Sunday, November 30, 2014

Laura James Week 127: Cloak and Dagger

Picture 1

Picture 2

Laura James’s Picture Choice: One

Title: Cloak and Dagger

Sitting over looking the Firth of Forth, Hamish pulled his duffle coat around him. He wasn't nocturnal by nature and waiting for his contact at 2am in the morning confirmed what he had always known. His body had been built for daylight hours; in the dark his vision was compromised, his hands (used to the delicate work of a haberdasher) felt trapped in bulky gloves, every sound like a gunshot in his ear.

It wasn't long before a lone figure appeared, trudging up the small hillock.

'Hamish, that you man?'

'Aye it is.' Hamish walked down to meet the man approaching. 'You got my merchandise?'

A small bag was thrust into Hamish's hands, 'Promise you won't tell a soul where you got this?'

Sighing Hamish said 'What's wi' you an' all the cloak and dagger stuff? You're not a spy on a mission, you're delivering next months order of buttons.'


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

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, November 29, 2014

Aleea Davidson Week 127: Wither Part 14

Picture 1

Picture 2

Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice: One

Title: Wither Part 14

Glen sat with his arms resting on the table, watching the man Mara claimed was her Uncle Mac hold a partially frozen bag of peas to his face. He suspected they’d be eating those same peas later at dinner, though the thought was a little nauseating considering the state of the man’s cheek. It was swelled to twice its normal size and beginning to sport multiple hues of black and blues that reminded Glen of abstract paintings. The kind where artists smeared an array of watercolours across a canvas in haphazard ways that when done right were oddly hypnotic and evocative. Done wrong, they looked like what was growing on the puffed up face in front of him.

Glen wasn’t much of a fan of abstract art, and so far, he wasn’t much of a fan of Mac. Something about the man...

Mac moved the bagged peas higher, whistling a whiny breath through his gritted teeth as he did so. The plastic had begun to sprout little beads of condensation, and Glen was pretty sure the moisture and the bumpy little vegetables inside couldn’t have felt all that great, despite their numbing temperature. As far as Glen was concerned though, he was lucky they had anything even partially frozen to offer with the power out. Luckier still, they hadn’t thrown him out on his ass.

The jury was still out on that one, however, at least as far as Glen was concerned.

He blinked tiredly and fought back a yawn, reminded of how he’d only gotten an hours sleep before he was rudely awoken. The darkened room didn’t help his level of alertness, either. At Mara’s insistence, Glen had replaced the board over the window in case one of the boys woke up and decided to get curious. According to his watch, it was half past noon, and though Mara had several of the oil lamps lit, the light they provided was dim in comparison to the former brilliance of what had looked to be a spectacular late fall day.

Christ, he missed daylight.

Feeling suddenly claustrophobic, he shifted in his seat and cleared his throat, breaking the silence that had fallen when Mara left the room to get the first aid kit.

“So,” Glen said, picking the thread of conversation back up where it had left off. “You came here from Stenton, Mac?” There was a skeptical tone in his voice he couldn’t quite repress. He wasn’t sure he bought Mac’s song and dance about his arrival, and it showed. “Long way to come on foot.”

“Well, I didn’t solely come on foot. I hitched a ride a few times with some of those so-called military folks. Most of them seem to be just prowling around these days. Probably not a lot of higher ups around to tell them what to do anymore. It wasn’t hard to barter a few canned goods for the privilege of parking my ass for a bit.”

Glen nodded, though he wasn’t necessarily buying the story. In his experience, what was left of the military wasn’t comprised of men and women who were prone to be overly friendly or helpful. He also doubted they’d be randomly driving around out there, not with gasoline being harder and harder to come by.

“The small base they had set up here cleared out a few weeks ago. No warning, no word. They all just packed up and left. Can’t quite figure out why or how.” Glen chose to leave his suspicions unvoiced, but it was clear Mac picked up on something by the way he blew out a breath and took a long minute to answer.

“The why’s probably easy enough to figure,” Mac said finally. “Nothing here to stick around for. No supplies coming in. As for the how...well...travels a bitch for the UV Intolerant, but not impossible.” The eye not covered by the packet of Green Giant peas narrowed slightly as he stared back at Glen, conveying his own suspicion. “They move at night, and they either find shelter in whatever city they move through or hunker down in their jeeps and trucks, keeping them covered with these huge black tarps. Most of their windows are painted out, except the windshield.”

Glen nodded again, tapping his fingers against the table, restless, still slightly claustrophobic. “You said you got an email from Mara’s dad?”

“That’s right. Joe, my brother,” he added with pointed emphasis. “He sent it right when things started to come about with all this sickness, back when you could still count on the internet. Told me the boys and their mother had it, but he and Mara were up to that point immune.” He scratched at his neck, grubby nails scraping over a little blood from his wound and a whole lot of dirt. Judging from the smell of him, Glen suspected it had been awhile since he’d been anywhere near a shower.

“Why would my father email you?” Mara stepped back into the kitchen. She dropped the medical kit on the table and frowned at Mac. “I mean no offence, Uncle Mac, but I know you and Dad weren’t exactly close. I haven’t seen you since I was a kid, younger than Jeremy and Teddy are now.”

Mac pulled the frozen peas away with a slight hiss and set them on the table with a soggy thud. Glen had to fight not to grimace at the mess Mara’s bat had made. Mac’s eye was starting to swell and would probably be sporting the shiner of all shiners by tomorrow.

“Guess when the world is falling apart and everyone is dying around you, you start seeing old grievances in a new light.” He tried to give her a smile, flinched, and settled for a head shake. “Look. I know my visit is a surprise, and I shouldn’t have broken in, but in my defense, no one is where they’re supposed to be anymore.”

He glanced at Glen then back at Mara. “I hit dozens of places on my way here, looking up friends, acquaintances, anyone I thought might still be around. Damn near every time I thought I’d found people I knew, I learned they were dead or moved on. Hell some of the houses and apartments where they’d lived were taken over by total strangers who didn’t react kindly to me poking around.” He pointed at his cheek. “This isn’t my first go around with getting my lights knocked out.” A half grin formed then quickly fell away to be replaced by another wince.

“So you broke in here why?” Glen asked.

Mac settled back in his chair. The light of the oil lamps picked up a few gray hairs at his temples, but otherwise it was clear to Glen he had to be a younger brother. The black sheep of the family, obviously.

“I got into town late last night. Saw you,” he answered, motioning to Glen, “outside cutting wood. Didn’t see anyone else. Suspected maybe my brother had taken Mara away. From what I’ve seen of this town, there isn’t many resources left here. It just made sense, especially since he’d said they were the only two who hadn’t gotten sick. I figured the boys and your mom were de...gone, Mara. Sorry.” He cleared his throat. “It seemed logical.”

Glen reached out and took Mara’s hand without thinking about it, simply wanting to offer comfort when he saw the flash of pain alter her expression at Mac’s words. “Why not move on then?” he asked, giving a slight tug to bring her closer to his side and looping one arm around her waist. She leaned against him, seemingly grateful for the contact, and Glen watched Mac’s one good eye narrow again, mentally digesting their new close-fit position.

Mac’s gaze settled on the arm Glen had around Mara, his lips pinching in under his scruffy beard. “Looked like you got a decent set up here. Supplies are hard to come by right now. In this day and age, you can’t blame a guy for looking to help himself, can you?” He switched from staring at Glen’s arm to his face. Before either Glen or Mara could react to the fact Mac had just declared himself a thief, he continued. “You should have better security going on. Just saying.” This time his lopsided smile had a decidedly cocky, gloating edge to it.

Glen heard the audible click of Mara’s jaw snap shut. For a long minute no one spoke. There was a challenge in Mac’s expression as he continued to stare directly Glen. It wasn’t easy to take. Glen could feel himself getting pissed off, even as he had to take the implied insult to heart. He had clearly failed to properly protect Mara and the boys, and that was a bitter pill to swallow. He wanted to flatten the gloating bastard as guilt left an ugly taste in his mouth. Only the fact Mac was a relative of Mara’s kept him in his seat.

“You know what, Uncle Mac?” Mara said, breaking the tense silence, an unusually syrupy inflection in her voice.

Mac turned his head to her. He seemed to puff up a little at the implied warmth of her tone. “What, darling.”

She smiled, leaned forward slightly, and said with quiet seriousness, all the saccharine sweetness vanishing. “I should’ve hit you harder.”

Glen couldn’t help himself. As Mac’s mouth fell open, he gave Mara’s waist a squeeze and grinned like an ass. His little nymph was a spitfire. A surge of heat hit him, and inappropriate as it was, the thought occurred to him that the moment he got rid of this uncle, he was taking Mara back to bed.

And even though he was tired, he didn’t plan on either of them sleeping.


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

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, November 28, 2014

Nick Johns Week 127: Paradise Lost

Picture 1

Picture 2

Nick Johns' Picture Choice: Two

Title: Paradise Lost

Looking back from the ridge at the newly old, freshly ruined remains of all that I thought I knew, I set my feet to the immortal road, hoping that some new day may reveal, from the fading echoes of my shifting memory, a trail that will reunite me once more with my stolen happiness.


She had appeared, unlooked for, during last night’s walk of the boundaries; fey, flashing eyes, tantalising with fiery dares and forbidden promises.

“Dance with me.”

She whirled away;

I chased her, sprinting across new sown fields by treacherous moonlight.

I caught her, by her design.

She laughed as we fell together, a tumbling, breathless embrace.

“Stay with me.” She whispered “What loss is one night from a life?”

Gripping my hand, she drew me toward her. I spiralled down, deep, drowning in the billowing scent of her.

I soared aloft on the wings of mystery and imagination.

My blood caught fire, kindled merely by the light of her presence.

But, at once, capricious as a cat, she tired of me, discarding me to wander, lost among the inexplicable wonders of her domain.

Heedless I dallied.

Timeless I tarried.

A hint of a memory stirred me from indolent ruin and I set my sails for the safe harbours of home.

Careering in and out of light, pursued by phantasms, blinded by colours undreamed of, I wandered. Exits rushed up and then playfully receded from my questing view. Disconsolate, bereft without her, finally I subdued the maze.

Cast out, stumbling, staggering; mole-like I was re-born into the dark of the moon.


Rumours of dawn harry away the lingering shadows of the night sky as I rise, exhausted, from frost kissed grass.

Gossamer images of her recede from me, dreamy recollections shredded by the chill morning breeze replaced, in timidly returning daylight, by the stark reality of a derelict home and weed-strewn, cropless fields.

