Monday, December 29, 2014

Lizzie Koch Week 132: Out With The New

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Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice: One

Title: Out With The New

Jessica wasn’t impressed. Christmas Eve and she was stuck at home babysitting her younger brother and sister when she was the one who should have been out partying instead of her parents. After watching too many cartoons and ‘tracking Santa’, Jessica finally got Jasper and Robin up to their beds where they jumped up and down, demanding a Christmas story.

Feeling a lack of Christmas spirit, Jessica ignored ‘The Night before Christmas’, deciding instead to make up her own Night Before Christmas tale. . .

‘Once upon a time there were two children called Jasper and Robin who loved Christmas and always got what they asked for as they were always good, well most of the time. The toys were played with like nothing else existed for the days and weeks that followed Christmas until, eventually, like with most toys, they either broke or were discarded and forgotten about. Inevitably, the toys were then boxed up and placed in the loft. Now, what Robin and Jasper didn’t know was that toys had feelings and those feelings were hurt. Toys don’t like being ignored or dumped and as the dust settled, the toys came to life.’

“This isn’t knew,” Robin moaned. “We’ve all seen Toy Story.”

“Let me finish,” Jessica replied sharply. “My story is different.”

‘Anyway, the toys started to move about in the loft, making a home for themselves but they couldn’t rid the feelings of being dumped. And what made it worse was they could hear the fun the new toys were having, the laughter from the children and the adventures the toys were enjoying. To them, it seemed very unfair so they decided to do something about it.

One night whilst the house was still, the little doll toys slowly lifted up the loft hatch. It creaked. The dolls held their breath until they were sure it was safe to carry on. A rope was thrown down and the dolls clambered quickly, reaching the floor. Under the cover of darkness, they edged along the landing, passing the bedroom doors, listening to the gentle breathing coming from within. It would have been so easy to have crept into the bedrooms, climbed up the bed and nestle next to Jasper or Robin, just to feel alive again by their touch. But that would come later. They had a job to do.’

“I don’t like this,” Robin said, burying herself under the covers. “It’s creepy and not very Christmassy.”

“It’s the only story your getting,” Jessica said, before continuing.

‘The dolls managed the stairs with ease and before long were standing by the Christmas tree where a pile of beautifully presents lay. Father Christmas had been with his new gifts, not caring what happened to the old ones. The dolls did care. They crawled over the presents like a swarm of ants, then from their pockets they took out little knives. Ever so carefully, they cut at the paper, opening the boxes, revealing shiny, new gifts. With a dark shadow encasing their hearts (probably from all the dust in the loft), those dolls began hacking away at the new toys, plunging knives deep into plastic bodies, gouging out eyes and tearing hair.’

“Jess, I don’t like it. I’m telling mum. You’re being mean!” Jasper cried.

“I’ve nearly finished. It’s only a stupid story.”

‘The new toys were destroyed. Even the best toymaker in the world wouldn’t be able to fix them. Ever. Those dolls then covered up the boxes in the wrapping paper, perfectly, leaving them exactly where they found them. With their hearts lifted, those dolls skipped back upstairs, climbed the rope and slid back the loft hatch. They slept well for the rest of the night knowing by morning, they would be in warm hands, going on adventures.

Morning came and Jasper and Robin ran downstairs, ripping off paper of the biggest present first. A scream woke up their parents as the broken, dismembered body of Robin’s new doll faced her. Jasper was a bit more brave as he opened most of his presents, hoping to find a present that hadn’t been destroyed. But as he sat, surrounded by punctured plastic and mutilated teddies, he whimpered.

Mum and dad didn’t know what to do apart from call the police but how would they explain? What would they explain? Instead, dad went into the loft and retrieved the box of old toys and dolls. And Robin and Jasper had one of the best Christmases playing with those old toys. Which was just as well because if they didn’t, those little dolls would be back and next time, toys wouldn’t be their victims . . . The end.’

“Now go to sleep.” Jessica kissed them both goodnight, ignored their pleas for a fun, lighthearted story and closed the door behind her as she left them.

Jessica heard her brother and sister run past her bedroom door, stomping down the stairs. Christmas morning was already here. She heard her parents get up, shuffling down the stairs. She smiled hearing the excited voices of her brother and sister but froze when screams pierced her happy bubble. She ran down the stairs, finding Robin holding a box with a mutilated doll inside. She watched as her parents opened every present, knowing by their faces every box was the same.

“It’s just like the story,” sobbed Robin.

“What story?” Dad asked.

Robin and Jasper retold the story as Jessica sat on the floor staring at the pile of broken toys.

“Was this you!” Dad yelled, making Jessica jump. “I knew you resented us going out last night but this is beyond. . . I can’t . . . I have . . . no words!”

“No! I didn’t do this. It was just a stupid story!” But her parents wouldn’t listen as they both screamed at her to go to her room. She turned, tears pricking her eyes as she ran up the stairs.

“Don’t worry. We’ll go out right now and replace everything. There’s bound to be somewhere open. If I have to drive around all day, I’ll find somewhere!” Dad said, his voice shaking.

Jessica stopped outside her room. Standing in her doorway was an old doll. She could tell it was old as it had a fine layer of dust over it, the paint had worn and the fabric faded. At the feet of the doll, something glinted. Peering closer, Jessica gasped as she realised it was a little knife. The doll smiled.

“Mum! Dad! Don’t go! You can’t buy new toys! There’s old ones! We have to play with the old ones!” But the front door slammed shut on Jessica and her words.


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


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Laura James Week 131: A Lucky Life

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Laura James’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: A Lucky Life

Rachael wasn't sure when she became aware that she was special; untouchable. Her grandad had always hinted that she was destined for greatness, but even back then, no one could have predicted just what her life would become. On the most wanted list of every major government agency; FBI, CIA, Scotland Yard, DRM, ASIO-every country knew her name, her face, her deeds. The world knew her and feared her, yet couldn't stop her.

No job was too large or small, no price too high or low - on occasion if the mood took her she had worked for free, just for the pleasure of watching the fires she had set. That was her signature. No matter the job, they all ended the same way - flames consuming a building or two. The only thing she hadn't yet done was kill, her work was her life and if she killed she would never be the same; her luck would leave her, of that she was certain.

Rachael watched as the flames tore through the railway station, stopping for nothing; no one. It was supposed to be empty as trains no longer followed the tracks, a simple insurance job, but amidst the crackling of burning timber, the odd scream could be heard; to those outside watching, those screams tore through their hearts, the realisation that life is short and not always predictable staying with them forever. Many homeless died that night, their only crime seeking shelter from the harsh weather, Rachael's crimes were much larger, murder had finally been added to her list of accomplishments.

She made it across the border into Canada with hardly a glance by security, despite her picture on every computer terminal. It seemed that killing hadn't affected Rachael as much as she thought it would - her conscious was clear, her luck still held.

The world was a harsh place, people and governments were always getting it wrong, with her new found belief in herself, Rachael could achieve more with her life. Her conscious having given her permission, she could now blaze her way across the world with no fear of retribution.


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


Friday, December 26, 2014

Nick Johns Week 131: Moment of Truth

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Nick Johns' Picture Choice: One

Title: Moment of Truth

My reluctant feet shuffled across the baking dirt of the arena, raising ephemeral dust devils that dogged my steps like stray dogs following a butcher’s cart.

Ten thousand pairs of eyes on my back pushed me towards the tower. Looking up at the vertiginous stack, I squinted into the glare of the midday sun.

I wiped my suddenly damp palms on the seat of my trousers, hoping that the movement looked thoughtful and resolute, not lonely and nervous.

All my young life had brought me to this moment. I had been selected for this. I had wanted it even, competed fiercely for the singular honour now bestowed upon me. All the hopes of the now hushed crowd rested on my actions this day.

I thought about the others who had gone before me, how each of them had stood where I now stood. Each of them had faced the choice I now faced and they had all succeeded. I took one last long look up at the immense pile of bricks towering above me, dizzying row upon row, reaching up, a red needle piercing the clear blue sky and advanced to the start line. One mistake now could doom these people.

It was my turn, I knew, but I waited to be announced, as was expected. The rituals must be observed.

The speakers whistled and the voice boomed out.

“And now, next to move in the World Giant Jenga Championships...”


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


Michela Walters Week 131: Christmas Kindess

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Michela Walters’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Christmas Kindess

I walk across town, knowing my presence will be ignored by any who are actually outside on this beautiful Christmas morning. A morning that feels just like any other day. With no parents to care for me, no siblings to argue with, I’m a lonely island. I’ve been living in my car, hidden in an abandoned barn near the rail station. The townsfolk generally leave me be, afterall, I’m eighteen and no longer a ward of the state.

The trek to the Kum and Go is a short walk away from where I live. Today, since I’m the only employee without any plans, gets to pull a double shift. The store is about the only thing open on Christmas, so I imagine I’ll be seeing plenty of haggard husbands stumbling in, reeking like wine and desperation that our little convenience store has their missing ingredient for their perfect family dinner. Mine will consist of a ninety-nine cent hotdog and a cherry slushie, a big feast indeed. Usually I just have water from the fountain, but today I’m splurging.

Merry Christmas to me.

The bell above the door announces my entrance and I flip on the lights and begin to open the store up, getting ready for business. I change the station from the annoying Christmas music that must have been playing the night before to the usual pop rock happy music Mister Jamison likes. While I know my job isn’t the best, most glamourous or upwardly mobile, it plays those few bills I have and will eventually help me get out of this small-ass town.

The day and night go by quickly, with only a handful of customers all day, I close up shop at eleven on the dot and trudge towards home. I can’t shake the feeling that something is off, and quicken my pace towards the rail yard.

