Category Archives : Stories


“Cold” by James Schwartz

The streets are wet with gray snow that sprays it's icy raw with each step. A bitter winter wind blows through you, disregarding layers of clothing to clutch at your throat.

Down one street and another you trudge. Each step brings you closer yet you disbelieve you'll ever get there. All you can think of is the cold, unable to think of anything else.

The slush from the streets has worked itself through your shoes leaving your feet numb and socks soaked.

Finally those disbelieving steps have ended and carried you here. You walk up the sidewalk and into the door. You enter with the confidence of having been here before. You enter embracing the warmth which surrounds you, embraces you and kisses your laughing skin. Only your feet are uncomfortable, reminding you of the cold.

You walk down the hallway and knock on the apartment door.

You're gripped with the usual fear that he's not home. Two knocks, three...

He is and the door creaks open. At once you sense something wrong. The door does not swing open merrily inviting you in. Nor does he.

He was sleeping. Tired. Come back later.

Yes, you say, yes I will. I love you. You hear the lie in his carefully guarded cold voice and see it in his carefully guarded cold eyes.

Your eyes fill with tears as you return down the hallway and exit through the door.

The cold startles you with it's cruel intensity, mocks you.

I was waiting for you all along it whispers, ruthlessly murdering the warmth.

The tears fall faster now but it doesn't matter. They course down your face and freeze. Turn to ice.

All that matters is the cold.

“Undercover Love” by Shaun Avery

I had been buying more and more clothes lately, trying to make him notice me, but so far nothing had worked. That's why tonight I was taking the direct approach, and heading over to see him.

Getting in to see him wasn't easy, but I've always been a resourceful, maybe even sneaky, kind of girl, and a little shattered glass grazing my arm through my new blouse didn't bother me too much. Nor did the sound of alarms, which I managed to blank out, concentrating instead on the passion that coursed through me, that left me breathless as I observed my love, silhouetted against the window.

"My darling," I said. "I've come for you."

His back to me, he made no reply, but this didn't bother me; I hadn't expected this to be easy, and his playing hard to get would only make our eventual embrace all the more volatile. Which is just how I like it, after all.

"I've noticed you watching me," I told him. "Like what you see?"

He did not reply with words, but I could feel his eyes watching my reflection in one of the many mirrors dotted around the place, and his gaze made me feel wild, made me feel naughty, so I started dancing, rubbing myself, sliding my top up to display a small portion of my smooth, flat stomach, tantalising him. Still he did not come to me, but I was glad of that; I was enjoying putting on a show, and saw no need to stop yet.

"Too dressed for you?" I asked, feeling bold all of a sudden. "Don't worry, that can be changed." And with that, I began to strip, letting all of my clothes drop to the floor, trying to ignore the wind that flew in through the shattered window behind me, sending a chill through my firm buttocks.

"You like that?" I asked, and walked over to him, stroking his shoulders through the top he was wearing.

He seemed reluctant to take the lead, but I put this down to the fact that he had been standing in the same spot for weeks on end. I knew that he had been waiting patiently for me, and that was why I had broken into the clothes shop to be with him.

But no matter how hard I kissed him, the man that my jealous friends told me was just a mannequin would not kiss back.

“Letter From the Past” by Brittany Sohrweide

"Where is it Tom?!" Nancy screamed at the top of her lungs. "I know it's around here. Tell me where it is!"

"I really don't know what you're talking about Nancy."

Tom's eyes were tearing up but he refused to break down; he had to be the strong one. He knew it was mentally impossible for Nancy to be strong.

Nancy had been diagnosed with schizophrenia only a few years into her marriage with Tom and she thought Tom had been cheating on her with a woman named Gene.

Nancy tore up the house for the third time that week. There was a dent in the wall from her throwing the smooth mahogany antique dresser into the wall because of the suspicion of infidelity. The mirror that lay delicately on the top of the dresser broke all over the icy hard wood floor. Tom was sitting on the bed with sympathy and tears swelling up in his eyes. His once muscular and proud frame slouched on the soft, but cold, plush bed just waiting for Nancy to come over and fight him. He knew he would never fight back, so he sat motionless waiting for the storm. His soft brown hair lay in straggles on top of his head from Nancy pulling it, trying to get an answer from him. As she ripped and tore through each drawer in the house, Tom watched helplessly from the desolate bed. She suddenly slowed down and looked aimlessly into the drawer. Then she slowly and delicately picked up a loose sheet of dark oak plywood that was lying on the bottom of the drawer.

"What's this, Tom?"

She turned around; her slim body spun around with ease as her floral dress carefully wisped around in the summer air as if time, just for that short second, slowed down. Her bulging green eyes glimmered as tears hung from the bottom of each eye lid; she had been crying for sometime now. Tom looked at her as he always had, he looked at her with sympathy, with love, with care, with contempt. More than ever this time, he wished he could just help her be the person he knew she was on the inside. He wanted to take away every fight, every panic attack and every suspicion her mind told her she had. Her naturally tight curled, fiery red hair fell down the front of her glistening, freckled pale shoulders and chest. She took her hand and gently moved her thick, hot hair off her heavy breathing chest. She held an old, yellowed letter in her other hand. She calmly but firmly forced herself to ask, "There's no other woman, right? Then what is this Tom. What is it?

She pursed her slightly damp orange colored lips together. She looked at Tom in a way she never had before. She looked at him like she could finally put this to rest. Tom was sitting on the bed with his face hanging low, almost in his muscular chest. He sat there and thought how he didn't know if he could handle Nancy's tantrums and suspicions any longer. As he lifted his heavy head, his glance stopped where he saw the old letter in Nancy's hands. His eyebrows lifted high among his brown eyes.

He started to panic. He had never seen that paper in his life. He cried out to Nancy, "I've never seen that paper in the drawer before Nancy; you have to believe me."

Nancy thought she had finally found the proof she had been looking for. She carefully traced her eyes on the letter and hung unto every word. She gasped and held her thin, pale hand over her now opened soft lips. She slowly began to look at Tom sitting on the bed by himself. He still sat there quietly waiting, worrying and wondering if he could ever convince her that she had always been and always will be his one true love.

"Tom," she spoke softly so that he could barely hear her, "I need to lie down."

Tom obeyed her and very softly walked over to her, grabbed her with one arm around her hip and grabbed her hand with his. He walked her slowly to the bed and laid her down sympathetically and caringly because he knew how trying her episodes were on her body. Her frail body laid effortlessly on the comforting bed. As Tom and Nancy laid on the bed together, there was a warmth between them which they haven't felt in a long time. All she could do was look and read the letter over and over again. All Tom did was look into her eyes passionately and understanding. He wanted to say something but he couldn't. He enjoyed the silence, stillness and the closeness he was feeling towards his Nancy. He didn't want to ruin the moment he missed so much. He nervously opened his mouth and took a deep filling breath and spoke the same words he had said to her time and time again, "Nancy, look, I know you think I've had an affair, but I love you and respect you more than any person I have ever met. I haven't had an affair, and I don't plan on it."

After a long period of silence, Nancy began to open her dried lips and spoke to Tom in her broken and dried up voice, "You have to read this letter, it's nothing like anything I've ever read."

Tom brought his head up in surprise. He didn't know what to say. He wasn't expecting Nancy to say what she said. She said nothing about an affair, she said nothing about a suspicion. What she had said was completely true, not part of her fallacy. This time Tom saw Nancy. Not Nancy the overwhelmed, crazy and jealous wife. He saw the light- hearted caring, romantic Nancy who was now crying softly with a sort of smile upon her once unhappy lips. Tom wondered why and how this letter could've changed Nancy's mood so dramatically.

Tom, almost unmoving, took the letter from Nancy's clinging fingers and read:

Dear Ingrid,

I know you are waiting so solemnly for me at home. I wish we weren't separated by this war but I have an obligation to fight. I hope you remember how deep my love for you is and I hope you know a moment does not pass that I don't think of you. You are true to me, dear to me and I'll never forget that you will always love me. This I am sure of. Don't worry about me here. I known the love we share can conquer the best, the worst and the most horrible of times. And if you happen to go crazy missing me, I hope you know I will be just as crazy without you. I wish so much we could be in our house together, walking among the hard wood floors, seeing our reflection in our long life-size mirror and lying together like we were meant to be in this same moment. Instead I sleep here in this small tent and cold blanket but every night I think of us, because it's the only thing that keeps me alive. Though I wake up to the same horrible camp with all the other men, I'll remember the dreams of us of when we were happy and there wasn't a care in the world. So, darling, if I don't come back to you; I wish to die in my sleep dreaming of your beauty and wonder walking hand and hand with me upon the beach down by our beautiful house. With all the possible love in the world,

Your husband, your confidant, your love;

William Anderson


Tom looked in disbelief. He now knew what had changed Nancy. He knew that from now on things would be different. He could feel it, and he could see it on Nancy's face. Now more than ever, Tom wanted to fix things with Nancy, He wanted to get her help and this time it was different because now she wanted the help.

As the years go by when Nancy and Tom got into fights, they pulled out the yellowed but beautiful letter they had read so long ago. They would remember the reason why they love each other and how they would never feel complete without the love that they had for each other.

“Avery and the Giant Plane” by Amber Herther

Avery at the age of eight jumped excitedly as he was going to fly for the first time. He went to the airport to get on a plane to go to Pennsylvania to visit his grandparents. His parents Jeff and Bridgett began going through security check and Avery followed behind, a good distance away.

"Come on, Avery, there are a lot of people in here and I don't want to lose you!" exclaimed Bridgett. He took a few steps toward her in a fast motion until she turned around. Then he fell behind again. As he slowed down, he looked out the window at the runway, and all the planes that were coming in and out. Avery always had a dream to fly and then become a pilot when he got older. He walked around the airport with little expression. There was nothing that interested him, on the inside. All he saw was a sea people, in a hurry to get somewhere. They were always pushing and shoving, he thought. He saw a door that was marked "Do not exit this door unless an airport personnel." Avery thought that it would be okay because he saw that there were airport personnel out on the runway. Avery felt that he could slip away, get a look at the planes and be back before his parents even noticed. Little did he know, that the runway could be so dangerous. He saw a big plane coming in for a landing and he watched in amazement.

Jeff and Bridgett went through security and turned around grab Avery so that they could get on the plane. Bridgett turned and Avery was no where to be found. She tapped Jeff on the shoulder so hard that he thought that she would leave a bruise.

"Ow!" Jeff screamed and he turned around grabbing his shoulder. "What?"

"Avery is gone!" she screamed as her eyes began to tear up.

"What, he was here a minute ago?" Jeff stated beginning to look panicked.

"AVERY!" They both shouted at the same time. In the crowd of people they heard no response. People in the airport looked frantically at them as if someone was being murdered. "Security!" They both yelled as they continued to look around. A few seconds later, they saw a tall man with dark skin, and brown eyes and smooth black hair come walking towards them. He was wearing a name tag that said Peter on it.

"What is the problem?" He asked. "With all the yelling, the other passengers are beginning to get concerned,"

"Our son he is gone and we don't know where he went!" screamed Bridgett.

"He was right here a minute ago and then when we got through security check he was gone!" Jeff exclaimed.

"What does he look like?" The security guard asked calmly as if nothing was wrong. He has learned to be calm in a situation.

"He has brown hair with green eyes. He is about four feet tall. He is carrying a red backpack, and he is wearing a pair of blue jeans and a brown jacket with a black shirt underneath," Bridgett managed to mutter between the tears and the sobs.

"How old is he?" Peter asked.

"He is eight," Jeff announced.

"Okay me and a few other security guards will be out looking for him." Peter said. They told the flight attendant and she said that they would delay the flight and check the plane in case he sneaked through security and already got on the plane.

Meanwhile, Avery still on the runway as he watched a large plane come in. He stood there with his mouth open wide as he saw the size of the plane that headed for the ground. His eyes got big and he, in amazement, said, "cool!" He looked behind him into the door that he came out of. He noticed that there were people that were running around the airport and that seemed to fascinate him some more so he decided that it was about time that he headed inside anyway. He went through the door and he looked to where his parents were standing when he left and he noticed that they were not there. He stood by the door and looked around as he began to tear up. Then a nice lady who was sitting nearby, leaned over and asked, "What is the matter?" She had dark brown hair at shoulder length and big brown eyes. She had the look of sympathy in her eyes.

"I don't know where my parents went," Avery said as he looked around because he knew that he was not supposed to talk to strangers.

"I am Becky. What is your name?" The stranger asked Avery.

"I am Avery. Have you seen my mother?" Avery asked as if he were expecting an answer.

"Honey, I don't know who your parents are but I will help you look for them if you want, my plane doesn't leave for another hour and a half," Becky said kindly.

" Okay," Avery said as he adjusted the shoulder straps on the backpack that he was wearing. Becky looked at her husband and told him that she would be back before the plane that they were headed onto took off.

Becky and Avery walked down to the board that listed all the flights and Becky asked "Where are you headed honey?"

"I am going to Pennsylvania to visit my grandma and grandpa!" exclaimed Avery. Becky looked up at the board and looked up at the board and searched for which gate that the Pennsylvania plane was taking off from. She noticed that it was Flight 21 at gate 12A. Becky headed that way as she grabbed Avery's hand gently, so that she wouldn't lose him too. They were headed in that direction, when the security guard named Peter came up to them and asked what Avery's name was.

"My name is Avery," he stated.

"It is? Well then, your parents are looking for you," he said sarcastically, as he looked at him with his concerned eyes.

" Really?" Avery asked as he was tearing up again, he was worried that his parents left without him.

"I will walk you to them," Peter offered. Becky offered to go along. They walked for a while, which seemed like forever to Avery, but finally they reached to gate that they were at when they went through security after they first arrived. Avery looked around not seeing a thing through the people. Bridgett jumped up and ran to the security guard.

"Did you find him?" she screamed as she looked around.

"Mommy!" exclaimed Avery as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

"Oh my goodness, honey, don't ever do that again!" Bridgett said as the tears rolled down her face. Jeff came up next to them and they all hugged. Peter introduced Becky to Bridgett and Jeff, they thanked her and offered her a reward but she wouldn't take it.

"The good things in life are free and I was just in the right place at the right time, and I was happy to help," Becky stated. They boarded the plane and Becky went back to her family.

When they arrived in Pennsylvania, Avery's grandparents met them at the airport and Avery said with a smile on his face, "I have a story to tell you," He explained the story on the way back to his grandparents' house, it became more funny the more that he told it. They were just glad that everyone was okay and that they made the plane trip safely. Avery never left the side of his parents in the airport again.


“Daydream” by Gary Corbi

Avi ran toward the shelter of a cluster of nearby boulders. He could hear bullets whining around him. A mortar shell landed off to his left, chewing up huge chunks of dirt and throwing them into the air. The smoke from the monastery wheat field, burning in the early morning sunlight, mixed with the heat of the Khamsin. His skin felt like it was about to catch fire; his throat was parched. Any attempt to swallow was painful. On the heights before him, he could see the machine guns of the Arab Legion. His platoon had thought they were facing irregulars. They had been told that it was imperative they take the British fortress at Latrun. In enemy hands, it would be impossible to resupply Jerusalem. If today determined Jerusalem's fate, it would fall. Attacking across a flat field against dug in machine guns and artillery had proven suicidal. His platoon had disintegrated under the heavy fire. Avi sought shelter.

Sprinting up the hill he ducked to the ground as more bullets passed above him. He crawled on his stomach to the nearest large rock. Other soldiers were doing the same. He passed a dead soldier with a red ribbon tied to his shoulder, a sergeant whom he recognized. Finally reaching cover, he ducked behind the rock and tried to regain his breath.

Perhaps a dozen soldiers were sheltered behind large irregular shaped boulders. He heard a confusing babble of Yiddish and other languages he did not recognize. New recruits fresh off the boat. Avi risked a glimpse over the rock. He tried sighting with his Enfield rife and fired at a machine gun on the ridge. Nothing. The Arab Legion soldiers were well protected. The survivors on this hillside were not. A soldier was searching the ground with his hands, moaning that he couldn't see without his glasses. Others were digging gun emplacements out of the dirt with their bare hands. Avi started digging as well. The ground was rock hard. A stone tore a gash in his thumb but he ignored it. A fingernail shredded on the ground as dirt caked under his nails. Exhausted, he stopped digging momentarily. He wished his first visit to this hill, a lovely place, had been for pleasure. He imagined a visit to the Trappist monastery, to sample their wine, or a tour of the ruins of the Crusader fort on the hill above. The monastery was in plain sight now, only occasionally obscured by the smoke drifting from the burning wheat fields.

A sudden bang and his eyes opened wide. It was several seconds before he realized he was seated on a bus. It was traveling to Jerusalem on the Tel Aviv/Jerusalem highway. It was his day off. He must have fallen asleep with his head resting on his hand. It had slipped and banged into the window of the bus. The battle had been a dream. Why Latrun? He remembered having passed a sign for Latrun several minutes before.

But this was not his first dream of Latrun. He had vivid memories of awakening from the last such dream. At work one afternoon the previous week, he was awakened from a daydream as a loud crack, followed by a roar, erupted above. The tractor he was driving was weaving uncertainly down the rows of cotton, a confused drunk becoming more obvious with each step. A Phantom, the source of the noise, streaked overhead from the desert to the south. It left a white trail through the deep blue of the sky. No clouds to obscure it; not in the falca where the last rain had been three months before. The wide cracks in the ground before him and the irrigation sprinklers about him, spoke of the parched desert.

Over to his left Bedouins had been watching him. They were spraying pesticides onto the cotton, dressed in their long sleeve shirts, slacks, and hats, the women in long black dresses, unlike the Israelis, who wore shorts and short sleeve shirts. As he corrected the tractor's path they returned to their work.

As if on cue, the bus, which had been winding through the coastal plain, entered the Judean Hills and Latrun came into view. The abandoned British fort at Latrun had been seized by the Arabs at the beginning of the War of Independence. It had posed such a threat to Jerusalem supply convoys that at least five separate attempts had been made to capture it. None had succeeded. The fort was now part of the Armoured Corps Museum, clustered with tanks from Israel's wars. A few kilometers further along the road were the rusted remains of armored convoy vehicles that had been hit and abandoned.

Avi was always fascinated by the hills of Judea. He imagined ancient settlements under the pine trees, or in the valleys below, now dense with the minarets of Arab villages. His people had lived in this land for more than three thousand years. Warriors, Prophets, Farmers.

A passing pickup truck caught his attention. Several young men were sprawled in the bed of the pickup. A German shepherd dog sat beside them staring at the traffic. The young men reminded Avi of the volunteers who worked under him in the kibbutz falca. Sprawled out comfortably with their backs against the side of the truck, they were peeling the skins from oranges. He watched them split the fruit into small sections and begin eating, tossing the peels onto the road.

The truck disappeared from view and Avi leaned his head back against the seat. He began studying the people on the bus. The driver, a stocky man with a chai chain around his neck, wore the usual shorts and short sleeve shirt. The passengers were a mix of people; Arab men wearing kaffiyehs and women with their traditional folded head cloths, long-bearded Orthodox Jews and young people Avi guessed were tourists, or volunteers from other kibbutzim.

They were fully in the Judean hills now and the ride became bumpier. The bus belched smoke as it roared past kibbutz peach orchards. It approached an Arab village that spread from the valley up the sides of a hill. Avi watched a small Crusader church flash by, with a café beside it. A few Arab men sat at tables beneath ancient trees, coffees before them, watching as the bus drove past. TV antennae peeked out above stone house fronts. The town must have looked like this for decades, the small, incremental modifications like the antennae doing little to change its character.

Soon they were entering West Jerusalem. Avi exited the bus at a stop on Jaffa Road. The afternoon sunlight glinted off the limestone buildings. Both foot and vehicle traffic was brisk. Coming to King George V, Avi turned right.

His mother, a widow, lived alone in a flat off King George V. He nodded in the direction of the Mezuzah on the doorpost before entering. His mother sat on the sofa in the apartment's large sitting room. She smiled slightly as he crossed to her side and kissed her cheek. "How are you feeling this morning? Any better." Her smile broadened. "I expect I'll survive, if my Doctor does not kill me with all this medicine." He noticed that she had been watching a football game on the television. She was a rabid fan of the sport, and especially of Maccabi Tel Aviv. At times he found her love of the sport extreme. He had asked her to take some photos of his bride, Sarah and himself on their wedding day. They had been married outdoors on the kibbutz on a gorgeous June day under the traditional chuppah. Afterwards, when it was time for the pictures, he did not see his mother. Eventually he thought to check at a neighbor's cottage where some of the guests had left their presents and cameras before the ceremony. He found her, camera in hand, admiring a football the neighbor kept on an end table, autographed by members of the Maccabi club, including Giora Spiegel and Talvi. "Mom, when are you going to stop cheering for a Tel Aviv club; you live in Jerusalem" he teased her now. "You know perfectly well that your father and I lived in Tel Aviv for several years as a young couple. That's long enough to choose a team."

