Friday, January 30, 2015

J M Blackman Week 136: Golden

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J.M. Blackman’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Golden

It had not been a good day.

His mother was sick and the doctors they could afford couldn’t seem to figure out what was wrong with her. She had a bad cough and fatigue that kept her in bed all day, very much unlike her.

His wife had spent so much time keeping her comfortable and still attending to so much of the housework, but he could tell it was wearing on her.

His daughter was constantly wringing her hands about both of the matriarchs in her life, as well as her own concerns: marriage.

He assured her that he did not want her to rush into anything. He assured her that he wanted her to marry someone she loved, and nothing less. Because in the struggles life contained, if you were not with someone you loved, nothing would be worth it. Nothing would be bearable. And you would feel a weight unlike any other, one that could not be lightened or passed along.

But if you were with someone you loved, someone like his beautiful wife, even the darkest moments had a pinprick of hope. He had to make sure he showed his daughter that, if anything else.

So, when the Walk of the Elephants came, he kissed his mother’s brow and demanded that his wife and daughter follow him to the city. Reluctantly, they did.

They all held hands, slipping between brightly colored stalls and breathing in the smells of festival: people and dirt and dung and food.

He bought them sweets and he saw the first smiles either had carried in what seemed like weeks.

And when the Walk of the Elephants came down the street, their smiles grew and he held his two loves to him, one under each arm, in a moment as golden as the headdresses of the majestic beasts before them.


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


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mark Ethridge Week 136: If It’s Just A Dream, Let Me Dream, Part 2

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: One

Title: If It’s Just A Dream, Let Me Dream, Part 2

"I'm Blue. Remember?"


"Your name for me." A tendril eased out of the blue and gently poked my arm. "You couldn't say my name, so you named me Blue."

“And where are we?”


I looked through the window at the tiny red sun hanging in the black sky. “This ain’t Earth.”

Blue sighed. “Unfortunately, it really is. It’s just not your Earth.”

I realized Blue was right. It was Earth. “It’s your Earth, isn’t it.”

I swear the blue shape smiled. “Yes, human. It is.”

“And you’re a human, aren’t you.”

“Indeed, I am.”

“So everyone calls themselves human. And their world Earth.”

Blue shook, I recognized the motion as laughter, “Yep. Makes for a hell of a mess trying to figure out who comes from what world where.”

I looked at the dark red sun in the black sky, with the stars shining like it was night. “And that’s the sun.”

“I see you’re starting to remember.”

Blue pointed to an area of the black sky. “Your Sun.” It was a dim, yellow light, barely visible to me. “Just another star from here.”

I sat on the floor. “Marie. I remember that name.”

“Your wife.”

I’d never married, yet I had a wife. “Where is she?”

“Your people have her.”

Images flashed through my mind. Four of us, Marie, Blue, a girl, and me. Running. Flashes of light. Searing heat. I thought my skin was on fire. The sky turned red. I lost Marie. She fell. I couldn’t find her. Blue grabbed my hand, grabbed the girl’s hand, “Hurry!” A cave. No light. The burning stopped. “Stay here. I’ll find her.” Blue ran from the cave.

I tried to follow. The skin on my hands blistered. “Daddy, no! Don’t leave me!”

A house. Blue, and several others like her. “Your people have her.”


“We’ll try to find her.” My daughter clinging to my hand, “Daddy, don’t leave me!”

Blue urged me to sit, coated my blistered hands, my burned skin with a blue salve. “This will help you heal. You must rest.” She coated my daughter with the same blue salve. “You must rest. Heal.” She looked through the windows, the sky was black once more, “Let us find where they have taken Marie. Let us help.”

And the images were gone.

“Thank you, Blue.”

I swear she blushed. Areas of her turned the prettiest pale blue I’d ever seen. She moved across the room, “Sarah has missed you, you know.”

I nodded as I stood, “May I see her?”

Blue lead me to a room in her home. It was an underground room, with no windows. “I make sure she gets outside every day.” She opened the room door, “Sarah?”

I followed Blue in. My daughter sat on the bed, in shorts and a sweatshirt, her hands over her eyes. She sniffed, and wiped tears from her face. “What?”

I ducked under the door frame, and stepped into the room. “Daddy!” Sarah leaped from the bed. She hurled across the room, threw her arms around my neck. “Daddy!”

I held my daughter.

“I thought you were gone!”

I remembered more. More images flashed through my mind. Centuries flipped past like pages of a book. “Time pulled me back.”

Blue nodded, “You remember now.”


I was home. The world Marie and I moved to, to start our family. To escape our people. To learn to live with nature, with the world. Thousands of years beyond the world I’d left. The world with the red phone booth in the back yard.

I kissed my daughter’s cheek. “Hi, pumpkin.” She wouldn’t let go of me. “I’m back now.”

Blue, being ever practical, like her people, headed from the room, “Let’s eat!”

We laughed. That was so like Blue and her people. For them, eating was everything. “By all means.” I carried Sarah from the room, “Let’s celebrate my return. And then, you can both tell me what happened while time borrowed me.”

[To Be Continued]


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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, January 28, 2015

Muffy Wilson Week 136: The Burning Night

Muffy Wilson is filling in for Pablo for the next few weeks while he is recuperating.

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Muffy Wilson’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: The Burning Night

The burning flare illuminated her front yard with an ethereal hazy rose-colored glow. When Wallace rounded the corner in her Peugeot, she saw it and all the yellow tape. Her blood pressure rocketed as panicked alarms gripped her heart.

I’m late!

Her sixteen year old daughter was home alone every day after cheerleading practice for two hours before she returned from work. She screeched to a blood-curdling halt at the first yellow taped line, jammed the car in park, and flew out of the front seat, the engine still purring. A uniformed flatfoot tried to stop her but neither he nor anyone else was going to stop the tsunami that was her fear driving her to the front door.

“I live here! My daughter…where’s my daughter?!”

“Lady, stop. I need to see some I.D.”

“Fuck you! Where’s my daughter?!”


“My purse’s on the front seat. Help yourself! Where’s my daughter, Goddammit?!”

A giant of a man emerged from her house, stood in the doorway and blocked out the light behind him.

“Let her go.”

The copper raised the yellow tape that separated the world from the insanity that consumed what was once her home. She ran up the path, through the purity of the afternoon snowfall and past the flare burning to a quiet end. The goliath grabbed her shoulders and told her she couldn’t go inside, it was a crime scene. Forensic and crime scene techs brushed past them, both in and out in a flurry carrying brown paper bags, tackle boxes of chemicals, brushes, tape and the tools of their trade.

Wallace crumbled into his arms as he caught her descent under the weight of the news. They didn’t know about her daughter, they couldn’t find her. Her laptop was on in a chat room; they had taken it to the tech types that would scour it for clues and the history of her Internet travels. He told her all this as he walked her into the living room and sat her in her wing backed over-stuffed easy chair by the fireplace, still aglow with white-hot embers from the fire her daughter lit when she came home from school.

The traces of her daughter’s ordinary, everyday presence overwhelmed her and she collapsed into the chair, crying. As Wallace stared at the pieces, the remains of her daughter’s existence surrounding her in a still-life, the controlled chaos whirled around the inside of her home. It seemed like a dream, a netherworld of dual dimensions separated by a fine film of reality. The pandemonium faded to mute as she focused on the simple bowl of fruit that was placed on the coffee table in front of the couch.

“Wallace, may I call you Wallace?”

“What happened here, Detective?”

“You have to calm down, Wallace,” he cautioned her, “if you are going to be any help to us.”

“Yes, of course. What happened? Start with the flare--where did the flare come from?”

“We don’t know all the details. We received a 911 call at about 5PM from your neighbor—the flare was burning unattended in the front yard. The patrol officer on duty came by, tried to get someone to answer the door, but couldn’t. He looked through the window and saw the TV was on, the bowl of fruit on the coffee table so he walked the perimeter and noticed the screen off the back window and called for back-up.”

Wallace was late. Her hungry daughter was left to fix her own dinner and she put a healthy compote of fruit together to eat. If Wallace were home on time, her daughter would be here now and they would be eating the mac and cheese she planned to make for dinner.

But, there it was—a simple bowl of fruit—marking her daughter’s disappearance.

It was the glaring evidence of her crime silently screaming, accusing her of the felony of her neglect.


Muffy, author of erotic, romantic stories about love, sex, hope and passion, was born in San Antonio, Texas, to traditional parents. With two older brothers, she was the youngest, the family "princess," indulged and pampered. She adored her older brothers, following them everywhere and was surrounded by love, stimulation, and pets. Her father was a career Colonel and pilot in the U.S. Air Force which required the family to travel extensively. The family lived in most points between Alaska and France. Muffy spent her formative years in Europe and came of age in France.