As soon as I approach, I can see light coming from under the barn, which is odd since it hasn’t had electricity running to it the whole time I’ve lived there. I proceed cautiously, hoping if there is a new owner, they haven’t had my car towed, along with all my worldly possessions. When I creak the door back slowly, my eyes can’t contain the difference in the place since I left.

I step inside to see, what seems to be the entire town, bustling about. Jenny Morris finally notices me, and saunters over to where I’m still standing by the door, mouth agape.

“Merry Christmas, Abby,” she whispers, tugging me inside and closing the heavy door behind her. The clank of the door must alert everyone that I’ve arrived since they all turn at once, the din suddenly becoming silent.

The barn has been converted into a cozy house. My car has been moved outside and the large space has been partitioned off into little rooms. What looks like a bathroom is still being finished by Jenny’s husband, Steve and the owner of the hardware story, Tim Walker.

“What is all this,” I mumble being dragged around to the various areas by Jenny.

“The town wanted you to have a real place to live, so we decided to surprise you. We got the electricity restored, and the plumbing installed so you can call it home.”

My mind was reeling at the kindness of the town, but couldn’t figure out how I was going to get to stay on a property I’d been squatting on. “How is this possible? Who even owns this land?”

“Jim’s been meaning to knock it down and turn it into a parking lot, but the town council thought it was better served for you to have it.”

As if he knew he was being talked about, Jim wandered over and handed me an envelope. “Merry Christmas. This is the deed to the barn and the surrounding land. It’s all yours. Paid in full. You’ll only need to pay the electric and water bill.” His smile was so warm and inviting it brought tears to my eyes.

“Why did you do this for me? I mean, you bought me a bed, a table and a refrigerator? Who does that for someone they barely know?” I tried hard to keep the skepticism from my voice, but knew I failed based on their looks.

Jenny slung her arm around my shoulders in an effort to provide comfort. “The whole town knows you. We’ve seen you grow up and knew your parents long ago. Everyone chipped in. Tom was remodeling his kitchen and was going to get rid of the fridge anyway. The table was in Emily’s attic and while the bed frame was my Granny’s, the mattress is brand new, purchased by the donations made at the library in your honor. Everyone wanted to help you out. They know how hard you work and we wanted to give you a little something to be happy about this year.”

I had no words and could only give this older woman a fierce hug to tell her how much I appreciated all of their efforts. “Thank you,” I whispered, tears flowing down my cheeks. “We still need to finish a few things over the next day or two, but hopefully this will be much more comfortable than sleeping in that old Chevy.” Jim muttered, his gruffness still showing through the soft squishy center he was letting show through his watery eyes.

I looked up to the heavens and whispered a prayer of thanks to my parents and all those in this town who I’d never spent much time appreciating, but would now vow to pay their generosity forward in any way I could.

“Merry Christmas, indeed.” I shouted, wandering off to personally thank every person who stood around my amazingly refurbished home.


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


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Sarah Aisling Week 131: A Measure of Grace (Part 21): Let Me Go

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 21): Let Me Go

The truck moves at a fast clip. I peer over the tailgait, watching the asphalt whiz by, playing out like black ribbon behind us. The houses and woods beyond fade into the distance.

Max and Grace must be distraught. He's probably blaming himself, but it's my fault for not listening to reason. My chest tightens, and bile threatens to come up. I can't stand the thought of my Max back there in the woods with soldiers from the alliance scouring the town searching for him. He must feel helpless—and angry with me for being so stupid.

The men around me huddle together, some talking in low voices. A few of them wear gas masks. For the most part, they ignore me. One guy glances at me a few times, but it’s too dark to discern his expression.

The farther away from Max and Grace I get, the more my heart aches. Wind lashes at my tear-damp face, sending hair flapping around to obscure my vision. I swipe the long strands out of the way as we leave smooth pavement and turn onto a bumpy dirt road.

The decision is sudden. Scrunching my eyes closed, I send a prayer up to God before grabbing hold of the cold metal gate and launching myself into the air.

“Gibbs! Shit, she’s going over!”

“Grab her!”

“ . . . get herself killed!”

My boot catches on the lip and holds fast, halting all forward motion. My stomach lurches with fear and disorientation as gravity takes effect. I flail my arms and scream as the bumper of the pick-up rises to meet my face.

In what seems like a physics-defying moment, I stop just short of smashing my head. Clouds of dirt kick up, causing me to choke. Someone grips my hoodie and tries to pull me up.

“Help me! Too much of her’s hanging out!”

Another set of hands joins the first, and they haul me up, the three of us sprawling in a tangle on the ridged metal.

A rough shove knocks me aside. “What the fuck’s wrong with you? Should have let your face get rearranged!” One of the solidly built soldiers who pulled me back scowls at me.

“Shut the fuck up, Gibbs!” The other soldier nudges Gibbs. When he looks at me, his jaw clenches, but there’s a touch of sympathy in his eyes.

“Eat me.” Gibbs glowers at me when he says it.

I cringe from the hatred in his icy gaze and chance a look at the other unmasked faces, finding indifference in most of them. The guy who defended me to Gibbs seems the most sympathetic. Maybe an opportunity to exploit that will present itself.

I address my rescuer. “Thank you, uh . . .”

“Timms. You’re welcome, but that was an epically stupid move. Even if you did land safely, you really think you’d have a chance against a group of trained soldiers?”

I shrug my shoulders defensively.

“Where you goin’ to anyways?”

I shrug again.

Gibbs sneers at me. “Out here alone, my left testicle!”

“Ignore him.” Timms offers a half-smile before his expression turns serious. “You’ll want to behave yourself around General Smith unless you want to buy yourself a boatload of trouble.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” My gaze shifts from Timms’ semi-friendly face to Gibbs’ stony one to the darkened rear window, behind which sits my mother and General Smith. The General had to hear, see, or feel the commotion that took place when I attempted to jump out of the truck bed, and yet the pick-up never deviated in any way. He never slowed or swerved. I fear what kind of man he really is.

The truck comes to a stop on a lonely dirt road in the middle of nowhere. The men look around at one another, almost as if they wonder what’s happening but don’t dare ask.

Gibbs pulls dark cloth from somewhere behind him and tosses it at me. “Put this on.”


“Cover that pretty face for me.” His eyes say if we were alone, he might not be so hands-off.

“Why?” I gaze at the men surrounding me, unnerved by the eerie, unemotional façade of the few gas masks. The rest of them avert their eyes.

“Bitch, put the hood on, or so help me, I’ll cold cock you.”

He’d do it, too. It’s there in his frigid gaze. He’d enjoy bashing me in the skull, bodily forcing me into submission, and now I know I must be careful around both Gibbs and Smith.

I fight stinging tears as I take a deep breath and slip the sack over my head. There’s no way I’m going to let my captors see me cry. Someone binds my wrists and pushes me on my side. I curl into a ball and strain my neck in an attempt to keep my head from bouncing against the rusted metal as the truck lurches forward again. The ride seems to go on forever, messing with my sense of time.

When we finally come to a stop, and the engine shuts off, it takes a few seconds for the rumbling to fade. The right side of me is numb from lying in the same position for so long. I’m disoriented, afraid to move. The thump of soldiers’ boots surrounds me as they gather their gear and hop out of the truck, no one speaking. They march away as a unit, their echoing footfalls fading. I think we’re in a garage with a concrete floor.

The truck’s doors open and close. Booted feet stroll over to the tailgate and lower it. My mother must be standing by her door because I don’t hear the click of her ridiculous designer boots, and she doesn’t make a sound.

“Marie, Marie.” General Smith’s tone is soft with an underlying flavor of mocking.

I remain silent as he hops into the truck and sits me up, tugging the hood off. My lids blink rapidly as my eyes acclimate. We’re in a hangar-like building that’s empty except for a few vehicles. Emergency lights flicker and buzz, just bright enough to see by. I stare down at my bound hands.

General Smith slides two fingers along my jaw and nudges my chin up. I lift my face, keeping my eyes downcast. He uses his free hand to cover mine. “I’d like to untie you, Marie. This looks uncomfortable.“

“It is.”

“I’m sorry they did this to you.” He takes out a knife and cuts the bindings. “There.” His index finger rubs across the red marks left behind.

Angered, I yank my hands away and meet his icy blue gaze with some ice of my own. “You did this to me.”

“Did I?” He tilts his head, looking amused, and reaches out to stroke my hair.

“Don’t touch me—unless you want me to slam you in the balls so hard you’ll taste them!”

My mother gasps and makes her way over to the tailgate. “James—”

General Smith holds a hand up. “Mrs. K, your daughter didn’t inherit your diplomacy, but I’m sure once you take her under wing, she’ll be a fast learner.” His eyes remain locked on mine, and there’s a storm brewing beneath his benevolent façade.

“Garth is expecting us.” My mother sounds flustered.

I’m the first to look away from the staring contest with General Smith. It’s probably unwise to allow him to realize the extent of my rebellious nature. If I’m going to get away, I have to play it smart.

General Smith leads us across a short expanse of pavement from the hangar to a squat, sprawling building. He unlocks the door and we walk through a network of dimly lit hallways and gates—some he opens with the keys on his ring—until we reach an elevator with no call buttons. He inserts a key and turns it. In the distance, the rumble of machinery hums.

By the length of time it takes the car to arrive, I surmise it moves incredibly slowly, or there are several floors below us. The inside offers no clue; instead of floor numbers, there’s a keypad. General Smith punches in several digits, and the elevator lurches at a moderate pace. My best estimate is four floors.

The doors open.

“This way, ladies.” General Smith steps off the elevator into a clinical looking hallway.

My mother takes my hand, but I snatch it away, glaring at her. So many things are her fault, but this is among the worst betrayals, eclipsed only by letting Katie die.

