Saturday, February 28, 2015

J M Blackman Week 140: Fixed

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J.M. Blackman’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Fixed

She is barbed wire. Necessary. Useful. Hard. Sharp. And yet you always want to test the sharpness, though you know it could hurt, though you know it could cut.

You want to try her barriers, though you can clearly see them. You want to try and slip between those lines, despite the fact that you know you can't fit. Despite the fact that you know it isn't a good idea.

You keep pushing against her as if she'll change, as if she'll give.

But the only thing that happens is that you keep scratching yourself. Keep cutting yourself.

You are not a wire cutter. And she is barbed wire. She will not change.

Perhaps if you were wind and water you could weather her; but you're only a man, smooth and warm and squishy.

She is barbed wire.

Necessary. Useful. Hard. Sharp.


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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, February 26, 2015

Mark Ethridge Week 140: If It’s Just A Dream, Let Me Dream (Part 4)

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: One

Title: If It’s Just A Dream, Let Me Dream (Part 4)

I didn’t ask if the suits worked during the flares, I knew they shielded their wearers from the solar radiation of the flares.

“We are ready when you are, General!”

“I’ll need you to distract them.”

One of the blue beings laughed, “We have a plan for that.”

I knew the best time to act was during the flares, when others like me would feel safe, protected by nature. I knew that’s why I had the suits. Oddly enough, they were zip on suits, made of type of plastic. They were not metal. Once I pulled one on, and zipped myself in, I saw a series of control panels on the display.

I remembered.

There was a war within my people. A widespread war. On one side, they fought as God’s Chosen, believing it was their God-given right to rule the universe, and do whatever they wanted to other worlds, and other people. “They are animals. Non-believers. They are in the way of God’s work.”

On the other side, my side, we fought to defend life. All life. Not because we were God’s children. We fought because life was life and as such, sacred. We fought because life was a gift, one to nourish, protect.

It was one of my nightmares come true. I’d always imagined a time when the people of the church and the rest of us could no longer live in peace. It was always started, as history always said, by religion. A hundred worlds had fallen. Untold billions had died. By the hand of Christians. God’s people.

We’d tried to stop ourselves using peaceful means. Negotiation. Laws. Economics. Nothing worked. Religious intolerance overrode every action we took, everything we tried. And the bloodshed continued, world after world. “In God’s name.”

Lacking any other option, we’d gone to war. With ourselves.

It was a war for the soul of our people. A war with no winner. There could only be losers. And death. Never ending death. Until one side destroyed the other, or both sides died out. And in either case, the stars would be filled with our blood

“I’m guessing they took her to their base.”

Blue nodded.

Their base. How typical of them. Mow the surface flat for square miles all around. Build houses, and stores, and whatever they wanted to build. Destroy the life of the area. Stand boldly against nature, protected in armored buildings, as if that were normal. Don’t blend in with the world. If what you wanted killed all life on the planet, it was the will of God.

And they’d be armed. Of course, they were well armed. It was their God-given right to carry weapons of every kind. We’re not talking guns. Guns were so 21st century. Everything was a smart weapon. Designed to kill, with on-board intelligence that continuously refined its aim, guided it to its target. God’s people had nearly mastered the art of murder.

We had our defenses, and our weapons. All based on energy and quantum mechanics. We could turn the air dense, like stone, so their weapons never reached their targets. We had our own weapons, every bit as deadly as theirs. And they had their defenses, every bit as capable as ours. Conventional warfare run wild, pushed to its extreme, to its limits.

We planned our assault on their base, the distractions, the feints, the traps. With me slipping in, using my ability to blend in. I’d locate her. I’d free her. We’d escape. And God’s children would go berserk as they hunted us. They’d destroy everything in their path.

No one knew how many of God’s children would die in the traps we’d have set for them. We knew they’d be coming. We counted on it.

With our plan in place, it was time to eat, and rest.

That night, I slept in a bed, in the caves. Normally, my wife would have slept with me. The next night she would, or I’d be dead. Either way, God’s Children would pay dearly for what they’d done to her, and to the people of Blue’s world.

I slept. And waited. It was almost time.


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


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Samantha Lee Week 140: Masks

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Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Masks

We all wear masks, some even more so than others. We have to; it’s a simple fact of life that we conform the truth of ourselves to fit the circumstances of any given situation. We’re polite and formal with strangers, easygoing and friendly with acquaintances, respectful and honest with family. We cut ourselves into pieces and recreate who we are, becoming collages of truths buried amongst lies. Sometimes…sometimes I wonder if any of us remember who we really are.

I look at the woman in the bed. She’s beautiful, every contour, every line so perfect you’d think she’d been sculpted by divine hands. Her skin is so tanned its golden hue seems to almost glow against the dark silk sheets and her blood red hair comes off like rubies on black velvet. When she’s awake, when she’s out in public for all the world to see, she wears brightly coloured gowns and stands out like a sparkling jewel amongst any crowd. Her energy all but vibrates around her, her aura an almost visible inferno around her. Asleep…asleep, she’s delicate, fragile, her vibrant energy buried deep within her and contained. It’s one of the greatest lies I’ve ever witnessed.

This woman…she has so many masks. I’ve watched her, studied her, for what seems like centuries now, and I’m still not sure I know who she is, who she really is.

Today she killed a man. She reached her hand into his chest, closed her fingers around his heart, and pulled it out. It was over in a matter of seconds, his body crumpling at her feet. The heart…it actually beat – thump, thump, thump – in her hand before she let it fall to the floor to join his body. She held out her clean hand and her guard gave her a handkerchief to wipe off the blood, her face remaining calm and dispassionate the entire time. Then she walked back to her throne, bounced back into her seat, and smiled as she asked for the next person seeking her audience to step forth.

Once, I watched her order an entire city burned to the ground. She'd been angry, so very, very angry; the city had learned of a troll under one of their bridges, blamed it for their run of recent bad luck, and dragged it out into their city centre to be drawn and quartered. This after having left it tied up for days while the citizens took turns torturing it. The troll had been gentle and compassionate, had never hurt anyone, and, worst of all for the city, had been a friend of hers. She...she's never been very good at grieving. Case and point: after the city was turned to cinders, she ensured all the adult citizens endured deaths as painful and humiliating as his had been, and then cursed their children and all their bloodline to come to wander eternity without ever finding another home.

Ruthless, merciless, and absolute, she swiftly and decisively eliminates any threat to her people with extreme prejudice, accepting no arguments or excuses. What's worse, she learned first hand long ago that death is far from worst fate to endure and her punishments reflect this.

When she was a child, I witnessed the day she came into her power. She was at the ruins of an ancient temple which, unbeknownst to anyone, turned out to be haunted. Enemies of her father, planning to capture her and use her as leverage against him, ambushed her entourage at the ruins. Her bodyguards were killed and her handmaidens brutalized while she hid, curled in a ball on the lap of a seated statue. Over and over, with no one left to hear her, she whispered "Don't let them hurt me. Don't let them hurt me." When the rebels found her, she scrambled back as they reached for her and screamed, the sound echoing through the ruins, the terror vibrating through the stone so deeply that to this day still it echoes there. Following on the fading tail of that note came the erupting wave of her power, a chilling blast that swept out, searching, probing, hunting, trying to find what it needed - what SHE needed - to survive. And it found him - the ghost of the ruins - a djinn who, millennia ago, had been savagely killed where once a palace temple had stood. It took his spirit, gave him flesh, and summoned him to her defence. He slaughtered the rebels, their weapons and magic useless against him, then sat with her until her father’s guards arrived to bring her home.

She has a mate. He's a vampire prince she met when he tried to assassinate her. Repeatedly. Over several decades. Gradually, a sort of affection took seed between them and, with time, grew and flourished, becoming love. The tipping point happened in New York City. He was chasing her over the rooftops, throwing knives at her back as she leapt and spun and danced through the air, her laughter trailing behind her like silk on the wind. Every once in awhile she'd catch his knives and send them spinning back towards him, her twirling motion so graceful she didn't even break stride. Then another assassin decided to take advantage of the distraction the vampire provided to slip ahead of her and stab a blade through her abdomen. As the other assassin moved to slice a second blade across her throat, her vampire saved her, snapping her attacker's neck and pulling her back from the roof's edge. I can still remember the smile she gave him as he frantically tried to apply pressure to her wound, still hear her tone, pain-laced though it was, as she told him, "I thought me dead was the goal here, slayer." His panicked laughter as he told her he wasn't through with their game was far from fairy tale perfect but it made her smile, made her laugh, made her...happy.