Returning from France with her family, Muffy finished high school in Northern California and attended the University of California, Davis, and majored in Business Management. Muffy entered the work force, independent with a fierce work ethic, and retired at 39 from IBM as a Mid-West Regional Director in the Real Estate and Construction Division. She and her husband moved to a small Island in northern Wisconsin where they owned a historic tavern, restaurant and resort business which they since have sold. They now live a charmed life by the water in SW Florida. Muffy pretends to be a serious real estate business person but, in real life, indulges her private interest in writing sexy short stories and sensual literotica ~ Live, Laugh, Love with Passion. Website | Blog | Twitter | Email | Facebook | FB Fan Page | Google+ | Triberr | Amazon | Ganxy | XinXii | Kobo Books | iTunes Books | Barnes and Noble | All Romance eBooks | Smashwords | Yellow Silk Dreams Publishing |

Previously Published: Secret Cravings, Blushing Books, Oysters & Chocolate, Decadent Publishing, Ravenous Romance, Yellow Silk Dreams

Coming Soon: The Para-Portage of Emily ~ Secret Cravings Publishing March 2015 Moonbeams of Unintended Consequences ~ Blushing Books March 2015 Cheerleaders in Heat ~ TBA April 2015


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


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Samantha Lee Week 136: Words

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Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Words

Conversation is an underrated activity. Words...words are powerful, more powerful than people give them credit for. A bunch of sounds shuffled together, that's all they are, and yet they're able to convey millions upon millions of different meanings, birth thousands of different languages. Every emotion, every idea, every thought that a mind can conceive, words can encapsulate and share, putting them out into the world for us all to embrace. Take out the actions, take out the expressions, and what you're left with, what it all boils down to, is conversation.

Conversation. Two souls using words to exchange pieces of themselves. It doesn't matter what those pieces are - even the barest of utterances hold importance, hold relevance. It''s the most beautiful way our souls have to touch each other.


He opens one eye but somehow manages to convey at least three eyes' worth of wariness. A totally unmerited response if you ask me; you'd think I was one of those women prone to wild and crazy ideas in the middle of the night. Which, okay, I am, but I still don't think that look's merited.

I glare at him. "Don't give me that look, Tru; I'm hardly all THAT bad. Not even kind-of, sort-of."

"Only someone who has never been on the receiving end of your present look would believe that."

Frowning, I try not to pout and sigh instead. "You should at least hear the follow-up before reacting. It's really not that bad."

Another skeptical look. I'm beginning to take offense. "Hm, and yet, lumina mea, you have yet to enlighten me with this not-that-bad thought."



"It's Christmas. Or it will be. Soon."

"Thirteen days, unless it has been moved again."

"Right! And, no, it hasn't. That I know of. I don't really pay attention. Anyway, that's not the point!"

"It seemed like it might have been."

"Pretender to the throne."

"Ah, yes, of course, silly me. What is the point?"


"I believe you declared Halloween your holiday. As I recall, you said it carried the right ethos."

"I'm a necromancer, Tru - Halloween carries the PERFECT ethos to be my holiday but this isn't about official holidays. And before you say it, it's not about Yule either. It's about-"

"Christmas. Yes, I seem to recall hearing that once or twice before. I am still, however, rather confused about why."

I flop down beside him on the bed, wiggling about until we face each other on our sides. He's cool. I'm hot. It's perfect.

I smile and his lips curl with his own, but he doesn't say anything, waiting for me. He does that a lot - wait for me. It seems, sometimes, like we spend whole decades, centuries even, with him waiting for me. Gods, the man must have been a right monstrous beast in a past life to incur the karma black enough to have earned me as his mate.

And I must have been a saint to have earned him as mine.

"Do you remember Paris?"

"Which time?"


"You tried to kill me."

"Only because you were there to assassinate me."

"Lumina mea, you had just killed a nest of my mother's elite guard."

"Who had also been sent to kill me!"

"After you butchered a squadron of vampires in Germany."

"It was an accident!"

"How does one accidentally kill five vampiric warriors in an empty field, lumina mea?"

"They wanted to eat me, Tru. As in, literally devour me piece by delectable piece as though I were chocolate cookie in a kindergarten classroom. Admittedly, I may have, um , well...overreacted. I hadn't MEANT to kill them. Thus, accident."

"Da, of course, accident. Is the long line of...accidental corpses your point? Because, if it is, lumina mea, I must say it does not seem very...Christmas."

I glare, far from amused. "No, Tru, the corpses are not my point. Although I'd like to point out I DID gift wrap a couple. Anyway, do you remember your would-be assassination attempt?"

He smiled. "Lumina mea, we played that game for nearly a century. There were many, many...many - how did you say? - assassination attempts."

I nodded. "Yup. Like, hundreds." Our relationship had gotten off to a start rockier than most. Fortunately, we fell in love before either of us actually succeeded in killing the other or this story would be radically different. And infinitely darker. Probably bloodier too. Bleh. Moving on. "Do you remember Paris 1943?" I press.

"It was the first time we fought on the Eiffel Tower. You had daggers. I had a sword. We danced on the rail because you said if we were to fight on the platform it would defeat the whole point of being on the Eiffel Tower. You were barefoot and your dress was torn. I never asked how that happened."

I knew he'd remember; he remembers everything. Well, almost. "You did ask," I remind him. "I told you I'd had a busy night."

"Ah, and did you elaborate?"

"Yes, you hadn't been the first to try and kill me that night. I was a popular girl."

"And what became of my predecessor that night?"

"Predecessors - plural - it was a team of two. Oz ate one and I, um, well the other, he, um..."


"Eventually. Probably. I think."

He sighs and shakes his head, the amusement in his eyes belying the indignation in his expression. "One day, lumina mea, you must learn to go for the quick kill."

"I do do that! Sometimes."

"Lumina mea, your quick kills can be counted on a single hand."

He's right, but that hardly matters. I glare.

"Paris. 1943. It was Christmas."

"I had thought your dress, ruined though it was, seemed rather festive. It may have been the Santa Claus on the skirt."

"It was a reindeer on the hip and I happen to LIKE Christmas, okay? Especially the clothes. I loved that dress too. Its destruction is what prompted me to start buying everything in doubles, just in case."

"You wish for me to find you this dress? The reindeer one from Paris 1943?"

"What? No! I have like a dozen. It has sentimental meaning."

"Because you wore it to fight barefoot on the rail of the Eiffel Tower?"

"No, nut, because I wore it while we kissed for the first time."

"I thought that was Venice. 1925. You had kicked me in the chest but caught my arm before I fell into the canal. You pulled me towards you, kissed me, then pushed me into the canal, laughing."

I rolled my eyes. "That was me kissing you. Doesn't count. Paris was you kissing me."

"Lumina mea, the first time I kissed you was in Sri Lanka, 1957."

"No, it wasn't. Although, that reminds me that I've really got to rescue you from feral gremlins more often."

"All those teeth, lumina mea, are not to be taken lightly."

"It's the venom you really need to take care with; their bite's just the delivery mechanism. Your gratitude was endearing though. It wasn't the first time you kissed me though; that was Paris, 1943. When you caught me as I slipped."

"You do not slip."

"Everyone slips sooner or later. I just do it more spectacularly than most. I think we should go back."

"To Paris?"

"No, Christmas 1943."

"Lumina mea, the last time we sought to travel in time, we had to - what did you call it? - take the long way home."

"It wasn't that bad, Tru-"

"It was five-"

"It was awhile, yes, okay, I admit, but it wasn' wasn't so bad. It was like...interactive history. And, come on, we saw some cool things, met some cool people, and accomplished loads. Oh, and, and, also, and we now have so many aces up our sleeves it'd take all of Vegas to actualize this metaphor. Probably Monte Carlo too."

He nods, agreeing, and sighs. "Once, though, was enough, lumina mea."

"There's more ways than one, Tru, to relive the past."

"Oh? Even when one is not in Paris? Or France? Or Europe?"

I laugh. "At least we've got the right planet. And the right company."

"Are you saying you would like me to try and kill you, lumina mea?"

"Maybe we could...skip to the end."

"Ah, da, yes, I suppose that I could do."

I smile. He kisses me, his arm coming around my waist to pull me roughly towards him. The cool, clean touch of his aura washes over me, his cinnamon-like scent teases my nostrils. I let my hands sweep up his arms and around his neck, tugging him closer, a growl rumbling in my throat as I deepen the kiss.

Dumitru chuckles, breaking the kiss. "I have a gift for you, lumina mea."


"Outside. In the garden."

"That's so far away."

"But worth the effort, I promise."

I narrow my eyes but acquiesce, rolling out of bed and scooping up Dumitru's discarded red silk dress shirt to put on as I go. There's a dusting of snow outside; it's cold enough that I can see my breath fogging in the air, cold enough that it bites at my exposed flesh. But I don't care. I can see Dumitru's gift.

