I've got fresh air, blue sky, and friends for company. It's practically paradise."

"Is that why we're not using Magic to get out of here?"

Kostya growled, the tone more frustrated than angry. "Darien, have you tried to use any Magic since falling down here?"

His face heating, Darien just shook his head.

"No Magic in the bowl, silly wolf," Fi told him. "Not unless you're the spoon or the oven."

Rolling his eyes, Darien stalked over to sit on a fallen tree trunk, ignoring Fi as she continued to prattle on. He had no doubt that his big brother was listening to every single word, responding appropriately as needed, and devoting just the right degree of attention while also thinking through their options and working his way toward saving the day.

Not that Darien had inferiority issues or anything.

It didn't help that it was Darien's fault they were stuck down there in the first place. Fi had wanted to learn about hunting and the three of them had shifted, Darien and Kostya into wolves, Fi into a sleek, silver puma. Darien and Kostya were born werewolves, their instincts as natural as breathing, but Fi was Noble Fae; the wild that lived inside her was of a different breed.Her affinity for cats allowed her to take their forms, but unlike the werewolves she didn't possess their instincts, thus the hunting lesson.

Which was going well until Darien spooked their quarry, sending it careening into Fi. Kostya had leapt to help her but so had Darien and the four of them had come crashing down into the ravine. Their quarry had broken its neck, Kostya had lost his temper, and Fi had been...Fi. Neither had blamed Darien; both had simply accepted their circumstances and gone about trying to resolve them. It drove Darien bonkers.

"D?" Fi came up beside him, her oversized eyes as bright a blue as the sky above and filled to bursting with concern.

Turning away from her, he shoved both hands up through his hair but it didn't help; he stayed beside him, waiting. "What?"

"We should go back and get the deer."

"It wasn't a deer, Fi - it was a wildebeest," he corrected her for what seemed the twentieth time.

"We should go back and get the wildebeest then."


"Well, we're still going to need to eat tonight, no? I've never eaten wildebeest before. Have you?"

Darien sighed. "Once or twice. I prefer deer."

"It's hard."

"What is?"

"Being prey. You spend all day, every day, being constantly vigilant, trying against all odds to avoid being trapped or alone or injured...it's exhausting. I wonder if...if it's a relief when the predator finally ensnares you and you can finally rest."

Darien shrugged. Truth be told, he never gave his prey much thought beyond the kill and the taste, no more than he wondered about the cows, sheep, or chickens that gave the meat bought at market. "Apex predator," he said simply.

"There's no such thing," Fi countered. "Not really. We're all of us hunted by something, some of us are just more aware of it than others."

Darien shook his head. Werewolves had been created by the Fae to cull the vampire hordes. A long ago Fae king with an affinity for wolves had taken his loyal pack, fused their souls with those of human warriors and their families, and given one hell of a power boost to seal the deal. Darien not only healed fast but regrew lost parts as well. He could rip a castle wall apart with his bare hands and run more swiftly than any team of horses. He would live in the prime of physical fitness forever, barring injury to the contrary. The top of the food chain was a nice place to be.

Fi sighed. "D, you're an apex predator trapped in a hole you can't get out of with only a single wildebeest for food and no water."

She had a good point. What he needed to do was get them out of there.

"Preferably before nightfall," Fi requested. "I don't like the dark."

"I'll protect you, Fi," Darien promised.

She grinned and threw her arms around his neck once again, hugging him tight. "Of course you will, D - and I'll protect you too."

Yup, definitely had to think of a way out of there now.



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You can read my blog - Calliope's Domain - over at calliopedomain.blogspot.ca


Friday, September 26, 2014

J M Blackman Week 118: Two Peas

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J.M. Blackman’s Picture Choice: One

Title: Two Peas

Well, they’d always been a pair, no matter what. From the moment they met each other, they were damn near inseparable.

People liked to call them twins, but they were more like different sides to the same coin: one was the open face, immediately recognizable, and the other a detailed landscape that people could study for moments at a time and still never quite grasp the craftsmanship.

But everyone agreed that there was never one without the other, even when they weren’t side by side. If one said it, the other meant it.

A mirror was a more apt comparison.

Superficially, they shared the same interests, hobbies and political views. They had the same phone, the same camera--they took similar pictures, though if you looked, you’d know he saw the bigger picture of the beach, while she could see a world in the fronds of a palm tree.

But this trivial sketch, this cosmetic framing was nothing compared to how their souls echoed each other. Like a reflection in water--an exact representation that waves with the undulation of time and movement; they grew and shrank and burst all in time: synchronized beyond any understanding, beyond any depiction, any words.

More than likely, they were simply one spirit, split between bodies. Just two peas. In a pod.


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


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mark Ethridge Week 118: A Tale Of Wrath : Sunset At The Lake

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: A Tale Of Wrath : Sunset At The Lake

Wrath stood in the shadows of the trees, next to Jerry. Jerry waited, and watched, as the four people sat beside the lake, beneath a tree. “It won’t be long, Jerry. It won’t be long at all.”

Jerry licked his lips, his fingers caressed the handle of his axe. “It won’t be long.” He waited for the sun to sink lower in the sky as he watched the people talk. Two men, two women, all of them old. All of them intent on enjoying the sunset.

Sunset at Jerry’s lake.

He’d asked them to go away a hundred times. Still, they came back. If it wasn’t them, it was someone they sent. “You must watch the sunset at the lake!” Sunset at Jerry’s lake.

Wrath whispered in Jerry’s ear, “Make them listen. Make them learn. This is your lake. They are not welcome here.”

Jerry waited. He watched the four of them laugh. He watched them drink. He watched them talk. Two couples. He watched them hold hands as they sat in their lawn chairs, waiting for the sunset to begin. As it approached the trees, they stood to get a better view, their eyes glued to the sun as it approached the trees.

Wrath smiled. “It’s time, Jerry. It’s time.”

Jerry stood, his hands grasped the handle of the axe. He walked from the brush he’d hidden in. He’d teach them. He’d teach everyone. This was his lake. No one else was welcome. Everyone would learn to stay away. Everyone.

It didn’t take long. Only four swings. One, two, three, four. They’d fallen into the lake. One, two, three, four. They never saw him coming. Never knew what hit them. Never felt the axe sink into their bodies. The fourth had sensed something was wrong. The fourth had started to turn. The axe found her face.

Jerry stood beside the lake, their dead bodies resting at the water’s edge, the water slowly turning red, and he watched the sun slowly sank behind the trees. It’s final light turned the sky pale gold, red, orange, and pink. That light touched the lake, causing a spectacular splash of color, red and gold on the lake's surface.

“They must learn,” Wrath whispered, “this is your lake.”

Jerry watched the sunset. He’d seen it a thousand times. It was his to watch. No one elses. His. Jerry loved the sunset by the lake. He wasn’t going to share it with anyone.

He’d make sure of that.


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


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pablo Michaels Week 118: The Unexpected Proposal

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Pablo Michael’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: The Unexpected Proposal

Anthony gazed toward the spectacular view of the Mediterranean Sea’s waves crashing against the cliff, the water spraying through the air upon receding. The shoreline reminded him of the coast off Big Sur where he and Stuart visited each year. But he was in Italy and with Ignacio, the hot, Italian stud who had seduced him after meeting on the train from Rome to Florence. Anthony had left Stuart, his estranged partner, he found in bed with another hot, Italian man with a questionable source of income, in Rome.

His second day in Florence started when Anthony’s morning appointment at the university was changed to early afternoon. All morning, Ignacio continued his adoration of his guest in bed. But Anthony needed to prepare for his engagement, especially since he had to meet with Stuart after he met with the head of the department of literature. His partner had called Anthony at midnight inquiring about his whereabouts and the reason for cancelling their reservations at the hotel they had booked. Even though he was enjoying the uncontrollable, physical attention Ignacio gave, Anthony’s troubled thoughts focused on facing Stuart.

“Okay, I’ll let you shower alone this time. And I’ll allow you to get dressed. I won’t try to take off your sexy underwear, every time you try to pull them up. I’m jealous you’re meeting your boyfriend. He doesn’t deserve you. I do.”

“You’ve definitely made a good argument. I should skip out on him. But….”

“It’s okay, as long as you get rid of him afterward.” Ignacio cut Anthony off from his rationalization concerning Stuart. “I want to take you to a special place. I go there when another man makes me go crazy. Maybe this place will help you, too.”

Anthony had agreed, reluctantly, unaware of the outcome of this discussion with Stuart. He felt guilty for having this affair. But Stuart had one in Rome, so Anthony rationalized he deserved this fling with Ignacio. Besides, this Italian man was lavishing him with attention like a lover he had never known, especially Stuart.

