Sunday, December 20, 2015

Mark Ethridge Week 180: I See Angry People (Part 7)

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: I See Angry People (Part 7)

I left before the sun arrived, I placed a thank you note on the front porch of Tommy’s house before I headed south, back toward the fence. There were things about the fence, and the people living inside the fence I needed to learn. And a lesson I needed to teach them.

It took a while, but I retraced my steps to my tent. I kept thinking, “I don’t remember the walk. I don’t remember anything but following the eagle.” But, I’d learned from experience in the woods, and let myself feel my way back. “It’s a straight line.”

I’d been injured on the way north, and hadn’t realized how much of a trail I’d left. Between the disturbances I’d left in the brush, and the knowledge I’d walked in a straight line, I was able to find my tent, and my pack.

My bow and arrows were where I’d left them. I would need them. I’d need more arrows. I checked the area for good tree branches I could use, but found nothing that would work. I headed east, slowly, checking the trees and the ground. With time I found a dozen good branches. I set up camp for the night, then pulled out my knife.

It took several hours, but I added a dozen arrows to my quiver. I planned to use them soon. I was angry, and someone needed to be taught a less in humility.

The next day, I rose before the sun, and headed south, to the fence. once more, I saw the ten foot wide clearing between the fence and the trees. I stayed hidden in the trees, and moved with the stealth I’d learned from the wolves. I headed east and found my way back to the guardhouse where Mr. Trigger Happy had shot up the trees. For no reason.

The fence wouldn’t be much protection for him. It was chain link. I could see the links, and I knew how to shoot arrows through them. I picked a spot in the brush, set an arrow, and waited.

I was rewarded shortly after sunrise with the sound of an alarm clock, the incessant ringing of a metal bell. There was movement in the cabin. I waited. I watched. And when the guard exited his dwelling, carrying his assault weapon, I was ready for him.

He didn’t say anything, just looked through the fence at the trees, then pulled his gun up, aimed at nothing, and prepared to fire.

He got an arrow in his leg.

He screamed, of course, and fell to the ground. The idiot tried to pull his gun around, so he could shoot back. But he had no idea where I was. He sprayed the trees with his weapon. I wasn’t in the trees. I was flat on the ground. I set a second arrow and shot the guard in the shoulder. “Put the damn gun down, and I won’t have to kill you.”

I set a third arrow.

The crazy guy with the gun screamed nonsense, put a fresh clip in his gun, and resumed firing. So, I shot him in the chest, which stopped the gunfire.

The way I figured it, he wouldn’t check in, so they’d send someone to check on him. Maybe several someones. Of course, they’d find him dead, with three home made arrows stuck in him. I figured that would cause the people inside the fence to react badly. I figured they’d come outside the fence to track me down, and shoot me.

I figured they didn’t stand a chance outside the fence. I was in my element. The wild. I moved silently through the brush and trees. The wolves taught me to leave no trail. To be invisible. I moved away from the fence, further into the brush, waited, and watched.

It took until dusk for anyone to show up. Two men, both well armed, walked into view from the south, headed toward the guards dwelling. Their guns were drawn. As they got closer, they saw their dead comrade. One took out a radio, and spoke into it.

“Gunner dead. Three arrows.”

The radio answered back, “Arrows?”


“Well. That’s something new.”

“We’ll stay here tonight, secure the area.” He motioned the other man to check the guards home. “Send a team. We’ll check the area outside in the morning.”

“They’ll be there at dawn.”

I smiled. The hunt was about to begin. “A lesson in humility.” I also knew it was my chance to learn about the people inside the fence. They types of guns and tools they had. The way they behaved in a group.

I retreated to my tent, to grab a few hours sleep. I was going to need it.


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


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Denise Callaway Week 180: Lost Pages

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Denise Callaway’s Picture Choice: 1st

Title: Lost Pages

There was a time that we were a great power. Now, we live in tiny shacks on the back twenty of people’s minds. No one really wanted to be associated with us. The Shimora broke us and then stashed us away, making us slaves. The few Eccledians left could be counted on a person’s fingers and toes. Many of our tomes were destroyed. We had a few, however, wrapped carefully and hidden in the walls, loose stones giving us a place to slip a few pages here and there. We shared them, passed them from shack to shack, read in secrecy.

Books were the first to go. Entire libraries burned to the ground. Shamly ran to my house in horror. “They attacked the library! Who attacks a library? What do they have against books?”

I stepped outside and could see the glow from my house. Even at that distance, the roar of destruction could be heard. “It’s not the books, Shamly. It’s what they contain that they fear.”

“We would have taught them to read!”

“Some do not wish to learn. Some wish to remain in ignorance.”

“What are we going to do?”

“We are going to live. And we are going to save as much of the knowledge as we can.”

Shamly and I gathered a few of the other Eccledians and we gathered what we could, slipping away from the chaos. As we hid the tomes, we could hear the screams of our neighbors. The extermination had begun. We continued to travel, carrying what we could on foot. It wasn’t much. It probably could not recreate a civilization. But it was a start. The words, the letters, that would be the building blocks.

