Thursday, March 31, 2016

Laura James Week 194: The Journey

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Laura James’s Picture Choice: One

Title: The Journey

The time had come for Felicity to take matters into her own hands. Tomorrow they would be coming to take her to the old peoples home her son had arranged, but she was not ready to go. She re-read the note her friend Sharon had left telling her that everything they had heard was true. The fountain of youth did exist and was only a short journey away.

With nothing to loose Felicity dragged her small overnight bag to the dresser and started to pack. Her arthritis made the job difficult and she had to stop several times to allow the circulation back in her hands. By the time her bag was packed the morning had passed and Felicity was in need of sustenance before she began her long journey. Moving to the kitchen she got a can of soup from the cupboard but her hands let her down and she was unable to open it. Accepting that a hot meal was out of the question Felicity took some ham from the fridge and ate it in small bites.

Tired from her efforts Felicity released that she would need to take a nap before she could continue, her vision of starting the long journey was postponed not cancelled. Cursing her age she moved back to the bedroom and lied down not bothering to take her clothes off. She was asleep within minutes and after a few hours awoke refreshed and ready to continue.

Felicity called a taxi and by the time it arrived she was ready at the path of her house. Looking out through the passenger window Felicity said goodbye to her old life and prepared to start a new. The taxi dropped her at the train station and she shuffled her way to platform removing her friends note to once again check the instructions. Any train north would do but it had to last at least three hours and she had to sit in the 5th row at the window. Once seated she could enjoy the journey for two hours then move to the first row and an aisle seat.

It all seemed a bit mad but Felicity was willing to try anything to regain her youth and start her life once more, avoiding all those mistakes she had made.

The first train that pulled into the station was only a journey of thirty minutes so Felicity moved to a bench and sat to wait for the next one. Now that she was finally making the journey she felt calm and hopeful. Of course her son would fret when he didn't find her at home in the morning but after the pain he had put her through, his discomfort was a small price to pay.

Finally a train arrived that she could take and she made her way down the carriage counting the rows. A young man helped her out her overnight bag in the the luggage rack above the seats before finding a seat himself further down the aisle. Settling back Felicity allowed the rolling of the train to lull her into a light doze as she mulled over the first things she would do when her youth was restored.

The train pulled into various stations along its route, with the many passengers leaving. By the time two hours has passed and Felicity moved to the first row aisle seat there was only her and the young man that had helped her at the start of her journey. Another forty five minutes passed and Felicity was beginning to wonder if she had been fooled. There were no further instructions on the note from her friend and she started to prepare to make the return journey back to a life in a home crippled with arthritis until the day she died.

The train was slowing as it approached another station and Felicity watched the young man get up from his seat and move towards the exit. She didn't see the blade in his hand only felt it as it punctured her heart as he bent and whispered in her ear "Now you can be at peace."


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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


Monday, March 28, 2016

KendallJaye Collard Week 194: The Tango

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KendallJaye Collard’s Picture Choice: Second

Title: The Tango

There she was. Like nothing before or after.

She was a lone red rose unafraid to bloom in the middle of winter.

I watched her on the dance floor. She knew all the steps by heart. Her face was calm and confident as the music commanded her feet.



Her tango seemed to last forever. Her dress whirled and captivated. Her hands never breaking from dance position. Her eyes closed. Her soul focused.

I felt like I was intruding.

But roses are meant to be admired, right? I couldn’t tear myself away.

She kept count in her head.



And abruptly the song cut. Her dance was over. With all her grace, she glided across the floor to gather a towel to wipe the sweat from her brow.

“I miss you Johnny.”

I know Janie. I miss you too.

But she couldn’t hear my ghostly voice.

I relaxed and let myself go knowing I needed my strength to return tomorrow to watch her dance again.


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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.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sarah Aisling Week 193: A Measure of Grace (Part 48): Cake

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 48): Cake

A high keening comes from behind the fist jammed against Andrea's mouth. She rocks in the chair, wild gaze riveted to the laptop as the soldiers radio for reinforcements.

The guy who tasered Eric leans down. “Red, this guy’s one of ours. What the hell was he doing skulking around?”

Red reclines against the wall and waves a hand, disinterested. “Who gives a fuck? We follow Wesley's orders—let him sort this shit out.”

Eric groans and tries to roll onto his side. Red uses one foot against Eric's beefy arm to shove him the rest of the way. “Stay down or we'll have to juice you again.” Red slips handcuffs from his belt and secures Eric's wrists behind his back, leaving him on his stomach.

Eric manages to turn his head to one side, issuing gasping breaths.

Ali's quivering voice comes over the walkie-talkie. “Connor, I know you. Don't you dare go out there! If they get you, we'll really be in deep.”

Tek chimes in. “She's right, man. Eric's one of them. He'll talk his way out.”

A long silence follows. Perhaps Max can't maneuver to send Morse code or maybe he’s considering his options.

I grab the walkie-talkie and press the transmit button, praying he can hear me. “Max, they're right. Don't do anything rash. Wesley is a snake, just like Gibbs, but we'll outsmart him, too. If they find out where you're hiding, it could lead down here, and this will all be for nothing.” I bow my head, praying he listens.

Andrea puts her hand over mine and presses the button. “Marie's right, Max. Our best chance of getting Eric back is to remain secret.” She lets go and sits back, closing her eyes. A tear slips down her cheek, and she draws a shuddering breath.

Max doesn't respond, but he doesn't pop out of the wall like a jack-in-the-box and get captured either. Andrea and I remain tense, watching and waiting. Grace whines, placing her head on Andrea's lap, and looks from one of us to the other.

Eric finally speaks, his voice low and scratchy. “Guys . . . I'm Alliance. How 'bout taking the cuffs off? Help a brother out.” He laughs, but it sounds nothing like his usual booming baritone. “Thank God I didn't pee myself.”

Red seems mildly amused but doesn't move. “Nothing personal, just following orders. If you are who you say you are, this will all be sorted out soon.”

The other soldier tilts his head, listening. “Go ahead . . . Copy that.”

Red, having received the same transmission, nods. “We've been ordered to bring you in. I'm going to stand you up now. Don't try anything. Cooperate, and we all live to see another sunrise, my friend.” Red grasps Eric's bound wrists and hauls him to his feet.

Eric grunts as his legs give out, but he manages to right himself. Red tells the other soldier to stay behind and takes hold of Eric's arm, leading him away. “We're not going to have any problems, are we, buddy?”

“Nope. You're just following orders—I get it. Shouldn't have gone off on my own trying to find Gibbs.”

Red's tense posture relaxes. “Live and learn. I'm sure you'll be back on patrol in no time.” He makes a disgusted sound. “We shouldn't be wasting time on that piece of shit. I'd just as soon use him as target practice than take him in, but you didn't hear that from me.”

Their voices fade as they move off camera.

Andrea blows out a breath and slumps in the chair. Crescents of blood well up over the pale skin of her palms. “He'll be okay. Eric will talk his way out. There's a certain amount of trust he's built with the Alliance.”

I murmur my agreement though she seems to be speaking more to herself than to me.

The other soldier melts into the shadows, presumably to continue surveillance. I wring my hands, worried Max will pop out of the wall and get himself captured.

Time passes, seconds growing to minutes.

We watch Red lead Eric out the back door of the plant and into the tunnel. Soldiers occasionally shift around or leave their posts to relieve themselves. None of the men seem worried or suspicious. They have no idea Max is in the walls.

Ali returns to the kitchen and starts making food. An ashen pallor shadows her skin. She starts wheezing and takes a hit from her inhaler.

I make Ali sit at the table, and then I brew a cup of butterbur tea, placing it in front of her. Andrea continues monitoring the feeds while I take over making sandwiches. Twenty minutes later, the color is back in Ali's cheeks, and her breathing is freer. The three of us sit in silence, picking at our food. Grace nudges my thigh with her snout and turns on the charm. I feed her a piece of grilled chicken and laugh when she swallows it whole, licks her chops, and waits for more.