With a heedless hand I unpocket a coin.

A glint of gold shimmers in my hand. I gaze on her face, impressed into the metal, and raise it to refix her in my mind once more.

Caught in the first, watery rays of the winter’s morning sun, it flares, burning bright and cold, leaving only thinning smoke tails drifting from my hand and ripples of regret chilling my heart.

I turn away.

I must seek out the path that will rid me of this blasted place, and there find grace to rebuild a life that can scourge my soul of the illicit wonders of this night.


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

Despite his Mother telling him not to, Nick continues to make things up.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Michela Walters Week 127: Owe Me One

Picture 1

Picture 2

Michela Walters’s Picture Choice:

Title: Owe Me One

It was the eleventh hour and Holly knew this was a long shot. She had one contact on the Men’s Water Polo team, but if he declined to talk the team into doing this photo shoot, she’d probably have to don a red bikini and hat herself, which wouldn’t have quite the same effect.

“You’ve got to be kidding me, Holly.” Zack didn’t try to mask the disdain from his voice.

She knew she was going to owe him, big time, and yet she wouldn’t mind too much. Getting fifteen hot, fit guys dressed in banana hammocks and Santa hats for the athletic department’s annual calendar would be her coup de gras.

Every October, the various athletic teams would come together to support the biggest fundraiser of the year. It helped give some added funds to the groups that weren’t the football team. No, the only sport that mattered here was football, so all the other little guys had to chip in and make a little calendar to pad the coffers.

“Aw, come on. It’s not like you don’t usually wear a speedo.” Holly urged him out of the bathroom in her little off campus apartment,

The door slammed open and Holly had to hold in the snicker at the sight of this strong, well built and insanely handsome man standing before her wearing hardly anything but a Santa hat and a frown. He looked adorable. And really, really hot. Holly had to shake away her thoughts of washboard abs and beg him to do this favor for her.

“I look ridiculous. How am I supposed to convince all the rest of the guys to wear this? Seriously?”

He stepped back into the bathroom and emerged moments later in his basketball shorts and t-shirt. “I know this is important to you, but do you really think I can get Mooch to put this on? The suit isn’t so bad, but the freaking hat? What next? Are you going to make us wear those elf shoes with jingles on the toes?”

At the thought of the six eight beast they called Mooch in elf shoes, Holly let the giggle she’d been holding in, loose. “Oh, my god--” she laughed, “--could you imagine--” Holly bent over at the knees to try and steady her breathing.

“Jeez if I’d known it was so easy to amuse you, I would have demanded we get the shoes,” Zack muttered under his breath.

Holly jerked upright, worried she’d just embarrassed herself with her childish antics.

At the sudden movement, Zack turned back around to face the woman he’d been thinking about ever since she approached him about being in the calendar. She was beautiful in an understated way, with long dark hair and sparkling blue eyes. He hadn’t really paid much attention to her aside from asking for her notes when he’d had the flu and missed their Political Science class they were both in. He knew she was shy and didn’t like the focus to be on her, which is why he was so stunned to find out she was in charge of the annual Christmas Calendar fundraiser.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to get so carried away,” she said, mistaking his frowned features as distaste in her awkward behavior.

“Don’t be. I like seeing you smile.”

The comment sent a flush across her prominent cheekbones, enamoring Zack even more.

“If I tell the team we’re doing this, do I get a favor in return?” The wheels were turning in his brain, as he was plotting his revenge.

Holly chuckled uncomfortably, knowing this was bound to happen. She didn’t exactly know what on earth he could want with her. She agreed with a quick, jerky nod. “Sure. It’s not like I’m in the position to say no am I? I’ve booked the photographer to come by after your practice on Friday.” She winced, waiting to hear him ask for cheat sheets, or note taking duties for a month, but never in a million years would she have imagined what actually came out of his mouth.

“Come to the Zeta Xi formal with me?” The words tumbled out of his mouth before he’d really had a chance to mull them over. He wasn’t sorry he asked,but was worried about her answer when her mouth gaped open and her eyes went wide.

“A formal? Me?” She looked around, as if he could possibly be talking to someone other than her.

His lopsided grin assured her he was in fact asking her. “We could have dinner maybe this weekend in case you wanted to get to know me before hand,” he hedged, not wanting to push his luck too much. “But yes, I’d love for you to come to the winter formal with me.”

Shaking off her shock, she simply nodded, not wanting to miss out on a chance to go out with the guy she’d been secretly crushing on since she’d gotten selected as the chairperson of the fundraising committee. She knew immediately who she’d turn to for the month of December, giving her a reason to talk to the outgoing captain of the team.

She walked him out to his car and discussed their upcoming date, still wondering how in the world she’d ended up in the win - win situation of a date and the photo shoot of the year.

“See you Saturday,” he called, waving his hand out the window as he drove away, trying to figure out a way to talk his burly three-meter man into wearing a jolly red hat.


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

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, November 26, 2014

Sarah Aisling Week 127: A Measure of Grace (Part 19): Yours

Picture 1

Picture 2

Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 19): Yours

We’re a somber group, sitting around the table in the kitchen. Dinner consists of chicken patties, boiled rice, and broccoli. It feels strange to eat a “meal” as opposed to something room-temperature, scraped out of a can.

I’ve seen the full setup of the power plant. There’s a walk-in filled with food, much of it from before the virus, and two stock rooms piled high with canned goods, bottled water, and first aid supplies. Max has been going on supply runs not because they were running low but to stash things away like a squirrel before a long, cold winter. I’m pretty sure there’s enough for us to live on for a few years.

I glance across the table at Ali. She’s still very pale, but what disturbs me is her demeanor. Instead of her usual boisterous, nosy self, she’s been subdued. I often catch her staring at me with this sorrowful look that she tries to mask. She isn’t very good at it.

Eric left yesterday because the alliance was expecting him. It’s clear he’s torn about communing with people who don’t share his moral standards, but after a long, sometimes heated discussion, we all agreed on the importance of keeping an inside man. I also warned that he should keep a close watch on my mother. Her track record with loyalty sucks.

Tek watches Ali, his forehead scrunched with concern. “You need to eat more.” He delivers the words in a gentle manner but seems frustrated.

“I’m trying.” Ali tries to smile, but her lips only curve halfway. Her gaze flicks to me and then away, avoiding Max.

“Well, try harder,” Max says with barely concealed annoyance.

Max’s mood is dark and ominous. His muscles are rigid with tension, and storms rage behind his eyes. He’s been agitated all day, spending most of the afternoon on his own. It’s not that he’s been unkind to me, but something seems to be gnawing away at him, curtailing our newfound openness and affection.

The bite of chicken I just swallowed sits like a lump in my gut. Ali looks at me, then away.

“What’s wrong?” I whisper. In the periphery, Max’s head snaps my way, and he goes still.

Ali shakes her head. “Nothing. Still feeling weak is all.”

“Then why do I get the impression you feel sorry for me?”

The legs of Max’s chair scrape across the floor. He mutters something about a perimeter check and stalks out of the room, calling for Grace.

I point at his retreating back. “What was that?”

Tek sighs.

Ali shrugs. “He’s just moody. It’ll pass.”

The next bite of rice is akin to a golf ball in my esophagus, but I blink back tears and force myself to finish the food on my plate. No matter how safe we feel in this power plant, something could go wrong at any moment. It would be foolish to miss out on a solid meal.

After dinner, Ali retreats to her room, leaving me with Tek. We end up playing chess in the lounge. Tek is a worthy opponent, keeping me on the run. In a sneaky move, he snares my bishop, leaving my king wide open.

Loud shrieking causes me to drop my rook, scattering several pieces across the board. We stare at each other for a second before leaping up. Once we reach the hallway, I realize the cries are coming from Andrea’s room.

I run ahead of Tek, reaching the door first. Andrea’s voice is hoarse, and her fists beat against the wood. I turn the knob, but it doesn’t budge.

Tek wears a grim expression as he catches up, pulling a key ring from his pocket. Locating the proper one, he inserts it into the lock.

“You locked her in?” I’m incredulous.

“It was Max’s suggestion, but Eric and I agreed.”

“But why?”

Tek’s fingers hesitate mid-turn. “Because we don’t know Andrea, and she didn’t know Eric was bringing her here. We can’t risk exposing ourselves, Marie. There’s nowhere else to go, and the alternative . . .”

I nod. “I get it.”

Tek opens the door, and Andrea curls into a shaking ball on the floor, peering up at us with fear. She raises her hands like a shield, exposing the bruises that mar her pale skin. “Please . . . no more.”

Tek sucks in a breath. “Jesus Christ.”

I’m guessing he hasn’t seen evidence of the alliance’s evildoings before.

I crouch beside her, holding a hand out. “Andrea, we’re friends of Eric’s. He got you out of the compound, and you’re safe. Nobody will hurt you here. I promise.”

“He did?” she whispers, looking around. “Where am I? Who are you?” Her voice breaks, a few tears spilling over.

“I’m Marie, and this is Tek. There are two others here—Max and Ali. The bastards at the alliance think you’re dead. Nobody will be searching for you.”

Andrea sniffles and nods, but then she freezes in place, a look of suspicion darkening her pale face. “Then why did you lock me up, j-just like them?” She looks at the fresh needle marks on her arm. “What d-did you do to me?”

“Calm down—”

Andrea launches herself at me, knocking us both to the floor. Even in her weakened state, she’s rather strong.

Tek leans down and hauls her off me, pinning her against him. “Easy there. We’re trying to help you.”

“Bullshit!” Andrea glares at me from Tek’s arms.

I roll up to my feet. “Let her go.”

Tek’s eyebrows rise. “You think that’s wise?”

“She’s been through enough. Let her go.”

Tek releases Andrea but blocks the exit, crossing his arms.

Andrea sneers at us. “What, are you playing good cop, bad cop? You think I’m going to fall for that shit?”

I meet her gaze openly. “Sit down and let’s talk.”

“Why should I—”

“Sit the fuck down!” I shout, my voice ringing in the small room.

Andrea stumbles back and sits hard on the bed, cringing in fear.

“Nobody wants to harm you. Hell, you’ve been unconscious for a day and a half. If we had wanted to hurt you, who would’ve stopped us? The needle marks on your arm are from a blood transfusion—the only reason you’re still breathing. Eric stuck his neck out big time to sneak you out of the compound and bring you here.”

Andrea stares at her hands and sniffles but doesn’t respond.

“The reason you’re locked up is because we’re taking a great risk having you here.”