Finally, we stopped, near the edge of the wood at the foot of the mountains. The caves were a secret that the Shimora did not know about. We hid for awhile. A few hunted. Others gathered from the wood. Knowledge hidden in the recesses of our minds awakened. We had read about these activities. Soon we were putting them into action, surviving.

Kevian learned how to filter the water and soon we learned how to use the herbs we gathered to make tea. Elian and Shamly would sneak into the Shimora trash dumps and scavenge supplies we could not gather or make. Jars with lids, dishes, eating and cooking utensils, and pots. Soon we were rebuilding. We had a fringe society built upon refuge.

When the Eccledians discovered us, we were no longer perceived as a threat. They laughed at our ragged existence. However, the point remained that we survived. They came at us with violence and anger. We maintained our vows of peace and survived. We kept the knowledge and lived. We were still the keepers of the tomes and we continued to teach our children.

Left alone, we slowly began to rebuild. Our homes were simple so we didn’t draw attention to ourselves. They had taken our city homes and trash built up around them. Ignorance produced piles of refuse. We sorted and gathered what was discarded and made it useful again. And ever so often, a lost page would be rescued, added to our small library. Knowledge was worth the sacrifice. We protected it with our simplicity. The Shimora would one day destroy themselves. For now, we bided our time, keeping the peace and gathering the lost pages of society.


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Denise finds herself lost in a field of dandelions. With one blow, her dandelion dreams transform into the words on a page. Some of those dreams have found their way to her website:


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Laura James Week 179: The Retreat (Part 1)

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Laura James’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: The Retreat (Part 1)

Todd finished packing his rucksack and hefted it onto his shoulders. It had been the most expensive one in the shop and despite the weight was comfortable on his shoulders. Dropping it back to the floor he picked up his walking boots, again a new purchase and the most expensive pair he could buy. The company was sending him on a retreat and he wanted to make sure he looked the part even if he didn't feel it.

Pulling on a new waterproof jacket he lifted the rucksack and made his way out the door. He was joining his colleagues at the office where a mini bus was to take them to north to the hotel. The drive to the office was uneventful and it gave him the chance to go over his plan for the weekend. He was new to the team and hadn't really gotten to know anyone. They were a close nit group and he had struggled to fit in, the fact that he was around twenty years there junior didn't help.

The company had been recently taken over and everyone was worried about their jobs. He had been brought in to assess the team and make recommendations for redundancy and he had his suspicions that they knew this. This weekend he had to allay their fears, he would be polite, courteous and above all defer to them at all times. He would convince them that he wasn't there as a company spy but as a guy ready to get stuck in, to help do what was needed to keep everyone together.

He had deliberately timed his arrival to ensure he would be the last one on the bus, his bag was placed with the others and he jumped up next to the driver. "Morning everyone, sorry I was late. Hope it didn't hold things up too much."

The group sitting behind him muttered various murmurings of welcome but Todd got the distinct impression that if he had been even a few minutes later then they would have left without him. Turning to the front he did a small drum roll on the dashboard, "Let's get this show on the road."

He spent the journey in silence listening the conversations behind him. Nothing of note was said, they all seemed genuinely keen to explore the outdoors and bond ass a group. Of course the fact that he wasn't asked for his opinion on the weekend meant he was once again excluded. Todd wasn't worried, by the end of the weekend he would have the trust of the team and by the end of the following week he would be able to make his recommendations to the company directors.

After they had all been allocated their rooms, they met in the reception room and were welcomed with coffee, croissants and the fake smile of their host for the weekend.

"My name is Bill and this weekend is all about you." Todd watched as several of his colleagues rolled their eyes. Bill continued "First off, enjoy the refreshments and I'll allocate you your groups." Bill walked amongst them giving each a number. Todd noticed he had been allocated the number two, same as Joan, Mary and Frank, the three who were on the top of his hit list. Someone at the company wasn't playing fair and didn't trust him to make the right decisions.

He drank his coffee as Bill explained their first task. They had to hike through the woods behind the hotel, following various markers until they found the 'treasure'. There would be no opportunity to cheat as each group were following a different path.Once they had obtained it they had to make there way back to the hotel by whatever route they could find. The purpose was to develop trust between them, allowing them to function better as a team. Todd sighed inwardly, his team was destined to fail. A smoker, a self confessed chocoholic and a bully did not a good team make.

Making the best of it Todd corralled his team together after collecting the first set of instructions, "Come on guys this will be fun. Mary what do think our first step should be?" Deferring to her was the smart move as Mary, the office bully, smiled and snatched the instructions from his hand. "Well this looks like it will take us all day, Joan why don't you scrounge up a lunch from the kitchen. And for god's sake, easy on the chocolate."

"I'll give you a hand." Frank and Joan headed to the hotel kitchen allow with some members of the other teams, leaving Mary and Todd alone.