The halls are deserted. The only people I glimpse are through small windows in thick metal doors. They wear white lab coats and appear to be doing research. I can guess the subject matter. It’s all very calm and sterile, so I’m pretty sure this isn’t where they house or experiment on the immune.

Following several twists and turns that leave me confused, General Smith ushers us through the only open door we’ve encountered. “This is where I bid you goodbye, for now. Marie, I hope to see you in better spirits soon.” He bows slightly, amusement twinkling in his eyes, and then he strides away.

The large room doesn’t match the sterile décor we’ve been exposed to so far. Floor to ceiling mahogany bookcases line the walls, and an ornate mahogany desk takes center stage. Off to one side is a sitting area with sumptuous black leather chairs and a matching couch, grouped around a coffee table. Richly patterned oriental rugs cover the floor, and recessed lighting sets the mood.

“Jesus Christ,” I mutter, my knees going weak. This room is nearly an exact replica of Garth’s office in Florida, right down to the Tiffany desk lamp and his signature Montblanc fountain pen.

“Why don’t we sit?” There’s a tremor in my mother’s voice.

I wheel around, digging my fingers into her upper arms until her eyes meet mine. “What the fuck is this?” She opens her traitorous mouth, and I interrupt. “And don’t tell me it’s Garth’s office. That fact is quite clear since it feels as if I’ve stepped into a time warp!”

Her eyes brim with tears, but I remain unaffected. I know her too well to fall for the simpering crap she uses on the masculine species.

When she doesn’t answer, I can’t stop myself from going on. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out Garth knew this crisis was coming. We’re below ground and have gone through many twists and turns. All of this—” I wave a hand in the air. “—did not come together in a day. I doubt the alliance would go to all this trouble unless Garth was vital to their operation.”

“Nina, darling! You’re back.” Garth Kasabian sweeps through the door, looking essentially the same as the last time I saw him. He leans in to kiss my mother’s cheek, and I smell a faint whiff of cologne as he passes me on the way to his desk. “Marie, it’s good to see you again.” He nods my way and sits, folding his hands on the blotter.

“Is it?” My tone is pure acid.

Instead of being insulted, Garth smiles. “You’ll never be accused of being an ass-kisser. Have a seat.” He gestures to the sitting area.

“I prefer to stand.”

My mother shoots me a look. “You’re being very rude, young lady!”

I cross my arms. “Really? You’re going to talk to me about acceptable behavior?”

Garth raises a hand. “Nina, why don’t you give me some time alone with Marie?”


“Emotions are running high. Please, my sweet.”

Rabbit-like, her gaze hops back and forth between Garth and me. “Well . . .”

“I agree with Garth.” I’m more likely to get straight answers from him when we’re alone than when he’s busy monitoring my fragile mother for her reactions.

“Okay. I’ll just . . .”

Garth presses a button on his phone. “My wife needs an escort.”

She leaves the room, closing the door behind her.

Garth rises from behind the desk and beckons me to the sitting area. “Please, let’s sit and talk.”

He takes one of the chairs, and I acquiesce, sitting on the couch across the coffee table from him. I wrap my arms around myself, once again feeling the loss of Max and Grace.

“Are you cold?” Garth asks.

“I’m fine.” I look down, my gaze tracing the pattern of the oriental rug. This is awkward, and I’ve never been good at reading Garth. He’s probably an excellent Poker player.

“Can I offer you a beverage or something to eat?”

“No, thank you.”

“How did you wind up around here, Marie?” I glance up, and Garth relaxes back in his chair, watching me.

“After my entire family died, I traveled north to the cabin of an eccentric uncle who lived off the grid. It wasn’t . . .” I stop, thinking of the men already occupying Uncle Jack’s cabin when I arrived and the woman they’d killed when she tried to escape.

“Was your uncle alive?”

“No, and the place was picked over.”

“What did you do?”

“I—” I remember running until I came upon the field of regal sunflowers, collapsing amongst the thick stalks, and sobbing for the loss of my family and the world I’d known. That was the first time I got sick. My next memory was of waking up on the cliff top with Grace watching over me. “I kept going, finding food where I could, and came upon a little town with no decaying bodies or signs of societal collapse. It seemed like a good place to hang out.”

“You’ve been alone all this time?”

“Yes.” It’s difficult, but I meet his cool gaze; I don’t want him to suspect my deception.

“You must have heard our people out looking for survivors, then.”

I nod. “As I told General Smith, I don’t trust strangers.”

“You weren’t even tempted?”

“Of course I was. It’s lonely out there, Garth. Do you have any idea how creepy it is to pass by a mostly deserted city, cars left haphazard in the middle of the street, and a bridge piled high with dumpsters to keep people in or out?”

Garth blanches. “No, I don’t. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

“Did you know my mother stole vaccine?”

“Of course I did. Nina wouldn’t be human if she didn’t try to save her children.”

Bitterness rises within me. “Then how sorry can you be for what I’ve been through? How could you watch her choose to save one child and let the other die? How could the two of you leave me out there alone?” There’s a hysterical edge to my voice that’s embarrassing.

Garth’s facial expression softens infinitesimally, but the fleeting moment is gone so quickly I wonder if I imagined it. He leans forward, arms resting on his knees. “Marie, when something of this magnitude occurs, there are so many factors in play. I wasn’t even allowed to tell Nina what was happening. She grew suspicious, thought I might be having an affair, and snooped around my office.” He sighs and rubs at his tired-looking eyes. “I knew your mother would try to get her hands on vaccine, so I made it easy for her. It would have complicated things for me if she got caught.”

“How would it have complicated things?”

Garth looks away, seeming uncomfortable for the first time. “The greater good must be considered when the alliance makes decisions, not the individual.”

“Is that how you justify what you do?” My words drip with derision.

His sharp gaze returns to mine. “What is it you think I do?”

“My mother loves to stick her head in the sand. I don’t. She told me the vaccine is no longer as effective and you’re working on a new treatment that’s very promising. Exactly what are you doing to the survivors you pick up? They’re immune. You’re not. I’ve done the math, and I don’t like the answer I keep coming up with.”

“How did you and Nina reunite anyway?” Garth throws this question at me rather suddenly, and I’m not sure how to answer. What has my mother said about how we met?

I decide to stick to the truth as much as possible without giving away anything vital. “I was hiking through the woods and came upon a barbed wire fence. My mother was taking a walk, and I saw her in the distance. We talked a little, and I told her I was staying at a house in town. I was pissed and didn’t give her much of a chance. I’m still pretty fucking steamed. Letting my twin sister die because she didn’t come to visit has that effect—go figure.”

“Then she came to see you in town?”

“Yes, and we talked about the fevers I keep getting. She brought me some vaccine the next day. Yesterday, I went for a walk in the woods, and when I returned, found a note from my mother, asking to meet tonight. We talked, and she begged me to come live here. I declined, and that’s when General Smith and his lackeys kidnapped me.”

Garth scratches the back of his neck. “The term ‛kidnap’ is a bit harsh, isn’t it?”

“General Smith tossed me in the back of a pick-up truck with a bunch of soldiers—this is after they held me a gunpoint. Then Gibbs threw a sack over my head and tied my hands. Sounds like kidnapping to me.”

“I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”

“Who tipped them off about the meeting? Was it my mother?”

Moment of truth. Now I’ll know how deep my mother’s loyalty to the alliance goes.

Garth shakes his head. “No. Nina told me, and I asked James to keep an eye on things. I didn’t realize he’d take things so far.”

I’m not sure I believe Garth. “Yeah, well, I’d recommend keeping an eye on James. He’s got his own agenda. I have no wish to live here. Am I free to go?”

“I’m afraid not, Marie. You’ve already lied about being alone. Please don’t make things more difficult.”

My stomach churns, and I fear I might throw up on Garth’s expensive coffee table. “I didn’t lie. You intend to keep my prisoner here?”

“That’s a harsh assessment and an ungrateful one. We’re offering you a place among us and access to a new, innovative treatment that has the potential to cure the virus.” Garth rises and makes his way behind the desk, obviously done with this conversation.

“I didn’t ask for any of this.” My throat aches with unshed tears.

The alliance intends to keep me. Garth can label it however he wants to, but I’m being held against my will.

He pushes a button on his phone. “Please show my wife’s daughter to her quarters.”

I jump up and slam my fists on his desk. “No! You can’t fucking do this! I have rights!”

“Rights change during such dire circumstances. The alliance is sanctioned by the government.”

“So it’s okay to decide who lives and who dies? To play God?”

Eric walks through the door and looks right through me. “You called for an escort, Dr. Kasabian?”

I hide my surprise.

“Yes. Eric, this is my wife’s daughter, Marie. Please escort her to quarters. Priority B.”

“Yes, sir. Marie, it’s a pleasure to meet you. This way, please.” Eric nods my way.

I glare at Garth and then follow Eric. He walks ahead of me, keeping up the pretense that we don’t know one another. The cameras sprinkled throughout the halls might have something to do with his behavior.

We travel through areas I didn’t cover with General Smith and take a different elevator up a few floors. The halls don’t look much different than where we just were. Eric stops in front of a door and fishes his keys out, unlocking it.

“In here, please.”

The room is small and sparse with a simple bed and dresser. It reminds me of the power plant, and tears prick at my eyes.

Eric shuts the door and holds a finger to his lips, cupping his other hand around his ear to let me know the alliance is listening. He slips a pad out of his pocket and starts writing. “This is your room. I’m sure they’ll get you some clothes and toiletries shortly.”

He holds up the pad. Max and Grace are safe. U okay?

I nod. “Thanks. What about toilets and showers?”

“That’s not my department. I’m sure someone will go over everything with you.”

Max going nuts. Said not to worry. He’s coming 4 U.

Fear slices into me, and I shake my head, grabbing for the pad. As I write, the tears finally start to fall. If Max tries to rescue me, he’ll be caught.

