Monday, February 29, 2016

Laura James Week 190: Escape

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Laura James’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Escape

Curled up on her side Stephanie lay on the bed, tears and blood slowly drying on her skin, as he crashed about in the next room. She could only imagine the damage that would greet her when she finally surfaced from the bedroom. It wasn't the first time he had beaten her but this was the first time he had come close to killing her.

Stephanie knew she couldn't go on but she wasn't sure if she could find the strength to leave. Where would she go? She no longer had any friends as over the years they had slowly been erased from her circle leaving her alone, the only person in her life was the one person she had to escape. Hearing a door slam Stephanie let out a breath she didn't know she had been holding.

He never liked to see her damaged and this time he would stay away for several days to allow the more obvious wounds to heal before he came back to inflict more pain. Stephanie lay still enjoying the quiet interspersed with the rumbling of trains on the tracks outside the house. As the sun set Stephanie pulled herself to the edge of the bed and lowered her legs to the floor.

Clutching her side she staggered out of the room and down the hall towards the living room. Fresh tears leaked from her eyes as she surveyed the total destruction of her home. Every piece of furniture had been broken, shelves had been ripped from the walls, ornaments lay shattered on the floor. Seeing what he had done finally gave Stephanie the boost she needed, she would leave. Decision made she got her shoes and bag and slowly made her way out of her home of ten years.

With little money Stephanie had no choice but to walk, following the railway track in the hope that a freight train would be held up at lights allowing her to sneak in board. She walked with her body bent and feet shuffling, every step causing fresh pain. Memories of the abuse filled her head; a punch, a kick, a slap. With every step she began to feel better, the pain became more manageable as she walked from her past and towards a brighter future.


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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 28, 2016

KendallJaye Week 189: Live Fully

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KendallJaye Collard’s Picture Choice:

Title: Live Fully

The resort was everything they’d advertised. The food was amazing. The staff was impressively friendly. The scenery was gorgeous. It was exactly as I hoped it would be. And all too soon it would be over. The vacation I’d saved for was on its last day. I spent the morning swimming in the perfectly clear water of the ocean and walking miles of beach. Now, after burning off the wasted calories from the prior night’s cocktails, all I could focus on was getting back to my suite for a nap.

Once back in my room, I shimmied out of my conservative one-piece swimsuit and slipped into my gauzy summer dress. It was a bit sheer, but I didn’t anticipate visitors. Directly outside my suite and down a tiny flight of teak wood steps was my semi-private deck. The deck could be completely enclosed from prying eyes by pulling the drapery on the four sides. But today was hand delivered from the gods. It was a day meant to be savored. Perfect temperature. Perfect humidity. Perfect breezes. I descended the stairs and ungracefully flopped myself into the lounger. I could smell the tropical flowers on the breeze and could taste the salt in the air.

Movement from across the way caught the corner of my eye.

On an identical deck from a neighboring suite, an impossibly beautiful and completely naked boy came into focus. His hair was a shade darker than the dampened sand on the beach. His eyes were blue and crystal clear. They held the story of a soul far older than his body. The way he walked was purely fluid, as if he defied all gravitational laws. He turned his back my direction and sat down on a lounger similar to mine. The muscles in his back danced has he raised his arm to run his fingers through his somewhat rebellious hair. The light and shadow emphasized each ripple on his back. He swung his legs up and let out a deep sigh. Once seated, I could tell how tall he was. His well-muscled legs extended far beyond the edge of the lounger. He had the perfect physique of a professional goalkeeper.

And I was gawking like a high-school girl.

Embarrassed, I dropped my gaze, grabbed my sunglasses, and slapped them on my face. I was old enough to be this boy’s mother.

And yet…

Something made turn back.

He was staring at me in my gauzy white summer dress. He was looking at me in much the same way I had been looking at him just moments before. He gave an upward nod of acknowledgment as our eyes met. He rolled to his side. He dipped his chin and curled his finger in a silent invitation.

It was the last day of my vacation.

I would never be here again.

“Live fully,” my therapist had said when she suggested I get away.

And I had no intention of letting this opportunity pass. The nap could wait.

I bit hard on my lip to stifle a giggle. I was at his suite door in ten seconds.


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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, February 27, 2016

Mark Ethridge Week 189: I See Angry People (Part 13)

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: I See Angry People (Part 13)

I headed south along the edge of the lake. It was a big lake, one I wasn’t familiar with. I couldn’t see the far shore. For all I knew, it could have been the ocean, except it didn’t smell like the ocean, there were no sandy beaches, no seagulls, no piers, no surf. The water was calm, with small, lapping waves. There were ducks, geese, even swans. And there were miles and miles of nothing but water, and a long, quiet shoreline, with grass, a few small trees, and brush, that grew, as I headed south.

I spent my nights by the lake, in my tent. I bathed in the lake each morning. I washed everything, even my backpack. It felt good to be clean, to wash away the days, and weeks, of dust, dirt, and sweat. Each night, the gentle lapping of the waves lulled me to sleep.

I fished. I sucked at fishing, but I pretended I could. I caught nothing. Except a few clumps of mud and rock from the bottom of the lake. I watched the birds, and wished I could swim, like they did. Instead, I stood on the muck at the bottom of the lake, and kept my head above the water. I could swim, but not well. Enough to avoid drowning.

Food wasn’t a problem. I found plenty to eat, including the leaves of some of the trees. “Salad!” I’d learned from the wolves, the foxes, and the other animals in the forest back home what to eat, how to find the food I needed among the trees, and the brush. Even some of the roots got added to my salad.

I gradually regained my strength as I recovered from my walk through hell. That desolate place that went forever. I’d have to remember to not cross that again.

On the fourth day of my hike south on the lake, I came across a town. At first, it was just a few bumps on the horizon, by the edge of the lake. A few hours later, I’d reached it. And empty town.

Something was different about this town. Normally I would have been on edge, drawn my bow, and set an arrow, and been ready to fight. I’d have moved slowly, cautiously. But something told me the town was empty. There was no one there. No danger. I walked it’s few streets, saw the architecture of the buildings. Apartments. Condominiums, I believe they used to be called that.

The town went clean to the edge of the lake, with a boardwalk over the water. There were a few boat docks, but no boats. The boats were long gone. Just like the people. The place was empty, and had been empty for years. There was a layer of dust on everything inside every building, every home.

Everything was left behind. Books. Clothing. Pictures. Everything. The people who’d once lived here had left rapidly. Perhaps they fled something. Maybe there was a fire of some kind. Perhaps they fled the crazy people when the world went insane. I had no way of knowing. There was no history. No story of what happened. No evidence. No warning. One day, everyone left.

I wondered where they’d gone. If they’d taken to their boats to cross the lake. If they’d gone inland, or fled along the lake’s shore.

I found a couple of small stores, more like shops. A small grocery, all the cans, boxes, and bags still on the shelves. Piles of dirt and dust where the produce and meat had been. Even the maggots and flies were gone. Whatever happened, it happened long ago. There was a bookstore, its shelves filled with paperback books, romance novels, science fiction, classic works, Twain, Poe, and many others. And Bibles, lots of Bibles.

Eventually, I found the town’s offices. That’s where I found what had happened. They had indeed fled the crazy men. They’d headed across the lake, on their boats. They had no guns, no means of self defense. They’d left quickly.

And the crazy men had found nothing of use. So, they’d left also.

I gathered what maps I could find in the town’s office, then decided it was safe to stay in that town overnight. I found a comfortable sofa in one of the condominiums, and settled in for the night.

Before I went to sleep, I spent time studying the maps. They named the lake, and showed several roads leading away from the town. The roads led to other towns, even cities. For once, I had a map, and could tell where I was. The maps didn’t show much more than the local area, no more than 100 miles in all directions. The lake was huge. Not one of the Great Lakes, but plenty big. The maps said it was Devil’s Lake, in North Dakota. But the lake I’d been walking didn’t look like the one in the map. The lake I’d been walking around looked bigger, wider. Perhaps the lake had changed. Perhaps it had grown in the years since the world went insane. I had no way of knowing. I had no map making abilities. And no way to tell directions other than by the sun, and the stars at night.

If the lake had grown, changed, since the world had gone crazy, it would have changed faster than I could have imagined. It was something I couldn’t explain.

At the least, the maps gave me a direction to walk in. A rough guide to find my way back to my home. In the forest. With Jessica, and her friends. And with Valerie.

It was where I belonged.

And that’s when I realized why I’d taken the walk I’d taken. Why I’d wandered so far, for so long. I had to find me. What I valued. What I cared for. Where I belonged.

And I belonged at home.

With Valerie.


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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, February 24, 2016

Kimberly Gould Week 189: The End of Magic

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: The End of Magic

Leslie’s mouth was frozen in an O. The lights had just come on and turned the forest into a magic place. The trees were all different colors. Some had leaves and some didn’t. Some were thick and gnarled and they were as beautiful as the ones that stood straight and tall, their limbs reaching for the sky.