"I don't trust you Todd and this weekend won't change that."

Todd shrugged, "I'm only here to do my job, there's no interior motive." He saw that she didn't believe him but had faith that the end of the weekend he would win her over. He would give her the same chance as everyone else but if she were unwilling to give him one, then she would be the first to go whether she deserved it or not.

The others soon returned and Todd volunteered to carry the supplies, thus cementing his role as subordinate. Frank seemed grateful and Joan gave him a smile and a conspiratorial wink as she tucked a small packet of M&M’s into her pocket. They set off with Mary striding a heading and the rest following, Todd knew Joan would struggle to keep up with the current pace but held his tongue, now was not the time to rock the boat.


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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


KendallJaye Collard Week 179: Finding Home

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KendallJaye Collard’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Finding Home

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect.

I mean, I was in Hawaii, for Pete’s sake. It’s always perfect.

Does life get any more ideal than soft, salty breezes in your face as you walk on sand soft as sugar while people back home bundled and shivered? New York City was where I spent my time in between deployments. And while a piece of me missed my overpriced micro-apartment with one dinky window where I would feed the pigeons, New York never truly felt like home. It felt like a temporary stop. It felt constricting. I always looked at the sky, wanting to be back in uniform. Once a pilot, always a pilot.

When my Commanding Officer asked where I was taking Christmas leave, I hadn’t even thought about it. The idea that I could go anywhere over the holiday hadn’t registered. And the beautiful irony of my decision was that I had spent roughly the last nine years with my boots in the sand. But the deserts of Iraq were nothing like this paradise.

I closed my eyes, took another deep breath, and let the sun bake my face. I felt at peace. At home.

Suddenly the air horns sounded from the nearby base. I opened my eyes. A few people on the beach began to stir and whisper amongst themselves. “It’s happening again,” I heard them say. Their fingers pointed skyward.

You could see the jets before you could hear and feel their thunder.

Paradise was about to be torn.


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KendallJaye Collard gets her kicks above the waistline, Sunshine. Wine drinker, Cancer Survivor, and protected by rocksalt. Spread the love with her at @KJCollard.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Sarah Aisling Week 178: A Measure of Grace (Part 43): Mercy

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 43): Mercy

The first thing I notice is the patter and trickle of rain nearby. The sound reminds me of cozy moments, burrowed beneath the comforter on a soggy Saturday morning. With a secret smile, I'd wiggle around, worming my way deeper under the covers..

Katie would always curse and complain about the lack of sun, how icky it was that everything—including her freakin' undies—would be damp for hours if she ventured out of the house. I'd hum, noncommittal, privately reveling in the down time, a chance to sleep longer, an excuse to lounge in my jammies and spend hours reading.

I drift, enveloped by fond memories until the hot poker of pain breaks through. My body aches and throbs in so many places, I'm not sure what to wonder about first. Something thick is wrapped around me, constricting movement and keeping me warm. By contrast, my cheeks are exposed to swirls of frigid air in which minuscule ice chips seem to be suspended. A burning ache sears my throat, and I'm certain my spine is shattered. The thought sets loose waves of adrenaline through my system, causing me to panic and thrash wildly. My efforts fail due to the bindings, causing the fear to ratchet higher still.

“My back . . .” The words are a rusty rasp, lost to the wind.

“China?” Supple leather caresses my face, Max’s gloved hands. “Baby, open your eyes for me.”

“Max?” Hearing his voice, saying his name, brings back a flood of memories . “Gibbs said you were . . . dead.”

“That joker couldn’t get rid of me.”

I force my lids open, and his face is a pale blur hovering above me. I blink, trying to bring him into focus, but my vision isn’t cooperating. I give up and shut my eyes again; just knowing he’s here and alive is enough.

“She’s awake?” Relief is apparent in Eric’s voice. “Maybe we can get her back to the plant now.”

“Where’s Ali?” I ask.

“At the base of the tunnel. She won’t go inside while you guys are still out here.”

“Stubborn little . . .” Max mutters. “China, can you tell me where you’re injured? What did that fuck do to you?”

He means Gibbs.

“Thank God . . . he’s finally . . . gone.”

I recall hearing the rapid-fire sizzling snaps of a taser just before I was flung against the stone, and Gibbs toppled into the crevasse amid screams and the cracking of bones.

Gibbs is finally gone. I’ve never wished anyone dead before, but in my mind, this death is just and deserved.

“Where are you hurt? I have you strapped to a board to carry you down, but I don’t want to hurt you unnecessarily.”

I open my eyes again, fighting to focus, and manage a clear view of Max’s beautiful eyes. “Sea glass . . .”

Max strokes my cheek tenderly, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “What are you saying?”

Instead of answering the question, I say, “Everything hurts. Twisted my ankle. Gibbs g-grabbed me by the neck and pressed his arm against my throat a-and slapped me.”

Max makes an ugly sound, his face contorting with anger. “Son of a bitch!”