It's a pear tree. He's planted it just in front of the fountain and tied a big gold bow around its slender trunk. Something dangles from its bottom-most limb, something gold and glittering. I move closer and realize it's a necklace, its charm some sort of stylized bird like a tailless peacock or a pheasant or a quail or...

Oh. D'uh.

He's given me a partridge in a pear tree. It's the first day of Christmas and my true love has given me a partridge in a pear tree.

What a goof.

His arms come around my waist, his cheek coming to rest on the top of my head. "Merry Christmas, lumina mea."

"Do I get turtle doves tomorrow?" I ask.




"I love you."

"For all eternity, lumina mea."


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Monday, January 26, 2015

Lizzie Koch Week 136: Starry Night

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Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Starry Night

As frosted grass crunched beneath every step, her stockinged feet still burned. Far enough away from the sounds of the party, she sank to the ground and lay still, letting the cold roll over her, soothing her aching body. She gazed up at twinkling stars, winking down at her against a blanket of indigo. She exhaled deeply, watching the vapour disappear into the night. Peace enveloped her as she took in the beauty of the night, letting her body heal from the dawn till dusk work she undertook daily. She didn’t care for the party dress either. It was still a uniform of her enslavement. In fact, she preferred her rags. At least they were true to her existence. This dress was nothing more than illusion.

Escape was far from her mind. There was no where to escape, no way to escape. Prince Charming wasn’t going to come and whisk her away and end her Cinderella life. Fairy tales didn’t exist. The only escapism she had was looking up at the vast night sky.

Which seemed to be getting closer.

The stars glowed brighter, bigger, around her, shimmering against her skin. Reaching out, her hand tried to grasp a star. It glowed in her hand, whispering at her.

“Don’t be afraid. Come with us,” the voice said. “Become a star.”

The alarm sounded. Her break was over. She didn’t want to return. The thought of returning brought back the burning soles and aching limbs. It wasn’t a life. Freedom and travel was what she was promised.

Maybe Prince Charming didn’t exist but fairy tales did as she ignored the alarm, smiling at the warmth the star gave her, rising high into the night, her Cinderella life nothing more than a speck.


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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, January 25, 2015

Laura James Week 135: The Collector - Part 2

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Laura James’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: The Collector - Part 2

Hector spent a few days looking at all the property his father owned, looking for just the right space to store his collection but he was disappointed as nothing suitable was available. Not wanting to delay starting he decided that he would just have to begin with smaller animals and store them at the house.

His bedroom was the obvious choice but there was no guarantee that his parents would stay out. They had ignored him so far but for all he knew the time of mourning was coming to an end and they would want to include him in their lives once more. That left only one choice. Stephen's room.

After Stephen's death, his mother had spent one week in his bedroom mourning her beloved son and ignoring his twin. Since then the room had become a shrine to his memory. No one was allowed to enter but just in case anyone disobeyed the house rule, the door was kept locked. Hector knew where his mother kept the key and knew that stealing it would be easy.

Once the key was in his possession Hector had to wait until he had the house to himself before he could risk entry. Taking a deep breath he took in the mustiness that had invaded the room and took comfort in the darkness. Emotionless Hector lay on his brothers bed and relived the moment of Stephen's death. A simple trip for coffee turned deadly. He smiled as he recalled the sickening thud as Stephen was struck by the truck, the crunch of bones as he landed. The sweet smell of coffee filling his nostrils as the cups his brother was carrying emptied their contents on the road.

An accident was how it was reported but Hector knew better. A small push was all that had been needed for Hector to realise his dream of witnessing death first hand.


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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


Aleea Davidson Week 135: Wither Part 16

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Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice:

Title: Wither Part 16

Glen was right. Mac was going to be a problem.

He added another log of wood to the fire blazing in the living room fireplace, singing a finger in the process, though it wasn’t pain that had his jaw clenched so damn tight he thought his back molars might crack under the pressure.

He jammed the poker into the center of the burning stack, shifting a few pieces so the new addition caught its fair share of the flames, and tried to think objectively.

Mac was out of the house. That was a good thing. Twenty-four hours in the man’s presence was enough. The guy was an abrasive, opinionated loudmouth with a sly demeanour. Glen had quickly discerned Mac saw Mara and the boys—and more specifically the house and its stockpile of essentials—as something he had a right to.

Snatches of his conversation with Mac the night before skipped through his head, the accusations the man had hurled making his temper flare hotter than the air puffing out of the chimney flue.

“Mara’s my niece. As her uncle, I have a responsibility to look out for her. I show up, find you here, all moved in, nice and cosy, taking advantage of a girl barely even a woman. You got what? Ten years or more on her? And you somehow think you can tell me how long I can stay? This ain’t your house. This is my brother’s house!”

It had taken every ounce of willpower Glen had not to punch the man in the throat. It didn’t help that Mac’s words pricked at a sensitive spot, making him wonder if there wasn’t some truth to them. He was a lot older than Mara. He had taken refuge here after finding out Government men were staking out the place he’d been living. By invite, yes, but still...

His plans originally had been to stay a few days, wait for whatever trail he’d inadvertently laid to grow cold. He’d seen less and less of the Government men in their black vans in the last year. Their numbers, like the rapidly declining general population, seemed to be depleting. It was unlikely they’d stick around for long. Their resources—gasoline, food, medical supplies to run their clinics—had to be running as low as their manpower. They couldn’t afford to spend weeks looking for one UV Tolerant man, no matter how few there were left in the world.

Whatever plans Glen had to move on once he felt it was safe were derailed by his growing feelings for Mara and the boys, the sense of responsibility he felt for them, the desire to help in any way he could.

He wanted to think his decision to stay was based purely on those altruistic motives, the truth, however, was he’d been lonely a long time...

So no, he couldn’t say there wasn’t a selfish side to his choice, but it wasn’t about taking hold of a house on the safer outskirts of town. It also wasn’t about the cache of food and supplies he’d personally helped scavenge to create the decent stockpile that would see them through the winter.

It was about Mara and the boys. Three people he’d grown to care deeply for...hell, he loved them, and no way was he going to allow Mac to take a single thing beyond the few essentials Mara felt beholden to give him before showing him the door.

Glen laid the poker down and stood. His knee joints popped in protest, making him feel every one of his thirty-two years. He splayed his hands out to the welcome heat from the built up fire, half listening to Mara as she read quietly to the boys on the sofa behind him. His thoughts were turbulent; a riotous mixture that wouldn’t settle.

Mac had left grudgingly after sunset, but he hadn’t gone far. He’d come back an hour after he left to inform them he’d decided to stick around, at least for the rest of the winter, and that he’d claimed squatter’s rights to an empty house a block away.

The Grant’s house.

Glen bit down a slew of curse words. Remembering Mara’s face turning a shade of white better suited to a corpse when she’d realized where Mac planned to stay, made his blood boil all over again.

He knew Mara continued to struggle with discovering the Grant’s and their young son dead in their backyard. A macabre picnic taken in the full light of day had purposely ended their lives, the scene leaving a scar on Mara’s heart that still hadn’t healed. Coming on the heels of witnessing a butcher in the town square put a bullet in his brain, Glen doubted it ever would.

He’d helped Mara bury the family at the sight of their final moments, the checkered blanket laid over their forms, the little boy’s toy action figures at his side, before they covered them with dirt. They’d said no words, offered no eulogy. It all seemed hopeless and sad, and so they’d simply returned home and tried to bury themselves in the day to day task of survival.

Mac hadn’t cared one iota when Mara told him about the family. He’d callously shrugged then let out a harsh bark of a laugh that made him sound like the ass he clearly was. “Well, that’s a good thing. No one is going to be showing up trying to kick me out, right?”

Glen’s fists curled, the memory of those cold words making him itch to commit violence. He didn’t like the feeling and tried to tamp it down. Funny. He used to consider himself a peaceful man. A professor. A scholar. Sure, in his younger years he’d been in a physical altercation or two...but that had been testosterone and reckless youth, not a true facet of his personality, or so he’d thought...

Day by day, the old him was slowly eroding away. He felt a coldness growing within that was disconcerting yet oddly welcome at the same time. He was beginning to realize to survive in this new world, he might just need it.

Closing the glass doors on the fireplace front, Glen turned and watched Mara settling the boys for bed. In their upside down world, dawn lurked right around the corner, signalling a backward end to the dark hours that made up their ‘days.’

Teddy and Jeremy had spent hours building a fort with blankets and towels around the couch, and they planned to sleep there tonight. With temperatures plummeting as winter looked to take a stronger hold, it made sense to transition them from their bedroom down the hall to this room. The usable living space in the house would shrink as the weeks got colder. There was only so much space a fireplace could heat.