She waited for someone to come and share the moment with her. After all, someone must have turned on the lights, right? Her parents would notice she was out of bed and come snatch her up. Then she could point and they would smile at her favorites in the grove.

Leslie slept in the next morning and was woken by the horrible jarring sound of a chainsaw. In nothing but her nightie, she ran out and tripped, falling to the grass in surprise and dismay. There was her father, removing the tree she had chosen as hers in the brilliant lights.

“Daddy! How could you?” She wept and hugged the stump, her arms not going more than halfway around the wide base.

“Leslie? What’s the matter? Look at it. This tree was dead, already.” He wiggled the fingers of his leather work gloves in the rotted center of the bole. There was less than an inch unaffected around it. “It would have fallen and might have hit the house or one of the other trees. Now it’s safe, and we’ll use the firewood to keep us warm in the winter.”

Leslie didn’t care, and since the work that remained was with the fallen trunk, she stayed curled around her stump.

That night, the lights didn’t come on, but the wind blew and Leslie was sure she heard the other trees crying.


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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 22, 2016

Jen DeSantis Week 189: Follow Me

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Jen DeSantis’ Picture Choice: Both

Title: Follow Me

“You’re late,” the cat said. “Follow me.”

“Wait. What?”

I was drunk. Or dreaming. Or my drink was spiked. Or all of the above, because I was certain that cat just talked to me. And cats, in my experience, were fairly quiet characters.

“I said follow me. We’ll have time for your disbelief later. Just chop chop, ok?”

I blinked twice, but the furry feline was still standing on the snow covered path way. Dreaming. Had to be. I had that safe feeling you get in good dreams. Things were weird, but I was safe.

The cat turned tail and walked through the bushes and down the path. Shrugging my shoulders, I decided to see where the dream would lead.

“You have a name or should I just call you Mittens?”

The cat looked back over his shoulder with look of disdain only a feline could muster. “Name’s Alastair,” he replied. “You can can the jokes. I’m not interested and you don’t have time for it. We have to meet the rest of the group by fourteen hundred and we’re already fifteen minutes behind schedule because you were late. So shake a leg, ok?”

Fourteen hundred? The cat talked like he was part of the military. Which was crazy. Almost as crazy as him being able to, you know, talk.

I looked around as we made a quick march through the forest. Winter was quickly turning into Spring. Which was a little odd. It was January, so Spring was a couple of months off. But the patches of snow were thinning and small, colorful flowers were beginning to peek their heads out of the soft ground. I thought I knew the name of those little flowers, but it was escaping me in that moment.

“Where are we?”

“We’re on the outskirts of Bayedge, in the forests of Lochwind.”

“I’ve never heard of those places,” I stammered, stopping in my tracks. “I was just in Philadelphia. I walked through an alleyway and that’s when I saw you.”

“Please keep moving,” the cat said, his impatience bleeding through in his tone. “Yes. You were there and now you are here. We have to keep moving.”

“But why am I here?”

“How am I supposed to know that? I was told to wait for a person. You arrived and now I’m leading you to the others.”

“What others? Where? And why?”

“I don’t have your answers, Lydia,” the cat responded. “I’m just your guide. Now please follow me.”

The cat knew my name. And it was talking about places I’d never heard of before. Put aside, for the moment that it was talking, none of the other stuff made any sense either. Made up place names, a cat-guide who just happened to know my name, talking animals? Someone must have slipped something in my drink; this dream was too trippy to be of my own making.

We walked through Spring and landed in Summer just as we exited the forest and hit the sand. At the edge of the forest, where the sand licked the edges of the mossy undergrowth, I knelt down and picked up a doll that lay discarded on the ground. It’s dirty pink dressed stirred a memory in the back of my mind, but I couldn’t place it. Alistair’s voice pulled me out of my own thoughts.

“Welcome to Bayedge,” the cat said plesantly enough. “Your party is just ahead.”

Further down the beach, I could see a cluster of rocks that looked like some sort of cave. I could see sunlight streaming through it and assumed that it must lead to another area of the beach.

“Can’t you tell me anything? Something to expect?”

“Not in my job description,” the cat replied, sitting and flicking it’s tail around its body in a fluid motion. “I got you where you were supposed to be. The rest is up to you.”

The safe, dream feeling had worn off completely. I pinched myself, hard, and closed my eyes. When I opened my eyes, I was disappointed to see that the cat was still sitting in front of me. He appeared to be judging me harshly.

“Just go,” Alastair said. “They’re waiting there.”

Nothing felt right anymore. The cave felt ominous, despite the light shining through. And all of the weirdness of the place seemed to settle on me at once. Talking cats, seasons as swaths of the forest… None of it made any sense.

“Go,” the cat repeated.

I took a hesitant step toward the cave, but dread filled my stomach. I wanted the dream to end. i wanted to be back in the coldness of the city that was familiar to me, wrapped in the bitterness of the temperature and the smell of the city I knew so well. I looked back at Alastair, but the cat had vanished. I saw the edge of the beach and the deep, green mouth of the forest that we’d walked through, but no cat in sight. I clutched the doll close to me because the memory it stirred seemed solid and safe.

I couldn’t go back into the forest. I had no concept of where we’d been. I had to go forward and just hope that I’d wake up.

The cave entrance loomed ahead of me. Even though there was light on the other side, the cave felt all wrong. I didn’t want to go in there and meet whoever might be on the other side. I didn’t want anything to do with any of this anymore.

Still, I walked toward it. I thought then that maybe going through those standing rocks might be my ticket back to a reality I could make sense of. Maybe I could get off of this topsy turvy ride I was on and wake up back in a world that made sense to me, one where cats didn’t talk.

The cave was narrow and I could easily see the opening which let in the brilliant light. Four shadowy figures milled within the confines of the small cave. I squinted, trying to make out who or what they might be. I had no preconceptions; after Alistair the talking cat, these figures might be anyone or anything.

“Lydia,” a familiar voice called. It bounced eerily off the rocky walls and reached my ears with a strange resonance. But I still recognized the voice from somewhere. “Lydia,” it called again. “Come inside.”

I hesitated, cocking my head to the side as I tried to place the voice.

“It’s time,” another familiar voice called. “Come inside.”

“Who’s there?” I called out, taking a step forward. “Who is it?”

I took another step and the four figures turned as one to face me. They were dressed in strange ceremonial garb. I reached out toward the figures and saw, with little surprise, that I was wearing a similar cloth. I stepped into the cave and the light nearly blinded me. The figures were nothing more than shadow against the brilliant light pouring into the opening.

“Lydia,” the first voice crooned.

It was then that recognition swept over me. I was hot and cold at the same time as I realized who waited for me.

“It can’t be,” I whispered.

The four figures each held a hand out toward me. The fear was gone, but it was replaced with a disbelief so strong I thought for sure I’d close my eyes and wake up in my own bed. These people couldn’t be here. Not in a dream, not in any version of reality that made any sense. My mother, grandmother, aunt, and childhood best friend stood in front of me. They were dead…. They couldn’t be in the cave in front of me now.

“Mom?” I whispered, my voice caught in my throat. “Is that you?”

“We’re here,” she replied. I couldn’t see her face, but I knew she was smiling. Before, I could always hear it in voice. “Come closer and join us.”

“But, how is this happening?”

I stepped closer to them, the light threatening to engulf even their shadows.

“Don’t you remember yet?” another voice asked. That one belonged to my beloved grandmother who died when I was only three years old.

I started to say, no, I didn’t remember anything, but just as the words were on the tip of my tongue, everything came flooding back into my mind.

I was out with friends. I’d had a couple drinks, but felt ok to walk home. I walked with my one friend to her apartment, hugged her and continued walking down the street. I turned onto a side street and then ducked into an alley for a short cut. As I exited the alley, I remember there was a bright light and then ….

“Then I was here,” I whispered.

“Finally,” my mother said. “Alistair must have taken the long road to bring you here. We came as soon as we heard and expected you much sooner than you arrived.”

“I’m … dead?” I asked, still unwilling to take that final leap.

“There,” Mom said. “There, you’re dead. But here, you’re just beginning. Have you started to remember any of this yet?”

I looked around at the cave. Either my eyes had adjusted or it had eased up a bit, because I could see better. Off in the corner of the cave I saw a little castle made in the sand. It had been hung with seaweed and decorated with broken shells.

I gasped. “I made that,” I said.

“Yes,” mom said, her smile back in her voice. “Yes, you did.”

Suddenly, parts of the forest flashed back in my memories. Places we’d visited at different times, different seasons. The seasons didn’t change with where we walked; they changed with my memories. I’d been walking through the forest of my memories. I looked down at the doll in my hand. Of course! My favorite doll from when I was a little girl. Jenny, I’d called her.

Even Alaistair the cat had a place in my memory. Far, far off, I remember him sitting outside of the shop where I used to meet my grandmother for breakfast on Sundays.

“There’s nothing to be scared of,” my grandmother said softly. “You see that now?”

I nodded and stepped forward. My mother and grandmother each took one of my hands and together, we walked toward the bright light at the entrance of the cave.

“Time for forever to begin,” Mom said as we reached the archway.