On the way to the university, they had walked through a wedding reception. When the bride tossed the blue and white bouquet, she tossed it beyond the women, right into Anthony’s hands.

When he was about to throw it back to the women, Ignacio objected. “Keep it, it’s a good omen. It means you’re going to have good luck. In Florence when a man catches a bride’s bouquet, it’s a good omen.”

After a successful discussion with the head of the literature department, Anthony met with Stuart at a café. Ignacio sat on the opposite side of the restaurant. Although he was unable to hear what was being discussed, Ignacio’s eyes glared at Stuart, like a wolf ready to attack his prey. When the conversation had become heated between Anthony and Stuart, Ignacio stood up, ready to punch Stuart in the face. But Anthony’s partner had stormed out of the cafe, quickly, yelling for everyone to hear his anger, beyond the door and into the street.

Ignacio wrapped his arm around Anthony’s shoulder, as they sat on wet sand, watching the spectacular scenery. Anthony was relieved to have Ignacio’s company.

“So do you feel any better now?” Ignacio brushed Anthony’s windswept hair from his eyes.


“I told you this place was magical, didn’t I”

“You were right. I’m glad you brought me here.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“No.” Anthony was emphatic. He didn’t want to discuss anything about what he and Stuart discussed that erupted into another embarrassing argument.

“Your good luck will come to you. Remember, you caught the bouquet at that wedding.”

Anthony laughed. Ignacio had broken the foul mood he had been drowning in since they departed the café.

“Do you like this beach?” Ignacio begged a response.

“It’s beautiful. I didn’t think any place like this existed in Italy.”

“Could you imagine building a house on the land overlooking this beach?”

“That would be fabulous if anyone could!” Anthony stared out at ocean’s horizon beyond, lost in a feeling of peace he hadn’t felt for years.

“I own this beach and the land in front of it. I want you to share it with me. We’ll build a house just for us.” Ignacio slipped off a gold wedding band from his right hand index finger. He reached for Anthony’s left hand. “I want to make you mine and marry you.”

Anthony’s mouth opened but no words escaped, the only sound came from the smashing waves on the cliff nearby.


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Pablo Michaels writes LGBT fiction and has published with Naughty Nights Press, http://naughtynightspress.blogspot.com You can follow him at @bell2mike


Monday, September 22, 2014

Lizzie Koch Week 118: The Gift

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Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: The Gift

It was her favourite body lotion, nestled in the basket alongside other pampering products, and a box of truffles. Despite the absent card, (as always) Lisa knew the sender. He was always lavishing Lisa with gifts when he couldn’t be with her. When he couldn’t get away. But at least he was thinking of her, as she lay on her bed and twisted off the lid of her body lotion. She inhaled the delicate floral perfume and thoughts turned to when she was last with Scott, when they spent the entire afternoon in bed where he slowly massaged her body lotion into her skin. A pang of lonely jealousy filled her.

He was with her tonight.

No matter his sweet words of promises, his whispers of love. He wasn’t here now. And it hurt. Her heart ached which made her angry. She hated feeling so pathetic, so weak and dependent on a man for her happiness when she was doing OK before Scott started flirting with her.

She swirled the lotion on her skin, her heart heavy. Scott would never leave her. Why would he when he was getting what he wanted? She rubbed the lotion in furiously, watching it disappear into her skin, wishing she could do the same. Wishing she was strong enough to tell Scott to bugger off. The shrill tone of her mobile made her jump. Without looking, Lisa knew it was Scott. On auto pilot, she lay back on the pillow, the phone pressed to her ear.

“Hi Baby,” he purred. “I really miss you.”

“Me too,” she found herself saying (which was true even if she hated the truth).

“What you up to?”

“Nothing.” A heavy pause filled the silence.

“Look, “ Scott finally said, “I’m sorry I can’t make it tonight. I’ll make it up to you.”

“I know,” Lisa said flatly. “You always do, with your gifts. But it’s not enough. Not anymore. And I’m going to say thank you for the pampering basket even though I really don’t want to.”

“What pampering basket?”

“The one you just sent me. Oh fuck! It’s for her, your wife isn’t it? You mixed it up! I’m such an idiot!”

“No, no you’re not Lisa. I never sent a basket to you or anyone. And I definitely would not mix you up. Who’s sending you gifts?” he asked curiously.

“I thought it was you. I have no idea. It’s all my favourite things.”

“So I have competiton. I better get my arse in gear. Look, I rang to tell you. I’m going to tell her this weekend.” He waited for a response. “Lisa? Did you hear what I said?”


“Are you falling asleep on me?” he asked, a nervous laugh in his voice.

“ I . . . I . . . feel . . . weird,” Lisa said, drowsily.

“Don’t mess about Lisa. I can’t come over right now.”

“I . . . my skin.” Lisa looked down at her legs, covered in a red raw rash, hot to the touch. Within seconds, she was gasping for air as her chest squeezed tight against her lungs. The mobile dropped to the floor as she clutched at her chest, gasping like a fish out of water. . .

“I’ve got to go out.” Scott shoved his mobile into his pocket, grabbing his car keys.

“Really? At this time?” Anna asked, not lifting her eyes from her magazine.

“Yes, a friend in need.” Which wasn’t a lie.

“Well, you’d better go then hadn’t you and I’d hurry if I were you although I suspect,” Anna looked at her watch, “you’re too late.” She watched Scott walk out; he hadn’t heard a word. “I said you’re too late,” she shouted. “It was fast acting, in the body lotion.” Anna stood in the doorway as Scott stopped. he turned, his face contorted in confusion. “I know your dirty little secret. Have done for a long time. I can’t believe you thought you could hide it from me.”

“What have you done?” he hissed, marching back up the drive, grabbing Anna by the throat.

“I tidied up the mess in my life!” she hissed, not flinching as his grip tightened. Her lips curled into a bitter smile as Scott released his grip. “And do you know the best bit?”

“I dunno, maybe you won’t have to see my ugly mug anymore when you’re prison?”

“That’s half true. Indeed, I won’t see your face anymore but the best bit is, it’ll be you inside. The basket was from you.”


Like what you just read? Have a question or concern? Leave a note for the author! We appreciate your feedback!

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 http://40somethingundomesticateddevil.blogspot.co.uk/ for more. Thank you. Love Lizzie x


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Laura James Week 117: Below

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Laura James’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Below

They had lived below the earth for many generations. No one remembered why the surface had been abandoned; atmospheric poisoning, global warming, aliens; these stories and more we're passed down from family to family. Names had lost all meaning, taken from memory of a time before the dark when light had bathed them all.

Car had always been fascinated with the clock which lay in the centre of the labyrinth, and would spend his free time sitting in the clock's shadow reading about a time long gone, just waiting for the count to reach zero. No one knew what would happen when it finally counted down but most were certain that it would be an end to life as they knew it.

The day finally came when the clock stopped. Car was alone when it happened and so the only one to witness a hatch open revealing a tunnel. Without thinking of his safety or what he would find he made his way into the tunnel, carefully closing the hatch behind him. Lights flickered on in front and off behind with very step he took, leading him upwards towards the surface world.

He had no idea how long he had been travelling but his legs were becoming weak and he was beginning to believe he would have to go back, his questions unanswered. The clock, the tunnel - a cruel trick from a time long dead. Then the light ahead revealed another hatch.

Resting his hand on the cold metal, he took a deep breath. Was he ready to see beyond? He opened the hatch to reveal a world bathed in moonlight; the air smelt wrong, the wide open space felt wrong, a creature on four legs bounded past the opening startling a scream from his lips.

The clock had stopped yet did it really matter? He thought not. Closing the hatch he vowed never to talk of what he had seen. In time he would forgot, life could go on.


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Based in Dunfermline, Scotland, Laura is obsessed with all things horror and spends her time writing flash fiction which she hopes, on occasion, really scares her readers. Feel free to stalk her on twitter, @lejamez


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Aleea Davidson Week 117: Wither Part 10

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Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice: One

Title: Wither Part 10

There are moments in time that can break a man. Glen feared he was rushing headlong into one of them. Following Mara down streets increasingly lit by the rising sun was risky enough. What really had his back and gut muscles clenching with tension however, was the fact he was following her home.

Constantly scanning the houses they passed for any signs of movement, he tried to rationalize his choice. According to Ben, government men were staking out the place Glen had been hanging his hat for the last three months. That wasn’t a shocking development, because it wasn’t the first time he’d been found. His UV Tolerant status made him prey, not only for the government men looking to harvest every ounce of his blood and skin cells, but for any poor UV Intolerant soul out there desperate for whatever pathetic reward they’d collect for turning him in. The world was a fucked up place.