“Then why do it?” she whispers, swiping at her nose.

“Because Eric is a friend and because we don’t believe in what the alliance is doing. It’s evil.” My mother’s elegant form comes to mind, and I clench my jaw.

Andrea lifts her chin defiantly, a dangerous glint in her eyes. “Am I free to go?”

“Absolutely, but I’m sure you can understand why we can’t give away our position.”

Andrea squints at the fluorescents along the ceiling. “You have power. How?”

Tek lays a hand on my shoulder and takes over. “Andrea, you’re welcome to live here, to be one of us. If you choose to stay, all your questions will be answered.”

“And if I want to leave?”

“You’ll be blindfolded and set free someplace away from here.”

“You don’t . . . want anything from me?”

“We have a lot more to offer you than you have to give us.” Tek is matter-of-fact.

Andrea looks at me. “What is it you offer?”

I smile. “Safety, food, friends . . . visits with Eric.” Her eyes widen when I mention Eric’s name. “Nobody draining your blood. That’s a plus, right?”

Andrea addresses Tek. “I want to talk to her alone.” She jabs a finger in my direction.

He shakes his head. “No way.”

I nod. “It’s okay. You can stay in the hall. There’s only one way out of here, right?”

“Max won’t like it.”

My lips tighten. “Well, Max isn’t here right now.”

Tek retreats to the hall, clearly unhappy.

I grab a chair off the stack against the wall, place it next to the bed, and sit down. “You have questions?”

Andrea looks me up and down carefully. “Is everything the two of you said true?” she asks in a low voice.


“Who else lives here?”

“Tek’s girlfriend Ali and her brother Max.”

“Where do you fit in?”

“Max found me in a nearby town, delirious with fever, and looked after me. We got to know each other, and he eventually invited me to live here.”

Andrea frowns. “Why did you have a fever?”

I look at the floor, wondering how much to tell this stranger. “I’m not immune. The rest of them are, but I’m not.”

“You’d be dead.”

“Eric brought me some vaccine, but I’m not immune.” Tears well up, threatening to spill over. “My twin sister . . . she didn’t make it.” I’m not willing to share who my mother is yet.

“Shit, I’m sorry. That’s rough.” Andrea eyes me with suspicion. “You’re the only one here who’s not immune?”

“Yeah. And Grace.”

“Thought you said there were only two others. Who’s Grace?”

“Our dog.”

“There’s a live dog here?” Her brows shoot up. “I haven’t seen any dogs since the virus hit. Those blood-sucking bastards don’t even have a dog! I’d like to meet her.” A genuine smile spreads across her gaunt face.

“She’s very special. Tell me something. Why do they keep taking blood from the immune until they . . .” I swallow hard, unable to finish the sentence. “Why not let the blood replenish before taking more?”

“They don’t have enough of us for that. From the chatter I’ve heard around the compound, the virus keeps mutating. The vaccine won’t work forever. Some of them are already building up a tolerance to it.” She shoots me a sympathetic look.

I lay my hand over hers. “I’m glad you’re here, Andrea. Do you think you’ll stay?”

“Yeah, I think so.” Andrea smiles and looks down shyly. “When will Eric be back?”

“He’ll come next time the alliance gives him leave. Eric really cares about you. He was so worried when he brought you here.”

“Why can't he live here?”

“He wants to—believe me. We need someone on the inside so we know what they're planning.”

Andrea tucks a dull lock of golden hair behind her ear. “Can you tell me where we are?”

I hesitate. If I tell her, Max will probably be angry with me, and what if she changes her mind? “As the newest member of the group, I don't feel it's my place. Let me talk with the others.” I stand, returning the chair to the stack, and hover by the door. “Can I get you anything? Tea or soup?”

Andrea's hollow smile says she's used to being in captivity, but a faint spark in her blue eyes speaks of a barely flickering hope. “Tea would be great. I might be able to hold down some broth, if you have any.”

I let myself out. Tek pushes off the wall where he's been leaning and locks the door behind me, tucking the keys back in his pocket. I'm not comfortable keeping Andrea prisoner, but I suppose Max is the one to take that up with. Tek is following orders.

Tek seems to intuit my mood. “I know you don't approve, but the world has changed. If she left and the alliance got their hands on her, she could give us away.”

“I know! It's just . . . she's been tortured enough.”

“And now she has a second chance.”

I pause in the kitchen doorway. “Where's Max?”

“Probably in the weight room. That's where he usually goes when he's agitated.”

“Where is it?”

“To the left of the control room and around the corner.” Tek rests a hand on my shoulder. “Max is a good man. He has his odd moments, but it's hard to come by that brand of loyalty.”

“I know, but thank you for saying so.”

After making a tray for Andrea and being escorted by Tek to deliver it, I go back to my room. I flick the light switch, and instead of the fluorescents along the ceiling, warm light emanates from a lamp on the dresser, bathing my room in a golden glow. Tears spring to my eyes. Max did this because he knows how much I hate those ugly lights.

I'm about to go in search of Max when I remember Eric slipped me a scrap of paper on his way out yesterday. He had leaned in and whispered, “Read this when you're alone.” I stuck it in my pocket and hid it under a pile of clothes at the first opportunity, intending to read it later on.

I open the drawer and dig around until I locate the note and smooth it on top of the dresser. Instead of a foreign hand, I'm greeted by my mother's elegant script.

We need to talk. Please meet me at the blue house tomorrow night. Alone.

A sick feeling coils in my belly. Why does she want to see me alone, and why did Eric agree to give me the note in secret? I imagine finding a way to sneak out of the compound and travel on foot to the blue house under the scant light of the moon. Last night, Max and I spent some alone time on the rocky ledge that overlooks the ocean, gazing at the stars and making out. It was romantic, and I felt it brought us closer—at least until he became agitated and cranky today.

It’s amazing how the same opaque moon and dark night sky can be both romantic and creepy. The thought of going to meet my mother on my own—and lying to my new family to do it—causes my stomach to roll unpleasantly. It could ruin the trust Max and I have built. Am I willing to chance it for the woman who abandoned me and let Katie die?

Stuffing the note in my pocket, I take the elevator by myself for the first time. I step off and walk past the control room, following Tek's directions. Rhythmic grunts from Max, followed by the clank of metal echo in the air.

There's only one doorway casting a pale wash of light into the dim hallway, and I approach with trepidation. Nervousness takes hold. Even though Max declared me as his girl, his moodiness today concerns me. I don’t know him well enough yet. He also has dark secrets that seem to haunt him.

I swallow around the lump in my throat and approach the beam of light, peering around the edge of the doorjamb.

Max is lying on his back, shirtless, lifting a barbell with several weights attached to each end. The metal clanks when he rests the heavy load in the rack above him. I’ve never been one for gyms, but I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to use a spotter.

Max lifts it again, the sculpted muscles of his arms and chest bunching and flexing. Sweat beads on his forehead and creates a sheen over his bare skin, highlighting his tatts. I don’t make a sound, but he senses me anyway, releasing the barbell and looking straight at me.

His sea-glass eyes hold deep shadows and tension tightens his jaw. He rolls to a seated position and watches me in silence. I can't outlast him in a staring contest and drop my gaze, watching a rivulet of sweat slide between his chiseled pecs and over his abs dampening the trail of downy hair that disappears into black sweatpants. The outline of his manhood stands out, and I stare a bit too long.

“Dirty girl.” I look up fast, my cheeks burning. A slow, lazy smile spreads across Max's face, and he pats the leather-covered bench between his legs. “Sit. I probably won't bite you.”

As I enter the room, I notice Grace curled in a ball in one corner. She's so deeply asleep, she doesn't even raise her head. I’m amazed she could sleep through the sounds of Max lifting weights.

I straddle the bench, facing Max, and place my hands on the red leather, still warm from his body. Max grabs a rag, mopping his face, neck, and chest with it before tossing it on the floor. I reach out to trace the tattoo over his heart. Half of the rose is in full bloom, the other half blackened and curled in on itself. Droplets of blood drip from each thorn. I want to ask what it means, but the words won’t come.

Max grips my wrist and presses my palm over his heart. “Come closer.”

In order to do as he asks, I scooch forward, lifting my legs to rest them over the tops of his thick-muscled thighs. Using his free arm, he reaches around and supports my back, bringing me in close. Our lips hover close, breaths mingling. When I look up at Max, his gaze is trained on my mouth. He closes the distance, kissing me. His lips are soft and warm and gentle on mine. One large hand splays against my lower back, the other still encasing my wrist.

The gentle kisses cause a thrill to flare in my chest. I feel his heart beating beneath my fingers and melt against him, my arm trapped between us.

Max breaks away from the kiss, his mouth drifting across my jaw to nip at the sensitive skin of my neck. “I'm such a jerk.” Hot breath tickles my ear.

I laugh, taken off guard. “What are you talking about?”

“I haven't been fair to you.” He cradles my head against his shoulder. I'm so close, I can smell the tantalizing scent of his skin and have to fight the urge to lick it. “I get wrapped up inside myself. Ali's used to it, but I'm just . . . I'm sorry, China.”

“What's bothering you?”

“Everything and nothing.” His voice drops to a hoarse whisper. “Mainly, I'm worried.”

“About what?”

“You.” Max draws in a deep breath. “I've only ever cared for Ali, but now . . . I want to protect you both. I'm afraid of letting one of you down. The need for vaccine complicates things a bit, too. Your mother is the dark horse in all this.”

My heart beats faster, and I think of the note in my pocket. “Thank you for caring so much. It means a lot.” I nestle my face into his neck and whisper, “You're important to me, Max. It hurts when you shut me out.”

“That's not the only apology I owe you.”

The breath freezes in my throat. “No?”

Max cups my face, and I look into his repentant eyes. “I wanted you so much, we never stopped to discuss birth control.”

Relief floods through me, and I laugh. “Is that all?”

“It's no joke. Pregnancy wouldn't be safe for you, and the vaccine might not be safe for a baby.”

“I have an IUD. It's probably good for another year or so.”

Max's eyes darken to a delicious shade of turquoise, and he brings our mouths together, kissing me hungrily. His hands skim down my back, seeking the hem of my shirt, lifting it over my head and tossing it to the floor. He urges me toward him, our chests pressing skin on skin, sending a hot shiver through me.

“No bra,” he murmurs against my lips. “Never wear a bra again.” Max moans softly, licking a trail of fire across my bottom lip.