Glen watched as the boys scurried inside, smiling slightly, feeling some of the anger dissipate as he listened to them squabble over who got to sleep on the “better” side of the fort. It hurt him to see the way Teddy’s bowed legs and stiff joints made the action clumsy and uncoordinated, but it also cemented the protective feelings he harboured. Mac—relative be damned—wasn’t going to get his hooks into this family. Glen’s family. It was just that simple.

He joined Mara, helping her fold a few of the discarded, unused blankets as the boy’s resolved their argument with a game of paper, rock, scissors and quieted quickly. She looked up at him when he took the last one from her hands and tossed it on the couch unfolded.

All night a weight of expectation had hung over them, Mac’s intrusion and subsequent behaviour further cementing Glen’s take things with Mara to the next level. As if she’d sensed this, she’d been quieter than normal, watching him, waiting.

Glen was through waiting. He was certain she was too.

She looked at the blanket fort, biting her lip, a light pink tint to her cheeks as Glen took her hand and gave a gentle tug to bring her closer. He dropped his head and found her mouth, her taste a sweet explosion to his senses. She smelled like wood smoke and vanilla mixed with the faintest hint of female sweat. He wanted to touch her, make love to her, more than he wanted his next breath of air.

“They’re fine,” he told her when she darted another glance at the fort. He smiled. “Come to bed, beautiful nymph.”

As Glen led her to the bedroom, he didn’t miss the flash of nervousness that briefly showed in her expression. She wasn’t alone in the feeling, though he didn’t allow it to show. Her innocence was a gulf between them he’d have to cross with care.

Ignoring his nerves, and the worry that he didn’t have the sexual skills required to make her first time as close to perfect as physically possible, Glen let go of Mara’s hand long enough to light a few candles. A brief image of his wife momentarily threatened to break into the forefront of his thoughts. He pushed it away, ruthless in his resolve.

He’d loved Jen. He still loved her. A part of him would always love her. But she was gone, and he was here, and if the fucked up present time had taught him anything, it was this - happiness of any kind could not be squandered. He had to grab what he could and hold tight. Time wasn’t guaranteed to any of them, and the uncertainty of tomorrow only made the moment they lived in all the more precious.

Glen took Mara to bed, and he did his level best to make the world and its problems go away for a little while.


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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)


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Nick Johns Week 135: Finders Keepers

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Picture 2

Nick John’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Finders Keepers

Is there one here tonight?

I need one.

I really do.

I scan the eager, laughing, candy apple smeared faces.

With the casual expertise of a lifetime’s practice it is possible to search even whilst squirting the gullible dwarf full in the face with my fake flower.

They roar.

They always do.

Clinging to their Mummies and Daddies, they rock and jump, pointing and shouting at my antics, unaware of my scrutiny.

I watch for the eyes.

They always give it away.

Towards the end of the set, just as the tyres fall off the car and the wheel comes off in my hands, I spot him.

Under the stands, in the shadows, hidden from the barkers and roustabouts, I spot two unmistakable eyes; big, round and shiny, two full moons in eclipse. A mouse in the skirting, even though ready to bolt at any moment, the Boy’s eyes solemnly follow every nuance of the act.

For the blow off, I wave the bucket full of water hither and yon, teetering on the verge of a seemingly inevitable fall, yet impossibly maintaining an unsteady equilibrium. The front rows in the crowd flinch as I approach then laugh as the bucket swings away from them, gasping once more as I lurch back towards them.

Finally, I launch the water into the audience and the screams turn to laughter as the water is revealed as glitter and falls, a sparkling, gleaming shower of deceit, into their relieved laps.

As I take my bow, pausing to kick the bowing dwarf into an impromptu somersault, I produce a red, shiny ball from behind my ear, and flip it across the floor and into the shadows towards the Boy.

It rolls to him and, just as he reaches out a tentative hand to grasp it, it pops, transforming into a miniature replica of my car. His hand, frozen in shock as it changes, hovers above it, before squirreling it away into the pouch of his grubby, ill fitting dungarees. He goggles at me, eyes wide with a wonder I remember but have long since mislaid.

I wink.

Sprinting across the sawdust ring, I kick my treble sized shoes into the wings and dash for the exit. I gasp as the cool night air sticks my costume to me like a damp second skin and the dew-wet grass chills my feet.

Skipping lightly over the wire taught guy ropes, I locate the dark patch of the Big Top, un-illuminated by the lamps at the entrance and wait. Almost immediately a hand appears under the edge of the canvas, closely followed by an arm, a shoulder, and, with an imagined pop, the Boy’s head. Like a snake sloughing off it’s skin, he sheds the tent. He scrambles up, bent double, hands on knees, gulping in air after his exertions.

I reach out and grab him by the scruff, hoisting him off the ground.

He flips and wriggles like a line caught trout.

I swing him round, bathing him in the flickering light of the nearest oil smoke torch.

“Well, look here, what have we caught?”

His wriggling turns to thrashing, but my arm, strengthened by years of carnie work, holds him firm.

“Where’s your ticket, Boy?”

His eyes roll.

“Well? Cat got your tongue, Boy?”

He shakes his head, quietening down a little, all except his eyes; they dart here and there, seeking an escape route.

He mumbles.

“Don’t tell me, you must have dropped it, eh?”

He nods.

“So, we’ve got a freeloader - as well as a thief.”

“I’m no thief!”

“No? Well how will you explain to the Constable how you came by that little red car in your pocket?”

“...But you...”

“I what? Did your Mummy buy it for you? Shall we go and ask her?”

A veil drops over his eyes and he slumps, perfectly still for the first time. I watch as a single tear tracks slowly down his cheek.

“OK, not your Mummy then. I know. We’ll ask your Daddy. Someone in the Top must know who your Daddy is. What will your Daddy do about you stealing toys?”

The Boy seems to shrink in his clothes.

I know then.

This one is just what I am looking for.

Do I really want him?

Of course I do. I need him.

The others... well, it has been years since the last. If he’s not the one...

My sadness doesn’t show to him, my painted smile still shines, although the greasepaint is surely smeared in places, I know. I change to my cheery voice, the one all the children love.

“Of course, this could all be OK...”

“It could?” He sounds doubtful.

“Absolutely. It could be a finder’s fee for bringing me something I need.”

“What did I bring?”

“Why, yourself. I need a Boy.”

“Why?” His eyes narrow, calculating, suspicious.

I laugh, a bark that startles him. I’ve seen that look before on too many young faces.

“For the circus. All circuses are hungry for Boys. Didn’t you know that?

He shakes his head.

“Oh yes. Boys and circuses. They belong together. Like magnets and iron filings. A circus is what a Boy wants. A circus is travel, adventure, a family. And Boys are what a circus wants. A Boy is fresh, energetic, questing. That’s why circuses don’t stay in one place; because of the limited supply, you see.”

He doesn’t, I can see.

“But they must be the right kind of Boys. Boys like you maybe. Are you a circus Boy, Boy?”

He shrugs.

I fix him with a stare.

“This is it, Boy. You decide. Stay and go back to... what? Your Daddy? This fly speck town? Or come with me, join the circus, fly away with us.”

I drop him and he slumps on the wet grass, like a string cut marionette.

I walk away, listening intently.

“Can I keep the toy?”

“Sure. Your finder’s fee. Like I said.”

Oversize farm boots shuffle and then a small grubby hand tugs at my hem. I look down.

I hold out a hand and his grips mine, hanging on like the offer might slip through his fingers.

As we walk together towards the caravans, I think for a moment of all the others and what they have become, and I smile – for the first time tonight.

“Why a circus Boy can be anything. Small ones start out as rigging monkeys, but they can grow into acrobats, or jugglers, or Lion tamers, or strongmen...”

“... or Clowns?”

“Yes, Boy. Some even become Clowns.”

I thrust my free hand deep into my pocket and find the familiar piece of wood that is always there - the smoothed, now shapeless remains of a toy car that a Clown had once given me.


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


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Michela Walters Week 135: Hopeful Beginnings

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Michela Walters’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Hopeful Beginnings

The clock struck ten. Another year was coming to a close and Maisy was still single, still a broke actor trying to make it big on Broadway, and still living in the same teeny tiny apartment she’d been sharing with three of her friends for the last four years. She’d worked more waitressing and bartending gigs than she’d had callbacks for and she was beginning to think it was never going to happen. In an two hours it would be a brand new year and Maisy was thinking maybe it was time to reassess her goals. Grabbing a notebook off her shelf, she wandered into the miniscule living room to watch the waning minutes of the year tick to a close.