NO! Too dangerous!! Tell Max to forget about me.

Eric’s eyes widen as he takes the pad back. U sure?

I nod.

“Welcome to the alliance, Marie. I’m sure I’ll see you around.” Eric leaves the room, closing the door, and the tumblers snap into place.

I’m locked in.

Though my heart aches, I know I did the right thing telling Max to forget me. I sink to the bed and curl into a ball, allowing my grief to flow free.


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

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Kimberly Gould Week 131: A Job to Do

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: A Job to Do

Bianca swarmed with her sisters, each as colourless as the next. A person, if anyone were fool enough to be out at this hour, would see right through them. She flitted to a branch, dancing around one of the many spruce needles, around one, then another, another, slowly spiraling out to the tip of the branch. Behind her ice crystals formed and stretched. At first they were so small, so minute, no one but Bianca or her sisters could see them, but they grew, encouraged by her joy, her strength, her magic. By the hundreds, thousands, the ice fairies drifted, making their way from one tree, flower, bush to the next. They stopped when they found something man made. The metal of the fence was harsh, grasping, threatening to trap the unwitting fairy who landed. on it. Most of the fairies broke off, finding easier, friendlier surfaces.

Bianca frowned at the metal, at the much nicer greenery lying behind it. She shook her wings vigorously and flew over the surface of the metal, back and forth. It took most of the night to finish looping back over the links and she rest on a leaf behind the frosty residue left by one of her sisters. Exhausted, she glanced once over her work as the sky first grew pink. The light shimmered, shining on the crystals she had made. She watched them grow and wondered where they found the encouragement to do so. It wasn’t from her, she could barely move a muscle. It wasn’t from her sisters, they had all moved on. As the first full rays of light beamed on the fence, the growing ceased, easily as thick as on any other surface.

Bianca took a long, deep breath, ready for her heart to break. As she watched the sun shining bright, she also watched as it undid all of her work. She couldn’t stop it, and she would start again when the sun went down.


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


Monday, December 22, 2014

SJ Maylee Week 131: The Moment

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SJ Maylee’s’ Choice: Both

Title: The Moment

The path finally began its downward descent. He’d lost track of the miles they’d wandered, but Roxanne seemed content to explore the trail. He was looking forward to their day of rest tomorrow before they moved on to a new country.

She stopped at a lookout point and examined her map and he examined her. Soft light and a swift breeze kissed her sweet face. She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Even though it had been at least a year since the fates gave him a glimpse of her, it felt like only yesterday. Time was flying by and he knew it wouldn’t be long before they were found.

He had to think of something. There had to be a way for them to outmaneuver their chosen destiny.

The day they’d finally let him have a glimpse of her, he’d been on the platform waiting for a train. Rush hour was in full swing and a man with a barrel of long stemmed sunflowers struggled to get through the crowd. Jonathon caught the man’s elbow as he tripped and together they’d righted the barrel, stopping the flowers from spilling free. He hadn’t thought about that man since. Strange, he couldn’t recall any details about him other than his thank you. When Jonathon turned to say you’re welcome, that’s when he’d seen her.

Roxanne had stood on the far edge of the platform, her hair flying free as it was now and the train zoomed into the station. She’d boarded the train and he hadn’t been able to move. He’d simply stood there for hours, replaying in his mind’s eye the pureness of her beauty.

He rubbed his chest as he remembered how hard his heart had beaten that day. In that moment, he couldn’t have predicted what she would come to mean to him, but that was the moment he knew his life would never be the same.


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


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Miranda Kate Week 130: Santuary

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Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Santuary

Li-Lin rubbed her hand over her freshly shaved head, and savoured the velvety feel of it. She felt lighter, released of a weight she been carrying for too long. She also loved the simplicity of the orange robes; no fashion show; no show of wealth; no judgement based on appearances, none of it, just pure self. She sighed. With each outward breath it was like a part of the burden was expelled, and her mind became clearer.

She knew it wouldn’t be as simple as a change of clothes or a hair cut; her wounds ran deep. But this time she was going to heal them from the inside out, instead of just putting a tender scab over the gaping hole.

There was a sharp rap at her door. It was time to assemble and start the meditation of the day. All the novices would be joining. She hurried to complete her ritual bedroom tidy – not that there was much in the basic room - and left, weaving her way round the complex of the newly built monastery. She admired it’s modern, refreshing simplicity. Like Li-Lin, it was the start of a new era.

When she arrived in the main assembly hall, Li-Lin kept her head bowed as she stood in line with her fellow novices. She ignored the rumble of her tummy, looking forward to the bowl of breakfast to come, instead gathering her mind ready for the day of silence ahead.

When it was her turn, Li-Lin glanced up at the face of the man handing out the bowls, and was stalled mid-movement, her hand almost high enough to take it. She felt her eyes widen and the desire to scream rise, but she knew such a noise would get her thrown out.

His eyes returned the wide horror, but were tempered quickly by the beginning of a smile. Her stomach clenched and she resisted the urge to vomit, stepping out of the row and running out of the hall.

She reached her room, hearing footfalls behind, and rammed the flimsy door home; not knowing how she was going to keep it shut, and him out. But rather than the brutal shove on the door she expected, there was single rap and a pause, filled only by her breathing and that of whoever stood on the other side of the door.

Li-Lin waited.

The short rap came again.

As her heart started to calm, so did her mind. She was not under attack; it was okay to see who was outside the door. She slid it a crack, but slammed it back with force when she saw his face. It was him, so why wasn’t he forcing his way in?

He didn’t speak, so she didn’t dare to either. She wasn’t sure of all the rules yet, and also couldn’t be sure if he had taken a vow of silence as many here had. She pondered what to do. Another rap came, then one word, “Please.”

It didn’t sound like him, so she slid the door open again, enough for one eye to peep through. He had been joined by Eshin, the monk who looked after the novices. He looked at her with gentle eyes.

“Li-Lin, I believe Peter needs to ask something from you, but he is unable to speak due to his vow of silence, so he has requested that I speak for him. Will you let me?”

Li-Lin nodded, opening the door wider so they could all see each other, although she kept her eyes on Eshin. Peter had a pad of paper and he scrawled on it, handing each sheet to Eshin to read out.

“Peter asks for your forgiveness. He said he did not know that you would come here, otherwise he would have transferred to another monastery.”

Li-Lin looked at Peter.

“He wants you to find peace too, and not carry the burden he put on your all those years ago.”

Peter stared right into Li-Lin’s eyes.

“He wants you to know that he is truly sorry for all he did to you. That he understands now that his actions were that of a mindless animal.”

Peter’s eyes didn’t waver as he handed the next sheet, but Eshin paused, glancing at Peter for confirmation. He nodded, not taking his eyes from Li-Lin.

“He understands that he had no right to your body just because you were dating, and that what he did was rape and sexual abuse.”

Eshin took the next sheet from Peter’s hands, eager to read the next words.

“And he will plead guilty if you wish to file charges against him, even after all this time. He will do whatever is required to make amends. He doesn’t want you to feel that you need to run or hide any more.”

Li-Lin glanced at Eshin. He looked at her and asked, “Do you want to do that Li-Lin? We will support you if you do.”

She paused before saying, “No, not at this moment.” She looked back at Peter, expecting to see relief on his face, but she didn’t, his beseeching expression remained.

Peter hadn’t written anything further, and Eshin looked at him. “Peter, in light of this information I think I need to move you to the solitary block for the time being, and take up the matter up with Chen-tao.”

Peter nodded, and glanced once more at Li-Lin before leaving.

Eshin stepped forward and put his hand out to Li-Lin. She took it and gave it a squeeze. “I’m sorry that happened to you Li-Lin. Please take a moment to gather yourself before returning to eat your breakfast. I will make sure it’s waiting for you. Then I hope you will join us in silent meditation. I think you have much healing to do.”

Li-Lin nodded and said, “Thank you Eshin for your kindness and comfort. I will be there shortly.

Once he had gone Li-Lin shut the door again, and sat on her bed. She took a deep breath and let the tears fall. The words from Peter had surprised her. Not only had she thought he was still running the gang they had both clung to as children, but she thought by now he would be much higher up, reaping the benefits of a criminal life. If he was here then there was hope, not only for him, but for her too.


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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Mark Ethridge Week 130: It Was Time

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: One

Title: It Was Time

Timothy marched into church at God’s First Baptist on Sunday morning promptly at 10:55 AM. He knew the service started at 11:00, and he intended to cause one hell of a disturbance during the service.

The morning had been fun. He had laughed more than he could remember laughing in months, maybe years. The hardest parts were getting his hands right, and getting those damn fake nails to look right on his fingers. He remembered shaving his hands, one at a time. The right one had been easier to shave, he always used his razor with his left hand anyway. But shaving his left hand had been a bitch of a problem. He been extra careful to not cut himself. Cuts wouldn’t have looked right.

After he’d shaved the hair off his hands he’d had to deal with the fake nails. God, he’d never imagined the torture women had to go through to deal with those things! Took him hours to get it right. Put one on, then pull it off, ‘cause it was friggin’ sideways, or crooked. Try it again. He’d burned through half the night to get them on. He still didn’t like the one on his right ring finger, it wound up a touch crooked, but at 03:00 in the morning, he wasn’t in any shape to deal with it.

Pink. He searched his brain cells for a better description, but could only come up with pastel pink, which he was pretty sure wasn’t right. Timothy his hands before himself, examined his nails, and somehow managed not to break out laughing.

He’d shaved his face then put on a wig. It was the same pastel pink as the fingernails, “Perfect!” he thought. That wig reached half-way down his back. He’d tied it in a ponytail using a bright yellow scrunchie.

The thought, “God’s First Baptist is getting what it deserves this morning!” echoed repeatedly in his head. “Serves ‘em right, the way they treated Mary.”