I dig my fingers into the hair at the back of his neck and open to him, allowing his tongue to tease mine. We stay like this for a while, making out, naked from the waist up.

Max changes position, laying me back on the bench and shifting his body above mine. His gaze roams my face as he brushes a few strands of hair out of my eyes. “I—” He falters. “You're my girl. Do you . . . understand what I mean?” His words hold a yearning I've never heard before.

I look back at him, wondering if this is his way of trying to say he loves me. I'm afraid to hope, so I bite my lip and shake my head.

“I'll never be worthy of you, China, but I'm yours. I hope someday I can express it better than this . . .” He sighs harshly and rakes a hand through his hair.

I reach up to caress his strong jaw. “It's okay. I understand.” I take a deep breath, attempting to slow my racing heart. “And . . . I'm yours, Max.”


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

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, November 25, 2014

Kimberly Gould Week 127: Simplicity

Picture 1

Picture 2

Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Simplicity

Vincent walked through the downtown, trying to find a quiet corner to read his paper and drink his coffee. The cardboard cup was almost painfully warm despite the collar meant to protect him from the heat. He turned and came to a halt. Did they ever finish construction? The path ahead of him was completely blocked by a gully filled with piping, rebar and other debris. It looked like a grave, where the city came to die. He considered throwing his coffee and paper in, screw the city and all it held. Bury the lot. A car drove past, tugging at Vincent’s jacket and proving his point.

Closing his eyes, he tried to find calm. Instead he heard more traffic, but one sound was different. Not unfamiliar, just periodic. A bus had pulled to a stop at the corner. Vincent tried to remember where it went, how long he could play hookie before returning to work. In the end, he decided he didn’t care. He’d been a decent employee; he could claim something at lunch had sent him home sick and no one would blink. Turning he stepped onto the bus, tucking the paper under his arm to pull out his wallet and pay the fare.

Once he sat, he could see the marquee displaying the destination, pioneer park. Vincent smiled. That sounded just about right. Sitting outside the old mill, he transferred his coffee to an earthenware mug and read a paper not so different from one that might have been printed a hundred years ago.

Sometimes, he just needed to cut out the crap and return to something simpler. Not easier, just simpler.


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

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


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Miranda Kate Week 126: Passing the Crown

Picture 1

Picture 2

Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: One

Title: Passing the Crown

Sanjay walked out onto the terrace and left his bickering siblings at the dinner table. He looked out over the garden that was brightly lit with all the decorations for the planned coronation festivities the next day. They still loved his family, that was evident, and they still had hope.

Sanjay sighed. Could his younger brother honestly take this on? Would it be his defining moment? Or would he crumble under the responsibility and disappear into a bottle?

Sanjay walked to the small, ornate wall that was the perimeter of the terrace. He could still hear Nav’s fervent tones. Strangely Nav had stopped drinking before dinner, and seemed to be sober now, arguing his birth right, which the others didn’t want, but weren’t willing to bestow on him.

Dev, who would be next in line after Sanjay, was not convinced it was a good idea and that he would let the people down, and as a family they couldn’t risk that. But Janu didn’t see why not; he argued that each heir should be given a chance, if the previous one renounced their right. Their three sisters didn’t give much input, only butting in when the arguments became personal. Dhara, Priti and Bhavani had left the palace young, not wanting a part of the life they saw their mother live. They saw it as a servile life, living under the thumb of a man. Their father hadn’t been a merciful man, as a King, a husband or a father; it had affected them all.

Sanjay wandered down onto the grass moving away from the voices, admiring the handiwork of the local people; strings of lights round trees that were laden with hanging lanterns; a rainbow of colour in the night. He reached the edge of the lake and smiled at the floating light displays - the swans in particular were special.

He thought about the people and their enthusiasm at the prospect of a new ruler. They had hope after his father treating them all with such a fierce hand; more concerned with what he could get from them rather than what he could give. Their mother had been a gentle respite, but her short reign hadn’t really helped them. They needed someone new, someone motivated, someone refreshing. Maybe Nav could offer them that, and maybe they should all give him a chance. He had lived in the shadows of his elder brothers all his life, but yet never given up on his homeland. Behind their father’s back he had tried to offer the people some relief, however minor.

But how would the people take Sanjay and his brothers’ abdications? Probably better if they could at least offer someone to lead them and aid them, and they already knew Nav. Despite his many indiscretions with alcohol and women, he was liked and revered enough to succeed without fear of upset or revolt. They would give him a chance.

Sanjay was decided. It didn’t matter what Dev and Janu really thought; as the Crown Prince it was Sanjay’s decision. With all their support he thought Nav might be successful. He wanted to give him the opportunity. And who knew, maybe it would bring the family back together.

Sanjay returned to the palace with purpose in his stride. He had a speech to prepare.


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

You can read more of my writing on my blog - Finding Clarity - at or join me on Twitter @PurpleQueenNL


Saturday, November 22, 2014

J M Blackman Week 126: A Sweet Bite

Picture 1

Picture 2

J.M. Blackman’s Picture Choice: One

Title: A Sweet Bite

I tried my best not to think of him. I knew that there would be no way to restrain myself if we were to get involved.

I mean, haven’t you ever met such a person? Someone who had something about them that just made them irresistible, but in the most detrimental way? Someone that you just knew you would take apart, use, devour until there was nothing left.

It wasn’t as if we were a good match. We weren’t fated like that.

We barely had anything in common. And it wasn’t just hobbies we didn’t share. We were different types of creatures--in many, many ways.

But the way he held himself, the way he spoke, it all drew me in, and in that way that a flytrap drew in a fly. Except I was the one who was going to snap shut on him. I warned him of his and he waved it off. I explained in great detail the sweet demise he would meet. Yes, it would be warm and soft and like sinking into a dream, but it would be an end all the same. Life would be no more. But somehow he believe this to be acceptable, to be desirable, honorable in some way.

I could not understand it. I tried not to abide it. Hence, my avoiding him.

And his smell. It’s like apples. Sweet, gala apples. And he himself is like the rush of something so innocent as bobbing for apples: an innocuous thrill, holding your breath, submerging yourself knowing there is no danger, no real danger.

Not for me, anyway.

Maybe it is this kind of thought that led me right back to him. I even managed to convince myself that all I wanted was one, little bite. Just a sweet, quick bite. Nothing more.

But I knew that eventually I would look up and find that one bite had turned to another. That the quickness I had sworn to would linger instead, and slow. And that eventually, there would be nothing of him, but that honeyed memory of a sweet bite.


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

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.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pablo Michael Week 126: The Kessler Farm

Picture 1

Picture 2

Pablo Michael’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: The Kessler Farm

Arriving at the Kessler farm, I parked the car by the driveway outside the property. Lights shone within the house, but I needed time to gather my thoughts and stretch my legs after the long drive. I watched the man on the crescent moon reach for the glow of Venus, the brightest star, half the distance away to the horizon of the dark, early morning sky. I never had noticed Venus so far away from the moon as I did now. It was similar to the distance between Keith, my half-brother, and me. We had been bonded by our blood, Indian style, when we both slashed a cut in our first index fingers and pressed them together, pledging our vows, never to allow anyone or anything separate our souls, especially after we fell in love. We had ground dry, brittle apricot tree leaves to powder. Packing our magic tobacco into a corncob pipe, we sealed our brotherhood by inhaling the serum of our imaginary peace deep into our lungs, only to choke, and cough up white clouds of smoke.

The crow of a rooster jolted me from my walk through the memories of my childhood. The sun had risen, shedding the first rays of dawn on what remained of the harvested fields of the Kessler Farm. Kessler Farm, somehow that name didn’t sit well with me any longer. I walked through the garden, amongst a few pumpkins scattered through the fading greenery. I liked the green and hints of orange striped gourds left behind, probably for the absence of a more desirable vivid, bright orange coloring. I wanted to pick one and put it in my car, like Keith and I did, when we stole something from the garden before harvest.

But that wasn’t why I had returned to the farm.

A voice called from the distance. I turned around and looked back across the field. Denise, Keith’s sister, waved, motioning me to come back to the house. She kissed and hugged me. My hands held her head as she nestled it in against my chest.

“I didn’t expect you so early.” She took my hand and pulled me inside the house. “You can help with the food for the reception.”

“How many people are coming?” I didn’t expect anyone more than the immediate family, Kevin, Karl, and Denise, and me.

“Kevin and Karl, and their families of course. Richard is coming. He’s bringing a few friends of Keith’s.”

“How many?” I wasn’t expecting Richard, a mutual friend from our adolescence, and more people from our past.

“He didn’t say. Come in the kitchen and help me with the vegetable appetizers.” Keith was not the only family member born with a gene for creativity. Denise consistently, proved hers with her culinary skills and gardening. The vegetables had to have been grown at the farm. Denise ran the farm after The Kessler parents had passed on.

We prepared strips of potatoes, carrots, squash and other vegetables, wrapped in Phyllo, sprinkled with sesame seeds, to be cooked.

“I’m glad you came. Keith would’ve wanted you here.”

My heart raced with the mention of his name, remembering how we grew through puberty together through finding our sexuality in the barn as passionate lovers, late at night. A burning pain tied my stomach in knots, like the days during our first year of college when Keith joined the army. He had wanted me to enlist with him, but I knew there was no way I could shoot a gun, let alone kill another human being.

The army had split our lives, like when an apple is sliced in half with a knife. I will never find out if the military devoured his portion, preventing us from sharing each other’s fruit of passion. The torturous hours, days, and months, after Keith was deployed, burdened my heart with a heavy weight and chain, until the phone rang. I had not been the same since Denise unloaded the news, submerging my heavy soul into the dismal, subterranean depths of woeful misery. The army had spoiled my half of our apple. My heart was mush, but I could not cry. I had hoped it had all been a bad dream.


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

Pablo Michaels writes LGBT fiction and has published with Naughty Nights Press, You can follow him at @bell2mike


Monday, November 17, 2014

Lizzie Koch Week 126: Feline Fiend

Picture 1

Picture 2

Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Feline Fiend

Darkness began to fall as Lorcan and Albany made their way through the forest, trying to find the right path to the main road that lead to town. But every path seemed to lead them deeper and deeper into the forest where the undergrowth became too thick to pass and canopies hung like umbrellas, blocking the little light there was. Albany didn’t admit it but she was scared. She didn’t like the dark, or more accurately what her overactive imagination told her lurked in it. She could barely see the forest floor buried under russet leaves, rustling as they walked. She gripped Lorcan’s hand, praying for the forest to open up but with every step, she felt it close in on her even more as low hung branches tugged at her hair and brambles clawed at her ankles, not wanting to let go.