She plopped on the ugly plaid sofa and settled into the one corner that was still slightly comfortable and flipped on the TV, scanning the channels for something other than Ryan Seacrest or Carson Daly. Settling on CNN’s coverage, she nestled down and began to think about all the things she wanted to accomplish in the year ahead.

When Maisy had graduated from NYU she vowed to give her acting career five years to come to fruition. This was it. If it didn’t happen by the end of this year, she’d told herself she needed to find some other way to make a living. She knew making it big was a long shot and vowed to not waste her entire life to capture the brass ring if it wasn’t realistically ever going to.

Jotting down her thoughts and dreams for the year ahead, she was startled to hear her best friend and roommate’s voice. She’d thought she was the only one hiding out from the festivities.

“Why didn’t you go to Fitzpatricks with everyone?” Sheila asked, wandering into the room holding a jar of peanut butter and a spoon.

Maisy set her notebook on the coffee table and simply shrugged How could she explain to someone that New Year’s Eve was her most loathed holiday right up next to Valentine’s day. The expectant kiss at midnight when no one wanted to kiss you was the absolute worst. One she’d decided she wouldn’t subject herself to this year. Maisy’s list of goals for the new year didn’t include sealing it with a kiss by some guy who felt sorry for her. Nope, she was going to accomplish all her dreams on her own. Screw men and their impossible expectations of women. Maisy was attractive, thin and personable, yet she somehow always landed in the friend zone. She was thankful for Shelia, Steve and Jackson, without them she would have left New York and never looked back. Instead they all worked together and tried to be the supportive family none of them actually had. Living together in the tiny apartment that had been handed down from NYU students to NYU students year after year was just a lovely perk. When the four friends finally decided to move on, they too would go looking for a worthy group of struggling artists to hand it off to. In the mean time, they just enjoyed living close to midtown, even if it meant they all lived in shoeboxes barely big enough for a twin bed and a dresser.

“You know the only reason Jackson organized a night out was because his buddy Robb is hot for you, right?” Sheila commented as she left the small living room and headed back to her bedroom.

Her words instantly perked up Maisy’s ears. “What do you mean and why - for God’s sake - didn’t you tell me before now?” she called after her.

“Oh, one mention of Robb and now you want to go to a party?” She popped her head around the corner, a look of impatience graced her face. “ Come on Maisy, he’s been interested in you for months and you haven’t given him the time of day. What would have changed tonight? The ball would drop, you’d look into his eyes and fall in love? Really? I thought you were smarter than that. Romance is for novels, not people like us.”

Maisy stood, offended by her friend’s comments. “What does that even mean?” She used air quotes to accentuate her words, “people like us?”

Sheila walked back into the room and plopped down on the worn sofa that had been in the apartment since before they moved in. “Don’t get upset, I just mean you and I are picky. We want a guy to be strong, masculine and assertive. We’re not damsels in distress, but we don’t want to stick our necks out and have them trampled on. I know your past as well as my own and we’re both just waiting for the perfect guy. I just wish it was easier to find him, that’s all.”

She understood what her friend meant, but by saying it out loud caused Maisy to think twice about her statements. Was she really such a diva she couldn’t see a nice guy right in front of her face? Hell, its not like she was some amazing catch. Robb had a job doing what he loved. Shit, if she had a devious bone in her body she could have dated him just to get in touch with his contacts at the broadway show he was part of the crew for. No, she hadn’t really noticed the shy guy who’d been popping in on their brunch excursions and dinner parties. No wonder she couldn’t get a date, not if she couldn’t even notice a guy flirting with her. Maisy glanced back at the Felix the cat clock, its eyes judging her with every tick and swish of its tail. Maybe it was time to do something about her lack of love interest by actually paying attention to the men around her instead of playing the passive, self-absorbed drama queen she was.

“How long do you think they’ll all be at Fitzpatricks?” Maisy asked, heading towards her room to change out of the sweats she’d had on since her shift at the restaurant had ended.

Sheila picked up the notebook where Maisy had written down all of her goals for 2015 and called out to her, “Think you might need to add get midnight kiss to this list. You know, maybe right between get an acting job and lose five pounds.” She chucked the notebook at Maisy and gave her a wry grin and told her she was coming with. “Shit, maybe Jackson has a couple other friends he hasn’t introduced me to yet. The night’s still young.” With a wink she was off to her own room.

Maisy stood at her closet trying to figure out what to wear and decided right then that maybe this was the year she was going to make her own luck, make her dreams a reality and finally kiss a guy at midnight who she actually wanted to journey into the new year with.

Fingers crossed.


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


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sarah Aisling Week 135: A Measure of Grace (Part 23): Breach

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice:

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 23): Breach

The president folds his hands on the desk and looks into the camera with an earnest expression. “Fellow citizens of the American-Canadian Alliance, we’re broadcasting to you from a secure location. The prime minister is sequestered in a separate, equally secure location and extends his greetings and encouragement.”

“Prime minister?” I whisper to no one in particular.

James takes my hand and squeezes it gently. “The alliance is under joint leadership.”

I allow him to hold my hand for two reasons: the need to play the game and because reality is fracturing, the pieces skidding sideways, leaving me wondering which fragment to follow.

“ . . . as transparent as possible; however, for the sake of national security and the preservation of the human race, there is and will continue to be information we cannot share with the masses.” The president pauses, pressing his hands flat against the blotter before taking a deep breath. “Your leaders and representatives around the country have expressed similar concerns. Even separated by the miles, our people are united. You want to know who is responsible for this horrific threat to humanity. You want to know when we can come out of hiding and aid those unaffected by the virus. And, most importantly, you want to know when we will be free of this affliction and able to live in the sunshine again—to rebuild what has been destroyed.” He swipes a rivulet of sweat from his temple with a finger, a muscle in his jaw ticking rhythmically.

My mouth is dry. I’m enraptured by the sight of our commander-in-chief in living color on the flat screen. I assumed complete societal collapse when the virus spread, but there’s obviously a lot more to the story. Knowing the president survived, that there are efforts being made to save humanity, should make me feel better. For a moment it does. Then I remember what the alliance is doing in the name of survival, and my stomach does a sickening roll.

“ . . . investigating how the outbreak occurred. Our main concern at the moment is to keep the virus at bay while developing and replicating a cure. We have troops on the ground protecting all sectors, scientists working around the clock on a cure, workers maintaining power and handling all supply concerns, and we have dedicated crews bringing in survivors as space permits.” In an unusual gesture during a presidential speech, he swipes a hand over his face. The camera zooms closer, showcasing the fine lines around his tired blue eyes. His mouth sets into a grim line. “I wish we didn’t have to keep our locations secret, that we could take everyone in. The usual rules no longer serve the people. We have no choice but to adapt. It was a difficult decision, one that should never have to be made, but the only way to insulate society from complete collapse is through continuity of government. That means protecting essential personnel and . . . preserving the core of humanity. Overcrowding of facilities or allowing enemies to discover our locations will only serve to delay or destroy progress.

“When we deem it safe, I’ll schedule visits to each sector. I look forward to meeting the brave men and women doing their part to keep this country running during this monumental crisis. The reality is there are always enemies waiting to exploit weakness. We have never been more vulnerable than we are right now, but we will prevail. Our spirit cannot be squelched. Our desire to survive will never die. God bless the people of the American-Canadian Alliance. Good night.”

Applause, whoops, and whistles echo around me. Bottles of sparkling cider and a stack of paper cups are brought to each table. I realize I’m still squeezing James’ hand and let go, pulling away to hug myself.

James rubs my back, leaning his head close to mine. “Are you all right, Marie?”

“Fine.” I don't look at him when I answer, afraid he'll see something different in my expression.

“Good.” He gives my shoulder a squeeze and starts speaking with Garth in hushed tones.

I look past James and Garth at my mother’s flushed cheeks, bright eyes, and trusting smile. Lemming. Then I pan nearby tables and see the same giddy hope on many faces. At our table, though the soldiers participate by hollering and stamping their feet, close examination reveals a certain wariness. They celebrate along with everyone else, but many of their eyes suggest a different reality. In contrast, the few soldiers’ companions sprinkled around the table express genuine hope, much like my clueless mother. It seems the unvarnished truth is being withheld from the majority of the people.

Eventually, I come across the icy stare of Lieutenant Gibbs. He’s watching me openly. Unconsciously, I bring my fingers up to my collar and slide them along the cool metal. Gibbs’ gaze drops to my neck and back up, a mocking smirk settling across his cruel lips. He makes a gun with his fingers and aims my way, squinting one eye as he pulls the trigger. I glance at James, but he’s huddled with Garth and hasn’t noticed.

A kitchen worker starts announcing tables. We grab trays and go through a cafeteria style line. James is still deep in conversation with Garth ahead of me. Gibbs manages to sidle up on my other side, looking somewhere over my head with a half-smile. “What a lovely dog collar. I wonder—does it make you feel safe, Marie?”