It hadn’t always been this way. In the beginning, officials had attempted to round up the small percentage of the immune population and put them to use, desperate to fill essential services positions. Anyone skilled in the medical or working class fields were lauded while hundreds of local non-skilled citizens had been drafted into military and police forces. Unfortunately, true UV Tolerance had been slow to show itself. Some people exhibited an odd kind of limited immunity—his wife and son among them. They were fine at first, then, as time passed, they too began to wither.

As the fatalities accumulated, the government, what little remained of it, had quit their desperate stop-gap measures and began to view the speculated two percent of the world’s population with true immunity in a new and alarming light. The round-ups changed, taking on a sinister twist.

Six months ago, Glen had walked into a trap and found himself handcuffed in a van on his way to one of the so-called medical centers set up to find a cure. He’d heard enough about those places to make his blood run cold, his bowels turn to water. A whole lot of desperation and a little ingenuity led to Glen sneaking up behind the driver and putting his handcuffs around the front of the man’s throat. The other UV Tolerant capture in the van got with the program quickly and helped drag the driver away, taking control of the van in time to avoid a nasty collision with a large tree. The man’s name was Ben.

Glen shrugged his shoulders in his jacket, wishing he could shrug the memory off the same way. Despite Ben’s help and the fact they shared UV Tolerant status—a rare thing in this town—Glen wouldn’t call the man a friend. Ben’s appearance at the church had surprised him, actually. After the escape, Glen had helplessly watched Ben pull the driver’s gun and shoot him point blank in the chest. The unnecessary murder had lit a rage in Glen he’d never experienced before and hoped never to experience again. To say he and Ben hadn’t parted on the best of terms would be an understatement.

Looking over his shoulder, Glen searched for any sign they were being followed. Ben had said he repaid his debts, but given the fact Glen had not only helped him escape a fate probably worse than death, but pummeled him to a bloody pulp with his fists at the side of the road minutes after, it was impossible to know which debt Ben was attempting to pay.

Glen decided it would be smart not to take any chances. He wasn’t going to walk into another trap, especially not with Mara. He didn’t consider himself a violent man, despite what he’d done to Ben, but watching her walk, no sign left of the traumatized young woman who’d allowed him to comfort her in the church, he knew he’d make an exception to protect her. No rage needed at all.

As if she knew he was thinking about her, she slowed her pace and looked over her shoulder, probably wondering why he was lagging behind. Catching up with her, Glen caught her arm.

“How much farther?” he asked, trying to take in everything around him, looking for any sign they were followed.

“A few minutes. It’s just another block up that way.” She gestured north, watching him intently and picking up on his mood. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I don’t know. I’m thinking.”

She bit her lip, and it reminded him of how her mouth had felt under his when he was pretending to kiss her to throw off the military men with their jeep full of stolen horse meat. It was the last thing he needed on his mind, and he forced himself to refocus.

“Listen,” he said, giving her his full attention. “I don’t trust Ben. We aren’t friends. It’s a long story, but I’m worried about being followed. I don’t want to lead anyone to your place. Let’s double back a few blocks, look for a tail.”

Her eyes widened. “Government men?”


She looked around, her complexion paling.

“Don’t look. Pretend we’re just talking.” He began to walk again, and she matched his pace. Letting go of her arm, he stuck his hands in his jacket pockets. He wanted to look unconcerned, but it was also damn cold. Despite the sun gaining height in the sky, a chilly wind promised a cooler than average day.

They passed a parked car, its windows decorated with patterns of frost, tires deflated. It’d clearly been there for a long time, layered in grime, a sad hulking relic that mocked everyone with how much they’d taken for granted.

They took several turns, Glen relying on Mara’s knowledge of her neighbourhood to direct them. Nothing moved aside from the rapidly yellowing leaves on the trees, their edges curled in, veins appearing red in the early light, as though they were bleeding out the last of their life. Their rustling broke what was otherwise a deep silence. If Glen hadn’t long since become accustomed to it, the quiet would be unnerving.

They passed a few houses with windows solidly boarded up. Mara leaned a little closer to him, her voice pitched low. “The Grant’s live here. Or what’s left of them.” She swallowed audibly. “I grew up with their daughters, but they’re both dead now. Last I heard, their son was sick, too, but I don’t know...” Trailing off, she shivered, though whether from the cold or the topic, Glen wasn’t sure.

“I need to get home. The boys will be tired, wanting to go to bed. If I’m not there soon, they’ll be scared. I’ve never left them alone this long.”

Glen nodded. “I haven’t seen anything suspicious. You?”

“No, but...” She looked at him, worried. Dark circles lay under her eyes, heavy and bruised looking in contrast to her pale face. Fatigue made her steps falter as her gaze darted around. “Hardly anyone lives here anymore,” she told him. “A lot of people left in the early days. My parent’s felt it was safer to stay here since none of us were sick. Our close neighbours are long gone. They all packed and moved to be closer to the town center. We still have electricity, but it’s sporadic. Dad had a generator, but we haven’t had gas for it in...ages.”

Recognizing the nervous reason for her sudden chatter, Glen caught her hand and squeezed it gently. Her fingers were stiff and freezing cold.

“We should separate,” he said.

She shook her head. “No.”

“Mara, listen. It’s me the government men are on to. I doubt they know about you. We aren’t being followed now, but that doesn’t mean they won’t find out where I am. If I stay with you...” He left the sentence unfinished.

She spun to face him, stopping their forward movement. “Where would you go?”

“I have a few places I know of that are empty. I can hide out. I’ll stay low, hidden.”

Her pretty eyes seemed to spark with sudden emotion. “They won’t lose interest in you, Glen. You know that, right? There aren’t many of us. They aren’t going to give up and go away when a healthy male in the prime of his life is right under their noses. They’ll track you until they find you, and then they’ll take you. You’ll end up in one of those places where they peel your skin off in strips so they can look at it under a microscope. Take your blood to test it until you’re so weak you can’t get out of bed. Eventually they’ll go after your organs, dissecting you piece by piece.” Her voice rose, anger and maybe a touch of panic.

Glen cut her off. “I know, believe me. But I can take care of myself.”

She shook her head. “Strength in numbers. Look at what happened tonight. You think I’ll be safer without you, but if you hadn’t found me last night, I’d be dead.”

Glen’s pulse leapt at the thought. It sunk his teeth into him, filling him with a dread he hadn’t felt since his wife and son had gotten sick.

Cursing silently, Glen looked down at Mara and realized she was officially under his skin.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she said, tone becoming quiet. “You think you’re better off on your own. No attachments. I get it, I do.” She smiled in a way that didn’t reach her eyes, the curl of her lips rueful and sad rather than amused. “Everyone I knew and loved, aside from my brothers, are gone. Until you, I’d given up on the idea I’d ever have another friend. I won’t tell you what to do, Glen. It’s your life. But right now, I think you have a better chance not being alone.”

He wanted to tell her no. The refusal formed in his mouth, and then it got stuck there.

Sensing he was wavering, she let go of his hand. He instantly missed the feeling, a wave of loneliness creeping in. He watched her set her shoulders and look down the street. “I’m going home. Come if you want.”

She started walking without looking back. Glen stayed in place, torn. He admired the straight line of her spine and the swish of her hips. He remembered the way she’d brandished the candlestick in the church, ready to defend him, fierce and brave.

Glen knew he was making a mistake, and he followed her anyway.


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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, September 19, 2014

Jeff Tsuruoka Week 117: Colors

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Picture 2

Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Colors

The two men drank off the last of their coffee, then crossed the dusty town square in silence.

Grease from their fried egg and tomato breakfasts warred with the bitter, spicy coffee in their stomachs, making them sweat in the fresh morning air.

The taller of the two-- a mustachioed, top-heavy man with an untamed head of black hair-- was the heavier sweater of the two. His gray shirt was already dark around the collar and beneath his arms.

His companion, despite his stocky build and ruddy face, appeared to be faring better in the South American climate. He looked relatively dry and comfortable in his olive green traveling clothes.

Each man wore a straw hat and carried a canvas rucksack over his shoulder.

They stopped at the open doorway of a small brick and adobe building at the far corner of the square.

The tall one took off his hat and ran a sweaty hand through his sweaty hair.

“This is the place, Ehud,” he said. “His studio.”

Ehud doffed his own hat, shading his eyes with the brim.

A wiry man in a dirty painter’s smock fussed with an easel behind a wooden counter inside the shop.