“Hey, there’s a light through there,” Lorcan said, pointing through a thicket. Squinting through moist eyes, Albany saw a golden glow that seemed to dance through the movement of the leaves, and managed to exhale a sigh of relief. Focusing on the light, they weren’t travelling as fast as they hoped, trudging through dense gorse, tripping over ancient roots sprawled across the floor.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the owners of this place don’t want to be found,” said Lorcan, pushing aside brambles, not caring that the barbs pierced his skin. A few more steps and suddenly, Lorcan and Albany found themselves in the open, staring at the small cottage.

“Oh my Gosh, it’s beautiful,” said Albany, rushing forward, “just like a fairy tale.”

“And do you know who lived in most houses like that?”

“You don’t believe in witches do you?” Albany teased.”

“I didn’t mean witches,” Lorcan. sulked. “I meant evil people. They’re always evil.”

Before Albany had a chance to knock on the heavy wooden door, it opened. A tall, young and beautiful woman stood before them, smiling away with crimson lips. Her long black shiny hair, almost down to her waist, matched the colour of her eyes; dark pools of black diamond.

“My goodness, please come in,” she purred. Albany set foot inside first, cautiously followed by Lorcan. She closed the door behind them. “Please, sit down. I will bring you refreshment. You must be cold and lost. I don’t get people knocking at my door.” She disappeared, only to reappear almost immediately with two mugs of steaming hot chocolate. “Don’t you like cats?” she asked Lorcan who remained standing as Albany sat with a cat jumping on her lap.

“Allergic,” he said and to prove a point started sneezing. As he did, the ginger cat swiped his paw at Albany causing her to drop the mug. He then darted under the table.

“Oh dear, you poor thing. Come, I’ll clean you up,” she insisted despite most of the drink landing on the carpet.”

Albany followed the woman to the kitchen, hearing Lorcan sneezing. “I never knew he was allergic to cats. How many do you have?” She’d noticed a white cat sitting on the dresser, two cats lying by the stove. Another sat on top of the cupboards.

“Quite a few. Like you they seem to get lost and I end up keeping them. Aren’t they adorable?”

“Yes. I love cats.” They walked back into the living room. “Where’s Lorcan?” Albany asked, looking around the room.

“He must’ve gone outside, what with all the sneezing. I’ll get you another drink to warm up. Take a seat, I won’t be long.” Albany glanced through the window only to be met by blackness. A cat weaved in and out of her legs. She looked down and saw a silky black cat. She petted it and he purred, still weaving in and out as Albany tried to sit down.

“Come on kitty, you’ll trip me up,” she said, picking up the cat. “You’re a handsome little moggy aren’t you?” The cat sneezed, jumping from Albany’s arms, running towards the door. Still sneezing the cat scratched at the door.

“Here you are,” the woman said, appearing with a mug of hot chocolate. “Drink up. I’ll get you something to eat.” Albany took the mug, still standing by the door. The black cat jumped up on the dresser, staring at Albany as she raised the mug. The black cat shook his head, keeping his almond eyes on Albany. A shiver travelled through her spine. He raised a paw, pointing towards the door.

“I wonder where Lorcan is,” Albany said, still staring at the cat. The cat nodded, a purr coming from him. “Lorcan?” The cat nodded again. Then sneezed. “Lorcan!”

The woman came back in, eyeing Albany. “You haven’t had your drink?”

“It’s too hot, I’m letting it cool.”

“Mmm, have a biscuit.” She walked over with a tray of iced biscuits. Albany reached out to take one and as she did, she hurled the mug of hot chocolate at her face. A shrill scream echoed throughout the entire house as Albany threw open the door and ran. She never looked back as she ran through the forest, Lorcan the black cat leading the way along open paths until they were on the main road. She picked him up, burying her face in his warm fur.

“I’ll find a way to turn you back,” she said as Lorcan sneezed. A chorus of meows responded. Albany looked down to a dozen cats. “I’ll find a way to turn you all back. I promise.”


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 for more. Thank you. Love Lizzie x


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Laura James Week 125: Behind Closed Doors

Picture 1

Picture 2

Laura James’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Behind Closed Doors

Ashley couldn’t remember ever being told the history of the house over the street but it had been empty for as long as she had lived. As a child she had been fascinated by the red shutters that enclosed the front, not a single door like the rest on the street. She had no memory of a warning but when playing the children never went near the empty house.

No one talked about it unlike the other abandoned house in the village that they lived. Each of them had stories attached, like number 45 - that was the house where a fire had gutted the inside preserving the exterior as an empty shell, or the house on the hill where the old lord of the village had killed his wife then hung himself from the rafters. These houses and others were always full of children searching for ghosts or just playing in the ruins.

The house across the street from Ashley was never talked about or even referenced. Any questions she had about it were deflected and left unanswered. It became her secret house, the place where she spent her sleeping hours dancing at balls, entertaining guests or sitting by roaring fires while those around her told tales of mystery.

As she got older the house became an obsession and she had to find out why it was abandoned. A close nit community, the villagers wouldn’t talk of it and she took to visiting the library to see if its history was recorded. No amount of searching of old files and planning requests revealed where the house came from.

Newspaper articles made no mention of it, estate agents had no record of ever selling the house, no bank held the deeds for the house, no will had bequeathed the house to a living soul. Rather that put her off it made Ashley more determined to find out the history of the house one way or another. She would travel to near by villages to see if anyone there would share insights but she was out of luck, the same wall of silence met her questions and searches.

She had no other choice but to enter the house, see if she could find out the secrets that kept a whole community in denial of its existence. With only curiosity in her heart she set off up the drive to the house, approaching the marvellous doors that had peaked her interest as a small child. As always they were closed and the once vivid red was faded and patchy.

Ashely ran her hands over the shutters, something she had imagined doing more than once but unlike in her imagination the act of touching the doors didn’t cause them to open. She would have to find another way to enter. Walking round the side of the building she discovered no other entrance way, the windows were to high in the walls to be forced open and no back door was evident.

Making her way back to the front she wondered if she could force the lock and see if that would allow her to push her way in. The lock didn’t look very sturdy but held the shutters in place, no amount of kicking, pushing or pounding made any difference. Sliding to the ground Ashley lent back eyes closed. It was becoming clear that she would never gain entry, the secrets of the house would remain hidden forever.

With her eyes closed she didn’t see a shutter move. Didn’t see the way it opened. Didn’t see the hands that reached out. Ashley screamed as the house welcomed her and revealed the secret of why no one dared ask question of the house with red shutters.


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

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, November 15, 2014

Aleea Davidson Week 125: Wither Part 13

Picture 1

Picture 2

Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice: One

Title: Wither Part 13

The second Mara opened her eyes, she knew something was wrong. The fog of sleep normally present when she woke up was oddly absent. She’d been dreaming about the library she used to visit as a young girl with her mother. The stacks of book had seemed so high to her back then. She used to daydream about climbing them. Mountains of words to be conquered like Everest.

Her limbs tingled with a rush of confused awareness, and she sat up, trying to use sight to discern what had her suddenly alert and failing. The bedroom was pitch-black, something she never seemed to get used to despite living nearly a year with boarded up windows. She fumbled for the lamp on her bedside table, her fingers uselessly flipping a switch that drew no power.

The electricity had shut off a week ago, intermittent outages giving way to seven straight days without so much as a flicker. Reaching for the lamp was more muscle memory than actual hope the power was back on. Mara muttered a curse under her breath, changing the course of her fumbling fingers in search of the long-handed lighter so she could light a candle. She found it just as a hand splayed across her lower back, and barely muffled a loud squeak of shock as her mind caught up with reality. Glen’s presence was new enough she’d nearly forgotten he was sleeping in her bed.

Sleeping being the operative word. He was insistent they take things slow, despite her inadequate attempts to convince him otherwise. If she wasn’t on high alert, still trying to figure out what had woke her, she might blush at how inept she’d been so far with seduction. There’d been sweet, hot kisses and touching—lots and lots of teasing, frustrating touching—but no sex. In his mind, he seemed to think they had all the time in the world...which was ridiculous. Considering everything he’d lost, he should be the last person to believe time was on their side.

“Don’t light the candle,” Glen said, interrupting her thoughts, reminding her there was far more important things happening that didn’t relate to her frustrated libido. His voice was pitched low, the caution in his tone sending a shiver down her back. Whatever had her awake had obviously woken him, too. Her thumb slid off the button that would’ve ignited the lighter’s tiny flame, and she half turned toward him.


Glen made the universal sound for shut-up directly in her ear, and slid out of the bed on his side. The sound of denim sliding up his legs reminded her that the infuriating man chose to torture her by wearing nothing but boxer shorts to bed, despite the cold that permeated the room. November had settled in with a chilly bite, winter right around the corner. Only fear of running out of firewood before spring kept Mara from keeping flames blazing in the fireplaces while they slept. She lamented that even more right then, since it would’ve been nice to have the flickering light.

Something in another room banged, and she jolted to her feet, grateful she’d lost her nerve last night and put the slinky nightie she’d considered wearing back in the drawer. Her baggy sweatpants and thick, long-sleeved t-shirt hadn’t helped any in her effort to convince Glen to put aside his annoying morals, but at least she didn’t need to stumble around trying to find clothes in the dark.

Plus, if she was about to be murdered by intruders, better she wasn’t wearing something that might give them other...ideas.

Her heart plummeted into her stomach as another thump came on the heels of a scuffling noise, like something heavy was being dragged over the floor.

Logic told her it could be Jeremy or Teddy. Though they both generally slept like logs through the brightest of the daylight hours, it was possible either of them could be up.

Something else told her it wasn’t likely, and that something else had her reaching for the baseball bat she kept beside the bed. Its solid weight in her hands offered a little comfort, and she worked to even out her breathing as she heard Glen come around the bed, feeling him rather than seeing him when he stopped at her side.

He pressed something into her side. “Take this.” He spoke even quieter than before, telling her he was thinking the same thing about it not being the boys out there. She took what he offered, the fingers of the hand that didn’t have a death grip on the bat sliding over the shape, trying to figure out what it was.

A switch knife, still encased in its holder. One-handed she flipped it open, her thumb testing the length and sharpness of the blade even as her stomach gave a sickening twist at the idea of using it on anyone.