The mention of his father caused Avi to look at the photograph of his father, dead for nearly five years, on an end table beside the sofa. It was an old photo, taken at Latrun one Remembrance Day. His father had been a veteran of the War of Independence and had taken part in one of the assaults on the Latrun fort. In the photograph, he stood beside a Cromwell tank used in that war. He was smiling pleasantly at the camera, one arm around his wife's shoulder. He hadn't smiled so much in his final years, becoming cynical and ill-tempered as his body failed him and the world disappointed him. He had lain in bed in a hospital his final days, frowning at almost anyone who spoke in his presence. His classical records still sat in a corner of the room, crowding a small album holder covered by recent editions of the Jerusalem Post. While she did not share her husband's taste for classical music, his mother had been unwilling to give away the albums.

Upon the walls were other photographs. The third from the left was a picture of his first girlfriend, Rina, standing between her parents. He had known her since they were teenagers, having been schoolmates. She smiled at him invitingly. She must have been in her late teens when the picture was taken, when they were briefly infatuated with each other; or to be accurate, when she was briefly infatuated with him, since his feelings for her had stayed the same for years. Last he had heard of her, she had married an American and moved there. Not wanting to know the details, he hadn't asked for any.

Seeing the pictures, Avi felt as if a chasm had sprung up between his life then and his life now. One night you went to sleep, and when you awoke, the world had changed. People to whom you had once felt close had disappeared, either to pursue their own ambitions, or forever, like his father. And you were middle-aged.

Avi went into the kitchen and prepared soup for his mother. As she ate, he sat in a chair opposite her and they talked. She told him news of their old neighborhood, which childhood friends or schoolmates had changed jobs, moved, or died. The latter group had grown distressingly large in recent years. Heart attacks, strokes, cancer. Finally, when she began to look and sound tired, he decided it was time to go. He took the dishes into the kitchen, washed them, and brought her a fresh glass of water before saying goodbye. "I'll visit again soon" he promised as she kissed his forehead. He turned on a lamp in the window before leaving.

Outside the sun was low in the sky. Avi had arranged to meet a friend who had driven into Jerusalem to deliver produce. They would meet in the Jewish Quarter near the Western Wall. The friend would drop Avi at the kibbutz on his way home. With him would ride a group of volunteers who were in the Old City tonight sightseeing. It was no more than a thirty minute walk on a gorgeous June evening to where he had promised to meet the volunteers. He wandered slowly toward the Jaffa Gate. Traffic was light; the Israeli buses had stopped running at sundown and the Arab bus terminal within the Old City was near the Damascus Gate. Bright lights illuminated the Old City walls as Avi neared the Jaffa Gate. The falafel vendors were packing to leave. David's Citadel towered above. Once inside the Old City, Avi strolled past shuttered shops. Signs dangled above his head; some in Hebrew, others in Arabic, many bearing the logos of American corporations. The only people Avi saw were shopkeepers on their way home and occasional strollers. His footsteps echoed in the silence, in contrast to the usual din. TV antennae sprouted from the tops of ancient two and three story houses. As he approached the Western Wall, the silence was replaced by the sound of prayers, echoing in all directions through the cramped and winding streets.

The street on which he was walking emptied suddenly into the plaza before the Western Wall. Floodlights lit the plaza and the Wall. He saw a group of volunteers from his kibbutz standing in a corner of the plaza talking. Having arranged a ride home for himself with a friend from a nearby kibbutz, he thought to offer them a ride as well. Approaching he introduced himself to them and they agreed to go back together. After a short conversation, Avi led them away from the Western Wall to meet his friend.

The volunteers talked among themselves as they walked. He listened as one of them described an earlier visit to Jerusalem. "It was my first weekend in Israel. Several of the English volunteers were going to Jerusalem on Saturday. I asked if I could go with them. As it was Shabbat, the Israeli buses were not running. I walked with the English volunteers to a nearby Arab town to catch the Arab bus to Jerusalem. We walked on the road, careful not to wander off it; as there were still live mines in the open fields on either side of the road. Off to the right was an abandoned Jordanian fort, captured during the 1967 war. Anyway, once we reached the Old City, I went off on my own, wandering around the city; fascinated. But I lost track of time. Too late, I remembered that the Arab buses stopped running at sunset. I rushed back to the bus station and caught the last departing bus. I relaxed, figuring I had been on time. Not fifteen minutes later, I was surprised when the bus suddenly stopped in a northern suburb of Jerusalem. The driver told me this was the last stop; he had to be back at the bus station by sunset. I had a map of the Jerusalem area with me, and used it to set a course back to the kibbutz. I had walked several miles when I came to a fork in the road. I had gone beyond the area shown on the map, so it was no help. The sun had set; in the darkness I did not recognize any landmarks from the morning bus ride. Making a guess, I took the right fork and started along it. I hadn't walked a quarter mile when I heard a voice off to my left. As it came closer I saw it was an Arab; a shepherd. His sheep were spread out on a hill behind him. He did not speak much English; but he knew the word "kibbutz." I nodded yes to his question and he pointed me to the left fork. I took his advice and within thirty minutes was back at the kibbutz, where I collapsed on a bed in the cottage of the English volunteers, listening as one of them played his guitar and sang "Homeward Bound" and some Beatles songs."

The story reminded Avi of the time he took a day trip to Jericho to see the ruins of the ancient town and of Elisha's spring. Afterwards, while walking to the Jericho bus station, a couple of young Arab women approached him. They asked if he'd share a cab to Jerusalem with them. He agreed and they rode back together. When the cab driver dropped him off near Jaffa Road, one of the young women thanked him and handed him a single rose. Avi later wondered if his blonde hair and straight, subdued features had played a role in the friendliness of the women. Friends had often commented that Avi was an unlikely looking Israeli.

Avi's friend Mome was standing beside the pickup truck waiting when they arrived at the address Mome had given. Mome lived on a kibbutz near the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway. He had come into West Jerusalem in the morning to deliver vegetables to market and had stayed for dinner at a friend's home. Another kibbutznik sat in the passenger side of the cab. Avi decided he'd share the truck bed with the volunteers, as three people would be cramped in the truck's narrow cab. He shook hands with Mome and introduced him to the volunteers. After speaking about their day for a couple of minutes, they lowered the tail-gate of the truck. Avi climbed in first and helped the others up into the truck bed. Last was a young couple. Avi put out his hand as the girl stepped toward the truck. She brushed her straight brown hair away from her eyes with a swipe of a hand and then grabbed his hand. Her cheeks broadened in a wide smile as he lifted her into the truck. The couple sat against one side of the truck while Avi leaned back against the other side. Watching them briefly, the thought occurred to him that his life was speeding up, like a tape fast forwarding ever more rapidly – try to grasp a moment, any moment, and it had already passed. He absently patted the crown of his head, rearranging the few hairs still growing amid the increasingly prominent bare skin.

Mome slammed the truck into gear. It slowly passed silent houses. As they entered West Jerusalem the scenery brightened, accompanied by the sound of traffic. Avi shifted into a more comfortable position and watched as the truck wound its way through the streets of the city; when the road crested a hill he saw West Jerusalem around him as a cluster of white lights, in the distance were the more scattered lights that meant a town or kibbutz. Above him, the stars shone fiercely down upon them, as they had for David and Solomon. The same sky, the same stars, the same cool mountain breeze on a brilliant June night. He relaxed, found his head nodding, and repositioned it.

He was sitting in the back seat of a cab. An Arab woman sat beside him. It was hot in the cab; he felt the heat of the sun on the back of his neck. The cab pulled up to a curb somewhere in the Old City. He did not recognize the street. The cab driver shouts at him that this is his stop. As he opens the car door, the Palestinian woman gives him a rose. He exits the cab. Realizing he has forgotten to thank her, he leans over and taps on the window to get her attention. She turns toward him. He starts as he sees that her face is deformed, features gone, as if blasted away. The cab pulls away from the curb. He starts walking in no particular direction and comes upon a burning car. Flames shoot up from the car. He walks past the car, faster now, only to come face to face with a foreigner who plants himself in front of Avi and begins to lecture him in American accented English. "Both sides will turn this treasure into a land of nightmares" the man says. Avi starts to protest, but the man is gone. He turns to search for him and sees dozens of young Arabs, children and teens, stalking him, both behind him and as he spins around to look, on either side. They are talking loudly, excitedly, and then begin to shout, demanding their land and homes back. Avi tries to argue "This land never belonged to you" but they will not listen, instead shouting even louder.

He awoke suddenly. Looking over the side of the pickup, he saw that they had turned off the main highway onto the road to the kibbutz. The truck slowed momentarily as it began the ascent of a small hill. He dream left him feeling discouraged. "All life is a great burning" he thought, "a burning of energy, a slow wearing down."

The pathway to his cottage was deserted. He stopped at his door, and unusual for him, touched the Mezuzah on the doorpost. Two young boys were in the living room; the sons of Sarah's cousin, who also lived on the kibbutz. Usually the boys would have been in the children's house at this hour. Sarah must have invited them over for the evening. The eldest, a serious and imaginative boy of four was sitting in a chair reading a book. The younger, a two year old with blond, curly hair was disassembling a toy. Avi picked the boy up and gently removed the toy from his hand. "This boy is going to grow up to be either an engineer or a mechanic" he said to himself, shaking his head at the child. The boy looked at him curiously and spread his open hands palms up as if saying "What did I do wrong?"

He crossed to the bedroom. His wife was busy making their bed. He watched her as she bent over to tuck in the sheets. Her back was improbably narrow; suddenly swelling into a melon like arc at her hips. Avi stepped behind her and placed his hands on her waist and his lips on the nape of her neck. She turned startled, and then smiled and placed a hand under his chin; gently lifting it away from her. She gave him a brief kiss on the lips and then said in a rapid fire staccato: "Glad to see you're home. How is your Mother? Good? I missed you. A brief pause followed by "Would you grab the pillow cases and bring them here?" "You are entirely too neat" he muttered, shaking his head. He placed a hand gently upon her nearest shoulder before crossing the room to retrieve the pillow cases.

“My Life as a Woman” by Glen Bear Smith

Recently I accompanied my wife, to Dillards (one of those overpriced yuppie, trendy department stores) to do a bit of shopping. I soon found myself in the ladies makeover area.

OH, MY! Now this was quite a fright. One of these gargoyle creatures was about six feet tall and maybe weighed in at 120 pounds. She had on more makeup than Boy George in the day.

She was cackling like an old hen and her laugh sounded worse than the girl at Wal-Mart over the loud speaker. Her measurements were a perfect thirty-six;.......... twelve, twelve, twelve. She was running back and forth trying to make sure the other ladies did not miss their chance to be addressed by Fidelliah. Now, I saw I was not going to escape very soon. So I sat back and watched as these sales ladies transformed regular-looking women into something out of a sci-fi magazine.

It was not enough to simply do their faces. Oh, no! They had to do the hair and the nails and all of it right there in front of god and everyone else.
Now I have to tell you, these women have to be the greatest sales people on the planet. Not only did they convince their customers they were now as beautiful as Laura Banks, but then proceeded to hit them for $120 for the stuff they so expertly applied to their faces.

When these women got up and trotted off to the ladies room for a better look, I noticed that they looked refreshed when they came out with most of it wiped off. My heck, I felt like a rooster in a hen house. Never in the history of man had another male been privy to the sights and sounds I experienced that day.

Many of the women asked me if I was next. I told them "Sure, ever since I got the sex change I have long missed the excitement of this moment." The ladies looked at me as if I had three eyes and four ears. (I am six foot two inches tall and weigh two hundred and fifty pounds.) I just loved the way they made a wide berth around me from that moment on.

It was about this time Fidelliah figured I was really telling the truth, because she came over and told me that she was so impressed that I would come out and be a part of all this. Then she confided that she had made the change from a man to a woman five years before. Now that just about did it, until she(?) confided in me that her boob job was a disaster. Well you coulda knocked me over with a feather. She was as flat as the floor she stood on.

I searched desperately for my wife to give me some support. She was laughing so hard, she just about peed her pants... Well I managed a thank you for sharing that, and then (I am so embarrassed to say) broke out in such a belly laugh, I fell off from the stool I had been sitting on... Needless to say, the entire floor erupted into a free for all of laughter to relieve the tension that was so thick you could cut it with a meat cleaver.

My wife collected her things, and hurriedly paid for her makeup and tore me the hell out of there, with the other women thanking me for making their day... I was so pleased to get out of there until Smitty (My nickname for my wife) informed me I was the one who would be taking the makeup back for a refund. I felt like I had just caught my foreskin in my zipper. The pain of walking back into that area was far more than I could bear. I paid one of my employees $20 to do it for me.

I do not think I will be shopping there with my sweetheart again soon. I got a call from the store manager pleading me to come back because the morale of her department had never been so high.

GO FIGURE.

“My Childhood Memories” by Virginia Muller

When I was three years of age, my mother passed away. My dad's brother took me with his family to live for a period of time. Some of my happiest memories of childhood occurred while living with my aunt, uncle and two cousins on their farm. One cousin was a few months older than me, and we really used to stir some mischief.

Being a "farm kid" carried much responsibility, but we always had time for fun. You learn early-on what life is about. From the age of five, I remember gathering eggs from the chicken coop, watch my uncle hold the eggs to a light, making sure they were fresh, pack them, and sell to rural neighbors and "Addy's" local grocery store.

My oldest cousin would chase a chicken, catch it, hold it's head over a wooden block, and decapitate it with an ax. That old chicken would flop about the barnyard for the longest time. My aunt would then dip that chicken in water, hot enough to pluck the feathers, then clean it for Sunday dinner. I still remember the horrible smell of that wet chicken!

There was an old "out-house" behind that chicken coop. Luckily it was a two seater, none of us liked to go there alone at night.

We milked cows, twice a day, I was too small to do much, so I had the job of washing the cow udders. Grateful that I wasn't the one that had to help clean the barn. I was not allowed in the hog pen, I was told those "porkers" were mean!

Hay balers came when that season came around. My aunt, cooked and baked for hours to feed men that came to help farm. It was my job, after meals, to stand on a milking stool and dry dishes, many, many of them. I remember, too well, the old pump handle on the side of the sink.

Butchering was just part of the routine. Hogs, cattle, rabbits, chickens, whatever. The best part of farm life was being able to keep the stray animals, finding kittens in the barn, catching pups that people would abandon along country roads.

All three of us had a pony to ride. We'd pick blackberries on the side of the hill, and look for mushrooms in the woods. Occasionally we would forget the time, be late getting home for dinner and chores. We were too busy being cowgirls and Indians. There was one time I was the good cowgirl, my cousin was the bad Indian. I left him in the creek, hanging by a rope (not like you are imagining) it was a loose rope, and he was standing on a rock in the middle of the creek. Nonetheless, I got thrashed for leaving him there. He could not get out of the creek, and it was dark by the time my uncle found him and brought him home. I was in "deep" trouble!

Bonnie, Bo-Peep, and Doc, our three ponies, were as much a part of our family as our relatives.

Halloween, a great time. We would shuck corn and my uncle would take a pick-up truck bed full of "trick or treaters" on Beggars Night. If no treats, the worst we ever did was throwing corn on people's porches.

Ah, Thanksgiving. All the family, aunts, uncles, cousins, and good friends were included. Each of them brought their special dish, boy, did we eat! After dinner, women did dishes, put things away, then off to a room to talk, talk, and talk some more. The men retired to a sitting room to listen to ball games on an old Philco radio.

We kids, on the other hand, went outside, into the cold and played until practically frozen. We had snowball fights, sleigh rides, and played hide-'n-seek. Such innocent fun when we were young.

Christmas was the best holiday ever! We would cut down a tree, make chains of ribbon, string cranberries and popcorn to decorate this beautiful pine. Again, it was for all the closeness, like Thanksgiving. We each got one gift, and were always pleased with whatever it was, homemade, store bought, it didn't matter.

Church, of course, a given, no excuses. Sunday after dinner was a time to listen to my aunt play the organ as we attempted to sing hymns along with her wonderful sounds of music.

Our clothes were homemade, but love was in abundance. My grandfather was in a rocking chair, walked with a cane. I recall him chasing me across the kitchen when I had done something ornery. I would run down the basement stairway because I knew he could not come after me. I should have been kinder, he did teach me to be a pretty good checker player.

Growing up, I was adopted and my life was moved to the city. This part of my life was not the most memorable. My new parents were alcoholics, spent most of their time at the Eagles, Moose, or anywhere they could congregate and drink.

My first kiss, WOW, I was in the sixth grade. My adoptive mom found my first-hand-written love note. Can you imagine? I was grounded for that! My best friend and I got caught sneaking out with clothes we wanted to wear, but weren't allowed. Grounded again! Interestingly enough, my best friend married the boy that gave me my first kiss!

Another memory I recall is not having a driver's license, but a friend talked me into driving her sister's stick shift, foreign car. We side-swiped a bus in our travels that night, but we didn't get caught, made it home safe, sound. Her sister never did find out how her fender got dented! (If I thought my kids would have done such things, I would have locked them in a room!)

Playing spin the bottle, and, oh, the girl ask boy dances. Could there be any better memories?

“At the Frontier of Prejudice” by Leslie Cohen

Nothing fits me right! Since the operation, all my clothes are too tight in the waist and too loose in the shoulders and the hips. And I still get dizzy every time I stand up.

It all started with the accident. I was in a car crash, but I don't remember it at all. I was dragged out of the wreck unconscious, and I had an operation after that.

While I was coming to, I heard voices somewhere above me.

"Her head was crushed. She's lucky to be alive at all," said one of them.

"I know," said another. "Both of the parents were killed."

Another voice whispered, "That crazy doctor, Antoine Watteau - he finally did what he was planning to do!"

"Oh, my God!" the other voices responded.

"Are you awake, dearie?" someone asked me, in a voice tinged with artificial cheer. I didn't answer. I sensed I couldn't trust anyone.

After that, I twisted and squirmed all night long, trying to break out of the body I had been sewn into. I knew it wasn't my own body and I couldn't stand being in it. I thrashed all over the bed until I fell on the floor and I was ready to dig my teeth into anything made of flesh. But the floor felt like concrete and I was surrounded by hard metal objects.

In the morning, as I lay on the floor in pain, a man entered my room and rushed to help me. I was so furious that I wanted to lash out at him, but I caught his eye, or maybe he caught mine, and I was transfixed. I couldn't move. I was paralyzed. Hypnotized.

That was Antoine, and it was love at first sight. Mad as I was, I couldn't strike out at him.

Antoine gently picked me up and put me back into the bed. He sat by my side and stroked me from shoulder to toe, while speaking to me in a soft, calm voice. "Relax, Selena, just relax," he said. He stayed with me all day long and I started to feel like maybe I would be okay.

I complained to Antoine that I got dizzy whenever I tried to stand up, so he brought in a couch and propped my head up on soft pillows. Now I could half sit and half lie down. That made me feel much better. But something so strange had happened to me - I knew I'd never feel normal again.

In the weeks that followed, Antoine spent hours with me every day. He told me he was my surgeon, and promised not to leave me with the nurses who were so nasty to me. They all looked at me as if I was some sort of a monster, instead of a teenage girl who had just been orphaned. Even though my eyesight was still blurry, I could see the disgust in their eyes. Every time one of them came near me, I could feel my flesh crawl with loathing.

But Antoine was kind to me. He would spend hours just stroking my back very, very gently.

"It's been a terrible shock," he said, with his warm hand resting on my spine. "Of course you feel awful."

I cried a lot during those first few weeks, and Antoine didn't try to stop me. He said, "Those tears will wash out your eyes and help you see better. They'll clean out the pain in your heart, too."

Antoine understood me so well! I was thrilled when he told me that I would be going home with him, instead of to the orphanage that the social worker had told me about. The orphanage sounded scary - I just knew it would be filled with people looking at me in that ugly, threatening way.

Antoine had fixed up a room especially for me. He had taken things from my old bedroom: some clothing, my fluffy pillows and even my stuffed dolls, so everything smelled familiar and felt comfortable.

Even so, none of my clothes fit me right. Antoine says that's because the accident twisted my whole body out of shape.