I ignore him and press closer to James and Garth. Gibbs chuckles, disappearing into the crowd after receiving his meal and doesn't return to our table for the rest of the evening.

James escorts me back to my suite after dinner, quiet and deep in thought as we walk. That's fine with me; I have no desire to pretend I like him tonight. When we reach my door, he touches my cheek, gazing down at me with longing, but bids me goodnight without trying to kiss me.

I wash my face and brush my teeth. Part of me is curious about the titles on the bookshelves, but exhaustion has settled deep in my bones, and I decide to explore another time. I change from the dress to a T-shirt and sweats. Since the apocalypse, pajamas seem like a luxury that can’t be afforded.

I turn down the comforter and slide between the sheets, clicking off the lamp beside the bed. The alarm clock emits a bluish glow, keeping the darkness from swallowing the room. I lay on my back and stare at the ceiling as my newly constructed shell comes apart, and I give in to the turmoil building inside.

Hot tears spill down my cheeks, and I stuff my face into the pillow to muffle the sobs. It was a shock to discover the president of the United States and prime minister of Canada are alive and have joined forces. The president talked of adapting and stressed the need to protect the “core of humanity,” a rather ominous phrase. The president also mentioned sectors. Does that mean multiple locations like this one exist, and are all sectors harvesting the immune? I wonder what the government deems acceptable to do in the name of survival. I don’t want to believe the president and/or the prime minister are sanctioning the atrocities being committed by the alliance.

The tears fall harder when I’m forced to face the fact I huddled close to James all evening—mostly because of Lieutenant Gibbs, but it still feels like a weakness and betrayal.

Gibbs is going to be a problem. I realize there won’t always be someone around to protect me. The self-defense instruction Max provided comes to mind, but the moment I allow myself to think about his handsome face and sea-glass eyes, I sob uncontrollably. What must he be going through? Will I ever see him again . . . touch him again? Be consumed by the intensity of his kisses?

“Max,” I whisper. “I miss you so much . . .” Hugging an extra pillow to my chest, I squeeze it tightly until asleep comes.

* * *

I begin working part-time in the kitchen. James grimaces when I request the position but gives in when I explain how much I’ve always enjoyed cooking.

“It’s not a gourmet kitchen, you know. We’re more concerned with volume.”

“I know, but this is what I really want.”

He shrugs. “Okay. I’ll show you the way and introduce you to Celine. The kitchen is her domain.”

We walk through a set of double doors into a humongous tiled room fitted with stainless steel tables, cabinetry, ovens, and two walk-ins. Several women are busy preparing food on the tables or stirring large pots that resemble vats. I guess feeding the masses is quite different from what I’m used to.


A willowy woman with close-cropped brown hair looks up from the table where she’s chopping vegetables. “General James! To what do I owe the honor?” Celine seems genuinely happy to see James. Her face is mapped with fine lines, deeper slashes surrounding her mouth and intelligent blue eyes. “Who do you have here?” She puts the knife down and wipes her hands on a dishtowel.

“This is Marie, Nina’s daughter. She wishes to be stationed here. Do you have the room?”

“Of course! I’m always rather short on help.” Celine turns her friendly face my way and shakes my hand. “Welcome, Marie. I heard Nina’s daughter had come into the fold. Such wonderful news!”

“Thank you.” I nod politely, keeping my true opinion about being here to myself.

James kisses my cheek. “I’ll leave you in Celine’s capable hands. See you later.”

A few of the women working nearby watch the exchange, two of them whispering. My cheeks flush as James exits the kitchen.

“Let’s put you to work.” Celine puts an arm around my shoulders and glares at the whispering gawkers. “You two! Shut your flaps and finish up!”

She leads me to the other side of her table, points to a crate of potatoes resting on the shelf underneath, and hands me a peeler.

“Wow . . . that’s a lot of potatoes.”

“We’re feeding a large group.” Celine goes back to chopping.

I start peeling potatoes, the normality of the task bringing on a sense of serenity. The repetition is therapeutic.

“You have something against peeling skins?” Celine asks.


“Then why the waterworks?”

I hadn’t noticed the tears. Can’t say I fully understand them either. “I . . . don’t know.” I put the peeler down and swipe at my face.

Celine leans over the table and lowers her voice. “You were out there, weren’t you?”


“Has to be disorienting. I won’t ask what you saw. It’ll probably take some time, but you’ll be okay, sweetie.” She pats my hand.

We continue peeling and chopping in silence for a while. The other women in the room don’t talk, and I have a growing suspicion it’s because of me.

The abundance of fresh vegetables in the kitchen, not canned or frozen, piques my curiosity. “Fresh veggies?”

Celine’s ever-present smile widens. “Wondered when you’d ask. Hydroponics—freshwater and salt.”


“Would you like to see the gardens? If you're going to be working the kitchen, you'll need to get familiar anyway.” Celine drops the knife and plucks the peeler from my hand. She turns to the whisperers. “Hey, frick and frack—come on over and finish this while I show Marie around.”

As we leave the room, the blonde one shoots me a resentful glare. I smile sweetly with a big old screw you in my eyes.

Celine walks briskly through the halls behind the kitchen, and I have to practically trot to keep up with her. I don't think it's purposeful; she seems to be a high energy, no-nonsense person.

The area outside the gardens is industrial and reminds me of the power plant. I swallow the painful pang the thought causes.

“Here we are. Prepare to be amazed.” Celine leads me through a doorway hung with thick strips of opaque plastic.

There's an instant atmospheric change, the gardens warm and humid. Rows and rows of fruits and vegetables grow in troughs, on racks, or latticework. Other than the aisles necessary to maintain and harvest the bounty, every available space flourishes with edible, living things. At the end of the long room, another doorway covered by hanging plastic strips leads to a second, equally large garden.

“Amazing doesn’t begin to cover it, Celine. This is . . . just, wow.”

Celine follows me at a distance with a knowing expression. “We plant in waves—an attempt to produce year round. We have an occasional shortage, but so far, it’s working pretty well.”

“How long have you been here?”

Celine looks me dead in the eye. “I’ve been here a little over a year.”

“A year . . . but . . .” I shake my head. The outbreak happened just over six months ago.

“Sector Seven was built for this. Surely you don’t think this was all thrown together in a few months?” She waves a hand and laughs.

A strange fluttering takes up residence in my chest. “How many sectors are there?”

“That’s above my pay grade, but rumor has it there are twelve or thirteen.”

I fight not to jump all over that tidbit and let her know how shocked and eager I am for more information. “All like this one?”

We walk along a narrow aisle in the second garden and take a right into a storage room with bins of harvested produce.

“Yup. Underground facilities in secret locations, designed to be as self-sustaining as possible—built for a dilly of a pickle, just like the one we’re in now.” Celine grabs a wooden basket and fills it with apples and pears. “Tarts for dessert tonight.”

“What about the survivors they pick up?”

She continues picking through the fruit and doesn’t look my way. “The people they rescue, you mean? Rescues go to quarantine for a while because of the virus. Some end up here, but most of them staff our sister facility. We don’t want to bring an excess of virus here since we’re still working on a cure.”

The way she describes survivors as “rescues” reminds me of an animal shelter. Does Celine know what’s being done to the immune at their sister facility? Are most of these people ignorant of the horrors happening around them? I have a hard time believing everyone here condones the life-threatening experiments. Most important—how high does the evil go? Is this the only sector conducting the experiments, or are they all participating?

“Earth to Marie.” Celine waves a hand in front of my face. “You okay?”

I blink. “Yeah, sorry. Zoned out for a sec. It’s a lot to take in.” I rub back of my neck. “Do you know anything about the cure? I mean, are they close?”

“From what I understand, very close. Rumor has it we'll be the first to know. Most of the top scientists in the country are here in Sector Seven.”

The rest of the afternoon is filled with food prep. The ladies in the kitchen start to thaw, even frick and frack, and by the time I'm leaving to go back to my room, we're even joking around a little.

Gibbs is absent from the dinner table, leaving me to breathe easier. I can't say I enjoy myself, but the food is good, and the people are nice. It's hard to look at the majority of them as my enemies. Based on my initial observations, the alliance keeps their people content and blissfully clueless by segregating them from the immune lab rats. I'm sure broadcasting messages from the president doesn't hurt either.

James escorts me to my room after dinner, removing his hat and tucking it under his arm. “May I come in? Talk a while, have a drink?”

“Um . . .” I'm torn by the need to gain his trust and discover more intel versus my desire to stuff my face into the pillows to cry. “Sure. Not too long, though. Celine worked me like a dog!”

I let us in and turn the lights on. We settle on the couch with a snifter of brandy. James pours, handing me a glass and raising his own. “To better times.”