“Yikes! Did you even taste that?”

The walkie-talkie emits static, and then Max's voice comes through, barely a whisper. “I finally made it past those bastards. Now it's a matter of making it the rest of the way down without breaking my fucking neck.”

Tears of relief sting my eyes as I answer him. “We've got cold beer and sandwiches waiting for you.”

“I need a damn shower first.”

“We have that, too. I love you. Be careful.”

“Love you, China.”

Tek opens the kitchen door and pokes his head in. “I'm going to wait for Max. Want to join me?”

“Heck, yeah!” I wash a bite of chicken down with a swig of water and stand. Ali's steady gaze meets mine, and I pause, my cheeks heating. “I'm sorry—you should be the one to go. He's your brother.”

Ali's lips curve into a knowing smile. “He's your heart. Go.”

Tek and I move silently through the halls. We reach the grating outside our quarters, and Tek removes the panel. We sit on the floor with the walkie-talkie between us and settle in to wait.

Tek scrubs a hand over his face and sighs. His eyes are bloodshot and tired looking. “How is she? This is taking a toll on her.”

He doesn't need to tell me he's talking about Ali. “She's strong stuff, just like her brother.” I pat his arm.

Tek smiles and leans his head back, rubbing his eyes. “They are quite the pair. I think what they went through growing up brought them closer and made them stronger.”

“Ali went through hell. They both did.”

“Yeah . . . Ali told me what Max did to protect her. That kind of loyalty is rare and precious.” Tek tugs on a lock of my hair. “He’d do the same for you.”

“I know.” I smile, but sour bile churns in the pit of my stomach. Ali was right about keeping what Wesley said about me from Max. “Were you watching when—did you hear what Wesley said . . . about me?”

Tek nods. “Let me guess. You don’t want me to tell Max.”

“Ali thinks it’s for the best.”

“Based on what I know about Max, I have to agree. The last thing we need is his going off half-cocked. Cool heads should prevail.”

I pick at a loose thread on the seam of my jeans. “You think Eric will be all right?”

“The guy could talk his way into the Pentagon. Our big problem now is communicating with Garth. We’ve lost our eyes and ears into Alliance business—and we’re trapped down here until Wesley quits looking for Gibbs.”

“Hope it doesn't take—” The words die on my lips as a metallic ping, followed by rustling comes from inside the wall. “Max.” His name is a breathless exhalation as I scramble to my feet and stare into the snarl of wires in the opening.

Tek hops up and spreads the cables. “Max?”

A booted foot pokes out, followed by muffled profanity as Max struggles to extricate himself. “Son of a—” Both feet hit the floor, and the rest of him slowly appears. “Shit, it's bright!” He shades his eyes.

Sweat-soaked hair clotted with dampened dust hangs over Max's forehead. Every inch of exposed skin is streaked with grime, and his clothes are dirty and tattered. Even so, once his beautiful sea-glass eyes seek out mine, I throw myself at him.

He catches me, strong arms wrapping around, lifting, and crushing me against his hard body. “Oh, China. God, it feels so good to hold you!” He swings us around before depositing me on my feet, holding my hips to steady me.

I go up on tiptoe, slinging my arms around his neck, and kiss his soft lips. He brings us closer, kissing me passionately, one hand roaming from the curve of my hip to squeeze my ass. I gasp, desire igniting inside me.

We finally part when Tek clears his throat. I laugh breathlessly and hook a finger on the hem of Max's tattered T-shirt, unwilling to lose contact quite yet. Tek averts his head, the skin of his neck flushing bright red.

“Shit, look what I did to you!” Max gestures to my newly grimy clothes and wipes at my cheek. “I'm making it worse.” He steps back and pulls his shirt off, using it to mop the dirt and sweat from his face.

I take in his bare chest and ridged abs with appreciation, reminded of when he stripped his shirt off beside a stream on the way back from our supply run. That moment seems long ago, but it also stands out in my mind because, though it was difficult for Max, he finally let down his guard and invited me to go home with him.

Tek clears his throat again and moves to the opening in the wall, pushing wires back in and fitting the grate in place.

Max looks me over and smirks. “Seems you need a shower now, too. We should definitely join forces, conserve water.”

After Max's tearful reunion with Ali and a lot of barks, wiggling, and licks from Grace, I join him for that shower.

Wisps of steam curl lazily in the air. It feels good to stand beneath the hot spray with Max. He can't seem to stop touching me even though we're mere inches apart. Strong fingers ghost over my arms, knead my shoulders, caress my back. He feathers soft kisses along my jaw and across my lips. And though we're naked and alone, the touches and kisses are more reverent than sexual.

I soap a bath puff and wash the dirt and dust from Max. He obediently allows this as long as his fingers are in contact with my skin, and I have no objection to that arrangement. At one point, he works shampoo into his hair and tilts his head, allowing the water to rinse the lather away. Then he pours more shampoo into one palm and tells me to put my head back so he can do my hair.

I pause washing his body to enjoy the feel of his fingers massaging my scalp.

He shifts our positions so I can rinse off, his sensual lips nipping at the skin on the side of my neck. “The only thing I could think of when I was stuck in the walls was getting back to you. I don't know if I could've done it otherwise.” He lowers his head and sighs against my shoulder. “Maybe I should have ignored you guys and gone after Eric. I just . . . couldn't chance being taken away from you. Does that make me a horrible person?”

I face him and caress his jaw. “No, it makes you smart. Eric is one of them, and he'll think of an excuse—but if they discovered you . . .” I shiver, despite the humid warmth surrounding us. “God only knows what would have happened. At least now we have a chance of getting Eric back and keeping our presence here secret.”

“You're right. I know you are.” Max nods, but guilt clouds his eyes just the same.

We dry each other with fluffy white towels and pull on sweats and T-shirts. I ask Max if he wants something to eat, but he shakes his head and says he really wants to be alone with me.

When we enter our room, Grace is napping in the corner, and her tail thumps against the floor. A tray of sandwiches and two cold beers sit on the dresser along with the DVD remote. Max huffs a laugh and shakes his head.


“Who else? She knew I’d forgo eating in favor of being alone with you, so she made sure I could have my cake”—Max pulls me close and flicks his tongue against my neck—“and eat, too.”

We sit on the bed and eat, sharing swigs of beer first from one bottle and then the other. When the food and drink is gone, Max shuts off the light and pulls me to the bed, enveloping me in his strong embrace.

He kisses my temple. “I’d love to ravish you, but I’m exhausted.”

“Me, too—on both counts—but I’m happy right where I am.” I rest my head on Max’s chest, and sleep claims me, deep and dreamless.


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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

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Mark Ethridge Week 193: I See Angry People (Part 16

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: One

Title: I See Angry People (Part 16

Billy was hungry. He was always hungry, even after we found food, and ate something. I figured it was because he was a growing boy, and needed more food to grow. But it was frustrating to deal with his endless hunger. There were few streams, ponds, or other sources of water, and there were no farms, no gardens, no tomatoes, or beans, or corn.

Billy was hungry. He didn’t like dandelion salads, or berries from trees, and mushrooms disgusted him so much, he refused to eat them. “Well. I suppose you’ll eat when you get hungry enough.”

I tried to understand, his parents had grown the food he’d always eaten. His mother did the gardening, and his father hunted. They went fishing sometimes, in a stream near where he lived. They had rabbit, and deer, and other meats.

He kept talking about how he missed meat. How eating weeds wasn’t any fun, and never filled him up. “He’s just a boy,” I kept thinking. “Was I ever like him?”

The days became endless, a never ending session of Billy complaining about the lack of real food, having to sleep on the ground, with its bumps, rocks, weeds, clumps of grass, tree roots, and everything else. And sleeping on the ground was cold as hell. He wanted to know how far away Jessica and the town were. How many days it would take to get there, how many people lived there, if there were any other boys he could play with, what kind of food everyone ate.