I open my mouth to tell him it’s okay but swallow the words as a moan rises from the fissure, echoing around us.

“He’s still alive?”

Eric swears. “I was hoping the girls wouldn’t have to hear him.”

I try to sit up but of course can’t. “He’s not dead?”

“Not yet, princess.” Gibbs’ voice, weakened as it is, still sends a ripple of fear through me.

Max leans toward the drop off. “Shut the fuck up!”

“You can’t leave me down here!” Though Gibbs tries to hide it, panic seeps into his words.

Bitter anger blooms inside me. “Sure we can, psycho.”

Eric hovers behind Max, wringing his hands. “What should we do? He could hang on for days.”

Max sits up, pulling the gun from his pocket. He removes all but one bullet from the chamber, engages the safety, and tosses the weapon over the edge. It hits the side once before landing with a clack at the bottom. “Here. Don’t say I never did anything for you.”

“What the hell . . .” Gibbs drifts off as he realizes what Max threw down.

“Your choice—quick or slow—but nobody’s getting you out of there.”

“Murderers! Get me the fuck out of here! You have no idea who I am.” There’s a hysterical, pleading edge to his voice.

“We know your uncle is vice president. It doesn’t mean shit to us, and the Alliance will never know what happened. You’re AWOL as far as they’re concerned.” Max looks back at me, a complex mix of emotions shading his eyes. “I’m giving you the chance to die like a man. It’s the best offer you’re going to get and much more than you deserve.”

“Fuck! Don’t do this!” Gibbs’ voice dissolves into a pain-filled grunt.

I turn my head toward the crevasse, forcing steadiness into my voice, and parrot Gibbs’ own words back to him. “There’s a beauty to surrender, great courage in acceptance.”

A volley of expletive-laden threats issues from the abyss, which only brings a grim smile to my face. If I had any saliva, I’d spit.

When his tirade is over, I can’t stop myself from adding one final comment. “By the way, you’re not forgiven for the sick things you’ve done. Enjoy hell.” The tears that spill down my face aren’t for Gibbs; they’re for his victims, me included. “Get me out of here, please.”

Max gazes at me with surprise and a touch of admiration in his expression. “You never cease to amaze me.” He nods to Eric. “Let’s go home.”

Max positions himself at my head. Eric dons night-vision goggles and lifts my feet. They step carefully over Gibbs’ yawning grave. It’s slow going as they make their way along the steep path while trying to hold me steady. I grit my teeth several times, fighting not to cry out from the pain.

“Ali?” Max calls out when we near the end.

“I’m here. I'm fine.”

“I’m so sorry—” Max's voice breaks.

“Shut up, Connor.” There’s a tinge of humor in her voice.

Max mutters something unintelligible under his breath.

When we arrive at the mouth of the tunnel, the first opaque glow of the coming dawn lights the sky between the diminishing storm clouds. A few errant drops of rain drip on my face.

Ali steadies herself on Max’s arm and rises up on tiptoe, placing a quick kiss on his cheek. “My hero, always.” She bends over me, a tired smile playing over her lips. “Thank God that nightmare is over.”

“Ali, can you get the keys out of my jacket?” Eric inclines his head toward the right front pocket.

Ali fishes around in the deep pocket, coming out with the key ring. She unlocks the door with shaky hands. Warm air drifts out along with the familiar and welcome hum of the power plant.

Max and Eric hold the board as steady as possible and carry me over the threshold toward safety.

A single, sharp report ricochets from the darkness of the tunnel just before the door shuts behind us.


The trip through the maze of halls is awkward, but I don't complain when Eric bumps into the wall, sending a wave of agony along my spine. The aches and pains give me hope that I'm not paralyzed, that Max and Eric aren't hiding anything about my condition.

My mind is distracted by the single gunshot, which plays over and over with crystal clarity, so much so that I at first fear the Alliance infiltrated the power plant. The guys assume my whimper is one of pain, and I don't correct the error.

Eric taps the button for the elevator. “Are we gonna fit in there with her like this?”


The two maneuver carefully into the close space, jostling me only once. The elevator jerks slightly as it begins moving.

Ali hasn't said a word since we entered the plant. She leans against the brushed metal railing, chewing her lip and jiggling one leg. Our eyes meet, and I see the worry there.

Eric looks over at me, his face open and friendly. No worry lines crease his broad forehead.

“Is everyone okay?” I ask him.

“Um . . .” His gaze bounces to Ali and back to me. “Relatively speaking, yeah. Andrea's an emotional wreck, but she'll deal. Tek will be all right. I mean, we don't have an x-ray machine lying around, but best I can tell . . . a few broken ribs and lots of bruising—maybe a mild concussion. I'm no doctor, but we need to look out for double vision, vomiting, lethargy—stuff like that.”