My eighteenth birthday is coming soon and Antoine says I don't have to go back to high school if I don't want to. I can't remember anything about my studies anyway, and the books Antoine brought from my old bedroom don't mean a thing to me. The only stuff from my old room that really interests me is my disks, especially the trance music. Antoine says that, even though I've been through Hell and worse, I'm still a typical teenager, the way I love music.

Antoine went to a lot of trouble to find out things about my family. As soon as I could walk with a cane, he took me back to my old house. He promised that, if it was too upsetting, we could leave right away. But I liked being there, except when some of the neighbors came in to say hello. They looked at me with hostility, like the nurses in the hospital, and I was relieved when they went away.

Antoine told me a lot about my family and we thumbed through a few picture albums together. I had been an only child, and my parents were a lot older than me. I couldn't remember them, even after we looked through the albums. Antoine said that memory comes back slowly, over a long period of time, and I shouldn't be concerned. I love to listen to him when he talks, and it doesn't matter what he's saying. I just love the rhythm of his voice.

For my eighteenth birthday, Antoine took me out to dinner and a concert. We ate at a grill, and I ordered the biggest steak they had. It came with a salad, which I tasted, and then pushed to the side of my plate.

Antoine chuckled. "I've never heard of a teenager who liked salad," he said.

The concert was a surprise. It wasn't rock music, but I liked it a lot. Antoine said it was classical Indian music, with a lot of flute. I just sat back and let the music flow through my body. Swaying in my seat, I felt wonderful.

The social worker came around to see me a few times. She always insisted on seeing me alone,"without Antoine," even though I would have preferred to have him there with me. I told her, "I feel too uncomfortable around strangers, and Antoine always makes me feel relaxed."

She said, "But I'm not a stranger, Selena. I'm your social worker. I'm here to find a way to help you. You don't need to be uncomfortable around me."

Then she asked me a lot of questions about my relationship with Antoine, and I told her the truth. Why not?

Antoine had become the center of my life. What was so strange about that? After all, he was the person I owed my life to. The social worker said that it's a surgeon's job to operate on people, and that Antoine was only doing his job. But she was wrong, and I was furious with her. Antoine cared about me, like I cared about him. So, I yelled at her, "Sure, for you, this is just a job. But, for Antoine, it isn't just his job! He really cares about me!" I told her to leave and I refused to see her again.

When winter came, the cold made me tired. I just wanted to laze around the house all day and lie on the couch, buried under a pile of warm blankets. I slept most of the day while Antoine was at work. He said that was okay. When he came home in the evenings, we had a light supper and I went right to bed.

But, in the spring, I suddenly felt like waking up. I had all sorts of energy and I felt ready to do anything. Antoine said I looked a lot better, too. I felt refreshed - as if I had shed my old skin and was wearing a new one.

One spring evening, Antoine took me out to dinner and I ate a mountain of steaks. When we got home, I still felt wide awake. And I had a new feeling - something I'd never felt before. I didn't know what to call it. Antoine and I sat on the living room couch and he held my hand, saying that he wanted to tell me something about my operation - something that would help me understand my moods.

But I didn't want to listen to him, and I curled up on the couch around a pillow, turning my back to him and trying to ignore what he was saying.

"Okay, I'll tell you some other time," he said, and he stroked my back for a long time in silence.

When Antoine was at work, I found myself walking around the house aimlessly. I had energy, but I didn't know what to do with myself. Antoine left books lying around for me to read, but they didn't interest me.

"You need something to engage your mind," he told me.

"But I don't wanna think. I wanna feel," I said.

"Okay," said Antoine. "I can see we'll have to take it slowly."

I nodded my head in agreement and shimmied my shoulders. That felt good.

While Antoine was at work, I spent a lot of hours just listening to music, especially music that had no words. Antoine had a big collection, and he kept buying more of the kind I liked.

One evening, we were sitting on the couch again. Antoine took my hand and asked, "Do you know what kind of music that is you're listening to all day long?"

I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders. Who cared?

"It's from India," he told me.

"India," I repeated, although it meant nothing to me.

"Do you know why you like it so much?" he asked me.

"I don't know and I don't care," I said. "It just makes me feel good."

"It relaxes you," he said.

"Yes," I agreed. And I snuggled closer to him on the couch. But when he tried to push me away, very gently, I got mad at him.

"You always used to stroke my back," I hissed at him, "Why don't you do that anymore?"

"Selena," he said, "you know I care about you a great deal."

"Show me!" I insisted.

"Okay," he answered, putting his arms around me. That made me feel much better. Then he started stroking my back from the neck all the way down the whole length of my spine and I curled myself around him.

"Selena," he whispered to me. "You're a very special person."

"Mm-hmm," I answered. "You are, too."

"No. I mean the way you're made is very special. There's nobody else in the world like you."

"And there's nobody like you, either," I said, wrapping my arms and legs around him. "I want you," I told him, feeling every muscle in my body tense.

"Selena, we have to be very careful," he said.

"Careful of what?"

"I don't want you to get hurt," he said.

I clutched him tighter. "You can't hurt me," I said.

I opened my mouth and stuck out my tongue, licking his lips.

"Selena, you're seducing me," he said. "I don't have the willpower to resist you. If your social worker ever found out..."

But I didn't let him finish the sentence. I sucked his lips and smoothed my arms up and down his body. Every time he tried to pull away from me and talk I grasped him closer and held him tighter.

We ended up making love that night, and that's all I thought about and waited for every evening from that night on. It was the fulfillment of all the wordless fantasies I had been having since I awakened from my winter lethargy.


On the evening of June 28th, Antoine came home and found Selena's body on the living room floor. A handwritten note lay near the body. "Death to the abomination you created, Dr. Weirdo. You had no place sewing the brain of a python into a human head. And we're coming to get you next!"

Waves of panic and despair crashed into his consciousness, but soon ebbed away. Beneath them was a deeper feeling of familiarity. This scene had been sketched centuries before he was born. Antoine realized that he had known the inevitable ending all along. So he didn't protest when the police took him into custody. It was for his own protection, they said.


“White Cat On a Rock Wall” by Hugo DeSarro

Every morning, at about the same time, the neighbor's white cat walks along the top of the rock wall in our yard.

She starts at one end and leisurely picks her way on the rough stones to the other end. She often stops on the way to look at something in the tall grass and weeds that grow along the wall. Sometimes, if something catches her attention, she will sit motionless for several minutes and stare. But her favorite resting place is at the very end of the wall where the weeds and shrubbery are thickest. She lies on her side on the flat end rock, motionless, her head held up regally, like a Theban queen, only the tip of her tail moving. She is all white except for gray at the tip of her tail. Her whiteness makes her look larger than she is.

She seems a good-natured cat. She looks down into the grass and weeds with great curiosity, but she's not interested in catching anything. I've never seen her spring from the wall or act as if she were stalking something. She simply enjoys her leisurely walk, picking her footing precisely and with beautiful fluid motion.

My dog Gretchen watches her from the window and barks at her. One morning she slipped past me out the door and rushed at her. The cat wasn't impressed. She scarcely moved. She looked at Gretchen with a cold, hard stare that stopped her in her tracks. But then, it doesn't take too much to discourage Gretchen. She enjoys the chasing and the barking, not the fighting.

I like having the big white cat on my wall. It pleases me to think that she enjoys her morning stroll. I look for her each morning. I haven't tried to make friends with her. It would drive Gretchen bonkers. But there is no need for it. The cat gets pleasure walking on my wall. I get pleasure watching her. That, for me, is friendship enough.

“Black Wreath” by Brandon Hreha

Rain had just finished pouring onto the walkway outside Jacob's dormitory. It rained with very little break, for four days straight. Jacob was thankful that it had stopped for his trip back home. His brother's funeral is in four days.

He stood up straight staring at his summer home, wondering what waited for him just on the other side of the oak door. He carried his duffel bag up the steps and tried to remember if he had told all of his professors he wouldn't be in class for a week. His hand balled into a fist, ready to knock, but realizing there was no need, he entered.

"Mom." His voice barely audible. "I'm home." He made his way through the living room into the kitchen. Jacob thought about how the kitchen still smelled like the Christmases they used to have in their house, before their father died at the hands of a drunk driver almost three years ago. His mother sat on a stool, her head on the counter.

Her eyes were red and her black eyeliner was smeared. "Hi, honey." Her breath had a hint of cherry vodka on it. She stood up, wiped the remaining tears from her face and hugged him. "You feel thin. Are you eating up there?"

"Mom, yeah. I've been eating. How are you holding up?"

She closed her eyes tight and started to sob again. "He's gone. He's not going to graduate."

The thought of making a joke about Josh's poor grades crossed his mind, but decided that it would be inappropriate, so instead he pulled his mother into his arms hugged her and kissed her on her forehead.

"Why don't you go lie down for a little bit and I'll order us some food," he suggested.

Alex had been a senior in high school. He and Jacob were opposites. Jacob likes to read Jim Daniels and keep an interest in current politics. Alex liked beer and barbiturates. Jacob had graduated from high school with ease. Alex had no such luck in school. He was barely a "C" student. Jacob always thought it was just an act and that if his brother applied himself that he would be just as successful.

The brothers barely spoke to one another, even before their father was killed. They'd pass each other in the house almost as if they were strangers being courteous to one another. They didn't ignore each other; they just didn't have anything to say.

Alex's bedroom door was closed, but it didn't stop Jacob from stepping inside. He flipped on the light switch and looked around. His carpet had a big stain near the doorway; it looked like it could be soda or hot chocolate. On his walls were pictures of his friends. A lot of them Jacob didn't know. The plug-in air freshener near Alex's dresser was giving off a honey-like smell. Basketball trophies lined his shelves; most of them were for second place. Jacob wondered whether his mother would keep the room the way he left it or if in time she would pack things into boxes and turn it into an exercise room. He turned the light switch off and closed the door.

Jacob's bedroom door was open. The posters of his favorite rock bands still hung on the wall and his favorite books were alphabetized by author's last name on his bookshelf starting with Bret Easton Ellis and ending with Kurt Vonnegut. His room was just as he left it at the end of August. His diploma was in a display case above the desk. There was a yellow Post-It-Note on the corner.
Jacob
Alyssa called.
713 555-9842

He stared at it, magnifying it in his head so large that it was the only thing he saw. A piece of yellow square paper with blue ink scribbled on it. He repeated the number softly, "Seven, one, three, five, five, five, nine, eight, four, two."

His eyes moved to the cordless phone hanging on the wall by his light switch.

He hesitated dialing the last digit. The thought of her voice on the other end both excited and angered him. He clicked the end button on the phone and thought about how his brother was dead and that it probably wasn't a good time to bring up old feelings or old times. They broke up after their senior year. He figured that because he was going to school four hours away that the relationship would be doomed, so he broke up with her. The last time they had talked, right before he went back to school for his second year, she told him about a night she had spent with Alex.

"It wasn't something Alex or I planned. It happened though," she said. "It was only one time and I thought that you should know about it. We've been broken up for almost a year and it shouldn't bother you that much."

He wondered how many of the arrangements his mother had started to make for the funeral.

Alex's casket was midnight silver with silver carel crepe. The mortician, a tall thin man dressed in a mustard colored suit, commented how lovely a choice it was. Jacob's mother buried her head into his shoulder and cried.

"How would he know if Alex would like it?" she muttered.

"It's his job." Jacob said. "He wants to make this as painless as he possibly can." His response didn't please his mother as she continued to cry.

Jacob's palms were sweaty and his throat became dry. He hated the sweet smell of flowers. In every room he looked in there were mini corner tables with a vase of flowers on it. He hated the oil paintings in gold frames of the owners that hung on the wall. Their smiles were smug. He hated the basement area where their offices were. Jacob thought about what goes on in the rooms that are locked. He started to imagine his brother propped up on a table with tubes draining his blood. Jacob sat outside the downstairs offices while his mother and the mortician talked about other arrangements.

"Jacob, your mother wants you to call the people on this list and inform them that the viewings will be held tomorrow night and Thursday night at six-thirty until ten PM. And the burial service will be on Friday morning at ten." The mortician handed him a list with about forty people on it. "Your mother is very strong and is handling this very well. She's a spectacular woman."

Jacob nodded. "Thanks. Yeah, I'll start calling people." Jacob scanned the list and saw that Alyssa's name was on it. He'd call her last.

After the third ring, he thought that maybe she wasn't going to answer, but on the fourth, she did.

"Jacob, I don't even know what to say to you. I've been crying ever since I found out, I can't even imagine how you're doing."

"I'm doing okay. It's affecting my mom more though. She looks bad." There was a moment of silence. "There's going to be a viewing tomorrow and Thursday night. Then he's getting buried on Friday morning."

"I can't make it to tomorrow's viewing but I'll be there Thursday night and I'll be there Friday." She began crying. "I'm so sorry. I feel like anything I could say to you would be inappropriate. I talked to him just a few days ago. It's been so long since you and I have talked and I can't believe the reason we are is because of Alex's death."

"It has been a long time." Jacob shifted the phone onto his other shoulder. "We always say we'll keep in touch, but then time sneaks up on you. One day turns into a week and a week turns into a month and soon after that it's been too long to even think about a phone call."

"Remember Prom?" she asked. "Honestly, it felt like we were one of those royal couples." She sniffled. "I almost called you about a month ago. I was watching a cooking show on TV and they were showing how to bake a double layered fudge cake. It reminded me of that time we tried baking cookies."

"Yeah, I remember that. I still remember hearing the timer going off and not caring."

She started to laugh. "I remember the rug burns I got on my shoulder blades. Things have not been the same for the past couple of years, have they?"

Jacob stared at his diploma, the note still hung on it. He started to think about his brother and his ex-girlfriend together. "I have to go," he said. Before she could even respond he hung the phone up.

He turned his attention to his bed and tried to make his way there. His legs were wobbly and his stomach felt sick. He thought that if he even took a too deep of a breath that he'd throw up. He fell onto his bed, stomach first. Memories of his dad started to come to him. Memories of his brother overlapped with a few of them. Soon, memories of his father and brother morphed the two people into one. And for a second he couldn't even remember what either of them looked like.

Alex, in his coffin, wore a black suit. Jacob thought to himself about how he was fairly sure that his brother didn't even own a suit. He wondered if his mother had picked it out or if the mortician with the mustard suit did. This was the second night of the viewing and more people came in to pay their respects than the previous night. Jacob sat as far away from his brother as he could. His palms were sweaty and his mouth was dry. He was tired of family members that he hadn't seen in years telling him that they were sorry for his loss. He spotted Alyssa far across the room, kneeling at the coffin. He wondered what kind of prayer she had made for his brother. She stood up, wiping tears from her eyes, and spotted Jacob. Alyssa made her way to him. He stood up, unsure of what the appropriate gesture was, he stuck his hand out. She put her hand in his and pulled him in for a hug. Jacob's knees got wobbly and his stomach got sick again. He immediately sat down and motioned for her to do the same thing.

"Are you alright, Jacob?" Alyssa asked.

"Why wouldn't I be?" Jacob closed his eyes and tried to ease the sickness away by being completely still.

"You look sick," she said as she put her hand on his forehead to check if he had a fever.

"I'm fine, alright. It's just hot in here, that's all. Why do they keep it so goddamn hot in here?" Jacob's face was red and there were sweat beads rolling down from his temples.

"Jacob, it's not hot in here. It's really cool, actually. Get up. Let's go outside and get you air." She helped Jacob out of the building and sat him down on the steps to the entrance of the building.

"When was the last time you and him talked?" She felt his head again.

"Must be all those damn flowers. Why the hell do people think flowers make everything better? They're too colorful. I thought black was the traditional color of a funeral, not reds and pinks." Jacob put his head in his hands.

Alyssa put her arm around him. "I'm sorry Jacob. Things have been messed up for too long. Your brother should still be..." she started to say.

"He should be here. My dad should be here. What the fuck? They're not though. You fucked my brother. He killed himself. My dad went to a football game and got killed on his way home. Those fucking flowers should be black." Jacob took a deep breath, and then looked at his ex-girlfriend, she was crying. "I'm sorry. Alex didn't even look like himself in there. He looked like a wax dummy. I still almost expect him to be at home, playing video games in his bedroom. But he won't be. And I'm trying to find someone to blame. I'm really..." Jacob started to cry.

There wasn't a sound when he woke up. It was still dark outside. He could feel her body next to his. Alyssa sat up. He tried to see through the darkness to get a better look at her.

He couldn't remember getting into a car and coming home. He couldn't remember walking to his bedroom or Alyssa sitting next to him and falling asleep, but there she was. She kissed his forehead. Jacob remembered watching on television live news footage of an airplane that couldn't land. There was something wrong with its landing gear so it had to circle in the air for three hours. The plane kept flying around in Jacob's head.

Alex's funeral went without any complications. The hearse led the way and Jacob and his mother followed in a black limo, behind them was the rest of the family and friends. There wasn't a cloud in the sky to block the sun's light. Everyone met at the cemetery and watched as the mortician released two white doves into the air, to symbolize Alex's soul being set free of all worldly possessions.

Jacob woke up and tried as hard as he could to remember what Alex was wearing the last time they had a conversation. He tried to remember the last time they talked. He couldn't remember any of it. The alarm clock that sat on his desk started to ring. He didn't remember setting it for 9:43 AM. He stretched and walked out of his room. His mother's door was still closed and he figured she was still asleep. Jacob went downstairs and into the kitchen. He got a glass of orange juice and drank it. He realized how empty the house would be now and that maybe he could transfer to a closer school. He made his way outside to get the newspaper. On Jacob's doorstep was a wreath. A small card, attached, read:
For you, a black wreath, to remember me by. I'm sorry.
Love,
Alyssa

“The Mask” by Alegria Imperial

Libby has but thirty minutes to put on her make-up. She wonders now if that is possible at all. It's not ordinary make-up she has to wear, she cowers at the thought. Tonight at the masquerade ball, she should walk in as a female I Pagliacci, a most endearing clown.

Dinggggg! The fire alarm in the building suddenly pierces the evening. And bammm! The lights go off. What the... she scampers off the bedroom. Then whirls back, realizing she had on a threadbare robe. She snatches her kimono hanging by the bathroom door, rushes out of the door and before she knows it, she has joined a trembling stream of people on the corridor, shuffling on bedroom slippers to the patio.

Oh, god, she moans not out of fear for the fire, which has not manifested itself. She moans again, imagining herself shamed at the ball. But then, she leaps at the thought that she has a mask to wear, anyway! Still, thin, blonde brows, pale lids and eyes, sunken cheeks, and ever-thinning lips like hers should be camouflaged. Libby remains oblivious to the whining of the crowd and the screaming sirens. Even when the firemen pronounces, "All clear," she steps back into her silence, imagining in that private space how fast she could apply her makeup.

They are made to go back to their apartments but the lights will have to wait as the fuses will have to be checked. She moves in dark, expert hands feeling every inch of her face, lining and brushing color from memory. She tries to turn on the tiny emergency battery attached to her car keys but only a glimmer of it lights up her forefinger that turns it on. She dresses up also by memory.

In as precise as the minute hand on the wall clock ticked, Josh arrives just in time for them to whisk off. The lights come on as they step off the door. Josh looks at her and says, "That's clever, you painted on your mask! Let's go!"

“When the Moment Strikes You” by Kerowyn Rose

Norah's dreams were filled with visions of painting. One in particular stood out enough for her to remember it the next morning. The background was a deep blue, and the figure of a woman was posed naked against its solid color. She was wearing nothing but a see through scarf that looked as though the wind was pushing it up to her in a vain attempt to cover her body. Her hair was long and brown with blonde flecks, but done up in a bun with small curls gently drifting behind her with the ends of the scarf. All this was viewed as though standing behind her unnoticed.

Through all the painting in her dream she never remembered hearing anything until the name "Libby" was mournfully whispered. It was then that she woke, and the memory of it lingered in her thoughts throughout the morning. Maybe she dreamt that she heard Libby's name after thinking about her the night before.

Libby was Norah's new friend that lived down the street. She was an 85-year-old lady who lost her eyesight when she was in her 30's. Norah's brother Paul met Libby when he volunteered for Meals on Wheels. Since his wife just had twins, he could no longer continue to visit with Libby. That is when he introduced the two of them.

Norah and Libby became friends at once, it was as if they had known each other forever. It was then that Norah took it upon herself to bring her groceries, and read to her a few times a week. One weekend she told Norah when she came to visit, "My child. Do things the moment they strike you. One day you may regret it if you don't."

"Oh Libby," Norah chided. "I am doing what strikes me at the moment, and that is reading to a dear friend. I don't think that I'm wasting my time when I'm spending it with you."