She would never admit it, but she loves attending the lavish balls she's expected to regularly throw. She loves getting to wear the elegant gowns and the fancy hairstyles, loves being able to dance with her mate, loves getting to watch her people indulge themselves, be happy. She'd have them go on forever if she could. She loves cooking, which is ironic given that she doesn’t need to eat, but she enjoys taking this and that and creating delicious meals for others to consume. She can play both the violin and the cello, what she is allowing her to move the bow more swiftly across the strings than any human could, achieving sounds you wouldn't have thought the instruments possible of. She loves to work at her computer, writing code and hacking firewalls just for the fun of it, says it relaxes her. She rearranges furniture on the spur of the moment, sometimes going so far as to redecorate to get the look right. She has cats - a half dozen fairy cats and a dozen more of various breeds from lions and tigers to Siamese and tabbies. They're around her constantly and she delights in spoiling them rotten. She trains - both in martial arts and with weapons - with her wraiths, brother, and mate. She goes out into Faerie and simply plays, freely using her magic, embracing all that she is like a wild bird at long last set free from its cage.

She's linked to her people; she is the source of all magic, all power for her people, and shares in their feelings, be they physical or emotional. She knows every thought, every secret, every action. She knows when they've fallen in love, when they're frightened, when they're hurt. She goes to their weddings, attends their births, mourns each of their passing. She comforts their children in the dark, promising them to keep the monsters at bay. She soothes them in their grief and wrath, protects them when they're vulnerable, and never - NEVER - holds their nature against them, accepting them for what they are without reservation or judgment. She's angry with them - so very, very angry with them; they stood idly by and allowed such horrible things to befall her. She's there for them, always, but when it was she who was trouble, she who needed help and protection, in their fear they did nothing, just idly sat by, then blamed her when she couldn't take anymore and lashed out. Doesn't hold it against them though. I would.

But then night falls and she's simply...this; the vulnerable, delicate little doll asleep in her bed. Her wraiths leave her at night; they cannot bear to watch what's coming, to stand near her and know there is no way for them to help her, to soothe her. Her mate's away on one of his mission, trying to build up his syndicate to compete with his mother's coven. Her brother, her friends...none of them know about this, about what happens at night when the darkness creeps in and the shadows deepen. It begins like it always does, with a moan. She starts to twist and turn and kick and roll, her moans turning to screams as she called for a father murdered long ago and begged for an end impossible for her. I wonder sometimes if she realizes that, gripped in the claws of her nightmares, her glamour slips. The scars of her past - the jagged cuts, the smooth slices, the web-like burns, all of it - are laid bare, the illusion of her perfect beauty gone, the reality of her marred and damaged skin revealed. She...she has so many. Claw scratches - now four parallel scars - slash across the left side of her face. Burns are random patches on her sides and legs. Her back bears the marks of repeated lashings. Her torso is a network of incisions, the result of repeated vivisections conducted, the torturer claimed, for science. She...her nightmares were earned, are justified. Her scars...they're not just on the outside.

I go closer, kneeling beside her, wanting to offer comfort but unable to do more than watch, bear witness, and remember. Remember nights long ago - so very, very long ago - when she'd cry out for me and I could go to her. My mother, she told me that comfort bred weakness, that strength needed to be forged through pain and suffering successfully endured. My mother, in other words, was more than a little cold. I was, I'd like to think, more compassionate in my views and, consequently, more pragmatic in my practices. I would comfort my daughter, soothe her nightmares. I would race with her through the forest, play hide and seek with her in the palace, practice magic with her in our gardens, teach her swordplay in the ballroom. She used to love archery but her eyesight...after she came into her power, she couldn't see as well, couldn't aim accurately. She was heartbroken; her wraith - the djinn from the ruins - started teaching her knife-throwing not long afterwards.

I don't know if my empathy bred weakness, but for almost a century, my daughter knew happiness, knew laughter, knew joy. I knew. I knew that monsters would come, knew that her years would fill with torment one after the other, knew that the darkness would swallow her whole and set to shredding her with its claws. Before she ever took her first breath, I knew how one day her voice would grow hoarse from screaming, how one day her mind would snap under the deluge of constant pain. I knew. I even understood it was necessary. But...but I wanted her to have something more, something bright and full of joy that she could cling to in her darkest moments, something to remind her that the hell she endured was but a perversion, to show her that life could be so much more than what it had become for her. My darling girl...

Her cat - a fairy breed she found half-dead as a kitten centuries ago - leaps up onto the bed. He nudges her with his nose until she shifts enough for him to slip in next to her, shifting his size from domestic kitty to something larger, something wilder. She sighs and snuggles against him, her glamour rippling over her once more, her peace restored for tonight.

So, yes, we all wear masks, some even more so than others. We have to; the truth of who and what we are...if everyone saw it, if it was laid bare for all the world to would destroy us. And so we hide, we bury deep our secret selves, and we present to the world what the masks we need to. It's, to put it simply, survival.


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Monday, February 23, 2015

Lizzie Koch Week 140: Innocence Lost

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Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Innocence Lost

What if you die?” Casey asked her father. “Who’ll protect me then?”

“I’m not going to die Casey,” Fynn reassured.

“That’s a stupid thing to say. Everyone dies.” She stared at him, noting a flicker of defeat belying his self assured, firm expression. “I need to start protecting myself because one day . . . you won’t be able to.” She spoke softly. Arguing and shouting at her father never worked.

“Promise me you stay close. Do as I say.”

Casey smiled, taking the rifle.

This was Casey’s world now. She had to learn to fight and defend instead of babysitting the kids. She’d killed her fair share of Biters; it wasn’t easy . . . at first. She had to shake the thought there was anything human left about them. Once she did that, there was no more hesitations.

Raiders were different.

There were two types of human; Survivors or Raiders. Casey’s group were Survivors, trying to make a community, to settle in one place for as long as possible. Defending against Biter’s was easy. It was the Raiders who made surviving difficult.

And they were fast approaching.

They never negotiated. They never showed mercy. They took what they wanted and destroyed what they didn’t. Including people.

“Keep your eye on one target. Don’t change your mind, Don’t hesitate,” Fynn whispered as they bunked down behind the barricade. “You boys OK?” he asked AJ and Jack. They were in Casey’s class at school. It was their first time on the front line too. They nodded.

Silence crept across the camp. Her trigger finger trembled. Waiting was the worst. It seemed like an eternity but she knew the Raiders were waiting for the sun to set which wasn’t long as streaks of red blazoned across the sky, bidding the sun farewell.

“And remember,” Fynn said, “shoot to kill.”

As he finished, the silence cracked. Casey couldn’t decide whether the Raiders were clever or stupid. Raiders preferred quieter methods of killing which meant getting in real close. Up against a bullet; no contest. But noise attracted any nearby Biters and the Raiders were vulnerable. It didn’t seem to bother Casey’s father as he fired shot after shot. Her head felt like it was splitting. She couldn’t concentrate, her eyes ached as she tried to focus on a target. Right in front of her. Stooped and moving quickly, the target was in easy range. She tried to block out the surrounding mayhem, the shouts as AJ was hit in the shoulder.

Her breathing steadied.

She squeezed the trigger.

The target crumbled. Still.

No one noticed. But Casey did. She couldn’t lift her eyes from the body, lying a few feet away. She didn’t notice the gunfire peeter out until an uncomfortable silence descended.

The Raiders were gone, leaving their dead.

“You did good,” Fynn said, resting a hand on Casey’s shoulder. “Real good.”

She was about to reply when a faint groaning echoed through the dark, over the boundary.

“I’ll check it out. Stay here.” Fynn scrambled over the boundary with Jack. Casey watched as they dragged a body back, where Casey had hit her target.

“Is he still alive?” she asked as the man groaned.

“Barely.” Casey looked on as her father stripped off the man’s headgear, revealing a young face who, if things were different, could have been in the same class as Casey. She felt sick. Her first kill wasn’t a kill and it wasn’t a man. “We’ll get him to sick bay.”

Casey wasn’t allowed in but Jack gave her his belongings to search through. There wasn’t much. A few sticks of gum, a bottle of water, a roll of money which was useless in this new world and a tatty music magazine. He liked the same bands she did.

A hand gently shook Casey awake. She had fallen asleep, clasping the magazine. She looked up into her father’s tired face. “I’m sorry Casey. He didn’t make it.” His arms wrapped around her, no longer able to shield her from death, from pain. The last shred of her innocence died with the boy.


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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 139: The Collector (Part 3)

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Laura James’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: The Collector (Part 3)

Hector was struggling. It was taking far longer than he wanted to get his brothers room ready for the collection. It didn't help that he could only enter the room when both his parents were out of the house and these days they rarely left together. Even if they did it was never for more than a couple of hours which was hardly enough time for his plans to progress very far. His resentment was building to breaking point.

He had become so good at avoiding his parents that he was surprised when they approached him at breakfast. "It's the anniversary next week." Hector stopped stirring his cereal and looked at his mother. Anniversary? What the hell was she talking about? He raised an eyebrow. "Your father and I don't feel we can be here. The pain will be too great." Oh now he got it, next week was the anniversary of his brother's death.