I stepped forward without any hesitation into the light.


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Jennifer DeSantis is a Horror and Paranormal Author. She lives near Philly with her family. Tweet her at @JenD_Author


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Laura James Week 188: The Retreat (part 4)

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Laura James’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: The Retreat (Part 4)

After a light snack and confirmation that Frank had rested enough the little party moved off in the direction Mary wanted. The sounds of water were clear so the brook couldn't be that far away, Todd was confident that they would soon be at the next checkpoint. Staying at the back of the group he watched as Joan and Frank kept up idle chat, they were talking low so he couldn't hear what they said but from the glances and soft touches he knew it wasn't just about work.

Mary had started the group at one hellava pace and Todd wasn't convinced that they could keep it up for long. Deciding he needed to convince Mary that they needed to slow down he picked up his feet and jogged forward past Joan and Frank. Todd didn't realise how far ahead Mary was and speeded up shouting for her to slow down.

He watched her turn her head and raise her arm then she was gone. Todd stumbled to a halt "MARY!"

As Todd edged forward he realised that there was a slope and Mary had missed her footing when she had turned to look at him and fallen backwards. He raised his arms to the other two calling out "Watch your footing, there's a hidden slope here." He braised himself on a tree and looked over trying to see where Mary had ended up, there was no sound so he was assuming the worst.

As Frank and Joan approached him, Todd caught sight of Mary. She was lying at an odd angle half in the brook they had been searching for and Todd wasn't sure but he thought he saw some slight movement. Joan gasped behind him. "It's ok, you guys stay up here and I'll head down see how she is." He stood and slipped off his backpack. "Don't look so worried, I'll be fine." He tried to smile but was fairly sure he failed.

Grabbing on various trees and shrubs Todd made his way slowly down the slope and before long he was at Mary's side. "Mary, you've had a fall but you'll be fine." He reached out and felt for a pulse at her neck, "Oh thank God." He turned and shouted up to the two waiting above "She's alive!"

Todd checked Mary's leg and discovered a bone had split through the skin making moving her very difficult. As he checked the rest of her body for other injuries he heard the others making their way down to where he was. "How is she?" Joan asked crouching next to Mary taking her hand.

"I think she'll be fine but her leg is broken. We need to get her out of the water while she's still unconscious."

"Don't think so Todd, we're leaving her right where she is."

"Frank, I know you're concerned but the cold isn't doing her any good, look you grab her upper body, I'll manage her legs." Todd moved into the water, grabbed her legs and looked up to check that Frank was ready. What he saw shocked him. Frank was standing over Mary with a large rock.

"I said we're leaving her where she is." Frank slammed the rock down on Mary's skull puncturing her eye. Todd was stunned into silence as he watched the rock land on his boss's face several more times. "What the hell have you done!"

"Something I should have done a long time ago. That bitch made my life a living hell."

"It's true Todd, she was horrible to him, to all of us really." Joan looked scared, "You won't tell will you?"

Todd looked at the pair of them in disbelief. They had never given any indication that there were capable of something like this. He would have to rethink his plans and be very careful how he was going to approach this. Obviously he would have to turn Frank in but not now, he would have to convince them that he was on their side.

"I don't know, it's kind of a shock seeing someone do what you just did." Todd wiped his hands over his face and stepped out of the brook. "Do you really think you can get away with this?"

"Not us, you. Joan saw you push Mary down the slope and before we could do anything" Joan took over the conversation "you picked up a rock and smashed her face in." They stood together smiling, a perfect reflection of each other.

Todd sighed and gave in. "For a spur of the moment killing, you two seem to have this all figured out." He lifted his hands, "You win. My lips are sealed. What now?"


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


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Michael Wombat Week 188: The Madness of Love

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Michael Wombat’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: The Madness of Love

It was her smell that first attracted me. Not her flawless ebony skin. Not eyes the colour of the ocean depths. Not the tantalising curve of her hip like a wave about to break. These things I noticed later. Before all of these, first was her scent; a warm dark musky intoxication that somehow smelled of a La Jolla sunset. I wanted to breathe her in, take her entirely into my lungs and hold her there while my imagination wallowed in her essence and she made my senses reel, like the finest marijuana smoke.

We met at San Diego’s Birch Aquarium, at a private afternoon gathering that I had set up for a local business. I sat in semi-darkness, nursing a lukewarm glass of mundane fizz and gazing at the two-storey high kelp tank, spread large before me. It shone turquoise and teal, sapphire and emerald, lit by natural sunlight pouring from above. Black sea bass swam between the swaying columns of kelp. A pair of leopard sharks circled the chrysochlorous forest, while surfperch, bright orange garibaldi damselfish, eels and barracudas played hide and seek among the lush tangle of kelp. The sight was hypnotic, a slow circling kaleidoscope of life and light.

I was pulled from my reverie by the most intoxicating scent, and looked up to find a beautiful woman standing by me. When I say beautiful, please do not lightly pass over that word. Savour it properly, and take it quite literally – she was breath-taking; a delight for both eyes and soul, all elegant grace and curves like the bays and coves of the sinuous San Diego coastline. Her dark hair shifted like a meadow of seagrass in a slow current. She wore a short fringed dress that rode up firm thighs as she sat.

“It’s actually algae, you know,” she said, her voice as soft as distant whale-song.

“Which... what?” I mumbled, lost the unwavering gaze of ocean-pearled eyes.

“The kelp. It’s actually an algae. Did you know that?”

“Um, no, I did not. The only thing I know about kelp is how to make a whistle from the bladder.”

“To call for Norouas, the north-west wind?”

“I’m no sailor. To give a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” She smiled, and my stomach flipped nervously. Had that sounded too pretentious?

“In other words, to make music,” she said. “So, you know Plato. You are interesting man, Robert Penny.”

“Um, hi, yes. I am. Him, I mean. Not that I’m interesting. I mean hello.” Her eyes flashed in the half-darkness. Water-light rippled across her profile. “Excuse me. I’m not very good at, you know, talking and stuff.”

“And yet you organise social events? An interesting career choice for an introvert.” I found it hard to concentrate with those deep eyes gazing into mine and her exhilarating scent fogging my mind.

“Yes,” I tried to sound like an adult, rather than a blushing teenager. “I’m Robert Penny.”

“I know,” she smiled, and reached out. She took the glass of wine from my hand and put it down beside her.

“How? Are you psychic? A mind reader?”

“Not yet.” She laughed, a liquid soft sound of sheer delight. Her fingertips brushed my lapel. “I read your name badge.” Her hand drifted down to my wrist, where they rested, the tips of her fingers to the inside of my wrist. My blood pulsed against her warm touch.

“Oh.” I looked for her own name badge, pinned to the neckline of her dress, but could not make out the tiny words in the gloom. My gaze strayed to the enticing swell of her breasts. Her skin smelled like the spray of saltwater against lichened rocks.

“My name is Polly,” she said. I quickly looked up from her cleavage, feeling like a schoolboy caught admiring his teacher’s backside. “Polly Char. I’m a marine biologist at Scripps.”

“Char? Like the fish? An appropriate name for a marine biologist. What field are you working in? I did some work in coastal geography once, a long time ago.”

“I’m researching deep ocean bio-DNA – from bathypelagic lophiiformes, mostly.” I could tell from her grin that she was testing me.

“Anglerfish?” I tried, scraping a guess from a remote corner of my brain. I decided to try riding my luck with the pretension. “Anglerfish, from the abysm in which nightmares crawl?”

Her slender fingers wound around mine and she drew me upright. I had clearly passed her test. She was much taller than me. She leaned close and I closed my eyes, drowning in the sensual smell of her. “Come with me,” she mouthed, lips brushing my ear, her whisper the susurration of a sighing sea.

She led me away from the crowd, past a ‘DO NOT ENTER’ sign, and down a barely-lit corridor to a darkened room, the only illumination a virescent light from two tanks set in one wall. Jellyfish pulsed rhythmically in one, their flowing, insistent rhythms reminding me of the cadences of sex. In the other tank, labelled ‘Sea Devil’, an angry-looking grey-brown fish hovered motionless. It had a huge head and an enormous crescent-shaped mouth filled with sharp, translucent teeth. It stared out at us with ugly eyes.

“What are we doing here?” I asked. She let go of my hand and turned to face me.

“When a ceratioid male goes looking for love,” she purred, her voice a caress, “He follows a particular pheremone exuded by the female. In fact, he cannot resist following it.”

I stood mute like an idiot, held by her fragrance and her perfect side-lit form. She unzipped her dress and let it fall. She continued to speak, clad only in French-cut underwear, her soft words like the swelling uprush of a flood tide, her naked thighs firm as wet sand sculpted by a downwelling current.

“He is driven headlong through the immense forbidding darkness by this impelling odour, and finds a mate much larger than he, who will often aid his search further by teasing reveals of her bioluminescent lure.”

She beckoned me to her, and I complied willingly. She embraced me, tightly, and I kissed her neck. Her fingers stroked my shoulders, then pushed me down onto my knees. I ran my lips across her naked belly. She tasted of salt.