Ehud compared the painter’s angular chin and the shrapnel-scarred cheeks with those of the man in the photographs in the dossier he’d spent the previous month memorizing.

“Looks like him, all right, doesn’t he, Zeff?”

His companion twisted one end of his mustache as he looked inside.

“He doesn’t seem to be working very hard at hiding.”

“Ready?” he asked his companion.

Zeff put his hat back on, then shrugged his massive shoulders.

“I can only think of one way to find out,” he replied, pushing past Ehud on his way inside.

Ehud, swearing, followed him into the studio.

The man in the smock looked up and bid them good morning in awful Spanish.

Ehud replied in awful German.

All three of them exchanged bemused looks.

The artist broke the silence.

“It’s all right, son,” he wheezed. “You can speak English. You must be Americans. Your German is atrocious.”

Ehud grinned.

“Thank God. I deserve a medal for trying, though.”

The man in the dirty smock showed half a smile.

“Yes, perhaps you do. But not from me.”

Zeff stopped playing with the ends of his mustache and chortled.

“You’re not gonna sell much with customer service like that.”

The man behind the counter set his palette down, then rubbed at a charcoal smudge on the ridge of one hand.

“I’m an artist. The joy is in the creating, not the sale.”

I studied his hands as he spoke, noted the pale, smooth skin beneath the stains left by his trade. The years in his Argentinian sanctuary had been kind to him.

Zeff roamed the periphery of the room, stopping to scrutinize each abstract drawing on the wall.

The splendid morning light caressed the art through the open window and doorway. The glow deepened the earth tones and brought out the slashes of red and orange that dominated the German’s work.

“You don’t mind if I look around your studio, do you?” asked Zeff. “I’m fascinated by your technique.”

He caught and held the artist’s eyes.

Ehud watched both men with interest, hoping his companion’s trademark stoicism would hold.

Zeff put a hard edge into his stare. The corners of the German’s mouth turned upward for a second, then slackened.

“You may look to your heart’s content,” said the artist.

Zeff nodded and continued to move about the room. Their host made no objection when he stepped behind the counter to inspect the man’s supplies.

I pointed to some of the drawings.

“What do they mean?” I asked.

The German watched Zeff sort through the collection of charcoals and pencils on the work table beneath the window. A warm breeze stirred the thin white shade, presaging the heat the afternoon would bring.

“They are representative of a previous chapter of my life,” he said. “Another time, a different place.”

“I see,” I replied. “Doesn’t seem to have been a very happy chapter.”

Zeff went still as he reached the end of the table. A circular arrangement of pencils held his attention. They’d been laid out, points in toward the center, grouped by shade and color.

“Happiness is a luxury,” said the artist. “Few men know it. Even fewer live to appreciate it."

“You’re right about that,” answered Ehud.

“Indeed.” He sent an annoyed glare toward Zeff, then turned back to Ehud. “Shall we dispense with the charade?"

Zeff answered in flawless German.

“If you like, Herr Buchberger,” he said.

“Who are you?” demanded Buchberger. “You’re not art lovers. You’re not even Americans.”

“No,” said Ehud. “We’re not.”

“Israeli?” he asked.

Ehud and Zeff nodded in unison.

“You do not deny your identity?” said Zeff.

“Why would I do that?”

“Do you know what is going to happen to you?”

“Your people found Eichmann. I know what happened to him. I knew it was only a matter of time before you found me. I chose to spend what time I had living instead of running.”

The two Israelis let that pass without comment, though both of them agreed with the sentiment.

“Tell me before we go,” began Buchberger, “something on that table gave you pause. What was it?”

“Your pencils,” replied Zeff. “We have numerous accounts from the camp of colored pencils arranged just so in your quarters.”

The German nodded and smiled.

“Of course,” he said.

He stared hard at Buchberger, then growled and upended the table. Pencils and charcoal flew everywhere. The table broke in two as it hit the floor.

Buchberger flinched, the veneer of confidence faltering.

“What’s wrong, Herr Buchberger?” asked Ehud.

The German seemed smaller than he had mere seconds before.

“I find that, all of a sudden, I am afraid to die.”

Zeff grabbed him by the arm and began to march him toward the door.

“Well that just too damned bad, isn’t it?” he said.


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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, September 18, 2014

Michela Walters Week 117: Patiently Waiting

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Michela Walters’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Patiently Waiting

She sits patiently waiting for her master to finish her pier to pier swim every evening. Until the night her master doesn’t return.

I can only watch mournfully as a group of people dressed in black walk toward the sand, carrying paper lanterns along with their surfboards. People sit two or three abreast on some of the long boards and paddle out past the break. The scene is eerie as the lanterns are released just as the sun falls beneath the stormy blue waves on the horizon. As majestic as the floating, flickering lights are, my heart breaks for the dog sitting on the edge of the sand not quite realizing her master isn’t coming in from the waves this time.

Making my way down to where the dog is waiting, I sit beside her trying to take in everything from her perspective. The burnt orange sunset enhances the floating lanterns while the soothing words of In My Life echo in from the water.

My hand creeps towards the dog’s head, slowly trying to ensure she’s okay with my touch. She leans into my hand, nuzzling and moving closer to me. We sit side by side, watching the surfers catch their waves in.

“Kaylee’s going to need a good home now that Shelly’s gone.”

I jump at the deep voice’s comments. The man standing before me is older, with wavy graying hair that can only look distinguished when worn by a handsome man. “Sorry, I was watching from my deck and couldn’t help but come down and keep this ol’ girl company.” I stand and brush the sand from my shorts to shake his hand and speak briefly about the ceremony I’d just witnessed. The entire time we’re chatting Kaylee’s been snuggled up against my legs, her eyes never leaving the ocean.

My hand drops unconsciously to rub behind her ears when Tom reminds me she needs a good home. “She’s about five I think, but if you’ve watched her, you know well behaved she is and will sit and wait and wait until you tell her to come.”

“She really doesn’t have anyone to take her in?”

Sadness seeps into Tom’s eyes as he shakes his head. “Most of us live in apartments where we can’t have dogs. We were going to post it up at SeaShells bar to see if anyone might be interested in taking her in.”

We continue to discuss Kaylee’s welfare while the rest of the attendees of the wake stroll up to give the ol’ girl a pat on her head or a snuggle into her soft fur.

When all that remains of the memorial surf ride is a few dotted lanterns scattered along the horizon, I accept Tom’s suggestion. Just as I turn towards my little beach bungalow, I call out to Kaylee, knowing I would be picking up her belongings the next morning and trying to fill the very big shoes of her previous master.

“Come on girl,” I shout, patting my legs to get her attention. My heart stutters when she takes one last longing glance towards the ocean, as if saying her own fond farewell. I try again, calling to her with a smile and a joyous sounding, “Come.” The word releases her from where she was sitting, and in five long strides she’s bounding across the sand and meeting me at the steps to my deck.

Leaning down, I whisper in her ear, “we can come visit whenever you want.”


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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: michelawalters.wordpress.com


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sarah Aisling Week 117: A Measure of Grace (Part 14): Twice

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 14): Twice

My first thought is who's Connor? Alissa is looking directly at Max, so I can only presume she's referring to him, and the stiffening of his shoulders confirms it. In the next second, I wonder what Max has been saying about me to his sister that led her to ask such a personal question.

“We've talked about this, Ali.” I recognize that growly tone; Max is angry.

The siblings have a stare-down. The tension in the hall mounts, and it's clear neither of them intends to lose. Part of me has the urge to protect Alissa from Max; she's so petite, and he towers over her.

I start to say something, but Tek grabs Max's arm. “Hey.”

Max's head snaps around, blue-green pools filled with annoyance fixing on Tek. Max's jaw is tight, and he doesn't say anything, just stares.

Max has said Tek is in love with Alissa, and I imagine the intensity between brother and sister makes Tek uncomfortable.

He releases his hold on Max. “Why don't you show Marie around, man? Get her settled in?”

“Sure. Yeah, that makes sense.” Max rubs his eyes then grasps my hand. I allow him to lead me past his sister.

She touches my shoulder we go by. “I'm so glad you're here.”

Max stops walking, and I narrowly avoid slamming into his back. “Ali, for the love of God.” He still faces forward, speaking without looking her way.

“Excuse my brother's poor manners. He's not done baking.”

An ugly laugh issues from Max, and he shakes his head, pulling me along behind him. We make a few turns and stop in front of a door, which he unlocks.

The room is small and smells like Max—masculine with a chaser of the sea. The walls are white, the area above a scarred old dresser covered by taped-up charcoal drawings. The surface of the dresser is bare with the exception of a haphazard tower of sketchpads.