Sitting back in his chair he crossed his arms waiting for her to continue, sickened by the way she was clutching his father's hand, still grieving for her favourite son. "We're taking a break. Heading to the holiday home," his mother shrugged "better memories, you know."

They were leaving him alone. Elated Hector concentrated on not letting his joy show, his mind already working out how much he could accomplish while they were away. He was so focused on his plans that he missed what she said. "Sorry, what was that?"

"We don't want you to be alone, he was your brother after all." His father said, "So, your grandparents are coming to stay."

All Hector's plans tumbled away in his mind. His grandparents. He was disgusted. The simpering old fools would never leave him alone, his plans were all for nothing. He would never realise his dream. Pushing back from the table he stood, "Whatever, I'm going out."

He slammed the door and headed into the garden. When he had started down his current path, his life had purpose now he began to wonder if he had been kidding himself all these months. Maybe this was a sign to give up. It was getting harder and harder to keep his dream alive. He stopped in front of a tree, anger and frustration spilling out through his hands as he punched the tree over and over. Not noticing when his knuckles became broken and bloody, not feeling any pain when bits of skin were left on the hard bark.

The constant pounding of flesh on wood helped clear his mind. Anger spent he had a new plan. He would act the perfect grandson until his parents left and then he would create new bloody memories commemorating his brother's anniversary. They were old. They had lived a long life. No one would miss them.


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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


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Nick Johns Week 139: The State of Grace

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Nick John’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: The State of Grace

This is so unfair!

How dare Gabe talk to me like that?

Just because he’s Father’s favourite.

Just because he’s mister whiter-than-white.

I was only doing what he told me to do.

‘Look after Jane’ he said.

‘Keep an eye on her’ he said.

‘Don’t let her get into any trouble’ he said.

Does he think I am stupid?

I have been out in the world before. Just because I had a problem last time...

I went with her to the party.

Wow, was this different. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. The way these kids carried on, I was shocked, but I remembered the job I had to do.

I kept out of sight, just watched Jane.

It was pretty lame, until Peter and Paul arrived.

I mean, twin brothers, football stars, deep blue eyes - and buff too - well who wouldn’t?

Jane obviously had a thing for Peter, giving him those cow eyes of hers, and tittering and simpering at everything he said.

But she wasn’t going to get anywhere unless someone got him away from Paul.

She asked for my help - silently, of course, but I heard her plea.

So I thought, ‘Guys go to parties with a wing-man, it’s like I’m Jane’s wing-woman - ha!’ So I made sure he could see me.

His eyes nearly popped out of his head, he stood there, tongue covered in cigarette butts where he had been dragging it on the floor.

So anyway, I got him away from his brother. Jane had a clear run.

In the morning, I thought of Jane, doing the walk of shame, while I flew off, unobserved, of course.

I thought I had got away with it, but I reckoned without Father.

Of course I knew he was supposed to see everything, but I figured he couldn’t be watching everything all the time.


The next thing I knew, he had sent Gabe.

‘What was the last thing I told you?’ he said.

‘I was doing what you told me’ I said.

‘No, Grace, this is the end. After that incident with Joan of Arc, and your retraining, you were told that this was your last chance. You are dismissed’.


‘You heard. Dismissed. Leave.’

‘But, you can’t...’

‘It’s too late, Grace. The decision has been made. Father has signed off on it, you’re out’.

‘But what will I do?’

‘The same thing that others before you have done. It’s all downhill for you from here, I’m afraid.’

The smug bastard smiled a dazzling smile at his own joke.

I could have knocked those perfect teeth out, but what’s the point? I knew I couldn’t win. Even Luce had failed. You can never beat this system now, it has been going too long.

Gabe just looked down his long, flawless nose at me and pointed me to the door.

I shuffled over to it, pausing to look out at the fields beyond.

‘Grace’, Gabriel called, using the full power of his voice for the first time. ‘Leave your wings behind please’.

They lifted off my shoulders to flutter disloyally to his outstretched hand.

I stomped out into the real world, marvelling at how weak full sunshine seemed in comparison to the light I’d become used to.

The wet grass was cold on my feet. I lifted the skirts of the shimmering gown, forced to keep it out of the mud - now I could no longer fly.

This sucks!

Fallen angel, indeed!

This is so unfair!


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


Aleea Davidson Week 139: Wither Part 18

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Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: Wither Part 18

Glen shifted his stance, adjusting his balance as he twisted his torso so he could poke his head around the corner and peer down the dark hallway in the interior of yet another house. The glow from his half-dead flashlight revealed walls decorated with framed photographs, the weak beam bouncing off their dusty glass coverings and distorting the images behind into caricatures that seemed to wear mocking grins.

He could feel Mac close behind him, the man’s body heat almost welcome in the freezing cold. The air in the house was fetid; a combination of rotting garbage and the sickening cloy of decomposition coming from the carcases of two small dogs they’d found in the kitchen. The abandoned animals were curled up next to empty food bowls, waiting for meals that never came. Thankfully, the cold temperature kept the smells from overpowering the house. Glen couldn’t imagine what the stench would be like come spring.

Mac leaned in, his chest nearly hitting Glen’s back as he attempted to see around the corner himself. Glen had to resist the urge to jam his elbow into the man’s sternum. Body heat be damned—the guy stank of sour sweat, and his breath could knock over a cow.

“What are you waiting for, Glen? An invitation? Come on. Let’s get this over with. This dump is giving me the creeps.”

Gritting his teeth to keep from giving a sarcastic reply, Glen skirted the corner slowly. At this point he was sure the house was empty, but past experience made him cautious, and Mac could damn well stay behind him and follow his lead. He wasn’t about to get himself hurt or worse because the other man couldn’t control his impulsivity and nerves.

Mac should know better anyway. One of the first houses they’d searched tonight had likewise ‘seemed’ deserted. As Glen had mounted the stairs to reach the second floor, an elderly man appeared out of nowhere and rammed the barrel of a shotgun straight at Glen’s abdomen. The experience wasn’t something Glen was in a hurry to repeat. The next person might not be as inclined as that gentleman had been to save his bullets.

Working in grudging tandem with Mac, they gave the three bedrooms a fast onceover and poked their heads into the two bathrooms. Assured the house was indeed uninhabited, Glen whistled softly, his signal to Mara waiting downstairs at the front entrance that it was safe to join them. He listened as her footsteps hit the stairs and smiled when she joined them in the hall.

That’s what he’d done every time they’d repeated this pattern. Grinned at her. Like an idiot. The desperation of their situation didn’t matter to his lovesick, whipped heart. Wisps of her hair, imbibed with static electricity, escaped her thick knit hat, sticking out in crazy spikes. Her nose was red and runny from the cold, the coat she wore two sizes too big swallowing her small frame, and still she was gorgeous.

He reached up to cup her face, his ungloved hand finding the icy slope of her cheekbone and cradling it briefly.

“Everything still quiet on the street?”

She nodded, turning her head slightly to kiss his palm. Her lips were as cold as her cheek but her breath was warm. He hoped she hadn’t seen the dead dogs in the kitchen. More than a few of the houses they’d already searched contained deceased house pets. She had a tender heart, the animals former suffering affecting her on a visceral level. Hell, he’d wanted to cry a time or two himself. Luckily, they hadn’t stumbled on any human remains...yet. Glen knew that couldn’t last.

She stepped back, breaking contact with his hand, though she gave him a small smile as consolation. A sudden image from two nights before swam to the forefront of his mind.

Firelight flickering and creating a warm glow across Mara’s lovely goose-bump covered skin as she gave herself a hasty sponge bath from a bucket of tepid water. He’d laid on the bed, watching, waiting, wanting.

He turned to focus on his surroundings, trying to avoid the memory of events following her makeshift bath when she’d joined him on the bed, shivering and sweet and every bit as greedy for him as he’d been for her.

He needed to get his head out of his ass. The last thing he needed was a hard-on. Right then, what he needed was a fucking miracle.

Three hours, nearly half a dozen houses, and not one damn bottle of antibiotics found. Glen had always known people to be veritable packrats, especially with pills of any kind. Readily available, prescriptions tended to be filled, consumed by half, then tucked into a medicine cabinet or cupboard, forgotten about the second symptoms disappeared.

He guessed in the months following the first outbreaks of UV Intolerance, people latched onto those forgotten medicines, hoping in vain that the illness could be stopped with some version of the ever-magical antibiotic.