"But you are so young! You have so much to accomplish -- so much to do! I am just holding you back. Just forget about an old fool like me and find yourself a husband or a career." She reached down for her Seeing Eye dog Happy and gave him a good pat. In response he gave her a nudge with his nose.

"Okay," Norah teased. "but I guess you won't get to hear what happens with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy since I won't be able to finish reading this story to you."

"Oh... well! You can finish the book child, I want to hear what happens next!" They both giggled and Norah continued her reading of Pride and Prejudice. She couldn't imagine her life with out Libby and there was no way she would give up what little time she had to spend with her.

After a short while Norah asked her friend, "Do you have any family in town? I was just thinking we could have them over and I would cook dinner for everyone."

"Well I wish I could say yes, but sadly I have no family." She stood up after stating this and the dog looked up at her and whined. She made her way over to the kitchen where Norah was fixing lunch, and sat down on a stool by the counter that joined the two rooms. Happy wrapped himself in a ball at her feet, it was very rare that he left her side, since it was his job to help and protect her.

Norah's heart broke. "Paul told me you have a son. Doesn't he live around here?" She didn't mean to press the subject, but she was curious as to why she never heard Libby speak about her family, other than her husband that passed away many years ago.

"Well if you count prison as being around here, then yes. I have a son that lives around here." She smiled sensing Norah's surprise.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring up painful memories. I just thought it would be nice to get to know your family."

"Oh it's okay." She sighed and rested her elbow on the counter. "It's a long story how he ended up there, but basically he got into a rough crowd and they tried to rob a bank. Up until then, I thought he had more brains than people gave him credit for. I am not so sure now. It's a good thing that he never got married."

Norah spent the rest of the day with her and made sure that Happy had enough food before she went home. Her thoughts were filled with Libby's misfortune the rest of the night.



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A few days later she received a phone call from Paul. His voice was shaky and sad. "Libby's in the hospital. I left Regina with the twins to come check on her. It isn't good."

"Oh my God! What happened?" Tears formed in her eyes as she tried not to imagine the worst.

"She must have had a mild heart attack in the middle of the night. She told them that Happy sensed something was wrong and brought her the phone, but she was in too much pain to call right away. He licked her face and hands until she could dial 911. My number was on the refrigerator and the hospital called me when she got there."

"Will she need surgery? Should I bring anything? What can I do?"

"They aren't sure if she needs surgery, but they are running tests. She's resting now, you should come see her." Norah left with out even showering. She didn't want to waste anytime.

Paul met her in the hallway when she arrived. His face was somber, and he sat down with her in the nearest chair. Before she could get a word out he grabbed her hand and said, "Libby passed away about 15 minutes ago. I am sorry you missed her, sis. I know how much you cared for her." Norah buried her face in his chest and let the sobs shake her body. She just lost her best friend.



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The weeks to follow were slow and sad. Norah went to work every day with a heavy heart and could barely get through the billing of her clients. She thought often about what Libby had meant by doing whatever strikes you at the moment.

One morning on her way out the door to work a man stopped her. "Are you Norah Winderheim?" He asked. "I am Mr. Auding the executor of Libby's will." She acknowledged the fact that she was indeed Norah Winderheim and invited him inside. After calling work to tell them she would be late, he got straight to business.

"I didn't know that Libby had a will Mr. Auding, you know her only family is a son in prison?" Mr. Auding didn't really care. He didn't even know Libby that well, he had only been hired to take care of her will. She felt that it was a little impersonal.

"Well you will be pleased to know that she had you and your brother in mind when she wrote this will. Your brother has already been contacted and his children will receive most of the money that she has saved over the years. Mrs. Felder wanted to make sure they had enough money to go to college one day if they wanted to."

"How sweet of her!" Norah thought, then listened to the rest of the will. Libby left the house, the rest of her belongings and Happy to her. When they were finished, Mr. Auding made sure to give Norah the keys and the title to her property and left.



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Norah took the rest of the day off from work and went over to Libby's house. There were wedding pictures and baby pictures that Norah would stop and cry over. Clothes and other personal belongings that she would eventually need to pack up and give to charity crossed her mind as she tried to get a better glimpse into Libby's past.

As she was going through some things in the bedroom Norah noticed an artist's sketchpad on the top shelf of the closet. She sat down on the bed with it and began to flip through it. Each drawing had Libby's name and date printed neatly in the corner. "She was an artist before she lost her eyesight?" Norah thought.

There was a faded letter between some of the pages to Libby from her husband:

My Dearest Libby!
I love the drawings you send to me. The guys in my troop get a kick out of them too. You have such a great talent. I wish you would spend more time on your painting than you do writing letters to me. Take the time you have now so the world will be able to see how great you really are! I know you said we have all the time in the world, but I may die in this war, and I just want you to do whatever strikes you at the moment, otherwise you will regret that you wasted your time writing letters to me...


The letter went on in normal love letter style, but grief overwhelmed her so much that she could no longer read on. Libby said those very words to her just days before her passing. Was she going to share these intimate details of the past with her?
Norah decided to explore the attic to see if Libby's husband kept any of her paintings for sentimental reasons. In the corner of the room were many paintings, but the one that struck her right away was the painting of the young girl posed elegantly against a solid blue background, and the name Libby Felder printed in small white letters in the right hand corner.

“Charlie’s Dream” by Paul Alleyne

1.

 

The doorbell rang. It was louder than usual. Noel jumped completely off the bed. He was still half asleep, but he ran, stumbling through the house to the front door; he unlocked and opened it. Gramps was standing at the door frowning at him. He said, “Let me in, boy. Let’s talk about it.”

 

He moved Noel aside and came on in. Noel was confused, flabbergasted and speechless. “Gramps was dead,” he thought to himself. “What is he doing here?”

 

Suddenly, he felt someone shake him, and then he heard the voice of his girlfriend calling his name. She said, “Get up, Noel, its one o’clock in the morning.”

 

He opened his eyes and looked up to see Sian standing over him. She continued, “Go take your shower and go to bed.”

 

He sat up, rubbed his eyes, and then asked no one in particular, “What the hell is going on?”

 

Sian laughed, responding, “Are you having more bad dreams?”

 

“No,” he replied. “Just weird ones; very weird ones.”

 

Suddenly, Charlie felt as if someone had given him a swift kick to his posterior. He was puzzled; why would Sian be kicking him? Before he could figure it out, he felt another kick, harder this time. It woke him up completely, and as he opened his eyes he could see a uniformed LAPD officer standing over him next to a patrol car with its engine running. He had been dreaming.

 

It was still somewhat dark. The officer held a cup of coffee and a McDonald’s sandwich bag in his hand. He was grinning.

 

The officer said, “Damn, for a minute there, I thought you were dead, Charlie. Here’s your morning breakfast.” He leaned down and handed the coffee and the bag to Charlie.

 

Charlie reached up and took it from the officer. He said, “Good morning, Tom. What time is it?”

 

Officer Tom Maylor laughed, and then he replied, “The time. You want to know the time?” he asked jokingly. “You have a job to go to, Charlie?” Not waiting for a reply, he just turned, yanked open the passenger’s door of the patrol car, got in, and slammed the door shut. The car sped off. He stuck his head out the window and shouted, “Five o’clock.”

 

Charlie did not have anywhere to go. He had no job. He had neither family nor friends, except other homeless people like him who lived as he did – day-to-day, moment-to-moment, hand-to-mouth. However, he was content as long as he had something to eat and a place to sleep. He had no concern for his safety. His life was already lost, he was already dead; and it did not really matter much to anyone. He was just another homeless person – one less problem for the authorities to deal with.

 

Charlie sat up and he looked around his surroundings. He was sitting in filth under the Santa Monica Freeway. He smelt like old piss. Nevertheless, he was smiling. He was having his first meal of the day, maybe his only meal, but his first meal. The dream he was having was strange, but it brought back some memories of a past life he had just about forgotten. He decided that he would take an afternoon nap – after he figured out lunch.

 

Sergeant Tom Maylor and his new partner, patrol officer Eddie Clement, continued on their rounds. Eddie grinningly asked Tom, “How did you come to know Charlie?”

 

Tom was quiet for a minute, thinking. He responded, “Oh, we go back -a ways. I met him a couple years ago. It was a typical call from the radio dispatcher – a homeless man at the McDonald’s restaurant causing a problem. When I got to the restaurant, Charlie was huddled in a corner, crying. I immediately felt sympathy for him. He seemed cold and was a bit delirious, but harmless. He kept asking for something to eat. ‘All, I want is something to eat.’ He kept saying. We took him to a homeless shelter, cleaned him up, and gave him some new clothes, but he had no place to go other than back to the streets.

 

“It was then – and still is – strange how he fought them when they tried to take his filthy clothes away from him. It’s was not that he did not want new clothes, but as it turned out there was something in one of the jacket pockets. After he was able to wrestle the jacket away from the shelter volunteer, he stuck his hand in an inside pocket and retrieved a small, sealed plastic bag. In the bag was a torn photo. He let them have the jacket after he got the photo out. I was very curious about that picture, and after I got him to show it to me, I became curious about him as well.

 

“The picture was of a very beautiful black woman, but she seemed to also be part Asian and wore one of the traditional Asian dresses. He became pained when I asked him about this woman. He didn’t want to talk about her when I asked him. He seemed to be in a quandary, so I left it alone. I concluded that she was probably a special part of his life at one time. Most of us live on a tightrope, and it just takes a strong wind to knock us off our perch. Charlie was knocked off his perch!”

 

 

2.

 

Eddie could not get Charlie out of his head after hearing the story. Later that evening as he sat with his young wife, Marietta, and his two-year-old baby girl, Julia, having dinner, he asked Marietta to put some food together in a container. She asked him why, and he just smiled, saying, “For a friend who needs it.” She prepared it for him, and he took it from her, kissed her and left saying, “I’ll be back in an hour, or so.”

 

He got in his truck and drove over to the Santa Monica Freeway underpass. Charlie was there as he always was. He appeared asleep. Eddie wanted to hear Charlie’s story – he had become more than curious about Charlie. He got out of his truck and went over to Charlie as he huddled under some filthy blankets he used to shield himself against the cold and wind; he even had a trash can fire going to help keep warm. Eddie woke him up. He said, “Charlie, I brought you some dinner.”

 

Charlie stirred and awoke. He looked at Eddie through half-closed, sleepy eyes. He asked, “Who are you?”

 

“I am Eddie Clement, Tom Maylor’s partner. I brought you dinner.”

 

Charlie chuckled. He said, “Well, I had dinner already – a whole lobster with lemon butter and a huge baked potato.” Then he reached out and took the food from Eddie, saying, “But I’m not one to refuse gifts of food, so I will save it for tomorrow. Now what else can I do for you, Eddie?”

 

“Well, Charlie, I would love to hear your story,” Eddie replied purposefully.

 

“What story?” Charlie asked. “I don’t have a story.”

 

Eddie said, “Tom told me some things about you. I couldn’t get it out of my head, and I wanted to hear your life’s story.”

 

Charlie started to laugh. “You must be kidding me.” He asked, “You want my story?”

 

Eddie replied, “Yes Charlie, please tell me your story.”

 

“Why are you interested?” Charlie asked.

 

“I am because you don’t seem to be like the average homeless person,” Eddie replied. “Looks like you are somebody.”

 

Charlie chuckled and said, “Naw, I’m nobody. I’m like every other homeless person out here. We all have stories. Mine is no different. Maybe I had a life at one time, but I’m nobody now. My story is just another story. I lost my way; that’s all there is to it.”

 

“Well, I still want to hear it, Charlie. I really do.”

 

Charlie got very quiet. As Eddie waited for Charlie’s answer, he thought of his own life. It was a good life – a lovely wife and daughter, and a nice home. The home was small, but it was comfortable. He knew little about his father. He never met him, or had any opportunity to communicate with him. All the information he had about him came from his mother, Maria Clement, and it was sketchy at best. Charlie’s situation somehow drew him back, so he had to know.

 

Charlie sought to strike a bargain, even though he held all the chips. He offered, “I tell you what. Let me think about it for a couple days, then maybe I will tell you – how’s that?”

 

Eddie was disappointed, but he realized that Charlie was not going to agree so easily. Still, he was going to keep at it, because he was intrigued. His only hope was that Charlie did not suddenly disappear before he told the story to him. It was a chance he had to take, having absolutely no choice in the matter. He agreed to wait. But then, almost immediately, Charlie suddenly changed his mind. “I tell you what,” he said. “You look like a nice kid and you should be home with your family.” He appeared thoughtful for a moment and then said, “Buy me a cup of my favorite coffee at McDonald’s and I’ll tell you my story – and maybe a cherry pie for dessert.”

 

Eddie did not hesitate. He said, “It’s a done deal.” He hurriedly opened the passenger’s door of his truck and ushered Charlie in, saying, “Get in.” Charlie got up hesitantly, suddenly not sure if he really wanted to go through with it after all, but nevertheless, he dusted himself off as best he could and got into Eddie’s truck. Eddie got in on the driver’s side. He put the truck in gear and they took off, heading directly to the neighborhood McDonald’s a few blocks away – the one that Charlie frequented.

 

When they got to the restaurant, Charlie chose to sit outside. Eddie did not argue; fresh air was good – the funk in the truck emanating from Charlie was stifling. He went in and soon returned with two cups of hot coffee and a cherry pie. He gave the pie and one cup of the coffee to Charlie and went and sat opposite him. He anxiously waited, hoping for an outpouring from Charlie. Charlie took his sweet time, sipping the very hot coffee and casually eating his pie as Eddie look on, not interrupting – just waiting.

 

Charlie finished his pie and Eddie asked him, “What’s your real name, Charlie?”

 

Charlie hesitated. He was caught off guard by Eddie’s question. He had been “Charlie” for so long that he had truly tried to forget his real name. It was the part of his life where he experienced much turmoil, and it was also associated with much happiness.

 

 

3.

 

He answered Eddie’s question reluctantly, uncomfortably and not showing much confidence. “My name is Charlie,” he said. “I was known at one time as Noel Heath, but I’m Charlie now.” He got quiet and said nothing for a few minutes, thinking back to his life as it was then. He suddenly started up with his story. Eddie listened; grasping onto every word Charlie spoke – building images in his mind as Charlie’s story unfolded.

 

Noel Heath awoke in a cold sweat from the nightmarish dream he had been having over and over again the last couple of weeks, not unlike a television serial or soap opera where the scene changes ever so slightly from the previous episode. He would sometimes wake up from the dream and fall back to sleep, only to have the dream continue where it left off.

 

Throughout his life, Noel had always had dreams, which were usually strange and different from the typical ones, the ones that most people had after a heavy meal or after watching a scary movie. No one chased after him, nor were they ghoulish dreams, but his dreams were strange. He recalled some of them. There was one where he was totally blind but went about his business in a normal manner, using his other senses to navigate his environment without the use of any physical aids. He recalled another where he was visiting an art gallery and after having viewed a painting of an image of Jesus Christ, he felt the eyes of Jesus following him as he walked away. He could feel those eyes piercing his brain, looking into his mind, but he would not dare look back. When he did get up enough nerve to look back, Jesus was standing directly behind him, smiling at him. He so startled himself that he woke right up out of the dream. In yet another dream, he was asleep on his bed when he felt a pair of hands clamp onto both ankles and, holding them firmly, pull his entire body off the bed and through the walls of his home. He was deposited in a large Buddhist temple filled with lit candles and incense spewing exotic fragrance around its majestic interior. He was the only one in the entire temple from what he could see. The hands that held him positioned him at the very center of the temple floor, where he was made to sit in the cross-legged yoga style. The hands then released him and he immediately began to chant in prayer. After a while, those same hands carried him out of the temple and directly back to his bed. He awoke immediately on the release of those hands, quickly looking around as if expecting to see someone in the room with him; there was no one, of course, only him. What was striking was the extreme quietness; it was so quiet that he clearly heard his heart beating vigorously as it pounded hard against his chest.

 

These strange dreams became normal to him at an early age, so he was comfortable with them. This dream, however, the one he recalled to Eddie, had a different twist. Early on, he did not pay much attention to it, and he did not remember much of it when he woke up; but as it continued, more of a picture developed. It grew more disturbing and frustrating as he remembered more of it and tried to understand its meaning.

 

There were times when he would refuse to or simply be afraid of going back to bed. Rather, he would get in his car and head to the California coastline where he would go in one direction or the other, usually driving until daylight.

 

In this dream, he was standing on a high hill overlooking a deep, dark chasm, that except for some shrubbery and scraggy trees, was bare of vegetation. The wind howled as it raced through the chasm and hard across his path. It swirled around, blowing dust and debris, so much so that he shielded his face from it. With each episode, he got closer to the edge of the chasm until he arrived at the very edge. He looked down, straining to see within its depths, but could discern nothing except a black cold emptiness, and he could tell from the sound of the wind that it was deep and foreboding.

 

In this last episode, he was at the very edge looking across to the other side and through the darkness; he started to make out the shape of what appeared to be the slight figure of a woman moving around, desperately trying to maintain her balance against the strong, swirling winds. She wore a long, flowing dress or gown, which was being whipped about by the force of the wind. He could not make out her features or determine who she might me, but it seemed to him that she was trying to say something, and at the same time desperately extending her outstretched arms in the futile attempt to reach across the expanse of the chasm to him. He strained to listen, but with the wind blowing and howling the way it was, he could not hear her.

 

He scrambled to the edge of the chasm, and grabbing a tree limb, he tried to reach her. He stretched out in an improbable, impossible attempt to get to her, but failed. He slipped and tightened his grip on the tree limb, trying to regain his footing and prevent a free fall into the darkness. The episode suddenly ended with him waking up in a cold sweat, and shaking with fear and confusion.

 

After the initial shock and the realization that he was actually in bed having a dream, he laughed nervously. It was silly, he thought – only a dream, he reasoned, but just the same, its reality confounded him. He caught himself rubbing his eyes as he did in the dream. He had rubbed them so much that they became red, swollen and irritated. He had not slept well all week and this was beginning to bother him. He did not care for sleeping pills, so he was going to tough it out. Hopefully the dream would end soon and he would be able to move on with his life, he reasoned.

 

Eddie was fascinated by Charlie’s dream sequence as he related it, and he observed that Charlie seemed to have difficulty talking about it in stretches. He struggled emotionally, stopping from time to time in order to catch his breath as if in a panic of sorts.

 

 

4.

 

Noel was a computer software engineer, and a good one. He had been divorced for some five years. He had a stepson, age 13, who lived with his ex-wife in Chicago, his hometown. He left when the boy was only five years old and had not seen him since then. He felt very guilty about that, but every time he talked to his ex-wife, an argument always seemed to break out.

 

It was a bad breakup. They had fought frequently, and he made the regrettable error once of slapping her across the face. He had completely lost it when she made some vulgar comment to him. He desperately tried to apologize, but she would not accept it, which made him think that she had finally found an excuse to get him out of her life.

 

He was not a very emotional person, but was very passionate about what he believed, logical in his view of the world, and believed in loyalty to his friends. He sought an explanation for everything, because in his logical mind, there was always one; things did not just happen in a vacuum. This was why the dream so disturbed him. It was not logical, and yet he could not shake it. It replayed in his head throughout his waking moments, like videotape on rewind, and it was beginning to affect his work. He could not accomplish much because of the intrusion of this recurring dream.

 

Starting with high school, Noel accomplished everything early. He graduated at 16 and went directly on to college where he studied computer software engineering. He graduated in three years at 19, took a year off, and then went to graduate school. So at around 22, he had completed his formal education.

 

He worked hard and made every effort to complete every task he started, never forgetting what his beloved grandfather told him. He said, “Son, never leave a job undone. Always put your best effort forward, no matter what you doing: Making love, cleaning the yard or anything else. Give yourself the satisfaction of knowing that you did the very best job you could do – for yourself, not for anyone else.”

 

This philosophy stayed with him for the many years since his grandfather gave him that wisdom, and when he was having difficulty is completing a job, especially one that he did not care for, or was just feeling a bit lazy or discouraged, his grandfather’s words of wisdom would resonate in his head, renewing his determination to succeed. He could hear his grandfather’s voice now and imagine his handsome face smiling at him. They loved each other a great deal and were very close. Gramps, as he called him, was a very smart and intelligent man, even though he never finished high school. He was self-taught, survived by working hard and applying his own philosophy of life. He worked every day of his adult life, and did not do much else, which saddened Noel.

 

Gramps developed walking pneumonia at age 75. He either did not know he had it, or did and simply ignored its symptoms. He collapsed at work and was rushed to the hospital emergency room where he was immediately admitted. He died a day later. Noel cried for days. It was the only time that his emotions overtook him. A huge piece of his soul had been ripped from him. He missed that man! When he felt lonely, he would recall the long conversations they had, had.