“Bite me, little man,” she said. I could no more have resisted than flown in the air. I closed my teeth on the moist flesh just above her hip, gently, not breaking the skin. “Harder!” she commanded, and I bit down hard, tasting her blood.

“When the male mates with the female, he bites into her skin, wilfully eating into her soft flesh,” Polly’s voice continued from somewhere above me. Her blood flowed over my lips and washed my tongue. My mouth felt odd. It tingled and fizzed. Small particles of my tongue drifted in the tsunami of blood in my mouth, drifting down my throat as my face melded into her hip.

“He dissolves into her flesh,” she continued to speak normally as my eyesight darkened, “mouth and eyes melting away, slowly fusing into her body.” I sensed the gradually increasing transfusion of her blood into my own veins, her pulse now controlling my existence. I could no longer feel my limbs. I knew nothing but her, my lover, my life.

“Eventually he becomes nothing more than a glorified gonad, existing solely to pump sperm when needed in order to fertilise her eggs.” Everything that marked me as other than a worm was disappearing. I would soon become a brainless, senseless thing that was little more than an appendage.

“This, in a nutshell, my sweet, is what’s happening to you. You no longer have to trouble yourself with seeing, eating or thinking. Your body atrophies and withers away, though you will live on in order to provide me with semen when I’m ready to spawn. Be joyful, Robert. As Plato also said, the madness of love is the greatest of heaven's blessings.”

Polly is getting dressed now, taking care not to catch the tender new bump on her hip.


Please help.



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Michael Wombat has published several books - search for him on Amazon, or go talk to him on Twitter where he is @wombat37.


Friday, February 19, 2016

Denise Callaway Week 188: Three Sisters

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Denise Callaway’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Three Sisters

The sea captain sailed out once more on a fruitless fishing run. The nets were almost bare as the sailors hoisted them out of the water. “Captain? How are we going to feed our families?”

The captain stood thoughtfully at the stern, stroking his beard thoughtfully. Luna was rising as predicted and she turned to cast her gaze upon him. “Captain! You seem so weary! How may I ease your thoughts?”

“It’s fish we need, my lady!”

“I can grant you fish, my friend, but I need something in return.”

“Name it, my lady!”

“My daughters were lost to the sea god Neptune. If you can produce them by a one full turn of the moon, you will never want for fish.”

The captain rubbed his brow thoughtfully. “That’s a tall order but my men need to eat now!”

“Have them to cast their nets once more and they will be sustained for one full turn of the moon.”

He gave the command and although they gave him sidelong glances, they followed the orders. What did they have to lose? It wasn’t long before one of the men cried out, “Captain! The nets are near bursting!”

“Gather your men and hoist the nets little by little until they tumble into the ship. Then push them into the hold. Then, we’ll turn to port.”

As they sailed into the port with dawns early light, the captain called the men to him. “We have a contract with Lady Luna for this fish. Return to me in three days time and we will set sail to fulfill her wish.” He released the men and they hauled their seabags off the ship to visit with their families. Turning to his first mate, he stated, “I do not know how we are going to fulfill this wish.” Sharing the request the mate considered the task thoughtfully.

“There is an old net weaver that tells tales about such thing as Luna and Neptune. Apparently they had three daughters. Neptune demanded that the daughters stay with him and cursed them with a fishes tail. They would be forever separated from the sky. It is my understanding that she has not seen them in some time.”

“So it would seem. Perhaps you can find this weaver and see if he can shed more light on this story.”

The first mate combed the streets searching for this old man who was ancient even when seen last. The Captain sold the fish, bought provisions and held onto the payment until his men returned. On the third day, the first man turned up with his wife. The captain paid the wife the wages as the man came on board. This was unusual circumstances but as the wage was generous, he went willingly. One by one, they followed suit until the full crew was on board. Finally, the first mate arrived with the ancient net weaver.

The Captain took the man to his quarters and settled him down with a pint of whiskey. He then began to share his tale about his deal with Luna. After a short silence, the net weaver let out a whistle. “I weave nets because I can do this by touch. I used to sail the seas with the best of them. However, after one false deal, I had to forfeit my eyes. What, pray tell, did you offer in forfeit.”

The Captain remained quiet on this matter but in his heart, he answered, “this ship.” The net weaver sized up his silence and determined that it was of immense measure. Finally, he stated, “Every fourteen years, King Neptune takes his courts to the deep waters. You will have to approach the rift if you have any hope of finding the sisters. Luna did give them a unique gift before he took them away, however. Something that could only come from her.”

The Captain nodded and paid the man for his time. After he was set ashore, the ship hoisted anchor and navigated out of port. “It was of great cost, wasn’t it?” his first mate whispered quietly.

“Aye,” came the response. Then he lifted his voice, “Hoist the sails! We are headed to deep waters!”

Several of the crew stopped for a moment to gape at the captain but were quickly turned on task by the harsh glare of the quartermaster. Soon the wind was felt sure and the sail master was on course.

It took a full two weeks to reach deep waters. Luna watched quietly from her repose until she turned her back upon them. Their time was over half spent. They had one week to complete their task or all would be lost. The captain finished his letters in his quarters and then called in the first mate. “I’m passing the command of the ship to you, my friend. If I fail in my task, perhaps Luna will take me in payment.”

The first mate received the letters startled. “What are you proposing?!”

“Dropping into the courts of Neptune myself!”

He abruptly turned on his heel and walked to the door. Breathing in the sea air upon opening, he glanced about his men. Looking up at the sky, he whispered, “If I fail, have mercy on my men!” Several quick steps took him to the stern of the ship. Turning, he waved at the startled men and stepped backwards off the deck. The men started, several cries of “man overboard followed, but the Captain sank quickly.

Luna must have heard him, however, because she wrapped him up in a sac of air. He touched the ground with his boot and looked about him, his lantern catching a peculiar glow to the left. He turned toward the promise of life. As he approached, the glow began to increase. He knew stepping in Neptune’s court was akin to walking on sacred ground and hoped he could beg license.

The crest of the plane he was walking revealed the vastness of the court and many mermen and women surrounded him as he was quite the oddity. He could tell they were communicating with each other but he had no means of hearing what was said. Then, he found himself scooped up on a large sea shell. He could only hope they were taking him to Neptune himself.

Entering the court, he saw Neptune surrounded by his family. “King Neptune, Lord of the Seas, may I beg audience with you?”

Neptune tilted his ear oddly but out of curiosity waved him forward. The Captain dropped to one knee upon his approach. “I come not for myself, but at the request of your beautiful bride up above, the Lady Luna.”

“What is it that Luna desires that she sends such a lowly human to speak for her?” he boomed, startling several of the sea creatures that scurried and hid in the nooks and crannies of the corral court.

“She only asks this one see her daughters, all three. Can she be spared a glance?”

Neptune narrowed his eyes for a moment before answering. “Of course I can…” he paused for just a moment before continuing, “if you can pick them out of the crowd.”

The Captain turned to look about the host gathered. He nodded in agreement. After a bit of searching, he spotted one mermaid that stood out from the others. The spines on her forehead formed a crown of stars. “You are the first,” he stated, and she entered the ring in the center of the court.

“She is the easy one. You will not find the others so quickly.”

The captain weaved in and out of the crowd, seeking another with a peculiarity when he spotted a glance. Eyes lit by the stars themselves blinked back towards him. “You, my dear, are the next. One more.”

“And she is the most difficult,” Neptune laughed, undaunted by the two easy finds.

He continued onward. Several were about courtly tasks, but one sat humbly weaving a net. Within the net he saw a star captured in the purest of essence, brighter than any of the others. She looked up, a humble appearance. She lacked the royal demeanor of the first. Nor did she hold the striking beauty of the second. Still, he knew her to be the one of the purest heart. He bowed low, “My lady, would you like to see your mother.” She smiled in agreement. As they approached the center of the court, Neptune tilted his head thoughtfully. “You have fulfilled your contract, Sea Captain. Daughters, you may breach the surface while the moon is full but do not stay too long for the air will encapsulate your soul.

They swam upwards, pulling the sea captain up with them, excited to see their mother after such a long period. As they breached the surface, they waved excitedly. The ship to the west spotted the light and turned towards the commotion. Luna fluttered her fan in greeting and nodded to her daughters with that secret smile of hers. As the ship approached, the Captain cried out to them, “Dive, ladies, so as not to be caught in the ship’s pull!” They turned startled at the sound of the approaching ship.

“Captain! Who is that with ye?” cried out the quartermaster.

“The daughters of our Lady above! Let them be!” The crew nodded but then he heard a cry from one of the sailors. Turning, the Captain saw the full meaning of the warning. The stone slowly began to wrap itself around them and pulling them into the depths. The startled humble daughter reached out in fear and grabbed the Captain’s hand. He waved farewell to his men as he was pulled under to remain with the purest of mermaids for eternity.


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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, February 17, 2016

Kimberly Gould Week 188: Keeping Inside the Lines

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice:

Title: Keeping Inside the Lines

Jordan giggled as he tore away from his mother, ducking between lines of adults and toward the train platform.