I was ready to scream, but I never did. “I have no idea how many days it will take to get there. I have no idea where we are. It’s not on a map. I don’t have a map anyway, do you?”

The ground became hilly, and I guessed that put us in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Of course, which foothills was an open question, as I’d never ventured on such a wild, winding journey as the one I was on. I had no idea how long it would take to find my way home.

Billy asked about beds, and houses, and families. So, as we walked, I told him what I could.

“We don’t have any families. Not like you’re thinking. No one’s married, no moms, no dads. There’s not many men. Just a few. Last time I was there, there were six of us. There are lots of women. But, they’re not like your Mom.”

“What do you mean?”

“Most of them are younger than your Mom. And most of them are survivors.”


“Yeah. They escaped from the wild men.”

“Wild men?”

“You honestly don’t know, do you?”

“Wild men?”

“Billy, what do you know about what happened in the world?”

“Mom and Dad never talked about it. They said the world was dangerous, and I was supposed to stay at home, like they did. That we were safe at home.”

Billy’s parents had told him nothing.

“Billy, you’ve got a heck of a lot to learn.”

“Teach me.”

As we walked, I told him about the world going crazy. About how men started attacking women, raping them, then beating them. I told him about how the women started to fight back, about how everybody got guns, and killed everybody else. How it spread through the entire country, and how the men who started it were still raping, and beating, and killing women.

Billy listened, until finally he said, “That’s not what Mom and Dad said.”

“They kept you safe, didn’t they.”

Every night, I watched over the boy. Every night, I got what sleep I could, as long as I knew Billy was safe.

And we walked, as the hills grew, and the trees started to return. We passed the remains of towns and cities. Billy was curious, and wanted to explore them. I kept explaining that was about the craziest thing he could do. That’s where the bad men lived. The kind of men that would have hurt him.

But, he wanted to see what a town was, what a city was. And one night, I fell asleep, and Billy left. He headed toward a town. I woke up after a few hours of sleep, and saw he was gone. “Damn!” I knew the fool boy would get himself killed.

I followed his trail. It was like following a painted line through the trees, brush, and grasses. He’d headed straight for the last town we’d seen. I ran, I didn’t have time to walk. Everything in me screamed Billy was in trouble. Yes, the boy was a headache, but he was an innocent. He didn’t have a clue how to live in the world. He didn’t even know what the world was like.

It took two hours, but I got to the edge of the town. I stayed hidden in the brush outside the town, moved around its boundaries, looked for signs of life. Everything in me screamed, “Hurry!” But I knew I had to be careful. I didn’t know what was in that town. Before I raced in, blindly, I had to know what I was running into.

It was a moderate sized town, a small shopping district off the main road through it, and several blocks of houses to either side of that. It even had a sign on the road, “Old Road”. The place was large enough I couldn’t see from one side to the other. Once I’d circled it, I picked a place to start in. I came in from the opposite direction Billy had taken, just to be safer. I knew going into that town was crazy. I had my bow and arrows ready, one arrow set to fire.

I moved cautiously between the houses. The fences made it tough. They’d become impenetrable walls of twisted vines, and weeds. Nothing could get through those. I moved along the front of the buildings. There was nothing to hear, no one to see. One house, two, three. A dozen. I kept looking.

I peeked around the corner of another house, and ducked back as the corner of the house exploded from a gunshot. The echo of the shot rang through the town. Yeah, there were people in the town. And they weren’t friendly.

I backtracked, quickly, then climbed over the brush and vine encased fence, dashed across the yard, and climbed another fence, as I moved around the house. I peeked around the corner of the house a second time, and saw two men moving toward where I’d been. I shot them in the back with arrows, then moved back over the fence, through the yard again, this time into the neighboring yard. I crossed that, and came out a house further down than I’d been. I peeked out at the street. There were four other men, with guns drawn, running toward where the gunshot had come from.

I hid behind the fence, and waited for them to clear the gap between the houses. Then I went back to the street. It’s not fun when you’re armed with a bow and arrows, and the bad guys have guns. I got low to the ground, held the bow parallel to the ground, and shot an arrow. It struck one of the men in the thigh. He fell, screaming. The other three didn’t realize what was happening at first. I shot one of them with another arrow. It got him in the stomach.

The other two realized what was happening, and started shooting like crazy in my general direction. With each shot, their aim got better. I took one down with another arrow. It winged him. A fourth arrow missed the fourth man, but a fifth arrow got him in the shoulder.

They were down, but still could shoot their guns. So the arrow and gun fight continued until I’d hit them enough they stopped shooting.

No one else came running. Lucky me.

I took two of their guns, and made sure they were fully loaded. If any of the men were alive, I finished them with my knife. Then, I headed in the direction they’d come from.

It was a house. A pretty, white house. With a picket fence. Well kept, too. Clean sidewalks, fully edged. The lawn was cut somehow, I figured with an old push mower, with blades. It was a classic stable house for women.

“Damn. There’ll be more men soon enough.”

There was no way I was going to be able to get into that house without getting dead. I circled it, looked through any open windows. There were two guards on the top floor, one on the front, one on the back, each with rifles. They watched from a windows.

There was a guard by the front door. The back door was boarded up. There was only one way in.

Billy’s body was in the back yard. They hadn’t shot him. It would have been better if they had. It seemed some of them wanted to have a little fun with a boy. Some twisted sexual fantasy, or something. His body wasn’t alone. The bodies of two women were with his.

There was nothing I could do.

Not one damn thing.

I retreated to outside the town, and watched as men came in from the countryside that night, a good half dozen of them. They headed toward the house. I knew what was in that house. I knew how those men lived. How they treated women. How they treated boys.

That night, I decided I had to do something about that house. One way or another, I had to stop what those men were doing. It would take time. I had to figure out how many men there were. When they were at their weakest. And the best way to attack them.

I had to turn them into the prey, and I had to become the hunter.

“For Billly.”


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


Friday, March 25, 2016

Kimberly Gould Week 193: Erosion

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Erosion

Gaea cried. Normally her fresh tears rinsed away the damage of her breath, sending small particles toward deltas, banks and dunes. The humans, though, made her cry harder, and they turned her tears into hot, burning droplets that took the faces off statues and broke her skin. The ground was cracked, corroded, and her tears left trails of fire. Why did they do these things? Why didn’t the notice? What would make them stop?

In the end, she reminded herself, the faces would have worn away and her skin would slough and be reformed. In her way, the process took hundreds of thousands of years. Perhaps the gift of these humans was to speed up time. However, she couldn’t accept that it came without cost. It was only a matter of time until they saw that. She hoped it wouldn’t be too late.

Author’s Note: Sorry, the environmental scientist in me kick in.


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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


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Jen DeSantis Week 193: Bridgemere Park

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Jen DeSantis’ Picture Choice: 2

Title: Bridgemere Park

He ran a gloved finger over the rusted metal and leaned more heavily upon his walking cane. The cool autumn breeze nipped at his face and he pulled the brim of his bowler hat down lower against the blast.

The old pathway, once clearly delineated with fresh gravel and carefully chosen flowers was barely visible amid the debris. It hurt his old heart to see it wasted away in such a way.

“Edward, come along,” his wife said, taking his arm. “It’s getting cold and it’ll be dark soon. We should head back.”

“Cara, dear, she’s just up this old path. I just want to see her one more time.”

His wife furrowed her old brow, but nodded just the same. He asked for so little; surely she could walk a little further so he could put his past to bed for for good.

He remembered walking up the path for the first time in the old days, back when he had no need of a cane. He was young then, arriving at the great manor for a job in service. It was quite an honor for a farm boy to be taken into service at one of the big houses, even as a lowly stable lad. Edward remembered the fear, and the awe, that filled him as he walked up that path for the first time. He never imagined the things he would see there, or the way it would alter the entire course of his life.

“I first saw you here,” he said, pointing with his cane.