That's a toast I can be enthusiastic about. “To better times.” We touch glasses, and I gulp the brandy, a trail of heat traveling from throat to belly and blooming into a slow roasting fire.

James refills our glasses.

“Trying to ply me with alcohol?” I ask with a raised brow.

“Is it working?” He grins at me, a devilish glint in his eyes.

I look away without answering. After a few beats of awkward silence, I decide to make the most of being stuck with James and see what I can find out. “So . . . rumor has it the alliance is close to a cure.”

James leans back with a sigh and rubs a hand over the scruff on his face. “Marie, I'm a soldier. I protect, do reconnaissance, kick ass.”

I cross my arms. “Are you immune?”


“You strike me as a man in the know, especially if it personally affects you.”

He laughs. “You're very perceptive. I warn you, I don't know anything scientific.”

“It would go over my head anyway.”

James takes a sip of his brandy and considers me carefully. “You strike me as a highly intelligent woman. From what I understand, the current vaccine still works but its efficacy is diminished. Each time it's given, the length of inoculation shortens considerably. There's also the factor of individual immune systems and prior maladies, which can further shorten the duration of effectiveness for some.”

“My mom mentioned a new treatment.”

“Experimental treatments are being done on those considered at greatest risk to contract the virus—mostly people with preexisting conditions or those who are no longer responding well to vaccine.”

“What kind of treatments?”

James leans forward and taps the tip of my nose with a finger. “That I don't know, sweet Marie.”

“Has anyone here had the treatment?”

“You're just full of questions, aren't you? Citizens undergoing treatment are located and monitored in our sister facility.”

“How many sectors are there?”

“That's classified.” James says this with a grin, leaving me to wonder if he's being serious. He fidgets on the couch and gulps the rest of his brandy, immediately pouring another and shifting closer to me. He pushes the hair over my shoulder and runs his nose up the side of my neck. “I can think of more promising things to explore.” His lips graze my earlobe, and I shiver. James takes it as a shiver of pleasure and cups my face, pressing open-mouthed kisses over my neck and jaw.

I shut my eyes and force myself not to slap him. James isn't doing anything unexpected. After all, I gave him the green light to court me. He has no idea how repulsed I am or that the man I love is alive and well. For the first time, the thought like mother, like daughter flits through my mind. My mother gave up her children for a life of ease. I'm trying to get back to those I love. Big difference. How come it doesn't feel like it, then?

James kisses his way across my jaw until his mouth hovers over mine. “Hey,” he whispers.

My lids flutter open, and he's so close I can see the flecks of navy in his irises. My hands clench into fists, nails digging deeply into my palms.

“Relax.” One hand slips under my hair, the thumb of his other sliding under my chin to tip my face up. His lips ghost across mine, and I shut my eyes again. “So beautiful.”

Please, God. I yearn for that white room with its stained ceiling tiles and day after day of nothing. What have I gotten myself into?

James keeps pressing gentle kisses to my mouth, cheeks, and jaw, approaching me like a scared rabbit. I hate every second, but maybe I can handle this. Perhaps he'll back off; he did promise we'd take things slowly.

I'm frozen, like petrified wood. Does he sense my unwillingness, feel the rigid posture of my body, notice I'm not returning his kiss?

James leans in, guiding us until he's laying half on top of me, the kiss more aggressive. His hand leaves my face and slips under the neckline of my shirt, pinching a nipple between his fingers. He thrusts his hips against my thigh at the same time, releasing a soft grunt.

“Mm-mph!” I turn my head to the side, causing his lips to drag across my cheek. “James, please stop. I can't.”

“Shh . . . come on, sweet Marie. Let me help you forget.” He palms my breast, squeezing gently, and his lips come down on mine again. This time, I smell the brandy on his breath as he parts his lips and tries to slide his tongue into my mouth.

I turn my head again, and he ends up licking my face. “Get off me! Please!” I buck and wriggle beneath him, tears spilling over.

James sits up, pulling me with him. “Hey, hey . . . it's okay.” He raises both hands in front of his chest. “Sorry if I misinterpreted your signals.”

“I—I'm not ready t-to forget.”

“My bad. I'll wait.”

I’m surprised. “Y-you will?”

“Well, I can't take what you aren't ready to give, can I?”

“You're not mad?”

“What kind of monster do you think I am?” He laughs and takes my hand. “There's nothing exciting to me about an unwilling lay. You'll come around soon enough.”

His calmly delivered words don't reassure me; they sound like a threat.

* * *

In the morning, James escorts me to breakfast. He’s pleasant, offering me his arm as we walk, and doesn’t mention the uncomfortable events of last night. Garth and my mother are conspicuously absent. As a matter of fact, half of the soldiers are missing, including Gibbs.

“Stay here. I’ll get our food.” James walks away without waiting for an answer and returns a few minutes later.

“Oh my God, pancakes!” I pour a liberal amount of syrup over the pile of thick, fluffy pancakes and get busy cutting and eating.

James laughs. “If I knew all it took was pancakes . . .”

I halt mid-bite, almost choking on my food.

Feedback squeals through the dining hall as the PA system crackles to life.

Attention, citizens of the alliance: there’s an intense storm system heading our way. Expected landfall is early tomorrow morning, but trajectory could change. Designated emergency personnel, please report to Meeting Room Two for a preparedness conference. Further announcements will be made as necessary. Thank you.

“Shit. I have to go to that meeting.” James scoops up a few more bites and wipes his mouth with a napkin. “Will you be all right on your own?”

“Yeah. Celine will keep me busy.”

“Good.” He stands, picking up his plate.

“Where are my mother and Garth?”

“Over at the other facility.” His brow wrinkles, and he looks uncomfortable. “Marie . . . Nina is receiving the experimental treatment.”

“What? Why?”

James tilts his head with a sympathetic expression. “The vaccine isn’t working anymore.”

“Why didn’t they tell me?”

“Probably didn’t want to worry you.” He leans down and kisses my cheek. “Later.”

You shunned her every time she tried to talk to you.

Why do I always end up feeling like a heel? The half-eaten pancakes no longer hold the same attraction, so I clear my tray and report to the kitchen. I’m hoping work will take my mind off all the things that are bothering me.

The girls in the kitchen are friendlier than yesterday. Everyone seems on edge about the coming storm. We’re underground, which should keep us safe from land damage. I wonder what plans they have in place in case of a power outage. That could get sticky, especially since we have no windows to let in light.

We’re in the middle of food prep when a loud, wailing siren sounds. I jump, the knife slipping from my grasp and narrowly missing my finger. “Shit! What the hell is that?”

Celine lifts her head calmly, but the look in her eyes frightens me. “Trouble. There should be an announcement any second.”

“Is it the storm?”

Celine shakes her head slowly. “Nope, but that might complicate things.”

The PA crackles and whines.

Attention! There’s been a level three breach in Sector 7-A. All non-essential personnel report to your quarters and await further instruction. Emergency personnel report to hangar two for dispatch. The storm is picking up speed. High winds and rain expected by midnight. Thank you.

Everyone but me starts running around, cleaning up.

I look to Celine. “What does that mean?”

Her mouth is set in a grim line. “It means we’re suffering from a double dose of bad luck. It also means you should get your keister back to your quarters. All of you! Shove what you’re working on into the walk-in, and get to your quarters and pray it’s a false alarm.”

“What’s a level three breach?"

“I don’t know, Marie. We’ve never had one before.”

After the initial rush and buzz of people questioning the breach and the storm, silence descends as we return to our quarters. I wait an hour and leave my room, sneaking through the halls, but end up racing back to my room as if the devil himself is chasing me because the silence is so unnerving.

I can’t read. I do drink two glasses of brandy and end up falling asleep on the couch.

A bang jolts me awake. The lights dim and brighten several times. I strain to hear, wondering if the noise that woke me was real or from a dream. Maybe the flickering lights disturbed my sleep.

I pace around, wanting to look outside but afraid at the same time. I press my ear to the crack in the door but hear nothing.

The lights go out, plunging the room into darkness. I blink, the imprint of the room still floating before my eyes for a few seconds before the dark bleeds into my vision like spilled ink. Panic claws at my chest. I’ve never done well in the dark. Or alone. Alone in the dark.

My breath whistles as panic constricts my lungs.

Dim light shines under my door, and I fumble at the lock, yanking it open. Emergency lights cast a reddish glow in the hall. I breathe slowly and deeply, remembering a happy memory the way Max taught me.

There was a power outage during a storm when Katie and I were twelve. I started panicking, and nothing seemed to help, not even the comforting arms of my twin. Katie sighed dramatically and grabbed the cigar box with her secret treasures. “Here.” She dropped something cool and smooth into my hand.

“What is it?”