 

Gramps loved to walk. On his walks with Noel, for what seemed like miles, Noel usually got tired first, but Gramps never seemed to, or pretended not to be. He would say to Noel, “Son, it looks like you’re tired. We better head on back.” Noel would shake his head in disbelief; as much as he tried to hide his tiredness from Gramps, it did not work.

 

Gramps was from Kansas. He spent the first 16 years of his long life there. His parents, like many other black Americans in Kansas, were poor in terms of material things, but they had a close, loving family unit. Gramps’ father was a custodian at the local high school and his mother made a few dollars making dolls, which she sold to the neighborhood store. Her dolls were particularly popular among the neighborhood kids at Christmas time.

 

As a child, Gramps dreamt of a world of adventure, fantasizing about traveling the world, seeing new things, and meeting people of different cultures. His favorite subjects in school were geography and history. On most nights, he read ’til he fell asleep – for one thing, there was not much else to do in Manhattan, Kansas.

 

In 1950, at age 16, Gramps decided to join the Army. He sought out and talked to his cousin Marvin who was in the 92nd Army Division and stationed in Italy until he was injured in a late-night skirmish with the Germans. The stories that Marvin told Gramps filled his head with fantastic imagery. So using his broad smile and quick wit on an overzealous recruiter, his application was accepted.

 

After finishing boot camp, Gramps was shipped out to South Korea where he was assigned to a transportation unit. He mainly repaired and drove heavy trucks, and saw very little combat. After six months in Korea, he went to Japan, then to France, and finally ended up in Germany where he stayed for a long three years. He became a language junkie; he learned quickly and learned to speak in the native tongue fluently. In 1960, he retired from the army, but re-enlisted five years later in 1965, and was sent to Vietnam along with the many young men who were drafted. He spent a full four years there.

 

Noel loved hearing the stories Gramps told him because they were colorful ones, filled with bravado and humor, and each time Gramps told them they seemed to get a little bigger and more exciting than the time before. As he got older, he began to suspect that Gramps was embellishing much of it. However, he did not mind. He enjoyed them just the same.

 

 

5.

 

Unable to fall back to sleep after one of his dream episodes, Noel picked up the telephone to call Sian. He dialed her number, but thought better of it. He would instead leave his home in the Mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and go for a early morning drive in his all-black, super fast 1977 Porsche 911. He decided to take his usual route: Pacific Coast Highway all the way to Malibu as far as Trancas Canyon. Maybe he would call her when he got back.

 

He dressed quickly and was out the door in five minutes; got in the car and started it up. As the car idled, the roar of the engine somehow relaxed him. He got his music started. He loved jazz, especially from artist like Miles Davis, Nancy Wilson and Kirk Whalum. His latest acquisition was “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. The CD player started playing and he was off on his drive, stopping only to get some coffee from the 7-11 store a few blocks away. They made good coffee – not as delicious as Coffee Bean or even Starbucks, but it was the best thing going when the coffeehouses he frequented were closed.

 

He drove fast. He once told a friend that he only knew one speed – fast. Somehow, the police never stopped him; he would always see them before they saw him. Someone else was always getting the ticket. He got to the Santa Monica Freeway quickly. He felt good, and there was very little traffic. He was going to enjoy this drive. Miles played; he drove. He was quickly wide awake, but all the while in the depths of his mind, the dream nagged at him. He just could not shake it. He briefly toyed with the idea of seeing a shrink, but dismissed it as something vulgar. “Not me,” he thought. “Not Noel.”

 

His views about doctors were that they filled your head with doubt, fear and dependency, keeping you on a string until your money ran out or your insurance would pay no more; then somehow you were cured of whatever ailed you. They were as crooked as lawyers or mechanics. Gramps told him once, “Son, get yourself a good mechanic and stick with him. If you don’t, that Porsche is going to cost you more than my wife did me.” Noel took Gramps’ advice, as he always did. “Damn, I miss you Gramps,” he said aloud. “Why did you have to leave me alone like this – I need to talk to you.” He was certain that Gramps would know what to do; he always did, as insightful as he was.

 

Noel got up to Trancas Canyon in a quick 40 minutes. He parked alongside the roadway overlooking the churning ocean below. He got out, stretched his legs, and with arms folded, he leaned up against the warm car engine, enjoying the crisp morning air and the captivating view of the darkened Pacific Ocean. He thought of Sian. She had come to mean a lot to him. He felt that it was only a matter of time before they got married, because he could not see his life continuing without her being an important part of it. He hated to admit it, but he was in love with her – probably the first time he had ever fallen in love with any woman. He fancied himself as a bit of a loner and had difficulty sharing his “space.” Sian was different. In some ways, she had conquered his soul.

 

After a while, he got back in the car, turned it around, and started back home – the dream still in his mind as he continued to wrestle with its possible meaning. He came off the PCH at Sunset Boulevard. He liked driving the twisty, curvy roadway of Sunset because it made him focus on his driving and helped him to clear his mind, at least temporarily. When he got back to his house, it was coming up on the six o’clock hour and still a bit dark. He contemplated staying home from work, but decided against it. He did not want to be around the house, brooding, and besides, work was another good distraction that he needed right now. He parked his car in the driveway, got out, and quickly entered the house. He stood in the darkened hallway for a few moments trying to decide if he should call Sian or take a nap. He decided on the nap instead. Sian should be getting up about now. They often talked early in the morning before they went to work, a sort of ritual, but she was visiting her mother in Long Beach for the last week and he didn’t want to intrude on them.

 

 

6.

 

As Noel continued with his story, Eddie noticed that talking about Sian seemed to give him renewed energy, lift his spirits. She was obviously the brightest part of his life, and at the same time, the source of much of his despair.

 

Noel met Sian at the Long Beach Jazz Festival. He had been going to the festival for some five years now, an experience he looked forward to every summer. He enjoyed the atmosphere, the music, and he met some interesting people. During the concert, he usually sat quietly, barely moving, and close to the stage where he could easily discern the every movement of the performers, soaking in the music and enjoying it just as he wished.

 

There was one empty seat between himself and Sian. She was at the festival with her mother, Mildred. Just before the concert started, Sian asked him if he was holding the seat for someone. He glanced over at her and replied simply, “No.”

 

She smiled and said, “Good, I could put my bag down on it then.”

 

He teased her, asking, “You sure you can trust me? I might steal it.”

 

She looked him up and down for a moment, and then responded, playfully, “Yeah, I think, I can; you have an innocent face.” And then she giggled at her silliness. This was the start of a beautiful friendship, and an intense romantic adventure where love blossomed.

 

Sian was a “looker” by any standards. She was the type of woman that stood out no matter what she wore or where she was. She was the color of dark chocolate with skin shiny and as smooth as silk. She had naturally straight, thick, shiny black hair that traveled all the way down her back to her waist. Her eyes were as dark as her hair and skin; they were deep, slanted and almond-shaped eyes, sitting under well-manicured, dark eyebrows and framed by thick, long eyelashes. She was not skinny by any means, but solid with an athletic built standing almost six feel tall on lovely bowed legs.

 

She carried herself straight up, as someone who attended modeling school; but in fact, it was her mother who taught her to stand and walk straight. As a child she was taller than most of her peers and very shy. She tended to hide her height by stooping when she walked, which irritated her mother. She demanded that Sian straighten up, and as she grew older, her confidence grew along with her height, which she finally accepted along with the many compliments she received.

 

The concert started and Noel settled in for an enjoyable evening, and he was beginning to enjoy his company, too. He would glance over at Sian, only to see her staring at him; at least he thought she was. The music was great. The concert featured artists who were some the very best on the jazz scene and some of Noel’s favorites – Kirk Whalum, Bobby Caldwell, Rachelle Ferrell, Blue Note and Randy Crawford singing her smoky rendition of one of Noel’s favorites, “Joy Inside My Tears.”

 

He was hypnotized by the music – in a music box of sorts. The sounds came from everywhere, but through it all, he heard her voice – Sian’s voice as she chatted with her Mom. It did not intrude on his listening; it was a pleasant voice, slippery and seductive, as hypnotic as the music.

 

There was a break in the music, and he suddenly heard her say, “Would you like a glass of wine, sir?” She added, “I have sandwiches, too, if you want one.”

 

He turned and looked across at her, drinking in her beauty. He replied almost immediately without much thought, “Yes, I would.” She handed him a glass of white wine and a sandwich on a small paper plate. He admired her hands as he took it from her. Her fingers were long, slim and sexy, with well-manicured nails. He commented, “Very nice hands.”

 

She beamed, and then said, “Thank you. My mother did my nails. She is a manicurist.”

 

Noel said, “Really? Well, she did a great job.”

 

She said to him. “Thank you again. Let me see your hands.”

 

He reluctantly extended one of his hands. They were large hands, and contrary to her hands, his nails were not manicured, but well shaped. They were the hands of a basketball player – the game he played in college until he fractured his right ankle. He was never the same after that. She examined the extended hand closely, and then commented mischievously, “You have large hands, and strong fingers. I bet you give great massages.” Then she chuckled and added, “Do you have big feet, too?”

 

He was a bit embarrassed by the stereotypical connotation of that comment and responded with a straight face, “No, sorry, I just have average-sized feet.”

 

She laughed. “Modestly perhaps, or are you just an honest man?” She paused and then continued. “Maybe?”

 

He replied, “Just an honest man, and I do give great massages.”

 

They both chuckled at that quip.

 

They started dating soon after that day at the jazz festival, and became inseparable. They appeared to be truly in love with each other. If there was such a thing as soul mates, then they were a prime example. After dating for about six months, he decided that he would ask her to marry him. Her birthday was a week away, so he made dinner reservations at one of their favorite restaurants and ordered a small cake with special instructions.

 

She looked lovely at dinner and they could not keep their eyes off each other, enjoying that special time together. After dinner, the dessert arrived in the form of a small chocolate cake with a one candle on top. The waitress set the cake and a cake knife down in front of Sian and stepped aside. Sian blew out the candle as Noel watched her closely. She tried to cut the cake, but could not. Something seemed to be obstructing the path of knife. She seemed frustrated, saying to Noel, “Honey, there must be a rock in here. I can’t seem to cut it.”

 

He chuckled at the irony of that and responded, “There may well be a rock in it. Let me see, I’m stronger than you.”

 

She looked at him curiously as he took the plate from her. The waitress looked on in amusement.

 

Sian became befuddled when Noel stuck his fingers in the cake and carefully removed a small, jewelry type box. She could not speak; just watched him with mouth agape. She was totally surprised by what she saw. She never expected this to happen. She was speechless as he got up, cleaning cake residue off the box. He came over to her, but she could not look at him. He squatted down next to her, opened the box to reveal a two-carat diamond engagement ring, and while showing it to her, he announced, “Sian, it’s time we got married.”

 

Her response through trembling lips was immediate, but wordless. Her emotions took control and she could not respond to him in any coherent way. She just nodded her head, first slowly, then vigorously. She let him take her hand and he slid the ring on her finger and then kissed her gently on her lips. The tears came and just rolled down her cheeks silently from her overfilled eyes as she cried with joy.

 

 

7.

 

Noel’s disturbing dream stopped soon after their engagement. He was not sure exactly when it did, but he was thankful that it did, though still unresolved.

 

Sian inherited a lineage of African and East Indian. She was born on the island of Trinidad in the West Indies where the predominant culture is influenced by African and East Indian traditions. Her father was East Indian and her mother African, giving Sian a uniquely striking appearance.

 

The family lived in a small seaside village named Mayaro Village. The villagers were mostly fishermen or had small shops that served the tourist industry. Sian’s grandfather was the typical entrepreneur; he owned a fleet of six fishing boats. Her father, too, had owned a bed and breakfast inn, located on the beachfront were many overseas guests spent their holidays. On national holidays, Trinidadians from across the island came to visit the beach and eat at the local restaurants.

 

Sian loved the sea, and could easily talk her grandfather into taking her along on fishing trips some mornings during school summer holidays. Her mother loathed it and spent most of the time that Sian was gone patrolling the seashores until she returned. Mildred told Noel that she had nightmares of the boat capsizing and Sian drowning; she was so afraid that it influenced her decision to immigrate to the United States when Sian was just 12 years old.

 

Sian never forgot her early childhood, a period in her life when she was very happy. She had a large extended family – lots of relatives, many in her age group, who along with her lived in Mayaro Village.

 

Sian and Noel argued almost daily about her and her mother’s wedding plans for them. He wanted small; she wanted elaborate. She had not been back to Trinidad for some time and was excited to show off her new husband to all her cousins, aunts, uncles and childhood friends. She was steeped in tradition and culture and wanted to be married in a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony. He was committed to marrying her, but dreaded all the drama associated with it – Vegas was just fine with him. He proposed a solution, and Sian compromised – they would get married here in California and would go to Trinidad to have a civil ceremony and stay there for their honeymoon.

 

Noel had never been to Trinidad, and he had not thought much about the island until Sian tried to sell him on the idea of getting married there. The closest he had come to knowing anything about the islands was while dating Rachel, a college girlfriend many years ago. She was Trinidadian, and he loved listening to her voice as she talked about the island. She spoke in a sing-song rhythm of sorts, and when she got excited, he could barely understand her – unlike Sian who rarely got excited.

 

Rachel had given him a history lesson of Trinidad, from the days of early slavery through to its independence from Britain on August 31, 1962. She included the history of Carnival from it roots in Europe, hundreds of years ago, to its introduction to Trinidad by French colonists around 1785 and its progression up to the present. He thought about visiting during the carnival celebrations, but he had broken up with Rachel and his interest waned after that. Now he was set to go. He was truly excited about his and Sian’s marriage plans.

 

As the wedding day grew nearer, he became more nervous – ambivalence crept into his mind about getting married. But, he was not about to back out. He dare not disappoint Sian; she was someone special, and he knew he could never find another woman who moved him like she did.

 

On their arrival in Trinidad, it seemed like the whole village was there to greet them. Sian was excited and not shy in showing off her husband. Noel, on the other hand, was reserved; he wasn’t sure how to handle all the attention Sian’s family gave him. They were treated like royalty.

 

After Noel and Sian were married, they hardly left the village, except for a driving tour of the island of Trinidad. They ate, slept, made love, and took long walks on the beach. On the second week of their stay, Sian asked Noel if he wanted to go with her on a fishing trip with her grandfather. He agreed to the trip without hesitation, and strangely that night, he awoke in a cold sweat and shaking. The dream, which he thought he’d forgotten about or had forgotten him, had suddenly returned. In this episode, he was standing at the edge of a chasm and leaning into it, trying to discern the face of the woman across the other side. She slipped and began a free-fall into the dark, cold, foreboding, bottomless chasm. On the way down, she screamed, “Noel, save me!”

 

He responded, “Sian, nooooooooo!”

 

And this was when he awoke in a cold sweat, shaking with fear. He looked over at Sian, who was asleep and not stirring. He slid off the bed and went to sit near a large picture window overlooking the ocean. It was a beautiful sight with the moonlight reflecting the dark ocean.

 

He jumped as he heard her voice. “Come back to bed, baby. It’s cold.”

 

He went back to bed, and she cuddled up to him, both of them soon falling back to sleep. The alarm in the form of Sian’s grandfather knocking on their door woke them up. It was 3 a.m. and time to get ready for their fishing trip. Noel awoke, still thinking of his dream, but did not share it with Sian. They reluctantly got out of bed, got dressed, and set out to the wooden jetty just 300 yards away.

 

Grandfather walked with Sian, holding her hand as he did when he took her fishing as a child. Noel followed. It was a beautiful morning – the air fresh and crisp with a gentle wind blowing across their path. There was a certain calmness about the whole atmosphere. They got to the boat, which was already fired up and prepared for them by some of the men who worked for her grandfather. They casted off and the boat, with grandfather at the controls, went further and further away from land, disappearing into the vast ocean. Noel and Sian sat cuddled together, braced against the morning chill and enjoying the trip.

 

Suddenly, and without warning, the weather changed for the worst. A sudden storm moved in with heavy rain and a very strong wind. The sky quickly turned black with tumultuous clouds twirling about in the early morning sky. The water got rougher, with waves quickly increasing in height and ferocity. Noel was suddenly very nervous. The meaning of the dream he had been having was now coming true. He grabbed Sian tightly, trying to keep her safe as large waves lashed repeatedly against the boat, slapping it with large, watery hands, seemingly determined to turn the boat over. Grandfather calmly started to turn the boat around to get back to shore, but before he could complete the turn, a strong wave washed over the boat and dragged both Sian and Noel into the deep, dark ocean. Grandfather, using all his experience and knowledge, desperately tried to get back control of the boat. Sian was screaming, and Noel was trying to find her. She seemed near, but with them being buffeted about by the strong waves and in the darkness, he couldn’t find her, and her screams seemed to be getting further away from him. He could hear the boat’s engine and grandfather’s voice calling their names. Suddenly, the boat was upon him, and grandfather threw him a rope, which he grabbed as he continued to yell for Sian. She was not responding to him or grandfather, however. The fear of having lost her suddenly engulfed his mind as he was pulled to safety back on the boat. He and grandfather continued to call out to her, but got no respond. Noel’s head was now spinning with images from his dream. He leaned over the edge of the boat, desperately trying to find her in the churning water. Just as suddenly as the storm started, it ended. The cloud cover dispersed and the water returned to it usual calmness.

 

Noel jumped back into the water, screaming for Sian, but he was not a strong swimmer and was desperately attempting to stay above water. Grandfather, seeing this, implored him to return to the safety of the boat.

 

Charlie was now teary eyed and shaking as he continued with his story. Eddie’s was now thinking that he made a mistake by getting Charlie to relive this nightmare. He reached out and held Charlie’s hand as an offer of support, but Charlie pulled away. He wanted to relive every moment, it seemed. He continued:

 

“I walked the beach for days and weeks, looking and hoping that somehow she would show up alive and smiling with those dark, hypnotic eyes and long, black hair, but she was gone; she was gone from me forever. I was lost; my life did not mean anything – not then, not now. I should have died that day instead of her, or died with her. We would be together now.”

 

Eddie asked, “How did you get back here, Charlie?”

 

Charlie replied distractedly, “I don’t know. I have no idea. I just awoke one day, and I was here in the street. I am tired. I need sleep. I want to dream of Sian. Take me home.”

 

“Where is your home, Charlie?”

 

“It is where it is – where you picked me up.”

 

 

8.

 

It was two weeks before officers Maylor and Clement returned to Charlie’s makeshift home. Maylor, as always, got out of the patrol car with a hot cup of McDonald’s coffee and a sandwich. He attempted to wake up Charlie, but suddenly stopped when he realized that this was not Charlie. He woke the guy up and queried him about Charlie’s whereabouts. He asked, “Where is Charlie? What are you doing here?”

 

The man smiled and, with a toothless grin, replied, “Charlie left. He sold me this spot for $10. He said that he was going home to his wife.”

 

Maylor frowned and asked, angrily. “His wife? What wife? He doesn’t have a wife.” He handed the coffee and sandwich to the new resident and left. He was quiet when he returned to the patrol car.

 

Eddied asked him. “What’s the matter? Is there something wrong with Charlie?”

 

He looked over at Eddie and replied with a bit of anxiety, “Nothing’s wrong with Charlie. He’s gone. Gone to be with his wife, he said.”

 

Eddie frowned. He said, “Tom, he doesn’t have a wife. She died some time ago. She drowned while they were on their honeymoon.”

 

Tom turned to look over at Eddie and then he asked sarcastically, “And how do you know this, Eddie?”

 

“Because he told me so, Tom.”

 

Tom said, “Well unless he plans to die, he won’t be joining her.”

 

Eddie replied, “I hope that’s not what he is planning to do – commit suicide. We have to find him before he does.”

 

“And where shall we start looking for him? I have absolutely no clue.”

 

“We can start at the ocean. She drowned in the sea.”

 

“He told you this? When?”

 

“We had a long talk about his life a couple weeks ago.”

 

“Well, not until after breakfast. Let’s have some breakfast first.”

 

The night after Charlie related his story to Eddie, he dreamt of Sian. He didn’t dream of her drowning on that faithful day, but rather, he dreamt of their wedding day, and distinctly remembered the Hindu priest’s prayer reading.

 

“A circle is the symbol of the sun and the earth and the universe. It is a symbol of holiness, and of perfection, and of peace. In these rings is the symbol of unity, in which your lives are now joined in one unbroken circle, in which, wherever you go, you will always return to one another and to your togetherness.”