Cara smiled, but didn’t say a word. Her own memories of this path, and this old house, were quite different than Edward’s. After all, while he was filled with memories of happy firsts, most of what remained here for Cara were difficult lasts.

“I never thought then that we’d be walking back, arm in arm, as an old married couple.”

“I should think not,” she replied with a laugh.

Edward stopped. “Did you see me that day?”

“What a strange question,” Cara said, color rising in her wrinkled cheeks. “Why do you ask?”

“It’s a simple question. That first day, I remember it like it was yesterday. I walked up this path with only a half-broken carpetbag filled with all of my earthly possessions. And then I nearly dropped it all when I spied you walking the grounds with your faithful hound. You were the fairest thing I’d ever seen.”

Cara sighed. Their love, their entire story, was so strange. No one from her former life had ever believed the way it unfolded. Certainly her family didn’t understand. They disowned her out of turn the minute she came to them. They’d eventually relented some, but the damage had been done. And she knew that her actions had caused the eventual downfall of their entire family structure. She loved him, but the price of that love never ceased to cause a burning pain in her chest.

“No, Edward. I didn’t see you that day. Or if I had, it made no impression on me then. You were just another hired hand then. And I was the daughter of the house.”

They turned and walked on, up the forgotten path, toward Bridgemere Park. As they walked, the high turrets began to be visible above the tangle of wild branches that had grown out of check over the years. Cara’s heart stopped for a moment in her chest. She knew that Edward’s would have done the same, though for quite different reasons. They were both coming home, but the ramifications of that homecoming were far different for the two old lovers.

“Do you remember it was here?” Edward said, his voice thick. “It was here that I asked you to marry me.”

“I do remember that,” Cara replied with a smile.

Warmth filled her chest as she remembered those first days with Edward. The thrill of finding her soulmate. The fear when she thought of the great divide that separated them. But there was always that warmth and comfort when she thought of those memories. Despite the intervening pain from her family, memories of falling in love with Edward filled her with happiness.

They could see the house plainly then. Once chestnut brown walls were now stained mostly black from years of exposure to the harsh rains. Twisted vines, dead in the harsh autumn months, snaked over most of the front door. They had once been artfully trained over the archway so that in the spring, the smell of wisteria wafted in every time the great door was open. Now, their pale brown skeletons seemed to warn off any visitors like a morbid gate.

“I remember the first and last time I walked through that front door,” Edward said softly. “It was right after you agreed to marry me. You took my hand and led me through the front door. I thought Claymore would fall over dead from the shock of seeing me in my grimy clothes walk through to the library.”

Cara laughed a little. She remembered Claymore fondly, the gentle butler who was more uncle than servant. He did not like anything out of order. And Edward, a stable lad, in the library with the first daughter of Bridgemere Park, was most definitely out of order.

“Does it make you happy, my dear?” Edward asked, concern washing over his face. “I’ve thought so long about reliving my happy memories here that I’m afraid I haven’t thought much about the pain that this might cause you.”

“It is bittersweet, I’m afraid. There is happiness when I think of you. There is sadness when I think of the horrid way we all parted. And there is the mixed emotion of remembering my childhood growing up within these walls.”

Edward nodded, and looked back at the once great house. “I am forever grateful for the luck that brought me here that day.”

Cara could hear the tears threatening in her husband’s voice. He loved her so. But also, he had loved Bridgemere so. Seeing her near ruin with nothing to be done to save her, pained him. It pained her too.

“Lainey wrote that they are thinking of turning it into a museum,” she said softly. “Fix her up a bit and fill her with beauty once again.”

“That would be good,” he said, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiping at his face. “It doesn’t do to see her dead inside and out.”

“No,” Cara agreed. “She was never that.”

The couple stared for several minutes longer before the wife finally had her way and they walked back to the village. As they left Bridgemere behind, the tightness that had filled her chest began to ease. The overwhelming happiness of her life came back and with it came the color around her. She was free of the life she’d led so many years ago.

She was free of all of the pain that going back had reminded her of. And like her Edward, she could be thankful for whatever hands of fate played a part in bringing him to Bridgemere all those years ago. Without them, she never would have left Bridgemore. But she also thought that she might never be so happy as she was when she laid down next to her husband and turned off the little lamp. He’d given her that, and that was worth so much more than whatever possibilities she’d left behind when she left Bridgemere.


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


Monday, March 21, 2016

Laura James Week 193: The Last Job

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Laura James’s Picture Choice: The Last Job

Title: 1

Once upon a time Miles never thought he'd reach the age of twenty yet here he was approaching his thirty first birthday and still going strong. Some would say it was down to luck, others skill, Miles knew it was a combination of both. The police had labeled him The Ghost, his clients called him The Fixer and his associates knew him as UK Asset 24.

When he first started down the path of assassin it was by sheer chance. Right place, right time and an accident. He'd been in a bar stairwell and someone had caught his arm causing him to drop his beer glass over the banister. The glass had landed on the head of the owner bringing about an instant coma from which he never recovered.

Panicking at what had happened Miles made a swift exit, diving through the crowd of horrified spectators and out into the damp night. In his haste he missed who had placed the business card in his pocket but after dialling the number he hadn't looked back. From then on he was a gun for hire, no job to large or small, and he soon amassed a small fortune.

Over the years he had seen fellow Assets come and go, in some case he had even helped send them on their way. He knew his luck would eventually run out but while it lasted he wouod enjoy life by taking others and reaping the rewards.

His latest job was larger than most and a first for him, involved children. He had to pick six children from a party of forty who were visiting the abby in the centre of town. Once again Lady Luck was on his side and there was scaffolding surrounding the abby walls due to the city centre refurbishment. Shouldering the back pack containing his rifle onto his back, he started the high climb. He would only need to be half way up to get a perfect view of the school group entering or leaving the abby.

Settling himself on the platform Miles built his weapon, then lay down with the gun sight at his eye. The distance was just inside his preferred firing range and even though his targets would be smaller than he was used to, he was confident that he would succeed. Glancing briefly at his watch Miles spotted some greenery at the edge of his vision. He had time before the children were due to appear and vegetation on scaffolding was too curious an occurrence to ignore. Resting his gun on the scaffolding he took a closer look.

Using his finger to push against the moss-like substance he was surprised that it didn't give like he expected, but held strong as if it were plastic, surprise changed to annoyance when he discovered that his finger was stuck. Giving his hand a large tug he cried out in pain as the skin was ripped from the tip of his finger. Looking at his finger Miles saw that the wound resembled a bad carpet burn, painful certainly but not a hinderance to his current job.

Sucking on the tip of his finger he noticed that the skin that had been removed seemed to be dissolving where it lay. After a few seconds he realised he was wrong, it wasn't dissolving into the green substance but rather it was being covered by new growth. Miles became mesmerised by the spectacle and moved closer to get a better look as small shoots appeared and began to wave in the air.

Forgetting his wound and the pain he had felt Miles reached out and was rewarded with the vines caressing the back of his hand. At the soft touches his mind was filled with a kaleidoscope of colour and all thoughts behind why he had climbed the scaffolding were gone. Soon the green substance was winding its tentacles around his wrist as it climbed further up his arm.

In moments Miles found that he was covered in whatever had grown in response to his skin with only his face free. Comfortable he lay down and closed his eyes, never having felt so at peace. By the time the moss started to feed on his body Miles was sound asleep and died in blissful ignorance as the cheerful voices of a group of children filled the air.


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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, March 20, 2016

Michael Wombat Week 192: The Great Circle

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Michael Wombat’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: The Great Circle

The old Lakota people were wise. They knew that a man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; they knew that a lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans, too. So they kept their children close to nature’s softening influence.

Everything natural was possessed of personality, only differing from the people in form. Knowledge sat inherent in all things. The world was a library, its books the stones, leaves, grass, streams and the birds and animals that shared, along with them, the storms and blessings of earth. They learned to do what only students of nature can learn; to feel beauty as a sensation inside themselves. They never railed at the storms, the furious winds, and the biting frosts and snows. To do so intensified human futility, and so whatever came they adjusted, by more effort and energy if necessary, but without complaint.