Max drops our rucksacks in the corner, toes off his boots, and falls back on the queen size bed. Frustration pours off of him, leeching into the air around us, causing an almost static charge.

Silently, I wander the sparse bedroom, drawn to the wall of sketches. He's good. There are landscapes of the cliffs, beach, sea, and woods and numerous portraits of Alissa and Grace. I notice a guitar resting against the side of the dresser.

I point. “Is that . . .?”

“Yeah. Play to your heart’s content down here.”

“Thanks.” I run my finger along the fret board and pluck a string.

“I enjoyed it,” he says.


“Listening to you play and sing. You have a soulful voice.”

My cheeks flush with pleasure. I've always loved singing, but it means more to me now because of the special connection to Katie. We shared similar voices, but Katie's was a touch smokier, allowing for some rich harmonies. The tears surprise me, springing to my eyes and spilling over before I realize they're coming.


I swipe at my cheeks and blink rapidly, continuing to peruse the charcoals.

The bedsprings squeak as Max sits up behind me. “What's wrong?”


“Liar.” His tone is soft and nonjudgmental.

The room is small and close. Max and the bed are between me and the door. Even if I escaped, where would I run? I don't know my way around.

I take a deep breath and wipe more wetness from beneath my eyes. “Memories.”

He simply hums in answer.

We've all experienced loss. None of us came to this new world unscathed. It's clear to me Max has his own demons. I'm about to leave the sketches when one in the center catches my eye. It's me, standing on the dunes down at the beach, the wind whipping the hair about my face.

“This is . . .” I touch the edge of the paper with my index finger and swallow hard, unsure how it makes me feel that Max not only drew me but gave me a place on his wall.

“Come here.” His voice is low and hoarse. When I turn, his sea-glass eyes hold shadows, but his expression is vulnerable.

I go to him.

Max spreads his knees and grasps my hips, pulling me close, then slides his hands around my waist. I balance both palms on his broad shoulders and tilt my head, watching him gaze up at me. There’s something both raw and childlike about him in this moment; it tugs at my heart.

“Your sketches are amazing. You drew me from memory?”


“The likeness is incredible. You must have an eye for detail.”

One side of Max’s mouth pulls up. “I have an eye for you, China.” The way he looks at me sends heat blasting through my body; I feel it rush from deep within to the roots of my hair, and the air seems to thin. A lazy smile spreads across his face. “Is it possible I've left you speechless? You always have so much to say.”

I'm trapped in this little room, in his arms, in his stare. I want to say something about the sketch, maybe ask why he drew it, but the words lodge in my throat.

Max breaks away first, pressing his cheek against my stomach, the warmth branding me. His arms wrap tighter around me. As my body relaxes, I lean into him and allow my palms to glide from his strong shoulders to the short hair at the nape of his neck. It always looks so prickly, like a porcupine’s quills, but it's incredibly soft.

“Mm-mm . . . that feels good.”

Now that we're not eye to eye, I can breathe again, and my bravery returns. “Why did you cut your hair?” I continue massaging my fingers through the downy strands.

“How do you know it wasn't always short?”

“You make this gesture when you're nervous or frustrated . . . like you're scooping hair out of your eyes. I figured you usually wear it longer.”

“Observant.” He's silent for a few seconds before speaking again, a certain hardness entering his tone. “Cutting it was my way of saying goodbye . . . to an old life.” Despite the tension in Max's voice, his fingers rub lightly up and down my side.

“When did you—?”

“Lie with me?” He scoots back, still holding me in his arms.

Max usually has barriers surrounding him, but he seems particularly vulnerable in this moment. I ignore the fact he interrupted my question and allow him to guide me onto the mattress.

Max lies on his back and tucks me under one arm, cradling my head to his chest. I rest my hand over his heart and feel it pounding. He’s as nervous as I am. His fingers fist in the hair along the back of my neck. The hold isn’t tight or painful; I suspect it brings him comfort.

I take a deep breath and then ask him something I’ve wondered since meeting Alissa. “Why did your sister call you Connor?” I scratch lightly over his pec in an attempt to soften the question so he doesn’t think I’m grilling him.

“Connor is my given name. It was also my piece-of-shit father’s name.” His voice drips with contempt. “I hate being tied to that bastard in any way. Obviously, my sister walks to the beat of her own drum—she’s the queen of inappropriate.”

“Where did Max come from?”

“My middle name is Maxwell. It fits. I tend to do things to the max.”

I smile. “What’s your full name?”

“Connor Maxwell Quinn. Yours?”

“Marie Rosa Merlo.”

“Much prettier than mine. Merlo . . . sounds so familiar to me. It’s not that common.”

“It’s not uncommon either.”

“No, but it strikes a chord all the same.”

“None of us were famous.” The only possibility I can fathom is that he's heard of my father. I'm hesitant to mention Dad's illustrious career in the Maine prison system though I can't pinpoint why.

“Whatever. It might come to me later.” Max strokes the pads of his fingers absently along my bare arm, raising goose flesh.

“Do you talk to Alissa about me?”

“I have, yes.”

“Why did she ask me . . .?” My words drift away; I can't bring myself to finish the question.

Max laughs. “When we first met, you frustrated me to no end. It pissed me off that you wouldn’t leave. I’d come home, spouting off about you. Know what Ali said? ‛Kiss her and get it over with.’”

“She said that?”

“My sister knows things sometimes.”

“Is she psychic?”

“Not exactly, but I can’t deny Ali seems to have a sixth sense and is rarely wrong. She’s also missing a verbal filter and has no problem crossing boundaries.”

“I like her. She has fire.”

Max chuckles. “So do you, China. I’m sorry if she made you uncomfortable.”

“She didn’t.”

A companionable silence descends. Max continues skimming his fingers along my arm and keeps a hand tangled in my hair. The slowing of his heart beneath my palm and the warmth of his body against mine lull me, and my lids begin to droop. It’s a testament to how comfortable I’ve become with Max that I can reach such a relaxed state in his presence.

“Were you with someone?” he asks softly. “You know, before all this.”

I keep my lids closed, allowing the heaviness dragging at my limbs to remain. “Yes.”

“Did you love him?” Max stiffens slightly. “Were you married?”

“No—yes.” My heart beats faster. How do I explain Mike to him in light of what I know now? “I mean to say yes, I loved him. No, we weren’t married. Engaged, but . . .” I hesitate.

“But?” The word comes out gruff.

“Mike and I started dating in our senior year of high school. He was on the football team, and Katie was a cheerleader. She brought me to an after-party, introduced me to Mike, and we hit it off. Our colleges were only an hour apart. A few months ago, he asked me to marry him. He, um . . .” Tears prick my eyes. “ . . . died early on.”

“I’m sorry.” Max is silent for a beat before taking a breath. “The way you recited that . . . lacks something. I don’t mean to suggest—”

“No, it’s okay. I think we fell into a relationship that was nice and familiar but lacked any true passion. The night of my engagement party, Katie took me out back and told me as much. Part of me recognized the truth of what she said, but whenever doubts cropped up, I’d bury them. Then the virus hit, and all the rules flew out the window.”

“Yes, they did.” There’s a strange, contemplative tone to Max’s voice. “So, Katie called you on the relationship, thought you deserved more?”

“Basically, she said the love of my life should take my breath away, that his touch would burn my skin and rational thought desert me whenever we’re together.”

Max’s heart gallops. I feel the thumps beneath my hand, and the thuds echo in the ear I have pressed to his chest. He kisses my temple. “Your sister was a wise woman.”

“How about you?” I ask, though I’m not so sure I want to hear tales of the woman who captured Max’s affections. An irrational stab of jealousy slices through me.

“I’m pretty wise, too.”

I smile and slap his chest. “Max!”

“There was no one. Not for a long time.”

“Really?” I’m ashamed at the relief flooding my body.


“A handsome devil like you?”

“So, you think I’m good-looking?” There’s amusement in his tone. “I’m flattered.”

Surely he’s well aware of the effect he has on women.

“Please. Have you looked in a mirror lately?”

Max turns serious. “I had a fucked-up life. There wasn’t much opportunity to forge lasting relationships. For years I had a chip on my shoulder and pushed everyone away. Ali was the only constant in my life, a reason to go on.” He holds me tighter. “I’ve done things, Marie. Bad things.”

“Don’t, okay?” I raise my head and look into his eyes, running my fingers over his cheek. “The old world is gone. All we have is now. You can be whatever kind of person you want to be. There’s guilt festering inside you somewhere, but whatever you’ve done in the past, I know you’re a good man.”