Mara moved past him and into the first bedroom, breaking his chain of speculation. She instantly began to rummage through the bedside tables and dressers. She paused for a minute, staring down at a row of paper dolls, cut perfectly into a chain and leaning against a lamp. Glen took true notice of the room’s contents for the first time and saw it would’ve belonged to a young girl. Perhaps one close to Teddy’s age. Riots of pinks and pastels bloomed under the weak wash of the flashlight, chasing away the illusion of non-distinct grays the heavy dark lent to every object. Rows of stuffed animals rested on a shelf, their black plastic eyes gazing at them flatly. He wasn’t inclined to agree with Mac about much, but the man was right. This house was creepy.

He watched Mara gently touch the paper dolls. A superstitious part of him he never knew existed, wanted to storm into the room and snatch the things away, like they might be some kind of portent, full of bad energy. When her brief touch caused them to slip away from their resting spot to lay flat against the painted wood of the nightstand, he nearly breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t pick them back up, and he was doubly grateful, even as he called himself an ass for letting nonsense churn up his head. If ever there was a time he needed to be practical and sane, this was it.

His thoughts returned to reality and he studied Mara. No longer looking at her through a cloud of love-lust, he took note of the pinched tightness in her expression and the paleness of her skin. She kept biting her lower lip, anxiety rife in the action, worrying the flesh until it looked raw. She sighed once then resumed her search, her efforts a little more frantic, a little less careful.

Glen understood how she felt. Time kept ticking away, growing the apprehension until it felt like a physical weight resting on his tired shoulders. Teddy being sick and not having access to medical help was only half of it. The state of this house and the others they’d searched tonight drove home the fact that this town wasn’t going to be a good place to be come spring.

Food was scarce, cupboards picked clean. The supplies he and Mara had stored would see them through winter, but then what? The grocery stores and pharmacies were barren wastelands. There was no sign any of that would change. No trace of the military, and more alarming, no sign of the government men and their black vans. As much as Glen feared being found by them, of being dragged unwilling to some warehouse for UV Tolerant guinea pigs, there’d been something reassuring at knowing some level of government remained. Since the warning from Ben that had sent Glen into hiding with Mara, he hadn’t spotted even one.

It shouldn’t be surprising. People were dying at an alarming rate every day; of course government people would fall sick as well. Less than one percent of the world’s population were suspected to have any level of immunity. True immunity? Well, who knew? Less than half of the one percent? A quarter?

And deaths were going to increase as the winter sank its teeth deeper. The bone-deep cold would take its own toll on anyone who lacked the ability to provide for themselves. Public services and support from outside sources appeared to be gone for good. People were banding together, creating zones out of neighbourhoods, trying to survive all while growing hostile to anyone outside their zone. It was only going to get worse.

Glen left Mara to her search and followed Mac into the master bath. Worries continued to crowd his thoughts, not the least of which was the fact he didn’t trust Mac not to pocket something they could use in order to keep it for himself. He was trying to keep a close eye on the man. The added pressure increased the growing feeling that he was being stretched too thin.

Glen hadn’t wanted Mac with them in the first place. Conniving bastard had seen them walking down the road and invited himself along. He hadn’t even bothered to try and pretend true concern for his nephew, merely shrugging when Mara told him what they needed and hoped to find.

Keeping Mac close, Glen hurried his search through the remaining rooms, and ten minutes later they left the house empty-handed. Glen took Mara’s hand. She looked in the direction of her house, her feelings clear.

“Do you want to go back?” Glen offered. “I know you’re worried. You can stay with the boys. Mac and I will keep searching.” The truth was he wanted her to agree, but not for the boys. He was a selfish prick, and he wanted her warm and safe behind closed and locked doors. He didn’t want her out here, in the unknown and the pitch dark, surrounded by the dead and dying.

Mara turned to face him and he saw the way her shoulders came up, chin lifting as well. He knew she wasn’t going to agree.

“No,” she shook her stubborn head. Glen didn’t understand how her bravery and determination could drive him mad and fill him with admiration at the same time.

“We can get through houses faster with all three of us searching,” she told him. “The boys will be okay for a little while longer.”

Mac grinned. “That-a-girl. You tell him. No niece of mine is going to act like a wilting flower in the face of adversary. Time is wasting. Let’s go.” He sounded chipper. Glen wanted to punch him. Instead, he tightened his grip on Mara’s hand and they headed down the street in search of another viable house to search.

If someone had told him this would be his life a year ago, he would’ve laughed.

He wasn’t laughing now.


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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)


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Michela Walters Week 139: In Due Time

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Michela Walters’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: In Due Time

Fluttery kicks fill my belly with joy. Movement I never thought I’d ever feel.

After years of infertility treatments marred by miscarriages and disappointing blood tests, I am finally pregnant. It’s taken six long years. Years filled with friend’s well intentioned comments about relaxing and not stressing out over the process. Years filled with baby showers galore where I needed to slap a smile on my face and pretend to be happy, after all it was a joyous occasion. An occasion that only filled my thoughts with despair and dread. I even had to change dentists after he constantly talked about his happy family of six children and his wife’s miraculous ability to get pregnant at the drop of a hat.

“You’re glowing, you know.” my best friend Lily remarks, shaking me from my thoughts of sadder times in my life.

Turning away from the store window hocking fancy boutique baby items, I reply, “Thanks. Still doesn’t feel real sometimes.” My hand unconsciously rubs my burgeoning belly, as if to check and make sure it’s not all a dream.

“Except when you can’t tie your own shoes.” Lily grins, nodding towards my sneakers, one of which is undone. She bends down to tie them, as if I’m an invalid. Secretly I’m annoyed by the gesture, but I also know she has a point. I’m huge and without somewhere to sit, I’ll likely topple over like a broken weeble wobble.

I mutter a quick thanks, but am still unsure about walking into the overprice store. “I don’t know, Lil, can’t we just go to Target or something? I’m not sure I should register here, it’s all a bit -- too much--” I say, waving my hand in front of the window showcasing a tricked out stroller priced in the thousands.

“You think I’d let you buy this overpriced crap?” she exclaims, pointing a little further down the upscale strip mall. “I just wanted you to get a sense of how extreme some people get, I love Nine Months Later, it’s a small shop with a local owner who sells American made clothes, cloth diapers and the softest freaking blankets around.”

I sigh in relief, I know she’s trying to get me to be excited for this baby, but after two miscarriages in the first trimester and one in the second, I feel like I don’t have the right to be truly content and excited until my baby is alive, breathing and held close to my chest.

Lily brushes my arm, reaching down to clutch my hand. After being best friends for over fifteen years, she knows what I’ve been through and has let me cry on her shoulder more times than I can count. “You’ve had multiple scans and they are all looking good. The baby is growing normally, the amnio was normal.” She tugged on my hand, willing me to look at her. “You have ten weeks until your due date. Try to enjoy it.” She smiled her megawatt grin, knowing I couldn’t resist her overwhelming enthusiasm and optimism. “Try. For me? For Grant?”

I nod my head minutely, knowing she’s right. I can’t do anything more than be patient and hope for the best, even when that’s failed me so many times before. “I’ll try.” We continue walking towards the small shop in comfortable silence.

Once we enter, Lily leaves my side, telling me she’ll be right back. I wander around the cute store, fingering the lace edged receiving blankets and minky soft diaper covers. I’m admiring a particularly adorable onesie when Lily holds up a pretty pink and brown polka dot bag with the store’s name emblazoned upon it. “Here. Consider this your first baby gift of many.”

Opening up the package, I gasp. It’s a beautiful tan blanket with tiny giraffes embroidered on it. “How did you know?” I’ve been secretly thinking about a giraffe themed room for our baby, but other than painting the room a neutral soft taupe, I hadn’t said anything to anyone about my plans.

“Lets just say you wear your thoughts on your face and your emotions on your sleeve. When we walked through Babies R Us last week, I saw you pause briefly in front of the jungle themed bedding. You ran your finger across the giraffe on the bedspread. Call it a lucky guess.”

Hugging her tightly, I whisper my thanks in her ear. Her present acts almost like a switch and I can’t stop the jumble of words tumbling out of my mouth as I tell her all of my thoughts for decorations, strollers and disposable versus cloth diapers. By the end of the day, my cart is filled with necessities and a registry has been started.

“You know you should take Grant with you next time you shop. He wants to be excited too, but is just as afraid as you are,” Lily whispers, before she gets out of the car. “Let him in. You both have been through so much pain, why now celebrate the joy together too?”

She waves goodbye and I can’t help but smile and rub my gigantic belly. “You’re gonna be the most loved baby on the planet.”


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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, February 18, 2015

Sarah Aisling Week 139: A Measure of Grace (Part 25): Confessions

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: One

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 25): Confessions

“Max, there are things you need to know—things that might change how you feel about me.” Saying the words causes a painful squeezing sensation in my chest.

Max laughs, amusement twinkling in his eyes. He places the comforting weight of one palm on my knee. “I doubt that.”

I lay my hand over his. “No, really.”

He pulls away and wipes his hands on a napkin; then he grasps me by the shoulders and ducks his head to look at me. “Hey.”