Mary was his best friend. They’d grown up together. Gone to Kindergarten, and all 12 school grades together. Of course, in school Mary was Maury, but that was all detail stuff. If Mary said she was Mary then Timothy said she was Mary.

Of course, God’s First Baptist had a cow when they heard what Mary had done. They threw her out of the church. Took her story before all the deacons, and the pastor, and had her name and all her pictures lopped out of the history of the church.

This was Timothy’s farewell to the church. March in at the last-minute, dressed like a guy, but with girly hands, and girly hair. He knew it’d piss off everyone in the building, and that’s why he did it.

He sat on the front row. Marched in, proudly marched down the center aisle, then picked a place in the exact middle of the front row. It was like he was Moses parting the sea, the way everyone scattered when they saw him. The head of the Deacons raced up to him, and demanded he leave, “Nope.” Timothy sat down.

“You’re sick! You disgust me!”

“Why? ‘Cause I’m different than you?” Timothy loved the look of outrage on the old bastard’s face. “‘Cause I don’t look like you think a proper Christian boy should look?”

The entire front pew emptied, so did the second pew. Timothy sat and enjoyed listening to the voices running wild in the sanctuary. “Disgusting!” and “He’s fallen to Satan!” “Maury got to him. Corrupted him.” “May they both rot in hell.” “Imagine! Coming here dressed like that! Knowing what would happen!”

The choir entered, then the pastor, and everyone stood up for the opening music. The pastor looked at Timothy seated on the front row, and nearly choked. “Get that heathen out of our church!” And chaos erupted.

Timothy sat quietly through it all, put his hands together and held them up to pray. He bowed his head and belted out the words he’d practiced a million times in his head.

“Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing. They’re too afraid, to driven by fear, to even see what’s happening here.” His eyes nailed the pastor, “They profess to follow your words, your ways. But you welcomed everyone. Forgave their sins. Helped them start their lives again.”

He faced the top Deacon, “But they only help those they feel safe around.”

“So, I decided to wear a wig, and do my nails. Probably half the people in this room do their nails for Sunday every week. What’s wrong with wanting pretty nails?” He eyed the people of the congregation, “What’s wrong with trying to learn a bit about what women and girls deal with every day?”

He stared at the pastor once again, “I bet you haven’t got a clue how hard it is,” Timothy held up his hands for the world to see. “For you wife to fix her nails so they look the way they do.” He pulled his ponytail around his neck, “Or what it’s like to have to brush the tangles from her hair.”

The pastor screamed in rage, the Deacons all did too. The biggest, strongest men in the church started moving toward the front pew. Timothy knew it was time to leave. “OK! OK, Christians! I’ll leave, so you can feel safe and secure again, in this country club you members of.”

He pointed straight at the pastor, extending the pink nail of his index finger like an arrow-head, “And I won’t be back. I’ll spend my Sunday mornings with my best friend, Mary. She’s more grown up than you.”

Timothy proudly marched out of the room, down the middle of the center aisle, like he owned the building, and could do anything he wanted to. He’d done what he’d set out to do. He’d caused chaos, disorder, and panic too. But in his heart he knew.

It didn’t mean a God Damned thing. Not one soul within that room would ever change. They’d keep going on their merry way. Removing from their lives anything and anyone they didn’t understand. Anything and anyone that wasn’t just like them.

He’d wondered once, if he should cry for the lost souls in that room. If he should pray to God above to not give up on them, to find a way to wake them up. But he’d had to learn the awful truth.

They’d never change.

They’d never grow.

And he was no longer one of them. It was time for him to go, to move on with his life, to become what he needed to become. It was time for him to let God be God, and let God deal with them.

When he reached his car, he pushed Mary’s button on his phone, and arranged to have lunch with her. “At least she’s real, and knows what she feels.” He looked at the building for God’s First Baptist Church, and laughed. “She’s not hiding in a world that isn’t real.”

That Sunday was the last day Timothy would ever go to church. He was too grown up for them.


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


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pablo Michaels Week 130: It Happened That Christmas

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Pablo Michael’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: It Happened That Christmas

Chris inspected the homemade ornament he had hung on the Christmas tree. He had made it from a photograph of the first Christmas Eve Tim and he had spent together. He reminisced about that holiday ten years before.

He did not stay home by himself on that Christmas Eve, almost wishing his boss had not given him the day off when handing out the bonuses.

“And you Chris Stevens have Christmas Eve off for your good behavior,” his boss had said.

His good behavior had given Mr. Pickens his quota for the quarter. So Chris was told to go home with his bonus, a bottle of Napa Pinot Noir. But Chris had no intention of drinking that wine alone that night. Even though he had no presents to exchange or friends to celebrate Christmas with, he wanted to get into the seasonal mood of good cheer, holly, mistletoe, and carols.

He walked among the hustling shoppers, downtown, in the retail district. Inside Macy’s he stopped at the Santa display. Santa’s helpers, consisting of young teenagers dressed as elves and reindeer, huddled around Santa. They prepared to let the children in line request their most prized toy to Santa. A young man, obviously not an elf, stood next to Santa. Chris assumed he worked with Santa and the helpers, possibly giving advice. But then Chris’s gaydar recognized the man as a fellow employee from work. Since they worked in different departments they knew each other no more than as an acquaintance. They had exchanged inquisitive glances periodically, Chris suspecting the man was gay.

The man walked away and disappeared into the crowd of parents and children outside the Santa display. Santa’s helpers began the day’s festivities, escorting the children, one by one to Santa’s lap. Just as Chris was about to explore more of the store, a reindeer and an elf approached Chris. From behind the red rope, separating Santa display from the shoppers, they greeted Chris.

”You have a request from a secret admirer.” The elf reached for Chris’s hand.

Chris had nothing planned so he thought he’d play along with the two younger kids. He had no idea what was about to occur.

“Come with us,” the reindeer led the way, following the red rope to the back of Santa’s display.

“Santa has a present for you.” The elf pointed to a man with his back facing them, eating a bag of popcorn and watching the children line up to sit on Santa’s lap.

“Oh, Tim.” The reindeer sought the man’s attention. “Here’s the man Santa promised you for tonight. Christmas Eve should not be spent alone.”

Tim turned around.

“Santa said you two should spend some time together on Christmas Eve. He expects you both to be in bed before he fills your stockings tonight.” The reindeer handed them each a seasonally wrapped present.

“These are from Santa. Open these presents later.” The elf reached for Chris’s hand.

The two men played along with the elf and the reindeer, with their hands clasped together.

Chris blushed.

While they stared at each other, hints of smiles formed on their lips.

The two Santa helpers giggled when they returned to help Santa, escorting the chattering children, waiting in line to express their wishes.

“Haven’t I seen you at work?” Chris initiated the conversation. “Do you know that Santa? I saw you talking to him earlier.”

“Yeah, I work in the executive offices. I’ve seen you in accounting. I can’t lie. Santa is my friend, Jerry. Do you have any plans for tonight?”

“No, I don’t, but this is kind of awkward.”

“Why don’t we go to my place?” Tim grinned, like a man scheming something devilish but playful.

“Okay.” Chris laughed, releasing some of the anxiety he felt when meeting someone new, like he usually did.

They left Macy’s and took the subway to Tim’s apartment.

When they entered his living room, Chris felt chills of the Christmas spirit ripple beneath his skin. “Wow! You have a tree. I love the scent of it. It smells like the forest. Are you expecting your family?”

“No. I didn’t have plans for any guests this year. I always have a Christmas tree. I love the Holidays. It’s the spirit of giving I like so much. Here let me put that under the tree.” Tim put both presents from Santa under the tree. “We can open them later.”

“It was really a coincidence running into each other at Macy’s.”

“I know. I was just gossiping with Jerry when I saw you standing there at Santa’s display. I devised the idea of us meeting with Jerry. He loved the idea.”

“I thought Santa’s gifts were for the kids. Aren’t they toys?”

“They might be. But Jerry and I exchange presents every year. The ones he gave us were for me. Are you playing hooky from work?”

“Oh, no. Pickens let me off early because I helped him reach his quota for the quarter. I had the highest numbers in the department."

"I bet you got a nice bonus?”

“A bottle of wine. Because I’m new.”

“What a cheap-scape! Well, I’ll make sure you have a nice day off.” Tim smiled the same devious grin again.

Chris smiled in return.

“Why don’t you have plans for tonight? I thought you’d be with another guy. I think you’re hot.”

Chris blushed. “Probably the same reason you aren’t. The feeling’s mutual. Actually I moved here six months ago. And I don't know many people.”

“Come here, you stud. I want to welcome you to San Francisco.”

Chris walked toward Tim, who pulled him close. Chest to chest, crotch to crotch, they kissed.

They kissed long between breaths for several minutes, until Tim began to undress Chris.

They continued kissing, while undressing each other, until Chris broke the silence. “Let me put on some music. First let me open Jerry’s gift. He told me to open it if we connected.” He opened the present. “Hmm. A bottle of gin.”

“Do you like gin?”

“Yeah, gimlets.”

“Oh, me too. Would you like one of those or an egg nog?”

“Egg nog. I haven’t had one yet. Why not save the gin for later?”

“Brandy or rum?””


“A man after my heart. Sit down. I’ll be right back.” Tim turned on his stereo and then walked to the kitchen naked.

Returning to the living room, Tim handed Chris a mug of egg nog and sat down next to him.

“I’ve never had egg nog hot before.”

“Do you like it? I can make one with it chilled?”

“No, it’s good. I like it this way.”

They sipped their egg nog, listening to Christmas music.

After a few minutes, Tim kissed Chris.

Fondling and lovemaking progressed in front of the Christmas tree.