They did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, the winding streams with tangled growth, as ‘wild’. Only to the white man was nature a ‘wilderness’ and only to him was it ‘infested’ with ‘wild’ animals and ‘savage’ people. To the Lakota it was tame. Earth was bountiful and they were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery.

Look at Mother Earth now. See what devastation the white man has wrought upon her, first by building ugly structures high upon her face, and then by raping her for fuel and resources. When she could give no more, they fought over the little that remained. They rained incandescent fire upon each other’s cities, towering mushroom clouds of devastation that rendered flesh and steel alike to ash, until nought but ruin remained. They poisoned the water. They poisoned the air. The clouds of their destruction covered the face of Anpetu Wi, the sun bison, for two years. The vegetation and animal life became sick, and died. Most humans died of the air-sickness, but a lonely few survive, frightened and deep underground. They do not have long to live.

Everything the Power of the World does works in a circle. The sky is round, the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for they too worship us. The sun spirit Anpetu Wi and his moonwife Hanhepi Wi come forth and go down again in a circle. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything. The tepees of the Lakota were round like the nests of birds, and were always set in a circle, the sacred hoop of the Sioux Nation.

Now is our time. We shall fall to Earth once more, we spirits, to teach the pitiful remnants of humankind the lost way; the way of the Great Mystery. Tate, the god of wind, will decontaminate the poisoned air. Untunktahe, the water god, will clean the tainted seas. Maka, earth goddess, will purify the seared land. And White Buffalo Calf Woman will re-educate the people in the Seven Sacred Rites. The Earth will become whole and beautiful and a paradise for humankind.

And then Iktomi, spider trickster spirit, will once again set his twin worms, Evil and Greed, to burrow into the hearts of men and the long, slow fall into destruction and despair will happen once more, as it has times uncountable since I first created time itself. For such is the way with circles. Everything repeats.

So speak I, Wakan Tanka, The Sacred, The Divine, The Great Spirit.


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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.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mark Ethridge Week 192: I See Angry People (Part 15)

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Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: I See Angry People (Part 15)

Another couple of days, and I reached the south end of the lake. From there, I turned south east. If I could find the animals who know of Jessica, I could find my way home. I knew I had a long walk ahead of me. The landscape was flat, with no trees. Just flat, sometimes a few hills, and a tree here or there, in the middle of nowhere.

It was terrifying in so many ways, being outside the protection of the forest, so easy to see, so easy to track, and so very much alone. It was one thing to travel by myself in the safety of a forest, or through the brush. But on the pains, it was stupid. I would be easy pickings for any group who found me, especially if they had guns. I was good with my hand made bow and arrows, but I had to be close enough to use them. And they had nowhere near the range of any gun.

I started spending my days hidden as much as possible, and walking at night. I hid in ditches, inside thickets of briars, anywhere I felt I wouldn’t be visible. I tried to sleep, but any sound woke me, birds flying overhead, mice running through the grass, the wind blowing through the briars.

Sleep was hell. Fragmented, tortured, hell. And never enough. Never enough.

Every time I saw a house, a shack, any man made structure on the horizon, I changed course to avoid it, to put it back out of sight. If I couldn’t see it, perhaps whoever was there couldn’t see me. Everything I did was to stay hidden, out of sight, where I couldn’t be found, wouldn’t be noticed.

It went on for days. Endlessly.

People always thought grass grew forever if you didn’t cut it, didn’t mow it. It doesn’t. It stops. A lot of the open fields had grass from ankle deep, to waist deep, with scattered bushes, like little oases scattered through the nothing. I used the bushes as my hiding places in the daylight. I wasn’t always alone in them. Rabbits, birds, mice, anything that lived on the plains called those bushes home. Sometimes, I was welcome, sometimes, I had to find other bushes.

And the days drug on, endlessly.

Until one day when the weather changed. And it changed rapidly. And it didn’t change for the better.

The clouds gathered in the sky, black, angry clouds. They grew in number, until they filled the sky. And they grew angrier, and angrier. At first, the temperature dropped, maybe 20 degrees, maybe more. And it grew darker. I peaked out from the bushes, and watched.

Then, there was rain. Light at first, then heavier. And it kept growing, until I couldn’t see more than 100 feet. I’d never seen rain like it. Torrential rain. Then, the wind kicked up, and the rain almost moved parallel to the ground. One moment, the rain came from the south, then the west, then the north. Always the direction changed.

And I couldn’t see a damn thing.

I hugged the ground, hoping I was safe in the few bushes I was hidden in. The wind kept growing, until it roared past my ears. The bushes were blown nearly flat, I laid prone on the ground, trying to dig my fingers into the dirt, to have anything to hold on to.

And the rain turned to ice. I’d never experienced hail before. But somehow I knew I was in a hailstorm. A nasty one at that. And I got pounded. I howled in pain, as hailstones hammered me. I had nowhere to hide, nowhere to escape them. And they fell like rain. Most were small, like frozen raindrops. Some were like blueberries, or grapes. And some were frickin’ ice cubes. A few were even the size of my fists. If I survived the hail I would be black and blue all over for days.

And the wind roared louder, and louder. I didn’t know it could get so loud. I couldn’t hear myself scream, couldn’t hear myself think. All I could hear was the howling of the wind. A howling I thought would never end. A howling that went on, endlessly, until I thought the world would end, and I would surely die.

And it ended. Just like that. Just that quickly. It ended. The wind stopped. The hail stopped. The rain stopped. And it was over.

Somehow, I got to my feet. Every bit of me ached, like I’d been beaten with a board. I tried not to breath, because each breath hurt. I wanted to curl up on the ground, and cry until the hurting stopped. Until my body went numb from the pain.

Something made me move. I tightened the straps holding my pack to me. I checked my bow and arrows, and made certain they were ready. Then I walked. Almost due East. I didn’t know why, I only knew that’s where I had to go.

I didn’t walk far before I saw what was left of a farm. A pile of twisted, shattered boards was all that was left of the barn. It looked like some giant has crushed it as he walked along. I kept heading east. Another few minutes, and I came to a small town. Really, just a few blocks. A lot like my home town. Small. Everyone who’d lived there would have known everyone else, and they’d have all been friends.

Half of it was destroyed. Two bare foundations were all that was left of two houses. Several more houses were partly gone, like someone swept parts of them away with a broom. The others were left alone.

I’d never seen such destruction.

My brain cells screamed at me as I walked toward the town, “No! You idiot! That’s the stupidest thing you can do!” And it was. A single man, armed with a wooden bow and arrows, walking into a town that might have people in it. People who might have guns. People who might decide to shoot me.

But my heart told me I had to go in. I had to see what was there.

And that’s the day I found the little boy.

I heard him crying, calling, “Mom! Dad! Where are you!”

I knocked on the wall of the house he was in. The windows had been blown out, but the house was otherwise OK. “Anybody in there?” I called.

The boy went silent.

“I heard you calling? Are you OK? Are you hurt?”

He didn’t answer.

“You stay in there, where it’s safe. If your mom and data are out here, I’ll find them. OK?”

His quiet voice answered, “OK.”

I wound up searching the town. I couldn’t find anyone. I check all the good houses first. They were all empty. Most of them had been empty for a long time. Probably years. Their insides were wrecks, filled with dust, spiders, bugs, mice, rats, and God only knew what else.

Next I checked the wrecked houses, looking for any signs of life. “Anybody there?” I called out, knowing it was stupid to do, knowing it made me a target. But I had to try.

No one ever answered.

I found two bodies, one male, one female, in the twisted, shattered remains of a house. I knew they weren’t alive. I didn’t have to check.

It took hours to pull the bodies from the wreckage.

I went back to the house the boy was in. “Were your parents the only ones here?”



The boy came to the window. “Did you find them?”