A fragment of my conversation with Gibbs comes to mind. “There's a tracking device! We need to find it. Gibbs said he put one in my bag.” Tears spring up, not entirely unexpected, and I drag in a deep breath. “He was right there in the house with me when I was recuperating. He could have . . . done so many things.” My lower lip trembles.

Eric's eyes widen.

Max growls. “Even after death, this guy is the bane of our existence!” The elevator jerks to a stop, and Max backs out slowly, trying to keep the board level. “Shit, do you think anyone else knows our location? Gibbs didn't seem to know where we were. Was he just playing with us?”

“I don't think so.” Ali stands straighter, following us into the hall. “I've picked up a lot of knowledge, being around Tek. I don't think a tracker would work once inside the plant. The signal probably dropped off near the entrance, and Gibbs bumbled around until he came upon us.”

Eric nods. “That makes sense! GPS wouldn't work in here.”

“Now we just have to find the fucking tracker and destroy it.” Max leans over and kisses my nose. “Let's get you to our room and unstrap you.”

When we enter the door to our quarters, there's a lone dog there to greet us. Grace barks, racing up the hall, and stops short next to me. She crouches in a half-sit and tilts her head, emitting a soft whine.

“Hey, girl! I'll be okay.”

Grace looks to Max as if for confirmation.

Max laughs. “Your mama is just fine.”

Maybe she understands English. More likely, Grace is responding to his tone of voice. She yips and trots ahead, leading the way to our room where Max and Eric set me on the bed and unstrap me from the board, unzipping my jacket but leaving it on.

The pain is worse once the protective sheath is removed, and they roll me gently onto the bed, but being released from my confines floods me with relief. Grace hops up, and I try to pet her but find my limbs weakened by pins and needles. She snuggles alongside me with her head on my chest, and I manage to sling an arm around her. She sniffs at my neck with a soft whine and licks at the tender skin as if trying to heal the damage Gibbs did.

Eric hovers by the door, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I'm gonna go check on Tek and Andrea.”

Ali is already gone.

Max closes the door with a sigh, shrugging out of his jacket, and perches on the edge of the bed opposite Grace. Gentle hands ghost over me, pressing here and there. He asks me to flex my hands and feet, to move my arms and legs, which I do without issue.

Max strokes his knuckles back and forth across my forehead. When I start to speak, he shushes me. “Rest now. I don't think anything is broken. We can address the other stuff later.”

I try to say something again, but he presses a finger to my lips with a shake of his head.

The stream of adrenaline has finally slowed, leaving my lids droopy and my body heavy.

I drift, feeling loved and protected.


Awareness seeps into my consciousness slowly. Grace's paw pokes me mid-back. My arms and legs are stiff and sore but no longer numb, and I'm able to shift onto my back without a great deal of difficulty. The corner of my mouth feels crusty, and I swipe at it in the vain hope Max didn't notice the drooling.

I crack my lids. The lamp Max gave me emits a halo of soft golden light. Max sits in a chair tipped against the wall, his feet resting on the battered dresser and a sketchpad propped against his knees. The faint scratch of pencil on paper is soothing.

I watch him for a while. Every so often, he uses his ring finger to smudge something in the drawing and often pauses, biting his lip as he stares at the wall, imagining something only he can see.

“Hey.” My voice is a raspy squeak.

Max gets up, placing the pad and pencil on the dresser, and wipes his smudged hands on his jeans before coming to sit beside me. He's not wearing the same clothes as when I fell asleep and is clean-shaven.

“How do you feel?”

Before answering, I check for drool residue, happy to find there isn't any. “Good, I think. A little stiff and sore.” I snag the edge of his shirt. “You shaved while I was sleeping.”

Max laughs, an amused twinkle in his eyes. “That's not all I did, Sleeping Beauty. I showered, took a hammer to the tracker we found in your bag, set up a meeting with Garth, talked to Tek and Andrea, enjoyed a few hot meals and a beer, and did some sketches—not necessarily in that order.”

I lift up on one elbow, fighting a wave of dizziness before I scoot into a seated position. A multicolored afghan with a random pattern in shades from muted to vibrant covers my legs. “How long was I asleep?”

Grace rolls on her back and stretches out, yawning widely.

“Day and a half.”

“Wow. How's Tek?” I run a hand through my hair, smoothing it back.

“Broken ribs, bruising, sprained shoulder, but otherwise fine. No signs of a concussion. He's back in the control room, running it one-handed. Ali refuses to leave his side.” He shakes his head and links our fingers, smiling sheepishly. “Then again, I've spent most of my time watching you sleep.”

Heat floods my cheeks, and I unconsciously swipe at the corner of my mouth. “You were watching me?”

His thumb rubs lightly against my palm. “Don't be embarrassed. You're really cute when you sleep, so peaceful.” A shadow passes across his face. “I long for that kind of peace. It's been a long time.”

“I'm sorry. How are you doing?”

He shrugs. “I'm fine, why?”

“Gibbs said he pushed you off the cliff. I—I was afraid I'd never see you again.”