Chris woke from his daydream. It was Christmas Eve. He had just completed decorating the tree. Every year they repeated the ritual like that first Christmas Eve together. He was excited, waiting for Tim to come home from work with the egg nog and the bottle of gin from Jerry.


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


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Samantha Lee Week 130: Beaches

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Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Beaches

I don't get the beach thing. I mean, sure, beaches are swell and all - like oases on steroids, truth be told - but, human tendency to congregate there by the droves aside, I've always found beaches to be...more castaway, less spring break. I once spent ten years stuck on a beach, mind you, without even a volleyball to personify and keep me company, so I may be a tad on the bias side.

Do you know what there's to do on a beach? I mean, a real, ocean-bound beach? You can't swim because of the salt water. You can sun tan but, honey, you're on a freaking beach - sun bathing is like breathing, a task completed whether you want it to be or not simply by virtue of living. May as well try to keep the wind from ruffling your hair or the rain from getting your shoes wet.

Ah, shoes. I missed shoes. And shopping. I really, really missed shopping. And my wardrobe - I had some truly beautiful gowns, once upon a time. My favourite, an icy blue silk number with delicate silver snowflakes sewn into the bodice, was worn by my stepmother at her sham of an ascension. There was not enough retail therapy in the world to ease that particular humiliation. I missed my kitchen. And cooking. I missed my cats and the comfort they brought me. I missed my wraiths and the friendship and security they gave me. I missed...oh, gods, the list was endless. I used to lie on that stupid beach, looking up at a velvet sky studded with diamond-like stars, and think about all the things I missed because I had to hang out all alone on a deserted beach in the middle of nowhere. I had to regain my strength, heal, hide. I...I have more power than any other being walking the earth and there I was, reduced to hiding.

After centuries of Hell, of torture, of pain, I escaped. Or was rescued. It's...I'm a little foggy on the exact details. Just remember waking up on the beach, freed from one prison but trapped on another until I recharged. Because that's what my...that's what happened to me. I was left in a deep, dark, freezing hole and...I was left there. I was a child and I was left there. I was an adult on the beach. An adult with a shattered soul, a broken mind, and a wrecked body. It took me ten years to get off that island. Ten years to get away from all that sand and the endless whooshing sound of the waves and...and if I die without ever seeing another palm tree it will be too soon. I hate...I loathe those stupid trees. And coconuts, dear gods, why in the world anyone would ever want to eat a freaking furry nut is beyond me. FURRY! I thank the gods every morning, noon, and night that eating is optional for me rather than necessary. It's the small things, you know?

Beaches. Mortals flock to them in droves, dream about them, obsess over them, picture them as the ultimate paradise.

Mortals, I've come to learn, are freaking nuts.


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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Lizzie Koch Week 130: Time

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Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Time


Tick. Tock.

You can’t stop it.

You can’t change it.

You can’t beat it.

You can never get it back.

It marches on, every second, every minute, every hour.


Tick. Tock.

You never have enough.

It reminds you every day of what you haven’t done.

What you want to do.

What you have to do.

What you can’t do.

Tick. Tock.

Time can heal.

Pain may lessen.

Or is it memories once sharp and in focus, fading like breath on glass.

Time is grey and fragile as you sit in your chair, watching, waiting.

Time is ready.

It is your time.


Time for you stops.


Time carries on regardless.


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


Laura James Week 129: Afternoon Te

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Laura James’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Afternoon Te

Gladys and Matilda had never really been friends but as their husbands were brothers they had always muddled along well. When Frank and Bert had died on a hunting trip together the woman turned to the only other person who understood and a close friendship had developed.

It was the 15th anniversary of their husbands death yet the pain was still as fresh as when the police had come to the house to deliver the sad news. Gladys stood in the kitchen mixing the batter for her delightful sponge cake, a dash of vanilla was usually her secret ingredient but today she was mixing it up a little. Matilda would be round for afternoon tea as always and she had to make sure everything was perfect for this, the last time they would meet.

With the cake safely in the oven Gladys put on her outdoor coat and headed to the garden to collect berries to help brighten her cake and mask the underlying taste of bitterness. Once her bowl was full she headed back into the kitchen to wash and prepare them, the smell of sponge cake filing the air.

The doorbell rang just as Gladys put the final sprinkle of icing sugar on her cake. She took off her apron and went to let in her old friend in.

Matilda stood on the front porch clutching her bag close to her chest, Frank in her thoughts, as he was every day, but today especially. She smiled when Gladys opened the door, "I've brought a new blend of tea, thought it might help."

"How thoughtful." Gladys lent in and gave Matilda a hug. "The cake's finished, your timing couldn't be better."

Matilda hung up her coat and followed Gladys into the kitchen where she put down the packet of tea. The women moved around the kitchen in companionable silence, both knowing exactly what to do. Soon the tray was set, the teapot full, the cake cut and cream whisked.

"Nothing for it then." said Gladys, "You still want to do this?"

Matilda picked up the tray and walked into the conservatory, her actions the only answer Gladys needed.

Soon both women were drinking tea and eating cake, neither one spoke a word. Before long the tea and whole sponge was finished. Gladys took the hand of her friend and smiled, "Won't be long now dear."

Matilda smiled in return, "I know. Thanks for being with me."

Lying back in their chairs the woman waited for death to claim them. Both secure in the knowledge that soon they would be in the arms of the only people that mattered or if not, then at least they would no longer feel the great loss that had taken over their lives.


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


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Aleea Davidson Week 129: Music Man

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Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: Music Man

(A/N - Wither will return next time around.)


You say you're beat down tired, right straight through your bones. Lost in the rhythm of a life gone wrong, chasing a high that burned you out. Wanna lay your weary body in the long cool grass and hold something pure. Something just like her.

Your soul is a wasteland, weeds choking everything fresh and new. Your garden is a desolate space, parched for something clean and right. Think you can drink her on down and find yourself a little peace.
You're searching for release.

You hear her sing a cappella, and you itch to find her melody. Stroke it out on the chords of your six-string, let her sing-song take you away. Wanna tangle up in her lyrics and kiss, rub, taste every word, shiny new.
Make her croon sweet for you.

But she marches to the beat of a different drummer, death metal playing in her head. You see her sway to your homespun groove, thinking you hear angels sing. It's only hellfire packaged sweet; that girl's burning up inside.
Got her own kinda healing to find.

So pack it up, pack it in. Nothing here for you.
Pack it up, close it tight. Take that higher road.
Pack it up, pack it in. Move on music man.
Go on, take the long way home, again.


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


Friday, December 12, 2014

Nick Johns Week 129: Greater Love Hath No Man...

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Nick Johns’ Picture Choice: One

Title: Greater Love Hath No Man...

For years without number I searched until, at last, I find her, bound, in the woods.
My heart sings as I hear her voice; a resonance of souls.
She flickers and flashes, ever on the edge of sight, sparkling like spray from a waterfall caught in a sunbeam; eternal, ethereal, ensorcelled.
I see her agony, encased in a faerie cage.
I must act. This bondage of my beloved is monstrous.
Can I do this thing?
I gather my courage and summon my power.
The storm gathers, wind scudding and snatching hungrily at my robe.
This will alert her captors, driving them from their holes like voles in a flood, but I hold the energies, building them to a roaring peak.
I cast the perilous enchantment, fighting to control the energies I have raised.
Part of me is cast with it, tearing from deep within my soul, rending my very being, but I have not been whole since she was lured from me and trapped in this vile place.
The cage shimmers and fades, blown away like morning mist by the tempest that I have raised.
With my last strength, I turn to her; watch her soar above the verdant canopy, free at last.
Her cries echo across the valley, trumpeting her transcendent ascent to freedom.
I slump to the ground, nose in the rotting mulch.
I hear the vengeful mob approaching.
They seize me, bind me with iron, fearful even yet of my abilities.
The hood prevents me from facing my accusers, but I know them, suffer their petty vengeance.
But in my mind I hear only her voice, see only her face.
I am condemned.
There is but one verdict.
But, as I prepare to burn, I am content.


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


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Michela Walters Week 129: Hibernation Season

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Michela Walters’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Hibernation Season

“You’re not really going to eat that, are you?” Janice asked, not withholding the disapproval from her voice.

Glancing up from my plate, I simply nodded, my mouth stuffed full with the truffle oil fries Bellucci's Bistro was known for. Once i’d managed to swallow the fried goodness, of which I had no doubt would soon be residing on my thighs, I replied. “I have zero plans for a bikini for at least five months, this is my reward for my spring and summer of hard work. I haven’t eaten a single french fry, slice of white bread or chocolate cake since March.”

She started to admonish my nutritional choices, but I wagged a perfectly golden and crispy fry in her face and continued. “My holiday party was last night and I have big plans to sit my ass on the sofa in my comfiest yoga pants and do absolutely nothing but catch up on my Netflix queue for the next three weeks.”

I liked my co worker Janice just fine, but she was one of those people who would always be a size zero because she counted every single calorie that hit her lips. Life was too short for that crap and while I did like to remain fit, I allowed myself what I termed ‘hibernation season’. It was the expanse of time from Thanksgiving through the end of January where I allowed myself to eat to my hearts content. I still managed a workout here and there, but I wasn’t as strict about my routine. It was nice to relax, have a glass of red wine and not worry about how many minutes I’d have to spend on the elliptical machine to make up for it.

“What does Dan think about this” Janice’s raised eyebrow was more than enough to show me what she thought of my dieting respite.

Shoving another fry in my mouth I answered, “Doesn’t really matter what he thinks. He’s my boyfriend, not my dictator. Besides, he actually likes when I put on my Christmas weight. Luckily enough for me, it hits my boobs and ass first.” I knew I was being petty and a bit snide with my comments, but I didn’t really give a shit what Janice thought of my annual tradition.