I blink a few times before meeting his steady gaze.

Really, I doubt it. You’re a good person with an amazing heart. I admit I wanted to throttle you when you got yourself captured . . . but we’ll get out of this.”

My lids flutter closed, and I shake my head. “Let me explain. You have to hear the truth from me.”

Max cups my face. “Look at me.” I do, and he looks pissed. “What truth? Come on, then.” His voice is harsh.

I look away. “I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t do that! You look me in the eyes, and say what you need to say. Whatever it is, I need to see.” Despite the lash of Max’s words, the hands surrounding my face remain gentle.

I take a breath and look at him. His expression is a mixture of sharp and wary with a side of fierce. Inside, I’m quivering, but he needs to hear this. “Max, when they abducted me, I was locked up in the other facility, where they keep the immune and run experiments. I refused to speak, ate only enough to keep me alive, and shunned my mother when she attempted to visit. Then General James Smith came to see me. He was angry about my silence and demanded that I speak to him. He . . . he made me an offer.” I halt, taking a deep breath. “I realized there was little chance of escape if I remained locked away. My best bet was to accept his offer and move to this facility where I’ve been given more freedom.”

Max’s jaw flexes as he swallows. “What was the offer?”

“James wanted to . . . court me. He promised we’d take things slow, and he said he could protect me—” The words are out before I can stop them, and my heart speeds.

He tilts his head. “Protect you. From what?”

“Max . . .”

“Protect you from what?”

I lower my head and stare at my lap. “There’s this creep, Gibbs. He takes every opportunity to needle me. James doesn’t trust him and neither does Eric.”

Max releases my face and tips my chin up, but I refuse to lift my gaze. “Did this guy touch you?”

“No, but . . . he says things when there are no witnesses. He scares me.”

Max stands abruptly and paces around the sitting room with his hands laced over the back of his neck, biceps bulging beneath the sleeves of his T-shirt. He huffs heavy breaths and mutters too low for me to make out the words.

I rise, feet rooted in place, and wring my hands. “Max?”

“What about James? Did he touch you?”


Max stops in front of me and takes my hand. His voice softens, but the question stings. “Did you enjoy it?”

“Not for a second!”

“Did you sleep with him?”

“No! I couldn’t stand it.” Tears burn my eyes. “Every time he touched me, all I could think about was you.”

Max drops my hand and laughs, low and dangerous. “Let me get this straight. Gibbs is just looking for an opportunity to get his hands on you. This James guy had his hands on you, but you didn’t enjoy it. In fact, you allowed him to touch you only to make him think he had a chance with you—to find a way to escape. Do I have this right?”

My heart twists painfully. “I can explain!”

He rakes a hand through his hair and looks up at the ceiling. “I don’t want you to explain. Fuck! I hate this!”


Max holds his hands out to stop me, anger arcing from his stormy eyes. “Ali once told me betrayal begins in the heart, long before the actual act is committed. You know, I never really understood that concept until today.” He strides forward and yanks me against his chest, strong arms banding around me, tight enough to knock the breath from my lungs. My cheek mashes against his pecs, and I’m not sure what I dread more—seeing the anger in his eyes or having him hide it from me. “I’ve never had someone of my own. Someone who would never betray me, who accepted me, faults and all.”

A low, strangled moan catches in my throat, and I dig my nails into his sides.

“I thought you were the one, but this made me realize . . .” He chokes on the words and tightens his hold on me. “I’m not good enough.”

“What?” I struggle in his arms, fighting to push away so I can see his face, but his arms remain locked around me.

“You were afraid I’d judge you for doing what needed to be done. In your heart, you were true, and that’s all that matters.” Max nuzzles his face into my hair, tremors shuddering through his body. “I’ve done so much shit and never came clean with you about any of it. After you hear about my past, you probably won’t want anything to do with me.”

“That’s not true,” I whisper. I love Max, and I know him. If he did something bad, it was for a reason. Instead of trying to wriggle out of his grasp, now I cling to him, afraid to let go. “Tell me, Max. I’ll still want you, always.”

“Before the virus, I was serving time in Maine State Prison.” Max releases me, arms returning to his sides, and distance is already wedging between us. I dig my nails in harder. He looks down at me with resignation flooding his eyes. “For murder, China.”

A shot of ice spears me right down the center, leaving me reeling. This is not the confession I was expecting him to make. I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “What happened?”

Max lets out an ugly laugh. “Which time?” He attempts to step away, but I shadow him. “I don’t know what I was thinking getting involved with you. Your moral compass points to true north—mine is skewed.”

He keeps trying to move away until his back hits the wall, and I step into him, finally unclenching my fingers so I can reach up and grab his face. “You listen to me, Connor Maxwell Quinn! Enough of this self-flagellating, poor me crap! Do you think so little of me?”

Confusion creases his forehead. “I think the world of you.”

“Then trust me with your past, and know that I’ll still be here when you’re done. My feelings for you are based on what I know of you, what I’ve observed. I’m confident—”

An authoritative knock on the door interrupts our exchange.

“Shit. What do we do?”

“Give me a second to climb in the vent before you open the door.”

Another knock, louder this time.

“Coming!” I call out, standing in the archway between the bed and sitting rooms. When the vent settles closed, I head toward the door and wish it had a peephole. “Who is it?”

“Timms, ma’am, with a message from General Smith.”

I open the door. Timms indeed stands before me, but he’s not alone. Gibbs reclines against the wall, chewing on a toothpick, his look a mixture of amusement and frustration. I’m sure he’d rather be here alone so he could harass me.

Timms holds his hat under one arm and nods politely. “Good evening, ma’am. I hope you’re well.”

“Relatively.” I glare at Gibbs. “What’s he doing here?”

Gibbs presses a hand to his chest. “You wound me.”

I’d like to. Creep.

“We’re on assignment. General Smith asked me to check on you and make you aware he probably won’t be back until tomorrow. Mrs. Kasabian asked me to bring you this.” He hands me a sealed envelope. “Are you in need of anything?”

“No, thank you.” I just want you out of here before Gibbs does something to incite Max.

“All right, then. Have a good night.”

“You, too.”

Gibbs steps away from the wall and stops me from closing the door. “Wait. What’s all that?” He points over my shoulder to the food on the coffee table.

“I didn’t have much of an appetite at dinner . . .” I say with a pointed look. “ . . . so Celine sent some food back with me.”

Gibbs skims his index finger along an errant lock of hair, pushing it out of my face. I remain stiff, my jaw tight. “For someone who fought like a hellcat, you sure do enjoy the perks around here, don’t you? Perhaps the general will allow me to look out for you in his absence.”

I smack his lingering hand away. “When hell freezes. Stay away from me.”

Timms shifts uncomfortably. “Sorry to have disturbed you, ma’am.” He nudges Gibbs. “We need to move.”

“Yeah, we need to move.” Gibbs winks at me. “See you around, sweet Marie.”

I slam and lock the door, my heart thundering. Gibbs showing up with Timms is far from innocent. He’s putting me on notice.

I use a plastic knife to slit the envelope. Inside is an aging Polaroid of two children. The older one looks like my mother. I wonder why she sent this to me now with no explanation.

Max slips out of the vent and hovers in the archway, motioning for me to come to him. I put the photo on the coffee table and cross the room. He glares down at me. “Who the fuck was that guy?”


“He’s looking for trouble.” Max’s jaw flexes.

“I agree.”

“He found it.”

“Max . . .”

He caresses my cheek. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“I know. When can we get out of here?”

Max slips lock picks from his pocket. “Sit on the bed. Let’s see if I can get that collar off you.”

We sit, and I push my hair out of the way so Max can get to the clasp. Warm fingers rest against my nape, sending light shivers along my spine. The only sound for a while is the tink of metal on metal, punctuated by a few colorful expletives from Max every so often.

Max stops fiddling and sighs. “Look, I know you’re anxious to escape this place, but we can’t yet.”

I turn to face him. “What are you talking about? We can’t stay here!”

He cups my cheek. “Even if we get this collar off and get out, that only solves half of the problem. You’re not immune. The vaccine will only last so long before it stops working. Then what? At least here you have access to the treatments.”

Bile churns in my stomach. “What are you saying? You’re not going to . . . to leave me here?”

“Fuck no! I’m staying right here until we can go. Eric is doing some reconnaissance, trying to discover what this new treatment is.”

“How long do you think we’ll have to stay?”

“I’m hoping a few days at most. You follow the normal routine, and I’ll hang out here.”

“What will you eat?”

“If you can sneak me food, great. If not, I’ll use my rations.”

I turn away, staring at the adjoining door between my quarters and James’. “What about . . . when James comes back and—and wants to visit me?”

“I’ll be in the vent, waiting.” His fingers stroke the side of my neck and come to rest on my shoulder, squeezing lightly. “No judging.”