Max looks confused. “I never even saw him up there. He left a trail of clues leading to the cliffs, where I found Ali bound and gagged. When I removed the gag, Ali demanded that I leave her there and go find you—she had a feeling Gibbs was after you all along.” He smooths a lock of hair behind my ear. “Turns out she was right. I banked on you remembering the drop off at the top of the tunnel, so I took a chance and came that way. By the time I got up there, the two of you were teetering on the edge, so I zapped him with the taser to force him to let go.”

“I fell right into his trap, so stupid.”

“You never do what you're told.”

“I'm not very good at it, no.”

Max grins. “It's part of what I admire so much about you even though I want to throttle you sometimes.”

My stomach grumbles loudly, protesting the lack of sustenance.

“We should get you something to eat. Think you can get up, or would you rather eat here?”

“I want to see everyone.”

Max helps me off the bed, allowing me to lean on him for support. I make him stop in front of the mirror. My eyes are glassy. I rake shaky fingers through my tangled hair in an attempt to make it more presentable. A faint bruise shadows my cheek where Gibbs slapped me, but the angry bluish-purple marks on my neck are what cause me to gasp.

Max presses his cheek alongside mine, his stormy gaze meeting mine in the mirror. “I wish that fuck could die again. He had it too easy.”

I close my eyes. “I'm just glad it's finally over.”

After making a quick bathroom stop, we make our way to the kitchen where the table is set for six. Tek is already seated, his right arm in a sling. Andrea is next to him, and Eric stands behind the chair, massaging her shoulder.

Ali turns from the counter and shoots a triumphant grin around the room. “I told you Marie would be joining us for dinner.” She winks at me. “We'll start you off with tea, soup, and pain killers.”

Everyone around me chats as I sip tea and spoon chicken noodle into my mouth. It's probably my imagination, but I never remember soup tasting this good. Max keeps one arm around my shoulders the entire time, and Grace wiggles her way under the table and plops herself on top of my feet.

The haunted look I've seen on Andrea's face is gone. She's friendlier and more open with the group, even cracking a few jokes between bashful glances at Eric.

After dinner, we convene in the living room. With our various injuries, we can't seem to find a game all of us can play, so we decide to make use of the dust-covered DVD player and watch a movie. Ali chooses Bruce Almighty, and we joke and laugh and forget for a while.

I fall asleep during the second movie, and Max carries me to our room. I curl against him, content.

I stir in the middle of the night and turn over to find the other side of the bed empty. My heart flutters, and I sit up. Grace slumbers on and doesn't even lift her head.

Maybe Max snuck into the kitchen for a snack.

Yawning, I fight to stay awake until he returns, but sleep claims me—until Grace starts growling and feet pound in the corridor outside our room.


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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

Friday, December 11, 2015

Kimberly Gould Week 178: Frozen

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Frozen

Thea pulled the door shut behind her. She might as well have slammed it for the way it echoed through the hall. It was so quiet. Had the foster home ever been this quiet? Childish squeals and fits of laughter filled the air alongside tears of frustration, homesickness and loss. Be they happy or sad, the sounds never ceased, except they had.

Thea opened the first door she found, looking for someone, anyone. The first room was empty. So was the second, the third. She stopped opening doors, racing down the stairs instead. Here was the kitchen where Mrs. Black was almost always fixing a meal or snack. There was the library where Mr. Black would read to the children when he wasn’t away at work. Both were as empty as the upper floor.

Throwing open the door to the basement, the bang as it hit the wall echoed again, reverberating off hard concrete. Nothing down there.

The front door was closed but not bolted. She threw it open as she had the last. She froze in place, not able to take another step.

There were all the children and Mrs. Black, as frozen in place as she was. She screamed, and none of them answered.


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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


Friday, December 4, 2015

Mark Ethridge Week 178: I See Angry People (Part 6)

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: I See Angry People (Part 6)

I woke the next day feeling better. My arm hurt like crazy, but at least I could move it. Tommy was waiting outside the warehouse. “Joy’s got you a hot cooked meal for you at the house, come on.”


He interrupted me, “Now, Frank. Looks like you ain’t had a good meal in at least a month. Come on.”

Bacon, pancakes, eggs, and orange juice. “Where did you find this?”

“Find? Hell, Ben and Kathy make it,” Joy informed me.

“Make it?”

“Yeah.” She looked at the bacon, “I have no idea what meat this is.”

“Sure smells and tastes like bacon.”

“That it does.” She sighed. “Kathy calls it bearcon. Says it’s all in the seasonings.”

I didn’t say anything. I had a different perspective on bears. Tommy seemed to notice. “He only takes what he needs. What the four of us need.” He grinned, “Bacon’s a rare meal around here.”

Joy continued, “The eggs come from the chickens out back.” She noticed my quizzical look, “Yes, we have chickens. A dozen or so. We let half the eggs hatch. And the bread’s made from corn flower. We grow our own.”