“Would you bet your life on it? Because that’s pretty much what you’re doing.” Max cups my face, his eyes glinting in the dim light. “I don’t want to let you down.”

I nod, swallowing. I’m betting large on him.

“Will you stay with me tonight?”

I answer w

ithout thought. “Yes.” “We’ll get you settled in your own space tomorrow.” He tugs my face to his and kisses me gently. “Thank you for giving me a chance.” His troubled eyes convey the hope that my trust isn’t misguided, and I pray for the same as sleep takes me.

* * *

When I wake up, it’s hard to know what time it is. My watch says twelve something, but is it noon or midnight? The stiffness of my body and the amount of sleep sand in the corners of my eyes say noon.

I flop onto my back. Max sits on a chair in the corner, sketching. Grace lies on the floor beside him, her eyes scrunched closed. One leg twitches every so often, and I wonder if she’s dreaming of chasing rabbits.

Max rubs a finger against the paper then glances at me. “Good morning.”

I sit up, smoothing my hair with both hands, hoping I catch any wild strands. “What are you drawing?”


“Can I see?”

He shakes his head. “Maybe after it’s finished.” He flips the cover of the pad closed and lays it on top of the dresser. “Why don’t you grab some stuff, and I’ll show you where the bathroom is. I suspect you’re going to enjoy our setup.”

Max isn’t kidding. The power plant has hot, running water. There are four private showers, each with its own dressing area. I take him up on his offer to enjoy the facilities as long as I want. When I finish showering, my skin is pruned. There’s even a hairdryer, so I end up looking almost like my old self for the first time in months.

When I emerge from the powder room, Alissa is sitting cross-legged on a bench, reading a book in front of a bank of lockers. Without the blanket as cover, her diminutive size is more obvious. She reaches the end of her page and glances up as she turns it. Once again, I’m surprised to see Max’s eyes looking back at me from her pale, pretty face. A smirk tugs at her lips, and more of Max peeks out.

“Feeling better, Marie?”

“Much. This is fantastic.”

Alissa frowns. “Yes, it is. It pained me when my brother refused to bring you in, and I knew you were out there.” She gestures with one arm, closing her eyes. “I would have come to get you myself, but between my condition and the two stubborn oafs I live with . . .”

“That’s okay. It’s so kind of you to allow me to stay here.”

Alissa’s eyes open wide, and she expels a tinkling laugh. “You belong here, silly!”

“What do you mean?” I put my bag on the floor and sit beside her on the bench.

She wiggles to face me, still in her cross-legged position, and leans forward as if we’re sharing gossip at a slumber party. “When Connor came home caterwauling about some crazy woman with no sense of self-preservation, I knew it was you.”

“You don’t even know me.”

She grabs my hand. “Maybe not you specifically, but I realized my brother found the perfect woman, one that would challenge and frustrate, bring out the best in him, and ignite his tender side—because it does exist, believe it or not. When he continued bitching, it only confirmed my suspicions. Nobody has riled up Connor this way in like . . . ever.”

“Alissa, you’re jumping ahead. Your brother is a great guy, and I’m thankful he let me into the inner circle, but we’re not exactly together.”

She flaps a hand. “Sure you are—you just don’t know it yet. He kissed you already, didn’t he?”

I look away, feeling awkward. “That’s kind of private, don’t you think?”

“All the confirmation I need!” Alissa covers her mouth and giggles. “Don’t worry—I won’t tell him you said anything.”

“But I didn’t!”

“Maybe not with words . . .” She winks.

The direction of the conversation is making me uncomfortable. I think she means well, but I’m not used to having someone I just met so deep in my business. I’m unsure about my feelings for Max or his for me. Besides, this new landscape doesn’t seem conducive to nurturing a budding relationship. Alissa seems to sense my distress and stops talking. She does continue watching me with unabashed scrutiny, though. Max warned me she has no filters.

“Where's Grace?” I've grown accustomed to my furry shadow and feel off-balance when she's not with me.

“With Connor.”

“Why do you call him Connor?” I ask.

“That’s his name.”

“But you know he doesn’t want to be associated with—” I break off, remembering they share the same father.

“You can say it. He doesn’t want to be associated with our father.” Alissa nods, her thickly lashed, blue-green eyes meeting mine. “Our father was an abusive slime bucket, but denying paternity and choosing a new name is simply a way for Connor to jam his head in the sand. If he can’t own who he is, where he comes from, the urges he needs to resist, then he’ll never be able to heal and move on. He thinks I refuse to call him Max just to give him a hard time. I let him believe what he wants.”

“Why don’t you just tell him what you told me?”

“Have you ever tried telling my brother anything when he believes he’s right?”

A smile spreads across my face. “I admit—he’s difficult.”

Alissa pats my thigh. “You should call him Max, though.”

I gather my things, and Alissa offers to show me their quarters. When I ask where Max is, she tells me he went to unload yesterday’s haul.

The power plant quarters consist of seven bedrooms, the showers, a fully-equipped kitchen with a small walk-in refrigerator/freezer, and a lounge used as a living room. There’s even a washer and dryer in a utility closet next to the freight elevator.

The tour ends in the kitchen where Alissa offers me something to eat. I insist on heating the soup for us, pouring it into a saucepan and using the electric cook top. We eat at one of three round tables in the large kitchen.

“Why is all this here, and how did you guys find it?” I ask after eating half of my soup.

“This was built for employees of the power plant, insulated to keep out the noise and outfitted for longer-term stays during storms or emergencies. Tek’s cousin was the plant manager, which is how we ended up here. When Ken came down with the virus, he made an extra set of keys for all vital areas and hid them in a cave on the cliffs. He sent instructions to everyone in the family because he knew how tough it would be to stay alive—if anyone survived.”

“What about the alliance? Max said this plant is the source of their power.”

“They would only have a reason to come here if things stopped running. Tek makes sure it all runs smoothly. When we’re done eating, I’ll take you to his command center. Anyway, the area the alliance would be interested in is upstairs. They don’t have the key to the freight elevator or the stairwell that reaches this deep. We only had one curious guy, and Tek deterred him quickly.”

We finish our meals, and Alissa dumps the bowls in the sink, proclaiming that it’s Tek’s day to do dishes anyway. She grabs my hand and leads me to the freight elevator, waving at a camera suspended in a corner. We go up one floor, and she pulls me through a series of hallways until we reach an open doorway.

Inside is a wall of monitors and a console covered with buttons and gauges. Tek mans it from a leather captain’s chair.

Tek spins his chair to face us. “Welcome to the control room. This is where it all happens.” He shrugs and smiles shyly. “Sounded good anyway.”

Alissa bounds across the floor, launching herself onto Tek’s lap. He closes his arms around her slight form and plants a kiss on her cherry-stained lips.

I step inside, gawking at all the gadgets and glowing monitors. “Wow.”

I ignore the console, which I have little chance of understanding, and look at the screens. Many of them show different zones throughout the power plant, including the halls leading to the living quarters. There’s a monitor for each outside entrance of the building, one panning the cliffs, and two I can’t figure out locations for. Movement catches my eye on one screen; Max wheels an empty shopping cart through a doorway and down a hall to an elevator. He appears on the next monitor when he boards the elevator. He offers a salute to the camera.

“This is amazing.” I move closer to the console. “You understand all this stuff?”

“Most of it. There are manuals for almost everything, and I’ve got time to kill.” Tek gestures to a desk against a side wall, piled with books. “I try to keep things humming along so those bastards have no reason to come here.”

“Awesome. So you’d see them coming long before there was any danger of them finding you.”

Alissa curls into a ball in Tek’s lap, her head tucked in the crook of his neck. Her movements remind me of a cat. “Between Tek’s watchful eye and my intuition, we’re in pretty good shape. Then there’s Connor’s man on the inside.”

“Yes, I met him on the supply run.”

“Giant fucker but a great guy.” Alissa giggles, covering her mouth. “Oops! That’s the Quinn in me peeking out.”

Tek smiles, gazing down at her affectionately. “My little truck driver.”

“Hardly. Oh, Marie, my brother tells me you have some kind of natural remedy for my asthma?”

“Yeah. My grandma had asthma and believed in holistic remedies. When we were in town, I picked up some things that might help. Mamie used to brew it into a tea.”

“That’s so thoughtful of you. I feel like we’re sisters already!” Alissa squeals.

Tek offers me an apologetic look, but I think she's sweet and refreshing.