I shrug my shoulder, throwing his hand off. “Are you kidding me? I’ll never be able to act normal around James with you watching! And what if you cough or sneeze?”

“You could always fake a headache or stomach bug. Hopefully, before anyone gets suspicious, we’ll be on our way home.”

Home. The word sets off a crippling longing within me—to be back at the power plant, safe in Max’s arms again; to feel the warmth of Grace’s body and receive one of her full face-licks; to experience the camaraderie of my new family.

An announcement interrupts my thoughts.

Attention, citizens of the alliance. The storm has gathered speed, and landfall is imminent. A reminder to all non-essential personnel—please remain in your quarters with the exception of meals until further notice. Regularly scheduled work and activities will resume shortly. Thank you.

Max grabs me by the hips and pulls me close, ghosting his nose along the side my neck. “You hear that? We’re relatively safe until the storm ends. Why don’t we get you into bed?”

I slide my palms over his muscular arms. “Will you join me? We still need to talk.”

“Absolutely.” His breath is hot against my skin, his lips soft as they nuzzle there for a long moment. “Go on. I’ll make sure we’re secure.”

When I emerge from the bathroom, I notice in addition to engaging all available locks, has wedged a chair under the doorknob of the suite entrance and the adjoining door to James’ quarters.

Max rakes his gaze over my yoga pants and T-shirt. “No pajamas. Smart. That’s my girl.” The left side of his mouth quirks up.

Hearing Max call me his girl sends a pang of longing through me. I want us to get back to where we were. I know it’s impossible to go back in time, but the unresolved matters between us feel wrong.

He notices the sadness in my eyes. “What is it?”

I shake my head. “Come to bed?”

“Let me get this shit off my face and change my shirt.”

Max is in the bathroom for a long time. I turn the bedside lamp on low and try to get comfortable. The palpitations fluttering behind my breastbone keep me on edge. I sense Max and I are at another crossroads in our relationship. If he trusts me, we can make it. He didn’t judge me for deceiving James. We just have to get through Max’s past. I know he went to jail, but I also know him well enough to have confidence whatever he did won’t change my feelings.

When he finally joins me in the bedroom, camo paint washed away, the dread in his expression is plain. He slides between the sheets, facing me on his side. He looks like a lost little boy, and my heart clenches.

“China . . .” My nickname comes out an anguished groan.

“Just tell me the truth.” I caress his smooth cheek, the usual layer of scruff absent. “We’re going to be fine.”

He traps my hand against his face, leaning into my touch with his lids half closed. “I hope so. I really do because you mean everything to me. Everything.”

I lay my head on my arm, our faces mere inches apart, and gaze into his troubled eyes. “Talk to me.”

“Okay.” Max swallows hard. He runs the pads of his fingers from my shoulder down my arm, eliciting goosebumps. When his hand finds mine, he laces our fingers together. “I’m going to tell you my ugly truth. I completely understand if you want nothing to do with me afterward, but promise you’ll at least let me see this through and get you out of here.”

“I promise.”

“I already told you my mom died when I was twelve, and I entered the system at fourteen. Mom kept my father sane somehow. Even though he was a complete asshole, he thought the sun rose and set on her. She was the light to his darkness. When she died, he lost his fucking mind. He’d look for any excuse to beat the shit out of me. I didn’t really care, but when he turned his attention to Ali . . .” Max chokes on the words, moisture pooling in his eyes. “She looked so much like Mom. He started hitting the bottle big time after my mom died, to the point he’d start hallucinating. Got this idea in his head a few times that Ali was mom. When he sobered up and realized the truth, he’d get abusive. I’d step between them and take the brunt of what he was dishing out, but this one night . . . I woke up and heard muffled screams. I rushed into Ali’s room and found my father there with his hand over her mouth. She was already in the middle of an asthma attack, but he didn’t notice. He was too busy shoving her nightgown up.” He breaks off with a sob and pulls his hand from mine to rub at his eyes.

“Oh, Max.” I raise a hand to my mouth.

“I ran out in the hall and grabbed my baseball bat, smashed the fucker in the side of the head. After I gave Ali her inhaler, she . . . he’d done this before. She was afraid to tell me. I picked his ass up and tossed him in his bed, figured he wouldn't remember it in the morning. I didn’t know what to do. The anger shredded my insides, and I knew he wasn't going to stop. A few days later, Ali was sleeping over a friend’s house, and my father came home drunk—really fucking drunk. It’s a wonder he didn’t kill someone on the road. He pulled the car into the garage and fell asleep at the wheel. On impulse, I closed the garage door and turned the car back on, waited outside until he was dead, and called the police.”

“My God, Max. What did they do?”

“Ruled it accidental. Death by intoxicated stupidity. It could have happened that way. I didn’t want Ali to know, but she figured it out. It's been our secret ever since. Social services was called in. I told you about the wonderful foster family we were with for a few years. I was seventeen and Ali was fifteen when we had to go to separate homes. I was placed with four other foster kids, all boys. The Grants were in it for the money, but they were okay. As long as we didn’t make a ruckus, they left us alone. Ali was a few blocks away in what seemed like a good home. Jack and Pauline didn’t mind me visiting and shit as long as I called first.” Max leans away to lie on his back and stares at the ceiling.

I sense he’s reaching the truly ugly part of the story. I snuggle into him, resting my head on his chest, and he holds me close.

“I noticed Ali seemed paler than usual. And quiet. My sister never stops yapping. I got suspicious and started staking out the house on occasion but never noticed anything out of line. Jack and Pauline started working opposite shifts. Pauline ended up pulling the graveyard shift at the local diner. I was out late with one of my buddies one night and passed Ali’s house. Her bedroom window was shut tight and the shade was down. I knew something was wrong because she always had the window cracked—both for the asthma and because she had a fear of being trapped during a fire. That didn’t seem like enough proof to barge into someone’s house in the middle of the night. I tried to leave, but something didn't feel right. I knew the back door was often unlocked, so I checked and found it open.” Max hesitates, his heartbeat thundering in my ear.

I close my eyes and rub a hand up and down his side. “Take your time.”

His breath hitches. “I made my way upstairs to Ali's room. The rest of the house was dark and quiet. I stood outside the door for a while. It was so silent, I figured I'd made a mistake. I was about to leave when I heard a retching sound, then the murmur of a man's voice. I threw the door open—Jack had Ali on her knees. Tears were streaming from her eyes, leaving black trails of makeup streaking her cheeks. I just . . . saw red.

“Jack looked over at me and winked. He said to watch and enjoy or get the fuck out of his house. I pulled him off my sister and beat the shit out of him, slamming my fist into his face over and over. Ali had grabbed her inhaler and opened the window, gasping for air. Jack threw me off and stumbled to his feet. He said I'd made a grave error, that he'd make sure I wasn't allowed to visit anymore, and my absence would give him unrestricted access to my sister. Ali ran from the room, and he kept threatening. I kicked him square in the stomach. Knocked the sick bastard out the window.”

“Oh my God.”

“There were witnesses. The people across the street heard fighting and got video of me pushing him out the window. Even though Ali told the police what Jack had been doing to her, I still went down for his death. If she'd done it, she could claim self-defense. Me? Murder. It didn't help that I was mouthing off and spit on his body when we went outside—every ugly moment caught on video.” Max shakes his head and rubs at his eyes again.

“Max—” I reach for his face, but he grabs my wrist.

“Let me get this out. I shouldn't have let my temper get the best of me. Considering the brutality of the beating he took before I pushed him out the window, the prosecutor said I used excessive and unnecessary force to stop him, that I should have left him to the authorities. Maybe so, but it was too late to go back. My lawyer told me to negotiate a plea bargain. The DA offered me a ten-year sentence with the opportunity to get out on parole for good behavior. I took the deal. Every time I was up for parole, Jack's family protested. The board would watch the videos and deny me because they were unimpressed with my lack of remorse. I couldn't lie and say I was sorry that piece of shit was dead. I just didn’t expect Ali to find herself an abusive boyfriend while I was in the joint.” He kisses the underside of my wrist and presses it against his chest. “I was slowly losing my mind. I was the only family Ali had, and she got in with the wrong crowd. There was nobody on the outside to protect her. I had to do something, so I tried to gain the notice of the toughest gang.”

Suddenly, the tattoo on the underside of Max's wrist makes sense. “The Vipers.”

Max strokes my hair. “How do you know about the Vipers?” There's a touch of amusement in his tone, the first in a while.

“My dad was chief of police in Rockland.” I sit up, grasp his right hand, and flip it, revealing the tattoo on the inside of his wrist: a red snake curling around an ornate black V.

“Shit, that’s where I know your last name from.” Max curls to a seated position, allowing me to trace my finger over his Viper tattoo though it clearly makes him uncomfortable.