 

He was intent on joining Sian, wherever she was; he could not continue without her. He walked into the ocean as far as he could until it swallowed him up. As he drowned in the swirling ocean, he could see her face clearly. She was reaching out to him, smiling. Her smile gave him the warmth he felt when they were together. He died contented that he would be happy with her in death, as he was with her in life.


“Let it Burn!” by Kyle

When Kyle, Nick ,and Ryan play with fire, it's a very bad thing. Some people would call them pyromaniacs. But one day in the sizzling hot summer of 8th grade, Nick Apel, an athletic 14 year old , Ryan Boyer, a white/sunburned baseball player, and Kyle Martin, a twisted, tan 14 year old, were at Kyle's house trying to figure out what to do.

"Do you have any fire works?" screamed Nick.

"I think so, but we would have to do them by your house," said Kyle.

"Fair enough," said Nick. So Nick, Ryan, and Kyle went from First Street to Peace Lutheran. They were too lazy to walk around on the sidewalk, so they decided to cut through a yard, which was a bad idea because there was a pit-bull waiting for them as soon as they left the first yard.

"Holy crap, Boyer almost got attacked!" screamed Nick wile Boyer was on the ground freaking out and Kyle and Nick were laughing and rolling around on the ground.

When they all got to Nick's house, Boyer screamed, "Where are the goods!" Kyle slowly opened his back pack and showed the 14 year old the one hundred dollars worth of fireworks. The boys were playing with the fireworks behind Nick's garage, and they were doing everything possible with the fireworks, shooting each other, blowing things up , and shooting things.

After a couple of hours the boys finally ran out of fireworks. There were sticks from bottle rockets lying everywhere.

Then faintly red Boyer got a brilliant idea,

"Let's get the gas and a bottle and blow it up!" screamed the excited 14 year old. So Nick, Kyle, and Ryan went to the garage and grabbed a full five gallon gas can.

"This should be enough!" exclaimed Nick. Kyle and Ryan just sat there and laughed. After a couple of minutes looking for something to put the gas in, then they found a 16 oz. Gatorade bottle. Then they had another problem, no working lighters. They had used the four lighters all up that they had bought. It was a good thing Nick's mom was a smoker because they found one next to Nick's mom's head while she was sleeping on the couch.

By the time they found all the supplies, it was 9:00 PM, and Kyle and Ryan had decided to spend the night. After Ryan and Kyle begged their parents to stay, it was 9:45 PM and they were ready to try their experiment.

The not too smart kids filled the 16oz. Gatorade bottle to the top with gasoline and drilled a hole in the top of the cap, so they could drop something in the top to make it explode.

After they had that all together they were ready to try to make some fire. But the bottle would not sit flat. After a little thinking Nick and Kyle, sent Ryan to find a piece of wood. When Ryan found a 2x4 they were set. Nick tried to light the piece of paper and drop it in, but it never worked. The boys tried and tried but never could get it to explode. There was a little flame on the top of the bottle and Kyle got very mad and stupidly kicked the bottom of the full bottle with the little flame on the top.

After that, all hell broke loose. As soon as Kyle kicked the bottle it ignited and set the small lot on fire. The gas spilled out of the broken cap and the bottle blew up. They stood there for a couple of seconds in awe.

Then Nick screamed, "Holy shit, it's going toward the garage!" So as soon as the word came out of Nick's mouth, Nick and Kyle freaked out and started to stomp on the flames but they wouldn't go out. When Nick and Kyle were trying to stomp out the flames, Ryan was no where in sight. Then swooping in to save the day just like Superman, Ryan came with a blanket and started to smother the flames that were all around the yard. But after they got most of the flames gone, there was one big one left and it was right by the garage. They frantically ran over toward the giant flame, Nick had his sister's brand new hat on and started to beat the flame with it. After the boys battled the raging flames in Nick's backyard, they decided to go to make some pizza and do stupid things all through the rest of the night.


“Water Logged” by Kyle

"Hey, dumbass!" yelled a voice from inside the tiny shack.

"Oh man dude, your breath stinks, brush those things dude," said Kyle as he confusedly wakes up. Perry's dog was leaning over him, panting, ready for his daily exercise.

"It's raining out boys, I think we should do a morning run in this slop. It'll be a blast!" said Perry as he thought out loud.

"Dude, that'd be intense. I love mud riding!" exclaimed Kyle.

"I suppose," said Martin.

"Are you guys crazy?" Tom asked. "It's pouring out and you're going to go ride?"

"Yeah!" they all responded.

"Alright just don't ride over your abilities, and don't do anything stupid," said Tom responsively.

Tom Liesener, Kyle's Dad, worried a lot, but he didn't show it that often. That day he didn't seem too worried about the four of them going on a ride. Kyle's Dad looked him in the eye and told Kyle, through his muscular square jaw, "Kyle look after your brother." Kyle didn't think anything of it as they were preparing to leave. Perry was putting on a rain suit, and getting everything as waterproof as possible.

"Hey Perry! What's the rain suit for?" Martin asked in a stupid tone.

Kyle Martin had been friends with Kyle since they were both three years old. Martin tended to ask dumb questions to try to be funny.

"I heard it's a little wet out. You should probably put one on too," Perry said in a snide voice while giving him a glare.

"Yeah right man, it's just water. It's not like I'm going to get soaked," Martin said in a cocky voice.

Perry squinted his eyes and opened his mouth revealing his pearly teeth through his unshaved burly face. "I don't care what you do, but your going to get wet and cold, it's guaranteed," replied Perry knowingly.

Perry is a smart businessman who was once a pro dirt biker. He loved to trail ride with Kyle and Kyle Martin, and they always have a good time together. But they never really thought about stuff before actually doing it. This adventure was definitely full of trouble, even though there was no doubt in their minds that this trip was going to be flawless at the time.

The convoy headed out and got to the trail in about fifteen minutes. At the first part of the trail, the puddles were only about a foot deep in the middle. On each side of the trail there were sometimes swamps full of knee deep water. It just so happened that one of them spilled over into the trail and was a little deeper than the others. Kyle made it through just fine being the third from the front, with Martin as the only one behind him on the trail. Kyle waited for about a minute and realized something happened to Martin, because he wasn't catching up. Kyle went back to the spot where the swamp spilled over and turned off his bike. As soon as it was turned off he heard Martin yelling some vulgar words at the overturned four-wheeler. Kyle went closer to the puddle and saw an opening where the four-wheeler had plummeted through the trees following the overflow. Martin decided to hit the water full speed, causing the wheeler to flip over in the water. Kyle abandoned his bike and helped him flip the four-wheeler back on its wheels. Martin pulled it over, and as soon as he did so, it took off all by itself. Luckily there was a tree that decided to stop the four-wheeler. If that tree wasn't there, Martin would've gone through the woods a lot farther than he did. It turned out that the throttle was stuck, from rolling over.

After that exiting incident the four of them continued to ride, and made it about thirty miles from camp. Sam's bike then had some problems. The chain came loose and got jammed causing the back wheel to be unable to move. They couldn't get the chain unstuck, so they had to take the bike back by way of the four-wheeler. Perry wanted to drive the four-wheeler back, so he could take it easy. Kyle then had to ride Perry's bike, and Martin had to ride Kyle's bike, because Perry's bike had too much power for Martin, who was just a beginner. Since there was no room for Kyle's brother, Sam, to ride two up on the four-wheeler, he had to ride with Kyle on Perry's Yamaha 450 dirt bike. Perry's dirt bike had six times the power of Kyle's Honda 125 that Martin had to drive.

The part of the trail that they were on was the muddiest part so far. The puddles were much deeper. With his brother on the back, Kyle found it funny listening to him scream as they hydroplaned the dirt bike through knee deep water. The second puddle Kyle had hit was just about waist high, and the bike fell sideways instantly. This sent him and his brother flying into the puddle. Sam was screaming and crying because he was soaked. At the time Kyle could care less about Sam, because he knew Sam wasn't hurt. The bike was what he was worried about. Kyle hadn't turned it off on time and it sucked in water after it tipped over. It was definitely water seized. Martin came back and helped them remove it form the water, and then left after he was told by Kyle to go get Perry, who was leading.

"Alright dude good luck!" Martin yelled through the rush of rain dripping down his soaked helmet.

"What no! Go get Perry! Don't leave me here!" Kyle yelled to Martin as he drove a way. Unfortunately Martin didn't hear Kyle. Martin mistakenly thought he was told to go catch Perry not to go get Perry. That was the last time Kyle and Sam saw anyone from their convoy for three hours.

Sam was a little shaken up, so now that they had the bike out of the water Kyle's first concern was Sam. At this time Sam was just getting over a type of sleep apnea that causes you to stress out very easily and start screaming. So Kyle didn't really want that to happen at a time like this. The first thing Kyle did was give Sam his rain stuff to keep him warm.

"Sam, lay down and try to get some rest, don't worry about anything, I'll take care of it," Kyle commanded him.

"I'll try, but I don't feel good right now," Sam said through his tearful bloodshot eyes, and runny nose.

Kyle then made many attempts to start the bike. He kicked the starter so many times that he had an indentation in his boot. Every time he tried to start the bike it seemed to get closer and closer to turning over, but water kept steadily coming out of the exhaust.

Kyle was just about ready to give up and walk the five miles to town with Sam, to try and call for help. But at that time he heard something coming. There were actually other people coming on the trail. Luckily Kyle decided to push the dirt bike to a three way intersection right after the bike seized. He knew the two of them would be more likely to see someone there. About five minutes after hearing the machine, a two wheel drive four-wheeler emerged from the rainy, muddy hell.

"Hey do you have a rope?" Kyle questioned the man.

"No," he replied as Kyle's hopes dropped, "but my friend has a four-wheel drive utility four-wheeler, and he's got one," he said as Kyle's heart jumped into his throat.

"Oh thank God!" Kyle exclaimed.

The two men, one driving the four-wheeler and one on the dirt bike, took the machines to Highway 54 and pop started the bike, going about 70 miles per hour. Kyle and Sam then were good to go, three hours later than the time Kyle sank the bike. They made it back with no problems after that.

At the time the two of them returned there was no one at the cabin, they were now looking for Kyle and Sam. The rest of the time Kyle and Sam spent packing up, waiting for the search party to return.

When the search returned, Tom was almost in tears. He thought that something bad happened to the both of them, and he was yelling at Perry so bad for leaving them in the woods. But it wasn't just a dumb move on Perry that day, there was only one person who didn't do anything wrong that day on the trail, and that was Sam. Even though he was the one whose bike broke, he still didn't do anything stupid on the trail. The whole group learned something that day, if you're going trail riding you must be prepared for anything and everything.

“Terry” by Gina Bender

"Good afternoon Angee B'z," answered a soft delicate voice on the kitchen's cordless telephone. "Hi, Terry, how are you today?" She replied back to the man, in a higher more perky voice than before. "Would you like your usual pick up order today?" She waited a few seconds even though she already knew his answer, "Okay I'll see you in ten minuets!" She said in her overly happy voice. Ang always had a way of making her costumers feel slightly uncomfortable when she tried too hard to satisfy them. She started writing Terry's name on the top of a long and narrow pick-up slip, and put it in a shinny silver clip. Kathy, who is Ang's mother, began making the two subs for his order, even though nothing was circled on it. She, and everyone else who works there, can practically make his order with their eyes closed. It's the same thing every time; one number four (Stacked Turkey Breast), nine inch on White French bread, with mayonnaise, extra meat and onions, along with one number three (Roast Beef and Swiss), nine inch on White French bread with mayonnaise, extra meat, and onions.

"Clink, Clink," The old bells, that are tied around the door handle, ring tiredly from years of use. A mysterious man with a skin lesions on his face walks in, wearing a blue-grey knit beanie, a crewneck sweatshirt, and sweat pants with elastic bands at the bottom around his ankle. Before he can even say something in his deep raspy voice, Ang walks up to the front counter with his two subs that her mom just finished making about a minute before he walked in. "Your total is fifteen dollars even," she said. Before she finished speaking he already had the money ready for her on the counter, along with his Angee B'z punch card. Ang pulled out a thin drawer from the top of the cash register and grabbed the star hole puncher from it. After she gave the card a quick punch she proceeded to walk back toward the kitchen while saying, "Thank you, Terry, and have a great day."

The man replied in an autistic sounding voice, "My name is Jerry."

"I'm sorry," said Ang, "Well, have a nice day Jerry." His grayish hair swept his face as he nodded his head to say goodbye.

Kathy immediately began talking when Ang entered the kitchen. "What is his name?" She asked surprisingly.

"Jerry," Ang replied with a raised eyebrow.

About a week went by, and Terry and Jerry were still the talk of the Angee B'z kitchen. For years the employees have been calling the man by the wrong name. The minute Gina walked in Kathy started telling her the humorous story before anyone else could. After she finished explaining that Terry was the man that called the orders in every time on the phone, and Jerry was the man who picked the subs up each time, things began to make more sense for the rookie worker. She, and everyone else who worked there, now figured out why the voice of Terry sounded so distinctly different in person from on the phone. "Terry and Jerry's pick up is already made for you in the cooler." Kathy said, before she finished her shift. "So be sure to call him by the right name this time."

"Oh I will." Said Gina giggling. Almost simultaneously, Kathy walked out the door, and Jerry walked into the sub shop. "Hi Jerry," I said as I grabbed the brown paper bag with his subs inside. "Your total comes to twelve eighty eight."

"You forgot to charge me for the extra meat." He said.

"Oh yea! Whoops, sorry." Gina said, as her cheeks turned flush. "Fifteen dollars is your total." She said, as he pushed the money closer to her. "Thanks and have a good day." She stumbled her words slightly, because when his hand reached over the counter, his sleeve crawled up his forearm, and she saw lesions that matched the ones on his face. He said nothing, but nodded.

The next day Jerry was once again the main topic for discussion. He will forever boggle the minds of the Angee B'z workers because of the many unanswered questions they have about him. Like; What type of skin disease does he have, how come he dresses like a homeless person, but drives a decent car, what does his brother look like, and how he was so honest that day, when Gina told him the incorrect total. They may find some of these answers over the course of time, but not all of them. So, he will remain as mysterious as he was the very first time he walked in Angee B'z.

“I Made You a Tape” by Bruce James Bales

The sight of struggle and unrest. He was struggling with his own unrest.

 

Just as the people who lived in Rock Island, he was falling out of his beliefs, finding new, more concrete substance to live by.

 

The city was an example of the failed American dream. Beautiful houses and scenery, choked out by civil unrest, violence, and a booming drug economy.

 

The Victorian homes seemed to be dwarfed by the street corners.

 

He had decided to begin making cassette tapes with music on them that would make people wake up, become aware, and search for truth.

 

He was not seen as a savior, but as insane. When really the word insane, to him, meant inside sanity. He was stable as could be, but on the edge, tilting down to look at the drop others have longed cascaded down.

 

His deliveries were simple. He would approach random civilians and say, “I made you a tape.”

 

Today was no different, his plan was the same.

 

On a trek to the gas station, he came across an usual sight, two younger adults sitting on their porch.

 

He approached them calmly disguising something inside of his tarnished jeans.

 

The women saw him approaching and tensed up. She slid back in her chair, scared.

 

He walked up the creaky old steps, eyes full of fire and fight. He gaze sharpened onto the couple, his fists ripe with rage, and his face full of fury.

 

The woman held back a scream, tightened her grip on the chair, and braced to be shot.

 

He reached into his pocket for his weapon.

 

“I made you a tape,” he said as he gave it to her.


“Iced Up” by Bruce James Bales

Winter came and the usually cobalt lagoon was frozen into a black slab. Pulling up was a matching Cadillac with tinted windows just to prove something.

"Butcharelli. Nice to see you," Marian Falzone cut the cold with his speech.

I didn't say anything. Just stood frozen.

Two of his bigger men jumped out behind him. I was frozen. Not that I couldn't tell you how I felt.

"I'm surprised your coward ass presented itself today." Falzone was now hissing like a badger. "You know why we're here and we intend to handle the situation."

His men were on me before I could blink. They drove me back towards the lagoon and took me off my feet. The sky looked cloudy and black. My head felt the scrape of the cement around the lagoon. I knew what was coming. Ice.

"You take a man's life, put him on ice, sometimes it comes back," the reaper Falzone was preparing to give me a touch of death.

Our eyes met for a brief second. He couldn't be cold, his eyes were full of flames. His head nodded and the cold air was turned into a refreshing bath.

Into a sub zero pool, with its winter lid I stabbed head first.

“Lord of Needles” by Shaun Avery

I think I’ve become a pain addict.

 

That’s what the last few weeks have done to me.

 

And not the namby-pamby physical pain stuff either, because we all know how that heals in time. I’ve dished enough of it out recently to know that. Not that I left them alive long enough to really suffer, but you get my point, I’m sure.

 

It was addiction that kept me going to my mother’s grave more times in a day than was strictly necessary. And at the grave, my task became clear.

 

I have to see my father’s face – the true one, behind the human masks that he wears with such relish – before he dies. I have to see him face to face. I have to know.

 

My mother died a screaming, babbling wreck, ranting stories that only I knew to be true. My adoptive parents told me not to go and see her, unprofessional as that is, and I told them, in reply, to eat shit; I told them I owed them nothing for the years they’d kept me. Seeing her in the ward, with all that screaming, yelling, and weeping… I really felt at home there.

 

Then she died, and I became the proud owner of her diaries, and that was when everything started to make sense. I waited until my adoptive parents were out, let myself into their house, and went and read through the books in the attic. At home, as always, in the dark.

 

I said earlier ‘everything started to make sense,’ but that’s probably too strong a point, as very little in my existence has made much sense – from my incarcerated mother to my complete lack of feeling for my foster parents and others, it’s all been a bit haphazard thus far. So let’s just say that reading my mother’s diaries removed any confusion I may have had about what I should do with my future. Because when I had soaked it in, my vision of the days to come became crystal clear. Not to mention blood red.

 

I lay on my front, reading the book with a torch, and smiled at my mother’s harsh words, soaking in the hate that had consumed her until her dying day. Too right, I agreed in my head. That thing ruined your life, and he’s got away with it for far too long. Well, not any more.

 

I’d read it five times before I decided that I knew enough, and just as I rolled onto my back, turned off the light, and let the darkness eat me up, I heard the front door slam three levels below, and knew that the old timers had returned. Tried to keep me from seeing her, I said to myself, anger burning inside me. Well, I’ll show you, damn it!

 

I dropped down from the attic, landing perfectly. They saw me instantly, and stopped.

 

The old bitch’s eyes welled up. ‘Oh Ben,’ she began, overjoyed to see me. ‘You’ve come home!’

 

‘Save it.’

 

‘Anne.’ The old bastard laid a hand on her shoulder to stop her, seeing that not all was sweetness and light with their darling little foster son. ‘I don’t think he’s staying.’ Give him his due; he met my fierce gaze without flinching. ‘Is he?’

 

Stupid woman didn’t take the hint, though, especially when she noticed the book in my hand. ‘Oh Ben, no, you’ve been reading that horrid woman again!’

 

I was down the stairs in a flash, using one of the many traits that my father gave me, sending the old man flying with one arm, and using the other to pin her up against the wall. ‘One more word, you geriatric slut,’ I hissed into her face, ‘I dare you just to risk one more word about my mother.’ I looked at the fallen father figure, not certain that he was stupid enough to rush me but knowing that you can never be too careful. ‘I dare both of you.’

 

He stood, but there was no fight in his eyes, only a weary acceptance. ‘Just go, Ben,’ he told me. ‘And leave us be.’

 

I let the woman drop. ‘Yeah. I’ll do that.’ I spat on the floor as I left. ‘And, uh, try not to miss me too much, yeah?’

 

The diary and me were out of there.

 

She’d used code names, my mother, the crafty old dame, but none of that mattered, as she was talking to me through these words, guiding me on my path, reaching across the curtain of death to tell me where I needed to go, who I needed to look for. Most of the thoughts and events wouldn’t have made much sense to anyone else, anyway; she’d been drugged too much of the time. I had the feeling that I’d find out the truth for myself on this journey – no matter how nasty it got.

 

In the early hours of the morning, I sneaked away on a holiday bus, using my powers to blind all the passengers to my presence. I sat at the back undisturbed, lifting a few wallets and purses as the need took me, as people boarded and alit. Money was one thing I was going to need; after all, weapons don’t come for cheap.

 

‘I wasn’t expecting real customers.’ As he spoke, Blade-Man Eddie nursed the bloody nose I’d given him. ‘So you can understand my surprise earlier, when you turned up.’