All I could do was nod.

“Where are they?” I helped him through the shattered window, then lead him to the two bodies.

When he saw them, his world ended. “Mom! Dad!”

I let him cry. What else could I do?

We stayed in the town that night. The next day, we buried his parents. I told him who I was. Told him where I was going. Told him about Jessica, and Valerie, and the others. About the little town we were building. Then I asked him if he wanted to come with me.

His name was Billy.

“Well, Billy. We should get some rest. We’ve got a long walk ahead of us.”


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


Kimberly Gould Week 192: This Sucks

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: This Sucks

A plush carpet
Stretching over years and eons
With soft divots hugging each body
Shaking space and time to the core.


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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, March 15, 2016

KendallJaye Collard Week 192: Reinvention and Renewal

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KendallJaye Collard’s Picture Choice: First

Title: Reinvention and Renewal

Looked a little ragged. Maybe worn on the corners. Nothing you’d look twice at.

But I knew there was something hidden under the layers of neglect.

So I hung a sign on the door: I AM UNDER RENOVATION.

I spent evenings there. Weekends. Every moment I could.

People asked what was wrong with me. All they saw was the ugliness. A project too big.


Eventually people stopped being curious and started being scared. People fear change.

But I didn’t let it stop me.

I polished.

I dusted.

I mopped.

I painted.


Eventually people stopped being scared and started being skeptical.

But I didn’t let it stop me.

I bled.

I sweat.

I cried.

I never gave up.


Eventually I realized I no longer cared what people thought. This was saving my soul.






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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.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Sarah Aisling Week 191: A Measure of Grace (Part 47): Question of the Day

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 47): Question of the Day

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.”

A cold burning pulses through me, taking my breath with it. Ali and I look at each other, wide-eyed. For a long moment, we don't speak.

Wesley turns sharply and strides from view. Muttered conversation comes from the speakers, but the men are too far away for us to catch the words. I'm pretty sure Axle or Pruit mention my name at least once.

Ali fumbles to switch primary feeds. By the time she figures it out, Wesley and his entourage are gone.

My mind sifts through recent memories in an attempt to understand the chilling directive the vice president just uttered, and I come up empty. “Me? Why does he want me?” Fear prickles inside, reminiscent of being threatened by a grammar school bully for no apparent reason.

“Because he's an asshole, like his dead nephew!” Ali's sea-glass eyes glint with anger. “Bet you Gibbs told the vice something about you. Not saying what he told him is true, but you heard him—they had an understanding. We just don't know what it entailed.”

“You might be right.”

“I am. We have an advantage because Wesley thinks Gibbs is still alive.” She gnaws at her lower lip with a thoughtful expression. “It's obvious Gibbs was supposed to know where Wesley wanted to meet. Did you catch that?”

I shake my head and laugh shakily. “Too busy with the part about the men leaving me for him to deal with.”

“Don't tell my brother about that.” Ali looks back at me solemnly.

I can't hide my surprise. “Why?”

“Connor will lose his shit. He needs a clear head to navigate these waters.”

A niggling spark of fear flares inside me, burning low but strong. Max would vehemently disagree with Ali on this point, but I can't in good conscience put him in a position where he has to fight to choose logic over rage. I sigh heavily. “You're right.”

Ali grips my hand tightly. “This is for the best—you'll see.”

A cool nose nudges my free hand, followed by a sympathetic whine and a lick. Grace gazes up at me, her liquid brown eyes shining with the desire to comfort me. I scratch Grace behind the ears, and her eyes squint with contentment. She rests her head on my thigh, and I continue rubbing absently as Ali and I watch the feeds closely.

We huddle together, bent over the laptop for over an hour. Soldiers take their stations. The ones inside the plant quickly disappear from view, probably seeking a shadowy place to hide and watch.

Tek activates the secondary camera at the entrance to the plant, and Ali taps on the previously dark feed. The perspective is from the ground, angled up and across, the camera’s location somewhere to the left of the door, which can’t be seen until it opens. The view is obscured in a number of places by irregular twig-like shadows.

“Clever. The camera must be in the bush next to the door!”

Ali grins. “That’s my man.”

Almost as if Tek knows we’re discussing his handiwork, the walkie-talkie crackles to life. “Ali, the camera at the plant entrance is up. The sound’s not working for some reason, but we have a decent visual.”

“Got it. What about the guys?”

“Working on it. Max, do you copy?”

My heart beats faster, the seconds stretching to feel like minutes, but there is no response. Sensing the tension in the room, Grace lifts her head to look at me.

Tek tries again. “Guys?”


Ali fidgets on her seat. “Jay, what does this mean?”

“We wait. Maybe it’s not safe to answer right now . . .” An underlying or they can’t answer echoes across the radio silence. “Max, check in when you can. I’ve been poring over the blueprints, and I should be able to guide you in.”

“What should we do?” Ali asks.

“Stay off the walkie as much as possible so we don’t kill their battery. Monitor the feeds as best you can while I keep at it with the blueprints—this place is complicated.”

“Will do.”

Ali lays the walkie-talkie on the table and bows her dark head for a few long seconds, muttering under her breath. When she finishes what I assume is a prayer, we hug one another tightly. No words are necessary, our collective fear and hope telegraphed through the tense embrace.

Wesley and a band of men huddle by the entrance to the tunnel. There are more of them than before; he must have called for reinforcements. Though we have no audio, it’s clear by the set of his shoulders and sharp gestures that Wesley is barking instructions. Soldiers break off singly and in clusters, presumably following assignments. Two enter the darkness of the tunnel, three head toward the path that clings to the side of the cliffs, and two enter the plant—one guarding the door while the other enters Gibbs’ base camp and disappears behind the equipment. Lack of illumination from the bulb Max shattered earlier allows the soldier to easily conceal himself.

Wesley looks around, his expression cold. He speaks to Axle and Pruit—the only men still beside him—then strides into the tunnel, leaving the two of them behind. Axle and Pruit confer for a few minutes. Axle stations himself outside the plant door, and Pruit takes off in the direction of the cliff trail.

Ali reports in, letting Tek—and Max, if he’s listening—know the positions of the soldiers.

And then the long wait begins.

There’s no Alliance activity over the next hour; all the men are concealed in their assigned locations. The walkie-talkie remains silent.

Andrea shuffles into the kitchen, bleary-eyed and oblivious, yawning loudly. “Can’t believe I slept half the day away!” Her bloodshot eyes widen as she spies us hunched over the laptop. “Whats going on?”

Ali explains, and I watch Andrea slowly crumple as she realizes the predicament Eric is in. I understand how she feels. Until now, I’ve managed to control my rising panic, but seeing my fear mirrored on Andrea’s face causes it to bubble inside me.

Andrea rests both palms on the table, her gaunt face punctuated by dark crescents beneath each eye. “Where are they? Why aren’t they answering?”

I place a hand over hers. “Andrea, the three of us are in the same boat. We know Max and Eric were hiding on top of some pipes that run along the ceiling and that they had to go silent to avoid being detected. We haven’t heard from either of them for a few hours. The good news is we’ve been watching the feeds carefully, and there’s been no Alliance activity for quite a while. Tek is studying the plant blueprints so he can lead the guys back to safety.”

Ali joins in. “Yeah, we just need to sit tight, monitor the feeds, and wait for them to contact us. Why don’t you take my spot, and I’ll get you coffee and something to eat.” Ali pushes up from the table and stretches, working the stiffness from her body.

Andrea drops into the chair beside me, linking her fingers with mine. “They’re going to be okay. They have to be.”


The thought of anything else is unacceptable.

Two hours feel like ten. The three of us pace the kitchen, which isn't big enough for our level of restlessness, but none of us is willing to leave the room. We side-eye one another, perhaps wondering who will crack first.

There's been no movement from the Alliance. No word from Max or Eric.

When Tek strides into the kitchen, we all descend upon him and start talking at once. He backs up against the door, holding his good arm up. “Whoa!”