Janice’s mouth gaped open, as if this was the most preposterous thing she’d ever heard. In reality, I knew she’d been longing for a boob job since her slight frame would never naturally give her anything but an A cup.

We continued our lunch in tense silence, but I for one knew life was too short to only eat salad, tofu and quinoa. Afterall, just like Virgina Wolf said, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well.” With this statement in mind, I allowed myself these two months of gluttony and for those sixty days I am never happier.


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


Sarah Aisling Week 129: A Measure of Grace (Part Twenty): Snare

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part Twenty): Snare

Max lifts himself off me and walks across the room, leaving me alone and confused. We did just declare ourselves, right?

I sit up, swinging my leg over the bench to plant my feet on the floor. When I glance up, the door clicks shut, and Max presses his forehead against it as he flips the lock.

“Do you mean it?” he asks, still facing the door. The muscles across his shoulders and back are pulled tight.


“Are you mine? That's what you want?”

I stand and walk over to him slowly, placing my palms on his rigid back. “Max, it's no longer a matter of what I want but what is.” His skin is hot beneath my fingers as I run them across the tops of his shoulders and skim them over his bulging biceps. My arms aren't long enough to reach the ends of his longer ones, so I wrap my fingers around his forearms just above the wrists as I press my bare chest against him and nestle my cheek in the valley between his shoulder blades. “I didn't plan to fall for you. But I did, and I'm here.”

Max groans, hitting the door with the side of his fist. “I don't know how to do this, China. I'm trying … but I'm not sure I can be good for you. You're so beautiful and kind, so perfect. I don't want to let you down.”

“I'm hardly perfect!” I wrap my arms around his waist and slide my hands up his hard chest. “You are good for me. I feel safe with you.”

Max turns to face me, cupping the back of my neck and gripping the hair at my nape in his fist. He looks into my eyes, a fierce, possessive gleam shining from his, and then he crushes our lips together. We move, and I find myself pressed against the door. Max bends his knees and grabs the backs of my thighs, hiking me up until my legs wrap around his waist. I wrap my arms around his neck, noting there’s a little more hair to grip now. Longer strands on top are beginning to flop onto his forehead, and it’s easier to imagine him brushing it out of his eyes.

“Hold on,” he mutters, spinning away from the door and carrying me back to the weight bench before setting me on my feet.

Grace perks up and watches us for a few seconds. Normally, she’d race over to greet me, but as if she knows something’s happening between me and Max, she lays her head on her paws with a soft chuff.

Max sinks to his knees, gazing up at me with heated adoration as he hooks his thumbs in the waist of my pants and underwear and peels them down my legs. I hold on to his shoulders for balance as I toe my boots off and step out of the remainder of my clothing.

He holds me by the waist and ghosts his lips over my navel, placing gentle kisses around my belly button. I expected to feel shy standing naked before him, but I don’t. The way he looks at and touches me, it’s as if I’m a precious jewel.

“You’re so beautiful, China.”

Max rises and leans over the weight bench, angling and securing the pad on an incline.

“What are you doing?”

“You’ll see.” He smirks, pulling me into a kiss.

He starts edging toward the bench, but I stop him. “Wait.” I slide my hands into his sweats and gasp when I find nothing but naked, hot skin. I squeeze his cheeks, digging my nails in lightly. “Commando, huh?”

Max chuckles. “Gotta give the boys a little space.”

I free my hands and kneel in front of him the way he did to me. Max draws in a deep breath and makes this growly sound as I tug the sweats down and he steps out of them. I feel superior until my gaze travels above his thighs, and my eyes widen.

Max reaches for my arms and easily lifts me to my feet, pulling me close. He lowers his mouth to mine in a searing kiss, his hardness pressing insistently against my stomach. I can’t stop myself from reaching between us to feel all of him.

“Oh God,” he mutters, grasping my wrist. Max sits on the bench and rests his back on the incline, bringing me with him. “Straddle me.” He gazes at me with heavy-lidded eyes, his sculpted chest rising and falling with rapid breaths as he helps position me above him.

With Max’s large hands guiding my hips, I sink down until he’s so, so deep inside me. The angle is one I haven’t experienced before and sets off a delicious fluttering heat low in my belly. My lips part involuntarily, a soft mewl slipping out as my head tips back, long hair swishing along the base of my spine. He cups my left breast, his thumb grazing the sensitive nipple in lazy circles.

He uses the hand remaining on my hip to guide me. Max thrusts up as I come down, driving him deeper still. I use a hand on his chest for balance, sliding my other up the side of his neck to dig my fingers in his hair.

I lean forward and nip his bottom lip between my teeth. With a strangled moan, Max pushes his tongue into my mouth and cups my ass, increasing the pace of our movements. We explore each other with an all-consuming level of intensity. Max is everywhere. He’s buried inside me, touching me, surrounding me. It finally feels as if I’m his and he’s mine. I break away from the kiss and cry out as I shatter, body and soul, the pieces reassembling to create a new woman.

Max groans my name and bites my shoulder, his body stiffening as he lets go.

I collapse against him, breathing hard. His arms cradle me, and he whispers sweet things into my hair. Mike and I never had this. I finally know what it feels like to become one with another, and the realization causes tears of happiness to pool in my eyes. We remain tangled there so long, I start to fall asleep.

Max calls my name softly, his fingers tracing along my spine.


“We should get back before they start wondering and looking for us.”

“No.” I kiss his Adam’s apple and nestle my face in the hollow between his neck and shoulder. “Want to stay with you.”

His fingers continue to dance over each vertebra, causing little shivers to radiate. “You’re welcome in my bed every night. If you don’t sleep in mine, I’m coming to yours.”

I smile, reminded of his earlier gift. “Thanks for the lamp. That was so thoughtful.”

“No biggie. I know you hate those shitty, buzzing light bars.”

“It was sweet.”

“Anything for you, China.”

Reality intrudes, and I remember the crumpled note in my pocket. The meeting is tonight, and I have to make a decision.

I sit up, my skin sticking to Max’s as I pull away. Chilly air hits drying sweat, and I shiver. Max lifts me off his lap and sits me on the bench, leaning over to grab our clothes. He pulls on his sweats then helps me dress.

With every moment that passes, a cold dread takes over my body, banishing the joy from the love we just shared. It’s hard to swallow or breathe or look Max in the eye.

He laces his fingers in mine and ducks his head to capture my gaze. “Tell me what’s wrong. Are you sorry we made love here?”

“No!” I shake my head and tighten my fingers in his. “It was . . . incredible, and I feel so much closer to you.”

“I agree.” He brings our joined hands to his lips and kisses the back of mine. “What’s bothering you?”

Now or never. The realization that I can’t lie to Max washes over me. I won’t ruin what we’ve found for the sake of my mother. She’s not worth the risk. I reach in my pocket, pull the note out, and give it to Max.

He opens the crumpled paper and reads it. “Who’s this from?”

“My mother.”

“How did you get it?”


“Why would he do this?” Max’s brows draw together, his jaw clenched.

“I don’t know. My mother is quite charming and persuasive when she wants something. Eric doesn’t know much about our craptastic history.”

“Maybe she’ll get the message when you don’t show.”

I touch his arm as I swallow the butterflies fighting to rise. “I’m going.”

“That’s crazy! She can’t be trusted!”

“True, but we need to find out what she wants. Maybe I can get more information about the alliance. She did come through with the vaccine.” I’m not sure which of us I’m trying to convince.

“It’s too dangerous. No.” Obstinate Max makes an appearance: crossed arms, rigid posture, and stormy eyes.

“You can come with me and hide in the woods.”

We enter into a staring contest I refuse to lose. Whatever my mother has done in the past, some small part of me longs to prove there’s some good in her, that she’s not as worthless, cold, and unworthy as her actions suggest.

Max swears, breaking contact and jamming his knuckles into his eyes. When he finally looks down at me, his expression is wary. “I obviously can’t stop you, but I don’t like this. Especially since—” He cuts off, shaking his head.

“Since what?”

“Ali. I told you she gets feelings about things.”

The events of the past day click into place. “Is that why you were so cranky?”

Max stares at his feet but tangles his fingers with mine. “Yeah.” He tugs me closer and wraps an arm around my shoulders, tucking my head beneath his chin. “I didn’t want to know you, and now . . . you mean so much to me.” He crushes me so tightly, it’s hard to breathe, and I don’t mind at all.


The night is clear and cool. Even in the woods surrounding town, the tang of ocean brine drifts on the air.

I watch the blue house from my hiding spot in the thick brush where I’ve spent the past hour. My mother’s note didn’t specify a time for the meeting, and Max insisted she had to approach the house first so we could scout for traps. He wisely pointed out how unlikely it was my mother would make it on her own from the compound to town.

We spent a great deal of time discussing possible scenarios and contingency plans before coming here. In the end, Max decided to tell Ali we were going for a moonlight stroll because stress and worry might trigger one of her asthma attacks. He did take Tek aside to tell him the truth.

Max is in the woods somewhere with Grace. I haven’t seen or heard them at all, a testament to their outdoor skills. He assured me he’d be watching.

The bob of a flashlight beam cuts through the darkness, shining on the blue house. Two figures appear: my mother, escorted by Eric. They walk into the back yard, talk for a moment, and then Eric disappears over the fence into the fields, leaving my mother alone with the flashlight.

I follow Max’s instructions and watch her for a half hour before leaving the woods and approaching the house, making my way carefully along the right side.

My mother paces back and forth in front of the porch, fiddling with the charms on her bracelet. I’ve never known her to stay still; she always flitted around like a nervous little bird.

The gate creaks as I open it, startling her. She gasps, whirling around with one palm resting over her heart.

“Marie. You came.”