 

Sneering, I looked around his comfortably middle class garage. For as long as I could remember, Blade-Man Eddie’s website had been one of my favourite places to go online; I loved looking at all the stuff he had for sale, and loved reading his vividly over-the-top descriptions of battles he claimed to have fought. On the site, Blade-Man Eddie purported to be a former soldier of fortune, selling off weapons that he’d plucked from the bodies of people he’d killed. In reality, he was a nerdy kid freeloading stuff he’d stolen from his grandfather and other old guys around town, all of whom were too senile to notice. Eddie was putrid. I liked him.

 

‘So who’s the guy in the photo, Eddie?’ I casually ran my finger along a wicked-looking bayonet, drawing a little blood but not really caring. ‘Since it so obviously isn’t you.’

 

‘Some foreign general or something,’ he managed to cough out. ‘I wasn’t expecting someone to turn up here.’

 

‘That’s the problem with asking for payment in the mail to your house. Why didn’t you just set up a PO box? Or a Paypal account?’

 

‘I guess I never thought of that.’

 

‘No, I guess you didn’t.’ My hands curled over some bloody chains hanging by the window, and a charge of sheer power ran through me, like I’d never experienced before. Eddie noticed, too, and gasped. I pulled them down, wrapped one around each arm under my coat sleeves, and told him, ‘purchase number one.’

 

He sunk his face deep into his hands. ‘You think my grandfather’s going to notice?’

 

I can be sympathetic when the mood takes me, and now was such a time. I put a hand on his shoulder, which now bobbed up and down in tandem with his sobs, and said, ‘don’t worry about it too much. You said he was mad, and in my experience mad people don’t tend to notice anything other than their own delusions.’

 

‘I hope so. I mean, he really loves some of this stuff…’

 

My good mood had passed. ‘Tough. I’m still taking lots of it.’

 

I walked out of there with a variety of blades and chains, all of them slotted nicely into the backpack that hung around my shoulder. I also left with the knuckles on one hand slightly grazed from my earlier greeting to Eddie. One thing that hadn’t interested me in his weapon lot was his range of guns; any punishment I had to mete out would come up close and personal. I would bathe in their blood by the time this was over.

 

I slid onto another bus, and the city swallowed me.

 

I’d never seen a real, live pimp before, so Potts wasn’t at all like I was expecting – no bling-bling jewellery, no big fluffy fur coat. But then, he’d moved on from the pimping business by now, according to my mother’s diaries. These days, he was a respectable businessman, selling and buying property – and still running prostitutes and rent boys on the side.

 

I followed him for days, powered by the link with my mother’s past that bonds me to all of my targets, hoping in earnest the whole time for him to park up somewhere and lose the two huge minders that literally never let him out of their sight. But no – Mr. Cautious never stopped, never slept a wink, at least not inside any houses. Instead he cruised from building to building, ferried in the back of a car while those two guardians sat in the front, keeping himself out of harm’s way. I began to despair, and the size of those two bruisers didn’t do me any favours, either; even at the safe distance I kept, they still looked mighty mean.

 

Hiding out on the roof of a shop, I began to rock and wail, moaning to myself, ‘mother, what am I going to do now? How do I get him? How?’

 

I was going at myself so hard that I barely even noticed when I passed out and went sprawling to the floor below.

 

I woke up with a friendly looking, very normal couple standing over me. The man, a business type, clean shaven and short haired, reached out a hand to me, saying, ‘hey, man, you all right?’

 

Groggily, I shook my head. It had been raining that night and my clothes (all black, naturally) were plastered to my skin. The lady, a blonde girl of about eighteen, petite but stacked in all the right places, put her umbrella over me.

 

I immediately decided to use them. ‘I’m an old friend called Ben,’ I said, ‘and you want to take me back to your home and let me stay the night.’

 

Needless to say, with talents like mine, it worked. And so a few hours later I found myself back at their house, lying on the couch while they whiled away in the bedroom – even my powers couldn’t get in the way of their libidos. They went for about an hour, and I got up from where I was lying and walked over to stand outside their room. What am I going to do with them? I asked myself. How else can they help me?

 

I was waiting for them to sleep before I answered the question. But then I heard him, giggling as if he was the girl, say, ‘I don’t think I can again, yet.’

 

‘Really? Then why don’t I put the music channels on? I know how those pop videos get you in the mood.’

 

‘Mmmmm, I like it. Hit that remote, baby.’

 

And that took care of the next hour.

 

Finally they lay there sleeping, and I crept into their room and looked down at their slumbering bodies. Maybe I can practice on them? I asked myself. Having never killed anyone before, perhaps they could be human guinea pigs for me to work my magic upon?

 

I discarded the idea with no small amount of revulsion. Because, don’t get me wrong, I’m no indiscriminate killer. I was doing this all for a reason; Potts and the rest were going down because of what they’d done to my mother. These two souls, though, had done nothing wrong – in fact, they’d been kind to me even before I made them think I was a friend. They’d let me borrow clothes, although he didn’t have another all black-combo for me to take, and they’d let me dry my own drenched outfit, which now was back in my pack with the weaponry, just slightly damp now. So no way would I kill them; they were nice people.

 

Now Potts, on the other hand…

 

I resumed the hunt in new clothes.

 

Potts went into a building at two. He looked worried, scared, as the two minders ushered him in, looking over his shoulder a little too much – was he on to me?

 

I didn’t know. But by four, he hadn’t re-emerged.

 

Two more wasted hours for yours truly.

 

Throwing caution to the wind, I pulled out a chain and a hunting knife, stashed my pack away in some bushes, and went in after him.

 

I was swallowed by darkness even deeper than back in my old attic, a dark so deep that my hand in front of me was a vague shape only. About halfway down, I wrapped the chain tight around my left fist, and tightened my grip on the blade’s handle with my right – I was taking no chances. Not with Potts. Not with a man who had beaten up and sliced many a non-paying customer, and hospitalised a good half dozen of his girls for trying to withhold profits from him. He’d loomed larger than life in my mother’s life story, and though he was far from being the most dangerous foe I had to face (that would be you again, eh, Daddy?) I still needed to watch my back with him.

 

So I walked carefully past a few locked doors that I knew he wasn’t behind, still not seeing anything, moving entirely from instinct.

 

And then the cries hit me, cries and the sound of someone being hit repeatedly, the muted sobs of someone whose pain is kept hidden behind a gag. Right at the bottom of the hall, that’s where they were coming from, and though I ached to charge in there and make my first kill, I knew that running in this pitch black would be suicidal – I’d slip, they’d hear me, and it’d be end of days for me. Instead I marched briskly down the hall, keeping it cool, chain jingling with every step, until I stood at the door, planted my heel against it, U.S. cop style, and booted it open.

 

I saw…

 

Nothing on God’s green earth could have prepared me for what I saw.

 

I’d expected the badass pimp to be doing badass pimp style stuff – whipping someone, maybe, from the sounds I’d heard out in the hall. But instead of seeing this vilest of men in a position of power, putting his cock or his fists to use on some woman, I chanced upon the exact opposite: Potts was tied to a pole in the middle of the room, standing on bare tiptoes with his wrists bound high, stretching out his frail old arms to their full length, while the two guys, who I’d thought were his minders, took it in turns to beat the life out of him, one facing him and one behind him. ‘Shouldn’t have tried to escape again, bud,’ the one in front said as he pulled back for another punch. ‘That means we have to hurt you again.’ The punch flew, and connected. ‘I mean, you think we like doing this to you?’

 

The blood in Potts’s mouth made it kind of hard for him to answer, but I thought the reply he would have given was probably ‘yes.’ Because he had all the signs of someone who’d been beaten for a while; it took getting this close to show me that. The more I thought about it now, the more I saw how obvious the pimp’s real fate was. The way that they drove everywhere, taking it in turns to run the wheel, the way they never left his side, even during the business meetings I’d watched them go to; the truth had been staring me in the face all along.

 

It didn’t faze me. I mean, these weren’t even nice like the couple were, plus they were in my way. So two more boobs to take down, what the hell.

 

Right about now, the one behind Potts saw me. He stopped swinging, grinned, and walked over to a bloodstained baseball bat. ‘Looks like another friend has come to bust you out, Pottsy old boy,’ he said. ‘Remember what happened to the last one?’ At that, both of their ugly, shaven heads spun to a pile of bones in the corner. Then returned to me. ‘You see what happens to freedom fighters, boy?’

 

I spoke simply: ‘I’m not here to free anybody.’

 

He ran, swinging the bat high above his head, yelling ‘fucker!’ I let my beloved chain swing in return, wrapping it around his weapon and yanking him off balance with it, a move that nearly dislocated my shoulder, despite my extra strength. He came crashing into me, and we landed hard, the bat clattering away, my chain still wrapped around it in a lover’s grip. He sat up on me, and instead of going for the choke or the eye gouge I’d expected, he relied on his old friend the fist, pulling it back to whack down into my face.

 

But I didn’t give him the chance. I pulled the knife out from under me and drove it deep into his wrist, slicing it straight down a vein, and I squirmed out from under him just as the blood started to seep and he started to scream.

 

I didn’t see the kick coming from thug number two until it was far too late. I took the blow in the stomach, and it launched me across the room to make yet another undignified landing, this time on my behind. My body, still smarting from my fall off the roof earlier, tried to wave a little white flag, and it was a struggle against time to pick myself up as he stalked towards me, as everything except him started to run in slow motion…

 

I looked around frantically for a way to stall him, since my knife was still stuck in the other guy’s arm and my chain was still wrapped around the bat, and my eyes chanced upon the pile of bones lying in the corner. A grin spread across my face as I shouted a command into the big guy’s head – LOOK AT ME NOW! – and he slowly spun round to see the body. Or rather, to see what I put in his head. Which were the gnarled remains of the hands coming to life, creeping towards him, and the skull leaping through the air towards his throat. He was already screaming and trying to pull them off, powerless now, but I decided to step things up a notch anyway, by having the hands creep slowly up his legs, up and up, further still…

 

When they reached his groin, he fell to his knees. Potts watched it all, amazed and confused.

 

I walked over to the bat, picked it up, and then brought it down on the big guy’s head until his cries had finally stopped. Then I regarded Potts, the first piece of my jigsaw.

 

‘Should I kill him now?’ I asked myself.

 

Nah – let him sweat first, so he’ll suffer more in the long run.

 

It seemed like a plan.

 

After I led him out of his punishment place, I bought him food, (the condemned man’s last food and all that jazz), and I heard the full sordid story: how the two guys, Clarence and Bell, had wiped out all of his associates and heavies long ago but kept him around, letting Potts’s various customers believe that he was still running the slow whilst the whole time holding him a prisoner in his own life. Sometimes he tried to run away or tell someone the truth, and last night had been such a time. He spilled the whole thing to me without much prompting, thinking I was some kind of friend. The fool.

 

The pretence lasted a few hours, but every game must have its end, and so, as we walked through a park, I said casually, ‘I’m here to kill you, Potts.’

 

We stopped; much to my surprise, he didn’t run.

 

‘You what?’

 

‘You heard me, pimp. But first, I’m going to tell you a story. One about a beautiful young woman that you sold to some rock star.’

 

His face went white, realisation setting in. ‘But that was years ago!’

 

‘Nearly twenty, to be precise, but who’s counting?’ I pushed him onto a park bench and towered over him, vengeance in black. ‘And not that you care, but do you know what happened to that woman?’

 

‘She married the rock star?’

 

‘No. Oh no.’ I tensed my hands in expectation. ‘She married something completely different. And then she had me. Then she went mad.’ Her life in three sentences, and it made me sad, not mad. But madness was still in charge; make no bones (pardon the pun) about that.

 

‘Well, you can’t blame me for any of that!’

 

I grabbed his shirt, pulled him up face to face, and I saw just how pathetic he was, this fallen prince, this former tyrant. In my mother’s journal, he’d been a huge, steroid-guzzling monster, someone that women lusted after until they discovered his true self. Now he was old and shrunken, with shoulders slumped, beaten down by time, and I realised, as I pushed my eyes deep into his mind, that the person known as Potts was already dead inside. But that wasn’t enough for me.

 

‘That doesn’t let you off the hook, pal. You started this whole thing; now you’re the first to start finishing it.’

 

I throttled him, lifting him high in the air and watching his face until it turned blue, until all life ran out of it, and then I tossed him into the bush, an off-hand throw. Even in death, no trace of his guilt appeared on his features. Sneering, leaving three corpses behind me, I moved on to stage two.

 

I popped in somewhere for food, and hey, what do you know? I saw my father.

 

It’s a pain, chasing someone who can hop bodies at will.

 

There were only five people in the American-style diner when I entered – two chefs out back, a couple and some guy talking on his mobile phone non-stop. Oh, and the waitress, a pretty blonde girl with her hair tied up high on her head. I ordered a burger, paying with money I’d taken from the two dead guys, and since it was late night, and there wasn’t much for her to do, the girl hung around my table, talking to me, being friendly, stealing touches whenever she could. ‘The name’s Sarah,’ she said, pointing to her nametag, drawing my attention to the breast that it was pinned above. ‘What’s yours?’

 

I’m normally short of patience with people, but tonight, after all I’d been through, I decided that I could do with the company. ‘Ben. I’m from out of town.’

 

She smiled at the couple as they left, and then put a hand on my arm and said, ‘I’ll go and check on your food. How would you like a drink with it, no charge?’

 

‘Yeah, why not?’ I watched her go, and then swung my gaze up, to where the guy was still talking on his phone. He smiled at me. Deciding that he was beneath me, I didn’t return it.

 

Sarah came back with a frown on her face. ‘I’m sorry,’ she told me, ‘but we’re having to close early tonight. Maybe you’d like that food to go?’ She fluttered her eyelashes at me to show that wherever my food and I were going, we wouldn’t be going alone.

 

‘Yeah, okay.’

 

‘I’ll meet you outside.’ She looked over at the phone-guy. ‘I just have to empty the place totally first.’

 

I stood and waited, and as attracted to her as I was, I couldn’t get my mind off the mission. Names and really painful ways to die swam in front of my vision, and I kept trying to match one up with the other, and I was having such a full-blown conversation on the inside that I didn’t notice something had happened to me on the outside.

 

Sarah did, though. And she screamed, dropped the food, and pointed.

 

I looked down.

 

Shit!

 

To say that I was scared would be putting it mildly. In the middle of the street, in the glow of a street lamp, I was fading in and out of focus, my legs, torso and neck disappearing until only my head fully remained, not invisible like on the coach and not visible like all other times, but somewhere in-between. I instinctively felt myself, and relief, I was there, but I wasn’t fully actually there; I couldn’t be seen properly. And I knew why. I’d lost too much of my human self to the vengeful, demonic side that comes from my father. This was what happened when I forgot that I’m half and half.

 

Panicking, I yelled ‘sleep!’ at Sarah, and she immediately hit the floor. I was halfway over to catch her when I heard laughing come from the other side of the road. Looking in the window of the diner, I caught the reflection of the man with the phone.

 

And then he disappeared totally.

 

‘You bastard,’ I muttered, running over the road without bothering to look for traffic. I’ve never been scared of being hit by a car or truck, as there’s no way I’m going to die in a vehicle accident. Not a chance, baby; this boy’s going out the same way he does everything: in style. But that’s off the point. The point is, when I reached the other side, I found nothing.

 

Except his phone.

 

Which started to ring.

 

I answered it without a ‘hello.’ Why bother, when I knew who it would be?

 

‘Nice try, kid,’ the voice said. ‘But you’ve got a long way to go yet.’

 

I trashed the phone and returned to Sarah. ‘You don’t remember coming outside,’ I told her, burning it into her brain. ‘You want to come with me now, and do whatever I say.’

 

She obeyed me. When she was back to normal, shaking off her grogginess, I took her hand, led her away from work, and said, ‘do you like rock music?’

 

Stage two was upon me, and with me controlling all she did, Sarah was going to be an invaluable part of it. Hours after meeting her, we took our place amongst the screaming, autograph seeking fans standing outside the local city hall, hoping to get a glimpse of their idol – the man I’d come here to kill. Back when he’d bought my mother from Potts, Jerry Murray had been the lead singer in a shitty bargain basement heavy metal band called Mental Rental Van, but now, a long, long time after going solo, he was one of the world’s biggest music stars, with more fans than I could ever hope to kill. Luckily, I wasn’t interested in the parent-shocking, eardrum-abusing fan base; I just wanted the man himself.

 

And I was getting him via his love of groupies, which my mother’s words had told me about. Pushing my way to the front of the mob, I managed to make Sarah slip a piece of paper containing her mobile number into his hand. He grinned at her and moved towards the limo, and after that, it was just a case of waiting for the call.

 

He arrived half an hour after speaking to Sarah, and the sound of his car door slamming was the sound of my mother’s past merging with my future. I looked up sharply, seeing the taxi he’d arrived in drive off, and turned back to Sarah. ‘Show time,’ I told her. ‘Get naked.’

 

Watching her do so pretty much took my breath away – and it clearly did the same for Jerry, who started disrobing the minute he saw her. I stood watching from the sidelines, out of view thus far, knife ready in my hand. She drew me out by saying, like I’d told her to, ‘you don’t mind if my boyfriend joins in, do you?’

 

He raised an eyebrow. ‘Well, it’s been a while since my last bi experience, but you know me – I’ll try anything!’

 

‘So I hear,’ I said, still standing in the shadows. ‘So tell me: when was the last time you sold some used-up old whore to a demon?’

 

With jeans halfway down his ankles, the stupid grin slid off his face. ‘Oh, Jesus. What is this?’

 

I leapt out, landing in front of him. ‘Revenge, Jerry.’ I backhanded him across the mouth, sending him flying. ‘Want some?’ And kicked him in the side as he squirmed. ‘Tough if not, because I’ve got plenty to give.’

 

He stared up into my eyes, recognising. He wasn’t going anywhere, so I told Sarah to dress, and then sent her to sleep and made her invisible, so no one would disturb her until I got back. When I turned back to Jerry, the prick was grinning at me.

 

‘What’s so funny? You into pain or something?’

 

‘Actually yes, but that’s not why I’m smiling.’

 

‘So what is it?’

 

The grin grew wider. ‘You want to see the video?’

 

Jerry’s luxury hotel suite was bigger than my old house – he signed me in as his ‘friend,’ which struck me as funny. I’d followed him in without thinking, lured by the promise of seeing my father in action, but as soon as I got inside the place, the whole thing started to yell out ‘trap’ to me. I guessed my inexperience was showing.

 

Jerry seemed genuinely interested in showing someone the legendary recording, though, and that intrigued me. I sat down on the huge couch, watching him with an icy gaze as he reached deep into his suitcase. ‘If you pull something out of there,’ I told him, ‘that fires bullets and has a name rhyming with ‘fun,’ then I’m going to take great pleasure in making you eat it.’

 

‘No weapons, man.’ The concept seemed to shock him. ‘I’ve seen what your kind can do when you’re annoyed.’

 

‘Then remember it well.’

 

‘I do, man, I do.’ He finally found the tape, and held it aloft like some kind of prize. ‘Got the little sucker. I went through this whole crazy stage of recording my whole life, every single detail…’

 

‘Save it for the next autobiography, Jerry. I’m on a tight schedule here.’

 

He was so used to being fawned over that my order wiped the smile straight off his face. He looked at my bloody hands, and nodded in agreement. ‘Yeah, I suppose you are. But you gotta take time to watch this, man. You won’t believe it.’

 

It started off with his usual narcissistic waffle – in that much, at least, he hadn’t changed. But then Potts walked through the door of his high security mansion, and everything changed… because of the crazy chick Potts had in tow, who happened to be my mother. He pushed her into a chair as he began business talk with Jerry.

 

‘Hey, man, get that camera out of my face.’

 

‘No can do, Potts. I film everything. I plan to get my own TV show someday.’

 

‘Yeah? Who’d watch a show about some rock star on drugs?’

 

The camera zoomed in on Jerry’s raised eyebrow. ‘You’d be surprised.’

 

Money was then exchanged for drugs, and after Jerry had snorted plenty of the latter into what passed for his brain, I watched his leering gaze fall over my mother. ‘And who is this fine piece of merchandise?’

 

I looked over at the present Jerry, enraged to see him enjoying this memoir. Logically, I knew that I could kill him now and watch the rest of the video with him dead at my feet, but the time just didn’t feel right somehow. So instead I swung the chain around and down, whacking it hard over his thigh. He yelped, and I told him ‘quit the smiling’ before returning to the past.

 

Just in time to see a further transaction between the two – this time for my mother, who didn’t even seem to notice the change in management, so out of it was she. The rest of it was an endless parade of parties and abuse; it was just starting to get boring when he entered the picture.