The feeling lasted only a second. If it came down to it, she’d do whatever was necessary to protect her boys. When Glen gave her waist a brief squeeze, she knew without a shadow of a doubt that went for him, too. He leaned close, his breath in her face a little sour yet warm and reassuring. She wasn’t alone.

“Stay behind me, Mara. Right behind me, got it?”

Mara nodded, then remembered he probably couldn’t see her any better than she could see him, and breathed a quiet yes.

She snapped the switchblade shut and jammed it into her pocket, deciding it wasn’t much use unless fighting got up close and personal. Until she knew what she was dealing with, the bat seemed the best bet...

Glen moved, and she did her best in the dark to fall in behind him as he cracked the door slowly open.

. . . . . .

The glow of a flashlight created an arc of light that swept past the doorway leading into the living room. The air was chilly in Glen’s nostrils as he forced himself to take slow silent breaths. Each inhale brought the smell and taste of cold ash from the fireplace.

His grip on the gun he held was too tight, and he purposely relaxed it. He didn’t need to accidentally shoot Jeremy or Teddy, though he damn well knew it wasn’t them creeping around. The flashlight created a new arc, this time leading into the kitchen. Something made an odd thud, like someone bumped into a piece of furniture maybe?

Mara nearly collided with his back when he stopped, his head swivelling to take in the dark hallway. He could just make out the door to the boys bedroom, hopeful the fact it was closed tight meant they were both fine. He shifted and reached behind him, holding Mara where she was, listening for any more sounds so hard he thought his ears might pop from the effort.

Another scuff, like booted feet trying to move stealthily across hardwood floors. Heart in his throat, something akin to the feeling of anger starting to curl his guts, Glen turned toward the kitchen and moved fast, hoping surprise would be on his side.

He nearly slammed into a chair that had been moved when he rounded the corner, gun at the ready. The intruder, someone he could now see was definitely not Jeremy or Teddy, spun at the noise Glen inadvertently made.

“Stop right there and don’t move,” Glen barked, raising the gun. He felt his entire body settle, all his jitters vanishing, the adrenaline in his system slowing to a crawl. In that moment there was no question what he’d do to keep his family safe, and in that moment it was likewise clear that’s exactly what Mara and Jeremy and Teddy were to him. Family. A second chance. One he’d hold onto with every fiber of his being no matter the atrocities he might have to commit to do so.

The flashlight in the man’s hand hit the floor, and his hands came up fast, like he understood exactly what was in Glen’s mind.

“Don’t shoot. For God’s sake, don’t...”

Mara stepped out from behind Glen, swung the bat, and levelled the man where he stood. He hit the floor with a dull thump and a deep groan before going still.

The flashlight rolled across the floor, creating weird shadows as the spinning light refracted off all the shiny appliance surfaces. It came to a stop when it encountered one of the legs from the chair Glen nearly tripped over, it’s beam pointed at Mara.

She looked at the shadowed hump of a man she’d just whacked over the head, then over at Glen. A sheepish shrug and a slight grin answered the quirked eyebrow he raised at her in incredulous question.

Mara turned to retrieve the flashlight, and as she passed he grabbed the bat from her hand, unsure what she might do if he left it in her clearly capable hands. He knelt by the intruder as she spotlighted him in the bright white beam from the safety of the far end of the kitchen, confirming with certainty what Glen had noticed just before she’d knocked the guy flat. He wasn’t armed. No gun, no knife, not even a bat of his own. Just the flashlight with batteries that seemed low on juice.

Glen looked the man over. He wouldn’t be surprised if his jaw or cheekbone had gotten cracked. There was a nasty split in his cheek, blood trickling from the rapidly swelling flesh in a thin current, making a gory little pool as it collected in his ear. His eyes were rolled in the back of his head, but he groaned again, letting them know he wasn’t completely unconscious.

Mara started to squat beside Glen, but he stopped her. “Check on the boys,” he said, and she was off like a shot as he’d known she would be. “Keep them in their room. If they’re awake, don’t let them out here” he added, quickly rising and going to the window. He felt around the thick board until he found a groove he could get his fingers into, then jerked, putting his back into it. The wood came free, taking skin from Glen’s fingers with it. He recognized it shouldn’t have let go so easily. Apparently it was true what they said about a person becoming stronger than normal in times of peril. Either that or the damn board wasn’t as secure as it should have been. Regardless, Glen got what he was after as brilliant UV light flooded the room.

He looked back at the man still slumped on the floor, his eyelids fluttering like he was trying to get them all the way open and finding the muscle function needed wasn’t inclined to be cooperative.

Mara came back into the room. She looked pale but her lips were set in a steady straight line. “The boys are fine. Still asleep, thank goodness...” Her eyes widened when she noticed the window and all the light.

“Glen! He could be UV Intolerant. You’ll kill him!”

Glen almost laughed. That she’d be worried about sunlight getting to someone she’d brained with a baseball bat only a few minutes ago was funny, but he also knew he was in the middle of dumping a serious amount of built up adrenaline. His mental state probably wasn’t too stable. He cleared his throat instead, using the sight of her, unharmed and beautiful despite the pinched mouth and white complexion, to ground him and steady his nerves.

“If he’s skulking around breaking into houses in the middle of the day, I doubt he’s Intolerant, nymph.”

She blinked at him, then nodded before moving closer to the guy to perform her own inspection. The second she got close, a frown began to pucker her forehead. She stopped in her tracks, and her hands flew up to her mouth as the man turned his head, slowly coming back to the land of the conscious.

“Oh, my God,” she said. “I know him, Glen. I know him. He’s my uncle!”


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

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, November 14, 2014

Nick John Week 125: The Call of the Wildwood

Picture 1

Picture 2

Nick John’s Picture Choice:

Title: The Call of the Wildwood

The trees hate me.

I have been their implacable enemy, but the depth of their malevolence, honed over centuries of slow growth, cuts more keenly now I am alone. I drove him to keep us safe from them. For years we controlled them, he and I. In the springtime of our love, we would venture out. He, armed with the tools of their subjugation, the well honed axe, sharp toothed saw and, the thing they feared most – fire; and together, we beat the trees back.

They were kept at a respectful distance. No shoot or sapling was tolerated. For years we maintained our ascendency. Tireless seasonal toil kept them at bay.

In the summer of our love we erected fences, evidence of the range of our proud enclave. The children were even allowed to venture to the margins of the trees. I cautioned them about the dangers that could lie concealed deep within their fey shadows, and sternly enjoined them not to wander too deep, but my concerns proved unfounded. The trees held no power over Jack and John. As soon as they were old enough our offspring sought out the city and soon settled, never returning to help their father maintain our refuge. He never recovered from their desertion, and the first sad small signs of autumn showed in his now wrinkled face.

I suppose I always feared that the trees held an allure for him. He walked among them for days. And nights; and, as our bond slowly withered, the trees began their slow, imperceptible, re-conquest of our refuge.

I feared that he would abandon me for them, that he would linger, trapped, wrapped in some timeless, nameless arboreal glamour. I watched, anxiously fearing that they would ensnare him. But he always returned to me, emerging from their tangling, snagging grasp, stamping his boots to rid them of the trees’ cloying, mulchy earth; flapping his coat to dislodge wicked, clinging leaves and seeds.

But trees possess the power of ages and, in the hard crack winter of our love they bested me.

On a stark moonlit night when winter held a frosty knife to the throat of all creation, he finally heard their summons. He scrambled, heedless of scratching, snagging branches, climbing higher and higher, gave himself up to the siren call. Through my rimed, darkened windows I saw him crawl out onto a limb and watched, helpless as he surrendered to them. His last mad tarantella was danced, not in my sheltering arms, but in the gnarled embrace of the blasted Oak, stage lit by the sere, watery moon.

So I faced the hatred of the trees alone.

Next spring I watched as sly seeds sprouted and, with each verdant awakening, blossomed into saplings replete with green loathing, the approaching vanguard of the trees’ inevitable triumph.

In summer’s arrogant fullness they blocked out the sun, creating dark pools of serotinal spite where their seedling plots could mature.

In equinoctial gales they cast down boughs to beat down our once proud perimeter fences. Autumnal malice dripped from every branch. Brown, treacherous leaves swirled toward the house carpeting the ground; swathes of slimy, rotting matter, their perfume of putrefaction reminding me of the approaching season of my loss.

Bending ever closer in their stark, spare nakedness, the barren trees commune openly now, safe in the knowledge that I no longer have the power or the will to control them. At night, I hear them plotting my destruction, their branches whispering, clashing together, beating a wild woody tattoo, preparing to engulf me. Their whistling voices, borne on the heedless wind, the harbinger of winter’s desolation, call to me. And, now, by the first pallid light of the solstice sun that no longer provides life giving warmth, the old Oak mocks me with the noose, calling me to abandon my now dilapidated fortress; to let all that we built return to wilderness, and to unite with my love once more, under the dominion of the trees.


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

Despite his Mother telling him not to, Nick continues to make things up.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Michela Walters Week 125: Consequences of Curiosity

Picture 1

Picture 2

Michela Walters’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Consequences of Curiosity

“Come on, Adam. Be a little adventurous for once in your life!” Ashley tore ahead down the path through the forest leaving her longtime boyfriend in her wake.

Adam felt no rush, he knew Ashley’s games by now, and he’d eventually catch up and they’d roll around in a sunny pocket of meadow. Her comment of him not having an adventurous bone in his body was a bit of an over exaggeration on her part, but he loved her effervescence and lust for life. Not to mention her lust for him.

“Catch me if you can…” Ashley’s sing songy voice rang out through the dense patch of trees luring Adam to quicken his pace.

The sun was flickering through the pines, sending waves of light onto the needle covered floor. “Ash- jeez, if you go any further its going to take us hours to find our way back to the car,” He shouted after her, trying to not burst her bubble, but he knew the pattern. They’d frolic and play, making love into the afternoon. She never thought about logistics or the fact they might just get a little lost and take until after dark to find the old logging road they’d snuck down when they’d spotted it off the interstate.

When Adam finally caught up to her, she was standing outside of what looked like an abandoned shed. “Still remember how to pick a lock?” she asked, a Cheshire-like grin blooming across her face.

“Come on, really?” Adam couldn’t contain the contempt from his voice. He had no interest in breaking into the ramshackle structure. It appeared as if just by leaning against it it might collapse. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing at attention, giving him pause. “Why don’t we go expend some of our energy in a much more productive way?” He nuzzled her neck, trying to convince her to focus on him instead of breaking and entering.

She shrugged him off and pulled the barrette from her hair. Blowing a strand of hair out of her eye, she huffed, “Fine, I’ll do it myself,” and stuffed the sharp end into the ancient lock.