“Jordan! Get back here. No! Stop!”

Fear made his mother’s voice shrill and scary. He froze on the spot and when he couldn’t see her, he started to cry.

“Jordan,” she snapped grabbing the toddler up into her arms. “You have to learn to listen to Mom. There’s a line. Didn’t you see?”

Jordan was still sobbing. He’d seen the adults but didn’t understand why there were all just standing there.

“Very nice. Jordan, will you show us your drawing?”

He squirmed in his chair. He’d loved using every color in his crayon box, mixing circles with lines and squares. The teacher, he knew, wouldn’t love it like he did.

“Jordan?” she asked again.

He stood slowly and held up his page. The original black lines were impossible to see, but he could still see the flower in the middle. His classmates giggled behind their hands. Jordan sat down without waiting for teacher’s response. Once everyone was working on another assignment, she came to his desk.

“Was there something wrong with the picture I asked you to color?”

“No.” His face grew hot and his eyes were itchy, prickling with tears.

“Then why did you completely ignore it?”

“I didn’t!” he argued. “See, here it is.” He traced the yellow and orange shape in the middle of the riot of other colors.

The teacher looked more closely at the paper. “It is beautiful, Jordan, but sometimes, you just have to follow the directions and color inside the lines.”

He huffed and pushed the page off his desk, grabbing his notebook to do the assignment. He’d follow those rules as carefully as Mrs. Nancy could want.

“Dude! What are you doing?”

Jordan didn’t hear Mickey at first. He turned off the weed cutter and pulled out an ear plug. “I’m clearing out the orchard,” he explained. “The thistles are getting insane.”

“It’s all insane!” Mickey complained. “There are no rows, no lines? How are you going to maintain and harvest this?”

Jordan shrugged. “The way I do anything, one tree at a time.”

“You are one odd ball, Jordan.”

“Thank you.”

Screw lines.


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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


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Lizzie Koch Week 188: The Puppet Master

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Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: The Puppet Master

Sheepishly, Jack returned from market, patting his threadbare pocket containing his purchase but it afforded him little comfort. The magic beans he acquired eight years ago resurfaced in his mind along with the wrath of his mother. But this time, it would be different. This time, Jack (unlike his mother) would beat death itself.

Watering down the soup again, his wife Gwen looked up expectantly through tired eyes. “We’re on our last meal, I hope you got a good price for the cow.”

“I did. Our lives are going to change forever!”

“Oh Jack. Not the beans again.”

“No, something better.” He pulled out the crumpled parchment from his pocket, spreading across the wooden table.

“A treasure map?”

“Better. I met a merchant in the market. He told stories of far off lands, fantastical tales of his adventures, his travels, a mind older than the wisest man but he’s younger than you and I. This, Gwen will give us eternal youth. We will never die.”

“But we don’t have enough food for the week let alone eternity.”

“That’s the beauty of it. We won’t need food. We’ll be stronger and healthier than the strongest knight. No more empty bellies. No more boiled water for a meal. We can do all those things we dreamed of. We’ll travel, see the world and want for nothing.”

Gwen took some persuading but that was a talent of Jack’s and as the moon rose in a black sky, they set off, leaving their ramshackled life behind. They trekked through the dark forest, following the map, only stopping once for a short rest and to nibble the last of the bread.

The moon cast their shadows across a clearing where a small Romany caravan stood. The merchant sat on the steps, watching as Jack and Gwen hurried towards him. “You decided to come?”

“Yes, of course,” replied a breathless Jack.

“And you’re ready for a life of travel?”

Both nodded.

“And never to be hungry again?”

“Yes,” replied Jack. “And the eternal life.”

“Yes, yes, of course eternal life.”

“What happens now?” asked Gwen, a little tremble in her voice.

“Come in, out of the cold and I’ll begin.”

Jack and Gwen followed him inside. The space was small and cluttered. Candles, potions, pans, books, marionettes, masks and hats filled shelves, hung from the ceiling and littered the floor. The merchant handed each of them a cup of tea.

“You have quite an interesting home,” Gwen said, sipping her hot, sweet tea.

“And it will be your home too.”

“When do we start?” Jack asked.

“It’s started.”

Gwen and Jack looked to each other; Gwen nervous but forced a smile as Jack grinned back, full of excitement.

“I promised you travel. I promised you never to feel hungry again. I promised you eternal life,” the merchant said, watching them sip their tea.

Jack’s smile faded, as he couldn’t lift his arm. Gwen’s face froze, the merest hint of a smile. Both creaked as they faced each other, stretching out their hands, their fingertips barely touching before the cups fell from their wooden hand.

“There,” the merchant said. “I always keep my promises.” He picked up his newly acquired marionettes and hung them up with the rest.


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


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Laura James Week 187: Love Finds A Way

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Laura James’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Love Finds A Way

The first time Michael had spotted her he just knew they were meant to be together. He'd been dragged to a party with the promise of exciting women to entertain him and was just heading out of the door in disappointment when he heard her laughter. He was captivated and had to know who made such a glorious sound.

Pushing his way through the crowd, not caring who he upset Michael soon found himself in front of the most beautiful woman he had ever set eyes on. Long blond hair, blue eyes that twinkled, legs that travelled for miles and of course that laugh. He stopped in front of her and held out his hand "I'm Michael" he whispered. She smiled at him and his insides melted. "Take me away from all this Michael, I've waited far to long for you as it is."

From then on they were inseparable, years passing in the blink of an eye. Eventually a child made them complete and they wanted for nothing, love and contentment kept them alive and at peace. But of course all good things must end and end they did with the brutal slaying of their daughter by persons unknown.

Freya never recovered and it was only memory and grief that kept Michael at her side. The days turned to months, the months to years and nothing Michael did could bring Freya back from the brink of dispare. Every year on the anniversary of Melissa's death he tried to remind her of the life they had shared before their world had been turned upside down, and every year he failed.

This year he decided that he wouldn't wait until the anniversary but chose Valentine's Day to show Freya just how much she meant to him. He had prepared the pagoda in advance, her favourite flowers, chocolates, cakes, wine and much more filled every space. All he had to do was persuade her to join him.

It took much persuasion but Freya agreed to visit the pagoda and Michael stood back as she entered, allowing her to see what he had created. He was rewarded with a hesitant smile as she smelled the roses, tasted a macaron and when she saw the children bound and gagged in the corner a long lost twinkle appeared in her eyes.

Stepping up behind her he slipped his arms around her waist, "I know Melissa can never be replaced but maybe a son can help fill the void."

Freya turned and kissed Michael with a passion he thought was long behind them. "You clever, clever man. I love you."

She moved to the group of young boys, "I like the blond one, he has fire in his eyes," she lifted the crying child and carried him away from the others smothering him in soft kisses, "Don't fret little one, you're safe now."

Michael smiled and thanked God he had a last found a way to bring his beloved Freya back to life. He quickly slit the throats of the remaining children before joining her and their son as they moved to start a new life in a new town.


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


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Samantha Lee Week 187: Ruin

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Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Ruin

Ryu scanned the ruins, but as far as he could tell there was only dust and shadows stirring in the moonlight, nothing more. This was the third location they'd visited this week, the previous two being even more decayed and destitute. The last place had even had cobwebs fluttering like curtains in the doorways and actual tumbleweeds rolling across the grounds. At least this time the buildings still had their roofs. If you tilted your head the right way, you could even still see that this place used to be some sort of temple or palace - somewhere where an ancient people wanted to flaunt their wealth and architectural mastery at any rate.

Actually, now that he thought about it, the ruins were somewhat familiar to him; he'd probably been there at least once before time and abandonment had taken their tolls.

"Do you sense anything, Kara?" he asked, turning to his companion. She was, of course, gone. Heaven help them all if the little bit ever actually stood still for+ more than a minute; the Earth would shatter from the shock. Ugh, he definitely should have acquiesced when Kara had asked to stop for coffee on the way over from their hotel. Not that Kara on caffeine was much of an improvement - the opposite in fact - but at least HE would have had the caffeine jolt to temper his mood.

Sighing heavily, he scanned the area. Kara was petite and slender, a little slip of a thing, with a fondness for old fashioned corsets, long sleeves, and tiered skirts. She called it nouveau medieval chic. Ryu called it her wannabe princess style. Either way, when coupled with her pale rosy skin and waist-length, snow-white hair, it was hard to miss Kara, even in shadows and moonlight. She tended to stick out like a sore thumb in a world of paws.

Except when she was cloaking.

"Kara! Kara, this is a poor time for hide-and-seek; please come out!"

She appeared beside him a second before hugging his arm and pressing against his side, laughing quietly. "Here I am, Ryu! Is it time to leave now? This place is creepy."

"No, honey, not yet; we're looking for something, remember?"

Kara slipped around in front of him and scrunched up her nose in distaste. "Ryu, this is not a nice place and I don't like it here. Let Daddy come hunt his own trinket; this game is boring now."