Grace scuttles out from under the table and joins the melee, wagging her tail madly.

“Any word?”

“What's happening?”

“Have you found them?”

Tek holds up a roll of blueprints. “No, not sure, and no—but these will help when they get in contact.” He heads for the table we aren't using and spreads out the blueprints. There are multiple sheets filled with drawings and minuscule print.

Andrea gapes. “Oh dear God.”

Ali looks on silently, her forehead creased with concern.

I lean over the map of the power plant and attempt to make sense of what I'm seeing. “You understand this?”

Tek guffaws. “Not exactly. Why do you think I've spent the last few hours holed up alone? I've taken a ‛Blueprints For Dummies’ crash course, and I'm pretty sure I can guide Max and Eric home.”

Andrea hugs herself and shivers. “If we ever hear from them again.”

Ali offers up a Max-like glare. “We will. Maybe this didn't go exactly as planned, but it will work out.”

“I hope you're right.”

Tek snaps his fingers. “Hey, I want to show you something.” He places his index finger on a blueprint and follows a vertical path that cuts through multiple floors. “These are conduits where pipes and wires are housed. There are access points throughout the plant, used mainly for maintenance and repair. I believe I can lead them to us—the trick will be doing so without them being discovered.”

I stare at the network of conduits bisecting multiple floors. The way through looks long, complex, and tedious. “That looks narrow . . .”

“It's tight—I won’t lie—but there are metal rungs on the vertical sections. I know because I pried open one of the access points. I can show you.”

Ali remains behind to monitor the feeds. Andrea and I follow Tek into the hall with Grace at our heels.

Just outside our quarters, Tek yanks an already loosened grating off the wall, one-handed. Setting the metal plate on the floor, he digs a penlight out of this pocket and shines it inside. A snarl of cables and wires crowds the opening.

I gesture at the mass of wires. “How are they supposed to fit in there?”

Tek grins. “Oh, ye of little faith. Put your hands in the center here and spread them apart.”

Doing as he says, when I widen the narrow gap between the wires, a small tube-like structure is revealed. Rusted metal rungs line the back wall every foot or so. “Wow.”

Andrea presses closer, and I make room for her. She shudders. “I feel claustrophobic even from out here!”

Tek nods. “Yeah, not my first choice, but that's the only way they can get to us.”

The walkie-talkie strapped to Tek's belt emits a series of staticky bursts with a rhythmic hum in the background. “What the—” He hands me the penlight and grabs the walkie-talkie, listening carefully. A pattern develops, repeating over and over.

Ali's excited voice breaks in. “Connor? Is that you?”

More staticky hums come in answer.

“Oh my God—are you all right?”

I pull my hands from the nest of wires and whip around to face Tek. “We need to find out what the heck is going on!”

We race for the kitchen while Ali continues peppering the airwaves with questions. Ali paces the worn linoleum, her cheeks flushed, and holds up a finger to halt the inevitable questions.

“I'm a little rusty. Do it again.” She nods as the same pattern is repeated. “Okay, so you guys are okay, but it's not safe to talk . . . Okay, okay . . . Tek has figured out a way to guide you in using access conduits . . . Yes, all the way down.”

There's an extended silence.

Tek puts an arm around Ali. “What in the world?”

“Morse code. Learned it when we were split up in foster care. Connor had one walkie-talkie, and I had the other. Late at night, we'd send messages.” Her eyes glisten with tears. “It's coming back to me, all of it.”

I have the sense she's referring to far more than secret chats with her brother.

Max transmits more code.

“Tek will guide you. I'll translate.”

Tek brings the walkie-talkie to his mouth, looking thoughtful. “First, where are you guys?”

Ali listens. “Not far from where they were. Alliance men are close by . . . and their fucking muscles are cramping.” She offers up a tense smile.

Tek consults the blueprints, sliding his finger horizontally. “Okay, go deeper into the plant and hang your first left. Guesstimating you'll have to travel . . . about five hundred feet.”

Ali's smile widens. “You don't want to know what he said that time.”

The painstaking process continues as Max transmits, Ali translates, and Tek provides directions. Andrea and I monitor the feeds and try to approximate where in the walls Max and Eric are so we can warn them of any Alliance soldiers.

Tek tells them to wait and spends a good while poring over the blueprints. He traces one path and then another before raking clawed fingers through his hair and uttering a string of expletives. He outlines the routes again and shakes his head. “You're not going to like this, but the only way I see this working is if you climb out through the grate just ahead, go to the right about . . . twenty yards . . . and enter the conduit on the left. That one leads straight down here. It's a long way to climb, but it looks like it can be done.”

My head and Andrea's snap up in unison.

“Are you crazy?” Andrea slaps her palm on the table. “You want to expose them? There are Alliance men on that floor!” She jabs a finger at the screen where we know Alliance soldiers hide in the shadows.

Tek looks miserable. He raises the walkie-talkie, lowers it, then raises it to his mouth again. “As Andrea just pointed out, there are Alliance soldiers on that floor. We saw them go in but have no idea where they might be lurking. This is risky, no doubt about it.”

Max's answer comes a minute later.

Ali translates, her expression a mix of exhilaration and fear. “Let's do this.”

“Let me get to the control room. Maybe I can give you a bit of auditory camouflage.” Tek tucks the blueprints under his injured arm and grabs Ali's arm, indicating she should come with him. “You two keep monitoring the feeds and signal if you see movement.”

Andrea grabs my hand, squeezing so tight it hurts. I squeeze back just as hard.

About ten minutes pass before Tek's voice comes from the walkie-talkie. “Popping that grate is going to make some noise. I want you to wait for a recording to start before you move. Get ready . . . one, two, three . . .”

A loud bleat sounds from a PA system I never noticed before. Sure enough, there's something resembling a bullhorn mounted in the corner of the kitchen. After two shorter bleats, a recording begins. “Attention. Attention. This is an emergency protocol drill. All techs report to your stations and initiate emergency protocols.

Andrea bounces on the chair. “Look! There they go!”

The grate falls to the floor. Max and Eric climb out and fit the vent back in place. Dirt and grime streaked by rivulets of sweat cake their skin. Their clothes are filthy, rumpled, and torn in places. They hurry to the right as Tek instructed.

The PA system squawks the message over again.

Max crouches, his fingers working fast to unscrew the rivets holding the vent on. This one is on hinges, and he lifts it, pressing his way through the snaking wires. Max's voice comes from the walkie-talkie. I think he said, “I'm in,” but it's difficult to make out his words with the PA system going.

“Oh, no!” Andrea's nails dig into my arm, and she reaches for the walkie-talkie with her other hand and presses the transmit button. “Someone's coming!”

Max's response is garbled. “What? Can't . . . you.”

“Get in! Someone's coming!”

A pulsing starts in my temples, and the breath seems to rush from my lungs.

An Alliance soldier creeps slowly along the hall around the corner from Max and Eric. Max is fully inside the wall. Eric is about to follow when something grabs his attention. He shoves the vent closed and moves swiftly in the other direction.

“No, no, no!” Andrea wails, jamming a fist to her mouth.

Eric disappears around the corner just as the soldier turns into the hall where Max is concealed.

“Oh, thank God!” Andrea sags in the chair.

I release a breath. “He just has to wait until that guy goes back. Then he can join Max.”

This was a scheduled emergency protocol drill. All employees may now return to work. Thank you.

The soldier looks back and forth then shrugs, muttering something into his mic before retreating.

The PA system goes silent, having completed the prerecorded message. A residual high-pitched whine echoes in my ears. Grace sinks to the floor and shakes her head, pawing at her ears.

Tek's relieved tone comes over the walkie-talkie. “That was close.”

From the vantage point of the camera, we can see the vent Max is hidden behind and part of the hall where the soldier is. Eric peeks around the wall a few times before approaching the grating.

“Freeze, asshole!” The shout comes from behind Eric, and another soldier morphs from the shadows.