“It’s a ring. Put it on.”

“A ring? How’s that supposed to help?”

Katie clicked on her flashlight and shined the beam at my palm. The ring had a small glass globe with dandelion fluff trapped inside.

“Whoa . . .”

“It’s a wish ring.”

“Where’d you get this?”

“A bet with Bobby McKay. He lost, obviously.” Katie slipped the ring on my finger. “Rub the glass and wish your scareds away.”

I side down the wall, closing my tear-filled eyes, and wish my fear away. “I need you, Kiki.”

A scuff at the end of the hall sends my heart into overdrive, but I don’t see anything in the dimness. I listen for another sound, for any sound besides the faint buzz of the emergency lighting, and hear nothing.

I wrap my arms around my knees, scared to sit out here but too afraid to lock myself in a dark room. What is everyone else doing? Why aren’t they out in the hall, seeking the light? My body shakes, and tears blur my vision. This feels surreal, like a nightmare, but I know it’s not.

I notice a shadow of movement from the corner of my eye. A smart person wouldn’t be so obvious, but I turn my head and look directly at the figure coming toward me. In the reddish light, his boots and clothing appear black. When he passes through the shadows obscuring his face, I scream. He’s covered with war paint.

He rushes me, scooping me off the floor and pressing a hand over my mouth. We end up inside my room with the door shut. In the dark.

I struggle, trying to remember all the self-defense moves Dad taught me. He throws me to the floor and straddles me, pinning my arms. With my mouth free, I try to yell, but it’s hard with him sitting on me.

“Shh . . . Marie, for fuck’s sake—it’s me!”



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

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Kimberly Gould Week 135: Perspective

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Perspective

Cheryl looked over her shoulder at her mother. Nodding slightly, Cheryl took it to mean that she was safe, that the strange creature on the other side wouldn’t hurt her. Curious, Cheryl was glad she could come closer and get a better look. Leaning on the glass, the peered through for a closer look. She had seen this animal before, but not this one, not this cub. Something familiar, shared, passed between them.

Cheryl looked to her mother one more time, but the large figure was moving away. Cheryl couldn’t help but start back again.

How did she have pink fur?


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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, January 19, 2015

SJ Maylee Week 135: A Way Through

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SJ Maylee’s’ Choice: Both

Title: A Way Throughs

Jonathon landed in Norfolk last week. Since he gave up on his attempts to reach Chicago, the fates have let him stay longer and longer in each spot. They might think he’d given up on reaching his Roxanne, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It didn’t matter how long it took, he’d figure a way to get to her.

The search was the only thing keeping him going. The weight of losing her might get heavier every year, but the thought of giving up was something he couldn’t do.

He looked at his watch and began pacing. The innkeeper claimed the town philosopher walked by this time every afternoon. It had taken him far too long this time to track someone down. Any minute, the fates could take him away. He kicked the side of the building. If he was ever going to figure out a way, he’d have to up his game.

Landing in the swamp area last year was his turning point. The tribe he’d met in the surrounding woods had provided him with a wealth of information. From their teachings, he’d learned the importance of perspective. They may have given him research for the fates, but, more importantly, they sparked an idea.

He might not be able to get to Roxanne, but she might be able to bring him to her.

His gaze caught movement behind him. He tripped over his feet as he crossed the street.

“Mr. Perkins?”

“Yes?” The man kept moving, only glancing his way for a mere second.

“Sir, I’m hoping you can help me.” He picked up his pace. Heat raced up the front of his shins. “Please, you might be my last hope.” Tension buzzed through him each time his heel struck the pavement.

“Not here.” His stride remained even. “My shop’s on the next block.”

He struggled to keep pace with the little man. A moment later, they entered the dusty shop.

“I’ve been expecting you.” He pulled out a box from behind the counter and laid out a pen, a notebook, and a candle. “We have no time to waste.”


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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, January 18, 2015

Miranda Kate Week 134: New Location

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Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: New Location (Part 2 - follow on from Frozen)

The neighbouring house had proved a no-go area; it was entirely infested and they had to be stripped down bare when they came out, and washed off in snow – being as that was the only water they had. It sucked, and Janice was the first to say it.

“We can’t stick around here without water, and with there being so many places still infested, we just can’t risk it.”

“So what do you propose?” Roderick said, shivering in several layers of spare dry clothing. “Where are we going to go?”

“My votes for the mountains.” Daniels said.

Everyone looked at him, a bit stunned. Mountains surrounded the city, they could be seen from every point, particularly with the city’s grid system layout; the horizon point always ended with a spectacular view of them.

“How would that be any better than being stuck here without any water? At this time of year it’s going to be nothing but snow up there,” Abby said, rubbing Roderick’s arms as she spoke, trying to help him break the shivers that were still coursing through his body.

“I know all about mountain survival. My dad taught me. Our ranch was on the edge of the Flaggerty Range over in the East. My dad had a cabin up there. We could head for that. It has its own generator, although I’ve no idea what state it would be in, it’s been years since anyone’s been up there.”

“How big is it? Would it fit us all in?” Hanson looked round at their group of nine adults and four kids.

“It’d be tight - there are only four bedrooms, but in this weather it would keep us warm. Again, I can’t guarantee what state it’s in though. I think my brother went up there about three years ago and did some work on it, so it should be okay, but …”

“How long would it take to get up there?” Roderick though it was worth checking out.

“Well if we can find a couple of four wheel drives and some gasoline, we could drive up there in about five or six hours – depending. We might have to dig our way through some of the mountain passes, but I’ve done it before.”

“And there’s water up there?” Janice wanted confirmation it was going to be worth the trip.

“Yep, I know where there’s a fresh water stream, and a river too in the summer. Plus with all the snow up there we can use it for melting. It won’t be contaminated like the stuff down here.”

Janice nodded; her frown reducing with a possible solution was in sight.

“Plus come summer, there’s lots of flat space around the cabin, we could build another house.”

Daniels looked round at everyone. He could see that they were thinking about it. Some of the worried expressions had lifted, as they were imagining it.

“Shall we put it to the vote? All those in favour raise a hand.”

It was unanimous, every hand went up.

“Okay, that’s settled. Hanson, shall we go looking for some trucks now then? Why don’t you ladies start packing us up and maybe we can get moving as early as tomorrow morning?”

There was a general murmur of agreement and everyone started moving, enthused with the idea of a new location and starting afresh; a new life that would take them away from all the death and destruction the infestation had brought. Daniels even noted a few smiles creeping in, especially on the faces of the smaller kids. A new purpose and focus brought relief for everyone.


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Friday, January 16, 2015

RJ Ames Week 134: You

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RL Ames’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: You

It’s the little things now. The rituals that keep me sane. The slosh of a tea bag as it’s dunked up and down in hot water. The sorting of laundry into color piles. The swish of the windshield wipers as they clear away the rain when I drive to the market. The click of the remote as three hundred and forty two channels flash in front of my eyes. These are the things that make sense. This is what my life has become.

I don’t think. I don’t remember. I don’t reminisce fondly. It’s too painful, and it costs me too much. I wake up. Dunk, dunk dunk. I sort. Whites, colors, darks. Wash, rinse, repeat. Click, click, click.

That’s all I can handle. Because if there’s anything else. If I pause, even just for a moment, you come rushing back in. When given even the briefest of opportunities, the memory of you kicks down the door of my mental reserves, and you’re everywhere. And when you’re everywhere, I’m nowhere. I’m curled up in a ball just trying to survive until you leave me again.

So I can’t. I can’t think about any of it. I can’t remember the Sunday mornings we spent in bed sharing the paper. I don’t think about the walks we’d take on crisp winter mornings, trudging through frozen fields and orchards, or how we’d get so cold I’d swear my fingers were going to fall right off, but you’d just laugh and take my hands between your own and blow your warm breath over my fingers.

And I definitely can’t recall the summer we spent in Europe. How we explored castles so ancient and enormous we’d get lost in them for hours, our voices echoing off the great stone walls as we laughed and chased each other in some sort of grownup game of hide and seek. There were the lazy afternoon boat rides we took along sluggish and muddy rivers whose names we could never pronounce. You’d sigh and lean back, the sun glinting off your skin as if you were born of bronze instead of flesh, and I’d wish for the day to never end.

But they did end. Everything ended.

Do you still remember? Does it feel like a piece of your soul has been torn away, and where it used to be there’s now just a festering wound? Does it feel like there’s nothing in the world, no salve or balm anywhere, that will ever make it better?

Because no matter how hard I try. No matter how securely I bare the door where those memories and those thoughts of you live, you always find your way in.

Dunk. Dunk. Swish. Swish. Click. Click.


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RL Ames spends her time chasing after her almost four year old son and sneaks in time for writing whenever she can. She can be found at