Adam stood back, waiting for her to grow tired of such a useless activity and one she had no actual knowledge of. “I’ll just be over--” before he could get the full sentence out, the door creaked open.

“Ha!” she exclaimed and charged inside, not waiting for Adam to call out a warning that it might not be safe.

“Heaven forbid she thinks before she acts,” he grumbled, rushing inside in an attempt at keeping his foolhardy girlfriend from doing anything stupid, or dangerous.

The shed appeared to be used to house hunting equipment, as the walls were littered with bows, arrows, Bowie knives and the tell tale blood spatter from gutting whatever animal must have been found in the woods.

“Wow, this is crazy.” Ashley started dragging her fingertip along the the tip of an arrow sticking out of a large quiver. “This is some hard core shit. What do you think this guy hunts? Bears?” She was so engrossed in examining the weapons she didn’t notice Adam backing out towards the door, tugging on Ashley’s arm in an attempt to leave its contents well enough alone.

The squeak of the door startled them both. Spinning around, Adam was faced with a scruffy man clad in camouflage and wielding a machete. A gasp was the only sound Adam had time to make before the man sliced easily across Adam’s midsection, made him drop like a stone and leaving Ashley to gape in horror.

Surrounded by numerous ways to protect herself, Ashley was frozen in terror as the man stalked towards her, kicking the shed door closed as he walked. She stood stock still, her body refusing to use its fight or flight instinct. Instead she muttered incoherently glancing between the bearded man dripping in Adam’s blood and back down to her lover that only moments before had been alive and well. She didn’t have time to contemplate much as the man didn’t wait for her to awaken from her standing stupor. The last thing Ashley heard was the man mumble, “When are people gonna finally learn that curiosity kills?” as he drove the blade into her heart.


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

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, November 12, 2014

Sarah Aisling Week 124: A Measure of Grace (Part 18): Lifeblood

Picture 1

Picture 2

Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 18): Lifeblood

Max instructs my mother to remain where she is and turns away with me, still held against his hard body. He doesn’t wait for her response, and he sure as hell isn’t concerned about mine as he carries me up the stairs with no apparent effort.

I’m too stunned to struggle, too emotionally weak to fight. I’ve just seen my mom for the first time in months, and she admitted to letting Katie perish. Her own flesh and blood. I can’t excuse her for not trying to save Dad, but I understand it. There are no words she can utter that will ever explain condemning her own child to death.

Max lays me on the bed. He’s speaking to me, but his words sound muffled and distant. Trying to translate what he’s saying makes my head pound, so I close my eyes and drift.


My cheeks sting.

“Baby, can you hear me?” There’s desperation in Max’s voice.

I giggle. “Big, tough Max called me baby.”

“Open your eyes for me.”

When I do, Max’s concerned face is hovering right above mine. His breaths are harsh, those sea-glass eyes so intent on me. A warm, prickly tingle radiates from my cheeks.

“Did you slap me?”


No apology. No regret.


“You're going into shock.” He peels back one of my eyelids. “Stay with me.”

“Where am I gonna go?” My words slur, and I feel floaty. Reaching up, I run my fingers through Max's scruff. “Sexy.”

Max doesn't look amused. Why is he so serious? From a distance, I hear Grace bark and the scrape of chair legs against the kitchen floor. Someone else is here? The effort to think of where I am and who may be here makes my head pound.

Oh, right . . . my uncaring mother who joined the enemy and still gets to wear makeup and designer threads while I have to fight off a virus I was never really immune to. I laugh. This has to be a dream because life just doesn't suck that bad.

I drift off, landing at the bottom of a cavernous space with craggy, purple-hued walls. A bright light shines from above, and I hear Max’s voice echo around me. I can’t make out the words or manage to answer him though I try with all my might. After a while, my surroundings simply fade to black.

I wake up to voices just beyond the bedroom door.

“ . . . want me to do, Max?” Eric.

“I don't give a fuck how, but that vaccine better be delivered by morning.”

“I'll make it happen, my brother.”

“Thank you.” Footsteps scuff along the hallway. “Hey, Eric,” Max calls.


“I'm sorry if I got a little crazy. I have to save her. You understand.”

“I do. Maybe we can set up that transfer when I get the vaccine?”

“Absolutely. Take care, man. Be careful. If the bitch would sacrifice her own kid, who knows how she might betray you?”

“On it.”

Eric's heavy footfalls fade. I know Max is nearby, but I'm afraid to open my eyes. What transfer?

The mattress dips down, and Max's scent wafts over me as he brushes my hair back and places a chaste kiss on my forehead. “I'm going to take care of you, China. I promise.”

I want to open my eyes now and tell Max I'm all right, that I have faith in him, but my lids feel heavy and my lips glued shut. Darkness tugs at me. I let go, unable to hold on to the soft cadence of Max's voice or the pleasantness of his touch. I float away on undulating waves of sleepiness until I give up the fight and slip under.


Before I have visual confirmation, I know we're no longer in the blue house. The semi-pressurized, canned air of the power plant hovers around me. How did Max manage to get me all the way here?

I listen. There are no sounds other than the hiss of air through the vents.

“Good morning, Marie.” Ali's lilting voice comes from across the room somewhere, startling me.

My heart immediately takes off galloping. My eyes fly open, squinting against the fluorescent lights. I sit up fast, bringing on a wave of dizziness, and press a hand to my forehead. “Where's Max?”

“Getting the vaccine.” Her sympathetic expression tells me she knows everything. She’s curled into a ball on the chair in the corner with her dark head resting on her knees. “I’m sorry about your mom. I know what it’s like to have a shitty parent.”

I ignore the part about parents and focus on Max, gripping the blanket tightly in my fists. “Did he go alone?”

“He took Grace with him.”

“How long?”

Ali uncurls from the chair and stretches, slinking across the room with decidedly feline movements. She alights on the end of the bed and places a hand on my shin. “Max and Grace can take care of themselves. He doesn’t want you to worry.”

For some reason, this piques my ire. “Max doesn’t get to decide how I feel. I am worried.”


“Because my mother is involved. She let her own child perish from the virus—you think she wouldn’t pull something?”

Ali smiles, but it’s anything but pleasant. “Wise people don’t cross my brother. You’re part of the family now—he’ll do anything to protect you.”

Rather than comfort me, her words send a chill skittering along my spine. I’d like nothing more than to wrap my arms around Grace’s warmth in this moment and be on the receiving end of a full face-lick. “What’s he done, Ali?” I whisper, both needing and dreading the knowledge.

The question is a tad ambiguous, but she doesn’t pretend to miss my meaning. She lifts her head, meeting my gaze directly. “That’s a question for Connor. I will only say it’s not easy to get into my brother’s heart, but you’ve bypassed his defenses. He doesn’t do halfway.” Ali sighs softly, exuding an age-old sorrow. “I don’t take this lightly. I fear what he might have to do.”

I hug myself, feeling more alone than I have since burying my sister and leaving home. Thoughts flit through my mind of forcing Ali to tell me what Max has done or setting out in search of him and Grace. The latter option would piss Max off and might even endanger him or Grace.

Ali draws in a whistling gasp, pressing a hand over her chest. The bluish tinge to her skin is a clear indicator of an asthma attack. I’ve been through enough of them with Mamie to know Ali needs to remain as calm as possible. For a fleeting moment, I feel guilty that I haven’t had the opportunity to brew her the herbal tea yet but quickly push the thought aside.

“Where’s your inhaler?” I ask with a calm I don’t feel. If something happens to her, it will kill Max.

Ali sits straight and starts pursed lip breathing. After a few moments she whispers, “Dresser. My room.”

“Where’s Tek?”

Ali pulls a walkie-talkie from her belt and hands it to me.

I press the button and whisper, “Tek?”

His panicked voice comes back a few seconds later. “What is it?”

“Ali’s having an attack. I’m going to get her inhaler. She’s in my room.”

“Be right there!”

I rush into the hall and forget which way to go. Calm down. Ali’s room is around the corner from yours. I correct my direction and enter her bedroom, going straight for the dresser. The drawer sticks, and I yank hard, wrenching it open.

Some sketches flutter to the floor. I can’t help but glance at them as I dig around in the drawer. One is of a much younger Ali; another depicts a tough-looking Hispanic man.

My fingers close around the inhaler. Grasping it, I shove the drawings back in the drawer and close it, then take off at a run. I trip on the edge of the doorjamb and fall to my knees but manage to push myself up and get back to my room.

Ali’s wheezing is louder, and she’s crumpled on the floor by the foot of the bed. I hold the inhaler to her lips because her hands are shaking too hard. We’re about to do a second hit when Tek skids around the corner of my doorway and falls to his knees.

“Ali . . .” He takes over administering her medication as I move aside to let him in. “I knew this was going to happen, you stubborn little imp.”

Ali’s too busy catching her breath to respond.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“She can tell an attack is imminent. Lately, they’ve been coming more often, and I wonder if it’s something in the power plant. She refused to stay in bed and rest when Max went out this morning.”

“Oh my God—is this my fault?”

“No, Marie! Nobody can tell her what to do. She has a mind of her own, just like her brother.”

Despite Tek’s reassurance, guilt whirls inside me. I have the need to do something helpful and push myself up from the floor. “I’m going to brew some of the herbal tea for her. Will you guys be okay here?”

“Yeah, go ahead.”

I soothe my frayed nerves, preparing the butterbur and brewing it into a tea. Adding a touch of honey, I pour the steeped concoction into a Styrofoam cup and carry it to Ali’s room.

She sits at the head of the bed, leaning against the wall. Tek strokes her pale skin, never taking his tender gaze off her.

I perch on the opposite side of the mattress and hand Ali the cup. “Sip this slowly. Try to breathe in the steam—that’ll help, too.”

“Thank you . . . Marie.” Ali manages a small smile though she’s clearly exhausted from the asthma attack.

Between Tek and me, we manage to talk her into getting some sleep. He sets up a baby monitor, keeping one receiver and giving the other to me. I tilt my head in a questioning manner as we leave, closing the door behind us.

Tek smirks. “This is what we do when she’s bad. Usually, I keep one and Max gets the other. She refuses what she deems ‛babysitting duty.’”

I laugh. “And she allows this?”

“Oh, she doesn’t like it, but you’ve seen Max when he gets riled.”

Understanding dawns and I nod. “I have.”

“Scary bastard,” Tek mutters with a shake of his head. “If you don’t need me for anything, I’m heading back to the control room.”