Once, Ryu was a warlord - had his own army and everything. Mortals would hear of his coming and flee, whole villages being abandoned at the mere mention of his name. He was a source of crippling terror, a living nightmare, one who soaked entire battlefields with blood and crushed whole kingdoms to dust. He used to delight in the screams and pain that echoed eternally in his wake, taking pleasure in the suffering his claws and blades birthed.

Things were so much simpler back then.

Rubbing at his temple in the vain hope his burgeoning headache would be appeased and retreat rather than flourish, Ryu growled low in his throat and tried not to bare his fangs. This wasn't Kara's fault after all. "We need to do this, Kara; your father made it clear that he expects this artefact found sooner rather than later and he is not a patient man under the best of circumstances." Not that Ryu had ever seen such circumstances, but he'd heard a rumour or two about it at least.

Kara's expression changed, becoming more serious, more shuttered, more thoughtful. "I don't want him to be mad with you; he might take you away from me and I need you, Ryu. I don't want to lose you and I don't want Daddy to replace you. What do we need to do?"

Thank you, Universe; these things always went so much more smoothly when Kara focused.

"Do you remember what we're looking for?"

"Daddy lost something a long time ago - a dagger that's very special. He needs it back now but he can't remember where he lost it."

If Ryu had a gold coin for every mess of that man's he'd been made to clean up...

"Can you scan these ruins? See if it's here?"


Did other demons have to suffer like this, Ryu wondered, or was he just extra lucky? "No as in you don't sense anything or you're not going to scan?"

"I'm not going to scan. Dad can travel around, scan his own damn ruins, and deal with the guardians himself. I like having limbs, thank you very much."

Then again, too much focus could be a bad thing.

Sighing, Ryu jabbed one hand roughly through his hair and scanned the ruins once again. He didn't sense anything but he knew from experience that Kara was more perceptive than he was; if she said - or insinuated, as the case might be - that there was a guardian around with something to protect, there probably was.

"Kara, what sort of guardian would your father be dealing with?"

She shrugged. "She's sleeping now and locked up in stone like a seal or a statue. She'll wake if anyone gets too close. We should not get too close."

"Your father wants the dagger."

She shrugged again. "So tell him where it is and he can come get it; he told us to find it, not retrieve it, so our mission is fulfilled. Done. Finito. Let's go home now, okay? I want hot chocolate. Do we have any marshmallows left? I like the way they float and bob and melt into goo. You should get whipped cream on yours; the moustache is funny."

Ryu briefly closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He and Kara had been together for nearly a hundred years - since Kara first came into her powers. They were her father's favourite tools, sent out on everything from retrievals to escorts to diplomatic missions. He'd even tried once to send them on an assassination; it had been one of two times Ryu had ever seen Kara stand up to her father and hold her ground. Those two exceptions notwithstanding, however, Kara was usually careful to follow her father's orders and wasn't one for looking for loopholes. That she was now didn't bode well.

"Kara, honey, can you sense anything else about the guardian?"

"Like what?"

"I'm not sure. No, wait, what is she? Who is she? Who put her there? How is she bound? Can you swift her Snare?"

Kara blinked. "Whoa, that's a lot for not being sure."

"I recovered quickly. Can you find out any of the answers?"

Frowning, Kara stepped away from him, a wariness and suspiciousness he didn't like appearing in her eyes. "Ryu, I said I want to go home now."

Ryu winced. Kara was unpredictable. No, scratch that, Kara was insane. Usually, this was okay because, hey, she was cute. Sometimes though it was just one big inconvenience he sincerely wished someone else got to deal with. Anyone else. Maybe someone with a psychiatric degree.

"Ryu? Ryu, we were told to find the dagger. We've found it. The guardian...we shouldn't play with her; she's angry and vicious and not for us, okay? I want to go home."

Yes, well, so did he, but he'd prefer not to end up in her father's bad graces when he got there. It wasn't just the guardian who could potentially cost them a limb but at least the guardian gave them a chance at self-defence.


"No! We are not going in there. You can't find the dagger without me and I am not going to get it. The guardian is not nice, Ryu - NOT. NICE. We're not going in there. We're not. We're not. WE ARE NOT."


She slapped him. Out of nowhere, she just slapped him and hard enough to snap across his cheek and jerk his head with the force of it. Glaring at him, her blue-green eyes seemed to catch fire, like sunlight caught in tropical ocean waves.

"No, Ryu," she said coldly, her voice laced with steel. "We are not going to retrieve the dagger. I need you. I can't risk you. It is as simple as that. If my father wants that dagger, let him use his own chevaliers; his are infinitely more expendable than mine, or so he's always treated them."

"He will not be happy, Kara."

She actually growled, throwing up her hands in frustration and pacing away from him. "So? Ryu, you're a demon warlord, a freaking ZODIAC demon; you're much too powerful and way too old to be cowed by a sadistic mortal with a god complex. Acting like this? It's pathetic, shameful. You're like this place; ancient, once terrific and mighty, and now just a ruin of your former self, forgotten and decrepit."

"Kara, you don't remem-" Ryu began, but she cut him off again, slicing her hand through the air as though to wipe his words away.

"I'm broken, Ryu, and I know that; my father shattered me and kept a piece, an important piece. But you? You're ruined and all he had to do was slip a collar around your neck."

Her words stung. No, not true; her words were like knives, stabbing him, slicing him, cutting him. Every syllable was another blade wielded against him, all the more vicious for the truth they carried, a truth he didn't want to admit and certainly didn't want to hear. "You don't understand," he snarled.

She laughed bitterly and shook her head. "I understand completely; I am my father's creation, after all, his masterpiece. You were a wild stallion, untameable and free, the crown jewel of nature's beasts, and my father took offense at all that pride and arrogance and unchecked POWER and took it for himself because that's what he does. He broke you, made you fear him, convinced you that he was the one with the power and the strength, made you forget that you're the warrior, the hellion, the nightmare. That's okay - I get it; Dad's done it to demons a lot older and scarier than you. I guess I just...I just got caught up in your legend and expected more from you. You disappointed me, Ryu. I'll get over it. Will you?"

"You're every bit as enslaved to your father as I am, Kara, and hardly in a place to judge; you aren't punished, you're pampered." Not entirely true, but close enough.

"I play my father's game, Ryu; I'm a piece and a player at the same time, but you? You're a pawn resigned to his fate and without ambition to be more. I NEED you, don't you understand that? I desperately, completely, and absolutely need you, but I need the Ryu who led armies to victory, reduced kingdoms to smouldering cinders and ash - the Ryu who was ruthless, efficient, and brilliant. But...but I think...I think all that might be left of him are-" she gestured towards him, the wave of her hands encompassing all of him, "-these ruins."

Ryu kept silent and looked away, refusing to meet her gaze.

Kara huffed out a breath and made some small, frustrated sound, like a cross between a snort and a sigh.

"Fine," she said, " I guess that answers that. We'll do it your way, but I'm still not going to risk you. Stay here, Ryu. That's an order."

She turned on her heel and started to march away from him. He tried to step forward, to follow her, but couldn't; her command held him in place better than any cage or chain. Panic flared fast and hard, swiftly smothering his bubbling anger and icy shame.

"KARA! Wait! Where are you going?!"

"Stay, boy, just like the good little doggie you are. Me? I'm going to fetch, just like the good little doggie I am. Back in a flash, Fido."

"Kara, no! Kara? Kara! KARA!"


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Friday, February 12, 2016

Sarah Aisling Week 187: A Measure of Grace (Part 46): Division

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Picture 2

Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 46): Division

I stand in front of the dresser, facing the mirror. Clicking on the lamp, I blink as soft golden light bathes my naked skin. I tilt my head, examining my torso with a critical eye. I acknowledge Gibbs' handiwork tattooed across my body and look beyond it.

The apocalypse hasn't been kind.

Pressing shaky hands to my sides, I skim them over prominent ribs to jutting hip bones before directing them over my behind and around to my thighs. I've never been heavy, but I'm used to more curves. Tears well, blurring my too-thin form in the mirror.

You are so much more to Max than a body. The wise voice of Katie derails my pity train.

I swipe at my eyes and remind myself about last night. Max's expert touch, his lips sampling me with reverence, the gently intense way he made love. He loves me. He doesn't care if the strain of the new world has ravaged my body.

Max's physique hasn't suffered—at least from what I’ve seen—but he spends a great deal of time in the gym and drinks protein shakes. Maybe once the crisis is over, he'll offer me some advice. I bite my lip, wondering if we'll live long enough for it to matter.

Don't do that, Ro. You're going to survive. I'm counting on you to live the life I'll never have the chance to.

Sucking in a breath, I blink away the tears and meet my gaze in the mirror. Katie's eyes stare back at me, the blessing or curse of twins. In this case, I feel less alone.

“You're always with me, Kiki.” I press a fist to my heart. “I'm going to make it and bring you with me.”

Grace raises her head from the tangled blanket she's snuggled in. I take a deep breath, let it out, and grab the clothes Max left on the end of the bed last night, pulling them on.