Tommy tapped my shoulder, “And we’ll teach you how we do it.” He looked out the window. “It ain’t much. It’s just enough. But ain’t that all we need? Enough?”

I had to admit he was right.

“We’ve been learning to farm,” I tried to smile, “but we’re not that good at it. Yet.”

“Like I said, we can teach you what we know.” He put his hand on my shoulder, “But. You’ll have to stick around a while to learn.”

Joy added, “And you’ll have to earn your keep.”

Tommy nodded, “That’s the deal. We teach, you work.”

“Sounds fair enough to me.”

They started that afternoon, took me to the corn field, where we weeded row after row of ears. It was back breaking work, pulling the weeds out by hand. “I used to used Dad’s tractor to do this.”

Tommy laughed, “I used to use my tractor to do this.” He pointed at the warehouse. “But, the damn thing takes gas to run. And gas is rare. And a bitch to make.”

I thought my arm was going to fall off, the wound ached like someone was hitting me with a bat. “You make gas?”

“Biofuel. Mostly from corn. It’s got enough alcohol in it.”

I knew I had a lot to learn about living after the apocalypse. “You guys do well.”

“We try.” He kept pulling weeds. “Ben’s not but so much help. Fella’s getting old.”

As we worked, I asked Tommy, “So. About that fence thing?”

He paused, “Yeah. I did say I’d tell you about it.” He started pulling weeds again. “May as well do that while we work. It’ll help kill the time.”

He started:

Shortly after everything went to hell, this group of white men came along, with guns. They took every girl they could find with them. Made a long line of roped up girls, like one of them slave caravans you heard about in school.

They said they weren’t going to hurt them. “Girls, women, are in danger. Too many of them are dying since this all started. We need to protect them.”

A few days later, Joy and I found a girl wandering through the forest. We decided to take her to the group. It wasn’t too hard to follow them, they left a clear path through the woods. That’s when we found the fence. It was smaller, just getting started. You could see what looked like a small town inside it. Protected all the way around by the fence.

There were four shacks near the fence, and armed guards in each. “Hello, inside! Anybody there?”

Someone came out with a whole pile of guns, pointed right at me. “Careful, buddy! Careful! I’m not here to fight!”

I pushed the girl forward, toward the fence. “They said you were protecting the women. Well.” I took a step toward the fence, “She’s lost. And alone. She needs protecting.”

The man lowered his gun, and opened a gate in the fence. He let the girl in. “She’ll be safe here.” He pointed toward the town. “Go there. They’ll take care of you.” He turned back to me, “Get lost.” He pointed the gun at me again.

I got lost. Hell, I ran away from there.

Since then, they’ve pretty much cleared the woods around here of women. And they’ve pretty much shot all the crazy men. Not that they aren’t crazy men. But, at least the women are safe. They’re building towns inside that fence. Every town they start, they add more fence. And more guards. And the guards protect the fence. They shoot at anything outside that fence that moves. They don’t ask. They shoot. Like they’re protecting themselves from wild animals.

That’s where we get most of our meat, from around the fence. Dead animals everywhere. Some of the guards don’t even look. They get up every morning, and shoot at the trees. It’s like an armed fortress. A walled off district. And now that they’ve got enough women inside the fence, they don’t seem to care about letting anyone else in.

When he finished the story of the fence, he kept pulling weeds. I paused, “Like they’re making a kingdom of some kind?” I pulled more weeds.

“Something like that.” He pulled more weeds, “But I’m not going near that fence to find out.”

The sun started to get low to the horizon, “That’s enough weed pulling for today.” We headed back to the house. “Tomorrow, we check the next field, for tomatoes, broccoli, green beans, squash.”

I nodded.

“We have to grow everything here.”

So it went for three days. Until Tommy checked on me one morning, “Sunday. The day of rest.” He was all dressed up, even had on a tie. Joy, Ben, and Kathy were with him. “Day of thanksgiving.”

I took the hint, and followed them. We walked down a path through the trees to an old town, not too far from the houses. I saw the burned houses. But there were no body remains. “In case you’re wondering, Ben and I buried everyone that got killed.”

I knew from his eyes, he’d seen a lot of death then. He’d buried a lot of friends. It was written in his eyes. He knew every house, and who had lived in it. Joy cried as we walked through the town. Kathy held her hand.

Ben pointed out places, “That’s where I found my daughter.” He looked at me, “They’d cut her head off. Took her, tied her up. God knows what they did to her. Then, when they were done with her, they cut her head off. And left her body where it was.”

“Ben.” Kathy’s calm voice cut him off. “Vengeance is God’s, Ben.”

I knew though, if Ben ever found out who killed his daughter, he’d have his vengeance. Even if it meant he went to hell.

The four of them led me to an old church, with a granite entryway. The sun lit up the brickwork on the floor of the entrance. It was a beautiful church. Tommy stopped at the entrance, crossed himself, and said, “Forgive us for our sins,” before he stepped inside. We all followed his example.