“I’m good.”

He saunters away but turns back before he reaches the end of the hall. “Thank you for making the tea. I . . . love her.” He shrugs his shoulders once, and then he’s gone.

I go back to the kitchen and prepare more of the butterbur mixture. There are some teabags in the cabinet. I have an idea, and I carefully empty the tea leaves into a canister to store them. Then I fill the empty tea bags with the butterbur blend. Now it will be easy for Ali or Tek to steep a cup of tea even when I’m not here.

Exhaustion tugs at my limbs, and I decide to take a nap. Sleep is probably the only thing that will keep me from going out to look for Max or pulling my hair out until he returns. It takes almost an hour, but I finally slip into a dreamlike state with the baby monitor on the pillow next to my ear.

A commotion in the hall jolts me awake.

Male voices. The pounding of booted feet. Doggie nails scratching at my door.

I jump up and make a beeline for the hall, ignoring the lightheadedness. I turn the knob, and my door flies open, a furry bullet slamming into me.

“Grace!” I kneel with my arms around her warm neck and let her lick my face to her heart’s content, giggling all the while. “Who’s a good girl? Where’s Max?”

I glance up, and the doorway is empty. Disappointment diminishes some of my elation.

“ . . . her down here.” Max's voice comes from a distance.

“Sounds good.” Eric's answering semi-breathless baritone follows.

I peek into the hall in time to see Eric turn the corner with a body draped over his brawny shoulder. I follow, not bothering to put shoes on. Grace moves with me, her head even with my thigh.

They pass our living quarters, the kitchen, and storage rooms beyond before Max inserts a key into a lock. “In here.”

Eric grunts. “Shit, man. Good thing she isn’t heavy.”

My heart beats fast. Who is Eric carrying? Did they bring my mother back here? I rush to catch up, entering behind them.

There are storage boxes and a stack of chairs lining one wall. Obviously, this room hasn’t been in use, but there is a bed. Max stands, arms crossed, to one side. Eric is on his knees, hovering over the unconscious woman lying on the mattress.

It's not my mother.

As sickly and pale as the woman is, her beauty shines through. Her skeletal form is draped in a hospital gown. Long, lusterless waves of golden hair splay across the pillow and over her shoulders and chest.

“What’s going on?” I ask.

Max and Eric both look over at me.

“China . . .” Max stalks over and pulls me into his arms, cupping the back of my head and planting a kiss in my hair.

Eric waggles his eyebrows. “Good to see you, Marie. This lovely lady is Andrea.” He returns his gaze to the slight form on the bed, brushing his hand across her forehead gently. “She came in on the Welcome Wagon a while ago. They’ve been slowly killing her. I wanted to get her out, so Max and I struck a deal.”

“She’s immune?”

“Yeah. They’re running low on test subjects lately and worry the vaccine will become ineffective before a cure is found. At least that’s the justification they’re hiding behind. A convoy is being sent out in a few days to search for more survivors.”

“That’s sick!” I bury my face in Max’s shirt and wonder what part my own mother has in all this. I’m pretty sure Garth is up to his neck in it.

“Bet your ass it is. Max, I’m going to bring in the rest of the supplies and get the transfusion going.”

“You remember the way?”

“Yeah. I’m sure you two have some talking to do.”

Eric leaves, and Max guides me into the hall. I look back at Andrea for a moment. She seems lost in the folds of the hospital gown, her skin ashen, lips devoid of color. Just before Max shuts the door, I notice bruises and needle marks littering her exposed arm.

I can’t speak.

My mother lives among these monsters. She breaks bread with them. Is she aware of how depraved they truly are? The only thought keeping me from losing my mind is the knowledge Nina Merlo-Kasabian likes to avoid unpleasantness—so much so that she might construct her own version of reality. So much so that he abandoned her children for an easier life and allowed Katie to die because she wasn’t courageous enough to do what needed to be done.

The door clicks shut, and Max pulls me along the halls until we reach my room. Once we’re inside, he pins me against the wall and brings his lips down on mine.

Kissing me hungrily.


Max’s tongue pushes past my lips, joining with mine in deep strokes. The sound he makes reminds me of a thirsty man finding water in the desert. He takes possession of me with his hands, but not in a raunchy way—it’s more like he’s reassuring himself that I’m here and in one piece.

I wrap my arms around Max's neck, my legs snaking around his waist, pressing my body as close to his as possible. He skims my sides with his hands, moving lower to cup my backside. The kissing continues for a long time, generating heat and tingling in numerous areas of my anatomy.

When he finally breaks away, leaving me panting, he trails hot kisses along my jaw and buries his face in my neck. “Are you okay, China?”


“I was so worried about you last night . . . and I couldn't miss the meeting this morning. I'm sorry I couldn't be here when you woke up. Did Ali stay with you?”

“About that . . .”

Max lifts his head, his eyes blazing. “What?”

“Ali was watching over me this morning. She had a pretty bad asthma attack, Max, but she's okay now.”

“Damn it!”

“Hey.” I touch his cheek. “She's fine. I grabbed her inhaler and called Tek on the walkie. He rushed right down and took over for me while I brewed some butterbur tea. It really seemed to help.”

“Thank you.” Max peppers kisses over my neck and face, ending with my lips. “I have something for you.”

“For me?”

Max backs away from the wall, and I unlock my legs from his waist, allowing my feet to touch the floor. He dips into the pocket of his cargo pants and pulls out a hypodermic needle filled with reddish fluid.

“Is that . . .?”

“Vaccine. And I have two more.”

“Wow.” Part of me is shocked my mother came through. Then again, Max made his position on the matter pretty clear. “Did you see her?”

“No. She snuck the shots to Eric.”

I feel a mix of relief and disappointment. “What's the story with Andrea?”

“Eric is sweet on her. He begged me to take her in.”

“Won't the Alliance be searching for her?”

“Nope. She's listed as deceased, and Eric was given the body for disposal.”

“How'd he arrange that?”

He shrugs. “Someone owed him a favor.”

“I'm a little surprised you agreed.”

Max offers me a lopsided smile. “See what you've done to me? Turned me into a pu—softy.”

“Me? You're trying to blame this on me?” A thrill shoots through me.

“Ready for me to stick you, China?”

My mind doesn't immediately register that he means the vaccination, and my eyes go wide. “What?”

Max holds up the hypodermic. “This. Where did your mind run off to, dirty girl?”

“Oh . . . sure.” I swallow. “I don't like needles much.”

Max kisses me softly, running the tips of his fingers up and down my arms. “Relax, China. It hurts more if you're tense.” He puts the needle on the dresser and returns, moving behind me to massage my shoulders. “Come on . . . relax for me.”

I close my eyes and concentrate on the grip of his powerful hands as he works the tension from my neck and shoulders. I allow the most recent horrors to fade into the background, falling into an altered state of consciousness. When his hands halt their movement, I pull out of it, remaining slightly sleepy.

“There you go.” Max retrieves the hypodermic and pulls the cap off with his teeth, dropping it into the garbage can. Rolling up my sleeve, he holds the needle above the skin of my upper arm. “Take a breath for me.”

I take a breath and try not to look at what he's doing.

“Good. Now let it out slowly.” He hums approval as I do, then says, “Little pinch.”

Max leans in, nipping my lip between his teeth as the needle punctures my flesh. The unexpected act does its job; my attention is drawn to our connected mouths, and I hardly notice the sting of the needle.

“And . . . done.” Max smirks at me.

“Sneaky, but I like it.” I tap a finger against my lips. “My arm hurts . . .”

He moves in with a laugh, taking me in his arms. “You never have to invent a reason to get me to kiss you, China. I'm all over that.” Crushing me against his hard body, he kisses me breathless.

We leave my room a few minutes later, holding hands. Max cracks opens Ali’s door, closing it again once he realizes she's sleeping peacefully, then leads me through the maze of halls to Andrea's room.

Eric sits on a chair by her bedside, watching her sleep while blood drips into her IV line. The bag hanging from a hook on the wall is half empty, and there's another full bag in a cooler on one of the storage boxes.

“Hey, man.” Max announces our presence in a soft voice.

Eric looks up, the haze clearing from his eyes. “Hey, guys. Max, thank you again. I don't know what I would have done . . .”

“Forget it. You help me . . . I help you. It's all good.”

“Why does she need a transfusion?” I ask.

Eric's face twists in a grimace. “These bastards keep taking blood from the immune until there's not enough left to sustain life.” He leans over, head in his hands. “I hate what they're doing! I saved one girl because I have a thing for her, but what about all the others? I can't help them. The guilt . . . it's . . .” He shakes his head.

I pull away from Max and walk over to Eric, placing a hand on his shoulder. “You're doing the best you can.”

“Am I? I could leave.”

“At least with you there, we have some inside information.”

Max nods. “Yeah, man. We need to keep on top of what these fuckers are up to. If an opportunity comes up to mess with their plans, I'm all for it. Have to admit, I have a stake in them finding a cure now, too. “ When Eric and I look up, stunned, Max holds his hands out. “I don't agree with their method of going about it. For your sake, it has to happen, and we need to know when it does.”

Eric nods. “I know you're right—doesn't make it any easier to keep my big mouth shut when I see shit going down. I have nightmares. I've done a lot of shitty things in my life, but I never dreamed about them before.”

“I hear you,” Max answers. It doesn't come across as a platitude—more like Max understands all too well. Based on the comments he and Ali have made about his past, I'm not surprised. Maybe someday he'll feel comfortable enough to share it with me.

“It seems to me why you do something matters,” I say. Both of them look at me. “I mean, if you steal food to feed your starving infant, or you steal jewels because you like expensive things . . . both are technically thefts, but I can't help but condemn one more than the other.”

The room falls silent for a moment, both men staring at me. Then Eric smiles wide. “You've got a smart cookie there, Max. Keep her around.”

“I intend to,” Max answers, a look of wonder on his face.

I blush scarlet and stare at the floor.

Eric laughs. “Such a shy lass, too! How can you resist when she blushes like that?”

Max steps closer to me, running a finger across my flaming cheek. “I can't.” He grabs my hand, tugging me closer. “We'll see you later, Eric. I trust you can handle things here?”

“Got it. I'm not expected back until tomorrow, so maybe I can bunk with you guys tonight?”

“Absolutely. Catch up with you later.”

Eric laughs. “See you, China. You keep our boy in line, okay?”

I smile up at Max and wink. “He’s got a mind of his own, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve.”


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

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