 

My father, or rather the body he was inhabiting at the time. People knew and feared him even in this guise; he was hiding out in the upper echelons of the music business, and the artists on this recording, Jerry and his equally hedonistic, high life loving friends, were terrified of what he could do to the careers that had become their lives. I have to admit, he came across as pretty cultured and sophisticated – until he laid eyes on my mother. That was when the lust appeared in his eyes, exposing the monster within.

 

It cut to another seedy drug-taking scene, this time with only Jerry and my father present. They were relaxing in a sauna, both naked except for towels, and I noticed a tiny mark of the inhuman on my father that most would have missed: despite the humid surrounding, not a single drop of sweat adorned his body. I tried to ignore how nervous that made me.

 

‘I’m quite fond of that girl in your entourage,’ he said to Jerry. ‘Would you ever consider selling her?’

 

‘You mean Amber? No way, man. You don’t know the things she can do.’

 

‘I do. That’s why I want her.’

 

‘Sorry, pal.’ He snorted a little more. ‘Anyone else you can have, but Amber stays here.’

 

‘I see.’

 

And he pulled off my stunt, bounding across the room faster than the eye or camera could comprehend, shedding his human body, which slid to the floor, skin and clothes all bundled together, and appearing in front of Jerry in his true form, black and flaming. ‘I don’t think you see at all, Jerry,’ he growled into the rock star’s face. ‘When I ask you for something, you give it. Understand?’ The last word was bellowed so loudly that Jerry’s hair was swept back from his head and the camera toppled over and off the tripod that bore it, catching everything that followed from a new position on the floor.

 

To Jerry’s great embarrassment, he started crying as he replied, ‘yes, yes, take her, take whatever you want, just please, don’t hurt me!’

 

With that, normality returned to the scene, the camera sprung back to its former position, moved without hands by my father, and they became just two guys in a sauna again. My father smiled, unnerving me further, and said to Jerry, ‘I’m glad we got that sorted out. Now – want to be my best man?’

 

The wedding, if it could be called that, was an unpleasant as you’d expect – with a bride half dead through drug abuse, sexual abuse and malnourishment, and a groom who kept alternating between human and demon to impress his greedy and selfish congregation, I guessed that this wedding probably hadn’t graced the cover of any celebrity magazines. Some friend of Jerry’s tried to hit on my mother before the ‘ceremony’; they were wed in front of his eviscerated and elevated form, tied up to a board above them, his body covered in the pins and needles that my father enjoyed using so much. Hence the name he was married under: The Lord of Needles.

 

There was a second of lucidity in my mother’s eyes, when the drugs wore off and the real Amber managed to poke her way to the surface. She looked, saw what her life had become, and as she fainted dead away, I knew that this was the second in which her mind had snapped. Totally and utterly gone forever. Which was probably a relief, as my father’s next act was to consummate the marriage in front of everyone. They laughed and hooted, this audience, and then fell into a massive orgy, one that used the newlywed couple as its nucleus, spinning around them in a circle of obscenity. Even the cameraman joined in, putting his work tool on a tripod like he had done in the sauna, and stripping off his clothes to join in the fun. I looked over them all, just before I stopped the tape, and made a promise by my knife: these, too, would pay the price.

 

Without looking at Jerry, keeping my back to him, I said simply, ‘you’re going down.’

 

‘Am I?’ came the reply.

 

Catching the threat in his voice too late, I turned around – just in time for him to empty a can of deodorant straight into my eyes.

 

It went in my mouth, too, and I fell down coughing, blinded, scared beyond belief, fully expecting him to stick a knife through my heart when I was out of commission. But then there was a huge crash, which came from the equally huge window being smashed, and then there was the sound of someone entering through it, despite this being the top floor of the hotel, and it was someone who changed the atmosphere of the place just by entering. The Lord himself; my father. Reaching down through the hotel with my mind, I felt how he affected every single floor, every room: hey, the TV’s gone funny; hey, this food smells off; Jesus, why is it so cold in here? And this was the man I’d come to kill? Had I really thought I was stronger than him? Had you?

 

Jerry clearly hadn’t been expecting him, but he took it all in his stride. ‘This is a surprise.’

 

‘I thought you’d be dead by now.’ From the sound of it, my father was hovering in the air, somewhere in front of me. I rubbed my eyes frantically, trying to will sight back to them, wishing that they could heal as fast as the rest of my body. But I am half-human, after all… and hope sprang in me, as I remembered my invisibility! I tried to turn it on; and my father laughed. ‘That doesn’t work with me, kid. I invented that trick.’

 

Jerry replied to my father, ‘me, offed by some kid? What would the papers say?’

 

‘But this isn’t just any kid,’ my father explained. ‘He’s half me.’

 

‘Still, I could handle him just fine.’

 

‘Really.’

 

Another loud sound split the room – this time of a hand tearing through flesh and bone, of blood exiting a suddenly torn open body at much too fast a pace. ‘No, you bastard!’ I yelled. ‘He was mine to kill! Mine!’

 

A slimy, clammy, skinless hand, covered in Jerry’s blood, stroked my cheek, and I ducked away instinctively, finally admitting to myself how scared I was to be facing this beast without sight, so scared that I was fading in and out of vision again, so scared that I pissed in my pants and whimpered for help that couldn’t come. ‘What’s the harm, boy?’ my father asked. ‘You still have me to kill, don’t you?’ And he laughed at the notion, and was gone.

 

I passed out, glad and surprised that only piss, and not shit, was currently staining my underwear.

 

Sometime later, my sight returned, and I walked to the mirror to check myself. I looked bad; I looked like what should have been lying in my undergarments. My eyes were bloodshot and puffy, and blood and slime dripped from my cheek, where my father had touched me. I removed my clothes, dumping them on the floor like my father had done with his skin on the video, and took a big long bath in Jerry’s suite, letting my mind roam through the hotel once again. He was gone; I knew this because all was peaceful throughout the place. I could relax for a while.

 

On my way to Jerry’s wardrobe, I came across a most welcome sight, one that put the smile firmly back on my face: Jerry moaning on the floor, still alive despite the huge split that had divided his body from throat to crotch. Too dumb and drugged up to die.

 

‘Hey, what do you know?’ I said cheerily. ‘Looks like pop isn’t the man after all. How do you fancy death, Jerry?’

 

From the sounds he made as I slowly removed his head, I assumed he hadn’t much fancied it at all.

 

I suited up in Jerry’s stuff and headed back to the park that I’d apprehended him in. Where Sarah became visible and awake again at my command.

 

‘Jesus,’ she said, stroking my face, concern in her voice. ‘What the hell happened to your eyes?’

 

‘I’ll tell you about it. I believe you invited me over to your place?’

 

In her pleasant dwellings, I’ve written all this down. I like Sarah, I must say; like her so much that I may stay here for a few months. Who knows?

 

But don’t think that I’ve given up on the mission, as this is far from the truth. In fact, I’ve kept a close eye on the news, studying newspapers and watching TV obsessively when Sarah is at work, and I’ve seen him three times, each time in a body that has just been found dead. I’d see the face of the deceased, and I’d see him laughing at me from behind it. He’s hopping bodies again, not hiding himself like he did in the diner, enjoying the thrill of being hunted, knowing that I’ll never stop until he’d dead at my feet. And I won’t; if it takes until my hair is grey and my teeth are false, I’ll see the score settled.

 

Are you reading this, are you?

 

There is nowhere you can hide.

 

I’m coming for you, Father.


“Wife Swap Massacre” by Shaun Avery

It sounded like such a damn hoot; how can you blame me for going along with it as far as I did? I said that much to the jury, though I guess it didn't do much to sway their opinions.

Yeah, I can tell what you're thinking of me. It's as plain and as cold as these chafing handcuffs.

Funny I should remember that. George knew, and had always known, that I had a semi-crush on his wife Sandra - she was a fabulous piece of work, a former model that had settled for relative normality with us, occasionally returning to the cat-walk when the urge came. Not that life in Paradise Heights was always typically normal, of course; last year we had some nasty business with the town's former inhabitants, a bunch of common riff-raff that claimed they'd been forced out of their homes to make way for us. They resorted to terrorist extremes against us, and one of our valued residents, Bill Forester, got himself kidnapped by them. Ever since his escape, he's gotten kind of quiet, which is a sad end to a once great man, a once great teacher, which makes it doubly worse. Anyway, as I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, because he knew I had a harmless crush on his wife, George took great delight in tormenting me with details of the sexual games he and Sandra got up to. Including, you guessed it, the old bondage/handcuffs/prisoner routine.

Kind of funny, really, in a nasty kind of way. A bit like this whole story.

It goes without saying, though, that I never expected my own wife to go in for such kinky stuff. I mean, you could tell Sandra would be into anything that made her feel good, feel pleasured; it was in her eyes. My wife was different. And things between Eileen and I had been... not exactly boring, but sort of stale of late. Too much work on my part, and too much... well, I didn't know what on her part. We hadn't been talking much, spending too much time in the spaces that can create themselves between people. A sad fact but a true one, and we're all here for the truth, right?
However nasty it might get.

When I finally broached the subject with her, however, over a caviar meal with the very same friends I'd soon be sharing her with, she was more receptive than I'd expected. Later on that night, she was enthused enough to instigate lovemaking, and she arched her back in pleasure, then pushed me over and got on top and whispered in my ear as she writhed and squirmed and drove me further into her, "let's do it" And since we already were doing it, I guessed what she meant. Who was I to argue?

"We'll start off lightly," George was soon telling me, spreading his hands across a sheet full of names as if he were a General and this was a map of a battlefield that must be won. "Just us, you, and a few others. People we can trust."

"A few?"

He looked up at me, surprised by the naivety of my question. "Why, of course! What fun is there in two?"

"You sound like you've done all this before."

He raised an eyebrow. "Never underestimate George Goldstein, my friend."

So yeah, I'd be kidding myself if I said we weren't up for it, Sandra and me and Eileen and George, plus a few others from the influential circles we dabbled in. I was so excited about it that I went to this little meeting he and a few of the other husbands were having about the soiree, where they were debating whether or not we should start including teen wives and mothers in the fun. "I've had a few requests," George said, looking very dapper in an expensive suit with glass of wine in hand, "and I certainly think it's something that bears some thinking about." The rest of the party were nodding their heads in agreement, and despite some concerns I had about dabbling in underage sex, I was swept up enough by the moment to nod along with them.

The mistakes were just mounting up by now.

I was expecting most of the party to be relative strangers, but that was my next shock (the first of many); of the three other couples that turned up, two were family friends that were old hands at this kinky behaviour, and the third were merely acquaintances and, like us, novices. I recognised most of them from their cars before we even got in there. That was when I looked over at Eileen, flashed her my most re-assuring smile. "Nervous?"

"A little, dear."

"It'll be fine." I rubbed her thigh, wondering how Sandra's would compare. "These are our friends."

"I know." She squeezed me back. "Let's give it a whirl."

"That's my girl."

George and me had a quick word in private before he got things under way.

"Hey, isn't that lady over there... isn't it Ruth Hanson?"

"Yes, you know it is." He sounded disinterested and distant, not even bothering to look up from the drink he was pouring. "So?"

"But she's pregnant!"

"My Lord, you really are innocent. Pregnant women are a big fetish nowadays. Our other new-starter can't wait to get his hands on her." On that note, he took the tray of drinks into the living room, and I eventually followed.

You might expect the atmosphere inside to have been tense, solidified by nerves and barely restrained sexual tension, but George was too good a host for that, and he kept the wine flowing, which kept the good feelings rolling until the time was right to begin.

Which happened at around nine, when George removed a glass from Sandra's hand, laid it on the table and then leaned forward in his chair. All conversation and activity stopped; somehow, we all knew what he was going to say.

"Who's feeling in the mood?"

The two hosts let their gaze fall on everyone, and I stared back at Sandra intensely, pleased in the knowledge that, come what may, I would be making it with her before the night was out. What, me unfaithful? Nonsense! It was what we had all come for, Eileen included, and if I had to sleep with someone else, I would rather it was someone I actually knew, was friendly with. It seemed more dignified.

"Who's going to be first to pair off?"

I was acutely aware of the fact that George's wife was resting her head on his shoulder so that it tilted to one side, and that she was staring back at me, a strange look in her eye.

"Who feels that pull?"

No takers, I was thinking downheartedly. Waste of time I was thinking. Never gonna get to score with Sandra, I was especially thinking. Then came the reply from behind us.

"I do."

We all looked around, finally pulled away from hanging on the ringmaster's every word. I was very surprised to see my wife in the limelight; she had beaten her initial apprehension and was now standing with her hand on a guy called Johnny Peterson's chest. Johnny was well built, and he had a bit of a cowboy fixation, always wearing a big hat and spurred heels. It was quite a shock that Eileen found herself attracted to him; after all, he was nothing like me. The first shiver of doubt ran through my insides with the realisation that another man - this man - would soon be putting his thing into my wife; what if he was better than I was and they ended up having an affair because he satisfied her more than I could? But it was too late, because as soon as George had his answer, the room erupted, cheers coming from everyone, all of which attention forced a blush from Eileen...

Who disappeared into a room with Johnny the cowboy, leaving the path well and truly open for me. When everyone else was paired, I wasn't surprised, just very excited, to see Sandra waiting for me, look still in her eye and robe slowly falling open, revealing to me what I'd secretly lusted after for so long.

"I'm glad you finally decided to go through with this, Mike."

So was I. Behind me, George disappeared into a room, hand-in-hand with Ruth Hanson.

You're probably wondering why, since things started out so well, I'm now bothering to write it all down in such lavish detail. Well, hold you water; I'm just getting to that.

Everything was going just fine - hell, better than fine; I was with Sandra, and she was soaring high above the pinnacle of expertise and excellence I'd placed her on - until something happened. Our lust had been so great that we never made it to a bedroom, just dropped to the floor in the top hallway. Consequently, I could see the whole of the first floor, and that was how I saw the man open the back door and stroll right in, without a care in the world.

The stranger.

He looked both mean and oddly out of place here. Tall, bald, built like a steroid-guzzling action movie star with a purple waistcoat open exposing his huge chest, my first instinct was not to feel surprise but to feel jealousy, as he was exactly the type of perfect-bodied sort that I'd envied since I was a scrawny kid - I may have grown a lot in stature and personality since then, but seeing the guy for the first time sent me right back to the playground, where he'd either bully me or be too far up to even know I existed. He stood still for a few seconds, looked around, and that's when his out-of-place-ness struck me: neither sharply-dressed nor undressed, no glass of wine in hand, no sense of excitement around him. Looking at him intensely, forgetting what I was actually supposed to be doing, it struck me that he was too out of place here.

"Come on, honey," Sandra urged me, digging nails into my back. "You're doing just fine."

Considering that she'd probably sampled model meat, I took it as a great compliment. But still a small part of dwelled on the intruder, the strange man still walking among us below me.

"You're not going, are you?" she said when I got to my knees. "I thought we were having fun here, just the two of us."

"We are," I insisted.

"Well, then." That's when she did something that made me realise Eileen must have given her some tips on my buttons. I've always had a foot fetish, and nothing used to get me worked up more than feeling a woman rub her bare foot against my chest. So that's just what she did, and it had the desired effect, and before I knew it we were going round again. Apart from the mystery of the downstairs stranger, the night was going pretty well.

It should have been one of the best nights of my life, what with the drink flowing and the house full of laughter, fun and love. But something about it was no longer working for me; it might not have stopped me getting it on with Sandra - twice - but it certainly soured the experience a little. I could hear cries from Eileen - I recognised them instantly, as I was sure she would recognise mine - but I could also see Johnny the suburban cowboy knocking the ass off Sarah Maguire, the female part of the other first-timers, so that meant my darling wife had taken another lover onboard. So why shouldn't I? There were certainly no shortage of offers, but I just couldn't get back in the mood for it. My good time thrill was now calling itself treachery, and I was left to wander the house like a demented soldier stalking the dead.

And then I saw the guy again.

Not a pretty sight. Especially when I figured out what he was up to.

"Hey, sexy." Eileen came running out and grabbed me by the shoulders, and then planted a big kiss on my cheeks. "This is great! Thanks for talking me into it!"

I saw her lover walk out of the room, nodded my head in way of greeting, and then decided to speak.

"Hello, Ruth. When's it due?"

So, my wife had decided to experiment with someone of the same sex, and a pregnant one at that. Something kind of funny about it, or is that just my warped sense of humour? A bit of both, I'm thinking.

Anyway, back to the guy. He'd gone into a room when I'd been talking to my wife, and closed the door behind him, and I suppose I knew that I shouldn't peer inside, but an immensely persuasive voice inside, one I couldn't resist, was urging me, and so I quietly pushed the door open, tension building as I did so, and poked my head through the small gap I'd created. I could only see his bare, muscular and sweaty back, so I circled around the door a little, and it was then that I saw the naked legs hanging by his waist, kicking viciously at the wall. It was Alice he was with, Alice Huntington, one of the community's most devout Christians, and, and...

He was throttling her.

I stood watching, disgusted and transfixed, and I harboured innocent ideas about rushing him in my head. But let's be honest, what damage could weedy old me do to this huge, barbell-pumping brute? It was amusing to contemplate, but I was through with being naive.

So I watched. What else could I do, oh silent accuser?

She squirmed about for most of it, her legs and feet working overtime in her struggle, and when she finally stopped, he bent down so that his face touched hers. Then he walked off, while Alice lay still.

'Hey, handsome.' I turned to find Sarah standing there, naked except for an over-sized shirt, probably one of George's. She slid an arm around me, gripped my most sensitive part with a firm, warm hand. 'Coming to bed?'

I turned her so she could see Alice. 'Wow, looks like she had a really good time.'

Ignoring her, thinking only of returning safety to our house of love and grabbing some glory in the process, I ran down the hall to George's study. That was where he kept the gun.

He was in there, bare-chested and tired-looking, pouring himself a drink.

'George! There's a strange man in here!'

He did that eyebrow hoist again, something he did a lot that had never annoyed me until now. 'Michael, there are several.'

'No, damn it, listen for once.' This comment put an annoyed glance on his face, for which I was glad; if he was ready to argue, he was ready to listen. 'This guy – I saw him, uh, hurt Alice Huntington.'

'In what way?'

I got the feeling that he wasn't taking me very seriously, so I pushed him out of the way, pulled open the draw and scouted through it until I found the weapon. Then, praying it wasn't too late and no one else had been hurt, I took off back down the hall, ignoring George's cries of protest.

I caught him with Eileen, oh horror of horrors, doing the same as earlier, and when her eyes fell on me, on the thing I had in my hand, I saw blind panic in them, and I nodded my re-assurance to her that everything was okay now, that I was here to rescue her, that I was finally going to be the big hero that years of failure and self-damage had almost wiped out, and she shook her head no, but I didn't understand, and I saw the huge man bend down towards the neck he was throttling, and I just knew, knew for absolutely damn certain, that he was going to bite it, tear out her throat – man, I even saw it in my head, saw him rip it out like a vampire in some horror movie – so I ran forward towards the scene, feeling like everything was in slow motion, and I swear to you, I only meant to club him with it, knock him out, but I tripped over a couple that were busy on the floor, and as I fell, yelling, my finger squeezed the trigger, and the stranger's face splattered all over my wife's bare shoulder. She screamed.

'It's okay,' I told her. 'He can't hurt you now.'

She looked up at me, shock in her eyes. Death hadn't been my original aim, but I still felt very manly, very heroic. Now all we had to do was break the bad news to Jimmy Huntington... who about then stood up, revealing himself as one of the two lovers that I'd fallen over.

After the slow motion, things started going pretty fast. Everyone rushed in, alerted by the sound of the accidental shot, and I expected glory, even though my prevention of a potential massacre had been pretty much accidental. But all I received was cold, judging, accusing eyes, much like I would soon see from the ladies and gentlemen of the jury. And then, to top things off, Sandra ran in and started crying, cradled the dead body and screamed up at me: 'bastard! You killed my brother!'

Brother?

Whoops.

Alice was fine; she was one of those curious types that enjoy asphyxiation at the height of orgasm. Eileen had been discussing it with her earlier that night, displaying some enthusiasm for the idea, and Alice had told her she knew just the man for the job.

Hey, anyone can make a mistake, right? Right?

So they busted me for it, and I duly got sent down for murder. I ruined one of George and Sandra's star attractions, which they still haven't forgiven me for.

Eileen still comes to visit sometimes, though, and the kids send their love. I guess that's about all you can say for me now: good husband, loving father – lousy wife-swapper.