A tingle prickles along the back of my neck just before Max strides in with Grace. Grace lets out a happy bark and nudges my hand with her nose. I crouch down and hug her neck while she tries to get some licks in. “Hey, girl! I missed you.”

Max stands stiffly by the door. “Has my sister filled your head with a bunch of shit while I was gone?”

“Hello to you, too, dear brother.” Alissa glares at Max. “I didn’t say anything that wasn’t absolutely true.”

“So it’s a yes, then.” Max sighs. “Do you mind if I spend some time with Marie?”

“Of course not!” Alissa looks to me with a smile. “We’ll talk more later. I can’t wait to try that tea.”

“You bet. Thanks for the tour. See you later, Tek.”

Tek waves. “It's been a pleasure. Feel free to come here any time, ask questions, whatever.”

Max laces his fingers tightly with mine and practically yanks me off my feet in his rush to get away from the control room. Taking long strides, he leads me in the opposite direction Alissa and I came from earlier, but the halls all look the same to me—concrete floors, grayish walls, pipes running along the ceiling, with the constant hum of distant machinery in the background.

Our fingers are so tightly entwined, I fear my hand will go numb soon. Grace walks a few paces behind us, almost as if she senses Max's distress.

“Where are we going?”

“I want to show you something.”

Max's agitation seeps into me, and the level of my fear rises. “I never went this way. You'll stay with me the whole time, right?” I hate the fright audible in my own voice.

Max stops short and faces me, cupping my cheek with his free hand. “You're scared. Why?”

I shrug, feeling silly. “I don't know exactly. This place creeps me out a little. It's huge, and I don't know what all these sounds are or where to go if we get separated . . .”

“Marie, you're not alone anymore. I did everything to scare you away at first, and I'm sorry for that. I'll take you all around this place until you know it like the back of your hand. Whatever will help.” He kisses me softly, and my fear drains away.

“Thank you.”

“Come on—what I want to show you is up this hall.” Max starts walking again, slower this time.

We come to a dead end alcove, and he leads me inside. I glance around in confusion. “There's nothing here.”

Max smiles. “Look down.”

I have to step back to see what’s under my feet. As the concrete was drying, someone wrote four words, forever memorialized in the hardened surface: WE ONLY LIVE ONCE

I squat beside the words and run my index finger in the grooves of the letters. “Why are you showing me this?”

“Don’t you get it?” Max crouches next to me and tips my chin up until our eyes meet. “What happened sucks. This new world won’t be easy to navigate—or even survive—but we are members of a special group.”

“Special how?”

“We get to live twice.”


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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, September 16, 2014

Kimberly Gould Week 117: Mirror Mirror

Sorry about the delay in posting this! I didn't have internet access where I was and wasn't able to get it out this morning. :) - Miranda

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Mirror Mirror

Lindsey picked her way carefully across the wharf, unsure where she should step, which boat she was headed for, where her cousin was. She kept looking down the row of docked vessels, but didn’t find anything to tell her where Jason was.

“Carmen!” Someone yelled and she ignored them. She didn’t know a thing about sailing. She was only here because Jason had begged her to come for a weekend.

“Carmen!” The shout was closer and Lindsey turned her head. She didn’t recognize the man waving to her, but she had finally spied Jason on one of the decks. She hurried, trying to put distance between her and the strange man.

“Lindsey, come aboard,” Jason said, holding out a hand to help her up. The boat rocked and immediately Lindsey felt unstable, catching herself and holding the railing.

“Whoa,” Jason teased, steadying her. “Sit down,” he suggested, pointing her to a seat.

“Carmen? What are you doing?” The strange man stood on the wharf, his brow lined with concern and a bit of anger or frustration colouring his cheeks. “Why are you here?”

Jason stepped in. “Hey now, what do you want with Lindsey?”

“Lindsey? This is Carmen, my wife.”

Lindsey felt her jaw drop and hear her blood rush in her ears. “I am not,” she argued.

“I think I know my own wife,” he said with distaste. “I know we had an argument, but to run off with some guy and claim you don’t know me.” The frustration was turning quickly to anger, his hands in fists at his sides.

Jason was quick to block his line-of-sight to Lindsey. “Hey now, simmer down. This is my cousin, Lindsey. There must be some sort of mistake.”

“I know my wife,” he said again with his jaw clenched so tight the words almost hissed.

“Murray! What are you doing down there, Murray?”

Everyone had a shock as a woman who could be nothing other than Lindsey’s twin came into view.

“Who is she?” they each asked, shock overruling every other emotion.

“I’m an only child,” Lindsey argued. “Right? You mom never said anything about my dad?”

Jason shook his head.

“Well, I have a brother,” Carmen told Lindsey. “Although he was adopted.”

“Maybe you were adopted, too?” Jason asked quietly, perceiving he might be unleashing fury as he did so.

Instead Carmen frowned and stayed quiet.

“Baby? Is it possible? Could you have a sister you didn’t know about?” Lindsey ground her teeth. “I’m not adopted,” she vowed.

“Hold up, Lindsey. I mean, you’re parents didn’t have any more kids. What if that was because they never could. I was so little when you came, I don’t remember Aunt Melissa pregnant. Maybe we should talk to her and Uncle Thom before we assume anything.

The two women stared at one another, occasionally playing with her own hair or shirt and unable to fight the sensation of looking in a mirror.

“Carmen is it?” Jason asked. “Can we get a phone number for you? Let you know what we find out?” Lindsey was too gobsmacked to argue. She was pretty certain she never wanted to see this woman again.

“Uh, yeah, sure.” She took the receipt Jason had pulled from his pocket and wrote her number on the back. While she did, he opened his wallet and took out a business card.

“If you are Lindsey’s sister, I’d love to see the pair of you again,” he admitted.

Lindsey and Carmen were both too dazed to answer that.

Murray, sensing Carmen’s distress, put his hand around her waist and turned her away from Jason and Lindsey. “Enjoy your afternoon,” he said to them, leading his wife away.

“They seem nice,” Jason said to Lindsey.

The boat continued to rock, but that wasn’t what had turned Lindsey’s stomach. Twisting and kneeling on the bench, she vomited over the side of the boat.


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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 Kimmydonn.com


Monday, September 15, 2014

SJ Maylee Week 117: Lucky Day

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SJ Maylee’s’ Choice: Both

Title: Lucky Day

“How much longer are we going to have to walk?” Angela unzipped her coat and tied it around her waist.

“I think there’s a gas station around the next bend.” David grabbed her hand. “We’ll find a way to salvage our anniversary, promise.” He kissed the back of her hand. She was his world. His heart was still beating wildly after the near miss with that obviously drunken driver.

“Thank you, sweetheart. At least that drunk ran us off the road not too far from civilization.”

“Agreed. With all the curves in the road back there, I’m surprised we didn’t find him smashed into a tree.” They swung their hands back and forth. He held up his cell phone. “Still no bars.

“You were right. There’s the gas station. I’ll race you.” She took off at a quick pace.

He jogged evenly behind her until the condition of the gas station came into focus. His pace swiftly increased to a sprint. “Angela! Wait!”

She stopped at the edge of the parking lot, looking down. “Is that the car that hit us? I think it hit that gas bump.”

“I don’t think we should stay to investigate. Let’s get far away.” They ran to the other side of the street. The stink of gas permeated the air around them as a boom shook the ground and they tumbled into the ditch. He settled her underneath him. After several long breaths, “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” She wrapped her arms around him. “I guess the drunk’s luck ran out.”

“I think you’re right.” He kissed her sweetly. “And ours will keep on going.”


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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, September 14, 2014

Miranda Kate Week 116: No Relief

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Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: No Relief

Paul lay on the bed in the tiny room and let the fan dry him out. It chilled his water soaked clothing, taking the edge of the stifling heat. He didn’t care that the bedding would be wet – or the mattress underneath, none of those things mattered anymore.

He found it hard to be anything but relieved. He knew he should feel some kind of emotion, but he didn’t. People talked of remorse, they talked of guilt, of carrying a burden for the rest of their lives, but there was none of that – yet.

He could only lie there and think of the softness of her neck; how silky it felt under the water, how small it was in his hands, and how easy it had been to squeeze.

He had imagined that it would take longer, that she would have fought more, but maybe the water sped it up, as she gasped for breath, her lungs filled. And the strong under tow of the weir had tugged at her clothing, keeping her under without much effort on his part.

Paul had met Lucy at a local pub, and they’d fallen for each other by their second date. For the first few months he’d lived and breathed her, until the fateful night he’d popped the question. Nothing had been the same after that, her definite ‘no’ throwing him completely. And although she’d been right, they hadn’t known each other long, and they shouldn’t rush into it, he never quite recovered from it.