As I stroll toward her, I take in her appearance. Though she’s wearing jeans, it’s hard to miss the designer blouse, leather jacket, and knee-high boots. Who tromps around looking like a model from a magazine spread during the apocalypse?

I stop a few feet away with my arms crossed and one hip cocked, staring at her, mainly because I know it will make her nervous.

She reaches out, and I jerk away. “Don’t touch me.”


“I’m not your baby!” I scream in her face. Pulling in a few deep breaths, I calm myself and lower my voice. “What the fuck do you want?”

She has the nerve to look stricken, tears welling up in her perfectly made up hazel eyes. Her fingers tremble as she swipes a lock of hair off her forehead. “I know you must hate me . . .”

“Don’t put words in my mouth. Just tell me why you asked me to meet you.”

“You had your shot?”

“Yeah. I’d say thanks, but you had to have your life threatened before you came through. And let’s not forget how you didn’t come through for Katie!”

She pulls a handkerchief from her jacket pocket and dabs at her eyes. “That’s not fair! I begged Katie to visit me.”

“I can’t imagine why she refused! You could have told me the truth, given me vaccine to bring home for her.”

“I only managed to get two injections. How could I tell you the truth and send you home with only one dose? I didn’t want to put you in that position.”

My mouth gapes. “Much better to condemn Katie to death, right?”

“You were never supposed to know.”

I flap my arms. “That makes it all better, doesn’t it? You’re a piece of work.”

“Marie, there’s no denying I’ve made mistakes—huge ones.” Her voice drops low. “I’m not a good mother. Do you know how much it hurts to admit that?” An ugly sob wrenches out of her, and she turns her back to me.

“Imagine how much it hurts to be on the business end of your mothering.” My tone is cold and unfeeling. The love and yearning that used to plague me, the nights I cried myself to sleep wondering why I wasn’t good to compel my mother to stay, now seem like a distant memory. It was never me who wasn’t good enough. Katie used to say it all the time, but I thought she was simply trying to lessen the blow.

My mother sniffles, and I wonder if her tears are for our lost relationship or because she can’t manipulate me. “I’m so sorry. I’ll never be able to go back and fix all the mistakes I made, but I’d like to do what I can.”

“And what’s that?”

She turns to face me, a glint of hope shining in her eyes. “Come and live with us at the compound.”

Those are the last words I expected my mother to utter, and I can’t hide the surprise or revulsion that passes over my features. “What?”

“The vaccine will eventually stop working. They’re experimenting with other treatments that have been quite successful.”

Bile roils in my stomach. I may not know what these “experiments” are, but Max described what Gary went through, and I saw the result myself when Eric brought Andrea in. I shake my head and back away. “No.”

“I know that young man is sweet on you, but he can’t save you. We can.”


“I told you. There are treatments that need to be administered by a doctor. Garth is heading up the team. You know how brilliant he is.”

“Brilliant doesn’t equate to ethical. Do you know anything about these treatments, or better yet, what sacrifices are being made in the name of keeping your people alive?” I look into my mother’s guileless eyes and realize she doesn’t know. Part of me is relieved to know she isn’t pure evil.

“What are you talking about?”

“Ask Garth.” Let him take responsibility for shattering his precious Nina’s childlike belief that the treatments used to save her people aren’t killing off the immune, sucking them dry until there’s nothing left but desiccated corpses.

As the realization sinks in that the alliance is doing much more than making vaccine, the urge to scream vibrates inside me like a tuning fork. If they catch Max, Ali, Tek . . . Grace. Even though Max has explained it numerous times, until this moment, I didn’t fully appreciate our predicament. I want nothing more than to get home and protect my family.

I grab her arm and yank her toward me. “Listen—I have no intention of becoming a part of your sick group. If you can get vaccine to me, fine. If not, I’ll die the way I would have if you hadn’t played God. Never contact me again. We were done the moment you allowed me to leave Florida without saving Katie.” At the mention of my betrayed sister, tears stream down my face, and I shove my mother away.

She slips something out of her jacket and holds it out to me. “Here. Take it.”

It’s a creased and worn postcard. I flip it. The picture on the front yanks me back in time.

Saratoga’s apple orchard. I picture Katie running through sun-dappled trees, laughing between bites of the apple clutched in her fist. I tripped on a root while chasing her and landed hard on my belly, knocking the wind from my lungs. The impractical gingham jumper Mom insisted I wear was smeared with mud. Katie leaned around the edge of a tree, her jumper still clean and perfect, and shook a finger. I cried for fear Mom would yell at me, but when she found me cringing on the ground, she pulled me into her lap and smoothed my hair.

I release the postcard, allowing it to flutter to the grass.

She picks up the postcard. “I’ve carried it with me all these years. When I look at it, I relive a lovely day with both of my girls. Remember how we brought home pies, and Mamie waved her hand, saying hers were much better?”

I smile faintly, nostalgia seeping into me. Then I remember the utter destruction of my ten-year-old world when she walked out on us and the destruction of my adult world when she let my sister die, both at her hand. She’s still making shitty decisions and hoping for sympathy.

“You know what? You could have had so many memories with your children! Instead of holding onto one day, we could have shared years of love and family traditions together. It’s clear you’ve learned nothing.” I turn and walk away. There’s nothing else to say.

“Marie! Please!”

I leave her sobbing in the back yard.

As I come around the front of the house, a semicircle of blaring bright lights flash on, surrounding me.

The cocking of several guns echoes in the air.

“Stop where you are, and show your hands.” The voice, amplified by a bullhorn, reverberates in my ears.

My heart gallops. What the hell is this?

“Show your hands—now!”

I emulate my inner Katie and offer a double bird salute. “How’s this, asshole?” I raise my middle fingers high in the air. “Mind turning down the spotlights?”

It’s disconcerting being unable to see who I’m talking to or know how many of them stand beyond the shining barrier. I pray Max doesn’t try anything. He’s alone out there with Grace, and these people have weapons.

A lone figure emerges from the light, a corona outlining his form. I shield my eyes, blinking to banish the Rorschach blots superimposed over my vision. There’s a cocky jaunt to his gait; I can see that even through the fading blue and yellow blotches. An unpleasant feeling worms around in my abdomen.

When he’s a few feet away, I take a step back.

“I’ll stay right here, give your eyes a chance to adjust. I’m unarmed.” His voice is soft, smooth, almost kind, but it sends a shiver skittering up my spine.

I avoid the lights and stare at the man’s well-worn leather boots. As the blobs fade from my vision, I force myself to take him in slowly. Khaki cargo pants tucked into steel-toed combat boots. He claims to be unarmed, but I notice the outline of a knife in a pocket alongside his right thigh. I’d be willing to bet there’s another tucked in the back of his belt, too—or maybe he has a pistol nestled there. He’s wearing an alliance issue shirt similar to the one Eric wears, but there are extra patches that suggest this guy is a ranking officer. Finally, my gaze rises past his chin. His face is handsome, almost little-boyish, with a light smattering of scruff. His light brown hair is buzzed, military style. I almost have the urge to relax until my gaze meets icy blue eyes filled with an equal measure of amusement and cruelty.

“Allow me to introduce myself. General James Smith of the American-Canadian Alliance.” He smiles benignly—at least as benignly as a snake can.


“Daughter of Nina Kasabian.”

I fight to hide my shock. Did my mother set me up?

“Where is my loving mother?”

“Never fear.” His answer is no answer at all.

“What is all this?”

“This is your welcoming committee. Where have you been hiding yourself, Marie?”

“I’ve been staying here in town, scrounging canned food from some of the houses.”

General Smith tilts his head. “Didn’t you hear our people out looking for survivors?”


“Why didn’t you respond?”

I lift my chin. “Because I don’t trust strangers.”

“We’re no longer strangers. In fact, your mother resides with us. We can talk more about logistics later on, but first . . . who’s out here with you?”

“No one.”

“Marie, it’s bad form to begin a relationship with lies.” General Smith steps forward and grasps my jaw, forcing my face toward his.

I close my eyes, knowing when he asks me again, my body language will give Max and Grace away. There are certain tells we all have. My father taught me well. Katie and I never could lie to him. I’m pretty sure this guy is going to watch my reactions closely. I can’t allow the alliance to capture Max.

He tightens his grip on my jaw until my lids flutter open. “Where are they?”

Because I’m expecting his question, I fight the urge to look toward the woods where Max and Grace are hiding and twitch my gaze to the right instead. “I’m alone.”

General Smith smirks, ghosting a finger along my cheek. “Thank you, sweetheart.” He releases my jaw and points. “Ryker! Take a team and search the houses on this block. The rest of us are heading back.”

“You’re wasting your time.”

“You think I believe that bullshit story that you’re alone? If we don’t find anyone, it’s because they already slunk away and abandoned you.”

“Whatever. Can I go now?”

General Smith laughs. “Home with us, sure.” He grabs my arm in a vice grip and drags me past the lights to a pick-up truck parked on the street.

A group of men run silently toward the houses to begin their search. Several others gather rucksacks and guns, tossing them into the bed of the truck. My mother sits in the cab with her head in her hands.

“You double-crossing bitch!” I scream.

“Family squabble?” General Smith remarks in his smooth voice. I imagine him sentencing someone to death in that same dulcet tone.

My mother leans out the door and fixes her tear-filled gaze on General Smith. “James, was this necessary?”

“With all due respect, Mrs. Kasabian, you were given a chance to bring Marie in.”

“You tricked me! Tell her! Tell her I didn’t know about this . . . this ambush!”

General Smith drags me toward the truck bed and the soldiers already seated there. He scoops me into his arms, leans in, and whispers, “Nina didn’t know” before dumping me onto the hard metal and lifting the tailgate, locking it in place.

The truck roars to life and jerks forward. I imagine Max going ballistic out in the woods. Tears roll down my cheeks, and I wonder if I’ll ever see him again.


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