Eric flings both arms up. “Hey, I'm one of you—Ah!”

The soldier tasers Eric, who goes down hard. Tremors shake his large body, and he tries to speak but can't seem to form words.

The other soldier careens around the corner, taser in hand. “Where the fuck did he come from?”

“Now that's the question of the day, isn't it?”


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

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Jen DeSantis Week 191: Rebirth

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Jen DeSantis’ Picture Choice: 1

Title: Rebirth

The plan was set. Warren had set me up with all of the money and fake ids I would need, along with a solid cover story. I was going in. Going away. But was I really ready to take this jump?

“All set, Casey?” Warren asked, using my new name.

I nodded and began packing the most important parts of my new life into a bag. I took a look around the barren room in which we stood. I could see the ghost of the life that I was leaving behind in the divots on the carpet where my furniture used to be and the shadows on the wall where family pictures used to hang. They were all long gone, the way that I would soon be, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t recall them all with perfect clarity.

I was no longer that woman. Janice Haggerty, with her perfect suburban life and her manicured nails, no longer existed: not on paper and not in reality. Warren had made her disappear into the ether. Casey Bloom, the mysterious immigrant from England, was all that was left.

I still had Janice’s small nose and her blue eyes, but that was all that was left. Minor plastic surgeries had changed the size of my lips, the curve of my cheeks, and the shape of my eyes. I looked in the mirror and saw a stranger. I saw Casey Bloom.

Still, I didn’t know that woman.

Sure, I had her history memorized, ready to regurgitate it on command at a second’s notice. But what was Casey’s favorite color? Could it be green like it was when I was Janice, or was that too risky? What music did Casey like? What was her favorite drink at the bar?

These were all questions that Warren’s dossier didn’t cover. I’d asked him, and he told me I was overthinking this. To just let the personality flow with the new face and history. But I was no spy at that time. I was just a suburban housewife whose entire life fell out beneath her.

It was almost three months ago when a hitman took out my entire family. One by one, my husband and then my three girls were shot dead in front of my eyes as we ate breakfast around the kitchen table. Nothing could have prepared me for the feeling of cold horror that poured through me as I set the waffles on the table, looked up with a smile on my face, and saw the life drain out of Eric’s face as a stain of red appeared on his crisp white shirt.

He slumped over before I could scream and then Kitty cried out in pain. She was dead before she hit the table. I screamed and tried to pull Claire under the table with me, but she was already hit in the head. And then Alice went and I was alone in the house with my dead family.

I waited, millions of thoughts running through my mind as I tried to imagine why. I knew I was next. I wondered where my bullet was. I almost wanted it, so I could join my family. So this horror could be over.

But nothing came. I heard the sirens first, but the police never showed up. And then the men in black suits arrived. They ushered me into my back room and changed my life forever.

That was the first time I met Warren, my husband’s boss who I had never even heard of. I thought Eric was a traveling salesman, but no. Warren told me he had always been a spy for the government. Someone who he had targeted was after his family. Warren’s men figured I was an oversight. Whoever did the job must have assumed I was dead under the table and didn’t bother to check.

“Amateurs,” Warren had scoffed.

I cursed their existence for leaving me to live a life without my family. But the time for wallowing was short. In the few months, Warren and his organization had brought me into the fold. They told me my other life was over; it had to be. If whoever killed my family found out I was still alive, they’d stop at nothing to kill me. I insisted I was no threat to anyone, but they told me it didn’t matter.

And so I was “buried” along with my family. Everyone we knew mourned the senseless homicide that killed the entire Haggerty family. I watched from a remote location as my girls and my husband were laid to rest alongside a casket filled with stones with my name on it.

I was dead. And then I came back to life.

In time, Warren and his men began to trust me. They taught me to fight. They taught me the ropes of their organization. They made me into a spy.

And then they made me Casey Bloom.

“Your first target is a small, family owned market. They sell remedies, but they also sell secrets to the highest bidder. You have to infiltrate and then neutralize.”

The last thing I picked up was the low-profile gun Warren had gifted to me when I completed the program. I slid it into my thigh holster underneath my dress.

“Got it,” I said in Casey’s light, cockney accent.

“You’re ready for this,” Warren said.

It wasn’t a question, and all of Janice’s doubts faded away. I wasn’t that woman anymore. I wasn’t scared of my future. I was ready.

“Thanks, boss,” I said with a small smile.

I chanced a glance in the mirror as I walked out of my house for the last time. I was all Casey now, and I was ready to go.


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


Monday, March 7, 2016

Laura James Week 191: The Retreat (Final Part)

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Laura James’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: The Retreat (Final Part)

Todd was knackered and filthy. Neither Joan nor Fred had helped him sort Mary's body so it wouldn't be found easily. All they had done was bark orders at him whilst they ate through the picnic he had helped Joan pack. His mind was in turmoil, what had he gotten himself involved in. Normally the most he had to worry about was the odd nasty letter or a drink in the face when folk found out he was responsible for their termination.

Sitting alone with his thoughts he was startled when a bottle of water was thrown at him. "You should drink that before we get going."

"Thanks." He opened the bottle, noticing that the seal hadn't been broken so it was safe. He mentally chastised himself for thinking that either of his companions would be trying to poison him, what had happened had to be spur of the moment. Nothing in either of their files gave any indication of violence or even thrill seeking behaviour.

Todd downed half the bottle of the water the stretched his wet legs out in front of him. "Hey guys, what next?"

It was Joan who had thrown the water and it was Joan who approached him now. "Well we'll say that Mary grew tired with the treasure hunt and headed back to the hotel. We will continue and finish. That way no one will start looking for her until we get back." Frank interrupted, "If we play our cards right and suggest she hated this idea and threatened to go home, we might even have till Monday before anyone misses her."

Todd nodded as he stood, "You've thought of everything I see." He pulled at his damp trousers "I don't relish walking about in these but I suppose I have no choice." Grabbing his backpack he moved off following the stream, hating having Joan and Frank to his back but needing them to trust him he had to show no fear.

The small group walked in silence until the stream headed underground and the land sloped upwards. "I don't suppose anyone has any idea where the next clue is?"

"Not our problem, we'll walk for another few hours or so then head back to the hotel. We've been heading north, north west so as long as we head south eventually we'll find the hotel grounds."

Todd smiled at Frank, "Ok, onward and upward." He had put the incident with Mary behind him, if he were honest it saved him a lot of trouble. The fact that Joan and Frank had committed the ultimate crime was something he could use, he knew his bosses would believe him. This was certainly the weirdest assignment he had been given but at the end of the day he was convinced all would turn out fine.

After a couple of hours they came across the remnants of an old building, bits of shingle and tile lay amongst the leaves on ground. "Why don't we rest here for a bit, then we can head back." Todd watched as Frank dropped the rucksack he was carrying at Joan's feet "Fancy sharing out what's left." He then turned and walked a bit away from them.

"Where you going Frank?" Todd called after him.

"Just off to walk the snake, been a while."

Todd wandered closer to the building remains pondering how he would be able to get away from Frank and Joan long enough to report what happened to Mary. He was concentrating so hard that he didn't hear anyone behind him until he felt a sharp pain on the back of his head. He fell forward landing on his face with a thud.

Barely conscious he was aware of being rolled over then dragged closer to the derelict the building. Then he heard whispering "Are you sure we should do this Frank?"

"Yes, we can't trust him. As soon as we get back he'll tell everyone what we did. If he doesn't come back, then he'll take the fall when Mary is found.”

"But no one will believe him. We're a team, us against him. If we tell the same story he'll look like fool. No one at work trusts him."

"Sorry but I'm not willing to take that chance."

Todd moaned slightly and tried to speak, but the words refused to leave his mouth.

"I think leaving him here is good enough. Take this."

Through half shut eyes Todd saw Frank pass Joan a piece of broken wood. "No, please don't." But his words fell on deaf ears as the pair standing above him started to pound on him with the wood.


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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