Grace yawns, stretching her front paws out in front of her. She pads over to me, wagging her tail slowly. I dig my fingers into her wiry hair and scratch vigorously over her back for a few seconds. When I stop, she nudges my hand with her cool nose, encouraging me to continue.

“Oh, you like that, huh? You want more?” I rub my nails over her back again, and her eyes squint as she lets out a contented sound. “Your world is far simpler than ours, isn't it? You deal with everything as it comes and take time for pleasure wherever you find it.”

Grace and I head to the kitchen. Ali is already there, brewing coffee and laying out bowls of oatmeal. Rosy blooms accentuate her usually pale cheeks, a testament to how well Mamie's butterbur tea is working.

“Morning, Marie!”

I laugh. “Are you ever not chipper? And do you ever sleep? I always find you in the midst of everything.”

Ali offers a secretive smile. “I can't sleep when there are disturbances in the vicinity. No, I'm not always chipper, but I do love lemonade. I have no use for sour things.”

I pour some kibble in Grace's bowl and refill her water. “Where are Tek and Andrea?”

“Andrea's sleeping, She needs her rest, poor thing. Tek will be in shortly. He's bringing the laptop so we can monitor things from here.” Ali hands me a steaming mug of coffee and settles at the table with a cup of tea. She sprinkles brown sugar on her oatmeal then offers the box to me.

I pour much less than I want to, embarrassed by my sweet tooth, and swirl the spoon through it. After tasting the bland concoction, I remember my prominent ribs and hip bones and add another small mountain of the brown crystals.

Ali seems delighted. “You go, girl!” She grabs the box and dumps an extra heap in her own bowl. “Didn't want to look like a sugar addict, but this stuff is just tasteless glop without it!”

“Can't argue there.”

We start on our improved breakfast. Grace has finished her food and sits next to my chair, eyebrows raising and lowering independently. She's too polite to beg, but I can tell she's hopeful.

Tek strides in, looking harried. A laptop is tucked under his good arm, the cord dangling precariously close to the floor. His hair is mussed, eyes bright. He sits at the table and uses one elbow to nudge his bowl to the side, placing the computer in front of him and opening the lid. “Come on . . . come on.”

Ali stops eating and watches as he brings up a smaller version of the monitors in the control room and chooses which feeds to enlarge.

“Coffee?” Ali asks.


She places the mug to the left of the computer. “Anything yet?”

“No.” Tek holds the mug awkwardly and takes a sip. “Why did I have to bust my right shoulder?”

Ali stands behind Tek and smoothes his hair before massaging his neck. “So much tension. You need to relax, Jay.”

Eyes closed, he tips his head back. “You have magic hands.” He opens one eye to scan the computer screen then closes it again. “In all seriousness, how can you suggest relaxing?”

She kisses the side of his neck. “You'll be able to think more clearly.”

“Not if you keep doing that!” Tek laughs, a flush creeping up his neck.

I spoon more sweetened oatmeal into my mouth and sip more coffee while the two of them banter. Their rapport, mutual respect, and love for one another is obvious. I can't help but wonder what others see when they observe me with Max.

A tingle of anticipation flows through me, and I think of last night—the way Max touched me, the love and desire shining in his eyes. I want nothing more than to spend another night sated and warm, cocooned in Max's arms.

“Here we go.” Tek sits up straighter.

Ali moves to his side. “What is it?”

I'm out of my own chair, flanking him on the other side.

Tek taps the keys rapid-fire, bringing up a collage of feeds that overlap. He chooses one from the rear entrance of the plant.

Max and Eric hustle through the door, bogged down by rucksacks and equipment. They move deeper into the plant—Tek changes camera feeds to follow them—and choose a semi-hidden alcove to set up Gibbs' fake base camp. In a short time, there's a sleeping bag, pile of MREs, bottled water, lantern, rope, box of ammo, and a rucksack bulging with other items.

Max leaves the alcove and uses a broom stick to bust a few light bulbs in the adjacent hall.

“Yo, watch out for the trip wire!” Eric uses his flashlight to illuminate the danger zone.

“Thanks, man.” Max steps over the nearly invisible wire and disappears from view. “Almost done!” he calls out.

Eric goes over their handiwork, taking the time to leave a half-eaten MRE next to the sleeping bag.

The laptop blips, and Tek brings up another feed. “Shit!” He grabs his walkie-talkie and yells, “Incoming! Guys, get outta there!”

My breath catches as a group of soldiers storm out of the tunnel and converge on the back door of the plant. One of them aims a rifle at the camera, just as Max predicted, and shoots out the lens.

The feed goes dark.

Eric hurries out of the alcove, grabbing his walkie-talkie. “How close?”

“Right outside the door. They just shot out the camera! I don't want to activate the other camera yet. If they destroy that one, we'll be running blind at that entrance.”

“Got it. Max, let's hustle!”

A metallic bang rings from the laptop speakers, followed by another and another.

Max's voice comes through the speaker, low and urgent. “They'll breach the door before we get to the elevator! We have to hide.”

My heart thuds. “What's he saying?”

Tek ignores me and responds to Max. “I think you're right. Do you have the earpiece I gave you?”



“Shit, no. Max and I will have to share.” Eric leaps over the trip wire and morphs into the dark to join Max.

Tek curses. “Eric, turn your walkie off. Go silent, other than the earpiece. Make sure you don't have anything on you that might give your position away.”

The lock gives, and Alliance soldiers enter the plant. Tek enlarges the feed so we can watch. Two lead soldiers pan the area through rifle scopes, creeping silently along the corridors. They stop before reaching the alcove and wave more soldiers in.

Tek arranges the videos side by side so we can watch the figures leave one section and enter the next.

Ali's hand claws into a fist, her body rigid. “C'mon, Max.” There's a rasp to her breathless whisper that concerns me.

“Where's your inhaler?”

Ali shakes her head, her gaze fixed on the laptop.

I move to her side, grasping her hand. “I'm worried about your asthma. Where is it?”

She pulls the inhaler from the pocket of her sweater, and finally looks my way. “Knew I was going to need it today.”

My stomach does a sickening roll. “Will they be okay?”

She turns back to the screen. “It doesn't work that way.”

I'm not entirely sure what she means, but I let it go and watch events unfold. All I can do is pray Max and Eric aren't discovered.

Once the first wave of men sweep the area, the imposing figure of the vice president enters, flanked by two heavily armed soldiers—presumably Axle and Pruit. The visual is distorted by shadows, but Wesley seems to be dressed for a fox hunt once again. He tugs off a pair of gloves, folding them neatly before tucking them in the pocket of his coat, and looks around almost casually. I can't see his eyes, but I imagine them as blue lasers taking everything in and stripping away the subterfuge.

My stomach rolls again, and I wonder if Max underestimated Wesley.

The lead man snags the first trip wire, setting off a flash-bang. A sunburst of light blinds the camera, leaving us with audio. Shouts of “Get down!” and “Take cover!” overlap.

In the other window, the vice president maintains his position, unflustered, and nods, muttering something to one of the soldiers who steps away and speaks into his mike.

The other camera refocuses. A smoky haze lingers in the air, and the soldiers closest to the disturbance seem dazed.

When they discover the alcove, the message goes over their comm links, and more of them gather around. Someone points toward the broken bulbs on the ceiling.

Wesley smiles grimly and leans out the busted door of the plant to utter commands to someone outside before following Axle and Pruit through the corridor.

Tek reviews other feeds, looking for activity. Then he counts the soldiers and grabs his walkie-talkie, pitching his voice low. “Other than Wesley, there are six soldiers inside, some possibles outside but not sure how many.”

“Copy that.” Max's answering whisper is tense.

“The first flash-bang went off, and Wesley doesn't seem perturbed whatsoever.”

“Cold SOB, just like his nephew.”

“Where are you?”

“Wedged above some pipes that run along the ceiling. It's hot as fuck up here, but we're well past where they can detect us. For the first time, I'm thankful for all the humming.”

“Hold tight. I want to see what Wesley is up to.”

We return our attention to the laptop, and I fight to ignore the pang of worry that burns in my gut. I won't feel safe until Max and Eric are reunited with us, and the vice president and his band of marauders are gone.

Wesley stands at the periphery of the alcove, silently taking in every detail of the base camp.

A soldier explores farther in, triggering the booby-trapped keypad. A small explosion goes off, sending the men into a defensive posture, weapons drawn—except for Wesley, Axle, and Pruit.

“Stand down, soldiers!” Wesley barks.

One foolish soul speaks up. “But, sir—”

Wesley stares the soldier down icily. “Clearly Lieutenant Gibbs is fucking with us. You’d have to be daft not to realize it. Mop the shit from your drawers, and assess the damage. Try not to bumble onto a grenade, but if you do, die quietly and with dignity.”

The men spread out and examine the floors, walls, and ceilings carefully. Someone calls out when a second trip wire is discovered and another finds a door rigged with C4.

Wesley nods, a satisfied smirk playing over his thin lips. “All of you leave, except Axle and Pruit!” He watches the soldiers file out and waits until everyone is outside before cracking his knuckles and stalking into the alcove, methodically rifling through everything while his men stand guard.