Three drops of blood drip from the snake’s fangs, and I glance away from the image to meet his eyes. “Three kills.” That means there’s another he needs to confess.

Max grimaces. “There should probably be four. I feel responsible for Gary, and I’m pretty sure he’s dead.”

“It doesn’t work that way.”

He shakes his head. “You know too much, cop’s daughter. So I finally get the attention of Alejandro Diaz, head of the Vipers, and he assures me they can protect Ali on the outside if I join the gang. My initiation . . . was to take someone out for them. They gave me a shank and a name.” Max grits his teeth and grips my arm so tightly it hurts. “I did it. Shanked this guy I had no beef with. He was a dirtbag, sure, but he’d never crossed me. My father deserved what he got; so did Jack, but I snuffed out a life with premeditation. I’m a murderer.”

“Is there anything else?”

“Isn’t that enough?”

“How did you get out of prison?”

“Ah, another lovely story. Shortly after I shanked that guy, the virus hit. Things got weird at the prison. It got to the point we weren’t receiving regular meals, and all regular activities were canceled. I knew something was terribly wrong, so I flashed my tattoo at a guard and begged him to get me out. He helped although being transported out of prison under a pile of dead inmates was no picnic.”

“That’s so awful!”

“So there you have it. Now do you understand why I could never be upset with you? You came clean with me, which is a lot more than I did for you.”

“Max.” I rise up on my knees so I can straddle his thighs and loop my arms around his neck. “I’m so sorry for everything you and Ali went through. It’s a terrible, tragic story, but it doesn’t change my feelings for you. If anything, I admire you all the more for what you’re willing to do for your sister.”

“Not just for my sister.” Max gazes into my eyes with a mixture of wonder and desire. He slides his hands over the flare of my hips and pulls me closer, pressing open-mouthed kisses along the curve of my neck. I tilt my head back. “There is one other thing I should have told you a while ago.” His breath is hot on my skin.

A small frisson of fear flares in my heart. “What is it?”

He buries his face deeper between my neck and shoulder as if he can’t bear to look me in the face. “I love you, China.”


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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, February 17, 2015

Kimberly Gould Week 139: Together

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Together

“I’m going to miss you,” Angela told Lori. “I know I probably won’t see you again.”

Lori sniffed back tears. “I know, and I hate that. I hate my Mom. Why did she have to take that job?”

Angela put her hand on Lori’s shoulder. “It’s not her fault. It’s a good job. You’ll see. It’ll be better in a big city.”

“I don’t want a big city. I want to stay here, with you.” Lori wiped at her eyes with her sleeve. She felt silly and childish crying so much, but Angela had been her best friend since kindergarten.

“Here, I brought something for you.” Angela reached into the bag behind her.

“I brought something for you, too,” Lori said, digging in her pocket.

Angela held out her carousel music box. She wound it and held it out in her two hands. “When it plays, you can remember me.

Lori took the gift and set it carefully in the grass beside her before hugging Angela tightly. “Thank you so much. It’s perfect.” It would remind her of Angela’s room and all the time they’d spent there. Lori backed up enough to rub her nose alongside Angela’s. Then she kissed her, tasting the salt of her own tears.

“Stop crying, Lori. I love you and I’ll always love you.”

Lori sniffled, nodding. “I know. I just can’t seem to stop. Here, this is for you.”

The gold plated bracelet sparkled in the bright sunlight, showing Angela’s name on one side and Lori’s on the other. Beside Lori’s name was “I ❤ U.”

“It’s beautiful,” Angela gushed. “Help me put it on.”

Lori’s fingers trembled and another tear fell from her nose onto the back of Angela’s hand.

Lori sighed and stopped to pick a rock out of her shoe. Everything was paved, where did all these little jagged things come from? Straightening, she saw the black man and his sign. Anger flared in her. Who was he to say what love was sin? Love was love. She started to march forward and give him a piece of her mind, but the wind fell out of her sails before she got there. He wouldn’t listen. He wouldn’t change. He was so blindly faithful that he couldn’t think for himself. What was the point of trying to fight him?

She knew she wasn’t hurting anyone by loving other women. In fact, she had helped a lot of boys and girls who were confused in adolescence, working with them to discover themselves. She didn’t advocate for the LGBT community, she just made sure that they had the self-esteem and tools to be the person they were, gay, straight or anything else.

She loved sharing the story of Angela, how her friend had made her the woman she was today. All the girls seemed to have someone like Angela, a friend they could count on, and they all took her experience to make experiences of their own.

She still missed Angela. She went to sleep every night listening to the carousel. Her lovers had asked about it and she was quick to tell them. They were all respectful and some even gushed a bit at how wonderful such a person and gift was. Sadly, none of her relationships had lasted longer than a year. They were all wonderful women and she kept in touch with most of them, but they weren’t her.

Passing the black man and his board, she gave him her best death glare, but didn’t stop or slow. He wasn’t worth her time.

“Lori? Lori, is that you?”

Lori whirled. She knew that voice. She was nearly knocked over when Angela collided with her in a gigantic hug.

“What? When? Oh Angela!” Lori squeezed her tight, making the other woman grunt.

“I came for an interview. I think I got it. I think I’m going to be living here!” Angela let out a squeal that was exactly like the ones Lori remembered, and her own girlish cry echoed Angela’s.

“I don’t believe it! That’s fantastic! What job? I’m on my way to a lunch meeting. Tag along, please.”

“Oh, I shouldn’t. Not if it’s for work.”

“Trust me,” Lori told her, linking her arm through Angela’s and pulling her along. “They will love you. Now spill. What’s the job?”

They chatted all the way to the restaurant and Angela joined Lori at a table for four. Ten minutes later, the older couple still catching up, were joined by a much younger pair.

“Mrs. Thompson?” Ken asked.

“Yes, Ken, Tony, please sit down. I’d like you to meet Angela, my first and best girlfriend.”

Angela blushed a little and the boys immediately relaxed. Tony wrapped his arm around Ken’s shoulders, leaning into him.

Ken was the speaker of the pair. “You really are a lesbian.”

Lori giggled and Angela leaned over to kiss her cheek.

“Always has been,” she said, hugging her friend.


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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, February 16, 2015

SJ Maylee Week 139: A Homerun

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SJ Maylee’s’ Choice: Both

Title: A Homerun

Jane pulled Tony into the Cider Mill. They’d arrived just in time for the last hay ride of the night. Her photo shoot had gone a little long, but she’d gotten the pictures she’d wanted and the spread would look amazing in their next ad campaign.

“Tony, don’t let me forget to get some cider this time.” They’d come for the barn party to launch the season a few weeks ago, but they’d had such a good time that they’d completely forgotten to get some cider before they left.

“That all depends.” He stepped in behind her.

“What do you want?”

“Well, you’re done with your prep for the campaign, right?”

“Tony?” She turned around to face him. “Here? Tonight?” She dragged her finger down his chest. Their games had started innocent enough, but each time they’d gotten a bit more daring.

“You did lose the bet and I’m tired of waiting.” He took her hand and led her outside and around the corner. “I want to cash in tonight.”

“Okay.” She looked over her shoulder, confirming they were out of sight before rubbing up against him. “Second base it is.”

“Oh no, that was last time.” He pulled her closer.



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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, February 15, 2015

Miranda Kate Week 138: Moving Out

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Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Moving Out

When Daniels and Hanson arrived back with the two new recruits, they found the rest of the group had been packing with enthusiasm. Abby and Janice had organised everyone, and everything that had been packed so far was neatly piled by the front door.

Pansy and Damon, a young couple who’d come together immediately after the clearing and were inseparable, were in the kitchen, packing up all the food and utensils.

The younger kids were already asleep, but the older two, Daisy and Kyle were sitting with Harris reading a story in the lounge.

Being the oldest of their group, Harris had taken on the role of grandpa, even though he was as capable as the others guy. He was happy to let Daniels run things, offering advice only when asked. He enjoyed the company of the close group, having lived alone for the last few years, after losing his wife of thirty years to cancer. And he enjoyed the kids, something he and his wife had never been blessed with.

He eyed the two young lads that Daniels and Hanson brought in, and looked at the taller one.

“Your Steve, Earl Winters’ son, ain’t ya?”

Steve’s eyes widened on sight of Harris, recognising him. “Yes, sir.”

“Your dad didn’t make it out then?”

Steve shook his head and looked at his feet, trying to hide the tears that had sprung into his eyes.

Seeing this Harris diverted the conversation. “What are you, fifteen or sixteen?”

“Fifteen sir, just turned.”

He looked at Bobby. “And you lad, how old are you?”

“I’m fourteen, sir.”

“Well then you’ll fit in nicely, we ain’t got us any teens yet.” He grinned at them, and they both smiled in relief.

Janice came downstairs with Abby behind her. “Hey, what have we got here?”