The love he had for her became tainted, the passion turned to anger, and he struggled more and more to be loving towards her. And she in turn responded by withdrawing; the hurt he was putting through apparent in her sullenness, and the occasions he would find her crying. She wouldn’t speak to him though – she daren’t, his rage would become overwhelming if she tried. And his emotions would twist even more as he watched himself doing this to her, until he knew it had to end somehow.

He’d run through all sorts of scenarios in his head about leaving her, but he couldn’t bear the thought of her still being out there, knowing that eventually there would be someone else; someone touching her, holding her, even loving her. He couldn’t have that - if he couldn’t have her, no one else could, and that was the truth of it; he never felt he’d never quite won her. Her rejection of him as her husband had clarified that, and rather than continue to try, he had destroyed her, justifying her reasons not to become his wife.

The dripping from his sleeve brought him too, and he shifted his arm into the breeze from the fan. There might be no emotion about her death, but he still burned with the pain of her rejection; he hadn’t managed to kill that.


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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mark Ethridge Week 116: I Paced Along The Wall

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: One

Title: I Paced Along The Wall

I paced, as I always have, in an endless loop along the wall. The sun was setting on a day I felt would never end. Her party. Her gathering of friends. “We’re celebrating the end of summer.”

Normally, I’d have ignored the event. I knew what I was like at such things. Pacing in an endless loop, along a wall somewhere, asking God to get me to the end of things alive. But when she stopped me in the hall at church Sunday, told me of her party, and asked me to please come, I found I had no way to say no.

I went through the week imagining a thousand encounters. Watching people breaking into groups of various sizes. Watching the groups change, as people moved between groups. Listening to the guys talk about sports, or cars, or some video game they were all hooked on, and wondering if they’d say anything that mattered. Watching the girls talk about whatever they talked about. I rehearsed all the things I knew I’d have to say. The “I’m fine, how are you?”, “How are the kids?” and “How’d your week go?”

I rehearsed the answers I’d have to make, “It was a good week. I got a lot done.” All the things people say when they talk to each other. All the things I don’t understand. I even practiced, in my head, moving from group to group, and saying hi to everyone.

She’d told me to show up at 10:00 AM. That turned out to be two hours before anyone else arrived. “Take a walk by the lake. Watch the birds. Take pictures of everything. There’s Rose of Sharon along the shore.” She had this smile. It just felt right to watch. Hell, I could close my eyes, and think of her smile, and I felt better. As if that made any sense. “Relax. Have fun.”

I almost answered her, but I knew not to. I didn’t want to upset her, and I knew honest answers never went well when I gave them. Honest answers always wound up getting people around me upset. A lot of times, I’d answered, and people kind of went away after that. So, I didn’t answer her. But my answer echoed in my head for hours. “I can’t relax. I don’t know how.”

I did what she said. I took a walk by the lake. I felt like an invader. Her neighbors standing on their decks by the lake, watching me. That “You’re a new person here” look. One guy waved, “Beautiful day, ain’t it?”

My programming kicked in, and I waved back, “Yep. Sure is.”

“Taking pictures?”

“Yep. Pretty lake. Pretty flowers.”

“Enjoy your walk,” he waved, and I waved back.

It took me a minute to remember to breathe. I’m not good at talking with strangers. I don’t know them. I don’t know how to behave around them. Everything becomes real-time processing. Almost ad-lib. An endless rush of “what are they saying, how do I interpret it, race through the book of appropriate responses to pick out the right one, you’re taking too long to answer, so this answer will have to do.”

I found the Rose of Sharon. I had to take a dozen pictures just to get my hands steady enough to take clear ones. I don’t care how fast the camera is, when your hands shake bad enough, you can’t hold the camera still long enough to take a picture. I heard that old saying, “It’s only digital bits.” Yeah, maybe. But it’s frustrating as hell when you snap the shutter a dozen times trying to take one picture of a flower that’s motionless. Hell, there wasn’t even any breeze to blow it around it. It was like taking a picture of a painting. Except I couldn’t.

I walked a bit more. I thought about taking a long walk. That’s how I escaped everything. Long walks. I knew I could walk a couple miles to the main road, and then walk back. That would kill off a couple of hours. But I wasn’t supposed to. I was supposed to relax. What ever the hell that meant. I kept seeing her, hands on hips, “I told you to relax, not walk until you can’t stand up.” Yeah. I knew that would go over well.

I watched the lake, looking for birds. Any birds. Of any kind. Ducks. Geese. Seagulls. Chickens. I didn’t care. Birds. “Take pictures of birds, because birds of around.” I wound up taking pictures of mailboxes. I kicked a rock down the road for a while. I watched the clouds. I took pictures of boats on the lake, and people skiing. I saw five boats in one hour.

I tried to take pictures of the moths and butterflies flitting around the wildflowers by the lake. I stayed away from her house for well over an hour. Then, I tried taking pictures of the wood grain in her deck. Anything to kill the time. And try to look like I was having fun.

I made sure I was the last person to eat when the burgers and dogs were served. And I didn’t feel like eating, so I didn’t eat much. One burger. One dog. Ketchup and mustard only. I tried a beer. Yep. Drinking beer still reminded me of drinking the water left in the kitchen sink after you wash the dishes. I managed to force it down anyway, without making too many of those, “And he doesn’t like that” faces.

She asked me to go out on the boat with everyone, and take pictures. I said I didn’t really want to. But she asked. And I wound up on that damn boat anyway. Taking pictures. At least I can block a lot of things out when I’m taking pictures. Trying to get the camera set up right. Trying to catch people on skis. Trying to get pictures she’d asked me to get. Although she hadn’t asked for any specific pictures.

About 04:00 that afternoon, everyone there was on their third or fourth beer. I figured it was time for me to try a second one.

I watched the games. Corn hole, or whatever it’s called. Volleyball. They even tried fishing from the deck. As the sun started to set, one of the guys hauled out a deck of cards, and a group started playing poker. Someone pulled out this card game, “Cards Against Humanity.” Lots of the girls played that, going, “I love this game!”

They looked like they were having fun, laughing, and talking with each other.

I watched. I paced. I felt lost. Completely lost. I knew I didn’t belong there. I knew I didn’t fit in. I didn’t have any stories to tell. I didn’t have anything to talk about. I didn’t play any of the video games, or watch any of the TV shows, or movies they talked about.

I wondered when it would end.

She asked me to please stay. “A little bit longer. Please.”

Sometimes I hate that word. Please. I’d told her once, “Do you have any idea how dangerous you are to me.”

“I’m not dangerous at all.”

And then she asked, “Please.” Damn. That was something I couldn’t ignore. If my brother had asked, or one of the guys, I’d have had no problem ignoring them. If Judy or Laurie had asked, I’d have been able to say no, and explain away some reason for me to leave.

She’d asked.

There was nothing I could do.

Except stay there.

As the sun set over the lake, the others started into the house. The deck got quiet. The deck got dark. It was the first calm I’d felt in hours. The first time I’d been able to breathe in hours. I stayed along the wall, in the dark. I closed my eyes, wondering why she’d asked me to stay. She had to know I felt out of place. I felt like I didn’t belong. Like everything would have been better if I hadn’t been there.

I reached the end of the wall, and turned. I stopped. She was standing there. Looking at me.

“I’m sorry.”

“No.” I shook my head. “No.”

“I wanted you to have fun.”

“I know.”

“And you didn’t.”

“I’m not good at these things.”

“I saw.”

She stood next to me, placed her hand over mine, and put her fingers between mine. She didn’t move, and didn’t let go. She waited until my fingers moved, and I held her hand. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t do anything but feel my hand holding hers. Our fingers interlaced. I forgot to breathe for a while.

She gently pulled me to the edge of the deck, where she sat down, and pulled me down. “I brought you here for this.” She still held my hand, and I couldn’t look away from her eyes. “I wanted you to get away from everything.” She leaned against me. “I wanted you to relax. To rest.” She let go of my hand, moving her arm around my waist.

My brain cells weren’t working. OK, maybe they were, but they weren’t working well. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t do anything.

“I watched you all day. You’ve been miserable.”

Somehow, I managed an answer, “I’m OK.”

Her smile told me she didn’t believe me. “I asked you here because I wanted you here.” Her fingers touched my cheek. All I could do was feel. “With me.”

She leaned forward, and her lips touched mine. “With me.” She kissed me again. Longer. Her lips lingered.

I put my arm around her shoulders, “It’s quiet here.”

We sat on the deck, beside the lake. And I stayed with her.

Because nothing else mattered.


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