Ali is paler than usual and takes a puff off her inhaler.

Tek shakes his head. “This isn’t good. The bastard is sly. His men are easy to fool, but something tells me he’s not giving up easily.” He gets on the walkie talkie and lets Max and Eric know what’s happening.

Max’s tone is grim. “This joker is a thorn in my ass. Not likely we’ll get past him anytime soon. We might need a diversion.”

Tek nods. “I agree.”

“You’re trapped down there, and we’re hugging a hot pipe. Not sure how either of us can get past them without being detected.”

“I may be able to help with that. Give me a little time with the master blueprints.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Tek stands and stretches, kissing Ali on the cheek. “You need to rest, baby. I know you won’t get in bed, but maybe you can monitor the feeds while I’m gone.”

“Okay.” Ali replaces Tek in front of the laptop.

I grab his arm as he turns to leave. “I want to talk to Max.”

Tek nods, his face sympathetic, and hands me his walkie-talkie. “I’ve got another one in the control room.”

I offer it to Ali first, and she smiles gratefully. “Be careful, Connor. I love you.”

“Love you, too, Ali-bear.”

A tear courses down Ali’s cheek, and my vision blurs as she presses the walkie-talkie into my hand. “Max . . .” I choke, unable to get out more than his name.

“I’m okay. It’s going to be okay.” When I don’t immediately answer, he says, “Do you trust me, China?”

“You know I do, jerk.”

Max chuckles. “There’s my girl. Listen to me—everything will be fine. If you feel panicky, think of us at the beach or the first time I kissed you. Remember?”

“Of course I do.”

“Good. I don’t want to wear the battery down on this baby before Tek can guide us out of here, so I’m going to sign off, all right?”

“O-okay,” I whisper.

“I’m here. I love you.”

“I love you, too—so much.” I fight my emotions until I know Max can’t hear me, and then I give in, letting out a sob.

Ali grabs my arm. “Looks like that evil prick is done searching.”

Wesley exits the alcove and stands directly under the camera. His cold blue eyes seem to stare into my soul. “This is far from over, Kyle. We had an understanding, you and I. Tomorrow, 1300 hours, just you and me.” He makes a V with two fingers, pointing first at his own eyes and then jabbing them at the camera. He speaks to his men without looking away. “Station two men in here and one outside. Have them taser anything that moves. No killing, especially if they come across Marie Merlo. She’s mine.”


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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

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Mark Ethridge Week 187: I See Angry People (Part 12)

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: I See Angry People (Part 12)

One step at a time, I walked, one step at a time, endlessly, across endless hills, with nothing on them. Barren land, no weeds, no bushes. Nothing. Scruffy grass, dirt, rocks. Nothing. I wondered where I was. I didn’t remember this on any map I’d ever seen of the country. The ones in school, all those years ago, where the USA was green, with rivers, and mountains. Nothing like this.

I hadn’t eaten in two days, I was low on water, I was lost. My only guide was the sun, it told me the directions, north, south, east, west. I knew, if I went in the same direction I wasn’t going in a circle. I kept going north east.

As I walked, the days grew shorter. The sun rose later, set earlier, the nights grew longer. It was fall, winter was coming. With it, cold, snow, ice. I found myself wondering how Valerie was doing, if she was ready for the winter.

It was the first I’d thought of her in days. That didn’t feel right. I was supposed to think of her all the time. The woman I loved. She’d saved me from myself, more than once. First, when I lost my parents, my sister, to the crazy men that destroyed my home town. They killed almost everyone. Dad made sure I’d escaped. Jessica found me, took me to her little camp, where I met Hannah and Valerie. Valerie pulled me into the group.

Every time I doubted myself, Valerie stood beside me. She loved me, held me, taught me it was OK, I was OK. I left on long trips all the time, sometimes I was gone for months. And always, when I found my way back to the camp, Valerie was there, waiting for me.

And there I was, in the middle of nowhere, with no idea where I was, no idea where I was going, and no idea when I’d have my next meal. As I walked through that barren wasteland, I wondered if I was going to die. If I’d run out of water, die of thirst. If I found water, would I find food? Would I grow too weak to keep walking, and end up a corpse, in a wasteland, never to be seen, never to be heard from.

I wondered if I’d ever see Valerie again.

I decided I would. A man’s got to believe in something. Something that matters, something he cares about. I believed in Valerie. I believed in her love, believed it was worth fighting for, staying alive for.

I kept walking. One step after another, endlessly.

At night, I slept in my small tent, bundled up as best I could, under all the clothing I had. I gathered dry, dead grasses, weeds, anything, and piled them around my tent. Anything to break the wind. At night, the wind howled, it cut through my skin, chilled me to the bone. I woke every couple of hours from the cold.

And still the wasteland went on, and on, endlessly.

On the fourth day, I ran out of water. That night was the worst, the coldest, with the fiercest wind. I stayed in my tent, my teeth clenched against the cold, the wind. I curled up, pulled my knees to my chest, made myself as small as I could to conserve as much heat as I could.

I knew I was running out of time. I knew, if I didn’t find water soon, I wouldn’t survive.

The next morning, as the sun rose, I packed my tent, and started walking again. I heard birds. Geese, actually. Honking. I wondered if it was my mind playing tricks on me. If I was delirious from exhaustion, hunger, and thirst. But, as I walked, I heard the geese again. And again. If it was real! If I wasn’t dreaming it, the sound of geese was good news. It meant I was getting somewhere. I was heading toward water of some kind. A place where the geese would be. A stream, pond, lake, river. Water.

I kept walking. I couldn’t rush, I didn’t have the strength. But I kept walking, and the geese grew louder. There. Along the horizon. I saw something moving, something changing. I headed toward that movement. In that wasteland, I had no idea how far the horizon was. On that wasteland I figured I could see forever. Fifty miles, maybe more. Would I be able to hear the geese from that far away? Would I see geese moving, flying from that far away? If they were that far away, could I last long enough to reach them?

I pushed such thoughts from my mind, and walked.

And the motion along the horizon grew. Things began to pop up above the horizon. They got higher and higher. And the sound of the geese grew louder.

The sun set, and still I walked. The wind grew, and still I walked. Through the cold, through the wind, the darkness. Toward the sound of the geese. Until I found them. Thousands of them. More than I’d ever seen. An ocean of geese. Around, and on a small lake.

I kept going. I had to keep going. I had to keep moving. I couldn’t stop. Something told me I couldn’t stop. I watched the lake grow. I smelled the water in the air. And still I walked. Until I reached the water.


Fresh water.

I drank. I filled my canteen, and I drank.

Only then did I rest, make my tent, bury myself under every shred of clothing I had, and slept.

I woke to the sound of the geese.

They’d saved me. Their honking, their noise, guided me to the lake, to the water I desperately needed. They had one last thing to do for me. Surrounded by geese, I drew my bow, set an arrow, and did what I had to do to stay alive.

I ate. Raw goose. It didn’t matter. I ate. For the first time in days. Solid food. I’d have cooked it, but I had no way to set a fire. And nothing to set on fire.

The lake was a gift from nature. I followed it’s shoreline. One day. Another night spent by the lake. Then, more following the shoreline the next day. The lake turned into a stream. I followed that to grasses, brush, and trees.

I found food there. It’s there, if you know how to find it, if you know what to look for. Certain types of tree leaves, mushrooms, grasses, roots. Not the best, not the tastiest. But it kept me alive. Pine nuts, acorns, berries. The same food the squirrels and birds ate. And I followed the stream.

Until I found a cabin, then another, and a third. And more. Cabins scattered through the landscape. Small places. All empty. But, they were what I needed. A place I could spend a night, shielded from the wind, from the cold.

I picked a cabin to stay in that night. One room, with a small, single bed, a table, a chair, and a fireplace. A useless lamp sat on the table. I had no light to look around. I pulled the covers off the bed, and huddled in them for the night. For once, I was warm. For once I slept.

I slept for hours. Well past the sunrise. I wasn’t in any hurry to move. I don’t know how I knew it, but I knew no one was around, and no one had been around for a very long time. So, I had time. I had time to rest. I was able to bathe in the stream. It felt good to get clean, to wash away the dirt of the long walk I’d taken across that barren landscape. I foraged for food, edible vegetation. I found plenty. I decided to stay put for a day, maybe two. To rest. To gather my strength.

That afternoon I explored the cabin, There were some towels, sheets, and other sundries in the small closet I hadn’t noticed that night. There were a couple of books on the table, they stood neatly between two bookends. Centered on the table was an envelope, with something in it. And a notebook, with a flowered cover, and a pen. I hadn’t seen such a reminder of how the world had been in a long time.

The notebook was small, with few pages inside. All of them were filled with drawings, all done by hand. A goose, a tree, the cabin, the stream. Simple drawings.

I kept it. I wanted to show it to Valerie. She’d like it.

As the sun set, I settled in for the night in that cabin, and I wondered if I’d ever find my way back to Jessica’s little town in the woods. If I’d ever find my way back to Valerie.


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