Hanson was just coming in to collect more stuff to take out to the trucks. “New recruits. We found them holed up at old Warners place. Looked like they needed a bit of looking after.”

Janice looked them up and down, taking in their scrawny frames, and dirty clothes. “You can say that again. Why don’t you both go have a wash in the bathroom? It’s down the hall to the right there.” She pointed to the corridor leading off the lounge. “There’s only old water from the tank, but it’s better than nothing. And Abby’s hoarded some clothes from the Jenkins department store in the room next door. Have a look through, see what you can find.”

“Is there anything to eat, ma’am, we’re starving.” Bobby said in a small voice.

She smiled at them. “I ain’t no ma’am, I’m Janice. And yeah, I’ll fix you up something for when you’re done.”

The grins that appeared on their faces brought a smile to everyone’s lips, and they hurried off down the corridor.

“You okay with us bringing them back?” Daniels plopped himself into an armchair for a breather. “I couldn’t stand the idea of leaving them out there.”

“Of course you couldn’t,” Abby said. “As Harris said, they fill in the age gap we’re missing. I think they’ll be handy to have around. Just really hope this cabin’s gonna squish us all in.”

“I’m confident it will.” Daniels reassured her. “Where have Rod and Brandon got to?”

“They went out to a do a tour of the supermarkets and drugstores just after you left,” Abby said, while getting Daisy and Kyle into their PJs.

“They’ve been a while then, should we be worried?” Hanson flopped into another armchair.

“Rod said they were going over to the old wholesale place on the edge of town, see if they could get in. I hope they come back with a good haul.”

“What they driving?” Daniels asked.

“They took the station wagon from across the street,” Harris said, getting up and giving his legs a stretch.

“Okay. That’s good. We should have room for whatever they bring back. I just hope they’re back soon. I don’t like any of us out after dark.”

It wasn’t long after Abby had tucked in the older kids that Rod and Brandon showed up. The station wagon they’d taken was packed to the roof. Daniels was relieved and pleased at their haul, and despite the cold they all went out to admire it in night light.

“There’s still plenty more. Should we go by again on our way out tomorrow morning?” Brandon asked. “We could get a whole lot more in the trucks.”

Daniel looked the gleaming Silverado’s. “We’ll see how it packs into the trucks first. I don’t want it too tight. Plus we have to think about storage the other end. We could always come back down if needs be.”

Silence fell, as they contemplated the journey ahead of them. Daniels looked up at the sky, which was clear and full of stars now there were no street lights to dim the view. He heard the distant hoot of an owl, no doubt out hunting.

“It’s gonna be crisp in the morning, but we need be up at sunrise and get this lot shifted over, so we can see how it fits and it there’s time for another trip over there. We need to head out as early as possible, so we can make the most of the daylight, and take our time through the snow up there. I really don’t want to risk sleeping in the trucks come nightfall.”

“Well then, we’d best turn in now.” Abby said, putting an arm round each of the new boys. “Come on, I’ve made up some beds on the floor in the lounge for you guys.”

Bobby stifled a yawn as they all trouped back indoors.


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


RL Ames Week 138: Mine

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RL Ames’s Picture Choice: One

Title: Mine

I know him. I’ve spent hours learning him, memorizing him.

He’s mine.

I watch him. He’s ignoring me. Not on purpose, just because he’s busy. I can tell you everything he’s going to do, every move he’ll make, even before he does it. He stretches, and I watch the long, tight lines ripple under his skin. He rolls his shoulders twice and let’s out a deep breath, fingers flexing as he gets ready.

He bends slightly, settling the bar across his shoulders, wiggling back and forth a little, adjusting until it’s just right. He strains as he takes the full weight of the bar and rises.

He’s a masterpiece, and watching him, I feel like I always do. Excited, possessive.

He does three reps, his usual, and then sets the bar down. He’s rolling his shoulders and pacing around. I know what he’s doing. He’s psyching himself up for more.

I want to help. I want to tell him he can do it. I want to be the encouragement he needs. But I can’t.

Because as much as I tell myself he’s mine, he’s not. I’ve spent hours watching him, studying him, but he doesn’t even know my name.

I sigh as I wipe down the treadmill and head for the locker room.


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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


Saturday, February 14, 2015

J M Blackman Week 138: Wish You Were Here

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J.M. Blackman’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Wish You Were Here

He should have figured out that his flight would be cancelled. He had such a life, such luck. His friends had planned to meet him in Hawaii. It was the first big trip he had planned since he had started teaching. It was what had got him through the first half of the year.

And now he and his board were warming up an airport floor.

He had already let his friends know that he was scheduled for the next available flight. Which wasn't for another 13 hours. And he couldn't go home, because he had already driven for hours. He didn't want to check into a room for half a day either.

A few hours into his wait, he received a text from his girlfriend.


He hadn't known the exact time of her flight. But he also hadn't thought she'd be there so much earlier than him. He replied.


She responded NOT SOON ENOUGH.

He agreed.

He tried to stay positive but it was hard when everyone he saw was leaving for their flight, and he was staring into the curls and swirls of a board that was still hours away from water.

He stared so long he thought he could see the golden ratio in his board's depths. But the whorls were just starting to blur when a familiar set of feet appeared in his sight, disrupting his reverie.

The feet of his girlfriend.

He looked up into her smile. He couldn't even get up he was so shocked. He didn't need to. She plopped down right across from him, her carryon beside her.

"We can wait it out here. I don't like wishing we were together. We should together. "

Then, they stared into the waves on his board. Together.


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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.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Mark Ethridge Week 138: If It’s Just A Dream, Let Me Dream (Part 3)

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: One

Title: If It’s Just A Dream, Let Me Dream (Part 3)

“Daddy? Will you be going to get Mommy?”

What do you do when your daughter asks such a question? I was still remembering what was going on in the world I found myself. But, I nodded anyway, “Yes, I am.”

Blue stood taller, and belted out, “We knew you would!” She moved down the hallway, toward the main room of her home again. “We’ve been waiting for your return!” Apparently, I was well known. “It will be another great battle!”

“I take it I’ve been in great battles before.”

Sarah laughed, “Oh, Daddy. You’re silly sometimes.”

I took it that meant I had. “So. What’s next?”

Blue headed toward her front door, “We go to the caves, and meet with the others.”

We did. Blue lead Sarah and me through a maze of rocks to a small hole in the ground. “We’re here.” She dropped through the hole, Sarah followed her. I sat on the ground, stuck my legs in, and pushed off, into an underground hallway.

“The meeting room is just ahead.” I followed Blue, Sarah followed me. We walked on a downward slope for several hundred yards. In the dark, it was impossible to tell how deep we went underground. The hallway led to a cavern. The cavern had not been built, it was natural. “The meeting room.”

There were a dozen blue beings scattered through the cavern. Blue belted out, “He has returned!” The blue beings gathered around us. “He has returned.”

I recognized them. I’d fought with them against my humans. We were invaders here. I knew that. One of the blue beings softly punched my shoulder, “Now, we can go rescue her!”

I suddenly realized what we were rescuing my wife from. The torture of being reprogrammed. Of having her memory gradually erased, and replaced by the memories that would turn her into a compliant person who fit into society, and agreed with the corporate governments invading the planet, intent of taking its mineral wealth as their own.

It was, after all, about profit. Life had nothing to do with anything. Profit was everything.

I remembered an old movie, made thousands of years earlier. “Avatar,” it was called. About a human of my kind helping the people of a strange world fend off the destruction of their world from us.

“Your arsenal is waiting, General, sir!”

I had an arsenal? Holy crap. I did have an arsenal. My people were gifted at war, after all. And had developed weapons well beyond the capabilities of most worlds. Leathal and nonleathal. Most of mine were harmless, designed to destroy other weapons, and cause other humans like myself to take 8 hour naps. Everyone always woke up, unharmed.

The vocal blue being who called me General lead me across the cavern to a door. I nearly laughed, the door was that funny. It didn’t have a doorknob. Instead, it had two hands with symbols etched in them. I knew the hands were coded, and I was the only person they would respond to. I was the only being who could open that door. All I had to do was shake hands with it.

I did. The door faded from existence, the hands moved to the side where they took up residence on a shelf.

“You guys have the coolest doors!”

Technology again. Inside the room was my arsenal. I swear to God, it was a bunch of Iron Man suits. All of them blue. The same color as the blue beings I was surrounded by. Exoskeletons. Apparently I was either super rich, or had lots of backers.

I tapped Blue on the shoulder, “How long does it take for me to remember everything.”

She smiled. “Not much longer now.” She swept an arm around the room, “You do remember your people are at war with themselves, right?”

I did. I remembered. “A fight for the soul of my people, isn’t it.”

She nodded.

I grinned. “Time to gear up, and get my wife.”

“That’s the General we know!”


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