All the wooden fixtures inside were gone. The church pews. The altar. The cross. Every wooden item was gone. Used to make fires, or to make other things. Maybe things I didn’t want to know about.

Tommy, Joy, Ben and Kathy knelt on the floor, held hands, and silently prayed. I knelt, and thought to myself, “God, if you really do exist, why?” I didn’t know if God was real or not. I knew I didn’t have much time to wonder if he was. I worried about living through another day. Not getting shot, or beaten to death.

I wondered, as I walked on my journeys, why. Why did the world come apart.

That afternoon, back at the houses, I told Tommy I would have to investigate that fence. There were things I needed to know.

“I won’t stop you. But remember, you’re welcome here. You want to visit the fence, do so at night. And don’t lead anyone here.”

We spoke about the fence for a while. About what might happen inside that fence. And about how only an idiot would study that fence, and what was inside. And idiot that had already been shot once, and was bloody likely to get his ass shot again by visiting that place.

“You’ll be welcome here. And we’ll keep teaching you so long as you show up.”

I stuck around another week, working with them. Learning about farming, making corn flour and ethanol. Then, I got ready to return to the fence. There were things about that fence I needed to know.

And I needed to talk to the animals around the fence. Warn them about it, if I could. Tell them to avoid it.

I went to sleep that night, in the warehouse, with Tommy knowing I’d be gone at sunrise.


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


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Lizzie Koch Week 178: The Tour Guide

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Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: The Tour Guide

Millie was bored. The holiday with her parents was boring. The beach but was OK but they insisted on taking day trips to dusty old buildings where her not nearly enough tanned skin was shielded by the sun. Today was another day excursion in melting heat to another dust bowl in the middle of nowhere. Even a gift shop couldn’t make this trip better.

“Hi, my name’s Dom and I’ll be your guide today.” A tall, blonde and gloriously sun kissed man grinned back at the group as they gathered around him, Millie pushing to the front.

Hanging on to his every word, Millie couldn’t lift her gaze from him, giving Dom her best smile. Occasionally, his eyes fell on hers with a flicker of a smile as he spoke with passion about the temple and secret passageways. When they broke for lunch, Millie saw her chance. She wandered over to Dom and sat down next to him.

“You love your history,” she said cheerily.

“It’s a job. I learn my lines. It’s easy when there’s a story behind it.“

“What’s the story?”

“Weren’t you listening?” he asked, raising a brow.

“Yeah, of course.” But Millie’s blush gave her away. She tried to listen but couldn’t focus on the words his silky voice delivered, couldn’t get past his cobalt eyes. But as she finished her lunch, she promised to listen.

The tour disappeared into the building, deep underground. Fire lit torches lined the stone passageways. The group crowded into a room and again Dom’s words floated over Millie’s head. Soon, the crowd filtered out and Millie hung back.

“Have you lost something?” Dom asked.

“No . . .”

“Look, Millie, you’re really nice, but . . .”

“Nice! Nice is not something any girl likes to be called,” she said, sauntering towards him.

“OK, cute. You’re cute but I have a girlfriend.”

“Cute is better.”

“I need to catch up with the group. Without me, they’ll get lost. It’s a labyrinth of tunnels down here. And a tomb. If you were listening earlier, you’d know a jealous tyrant of a king entombed his own sister to die in this very room with her lover. It gives me the creeps and it’s not the right place for what you’re suggesting.”

“Just one kiss,” Millie whispered, feeling his warm breath on her face in the cool room.

“Not today,” Dom replied. “I’m not interested.” He walked passed her. “We need to go.”

Her stomach knotted as as anger spiked from within. What was the point of the holiday if she couldn’t even get a holiday romance going on? The one good thing she’d seen was now leaving the room.

Without hesitation or much thought, she rushed towards him but stumbled over her own tired feet. Her hands grasped at the wall, scraping down as her head just grazed against an unlit torch. It creaked as it moved. Dom stopped and turned slowly as a rumbling filled the room.

“Quick, get up,” he shouted as the floor shook beneath him. Dust showered down.

Millie pulled herself up, wiping the dust from her face. “This isn’t funny!” she moaned.

“It’s not a joke, quickly! Grab my hand. Come on.”

“Why don’t you come in and get me.”

The doorway was growing smaller, yet Millie still stood her ground, a spoilt teenager wanting her own way.

With a sudden rush, Dom charged through the doorway, stooping to get through. His hand grabbed hers and yanked hard. Choking and blinded by the dust, Dom pushed forward, doubled over, pulling Millie behind him and throwing her to the floor, falling heavily on top of her. The room sealed behind him with a thunderous clap and a cloud of dust. Heavy breathing and coughing filled the silence as Dom hauled himself up, leaning against the wall.

“Took you long enough,” Millie said casually, sitting up. “But you really didn’t need the theatrics.” She kissed his dirty cheek before standing. “Maybe the maze next. Would that be the right place for what I’m suggesting?” she asked, giving him a sideways glance as she glided away.


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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